Tuesday, July 17, 2018

1974 or 2018? What's changed?

I finished up reading the Woodward abd Bernstein book The Final Days, and boy are things not that different today. Even down to the fact that the amoral GOP President goes to Russia/the Soviet Union in the Summer, and gets rolled in a 1-on-1 meeting with the Russian leader.

But this sequence in May 1974 really rings loud today.
[GOP leadership] would quietly poll the House Republicans. Each would talk,to about twenty-five members.

The message - and it came back very fast - was political: Above all else an overwhelming majority of House Republicans were terribly worried about their political futures, and the last thing they wanted to see was a March on the White House by their leadership. They didn't want to vote on impeachment until after the election, they didn't want to vite on impeachment period. They needed hard-core Republicans to win in November. They needed the people who run local campaigns, ring football's, raise the money. Nixon's fight was their fight. Those people saw Nixon as an underdog, a man under attack by their own enemies-the press and the Congressional liberals.

The only differences between Summer 1974 and 2018?

1. The Dems ran Congress in 1974, so GOPs couldn't avoid holding hearings and having subpoenas fly against the crooks.

2. Nixon wasn't getting help by the Russians and vote suppression from GOP guvs and legislatures at the state level.

3. Koched-up SuperPACS to try to keep rogue GOPs in line.

But worth noting- 3 months after that passage where GOPs were sticking with Nixon? Tricky Dick had barely 20% in either the House or Senate that didn't want him gone.

3 months later, the GOP got their asses rightfully kicked in the midterms. It better happen again in 2018, for everyone's sake.

Thoughts on a cool Tuesday

60-something and a bit breezy and this view is a nice break from the crazy realities outside.

Sure makes me wish there was some way to afford these views without grinding away for 230 days or so a year.

Places and scenes like this have value. So why do the people that live here vote for politicians that don't value these things? And if they don't care about and respect these things and value their communities, why would they think they deserve my respect?

Cmon 715, STEP UP!

EDIT- I headed to a local store to get a couple things, and my Mom wanted a newspaper for crosswords and other sections. Here's what I saw when I got there.

Gannett strikes again! Basically, the notice says that they aren't delivering the J-S, USA Today abd other papers to these parts anymore. Not cost-effective.

It's bad enough that those guys sacrifice quality by not investing in local reporting for their numerous papers around the state, but apparently the "little people" in these parts aren't worthy of a state/national newspaper.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Russia, Guns and Sconnies

You go on vacation for one day, and your president admits to treason, and this gets revealed.

And then add in the 1 mil+ that was given to Walker's SuperPAC by pro-Putin oligarch Len Blavatnik.

I'm sure this can all be explained away, right Scotty? Right Paul Ryan? Right Homeland Security Committee Chair Ron Johnson?

"How was I to know....she was with the Russians, too?"

Chillin' in the 715

The commentary may be a bit light for the next few days, as I'm with family and this is the view at the end of the back yard

But I did notice this own goal by our Fair Governor on his latest photo op.

And that's far from the only road that I traveled on yesterday that looked like that.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Down is up in GOP land- McAdams, Kavanaugh and other BS

For this weekend's reading, I wanted to talk about how a couple of recent instances illustrate how right-wingers have built up a whole side business of legal BS that is not being checked in any meaningful way. Often because the judges that decide these things are spawned from the same cesspool that allows them to claim "down is up."

A great example was in the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court case reinstating law professor John McAdams to the Marquette University faculty. Bruce Murphy had an excellent rundown of the McAdams case in Urban Milwaukee this week exposing the absurdity of the 4-2 decision in McAdams favor.

As Murphy points out, Marquette decided to suspend McAdams because he encouraged harassment against graduate student Cheryl Abbate after she hurt the fee-fees of a right-wing student in one her classes. The student said there should have been a discussion of whether to disallow gay rights as part of a topic on “justice as fairness”, but Abbate said that wasn’t relevant to what was being discussed in class.

The student just happened to record the post-class conversation he had with Abbate and passed it ahead to McAdams (that’s normal, isn’t it?). Then McAdams used the recording to continually to hammer on the instructor in his blog, as Murphy notes.
In both the first post and subsequent ones, McAdams linked to Abbate’s email, making it easy for people to harass her. This post resulted in a number of messages threatening the graduate student, resulting in her leaving Marquette for another university. McAdams then published the name of the university to which Abbate had transferred, enabling the harassment to continue.
MU administration originally planned to revoke McAdams’ tenure and fire him, but the university’s Faculty Review Committee (FRC) overruled that, lessening the punishment to suspension without pay for 1-2 semesters. As Murphy points out, the FRC said the reason McAdams deserved punishment was for his continued harassment, which caused a hostile workplace for Ms. Abbate.
… Dr. McAdams’s conduct with respect to his November 9, 2014 blog post violated his obligation to fellow members of the Marquette community by recklessly causing harm to Ms. Abbate, even though that harm was caused indirectly. The Committee concludes that the harm to Ms. Abbate was substantial, foreseeable, easily avoidable, and not justifiable. …

Second, the Committee concludes that the University has demonstrated that Dr. Mc-Adams’s conduct was seriously irresponsible, and that his demonstrated failure to recognize his essential obligations to fellow members of the Marquette community, and to conform his behavior accordingly, will substantially impair his fitness to fulfill his responsibilities as a professor.
This rationale was upheld in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, but McAdams worked with fellow Marquette Law colleague Richard Sleazybuckets Esenberg (who spins works for the right-wing Bradley Foundation front group Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty) to appeal to the right-wing hacks on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. And they got the 4 right-wing “justices” to agree with their argument that somehow McAdams’ post-work blog postings and encouragement of harassment was protected under “academic freedom”.

Just look at these jagbags

What Murphy points out is that “Justices” Bradley, Kelly, Roggensack, and (lame-duck) Gableman along with the right-wing MU professors introduced a pet issue of “right-wing free speech” in a case where it didn’t exist.
This irony is more apparent than real. That is because this is not an academic freedom case. No one is challenging McAdams’ right to post whatever thoughts he has on issues of public concern. Instead his willingness to publicly attack a student, while supplying contact and other information that allows his readers to harass and threaten Abbate was the basis of the sanctions imposed by Marquette.
Lastly, Murphy brings up that this decision now greatly ties the hands of universities to administer their own affairs – both private and public affairs. That’s hardly a conservative opinion, and it also illustrates how the right-wing “Justices” on the Wisconsin Supreme Court often make up BS to fit the outcome that they want to see.
1. The result is that the models for shared governance at all Wisconsin colleges and universities are likely in a state of limbo. As Justice Ann Walsh Bradley points out, the court has diminished the ability of these private educational institutions to make their own academic decisions in fulfillment of its unique mission. In the future, not only will Marquette become less autonomous but so will other Wisconsin private colleges and universities.

2. Finally, the decision confirms a disturbing trend apparent in earlier cases, such as that shutting down the John Doe investigation of coordination between Walker’s campaign and various ostensibly independent organizations. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has become an instrument of a clique of right-wing ideologues. If a liberal Marquette professor had set up a conservative student for public abuse it is hard to imagine these justices would have been as outraged or ruled in the same way.
And what’s happening in Wisconsin is a version of what has been done nationwide, where lots of right-wing money has been invested into lawsuit mills like WILL and other BS to develop lawyers and judges who will make stuff up to further the wants of their paymasters.

