Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Wall Street Journal tells of more Foxconn follies, and Evers needs to be ready to cut their cord

Looks like our president is getting a visitor that’s become pretty familiar to us in Wisconsin.
Foxconn chairman and CEO Terry Gou is visiting the White House Tuesday potentially to discuss the sprawling manufacturing facility the Taiwanese tech giant is building in southeastern Wisconsin, a new report says.

The visit comes just days after President Donald Trump visited the Green Bay area to lay out his case for a second term as president that included no mention of the Foxconn facility — a project he says he helped engineer and once predicted it would be the "eighth wonder of the world."…

A spokesman for the White House did not immediately respond to questions about the visit. Foxconn downplayed the significance of the trip.
"As part of normal business operations, Foxconn regularly engages with its stakeholders in state and federal government," Foxconn officials said in a statement. "However, details of these interactions cannot be disclosed for privacy and commercial in confidence reasons.”
I’m sure there's NOTHING being discussed at this meeting that the public should know about, are there? Like tariff waivers or how much more free infrastructure and tax giveaways that Chairman Gou is trying to gouge out of us?

And what might have prompted this visit on such short notice? Possibly a report by Valerie Bauerlein that printed today in the Wall Street Journal which described the lack of progress of any kind of work being done by Foxconn in Racine County. That’s despite a lot of work that has been done for Foxconn in the area.
Contractors have bulldozed about 75 homes in Mount Pleasant and cleared hundreds of farmland acres. Crews are widening Interstate 94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line to accommodate driverless trucks and thousands of employees. Village and county taxpayers have borrowed around $350 million so far to buy land and make infrastructure improvements, from burying sewer pipes to laying storm drains.

One thing largely missing: Foxconn.
That sure isn't what we were being sold last year when this event happened in Racine County.

The Wall Street Journal article notes that next to nothing has actually been put in by Foxconn in Racine County, despite the numerous headlines from our state' media.
As of Dec. 31, the Taiwanese manufacturing giant, famous as an Apple Inc. supplier, had spent only $99 million, 1% of its pledged investment, according to its latest state filings. The company projected as many as 2,080 in-state employees by the end of 2019 but had fewer than 200 at last year’s end, state filings show. The village is still awaiting factory building plans for review. Locals said Foxconn contractors have recently been scarce on the site.

The impact on Mount Pleasant, by contrast, is palpable. Its debt rating has slipped. Local politics has become fraught. Neighbors have fallen out over land seizures.

“At some point we’re talking about things that are just imaginary,” said Nick Demske, a commissioner in Racine County, where the plant is. “We’re pretending.”
But what is very real are the costs to state and local taxpayers that have been sunk into this thing in the form of expanded highways, new electric and natural gas lines, and a $912 million TIF district set aside by the Village of Mount Pleasant.

The WSJ article also references an article from the Racine Journal-Times last week that noted because nothing was happening at the Foxconn site, the Village of Mount Pleasant was leasing back land that they had earlier bought from the same farmers for millions of dollars.

Esquire politics writer Charlie Pierce combined the Wall Street Journal’s article with what wasn’t said at Trump’s hate rally in GB this weekend, and arrived at an obvious conclusion.
As a parting gift to Wisconsin, Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus once hired by Koch Industries to manage that particular midwest subsidiary, gave away most of the southeast corner of the state to Foxconn, a Taiwanese tech giant that could see a sucker coming from an ocean away. You will note that, on his visit to Green Bay on Saturday, with Walker himself sucking up from the cheap seats, El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago didn't mention the Foxconn deal while patting himself on the back for his economic genius. There's a reason for that. The Foxconn deal is on its way to being a lemon of historic proportion.
It’s especially ominous that Gou didn’t want Governor Tony Evers or other officials from Wisconsin to be in DC with Trump. Which sure makes this meeting look like a couple of rich-scumbags-turned-politicians trying to figure out a way to save face and keep the scam going for the 18 months before the US presidential election in 2020.

Even if Foxconn never creates another job in Racine County and fails to get a writeoff that way, the state of Wisconsin is still potentially on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars through a bailout package that would have to be given to Racine County and Mount Pleasant due to a provision in the Fox-con package that Walker signed into law 21 months ago. Which makes the Walker/WisGOP meme of “state taxpayers only pay if Foxconn creates jobs” A LOAD OF BUNK, and it needs to be reiterated at every chance.

As of today, Evers publicly is trying to hold out hope that something would happen with Foxconn in SE Wisconsin.

I don’t know why the Governor is helping Foxconn keep up the fa├žade, unless he fears being blamed for the inevitable implosion of this white elephant. But if Evers keeps trying to work with Foxconn and put a positive face on this, he sets himself up to be stabbed in the back by both Foxconn and the GOP crooks who signed off on this deal.

So instead, Evers should go the other route and lay the hammer down on these scam artists. Take Foxconn to court and make them either reveal their real plans through discovery, or come to a quick settlement and have them GO AWAY for a fraction of what we might owe them if they get 520 employees “working” in the state this year.

Then Evers and economic development organizations can work to get a business in place down there that actually wants to produce something long-term in Wisconsin, and thinks of the state as something more than an election prop for Donald Trump. And then state taxpayers won't be stuck having to bail out the morons in Mount Pleasant and Racine County who built up more than they could afford before Foxconn had one product roll off the line.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Americans spending more with less income coming in. So which will continue?

Another report came out today that indicates the confusing picture of the current US economy, where some things look very good, and other things seem to be predicting a downturn. This time it was the income and consumer spending report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and GOP hacks jumped on one part of the findings.

Duffy is referring to this section, which mirrors strong retail sales figures from March, that kept the consumer sector from flatlining for the first quarter in 2019.
In March, real [Personal Consumption Expenditures] increased $87.4 billion, which reflected a $66.3 billion increase in spending on goods and an increase of $27.9 billion in spending on services. Within goods, increases were widespread, with spending on motor vehicles and parts the leading contributor. Within services, the largest contributor to the increase was spending on health care.
What Duffy didn’t talk about was the other part of this report, which told about two more months of lagging income growth.
Personal income increased $11.4 billion (0.1 percent) in March according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $0.6 billion, (less than 0.1 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $123.5 billion (0.9 percent).

Real DPI decreased 0.2 percent in March, and real PCE increased 0.7 percent. The PCE price index increased 0.2 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased less than 0.1 percent…

Real DPI increased less than 0.1 percent in February, and real PCE decreased less than 0.1 percent. The PCE price index increased 0.1 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent.
And as I mentioned with the GDP report on Friday, the inflation data reported by the BEA is suspiciously soft, as the Consumer Price Index rose by a total of 0.6% over those two months as gas prices jumped around the country. And income growth couldn’t even keep up with that.

One sector that had especially bad news on the income front should come as no surprise to people in Wisconsin.
Personal income for farmers fell by the most in three years in the first quarter, as losses to U.S. agriculture mount from President Donald Trump’s trade wars.

The Commerce Department on Monday cited the steep decline in farm proprietors’ income as a key factor weighing on the nation’s overall personal income growth in March, even though agricultural producers represent only about 2 percent of total employed Americans.
And maybe that can allow those of you not in farming to feel a little better about the economy, but non-farm business owners have also seen their incomes drop by nearly 9 billion since November.

