Friday, December 15, 2017

Political Winners and Losers of 2017

Each December, the staff at Radio Free W.O.W. selects the biggest Political Winners and Losers of the past year. 2017 has been an incredibly busy year in the political arena. We had little difficulty in identifying Losers in this Walker/Ryan/Trump era. Winners were a little harder to come by. Here are our nominees:

Losers- The 8,900,000 American children who count on the Children's Health Program (CHIP) to access medical care and the 700,000 Dreamers who face deportation to countries they don't know. All are still waiting on Congress to do something about their situation.

Winners-The children of Wisconsin after Tony Evers won the State Superintendent race with 70% of the vote. The only areas carried by his wack-a-doo opponent, Lowell Holtz, were (sadly) my own Washington County and adjacent Waukesha County.

Loser- Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Clarke was a regular fixture at far-right events. Known for a chest full of cereal-box medals, cowboy hat, and deaths at his jail. Clarke gave definition to the term "snowflake" when he had his deputies detain a man who looked at him meanly.

Winners- Lovers of the English language. 2017 politics popularized a number of formerly obscure and interesting terms like emoluments, dotard, collusion, narcissist, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and cofeffe.

Losers-The 58 people killed in October's Las Vegas shooting. The 26 people killed at a church in rural Texas in November. The other 14,683 Americans killed by gun violence in 2017. The 29,893 Americans injured in 2017 by gun violence. Still, Congress only offers thoughts and prayers instead of real solutions.

Winners- Foxconn executives for getting an unsophisticated rube of a governor to give them a cool $3 billion to locate a plant in southeast Wisconsin. This is the largest public subsidy to a foreign company in US history.

Loser- American leadership in world. We alienated our closest allies (Canada, Mexico, UK, France, Germany, Australia) while sucking-up to dictators (Russia, China, Turkey, Philippines). We ceded moral leadership by dropping-out of the Paris Accord. We alienated Arab friends with the move of our embassy to Jerusalem.

Winners- All of the comedians who have given us a bit of comic relief in these trying political times. Special kudos to Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee, Alec Baldwin, Anthony "the Mooch" Scaramucci, Melissa McCarthy, Omorosa Manigault, and Randy Rainbow.

Losers- The tiki-torch-carrying, polo-shirt-wearing Nazi wannabes who marched in Virginia in August. Of course, Trump thinks that some of them are good people.

Winners- Billionaires. The ultra-rich usually win, but their wholesale purchase of Congress is paying-off big-time. They are getting a huge tax break, despite what it will do to the middle class and to the national debt.

Losers- All of the politicians who betrayed the public trust by acting in sexually inappropriate ways. US Senator Al Franken, Senate candidate Roy Moore, Rep. John Conyers, Rep. Blake Farenthold, Rep. Trent Franks, and Rep. Joe Barton are the latest examples to come to light. One of the worst violators still occupies the Oval Office.

Winner-Robert Mueller, for assembling a top-notch team of investigators. They are carrying-out a thorough and impeccably honest investigation of interference in US elections by a hostile foreign government. Four solid indictments down and many more to follow.

Losers-The hardworking taxpayers of Wisconsin who were forced to pay $245 million for school vouchers and another $12 million for tuition tax credits to send other people's children to private, mostly religious, schools.

Winners- Democrats in deep red regions. Whether in W.O.W. counties, Indiana, or Texas, dedicated Democrats everywhere are making a difference. We always have an impact on purple-state statewide races. Sometimes, we can even pull-off an upset, as in the Virginia and Oklahoma legislature elections or the Alabama US Senate race!

Loser- Donald Trump, who showed that he has very weak political influence. His heavily-endorsed gubernatorial candidate in Virginia lost. His heavily-endorsed primary candidate for Alabama Senate lost. His heavily-endorsed general election candidate for Alabama Senate lost. Is there a pattern here?

Winners- The Washington Post, The New York Times, Politico, and the few other media outlets that still conduct investigative reporting. You are needed now, more than ever.

Losers- The 3.5 million people of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands who suffered from September's Hurricane Maria. FEMA's weak response was a national disgrace. The islands did, however, get badly needed paper towels. We also were amazed to discover that they are islands in the middle of the ocean.

