Thursday June 27, 2019

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Legislators Should Fully Vet Foxconn Deal

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
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on Saturday, 05 August 2017
in Wisconsin

walker-terry-gou-foxconnRhetoric from Foxconn cheerleaders on deal may be too good to be true and $3 Billion is a lot to spend on vague promises.


HOWARD, WI - While President Donald Trump, Gov. Scott Walker, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan are busy celebrating and advertising the Foxconn deal toboost their re-election campaigns, others are looking more closely at the deal and finding things to be concerned about – like the fact that the Taiwan-based electronics giant is one of the world’s most brutal employers, notorious for driving workers to suicide.

They are now poised to reward Foxconn with a whopping $3 billion “incentive” package — the largest in Wisconsin history – with the bulk of this subsidy being paid out in cash.

Reports from economic development specialists say that incentives like these for Foxconn are a waste of money for state and local governments.

Promises of family-sustaining wages are often forgotten by major corporations once the public funding is in hand, and Foxconn is undergoing a major automation plan that might very well leave those hired at lower wages without jobs at all within 15 years.

Finally, the big question remains whether Foxconn can be counted on to hold up its end of the deal and keep its promise to invest $10 billion in Wisconsin in exchange for $3 billion in state tax incentives.

Legislators would be wise to fully scrutinize the agreement in terms of jobs, wages, and the state’s capacity to provide services as it shells out $3 billion to Foxconn.

Things that appear too good to be true, generally are.

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Foxconn: The Hype and the Small Print

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 01 August 2017
in Wisconsin

walker-ryan-gou-foxconnAs lawmakers and citizens consider the Governor's proposal to bring Foxconn to the State of Wisconsin, it is critical to be aware of all the details of the state’s commitments to lure Foxconn and the precedent this will create for other companies considering coming here.


MADISON - Great News! A big tech company called Foxconn is coming to southeast Wisconsin and bringing with it a lot of new jobs. The new company will build a big factory and make flat screens for computers.

The Governor tells us the company will create 13,000 jobs that pay nearly $54,000. Other businesses will benefit because the company will buy things from Wisconsin businesses.

But, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the Rest of the Story.”

For its part, Wisconsin will pay $3 billion in tax credits and other subsidies over 15 years to the company. Tax credits are refundable – meaning if the company owes nothing in taxes, they will still get a check from the taxpayers of Wisconsin for the amount of the tax credits. It is important to note that manufacturing companies already pay almost nothing in state income tax.

foxconn-wisconsin-plantFoxconn announced the company would create up to 3,000 new jobs. Local people will not get any benefit of property tax dollars from the factory for 30 years. We don’t yet know who the local community is but rumors point to Racine.

The bill to authorize the project was made public late Friday.

In the proposed legislation, there is no mention of 13,000 or 3,000 jobs. Tax credits can be awarded for full time jobs with a salary of $30,000 in Racine or $22,600 for a job in Milwaukee.

At a salary of $30,000 in Racine for 3,000 jobs, the state would be paying all the salary of the workers for 15 years at a cost of $90 million a year. At $3 billion in state dollars, the state will be paying a million per job – more than the total cost of all the new jobs.

Marketwatch, a publication of Dow Jones, analyzed the deal. How, the author asks, will this plant find and keep its workers in an economy with 3.2% unemployment by paying less than state average wages?

The answer may be found in an assumption made in the economic analysis paid for by the company and touted by the Governor’s office. Job numbers reflect “job location” and could be filled by residents or nonresidents.

The company will pay nothing in sales tax for building materials, supplies, equipment and services. This provision is directly at odds with the economic analysis. If sales taxes are not paid, the projected state and local tax benefits fall in the short term by half and in the long term by a quarter.

Other details one might ponder.

The bill borrows over a quarter billion to fix the Interstate between Milwaukee and the state border. This move helps finesse the impasse on the state’s transportation budget.

The Governor adds five new enterprise zones to be given away. Remember enterprise zones make refundable tax credits – a check that goes to the company’s owners even if they pay nothing in state taxes. Some legislators are cautious of these giveaways. Efforts beyond what is needed for the Foxconn deal might be seen as a way to expand giveaways later without legislative oversight.

Nestled in the bill is the authorization for local government to write no-bid contracts; exemptions from state environmental protections including for navigable waters and wetlands. The company is not required to submit an environmental impact analysis to the state. The bill changes the law related to diversion of water under the Great Lakes Compact. Some rules related to permitting utilities do not apply to the project. The claw back provisions are only permissive, not mandatory.

And nothing about the company’s obligation to the state is set. The three-page Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) released by the Governor’s office ends with a vague paragraph that reads all the terms of the MOU are “subject to final negotiations” with the State and Mr. Gou “acknowledging the importance of finalizing an agreement” by the end of September.

All of the environmental and economic concerns must be taken into consideration in the context of an industry rapidly moving toward automation and robotic workers; a company with a history of not delivering promised jobs. And a company with a history of abusing its relationship with its workers.

All of the details should be public before the legislature approves the project.

We wouldn’t want to buy a $3 billion lemon.

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Green Bay Sen. Dave Hansen Responds to Republican Criticism of Foxconn Statement

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Friday, 28 July 2017
in Wisconsin

foxconn-wisconsin-plantState Republican cheerleaders for $3 billion payoff to Foxconn for new plant call Hansen's caution “beyond appalling” and “insane.” Anyone concerned about Wisconsin taxpayers should be urging caution says Hansen.


GREEN BAY - Yesterday, on these pages, State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said that Wisconsin should be extremely cautious in any use of taxpayer dollars to lure Foxxconn to the state citing concerns that new technologies could eliminate any promised jobs.

Hansen was referring, of course, to the much ballyhooed announcement in Washington that Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn, maker of the LCD displays on iPhones among other things, planned to build a factory in southeastern Wisconsin creating something like 3,000 to 13,000 jobs. On top of that, the average pay for jobs would be around $54,000 a year.

Republicans from President Donald Trump to Governor Scott Walker were quick to claim it as one of the greatest deals of the century and one that would put "rust belt" Wisconsin back on the manufacturing map. Walker especially wanted the glory of landing a big one to justify his rather lackluster record on job creation. He has still not reached, well into his second term, his campaign promise to create 250,000 new jobs by the end of his first.

Industry observers were more skeptical of the Taiwanese company, highlighting Foxconn's poor record on worker rights, its goal of replacing workers with robots, and a history of grand promises that don't always play out.

Another bump in the road was that Foxconn wants a massive $3 billion in state tax breaks to build it's new plant here. The Washington Post was quick to report that the "Foxconn deal to build massive factory in Wisconsin could cost the state $230,700 per worker".

In this environment, any "legislator thinking of supporting what could be a $3 billion incentive package should be very wary,” said Hansen. “To do otherwise would be a serious case of legislative malpractice."

