- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 12

Do Republicans want tax reform, or just a tax cut?

Paul Ryan would really, really like to reform the U.S. tax code. When the Editorial Board met with him last month, he made that much clear.

“We have the worst tax code in the industrialized world,” he said. “Just trimming it back isn’t sufficient. You have to reform the system so we can be more globally competitive.”

And if that wasn’t clear enough, he said later: “That means reform, not just cutting but reforming.”

And now, as 2017 wanes, Republicans in both houses of Congress find themselves 10 months into the Trump administration with little to show for it. Despite control of the House, Senate and presidency, they have failed to pass any major legislation.

Scott Reed, a senior political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told Carl Hulse of The New York Times last week: “We are 10 months into a new president with a city that appears to be dysfunctional. It is vital that tax reform and economic growth get accomplished by the Congress.”

And we agree: True tax reform, along the lines of the 1986 reform, in which tax rates are adjusted and loopholes are closed, would be a good and significant accomplishment.

Settling for only a tax cut would not.

With so many demands on the federal Treasury including a reboot of the war in Afghanistan and big bills for hurricane damage in the Gulf Coast, that’s a recipe for exploding the deficit.

But given the direction the GOP appears to be heading - toward satisfying a highly compensated Republican donor class - their efforts may end up being a tax cut marketed as “reform.” Don’t buy this line.

Ryan has a chance to prove he meant it when he sat down with us on Sept. 1. He needs to lead his fractious caucus toward real reform that simplifies the tax code, reduces rates (including the corporate rate) and limits the self-seeking carve-outs that make a mockery of fairness. Trouble is, if recent news reports are to be believed, the opposite is in danger of happening.

According to another Times report last week, the GOP is considering a rollout of an experiment in Kansas that failed miserably. That state for a time collected no taxes on so-called “pass-through” businesses, such as sole proprietorships and limited liability partnerships. The result was that the wealthy, with their accountants in tow, figured out how to avoid state income taxes by channeling compensation through such entities. The Times cited the example of the University of Kansas football coach, David Beaty, who was able to run about two-thirds of his $800,000 a year paycheck through such an entity. He avoided paying about $37,000 a year in taxes, the Times reports.

The Kansas legislature ended that freebie this year.

The tax plan Republicans rolled out recently would cut the tax rate on pass-through businesses from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, which could well have a similar effect nationally.

Again, let’s hear from Paul Ryan during his visit with the Editorial Board:

“You’ve got to reform the system. You can’t just tinker around the edges.”

Will Republicans opt for the easy way out and only do a tax cut? Or do they have the stomach for real reform that confronts locked-in special interests that have always eaten good ideas for lunch?

“We’ve got about $3 trillion in trapped cash overseas that basically can’t come back to this country because of our tax laws. We need to reset the system,” Ryan told us. “If not now, when? The reason this hasn’t gotten done in 32 years in that special interests have always prevailed over the general interest. … I really believe this is the time to do it.”

We hope Ryan is right. Moreover, we hope he’ll fight members of his own party who will be tempted to take the easy way out once again.


The Journal Times of Racine, Oct. 13

A chance to survive; Ban bump stocks

Dear Congress: Please give the next victims of a crazed gun-wielding madman a fighting chance: ban bump stocks or anything similar that is designed to increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon.

Give the next victims a fighting chance to flee, to run or seek shelter, to avoid death or wounding.

That’s not too much to ask is it?

The concert-goers in Las Vegas didn’t have that chance and it was due in part to the federal government’s approval seven years ago of a heinous little device called a bump stock that “technically” didn’t convert a semi-automatic weapon to fully-automatic - which are tightly regulated or banned and have been since 1934 - but used the recoil of the weapon to accelerate the rate of fire well beyond the one-pull-of-the-trigger-one-round rate of semi-automatic weapons.

The ingenious and lethal device doesn’t require additional trigger pulls to unleash a stream of deadly fire. To use it, the shooter simply keeps the trigger finger steady and puts pressure toward the front end of the weapon. The recoil from shooting bumps the weapon back and in less than a blink of an eye the forward pressure brings it in contact with the trigger finger. Again and again and again.

The effectiveness of the device was demonstrated horrifically in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock rained fire and death from his 32nd floor perch at the Mandalay Bay on 20,000 concert-goers penned in across the street from the hotel. In a 10-minute barrage, Paddock was able to kill 58 people and another 500 were wounded or injured in the mad dash to escape. Paddock had a dozen weapons outfitted with the device in the arsenal he had assembled in the hotel.

