Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Commercialization of Everything

Milwaukee Public Schools need to be open for business?

Because we are unable to raise taxes on corporations and the rich [because these same people own our government, they make sure the representatives never introduce legislation that decreases their wealth], MPS must beg and plead with the wealthy to pay for our schools, to donate money.

Having our public education system dependent on the whims and altruism of corporate and commercial interests is a recipe for disaster. Not only is it the marketization of education, but it is also a completely inappropriate commingling of consumptive excess (corporate sales objectives) with an captive audience (students).

It would be much better to simply tax these organizations and allow the proper entities to decide on budgets, spending, and programs for the schools. Rather than allowing our schools to become corporate public relations extensions and our students to become (even more so) consumptive zombies, lets maintain public control of one of the most copied and admired institutions Americans have created - our public school system.

Won't Someone Help The Rich?

Paul Krugman encapsulates the Republican mindset and the bubble within which they live:

"But my take is that what we’re looking at is the closing of the conservative intellectual universe, the creation of an echo chamber in which rightists talk only to each other, and in which even the pretense of caring about ordinary people is disappearing. I mean, we’ve been living for some time in an environment in which the WSJ can refer, unselfconsciously, to people making too little to pay income taxes as “lucky duckies”; where Chicago professors making several hundred thousand a year whine that they can’t afford any more taxes, and are surprised when that rubs some people the wrong way. Why wouldn’t such people find it completely natural to think that the hurt feelings of the rich are the main consideration in economic policy?"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Can't Raise Taxes? Millionaires Will Move?

Do higher taxes cause millionaires to leave? Jon Shure and Ezra Klein say, "No."

Republicans: Blatantly Corrupt

Scott Walker and his Republican cronyism has run amok.

Walker has now appointed, as register of deeds for Marinette County, "a Republican campaign worker with no experience with land record and vital records."

The article goes on to note, "He [Walker] passed over three candidates with detailed knowledge of how the office of the register of deeds works, including two deputies who have worked in the office for years."

This is a disgrace! Is it any wonder the government seems to function less-than-efficiently under Republicans? Republicans don't like government, they belittle it every chance they get, and, when they're in power, they appoint people who know nothing and have no interest in governing.

Recall Scott Walker!

Keepin' It Classy, GOP Style

Wisconsin Republicans offering alcoholic beverages in attempt to get citizens to sign recall petitions.

A Failed System

CEOs "earn" [my quotes] 343 times more than typical workers.

Why again can't we impose higher taxes on the outrageously wealthy?

As Chrystia Freeland writes, Capitalism is failing the middle class.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Here's To Your Health

Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire solves our most immediate budget problems. Health care costs pose the long-term dilemma if allowed to inflate along the current path. But, with unemployment hovering near 9 percent, this is not the time to worry about debt or inflation. Nor is it the time to attempt to debilitate our current health care reform which is aiming to control costs and cover more people. Peoples lives depend on us not worrying about asset prices right now. Getting people healthy and back to work will take care of price appreciation.

90 percent of American households have less than $10,000 in stocks. Thus, of those with a 401K or a similar retirement package (whose solvency is contingent on the up-and-downs of the market) most have less than $10,000 in that account. This isn't an adequate amount to retire on. The majority of the population is better off with affordable health care and the allowance of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. They need a job and health care! They can't even contemplate retirement at this point.

The master revisionists have hoodwinked the American people yet again. Republicans have transformed Wall Street's follies into a government-caused catastrophe. Budget problems, in their narrative, are the fault of public workers. The reality is that continual tax cuts and ever-increasing health care costs are the culprits in a steadily decreasing American quality of life for the majority of citizens.

Health care cost inflation has steadily outpaced salary increases. Factoring in general inflation, alongside these increasing health care costs, workers have been losing ground for decades. We've heard a lot lately about entitlements and workers needing to pay more for their health care and retirement. The truth is that workers have been paying more for health care. And, for too many its been too much. Burdensome health care costs are the largest cause of bankruptcy.

