Friday, October 13, 2017

GOP Doesn't Want Qualified Professionals

Republicans have been steadfast in pushing a handful of important agenda items. They want to take healthcare away from Americans. They want to give huge tax breaks to the ultra-rich. They want to lower the income of working-class Americans. They want to slash the environmental and workplace regulations that keep us healthier and safer.

Wisconsin Republicans have been especially effective in achieving the latter two goals. When it comes to slashing people's wages, they succeeded in spades. Act 10, Right-to-Freeload, the end of prevailing wage, and a refusal to increase the minimum wage combined to drastically lower the salaries of Wisconsinites.

State Republicans have also been adept at slashing important regulations that make us safer. They gutted the DNR and killed crucial environmental protections. They made the workplace more dangerous. They axed consumer protections.

A bill relating to the licensing of professional workers is currently being jammed through our state legislature. In a remarkable two-fer, this bill will slash workplace safety protections at the same time that it drives down wages. It's no wonder that GOP politicians are all-in on this dream opportunity.

Senate Bill 288-Assembly Bill 369 authorizes a new, partisan Licensing Review Board charged with examining current requirements for all of the 166 professions that require a license to practice in Wisconsin. The Board will report back to the legislature on which professions they feel a license should no longer be required, and on which ones the requirements should be relaxed.

The professions affected run a broad gamut. Skilled tradesmen such as plumbers, electricians, and elevator inspectors are covered. Health professional such as nurses, radiological technicians, and doctors are covered. Business professional such as architects, accountants, and funeral directors are covered. The complete list can be found on the WI Department of Safety and Professional Services website.

Licensing requirements give us some assurance that people we hire are competent. They let us know that professionals have been trained. They let us know that workers are aware of job-related safety standards. Obtaining a license requires some basic coursework. Maintaining a license requires continuing education and on-the-job experience. Cutting or eliminating license requirements will result in increased danger to workers and consumers.

Cutting or eliminating license requirements will also lower the entry barriers to those fields. Any quack who can afford a website could claim to be an elevator inspector, an acupuncturist, or a dietician. This will both depress the quality of services that we purchase and drop the salaries of people in the affected fields.

Far-right Wisconsin politicians have jumped on the national bandwagon for lower professional licensing standards. Our legislature's bill is almost a word-for-word copy of a model bill from the right-wing ALEC organization.

The list of supporters at an August hearing on the bill reads like a Who's Who of extreme right policy groups. Testifying in support of the bill were two Bradley Foundation-funded organizations, the Wisconsin Institute for Liberty and Law, and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. The Koch-funded groups Mercatus Center, the Institute for Justice, and Americans for Prosperity all came-out in support of the bill.

There is absolutely no Democratic support on these radical bills to weaken professional licensing. The Senate bill (SB288) is sponsored by Republican Senators Kapenga, Darling, Tiffany, Nass, Stroebel, and Wanggaard. The Assembly bill (AB369) is sponsored by a cast of 21 Republicans.

A national initiative is underway to slash the licensing requirements for a broad range of professions. The far-right policy groups behind this effort are driven by a blind worship of decreased regulation and lower wages for American workers. The Wisconsin GOP has jumped on the bandwagon and has introduced SB288/AB369 to bring about this radical change in Wisconsin.

If this bill becomes law, Wisconsin residents will see poorer professional workmanship, weakened consumer and worker safety, and lower wages. For the good of the state, we cannot allow that to happen. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ineffective Gun Controls, But Highly Effective Border Wall ?

Righties are often inconsistent in their opinions. The latest manifestation of that inconsistency is the MAGAtts' insistence that no gun control steps could possibly be effective in slowing the epidemic of gun violence. They tell us that there is nothing that we can do to lessen the odds that innocent men, women, and children will be gunned-down in our streets.

At the same time, many of these same folks insist that Trump's wall will be extraordinarily effective in stopping determined economic refugees from entering our country. They believe that once the dotard's Great Wall is erected, we will finally be safe from those darn illegals, their drugs, and their violence.

In just about any discussion with pro-death gun nuts, we are informed that there is nothing that will end the nearly daily American mass murders. They believe that there is no reason to ban weapon enhancements such as silencers, bump stocks, micro-penis compensators, high capacity clips, gat cranks, flash suppressors, etc. After all, once these devices are made illegal, psycho killers could still easily obtain them (assuming that they have access to a metal machine shop, an industrial-grade 3-D printer, or an outlaw arms merchant).

We are weary of hearing how inventive, resourceful, or handy crazy mass-murderers are. In reality, most of these sickos have neither the patience or engineering ability to boost the lethality of their guns on their own. Experts agree that making it illegal to produce, sell, or own lethality-enhancement devices such as these will go a long way toward cutting America's death count.

