Sunday, February 28, 2016

Heading for sun and water

Where I'm at is 75 degrees and there's a beach. So I'm not going to be saying too much here for the next week. But hang in there, and I'll drop a couple of notes when I have something come to mind

Friday, February 26, 2016

Marquette Poll shows Walker, GOP losing all swing areas, moderates

I wanted to give a few numbers from the Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin that was released on Thursday. As usual, while the toplines get the headlines, you'll get a lot more insight if you dig into the crosstabs, which Charles Franklin and Company are always nice enough to give in deep detail.

First of all, Gov Walker's approval rating was newsworthy in that nothing has changed on that front. Still stuck below 40% (38.8%, to be exact), and not significantly different from what we've seen this Summer. What is noteworthy in this poll is that Walker's disapproval comes from every region of the state.

Scott Walker approve-disapprove, Feb 2016 ,
City of Milwaukee 27.7-69.1
Rest of MKE market 44.0-48.5
Madison market 25.1-70.1
GB/Appleton market 45.0-46.6
Rest of Wisconsin 42.0-51.3

So Walker's even underwater in the parts of the state that he had strength in for the November 2014 election (SE Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee and GB/Appleton). In addition, 54% of rural Wisconsinites disapproved of Walker in that poll, reiterating how widespread the dislike for Walker is throughout Wisconsin these days.

Another standout stat in the polls on Walker's approval and in the polls for November's U.S. Senate race (where Russ Feingold led incumbent Ron Johnson 49-37), is just how badly the GOP is doing with self-described moderate voters. This also reflects in a sour mood among moderates regarding the direction of the state under its current GOP control.

Moderates, Marquette Law Poll, Feb 2016
Walker approval/disapproval- 24.7-64.8
Feingold vs. Johnson- Feingold 56.3-21.4
Wisconsin on right track/wrong track- 32.5-62.3

The same pattern of moderates overwhelmingly favoring Democrats repeats in the presidential matchups that were presented in that poll. And you will notice that while Hillary Clinton has decent-sized leads over her potential GOP competition, Bernie Sanders dominates those same potential opponents, which underscores why Sanders does 10-12 points better against all opponents than Clinton did in this poll.

Moderates, Marquette Law Poll 2016
Clinton vs. Cruz- Clinton 52.3-32.6
Sanders vs. Cruz- Sanders 67.9-16.4

Clinton vs. Rubio- Clinton 51.7-32.6
Sanders vs. Rubio- Sanders 68.7-17.7

Clinton vs. Trump- Clinton 54.6-28.2
Sanders vs. Trump- Sanders 64.7-21.8

What's interesting to note is that in the state Supreme Court race, JoAnne Kloppenburg only leads Rebecca Bradley among moderates 33.1-24.5. Given that Ms. Bradley (Foundation) has been promoted 3 times by Scott Walker in her short career, and was an "unannounced speaker" at the WMC Business Day event this week, standing alongside Sen. Johnson and Gov. Walker, it seems like it might be a good strategy to tie Bradley to her fellow Republicans. It might also make sense to say Bradley is cut from the mold of the GOP obstructionists like (mo)Ron Johnson that have pledged to block any Supreme Court appointee of President Obama (a move opposed by over 50% of state voters, and 58% of moderates). Because if Kloppenburg can expand her small lead on Bradley to the 30-40 point leads Dems are pulling among moderates in other state races, Kloppenburg will win on April 5, and not by a little.

So what the Marquette Poll toplines show is that the Wisconsin GOP has fallen greatly out of favor with the majority of Wisconsin voters, with the Republicans living in a bubble that is out of step with the rest of the state. In fact, these are numbers that are so bad that it makes it very possible for the State Senate to flip this November, and for Dems to make significant gains in the State Assembly....IF the Dems have a presidential candidate that will do well among moderates and in rural Wisconsin (cough-BERNIE-cough).

UW poverty stats show Wisconsin not so special anymore

UW-Madison’s Applied Population Laboratory released a study this week that’s received quite a bit of play, including a front-page headline in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Here’s the part of their summary that has been receiving the most attention.
The analysis compared U.S. Census Bureau data from 2005-09 to numbers from 2010-14 and found that the number of state residents living in poverty hit 13 percent during the five years ending in 2014 — the highest rate since 1984.

During the most recent five-year span, poverty increased significantly in 31 of 72 Wisconsin counties, including 11 of the 15 most populous counties. Estimates show that about 738,000 Wisconsin residents were living in poverty, compared to 605,000 in the previous five-year period.
And if you click onto the Census Bureau site, you will find that is completely true- these stats have been hiding in plain sight for the last few months. The UW-Madison lab simply put the information together into a report and broke down the various demographics. What’s more, the UW-Madison researchers broke down the numbers to the county level, and showed nearly half of Wisconsin’s counties also had a statistically significant increase in poverty, including almost all of the southern half of the state.

Some of this is easy to explain- 2005-09 consisted of the last 3 years of the 2000s Bubble economy, and only caught the start of the Great Recession. By comparison 2010-2014 got much of the fallout of the recession (and the high poverty rates that started in 2010), and had a much higher starting point than we had in 2005. Combine that with the increases in inequality that are still wracking this country, and Wisconsin’s increase of 2.2% in the 2010-2014 vs 2005-2009 isn’t statistically different from the 2.1% increase seen in the rest of the country over that time.

Going more locally, Wisconsin’s increases in poverty were similar to many of our Midwestern neighbors, and because Wisconsin’s poverty rate was well below the national rate in the late 2000s (part of the “disaster” Scott Walker inherited when he was elected in 2010), the state is still below the national rate today.

But that still doesn’t mean things have gone as they should have in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan when it comes to poverty figures. Note that the other low-poverty Midwestern states of Iowa and Minnesota didn’t get as much of an increase in poverty that Wisconsin got in that time period, and the Midwestern states that had poverty increases of more than 2% of the people were places that already had higher poverty rates than Wisconsin, so proportionately, it’s not as big of a number.

When you slice the increases in poverty that way, Wisconsin doesn’t look so good. In fact, we get the highest increase in poverty as a percentage of the 2005-09 total than any other state in the Midwest, and quite a bit higher than what the rest of the country saw.

This is what’s important to bring up with this state- Wisconsin has traditionally been a low-poverty state (likely because of its strong schools and safety net) and one that has kept up with its Midwestern neighbors in job growth. Neither of these have been the case since Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP came to power in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and we are lagging behind as a result.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz mentioned the UW report in one of his typically hilarious press releases yesterday. The release mocked Gov Walker for his speech at this week's WMC GOP propaganda event Business Day, where Walker tried to take credit for Wisconsin’s decent economic statistics. Hintz noted that the state was doing better in the national rankings before Walker and WMC took over in the Capitol.

With several state and national jobs reports coming out in the next 3 weeks, and Wisconsin seeming likely to badly lag the growth in the rest of the country in those reports, don't be surprised to see the UW report be a telling item in a larger theme. The Age of Fitzwalkerstan has placed us into a new era where the economic advantages the state used to have are going away, making us just another state with nothing exceptional to offer and attract talent with. Instead of trying to grab more power and reduce the wages of everyone that isn't in their inner circle, maybe Wisconsin's business community should worry about restoring those advantages the state once had, or be replaced by leaders who will understand this.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

WisGOP Assembly members can't handle the truth on their record

Seems like Wisconsin Republicans are having a bad time handling the truth these days. You may have heard about this story out of Western Wisconsin this week, where GOP Rep. Kathy Bernier was part of a group of state GOP politicians that were called out on her party’s failures in economic and educational performance, and stormed out of a listening session, calling the following statement from and Eau Claire School Board member “vile political speech.”.
“Fundamentally, Minnesota is beating us,” said Wendy Sue Johnson, citing a Jan. 20 article written by state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), who also attended the meeting.

“Our (school) funding formula is broken,” Johnson added.
God, that’s just terrible to say! Especially when it’s true. But I’m sure Rep. Bernier composed herself and answered the concerns of the school board member by giving the lowdown on what she and he colleagues in the Legislature plan to do to shrink that gap in outcomes between the two states.
Bernier then got up to leave the “Breakfast with Our Legislators” session involving the Chippewa Falls, Altoona and Eau Claire School Districts at the Avalon Hotel and Conference Center in Chippewa Falls.

“It is not helpful to compare Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Bernier said, remarking that this is what she experiences with Altoona, Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls each time she attends the districts’ breakfast.
Truth hurts Kathy, and no matter what stats you try to cherry-pick to claim we somehow teach things better than Minnesota is belied by Wisconsin’s massive lagging in job growth, wages, and population growth between the two states. And as State Rep. Gordon Hintz accurately pointed out, Rep. Bernier’s words about “vile political speech” and claims that things are fine with public schools ring hollow when she is in fact one that has helped to cause the problem.