When you combine the higher spending in the US with the country’s flatlining incomes, the amount of personal saving has fallen by nearly $200 billion since the end of 2018. Which means the savings rate is back down toward the lower levels that we'd seen in most of Trump's presidency.

So again, which side is the true indicator of where the economy stands? Is it the sizable increase in consumer spending, which then translates into more economic activity in other sectors? Or is it the flat income levels and lower savings rate, which threaten to slow down the consumer economy as people stop seeing gains in their paychecks and standard of living?

I’ll say this, for an economy that’s allegedly growing by 3%, there sure is a lot of shakiness.

Simple reason for dairy crisis - too much milk! And "free market" means CAFOs and more farm failures

The country’s farm crisis is showing no signs of abating soon, especially when we look at the plight of dairy farming in Wisconsin. More than 2 farms a day have closed in Wisconsin over the last 12 months, and while prices have rebounded some in the last couple of months, many of these losses are already baked in.

So why are we in this mess? The clear answer is “overproduction”, which depressed prices and also gave advantages to larger, corporate farms over everyday farmers. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture says that number of cows in Wisconsin hasn’t changed much at all in the last 5 years, and more milk is being made in the state than ever (2019’s figures for milk are based on the 1.5% increase in milk produced in Q1 2019 vs Q1 2018).

At the same time, there hasn’t been anywhere to sell all of this extra milk. “Data Wonk” Bruce Thompson had an in-depth article on the Wisconsin dairy industry in Urban Milwaukee last month, and he noted that Americans just don’t drink milk like they used to.
Long term dairy farm employment has suffered a double whammy. Like most agriculture, technology advances allow more production with fewer people. In addition, demand for milk has experienced a long-term decline, as shown in the next graph, based on data from the US Department of Agriculture. Since 1975, milk consumption per person has declined by 40 percent

As the chart above also shows, several products made from milk have enjoyed large percentage increases. However, the scale for milk products on the right is one-tenth that on the left for milk. Thus, growth in demand for milk products is unable to compensate for the decline in demand for fluid milk.
Ok, well what about selling the extra milk out of the country, as our econ textbooks teach us to do? This is where President’s Trump’s tariffs have caused an extra problem for Wisconsin farmers, because places like Mexico, Canada and the EU retaliated by putting duties on dairy products, which makes it harder to sell the products in those markets. As a result, more product ends up staying in the US, which causes even more of a surplus, and more downward pressure on prices.

But trade troubles seem to be minor factor in the big picture for the dairy industry, and more an indicator of Trump/GOP cluelessness in general. Kevin Drum in Mother Jones notes that while there has been a slight decline in cheese exports in the last year, it’s the flat prices and California’s extremely low cost of production is a bigger culprit.

Wisconsin Farmers Union president Darin Von Ruden added his two cents on the topic in an article written for WisPolitics.com. Von Ruden says that pumping out as much milk as possible and hoping to sell it overseas isn’t going to solve the economic issues that are literally killing dairy farms across the state.
We are deluding ourselves if we think that exports alone will forge a viable future for America’s dairy farm families. We’ve had 25 years of steadily increasing trade, and look where it’s gotten us: 352 Wisconsin dairy farms lost in 2016, 465 Wisconsin dairy farms lost in 2017, and 691 Wisconsin dairy farms lost in 2018. The ‘more exports’ mantra is not getting the job done for America’s Dairyland. The sooner we start exploring some other options, the sooner we’ll start to turn the tide of devastating farm losses in Wisconsin and all across the country.

In addition to being insufficient to help family farmers, the current ‘produce all you want, and we’ll export the surplus’ strategy articulated by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and others is phenomenally costly to taxpayers. Government spending on our current dairy insurance programs is expected to balloon to billions of dollars in the coming years.

In contrast, dairy economists Dr. Charles Nicholson from Cornell University and Dr. Mark Stephenson from the University of Wisconsin found in a recent study that if Congress had adopted policies in the 2014 farm bill designed to give dairy farmers an incentive to balance production with market demand, it would have significantly decreased government spending on taxpayer-subsidized dairy insurance programs, while doubling farmers’ Net Farm Operating Incomes and saving hundreds of dairy farms each year over the past four years. Impact to consumers would have been negligible – less than 12 cents more for a gallon of milk.

The evidence is clear: In addition to increasing demand through exports and dairy consumption, we also need to be looking at the supply side of the equation. Anyone who claims to be helping dairy farmers but is not willing to look at proven supply management strategies is asking farmers to build a viable future for themselves with one hand tied behind their backs. Given the depth and urgency of the dairy crisis, we should be using every single tool at our disposal to help farmers be profitable – increasing demand, yes, but also getting a handle on supply.
And I agree. The magic of Mr. Market (as it exists in 2019) is the biggest problem for small Wisconsin dairy farms. If we want any kind of family farms to survive, we need to take steps to protect the dwindling amount that are left, including price supports and supply management that can give more money per unit sold.

The state must also include a slowing if not outright banishment of CAFOs and other mega-farms, who have not only caused environmental damage for their communities, and have the advantages of large-scale production that it lets them dump milk at prices that drive lower-volume farmers out of business.

I don’t care if that’s technically “inefficient”, it’s a lot better for our rural communities. And last I checked, that’s something Wisconsin's state government should concern itself with over the profits of large corporations.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

When Dems in E Wisconsin vote, Dems win the state. But they didn't in Supreme Court race

During the week, the Wisconsin Elections Commission released the finalized numbers from the state Supreme Court race earlier this month. And it allowed me to run a couple of comparisons that prove the vital role of the level of turnout in that race. There were less than half the total number of votes in April 2019 than there was in November 2018 (which is a big reason why statewide races shouldn't be in April in the first place), and only 14 counties didn't have at least a 50% dropoff.

But the smallest drop-offs were in Dem-voting Dane County (listed in blue ion this chart) and the GOP-voting WOW Counties around Milwaukee (listed in purple), which mean they made up a largest part of the electorate in April's Supreme Court election than they did in November. At the same time, the City of Milwaukee (marked in red near the bottom of the chart) dropped off by 70% from November's totals, which means that they made up a notably smaller amount of total votes this April.

From these numbers, I took the Hagedorn vs Neubauer percentages in each county, and then looked at the vote totals of both the 2018 Governor's race and the 2019 Supreme Court race. I then created an index that asked this question "What if the percentages for Neubauer and Hagedorn remained the same, but every county had the same percentage of the total Wisconsin vote that they had in November 2018?"

What I found is that Neubauer gained in Dane County due to their higher turnout, but Hagedorn gained almost as much in the WOW Counties and in the rest of the state. But the race swung due to the lower turnout in the pro-Dem City of Milwaukee, which cost Neubauer more than 13,000 votes in a race that Hagedorn won by less than 6,000.

It's much like how lower turnout in Milwaukee was a big reason behind Hillary Clinton's loss in Wisconsin in 2016, and it tells us that Wisconsin Dems need to hammer down the point that ALL ELECTIONS MATTER. If voters in the majority-minority City of Milwaukee sit out elections, they will continue to suffer under the thumb of right-wing Republicans who want to disenfranchise and devalue the lives of people of color, along with everybody else in the state's largest city.