And few exemplify this more than Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. As Charles Pierce notes in Esquire , Kavanaugh has worked and promoted GOP causes pretty much from the moment he graduated law school.
Interestingly, as the principal author of [Kenneth] Starr’s eventual soft-core classic [as part of the 1990s investigation into President Bill Clinton], Kavanaugh reportedly went to Starr with “moral” objections to the most prurient passages, many of which, of course, were the result of lines of inquiries that Kavanaugh himself had suggested. This puts into an interesting light the now-famous article Kavanaugh wrote [in 2009] for the University of Minnesota Law Review in which Brett Kavanaugh, onetime gumshoe for a special prosecutor, argued that presidents should not be pestered by criminal inquiries while in office.

(In his defense, it should be noted that Kavanaugh primarily argued that this was a question the Congress should address. This, of course, implies that, until Congress does so, it’s still open season.)…

I’m not entirely sure, but it seems to me that, having been part of squeezing the Great Penis Hunt for every ounce of its political advantage, Kavanaugh here is arguing that the statute that had empowered him to do so led in some vague way to the attacks of September 11, 2001. (Kavanaugh was working in the White House that day, and he mentioned in his remarks Monday night how he and his future wife were scrambled out of the building when it was believed that another plane was inbound.) Make no mistake. Before he is anything else, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a political animal. Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, once referred to him as the “Forrest Gump of Republican politics.” Kavanaugh has played a major part in every major Republican politico-legal event of the past quarter-century.

In addition to his deep involvement in the Starr investigation, Kavanaugh also worked on the legal team that fought the Florida recount in 2000. This led to a job in the George W. Bush White House and, ultimately, to his nomination to the bench, which the Democrats in the Senate managed to hold in abeyance for almost six years, citing Kavanaugh’s political activities and his lack of judicial experience.

Since becoming a judge, Kavanaugh has been a dependable ally of the corporate class; he has delivered opinions in which he argued that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is unconstitutional and also that the president* can simply declare a law like the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional and then refuse to carry it out. It’s been a long time since we had a Supreme Court nominee with this lengthy a paper trail behind him. It’s a target-rich environment. This possibly could make opposing his nomination easier. His two-step on special prosecutors should take up the better part of a day’s worth of hearings since it reeks of pure political expedience. And, god knows, he shouldn’t be allowed to use what he wrote in 2009 as an alibi for what he would do if Mueller’s case came before him. Unless Kavanaugh agrees to recuse himself from any such case, nobody should vote for him.
And Kavanaugh is generated from a whole industry set up by right-wing oligarchs designed to pervert and twist the law to their own means. Thid tweet is one of many I saw along these lines when Kavanaugh's appointment was announced.

Which makes it all the more disgusting that these guys want to end affirmative action for other groups.

Put this kind of "ideology over facts and reality" thought on the bench, and it helps explain how we've ended up with the following legal absurdities.

Online bullying and creating a hostile work environment is OK as long as you claim it is “academic freedom.”

Money-laundering and hiding the name of donors is OK as long as you claim that it is being done in the name of “free speech" (Scott Walker's John Doe case), but the right for workers to organize and make their demands as a group is not free speech.

Bullying and calling for repression and violence against a group of less-powerful people is protected, but when people respond to that by calling BS on those hateful people, the bullies whine and claim THEY'RE the ones being repressed ("Bad people on both sides").

And rule of law and constitutional protections can be thrown out for our most vulnerable citizens, but can be abused by those at the highest levels of power, to the point where someone like Brett Kavanaugh claims a president is literally above the law.

These right-wing BubbleWorlders think they do not have to show one shred of decency and are immune from any accountability for their words and actions. And they call US the self-absorbed snowflakes? This has to change, and they have to neutered and removed. NOW.

Friday, July 13, 2018

GOP Tax Scam acting as predicted - corporates pay less, workers aren't better, and deficit blowing up

Another notable economic report released this week was the monthly statement from the U.S. Treasury, which gave us the latest clue about what the GOP’s Tax Scam was doing to Uncle Sam’s budget.

For the month, the budget numbers weren’t as bad as you might expect. The deficit in June 2018 was actually lower than the deficit in June 2017 ($74.9 billion vs $90.2 billion in June 2017). But it seems a bit misleading as June 2017 had spending of $428.9 billion, $37.8 billion more than last month and the most spent in any month in either 2017 or 2018.

But those figure also tell you that receipts were $22.4 billion lower than they were in June 2017, and since the GOP’s tax scam hit paychecks in February, revenues have been lower in 4 of the 5 months (only in April, which included most tax payments that were filed for the 2017 tax year, did we seen an increase).

The biggest reason why tax revenues are lower? A major drop in corporate taxes, which was down significantly for both June and the 2018 Fiscal Year.

US Corporate Income Taxes, June 2018 vs June 2017
June 2017 $57.4 billion
June 2018 $38.0 billion

FFY 2017 through June $223.3 billion
FFY 2018 through June $161.7 billion

And it’s not because corporate pre-tax profits are diving. In fact, they've jumped even before accounting for the tax cut (see Table 11).

Pre-tax corporate profits, US (annualized basis)
Q1 2017 $2.109 trillion
Q1 2018 $2.252 trillion (+6.8%)

Post-tax corporate profits
Q1 2017 $1.642 trillion
Q1 2018 $1.920 trillion (+16.9%)

But it sure isn’t trickling down, as year-over-year wage growth is no different than it was this time last year.

And of course, that number is before inflation, which has nearly doubled over the past year.

This decline in corporate taxes also means that income taxes are taking up a larger amount the money going to Washington.

Share of total tax revenues Through June

Individual income tax 47.8%
Payroll, tariffs and other taxes 43.2%
Corporate taxes 8.9%

Individual income tax 51.4%
Payroll, tariffs and other taxes 42.2%
Corporate taxes 6.4%

June also marked the ¾ pole for the Federal Fiscal Year, and that was what this national report chose to focus on.
The U.S. budget deficit widened by 16 percent to $607 billion three-quarters of the way through Donald Trump’s first full fiscal year as president, as spending accelerated faster than revenue.

The shortfall in the nine months through June was larger than the $523 billion gap in the same period of fiscal 2017, according to a report from the Treasury Department released Thursday. Revenue rose to $2.54 trillion in the period, up 1.3 percent from a year earlier. Spending rose 3.9 percent to $3.15 trillion.
But the deficit has jumped by 22% since the Piece of Shit tax bill became law. If that 22% increase holds for the last 3 months of Fiscal Year 2018, that would mean we’d run a deficit of a little over $174 billion in that time.

And if that’s true, then we end up at $781 billion. Which is basically what the Congressional Budget Office predicted while this Piece of Shit was being debated. And the deficit is projected to get higher for each of the next 4 years after that.

So the June Treasury statement gives another bit of evidence that the GOP Tax Scam is doing exactly what anyone with a brain said it would do - funnel more money to corporations, with the average worker ending up no better off, and the deficit is blowing up just like the experts in DC said it would.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Yet again, inflation is higher than wage growth.

Given the concerns about costs of products in light of trade wars and rising prices at the pump and for housing, today’s Consumer Price Index report for June was sure to get some interest.

