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Commentary from us and our readers.

Playing Nice in the Sandbox and the River PDF Print E-mail
Commentary - Commentary
Written by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District   
Tuesday, 17 May 2016 08:09

wakeboardingThe recreational sport of wakeboarding is popular along the Black River, but the constant large wakes caused by the boats has effected people’s use of the river and caused damage to piers and docks and erosion of the shore. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout attempts to find a solution that allows everyone to enjoy the river.

"Skunks at the picnic" - Blue Jean Nation PDF Print E-mail
Commentary - Commentary
Written by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation   
Tuesday, 10 May 2016 10:45

donald-trumpDonald Trump is the Republican Party’s new national standard bearer. Trump’s pitch appeals to the darkest impulses, but it also zeroes in on how everyday Americans have been betrayed by ruling elites and how the government is serving a few at everyone else’s expense. The establishment types of both parties have conspicuous blind spots to this appeal, as both Trump and Bernie Sanders are seen as unwelcome intruders.

ALTOONA, WI - Establishment Republicans are having to come to terms in a hurry with the unsettling reality of having Donald Trump as the party’s national standard bearer. Nowhere is the discomfort higher than in Wisconsin where top GOP leaders and right-wing talk radio mouthpieces led the #NeverTrump movement, uniting behind a candidate they can’t stand in hopes of derailing one they despise and fear even more.

While they either can’t see it or won’t admit it, in some ways Trump is a perfect reflection of what the Republican Party has made itself. In other more important ways, Trump exposes the party leaders’ biggest blind spots.

Trump understands something the party brass can’t bring themselves to accept. Most voters — including many who consider themselves either Republicans or Democrats but also the self-described independents who make up the biggest single voting bloc — hate both major parties and believe that your average politicians are nothing but self dealers, interested first and foremost in advancing their own careers and feathering their own nests. Trump appeals to quite a few of those who are thinking this way because he’s already rich and famous and doesn’t need to hold any office to make a name for himself or line his pockets.

The other blind spot Trump is exploiting is that Republican insiders figure most Americans hate the government, period. For decades they have demonized anything having to do with government. Their message has been self-centered, putting the individual on a pedestal, and their policies have torn at the fabric of society. It’s clear Trump sees a miscalculation here. He’s found sizeable numbers of disenchanted voters — especially working-class white men — who clearly yearn for some common aim or uniting cause. He seems to instinctively sense that it’s not the government itself they hate, it’s a government that they believe stopped working on their behalf quite some time ago that has them exasperated. He’s offered them common enemies to unite around, tapping into powerful feelings of nativism and nationalism.

Trump’s pitch appeals to the darkest impulses, the fear of outsiders, the fondness for walls. But it also zeroes in on how everyday Americans have been betrayed by ruling elites and how the government is serving a few at everyone else’s expense. All of this leaves the Republican Party at greater risk of splintering and disintegrating than at any time in living memory.

bernie-sandersYou’d think this would put the Democrats in the proverbial catbird seat. But Democratic establishment types have conspicuous blind spots too. Those blind spots explain why they couldn’t see the Bernie Sanders insurgency coming and why they still can’t seem to fathom Sanders’ appeal, especially to young Millennials. Like Trump, but for different reasons, Sanders is immune from the “typical politician” characterization. With Sanders, the immunity was built up over a lifetime of standing on principle even when those principles weren’t fashionable. And like Trump, but in a vastly different way, Sanders calls Americans to a common purpose while Democratic insiders continue to cater to their most loyal constituencies and ignore other very large swaths of the population.

To party regulars, both Trump and Sanders are seen as unwelcome intruders, as skunks at the picnic. On one side, the skunk is feasting. The other side’s skunk is being shooed away. But the fact that the inner circle on both sides see both Trump and Sanders as such says a lot about the similar mindsets in the two major parties and the glaring vulnerabilities both parties have.

— Mike McCabe

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 May 2016 11:09
"The curse of can’t-do thinking" - Blue Jean Nation PDF Print E-mail
Commentary - Commentary
Written by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation   
Saturday, 07 May 2016 16:43

statue-of-libertyIt’s almost as if the unofficial slogan of the U.S. has become No We Can’t. Forgotten is how past generations of Americans who had far less than we have today made great progress. But we seem to lack their optimism and boundless faith in America’s potential.

ALTOONA - From the time of the nation’s founding through the first 180 years of the American experiment, our country’s motto was E pluribus unum. In 1956 it was officially changed to In God We Trust. But as more and more Americans grow increasingly pessimistic about the future — even more pessimistic than people in economically underdeveloped countries — it’s almost as if the unofficial slogan of the U.S. has become No We Can’t.