Winners- People of the resistance. Millions of American patriots who were awakened by the most granny-starving, hate-filled, rights-restricting agenda the country has ever seen. They raised their voices through the Woman's March, the March for Science, airport rallies, taking a knee during the National Anthem, calling Congressional offices, knocking doors for candidates, and participating in town halls. America is now woke.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Who Will Defend Social Security and Medicare?

The GOP scheme to give giant tax cuts to billionaires and corporations is well on its way to becoming law. The plan will blow an unprecedented $1.4 trillion hole in the National Debt. In order to make-up for the Republican largess to their rich donors, huge automatic cuts in spending will likely kick-in. An estimated $25 billion per year will be taken from Medicare alone.

But that is not enough punishment for those retired or near retirement. After finishing their job of enacting the largest ever transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich, Republicans will just be hitting their stride. Next on their agenda? A total and complete gutting of both Social Security and Medicare.

Much buzz has been made over Paul Ryan's interview yesterday on Denver right-wing radio. Most of the conversation centered on Ryan's next plans for his GOP majority. Ryan boasted, “We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit. ... Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the healthcare entitlements — because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.

The interviewer asked if Ryan was making an impact on Trump when talking to him about the importance of Medicare "reform". Ryan responded, "This is my big thing for many, many years. I think its the biggest "entitlement" that's got to have reform."

It is no big surprise that, with Republicans now in power, Ryan plans to gut the Social Security and Medicare benefits you have earned. After all, this has been a central feature of Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" manifestos for years. In these documents, Ryan has advocated the privatization of Social Security and replacing Medicare with discount coupons for private insurance. 

Ryan claims that even as a college student, he was dreaming about gutting the safety net. While everyone around him was thinking about dating and classes and parties, young Paul was pondering the block-granting of Medicaid. He was wondering how he could deny healthcare to millions of Americans.

But Ryan cannot destroy Social Security and Medicare all by himself. He needs the complicity of the entire Republican Party. How does the rest of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation feel about taking a wrecking-ball to your retirement security? Do they share in Ryan's youthful fantasy?

Certainly, Jim Sensenbrenner is on-board. In a 2016 statement, he said, "Every day that goes by, the situation grows worse and will require more drastic changes to the Social Security and Medicare programs. The time to act is now. The health and security of all Americans depend on it.

Sensenbrenner's record on the two crucial programs for retirees leaves something to be desired. He has earned an abysmal 5% Lifetime Rating from the Alliance for Retired Americans (AFRA). Jim got a "thumbs down" rating on 10 of 11 key Medicare votes, as reported by He is certainly not an advocate for his district's older constituents.

Glenn Grothman is no better on strengthening these programs for retired Americans. He has a 0% lifetime rating from the AFRA and "thumbs down" on all three of his three key Medicare votes.

Senator Ron Johnson just admitted that he is OK with adding 2 to 3 trillion dollars to the National Debt to fund GOP tax cuts for the wealthy. Yet, he claims that we cannot afford the programs that keep so many of our elderly out of poverty. He famously compared Social Security to a giant Ponzi scheme. He voted for Paul Ryan's plot to turn Medicare into a discount coupon plan. Johnson has certainly earned his failing 2% lifetime rating from the AFRA.

In stark contrast, Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan, and Ron Kind have earned 100%, 100%, 100%, and 89% Lifetime ratings, respectively from the AFRA. The four Democrats in Wisconsin's Congressional delegation are 7/7, 9/10, 4/5, and 10/11 for "thumbs up" on key Medicare votes since 2003. Wisconsin Democrats stand with our state's seniors.

There is no more clear cut difference between the two major parties than on Social Security and Medicare policy. Wisconsin Congressional Democrats consistently vote to preserve the programs, while state Republicans vote to demolish them. We know which party is looking-out for the interests of retired Wisconsinites and those who plan to retire someday. We know which party's candidates deserve to be sent to Washington in 2018.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Before the Breathing Air Is Gone ...

Wisconsin politicians continue their crusade to endanger your family's health and safety. In October, we reported on the GOP legislators' push to slash training and educational requirements for state-issued professional licenses. In August, Walker signed the so-called REINS Act into law, which allows corrupt politicians to kill critically-needed environmental, safety, and health regulations.

