Thursday, October 29, 2009

Growth At Any Cost

Just pondering here...

Our local "watchdog," the Journal Sentinel always supports (if not outright, at minimum with a subdued advocacy): real estate development, stadiums, convention centers, pretty much any spending proposed by our private sector growth machine.

I'm all for the unionized jobs created by projects. Especially if they're publicly-supported projects, they need to be employed with union workers. I just think there are projects that are more important and make more sense for our economy, now and in the long-run.

Do we need more apartments and condos? If so, how about we repair blighted buildings, rather than building anew. Why not steer the investment toward the most depressed and needful areas of our city? Aren't there more important issues to address, which will also provide a better return on investment?

Conversely, why is the Journal Sentinel always against: sick leave, prevailing wage clauses, community benefits agreements, union workers, pretty much any public-sector-related (or moral) issue, program, or project?

For Further Reading:
Sick Over Sick Days

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Middleman's Cut

One-third of the cost of our health care system is purely waste.

That's private sector efficiency for you. It's efficient at steering money into the capitalists' and their cronies pockets. But it doesn't do much for the rest of us.

Cutting out the wasteful, private-sector middle-man, by itself, would pay for universal medical coverage.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stadium Swindle

The rumblings have been increasing for a few years now. Another boondoggle is about to be thrust upon the Milwaukee metropolitan area taxpayers: public subsidization of a new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. (The Bucks just received $5 million, over two years, for renovations from the State in the latest budget.)

The usual story-line is being presented. Many of the same characters and boosters of the Miller Park swindle are involved in securing public money to build a new private basketball stadium. Many of the same mantras and "benefits" are blathered about and claimed whether the project is a stadium, a convention center, an industrial park, a research park, and a host of other supposed economic "game changers" and "engines."

We need to do this. If we don't, the Bucks may leave. The team can't compete with such an outdated stadium. We have to keep the team to remain a "major league" city. [Whatever would we do with our leisure time and money if we didn't have a professional basketball team?] If you build it, many jobs will be created, it will attract tourists, and it will drive other business creation nearby the stadium and throughout the region.

In a few cases, this is true. In the majority of cities, these claims are demonstrably false. The modern-day, largely publicly-financed stadium is a white elephant representing regressive urban tax and economic policy. The primary beneficiaries of new stadium construction are the team owners and players.

The Bradley Center is Non-Union

Facilities built with public money should employ unionized workers earning a living wage, with health care benefits, a stable retirement plan, and the ability to collectively bargain. Public dollars should not be used to subsidize low-wage, seasonal employment.

Job Creation and Spillover

Economists whom have gathered the employment numbers of census tracts, cities, metro areas, and zip codes near newly built stadiums have found no meaningful improvement due to the construction of a new stadium. My own research uncovered declines in employment in the sectors most linked to stadium commerce (retail, restaurant, etc.) in the years up to construction and following completion.

These jobs are primarily seasonal, lacking benefits, and do not pay a living wage. Actively subsidizing such employment attracts less-skilled workers and does nothing to improve the future prospects for a highly-skilled, high value workforce.

New Business Creation

Likewise, the sectors most linked to stadium commerce also show no significant increase in new businesses. Again, many cities actually have experienced a decline. Most new stadium developments are self-contained islands with shopping, food, parking, and numerous other retail activities. People come to the games, park on expansive (and environmentally insensitive) parking lots, spend money within the stadium, and then drive home. Many newer stadiums are located off exit ramps; there is no pedestrian-friendly element that ties the stadium to the adjacent neighborhood. More often, the stadium becomes a competitive drain on other local taverns, restaurants, and retail stores nearby.

Intangible "Major League" Status

It sounds cool to say, "We're in the big leagues!" But what does it really mean? And how is it measured so that we may understand, quantitatively, how it is benefiting us. Policy and investment decisions should be based on rigorous analysis and visible rewards, not wishful thinking and snappy sloganeering.

Tourism Delusions, Realignment and Substitution

The majority of those attending games come from within the metropolitan area. For a city, or a region, to actually experience growth, to achieve some sort of gain from hosting games, people need to come from outside the region. Otherwise attendees are merely realigning their spending within the area; no growth is taking place. And, even if someone from Chicago does attend a game in Milwaukee, if the money they spend is money they would have otherwise spent in Chicago, there is no net gain for the region as a whole. Unless attending the game is money they otherwise would not have spent, growth is not occurring. A zero sum game.

