Land shouldn’t belong to government

Steve Baldwin:

With President Trump’s recent order to “shrink” two massive federal land grabs in Utah and a shocking turn of events in the Bundy Ranch/BLM controversy, the issue of federal land ownership is back in the news. Both events illustrate how the federal government has used its massive land holdings to control the lives of Americans. And lurking in the background of these events is the constitutionality of federal land ownership, an issue that has been ignored for generations by politicians, the courts, and the media. Indeed, the evidence is fairly clear that our founding fathers did not design the federal government to be America’s largest landowner with all the abuses that entails.

The federal government now has a total of 640 million acres under its control — almost a third of the nation’s land. The majority of land in Nevada, Alaska, Utah, Oregon and Idaho is owned by the feds. In Arizona, California, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado, federal ownership exceeds a third. Indeed, if all 11 Western states were combined into one territory, the feds would own nearly 50% of it. This land is primarily administered by the United States Forest Service (USFS), the National Park Service (NPS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The Department of Defense also owns 20 million acres.

But if liberals had their way, even more land would be seized by the feds. Fortunately, it is unlikely this administration will engage in any state land confiscations. Indeed, Trump’s action to decrease the acreage of the two Utah “monuments” is a good start in rolling back this abuse of federal power. These monuments were created by decree under President’s Clinton and Obama by abusing the narrow intent of the 1906 Antiquities Act. Combined, the two preserves originally encompassed 3.2 million acres, but Trump knocked them down to 1.2 million acres. Not surprisingly, the left went ballistic, but the truth is Trump is the one acting in accord with the Constitution and in the best interest of the people of Utah, and even the environment.

Both of these land grabs were initiated with little or no input from Utah’s civic, political, and business leaders. And, of course, as with most Democrat “environmental” initiatives, cronyism and corruption are evident. For example, Bill Clinton’s Utah land grab — the “Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument” — placed off-limits all energy development, including the world’s largest known deposit of clean burning coal. Not coincidentally, this proviso also quietly benefited the owners of the world’s second-largest deposit of clean burning coal: the Lippo group, owned by the Indonesia-based Riady family and, of course, large donors to the Clinton Foundation (and huge Clinton donors going back decades). In other words, Clinton crippled America’s energy capabilities in order to enrich his friends and himself. As with nearly everything the Clintons do, their operating principle has remained remarkably consistent: “Big donors first; America last.”

The history of federal land management is not a pretty one. Heavy-handed federal land seizures have been ongoing for decades in coordination with radical environmentalist groups and almost always without the support of state leaders, Native American tribes, and the people who work the land such as miners, ranchers, farmers, loggers, etc. Indeed, a report by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), titled Divided Lands: State vs. Federal Management in the West, concluded that “By nearly all accounts, our federal lands are in trouble, both in terms of fiscal performance and environmental stewardship.

The report says that states “produce far greater financial returns from land management than federal land agencies. In fact, the federal government often loses money managing valuable natural resources. States, on the other hand, consistently generate significant amounts of revenue from state trust lands. On average, states earn more revenue per dollar spent than the federal government for each of the natural resources we examined, including timber, grazing, minerals, and recreation.” Incredibly, states “earn an average of $14.51 for every dollar spent on state trust land management,” while the USFS and BLM “generate only 73 cents in return for every dollar spent on federal land management.

That’s a 20-to-1 ratio. In other words, the feds couldn’t responsibly manage a garden, let alone the millions of acres they control. No one should be surprised. That’s why Trump’s action on the Utah monuments will be good for Utah, good for the state’s budget, and good for the environment because Utah will manage that land far more efficiently than will the federal government.

But back to the Constitution. Most Americans have no clue what our founders said about federal land management. The Constitution’s Property Clause (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2) gave Congress the power to dispose of property, but does not mention a power to acquire property. However, under the Necessary and Proper Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 18), the federal government was given the power to acquire land but only for the purpose of carrying out its enumerated powers. This would include parcels for military uses, post offices, etc. Nowhere does the Constitution give the federal government the power to retain acreage for unenumerated purposes such as grazing, mineral development, agriculture, forests, or even national parks. This was wisely left up to the prerogative of the states and the people.

Moreover, the Constitution even details what to do with federally owned property inside newly acquired states. It declares that the federal government has a duty to dispose of this land unless it is being used for an enumerated purpose, meaning that all federal land not being used for activities specifically authorized by the Constitution should be transferred back to the states. An in-depth analysis of these clauses by the 10th Amendment Center can be found here.

At no time did America’s founders ever envision a system of land ownership that granted the federal government ownership of almost a third of the nation’s land. And this is totally logical and consistent with everything the founding fathers wrote and said about federal power. They feared federal power so much they divided it into three branches and did everything they could to protect the rights of states. Our founders knew that widespread federal land ownership would be used to blackmail states and compromise their independence.
Indeed, during the federal convention debates of September, 1787, Elbridge Gerry — the future VP under President James Madison — argued that federal ownership of land “might be made use of to enslave any particular State by buying up its territory, and that the strongholds proposed would be a means of awing the State into an undue obedience.” Even the Federalists, who advocated a slightly stronger central government, did not favor federal land ownership outside of the Constitution’s enumerated purposes. We know that because they voted to ratify the Constitution with the aforementioned restrictions on federal land ownership.

It is clear that generations of politicians and even federal judges have ignored the constitutional restrictions on federal land ownership. Over the last 150 years, the federal government, using the BLM, USFS, FWS, NPS and even the Department of Defense, has held on to millions of acres that should have been turned over to the states once they joined the union. And the feds have increased this acreage with various seizures over the years, usually under some type of “environmental” pretense. Then they erected a vast array of outrageous regulatory and land use controls over mining, farming, logging, oil exploration, and so forth, in most cases with no input from local governments or the people affected. This abuse has come at the expense of state governance and is a total rejection of Republicanism and decentralized power as clearly advocated by our founders. This is precisely the type of federal abuse many of the Constitution’s signers feared would occur.

Indeed, in the Western states, clashes between federal land management agencies and those who live and work on or near these land holdings are frequent, but the mainstream media often ignores such stories. However, most readers will remember the Cliven Bundy incident, the Nevada rancher who refused to pay $1.2 million in grazing fees to the BLM on grounds the land belonged to Nevada, not to the feds. When the Bureau threatened to seize the ranch in 2014, hundreds of cowboys and militia members poured in from all over the country to defend the property. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the feds backed down. Many Americans were shocked at the appearance of armed citizens, but the reality is that our founding fathers argued in favor of gun ownership precisely for the purpose of resisting government tyranny.

The Bureau of Land Management’s police-state actions at the ranch were recently exposed, thanks to former BLM Special Agent and whistleblower Larry Wooten, whose shocking report details the agency’s complete disregard for the rights of the Bundy family. In his report, which became public in early December, Wooten wrote that “… the investigation revealed a widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical, and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff at the BLM’s office of Law Enforcement and Security.”

Wooten wrote that the BLM had photos of Cliven Bundy and Eric Parker on its “arrest tracking wall,” but with x’s marked through their faces and bodies, as if they were to be eliminated. He also reported that the Special Agent in Charge, Dan Love, had boasted that his actions in a previous BLM controversy led to a number of people committing suicide. Wooten’s report details outrageous statements by officials such as, “Go out there and kick Cliven Bundy in the mouth (or teeth) and take his cattle.” And the report says that the agents commonly referred to the Bundys and their supporters as “rednecks,” “retards,” and “douche bags.” One agent even boasted about “grinding” a Bundy family member’s face into the gravel.

There were also descriptive titles given to body cam videos taken of the Bundy ranch, such as “Are you f–king people stupid or what,” “Pretty much a shoot first, ask question later,” and “Shoot his f–king dog first.” Indeed, the Wooten report exposes the agency as full of arrogant do-gooders who think they are better than the rural folks they obviously detest, a mentality similar to the attitudes held by some ATF and FBI agents at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Indeed, Wooten wrote that he thought the Bundy ranch confrontation very well could have turned deadly due to the attitude of the BLM agents. One can just envision the thoughts of these agents: Hey, the FBI and ATF got to shoot civilians at Waco, why can’t we?

This report and more were part of a cache of 3,000 documents that Bundy’s attorneys proved to the court were illegally withheld from them by the BLM and the U.S. Attorney’s office. As a result, on December 20, Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed the case, although Cliven Bundy could be tried again. Two other trials against other Bundy ranch defendants ended in hung juries. Bundy has always maintained that his case was all about Obama’s hatred for those who work the land and by, extension, an out of control BLM that thrives on harassing hard-working Americans. It appears he is correct.

The Wooten report can be read here, but be forewarned: it has descriptions of behavior too obscene to quote here. Trump should not only order the BLM to drop its persecution of Cliven Bundy but, on misconduct grounds alone, he should fire everyone involved with the Bundy case.