But let’s give ol’ Kathy a break, because she probably is just agitated because she only won her 2014 election in Assembly District 68 by just over 1,200 votes in a pro-GOP year, and that northern and western Wisconsin is the part of the state where Scott Walker has lost the most support since that election. And she now officially has a challenger for the seat in Altoona's Howard White, so maybe Bernier sees the handwriting on the wall, and didn’t feel like talking much on Monday as a result. She’ll deal with the reality soon enough, I suppose :P

Another example of Republicans not being able to deal with current events happened in yesterday’s meeting of the Assembly Committee on Children and Families when committee chair Jessie Rodriguez (R- Scott Jensen and School Voucher Lobby) shut down any discussion of the abuse scandals at the Lincoln Hills School in Irma, claiming it wasn’t a topic on the day’s agenda. This angered the Democrats on the committee, who wanted to know why the scandal wasn’t being brought up.
At the outset of the hearing, Chairwoman Jessie Rodriguez announced that she was going to prohibit any discussion of the abuse allegations that occurred at the Lincoln Hills School. The Chairwoman’s gag order was made even though committee members had come prepared to discuss a 2014 child abuse and neglect report that did not reflect the numerous allegations of physical and sexual abuse that have since been substantiated by a Lincoln County Circuit Judge and are the subject of a recent F.B.I. investigation.

Democratic committee members voiced concerns that reports of child abuse at Lincoln Hills have gone uninvestigated by local child welfare officials, but those questions were not allowed during Wednesday’s

hearing. This, despite the fact that not a single 90-Day Summary Report for Child Deaths, Serious Injuries, or Egregious Abuse or Neglect Incidents was generated by Lincoln County in 2014 or 2015, when many of the abuses are alleged to have occurred, including broken bones, excessive force incidents, sexual assault by staff members, and attempted suicides by youth inmates.

“It is clear that the scandal at Lincoln Hills is an embarrassment for the Walker Administration, but that does not excuse the Assembly Committee on Children & Families from doing its job, asking the tough questions, and providing basic oversight of the safety and well-being of minors under state care and supervision,” said Rep. LaTonya Johnson.
Naturally, Rodriguez grumbled about “political games” from Democrats, which is what Republicans do when they get confronted by their policy failures and have no legitimate excuse for dodging the issue. It also tells you that there’s a lot more to come up on the Lincoln Hills story, which includes the Walker Administration not releasing to the public details of a letter from a Racine County judge that detailed abuse and the lack of responsiveness in early 2012 (coincidentally, a few months before Gov Walker’s recall election).

Hmm, and why didn’t the committee have any reports about these abuses in that summary of incidents they were going over in yesterday's meeting? Maybe it was because those incidents were being covered up without charges, as Patrick Marley revealed in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article that came out the same day Rodriguez shut down the discussion about Lincoln Hills.
Despite what a former state employee called a strong case, officials in 2013 abandoned pursuing charges against a juvenile inmate accused of sexually assaulting his roommate at a secure Northwoods facility now at the center of an investigation into sexual assault, prisoner abuse, child neglect and other crimes.

"It blew me away that no one was charged," said James Townsend, the former supervisor at Lincoln Hills School for Boys who investigated the March 2013 incident.

Townsend was fired a month after he conducted his investigation, in part because he refused to modify a report on his investigation at the request of supervisors.

Townsend, who is African-American, is fighting his termination, which he contends was based on racial discrimination and retaliation for how he responded to practices at Lincoln Hills. Department of Corrections officials deny he was fired for those reasons.
So was Rep. Rodriguez playing dumb when she claimed there were no incidents at Lincoln Hills to talk about, or was there some interference from the Walker Administration that kept her and the rest of the committee from knowing about this sooner? Inquiring minds should want to know. Perhaps the words of Rep. Johnson and the other Dems on the Committee on Children and Families (Lisa Subeck and Jill Billings) indicate that state Dems won’t repeat their bad habit of letting the GOP off the hook when one of these scandals emerge, allowing the issue to be dropped and removed from the public’s and media’s attention. Instead, maybe they will keep pounding on the pattern of abuse and cover-up that gets uglier with each new revelation about goings-on at Lincoln Hills.

Is it really any surprise that Gov Walker and the WisGOP Legislature have very negative approval ratings throughout the state (as evidenced in the most recent Marquette Law School Poll)? A lot of independents and others in the state have seen what corporatist Republican rule and incompetence has meant in Wisconsin, and they are done with the failed policies that have become the rule in Fitzwalkerstan. And even if their elected representatives don't want to hear it or do anything about it, it doesn't change the facts of those failures.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The David Koch call, 5 years later, and what it tells us now

5 years ago today in Wisconsin, masses were still at the Capitol protesting Gov Scott Walker's union-busting legislation- a package of regressive crap that became the infamous Act 10. In the middle of all this, this bit of absurdity hit YouTube, courtesy of some gonzo journalism from the Buffalo Beast's Ian Murphy, and it took the Wisconsin Uprising to a whole 'nother level of interest and outrage.

Here, you can check out the transcript yourself if you want to jog your memory. As I tend to do on occasion, I want to go back to some of the things Gov Walker said in that phone call to "David Koch," because it gives a clue into a lot of things that would eventually happen, and are still happening today.
Walker: So it’s, uh, this is ground zero, there’s no doubt about it. But, uh, I think, you know, for us, I just keep telling, I call, I tell the speaker, the senate majority leader every night, give me a list of the people I need to call at home, to shore ’em up. The New York Times, of all things, I don’t normally tell people to read the New York Times, but the front page of the New York Times has got a great story, one of these unbelievable moments of true journalism, what is supposed to be objective journalism. They got out of the capital and went down one county south of the capital to Janesville, to Rock County, that’s where the General Motors plant once was.

Murphy: Right, right.

Walker: They moved out two years ago. The lead on this story is about a guy who was laid off two years ago, uh, he’s been laid off twice by GM, who points out that, uh, everybody else in his town has had to sacrifice except for all these public employees and it’s about damn time they do, and he supports me. Um, and they had a bartender, they had, I mean, every stereotypical blue-collar worker type they interviewed, and the only ones that weren’t with us were people who were either a public employee or married to a public employee. It’s an unbelievable story. So I went through and called all these uh, a handful, a dozen or so lawmakers I worry about each day and said, “Everyone, we should get that story printed out and send it to anyone giving you grief.”
This hits at the heart of the whole “divide and conquer” strategy that Walker has gone back to time and again throughout his career. Make low-class white people’s shitty lives and lousy wages be used as fuel for resentment against others that have better jobs and benefits that they do, and then Walker would reverse field against those “blue-collar worker types” in private unions with (right-to) work-for-less in 2015. It's worked out just the way Scotty and Mr. Koch wanted it….until Mr. Trump came along, anyway.

By the way, it doesn’t seem that only public workers were the ones against Walker and Act 10 in Janesville, because Rock County’s vote against Walker increased from 52.5% to 55.7% in the 2012 recall election, and held near it at 55.6% in 2014.

Let’s continue.
Murphy: Yeah. Now what else could we do for you down there?

Walker: Well the biggest thing would be-and your guy on the ground [Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips] is probably seeing this is the, well, two things: One, our members originally got freaked out by all the bodies here, although, I told them an interesting story when I was first elected county executive in Milwaukee of all places, the first budget I put through was pretty bold, aggressive, the union went nuts on me and I got all sorts of grief. But a couple of weeks later I’m in a Veterans Day parade and I’m going down the line and usually unless you’re a veteran or, you know, marching with a veterans group, politicians all get polite applause but nobody gets up. I come down the line, 40-50 people in a row, hands up, thumbs up, you know, cheering, screaming, yelling, ‘Way to go, hang in there, Walker!’ And then after about 40-50 people like that, there’s a guy flipping me off [Murphy laughs].
In addition to admitting that AFP is nothing but a Koch front group, this is one of the earlier examples of Walker making up stories about his support and those who oppose him. The same way he lied in his book about protestors threatening him in La Crosse, lying about the majority of protestors being from out of state (I was at the Capitol several times- they were overwhelmingly from Wisconsin), and a number of little lies on everything ranging from the votes in the 2011 Supreme Court election down to how he got his (growing) bald spot.

