Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our Ugly Culture

Rachel Maddow is probably our most analytical and insightful television news person. Her recent segment, Decision 1964, was a stellar presentation of elections, Republicans, politics, media, and culture.

No longer is our politics a discussion of the proper role of government and the basic/minimum services we wish to see provided. No longer does the dialogue concern what is best for the progress and sustenance of our society.

Politics is pure power and cronyism.

The implicit (and sometime, even, overt) bigotry being paraded around this country as electioneering is shameful. Anyone with friends, relatives, or even acquaintances, in places where such neanderthals are running for office, be sure to remind those voters of the moral and ethical duties for voting against such uninformed thinking, and the disgrace stigmatized upon anyone whom would allow such monsters to represent our country in any type of public office.

Although, I'm with Rand Paul, let's allow racists to keep blacks out of their place of business. Let's allow private property owners to discriminate against certain customers. Let's bring these racists out of the woodwork. Let them declare they believe certain humans are less than others. Let them discriminate and turn away many potential customers. Let them expose themselves for the hate-filled barbarians they are, and, simultaneously, be shunned by society for such actions and run out of business.

While we're fixing things, let's institute some stricter requirements for holding public office. Christine O'Donnell if you claim to be a constitutional scholar, you should have at least read the constitution. The Tea Baggers and Republicans claim expert legal and constitutional knowledge, yet they seem to have never read the constitution, nor can they ever name a recent Supreme Court decision that would repeal.

And, sorry, Scott Walker, but my candidate for governor should at least be a college graduate. [Not a dropout. Quitters remind me so much of Sarah Palin.] I'm of the opinion that public officials do important public work and I want qualified and educated people analyzing and deciding such work. Not just some folksy wing-nut one might want to have a beer with.

Vote Democrat November 2nd.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Retirement Revisionists

It's amazing how much a newspaper can forget over a one-year period. The Journal Sentinel reported in January 2010 "City's pension fund investments gain." Then in October 2010 they claim Milwaukee's pension fund has the "10th-largest unfunded liability among major U.S. municipal pension funds."

The article itself points to other reports which call into question the methodology supporting the latest pension smears. Yet, again, it appears the Journal is implying something much more dire with the title and lead-in.

The article states, "R.V Kuhns & Associates found that Milwaukee had the second strongest public pension fund of 53 studied nationwide." Yet the title of the Journal article makes one think our pension system is burdensome and bordering on insolvency.

Teresa Ghilarducci, in her own research, clarifies this phony debate, "Private-sector salaries exceed state employee salaries in 20 of the 24 job classifications in which comparisons were made." And this gets to the deal that is the pension system. Public employees take lower pay with the expectation of being able to have a dignified retirement. This also allows pensioned employees to exit the labor market and open positions up for a recent college graduates.

Plus, as AFSCME details, "By providing sufficient and sustainable retirement income, public pension plans help support the U.S. economy over the long term." AFSCME also educates that "taxpayers paid 24% of the total amount paid into public plans during this period [1982-2005], with the remaining 76% coming from investment earnings and employee contributions."

The Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF) informs us that the pension investment board invests in Wisconsin companies and companies with ties to Wisconsin. The ETF also explain that the "Pew Center on the States recently gave Wisconsin high marks for the financial solvency of the Wisconsin Retirement System, one of only 4 states to be recognized."

This is just more of the continual attack on all things public. Even though all evidence indicates the government and its employees do many things efficiently and many people are happy with the programs, somehow, conservatives turn people against their own best interest and convince them otherwise. Many government initiatives - Social Security, health care reform, pension funds, to name a few - are efficiently run, have low administrative costs, and/or have shown significant cost savings. Not to mention the quality of life improvements for a majority of citizens from such programs.

Let's think about this rationally for a second. Do we want a living wage, the ability to get cost-effective health care when necessary, and have the ability to retire gracefully? Or, do we want to continue with the low-road strategy of poverty-wages, unattainable health care, and having to work until we drop?

We're throwing away the gains of decades of Labor's struggles. It's true, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And, it seems, we've forgotten all we've learned.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Between 1997 and 2008, Ron Johnson's PACUR LLC paid no state income taxes, according to One Wisconsin Now.

And yet this charlatan - Ron Johnson - has the nerve (along with all the other fraudulent Republicans) to claim Wisconsin taxes are burdensome for business.

An Obtuse & Deceptive Accounting

If a lie is repeated often enough, Republicans hope it becomes the truth.

Republicans are bringing Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) myths back from the dead. Ron Johnson, in an ever-increasingly extremely right-wing and non-sensical senatorial campaign, is claiming the CRA (passed in 1977) is responsible for our current recession.

Th Journal recently gave ink to Johnson's (and the Republican's) already debunked hypothesis. The Journal at least included some voices with a counterpoint to this unfounded CRA-caused-recession fantasy of Johnson's. But, with a title like "Johnson said the seeds of recession began with 1977 law," I think we know the message the Journal really wants readers to take away.

