Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Another cost going up - the cost of severe weather in Wisconsin

As part of a series of requests from Governor Evers that the Joint Finance Committee approved of today, more funds got sent to the Department of Military Affairs to deal with disasters. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau broke down the request, why more is needed, and it gets paid for. The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs (DMA) heads up the state's disaster assistance efforts, and the program is intended to help pay the bills for communities that have been hit with some kind of weather event that causes severe damage to infrastructure and related needs.
State Disaster Assistance Program. The state disaster assistance program, created in 2005 Act 269, makes payments to local units of government and retail electric cooperatives for governmental costs, such as debris clearance, protective measures, and damage to roads and bridges, incurred as the result of a "major catastrophe." A major catastrophe is defined as a disaster, including a drought, flood, high wind, hurricane, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, or tornado, that resulted in the Governor requesting a presidential declaration of a major disaster under federal law. In 2021-22, for example, DMA provided assistance for flooding and severe thunderstorms events in Clark, Manitowoc, and Wood Counties, and for flooding, tornado, wind damage, and severe thunderstorm events in east central Wisconsin, southeastern Wisconsin, southwestern Wisconsin, and west central Wisconsin.

Under administrative rule, local governmental units may be reimbursed if the following eligibility criteria are satisfied: (a) the local governmental unit has suffered a "major catastrophe"; (b) a disaster or emergency declaration was issued by the local governmental unit or the state during the event; (c) the damages suffered and eligible costs incurred are the direct result of the event; (d) federal disaster assistance is not available because the Governor's request that the President declare the catastrophe a major disaster has been denied or no federal assistance is requested because the event does not meet the per capita impact indicator issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); (e) at least one local governmental unit or a tribal governmental unit within the county has incurred public assistance costs that exceed the per capita impact indicator under the public assistance program guidelines issued by FEMA; and (f) the local governmental unit will contribute at least 30% of the total amount of eligible costs incurred from other funding sources.
And the amount set aside to pay disasters in the 2021-22 fiscal year hasn't been enough to cover the amount of claims that local governments have had.
The Department's request for 2021-22 is identified in Table 4. Through April 11, 2022, the disaster assistance program had expenditures of $983,800, pending claims of $147,500, claims under review with payment anticipated of $106,700, and an available balance of $2,500. Based on initial damage estimates from counties that have not yet submitted applications, the Department estimates that it will receive $690,300 in additional claims this fiscal year. In addition, DMA has received a preliminary estimate resulting from March, 2022, ice damage in Marinette County ($94,000) and projects that $500,000 a year in new claims may occur in 2021-22 and 2022-23 based on prior claims activities.

The disaster aids program is paid for through as a portion of the 2-cent Petroleum Inspection Fee (PIF) that goes on every gallon of gas in Wisconsin. But there is only $986,300 available for this year and $711,200 for the next one. That's a lot less than what DMA is already set to pay to Wisconsin communities, so JFC allowed for another $1.536 million for this fiscal year and nearly $750,000 in 2022-23.

