Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Reading

America's sea of red ink was years in the making
Arizona economy may be worse than Michigan
State and local budget cuts a time bomb for jobs
State and local budget relief needed
Steele's fuzzy math
Who's to blame for the deficit numbers?

Money For Nothing

Workers need to sacrifice, unions must make concessions, programs and services must be cut...belts need to be tightened.

Unless it applies to the highway lobby, then we've got $22 million (which will likely end up much more) available for temporary fixes. Subsidizing the sprawl of business and people with large highway interchanges at the edge of cities, enabling the auto-dependent life to continue, must stop.

How about a tax or a toll, so that those who use these concrete eyesores have to pay for them? If you must build on the edges, out in the middle of greenfields, miles and miles from other developments, a fee, a tax, whatever you care to call it, should be applied. There is no free lunch (or so they say).

Yet, suburbanites, through massive highway building, cheap gas, and weak environmental standards, have had their entire lifestyle highly subsidized. It should not be cheaper to build on open space than it is to reuse an existing, blighted inner city building. Our planning principles should be encouraging reuse. If a developer concludes he/she must build on open space, the cost should reflect this environmentally unwise choice.

It's many of the same suburban conservatives whom feel they shouldn't have to pay anything in taxes that primarily benefit from such highway building. Taxes actually do pay for a lot of things, which we obviously take for granted. Now because of years of disinvestment due to a "starve the beast" mentality (organized by anti-tax zealots: think Reagan) we're finding ourselves in need of repair and advancement of infrastructure we built during WWII.

Many important regional/national businesses are located near the interchange. They are important to the future of the region. But to persist in building highways to deal with our transportation needs does nothing to improve the situation. In fact, it encourages continued sprawl and auto-dependency.

If the Zoo interchange must be done, do a complete project now. And, tie it into other modes of transportation in the region, connecting it to businesses and neighborhoods. During a time when many people, businesses, and neighborhoods are hurting, this would be a dose of much-needed deficit-spending to ensure improved job numbers now, and a healthier overall outlook for the future.

Why Wisconsin doesn't have a holistic plan for a regional transportation system in place - efficiently and sustainably connecting metropolitan Milwaukee's airport, rail, buses and highways with Madison, Kenosha, Racine, Green Bay, etc. - is inexcusable. What have we been doing since it was announced federal money was available for transportation infrastructure? $51.2 billion was made available for transit in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

If we have financing available for the Moderne, the Bookends, Miller Park, and a host of other ancillary development, we should have funding available for a 21st century transportation infrastructure.

Unemployment has been climbing. Infrastructure projects create jobs, and they make locations more marketable and sought after for businesses and homeowners. We need some leaders and visionaries to step forward in the planning and infrastructure realm. The lack of imagination, the inability to make bold decisions, the unwillingness to invest in light rail, and the tunnel vision of continuing to follow the same unsustainable development patterns will lead to the irrelevance of Milwaukee and the region.

For Further Reading:
Center for Neighborhood Technology
Economic Development and Smart Growth
Making The Connection
Mixed-Income Housing Near Transit
Transit Oriented America

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tax Spanking

Enough of this bullsh@# trying to paint Wisconsin as a "tax hell." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in step with their corporate cronies, complains continually about the taxes in Wisconsin. (The latest article states Wisconsin has improved, but, nevertheless, still implies we're onerous.)

[And, seriously, if, as a nation, we are so concerned with taxation, then we need federally standardized tax rules, equally written and applied to all states. Not our current hodge-podge of individually state-controlled breaks, bribery, and favoritism.]

We have a good standard of living and quality service-provision in Wisconsin. The total tax burden isn't the problem here, it's the tax incidence (who pays?).

For Further Reading:
Measuring Tax Burden by Progessivity and Social Justice
Shifting Tax Burden
Tax Burden Illumination
Tax Burden Shifting: Exemptions
Tax Fairness and Uniformity
Wisconsin Tax Truths in the Land of Tax Trickery

Smart Growth?

It's great that back in 1999 Wisconsin got on the Smart Growth bandwagon and required Wisconsin counties and communities to adopt a growth plan within 10 years. But how serious were we?

A month or so before plans are due many communities will fail to make the deadline. The State may lengthen the deadline to 2012, with no penalty. Another sign of how seriously we take our environmental responsibility.

