Tuesday, August 31, 2021

COVID cases jump in Wisconsin as August ends. And lots of meet-ups are set for September

Not surprisingly, last week featured an unfortunate turn to the upside in Wisconsin's COVID's numbers, with more than 10,000 new cases happening for the first time since January.

Deaths have also continued to be elevated in the last half of August, with last week likely to become the 3rd straight week of 30 or more COVID deaths once all records are cleaned up from recent days.

With deaths typically lagging cases by about 4 weeks, I would sadly expect that to increase for at least the first couple of weeks of September. And now we have the start of school at the college and K-12 levels looming, which means that cases aren't likely to go down any time in the near future (although death rates per case will likely decline some).

The one positive is that the spike in cases along with the certain vulnerable populations being eligible for boosters does seem to have combined to push more Wisconsinites to get vaccinated. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says the 7-day average of vaccination went over 10,000 shots a day on Saturday, the first time we've reached that level in more than 2 months, when many were finishing up their first round of COVID doses.

I can hope the increased vaccination numbers and mask mandates in places like Dane County can help to put a lid on our recent jump in COVID cases, before our typical cold/flu season kicks in around October. But that is not guaranteed in any way, and with Labor Day, Summerfest, and football season all getting started in the next 2 weeks, there are a lot of mass meeting events happening. So bigtime uncertainty hangs over things as September begins.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Jake does redistricting, Pt. 3 - Wisconsin Senate

I have now used the Census numbers to draw up the final of my 3 redistricting maps in Wisconsin - the Wisconsin State Senate. This goes along with my prior Wisconsin maps of Congress, and the State Assembly.

Much like with my Assembly map, I tried to keep the maps relatively compact and with common communities connected and major population centers not split up, if it at all possible. And the red vs blue breakdown is based on statewide election totals between 2016 and 2020.

Compare that to the current Senate map, which at first glance has Republicans in charge of more districts that are "closer" than the dark red ones that are seen in a lot of my map.

But then compare the numbers from recent elections, and you see that my map is more competitive, both for Dem vs Rep-leanings overall, and in the number of close districts in general.

Jake's Senate map vs current Senate map
Party with most votes in districts
My Map: GOP 20, Dem 13
Current Map: GOP 22, Dem 11

Close districts
GOP 0 to +5- My map 4, Current map 4
GOP +5 to +10- My map 1, Current map 3

Dem 0 to +5- My map 2, Current map 1
Dem +5 to +10- My map 3, Current map 1

And if you go into the Milwaukee area, you can see that by binding nearby communities together and trying to keep districts contained within one county as much as possible, it made a couple of districts safer for Republicans. But it also made one district in Tosa/West Allis/Eastern Waukesha County bluer, and Racine and Kenosha Counties each have 1 competitive district vs the packed-and-cracked situation that exists today.

Current map

My map

In South Central Wisconsin, the population growth of Madison and Dane County means that the land area has to be shrunk compared to what exists today (for example, District 26 in Madison had over 200,000 people in the latest Census, while the target Senate district should be around 178,600 people). So I shifted the District 17 south and east, and the 13th and 15th districts take up a bit more of southeastern Dane County vs today, and the 14th district is kept out of Dane County and made into a district that is contained outside of the Madison metro area.

Current map

My map

And going to the Fox Valley, you can see that my map tightens up districts around Appleton and Green Bay (and makes them more competitive), and I connected Oshkosh to Neenah/Menasha, which is a notable change from the current map, which connects Oshkosh to Fond du Lac.

Sure, the numbers favor Republicans with the map I made, but what's a key difference is that a 5-point change in voting habits can flip the Seante to Dems in my map, vs 7 points in the current map. But even though Dems would gain 2 seats in a base year, they also can lose more seats if the GOPs were ever to win the state by 10 points or so. And I definitely think it's an improvement over what we have today.

Feel free to dig in and tell me what you think!

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Recovery continued in July, but where we're spending continues to change

Even though COVID-19 started to flare back up in July, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the month’s income and spending report, as we saw today.
U.S. consumers saw an increase in personal income and spending in July of 1.1% and 0.3%, respectively, the Commerce Department said today. This comes in spite of looming economic uncertainty coupled with pandemic-related reluctance.
Dig into the actual report, and you can see it was a combination of COVID relief measures, along with a strong overall economy that had gained 2.5 million jobs in the previous 3 months.
The increase in personal income in July primarily reflected increases in government social benefits and compensation of employees (table 3). Within government social benefits, an increase in "other" social benefits (more than accounted for by advance Child Tax Credit payments as authorized by the American Rescue Plan) was partly offset by a decrease in unemployment insurance, reflecting a decrease in payments from the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. Within compensation, the increase was primarily in private wages and salaries, reflecting Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics.
The wages and salaries part was especially strong, going up by $98.5 billion (annual basis), the biggest one-month increase in 2021. Combined with the continued decline in unemployment payments (both due to fewer recipients and because of some red states opting out of certain programs and expanded benefits), and income has finally increased more from jobs than from unemployment since COVID first broke out.

On the spending side, we continue to see the shifts back toward services and away from goods in 2021, as part of a reversion to pre-COVID spending habits.
The $42.2 billion increase in current dollar PCE in July reflected an increase of $102.6 billion in spending for services and a decrease of $60.4 billion in spending for goods (table 3). Within services, increases were widespread across all spending categories, led by food services and accommodations. Within goods, decreases were widespread across most spending categories, led by motor vehicles and parts, recreational goods and vehicles, as well as clothing and footwear. These decreases were partly offset by an increase in gasoline and other energy goods.
Add in the 2021 shift away from goods with shutdowns and supply constraints at auto makers, and that sector has taken a serious dive since April after blowing up in the two months after February.

But food services and accomodations continued its recovery from COVID-inflicted damage, and is now basically back to its pre-COVID levels of February 2020. Spending in travel and recreation services also continued to come back

Given that so many people were laid off in these industries in the first half of 2020, and that many others are seeing extra hazards to being in these industries in the COVID era as not being worth the low wages many of these jobs had, and you can see why there are still issues with finding enough workers to meet this recovering demand.