What's alarming is that the second-largest state to drop off as a share of the electorate in the Supreme Court race was Kenosha County, with a decline of 65% in the amount of voters. That likely played a significant role in switching that county from voting for Democrat Tony Evers in November to the right-wing Hagedorn in April, and it seems that Kenosha County is quickly becoming a state bellweather.

That helps explain why I've been getting emails from the Democratic Party about the State Assembly race in the 64th district, which is mostly in Kenosha County, but is gerrymandered to have a Dem in office in order to concentrate rural Kenosha County into 1 Republican district. That played out in 2018, when Republicans didn't even bother to run a candidate against Peter Barca, and Tony Evers won it 56-42 in the Governor's race.

But over 24,000 people voted in AD-64 in November. Now look at the results from that district for the Supreme Court race, which only had 9,000 votes cast in that race in AD-64.

64th Assembly district, WI-Supreme Court results
Nuebauer 4,789 (52.7%)
Hagedorn 4,293 (47.3%)

So if there is a small enough turnout, you can see where the Republicans could steal an Assembly seat for at least the next 20 months, much like how they took advantage of lower turnout to sneak out a win in the State Supreme Court race earlier this month.

Which leads to a simple point - when more people vote in Dem-leaning areas, Dems are more likely to win. Last November proved that the corollary is NOT necessarily true - Republicans generally don't have the numbers on their own to win statewide elections in the face of a motivated Dem electorate. This is why Dems swept state offices last November, and won presidential and US Senate races in 2000, 2004, and 2012.
So Dems better be making sure they're getting the name of Tip McGuire out there and contacting people in Kenosha and UW-Parkside to get to the polls on Tuesday, if they want to avoid what would be an embarrassing and meme-setting loss in Assembly District 64.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

More snow and more costs to plow and fix the roads. Do we have the money for this?

As I wait for the snow to fly today, a couple of recent state reports give us a good look at what we have available to fix with our state's deteriorating roads. The first has to deal with how much the already-brutal winter has taken out of the state's highway maintenance funds.

That report was sent over a couple of weeks ago, and noted that the Wisconsin DOT needs to add money to take care of the supplies and other costs associated with the weather of the last few months.
…As of March, the 2018-19 winter severity index was 25 percent above average, with some counties being hit much harder than others. In preparation for this possibility, at the beginning of the fiscal year the department had reserved $11 million in program funds to cover unanticipated winter costs, and $2.5 million to cover non-winter weather events such as flooding.

As winter costs rose, it became apparent the reserve would not be sufficient. The Department identified federal funding to supplement budgeted segregated state funding for certain federally eligible activities. This allowed the segregated winter reserve to be increased to $15 million. Unless late winter weather or spring flooding significant exceeds expectations (uh oh...) , the Department does not anticipate an FY19 request for supplemental funding under Sec 13.10 Wis. Stats...
But just because WisDOT isn't going to ask for extra state money, it doesn't mean they haven't had to tap into the piggy bank to keep traffic moving through the weather. The report notes that $8.4 million in prior year carryover funds were used to buy more salt for the roads in this winter, and they have had to move around other money to save some funds for this budget.
Even with the purchase of the full amount of the FY19 [salt] contract, the inventory going into the winter of FY20 is expected to be lower than normal, increasing the FY20 needed purchase. Salt prices have continued to increase steadily and are now 21% higher than 5 years ago and 9 percent higher this winter than last. At the time of this report, salt demand in Wisconsin and neighboring states exceeds supply, The Department anticipates the price per ton will increase significantly for less winter.

In preparation, the Department allocated $5 million in federal funds to the Highway System Management and Operations federal appropriation for pavement marking and sign bridge projects that are federally eligible. By using federal for a portion of activities more typically 100% state funded, the Department anticipates carrying over a $5 million balance in [this account] that can be used for next year's large salt purchase.
These moves mean that there is less money available for federal and state projects in the future that has to be filled in with new money.

Fortunately, that new money may be arriving. That was revealed on Friday, when Governor Evers' WisDOT sent another report that contained a plan for new money being sent down from Washington DC. Basically, the state is getting more money in supplemental and redistribution funding than we had budgeted for, which is something Scott Walker was counting on when he underfunded certain projects in prior budgets.

Combined, the state received $874,150,109 of federal highway funds in SFY19 related to the requirements under s.84.03(2)(b) Wis. Stats., for SFY 2019 by 2017 Wisconsin Act 59. Consequently, a Federal Expenditure Plan is required to allocate $76,691,409 in federal highway funds to appropriations in [the Wisconsin DOT part of the budget].
$9 million of those dollars were mentioned above, as a way to pay for the extra winter maintenance. The rest of it would be split up via

$43 million more to State Highway projects.
$24.7 million to Local Road projects

Now the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee could OK this plan, and it'll help fix some Scottholes and keep road projects moving, while allowing us to handle severe weather and the future road repairs that will be needed for those events. Or they could make a show of turning this down and/or combining it with budget talks, which would delay getting this $76.7 million out the door. Keep an eye on which choice they make.

Those decisions will come after this latest snow ends, and the forecast says it will be followed by more rain and possibly more flooding in certain parts of the state. And the inability for Scott Walker and WisGOP to set aside enough money to handle these issues and regular highway needs is why we have our current funding problem in the first place, and this one-time federal bailout isn't something we can count on to make ends meet in the future.

Trump can talk up the economy, but Wisconsin isn't feeling it

You may have heard our President is heading to Titletown this evening. Inside the Resch Center, I will imagine Trump will bring up the surprisingly strong GDP report that hit on Friday, which showed the US economy grew at a 3.2% annual rate in the first 3 months of 2019.

That figure even exceeded the Atlanta Fed’s predictions of a 2.7% growth rate, and it was relatively broad-based, with no one sector adding more than 0.9% of that growth.

At the same time, there’s some caution with that report. You can see that in that chart that inventories have grown for each of the last 3 quarters. And with consumer spending slowing down, that’s not a good combination, which leads this former top Obama economic advisor to give a warning for the coming months.

Now maybe March’s strong bounce-back in retail sales takes some of that surplus off the shelves. But keep an eye on upcoming reports, because there has to be a point where the current direction changes for either inventories (which will hurt the economy) or consumer spending (which will help it).

One other thing that stands out in the GDP report is that figure benefitted from surprising tame inflation in the first 3 months of the year.
The price index for gross domestic purchases increased 0.8 percent in the first quarter, compared with an increase of 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter (table 4). The PCE price index increased 0.6 percent, compared with an increase of 1.5 percent. Excluding food and energy prices, the PCE price index increased 1.3 percent, compared with an increase of 1.8 percent.
Really? The $2.75 a gallon I see at the gas pump is telling me something very different on the inflation front. And it flies in the face of the Consumer Price Index reports, which showed prices rising at an annual rate three times faster what the GDP report indicated (0.6% for 3 months, 2.5% annually).

The low reported inflation number covers for the fact that nominal GDP had its slowest growth in almost 2 years, and is basically at the trend that we have seen for most of the last 3 years (the post-tax cut rush of Q2 last year is the exception)

With Trump heading to our state, it seems important to specifically look at Wisconsin’s economic performance since Trump took office at the start in 2017. Particularly since national media constantly says in its all-too-frequent profiles of blue-collar white guys in the small-town Midwest that many of these people voted for Trump out of hopes that their economic fortunes would stop stagnating.

