Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not About The Budget

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The People Are Not With You

The majority of e-mails sent to Scott Walker were against his dictatorial plans.

It's The Teachers' Fault...

that Wisconsin students are performing so well.

Wisconsin's teachers are successful. The anti-union, right-wing, pro-business crowd always talks about rewarding success or, as they phrase it, "Not punishing success."

Shouldn't they be defending teacher compensation as a rightful outcome of the teachers' success?

The Unemployment Crisis

Sometimes we borrow for things that make our lives better. Like buying a home, a new car, or new furniture. People borrow money to brighten their day, reward themselves, or for necessity.

Government, if needed, must deficit-spend out of not only necessity but out of moral obligation.

Certainly unemployment insurance, when necessary, is such an item.

And rather than discussing this properly, as an unemployment crisis, as a time for government to be spending and putting people back to work, we're trying to figure out how to make the unemployment checks for the unemployed even smaller.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lyin' Ryan

In a reoccurring 'why does the media present certain persons as experts able to comment on specific issues when there is clear evidence to discredit their ideas' theme of mine, the Journal Sentinel recently (yet again!) gave Paul Ryan a platform to purvey his platitudes and fallacious "ideas."

There is a lot about grandchildren, crushing debt, opportunity, job creation, and the usual Republican cliches which are spewed when they are trying to appear seriously concerned about governing.

He mythologizes right from the start, "Each generation applying our timeless principles to the challenges of the day, has worked to ensure that the next generation would inherit an America that was stronger, more prosperous, and more secure. "

What challenges have we met lately? Climate, poverty, unemployment, or health care? Wages for workers have stagnated since the 1970s. The economy has grown, but only a select few have shared in the bounty. We are involved in war, strifes, and turmoil all over the world. This flag-waving triteness appeals to our emotions, but it doesn't accurately portray reality nor give us the policies for a shared prosperity.

He goes on to inflate the notion of a vacuous "crushing burden of debt". Ronald Reagan tripled our debt, George W. Bush doubled it. Unbridled free market adulation, as practiced by the Republicans, has left this country increasingly in debt. So, sorry if I could care less when a Republican starts to feign seriousness when discussing debt. When they are cutting taxes and starting unnecessary wars, simultaneously talking about a lack of revenues for programs, and concurrently concocting new breaks and giveaways to business, the earnestness of their concern about debt is in question. Republicans are not serious public servants. But they are seriously organized in their devotion to the needs of their corporate masters.

Paul talks about unsustainable health care and retirement. President Obama's health care reform is predicted to save $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years. Yet Republicans are against these reforms. The Republican-favored 401Ks have increased instability in retirement. Plus, the most stable and solvent program, Social Security, is one right-wingers want to privatize. Here again, the supposed seriousness of the Republicans regarding these issues is in question.

Ryan even specifically states that whatever we do about anything, we cannot have policies that force citizens to reorganize their lives. Under no circumstances must American citizens be asked to change their behavior. We must not acknowledge the realities of: income inequality, the failure of deregulation and tax cuts, nor climate change. Consume all you can, drive whatever you like, and run-up your credits cards buying unneeded waste. Lead the disposable life because, now, you're the disposable American.

But, and this isn't debatable, we can't allow the government to govern in the best interest of the majority of citizens. Especially if it might affect the quarterly statements of the Fortune 500. This, again, shows Republicans' trivialization of reality.

He erroneously claims debt is discouraging job creation. Republicans seem willfully ignorant, and happy to pass on that ignorance, about the recession we're in. People are out of work, they don't have money to spend, therefore, demand is down. When people aren't buying as many things, businesses do not increase capacity. Right-wing, pro-business policies are a never-ending spiral of cruelty aimed at sucking every last productive gasp out of workers. A race ever-faster toward the bottom.

In a final spewing of desperation, Ryan blames retirees with decent health care and retirement plans for the trouble of our "proudest industries". This is top-down, class warfare, misdirection. The 'entitlements' of the working class are too onerous on business. A healthy workforce with the ability to retire after decades of service is too much. Absent from the discussion is the proper context which would include a deliberation about income inequality and the vast sums a select few of very well-connected persons disproportionately control. Harley-Davidson CEO, Keith Wandell, made $6.4 million in 2010. His one-year compensation is the equivalent of 134 median-earning union workers.

These aren't thoughtful policy platforms with the gravity necessary of each specific issue. This is the same old Republican snake-oil in its latest configuration. Don't buy it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Our Airwaves

Dennis Kucinich and Anthony Weiner get to the bottom of the NPR, public radio, public airwave debate. [h/t Crooks & Liars]

We Want Our Government Back

Turnabout is fair play

Recall Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans

h/t Crooks & Liars

Robbing Peter To Pay Paul

Scott Walker's idea of job creation is spending almost $17,000 per job to lure a marketing company from Illinois to Wisconsin. (Which achieves no net gain for the region.)

