Monday, August 31, 2009

Banks & Bailouts

The New York Times reports As Biggest Banks Repay Bailout Money, U.S. Sees Profit. Matt Taibbi and Max Keiser offer some perspective on the Times somewhat fanciful narrative.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Response to Auntie

Auntie Em left a comment regarding my Extortion & Mercury Marine piece. Her comments are below, intertwined with my response (in italics).

Merc Marine maybe wouldn't be in such a tight place, if Doyle hadn't made WI such a business-hostile state. My daughter, who has 2 related small businesses, now gets taxed TWICE due to his latest bloated budget.

So, since taking office in January of 2003, Gov. Doyle has made Wisconsin a business-hostile state? In 5 or 6 years he made Wisconsin business hostile? How so? And, regarding your daughter, taxed twice? How so? These are all classic Wisconsin Republican right wing-talking points…too bad none of them are true.

She only grosses about 21K per year, nets 13K, but that wasn't enough for Diamond Jim; now she has to be double-taxed!

Double-taxed? Or just paying more in taxes? And, why do you think average workers and small businesses are paying more? It’s because the largest corporations don’t pay anything anymore.

You need to remember something, ALL BUSINESSES EXIST TO MAKE MONEY. If they start losing money, they revamp, initiate layoffs, MOVE...Apparently, demand for their product is down 40%. They pay more than $620,000 in property taxes, which will assuredly go up due to Doyle's slash-and-burn policies.

They just signed a contract with the union a few years ago. It wasn’t expired. So they just decide to tear it up? Or basically renegotiate it with punitive terms. I’m sure that’s the kind of contractual treatment you’d want from your insurance company, credit card company, or bank.

How much property do they own? Do you expect them to pay nothing in taxes? $620,000 in property taxes you say? Where is this number from? And, if it's true, that just means they own roughly $28 million worth of property in the state. There is a cost of doing business. And taxes are the price of civilization. Those making more, obviously pay more. Just as you and I pay property taxes, sales taxes, etc. I always find it strange that low-income and middle-class workers defend the wealthiest among us (their tax breaks, their extravagant lifestyle, their corrupt business practices, etc.). As if, by doing so, we have-nots will become wealthy, too. The more one has, the more public services one generally uses…therefore, they pay more – in property taxes, water bills, etc.

The deal they offered the union included:
* Buy-out packages of $5,000 to $25,000, based on years of service
* Medical coverage and contributions will be the same as salary plans.
* Pension plan frozen, not eliminated, at current $48 per year of service multiplier.
* Retirement plan becomes defined contribution plan (401K) with Company matching 50 cents for every dollar contributed up to 6 percent on top of benefits already earned.
* Employees retiring in 2009 may elect current retiree medical plan at current contribution rates.
* Employees retiring after Dec. 31, 2009 will be offered an optional retiree medical plan with contributions equal to salary retiree medical plan.

I suspect the union bosses are more concerned about themselves than their members, as most times, THEY don't suffer the hardships the workers do. To quote Brian Dunbar:

"I recall a report I read a few years ago following a similar decision in Tennessee: company said they could not operate, union de facto voted to close the plant rather than concede wages and benefits.

Union bosses don’t hold the hand of the workers as they cast their vote. I like how conservatives see all unions and union bosses as corrupt, but the largest earners: the banks, the insurers, the hedge funds, the corporate CEOs – they’re just efficient businessmen. Who are the ones making millions while threatening workers making $20-an-hour?

Brian Dunbar? Is he a union, labor, employment, or legal scholar? And, let’s see the report he speaks of. Let’s look at the methodology, quotes, and facts around that situation and see how they reached their conclusions. “I recall” isn’t quite the rigorous analytical standard I’m willing to base something on.

The senior members of the union made out like bandits: with state-provided unemployment benefits, union-provided benefits and etc. they were making more money after being laid-off than they were when working."

This is ridiculous and unsubstantiated. Show me the evidence. Some anti-union, pro-business pundit or shill saying so does not make it so. It’s yet another unsupported smear. And, the state provides unemployment benefits to anyone, whom was previously working (if you have enough wages to qualify for a claim) in the state. Unemployment insurance – one of the many benefits brought to us by unions.

For my part, I'd take a wage cut rather than lose my job. Same for my son, who only makes $14/hr, but keeps getting laid off. He's trying to get a steady job for $12/hr. My dad (worked for Harley) always said he feared the union would strike-or-demand themselves out of jobs. Now we see it happening.

In principle, I agree. I’d rather work than not. But where does it end? This makes contracts - the relationship between capital and labor - meaningless. Companies can now just pick up whenever they like, no matter the circumstances. The labor cost for the workers are too expensive? Yet, somehow, they have millions available for the executives. This is union busting, class warfare, and plutocracy.