It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Consider this. According to news reports, at one point Paddock fired 90 shots in a 10-second period. A fully-automatic weapon or machine gun can fire 98 shots in seven seconds. The shooter in the Orlando nightclub shootings last year used a semi-automatic weapon - without a bump stock - to fire at a rate of 24 shots in nine seconds at one point. Some gun experts put the rate of fire for a semi-automatic rifle (without a bump stock) at roughly 90 rounds per minute, including magazine changes.

The simple math of those comparisons would tell us that bump stocks can increase the rate of fire of a weapon at least three or four times. That means it’s possible - possible - that without the use of bump stocks, Paddock’s carnage might have been reduced by two-thirds.

Instead of 58 deaths, he might only have been able to kill 19 or 20 people. Instead of 500 wounded and injured concert-goers, we might be only talking 165.

That’s hypothetical, of course. What’s not hypothetical is the carnage would have been reduced significantly and we doubt there is a single concert-goer victim who wouldn’t have welcomed the chance for a few more seconds to seek safety and escape the rain of hell.

The fact is, too, there is no reasonable purpose for the use of near fully-automatic firepower. Not for hunting, not for self-protection. The inventor of the bump stock, Jeremiah Cottle, who runs his production factory out of a small Texas town north of Abilene, put it succinctly when he said bump stocks can help a semi-automatic weapon recreate the adrenaline-inducing power of a (fully) automatic weapon.

“Some people like drag racing, some people like skiing, some people, like me, love full auto,” Cottle said in an interview.

Getting your jollies on the firing line doesn’t weigh very heavily against the dangers of a madman - even one - mowing down innocent concert-goers. There will be no adrenaline-inducing power at their funerals.

We don’t want to hear a congressional debate on this or have the federal regulations kicked back to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for another ruling on bump stocks’ legality.

We don’t want to see a “wider conversation” on the nation’s gun laws or gun silencers/suppressors or nationwide concealed carry or magazine restrictions - save that all for another day.

Just fix this. Pass narrow legislation that bans bump stocks and any other devices that effectively make semi-automatic weapons into the near-equivalent of automatic machine guns.

Give the next victims of a gun-wielding madman a fighting chance to live.


Beloit Daily News, Oct. 11

Making civility part of education

We are unapologetic defenders of the First Amendment - free speech, free press, freedom to assemble and ask the government to redress grievances, and religious freedoms.

We also are defenders of intellectual freedom and the civility necessary to debate and discuss the power of ideas without being forced to endure a climate of fear or repression.

So we believe regents of the University of Wisconsin System are well within bounds by adopting a free speech policy that includes penalties for repeat offenders who try to deny the rights of others to express themselves. Free speech is guaranteed for all, or it’s guaranteed for none. The First Amendment does not say only the favored are allowed to speak.

Despite how some are trying to portray it, the Board of Regents policy seems measured and reasonable. If a student commits a second offense of violence, disruptive conduct or other actions intended to disrupt the free-speech rights of another individual, that student will be subject to suspension. A third offense of trying to suppress another’s speech could result in expulsion.

Only those determined not to learn the lesson of what the First Amendment means stand to be punished.

This has been painted as a liberal vs. conservative issue, and perhaps that’s true. Liberals are much less likely to be shouted down or physically intimidated on college campuses than conservative speakers.

Nevertheless, that characterization is unfortunate. The policy protects all views. What it does is place the University of Wisconsin System firmly on the side of open dialogue without threats of violence or being shouted down. That’s exactly where the UW ought to be.

This country is in danger of splitting into tribalism. Increasingly, the Left behaves badly toward people with conservative views. And the Right behaves badly toward people with liberal views. Don’t believe it? Just check your social media feed.

By the way, both sides tend to behave badly toward anybody in the moderate middle. The message is: Choose sides - and only two sides are allowed.

As a nation, Americans are turning a deaf ear to each other. “Agree with me or you’re the enemy,” clearly is the message.

Down that road lies an accelerating descent into conflict and chaos.

So we applaud the Board of Regents for taking a stand, making clear that every view should be heard. Pipe down, people. Listen, show respect for others and then exercise your own free-speech right to express a view. With civility.

A final word: This is much better, with UW regents establishing their own campus policy, than to have something imposed by the heavy hand of the politicians. The Assembly passed a campus speech measure but it bogged down in the Senate. That failure is a good thing. Any political solution looks partisan and is subject to attack or dismissal on that basis. Political control suggests limits on free speech. A university policy is easier to read and accept for the stated purpose, to protect free and open dialogue rather than suppress it. The professional politicians should stand down.

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