Friday, August 31, 2012

No Fact Checkers, Please

Why Are We Still Wasting Money On Voucher Schools?

Little difference between vouchers, Milwaukee Public School students

Out With Seniors & The Sick

I recently referred to Christian Schneider (Journal Sentinel, WPRI hack) as the Journal's latest version of Pat McIlheran (right-wing windbag whom left the Journal to work for conservative kook, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson) - the guy spouting right-wing talking-points and nonsense ad nauseam.

For roughly the past year or so, the Republican echo chamber has been cheerleading for Paul Ryan. Other Republican-friendly politicos, pundits, and newspaper columnists all jumped on board the Very Serious Person label for Paul Ryan.

He has a budget. He likes policy. He gets things done.

But then people actually took a look at Ryan's record. As it turns out, his budget stinks, his policies don't do what he claims they do, and his record is somewhere between nonexistent to abysmal.

A lot of folks, over the course of all this, got off the 'Paul Ryan: Very Serious Person' train.

Along comes Christian Schneider with the same debunked right-wing talking points bestowing Paul Ryan as a man of Big Ideas. In fact, according to Schneider, Ryan makes this a campaign about ideas.

Let's start with the fact that the Big Idea Schneider loves most about Ryan is that he wants to end Medicare and Social Security.

From the article, "Ryan said he believed it's not important enough just for a Republican to win in 2012 but to win by discussing entitlement reform so there's a mandate for change when the new administration begins." In the Romney/Ryan world, as far as health care and retirement are concerned, you're on your own. What a refreshing idea...suck it seniors!

Near the end of Schneider's love letter for Paul Ryan, he opines, "Obama now has a liberal record that he has to defend, and Romney has a running mate with a bold plan rooted firmly in conservatism."

What is this "liberal" record he has to defend against? That he killed bin Laden or that he passed the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of providing health care to the majority of Americans? We used to call this governing. Today, for Republicans, citizens being able to see a doctor is a treacherous liberal plot. Let the market decide whether you live or die!

And, is the right-wing declaring that being firmly conservative is about making retirement more difficult and pushing health care further out of reach? I know that Republican policies generally screw over the majority of the population, but they usually don't openly admit this is what they truly want. Work until you're dead, and if you get sick, die quickly.

For Republicans, our "entitlements" are just too much. Luckily, we have Mr. Big Ideas to think up the notion of transforming these programs right out of existence. Now, let's cut more taxes for the rich. And, with the taxes we do collect, we'll use those to finance the "job creators" in all their lucratively downward- trickling schemes initiatives. Amen.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Plummeting Wages

"For workers in the 10th, 20th and 50th percentiles, median hourly wages haven’t grown much at all since the early 1970s. But a few economists have argued that this misses what’s really going on: Since the 1970s, women and racial minorities have become more integrated into the general workforce. So while white men, white women and racial minorities of both genders have all seen gains, the argument goes, the lower wages paid to women and racial minorities push down the median wage figure enough that these gains are disguised. Edward Conard’s new book “Unintended Consequences” makes a case along these lines, using the following chart (via Evan Soltas)."

Monopoly Utilities

Bruce Murphy, in Monopoly Greed, uncovers:

  • A new study by the state Public Service Commission (PSC) shows electric rates are now 21 percent higher than other Midwestern states and 10 percent higher than the national average. 
  • Wisconsin utilities have been allowed to jack up electric rates by 55 percent from 2002-2010, during a period when inflation rose by just 20 percent. 
  • A study by the UW-Milwaukee Employment & Training Institute found that the average cost of heat and electricity for city of Milwaukee renters, all customers of We Energies, nearly doubled in just six years, rising from $1,318 in 2000 to $2,227 in 2006.
  • These ever-higher rates have helped drive profits for We Energies: year after year the company has reaped profits of 10 to 12 percent.
  • Wisconsin utilities had the second-highest profit margin among 26 states studied.
  • Those generous profits, in turn, help pay for huge bonuses for We Energies executives, which amounted to $77 million over the last three years, according to annual reports it files with the PSC.
  • Those profits have also been good for the company’s stock price, which has risen by 17 percent year-to-date (33% over the past calendar year). 
  • We Energies would like to see more increases in the years to come. Company officials are requesting an annual increase of 3.6 percent for both 2013 and 2014, though the estimated rate of inflation for those years is 2.2 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.