Lastly, it should be pointed out that the Bundy confrontation was likely about Democrat cronyism and fundraising. Reports appearing in Bloomberg, Breitbart, and Reuters in 2014 indicated that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had teamed up with Chinese billionaire Wang Yusuo in an effort to create a massive 9,000-acre solar energy farm on the same federal land apparently used by Bundy to graze cattle. And Yusuo’s company, the ENN Group, contributed over $40,000 to Reid over the course of three election cycles. One BLM document makes clear that Bundy’s cattle grazing negatively impacted potential solar farm development on this land.

Although the Chinese deal apparently fell through, at the time the BLM was trying to shut down Bundy’s ranch the deal was very much alive. Incidentally, the BLM has to approve any deal allowing a private company to profit off of its land holdings, but not a problem. The BLM director was Neil Kornze, an Obama appointee and Reid’s former senior adviser. The fix was in.

But not to worry. After the Chinese deal fell apart, Reid began working closely with a company called First Solar on a project called the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, which, again, targets the area Bundy’s cattle grazes on. As reported by the Courtwatcherblog that monitors Reid’s shady solar power/public land dealings: “Harry Reid’s interests are clear. He doesn’t care about public lands, but what he stands to profit off of their sale, no matter if it’s sold to China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, or even South Africa… the facts show Harry Reid’s interests in the Bundy men being in jail, make it a lot easier to grab their land…”

First Solar, by the way, was funded in part by Goldman Sachs, a million dollar Obama contributor. Other investors include Obama bundlers Bruce Heyman and David Heller, two Goldman Sachs executives who served on Obama’s 2008 Finance Committee. Yet another Obama bundler, Paul Tudor Jones, is a major investor in First Solar and First Solar’s CEO, Michael Ahearn, is also a big Democrat donor.

In other words, the effort to close down the Bundy ranch probably had less to do with grazing fees than with Harry Reid figuring out a way to convert cattle grazing land to a solar farm, thereby rewarding Democrat fat cats who in turn fund Democrat politicians. This is what the BLM has become: an agency that facilitates the creation of projects that financially benefit the Democrats.

Trump’s action to shrink federal land seizures is admirable, but there is much more he could do if he really wants to restore the Constitution’s restrictions on federal land ownership. He should abolish the BLM and all other land-managing federal agencies and transfer all their holdings back to the states, included federal preserves and national parks, with the only exception being land needed specifically for military use and federal offices of various kinds. This action would be on solid constitutional grounds. Moreover, the states already have competent land management agencies that can easily, and more efficiently, manage this land

Certainly there has been litigation over the years involving the constitionality of federal land ownership but most of these cases feature liberal judges turning themselves into pretzels trying to ignore the plain meaning of the constitution. Typically, these judges managed to find phony “rights” that allow the feds to justify its ownership of a third of America’s land. There’s no doubt any effort by Trump to end the federal government’s illegal land ownership regime would be challenged in the courts but such a case would likely end up in the Supreme Court and there’s a good chance the high court would rule in his favor. There is simply no body of writing by the founders that justify federal control of so much acreage that have absolutely zero nexus to the Constitution’s enumerated powers. It’s that simple

Aside from restoring proper constitutional restrictions on federal land ownership, such a massive transfer of federal land would do a number of things. First, it would energize the economy of many states. Over the last 50 years, millions of acres of land with potential oil and gas reserves, timber, mining deposits and so forth were foolishly placed off limits by federal land confiscations created by presidential orders or congressional action. The long-running federal war on cattle, farmers, loggers, ranchers, and miners would largely come to an end as state agencies and politicians would be far more accountable to the people who live off these lands.

Secondly, contrary to the inevitable hysteria of the environmentalists, there is little doubt some of this land would become state preserves as the citizens of each state will want to preserve environmentally sensitive land and historic landmarks. And the states will do a better job managing environmentally important land than would federal agencies that take orders from distant bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. The point is, it will be the citizens of each state who, through their legislatures and state agencies, would make the decisions as to how best to manage their own land. The National Parks may be a special issue. While they also lack a constitutional basis, they could be transferred back to state control on the condition they continue to operate them as parks. Indeed, states wouldn’t have it any other way since there is much money to be made from the national parks in the way of tourism, camping, hiking and so on.

Most Americans have forgotten this, but the shady tactics of federal land management agencies were a big issue in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. At the time, the movement of those fighting such abuses was called the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” and this issue propelled tens of thousands of voters to support Reagan’s candidacy. To be honest, though, Reagan was unable to carry out any substantial reforms regarding federal land ownership.

If Trump wants to go down in history as a president who restored the federal government to its proper limited role, then he should revitalize this forgotten section of the U.S. Constitution and transfer all non-enumerated federal land back to the states. Such action will allow states to control their own destinies, create better managed parks and preserves, and create tens of thousands of new jobs by energizing natural resource industries such as oil, natural gas, mining, and timber. This is a perfect issue for him. Be bold, Mr. President, and just do it.

That would, by the way, give to the state the 5 percent of land the federal government owns. The feds, the state and counties own 16 percent of Wisconsin land, which means that all of the services property required is paid for by the owners of just five-sixths of Wisconsin land. And that percentage has been going up thanks to the Knowles–Nelson Stewardship Fund, a bipartisan effort to grab land for the state to prescribe only approved activities on that land, which don’t ever involve, for instance, hunting, fishing and motorized sports.

The claim that under the Walker administration is acting less like the Damn Near Russia of Democrat-led DNRs doesn’t mean the state should own any land besides the land on which government facilities sit.




How to put more money in people’s pockets

Facebook Friend Devin has compiled a list of companies, several of which have offices in Wisconsin, that have raised wages or otherwise invested in their employees since the announcement of the federal tax cuts late last year:

Wal-Mart – wages increased and bonuses paid

Southwest Airlines – Bonuses paid

CVS – increased hiring

FedEx- increased hiring

Aflac: $250 million boost in U.S. investments and increased 401(k) benefits, including one-time contribution of $500 to every employee’s retirement savings account.

American Savings Bank: $1,000 bonus to 1,150 employees, nearly the entire workforce, and increase of minimum wage from $12.21 an hour to $15.15.

Aquesta Financial Holdings: $1,000 bonus to all employees, increase in minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Associated Bank: $500 bonus to nearly all employees and increased minimum wage to $15 per hour, up from $10.

AT&T: $1,000 bonus to all 200,000 U.S. workers and $1 billion boost in U.S. investments.

Bank of America: $1,000 bonus for about 145,000 U.S. employees.

Bank of Hawaii: $1,000 bonus for 2,074 employees, or 95 percent of its workforce, and increase of minimum wage from $12 to $15.

BB&T Corp.: $1,200 bonus for almost three-fourths of associates, or 27,000 employees, and increase in minimum wage from $12 to $15.

Boeing: $300 million boost in investments to employee gift-match programs, workforce development, and workplace improvements.

Central Pacific Bank: $1,000 bonus to all 850 nonexecutive employees and increase in minimum wage from $12 to $15.25.

Comcast NBCUniversal: $1,000 bonus for more than 100,000 employees.

Deleware Supermarkets Inc.: $150 bonus to 1,000 nonmanagement employees and $150,000 in new investment in employee training and development programs.

Express Employment Prc: $2,000 bonus to all nonexecutive employees at Oklahoma City headquarters.

Fifth Third Bancorp: $1,000 bonus for all 13,500 employees and increase of minimum wage to $15 for nearly 3,000 workers.

First Hawaiian Bank: $1,500 bonus for all 2,264 employees and increase in minimum wage to $15.

First Horizon National Corp.: $1,000 bonus to employees who do not participate in company-sponsored bonus plans.

Kansas City Southern: $1,000 bonus to employees of subsidiaries in the U.S. and Mexico.

Melaleuca: $100 bonus for every year an employee has worked for the company—an average of $800 for each of 2,000 workers.

National Bank Holdings Corp.: $1,000 bonus to all noncommissioned associates who earn a base salary under $50,000.

Nelnet: $1,000 bonus for nearly all of 4,100 employees.

Nephron Parmaceuticals: wage increase of 5 percent for its 640 employees.

Nexus: wage increase of 5 percent and plans to hire 200 workers in 2018.

OceanFirst Bank: increase in minimum wage from $13.60 to $15, affecting at least 166 employees.

PNC Bank: $1,000 bonus to 47,500 employees and $1,500 increase to existing pension accounts.

Pinnacle Bank: $1,000 bonus for all full-time employees in Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.

Pioneer Credit Recovery: $1,000 bonus to employees.

Rush Enterprises Inc.: $1,000 discretionary bonus to 6,600 U.S. employees.

Sinclair Broadcast: $1,000 bonus to nearly 9,000 employees.