Rather than putting over $1 billion in investment to work - enabling rail, high-speed internet, and alternative energy (wind turbines) - our governor would rather steal from teachers and bus drivers to give handouts to a company to relocate.

This is bad politics, business, and governance.

For Further Reading:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Walker Doesn't Understand Basic Economics

From Dean Baker:

"It's always scary when someone in a position of responsibility doesn't understand some of the basics of their job. Apparently this is the case with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

In a column in the Washington Post this morning Walker noted that under his new compensation package for public sector employees in Wisconsin, workers in the state will still be paying a far smaller portion of their health care benefits than most workers in the private sector or federal employees. He then comments:

"It’s enough to make you wonder why there are no protesters circling the White House."

Actually, it's enough to make you wonder what Governor Walker could possibly be thinking.

Employer payments for pensions, health care coverage and other benefits are part of a total compensation package. It makes little difference to an employer whether they pay another dollar for health care or for wages. Public employees in Wisconsin had bargained for a compensation package that gave them lower wages than their private sector counterparts, but more generous benefits. Their total compensation package was still somewhat lower than for private sector workers with the same education and experience. When Governor Walker increased the amount that workers had to pay for their pensions and health insurance, he cut their pay pure and simple putting them further behind their private sector counterparts.

Governor Walker seems not to understand this simple fact. According to the logic of his column, a worker getting a salary of $40,000 a year with full health care benefits and an employer provided pension would be better off than a worker getting $200,000 a year and no benefits. Obviously this makes no sense. It would be good if one of Governor Walker's aides could explain this to him."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Capitol Idea

The Walker Recall Countdown billboard.

Private Delusions

A perspective from a Journal Sentinel reader, "With the elimination of most collective bargaining rights for most public employees, I'm starting to feel 50,000 hands slowly being withdrawn from my pockets, thanks to the brave actions taken by some brave Wisconsin senators doing their jobs."

And I'm sure this reader's pockets would be equally happy if police officers and the court system, fire fighters, schools and teachers, snow plow drivers, the sewers, clean water, parks, and waste management (to name a few of the services provided by public workers) were privatized and became even more costly.

As some cities who have privatized water and parking have found, the grass isn't always greener on the private side. The Legislative Audit Bureau, in a previous analysis, found that the majority of publicly-performed highway projects that had been privatized in Wisconsin would have been cheaper if they had remained public.

The answers to some obvious questions should discredit this notion of an onerous and inefficient public sector. Some data of tax incidence and a direct spending comparison with other states reveals this notion to be mythological.

Are taxes for public services taking a larger percentage of our income? Is spending really out of control? Are we spending a comparatively large amount? Is the size of the public workforce growing? And, are we spending more than other states spend for similar public services?
  • The number of state and local employees per 1,000 state residents was 8.2% below average, ranking 41st nationally.
  • Total government spending at the state and local level in Wisconsin was $570 (6.1%) per person below the national average in 2007-08.
  • State and local spending in Wisconsin in fiscal year 2008 was 4.4 percent below the national average when it is measured on a per capita basis.
  • Total state and local taxes were $40 per person less in Wisconsin in FY 2008 than the national average, and Wisconsin ranked 17th in that category (compared to 8th in 2000).
Wisconsin government size appears small. Spending is below the national average. Taxes were below the national average.

It has also been noted, government, in general, is cutting jobs at the fastest rate in 30 years. Spending is on the same trajectory it's been for over a decade.

As Audra Brennan, Wisconsin Department of Revenue, concluded: the Wisconsin tax system is progressive to proportional for 90 percent of residents, the progressive nature of the individual income tax makes up for the regressive nature of property and sales taxes, and business taxes have little effect on the overall picture.

The waste in government isn't the living wages, stable retirement packages, and decent health care for the public workers, it is in the corporate welfare, subsidies, tax cuts, giveaways, and the numerous other public gifts slyly called private sector incentives.

For Further Reading:

Better Ways To Spend $36 Million

From the Citizens for Tax Justice:

"On Sunday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an interesting article about the capital gains tax breaks that Governor Scott Walker is proposing in his biennial budget. The article’s title “Walker’s proposed capital gains tax break gets lukewarm backing” says it all. Capital gains tax breaks are costly and are extremely regressive because most capital gains income is received by the richest taxpayers.

Wisconsin already allows a tremendously generous 30 percent exclusion for capital gains income, which ITEPestimates cost more than $150 million in 2010. The Governor is proposing two changes to how capital gains are currently taxed: “a 100 percent exclusion for capital gains realized on Wisconsin-based capital assets held for five or more years and a 100 percent capital gains tax deferral for gains reinvested in Wisconsin-based businesses.”

If implemented, these changes would cost the state about $36 million over the next two fiscal years. At a time when the state is facing a $3.6 billion dollar shortfall, surely there are better ways that $36 million could be used."