The financial media claimed that the 0.1% in June was lower than expectations, but it didn’t seem to stay low for typical reasons.
U.S. consumer prices rose less than expected in June amid falling utility prices and a record decline in hotel costs, even as the broader trend showed a pickup in annual inflation that may keep the Federal Reserve on track for gradual interest-rate hikes.

The consumer price index rose 0.1 percent from the prior month after a 0.2 percent gain in May, while the gauge excluding food and energy costs rose 0.2 percent, a Labor Department report showed Thursday. The Bloomberg survey median called for a 0.2 percent gain in both the main and core indexes.

The overall gauge rose 2.9 percent in the 12 months through June, the most since 2012, while the core gauge climbed 2.3 percent, the biggest gain since January 2017. Both matched economists’ estimates.
The highest inflation in 6 years doesn’t sound that great to me, and it could have been even higher in June except for a drop in prices for many household items. Clothes, jewelry, shoes, TVs, dishes and home decorations were among the products that had notable drops this month, and while cutting prices while everything else costs more may help your shopping, it is not a good sign for an already-hurting retail sector, and it makes me wonder if more store closings are coming.

But even worse news came with the real wages survey that accompanies the CPI figures, This report combines CPI with the numbers released from last week’s jobs report, and even in a time of allegedly full employment, the average American worker is not ending up better off.
Real average hourly earnings for all employees increased 0.1 percent from May to June, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This result stems from a 0.2-percent increase in average hourly earnings combined with a 0.1-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).

Real average weekly earnings increased 0.1 percent over the month due to the change in real average hourly earnings combined with no change to the average workweek.

Real average hourly earnings combined with a 0.3-percent increase in the average workweek resulted in a 0.2-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.

Real average hourly earnings were unchanged, seasonally adjusted, from June 2017 to June 2018. Real average hourly earnings combined with a 0.3-percent increase in the average workweek resulted in a 0.2-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.
I'm not sure how a 2.7% increase in wages vs a 2.9% in prices leads to 0% change (maybe someone could fill me in), but this continues a US trend of nominal wage growth staying stuck below 3% while inflation has risen to hit that same level.

It’s even worse for everyday “non-supervisory” workers, who have had hourly wages decline by 0.2% in the last 2 years. Not exactly what the average blue-collar MAGA likely had in mind, was it? (SUCKERS!)

Remember, these rising inflation and stagnant wage figures in June come before the seemingly inevitable layoffs and supply disruptions from the reckless nature of the trade wars our president has decided on. Now, that might keep inflation under control as dairy and soybean prices collapse (oddly, dairy and cheese prices were up in June), but that’s not a good thing either if you work in those industries.

While June’s inflation report had enough intriguing numbers, the real “fun” might pick up in the next couple of months, given what we’ve already seen for gas and crop futures. And it makes me wonder if (as the financial news report indicated) more increases short-term interest rates are in order to try to head this inflation off. And then see which bubbles pop as a result.

Like a lot of things in this economy, inflation doesn’t seem like it'll stay at the relatively stable status quo for much longer.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

WEDC lost millions more today. How can they be trusted with Foxconn?

Let's check back with our friends at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), and see if they've improved on being taken in by empty promises of job creation and losing Wisconsin tax dollars in the process.

Nope, same old failures and grifts.
Wisconsin's flagship jobs agency has ended its pursuit of repayment of a million-dollar state loan awarded to a De Pere businessman accused of bilking millions from investors and defrauding the state’s job-creation agency of more than $1 million.

Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Chief Executive Officer Mark Hogan reported to the agency board on Wednesday that officials decided to write off the balance of the $1.1 million loan owed by Ron Van Den Heuvel, former owner of clean energy company Green Box, because it's unlikely the agency will ever recoup the money.
Bad enough that the state threw more than $1 million down the drain for this fraudster, but worse is that it is merely 1 of 3 loans written off by WEDC today for a total of more than $4.3 million.

Oh, and did we mention that longtime WisGOP donor Van den Heuvel didn't just rip off WIsconsin taxpayers and other lenders, he flouted it along the way.
Hogan's report comes days after Van Den Heuvel was jailed after authorities alleged he committed more fraud and intimidated witnesses while free on bond.

Van Den Heuvel was sentenced to three years in prison in January for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and in a separate case faces 14 counts of wire fraud and money laundering in connection with allegedly bilking investors out of $9 million.

Van Den Heuvel was released on bond, but was jailed again in recent days after federal authorities reported Van Den Heuvel fraudulently obtained a $20,000 loan in December from a New York lender and then spent $8,600 of that loan at the exclusive Oneida Golf and Country Club.
Surprised this guy didn't get a gig at the Trump White House, he'd fit right in.

The Green Box fiasco led State Rep. Chris Taylor to make an obvious observation about the organization that just blew even more tax dollars on failed corporate welfare.

Among many reasons to hate the Fox-con, the fact that the GOP slush fund known as WEDC is in charge with handing out taxpayer dollars should be at the top of that list. The Green Box scam only promised to create a little over 100 jobs. Compare that to Foxconn, which promised 13,000 jobs and a $10 billion investment, and is already scaling back that plan and will make smaller panels than they claimed they would make when the Fox-con was set up last year.

Oh, but Foxconn claims the smaller factory is only Phase 1, and that the big factory comes later in Phase 2. Riiiight.

WEDC Secretary Hogan continues to talk up Foxconn, and was a main part of the PR effort that was part of Foxconn's groundbreaking in Racine County 2 weeks ago. If Foxconn fails to deliver those thousands of jobs jobs, or inflates costs, or otherwise tries to bilk more out of the state than they should get, do you think a Scott Walker-run WEDC is going to draw attention to that and try to get our money back? HELL NO!

They're not going to risk the public and political embarrassment of the Foxconn being the expensive white elephant many of us think it will be, so WEDC will keep claiming "things are great" while more of pur tax dollars get funneled out of their offices. Heck, WEDC is already saying that they will look the other way on the Fox-con development.
Asked whether Foxconn had communicated with WEDC about its change in plans for Mount Pleasant, Mark Maley, WEDC’s public affairs and communications director, said by email:

“It’s up to Foxconn — and not state government — to determine what the best use of that facility is. Foxconn is one of the largest companies in the world and has a 44-year history of success, so we’re confident it will continue to make decisions to ensure that continued success. It’s not the state’s role to get involved in the business operations of one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.”
It's our tax dollars that are paying for this, you dickhead. It better be the state's role to get involved!

You may have noticed that the Walker Administration and Foxconn are announcing small operations in other parts of the state and claiming "more business is on the way for your neck of the woods due to Foxconn" (he pulled this routine in Eau Claire today). What they don't mention is that those office jobs are part of a Foxconn strategy that allows it to reach Walker's "$53,000 average salary" claim without having to pay a lot of workers $53,000.
New documents released by the Department of Administration show the state originally planned to count only wages under $100,000 while the company argued there should be no “artificial cap” on how the average was determined.

In comments on two drafts of the state contract, attorneys for the company wrote, “Foxconn expects all wages to be considered for the average annual wage calculation.”

In response, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. expressed a willingness to increase the cap first from $100,000 to $200,000 and then again to $250,000.

Ultimately, the state’s contract with Foxconn counts wages paid up to $400,000 annually as part of the average. The company is also eligible for $1.5 billion in payroll tax credits and earns those on wages paid up to $100,000.
In other words...

