Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why will Wisconsin's tort reform screw people?

Let's allow Jack from Fight Club to explain it to you (audio only).

And if you lower the amount that these companies have to pay for their negligence, then it becomes a lot more likely that they see no need to fix the problem.

It's a simple Econ 101 decision-making test. Which tells me Scotty and the GOPs either 1. Flunked Econ 101 or 2. The money's just that good from WMC that they don't care. Either reason should be immediate disqualification from elected office.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wisconsin's Low Unemployment, and High U.S. Deficits

I saw two items in the news that give updates to a few things I have said in previous.

First of all, the Wisconsin DWD released the December 2009 unemployment/ employment figures for the state. On page 2 of this report, it shows that that over 54,000 additional Wisconsinites were employed at the end of 2010 vs. end of '09, and 67,000 without the seasonal adjustments. As I've mentioned before, the state has weathered this recession better than many, and our unemployment rate now stands at 7.5%, nearly 2 points below the national average of 9.4%.

And if you go further inside the numbers on Pages 2 and 3, you'll see that the metro area with the highest job gains in the last 12 months is Madison, with 2,000 more jobs than this time last year. Madtown is also the home of the state's lowest city unemployment rate at 4.4%, and Dane County's the lowest county rate at 4.6%. You think having a flagship research university and high-skilled government work doesn't pay off in the job market? You bet your ass it does.

This is especially noteworthy because this is the last report of the Jim Doyle era in Wisconsin, and the logical starting point for Scott Walker's alleged opening of Wisconsin for business. So Scotty starts off his reign with the state sporting with a below-national average unemployment rate, demonizing the types of businesses and employees that are a key part of the fastest-growing job market in the state, blocking funding for a big transportation upgrade to that fastest-growing job market and the state being on a pace that is just below his goal of 250,000 jobs in 4 years, with the trend moving up. Let's see if these things hold true for Wisconsin and Madison's strong standing in a year (don't bet on it).

Also saw that the CBO is now predicting Social Security to pay out more than it takes in this year and for a national overall fiscal deficit of $1.5 trillion for the year ending October 1. Gee, you think cutting Social Security taxes by a third and keeping other Bush-era tax cuts in place may have something to do with this problem? And does this mean tax cuts don't pay for themselves, regardless of how many times the Paul Ryans of the world try to tell us they do? Why yes, I think it does.

It also sets up the talking point about how now that we're in a fiscal crisis "we just have no choice but to sell off/ cut things." This is the exact reason I opposed those tax moves in December, because we didn't have to make these cuts to continue our recovery, and it just sets up Obama and co. for failure at a later point. Social Security didn't have these deficits till its tax rates were cut, but now this deficit can be used as the excuse to cut the program that so many millions depend on to keep their standard of living- especially those older Boomers who have been laid off and/or cleaned out in the stock market the last few years.

It may not matter for Obama's 2012 election (especially since the economy should be steadily improving and any GOP candidate is going to have tp say some really dumb things to get the nomination), but the tough choices that needed to be made weren't, and gathering more revenues to keep services afloat should have been part of that.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Vegas recap (I was not money)

Still coming down from the 3 days in Vegas. Let's just say I am not Billy Walters. Especially interesting in this profile is what they wait until the end to bring up that Walters finds sports betting much more legitimate than Wall Street, and a lot more transparent for people to play. And boy is he right.

A few other thoughts.

1. I actually did quite well in the sports book on Saturday, hitting the Steeler cover and going around 5-2 in college hoop. But then I decided that I had the hot hand, stepped up my stakes (not much, like $20-$25 a game), and promptly got drilled on the Bears-Seahawks over/ under, North Carolina hoops (F-U Roy Williams), and the Pats-Jets upset. The lesson as always, stay humble before the gambling gods.

2. Sunday also got me at the craps table. Much like a lot of risk-taking in America, I found myself stuck between putting in enough resources to have the freedom to play the way I wanted, and having to stay within my budget and not having to constantly borrow from the ATM. Much like the giant gamble known as being middle class in the American economy, I tried to do a bit like both, and didn't win. Not surprisingly, craps is like other investing where the free market becomes a whole lot freer when you have the cash available to throw around. Otherwise, you're constantly measuring the bets and figuring out how much more you can lose before you have to settle and/or quit. Frustrating.