SunTrust: increase of minimum wage to $15, $50 million increase in community grants, 1 percent 401(k) contribution for all employees.

Turning Point Brands, Inc.: $1,000 bonus to 107 employees.

Washington Federal, Inc.: wage increase of 5 percent for employees earning less than $100,000 per year and increased investments in technology infrastructure and community projects.

Wells Fargo: increase in minimum wage from $13.50 to $15, and higher charitable giving by about 40 percent, to $400 million.

Western Alliance: wage increase of 7.5 percent for the lowest-paid 50 percent of employees.

Whether you like this fact or not, that is directly to Trump’s and the Republican Congress’ credit. And …

More broadly, Mark J. Perry observes things for which politicians do not deserve credit:

I posted the charts above on Twitter last Sunday and that Tweet has already had more than 1,000 re-Tweets and hundreds of comments, e.g., here’s a typical one: “This is something to cheer you up, in stark contrast to the daily #media #coverage!” So to help get people even more cheered up, and to counteract the negative news in the media with some positive economic data and facts, here’s a re-post of my 2014 “Carpe Century” post:

Morgan Housel at The Motley Fool lists the 50 reasons we’re living through the greatest period in world history (free registration may be required), and here are 25 of my favorites:

1. U.S. life expectancy at birth was 39 years in 1800, 49 years in 1900, 68 years in 1950, and 79 years today. The average newborn today can expect to live an entire generation longer than his great-grandparents could.

2. In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine made the bold prediction that someday a computer could weigh less than 1 ton. I wrote this sentence on an iPad that weighs 0.73 pounds.

3. The average American now retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51. Enjoy your golden years — your ancestors didn’t get any of them.

4. Despite a surge in airline travel, there were half as many fatal plane accidents in 2012 than there were in 1960, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

5. People worry that the U.S. economy will end up stagnant like Japan’s. Next time you hear that, remember that unemployment in Japan hasn’t been above 5.6% in the past 25 years, its government corruption ranking has consistently improved, incomes per capita adjusted for purchasing power have grown at a decent rate, and life expectancy has risen by nearly five years. I can think of worse scenarios.

6. Two percent of American homes had electricity in 1900. J.P Morgan (the man) was one of the first to install electricity in his home, and it required a private power plant on his property. Even by 1950, close to 30% of American homes didn’t have electricity. It wasn’t until the 1970s that virtually all homes were powered. Adjusted for wage growth, electricity cost more than 10 times as much in 1900 as it does today, according to professor Julian Simon.

7. According to the Federal Reserve, the number of lifetime years spent in leisure — retirement plus time off during your working years — rose from 11 years in 1870 to 35 years by 1990. Given the rise in life expectancy, it’s probably close to 40 years today. Which is amazing: The average American spends nearly half his life in leisure. If you had told this to the average American 100 years ago, that person would have considered you wealthy beyond imagination.

8. Median household income adjusted for inflation was around $25,000 per year during the 1950s. It’s nearly double that amount today. We have false nostalgia about the prosperity of the 1950s because our definition of what counts as “middle class” has been inflated — see the 34% rise in the size of the median American home in just the past 25 years. If you dig into how the average “prosperous” American family lived in the 1950s, I think you’ll find a standard of living we’d call “poverty” today.

9. According to the Census Bureau, only one in 10 American homes had air conditioning in 1960. That rose to 49% in 1973, and 89% today — the 11% that don’t are mostly in cold climates. Simple improvements like this have changed our lives in immeasurable ways.

10. Almost no homes had a refrigerator in 1900, according to Frederick Lewis Allan’s The Big Change, let alone a car. Today they sell cars with refrigerators in them.

11. Adjusted for overall inflation, the cost of an average round-trip airline ticket fell 50% from 1978 to 2011, according to Airlines for America.

12. According to the Census Bureau, the average new home now has more bathrooms than occupants.

13. According to the Census Bureau, in 1900 there was one housing unit for every five Americans. Today, there’s one for every three. In 1910 the average home had 1.13 occupants per room. By 1997 it was down to 0.42 occupants per room.

14. Relative to hourly wages, the cost of an average new car has fallen by a factor of four since 1915, according to professor Julian Simon (5,000 hours of work at the average wage in 1915 vs. about 1,200 today).

15. Google Maps is free. If you think about this for a few moments, it’s really astounding. It’s probably the single most useful piece of software ever invented, and it’s free for anyone to use.

16. The average American work week has declined from 66 hours in 1850, to 51 hours in 1909, to 34.8 today, according to the Federal Reserve. Enjoy your weekend.

17. Incomes have grown so much faster than food prices that the average American household now spends less than half as much of its income on food as it did in the 1950s. Relative to wages, the price of food has declined more than 90% since the 19th century, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

18. As of March 2013, there were 8.99 million millionaire households in the U.S., according to the Spectrum Group. Put them together and they would make the largest city in the country, and the 18th largest city in the world, just behind Tokyo. We talk a lot about wealth concentration in the United States, but it’s not just the very top that has done well.

19. In 1900, 44% of all American jobs were in farming. Today, around 2% are. We’ve become so efficient at the basic need of feeding ourselves that nearly half the population can now work on other stuff.

20. U.S. oil production in September was the highest it’s been since 1989, and growth shows no sign of slowing. We produced 57% more oil in America in September 2013 than we did in September 2007. The International Energy Agency projects that America will be the world’s largest oil producer as soon as 2015.

21. The average American car got 13 miles per gallon in 1975, and more than 26 miles per gallon in 2013, according to the Energy Protection Agency. This has an effect identical to cutting the cost of gasoline in half.

22. Annual inflation in the United States hasn’t been above 10% since 1981 and has been below 5% in 77% of years over the past seven decades. When you consider all the hatred directed toward the Federal Reserve, this is astounding.

23. According to AT&T archives and the Dallas Fed, a three-minute phone call from New York to San Francisco cost $341 in 1915, and $12.66 in 1960, adjusted for inflation. Today, Republic Wireless offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $5 a month.

24. You need an annual income of $34,000 a year to be in the richest 1% of the world, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic’s 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. To be in the top half of the globe you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it’s $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000. America’s poorest are some of the world’s richest.

25. Only 4% of humans get to live in America. Odds are you’re one of them. We’ve got it made. Be thankful.

The nanny states

George Mason University’s Mercatus Center has an interesting map:

Which states are the most paternalistic, in terms of telling you what you can and can’t do? Which states tax individual choices like gambling, smoking, or using plastic bags most heavily? This infographic ranks the states according to how much their tax codes distort individual choices in private markets. The ranking shows which states try to control your choices by taxation, and which ones leave the choices up to you.

Key takeaways:

  • Paternalistic policies may have positive effects that are easy to see, but they also have hidden unintended consequences.
  • Wyoming has the most freedom from paternalism, while New York is the most paternalistic state.

This ranking places Wisconsin 23rd, which is far too high, but is better than the states around us.

A chapter of their report can be read here.

This shouldn’t be especially surprising, given Wisconsin’s moralistic political culture and the so-called Progressive Era, the idea that government could improve man.

Время от времени

David Blaska reports on his former employer:

What was your New Year’s resolution? More civility toward those with opposing views? Reaching across the aisle to find common ground? Not if you are the hyper-partisan Capital Times.

The CT takes as its sacred mission to “consign Scott Walker to the dustbin of history.”

The Blaska Policy Werkes gets policy differences. We understand rough and tumble. But The Capital Times is drowning in its own hateful bile. Its editorial today will persuade no one not already convinced that Walker drowns little puppy dogs.

Listen to this hyperbole: “There is no way that Wisconsin’s 2018 could be worse than 2017.”

Really? The year 2017 was terrible? The UW Badger football team went 13-1 and won the Orange Bowl. Construction cranes tower over Dane County. The corn harvest was good. UW tuition frozen for five straight years. Property taxes lower (on average) than when  Scott Walker took office. Epic is hiring. The stock market is soaring (up 25% for the year)!

That was the one beef our liberal-progressive-socialist acquaintances had against Walker. That he had fallen short of an ambitious campaign pledge to create a huge number of jobs. The Capital Times used to publish job-creation charts showing Walker short of his goal. (Here’s one from June 2014).

Why did they quit running those charts? Because Walker is making good on his pledge. “From Foxconn to sausage makers, Wisconsin companies in expansion mode,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headlined on Christmas Day. But 2017 was terrible!

WI job growth nov-to-novOutside The Capital Times distortion zone, Wisconsin led the Midwest in job growth over the last year. Our unemployment rate of 3.2% is much better than the nation’s 4.1%. Certainly better than the teachers union-dominated state to the south, which is bleeding population, defaulting on its debts, and nearing junk bond status.

