Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hotel Milwaukee

The Journal reports the Mayor is urging the Preservation Commission to approve the Marriott hotel downtown. I've seen no impact analysis or even mention of the ancillary costs, expected income stream, a need for additional hotel beds, additional service needs, really nothing of substance as to why this is a can't-miss investment.

And, if we're making a leap of faith and saying we need this, is it really too much to ask that the structure keep its historic facade?

Preservation is a sense of past, of our history. It is what makes a place special. It is why New Orleans is New Orleans, Savannah is Savannah, Charleston is Charleston, etc. Simply building something, growth for growth's sake, mimicking ever dime-a-dozen development scheme sprouting up across America does not a niche make. Nor does it provide a locality with a sustainable attraction.

The Preservation Commission wants the developers to keep the facades of the historic buildings. A seemingly minuscule request in the greater scheme of things. But, of course, in our 'bend-over-for-business, markets know best, regulation is the boogey-man' world anything that is asked of business is portrayed as an affront to life itself.

Yes, by building a hotel jobs will be created. But, are hotel jobs an economic catalyst? I'd rather have the manufacturing jobs and spin-offs from the likes of a Talgo. Better paying, full-time, full-benefit jobs.

Yes, the increased value of the property will provide more property taxes. But, again, is this the jobs or development we need at this location? At this time? Are we so uninterested in our built environment that we will allow anything to be built anywhere without any boundaries? A third of the property in the city is exempt from taxes. Simply removing some exemptions could add millions in collections.

Yes, there is a fine line between guiding development and stifling it. Such as killing a link amongst a national train network, which benefits businesses and citizens, is stifling of development. Establishing parameters for a business that will take up a half-block, intrude into the downtown skyline, and be part of the downtown for decades to come, doesn't seem burdensome, but necessary.

Rules and restrictions are necessary in life as in development. If a low-tax, low-regulation structure were the end-all, be-all answer to our life, we'd all live in Mississippi. Nothing against Mississippi, but low taxes and nonexistent rules do not assure a glorious existence.

Employment Since 1990

The Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis metropolitan statistical area (MSA), since 1990, has seen a slight increase in nonfarm employees, stable government employment, and a continuation of the slow, steady decline of manufacturing (although, it should be noted, manufacturing is still a competitive advantage for Wisconsin, and our manufacturing sector's decline hasn't been as steep as many other metro areas.) The State of Wisconsin's employment in these same categories nearly mirrored that of the Milwaukee MSA.


The Commons

Thom Hartmann explains why a well-funded government is crucial to our society.

Corporate Cash

Corporate net cash flow and profits after taxes are back above their pre-bubble levels. The 'Obama has been bad for business' meme is pure drivel. The idea that corporations are short on cash is also fantasy. The corporate world has bounced back. They could be investing and hiring, but they are not. Government stimulus is still The Option during a recession.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wisconsin: A Nice Place

Looking at unemployment in Wisconsin, the Midwest, the Great Lakes Region, and the United States, we see that, comparatively speaking, Wisconsin has weathered this economic storm quite well. Wisconsin remained extremely viable during a horrendous economic downturn, as gaged by its ability to hold employment-decline to a minimum.

With unemployment at 7.6% in Wisconsin versus 10% for the Midwest, 9% in the Great Lakes Region and 9.5% for the entire U.S., Wisconsin has endured thus tumultuous time 17th best among the states and D.C.. We are doing some things correctly here in Wisconsin. For all the negativity and media-grabbing headlines, we need to remember Wisconsin is a great state to live in, and the state really does appear to work quite well, comparatively, for its citizens.




One indicator does not equate to nor denote a perfect world. Wisconsin is not at full employment. But, for all the mudslinging and vitriol swirling about the policy spectrum, this is one metric that we can at least say we're in the top third. Not the best, but far from the worst. So, we've admirably persisted through a tough time. Relatively speaking, we've done better than many other states. The work isn't done, but we have many positives to build upon.

Jobs Retort

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Growth That Wasn't

Wisconsin government employment and population growth followed the same trajectory from1990 to 2010. Thus -- this "explosive" growth in government employment we've been hearing about is bogus. Government employment merely tracked population growth.


Derailed

Another element of the story, from Milwaukee Rising. Rail moves more than just people.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Welfare & The Well-Off

Corporate Subsidy Watch

Milwaukee Parks

2011 Calendar

Greased-Palm Politics

A few nice reminders of the coup and capture being attempted by Scott Walker:



Public Employees

More bashing...

and corrections...




Really insane that this unfounded meme - the public sector is the cause of our problems - can gain such momentum. Glad to see some are providing correction and the actual numbers to this manufactured debate.