We are nauseated by the pro-death crowd telling us that we shouldn't have universal background checks. That there is no reason to ban gun sales to watch-list terrorists, the mentally ill, the senile, or domestic abusers. After all, these people will find someone who will sell them a murder weapon, no questions asked. Pro-deathers believe that nobody will ever report sketchy purchasers to the authorities. They think that no responsible citizens will gladly speak-up to head-off the next Sandy Hook massacre.

We are fed-up with pro-deathers who get into a semantics morass when the topic of banning semi-automatics and assault rifles comes up. (What do you mean by an assault rifle? What really is a semi-automatic?) They get into the circular argument that we shouldn't ban the carrying of weapons of war at the local mall. After all, there are already so many of these human-killing machines on our streets that it won't do any good to outlaw their carry, manufacture, or sale. They really believe that a halt to making new rapid-fire guns and aggressive buy-back programs will do nothing to lessen the chance that one will be discharged in your direction.

Despite all of the contrary evidence from other industrial democracies, pro-deathers keep telling us that common sense weapons laws will do nothing to stop the endless violence in American schools, nightclubs, concerts, and theaters. We are told that we must simply live (or die) with the consequences of America's all-guns, all-the-time, everywhere culture.

At the same time that the MAGAtts are claiming that common sense gun control would not be effective, they are touting Trump's wall as being the solution to all of America's problems. It will end the illegal drug problem. It will stop people from entering the country illegally. It will end thousands of terrorists from swarming our streets. They think that the Wall will be extraordinarily effective.

But Trump's folly, a wall that will cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, will simply not keep people out. Smart people determined to enter the US will easily find ways to fly over the wall, tunnel under it, go around it, or burrow through it. According to the Government's specs, a successful design should resist attempts to bore through for just thirty minutes. Last Wednesday, our own Jim Sensenbrenner stated that "...the Border Patrol says that the wall will slow-down people who are attempting to enter our country illegally by anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes...". So, our mighty Wall will be able to be breached in as little as twenty minutes. After that, people could stream through the created gap.

Many MAGAtts believe that common sense gun regulations-of the kind that have been effective in other industrial democracies-will simply have no effect in curbing gun violence in America. They believe that we should do absolutely nothing to protect our children and families from being gunned-down by madmen. Many of these same people have convinced themselves that a Great Wall, costing tens of billions of dollars, will keep people from entering the United States in search of economic opportunity. 

Many on the right believe that insane potential murderers could easily find ways around strong gun laws, but sane and determined migrants will not find ways through a stationary wall. They are convinced that gun laws are totally ineffective, but Trump's Wall will be extraordinarily effective. They are wrong on both counts.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Supreme Court* to Decide on Right-To-Freeload

The destruction of labor unions has long been a goal of the extreme right. In almost every GOP-controlled state, legislation has been passed that weaken unions through Right-to-Freeload (RTF) rules.

While no employee can be forced to join a union in any state, unions must represent all workers in a unit. RTF laws allow some to refuse to pay for that representation. It allows some to freeload on the backs of their co-workers who diligently pay their dues.

RTF laws certainly weaken unions. The unionization rates in RTF states average only 8.1%, compared to 15.3% in states where workers pay the cost of their representation. Without strong unions, all workers in RTF states suffer, not just the unionized ones. Wages are lower, poverty is higher, and worker safety is poorer. For obvious reasons, these laws are often called "Right-to-Work-For-Less".

Workers in states that have not imposed RTF average 19% higher income than those in RTF states. Of the ten highest income states, not a single one has an RTF law on the books. Of the 12 states with the lowest average pay, 10 are RTF states.

But, it's not just pay. The weaker unions in RTF states cannot push as strongly for workplace safety. RTF states have a horrendous 50% higher rate of workplace-related deaths.

There are currently 28 states with RTF laws. The most recent states to impose these laws are Wisconsin (2015), West Virginia (2016), Kentucky (2017), and Missouri (2017, delayed for referendum). However, not content to bring economic ruin to just the red states, the extreme right is trying to cripple unions nationwide through the court system.

On Thursday, the US Supreme Court* agreed to hear a case brought by Mark Janus, an AFSCME-represented public employee in Illinois. Janus evidently feels put upon by the union and thinks that he is entitled to union protections without paying for them. The case is being bankrolled by the National Right-to-Work Foundation, as well as Liberty Justice Center, part of the Koch network.