Compound this with the fact that the U.S. spends nearly $2,500 more per person than the next country (Norway) on health care and its clear that our managed health care system is very inefficient and needs reform. Almost half of health care spending treats only 5 percent of the population. Just under a quarter of all spending treats only 1 percent of the population.

For all of the health care dollars we spend, the U.S. is among the worst in infant mortality and deaths from medical errors, and among the lower half in life expectancy. The percentage of health care that is publicly financed in the U.S. is also among the lowest among OECD countries. Nearly 45 percent of health care is financed publicly in the U.S.. The average for the other OECD countries is 73 percent. The only other country to publicly spend less than 50 percent is Mexico.

The average OECD country spends 9 percent of its GDP on health care. The U.S. spends the most - 16 percent of our GDP goes toward health care. Poor to mediocre results, limited coverage, and explosive costs - the hallmarks of U.S. health care - are what we get for almost one-fifth of our GDP. Americans should consider this an international embarrassment. That we allow so many to go without health care, whilst simultaneously allowing others to egregiously profit off health care misfortune or necessity, Americans should be ashamed and want our health care system improved.

President Obama's health care reform was a good step in the right direction. But until we remove the middleman - insurance companies - from the equation, or at the very least, more heavily regulate what they do (service provision requirements and cost controls), we will see waste and inefficiency. Nevertheless, there are many admirable reforms in the health care plan which deserve proper implementation to gauge efficiencies. The adopted health care reform is projected to save money over the next decade, cover more citizens, and would actually cost millions to repeal.

Now is not the time for austerity. We are merely making the poor, working and middle classes suffer needlessly on the cross of the free marketeers with continual budget cuts for education, transit, local aid, environmental protection, regulation, and other efficient public services that benefit all taxpayers. Voters electing Republicans with the hopes of tax cuts leading to a wonderland of worker-prosperity are biting off their own noses to spite their faces. The Reagan-era of deregulation and tax cuts has decreased our quality of life - stagnating wages, destabilizing retirement, and increasing inequality.

It's time for the government to provide the health care, jobs, and retirement security that the private sector just can't seem to accomplish. Ratings agencies, insurance companies, and other tax cut zealots be damned!

For Further Reading:

An Unreliable Messenger

Let's remember this is one of the same agencies that was rating mortgage backed securities and other special investment vehicles as class A bonds, which then led to our economic collapse.

Are they really concerned about American debt and quality of life?

For Further Reading:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palin & Breitbart's Alternative Reality

This posting from Crooks & Liars should keep every Wisconsin leftist agitated and active until we've recalled all Republicans in the state, especially Scott Walker.

Doing Wisconsin

Scott Walker has shown he is an unwavering party-line parrot in his latest Journal Sentinel op-ed. If platitudes, false economic ideas, and revisionist history are your preferred path back to the promised land, Scott Walker in your man. On the other hand, if you are part of the reality-based society, Scott Walker and the Republicans' plans for our government and society are horrible.

Walker starts by spouting off about a positive environment for job creation. He conveniently ignores the billions in investment and thousands of jobs he has lost and pushed away. He then spews the well-worn "lawsuit abuse" line of the right as yet another positive change for the business environment. Another blatant giveaway to business, since frivolous lawsuits are a minuscule to nonexistent issue.

Next, he boasts of the change of the Department of Commerce to a quasi-private organization as somehow being a catalyst for job creation. He doesn't mention that we have such organizations already. Why haven't they worked? Why will Walker's millions poured into this duplicative venture produce any different results? This is simply a less-transparent vehicle through which Republicans can funnel money to their cronies and their projects.

He then goes on to confuse and misconstrue budgeting and basic economics. He talks of "balancing the budget" "without raising taxes" and without "a drastic reduction in services." Again, why can't we raise taxes on the extremely wealthy? If the only option is to cut spending, the only outcome can be a drastic reduction in services. We all must do with less because a select few very wealthy people need more and more.

