Sunday, November 28, 2010

Swimming Fool

Patrick McIlheran thinks Milwaukee County taxpayers are going "to get soaked." The County Board, in the latest budget, called for improvements of Moody pool. One of many long-overdue maintenance and repair projects needed by the County. Rather than seeing "spending unleashed," as the column claims, we will be able to witness government acting responsibly and carrying out its duties.

But, as Dan Cody commented, "Patrick, you have your facts wrong about a number of things in this opinion piece, most importantly the assertion that taxpayers will get "soaked" as a result of the pool being repaired. In your haste to pen a piece that plays to the usual talking points about Milwaukee being a "tax hell" and such, you overlooked - or ignored - the fact that the the tax levy won't go up one cent as a result of the proposal to rehabilitate Moody Pool. The source of the funds are capital improvement bonds, something the County Exec. used a great deal in last years budget to finance various capital improvements throughout the County. I very much doubt you called it a "soaking" then, so why now? Another fact is there was and is significant pressure to rehab the boarded up property that was Moody Pool from area neighbors, businesses and community groups."

The $5 million price-tag on the Moody repair is .005 percent of a $1 billion County budget. Even though, comparatively speaking, this is a minuscule part of the overall County budget, McIlheran wants us to believe it's and "important gauge." Yes, I would say an important gauge of a governing body realizing it must actually maintain County properties which enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors. But sadly for McIlheran, .005 percent of a budget is a red flag of runaway spending.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Start Me Up

A Journal Sentinel editorial believes we should be building a, "Stronger climate for entrepreneurs to start and grow business." It then regurgitated the often-repeated list of business-friendly initiatives: making the Wisconsin Department of Commerce (DOC) a purely economic development oriented agency, focusing on businesses employing 50 or less persons, using bond authority to fund investment, and providing incentives for business.

I've invalidated the idea of transforming the DOC into an economic development agency in an earlier post. I won't repeat it here again. Please read the link for further information on this debunking.

They cite a study that concludes there is, "No difference in job creation between small companies and large ones. Size plays virtually no role. It's all age - start-ups are where the job-creation action really occurs." What they fail to mention is that start-ups are also where the job-destruction action also occurs. The reality is that start-ups rarely employee many people and 40 percent fail within five years. Steve Lohr explains why big companies matter in job creation.

The idea of focusing on a certain size of business is also ludicrous. Government should be laying the foundation - contracts, financing, infrastructure, and other necessary institutional elements - for day-to-day business to take place. Trying to pick specific winners is comparable to gambling at a casino and not good policy.

And, do we really need to get into detail why it's not a good idea to use bonding authority to make grants, low-interest loans, and giveaways for speculative, private investments? If an entrepreneur has a good idea - a sound investment idea - why wouldn't private dollars want to invest? The notion that taxpayers - through bonding - should be the supporters for such risky investments is ridiculous. Do private markets work at all? What happened to the magic of the market which the Journal Sentinel, business writers, and entrepreneurs always claims as efficient?

I've also punctured the incentive boondoggle in an earlier post. For more on that, follow the link.

Again, the Journal Sentinel has added nothing to the debate nor raised the level of discussion or understanding. They've simply repeated business-friendly talking-points of dubious credibility.

For Further Reading:
Bad Public Policy
Job Creation
The Little Engine That Can't
Myths About Entrepreneurship
New Firms Are No Job Engine
The Start-Ups We Don't Need
Young Companies Biggest Job Destroyers

Friday, November 26, 2010

Anger: The Easiest Emotion

I was just looking at comments from an older Journal Sentinel article on the good work Sue Black is doing for the County parks. One particular rant gave me an unexpectedly jovial chuckle, "More union thuggery in Milwaukee. I am so sick and tired of people crying and moaning about how the parks need more money and they are crumbling. What a crock! First of all, do we really need to have 30+ swimming pools in the county that the taxpayer has to foot the bill for. Second, why do I have to subsidize the golf courses in the county? Finally, have any of you ever known an employee of the parks system? Is there an easier job in the world that has such lavish benefits? The whole system should be privatized."

First, the population of Milwaukee County is 959,921. Having 30 pools to service this population means having 1 pool for every 31,997 people in the County. Hardly an overabundance of water parks.

Second, the golf courses (roughly $6 million annual revenue) bring in a comparatively large portion of the Park system revenue. The golf courses essentially, partially subsidize the rest of the system.

Thirdly, the Park system has many jobs. The Park system is vast and contains golf courses, picnic areas, parking garages, tennis courts, historic buildings, pavilions, gardens, sports facilities, trails, community centers, beaches, and animal care. To claim Park employment is one job and is the easiest job is really just erroneous slander.

Finally, proponents of privatization, please tell me one example of the various sectors of our economy, over the past 40 years, which has been privatized and is better off. Airlines, health care, 401Ks...none have shown any improvement to the cost and quality of our lives. In fact, for the majority, privatization has made things worse. It has caused an upward redistribution of the gains from productivity.

Yet, I still support the right of the unhinged, uninformed, and those generally too enraged to pause and think about about what they are saying before making blanket statements and viciously attacking others, to speak their mind.

It's Time For Misdirection

The Journal Sentinel recently editorialized, "It's time for honesty. True fiscal discipline requires more than cuts to discretionary spending. It requires changes to..." I'm hoping the next word is "taxes." But I'm sure you can guess, the Journal wants, "...changes to entitlement programs." Credit where credit is due - they do mention, in passing, raising taxes half-way through the article, yet they never elaborate on this. Much of the article is dedicated to bashing popular government programs and detailing how we need to gut them.

Yes, when corporate profits are at all-time highs, Wall Streeters are raking in millions in bonuses, and high-earners are being taxed at the lowest rates they've seen in decades, the answers to our fiscal conundrums are cutting government spending and programs - which can benefit those in need the most. Yes, when citizens are hurting the most, the best thing to do is make them hurt more, while allowing the richest to increase their wealth.

The Journal favors extending the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers, including keeping lower taxes on capital gains and dividends. They don't explain their rationale behind this perspective. But they then imply that farm subsidies, corporate loopholes, and road projects are only "chicken feed" and won't save us much. So, we shouldn't bother with those. Let's stick to gutting the programs most American count on.