Coverage & Context

There has been some of coverage of the protests in Madison. Not nearly the same amount as the Tea Baggers saw when they were bullying and disrupting town hall meetings, whilst also, oddly enough, being referred to as patriots by the FOX mouthpieces. Primary coverage of the union-killing legislation in Wisconsin to a broader, national audience has been left to Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Rachel Maddow, and Ed Schultz.

Right-wingers and other anti-unionists have claimed most of those in Madison are out-of-towners, others dismiss the protesters as a small number of individuals in a state of over 5.6 million. Although, it should be noted, over 1.4 million Wisconsin citizens are not eligible voters

Roughly 73 percent (4,136,000) of the total Wisconsin population is eligible to vote. Just over 15 percent of Wisconsinites are represented by a union (380,000). Which means, 9 percent of eligible voters have a direct (economic) interest in opposing the Scott Walker's agenda. And that doesn't take into account that directly-linked union workers also have a wife, husband, voting-age children, a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister. You get the idea. There are a lot of other people who have benefited from having a unionized family member.

When it's all said and done, many eligible voters are directly or peripherally linked, and thus, have a positive opinion of unions. Which helps explain why over 60 percent of Wisconsinites polled support the protesters, and support collective bargaining. As more have discovered the "details" of Walker governance, the majority wish they had voted for Tom Barrett.

Just considering those within or close to a union, that's a large base of voters to have consistently in your pocket. Democrats have traditionally garnered the steadfast support of the unions. Which gets to the heart of why Republicans want to destroy unions. This will weaken Democrats. And, ultimately, weaken the public sector and enable a more vigorous privatization schedule for public sector services and property by Republican politicians.

If allowed to succeed, Republicans could be putting us on the slow and steady road to the complete selling-off of public goods. Selling public lands and buildings, turning over public services to private cronies, and dismantling regulatory agencies. Back to the days of unfiltered and unfettered market fundamentalism, similar to the late 19th century, that frenzied time of speculation and accumulation which led to the Great Depression.

But (regarding the "they're out-of-towners and only a small number of people anyways" meme) if there were actually more Tea Party, anti-union, pro-Walker, etc. voters who really wanted this Walker agenda passed, why haven't they descended onto the Capitol and outnumbered the supposed out-of-towners and labor activists? Republicans know this isn't the case. Hence, they and their corporate-backers are left to use their money-advantage to flood the airwaves with highly misinformed and reality-distorting ads in support of Walker.

More Wisconsin citizens support collective bargaining than oppose it. Also, knowing what they know now, most Wisconsinites oppose Walker's budget and its draconian cuts. Thus far, even with the Koch brothers organizing and providing bus transportation, pro-Walker-ites have only numbered in the hundreds at any one location. Talk about a small number of people.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Right-Wing Fantasy & False Equivalence

Just a quick thought on something that's been bothering me in the media coverage and talking-points being thrown about in our political dialogue at this time.

The idea that certain people were elected, they have the power, they have the right to pass whatever bill they want. No questions asked. Just shut up and go along to get along.

Some even compare this to Obama's determined passage of health care reform.

Barack Obama ran on expanded provision and reform of health care. He didn't just make vague references about doing something with health. He explicitly stated his objectives and what he wanted.

Conversely, Scott Walker did only make vague assertions during his campaign to become Wisconsin governor. If he had said he was going to dismantle collective bargaining, privatize the University of Wisconsin-Madison, cut education funding by $1 billion, end shared revenue within the state, cut medical aid for the poor and working poor, end the state's recycling program, kill energy conservation programs, defund environmental agencies, and give away huge tax cuts and subsidies to corporate cronies, he would never have been elected.

Those claiming Mr. Walker is doing what he campaigned on are delusional, proliferating deceit, and full of shit. And that's putting it politely.

Getting Railroaded By The Rich

Recoiling Retirement

The Republicans seem hell-bent on a national plan to end collective bargaining, to shift away from pensions to 401Ks (even more so), and to kill mandated employer-provided health care. Specifically, regarding retirement, using the poor economy (as they've used in all of their "crisis" talk) as their springboard, we are told that pensions are antiquated and bankrupting states.

John Schmid, of The Journal Sentinel, gives the pension-killing details in Scott Walker's budget bill which helps move Wisconsin toward more 401Ks and less defined-benefit plans (pensions). The article is laden with dubious assertions and less-than credible quotations. But there are a few nuggets that can be extracted by discerning readers which reveal the stupidity of moving towards 401Ks and the falsity of the "crisis" argument.

One sentence gets to the heart of things, "But the recession and the ensuing government budget crisis have created upheaval of the sort that often leads to dramatic policy changes." This is a sweeping generalization and not really true. But it also get shows that Republicans have twisted a down economy into a "crisis" and are using it to push their ideological policies. We're in a recession. One would expect stocks, pensions, jobs, etc. to be down during such. As the economy recovers, so will retirement plans and stocks. To stretch this into a "pensions and collective bargaining caused this" mantra is demonstrably false.