Walker also uses the tired comparison of government budgets with household budgets. He claims government is running up massive debt while expecting our kids to pay for it. This fairytale conveniently ignores the fact that Wall Street and market fundamentalists collapsed the economy. So, the government is wrong to try to clean up the mess private sector made, and the private sector and their ideology aren't at fault for destroying the economy?

Scotty's next claim is, "We strengthen public safety, reform education, provide a safety net for needy families and children, protect seniors and honor our veterans." Since his budget cuts funding for all these constituents, his claim that these services are being strengthened is an elaborate delusion. A great example of the classic Republican strategy of doing one thing (with obvious results) and claiming exactly the opposite has happened.

Near the end of his regurgitation of Republican talking-points he states that his reforms will make government work better. Just believing this will apparently make it so. Sadly, the history of Republicans policies has resulted in horrendous outcomes for the majority of citizens. The anti-tax, less-government crusade of right-wingers has made U.S. citizens lives more volatile, not less.

He closes by repeating his claim that he will create 250,000 jobs, control government spending, and reform government. And that all sounds fine and dandy, but he never specifies how he will do any of this or why he believes it will work. I guess less government and tort reform are all Wisconsin needs to turn the economy around. Again, it appears just believing it and repeating it will make it so. It's time we throw these discredited Republican "ideas" into the trash bin of history where they belong.

Ending Bush Tax Cuts Would Repair All Budgets

The Bush tax cuts are the largest contributor to our budget deficits. The next most responsible culprit is the Great Recession. Deficits would be cut in half over the next decade by just letting the Bush tax cuts expire. Plus, once the economy is again operating near it's potential, revenues will increase accordingly, wiping out much of the rest of the deficit.

It should be no surprise that the top 1 percent has captured a disproportionate amount of the income gains over time. We've basically told the majority to go without wage increases, health care, or solid retirement accounts, so that a select few could garner more and more of our economic pie. And, it's not just a coincidence that this redistribution has occurred alongside the decline of unionization. As our majority (those not in the uber wealthy 1 percent) has lost a strong collective voice fighting for better wages and benefits, the majority of us have been steadily losing ground.

Although I may disagree with some of the bailouts, low-interest loans, and preferential treatment to banks and insurance companies, the economy under Obama has steadily improved. Our GDP has increased and the private sector has been adding jobs for fifteen consecutive months. And, although government spending was necessary to fill the gap left by the lack of private sector demand, our spending and revenues (though still facing a gap) are converging, slowly, as the economy improves, making their way back into balance.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Charter School Riddles

Susie Madrak asks (what more should be asking), "If charter schools are great, why are they riddled with fraud? Why don't they produce better results?"

Nowhere Else To Go

Peter Schiff (as evidenced in the video below) is leading the "treasuries doomsday" scenario. [The idea that the Chinese and other nations will suddenly dump U.S. Treasuries, lowering the dollar, spiking interest rates, and causing stock prices to fall.] Reality isn't quite following his preconceived economic paradigm, so he's manufacturing his own delusional storyline to make his world right again. And, he's hoping you believe it.

The Fast Money host directly discredits Schiff. But Peter wouldn't hear it. Peter's world is what he wants it to be.

We can't make good policy or get it passed when one side of the argument won't even deal with reality. The U.S. isn't flooding the world with money. (An oft repeated claim in the echo chamber is that the U.S. is printing boatloads of money. Thereby, devaluing the dollar.) The Chinese don't actually own that much of our debt. We don't need the Chinese for low interest rates.

Following the initial Fast Money segment, Paul Krugman and Peter Barbera then, also, dismiss Schiff and his unsupported tales.

More Tax Graphs

And, check out this list of corporations with the most untaxed income.