Now, in their latest attempt to make you sicker, Republican legislators are taking a meat cleaver to state air pollution rules. Assembly Bill 587 will repeal any state air pollution standards that go beyond Federal EPA rules.

The Federal standards cover 188 pollutants. That sounds like a lot, but it is only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of hazardous chemicals used or produced in America every day. According to a 2004 Legislative Audit Report, the Wisconsin DNR monitors an additional 293 hazardous air pollutants. If all enforcement of state standards ends, this will constitute a 61% reduction in the number of toxic pollutants monitored in the air you breathe.

The noxious bill has widespread support among the GOP majority. Thirteen Republican Representatives and four State Senators are listed as sponsors. A brief hearing by the Assembly Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations was held on the bill on November 21. The hearing lasted about an hour and forty-five minutes, with a handful of people testifying. The entire proceedings can be seen on WisconsinEye.

During the hearing, the bill's primary authors, Duey Stroebel (R-Wheezetown) and Jesse Kremer (R-Gasp City), kept repeating that if regulation of a hazardous air pollutant is deemed necessary by DNR scientists, then they could conduct the studies to re-regulate that pollutant. There are three problems with this idea.

First of all, the bill would instantly end state regulation of many state-monitored air pollutants. In order to reinstate a toxic compound on their list, the DNR staff would need to conduct an entirely new set of studies and hearings. This would take a great deal of time, possibly years. During this lengthy process, there would be no monitoring of that air toxin. In the meantime, you might just have to live with the emissions of o-chlorotoluene, dioxins, or hydrogen cyanide in your town.

Secondly, recent budget maneuvering by Walker has led to a much smaller DNR. Department scientists have been especially hard-hit by the staff reductions. A decreased scientific staff will lead to unacceptably long wait periods for reinstatement of noxious compounds on the monitoring list.

Finally, it may simply be politically impossible to reinstate a bad-actor compound on the monitoring list. With the Wisconsin REINS Act now in place, any regulation deemed to cost businesses at least ten million dollars over the entire state must pass through the legislature. If legislative leaders or committee chairs refuse to bring up the regulation for a vote, it will die. Big industry polluters need only "convince" one leadership politician of the righteousness of their cause to kill the DNR monitoring of a hazardous compound.

Wisconsin has long been on the forefront of environmental protection policy. It is sad that our state legislators now want to roll back state rules to the much weaker Federal ones. At the same time, the US EPA is being destroyed from within. The current EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, is a man on a mission to weaken the organization. For example, while Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt sued the EPA fourteen times.

The organizations that have come-out against AB587 include environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Clean Wisconsin, Inc, and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. As a defender of public health, the American Lung Association is also against the bill.

Who is for the bill? A pack of polluters and polluting-industry advocates, such as the American Petroleum Institute, Wisconsin Energy Group, Inc., Wisconsin Paper Council, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). WMC is certainly getting their money's worth with this legislation. On their website, the business lobbying group states as one of their goals -"...conforming Wisconsin regulations to those of corresponding federal laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. "

AB 587 is a brazen GOP attempt to roll-back the quality of Wisconsin's air. Anyone who lives, works, or breathes in our state should be angry about this bill. If we permit it to become law, AB587 will allow more air pollution, thereby endangering our health, and lowering our quality of life.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Why Can't Wisconsin Have Real Referendums ?

In 2011, GOP politicians took over both Wisconsin and Ohio as part of a national wave election. The Republican governors and legislatures soon let their newly-gained power go to their heads. Both states quickly enacted laws to destroy the right of public employees to bargain. Both states saw huge public anger at this gross abuse of power. Hundreds of thousands of outraged citizens descended on Madison and Columbus for weeks of protest.

But the way that the people were able to deal with the crisis was very different between Wisconsin and Ohio. In Wisconsin, nine State Senators faced recall elections in 2011. Scott Walker, along with four more State Senators faced recall in 2012. After all of the dust settled, three Republican State Senators had been replaced by Democratic challengers.

The actions taken in Wisconsin required a great deal of activity by people in the state. Signatures were collected and verified. Candidates were recruited. Expensive primary and general elections were conducted.