The case will be heard early next year. A decision will be handed-down in late Spring or early Summer. If the case is decided broadly in Janus' favor, it will impose Right-to-Freeload on public-sector employees across the country. Such a decision will greatly weaken the labor movement and workers' rights in America.

The Court* is closely divided along ideological lines on the issue. A similar case was argued in early 2016, involving an employee and the California Teacher's Association. After the death of conservative demigod Anton Scalia, the Court* split 4-4 on the case. The death of Scalia, who would likely have decided against the union, brought a temporary break in the effort to implement RTF through the courts.

All last year, President Obama was denied his Constitutional right to name Scalia's replacement. In one of the most heinous and blatant power grabs in US history, the Republican Senate refused to even consider the President's moderate replacement nominee, Merrick Garland. This outright GOP theft of a Supreme Court seat leaves the legitimacy of the Court* in question for years.

However, Senate Republicans such as Mich McConnell and Ron Johnson wasted little time in breaking previous Senate rules to allow the new Republican president to confirm a nominee with only 51 votes. Getting his marching orders from the Federalist Society, Trump nominated a far-right ideologue, Neil Gorsuch for the post.

Based on his past record, there is little doubt that Gorsuch will join with the far-right majority to cast his stolen vote against worker's rights. There is no doubt that he will side with his corporate masters to weaken unions. There is no doubt that he will legislate a nation-wide RTF law from the bench.

One of my Facebook friends is an Illinois public sector worker. She has the conflicted position of being strongly pro-union, but voted for Trump. She is very worried about the pending case and how a negative decision will affect her future job security. 

It never crossed her mind (or crossed the minds of the 37% of  other union members who voted for Trump) that her candidate would act to weaken her voice in the workplace. It never occurred to her that her President would install the deciding Court* vote to kill her union.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Would You Trust Walker With Healthcare Block Grants?

Here we go again. Just when we thought that our healthcare system was safe and ready for improvement, Zombie-Trumpcare re-emerged from the crypt. The latest version of the Republican effort to demolish our healthcare system is the Graham-Cassidy-(Heller-Johnson) bill.

Graham-Cassidy will take insurance away from an estimated 32 million Americans. Every major physician and hospital group is against this travesty. Every major organization dedicated to the health of a particular body part or aimed at fighting a specific disease is against it. Retiree organizations, reproductive rights groups, and consumer associations are all against it.

Who is for it? Most Republican politicians are reflexively for killing Obamacare because... Obama! Trump, who is desperate to sign anything that he can declare a "win", is for it. Billionaire GOP donors are for it, in order to free-up money for their promised tax-breaks. But right at the forefront of this drive to demolish our healthcare system is Wisconsin's worst political hack- Gov. Scott Walker.

The Graham-Cassidy provision that has Walker licking his chops sends huge federal sums to the states as block grants. Governors like Walker could spend these billions any way they want, with little control. Somehow, having 50 different insurance systems is supposed to be better than having uniform healthcare standards and laws across the country.

Walker has been involved in this most recent attack on the ACA from the beginning. Rather than working to help the people of Wisconsin, he has spent much of his time trying to take away our healthcare. He traveled to the White House several times since January to lobby against the Affordable Care Act.

Walker attended an emergency White House meeting in July after a previous repeal bill had failed in the Senate. Among the attendees were HHS Secretary Tom Price, Sen. Cassidy, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and the governors of Mississippi, Arizona, and Arkansas. The far-right group soon congealed around the block-grant concept.

In a Breitbart interview (don't worry, I disinfected my keyboard), Walker spoke about the White House meeting and the repeal efforts that became Graham-Cassidy, "I think it's awesome....What a perfect way to kick start a true repeal and replace of Obamacare by sending it back to the states where we’re definitely more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the people."

In the same interview, Walker said that Graham-Cassidy is a way to head-off a Medicare-for-All system," fear is at some point in the future there will be a decisive push to go the opposite direction and instead of repealing they will push for a government-run single-payer system which would be horrible for people. That is something we have to prevent from happening and I think this gives us our last best effort to do that.” It appears that Scottie's fear is my hope.

Walker is doing everything that he can to take away your healthcare through the atrocious Graham-Cassidy bill. For example, earlier this month, he published an opinion piece, "States Can Fix Obamacare's Mess". The article strongly pushes the right-wing panacea of block grants to the states. 

A bipartisan group of governors wrote to Mitch McConnell, asking him to refrain from bringing Graham-Cassidy to the Senate floor. But Walker was having none of that. He sent his own letter, signed by a strictly partisan group of GOP governors, asking for a floor vote on the bill to kill healthcare.