In theory, this will lower the amount of money that can be used by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for roads and other needs, but it's a tiny fraction of the large amount of funds that WisDOT uses for highways, transit, and other transportation needs. The LFB also mentions that WisDOT has its own disaster assistance program, generally for specific earmarks to repair storm damage, and GPR tax dollars can be added to pay for these earmarks if more than $1 million is needed.
The DOT disaster damage aid program, which aids local governments for road-related disaster costs, receives funding through two sum-sufficient appropriations: a transportation fund-supported (SEG) appropriation and a general fund-supported (GPR) appropriation. The SEG-supported appropriation is estimated at $1.0 million each year. Expenditures from the SEG-supported appropriation may not exceed $1.0 million for a single disaster without the Governor's approval. Each year, individual disasters with road damages below this $1.0 million threshold are also paid with SEG. If the expenditures for smaller disasters collectively exceed the estimated amount, the program's sum-sufficient appropriation draws on the transportation fund to cover costs. For individual disasters exceeding $1.0 million, the Governor may approve the transfer of GPR to the transportation fund for the costs exceeding the $1.0 million threshold. These GPR transfers may only be made in the second fiscal year of each biennium. In 2020-21, no funds were transferred from the disaster damage-related, GPR appropriation to the transportation fund.
There also can be funding for disasters through the federal FEMA program, which can take the strain off of the state for picking up the costs associated with disasters.
Additionally, funding from FEMA may reduce the amount of repairs funded by DMA. FEMA's public assistance program provides reimbursement for projects submitted by counties, cities, townships, and not-for-profit organizations for events that receive a federal disaster declaration. Eligible projects include repairs to roads and bridges and costs for debris removal. Under the program, FEMA provides 75% reimbursement of eligible costs, while the state and local agencies share the remaining 25% equally.
There have been no presidential disaster declarations for Wisconsin since snowstorms hit the state in early 2020, but FEMA is still paying claims related to historic rainstorms in the northern and western parts of the state in 2018 and 2019.

One last thing that this need for supplemental funding underscores is that future disasters will cost more in Wisconsin. Not even because historic storms seem to happen more often, but because inflation and inflated property values are going to raise the price tag for all repairs and mitigation. Which makes it all the more vital to care about climate change and the need to take steps to both prevent future disasters, and to deal with the ones that'll happen.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Budget deficit outlook - better now, worse later

Wanted to give a brief overview of last week's release of The Budget and Economic Outlook from the Congressional Budget Office. The good news is that the budget deficit is going to drop this year to its lowest level since the COVID pandemic started more thn 2 years ago. And the reason why is because jobs and (nominal) incomes have continued to roar back, raising tax revenues.
According to CBO’s projections, under current law, the budget deficit in 2022 will be $1.0 trillion, $1.7 trillion less than the shortfall recorded last year, as spending in response to the pandemic wanes and revenues increase. That decrease would be larger if not for a shift in the timing of certain payments. Because October 1, 2022 (the first day of fiscal year 2023), falls on a weekend, certain payments that would ordinarily be made on that day will instead be made in fiscal year 2022. If not for that shift, this year’s projected shortfall would have been $68 billion smaller (see Table 1-2).

CBO projects that, under current law, revenues will increase by 19 percent in 2022, a slightly faster rate of growth than the 18 percent increase that occurred in 2021. That growth in 2022 results in part from the current economic expansion and the end of temporary provisions enacted in response to the pandemic that reduced revenues. However, even after accounting for those factors, tax collections so far in 2022 have been larger than currently available data on economic activity would suggest. CBO will evaluate the reasons for the discrepancy as more detailed information from tax returns becomes available. In total, revenues are projected to rise by $789 billion in 2022, to $4.8 trillion. Revenues will reach 19.6 percent of GDP this year—the largest that receipts have been as a share of the economy in more than two decades.
That's a smaller deficit for this year than CBO was projecting before the stimulus bills of December 2020 and March 2021 became law, and about $800 billion less than what CBO was thinking would happen last September.

The CBO adds that all of these stimulus measures will raise the deficit in isolation, but also is less than what was shelled out in 2020 and 2021. And the higher revenues due to strong economic growth over the last 2 years will more than counteract that increase in spending for this year.
Since CBO prepared its March 2020 budget projections (the final set of projections before most laws enacted in response to the pandemic took effect), legislation has increased the agency’s estimates of the federal budget deficit, excluding the costs of servicing the debt, by $0.5 trillion in 2022 and by $0.2 trillion in 2023, mostly by increasing federal spending. The effects of legislative changes on the deficit will be considerably smaller in 2022 and 2023 than in 2020 ($2.3 trillion) and 2021 ($2.6 trillion) because several provisions of pandemic-related legislation will expire or wind down (see Figure 2-2 on page 30). In CBO’s assessment, diminishing fiscal support in 2022 and 2023 will provide a smaller boost to the overall demand for goods and services than the significant boost provided by fiscal policy in 2020 and 2021.....