I've have written previous posts explaining the mistake of moving toward defined contribution rather the defined benefit retirement plans. "The 401K originally came about as a 1978 congressional provision intended to offer tax breaks on deferred income; which tends to benefit wealthy individuals." So, not only was this originally initiated to primarily benefit wealthy people, 401Ks are especially volatile and subject to the business cycle. And, if you happen to want to retire during an economic downturn, think again. This also keeps more people in the labor pool, opening up less jobs, driving down wages, and increasing unemployment. But the Wall Street-types make fees off managing 401K accounts (lots of money), so Republicans - and their corporate masters - are happy, and not all that concerned with the stability of your retirement.

As Dallas Salisbury (of the Employee Benefit Research Institute) is quoted in Schmid's article,"If the market goes down, that's your problem. If it goes up you win. If it's enough to retire on, fine. If not, keep working." This is just what someone who has showed up to work everyday, been a loyal worker for 25 or 30 years, wants to hear right at the time they're ready to retire. This isn't a retirement plan, it's a game of craps.

We used to be in this together. We wanted to find ways to raise all boats. If one worker, or a group of workers, gained a right or benefit, we tried to expand this to all workers. Instead, led by Republicans, we are in a race to the bottom. Workers are forced to bicker amongst themselves and rally against other workers who have better benefits. If I can't have a pension, neither can you. If I can't make a living wage, neither can you. As Jonathan Cohn asked, "To what extent is the problem that retirement benefits for everybody else have become to stingy?"

As the National Association of State Retirement Administrators states, "The retirement security of working Americans presently appears shaky outside the public sector." Republicans want everyone's retirement to be shaky, rather than improving the stability - with pensions - of retirement for Americans.

This is yet another detail and example of why the fight occurring in Wisconsin, and many other states, right now is so important to the future of America and American workers.

Kevin Hall, at McClatchy, in an excellent article, details the absurdity and outright lies in the Republicans' assault on pension plans.
  • The short answer is that there's simply no evidence that state pensions are the current burden to public finances that their critics claim.
  • Pension contributions from state and local employers aren't blowing up budgets. They amount to just 2.9 percent of state spending, on average, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College puts the figure a bit higher at 3.8 percent.
  • The nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that retirement funding for private employers amounts to about 3.5 percent of employee compensation.
  • In 1980, 84 percent of workers at medium and large companies in the U.S. had a defined-benefit plan like those still predominate in the public sector. By last year, just 30 percent of workers in these larger companies were covered under such plans.
  • Two out of every three public-sector workers aren't union members.
  • Wisconsin's public-sector pension plan still has enough assets today to cover more than 18 years of benefits.
  • Since September 2008_ when state and local government employees numbered 19,385,000 and the economic crisis turned severe — the governments' payrolls shrunk by 407,000, to 18,978,000 this January, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. When calculating from December 2007 _ the month that the National Bureau of Economic Research determined was the start of the Great Recession _ state and local government employment has fallen by 703,000 jobs amid a downturn that cost the nation more than 8 million jobs overall.
For Further Reading:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Park It

Rob Henken, of the Public Policy Forum, has an op-ed about the "reality" facing our parks. He considers the maintenance and infrastructure needs, the cost of retiree benefits and county-wide administrative overhead, public/private partnership options, and closing certain amenities.

"What is clear is that the county's property tax resources no longer have the capacity to adequately support non-mandated services, meaning big decisions about the future of its beloved parks and cultural facilities are required. While other pressing issues facing our next county executive may have greater legal and financial implications, perhaps no other issue will attract greater passion from county residents," writes Henken.

This is a microcosm of the larger economic question we're facing. And, as usual, we're getting the cut, cut, cut answer. Our parks, like our wages, health care and benefits, could gain from increased taxes on the rich. Making the modern-day robber barons pay their fair share would solve federal, state, county, and local fiscal problems. But, for some sad reason (especially in a supposed representative democracy), the only option is more sacrifice from workers and citizens having to get by with and accept less.

The past few weeks in Madison should have shown us there is strength in numbers. In a democracy, we can have, and can afford, a good quality of life with the amenities we all enjoy. To paraphrase a another recent Journal Sentinel op-ed, You Heard It Here First: Tax The Rich To Solve The Park Crisis.

The idea that we are broke, that we can no longer have parks, that we can no longer have professional teachers and good schools, etc. completely mischaracterizes the situation and feeds into the conservatives' framing of this issue.

The idea that we must choose between Miller Park or good county parks, between a convention center or good learning centers (schools), or between any of the other false choices we are constantly fed is a BIG LIE! (And, if we did have to choose, schools and parks are more important to our quality of life than a stadium and a convention center.)