Taxes & Budgets in Graphs

Ryan's Private Savings

We often, as of late, hear Republicans telling us, "Even if we raise taxes on the rich, it won't solve our budget problems." Yet, Jon Stewart shows (in a good visual) that simply allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would solve nearly all of our budget problems.

The Republican Brain

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The One Percent Solution

"In the fourth quarter, profits at American businesses were up an astounding 29.2 percent, the fastest growth in more than 60 years...The median pay for top executives at 200 major companies was $9.6 million last year. That was a 12 percent increase over 2009." writes Daniel Costello. When was the last time a public or private sector everyday worker saw a 12 percent yearly raise? The national average wage in the U.S. in 2009 was approximately $41,000. Median weekly earnings were $747. The average U.S. worker makes .004 percent of what the typical executive makes.

Gretchen Morgenson revealed the large disparity between American CEOs compensation and their non-American counterparts. Statoil, a two-thirds Norwegian government-owned company has outperformed Exxon since 2001, when Statoil went public. Helge Lund, Statoil's CEO, made $1.8 million in 2010. Rex Tillerson, Exxon's CEO, received $21.7 million in 2010. The disparity is money that should be reinvested into the company or dispersed at dividends to shareholders. Maybe this is why some of our American companies are underperforming...too much money wrapped up in bloated executive pay, rather than bolstering the company.

The wealthiest Americans are plundering and pillaging the globe accumulating gratuitous amounts of money. As our infrastructure crumbles and the impoverished starve, the uber rich sharpen their skills at avoiding taxes and garnering more wealth.

"The top 1 percent has increased its share of total income to more than 20 percent today from about 10 percent in the 1960s," notes Nancy Folbre. The bottom 90 percent have been clobbered. The uber rich have crushed wages with the threat of outsourcing and have, thus, also been able to effectively redistribute the gains of their workers' labor into their own compensation. The company is more productive because the workers do more (productivity has been increasing), not because of decisions made by the CEO. Yet the CEO is claiming all the gains of the workers as his/her own.

We have heard the apologies and the revisions about the economic collapse. There is talk of onerous regulation. Republicans have continually whined about President Obama being mean to business.

Yet, those same banks that collapsed the world economy, as Jeff Madrick describes, "The six largest financial institutions in the U.S. now account for 55 percent of all banking assets." We're just continuing our march toward an even more extreme concentration of wealth. Republican laissez faire policies brought us a near-Depression. And, it seems, all we've learned is that spending must be cut and it's all the fault of public workers. Quite the switch-a-roo the Republicans have pulled here.

Tax the top 1 percent. This is nothing punitive. The 1-percent will still have more money than the other 99 percent. This is moral. It is only asking that they pay their fair share. The one percent solution - taxing the top 1 percent - is the most equitable, simple, effective way to solve any and all budget problems we face.

Kucinich Decimates Walker

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

No Rest

"Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks
Goin' someplace there's no goin' back
Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin' round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin' for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin' in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
But where it's headed everybody knows
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' downhere in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad"

Unemployment versus Debt

Why do the Republicans continue to speak of a crisis of debt? Of fiscal challenges?

Our ability to obtain cheap money is not a problem. Interest rates are lower than they ever been. If we need money, it's there. The idea of "debt" implies we've splurged and broke the bank. That's not the case. The U.S. is still a very safe and attractive currency as a pillar of value. Rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage are the lowest they been in over 50 years!

We've got money. We need to spend it. We need to invest.

Unemployment is at almost 9 percent! Nearly 10 percent of our American workforce is being idly used.

We've had the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. Which was largely caused by Robber Barons, Wall Street, and CEOs. The same people that have up-ended the lives of people all over the world and crashed the economy, not just in America, are the same ones making profits hand-over-fist (AGAIN!) and, also, according to Republicans, must not be increasingly-taxed on some of their ill-gotten gains and asked to pay more?



Public workers?