Simple good sense in stewardship of our tax dollars one would think. But not so for four Republican lawmakers from northeast Wisconsin who called Hansen’s concerns that Foxconn could replace jobs at the plant with robots after taking the money “beyond appalling” and “insane.”

david-steffenAs reported by the Post, “One need look no further than the shipyards and foundries in Marinette or the paper manufacturers scattered throughout the area to see that our area’s economy thrives on manufacturing,” said state Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee. Rep. David Steffen, of Green Bay, said there will be countless economic benefits across the state. “To think that someone would actively cheer against this type of economic growth is insane,” Steffen said.

dave-hansenSenator Hansen had this response late today on the comments by the Republican Foxconn deal cheerleaders:

“As someone who worked successfully with Senator Herb Kohl and Governor Doyle to bring over a 1,000 new jobs to Marinette Marine, efforts to paint me as anything but supportive of manufacturing and new jobs are disingenuous at best and a deliberate distortion of my comments at worst.

“Nowhere in my statement did I say I am opposed to what could be a great opportunity for our state. But pardon my skepticism when the comments made in regard to my call for caution are from the very people who still have not been able to produce a budget and who created WEDC with its long history of failing to hold companies that receive state tax dollars accountable when they fail to create jobs.

“Anyone concerned about Wisconsin taxpayers should be urging caution when it comes to offering a foreign corporation $3 billion of our precious state tax dollars. Especially when it involves a corporation which recently replaced 60,000 low-paid workers with lower cost technology and has stated that its goal is to automate its manufacturing facilities to the fullest extent possible.”

Wisconsin has been burned before by Walker's blind faith in big business and trickle down economics. Hansen's cautions should be taken seriously.

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Do We Put All Our Eggs in the Foxconn Basket?

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Friday, 28 July 2017
in Wisconsin

walker-terry-gou-foxconnPoliticians typically try to build the economy top down, showering tax breaks and subsidies on a few thousand of the richest among us or even just one company like Foxconn. The other way is from the bottom up, giving the whole population the means to do more for themselves. Bottom-up is best.


ALTOONA - To me, the most important question is not whether Foxconn is a good company. Or whether Foxconn can be trusted to deliver on its promises. Or whether the benefits of this deal for Wisconsin will at least equal the costs to the public when all is said and done. These are all very important questions, but not the most important.

The most important question is what basket should we be putting our eggs in? If we're going to spend $3 billion, should it be to subsidize the expansion of one company from Taiwan, or should we spend it to empower the more than 5 million people who call Wisconsin home?

I think we should spend it on people. We should concentrate on developing the human potential of our own population. We should be equipping people to do for themselves rather than hoping that a multinational corporation from the other side of the world will work some magic for us.

Most new jobs get created by small businesses, not global conglomerates. But countless people with great ideas who dream of starting their own businesses too often feel trapped, with no choice but to stay in dead-end jobs because that's the only way they can hold on to health insurance for their families. Using our resources to guarantee health care for all and detach health insurance from employment would be one of the single best investments we could possibly make to unleash the creativity and ingenuity of our state's population. People would be free to be entrepreneurs and take their ideas and turn them into new businesses.

What's the best use for $3 billion? What basket should we be putting our eggs in? The way I see it, the best investment is developing the potential of Wisconsin's population through things like health care for all, affordable and debt-free education and job training, and bringing 21st Century necessities like high-speed Internet to every household in the state.

There are two paths to building a sturdy economy. Politicians typically try doing it from the top down, showering tax breaks and state subsidies on a few thousand of the richest among us or even just one company in hopes that some of what they get will trickle down to the rest of us. The other way is from the bottom up, giving the whole population the means to do more for themselves and each other.

The bottom-up approach is the best bet.

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Proceed with Caution During Foxconn Frenzy

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
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on Thursday, 27 July 2017
in Wisconsin

trump-walker-foxconn-anncWisconsinites should not blindly put their faith, and money, in this jobs promise. We’ve been deceived by Walker’s rose-tinted glasses before.


MADISON - It is with good reason that Wisconsinites are not yet willing to blindly put their faith, and money, in a feeble jobs promise. We’ve been deceived by Walker’s rose-tinted glasses before.

Since taking office, Walker has left a trail of broken promises. His pattern of deception has resulted in our hard-earned tax dollars being handed over to campaign donors and companies that outsource, as well as some of the biggest tax breaks going to the richest people in the state, some of whom have used tax loopholes to avoid paying any state income tax for years.

Our neighbors care about making sure this is a good deal for everyone in Wisconsin. Any move for Foxconn to locate in Wisconsin must also fit with the spirit of our great state. We look to partner with companies that will respect our state’s shared lands and waters. We should reward companies that pay our neighbors a living wage and treat them fairly. If they expect special treatment, they need to have a long-term commitment to our state so we know they won’t abandon Wisconsin as soon as a new enticement goes on the table from somewhere else.

Wisconsin leaders should not commit to corporate welfare or anything that carves out special exceptions in our laws if it will unfairly hurt local businesses already in our state. Every small-business owner knows: with a billion dollar pinky swear, the devil is always in the details.

Too many people in our state are struggling in low-wage jobs and living in fear that any day the security of health care could be pulled out from under them. They deserve leaders who will be looking out for their future.

We demand fairness, and that’s what we’ll be looking for in this deal.

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Wis Democracy Campaign 'School Voucher $$$'

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Wednesday, 26 July 2017
in Wisconsin

wis-democracy-campaign$8.5 million reasons why State GOP wants to expand school vouchers, financial filings at Walker run Republican Governors Association, and more...


MADISON - While almost all the press coverage on the state budget lately has been about the petty bickering among GOP leaders over transportation, there’s been little attention paid to a relatively united GOP effort to greatly expand school vouchers. We show the money behind this push here.

$8.5M reasons Wisconsin GOP wants to expand school vouchers

In other news, our research staff has been pouring over recent financial filings of special interest electioneering groups. One such group is the Republican Governors Association, now headed by none other than Scott Walker. That may be why some wealthy Wisconsinites decided to fork it over, as we note here:

10 Wisconsin donors give outside electioneering group $1M+

You know why I don’t get depressed by all this big money being tossed around, even when we see it up close and personal every day here?

Because I also see an amazing grassroots movement to do something about this. I bet you didn’t know that Wisconsin is second only to Massachusetts in the number of communities that have voted, by overwhelming margins, that they want to amend the U.S. Constitution to proclaim, once and for all, that corporations aren’t persons and money isn’t speech. It’s been voted on in in 112 communities, and it's passed every single time!

In Door County alone, seven communities have climbed on board just in the last six months, as you’ll see here:

Door County pushes amendment to overturn Citizens United

This is one of the most under-reported stories in the state. You heard it here first!

I hope you’re having a nice summer.