So now The CT is forced to do backflips to explain away the thousands of good-paying jobs Foxconn will bring to the state. It pretends that the $3 billion in promised tax forbearance will come out of the pockets of Wisconsin taxpayers when, in fact, that figure represents new tax income that won’t be collected. It even quibbles that Foxconn will be situated in the southeast part of the state — never mind that is the location of the largest city and most of the state’s population.

If Jim Doyle had managed to bring those jobs, you know who would be singing a different tune.

So we move on to irresponsible hyperbole. Scott Walker is “the most politically corrupt governor in the state’s history.” Except that he is not, by a long shot.

If you want history and corruption, there was William Barstow, a Democrat, who won in 1855 due to forged election returns from nonexistent precincts in the sparsely populated north, “in addition to other irregularities,” before he was removed from office. For that matter, Jim Doyle illegally raided the Patients Compensation Fund. And bought huge campaign contributions from the Indian tribes by trading them gambling rights. But Doyle was a Democrat.

Of course, the CT’s exercise in Joe McCarthyism feeds off the illegal John Doe investigation, which four separate courts ordered stopped. The prosecutors never came close to indicting Walker.

Typical of demagogues throughout the world, The Capital Times must create bogeymen. The Koch Brothers will do nicely. The editorial mentions them no fewer than six times. As if they were Idi Amin instead of free market advocates and generous philanthropists. As if they contributed even a tenth of Walker’s campaign financing. The voters who three times elected Scott Walker? “Toadies” and “political hacks.”

But then, the CT never had anything good to say about Tommy Thompson, Lee Dreyfus, or Warren Knowles — because they were all Republican.

Circling back, the phrase “consign Scott Walker to the dustbin of history” lit up Ol’ Sparky here at the Policy Werkes. Sure enough. The first to use it was the brutal Russian Bolshevik Leon Trotsky. Here is the murderous old Communist reading out the more moderate Mensheviks in 1917:

“You are pitiful, isolated individuals! You are bankrupts. Your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on – into the dustbin of history!”

Why should 2018 be any different? The comrades at The Capital Times cheered the illegal takeover of the State Capitol with bullhorns, defended the UW speech codes, covers for the speech police, demagogues business people, demands income redistribution, plays identity politics, and delegitimizes free and open elections. So it stands to reason they quote Communists.

Actually, having seen four Star Wars movies on New Year’s Day, this came to mind:

And you know how the emperor, the Empire, the Evil Empire and Trotsky all turned out.


For, let’s see, about the 18th year and the 11th consecutive year, it’s time for That Was the Year That Was 2017, patterned on …

In contrast to the ’60s British TV series “That Was the Week That Was,” rarely has been a year of so many things that defied rational description. Some of them had nothing to do with America’s First Tweeter, either.

Let’s start with the worst trend of 2017, a continuation of the last few years — tribalism and people’s stubborn refusal to judge things on their merits. That includes unthinking praise of everything Donald Trump does, and knee-jerk criticism of anything Donald Trump does.

Worst trend number 1B is also a continuation of the last few years — hypersensitivity and, on the left, unthinking accusations of racism, sexism, misogyny and every other -ism they hate, and on the right, unthinking accusations of disloyalty, particularly when confronted by ideas they don’t agree with but cannot say why or what’s wrong with those ideas.

I saw an example of that Sunday — the latest Star Wars movie, which some conservatives have been complaining about because of what they claim to be too much diversity. As if normal viewers should care one way or another about that.

I’m certainly fine with the self-demolition of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, etc., whose past bad acts ended their careers this year. Due process was completely ignored, of course, which will make for interesting days depending on which liberal icon is next claimed to be a sexual harasser like Bill Clinton. (Who skated, as did Hillary, because of their positions on abortion rights.)

How did The Donald do? Rob Saker posted this list …

… I expected Jeff Sessions to be beyond horrible. I think I am on the record as saying I believe him to be an authoritarian religious zealot who isn’t very bright. To date, I can’t think of anything he has done that I disagree with (Any suggestions on how to prepare crow would be appreciated).

My list of great accomplishments…

1. Signed an Executive Order demanding that two regulations be killed for every new one creates. He cut 16 regulations for every one created, saving $8.1 billion.

2. Gorsuch on the SCOTUS.

3. Tax cut bill.

4. Jerusalem announcement, ending a game of delaying tactics and signaling our firm support for Israel (after they were attacked by Obama’s administration).

5. Revoking the EPA’s navigable waters interpretation, which was an egregious seizure of property rights.

6. Nominated 73 federal judges. Trump is filling up lower courts with lifetime appointees.

7. Recognized opioids as a national epidemic and putting resources against it. This is possibly Obama’s greatest failure.

8. Removed the gloves on the fight with ISIS. What was believed a year ago to be a war that would last years is now in its last stages.

9. Eliminating the Obamacare individual mandate.

10. Generating such confidence in the economy that a mature market saw record gains (Yes, Obama saw large gains but on an artificially low market thanks to the crash).

11. Respect for law making process. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice will cease the practice initiated by President Obama of issuing “guidance memos” to enact new regulations that sometimes have had the effect of changing federal laws.

12. Diversity of opinions. EPA Director Scott Pruitt placed 66 new experts on three different EPA scientific committees who espouse more conservative views than their predecessors.

13. Manufacturing. During Trump’s first six months, the manufacturing index was the highest it had been since 1983 under President Reagan. Michigan’s ISM reported its June barometer of manufacturing rose to 57.8, the fastest pace in three years (50 is flat).

14. Withdrawal from a Paris climate treaty that would have required huge sums on the US with no appreciable beneficial impact on the climate.

15. Rescinded Title IX “dear colleague” letter that led to kangaroo courts and the denial of due process. There are numerous general benefits such as VA reform, reducing waste in government spending, and a healthy uptick in government job attrition.

… to which was added:

Arctic wildlife drilling, keystone pipeline, UN budget cut
Hiring freeze at State.
Placing a Secretary of HUD who has lived in public housing.
With respect to policy toward North Korea, no longer kicking the can down the road.

How did the stock market do?

Based on admittedly a small sample size, Trump could be said to be the most pro-business president in the nation’s history. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained one-third in the 14 months since Trump was elected president.

As someone who did not vote for Trump but has vowed to praise Trump when praise is due and condemn Trump when condemnation is due (see previous comment about tribalism), I find that to be a pretty good list of accomplishments, whether Trump actually accomplished them or regular old Republicans did. Trump’s various idiotic tweets and public statements make some people forget those actual accomplishments, while other question, with some validity, who deserves credit — Trump or “establishment” Republicans — for those accomplishments.

Meanwhile, how was Gov. Scott Walker’s year?

The project at the top made Kevin Binversie comment:

You know who I feel sorry for sometimes? The children of deeply-committed Scott Walker haters who due to their parents’ obsessions will never own either an iPhone, Nintendo Switch or 3DS.

All three products are assembled by Foxconn.

The MacIver Institute assembled its own top 10 list, which included:

#10 – WISDOT Audit

It was a bad sign when Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb resigned just weeks before the Legislative Audit Bureau was set to release a report on the State Highway Program. When the report came out in January, it was in a word – devastating.

The auditors found the DOT regularly breaks state law in budgeting, negotiating, communicating, and managing contracts. Among these statutory violations: the department does not always solicit bids from more than one vendor, it does not spread out solicitations throughout the year, it does not post required information on its website, its cost estimates to the governor are incomplete, and it skips steps in the evaluation process for selecting projects. These practices manifest themselves through an inescapable reality: the cost of major projects tends to double after the DOT gets approval from the governor and Legislature to proceed. The auditors looked at 16 current highway projects and found they are over-budget by $3.1 billion.

Some public officials tried to spin the report, claiming it indicated the state is not spending enough on transportation. That didn’t fly. Instead the audit became an insurmountable obstacle for those seeking to raise the gas tax. It also sparked a series of reforms that aimed to make the DOT more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

#8 – UW Regents Protect Free Speech

As protests and demonstrations gripped campuses across the country, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents took a stand for free expression this year. In October, the Regents voted to allow any UW campus to expel students who repeatedly disrupt speakers or stifle speech.

The sole dissenting vote was that of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who is running for governor.

Jose Delgado, a UW Regent who came to America from his native Cuba in 1961 at the age of 13, spoke to MacIver about his yes vote. Delgado’s family fled the oppressive Castro regime, which brutally struck down dissenting speech. Delgado said that back then, the Cuban government would simply arrest and murder anyone who disagreed with it. For that reason, the 70-year-old said, he has always been passionate about his freedom of speech as an American. He’s been deeply troubled by the decline of peaceful dialogue, especially on university campuses.

Summing up his reason for the vote, Delgado said “I cannot make you listen, but I can certainly prevent others from preventing you from listening. You have the right to listen.”

#7 – Gas Tax Battle Heats Up

Predictably, the forces behind a push to increase the state gas tax, vehicle registration fee, or other source of revenue for transportation saddled up in 2017.

