Presty the DJ for Feb. 20

The Beatles had quite a schedule today in 1963. They drove from Liverpool to London through the night to appear on the BBC’s “Parade of the Pops,” which was on live at noon.

After their two songs, they drove back north another three hours to get to their evening performance at the Swimming Baths in Doncaster.

The number one song today in 1965:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Feb. 20”

Presty the DJ for Feb. 19

Today in 1956, Elvis Presley performed three shows at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa, Fla. Presley closed the final show by announcing to the crowd of 14,000, “Girls, I’ll see you backstage.”

Many of them took Presley at his word. Presley barely made it into his dressing room, losing some of his clothes and his shoes in the girl gauntlet.

The number one single today in 1961 posed the question of whether actors can sing:

(Answer: Generally, singers act better than actors sing. Read on.)

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Feb. 19”

Brass Rock 101

This is a follow-up of sorts to last week’s post about the musical brilliance of Chicago, whose 50th anniversary of formation was yesterday.

Other brass rock bands are covered by Ken Michallef:

Rock legend has it that when 28-year-old organist Al Kooper, a veteran of historic sessions with Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, founded ten-piece band Blood, Sweat & Tears, he planned to build on the “brass-rock” sound of chart-toppers The Buckinghams, who had scored a 1967 #1 hit with the soul-suffused Kind of a Drag.

Coincidentally, The Buckinghams’ soon-to-be-manager, James William Guercio, became the producer for the most enduring of all bands that would epitomize and most successfully commercialize that specific “brass-rock” sound: Chicago.

But not before Blood, Sweat & Tears had recorded a string of chart-topping late ’60s/early ’70s hits including I Can’t Quit Her (the only hit to include founder Kooper), You’ve Made Me So Very Happy, “Spinning Wheel,” Laura Nyro’s And When I Die, Lucretia Mac Evil and Go Down Gamblin’. BS&T were the perfect amalgam and representation of a New York City horn rock band, stacked with hot-shot musician ringers who could cut big band jazz charts as easily as flower power pop. But in BS&T they were encouraged to break musical boundaries while racking up gold-selling Top 10 hit singles and albums. Combining appealing commercial songwriting with jazz improvisation, big band brass arrangements, 20th century classical, R&B and neo-psychedelia, BS&T also benefitted from a hairy-chested vocalist who rivaled Tom Jones for sheer balls and bravado: David Clayton-Thomas.

While Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago were the most successful purveyors of the “brass-rock” or horn band sound, other young musicians, skilled in jazz and rock, were ready to capitalize on the burgeoning style. Raised on rock, but with an awareness of the brass instruments that infused ’60s/’70s pop culture from the ubiquitous pit orchestras of popular television variety shows and movie soundtracks like The French Connection and Rocky, to then popular musicians Al Hirt, Herb Alpert and Doc Severinsen, horn rock was the common currency of its day just as synthesizers and AutoTune are today.

Blasting from the nation’s urban centers that were then in the grips of anti-war demonstrations, Black nationalism and Women’s Liberation movements, horn rock burned brightly, hit warp speed, and as quickly flamed out. The following bands comprise the great one hit wonders, the influential but doomed trailblazers, and the chart-topping mass culture movers of the horn band sound—some of whom we still know and love today.

Blood Sweat & Tears

The Premise: Crashed the Top 40 party with jazz arrangements and solo improvising, scored massive hits with sharp lyrics

Spinning Wheel still confounds jazz lovers to this day. From the surging brass crescendo intro to David Clayton-Thomas’s carefree lyric recitation to drummer Bobby Colomby’s Ringo-on-methamphetamine drum fills, “Spinning Wheel” was a game-changer. … BS&T played with the dynamic sensitivity of a jazz sextet or big band, but with a rock attitude, an entirely new approach. The groove is as funky as Sly and the Family Stone, and the dissonant bridge references that psychedelic big bang, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Gritty, slick and powerful, Blood, Sweat & Tears revolutionized rock.

The Verdict: Solid chops, great playing (*****)

The Electric Flag

Led by guitarist Mike Bloomfield, keyboardist Barry Goldberg, singer Nick Gravenites and drummer Buddy Miles, The Electric Flag brought serious blues and soul intent to rock, Bloomfield’s electric blues guitar brilliance and Miles’ funky-butt drumming driving a sweltering brass section as hard as James Brown and Albert Collins combined.