So Walker, who is responsible for the WEDC boondoggle of lost and untracked millions of dollars is asking for control of billions in federal block grants. Walker, who cost hardworking taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by turning-down Medicaid expansion, wants to have complete control over our state healthcare system. Walker, who negotiated the failed Foxconn fiasco, wants us to trust him with our lives.

Walker wants us to believe that a state government, run by kleptocrats like him, Robin Vos, and Scott Fitzgerald will be "more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the people".

Under Walker, Wisconsin has become a pay-for-play carnival. Organizations seeking favorable treatment by the state inevitably donate to GOP candidates. With Walker's control of billions more in block-grant money, our state will turn into a special-interest feeding frenzy. It's no wonder that the Governor is pushing this block-grant idea so hard.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Sensenbrenner's Challengers

Jim Sensenbrenner represents the most heavily Republican region of Wisconsin. His 5th Congressional District is redder than Mark Pocan's Madison-based district is blue. Jim won his last three elections by an average of thirty-eight points. In even the most epic blue election tidal wave imaginable, we have little hope of electing a Democrat in the 5th.

Our twenty-term Congressman has been in office since 1979.The year that our Congressman took his current job, the USSR invaded Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter was President. Kramer vs. Kramer was a box office hit. Magic Johnson met Larry Bird in the NCAA basketball finals. One of the top albums was Saturday Night Fever. Our world and country have drastically changed in all that time, but Jim Sensenbrenner still occupies our Congressional seat. And according to the Journal-Sentinel, he plans to be on the ballot yet again in 2018.

Still, Sensenbrenner was forced to face a Democratic challenger in every election since 2008. For the last four elections, we have had a progressive hero step forward to give voters some semblance of an electoral choice. And the 2018 election will be no different. With 424 days until the November 2018 election, we have not just one, but three Democrats who are announced candidates for the race.

In the order of their announcement, the three candidates are Shawn Rundblade, Ramon Hyron Garcia, and Thomas Palzewicz. If all three remain in the race, they will meet next year in the August 14 Democratic primary.

Shawn Rundblade announced his run last December. According to his website, Shawn has been a bagger at a grocery store, a pharmacy technician, a camera store manager, a warehouse worker, a home appliance delivery driver, and now he helps coordinate appliance deliveries. He also served as a volunteer fire fighter for seventeen years. Shawn does not have a college degree.

The 38 year old Waukesha resident calls himself a Berniecrat. His issues include single payer healthcare, getting money out of politics, education reform, and social equality. Shawn has pledged to accept no contributions from fossil fuel companies, but I can't image that he has had to return any yet. Shawn's campaign website can be found here, his LinkedIn page here, his Twitter page here, and his Facebook page here.

Ramon Hyron Garcia announced in May. According to his website, Ramon has worked as a hardware store manager, a foreman, and a hospital telemetry tech. He attended La Cordon Bleu in Chicago and does not have a college degree. Ramon has MS and is on SS Disability. He has written a book about living with MS, No More Depression. He is also a life coach.

The 40 year-old Ramon is also inspired by Bernie Sanders. Some of his major issues are a $15/hour minimum wage, universal healthcare, and an end to Citizens United. Ramon has several interesting in-car You-Tube videos, including this one that explains his candidacy. On his website, Ramon states that he did not vote in the last Presidential election. Ramon's campaign website is here, his Face Book page here, and his Twitter page here

Yesterday, Tom Palzewicz announced his own candidacy for the 5th Congressional seat. Since 2005, Tom has been a co-owner of a business-consultancy franchise. In the past, he was a treasurer at a mortgage company and is a six-year Navy veteran, serving as an electrician aboard a submarine. Tom has a business degree (BBA) from UW-Milwaukee.

The 54 year-old Palzewicz lives in Brookfield. Among his major issues are affordable healthcare for all Americans, fighting climate change, and education. Tom has published a book, Consistent Cash Flow. I understand it is quite the page turner. Tom's campaign website is here, his Face Book page here, his Twitter page here, and his LinkedIn page here.

We are blessed to have three 2018 candidates who are running as Democrats against Jim Sensenbrenner. None of these men are professional politicians. Each comes to the race with interesting and real-world experiences. Any one of them would be a better Congressman than our current occupant. Any one of them would do a superior job at listening to the concerns of their constituents.

This blog does not endorse primary candidates. Make-up your own mind which one of these fine candidates to select in August. We encourage you to explore the campaign sites linked above, compare issue statements, and to go see the candidates in-person as the primary race heats-up. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Who Will Run Against Tammy?

The November 2018 elections will be the first major referendum on the failed Trump presidency. Every one of the 435 US House seats, and 33 of the 100 Senate seats, are up for grabs. Thirty-six governor offices are at stake. In Wisconsin, our gubernatorial and US Senate races will top the ballot.