Gov. Walker – insistent he would not sign a budget that raised the gas tax or registration fees – made the first move when he appointed Dave Ross to be secretary of the Department of Transportation after the resignation of Mark Gottlieb. Since he took over in January, Ross has been steadfast in insisting the department doesn’t need new revenue, it needs to find savings in the multibillion dollar budget it already has.

Members of the Legislature spent the summer sparring over the issue. A protracted public relations battle raged across the state – possibly manifesting itself in a series of phony letters to the editor that appeared in newspapers from Janesville to Rice Lake begging lawmakers to increase taxes. All along, MacIver was suspicious that more revenue was truly needed – and we found plenty of examples to back us up.

Proponents of an increased gas tax have advocated putting more money into a department with a record of wasting it. We, at MacIver, refuse to just go along with this ‘increase taxes first, ask questions later’ mentality. We’ve suggested instead that Secretary Ross should have the opportunity to scour the department for savings before Madison lawmakers foist a permanent tax increase on Wisconsinites.

#6 – Russia, Russia, Russia!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no human contact throughout all of 2017, you’ve likely heard the words “Russia” and “collusion” on a near-daily basis.

Ever since President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, liberals – still in shock that they lost – have been charging that the Trump campaign was working with Russian agents behind the scenes to hack the election, propagate fake news, and swing the election. Throughout 2017, a special investigation being run by former FBI Director Robert Mueller has produced nonstop daily headlines that might sound nefarious to the casual observer. But other than nabbing Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI (never do that, by the way) the probe has so far come up mostly empty-handed.

We saw the birth of this story all the way back in December 2016, when members of Wisconsin’s electoral college cast their ballots for Donald Trump at the state Capitol – the first time Wisconsin Republicans did so since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide. While they voted, they were serenaded by protesters screaming about selling out the country to Russia and Putin and ushering in fascism. …

#4 – Foxconn

At the beginning of 2017, it’s likely the vast majority of Wisconsinites had never heard of Foxconn, but most had likely used their products.

Then earlier this year, President Trump hinted that the state would soon get good economic news when visiting a Snap-on plant in Kenosha in April. The mystery soon was lifted, and a months-long saga of negotiations, deal-making, and legislative action ended in a contract signing between the electronics manufacturing giant and the State of Wisconsin.

The deal that was inked is the largest development agreement of its kind in American history, offering Foxconn up to $3 billion in tax incentives if the company invests $10 billion in a massive manufacturing campus and creates 13,000 jobs. Foxconn’s Wisconsin operation — now on track to begin construction in 2018 — won’t just be a plant, it will be a small city unto itself in southern Racine County.

Emerging over the course of a few months in 2017, the Foxconn deal will surely be a transformational project for the entire state of Wisconsin. The company’s leaders have signaled their goal is to establish a high-tech manufacturing hub right here in Wisconsin to rival (and supply hardware to) Silicon Valley.

From groundbreaking ceremonies to other new announcements related to the massive new development, we expect 2018 to bring lots more news about Foxconn.

#3 – Wisconsin State Budget: Entire Taxes Eliminated, No Tax Increase

What would a list of the top stories of the year be without talking about the state budget? It might’ve crossed the finish line months late, but the 2017-19 budget included some historic reforms, including completely eliminating two taxes.

Under the new budget, the state Forestry Mill Tax and Alternative Minimum tax are both deleted from the books. The budget also holds the line on income taxes and continues the push to reduce the property tax burden, while increasing spending in classrooms.

It’s easy to forget the old days when Jim Doyle and the Democrats were raising every tax imaginable and increasing spending by leaps and bounds. It’s also easy to take today’s momentum for reducing taxes for granted.

It’s for exactly that reason that here at MacIver, we work hard to celebrate these conservative wins. It’s certainly not every day that entire taxes are eliminated, and it’s certainly not every state that is determined to walk down a path of lowering taxes and shrinking government. On, Wisconsin.

#2 – John Doe Returns

In last year’s annual roundups, we had hoped that 2017 would bring a new era of toleration for ideas from all sides of the debate, including for the victims of the John Doe probes. With the Supreme Court officially declaring the efforts illegal and ordering that they be shut down immediately, we hoped that those victims would see some justice.

After all, those individuals had their private information illegally seized, their homes searched in pre-dawn raids, their rights to free speech trampled, and their names dragged through the mud, all while an unsympathetic media continued to cover the story with an eye on Gov. Walker.

Unfortunately, in 2017, that new era did not come. Rather, we learned that government employees had continued their unconstitutional search through private records. The very watchdog meant to uphold the government’s standard of ethics seized even more personal records – including private text messages between a Senator and her daughter – and put them in a file labeled “opposition research.”

This all came to light after the state’s Department of Justice looked into leaks, suspecting that private records had been illegally handed off by members of the Ethics Commission – the old Government Accountability Board. In the end, the DOJ declined to press charges in the leak, saying that the wrongdoing was so widespread and the data so mishandled that they couldn’t determine who exactly was the source of the leak.

In many ways, John Doe returned to headlines this year…but in reality, we found out that it never went away at all. In its report, the DOJ itself refers to the new probe as “John Doe 3.” Just before Christmas, the Senate Committee on Organization voted to authorize the DOJ to dig deeper into the wrongdoing. While we hoped that the saga would come to an end, we now know that the last chapter of this story has not yet been written.

Without further adieu, the biggest story of 2017…

#1 – Time to Cut Taxes – the federal government’s first go at significant tax reform since ‘86

The last time they did this, Top Gun was the highest-grossing movie in America, the world met Ferris Bueller, and Whitney Houston’s self-titled album was at the top of the charts. That’s right — it was 1986 the last time the federal government took on tax reform. Boy, has the world changed.

This year, congress made good on its promise to pass a tax reform bill and get it signed into law by Christmas. Among many (many) other things, the bill cuts both individual and corporate rates, cleans the tax code, and nearly doubles the standard deduction. According to the Department of Revenue, the average Wisconsin family will see a tax cut of more than $2,500. That’s more than $200 every month that hard-working families won’t have to turn over to the IRS.

Not only will individuals be able to file their taxes on a form the size of a postcard, our economy will take notice, too. By lowering the tax burden on everyday Americans and unlocking the secret to economic success, the plan is undeniably pro-growth.

Sean Davis has a list of the top 10 undercovered stories, including …

2. The economy roared

The U.S. economy came roaring back in 2017. GDP growth is strong and steady, and the unemployment rate now approaches lows not seen since the early 2000s. The economy has added over 1.9 million payroll jobs this year. Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. The 2017 economic recovery is nonetheless a major story widely ignored by the political press. …

4. Islamic State was crushed in Raqqah and Mosul

A year ago, the Islamic State wasn’t just on the rise in the Middle East, it was firmly in charge, with wide swaths of the region under its control. But in October, U.S.-backed forces completed the total liberation of Raqqah, the Islamic State’s Syrian capital. That followed the liberation of Mosul, a major Iraqi city captured by the Islamic State in 2014. In less than a year, Trump and his national security team accomplished what the previous administration suggested was impossible.

5. Thanks to James Comey, the FBI’s reputation is in tatters

This year we learned that the FBI’s top ranks were infested with political actors eager to use the agency to settle scores. Not only did former Director James Comey abscond with confidential documents, he leaked them to his friends and the press, then refused to give those documents to Congress. In addition, his top deputies — those responsible for investigating both Hillary Clinton and Trump — were sharing text messages about how important it was to defeat Trump. One of these Comey deputies even mused about deploying a secret “insurance policy” to keep Trump out of the White House. Comey’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t equitable enforcement of the law; it was the corrupt politicization of the agency’s leadership ranks and the destruction of its reputation.

6. We still know nothing about what motivated the Vegas shooter

Months after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, we don’t know why the gunman fired on a crowd of innocent concertgoers. If law enforcement authorities have any leads or theories, they’re not sharing them with citizens eager for answers. Perhaps the feds don’t have a clue, either. Either way, it’s shocking that, months later, the country is still in the dark about what happened.

7. The Iran deal’s facade collapsed

Despite the Obama administration’s assurances that Iran would be a reliable partner for peace, the opposite has proved true. By deliberately funding and fomenting terror against the U.S. and its allies in the region, Iran has shown that it cannot be trusted, and the Obama administration’s claims about the peaceful intentions of the top terror sponsor on Earth had no basis in reality.

