Friday, July 31, 2009

The (Ex)Governor's Goonsquad

Bill O'Reilly uses a comment from Bill Maher to smear lefties and to claim Sarah Palin did a good job for Alaska.

O'Reilly claimed Sarah Palin had a "solid performance" and ran Alaska fine. As far as Alaska is concerned, O'Reilly feels because Sarah left with a 54 percent approval rating [a year ago it was 86 percent approved, it is actually down to 47 percent now] she indisputably did a great job. This selectively ignores the facts - she has numerous legal clouds hanging over Alaska, the state is a huge welfare recipient, and Palin quit 15 months before the end of her first term. Is this what she was elected to do? Quit before her term was over?

Based on the precipitous decline in her approval rating, it appears the majority of Alaskans do not feel she has done a good job for Alaska.

And, O'Reilly asserts her intellectual credentials are just as impressive as all those elitist Ivy League liberals because she went to the University of Idaho (one of four colleges she attended). No one is claiming she is stupid because she went to Idaho. People claim she is stupid because they have heard her speak. As Mark Twain said, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

There really is nothing to this. It's just another one of those oft-used, right-wing ramblings linking unrelated subjects, then springboarding that into one of their familiar rant themes: Liberals (the supposed slur for Democrats) are mean, smarty-pants, out of touch, tax-and-spenders.

This is just inciting anger into listeners that do not know any better. He is playing up the caricatures the right-wing has created. [You know] those elitist, latte-drinking, Volvo-driving liberals. There really is no point to this type of reporting other than riling up the base.

I can't believe some of the things these talking-heads say, do they seriously believe the vitriol they speak? The more I listen to O'Reilly and his cronies, I'm starting to think they don't believe it either. They are just salesmen. (Snakeoil salesmen, but salesmen nonetheless.) They're just doing their job: inciting fear and anger to attract viewers moved by the lowest-common-denomiator emotional pleas and invective, and trying to sell books. Spewing anger and hatred is quicker and cheaper than doing actual research, trying to add something constructive to the discussion, or trying reach a compromise and find solutions to issues facing us.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rate of Change in Total Hours Worked

Want to know when we're out of the woods, so to speak, regarding our current economic doldrums? Here's two good posts (1 and 2) about an illuminating indicator.

Job Creation

Pandering to small business (along with every other interest group) seems the politicos present modus operandi. They promote small business as a massive engine of job creation.

But, as Dean Baker notes, "There had been some debate in the 90s about whether small businesses were responsible for a disproportionate share of job creation. While this is true, small businesses are also responsible for a disproportionate share of job loss. Most small businesses only survive a few years. As a result, small businesses on net, create new jobs at roughly the same rate as larger businesses."

For Further Reading:
Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation
Small Biz No Job Machine
Small Business Are Big Job Losers

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pathetic Palin

Since Sarah Palin has such disdain for the Media (FOX, you don't count), maybe the Media should stop covering any/every thing she does.

Palin is one of the most incoherent speakers ever given such a national platform and megaphone. Somehow she is also mentioned as a front-runner for 2012. This is all very scary and sad, and should be especially embarassing to Republicans.

Her hyprocrisy, half-truths, delusions, broken English and utter nonsense are dumbfounding, to say the least.

She hates government, yet Alaska is the biggest welfare state in the United States. She hates the media, yet never passes up a chance to give a speech or do an interview.

She cares so much about Alaska and the U.S., she's quitting the governorship with 15 months left in her term, because of the [...wait for it...] mean, bitter partisan attacks she and Alaska would have to endure over that "lame duck" time-period.

So anyone whom is unpopular, facing tough choices and criticism at your job, should just quit. What a leader!