Formed in San Francisco in 1967, The Electric Flag began as Bloomfield’s baby, but as the band went through various contortions, wasted time recording a movie soundtrack and lost members to various addictions, blues-belting drummer/vocalist Miles took a larger role, forcing cover material on the band which didn’t have many original compositions to begin with. Tiring, Bloomfield left the band but not until they recorded their classic 1968 debut, A Long Time Comin’. There can be heard the booming brass section of Peter Strazza, saxophone; Marcus Doubleday, trumpet; Herb Rich, saxophone; and Stemzie Hunter, saxophone. Long Time Comin’ features such ferocious rockers as Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor, slow-groover Texas, and revue-worthy shouter, Wine.

The Verdict: Gritty, blues-infected horn charts, smoldering rock undertow (**** ½)

Average White Band

The Premise: Scottish sextet meets at the intersection of blue-eyed soul and R&B horn shouts

A band of Scottish white boys playing R&B and funk? Average White Band was anything but, scoring a string of hits that swung from ’70s funk to early ’80s disco. Their early albums, AWB and Cut The Cake, have been sampled by everyone from Beastie Boys and Ice Cube, Eric B. & Rakim to TLC. And AWB’s deep-boweled, soulful horn sound is as compelling as ever. AWB’s hits include the time-twitching funk of 1974’s Pick Up The Pieces (its irregular meters freaking most rock musicians), the slippery soul of Cut The Cake, and If I Ever Lose This Heaven: this is what blue-eyed soul dreams are made of.

The Verdict: AWB scored radio hits that became classics, still lauded for great grooves and innovative musicianship (****).


The Premise: Your mother’s favorite horn band, spanning the generations with mighty brass-powered pop

Still going strong 40 years on, having survived the figurate death of bassist Peter Cetera and the literal death of guitarist Terry Kath, Chicago created an innovative horn band sound that remains instantly recognizable. Their hits, including 25 Or 6 To 4, Saturday In The Park, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? and Call On Me, are epic examples of perfect pop songcraft tempered by great musicianship. Combining principal composers Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera, Lee Loughnane and James Pankow’s love of The Beatles with an assimilation of the brass bravado of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, Chicago’s success was practically guaranteed. The group shed their hardcore jazz roots by Chicago III, the band’s music becoming more streamlined and pop friendly. And the hits kept coming. Chicago is one of the best selling bands of all time, with 100 million albums sold like Snickers sexing it up with Mr. Softee.

The Verdict: Who could deny their sophisticated arrangements and mighty musicianship, much less their pop songwriting prowess? (****)

The Ides Of March

The Premise: As one hit wonders go, Vehicle is mightier than most, and slams as hard today as yesterday

Yet another band from the Chicago suburbs, mighty one-hit-wonders The Ides of March captured the gritty and galvanic working class roots of their native city with 1970’s Vehicle, featuring a heaving brass arrangement that would’ve made the perfect soundtrack to Charlton Heston’s chariot death scene in ‘Ben Hur.’ “Great God in heaven don’t you know I love you” went the song’s funky-evil tag line, as a comic guitar solo and breathtaking brass spew red hot cinders on anyone within earshot. Magnificent!! It was written and sung by band member Jim Peterik—who’d later form Survivor and co-write Eye Of The Tiger, no less.

The Verdict: A brilliant horn arrangement meets corny lyrics and a progressive groove (***)

The Premise: The early ’70s sound of blazing trumpets and commercial ambitionNo, it’s not The Ohio Players covering Play That Funky Music White Boy. Though the best horn bands were typically hard and gritty, there’s no denying the boogaloo funk factor some bands pursued in their dreams of success. With that caveat, Bill Chase’s Chase and their 1971 hit Get It On sports a beautiful brass arrangement that cascades over the ears like rushing water, though the track’s lyrics (“Get it on, get it on, get in on in the morning NOW”) and corny drum rhythms wouldn’t have been out of place on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh in. Sock it to me? And the band proudly featured a four-piece trumpet section!

