Sunday, March 18, 2018

Are we in '73, or '74 these days?

My wife sent this book to me after I brought it up a couple of weeks back. Seems fitting for these times.

I started by reading the end, when Nixon is about to resign,and it describes a meeting between Nixon and White House lawyer J. Fred Buzhardt.
"If they want to put me in jail, let them," Nixon said. "The best writing done by politicians has been done from hail." He mentioned Gandhi.

Brave talk notwithstanding, the President seemed deeply worried. He wanted to sound Buzhardt out on the legal situation. Again he likened himself to Gandhi. If he went to,jail, he would be a sort of political prisoner, he implied. Really, he had been persecuted.

Buzhardt agreed. If any other President had been,investigated so thoroughly, he said, similar or even worse abuses would have been uncovered. If the Republicans had had a majority in Congress, the investigations could have been stopped; the Senate Watergate Committee would never have been established and the House Judiciary Committee would never have begun impeachment hearings. The normal restraint of the press had been relaxed in Nixon's case, because the publishers and editors didn't like him.

Same whiny persecution complex with these crooks, same abuses of power, same desire to cover things up and rig justice, if they have the opportunity to do so.

Republicans in DC haven't changed in 4t years, don't believe otherwise.

The only difference today is that they have a majority in Congress in 2018 to try to slow-walk and suppress the awful truth, and they have a Faux News universe to try to keep enough rubes confused by "alternative facts."

But the GOP is not the majority in America. 54% of those who went to the polls did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. GOPs have lost 3 seats in the Senate in 2016 and other elections since then, and they also have lost seats in the House in that time.

Combine that with an 8-10 point Dem advantage on the Congressional ballot, and I DARE the GOP to keep covering up Trump-Russia for the next 7 1/2 months.

We are in a repeat of 1973-74. The big question is how far along is Robert Mueller vs Leon Jaworski.

The comics tell the truth- right-wing idiots keep getting hired

With the hiring of Larry Kudlow as a top economic advisor- a coke-addicted hedge funder in the '80s and early 90s, and someone who has been wrong about the US economy pretty much ever since - the Trump Administration is continuing a fine right-wing tradition of the 21st Century. And that is hiring shameless incompetents who keep getting promoted despite their failures.

The Daily Show's Trevor Noah pointed out Kudlow's foolishness on Thursday's episode of The Daily Show.

I particularly love the scene where Kudlow interrupts Paul Krugman in 2005 to insist there was no housing bubble and that there would be no problems in the economy if rising prices and employment ever ended. As UW's Menzie Chinn noted last week, Larry was WAY off on the housing market, and on his pooh-poohing of the looming economic collapse in late 2007.

Noah's segment on Kudlow reminded me of one of my favorite Daily Show segments of the Jon Stewart era. It took place 9 years ago last week, as the DOW Jones Industrial Average was bottoming out below 6,500 during the Great Recession that Kudlow failed to foresee (it has nearly quadrupled in the 9 years since). And Jon noted how many of Kudlow's fellow CNBC personalities failed to see the crisis coming (possibly because their interests told them to look the other way), and then blamed the wrong people once the crisis began.

Also noteworthy is that Jon began the segment discussing the "Rick Santelli rant", where Santelli went on the air blaming low-income "loser" homeowners for not being able to pay their mortgages - a situation we later found out was often due to banks fraudulently filling out mortgage applications and giving out sizable loans to homeowners that they had no business doing.

Oh, and have we mentioned that it later came out that Santelli was basically fronting for the Koch Brothers to try to keep banks and other businesses from being further regulated, and because of concerns of "major deficit and debt increases" (remember when Republicans cared about these things?). The next year, Citizens United came out, and our country's politics have been tainted by Koched-up crap ever since. And Scam-telli never lost his job nor did he ever have to apologize for being a fraud.

And Saturday Night Live got into the act this week, with Kate McKinnon going on "Weekend Update", and doing an impersonation of Education Secretary (and major WisGOP donor) Betsy DeVos that was both spot-on and cutting.

"I think [I am protested] because I do not do a good job. And I can't, because I don't know how."

"I may not be very good on camera, but behind the scenes, my ideas are much worse."

The comparisons to McKinnon's DeVos and Tina Fey's Sarah Palin are merely coincidental.