They tell us, "The problems with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are well understood." Obviously they are not. And, the Journal is to blame for much of the misunderstanding because of the misinformation which they spread on these subjects. Much of our country's fiscal problems can be attributed to our disproportionately large health care costs. (We pay twice as much as the next country without better results.) Social Security, on the other hand, is solvent for the next thirty years without any changes. Getting our health care costs in-line with those of other nations would go a long way toward getting out fiscal house in order. (President Obama's health care reform moves us toward this goal.)

As usual, the Haves feel the answer to our problems is sacrifice from workers and rewards for the rich. Yes, lets make workers whom have only seen their life expectancy rise a little over a year in the past few decades wait longer to retire and receive less compensation when they do. We won't mention how this will effect the labor market by not allowing the turnover of these jobs to new labor market entrants. While we're at it let's make people pay more for their health care, or go without. I feel something trickling down all right, and I don't like it.

The Hotel Of Dreams

Whether or not the proposed downtown Marriott is the no-brainer the Journal Sentinel claims (they claim any development is a win-win) is debatable. Will it bring more business travelers downtown? Will it increase the City's annual tax revenue by $2.2 million? How will a new hotel enhance the regions tourism and marketing efforts? How will a new hotel boost downtown development?

The constructions jobs are obviously a good (temporary) thing. The low-wage, seasonal jobs created by the hotel are jobs, but not the best. Any development will have a construction boost and create some jobs. Whether or not this is the most optimal, is the best location, and is worth destroying historic buildings, are questions that need answers.

If they plan on razing the historic buildings - something Milwaukee still has numerous examples of, which we should be maintaining - are the developers planning to build something that echoes a bygone era? Or, are they planning on building a modern, square, glass, monstrosity which will look completely out of place downtown? (We already have enough cheap-looking and out-of-character new condos.)

Business travelers come to a place because they have business to attend to. They don't travel to different downtowns to just stay a night at the new hotel. Likewise, tourists don't visit cities just to see the latest hotels. "There's nothing to see here, but our pillows are the softest!" I have yet to see a successful marketing effort for a city focused on hotels.

Improving economic opportunities for residents, creating places of interest, and having accessible and connected transportation routes attracts business, tourists, and creates a buzz. Supply by itself does not attract other development, nor assure success. Simply building a new hotel will not attract new development. The demand has to be here, or some signs of demand on the horizon, before a savvy investor would bet millions on a location or development. And, just because one development moves forward, this does not guarantee others will follow.

I'm not completely against this project, but neither am I completely for it. More questions need to be asked and more details provided. The Journal's marching ahead of any serious discussion and declaring this project a catalyst of development is cavalier and premature. Let's see the site plan, what kind of financing is entailed, and what the impact analyses are forecasting. It's one thing to move swiftly on a well-corroborated project, but quite another to haphazardly move forward on just hopes and wishes.

For Further Reading:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Various Wisconsin Facts

Wisconsin Budget Project:

When the number of full-time equivalent positions was measured relative to each state's 2009 population, Wisconsin was 4.4 percent below the national average and ranked 38th, meaning only 12 states had a leaner public sector.

Wisconsin's spending and taxes have been falling relative to other states for a number of years, showing a significant drop between 2000 and 2008. Wisconsin went from 15th highest in 2000 to 27th in 2008 in total state and local government revenue per capita, and from 13th to 23rd in total spending per capita. [Wisconsin is the 20th largest state by population.] Wisconsin continues to rank very low in federal revenue. On a per capita basis, Wisconsin ranks 46th in federal revenue, 17 percent below average. State and local spending for public employee payrolls was 9 percent below the national average and ranked 33rd.

Analysis of the 2009 employment data found that Wisconsin had the highest percentage of its workforce in manufacturing among all states. Government employment across the U.S. gas grown slightly since 2000, but has declined in Wisconsin. In 2008, Wisconsin was 8.2% below the national average in the number of state and local employees for every 1, 000 state residents, ranking 41st nationally.

Overall, taxes in Wisconsin are regressive...Familes in Wisconsin making less than $20,000 a year pay 9.2 percent of their income in sales and excise, income, property taxes, while families making $388,000 or more pay only 6.7 percent of those taxes.

Contrary to the commonly held belief that Wisconsin is high in taxes and spending, we are close to the middle among the states. Wisconsin's state and local revenue as a percentage of income in 16.7 percent, slightly above the national average of 16.4 percent.

Alliance For Science & Technology Research In America:

Wisconsin contractors earned $201.4 million in federal R&D contract expenditures in fiscal year 2009, with approximately 116 contracts involved.

Misrepresentation & Disingenuous Reporting

Bringing poverty to the attention of the masses doesn't go over well with privileged media members and other apologists. Bruce Murphy, the Journal Sentinel, and John Pawasarat of UWM's Employment & Training Institute are all up in arms over Marc Levine's use of "joblessness" rather than "unemployment." The basic gist of the argument is that joblessness is bigger; which makes the number of people without jobs sound really, really scary. This opposition wants us to just stick with the U-3 unemployment number - because that's what they're used to and it's not as frightening as the joblessness number.

This isn't an issue (as it should be) because too many are unemployed, discouraged, or underemployed. The dissenters are upset because Dr. Levine uses a metric that better illuminates the gravity of the situation - joblessness. Those who interchange unemployment and joblessness are to be blamed for not reading the caveats of the research. Joblessness is a different measure. But simply being different does not make it incorrect nor misleading.

This is a problem of sloppy reporters, not bad research. The research clearly defines "joblessness" and finds 53 percent of black Milwaukee males fall under this category. Journalists claiming this as 53 percent unemployed are merely practicing shoddy reporting. For the Journal Sentinel's PolitiFact to make an issue of Marvin Pratt confusing joblessness and unemployment (he misstated 52 percent "unemployment") and then claiming his comments as completely false, is another example of careless and deluded reporting. 53 percent are not unemployed, but black males in Milwaukee are facing a daunting job market. To call this false would imply that black Milwaukee males were performing better than other black males in other metro areas. They are not.

Bruce Murphy, himself, states, "Levine responded via email to say he does not use the word unemployment but “joblessness” in his study. True. But that routinely gets turned into the word unemployment by the media, film producers, etc. I think in his zeal to dramatize black unemployment, Levine ends up misleading people." So, the media incorrectly substitute unemployed for jobless, and this is Levine's fault? How is this his zeal to dramatize something? This is a case of sloppy reporters blaming someone else for their hasty comprehension.