Nine specific areas were to be addressed in the growth plan:
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities & Community Facilities
  • Agricultural, Natural and Cultural Resources
  • Economic Development
  • Intergovernmental Cooperation
  • Land Use
  • Issues and Opportunities
  • Implementation
The suburbs and communities that need to control their growth the most: 1) do not want to work with others, 2) do not want regional transportation networks (other than highways), 3) feel the best land use is building over the land with highways and parking lots, 4) have no interest in affordable housing, 5) want to be able to simply import/buy any resource their community may need (as if this was a sustainable policy), and 6) do not want any actions taken, or not taken, to cost or affect them in any way.

Can we really say we have a "smart" growth plan when we continue to ignore the elephants in the room - the continued growth of edge cities, the enabling of resource (water) starved exurbs, and our dependence on highways and automobiles?

And, yet, after all of this, many are certain there will be lawsuits over the development rules.

Smart growth is something that has to be done at the state-level. Otherwise parochial shortsightedness will rule the day and we'll accomplish nothing, other than costly courtroom battles for generations.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eat The Rich

Great article by Sam Pizzigati, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, Have The Rich Won?


  • Americans in the bottom 90% saw their average incomes increase a meager $47 a year between 1974 and 2007.
  • The top 1% households made 12 times more income than the bottom 90% households in 1974, 42 times more in 2007.
  • In 1955, our 400 highest incomes averaged $12.3 million...they paid over half their incomes, 51.2% in federal income tax. In 2006, the top 400 averaged an astounding $263 million each in income...paid, after loopholes, just 17.2% of their incomes in federal taxes.
  • Between the 1940s and the mid 1960s, America's richest faced at least a 91% federal tax rate on earned income over $400,000. The top rate today: 35%.
Pizzigati also mentions an interesting idea about a "maximum wage." He states, "With a maximum set as a multiple of the minimum, society's richest and most powerful would only be able to increase their incomes if the incomes of society's poorest and least powerful increased first...A maximum coupled to the minimum would instantly create a counter-incentive: the higher the wage at the bottom, the better for the rich - and the better, of course, for the bottom, too."

Deficit Hypocrisy

From Crooks and Liars, Born Again Deficit Virgins.

Wisconsin Budget Reality

Some much needed perspective on Wisconsin's budgetary situation.

Housing Handouts

Gifts for home builders and expensive home buyers.

Park It

Yet another failure of privatization.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Walk(er) Away

Scott Walker rode into town, full of right-wing talking points, promising glory and growth for Milwaukee County.

He's failed. County could face another budget crisis in 2010.

He's gutted services, flip-flopped on serving only one term, terminated family-supporting jobs, all while digging a deeper budgetary hole for the county.

Scott should forget about being governor, go back to school and finish his college degree, then (try to) become a productive member of society. Public service is not his forte.

Scott, I'm sure CRG or WPRI will bring you aboard. You've robotically perfected parroting conservative one-liners.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Laughable Curve

Tax cuts as public policy prescription for economic growth have been empirically proven ineffective for decades. Arthur Laffer's curve is a laugher indeed.

As James Rowen highlights, John Kovari, of the Public Policy Forum, finds more corroborating evidence to support this conclusion.

The fact that we as a society and as policy makers have to point out, over and over again, that tax cuts are not a panacea for growth is depressing. As Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

It's time we revert back to an evidence-based policy-making environment. We cannot allow the Republicans, and the pliant media, to keep telling us black is white. This debate should have ended long ago.

(Blind faith in the tax cut mantra...yet another reason Scott Walker is unfit for governor.)

For Further Reading:
Because I Said So Is Not An Answer
Failing To Pass The Laffer Test
Scott Walker Puts Milwaukee County Residents at Risk
Slippery Scott Selling Snake Oil
Tax Cuts Don't Boost Revenues
Tax Cuts: Myths & Realities
Who's Laffer-ing Now?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Drama Queen

Sarah Palin claims to not like drama. She’s much too sophisticated for such pettiness. Yet, every chance she has, she amplifies the drama.

This is all done, obviously, to keep her name in the media, to ensure book deals and speaking engagements, and to keep attention on someone whom, without such drama, would be a non-entity.

One would think she would be more upset over the tone of the article – which basically claims Palin is an incompetent goof, “bad news for the GOP and for everybody else” – than over the fact that Newsweek chose a picture of her in her running shorts.


Stephen Colbert comments on Sarah Palin's "steaming pile of s@#%" that is her book.

For Further Reading:
Sarah Palin's Top 10 Falsehoods
The 18 Biggest Falsehoods in Sarah Palin's Book

Monday, November 16, 2009


Ah, the stench of intolerance. Just what we want in a governor.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Watering Down Corporate Accountability

Lately, there's been a big push for making Milwaukee a water research hub. Richard Meeusen, CEO of Badger Meter Inc. and board member of WMC, has been one of the number one cheerleaders behind such efforts.

