Friday, November 27, 2015

Packers offer up an egg on Thanksgiving

It's tough enough to stay up after a certain time of night when you reach a certain age and stuff your face at Thanksgiving. But then I stayed up and watched THAT CRAP LAST NIGHT from the Packers. Seriously, you get an amazing scene that includes Starr and Favre meeting at the center of Lambeau Field at halftime as the whole country is watching on national TV, and how could the Packers possibly lose?

BUT THEY DID. Sure, the weather was God-awful, but there's no excuse for the team going and lays another egg at home against a lesser division rival. Beyond unacceptable and completely bewildering. This Packers team has gone completely downhill since it hit the bye week at 6-0, and even more amazing is that it's the team's passing game that is listless and seems to be completely lacking in chemistry and execution. Davante Adams is beyond brutal- he caught 2 balls on 11 targets and allowed himself to get beat on Rodgers' INT, a feat that is very hard to do. Randall Cobb can't stretch the field, no other WR can win at the line of scrimmage, and Aaron Rodgers is inaccurate and seems to be playing hurt (I could see an off-season surgery in his future).

When it comes to the Pack this morning, the clip that keeps playing in my head is this classic from Jim Mora.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

None dare call it Fascism- until now

I happened to come across this excellent sequence on Chris Hayes' show on MSNBC, which discussed the increasing connection people are drawing between Donald Trump's rhetoric and the mentality of Fascism. The best part is when former DNC Chair Howard Dean comes on around 6:20 and goes right for the jugular, calling out not only Trump, but the entire GOP as an "authoritarian party" which has dog-whistled these same statements for years.

This is exactly how the Dems need to talk to the American people. Hang the GOP's racism and anti-democratic leanings around their necks! And make the average person understand the real danger that exists behind this mentality. Many bystanders think that "Oh, they can't be that bad" and don't want to believe the ugliness that is inherent in today's GOP.

Some may say that Dean is blunt and abrasive, but he tends to be right. I remember back in the Summer of 2004 when Dean reacted to the Bush Administration raising the Terror Threat Status by saying "Well, I hope it's legitimate and not being done for politics and trying to scare people." Then fast-forward 5 years and look what we found out.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge claims in a new book that he was pressured by other members of President George W. Bush's Cabinet to raise the nation's terror alert level just before the 2004 presidential election.

Ridge says he objected to raising the security level despite the urgings of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, according to a publicity release from Ridge's publisher. He said the episode convinced him to follow through with his plans to leave the administration; he resigned on Nov. 30, 2004.
So yes, the Bushies were manipulating the terror threat and the American people, and Dean was right to say so.

It's well past time to have people like Dean put back in charge of the Democratic Party, and heading up tickets for office. The people are looking for RIGHT and HONEST, which helps explains the rise of Trump (the racist, blunt trash-talking is confused for honesty), because the people know most of our political candidates and media aren't speaking to the reality that most people are facing. They also want to see the lies called out, and the puppets exposed.

The 20th Century is over, and it's well past time for the Dems to act like it, and stop caring about a handful of soccer Moms and care more about the wider group of people who are angry and struggling every day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why are those working-class whites voting to screw themselves?

The New York Times’ Sunday Review ran this excellent article from ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis, which discussed why lower-income whites in many impoverished rural areas are increasingly voting Republican, At first glance, this trend doesn't seem to make sense given the anti-worker and pro-corporate policies of the GOP, but MacGillis (who wrote a definitive description of Scott Walker’s appeal among angry white Wisconsinites last year) notes that rural areas are trending Republican is because older and working class people are voting out of resentment of those deemed below them on the social scale. And then that is combined with poor people not getting to the voting booth to balance out those angry working-class votes, leading to a net win for the GOP.
There has been a particularly sharp drop in support for redistribution among older Americans, who perhaps see it as a threat to their own Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, researchers such as Kathryn Edin, of Johns Hopkins University, have pinpointed a tendency by Americans in the second lowest quintile of the income ladder — the working or lower-middle class — to dissociate themselves from those at the bottom, where many once resided. “There’s this virulent social distancing — suddenly, you’re a worker and anyone who is not a worker is a bad person,” said Edin. “They’re playing to the middle fifth and saying, ‘I’m not those people.’ “

Meanwhile, many people who in fact most use and need social benefits are simply not voting at all. Voter participation is low among the poorest Americans, and in many parts of the country that have moved red, the rates have fallen off the charts. West Virginia ranked 50th for turnout in 2012; also in the bottom 10 were other states that have shifted sharply red in recent years, including Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee.

