Monday, December 31, 2012

See you on the other side of the cliff

Well, this'll wrap it up for 2012 here at the Funhouse. Yes, I'm aware there's some work to be done over in D.C, but from what I can tell, we won't see any real action on this before the new Congress comes in on Thursday. This is fine with me, as a lot of the members of the lame-ass current Congress are either gone or will have new constituencies due to redistricting, so why have these people make decisions when they won't have to face the voters for the consequences of their actions? Plus, any moves made in January can be made retroactive to January 1, and if played right, could be given out as a tax rebate check that people can see and will spend.

I really haven't changed my mind on the way I think this should be resolved. I'll forward to you the CBO report that was released going over the various parts of the fiscal changes, which not only shows the effects on the deficit, but (more importantly to me) shows the changes in GDP that would happen as a result of all these measures. And those figures estimated the drop in 2013's GDP that would result from keeping the tax cuts on the rich vs. getting rid of them to be all of 0.1%. Add to the fact that the lowering of tax rates for the rich has led to stangnant wages for most Americans, larger amounts of inequality, and profit-hoarding, and letting these taxes go up is a no-brainer to me.

I'm even a bit perturbed at the possibility that the Dems and Obama may allow the tax cuts to stay for the $250K-$450K wage group, although if they raise cap gains and dividends and don't touch Social Security and Medicare benefits, I'd live with that compromise. It'd be even better if they kept the 4.2% Social Security tax rate, but extended it to every dollar instead of capping it at $113,000 or so, (the current system is really a back-door tax cut for the upper incomes that most of us don't get, and getting rid of it would make Social Security be fully funded). But failing that, I'd live with going back to 6.2% if it keeps Social Security on the level for the next generation (which it would).

Otherwise, I basically said what I needed to say in detail last month, and I'm sticking with it. Keeping the economy growing still needs to be our priority, and doing so will reduce the deficit every bit as much as cutting spending on needed domestic programs and keeping our safety nets and economic security in place. And it would prevent us from falling into a constant austerity cycle that continues to plague Europe, resulting in the Eurozone falling back into recession with record un-employment. This recession was brought on by deficit-based budget cuts, which led to slower growth, which led to more deficits and cuts, and basically everyone gets screwed except the lucky few who have the right connections to the people in power.

Because I don't see us falling into the austerity-cycle trap, I'm not fearing the fiscal issues in early 2013- and I'm fairly certain something will get passed before the damage gets too great (though it'll be fun to see CNBC and co. freak in the next few weeks as their gravy train ends). And if the Dems play tough and expose the GOP as the clueless fiscal fools they reall are, it could set the stage for "Wipeout 2014," which could make 2006's wave look small.

See you on the other side of the cliff in 2013. I'm off to prepare for the festivities to kiss this year good-bye.

Hoosiers show Wisconsin the way...down

As a former resident of the state of Indiana, I still keep tabs on how that place is doing. It was part of the reason I didn't want to miss yesterday's amazing tribute to Colts coach Chuck Pagano as he returned to the sidelines after being treated for cancer, and the Colts then hammering the Texans and knocking J.J. Watt and company out of home-field advantage for the playoffs.

But it also gives me a bit of insight on the policies of one of Scott Walker's political idols- Mitch Daniels (you can read the J-S's 2011 profile of Mitch and his influence on Walker here). Mitch is leaving the governorship of Indiana this week after serving two terms, and this story in the Indianapolis Star is a good indication of what'll happen if we allow the age of Fitzwalkerstan to continue.

It doesn't take long for you to see who benefitted from Mitch's 8 years in office- and it wasn't most Hoosiers.
During his 2004 campaign for governor, Mitch Daniels repeatedly slammed Democratic incumbent Joe Kernan for Indiana's economic decline, citing one statistic in particular in stump speeches, debates and essays.

"The average Hoosier now earns 88 cents for every dollar the average American earns," he often said.

To attack that problem, Daniels flung open the doors for business in Indiana. He reduced regulations, privatized some government services, balanced the state budget, reduced corporate taxes, improved infrastructure and supported "right-to-work" legislation -- all in the name of spurring economic development. (Sound familiar, folks?)

Those efforts have helped Indiana earn a reputation as one of the most business-friendly states in the country. The high mark: Honda's decision to build an auto manufacturing plant in Greensburg, where it now employs about 2,300 workers.

"He was tremendous in attracting business to the state. Everyone wanted to come," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue. "Why do you think a lot of people wanted him to be president?" (Note: Tom Donohue does not live in Indiana)

This year alone, the governor said at a recent event, 251 companies have said they plan to invest $6.57 billion in Indiana and create 27,858 jobs, setting a record. (Buuuuuut...) Still, the total number of private-sector jobs in Indiana has declined by 1.3 percent during Daniels' eight years in office as the U.S. total rose.
And that's just the beginning. The article goes on to note-
While the state has boosted its job-creation efforts, average per-capita personal income for Hoosiers has not budged when compared with other states -- and actually declined slightly during the Daniels era.

The average Hoosier now earns 86 cents for every dollar the average American makes, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Since Daniels was elected, Indiana has lost 50,000 private-sector jobs while the nation has added such jobs; gross domestic product and income growth have lagged the nation; unemployment is higher than the U.S. average; and the state's poverty rate has risen....

Private-sector jobs in Indiana have grown 6.2 percent since the low point of the recession in July 2009 -- faster than all other states except North Dakota, Texas and Utah. And state government is in strong fiscal health, unlike some of Indiana's neighbors.
Green eyeshade "making your numbers" mentality over service, results and better standards of living. Sound familiar? Here's some other Mitch statements from his first winning campaign in 2004 that should sound familiar to us that have observed Scott Walker in Wisconsin- heck, Walker probably plagiarized from it for his run in 2010.
"We will rebuild state government around the objective of income growth and new hope for Hoosiers," [Daniels] wrote in a guest column published in The Indianapolis Star. "We will measure, set aggressive targets for improvement, and drive relentlessly for results."

Daniels won the election by an eight-point margin.

But since he took office, Indiana's median household income growth has been slower than that of 37 other states.

Daniels downplayed such statistics during a recent interview, arguing that they don't take into account Indiana's low cost of living.

"The measure ought to be adjusted for the cost of living," he said. "The question is: How well are Hoosiers living? And what can Hoosiers' money buy?" (If that statement doesn't define the "race to the bottom" mentality, what does?)

By that measure, Indiana has lost even more ground, according to data compiled by the Indiana Office of Management & Budget. In 2004 -- the year Daniels was elected -- the average Hoosier earned 99 cents for every dollar the average American earned, based on after-tax income adjusted for cost of living. In 2011, that measure had dropped to 95 cents.

The state's poverty rate also has grown to nearly 16 percent from nearly 13 percent since Daniels took office. In 2005, Indiana was the 18th-poorest state in the nation. In 2011, it was 16th.
Yep, sounds like the direction Wisconsin is going, lower incomes, and poor economic performance compared to your peers.

And oh yeah, Scott Walker designed the money-wasting and corrupt WEDC on Daniels' IEDC. Well before we knew just how screwed-up WEDC was and still is, I was pointing out the problems and corruption at IEDC. This included inflated jobs numbers, numerous failed ventures, the unaccountable handing out of tax credits to bankrupt companies, and bullying local governments who were skeptical of these companies following through on their promises.

And 7 years after creating IEDC, Mitch Daniels' pet project still wasn't working, as even his own party was demanding more controls over it. Check out this article from last week.
Two Indiana Senate Republicans are joining the growing, bipartisan chorus of state officials seeking more transparency at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. amid lingering questions about how many jobs the semi-private agency actually creates and its endorsement of ventures that have not panned out.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, has introduced a bill that would require companies that receive tax incentives to provide an annual tally of how many jobs they have created. The bill also would require the IEDC to make that information public under open-records laws.

State law currently exempts the IEDC from disclosing much of that information on the grounds that doing so could harm negotiations with prospective employers....

[Delph] cited several news investigations that raised his concerns, including stories in The Indianapolis Star on tax incentives offered to projects around the state that never materialized, and an investigation by WTHR-13 that raised questions about whether the agency created as many jobs as it claims.
Again, this should be familiar to us in Wisconsin, especially with the revelation from last week that WEDC hadn't shown full financial statements to the WEDC Board, and that its audit committee had only met twice in 18 months.

The bottom line here is this. If you think Mitch Daniels' Confederate-style legacy of corporate cronyism, lower incomes, higher poverty and lower service levels is what Wisconsin should shoot for, then by all means, let's continue in the direction that we've been going under Scott Walker, because this is clearly what Scotty (and those who pull his strings) wants.

Me, I prefer a place with better wages, better living standards, more transparency in government, and a higher quality of life, and I'd highly recommend a change from the Hoosier-influenced leadership we've had here in America's Dairyland. There's a reason I wanted to move back to Wisconsin after 5 years in Indiana in 2005, and given that more than half of people getting bachelor's degrees in Indiana leave the state within 5 years, it looks like I'm hardly alone. Having a corporatist with backward-ass policies like Mitch Daniels will lead to that type of brain drain.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Two graphs continue the economic #Walkerfail

A couple of reports over the last few days give some good benchmarks for where the state of Wisconsin stands compared to its neighbors as 2012 ends. And the news continues to be bad.

The first look was the state-by-state job reports from the BLS. And given that Wisconsin benefitted from seasonal adjustments and reported strong job gains in November, you'd think this would make the state look good compared to its Midwestern neighbors. But as a chart of the Midwest Fitzwalkerstani era shows, Wisconsin is the only state that has lost jobs in the BLS reports, and is far behind any other state in the area, as well as the country as a whole.

Job index, Jan 2011- Nov 2012
(Jan. 2011 jobs amount = 100)

In fact, this chart shows that Wisconsin would have had to have gained 49,000 MORE JOBS JUST TO GET OUT OF LAST PLACE. That's a massive job hole to get out of, and it's not hard to pinpoint how we got there.

And the recently-released Philly Fed coincident index of states tells the same story. If you take this index and draw it back to Scott Walker's inaguration in January 2011, it tells a similarly ugly story.

Even if Wisconsin's coincident index's had grown FIVE TIMES FASTER since the start of 2011, they'd still be bringing up the rear in the Midwest, and the U.S. as a whole has grown at a rate 6 times faster than the state of Wisconsin.

But let's give Gov. Walker the benefit of the doubt, and maybe all the upheaval since he dropped the bomb with Act 10 was holding businesses and consumers back. So let's look at how Wisconsin has done since the end of May, when Walker predicted the floodgates would open with job growth once the recall "uncertainty" was over.

Job change, May 2012-Nov. 2012
Ohio +40,000 (+0.78%)
Ill. +33,400 (+0.59%)
Minn +26,900 (+0.94%)
Ind. +14,700 (+0.51%)
Iowa +500 (+0.03%)
Mich -1,100 (-0.03%)
Wis. -4,400 (-0.16%)

So much for that. In fact, if you follow Walker's belief that businesses were "waiting and seeing" due to the recalls, I guess they decided they didn't want to be a part of a state that had Scott Walker and the WisGOPs running it.

(also note how Ohio has jumped ahead and stayed ahead of everyone in the Midwest. Guess restoring collective bargaining rights in the public sector didn't destroy their economy, did it?)

So we're still stuck in neutral in Wisconsin as the U.S. and the rest of the Midwest continues to advance. The sample size is large enough that you can't call it a fluke either. So as go intom 2013, let's see if our media catches on to the huge failure that has resulted from Scott Walker's regressive policies. And I'll make damn sure I'll do my part to keep it in front of your attention.

Maybe that critical mass will happen when Dem-run Minnesota passes Wisconsin some time next year for total jobs- there's only a 7,100-job difference between the 2 states right now. While Wisconsin football teams may pound Minnesota ones on the field (I anticipate that continuing this afternoon - little would make me happier than seeing the Pack break the Vikes' hearts and end their season), the Mud Ducks are beating our asses in the job front. Keep an eye on it as we go forward.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Privatization failures keep piling up

   Here are a couple more reasons why farming out government services might not always work out for you.

  The first is the latest article on the WEDC debacle in today's Journal-Sentinel. It includes some beautiful quotes from a professor who deals with corporate and financial oversight.
If they were in my class, they'd get a big 'F,' " said Paul Lapides, a business school professor who directs the Corporate Governance Center at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

"Every single adult citizen in the state should be saying, 'Wait, you have people on this board of directors who aren't reading financial statements and don't have a clue about how internal controls work?' " Lapides added.

He said the board could be viewed as having a "reckless disregard for their duties." Like public company directors, members of boards such as the WEDC have a duty to act in the best interest of the company and are subject to the same liability, Lapides said.

As Wisconsin's flagship jobs agency, the WEDC must prepare numerous re ports for state officials on its job creation programs and its tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to businesses. But unlike nearly every other quasi-public authority at the state level, the corporation is not required by law to report yearly on its finances.

Before Dec. 14, WEDC's audit committee of one businessman and two lawmakers had met just twice, and neither they nor the entire volunteer WEDC board had seen full financial statements.
In other words, the Walker Administration and GOP Legislature didn't think of the most basic oversight and accounting measures when they created WEDC in 2011. Now whether the Fitzwalkerstanis are at "unfit-for-office" levels of incompetence, or desired that part of WEDC's structure, I'll leave up to you to decide.

Another story that came out in the last week included the revelation that the state DOA was firing a cleaning firm that damaged the Capitol's marble floor through negligence. This comes a year after Walker and DOA chose to use prison labor to put up the state's Christmas tree in the Capitol Rotunda. Naturally, the Walker DOA is not deciding to take the cleaning and Capitol maintenance duties in-house, but instead will hand out another contract to another private company to help clean up the damage from the first company.

And lastly, we'll take you to the hallmark of bad crony government service contracting- Chicago - where the city's privatized parking meters are now slated to become the most expensive in the country.
On New Year's Day, meters in the city's downtown Loop area will begin charging $6.50 an hour — up from $5.75.

A report from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency says the rate change will make Chicago the city with the most expensive metered parking.

The company that operates the meters plans to have all machines set to the new rates by the end of February.

Former Mayor Richard Daley got the City Council to approve the company's 75-year contract in 2008. In return, the city got a $1.1 billion payment — much of which has already been spent.

Current Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered an independent audit of the deal, which is now largely viewed as a financial disaster.
As someone who worked for the City of Milwaukee as Chicago made this deal in 2008, we took a look at it as a possible direction to take to handle the City's revenue issues, and our analysis showed that it was a bad idea for Milwaukee. So we chose to keep Milwaukee's parking in-house, and it continues to be checked by city-accountable Milwaukee parking officers. The Milwaukee parking operation's "profits" will reduce the City's property tax levy by over $60 million between 2011 and 2013, and without the loss of future revenues that Chicago is facing because of it being sold off to Wall Street financiers.

I'm not saying that all privatization is bad or doesn't work- some of it does. But when you see Republicans and corporate Dems trying to say that selling off services is a magic pill that saves taxpayers money and delivers better services, that's absolutely not true. And in all cases, privatization schemes should be closely monitored with the same level of tight oversight of taxpayer dollars that exists with the services done in-house by government workers.

This has consistently not been the case in Fitzwalkerstan, and you see the disasters that result.

Friday, December 21, 2012

DOR says Walker will fall short...and they're being nice

In addition to the Wisconsin jobs numbers, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue released the Wisconsin Economic Outlook yesterday. And yet again we saw that Scott Walker's promise of bringing 250,000 jobs ain't going to come close to happening.

The DOR predicts about 118,000 private jobs will be added in Wisconsin from 2010-2014, less than half of 250,000. And even then, that number is charitable, because if you go inside the numbers and go to Page 9, it gives a rosy scenario of short-term Wisconsin job numbers that aren't holding up.

Wisc. Economic Outlook- jobs forecast vs. reality
Q3 2012 forecast- 2,771,600 total, 2,364,200 private
Sept. 2012 jobs- 2,728,200 total, 2,317,500 private

Q4 2012 forecast- 2,779,100 total, 2,371,900 private
Nov. 2012 jobs- 2,731,700 total, 2,323,100 private

So that's a gap of 48,000 jobs at the end of November between the Economic Outlook's forecast and the reality, and it also means more growth is needed to catch up. So if you use the Economic Outlook's projections of 2% private sector job growth in 2013 and 1.4% in 2014, and put it to the November 2012 job figures, the state ends up with just over 2,400,000 private sector jobs at the end of 2014, which ends the total job growth in the 4 years of Fitzwalkerstan at...less than 80,000. Not exactly 250K, is it?

This looks especially bad when you look at the private sector Walker jobs gap. If Wisconsin had merely created jobs at the same pace as the rest of the country, we'd already be at 89,000 private sector jobs, and might have a shot at the 250,000 level by the end of 2014.

And the Wisconsin Economic Outlook tells a similar story of Wisconsin lagging when it comes to personal income. As mentioned previously, Wisconsin was outperforming its Midwestern rivals when it came to income growth when Walker took over, and now we have fallen behind both the Midwest, and the nation as a whole.
The first decline of personal income in 50 years was revised down to 3.0% in 2009. This compares to larger declines in the Great Lakes region (-4.9%) and nationwide (-4.8%) during 2009. BEA revisions show personal income grew 3.5% in 2010 and 4.5% in 2011. Wisconsin personal income recovery in 2010 was stronger than the Great Lakes region but weaker than the average nationwide growth. In 2011, the state posted slightly lower personal income growth (4.5%) than the Great Lakes region (5.0%) or the U.S. (5.1%)....

The outlook calls for Wisconsin personal income to grow 3.2% in 2012 and 3.7% in 2013, slightly below the growth of national personal income.
And again, the DOR gives optimistic figures for Wisconsin to get to that point. This week's state-by-state personal income stats show that Wisconsin would need to get an increase of 1.0% for the 4th quarter of 2012 just to reach the DOR's levels. And the state has only exceeded 1.0% for any quarter once since Act 10 took effect in March 2011- in 1st Quarter 2012, when income tax refunds and annual raises inflate the numbers. So if they fall short there, they'll be more likely to fall short in 2013 as well.

 This is an important point to bring up, because when the LFB does their revenue estimates in the next month, they use the Wisconsin Economic Outlook and national economic trends to figure the appropriate levels of revenue growth (or decline) that is then used as a baseline for the budget. If Wisconsin is falling short in employment and incomes, even with the overly-positive forecasts from the DOR, it's going to be likely that the revenue figures also end up low, and Walker's already fraudulent claim of a balanced budget will come apart.

Keep your eyes on this one, and prepare to laugh when the news comes down later this winter.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hilarity ensues in D.C.

GOP self-destruction is a fun thing to watch. They can't even get enough votes together to pass something that was DOA in both the Senate and the White House. This video of world-class D-bag Eric Cantor is telling.

Doesn't he seem almost happy about this? It speaks volumes that Cantor's probably happier about stabbing John Boehner in the back than he is about the complete joke that the GOP has become, and the fact that there's still work to be done.

I've felt for quite a while that we should go over the fiscal curb and get the new Congress in for January 3, and then work out the limited tax cuts and get rid of some of the non-military budget cuts. In fact, if you play the cards right, you could get the middle-class tax cuts in place by Feb. 1, do them retroactively, and have a nice rebate check go out around St. Patty's Day.

And if the Dems play it smart, don't allow cuts Social Security and Medicare, and raise taxes for the rich in both income taxes and capital gains taxes (which history shows should raise wages and employment, since the incentive to hoard profits and riches goes away), our economy will be in great shape coming out the other side.

And if the Dems follow this strategy, they will be poised to DOMINATE the 2014 elections. Seems like an easy solution to me.

P.S. Has anyone found Paul Ryan since November 6? You'd think Wonderboy would be all over this thing.

'Tis the season...for inflated Wisconsin job numbers

In a shocking development, Wisconsin had big job gains in November, with a seasonally-adjusted 10,600 jobs added for the month, wiping out most of the job losses that had accumulated since May. In fact, the only thing more shocking than the good job news was finding out that the greatest Badger ever has been living a double life as a $600 an hour call girl in Vegas in between motivational speeches (I find that story kinda cool, actually).

But the "good" jobs news also illustrates an interesting trend that has hit the state since the Great Recession hit 5 years ago, and has been continued to be true in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

As you can see, the cold-weather months of October through February have generally done better than warm-weather months when it comes to seasonally-adjusted jobs figures, and seasonal adjustments seem to be a big reason why. On a raw-number (non-seasonally adjusted) basis, we usually start losing jobs after June, gain a few back in September and October as school starts up, and then in December and January, a lot of jobs go away, with the numbers slowly re-building back around February (2009 is the obvious exception with the economy falling apart).

And the seasonal adjustments is part of the reason behind these "huge" job gains in November, as the seasonally-adjusted gain is a lot more than the actual gain.

Wisconsin November 2012 job stats
Seasonally-adjusted +10,300 private, +10,600 all
Non-seasonal adjust. -600 private, +3,100 all

And the breakdown by category also reflects this

Construction -4,300 n.s.a = +1,000 s.a.
Manufacturing +800 n.s.a = +2,800 s.a.
Trade (retail) +12,000 n.s.a = +1,100 s.a
Prof./Bus Services -1,500 n.s.a = +1,500 s.a.
Leisure/ Hospitality -6,400 n.s.a = +2,400 s.a.
Government +3,700 n.s.a = +300 s.a.

So nothing too great there, it just means there were less people hired that couldn't get laid off later. The one exception is the trade/ retail sector, which reflects the increased hiring for Holiday shopping season, and I'd give a whole lot more credit to a growing national economy (with GDP revised up to 3.1% growth for 3rd Quarter today) than anything going on particular to Wisconsin.

Now some of this may be silly to point out, and any seasonally-adjusted gain of 10,600 jobs in a month is good economic news. But it'll be interesting to see if the Walker Administration tries to hang its hat on these numbers, because here was Scotty this week telling the Appleton Post-Crescent that non-seasonally adjusted numbers are the ones that matter.
Walker took issue with a recent published report that the state has seen a net gain of just 25,000 jobs, saying “the raw data shows” that 86,000 jobs were created through June. (PolitiFact Wisconsin examined Walker’s job-numbers claim and rated it “Pants on Fire.”) And I concurred with PolitiFact's assessment
Well, the "raw data" shows that we lost 600 private sector jobs in November as well, Governor. But I won't hold that against you, because I understand the concept of seasonal adjustments in Wisconsin. And as Daily Kos writer GeoffT reminds us, Scott Walker used to understand seasonal adjustments as well.
[Jim] Doyle, January 17th 2006: "we created more than 140,000 new jobs"
Walker, January 19th 2006: "Doyle was using number that had not been seasonally adjusted; the actual number is just under 70,000 new jobs" i.e. Doyle had inflated his jobs figures by 100% by using seasonally-unadjusted numbers.....

Since Walker said of these claims of Doyle's "No One Can Beat the World Champion Lies Jim Doyle Told Tuesday Night" and that they were worthy of entry to for the Burlington Liars' Club World Championship Liars' Competition, I trust that Walker will be submitting his own, even greater whoppers to the competition this year.
And you can bet one of them will involve the Walker folks claiming that Wisconsin is "turning the corner" and that it's finally "working." Given that November's job "gains" due to lower-than-normal layoffs are a sort of tallest midget contest, I wouldn't really bet on that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

WEDC Fail- another "Fire, Ready, Aim" story

The last couple of days have shown us that the disaster known as the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was even worse than we already knew. And we knew it was really bad.

An audit of WEDC's accounting systems shows some of the brutal oversights in the first year of the new organization.
Condition: During the year the Corporation did not maintain a control receivable account on the general ledger to record loan activity. As a result, basic internal accounting controls over loans were not in place during the year. Loan activity was recorded in a separate software system to monitor collections and balances of individual loans. However, this system was not systematically compared to loan disbursements and payments recorded in the general ledger. In addition, loan agreements did not always contain approved staff or performance reviews.

Cause: The necessary control accounts were not established in the Corporation’s general ledger and procedures were not established to provide controls over loan monitoring.

Effect: Loan balances at year end were not fairly stated on the general ledger. Extensive effort was required at year end to establish control accounts, determine balances and compare the balances to the separate software system. Because controls were not in place during the year, adequate follow up on delinquent loans did not always occur.
And there are a whole lot of deliquent loans, up to $19 million of them that state taxpayers may never get a penny back on. The audit also showed that many accounting entries are not reviewed or approved by another person, because WEDC "did not have adequate policies and procedures in place," which could lead to "intentional improper recording, misstated general ledger balances, and potentially conceal fraud." Oh, and about 1/4 of credit card transactions by WEDC personnel were never approved, because they never had any procedures in place to handle such transactions.

Why is there such a mess? A report from Schenck SC tells the reason, as mentioned in Monday's Journal-Sentinel article on WEDC.
The Schenck audit found that many of the problems were because the WEDC lost dozens of employees - officials have put the number at roughly half - during the agency's transition from the former state Department of Commerce to the new agency.

As a result, the agency had safeguards in place for its payroll and operating expenses but lacked those controls over its other financial dealings.

"Financial transactions were either not recorded or improperly recorded throughout the year and went undetected by personnel of the corporation," the report notes....

WEDC's board will now receive a monthly report including an income statement and balance sheet - items that hadn't been provided until now.
You mean hastily throwing together this new organization in a matter of months without input from the former Department of Commerce on how their system worked has a lot of kinks to work out? No freaking way.

And it's not like this is the first time a Walker policy move has backfired and caused more problems than existed before. As I wrote several months ago "Fire, Ready, Aim" is a common Walker implementation strategy. This includes turning down the Milwaukee-to-Minneapolis train money that has cost state taxpayers millions in additional costs, and partisan attempts to install voter ID and end same-day registration, which could end up costing taxpayers millions more and would lead to numerous lawsuits due to the laws being illegally written.

Oh, and need I also remind you of the constantly-changing and confusing concealed-carry rules, or the Family Care fiasco where the Obama Administration forced Walker's DHS to stop limiting enrollees, (and the Walker folks lied about the reason they had to lift the cap), And of course, the grandaddy of all Walker "act first, think later" moves: the Wacky-hut screw-up in Milwaukee County, when Walker improperly privatized Milwaukee County security to a contributor, and then was forced to give County deputies their jobs back, at a much higher cost to county taxpayers.

You get the idea our governor isn't much of a details or implementation guy? He just whacks at some issue, usually causing more damage in the process, making it harder to fix, perhaps to the point of no return. Which means the services involved have to be cut back and/or sold off, probably to some private industry that stands to make a good profit off the deal.

WAIT A MINUTE- That's exactly the plan, isn't it? FUBAR services and sell them off to campaign contributors, who use some of the profits to fund your election campaigns. Not a bad situation if you're in on the deal, but it sure sucks if you're the other 99% of us.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"100,000 jobs gained"? Uhh, not quite Governor

Well, another week, another instance of our fair governor being caught in a lie about jobs numbers. The lie from Gov. Walker came from a workforce development event in Walkershaw County where he claimed that the state had added "just under 100,000 jobs" since he took office at the start of 2011. Which is interesting, since the only time we had previously seen "100,000 jobs" mentioned with Wisconsin under Walker had been in figuring the Walker jobs gap, which has now reached 6 figures.

So where did Walker's claim come from? Apparently he used the December 2010 figures from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), and then compared the number to the June 2012 numbers. If you do that, there is an addition of around 86,500 private sector jobs, if you look at the past history of the survey, and then compare it to the June 2012 figure that the Walker DWD claimed on Page 3 of the most recent state jobs figures.

But not surprisingly, Walker's claim of big job gains is untrue in fact, and disgustingly deceptive on top of that. We know Walker and his DWD can deceive about the QCEW survey, as Walker infamously did before the recall election, inflating the numbers and falsely claiming the BLS had confirmed the DWD's figures. The April-June 2012 numbers for Wisconsin have not been confirmed by the BLS, and will not be printed until the end of this month. And the DWD figures don't give a comparison to other states that also report on the QCEW. This is important, as the last report, showed Wisconsin to have the worst job growth in the Midwest over the previous 12 months measured.

Bad enough that Walker's trying to do this on preliminary data, but there's an even more cynical side to this "100,000 jobs" line. The QCEW doesn't adjust for seasonal changes in employment, and just gives unadjusted, total figures. Well, not surprisingly, there are more jobs in June in Wisconsin than there are in December, because of Summer tourism jobs, construction, and other related seasonal work. The QCEW shows that there typically is an increase of around 50,000 jobs from December to January when there is an expanding economy in Wisconsin.

So 86,500 over 18 months isn't all that impressive when you look at it that way. The Walker folks know this, but think you or the media won't look that closely at the reality. The real way to look at the QCEW is to look at the 12-month, year-over-year figures, to take out the effect of seasonal increaes. And when you do that, the first year of Fitzwalkerstan falls short of the last year of the Doyle-Dem budget of 2010-2011. I'll even give Scotty and co the benefit of the doubt and accept their preliminary figures for 2ndQ 2012 at face value.

Private sector job change, Wisconsin
Dec. 2009-Dec. 2010 +33,658
Dec. 2010-Dec. 2011 +29,800 (DOWN 11.5%)

June 2010-June 2011 +39,909
June 2011-June 2012 +25,379 (DOWN 36.4%)

So in both cases, there has been a significant SLOWDOWN in Wisconsin job growth under the Walker/WisGOP policies compared to the Doyle/Dem budget they inherited. Not exactly something you'd think you'd be bragging about, or trying to bring attention to. But the Walker Administration is either so simple-minded or cynical that they think they can just throw out these claims, and people will think that "it's working."

Well it's not working, both in succeeding in growing Wisconsin's economy, and in the Walker folks tricking people. Even the pro-Walker Journal-Sentinel Politifact, which goes out of its way to give Walker the benefit of the doubt on his constant deceptions, couldn't let this one go by. They ruled Walker's claim of 100,000 new jobs to be a "pants-on-fire" lie, and added that Walker violated his own administration's complaints that you shouldn't combine full-year and partial-year numbers on the QCEW because of the seasonal adjustments that happen up here.

I mean, if the Journal-Sentinel is calling out a Walker lie, you know it's bad. But you can bet they'll try to keep on spinning and lying, especially as the new November jobs numbers get released next week. Given the recent increase in unemployment claims, another month of Wisconsin job losses is quite possible, and so I absolutely anticipate some kind of misdirection or misreporting of numbers to try to deflect from the continual failures of Scott Walker's economic policies.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A few stats on guns in the U.S.

I'll admit I'm no major fan of guns in general, and I choose not to own one. But I'd rather give you some interesting numbers on gun violence in America, and have you figure out what it means (although I may give you some tips).

First, was an article from Richard Florida, done in the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting in January 2011. It showed which states have more gun deaths, and which have less, and what types of demographics and correlations come in through these stats. Granted, this does not take into account the GOP governors and legislatures in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and other places that have loosened restrictions on guns in the last 2 year, but it does show where we were beforehand. Here's a neat graph from that article, with positive numbers indicating places with a higher amount of gun crime, and negative numbers showing lower.

It's not an exact correlation, but red states, poorer states, and places with looser gun restrictions tend to have more gun deaths, while blue states, places with more college graduates, and states with more gun restrictions tend to have fewer gun deaths. None of these correlations should be that surprising (we already know that red states have higher poverty and lower levels of education, for example), but it's remarkable how strong these correlations are.

I'll also forward you to a great rundown by Ezra Klein titled "Twelve facts about guns and mass shooting in the United States." Among the many amazing stats in this piece, they include:

1. The vast majority of mass killings are by weapons that were obtained legally.
2. 15 of the world's 25 largest mass shootings in the last 50 years have been in the U.S., and half of the U.S.'s 12 largest shootings have been in the last 6 years.
3. As these next 2 graphs show, the U.S. has seen a lower murder rate over the last 35 years, but it's still a whole lot higher than the rest of the civilized, OECD world, and the (pro-GOP and gun-allowing) South is by far the most violent part of the country over the last 10 years.

4. It also releases polling on the subject of guns, and while more people have been answering the generic question of "should gun controls be more strict, less strict, or kept as they are," with "keep the same or loosen" (by 54-44 in 2010), when the question is broken down to specific issues, wanting more restrictions on guns and the people who own them becomes a clear majority. In fact, the NRA position is the majority one only when it comes to limiting the amount of guns an individual can own.

It reminds me of the Obamacare debate, where people claimed they "disapproved" of Obamacare, but backed much of the provisions that were in Obamacare. And it explains why the NRA types are going out of their way to not bring up the question of "Should certain people not have handguns?" or have people ask "Should Glocks and .223 rifles be legal for anyone to buy (as was the case in Connecticut)?", because that's a losing argument for them.

So watch as the NRA and spineless politicians will try to turn this issue into a straw man of "well they just want to ban guns" (if they bring it up at all). That tatic is GARBAGE. Most people like me don't want to ban handguns or keep people from having them in their homes if they're law-abiding citizens that show they can handle the responsibility. But stats and polls clearly show that we live in a violent country that has seen a recent increase of people deciding to use guns to take out large amounts of others on their way off this earth.

The bottom line is that mass shootings are now at a point that they are no longer random, isolated incidents, but becoming a more regular pattern, much like with climate change and extreme weather events over the last decade. And these outcomes lead to SERIOUS PROBLEMS THAT MUST BE DEALT WITH, even if the answers make a few people uncomfortable and a few businesses lose a bit of money along the way. It is also true that certain demographics and places being more susceptible to violence than others, so maybe we should look to what policies work and what don't.

But the one thing we cannot do any longer is ignore these stats, and ignore the conclusions that can be drawn from them.

12/12/12 and CT shootings show country at crossroads

I'm still thinking about the mass shooting at a Connectivcut elementary school that ended up with 28 people dead, my reaction isn't sadness or fear. It's disgust and a bit of anger. Now maybe some of this is because I don't have kids (although I have neices and nephews of this age), but mainly it's because I'm tired of these mass shootings, and I'm especially tired that nothing seems to be done in the wake of them. It feels like I wrote this same article after the Sikh Temple shootings in Oak Creek in August, and the the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and several other in Tucson in January 2011.

And yet we do next to nothing about the base causes of these horrible crimes- the lack of treatment of mental illness, particularly in young adults (heck, Scott Walker just said yesterday the Milwaukee County Mental Health Center was "old and busted"....after his own cost-cutting negligence helped lead to the busting), and the availability of guns for these unstable people to "solve" their problems and take out their frustrations in the most horrible of ways.

Now contrast this to another event on the East Coast that happened 2 days prior to the Connecticut shooting, when huge musical acts donated their time to perform at the 12/12/12 concert in New York City, and raised tens of millions for victims of Hurriance Sandy. This is the good side of America, where we recognize people that have been beset by hard times through no fault of their own, and we come together to help those individuals through the tought times. We understand that these awful circumstances could happen to anyone, and that everyone can't make it on their own through those situations.

So how does this coexist with a country where a teacher and mother of 2 grown kids reportedly had "a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, and a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle" in her suburban Connecticut house- weapons that her mentally ill son used to kill elementary school kids and teachers, along with his mother and himself. What possesses someone to be in such a state of fear for their safety to have to buy high-powered guns that serve no purpose except to intimidate and kill? Especially in a country where a lot of us also believe in taking care of our own and that our whole is better than the sum of our parts?

The late great Bill Hicks accurately described this conflict in 1993 with a not-so-funny sign-off on his HBO special.

Sounds like he could do that bit today, doesn't it? That's probably the saddest part of it all - a lot of people in a lot of parts of the country don't seem to have learned much in the 20 years since I got out of high school. Which is why we have to crash their bubbles, and yes, we have to talk about uncomfortable things like gun violence, and inequality in a country that talks a big game, and has the capability to live up to it, but far too often falls short.

Choose wisely, folks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Walker's GB FAIL on John Doe

A few sources have already weighed on this fail of a Governor Walker interview, including Jud Lounsbury's original post at Uppity Wisconsin and Capper's always-entertaining take at Cognitive Dissidence. Take a look at the interview, and I'll follow up with a few questions and points of my own.

1. My first question is this. After 2 years of investigation, you can't come up with a better answer than "I dunno, it wasn't me, and there are a lot of people under me as an executive?" Doesn't that make you unfit for office on that alone, since you apparently have no administrative skills?

  But then I have some more particular questions, and it turns out that maybe Walker's admin skills aren't so bad. Maybe there's a pattern to the "incompetence."  

2. You see Scotty, these aren't exactly low-level bureaucrats who went rogue. Keith Gilkes was a key member of your campaign team, and you appointed him as your Chief of Staff after you were elected Governor in 2010.  (Gilkes ended up being the guy who said "Mr. Walker, it's David Koch on Line 1.") You were copied in on emails where Gilkes ordered your County Executive staff to cover up items related to the O'Donnell Parking garage disaster, and Gilkes edited an August editorial from Walker's director of Health and Human Services discussing issues at the county's deficient mental health facility.

You personally signed off on the hiring of Kelly Rindfleisch as Deputy Chief of Staff in 2010, without then-Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli knowing about it. Tim Russell served in a number of positions under you, including the Deputy Chief of Staff job that Rindfleisch later took, and also was your county's housing director while simultaneously serving as NASCAR pit crew guy while you did your Air Tran-sponsored motorcycle rides around the state.

Tim Russell is also the guy you turned to when Wink got caught posting on Journal-Sentinel websites in May 2010, and said "we cannot afford another story like this one." Russell then got Rindfleisch to put the router away, despite not having any official authority over her.

These weren't independent civil servants who you wouldn't know or have no contact with. They were trusted confidants who you personally chose to hire. And despite their sketchy behavior, you never chose to get rid of them (Russell did get fired by the Milwaukee County Executive, as Lee Holloway shitcanned him immediately after taking over for Walker in 2010). 

3. On a related note, if you have no tolerance for corruption, why are you keeping Brett Davis on the job as the state's top Administrator of the Medicaid program, when Rindfleisch was convicted of working on Davis's Lieutenant Governor campaign while she was supposed to be working for you in Milwaukee County?  Davis clearly knew about Rindfleisch's illegal work, and Rindfleisch admitted in her criminal complaint that "half of her job" was working on the campaign for Davis and Walker.

4. In the interview, Walker's still clinging to the BS about "I was the guy who ordered the investigation into missing funds" Just stop it. We know you only ordered Nardelli to investigate when Nardelli went into your office noted the money missing in 2008 and 2009 (as shown in the Kavanaugh criminal complaint), and the thefts couldn't be hidden any further. Heck,  you allowed the now-convicted Tim Russell and Kevin Kavanuagh to be part of Operation Freedom all the way through 2010.  Much like with Brett Davis, you clearly didn't mind keeping ol' Kev around, despite being under investigation for missing funds at the time. Why?

5. And why are so many of these Walkergate criminals connected to the Walker campaign event known as Operation Freedom? Kavanaugh, Darlene Wink, Tim Russell, and Kelly Rindfleisch all took their turns handling this allegedly non-partisan "Support the Troops" event, and all have now been convicted for acting illegally while on the job. In fact, the only time it seems that Operation Freedom was handled on the up-and-up was when Walker had to give it over to the American Legion in 2009 after Kavanaugh was first suspected of stealing funds. And as Page 4 of the Russell criminal complaint  points out,
Due to alleged financial mismanagement, in about 2009, Operation Freedom donations were entrusted to the Alonzo Cudworth American Legion Post. While by all reports thge Cudworth Post discharged their financial duties in exemplary fashion, in October 2009, then County Executive Scott Walker transferred the Operation Freedom funds - some $19,000 - to HGPS, the corporation controlled by Tim Russell.
         Russell actively operated the HGPS entity for the purpose of raising funds for Operation Freedom during 2010. This included having County employees process donation payments for ultimate deposit in an HGPS account that Russell controlled.
And we know that Russell funneled that money not only to himself, but also to pay for "Walker for Governor" websites and to fly to Atlanta to meet with Herman Cain as well as "Smoking Man" Mark Block. Block is closely linked with Walker and the Wisconsin version of the Koch-funded Astroturf group Americans for Prosperity, and took credit for Walker and WisGOP's wins in 2010 through the use of Tea Party organizing. If you think Russell was acting alone on these moves....well, you might be stupid enough to still Stand with Walker.

6. My last question- Why is it some TV guy in Green Bay that has to be the one to bring up these issues to Walker? Where are the Milwaukee and Madison media when it comes to asking these legitmate questions on judgment and why so many of Walker's appointees end up crooks? This is entry-level journalism that far too few of our media members refuse to make.

But Walker's and Gilkes's lame reactions to the people that make these obvious Walkergate connnections leads me to conclude one thing.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The tenuous WisGOP grip on power

Good release from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which shows the votes by district in November 2012 for Wisconsin when it came to Congress, the State Senate, and the State Assembly. This report shows that Democrats got a majority of the votes for Congress, State Senate, and State Assembly in races, but Republicans got a majority of seats due to redistricting leading to Republicans taking more marginal seats. While not entirely accurate (there are Dem wins in the City of Racine and Kenosha that are not there), if you look at these maps, it's instructive to compare them with the Presidential red-and-blue maps from the same November elections.

        The thing that grabs me about comparing this map to the State Assembly map is how Southwestern Wisconsin went entirely for President Obama in the general election, but much of its Assembly seats are held by Republicans. Also interesting is that many of those same areas didn't have State Senate elections this November, but will in 2014. These would be areas I'd target if I were the Dems in 2014, with the extra bonus of knowing that many of these counties were carried by Scott Walker in the recall election, and could easily flip over to a Dem Governor candidate.

    And as I mentioned before,  many of those red counties won by Romney in northeastern Wisconsin were very close, as the finalized presidential numbers show.

  Northeast Wisconsin results
 Door Co.- Obama 53-46
Winnebago Co.- Obama 51-47
Brown County- Romney 50-48
Outagamie Co.-Romney 50-48
Manitowoc Co.- Romney 51-48
Kewaunee Co.- Romney 52-47

Despite the closeness of the presidential election, these areas are almost entirely represented by Republicans in the State Legislature and in Congress, and almost all went for Walker by 20 or more points last Summer. And much like in Southwestern Wisconsin, many of these areas did not have State Senate elections this year in Republican-held seats, including districts that have 50-50 counties like Door, Manitowoc, Kewaunee, and Outagamie.

   So let's drill down to the state elections, and look at the closest Assembly races from November 2012. We'll list all winners that got less than 60% of vote.

   Close Assembly races 2012 
  District 72- GOP- 50.2-49.8
  District 70- Dem 50.2-49.7 
  District 1- GOP 51-49
  District 26- GOP 51-49 
  District 75- Dem 51-49
  District 93- GOP 51-49
  District 50- GOP 50-47
  District 85- Dem 50-46
  District 51- GOP 52-48
  District 68- GOP 52-48
  District 88- GOP 52-47
  District 62- GOP 53-47
  District 67- GOP 53-47
  District 37- GOP 54-46 (Assembly flips to Dem)
  District 49- GOP 54-46
  District 35- GOP 53-42
 District 86- GOP 56-44
District 28- GOP 56-44
District 29- GOP 56-44
District 30- GOP 56-44 
District 61- GOP 56-44
District 4- GOP 56-44
District 5- GOP 56-44
District 31- GOP 57-43
District 42- GOP 57-43
District 43- Dem 58-42
District 56 GOP 58-42
District 41- GOP 58-42
District 25- GOP 58-42
District 63- GOP 58-42
District 15- GOP 58-42
District 20- Dem 58-42
District 27- GOP 58-42
District 32- GOP 57-40 
District 74- Dem 59-41
District 2- GOP 59-41
District 14- GOP 59-41
District 21- GOP 59-41
District 36- GOP 59-41
District 87- GOP 59-41
District 89- GOP 59-41
District 6- GOP 59-40
District 3- GOP 58-38
District 38- GOP 59-39
District 34- GOP 57-36
   The 8 closest races are relatively evenly distributed, with 5 Republicans and 3 Democrats winning. But then you'll notice Republicans won the next 17 CLOSEST RACES (margin of victory between 4 and 16 points), and if the Dems merely flipped every race that was within 10% in November, they would be in the majority in the Assembly. These results also illustrate how the GOP redistricted in order to keep their big advantage in the state Legislature, making a huge amount of 60-40 type districts and dumping Dems into largely safe seats. 33 of the Dems' 39 seats in the Assembly were won with at least 60% of the vote, vs. 21 of the GOP's 60 seats. If there is a Dem wave, it is very likely that it would wash out a huge amount of Republicans, while the GOPs can't gain much more than they already have.

   Same goes for the Senate. Because redistricting happened since the current Senators were put into office, let's look at the 17 Senate seats that'll be up in 2014, and see which ones could be toss-ups. I'll also include the current Senator's incumbent party.

  Close Senate races
  District 1- GOP inc. 3 of 3 close (All GOP)
  District 3- Dem inc.  0 of 3 close
  District 5- GOP inc. 2 of 3 close (All GOP)
  District 7- Dem inc. 2 of 3 close (1 Dem, 1 GOP)
  District 9- GOP inc. 3 of 3 close (All GOP)
  District 11- GOP inc. 2 of 3 close (All GOP)
  District 13- GOP inc. 2 of 3 close (All GOP)
  District 15- Dem inc. 1 of 3 close (1 Dem)
  District 17- GOP inc. 3 of 3 close (All GOP)
  District 19- GOP inc. 1 of 3 close (GOP)
  District 21- Dem inc. 3 of 3 close  (All GOP)
  District 23- GOP inc. 2 of 3 close (All GOP)
  District 25- Dem inc. 2 of 3 close (All Dem)
  District 27- Dem inc. 0 of 3 close
  District 29- GOP inc. 3 of 3 close (2 GOP, 1 Dem)
  District 31- Dem inc. 1 of 3 close (1 GOP)
  District 33- GOP inc. 0 of 3 close

   So we have 30 close Assembly races in districts where there will be State Senate elections in 2014. And in those Assembly races, the Republicans went 25-5! So the GOP will have to spend a lot of time and money propping up vulerable incumbents for both Senate and Assembly in the same communities. If the GOP overreaches or is stained by Walkergate corruption and failures, it is very easy to see where the state sweeps back to the Dems in 2014, and not just in the Governor's mansion or in the other state offices like Attorney General or Treasurer. Remember, there's no U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin for 2014 either, so it'll be the House along with Walker and the WisGOPs at the top of the ticket and the top of the media's attention, which means state-level politicians have fewer places to hide from scrutiny (like they did this November).

   And if I'm the Dems, I get put in front and start being the party of workers and clean elections, because the opportunity is right there. But it takes starting NOW, and planting the seed in voters' heads, before the Koch/ Bradley-funded propaganda overwhelms the bystanders. Because as you see here, it'll take GOP money going to a whole lot of places in the state to prop up their many vulnerable legislators, while Dems don't need to worry about spreading themselves too thin, because there aren't a lot of new places the GOP can go to win.

I'd encourage any Republicans with a sense of pragmatism (if they still exist) to heed these words, and not try any radical Bagger crap like ending same-day registration or trying to install right-to-freeload legislation or pass crazy abortion bills. Your lead isn't as strong as you might think, and it won't take much to have a pissed-off public turn on you, and end the Age of Fitzwalkerstan in a dramatic way.

   So go ahead, WisGOP. I dare you to try to board the crazy train one more time. Because November's numbers show you have a really good chance of derailing and losing power with a public that isn't automatically going to buy what you're trying to sell (well, outside of the 262 of course).

  Late edit: here's the Journal-Sentinel's Craig Gilbert with an excellent breakdown of the presidential race vote by Congressional and State Senate district, and also explaining how 60 of 99 State Assembly districts skewed more Republican than the state's vote as whole. With most of those 60 districts are within 10% of the overall vote, and with Obama winning by nearly 7, that means the GOP has little room to spare if a Dem wave hit the Assembly.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

U.S. keeps growing jobs as Wisconsin stalls out

More evidence this week of "same story, different month" when it comes to the U.S. economy's recovery and Wisconsin's continued lagging in the age of Fitzwalkerstan.

First bit of evidence came from Thursday's weekly jobless claims report. It showed U.S. unemployment claims were coming back to normal after the disruptions from Hurricane Sandy, with new claims back to a seasonally-adjusted 370,000, which is around the level it was before Sandy.

The state numbers lag the national ones by a week, and use non-seasonally adjusted data. This is important to note because it included the week of Thanksgiving, which usually drives unadjusted claims lower simply because there are fewer days in the week that the claims office is open. However, this was not the case in Wisconsin.
The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending November 24 were in Wisconsin (+5,876), Oregon (+2,328), Ohio (+2,252), Washington (+2,107), and Iowa (+1,262), while the largest decreases were in New Jersey (-23,966) [Sandy effect] , California (-7,053), New York (-6,682), Texas (-6,425) and North Carolina (-2,609).
Yep, we're number 1 yet again in a dubious stat. Now, some of those layoffs were probably shutdowns due to deer hunting (our numbers usually spike around Thanksgiving for that and other seasonal reasons like construction ending), but lots of other states have deer hunting this time of year, and they didn't get increases like this.

And it also continues a trend where Wisconsin's unemployment claims are basically at the same levels as they were this time last year. This is remarkable because the U.S. has had year-over-year drops in unemployment claims of more than 5% in 17 of the last 19 weeks, which will happen in a recovering economy. By comparison, Wisconsin has only had drops over 5% 3 times in the last 8 weeks, and claims have actually been UP 2 of those times.

This chart shows that the bad, upward trend in year-over-year claims, and we are seeing nowhere near the improvement we had from 2009-2010 (shown with the blue line), the year before Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP took power.

So we'll see what kind of unemployment clams the week after Thanksgiving holds, because it's a traditional layoff time for outdoor employment.

The other evidence that Wisconsin continues to be left out came from Friday's jobs report, which showed 146,000 more jobs and unemployment dropping down to 7.7%. It wasn't the greatest jobs report, as previous months were revised down by 49,000, making the net gain only 97,000. But especially given the damage from Sandy and probable layoffs from campaign workers with the election over, that's still pretty good.

And as mentioned before, this growth continues to make Gov. Walker's bad jobs record look even worse, as Wisconsin now needs to have created 3,700 jobs in November in order to get the Walker jobs gap below 100,000. With the high unemployment claims in Dairyland, I wouldn't bet too much on us getting under 6 figures.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Walkergate hacks cracking?

I saw last week that Keith Gilkes was going to be part of a Marquette Law School panel discussing the recent elections, and I was stunned at the hubris involved. After all, Gilkes was prominently mentioned in Milwaukee County Assistant D-A Bruce Landgraf's slideshow during the Kelly Rindfleisch sentencing hearing. And Gilkes headed up the "Campaign team," which Rindfleisch illegally worked with to coordinate strategy on Walker's run for governor in 2010 while Rindfleisch was working on the taxpayer's dime in Walker's Milwaukee County Executive's office.

Gilkes also famously gave the order to Rindfleisch and other county staff that there be "not a paper anywhere that details a problem at all" with the O'Donnel Parking garage, when a piece of concrete fell and killed a teen in the Summer of 2010, lest Walker be blamed for mismanagement of the County-owned facility. Gilkes was the subject of the Rindfleisch's statement of "You are in the driver's seat," of who was calling the shots in Milwaukee, a message sent from Rindfleisch's alternate email out of her Milwaukee County offices.

After being a prominent part of the slideshow, I couldn't believe that Gilkes would show his face in public, but he did, along with his ass after the event. Wispolitics captured the following exchange, and I'll add a few notes as well.
Gilkes said Walker's successful defeat of a recall effort in June was likely decided by Wisconsin voters as early as January, when the guv explained his stances and his actions since taking office.

"My gut level feeling was that Walker established himself in January when he told his side of the story. I think essentially, at that point, people had made up their minds," Gilkes said. (That, and tens of millions of dollars of propaganda along with a media that was not willing to challenge what were clearly lies by Walker and his camapaign.)

Gilkes later told reporters voters were "understanding" of the situation and of what happens when there are "problems with personnel." (And who hired those guys, and decided to keep these crooks on board? I don't think people are so understanding now that they see the pattern.)

"He is the one who brought discrepancies to the attention of the DA, and has decisively taken action when anything's been brought to his attention," Gilkes said of Walker. (This is complete BS, because Tom Nardelli told Walker money was missing from the Veterans' Fund, and Walker had no choice but to call an investigation, because he couldn't keep the con up any longer. The only "decisive action" Walker has taken on John Doe from that point on is to stonewall the investigation and encourage talk show hosts to smear it.)

Gilkes also told reporters he "had no knowledge" of a private wireless router system that allegedly enabled a secret email system in the Milwaukee County Courthouse. (Which is why you emailed Rindfleisch using her Gmail address on the secret email system. Do you think we're fucking stupid, Keith?)

Asked if a similar router exists in the state Capitol, Gilkes became angry.

"That's just absurd, I'm done," he responded and walked away.

I agree Keith, I think you're done.

He can join ex-Walker appointee Kevin Kavanaugh in the joint, as Kavanaugh was sentenced to two years in prison today for stealing over $50,000 from a fund for the family of injured and killed veterans that raised some of its funds through an annual event known as Operation Freedom. As I pointed out 2 months ago, Walker's thinly veiled "support the troops" campaign event has a lot of interesting connections to Walkergate.
Walker gave control of Operation Freedom funds over to a local American Legion post in early 2009 [after Kavanaugh was suspected of stealing]. Interestingly, later in 2009 Walker took away the handling of funds for Operation Freedom from the American Legion, and gave it over to a non-profit headed by...Tim Russell. And Russell allegedly began to embezzle the funds for his own use, as well as a "Scott Walker for Governor" website.

The other part people forget about the Kavanaugh and Russell cases is that a lot of the donations for Operation Freedom came from some connected names and businesses, as mentioned on Page 17 of the Tim Russell criminal complaint. Kavanaugh is alleged to have used donations by then-State Rep. Mark Gundrum (who Walker would later appoint as a Court of Appeals judge), and Russell also got some of his Operation Freedom funds from GOP backers and politicians.
Of course, Russell pleaded guilty last week to felony theft for his part in misusing Operation Freedom funds, but prosecutors only recommended 2 1/2 years in jail for Russell, which tells me they got the info they needed on people up the food chain from ol' Timmy.

Capper at Cognitive Dissidence gives an indication who might be the next to fall in Walkergate, and it could be former Walker DOA Cindy Archer, who apparently is trying to sell her Madison home, and was in the room when Act 10 was being drafted with Michael, Best and Friedrich attorneys. Before she abruptly quit her 6-figure gig with Governor Walker's Administration and got her home raided with a computer seizen by the FBI in September 2011, Archer also worked on limiting Capitol access with....then-Walker Chief of Staff Keith Gilkes.

Funny how all these guys know each other, doesn't it? And you thought I was kidding when I called WisGOP an organized crime syndicate. I got a feeling Kavanuagh's sentencing today won't be the last time we'll be able to say this about a Walker hack.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Case closed- trickle down doesn't happen

3 simple stats should tell you all you need to know when it comes to figuring out if wages and wealth actually "trickle down."

The lead from a CNN article from this week lays it out.
Just four years after the worst shock to the economy since the Great Depression, U.S. corporate profits are stronger than ever.

In the third quarter, corporate earnings were $1.75 trillion, up 18.6% from a year ago, according to last week's gross domestic product report. That took after-tax profits to their greatest percentage of GDP in history.

But the record profits come at the same time that workers' wages have fallen to their lowest-ever share of GDP.

"That's how it works," said Robert Brusca, economist with FAO Research in New York, who said there is a natural tension between profits and the cost of labor. "If one gets bigger, the other gets smaller."

Profits accounted for 11.1% of the U.S. economy last quarter, compared with an average of 8% during the previous economic expansion. They fell as low as 4.6% of GDP during the recession.
In fact, a chart of profits shows that the time period of the Great Recession has been the ONLY time since the Bush tax cuts took effect on 2001 that corporate profits haven't been growing as a percentage of GDP.

Now compare that to the wage side. I've popped a version of this chart on in the past, but now the GDP report has updated these numbers to show that wages as a % of GDP is even lower today, down to 43.5%.

You can't help but notice that the only time in the last 40 years when this number has been on the way up has been in the 1990s, when the rich paid a higher marginal tax rate. It proves trickle-down to be absolutely false, as profits and wages are more likely to be hoarded when top tax rates are low, and it is only when the incentive to hoard is reduced through higher taxes that make higher pay and investment in a company a better bet over excessive profits and legialized gambling in the stock and real estate markets.

And it's not like workers aren't doing their part in cranking out more products, because they're as productive as ever. On Wednesday, it was revealed that non-farm productivity was up 2.9% in the third quarter of 2012, and total output was up by 4.2%, both of which were well above expectations. In a related note, unit labor costs were DOWN 1.9%, meaning it was cheaper to crank out the same products. Now if trickle-down and supply-side really worked, workers would be sharing in this increased productivity through higher wages, and both owner and worker would be doing fine, as profit margins would still be high.

So what do workers get for doing their job smarter and better than ever, because obviously they're not being rewarded out of the goodness of the boss's heart, (like they'd be in supply-side world)? Well, they get their wages threatened further when states like Michigan try to pass right-to-work-for-less legislation. Not only is this is a gutless move, because several of the "yes" votes are by lame-duck GOP legislators on their way out the door (probably to a lobbying firm backing corporate slime who support this), it's a pathetic reversal by Governor Rick Snyder.

In articles on the situation, Snyder previously said he wouldn't approve of such legislation, because it was so divisive, but then he changed his mind, basically approving of a race to the bottom by saying that Michigan needed to be "competitive" with neighboring Indiana, who approved of right-to-work-for-less last year. It's never enough with these corporate scum, is it? They're grabbing a record amount of profits while dropping wages to record lows while workers give them record levels of product, and it still isn't good enough.

These people won't stop till they get it all, and they'll try to buy off as many lowlife GOP politicians as they can to try to get there. I fear the message these greedheads got from November's election was to move as fast as they can on these things, because the people have already begun to turn on them and their puppets in legislatures around the country, so they may as well make one last big heist while they have a chance.

And it's going to get ugly as a result. 39% tax rates aren't enough for these guys, I'm starting to think 93% may be more like it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An actual job creator worth listening to

Unlike GOP job creators who spend more of their time with hands out asking for tax breaks and ways to crush competition, a real Wisconsin job creator got to meet President Obama last week and discuss how to grow business the old fashioned creating a product people want. Oh, and since it was New Glarus Brewing's Deb Carey, they also got to talk about beer.
Carey has been a member of the White House’s small business council since 2011 and has attended council meetings in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. In 2011 she was named Wisconsin’s Small Business Person of the Year and the national runner-up Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

As for dealing with the fiscal cliff, Carey said she supports preserving the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, but believes it’s fair to return to Clinton-era rates for upper income-earners.

“I do think that that is a reasonable expectation,” Carey told me. “You’re ending a tax decrease. You’re just going back to what Clinton had done.”

Republicans counter that raising taxes on the wealthy would hurt many small business owners since profits at most small businesses are taxed at the individual level. But Carey said it’s a very small percentage, in the single digits, of small business owners that “make that kind of money.”

Carey said the small business owners present Tuesday were asked what changes they’d like to see to help their businesses. She told the president more needs to be done to boost the pool of skilled trades workers. Her business has struggled for several years to find qualified workers, such as welders and workers who can maintain beer tanks and pumps.
I'd trust her word on how to get things done. New Glarus Brewing announced yet another expansion this September adding another $7 million expansion to the $75 million brewery building it opened up 4 years (here's a good rundown on how New Glarus built up to the new brewhouse). This expansion put the brewery in the great hilltop location it currently sits in. I highly recommend visiting it if you get a chance, and to go to their abbey underneath with the specialty beers. Today, New Glarus is now the largest craft brewer in the state, and top 30 nationwide, despite not selling the product outside of our home state.

Now this is the way the system should work. Person makes a good product, expands the business, maybe with some help via SBA or other type of help from the government along the way, like New Glarus Brewing did with a TID district in its town, then they hire people to make more product, which expands demand for housing and other products in their community, and economic growth continues at a healthy level. I also find it interesting that New Glarus Brewing had a prominent Obama sign in front of its brewery, and actively opposed a GOP-backed law that changed beer wholesale licensing in Wisconsin.

And also note the comparison to another female-headed private business in South Central Wisconsin- Epic Systems, which has famously refused to deal with vendors that are part of Walker's buddies at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and CEO Judy Faulkner has told fellow Epic workers at a conference that she supported the anti-Walker side during the Wisconsin Uprising. This is also while Epic has continued to expand in Verona, and now is nearing 6,000 employees and $1.2 billion in revenue, making it the largest private employer in Dane County.

Looks like the successful folks in Wisconsin business realize that good products, paying for good workers, and increasing demand is the way that things get done in the 21st Century. And the policies that encourage intelligence, innovation, and proper compensation to those who do good work are the way to go in the coming years. It sure beats the "race-to-the-bottom" losers like WMC and the supply-side oligarchs who care more about staying on top and grabbing increasing levels of profit over improving their product and expanding their businesses.

So why does our governor and state legislature seem hell-bent on following that losing right-wing strategy instead of listening to real job creators like Dan and Deb Carey, and Judy Faulkner? Hmmm?

We'll never forget you BB!

Was a bit surprised by the news that Badger coach Bret Bielema was leaving to get a sizable pay increase at Arkansas. I'm not overly concerned with it, though. There's a solid coaching tree with Bielema and Alvarez that leads to Paul Chryst at Pittsbirgh (yes, Chryst is saying he's "comitted to Pitt," we'll see what he does when Barry actually calls him and offers big money), and former UW d-coordinator and NIU head coach Dave Doeren (who took the NC State job a few days ago, but I'm betting he could bail on that job if he wanted to).

And while I appreciate that Bielema got decent results at UW (68-24 in 4 years), and I understand that it shouldn't be taken for granted, there's still his penchant for losing close games and squandering great opportunities, like in 2011 when UW lost 3 games in the final seconds despite having a future starting NFL QB in Russell Wilson. And I won't miss goofy time-management and sideline demeanor that doesn't really behoove itself to great confidence in tight moments.

Now this 13-year season ticket holder would be unhappy if I was looking at ponying up $5-$10 extra a game if UW backs up the Brinks truck for a new coach- I'm near my limitations on the subject as it is, and I'd almost prefer tailgating over paying $42 a pop for often-mediocre games. But I can't blame Bielema for wanting to get out of town before the posse turns on him, and he'll get paid quite well in a beautiful part of the country (my Dad's got a place in the Arkansas Ozarks- it's cool other that they still have dry counties).

But Bucky will be fine as well after Bret Bielema as well. No folks, the Morton years will never come close to coming back to Madtown, us fans know what a winning program looks like, and we won't accept anything less. And the facilities and program and history of putting guys in the NFL has things at a point that this is a helluva job to have. Some good coach will be smart enough to get it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Voucher schools- another fail WisGOP continues to cling to

Another day, another example of the Wisconsin GOP continuing to double down on failed, self-absorbed policies.

There was a long Sunday article from the Journal-Sentinel's Alan Borsuk where he called for more accountability of Milwaukee voucher schools, and admitted that they don't do a better job of educating students. Borsuk quotes the Travis and Atlas Schools in Milwaukee, who have proficiency levels between 2 and 5.5% when it comes to reading and math, despite each school getting tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers over the last 15 years. When you realize Borsuk was the long-time education writer for the Journal-Sentinel, and continually backed the pro-voucher Bradley Foundation's meme of how Milwaukee Public Schools were failures in need of massive overhaul, you understand just how bad things must be at voucher schools for him to make the following statement.
There are some excellent schools in the voucher program. But, overall, results have fallen short of what was envisioned when the groundbreaking program was launched two decade ago. Results on the state tests show about the same results for Milwaukee Public Schools kids and voucher kids - and neither is close to good enough.

MPS schools have elaborate accountability systems and tons of information is available about each school. The accountability systems haven't been so effective historically, but there are signs of improvement as more low-performing schools are closed. That said, there are still plenty of MPS schools that get results that are not much different from those of Travis and Atlas (and at much higher cost per student).

Milwaukee charter schools also are required to report quite a bit of information publicly and, in many cases, the charter authorizer (at MPS, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or City Hall) has been pretty effective in holding schools to performance standards, closing quite a few. That said, there are still low-performing charters...

Voucher schools, however, report to pretty much no one. They are accredited by organizations, but accreditation is kind of a big-picture look at whether a place fits the definition of a school. It is not really an accountability system. In practical terms, it's really hard for anyone to tell a voucher school to shape up or lose your money, if the school meets a variety of regulations. A very limited amount of information on voucher schools is public record.
Another study quoted in an October Urban Milwaukee article found little to no difference in test scores between voucher schools and MPS schools, despite voucher schools having a lower percentage of their students being tested, and author Dave Steele goes on to say
There is evidence that tighter accountability standards, including requiring that schools receiving vouchers be accredited and take state standardized tests, has led to better results and fewer bad schools being allowed to participate.
This is remarkable to me, because parents who send their kids to voucher schools (believing that it's a better sitaution vs. MPS) would seem more likely to take an interest in their kids' educations. And as a former teacher myself, I can tell you that having a parent who cares greatly increases a child's chance for success, regardless of where that kid lives or what school he and she attends. So if voucher schools perform no better (and often worse) than MPS, despite MPS having a higher percentage of special-needs students and seeing to be more likely to have parents who don't care about their kids' educations, doesn't that tell you voucher schools are FAILING TO DO AS GOOD OF A JOB AS PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

Heck, even GOP legislators admit poverty and parental involvement are the most likely factors in kids doing well in school. Remember when Mike Ellis, Robin Vos and company were hanging out at Inn on the Park?

That discussion was centered on coming up with other ways to expand the Wisconsin voucher program after allowing it go to Vos's home area of Racine in the state budget. (notice Vos talking about some entrepreneur ponying up $200 million? I'm sure he doesn't stand to make anything out of this deal, it's just a coincidence.) But the bill was written in such a way that vouchers could have been expanded to other areas of the state, and it was only under public pressure that the Legislature decided to close the loophole for the time being in March.

 But if you think the WisGOPs have seen the light and are going to end their backing of the failing, money-sucking voucher program, think again my friend. Gov. Walker annoucned last month that he plans to ask for an expansion of vouchers in the next state budget, while holding public schools to higher accountability standards.  Naturally, Walker did this on the oligarch rubber-chicken circuit in California instead of in Wisconsin (priorities, you know), and on its face, it seems ridiculous for an alleged "fiscal conservative" to just give away free money to unaccountable voucher schools while having big government limits on local public schools.

Then you remember that the voucher hustlers include two former corrupt Assembly Speakers in John Gard and convicted criminal Scott Jensen, who along with others on the voucher lobby gave input on the GOP's illegal redistricting maps. Now these guys are planning to cash in on that gerymandering by having their puppets defund public schools for the lower-performing vouchers, and you can bet there are serious donations in store from the voucher lobby if the Legislature is able to expand this failed policy. And why not, because it's a helluva payoff for those voucher folks to get tax dollars funneled their way, without anywhere near the accountability that public schools get.

What's also not surprising is that the voucher movement in Fitzwalkerstan has nothing to do with results, but everything to do with funneling money to the well-connected. Just like with Logisticare and WEDC, these guys are going to continue to cycle our money in a small circle amongst themselves and their contributors, and leave the vast majority of Wisconsinites out in the cold, with a lower level of performance.