In 2003, Badger Meter paid $125, 728 in corporate income taxes. In 2004, they paid $418,391. 2009 net earnings of Badger Meter were $14.35 million; alongside $60.8 million in sales. The IRS recently allowed Badger Meter "a tax break on operations in France the company discontinued in 2006." Badger Meter has also outsourced some research and development as another cost-savings measure. Next year, the company will move one-third of it's factory jobs to Mexico. Even though Badger Meter's sales were down 11.6 percent from 2008 ($68.83 million) to 2009 ($60.81), their net income was up 146 percent ($5.83 million to $14.36 million).

In 2007 Richard Meeusen was compensated $842,331 (1.2 percent of earnings; 14.4 percent of net income). In 2008 he made $1,082,133 (1.8 percent of earnings; 8 percent of net income).

Are these the types of companies we want to lead our community forward? Public-private partnerships (taxpayers partially fund the costs, private entities get the profits) are the norm. But knowing this, why would we continue to push this inverse Robin Hood scheme of having general taxpayers finance private sector speculation? In this case, pumping private dollars into facilities and research and allowing the transfer of this knowledge to private entities for their profit. Why must the knowledge and discoveries of our universities and public sector be spun off to private entities? Why would we allow such efforts to be outsourced to Mexico? In the long-run it seems such efforts would be better kept in public hands under local control. Especially in the case of water, which is now recognized as our most valuable resource.

Badger Meter benefits heavily, already from the tax code. Now they are positioning themselves for yet another subsidy, by piggybacking the frenzied environment of "water research" in the City.

The same companies that benefit from such public investment are usually the ones barking in the media about a "government takeover," "socialist policies," and the unfairness of social programs and policies that support the neediest. (Even those these programs are only 1 percent of the State budget.) Contrarily, they never fail to have their hand out.

If these companies would also be promoting living wages, secure retirements, universal health care, unionization, and other social goods, I'd have no problem with a portion of public dollars investing in such responsible, community-oriented companies. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Therefore, it's time to turn off the subsidy/tax-break spigot and allow these companies to operate in the "free" market they so adore.


The Journal Sentinel gave an editorial platform to Richard Meeusen and Paul Jones, CEO of AO Smith, to disparage the University of Wisconsin investigating whether or not to implement water programs at 13 of the university's campuses. They feel it would dilute the efforts and spread the initiative too thin.

[If this water research initiative is the end-all, be-all, why hasn't their been any discussion and debate about it? The only opposition to putting all our eggs in one basket, came from UWM professor Marc Levine. The reaction to his research, which completely debunked the idea of an entrepreneurial university and Milwaukee as water research hub, was derision and unresponsiveness. UWM's water program deserves investment. (So do many other university programs.) But this isn't about whether or not they are deserving, it is precisely about placing all our bets on one roll of the dice. Being such astute businessmen, I'm sure Meeusen and Smith can appreciate portfolio diversification.]

I don't completely disagree with Meeusen and Smith's reaction. Although their view may have more to do with concentrating the efforts and investment near their businesses in Milwaukee, than with a truly altruistic dedication to water research. Campuses such as Green Bay, Superior, and Parkside, which are also on/near Lakes Superior and Michigan, could be valuable partners in water research.

Rectifying Reagan Fabrications

Paul Krugman corrects a few (of the many) Reagan myths.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Save Our City

We are finally beginning to publicly discuss UWM's "entrepreneurial" strategy, specifically their proposed engineering school on County grounds near Wauwatosa. Too bad much of the dialogue is condescending and superficial. The cabal of power brokers hell-bent on pushing forward with the suburban location are rather dismissive and disdainful of anyone questioning such a move.

Their well-reasoned and sound analysis, supporting such a suburban locale, comes in such stellar verifications as, "may offer," "difficult to measure," and "there is no guarantee that new research will bear fruit." Alongside such airtight assurances, platitudes such as, "Milwaukee needs to take a risk," and "we have to get in the game," are paraded out by sympathetic cheerleaders.

The "long-term potential is very strong," claims Rita Cheng, UWM vice chancellor for academic affairs. Just saying so, they seem to feel, makes it so. And, in the same article, Tom Daykin of the Journal Sentinel reports Michael Lovell, dean of UWM's College of Engineering and Applied Science, agrees. What a surprise that the dean of an engineering school would agree with an massive infusion of investment dollars into his department.