In the spring of 2012, I visited a free weekend medical and dental clinic run by the organization Remote Area Medical in the foothills of southern Tennessee. I wanted to ask the hundreds of uninsured people flocking to the clinic what they thought of President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, whose fate was about to be decided by the Supreme Court. I was expecting a “What’s the Matter With Kansas” reaction — anger at the president who had signed the law geared to help them. Instead, I found sympathy for Obama. But had they voted for him? Of course not — almost no one I spoke with voted, in local, state or national elections. Not only that, but they had barely heard of the health care law.

This political disconnect among lower-income Americans has huge ramifications — polls find nonvoters are far more likely to favor spending on the poor and on government services than are voters, and the gap grows even larger among poor nonvoters. In the early 1990s, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky freely cited the desirability of having a more select electorate when he opposed an effort to expand voter registration. And this fall, Scott Jennings, a longtime McConnell adviser, reportedly said low turnout by poor Kentuckians explained why the state’s Obamacare gains wouldn’t help Democrats. “I remember being in the room when Jennings was asked whether or not Republicans were afraid of the electoral consequences of displacing 400,000–500,000 people who have insurance,” State Auditor Adam Edelen, a Democrat who lost his re-election bid this year, told Joe Sonka, a Louisville journalist. “And he simply said, ‘People on Medicaid don’t vote.’
This cold-blooded calculation by arrogant corporatist politicians happens because they do not fear a popular uprising that will get them thrown out of office. It also illustrates the foolishness in Dem strategy to ignore the needs of this large group of people in order to appear “unoffensive” to try to appeal to dwindling numbers of “swing voters” like soccer moms and hot-shot entrepreneurs. GOPs are less likely to waste their time dealing with such mushy, financially-comfortable folks, and instead work on stirring up the masses below them.

Which is the other point of MacGillis’s article, noting that many lower-income but working individuals in these little towns are trending Republican because they have a personal experience with the people below them, but don’t see the corporations and oligarchs that are holding their wages down and are more likely to be the cause of the destitution that they witness.
The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.
What Democrats have failed to do over the last 30 decades is to link the negative consequences that are hitting the poorest Americans with the equally negative consequences of corporatist policies that are hurting the lower-class workers above the poor. There is plenty of talk about what should be done for those who are out of work or too sick too sick to work, but not enough about those who still do have jobs, but are getting screwed over on wages and benefits because of pro-corporate policies that encourage outsourcing, discourage unionization, and lessen economic opportunity for the vast majority of us.

Democrats don’t make the argument forcefully enough that “The GOP is SCREWING YOU TOO,” and instead talk about the worst cases (which are most likely to need government assistance), if they talk about economic issues at all. The average low-wage earning white person that is already resentful at their stagnant/declining position in society tunes this message out, since it isn’t directly relevant to their lives. They also become more apt to vote GOP to get even with those “others” that either are getting welfare benefits which they don’t qualify for, or they resent those who benefitted from better education and/or unionization (options that may not have been available to them), and ended up with a better life than the mediocre existence that the working-class person has to deal with.

Combine that mentality with a desire to believe in “‘Murican Exceptionalism,” that our system is the one which works best, and that there is a chance to get ahead in this society. Let’s face it, who wants to admit that they have wasted much of their life in a losing game, and that it would take a radical change at a later point in life to become better off? It is much easier to blame others, and try to kick down at those who aren’t at your level, than it is to say “the whole game is rigged”, and demand fundamental change that takes a lot more work to pull off.