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

P.S. Please support our urgent work with a tax-deductible gift by clicking here or making and mailing a check to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

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Steps Toward the Future of Health Care

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 25 July 2017
in Wisconsin

health-care-costsSen. Vinehout writes about the introduction of her Badger Health Benefit Authority bill to create a state health marketplace. She shares how Wisconsin can do better for serving all with affordable and accessible health care.


MADISON - An older man contacted me recently with a problem. A visit to the doctor left him with thousands in unpaid bills. Medicare deemed the tests “routine” and not a “medical necessity.” But the gentleman was told, for his occupation, the tests were absolutely necessary.

He was left with a medical bill costing more than his 2017 income.

The top-notch staff at the Department of Health Services (DHS), discovered the man was likely eligible for Medicaid. But the man wasn’t interested.

The constituent relations department within DHS has been a godsend over the years, helping me solve many difficult medical cases. I’m very grateful for their help. I’m sure they saved many lives by connecting people to health coverage. But, if a person doesn’t want state help, there is little they or I can do.

Unless we change our state health care system and the perception of seeking assistance.

What if everyone had affordable health care? If you hadn’t signed up, you could sign up the first time you saw the doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.

Behind the scenes, hospitals and clinics know they’d be paid. If you were eligible for Medicaid, you’d get the benefits. Seamlessly, payers would pay bills, providers would be paid and people would no longer pay any insurance premiums.

You could choose a provider in your area from several options. Your plan would include comprehensive benefits including maternity and mental health coverage.

If you lost your job, you could keep your health coverage. If you took a new job or started your own business, you could keep your health coverage.

Employers no longer would worry about health coverage. Sure, they could offer extra benefits if they wanted, but basic coverage would be disconnected from employment – taking a huge irritation off a company’s plate.

Health care doesn’t have to be so complicated. Other countries have figured out how to solve this problem. And Wisconsin can too.

In fact, ten years ago this summer, Wisconsin actually had a plan on the table to create such a system. Senate Democrats introduced Healthy Wisconsin, a plan written by Senators Erpenbach, Miller and myself. Under our plan, coverage would have cost 14.5% of payroll – split between employers and employees.

This summer, an idea to offer BadgerCare for all attracted attention. I support the plan and see the idea as a first step. Details of the plan are sparse, but it would require the Trump administration to allow a public option in Wisconsin on the federal marketplace Healthcare.gov.

Minnesota’s Governor Dayton introduced a plan to offer MinnesotaCare as a public option. He used the state’s authority and the state’s own health care marketplace, MNsure. He put together a plan that leveraged federal dollars and the state’s large Medicaid pool to add self-employed and small business people. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the cost would be entirely funded by premiums and tax credits.

GOP controlled Legislators didn’t deliver Dayton’s request, but Minnesota is a lot closer to moving to a public option than Wisconsin. Wisconsin needs the flexibility of our own marketplace to explore options that work best for our state. That’s why I recently introduced a bill to create Wisconsin’s own health care marketplace.

Senate Bill 359 and Assembly Bill 445, the companion co-authored by Representative Sargent, creates a unique badger-based approach to a health marketplace. Using innovations to balance high quality, cost control and wide access, Wisconsin can have its own approach.

We can move toward a system that minimizes the everyday hassles of health insurance and eliminates the fear of a loss of coverage just when you need it the most.

Access to affordable, high quality health care is a duty of our society to everyone. Health care for all is a moral responsibility of our people to each other. Finding the best way to pay for and deliver the care should be the topic of discussion. Instead, some public officials propose dropping coverage and cutting state budgets. Harsh talk stigmatizes Medicaid.

Instead, let’s share our vision of what health care for all looks like for each of us. And, meanwhile, support leaders who find ways to work together and take steps toward our mutual vision.

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GOP Health Care Repeal Still Cruel

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
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on Monday, 24 July 2017
in Wisconsin

elderly-crowdThe health care repeal, also known as TrumpCare, will affect every single resident in Wisconsin. So why are some politicians still supporting it?


MADISON - After weeks of overwhelming opposition, Republican politicians are still pushing a cruel health care repeal that increases costs, limits coverage and jeopardizes access to care. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the latest repeal plan would double health care premiums and result in 32 million more uninsured Americans by 2026.

The health care repeal, also known as TrumpCare, will affect every single resident in Wisconsin. So why are some politicians still supporting it?

Gov. Walker and a handful of legislative Republicans have been vocal supporters of the health care repeal effort. Rather than lowering health care costs, they have sided with out-of-state HMOs and pharmaceutical companies whose CEOs profit by gaming the health care system.

The latest version of TrumpCare continues to favor these special interests by cutting taxes for the wealthy, raising out-of-pocket costs on working families and making huge cuts to Medicaid. Even more troubling for Wisconsin families, Republicans have refused to stand up and protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from the uncertainty created by TrumpCare.

Roughly half of all Wisconsin residents have some form of pre-existing health condition. From asthma and diabetes to cancer and heart disease, we all know someone who has been affected by a serious health condition at some point in their life. Through no fault of their own, these individuals could see massive price spikes or lose their coverage if the repeal plan approved by Speaker Paul Ryan moves forward.

These consequences haven’t deterred Republicans and their special interest allies. In fact, Gov. Walker admitted early on that he was open to eliminating protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. His statement shocked and disappointed many families who are already struggling with difficult illnesses and costly treatments.

Rather than siding with big-money special interests, Wisconsin Democrats introduced a series of solutions to protect health care access and lower costs. We believe residents shouldn’t be denied coverage based on a pre-existing condition. We believe access to preventive care shouldn’t come with a premium penalty. And we believe that insurance companies shouldn’t be the ones writing their own rules.

As lawmakers consider major health care changes, local residents need to make sure their voices are being heard. Instead of going back to the days when insurance companies could unfairly discriminate against individuals, we should ensure all families have the opportunity to access quality and affordable health care coverage.

Let’s protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, lower costs for seniors and protect affordable access for working families. As one local resident recently told me: “We all need medical care at some point in life, so let’s take care of one another.”

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Talk Is All Health Care at the Stockholm Art Fair

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 19 July 2017
in Wisconsin

art-fairSenator Vinehout shares what she learned at the Stockholm Art Fair about dwindling health care options in Western Wisconsin.


STOCKHOLM, WI - “My father-in-law is losing his health insurance,” Pam told me. She stopped to chat as we perused the booths at the Stockholm Art Fair.

Stockholm, population 66, has one of the best art fairs in western Wisconsin. Judging by the license plates, the fair is high on the list for Minnesotans too.

The 44th annual fair was held on the grounds of the city park overlooking Lake Pepin, the widest spot in the Mississippi River. Over 100 artists were eager to share their health care stories and sell their creations. There were few bugs. Weather was warm, but not too hot. Colors were everywhere.