Running for reelection in a state that narrowly tilted to Trump in 2016, Tammy Baldwin will be one of the prime targets for right-wing groups that want to retain control of the US Senate. However, considering the traditionally poor showing of the President's party in mid-term elections, the early poll numbers, and the poor quality of announced GOP candidates, you have to like Tammy's chances.

Several early GOP favorites for the Wisconsin Senate race have already dropped out of consideration. In February, "Struggling" Sean Duffy declared that "this is not the right time". The Congressman from up north may have been influenced by an early poll that had him 13 points behind Baldwin. He also may have realized that the public is not ready to elect another low-intelligence reality-TV star to high office.

Fake-Democrat Sheriff David Clarke also dropped out of contention. Milwaukee County's medal-covered snowflake cowboy must have realized that the race would focus attention on the four negligent deaths at his jail. Clarke recently became a national laughing-stock when he publicly announced that he would take a Trump Administration job that was never actually offered to him. (update-Clarke resigned today! Yea !)

With these two
Republican heavy hitters out of the picture, legions of other GOPers have flirted with running. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch has been suggested as a candidate, but she ruled that out in June. Multi-millionaire Nicole Schneider of the Schneider trucking fortune discussed running, but then thought better of it.

As late as March, State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald toyed with running. However, he hasn't made any public moves since. Scott would likely have as much success as brother Jeff did in his own failed 2012 Senate run. State Rep. Dale Kooyenga, (R-Brookfield) had been one of the likeliest of the second-tier candidates to run. However, he announced yesterday that he was not yet ready. I guess that he is too busy with his bizarre quest to change the US Constitution.

A few others have been mentioned as possible GOP candidates. Mike Gallager, the one-term Congressman from WI-8, and Glen Grothman, the two-term Congressman from WI-6 are among the most prominent. State Senator Duey Strobel is listed as a possible candidate in Wikipedia (and I trust Wikipedia implicitly).

However, the three GOP candidates mentioned by most people are investor Eric Hovde, State Senator Leah Vukmir, and the only officially-announced candidate, Kevin Nicholson.

Hovde was a Washington DC hedge-fund banker and real estate developer who came-in second to Tommy Thompson in the 2012 GOP primary. During that race, he expressed his disdain for the poor, saying that he was sick of the "sob stories" of people suffering during the recession. He famously called Tammy Baldwin a commie, saying, "Her philosophy has its roots in Marxism, communism, socialism, extreme liberalism ..."

Leah Vukmir is a 59 year-old Wisconsin State Senator from Tosa. The extreme Vukmir is being bankrolled by anti-worker billionaire, Diane Hendricks, who is acting as her finance co-chair. Vukmir is not only a proud member of the infamous ALEC, but is on their Board of Directors. Among her legislative "accomplishments" is dismantling Wisconsin's non-partisan Government Accountability Board. Most recently, she has advocated for the disastrous Foxconn give-away.

Kevin Nicholson, unlike Leah Vukmir, has no legislative experience. The 39 year-old business consultant has a background that has many righties concerned. He was President of the College Democrats of America and spoke at the 2000 Democratic National Convention (horror of horrors !). There are rumors that he voted in a Democratic Presidential primary as recently as 2008. Nicholson claims to have seen the light and is now a conservative, professing to be pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-voucher. He is being bankrolled in his quest for glory by out-of-state billionaire Richard Uihlein.

Either of the two most likely Republican Senate candidates should be highly vulnerable. Vukmir's 14 year career has included many extreme and unpopular positions. Her deep involvement in the notorious ALEC organization will certainly be part of any campaign discussion. Nicholson's vigorous flip-flopping leads one to believe that he would say anything to be elected.

With the low popularity of Congressional Republicans, as well as the poor quality of probable GOP Senate candidates, Tammy Baldwin has an excellent chance of retaining her Seat. With luck and some hard work by motivated Wisconsin progressives, we will return Tammy to Washington in 2018.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stop Honoring Traitors !

While on vacation in Washington, DC last week, we toured the US Capitol building. We found ourselves right at the epicenter of the heated controversy over Confederate monuments.

Each state chooses two people to be honored with a statue in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. The Hall was established by an 1864 law that instructs "the States to provide and furnish statues, ...not exceeding two in number for each State, of deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services..."

The big controversy is that many of the former Confederate states chose to honor Civil War Generals or politicians. They chose men who committed treason against the government in whose Capitol they are commemorated. In doing so, the states celebrate the abhorrent practice of human slavery. This is a big poke in the eyes of all loyal Americans and a big slap to the faces of black citizens.

