Monday, January 15, 2018

Ready to land back in reality

Unpacking my brain at McCarrann Airport. I
I did OK, likely around $50 down, bet-wise, and that was more than made up with the free drinks.

Of course, if the Saints tackle Stefon Diggs in-bounds, I'd have another $88 coming back with me (had the Saints +5 and on the money line). The possibility of being in the Twin Cities the weekend of a Vikings Super Bowl looms quite obnoxiously.

Still a great weekend to be around great people. And since I hit a wall of Day 3 post-football exhaustion and had an early bedtime, I actually feel alright.

And despite the snow that seems to keep falling in southern Wisconsin, looks like we are still slated to get in on time. The 90 miles back to Madison from MKE might not be so easy, however. If only we had a regular train or flight-convenient bus service connecting those two places...

Anyway, back to reality tomorrow. But it was nice to get away from the gritty bleakness and escape for the weekend.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Live from above the Strip

I am out on my annual Vegas trip with some friends. Money is a bit shorter today but the drinks got paid for and life is good.

Don't have much more to say about our resident's "shithole" comments, other than it really illustrates how far down into the gutter today's GOP trash are.

Apparently "give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses" doesn't count in TrumpWorld if those people are of color. Duly noted, and how bought off are the GOP CongressCritters that they can't say "Fuck this senile nut job" and throw him overboard.

This has to be ended in 2018. But not by me, not this weekend anyway. I got legitimate bets to win here on the Strip (unlike the rigged casino on Wall Street, which is,being pumped up by some very funny money).

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Walker/WisGOP trying to delay Lincoln Hills action, but reality keeps creeping in

This is good stuff from Alan Talaga and Jon Lyons in the Isthmus.

And Scotty's about-face might also have been related to the fact that he knew of yet another bad incident at Lincoln Hills, which was made public yesterday.
Federal prosecutors are investigating an incident in which prison guards allegedly stormed into a disruptive 16-year-old inmate’s cell, broke his arm, strip searched him, left him naked for hours and didn’t get him to a doctor for more than a week.

Details of the March 2014 encounter at Lincoln Hills School for Boys emerged in interviews with the inmate and his mother, state records and a civil rights lawsuit the inmate filed last month, just after prosecutors notified two former guards they could be indicted.

“I told him, ‘You’re breaking my arm, you’re breaking my arm,’ and he kept pulling it harder,” Jacob Bailey said of his treatment from one guard.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and prison officials reviewed the incident at the time and determined little had gone wrong. Federal prosecutors are taking a different view.
Hmm, doesn't seem like Walker's promise of future action at some point is going to make these Lincoln Hills stories go away. And given that juvenile corrections had a $3.2 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2017, I'm going to reiterate my call for Dems on the Joint Finance Committee to file a formal objection to force a hearing on that and other state overdrafts.

We should know the price tag of these changes and to see if we can get a jump start on getting things on getting these problem in juveile corrections fixed in THIS budget cycle. I think that's a better idea than going with the Walker/WisGOP of sweeping the problems under the rug, and promising to do something in mid-2019...maybe.

A few more layoffs in Wis and the US recently. Don't panic...for now

While Wal-Mart may have gotten some nice PR by announcing they were going to boost its starting wage to $11 an hour (WOO-HOO! Benefits not included) and give some year-end bonuses to staff, you knew there had to be a catch. That catch was revealed later in the day.
Walmart is closing 63 Sam's Club stores across the US, the company told Business Insider.

Several stores were abruptly closed Thursday. In some cases, employees were not informed of the closures prior to showing up to work on Thursday.
Instead, they learned that their store would be closing when they found the store's doors locked and a notice announcing the closure, according to reports.

Ten of the affected stores will be turned into ecommerce distribution centres, and employees of those stores will have the opportunity to reapply for positions at those locations, a Walmart official said.

The remaining stores will stay open for several weeks before closing permanently. All of the affected stores were scrubbed from Sam's Club's website Thursday morning.

