Sunday, July 29, 2012

GDP report- is GOP austerity sabotaging our recovery?

Lots of hype around this Friday's release of the 2nd Quarter GDP report, which showed real U.S. GDP growth at a 1.5% annual basis for April-June. And 1.5% growth isn't anything great, but it's also far from recessionary, and it seems to reiterate that the country continues in a slow but relatively steady recovery. As this chart shows, GDP bottomed out in mid-2009, and has continued to grow for the last 3 years, to the point where we're back above the level we were at when the Great Recession started, in early 2008.

You may remember that President Obama got some grief a few months back for saying the private sector was "fine" in comparison to the public sector, but he was right. Private sector GDP also has been growing in this time period, with more robust growth than the total GDP over the last 3 years, and it is also at higher levels than we were at 4 years ago.

So what's the problem and why are GOPs and others still able to complain about the economy? One reason is the lack of growth of wages and income, with gains in productivity being funneled more and more to 1%ers (most recently illustrated by the skilled worker shortage that is because of companies refusing to pay skilled workers a family-supporting wage. People aren't feeling the recovery because they're not having the GDP growth trickle down enough into their wallets... as if you needed more proof that trickle-down economics doesn't work.

But another reason is because of state and national policies from TeaBag politicians. Government spending in the economy grew in 2008 and 2009 as the recession came on and the stimulus was passed to slow the damage. But it peaked in 2010 and has since declined back where we were 4 years ago.

The corporatist/Bagger ideological commitment to cutting government spending (or changing who gets the money) has put a ceiling on the amount of GDP growth, particularly in the last 2 years. As this chart shows, increased government spending reduced the losses of the Great Recession (making it merely "disastrous" instead of "Atlanta in 1864"). But the government sector has cut back since 2010, turning the Government sector into a drag on economic growth instead of a boost, and it has kept a pretty good private sector recovery from spreading to the nation as whole.

Year-over-year GDP change, 2009-2012

The other interesting part about that chart is that you see 12-month private sector growth has been consistently between 2.87% and 3.57% for more than 2 years, but the total GDP has slipped in spots, in no small part due to government spending cutbacks demanded by right-wing politicians. In fact, government budget cuts have lopped off 1.1% of U.S. GDP, turning 3.3% private sector GDP growth into 2.2% U.S. GDP growth. We might be at 4% GDP growth if we were growing government instead of cutting it, and the added wages, employment, and consumption from government employees may well have offset the extra tax dollars used to increase the spending.

But that's not what Republcans want to see. Remember the words of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Yertle the Turtle (Mitch McConnell) in 2010?

Notice there's not a word in there about "improving the economy" or "getting Americans back to work." It's all about satisfying the ideological goals of fake think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, a natural partner for a GOP who seems to have a motto of "results and reality don't matter."

We also saw this in the Wisconsin Uprising, when then-Wisconsin Sen. Majority Leader (and now MINORITY Leader) Scott Fitzgerald let it slip that Scott Walker's Act 10 moves weren't about balancing the budget, but instead was being done to help Republicans in the voting booth in 2012.

Then these scumbags have the nerve to try to blame Obama for the "slow growth" in the nation. Well, the GDP numbers tell me that our economy is muddling along but continuing to expand, and it's being held back by European-style austerity in the public sector (ask the recession-plagued British how that's working out for them). Heck, imagine if we had leaders who were dedicated in restoring the balance between the 1%er taking class and the 99%ers who made it possible. We'd probably be in even better shape, and with the prosperity of increased GDP actually going to someone other than corporate plutocrats.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why the Journal-Sentinel won't play it straight

Straight from the business wires this week.
Milwaukee-based Journal Communications, which owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, AM 620 WTMJ and Channel 4 TMJ4, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the recall election for Gov. Scott Walker.

The massive spending on political ads for the recall campaign helped Journal Communications boost its second quarter profit by 24 percent, compared to the second quarter of 2011, to net earnings of $7.61 million, the company reported today. Total revenue for the quarter was up 6 percent to $95.5 million.

“Journal Communications had a strong second quarter with operating earnings up 17 percent driven by political and issue advertising and a continuing recovery in many of our local broadcast markets,” said Steven Smith, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Journal Communications.
Oh, and there was also this from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, in its larger story about the obscene amounts of money thrown around in the last year of recalls.
The Republican Governors Association raises much of its cash from large corporations to support GOP candidates for governor around the country through a 527 group named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service regulations that govern them. During the first six months of 2012 coinciding with the recall efforts against Walker, the association’s 527 outfit raised $29 million, including $792,725 from 19 Wisconsin trade groups, corporations and individuals led by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce which gave the group $437,725.
Why did I bolden the MMAC? Well, because Steven Smith is a member of the MMAC's Executive Board, which means he was part of the group that decided to throw that $437,000+ to Walker's campaign.

Hmmm, no wonder JournalComm's newspaper endorsed Walker - the big boss had already laid down big bets on the guy. What a coincidence that JounalComm radio 620 and TV-4 has RW hacks like Sykes and Wagner constantly giving Walker free air time and giving pro-Walker propaganda!

Then Walker's campaign uses MMAC money to pay for huge amounts of ads on JournalComm radio AM620 and JournalComm TV-4. Which increases the profits for Smith, and allows him to chip into the MMAC's PAC coffers, which makes its way back to Walker's campaign. Kinda of a cool symbiotic relationship, isn't it?

The only people left out are the vast majority of Wisconsinites who need a Fourth Estate to tell them the truth. And now you know why you can't count on Journal Comm's organs to tell you the real story with this failing, corrupt administration- because they've made a lot of money in the process of making sure their boy Scotty stays in power.

Corporatist greed causes skilled worker "shortage"

Every few days, you might flip by the finance pages and notice that despite 8.2% U.S. unemployment, there's a shortage of workers in many needed positions. Here's an example this week from Bloomberg and Yahoo! Finance where small businesses are complaining that they can't expand due to not be able to find the right work.
Grooming incumbent workers fell out of favor with the rise of information technology and the knowledge and service economies, which created demand for highly specific skills and led to certification programs and other types of education, said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, in Washington.

"‘Qualified' used to mean a high school degree," Carnevale said. "Now the qualification level has gone up so they're pressing for better people."

Technical proficiency isn't always enough. Employers also report a shortage of what they call "soft skills," including the ability to solve problems, think critically and work in teams. Workers who exhibit such traits can be candidates to train for higher-skilled jobs.

"They'd prefer to buy the skill rather than have to make it, but the skill base in the workforce is not there," Carnevale said.

Efforts like Cincinnati's remain highly localized and no match for the growing skills gap. By 2020, employers worldwide could face a shortage of 85 million high- and medium-skilled workers, according to a June report from the McKinsey Global Institute in Washington.
In a related story, a Wall Street Journal survey found that 41% of small manufacturers said they couldn't find applicants with the right skills to fill their job openings. Well, that sure sounds like something we should pay well for and concentrate on, doesn't it? Because after all, Econ 101 tells us that if there's a shortage of something, then prices have to rise to meet the demand and encourage more suppliers (i.e. skilled workers) to enter the market.

So is that happening, and are some of our workers getting good pay raises in these fields with scarcity? OF COURSE NOT! If you look on Page 7 of the BLS' survey of wages and occupations in the U.S., look at what some of these skilled postions make on a full-time basis.

Median full-time weekly wages, 2011, selected occupations
Carpenters $630
Construction laborers $586
Electricians $857
Pipelayers, pipefitters, plumbers $851
Roofers $523
Sheet metal workers $805
Highway Maintenance $708
HVAC mechaincs and installers $793
Machinists $755
Cutting/punching/pressing machine operators $591
Other metal workers $561

Only the pipefitters and sheet metal workers made more than $20 an hour last year. Sorta hard to get good work if you're not going to pay for it, huh?