8. Persecution of religious minorities continues across the globe

In the U.K., Jews were targeted in record numbers in 2017. Just weeks ago, a synagogue in Sweden was firebombed. Throughout India, Christians continue to be targeted by violent religious extremists. In North Korea and China, totalitarian atheist governments regularly imprison and torture those who openly worship and proselytize. And in the Middle East, Muslims remain the No. 1 target of radical jihadists hell-bent on purging from the Earth anyone who rejects the authority of the Islamic State’s caliphate. …

10. Due process and rule of law were restored to college campuses

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos finally restored the rule of law to college campuses and put an end to disastrous campus courts. Prior to her much-needed rule change, campuses across the country declared that secret proceedings, bereft of due process, were the best way to handle sexual assault allegations. That kangaroo system, justifiably gutted by DeVos, resulted in predators who were allowed to avoid law enforcement, victims who never received justice, and innocent people who were denied basic rights such as jury trials and access to attorneys.

As far as football was concerned, to quote Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of recent times. The Badgers had their best season that didn’t include a Rose Bowl berth, winning a record 13 games and their first Orange Bowl. With a young team, this season might not be the best season of the decade.

The Badgers’ season was particularly good because the Packers’ season was quite bad, thanks to the second broken collarbone of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career, which served to expose all the holes the Packers have on both offense (including backup quarterback) and defense (for which defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be sacrificed). Every football problem today can be traced back to the players, but the person responsible for getting those players, general manager Ted Thompson, hasn’t shown signs of departure, voluntarily (he could retire) or not.

As always, may your 2018 be better than your 2017. It can’t be stranger … can it?

Now, cut state taxes

The Wall Street Journal:

Congress passed the most sweeping tax reform since 1986 on Wednesday, and with any luck that success for the country will trigger a new reform debate in many states. To wit, how much will they have to cut income-tax rates to retain and attract the high-income earners who finance so much of their state budgets?

You can figure out who most needs reform by the decibels of protest. Amid other apocalyptic warnings, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last weekend declared that the GOP bill’s limit on the state-and-local tax deduction will trigger “an economic civil war” between high- and low-tax states. California Governor Jerry Brown has likened Republicans to “mafia thugs” while Mr. Cuomo calls the bill a “dagger at the economic heart of New York.” By heart, he apparently means the state’s top earners who pay for Albany’s ever-higher spending.

The truth is that few taxpayers even in high tax states will be hurt because they won’t need a deduction beyond the $10,000 state-and-local cap in the bill. Tax writers estimate that only about 5% of households will even itemize their deductions because the bill nearly doubles the standard deduction to $24,000. Most affluent households who do itemize will also be held harmless because of tax-rate reductions.

But the tax math will be tricky for many high-earners in states with the highest tax rates. The bill reduces the top federal tax rate to 37% from 39.6% and increases the threshold at which it kicks in to $600,000 from $470,000 for couples filing jointly. Our friend Don Luskin did the math and says that high earners in states with top rates exceeding 6.56% could see their tax bills increase.

The nearby table shows the 17 states with top income-tax rates exceeding 6.56%. The four with the highest income tax rates have Democratic Governors—California, New York, Oregon and Minnesota—and liberal political cultures heavily influenced by public unions. The 12.7% rate is for New York City and the rate for the rest of the state is still high at 8.82%. But Republicans control the governorships and legislatures in six of the 17 states.

Iowa ranks fifth with a top rate of 8.98% that hits at a mere $70,785 for married couples, which is more punitive than even New Jersey’s 8.97% that hits households making more than $500,000. Wisconsin (7.65%), Idaho (7.4%), South Carolina (7%), Arkansas (6.9%) and Nebraska (6.84%) are among Donald Trump -voting states that also make the high-tax list.

Remarkably enough, some high earners in Illinois will experience a cut in their marginal rate, at least as long as GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner can stop his Democratic legislature from raising taxes above the state’s 4.95% flat rate. Yet taxpayers in Indiana will get a bigger net tax cut because the state’s top income-tax rate is 3.23%.

This ought to put pressure on high-tax Midwestern states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota to reduce their rates. If Governor Scott Walker wants another policy victory as he runs for re-election next year, he should propose an across-the-board tax-rate cut in January to keep Wisconsin competitive.

Messrs. Brown and Cuomo know that limiting the deduction will increase the existing rate divide between high- and low-tax states. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have been losing billions of dollars each year in adjusted gross income from high earners fleeing to lower tax climes like Florida. Nevada will become an even more attractive tax haven for wealthy Californians.

The problem is more acute when you consider that the top 1% of earners pay nearly 50% of state income taxes in California and New York, and 37% in New Jersey. States may experience significant budget carnage if more high earners defect. To head off a high-earner revolt, Mr. Cuomo could seek to eliminate the millionaire’s tax he campaigned against in 2010 but has repeatedly extended. Mr. Brown could campaign to repeal the 3% surcharge on millionaires he championed in 2012.

On the political evidence so far, they will do no such thing. Democrats instead plan to use the elimination of the state-and-local tax deduction to bludgeon Republicans in the 2018 elections, even as they continue to drive their high earners out of state. But the smarter states and politicians will recognize reality and reform their tax codes to make their states more taxpayer friendly.

To this, the Badger Institute says;

Wisconsin’s tax code “is one of the worst-structured state tax systems in the country,” the Tax Foundation’s Scott Drenkard told the Badger Institute. That’s why we’re partnering with the Tax Foundation in 2018 to identify the tax mix and rates that will ease the burden on residents and make Wisconsin more competitive.

Well, that’s good, not to mention overdue. The way the state’s budget process works means that the Journal’s request to cut taxes this coming year won’t happen. The budget, as we know from Budgetorama 2017, gets created after the fall elections, and the budget includes both spending and taxes, along with policy that doesn’t belong in a budget but has been put there by both parties since approximately 1849.

As readers know, had state and local government spending been limited to inflation plus population growth, government would be half the size it is today, and Wisconsinites would be infinitely better off. That is why Republican claims of fiscal prudence will ring hollow until they enact constitutional limitations (which require voter approval, and if not now, when?) on state and local government spending and taxation, to prevent future Republicans and Democrats and non-partisans from growing government.

State taxes could, however, be an issue in the November elections, both for governor and the Legislature. Republicans can point to the tax cuts that have taken place (including the elimination of the state property tax), though those tax cuts are not large enough. Democrats who claim the federal tax cuts aren’t middle-class friendly can suggest their own state tax cuts and what budget cuts they would make to pay for them. (Raising taxes is never a correct answer.)


The ‘cheesehead Stasi’

Glenn Harlan Reynolds:

The “Cheesehead Stasi.” That’s what Twitter humorist IowaHawk called a long-running and politicized investigation organized by Democratic politicians in Wisconsin, targeting supporters of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The mechanism for this investigation was an allegedly nonpolitical, but in fact entirely partisan, “Government Accountability Board.”

In the course of its secretive “John Doe” investigation, the GAB hoovered up millions of personal emails from Republican donors and supporters, and even raided people’s homes, while forbidding them to talk about it:

“I was told to shut up and sit down. The officers rummaged through drawers, cabinets and closets. Their aggressive assault on my home seemed more appropriate for a dangerous criminal, not a longtime public servant with no criminal history,” Archer wrote in a June 30, 2015, Wall Street Journal op-ed. The column was published a day before she filed her civil rights lawsuit.

When the agents finally left her home, Archer said she took inventory of the damage. She found drawers and closets ransacked, her “deceased mother’s belongings were strewn across the floor.” Like so many other targets of the secret John Doe investigation, Archer was forced to watch her neighbors watch her — the star of a very public search-and-seizure operation. . . .

And like her fellow targets, she was told she could say nothing publicly about being a target of Chisholm’s probe. Doing so could have landed her in jail and hit with hefty fines. The secret investigations come with strict gag orders.”

Now an investigation by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel on behalf of the overseeing court has spelled out a long list of misdeeds by the investigators, and has called for punishments including contempt-of-court holdings and possible disbarment. And the stuff that it has uncovered is pretty awful.

In short, it was a partisan witch hunt masquerading as an inquiry into campaign irregularities. And confidential information gathered during that investigation was deliberately leaked in an effort (unsuccessful) to influence a pending United States Supreme Court decision.

The prosecutors felt justified in these actions because they had already made up their minds about their targets’ guilt. As the report says, “After reviewing the emails exchanged between the attorneys at GAB, it is apparent that GAB attorneys had prejudged the guilt of Governor Walker, Wisconsin Republicans, and related organizations that they were investigating and this dramatically influenced their ability to give competent legal advice. GAB attorneys did not act in a detached and professional manner. The most reasonable inference is that they were on a mission to bring down the Walker campaign and the Governor himself.”

The investigation continued despite its failure to find anything like the sort of violations it was ostensibly intended to investigate. It continued despite court orders to stop. And prosecutors retained evidence (including medical and other records about Republican officials and donors, kept in a file labeled “opposition research”) even after being ordered by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to turn all the information over. It was a lawless exercise of prosecutorial power, for political ends.