PR pay raises don't matter if there's no store

Included in that list are Wisconsin stores in Madison and West Allis. And the bad news kept coming as another notable Wisconsin retailer announced layoffs Thursday.
Middleton-based American Girl said Thursday it is cutting staff. Fifty-seven employees are losing their jobs, 21 of them in Wisconsin, effective immediately.

That amounts to a 3.2 percent work force reduction in Wisconsin, and 2.9 percent companywide.

"American Girl has been facing some major headwinds for the past several quarters," spokeswoman Julie Parks said. "The measures today were part of American Girl's ongoing efforts to truly control costs, align workforce with demand, and improve efficiencies where and when we can."

In the third quarter that ended Sept. 30, American Girl revenue was down 30 percent from the 2016 third quarter.
Many retailers announcing earnings and post-Christmas changes in the coming weeks, and given that the structural change from brick-and-mortar to online shopping seems to be accelerating, let’s see if there are more stories like this breaking in the near future.

Nationwide, the US reported the largest number of initial jobless claims in more than 3 months and the fourth straight week of increases, although at a seasonally-adjusted 261,000 claims, the number is still historically low. However, it was a bit concerning to see Wisconsin contribute to these recent increases, particular in the week before.
The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending December 30 were in New Jersey (+9,507), Pennsylvania (+6,850), Michigan (+5,920), Ohio (+5,773), and Wisconsin (+5,274), while the largest decreases were in California (-9,876), Kentucky (-5,485), Texas (-4,219), Oklahoma (-1,737), and Florida (-1,528).
Obviously with that being the “dead week” between Christmas and New Year’s, there’s not a whole lot to draw out of the one-week increase into a fuller picture of the economy. Further on in the jobless claims report, it says that Wisconsin’s big jump in claims was due to “layoffs in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation and warehousing industries,” which also seems weather and holiday-related.

But the advance initial claims for Wisconsin for the first week of January jumped another 1,908 claims from the higher amount of the previous week, and only 9 states had a higher increase for that week. It could be just a seasonal blip, but it may be worth keeping an eye on for the short-term.

There have also been a few other stories about companies cutting back in Wisconsin in the last few days. The most damaging one is likely what happened up in Price County late last week.
Layoffs at Flambeau River Papers surprised and shocked the community of Park Falls on Friday. The history of industrial papermaking in the city goes back more than a century.

Eighty-two people are now out of a job at one of the city's biggest employers.

Nearly 300 people were employed at the mill before the layoff. In a town of just about 2,300 people, it's a big change. Executives say it was a financial decision to make the mill more viable in the long run, but for the people who lost their jobs, they're just trying to find out what to do now.
It's been rough in the paper industry in general recently in Wisconsin, as over 500 people at the Appleton Coated plant are still out of work while that facility is being offered up to buyers, and Appvion announced in November it was laying off 200 people at its plant in Appleton and moving some operations out of state. Apparently right-to-work didn't save those jobs...

It still looks like the economy is growing decently despite these recent layoff notices, and I don't see anything yet that would cause any major drop in growth or cause the unemployment rate to go up much. But it also tells me things aren't as sunny as the still-rising stock market would indicate, and that there may be a few clouds rolling in soon despite the image that our GOP leaders are trying to have us believe exists in January 2018.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Unlike the rest of Walker's Wisconsin, Madison is a 2010s success story,

To pick up from my last post, let's go back to a tweet from our Fair Governor.

"Businesses have left and murders have gone up"? Let's go to the numbers!

Start with jobs, and let's begin our comparison in June 2011, as it allows us to look at how the state and the Madison area has performed since Act 10 and Walker’s first state budget were signed into law.

Based on figures from the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW), Dane County has outperformed the rest of the state in private sector job growth for every June-June period in each of the last 6 years, doubling up the state’s growth level in two of those years, and growing 4 times as fast in the 2015-16 period.

Adding up the last 6 years we find that the rate of private sector Dane County job growth has nearly doubled the rest of Wisconsin, at more than 15% compared to a statewide growth rate of 7.76%. And Dane County has outpaced the country while the rest of the state has fallen significantly behind.