So what's the answer to solving this in manufacturing-heavy Wisconsin? Well according to former Bucyrus CEO Tim Sullivan, it's bringing in more immigrants to work for cheap. Oh, and turning the K-12 educational system "upside down" by pushing more students into technical education and having them attend tech colleges to enhance their skills.

Well, given that Gov. Walker appointed Sullivan to head up Scotty's workforce development initiative, I'm sure Scotty will concur and help to pay for this needed change in our schools. Oh wait, Walker cut K-12 schools by over $800 million a year, so over half of Wisconsin's districts had to reduce classes in "extra" areas like voc-ed and career development. After high school, Scotty also did damage, as his budget cut technical schools by 30% and refused to allow for property tax increases to pay for any expansions, which has caused waiting lists and reductions in classes that could ease the lack of workers in certain fields. Scotty and Timmy might want to get on the same page with this one.

And you'll notice that Sullivan's desired usage of more immigrants or restructing of schools requires no extra investments from the businesses themselves in order to pay more or train their employees. Instead it throws all the burdens onto the general taxpayer to make these changes in the schools to give the businesses what they want. Not a bad form of welfare for CEOs like Tim Sullivan, isn't it?

It's not like manufacturing corporations don't have dimes to spare. Just look at the earnings that were announced for the company who bought Bucyrus- Caterpillar industries.
[Earnings-per-share] jumped 67% year-over-year to $2.54, beating analysts' estimate of $2.28.

Revenue jumped 22% to $17.4 billion, beating the $16.9 billion estimate.
That's right, Caterpillar's earnings are up 67% in 1 year, but they and other manufacturers still can't afford to pay their current and potential employees more and offer better training? As Lee Elia might say, "My fucking ass!" Our alleged worker skills crisis in America is really the result of the union-busting and low wages that have been hallmarks of the last 30 years of corporate greed. I shed no tears for these CEOs and business owners about their "problem", and I offer an easy solution- PAY THEM AND THEY WILL COME.

It's how the free market works, and it's time for you "free marketeers" to walk the walk about it instead of expecting immigrants and government policies to bail yourselves out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Past is prologue- meet WEDC's corrupt Hoosier cousin IEDC

As someone who was living in Indiana when Mitch Daniels came to power in 2005, I recognize a good pay-to-play privatization scam when I see one. I've mentioned the desire that Walker has to turn Wisconsin into the Hoosier state in the past (and how Indiana underperformed Jim Doyle's Wisconsin with those policies in place), and this desire was reiterated in the notorious "divide and conquer" conversation Scotty had when he was literally kissing up to billion-heiress Diane Hendricks.
Hendricks: - and become a right-to-work (state)? What can we do to help you?

Walker: Well, we're going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is, we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer. So for us the base we've got for that is the fact that we've got - budgetarily we can't afford not to. If we have collective bargaining agreements in place, there's no way not only the state but local governments can balance things out. So you think city of Beloit, city of Janesville, any of the school districts, that opens the door once we do that. That's your bigger problem right there.

Hendricks: Which state would you mirror? Is there any state that's already . . .

Walker: Well, (Indiana Gov.) Mitch Daniels, did - now, see the beautiful thing is, he did it in Indiana, he had it by executive order that created the unions years ago, and so when he came in about a week after he eliminated through executive order. In Wisconsin, it's by the statute. So I need lawmakers to vote on it.
And that's part of the reason I had alarm bells going off when Scott Walker announced the creation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Committee (WEDC) in 2011. Look at the language that is lifted directly from any press release IEDC gives when they hand out their tax breaks to companies.
About IEDC:
Created by Governor Mitch Daniels in 2005 to replace the former Department of Commerce, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation is governed by a 12-member board chaired by Governor Daniels. Dan Hasler serves as the chief executive officer of the IEDC.

The IEDC oversees programs enacted by the General Assembly including tax credits, workforce training grants and public infrastructure assistance. All tax credits are performance-based. Therefore, companies must first invest in Indiana through job creation or capital investment before incentives are paid. A company who does not meet its full projections only receives a percentage of the incentives proportional to its actual investment. For more information about IEDC, visit
You can see that WEDC is a carbon copy of IEDC, right down to the folding of the Department of Commerce and the Governor's appointed crony board.

And I bet this'll stun you, but the IEDC has been beset by corruption and lies about its effectivness. Here's an excellent in-depth report from Eyewitness News 13 in Indianapolis showing that Daniels and IEDC inflated the number of jobs created on its tax-credit funded projects, and left out companies that got breaks but didn't come through on jobs.
Only a fraction of job commitments announced by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation have resulted in actual Indiana jobs, according to an independent IEDC program review obtained by Eyewitness News.

The review, presented to the IEDC audit committee earlier this month, is part of an audit that examines how state job numbers are collected, tracked and announced by IEDC. The numbers presented in the audit offer a stark contrast between the job realization figures cited by Governor Mitch Daniels and his job creation agency and those reported by auditors and WTHR. It also presents statistics in a manner that allows state leaders to still cite high levels of job creation, even though the realization figures suggest otherwise...

And nowhere does the audit report mention the 98,683 total new job commitments announced by IEDC from 2005 to 2009. Using that number – which IEDC and the governor have repeatedly promoted in their press releases, speeches and annual reports – the audit data suggests, so far, only 38% of jobs announced by IEDC have resulted in actual jobs. While that percentage is expected to increase in coming years (some of the companies are not expected to fulfill all of their job commitments for several more years), the overall numbers show IEDC's real job realization statistics are much lower than the agency portrays to the public by citing far more limited data....

Why does IEDC boast that 800 companies will bring 98,683 jobs to Indiana in its press releases and annual reports, but then omit 200 of those companies from its jobs data when calculating its job realization numbers?

Despite repeated requests from Eyewitness News, the agency has not yet explained its justification. So far, IEDC has also not granted WTHR's request to speak directly with members of the Crowe Horwath audit team that helped prepare the report. The auditors are contractually prohibited from speaking about the audit without written permission from IEDC.

But sources close to IEDC tell WTHR the agency chooses to include only "reporting companies" in its job realization numbers because those companies are more likely to have been successful in creating jobs. Companies that are required to report their job-creation data to the state have formally accepted a state incentive package (which often includes tax breaks and training grants offered by IEDC) and that shows a higher level of commitment to create jobs that have been promoted by IEDC.
Nice transparency, eh? And you thought it only happened in Fitzwalkerstan.

Much like Wisconsin, Indiana also had a cronyist hack in charge its EDC at the time of that report, Mitch Roob, who quit his job at IEDC last September to go through the revolving door to a medical services firm. Roob also was part of a notorious scandal where Indiana's welfare-intake program took case workers off the street, and instead services were sold off to IBM in a call center-type system, (with some of the business sub-contracted to Roob's old employer in Texas). It failed so badly that the state had to take it back over within 3 years, at huge cost to taxpayers. In fact, there was just a lawsuit last week where the Indiana's attempts to get $170 million back from IBM was turned down. Sound like a familiar plan to you? It should.

And IEDC's cronyism and giveaways continue to draw fire, including an Indianapolis Star report last month that shows IEDC handed out tax credits to two different California companies whose owners had bankruptcies and tax liens in their recent past. And when local officials in Madison, Indiana expressed skepticism about giving away local tax dollars to help the previously-bankrupt Mynette Boykin locate a promised business in town, IEDC told them to back off.
At first, it seemed as though she was simply going to be making parts of a generator. Then it appeared that was going to be one of several unspecified "other products." Then, at the last session, she talked about how her company was also going to make batteries.

So council members kept asking questions. And some thought the answers were inadequate.

By the last executive session May 21, it became clear the project lacked majority support on the council.

Regardless, IEDC official Wanda Heath was there, and she addressed the council for the first time. She sounded irritated. "You could tell she wasn't happy," said Councilman Darrell Henderson, a Democrat.