Milwaukee spends $59 per resident on our county park system. The data for 76 cities, as gathered by the Trust for Public Land, shows the average park-spending per city is $102. Our park acres as a percent of land area is 9.7%, the average is 10%. Whether it's baseball diamonds, basketball courts, community gardens, golf courses, ice skating rinks, dog parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, skate parks, swimmings pools, or tennis courts, Milwaukee County is near or below the average per resident among all cities studied. We still have a good park system, but it's barely hanging on. We don't spend that much nor do we have a bloated system as is, yet we should spend less?

Just because we have a bad economy (not a spending problem, and primarily caused by Wall Street) doesn't mean we should start selling off and/or dismissing public goods. The economic downturn is the culprit behind our budgetary woes. We are not spending too much. As David Cay Johnston states, "We have a revenue problem."

We can either roll over and allow corporate behemoths to ruin our public services and amenities, by usurping state and local revenues into their private accounts through subsidies, tax cuts, and other giveaways. Or, we can demand they pay they fair share to fund the goods and services that make all our lives better.

Even in the age of Citizens United, the Wisconsin 14 have shown us anything is possible. For those pushing austerity and cuts, I say, "Park it!"

For Further Reading:

Impervious Defense

Phony Legislation

Teachers & Wall Street

Midweek Reading

How Koch Industries Makes Billions By Demanding Bailouts & Subsidies

Still Inadequate

Scott Walker Proposes Union Compromise In E-Mails

The proposal sucks, as does the entire bill.

Wisconsin 14, stay away. April is right around the corner, along with numerous recalls.

How Jobs Are Lost

As Jon Perr makes clear, the last thing we need is more politicians that want to run government like a business.

"Ten years ago, George W. Bush was sworn in as America's first MBA President. Now, Mitt Romney wants to be the second. Two years after President Bush completed the worst economic record since Herbert Hoover, Romney the perpetual White House hopeful declared, "I spent my career in the private sector. I know how jobs are created and how jobs are lost." Especially, it turns out, the part about how jobs are lost."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Partisan A-Hole

These two headlines really show how disgustingly corrupt and bad for Wisconsin the Walker administration truly is:

This slug of a human (I'm using the term 'human' loosely), and his minions, can't be recalled fast enough.

We Have A REVENUE Problem

David Cay Johnston's latest completely discredits the Republican echo-chamber's mantra, "We have a spending problem."
  • Total individual income tax receipts fell 30 percent in real terms.
  • Individual income taxes came to just $2,900 per capita in 2010, down 36 percent from more than $4,500 in 2000. Total income taxes and income taxes per capita declined even though the economy grew 16 percent overall and 6 percent per capita from 2000 through 2010.
  • Corporate income tax receipts fell 27 percent and declined 34 percent per capita, even though profits boomed, rising 60 percent.
  • As a share of GDP, income tax revenues are at their lowest level since 1951.
  • The two-year growth rate [2010-2011] is almost one-third below the 3.6 percent average annual real growth rate for the half-century from 1950 to 2000, but it is better than the measly 1.6 percent growth rate from 2001 to 2009.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Private Sector Piracy

Great post from John Schmitt:

"Conservatives have tried to argue that the problem state and local governments face is that the public-sector employees have used union power to pull away from the rest of us. What has really happened over the last 30 years is almost the opposite. Since the end of the 1970s, the policy changes that got into full swing under Ronald Reagan have actually pulled the bottom out of the private sector. The public sector isn't pulling ahead --the private sector is falling behind the standard that it long provided.

As an example, the figure here shows the share of workers in the private sector and in state and local governments that have employer-provided health insurance where the employer pays at least a portion of the premium. In 1979, the earliest year of data available, the private, state, and local sectors were not far apart. (Then, as now, state and local employees tend to be older and have more education, two factors that are highly correlated with better pay and benefits.) Over the next 30 years, the health-insurance coverage rates remained essentially unchanged for state and local government workers. But, the share of private-sector workers with employer-provided health insurance fell more than 15 percentage points --from over 70 percent to just under 55 percent.


State and local workers have been much more successful at retaining their benefits than private-sector workers. They have made concessions, including paying a higher share of their premiums, higher deductibles, and higher copays. But they have largely been able to maintain coverage for themselves and for their families. Private-sector workers, however, have had the rug pulled out from under them --by private-sector employers.

The higher unionization rate in the public sector has undoubtedly played a role. Over one-third of public-sector workers are in a union, compared with only about seven percent in the private sector. But, the union role has primarily been to hold state and local governments --and the much smaller share of unionized private-sector employers-- to the standard that these employers met before the 30-year assault on the American middle class that began in the late 1970s."