An example of this meme comes from this article based out of Crawford County, Wisconsin a few weeks after Trump took the oath of office.
“If you ask anybody here, we’ll all tell you the same thing: We’re tired of living like this. We’ve been railroaded, run over by the politicians and run over by laws,” said Mark Berns, leaning through the service window in the small-engine repair shop downtown that he can barely keep open anymore. He drives a 14-year-old truck with 207,000 miles on it because he doesn’t make enough profit to buy a new one.

Berns watched Trump’s first days in office half-hopeful, half-frightened.

“He jumps on every bandwagon there is. It’s a mess,” he said, bemoaning what he described as a quantity-over-quality, “sign, sign, sign” approach to governing. “I just hope we get the jobs back and the economy on its feet, so everybody can get a decent job and make a decent living, and have that chance at the American dream that’s gone away over the past eight or 10 years.
That article ended with this memorable scene involving Bernard Moravits, who works 10,000 acres filled with cows and crops near Bloomington, Wisconsin.
Moravits isn’t sure Trump is going to “Make America Great Again” for farmers. But he feels he had to take the gamble.

“He might have us in a war in two weeks,” he said. “We’ll come back here in six months, drink a 30-pack of Busch Light and talk, because no one knows now what’s gonna happen.”

He laughed, then shrugged and pantomimed rolling the dice.
So what have Wisconsinites like Bernard Moravits gotten in exchange for rolling the dice on Trump in 2016? The most farm bankruptcies in the US and nearly 60 dairy farms closing a month, in no small part due to plummeting prices that are fallout from Trump’s tariffs.

And off the farm, job growth in Wisconsin is slower than it was before Trump got into office, and has fallen near 0 in recent months. That’s in stark contrast to the country as a whole, as job growth has been on a slight rebound over the last year.

What I wouldn’t give for Trump to say something to Scott Walker (who will be at this clown show in GB on Saturday), and have it be along the lines of “Hey Scott, things are going so well in America, why isn’t Wisconsin keeping up? You’re making me look bad here!”

And while Scott Walker and WisGOP were exceptionally destructive, Wisconsin is far from the only state in the middle of the country to be lagging. Check out all of the states in the Midwest with a job growth rate of 1% or below in the last 12 months.

Which means if Donald Trump talks up the economy on Saturday, he’s setting himself up for a backfire now and for the next 18 months. Trump is telling a story that is far too rosy for what we will likely see for 2019 as the stats catch up to the rising prices and stagnating job and wage growth that is the reality in much of America. And that’s doubly true in the flatlining states that he needs to hold onto to have any chance of staying in office after 2020.

The rubes attending this weekend's hate rally may not care about this, but most Wisconsinites recognize the state has fallen even further behind during the 2+ years Trump has been in office. They'll also remember the checks that many of us just had to write to the IRS because of the provisions in the Trump/GOP Tax Scam. So if Trump tries to sell “look at how much better things are than when I took over,” every Sconnie that’s not a weak-minded MAGAt will ask “What are you talking about? I’m not seeing it here.”

Thursday, April 25, 2019

New lawsuit brings more NRA-Russia connections for Ron Johnson

I woke up this morning and saw this story cross the wires, describing a lawsuit filed by the Gabby Giffords Law Center and clean government groups to make the people in charge of campaign finance rules, actually follow their own laws.
Federal Election Commission rules prohibit super PACs from making coordinated expenditures with campaigns, meaning that the Trump campaign should not be "materially involved" in the production and placement of ads purchased by the super PAC arm of the NRA, and vendors shared by the NRA and the Trump campaign cannot share information in support of each other.

But as first reported by the nonprofit journalism outlet The Trace in December, throughout the 2016 election cycle, the NRA launched an aggressive $25 million pro-Trump ad blitz using multiple vendors linked to a political consulting firm called OnMessage, while the Trump campaign placed its ads using multiple vendors linked to a firm called National Media. The two firms were disguised as separate entities, according to the complaint, which cites public records reviewed by ABC News, but in fact vendors were "functionally indistinguishable.”

"[T]hey are led by the same people and located at the same address,” the complaint said, “and no internal separation or firewall exists between the staff who work for each entity.”

A spokesperson for the NRA did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment, while a spokesperson for the Trump campaign declined to comment. Sen. Sheldeon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., opened a probe into this matter earlier this year, demanding documents from the NRA, the Trump campaign and the relevant vendors. A spokesperson for Sen. Whitehouse told ABC News last week that none of them have responded to those requests, either.
Stonewalling in a lawsuit? Hiding the source of money? Sure seems to be running rampant with DC right-wingers in recent years.

And why we aren't seeing hearings in the GOP-controlled Senate on this? Oh yeah, here's why!
In addition to the Trump campaign, the complaint alleges that the NRA has shown a years-long pattern of coordinating with several other congressional campaigns in a similar operation since at least 2014, including the campaigns of Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Matt Rosendale, who ran unsuccessfully against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana in 2018.
Ron Johnson mixed up with campaign sketchiness again? Imagine that! Now combine it with this news from 1 year ago this month.
The National Rifle Association reported this week that it received more money from people with Russian ties than it has previously acknowledged, but announced that it was officially done cooperating with a congressional inquiry exploring whether illicit Kremlin-linked funding passed through the NRA and into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said on Wednesday.

Wyden released a letter from the NRA, dated Tuesday, in which the gun rights group reported receiving $2,512.85 in contributions and membership dues “from people associated with Russian addresses” or known Russian nationals living in the United States from 2015 to the present. In the past, a congressional aide to Wyden said, the group had confirmed receiving only one financial contribution, in the form of a lifetime membership purchased by Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker.

Torshin, a gun enthusiast and an associate of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, is the focus of an FBI investigation into whether any Russian money was funneled through the NRA and on to the Trump campaign, perhaps through NRA entities not required to disclose their funding sources. The Trump administration imposed stiff sanctions last week against Torshin, who has denied wrongdoing, and six other Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Well that answers the question as to why Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson doesn't want to look into the influence of foreign money and messaging in our country's elections, doesn't it?

Speaking of Alexander Torshin, he here is at the NRA Convention 4 years ago with a couple of familiar faces.

Which also reminds me that Maria Butina gets sentenced tomorrow. And given the numerous connections between her, the Russian government and the NRA that came up in last week's pre-sentencing memo (including getting David Clarke and the NRA to visit Russia), there might be more interesting Wisconsin-NRA-Russia connections yet to come.

Isn't it well past time that our "legitimate" media start asking why so many Wisconsin right-wingers keep getting messed up with this stuff?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Use lottery winnings to fix the roads? It won't go as far as you think

Yesterday we found out who took home the largest Powerball jackpot in Wisconsin history. And it was pretty cool that the winner was someone who has a long time to put it to good use - a 24-year-old guy named Manuel Franco from West Allis who quit his job within 2 days of winning the $768 million drawing.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted
that Franco took the "cash up front" option, which reduces the overall amount he'll be paid. But it's still more money than any of us will ever see, and it's an amazing contrast to the insecurity he was dealing with before his numbers came up.
His financial worry up until this point: "Trying to get that bank account to $1,000 was my biggest concern," Franco said.

