Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Growth elsewhere, but not in Fitzwalkerstan

Couple of reports again illustrate how things have flatlined in Wisconsin since the age of Fitzwalkerstan began in January 2011.

The first was the release from the BEA on metro and state personal incomes. There are lots of interesting items to splice and dice out of this, especially since you can drill down to the county level if you want, but first, let's show the places where total incomes grew the fastest and smallest in the U.S. in 2011.

You'll notice several Wisconsin areas in the dark yellow, or lowest 20% of income growth. These include Sheboygan, Oshkosh, La Crosse, Eau Claire, and Wausau, and Milwaukee, Fond du Lac, Green Bay and Janesville/Beloit joined these places in the bottom 40%. Only the Madison and Appleton areas had personal income increases above the U.S's rate of 5.2% for Scott Walker's first year in office - and Madison's high ranking was a much due to increasing population than income.

This bad performance is also reflected in Wisconsin's per capita income stats (or income per person), and it especially looks bad when you realize the state survived the Great Recession better than any of its Midwestern neighbors, and had a much smaller decline than the U.S. as a whole. These numbers also account for the extra damage to incomes caused by inflation.

Drop in real per capita income, 2008-2010
Wis. -4.49%
Iowa -5.17%
Ohio -5.32%
Minn -6.16%
Ind. -6.47%
Mich -6.70%
U.S. -6.79%
Ill. -7.34%

The stabilization policies put into place by the Doyle/Dem budgets did its job in stanching the bleeding from the diving economy, and real per capita income actually went up in Wisconsin by 1.6% in 2010. However, it wasn't enough for many citizens who wrongly took out their frustrations on the slow recovery on the Dems, and it led to the election of Scott Walker and Wisconsin GOP in November of that year.

So what did Wisconsin get in 2011? We got another increase in per capita income, but it was at a slower rate than we had in 2010. The state plummeted to next-to-last in the Midwest in income growth, and also went below the U.S. rate.

So the income stats are yet another example of how Wisconsin has largely missed out on the steady recovery the nation has been going through for the last 2 years. 2012 is much the same story, as this week's Philly Fed survey confirmed that Wisconsin was 1 of only 9 states that failed to have its economy grow between July and October 2012.

It continues a negative trend for us Cheeseheads in the Philly Fed survey, as Wisconsin has the worst economic growth in the Midwest for 2012.

2012 change in Philly Fed coincident index thru Oct.
Ohio +4.35%
Ind. +4.19%
Minn +2.57%
Ill. +2.39%
U.S. +2.30%
Iowa +1.80%
Mich +1.00%
Wis. +0.81%

Don't let Walker's propaganda-laden appearances at hand-picked employers fool you, whether it be in his fraudulent claims of a budget surplus, or in his claims of having Wisconsin's economy be in good shape due to his policies. It ain't working in Fitzwalkerstan, despite the fact that Walker took office with the state adding jobs and incomes above the national average. Which is quite a feat to screw up, when you think about it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

There's no skills shortage, just a shorting of pay

Here's a very good post from John Peterson's Democurmudgeon blog, where he discusses articles showing that the claims of a skilled worker shortage is complete bunk. The real problem isn't a lack of skilled workers- it's a lack of pay for people that have those skills. John quotes from Adam Davidson's article in the New York Times , and Davidson observes
At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. [the author of the article] spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs.

“It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages.
Huh, you can't find people who would spend their own time and money to learn a skill that are willing to accept $10-an-hour poverty-level work. 'Magine that.

In addition to not paying proper market wages, I pointed out a few months ago that these cheapskate employers refuse to pay for the training they say they want their employees to have.

Seems like a simple choice to me when it comes to getting skilled workers in 2012. Pay up, or stop bitching that you can't find anyone. Make the call.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wisconsin DHS doubles down on Logisticare, Badgercare fails

The other big news on Wedensday (other than the bloodbath at WTDY), dealt with Wisconsin Medicaid transportation contractor, Logisticare. The Atlanta-based Logisticare informed the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that they were terminating their contract and pulling out of Wisconsin. Logisticare won a bid from the Doyle Administration for the statewide service, and received a 3-year, $60 million dollar ontract to start work in July 2011 to contract with providers to give Medicaid patients rides to medical appointments and procuedures in all parts of Wisconsin except for the Milwaukee area. This was a change from the previously-run method of this type of Medicaid transport, which passed these responsibilities off to the individual counties to make deals with transportation providers. The DHS's thinking was that going to a "one-stop shop" to work out rides would save the state millions in taxpayer dollars, while taking the program under more direct state control.

The move to hire Logisticare immediately met resistance, as Madison's Badger Cab pulled out of ther contract with Logisticare one day after starting, claiming the company was incompetent and uncommunicative, and was hurting Badger Cab's regular operations. Other parts of the state had large numbers of complaints in other parts of the state about long wait times and bad customer service.

Then Logisticare took the Milwaukee-area contract in September 2012, and immediately the roof fell in. Within 2 weeks, the Journal-Sentinel was running articles describing massive no-shows by drivers for appointments and a huge increase in rides that Logisticare said it had not prepared for.

And these un-foreseen needs were a major part of Logisticare's letter informing the DHS they were pulling out of Wisconsin.
Since we started the contract on September 1, the usage of transportation services by the Wisconsin SE Medicaid members completely outstrips all other markets in Logisticare's experience....Utilization is running more than twice what we anticipated, and we cannnot sustain the program on the amount we bid.

It is interesting to note that in reveiwing the RFP pricing submitted by three bidders, the two national within 3% of each other, while the third bidder, which is a local taxi company that was providing the bulk of service under the old program, offered a price over twice as much as the national brokers. Clearly, with its knowledge of the program, the local firm was much more informed regarding the trip volume, and bid appropriately.

We are disappointed that the data was not made available in the RFP and that as a result program implentation did not go well. The negative press has caused irreparable damage to our reputation both in Wisconsin and nationally. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of waiting out another year of losses as we did on our other contract in the state.
Logisticare also blames DHS for not working with them to adjust services statewide, once it became obvious that things weren't working out well. So what's DHS Secretary Dennis Smith's response? To say the problem was in having the state privatize the services to a third party with a "one-size fits all" system, and that they're going to go back to the GOP's small government roots as the party of local control? Oh hell no. The DHS is doubling down on Doyle's strategy.
This announcement is not an indicator that we will go back to the old county-based system for providing members transportation to medical appointments or that we will be changing our approach to providing transportation to our members. We are committed to the transportation manager model in here in Wisconsin. I am confident that this model will work here in Wisconsin, as it has in other states.

We recognize that there were limitations to the original RFPs. The Department had limited data to share regarding utilization of these services and prospective bidders, including LogistiCare, did not have all of the data needed to submit a reasonable estimate of the costs to adequately staff to serve as the state’s non-emergency medical transportation manager.

This situation will be corrected and we believe a new contract can be secured that is both financially viable for a transportation manager and will still achieve savings for the state.”
Yep, the Walker folks think they can improve on the Doyle privatization idea merely by writing a better bid. And I'm sure this will be a clean bid with no preferred winner in mind when the parameters are written up. You know, like the multi-million dollar bid that had WEDC tax credits attached to a certain business before the bid closed, causing the bid to be withdrawn after the news became public. Even if this bid is done cleanly, hold onto your wallets, because you know this is going to cost a whole lot more than what was projected. So much for that "balanced budget", eh?

The people in western Wisconsin have seen how this works under Walker's DHS. Eau Claire-based Community Health Partnership announced in September that it could not continue to do DHS services for the elderly and disabled due to low reimbursement rates from the DHS, and over 350 people will lose their jobs at the end of the year as a result. This will probably lead to another business charging higher prices to DHS come January 1, and also will feature the inevitable adjustments and disruptions that come from having a new contractor in place for these vulnerable populations.

But that's not the only extra cost us taxpayers will be shelling out for the state's lowballing of CHP. Check out what just dropped this past week.
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Reggie Newson [on Monday] announced $25,000 in assistance is being provided to help Community Health Partnership employees facing layoffs.