The Republican Political Fantasy World

The Journal Sentinel gave space to Gary Kraeger, appraiser from Wind Lake, to defend put-upon business owners from that big meanie, Barack Obama.

I guess Gary didn't want to actually put the President's comments into context. Nope. Instead, he just decided to pile on and continue misrepresenting the actual point the President was trying to make. Pretty much par for the course, as far as Republicans are concerned.

The President's point wasn't that no one starts his/her own business. He was simply reminding everyone, in this time of government bashing, that government does a lot of good for everyone - business owners included - such as: building roads, bridges, schools, etc.

The idea that Obama was criticizing business owners is a figment of the Republicans' imagination. The whole concept is merely another nefarious political ploy of the Republican party. Obama hates job creators, he's a socialist, and on and on.

Gary starts off assuming, "Of course no one claims he or she built all the roads or that roads aren't important. Everyone recognizes necessary symbioses. Everyone knows that lots of people are smart and work hard."

When is the last time you actually heard a Republican admit the importance of anything the government does? Do they really recognize the symbioses? Do they really think lots of people are smart and work hard?

I only hear stuff about government being the problem, how the private sector can do everything more efficiently, and how so many of our fellow citizens are moochers, free-loaders, and pay nothing in taxes.

Next, Gary then, playing into this false idea that Obama was knocking business owners, tries to create the idea that Obama was picking on business owners because that will "play well" with his voting bloc. "If he can establish that private-sector success is wholly dependent on government, he can make the case that no amount of taxation can ever be too much, and that really plays to those blocs." Yes, because President Obama has been increasing taxes across the board. Oh wait, he actually hasn't.

Gary then makes the false equivalence between firefighters, teachers, minorities, welfare recipients, versus business owners. See, Obama was picking on the latter and letting his voting bloc off the hook. The Republicans and Gary have taken Obama out of context, now they are inventing all the motivations and true meanings behind such a fantasy scenario. The only problem with this whole comparison Gary is imagining is that the firefighters and teachers actually do understand society's interconnectedness. They aren't the ones demonizing government and continually asking for lower taxes.

Then, things start coming off the rails (even more so) when Gary opines, "He didn't say that business people paid their share for the roads and teachers. He didn't point out how those same roads, police and teachers are there for Bill Gates as they are for the guy playing video games and drinking, the guy in prison or the people who fail in business." Yes, because the guy in prison, the guy playing video games, et al have benefited from society's institutions at the same level as Bill Gates.

When you ignore the reality that Warren Buffet's secretary has to pay more taxes (as a percentage of her total earnings) than Mr. Buffet has to, you can continue with the fantasy scenario that businesses and the rich are paying their fair share. And, one can spin on and on with endless falsehoods based on these faulty foundations.

President Obama's grand theme of his speech was that - the Walmarts and Exxons of the world have made more and more, while paying less and less in taxes, and continually attempting to pay even less, all while demonizing the government and all the good things it does, even though they have benefited enormously from those efforts and continue to benefit greatly. Is it really that hard for Republicans to grasp the simple concept - based on fairness - that those whom are doing extremely well have benefited from schools, roads, courts, police protection, and clean water, and should, therefore, give a more little back?

You've been gaining more and more income year after year based on the contractual obligations our courts uphold, based on the resources and routes our military protects, based on the roads our police patrol and the buildings our fire fighters protect, based on the knowledge and labor the workers - trained in the public schools - provide. You've been gaining more and more and paying less and less...we think you should give back a little more. Socialism!!!