Their sloganeering and incessant boosterism is reminiscent of the lottery: "You gotta get in it, if you want to win it!" The problem is, the chances of UWM and Milwaukee winning with this investment are similar to the odds of actually winning the lottery. Faced with an actual analysis revealing the experience of the majority of universities over the past few decades attempting an "entrepreneurial" strategy has been a poor return on their investment, the cabal, like Pollyanna, bury their collective head in the sand and reaffirm, Stick To The Plan.

For an urban university to march forward with expansion plans in the suburbs, in this age of environmental awareness, borders on criminal. Growing within the City and encouraging others to do about an opportunity to have a long-lasting, sustainable, and community-friendly impact.

There is nothing quite as intellectually dishonest as academics, supposedly schooled in the scientific method, showing an aversion to data collection and analysis, open debate, and allowing the research to lead us to the most optimal conclusions. No. The cheerleaders will have none of that.

The Journal Sentinel editorial, as usual, is right behind, beating the drum. They believe UWM is "right to stick to the plan." They never corroborate why UWM must stay the course, provide any research findings or data collection of their own, or quantify why this facility, at this location, is a can't-miss and a must-do for Milwaukee.

The Journal editorial is a collection of anecdotes. The Journal, along with fellow boosters, completely ignores the actual return other universities have experienced regarding such developments [not] initiating collaborative efforts and [nor] attracting venture capital. All this in addition to the fact that the other supposed outcomes these snakeoil salesmen are promising have not been the results for the majority of other universities.

This doesn't mean not to build new facilities somewhere, or that the programs are somehow undeserving of investment. But maybe they can be scaled back a bit. Let's possibly revitalize older buildings or blighted strips in older neighborhoods of the city. (Which could spur investment in the most needy areas of the city, while also moving the university forward.) The investment could also be spread out over more of the departments at the university, capitalizing on numerous strengths, rather than putting all the eggs in one or two baskets.

There are more options available. There is no need to rush ahead with the suburban proposal. The University and the City need to look at this a bit more carefully before they make any decisions that will affect our City and it's largest public university for many generations to come.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Funnies

Jon Stewart skewers Glenn Beck.

Stephen Colbert satirizes private health care and mocks privatization, in general.

Lies, Lies, Lies

As is their wont, the right-wing is energetically espousing revisionist and false views, and accomplishing their objective of having these lies envelop and permeate public discourse, thereby, sadly, steering the debate.

Complaints regarding President Obama's employment numbers are simply petty, bitter, and nothing less than an attempt to besmirch the President and score political points.

First, stimulus policies have stabilized what could have been a second Great Depression. And, let's not forget which party was in office the last eight years, not dithering, but actively encouraging the bubble economy by continuing to deregulate, loosening monetary policy, and a completely disregarding any oversight.

Second, to expect the Obama administration to overcome this economic juggernaut of a mess in the ten months they have been in office [some started complaining merely weeks into his first term] is not only mind-boggling, it shows a complete lack of understanding of economics, business cycles, and previous economic downturns and their recoveries.

How many jobs did George Bush create per year while he was in office? 375,00 - the worst total among U.S. presidents. Unemployment increased from 4.2 to 7.2 percent during the Bush reign. This all after inheriting a surplus from the Clinton administration. The fact that Bush pissed that away with giveaways and tax cuts to his cronies didn't help matters.

These facts are never mentioned by the right and their sheep. They pretend Barack Obama created all of these problems since taking office. And, let's not forget, the initial $700 billion bailout was initiated by the outgoing Bush administration.

During an economic recovery, the initial-phase success gauge is "jobs saved." One can not seriously expect some magical initiative to simply revert the economy back to full employment overnight. Or are these cranks advocating a Public Works Program?

The general idea, and hope, is to return to a more stable and sustainable economy. Slowly returning to full employment, with the ability to create steady growth while maintaining less volatility in the market. Thus enabling, again, full employment.

To pretend trillions of dollars, due to the collapsed bubble, in lost wealth can be re-created within a few months is disingenuous and counterproductive to our discourse. These critics have two choices (as I see it): sit back, enjoy unemployment, and wait for the market to correct everything, which could take a while; or, allow the government to create public jobs (repairing infrastructure, etc.) and spend on needed policies and programs to make up the difference now.

Development Idea(s) Vacancy

More hilarity from the Journal Sentinel in Right Place, Right Time.

Yes, more development boosterism. They editorialize about the Moderne, on Third and Juneau, being a project that will "kick-start" the Park East. And it will only cost the city "about $10 million."

They quote a Wally Morics' (City Comptroller) report, "The City is not a bank, and the loans would set a precedent for city support." Newsflash: that precedent was set decades ago. Public-private partnerships are old hat. Taxpayers have been funding a whole host of private playgrounds for years.