Again, it’s strange how you don’t see any lack of morals or equity by a Brunswick CEO (the parent company of Mercury Marine) who made over $9 million dollars last year. His compensation is equivalent to 225 average union workers at Mercury Marine. Yet, he’s in charge of the company, and, as you said, his product is down 40 percent. But he doesn’t deserve a pay cut? Or to lose his job? He doesn’t have to sacrifice anything? No. Only the workers need to feel the pain.

Also, his pay has an award incentive based on stock options (as most executives have), which when you move a company, shed good-paying jobs, and replace those with non-union jobs, your stock value increases. This is less about good business practices and more about Wall Street chicanery and manipulating stock value. This ends up fattening his wallet alongside the other wealthy of society who own most stocks. (Another reason 401(K)s are such bad retirement options. They leave the majority of workers’ retirements dependent upon the whims of Wall Street, traders, and greedy business executives.)

And, for as tough as you make it sound your family has had it (daughter, son ,etc.), it’s surprising the strength of your support for the corporate behemoths garnering most of the wealth produced by the workers of this country. If it wasn’t for unions and the policies they’ve fought for over the years, we’d all be quasi-Wal-Mart workers, without insurance, making $1-a-day, working 60 hours a week, 7 days a week.

I appreciate your thoughts. As with any issue, I’m willing to make concessions and reach a resolution. But the workers of the U.S. have been giving up everything for the last 4 decades. It’s not about dismissing business and the valuable contributions corporations can make, but about equity and regaining some appreciation for the workers out there doing the actual work and making the services and goods that allow the businesses to be in business in the first place.

For Further Reading:

How Unions Can Help Restore the Middle Class

Justice on the Job

Shareholder Value and the Transformation of the American Economy

The Concession Gap

Unions and Productivity

Welcome to the New World Job Order

Why Do CEOs Make So Much?

Keeping Score

In discussing health care on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, John Kerry used Massachusetts as an example to defend portions of the Democrat's bills, based on the outcomes in that state. To refute this, Orrin Hatch held up Utah as the example of quality health care in the states.

According to the latest rankings among U.S. states: Massachusetts ranks 2nd, 5th or 7th; Utah 7th, 12th or 21st. When it comes to child health performance: Massachusetts 4th, Utah 27th.

17.4 percent have no health insurance coverage on Utah. Only 10.4 percent go without in Massachusetts.

For Further Reading:
Medical Bankruptcy in the U.S., 2007

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Lowest of the Low

It really doesn’t get any worse than Rush Limbaugh. He’s a truly despicable and repulsive person (I use the noun ‘person’ loosely). He makes nasty comments regarding Ted Kennedy, while also making snide comments about a union member mourning Kennedy’s passing.

Why aren’t advertisers disassociating from this babbling, delusional, bloated bag of flesh?

Extortion & Mercury Marine

Governor Doyle said, “The State of Wisconsin has offered an aggressive package to assist Mercury Marine. I am certain this package is sufficient to sustain Mercury Marine’s market leadership, and to allow it to consolidate and operate efficiently in Wisconsin. I am equally certain that Wisconsin’s offer is competitive with any other offer from any other state.”

And, I’m sure, as of this moment, the politicians in Oklahoma are putting together and inflated package of giveaways to ensure Mercury Marine moves to Stillwater. Oklahoma already has enabled Mercury Marine to avoid a tax penalty of $1 million. This was due to an earlier incentive given to the company to create jobs – which they didn’t do – and were, therefore, supposed to pay a penalty – a clawback.

Here’s a plan: Let them move. Then we’ll declare the former Mercury Marine site blighted. The state can then take it over using eminent domain. Next, we can declare the site a TIF district and use the money to make investments into the site. We’ll have the state institute a transitional management team, employing former Mercury Marine workers to build green technology – windmills, solar panels, etc. This might allow even more federal stimulus money since it would be an infrastructure and green project.

This is better than tolerating these companies holding cities hostage and stealing millions of dollars with the threat of moving out of town.

Also, since Jim Doyle isn’t running for governor next term, he could use his legal and political knowledge to start drafting legislation to put an end to this “Economic War Among The States”.

Malicious Mercury Marine

Allow us to freeze your wages for seven years and cut the starting rate for new hires. That’s part of the “deal” the union at Mercury Marine was offered. Bravely, they said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

A Journal Sentinel article quotes the Mercury Marine president, “Quite simply, Mercury is capable of producing many more engines than the market will require in the foreseeable future. Our facilities were designed and built during much different market conditions and are now underutilized.”

This seems to be a problem of management and planning. But, of course, for which, the everyday workers will have to sacrifice.