Make these [Robber Barons, Wall Street, and CEOs] lazy, greedy bastards pay already!!!

Is this country asleep?

Rage Against The Machine - Wake Up (Live) by popefucker

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wisconsin Class Warfare

Scott Walker's budget recommends a nearly 29 percent reduction in spending. Yet, for his priorities, he wants the state to borrow $75 million to combine the museums of state history and veterans into one 200,000 square foot building. Walker also wants almost $119 million to replace the Department of Transportation's headquarters.

Another Walker administration aim is ending cost-benefit analysis of outsourcing public work. The free marketeers already know that the private sector does everything better. There is no need to do such an analysis when it is already known that the private sector will do it more cheaply. (Actual Legislative Audit Bureau analysis regarding outsourcing highway projects has found the majority of work would have been cheaper had it been completed by public workers. Facts be damned in the Republican world!)

Much of Walker's anti-union rhetoric has been used to fuel a privatization push of public services. The classic Republican implication of private being good, public being bad. And, for Republicans, unions, specifically, are always bad. Yet, as Richard Florida discovered, "Unionized states are better off economically than non-unionized states. They are correlated with higher incomes across the board. Unions are associated with the country's economic winners, not its losers. The basic facts that unions are positively associated with so many key measures of prosperity suggests that their existence has little to do with state budget problems."

Walker would also like to cut funding for local roads by 10 percent, end the residency requirement, end recycling, slash the earned income tax credit, and eliminate the cap on voucher schools. These are just a few of the atrocities in a completely terrible budget.

Walker is also, now, seeking $150 million for a Hiawatha rail upgrade. After turning down over $800 million for rail upgrades and improved lines earlier this year, Walker now wants some of that money back to do some of the things it was initially offered to Wisconsin to accomplish.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has found Walker's budget would increase spending by 1% over two years. For all the talk of reductions in spending, it appears the Walker budget merely shuffles spending around, taking from programs for the poor and working-class, and giving tax breaks and handouts to Walker's political cronies. As citizens we should understand this, Republicans pay back their biggest campaign contributors - business.

The Institute for Wisconsin's Future has some facts that contextualize the current policy debate about our fiscal "crisis", taxes and spending, and budgets.
  • State and local spending is 25th out of the 50 states.
  • In 2009, we spent below the U.S. average per capita on public health, police, parks, and public welfare.
  • The state budget deficits is only 12.8% of one year's spending - median among the 50 states.
  • Current state taxes are at a 25-year low as a percent of state income.
  • Corporate income taxes are 12% below the national average.
  • Middle-income families pay twice as much of their income for property taxes as the wealthiest 1%.
  • Every $1 invested in public infrastructure generates $1.38 in growth.
Ezra Klein gets to the heart of Republican policy-making, "I'm not saying Republicans don't care about poor people. But so far, their policy proposals don't. And you can't chalk it up to an appetite for sacrifice, because for all that the GOP is asking from the poor, they've fought hard to protect the rich from having to make any sacrifices. So far, it's been program cuts for the poor and tax cuts for the rich. It's a disappointing set of priorities."

How do these conservative priorities play out across the country? The 10 states with the lowest median household income are red states. The states with the worst health care systems are red states. The highest divorce rates - red states. The highest teen pregnancy - red states. The fewest college graduates - red states.

As Uwe Reinhardt explains, "Americans have granted themselves a series of generous tax cuts, all the while driving up government spending. Unable to finance the resulting federal deficits fully from domestic savings, borrowing from foreigners was used to fill the gap."

"At just 15% of gross domestic product, the total U.S. tax bill is now at its lowest level since 1950," informs Perrspectives. Jon Perr also writes of a Bureau of Economic Analysis study, "Federal, state, and local taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century."

Our taxes are historically low, yet everyday workers are feeling the pinch and either going into debt to keep up or going without, while much of our taxation appears to benefit only the top 1 percent.