For Further Reading:
Palin's Welfare State
Welfare State

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Super Steel

Milwaukee has a company - Super Steel - that actually produces train cars. We are one of a handful of cities that do not have, nor are we planning, a rail system. We are in tough economic times with a need for jobs and catalytic economic projects. Why are we not fostering and promoting this local comparative advantage (Super Steel)? Super Steel should be building train cars for a regional light-rail network as we speak. This would lead to clustering and agglomeration economies (peripheral activities/businesses connected to this project). It would lead to increased employment and establish Milwaukee's future viability for business and residents. This is a perfect stimulus project with job, infrastructure, and long-term transit, business, and regional implications. What have we been waiting for?

For Further Reading:
The Magnitude and Causes of Agglomeration Economies
State to Purchase Two Trains From Spanish Company Locating Here
State Touts No-bid Deal With Spanish Firm
Transport Investment, Agglomeration and Urban Productivity

Super Steel Could Build Trains Without Jeopardizing Contracts

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Right-Wing Health Care Plan: No Reform Needed

Could Paul Ryan's opinion-piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel be any more disingenuous regarding health care reform? He suggestively questions, "As we move forward with reform, should we shift the decision-making power to the federal government, or should we look to empower the patient and the doctor?"

The patient and the doctor did have power until HMOs were allowed to dominate the system. The right-wing cabal was more than happy then to allow these private insurers to get between the doctor and the patient. And this has been largely responsible for the skyrocketing costs, less-than-stellar outcomes, and the large number of uninsured.

Now we're supposed to believe they are genuinely interested in reversing this?

Costs were not a problem for the Republicans when they pushed through Bush's Medicare Prescription Plan.

Also, their "rationing" talking-point doesn't hold water either.

The most important thing to remember in this debate is that as long as private insurers are involved, our health care will be compromised.

For Further Reading:
A Short History of Health Care
Bad Policy, Bad Medicine
Health Care Crisis and What To Do About It
Health Care Rationing Rhetoric
Private Health Insurance Is Not The Answer
Revised Estimated Cost of Drug Plan
The Reality of Rationing
The U.S Has Been Rationing Care For Years
Why Markets Can't Cure Health Care

How Quickly They Forget

It was only five years ago the Republicans wanted to amend the constitution to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to possibly become president. Where were the Birthers then?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Unemployment Rate

Using BLS seasonally adjusted unemployment figures, here’s a look back at the performance of the last 4 administrations:

Reagan – From January 1981 to December 1982 the unemployment rate increased 44 percent. Over Reagan’s entirety the unemployment rate decreased 28 percent.

Bush 1 – From January 1989 to January 1993 the unemployment rate increased 35 percent.

Clinton – From January 1993 to January 2001 the unemployment rate decreased 43 percent.

Bush 2 – From January 2001 to January 2009 the unemployment rate increased 81 percent.

For those keeping score (from best performance to worst):

1. Clinton
2. Reagan
3. Bush 1
4. Bush 2

President Obama has seen a 25 percent increase in the unemployment rate over his first six months in office.

Minimum Wage

Readings on the minimum wage:

America's Well-Targeted Raise
Economic Debate Over Minimum Wage Effects
Minimum Wage and Its Effect on Small Business
Minimum Wage History
Positive Effects of Minimum Wage Increase
Raising Minimum Wage Doesn't Cost Jobs
The Minimum Wage and Unemployment

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama's Birth Certificate

The "Birthers" must not have home computers, or they are just too ignorant to do a web search. Luckily, I can. Here's the certificate and further proof. Now, please, Birthers, shut the f*#@ up!


Lou Dobbs and his ilk feel Obama must produce the authentic certificate (whatever that is) - the certificate of live birth just won't do - to get this "noise" out of the way. The certificate Obama has produced is no good. The fact that the governor of Hawaii, the administrator of the hospital, the Hawaii health director, and others (whom else do they need to hear from?) have vouched for the fact Obama was indeed born in Hawaii, all of this is irrelevant to the Birthers.

And, the gaul Dobbs and these morons have - to feel that whatever dumbass idea or conspiracy theory they're obsessing on, the President must address it to their satisfaction. Yes, right now the country needs nothing more than Obama proving he's not a socialist, nor a muslim, was born in the U.S., loves babies, and thinks the flag is pretty.