In the Republican fantasy world, one can simply make up stuff, imagine what bad things their opponents are doing, misrepresent positions, and slander and lie about anything and everything taking place on the planet. The Truth has now become a Republican construct.

What a lovely day it will be when we can actually start having honest policy discussions based on reality again. Sadly, the Republicans are doing everything in their power to prevent such from happening.

Something Ventured, (Virtually) Nothing Gained

Walker, groups try again for venture capital bill

Why? Why is this venture capital bill so important to Scott Walker?

Why must Republicans continue pursuing policies (supply-side economics, venture capital, etc.) which we know do not get the return on investment to make them worthwhile?

Well, we know the answer to that, too. It's an obscure route for funneling money to cronies using public dollars.

Those who have looked into venture capital performance have found, "The latest research seems to indicate that ship has already sailed. And, when the industry was supposedly booming, it was only a select few venture capitalists whom were making most of the gains."

And, as I previously wrote, "Josh Lerner, of Harvard, has found the number of exceptional venture capitalists is very small. Harold Bradley, of the Kaufmann Foundation, believes venture capitalists have plenty of money, but allocate it very inefficiently, and therefore should not be receiving additional public dollars with the hope of boosting a local economy. Bradley and Carl Schramm, in an article for Business Week, write that the current focus on fees has promoted start-up flipping rather than nurturing."

Can we stop wasting money on Republican cronies in the name of public policy?

Nothing in life is perfectly efficient, so if we're going to be making investments as a society, I'd rather it be going to the poor, elderly, children, special needs, or everyday workers...not the already well-to-do and fiscally fortunate.

Performance Among Asset Classes

Corporate Tax Avoidance

From The Big Picture, “Twenty-six big US companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid the federal government in tax...The study, by the Institute for Policy Studies, said the companies, including AT&T, Boeing and Citigroup, paid their CEOs an average of $20.4 million last year while paying little or no federal tax on ample profits, according to regulatory filings. Astonishingly, nearly all of the the companies received a net tax refunds of up to $1billion. Others had a tax bill of $0. On average, the 26 companies generated net income of more than $1 billion in the US, the study said.”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Warning! There Shall Be No More Warnings!

Court Upholds Block On Graphic Cigarette Warnings

"The federal government can't require tobacco companies to put large graphic health warnings on cigarette packages to show that smoking can disfigure and even kill people, a divided federal appeals court panel ruled Friday."

I guess we should outlaw warning labels, of any kind, altogether. They are just too onerous and restrictive. And, they are real threats to the first amendment. Yes, those spooky graphics won't allow you to enjoy that satisfying tobacco flavor to its fullest, nor the various cancers that can accompany it.

Looks like America is entering it's own Dark Age.

The Journal In Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Is Definitely Not For Journalism

Paul Ryan Abortion Extremism Missing In Wisconsin's Biggest Newspaper

Republican Rhetoric

According To Paul Ryan...Stimulus Spending Is Good...When Republicans Do It

Ryan defended stimulus spending in 2002 when Bush wanted it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Paul Ryan Is A Right-Wing Extremist!

Paul Ryan is coming for your Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, public services - what he claims are "entitlements." The programs that your tax dollars support, which the majority of Americans are in-favor of and enjoy, those are "entitlements" which Paul Ryan doesn't feel you deserve. That money should be given to the ultra wealthy, and then allowed to trickle-down to you.

If you believe our society would be (by the eradication of these programs) better off, the Romney/Ryan ticket is your pick.

The poor, working and middle class have struggled the past four decades with stagnating wages and increased volatility of their daily lives. Income inequality has increased exponentially over this period. The rich have gotten much richer and everyone else is either spinning their wheels or losing ground. Our "entitlements" aren't bringing us down, our lack of economic justice is the true culprit.

What used to be paid in wages, retirement, public services, and health care (to people who worked for a living), is now given away as tax cuts, subsidies, exemptions, and other breaks for Wall Street, Big Corporations, Agribusiness, Big Energy, and Pharma - our modern-day Robber Barons. The rich are reaping an excessive amount of our society's rewards, and they want more. So now they're coming for your Social Security and Medicare.