Putting Budgets & Wealth In Context

We had $160 billion to give to 6 corrupt and insolvent banks. Those same banks paid their CEOs over $100 million collectively in 2009. The banks also spent over $24 million, combined, on lobbying in 2009. The bank and CEO examples simply illustrate the absurd context of this whole debate - the idea that no one can afford to pay for services any longer. The combined budget deficit of the states is roughly $125 billion for 2011. This represents .008% of the America's $15 trillion economy. And yet, the media, Republicans, and greedy free marketeers, have exploded this myth of a nationwide crisis in an attempt to pass even more oppressive social legislation alongside more regressive economic policies.

"Wisconsin's $3.6 billion shortfall represents 13 percent of state revenues, well below the average shortfall among all the states of 20 percent," as the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities reported. Hardly a crisis. Plus, tax revenue has actually increased 11.4% from July 2009 to September 2010. Putting the recently-available investment dollars to work could have added to this momentum, created demand, and increased purchasing power. This is what a recovery would look like. Instead we see an ideological zealot, Scott Walker, manufacturing a crisis to ram through a discredited partisan platform, which in no way qualifies as good public policy or good governance.

The New York Times has editorialized about Walker's hollow cry of broke. "Scare tactics[s] employed for political ends. A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more broke than a family with a mortgage or a college loan...Much [budget shortfall] is because the recession has driven down tax revenues." Even PolitiFact can see the whole "we're broke" canard for what it truly is.

As Andrew Reschovsky explains, "The benefit reduction in the so-called budget repair bill saves only $30 million. Additional revenue could be raised by eliminating any of a large number of exemptions, deductions, or exclusions from the Wisconsin tax system. Fees, underused in Wisconsin, could be raised. Wisconsin's budget woes are considerably less severe than those of many other states. As the best public sector workers leave, the result will be lower quality public services. In the long run, unless Wisconsin can retain a high-quality public sector labor force, the state's ability to compete in the global economy will be jeopardized."

Kelly Nolan reveals a few more details, "While Wisconsin does face a $3.6 billion deficit in its spending cycle over the next two years, that is equivalent to about 0.75% of its economic output over than time...Wisconsin's $1.8 billion deficits for fiscal 2012 is just 12.8% of its current fiscal year budget." For comparison, Illinois' deficit for 2012 is 45% of its current fiscal year budget. California's is almost 30%.

Mark Zandi's latest research warns that such cuts and austerity - as being proposed by Republicans on the federal, state and local levels - will derail the recovery. Proposals would reduce 2011 GDP growth by 0.5 and 2012 by 0.2 percentage points. This equates to 400,000 fewer jobs in 2011 and 700,000 less in 2012. Alec Phillips, economic forecaster for Goldmann Sachs, thinks the GOP plan will slow economic growth by 2%. Even the bankers know this strategy of cutting off our nose to spite our face is counterproductive.

These are policy choices. These are the reasons - fairness, social justice, equality of opportunity - we elect people to legislate on our behalf. That's what public service is supposed to be - service in the interest of the majority. Jon Perr found some explanatory data which elaborates the disconnect between opinion and actual economic interest, "The Census Bureau's 2011 Statistical Abstract shows per capita income and median household income is worst where GOP's laissez-faire crowd finds its strongest support." The Republicans have a lot of people fooled about whose side they're really on. As union numbers have declined this Republican manipulation has been increasingly effective.

Joe Conason reminds us of some of the rights we can thank unions for,"Law's provisions prohibiting child labor and mandating minimum wages, safe working conditions, overtime pay." He continues with some thoughts on the conservative worldview, "Their core belief is that the state should never interfere with capital...Their ultimate project is to return this country to the absolute dominion of the wealthy that existed before the rise of the Progressive Movement and the New Deal." Conason next outlines the connection between unions and quality of life, "The United States enjoyed a far better distribution of income and a steady improvement of our productivity and power when the labor movement was strong...As labor's power diminished, income and wealth skewed upward."

Sima Gandhi has a helpful list of corporate giveaways we could end and thus bring billions back into government's coffers to be put to more productive use and broadly-based benefit. Farm, oil & gas, timber, luxury items, and capital assets, to name a few. Again, there is plenty of money out there. Plenty of money for Medicaid, for Social Security, for pensions, and for living wages. We just need to redistribute it from the Haves to the Have-Nots. This involves getting money out of politics and unions having a bigger seat at the policy-making table.

Union decline mirrors corporate tax revenue as a share of GDP. (Corporate tax revenue has fallen from 6% in the early 1950s to just over 1% today.) The government has collected less and less in taxes from corporations over the years, and this has occurred alongside an eerily similar decline in unionization. As labor has gotten weaker, corporations have filled the political gap and used that power to avoid paying their fair share. Of 19 countries, the average corporate tax rate of the U.S. ranked 15th. The continual drum-beating for more corporate tax cuts as some sort of panacea is at odds with reality. The neutered revenue-generating ability of the corporate tax, and its already comparatively low burden, make the pleas of the right-wing for more cuts, as the solution to our problems, a blatantly selfish slap to our collective face. Even more so when they're doing this while also telling working Americans they have to pay more and get by with less.