The air smelled of fresh roasted nuts, gyro meat and kettle corn. Organic beef, wood-fired locally sourced pizza and maple ice cream kept hunger at bay.

Talented regional musicians kept folks entertained as neighbors sat on straw bales under a tent. Many shared treasures and pointed out favorite artists.

Under the surface, though, folks worried. My conversations were almost exclusively about health care.

Pam told me how a local health plan, La Crosse-based Health Tradition is quitting the federal marketplace Healthcare.gov next year. Others shared how loved ones recently received letters from Anthem or Health Tradition dropping coverage next year.

Recently, Wisbusiness.com reported roughly 23,000 will be affected by the pull out of Anthem and Health Tradition. Insurers blame the “uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance including cost sharing reduction subsidies.” This statement translates into: as Congress debates cutting help to people who need it, companies realize they may not have the customers to make a plan work.

In the insurance world, the larger the pool, the lower the risk. But if folks don’t have help buying insurance and younger people get cheaper plans, the folks that are left – sicker and older – end up with more expensive plans and, maybe, none at all.

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. But it was carefully balanced to share the risk – the basic element of keeping health care affordable for all.

Many artists and musicians are self-employed. The Affordable Care Act and Healthcare.gov created a way for self-employed and small business owners to buy health coverage. Many artists I spoke with are older, coming to the profession later in life. Many of us over fifty have pre-existing conditions and need regular health care.

Artists expressed concerns about the limited health coverage available in Buffalo and Pepin counties. These counties recently joined the dubious ranks of counties with only one health plan under the Healthcare.gov marketplace. Because of federal uncertainty, five counties, include La Crosse, are down to only one provider next year under the marketplace.

Farmers feared losing health coverage or changing long-standing relationships with providers.

The fear of losing health care is stressful – I heard and felt it as conversation after conversation shifted to health insurance.

As I watched the vibrantly dressed people soaking in the imaginative art, I thought about how experiencing the art fair provided a balm for our stressful lives.

Gazing at the pottery I nearly bumped into a retired physician and his wife. He also saw the attraction people found to art as a way to heal our stressed world. He shared his experiences over the years.

“When I ask ‘How are you?’ what do you think is the number one complaint I get?” he asked.

“Patients say to me ‘I’m stressed, Doctor.’ When I open up the hood and look inside, I see stress.”

“Art brings beauty. It softens the heart,” the doctor shared. The art fair helps make it better.

I watched men in florescent orange with camo, a woman in sheer black lace with her back covered in tattoos and another in a brightly colored African Dashiki.

People came together creating their own art among all the wares for sale. In all of this diversity was a beautiful harmony.

Somehow, we must take this approach to health care. A plan unique for each person. Respecting our own individuality and needs. Also, in harmony with others. Sharing the risk. Working for all.

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Democracy Campaign 'Back in touch...Fair Maps Town Halls near you'

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 14 July 2017
in Wisconsin

highway-wiSpecial interests and the road funding plan, the Wisconsin Supreme Court copout on conflict-of-interest rules, the influence peddler of the month, and more...


MADISON - Sorry I haven’t been in touch for a bit. Between the long July 4th weekend and my son coming home for my birthday (which was yesterday), I didn’t get around to updating you on what we’ve been posting and on some exciting redistricting reform efforts under way.

So please let me catch you up.

On the budget transportation impasse, we noted the power of the trucking industry and the big business lobby:

GOP leader tells special interests to cough up road funding plan

Then, in a story that we broke here at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, we reported on Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s scorching response to the Court’s written justification for not tightening its conflict-of-interest rules:

Wisconsin Supreme Court buries recusal in “feeble” move

And, as we do every month, we anointed another special interest group with our not-so-highly-coveted Influence Peddler of the Month Award. Here’s who won it this month:

Influence peddler of the month - Wisconsin Hospital Association

On the gerrymandering issue, I have to say it’s really getting hot. About a dozen counties, just this year, have passed resolutions urging the State Legislature to draw district maps in a nonpartisan manner. Contact us if you do not see your county on the list.

And we got a record number of signatures on our petition for fair voting maps when we were tabling at the Farmers’ Market in Madison for a couple hours on July 1. And attendance at #FairMaps events all over the state are high. We encourage you to share and attend an upcoming Fair Maps Town Hall convenient to you. A complete list can be found here.

  • Wednesday, July 12, at 7:00 PM, at the Germantown Library, N112W16957 Mequon Road, Germantown. Paul Geenen, OFA_WI State Lead, is the speaker. Facebook event page here.
  • Sunday, July 16, at at 4:30pm - 6pm, North Shore Presbyterian Church, 4048 N Bartlett Ave, Shorewood. The Democracy Campaign is a co-sponsor. Share Facebook event page here.
  • Wednesday, July 26, at 6:00 PM, at the Brewer Public Library, 325 N. Central Avenue, Richland Center. Former Senators Dale Schultz and Tim Cullen are the speakers.
  • Thursday, July 27, at 6:30 PM, at the Orbiletti Center Lincoln Park, 6900 18th Avenue, Kenosha. Sachin Chheda, Fair Elections Project, is the speaker. Facebook event page here.

And there is legislation introduced by Sen. Dave Hansen and Rep. Don Vruwink (SB13/AB44) to enact nonpartisan legislative and congressional map-drawing here in Wisconsin. So please call your legislators at 1-800-362-9472 and urge them to pass this bill.

Thanks for your interest and your activism, as always.

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

P.S. If you like what we’re doing, please support our urgent work with a tax-deductible gift to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. It’s simple: Just click here. Thanks!

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Violating Privacy in Search of Fraud is Misplaced Justice

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 14 July 2017
in Wisconsin

trumpPresident Trump's new witch hunt for illegal voters is a waste of time. Voters are not committing fraud in elections. Politicians who pass laws rigging the maps and suppressing voter turnout are the real problem.


MADISON - Regardless of what happens in court or the with the “call back” from President Trump, the Wisconsin Elections Commission will follow Wisconsin law and grant a request to release limited information about our voters as they must under our open records law. Information like name and address of voters as well and when and where they voted will be given to President Trump’s commission if they pay for the records. But the secret ballot, party preference, social security number and date of birth is rightly protected by our laws. There is no other choice because our law on open records is clear.

voter-idHowever violating our voter’s rights in search of fraud is a waste of time and a violation of privacy because the Republican claim of voter fraud has been proven false more than once. This national ploy will show nothing different.

Voters are not the ones committing fraud in elections. Politicians who pass laws rigging the maps so only they can win is the true voter fraud. This fraud is so great a panel of three Federal judges overturned it and demanded new maps be drawn. This fraud is so valid that the US Supreme Court now will hear how fraudulent our maps are, how dirty Wisconsin elections have become under this one party rule.

This should make no one proud. The voter fraud of rigged maps is what needs attention. Taking away the right to one person one vote, without political interference, is the crime.