As for Scotty’s knock on Madison crime? Even the AP’s Scott Bauer had to call BS on that, and noted that murders are up by 2/3 statewide since Gov Dropout took office.

And writer Chris Walker went deeper, noting that violent crime was down in Madison between 2011 and 2016 (2017 definitely had a rise, we'll see if it is a pattern or a blip). Meanwhile, Wisconsin hasn't been as lucky.
From the time Walker took over the governorship in 2011, and for the remainder of his tenure until the end of 2016, crime went up across the state — and not just in the city centers. The total statewide violent crime rate went up by 29.1 percent. In nonmetropolitan counties, violent crime went up by an even higher rate of 38.2 percent.

In Madison, from 2011 to 2016 the opposite holds true. Violent crime actually went down during that time, dropping by a rate of about 5 percent.

It’s not a huge drop, but it runs counter to what Walker’s claims were in his tweet on Thursday. Crime is not going “up” under Soglin’s watch — just the opposite. Crime is DOWN under Soglin, and UP across the rest of the state.
As a sidelight to this, the Assembly’s Jobs and Economy Committee had a hearing today where Scott Walker and other state agencies want to use $6.8 million in taxpayer dollars in a campaign to attract potential workers to relocate to Wisconsin. Why? Because as Walker himself admitted “We need more bodies” as low population growth has made the talent pool non-existent for employers in many parts of the state.

You know one of the few places in Wisconsin getting those bodies? The City of Madison and Dane County.

In fact, Dane County is responsible for more than half of the population growth in Wisconsin between 2011 and 2016. And the City of Madison was nearly 45% of that growth in Dane county, meaning Soglin's city has accounted for nearly 1/4 of the state’s added "bodies" by itself.

For the record, I’m someone who lists Paul Soglin near the bottom of my choice of candidates in the large Dem field for Governor, and I think this is a useless vanity project for the old guy. But in terms of ways to attack him, “Madison is crime-ridden and declining” is literally the last approach that anyone should take.

Look, I know Mr. "Divide and Conquer" is pulling a lame resentment play for the rubes because he thinks that tactic is still an electoral winner. But it seems very stupid for Walker to have a campaign that tries to claim things are going great in Wisconsin, and then be denigrating the one part of the state that actually is doing well in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. Even more amazing is that Walker ripped on the Capitol City one day after it was revealed that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is having the Madison area as a centerpiece of a separate $1 million marketing campaign to encourage Illinois residents to seek a better life in Wisconsin.

The mixed messages led State Rep. Chris Taylor to rightfully give Walker’s act a “WTF?”
“We’re spending $1 million on ads telling Chicago residents what a great place Madison is to live, while at the same time, Governor Walker is taking to Twitter to attack it,” said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “The Governor can’t have it both ways. The fact of the matter is, Madison and Dane County are economic drivers for our state. You would think that a Governor who has failed to jumpstart Wisconsin’s economy or raise stagnate wages would be bragging about the thriving Dane County region. Why such hostility towards a proven economic driver of our state’s economy?” …

“It is important to recognize that jobs follow people. People increasingly want to live where there are good schools, strong transportation infrastructure and public amenities such as attractive parks. After learning last week Wisconsin is a top 10 state for people moving away, it’s time for the Governor to stop playing election year politics, and start acting in the best interest of our state.”

I’ll also forward you to the observations of John Peterson at DemoCurmudgeon. John not only calls out Walker for the absurd and scared Tweets, but Peterson also noted that if you want to talk about someone who mismanaged a major metro area in Wisconsin, look no further than Walker’s awful 8 years as Milwaukee County Executive before he became governor.

As I’ve said numerous times in the last few years, maybe Wisconsin “needs more Madison”, and to learn from the economic success that has happened here. It seems a better strategy than trying to knock down one of the few areas in the state that people want to live and work in.