The Verdict: You’re at a party, someone asks for something retro but still dance-worthy. Time to “Get It On!” (**)


The Premise: Many are called, few are chosen. Innovative jazz rock band scores brilliant debut as a foretaste of magnificent careers to come

A super-group that nearly predated the fusion and jazz-rock movements while also spawning several important careers, Dreams released a self-titled debut that was a stone cold jazz-rock burner—though its uneven follow-up, Imagine My Surprise, couldn’t compare. Considering the original band’s lineup, the importance of its debut is hard to exaggerate: Billy Cobham, drums; John Abercrombie, guitar; Michael Brecker, tenor and soprano saxophones; Barry Rogers, trombone; and Randy Brecker, trumpet and flugelhorn. Though ‘Dreams” individual performances are brilliant, the band had no one-hit-wonder songwriters in its stable, its debut failing to chart. ‘Imagine My Surprise’, produced by Steve Cropper, was perhaps funkier, but less spontaneous and certainly less brass-powered. But Dreams remains an exciting listen and hints at the genre’s possibilities, from the queasy beauty of Holli Be Home, and the sizzling tenor sax fire and acetylene drumming of Dream Suite, to the backwards Afro Cuban funk near-hit Try Me. Dreams is the sound of a dangerous NYC, circa 1970.

The Verdict: Dreams maintains its jazz-rock heat 40 years later, as do the band’s blistering solos and tightly-executed arrangements (*****)


The Premise: Another classic horn band one-hit-wonder, performed by an exceptional Canadian group that couldn’t find a follow-up

It’s often been said that watching The Beatles perform on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964 made a million boys buy guitars, but what made as many steal saxophones, trumpets and trombones from unattended high school orchestra lockers? Lighthouse’s massive one-hit-wonder, One Fine Morning, is practically evidence of criminal intent, the 1971 hit’s flowing groove, bass-slapping attack and hard rock guitar presaging its roaring brass bluster. As the band quakes below, the vocalist—who sounds as if he’s riding aloft a black stallion racing down the beach—shouts “As long as you love me girl, we’ll fly,” as over-stimulated harmony vocals and a breezy acoustic piano “bring it all back home,” as we used to say.

The Verdict: A massive hit single boasting a sky-cracking horn section that retains it majesty year after year (*** ½)

Cold Blood

The Premise: Bluesy San-Fran horn band led by a mighty female vocalist

That rare thing, an all male horn band fronted by a powerful female vocalist, Cold Blood is a San Francisco-based, East Bay soul-jazz-rock band that continues to burn brightly into the new millennium. The band, with original vocalist Lydia Pence, in some ways epitomized that greasy East Bay sound: 16th note driven hi-hat funk paired with popping electric bass lines and equally staccato and neck-jerking horn section blasts. Pence brought a soulful goodness not unlike Janis Joplin, while the immaculate rhythm section resembled that other Bay Area powerhouse: Tower Of Power. Cold Blood’s first four albums remain their best: Cold Blood, Sisyphus, First Taste Of Sin (produced by Donny Hathaway), and Thriller.

The Verdict: Powerhouse brass blowers aided by equally talented female vocalist provides solid entertainment from the 1970s to today (****)

The Sons Of Champlin

The Premise: Later Chicago (the band) musician in his early days leads northern California semi-horn band in good vibrations assault

Another California band, this time hailing from way up the coast, The Sons of Champlin was founded by eventual latter-day Chicago member Bill Champlin—who brought a casual soulfulness to his band’s floppy drum grooves and shambolic brass figures. SoC seemed more acoustic guitar than brass driven, even when no acoustic guitar was present. This is singer/songwriter horn band material, music more designed for happy sing-a-longs covering topical themes than driving a nail-hard groove designed to impale your brain on funk. SoC’s 1969 album Loosen Up Naturally, originally two vinyl slabs for the price of one, is worth seeking out. Feel the flower power children.

The Verdict: Though unfocused and lacking the drive that epitomizes the great horn bands, SoC retain a certain magical mystery appeal (***)

 Ten Wheel Drive

The Premise: A true amalgam of blues grooves and jazz brass arrangements, led by one of the greatest vocalists ever

Short-lived but influential, Ten Wheel Drive, featuring magnetic vocalist Genya Ravan, operated between 1968 and 1974, bringing a burning blues sensibility to jazz-rock arrangements. On “Ain’t Gonna Happen,” you can hear the musical maturity and professionalism in the band’s tightly arranged ensembles and in Ravan, a storming vocalist on par with Janis Joplin. Early iterations of the group featured frequent Miles Davis saxophonist Dave Liebman, Blues Brothers’ trombonist Tom “Bones” Malone, and jazz giant, trombonist Bill Watrous. Ten Wheel Drive’s four albums, “Construction #1′ (1969), Brief Replies (1970), Peculiar Friends (1971) and ‘Ten Wheel Drive’ (1974) are essential listening, as are Genya Ravan’s ‘Genya Ravan’ (1972), ‘They Love Me, They Love Me Not’ (1973), and Goldie Zelkowitz (1974).