Yet Ned Gramlich, of the Federal Reserve, found, "Banks have made many low- and moderate-income mortgages to fulfill their CRA obligations, they have found fault rates pleasantly low, and they generally charge low mortgage rates. Thirty years later, CRA has become very good business." Russel Kroszner, also of the Federal Reserve, states, "Contrary to the assertions of critics, the evidence does not support the view that the CRA contributed in any substantial way to the crisis in the subprime mortgage market."

A responsible news organization would have had the studies and the numbers available to educate Johnson and squash out his ridiculous charge. Instead it's their usual he-said with a passing, milquetoast counterfactual and no real discussion or data in between. Eric Alterman and George Zornick reveal, "In the 15 most populous metropolitan areas, 84.3 percent of the subprime loans in 2006 were made by financial institutions not governed by CRA."

The Journal Sentinel even notes, in the article, "The federal law [CRA] applied only to depository institutions, not private, unregulated mortgage lenders." So, you'd think they'd then give you the number of loans issued by private lenders versus those subject to CRA. You know, some actual evidence one way or the other, proving or disproving the claim.

As Paul Krugman explained, "The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 was irrelevant to the subprime boom, which was overwhelmingly driven by loan originators not subject to the Act."

"The CRA applies only to banks and savings institutions. It does not apply to credit unions, independent mortgage companies, or investment banks," details Ellen Seidman.

Neil Bhutta and Glenn B. Canner discovered, "The small share of subprime lending in 2005 and 2006 that can be linked to the CRA suggests it is very unlikely the CRA could have played a substantial role in the subprime crisis."

It's a scary thing when someone is so ideological as to just run with the misinformation of their party and not do the heavy lifting (the actual research). Ron Johnson is just throwing out well-worn Republican talking points and seeing what sticks, hoping to scare people into voting for him. I don't know about you, but I want a senator that actually reads the bills and makes an informed decision. I don't want someone who just goes with their gut or with the polling. And, when Johnson won't even take questions from his local newspaper, you know something is amiss.

Wisconsin deserves better. Vote Russ Feingold.

For Further Reading:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Operating Instructions

A few falsely-framed and dubious issues in this election cycle (and something I've noticed as more prevalent over the last decade or so of elections) seem to have taken hold.

Ronald Reagan told us government is the problem. Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over. George W. Bush drove government into the ditch. An increasingly popular theme running through all these administrations: the public sector is The Problem, it should operate more like a private sector business [the perfection of the market and its omnipotence is implied], and the primary goal is job creation [although they're more concerned with price stability than full employment].

We have slowly morphed from the idea of government as a floor. A basic, humane foundation upon which we all try to make our own and others lives better. The public sector would give us clean water, make our workplaces safe, build roads, make the trains run on time, police our streets, put out our fires, etc. All these rudimentary and basic tasks, which our society needs to exist, have been diminished. Suddenly, these tasks were secondary, unimportant. Government needed to start subsidizing development, provide low-interest loans to the private sector, and build the infrastructure for private business. Government became the junior partner of the private sector.

Now we have the Ron Johnsons of the world running as "manufacturers" and "accountants." He bemoans lawyers in the Senate and mocks them as know-nothings. Does he realize that the Senate is a legislative body? They make laws. This actually sounds like the appropriate position for someone educated in the law. And...What the hell does an accountant know about airports, road building, water and sewage systems, etc.? How, by merely smearing someone else, does one become more qualified?

These purveyors of all things private proclaim the often-repeated mantra about running a lean government, just like a business. But, the thing is, government is not a business! Plus, in case people haven't noticed, over the past few decades, we have been continually subsidizing and bailing-out the private sector every few years. Including finance, banking, manufacturing, farming, information technology, medicine, construction, real estate, yeah, pretty much everything!

The right-wing has been snarling about cutting spending, shrinking government size, lowering taxes, etc. These are all red herrings. Every metric, measure, or indicator examined regarding the Republican platform has been an utter failure. Yet, for some reason, each election cycle they declare they're going to cut taxes, shrink government, and make our lives lovely. And, they're going to do it by operating the government like business.

They have failed every time. Yet, voters are still fooled by their snake oil.

Stop telling me what a great businessman you are! Stop telling me about all these jobs you're going to grow!! Stop telling me how you're going to manage the government like a business!!!

Run government like government.

People, this emperor has no clothes. Can we please drop this and start having a rational, adult discussion about the proper and necessary role of Government?

Running On Empty

A few Republican memes need to be squashed. Most specifically, the idea that government is growing, taxes are increasing, and spending is out of control.

As Andrew O' Willike found, government employment at all levels combined, as a percentage of the nation's population, has remained essentially constant, at just under 10 percent, since the 1970s.