And, for Bruce Murphy to be calling Levine's research on the subject "exaggerated" and "questionable" is baffling. What is questionable about it? What is exaggerated? Yes, unemployment and joblessness are not the same thing, but that doesn't mean the conclusions of the joblessness study are unimportant or questionable. It's a sad disservice when those untrained in the social sciences and proper research comment and mislead on that which they do not understand. Plus, Murphy feels vindicated and correct because the PolitiFact article made many of the same (erroneous) claims he initially made. Yes, for Murphy, two wrongs make a right. As Dr. Marc Levine comments on Bruce Murphy's Milwaukee Magazine page, "For any reader who takes seriously Bruce Murphy's comments on my research, I encourage a look at my analysis: 'Mismeasuring Joblessness.' On virtually every point, Murphy is simply wrong and either deliberately distorts or does not understand the issues."

Dr. Levine's rejoinder to the grumblers highlights the explanation of joblessness in the original research; so that even they might be able to wrap their heads around the concept. It is the fault of those reporting on such research whom are to blame for confusing the two measurements. They seem to imply Levine means unemployed when he uses jobless and is, therefore, misleading us. This is not the case; the concept is clearly operationalized in the research. Maybe they should actually read the entire report(s) before (improperly) commenting on the conclusions and/or concepts.

The other, and perhaps saddest, concern of this dust-up is that the objectors have focused this - unemployment and poverty issue - on the semantics of reporters (and their misunderstanding) rather than on the actual problem - many people can't find work! They're upset that Dr. Levine is reminding us of all of the citizens in our society that go without, struggle, and are hurting on a daily basis. Whether it's 25 - 35 - or 50 percent, it's too much, and we should be talking and doing something about it. Doing something other than obfuscating the harsh reality many face by bickering over which metric we want to focus our attention. Either one you choose, the numbers are not good. For the jobless, the underemployed, the part-timers seeking full-time, for these workers, however you define it, they're still suffering.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weekend Reading

Citizens United V. America's Citizens
Myth Of Charter Schools
Reconciling Economic Growth And Fiscal Responsibility
Rich Declare War On The Middle Class
Schakowsky Alternative To Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan
Study Says Most Corporations Pay No U.S. Income Taxes
The University And The Start-Up
What Causes Deficits?

Open For Bribery

It should be obvious to anyone that Scott Walker's dislike for the rail line is inversely related to his close connections to road builders. Hence, he'd like to see the money going towards more roads and continued sprawl - inefficient and environmentally degrading development.

He's been ever-so-slightly backtracking, adding caveats and qualifiers. If he stops the train he knows he will not only lose the money already spent on contracts, Talgo and those jobs, and the spin-offs from such. We will lose out on $810 million dollars. The kind of money we spent on build Miller Park, but we can't use (nearly the same amount) for infrastructure projects to benefit the region, it's workers, and our economy.

This is a great example of Republican politics. Appeal to voters emotions, conflate cronies wishes with those of general voters, promise the sky, then when reality hits, backtrack and make excuses as to why the initial declaration must be altered, or simply blame someone else or some "liberal" law.

I'm still having trouble understanding the derision of rail by the right. Maybe it has something to do with their isolationist attitudes and general lack of curiosity. Do they not know that nearly every other advanced region, city, country, etc. has a developed rail network?

Does Scott Walker really want to be the guy that makes Wisconsin's largest urban area the only major city in America without a more advanced rail network? Which is a huge competitive disadvantage. This doesn't really square with "open for business" mantra. This stupidity and shortsightedness would be laughable if it didn't hold such powerful implications for the future of the state.

For Further Reading:
Governor-elect Should Do Math On The Rail Line
Road Builders Get Return On Their Walker Investment
Trains And The City
Walker Open To Redirecting High-Speed Train Money To Other Rail Projects
Walker Urges Obama To Let Rail Funds Go To Roads

Two Economies

America seems to have two economies operating. One for the wealthy and one for everyone else. The wealthy are doing as well as ever. Corporate profits are rising, taxes on the wealthy are at their lowest ever, and high-earner incomes are rising. For the rest of us, not so much. Everyday workers are experiencing wage-cuts or wage stagnation, layoff, furloughs, increased medical costs, and/or termination.

This inequity is also mirrored in the Deficit Commission's recommendation for increasing the Social Security age. Using the blanket fact that Americans are living longer, they thus jump ahead with the claim the retirement age should be increased. But as Paul Krugman and others have detailed, only white-collar and more well-off workers are living longer (6+ years versus 1.1 years for workers). Laborers not only work at physically demanding jobs, they also aren't living much longer than they did decades ago. Not only are they doing the back-breaking labor everyday, the Commission now - in effect - wants to make them do this work for more years before they can retire, or die, whichever comes first.

Tax increases are nowhere to be seen nor heard. Even though the richest are making as much as ever and paying the lowest amount of taxes ever, we can't ask them to pony up a few more bucks. Rich apologists whine, "If you tax more, the rich won't spend, they won't work as hard, they won't hire people." The administration of George W. Bush completely discredits this delusion. He was a tax-cutting fool, and he also presided over the worst job-creating presidency ever, yet the rich remained rich. It's everyone else that suffers.

We have an economy built for the well-to-do. The rest of us can only hope for something to trickle down. But that's not happening. Every policy or program gain we've fought for over the years is, also, now being redistributed upward by policies favored and instituted by the rich. We can't spend on mass transportation, libraries, parks, unemployment insurance, Social Security, or health care - you know, the stuff that benefits us all - but money is abundant for tax cuts and other giveaways to the rich.

At every turn, little by little, the policies - that have made the quality of life for American workers the ideal around the world - are being decimated. Pensions are disappearing, health care is expensively out of reach (and Republicans want to keep it that way), wages are declining, and retirement is further and further away. This is alongside the wealthy garnering a larger share of the pie by holding onto more of the gains of productivity and stacking the deck (with legislation and policy) in their favor.