The political climate in the state was poisoned during this time, and has never fully recovered. Neighbor turned on neighbor. Friend turned on friend. Kin turned on kin. Political witch-hunts took place in which judges, reporters, office holders, and candidates who signed recall petitions were called-out for public shaming. "Wisconsin Nice" died a tragic death.

But after all of that effort and energy, we are still stuck with the unpopular Act 10. Even today, we are burdened with the poorer schools, lower wages, and residual employee resentment that the Republican law forced on us.

By contrast, Ohio was able to handle the same union-destroying power-grab quite differently. Unlike Wisconsinites, Ohio citizens are able to call a referendum on laws that don't reflect the will of the people. Citizens actually have veto power over unpopular legislation.

Ohio's anti-worker bill, SB 5, was signed into law by John Kasich on March 31, 2011. Ohio citizens have 90 days after a law is signed to submit petition signatures to force a veto referendum onto the ballot. Valid signatures totaling 6% of the vote in the state's prior gubernatorial election are required (amounting to 231,149 names in 2011). At the end of June, over five and a half times that many signatures were proudly submitted to the Ohio Secretary of State.

The referendum was placed on the ballot in November. The good guys won. The anti-worker law was defeated by an overwhelming 62-38% vote. The law was "recalled". It was vetoed by the people. But no politicians lost their jobs. This was a much less divisive, and much more effective, way of overturning the GOP's unpopular scheme.

Wisconsin does have referendums, but they are of very weak types. The people approve any changes to the state Constitution through referendums. We can have an advisory referendum on an issue if the state legislature requests one. We are also allowed to initiate non-binding advisory referendums to voice public opinion on an issue (such as all of the recent local referendums on overturning Citizens United).

Twenty three states have the sort of strong veto referendums used so effectively in Ohio in 2011. People in these states can overturn bad laws and counteract partisan power-grabs. They have much more of a voice in the way they are governed than we do.

Twenty four states have a process by which the people can circumvent a do-nothing legislature or obstinate Governor to enact a new law or constitutional amendment. This sort of referendum was successful in Maine just last week , when voters overruled the five vetoes of Medicaid expansion by crazy Governor Paul LePage. Seventy thousand additional Maine residents will now have access to Medicaid coverage.

The people of Wisconsin need to have a more active and democratic participation in our state government. We should have the chance to over-rule bad laws from our gerrymandered legislature. We should have the opportunity to initiate new laws through binding citizen referendums. We should join with half of the states in the country. We should have meaningful referendum provisions in our state Constitution.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thank You, Mr. Trump !

I never thought that I would say this, but thank you, Mr. Trump ! Because of your recent actions to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, I will get my health insurance for free in 2018.

My wife and I can be considered an Obamacare success story. We are both retired, but not quite old enough for Medicare. For the last four years, we have purchased insurance through the Federal ACA Exchange. Each year, our retirement income was too high for cost-sharing subsidies, but we kept our IRA income low enough (<4 times the poverty rate) to qualify for tax credits at the end of the year .

Thanks to the ACA, our insurance costs have stayed comparatively low. The available tax credits are based on the Second Lowest Cost Silver Plan (SLCSP) for each county's exchange. In the interest of saving money, we have always bought one of the less-expensive, higher deductible Bronze Plans.

After tax credits, our monthly out-of-pocket costs for insurance for 2014-17 has averaged $400/month. That is substantially less than we paid for similar insurance before implementation of the exchanges. Thank you, President Obama!

Of course, we signed-up again for 2018 coverage. It was fast and easy to re-enroll online at We did not need help, but telephone operators are available for those who do. But if you also plan to get your 2018 insurance through the Exchanges, please hurry ! Open enrollment ends on December 15 this year.

Several companies, including the carrier we used from 2014 through 2017, dropped out of our exchange for 2018. In Washington County, we went from a choice of 41 plans in 2017 to just 20 plans (offered by three companies) for next year. Both Anthem and Molina cited the "uncertainties" in Washington as their reason for exiting the Exchange. This was a polite way of saying that Trump and his HHS Secretary have been purposely sabotaging the law.

There are certainly fewer choices this year than in the past. Still, the Marketplace is thriving, despite the moronic "Obamacare is dead!" bleating from the Saboteur-in-Chief.