According to the Executive Paywatch Database, Dustan McCoy, CEO of the Brunswick Corporation (Mercury Marine’s parent company), “In 2008, Dustan E. McCoy raked in $9,334,343 in total compensation. In the previous year the CEO of this company made $8,623,206. Total CEO compensation has increased by 8%.”

I’m sure these executives will be taking a pay-cut and agreeing to a wage freeze to show solidarity with their workers – the ones who actually produce the goods that allow the executives to get such ridiculous compensation. The average unionized Mercury Marine worker earns $20 per hour; roughly $41,600 per year. McCoy’s earnings alone are equivalent to the yearly wages of nearly 225 workers.

Pundits, talking-heads, parrots, and a generally business-friendly press all seem to be on board with the idea that a reduced-wage job is better than no job at all. It’s always the responsibility of the lowest on the ladder to feel the pain. Why is there no longer accountability among the executives that are supposed to be running these companies? Why, when profits decrease, or when their stock value decreases are executives still rewarded with increased compensation? While simultaneously laying off workers and rewriting union contracts forcing workers to make concessions.

Alongside this, these same pundits always push for state giveaways to the corporations. Subsidizing workers’ wages or healthcare outright is bad policy. Rather than just directly giving tax breaks, incentives, or subsidies to workers, the circuitous route of trickle-down is preferred. They rationalize that giving away millions to corporations to create/retain jobs is sound policy.

Thom Hartmann offers an idea for how we might get this country back on the right track.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kennedy Condolences

Sarah Palin’s Facebook friends attack Ted Kennedy upon his death. Kudos to Palin for a sympathetic statement regarding Kennedy’s passing. But her response to the rubes posting on her page will be much more telling of her leadership, understanding, and inclusiveness.

Is this the type of electorate we want in the majority? Is this the kind of decorum and high-mindedness we want in a mayor, governor, or vice-president?

Robert Scheer elaborates on all the "horrible" things Senator Kennedy did for his country.

If only we had more Ted Kennedys and less Sarah Palins.

For Further Reading:

Ted Kennedy's Legislative Accomplishments
Ted Kennedy: Keeper of the Liberal Flame
The Eternal Flame

Inflation Exaggeration

The latest scare tactic being pushed by the status quo is that we cannot stimulate the economy anymore because all our debt is going to cause inflation.

A couple of things about this:

Debt as a percentage of GDP is not even close to the post WWII level. Obviously we can sustain higher levels of debt to revitalize the economy without worrying about inflation. Let’s not forget that, historically, the period from the mid 1940s to the early 1970s, which began with huge levels of debt (up to 120 percent of GDP after WWII), also saw the U.S.’s largest growth rate.

Second, most of those saying we need more stimuli also realize the need to rein it in after we have more clear signs that the economy is improving – employment increasing, house prices stabilizing, etc. Those pretending this is some sinister plan of never-ending government spending are only spinning such nonsense so that they can reassert their own false messiah – tax cuts. And, we know who has primarily benefited from the tax cuts of the last 30 years. Plus, inflation tends to hurt lenders more than borrowers. Who are they really protecting in the battle against inflation? [It would be nice if the Fed, in their supposed dual mandate, focused as much on full employment as they do on price stabilization.]

Some are saying house prices have hit bottom and therefore we can disregard any and all stimulative efforts. But this is a simple misreading of seasonal housing data that misrepresents reality. [Although it should be noted the Milwaukee market has shown amazing resiliency in comparison to other areas of the country.]

Be careful of the latest Paul Reveres crusading against inflation. It is more likely the usual distractionary politics masking typically upwardly redistributive policies.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Site Selection Shenanigans

More business retention, economic development blackmail.

Typically, a business threatens to move its facilities unless a state or locality will provide a subsidy - a bribe. [Think Mercury Marine, which wants a 7-year pay freeze and a 30 percent pay reduction for new hires or says it will move to Oklahoma. This is more a threat to gain concessions from the union, but concessions nonetheless.] They don't do this because they seriously feel the cost of moving to another site is worth it or that another site is more optimal for their business. They demand a subsidy because they can. Threats of leaving caused politicians to provide subsidy packages to these blackmailing businesses. This is (supposedly) economic development.

140 new jobs, it claims, will be created. With a $3.25 million subsidy from the state and $3 million property tax credit from Menomenee Falls, that's roughly $45,000 per job created. This is actually not a bad number (compared to the hundreds of thousands some subsidies have cost per job). And, in the larger scheme of things, a $6.25 million subsidy is chump change. But just because this deal does not have the mind-boggling numbers of some others, that still does not make it right.