Silly Voters


Why The Obama Plan Is Working

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Measuring Republican Rhetoric

The latest election results inspired my analytical side to start digging up the facts surrounding: the labor force; government size, employment and expenditures; work travel times; demographics; various sectoral information; population; and establishment growth. I thought now would be a good time to look at what actually took place in the economy over the last decade. From here, we will be able to judge the Wisconsin Republicans on how well they have kept their promises while also seeing whether or not they have improved the quality of life for Wisconsinites.

I have collected the data from the Census Bureau. The data ranges from 1999 to 2009. Comparisons will be made between the state and the nation, and between the state of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County. In the sectoral analysis section I have devised my own metrics from available data (sales receipts; employees; establishments; payroll) to create indicators of labor cost, size and productivity. Calculations and any errors are my own.

The population of the state of Wisconsin grew 4.9% between 2000 and 2008. Milwaukee County population only grew 1.4%. The U.S. saw a population increase of 9.1 percent.

Median family income, between 1999 and 2008, declined 4.6% in the state; the county saw a 26% decline. Combine this with inflation (which grew 26% over the period) and workers took a heavy hit in their earnings and real purchasing power. (Hence the huge increase in household debt to maintain our quality of life.) The U.S. saw the median family income decline 2.3% over the period.

The poverty rate in the U.S. increased from 11.3% to 13.2% (a 16.8% increase). In Wisconsin poverty rose from 8.1% to 10.5% (a 29.6% increase). For Milwaukee County poverty increased from 14% to 17% (a 21.4% increase). Yet more evidence that tax cuts and deregulation were not lifting all boats.

The civilian labor force in the state of Wisconsin increased 2.9%. The county saw a 1.9% decrease in their civilian labor force. Economists have estimated that we need to add 300,000 jobs per month, nationally, just to get back to full employment within the next 5 years.

Non-farm establishments improved 4.2% in the state, while decreasing 1.9% for the county. Which is typical of sprawling development - building in low-density areas. This type of development is costing us. We are continually maintaining (or not) an expanding electrical, sewer, and road network to serve an expanding development footprint.

Employment amongst all industries in the state saw a yearly increase of .8 percent between 2001 and 2006. The county saw a .2 percent yearly decline in employment amongst all industries. Again, reflecting the sprawling development at the urban fringe.

Work travel time, between 2000 and 2008, decreased .8 percent in the U.S. But it actually increased 2.4% in Wisconsin. The country's travel time to work was declining, while, here in Wisconsin, it was increasing. Does anyone doubt this has something to do with our poor public transportation system and our lack of a rail service?

The white population of the U.S. increased by 1.1%, while decreasing by 1.5% in Wisconsin. The black population increased 3.5% in Wisconsin, while remaining steady nationally. Hispanics increased 20.8% in the U.S., and 36.1% in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin government employment, between 2000 and 2009, declined 10.6%. Full-time pay amongst government employees increased 20.5% over this period, a 2.1 percent yearly change. Inflation over this period had a yearly growth of 2.6%. After the decade there was a smaller number of government workers and they were earning less (inflation adjusted).

The five largest sectors of Wisconsin (based on sales and receipts) were: manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, health care and social assistance, and construction.

Payroll as a percent of sales (labor cost) was greatest for health care, at 41.6%. The other four sectors were lower than 21 percent. The next highest was construction with 20.8%. The lowest was wholesale trade at 6.1%.

The largest number of employees per establishment (size) was among manufacturing, at 50.5 workers per establishment. The next highest was health care at 25.6. The lowest was construction at 8.6.

The sales amount per employee (productivity) was largest in the wholesale trade sector, at $798.69. Manufacturing was second with $335.46. The lowest was health care at $91.64.

This gives of us an idea of the important sectors of Wisconsin's economy. It also allows some benchmarking to gauge where we're at, to see what type of change takes place during the Walker administration and Republican leadership. Although it should also be noted we're in a deep recession, so the only place to go is up. If conservative claims are to be proven credible we should expect to see a turn-around higher than during a typical recovery. And, if tax cuts were the answer, Bush did that repeatedly over the last decade and all we've experienced are terrible job growth and stagnating wages. We'll see what happens.

For Further Reading:
Fiscal Health of Wisconsin Counties
Macro Performance Under Different Presidents
Productivity Growth Since 1982
Recovery, Risk, and Rebalancing
State of Working Wisconsin
Trade Analysis of Wisconsin Counties
Wisconsin Tax Hell Hoax

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Workers, Wages & The Fight For The Middle Class

The right-wing war on the public sector has been chugging along since Ronald Reagan took office. The last campaign cycle saw the rhetoric intensify. The public sector wasn't sacrificing enough, they were overpaid, their benefits (pensions, health care) were excessive, and they were, pretty much, useless. Luckily, we have organizations and social scientists collecting data so we can quantify whether or not such accusations are true. The results indicate these right-wing attacks are baseless.

Joshua Holland reports, "More working people belonged to a union in the public sector (7.9 million) than in the private (7.4 million), despite the fact that corporate America employs five times the number of wage-earners." Yet the unionized workforce only represents about 10 percent of the total workforce. Those who keep pointing the finger at unions as some all-powerful entity determining elections and making or breaking the labor force obviously are unfamiliar with the actual number of unionized workers.

"In 1980, the ratio of top- to bottom-earners in Fortune 500 companies was 41 to 1. By 2007, it had risen to 411 to 1," Mr. Holland informs us. All workers are making much less compared to the very well-off. And, it is because the well-off are garnering much more of the rewards that our, everyday workers, wages are stagnating. This is a class war. Not of the poor against the rich, as conservatives want to frame the issue everytime someone mentions taxing the rich more, or making society a bit more equitable. The rich declared war on the workers decades ago. This war has nearly wiped out America's middle class. The rich are handily winning the class war.

Dean Baker discovered, "The average pension for a public employee was $22,000 a year in 2007." Hardly the Easy Street most conservatives claim that public pensions provide. Joshua Holland continues (based on the writings of Dean Baker and Paul Krugman) "State and local employees' pensions represent just 6 percent of the non-federal public sector spending...the public pension scare is little more than a phony issue." The supposed fiscal timebomb and overly-generous benefit of public pensions is more accurately a hallucination of Republicans hell-bent on destroying all decent-paying jobs in America.