With COVID spiking back up in August, it’ll be interesting to see if spending shifts again – or if there is little to no shift at all. Lot of crossroads for this economy at the moment, and with the earlier Biden stimulus measures wearing off, it seems like it's time for government to be supportive of bpoth public health and the disruptions that continue to happen as Fall 2021 looms.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

COVID was plateauing in Wisconsin, until this week

Up through Saturday of last week, it looked like new COVID infections were continuing to level off in Wisconsin. Yes, it was still higher than the week before, but the rate of increase was only around 9% compared to 12% the week before and nearly 40% the week before that.

But in this week, we've seen more than 2,000 new cases reported in 2 of the last 3 days, and more than 10,000 new cases have been reported over the last week.

And you'll notice DHS reporting "very high" COVID activity in almost half of the counties in Wisconsin, which means that it has become widespread throughout the state, particularly in northern and central Wisconsin over the last two weeks.

That's especially true when you look at the top 10 counties for infection rate. Largely rural areas along with Milwaukee County, which still has a wide swath of its inner city with very low vaccination rates.

Top 10 Counties for COVID infections per 100K people, Aug 11-24
Menominee Co. 639
Taylor County 607
Green Lake Co. 529
Langlade Co. 526
Milwaukee Co. 472
Monroe County 472
Oconto County 469
Forest Co. 457
Eau Claire Co. 455
Chippewa Co. 452

And many other counties are clustered between 400 and 450, including all 3 of the WOW Counties and Racine County. Deaths have also taken a jump up in the state, nearing 50 over the last week - a rate we haven't seen since February (a time when most Wisconsinites couldn't be vaccinated).

Those booster shots can't come on line soon enough, but in the meantime, masking up and playing it smart seems to be the way to go. Let's hope the good weather holds out for another month and that this curve starts bending down as more people get their shots in and re-learn how to lower their risks. Or else this Fall and Winter may look like a lot less fun than we thought it might be a month ago.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A few random thoughts on infrastructure, the deficit, and goofy DC rules

I wanted to go over the infrastructure and budget situation in DC, as the dollar amounts and procedures get thrown around in a way that I barely comprehend, and most people really don't understand at all.

First, the House and Senate have not agreed to spend $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Or any amount, for that matter. What they hsve agreed to is a budget RESOLUTION, which is simply an outline of what the final numbers might look like. I don't trust the austerity oligarchs at the Pete Peterson Foundation on policy, but this is a good explainer on what that resolution does/doesn't do.
A Congressional Budget Resolution is a “blueprint” that guides fiscal decision-making in the Congress. It is passed by the House and the Senate, and it establishes the top-line levels for the budget by setting targets for revenues and upper limits for subsequent spending bills over a specific period or budget window.

Although it is not presented to the president for signature (and hence is not a law), it is a critically important document because it sets the terms of the budget debate. It defines the Congress’ goals for federal spending, revenues, deficits and debt, and allocates budgetary resources among the major functions of government (such as national defense, transportation, health, veterans’ benefits, general government and income security). It also can provide a vehicle for making changes to mandatory programs and revenues through a process known as reconciliation.
Congress doesn't even have to pass a budget resolution in a given year, but the reason it's important is that it a bill can be RECONCILED to this budget, and only requires 50 votes in the Senate to pass.

The resolution certainly allows for a lot more spending and tax credits, compared to the projected totals that the Congressional Budget Office projected last month for the next 10 fiscal years.

This is a separate situation from the smaller roads/bridges/water type bill, which has already passed the Senate with well over the cloture limit of 60 votes, so all that needs to be done is for the House to pass the same bill, and that goes right to Biden's desk and (hopefully) gets those projects moving right after.

So why all the drama among House Dems earlier this week, that led to my Congressman tweeting stuff like this?

My guess is that the Dem corporate sellouts moderates want to be seen as supporting the smaller infrastructure bill, but don't necessarily want the larger (reconciliation) bill to go through. Why? I truly have no idea, because a big bill of expanded services and tax credits is something voters want, and we've seen over the last year that the deficit isn't something that'll drive up interest rates, with inflation only an issue in the short term due to COVID shortages and boosted demand.

But if the small infrastructure bill were to go through on its own, those corporatist Dems could then walk away and say "Well, that's all we need", which would anger progressives who see a chance to do some overdue rebalancing to our economy. With a majority of only 220-212 in the House and 50-50 in the Senate, any small amount of Dems saying "No" will likely sink the bill, as no GOPs are likely to favor government stepping up to help large numbers of Americans. So instead, progressives want the bigger bill to be figured out and agreed to before the roads/bridges/water bill is passed.

I get the strategy, and it made sense until yesterday's action, but now I think that's a little petty at this point, and I would actually shove through the smaller infrastructure bill now, to get those projects moving sooner vs later. With the budget resolution in place, the real debate now begins - figuring out what taxing and spending package can get a majority in both the House and Senate.

When that happens, GOPs will be crying crocodile tears like this, all-of-a-sudden caring about a large budget deficit when they ran up massive amounts of red ink in passing a GOP Tax Scam and COVID relief under The Former Guy.

In addition to being untrue (the only taxes being raised are on the rich and corporate...unless Gross-man thinks people making $400K is a "middle-class family"), Dems can say that there's an easy way to improve economic stability AND keep the deficit in line - TAXING THE RICH. As we've seen in the last year, if the economy improves and people aren't trapped into substandard choices, debt is merely a number, and not something that becomes an actual burden or barrier to better things.

So let's step up and get it done.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Jake does Redistricting Pt. 2 - State Assembly

Following up on yesterday's redistricting map that I made for Congress, I wanted to go over the one I made for the State Assembly.

First of all, like with Congress, I tried to keep common communities together, and tried to see if I could get some districts to have a sizable portion of people of color. So here's what I came up with, and the shades of blue-red reflect the 2016-2020 composite votes in statewide races.

Now compare that map to the current one.

At first glance, it doesn't look all that much different, except for the difference in area among districts in Dane and Milwaukee Counties, and that my districts are generally not so stretched out.