DWD provided its regional partner, the West Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, the funding to initiate services to 353 employees of Community Health Partnership that are facing layoff on December 31. In the weeks ahead, the funding will be used to provide such services as career assessment and job search workshops....

As part of the Wisconsin dislocated worker program, DWD and the West Central WDB will continue to help the employees who request assistance in finding new employment.

In addition to the $25,000 for pre-layoff services, Workforce Resource may be eligible to receive a Special Response Grant to further assist the workers in search of new employment.
So instead of paying CHP a proper amount to continue services, Walker's DHS decided having a short-term cost savings was more worthwhile so they could claim a false budget surplus, and brag how their strategies are "working."

Now it'll cost us a whole lot more in the long-run as a result, with a lower level of service to Wisconsinites. Get used to this trend, because you're going to see a whole lot of it in the next year. None of these increases are reflected in the recently-released budget requests, which means they'll pop up as the budget is debated early nexct year. And those coming increased costs are a big reason why I've said the Walker claims of a "balanced budget" are bogus.

Friday, November 23, 2012

BillO wants to go back to the good ol' days? OK....

From Ruben Bolling courtesy of Daily Kos (click on it for full-screen)

And Ward, June, Wally and the Beav will be really shocked to find so much union-busting, given that the % of workers in unions were more than 3 times what they are today, and neared 40% of the working population.

I'm not even going into the huge increases in tax dollars that were shelled oout to educate Wally and the Beav in public schools and allowed them to have a low-cost college education available to them if they wanted it.

Hey, if BillO wants to go back to the high-tax, high-service and high-union '50s with its high rates of economic mobilization and protective tariffs, feel free. It's a little bit drastic compared to what I believe in, but I could go along with it.

That is what he meant by "traditional America", right?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

WTDY Thanksgiving Massacre shows how radio has fallen

The news that dropped this afternoon was another damaging blow for diversity of voices in Wisconsin media. That was the the firing of WTDY talk show how John "Sly" Sylvester and the station's entire news staff. The reason is apparently a format change, possibly to an all-sports format (because apparently 2 all-sports stations in Madtown isn't enough), but it certainly brings back to the forefront the issue of a lack of diversity in Wisconsin talk radio.

This news hit me a bit hard, because I worked as a part-timer for Sly and WTDY as I was going through grad school in the mid-2000s (mostly as a weekend board operator and as a HS sports color guy- though I did host a handful of hours). Despite the image you may have of him on the radio, he treated me well and always gave latitude to me and most of the other staff at the station. And TDY always kept a strong amount of its news and on-air programming local, which now apparently will be lost with the format change.

This is my biggest concern. It's bad enough that most of Wisconsin talk radio is a cesspool of right-wing lies and race-baiting, and that Sly was one of the very few counterweights to that onslaught of propaganda. Now all I can come up with on the left for Wisconsin is low-power 1290AM in Milwaukee, and the 1 hour Doug Cunningham gets on 92.1 FM - neither have the credibility and years of perspective Sly would bring to an issue. And the lack of local news reporters in the Capital City means less reporters who challenge politicians to the point that campaign hacks ask them to leave events out of fear of what they might expose. Instead we get more inexperienced reporters doing watered-down "he said, she said" journalism that allows the Scott Walkers of the world to throw out their junk without having people be able to call them out on it.

It's part of a larger, damaging trend in the radio industry, where local voices are deemed too costly by corporate owners. As a result, these local voices are dropped in favor of national programs that don't give the local flavor and insight someone like Sly could give to an issue such as same-day voter registration. The only voices that are allowed to be localized are the established stations who have long-running relationships with the local oligarchy, which causes them to go with right-wing hate that caters to the rich and the lowest common denominator (I'm looking at you, 620, 1130 and 1310).

And this is a trend that's affecting numerous radio stations in the country. Progressive stations in Portland and Seattle announced format changes to all-sports soon after President Obama's re-election- suspicious moves given the blue tenor of both cities. On the right, Clear Channel is apparently dumping huge amounts of local staff from its right-wing talk and music stations in several cities, including Madison.
On-air talent and behind-the-scenes employees have been shown the door or programming has been eliminated in markets that include Los Angeles, Boston, Tampa, San Diego, Madison, Wis., Springfield, Mo., Oklahoma City, Nashville, and, most recently, Toledo.

“Obviously they are trying to pay down their monster debt with Bain Capital,” said Tommy Butter, who was laid off from top-40 station WRVW-FM in Nashville in March. “Obviously, they are trying to fire their way to pay that debt down.”

Mr. Butter declined to give his legal last name to The Blade, and uses “Butter” as his radio name.

Since last year, Clear Channel hasn’t announced widespread layoffs or cuts, despite the steady stream of departures.

Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners, two private-equity firms, finalized their $26.7 billion purchase of Clear Channel in July, 2008, loading the company with debt. According to Clear Channel’s Nov. 2 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company had $16.4 billion in debt.
Yep, the same station that paid Mitch Henck's and Icki McKenna's salaries to kiss Mitt Romney's ass also are having huge layoffs ordered by Mitt Romney's company. Sickly hilarious, isn't it?

But this wrecking and one-sidedness of news-talk radio is no laughing matter. As now-former WTDY reporter Dylan Brogan put it in the Isthmus article
"I think it's sadly something that is not unique. Local radio is all but dead, and in Madison, we just moved one step closer to that," [Brogan] says. "I also think this is not indicative of one company. Clear Channel has all but ruined broadcasting, and it's forcing other companies to make decisions they wouldn't normally make."
The steady drumbeat of right-wing talk drowning out others is also a problem. If we don't get a diversity of voices that come from the communities we live in, it leads to a debasing of debate, we have a lower level of broadcasting on our airwaves. The slanted nature of certain stations also leads to a greater possibility that people will be deceived and vote on wrong information, as uncaring and/or biased media refuses to hold politicians accountable, and talk show hosts lie to their listeners in order to continue in their role as propagandists.

It also inevitably leads to blowbacks and stronger measures that have to be taken in return to answer the one-sided propaganda. This is where righties in the state better tread carefully if they try to dance on Sly's WTDY grave. I have a feeling Sly will be heard from sooner than later, after all there are blogs and podcasts that can be created, and if he has less to lose, he might be even more dangerous to Scott Walker and the WisGOPs.

No righties, your megaphones will not be spared. The Media Action Center already has challenged the FCC broadcast licenses of WTMJ and WISN because of the $1 million in free air time it gave to Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP during the recall elections this Summer. I have a feeling these stations don't want to have people protesting outside of their building demanding balance in media, nor do they want to see billboards exposing their stations as race-baiting propaganda controlled by the Bradley Foundation and other right-wing Wisconsin oligarchs.

We will have our voices heard, no matter how much corporate media may want us silenced and to go away. If we don't have the outlet for us to come together as a community on the airwaves, we'll create one in a much more rambunctious fashion in the streets. If it means pulling stunts, so be it. It also might involve amassing people in such numbers that the media can't help but take notice, as what had to be done in Winter 2011 on the Capitol Square.

Once a majority of people wake up and realize that much of Wisconsin talk radio is selling them destructive lies, their game and their profits are over. And we have to start the movement NOW.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Walker budget lies just don't stop

Today was when the Walker Administration released the budget requests for agencies, and gave their revenue estimates for the next budget. This document from Walker's DOA was quick to pat itself on the back for what it claims will be a structurally balanced budget for the upcoming biennium.
This letter finds our budget in a much stronger position than two years ago. We finished fiscal year 2011-12 with a positive fund balance of $342.1 million. As a result, we entered fiscal year 2012-13 with the largest opening balance since fiscal year 2000-01.

As reported in the annual fiscal report last month, under Governor Walker's leadership, Wisconsin made the largest contribution to the State's rainy day fund. The $108.7 million was the first time the state contributed to the rainy day fund in consecutive years. In fiscal year 2010-11, Wisconsin transferred $14.8 million into the fund.