Although, right-wingers would like us to believe government workers are lavishly rewarded, as Lauren Smith found, "Federal workers earn 22 percent less than their counterparts in the privatge sector, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management." In making their comparisons, Republicans often ignore job types, education level, and experience. When these factors are considered, public workers are shown to earn less than their private sector equivalents. Smith, correctly, also highlights the fact that, "Low-skill jobs make up a much smaller percentage of the federal workforce than the private sector." This makes public workers appear to earn much more when making blanket comparison. Likewise, conservatives tell us the size of government has been exploding, yet Smith also notes, "The federal workforce today as a proportion of the total U.S. workforce is about half what it was in 1970." Two more issues where the accusations of Republicans are completely without merit.

Others point to the minimum wage as a disincentive to hire and an excessive burden on business. Yet Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich, "Closely analyzed employment trends for several categories of low-wage workers over a 16-year period in all counties sharing a common border with a county in another state where minimum wage increases followed a different trajectory. They report that increases in minimum wages had no negative effects on low-wage employment." Nancy Folbre adds, "Once adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage in the United States is lower than it was in 1967. Wage earners seem increasingly unable to capture any of the gains from technological change and productivity growth." Here is yet another conservative talking-point which the empirical evidence thoroughly discredits.

David Cay Johnston details, "In the Great Recession year of 2009 the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was five time more than their average wages and bonuses in 2008." This group of people, the 72 persons making $84.1 million or more, "Made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers," Johnston adds. For some historical perspective, he then elaborates, "From 1950 to 1980, the average income of the bottom 90 percent grew tremendously. Had income growth from 1950 to 1980 continued at the same rate for the next 28 years, the average income of the bottom 90 percent in 2008 would have been 68 percent higher, instead of just 1 percent more."

The uber rich have been taking a disproportionate amount of the earnings over the past four decades at the expense everyone else. The battle is not between union and non-union. It is between an uber wealthy and the rest of us. The objective of our wage policies should be to lift everyone up, not race to the bottom for the lowest wages and least amount of benefits. Instead of arguing about the pensions, wages, and benefits of those whom have organized and bargained for such, we should be fighting to make these gains the rights of all workers, so they too can share in the gains of their labor. Rather than allowing such gains to be usurped by the well-connected and well-off, continuing a downward spiral for all workers.

Co-Conspiratorial Reign

The uber wealthy have been stealing from the workers, it seems, forever, but relatively recently they have gained a willing accomplice to aid in their thievery. The mainstream news media has abdicated their duties of public watchdog and reasoned analysis. From the selling of corporate products, to the selling of corporate policies, our public-discourse narrator on the meaningful issues of the day [the media] has devolved into an echo chamber of greed and commercialism.

We need a class action suit against the American media system as a whole. The majority of the noise being broadcast and printed daily is an advertisement, a nudge, a subtle persuasion, propaganda. It's no longer about how you can live your life better. It's about how you can live your life so that they may live better and, somehow, the rewards will make it back to you.

The Fairness Doctrine immediately needs to be reinstated. A higher proportion of programming should be dedicated to government, election, education, and other public concerns. And, since they are the public airwaves, why don't we charge the networks to broadcast? If they choose not to, those stations can be used for public good. And, if they choose to pay, that is more revenue we can use to repair roads, cut deficits, and catch-up on some long overdue public infrastructure projects.

[We should also be collecting more money from companies extracting minerals and resources from public lands. But that is a topic for another time.]

As Ralph Nader writes, "The television broadcasters were given free license to use public airwaves (worth around $70 billion) by a supine Congress in 1997." What kind of deal is this? So, we as a people, own the airwaves, which are very valuable. But our representatives made a deal with broadcasters to just allow them to operate freely. Are the broadcasters allowing us to watch for free? These are the types of backroom deals that are fiscally destroying the country by robbing us of much needed revenue. What possible reason could they have for suddenly deciding broadcasters shouldn't pay for use of the airwaves anymore?

This episode also parallels Buckly v. Valeo and its pernicious effect on campaigns and elections. Which we'll get to in a bit.

We can see and feel the direct effect on our daily lives from this unchecked, completely profit-driven media presence. The media is now a self-justifying corporate shill. We're instructed more what to buy, how to look, and given a passing he-said/she-said. Facts are now malleable. Everything is in the eye of the beholder. When we have no boundaries nor measurements for truth or fact, when everything is personal perspective, we no longer have truth nor fact.

Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann are worlds aparts. There is barely a Left at all anymore, and nothing that is comparable to the scope and ferocity of today's Right. 40 years ago Olbermann's views would have been considered moderate and Beck would have been laughed out of the political arena and sent back to the zanny morning radio schtick. Today, half of voting Republicans think Beck is a teacher and wise sage. Comparing today's right-wing with recent fascist regimes is much more plausible and supported than the "communist" and "socialist" chants of the Beck-heads.

It's no wonder that 40 years ago we had raising wages, one breadwinner, and shared prosperity. A period where Olbermann-esque moderation governed. A rising tide that lifted all boats. This new, hyper-commercialized, market-driven, greed-era we currently inhabit has resulted in exactly the opposite. Two workers can barely get by today, wages are stagnating, retirements are increasingly volatile, and people are having to choose between medical care and paying their rent.

The rich did not like seeing their social underlings driving cars, owning their homes, and living content lives. So they pushed through Buckley v Valeo (1976) and started buying elections and judges. Once they had their puppets in office, they started pushing through legislation and initiatives that would directly benefit them. Like tax cuts, deregulation, free airwaves, repealing Glass-Steagall, and on and on. All of this right under our noses, neatly packaged, and/or completely obfuscated by the media.

Here we are decades into this failed social experiment. Voters just enthusiastically elected the standard-bearers of this perverted and discredited worldview, in large part thanks to the media and their so-very-terrible representation of reality. To keep doing the same thing, yet expecting different results is insanity. "Cut word lines - Cut music lines - Smash the control images - Smash the control machine - Burn the books - Kill the priests - Kill! Kill! Kill!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Backbiting & The Media Conflictinator

The latest in-party bickering amongst liberals - Bill Maher/MSNBC v. Jon Stewart - highlights why the left can't sustain a consistently persuasive narrative for the voting public and thus win elections. Progressives spend much of their time arguing amongst themselves on degrees of differences in opinion, rather than focusing on what they do agree on and using that to counter and correct the right-wing echo chamber.