We'll start in Southeastern Wisconsin, where I've tried to keep districts within one county if at all possible. The loss of population in Milwaukee is noticeable here, as it means the city has 7 majority non-white districts instead of the 8 that exist today. But I also moved districts 13 and 14 entirely into Milwaukee County, and had the North Shore suburbs get their own district, instead of having them split between counties as they are today.

Conversely, I kept districts in Waukesha and Ozaukee County instead of bleeding over into Milwaukee. Ironically, this makes some districts less competitive than they are today (because the burbs have gotten bluer, especially north and west of the City), but I also made one Racine County district be inclusive of the communities near the City of Racine.

Moving over to the Madison area, I cut out a lot of the GOP gerrymander that spliced up much of the outskirts of Dane County. That, along with the large population increase in Dane County, means that there are more districts based entirely in the county, and it also makes the GOP-held District 51 in Iowa and Green Counties and District 38 in Jefferson County into bluer districts.

In the Fox Valley, I tightened up some districts, and this will become even more apparent when I merge this into Senate districts (each Senate district is 3 Assembly districts). It makes a couple more seats competitive, but the bigger change is that communities are more tied together instead of the slicing and dicing that the GOP gerrymander pulls.

Put it all together statewide, and it ends up being an Assembly map that favors the GOP around 57-42 in typical 50-50 year in Wisconsin. That's better than the 60-39 map that exists today, and Dems become likely to win the Assembly with 53% of the vote instead of 54%.

The flip side is that a fairer map makes it harder for GOPs to get to 63-64 seats, like they had in much of the 2010s. And it stops a lot of the imperialism of having so many GOP reps representing areas of a county that never voted for them.

I could have manipulated this a lot more if I cared to look at voting patterns, but I didn't want to do that. So have at it, and feel free to grab the Dave's Redistricting app and draw up your own!

Monday, August 23, 2021

Jake does redistricting Pt. 1 - Congress in Wisconsin

Since the Census numbers for redistricting came out 11 days ago, I've done some map-drawing, and I wanted to let you see what I came up with.

For Congress, we know that District 4 in Milwaukee needs to take up more land (due to population loss) and District 2 in and around Madison should be shrunken (due to Dane County's big gains in population). So here we go.

I chose to move District 3 (the seat Ron Kind is giving up in Western Wisconsin) to take up some of the section of Mark Pocan's District 2 that are west and northwest of Madison, and I took out Stevens Point from District 3 and moved it into Glenn Grothman's District 6. Tom Tiffany's District 7 ends up being basically all of the 715 area code west and north of Eau Claire/Menomonie, and I tightened up Mike Gallagher's District 8 in Green Bay/Appleton, in accordance to good population growth in those 2 metro areas.

In the Milwaukee area, I made Scott Fitzgerald's District 5 basically be the WOW Counties and some of Jefferson, while expanding District 4 more into Wauwatosa and West Allis. And for District 1, I moved Beloit from District 2 into Bryan Steil's current district, and took out some of Waukesha County in the process.

You put it together by how people have voted in Wisconsin in the main statewide races between 2016 and 2020 (total margin among those races is Dems +1), and it comes out as follows.

1 GOP district by nearly 30 points (5)
3 GOP districts by 12-15 points (6,7,8)
2 toss up districts within 2 points (1 and 3)
2 Dem districts by 40-50 points (2,4)

I was more looking at it from geographic match, particularly in terms of the media markets the districts were in, more than who voted for what. I'd call a 4-2-2 map relatively fair for Wisconsin, with 3 GOP districts coming into play if Dems were to pull a 10-12 point landslide statewide.

So have at it!

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Wisconsin jobs kept coming back in July

New Wisconsin jobs report dropped on Thursday. And the positive trends of 2021 continued here in July.
In brief, the seasonally adjusted data shows:
Place of Residence Data: Wisconsin's labor force participation rate in July was 66.4, 0.1 percentage point higher than June's labor force participation rate, and 4.7 percentage points higher than the national rate of 61.7 percent. Wisconsin's unemployment rate in July was 3.9 percent, while the national unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in the same month.
Place of Work Data: Wisconsin added 12,400 private-sector and 13,100 total non-farm jobs in July 2021.
Both of these are pretty good numbers, which we should have expected given the great US jobs report from July. And all the three big topline stats in the jobs report showed upticks in Wisconsin.

Sorry WMC, I don't think that $300/week unemployment add-on (which runs out in 2 weeks) is holding us back in Wisconsin.

And much like the rest of the country, the Leisure and Hospitality sector continued to recover, with 4,000 more jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis, and 8,100 more overall. We're still down more than 50,000 jobs in that area compared to the start of 2020, but there has been a gain of 14,500 jobs there so far in 2021.

There was also a sizable increase in manufacturing (2,300 seasonally-adjusted, 3,700 not-seasonally adjusted), which means nearly 90% of the jobs lost in that sector when COVID broke out have now come back in Wisconsin.

However, COVID outbreaks were at their low point in mid-July, when the jobs survey was taken. That'll certainly be a different factor for August's report, although unemployment claims have generally fallen state and nationwide even as the pandemic has resurged (at least so far). But for now, things look pretty good in the Wisconsin jobs market as the Summer/pre-school season goes into its last two weeks.

Astroturfed anti-mask, anti-vax BS doesn't reflect the Silent Majority in Wis or America.

Once Dane County reinstated their mask mandate for indoor public places this week, you knew what was coming soon afterwards, and you knew who it was coming from. This is where I remind you that the Bradley Foundation-funded WILL sued Governor Tony Evers last year for Safer at Home and mask restrictions, claiming that the Legislature needed to give approval to these rules from the State. The success of the lawsuit (and the WisGOP Legislature's refusal to do anything) meant that local communities ended up deciding the appropriate level of restrictions.

Now that a local community is doing something the Bradleys don’t like, they find some tool claiming that they have a God-given right to put others at risk, and sue again. There’s no honest reason for this lawsuit, which exposes the real reason for it. Because the Bradleys want to play a divide and conquer game about “those liberals in Dane County”, and to try to turn the issue of public safety into an argument of “personal freedum” combating “those bureaucrats in those big cities.” And it reminded me of another earlier bit of Astroturf during the pandemic.