Why did normal business operations and expansions become partial monetary responsibilities for taxpayers? It's great that we have successful businesses that have grown over the years and are national leaders in their industries. But, if another site is more optimal, they should move, this would lead to more actual growth for the national economy. Why would we pay millions to retain a comparatively weaker facility? Eventually a competitor in a more optimal location will outperform and put the weaker company out of business. If a company feels they need to grow and increase production, it should not be the state's responsibility to fund this. One would think that this would be a sound management decision based on sound business principles.

Unless we're deciding on a quasi-industrial policy whereby taxpayers support local business retention and expansion. But if that's the case, there needs to be a public discussion between politicians, business leaders, and taxpayers. It has to be connected with comparative advantage, sectoral areas where we feel we can compete and grow, and within a comprehensive planning strategy for the state and the region.

These backroom deals, giving away millions to successful companies, need to be brought out into the light of day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The New Liberals

Just more wholesome goodness from Jon Stewart.

Extrapolate Your Head From Your...

Wouldn't it be nice if politicians and their talking-heads could just admit when they're wrong, when they've misunderstood something or misspoke? Sadly it seems that will never be the case in our "with us or against us" political system.

Patrick McIlheran at the Journal Sentinel aims to deduce the seedy, underlying "meaning" in the Democrats' health care proposals. He parrots the Republican qualifier that "death panel" may not be in any proposal, but the implication is there.

Pat quips, regarding death panels, “They’re not in the bill but the logic is most certainly contained in what the bill empowers government to do.”

The proposals simply state that if a person or their family chooses to have an end of life consultation it is reimbursable. Basically, you're now covered to enact a living will. But the masters of political treachery - the Republicans - have turned this into the death sport of Democrats versus grandmothers.

But I guess this is typical Republican tactics: focus on that which cannot be proven or disproven. [Since they choose to ignore actually reading the proposals; it's so much easier to just make stuff up.] Obama was born in Kenya. Even when they're shown his birth certificate, that still doesn't disprove their crazy lie. Next, they fabricate "death panels". When it's shown that no such thing is in any bill, they simply say, "But that's obviously the intent."

Is there really any point trying to have a debate/discussion with these people? As Barney Frank said to an agitator at a town hall meeting the other day, "Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with the dining room table."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Public Realm

Jon Stewart answers, as Barack Obama should have, to the questions of a conservative college student [Zack Lane, (public) University of Colorado, at roughly 3:17], as well as other health care considerations.

Bill Maher finishes the thought as to why public options, in general, can be preferential to the privatization of everything.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Shooting For Safety

A right-wing, low-life uses the Mayor Barrett State Fair incident as an excuse for carrying firearms. If only we all carried guns, there would be no violence in our world.

Self-serving, ill-timed, mean-spirited, shortsighted stupidity at its best.


Man Carrying Assault Weapon Attends Obama Protest

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Contemptible Congressman

It's great to see, now that he finally has gotten a platform to speak from, that Paul Ryan is fighting for our health care. Oh, wait. Ryan has held public office since January 1999, and this is the first time he's even bothered to mention health care. I guess when the cronies that fund your campaign are threatened with smaller profits, one is suddenly moved to fight for the private insurers. Ooops, I mean, fight for the people.

Ryan feels we should, "...provide all Americans with the resources they need to purchase quality, affordable health insurance." What does this mean? Is he proposing the government just subsidize all costs? We're going to cover everyone and the government will pay? There's an innovative plan.

Then, as if amnesia occurred, in the next paragraph, Paul claims, "It takes an uncomfortable faith in Washington to believe that spending can be restrained and bureaucratic waste can be contained if only we gave government more control." So, the government should subsidize the costs, but have no say in the management? And somehow costs will also be constrained?

Next, he proclaims, "Despite skyrocketing costs remaining our top concern, the majority has concluded that we are not spending enough on health care in America." What majority? Who is he talking about? Most comments I've seen seem to feel we are misallocating our health care dollars, not that we have to spend more.

Of course, he had to mention "rationing". As I stated in the previous post, "One of a few boogeymen (rationing, death panels) the right has erected in the health care debate. Health care is already rationed. Private insurers decide who is covered and who is not. They decide what procedures will be paid be for, or whether one can even have a procedure. We have an ineffective bureaucrat between the doctor and the patient already - it's the private insurers."

He then tries scare tactics and myth-making with talk of citizens losing their current coverage. Although he quotes the Presidents statement, "If you like what you got, you can keep it." But Ryan doesn't believe this. So Paul then beats the rationing drum, again, as the sinister way in which the President will try to achieve cost control.