The Frauds

Paul Krugman lays these cranks bare, "Nobody in a position of influence within the GOP cares about deficits when tax cuts for the affluent are on the line. Deficit hawkery is just a stick with which to beat down social programs."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hoisted By Your Own Petard

Scott Walker loves to repeat his "I've held property taxes low" talking-point as some sort of validation and/or credibility for his (allegedly) superior vision and management skills. The County portion of property taxes were down 0.6 percent last year. The City's portion was down 2.5 percent, while the State was down 7.4 percent.

So, using Scott Walker's own logic, Governor Doyle and Mayor Barrett have an even better vision and even better management skills.

Public Appreciation

Grover Norquist, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, amongst many other conservative gasbags, are ramping up their efforts to belittle unionized public workers. They're selling their well-worn "privatization" snake oil as our savior; while blasting unions as our nemesis.

But, as I posted recently, aid to state and local governments is one of the five most stimulative spending initiatives the government can engage in. For every $1.00 invested in state and localities, $1.41 is returned. A very good bang for the buck.


Public workers not only provide services we all count on (even if they are rarely thought about or acknowledged by most citizens) but they also spend their earnings in their community - helping to create jobs, stabilize businesses, and support other economic activities.

As government has stepped aside over the past 40 years - with deregulation, less oversight, lower taxation, less unionization - we have seen a proportionate increase in inequality. More privatization and less government have been the trends pulling apart our society. To put this misguided strategy on steroids during the second worst economic downturn in history is suicide. If our goal is a continued concentration of wealth amongst a select few, this might be the way to go. If we'd rather experience a shared prosperity and increasing quality of life, we need government and unions to reassert their crucial role in our public dialogue and social contract.

The private sector, deregulation, the "business climate," the anti-tax cabal, and a host of other conservative "principles" have caused our volatile economy. It is time they stand-up and take responsibility for their actions. Where is their accountability? Their paradigm has handcuffed a generation with debt, low wages, no retirement, and no health care. And they want us to believe that more of this bogus worldview will, after failing for the past 40 years, suddenly, and finally, lead us to paradise.

The government and unions don't have all the answers. And, we can certainly find more efficiencies. We should remember this is true of the public AND private sector. But with government being the same size (when adjusted for population) as it was in the 1970s and with unions representing only 10 percent of the total working population, to keep blaming these two entities as the cause of all our fiscal problems is an exercise in elaborate delusion.

Unions and the government were largely responsible for the middle class. They enabled Social Security, Medicare, weekends, employer provided health care, pensions, labor and employment laws, minimum wages, workplace safety standards, amongst may other worker-friendly initiatives. As we've allowed more and more of the private sector to displace government and unions, we have seen a proportionate and precipitous decline in our quality of life, with an increasing amount of inequality.

This hyper-privatization, pro-business model has failed everyone but a select few. This is obviously not the answer. It's time we re-appreciate the public sector and the good that government can do for us all.

Our World In Graphs

Capacity Utilization

Rental Vacancy Rate

Home Vacancy Rate

Home Ownership Rate

Inventories: Total Business

Vehicle Sales

Retail Sales

Nonfarm Business Sector: Output Per Hour, Unit Labor Cost, Hours of All Persons, Real Compensation Per Hour

Household Debt Service Payments

Health Insurance Coverage: People Not Covered

Federal Government Debt

Consumer Price Index

Fixed Mortgage Rate Average

Treasury Bill: Secondary Market Rate

Treasury Inflation-Indexed Security

Bank Prime Loan Rate

Federal Funds Rate

Commercial Paper


Gross Domestic Product, Corporate Profits After Tax, Gross National Product, Federal Government: Current Expenditures, Real Disposable Personal Income, Federal Government Current Receipts, Personal Saving, Corporate Net Cash Flow, Personal Income



Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Employment Picture

The 4-Week Moving Average Of Initial Claims (unemployment insurance), released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), appears roughly 20 percent above the level it should be. (Under 350,000 is more typical for positive economic growth.)

Total Non-Farm Hires

Total Non-Farm Job Openings

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stimulating

Mark Zandi, of Moody's, has estimates of the most stimulative methods for igniting the economy.


Fiscal Stimulus Bang for the Buck

Source: Moody's Economy.com

Bang for the Buck

Nonrefundable Lump-Sum Tax Rebate 1.01
Refundable Lump-Sum Tax Rebate 1.22
Payroll Tax Holiday 1.24
Job Tax Credit 1.30
Across-the-Board Tax Cut 1.02
Accelerated Depreciation 0.25
Loss Carryback 0.22
Housing Tax Credit 0.90
Extend Alternative Minimum Tax Patch 0.51
Make Bush Income Tax Cuts Permanent 0.32
Make Dividend and Capital Gains Tax Cuts Permanent 0.37
Cut in Corporate Tax Rate 0.32
Extending Unemployment Insurance Benefits 1.61
Temporary Federal Financing of Work-Share Programs 1.69
Temporary Increase in Food Stamps 1.74
General Aid to State Governments 1.41
Increased Infrastructure Spending 1.57
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) 1.13

Note: The bang for the buck is estimated by the one-year dollar change in GDP for a given dollar reduction in federal tax revenue or increase in spending.