Remember when there were all those rallies and Faux News time in Spring 2020 demanding to “reopen the economy?”, even as few people knew how this virus spread, without a vaccine available? Bradley money was helping to pay for that garbage.
The Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a major source of funding for right-wing groups with over $854 million in assets, gave grants to FreedomWorks Foundation and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation this year to specifically assist with their efforts to rapidly reopen the economy amidst the coronavirus pandemic….

In a list of Quarter 2 grants posted to its website, Bradley staff lists $100,000 to the FreedomWorks Foundation to "support the Save Our Country initiative."

Save Our Country was launched in April by FreedomWorks Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Tea Party Patriots, the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, and other right-wingers to push for a "quick" reopening of the states after many had enacted stay-at-home orders as confirmed coronavirus cases rapidly increased. Bradley added another $275,000 to FreedomWorks Foundation for "general operations."

In June, The Guardian reported that Save Our Country had raised "just over $800,000 towards a $5m goal for projects including new ad efforts – online, radio and print – to rev up grassroots pressure to reopen states faster, plus curtail more federal spending and promote business-favored tax cuts." Bradley is the first Save Our Country donor identified.
And much like with the Safer at Home measures in Spring 2020, the Silent Majority understands the need to take action to preserve public health. Bruce Thompson has a great breakdown in Urban Milwaukee of the recent Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin that showed an overwhelming majority of state residents planning to be vaccinated, but a noticeable partisan divide between Republicans and everyone else.
Also in that poll, 62% of Wisconsin residents said that last year’s school closings and capacity reductions at businesses were appropriate, and not an overreaction. And the same split among party members exists.

But where are our rallies and community “activism”? Well, there’s one obvious reason.

That’s another area of the masking/vaxxing debate that reeks of Astroturf – whether to require masks in schools (since kids under 12 can’t get vaxxed at all). And guess who’s recently stepped into that debate.

Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday said masking children in schools is a decision that should be left to parents.

"I think the right answer is that parents really need to be in a position to decide what is best for each of their children," DeVos told "America’s Newsroom."[on Fox News]

"We know that, for some, kids feel more comfortable if they are wearing masks. Others do not and [feel they] are detrimental to them," DeVos said.
Yeah, how’s that working out for Florida these days, Betsy?

Menawhile, in the real America, a nationwide Axios/Ipsos poll from this week shows nearly 70% of Americans support mandatory masking in schools. And like many other thing, Republicans are out of step with the rest of the country.

And guess who has used any excuse to defund public schools in the name of “giving parents choices” for decades? Yep, it’s the Bradleys. And if these guys can't capture public school boards like Oconomowoc and force out school board memebers who value classroom safety over parental "freedums", they will use mask mandates as an excuse to push vouchers and homeschooling. This will send tax dollars out of community schools and into the "Jesus rode a dinosaur" schools.

Something stinks here, and it’s time we start following the money on it. And make these scam “charities” that are behind this Astroturf pay the same taxes the rest of us have to.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Yep, getting vaxxed lowers your chances of getting COVID, and getting bad COVID

Wanted to throw a couple of new bits of data from Wisconsin that compares the rate of COVID infections for those who have finished their round of vaccinations, and those who have not.

The first is a new bit of data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. I'll give you this key graphic from July's report.

That means the rate of infection was 3 times larger in the unvaxxed vs the vaxxed, hospitalizations were 4 times more likely, and death was 11 times more likely. Obviously, there are factors that go beyond vaxxed vs unvaxxed, such as age (older people are more likely to be vaxxed) or activities that raise or lower the chances of getting infected (masking, being inside among strangers for long periods of time, etc).

Then Dane County came out later today with their weekly snapshot of the COVID situation in and around Madison. While Dane County is the most-vaxxed county in Wisconsin with lower rates of new cases overall, there is also a disparity in the rate of infection.

So yes, there are breakthrough cases (was just talking to a guy this week that had one - basically said it felt like an annoying cold), but there also is little doubt that it's significantly less likely you will test positive for the virus if you are vaccinated. And it certainly seems like the vaccine goes a long way toward keeping Wisconsinites from major complications, including death. And if you mask up inside, it's probably even less likely you get hit.

Let's do things the smart way, and increase our chances of staying well as Summer winds down and the Fall creeps in.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Defund the police? Thank the WisGOPs for that

Earlier this month, Governor Evers rightfully vetoed a GOP poser bill that would have cut shared revenue from Wisconsin communities if they reduced the staffs of their police departments, fire departments, and first responder units. Evers said this bill would have micromanaged local governments, and made already-difficult budgeting even harder.

And it’s pathetic to see GOPs try to stir up rubes with this garbage in 2021, because the Wisconsin Policy Forum noted on Wednesday that many Wisconsin communities were defunding the police before any of the uprisings of 2020, under budgets and laws passed by Scott Walker and a GOP Legislature. I had a lot of ideas ready to roll on this, and then Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee beat me to the punch by also discussing the Policy Forum's paper.

I'll add to Murphy's ideas by going into more detail on a couple of angles. Let me give you some of the Policy Forum's numbers that go into how much is spent on law enforcement, and just how many cut spending at the end of the 2010s.
Starting with law enforcement, we find that total spending on that function across all municipalities increased from $1.21 billion in 2018 to $1.23 billion in 2019 (1.3%). However, the data show 253 municipalities decreased the dollar amount spent on all law enforcement activities (see Figure 1). This includes large cities (Milwaukee, Green Bay), suburbs (Bayside, Grafton, Stoughton, Verona), and a number of very small communities, including 144 municipalities with fewer than 2,000 residents.

In fact, all but 10 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had at least one municipality that decreased its police budget in 2019. Milwaukee was the only municipality among this group with a spending decrease larger than $1 million ($7.4 million). Given that the spending data does not match the exact definition in the proposal, we did not look to see which of these municipalities met the 30-employee threshold.