It's striking, sad, and funny that Paul closes with, "Health care reform is one of the most crucial domestic issues this Congress will act on and requires the input of all Americans." Again, this has been a crucial issue for decades. What the hell have you been doing, Paul? Your party killed President Clinton's attempt at health care reform in the 1990s. You, along with your Republican do-nothings, have sat on your hands for the last eight years. What were your priorities then? Needless wars (costing trillions), trying to kill Social Security, and tax cuts and more tax cuts.

Step aside and let the people who want to govern do their job.

The Right-Wing Health Care Harangue

"Well-intentioned bureaucrats" are trying to reform health care, a central component of which is a "public option". "That's worrisome," according to self-avowed health care guru, Patrick McIlheran at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The veiled logic begins with the statement, "many more people will have their health coverage funded, subsidized or legally specified by the federal government. This means their health is no longer their concern but ours. When anything is paid for publicly, it is decided politically. Health care will be no different."

Shouldn't the health of our fellow citizens already be a concern? Shouldn't the government play a major role in the health of the nation? Just as it does with housing, transportation, finance, and well, everything! Why should health care be untouchable? We have a private-run system now. It costs twice as much as any other country and we have 50 million without coverage. So, obviously the private sector does not know how to run health care.

And, public action being decided politically - that's called democracy. Obama won. His side (the majority of America ) wants health care reform. Those already served under a government-run public option - Medicare - are very happy with their health care.

Patrick has a rant in the article on abortion. All I'll remind Pat here is this - abortion is a legal medical procedure. Stop trotting out the wedge issue(s) that divide everyone and speak to the issues where we can reach compromise.

He claims the President is dodging certain specifics, mockingly saying, "This man ran on change." Just as McIlheran is speculating about the health care proposals he obviously has not viewed, yet he still feels qualified/obliged to fantasize about what they mean and what the results will be.

Being the good right-wing soldier he is, Pat had to mention "rationing." One of a few boogeymen (rationing, death panels) the right has erected in the health care debate. Health care is already rationed. Private insurers decide who is covered and who is not. They decide what procedures will be paid be for, or whether one can even have a procedure. We have an ineffective bureaucrat between the doctor and the patient already - it's the private insurers.

Does any thinking individual feel that using science to determine what procedures are the most cost-effective for health outcomes is a bad thing? Government curbing overly expensive yet no more effective procedures is good management. Are Republicans saying we should spend just for the sake of spending? Aren't they the ones always preaching about not throwing money at things?

There also seems to be a bit of the, "We're Americans, we're the best, there can be no restrictions on anything we do." It's a very infantile urge to be tapping into. But the right loves latching onto the lowest-common-denominator and playing on peoples' emotions.

Pat then brings up the Congressional Budget Office review (which some have found problematic) that finds the proposals will not slow health care cost increases. As long as we don't control pharmaceutical costs and re-imagine our health care system more holistically with more preventative care, active lifestyles and in accordance with healthier, locally grown foods, I agree, costs will continue to rise.

This is also a standard-of-living issue. Health care is a right in a civilized society. The American standard-of-living has been falling. Yet, I haven't heard the Republicans outraged by this. Income inequality has been skyrocketing over the last 30 years. Where are the Republican voices on this issue? Suddenly they're concerned with our rights, our health, how we live, our choices? Yet they've been silent as jobs have been outsourced, more and more went without insurance, more and more were thrown into crippling debt over medical bills, wages have stagnated, and citizens have found it harder and harder to make ends meet. But now we should trust them? They've got our best interests at heart.

To allow the system to continue to be run by private entities, whose interest is profit and not health, can only lead to worse and worse outcomes. As Albert Einstein said, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Falsehood Fabrication

John Torinus, tax-avoiding-CEO of Serigraph Inc. and writer for the Journal-Sentinel, asks, What will it take to lure back manufacturing?

Torinus states that, "political and business leaders have watched this trend [the loss of manufacturing] with something approaching shock." Really? We enter into trade agreements like NAFTA, which many warned would lead to outsourcing, we abandon any type of industrial policy, we bash unions - which is a large number in manufacturing, and we haven't generally discussed manufacturing since since automakers were making tanks for WWII, and they're "shocked"?

Their shock is manufactured. Otherwise, the politicians and business leaders would have to take responsibility for the exodus of these well-paying jobs. Torinus mentions the economy gravitating toward a service economy [away from actually producing things]. This is a natural progression according to business leaders and their paid think-tank and media mouthpieces. So they all run with this excuse as to be absolved from any blame for manufacturing's decline.

[This type of deflection occurs in the poverty debate also. This isn't the fault of misguided or missing public policy, it's the fault of the individual. Never mind the fact that there is not a job available for everyone whom would like one, it's still their fault. It's not political and business leaders faults that they've allowed policies that ship jobs overseas, it's just a natural economic movement. There is nothing than can do.]