For Further Reading:

Sales Tax

16 states have a lower sales tax than Wisconsin; 30 states are higher. If we can establish an additional .1% tax for Miller Park, can't we do the same for parks, transit, and other infrastructure? In the 15 years the stadium tax has been around it has raised $338,843,508 --over $22.5 million per year. For each additional .1% on our sales tax we could raise over $20 million per year for various infrastructure and other projects throughout our state.

US State Sales Tax Rates - 2010
State
State sales tax rate (January 1st, 2010)%
Alabama
4.0
Alaska
nil
Arizona
5.6
Arkansas
6.0
California
8.25
Colorado
2.9
Connecticut
6.0
Delaware
nil
Florida
6.0
Georgia
4.0
Hawaii
4.0
Idaho
6.0
Illinois
6.25
Indiana
7.0
Iowa
6.0
Kansas
5.3
Kentucky
6.0
Louisiana
4.0
Maine
5.0
Maryland
6.0
Massachusetts
6.25
Michigan
6.0
Minnesota
6.875
Mississippi
7.0
Missouri
4.225
Montana
nil
Nebraska
5.5
Nevada
6.85
New Hampshire
nil
New Jersey
7.0
New Mexico
5.0
New York
4.0
North Carolina
5.75
North Dakota
5.0
Ohio
5.5
Oklahoma
4.5
Oregon
nil
Pennsylvania
6.0
Rhode Island
7.0
South Carolina
6.0
South Dakota
4.0
Tennessee
7.0
Texas
6.25
Utah
4.7
Vermont
6.0
Virginia
5.0
West Virginia
6.0
Wisconsin
5.0
Washington
6.5
Washington DC
6.0
Wyoming
4.0

Yes, sales taxes are generally considered regressive, but being that our options, politically, these days are limited, and, economically speaking, we have more wiggle-room than other states in raising our sales tax without it being a competitive disadvantage, it may be a simple way to generate some revenue which could ultimately improve our quality of life.

I'd prefer raising taxes on the rich and scrapping corporate loopholes and welfare, but that seems presently unattainable; especially with Republicans back in charge in Wisconsin.

For Further Reading:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nothing To See Here

Paul Krugman has a nice post dismantling the 'government employment growth' talking-point. Government grew after 1950. At the same time our society was becoming more equal and a middle-class emerged. Since the mid- to late-1970s "there has been no [government employment growth] trend relative to population." One could argue that this period of stable government employment has a direct link to our simultaneous rise in inequality. Less government equals more plutocracy. This 'government employment growth' (alongside public employee bashing) the Republicans speak of is a myth.

Employment & Unemployment

[Tables courtesy of Economagic]

Total Non-Farm Employment, Milwaukee-Waukesha MSA, 1990-2010

The metro area's employment grew roughly 5 percent over the period. A meager .25 percent per year. The MSA's population grew about 8 percent over the period.


Total Non-Farm Employment, Wisconsin, 1990-2010

State employment grew almost 20 percent over the period. 1 percent annually. The State's population increased almost 16 percent over the time-frame.


Unemployment Level, U.S. and Wisconsin, 1980-2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Undercompensated Public Employee

Public workers with a high school, some college, or an associates degree have average total compensation which is 6, 9, and 5 percent, respectively, better than equivalent private sector workers. All other categories of public worker suffer a compensation penalty when compared with their private sector cohorts. Overall, public workers total compensation is 3 percent less than their private sector counterparts. [Table courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute]


John Schmitt, of the Center for Economic & Policy Research, gives a breakdown of the educational attainment of public and private sector employees. One would imagine, since public sector workers are generally higher educated, that they would be compensated more, but they are not. "When state and local government employees are compared to private-sector workers with similar characteristics - particularly when workers are matched by age and education - state and local workers actually earn less, on average, than their private-sector counterparts. The wage penalty for working in the state-and-local sector is particularly large for higher-wage workers," Schmitt notes.
For Further Reading:

Napoleon Dynamite

Out little Napoleon sure has some wacky ideas. His latest scheme to "require the governor to approve all state rules and give citizens a chance to challenge rules in their local circuit court" is a recipe for gridlock. Better yet, Scott, why don't we just put every bill, proposal, idea and government function up for vote in a continual referendum? The polls will be open year round and every Saturday will be voting day for the issues of the week.