Could the anti-Obama crowd be any more ludicrous? Oh, all of you "professionals" in the Mainstream Media, keep up the shitty work by continually putting these nuts and this waste of time on the public airwaves.

As usual, Jon Stewart covers this ridiculousness beautifully.

Thom Hartmann on Taxes

Thom Hartmann has an excellent article delving into the history of U.S. taxes, who pays and who benefits, and the economic volatility associated with different periods. A great read.

Media-created Misinformation

Why do networks present Liz Cheney's opinion? Because she's the daughter of Dick Cheney? It seems the more illogical, nasty, and delusional the Republicans get, the more the media presents their opinions as viable.

The Republican party should be the laughingstock of anyone whom overhears their irrational suggestions. They call Obama a communist, they feel Sarah Palin is on par with FDR, the want to do nothing to fix health care, they would like to see more programs cut (especially Medicare and Social Security), they are against increasing the minimum wage, the stimulus (only months in) is already a failure, and they are against anything that helps everyday workers at the expense of the uber wealthy. They are the antithesis of public servants.

Hopefully this country will get its collective head out of its ass and stop listening to and giving credibility to these cranks on the right.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Road Warriors

WOW! I almost need a staff just to stay on top of and respond to all the misinformation and unenlightened opinions of Pat McIlheran at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. (And, it should be noted, John Torinus' falsehood-spewing isn't far behind.)

Pat follwed up his last bit of nonsense with more of the same, Radical old idea: Let us move around.

In the latest expounding of obliviousness, Pat pushes for extending the Lake Parkway all the way to southern Oak Creek. Is there any problem more highways will not solve for these guys?

McIlheran then runs through the typical gamut of right-wing, development, talking-points: the automobile represents freedom, no one wants to ride the train/light-rail, and building on green space is cheap and therefore preferable.

His description of Pat Jursik's, Milwaukee County Board member, idea for this highway expansion is "revolutionary". In today's environment - sprawl, pollution, water shortages, crumbling roads and infrastructure, stressed budgets - to suggest we build more is absurd. To suggest we build mass transit options that alleviate our dependence on automobiles and highways is, as Pat would say, "Right on!"

McIlheran thinks that if we don't expand highways and if we do expand rail options, we are "cutting off people's options." Someone check into Pat's relationship with the highway lobby. Is there a status quo entity for which he is not a shill? Again, Pat goes back to the oldie but goodie, implying that because we are Americans we can do whatever we want...the planet be damned! Not building highways, continuing to allow us to spew pollutants, nor paving over green space somehow equates to American freedom and would be "cutting off our options".

He then goes on to show more ignornace regarding the latest research, and a complete blindness to a Milwaukee case study. He, agreeing with Jursik, pontificates that tearing down the highway and replacing it with a surface street or lift bridge would be foolish. Maybe they both should read, 4 Cases of How Tearing Down a Highway Can Relieve Traffic Jams.

They mention how surface streets isolate one area of the region from the other. But on the contrary, what they actually do is encourage high-density development and community along those surface streets. Just the opposite of what McIlheran and Jursik are proposing. They want to relieve surface streets of traffic - which would relieve the businesses along these streets of customers. This of course would lead to more exit-ramp, big-box retailers sprouting up along the highways so drivers can jump on and off to get items they might need on any given day. We'd hate to see people shopping in their own neighborhoods supporting local retailers and entrepreneurs. It's much better that we spend money at absentee-owned stores that pay a lower wage and subsequently siphon much of that spending outside our border. Basically, McIlheran and Jursik just want more of the same. More highways for more driving, just not on surface streets, so all of our driving can be at higher speeds, alongside more of the same, haphazard development we've seen over the last 50 years.

The boogeyman here is congestion. We need more highways to relieve all our congestion? What congestion? Milwaukee has one of the shorter commute times of any larger city. Milwaukee was recently ranked the third best city in the country for commuters by Forbes magazine.