Of the 100 people honored in our Capitol, eight were political or military leaders who played major roles in the fight against the United States. President Jefferson Davis (MS) and VP Alexander Stephens (GA) are there. Rebel officers Robert E. Lee (VA), James George (MS), Wade Hampton (SC), Edmond Smith (FL), Joseph Wheeler (AL), and Zebulon Vance (NC) are honored.

Commemorating these men who fought against the United States in our Capitol building is equivalent to honoring others who fought against America. Why not a statue of Admiral Yamamoto or Field Marshal Rommel in the rotunda? Why not a bust of Vietnamese General Giap in the Visitor's Center? Why not statues of British Revolutionary War Generals Howe or Burgoyne in Statuary Hall? (Actually, a painting of Burgoyne is in the Rotunda, but he is surrendering to Americans).

But these foreign military leaders who fought the US have far more honor than the rebel leaders from the Civil War. After all, they were patriots in their own countries. In contrast, the Confederate leaders turned their backs on the United States. They should no more be allowed a place of honor in our Capitol than other notorious traitors like Benedict Arnold, KGB mole Aldrich Ames, or atomic spy Julius Rosenburg.

Republicans have come to the defense of honoring traitors and defenders of slavery in our Capitol. House Speaker Paul Ryan meekly said, "These are decisions for those states to make." VP Pence said (of course) on Fox News," [whether to remove monuments] should always be a local decision. And with regard to the U.S. Capitol, should be state decisions." And it has been made perfectly clear how the quickly-failing President Trump feels about keeping the monuments to racism and bigotry.

In sharp contrast, Democrats are on the right side of history. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated, "The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible. If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call upon Speaker Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately." I agree with Nancy. Statues of Confederate leaders should come down now ! Turn them into something more useful, like nails or gravel !

On the lighter side, there is a silly article in White Right Wisconsin suggesting that the statue of Bob La Follette should be removed from the US Capitol and replaced with someone deemed more suitably conservative, such as Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist. I guess that reforms championed by Fightin' Bob, such as women's suffrage, worker's rights, consumer protections, child labor laws, and the direct election of US Senators are just too far left for the goofy author of the article.

If we are going to replace one of the two Wisconsin commemorative statues, let's not remove the one of La Follette. Let's not take down the statue of a man who was voted by historians as the greatest Senator in American history, based on accomplishments in office and long term impact.

If we must remove a statue, let's take down the one of Jacques Marquette. He merely passed through Wisconsin on his travels around the Upper Midwest. He had as much, or more impact on Michigan and Illinois as on our own state. Aren't there Wisconsinites who have given more to our state and country than an ancient French explorer from the 1600's ?

Who should we honor instead of Marquette? Let's not venerate yet another politician. Since the state honoree decisions are made by politicians, this self-important group is naturally way over-represented in Statuary Hall.

How about an aeronaut or astronaut? Wisconsin can claim Billy Michell (father of the Air Force), Deke Slayton, and Jim Lovell. Or an entertainer? Houdini is ours, as are rocker Steve Miller and Orson Welles. Or an important environmentalist such as John Muir, Aldo Leopold, or Gaylord Nelson?

Wisconsin has claims on many creative types worthy of statuary honor. Frank Lloyd Wright was from here. Several important inventors have Wisconsin ties, including Les Paul, King Gillette (safety razor), Seymour Cray (supercomputer), and John Bardeen (twice a Physics Nobel laureate, invented the transistor).

Let's leave Bob La Follette in his place of honor in both the US and state Capitols. He has earned it. If we must switch-out a statue, let's remove Jacques Marquette and replace him with someone more worthy of acclaim.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The New GOPee

I am old enough to remember when the Republican party was a group of adults with rational, albeit misguided, policy objectives. That party is long gone. The new GOP has become a party of third graders with a juvenile fixation on urination. Republicans want to test your urine, tell you where to urinate, and talk about urination in public rallies. The party of Goldwater has become the party of golden water. The GOP has become the GOPee.

For example, GOP legislators across America have introduced bills to force transgender people to use the bathrooms corresponding to their birth gender. North Carolina went farther than any other state in telling people where to pee, but somewhat backed-off after facing strong economic pressure. Even Wisconsin has its own supporters of this regressive idea. Representative Jesse Kremer (R-Neolithic) has been a primary proponent of bathroom gender-verification police.

The Obama Administration put some order on this chaos. In 2016, the Department of Education issued a directive protecting the rights of transgender students, including allowing them to use a restroom in alignment with their gender identity. However, like in so many areas, the Trump administration scrapped the rational Obama policy. We have returned to the previous "where can I pee?" pandemonium.