What's most frustrating about this Banana Republicanism is the lack of accountability for these right-wing dimwits. People like Kudlow and Scam-telli and DeVos should have been laughed out of any position of influence years ago. But because there is a seemingly unlimited amount of money and Koched-up stink tanks willing to give this discredited garbage a forum, they somehow keep getting seats at a table that they do not belong in.

They need to be booted out of the adults' room once and for all, and kept out for a LONG time.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

WIll Walker get one last, foolish spending spree before November?

As the GOP-run State Senate scheduled to have its last regular floor session on Tuesday, with scores of bills to consider in a one-day bum rush of activity, it seems important to step back and see if we actually can afford to hand out all of these goodies and initiatives before they become law.

With that in mind, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently released an updated look at the bills that have been signed into law, including the already-signed increases in aid small, rural schools, and increased tax credits for building rehab and start-ups.

Cost of bills already passed
2017-18 $560,000
2018-19 $17,154,200
TOTAL $17,704,200

The LFB analysis also included the costs of bills that are currently being considered in the State Senate, and that price tag is a lot higher.

Cost of bills to be considered
2017-18 $10.3 million
2018-19 $254.2 million

These bills include big-ticket, pre-election gimmicks from Walker and WisGOP such as the $100-per-child tax credit, a sales tax holiday in August, $50 million for Rural WEDC grants, and $24 million to adapt parts of the state tax code to match December's tax cuts in DC.

But if all of these bills were to be shoved through the Senate next week, the LFB says there wouldn't be nearly anything left for the last 15 1/2 months of this year.

Projected General Fund balances under bills 2017-19
2017-18 starting balance $579.0 million
2017-18 projected ending balance $641.3 million
2018-19 projected ending balance $192.0 million

That $192 million is barely enough to run state operations for 4 days.

In addition, those projections show that the 2018-19 deficit would be nearly $450 million, which would carry over as the starting point for a structural deficit for the 2019-21 budget. Then along with that $450 million-a-year deficit, remember that the state is slated to spend $50 million for 2019-20 for Scott Walker's plan to pay insurers in the hopes of holding down premium increases.

Add in the increasing cost of some of these new tax write-offs, and this means that the 2019-21 General Fund budget would have a structural deficit exceeding $1 billion. And that's assuming revenues stay at the strong level that the LFB projected in January, and don't take a turn for the worse due to an economy that is slowing down (and there are already signs it is slowing).

It seems telling to me that as it became apparent that Walker's pre-election tax cut gimmicks and plans for restructuring juvenile corrections were being disregarded, Walker shifted gears to call a special session to discuss a $100 million plan to increase school safety (which doesn't do anything to deal with the guns that are a main part of the threat to school safety).

Walker seems determined to blow this already-shaky projected surplus before November's election, so he can be seen as doing....something, I guess. What's even more amazing is that NOT ONE CENT of the hundreds of millions of dollars he's trying to throw away would go toward fixing our crumbling roads, or even filling in the $90 million deficit on state highway work that is due to the Walker Admin sending $134 million to the Foxconn-sin region.

This fiscal idiocy and gimmickry is the mark of what you get with a Governor and state GOP more concerned with grabbing headlines and tricking low-info voters ahead of an election than in actually doing something that improves the life and future of Wisconsinites.

It also illustrates a "load up debt and then burn it down" mentality that is similar to how the corporate sector bankrupted Toys R' Us and other retailers, which will result in nearly 1,000 Wisconsinites losing their jobs in coming months. And you can bet more losses in services and jobs will be coming in our already-strapped public sector if the voters of this state are stupid enough to keep Walker and WisGOP in power past 2018.

Which might be the intelligence of the design of Walker and WisGOP blowing this budget surplus instead of being truly conservative, and letting things play out and making sure the extra money actually shows up before we spend it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

AM radio made Wisconsinites easy marks for the Russians

Who could EVER have seen this coming?

"Stoking racial tension" in Milwaukee? How dare the Russians do that! Don't they know that job is left to KLAN radio 1130 and WGOP 620 in Milwaukee, and 1310 in Madison?

Will Jason Stein and the rest of "legitimate" Wisconsin media start callimg those homegrown hate merchants on the carpet? And will ANY member of WISGOP ever publically distance themselves from that corrosive garbage?