We need an investment in rail. Being one of only two or three areas in the country without, or not planning, light-rail is bad for business, the environment, and our quality of life. And, this would only make our commute time even better.

Glaringly absent from the article is a discussion of induced demand. The phenomenon whereby building highways, adding lanes, actually increases congestion on those highways. But economic development, urban planning, and quality of life are obviously not Pat's forte. He's only worried about convenience.

Is McIlheran unaware of the environmental issues breathing down our necks? Or just unwilling to make lifestyle changes to avoid catastrophe? He even makes a crack about, "the silliness of opposing all new pavement." Seemingly, somehow, glorifying and proclaiming the righteousness of paving over open space. Again, showing his complete ignornace regarding the environmental issues with sprawling development.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wisconsin: Open For Business

Contrary to the nay-sayers, Wisconsin is an excellent place for business. It's great to see business leaders, like Tom Cardella, MillerCoors eastern division president, acknowledging this fact. Maybe if more executives were touting the strengths of Wisconsin we'd be even better.

Instead we have John Torinus, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, and others continually using "business climate" rhetoric to knock the state. The reason for their attack is purely self-serving: they don't want businesses to pay taxes. They are selfish, corporate shills.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Parasitic Pat

Patrick McIlheran's stubborness, obtuseness, and ignorance are on full display in his screed on Milwaukee's water wars, Dollars and sense stall water war.

Pat feels the Water Works, or whomever does what they do, purifies water and pipes it to your home...and they only real issue here is whether this is done effectively and cheaply. Since Milwaukee has some of the lowest water rates in the land, is internationally recognized for our water system, and the Water Works is a handsomely profitable entity - according to McIlheran's own standards, the Water Works is the epitome of efficiency.

As usual, rather than adding anything to this debate other than the typical conservative talking points, McIlheran seems to use the water issue, as he does with many other issues, to simply take shots and make wise-cracks about environmentalists, Democrats, and citizens concerned with their water supply.

Pat is still oblivious to sprawl, how water diversions are connected with development patterns, and the ill effects all of this has on our environment. But, in Pat's eyes, we have dominion over the earth, we must continually build new highways, develop open space into parking lots and strip malls, drive our SUVs, and pretty much do whatever the hell we want. We're Americans, damn it! If we do it, it can't be wrong.

Pat's argument that Lake Michigan water really belongs to all of us, therefore there should be not contention about this issue, is also logically adrift. We all live in the U.S., Alaska is part of the U.S., so, by Pat's logic, all of us here in Wisconsin (along with all the other states) should be getting an annual check from Alaska's oil profits. It's funny to see conservatives like McIlheran become socialists when their worldview and the existence of the suburbs would disappear without such an intellectual manipulation.

Sorry, if suburbs want to keep sprawling and building in places where they shouldn't, they are going to have to pay a steep price. Pat should do some reading on externalities.

Pat is one of a number voices unable to come to terms with the FACT that low-density development must die. Either than or the planet will die. Not a very tough choice.

McIlheran believes, as all right-wingers do, that privatization will solve everything. Privatization would "depoliticize water". But maybe they should be careful what they wish for regarding their privatized paradise. I guarantee a private company would charge the suburbs much, much more for their water diversions and usage. The suburbs and McIlheran think Milwaukee is playing hardball, just wait until an absentee-owner, accountable to no one, controls the water.

Plus, do Pat and his ilk not realize that continued growth of places like Waukesha and other exurbs is the reason for water shortages and the sudden interest of private companies to control major water ways and water systems?

Maybe they need to talk with Australians, Californians, and Kansans about the outcomes of their water diversions and over usage.

There is no assurance any of this - water, oil, the planet - will continue in perpetuity. Acting as if we can do whatever we like and ignoring the consequences ensures disaster. It's time we begin acting like stewards rather than continuing to act like parasites.