Another case of the Republican urine fixation is their push to collect and analyze the pee of poor people. Drug testing the urine of those on public assistance is one of the few bedrock principles of the modern GOP. They've gotta punish those "undeserving poor" ! Mean-spirited Republican states, including Florida, Utah, Missouri, Michigan, North Carolina, and Tennessee have wasted taxpayer money on testing unemployment insurance applicants.

Each trial of the Republicans' vast drug testing experiment failed to reveal hordes of drug-crazed welfare recipients. Tennessee screened 39,000 applicants and turned-up 69 positives. Utah screened 9,500 applicants and turned-up 29 positives. Arizona screened 87,000 applicants and found one positive. The percentage of drug users among those on unemployment is consistently much lower than among the employed.

Despite all of the failed programs in other states, our own Scott Walker still is obsessed with collecting and testing the urine of the poor. He has long wanted to pee-test those on food stamps, but was denied by the Obama Administration. He spent state funds on a lawsuit against the Federal government to try to be allowed to do that testing. He has applied to the Trump Administration for permission to urine-test those on Badger Care. There seems to be no limit to the amount of your tax dollars Walker is willing to spend on his strange little urine fetish.

The intellectual leader of the national Republican party has a thing about urine, too. During a campaign rally, Donald Trump babbled on and on about the fact that Hillary goes to the bathroom. She had been a little delayed coming back from a short break during one of the Democratic debates.

This was unfathomable to Trump. To his crowd of mouth-breathing supporters, Trump rambled, “I thought she quit. I thought she gave up. Where did she go ? Where did Hillary go? They had to start the debate without her! Phase two. I know where she went. It’s disgusting. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s disgusting. Don't say it! It's too disgusting! Let's not talk about it!” National politics have degenerated to the point that a presidential candidate delves into his opponent's toilet trip. Sad.

And who can forget the infamous pee-pee tape ? An intelligence dossier on Trump's Russian connections implied that the Russians have a compromising video of Trump in a Moscow hotel. Our President allegedly paid two hookers to urinate on a bed in the Presidential Suite at the Ritz-Carlton. Of course, the White House denied the story.

Out of respect to the office of President, I would normally accept a White House denial of such a wild tale. But Trump is not a normal President. His bizarre obsequence to the Russians, combined with the fact that he constantly lies about all matters big and small, lead one to believe the pee-pee tape story is entirely plausible.

Today's GOP is fixated on your precious bodily fluids. They want to control where you pee. They want to test your pee. They talk about pee in campaign speeches. Some believe that the GOP President paid prostitutes to pee while he watched. Republicans have become the number one party, and I don't mean that in a good way. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Washzakee ? Ozaukington?

Washington County officials recently put out feelers to neighboring counties concerning the merging of governmental services. This effort is aimed at reducing overhead costs. Washington and Ozaukee counties have already realized savings by combining their health services and are looking at other ways to save through consolidation.

In a July story on local TV, the Washington County Administrator speculated that even a complete merger of Washington and Ozaukee Counties is not off the table. This idea is not totally crazy. The two counties were a single entity in the past, only to part ways in 1853. Let's explore a few facets of a possible merger between Washington and Ozaukee Counties.

The combined county certainly will not be too unwieldy in size. At 233 square miles, current Ozaukee County is the second smallest in Wisconsin. Only tiny Pepin County is smaller. Washington is a little larger. At 431 square miles, Washington ranks 63 out of 72 counties in size. The combined Ozaukee-Washington County will still be only the 43rd largest Wisconsin county.

The two heavily-developed counties certainly are not tiny in population. Ozaukee, with 88,314 people, is the 17th most populous county in the state. Washington, with 134,296 people, is the 11th most populous. A combined county will become the fifth most populous Wisconsin county overnight. We will only be surpassed by Milwaukee, Dane, Waukesha, and Brown Counties.

The new county will have a median family income between those of Washington ($69,237) and Ozaukee ($76,433). The poverty rate
(W-5.6% ; O-5.2%) and the median age (W- 42.1 yrs ; O-43.8 yrs) will also fall between the two counties. The combined county will be higher income, less poor, and older than the current Washington County.

I know that the proposed merger is aimed at cost savings. However, we should think long term. To avoid parochial arguments over the location of the new county seat, a new Court House could be built at the center of the new county. A beautiful and palatial county library could also be constructed. Diagonal lines drawn from the four corners of the combined counties meet in a rural area just northeast of Jackson. Land there should be cheap.