Wisconsin has virtually reached a position of structural balance. At the introduction of the current biennium in February, 2011 Wisconsin faced a $3.6 billion structural deficit. For the coming biennium, agency budget requests exceed expected revenues by $91.4 million in fiscal year 2013-14 and by $80.0 million in fiscal year 2014-15, for a total of $171.4 million over the biennium.
Of course, we know the alleged budget surplus is a crock, and the "$3.6 billion Doyle budget deficit" claim was a lie based on a wish list from state agencies. And if you go inside the outgoing Doyle Administration's estimates in 2010, you'll find that they didn't use the Walker Administration's rosy scenarios when it came to revenue growth.

Remember, in late 2010 Wisconsin's economy was just starting to come out of the hole from the Great Recession, and had begun creating a few thousand jobs a month in that Summer, with that number picking up in early 2011. But the effect of this wasn't known on revenue growth at the time, and therefore, the Doyle DOA played it safe.

estimated revenue growth, Doyle budget request
FY 2010-2011 +4.25%
FY 2011-2012 +4.20%
FY 2012-2013 +3.40%

And it turned out they sold this short, because when the Legislative Fiscal Bureau re-estimated the revenue figures in May 2011, they showed that the 2010-2011 revenues were actually projected to be up 6.5% instead of 4.25%, and the following 2 years also had higher revneues as a result.

In fact, those LFB numbers help to illustrate the failure of the Walker era. Even as the Fitzwalkerstanis claim "stronger than expected revenues" helped cause the 2011-2012 alleged surplus, they still project total GPR revenues for FY 2013 to be $116 million LOWER than the LFB estimates from May 2011. And this is despite the U.S. economy being better than anticipated since that LFB paper dropped.

But the past failures of the Walker Administration doesn't deter his DOA from claiming things will take off from 2013-2015. Check out the revenue growth predicted by the Walker Administration for the next 2 years.

estimated revenue growth, Walker budget request
FY 2012-2013 +1.83%
FY 2013-2014 +3.77%
FY 2014-2015 +3.52%

The revenue growth assumes that estate taxes will resume in the U.S., adding $219 million to the state's coffers. This would be going over the fiscal cliff for this tax- and I'm cool with this actually happening, but I'm betting the oligarchs that pull Walker's strings aren't. In addition, the Walker folks assume that corporate income taxes will go up by a combined $54 million the next 2 years. Seems hard to believe as we've hard records profits in the U.S. the last couple of years, so it'd be difficult to keep that part up, and also because the Walker folks phased in many of their corporate tax cuts, such as the domestic production tax credit that could lower taxes to zero for many businesses by 2016.

That's not the only major bit of trickery in the Walker budget request. The DOA demanded that agencies keep their requested increases low, so the total amount asked for would only go up by a small amount. Compare that to the more honest Doyle budget, which asked all agencies to submit what they needed to fill all of their needs.

Difference in total GPR spending requests
Doyle year 1- +$658.5 million (+4.6%)
Walker year 1- +$528.9 million (+3.6%)

Doyle year 2- +$728.8 million (+4.9%)
Walker year 2- +$540.4 million (+3.5%)

Well no kidding that Walker's budget is likely to balance if the agencies ask for nearly $320 million less over the 2 years than they did under Doyle, even if those lower requests ignore the reality that more money has to be spent to meet the needs of Wisconsinites. And the budget requests don't even account for the extra expenses the state would have to come up with if major spending cuts go into effect for 2013.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, "[s]ubstantial changes to tax and spending policies are scheduled to take effect in January 2013, significantly reducing the federal budget deficit. According to the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO's) projections, if all of that fiscal tightening occurs, real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) will drop by 0.5 percent in 2013.... [This] will cause…the [national] unemployment rate to rise to 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013…[and then] economic growth will pick up..."

The fiscal tightening – also known as the fiscal cliff – compels a sequestration of funding streams that Wisconsin receives from the federal government, absent some other agreement. Medicaid and many other programs were exempted from the sequestration order. Initial reports indicate that Wisconsin has about $94 million at stake in fiscal year 2013-14 with the sequestration agreement.
This doesn't count the extra unemployment costs and other aid costs like Badgercare and related stabilizers if the country did fall back into recession due to the fiscal cliff taking full effect and nothing being done in 2013 about it. But the Walker folks decide to take the positive budgetary effects of going over the cliff through higher estate taxes, while ignoring the much higher expenses that would hit at the state level at the same time.

So not surprisingly, the Walker Administration's claims of a balanced 2013-2015 budget are based on sketchiness, combining a rosy revenue scenario while ignoring large spending needs that exist, particularly in light of the Walker Administration's cutbacks in this last budget. For example, the 2014-15 budget request for shared revenue to municipalities is lower than the actual shared revenue given four years before, and the 2013-2015 request only gets back $560 million of the $800+ million cut from K-12 aids. If that budget request was actually to become law, local governments would need to massively raise property taxes just to stay at their current levels, or find their services FUBAR'ed, with major disruptions to people's lives.

But the Walker folks don't care, as long as the numbers look good and they can strike a pose claiming that they "balanced" the budget. (Heck, they wouldn't mind if the services got FUBAR'ed- all the easier to sell them off if that happens) And because our media doesn't know enough to actually look at the real numbers, they might be fooled into falling for the "balanced budget" lie. However, I don't trust the LFB to be so gullible when they release their budget estimates in a couple of months, and now that you've been guided through the numbers, you know better as well.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The fiscal cliff- not fun, but can be wisely managed

  With all of the attention given to the alleged "fiscal cliff" that would hit in 6 weeks, I figured I'd look at  the actual CBO report on what would happen if all elements of the fiscal cliff hit at once, as well as broke apart the various portions of it.

First, let's see what the CBO says if no deal is made, and isn't made in 2013, so all budget cuts and tax increases hit.
According to CBO’s projections, if all of that fiscal tightening occurs, real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) will drop by 0.5 percent in 2013 (as measured by the change from the fourth quarter of 2012 to the fourth quarter of 2013)—reflecting a decline in the first half of the year and renewed growth at a modest pace later in the year. That contraction of the economy will cause employment to decline and the unemployment rate to rise to 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013. After next year, by the agency’s estimates, economic growth will pick up, and the labor market will strengthen, returning output to its potential level (reflecting a high rate of use of labor and capital) and shrinking the unemployment rate to 5.5 percent by 2018.
So CBO is saying we'd get a small recession at the start of 2013, and back to a slow expansion by the end of the year. Not good, and certainly a sharp difference from the growing economy we've been having, with GDP rising at 2% in the third quarter of 2012, and possibly to be revised higher with upward employment revisions and housing starts at its highest levels since 2008.

But not doing anything would also cut $502 million in deficit in 2013 compared to what we have now, and $682 million in 2014. Now some of that would be offset by the lower growth that would result, but if you think the number 1 priority is to reduce the deficit (which dropped by $200 billion in the last fiscal year, but was still at $1.09 trillion for FY2012), then you should be demanding to go over the fiscal cliff.

Of course, the flip side is to extend every one of these provisions, which would continue to keep our deficit at huge levels, but the CBO also adds that our GDP growth would be 2.4% for 2013- pretty similar to the 2.2% we've had for the last 12 months. Since we now know the 2 extremes (doing nothing or expanding everything), let's break it down into a few parts.

First, let's talk taxes. Let's look at the Bush tax cuts, as well as President Obama's plan to raise taxes on the rich back to 1990s levels, while keeping the Bush tax cuts for everyone else. The CBO has the tables that go under all of these scenarios, and we'll also look at what happens if the 2%% cut in Social Security taxes stays in, or goes away.

Effects of tax policies from CBO
Keep all Bush and Soc. Security tax cuts- GDP +2.1%
Taxes for rich goes up, all other taxes stay same- GDP +2.0%
Social Security taxes go up, taxes for rich go up- GDP +1.3%

Remember, this is a change compared to what would happen if the entire cliff hit, not the total GDP growth number. So the biggest takeaway from that is that keeping the Bush tax cuts for the rich would do virtually nothing to add to GDP over keeping the tax cuts for the lower levels of income and allowing the rich to pay more. The Social Security tax cuts are projected to give a lower increase in GDP growth vs. keeping the Bush tax cuts and reforming the AMT.