She also made it clear that she felt that Madison council members weren't doing their job properly.

"She said, 'You guys are moving way too slow; you're making Madison look bad; this process should never take this long; no business is ever going to come to Madison being treated like this,' " said Councilman Rick Berry, a Republican.

"I really thought that was out of order," another councilman, Republican Jim Lee, said.
Sure makes you wonder if IEDC and Ms. Boykin had another investment in mind- a nice payoff to their well-connected buddies at the Indiana Statehouse, and a good "job creator" headline in the unsuspecting media. Regardless of whether anything actually happened and if it crowded out more legitimate businesses from growing.

So when you see the deceptions and cronyism that have wracked IEDC, and then you know that WEDC has already been afflicted with sketchiness and budget deficits in its short existence, you have a right not to trust either Daniels or Walker's plans. Then combine with the fact that Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state last month, and you can see where WEDC and Walker staffers might be itchy on the trigger finger when it comes to making for a good photo op that costs us all a helluva lot more in the end.

After all, when you're Scott Walker and want to be like Indiana, why wouldn't you make backroom deals like the corrupt corporatist Hoosier you idolize, Mitch Daniels?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Deficit panic! We'll be just like Europe!

Yep, we should definitely look at Europe and see the dangers of a big deficit. After all, we have Spain's bonds going for 7.45% and Greece possibly running out of money within the month. Given our own deficits, I imagine U.S. bond rates are also going way up, since no one wants to buy our shit either. Right?

Uh, maybe not, that shows interest rates BELOW THE RATE OF INFLATION (H/T to Econbrowser). In fact, the U.S. 10-year note is now down to 1.40%, as investors can't seem to buy enough of America's debt.

But hey, European-style austerity should still be the way to go. After all, the UK, Spain and Greece may be going through tough times, as will happen with any contractionary policies, but at least they've gotten their deficit down with these measures, right?

Look at Spain, for example-
Concern over Spain increased after the central bank said Monday that the economy contracted by 0.4 percent during the second quarter. The government predicts the economy will keep contracting into 2013 as new austerity measures — such as tax hikes and benefit cuts — hurt consumers and businesses.

The gloomy outlook has increased worries about public finances because shrinking economic output deprives the government of revenue it needs to lower the deficit. The government has earlier this year conceded it will not meet its target to reduce the 2012 deficit to 5.3 percent of GDP, aiming instead for 6.3 percent.
Alright, alright. But Spain has 25% unemployment and was goofed up before austerity. Let's look at Greece and the UK instead.
David Cameron is now receiving daily written updates on the deteriorating situation and was warned earlier this week that a Greek bankruptcy in the next month is now a serious possibility.

Official economic figures to be published today are expected to show that Britain suffered from a third successive quarter of negative economic growth — suggesting that the country is still in recession. If the figures are negative, it will be the longest double-dip recession for more than 50 years.

Ministers are expected to blame the continuing economic turmoil in Europe for this country’s failure to recover from the last slump.

One senior source said: “Europe is now paralysing almost every economic initiative.

“The daily analysis of the situation is filled with doom and gloom. Spain is in turmoil and Greece may run out of money by Aug 20.”
And given that the UK has been spending the last several months hiring people and building up stuff for the Olympics, the fact that they're still in recession is a scary thought.

In Wisconsin, we've seen that austerity doesn't work when you want to create jobs and recover from an historic economic downturn (Wisconsin employment is down 30,000 jobs since Act 10 was passed in March 2011). In the rest of the U.S., jobs continue to be created, with private sector job growth in each month since early 2010.

And yet dingbats like Paul Ryan want these failing European-style austerity measures on the spending side, but they don't want austerity on the revenue side by making the rich pay more taxes. This is despite the fact that the only time we did cut our deficit in the last 30 years and had anything resembling shared prosperity was in the 1990s, when the rich paid higher taxes and we cut military spending.

Which means that if this country is stupid enough to put greedheads like Ryan and Mitt Romney into positions of power, we deserve the massive Depression that so far Obama has kept us out of. Just like low-income rednecks in Wisconsin deserve the unemployment and low wages they're guaranteed for themselves when they voted to retain Scott Walker.

Expecting austerity spending cuts to allow an economy to grow is like expecting the Brewers bullpen to hold a lead over the last month. You're a damn fool if you expect good results to come through, and it's only by random chance that it would even pay off once.

Thoughts from up North- DPW should get in gear

Just got back from 4 days up North at the family's cabin in Vilas County. It's amazing country up there, and it's sure nice to see things be all green somewhere this Summer. On the 4-hour drive up and back, I saw a few things worth noting from the road and the lake, and figured I'd relay them here.

1. There are a few signs out for the GOP Senate primary in 3 weeks, but the only ones you see are for Hovde and Thompson. Hovde's buying of TV time has clearly put him in as the main challenger to Tommy, and the Hedge Funder's campaign even seems to be taking a page out of Scott Walker's book by planting yard signs in numerous open spaces to give an impression of even bigger support (this is illegal, by the way).

What I didn't see was any indications that Tammy Baldwin was running for Senator. Yes, I know that Tammy isn't being challenged in the Dem primary and her campaign wants to save a lot of $3.5 million she has on hand, but exposure and name recognition does matter in elections. I don't know why Wisconsin Dems cling to this archaic mentality of accumlating money, and then throwing on ads late in the game. The average Northwoodser is barely aware of who the Dems have running, and who Tammy Baldwin is. Russ Feingold taking it easy in Summertime in 2010 led to us getting (Mo)Ron Johnson as a Senator, and I fear another empty corporatist suit like Hedge Fund Hovde might get away with this one if Tammy doesn't go public and forceful soon. It wouldn't hurt the Dems to make a few signs and have Tammy on the tube a bit. Hey Dems, put down the PoliSci textbook and get in the game outstate, will ya?

4. And if the Dems get a strong clean government, anti-inequality message out and into the public eye in rural Wisconsin, I think the audience would be receptive. I mean, look at what they get to see on a daily basis.

This isn't a scared cesspool like Walkershaw County where people live in lame communities with no character and whose "scenery" consists of strip malls and SUVs. One of the special things about most of Wisconsin (much of the 262 excepted), is that quality of life MATTERS, and if the DPW actually gets out into these great areas of the state and plants signs and gets faces in front of the public, they can win big, because "self-absorbed greed and sprawl doesn't really apply in the Northwoods" But the Dems have to make that effort, and so far in 2012, I fear they're not making enough of one.

3. Signs can tell you something about the way things are viewed outside of the urban jungle. I saw a few "Recall Santa, I didn't get what I wanted" bumper stickers, which is an offensive pile of projection if there ever was one (what the GOP has done to try to sabotage Obama the last 3 1/2 years defines this far more than the Wisconsin Uprising ever did). But it also illustrates the Dems' major failing in the recall campaign. The DPW should have been constantly explaining that Walker's and WisGOPs lies and deceptions were the reason this recall was happening, and that their corruption and circumventing of a clean legislative and electoral process were recallable offenses. Instead, the Dems tried to treat the recall election as a normal campaign, with the assumption that people felt the recall itself was OK once enough signatures were verified, and they never went back to explaining how we got to that point.

This allowed Walker and his propagandists to make the argument of "A recall isn't necessary, this is just Dems complaining about GOP policies." And enough rubes and cynics fell for it, allowing for the "Recall Santa" meme to make sense to this group. The Dems' failure to prosecute the reasons for the recall helped to explain the notorious exit poll finding that that 60% of June 5 voters thought there needed to be criminal malfeasance in order for a recall election to be warranted. And since Walker hasn't been criminal charged (yet), it's safe to say there were a sizable amount of voters who kept Walker in power not because they agreed with his tactics or policies, but because they disapproved of the recall election itself.