Wisconsin Democrats took Scott Walker’s victory very hard. They tried to recall him, and failed. And they tried to undermine his term in office through the abuse of legal institutions. Now some of them will face professional discipline, and judicial punishment, as a result. (Criminal charges would be appropriate, except that, as the Attorney General’s report notes, record-keeping was — conveniently — poor enough that it’s hard to be sure exactly who did what.)

Given the vast powers with which prosecutors are entrusted, it’s easy for an investigation to get out of hand, especially when the investigators are a partisan bunch lacking in political diversity, and start out with the certainty, shored up by political resentment, that their targets must be guilty of something. But these abuses can ultimately turn back on the abusers.

It’s too early to say, as one account does, that the Wisconsin debacle prefigured the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation into Trump’s campaign, though there are certainly similarities between the attitudes of “The Resistance” in Washington and the Wisconsin establishment’s response to Walker. Writing in The Washington Post last week, Ed Rogers wrote that, though he’d supported Mueller in the past, Mueller needed to get a handle on the overwhelming partisan slant of his prosecutors or he’d be discredited.

It’s good advice. Mueller and his investigators should take care not to get wrapped up in partisan politics while conducting a criminal investigation. Because that seldom ends well.

The lawless law

State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R–Brookfield):

‘Elena, I have something I need to tell you.” Those were the first words I said to my 29-year-old daughter Thursday afternoon. I was calling to let her know that according to the Wisconsin Justice Department report released Wednesday, my personal emails, along with approximately 500,000 of those belonging to my colleagues in the Wisconsin Senate and other Republican leaders, were acquired in a John Doe investigation.

The emails had been kept in the Governmental Accountability Board building in a unsecured file called “opposition research.” Personal emails with Elena were included, I had learned. Some of our emails even involved discussion of her medical records. These communications didn’t belong in the hands of the government but were collected as part of a politically motivated investigation into Gov. Scott Walker.

Under Wisconsin law, prosecutors can ask a judge to authorize a “John Doe” investigation, which is intended to protect the wrongly accused or allow investigators the ability to establish probable cause before filing charges. But in a gross manipulation of the law, in 2012 a liberal judge named Barbara Kluka allowed Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, to conduct a secret investigation into whether Gov. Walker had broken campaign-finance laws. He had not.

Mr. Chisholm weaponized an arm of the government, which was supposed to be Wisconsin’s ethics watchdog, to issue broad subpoenas and warrants for documents. The agency even worked with law enforcement to conduct paramilitary raids on people’s homes.

These raids and seizures were the result of a mere accusation of campaign-finance violation, for which there was no basis. As it turns out, investigators at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board took it upon themselves to acquire the personal emails of Republican politicians, including me.

As of June 2016 the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board no longer exists. I wrote legislation that led to the agency’s elimination, and this has been one of my proudest accomplishments as a state senator.

Yet I am still considering legal options for the invasion of my personal privacy. I was appalled at the news, especially because those who ran the John Doe investigation read and kept the emails between my daughter and me. This was criminal behavior, and the individuals involved ought to see jail time.

Unaccountable investigations and special prosecutors have become typical. Take a look at the investigation of the president by Robert Mueller. More than $3 million in taxpayer funds, and what has been accomplished? From Lois Lerner and the IRS to James Comey and the FBI, something is rotten with the way justice is implemented in America today.

In addition to being a mom and a nurse, I am a conservative state senator. I fear fewer people like me will seek office after seeing what I’ve gone through. Why would a mom want to speak on her political beliefs if she thought it might make her family the target of a government agency? Why would anyone want to become an elected official if it might mean that private conversations are not protected from unreasonable search and seizure?

Elena will be fine. But I don’t want her to live in a country where the government deprives people of due process or their right to speak freely. If it can happen in Wisconsin, it can happen elsewhere. Let the stories of Wisconsin’s John Doe abuses be a warning for the rest of the country that liberty really does require vigilance.

The most disgusting thing that has ever happened in Wisconsin politics

M.D. Kittle:

Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe investigation was more sinister and politically driven than originally reported.

A Wisconsin Attorney General report on the year-long investigation into leaks of sealed John Doe court documents to a liberal British publication in September 2016 finds a rogue agency of partisan bureaucrats bent on a mission “to bring down the (Gov. Scott) Walker campaign and the Governor himself.”

The AG report, released Wednesday, details an expanded John Doe probe into a “broad range of Wisconsin Republicans,” a “John Doe III,” according to Attorney General Brad Schimel, that widened the scope of the so-called John Doe II investigation into dozens of right-of-center groups and scores of conservatives. Republican lawmakers, conservative talk show hosts, a former employee from the MacIver Institute, average citizens, even churches, were secretly monitored by the dark John Doe.

State Department of Justice investigators found hundreds of thousands of John Doe documents in the possession of the GAB long after they were ordered to be turned over to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The Government Accountability Board, the state’s former “nonpartisan” speech cop, proved to be more partisan than originally suspected, the state Department of Justice report found. For reasons that “perhaps may never be fully explained,” GAB held onto thousands of private emails from Wisconsin conservatives in several folders on their servers marked “Opposition Research.” The report’s findings validate what conservatives have long contended was nothing more than a witch-hunt into limited government groups and the governor who was turning conservative ideas into public policy.

“Moreover, DOJ is deeply concerned by what appears to have been the weaponization of GAB by partisans in furtherance of political goals, which permitted the vast collection of highly personal information from dozens of Wisconsin Republicans without even taking modest steps to secure this information,” the report states.

And in an all-too familiar occurrence involving allegations of government abuse, a key hard drive believed to contain the court-sealed John Doe documents leaked to The Guardian in October 2016 has suspiciously disappeared – GAB officials with knowledge of the hard drive can’t seem to explain what happened to it.

Still, despite a damning report laying out myriad examples of criminal misconduct by government bureaucrats, Schimel, a Republican, says his Department of Justice cannot file criminal charges – chiefly because of disappearing evidence, less-than-cooperative John Doe agents and the “systemic and pervasive mishandling of John Doe evidence (that) likely resulted in circumstances allowing the Guardian leak in the first place.”

Such failures prevent prosecutors from proving criminal liability beyond a reasonable doubt, the attorney general wrote, although the report points to a small universe of GAB employees that had access to the leaked documents.

They also seemed to have a political ax to grind.

The Department of Justice, however, recommends the John Doe judge initiate contempt proceedings against former GAB officials and the John Doe probe’s special prosecutor for “grossly” mishandling secret evidence. Schimel also recommends that Shane Falk, who served as lead staff attorney in the John Doe probes, be referred for discipline to the Wisconsin Court System’s Office of Lawyer Regulation. Falk took a job with a private law firm in August 2014, just as allegations of investigative abuse began to surround the political investigation.

Back Doe

The John Doe has a long and winding history. It all began in 2010, when the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, led by Democrat John Chisholm, signed off on a secret investigation into the Milwaukee County Executive’s office, at the time directed by then-Republican candidate for governor, Scott Walker.

It was Walker who, the year before, brought questions about a discrepancy in a county veterans fund to the DA’s attention. His chief of staff at the time asked the agency to investigate. Eventually, the district attorney’s office opened a John Doe, as Walker, a fiscal conservative in a liberal county, was rolling into his run for governor.

That investigation brought six convictions, only two of which were related to the original scope of the veterans fund investigation. Prosecutors, with the help of a very accommodating John Doe judge, went after Walker’s staff and conservative allies in what was commonly known in the DA’s office as the “Walker Doe,” according to an inside source. They threatened two County Executive staffers with lengthy prison sentences if they didn’t talk, if they didn’t turn on their boss. They didn’t because they couldn’t. There was nothing to tell, according to the targeted staffers.

Chisholm used the hundreds of thousands of electronic communications – including reams of private email – to seek a second John Doe. This time, the district attorney, with the help of the very willing Government Accountability Board, set their sights on just about every right-of-center group in Wisconsin. The probe investigated the prosecutors’ theory that conservative organizations illegally coordinated with Walker’s campaign during the bitterly partisan recall elections of 2011 and 2012.

John Doe agents effectively conducted a spy operation, secretly grabbing up millions of digital records from Republicans who had no idea they were being targeted in the Democrat-led dragnet. The agents capped it off in October 2013 with coordinated, predawn, armed raids on the homes of several conservative Wisconsinites. Many were forced to sit by while law enforcement officials rooted through their possessions in the name of a campaign finance paper investigation.

Only one problem: There was no illegal coordination, no campaign finance wrongdoing, no collusion. Sound familiar? (See Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign). The John Doe judge at the time in early 2014 quashed the subpoenas used in the investigation. He found that the prosecutors lacked probable cause that crimes alleged had been committed.

The ruling followed a string of court decisions that not only raised questions about the prosecutors’ theory, but the tactics involved in the political probe.