Now, let's look at the deficit effects of these policies

Effects on 2013-2014 deficit of tax policies from CBO
Keep all Bush and Soc. Security tax cuts- Deficit up $1,008 billion
Taxes for rich goes up, all other taxes stay same- Deficit up $928 billion
Social Security taxes go up, taxes for rich go up- Deficit up $670 billion

As someone who thinks Social Security should be protected, and as someone who knows that the Bush tax cuts for the rich have taken wages out of the pockets of workers and into the hands of the wealthy and corporate, allowing those two tax measures to happen would be acceptable to me. Sure, it's slower growth (by about 0.8% GDP), but we'd survive on low GDP growth (much like we did in 2011), we'd still be able to create some jobs (and possibly with more wages), and our deficit would be reduced. It also makes Social Security more secure, which also will lead to long-term stability and economic growth. That works for me.

As for the spending side, the CBO says that getting rid of the spending cuts for the military would increase GDP by 0.4%, and getting rid of the discretionary spending cuts would increase GDP by another 0.4%. They also have a much smaller effect on the deficit than the tax measures.

Effects on 2013-2014 deficit of tax policies from CBO
Restore spending cuts on military- Deficit up $75 billion
Restore domestic spending cuts- Deficit up $101 billion

Even though the effect on the deficit is smaller, I'd favor the military spending cuts, because domestic cuts are much more likely to trickle down to the state level, and cause increases in taxes and additional spending cuts that would further hamper the economy well beyond the federal cut effects.

So if I were to strke a grand bargain, I'd accept

1. Bush tax cuts to remain for lower-income people.
2. Bush tax cuts on rich and Social Security tax cuts go away
3. Military spending cuts allowed to continue
4. Domestic spending cuts rescinded

The final result, (according to the CBO)

GDP growth up 1.7% from the "fiscal cliff nightmare" scenario, but down 1.2% from the "everything stays" scenario. If everything else stays the same, that means 1.2% GDP growth for 2013.

It also means the deficit is $771 million higher than under the "fiscal cliff nightmare" scenario, but it's also down $413 billion from the "everything stays" scenario. Sure, the deficit stays relatively high, but it should continue to fall and is manageable.

And it sure would beat the recession that Europe has fallen back into due to their irresponsible austerity. The chronic cycle of "deficit cutting = recession = more deficit cutting = more recession" is what I fear would happen if we followed a Paul Ryan-style policy, and that's the worst result we could have. So let's not go there, OK?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

WisGOP shortsightedness strikes again

This has been a common theme in the age of Fitzwalkerstan, but it was shown again in Scott Walker's stunt of turning down a state-run Obamacare health insurance exchange, and passing the buck to the Feds to allow them to set it up.

Walker's argument against implementing the exchanges seems to be an alleged concern about the state being on the hook to pick up the difference if Obamacare costs too much, and that since it's a federal law, the state didn't have a lot of flexibility to operate.

Well, that might make sense if you're a low-information Bagger, but it falls apart in the real world. First of all, health care costs are not "skyrocketing" under Obamacare, they just had their lowest increase in 15 years, with a similar low increase slated for next year. And the CNN article says a big reason why is because employers are shifting more costs onto their employees, employees who could then decide to use the competition of....Obamacare's health care exchanges and other forms of coverage. Sounds like a win-win for me, and it'll keep costs in check through the added competition on the exchanges.

That's strike 1, here's strike 2. Walker gave a copout saying
In Wisconsin, we have been successful in providing health insurance coverage to over 90 percent of state residents without the creation of an exchange. Other states moving forward with state-operated exchanges have nowhere near our level of coverage. To preserve this, we would all like to build a uniquely Wisconsin exchange, but the reality is the federal health care law simply doesn't allow it. Whether an exchange is administered by the state or the federal government does not change the fact the federal government will set uniform policies for all states.
Again, sounds good to the clueless, but let me remind you that Medicaid and similar low-income health care programs also have federal rules, but Wisconsin traditionally has gone above and beyond those standards to cover more people, which explains why the state has such a small amount of uninsured compared to some other places (well, at least till Walker started cutting BadgerCare). If Wisconsin set up a more expansive exchange and level of coverage that complied with the baseline Obamacare rules, I have a hard time believing they would be shot down.

The real answer comes from the Family Care fiasco, where Walker and DHS Secretary Dennis Smith tried to break Medicaid rules by refusing to enroll qualified individuals, and only backed down when the Obama Administration jumped in and threatened to pull tens of millions of dollars in assistance. The Walker Administration has consistently been adherents of Grover Norquist's theory of shrinking and FUBARing government to the level that they can say "See, it doesn't work!" And if they're really successful, they can use that as an excuse to sell off the services to your well-connected corporate buddies.

And that's why Walker's move is so pathetic. It refuses to take ownership of the implementation of Obamacare, and doesn't try to fit it to the high-service needs that made Wisconsin a special place to live in. Instead, Walker and WisGOP whiners choose to stand off to the side, and wait to go "Neener, neener, neener" if there are any growing pains or issues as Obamacare gets put into place. If Obamacare does end up working, then Walker can try to take credit for something he had no part in doing (right-wing radio is excellent at doing this for their boy Scotty). Plus, it frees up Walker to do what he seems to do best - try to get out of town and fundraise with other losers in the right-wing bubble world.

Lastly, this goes over the policy reasons this move by Walker is so stupid, but as we all know, politics is always more important than policy with the Fitzwalkerstanis. And it constantly leads to screw-ups that cause more fixing and taxpayer costs in the future- be it the pose that led to the turning down of $800 million in federal funds for high-speed rail (and a newly-filed $50 million lawsuit against the state for backing out of a contract), or the deceptive and illegal redistricting that now has cost taxpayers nearly $2 million in legal costs.

And this attitude showed itself again in this Obamacare exchange issue. Walker decided to make a show of supporting the irrational Bagger element of the GOP and hope for a Romney win in November to avoid doing his job. This included the turning down of $38 million in federal aid that would have gone a long way toward setting up the "costly" Obamacare exchanges. Now this foolish man has been exposed yet again as someone who has chosen to govern by soundbite over action, and it is the citizens of Wisconsin who get hurt by this short-sighted, failing mentality.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Walker jobs gap passes 100,000

I didn't know it would be a landmark day in Fitzwalkerstan, but I got a good hint it might be early on. That's when I saw the Wisconsin DWD leak their unconfirmed numbers on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) this morning.

You may remember this survey, it's the one that the Walker Administration used to lie to the public during the recall elections, and Walker also bragged about the numbers in the QCEW last month, while leaving out the context that the same survey showed Wisconsin to have the worst 12-month job growth in the Midwest.

Anyway, they threw out this propaganda, and the Journal-Sentinel predicatbly ran with it as a headline, trying to make it sound like a 1.5% year-over-year increase in jobs is something to crow about. It's not, and in fact, it's below the rest of the U.S., showing that it's more likely to be Obama and not Walker whp would be responsible for any increase.

But the bigger thing I noticed is that the Walker DWD released this report a few hours ahead of the monthly jobs numbers that come out on the 3rd Thursday of the month. And I knew immediately that these numbers would SUUUUUUCK.

I was right. So much so that even the J-S had to change their headline to tell folks that Wisconsin lost 7,500 jobs in October. Even then, the article goes out of its way to diminish the numbers, using Walker-like spin about how it's derived from different surveys. But the bare truth of these numbers remains- Wisconsin continues to be left out of the Obama jobs recovery in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

The job loss looks especially bad when you realize that the U.S. gained 171,000 jobs in the same month that Wisconsin lost 7,500. So with this awful October jobs report, the Walker jobs gap has ballooned again, and now has surpassed 100,000 jobs.