For Further Reading:
A Win in the Water Wars
Alternatives to Water Privatization
California Water Wars
California's Real Water Wars
Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water
Is Water Becoming the New Oil?
Localize Water
The Real Cost of Water
Thirsty Suburbs
Water Barons
Water & Sprawl
Water: Public Good
Who Owns Our Water?

Heath Care Perspective

Just a few recent articles offering some insight and perspective into the health care reform debate:

At What Cost?
Debunking Canadian Health Care Myths
Four Health Care Myths
It's Not Rationing, Stupid!
Stop Health Care Fraud
Traveling For Care -- Outside the U.S.
U.S. Spends Heavily, Study Faults the Quality

Development Desperados

Just a few thoughts on Mike Johnson's article, in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Democrats zoom in on property tax loophole.

Johnson opens with the crux of the issue, "Senate Democrats are moving to close a loophole that has given developers huge property tax breaks by planting crops on land that is zoned for residential and business purposes."

Developers whine that not allowing them this ability to cheat on their taxes, and essentially be subsidized by the rest of us, will impede their development plans. In reality, closing such a loophole will encourage more efficient development - promoting higher density and agglomeration economies. Which would lead to more optimal outcomes, rather than allowing developers to sit on land, pay artificially low property taxes, and lobby local and state government to subsidize development on and around their land.

This sentence from the article sums up the inequity of the situation, "...the loophole shifts property taxes that should be paid by developers to other taxpayers, mostly homeowners."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Forest & Obama Falling Down

Is this the change we're supposed to believe in?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bill Moyers: Journalistic Gold

Bill Moyers elucidates the nefarious backroom dealings of Washington, the insiders, the media, how "policy" gets done, and how it's destroying our democracy.

[Video, and excerpt below, courtesy of Crooks and Liars]

"Bill Moyers on what's wrong with our government, citing the Washington Post's recent embarrassment, asking for lobbyists and CEO's to fork out a load of cash for a cozy dinner at their publisher, Katharine Weymouth's house, until they decided to cancel it after one of the lobbyists leaked the story to The Politico."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Time Is On Our Side

Just clearing up a couple of memes circulating through the politicos and the media:

1) the economy is generally President Obama's fault
2) the stimulus is not working because unemployment is still increasing

Ipso facto, President Obama's economic policies are hurting, rather than helping.

This is a dubiously far-fetched connection being purported by the talking-heads whom would like to see President Obama fail. Which, of course, is the main reason they are pushing such an unfounded storyline.

For starters, let's all remember Obama has been in office 6 months. Upon entering office he was handed the largest deficit in U.S. history, two wars, a collapsing financial system, rising unemployment, and a host of other White House scandals to clean up.

When George Bush took office the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent, when he left it was 7.2 percent. This is a 42 percent increase. I note this because David Gregory, on Meet the Press, was implying to Charles Schumer than the stimulus was a failure because of an increase of 32 percent in the unemployment rate since Obama took office. The difference - Bush was handed a surplus and a economy that was very manageable. Obama walked into the Titanic. [Although, according to BLS data, January unemployment was 7.6 percent, June finshed at 9.5, which is a 25 percent change. The 32 percent number seems pulled from thin air.]

National debt under George W. Bush increased from $5.7 to $10.6 trillion, a 46 percent increase. The average premium for family medical coverage increased from $6,230 to $12,680, a 51 percent increase. Americans in poverty under the Bush administration increased from 31.6 million to 37.3 million, a 15 percent increase. The U.S trade deficit, under George's guidance, increased from $362 billion to $688 billion, a 47 percent increase.

A Center for Economic and Policy Research report, Are you better off now than you were 8 years ago?, dissects the many failures of the Bush administration in-depth.