Franco said he's played Powerball routinely since he turned 18.

Franco said he has been assembling a team of advisers to guide him through the sudden riches since the March drawing. Franco said he's taking the $477 million lump sum payout. The money — $326 million after state and federal taxes — will be wire transferred to Franco in the coming days, Wisconsin Lottery officials said.
In wake of Franco's announcement yesterday, a legislator who represents part of West Allis has an idea what the state of Wisconsin could do with the money it’ll receive from the big jackpot.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity not only for the lucky West Allis winner, but it’s also a once in a lifetime opportunity for the state,” [State Sen Tim] Carpenter said. “When the state collects its income taxes for this win, I want it to be directed to funding Local Road Aids. It’s one of the top issues I hear from constituents the most – the shabby condition of many of our local roads.”

“This bill would put that money directly into addressing one of our most pressing needs without the need for increased taxes,” said Carpenter. “The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that of the state tax liability that results, if the winner takes the $477 million lump sum payment, that would be a $36.5 million windfall for Wisconsin.”

“That $36.5 million should be dedicated to local road aids,” Carpenter said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for the state to be wise in using that sudden influx of money for an issue we all care about – the improvement of our local roads all around the state.”
So how much of an impact would come from a one-time bump of $36.5 million into the local road fund? If we assume Carpenter means General Transportation Aids, which the Legislative Fiscal Bureau defines as money “paid to local governments (counties, cities, villages, and towns) to assist in the maintenance, improvement, and construction of local roads,” that amount totals $459.7 million for this year. A $36.5 million boost would increase that amount by 7.9%, which isn’t bad and very much needed in a time of significant Scottholes around the state.

It would also be the first time since Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP came to power in 2011 that the state would have an increase in such aids for 2 straight budgets. In fact, it wasn’t until Walker’s last, desperate pre-election budget that the amount of money going into the GTAs surpassed the amount that local governments got when Walker took office in 2011.

Then you go into Governor Evers’ DOT budget, and he is proposing an increase of $45.97 million a year starting in 2020, an even 10%. This is one of many areas where DOT spending would go up in Evers’ budget to accompany an 8-cent increase in gas tax, and the amount of $505.7 million in GTAs would be maintained for 2021.

So is Carpenter proposing a $36.5 million increase on top of that 10% bump that Evers proposes, or would it replace most of the 2020 bump on a one-time basis, allowing that Transportation Fund money to be used elsewhere (or banked)? That $36.5 million would also be the approximate cost of 1 cent increase in the gas tax, so maybe that gets phased in a bit for 2020 or something.

What’s also interesting is that Carpenter is asking for a transfer from the General Fund, when Evers’ budget gets rid of the transfers from the General Fund that had been going on for the last several years (including $41.6 mil in this fiscal year). Maybe that works on a one-time basis, but it leads the question as to what happens in future years, especially as Evers’ DOT budget spends $80 million more than it takes in for 2020-21, which depletes most of the money it carries over .

The other point I want to make on this $36.5 million “windfall” is that it is really small in the big picture of the state budget. It’s 0.2% of all taxes and revenues that are slated to be collected for the 2019 Fiscal Year, so it’s hardly a game changer for state finances. But Carpenter has a point in that the money might be a nice help if it gets targeted into one program in particular.

You know what's also going to benefit from Franco's win? The funding for the lottery itself, and what it can give away, as the added ticket sales adds to the bottom line for Wisconsin’s lottery fund. This article that came out before the record drawing of $1.6 billion in 2016 gives a good explanation as to how the proceeds from a multi-state game like Powerball get distributed, and some of it will come back to Wisconsin.
…As of Tuesday afternoon, the drawing had generated $2.265 billion in ticket sales, according to the Texas Lottery Commission, which is currently administering Powerball—a multi-state lottery in which 44 states participate. The largest portion of the money doesn’t go to education, or any other government program. It goes to the winners. That’s 50%, or roughly, at this point, $1.13 billion. (You may have heard the jackpot has reached $1.5 billion, but that is only if you take the 30-year annuity payout.) The retailers sold the tickets get 5% as commission, or just over $113 million. Another 5% goes back to state lottery administration. The rest, just over $900 million, goes to state governments, which gets allocated to each state based on their percentage of ticket sales, for government spending.
In Wisconsin, that "government spending" goes to property tax relief, and a 10% jump in sales in the 2018 Fiscal Year helped to increase the projected tax cut by nearly 40% for last year, and will keep the next 2 years at higher levels as well.

Projected property tax relief from Wis lottery
Dec 2017 $170.3 million
Dec 2018 $236.8 million
Dec 2019 (proj) $218.1 million
Dec 2020 (proj)$218.2 million

But another item that has boosted the Lottery Credit is $40 million in regular tax dollars that Republicans jammed into the Lottery fund starting last year to try to keep property taxes down. Maybe we could use that $36.5 million in state taxes that Mr. Franco will pay to be applied to the Lottery Credit instead, and save/use those General Fund dollars for something other than shell games - especially since the lottery is supposed to be self-sustaining.

Bottom line - while Manuel Franco is likely set for life to take care of any needs he may have, the same isn't true for Wisconsin state government despite the extra tax revenue his winnings may give. Nope, our capacity can only be meaningfully changed through law making or a great economic boom, and given how the ALEC-GOPs have generally refused to do anything to lead to either of these things, I wouldn't count on that changing in the near future.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

So now even Foxconn wants to change the Fox-con package?

I originally found myself concerned but also heartened by Governor Evers mentioning that he wanted to negotiate the Foxconn boondoggle this weekend. It’s an opportunity but also a chance to make this worse, especially for the Governor.

But today, it turns out that it was Foxconn executives that want to change the deal. At least that's what Evers was claiming in a letter to Foxconn executive Louis Woo that Evers released Tuesday.
Because of recent media reports, I also want to clarify aspects of the conversation from our March meeting. At that meeting, you indicated that Foxconn intends to suggest several changes to the existing agreement to better align the terms with the evolving project and global marketplace. To my knowledge, this was the first time either Foxconn or the State of Wisconsin had mentioned amending or changing the agreement approved in 2017. I am also aware that you updated Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald later that same day and outlined for them your intention to suggest changes to the agreement with the State of Wisconsin in 2019.

It is my understanding that Foxconn will be submitting the necessary documentation for proposing changes to the WEDC agreement in the coming weeks. As we have discussed with Foxconn representatives, the State is identifying areas we believe will enable greater flexibility and transparency as the project continues to evolve. We will offer those changes in the same spirit of cooperation and constructive dialogue with you that has marked these first few months of my Administration.

As I’m sure you understand, Wisconsinites have a keen interest in understanding how many jobs will be created for Wisconsin residents and the types and compensation levels of such jobs. As those details become more clear about your initial phase of work, I look forward to receiving them so that we can all view this project with as much relevant information as possible.
Wait, Foxconn met with Speaker Vos and Senate Leader Fitzgerald and mentioned the deal was changing? That's not what Vos and Fitz were spinning when they complained about Evers' announcement last week.
Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau continue to back the subsidies and tout the pay-for-performance nature of the agreement, noting taxpayers don't provide subsidies unless the company meets its obligations.