I love all the personalities involved in this latest round of progressive self-destruction, I just wish it didn't come to this. I think the MSNBC broadcasters are the most thoughtful and engaging of any on television. [Yes, they can be over-the-top at times. But there is a difference between passionate yet reasoned analysis and hair-brained, sensationalistic, conspiratorial lies.] I find Bill Maher unapologetically courageous in trying to have an adult discussion about topics too taboo or touchy for many of our "investigative" journalists and television mouthpieces. And, Jon is a witty, shrewd, satirical genius with biting comedic commentary on the issues of the day. The fact that all news media are trying to come up with some type of program/format/delivery similar to the Daily Show is telling.

In-fighting amongst Democrats mirrors the divisive nature of unions in our country. The splintering into various factions over the past few decades, squabbling over petty territorial or policy perspectives, has decreased the reach, power, and effectiveness of unionization (alongside a completely anti-union legislative landslide). The conflicts from within are also weakening the Democratic party. At their best, unions and the Democratic party went hand-in-hand. Both, now, seem to be following a self-mutilation strategy.

Even though Jon likes to disavow any association as a "newsman," Mr. Stewart you are a newsman. Yes, you started in comedy. And, you're very funny. Yet, even though you deliver the news wrapped in humor, it's still news delivery. This isn't to imply, historically, that we don't expect a higher standard from The Nightly News than from comedy-news programs. But this also doesn't preclude viewers from finding value, meaning and/or insight from well-crafted, yet informative, humor. In the end, this may really just be a semantic argument. Whether anyone is a "real" newsperson may not depend on the vehicle they deliver their opinions from (MSNBC, The Daily Show, Real Time, etc.) but on whether, in delivering those opinions, they are being truthful and conveying a thoughful, reasoned, and maybe even funny, analysis or commentary. It's not so much where you speak from, but how and what you speak which (should) determines whether or not one is taken seriously on the public stage.

So, to wrap up, it's time to focus on the big picture, Democrats. Flesh out the minute details once you've secured power. Focus on the most important issues and deliver the message we can agree on (rather than the details we can't). We're being beaten by the kid who eats his own boogers right now. This isn't the time to be criticizing our allies over style points.

Getting Railed

Here is a perfect example of why Democrats continue to lose elections. They back-peddle and compromise...on everything. Jim Doyle has halted the Milwaukee-Madison rail project due to Walker's incesant whining. You're not out of office yet, Jim. You're still governor. Act like it!

Why does Doyle even invite Walker in to talk about this? Walker flatly stated that although he'd meet with Doyle about the issue before assuming the governorship, he was already certain he wouldn't change his mind and wants the rail project stopped. Do Walker and his archaic followers understand that Milwaukee is one of only a few major urban areas that does not have such a rail system? In economics and planning this is known as a comparative disadvantage. In fact, nearly every major city and region around the world have some type of rail system to move people on a daily basis.

"If Governor-elect Walker opposes the project, U.S. DOT has made it clear that the money will go to one of the many other states that intend to move forward with high speed passenger rail," stated Doyle. As Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation Secretary, has personally informed Walker, the federal government will not allow this money to be used for roads - squashing Walker's phony campaign claim that he would redirect the money to roads.

And, any money Wisconsin has already spent on the project would have to be paid back. Is this fiscal conservatism? Saying no to a linkage within a national infrastructure project, allowing millions of dollars to be wasted, and losing hundred of jobs? Talgo has already said that if the project disappears the company will also leave. That doesn't sound like being open for business to me. It is a completely unnecessary and self-induced clusterfuck of epic proportions for the incoming governor.

Walker complains about yearly operating costs; a primary reason he opposes the line. Always looking out for the people. What a guy! Oops, I mean, always holding out for more money for his corporate cronies. Less money for rail means a singular focus on the road-building cabal. 90 percent of the Milwaukee-Madison line would be covered by the federal government, just as they do with the Hiawatha line. If his supposed concern is operating costs, he has no concern!

What is happening in Wisconsin? This is embarassing. The government is us! Continually berating the government has accomplished nothing. Other than transferring control to unscrupulous hucksters like Scott Walker and the Republicans which have increased inequality while siphoning public dollars for their private playgrounds. Perpetually calling for deregulation and tax cuts on the rich in hopes of something trickling down to the rest of us is like cutting off one's nose to spite his/her face. We're only hurting ourselves by falling for their bullshit.

[I am so sick of hearing the economic-know-nothings preaching how tax cuts spur investment and job growth. We have been deregulating and cutting taxes the last forty years. This has also coincided with a highly volatile experience for the majority of workers - stagnating wages, dwindling retirement, and increased health care costs. If this is the "investment" and "growth" these "experts" are talking about, I want to hear from some other experts.]

The government is here to do things for all of us. It is not the public relations arm of business. It is here to provide us a legal system, clean water, transportation, fire and police protection, etc. It is what makes us a nation and a community. Government is not a business. It is a caretaker, a foundation, a backbone, a nurturer. Our own history has shown us that when we use the government properly - to build dams, highways, trains, public spaces; to invest in technology and medicine; to establish law and regulate commerce - we experience a shared prosperity.

Let's get back to a politics that benefits all us us. Not a politics that benefits the well-off and well-connected. The majority of our country can surely get on-board with that.

Nothingness

Stephen Colbert rightly mocks Tea Baggers, trickle-down economics, and those supporting such nonsense.

For Further Reading:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sacrificing The Truth

In discussing the latest Milwaukee County budget, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel again spreads misinformation and takes shots at public workers. Part of their recurring theme of bashing unions and the government, blaming them for taxes, spending, and most of our social and political ills.

"Private employees have been required to take pay cuts, furlough days, cuts in their companies' contributions to retirement benefits and have made their sacrifices. They see no reason why public employees shouldn't feel some of the pain," the Journal editorializes.

To imply public workers have not made sacrifices, the Journal is either blind or knowingly delusional liars.

As Roger Bybee wrote (regarding Scott Walker, but which applies to the Journal and conservatives in general), they "would rather attack the benefits of government employees than argue that all working people deserve good benefits." Shouldn't we be trying to make labor conditions and quality of life better for workers? Or, should we all be minimum wage workers without health care nor any chance of ever retiring?

