Wednesday August 23, 2017

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A Better Deal Requires Fair Courts

Posted by Tim Burns, Supreme Court Candidate
Tim Burns, Supreme Court Candidate
Tim Burns is a partner at a law firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He is a former co-c
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on Tuesday, 08 August 2017
in Wisconsin

Late last month, the Democratic Party’s Congressional leadership announced their “Better Deal” program.  With the program’s name harkening back to the Democratic Party’s central role in America’s economic success in the first three quarters of the twentieth century, the plan seeks to rebuild our once strong middle-class economy by focusing on increasing wages, reducing costs for working families, building economic infrastructure, and lessening the power of big money in politics.  Like most Americans, I hope that the “Better Deal” has the same success as the Democratic Party’s earlier economic bargains with American voters.  Wilson’s New Freedom, Roosevelt’s New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Johnson’s Great Society strengthened our democracy by expanding our middle-class economy.

Our democracy—our insistence on self-government—is our great accomplishment as a people.  But we cannot have a great democracy without strong small farms, strong small businesses, thriving workers and a thriving workers’ movement, public education, and vibrant diverse communities.  These bulwarks of the middle-class also are the essential ingredients of a democracy.

We also must keep in mind that the success of the Better Deal, like the success of all the Democratic Party’s earlier bargains with voters, will depend on America’s courts.  The fair and impartial courts of the mid-twentieth century strengthened our democracy and middle-middle class economy by working with Congress and state legislatures to implement and enforce common-sense economic legislation that made our nation stronger for everyone.  The judges of that era did not try to find drafting errors in Congress’ great economic legislation and use those errors to undo the legislation.  Those judges made the legislation work by interpreting it to further, not to thwart, Congress’ purpose.  And, our middle class expanded and prospered.

For the past forty years, however, right-wing judges have been chipping away at the laws that protected our democracy and our middle-class economy.  Examples abound.  John Kennedy’s New Frontier passed the Equal Pay Act, but women still receive much less pay for the same work as men because courts weakened the protections of that great law.  Earlier generations of Americans, like our current generation, sought to keep money out of politics, but the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case made those efforts a dead letter.  Here in Wisconsin, we passed the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, forbidding employers from firing workers because of their age, but the right-wing majority of our Supreme Court made that law a hollow promise for parochial school teachers.

“Deals” matter.  They have lifted all of us—not just the top half of the top one percent.  But, for “Deals” to work, we need fair courts without a right-wing agenda.

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Blue Jean Nation "Democrats will win again when. . ."

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 Tuesday, 08 August 2017
in Wisconsin

wisdemsDemocrats will win again when they show discomfort with the current political culture and all the ladder climbing and nest feathering and back scratching gives way to actual public service and sacrifice for the greater good.

ALTOONA, WI - Over the course of my 57 years, I’ve never seen a time when our public institutions were more disrespected and distrusted. And with good reason. I’ve also never seen a time when government was less responsive to regular people. Over and over, our government is put to work for a privileged few, the wealthy and well-connected. People notice this. They realize their own voices aren’t being heard and their own interests are not being served. That’s a sure recipe for disrespect and distrust of public institutions.

These conditions are especially poisonous to the Democratic Party. The Democrats are widely seen as the party of government. There is reality to that perception. Of the two major parties, it’s the Democrats who most strongly believe that government is essential to a civil society and can have a positive and constructive impact on people’s lives.

But here’s the problem for Democrats. It’s next to impossible to be popular as the party of public institutions at a time when so many people have so little faith in those institutions. People see public officials climbing the ladder, advancing their careers, feathering their own nests. They see those officials exchanging favors, scratching the backs of those who scratch theirs. None of that looks much like public service.

This is why Democrats have been on a decades-long losing streak and are in worse shape as a party than at any point in my lifetime. It’s why Democrats do not control either house of Congress or the White House. And why they are not calling the shots in two-thirds of state capitals, including Wisconsin’s. Being the party of disrespected and distrusted public institutions explains why Democrats have lost more than 1,000 seats in Congress, state legislatures and governor’s offices across the nation just since 2008.