In fact, we're still nearly 34,000 total jobs and 25,000 private sector jobs BELOW where we were in March 2011, when Act 10 was passed. There is no way you can look at those charts and not notice Wisconsin lagging the naton once that (now illegal) "bomb" was passed. It also shows that the state is down over 15,000 jobs since walker won the recall election in early June, which Walker famously predicted would "open up the floodgates." Apparently he wasn't kidding, because jobs have headed to the exits since 53% of Wisconsin voters chose to retain the governor.

These stats are not "he said, she said" matters of spin- Wisconsin lags our neighbors in pretty much any jobs-related metric, and the failing policies of Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP are the Number 1 reason why. That trend promises to continue when the state-by-state jobs numbers come out tomorrow, with Fitzwalkerstan likely to be bringing up the rear for our area and our nation yet again.

Fitzy goes out on a limb

Funny article on Wispolitics this week, which included an interview with Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald. In the article, Fitz mentions there may be an extra $1 billion in revenues for the next 2 years, and that'll help them try to set up another tax giveaway (to the rich and the corporate).

Now Fitz is trying to spin this as proof that the Walker/WisGOP budget has worked and the confidence fairy has allowed for corporate tax cuts to lead to higher revenues. Except there's one problem with that comment- $1 billion in revenue means a slowdown in our state's already-stagnant economy.

Don't believe me, take a look at the numbers from the last biennium, and the 2012 fiscal year. Also remember that the state's revenues were in free fall when the Dems took control of the Legislature in January 2009, before the Obama stimulus and Doyle/Dem budget stabilized things.

General Purpose Revenues, Wisconsin
2009 $12.113 billion
2010 $12.132 billion (+$18.5 million)
2011 $12.912 billion (+$780.0 million)
2012 $13.515 billion (+$603.0 million)

And 2011-2012 was the first year under the Walker/WisGOP budget that Fitz helped get through the Legislature, and revenue growth slowed from 6.4% in FY2011 to 4.7% in FY2012. And if there's an extra $1 billion in revenues between 2013 and 2015, it means yearly revenue growth will slow down well below 4%, lower than the rates of either of the last 2 years.

Then again, Fitz said in January "if you think this budget was scary, wait until the next one." Hmmm, maybe he isn't such a dumbass after all, because he's using this type of code of "billion dollar revenue growth" to show how it really isn't working in Fitzwalkerstan.

You know, kind of like how our budget surplus is a fraud based on accounting tricks and the hoarding of federal funds. You just have to do the homework to figure it out - homework that our media is far too unlikely to do.

( EDIT: Friday's release from the Dept. of Revenue shows October income tax collections went down 4.6% vs. last year, with total FY2013 revs only up 1.3% vs. July-October 2011. Still early, but also worth keeping an eye on).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post-election results, and thoughts

Obviously, I was very happy with the national results from Tuesday, with Obama taking it home in a solid if unspectacular victory, with a final electoral vote win of 332-206 now that the Romney campaign is admitting Obama will win Florida. Also, Dems expanded their lead in the Senate to 55-45, and both Obama and Tammy Baldwin brought home huge wins for the Blue team in the state of Wisconsin.

Obama also will probably win the popular vote by more than 3 million votes, making for a margin of around 2.5%. Much has (rightfully) been made about Nate Silver nailing 50 out of 50 states in this election, and in predicting Florida as the closest race of them all. But Nate also came close to nailing the popular vote- he had Obama +2.4%. Only major difference is that Silver had fewer third-party votes being cast, as third parties are currently pulling around 1.6% right now.

Here in Wisconsin, Obama rolled (not too surprising) and Baldwin largely kept up with him (which was surrising to me). In fact, Baldwin consistently was about 2 points behind Obama, which is reflected in Obama winning 53-46 vs. Baldwin's 51-46. And the exit poll respondents largely voted the same across almost all categories, so I'll just stick with Obama's numbers in this article.

Much like we saw nationwide, the GOP's poaitioning as the old, rich white guy party helped doom them in Wisconsin.

Exit poll responses, Wisconsin
Women 57-42 Obama (51% of vote)
Men 51-47 Romney (49% of vote)

Age 18-29 Obama 60-37 (21% of vote)
Age 30-44 Obama 51-48 (26%)
Age 45-64 Obama 51-48 (37%)
Age 65+ Romney 52-48 (16%)

White- Romney 51-48 (86%)
Black- Obama 94-6 (7%)
Latino- Obama 66-31 (4%)

Family Income under $50K- Obama 62-37 (41%)
Family Income $50K-$100K- Romney 50-49 (38%)
Family Income over $100K- Romney 59-39 (21%)

The state was called for Obama very quickly, and a look at the map shows why, especially when you compare it to this Summer's recall election.

2012 presidential election

2012 recall election

Look at the sea of blue in Western Wisconsin, Romney doesn't win a county on our western border until you get to Minneapolis-area Pierce County (and he only won that by 170 votes). Many of these areas are flips from the recall election. Here's the unofficial list of Tuesday county election results from NBC, along with the exit polls. The switch from the 2012 recall election is startling in these SW Wisconsin counties in particular.

Sauk County- Obama 59-40, Walker 51-48
Crawford Co.- Obama 59-39, Walker 51-48
Green County- Obama 58-41, Walker 51-48
Richland Co. Obama 57-41, Walker 54-45
Lafayette Co.- Obama 57-42, Walker 57-43
Jackson Co.- Obama 57-42, Walker 54-46
Tremepealeau Co.- Obama 56-42, Walker 57-42

All of these are swings of 20 points or more, well over the 13.5 difference between Walker's +6.8% and Obama's +6.7%.

On the other side, Romney won most counties east of I-39, but nowhere near as much as Walker did in June. Obama playing Romney to a near draw in the 920 also helps explain the ease of Barack's win, and this area also featured swings of around 20 points or more.

Brown County- Romney 50-49, Walker 60-40
Outagamie Co.-Romney 50-48 Walker 61-38
Winnebago Co.- Obama 51-47, Walker 56-43
Manitowoc Co.- Romney 51-48, Walker 64-35
Kewaunee Co.- Romney 52-47, Walker 64-36
Door Co.- Obama 53-46, Walker 57-43

As mentioned before the elction, Racine County kept its status as a state bellweather, going 51-48 for Obama and 51-46 for Baldwin, and Kenosha County went Dem in a big way, backing Obama by 13 points after barely supporting Barrett 50-49 in June. Even in the stupidly-red WOW Counties of Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee, Obama pulled about 1/3 of the vote, outperforming Barrett, who couldn't crack 30% in any of those places.

As for turnout- The Obama folks got their people out. Heavy blue Dane County and the City of Milwaukee easily outvoted the similarly-heavy red Waukesha County, and unlike June's recall election, the blue counties of Rock and Kenosha outvoted the dead-red Washington County,

Top 10 turnout counties, 2012 president
Dane County 9.88%
City of Milwaukee 9.54%
Waukesha County- 7.91%
Rest of Milwaukee Co. 6.55%
Brown County- 4.21%
Racine County- 3.37%
Outagamie Co.- 3.07%
Winnebago Co.- 2.89%
Rock County- 2.64%
Kenosha County- 2.64%
Washington Co.- 2.58%

So Obama and Baldwin both benefitted from turnout in addition to getting swing counties in SW and NE Wisconsin to turn their way. That combination of high turnout in the big blue counties and winning in the toss-up areas is the way Dems succeed in Wisconsin, and it's something the DPW should keep in mind as they try to deal with another 2 years in the minority in the state legislature.

Just getting people to vote in Milwaukee and Madison isn't enough- they need to stretch their message outside of the big cities, and get those voters to back them they way they backed Barack Obama and Tammy Baldiwn in 2012. Maybe 2 more years of Walker stupidity will take care of it for them, but maybe a populist economic message against inequality and in support of compassion and community wouldn't hurt either.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What to look for in Wisconsin's election map tomorrow

I had a few posts along these lines before and after the recall elections this June, but I'll give sort of a quick review in advance of tomorrow's election. First, let's compare which counties have the highest amount of votes in Wisconsin, using both the 2008 presidential election and the 2012 recall election (the 2 largest turnout elections in the last 4 years). Wisconsin's 2 largest Dem areas were the top 2 turnout areas in both elections, and the top 10 places for turnout accounted for a little over half of the overall state vote in both elections.