To get talent, Wis doesn't need a marketing campaign. It needs to remove Walker and WisGOP

Wisconsin’s “Economic Development” slush fund organization thinks they have a plan to counteract the state’s brain drain and low population growth. The strategy involves throwing taxpayer dollars to our south to do it.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. launched the $1 million marketing campaign Monday — the first of its kind in state history — with a series of ads contrasting cramped subway cars and apartments in Chicago with cheaper rent and faster commute times in Wisconsin.

“The choice is yours,” states one ad featuring paddlers on Lake Monona with Monona Terrace gleaming in the background. “In Wisconsin, the average commute is less than 22 minutes, so you can spend less time traversing the rails and more time in the sun exploring our 15,000 lakes. Wisconsin. It’s more you.”…

The ad campaign, which runs through June 30, targets 21- to 35-year-olds with idyllic scenes from 15 locations around the state, including Madison, McFarland, Monona, Milwaukee, the Milwaukee suburbs, Green Bay, Appleton, Portage, Nekoosa, Wausau and the Ashwaubenon forest. (1 of 1): 0:17

It includes advertising on social media and other websites, posters in health clubs, coasters in downtown Chicago bars, and ads on the interior and exterior of Chicago Transit Authority trains. WEDC also has redesigned its website to provide job, housing and lifestyle resources for those looking to move to Wisconsin.
That sounds nice, but there’s a problem. What WEDC says is so good about Wisconsin is being taken apart by the GOPs that are running this state.

To prove this point, on the same day that WEDC rolls out this $1 million campaign talking up Wisconsin’s scenery and higher quality of life, this bill advanced in the GOP-run State Legislature.
A Wisconsin Senate committee voted along party lines Tuesday to advance a bill that would eliminate all of Wisconsin’s state air pollution regulations.

Under the proposal, the state Department of Natural Resources would have the option to reintroduce those regulations. All existing federal regulations would continue.

"All we're asking is that our scientists at the DNR just take a look at all the things that they regulate above and beyond the EPA, and make sure that it still makes sense," said Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, one of the bill’s sponsors. "If it does, we'll regulate it. If it doesn't, based upon what the scientists say, we won't."…

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute support the bill. The American Lung Association, the Sierra Club and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters oppose the plan.
Yeah, I’m sure a group of Donald Trump/ Scott Pruitt appointees will go heavy against polluting corporations in Wisconsin. C’mon, they’ll look the other way just like they did last week when it came to Foxconn filling wetlands in SE Wisconsin.

And also on the same day that WEDC launches a campaign, to encourage people to come to Madison for its quality of life, Governor “Divide and Conquer” has this to say about the city whose metro area has added the most jobs and people to the state in his tenure.

This is also the same Governor who ran against Tom Barrett in 2012 saying “We don’t want the rest of the state to look like Milwaukee,” with the race-baiting connotations clearly intended. Does Governor Dropout realize that the millennials that you are trying to impress have the Google, and can see what you have done and said about the two cities they are most likely to want to come to?

And this fact isn't helping to bring anyone with talent and options to the state, either.

I’ve got an odd concept. Instead of Republicans who play divisive political games and try to stir up resentful rubes in dead-end dying towns, maybe we should elect public officials who are concerned with having ALL Wisconsin communities get better, and promotes the entire state.

And instead of giving lip service to quality of life in our ads, maybe we should pass policies that expand on our (shrinking) advantages in natural scenery and public education, and work to improve our public transit and infrastructure instead of defunding it. And maybe our companies should pay competitive wages on a scale of bigger metro areas like Chicago and the Twin Cities, instead of us having the lowest manufacturing wages in the Midwest?

Scott Walker and the Republicans would rather mess up the good things that we have (or had) in this state in favor of more ALEC-written crap from campaign contributors. And it’s especially foolish to think that the people we want to attract to come to the state won’t see through the empty words of WEDC if they do 5 minutes of research, and realize this is a state that will be in decline as long as WisGOP is in control.

So if WEDC is serious about getting people to come here for their careers and settle down here, I have a simple answer. Return Wisconsin to the progressive, beautiful and fun state that we had before 2011. You know, the time before Scott Walker and the corrosive slime that accompanied him decided to disassemble everything that made people want “Escape to Wisconsin”?