Voters in this state work hard to access the ballot and that is not something that has been made easier with the elimination of special registration deputies and additional identification at every single election, not just when you register to vote. But these barriers and intimidation will not break the Wisconsin voter spirit. We have fortitude, we have strength, we are stubborn and we won’t let Republican voter intimidation take away our right to vote.

Coming off an election where the party I belong did not perform well this optimism and faith in voters may seem misplaced. But the reality is I believe in the value of the right to vote. Even if people don’t vote for me. The process of clean elections and the value of the right to vote is bigger than any politician, bigger than any party.

***

If you would like additional information on voter’s rights and the violation of those rights with the current one party rule in Wisconsin, contact my office at 608-266-6670 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Seeking Solutions for State Road Budget

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 11 July 2017
in Wisconsin

road-closedSenator Vinehout discusses the importance of acting soon on the budget, and to coming up with solutions to fix Wisconsin’s transportation funding shortfall.


MADISON - A tall man stopped me in the hall of the Capitol. “Can’t you just increase the gas tax?” he asked me. “I’m here to ask my Republican Senator to increase the gas tax. We need to fix the roads.”

He smiled. Then said, “Hi, my name is Steve. I’m a Republican. I just don’t think it’s conservative to keep borrowing to maintain the roads. We’ve got to pay for what we spend.”

Steve was earnest in his desire to find a solution to the road budget. I’ve heard similar concerns from folks attending my recent town hall meetings.

Many people asked me to raise the gas tax. This tax is the largest part of the road fund, accounting for over half of the fund. The gas tax hasn’t been increased since April 2006.

Prior to 2006, the law required automatic indexing or changing the tax to follow inflation. If indexing wasn’t repealed, we’d be paying seven cents more for fuel according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

As Steve and I talked about road funding problems and possible solutions, he shared, “My Republican Senator said increasing the gas tax wouldn’t solve all the problems.”

Increasing the tax by five cents a gallon would generate about a third of the money needed to close the budget gap. This change is a good first step.

Increasing the gas tax by a nickel would cost the average driver of a vehicle that gets 30 miles per gallon (MPG) about $14 a year. For those of us with old farm pickup trucks getting 15 MPG and driving 16,000 miles a year, we’d pay about $53 more a year.

Most of us are actually paying less in gas tax than we did ten years ago because our vehicles are more fuel efficient. In 2006, the average fuel economy was 20 MPG. LFB reported this fuel economy average will increase to almost 23 MPG by the end of the next state budget. Analysts estimated the average Wisconsin driver will be paying almost $21 a year less in fuel tax by the end of the next budget than we did in 2006.

LFB analysts remind us that drivers paying less in fuel tax for the same miles driven means that “while the state’s roads receive the same impact [wear and tear], fuel tax revenues associated with those miles driven have fallen, making it more difficult for the state to maintain and reconstruct its roads.”

Increasing the gas tax is a change that would be easy for the state to administer. It would put money in the state’s coffers from the folks who are actually using the roads, including our many wonderful tourists from neighboring states.

Finding votes to increase the tax has been difficult and accounts, in part, for the delay in passing the budget. Unlike some states, Wisconsin continues to operate under the details of the old budget until the Legislature passes a new budget.

But a recent memo from LFB suggests there are some warning signs to lawmakers who think they have all summer and fall to answer the question, How to pay for roads?

A delay of three months would mean the Department of Transportation could not proceed with some projects as planned. A delay of four months would affect the ability of counties, cities and towns to plan for the coming year and set their property tax levies. A delay into August could affect how much federal money the state receives for roads.

Fiscal Bureau analysts explained to lawmakers in the memo that the feds redistribute road money not used by states as their fiscal year closes. To be eligible for new money, states must show they are ready to use the money. A delay in passing the state budget would likely limit the ability of the state to comply with the rules feds attach to the money.

Leaving federal money on the table makes no sense. We’ve got to find solutions and get the budget passed.

While raising the gas tax won’t solve all our problems, getting agreement on a modest fuel tax increase would be good first step.

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Blue Jean Nation 'Stuck in reverse'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Monday, 10 July 2017
in Wisconsin

REVERSEWisconsin needs to do an about-face and fundamentally change its approach to economic development, paying far less attention to WMC and its backward thinking.


ALTOONA, WI - Wisconsin continues to struggle economically. The state lags the rest of the country in job growth and wage growth, and has been slower to recoverfrom the last recession. Wisconsin is losing manufacturing jobs and is leading the nation in shrinkage of the middle class.

There are reasons for all of this. And one of the biggest reasons is that the lobbying group that passes itself off as the voice of Wisconsin business is backward. Wisconsin is home to some truly innovative, forward-thinking business leaders who are finding ways to successfully compete in the 21st Century economy. But they aren’t being heard in the State Capitol. The state chamber of commerce — known in these parts as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce or WMC for short — is supposed to be their voice, but it’s not. WMC’s thinking is stuck in the 20th Century. In some ways, it’s still in the 19th.

WMC’s philosophy is that the key to economic development is lowering the cost of doing business. Lower wages. Lower taxes. Lower environmental standards. This recipe hasn’t been working for years.

If low costs are the secret to stimulating the economy, then why were nearly half of all new private sector jobs created last year in a part of the state where wages, taxes and the cost of land to build on are highest? Why did the number of private sector jobs in that area grow at four times the rate of the state as a whole?

If Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce knows how to make the economy better, why is Wisconsin losing manufacturing jobs? The answers WMC gives are to questions that aren’t even being asked anymore. The state chamber of commerce is inhibiting commerce. WMC’s outdated philosophy is holding Wisconsin back.

One of Wisconsin’s greatest business success stories in many a year has to be the electronic health records pioneer Epic Systems. The company is growing by leaps and bounds. Verona recently passed one of the largest school referendums in the history of the state for construction of a new high school and other costly upgrades, almost entirely paid for by the community’s largest private employer, namely Epic.

Epic’s success isn’t owed to WMC’s agenda of lower taxes, lower wages and lower environmental standards. Epic’s leadership is not at all on the same wavelength as WMC’s leadership. In fact, Epic wants nothing to do with WMC. Yet at the Capitol, WMC continues to be recognized as the voice of Wisconsin business. But it represents old business, not new business. That holds Wisconsin back.

To thrive in the 21st Century, Wisconsin needs to do an about-face and fundamentally change its approach to economic development. We need to watch and listen more to the Epics, and take to heart the formulas for success in the 21st Century they are coming up with. And we should pay far less attention to WMC and its backward thinking.

— Mike McCabe

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Hands Off Our Data

Posted by Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District
Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District
Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District has not set their biography yet
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on Saturday, 08 July 2017
in Wisconsin

vote-rightsMILWAUKEE - This week, the Trump Administration asked for all 50 states to turn over election data concerning voters, which includes names, dates of birth, voting histories, and party identifications.