I'm guessing that won't be the last time WEDC is "flexible" with Foxconn. The only way we'll have our tax dollars used wisely (and hopefully not used much at all) in the Fox-con is if we boot out Walker and his lackeys, and put in some people who actually believe "economic development" should be something more than tax-funded kickbacks to corporate cronies and pre-election photo ops.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Why Ron Johnson may be a key part of #TrumpRussia, and how SCOTUS plays in

You may have heard that our president nominated a stooge to fill the vacancy being caused by Anthony Kennedy's conveniently-timed (and suspicious) retirement ahead of November's midterms. In a pleasant rarity, Senate Democrats recognized the stakes and the sketchiness, and seem prepared to fight against the appointment on those grounds.
Democratic senators said on Tuesday that the Senate should oppose Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh if he doesn't agree to recuse himself from legal cases tied to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

"I'm a 'no' on this nominee. My colleagues should be a 'no' on this nominee unless Judge Kavanaugh specifically commits that he will recuse himself on any issues that involve President Trump's personal financial dealings or the special counsel," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said during a rally outside the Supreme Court….

Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), who is considered a 2020 presidential contender, said he and his fellow Democratic colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee plan to ask Kavanaugh whether he’ll recuse himself from matters related to Mueller’s Russia probe if they come before the high court.

“If you just put this fact pattern down to any senator five years ago, just said the president of the United States is under investigation in which there have been over 70 charges filed, over 20-plus people and corporations have been charged, over five people already guilty pleas, one person already sentenced … I guarantee you you’d get senators [who would] say they would not let that president do what he’s doing right now, which is give himself immunity for any issues that come before the Supreme Court,” he said.
This is absolutely the right response – focus on the corruption and self-dealing aspect of this appointment. I would hope that Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin would say she isn’t voting on ANYTHING (SCOTUS appointments or otherwise) until we get an agreement that Kavanaugh would recuse in any and all cases involving the Mueller investigation.

The nomination of Brett ("A president is above the law") Kavanaugh is clearly part of a desperate attempt by President Trump to try to use SCOTUS as a line of defense from being taken down in the Mueller probe. The strategy seems to bear a lot of resemblance to Scott Walker using a bought-off Wisconsin Supreme Court to get off the hook in the John Doe money-laundering scheme.

And speaking of the Mueller probe and Wisconsin, get a load of these coments from over the weekend from Wisconsin’s other US Senator – the Dumb One.
President Trump and U.S. lawmakers should consider revising sanctions targeting Russia so they focus more on Russian oligarchs, a senior Republican lawmaker suggested after participating in a congressional delegation visit to Moscow.

“You do something and nobody ever sits back and analyzes, 'Well, is it working?’” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the Washington Examiner. “And I think you'd be hard-pressed to say that sanctions against Russia are really working all that well.”

Johnson said he's worried that Congress over-reacted to Russia's election interference, which resulted in legislation that tied Trump’s hands with mandatory sanctions.

“I've been pretty upfront that the election interference — as serious as that was, and unacceptable — is not the greatest threat to our democracy,” he said. “We've blown it way out of proportion — [as if it's] the greatest threat to democracy ... We need to really honestly assess what actually happened, what effect did it have, and what effect are our sanctions actually having, positively and negatively.”
Oh, then if it’s not a big deal, then I imagine the Chair of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee could do a hearing on the subject and clear the air on what was done with the intereference was and how it’s being fixed. That Chairman is…Ron Johnson. And he's not calling a hearing.

Johnson’s silence is especially odd since we now know that Russian interests targeted Wisconsin as a place to focus their propaganda efforts on Facebook and other social media. And few people knew more about these Russian propaganda efforts before the election than Ron Johnson. Let’s go back to Bruce Murphy’s excellent rundown from January 2017 in urban Milwaukee where he asked “Ron Johnson Asleep on Russian Hacking?”
As chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson was one the so-called “Gang of 12,” the top 12 congressional leaders, who were invited to the meeting. (House Speaker Paul Ryanalso attended the meeting.) Johnson later confirmed to Politico that he participated in the briefing.

“In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals,” the Post reported….

Johnson, in short, had an opportunity to be a patriot and condemn the fact that Russia was now engaged in such activities in the United States. But he issued no resolutions — in fact, not one word — on Russian’s cyber attacks on America.

Worse, he has engaged in his own pattern of misinformation on the subject. After the CIA publicly released a report in January concluding that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election, Johnson issued a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal saying he would “would need more definitive information before drawing further conclusions.” Johnson did not reveal that he had been informed back in September this was happening.

Johnson went on to complain to CNBC that the CIA refused to brief him on Russian hacking, saying “I have not seen the evidence that it actually was Russia,” while failing to note the CIA report’s echoed the briefing he’d received from other intelligence leaders in September.
So why did Ronnie agree with McConnell to bury this information before a 2016 election where neither he nor Trump were expected to win in Wisconsin, but both ended up winning after a boost from outside messages via the Russians and the NRA?

And yes, the Russians and the NRA seem to have been working together, as McClatchy told us last month.
[Legal experts] say it would be routine for Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, who are looking at the NRA’s funding as part of a broader inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, to secretly gain access to the NRA’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service.

On the returns, the group was required to identify its so-called “dark money” donors -- companies and wealthy individuals who financed $21 million of the group’s publicly disclosed pro-Trump spending, as well as its multimillion-dollar efforts to heighten voter turnout. The NRA’s nonprofit status allows it to shield those donors’ names from the public, but not the IRS.

A central question for Mueller’s office is whether any of the confidential donors’ names hold clues that could enable investigators to trace a donation camouflaged to hide its Russian origins – such as a shell company that might be the end point in a chain of offshore transactions.

It is illegal for foreign funds to be spent to influence U.S. elections
It sure puts Ron Johnson’s complaints about the Mueller investigation and his underplaying of the Russians’ role in a different light, doesn’t it? Almost like he doesn’t want people to know the full story about how he and other Republicans really won in 2016.

Or did Wisconsin elect him?

Now there’s an easy way for me to be proven wrong on this hypothesis, and to wrap up the Mueller investigation at a quicker pace at the same time. Just have Homeland Security Committee Chair Ron Johnson hold an open hearing frankly discussing what he and the rest of the Homeland Security people know, why the Russians had such an interest in getting involved in our elections, and why they seem to have been so successful in reaching persuadable voters in states like Wisconsin in 2016.

But Ron Johnson isn’t doing that, and you put that inaction together with Ron Johnson’s 4th of July trip to Russia, and it seems a lot like a “thank you” visit. Also note that Johnson was saying last night that he wants the Senate to “[move] expeditiously through the confirmation process” to put Kavanaugh on the bench before the November elections. I’m becoming pretty confident that Donald Trump isn’t the only Republican that would want GOP hack Brett Kavanaugh installed on the Supreme Court to cover up his crimes, and one of those compromised crooks might be Our Dumb Senator.

Monday, July 9, 2018

GOP tax scam ain't stimulating anything but debt

File this story under, “Who could have seen it coming?”
U.S. growth expectations may be too rosy as analysts overestimate how much tax cuts will boost the economy, according to an economic letter from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Analysts have forecast large increases in economic growth over the next two- to three-years following $1.5 trillion in corporate and personal tax cuts over the next decade. But recent research finds that such fiscal stimulus is less effective when the economy is expanding compared with its benefits when enacted during a recession.