Note this next part, which leads exactly into why the John Doe II investigation started into illegal campaign coordination and laundering of money through various right-wing oligarch groups.
Walker: The other thing is more long-term, and that is, after this, um, you know the coming days and weeks and months ahead, particularly in some of these, uh, more swing areas, a lot of these guys are gonna need, they don’t necessarily need ads for them, but they’re gonna need a message out reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy and a good thing to do for the state. So to the extent that that message is out over and over again, that’s obviously a good thing.
In other words, do some “independent” ads and events that really aren’t so independent, and use the right-wing propaganda shows on AM radio to get the message out without anyone calling bullshit on it, or revealing who your “experts” really work for. This outsourcing of message also allowed for the Walker folks to smear union supporters, Democrats or any of their other opponents without having the words lead back to them. It’s a pattern that repeats to this day, which is why Citizen Action’s Robert Kraig was on Wisconsin Public Radio this morning calling out Milwaukee talk radio as the one-sided garbage that it is, and discussing the Radio-Active Project that intends to hold the hate merchants to account (click here to help it out, it’s a great and necessary cause).

Lastly, here are some words from Scotty that haunt this state and many others to this day.
Walker: And I’ve gotta tell you the response from around the country has been phenomenal. I had Brian [Sandoval], the new governor of Nevada, called me the last night he said-he was out in the Lincoln Day Circuit in the last two weekends and he was kidding me, he’s new as well as me, he said, “Scott, don’t come to Nevada because I’d be afraid you beat me running for governor.” That’s all they want to talk about is what are you doing to help the governor of Wisconsin. The next question, you know, I talk to Kasich every day-John’s gotta stand firm in Ohio. I think we could do the same thing with [Rick] Scott in Florida. I think, uh, [Rick] Snyder-if he got a little more support-probably could do that in Michigan. You start going down the list there’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.

Murphy: You’re the first domino.

Walker: Yep. This is our moment.
Little did many of us realize in February 2011 that all of these governors and new GOP legislatures were working from the same Koch/ALEC playbook, where corporations and oligarchs write copycat legislation for the GOP in any state they think they can sneak it through. Although we got a good hint that there was something big behind the scenes when UW Professor William Cronon wrote a piece on what ALEC was and how they work, and the state’s right-wing slime machine immediately tried to destroy his career (you forgot about that, didn’t you?).

I bet very few of those that voted for the “new governors that got elected to do something big” were thinking it would translate into the union-busting, privatization of public services, abortion restrictions, fiscal irresponsibility and outright corruption that have followed in the states Walker names, as well as several others. BUT YET ENOUGH OF THOSE DOPES RE-ELECTED ALL OF THESE BUMS IN 2014, and now you and your states are paying the price. Forgive me if I show little empathy for you as you realize exactly what we told you about 5 years ago.

Looking back on the David Koch call these days, it makes me wonder why it wasn’t played ad nauseum by Dem officials leading up to the 2012 recall election, to give a warning that “This guy lied to you, and he will do worse if you keep him in office.” But nooooo, that would have been mean, and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and Tom Barrett thought it was a better idea to run a conventional election campaign instead of bringing up the reason there was a recall in the first place. I also haven’t forgotten that the DNC’s Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and President Obama gave little support to the effort, and concentrated on DC World instead of putting resources into the recall effort.

I think this was a major tactical error by the DNC, because had the recall effort succeeded, it would have slammed the door shut on many of these destructive ALEC changes. And not only in Wisconsin, but in many other states that are now suffering real damage as a result of ALEC vandalism. And we wouldn’t have had to wait 3 more years for Scott Walker to become the disgraced laughingstock that he became when he tried to use the Act 10 battle and associated ALEC agenda as a springboard to the national stage.

Today, with continued cuts to public education that are now driving up property taxes and threatening to see schools close 5 years after the Act 10 “tools” were supposed to solve all of those fiscal problems, and potholes opening up every day on the 3rd worst roads in the nation, you certainly can’t say that we were made better off by Scotty changing this state’s direction when he “dropped the bomb.” In fact, we may have understated just how bad things would become, because we didn't see how Act 10 would intersect with other Walker austerity measures that would be released in the coming years. Because Walker and WisGOP slow-played the changes that were to take place in other sectors of the state, not enough people understood the full picture of the damage of these policies until the 2014 elections were past, and we now are stuck with Gov Dropout for another 34 months, and a WisGOP Legislature that will only start to be removed from power this November.

Being nice won’t beat these thugs, but reminding people of their disastrous record and empty (public) promises may be enough to start repairing the damage starting this April, when we start to restore balance to a crooked Supreme Court. The "WMC 4 judges" and the newly-installed Rebecca Bradley (Foundation) are every bit as guilty as Walker, they just haven’t gotten caught conspiring their dark-money plans with the oligarchs on tape, like Scotty did 5 years ago.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Apparently in Wisconsin, "fraud" is only bad when you lack money

In a Sunday piece that gave an overview of some of the massive amount of legislation that was jammed through the Assembly last week, the Wisconsin State Journal’s Matt DeFour noted that several of these bills will not be voted on in the State Senate. Since Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos plans to put the members of the lower house on a 10 1/2 month paid vacation (nice gig, eh?), that means these bills will die and have to wait until at least this time next year to be passed all over again and made into law.

Among those is a bill involving an organization we haven't heard from in a while, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). And as DeFour's report mentions, that slush fund will be allowed to continue in no small part because of the lack of action by WEDC Board member and retiring State Sen. Rick Gudex.
Gudex doesn’t plan to hold a public hearing on a bill that would make defrauding WEDC a felony, all but assuring the bill won’t come up for a Senate vote after passing the Assembly on a voice vote. Gudex had concerns the bill would discourage legitimate businesses from applying for economic assistance for fear of being punished for unintentionally misleading the agency.

The proposal was introduced after the Wisconsin State Journal reported on a $500,000 WEDC loan to a struggling Milwaukee construction company that has not been repaid. The company’s owner included misinformation on his application and told creditors he would repay debt with the state funds, but has not been charged with a crime.

The Assembly version of the bill was sponsored by Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Powers Lake, while the Senate version was sponsored by a Democrat, Sen. Dave Hansen, of Green Bay. The Senate version of another Kerkman bill, making unemployment insurance fraud a felony, has received a public hearing, giving it a better chance of passage in the Senate.
And given that Sen. Gudex is quitting to “return to the private sector”, I wonder if he and his buddies in Fondy have a few WEDC grants in mind for future years? NAAH! I’m thinking too cynically, that can’t be what Gudex has in mind by burying the WEDC fraud bill.

Oh, and let’s talk about that unemployment fraud bill, which does seem to be likely to go through the State Senate, unlike the WEDC fraud bill. The bill seems to define “fraud” as information filled out incorrectly when unemployment is applied for, whether the applicant knows it’s incorrect or not. Now flash back to what was said in the Assembly as they passed this bill last week.
Despite Dems arguing an unemployment insurance fraud bill is focused on the wrong part of the system, the GOP legislation passed via voice vote.

Dem Reps. Chris Taylor, of Madison, and Christine Sinicki, of Milwaukee, argued lawmakers should be focused on simplifying the unemployment insurance forms people have to fill out rather than on the people who often struggle to complete the paperwork correctly.

"It's almost a novel," Sinicki said. "People are bound to make a mistake."
So Rick Gudex and other WisGOP Senators don’t want to pass a bill making WEDC fraud a felony, because someone might “unintentionally mislead the agency.” But when a poor person who’s just been thrown out of work does the same thing, LOCK EM UP and lower the chances of that person ever getting off the dole.

Speaks volumes over who the WisGOPs care about, and who they think really deserves welfare, doesn’t it? It speaks volumes over who is writing their campaign checks, and who they listen to as a result. And it ain’t those who have fallen on hard times.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Why some "lefty econ" types don't Feel the Bern? They accept a lousy "reality"

This is an intriguing article from the New York Times' Neil Irwin discussing how allegedly left-of-center economists like Paul Krugman (and to an extent, UW's Menzie Chinn) have expressed skepticism, if not outright contempt for Bernie Sanders' plans on health care and related issues.

Irwin points out that some of this dismay for Sanders' ideas are the reflection of people whose life work has been involved in policy-making int he 2000s and often being involved in the battles that go into making policy, and they feel that Sanders is threatening some of their experience, and their legacy.
The wonkosphere vs. Bernie clash is not just a story of center-left versus left-left. It is also a clash between those who have been in the trenches of trying to make public policy for the last seven years versus those who can exist in a kind of theoretical world of imagining what public policy ought to be.

Suppose, for a moment, that you worked as a staff member to a Democratic member of Congress, or perhaps in the Obama administration, or in the world of academics and think tank experts advising both.

Perhaps you worked countless all-nighters on the language of the Affordable Care Act or the Dodd-Frank Act — or maybe you were at an agency trying to write the thousands of pages of regulations to institute those laws, or even an advocacy group trying to nudge all of the above to the left.