Sorry, but I'm going to pass on the plan that will increase my taxes, lower my pay, end (or increase the cost of) my health care, and jeopardize my retirement ... while simultaneously further enriching the already wealthy.


And, just in case you've forgotten - Bush's tax cuts and the economy crashing are the two major causes of the deficit:

Gangs Of Marauding Seniors

The Lies of Autumn

The Republicans have decided on a strategy for the presidential election ... lying.

Romney campaign falsely accused Obama of gutting welfare in new ad.

"The Obama administration announced in July that states could seek waivers from certain welfare rules, but in doing so they would have to provide ideas for projects and initiatives that would do a better job of increasing employment among welfare recipients. Furthermore, the Obama administration has made it clear that it would not drop requirements for states that failed to promise better work outcomes."

It Just Got Serious?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Cutting Medicare Meme

Obama is cutting Medicare.

This is a talking-point the Republicans are trying to create. Aimed specifically at the elderly voting block, this campaign strategy - the bad black man is gutting/stealing your medical care - is shamelessly and sadly being pushed by the Republicans. What a great example the Republican party is setting for our country - lie, cheat, or steal your way to the top.

Reince Priebus: Obama's Medicare cuts leave "blood" on his hands

"Republicans frequently use this Medicare talking point, even though it's false. While the Affordable Care Act does reduce Medicare spending, as Politifact has explained, 'Those dollars aren’t taken out of the current budget, they are not actual cuts, and nowhere does the bill actually eliminate any current benefits.'"

As usual, this terrible thing Barack Obama is supposedly doing, is just a figment of the Republicans' imagination.

For Further Reading:
Romney Slams Obama For Medicare Cuts In Ryan Budget
Another Look At A Favorite Republican Talking-Point
Health Reform Has Improved Medicare's Financing


Soledad O'Brien pins truth on Romney spokesperson.

Soledad O'Brien rips Sununu's Medicare claims.

Sinking The Boat, Lifting The Yacht

Christian Schneider, the Journal Sentinel's latest incarnation of conservative parrot Pat McIlheran, opined about how terrible it would be to increase wages for workers - specifically, the minimum wage.

Although, as I found in November 2010, "Others point to the minimum wage as a disincentive to hire and an excessive burden on business. Yet Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich, "Closely analyzed employment trends for several categories of low-wage workers over a 16-year period in all counties sharing a common border with a county in another state where minimum wage increases followed a different trajectory. They report that increases in minimum wages had no negative effects on low-wage employment." Nancy Folbre adds, "Once adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage in the United States is lower than it was in 1967. Wage earners seem increasingly unable to capture any of the gains from technological change and productivity growth." Here is yet another conservative talking-point which the empirical evidence thoroughly discredits.

And, as I discovered in January 2012, "The Fiscal Policy Institute has found, States with minimum wages above the Federal level have had faster small business and retail job growth.Raise the Minimum Wage has a primer on the topic.

Conservatives have been trying to diminish the pay of low-wage workers since the minimum wage was enacted. Strangely, they never make the same calls for limiting CEO compensation. Schneider even implies, as many conservatives do, that low-wage workers possibly earning more would sink the American economic boat.

As I previously wrote, "Executives are now averaging pay that is over 300 times as large as their average worker (in the late 1960s, CEOs earned about 25 times as much). CEOs have seen double digit pay increases, year-in and year-out. Average workers have been lucky to see their pay keep up with inflation. If the minimum wage had seen the same increase as CEO pay since 1990, the minimum wage would be $23.03."

As John Schmitt reported, "the U.S. leads developed countries in the share of workers earning low wages."