“This suggests these forecasts may be overly optimistic,” economists Tim Mahedy and Daniel Wilson wrote in their note published Monday on the San Francisco Fed’s website. “The predominant research finding is that the fiscal multiplier is smaller during expansions than during recessions.” Wilson is vice president in the economic research department of the San Francisco Fed. Mahedy is a former associate economist in the department who recently joined Bloomberg Economics….

While the Congressional Budget Office in April upgraded its 2018 estimate for U.S. gross domestic product by 1.3 percentage points to 3.3 percent, the San Francisco note says marginal consumption and spending multiplier research suggest a smaller effect, ranging from no effect at all to 1 percentage point.

You mean cutting taxes after the Obama Recovery had gotten the US back near full employment, in a time when corporations were already making record profits…that wasn’t going to help things much? NOOOOOO!!!!

In another note from the Fed, even some of the increased growth in the private sector we might see in the 2nd quarter will likely be based on higher consumer debt. Which means it’s not the “good increase” in spending that might result from more money in people’s wallets
Americans increased their borrowing in May at the fastest pace in a year and a half, boosted by a big increase in credit card borrowing.

Consumer debt rose $24.5 billion in May after an increase of $10 billion in April, the Federal Reserve reported Monday. It was the biggest monthly increase since a rise of $24.8 billion in November 2016.

The category that includes credit cards climbed $16.3 billion in May after increasing by $5 billion in April….

The hefty gain in consumer credit in May pushed borrowing to a total $3.90 trillion on a seasonally-adjusted basis. The Fed's monthly borrowing report does not include mortgages or any other debt secured by real estate, such as home equity lines of credit.
That sounds even worse when you consider that inflation-adjusted consumer spending was flat for May. If both are true, and more people are breaking out the credit card as a method to pay for their tepid amount of purchases, then take-home pay likely isn’t going up. What happens to consumer spending when the credit card bills come due and the take-home pay still lags?

Lots of things going on right now that lead me to believe we’re about one bad event from having our economy turn down, and it may come sooner than a lot of people think. If this economic situation is as “good as it gets” when it comes to the number of people working, wages still aren't going up, which means we have nothing else to sustain our debt-ridden ways. YIKES!

7 years after Act 10, public employees have paid up, but Walker/WisGOP hasn't. Which creates problems

Scott Bauer of the Wisconsin AP sent out a story today that had this blaring lead.

Wisconsin’s 25 largest cities face $2.25 billion in unfunded retiree health care liabilities, with increasing costs over a three-year period in Milwaukee and Racine negating savings elsewhere, the Wisconsin Policy Forum reported Monday.

The report examined the size of unfunded commitments between 2013 and 2016 in the state’s 25 largest cities. While 23 cities cut costs by just over $120 million during that time, that was more than negated by $228 million increases in expenses in Milwaukee and Racine.

$2.25 billion! That sounds horrible. Where does the Wisconsin Policy Forum come up with that number?Well, if you read the report, Jason Stein and company do a good job in explaining where the number is derived from. The paper uses the City of La Crosse’s situation as an example, where a police officer could retire at age 53.
It currently costs La Crosse $18,800 a year to provide family coverage to rank and file officers, with a net cost of $16,400 a year to the city once the officer pays his or her share of the premium. Even without accounting for inflation, it would cost the city about $197,000 for the 12 years of coverage needed to take this officer from retirement to Medicare eligibility. (See Figure 3.) So far the city has not put aside money to pay for its commitments.
So if the City of La Crosse has nothing set aside in their budgets to pay for that officer’s health care, then it has an “unfunded liability” of $197,000.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that the $197,000 is a TOTAL amount, while cities budget year-by-year, so it’s not like Wisconsin communities face a huge crisis where $2.25 billion has to be paid up immediately or else every retiree loses his/her benefits. But much like debt, the real problem is that paying for these needs every year takes away from other items that could be funded, or taxes that could be cut. And if those figures on Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) figures keep rising, then things get proceedingly worse as a locality tries to make ends meet each year.

So to head that off, the Policy Forum notes that many municipalities have used the “tools” of Act 10 to impose a benefit structure that offloads the costs onto their employees, or ends OPEBs entirely for younger workers.
For more than a decade, local governments have made some use of this flexibility. The city of La Crosse, for example, has made a series of changes to raise eligibility standards going back to 2004. The city then phased out retiree coverage entirely for employees who were hired after January 2014. This statewide trend intensified after the passage of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, which greatly restricted collective bargaining for public employees other than police and firefighters.

Over the past several years, La Crosse has seen the projected liability for its retiree health benefits fall by $10.3 million, a decrease of 13%, from $76.7 million in 2013 to $66.4 million in 2016. Of the 25 cities reviewed, 18 saw their unfunded promises to retirees decline over the three-year period. The biggest drop in dollars came in Beloit, where the expected obligation fell $33.9 million, or 25%, from $136.4 million in 2013 to $102.5 million in 2016….

Racine had the largest challenges for a city of its size [partly because it used to cover retirees’ health care FOR LIFE, until they starting phasing it back in 2007]. Its total retiree health care obligation grew $96.7 million, or 24%, between 2013 and 2016 to $503.2 million. The good news, city officials say, is that a forthcoming study is expected to show the liability dropped to $386 million in 2017. (See Figure 5.) They said that was due to a variety of factors, including a decision to shift some retirees to a Medicare Advantage plan for prescriptions. Still, Racine’s 2017 projection for its obligation amounts to $4,953 per person.

And here's a look at every community's per capita deficit, you'll find that the "problem" of underfunded post-retirement benefits is concentrated into a few communities.

The Policy Forum says one thing to keep in mind is that while state employees also have had to deal with some changes to their benefits in recent years (you may recall something about this from 2011), the situation facing local governments on retiree health care is very different than the stable and funded one that existing for state employees.
It is important to keep retiree costs for cities in context. Wisconsin, for instance, has a stable and fully funded pension system that covers nearly all state and local government employees. The main exceptions are workers for the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, which each maintain their own pension systems. State workers can use the value of their unused sick leave to pay their health insurance after retirement; though those costs are substantial, the state has set aside assets to cover them. Those two factors put taxpayers and government budgets here in a much better position than in many other states.
Keeping with the topic of public employee health care, you may also remember that Scott Walker’s Department of Administration recently received a report that looked at how much teachers and other school district employees were paying for their health insurance premiums (here’s the spreadsheet with all districts listed, if you are so interested).

The report showed that the average Wisconsin teacher was taking up between 2-4 times as much of a share of the costs of health care premiums as what they were paying before Act 10.
Barry Forbes, associate executive director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said the figures show health care costs for school district employees generally matching “what greater society is experiencing now.”

“It was clear before Act 10 that public-sector employee fringe benefits were typically far superior to the private sector. Now, not so much,” Forbes said…

In the 2010-11 school year, Forbes said the average employee contribution for health premiums was 5 percent for family plans and 3 percent for single plans.

That compares to an average, or mean, employee contribution of just less than 12 percent in the data released [last] Monday. The median contribution was slightly more than 12 percent.
And that’s 12% of a higher amount of health care cost than we had in 2011, so it’s a double-whammy from that perspective.

Notice that at both the state and local levels, these fiscal “improvements” have often come out of the pockets of the workers themselves. And sure, you can play the “divide and conquer” game and claim that it makes public employees like “the rest of us.” But it also can’t be denied that it reduces the compensation that public employees have been given, and will be given in the future.