You know the compromises that were made back in 2010 and why — uniting 55 or 60 senators with wildly different political temperaments and local politics was really hard. You had to come up with a bill that could get a “Yes” vote from both a centrist like Joe Lieberman or Joe Manchin and, well, a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders.

You’re convinced that those laws — much hated by both conservatives and the industries they overhauled — made the United States a better place, helping millions more people afford health care and reining in the financial industry. You know the laws aren’t perfect — but also believe that future presidents and Congresses should build on them, much as Social Security and Medicare are now much expanded from their original charters.
But isn't that exactly the problem that Bernie is constantly pointing out, that the DC SYSTEM is so rigged that we need a revolution in thinking and new members of Congress that allow those needed changes to be made? Instead, we have had reforms watered down into the half-assed compromises and corporate sellouts that haven't dragged the country out of the Great Recession strong enough for many people to feel an improvement in their lives.

But don't take that to mean I'm arguing (for example) that Obamacare didn't make things better in this country - it absolutely did, and I will defend it against any garbage a GOP tries to throw up on the issue of dealing with the uninusred and underinsured. But it was also much less than what the American people voted for in 2008, which was somewhere between health care reform with a strong public option to give competition to insurance companies, and single-payer health care similar to what the rest of the civilized world has.

Let me note this passage from Matt Taibbi's excellent Griftopia to remind you how Obamacare REALLY was designed.
Obamacare had been designed as a coldly cynical political deal: massive giveaways to Big Pharma in the form of monster subisidies, and an equally lucrative handout to big insurance in the form of an individual mandate granting a few already-wealthy companies 25-30 million new customers who would be forced to buy their products at artificially inflation, federally protected prices.

The essence of Obamacare was two ruthless power plays fused at the hip. It was the federal government seizing control of America's private industry worth about 16 percent of GDP (I wish!) . And it was that same sector of private industry in turn seizing permanent control of about 8 percent of America's taxable income, for converting to private profit. What was little understood by the public, even after more than a year of near-constant media blathering and manufactured talk-radio controversies, is that the Obama administration tried to pay for the first power play by green-lighting the other.

The admittedly ingenious plan devised by our freshman president and his indomitable chief of staff - an overconfident and immensely unlikable neo-Svengali named Rahm Emanuel, who resembled Karl Rove, only more driven, with better hair, and without the distantly validating sense of humor (the same Rahm Emanuel who now is hated in every corner of Chicago outside of 1%er-land, but still defended by Hillary Clinton) - was to buy the insurance and pharmaceutical industries' acquiescence to the gentlest of regulatory regimes by giving them back the one thing they had to trade: the power to tax the public....

That the bill was a grotesque giveaway was, by the end, a secret to almost nobody in Washington. If you wanted proof of that, all you had to do was look at who wrote one of the bill's early drafts - a Senate aide named Liz Fowler who had joined Senator Max Baucus's staff in February 2009 after a few lucrative years away from government, working for the insurance giant WellPoint. Here's something that Liz Fowler said out loud a few years back, during her brief but lucrative hiatus from government service.

"People used to love me when I worked on the Hill," she said, "because I wrote bills that gave away money."
And this is the culture that elite wonks are coming from when they take issue with Bernie Sanders' plans and call them unrealistic. They think that lobbyists and the interests they front for are immovable, that they are a key part of "political reality", and that the best solutions to the real problems of economic insecurity and a lack of health insurance can't always be done because of that "political reality."

But what's being missed here is that political reality can always be changed. We've seen it in a negative way in Wisconsin, where "political reality" in November 2010 would have said that there was no way you could pass laws to eviscerate public and private sector unions, cut funding for the UW System and K-12 public education, and open up a flood of untraceable dark money into the state's elections. Yet barely 5 years later, look at where we are, and it didn't take a large-scale movement of people to do it, but instead it was a combination of a bought-off media and the laziness of an electorate that refused to vote in large enough numbers to make those politicians pay for the damage they were causing.

Lots of us on the progressive side of things in ALEC states like Wisconsin have noted this, and see that the half-measures and compromises of the 2010s Democratic Party have done nothing to change this damaging course. Instead of settling for "political reality," we'd rather change things into something that is more acceptable than a slight improvement on a crappy status quo. And these include the base idea of unrigging the economy, making health care a right and not something that amoral corporations control, and removing the disproportionate influence of oligarchs on our politicians and the campaign finance system they dominate.

And it's not like going further than "political reality" isn't something new. Dems used to say things like this all the time.

AND IT HAPPENED. It's a matter of will and getting the right people in charge who will tell the truth, inspire the people to get more people in power with the same values, and get the job done. And unlike a lot of people in the Acela corridor, I don't think we need to give up and settle for second-best.

WisGOP reps show incompetence on CAFO, high-cap well bill

Among many other absurdities and bad bills passed in Thursday night's bum rush to adjourn the WisGOP-run State Assembly involved a bill that would loosen regulations for high-capacity wells that are often associated with large-scale animal farms. Bad enough on its face, but the actions of a rep whose district is set to be the home of one of the state’s largest CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) made it much worse with his foolish actions last night.

Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) was the author of an amendment that made it into the final high-capacity well legislation, then took the ridiculous step of voting against his own bill. I’ll let explain it from there.
Rep. Scott Krug, after being called out by Dems after the 57-35 vote in favor of the bill, said he wanted to add more to the sub to Rep. Lee Nerison's legislation. Krug, R-Nekoosa, said he spent three years working on a high-capacity well bill. His more sweeping legislation recently died, so he tried to boost Nerison's narrower bill.

AB 874 deals with permitting for the wells, which can pump 100,000 gallons of water per day. Under the bill, for instance, no new permit would be required for well maintenance or when ownership is transferred. The Westby Republican’s legislation also would allow for the drilling of a new well using the same specs as the old as long as the new one is within 75 feet.

In response to Dems on the floor, Krug said he thought the bill "fell a little short." Later, he was more specific, saying his primary problem with the bill was the ownership transfer provision.

"That's just too big of a hurdle to jump for my constituents," Krug said.
Yes, that’s it. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that Krug won his 2012 election by a total of 109 votes in a time when Wisconsinites didn’t hate the GOP Legislature as much they do today. Riiight.

In fact, Krug was the ONLY Republican to vote against this high-capacity well bill Thursday night, making his decision seem all the more absurd and cynical.

The top two Democrats in the Assembly quickly pounced, asking “How Low Will Scott Krug Go?”, and asked if he thought the people of Rapids and Adams County were so stupid that they couldn’t see through this.
“In all my years, I have never, ever, seen someone write their own amendment, vote for it in committee, and then vote against it on the Assembly floor. These are the kinds of twisted, political games that people are just fed up with,” commented Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha). “Does he really think he can have a vote in both pockets, mislead his constituents, and get away with it?”

When asked on the Assembly floor why he voted against his own proposal, which he claimed to have worked on for three and a half years and previously voted for, Rep. Krug said the proposal “fell a little bit short.”

“The only person that can be blamed for this proposal falling short is Scott Krug. He wrote the proposal that he voted against. Is this really the best he could do for his constituents?” said Assistant Democratic Leader Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). “In a desperate attempt to protect himself and save face in an election year, he is willing to intentionally mislead our Central Sands community.”
For more on this, read MAL Contends’ excellent history of Krug's work with the CAFO industry.

Another GOP representative who might need to answer some questions on his vote on the high-capacity well bill is State Rep. Travis Tranel, who “represents” Grant County in the Legislature. I note where Tranel is from become there is a bit of a mess going on back in his district right now.
State and local authorities were overseeing cleanup of manure that spilled from a dairy farm near Fennimore in Grant County and flowed 2 miles to a trout stream on Thursday.

It wasn’t clear how much manure was released or if there was serious damage to wildlife, but neighbors said they were advised to drink bottled water and test their wells.

The farm, Misty Morning Dairy, 3679 Wood Road, obtained a state permit to expand as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation with more than 1,700 animals in 2014, just a year after the state was forced to hire a hauler to empty the farm’s 1-million-gallon manure pit to avoid a spill.

Around 7 a.m. Thursday, the owner notified the state Department of Natural Resources that a hose coupling had failed sometime during the night, agency spokesman George Althoff said.
This information was likely available to Travis Tranel when he was faced with the CAFO high-capacity well bill late Thursday night, but he still went ahead like a good little GOP sheep and voted for the bill. Wonder how the people in Grant County that are now drinking bottled water and dealing with a 2-mile long river of crap might think about that. You know, if someone would let them know about it.

These are the consequences of voting Republican, and it’s sad that it has to take politicians voting against their own bill and miles of manure being spilled to happen for some of these people to catch on to that fact…if they ever will.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A few reflections of a strong progressive vote on Tuesday

I wanted to forward a couple of good articles that gave some analysis to Tuesday’s elections for office in Wisconsin (I touched on the number of successful school referenda in this post).