Which is perhaps the bigger point- while this country is undoubtably much better off economically than when Barack Obama took office in 2009, it hasn’t undergone the fundamental change and reordering of priorities that was necessary to wash away the disastrous stain of the Bush Administration before it. As a result, the standard of living for the average working person hasn’t improved enough (if at all) compared to a decade ago, and there is the looming reality of the next downturn making things worse. These uncertainties lead to fear, and fear leads to irrationality, and voting “against your own interests.” And because Democrats in the White House haven’t gone far enough to end the “Wall Street over Main Street” economy that has led to such rampant inequality and stagnation of wages for the lower half of American earners, more white people in the lower half of that spectrum are susceptible to voting for Republicans who appeal to their more base instincts of hate and resentment.

Which is why we must go further, and be more forceful in denouncing pro-corporate policies. This includes turning down the job-busting Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and demanding higher wages not just for those making $7.25 an hour, but also for those stuck in a mediocre $12-an-hour job. It also should include stronger anti-trust legislation to preserve competition and discourage the mega-mergers that are resulting in increasing layoffs in the name of increased profit over increased pay (just ask the workers at the soon-to-be-closed Oscar Mayer plant how that merger is working out for them). And yes, this includes active support for UNIONS and other collective action, because that is likely the only way that rich, connected corporates will ever raise wages for the lower-level earner.

And it’s only through an unapologetically progressive ECONOMIC platform that there will be a larger voter turnout, and a change in voting habits that will enable this country to turn back the regressive actions that have happened since the disastrous 2010 election. That election not only flipped the House to the Republicans and rewarded the obstructionism of the GOP ion Obama's first two years, but it also resulted in the gerrymandering that led to Congresses and State Legislatures passing bills that are increasingly out of touch with the wants and needs of the larger society. This strong economic platform has to happen now and it needs to happen on a national scale, because we’ve seen what the failure to do so has resulted in for Wisconsin- regressive policies that benefit the rich and connected at the expense of almost everybody else, with previously pro-union areas in Northeast Wisconsin turning redder and redder, and allowing the downward spiral and increasing inequality to continue.

Wanna know why I feel the Bern? This reality is a big reason why, because he won’t play footsie with the oligarchs that have driven this country’s economy into the ditch, and will expose the working classes to the real people that are holding them back. And he is the Democratic candidate that is most likely to spark that large turnout and awakening to the white working classes that can give the Dems a chance at the big win in 2016 they need to have.

Monday, November 23, 2015

There goes that Walker talking point- property taxes going up

When Scott Walker signed the Wisconsin State Budget this July, he tried to use the document as a way to sell his record for his soon-to-start (and soon-to-fail) presidential campaign. And central to that campaign was this claim.
“With this budget, taxpayers come first,” said Governor Walker. “Property taxes will be cut for an unprecedented six years in a row, while additional money is invested in K-12 education and expanding educational choices for parents and their students.
Sure, the projected property tax cut was only going to total $3 in the next 2 years. "But hey," said the rubes, "it still beats taxes going up."

Sorry rubes, but you were snookered. Your dreams of lower property taxes for the next two years just went out the window, as the Legislative Fiscal Bureau came out last week, and said instead of a $1 decrease on the average property tax bill in Wisconsin, those bills will now go UP by an average of $16 when they get shipped out in coming weeks. Ruh roh.

So why did it happen? The LFB says it was because of a couple of items that had been lurking in the background in recent months.
Over half of the tax bill difference ($10) is attributable to equalized values. The increase in residential property value due to economic factors is used to calculate the year-to-year change in the median home value, and the difference between the growth rates for total value and the home value is an important element in determining tax bill changes. When the value of an existing property increases by a lower percentage than the percentage change in total value, the existing property will comprise a smaller share of total tax base, and the percentage of taxes apportioned to the existing property will decline. In the July 27th memorandum, total taxable value was estimated to increase at a rate that was 1.1% higher than the home value change, but the actual 2015 equalized values reflect a difference of only 0.8%. Compared to the earlier estimate, less of the 2015(16) tax levy will be shifted to other property and more of the tax levy will be borne by existing homes.