In July 2016, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared the John Doe investigation unconstitutional and ordered it shut down. The majority opinion concluded that Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz was “the instigator of a ‘perfect storm’ of wrongs” perpetrated against citizens who were legally exercising their First Amendment rights. At least they were until the John Doe investigators silenced them.

Wisconsin’s John Doe law is similar to a grand jury investigation, without the benefit of a jury of peers. The procedures are overseen by a single judge with extraordinary power to compel witnesses to testify – all in the pursuit of determining whether a crime has been committed. Unlike a grand jury investigation where the accused can publicly defend themselves, John Doe targets and witnesses must remain silent. Failing to do so could land them in jail or subject them to steep fines.

After the Supreme Court decision, the Republican-led Legislature reformed the John Doe law and its secrecy order that one federal appeals court judge described as “screamingly unconstitutional.” It also jettisoned the “nonpartisan” Government Accountability Board following growing evidence of investigative abuses.

‘Pretty Please’

Despite court orders in January 2014 barring the John Doe prosecutors and their bureaucratic pals from further reviewing any of the “evidence” they had illegally obtained, GAB staff pushed on.

Days after the court order, Shane Falk, GAB’s lead attorney on the John Doe, directed staffer Molly Naggappala to log into the investigation’s account with an offsite data storage site where the millions of documents were stored (at taxpayer expense). He told Naggappala to print off emails seized from search warrants.

“Can you print out everything that you pulled out of Relativity (the data storage operator) and previously sent us? Then give a copy to Nate (Judnic) and one to me. Pretty please?”

Naggappala complied, according to the Attorney General’s investigative report. It was a “direct violation” of the judge’s cease and desist order.

Schmitz, the special prosecutor, didn’t order Falk to “stand down,” and Falk and other GAB staff continued to access the documents in defiance of the court order.

The documents Falk sought were the “very emails … that were leaked to the Guardian newspaper,” the DOJ report states.

It was previously reported that John Doe investigators used Gmail accounts disconnected from the state electronic communications system when sharing investigation information and ideas. The Department of Justice probe into the leaks found Falk used an external hard drive for the storage of separate John Doe files. Falk told DOJ investigators that he turned the hard drive over to colleague Nathan Judnic when he left the GAB.

Falk and former GAB staff and current administrators at the GAB’s successor, the state Ethics Commission, could not provide the hard drive to investigators. After some conflicting answers, none of the attorneys and bureaucrats could offer an explanation for what happened to it.

Falk came to the GAB with a left-leaning pedigree. He previously had served as a Democrat appointee on a state campaign ethics board, the predecessor to the GAB. In 2008, he testified before the relatively new GAB, urging the agency to find ways of “getting around the constitution” to go after issue ads from organizations such as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

“When it comes to the point of it affecting an election, the compelling interest rises to the level where the state can get around the constitutional right to free speech,” he testified.

During the John Doe probe, Falk encouraged Schmitz, the special prosecutor, to stay strong in their pursuit of Walker and his conservative allies.

“Remember, in brief, this was a bastardization of politics and our state is being run by corporations and billionaires,” Falk wrote in an email on conservative issue advocacy. “That isn’t democracy to say the least, but due to how they do this dark money, the populace never knows.”

The populace also didn’t know just how political the John Doe probe had gotten.

‘Falk Boxes’

The Department of Justice report refers to “Falk boxes,” in which three hard drives in particular contained nearly 500,000 unique emails from Yahoo and Gmail accounts, totaling millions of pages.

“The hard drives included transcripts of Google Chat logs between several individuals, most of which were purely personal (and sometimes very private) conversations,” the report states.

GAB placed a “large portion” of the emails into several folders titled, “Opposition Research” or “Senate Opposition Research.”

John Doe investigators dug deep in their expansive “John Doe III” probe, obtaining through warrants electronic communications of the governor, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh), former RNC chair Reince Priebus, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, and state Sens. Van Wanggard and Howard Marklein. They also monitored the emails of conservative talk show hosts Vicki McKenna, Mark Belling, and Charlie Sykes, as well as former MacIver Institute employee Brian Fraley.

“The breadth of information and communications contained in the ‘Falk boxes,’ apparently as the result of the John Doe III investigation into Wisconsin Republicans, was breathtaking,” the attorney general’s report asserts. “Just to illustrate this point, the investigators obtained, categorized, and maintained over 150 personal emails between Senator Leah Vukmir and her daughter, including emails containing private medical information and other highly personal information.”


“DOJ was unable to determine why investigators ever obtained, let alone saved and labeled, over 150 very private and very personal emails between a Senator and her child, or why investigators placed those emails in a folder named ‘Opposition Research,’” the report states.

Vukmir, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, was astounded in learning that she was spied on, but she vowed to fight against such “intrusive behavior.”

“Attempting to bully her into silence will not work,” said Vukmir campaign spokeswoman Jessica Ward. “Sen. Vukmir intends on exploring additional legislative or legal options to ensure this never occurs again, and that any individuals involved are held fully accountable.”

But the Vukmir emails were just the tip of the iceberg. The Department of Justice investigation found the John Doe probe swept up all kinds of private emails, including:

  •  Over 1,000 emails between a private bible study group called a “Life Group” at Blackhawk Church in Middleton, Wisconsin. The emails covered such subjects as “LG- He is risen,” “LG- helping out Mom,” “LG- Game Night,” “LG- Spiritual Formation,” “LG-The Spirit and Scripture,” “LG-New Sermon Series=Rainbows and Sugarplums,” and “[Redacted] Requests Prayer.”
  • Pictures of a woman who was purchasing a new dress, asking the email recipient how the dress looked on her.
  •  A string of 20 emails referencing a “Kenmore Mini Fridge” negotiation over Craigslist.
  • An email thanking the recipient for advice concerning the purchase of a Benelli over/under shotgun at Dick’s.
  • An email between parents discussing a daughter’s need for an OB-GYN.
  • An email regarding prescription medications needed.
  • A series of Google Chat logs between friends covering a variety of private topics, including whether the writer needs “to lose 20 lbs asap.”
  • Several emails between family members circulating drafts and
    corrections to a Christmas letter.

The Department of Justice’s review of these emails did not find any unethical or illegal behavior by “any state official, employee, or other Wisconsin Republican apparently targeted in John Doe III.”

DOJ investigators believe the leak to the Guardian was calculated to attempt to influence a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether to take up John Doe prosecutors request for review of the state court’s decision shutting down the investigation – and whether they could hold onto the possessions they illegally took. The Guardian hit piece, with hundreds of pages of cherry-picked court documents, was published just days before the court unanimously rejected the case.

Sloppy disregard for the security of the court-sealed John Doe documents – at the GAB and at the state Supreme Court office – left the DOJ unable to identify beyond a reasonable doubt who had access to the records, when the records where accessed or “who stole them,” according to the report.

Here’s the scary footnote to a frightening report on government abuse: The Department of Justice cannot assure any John Doe II or III target that information illegally seized from them “will not be published on the Internet or by The Guardian at some future date.”

“Nor can DOJ assure any person whose information was gathered that they will not suffer from identity theft or face other adverse consequences as a result of the irresponsible way that GAB handled personal information,” the report states.

Everyone who was involved in this miscarriage of justice who is still employed by state government should be fired. Everyone who was involved in this miscarriage of justice should be sued by their victims. Everyone who was involved in this miscarriage of justice who has a law degree should be disbarred. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm needs to be removed from office.

Most of the media that allegedly covers state government decided to ignore this story, as David Blaska points out:

Thank the Good Lord for Brad Schimel, the first conservative state attorney general in long memory. Thank you the heavens above for the too few brave souls — Eric O’Keefe, the Wall Street Journal, Vicki McKenna (her interview with Schimel), and Matt Kittle (his report) among them — for speaking out against the government gag orders. …

What was the crime being investigated by the Government Accountability Board and its agents in the Milwaukee and Dane County district attorneys offices?

The crime was this: one group of citizens “colluding” with another group of citizens on matters of their governance before an election. Just as the Act 10 opposition had done before the Walker/State Senate Recalls.

The John Doe was not an investigation, it was a persecution. The government — acting in secrecy with full police powers — intimidated, prosecuted, and selectively targeted political speech with which they disagreed. …

Had the victims of this oppressed speech been Black Lives Matter or the Socialist Workers Party, the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel would have been in full howl. The ACLU would file lawsuits. Garrulous old Neil Heinen would steam like a teapot. The Madison Common Council would issue a pronunciamento. John Nichols would blow into his bullhorn in front of the Monument to Communism in James Madison Park. Ambulances would be halted on John Nolen Drive. Tammy Baldwin would write a campaign fund-raising letter.

But it was just a bunch of conservatives — white, at that. Anyone who complained was guilty of “whining,” according to former State Journal columnist Chris Rickert.

Wisconsin Democrats need to ask themselves how they would feel if Schimel or Republican district attorneys were secretly investigating their own political activities.