And like any other profession, when the amount of take-home pay and quality of OPEB-type benefits are reduced, that’ll make some people demand more pay and/or move on to other places/professions. Combine that with the fact that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP is giving public K-12 education and local communities less money in shared revenues next year than what was given 8 years ago, and you can see where it becomes increasingly difficult to attract teachers and other public employees. This is especially true in smaller communities where the funding is even more constrained and they have to compete with other places that might have a lot more to offer from both a compensation and quality of work/life experience.

Why, it’s almost like paying for talent costs money! Funny how this administration and their corporate puppetmasters seem not to understand this concept, and instead demands that local governments, schools, and workers “do more with less.” And then they wonder why Wisconsin keeps having labor shortages and falls further behind in jobs and wages?

Maybe it’s time for the corporations and their GOP puppet-ticians pay a little price of their own, literally and occupationally.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I do Believe in Jesus

I somehow ended up at 3 Brewer games this week, including today's blowout of the 1st-place Atlanta Braves, it looks like it'll be a fun Summer for us baseball fans in Wisconsin.

But there's still a lot of work to be done with the Brew Crew. And that includes rectifying a great injustice in today's selections to the National League All-Star team. Jesus Aguilar leads the National League in slugging, and tied for the lead in home runs, and is the likely team MVP-to-date for a Brewers team that has the best record in the National League. Somehow, the people selecting the NL All-Star team didn't considere him 1 of the 3 best first basemen in the League this year.

However, this can be fixed.

Here's the link. If you believe in Jesus, GET TO WORK, FOLKS!

Budget Project shows how Walker, WisGOP chose tax cuts over funding public schools

For your Sunday reading, I wanted to draw your attention to a recent analysis by the good people at the Wisconsin Budget Project that shows how empty Scott Walker's taxpayer-funded campaign stops at public schools really are.

As the Budget Project notes, even with increases in state funding over the last two school years, “Wisconsin still hasn’t fully restored state aid for public schools.”
In 2019, the state will invest less in public school districts than it did in 2011, something that has been true of every year in between as well. In 2019, Wisconsin school districts will receive $153 million less in state aid than in 2011 in inflation-adjusted dollars, or 2.6% less. The significant increase in resources that lawmakers provided for public schools in the 2017-19 budget closed the 2019 gap to the smallest one since the major cuts were made, but still did not lift public schools back to the 2011 funding level.

Over time, the budget cuts to public schools have accumulated. Between 2012 and 2019, the state provided $3.5 billion less in state aid to public schools than it would have if state aid had been kept at 2011 levels.
So why does Scott Walker run around the state claiming there’s a “record amount of money in K-12 education?” Because Scotty’s counting the hundreds of millions of dollars funneled into private voucher schools (up nearly $175 million in 2019 vs 2011), and the increases in the school levy credit. The school levy credit is taken off of the property taxes paid toward public schools, with those funds never seeing the inside of a public school classroom.

As the Budget Project notes
Since 2011, lawmakers havbe twice increased this property tax credit, with the expansions making up $193 million of the $940 million credit value in 2019. All owners of property receive this credit, regardless of whether they live in the state. Among homeowners, the largest credits go to the owners of expensive homes.
I also want to mention one other item that the Budget Project doesn’t, and point out that almost all of the increased funding for schools in the 2017-19 budget comes in the form of per-pupil aid, with almost none coming from the General Equalization Aid formula. This means that schools with stagnant or declining enrollments and a lack of tax base aren’t being helped as much as richer, growing schools are, which is expanding the divide in resources and quality between school districts throughout the state.

The Budget Project also connects another Walker/WisGOP policy choice to these K-12 cuts - numerous tax cuts that lessen the amount of money available to be invested.

The combined cost of the new tax cuts has climbed each year, starting from a low of $57 million in 2012, and reaching $2.0 billion in 2019 in inflation-adjustment dollars. The combined total cost of the tax cuts adds up to $8.7 billion over eight years.

The tax cuts have drained money from public schools. If lawmakers had declined to pass new tax cuts and instead appropriated that money in the same proportion as other state tax money is spent, the result would have been an additional $649 million available for public school districts in 2019. Even just eliminating a single tax cut—the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit—and dedicating all the revenue to public schools would increase state support well past 2011 levels.
And what did we get from these allegedly lower taxes? Our job growth hasn’t been helped one iota, and in fact, 2016 and 2017 were the two worst years for Wisconsin job growth since Scott Walker and WisGOP came to power after 2010. 2018 might not be much better, after Wisconsin losses of nearly 10,000 jobs in April and May 2018 were by far the most of any state in America.

It's not like those funds cut from K-12 education have fixed our crumbling roads, and Wisconsin fell from 7th to 15th last year when it came to having its residents be covered by health insurance. So how has Wisconsin become better off in any way, shape or form from these decisions by Wisconsin Republicans over the last 8 years?

Oh, our lower unemployment rate? That's a result of people leaving a state that won't invest in K-12 education and quality of life, and pays the lowest manufacturing wages in the Midwest.

The trends mentioned above have to be reversed, and the only way that can happen is to remove Scott Walker and the Republicans from power. We've seen what path those guys will choose if kept in office, and it's one that'll continue to drive Wisconsin into the dirt.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Trump tariffs + overproduction = bad things for Wisconsin farmers

With this week marking the start of President’s Trump’s tariffs being imposed on China and the Chinese responding with duties of their own on American goods, it seems worthwhile to look at what the trade measures are doing to our farm exports.

Bloomberg News noted yesterday that while American prices on soybeans are collapsing (as American farmers lose access to a lucrative Chinese market), Brazilians are getting a windfall as a result.
In the U.S., average cash prices fell to about $7.79 a bushel this week, the lowest in almost a decade, according to an index compiled by the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. China’s tariffs on American goods including farm products have now taken effect after the U.S. implemented a raft of duties earlier in the day Friday and President Trump threatened more action.

Meanwhile in Brazil, exporters have been handed high times. Soybeans to be loaded in August at the nation’s Paranagua port fetched $2.21 a bushel more than Chicago futures as of Friday, the widest gap since data starts in 2014. The premium has more than tripled since the end of May, according to data from Commodity 3.

"Premiums reflect the rising possibility of China being more dependent on Brazil’s soybeans," Luis Fernando Roque, an analyst at consultancy firm Safras & Mercado, said in a telephone interview from Porto Alegre…

So far, good crushing margins are helping to keep Chinese demand robust for Brazilian supplies, even with surging premiums. China bought about 1.1 million metric tons of soybeans from Brazil last week, while no purchases from the U.S. were reported, according to the China National Grain and Oils Information Center.
You'd think the natural response for American growers would be to pull back on the amount of soybeans that are produced, as the lower US price means it’s not worth it for many farmers. But that’s not what has happened in Wisconsin tin 2018.
Wisconsin farmers planted soybeans on a record number of acres this year.

The latest data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service found soybeans were planted on 2.3 million acres in the state, up 7 percent from last year's record high....

U.S. farmers planted 89.6 million acres of soybeans, just over the 89.1 million acres of corn that was planted. In Wisconsin, producers planted 3.9 million acres of corn, the same amount as last year.
So why is this going on? A UW-Madison professor tells Wisconsin Public Radio that the cheaper costs of soybeans was causing the shift…which is happening just as trade policies should make them shift the other way.
[UW Agronomy Professor Shawn] Conley said more farmers are pursuing soybeans because production costs per acre are lower than corn.