The Verdict: There’s a steaming furnace behind every TWD track; their four albums remain essential listening (*****)

The Flock

The Premise: Seemingly poised for breakout success, versatile band brings violin to the table

Yet another Chicago-based horn band signed to Columbia Records, The Flock didn’t achieve the success of their fellow natives, but the albums hold up well. Featuring future Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jerry Goodman, The Flock touted classic brass arrangements, but the band had a little more up its collective sleeve, perhaps too sophisticated and skilled for its own good. Their 1969 debut, ‘The Flock’, reflects the band’s interest in Miles Davis’s then evolving jazz with unusual textures, experimental segues and wild vocals. The Flock’s 1970 follow-up, ‘Dinosaur Swamps’, featured the semi-hit, Big Bird, a down-home country jig cum funk-brass belter turned straight-ahead jazz romp, another sign of The Flock’s versatility and musicality. 1975’s ‘Inside Out’ (now minus Goodman) got the band no closer to commercial success, and strains of radio rock began to creep in.

The Verdict: Too diverse and talented to easily morph their talents into bite-sized PR nuggets, The Flock never found their way but their music resounds with late 60s determination (***)

Edgar Winter’s White Trash
Edgar Winter’s White Trash
The Premise: Albino-led horn band mines swamp boogie and blues from the Deep South

Multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter brought a sweaty Texan sensibility to horn rock, synthesizer rock, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Though his biggest success came with the mega-hits Frankenstein and Free Ride, Winter’s first band, White Trash, was a hard living, hard driving monster, as can be heard on their two albums, 1971’s White Trash and ’72’s Roadwork. Combining Bobby “Blue” Bland’s horn sensibilities with the grueling rhythm section of drummer Bobby Ramirez (RIP), bassist Randy Jo Hobbs and guitarist Rick Derringer, White Trash held a raw southern component no northeastern band could match. Prime tracks from the two White Trash albums include the blazing Still Alive And Well, Back in The U.S.A., Rock ‘N Roll Hoochie Koo (featuring guitarist/brother Johnny Winter), and the hit, Keep Playing That Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The Verdict: A natural entertainer and band leader, saxophonist Edgar Winter created one of the most gloriously grooving horn bands to ever walk the earth (*****)

Tower Of Power

The Premise: The quintessential Oakland horn band, aided by innovative musicians and songwriting brilliance

Oakland’s finest, the great large ensemble that featured such innovative musicians as drummer David Garibaldi, bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia, organist Chester Thompson, trumpeter Mic Gillette, tenor saxophonist Lenny Pickett and baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, it’s hard to encapsulate or exaggerate the achievements of Tower Of Power. Though the band didn’t innovate complex, tongue-in-groove rhythms combined with appealing R&B material, they did it better than anyone else. Tower Of Power’s first six albums are R&B masterpieces: East Bay Grease (1970), Bump City (1972), Tower Of Power (1973), Back To Oakland (1974), Urban Renewal (’74) and In The Slot (1975). Tower Of Power hit upon not only a magical lineup, but exquisite songs, from the super funk What Is Hip? and Oakland Stroke to crooning pop classics, Soul Of A Child, Man from the Past, and This Time It’s Real, to intricate rhythmic juggernauts, Soul Vaccination, Squib Cakes and Garibaldi’s Vuela Por Noche. Tower of Power remains a one-of-a kind musical organization.

The Verdict: Greatest horn band of all time, each album a classic (*****+)


The Premise: Brooklyn brothers bring urban sounds to bear in polyglot horn band

A Brooklyn band founded by three Panama-born brothers in 1968, Mandrill combine brash brass sounds with earthy grooves in multi-kulti arrangements. We’re talking funk, funk, funk, NYC style, appropriately sampled in later years by Public Enemy, Kanye West, Eminem and 9th Wonder. The band’s diverse interests brought many styles into their wheelhouse, from Latin, salsa, rock, blues, soul and beyond.

The Verdict: Reflecting their melting pot locale, Mandrill created hot grooves like none other (*** ½)


The Premise: African and Caribbean sourced horn band creates early “world music” treatises

Another band that fused African, Caribbean, jazz, funk, rock, Latin and R&B, London’s Osibisa drew from that city’s melting pot just as Mandrill reflected its New York heritage. Oddly similar to East LA band War, the African and Caribbean born musicians of Osibisa focused on simple, communicative grooves and instantly catchy melodies. The music even has a “spiritual jazz” element, heard in its lush harmony vocals and spacey percussive jams. 1971’s Osibisa and Woyaya, 1972’s Heads, 1973’s Happy Children and 1974’s Osibirock are essential slabs of horn rock for free floating travelers of all destinations.