For Further Reading:

Another Way

The Center for American Progress has a new report, "Restoring the link between economic growth and the earnings of workers so that the recovery re-establishes a prosperous middle class could help reverse the economic disparity in our nation and restore prosperity for all."

Our Built Environment

A great new report from the New America Foundation underscores the need for government investment in infrastructure, the importance of it for business and individuals, and the costs to us all from ignoring or underfunding its maintenance and improvement. "These costs reduce efficiency and impede economic growth."

Walker's Privatization Debacle

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The Great Republican Overreach

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Republican Bullshit

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Unions: Important For Everyone

Ed Schultz explains why unions are important for everyone.

Taxes & Spending

The latest from the Wisconsin Budget Project:
  • Wisconsin went from 15th highest in 2000 to 27th in 2008 in state and local general revenue per capita, and from 13th to 23rd in total spending per capita.
  • Total government spending at the state and local level in Wisconsin was $570 (6.1%) per person below the national average in 2007-08.
  • In direct general spending, Wisconsin was $345 (4.4%) below the national average in per capita spending.
  • Total state and local taxes were $40 per person less in Wisconsin in FY 2008 than the national average, and Wisconsin ranked 17th in that category (compared to 8th in 2000).
  • On a per capita basis, Wisconsin ranks 46th in federal revenue, 17 percent below average.
  • The number of state and local employees per 1,000 state residents was 8.2% below average, ranking 41st nationally.
  • State and local spending for public employee payrolls was 9 percent below the national average and ranked 33rd.
  • State and local spending in Wisconsin in fiscal year 2008 was 4.4 percent below the national average when it is measured on a per capita basis.

Just Sayin'

We can't tax the rich. One is shouted down for even mentioning it.

Yet, as Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson remind us, "Of course, the wealthy do not want to pay higher taxes. But during the economic expansion and Wall Street bubble years of 2002–07, the average incomes of the richest 1 percent of households rose by about 10 percent per year, more than three times that for all households. The richest 1 percent received fully 65 percent of all household income growth between 2002–07."

Pension & Retirement Reading

The Collapse of Secure Retirement

Leaf Me Alone

Megan McArdle feels vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt could be a "colossal misjudgment". The sales of these vehicles have been down over the last month. Now gas prices are rising. If they can't sell well in this environment, they're "green elephants".

Does Megan know we're in a recession? Car sales, overall, are down.

Sometimes people really do twist the data to (incorrectly) validate their views.

The Untouchable Complex

Robert Scheer points out the hypocrisy of the budget cutters and deficit hawks. Over half of all federal discretionary spending is military spending. Cutting this is always off the table for Republicans (and most Democrats, too).

Hung Out To Dry

Dave Obey interjects:

"Virtually every pressure in today’s economy is pushing workers’ wages downward. The only pressure pushing in the opposite direction is the ability of workers to stand together at the bargaining table."

Everyone Lives In South Dakota

Among the usual "insightful" comments found in the Your Opinions section of the Journal website, recently I've seen one creeping up more often than it should. The idea that raising taxes on the rich will just cause them or their business to move.

One specifically (Rich won't pay, firms will move) was in response to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee history professor Marc Levine's op-ed.

The commenter makes such ridiculous statements as, "Here in the real world only people pay taxes, not businesses." This idea stems from the belief that all costs are passed onto the consumer. But taxes on business, more accurately, reflect the amount of value the services and infrastructure provide to their business operation. Just because corporations are, strictly speaking, legal entities, that doesn't absolve them from being positive social members. After all, if corporations want to be involved in politics like an individual, they should pay their fair share, just like working individuals do. They're already gouging their customers and exploiting their workers, shouldn't they give a little back?

Businesses want to make a profit. That's understandable. How much of a profit that is needed or necessary is debatable. The market, as right-wingers should know, sets the price. If customers are only willing to pay a certain amount, that's all you're going to get. The equilibrium price - where supply and demand meet. But, the crux here is when we see companies making million or billions in profits and paying nothing or next to nothing in taxes (and also paying low wages). I think most rational people would say that company needs to pay more.

If someone is making millions in profits, or earning millions per year, and paying less in taxes than a waitress or a secretary is paying, and he/she would "pass on the costs" to their customers if their taxes were raised, they're not only greedy, they're douchebags.

Wouldn't it be nice if ethics, morality, common decency, or fairness entered into the right-wing, rational choice model once and a while?

Taxes are not the only factor businesses or individuals consider when they decide where to live, work, or start a business. New York has some of the highest taxes, yet it's also a financial powerhouse and world-city that is home to Fortune 500 corporations and some of the worlds richest people.