Trump has done everything he can to kill Obamacare. He refused to allow the Government to spend funds allotted for publicizing the Exchanges. He has cut the enrollment window in half. He has berated Obamacare at every opportunity, often confusing many into believing that the program no longer exists. Worst of all, he has played politics with the lives of Americans by reneging on the law's Cost Sharing subsidies (CSR) provision.

CSR helped especially poor people afford insurance. It remitted money directly to the insurance companies in exchange for lower rates on Silver plans they bought on the Exchanges. After Trump welched on the government's payments, the insurance companies were still legally required to provide the lower rates to poorer people. In order to stay out of a Trump-induced bankruptcy, most of the remaining exchange insurance providers drastically raised the prices of their Silver plans.

The huge Trump-caused price increases only affected Silver plans. For examples, the Bronze plan that we selected for 2018 is only 16% more than the similar Bronze plan that we had in 2017. In contrast, the Second Lowest Cost Silver Plan (SLCSP) for 2018 is a whopping 67% higher than the SLCSP for 2017.

With our Bronze plan increasing by just 16%, and the SLCSP, upon which federal tax credits are based, increasing by 67%, we will end-up paying zero dollars for our Bronze plan. That is correct. We will get free health insurance in 2018. Through his ham-handed efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act, Trump has inadvertently made insurance much cheaper, or even free for many of us. Thank you, Mr. Trump !

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Do Something !

IQ45 has become increasingly deranged as the FBI investigation of his collusion with Russia closes in. In a desperate attempt at distraction, he resurrected a discredited conspiracy theory accusing Hillary Clinton of handing-over US uranium to the Russians.

On Sunday, he tweeted: 

It is unclear who Trump is desperately begging to "DO SOMETHING !" It is equally unclear what he expects them to do. However, I have a suggestion for somebody in Washington who really should do something.

Congress has much that they should deal with before the end of the year. They must do something to allow the Dreamers to remain in America, after Trump ended DACA. They must do something to authorize payment of Affordable Care Act cost-sharing subsidies, after Trump ended those payments. They must do something to reauthorize the expired Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). They must do something to increase the debt limit in December, so that the Government can actually stay open.

But instead of doing something on these four critical tasks, what has the House of Representatives done since the first of October? They voted to criminalize abortion after twenty weeks (Sensenbrenner, Grothman voted for). They named three Post Offices. They jammed through a sham budget in a procedural scheme targeting huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. They passed a bill allowing clear cutting of National Forests with no environmental review or public comment (Grothman for, Sensenbrenner against).

Most importantly, the House passed the South Carolina Peanut Parity Act of 2017. This all-important bill will allow South Carolina to appoint members to the Peanut Standards Board.

With only twelve in-session days remaining in November and nine in December, we should worry about the ability of the House to act on the critical matters waiting for them. However, all we seem to hear from House leaders is the importance of gigantic tax cuts.

The American people are not clamoring for tax cuts. We have been here before. We realize that the unwise move will balloon the deficit in order to give huge tax breaks to profitable corporations and the ultra-rich. These cuts, that Republican politicians are hell-bent on jamming-through by the end of the year, are a callous pay-off to wealthy political contributors.

Failure of Congress to implement a new Dream Act will affect over 700,000 young people. Since Trump killed the DACA program two months ago, the lives of these kids have been a Kafkaesque nightmare. Paul Ryan has not promised any plan of action on the issue.

It has been 33 days since Congress allowed the Children's Health Insurance Plan to expire. The program provides healthcare to 8.9 million children through state-run Medicare and CHIP plans. The House GOP is attempting to attach poison pills to this must-pass bill. States are scraping to keep their programs going, but can't continue emergency funding efforts forever.

It has been 21 days since Trump announced that he was ending cost-sharing subsidies, a provision of the Affordable Care Act. This cost-sharing program helped low-income families afford health insurance. Last year, nearly six million people received assistance. Trump timed his announcement for maximal disruption of the insurance markets. His decision means that millions will be unable to afford insurance, the government will pay billions more, and fewer insurance companies will participate in the exchanges. Neither Paul Ryan nor Mitch McConnell appear to be interested in a bipartisan solution negotiated in the Senate.