3. The preverse Vegas incentives- our room was largely paid for by a member of our group who literally puts in thousands of dollars (and tens of hours) at $5- $10 slot machines. As a result of this borderline goofy/irresponsible behavior, he gets comped huge amounts of materials due to the business that he takes over to the casino properties. If you're throwing money into the machines or on the table, you'll get free drinks, instead of paying the $8-$12 you gotta shell out for individually (we ran this racket watching games at the bar with the $1 video poker machines, not so bad if you get the chance). On the other hand, if you play it calm, stay within a reasonable budget, and don't gamble 4-5 figures, you're just an average plebe who probably pays full price for everything. Seems a bit sad that responsibility is almost punished, but then again, this is a country that taxes capital gains (i.e. gambling on assets and paper) at a lower rate than income (i.e. actual work), so maybe it's not crazy at all. And another example where maybe Vegas is more honest than Wall Street or D.C.

And last but not least, and at some risk of jinxing things Sunday, I will make the following statement:

4. The people who still think Ted Thompson chose wrong by going with Rodgers over Favre sound about as dumb as people who cling to supply-side economics and deregulation as a way to cure our economy's ills. Sorry, I think reality has settled those arguments, and you just sound worse the more you insist otherwise.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Vegas baby, Vegas

Time to get out of the single-digit cold and meet up with some of my boys in Vegas for some serious NFL betting and typical Sin City shenanigans. I may even have to have one of 2 my annual Red Bulls.

Of course, Vegas is the great analogy for how deregulatory, "anything goes" economic theory works in the real world. Lots of people see the flashy lights and big cash floating around, and think that can be theirs. And it can, if you're either 1. Absurdly lucky or 2. Born into it. But most of the rest of us can't pay the cover charge, can't afford to live that way, and can't pplay at the $500 "high-limit" tables in the separate room. And most of us end up worse off financially than when we came.

It's a nice place to dream and escape reality, but not so nice as a place to deal with reality ( as evidenced by Nevada's nation-leading 14% unemployment rate) . Kinda like right-wing economics, when you think about it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Free Speech is not Responsibility Free

Yep, the right-wing whiners are acting just as I predicted, trying to blow off Jared Loughner's shooting as some kind of isolated incident done by a madman. And sure, dude is not right. But as someone who has taught high school and college students, I also know that adolescent anger also can be targeted to specific people, and that these people are especially susceptible to persuasive individuals. You know,people like the Goldline-sponsored Glenn Beck, who encourages thoughts such as "new currency" and government controlling the "grammar structure" check out youtube #3, the "Final Thoughts" of Jared Loughner ). Loughner targeted Rep. Giffords and this event for a reason, and at some point, I think we'll see it's related to some of things he had fed to him. (And don't play the "how do you know" card. I know because while I was born at night, it wasn't last night.)

Oh, and Loughner isn't the only guy in trouble out West for going after Dems. Today in Colorado, a Social Security recipient was arrested for threatening staffers of Sen. Michael Bennett and talking about setting fire to their building. The same story shows that 2 other men were arrested in Colorado over the last week for threatening president Obama. These people aren't pulling these threats randomly out of their ass. They are consuming the words of what they're being fed, and taking it to the next level. As someone who also has worked in media, I know damn well that responsible media members must be aware of how people take what is put out on the airwaves and in print. But apparently, too many people would rather be paid by being outrageous instead of using their power wisely. Well sorry, but free speech does not mean responsibility-free speech, and it is time to take further action to expose those who don't get that difference.

I am disgusted by the lack of introspection I'm seeing on the right. They still refuse to admit that maybe, just maybe, someone could take these words to heart and decide to dish out their own "Second Amendment solution." I'm not shocked by this in any way (after all, if you had mental strength and introspection, you probably wouldn't watch Beck and listen to Palin), but it tells me they will not learn from it. And so they must be taught the lesson in ways other than reasoning. They made that choice, us on the left didn't.

Now some have said I've been a bit harsh the last 36 hours, but I don't apologize for being honest. I am at the end of the line of turning the other cheek and letting things like this drop, because being decent does not seem to be rewarded in our lowest common denominator "ratings, money and power by any means necessary" society. I know that the people that allowed this environment to fester would love nothing more than to have it go away. Palin and Beck and Roger Ailes are working out their ways to minimize and avoid any responsibility for this incident whatsoever, because they know what they have led to.