The Verdict: Perhaps more relevant today than in the 70s, Osibisa’s music is full of mystery, exotica and surprise (****)

I’m glad I stumbled upon this, because I had not heard of several of these acts before reading. Clearly I need to expand my brass rock horizons.

Click here for Music Aficionado’s brass rock playlist.


Presty the DJ for Feb. 17

The number one single today in 1962:

The number one British single today in 1966:

Today in 1969, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recorded the album “Girl from the North Country.”

Never heard of a Dylan–Cash collaboration? That’s because the album was never released, although the title track was on Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” album.

Today in 1970, during her concert in the Royal Albert Hall in London, Joni Mitchell announced her retirement from live performances … a retirement that lasted until the end of the year.

The number one British album today in 1979 was Blondie’s “Parallel Lines”:

Today in 1989, David Coverdale of Whitesnake married Tawny Kitaen, who had appeared in Whitesnake videos:

The marriage lasted two years.

Birthdays start with Orville “Hoppy” Jones of the Ink Spots:

Tommy Edwards (the singer, not the legendary WLS radio DJ):

Bobby Lewis:

Gene Pitney:

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day:

The Walker budget

M.D. Kittle writes about Gov. Scott Walker’s version of the 2017–19 state budget:

Liberals and the mainstream media have called Republican Gov. Scott Walker a lot of things over his two and a half terms in office.

Now the Wisconsin left’s Public Enemy No. 1 is being described with a pejorative that no conservative could easily abide: Walker is suddenly a “liberal.”

Or at least his budget proposal is.

How low can the left go?

An Associated Press story last week, headlined “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposes surprisingly liberal budget,” noted the 2017-19 spending plan “includes a huge boost in funding for schools, sizable cuts for college students and increased tax breaks for the working poor.”

While budget hawks aren’t thrilled with some of the spending increases included in the $76.098 billion biennial budget, no one is about to confuse Walker with California left-winger Gov. Jerry Brown, or Walker’s liberal colleague to the more immediate west, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.

Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, a Madison-based free-market think tank, said there’s a lot for conservatives to like in Walker’s budget proposal. Not the least of which is nearly $600 million in tax and fee relief, including the elimination of the state portion of the property tax levy.

“Think about it. When is the last time a politician proposed eliminating a tax? It just never happens,” Healy told Wisconsin Watchdog on Monday on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee.

“The biggest concern when you are a conservative in the Legislature is, if you start a new tax or fee, it’s never going to go away,” Healy added. “Here we have a situation where Gov. Walker has actually stepped up and he proposes eliminating the forestry tax on everyone’s property tax bill. That’s huge.”

To accomplish this tax exorcism, Walker’s plan provides more than $180 million in fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19 to ensure continued state funding for forestry programs covered by local property taxpayers. The administration says the state forestry account in the conservation fund will be unaffected through this “tax relief action.”

“This tax, which had gone up each time a property’s value increased, will no longer be imposed on Wisconsin property owners,” states a Department of Administration budget analysis. reserve concerns

Eric Bott, Wisconsin state director of Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation, said Walker’s latest budget plan again sets the pace in limiting the size and scope of government.

The proposal calls for phasing out the prevailing wage mandate for state-funded construction projects. Prevailing wage, a Great Depression-era relic that artificially fixes wages based on trade and geographical location of the state, can substantially increase costs for government construction projects. Bott calls it “protectionism at its worst.” Unions and their Democratic allies fought ferociously to keep prevailing wage reform at bay in the last session. They failed. Walker wants to go deeper this time.

The budget also includes some of the strongest welfare reform initiatives in the nation.

Bott is especially excited about the inclusion of a state version of the REINS Act in the Walker budget plan. The REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) proposal would require state agencies to get legislative approval for any regulation with an economic impact at certain thresholds.

Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, and Sen. Devin Lemahieu, R-Oostburg, earlier this year reintroduced a similar bill that would hold the economic impact threshold at $10 million.

“If there is a compliance estimate above $10 million, then I’m very comfortable throwing a wrench into it, grinding it to a halt, and forcing the legislature to then approve it,” Neylon told Wisconsin Watchdog. “Because that is the best way to hold people accountable, to let their elected officials be the ones to decide on big spending items.”