"Fantasy City" Investment Strategy

Every city can not be a sports mecca, a convention behemoth, nor a tourism magnet. The more every city keeps trying to emulate each other with the same, largely unsubstantiated, development strategies, more will be losers. Development needs to build on comparative advantages, sectoral strengths, and labor force skills. Trying to mold a city's future to meet the successes of another with a completely different set of historical circumstances and skill-sets is lunacy. Largely, throwing money down the drain.

Opportunity Cost

Millions spent on stadiums can not be spent on other, more pressing, needs. Money given to the Bradley Center and Miller Park is money we can't use on replacing the Hoan Bridge, redeveloping the Pabst Brewery, cleaning up the Kinnickinnic River, building a high-speed rail network, cleaning up the Great Lakes, along with a litany of more important investment choices.


It's time private entities, especially those as extracurricular as sports, paid their own expenses. This is yet another sector of the economy where we've allowed a 'too big to fail' model hamstring our development options and leave us open to bribery and threats of leaving. Federal legislation is needed to end this war among the cities and to break up the cartel that is major league sports.

For Further Reading:
A Public Plan
Drowning in Delusions
Loot, Loot, Loot For The Home Team
Nudging Away Nonsense
Professional Sports Subsidies
Should Cities Pay For Sports Facilities
Stadium Subsidies
Subsidy Resources
Welcome to Walmart

Rewarding Corruption

Dean Baker wonders Why Are Contracts for AIG Execs Different Than Contracts for Autoworkers?

"Back in the spring, the Obama administration had no problem insisting that union autoworkers give up some of the health care benefits that they were entitled to in their contract. In some cases, workers had already put in more than 30 years earning these benefits. Note that this was before any of the manufacturers went into bankruptcy.

While these workers were forced to make large concessions on contractually promised benefits, we are told yet again that AIG, an effectively bankrupt company, has a contractual obligation to pay big bonuses to its top executives and traders. It would be interesting to hear why this would be the case and if it is legally committed, why shouldn't the company just go into bankruptcy now that the immediate post-Lehman panic is over."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wack Jobs

Are Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachman really referring to the Obama administration as a Chicago-mafia-esque, bunch of gangsters?

No stereotypical or racist overtones there.

Stay classy, right-wing.

Chris Wallace and the rest of FOX appear to be getting in on the act.

If It Wasn't For You Meddling Kids

The Journal Sentinel is against direct democracy.

"Last year, a coalition led by 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, put together a petition drive that ended up imposing a sick leave ordinance on businesses in the city of Milwaukee. The well-intentioned ordinance was in fact bad for business and economic development efforts, but it was approved anyway, although it later was overturned by the courts."

Development that benefits local workers, ordinances that allow people to take time off to care for a child or parent or personal illness, and businesses that encourage such activities are "bad" according to the Journal Sentinel.

The fact that this ordinance did not pass is yet another example of the spineless failures of the leadership of this City, including the local media. From throwing money at convention centers, stadiums, suburban research parks, or bribe-money to move a company two miles from Glendale to Milwaukee. Being one of only two major cities without or not planning a rail system. To continue beating our head against this same paradigm wishing for more equitable and stable results is insanity.

Also, the Journal Sentinel, good little soldier of the Growth Machine, could not forget to boost for Waukesha's water diversion. The suburbs are a big part (the majority actually) of the Journal's readership. Growth at the fringes, possibly selling more newspapers, is good for the Journal. Social justice and environmental sustainability be damned!

I'm sold glad these "watchdogs" are looking out for me.

For Further Reading:
Nudging Away Nonsense
Race To The Bottom


James Rowen sums up the "water war" nicely here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


The Gilded Age returns. Until wages again reward productivity rather than speculation (which has occurred alongside the post late-1970s increase in inequality) we will continue to experience, more frequently, economic boom-and-bust periods.

Poverty Measurement Studies and Alternative Measures from the U.S Census Bureau.


What do you really get for your money?

clean(er) air
clean(er) water
public transportation (planes, trains, buses)
sanding, salting, plowing
fire protection
police protection
judicial system
prison system
health care
coast guard
armed services

The list continues.

Is every cent spent wisely? No. I'd prefer we didn't hand out subsidies to the companies holding our cities hostage by threatening job loss. Instead, we should subsidize the companies that make sectoral, historical, and labor-force sense.