This is a result of the sordid relationship between politicians and businesses. Businesses pay for politicians campaigns; businesses want their production and labor costs cheap; therefore, politicians allow businesses to deter unionization and outsource production. All alongside the lie that it's natural and they're not doing anything to foster it.

Torinus uses the example of a $35,000-a-year manufacturing job to analyze what type of taxes would be returned from an investment in a manufacturing job. But where does this $35,000 number come from? According to BLS, private non-unionized manufacturing workers earn over $18 and hour, which is roughly $38,000 per year. Unionized manufacturing workers earn $70, or so, more per week, approximately $41,000 per year. If we're going to use earnings numbers to make an example, let's use the correct numbers.

In his cursory remarks regarding development incentives, Torinus says, "...there is little gain when one state lures a plant from another. It's zero-sum game." Which it is, but he doesn't take this point any further, other than saying it's the union opinion, and therefore, in his mind I guess, not worthy of discussing.

Torinus finishes up with a classic talking-point of his own, and of business in general. He thinks maybe we should eliminate the 7.9 percent income tax on manufacturers. (It's always about not paying any taxes.) His logic: the state corporate income tax is no longer a huge revenue producer for the state, so we might as well just get rid of it. He doesn't address how this has changed over the years, how it has decreased favorably for corporations, increasingly burdening homeowners. He also fails to mention the tax breaks already provided to manufacturing.

He spouts a common falsity, that taxes are a primary factor affecting locational decisions. Business basics - inputs, suppliers, customers, labor, transportation - are much more important for a business in their site location decision.

Is there a sector (like manufacturing) or a topic (like health care) that Torinus won't exploit in an attempt to have businesses pay even less in taxes?

For Further Reading:
Corporate Tax Breaks
Failure of Economic Development Incentives
Grading Places
Industrial Incentives
Rethinking Growth Strategies
Tax and Spending Incentives and Enterprise Zones
The Great American Jobs Scam

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Water for Work

James Rowen, at the Political Environment, raises an excellent point regarding Waukesha's discriminatory hiring practices and its want for Milwaukee water. It's one thing for Milwaukee to allow continued suburban growth through water sales, but Waukesha should at least try including the highly-concentrated jobless of Milwaukee in that growth.

Liberal Legacy

Thom Hartmann reciting John Gray's Day in the Life of Joe Middle-class Republican. [hat tip to Crooks and Liars.] This is basically a litany of all the things the government has done and does for us (primarily thanks to liberals) which we often take for granted.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Same Old Song

Chris Hedges exposes the fading expectations concerning all the change Obama was supposed to usher into Washington.

Death Panel Deception

When it comes to the health care debate and the proposals on the table, the right-wing is basically lying. They simply want to stall health care reform because they feel that might allow them to win back some seats in 2010. Hence - we get the death panel.

There is nothing in the health care proposals about a death panel or putting anyone to death. This is just a flat-out lie being parroted by conservatives.

So why are we listening to and giving airtime to right-wingers who continually just lie to the American people? George Stephanapoulos questioned Newt Gingrich on his dishonesty and pointed out there was nothing about a death panel or "communal standards" in any health care proposal. George should have thrown Newt out of the studio and barred him from ever coming back.

If you can't form a logical argument, grounded in reality, and based on facts, shut the f#*@ up! You're adding nothing to the discussion and you're diminishing our democracy. And the media should stop allowing these cranks on as if there were two sides to every issue.

Stephen Colbert offers his thoughts.

Cronies of Rich Guys (CRG)

Mike Johnson wrote an article on August 7, 2009 in the Milwaukee Journal Senintel, Property Tax Levies up 5.1% in region. In all of the talk about property values and taxation, one of the persons quoted in the article caught my attention.

Chris Kliesmet is the executive administrator of CRG Network. He found the Public Policy Forum report (the data discussed in the article) showed "another sign of how onerous property taxes in Wisconsin have become." He feels, "local officials should be holding the line on spending and cutting taxes."

Does any of this sound familiar? Is this unbiased analysis? Or just conjecture? Is this opinion even necessary for the article? Does this simply interject conservative talking points for no apparent reason?

I guess the irony of a "watchdog" group complaining about taxes even though [because of the status of his group, "CRG Network Foundation, Inc. was formed as a 501(c)(3), non-profit, tax-exempt corporation"] their organization doesn't pay any taxes went over their heads.