Bott said Wisconsin would be among the first states to adopt a REINS Act. There is similar legislation pending in Congress.

Healy said that behind the scenes MacIver is hearing from budget hawks concerned about the spending increases, particularly the nearly $650 million marked for K-12 public education.

“I think going forward that will certainly be something the Legislature looks at, if they want to dial back spending in certain areas,” he said. “That certainly would make this strong budget even stronger.”

To Walker’s credit, Bott said, the governor “isn’t just throwing money at problems.” He’s specifically delineating dollars for priorities. That includes approximately $55 million for rural schools districts, $25 million in local transportation aid, and funding for STEM education that works hand-in-hand with Walker’s expectation that the University of Wisconsin System better-prepare students for the demands of the new economy.

“If you’re part of the government and you want to be part of the solution, great. He’s going to provide the resources,” Bott said on the Vicki McKenna Show. Those that don’t want to be part of the solution, such as the Madison Metropolitan School District and its open rebellion against implementing state collective bargaining reforms, will lose out on the increased spending.

Some of the biggest budget battles are coming from inside the GOP. Walker has made it clear that he is not interested in tax increases, or “revenue enhancers” as some like to call them. That means no to a gas tax increase and vehicle registration fee hikes. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and his leadership lieutenants in the Assembly have pushed gas tax and fee increases as potential solutions to transportation budget shortfalls. It is, at least for now, a rhetorical line in the sand.

Healy said that line is subject to change, and he predicts Vos will end up on the other side of it.

“Right now you have to bet that Gov. Walker is going to win that battle,” he said. “(Senate Majority Leader Scott) Fitzgerald is on his side. When you have two of the three players in the Capitol on one side of the argument, generally they win out.”

The rhetoric so far has been pitched, with supporters of “revenue enhancers” attacking Walker’s budget for transportation borrowing and for not offering sustainable funding to keep several Wisconsin highway projects moving forward.

Bott notes that Walker has proposed $6.1 billion for the Department of Transportation, with the highest level of transportation general aids ever. While he agrees that there is too much borrowing in the transportation budget, Bott noted that bonding for highway construction is down 41 percent, the lowest level since the 2001-03 budget.

And a recent audit found waste and incompetence in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to be incredibly costly to taxpayers. A total of 363 DOT contracts between 2006 and 2015 – about 16 percent of the total – received only one bid each, according to the review. That accounts for $1.1  billion in projects.

“And we know that when there’s no competition, it drives up the price dramatically,” Bott said.

Despite its spending increases, Bott said the Walker budget plan could be a “model budget” for the nation.

“The governor has laid out a vision with conservative victories,” Healy said. “Hopefully the Legislature, instead of being bogged down in gas tax and registration fee increases, can make some improvements to the governor’s budget and we can have this thing done in June.”

Well … the claims of conservatism are a bit dodgy when the proposed budget is bigger than the previous budget for no justifiable reasons. If you think there is waste in the DOT, you should look elsewhere in government (for instance, all the press officers all over state government).

Charlie Sykes has seen this before:

Governor Scott Walker’s new budget, which includes spending increases for health care and schools, seems to have taken some observers by surprise. It probably shouldn’t have, since Walker has signaled rather clearly that he rejected what we called the “sour politics of austerity.”

A few years ago, I wrote this piece for Wisconsin Interest Magazine about Walker’s book, Unintimidated, which highlighted some of the political paradoxes in Walker’s world view:

Scott Walker remains a puzzle to even some of his closest observers. He is, after all, a hard-edged conservative who talks about being a “champion to the vulnerable”; a fiscal conservative who disdains the politics of austerity; as well as a master communicator who sometimes fails to make his case.

In light of his budget, this section may be of particular interest:

Walker is a fiscal conservative but disdains the politics of austerity. After nine years as Milwaukee county executive and three years as governor, Walker’s image (at least among progressives) is that of a relentless budget cutter. In a scathing attack in 2011, historian John Gurda accused him of “dismantling government one line item at a time, regardless of the consequences.”

But in his book, Walker is sharply critical of what he calls the “sour politics of austerity.”

“Too often, conservatives present themselves as the bearers of sour medicine, when we should be offering a positive, optimistic agenda instead.”His budget could have laid off tens of thousands of middle class workers, slashed Medicaid, and cut billions from schools and local governments, he writes. “But,” Walker asks, “where is the optimism in that?”