3. In a related note, I saw that the Portage County GOP put a sign up on I-39 thanking Governor Walker for his moves, and proclaiming "No unions in government!" Ironically, this sign was in Waushara County, probably because Republicans have zero credibility or chance of winning in Portage County (Barrett won the county despite UW-Stevens Point students being home for the summer, and Obama won it by more than 20% in 2008). But this again goes to the DPW's biggest mistake- they just assume the average person will "get it" and they never take the time to explain issues to people. With items like the WEDC scandal (now it turns out that they made a $12 million backroom deal with Skyward before the bid closed, proving that the Walker Admin lied about what they knew), we need independent, unionized civil servants more than ever as a way to check corrupt political hacks.

But how often you ever hear the "clean government working for the people" argument from the Dems over the last 17 months of this uprising? It's one that has huge resonance to the average citizen, who has a gut feeling that government is corrupt and that things aren't working out for people like them who play by the rules, but doesn't have the time or effort to figure out why. The WisGOPs bully their way into the conversation through their ownership of talk radio and ads, and the Dems don't do nearly enough to COUNTER WITH THE TRUTH. So the low-wage earners in rural Wisconsin are fed anti-union WisGOP propaganda like that road sign, get jealous of public employees who make better wages and have better benefits, and are likely to want to tear them down if given the chance, as UW's Katherine Cramer Walsh so accurately pointed out last month.

The Dems should be reminding people that government power and influence deserves the checks that unionized public employees give, and that these citizens should be demanding those same benefits and wages at their private-sector job. (If the DPW wants a primer, feel free to read my post on the subject and use what you need). But instead DPW officials stay silent, asssume the average Joe will "figure it out", and don't directly talk enough with rural, low-wage Wisconsinites about these issues and this situation. With that in mind, it is understandable that these people get suckered into voting for Republicans, continuing their cycle down the drain.

So please, DPW, I'm asking you- GET YOUR CANDIDATES ON TV AND OUT IN PUBLIC NOW. Stop taking people's intelligence and ability to do political research for granted and make them have to pay attention to you. This is what obnoxious Republicans already do to an extreme, and because too few Dems speak up, it fools bystanders into thinking that Republicans have workable solutions (even though they don't). The 2012 general election campaign should have started yesterday for the DPW, and it certainly needs to start before the primary on Aug. 14.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

WEDC- Unaccountable Fitzwalkerstani cronyism that is loaded with fail

Looks like a couple of other shoes dropped on the sketchiness associated with the new Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in the last few days. The first was the giveaway of $62.5 million in tax credit corporate welfare to Kohl's Corporation to allow them to expand their headquarters in Menomonee Falls.

Add in other giveaways and TIF write-offs by the Village of Menomonee Falls, this Forbes 200 company now stands to get $100 million in tax breaks that'll have to be made up by people who actually do pay taxes over the next 15-20 years (and that's not even bringing up the increasing need to maintenance up the Zoo Interchange and Hwy. 45 due to the sprawl caused by having a major employer headquarters in the sticks). But hey, when you lost more jobs than any other state in the country last month, I suppose you need some kind of headline that can misdirect the media's attention- no matter what the cost is to us that are left behind after Walker leaves, either to prison or to go to the Sarah Palin Memorial Wingnut Welfare Circuit.

And it's not like it's the first time WEDC has given away millions to huge Wisconsin corporations. Such as the $2 million in write-offs to Shopko or the $4 million loan it gave to Spectrum Brands to help it move headquarters from Madison to Middleton. These giveaways will be shown in lower tax revenues to the state in the next few years, and despite the promises given by the corporations and this pro-corporate administration, I can bet the jobs "created or saved" won't make up for those losses, putting the state even further in the hole.

But let's back up and take a look at WEDC itself, and you can see why they take part in such failed policies. Remember that WEDC was spun off of the state Department of Commerce as part of one of those "special session jobs bills" that Walker got the Legislature to jam through at the start of his tenure in January 2011, and the first WEDC annual report goes over the goals of WEDC and I'll also emphasize a few passages that shows how they removed regulation from the agency.
Act 7 designated WEDC as the lead economic development organization in the state, and charged it with:
􀂃 Developing and implementing economic programs to provide business support, expertise, and financial assistance to companies that are investing and creating jobs in Wisconsin;
􀂃 Supporting new business start‐ups and business expansion and growth in Wisconsin;
􀂃 Developing and implementing any other programs related to economic development in Wisconsin.

To implement these objectives, WEDC created a four year strategic plan with the mission of elevating the Wisconsin economy to be the best in the world by providing a positive business climate, world‐class support services, and economic development tools to accelerate business start‐up, attraction, and growth. The strategic plan identified key goals and indicators to be targeted by WEDC and an extended network of economic development organizations in Wisconsin known collectively as the “Accelerate Wisconsin” partnership.

In conjunction with Act 7, the 2011‐2013 Budget provided the mechanisms for transitioning Commerce’s economic and community development functions to WEDC. Effective July 1st, contracts primarily related to community and economic development were expressly transferred to WEDC. The regulatory functions of Commerce along with the Department of Regulation and Licensing were merged into a new state agency, the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).

The creation of WEDC in Act 7 has added benefits for accountability and transparency of economic development objectives. The transfer of non‐economic development functions allows WEDC to focus on business and job growth objectives. The increased flexibility and elimination of specific program mandates improves the ability to have consistent metrics and evaluation protocols for all WEDC initiatives. The public‐private structure and approach of WEDC increases the likelihood that performance metrics will be used for ongoing continuous improvement management rather than solely as a biannual audit report to drive policy change.
So Walker removed the oversight functions from Commerce, and stuck it in a new department that would take a while to get everything coordinated and figured out. This allowed WEDC to concentrate on meeting with corporations to figure out where to plan their next taxpayer-funded giveaway without some pesky, independent unionized employee to say "Hey, this deal makes no sense," or ask "Doesn't this seem to be corrupt favortism to you?"

Then combine this with the fact that Walker stacked the WEDC board with his own appointments as well as members of the GOP-controlled Legislature, and you have a system set up to reward cronies and contributors instead of independently awarding credits and incentives to the best-qualified businesses and needs.

So with that lack of oversight and internal control, can you be surprised at the attempted bid-rigging involving the state's information system for schools? Heck, the head of WEDC admitted he was told that they didn't need to follow state rules on fair and open competition.
Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. leader Paul Jadin told The Associated Press his legal team advised him that the offer to Skyward Inc. was allowed because the year-old agency isn’t bound by procurement laws that forbid bid-rigging.

“It was indicated that we could make a contingency offer,” Jadin said in his first public remarks on the controversy since it came to a head earlier this month. “We’re satisfied that we could make the offer.”

Others in state government didn’t see it that way, and Democrats on Friday issued their most forceful criticisms of the deal to date, calling it sleazy and illegal.
Now the Walker Administration backed out of the contingency-laden bid to Skyward, but we all know that was only because they got caught trying to put one over on the taxpayer and other companies that wanted the business. And it makes you wonder if the public-private nature of WEDC exempt it from Open Records Requests that can be filed to see just what kind of decision process went into giving these tax credits away, and if there were any backroom deals associated with it? Don't doubt that Walker's puppetmasters had this very secrecy in mind when they set WEDC up.

The other two stories on WEDC this week doesn't exactly fill me with confidence that they'll clean things up in the future. First was the hiring of 30-year old political lifer Ryan Murray to be the No. 2 guy at WEDC at $106,000 a year. Given Ryan's zero years of corporate or civil service experience, I'm gonna bet he'll be following quite a bit of orders from his boss in the Governor's Mansion and the contributors that kept that Governor in power. After all, there's tens of millions in campaign contributions to pay back from the last 18 months.