But it seems there is very little waste, comparatively speaking. We sure do get quite the bang for our buck through taxation for public service provision.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The Daily Reporter's dismissive title, KK River project siphons from city tax base, misrepresents the beneficial investment opportunity for improving the habitability, sense of place, and aesthetics of the river. Not to mention the general cleanliness of the water and positive environmental impact.

This project would improve overall values by razing the floodplain homes, allowing this land to revert to its natural state, whilst simultaneously increasing the value of the property adjacent to this land, but that is unaffected by the possibility of flood water.

Infrastructure matters. It is the city.

These are the long-term investments that reap rewards for generations.

States Invest More In Energy Efficiency

FOXed Up

WOW! What planet are these "people" living on? A hot steaming pile of delusional incoherence.

Snow Job

Lower taxes = less services = lower quality of life

(Not So) Bright Lights

The Wisconsin Department of Commerce issued a report showing that film tax credits as an economic development strategy are not cost-effective. But so much for reasoned analysis, Wisconsin has maintained the incentives.

Cost Benefit Analysis of Wisconsin's Film Tax Credit Program

Cheerleading Inefficiency

Michael Rosen, economics professor and blogger of Midcoast Views, rebukes Scott Walker's proposal of an Office of Business Development for the County, in a Journal Sentinel article, Development Proposal is Grandstanding.

Rosen reminds us, "Lest we forget, Milwaukee County had an Economic and Community Development Division that Walker dismantled to cut costs." As Rosen shows, though, this one would be different because the employees would be appointed by Walker without input from the County Board.

The other stunning factoid in this ridiculous proposal from Walker is the support and boosterism it has received from the Journal Sentinel. The same paper that amps up drama around public-workers' contracts and pay (to sell papers), now is pushing for government expansion in what would be one of the most unneeded, duplicative bureaucracies yet.

Retirement Reform

Why It's Time to Retire the 401(k)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Making (Health Care) Sense

From the AFLCIO

Shaming The Hucksters

Great interview from Rachel Maddow. This is how reporters and journalists should cut through the endless drivel that is paraded in front of us by "credible" organizations, as "viable" opinions, and from "grass roots" movements. If only more in the fourth estate actually took their job seriously, we could have meaningful, useful, and timely debate and discussion.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Slow Lane(s)

Is it me or is the Marquette interchange, especially since its expensive "upgrade," slower than it has ever been?

Could it be induced demand?

Republicans Heart Rape

Jon Stewart has more here.


Gang Rape and Republicans
The ACORN Standard

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thirsty And Cheap

If you don't want to pay the cost, get your water somewhere else.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Foxes In The Hen House

We should not be surprised when government, during periods controlled by those whom admonish the public sector, performs poorly - services are cut, deficits swell, programs disappear.

Conservatives criticize government for all its failures. But the economic failures are primarily concentrated under Republican administrations.

Maybe government isn't bad after all. Maybe the way Republicans govern is the real problem.

Colleges: Cash Cows?

Marc Levine (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee history and urban studies professor) has released a report, The False Promise of the Entrepreneurial University, questioning the validity, efficacy, and opportunity cost of UWM's 'university as economic engine' development strategy.

He is not stipulating that universities do not have any affect on economic development outcomes for their surrounding areas. As some have wrongfully, stunningly, and incoherently ranted. He merely shows the data which - when measured by a variety of socioeconomic indicators - exposes few of those whom have attempted such a strategy have reaped benefits to justify the cost.

John Torinus - Serigraph Inc. chairman and tax-avoider, and Journal Sentinel business-class mouth-piece - belittles the research. He sites Madison's University Research Park as one such 'entrepreneurial university' project that has worked, and therefore, forget the numerous examples and statistics that Levine has gathered, we should continue blindly moving forward, pumping money into ill-conceived, poorly planned, and empirically unsubstantiated ventures. Facts and well-reasoned discussion be damned!

John Wiley, chancellor emeritus University of Wisconsin-Madison, takes swipes at the research. Using much of the same anecdotal, status quo-clinging, vested-interest, economic development talking-points that have been mistakenly used over and over again in city after city.

I also see many commenters, whom I have to assume only bothered to read Levine's Journal Sentinel piece and not his full report, complaining that Professor Levine doesn't acknowledge UW-Madison's successes. Although, he mentions Madison numerous times in his report.

Simply wishing and hoping to be like another university (in this case, Madison) that has achieved entrepreneurial success, or throwing money at a "good bet," does not automatically make it happen. Taking risks can pay off. There are always risks in investing. But most want to minimize their risk and not just do something for the sake of doing something.