The current political culture celebrates greed. It emphasizes self advancement over the common good. It treats public service as just another opportunity for self dealing. When such a culture flourishes, it’s today’s Republican Party that much more comfortably fits the role of the party of the times we live in. Democrats can say they are concerned for the common good and are acting in the public interest, but when they appear to be operating comfortably within the system as it works today and when they cater to a few constituencies at everyone else’s expense, voters inevitably see them as hypocrites. In a political culture where greed is triumphant and self dealing the norm, Republicans are credited for at least being upfront about their intentions and Democrats are punished for hypocrisy.

Democrats will win again when they show genuine discomfort with the current political culture and the way the system presently functions. Democrats will win again when the political culture is changed, when all the ladder climbing and nest feathering and back scratching gives way to actual public service and actual acts of sacrifice for the greater good. Democrats will win again when today’s me politics becomes tomorrow’s we politics.

And not before.

— Mike McCabe

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Conversations at the County Fairs

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, 07 August 2017
in Wisconsin

farm-familyMany people share the same concerns related to health care, the condition of the roads, and specific legislation that will help their home business. Others share their work with those who struggle with addiction.

ALMA, WI - I love county fairs. I love the sights, sounds, smells and the tastes of the fair. Moreover, I love all the people. Adorable little kids wander around with snow cones. Grandparents catch up on family news. Hardworking 4-Hers show cattle, cakes and cookies.

I especially love the opportunity for conversations with voters about what’s important. The relaxed atmosphere of the fair invites good conversations about what’s going on and how our state should help.

Cookies, roads and health care took up much of my conversations.

Several home bakers spoke with me about a recent court decision that found a group of home bakers could sell cookies and cakes at a local farmers’ market. But, the court decision did not apply to all of our state’s home bakers, which frustrated Charlene of Hixton and Ashley of Merrilllan.

Charlene told me home baking “will come to a screeching halt” if lawmakers don’t pass legislation called the “Cookie Bill.” The proposal, which I support, allows people to sell up to $25,000 of baked goods at farmers’ markets. I voted in favor of this bill in committee and in the full Senate. However, for reasons unknown, the Assembly won’t take up the bill.

Ashley has sold home baked goods for over a decade. The cinnamon rolls at Molly’s café in Black River Falls were her creation. She pointed out that “we give people a choice when they can pick up fresh baked goods made that day.”

Several bakers invited me to the Jackson County Farmers’ Market by the Lunda Center on Thursday from 2:00pm - 6:00pm and Saturday from 9:00am - 1:00pm.

Bad roads were also on people’s minds. Due to no increase in road aid from the state, Jackson County officials were forced to turn black top roads back to gravel. One man told me, “We’ve got to fix the roads. We can’t keep borrowing money and sending it to southeast Wisconsin. Roads are the backbone of Wisconsin.” He read my column about increasing the gas tax by a nickel. “My mom said to raise it by twelve-cents,” he directed me.

Health care was a hot topic too.

Bobby from Eau Claire shared her concerns about chronically ill patients she works with struggle to get needed care. She told me how the type of insurance a patient has can dictate what care they receive, not the doctor’s orders. “If you have regular Medicare or Medicaid, you can get the treatment you need,” she said. “But if you have another insurance – that is paid for by Medicaid or Medicare – you have to go through this long prior authorization process.”

Bobby also pointed out that “people can’t afford the premiums, the deductibles. We need a one-payer system that puts everyone on the same level playing field.”

I heard over and over again stories about the middle class feeling squeezed.

People shared their struggles in daily life, such as a woman whose nine-year old son kept trying to pull her away. His two front teeth were missing. She signed up for food stamps after her partner was injured and couldn’t work. Trying to keep her family fed meant trips to the food pantry.

I also met people reaching out to help those less fortunate. Donna spends her life helping foster children. “Thirty-eight percent of kids in foster care end up homeless. Half of children who are homeless used to be in foster care,” she told me. She started her own nonprofit called Network for Youth to help foster kids.

I talked with Tena who is just as passionate about the mission to rescue people from the destructive path of addiction. She started a group called #StoptheStigma.

“We ask no questions. We make no judgements. We meet our people where they are. We save people one individual at a time,” she said. Tena is Ho-chunk. Many of her fellow workers are also Ho-Chunk.

She emphasized that, “our people are everyone suffering from addiction… We speak up for all who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

The county fair is a snapshot of our lives; people facing struggles and people who are the heroes; people who make our communities great and so special. It is always an honor and joy for me to engage with them in conversation.

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Legislators Should Fully Vet Foxconn Deal

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive has not set their biography yet
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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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