The rest of the tax bill difference ($7) is due to somewhat higher school and technical college district tax levy increases and slightly less lottery proceeds available, in comparison to the July 27 estimated amounts. Statewide levy increases of 2.1% for school districts and 2.4% for technical college districts compare to earlier estimated increases of 1.6% and 2.0%, respectively. In dollar terms, the reported increases exceed the earlier projections by $21.7 million for school districts and by $1.4 million for technical college districts. In October, the Joint Committee on Finance approved a Department of Administration estimate of lottery proceeds available for distribution as property tax credits in 2015-16. The action lowered the estimate of available funding by $1.4 million from $162.8 million under Act 55 to $161.4 million in October.
Hey, who could have predicted that? Oh wait, (points both thumbs) THIS GUY! Oh and that lottery credit is supposed to decline further next year. Double ruh roh.

The higher-than-expected increase in school levies are likely a big reason behind the absurd bill in the GOP Legislature that is intended to limit the ability of school districts to go to referendum to raise property taxes. Because one of the few tangible "positive" things the WisGOPs have been able to claim over this 5-year Reign of Error is "your taxes are lower!" Now that bullet is going away, and it's a direct result of GOP policies that cut funding for K-12 public schools, causing them to have to go to referendum just to leave the lights on and keep the buildings from falling down. And what's even worse than seeing property taxes go up is promising to the average low-info voter that they'd go down....and to have them find out otherwise. So to try to mitigate the damage from their own failed policies and a general backwards-ass mentality when it comes to taxes, many WisGOPs would rather blow up their earlier approval of "local control" and screw up public schools even further just to be able to have a campaign talking point. That's GOP "governance" for you.

What's even dumber about that referendum bill is that not only is it pissing a lot of people off as a usurping of local control, that bill won't matter for the 2016 elections anyway! Because higher property taxes will be on the bills that are coming out in a couple of weeks, and the next set of property tax bills won't come out until after those 2016 elections take place, with little chance of taxes being limited by the bill until the year after that. And the state budget is too busted for rising property taxes to be fixed in any useful fashion that doesn't involve major service cuts, or other taxes going up.

'Tis quite the quandry, is it not? But Scott Walker and WisGOP did it to themselves, and their gimmicks about lowering property taxes have now gone past merely being bad policy that leads to a low-wage, declining economy, the "lower taxes" claim isn't even true anymore. Go ahead and run on that, guys!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Stone-cold theft in Madison- non-WEDC version

Yeah, this happened yesterday to my alma mater.

What a complete robbery. Yes, I understand that Bucky can't be turning the ball over 5 times and expect to win. BUT THEY STILL HAD IT TAKEN FROM THEM. To overturn a game-winning TD based on that video.... it sure makes you wonder if the video replay guy had Northwestern on the money line. There's no other explanation I can come up with, and the inevitable apology from the Big Ten offices will not help me feel better.

Being a liberal sports fan in this state has meant one kick to the groin after another for the last 12+ months. You get this close to a bigtime moment, and then it gets pulled away fro you (even the great UW hoops run to the title game ended up with that 2nd half jam job by the refs vs Duke). And yesterday just added to the list.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

WEDC literally out of control- handing out $ they don't have

Another day, and another revelation on how the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the Walker Administration that created it refuse to follow rules or show any ethics other than paying back their buddies. This development is the result of a rare act of journalism in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, courtesy of Jason Stein, and involves the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau sending a letter to WEDC saying that the agency is making promises that it literally can’t pay off.
The letter by fiscal bureau director Bob Lang was sent to then-WEDC chief executive officer Reed Hall on Aug. 19 and said WEDC had awarded $101.7 million in contracts, or $21.3 million more than its legal limit.

"Our office consulted with several legislative attorneys. They reviewed the relevant statutes and concluded that it appears likely that a court would (prohibit the awards)," Lang wrote….

The jobs tax credit was designed to provide incentives to companies that spent money to either hire workers or train them. The credit, which was limited to $10 million a year in total, could be paid out to a company over a period of 10 years.