The first is from Milwaukee’s Dom Noth, who has his typically excellent and in-depth rundown of the votes for Mayor, County Executive, and Alder, as well as a Milwaukee flavor on the Supreme Court numbers. Noth points out that progressives came out in stronger-than-expected numbers statewide, and in particular, Noth notes that Tuesday’s results out of the state’s largest city have shaken up Wisconsin’s political oligarchs.
It’s hard to predict April 5 turnout based on the Feb. 16 preliminary contest. But in this case as in several other races it indicated that progressive forces were in clear shot of taking back power in a number of contests – which is likely to scare the better heeled entrenched, whose only recourse is greater spending and advertising (they seem to have run out of ideas).

Nowhere was this clearer than in the technically nonpartisan race for Milwaukee County executive (though both sides are selling themselves as Democrats and only one can really be telling the truth). It ended as expected in that the two Chrises were on top and advancing out of four candidates – incumbent Chris Abele and challenger Chris Larson (and if you think the fact that both have the same first names isn’t important, you should have seen the number of fouled ballots caused at the polls).

But again the margin was a shock to the GOP in Madison. They had been cozying up to Abele in a number of bills specifically aimed at increasing his power. All that late-night voting may have been for naught. Though outspent 20 to 1 by the billionaire heir, Larson actually topped Abele by 700 votes (48,258 for Larson to 47,550 for Abele)….

Abele has turned to a costly trail of mailers and TV ads to counter the attacks from Larson, who without much money drew more votes Feb. 16. Larson is currently a state senator and a former supervisor who clearly knows how to play politics and is riding a lot of progressive and working society wrath against Abele.

Nothing else can explain his great showing. Marina Dimitrijevic, a county supervisor and state head of the new Working Families Party (it supports progressive candidates like Larson but is picky about its choices) called Larson topping Abele in the votes “an earthquake.” For most political observers, that is hardly an overstatement.
The other “earthquake” in the state came from the poor showing by Walker-appointed Justice Rebecca Bradley in the Supreme Court race. More than 55% of the state’s voters did not vote for Justice Bradley (Foundation), and the vast majority of those who did not vote for Bradley gave their votes to Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who finished less than 8,700 votes behind Bradley out of over 563,000 ballots cast. broke down some of those numbers, and found Justice Bradley ran well behind fellow right-wing Justice Pat Roggensack’s performance in 2013.
Brown County epitomizes that. The county has become a key read in state elections with Republicans and conservatives needing to run up the score there to help offset Dem results in places such as Madison and Milwaukee.

But while turnout nearly doubled -- 20,787 votes yesterday compared to 10,746 in 2013 -- Bradley captured just 47.6 percent of the vote. By comparison, Roggensack won 65.8 percent three years ago. Kloppenburg, meanwhile, won 38.5 percent in Brown County, compared to Fallone's 27.8 percent in 2013….

In 2013, Roggensack won 54.2 percent of the vote in Eau Claire with 5,130 people turning out in that race, while Fallone was at 40 percent. Yesterday, Kloppenburg won 60.2 percent of the 8,619 votes tallied there, compared to 32.6 percent for Bradley.

In La Crosse County, Roggensack won 58.9 percent of the vote compared to 31.9 percent for Fallone in 2013 as 8,223 cast ballots. But Kloppenburg won the county with 56.9 percent of the 10,712 votes cast, compared to Bradley's 34.6 percent.
And that was with Ms. Bradley (Foundation) having nearly $1 million in personal and dark-money funds backing her before the primary, well above what either Kloppenburg or 3rd-place Joe Donald had. That'll likely even up in the next 7 weeks.

The high turnout in Milwaukee allowed for it to grab a large share of the votes in Tuesday’s primary, and it’ll be interesting to see if that will be repeated for April’s elections, where not only will the final elections for County Exec, Mayor, and Supreme Court Justice be on the ballot, but also the presidential primaries for both parties. As you’ll see, the Milwaukee area’s share of the statewide vote went well above a typical November or April election (as I broke down in this post), but it also shows that Bradley’s places of strength (the WOW counties) grabbed a little more of the vote than they usually do, especially Washington County. Dane County also came out in force on Tuesday, despite there being few if any items on the ballot other than the Supreme Court primary.

Top 10 areas/Counties for Feb 2016 turnout
Dane County 12.83% (+2.92% vs. 2012 presidential turnout, +0.67% vs. 2011 SC election)
City of Milwaukee 11.65% (+2.15% vs 2012 prez, +3.57% vs 2011 SC)
Waukesha County 8.02% (+0.07% vs 2012 prez, -0.32% vs 2011 SC)
Rest of Milw. Co. 7.69% (+1.04% vs 2012 prez, +0.50% vs 2011 SC)
Brown County 3.68% (-0.52% vs 2012 prez, -0.37% vs 2011 SC)
Washington Co. 2.99% (+0.42% vs 2012 prez, +0.28% vs 2011 SC)
Racine County 2.96% (-0.41% vs 2012 prez, -0.43% vs 2011 SC)
Winnebago Co. 2.32% (-0.59% vs 2012 prez, -0.39% vs 2011 SC)
Outagamie Co. 2.31% (-0.77% vs 2012 prez, -0.60% vs 2011 SC)
Marathon Co. 2.12% (-0.16% vs 2012 prez, -0.01% vs 2011 SC)

Notice that the three largest counties in the Fox Valley all had smaller-than-normal turnout, and Bradley badly underperformed there, getting less than 50% of the vote in all 3 places. In addition, the blue-leaning areas of Kenosha and Rock Counties, who are usually part of this top 10 list, aren’t in the equation here. In fact, dead-red Ozaukee County (where Bradley pulled 67% of the vote) actually had more ballots cast than Kenosha and Rock Counties this week, but Becky shouldn't expect that to hold up on April 5. With that in mind, things might look even worse for Justice Bradley (Foundation) than her disappointing performance on Tuesday night’s primary would indicate, especially if those counties I mentioned above have a more typical turnout in April. And I bet the Bradley/Koch/GOP oligarchs that created Rebecca Bradley’s career know it as well as anyone.

It also means now it’s time to work even harder over these 47 days, to speak more of these truths to people, in order to make the “earthquake” that was felt in the primary result in a progressive landslide.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The other election story- school referenda keep passing

While the State Supreme Court and executive elections in Milwaukee rightfully got the most statewide attention in today's papers, the Wisconsin Budget Project has a good rundown of the other big election news from last night.

The vast majority of these referenda were in Republican-voting areas, and notice how many of them weren't for specific projects, but were asking for the tax increases just to keep the lights on and the classrooms open as-is. Sure makes you wonder if a lot of those voters are starting to draw the connection between state aid cuts to public schools and increases in funding to voucher schools, and the increased property taxes that will result from all of this referenda. Ordinarily I'd say no, but then you look at the large number of rural counties that JoAnne Kloppenburg won last night, and I maintain a bit of hope going forward.

Speaking of referenda, the Budget Project's Tamarine Cornelius has her eyes on that absurd bill that some WisGOP leigslators have tried to sneak through that would limit these referenda.
This legislative session, some Wisconsin lawmakers sought to make it more difficult for voters to approve additional resources for children in public schools in their districts. They proposed requiring a two-year waiting period after an unsuccessful referendum before voters could get another chance to approve new resources. A later, amended version of the legislation shortened the waiting period to one year. As the state Assembly wraps up work this week, it looks like this bill (Assembly Bill 481/Senate Bill 355) won’t pass, meaning that residents can continue to use the referendum as a way to approve new resources for schools.
While I wouldn't put it past these bastards to try to pull that bill up late tomorrow night, I think there's been enough blowback from people that these guys will likely back off. Besides, as last night showed, the areas that elected those school-cutting GOP legislators continue to believe in paying taxes to support their own schools. I just wonder if those same voters will take the next step and actually elect different legislators that might stop the cycle we've seen all too often of

1. Cut public school funding
2. Requiring school referendum and
3. Increase in property taxes

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

April vs November electorates in Wisconsin- by the numbers

With it being the day of the primaries for the Supreme Court throughout Wisconsin, as well as for the executives in Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee, I wanted to show how the statewide electorates change for these April elections, based on the circumstances and what's on the ballot.

To give you an idea how this is different, let's start with what we think of as a "typical" Wisconsin electorate. Here are a look the top areas for turnout in the last 2 November general elections, and I am going to split the City of Milwaukee off from the rest of Milwaukee County, as it'll give a better illustration of how this stat breaks down.