When it is suggested that we should stop sentencing the nation’s youth to debt and make education as affordable for our children and grandchildren as past generations made it for us, this aspiration is widely dismissed as a pipe dream. Some bitterly grumble about “free stuff” while many others wonder aloud how we could possibly pay to extend the promise of free public education all the way through college.

Seemingly forgotten is that past generations of Americans created and paid for a system of free public education through high school, and they were far poorer than we are now when they did it. Many who did the paying had no high school diploma of their own at the time, but knew that industrialization meant that many of their kids and grandkids would be leaving the land and heading to factories and offices and would need more education and job training if they were to have a shot at experiencing the American Dream. So they dug deep and provided future generations that shot.

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 May 2016 17:02
Federal Bill Gives WI Another Chance to Capitalize PDF Print E-mail
Commentary - Commentary
Written by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District   
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 11:35

aca-workingWisconsin taxpayers have missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal government as a part of the Affordable Care Act implementation, but now there's a chance to push the “reset” button.

MADISON - That fact that Wisconsin taxpayers have missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal government as a part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA-ObamaCare) implementation is not new news. One of the few states that to say “no thanks we don’t want our own tax dollars back, please send it to Illinois or Texas” has been a painful decision to watch as students cannot graduate because classes are cut, potholes get bigger and another school referendum hits property taxpayer’s pocketbook. Well the good news is that this bad decision by Governor Walker and the Republican majority in the Legislature can be reversed at any time. We could come in session tomorrow and get this done.

Now that no one from Wisconsin is running for President and we have seen the unnecessary struggle that the choice to refuse $320 million just this biennium has had on our state economy, we can come back to the table and accept Federal dollars and give access to affordable health care. Not taking Federal funds does not mean that our tax dollars are squirreled away and saved for a rainy day by Congress. It just means they send our money to another state, to help them balance their budgets and help their citizens with health insurance.

Excellent new news from the Federal government is the introduction of the SAME Act by Senator Tammy Baldwin and others. This bill would push the “reset” button for Wisconsin. We could choose to accept our tax dollars back as a part of ACA and start at the same full reimbursement rate that we could have had in the first place; 100% reimbursement from the Federal government for expansion of our current BadgerCare Plus program. Under SAME, for four years we would be at 100% reimbursement, phasing down to 90% reimbursement after another three years. Still a lot better than where we are now, which is zero. This could be a huge windfall for our state budget.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 13:10
On John Doe, DAs Deserve Our Thanks! PDF Print E-mail
Commentary - Commentary
Written by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign   
Sunday, 01 May 2016 10:01

john-chisolmMADISON - The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign thanks the courageous district attorneys John Chisholm, Ismael Ozanne, and Larry Nelson for appealing the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in the John Doe II case to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.

While the details of their appeal have not been made public yet, there are two solid grounds for the appeal.

The first is that at least a couple of the justices should have recused themselves from the John Doe case because of a conflict of interest.

The four justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who dismissed the John Doe investigation concerning alleged coordination between Scott Walker and so-called outside groups were aided enormously by some of the very groups that were party to the John Doe case.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America—all of which were reportedly embroiled in the John Doe--together spent more than $8 million in support of Justice Patience Roggensack, Justice Annette Ziegler, Justice Michael Gableman, and Justice David Prosser.

ismael-ozanne-daThe second, and even more crucial, basis for an appeal is the fact that the Wisconsin Supreme Court blatantly misread forty years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent on campaign finance.

In tossing out the John Doe II case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said that the First Amendment prohibits the state of Wisconsin from imposing a ban on coordination between candidates and issue advocacy groups. But dating back to Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and right on through Citizens United of 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court campaign finance decisions have been predicated on there being no coordination between candidates and issue advocacy groups.

In Buckley, the court ruled that expenditures by outside groups that are coordinated with candidates amount to campaign contributions. “The ultimate effect is the same as if the person had contributed the dollar amount to the candidate and the candidate had then used the contribution,” the court ruled. Such expenditures, it said, should be “treated as contributions rather than expenditures.”

Only the lack of coordination reduces the risk of corruption, the Court stressed in Buckley. “The absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent . . . alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidates.”

larry-nelson-daEven in its infamous Citizens United decision, which allowed independent groups to spend unlimited amounts of money, the U.S Supreme Court stressed that such groups had to be independent; they couldn’t coordinate with their favored candidates: “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that line. He will be the crucial vote in this case, assuming that the U.S. Supreme Court hears it. And if Justice Kennedy stands by his own reasoning in Citizens United, the district attorneys have an excellent chance of prevailing and getting the John Doe II decision overturned.

That would be a tremendous outcome because unless the John Doe II decision is overturned, we will have little hope in Wisconsin of limiting the corrupting influence of dark money over our politics.

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