Andrea Mitchell also pointed out, on Meet the Press, that Ronald Reagan's approval rating in 1981 was the same as Obama's is now, and the unemployment rate in 1981 was 11 percent. But the country realized change takes time, so they gave ole' Ronnie a chance, and he was allowed to steer policy over a period of time [it should be noted Reagan's supply-side and tax-cutting policies are different than the Obama policies and approach to economics]. The fact that Reagan's policies were such failures - increasing debt, deregulation, privitization, more power to the financial sector, lower corporate taxes, etc. - should reinforce Obama's vision to restructure our society more equitably, be given our full support, and have the time-allowance to undo 30 years of supply-side, deregulatory debacles.

Also, the "bailout" process began under George W. Bush. After years of allowing their cronies to misappropriate gains from the economy, and in the process of destroying it, even the Bush administration knew action was necessary to try and correct things, or at the very least, stop the bleeding.

This wasn't muslim/socialist Obama entering office with dreams of nationalization. [Aside - could the Republicans be any more demeaning, racist, childish, and offensive in their behavior and their tone in these policy debates?]

Economic instability and volatile employment will prevail until the output gap is corrected. Stabilizing the enormous financial mess we find ourselves in will take some time. To imply otherwise, one is either a Pollyanna or deliberately disingenuous. Basically the government needs to step in to fill the decline in demand from the private sector and from consumers. Paul Krugman warned, in the planning stages during Obama's initial round of stimulus, that the stimulus was insufficient. Therefore, the stimulus has only established a floor - we're not falling as fast as we were - but we've not significantly closed the gap.

The only reasons Republican don't like this publicly visible payment from the government to private business is because there are strings attached (although not enough in my opinion). The government can dictate Boards, compensation, and actually have a say in how these companies operate. [They've actually had this power all along - especially with the ability to charter corporations - they've just chosen not to exercise it and have allowed the corporate community to regulate itself.] If you want your risk-taking, mismanaging ass to be bailed out, you've got follow our rules. Republicans prefer to be able to pay-off their cronies through tax breaks and other non-transparent activities. They like pilfering money from the government, they don't like the government "regulating" acceptable uses for the spending.

So, to recapitulate, this economic disaster of epic proportions was a legacy, first and foremost, of Ronald Reagan, supported by Bill Clinton, and put on steroids by George W. Bush. And, it's going to take time to return to normalcy. Recession and near-Depression conditions do not turn around in a year. To suggest otherwise reveals a complete ignorance of economic history.

For Further Reading:
Debunking The Reagan Myth
Finance and Stability
Financial Crises
Financial Crisis
Manias, Panics, and Rationality
Noam Chomsky on Reagan's Legacy
Reagan's Legacy
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan's Legacy
Ronald Reagan's Legacy
The Minsky Moment

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kucinich For President!

Great video here [hat tip to Crooks and Liars]. Too bad all our politicians aren't as concerned with actually being good public servants - getting things done which the citizens want and/or need, and having the guts and commitment to ask the tough questions and see things through.

Sincerity Deficit

Nevermind the other lies and falsehoods spewed during this interview between Sean Hannity and Michelle Bachmann, if they (and Republicans in general) are so concerned about debt and the deficit, where were they when George W. Bush was running up record debt and deficits? Where was their concern for future generations ("the children" as they repeatedly cry) when George W. Bush was cutting taxes while at the same time spending like a drunken sailor on wars and fattening his chums' wallets?

The Departed

Disgraceful. Shameful. Corrupt. The list could go on and on describing the scandalous and dishonorable actions of AIG, which is presently considering $250 million more in bonuses.

All sense of merit, honor, and integrity has officially departed from the business community. These people were partially responsible for the implosion of the world economy. They are partly responsible for home foreclosures, rising unemployment, business closures, and various other ill effects spiraling throughout society. Yet they feel they should still get bonuses? [Or have their salaries increased to offset smaller/nonexistent bonuses?] For these scoundrels to even be broaching the subject of bonuses if preposterous.

For Further Reading:
Matt Taibbi has an interesting article in the latest Rolling Stone, The Great American Bubble Machine, discussing Goldman Sachs (and AIG's association to Goldman Sachs) and their nefarious connections.