First, in running the county, Walker recommended that we just get rid of the county. Now, as governor, he's pushing for us to get rid of meritocracy altogether. Damn those agencies who think they can run their offices. The doctors at the Health Department don't know what they're talking about. Scott Walker knows better. The economists at the Department of Revenue are inept. Scott Walker knows what they need. Yes, this college drop-out has the knowledge, experience, and background to dictate every detail of every state agency.

And, with the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce behind the plan, you know something's fishy. Some of the "rules" might be regulatory or onerous for business. We can't have that. This plan will basically take the teeth out of all our agencies abilities to accomplish their mission and do their job (which, for some, is regulation and matters of public health).

Since Republicans control the legislature, it is obvious the only things that will get through will be the policies that benefit Republican cronies. Walker will only approve rules for passage which meet the requirements of his corporate paymasters. Agencies, presently, write their own rules and pass them on to the legislature. Now, Walker wants to look at each agency's rule changes, before they go any farther.

But, for Walker, overstepping his authority is just another day at the office. This ludicrously bold strategy pays off for Republicans. They always push the envelope with their initial requests and proposals. So, even when the Democrats put up their typically weak-willed fight, Republicans get more than they would in any sensible and logical world, and the outcome disproportionately favors Republican's interests. Too bad the Democrats can't grow a pair and use this type of "negotiating" to their advantage once in a while.

This is a ridiculously blatant, and in no way productive, power-grab which will undoubtedly decrease state government efficiency and bring any mission and/or regulatory improvements to a halt.

What's The Matter With Poverty?

What do the poorest counties in the U.S. have in common?

They're all red.

Midweek Reading

Neither School Nor Student Improvement With Vouchers

War On Workers

Are Journal Sentinel "journalists" not represented by a union? You'd think not if you read Pat McIlheran and his continual public-sector and/or union bashing. He complains about their health care and pensions. He claims union contracts are "ticking little time bombs."

Anyone selling snake oil, politicians included, needs a scapegoat. Looks like the media and Scott Walker already have theirs.

For Further Reading:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hexavalent Chromium

I guess we can add potable water to our list of (deferred) infrastructure projects.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Real Welfare Queens

What do the top ranking states - in Federal spending per dollars of Federal taxes - have in common?

They're red states.


The biggest "welfare queens", as far as states are concerned, are conservative states.

As Jon Perr details, Sarah Palin often rails against government (as most conservatives do) spending. She always (as most conservatives do) fails to mention that Alaska (ranking 3rd) is one of the largest welfare-queen states in the U.S. Alaska takes $1.84 from Washington for every $1 it sends there.

Another great example of the never-ending hypocrisy, and total delusion, of the right-wing.

[Wisconsin takes $0.86 from Washington for every $1 it sends there. 1 of 18 states, including D.C., which get back less than they give.]

For Further Reading:

Out-Of-Control Myth-Making

Government spending is out of control. It is increasing at an unseen rate. Right?

Wrong. [Table courtesy of Kevin Drum]


This is just more cyclical Republican political shenanigans. When they're driving the car, deficits don't matter. When Democrats are in power, spending is out of control. (Even when spending is following the same trajectory as it had during the G.W. Bush years.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sleep When You're Dead

Retirement costs for business, retirement costs for government, pensions, 401Ks, these will all be specific talking-points, of the general retirement-cost topic, thrown around by the Scott Walker administration in an attempt to dismantle Wisconsin's high quality of life for most residents (and visitors).

In preemptive George W. Bush fashion, I felt I should reiterate some earlier postings [linked] which nullify all the pension-bashing pablum (which is periodically leaked by the Journal Sentinel) we will soon see from Mr. Walker in his ploy to ignite the, already occurring, divergence of incomes amongst the grotesquely rich and everyone else in our state and society.

Oops, I meant his "vision" to: cut taxes, especially for business and the well-off (must take care of your masters); let you keep more of your money (that just sounds good); create all kinds of jobs (starting will killing $810 million in development); get rid of worthless government employees and all their wage and benefit costs; control health care costs by privatizing more of the health care system (even though we've been privatizing the system for the last 40 years and costs have been skyrocketing); and destroy unions once and for all, opening the floodgates to all the wonderful possibilities of an unadulterated free market.

How has this country - which came out of the Great Depression with a highly regulated corporate sector that worked for the benefit of all in society, a Social Security system, Medicare, employment and labor law, unemployment insurance, the highway system and numerous other infrastructure projects, the Wagner Act, and the National Park Service, to name just a few of our great accomplishments - done a complete 180 and is now buying this low-tax, do-nothing, screw-everyone-but-me philosophy of governance?