That's where the dispute comes in, with WEDC and legislative attorneys disagreeing on whether WEDC could make awards in a given year that would be worth more than $10 million over the life of the awards without at least including a contract clause that allows the state to back out if future lawmakers don't set aside enough money for them.
A WEDC spokesman and the Wisconsin Department of Justice are claiming that the overselling of tax credits is just fine, because they say the limits are only based on when the tax credits are cashed in, but Lang’s concern is that being locked into contracts for years could tie the hands of future legislators and governors, without any budget including provisions for all those tax credits to be used.

There’s also the continual problem of WEDC being literally out of control, handing out tax credits on an excessive basis while seeming to ignore any rules or constraints laid out by legislators, and giving no real criteria for deciding who is worthy of those incentives (well, except for donation history to the Wisconsin GOP’s candidates- HAH!). At the same time, we have seen how these “job creator” tax credits have been gamed by companies such as Johnson Controls (who got tax breaks for adding jobs a couple of years ago, and now will outsource those same jobs in the coming months), and WEDC seems to have been asleep at the wheel while major employers such as Oscar Mayer and Tyson Chicken announced major layoffs and plant closings in the state.

Stein’s report and other WEDC-related failures of this week have led some state legislators to grow louder in their calls to end this slush fund. First among them was State Sen. Dave Hansen, who was saying this before Stein’s article came out.
Wisconsin workers should not have to pay to eliminate their own jobs nor should taxpayers be on the hook for commitments made by a rogue agency that continues to flout state law. It is way past time to admit that WEDC is a failure and shut it down.”

“There is no way to re-brand WEDC. It is a failed agency with a flawed structure that has done nothing but invite corruption and the waste of taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers and legislators from both parties should not settle for anything less than a complete tearing down of WEDC and a complete rebuild of our entire economic development program-including determining exactly what our state’s economic development mission should be.”
Also asking for the end of WEDC was Republican State Sen. Steven Nass, and while he’s often wrong about most everything else, nASS has constantly ripped WEDC’s performance and distortion of market outcomes, and refused to vote for Gov Walker’s latest CEO of WEDC. In a press release discussing the Tyson plant closing in Jefferson (which is in Nass’s district), he ended with this:
WEDC is seriously damaged and failing to effectively meet the public’s jobs in creating and saving jobs through it[s] programs to assist the private sector. We can’t waste any more time and resources in trying to save the Titanic from sinking.
Top Democrats in the Assembly are want WEDC to be blown up. The Number 2 Democrat in the Assembly, Rep. Katrina Shankland, who called WEDC “a personal piggy bank for Walker’s campaign contributors,” and said it was “beyond repair.” There also was a statement released by (future Governor) State Rep. Chris Taylor, who summed it up succinctly.
What else is it going to take for legislative Republicans to get serious about shutting WEDC down? We delivered a pink slip to Governor Walker when he was fired from the WEDC Board by the Legislature during the budget and now it’s time we deliver a pink slip to this failed job creation agency. From issuing millions in corporate welfare to individuals committing fraud to this latest development where $21 million in tax credits were illegally issued by the State – WEDC has been an embarrassment to our state for years.

The biggest Christmas present that Governor Walker and legislative Republicans could give the taxpayers this holiday season is toshut WEDC down. Our Governor couldn’t come close to meeting his 250,000 job creation campaign promise and now in 2015 Wisconsin has almost doubled the number of [mass] layoffs from 2014. This is an agency surrounded by fraud, waste and abuse and it’s time legislative Republicans admit they were wrong and agree to shut WEDC down.
The heat is definitely getting turned up on this issue, and no matter how much the Legislative GOP tries to distract with bathroom bills and legalizing corruption, WEDC’s failures keep creeping to the top. As I mentioned last week, there’s clearly concern from the GOPs that things are going to blow up even worse in the coming weeks, hence their leaders’ recent lip service of possibly doing some changes to WEDC. But I have severe doubts that most WisGOPs will have the guts to try to clean up the dirty, slushy mess that is WEDC- they gain too much from it.