CBO revised its estimate of revenues in 2022 upward by $251 billion (or 6 percent) and its projection for the 2022–2031 period upward by $1.3 trillion (or 2 percent) for technical reasons. New tax data and stronger-than anticipated tax collections over the past year account for the most significant increases. CBO observes payments to the Treasury as they occur but does not receive detailed information on tax liabilities until as many as two years after payments have been made.....

Individual Income Taxes. Technical changes raised CBO’s estimate of individual income tax receipts in 2022 by $173 billion (or 7 percent) and its projections for the 2022–2031 period by $790 billion (or 3 percent). CBO boosted projected receipts at the beginning of the period because recent tax collections have continued to be stronger than expected given current economic data and the agency’s estimates of the budgetary effects of recently enacted legislation. Additionally, CBO revised upward its estimates of the amount of corporate business income taxed at the individual level throughout the projection period. That change reflects modeling refinements based on recent historical tax and economic data. Partially offsetting the upward adjustments to 2022 revenues was a reduction in the anticipated amount of payroll taxes that would be reallocated to individual income taxes in that year.
So that helps the budget in the short term, but the CBO also says that budgets are now slated to become notably larger in the coming years.

And a big reason why is an expense that had been falling over the last 2 years - interest on US debt. CBO says rates will rise ifor the rest of the year and continue to rise over the next couple of years, which means it will cost more to pay off the debt from future-year deficits.

In CBO’s projections, interest rates on short-term Treasury securities rise in concert with the increases in the target range for the federal funds rate carried out by the Federal Reserve. In 2022 and 2023, the Federal Reserve rapidly increases the target range for the federal funds rate to reduce inflationary pressures in the economy. In CBO’s projections, the interest rate on 3-month Treasury bills follows a similar path, rising to 1.4 percent by the fourth quarter of 2022, 2.3 percent by the fourth quarter of 2023, and 2.6 percent by the fourth quarter of 2024 (see Figure 2-4, bottom panel). The Federal Reserve reduces the target range for the federal funds rate in 2025 to counteract the drag on economic growth stemming from the higher individual income tax rates that take effect at the beginning of 2026 under current law. Accordingly, in CBO’s projections, the 3-month Treasury bill rate falls to 2.4 percent by the fourth quarter of 2026.

Interest rates on long-term Treasury securities are expected to increase through 2026, partly because short-term rates are expected to rise. Long-term interest rates are partially determined by investors’ expectations about the future path of short-term interest rates. Potential purchasers of long-term bonds weigh those bonds’ yields against the yields from purchasing a series of shorter-term bonds (for example, purchasing a 1-year bond each year for 10 years). When the expected future path of short-term interest rates rises, the yield on long-term bonds rises to ensure that there are enough buyers for all the long-term bonds currently for sale. In CBO’s projections (which reflect economic developments as of March 2, 2022), the interest rate on 10-year Treasury notes rises from 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021 to 2.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022 as the Federal Reserve tightens monetary policy, signaling a higher future path for short-term interest rates. After 2022, the interest rate on 10-year Treasury notes rises more gradually, increasing to 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023 and 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2024.

What's funny to me about this is that a typical Koched-up complaint about deficits is that they cause inflation by "overspending", which devalues the dollar. In fact, the dollar is at a 20-year high vs other currencies, and inflation stayed high (and went higher) after government stimulus went away and overall government spending started going down several months ago.

Instead what we have is the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to head off inflation that has partly due to very strong economic growth, and partly due to supply constraints and profiteering that has little to do with the spending of tax dollars. And the higher rates will result in higher costs to pay off the debt, which translates into much of the increase in spending over the next 10 years.