From the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s we prospered. Then, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, we experienced higher unemployment and a generally slower-growth economy. Because of this bump in the economic road, Republicans were successful in initiating their strategy of supply-side economics (our savior) to the rescue. After making all aforementioned gains in a relatively short period of time just beyond the Great Depression, we (voters) decided to turn our backs on an economy that lifted many from poverty, allowed access to health care, gave one breadwinner the opportunity to raise a family and own a home, established Social Security to enable a somewhat dignified retirement, and generally improved the well-being and quality of life for the majority of the population.

Health care costs are rising, wages are declining, and retirement is more and more out of reach (thanks to 401Ks). For those of you with a job, I hope you enjoy it. Something tells me, you're going to need it, and you're going to be working longer and harder for less. Which, of course, means you'll be working until you're dead. This is the "opportunity society" the right-wing is talking about. You have the opportunity of working like an indentured servant until you die, or not working and just dying.

Happy Holidays.

Segregated Perspective

The Journal sure does like to revisit the same story, year after year. In this case, I'm referring to an ongoing debate over the measurement of segregation in Milwaukee. Recent Brookings Institute research put Milwaukee, again, at the top of the list of most segregated metropolitan areas.

But, the Journal wants to introduce a caveat and take the Pollyanna route of reporting. Whenever the segregation issues arises, the Journal consults John Pawasarat and Lois Quinn of the Employment & Training Institute at UWM. They have their own model for measuring segregation. They feel the Census model is "racist". Their model shows although there is segregation in Milwaukee, it's really not that bad or that different from certain other metro areas.

Like many issues, it seems our media prefers to sugarcoat and obfuscate rather than report. Similarly they prefer just mentioning the lower unemployment rate, rather than the jobless rate. Things just aren't that bad, so stop being such a downer.

Again we're arguing over degrees of difference, rather than discussing and developing actions to alleviate segregation. This is a great sideshow, but it does nothing to integrate our economy and move us forward.

For Further Reading:

A Deliberately Obstructionist Body

Lets get rid of the Senate. It's an antiquated, inequitable entity that no longer serves any purpose other than obstructing the governance of our country.

For Further Reading:

Another Buried Lead

Charter school students score no better than MPS.

Oh, but wait...aren't charter schools Superman?

Not at all.

Yet, like supply-side economics, we keep pretending.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Republican Ownership Versus Shared Prosperity

The Journal Sentinel just can't help itself. Whenever our ultra-conservative pretty-boys have more inane babble to spew, the Journal is right there to disseminate such garbage.

Paul Ryan's opinions were showcased in, The choice: welfare state or opportunity society. A whole bucketful of right-wing talking-points are thrown at the reader. Ryan, of course, is hoping some will stick.

He starts by informing us that the past election revealed how voters "would no longer tolerate a government that grows too large, too fast." If that were the case, they should have been voting Republicans out of office years ago. Spending growth, over Obama's first two years, has followed the same trajectory as the last few years of George W. Bush. The whole premise is incorrect. Government has not been growing any differently under President Obama than under W. Mr. Ryan has also renamed W.'s "ownership society" the "opportunity society". I wonder if that is because he knows citizens can no longer afford to own anything, but they could possibly have an opportunity...some day.

Of course the Democrats are behind this mythical growth and why "our most urgent concerns go unaddressed." Mr. Ryan doesn't mention that his party was in control of the government over the past decade. Why didn't they restrain spending and deficits? Why didn't they improve health care? Where are all the jobs their magical supply-side economics creates?

Ryan then AGAIN starts promoting his plan for America. A thoroughly debunked steaming pile to rival any steaming pile. Paul Krugman, the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP), and Citizens For Tax Justice (CTJ) have all, point by point, completely discredited Ryan's delusional, business-friendly, market-oriented, typically Republican, "plan".

His next target is Social Security (SS). He is pleased we're looking into a way "to make Social Security sustainably solvent." One problem: Social Security is solvent! Completely solvent until 2037. After that, without any changes, it could pay 75-80 percent of benefits for decades. Any issue with Social Security is 50 years down the road, and it could be easily addressed by removing the cap on taxable income. Sadly, the 2 percent payroll tax holiday, in the latest round of negotiations, threatens future solvency (the payroll tax funds SS, among other programs) and doesn't provide much stimulus.

Paul also wants, "Hard caps on spending to help limit the growth of government and make an immediate impact on our ballooning deficits." He also thinks, "Lower tax rates are critical to economic growth." During recessions the only entity capable and/or willing to spend is the government. After trillions of dollars have been lost, along with millions of jobs, businesses nor citizens are going to rush to produce nor buy anything. And, empirical evidence shows there is no connection between low tax rates and growth. We grew better under Clinton, when taxes were higher, than Bush. Our greatest period of growth was the post-WWII era from the 1947 to the late 1973, when taxes were near the highest we've seen.