(We know this answer- "Not until the GOP start losing elections due to race-baiting and hate")

Yes, Russian trolls are bad and need to be dealt with. But we also need to take out the trash on our AM radio airwaves that has poised the well in Wisconsin for decades.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spending and wages both stalling out in US

Since Americans started to get larger paychecks in February, the theory would be that economic activity would pick up, because some of those gains would be spent. But it sure didn’t happen last month.
U.S. consumers spent less at auto dealers, gas stations and department stores in February, causing overall retail sales to slip 0.1%.

It was the third consecutive month of declining retail sales, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, though they're still 4% higher from a year ago. Shoppers have opened 2018 with a cold spell after robust spending gains in the months leading up to the holidays….

Auto sales fell 0.9% last month, while purchases at gas stations tumbled 1.2%. Sales at department stores declined 0.9%.
Those declines at stores are a bit alarming because the huge jobs report from Friday said that over 50,000 jobs were added in the retail sector in February (on a seasonally-adjusted basis). I have a hard time believing those jobs will stick around if retail sales continue to fall....if they truly were added to begin with.

So what’s the problem? Another economic report from Tuesday might give a clue.
Real average hourly earnings for all employees were unchanged from January to February, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This result stems from a 0.1-percent increase in average hourly earnings offset by a 0.2-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)….

Real average hourly earnings increased 0.4 percent, seasonally adjusted, from February 2017 to February 2018. The increase in real average hourly earnings combined with a 0.3-percent increase in the average workweek resulted in a 0.6-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.
That’s the 6th month out of the last 7 where average hourly wages have failed to rise above the rate of inflation, which means workers are basically back to where they were in March 2017.

And remember how we were hearing 6 weeks ago about the prospects of a major blowout for 1st Quarter GDP? Those included references to the Atlanta Fed projecting growth of 5.4% to start 2018 their GDP Now forecasting, which would be the highest rate in nearly 15 years.

Well, the DOW was also 1,300 points higher then, and a lot more economic data has rolled in since then. And take a look at what’s happened to the Atlanta Fed’s forecast since then.

That 5.4% has nearly been cut by 2/3 to 1.9% now, and a big reason why is that consumption growth has stalled out, which is reflected in the slipping retail sales.

Hmm, maybe we shouldn’t have given corporations added incentives to hoard profits and have stock buybacks reach record levels due to the GOP’s Pierce of Shit tax plan in DC, huh?

I’ve often expressed concern over what would happen if heavily-indebted Americans would stop spending like it was the 2000s, because that was the only reason growth “accelerated” in 2017. If that spending is now slowing down despite the alleged sugar high that GOP tax cuts were supposed to give the economy for the first part of 2018, what happens in a few months when the buzz wears off?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Walker Admin rosy job claims from January aren't so good in March

Wanted to give a little extra context to yesterday’s major revisions to Wisconsin jobs numbers. These changes are often buried due to a torrent of Walker Administration spin that pre-empts those refinements. And few examples show this better than some recent spin Walker’s Department of Workforce Development put out as a year-end summary, and how they won’t correct that now-incorrect information.

Here’s the piece of Walker campaign lit press release from 7 weeks ago, and it has not aged well. I will add the revised reality in italics, and will generally use the January 2018 state-by-state figures from yesterday. It’s a barely different time frame, but the basic point will be the same.
Wisconsin ranked 13th highest nationally in year-over-year in number of private sector jobs added.
In January 2018, Wisconsin has 12-month private sector job growth of 23,300, which ranks it 24th for private sector jobs added. That’s well below 13th, and looks even worse when you consider Wisconsin is 20th among US states for population.

Wisconsin's year over year growth of 11,500 manufacturing jobs ranked 4th nationally and 2nd in the Midwest
In January 2018, that 12-month increase is down to 9,000. And that includes an alleged addition of 3,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 2 months that hasn’t been subjected to the gold standard. Take a look at this chart, and can you guess which months haven’t been benchmarked yet?

Wisconsin's unemployment rate of 3 percent ranks 8th lowest nationally
Now 3.1%, and tied for 10th. Still good, but not as good as the Walker Admin portrayed it as at the time.

The year-over-year and month-over-month change in Wisconsin's unemployment rate both rank 5th best nationally
Far from it now, the year-over-year drop of 0.4 percent in the last 12 months isn’t even statistically significant, and 20th in the nation. Some of that is a good thing, because unemployment in Wisconsin was a lower-than-reported 3.5% at the end of 2016, but it also shows that we need population growth among working-age population, and that’s not happening in Fitzwalkerstan.