President Trump has widely stated that he believes nearly three million people voted illegally, which cost him the popular vote. In spite of this, there is very little evidence to support his claim of widespread voter fraud. It sounds more like Trump is defending his ego rather than democracy.

Wisconsin has rejected the administration's request, wanting to protect residents' sensitive information. I am committed to standing up for a voter's right to privacy and am working diligently to develop voting rights protections.

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Helping Veterans Become Farmers

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 04 July 2017
in Wisconsin

veteransA proposal before the Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism committee would provide assistance to veterans interested in farming. A career in agriculture helps veterans who are suffering from PTSD return to civilian life and will also address the aging workforce of farmers.


MADISON - “As far back as WWI connecting soldiers with nature and farming has been used to treat the invisible wounds of war,” Mr. Brian Sales recently told members of the Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee.

“Back then it was called shell shock. Today it’s called PTSD. No matter what it’s called, its effects are the same and what was true then is true now. Veterans need help and help is what I am here to talk about.”

In a bipartisan effort to bring more veterans into agriculture, Senators Testin, Ringhand, Representatives Goyke and Brooks introduced legislation called the Wisconsin Veterans Farm Bill of 2017. The bill calls for several state agencies to work together assisting veterans in both urban and rural communities. The proposal seeks to provide education, technical assistance, employment, and mentorship including connecting existing farmers with veterans who want to learn farming. Over forty percent of the legislature supports the bill as cosponsors, including myself.

A U.S. Army Infantry and combat veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Kosovo, Mr. Sales captivated Senators with his story of how farming brought his life purpose.

“When I returned to civilian life after my final tour, I found myself, like so many other veterans, void of direction,” Mr. Sales explained. “Military service changes a person in many ways. Transitioning back to a civilian life is an overwhelming and often shocking experience – not unlike entering boot camp for the first time. However, there is no such thing as reverse boot camp. The military are experts at turning civilians into soldiers, but not turning soldiers back into civilians…we are still coming to terms with what we experienced in the service…leaves us feeling overwhelmed, confused and restless.”

Mr. Sales experience led him to college to study sustainability, which led him to form the group Green Veterans. Working with both civilians and veterans, he found a new sense of purpose and “a renewed commitment to service and ultimately a passion for farming.”

Using his skills and knowledge, Mr. Sales worked with Mr. Will Allen to develop of veteran “farmer boot camp”. The veterans get up early and stay focused on a mission to build, teach, heal the soil and grow crops.

Mr. Sales noted “with farming, I can see the beginning and the end of a task completed. Through nature’s technology, I can see the result of my work and sacrifice, knowing that I’m serving my fellow man, woman and children. I feed people. I create healthy soil in a way that sustains nature. This is a mission I am dedicated to and with the collaboration of Growing Power and Mr. Will Allen; our vision is to make Growing Power the National Urban Farming Training Center for all veterans who want to learn and become an Urban Farmer.”

Joining Mr. Sales at the hearing was Shea Zastrow who serves at the Civilian Chair of Green Veterans of Wisconsin. Mr. Zastrow spoke about how veterans are “hardwired to finish jobs.” He gently admonished the committee to “do more than simply thank Veterans on Veterans Day and then think they are good for 364 days.”

“I challenge civilians to spend just one more day this year with a Vet than they did last year.”

Committee members seemed eager to support the bill. However, during discussion on the bill, members expressed concern as to whether the bill duplicated existing programs. Some of what the bill seeks to do is available through some programs. The Wisconsin Farm Center and U.W. Extension play critical roles in assisting farmers across the state every day.

But twenty-year US Army Veteran and certified organic farmer, Tony Kurtz testified, there is not a specific program to get veterans into agriculture.

Mr. Kurtz told the committee the average age of Wisconsin farmers is 56 and ½ years old. “To maintain our leadership in agriculture, we need an infusion of young, enthusiastic workers. A dedicated program to promote veterans entry into the agriculture industry is a great step forward in helping our aging workforce.”

This is a proposal we can all rally behind. As Mr. Sales said so eloquently, “This bill is an investment in Wisconsin’s veterans that I strongly believe will pay dividends for generations to come.”

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Blue Jean Nation 'Our disposable society'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Saturday, 01 July 2017
in Wisconsin

skilledworkersIn an economy of disposable workers, the time is coming for something like a universal basic income. But none of that talk is happening in the halls of government.


ALTOONA, WI - An economy has grown around us where just about everything is made to be thrown away. There are disposable eating utensils, cups and plates. Disposable towels and disposable diapers. Disposable razors. Disposable gloves. Disposable cameras and disposable batteries. The list goes on and on.

When so much of what is made and sold in this country is designed to be discarded after a single use, it was probably only a matter of time before the workers who do the making are seen as disposable too, especially since those doing the selling are increasingly located half a state or half a country or half a world away.

With industry leaders less rooted in the communities where their companies do business, they don’t think twice about relocating countless factories to far flung places in search of cheaper labor. In the few factories that remain, workers surrender their jobs to robots. Driverless vehicles are on their way. When they arrive, the jobs of truck drivers and bus drivers and taxi drivers will be surrendered too.

Those in power in our government at the moment are proving remarkably insensitive to the uncertainty and anxiety and feelings of betrayal and abandonment that always accompany major economic transitions and dislocations. When the country was going through an industrial revolution more than a century ago and large numbers of people left the land and went to work in factories and offices, the political system responded by providing vocational training, workers compensation for those injured in the workplace, unemployment insurance, retirement security and much more. With a global, technology-driven, increasingly jobless economy now emerging that is leaving so many working people exposed and vulnerable, the government so far is doing next to nothing to cushion the blow.

Those presently in charge of government watch passively as economic markets grow increasingly monopolized and more and more workers get discarded, causing inequality to expand rapidly. They give the monopolists free rein, which is no surprise considering how they’ve joined forces with those economic monopolists to engineer monopolies on political power. They add injury to insecurity in places like Wisconsin, a state once known far and wide for its pristine environment, by looking the other way when industry actions lay waste to natural resources and even inviting industries to write their own pollution permits. Health and safety protections are being stripped away, and the state seizes power from local communities that want to do better by their residents. It’s as if the powers-that-be figure that since people are disposable, there’s no reason to worry too much about them being poisoned.

Working Americans are rightly wondering if there’s a place for us all in this emerging economy, or if a bunch of us are just going to be thrown away. As we all try to gain our footing with the ground shifting beneath us, adjusting to new economic realities that can be cruel and capricious would be so much easier if we had government on our side.

One of these realities is that workers now have to change jobs much more frequently than in the past. Guaranteeing access to medical care with health insurance coverage that follows workers wherever they are employed would create much-needed stability and security while also freeing people to leave dead-end jobs to start new businesses, but the political system has so far failed to meet this glaring need.