The next item to run the Ryan gauntlet is health care reform. Here Paul basically repeats the typical Republican lies bandied about during the debate and eventual passage of the health care reform bill. Again, he fails to remind us that Republicans haven't done anything for health care -especially to control costs - for decades. Bush's Medicare bill was a bribe to score senior votes, and it added billions in costs.

The talking points wouldn't be complete without Ryan mentioning the "explosive growth of government" casting "a shadow over economic activity" which worries "job creators" because of the unsure status regarding tax increases. For starters, a 3 to 4 percent tax increase is not that much; especially for those making over $250,000 per year (the top 1.5 percent of the population). Workers' wages have been stagnating for decades. The gap between their productivity and their wages has continually grown. Yet, I don't hear Mr. Ryan howling that we need to stabilize wages and purchasing power for workers. Second, businesses have more product than they can sell already. They are not going to hire more workers to produce more products that no one can buy. And, workers whom are underemployed or unemployed can't afford to spend.

In Mr. Ryan's district, the unemployment rate is hovering over 12 percent. Yet, Mr. Ryan was one of many who voted against extending unemployment insurance recently. As a Capital Times editorial remarks, Paul is too busy selling his snake oil and advancing his own interests to worry about his constituents.

Mr. Ryan closes by railing against (an imaginary) "Cradle-to-grave welfare state, in which more Americans depend on government than on themselves." For this to be true, unemployment would have to be over 50 percent of the working age population (benefiting from unemployment insurance) or the majority of the labor force would have to be employed by the government. Clearly, neither of these are reality. We can only assume hyperbole is being employed in this claim by Mr. Ryan, reaching desperately to make his point. Riling up the base, painting the false picture of America as a lazy, welfare-ridden country, with slouches garnering the majority of benefits from taxes.

Safety net programs accounted for 14 percent of the Federal budget in 2010. Still not the largest part of the budget, even during the second worst economic period in our history. It accounts for less of the budget than health care (21%), defense (20%), and Social Security (20%). We know his answer to health care is simply more privatization and deregulation. Defense, of course, is untouchable. The safety net programs have helped 15 million people stay out of poverty. A morally laudable task during these rough times. Surprisingly (not really), Paul doesn't have anything to say about tax loopholes, off-shore accounts, tax evasion, and other corporate welfare. Nope. Poor people are lazy bastards that must get it together. Wall Street and other well-connected crooks who simply bribed, threatened, and stole money from the government are beyond the scorn, and the attention, of the right-wing. Oddly the idea of limiting greed, corruption, tax evasion, and other nefarious practices of corporate America never enter the Republican equation for how we can fix budgetary issues.

He finished by repeating the Republicans' low tax, less regulation mantra, assuring us this is the foundation for growth. But just saying this, again and again, doesn't make it so. Higher taxes, government infrastructure spending, and tighter regulation brought the U.S. it's most prosperous and productive period ever. The supply-side experience has been a humongous failure. Workers are making less, retirement is more volatile, and health care costs have sky-rocketed. All this has occurred alongside growing inequality and a crumbling infrastructure. How can any one, after all this, still believe this emperor has any clothes?

For Further Reading:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Off Track

What is the Journal Sentinel editorial board smoking? On December 11 they proclaimed, Walker on right track so far on jobs. WTF?

Two days after the Feds officially strip Wisconsin of $810 million in aid, the Journal declares this to be the right track. I am flabbergasted.

How is killing $810 million in aid, the built infrastructure, the ancillary development, Talgo and its spin-offs, and the thousands of jobs at stake, "on the right track"?

In the same piece they were AGAIN promoting a report - Be Bold: The Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy- by Thomas Hefty (former CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield), John Torinus (of the Journal Sentinel and Serigraph Inc.), and Thomas Still (Wisconsin Technology Council). They're all about innovation and entrepreneurship. We need to prospect hard, initiate a vigorous marketing campaign. And, of course (like Scott Walker and all conservatives) they'd also like to see less regulation and and lower taxes.

I deflated this bold prospectus is a recent post (and in previous posts). Basically the supposed models (Indiana and Michigan) we should be following, the evidence behind their bold strategy, are baloney. I show, in numerous economic indicators, Indiana and Michigan perform worse than Wisconsin. Yet, we should adopt their strategies? This report and its promotion are bold specimens of snake oil.