Is the Journal unaware of the 26 furlough days county workers were subjected to? A roughly 10 percent pay cut. Are they unaware of pay freezes, furlough days, and increased health care costs for public workers, in general? Teachers, fire fighters, police, and a whole host of public workers have been fired or laid off. No sacrifices? Claiming such is a complete distortion of the facts and terrible reporting on the part of the Journal.

Yet another example of the Journal's biased, uninformed, and disingenuous journalism.

For Further Reading:
How About Writing About The Good Things Public Workers Do
Local Governments Fire Teachers
Public Sector Job Losses Front And Center
State Budget Crisis Killing Economy
State, City Job Cuts Taint Recovery
The Struggle For A Workers Recovery
Walker Standing On The Necks Of County Workers

The Walker Wrecking Crew

Republican snake oil was voted back into office. It is vexing that they can keep selling this: we can live an as-we-wish, no-limits lifestyle; taxation is bad and unnecessary; government provides and does nothing; business is a altruistic, loving savior; and we really can have it all, pay nothing, and live happily ever after. They keep coming back to the table, selling this empirically discredited fantasy, and voters keep buying this illusion.

As Roger Bybee wrote, "[Scott] Walker would rather attack the benefits of government employees than argue that all working people deserve good benefits." Which is really the crux, the difference between the two parties. The majority of Democrats still want a high-road strategy enabling us to have a middle class. They support Social Security, Medicare, living wages, sick pay, unemployment insurance, health care, and a secure retirement. The Republicans want winners and losers. They want rich and poor. They want individualism. Screw your neighbor! Republicans prefer a sink-or-swim, you're-on-your-own society.

Walker won the governorship due to the over-65-crowd (56%), voters without a college degree (55%), the suburban (56%) and rural (55%) vote, and families earning over $50,000 (56%) and $100,000 (61%). It appears the only Democratic strongholds (over 57%) left in the state are Milwaukee, Dane, Menominee, Ashland, Bayfield, and Douglass counties.

It's amazing that someone who recommends dissolving the government he is overseeing, and giving those duties to cities and municipalities, while also wanting to reject Federal stimulus funds for Milwaukee County, can be taken seriously as a public servant. Which is like wanting to be a mechanic but hating cars. Plus, where would the county be right now without the stimulus? Walker does not represent leadership nor sensible management. He is the epitome of self-interest and parochialism.

One of Walker's goals is to balance the budget. Very original, I know. But also a disastrous aim during a recession. This is one of those great politcal themes, much easier said than done. But, if it will attract votes for Republicans from the detached and easily-manipulated, so be it. Two-thirds of home owners have a mortgage. Meaning: two-thirds of the population lives with debt - their mortgage. So, is home ownership a bad investment? I thought the message of the last half-century was that home ownership was the pinnacle of American life. There seems to be a disconnect between the balanced budget mantra and the way in which most people in the world finance their lives. We live with debt. Student debt, car debt, medical debt, etc. We see this as investment in our lives. It allows us a better standard of life for a monthly fee. If a balanced budget is such an important goal, most Americans are failing. Republicans can't claim everyone should be a consumer and a home owner, while also being against the policies that help workers earn enough to do such, and then complain about taking on the debt - as a government and as individuals - to keep up with the Joneses.

Emblematically, Mr. Walker supports repealing the corporate income tax. (Nevermind the U.S is one of the least taxed countries.) Which, as the Journal cites, is the state's third largest revenue source. Only four states have no corporate income tax. Walker believes taxes are too high, and by lowering the burden, our economy will be ignited and jobs will be created. But as I, and others, have shown repeatedly, this never actually happens during Republican administrations. They lower taxes, but nothing trickles down. In fact, in this low-tax, low-regulation era, income has been massively redistributed upward. There is a class war, and the rich are winning big. Scott Walker wants to make sure they keep winning.

The Journal-Sentinel informs us that our new governor would like to require voters to show ID at the polls and allow citizens to carry concealed weapons. To any coherent observer, there are more crucial issues to tackle when Wisconsin has a 7.8 percent unemployment rate (which, it should be noted, has decreased 1 percentage point over the last twelve-months - September 2009 to 2010 - down from 8.8). And, just for some comparison between Jim Doyle and Scott Walker, over the past year, as Gregory Stanford reports, "Under Walker, the county's unemployment rate soared from 4.6% in April of 2009 to 10.5% in March 2010 - a period when the county lost 34,000 jobs." Mr. Stanford also notes, "Of every six people in the county, one is poor - the tenth worst rate among the 50 biggest counties in the nation."

The new Gov has also declared that he will never raise taxes. Republicans have really become the party of the free lunch. They expect all the modern efficiencies of society (which we all take for granted) without having to find the revenue sources to pay for such infrastructure. Conservatives declare government the problem; they cut taxes and therefore government revenue; programs and services suffer due to lack of funding, people complain; Republicans then claim this shows government is inept and must be shrunk. But, as I hope readers can deduce, this is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy executed robotically by the right-wing, than a true depiction of reality.

Walker has left Milwaukee County in shambles. He and his ilk now control Wisconsin. Hopefully the state doesn't face the same fate as the county. We'll see if Walker puts up or shuts up.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Spending Sham

"Government expenditures have grown about as fast for the past two years as they did during the Bush administration's final term," notes Kevin Drum.

Government Spending
Hey, Small Spender
The Non-Surge In Government Spending
Obama's Stimulus Did NOT Raise Government Spending
Special Bulletin: Fractions Have Denominators
What's Really Behind That $1.3 Trillion Deficit

Guinness For Strength

Even horses like to be bold.

Sick Politics

The Journal Sentinel was at it again, spewing their dislike for pro-worker legislation. Once more they were opining against the sick pay ordinance (passed in 2008 with a 69% majority!). Democracy be damned! The Journal feels this measure is "fatally flawed".

Their reasoning is that, since we're in a recession and struggling to create jobs, such a measure is "nonsensical". "It is reckless to raise one more regulatory hurdle," they whine. Never do they mention that deregulation and bending-over-for-business got us into the recession. Typical of Republicans, they believe - and it appears the Journal agrees - the answer to our problems is going back to the policies that created the problem.