Overall federal spending has dropped in 2022 as fewer funds are needed for COVID treatment and relief, but other areas are going to rise - from infrastructure to defense to debt service to Social Security and Medicare.
In CBO’s projections, total federal outlays decrease by $1.0 trillion in 2022. (That amount excludes shifts in the timing of some outlays; the discussion of CBO’s projections that follows reflects adjustments to remove the effects of timing shifts.) The decline in 2022 is dominated by a $1.1 trillion drop in estimated mandatory spending—the result of sharply lower pandemic-related spending—to $3.7 trillion this year. That large decrease is partially offset by much smaller increases in discretionary outlays and net interest costs. Assuming no changes to current law, discretionary outlays are projected to increase by $81 billion (or 5 percent) and reach $1.7 trillion this year; the government’s net interest costs are projected to increase by $47 billion (or 13 percent), to $0.4 trillion.

What I also want to note is that the CBO says the economy should remain strong in the coming years, with full employment and/or employment shortages. It also means higher levels of nominal GDP and wages and salaries than what was anticipated last year, although some of this gets eaten up by inflation (especially in the next 2 years).

Sure, you can say that the higher deficits and interest costs for that debt could become a headwind, but that can be solved by simple fiscal means such as taxing the rich and/or raising the cap on earnings for Social Security and/or Medicare, or increase user fees for highways via gas tax and/or registrations. We also could certainly cut into our $750 billion military budget if we wish, and there are trillions in surpluses in other trust funds that are growing and will never be used (like disability and retirement funds of military and other federal employees) that can replace the deficits in other trust funds.

And I would much rather the Fed undershoot with lower interest rates and risk inflation than overshoot us into recession with higher rates and higher debt costs. I don't see other countries cutting us off or destroying our dollar any time soon, and I still hold a bias that we need to keep growing the economy as much as possible and/or keep the safety net robust when economic downturns happen.

I think it's better if people don't fall on hard times due to fiscal austerity, and while I get that rising deficits in future years are going to be something to stay aware of, the deficit shouldn't be the dominant reasoning behind why we make decisions on economic policy.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Sure, inflation's a thing. But Americans are still going out, spending and making more money.

Despite all of the negative stories about "the economy", we still had solid increases for income and spending in April.
Personal income increased $89.3 billion (0.4 percent) in April, according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (tables 3 and 5). Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $48.3 billion (0.3 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $152.3 billion (0.9 percent).

Real DPI increased less than 0.1 percent in April and Real PCE increased 0.7 percent; goods increased 1.0 percent and services increased 0.5 percent (tables 5 and 7). The PCE price index increased 0.2 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.3 percent (table 9).
On the income side, while the increase of $66.8 billion in wages and salaries was the lowest since January, it still continued over a year of relatively steady increases in that category, replacing the loss of income from COVID-related stimulus measures.

What kept real disposable incomes from declining last month was a second straight month with sizable increases in dividend and interest income ($22.3 billion) – not something that many lower-income/wealth people would benefit from. Could be a pattern to keep an eye on.

In total, this is a pretty good report, and it’s notable that consumption expenditures grew well past the rate of inflation for April. We may keep hearing that consumer sentiment is at its worst in a decade because of higher prices, but it’s not changing the spending habits of Americans, which means the economy keeps moving along.

Those numbers also indicate that despite the increase in Omicron cases throughout the country in April, that consumers continued to head more toward spending on services, especially with travel and “going out” types of activities.
The $152.3 billion increase in current-dollar PCE in April reflected an increase of $48.6 billion in spending for goods and a $103.7 billion increase in spending for services (table 3). Within goods, increases were widespread across all components except for gasoline and other energy goods; spending for motor vehicles and parts was the leading contributor to the increase. Within services, increases were also widespread across all components, led by food services and accommodations as well as housing and utilities.
Food services keeps rebounding from the depressed state it was in during the first year of the pandemic, as are accommodations. Although it is still behind the spending growth of some goods-oriented industries in the COVID era, these industries have seen quite a bit of a comeback since vaccines became widespread in early 2021, and its growth has beaten inflation for each of the last 3 months.

The red flag I see in this report is that we are at multi-year lows on personal saving, down to 4.4%.