Over that same two-year span, 461 municipalities increased their spending on police, including three that increased spending by more than $1 million: Madison ($2.2 million), West Allis ($1.7 million), and Racine ($1.5 million). It should be noted that 1,118 municipalities – more than three out of every five – spent nothing on police in either year; however, most of these are town governments with a population of under 1,000. As we noted in a recent report on local government spending, those small communities tend to be served by county sheriff departments.
I’m betting that increase of $2.2 million in added police spending in Madison won’t get mentioned on AM Hate Radio in Wisconsin.

Not surprisingly, the Policy Forum finds that bigger cities had more of their budgets tied up in police and fire protection in 2019. And that’s a big problem given the past decade of state Republicans limiting expenses for all municipalities in the name of “property tax relief.”
Wisconsin municipalities have been operating under strict property tax limits for more than a decade and intergovernmental revenue – primarily aid from the state – has also declined as a share of overall municipal revenue over that period. These constraints on the growth of property taxes and state aid likely have contributed to the difficulties faced by municipalities in maintaining police and fire department budgets and staffing…

In 2019, police, fire, and emergency medical services together made up 39.3% of all municipal operating spending in Wisconsin, down only modestly from the 40.5% mark in 2009. In big cities, like Milwaukee (52.1%), Madison (44.2%), and Kenosha (56.7%), that number is even higher (see Figure 3); 39 of Wisconsin’s 50 most populous municipalities spent at least 40% of their operating budget on these three services in 2019.

Then throw in Scott Walker’s side deal with the police and firefighter unions, where he paid back their support in 2010 by not allowing their unions to be busted by 2011’s Act 10. So cities have more of their expenses tied up in police and fire services, can’t raise property taxes to pay for these services, and aren’t allowed to use the “tools” of Act 10 to limit costs (by offloading them onto employees and away from tax dollars).

But at the same time, WisGOPs want to prevent (further) defunding of police. Well, seems like the answer to that one is easy. Allow cities and other municipalities to put in a sales tax that pays for police and fire services. More of the money that is generated by these places stays in the community to improve public safety, and property taxes don’t have to go up in the process.

And yet WisGOPs chose not to allow that happen, when they refused to allow Governor Evers proposal to free up more municipalities in Wisconsin to put in sales taxes to pay for services. I think communities should be able to use their own money as they see fit, but can’t there at least be some kind of compromise where the sales tax funds are targeted for public safety and/or roads?

If WisGOPs don’t allow a sales tax, then they can’t complain when communities choose to defund police. Because it’s the fiscal handcuffs that WisGOPs have imposed on local governments that have led to the defundings that have already happened!

Wisconsin curve flattening on COVID, but what happens next defines our Fall

Like much of America, Wisconsin's COVIDS cases and complications continued to rise last week. Although I will note that the curve is starting to get flattened out, with new cases increasing by less than 850 compared to the prior week.

But that's little comfort to those who have already been afflicted, and we are now starting to see alarming increases in hospitalizations.

And deaths are starting to follow, with more than 20 COVID deaths in each of the last two weeks, and possibly worse for this week.

Drilling down to regions of the state, the Milwaukee area continues to have the worst of it, with Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Waukesha Counties each having a rate of more than 400 cases per 100,000 people over the last 2 weeks. But now they're being joined by outstate areas, with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services saying today that 7 counties outside of Southeast Wisconsin are seeing "very high" activity above the statewide rate.

But you also see that flattening of new cases in recent days, and perhaps people are taking the virus more seriously in these parts again. It's certainly possible that enough people smarten up, vax up and limit the damage, and we see a livable Fall and set the tone for a clear 2022.

However, vaccination rates still need to get better in most places, with barely 3/5 of adults statewide fully vaccinated at this late date, and the start of school looms in 2 weeks. There is also a real danger of this going the wrong way in the next few weeks as the bells ring and the weather cools, and I fear August will have the most deaths out of the last 3. This is why it's likely a wise decision for Dane County to mandate masks indoors, at least for the next month, even if our infection rates are lower than the rest of the state.

Because we don't want the Fall of 2020 to look like Florida or Texas or Louisiana do today....or Wisconsin in the Fall of 2020.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Retail sales slump in July. COVID effect? Or just shifts in spending?

Remember me saying that July’s retail sales report grew in importance after a drop in consumer sentiment last week? Yeah, about that….
Retail sales dropped 1.1% last month. Data for June was revised up to show retail sales increasing 0.7% instead of rising 0.6% as previously reported. Retail sales are 17.2% above their pre-pandemic level.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales slipping 0.3%. Sales increased 15.8% compared to July last year.

Receipts at auto dealerships fell 3.9% after declining 2.2% in June. Motor vehicle production has been hampered by a global shortage of semiconductors.
Ugh in general, and in particular, those July figures continue a big cutback in auto sales in recent months.

That being said, the Federal Reserve reported manufacturers of autos and other goods cranked back up in July, so perhaps some of the bottleneck will be alleviated in the near future.
In July, manufacturing output increased 1.4 percent; excluding the large gain in motor vehicles and parts, manufacturing output moved up 0.7 percent. The index for overall manufacturing in July was 0.8 percent above its pre-pandemic level. Production of durable goods rose 2.4 percent in July. In addition to the increase for motor vehicles and parts, gains of 1.5 percent or more were recorded by machinery; electrical equipment, appliances, and components; aerospace and miscellaneous transportation equipment; and miscellaneous manufacturing. The output of nondurable goods rose 0.3 percent; the largest increases were recorded by textile and product mills and by plastics and rubber products. The output of other manufacturing (publishing and logging) increased 0.2 percent. The index for mining advanced 1.2 percent, about the same pace it has averaged over the past 12 months. The index for utilities fell 2.1 percent in July, as an unusually hot June gave way to a July with temperatures somewhat below normal.
But do consumers still need or want those goods? The retail sales report indicates that they were still cycling away from industries that did well in the COVID World, and spent more money on entertainment and other “going out” places, before this next wave of infections started to hit full force.
Sales at building material stores decreased 1.2%. Receipts at sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores declined 1.9%.