Another bold move the editorial board loves writing about is changing the Department of Commerce into a quasi-private agency, funded by the taxpayers of course, but with less transparency (if the Indiana model is an indicator) and headed by private sector "entrepreneurs." Yes, the Department does nothing of value right now, or at least you wouldn't think so, since the Journal never actually writes about the Department's current mission, their budget, their accomplishments, etc. No, they're just part of the problem. You see, all and any government is a problem, and the more agencies we can make "more like the private sector" the better.

Truly amazing that in our current economic recession - foisted upon us by the innovators, entrepreneurs, speculators, businessmen, and all-around movers and shakers - that there are still hucksters selling this snake oil - of low taxes, no regulation, with taxpayer-funding. Now that the private sector has destroyed the economy and millions of jobs, we need to regulate them less, bring our public agencies under their leadership, yet still fund their speculative adventures with taxpayer money.

The Journal quotes Walker, "The state needs to put more energy into helping small businesses that are already here to grow and less on trying to draw large new employers to the state." On this we agree. I'd much rather see smaller, neighborhood incubators than artificially constructed, exit ramp big box developments. The sad thing is, a rail network connecting dense developments, of small businesses amidst our larger cities throughout the state, is now further off than before thanks to Walker turning down $810 million in aid. A better strategy is helping native businesses, but not to the extent it hurts other similar business, no matter their size. We must also encourage and entice outside business, big or small, to fill a niche markets or crucial economic linkages within the state. We definitely need to get away from the blackmail-saturated development such as Mercury Marine, Harley Davidson, and Miller Park, to name a few.

The editorial board also favors Walker's push for "tax relief, easing the regulatory burden, and tort reform." All ridiculous, base-riling fodder. Taxes are the lowest they've been in half a century. Our steady deregulation over the past three decades significantly contributed to our current economic woes. Tort reform is a minuscule cost; hardly the burdensome issue the right claims it to be. Three red herrings not worth mentioning in any serious discussion of policy prescriptions or cost controls. But, for the Journal, these are three more issues where Scott Walker is taking bold, courageous, and necessary positions. And they want to do all they can to help spread this [misleading and trifling] message.

More appropriately the Journal should have pronounced, Walker off track on jobs and clueless about what to do.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

There Once Was A Middle-Class...

Scott Walker is preemptively, and in what has become a repeated talking-point, attacking public workers for his soon-to-be governorship. An often-regurgitated, yet false, mantra of Walker and his minions is that public workers haven't sacrificed. (And he and the Journal continually repeat this lie in article after article hoping people will accept it.) To believe this, we'd have to forget pay freezes, layoffs, furloughs, paying larger portions of health care costs, and even terminations have occurred. He would like to see workers pay 5% of their pension plan, rather than zero, and pay 12% of their insurance premiums, instead of only 4 to 6%. He'd also like to see unions completely disbanded and outlawed. But that's the end game, he's willing to take baby-steps to get there. If he and the Republicans have to destroy the middle-class to do it, so be it.

The Journal Sentinel prints many stories every week, bellowing on and on about each and every one of Walker's hair-brained ideas as if they were good policy, well-conceived, or plausible. In most cases, none of it passes scrutiny. It's just more of the tactic of appealing to the lowest common denominator - emotion and anger - of the base. Getting the base riled up with talk of killing the train, standing up to unions, getting government off of businesses backs and, of course, lowering taxes.

The Journal tells us, the public is "fed-up." And, they use a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (a thoroughly discredited pro-business, anti-labor group) poll to prove it. To the extent the public is "fed-up," it is only so because of the continual efforts of the Journal Sentinel and groups like WPRI spreading lies and causing (unwarranted) resentment towards unions. No matter the facts, regarding their unwavering attacks on unions, the Journal believes, "It's justified."

The Journal also wants the public sector to be more "flexible." This is jargon for being able to fire workers at a moments whim. What we really need to be a successful, sustainable, consumer nation (according to the Journal Sentinel and business blowhards) is for workers to be easily fired whenever they start making a living wage. Cheap, low-wage work, in this diabolical worldview, is the key to our shared success and prosperity.

Pushing again for the partial privatization of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, the Journal Sentinel parrots Walker's business-friendly talking-points. I've addressed this ill-conceived privatization scheme previously. "As evidence for the need for the new agency initiative, the Journal notes, Wisconsin, 'once in the top twenty in per capita personal income...had fallen to 27th by 2008.' (Wisconsin in the 20th most populous state.) They then talk of how such agencies help turn things around. They cite Indiana and Michigan as evidence of such positive experiences. Michigan is the 8th most populous state, it ranks 26th in per capita income. Indiana is the 16th most populous state, it ranks 37th in per capita income. The unemployment rate in Wisconsin is 8.5%, it's 10.1% in Indiana and Michigan. If we look at median household income, Indiana ranks 32nd, Michigan 30th, and Wisconsin 21st. GDP change between 2006-2008 was -0.6 in Indiana (ranking 41st), -1.5 in Michigan (ranking 47th), and +0.7 in Wisconsin (ranking 27th). They are performing worse than we are, yet we should follow their lead?"