Instead, Walker champions what he calls a “hopeful, optimistic alternative to austerity.” The key, he writes, is rejecting the “false choice” of spending cuts versus tax hikes and opting instead for changing the fundamental rules of the game.

“We found a way to make government not just smaller, but also more responsive, more efficient and more effective. And because we did, we were able to cut government spending while still improving education and public services.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Walker’s budget is certainly more fiscally conservative than any Democratic budget would be, but maximizing individual rights means minimizing what government can do, and we shouldn’t have to rely on elections to keep government out of our lives.

School districts are happy with the proposed increase in state aid, and were I a state legislator I would vote for the requirement for school districts to certify their Act 10 compliance before getting more aid (or, I would argue, any state aid) today. (Remember when Gov. Tommy Thompson touted the Miller Park project by telling outstaters to “stick it to Milwaukee”? I would be fine with sticking it to Milwaukee and Madison.)

Walker also needs to tout the REINS provisions more than he has. One of the worst features of state government is its ability to pass laws without having the Legislature vote on them, through the oxymoron of “administrative law.” Anything that has the power of law is a law and should be voted on by the Legislature, not enacted by bureaucrats.

One interesting issue is UW tuition, which Walker wants to cut and the UW System does not want to cut. The U instead wants to be able to increase tuition but increase student financial aid on the rationale (usually seen in private universities) that rich families can afford higher tuition, and increasing financial aid allows less wealthy families to pay less. Walker seems to believe that tuition cuts should apply to all, not just lower-income families.

This budget is, for better or worse, an establishment Republican state budget. Unfortunately, Republicans in Wisconsin tend to be big-government Republicans.

Why ObamaCare needs to die

It is true that Congress can’t merely kill ObamaCare without replacing it with better health insurance (note I didn’t write “health care,” because health care and health insurance are not the same thing).

For those who need reminders (and that’s apparently a lot of people) why ObamaCare needs to have its plug pulled, the Daily Signal provides those reminders:

While the House and Senate plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, members of Congress are hosting town hall meetings with their constituents and have been greeted by hostile crowds.

These folks seem to have amnesia about Obamacare’s glaring failures.

Here’s a quick refresher on Obamacare’s top four broken promises.

1. Costs are exploding.
President Barack Obama promised that his reform proposal would cut typical family costs by $2,500 annually. That, of course, never materialized.

The typical family today pays about 35 percent of their income for health care.

The small group and individual insurance markets were hit hard by big premium increases. An eHealth report concluded that from 2013 to 2017, the average individual market premium increases were 99 percent for individuals and a jaw-dropping 140 percent for families.

Costs have also increased for those with employer-sponsored insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, from 2010 to 2016, average family premiums for employer-sponsored plans nearly increased 32 percent.

Higher premiums are not the only shock. Out-of-pocket costs in the Obamacare exchanges, particularly deductibles, have been stunning. HealthPocket analyzed that for the lowest tier bronze plans in 2017, the average deductible for an individual is $6,092 and $12,383 for a family.

2. Competition and choice are declining.

Obama told America his proposal would increase competition in the health insurance markets but that hasn’t happened either.

On Tuesday, news broke that Humana will be leaving the Obamacare exchange markets next year. This was just the latest in a growing list of insurers who are jumping ship from this massive public policy failure.

Town hall audiences should take a good look at county-level data. A new Heritage Foundation analysis found that Obamacare’s exchanges, in their fourth year of operation, offer Americans little health insurer choice.

The downward slide in competition means that in 2017, consumers in 70 percent of U.S. counties are left with just one or two insurer options on the exchanges. The 70 percent figure is way up from 36 percent in 2016.

3. Forget about keeping your plan.

Perhaps the most famous health care promise of all, Obama’s promise: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.” In fact, there were 37 instances where Obama or a high-ranking administration official repeated that infamous promise to keep you plan and your doctor.

Rarely has there been such a disconnect between rhetoric and reality. In 2014, the first year that Obamacare was fully implemented, the Associated Press reported that there were at least 4.7 million canceled policies across 30 states. The law’s insurance rules and mandates forced many insurers to cancel plans that people liked and wanted.

Sadly, the disruption only continued from there. For example, hundreds of thousands of people signed up for plans offered by insurers under Obamacare’s co-op program.

But 18 out of 23 of these federally-funded insurers have already collapsed, meaning taxpayers are highly unlikely to be repaid the more than $1.9 billion in loans they received—not to mention the thousands of co-op enrollees that lost their health care plans, some in the middle of the year.