“I am adamantly opposed to the governor making a one-sided attempt to reopen the contract,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. "The state is not in a vulnerable position and if the job growth and investment doesn’t come, the state doesn’t pay."

Vos in his radio interview said Foxconn is committed to creating 13,000 jobs. The project is in Vos' Assembly district.

"I have met with the company more times than I can count and every single conversation has always been focused on the idea that their goal has never wavered from creating 13,000 jobs," he said.
Oh, so you guys chose LYING TO THE PUBLIC to try to score cheap political points instead of trying to make the best of the awful situation YOU put the state in. Sounds like 2010s WisGOP "leadership" to me, alright.

But why would Foxconn want to change what seems to be a massive giveaway in their favor? Let’s go back to this excellent analysis of the Foxconn contract, which Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Budget Project laid out two months ago. One point Peacock made is that Foxconn has likely already broken the terms of its contract with WEDC, but the GOP-controlled WEDC Board hasn’t been too keen on going after Foxconn for it.
There has been almost no public discussion of the fact that the contract makes a large portion of the cash payments to Foxconn (i.e., the so-called investment “tax credits”) contingent upon building a Generation 10.5 LCD factory. Yet Foxconn first announced last June that that’s not what it plans to build. That decision appears to make Foxconn ineligible for the 15% tax credit for its expenditures for land and buildings.

Perhaps one reason that aspect of the contract has not gotten much attention is that insiders may have thought that WEDC would be willing to ignore it. (WEDC CEO Mark Hogan suggested just that, in comments made last August, claiming that “The contract also provides the company the flexibility to make the necessary business decisions to ensure the success of the project,” and indicating that he was not concerned that the company has changed its plans.) However, it will be harder to ignore the original contract, now that it appears that the revised plans will yield far smaller state and local benefits than what Foxconn originally promised.
Sure enough, here’s Hogan saying earlier on Tuesday that there was nothing to worry about with Foxconn. Despite the downsizing of plans and numerous promises that haven’t been fulfilled, the Walker-appointed WEDC boss says nothing needs to be changed at this time.
If the company spends less or creates fewer jobs than originally envisioned, then "everything scales back as a result of that," Hogan said. "And that's already built into the contract. So from that perspective there's no need to renegotiate the contract."

He did not say whether the contract should be renegotiated for other reasons and declined to say whether Foxconn was seeking changes to the deal….

Hogan took a different stance on whether the company would create 13,000 jobs.

"I think they've continued to make that commitment," Hogan said. "And again I think the contract is scaled in a way that whatever they end up employing, that that's what they'll get. It's a pay-for-performance basis."

No, nothing to worry about despite the fact that the products that were promised will not happen, and because the company has hinted at automation across its product lines that will drive up the capital expenses that get paid back at a rate of 15%. We sure we have to wait 5 months to fire this bum, Governor?

Going back to John Peacock’s analysis at the Budget Project, he mentions that all Foxconn has to do to get 15% of their building expenses and 17% of their salaries written off is to have 520 people employed in the state at the end of this year. That number grows to 1,820 at the end of next year, which seems to be a maximum number of jobs that you can expect from the smaller plans that Foxconn has for today. Peacock says that this drives UP the cost to taxpayers for each job, and lowers opportunities that were promised to certain underserved populations.
In light of that factor, plus all the upfront subsidies that are independent of job creation, the total cost of state and local subsides will be much higher per job if Foxconn builds a smaller plant with fewer employees than initially promised. The huge subsidies for each job created are a concern for many reasons, including the fact that the revisions to Foxconn’s plans make it far less likely that project will have the purported employment benefits for blue collar workers and communities of color in southeast Wisconsin.
From here, it is worthy to review what the Walker Administration said in its “fact sheet” on the contract WEDC signed with Foxconn. Here are the thresholds required for Foxconn to get taxpayer cash sent its way for a given year, with the job having to pay a minimum rate of $30,000 a year ($14.42 an hour).

Number of FTE jobs needed for Foxconn to get tax credits
2018- 260 (FAILED)
2019- 520
2020- 1,820
2021- 3,640
2022- 5,200
2023- 7,150
2024- 7,800
2025- 8,450
2026- 9,100
2027- 10,400

Peacock of the Budget Project notes that under this incentive timetable Foxconn would want to change the terms of the contract, to try to grab more money after the next two years (if it plans on staying here at all).
If Foxconn truly intends to go ahead with revised plans for the Mt. Pleasant facility, it will probably seek a new contract that helps it qualify for a larger portion of the nearly $3 billion of cash payments authorized by Governor Walker and the legislature. Whether the state should agree to any changes of that nature is an open question because a better option might be to cut the state’s losses. On the other hand, renegotiating the contract could be an opportunity to close loopholes and change other contract terms to make it a less costly and less risky deal for state taxpayers.

But before we can have those deliberations, state policymakers need to acknowledge that some of the presumed economic benefits of the Foxconn project are now in doubt and that the current contract poses potential problems for both Foxconn and the state.
So how would that work out? Molly Beck’s article in Monday's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pointed out that one option would be to reduce Foxconn’s package to the same type of handout that WEDC gives to most other businesses that pay up it feels is worthy of the help.
Where state incentive deals with companies typically have taxpayers covering 7% of salaries, Foxconn would get 17%. Foxconn would also get 15% of its capital investment paid back instead of the usual 10%.

"The fact of the matter is they have made a business decision and we're working with them and discussions are happening to consider changing the deal," Evers said.

On Monday, Evers said it is "premature" to elaborate on what changes he may be considering.
Would Foxconn accept a smaller amount of incentives and paybacks in exchange for lower thresholds to get payments? That seems to be a logical compromise.

Evers indicated that Monday Journal-Sentinel story that he held out hope for some kind of economic development from the foreign company that has had much of southern Racine County cleared for it.
Evers and Foxconn officials are in talks to rewrite a contract that lays out what size investments Foxconn must make in Wisconsin in order to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies — a deal that currently requires Foxconn to hit targets in job creation before any state tax credits can be paid.

"Maybe those goals are too expansive," Evers said Sunday in an appearance on WKOW's "Capital City Sunday." "Whether it's 1,300 jobs or 13,000 jobs, any governor of the state, including me, wants them to be successful and create as many jobs as possible."
Evers should be very careful with that, as he must understand that if he renegotiates the Fox-con deal, he will then own it. And as we saw with the lies Vos and Fitz spread last week, they will jump at any chance to shift the blame onto Evers if/when the Foxconn project fizzles out for good.

That’s yet another reason I think the best deal out there for Wisconsinites is to cut Foxconn a check that’s smaller than the $200 mil+ we are likely to give away next year of they reach 520 employees, and get them to GO AWAY. We can get this albatross off the books for future years if Foxconn leaves, and we can then use a more responsible incentive method with the infrastructure that is in place due to the Fox-con to attract a company that actually wants to have long-term roots in Wisconsin.

A deal with a better, more honest company would likely be at a fraction of the hundreds of millions we may have to shell out for a Foxconn project that won’t come close to what Trump and Walker tried to sell us 20 months ago. In addition, it would also take the state off the hook by not having to bail out the small-time GOP hacks in Racine County and Mount Pleasant that fell/were paid off by this white elephant, and borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to buy up and build up the area.