And WEDC is already more than $14 million in the hole, contrary to its earlier promises. This means that taxpayers could well be shelling out more money toward this unaccountable agency in future years (and increasing Walker's already-large 2013-2015 budget deficit). It also means that WEDC won't be able to use as many incentives like grants and loans in future years, when they may be needed more and could go to more deserving candidates, and tying the hands of future governors and politicians.

Of course, today's GOP loves to take short-term gains and headlines in favor of FUBARing things for the next guy, because fiscal constraints make it more likely that failed policies can't be replaced with something that might actually work for both taxpayer and corporation. It also gives them the extra bonus of being able to whine about the "lack of results" when Democrats try to fix up the mess they caused. It's the same routine that the GOP has tried on Obama the last 3 1/2 years, (it sure worked in Wisconsin in 2010) and it's even more effective at the state level, where governments can't run deficits to finance the transition.

It almost makes you think the mismanagement and cronyism of WEDC isn't a drawback in Walker World. Instead, these crooks probably view it is as a positive thing that allows both WEDC officials and corporate contributors to grab as many short-term gains at taxpayer expense as they can. And it allows them to skip town when the bill comes due, leaving us holding the bag.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sadly, I was right- June jobs report horrendous in Fitzwalkerstan

I mentioned in the previous post that the Walker's Administration's shake-ups at WEDC gave me the feeling that this June's Wisconsin jobs report would be bad, but I had no idea it was this awful. 13,200 seasonally jobs lost overall and 11,700 in the private sector for June. Yes, some of that is due to the fact that job numbers get deflated due an adjustment due to Summer job season (as I explained earlier this month), but that doesn't explain why Wisconsin still lagged behind other Midwestern states such as Minnesota (+7,200), Ohio (+18,400) and even Illinois (+800).

And seasonality certainly doesn't explain why Wisconsin is down 20,000 private sector jobs since Walker's budget was signed 12 months ago. Today's BLS state-by-state report shows Wisconsin has by far the worst job peformance of any state since the Fitzwalkerstan budget came into law, with nearly 15,000 more jobs lost than the 2nd worst state (Rhode Island). The Walker jobs deficit exploded last month, and now has reached more than 75,000 jobs, with more than 60,000 private sector jobs in that gap happening in the last 12 months.

Wisconsin total employment vs. U.S.

Wisconsin private sector employment vs. U.S.

Scott Wittkopf at Badger Democracy has a lot more on this, including the return of 7.0% unemployment in Wisconsin, and the incredibly lame excuses Reggie Newson and the rest of the Walker Administration have for this unacceptably bad performance. I'll point you that way, as I'm heading up North for a few days away from 90 degree heat and to see family.

But I think this June jobs report proves one thing- it sure as hell wasn't "uncertainty surrounding the recall election" that kept companies from hiring. Unless you believe that Walker retaining his job caused companies to bail on Wisconsin and look elsewhere because they know things will remain screwed up in Fitzwalkerstan. Strangely I don't hear the Walker folks going with that spin, but why might that not be true? It sure seems closer to reality than the crap excuses he and his boys have been peddling the last year.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

And the hackery continues at the Capitol

As the heat and drought lingers on, our fair Governor gets to work with the people's business, by putting more of his hand-picked hacks in charge of state agencies that can strike deals with favored businesses.

This time, it's the shake-up at WEDC after their staff got caught trying to steer a $15 million state contract and a promise of tax credits to Skyway Communications. And among the new guys in charge of the business development agency is 30-year-old Ryan Murray, whose entire post-college career has been spent working for GOP politicians and campaigns. Murray now will pull down a cool $103,000 in taxpayer dollars for this new gig, and I know this will shock you, but he's also in close with Scott Walker, as he was a "policy analyst" for Walker's 2010 election campaign (hey, wasn't "policy work" that also Kelly Rindfleisch's job in Milwaukee County?), and then became a Walker-appointed higher-up at DOA after Scotty took office in January 2011.

This shouldn't surprise you, as Walker has a long pattern of hiring hacks whose main attribute is political maneuvering and the promise that they'll have Scotty's back, with competence waaaaay down the list. In fact, Murray was a trusted confidant during the Wisconsin Uprising, as you'll see his name plenty of times in this cache of emails from the days after Walker dropped the bomb. Among the fun notes is when Walker staff is notified of a rumor that Sen. Chris Larson may still be in his Madison office, Murray says "Catch him."

So expect Ryan Murray as the Number 2 guy to operate much as DNR Number 3 appointee Scott Gunderson did when GOP donor Herr Environmental dumped shit near Oconomowoc homes- to listen to GOP politicians like Rep. Joel Kleefisch, and pass the buck in favor of those who paid the GOP's bills. And if it gives away the farm at the expense of everyone else, big deal.

Scott Wittkopf at Badger Democracy has a strong rundown of Murray's "experience", and how transparent a payback this really is. But hey, Ryan Murray's the kind of company man that Scotty needs on the payroll in the Biz Development office, even if he's never spent a day in the corporate sector in his life. (Of course, neither have Scott Walker or Paul Ryan, but they sure talk a lot of good game about it. Maybe Ry's just following in their footsteps).

Hmm, given that the Walker folks are making a big show out of cleaning house at WEDC, anyone else get the impression that there might be a bad jobs report on the way tomorrow? I sure do. It would be a classic misdirection play by this immature, bumbling administration that might be good at the spinning and campaigning thing, but boy do they suck at actual governing.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Corporates and big money invest in politicians, not jobs

You know, if the vaunted "job-creators" actually did what trickle-down flim-flammers said they do, we'd be in an economic boom right now. It was announced at the end of June that U.S. after-tax corporate profits were up 13.1% year-over-year, and were at their highest dollar amount ever at $1.65 trillion. And despite how this story tries to spin it, corporate taxes aren't up all that much to begin with, as corporations are paying pretty much the same amount of taxes they paid 2 or 4 years ago despite the increase in overall profits.

U.S. corporate tax collections.

So why did hiring stall out in the 2nd Quarter with these increased corporate profits(in addition to the fact that seasonal adjustments deflate the number of jobs that actually do get added)? Take a look at the political donation numbers over the same period.

Nationwide, there was a combined $177 million was thrown into the presidential campaigns of Romney and Obama in June alone, and Super PACs also have raised well over $100 million for 2012 so far.

Locally, look at the obscene levels of campaign spending in Wisconsin's June 5 recall election. Scott Walker got $6.9 million thrown his way in the last month before the election, and challenger Tom Barrett received $2.5 million. The Senate and Lt. Gov recall elections will probably show another $2 million or so spent, and we're not even bringing up the outside PAC money and other funds thrown at the race.

And now the big press releases relate to Congress races and their 2nd Quarter reporting, which includes around $2 million going toward Senate Republicans, and Dem Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin getting $2.2 million in donations. For the U.S. House, around $3.7 million was donated to the various candidates in Wisconsin, including a sickening $956,000 for the biggest corporate whore flim-flam artist there is- Paul Ryan.

It's quite clear that the low tax rates on the rich and corporate (along with horseshit Supreme Court decisions in both Citizens United and the recent Montana case) are a big factor in the exponential increase in campaign contributions. These privileged groups have decided to invest in politicians to grow their company's numbers instead of investing in people and products.

And given the last 20+ years of results, can you blame them? It clearly works for the 1%ers. Let me remind you of this graph I found last year, which shows the uncoupling between productivity and wage growth, with all the resulting profits going overseas or into owners' pockets- a combination that has screwed our economy.

Despite this clear evidence that low taxes on the rich and corporate leading to policians being bought off and profits being increasingly wasted on similarly wasteful activities, I guarantee you that Hedge Fund Hovde will be invading my Brewer game with his BS commercial complaining about how "excessive" corporate taxes are in the U.S. and how he'll drop them even further. Corporate media is dependent on these funds to make for profits with their TV and radio stations, so they won't be very inclined to tell the truth about the Eric Hovdes of the world have made millions by stealing the proceeds that resulting from work by people who played by the rules and did things the right way.