% of overall state vote, President 2008
Dane County 9.48%
City of Milwaukee 9.22%
Waukesha County 7.81%
Rest of Milw. Co. 6.71%
Brown County 4.18%
Racine County 3.37%
Outagamie Co. 3.07%
Winnebago Co. 2.94%
Rock County 2.65%
Kenosha County 2.64%
Washington Co. 2.49%

% of overall state vote, Governor recall election 2012
Dane County 10.17%
City of Milwaukee 9.24%
Waukesha County 8.53%
Rest of Milwaukee Co. 6.53%
Brown County 4.15%
Racine County 3.43%
Outagamie Co. 3.10%
Winnebago Co. 2.83%
Washington Co. 2.76%
Rock County 2.52%

The big shifts you see is the most Republican county in the state (Washington County) jumping over Blue-leaning Kenosha and Rock Counties. I'd also count on Winnebago County jumping back up a bit, as college students are back in Oshkosh for this election, and that also could play a role in the hotly-contested King vs. Gudex State Senate election (where an absurd amount of jack has been thrown in- this wasteful election spending has to be stopped).

So that's where the turnout game could have an effect, especially if Dane County and the City of Milwaukee pull nearly 20% of the vote between the two of them and Waukesha County is diluted down below 8%. If Rock and Kenosha Counties can outvote Baggerific Washington County, this is also an advantage for Obama.

I also want to show the contrast in the two electoral maps from 2008 and 2012. First I'll give you Obama's blowout in 2008, and you'll see that the real secret behind Obama's large margin of victory was how well he did in rural and especially Western Wisconsin (shown by the darker shade of blue).

Now compare that map with the Walker victory in June's recall election, and look at how many counties flip over.

You may also remember I did a on the eve of the recall election showing which districts swing the most in Wisconsin. In particular, I pointed out 4 (2002-2010) Senate districts that had flipped and flopped a lot between 2008 and 2010.

Bellweather Senate districts, Wisconsin 2008-2010
District 22 (Kenosha) Obama +15.8% (+1.9% vs rest of state), Walker +6.3% (+0.5%)
District 30 (GB and north) Obama +14.4% (+0.5%), Walker +8.6% (+2.8%)
District 31 (Western Wisconsin) Obama +17.2% (+3.3%), Walker +5.9% (+0.1%)
District 21 (Racine County and a few other towns) Obama +11.9% (-2.0%), Walker +8.3% (+2.5%)

And I'd imagine those areas play a big role this year. The other ones that clearly stand out are the Green Bay and Fox Cities-area counties, especially the big ones like Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago. Marathon County (Wausau and nearby area) is the other one I'd look for. It's traditionally blue-collar Dem and Obama won it by nearly 9% in 2008, but Walker pulled 62% in the same county in the recall election.

So those are the quick numbers to look for. Going directly in the middle between the 2008 prez election and the 2012 recall election would put it around a 4-point victory for Obama in Wisconsin. Nate Silver says 5%, both seem about right. The real one to look for is the Baldwin-Thompson Senate election, and that's where the turnout numbers in Dane and the City of Milwaukee could be very big.

And it better be clean tomorrow, without something that turns Wisconsin into a Florida or Ohio-style national laughingstock. (I'm looking at you, 262 area code). Get out, VOTE, make sure your friends VOTE, and make it happen folks!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On eve of election, U.S. economy in good shape, and improving

A few economic reports from the last week confirmed what we pretty much knew- the U.S. economy continues on a steady growth pace, and 3-year-long expansion may be picking up speed.

The biggest report released was the October jobs number, which came out on Friday. It was a surprisingly good one, as 171,000 jobs were added in October, and upward revisions from the previous two months added another 84,000, for a total of 255,000 more jobs. This number also means there are more people working now than were working when President Obama took office in January 2009, which is pretty remarkable given the direction we were going when Barack took office.

The October jobs report also means that 1.95 million jobs have been created in the last 12 months, which is the fastest year-over-year number since February. When combined with the in-year revisions published last month, which showed 386,000 more total jobs and 453,000 more private sector jobs, this brings the total number of private sector jobs created in the last 32 months over 5.4 million jobs.

Even the one alleged drawback in that jobs report- an increase in the unemployment rate from 7.8% to 7.9%- wasn't all that bad, because it reflected 578,000 people going back into the work force in October, and 70% of those people found jobs. And the slight blip up by 0.1% doesn't change the fact that UE is down 1% in the last 12 months, and it's part of a consistent trend of falling unemployment. On this chart 0.0 reflects the 7.8% unemployment when Obama took office in Jan. 2009, and the numbers from -12 to 45 indicate the number of months before or after Obama's inauguration.

No wonder that U.S. consumer confidence is at its highest point in more than 4 1/2 years. Jobs and housing are coming back (well, except for Wisconsin), stock market is still at high levels, and even gas is coming down (now $3.32 a gallon here in Madtown).

GDP is also recovering from a tepid Spring, as 3rd Quarter GDP was up 2.0%, and probably would have been up more if not for gas inflation in late Summer. Year-over-year GDP growth continues on a decent pace, up 2.32% over the last 12 months, and 3.0% in the private sector. On the whole, the nation is putting out quite a bit more in products and services than it did before the recession started in late 2007, and output has steadily grown for more than 3 years.

With all of this good economic news, imagine how much better we'd be if we had higher tax rates on the rich and corporate to allow the average citizen to see more of a benefit from the increased output and jobs? As I mentioned earlier today, even the Congressional Research Service now admits that low tax rates on the rich over the last 3 decades have only increased inequality and have done nothing to grow the economy. So why not have the rich, corporate and wealthy pay more- it'll reduce our deficit and probably allow for better wage growth. This is the plan of President Obama, and given the successful track that this country's economy has been on (while Europe struggles under record unemployment due to budget-cutting austerity), I think we should choose it.

It's definitely a better idea than putting the 2000s tax cuts on steroids while combining it with Euro-style budget cuts, which is basically the Romney/Ryan plan. By any objective analysis, you'd have to be a damn fool to choose the GOP's failed, feudal policies over the steady growth that we've had under this Democratic president. So use your brains, use the facts, and make the right call on Tuesday.

GOP censors truth on trickle-down failures, and hate civil service

If ever you need proof as to why we need independent, unionized civil service along with Democrats in charge, I can think of no better example than this story from recent days.

The Senate Republicans objected to a report made by the Congressional Research Service in September analyzing the Bush tax cuts and the effect tax cuts have on economic growth, and got the CRS to withdraw the report after complaining about some of its language, and its findings. If you read the actual report, you can see why the GOP hated it- because it shows trickle-down economics to be a fraud that does nothing to help our overall economy.

First of all, the paper gives a clear connection between the lowering of the top tax rates for the rich, and the funneling of income away from workers and up to the wealthy. It specifically mentions the trends starting with the lowering of capital gains rates in 1997, and continuing through the Bush tax cuts of the 2000s.
Research has shown that changes in capital gains and dividends were the largest contributor to the increase in income inequality since the mid-1990s. Capital gains and dividends have become a larger share of total income over the past decade and a half while earnings have become a smaller share. This suggests that labor’s share of income could also be related to the top tax rates.... The fitted values show that the labor share of income is higher with higher top marginal tax rates and higher top capital gains tax rates. This relationship is statistically significant.
I've touched on this in the past as well, and I'll bring back a couple of charts that discuss this trend over the last 45 years. First, note the drop in wages as a percentage of GDP, and then notice the increase in profits, and it shows how workers' production has been stolen and taken into the pockets of stockholders and CEOs as tax rates have been cut for the rich.

Wages as % of GDP

Corporate profits as % of GDP

And the final summary of the CRS paper makes this connection clear, and illustrates the failure (or perverse success) of supply-side theory.
The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie.