Seems like a win-win to me.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Strong retail sales kept economy from stalling out in March

I had mentioned earlier in the month that the Retail sales report for March would be a key one for seeing if the economy was nearing a downturn. This was particularly true as seasonally-adjusted retail sales had a notable decline in December and had also declined in February, leaving that figure 1.1% below where we were in October 2018.

But those consumer recession concerns were put to rest for the time being with a strong recovery for retail in March, and one that was felt across most all parts of the sector.
U.S. retail sales surged in March at the fastest pace since late 2017, as spending on autos, gasoline, furniture, and clothing jumped.

The Commerce Department said that sales increased a seasonally adjusted 1.6% from February, the strongest increase since September 2017….
Sales at gas stations climbed 3.5% in March, while spending at auto dealers jumped 3.1%. Clothiers reported a 2% gain and furniture stores enjoyed a 1.7% bump.

Excluding autos and gas, retail sales increased by a still solid 0.9%.
That last part is the most impressive part of the retail sales report, because it takes out the rise of gas prices in March, and an intriguing end-of-quarter bump in autos. Even general merchandise stores and electronics/appliance stores showed rises, which was a change from the last years.

This led a certain Wisconsin Congressman to keep trying to sell us that the US economy was still in a boom.

Easy there, dude from The Real World. While the retail sales report is nice, and certainly indicates the economy was still growing at the end of Q1, a lot of other areas of the economy aren’t so great.

For example, wholesale and manufacturing inventories were outpacing moderate increases in sales in February, new manufacturing orders have dropped 4 of the last 5 months, and last week we got news that the Federal Reserve’s outlook for manufacturing on the East Coast was at multi-year lows.

The strength in retail didn't translate over into the housing market in March. New housing permits and housing starts both dropped in March 2019, and over the last year it’s striking - permits down 7.8% and starts down 14.2%. Housing completions were also down in March, which makes you wonder where future growth might come from. In addition, The National Association of Realtors reported on Monday that current homes weren’t moving either.
Existing-home sales ran at a seasonally adjusted annual 5.21 million rate in March, the National Association of Realtors said Monday. That was 4.9% lower than February’s pace and missed the Econoday consensus of a 5.3 million rate.

What happened: Sales of previously-owned homes fell more sharply than expected in March as the usual housing headwinds stalked the market. The surge in February was the strongest in nearly four years, and the Realtor lobby group is attributing the March decline to a return to normalcy after that spike. Still, sales were 5.4% lower than a year ago.
Wisconsin had a similar decline in home sales last month, although with price increases and affordability crunches that were more severe than what is being seen in the nation as a whole.
— Existing home sales fell sharply in March, and declining inventories put more pressure on home prices, according to the most recent examination of the state housing market by the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA). Home sales fell 14.1 percent in March 2019 compared to that same month last year, and median prices were up 6.3 percent to $185,000 over that same period. The first quarter picture was similar but a bit brighter, with first quarter home sales down 7.4 percent, relative the first quarter of 2018, and the quarterly median price up 5.5 percent to $179,300 over the past year.
Even the Realtors admitted in their report that this 6.3% rise in prices was outpacing income growth, but they’re trying to play off the situation as a seasonal blip due to a bad winter with a still-growing Wisconsin economy. I’m not sure it’s that great, and what’s more concerning is that the larger price growth is in previously cheaper regions of the state which have been largely stagnant for population, jobs and wages.

Year-over-year increase in home prices, March 2019, Wisconsin
Central $150,000 (+13.0%)
North $150,000 (+13.0%)
Northeast $154,750 (+7.1%)
West $183,900 (+3.9%)
Southeast $197,950 (+7.0%)
South Central $229,900 (+4.5%)

And if you dig deeper, you'll see most of those increased values tend to be in more sparsely-populated areas. Watch what happens up North when those guys see their property tax bill reflect those Bubbly home values this winter.

UW’s Menzie Chinn has also noted that many economic indicators have been flattening out, retail excluded. And that doesn’t portend well for the future.

And I would agree. I need more than 1 surprising jump in retail sales to make me believe that the danger has passed. With oil jumping by nearly 50% since it bottomed 4 months ago, it means the rising prices at the pump are going to stay well through the Summer, and will consumers keep spending at all sources like they did in March? Especially as the labor market also seems to be at its peak with little upside?

Not seeing it. And I will bet that the Sean Duffys and other GOP hacks will sound more ridiculous in 6 months as they try to convince people the economy is going great today.

Congressmen Duffy and Steil think dirty air and dying dairy farms are HILARIOUS!

Just in time for Earth Day, a couple of Wisconsin GOP Congressmen decided to ridicule the idea that we should have cleaner air and slow down climate change. And they picked on a segment of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal legislation that mentions a reduction in methane and other gases that help to heat up the planet.

What follows is apparently what you get for “humor” in WisGOP World, which appeared on a podcast that Congressman Sean Duffy (from the Real World) puts on.
"In Wisconsin — it's shocking — they want to get rid of our cows," said Duffy, the 7th District congressman from Wausau. "Because cows have too much gas."

"I think we've got to talk about this when they bring the national convention to Wisconsin," replied {Rep. Bryan] Steil, who succeeded Paul Ryan as the 1st District congressman from Janesville. "Do you find any irony there? They bring the national convention to Wisconsin — the same group that wants to get rid of cows."…

The Green New Deal resolution didn't actually call for killing off cows. The cow reference appears to come from a fact sheet released in February that read, "We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast."

But Duffy and Steil still predicted the convention would have an anti-bovine bias. And they went on to compare security plans for Milwaukee to efforts to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I think it's great they're coming to Wisconsin, so not only are they going to talk about killing our dairy industry... But around the perimeter of the convention, do you know what they’re going to have Bryan?" said Duffy. "A fence or a wall. And they’re going to have a wall there because their walls are not immoral. Walls actually work."
When you're hooked on Koch, you say and do stupid things.

I guess these GOPs think making these “jokes” are a way to avoid actually having to think about climate change. But outside of BubbleWorld it’s pretty pathetic, especially given the troubles that real dairy farmers continue to have in Wisconsin.

Esquire Politics writer and Marquette University graduate Charlie Pierce saw this idiocy, and put the callousness in its proper context.
Duffy is the former Real World contestant whose career in the Congress has been marked largely by success that is not his own; his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, occasionally pops up on The View to talk pullulation and politics. Steil is the guy who sat himself down in Paul Ryan's old seat. Both of them, of course, are lying about the Green New Deal's propensity for bovine genocide.

But what makes them true dipwads in the modern conservative sense is that they have spent their careers in Congress stanning for an incompetent meathead in the White House whose policies are on the way to guaranteeing that there won't be any cows in America's Dairyland pretty soon anyway…
That farm crisis is showing little sign of slowing down in Wisconsin. There have been 265 dairy farm closings so far in 2019, which is a faster pace than the record pace of closings in 2018. And prices are not likely to rebound enough to keep others from giving up the business in the near future.