Which means it's up to us to turn the tables on these huge fundraising numbers and political spending figures, and make the spending of the money on politicians an issue in itself. The huge amounts of donations from excessive corporate profits are clearly distorting this country's economic results, leaving the vast majority of us out in the cold with stagnant wages and rising needs in a time of increasing profits and productivity. And if we don't stand up and say "THIS ENDS NOW" over the next 6 months, I fear we will reach a tipping a point that we cannot return from in a amicable way.

The only upside is that it should make the market for guillotines very hot. And it won't just be paid-off politicians that'll be feeling the blade.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Heat melting Wisconsin economy?

Here comes another record heat wave for Wisconsin this Summer. 95 today in Madison, 99 forecast for tomorrow and 101 for Tuesday. Keep it cool out there folks.

It's already been an historic start to 2012 for warmth. NOAA revealed that each of the last 3 months have been the 3 hottest 12-months stretches on record.

Relatedly, NOAA confirms that Wisconsin had its warmest January to June in history, 1 degree a day warmer than the previous record. And the state's largest cities have also had historic heat from January to June.

Milwaukee- Hottest in 65 years
Madison- Hottest in 65 years
Green Bay- Hottest in 65 years
La Crosse- Hottest in 73 years

This doesn't count the 100-degree temperatures we had earlier this month, nor does it include the ones that are coming this week. That earlier heat wave fell during Milwaukee's Summerfest, and is being blamed for the Fest's drop in attendance of 8.3% for 2012, and a drop in revenue of 7.5%. We won't see the sales tax numbers by county until later in the Summer, but I'd be very interested to see if the heat has helped or hurt tourism. Even north of Highway 29, it's been in the 80s and 90s, and while that's a lot better than what we've had in the southern part of the state, a lot of these places don't have air conditioning, so we'll see if that trades off. Also very interested to see how the Dells Water Parks have done (I'd imagine well, although when it's 100 it's a bit hard to chill on the Lazy River).

Unfortunately, along with this heat has been the worsening drought, as shown in last Thursday's release from the U.S. drought monitor.

As you can see, 1/6 of the state went from moderate to severe drought in the first week of July, and you could see a repeat of that worsening coming up. Sure, a few portions of the state got minor relief with a lucky downpour or two over the weekend, but that sure didn't happen in the Madison area, where we only got 0.01 inch at the airport despite forecasts for scattered storms. And the only rain forecast for the rest of the week are scattered storms for Tuesday and Wednesday. Hoo boy.

A second "hoo boy," goes out because we have a Governor who has been AWOL while this drought has continued. Badger Democracy's Scott Wittkopf has an excellent article detailing Walker's dereliction of duty in these weather-stressed times. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi asked Gov. Walker on Thursday to request a federal disaster declaration for Wisconsin to expedite aid (Instead, Walker chose to spend last week writing dishonest anti-Obamacare op-eds and showing up at Mitt Romney events in Virginia) . GOP State Sen. Dale Schultz also asked the Walker Administration to take further action to help farmers.
“Across southern Wisconsin, livestock and crop farmers have no escape from serious financial damage due to six weeks of record heat and drought,” said Schultz, who chairs the Senate’s committee for agriculture.

Today, Schultz called upon a state authority to make low-interest emergency loans available to farmers struggling to survive the drought.

In a letter to Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority Executive Director Wyman Winston, Schultz wrote, “Farmers I have been in contact with inform me the damages they have already suffered will result in at least six to twelve months of financial hardship. They face cash flow shortages due to uncertain harvest timing and production levels, increased livestock feed costs, and other drought-related challenges.”

Schultz said WHEDA provided drought emergency loans during the historic drought of 1988.
While Walker concentrates on raising his name nationally, we have 11 Dane County fire fighting entities having to battle huge grass fires. It's now time to recognize that our hot summer is more than a curious footnote, but is instead causing real economic problems in Wisconsin, and it's also time to ask tough questions about why our governor doesn't seem to care about that.

WisGOPs go to war on voting, valuing power over democracy

To the surprise of no one with a shred of common decency, the Scott Walker-appointed GOP District Attorney in Racine County admitted that there was no proof of voter fraud in the June 5 recall election that flipped control of the State Senate to the Democrats.
The Racine County Sheriff's Department investigated four separate complaints of voting fraud at city polling places on June 5, but information received in the complaints did not support a criminal prosecution, [Racine County DA W. Richard] Chiapete said in a statement.

"Some of the information that was provided was anecdotal, as opposed to firsthand eyewitness accounts," the statement says. "Much of what was reported as fraud was more appropriately categorized as rule violations that are under the jurisdiction of the Government Accountability Board."

The state board is responsible for overseeing elections statewide and investigating such violations.

"Complaints about poll workers, same-day registration procedures and electioneering can be (violations), but in this case did not rise to the level of a crime in Wisconsin," Chiapete said.
In other words, a few partisan operatives whining and telling "he said, she said" stories to try to gain a political advantage does not = evidence. Naturally, this news was dumped on a Friday afternoon, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel buried the story in its online and printed editions (and you can bet JournalComm's radio hosts on AM 620 won't say shit about this on Monday after whining about "voter fraud" for weeks).

And as for the GAB, they condemned the Racine County GOP and WisGOP legislators for their frivolous accusations, and for carelessly trying to shed doubt on the integrity of state elections.
Speaking frankly on behalf of our agency and local election officials, absent direct evidence, I believe continued unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud tend to unnecessarily undermine the confidence that voters have in election officials and the results of the election. I know we agree that elections should be open and transparent and subject to scrutiny and analysis. I hope that, as an elected official, you would also agree that there is little benefit in promoting unsupported allegations questioning the credibility of the election process and the work of local clerks and election inspectors.

As the non-partisan agency charged with administering Wisconsin’s election laws, we view part of our responsibility as ensuring that each candidate elected to office enters upon those responsibilities with an equal degree of legitimacy based upon the votes of qualified electors. It is a responsibility we take seriously for you and your constituents, just as we do for other candidates and voters, regardless of partisan affiliation.
The GAB letter also indicates that new restrictions that the GOP-backed legislature have put huge burdens on election clerks, and that some are retiring from the job in frustration, which will lead to more potential hiccups at the polls in August and especially November. It's either amazing short-sightedness from Walker and WisGOP is refusing to understand the effects of their new voting restrictions, or it's the intellgence of the design of the legislation, because new poll workers making rookie mistakes allows them to whine more about "voter irregularities" and stir up the suburban racists that make up a sizable amount of their supporters (I'm going with the latter).

On the subject, here's a good article from the Root River Siren on how Racine GOP operative Lou D'Abbraccio broke election laws when it came to challenging the eligibility of voters in Racine during the June 5 election.
Poll observers are supposed to be just that - observers. They are not to talk to voters or poll workers and they agree to follow those rules when they sign in on the observer log at every polling place. If they observe something improper or incorrect - they are to report it to the Chief Elections Inspector at the polling place. If the complaint is not resolved the observer can file a report with the GAB.

It's actually quite simple.

The Chief Elections Inspector (CEI) is totally in charge. They have the power to decide what challenges are worthy and what challenges are crap. The CEI at the Bryant Community Center -where our story takes place - is Lillie Cameron. Ms. Cameron has been working the polls for years which means she has seen D'Abbraccio's act before.

What do we mean by act?

Well, imagine a polling place in the inner-city. Most of the voters are African-American and Latino. Most of the poll workers are minorities as well. Now imagine a big fat white guy who strolls in to that polling place so certain these minority people are breaking the law all he has to do is stand around for awhile and the crime will reveal itself.

Except Boss Hogg doesn't follow the rules he's looking to uphold. No, those rules are for them not him.