2014 Governor’s Election
Dane County 10.47%
City of Milwaukee 8.65%
Waukesha Co. 8.43%
Rest of Milw. Co. 6.62%
Brown County 4.16%
Racine County 3.30%
Outagamie Co. 3.11%
Winnebago Co. 2.87%
Washington Co. 2.75%
Rock County 2.42%

2012 Presidential Election
Dane County 9.91%
City of Milwaukee 9.40%
Waukesha Co. 7.95%
Rest of Milw. Co. 6.65%
Brown County 4.20%
Racine County 3.37%
Outagamie Co. 3.08%
Winnebago Co. 2.91%
Kenosha County 2.64%
Rock County 2.63%
(Washington Co. 2.57%)

Notice how the City of Milwaukee’s share steps up in the presidential election year? The higher City of Milwaukee share also seems to eat into the higher proportions both Waukesha and Dane Counties had of the vote in 2014. Also see how dead-red Washington County is diluted and was passed on the turnout list by the bluer Rock and Kenosha Counties in the 2012 presidential election, which went for Democrat Barack Obama by 7%, compared to Scott Walker's 5.7% victory in 2014.

Now, let's take a look at how the dynamic changes with the April Supreme Court elections. I'll start with 2 examples- one involving the higher-turnout 2011 recount election between Joanne Kloppenburg and David Prosser, and last year's lower-turnout easy victory for Ann Walsh Bradley over James Daley.

2011 Supreme Court (high turnout, close election)
Dane County 12.16%
Waukesha Co. 8.34%
City of Milwaukee 8.08%
Rest of Milw. Co. 7.19%
Brown County 4.05%
Racine County 3.39%
Outagamie Co. 2.91%
Washington Co. 2.71%
Winnebago Co. 2.65%
Rock County 2.46%

2015 Supreme Court (low engagement, not close election)
Dane County 12.36%
Waukesha Co. 7.79%
Rest of Milwaukee Co. 6.22%
City of Milwaukee 5.02%
Brown County 4.58%
Racine County 3.53%
Marathon Co. 2.84%
Rock County 2.56%
Outagamie Co. 2.54%
Washington Co. 2.43%

A factor here is the City of Madison having Mayoral elections in both of those years, and Chris Abele getting elected as the executive of Milwaukee County in 2011. Both likely make those areas' figures a bit higher than they usually would be, but it still shows Washington and Racine counties pulling a disproportionately large share of the vote, and Milwaukee's figures nosedived in 2015 with no local race on the docket.

Now I want to throw in is the totals from April 2008, which had a low-turnout Supreme Court race where crooked Michael Gableman won by less than 3% over Louis Butler. and much lighter-contested County Exec and Mayor’s races in Milwaukee. In that election, there were 86,000 votes cast in the City of Milwaukee, and while that is much less than the amount that turned out in either November election, it still resulted in the 414 having an outsized impact on the total statewide numbers in that race.

2008 Supreme Court (low turnout, close election)
City of Milwaukee 10.43%
Rest of Milw. Co. 8.79%
Dane County 8.60%
Waukesha Co. 7.87%
Brown County 3.54%
Racine County 3.42%
Outagamie Co. 2.91%
Washington Co. 2.69%
Winnebago Co. 2.46%
Kenosha County 2.45%

Look at how those Milwaukee figures rise to the top compared to the other races. Also look at the dropoff in Dane County, which has its lowest share of the vote out of all of these elections. It appears that most college students and many others in that area figured their duty was done after voting in huge numbers in the February 2008 presidential primary. The April Supreme Court election had less than half the number of Dane County voters that the February presidential primary did (by comparison, Milwaukee County had a dropoff of less than 40% between the two elections).

The upshot is that while Butler won Dane County with more than 72% of the vote in 2008, because Dane County’s turnout was so low, Gableman was able to slip by. By comparison, I’d be surprised if Dane County’s share slips below 10% in the 2016 Supreme Court race, when presidential primaries also on the ballot, and the City and County of Milwaukee also stand to have higher voter totals. This means that the share of the state’s two largest counties will likely be a lot closer to what we saw in the presidential year of 2012 than the other years where more Republican counties have had a higher share of the state’s voters.

To give you an idea of the amount of extra votes that may be cast in Milwaukee County, take a look at April 2004, where there were contested races for both Mayor and County Executive. Over 160,000 ballots were cast in the City of Milwaukee that day without a presidential primary on the ballot, so I’d estimate that 160,000 as a floor for April 2016 this time.

And that overly large Milwaukee turnout may just be what Joe Donald is counting on, as a Milwaukee County judge that isn’t that well-known in much of the rest of the state when this campaign began. The AM talk radio sheep are going to vote for Rebecca Bradley, and JoAnne Kloppenburg has a decent amount of name recognition from when she was screwed her run for Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising. But if Donald can get a large amount of votes from a large turnout in Milwaukee County, then perhaps that enables him to not only squeak by in today’s primary, but then be in good shape to win the overall election in a pro-Milwaukee, higher turnout situation.

We’ll see if that gamble pays off for Judge Donald, but what the voter turnout history in Wisconsin does show us is that the turf should be more favorable for any Dem-leaning candidate in this Spring’s Supreme Court race than it usually is for these lower-turnout elections. And that reality might go a long way toward explaining why the right-wing oligarch groups decided to drop so much coin on Ms. Bradley Foundation ahead of today’s vote. They see that their usual Spring election advantage of an overly white WOW County electorate will likely not hold up in 2016, so they figure they must need all the media exposure and dishonest ads that they can throw out there.

The bottom line- VOTE YOU FUCKERS! You know the bad guys will, so you may as well cancel them out.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Wisconsin's 5% cut bill "improves", budget does not

Not that this should surprise anyone, but now even the top Republican in the Wisconsin State Senate is admitting the state budget is messed up. It's so bad that these guys won't be able to pass Gov Walker's half-assed "college affordability" package, which Scotty outlined in last month's State of the State address.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says lower budget projections will affect the fate of a package of legislation proposed to address college affordability and debt.

The Juneau Republican told “UpFront with Mike Gousha” the student loan provisions are not the only initiatives that will face difficulties in the Legislature. He said lawmakers will likely turn attention to low-cost efforts that draw on federal programs aimed at alleviating student debt.

“The rumor was that things were going to be a little bit tighter than what we imagined, and they are,” Fitzgerald said on the program, produced in partnership with

He said the original $6.5 million cost of the package will be reduced to around $2 million.
It's not like that package was going to do much anyway, nor would it come close to solving the underlying problem of defunding the UW System. But now the WisGOPs can't even do half of a half-measure because they've screwed up the budget so much. Pathetic.

Speaking of slicing the budget- out of a list of destructive crap that the WisGOPs are going to try to jam through the State Senate tomorrow is an old bill that caught my eye earlier this winter. This proposal would require all state agencies to explain plans for a 5% cut in funding as part of their budget requests, and I immediately called it out as a way that the GOP might try to claim the budget isn't as wrecked as it is in the real world (they'd claim the numbers under a 5% cut would be the "projected figures" and try to claim a balanced budget where it doesn't exist).

Well, it looks like there are a couple of changes to this bill that'll be voted on when it hits the Senate floor tomorrow, as outlined by this amendment put forward by Chris (The Delafield Dumbass) Kapenga.
For purposes of the proposals under par. (b) 1. and 2., an agency shall exclude from its state operations budget all of the following:

1. Expenditures funded by federal revenues.
2. Expenditures for principal, interest, and premium costs on public debt and state-issued revenue bonds.
It also excludes items such as WRS unfunded liabilities and other types of bond revenues, and doesn't include budget adjustments for things such as differences in expenses for programs that MUST be paid for (aka sum-sufficient expenses and related adjustments that happen throughout a budget year).

Basically, it takes out types of expenses that have to be paid for regardless of how broke the state is, which gives a more honest look into just what the budget reductions would be. Don't get me wrong he "5% cut" bill is still cynical, and is clearly intended to diminish the true fiscal train wreck that is occurring, but at least it’d force agencies to be a bit more realistic as to how bad a 5% budget cut would truly be. And that's something we all deserve to know

However, it's funny how the GOP and Governor Walker didn’t use this same standard when they claim the Governor's proposed $300 million cut to the UW was “only 2.5% of the total operating budget” despite the fact that most of the UW’s operating budget outside of state funding, and would be largely untouched by any state aid cuts (or at least should be, since those positions and operations weren’t funded by the state anyway). Now, the WisGOPs are going in the other direction with this "5% cut" bill, and saying certain expenses shouldn't be counted in the cuts. While it's true that it shouldn't be counted, it's interesting that they never brought that reality up when the cut the UW so much earlier this year. Funny how this crew shifts their reasoning when it suits the story they want to tell.