But consumers increased spending at restaurants and bars, leading to a 1.7% rise in receipts. Sales at restaurants and bars increased 38.4% compared to July 2020. Restaurants and bars are the only services category in the retail sales report.
And that continues the unwinding of disruptions that we saw when COVID first broke out in early 2020. The types of businesses that boomed through April have given back some of their gains, while spending at bars and restaurants keeps climbing.

I said I wasn’t going to worry about COVID breakouts and GOP-planted inflation concerns leading to any type of economic slowdown until we saw evidence of slowing consumer behavior. Now this bad retail sales report comes along, so we need to keep our guard up to see if other bad signs start appearing, especially with August’s COVID numbers being much worse across the country.

And I think we need to recognize that just because we had a Biden Boom in the first half of 2021, its sustainability isn’t quite guaranteed – especially as long as some COVID-iots refuse to join the Silent Majority of us who did our parts to fight this scourge. So we need to keep building and giving stability to the many who have yet to fully recover from the economic damage that they took on in 2020.

GOPs may want to cry crocodile tears about inflation and the US budget deficit in an attempt to stop those supports from coming with the infrastructure and social services bills in Congress. But that’s because GOPs want austerity to be imposed to help their chances of winning in 2022, and this slip in retail sales should remind us that just because our economy has grown for most of the last 16 months, it doesn’t mean that we are fully recovered.

And as we’ve seen in the last month, what hit the economy in 2020 is still a threat in 2021. Individuals and policymakers need to keep attacking until that viral threat is beaten down again.

Monday, August 16, 2021

With jobs and wages booming, GOPs are scaring consumers by talking up inflation

Jobs are bouncing back in big numbers, and demand is so strong that many service industries can’t find enough people to replace those who were laid off in 2020. So the result is that consumer sentiment in America…. is tanking in August?

The University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment plunged to a preliminary August reading of 70.2 from a final July reading of 81.2. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had expected an August reading of 81.3.

It is the lowest sentiment reading since December 2011, below any level in the beginning of the pandemic last year…..

The decline was due to consumers sensing that the delta variant of the coronavirus means that the pandemic will not end soon. This caused an emotional reaction and generated negative assessments about the economy’s likely performance.

The economy had been humming along and the Fed was preparing to exit its ultra-easy policy stance. If consumers stop spending and avoid crowds, the outlook could darken quickly. Price gains seen this year are unlikely to unwind quickly, and this could result in stagflation – higher prices and a slumping economy.
I don’t think stagflation is happening in a time when we’re adding 2.5 million jobs in 3 months. That’s just a boom that causing everything to go up (including pay). While you may be concerned that
the increase in average hourly wages hasn’t been keeping up with the overall increase in prices, I’d encourage you to take a step back and realize that real wages are up a solid amount compared to where we were 2 years ago.

And much of this rise and fall is related to the fact that lower-wage jobs were the ones most likely to be terminated as COVID first broke out in 2020, and wages fell as those jobs have come back (in fits and starts) since May 2020 and prices rose back to reflect the post-2020 normal. I think June or July 2021 marks a good baseline to see where things go from here, as much of the (prior) COVID overhang had mostly cleared by then.

To me, the real reason for the decline in consumer confidence seems to be two-fold:
1. Real concerns about whether the resurgence of COVID leads to more shutdowns and disruptions in the economy (and I think that would be more likely to happen through choices made by consumers on their own vs formal government lockdowns/restrictions).

2. Republicans are dishonest Pom-Pom wavers on pretty much anything (so the same situation results in positives for GOPs and negatives for Dems), while Dems are more likely to analyze the situation straight-up. That sounds like a partisan slap, but it’s backed by pretty much any poll on a variety of issues.

I’m not overly worried, other than the concern about whether COVID’s continued growth slams the brakes on consumers’ desires to go places and spend money. But the person doing that will be more likely to be a Dem that’ll take precautions than some MAGAt screeching about “FREEDUM” and not wanting to take measures to stem the tide of this virus.

Living in heavily-vaxxed Madison, I don’t see a lot of a slowdown or change in spending habits yet, but we haven’t been hammered like the South has, so maybe the cutbacks have already started (hard to go to restaurants from a hospital bed…or the grave). Which makes this week’s retail sales report a lot more important than we thought it would have been a week ago.

The consumer confidence report also tells us that we can’t afford to use a shortage-based jump in inflation as a reason for policymakers to stop helping the economy. In fact, targeted help for industries that are especially susceptible to a COVID cutback might return to the agenda, along with a long-overdue remaking of priorities in an economy that relies too much on trading paper over taking care of human needs.

Just tax the rich, and that takes care of a lot of this asset inflation that is part of the concerns that many have, which is likely leading to the shakiness that some are feeling about the economy. But don’t count on Republicans to do anything to help, and not only because they are allergic to anything that would make their oligarch puppetmasters pay another dime in taxes.

GOPs know that if the economy stalls out between now and Fall 2022, it helps their chances in the elections. Until it started killing their voters and making their pro-COVID governors in Texas and Florida look bad, they had no problem with COVID coming back and causing more economic problems. And you can bet they will blame any COVID-caused slowdown on “failed Dem policies”, even though Biden and Dems are the only ones trying to stamp down COVID flare-ups.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

No surprise, but Census shows Dane County bigger, MKE smaller, and lots of map-drawing to come

Today was the big release of Census data that'll be used to go into redistricting and allocations of resources and a lot of other stuff. I'm going to wait till I see an easier way to download the data to do more with it, but I can make some high-level observations.

First of all, Dane County reiterated itself as the leading source of growth in a state that didn't add a lot of people in the 2010s.
More than one-third of Wisconsin's population growth over the last decade occurred in Dane County, in and around Madison. The county grew by 15% to add more than 73,000 people — the highest county-level increase in the state — with the city of Verona experiencing some of the fastest growth at 32%.
In fact, Dane County was 1 of only 2 Wisconsin counties that had population growth of more than 10% between 2010 and 2020. The other was St. Croix County, which was one of several high-growth counties around the Twin Cities.