Also, I'm always a bit perplexed by those knocking the research of academics - the "cheap seats" as John Torinus put it. Or as one commenter said about Levine, "...directs a few campus centers and does not appear to have any major leadership experiences." Directing an academic center is not leadership? Who teaches those whom will become managers, executives and CEOs? Isn't it academics and professors? If professors don't know what they're talking about and they're not "leaders," why are we investing in the engineering and Water Institute professors? After all, they come from the "cheap seats," too.

Attack the message, not the messenger. If one can find holes in the methodology and analysis, fine, pick it apart. But to try and demean Professor Levine because he has raised questions regarding UWM's development proposal is childish and does nothing to substantively address the concerns he has documented.

UWM is on the right track in many regards. The University has made great strides in academics and in the community over the last few decades. But that doesn't absolve them from criticism and open discussion of their policies and community investment decisions.

Many detractors have made this into a Levine versus Santiago melodrama. That's too bad. The real point should be a discussion about what is the proper amount to invest, where, and toward what activities. Levine's research indicates we may want to look at other options for our limited investment dollars. We do not have to simply jump at any idea Mr. Santiago, his associated commercial interests, and the cabal of local power brokers pushes forward.

[Disclosure: I was formerly employed by the Center for Economic Development under the directorship of Marc Levine.]

Backstabbing Bankers

Bill Foy is back ranting his typical right-wing talking-points - government is bad, unions are bad, blah blah blah. Funny, as a former banker, he doesn't mention the cost to society of the debacle bankers have caused. I'm sure his next piece will hypothesize that securitization, mortgage backed securities, and collateralized debt obligations were the fault of unions.

Yes, even though taxes on business, and in general, have been falling, supposedly unionized public workers are driving up costs. The trillions of dollars that taxpayers are now insuring through the Fed, the Treasury, and the FDIC, somehow that money doesn't enter Foy's radar.

We've actually seen decreases in the number of public workers. These workers are paying more for insurance, taking furloughs, taking wage freezes, and making sacrifices. Alongside this, service provision is also being cut. Which is why pools and libraries are closing, potholes are not being repaired, parks are overgrown and unkempt, and a host of other cutbacks are taking place.

Look in the mirror, Bill. You and your cronies are to blame for the current economy and the volatility in the markets.

For Further Reading:
Deficit Financed Delirium
Failure Bonuses
Financial Services Organizations Lobbyists Influence
Has Financial Development Made the World Riskier?
Union Yes

The Walker Journal Sentinel

Has the Journal Sentinel become Scott Walker's personal PR firm? Newsflash - hey Journal, Scott Walker is an adult (or so he says), let him defend himself against petty attacks [this complaint in no way is meant to justify Holloway's statement].

This is embarrassingly biased reporting. The Journal is out front on anything Scott Walker spews, reporting to us about his "great" ideas. Now they are also coming to his defense.

Democratize The Fed

Representative Mary Kaptur (Ohio) suggested to Ben Bernanke that he give as much power in the Federal Reserve decision-making process to the Cleveland Fed as is already given to the New York Fed. He would not do it.

A subtle, inquisitively nudging question illuminating the power disparity between finance and the real economy, between New York and Cleveland, and between the Haves and the Have-nots.

All this and more was discussed on the last Bill Moyer's Journal. Simon Johnson, of MIT and Baseline Scenario, also offers his perspective.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Corporate Communism *

Dylan Ratigan coins an appropriate term to describe our current political economy - *corporate communism. [Courtesy of Crooks and Liars]

Republican Amnesia

From Crooks and Liars: Paul Ryan spouts his usual lies and smears, I mean, Republican talking-points regarding health care. Barney Frank wonders why the Republicans didn't do anything about, or even mention, health care over the last 12 years when they controlled Congress.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


400 richest Americans lined their pockets with $30 billion.

Wisconsin Foreclosure and Unemployment Relief Plan

Wisconsin Foreclosure and Unemployment Relief Plan


Union members are often referred to as "thugs." When you stand up for living wages, retirement and health care benefits, and worker rights, you're a thug, at least according to pro-business, market-hypnotized know-nothings.

At Serb Hall, Citizens for Responsible Government (actually a front group for the right-wing, uber-wealthy talking points) organized a gathering regarding Scott Walker's county budget. One of CRGs representatives, or sympathizers, pushed a pro-union woman and then grabbed a man and threw him down. Evidently because they disagreed with him.

I think we know whom the real thugs are in this class war.