"Given the economic drivers out there in terms of the price per bushel, soybean is one of the few crops that's actually penciling out in the black or on a positive note," Conley said. "It's one of the few places farmers can make money in the state of Wisconsin in terms of a commodity crop."

But Conley and others in agriculture worry that strong price could be changing. Conley said soybean commodity prices have fallen around $1.50 per bushel in the last few weeks.
Wisconsin dairy farmers also are seeing their prices plunge as foreign markets dry up due to the tariffs, and as UW’s Menzie Chinn notes in Econbrowser, even before the tariffs hit, the US Department of Agriculture was already reporting the largest oversupply of cheese in 100 years.

And Wisconsin dairy farms are already going under at an alarming and increasing rate, as this recent article in a dairy farm trade publication notes.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection reports that 54 Wisconsin dairy farms sold out in June. That’s on top of the 78 that left the business in May.

Year-to-date, 338 dairy farms stopped milking cows. Still, USDA estimates that cow numbers are down just 1,000 head from January to May (the latest report available).

The year-to-day farm exits are running about 30% higher than the same January through June farm exits in 2017. Note: The June 2018 exit number of 54 farms is six fewer in June 2017.
And those aren't mega-farms going under. It's family farms that don't have the scale to get by on lower (or negative) margins.

This song keeps popping into my head in recent months, and not just because it still kicks ass. If these prices keep plunging in the coming months, how cleaned out is the average farmer going to be at harvest time?

Friday, July 6, 2018

June jobs good. But sorry Rep. Grothman, they're no different than what we had before

Today was another “jobs Friday”, and it featured another good number.
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 213,000 in June and has grown by 2.4 million over the last 12 months. Over the month, job gains occurred in professional and business services, manufacturing, and health care, while employment in retail trade declined…

Manufacturing added 36,000 jobs in June. Durable goods manufacturing accounted for nearly all of the increase, including job gains in fabricated metal products (+7,000), computer and electronic products (+5,000), and primary metals (+3,000). Motor vehicles and parts also added jobs over the month (+12,000), after declining by 8,000 in May. Over the past year, manufacturing has added 285,000 jobs. Employment in health care rose by 25,000 in June and has increased by 309,000 over the year. Hospitals added 11,000 jobs over the month, and employment in ambulatory health care services continued to trend up (+14,000).

Construction employment continued to trend up in June (+13,000) and has increased by 282,000 over the year.
In addition, the prior 2 months had their job growth revised up by another 37,000, so that’s very good. Even the increase in the unemployment rate from 3.8% to 4.0% is for the “good reasons” – the household survey said that 102,000 more people were working, but there was a sizable increase in the seasonally-adjusted workforce in June that raised the rate.
In June, the civilian labor force grew by 601,000. The labor force participation rate edged up by 0.2 percentage point over the month to 62.9 percent but has shown no clear trend thus far this year.
This strong report led one vulnerable Wisconsin Congressman to try to claim that the GOP’s tax cuts that were passed into law at the end of 2016 really weren’t a scam, and instead was helping to grow the economy.

Sorry, Basement Boy, but you are stating facts that are not in evidence. I’m going to use the 3-month figures on job growth, since this would theoretically show increased job growth if the tax cuts were doing what Grothman claims.

What we see that job growth is no different than it was at the end of last year. And it really isn’t any different than what we had at the end of the Obama presidency.

And the other thing we’d be seeing if the GOP’s Tax Scam trickle-down theory was actually being successful would be that wages would be increasing. That’s not happening either, as the growth in average hourly wages remains tepid.
In June, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 5 cents to $26.98. Over the year, average hourly earnings have increased by 72 cents, or 2.7 percent. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 4 cents to $22.62 in June.
That 2.7% wage increase is no different than it was when the tax cuts were passed last December, and no different than Obama’s last month in office, in December 2016. But what is different is the level of inflation, which is nearly twice what it was when Trump took office 18 months ago.

Lastly, what’s interesting about Grothman’s propping up of this latest jobs report is that it also illustrates the failure of the ALEC-backed tax cuts and austerity that the guy with the “TAXCUTR” license plate signed off on from 2011-2015. With those higher revisions, the Walker jobs gap is now close to 150,000 as of May. And nearly 20,000 jobs in that gap happened in April and May alone.

Don’t get me wrong. The job market and economy continued to grow in June 2018, and things seem to be in good shape as the quarter ends. But the same bugaboo of low wages lurks over this growth, and the effects of our trade war are going to be seen and felt starting in this month of July. So the prospects for the last half of 2018 are a little murkier than the otherwise bright employment picture would indicate.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

"Trump and Walker are grifters." So are they the suckers on Foxconn? Or do they think we are?

While Scott Walker and Donald Trump had their press event last week at the site of the Foxconn factory in the SE corner of Wisconsin, we found out that what was being made at the factory wasn't what was promised when the Fox-con was passed into law less than a year ago. In particular, the large screens that Foxconn and Wisconsin GOP claimed would be made at the facility isn't going to be so large.
While two economic-impact analyses prepared last year and the state’s contract with Foxconn say the company will build a type of factory that carves display panels out of immense sheets of wafer-thin glass, Foxconn now says it first will erect a plant that uses much smaller sheets of glass.

Such factories typically are much smaller and less-expensive than the sort of plant Foxconn originally planned, industry observers say....

Contracts Foxconn later signed with both the state and the local governments also refer to the “Generation 10.5” fabrication facility the company will operate.

But Foxconn no longer plans to initially build such a plant. Instead, the company first will build a “Generation 6” factory — Gen 6 in industry shorthand. Such plants are much smaller and much less costly than Gen 10.5 factories, use different machinery and turn out different arrays of products, industry watchers say.
The downsizing of the plant to smaller screens and less investment led Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy to openly ask “Is Foxconn Double Crossing Walker”? As Murphy points out, it wouldn’t be first time Foxconn pulled such a bait-and-switch.
The implications of this change are enormous. For starters it means Foxconn will not be building the kind of factory it first promised to the delegation lead by Gov. Walker last year and which helped sell the huge taxpayer subsidy: Walker was shown the plant run by Foxconn subsidiary Sharp in Japan, which manufactures the large screens.