But while population boomed in Dane County, Wisconsin's largest city had a large loss of people.
Meanwhile, the state's largest city has hit its lowest population since 1930. Milwaukee's population fell to 577,222 — a drop of about 17,000 people since 2010. Milwaukee County also saw a tiny population decrease of less than a percentage point.
Conversely, those numbers mean that the Milwaukee County suburbs grew by around 9,000, and the WOW Counties also had decent growth (between 3.7% and 5.9%). The Green Bay/Appleton areas had decent growth, and as you can see above, a lot of rural counties lost out.

With Dane County accounting for more than 36% of the whole state's population growth, that means in any kind of a legitimate Legislative map, Dane should get at least one entire new Assembly district located within its borders. But this also means that City of Milwaukee's representation in the Legislature will be even smaller, and if you look at this guy's map, the biggest losses were in minority-centered districts.

I was not surprised to see Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos and the rest of the legislative Republicans to be excited about the release of the data (gerrymandering is that guy's life work, along with money-shuffling scams). But I was surprised to see him and the rest of the Assembly GOP make a public gesture to bring the public into being part of the discussion.

Polling must be terrible for WisGOP on gerrymandering (and other things) if Vos is trying to avoid looking like the power-obsessed lowlife we all know him to be. But hey, I'll take the added interest. The Legislature's website looks like a copy of what Governor Evers' People's Maps Commission did, but hey, click on there and fill it out. They don't have the 2020 data up yet, but that'll come soon.

On the Congressional side, the biggest wildcard in Wisconsin's redistricting will come with the swingy 3rd District. Current Rep. Ron Kind isn't even going to find out what that district looks like, as he announced yesterday that he will not run for re-election in 2022, but there are serious choices to be made in what places make up WI-3.

As you can see, GOPs pitchforked the Dem-voting city of Stevens Point into Kind's district in 2011, with the idea that they'd trade a safer Dem seat for guaranteed wins in the surrounding 6th and 7th districts. Little did GOPs know that Western and Central Wisconsin would shift toward the GOP, especially in the Trump era.

Oddly, the 3rd District could stay basically the same for the 2020s, because its population is right in line with how many people should be in a district. But Mark Pocan's Madison-based District 2 has to shrink by a lot (which borders 3) and Gwen Moore's Milwaukee-based District 4 will need to take on much more area, so that'll obviously affect everyone else.

Dave's Redistricting and other sites will have the full precinct data up in the next week, and I'll draw up my modifications right after that. We need to do this on our own, because it'll help us identify just how BS any gerrymander might be, and what choices they could have made, but chose not to.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Pt. 1 of infrastructure is out of the Senate. Get it finalized, and go onto the bigger work

Well, we've finally got the first part of the infrastructure package out of the Senate.
A key part of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, the agreement calls for $550 billion in new federal spending on top of about $450 billion in previously approved funds. The bill is an ambitious plan to upgrade and modernize the nation’s roads, bridges, water systems, broadband access, and electric grid, starting in 2022.

The bill calls for investing $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for rail, $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure, and $39 billion for public transit, in addition to billions for airports, ports, and the nation’s first network of electric vehicle charging stations.
It looks like part of the new investments will be paid for by raising fees on some types of transactions, as well as reallocating some funds in previous COVID relief programs that won’t be used up.
Lawmakers spent weeks negotiating how to pay for the bill after Biden opposed raising the gas tax or imposing electric vehicle fees and Republicans ruled out raising taxes on corporations or increasing the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement capacity. In addition to the $28 billion expected to be raised by the new crypto reporting requirements, the bill will be paid for with about $210 billion in unspent Covid-19 aid and $53 billion in federal pandemic unemployment assistance that some states returned.
It’s a start, and according to a White House “fact sheet” that came out last week, it would give a sizable amount of extra money to help Wisconsin pay for their projects. (for the record, I think these numbers are the total amount sent to Wisconsin, not the added amount that comes from this bill).

All of that sounds pretty good to me. But it apparently wasn’t so good for Wisconsin’s senior US Senator.

That tweet really hasn't aged well, given that we were reminded today that RoJo personally put a massive giveaway put into the 2017 tax bill that gave $215 million in deductions to some of Johnson's biggest donors. Without any regard for what that was going to do to the deficit.

And in general, it's amazing to me that Republicans like Ron Johnson have justified the Tax Scam and other tax cuts by claiming they will boost the economy by so much that they will “pay for themselves” (they almost never do). Yet when actual government spending and jobs are asked for, somehow there’s no added economic effect whatsoever, and we can’t add to the deficit.

I bring this up because the Congressional Budget Office didn’t account for these extra jobs and the related revenues when it scored the infrastructure bill, and claimed it would add to the already-large US budget deficit. I mean, someone’s gotta do work on these new projects, right? There are at least going to be some people getting more money from these added services and increased financial stability, won't they?

As long as the extra government spending doesn’t raise prices or interest rates by so much that it offsets those boosts in activity by hurting other places (it hasn’t so far), why should anyone care that much? Even if the deficit will go up, the effect that this bill will have on it will be tiny – barely $25 billion a year.
“Even though the impact on the deficit will be larger than we initially anticipated, the economic impact will still be modest because that spending will take a few years to ramp up and will in any case be spread over the rest of the decade,” Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note to clients on Friday.

Asked about Republican opposition to the bill based on the CBO’s report, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R, La.), one of the bill’s negotiators, told CNN Sunday that most Republicans supported former President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, “and only 5% of it was paid for.”
And this one is well more than 5% paid for.

So now this bill goes over to the House, and I think they should pass it quickly. I understand when Speaker Pelosi and House progressives say there must be more than just this first bill when it comes to added investments. But that can be done with the regular budget debate next month. The threat of the debt and a government shutdown is going to focus a lot of people on completing the job at that time.

The key is getting this first step of “hard” infrastructure into law, and keep our foot on the gas when it comes to the economic recovery. After that, we can get going on the hard work of deciding how to right-size our economy and reorder our priorities for the 2020s.

Circle of WisGOP scum - RoJo helps oligarchs, oligarchs help RoJo, and both spread Big Lies.