And as an extra perk, we won’t have to waste $1 million in taxpayer dollars on ads that won’t work on anyone with an IQ above bug level.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

People shouldn't gamble more on Wall Street. They need a raise and a safety net

As the stock market continues to inexplicably climb, it's worthy to note that it is causing the country to be even more a two-tier society than it already is. Let's go back to November, when CNN ran this article illustrating the gigantic gap in household wealth that exists in this country.

Related to that, Yahoo! Finance had an article this week noting that many Americans have little or no savings for retirement.
The study by the National Institute on Retirement Security, using data from the U.S. Federal Reserve, shows that retirement savings "are dangerously low" and that the U.S. retirement savings deficit is between $6.8 and $14 trillion.

Worse, the median retirement account balance is $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households, the study reports…

"If Americans continue to ignore their future, I anticipate a serious retirement train wreck in 20 to 30 years," says John Brandy, founder of Open Mind Generations, in Redmond, Washington.

The typical savings rate for most people is somewhere around 1 to 3 percent of their annual income, and that's nowhere near enough to turn the tide on low retirement savings. However, history suggests that if we save roughly 10 percent of our incomes, we're likely to achieve many of our goals," Brandy says. "And, if we save 20 percent from gross income before health insurance and taxes, that we are likely to able to achieve most, if not all, of our financial goals."
Well, sure. Just get rid of all the other expenses people have to deal with in their lives (like rent/mortgage, other insurance, student loans, credit cards, etc), and ignore rising health insurance expenses, and there won’t be any problems!

If that DID happen, then our economy would be significantly slowed down, because around 70% of our economy is based on consumer spending. As I’ve mentioned before, a main reason that GDP growth has bumped up in the last year is because the US savings rate has plummeted to levels that we saw right before the Great Recession hit. If that suddenly reversed and people started saving 3-5 times as much as they are now, our economy would likely slide into recession, which would lead to layoffs and lower incomes. Paradoxically, those lower incomes would then make it less likely people can save the 10-20% that Brandy references.

And those “savings” basically involve throwing your extra income into the stock market and other investments. Naturally, this will blow the current Bubbles even higher, and combined with the slowdown in consumer spending, it seems like we’d see that recession get worse.

In addition, many of the same people who don’t save much are among the large amount of Americans who aren’t benefitting from the runup in the bull(shit) stock market. As USA Today noted last week, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 25,000 for the first time ever.
Many Americans, however, have not benefited from the stock market's multi-year rise, as only 54% have investments in stocks, down from 62% before the 2008 financial crisis, according to Gallup. Many Main Street investors got out of the market after it lost more than half its value in the 2007-09 bear market and never got back in.

The Dow closed higher for a third straight day to start the year. It is coming off its best year since 2013.

It took the Dow just 35 calendar days to climb from 24,000 to 25,000, tying the fastest 1,000-point climbs, including the rise to 11,000 back in May 1999 and run to 21,000 in March 2017, S&P Dow Jones Indices data show.
So the stock market is partying like it’s 1999? That’s not really a good thing, if you remember what happened next.

S&P 500 returns, 2000-2002
2000 -9.1%
2001 -11.9%
2002 -22.1%

So instead of having Americans “save more” by throwing extra money into a stock market that is due to go back down, I have a better suggestion for improving retirement security. Why don’t we encourage policies that lead to BETTER WAGES while people are working, so people can pay their bills and have more money available to both spend and save?

In addition, why don’t we EXPAND SOCIAL SECURITY and make it available to people younger than 62, so people can comfortably continue spending money on needs and wants as they know they have Social Security backing them up. And not have so many Americans be one bad break away from going over the edge.

And you know what’s also great about better wages and expanded Social Security? It’ll have a better chance of keeping our consumer-driven economy afloat instead of spending less now and gambling on the Wall Street casino with very little margin for loss. Seems like a more sustainable model than what we've seen for the last 40 years of lowering taxes on the rich and corporate, and shredding the safety net for everyone else.