Which is why you can bet the next 12 months will see more WEDC failures and corruption get exposed, and Wisconsin continue to lag economically and morally. It's a reality won’t change until the leaders are changed…..or they get perp walked.

Friday, November 20, 2015

October jobs look great- but probably aren't real

On the surface, these jobs numbers for October look outstanding.
Wisconsin added a statistically significant 15,100 private-sector jobs and 16,100 total non-farm jobs from September 2015 to October 2015 (seasonally adjusted). The addition of 15,100 private-sector jobs over the month is the largest one-month gain since April 1992, based on publicly available data. The month of October also saw significant job gains of 2,500 in manufacturing, 1,400 in financial activities, 5,000 in professional and business services, and 3,900 in education and health services. Wisconsin's significant year-over-year gains include the addition 50,800 total non-farm jobs and 43,600 private-sector jobs, which also include 14,100 additional jobs in education and health services, 4,700 jobs in financial activities, and 2,500 jobs in information.

•Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.3 percent in October 2015, unchanged from September 2015.The 4.3 percent rate is below the national unemployment rate of 5.0 percent for the month and below the state's rate of 5.3 percent in October 2014. The state's October rate is still the lowest for the month since April 2001, when the rate was 4.3 percent. Additionally, the state's labor force participation rate of 67.6 percent in October continues to outpace the national rate of 62.4 percent.
And in a rarity, the labor force rose in October, and the "steadiness" of the unemployment rate actually masks a drop from 4.34% to 4.26%. So apparently our state was booming last month. Who knew?

The reason you or I may not have known happy days were here again is because those reported numbers should come with a huge amount of caution. The first of which includes the huge downward revisions from September’s numbers that are in the same jobs report that’s trumpeting the major increase in October.

Revisions from September 2015 Wisc. Jobs report
Private sector
Revision -5,700
Revised Sept. total -7,000

Total jobs
Revision -7,400
Revised Sept. total -6,000

So if you put the last two months together, the totals become +8,100 in the private sector and 10,100 overall. That’s still pretty good, but not really different what would be expected in two months that added (445,000 jobs) nationwide.

In addition, Wisconsin’s October jobs numbers have been subject to wide changes in each of the last two years. Take a look at what was originally reported by the DWD, and then compare it to what happened with benchmark revisions done early the following year, when jobs figures are compared to the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages and then adjusted.

October jobs change, Wisconsin 2013 + 2014
October 2013
Reported +12,400 private, +11,900 total
Revised +600 private, -1,000 total

October 2014
Reported +4,000 private, +100 total
Revised +11,100 private, +11,300 total

So let's hold onto our hats on that preliminary figure of more than 16,000 jobs being added for October in the state. It seems like that number will be modified in a few months.

Another bit of data in that monthly report that undermines the alleged increase in October jobs is the inclusion of preliminary numbers from the next QCEW, which will be released nationwide next month. This goes over the June 2014-June 2015 time period in the more refined “gold standard” jobs report, and it shows that things weren’t exactly peachy a few months ago. Those numbers say that 30,735 private sector jobs were added, which is only 1.27% growth, the worst growth in a quarter for Wisconsin since the end of 2013. Total jobs also declined, to just under 29,000 total jobs and 1.03% growth.

This year-over-year QCEW figure is about 3,000 less than what was reported by the Wisconsin DWD this Summer, and as UW Professor Menzie Chinn notes, this has been a common trend over the last couple of years in Fitzwalkerstan, which likely means that the jobs numbers will be revised down when the next benchmarking happens in early 2016.

But hey, maybe the DWD is right, and maybe we did just match the private sector job growth for the first nine months of 2015 with what we added in October, despite the continual reports of mass layoffs being announced by Wisconsin businesses (Johnson Controls in Milwaukee and the Tyson Chicken plant in Jefferson are the latest to make those announcements with nearly 700 layoffs between them). However, I’ll maintain a healthy skepticism about the DWD’s theory that “Happy Days are Here Again,” especially given the data-hiding that this Administration has been recently doing, and I’d recommend that you do the same.