I want to thank Pro Publica for their expose on a massive giveaway to the rich that was shoved at the last-minute into the GOP Tax Scam of 2017. And you’ll never guess who is at the center of the story.

The article begins with the Tax Scam being deliberated in 2017, and reminds us how Johnson threatened to derail the whole thing, unless this one item was included.
Making the rounds on cable TV, the Wisconsin Republican became the first GOP senator to declare his opposition, spooking Senate leaders who were pushing to quickly pass the tax bill with their thin majority. “If they can pass it without me, let them,” Johnson declared.

Johnson’s demand was simple: In exchange for his vote, the bill must sweeten the tax break for a class of companies that are known as pass-throughs, since profits pass through to their owners. Johnson praised such companies as “engines of innovation.” Behind the scenes, the senator pressed top Treasury Department officials on the issue, emails and the officials’ calendars show.

Within two weeks, Johnson’s ultimatum produced results. Trump personally called the senator to beg for his support, and the bill’s authors fattened the tax cut for these businesses. Johnson flipped to a “yes” and claimed credit for the change. The bill passed.
And you’ll never guess who got some of the biggest breaks as a result of Johnson’s demands.

Dick and Liz Uihlein of packaging giant Uline, along with roofing magnate Diane Hendricks, together had contributed around $20 million to groups backing Johnson’s 2016 reelection campaign.

The expanded tax break Johnson muscled through netted them $215 million in deductions in 2018 alone, drastically reducing the income they owed taxes on. At that rate, the cut could deliver more than half a billion in tax savings for Hendricks and the Uihleins over its eight-year life.
Hold those names in your mind, and let me remind you about this bombshell report from the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, which showed that a lot of the funding for the Big Lie is coming from right here in Wisconsin.
These disparate nonprofits have one thing in common: they have all received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Based in Milwaukee, the private, tax-exempt organization has become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules—a tactic once relegated to the far right. With an endowment of some eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation funds a network of groups that have been stoking fear about election fraud, in some cases for years. Public records show that, since 2012, the foundation has spent some eighteen million dollars supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.

It might seem improbable that a low-profile family foundation in Wisconsin has assumed a central role in current struggles over American democracy. But the modern conservative movement has depended on leveraging the fortunes of wealthy reactionaries. In 1903, Lynde Bradley, a high-school dropout in Milwaukee, founded what would become the Allen-Bradley company. He was soon joined by his brother Harry, and they got rich by selling electronic instruments such as rheostats. Harry, a John Birch Society founding member, started a small family foundation that initially devoted much of its giving to needy employees and to civic causes in Milwaukee. In 1985, after the brothers’ death, their heirs sold the company to the defense contractor Rockwell International, for $1.65 billion, generating an enormous windfall for the foundation. The Bradley Foundation remains small in comparison with such liberal behemoths as the Ford Foundation, but it has become singularly preoccupied with wielding national political influence. It has funded conservative projects ranging from school-choice initiatives to the controversial scholarship of Charles Murray, the co-author of the 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which argues that Blacks are less likely than whites to join the “cognitive elite.” And, at least as far back as 2012, it has funded groups challenging voting rights in the name of fighting fraud.

Since the 2020 election, this movement has evolved into a broader and more aggressive assault on democracy. According to some surveys, a third of Americans now believe that Biden was illegitimately elected, and nearly half of Trump supporters agree that Republican legislators should overturn the results in some states that Biden won. Jonathan Rauch, of the Brookings Institution, recently told The Economist, “We need to regard what’s happening now as epistemic warfare by some Americans on other Americans.” Pillars of the conservative establishment, faced with a changing U.S. voter population that threatens their agenda, are exploiting Trump’s contempt for norms to devise ways to hold on to power. Senator Whitehouse said of the campaign, “It’s a massive covert operation run by a small group of billionaire élites. These are powerful interests with practically unlimited resources who have moved on to manipulating that most precious of American gifts—the vote.”
And over the weekend, the Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain was able to follow the money.

AN ORGANIZATION LINKED to a major hub of efforts to undermine the credibility of the 2020 U.S. presidential election was funded to the tune of millions of dollars by several right-wing donors, according to a tax document obtained by The Intercept. The group, the Bradley Impact Fund, is linked to a larger foundation that was identified in a recent report as a central player in distributing money to organizations pushing conspiracy theories about election fraud, denying the results of the 2020 election, and undertaking legal efforts to overturn the presidential vote…..

The tax document obtained by The Intercept, a publicly filed IRS form that included a list of donors, shows a handful of large corporate and individual donors to the Bradley Impact Fund. The contributions listed in the fiscal year 2018 filing range from roughly $782,000 to $1.5 million. The Bradley Impact Fund operates as a donor-advised fund, a vehicle frequently used to allow anonymous contributions by letting donors give to a fund and then directing their contributions to particular recipients.

Among the corporate donors to Bradley Impact, according to the tax document, were ABC Supply Co., whose website describes it as “the largest wholesale distributor of roofing in the United States”; the Boelter Companies, described online as “a provider of supplies, equipment, and design solutions for commercial foodservice, hospitality, and beverage industries”; and Bandon Golf Courses, which operates a number of golf courses in Oregon. Other donors include a former music industry CEO in Wisconsin, the CEO of a company that provides equipment to pipeline companies, and a number of small family foundations. (Neither Bradley Impact nor the donors listed in the tax filing responded to requests for comment from The Intercept.)
And guess who runs ABC Supply?

It's the lady on the right

As for RoJo's other Wisconsin-connected oligarch friends, we have found out that the Uihleins gave $4.3 million to one of the central groups that put on the January 6 pro-Trump event which culminated with a violent insurrection at the US Capitol.

Put it together, and realize that Ron Johnson was helping the Bradleys by spreading Big Lies after the 2020 election instead of looking into the moves that preceded the MAGATs' coup attempt, after changing a Tax Scam to give his billionaire, tax-dodging benefactors what they wanted. Nice little circle of back-scratching, isn't it?

It’s well past time that these lowlifes pay for what they have been stealing from us, both figuratively and literally.