I see knuckleheads at the County budget/contact rallies complaining, "No more taxes!" (While also acting like thugs.)

FYI: Taxes as a share of income have been falling in Wisconsin. And, Wisconsin business taxes are below average.

So, if taxes are your supposed beef...then you've got none. Move along.

For Further Reading:
Tax Cuts: Myths and Realities
Corporate Taxation

Sunday, October 4, 2009

More Unbiased Reporting

In more stellar reporting, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reporting on the upcoming gubernatorial race, refers to the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute as a "local think tank." Ed Garvey, at Fighting Bob, has more on how laughable this is.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Journalistic Poverty

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the latest American Community Survey findings that Milwaukee is the 11th poorest city in the nation. It is good to bring attention to such discrepancies, but as I've said over and over here, the correct and complete context of what's being represented is crucial.

The Wisconsin poverty rate ranks 39th, the 12th best (including D.C.) in the nation. The County's poverty rate was 11.8 percent, with an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in 2008.

This tells us that we've basically segregated the majority of our poor people in Milwaukee. Which puts a disproportionate budget burden on the City to provide services for the poor. And, this is the real problem. Milwaukee is the de facto dumping ground for those needing public services (health, shelter, police, food, etc.), and the City is left to find the resources to pay this bill.

This situation, in turn, obviously inflates the unemployment rate (among other negative indicators) for the City. But, poverty and unemployment are not just city concerns, they are state and national issues.

The article could have been a spring board to discussion about regionalism, affordable housing, jobs programs, and a whole host of ideas of how to better cope with poverty and unemployment, with some type of shared response.

For Further Reading:
Getting The Facts Right About Segregation
Quantifying Milwaukee's Segregation

Number of Unemployed Per Job Opening

A couple of illustrations, here and here, as to why a public works program would help.

For Further Reading:
Lessons From The New Deal Employment Programs

Consumption Is The Issue

George Monbiot has an interesting article dispelling the myth that population growth is the most serious threat to the environment.

Pulling Down, Out of Society

Why are conservatives so intent on attacking ACORN and SEIU? Rachel Maddow has the answer.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Health Care Hitmen

Five Terrible Democrats...Bums.

The Daily Show has more on spineless Democrats here and here.

Alan Grayson shows Dems how they should act.

Still On Track

Even though Chicago didn't get the 2016 Olympics, I hope the Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago rail project is still undertaken.

And, why were the Republicans rooting against and cheering after America did not get the Olympics?

Midwest Transportation Revolution
Milwaukee-Madison Rail Route Still On Track Despite Olympic Vote
Olympics, Scandal, Bribery and Glenn Beck's Church
Wisconsin Submits Application For High-Speed Rail

Union Yes

Some, in arguing against unions, maintain that increasing union wages can only increase cost in the end because the companies paying higher wages will just pass on the cost. This opinion completely disregards the fact that maybe the executives and managers are overpaid. An equivalent decrease in executive pay alongside an increase in worker pay would therefore lead to no additional costs to the consumer. This is not hard to achieve since executives are making over 300 times as much as their workers.

Or are those arguing against better pay for workers merely unwilling to see management take home less? Is it that under no circumstances must executives receive less compensation, only workers must sacrifice? Executives can have golden parachutes, secure retirements, paid country club memberships, use of the company jet, and perks as far as the eye can see into perpetuity. But the workers are at fault for budgetary issues? The workers must sacrifice and go without? The $12 an-hour they are making is too much?

Second, I've see some defending corporations regarding the money they are making. Paraphrasing, "Not all received bailout money. So leave them alone." But as I've described in many previous posts, all, especially large corporations, do receive many forms of public largess. And, it has also been shown that public workers often would have cost less to complete a project rather than the contracted private company.

Third, unions don't "price themselves out of a market." Federal and state policies (influenced with corporate cash) eviscerate unions by making them compete with third world slave labor. We’ve allowed a regression to take place. We're watching all the struggles the labor movement fought for over the last two centuries go down the drain. As we use jargon like "globalization," "competition," and "efficiencies" to gloss over the fact that our government, complicit with multinational corporations, has allowed workers the world over to be exploited in pursuit of profit for a select few. They are not pricing themselves out of anything. The money that workers were previously earning is now being siphoned off by executives and CEOs. As productivity of the American worker has increased, they have not seen a correlated increase in their pay. Yet, executive compensation has skyrocketed.

Efficient markets, the private sector, supply-side economics are all dead. The emperors have no clothes.