Pierce also notes this report by David Wahlberg in the Wisconsin State Journal from earlier this year, which said that the hard times have led to an increase in rural people deciding not just to end their businesses, but to end it all.
Wisconsin, which had a record 915 suicides in 2017, may be seeing a surge in suicides and suicidal thoughts among farmers, who are facing some of the worst economic challenges in years, experts say.

Exact numbers of suicides among farmers aren’t available, and authorities say some deaths reported as farm accidents are actually suicides.
But calls to the Wisconsin Farm Center, which helps distressed farmers, were up last year, including a 33 percent increase in November and December compared to the same two months the previous year….

The anguish is approaching that of the 1980s farm crisis, though interest rates today aren’t as high, said Frank Friar, an economic specialist at the farm center who has done similar work for decades.

“There’s so much volatility out there and so much unknown, it makes people think negative,” Friar said.
Oh, but Reps Steil and Duffy are the ones who understand the “little guy” and aren’t those elitist liberals, so they’re the ones to speak for rural Wisconsin, ain'a? Who cares if your community dies because of WisGOP policies as long as you get to stick it to us uppity types in Madison? Isn’t that right, 715? Ain’t that true, Walworth County, Burlington and Western Kenosha?

You folks want to keep losing with these pretty faces who are too bought off to do what it takes to stop the bleeding? Or do you want members in the Capitols of DC and Madison who actually care, and might give your farms and towns a chance? That’s the choice you have, and you need to choose better than these jokers if you want to survive.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Wisconsin-Russia connection stronger than ever after Mueller Report

The Mueller Report had plenty of information as to how Russians worked to subvert our elections and gained influence in our current US government. But what jumps out to me is how much of that story and related Russian affairs connected back to Wisconsin.

Our state appears in the Mueller Report as one of a handful in the Midwest that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort passed information about to a Russian intelligence agent. The report indicates that this was done to tell the Russians the best way to boost Trump's chances in those states.

And you may recall that Trump did surprisingly well in all of those states in November 2016. Funny, that.

One of the biggest assists Trump got was in the form of a record investment by the National Rifle Association. Keep that NRA support in mind when you hear about this story from Friday night.
Maria Butina, who has admitted to working as a Russian agent to infiltrate an influential U.S. gun rights group and make inroads with conservative activists and Republicans, asked the court to sentence her to time served ahead of her April 26 sentencing, according to court documents.

Butina, 30, a former graduate student at American University who publicly advocated for gun rights, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia. She has remained in custody since her arrest in July 2018.
Prosecutors filed a memo on Friday ahead of this week's sentencing. And check out this segment of that report, which might be familiar to you.
Soon after [Butina] drafted the Diplomacy Project proposal, in April 2015, she traveled to the United States to attend the Gun Rights Organization (aka the NRA) annual meetings with the Russian Official, where she highlighted her experience as a gun-rights advocate in Russia and was introduced to influential members of Political Party 1, one of whom announced his Presidential campaign shortly thereafter. Statement of Offense at 3. She did so in furtherance of the conspiracy’s goal to establish the back channel of communication as laid out in the Diplomacy Project. Id. at 3. Butina attended this announcement event in July 2015 and, after being tasked by the Russian Official to do so, wrote a report to him in which she emphasized the fact that she was introduced to one of that candidate’s three advisors for matters concerning international politics. A copy of the Twitter chats, along with the report, is attached hereto as Exhibit 4. According to her notes from a meeting with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in May 2015, she said she would “send the name of the advisor [to the candidate whose announcement event she later attended] who can come to Moscow.”
Looks like those Twitter chats will be released when the Butina file is redacted, likely after the sentencing happens on Friday. But who was this candidate that Butina and Putin-appointed central banker Alexander Torshin met up with, and whose presidential announcement event did she go to in July 2015?

This guy.

Later on, the sentencing memo describes how Butina organized a meeting with the NRA back home.
In December 2015, Butina invited powerful members of the Gun Rights Organization to Moscow as part of the conspiracy’s plan to establish the unofficial channel of communication. Statement of Offense at 3. She actively sought out meetings for this group with high-level Russian government officials, as arranged by the Russian Official. Id. As part of this endeavor, the defendant sought information from U.S. Person 1 about the degree of political influence held by the Gun Rights Organization members in the United States and stressed the need for a “political program” as part of the Gun Rights Organization trip to Moscow. Id. at 3-4.

Following the Gun Rights Organization trip to Moscow, the defendant and the Russian Official discussed the need to “hold the spot” now that “everyone has realized that [the Gun Rights Organization] is a valuable contact,” and she noted that there will be “attempts to seize the initiative.” Exhibit 2. Butina has since confirmed that she was worried about others within the Russian government or a political group or activist noticing that the contacts she had built with the Gun Rights Organization were valuable and cutting her and the Russian Official out of the loop. Just days later, Butina noted to the Russian Official that they would “quietly press” or “put pressure on [members of the Gun Rights Organization] later.”
Guess who was in Russia in December 2015?

Also don't forget that a couple of Wisconsin politicians knew about these Russian efforts before the 2016 election, but hid it from unsuspecting Wisconsin voters. In late Summer 2016, President Obama organized a "Gang of 12" to let them know about potential Russian hacking and interference, and 2 of the members of that meeting were then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson.

That meeting that was kept from public knowledge before the elections after complaints from Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

I keep going back to this Bruce Murphy article in Urban Milwaukee from January 2017, and that's because it continues to link back to developments in the Trump-GOP-Russia connection. And it points to Johnson being complicit in keeping Wisconsinites from knowing about the Russian garbage that was being sent to their computers, and flat-out lying later on about what intelligence agencies told him.
Russia’s interference with the American elections fit the pattern of a country engaged in disinformation and destabilization efforts across the globe, as Johnson has described it. And Russia’s leader was someone Johnson already suspected of nefarious acts. Johnson had previously sponsored resolutions calling for a full investigation into the murder of a Russian political opposition leader and for an investigation of Russia’s attacks on the Ukraine.

Johnson, in short, had an opportunity to be a patriot and condemn the fact that Russia was now engaged in such activities in the United States. But he issued no resolutions — in fact, not one word — on Russian’s cyber attacks on America.

Worse, he has engaged in his own pattern of misinformation on the subject. After the CIA publicly released a report in January concluding that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election, Johnson issued a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal saying he would “would need more definitive information before drawing further conclusions.” Johnson did not reveal that he had been informed back in September this was happening.

Johnson went on to complain to CNBC that the CIA refused to brief him on Russian hacking, saying “I have not seen the evidence that it actually was Russia,” while failing to note the CIA report’s echoed the briefing he’d received from other intelligence leaders in September.
In addition, Ron Johnson was 1 of several GOP Senators who decided last year's US Independence Day was a great time...to visit the Russians.

Sounds like investigative media might want to ask some questions of these Sconnie Republicans, why many seem to have no problem hanging out with high-level Russian officials, and ask what's being done to prevent Wisconsinites from being targeted and propagandized against in 2020. The (non)-answers they give might be quite illuminating.

I'd also like to see Walker, Clarke, Paul Ryan, ex-Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (named several times in the Mueller Report) and Ron Johnson go before Congress and answer some pointed questions in the coming months. They have a lot to answer for in how they've allowed our democracy to be threatened over the last few years, and why they don't seem too willing to do much about it.