Unlike other high-population Wisconsin counties such as Milwaukee, Dane, Waukesha, and Brown, the new county will not be dominated by a single large city. The combined Washington-Ozaukee county will be dotted with a well-dispersed group of medium-sized cities. The largest municipalities (2010 census) are West Bend (31k), Mequon (23k), Germantown (20k), Hartford (14k), Cedarburg (11K), Port Washington (11k), Grafton (11k), and Richfield (11k).

What should we call the new county? Certainly, we can drop the name "Washington". There are already Washington Counties in thirty of the fifty states. The loss of one Washington County will not be mourned. Our new county should avoid a name so common that we often are often confused with twenty-nine others.

Naming the combined county "Ozaukee" is not that great, either. Ozaukee is supposedly from Ojibwe, meaning "people living at the mouth of a river". Not all that inspiring for a 21st century county.

Any of the names that one could construct from a combination of the two current county names are pretty lame, also. "Washington-Ozaukee County" takes way too long to say. The shorter "Washzakee" and "Ozaukington" don't exactly roll off the tongue.

No, I think that our new combined county needs a name that is unique, easy to say, and is fairly modern. How about naming the new county for one of the most effective Presidents of recent times? I am all in for "Obama County" ! I am sure that most local residents will agree !

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ron Johnson Would Throw Out the Baby With the Bathwater

The Republican machinations to end healthcare for millions of Americans often defy logic. Yesterday, Wisconsin's dumb Senator, Ron Johnson, did a press conference with fellow Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Bill Cassidy. The four wanted to make it clear that the"skinny" GOP Bill to end healthcare was unacceptable. They wanted to express their hope that the awful bill would never become law.

Graham called the bill a "disaster", "a fraud", "terrible policy", and "a half-assed approach". The bill would kick millions off of healthcare and result in 20% premium increases over current projections for years to come. Late last night, Graham, Johnson, and Cassidy voted for the bill anyway.

On his turn to speak at the press conference, Senator Johnson told the woeful tale of a couple, Shari and Vern Colby of River Falls, Wisconsin. Vern drives a milk truck 60-70 hours a week. Shari works for a florist. The couple evidently bought insurance on the Exchange. They believed themselves eligible for Premium Tax Credits and received these as advanced payments, greatly lowering the costs of their monthly premiums. At the end of the year, Shari and Vern found that they had made too much money to qualify for the tax credits. They were required to repay the credits that they had already received, amounting to about $15,000.

According to Johnson, the couple had to tap their 401K to repay the government. He claimed that they had to sell their house to get the rest of the money.

Naturally, Johnson didn't mention the benefits that the Colbys gained from the ACA. Shari had a pre-existing condition. Before the ACA, she may not have been able to buy health insurance at any price. If she could have found an insurer, the couple might have paid much more than the $15,000 tax credit plus any monthly payments that they had already made. Before the ACA, nobody was eligible for government help in paying the ever-rising cost of insurance.

The couple was victim of one of the most easily-fixable flaws of the current ACA. The Premium Tax Credit is available to people who make up to 400% of the federal poverty level. Last year, that was $63,720 for a family of two like the Colbys. The law provides that nobody under the 400% income cap pays more than 9.66% of their income on health insurance.

However, the fixable flaw is that people earning even one dollar over 400% of the poverty level are ineligible for any tax credit. One more dollar of income can be the difference between a $12,000 credit and nothing. Unlike most other tax credits that gradually phase-out with higher income, this premium tax credit has a dramatic income cliff. I know. We buy our insurance on the exchange and have had to deal with this very provision.

Johnson admitted that nothing the Republicans are doing in any of the proposals are addressing the challenges and problems of people like Shari and Vern. Johnson and his GOP colleagues could have worked with the Democrats any time during the last seven years. Together, they could have addressed flaws in the ACA such as the one that tripped-up the Colbys. Instead, they obstructed any efforts to fix the law.

If Johnson really cared about people like the Colbys, he and his fellow Republicans could solve their problem immediately. He could eliminate the income-cliff over which the Colby's tumbled. He could submit a bill to gradually taper-off the tax credit for higher income workers. But no, Johnson would rather benefit politically from the Colby's misfortune. He would rather use their case as an excuse to take healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans and to gut Medicaid.
He would rather throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Johnson, who has called the Affordable Care Act "the worst assault on freedom in our lifetimes", would rather sit on his hands with his nihilist Republican colleagues, hoping against hope that the ACA will fail. He would rather let the Colbys be suffering pawns in a cruel political game. 

Maybe Johnson could stop playing politics and think of his constituents for a change. With last night's failure to repeal the ACA, he could actually work with Democrats to fix the law and make it stronger. Instead of whining about injustice, he could tweak the law so that he could help people like the poor Colbys