Here are some excerpts taken directly from their website regarding their mission:
  1. It's mission is to help citizens elect fiscally conservative candidates, assert property rights, and remove corrupt and/or fiscally irresponsible politicians from office
  2. To lobby and advocate for fiscally conservative and property rights legislation on a local and statewide basis
  3. Motivate fiscal conservatives to vote in increasingly larger numbers
  4. Organize fiscal conservatives into the most influential political force in Wisconsin
  5. Encourage fiscal conservatives to contribute the human and financial resources needed to grow and be successful
And here's some rhetorical flourishes from their site which give a bit more insight into their perspective:
  • ...unions and other special interest groups
  • special interests and regulatory bureaucrats
The Journal Sentinel article simply labels the group as a "taxpayer watchdog group". As if they were unbiased and non-partisan. If it were a labor or union group - or a group with a mission of socially liberal policies, encouraging liberals to vote, etc. - they would have been labeled so, or at the very least called liberal or left-leaning. But then again, to be called "liberal" is supposedly bad. Even though "liberal" policies have been empirically shown to lead to a greater standard of living for a larger proportion of citizens over our history. Somehow, though, the label of "conservative" doesn't garner any disdain.

CRG was one of the initial agitators calling for the recall of Tom Ament. Scott Walker has only worsened the County budget. How about recalling him? Come on, CRG, where's your consistency? Walker has only dug a deeper budget hole. According to your logic, he must go. I'll gladly sign that recall petition.

CRG is nothing more than one of "starve the beast" organizations of the right. It's not about what's best for citizens. It's about their ideology being in control of government to steer largesse to their cronies rather than to workers and infrastructure. Seems more like a "watchdog" group for the rich.

In a recent post, I had shown government wasn't all that bad. And, as Paul Krugman wrote in a recent column, if it wasn't for government intervention in the economic catastrophe we're in, we'd be in a Depression. (And if conservative ideology hadn't invaded government policy and torn down the regulatory structures enacted after the Great Depression, we wouldn't be facing such an excruciating financial collapse, either.)

But, alas, the liberal and government bashing will continue. Why? Because it's easy, and because the right-wing conservatives have nothing concrete, substantive, or worthwhile to offer. Although, they'll form a PAC, call themselves "watchdogs", and get quoted in the local paper as credible public policy analysts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Economic Reform

Robert Skidelsky has an interesting article in the Financial Times concerning a reform of the economics profession.

The Government, The Government...

Why is it that when conservatives simply repeat the same line over an over, somehow it sticks? Newt Gingrich rambles on, as usual, about health care reform using the same worn right-wing talking-points: rationing, bureaucrats, and the government.

He repeatedly begins his disparaging remarks with, "The government...". In Gingrich's worldview the government can't do anything right.

Yet, government seems to perform well regarding the military, Medicare, Social Security, our legal system, police and fire protection, the postal service, highways, water systems, electrical grids, among a host of other activities.

Jeff Faux's chapter What Kind of America Do We Want? came to mind while thinking about all this government bashing. In which he highlights the many accomplishments of government, the many failures of the private sector, and the obstructionist tactics of the Republican party.

America seems to be under the illusion that the private sector is an altruistic, benevolent entity steering everyone and everything towards perfection. Although, empirical data seem to indicate just the opposite. [See The Raw Deal, Tax Cut Snake Oil, The Squandering of America, The U.S. Since 1980, and Unequal Democracy]

Yet, all the institutions, infrastructure, and backbone that allow our modern existence are directly because of government involvement.

For Further Reading:
Corralling the Corporate Kleptocracy
Deficit Financed Delirium
NAFTA & The Myth of Free Trade
Outsourcing Boondoggle
Taxation Perspective

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Production Possibilities

James Rowen, at the Political Environment, weighs in on the potential benefits for the area from rail production.

The Price Isn't Right

Excluding price negotiation from any deal reached with pharmaceutical companies would be a huge mistake. Especially since the majority of research is funded through the government - the National Institutes of Health and public university research.

Although this is typical of the U.S.: we allow private companies to control and litter our public airwaves, we give away public lands for private mineral and resource extraction, and we create medicines and health care research which we then hand over to private entities for patent and profit.

For Further Reading:
Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption
Medical Research Bought Off By Big Pharma
National Health Insurance Bill
The Truth About Drug Companies

Divine Evasion

It has been estimated that religious organizations own up to 25 percent of the land in the U.S. Which means 25 percent is exempt from taxation.

An 8-part New York Times series by Diana Henriques dissects the church exemption issue.

Getting rid of these unnecessary subsidies would be one of the quickest and easiest ways to clean up tax law, and get revenue into the public coffers. Allowances are understandable when services are being provided for the sick, poor, or elderly - those who can not afford it or are physically unable to provide for themselves. But the massive conglomerates and operations some religious organizations run and/or are involved with, which get tax exemptions, are market distortions favoring one group (churches) against others involved in provision of the same service.