With the clear and present danger of a jobless economy and disposable workers, there’s a lot of talk about whether the time is coming for something like a universal basic income. But none of that talk is happening in the halls of government in America. That fact alone speaks volumes about the current disconnect between the government and the governed.

— Mike McCabe

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Card Skimmer Bill Aimed at Stopping Gas Pump Scam

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 27 June 2017
in Wisconsin

gas-pumpsCredit card skimmers are often put into gas pumps and, when customers swipe cards, the skimmers read the information and criminals use it to steal money from bank accounts or make fraudulent charges on credit cards. Madison and the state legislature have passed legislation to fight this crime.


MADISON - “Be careful when you fill up,” Linda warned me a few months ago. “There’s a new scam that captures your credit card information when you pay for your gas at the pump.”

rob-cowlesOne more thing to worry about, I thought. However, I discovered Senator Rob Cowles already put worry into action. He decided to write a bill to end the scam – Senate Bill 133. I joined a bipartisan group of legislators as a co-sponsor of this legislation.

Recently, both houses of the Legislature unanimously passed SB 133, which creates a new crime designed to stop credit card skimmers at gas stations and ATMs. The previously unknown practice was not written in state law. The gap left criminals a way to squeeze through the legal system.

Senate Bill 133 addressed the question of whether or not possessing the skimmer was against state law. According to the authors of the bill, “Wisconsin is currently amongst a minority of states that have not enacted statutes that provide criminal penalties specific to credit card skimming devices, their use, and the supply lines these criminals are using to obtain these devices. This legislation changes that and gives Wisconsin prosecutors new tools to fight these crimes.”

The bill puts in place harsh penalties for the crime and addresses not only possession but also trafficking of the devices.

Credit card skimmers can be quickly installed in or over credit card readers to steal card information when a customer swipes a card. The criminals sometimes use very small cameras to capture a person’s personal identification number (PIN) for their debit card.

The criminal then uses or sells this credit card information to others who make fraudulent charges. It may take time for you to even know you were a victim of this crime leaving your debit account empty or large charges on your credit card.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protections (DATCP) issued an alert to gas station owners last August when, during their routine work of checking the accuracy of gas pumps, they noticed unusual devices added to credit card readers to capture sensitive financial information.

According to September story by the Wisconsin State Journal, investigators found fifteen devices attached to the credit card readers on gas pumps across Wisconsin. Five of the devices were in Madison; the others were at high traffic stations mostly near the Interstate. Senator Cowles reported skimmer devices were found in 25 communities including Eau Claire.

Earlier this year, a Wisconsin State Journal story reported that two men from California were arrested and charged with placing the credit card skimmers in Madison gas pumps. In response to this ongoing criminal activity, the City Council of Madison passed an ordinance requiring all gas pumps to install “unique locking devices” to prevent tampering with pumps.

The Wisconsin State Journal went on to report the ordinance was effective. As of last winter, the local Weights and Measures inspectors found that all of the roughly 2,000 gas pumps in Madison have locking devices and are free of the illegal credit card skimmers.

dave-hansenImpressed by the success in Madison, Senator Dave Hansen believes the state should take the step of requiring locking devices to protect consumers. During deliberation on Senate Bill 133, he offered an amendment that would require gas station owners to install the “unique locking devices” on all pumps in the state. Senator Hansen noted that, “Card skimming is a crime of opportunity… By making it more difficult for them to access a gas pump, we can take that opportunity away and protect consumers from this type of crime. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to require gas station operators to take this small step to protect their customers.”

The amendment failed but Senator Hansen’s idea is a very good one.

Meanwhile consumers can protect themselves with a few routine practices. Check the credit card scanner to see if its loose, looks different from the surrounding pump (older or newer), place your hand over the hand you use to type in your PIN. Ask your local station what they are doing to protect you from fraud.

If you find anything unusual, be sure to report details to the station owner and the police. Do not tamper with something that looks to be a fraudulent skimmer. You may be tampering with evidence of a crime.

Stay safe out there on your summer travels.

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Blue Jean Nation 'Upending the new Jim Crow'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Thursday, 22 June 2017
in Wisconsin

black-hoodyMonopolized political speech, mass incarceration and voter suppression together pack an enormous discriminatory wallop. Overcoming the new Jim Crow starts with recognizing it and seeing through the false justifications.


ALTOONA, WI - There was a time when efforts to keep people in their place were easily recognizable. Bondage is hard to miss. Women were chattel and blacks were slaves. The nation’s royals eventually lost their moral and legal justification for employing such crude and brutal means to keep people down, but not their desire for race, class and gender superiority. So slavery was out, Jim Crow was in. Poll taxes and literacy tests and other such tactics were put to use. Give them rights, but make sure they are not equal rights.

The civil rights legislation of the 1960s and early 1970s ended the old Jim Crow but not the royals’ discriminatory impulses. The ink was barely dry on the series of laws addressing race and sex discrimination, and a new Jim Crow was promptly fashioned that makes discrimination more disguised than ever.

The new Jim Crow stands on three legs. First, longstanding restrictions on money in politics were legally challenged. The U.S. Supreme Court’s money-equals-speech ruling in 1976 gave the mightiest in America new ways to thwart the will of the masses even while allowing the exercise of largely equal rights. Campaign donations became the drone strikes of the race and class wars. The beauty of political donations as tools of social and economic control is that they don’t appear discriminatory because, in theory at least, anyone can make them. But the difference between theory and practice in campaign giving is as distinct as the divisions of race and class. Almost all of the money flowing to elected officials comes from an elite cadre of individuals who are wealthy and white. Control over the levers of power is preserved by making political expression and participation prohibitively expensive for all but a few.

Monopolizing political speech has been done in the name of protecting the First Amendment. The barely visible hand of organized money has robbed voters in most parts of the state of their ability to control their own political destiny. Long before voters ever cast a ballot, whoever is most successful in attracting money wins what amounts to a wealth primary that weeds out any meaningful competition, leaving the people with a vote but little if any choice. The wealth primary works hand in hand with the practice of gerrymandering political boundaries to strip elections of competitiveness and render them pale imitations of democratic contests.

Having secured the means to keep people down by allowing them to freely vote in elections whose results are preordained, America’s royalty nevertheless took no chances. Discriminatory drug policies and the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement authorities and the resulting mass incarceration of African American males became the second key feature of the new Jim Crow. This was largely done in the name of fighting the scourge of drug abuse in America. The War on Drugs has never put much of a dent in drug use, but it has been a remarkably efficient tool of discrimination.

The third leg the new Jim Crow stands on is voter suppression. Since the 2010 election, nearly half of the states made laws restricting the right to vote in one way or another. These laws have been sold as election integrity measures. The public has been repeatedly told such laws are needed to prevent rampant voter fraud. In reality, voter fraud in the U.S. is nearly non-existent. But in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the country, new laws restricting voting in the name of preventing fraud have proven remarkably effective in preventing racial minorities, the poor and the young from casting ballots.