However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution. As measured by IRS data, the share of income accruing to the top 0.1% of U.S. families increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% by 2007 before falling to 9.2% due to the 2007-2009 recession. At the same time, the average tax rate paid by the top 0.1% fell from over 50% in 1945 to about 25% in 2009. Tax policy could have a relation to how the economic pie is sliced—lower top tax rates may be associated with greater income disparities.
That's the bottom line of this report- trickle-down does nothing about increasing growth (especially important because economic growth is how Romney/Ryan claim they'll fill the deficit from their $5 trillion in tax cuts), but it does do Robin Hood in reverse- giving the rich a huge amount of the benefits.

But it's not surprising that the GOP would try to censor a report like this. This party tries to keep themselves and the people they govern in a bubble, and still attempt to operate like they did in 2004. Remember this quote on the eve of Bush's re-election?
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out.
- Ron Suskind, NY Times Magazine, October 17, 2004
This is why Republicans hate indepednent civil servants like those in the Congression Research Service, or in unionized public employees, because it gets in the way of creating their alternate reality.

We've seen it plenty of times in Wisconsin. Remember August 2011, when DHS Secretary Dennis Smith cherry-picked and lied about a report finding that showed Obamacare was a net positive for Wisconsin? Remember Scott Walker's false ads about job creation before the recall elections, which not only had the wrong numbers, but failed to show that Wisconsin's job growth was the worst in the Midwest? And how about the independent report this Summer which showed the Wisconsin Retirement System was fully funded and had no business being modified to a 401 (k) program? That report probably went a long way toward preventing the Walker Administration from trying to steal public worker pensions as their next tactic to "balancing" the state budget.

Republicans would love nothing more than to get these do-gooders in civil service out of the way, and hire their own hacks to fudge facts and make things up in official-looking reports to try to get their failed ideas through (a good exmaple is the sexed-up documents about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" that generally turned out to be bullshit). I have no doubt a President Mitt Romney (shudder) would hire a bunch of lackeys and ass-kissers in government service, and heavily pressure any dissenting opinions from ever seeing the light of day. And that would be to the detriment of everyone in this country, except for the well-connected few (again, much like what we've seen in Wisconsin these last 2 years).

So take the Senate GOP's censoring of the report on trickle-down's failure as yet another reason to go to the polls and pull the lever for the Dems on Tuesday. And not just because of 65 years of evidence that lower tax rates don't do a thing for productivity or growth, but do increase inequality and wage stagnation for the vast majority of Americans. But also because the Dems are more likely to support reality-based civil service, and therefore, are much more likely to come up with solutions that work, and work for more than just the elite, well-connected few.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The JournalComm/ WisGOP lie machine goes off the rails

The Wisconsin right-wing's propaganda machine tried to smear Dem politicians again, but their attempt pull over lies on the voting public have been exposed and obliterated in the last week. In the wake of these incidents, it once again illustrates how Milwaukee's Journal Communications has chosen to link itself with these disgusting liars, destorying any integrity it may have left.

This time last week, the WisGOP lie machine twas trying to smear the husband of Dem Congressional Candidate Mark Pocan. One of the hack staffers for Pocan opponent, Chad Lee, claimed to receive threatening text messages from Phil Frank, Pocan's husband (they were legally married in Canada), and also claimed to have been beaten up. When later questioned by Madison police, the GOP hack admitted that he'd made the whole thing up, and Frank and others are considering suing for slander.

That in itself is disgusting weak sauce, but the Journal-Sentinel and Journal talk show hosts made it much worse by allowing the lying Lee staffer a platform to amplify these false charges. One of those that were instrumental in this was Journal-Sentinel columnist and WPRI spinmeister Christian Schneider, who printed a column on Sunday interviewing Kyle Wood, the lying GOP staffer, and put out the article without questioning the obvious holes in the story. You'll also notice the "retraction" that was later printed, in a small paragraph at the end of the story, where it could easily be ignored. That's what was left on the J-S website until later Tuesday, when it was pulled from the site altogether.

I'll let Urban Milwaukee's Bruce Murphy pick it up from there.
In an email, Schneider told me he interviewed Wood on Saturday afternoon, posted his story with the interview on Sunday morning, and after Wood recanted on Monday, Schneider left his posting up for a day with a disclaimer that his charges had been recanted. But late Tuesday, Schneider says, he decided to take the Wood interview down. “I didn’t see any benefit to anyone in keeping his baseless charges online.”

From a journalistic standpoint, that makes no sense. Schneider’s column is part of the historical record. Moreover, if there is any chance of a legal action (a charge by police against Wood, a libel suit by Frank against Wood), this column is quite relevant as it has many quotes from Wood that we now know perpetrated a fantasy.

But from the standpoint of protecting Schneider’s reputation, it certainly makes sense to take it down. Schneider now claims he was skeptical: “I was always aware that there was still a question as to whether the incident actually happened, which is why I titled the post in the form of a question.”
That's total bullshit Chrissy, and you know it. You wanted to throw this out there to make the Dems look bad, allow the lie to take hold in people's mind, and hopefully not be called out on it. Republicans pull this crap all the time, notably this week with Mitt Romney's blatantly false ads claiming Jeep would move production to China, which were so off-base that Chrysler and GM had to put out statements calling out Romney for his bald-face lies.

Even more remarkable was the response in Murphy's article from Journal-Sentinel David Haynes, who has overseen the J-S's 2 endorsements of Scott Walker and allowed it's editorial page to become the communications wing of the righties at Milwaukee's Bradley Foundation.
Editorial page editor David Haynes says the Purple Wisconsin columnists are not paid and are not edited or fact-checked by the paper. (By contrast, it pays Schneider a fee for his newspaper columns which are edited by the paper.) Yet Schneider in the past took down a Purple Wisconsin post he did, saying he needed to check the facts, and at the bottom it was notated “-Management.” Schneider did not reply to my email asking about this; Haynes says he suspects Schneider “was referring to himself.” That’s strange.

Haynes also says that had Schneider not taken down his erroneous story about Wood, “I would have done so. I see no value in continuing to circulate information that we have reason to believe is untrue. Christian’s follow-up post gave a sense of the original, which should satisfy curious readers.” But since when does the newspaper expunge erroneous stories? And if Haynes is not editing Purple Wisconsin columns, why would he be making decisions about whether to take one down?
The double-talk is amazing- either Haynes has no idea what he's doing (hey Dave, as editor YOU are responsible for the content on your paper's site, not the hacks you give space to), or he's lying to Murphy. Either scenario should cost this bum his job.

 They even look like smarmy d-bags
Other parts of the Wisconsin right's lie machine got involved in this mess as well. The smear merchants at Media Trackers claimed they had the offending texts threatening the lying staffer, ran an article with the false allegations, and then Media Trackers "journalist" Brian Sikma went on the radio show of fellow GOP liar Charles Sykes on AM 620 in Milwaukee (owned by Journal Communications) repeating those false allegations. And Isthmus's Judith Davidoff goes over the failures of Sikma and the right-wing noise machine from there.
...Sikma failed to do what professional reporters do: namely, confirm allegations before publication.

Sikma declined to elaborate on how he verified the story from Wood. "It would appear that Mr. Wood is the one that should be answering a lot of questions," he responded in an email to Isthmus. [ed.note] Yes Brian, the problem is with the lying political figures, not with the journalists who are supposed to know better and question them. Are you fucking kidding me?

After Wood recanted his stories, Sikma wrote a subsequent post noting that "individuals who know Wood verified the accuracy of his claims" but that the claims turned out to be untrue. But he took no responsibility for failing to check out Wood's sensational claims. "Media Trackers regrets that we were repeatedly lied to and misled. We regret that our readers were subject to the dishonest claims of a dishonest individual."

Critically, Sikma never asked for physical evidence that the texts were real or attempted to verify them with the alleged perpetrator.

"We can confirm that he never reached out to Phil or the campaign," says Dan McNally, Pocan's campaign manager.