It could also mean Foxconn never gets close to a $10 billion investment or 13,000 employees. Foxconn officials now say the Racine plant will be built in “phases” and it could eventually add a facility to manufacture the larger screens. But this is the same company that promised to invest $5 billion and create 50,000 jobs in India, only to cut it to a fraction of that. “Similar results were seen in Vietnam, where Foxconn committed to a $5 billion investment in 2007, and in Brazil, where Foxconn spoke of a $10 billion plan in 2011,” and the plans were never realized, the Washington Post reported. And then there is Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Foxconn’s promise to invest $30 million and hire 500 workers never happened.
And if Foxconn overpromises and underdelivers when it comes to the factory that is ultimately built, the biggest losers won’t be the state’s finances (even though they’ll be hurt quite a bit), but the local governments in Racine County and individuals living in Southeast Wisconsin. Those groups have already have sunk a ton of money into this project, and they aren’t going to be able to get it back.
True, the state subsidy is set up to reward the company in increments, so Foxconn would only get a portion of the promised $3 billion from the state if it falls short of the 13,000 jobs. But all the other subsidies, worth more than $1 billion, will happen regardless of how many jobs are created. That includes $764 million in local subsidies, $164 million in new state and local roads to serve Foxconn, a $120 million electric power line paid for by utility customers, and some $7 million on a state-paid ad campaign to attract workers for Foxconn. On a per-job basis, a smaller, $3 billion plant would actually cost taxpayers even more.
And then if the voters of this state are stupid enough to return Scott Walker to power after November, along with his appointed lackeys at WEDC (who are in charge of overseeing the taxpayer incentives to Foxconn), it seems likely that Foxconn will try to extort even more money out of Governor Dropout’s administration at the expense of the rest of us. Murphy notes that this would likely include another tax-funded handout for a Corning glass plant if Foxconn reverses itself again in “Phase 2” of its development, and starts manufacturing larger screens in Southeast Wisconsin.
The reality is that Foxconn has the state over a barrel. If Walker gets reelected, that gives the company four more years to squeeze him for ever more money. It can push for a subsidy for Corning (surely Foxconn knew all along Corning would want a subsidy), and for other giveaways, or refuse to go beyond the smaller plant. As the business publication Bloomberg predicted in an editorial lambasting the deal, Foxconn could “come back again and again, as blackmailers tend to, seeking yet more blandishments.”

Despite all of this taxpayer money that’s on the line, Murphy mentions the quote from WEDC spokesman Mark Maley at last week’s groundbreaking where Maley said “It’s not the state’s role to get involved in the business operations of one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.”

Murphy reflects my amazement at that comment from WEDC’s flack.
Right, the state isn’t involved in Foxconn’s operations. It has merely created a plan that if fully implemented, will charge everyone in Wisconsin $1,774 per household in taxes to subsidize the company, and even if the plan turns out much smaller will still leave taxpayers paying up to 13 percent of the cost to build and equip Foxconn’s plant and 17 percent of the wages of its employees. The plan will also waive state environmental rules for the company, allow it to skip the state appeals court and go straight to the Supreme Court on legal issues, a benefit enjoyed by no other company in Wisconsin, and will charge utility customers over a vast swath of the state for Foxconn’s electric power. One can only imagine what the Walker administration would do if it did choose to get involved in Foxconn’s operations.

Former Wisconsin State Journal writer Bill Kaplan noted the contrast between the constant promotion by Walker bad Trump of Foxconn was happening at the same time that those two "leaders" were not seeming to care about other, already-established Wisconsin manufacturers. Kaplan made the comparison in an article fittingly titled “Trump and Walker are grifters.”
No, Trump and Walker are not making our nation great again. The U.S. was already great before them. However, Trump has declared a trade war (tariffs) against Canada and Mexico, Wisconsin’s top markets for state exports. And, as if that was not enough, Trump has done the same to the European Union and China. Trump said: “trade wars are good and easy to win”. But there’s no real strategy, just chaos and confusion. Moreover, our trading partners are retaliating and raising tariffs which will hurt Wisconsin: cheese, cranberries, ginseng, Harley-Davidson, lawn mowers, toilet paper and more. Walker raised a muffled protest, while Wisconsin businesses and manufacturers howled.

Harley-Davidson said it would shift production of some motorcycles sold to Europe, to outside of the U.S., avoiding European retaliatory tariffs. Trump threatened Harley-Davidson, while Walker hoped that the Foxconn groundbreaking would change the narrative. However, reality intruded. Although Trump called the Foxconn factory the “eighth wonder of the world”, while Walker talked about “Wisconn Valley”, there was big trouble. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline said: “Foxconn scales back plans for its first factory in Mount Pleasant”. What other shoes will drop? Trump and Walker are grifters.

"Trump’s angry insistence that Harley’s products should be made in the United States is at odds with his own record as a businessman. His branded products – clothing, vodka, home goods and hotel amenities – were manufactured in at least 12 countries outside the United States, including China, Mexico and Indonesia …” (Washington Post). Worse, Walker’s spending binge on Foxconn will blow a hole in Wisconsin’s future. Over $4 billion of state aid (much of it in direct cash payments) and other state-local spending will haunt Wisconsin. How will education and roads be funded after the Foxconn giveaways?
That's a good question, Mr. Kaplan, and it's a topic that Walker refuses to talk about, even with $1 billion deficits in both the General Fund and the Transportation Fund looming with the next state budget.

And since Scott Walker and the hacks at WEDC don’t seem to care about giving oversight to the multi-billion dollar Foxconn project in this time of tightening budget, and are not giving any input to Foxconn's plans while also failing to speak up about how GOP policies might affect current Wisconsin businesses, then their asses need to be booted out and replaced by people who will.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy 4th in 2018! Where today's GOPs have taken the place of the Royalists

Happy July 4 to all of you! We begin with a few words from our illustrious Governor.

NO YOU DIMIWTTED DROPOUT! That is not what we are celebrating today. Why don't you actually read The Declaration of Independence, and get a damn clue.

Then again, I don't think Scotty wants to read that document. It might hit a little too close to home for him and his fellow amoral authoritarian buddy Donald Trump. Let's start from the beginning.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security...
As I noted last July 4, a lot of alleged patriots emphasize the first part of that 2nd paragraph, but it's the middle part that's more relevant today. Revolution is not something that should be considered by citizens whenever their fee-fees get hurt and there is a minor difference of opinion. But when real injuries are being done and people are noticing that checks and balances are not stopping the evils from happening, "it is their duty" to remove despots from power.

Let's also go back to the Declaration to go over what this "long train of abuses and usurpations" included.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
That sure sounds like people who would ignore laws like the requirement to call special elections to allow people to be represented in the Legislature or a general attitude that the rule of laws does not apply to presidents. That sounds a lot like today's GOP in both Wisconsin and in DC, doesn't it?

This part also seems pretty relevant these days.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
Can you say "using ICE to carry out "zero-tolerance" policies at the border, and sending kids away from their parents without the resources or desire to track them?" I knew you could. Can you also say "appointing a SCOTUS "justice" on the condition that a corrupt president or governor would be let off the hook?"

And as I typically do today, I urge our Governor and others to pay extra attention to the final 3 paragraphs. They illustrate that the complaints and wishes of Americans had been arrogantly ignored by the government that ruled over them, resulting in the Colonists feeling they had no choice but to try to break free.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.
We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

That's right, MAGAts, you're not exactly the "Patriots" you claim to be. If this was 1776 America, you would be the Royalists supporting the king. You are more than happy to abuse your power in order to ignore the will of the people, and you are more than happy to try to crush of the majority that never voted for this president. "The governed" never has consented to have our environment wrecked, have their ability to receive health care be sabotaged or have their right to vote and be fairly represented be compromised.

You don't believe me when I say today's GOP wouldn't be part of the Revolution? Check this out.

I said this 365 days ago, and it seems even more salient today.
Those are the words and values we are celebrating today, and they require eternal vigilance and protection. The institutions of US government do not magically work on their own, they are only as good as the people that are in charge of carrying out their duties, and the voters that are charged with holding those officials to account. If neither of those groups decide to perform their duties, then society ends up damaged, and requires more radical solutions to repair that damage.
Voting out the Royalists and authoritarian thugs in power in 2018 may be the last chance to keep our current form of American government in a legal, more peaceful way. So DO IT, DAMMIT.