Monopolized political speech, mass incarceration and voter suppression together pack an enormous discriminatory wallop. Overcoming the new Jim Crow starts with recognizing it and calling it what it is, and seeing through the false justifications. Then its legs need to be taken out from under it.

— Mike McCabe

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Celebrating Wisconsin’s Dairyland

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Monday, 19 June 2017
in Wisconsin

wisc-dairy-farmThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about celebrating Wisconsin’s Dairyland as part of June Dairy Month. She shares some reminiscences about being a dairy farmer.


ALMA, WI - “Do you still milk?” I asked Jim at a recent gathering. “No,” he told me. “My son tells me the most help I can be is to stay out of the way,” he joked. We both agreed that was hard. Dairying gets in your blood.

June is dairy month. A time to celebrate all we love about ‘America’s Dairyland’ – home to 1.28 million dairy cows, which is more than one cow for every five Wisconsinites.

Reminiscing with an old dairy farmer, you realize the love of cows and farming never really goes away. The smell of newly mowed hay or the glistening dew on the field of newly emerging corn brings back tangible memories. While the body is worn and weary, the mind still remembers the satisfaction of a job well done when every cow is milked and fed, the barn is clean and limed, and all the other farm animals are ready to settle in for the night.

Dairying is a life of details. Every good farmer I know carried a notebook in his or her coveralls. Did Daisy finish her feed? Is that heifer calf sucking up breakfast with the relish of yesterday? Did I call the mill to order feed? Which heifers need vaccinating? Everything is written down. A human’s touch completes each task.

Today we have computers to help remember the details. Robotic milking helps some farmers handle the milking chores. But, no matter the technology, there’s a human paying attention to the details on every successful farm.

That farmer also has back up from many other human resources who pay attention to details. Veterinarians, agronomists, implement dealers, dairy equipment technicians all answer that emergency call for the sick cow, sick crop or broken machinery. These folks are the back-up team that helps the farm family succeed.

Then there are the folks that provide psychological and moral support, like the spouse, who pays the bills, keeps the house clean and the hay crew fed. The pastor who counsels the family through hard times and the accountant who helps navigate moving the farm from father to daughter and son-in-law.

Reminiscing with Jim brought back my own memories of cold January mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m... Grudgingly I donned long underwear and layers of warm clothing and headed out into frigid weather.

Before I got the cows fed, Bob Bosold’s cheery voice came over the radio. “It’s the shank of the morning,” he crooned. Bob reported that it was another day (about the 16th in a row) where the high temperature was expected to be “two below.” He then launched into some corny joke about “Tupelo, Mississippi.” I do not remember the details, but it made me smile.

I am sure dairy farmers across western Wisconsin had a better day because every one of them knew Bob was up before the sun and hard at work before they ever ventured out into the subzero weather.

Bob Bosold, the long-time farm broadcaster at WAXX radio in Eau Claire, was recently recognized as the National Farm Broadcaster of the Year. This well-deserved honor cannot possibly capture the dedication of forty years Bob made to the farm families across Western Wisconsin. Every dairy breakfast, FFA convention, Farm Progress Days and early morning milking, Bob was present, by radio, bringing the important news and stories to the farming community.

His counterpart in the southern part of the state, Pam Jahnke – the Fabulous Farm Babe – has done the same since 1990. Bob and Pam are just some of the folks that make up a part of the fabric of our great dairy state.

We celebrate our great dairy state during June. However, every day we should be thankful for the farmers’ endless work, which feeds us and contributes to our economy. As Daniel Webster said, “Let us not forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. When tillage begins, other arts will follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of civilization.”

So hats off to the hard-working moms and dads, uncles and aunts, daughters and sons. Big thanks to the 84-year-old grandpa who still cuts the hay and the “retired” farmer Jim who “just can’t seem to stay out of the way!”

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Blue Jean Nation "The football game that never ends"

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Friday, 16 June 2017
in Wisconsin

ProtestThe pro-life, pro-choice issue is a political football that both major party's use to whip up their base. What if we stopped taking the bait, and focused instead on solving this incredibly sensitive issue that the ruling elite clearly do not want to see resolved?


ALTOONA, WI - Here’s a truth about American politics that never seems to get acknowledged much less discussed: No major party in this country actually wants to outlaw abortion.

One says it does, but its actions tell a different story. Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, so they could make a law banning abortion across the nation. The law surely would be challenged in court but the ideologically conservative Republican appointees who have made up the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court since 1971 would have the final say. You’d expect them to uphold the law because Republican presidents have consistently considered an anti-abortion judicial record a key litmus test of the fitness of any judge to serve on the nation’s highest court.

For that matter, those Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices needn’t have waited for an act of Congress. At any time during the past four decades, the court could have taken up any number of abortion cases, overturned Roe v. Wade, and outlawed abortion. They have that power. Year after year, they have chosen not to use it.

In Wisconsin, Republicans control both houses of the state Legislature as well as the governor’s office. There’s nothing stopping them from making a law prohibiting abortion. A state Supreme Court controlled by Republican-backed justices would presumably bless such a law. Like their national counterparts, Wisconsin Republicans have had the power to outlaw abortion. They have repeatedly chosen not to do so.

It appears they realize that outlawing abortion won’t make the procedure disappear, it will only make it far more dangerous and even deadly. So they concentrate on obstructing and inconveniencing the women who seek abortions and the medical professionals who perform them. But most of all, they focus on using this deeply personal and intensely emotional issue as a political football, which they have kicked around for more than 40 years. They have used it to divide people and then harvest the votes these divisions produce. They have shown over an extended period of time that they have every intention of keeping this game going indefinitely.

There is glaring irony and hypocrisy here. The Republican Party has gone to the greatest lengths to market itself as the party of limited government and personal freedom. When it comes to the private lives of Americans, Republicans favor a very intrusive and meddlesome government. They don’t trust the choices Americans make in the bedroom and the bathroom and the doctor’s office. They want government to have a looming presence in those places.

More than anything, they want to keep people at each other’s throats. They want to keep us arguing about whether abortion should be legal or illegal. For 40-some years, we’ve kept kicking their football. We’ve screamed at each other, we’ve harassed and attacked each other. Sometimes it’s led to unspeakable acts of violence. All done to try to settle a matter that those in power have proven to be keenly interested in keeping unresolved.

Imagine where we would be on this issue if we had instead spent all this time looking for common ground on how to make abortion unnecessary. We would have talked so much more about how best to deal with sex education, how best to promote birth control and family planning, how best to combat poverty. We might have even hashed out some differences by now.

Think about what might be possible if we now chose to stop kicking the political football, and focused on starting a conversation on this incredibly sensitive topic that the ruling elite clearly do not want us to have.

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