Not exactly a proud moment in public policy.

4. No, you can’t necessarily keep your doctor.

Obama promised patients that they would be able to keep their doctors. For many patients, that also turned out to be untrue.

Obamacare’s rising costs, and its limited flexibility in federally fixed benefit designs, resulted in plans resorting to narrow provider networks. Narrow networks limit access to doctors and other medical professionals as a way to contain costs.

The fact that some people got coverage they didn’t before ObamaCare was spawned is not ameliorated by the reality of everyone else paying more for worse coverage. Besides that, in contrast to what liberals seem to think, health care is a service you pay for, not a right anyone is obligated to provide to you.


Presty the DJ for Feb. 16

Today in 1964, the Beatles appeared on CBS-TV’s Ed Sullivan Shew, for the first time since last week.

The number one British single today in 1967 was written by Charlie Chaplin:

Today in 1974, members of Emerson, Lake and Palmer were arrested for swimming naked in a Salt Lake City hotel pool. They were fined $75 each.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Feb. 16”

The Trump economy, farm state edition

One reason I did not support Donald Trump for president was because his trade policies would be highly damaging to this state’s agricultural economy, which makes up one-third of the state’s economy.

Sure enough, the Wall Street Journal reports:

This year the U.S. is expected to export $134 billion in agricultural goods, from pork to nuts to corn and much more. Exports contribute about 20% of U.S. farm income, and U.S. agriculture ran a $19.5 billion global trade surplus in 2015. The No. 1 state for exports is California, which is home to high-value crops like lettuce and grapes. But Mr. Trump carried 11 of the top 15 exporting states, including Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana and Texas.

The nearby table shows how much American farmers rely on exports. Some 72% of U.S. tree nuts are exported, and roughly half of all rice, soybeans and wheat. Rice is grown in solid Republican states such as Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri; soybeans are cash cows for Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. Root plants like ginseng are exported from Michigan and Wisconsin, mainly to China.

The second table shows that Mr. Trump’s protectionist threats are aimed at countries that are the biggest buyers of U.S. farm products. Of the top 11 U.S. export destinations, seven are in Asia and Japan and Vietnam are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Mr. Trump abandoned in his first week. The Farm Bureau says that pact would have raised U.S. farm incomes by $4.4 billion by reducing trade barriers in these and other markets. Japan, with its high incomes and 19% average tariff on U.S. farm goods, is a particular lost opportunity.

Mr. Trump also says he might impose tariffs on China, which could invite retaliation. In 2015 China bought nearly $21 billion in U.S. agricultural goods, up 200% since 2006 and almost 15% of total U.S. farm exports.

Then there’s his threat to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, though U.S. farm exports have quadrupled to Canada and Mexico since Nafta took effect in 1994. The irony here is that Mexico made farm-trade concessions because it was so desperate for access to U.S. markets. A Nafta redo may be less favorable to Americans.

It isn’t clear if Mr. Trump will withdraw from Nafta, but recall what happened when the U.S. violated the deal in the past. When the U.S. closed the southern border to Mexican trucks in 2009, Mexico retaliated with tariffs that hit U.S. fruit and vegetable exporters hard. Growers lost market share and income until the truck dispute was settled.

Dairy exports to Mexico alone support some 30,000 American jobs, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and many are manufacturing jobs in rural areas. Americans who lose their jobs in a Trump trade war may have a hard time understanding how this helps the working class.

Global competition has forced U.S. farmers to become efficient and productive, but the reality is that other countries have arable land and willing labor. They can replace U.S. agriculture in a tariff war. Australia has a trade deal with Japan, and exports Down Under will have an advantage over American beef and wheat. U.S. beef imports to Japan will face high tariffs that the Trans-Pacific deal would have phased out or reduced. Mexico has bilateral trade deals with Chile, the European Union and others, and may buy more from Canada.

The bigger political picture for the Trump White House is that U.S. agriculture is already struggling amid a strong dollar and declining export volumes. Net farm income dropped 15% to about $68 billion last year, the lowest since 2009, according to the Agriculture Department. Unless Mr. Trump wants to compensate with more taxpayer subsidies, the best way to boost incomes is to let farmers sell in more markets, not fewer.

One reason the U.S. benefits from free-trade deals is that America has among the lowest import barriers on earth (5% average for agriculture), so new agreements tear down levies abroad and open new markets. President Trump should consider that reality before escalating on trade—and betraying the Farm Belt voters who are relying on him to bring growth and opportunity.