I don't think the U.S should be worried about $10-an-hour workers "sinking the boat." In fact, most would rather we lead the world in middle-class, living-wage jobs. But, as long as the uber wealthy (whom it seems are the ones Schneider is really concerned about) are reaping the majority of our society's rewards, they are the ones threatening to sink the American dream.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Vicious Kale Killers

Meet Paul Ryan

Hat-tip to Cory Liebmann at Eye on Wisconsin, he's found an extensive research report by American Bridge Political Action Committee - a 290 page magnum opus on the seemingly endless policy failures and nonsensical views of Paul Ryan.

Weekend Reading

Comparing Housing Recoveries
Five Myths About Obama's Stimulus
Giving Economics A Bad Name
Looks Like Ryan: Mitt's Pick
Obamacare Benefits Are Starting To Roll Out
The Opportunity Cost Of Hoarding Cash Is Lower Than You Think
Ryan Wants Even Bigger Tax Cuts For Wealthy Than Romney
Where The World's Running Out Of Water

Romney/Ryan: Back To Failed Policies

The Flip-Flopper & The Flim-Flam Man

As Paul Krugman details, "Mr. Ryan has become the Republican Party’s poster child for new ideas thanks to his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes. News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr. Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the G.O.P.’s fiscal conscience. He’s often described with phrases like “intellectually audacious." But it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce."

Krugman elaborates, "The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has, however, stepped into the breach. Its numbers indicate that the Ryan plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade. If you add these revenue losses to the numbers The Post cites, you get a much larger deficit in 2020, roughly $1.3 trillion. And that’s about the same as the budget office’s estimate of the 2020 deficit under the Obama administration’s plans. That is, Mr. Ryan may speak about the deficit in apocalyptic terms, but even if you believe that his proposed spending cuts are feasible — which you shouldn’t — the Roadmap wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich. And I do mean slash. The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan’s total tax cuts. That’s not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population. Finally, let’s talk about those spending cuts. In its first decade, most of the alleged savings in the Ryan plan come from assuming zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending, which includes everything from energy policy to education to the court system. This would amount to a 25 percent cut once you adjust for inflation and population growth. How would such a severe cut be achieved? What specific programs would be slashed? Mr. Ryan doesn’t say."

As I wrote back in March 2011, "Paul talks about unsustainable health care and retirement. President Obama's health care reform is predicted to save $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years. Yet Republicans are against these reforms. The Republican-favored 401Ks have increased instability in retirement. Plus, the most stable and solvent program, Social Security, is one right-wingers want to privatize. Here again, the supposed seriousness of the Republicans regarding these issues is in question. Ryan even specifically states that whatever we do about anything, we cannot have policies that force citizens to reorganize their lives. Under no circumstances must American citizens be asked to change their behavior. We must not acknowledge the realities of: income inequality, the failure of deregulation and tax cuts, nor climate change. Consume all you can, drive whatever you like, and run-up your credits cards buying unneeded waste. Lead the disposable life because, now, you're the disposable American."

As the Citizens For Tax Justice discovered, "Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP Budget Plan would collect $2 trillion less over a decade and yet require the bottom 90 percent to pay higher taxes."

Krugman declares, "So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It’s not just inability to do the math, although that’s part of it. There’s also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense. And last but not least, there’s deference to power — the G.O.P. is a resurgent political force, so one mustn’t point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes. But they don’t. The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future."

For Further Reading:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Half Of Companies Pay Lower Taxes Than Average American

A couple of Big Picture posts illustrate America's expanding income inequality.

"A new NerdWallet study found the 10 most profitable U.S. companies paid an average of 9% in federal taxes last year. These low rates are particularly shocking given that the official tax rate is 35%. The study also revealed more than half of the 500 largest U.S. companies paid a lower tax rate than the average American."

"Credit Suisse classifies “ultra high net worth individuals” (UHNW) as those people with at least $50 million in assets. According to CS’s 2011 Global Wealth Databook, more of these $50m+ UHNW people live in the United States than anywhere else in the world."

"Additionally, Americans in the top 0.1% have a disproportionately large share versus other countries with the most multi-millionaires."