Wisconsin's labor force participation rate of 68.9 percent ranks 5th highest nationally
Even the DWD’s own propaganda yesterday mentioned that the corrected rate isn’t 68.9%, but 68.5%, mostly due to a lack of year-over-year growth in the labor force (20,600, instead of the 56,000 the DWD was reporting last month). The participation rate is still good…because Wisconsin has scored well on this measure for years.

Wisconsin's unemployment rate of 3 percent is significantly lower than the national rate of 4.1 percent, as defined by BLS
It’s 3.1 percent now, but the main point holds up.

Wisconsin's addition of 40,200 total non-farm jobs from December 2016 to December 2017 was statistically significant, as defined by BLS.
As I mentioned yesterday, that figure was revised down to 19,000 when compared to the gold standard. And that’s not close to statistically significant.
So when you see these differences, here’s my question. Will any enterprising media in this state ask the Walker Administration why it constantly overestimates job growth, and won't be cautious about trusting numbers that have been consistently revised down in recent years?

Hey, maybe it’s an honest mistake and that new 2018 revisions to seasonality will get the state’s monthly figures in line with reality. But the original numbers released by DWD sure goes along with the narrative the Walker 2018 campaign would want to promote, and the constant downward revisions are almost never given the attention that the initial headlines do- which means the average everyday voter never gets to find out what’s really happening.

In other words, the jobs and economic information would be flowing and spinning just the way the Walker campaign would want it, and hiding the bad news from those who will go to the polls in November.

So c’mon Wisconsin media, DO BETTER! We’re watching you to see if you’re doing your job watching the people in power.

Milwaukee, Madison are tops for tourist dollars. Why can't they keep that money, and why does Scotty not want them to thrive?

Our Fair Governor started off this week by showing up in Appleton and talking up the state's ability to attract visitors.
Tourism in Wisconsin isn’t entirely about attractions, Gov. Scott Walker said Monday morning.

“It’s the people. It’s you,” Walker told about 1,000 people gathered for his speech at the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism at the Fox Cities Exhibition Center in downtown Appleton…

Walker was driven to the stage in a fire engine and stepped off dressed in a cowboy hat and snowmobile jacket. But that wasn’t all. Tucked away inside the jacket? A bottle of Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and a pair of binoculars.
(excuse me while I roll my eyes and shake my head for a while…Ok, we continue).

As part of that Governor’s Conference, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism released their annual fact sheet on the impact of tourism in Wisconsin. It showed the continued growth of the US economy helped to attract more visitors and their spending dollars to the state in 2016.
Tourism had a $20 billion impact on the state’s economy in 2016, up $700 million or 3.5% from $19.3 billion in 2015. The total six-year growth of tourism activity is up more than $5.2 billion, a 35% increase from $14.8 billion.

Visitor growth topped 107.7 million in 2016, a six-year increase of 15.2 million.

International travel in 2016 was up $100 million over 2015.
The Department of Tourism added that 193,500 jobs in the state were supported by the industry in 2016, including 35% of jobs in recreation and nearly ¼ of food and beverage positions.

The Governor's Conference was also an occasion for the Department of Tourism to unveil its new "Travel Wisconsin" campaign, and I actually saw this ad on the air tonight. I liked it.

The ad is all about how great a city Milwaukee is, which is odd coming from an administration whose Governor openly said in 2012 "You don't want Wisconsin to be like Milwaukee." But the ad does hint at a truth that isn't repeated enough, which is that the two largest metropolitan areas of the state are its two largest tourist attractions. And not only did those big cities attract the most money, they also had larger gains than the state’s 3.3% overall gain in tourist spending for 2016.

Most tourism-related spending, Wis counties, 2016
Milwaukee Co. $1,931.2 million (+3.9%)
Dane County $1,213.6 million (+5.2%)
Sauk County $1,047.9 million (+4.2%)
Waukesha Co. $742.9 million (+2.9%)
Brown County $637.9 million (+3.95%)
Walworth Co. $528.9 million (+3.8%)
Door County $347.8 million (+4.5%)
Outagamie Co. $339.5 million (+1.2%)

It's not just for corporate office jobs these days.

Which again leads me to point out that Milwaukee and Dane Counties add a significant boost to the state’s economy as a tourist attraction (including a combined 53,000 jobs between the two counties), but they’re not able to do much to keep the extra tourist dollars that they generate. All they get are the 0.5% county sales tax, and Milwaukee designated taxes for the Miller Park and Wisconsin Center Districts, which only go to the Brewers' stadium, the convention center and the new Bucks arena.