Almost on cue, where would we be if Pat McIlheran didn't have something biased, ludicrous, and wrong, as usual, to say. He finds Scott Walker "electrifying." He feels Walker is correct going after public sector labor costs because "that's where the money is." He doesn't mention nor contextualize the fact that labor is also what creates wealth. The unionization of workers simply allows them to collectively bargain to obtain a fair proportion of the gains of their productivity. Something we should support for all workers. A fair day's pay for a fair day's work. The McIlherans, Walkers, and Republicans of the world would rather see workers with less rather than tighter profit margins and smaller compensation for CEOs.

As Walker growls, "We really need to get public sector wages and benefits under control." Of course the Journal throws this out there as accepted fact. No context, no data, no questions asked. Therefore, accepting such a blanket generalization must mean Wisconsin has higher union representation than other states, the labor costs must be a massive share of the annual budget, the costs must be rising disproportionately compared to our cohorts, and wages and benefits must really be out-of-line when compared to private sector workers with the same age and experience.

But, as the evidence shows, none of this is true. Wisconsin has a 15 percent unionized workforce versus a national average of around 12 percent. Hardly an overly unionized labor sector comparatively speaking. As the Wisconsin Budget Project discovered, only 12 states had a leaner public sector than Wisconsin. "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... Government employment across the U.S. has grown slightly since 2000, but has declined in Wisconsin... State and local spending for public employee payrolls was 9 percent below the national average and ranked 33rd... 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." Keith Bender and John Heywood have found that when public and private sector workers, in the same industry, with the same education and experience are compared, public workers earn less. Plus, over the last 20 years public workers' earnings have actually declined relative to their private sector counterparts.

The Journal also passes the buck regarding their support of Walker for governor and his colossal rail screw-up. Their bad press and weak and/or nonexistent support for the rail project heavily influenced voters and their antipathy toward rail. Yet, in their warped minds, the failure was the fault of rail advocates. "Rail advocates need to do what they can to make sure the opportunity comes around again - and to more convincingly make their case." The Journal, the largest paper in the largest city in the state, couldn't do anything to help make the case for rail? Maybe if the Journal lobbied for rail as much as they do for Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, and the right-wing's middle-class killing policies we wouldn't have to hope for a second chance for certain opportunities.

Comically (though I'm sure not intentionally) the Journal quacks, "If there is one thing Walker has shown in his tenure as county executive, it is an abiding intolerance for the failures of business as usual." Yes, Scott Walker likes to fail, continually, in his own delusional, illogical way. How special.

For Further Reading:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don't Be A Jackass

The Rarest Creatures

Go Bernie!

8 hour 37 minute filibuster.

Easing Economic Efforts

The Journal Sentinel continued its march to make Paul Ryan's economic spewings seem important and credible with Ryan leads opposition to Fed's economic efforts. The Federal Reserve recently bought $600 billion Treasury securities - quantitative easing. This action, in theory, helps keep interest rates low (although they're already really low), injects money for, hopefully, increased lending, and devalues the dollar, which is good for exports.

Creditors, generally, don't like such actions - it devalues their wealth. It's often good for debtors, as it lowers the cost of their debt. In tough times, like we're in, this is one of the last tools in the Fed's arsenal to boost the economy, priming the pump, so to speak.

But, because it's an action taken by the Government (well, in this case, the Fed) it must be bad, according to Paul Ryan and Republican logic (wait, is that an oxymoron?). For Republicans, monetary policy should only be concerned with price stability (a primary concern for the Haves) - a low, predictable rate of inflation - which translates into stable asset prices. They're not really concerned with full employment (a primary concern for the Have-Nots) - trying to make sure there are enough jobs for everyone who wants to work.

Such an attitude is typical of those with a blind faith in trickle-down. Always maneuvering to help the owners of capital with the belief it will benefit us all. Real-life experience has shown this is a fantasy. Yet right-wingers still cling to and claim their vision, their supple-side dogma, is the path to the promised land. And, apparently the Journal feels this is a credible opinion to continually interject into our discussion regarding the economy.

Now that $810 million of investment in Wisconsin has been lost due to Scott Walker's idiocy, any help the Government can inject into the economy is appreciated by those of us with even a slight awareness of the hardships many U.S. citizens are facing. We are in the second worst slump this country has faced in its history. This in no time to protect prices for the uber wealthy while imposing austerity on working citizens.

For Further Reading: