Sunday, December 31, 2017

As 2017 ends, THANK YOU

As both 2017 and a lousy Packer season comes to a merciful close, time for a few year-end reflections and thank-yous.

First of all, it's pretty clear that we are at a crossroads for a lot things in this state and this country. The majority of this country sees through the GOP's corruption, lies and trickle-down bullshit, and if the will of the majority holds in the next 10 months, we will see significant changes at both the Congressional level, and in many statehouses (including Wisconsin). But if the abuses of power and GOPper-ganda lies are allowed to stand, and if this Wrecking Crew stays in power at the state and federal levels, then we might never come out of the hole or corporatism and fascism that is threatening. And the decline into chaos and depression will be rapid and longer-lasting.

I'd like to have optimism that the good guys and reason will win out. But the last 7 years have shown that this cannot be relied on to happen naturally. The average dope is too busy trying to survive in 2010s America to think deeply about political and economic issues, and the forces of evil have worked harder than the forces of decency to trick people and deform democracy and governance in the age of Citizens United and "alternative facts." Which goes along with the bad guys being sociopaths vs normal, decent people, I suppose.

So we have to blast back harder, and not rely on the better angels to effect change. We need to break through the Bubbles of Bullshit that far too many live in, and mock those who remain in them, to show bystanders that these weak-minded blowhards are not worth listening to. And the way we win is on IDEAS, HONESTY and UNCOMPROMISING VALUES that go beyond a "D vs R" frame. Sure, most facts lean toward liberals and Democrats, but to portray it as a partisan thing is not going to have the power (and truth) than if we recognize issues as choices between "right and wrong".

Admitting trickle-down has failed 99% of this country is RIGHT. Demanding that people not go broke because of medical issues is RIGHT. Having politicians work for the public that pays their salaries instead of the donors that pay for their campaigns is RIGHT. Being a lying, cynical Piece of Shit that thinks you can grift your way to success on the backs of rubes is WRONG. Avoiding problems instead of trying to figure them out instead of solve them is WRONG. Thinking the value of our state's amazing natural resources only come from the exploitation by corporate slime is WRONG.

But enough preaching, and onto the thank-yous.

There are two reasons that I write here. One is that it allows me to vent to keep my sanity in a state and a country that far too often seems to have lost theirs, especially when it comes to discussing economics and politics. The other is because despite being a very cynical person, I still believe that if enough of us bang on the door and relay the word to others, and then those others relay the word and change the conversation, that eventually that door comes crashing down on the forces on evil. As that happens, maybe we can change our approach to certain concepts, and have it lead to a positive change in our fractured society.

While it's sickening to think about all the evil and regressive crookedness that runs our nation and our state these days, I'm also heartened by the possibility that this can be stopped and turned around. I'm going to keep reflecting and writing here next year, and hopefully it can help send the message out there in Internet-land that you are not alone for finding a lot of this to be bullshit. I also hope it helps you to explain things to others as events happen, and have them gain a greater understanding of these things in an increasingly complex and noisy world.

I joke about how I only have 5 readers, but in all honesty it shocks me who have told me they read this place, the forwards of my posts that I see on Facebook and other social media, and which people I've been able to come into contact with as a result of this hobby. I even made a passing reference a few months ago about how I get a small kickback in ad revenue when people click, and I noticed an immediate uptick in clicks and money coming in. It's not near enough to make me consider leaving my real job, but it's still pretty cool, and I need to do the same in 2018 for other blogs that do a great job getting the truth out in this state (note the list to the right of this page).

YOU make this happen, and it's truly humbling to have the feedback and readership that I do. I hope I can do more to fire you up and keep you interested/entertained/informed in this Funhouse in 2018. Let's make this crucial year a great one for the forces of decency, but let's also have some great experiences on the way there.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 in review- what you read and reacted to (Updated)

As 2017 ends in the Funhouse, wanted to give my annual review of what readers found most interesting in this year, and take a look back at what happened with this silly hobby of mine over the last 12 months.

Let's look at the 7 most-read posts from this year, based on the Google Analytics page-views stat. And you'll find the continuing scandals and sliminess associated with Lincoln Hills and the Fox-con well-represented on this list.

1. Lincoln Hills- even worse than you thought. And definitely a Walker failure. Nov. 12, 2017 (6,570 pageviews).

This is now the most-read post in this blog's 9-year history, and it started with me reacting to this excellent bit of broadcast journalism from Channel 12 in Rhinelander.

And in that piece, numerous current and former Lincoln Hills staff pointed directly to Scott Walker's union-busting Act 10 as a reason behind the numerous troubles and assaults on both staff and inmates at the state's youth prison near Irma.
"In my opinion, Act 10," said [youth counselor Stacy] Daigle.

"The brakes came off when Act 10 was enacted," said Doug Curtis.

"The Walker administration came in they came up with Act 10, they took our union rights away and next thing you know, everything started going downhill since then," said [youth counselor Kal] Tesky.

Act 10 was passed in 2011 to reduce a budget deficit. It took away collective bargaining rights and benefits for unionized public workers like the Lincoln Hills staff. That meant staff had less ability to negotiate for certain working conditions. Youth counselors regularly work 16-hour shifts...

Curtis retired a year ago after working for 20 years at Lincoln Hills. The dangerous environment was a major reason he left when he did. He still represents the prison's union workers and worries about them.

"It's only a matter of time before someone gets killed up there," said Curtis.
This post got picked up on Facebook and other sites, and even drew the notice of Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee, who contacted me and reprinted it a few days later.

Scott Walker still hasn't visited Lincoln Hills (and avoids the subject as much as he can), and the WisGOP Legislature has refused to re-evaluate its failing strategy on juvenile corrections. This disaster stems directly from prior GOP political decisions to eradicate the bargaining rights of Corrections staff, and in sending juvy criminals to 1 large facility in the Northwoods, which is often hundreds of miles away from the youths' homes. That failure needs to be hung around the necks of Walker and WisGOP in these next 10 months.

EDIT- In case you thought this subject is going to fade away in 2018, take a look at what former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall told "Capitol City Sunday" on New Year's Eve.

The criminal, bumbling Schimel has earned a 2018 pink slip even more than Walker. But both have to be fired if this state is ever going to be decent again.

2. Senate GOPs pass the Fox-con, even as it becomes more bogus. Sept. 12, 2017 (2,213 page views)

I wrote this in light of the GOP-run State Senate passing the Fox-con package, and I included a link to an article in Belt Magazine by Wisconsin's Lawrence Tabak which featured interviews with workers in another Foxconn-connected plant in Indiana. It didn't sound good.
Indiana native Carl Williams spent a year and a half between 2008 and 2010 at Foxconn’s Plainfield facility as a quality technician and later a data analyst. He reveals that a majority of the 900 workers who were employed at the computer assembly factory during his tenure there were undocumented. “On days when word got out that Immigration [and Customs Enforcement] was coming,” he says, “most of the workforce would be missing.” Williams also describes a “wink and nod” attitude by management toward the use of undocumented workers as the facility declined to be certified as an e-verified workplace (an internet based system of checking worker identification). According to Williams, management acted on the pretense that they simply weren’t aware of, and certainly not responsible for, the documentation status of the bulk of the workforce. Williams added that management appeared to be more interested in rock-bottom wages, dodging the cost of expensive benefits, and maintaining their ability to lay off and rehire for seasonal demand.

Andre Morris, who was a Foxconn employee in Indiana from 2005 to 2013, confirms the large number of undocumented workers at the Plainfield facility and also recalls the sea of empty chairs when there were rumors of an impending ICE raid. While he admits to having some success there, working his way up to manager after beginning his career toiling on the assembly line, Morris feels his opportunity for advancement was limited because he was African-American, reporting that he saw only white and Asian people above him. “There’s just not enough opportunity,” he says, when asked if he would recommend working at Foxconn, adding that his most vivid memory was the endless, repetitive work in stifling summer heat in an airless warehouse without air conditioning.
I also had these observations of the Senate debate, which seem quite relevant 3 months later.
State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and State Sen. Chris Larson both noted this problem, where those extra costs get paid for by homeowners in those cities who aren’t getting a TID) while Foxconn gets away with paying basically nothing. When you look at it this way, and when you combine it with the $252 million in borrowing to speed up work on I-94 South, the taxpayer costs of the Fox-con go well beyond the $3 billion that could be paid for the facility’s construction and the bags of cash that would be given to Foxconn for hiring people.

I also noted that during debate today, State Sen. Alberta Darling (R- Xanax/Vodka) claimed that the Foxconn bill wouldn’t change Wisconsin’s environmental laws, and she was rebuked by Sen. Jon Erpenbach and other Dems on the Senate floor. Anyone who has read the Foxconn bill knows that environmental rules are carved out for the “Enterprise zone” that the facility would be located in, and Darling presided over the Joint Finance hearing where that very issue was discussed. Bertie Dahhh-ling is either lying, or the senility has hit full force with her. Either way, it’s unacceptable.
And what do we have today? Estimates of the Fox-con being above $4 billion, and the WisGOP Legislature is now trying to screw up wetlands outside of the Foxconn enterprise zone.

3. When disaster strikes, Walker's here to help...his donors at Ashley Furniture. July 23, 2017 (1,961 page views)

The state was hit with serious flooding in late July in many areas, but I found it intriguing that our Fair Governor decided to go to Ashley Furniture in Arcadia to discuss disaster recovery efforts and future plans to mitigate damage from heavy rains.I not only mentioned that Ashley Furniture had to pay $1.7 million in fines in 2016 for OSHA violations, but also that they have strong connections to the Friends of Scott Walker.
Oh, and did we mention that Ron Wanek and his wife gave Walker maximum donations in 2014 right after the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) gave Ashley $6 million in incentives for the “expansion” that Walker just happened to show up at 3 months later.

And Scott Walker and Ron Wanek’s furniture company are still finding ways to be associated today, as we found out last month at another “it’s working” photo op in Trempeleau County, celebrating Ashley’s distribution center.
Much of the 500,000-square-foot facility will be located in a floodplain and part of it will sit on the filled-in former bed of Myers Valley Creek. Last year, the city rerouted part of the creek away from the Ashley plant, another business, neighborhoods, and bridges that constricted its flow and contributed to flooding. Ashley Furniture will raise the level of the new distribution center two feet above the 100-year flood level so that it is safe from both Myers Valley Creek and the nearby Trempealeau River, city administrator Bill Chang explained. Ashley donated $300,000 to the over $2 million creek reroute project. A $500,000 state grant and $1.3 million in city debt funded the majority of that project.

Walker praised that flood protection project and said he would support state funding for the city’s next, far bigger flood protection effort: a bid to protect most of the city from flooding on Turton Creek and the Trempealeau River by raising the level of dikes throughout the city. A roughly $1 million study funded by the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is underway to create a plan for that project, and Chang said it should be completed later this fall.
The connection between WEDC handouts and Walker campaigns stops going along with CEO campaign donations is something you can bet we will see a nauseating amount of between now and November. And we need to call it out at all turns and pressure our media to do the same.

4. Lincoln Hills disaster a natural outcome of Act 10, other Walker incompetence. Oct. 24, 2017 (1,837 page views)

This was earlier version of the topic I went after in the Number 1 post in November. It was written soon after a widely-publicized attack by inmates on Lincoln Hills staffer Pandora Lobacz, which included these graphic pictures.

While Scott Walker disgustingly blamed a court injunction reducing the ability of Lincoln Hills staff from using pepper spray and solitary confinement on juvenile prisoners, Lobacz pointed to Scott Walker's own crowning legislation, and Walker decisions on juvenile corrections.
"Your front line staff that's supposed to be protecting the other students and protecting each other are working 70 to 80 hours of overtime every pay period and that's within two weeks," she said.

She blames that on Gov. Walker's Act 10 and Right to Work laws for taking power away from unions Lincoln Hills staff relied on. She added Walker's consolidation of all the state's youth prisons in 2011 happened before Lincoln Hills could hire enough workers for the amount of juveniles they would hold. She said they have never been able to have enough workers since.
And as I noted, none of these Lincoln Hills problems should surprise us, and the people running state government must be held accountable.
Make no mistake, this mess at Lincoln Hills is a direct results of actions (and a lack of actions) from the Dropout in Charge. From the decision to close the two facilities in SE Wisconsin and relocate those inmates in order to save money for tax cuts, from lowering the value of work at Lincoln and Copper Hills through Act 10 wage suppression, to refusing to act despite being told of bad conditions at Lincoln Hills 5 years ago, this is all on Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP for not stepping up and dealing honestly with the situation.

5. Greedy Wisconsin CEOs and WisGOP politicians work together-and hold our economy back. Feb. 26, 2017 (1,705 page views)

This was after the GOP puppetmasters at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce were trying to "update Wisconsin's image" to attract talent. I noted that it's the corporate community's own policies and the GOP politicians that they support that are a leading cause of this problem.
The greedy, "profit and power over anything else" mentality of the state's business lobby is equally perplexing to me. It's not like that mentality is leading to good results, as Wisconsin has had the worst economy in the Midwest over the 6 years that the WMC-bought GOP politicians in the Governor's Office and Legislature have been in power.

In addition, the WMC crowd is constantly whining about a "skills gap" at the same time that they have vociferously backed wage-suppression measures like right-to-work (for less) and the recent legislation against Project Labor Agreements, and have backed a governor and Legislature who won't even consider raising the minimum wage above $7.25. In addition, Wisconsin firms continue to pay among the lowest manufacturing wages in the Midwest, between $3.50 and $5 an hour lower than the neighboring states of Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, on the average. It's like these business "leaders" have never taken an introductory Economics course where they mention that shortages in labor require THAT WAGES BE RAISED to encourage more people to want to enter the market.

And the business community's choices in the state school superintendent's race illustrate this foolishness. Instead of backing strong public schools to generate talent and strong, stable communities that businesses can utilize to grow, the state's business community wants to lower the level of public education in exchange for grabbing more money and influence for themselves. Look at how the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce shelled out $10,000 of its members' funds to pro-voucher candidate John "I'll say anything" Humphries, who promptly got 7% of the vote in last week's primary and was laughed out of the race. You know, the same MMAC that has backed Scott Walker for 15 years, have demanded school privatization for longer than that, and whose home area won this "honor" in 2016.
Over the year, nonfarm employment rose in 49 of the 51 metropolitan areas with a 2010 Census population of 1 million or more, and fell in Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis. (-0.5 percent), and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Va.-N.C. (-0.4 percent).
And now? Pro-public schools Superintendent Tony Evers is a leading candidate to run against Walker for the Dems in 2018 after winning 70 of 72 counties in the the Superintendent race in April, and now our Governor and WMC want to shell out $6.8 million in tax dollars in a marketing campaign to encourage young workers to move to Wisconsin. Seems like the lines are being drawn for 2017 on different sides of reality, aren't they?

6. Fox-con is signed, but removing Walker could stop the bleeding. Nov. 10, 2017 (1,468 page views)

Foxconn article number 2. This time I wrote about the contract that the WEDC Board agreed to with Foxconn, one that was made secret for months and had to be constantly revised because it left the state too much at risk. When it was finally approved by the WEDC Board in November, it included the following threshholds that Foxconn had to hit for employment to avoid clawbacks- and they're well below the "13,000 jobs" that Walker and WEDC try to claim will be created.
Job thresholds, Foxconn
2018 260
2019 520
2020 1,820
2021 3,640
2022 5,200
2023 7,150
2024 7,800
2025 8,450
2026 9,100
2027-2032 10,400

That’s a pretty slow start, although the positive side of that is only $160.4 million of the $1.5 billion in tax write-offs for jobs can come in the first 4 years, with the bigger write-offs coming later.
I also noted that Foxconn could walk away from Wisconsin in 15 years without having to pay any penalties, but I also noted that next year provides an opportunity for the state to limit its costs with this Fox-con boondoggle.
But the contract also identifies yet another positive that would come with the removal of Scott Walker in 2018. You know Scotty and his WEDC lackey(s) would never admit the Fox-con isn't working out while he would be in office, but a new governor and new members in the Legislature could renegotiate this deal, and possibly cut out of it before the big costs hit (especially if the plant isn’t doing much). Any Democrat should put the Fox-con question to the voters over the next year, and remind them that they don't have to accept this anchor that will ultimately lead to service cuts and tax hikes in other areas.

7. Last on this list is a personal favorite. Sorry Charlie Sykes. You built that, you OWN IT. May 14, 2017 (1,421 page views)

We know what this guy is about.

Charlie Sykes wrote an editorial in the New York Times bemoaning how today's Trumpists only care about trolling liberals and have no sensible ideas of their own. The Driftglass blog responded with an excellent takedown of Charlie-tan.
Every day of these people's lives, their own leaders, their own words and Reality itself humiliates them by slapping yesterday's lies out of their mouths right in front of God and everybody. And because they have been rendered incapable of admitting error or self-reflection, every day for your basic American wingnut is like chugging salt water: the exercise only leave them ever more frantic for even Bigger and Better lies to slake their thirst and hide their shame.

This is why the Right's hatred of us grows exponentially more berserk, more unhinged. This is also why they have reached a point where they will eagerly follow anyone who will look them in the eye and tell them the gigantic lies the want the hear.

And, for the record, it's also why Both Siderism is the worst crime against truth of all: because "Both Sides Do It" is always the the universal, inexhaustible "Get Out of Accountability Free" card every wingnut has been trained to play when he or she does not have the next Fox-approved lie or excuse readily at-hand.

And now that the hellscape we warned them about for decades has finally arrived?

Well, that just so happens to circle us right back to Mr. Charlie Sykes who, like so many of his Conservative media confederates that were finally cast out of the Conservative freak-show they created, have found an equally rewarding second career just plain ripping off the very Liberals who Mr. Charlie Sykes spent his first career mocking and demonizing.
I also linked to an article by Bruce Murphy in Urban Milwaukee pointing out how full of crap Sykes has been in all iterations of his media career, and I reminded our readers of how not so long along, Charlie Sykes was credited with bringing to power the same right-wing nutjobs that are now degrading government and discourse at both the state and federal levels to the lowest levels in our lifetimes.

I haven't forgotten the act that Sykes sold to rubes in this state ("black people commit voter fraud", "Moochelle Obama", "John Doe is a witch hunt", "David Clarke is a good man"), and it disgusts me when he tries to come on MSNBC as some kind of "honest voice" that can leave behind the decades of damage that he and other race-baiting media slime have caused in this state. I find myself tweeting to MSNBC hosts and related hash-tags when Sykes is on to remind people of what Charlie-tan has done, and I'd love ONE TIME to see another panelist take Sykes apart on the air and make his history catch up to him in public.

Maybe I'll see that in 2018, along with real pushback to the GOPper-ganda and cover-ups of corruption that we are seeing in both Madison and in DC. Because as you can see in many of these top-read stories, these issues weren't one-time occurrences, but are ongoing developments that require us to remember what has happened in the past to recognize why things happen now and in the future.

I'll have more year-end thoughts tomorrow. Now it's time for Bucky to take care of da U.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Fox-con getting nationwide exposure - as a wasteful scam

Looks like the Fox-con is finally getting the national attention it deserves- as a boondoggle where the desperation of a Dropout Governor is making his state's taxpayers get taken to the cleaners by savvy Taiwanese businessmen.

Take a look at this report from CNN Money yesterday. One problem that the article noted is that the demands for labor from the Foxconn plant will hamper the abilities of companies that are already in Wisconsin, who are already struggling to get workers due to the state's low wages and low amount of candidates available to take those jobs.
But the low unemployment in the state has some existing businesses worried that the plant, which could employ up to 13,000 workers, will make it that much harder for them to find workers. Unemployment in Wisconsin is just 3.2%, near its record low. The entire state has only 102,000 unemployed workers.

"What I'm hearing from my employers is they can't fill the jobs they have available now," said Anthony Snyder, CEO of the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board. "I've heard companies not able to add another shift, not being able to take on orders because they can't fill them. Foxconn doesn't worry me today, but it'll worry me two or three years from now. It's another competitor for the labor we don't have here."
Which sure makes you wonder why we are throwing billions at a foreign company instead of trying to help local businesses and improve the state's wages, infrastructure and services so that the labor actually wants to come here.

The labor availability problems were also hinted at by another recipient of a multi-million dollar Walker/WEDC giveaway - the Haribo gummi bear makers who agreed to add a factory in Kenosha before the Fox-con was announced. So much so that Walker had to reassure the German company that he didn't sell them false hope.
German candy-maker Haribo was concerned about its ability to find workers for its planned Wisconsin gummy bear factory after news broke that Foxconn Technology Group was building a massive facility nearby.

Walker said [on December 1] Haribo “absolutely” was concerned and he met with company officials to calm their fears.

Haribo is planning a gummy bear factory that will employ 400 people in Pleasant Prairie. Foxconn’s big campus will be just 13 miles away in Mount Pleasant.

Walker told reporters that Manpower helped make the case to Haribo that, despite the close locations, the two companies are in different markets for workers.
In addition to the lack of available labor, what's also grabbing attention from national media is that the price tag for the Fox-con keeps growing. This jumps off of a report that Urban Milwaukee's Bruce Murphy put together last week that added up the local subsidies and added state infrastructure to the $3 billion in state tax incentives that already in the Fox-con, and the staggering numbers grabbed the attention of both CNN and this MSNBC producer.

Let's go back to Murphy's article where he puts the costs together.
Meanwhile the Village of Mount Pleasant and Racine County agreed to give Foxconn $764 million in tax incentives. The measure also commits the state to paying 40 percent of local governments’ expenses for the plant “if ever called upon to do so.”

The state will also spend $30 million on a new two-mile road east of I-94 to be called “Wisconn Valley Way,” and aimed at easing traffic congestion near Foxconn’s plant.

And last week we learned the Walker administration will also siphon $134 million from the state transportation fund to widen and improve several local roads near the future Foxconn factory, as a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau disclosed. The Department of Transportation didn’t give the fiscal bureau an exact estimate for the local Foxconn roadwork when it was requested, but the bureau found the information “referenced in a grant application for $246.2 million in federal funds for the nearby I-94 project,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported....

The Foxconn development has also pushed the state to spend $252 million to expand I-94 from six to eight lanes from College Ave. in Milwaukee County south to Highway 142 in Kenosha County. While it was anticipated this would eventually be done, it was far from guaranteed, given huge shortfalls in the transportation fund and delays in other projects. What is certain is that the I-94 widening and $134 million in local road improvements by the state will lead to longer delays or cancellations of other projects in the state...

Meanwhile American Transmission Company has announced it will build a new substation to provide electric power to Foxconn at a cost of $140 million, which will then be charged to the 5 million customers of We Energies in southeast Wisconsin. The project “essentially would ask the public to contribute still more to Foxconn through higher electric rates,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

And this isn't even adding in the costs for Racine County and other governments to buy the properties of landowners, and the extra costs that go into paying contractors to make those acquisitions. I go back to this memorable part of an outstanding article from October in Belt magazine from Wisconsin journalist Lawrence Tabak.
On October 11, some 100 affected people, many of them senior citizens, gather in Mt. Pleasant’s municipal hall to learn more about their fate. The session is conducted by Madison-based Peter Miesbauer, heir to G.J. Miesbauer & Associates, “right of way acquisition specialists.” One of a growing list of contractors brought in by Mt. Pleasant to work the Foxconn deal, Miesbauer patiently listens to the often quite specific questions and answers in repeated generalities, restating the statutory definitions of property acquisition and the statutory requirement that the buyouts will represent “fair market value.”

With eminent domain letters in hand, but no indication of tendered offers, the sense of frustration in the room is palpable.
Hmm, maybe that's why we've seen Scott Walker try to spin other economic BS stats instead of talking about the Fox-con in recent weeks. Because the scope and costs of this scam continue to grow, and the foolishness of Walker's "strategy" of throwing massive amounts of taxpayer dollars at corporations in exchange for a few headlines (and campaign donations?) looks worse by the day. And it'll cause a lot more heartbreak and frustration in 2018.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

So how is the Trump e-CON-onmy?

File this story under "how fucking stupid do they think people are?"
The White House hopes to boost President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings by using the economy as a centerpiece of its political message in 2018, according to three White House officials, even if many of the president’s successes so far are squarely built on the legacy of former President Barack Obama.

But hard economic data on growth, job creation and wages look very similar to the last several years under Obama. The pace of job growth actually slowed slightly to 174,000 per month in 2017 through November, compared with 187,000 per month in Obama’s final year.

Even Trump’s stock market performance is similar to or trails Obama’s. In the first 11 months of Obama’s presidency, the Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 37 percent. It rose 18 percent under Trump. The Dow rose 30 percent in Obama’s first 11 months to Trump’s 24 percent.

Despite the underlying similarities to Obama, the White House plans to brand the economy as Trump’s doing in 2018 and sell a message that the nation is actually performing much better now, even before any impact from the tax cut bill. A key piece of the Trump argument will be that economic prospects are even stronger now after a wave of deregulation across federal agencies in 2017.

"We took a big, big beautiful ship that we’re turning around, and a lot of good things are happening," the president said Wednesday while meeting with first responders in West Palm Beach, Florida
Of course, the difference is that Obama inherited an economy in free-fall in January 2009, losing 3.7 million jobs in the 6 months before he took office. Within 1 year, Obama's Administration really had "turned the ship around," the job losses had stopped, and we had nearly 7 straight years of steady (if not spectacular) job growth through the 2016 elections.

And if Trump and the GOP want to say that they somehow stopped the bleeding that was happening and 2016 and "turned that around", there's no evidence of that at all. Job growth has declined in the year since Trump got elected, and is now at the lowest levels in 5 years.

12-month job growth
Nov 2016 +2.32 million
Nov 2017 +2.07 million

That's a drop of nearly 11 percent. Sure, some of that is because we are pretty much in a full employment scenario these day, but lower job growth would be something a normal person would want to draw attention to and claim it to be "improvement."

And it isn't like the tighter labor market is helping the average American, as wage growth is also at a lower rate than it was a year ago.

So what's with this absurd PR push by Trump and other Republicans that the economy is so much better than it was this time last year? It seems to be derived from this misguided belief that right-wingers have that somehow a confidence fairy is what decides all economic growth (or a handful of oligarchs locked away in a room). And if businesses think that times are good to invest, then out of the goodness of their hearts, us peons will see things get better as well.

But in the real world, what determines growth is DEMAND, and demand gets driven up by 1 of 2 reasons.

1. Higher need for products and services
2. Higher wages/incomes allowing for more purchases of products and services, regardless of need.

Well, most people are not getting number 2, and while people are spending at pre-Great Recession levels of recklessness, many of us recognize that won't last and will lead to Bubbles popping and recessions. So Trump and the Republicans choice is to try to trick rubes with psy-ops and claim that things are getting better when the jobs and wages numbers have changed very little in the last year (and if anything, have slowed down).

But what should we expect? After all, the long form of the term "con" is "confidence game". And Donald Trump along with lesser grifters like Scott Walker are nothing if not con men. So don't be a sucker and don't buy into the relentless PR bullshit that these economically illiterate men will try to sell over the next 10 months.

The effects of bad GOP policy-making- the mad dash to pay property taxes

Can't say this story surprises me in the least. The mad year-end dash to pay taxes is ON, folks!
In affluent states with high taxes and property values, local officials have been besieged in recent days by people trying to pay their 2018 property taxes early so they can deduct those payments before the cap takes effect.

However, the IRS said Wednesday that filers could only avoid the cap by paying property taxes that have been assessed in 2017. Many local governments, including most Washington-area jurisdictions, have not completed assessments for upcoming years....

In affluent Fairfax County, Va., more than 1,700 property owners came to the government center Tuesday to prepay their property taxes, while 750 people sent wire transfers and about 650 dropped off payments in a government lockbox that normally gets two or three pieces of correspondence a day, according to Scott Sizemore, director of the revenue collection division.

The county collected nearly $16 million in tax prepayments on Tuesday alone, county spokesman Jeremy Lasich said, with more money flowing in Wednesday. He said the county would devise a reimbursement plan if it cannot accept the prepayments. “We don’t know the full impact of that [IRS] statement yet,” he said. “We’re still studying that.”
I told you about this over a month ago, when I punched up the situation for me and my wife and noticed that it was better for us to NOT itemize under the GOP's Piece of Shit tax bill. Sure, we'd pay fewer federal income taxes, but we wouldn't get any write-offs for property taxes, mortgage interest, or state income taxes (SALT) starting on January 1, 2018, which meant that it was a rational decision to pay our taxes in 2017 (if possible) to cash in our deduction while we could.

Fortunately, I was working downtown on Tuesday, and I wandered over to the Madison City-County building in late morning, and there was very little line to be had. But you can see where many areas of the country that have high mortgages and/or property taxes like the DC area are paying up now as a result. Now add in the tax bill's limitations of SALT to $10,000 (a limit that is the same for single filers or married joint filers), and the fact that people that pay that much in taxes are also going to be people that have tax advisors and tax awareness, and this rush to City Hall to write their annual checks is multiplying on itself.

In looking at the IRS guidance that came out yesterday, what they basically said is that people can pay property taxes if the assessments were made in 2017. Apparently in other states, property taxes are assessed and paid on a different schedule than in Wisconsin, where your tax bill comes in December for 2017 and you can write off the payment on the taxes that you file in the coming months if you pay them in 2017.

But what you can't do in Wisconsin and the rest of the country is assume a certain amount of taxes for 2018 and "pay it forward", which apparently is what has been happening in a number of places. And watch for the stories in the coming weeks and months where these local governments have to tell these individuals that they paid future-year taxes for nothing, and either have to pay the money back or deal with a lot of pissed-off constituents.

Also in the coming months, let's see if the accelerated payments from this week mean that the US budget deficit rises more than expected due to the extra refunds that will result. And since there won't be a "snapback" of higher revenues in the following year (since people won't be taking the deduction anyway), that means it's a one-time bump in the debt. And if the extra refunds in 2018 don't translate into enough additional economic activity, then the price tag for this Piece of Shit goes higher.

And that's what's infuriating about the mad rush to pay property taxes. It was entirely avoidable, but the GOP was so busy trying to jam this through that they never tried to think through how humans might react to these tax changes. If there were actual committee hearings and honest discussion about how this bill would affect people, and then maybe these problems would have been identified and eliminated. Or at least some of the tax changes wouldn't take effect 9 DAYS after it was signed into law. Instead, people understandably act rashly and it leads to these disruptions.

If we also had hearings, perhaps we also would have recognized that it made no sense to make the standard deduction twice as large for married couples vs singles, but to keep SALT at the same $10,000 limit REGARDLESS OF WHETHER PEOPLE FILE SINGLE OR JOINTLY, which would inevitably make it less worthwhile for married couples that own houses to take the write offs associated with home ownership.

But bad policy-making leads to bad policy results, and it's been a GOP specialty in the 2000s. Since you can't vote these corrupted idiots out until several months from now, I'd recommend making the best of what you can today, and get yourself down to City Hall and pay those property taxes if you can, while you can still use the writeoff for it.

Walker claims "typical family" gets $200 a month. Will you?

Well, now that the Piece of Shit tax bill is signed into law, GOP politicians and their corporate puppetmasters are trying an all-out propaganda blitz to convince the public that it isn't a Piece of Shit, and will make everyday Americans better off. And our fair Governor wants to be a major part of this effort.

My initial reaction was to roll my eyes, but if you take what Walker's Department of Revenue considers to be the "typical family of 4", its largely true. I got this info via email, and I can't find it on the Web (feel free to forward it to me you find it), but the Department of Revenue used a median income of $86,700 as the median "married, filing jointly with 2 kids in Wisconsin" figure. Then inflated it to $94,700 to account for income growth three years later, in 2018.

(Side note, per capita income is only up 3.46% in the last 24 months in Wisconsin. That 9% assumption by Walker's DOR is iffy at best. But let's humor them.)

If you punch in "$94,700, married filing jointly with 2 kids" to this tax calculator from the Reason Foundation, then it cut of around $2,500. The reasons? About 2/3 in rate cuts and an expanded standard deduction, and about 1/3 from the expanded child tax credit. But that expanded standard deduction is also a problem, because this also reduces the incentive to own a home (like the "typical Wisconsin family" does), and Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics says that US housing prices will be 4% lower in 2019 than they otherwise would have been as a result.

If you figure the median Wisconsin home is around $160,000, that's a $6,400 difference in wealth. So much for your one-time tax cut, "typical family."

And as we've found continually with this Piece of Shit bill, YOUR OUTCOMES MAY BE VERY DIFFERENT. For example, me and my wife are both well-educated, upper-middle class homeowners. We would save all of $900 a year ($75 a month), and a 4% drop on our home values is more like $12,000. Thanks assholes!

And that's what Todd Berry of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance cautioned when Walker tried his spin job yesterday.
Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance president Todd Berry said the biggest problem with Walker's analysis is that it chose a two-income, two-child family which is no longer "typical."

"The largest number of filers in Wisconsin are single," Berry said. "And, among those who file jointly, two kids of tax credit age are less and less the norm."

And so let's go back to the tax calculator and look at some other circumstances. Even worse, a single parent making $65,000 with 2 kids owning a house saves less than $3 a week, and likely loses that and more in home value. Single professional with no kids making $65,000 but renting? That person saves a whopping $4 a week. Don't spend it all in one place!

Here are a few other examples from Wisconsin.

Married empty-nest couple, making $400,000, living in a pricey house- GAIN $8,079

Married couple, two kids, making $175,000- GAIN $4,341

Married couple owning a middle-priced home, making $75,000, no kids - GAIN $1,228

Single person making $35,000, renting with 2 kids - GAIN $521

Single person making $40,000 and renting - LOSE $194

Does that seem remotely fair, or do anything to end our crippling inequality? Now add in the higher medical costs for lower-income people due to the GOP messing with Obamacare in the same Piece of Shit bill, and those people fall even further behind.

And memo to Scott Walker- you know what else puts $2,500 in the pockets of that "typical Wisconsin family of 4"? A 4% RAISE IN PAY! And we wouldn't have to drive up the deficit, take away health care and threaten the future of Social Security to do so.

The reality of low pay and declining standard of living is what Scott Walker and Paul Ryan and all the GOP charlatans aren't telling you. The overwhelming majority of Americans don't need tax cuts, they need better pay and better benefits. And the pay and benefits part are what will get worse, especially since corporations are now incentivized even more to cut jobs and wages in order to maximize profit under this Piece of Shit bill.

And that's before the stock and housing Bubbles pop, partly due to the rampant Wall Street speculation that this tax bill has caused in 2017, and the resulting changes in behavior from continued low wage growth and falling house prices. Do not fall for the GOP spin that any one-time bump in your take-home pay makes the damage to our economy and increased inequality close to OK. The last 40 years prove otherwise, and this chart is going to get worse, unless we throw these corrupted bums out of office in massive amounts in 2018 and reverse this crap ASAP.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Does changes in DC mean Wis budget gets changed too?

Just because the Piece of Shit tax bill that became law last week was for federal taxes, it doesn't mean that there won't be an effect on state finances as well.
This article in Governing mentions that many states may be getting some bonus money in their coffers soon, and it has little to do with whether the economy speeds up or slows down.
But states could find themselves collecting more money, because Congress eliminated or reduced many popular tax deductions, allowing more income to be taxed.

At the federal level, Congress tried to offset those provisions by lowering tax rates and raising the standard deduction. States often follow the federal government’s calculations for determining how much income should be taxed, but, unlike Congress, they have not changed their tax rates to reflect the smaller level of deductions.
In particular, one Midwestern governor is concerned over what'll happen when one particular provision is changed in 2018, as Michigan's Rick Snyder claimed that one particular change in DC mean a back-door tax increase for that state's citizens.
Snyder told the AP he is especially worried about the federal law’s elimination of the personal exemption. That exemption excludes a certain amount of income from being taxed for every member of a household. For 2017, it is $4,050 per person. But Michigan also has a $4,000 exemption for each federal exemption.

The changes in federal law could mean a $170 state tax hike for a single person in Michigan, or a $680 hike for a family of four. Snyder said he would propose a fix for the problem in January.
Of course, these extra taxes wouldn't kick in until at least early 2019 when people file their taxes for 2018, and Snyder will be term-limited out of office by then, so I'm not entirely sure why he cares. Other than wanting to cash in himself, I suppose.

In looking at the instructions for Wisconsin's tax forms, it does seem that the personal exemption question does seem to be the one thing that could cause higher taxes for Wisconsinites after this year, since there is a $700-per-exemption write-off at the state level. Otherwise, Wisconsin taxes based on "adjusted gross income", which is before personal exemptions and either itemized or standard deductions subtract from the totals. So that doesn't seem to be as susceptible to this kind of back-door tax increase. And because deductions for items such as student loan interest and expenses for teachers also are still around, incomes shouldn't be artificially inflated for most Wisconsinites when they do their taxes.

But there is a way that Wisconsin may be grabbing more tax revenue, and that's as a result of the Bubbly stock market. Since capital gains are part of this Wisconsin taxable income figure, if people sold stock for a profit, then that could drive tax bills (and tax revenues) higher. Granted, tax revenues have somewhat lagged the budget for the first 5 months of Fiscal Year 2018, as last week's release of November tax revenues showed. But that revenue gap would only be a bit over $100 million these rates of change held up for the rest of the year, and that capital gains boost could make up that $100 mil once people file their taxes in early 2018.

It harkens me back to when a stock market jump in 2012 led to a one-time bump in state tax revenues in 2013, resulting in a reported surplus of nearly $1 billion by early 2014. Naturally, Governor Walker and his rubber-stamp GOPs decided to cut taxes prior to the 2014 elections, which resulted in a larger-than-expected drop in revenues over the next year, and a major budget deficit for the 2015-17 cycle.

That budget resulted in sizable cuts to education and road funding, and job growth tanked soon after in the state, a setback that we only recently started to recover from.

What worries me is the possibility that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau will use the one-time 0.6% stimulus to GDP in 2018 as an excuse to estimate Wisconsin revenues higher next month, and then Republicans try to pull tax-cutting idiocy similar to what they pulled 4 years ago. However, my concern is tempered by looking at the LFB's estimates from January 2017, and I realize they counted on some kind of tax cuts and/or infrastructure stimulus having already been passed by now.
The 2017 forecast is based on the following key assumptions. First, the forecast assumes that the new Trump administration and Congress will lower the average effective personal income tax rate from 21.0% to 19.5% and lower the statutory corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% (partially offset by reducing tax deductions and credits). Second, the forecast also assumes a $250 billion increase in federal infrastructure spending over the next ten years. Third, the 2017 forecast assumes that the Federal Reserve will increase the federal funds rate by 75 basis points in each of the next three years to 1.50% by the end of 2017, 2.25% by the end of 2018, and 3.00% by the end of 2019. Fourth, the Brent spot crude oil price is projected to average $54 per barrel in 2017 and $57 per barrel in 2018. Fifth, the inflation-adjusted, trade-weighted value of the dollar for the broad index of U.S. trading partners is expected to increase 3.3% between fourth-quarter 2016 and fourth-quarter 2017, where it will reach its peak value at 5.5% above the 2016 average, followed by a steady decline. Finally, real GDP growth of major and other important U.S. trading partners is assumed to average 1.7% annually and 3.5% annually, respectively.
Other than the failure to add to infrastructure, sounds like largely what we've seen on these subjects, isn't it?

With these parameters in mind, the LFB said it expected 2.6% GDP growth for 2018, which is pretty much what "base + 0.6%" GDP would be. And if things slow down in the second half of 2018 (and you'd think it would, as we are already at full employment and the Bubbles in the stock and housing market are going to pop sooner than later), then there shouldn't be much to expect from the economy for the second year of Wisconsin's budget.

But keep your eyes on that January revenue report, because that'll likely go a long way toward determining if there will be more regressive tax gimmicks from the ALEC crew at the Capitol in early 2018. If there aren't extra funds available to be diverted to the rich and connected, then the next step is finding out over the next 4 months what the initial effects the growing stock market had on the Wisconsin's finances, and to see what adjustments people made this week to be able to write off items in 2017 that they likely won't be able to write off in 2018.

There's lots left to play out over the next few months, and ignore the PR BS that you know will be coming fast and furious from WisGOP and their corporate puppetmasters. The numbers will tell the true story.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Good jobs reports, bad income reports Wisconsin for late 2017. Which are true?

Late last week, the Wisconsin jobs report for November came out. This report showed a third straight month of growth (albeit lower than the strong jobs reports of August and September), and a drop in the state's unemployment rate.
Place of work data: Based on preliminary data, Wisconsin added a significant 40,600 total non-farm jobs and 42,900 private-sector jobs from November 2016 to November 2017, with a significant year-over-year gain of 16,900 manufacturing jobs. The state also gained 2,500 total non-farm, 2,800 private sector jobs and 2,000 manufacturing jobs from October to November 2017. The number of total non-farm and private-sector jobs in Wisconsin reached all-time highs, according to the preliminary numbers.

• Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in November 2017, down 0.2 percent from 3.4 percent in October and below the national unemployment rate of 4.1 percent. Wisconsin's 3.2 percent unemployment rate is the lowest November rate since November 1999. Wisconsin's labor force participation rate increased in November to 68.9 percent and continues to be above the U.S. rate of 62.7 percent. Wisconsin's total labor force also reached an all-time high in November, based on preliminary estimates.
That's pretty good, although as I've mentioned before, I'm skeptical that 40% of our state's job growth has been in manufacturing, given that about 1/6 of our jobs are in that field, and that Walker's Department of Workforce Development has consistently overestimated manufacturing job growth over the last 3 years.

But these are solid numbers, with job growth nearly double what we saw this time last year, and back to the levels that we have largely seen throughout the last 6 years (even if those levels still lag the rest of the country).

In another bit of data from last week, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis released its estimates for 3rd Quarter income for all 50 states. Wisconsin had an OK boost in incomes from June to September of 0.6%, which was a nice bounce-back from Wisconsin's lousy income Q2 growth of 0.1%. Perhaps some of that reflects the reported improvement in the job market.

But even the 0.6% increase in income was below the US rate of 0.7%, and Wisconsin only ranked 33rd in the nation for Q3. Worse, Wisconsin had an awful end of 2016, and that along with the lame Q2 explains why Wisconsin has the 2nd-worst income growth in the Midwest over the last 12 months.

Change in income 2016 Q3 - 2017 Q3
U.S. +2.64%
Minn +2.35%
Ind. +2.24%
Mich +2.14%
Ohio +2.01%
Ill. +1.34%
Wis. +1.22%
Iowa -0.07%

UW-Madison Economics professor Menzie Chinn notes in the Econbrowser blog that Wisconsin continues to lag our neighbors to the west in income growth, and that the gap has grown larger in the last 4 years as Republican-run Wisconsin and Democratic-governed Minnesota have had very different approaches to economic and social policy.

And when adjusted for inflation Professor Chinn points out that Wisconsin's total income hasn't really grown since the end of 2015, and our overall economy has barely gotten bigger.

Which leads me to wonder which indicators are more accurate when it comes to what's really happening with Wisconsin's economy. Is it a thriving place with increased job growth and better wages to come? Or is it a low-wage, stagnant place that'll have those rosy job numbers be revised down over the coming months? I suspect the latter, but the real answer (as well as the perception of the answer) is what'll go a long way toward determining whether Republicans will stay in power in both Madison and in Washington DC.

Happy December 25!

Merry Christmas all, enjoy some suitable tunes.

And keep in mind those who are less fortunate in these times.

Ok, you want more traditional? That's fine. Let's go with this one, now celebrating its 40th year as a Holiday favorite.

Enjoy the day, and back to work on making this state and this world a better place tomorrow.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

More ripple effects of the POS tax bill- less giving to charity

I've already discussed how the changes in the Piece of Shit tax bill that is now law will likely hurt the housing market because the tax writeoffs of home ownership will be less likely to be used due to more people taking the standard deduction, which lowers the overall demand for housing. But there are other exemptions that also won't be used as a result of these changes, and one of the biggest may be that there are less donations to charity starting in 2018.

Patrick Rooney is the executive associate dean for academic programs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and is also a professor of economics and philanthropic studies there. He looked into this issue a couple of months ago, and found that the effect would be sizable starting in 2018. But that was based on the original House bill that had different thresholds compared to the bill that was signed on Friday by Trump. So Rooney recalculated the effects, and CBS Marketwatch picked up on his findings, which said that even fewer people would write off charitable donations, so there would be less giving.
Conversely, the new law increases the standard deduction by 90.5% for married couples compared to the 75% boost we were expecting when we estimated these repercussions. This change would magnify the toll taken on philanthropy compared to our base model.

That means the share of filers who get a tax break — a built-in incentive — for their charitable gifts will be falling even further than my team had estimated. This result is further exacerbated by the loss in personal exemptions of more than $4,000 per person through 2025...

These lost personal exemptions will reduce the after-tax income that millions of Americans will have on hand to give to charities. And the GOP tax package does not create any incentives to give for the vast majority of households, some 95% of which will not be itemizing their returns.

In short, I expect the loss to charitable giving from the tax-code changes to top the $13.1 billion decline we previously estimated just for households.

DC Republicans just made this less likely

In addition, Rooney notes that while estate tax provisions allow for a reduction in "available assets" if they're given away to charity, these become less likely to be utilized after 2017. Because the exemption of assets is doubled to $22 million under the GOP tax bill, that means there are fewer people that would need to give away items to charity to get under that cap, and even those that are above it don't have to give away as much.

Likewise, the reduction in corporate tax rates means that there is less bang for the bucks that corporations choose to donate, and so Rooney says you can expect that type of giving to decline as well.
My colleagues and I have not yet thoroughly studied how the pending reductions in corporate marginal tax rates might affect how much money businesses give to charity. But our models do show that the proposed reductions in the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% would reduce the incentives for corporations to give.

Businesses give for many reasons. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect that dramatically cutting the top corporate tax rate will reduce corporate donations by an estimated $1.3 billion — a 7% decline from the amount businesses gave in 2016.
In all, Rooney estimates that charitable donations will go down by more than $21 billion a year. And that damage to the non-profit sector would be in addition to the other economically destructive measures that the Piece of Shit bill incentivizes, including profit-hoarding, fewer people with health insurance, and increased inequality due to the lack of wage gains by employees.

And perversely for Republicans, if the higher deficits caused by this Piece of Shit tax bill lead to cuts in social services, the potential decline in charitable giving causes a double-whammy.

In responsible governance, this would lend itself to more government involvement in solving social problems, precisely BECAUSE the private non-profit sector will become more likely to lack the resources to adequately deal with those issues. But it seems like the average greedhead and their puppet GOP politicians may be just fine with government failing to step into that void. It would then put more people at the mercy of Lord Business, and that does seem to be their endgame for a lot of these moves.

But I bet the overwhelming majority of Americans won't accept it, and the fact that the GOP was so careless not to think through how their Piece of Shit bill might reduce charitable giving is yet another reason to dump these slimeballs ASAP. In the meantime, iof you're getting the typical year-end "please give" notices from local charities, perhaps it'll be worth your while to throw some money their way in the next week (if you have the disposable funds) instead of waiting until 2018 to do so.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Wisconsin population growth better in 2017, but still lagging US

It may not have gotten a lot of attention this week, but we got new estimates for 2017 population in all US states from the US Census Bureau. One trend that continued in 2017 was that the largest growth in the country was going south and west.
Idaho was the nation’s fastest-growing state over the last year. Its population increased 2.2 percent to 1.7 million from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s national and state population estimates released today.

Following Idaho for the largest percentage increases in population were: Nevada (2.0 percent), Utah (1.9 percent), Washington (1.7 percent), and Florida along with Arizona (1.6 percent)...

States in the South and West continued to lead in population growth. In 2017, 38.0 percent of the nation’s population lived in the South and 23.8 percent lived in the West.

More locally, Wisconsin had a decent uptick in population growth after a stagnant last couple of years. The Census Bureau said Wisconsin grew by 22,566 people (0.4%) in 2017 - more than the 21,645 we added in 2015 and 2016 combined. The Census Bureau says that over 5.795 million people called Wisconsin home, ranking us 20th among the states (between Maryland and Colorado, FYI).

The figures did not break down the figures into individual communities (that report comes out later), but why did Wisconsin have this improved growth? 3/4 of it was due to what is known as “natural” population growth, where there were more births than deaths. And while we continued to lose people to other parts of the country between July 1 2016 and July 1, 2017, it wasn’t nearly as much as in prior years.

(side note, congrats to occasional Funhouse reader Amanda for adding to that birth total on Wednesday).

In comparing Wisconsin's population change to the rest of our Midwestern neighbors, a few other trends of recent years held up. The first was that our neighbors to the west in Minnesota added more than twice as many people as Wisconsin did, outpacing every other state in the Midwest, and was the only state in the region to surpass the U.S. growth rate of 0.72%. The other was that our neighbors to the south keep losing people at an alarming rate, suffering the largest population drop in America.

Population change, Midwest 2017
Minn +51,506 (+0.9%)
Ohio +36,555 (+0.3%)
Ind. +32,811 (+0.5%)
Mich +28,866 (+0.3%)
Wis.+22,566 (+0.4%)
Iowa +14,842 (+0.5%)
Ill. -33,703 (-0.3%)

The comparisons between this statistic and the current NFC North standings are purely coincidental.

Interestingly, Minnesota’s strong population growth may save them from losing a Congressional seat in a few years. The good people at the Election Data Services organization used the new Census figures to update their Congressional projections for the next reapportionment for the House of Representatives , which is a bigger deal now that 2020 is fast approaching. In Minnesota’s case
The state is close to staying even or losing a seat. The short term (one-year) methodology shows Minnesota keeping its 8th seat with only 6,791 people to spare, but the longer term trends both indicate the state would drop down to seven (7) congressional districts in 2020.
By the way, the 2016 version of that report said Wisconsin was also in danger of losing its 8th seat in Congress (and 10th electoral vote for president) if our slow growth in 2015 and 2016 continued for the next 4 years. But the bounce-back in 2017 has put us off the bubble for now.

It's good to hear that Wisconsin had this tick up in population growth, as attracting people and adding population is something that builds upon itself when it comes to looking at the prospects of a state's economic growth. But the negative net migration number should remind us that Wisconsin needs to invest in items that attract that talent and makes individuals decide to live here. That just doesn't include good-paying jobs, but it also involves good infrastructure, strong public schools, and a high quality of life.

And with a bitter cold snap looming, it's a reminder that climate already offers a headwind to Wisconsin and the rest of the Midwest in this population growth stat. Acting like a low-wage, low-service Southern state isn't going to help when people can already head somewhere warmer if that's the type of regressive backwater they want to live in. So maybe we should get back to the ways helped to allow Wisconsin to average growth of nearly 33,000 people a year in the 2000s, instead of the backwards steps we have taken during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Shades of 10 years ago as savings keeps falling

On Friday, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis sent out their monthly income and spending report for December. And it showed two continuing trends- one of which is good for the short-term economy, but the related other should send a lot of warning signs about what's to come.

At the top glance, incomes seemed to hold up well for November.
Personal income increased $54.0 billion (0.3 percent) in November according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $50.9 billion (0.4 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $87.1 billion (0.6 percent). Real DPI increased 0.1 percent in November and Real PCE increased 0.4 percent. The PCE price index increased 0.2 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent.
But that low increase in Real DPI underscores the warning signs I see in the economy. Over the last 6 months, US personal income has barely increased past the rate of inflation, only going up by a total of 1.5% (and real disposable income is only up 0.45%). Which means wage and income gains aren’t coming back 1 year after Donald Trump’s election, which I don't think is what the typical blue-collar MAGA type had in mind.

But while incomes stagnate, spending is notably stronger, going up 2.4% in the same time period. This results in personal saving dropping by $114.5 million since May, putting the national saving rate is now below 3%, which we haven’t seen in 10 years.

And do you need to be reminded what happened to a US economy that had high spending and low income growth 10 years ago?...

Now sure, maybe the decrease in withholdings from the Piece of Shit tax bill will lead to a small bump in disposable income in the early part of next year (especially if you’re rich), and maybe the savings rate will get a bump up in early 2018. But that could be offset by higher medical care costs and the effects of the housing and stock bubbles driving up costs. I also have my suspicions that wage growth won’t follow those tax cuts, particularly since corporations are incentivized to hoard profits and automate over hiring people. If so, then the unsustainable habits of “high-spending, low savings” will continue.

Then add in the fact the Piece of Shit bill reduces demand for housing since more people won’t find it worthwhile be able to write off their property taxes and mortgage interest (check the newly updated Trump Tax Calculator if you don’t believe me), and it sure make me wonder what happens to the frothy housing and stock markets. Something’s gotta give, and if wages and real incomes aren’t going to rise, then American spending will slow its torrid pace sooner than later.

Which means that the inflated growth that we may be seeing now is likely to get deflated in the very near future. The only question is how bad it deflates, and how much economic damages results. And instead of trying to raise wages to restore some of this balance, we have a bought-off Congress and Wisconsin Legislature that wants to put this trend on steroids. Ugh.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

GOP slime tries to end accountability, and Michael Haas kicks back

In light of the comments by Human Toad/ Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald as he tries to fire Wisconsin Elections Adminsitrator Michael Haas for being OK with investigating GOP money-laundering schemes, Haas decided to reply back.
In an interview with Wisconsin Radio Network and article published December 20, 2017, Speaker Vos stated “The idea that individuals who potentially are on the short list of having committed a crime are now going to be in charge of running ethics and elections seems preposterous to me.” The article stated that this remark was made while Speaker Vos defended his calls for the resignations of myself and Ethics Administrator Brian Bell. Again, there is absolutely no basis for alleging that Mr. Bell or I are potentially on any short list of having committed any crime, much less have committed any crimes.

My work as Staff Counsel and then Elections Division Administrator was barely mentioned in the Attorney General’s report regarding investigations conducted by the G.A.B. Nevertheless, legislators and others who were not privy to the evidence analyzed and considered by the G.A.B. staff and its Board have issued angry statements blaming me and calling for the Senate to deny confirmation of my appointment as Elections Commission Administrator. Still, neither the Attorney General nor any elected official has articulated either to me or in public what I supposedly did wrong as a member of the G.A.B. staff or related to its investigations.

Your statements implying that I have been involved in criminal activity are verifiably false, and you have not offered the least bit of evidence to support those claims. You are aware that those statements are untrue and yet you made them with the intent that they would be made public and reported by the media.

As elected representatives and leaders of the Legislature, you help to set the tone of civil discourse and political debate, as well as the statements and opinions of your colleagues. Your elected offices and leadership positions do not give you license to defame and slander my personal and professional reputation or that of other staff affiliated with this agency or the G.A.B., and to use those false statements to negatively impact my career. In short, I am requesting that you stop trashing my name and reputation.

I request and trust that you will clarify your remarks and issue a public apology. I am also requesting to meet with each of you prior to the Senate considering confirmation of my appointment as Administrator. Finally, I am calling on representatives of the media to demand support for any statements alleging criminal behavior and to carefully consider whether to publish careless statements accusing either me or other members of the G.A.B. or its staff of criminal conduct.

Or, in other words Fitz, and Icki, and Belling, and Schimel, and the rest of you RW crooks.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A year-end stimulus- itemizing taxes while you still can!

Now that the Piece of Shit tax bill has gotten through Congress and will undoubtedly be signed by President Trump (after all, he'll make millions from it), the changes to people’s economic choices will begin. And as I predicted a couple of weeks ago, in Wisconsin one of the first things we’ll see is a rush of people to pay their property and state income taxes over the next 10 days.
[Milwaukee CPA/Attorney] Franklin said he's had an influx of calls from his clients, trying to decide if they should finish paying 2017 income tax estimates or property taxes before Jan. 1. That's when changes to the tax code would take effect if the bill is approved.

"It's an extremely short time frame here if somebody is trying to get tax bills paid before city hall or village halls close for the holiday weekend," Franklin said.

But there are some real benefits to getting taxes paid under the current system.

"There’s really some low-hanging fruit of opportunity," said Nate Byers, a CPA and financial planner in Madison. "Like possibly pay real estate taxes before the end of the year instead of in 2018, because a lot of people are not going to be itemizing and not receiving that benefit going forward."

Byers said the tax overhaul raises the standard deduction so fewer people will benefit from itemizing their taxes under the new law.
And as I have checked on the Trump Tax calculator, this would definitely happen to me and my wife, and the reason why is that the deduction for State and Local Taxes (SALT) will be limited to a total of $10,000. And since our other itemized deductions don’t exceed $14,000 (mortgage interest and charitable donations), it’s not worth it for us to itemize anything.

This concern of deductions going away is even more pronounced in high-income/high-property tax states as well as with people with costly mortgages, so expect accountants and local governments to be busy in the usually-dead week between Christmas and New Year’s. Let’s also see if a number of charities get surprise year-end donations, in an attempt for people to be able to write that off while they can. It's less likely that we'd see much change in the housing industry (good luck finding and closing on a house in 10 days), but it could be worthwhile to pay your mortgage on December 30 vs January 2, since the interest paid will be credited to 2017, and still be able to be written off.

And if you have a home equity line of credit, you definitely should try to pay something before the 31st, because that interest deduction is going away entirely starting in 2018. So even if you're still itemizing after this year, you won't be able to write off that type of interest (and it might make it worthwhile to pay it off if you can).

The lack of SALT deductions also might spur some end-of-year car buying in other states, as people can choose to deduct the sales taxes they pay instead of income taxes, which is especially useful if you live in a no-income tax state like Texas or Florida. That makes me wonder if there might be a small economic stimulus that comes from pulling all of these transactions forward to December instead of happening in the normal time frame, inflating 4th Quarter growth for 2017, and slightly decreasing growth in early 2018.

It also makes me intrigued to see what effect there might be to the fiscal situations of all levels of government if these pre-payments of taxes and acceleration of economic activity happen before New Year’s 2018. From the Federal side, will this mean that there will be larger refunds (from the last year of itemized write-offs), which would lead to a larger-than-expected budget deficit appearing in the Spring due to revenue shortfalls.

On the state side, there won't be as much of an effect, since Wisconsin (and I imagine most other states) bases the income to be taxed on the amount you have BEFORE you itemize. About the biggest effect would be if you are the rare person that pays state income taxes directly and/or quarterly, then you might want to pay as much of your 2017 taxes as you can (of course, if you pay your income taxes separately, you might not have to worry about your deductions going away).

On the flip side, local governments in places like Wisconsin could see a notable bump in their year-end 2017 balances if more people pay their property taxes in December. Given that local governments operate on a year-round basis, this could give give the appearance of a short-term improvement to a community’s finances, and in early 2018, that may allow for some budget holes to be filled. The problem, of course, is that those taxes won;t be getting paid in January 2018 as much, and locals are going to have to be careful to recognize that the bump in 2017 collections will not continue for 2018, and may well lead to a decline in overall revenues for that year.

The real fiscal question will deal with what happens to wages and employment in 2018 now that the incentives are different. With that in mind, take a note of this piece of corporate PR BS that got leaked out today from AT&T.
AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier, said it will pay $1,000 bonuses to more than 200,000 employees and invest an additional $1 billion in the United States in 2018, once the tax reform bill is signed into law. An AT&T spokesman said the bonuses were unrelated to the $1,000 that 20,000 AT&T Mobility employees will receive as part of an agreement with the Communications Workers of America announced last week.

Employees eligible for the bonus are all “union-represented, non-management and front-line managers,” AT&T said in a statement. The company has more than 250,000 employees in all. The bonuses will cost the company at least $200 million, but the precise amount is not yet known, the company said.
First of all, the Wall Street Journal's John Harwood notes that there's more to AT&T's move beyond just giving a one-time payout to its employees.

Cynical enough, but the real reason that I doubt year-end "tax reform" had much to do with these one-time bonuses is that AT&T WOULDN'T PAY LOWER TAXES ON 2017 PROFITS ANYWAY! The bill doesn't take effect until next year, so there's no extra post-tax profits to distribute for at least a few months (corporations usually pay taxes quarterly). If AT&T is giving out these one-time bonuses at the end of this year, it means that their profits on the higher corporate rates of 2017 end up being less.

And if these aren't base-building raises, then their salary costs don't go up for 2018, allowing AT&T to take advantage of lower tax rates on added profits. They get to write off the "investment" (likely in automation and other non-worker technologies) as part of a 100% write-off of eligible property and equipment, which is also part of this bill. So it's a win-win for AT&T from a tax standpoint, but I'll be interested in seeing if those AT&T employees that are getting the payouts today are still around in 1-2 years.

Watch for these little tricks in the coming week-and-half, because those with the money and time to rent-seek with their payments and taxes will do so. You may as well do the same and cash in a bit, because unlike the rich, corporate slime that donate to the GOPs that passed this Piece of Shit, most of the rest of us are going to be quite screwed in the coming years.