The intellectual dishonesty and mental jiu jitsu, displayed in such editorials, are necessary to craft such a false reality. Are they also calling for an end to tax breaks, loopholes, and other giveaways to corporations during these tough fiscal times? Likewise, in good times, do they support increasing taxes on the well-off? In good times, do they support increasing Social Security payments, decreasing payroll tax deductions, or some measure benefiting the working class? Or does the sacrifice mantra only apply to laborers? Somehow, in this worldview, everyone must always be looking out for the owners of capital. These owners can't go without their third vacation home or that new Mercedes. Not a chance! The sacrifices must always be made by the workers.

The Journal feels the ordinance would make Milwaukee a "regulatory island, saddled with what would be the toughest such ordinance in the country." Couldn't it also be argued that this ordinance could attract a high-skilled workforce? Those who value their skills and health and want to see that reflected in a respectful sick-pay policy. Isn't this one of the fringe benefits, of a location, that workers and companies consider? And, couldn't this measure also make Milwaukee a shining example to other municipalities of worker rights and healthy social policies?

There is a low-road strategy of allowing business to: dictate policy, pay nothing in taxes, offer no health care nor retirement, and pass on their costs (negative externalities) to taxpayers. But there is also a high-road strategy of: living-wages, health care, attainable retirement, pro-labor policy, shared prosperity, progressive taxation, and an actively engaged - on behalf of the citizenry - government. Let's take the high-road.

Weekend Reading

The End Of The 'Do-Something' Congress
Inside Americans For Prosperity's Scheme To Suppress Votes In Wisconsin
Rachel Maddow Reviews Nancy Pelosi's Accomplishments
Taking The Measure Of Rot

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Seeing Red

Speaking of communism...

It appears the real Red Menace - and true threat to our civilization, institutions, and any trace of an equitable society - took back a few levers of power Tuesday.

More soon.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Lean Efficiency (And Persistence) Of Private Sector Lies

More of the government is the problem meme from the Journal Sentinel in Saying 'yes' to change. As usual, more government bashing and the often parroted call for more efficiency in the public sector.

I've written before on this false idea that the private sector functions perfectly while the public sector is inept. It's an endless loop among the business-worshiping press about private efficiency and government waste. Somehow the S&L scandal, the stock bubble, the real estate bubble, AIG, Enron, WorldCom, Lehman, etc. seem to slip the media's memory. The corruption and inefficiency of the private sector is evident to anyone with their eyes open. All except the media and business leaders whom want to perpetuate the myth of private sector efficiency and know-how.

The Journal article starts off with Medicare and Social Security as two examples of ticking fiscal time bombs. First, put the Medicare issue into context. It's solvency, or lack thereof, is the result of runaway health care costs in America: twice as much per person than the next closest developed country (and those countries have universal care). Social Security is fiscally fine for decades. And, after that, if nothing in the program was changed, it would still be able to fund 80 percent of benefits. Simply removing the cap (on taxed earnings) from Social Security would resolve any possible issue from the program for the next century.

The Journal then flippantly states, "It's not difficult to understand why taxpayers are unhappy. Many believe they aren't getting their money's worth." But, yes, it is hard to understand. Taxes have not increased. They've actually gone down for 98 percent. The size of government has not grown. And, spending, even during our second worst economic catastrophe, has not exploded. If a good media were reporting the actual facts and providing truthful insight and information to the readers and viewers, citizens would understand and they wouldn't be unhappy. Well, they may still be unhappy, but they would see the Obama administration was doing good things, they would know their taxes were lower, and they would feel slightly more hopeful about the future. Rather than thinking the constitution was being shredded, taxes and spending are increasing, and the country was being run by a Muslim communist.

It takes time to turn around a near second Great Depression. The Obama administration has had success turning this around. We're not back at full employment, but getting there from over 10 percent unemployment in eighteen months is a pipe dream. More time, more stimulus, and the path we're on now will get us back on the road to prosperity.

The Journal ponders, "Tax increases may be necessary as well. But, let's reimagine government." We've been reimaging government for the last four decades. All we've accomplished is crumbling infrastructure, volatility for workers, increasing inequality, and a lower quality of life.

Listen, people, this isn't hard. Taxes must go up on the wealthiest among us. Enough of all the disincentive bullshit talk from the greedy hucksters! When taxes in this country were at their highest on the wealthiest, our middle class was created, one breadwinner could maintain family, our economy grew at its highest rate, and inequality was shrinking.

The knee-slapper of the article claims, "...applying 'lean' principles to government. They've worked in business." Ha, Ha! Um...no they haven't. Again, the evidence of financial chicanery, cooked books, corruption, incompetency, and profligacy of the past few decades by some of America's largest private sector companies is well documented. The efficiency of the private sector has been completely discredited. If we could just remove this paradigm from our thought- and decision-making processes, we could achieve more and better outcomes for everyone rather than a select few.

Down The Drain

Our water infrastructure desperately needs updating and maintenance. Yet, we have trillions for war and tax-cuts for the rich, but we simply can't spend on our infrastrucure. Or so the Republicans think and repeatedly tell us.

Can We Save America's Crumbling Water System?
The Corrosion of America

And, surely, when disaster does strike - when a community must go without potable water, due to a major breakdown, and the products which need such (food, drinks, etc.) - Republicans will blame Democrats for not investing in the infrastructure.

Infrastructure investments create jobs now and in the future. They lay the grid, so to speak, for everything we as a society do. Roads, water, sewage, transportation, and on and on.

So, remember this, years from now, when Republicans are complaining about debt and stimulus: deficit-financed spending on infrastructure is a wise and necessary investment. It also produces a huge bang-for-the-buck, especially during a recession. We need to be spending more on such investment now. Republicans can't keep having it both ways - complaing about stimulus spending and then taking credit for the positive outcomes of such.

The Fraudulence of Voter Fraud

With the election a day away, the following information debunking the voter fraud myth will, no doubt, be useful.

If Republicans don't get their way in an election, there was voter fraud, or the candidate isn't American, or...well, you get the idea. They always have some excuse.

Conversely, when they are victorious, the system works and the people have spoken.

The Cost Of A GOP Myth
Fraud Alert
The Great Voter Fraud Myth
The Myth Of Voter Fraud
The Myth Of Voter Fraud
The Republican War On Voting
Scant Evidence Of Voter Fraud
Voter Fraud Myth Persists
The War On Voting Rights