For Further Reading:
Milwaukee County Tax Exempt Organizations
Sales Tax Exemptions For Non-Profit Organizations
Tax Burden Shifting: Exemptions
Tax Exempt
Why Do We Give Churches Tax Exemptions?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Media Fabrication

FreedomWorks and their tea-bagging know-nothings are at it again. Freedom Works has initiated this "grass roots" anti-reform uprising through a recently released memo. And, the media is enthralled with the uprising, acting as if these few nut-jobs represent the majority of Americans. Even though roughly 70 percent of U.S. citizens want health care reform, according to the latest polls.

The majority of Americans have wanted our soldiers out of Iraq for years now. The media paid no attention to those protests or marches.

But every time some low-rent, ignorant puppets can be trotted out to do the corporations' bidding, that deserves serious 24/7 coverage?

Their childlike behavior and complete lack of knowledge has only lowered the level of debate. And their behavior at town hall events is appalling and disturbing. For the media to be giving these charlatans a stage is equally atrocious.

McArdle's Mendacity

A great smackdown of Megan McArdle and her hypocrisy. A revealing example of how many on the right bash government, yet wouldn't be where they are in life without it.

Reminiscent of the message in Ha Joon Chang's Kicking Away the Ladder - in which he tells the story of economic development through the ages. All the paths taken by today's developed countries are no longer the paths recommended by those countries to the presently developing countries.

Even though a government job was good enough for McArdle's father, opened doors for lucrative work, paid for her private schooling, and appears to have allowed quite a nice standard of living for her and her family, government is bad and the market is our true savior.

For Further Reading:
Media Are People Too
Pushing On A String

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


There is a revolving door between Wall Street and high-level government positions; plus the millions Wall Street spends lobbying Washington. But when the Wall Streeters come to Washington they don't use their insider knowledge to regulate (I know, what a dirty word) and therefore make the financial system more sound. No. They use their experience to enable more loopholes and then look the other way. It's good to see the SEC cracking down on the latest Wall Street corruption (high-speed trading). Though one must wonder, what took so long? Flash trading, among many other schemes, is not all that new. Hopefully the SEC will overturn the Commodity Futures Modernization Act and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, alongside other much needed reforms.

For Further Reading:
Free Traders Become Protectionists
Great American Bubble Machine
How the Wall Street Bankers Bought Congress
Long Demise of Glass-Steagall
Nation of Village Idiots
Summers, Geithner, and Wall Street Ownership of Government
The End of the Financial World As We Know It

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Rachel Maddow nails the orchestrated, anti-reform townhall uprisings for what they are.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Marginal Media

There should be laws hindering (even some type of penalty) outright lies in our media - be it books, radio, internet, or television. The networks and publishers should be ashamed. The press, or Fourth Estate, is supposed to be a watchdog, a guardian of democracy and truth. It's not that all the networks push these crazy theories and deceptions; it's that they give platforms to the nut-jobs that do.

Two of the latest examples indicating our media is failing mightily: World Net Daily's falsified birth certificate and Michelle Malkin's latest birdcage-liner. Kudos to those groups [hat tip to Media Matters] that stomp out this deceitfulness as soon as they see it.

Sewer Socialism

Yet another infrastructure project that could be part of a stimulus and employment plan.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Slippery Slope

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Richard Meeusen, of Badger Meter Inc., have some intriguing ideas for luring business to Milwaukee using our comparative water advantage. But Michael Rosen also raises some good points and offers some causes for concern regarding lakefront development and public subsidization of private enterprise.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Put Up or Shut Up

New York Rep. Anthony Weiner lets the Republicans, "Put up or shut up." many Republicans voted for abolishing government-run health care (Medicare)? Zero.

Watch What You Say

I was just recalling another meme of the Bush era that the Republicans seem to have forgotten: During time of war and crisis, it is unpatriotic and unproductive to criticize the president. [Obviously this is hog-wash, but, for once, I'd like to see the Republicans actually stand by what they say.]

Just a few years ago when Ari Fleisher was warning Americans to, "Watch what they do and what they say."

Those good ole days when there was a terrorist and another war just around every corner.

Of course this was just the Republican technique to manipulate the media and divert criticism during the disaster that was the Bush presidency. But luckily for all of us there is a "paper" trail and some of us remember. So, I guess if the Republicans (yet again) do not want to appear to be hypocritical flip-floppers, they should be supporting President Obama during our current time of war and economic crisis.

For Further Reading:
Criticism of American Policy is Unpatriotic
Criticism of Bush Policy is Unpatriotic
Does This Make George H.W. Bush Unpatriotic?
Hannity Denies Calling Bush Critics Unpatriotic