The 700,000 Dreamers, and the 6,000,000 poor getting cost-sharing insurance subsidies, and the 8,900,000 children on CHIP do not seem to be a priority with this Congress. Their piece-of-mind does not concern Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump. Calls for Congress to "Do Something!" on these issues fall on deaf ears. The problems of millions of Americans will be addressed, maybe sometime, at a future date, in the not-too-distant future.

No, the number one priority of the Republican Congress is tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. Everybody else will just have to wait their turn. After all, there are only twenty-one Congressional work days left in 2017.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ron Johnson is No Fiscal Conservative

I have to confess. I am a fiscal conservative. Other than during a deep recession or national emergency, I believe that the Federal Government should not spend more money than it takes in.

Senator Ron Johnson has long claimed to be a fiscal conservative, too. However, Johnson has totally reversed himself by supporting current GOP efforts to slash federal taxes on corporations and the ultra-rich.

While we are running deficits, we have absolutely no business in drastically increasing defense spending. We should not take-on purposeless multi-billion dollar projects like the DOTUS's Great Wall. We cannot afford to waste tens of billions on political stunts like IQ45's ending of supplemental ACA payments. We cannot justify huge pay-outs to the profitable pharmaceutical and fossil-fuel industries. And most of all, we should not reduce the amount of money coming-in by enacting humongous tax cuts.

Although I reject Sen. Ron Johnson's Tea Party approach on almost every issue, I have agreed with him on one thing. I saw Johnson's budget Power Point presentation several years ago during a West Bend town hall. He made the point that the growing Federal debt is a big problem. I totally agree. I appreciate the fact that he has brought attention to this problem. However, I do not agree with his placing the blame on Social Security and Medicare. We should not gut these programs that we have paid-into in our entire working lives.

But Johnson can no longer claim to be a fiscal conservative. He is currently a big proponent of so-called tax reform. There are two things he, and all Republicans, co-mix in that term. There is tax simplification, in which many of the byzantine rules of the current tax code would be revised to make filing taxes simpler. It is hard to argue against this. Who doesn't like the idea of a tax-return the size of a postcard?

However, the GOP's main drive for "tax reform" is not simplification. That is merely a diversion. The real motivation is to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations. This fiscally destructive move is being insisted on by major Republican donors. Depending on the final details, the GOP bill will add between $1.5 and $2.2 TRILLION dollars to the national debt over the next ten years.

Anyone who is concerned about deficits should be terrified of the Republican tax plan. This isn't rocket science. If you bring-in less money than you spend, then you run deficits. If you enact policies that drastically axe the amount of money coming-in, you make those deficits even larger.

However, many of the Republican politicians touting tax reform want us to believe that multi-trillion-dollar tax cuts will fund themselves. They are feeding us the lie that we will miraculously see such incredible economic growth that the government will actually see higher revenue. Variously called trickle-down economics, or voodoo economics, or bullshit, this has been shown time after time to simply not work. It didn't work in the '80's under Reagan. It didn't work in the 00's under Bush. It isn't working at the state level in the basket-case of Kansas.

Congressional Republicans put so much faith in the myth of self-funding tax cuts that they are calling on the CBO to score their tax-giveaway using fantasy numbers. They do not want the CBO to use realistic projected economic growth numbers to determine how badly the federal debt will balloon (so-called static scoring). They want the CBO to assume much higher growth rates, so that the resultant debt will not appear so cataclysmic (so-called dynamic scoring).

Like most Republicans, Ron Johnson has totally reversed his Obama-Era position that the deficit is important. He wants to run the US into ruinous debt by giving huge tax breaks to the already wealthy and to corporations enjoying record profits. During a September interview with the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Johnson said that the tax reform he supports will lead to "a somewhat lowering of rates. From my standpoint, not even close to enough, but it's better than nothing."

Earlier this month, Johnson confessed that he was fine with being responsible for adding trillions to America's debt, "Just agree we’re going to lose money on a static scoring basis. I’m happy to live with a $2-3 trillion static loss."

So Ron Johnson is supporting what will be the largest corporate tax give-away ever. He is supporting a Republican effort to run America into a ditch of financial ruin. He is supporting policies that mortgage our children's future to give tax breaks to the one percent. He would be happy to add $3 trillion to the national debt. Fiscal conservative, my eye !

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.