That reality might be worth pointing out on the Senate floor tomorrow, as is the fact that a lot of time and bills are being rammed through on issues that have nothing to do with the state's disastrous budget and failures in job growth. Oh wait, that's EXACTLY why all this is being done, to distract the voters and mess things up as much as possible before the GOP is eventually tossed out of office.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Charlie Pierce on last night's GOP debacle

I caught bits and pieces of the GOP's shitshow of a debate in South Carolina last night (state motto: "Our proudest moment was in 1861!"). But I'll leave it to a much better writer than I to sum up just how bad this was, and how we've descended to this point in our politics. Charlie Pierce, take it away!
Tell me truly—how does that spectacle not destroy the credibility of the Republican Party for at least a decade?

How does that freak show not blow up the party's claim to have serious policies to help govern the country? How does that carnival of unimaginative invective add up to a governing philosophy? How does that massive, chewy clusterfck add up to a single rational moment of human thought? I don't care if these guys believe in evolution or not, but they at least should try to demonstrate while they're on TV that, somehow, we've come a respectable distance as a species since we tottered out of Olduvai Gorge. I've seen better organized riots. I've heard more coherent dialogue from cats mating in an alley. I once heard a squirrel being eaten by a coyote. The squirrel had better manners while it was being devoured, and was better spoken besides. Christ above, somebody separate these clowns before they hurt their brains some more. Tailgunner Ted Cruz said more than he knows, not least because he doesn't know what "literally" means.
And the way Charlie ends the piece illustrates why he is one of the few people left in this country that does actual political journalism. Pierce points the finger at a main culprit for this ridiculous spectacle- a national media that refuses to tell the American people the truth about this ridiculous wrecking crew.
There was nobody who did well. This was a debate in which obvious fact—George W. Bush was president on September 11, 2001—was booed from the cheap seats and derided from the other people on stage. This was a debate in which Donald J. Trump was on the side of empirical reality, so much the worse for empirical reality. This was a debate in which Young Marco Rubio promised to expand the Republican party by destroying marriage equality and forcing a young woman to carry her rapist's baby to term. Trump (and empirical reality) got heckled. Rubio got cheered. Wildly. Nobody commented on the obvious disconnect from physical reality.

One of these guys has to win the Republican nomination. That's the reason why the process through which they have to haul themselves, and the fact that their party has lost its mind, matters. That's why ignoring the spectacle of what actually happened on Saturday night is a disservice to journalism and to the country. It's not Trump, boys.

It's the rest of y'all.
We've learned the hard way in Wisconsin that most media will not give the straight facts about issues unless the public hammers them and reminds others of the reality they are choosing not to report. It's a big reason the amount of posts I started writing went way up starting 5 years ago this month, when Gov Walker first "dropped the bomb", and our state's media promptly dropped the ball in its responsibilities to the public. And we need to do it again as this destructive GOP will try to block President Obama from performing his Constitutional right of nominating a Supreme Court justice and performing his duties as president for the last 11 months he is in office, because you know the DC-based media will want to shrug and say "President Obama says the sky is blue, the GOP says the sky is green," and leave the independent facts out of their stories. Don't let them get away with it.

This GOP crew deserves to get its ass beat into oblivion over the next 9 months of elections, and we can start by voting in the State Supreme Court primary this Tuesday, and remove Ms. Rebecca Bradley (Foundation) from the position Scott Walker appointed her unqualified, foolish self to. And yes, I'd love to see some media try to have Walker explain why it's OK for him to appoint one of his buddies for a few months when a state Supreme Court Justice dies, but it's not OK for President Obama to do the same for SCOTUS.

Not that I'd expect much in terms of coherence from Scotty. After all, this guy was such a clown that he couldn't even last 3 months on the same stage with the dingbats that were making fools of themselves in South Carolina last night.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Pleasant shocker from DC!

Oh yeah. HELLS YEAH! Things were looking good already, but it just got a whole lot brighter today.

UW 70, at No. 2 Maryland 57

Oh, you thought I was talking about Scalia dying? Yeah, that's pretty cool to get a racist, 20th-Century trogdoldyte off the nation's highest court, and opening the door for Citizens United and other heinous decisions to start to be reversed.

I'm also loving Obama throwing down the gauntlet and saying he'll DO HIS JOB, and nominate a candidate for SCOTUS. Go ahead GOP, try to obstruct that. With 20+ GOP Senators up for re-election, we'll see if the public accepts you failing to do your constitutional duty. You know, do the exact opposite of what the Democrats in the Senate did when Anthony Kennedy was nominated by lame-duck Ronald Reagan in his last year in office....and the Dems OK'd the nomination.

But that's to be determined in the future, just like the Badgers' NCAA tournament hopes. For tonight, both the SCOTUS and Badger basketball is a pretty intriguing situation that's looks a lot more different than it did this morning.

PS- You think the Badger basketball players want Greg Gard to keep the head coaching job?

PPS- Keep those killer 1970s-style uniforms with the Bucky on the shorts.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Louisiana budget crisis shows where Wisconsin's heading

You want to know what the future looks like in Wisconsin as they continue their strategy of cutting taxes for the rich, corporate and well-connected, and lower services and wages for everyone else? Take a look at what’s happening in Louisiana right now, which also was afflicted with a Teabag governor with a failed presidential campaign in 2016- Bobby Jindal. Jindal was replaced by Democrat John Bel Edwards last month, and check out the mess Bobby left behind for Edwards to clean up.
The panel that identifies the state’s projected income again lowered its expectations for the budget year that ends June 30, as well as the fiscal picture for the following year.

State legislators, who are gearing up for a budget-focused special session this weekend, will now have to come up with about $850 million in cuts to state services or new revenue to balance the current year’s budget and more than $2 billion for the budget that begins July 1.

“For all practical purposes, Louisiana is in its own recession,” said Greg Albrecht, the Legislature’s chief economist. “It’s come on pretty rapidly.”
One big culprit in Louisiana’s fiscal collapse is the plummeting of oil prices, which are a major industry in the state and a large reason behind the state losing 17,600 jobs in 2015, as well as an unemployment rate well above the rest of the country, at 6.1% This has led to decrease in income and sales tax projections, as well as royalties from the oil industry.

But there’s another factor in Louisiana’s loss of revenue, and it relates to a long-time strategy of Jindal and the state’s GOP Legislature in trying to attract jobs to the state by giving away massive, WEDC-like tax breaks to corporations.
The state is operating at a net negative on corporate income taxes — meaning it is paying out more in rebates than it is taking in as revenue.
Think about that- right now the state of Louisiana is giving out more money to corporations than it’s getting back in corporate taxes! That’s how fucked up Jindal’s policies were, and it directly accounts for such a disastrous shortfall with an economic policy that encourages such rampant rent-seeking.

Things are so bad in Louisiana that Edwards went on TV last night, and not only said that the state’s tuition repayment program (called the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS) is so underfunded that Louisiana can’t pay the universities until the budget crisis is figured out.
“Due to the possibility of state budget cuts, all TOPS payments are being suspended until further notice,” said an email from the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance that went out to all TOPS eligible institutions at 3 p.m. “More details will be provided as information becomes available.”

However, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday night that none of the 49,710 students who are TOPS recipients will have to cover the cost of their scholarships. While about 20 percent of the TOPS scholarships will not be paid, the governor said it will be the universities and colleges that will absorb the loss.
Which means the universities would have to eat millions of dollars. Which they don't have. And that’s not the only bad thing that might happen to the state’s public univerisities.
You can say farewell to college football,” he said in his televised speech about the dire state budget situation Thursday evening.
NO LSU TIGER FOOTBALL? Now that statement will get the rednecks’ attention. No opener against the Badgers in Lambeau Field with new Tiger Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda (and his $1.3 million salary) having his first game come against the school he just left? Got my attention as well, since I just got the ticket info for that game today. I'll be lucky to get two tickets....if there's even a game at all.

Edwards is likely exaggerating about there not being any LSU football, but here’s what he meant by that. LSU and the other public schools in the state would run out of money at the end of April. If nothing is resolved by then, it’s possible the faculty and staff walk out (because they’re not being paid), and/or the schools go BANKRUPT, which ends the semester with a ton of incompletes. And even by the shady standards of the SEC, having a semester full of incompletes leads to full-scale academic ineligibility for sports, which means no LSU football in 2016.

Again, that’s an extreme outcome, but you see just what a disaster 8 years of Jindalism and other Bubble-World ALEC policies have been in Louisiana. And Wisconsin is heading in the exact same direction with our own 40-something, economically illiterate governor. We’ve also underfunded our universities, we’ve also cut taxes for the rich and corporate, and we’re also facing chronic budget deficits that have to be fixed year after year.