Boss Hogg (who in today's episode is played by Lou D'Abbraccio) talks to poll workers, he talks to voters and when he sees something he doesn't like he YELLS at poll workers, he YELLS at voters and then he YELLS at Ms. Cameron the Chief Inspector.
And the Siren goes on to explain that Louie threw a fit at the polls in full view of all workers and voters, and Ms. Cameron told him he was improperly challenging voters and to back off.

As an aside, I've been an election observer in the last couple of recall elections. The difference between me and Louie is that I felt my job was to make sure things are running smoothly (making sure ballots aren't running out or long lines occuring that might drive away voters, and giving the CEI the heads-up if I'm noticing anything), and to give hints on types of documentation that people may need in order to be able to vote. I also would look at the ballots as the polls closed and make sure the numbers added up (in both places I observed, this happened with no problems or disparities), and make sure absentee ballots were being counted and included. But as the Siren brings up, I DO NOT have any right to distract voters and technically can't do much with poll worker staff other than the CEI. And I blended into the background as best I could, and if things went well, I didn't do anything except make a couple of calls back to my group's headquarters giving updates on turnout at the polling place.

But then again, I was observing the election as someone who cared about this state and wanted to make sure democracy was being upheld in these big moments, with all people having the best chance to exercise their inherent right to vote. That's not the approach of Lou D'Abbraccio and the GOP operatives that care more about gaining power and gaming the system over making democracy better with improved amounts of participation from all segments of society.

In fact, Louie's Election Day tantrum is part of a two-step plan to create controversy. The next step in the plan is to turn these trumped up and false complaints are relayed on angry-man radio, and turned into "fact" in the minds of the right-wing propaganda machine. And then it creates an "issue" that lazy media now feels compelled to report on, which takes the cycle to another level, and gives these claims a perceived legitimacy that does not exist.

See, while Louie would certainly like to see dark-skinned voters in Racine have their votes thrown out, his real goal is to make a scene and throw doubt on the entire election and voter registration process, which creates the impression of a "problem" in Wisconsin that doesn't exist. And this opens the door for more restrictive voting laws to be proposed to solve this "problem", which drives down voter turnout and increases the chances of GOP candidates of winning. It also has a nice side effect of telling working-class racists in the 262 that they have a home in the Wisconsin GOP.

We need to make these race-baiters pay for the disgraceful act that they have pulled in Racine in the last 5 weeks, and remind people constantly that the Wisconsin GOP cares less about a functioning democracy, and cares more about winning and grabbing power and control.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

While U.S. gets better, Wisconsin unemployment claims are up

It didn't get a lot of notice by our main newspapers this week, but the Milwaukee Business Times had an alarming little blurb come out late Wednesday.
The number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits in Wisconsin last week spiked nearly 47 percent from the prior week, according to the latest estimate released today by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance grew to 14,558 in the state last week, up from 9,926 in the previous week and 13,547 in the same week a year ago.
Last week’s total for claims was the highest in Wisconsin since 15,045 filed for claims in the week of Jan. 28.
An economist at the Department of Workforce Development declined to comment on the new data.
Interesting how they clam up when the news sucks, eh?

What's worse about this report is that the rest of the country didn't have a similar spike. Yes, non-seasonally adjusted claims (which the states report) were up 19%, but that sure isn't 47% like Wisconsin, and because of fewer early July shutdowns in the auto industry and related reasons, seasonally-adjusted U.S. claims fell to 350,000, the lowest since Obama took office in 2009.

Now I'm not foolish enough to think a one-week change in claims during a week where the 4th of July fell in the middle is a game-changer, and I certainly think we should check back in a week or two to see if this was a one-week blip or the sign that things continue to improve nationwide (or slide in Wisconsin). But I certainly think we can start to look at the words of one Scott Walker, now that we have 5 weeks of data since the recall ended. Remember that in one of Walker's many recent speeches to out-of-state right-wing organizations Scotty claimed the the recall election was keeping employers from hiring, and that things would pick up after June 5 if he was kept in office.
During a jobs summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters near the White House, Walker said the recall results provided the certainty and stability that employers wanted before adding jobs. “June was a big month in terms of settling uncertainty,” Walker said, which along with lowering taxes and regulations he said were key for creating jobs.

“Last Tuesday, June 5, without a doubt gave people a clear answer to what was going to happen in Wisconsin,” Walker said, referring to the day he won a historic recall election over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Walker said before that election, that 87 percent of Wisconsin employers in a poll said they would add jobs in 2012, but were holding off because of the recall.
Of course, that "poll" was by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, who dumped millions into trying to retain Walker, so of course they'd claim that. It's a classic Walker lie by omission move.

Well, let's see the unemployment claim numbers for Wisconsin vs. the rest of the country, and see how we're shaping up.

Wisconsin vs. U.S. unemployment claims, year-over-year

As shown before, a number above 0 means that Wisconsin is doing worse than the U.S. when it comes to dropping unemployment claims, and unlike the huge advantages we had in 2009-2010 under the Doyle/ Dem budget, the unemployment trend is going up this year, and has accelerated since the recall happened. We'll see if the media wises up and starts to call out the Walker Administration for their "recall uncertainty" claims...and you can bet if that somehow does happen that the Walker folks will give some BS about Obamacare being upheld (which actually reduces uncertainty, since any business person worth a fuck should know what the law is and what it'll do).

And as mentioned before, given the big seasonal jobs deflator that hits Wisconsin in June and the fact that we continue to lag the U.S., I wouldn't expect much positive from the state jobs report that's due out this Thursday. We'll also see if we've had a large number of entrants into the work force, which would mirror the nearly 2.5 million people nationwide that have jumped into the work force nationwide the last 2 months (the real reason the U.S. unemployment rate has gone up from 8.1% to 8.2% since April).

If more people started looking for work in Wisconsin because Scotty said there'd be hiring after the recalls ended, don't be shocked to see 7.0% unemployment or higher come back to Wisconsin for the next few months, and for Walker's DWD to have some other lame excuse for why his policies have kept Wisconsin's economy behind the rest of the country for the last 18 months.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Walker repeats lie on Obamacare, avoids real Wisconsin problems

You might have seen that our fair governor decided to pen a little piece in the Washington Post this week, as he took time out from yet another out-of-state fundraising and oligarch club tour. This time it was to make more claims about how Obamacare would make states and individuals go broke and that it won't hold down premiums enough for it to be worthwhile.

As part of Walker's piece, you might have noticed this passage.
The bad news is that, from a practical standpoint, Obamacare will devastate Wisconsin. An actuarial study commissioned by my predecessor, a Democrat, and completed last year found that if Obamacare is implemented in Wisconsin:

● 100,000 people will be dropped by their employer-sponsored health insurance;

●59 percent of people who buy their own health insurance will experience an average premium increase of 31 percent;

●150,000 people will stop buying health insurance in the private sector and will instead become dependent on the government and taxpayers;

●Between 2014 and 2019, Obamacare could cost Wisconsin taxpayers $1.12 billion; after all federal aid and tax credits are applied, the state’s portion of the bill will be $433 million; and

●Approximately 122,000 parents, caretakers and pregnant women with an income of more than 133 percent of the federal poverty level will no longer be eligible for Medicaid.
And that study seemed familiar to me. A quick search of the Google told me why. Because it was part of a report given to Walker last August that said the overall effects of Obamacare were positive for Wisconsin, and would save huge amounts of money compared to the cost of doing nothing.

This blatant deception was exposed in an article by the State Journal's Shawn Doherty, and described the Walker Administration's muzzling from Professor Jonathan Gruber, who was asked to give the report on the effects of Obamacare for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
. "They picked out the most negative aspects of the report to highlight," Gruber told me in an interview. "Overall I think health care reform is a great thing for Wisconsin."