UW-Madison journalism professor Katy Culver notes that Media Trackers promotes itself as a check on the allegedly liberal bias of mainstream media. But, she says, "If they're going to serve as an alternative voice, they have to have proof they can be trusted. They have to go through the same journalistic processes of verifying information that reputable news organizations go through. And I just don't see that."
Well, that's because Media Trakkkers isn't a reputable news organization-they're an invention of the right-wing Amercian Majority, with Media Trackers-type branches in several other states, and the start-up funds for Media Trackers came from the Bradley Foundation- whose CEO was Scott Walker's campaign manager in 2010, and was recently  outed as one of the sources of the racist "voter fraud is a felony" billboards that were later taken down in SE Wisconsin.

   Now if right-wing scumbags like the Bradley Foundation try to set up their alterantive reality, or if Chrissy Schneider and Brian Sikma don't care about having any integrity and feel it's OK to make a few bucks whoring for those oligarchs, I suppose that's part of the game, as lowlife as I think that is. But I have a major problem with Journal Communications giving these toolboxes a megaphone through their newspaper, 620 AM radio station, and WTMJ-4 TV (where Sykes had Sikma on for his show on Sunday). These guys have been proven time and again to be factless rumor-mongerers, and do not come close to resembling someone who can give honest assessment of situations. This is not what opinion columnist is supposed to be - a person who deals with the facts on the ground, and gives their interpretation of WHAT SHOULD BE DONE about it. The Schneiders, Sikmas, Sykeses, and Wagners of the world aren't dealing with reality, and are literally making up events, such as the lying staffer for Chad Lee claiming to be beaten, and Sikma's claims on Sykes' TV show that Tammy Baldwin voted against body armor for the troops when the bill she promoted had nothing to do with body armor.

   These toolboxes are throwing crap against the wall to try to help the Republicans win elections, and do not deserve the credibility of being a source of information from a legitimate media organization. But Journal Communications apparently does not care about having legitimacy or balance (the next left-wing show on AM 620 or TMJ-4 will be the first), and continues to allow these people a chance to pollute the airwaves of Wisconsin with their lies and one-sided deceptions. So if they choose to allow this to go on, we have no other option but to assume that JournalComm is under orders to go on this path, which isn't a bad assumption given that JournalComm CEO Steven Smith sits on the MMAC board that allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to Scott Walker's election campaign in 2012.

   Our recourse as critical consumers of media is to understand that JournalComm is a willing participant in the right-wing propaganda machine, and to stop consuming their crap until they clean up their act. We also must constantly call out these abuses of media power that the Sykeses and Schneiders try to pull, so that bystanders understand that just because it says "Wisconsin's news leader" on the promos, it doesn't mean WTMJ is a legitimate station.

   Because TMJ and the Journal-Sentinel editorial page have chosen not to be professional, honest brokers at this point, they have allowed illegitimate opinions to debase this state nearly to the point of disrepair. Only by exposing and smashing this right-wing media empire will Wisconsin begin to get back to the great place it once was. Hammering ALL Republicans at the polls on Tuesday would be a great start, to show that we're not fooled by the Bradleys' media bullshit.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Real polls show Obama has the edge in Wisconsin

    Now that the media has returned to its vapid horse-race coverage of next week's election, we have a few more polls that have dropped from Wisconsin in the last few days. So let's quickly go over them.

  Marquette Law poll
   Obama 51, Romney 43 (LV)
   Obama 51, Romney 42 (RV)
   Baldwin 47, Thompson 43 (LV)
   Baldwin 46, Thompson 42 (RV)

   Interestingly, the LV and Rv numbers have converged, though Obama still leads Romney 63-37 among registered voters who are not considered likely voters (also interesting, this poll has Tommy leading Tammy among the "less likely voters" 52-48).

  Hilariously, the Thompson campaign whined that the poll was messed up, two months after calling it the "gold standard" of Wisconsin polls in August. Well Tommy, there are some messed up things in Charles Franklin's poll.

1.It has 41% of respondents be under 45, while the 2008 exit polls had Wisconsin's under-45 voters be more than half of those casting ballots.

2.It also was 51% men, while the 2008 exit poll was 51% women.

3. The ideological breakdown was 20% liberal, 33% moderate, and 41% conservative. Most Wisconsin exit polls in the last 4 years have had it more like 20-42-38.

If all three of those trends hold on Election Day (younger voters, more women, and more moderates), it favors BALDWIN, as she leads Tommy in all 3 demos. So yes, Thompson campaign, that Marquette poll may be a bit off- you might be down more than 4.

Another big-name poll came out showing the race slightly closer, but with both Dems in the lead. The NBC/Marist poll that was released today, with a tighter race indicated.

NBC/Marist poll
Obama 49, Romney 46 (LV)
Obama 49, Romney 45 (RV)
Baldwin 48, Thompson 47 (LV)
Baldwin 48, Thompson 46 (RV)

This poll screened out nearly 20% of registered voters, saying they were unlikely to vote. As I mentioned Monday, this is much higher than the 14% of registered voters who didn't vote in 2008 (and that the 14% includes some dead people). Given that Obama and Baldwin both win among the screened out crowd, it would indicate the RV numbers may be more likely to be trusted here.

In a craven plea to try to keep viewers interested, I saw the "Today" show as trying to indicate this poll showed the presidential race as "tied." Well with a margin of error of 3.0% on likely voters and 2.7% of registered voters, this means that it is as likely to be Obama +7 as it is to be tied, if you know anything about stats. And this poll skews even older, with 35% of likely voters being under 45 years old, so that also should mean "advantage Dems" on Election Day.

I'll give 3 quicker hits on 3 other polls from the last 2 days.

PPP had it 50-45 Obama. Big findings are Obama leading with women by 12 vs. Romney leading with men by 2, and Obama is also up with voters under 30 by 15 points. Seems about right. Tommy vs. Tammy wasn't polled, strangely enough.

Rasmussen had Obama and Romney tied at 49, and Thompson up on Baldwin 48-47. Rasmusssen is known to be right-wing junk, and I wonder if they actually poll, or if they just make up something plausible that goes along with their right-wing agenda. But if we use Nate Silver's 2010 analysis, and realize that Razzy gives an extra 4 points to the GOP, then it becomes Obama +4 and Baldwin +3, and that's quite realistic.

Lastly, we have St. Norbert College, who gave a small-sample poll which says Obama leads Romney 51-42, but Thompson leads Baldwin 46-43. At least one of those numbers are wrong, because I don't see a 12-point spread between Obama/Baldwin or Romney/Thompson happening. It's more than double what you see anywhere else.

I'll be charitable and give a 4 point difference between Obama and Baldwin in support (if Obama is up 7, Tammy is up 3), which changes each race by 4 points. Do that and you'd be looking at Obama +5, Baldwin +1.

So with the reasonable adjustments to Rasmussen and St. Norbert, I'll average the five polls (and I'll use the LV numbers to be nice to the Republicans) and get

Obama +5
Baldwin +2.5

And now let's look at Nate Silver's As of the PPP poll, he has Obama +4 and Baldwin +2.6. Obama's number will probably go up with the new polls that go in (so much so that I bet Silver takes Wisconsin out of the "battleground states" list in the next 2 days), while Baldwin's lead may tighten to 2 or so.

Guess that explains why I see a lot more Senate ads (particularly anti-Baldwin) than I see president ads at this point- because Obama's nearly got it wrapped up here, but the Senate race is still takable for Tommy if he gets enough last-minute deciders and discourages young voters from coming out.

Hmmm, guess that explains why Obama and Springsteen are coming to the Mad City the day before the elecion - to make sure Tammy gets over the top with a huge turnout in her hometown. I just wish Jay-Z was coming along, like he will be in Columbus, Ohio and Iowa.

Oh, and did I mention that almost none of these polls have been taken since the president showed how a true leader responds in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, while Romney's continued false ads about Jeep and other American carmakers? Yeah, I think things look good for the Blue team right now.