In an excellent article, Tony Pugh details the failure of incessant tax-cutting, "States cut taxes in hopes of spurring economic growth, but in state after state, it hasn't worked. State corporate income taxes have fallen as well. Once nearly 10 percent of all state tax revenue in the late '70s, they accounted for only 5.4 percent in 2010." In the same article, economist Timothy Bartik notes, "If state and local taxes were at the same percentage of state personal income as they were 40 years ago, you wouldn't have all these budgetary problems."

The Economic Policy Institute has found that, "U.S. productivity grew by 62.5% from 1989 to 2010, far more than real hourly wages for both private-sector and state/local government workers, which grew 12% in the same period." We're working harder and longer hours, producing more, but our wages are not keeping up with our productivity. The Economist chronicles, "Between 1947 and 1973, the typical American family's income roughly doubled in real terms. Between 1973 and 2007, however, it grew by only 22%, and this thanks to the rise of two-worker households." This country is increasingly becoming, as Joseph Stiglitz describes, Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.

Bill Maher summed up our class warfare in his final New Rules segment. Basically begging Americans to wake up and realize the inequity we are allowing by voting for Republicans and their unfair policies. The country is not broke. We, working Americans, are simply punishing ourselves by cutting the government and allowing the rich to take more and more.

Scott Walker's budget continues this Republican-led initiative of enriching a select few at the expense of many.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Contracting Inequality

The hypocrisy Republicans have towards contracts is astounding. Especially coming from the party that is so concerned with the constitution and law. [They're really not, but they like to say they are.] Michael Steele represented this warped view recently on Rachel Maddow. The typical line they use, paraphrasing, "Those [worker] contracts were negotiated in better times. We shouldn't have to honor those in bad times." Yet, in the next breath, when defending capitalism and the corporate world, Republicans have the nerve to say, "If we don't pay [CEOs] top dollar, we can't get good talent. Plus, they were promised such compensation, bonuses, etc. [contractually], so what can we do?"

Paying teachers, professors, health care workers, and other public workers low wages will have no effect on their performance, nor the type of worker attracted to the position. But with CEOs and executives just the opposite is true. At least that's what Republicans want us to believe. And, it's the $50,000 a-year worker that's causing our budget problems. It has nothing to do with low and non-existent corporate taxation and their CEOs making millions of dollars per year.

So - bargaining and contracts are good for the rich. But, if you're just a unionized worker, or a worker not high up enough on the ladder and your company is not entitled to a big bailout, you're on your own.

And, the Republicans continue to try and spread the lie that unionized workers make more than their private sector counterparts. This has been debunked recently in numerous studies.

To believe the Republicans on these issues is to agree with a completely delusional paradigm, falsified by reality.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Ryan's Dope

It's Time for Representative Ryan to Man Up

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Our Banana Republic

Walker re-introduces debt restructuring plan. [h/t Annie K.]

"The biggest piece of the proposal Walker introduced Wednesday is debt refinancing that would save $165 million."

The Republican echo chamber continually spewed about fiscal crisis in Wisconsin. Yet, simply refinancing debt is the biggest saver in the budget plan?

Sounds more like the "crisis" was just good old political posturing to me.

And, Democrats are already out selling the sanity of this milder Walker budget plan?


Maybe if Dems want to get their policies passed they should stop playing these juvenile games with Republicans. Speak to citizens like adults and call-out Republicans on their posturing and unproductive processes.

It turns out, the collective bargaining-stripping in the Walker agenda is not even necessary to balance the budget. (As overheard on NPR.) I believe it was the State Legislative Reference Bureau which forecast the numbers showing that excluding any consideration of collective bargaining's demise, we would already balance the budget.

This is a Republican-manufactured crisis intent on Republican-party cronyism, and Democrats need to stop goose-stepping alongside Republicans on this.

Weekend Reading

When standardized test scores soured in D.C., were the gains real?