Second, if taxes has such power to push and pull people, everyone would live wherever taxes were lowest. If corporate taxes mattered to such an extent, all business would locate in Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, or Wyoming, where there is no corporate tax.

I long for the day when everyday citizens remove their heads from the corporate world's rectum and start acting in their own economic interests.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Inequality Acceleration

Heads, You Lose; Tails, You Lose

Public workers must feel pride knowing they have become the scapegoats and pawns in Scott Walker's partisan tantrum.

Our Media Sucks!

Union leaders are well-paid, and unions tend to support Democrats. (And huge corporations pay their leaders even more, way more, while they also have more money and spend that money supporting Republicans. Just like the Koch brothers are supporting Scott Walker and his union-busting agenda right now by running advertisements for him, as they did during his campaign.)

The Journal Sentinel just recently "discovered" Democrats and unions are often on the same side of issues?

Maybe the Journal could analyze their own Data on Demand and report on the huge amounts of corporate welfare Wisconsin taxpayers fund. They could also look into the compensation for the executives at some of Wisconsin's largest companies (which are often also the same ones getting welfare).

But that would show what joke this whole budget battle is. It would expose how cruel and misinformed the intentions of Scott Walker and the lapdog press are, like the Journal, with their continual repeating of such drivel.

We could just tax the ultra-wealthy more, cut corporate tax loopholes, or get rid of many unnecessary exemptions.

But that would be too easy, and fair.

So much easier to attack the unions and public workers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Weekend Reading

GOP budget cut could trim 200,000 jobs

Just A Bunch Of Slobs

Hopefully all of us protesting "slobs" will do all we can to recall Wisconsin state senators.

Educate Yourself

It seems Scott Walker not only wants to end collective bargaining, his implicit goal is to destroy education in Wisconsin. He has declared that our educational system will bear the brunt ($900 million) of his draconian cuts.

The answers to this falsely-framed debate are rather obvious if one wants to open their eyes rather than entrenching their ideological blinders. The Wisconsin "crisis" is a completely political, Walker-manufactured fiasco.

It has been shown that union workers' wages and total compensation are lower than their private sector counterparts. Unionized workers only represent 10% of the workforce. To say that, on average, public sector workers make more, is a gross overstatement and terribly misleading considering there are millions more low-wage private sector workers dragging down the private sector average. When comparing equally experienced and educated workers from each sector, public sector workers make less, excluding those with a high school degree or less. Today union workers are slightly more educated than the overall workforce.

The context the right-wing and the media are feeding us, when it's all boiled down, is that people with more education and experience shouldn't be paid their "market" value because they are public workers. This is purely political and ideological. I thought these right-wingers were "market" guys and gals? If they really were they'd be calling for increased compensation for the undercompensated public workers.

Specifically, regarding education, we need to ask: Are Wisconsin educators making more than similar educators in other states? (We already know they are not making more than similarly experienced and educated workers, in general) and, How well are Wisconsin students doing?

If the costs are similar to most other states, or the national average (per capita - controlling for population), we can safely assume we are not overspending. More so, if our costs are comparable AND we have good outcomes (graduation rates, SAT scores, etc.), we can confidently say we have an efficient and effective educational system.

The National Education Association's latest research indicates, "The average salary for Wisconsin teachers has dropped to 23rd nationally, down from 21st one year ago. That is the lowest ranking going back to 1963, the oldest data on record. The average salary, which includes annual step increases for longevity and lane changes for educational attainment, was $51,264. Fifty-two percent of Wisconsin teachers hold master’s degrees and the average teacher has 16 years experience. Once ranked 15th, teacher pay was capped in 1993 and has fallen ever since. Where teachers once received 103 percent of the national average in pay, they now receive only 93 percent. In the last decade, real earnings for Wisconsin teachers declined by 2.3 percent. Teachers earn less today than they did a decade ago. Wisconsin ranked 46th nationally in salary change, with 45 states experiencing larger increases in income. Wisconsin ranks 30th nationally on starting pay, lower than teachers in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota in the Midwest. Teachers in general have the lowest starting pay of any profession requiring a college degree. Wisconsin teachers today are in the bottom 40 percent of all states for starting pay."

About 75% of students graduate nationally. In Wisconsin, 90% of our students graduate. And, over the last decade, Wisconsin has seen a rising graduation rate. Wisconsin also scores near the top on the SAT, yet ranks only 18th in per-pupil spending. Robert Carini, Brian Powell, and Lala Carr Steelman have found that the presence of teacher unions is linked to stronger performance on the ACT and SAT. Wisconsin also scored above the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

It appears our teachers are not overly compensated (in fact, just the opposite is true). And, despite the undercompensated teachers, our students are achieving better than most. Cutting funding for and/or scapegoating our educational system as wasteful and underperforming is clearly wrong, shortsighted, and counterproductive.

This is yet another policy debate where the Republican emperor has no clothes.