Total federal, state, and local taxes in the U.S. rank among the lowest in the world. Dennis Cauchon discovered, "Federal, state, and local income taxes consumed 9.2 percent of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950."

As the Wisconsin Budget Project (WBP) calculated, Wisconsin is below the national average in total direct spending and Wisconsin spending has been decreasing compared to other states. WBP also revealed that the number of Wisconsin public employees is 8 percent lower than the national average.

So, basically, everything the Tea Party and conservatives are campaigning on - government size and spending, high taxes, and spoiled and numerous public workers - is mythological.

The ideology and the paradigm Republicans operate from continually produces the opposite outcome than claimed. The only thing conservatives have to run on are lies and smears. The facts are not on their side, so they're trying to change the definition of what a fact is.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Weekend Reading

A Million Here, A Million There
Recessions and Recoveries Are Not All The Same
Sad History of Trusting The GOP On The Economy
Tax Rates For Top 400 Earners Fall As Income Soars

Film Flam

Here we go again...

I guess Tom Barrett feels he can't allow Scott Walker to have all the stupid to himself. As the Journal Sentinel notes, "Both gubernatorial candidates support film tax credits."

Yes, a big economic development - jobs - strategy for both candidates is luring the film industry.

These two think "creating jobs in new media and film [is] a priority" and are "central to our prospects for a brighter economic future."

I've previously posted, "The Wisconsin Department of Commerce issued a report showing that film tax credits as an economic development strategy are not cost-effective." The Journal Sentinel found the state reimbursed Public Enemies every dollar spent here.

Economists have shown deficit spending during economic downturns works, food stamps are stimulative, as are infrastructure investments and aid to state and local governments. Social scientists have also shown that film credits as some sort of economic development policy do not work. Yet, for some reason, we condemn the former as wasteful and unnecessary, while bellowing about the need to increase the latter.

Film credits as an economic development strategy shouldn't even be part of the discussion deciding our next governor.

For Further Reading:
Economic Incentives
Economics Incentives Package Heavy On Film Subsidies
Film Credits Won't Transform Illinois Economy
Film Tax Credits Are Bad Economics
Food Stamps And Unemployment Insurance
More States Yell "Cut" On Film Tax Credits
On The Chopping Block
Voodoo Economics Of The Silver Screen

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Economic Readings

Central Banks Should Do More
Job Loss Looms As Part Of Stimulus Act Expires
Recessions And Recoveries Are Not All The Same
Very Serious Reactions To The Levin Bill
What Is This "Demand For Money" Of Which You Speak?

Suffer Little Workers

Scott Walker is out to destroy middle class jobs...again. He wants county workers to take more wage freezes, to eliminate seniority raises, and for them to pay more for health care. Two things, he creates the false corollary that county workers must make sacrifices because their counterparts in the private sector have, and, he implies that county jobs are unnecessary and low-skill work and therefore should be done at WalMart wages. Not to mention the fact that workers take public jobs with the knowledge that they will receive less pay than their private sector counterparts, yet they will be assured health benefits, job security, and a retirement plan.

One obvious reason this is not only shortsighted politics but also bad policy is the demand issue. Public employment is a form of Keynesian pump priming. These living wage jobs allow people to spend and buy during economic downturns, helping to keep the economy out of the ditch.

And, yes, unemployment has increased, but that doesn't mean public workers have been isolated and not made sacrifices. In fact, teachers have been fired, libraries have been closed, public workers have felt the pain nationwide. Public workers are making sacrifices. Do Republicans believe there should be no floor on wages? Should there be no floor for basic services we provide in our communities? Why must workers, making a decent living, always be the ones whom are vilified, yet we can't tax millionaires more? Why are everyday workers always the problem? Are there no other options for revenue or spending cuts? Why is it that working class people, most making under $50,000 a year, are always the ones who must go without?

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of economics on the part of Republicans. Their blind faith in a magical market, led by an invisible hand, causes them to believe that doing nothing will somehow fix the economy. If we just wait, in a few decades everyone will have been allowed to save a few bucks and start spending again. So, lets not think about the lost generation that will result from such policy. Just keep a smile on your face, keep taxes low so the rich still benefit and stay fat and giggly, and wait for that great new day on the horizon.

We bailed out Wall Street and bankers. And, we supported the auto industry and state and local governments.

The government, at all times, supports public and private industry. In fact, the private sector and private individuals have benefited to a much larger extent. Public workers do the public good. They bring you clean water, roads to drive on, etc.

Private individuals amass wealth and use such to buy politicians and legislation to avoid taxes and accumulate more wealth.

We are in a new Gilded Age where inequality is at record levels. Workers are losing in the class war. To keep piling on and asking people to go without and to do with less is criminal when corporate profits are rising and the rich are paying their lowest level of taxes in history.