We've been using, primarily, our bonding to fund private real estate speculation, rather than having our money invested in public transportation, sick leave, a living wage, and other more specifically public uses.

The article rambles on about, "special circumstances," and "the quality of this project." It's 203 apartments and 14 condos. How such a project addresses the "special circumstances" or is of such high "quality" is unknown.

The editorial also implies a need for more downtown apartments. No analysis is given to support such claims. Then, in the very next sentence, they talk of how the condo market isn't doing very well. Won't some of the vacant condo projects, that are already out there, be rented as apartments? We should subsidize more vacant space? Is that the best use of our investment dollar?

Luring Lunacy

The Journal Sentinel's 'bend over and take it for business' boosterism is on full display in Tax Credits, Loans Luring Entrepreneurial Start-ups.

The article basically rounds up the cast of giveaways Wisconsin (and others) uses to try to attract and retain business. It then concedes they work wonderfully and we need more. Yet the rankings and dollar amounts they highlight in the article hardly support any such conclusion.

There is no discussion in the piece regarding this 'site-consultant, tax break, war-among-the-states' paradigm upon which the development world operates. It is simply presented with no contemplation of alternatives. There could have been some deliberation or opposing viewpoints describing this system as inefficient bribery and blackmail, distorting more optimal and effective outcomes and locational decisions.

Does the Journal Sentinel report anymore or are they just corporate PR shills?

A Giant Sucking Sound

Half of the $1.4 trillion in commercial real estate mortgages due in the next five years currently owe more than they're worth.

We're not out of the woods yet. We should listen to Joe Stiglitz, nationalize bad banks, and get these toxic assets out of the system already.

For Further Reading:
Commercial Real Estate Is Next
Yet Another Bubble

Holding Cities Hostage

The Institute for Wisconsin's Future has the whole story of the Mercury Marine debacle.

For Further Reading:
Mercury Marine Twisted Saga

Soak 'Em

Shouldn't the water rate increase difference between the City and the suburbs be a disincentive for persons or businesses to locate in the suburbs? I can accept higher water rates as a City resident. But suburban rates should be substantially higher, to dissuade further sprawl. Shouldn't the cost of water be one of the main tools used in nudging greater density and more environmentally conscious development? [Kind of like the cost of gasoline, but that's for another day.]

The current City proposal wants to increase the City 28.5 percent and the suburbs 36 percent. The average City resident will pay about $.47 more per day. While the average suburban resident will pay $.59 more per day. Hardly enough to discourage unsustainable development.

Yet, even this minuscule increase has the suburbs up in arms. They feel they shouldn't have to pay more to "support Milwaukee's general fund, since they would see no benefits from more money for general city operations."

Yes, I guess the suburban leaders are really that ignorant. They believe their growth was in spite of and not due to or aided by Milwaukee. Freeways do nothing to help cities, since they allow the majority of traffic to bypass city streets. Yet, we keep building them to the benefit of the suburbs. Their shortsightedness and selfishness is really appalling.

Rather than offering free water to attract businesses to the City, they could just put in place a rate structure which would make the City the obviously better choice. Thus, making such a site selection decision a no-brainer because of the evident savings.

If the suburbs want/need Milwaukee water, I say, "Soak 'em!"

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Wind Beneath My Wings

Elizabeth Warren is the real deal.

I agree with Matt Taibbi.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


After eight years of shit, and Obama being unable to bring the world back from the brink of destruction in ten months, we need to keep banging our head against the same old wall.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Lets get the next stimulus package done now.

For Further Reading:
How We Know The Stimulus Is Working

Fair and Balanced Puerility

"A man-child...a large ego...narcissistic..."

The negatives, outlandish claims, and petty personal insults are aplenty in this "educational" interview.

Guess who?

Impetuously, and without a trace of self-awareness, that is Rush Limbaugh describing President Obama to Chris Wallace.

Taking The Long View

John Gurda has a great article with some thoughtful points regarding the future of Milwaukee, the public sector, taxes, and the irrelevancy we will face if we keep making the wrong choices.

All Wet

Do we have to give our water away?

The City of Milwaukee is considering giving free water to businesses that locate in the City and create jobs.

We have a comparative advantage in water and lower water rates than most of the country. This means "water-intensive" industries locating in Milwaukee would pay cheaper rates than they would in alternate suburban or water-starved areas. This is already a cost-savings for business.

The "low-cost" option, reduced rates for a defined period of time (contingent upon job creation and retention over that period) may be understandable as an additional attraction incentive. But completely free water seems a bit much.

In this new era of water wars, a reduced rate, alone, should attract business.

Water is a finite resource. Lets not give it away.