And just like Louisiana, our governor and ALEC-owned Legislature refuse to consider rolling back the tax cuts that they’ve put in to repair the fiscal damage those moves have caused, and instead continue to double down on the austerity policies that have so badly failed. So while we can react in disgust at how screwed the Land of Duck Dynasty is due to the regressive, negligent policies of the recent past, we need to realize that this is what Wisconsin’s could well look like in the near future, unless this GOP wrecking crew is replaced this Fall.

Oh, and if LSU isn’t able to pay for Dave Aranda because the university goes broke, can we get his expertise back on the sidelines in Madison? Just curious.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

WisGOP failure on road sales tax means more messes on the street

I’ve occasionally discussed a push in the State Legislature by rural and outstate legislators to allow for a new 0.5% local sales tax that is dedicated for road maintenance and related street work. In general, I support this move, although I question why the WisGOP Legislature has been negligent in giving adequate funding to local governments, which caused the problem in the first place.

Well that bill has turned into a debacle that illustrates just how incapable the Wisconsin GOP is when it comes to putting together real solutions for real issues. It was scheduled to be discussed in the Assembly on Tuesday, but it was promptly delayed and never voted on. So they thought they might able to pass it today as part of a massive Assembly calendar, but instead the bill failed again to get enough support to reach the floor, and now Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos says he doesn't think the bill can get through because not enough Republicans can agree on the details And given that Vos is trying to wrap up the Assembly's session next week (despite the fact that all members of the Assembly continue to be paid for the 8 months afterwards), thatlikely means the local sales tax for roads is off the table for the at least the rest of this year.

Doubly interesting was an compromise amendment that Vos and outgoing GOP Rep. Dean Knudson tried to tack onto the sales tax bill for more support for this “local road sales tax" bill, one which would have placed a ban on new local vehicle registration fees, or “wheel taxes”. The proposed ban is especially intriguing since 14 Wisconsin communities currently have a wheel tax, and 11 of those have either began or been raised since the start of 2015. It was a lame attempt to try to save face with voters by saying “Look, we’ll keep your car registrations at $75!”

Not only would wheel taxes have been banned, but the bill had the ban taking effect yesterday, meaning that local elected officials couldn’t even consider them as an alternative to a referendum for the sales tax. Which sure seemed like yet another example of this “small-government GOP” Legislature micro-managing local governments. And just like with the attempted limitation on school referenda and continuing strict property tax limits (something Gov Walker just re-committed to this week), the WisGOP Legislature is desperately trying to limit the higher taxes and fees the locals have had to impose in recent years... The same taxes and fees that are a direct result of the WisGOP Legislature not giving them enough funding in the first damn place!

The problems surrounding this bill, which would allow local governments the freedom to offload some of their expenses on road repair from the property tax and make tourists and others pay some of the freight, is symptomatic of how Baggers fail to govern. The Wisconsin GOP have proven themselves incapable of handling state finances in a responsible manner, one which would be able to keep state and local taxes relatively low while maintaining needed services. Instead, they have chosen lower state taxes and giveaways to their corporate campaign contributors, while stiffing the local governments, who are either constantly having to raise property taxes, or see needed maintenance and services decline. This mentality helps explain why the state’s economy continues to stagnate (if not outright decline), and now all of us are paying the price for those bad decisions.

This is especially true when it comes to funding work on local roads, as another budget year will slip by without additional help for those communities, either in the form of added state aid, or allowing them to put on a local sales tax to pay for those roads. Which means you can expect more potholes and more wheel taxes for this year and next year, and you can thank the lack of leadership being shown at the Capitol by the Wisconsin GOP and Gov Walker for that ongoing problem. Do NOT let them escape without consequence this Fall.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

WisGOP's next sneaky plan to cut millions from public schools

Just because the Wisconsin state budget transferred tens of millions of dollars from K-12 public schools to private voucher schools, it doesn't mean the ALEC crew at the State Capitol is done messing with public schools for the next two years. You may have noticed this debacle from the GOP-controlled Assembly from last week.
An Assembly committee Thursday abruptly scrapped a vote on a proposal to reduce the amount of money public school districts can raise to offset the loss of state aid for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers.

The decision by Assembly Education Committee chairman Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, came less than an hour before a scheduled 1 p.m. vote and hours after the Wisconsin State Journal began asking questions about the proposal. School officials also mobilized against the idea Thursday.

It could result in a $22 million loss in taxing authority for public schools, according to a Wisconsin Association of School Boards memo to members.

Here’s a look at the Leigslative Fiscal Bureau's memo in question on how the amendment would have worked.
...under current law, school districts receive full revenue limit authority for incoming choice pupils in each year of their attendance in a choice program through a separate revenue limit adjustment, not as part of a district’s enrollment count. Under the amendment, districts would no longer be eligible for a separate adjustment for incoming choice pupils, but they would receive revenue limit authority for these pupils by including them in enrollment counts, similar to every other type of pupil that districts count for revenue limit purposes. Under the three-year rolling average enrollment to calculate revenue limits, districts would have revenue limit authority for one-third of a pupil in the first year of his or her attendance in a choice program, two-thirds of a pupil in the second year, and three-thirds of a pupil in the third year.

Attachment 1 provides information on the effect of the provisions of AA2 on the calculation of revenue limits as if it had been in effect for 2015-16. Specifically, Attachment 1 shows the revenue limit for each district in 2015-16 under current law and under the provisions of AA2 if it had been in effect for that year, as well as the change in the revenue limit for each district, both in dollar and percentage terms. The revenue limits for the 282 districts without incoming choice pupils would not have been affected by the provisions of the amendment. All of the 142 districts with incoming choice pupils would have been affected by the loss of the revenue limit adjustment for those pupils. For a district with increasing enrollment, this would have been partially offset by the increase in the current year revenue that would result from including incoming choice pupils in the September, 2015 enrollment count. For a district with declining enrollment, the increase in enrollment resulting from the inclusion of incoming choice pupils would have resulted in a reduction in both its declining enrollment adjustment and its prior year base hold harmless adjustment. Under this adjustment, if a district’s initial current year revenue is less than the districts base revenue from the prior year, it receives an adjustment equal to the difference.
The memo also lists how badly each of the 142 individual school districts would be hit as a result of the amendment. The total amount is $22.7 million in revenue, which likely would translate into more cuts for those districts, but what’s stunning about this is how heavily concentrated the losses would be in Racine (where Speaker Robbin’ Vos worked to expand the voucher program in 2011), as well as other mid-size urban school districts in Wisconsin.

Top 10 districts losing funding ability under voucher amendment
Racine $7,443,267
Kenosha $1,248,578
Green Bay $936,044
Waukesha $903,652
Wausau $642,969
Appleton $587,352
Stevens Point $482,295
Oshkosh $479,560
Eau Claire $461,408
Sheboygan $381,001

What’s also worth mentioning is the percentage cuts, which hit some smaller, suburban school districts harder. District such as Burlington, Cornell, Little Chute, Portage, and Shawano each would lose more than 1% of their revenue ability under this bill- on top of the cuts that have already been imposed at those schools.

The Wisconsin’s School Administrator’s Alliance has been all over this bill from the start, and actively has opposed this backdoor cut of public schools. Even with the original amendment yanked, there appears to be a second amendment that will be taken up at tomorrow's hastily-called Assembly Education Committee meeting, and the SAA says something else awful may well be in that new amendment.
The new amendment differs from AA 2 in that it attempts to address negative consequences to declining enrollment districts that would occur as a result of the switch to a new calculation method. It tries to accomplish this by excluding new voucher pupils from membership (enrollment) for purposes of calculating declining enrollment adjustments for three years.

The SAA remains opposed to either amendment. Here is the bottom line: if your district has resident students in the statewide or Racine voucher programs, under either amendment, you will lose revenue limit authority and you will likely have to pay for your voucher students by reducing educational opportunities for the children that remain in your district. We strongly oppose these efforts and urge you to keep the pressure on state lawmakers.
Amazingly, this amendment that would pull millions of dollars in potential funding from public schools is on top of an already-bad voucher bill that will continue to give private schools extra money for special needs scholarships...even if the child doesn't have special needs anymore!

This is a clear example of the consequences of voting Republican. Government is used to funnel taxpayer dollars to their campaign contributors in the voucher movement, at the detriment of all public schools and Wisconsin's communities. And now that property taxes are going up to make up the difference for this defunding of public education, the WisGOPs decide to take extraordinary steps to limit the chances of local people voting to raise taxes for their schools, even if the local people are OK with raising taxes to support their public schools.

But then again, the GOP doesn't care about how bad things get as a result of their defunding of public education in Wisconsin, as long as those campaign contributions keep rolling in and they think they can get votes from the rubes by "sticking it to those teachers" (and taking their political power). And it only stops when the Wisconsin voters make them stop.