A key finding of the analysis -- that 340,000 uninsured people in Wisconsin will gain coverage by 2016 -- was not even mentioned in the press release issued by the state's Office of Free Market Health Care, which is the new department created by Walker to replace Doyle's Office of Health Care Reform, created barely a year earlier to carry out the federal Affordable Care Act....

Among the strict ground rules [of the DHS Press Conference]: reporters could not use any quotes provided by [DHS Secretary Dennis] Smith and other state officials during the course of an hourlong briefing and PowerPoint presentation (which didn't get to the good news about the increase in coverage for 340,000 people until the last of 16 slides.) Reporters could use only comments provided in the press release or afterwards in one-in-one interviews with Smith...

State officials did not invite Gruber to Wisconsin for the release of his study nor did they set up a conference call with him for reporters or even provide them with his contact information. That is unusual for an important report like this, which cost $400,000. "I usually do a presentation at least to the stakeholders and policy makers," Gruber says. But he's not that surprised. "I think it's basically because they interpret their results differently than I do," he says.
While most of the media was blindly running with Walker's side of the story yesterday morning, Citizen Action's Robert Kraig (who might know more about our health care system than Walker and Scotty's DHS appointees combined) was out with a press release to tell the truth about what Gruber said, and how Obamacare will save Wisconsinites hundreds of millions of dollars.
Walker does not mention the report findings that showed Wisconsinites who buy insurance on their own will receive $729 million in federal tax credits and subsidies to make health insurance more affordable and that 41% will receive significant premium reductions averaging 56%.

Walker also does not mention the report finding that 47% of Wisconsin small employers will see premium reductions averaging 16% or that most small employers who provide health coverage to their employees will continue to do so.

Crucially, Walker’s numbers on rate increases are all a result of a sorting out of the health insurance market that will take place when health insurance industry discrimination is ended. By pulling his numbers out of context, Walker hides from view that most people will be much better off in the long term once health insurance industry discrimination is outlawed. Walker’s rate increase numbers relate to those who would pay more in the short term because health care reform forces the insurance industry to end discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, age and gender, and requires higher quality coverage. In the current health insurance market, individuals and small groups of younger and healthier people get lower rates because the insurance industry discriminates against others and because it sometimes sells substandard policies that do not meet new national consumer standards.
Now, to the State Journal's Jessica Van Egeren's credit, she included responses from Kraig and Gruber as she modified her story on Walker's anti-Obamacare editorial (with a little help from a few readers who alerted them to it), but Scotty's old trick of "a lie travels half the way around the world before the truth can put its pants on" was done again. WisGOP did the same strategy for its BS about alleged voter fraud in Racine, which the GAB shot down in no uncertain terms today.

But hey, Walker got the national media attention that he craves. It's not like Wisconsin is in the middle of a severe drought or having major increases in unemployment claims or anything like that. I'd put it a little harsher than Dane County Exec Joe Parisi's disaster assistance request from this week, and instead put it to Scotty this way:

Hey Guv, while you're pressing flesh and sucking Koch in D.C., maybe you could drop by Congress and the Department of Agriculture and get a little help sent to Wisconsinites that actually do their jobs in Wisconsin? Whatcha say?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The real scandal in Waukesha County- Nickolaus' corrupt contracting

Obviously, the report releaed on Waukesha County's screwed-up election procedures is a pretty big deal. And not only because it pinpoints Kathy Nickolaus's general incompetence, secrecy and cluelessness in running this sketchy place's elections (the section in Chapter 9 on the total FUBAR job on the April 3 elections is particularly hilarious and eye-rolling). The Journal-Sentinel's big headline is about Nickolaus's blunders costing the county over $256,000, but as usual, the Journal-Sentinel seems to have missed the bigger story on this audit. And that relates to an item that shows up on page 54 of the audit.
Documentation from the 2010 Audit addresses a planned and withdrawn capital purchase request for new Insight machines.

During the discussions which led to the approval of this audit, there were numerous mentions of a 2006 capital project request by the County Clerk to purchase an election system. It appears that there was no capital project proposed regarding the 2006 purchase of ADA polling machines by the municipalities (see full discussion in the following section of this report). However, in 2008 the Clerk proposed a 2009 capital project for county-wide election equipment at a total cost of $600,000. The project was for the purchase of 100 Sequoia Optech Insight polling machines at a cost of $6,000 each to replace the Sequoia Eagle polling machines currently in use in the municipalities which were purchased by the County in the mid-1990s. The analysis of need stated the Eagle machines did not meet current federal standards and required programming on the DOS-based Unity software. Further, the use of two systems delayed the\ posting of election results on election night (partly because the use of the HAAT had not been approved). This project was withdrawn at the clerk’s request. Internal Audit could not locate documentation as to the reason for the withdrawal of the project....

There is no current plan to replace Eagle polling machines at County
The company mentioned is Sequoia Voting Systems, who notoriously announced incorrect winners of races in Florida and threw out thousands of votes in NYC. And while it takes a while in the Journal-Sentinel story to find this out, apparently there was a good reason Nickolaus backed off of buying the Sequoia equipment- not because they had a faulty record, but because she wanted to obtain the equipment illegally.
...that equipment was supposed to be replaced in 2009, but Nickolaus killed the project because county purchasing officials wouldn't let her award a no-bid contract, said Norm Cummings, county director of administration.

Now Vrakas and the County Board will need to spend unknown amounts of money in the 2013 and 2014 budgets to replace that equipment before the 2014 gubernatorial election, Cummings said.
That's right, Nickolaus wanted to give Sequoia a sweetheart deal to have a huge amount of Waukesha County's voting machines, and refused to go through a competitive bid process that may have saved the county thousands of dollars and/or gotten better equipment. Propos to Norm Cummings and Waukesha County purchasing officials for doing the ethical thing and telling Cheatin' Kathy to follow the rules. (and score another point for independent civil service)

Waukesha County wasn't the only place Nickolaus was propping up Sequoia, and a vendor called Command Central, which is based in a strip mall in Minnesota that also houses Michele Bachmann's offices. The Scott Walker Watch has an excellent rundown of the sketchy connections between Command Central and Wisconsin's election. That article also mentions a great connection that was revealed in Wisconsin Citizens Media Co-Op the month before the June 5 recall election.
Command Central is one of Wisconsin’s leading vendors of voting machines and election supplies. They are distributors for Dominion Voting Systems, a privately-owned electronic voting equipment company. Founded in Canada in 2002, Dominion is now based in Denver, CO, since their acquisitions of Premier Election Solutions, from Election Systems & Software (ES&S), and Sequoia Voting Systems.

Command Central deals directly with Wisconsin county and municipal clerks and is closely involved in their selection of voting machines, ballots, and other election supplies. Command Central does all the maintenance on the voting machines and provides tech support throughout the year, with a special “hot line” should clerks need help with glitches, etc., on election day.

In June 2011, the Wisconsin County Clerks Association held their annual summer conference in Ladysmith. Seventy-five county clerks from across the state came together to, among other things, “assist the legislators in developing sound legislation that affects county clerks and county government by providing accurate and useful information.” WCCA Legislation Committee chair at the time was Kathy Nickolaus.
And sure enough, Command Central got 46 Wisconsin communities to place new touch-screen election machines in time for the June 5 recall.

Now I'm not going to go too far with this, and I'm not going to say that the June 5 election was rigged (although there's some other fishy things that have happened since election day, like the cartridges with the vote counts in Crawford County and other places being sent to Command Central in Minnesota prematurely ). But between the unethical practices Kathy Nickolaus went through to try to get Sequoia Systems a contract for Waukesha County voting machines, and the general lack of trasnparency in the process, there are some serious issues that need to be kept in the light.

Because would you put it past these types or their superiors at WisGOP or the RNC to do something that compromised integrity to keep them in power? I sure don't. Let's see if the media stays on this part of the story, as this could be the real scandal if it goes where I think it might.