They will try to let this connection go down the memory hole. Just like with the cop-killer in Pennsylvania, the Holocaust Museum killer, the shooting of Dr. Tiller in Kansas, the shooter of Arkansas Dem official, and several other non-fatal incidents. Don't let it happen.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It's not a game

I'm reading about the sickening shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a community meeting in Tucson. I have plenty of enraged thoughts, but I'm going to try to condense them.

As James Rowen reminds us, Sarah Palin's PAC had put a scope on Rep. Giffords' district for her support of health care reform. Is it irrational to believe that someone decided to put in their own idea of a "death panel" at this public event? Especially given that the person was carrying a semi-automatic weapon (concealed carry bay-bee!!!)?

And is it really that surprising when angry-man radio and Fox News constantly uses the anger and frustration of dead-end white people to blame Democratic legislators, that one of those listeners would try to take a "Second-Amendment solution" out on one of them? You've seen that game before, where right-wing talk hosts say something irresponsible and hateful, and on the rare cases where they're held to account, they puss out by saying "Oh, don't you get a joke? We're just entertainers, and you shouldn't take everything we say seriously."

Politics and political rhetoric is not a game, and hate is not entertainment. When you use the public airwaves and make money off of the taxpayers, you must be held responsible for your actions and words when you are on the clock in those jobs. Responsibility-free politics and words have been allowed to fester too long, and we have tragically seen some of the results of it in Arizona today.

Well no more. No more "turning the other cheek" and letting these deceivers and hate-mongerers off easy. No more blowing off the statements of the Sykes/Bellings of the world by saying "their audience are just losers living in basements." (literally, in the case of one newly-elected Wisconsin legislator.)

Oh, too soon? Too damn bad. We've been too nice on these people for too long, and it has to end now. This is what happens when you allow these people to be paid big bucks for lowering the debate in media, and this is what happens when you don't punish these people at the ballot box for their demonizing and manipulation of the vulnerable. Don't let these people get away with what they have sown, because they won't stop their act unless you do something that makes them stop. And the best way to make them stop is to hit them where it counts most for this slime- 1. The pocketbook, 2. The power rankings.

EDIT- The local sheriff in Tucson sums it up quite well. "All I can tell you is that there's reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol." As someone who taught high school and was made aware of this type of person, I completely agree. Just because Mr. Loughner is nuts doesn't mean there's not a target of his madness. This incident was by no means random.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Flying thoughts

After the better part of a week of travel, I noticed a couple of things relating to airports.

I was stuck in Denver between flights when CNN had one of those "two parties debate" segments talking about the snow removal issues in New York and New Jersey and the flight delay fiascos that resulted. Hidden in the debate was an industry apologist who said the airlines hadn't acted all that badly because (I'm paraphrasing) "there have been massive cutbacks in reservation staff at these airports and people can't see them in order to change their flight plans."

This is a clear result of airline consolidation and a "profit from low cost" mentality. Airlines figure they can gamble on cutting staff to raise profits, and in most cases they get away with it because there aren't many needs to change flights in most instances. However, when travel gets high and its combined with bad weather (as it often does around the Holidays), this is set up to fail, because they stay with skeleton staffs, and really don't deal with a lot of consequence for failing to serve the public, except for the occasional negative news story. Even though effective, reliable transportation is a basic need in a 21st Century society, we still think it's acceptable to make the profit motive the only one when it comes to operating our airlines. And then you wonder why we have snafu's like this when airlines take Wal-Mart approach of operations.

Second, I didn't get groped in the security lines, but I did get my 5-ounce bottle of hair gel tossed for being an apparent bomb possibility. One guy works out a plan 5 years ago and suddenly we're all suspects. Same thing for the shoe bomber dude from the early 2000s. Nearly a decade after 9/11, we never think of taking proactive actions that might predict what actions constitute a potential threat, and are left to catch up when something is tried. And we still waste hundreds of billions of dollars chasing terrorists overseas as our deficits hit record levels. We just don't learn in this country.

Even if bin Laden's dead, he's won in a lot of ways...and that pisses me off.