That's different than Sauk County, where the Village of Lake Delton is allowed to tack on a 1.25% additional sales tax as a premiere resort area. The nearby City of Wisconsin Dells also has this 1.25% tax, and the premiere resort tax is a concession to the extra services that tourism forces a community to take on, and takes the burden off the property tax for local citizens to pay for those services. Why not allow the same principle for places such as Milwaukee, Madison and others who have numerous out-of-towners, leading to additional needs that their homeowners have to pick up the tab for?

It’s also interesting that Walker lauded Appleton’s $31.9 million Fox Cities Exhibition Center at yesterday’s photo op. I say this because a State Senate committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a bill that would allow two other Wisconsin communities to add local taxes to pay for downtown improvements, with the idea of encouraging conventions and individuals to visit.
Under this bill, with regard to any local exposition district that is created by the City of Superior or the City of Eau Claire, such a district is not subject to a legislative finding that the provision of public funding and other assistance from the state and from local units of government to assist in the development and construction of sports and entertainment facilities serves a public purpose. In addition, the bill changes the definition of “exposition center” for such a district to include recreational and sporting activities as an allowable primary purpose of facilities and structures that may be constructed as part of a district.

Under the bill, before an enabling resolution adopted by the City of Superior or the City of Eau Claire may take effect, it must be approved in a referendum by a majority of the electors in the city voting on the resolution, except that if the creation of an exposition district by the City of Superior was approved in a referendum that was held in Douglas County in 2016 (which it was), the referendum requirement is considered to be satisfied.

Under the bill, a district created by the City of Superior or the City of Eau Claire may impose and collect a food and beverage tax, and may impose and collect a room tax at a maximum rate of 2 percent. The bill provides that the City of Superior or the City of Eau Claire may also impose and collect a room tax without regard to whether the district imposes a room tax. The bill prohibits the district from imposing a rental car tax.
The Wisconsin DOR estimates that approval of these provisions could add more than $1 million a year for the City of Eau Claire, and $370,000 to the City of Superior.

And in another part of Northern Wisconsin, there are calls for allowing more sales taxes to allow more of a chance to renew and improve the local economy as well as quality of life.
After some intense discussion on Monday, the Marinette County Economic Development & Tourism Committee forwarded to the county's Finance & Insurance Committee a draft resolution asking the Wisconsin state legislature to authorize any county to impose up to a 0.5 percent sales tax in order to fund community and economic development.

The resolution draft, which asked the state legislature to enact legislation "in a timely fashion," referenced the request from Fincantieri Marinette Marine to provide financial support for facility upgrades. The shipyard is seeking to modify its shipyard to be conducive to building frigate-class ships for the U.S. Navy or multi-mission surface combatant (MMSC) for the Saudi Arabian Navy. Marinette Marine is looking for about $100 million for improvements to the shipyard for construction and the Menominee River for launching purposes.

County Administrator John Lefebvre reiterated that Marinette Marine had originally sought $15 million to $20 million in local support.

"We've come to the conclusion that if they're looking for the county to give them some money, monetarily, the only way that that's going to happen is if we have some funding mechanism to do that," he said. "The funding mechanism would be an additional sales tax: Not the property tax to Marinette County, it would be a sales tax."
And Scott Walker won’t say this at his photo ops encouraging tourism, but it’s Walker/WisGOP policies that have kept these local communities from investing more in items that can attract more tourism. Whether it’s through handcuffing local governments with state aid cuts and property tax limits, or through environmental degradation and increasing potholes on state highways, the Wisconsin GOP have failed when it comes to making the investments required that helps the state’s recent increases in tourism to continue.

So yesterday's event was yet another example of how Scott Walker talks out of both sides of his mouth. Using racial and anti-urban resentments to talk down the state's largest city, and grab votes from stupid white people, then having his Department of Tourism release a campaign that tells people to come to Milwaukee because it's so great there. Walker tries to claim that Wisconsin has much to offer visitors, but then won't allow those communities a chance to add to those amenities, and instead backs policies that make Wisconsin less attractive to come to and live in.

Can you imagine how much more tourism this state might get if we had a Governor who cared about our great cities and national resources, and we stopped having this reputation as a regressive red state? Let's find out this November.