I think that the stimulus-induced gains in income for 2020 and 2021 (and the double-digit savings rate associated with it) help to explain how this level of spending and lower savings can continue even as stimulus payments have dried up. But it’s worth wondering what happens when that cushion goes away, and also if higher interest rates starts to encourage higher savings (or discourage borrowing).

That could become a significant headwind on what seems to be a still-strong consumer sector later in 2022. But when you combine these good spending numbers with the lack of layoffs in the jobs market (still barely above 200,000 a week) and the large amount of travelers expected for this holiday weekend, it sure seems like this economy continues to grow as we near the halfway point of this year.

I know gas prices have gone up since April and that we won’t see 2021’s level of 5.5% GDP growth. But it still looks like we are still recovering and expanding, no matter what Wall Streeters and Republicans try to tell you. Only when spending habits, saving habits and/or the rate of price hikes change will I think that things are any different than what we've seen for most of 2022 - higher inflation, but continued growth. And that beats recession.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Weekend reading - mass shootings just a symptom of the broken system

Great essay in the Guardian by author Hamilton Nolan, who looks into why "Columbine happened 23 years ago. How is America still no further forward?"

Nolan says it's because of flat-out corruption that has incentivized and insulated many politicians from accountability for allowing awful things to keep happening in America.
The cold truth is that our political system does not care about dead children; it cares about money. We don’t have gun control for the same reason we don’t have many other things that are plainly necessary and good and that would save many lives, like public healthcare: because not having those things enables a certain group of people to get rich. And that class of rich people funds an even smaller class of politicians, who are tasked with protecting their interests, in exchange for living the nice life of a congressman or governor.

This straightforward and cozy arrangement, multiplied by many dozens of industries, is at the heart of how our political system operates. It just happens to be the case that the weapons industry forces its handpicked politicians to step over dead bodies before they walk into the office. It’s clear by now that no matter how many murdered children are laid at their doorstep, they are untroubled by taking that step.
I also note that in this week's Rewind episode on Wisconsin Eye, JR Ross of WisPolitics openly admits that Wisconsin Republicans see no need to do anything that might limit the availability of guns or limit the places they might be possessed. Why? Because the gerrymandered Legislature sees no threat from voters, and only cares about the over-represented fraction of gun nuts who might vote in GOP primaries.

The result is this string of NRA BS that has hit our state over the last decade. And the only reason we haven't had more Tex-a$$ style gun laws passed into law in Wisconsin in recent years is because Governor Evers has been able to block them.

Nolan also mentions the effect of gerrymandering and the unrepresentative nature of the US Senate, which has allowed the will of the overwhleming majority to be ignored in America. And this system of minority rule has made it a fool's errand to hope that GOPs will "do the right thing" when it comes to any kind of common-sense gun laws.

Nolan also says this means we need to be a lot more confrontational with the oligarchical evil that allows these preventable murders to continue.
Marches are not going to change it. We have marched. Anguished people full of pain and loss marched for gun control after the mass shootings at Columbine, and at Virginia Tech, and at Sandy Hook, and at Parkland, and in Las Vegas. The worst pictures imaginable and the greatest grief on earth have not changed it. The system is immune to this sort of influence. So we need to change the system. That means that when we speak of gun control, we need to speak of campaign finance reform, to prevent a heartless and deadly industry from buying a protective shield of venal congressmen who exist to block any bills that might save lives at the cost of reducing profits. When we speak of gun control, we need to speak of ending gerrymandering, so that political minorities cannot consolidate power in ways that prevent desperately needed reforms from being passed.

When we speak of gun control, we need to speak of how the existence of the US Senate gives white, rural states disproportionate power, and we need to speak of how the cynical pleas for “civility” towards the powerful serve to insulate them from the consequences of their own policies, and we need to speak of how unregulated capitalism has allowed behemoth tech companies to suck so much money out of the journalism industry that the public doesn’t hear these things spoken about much at all.

We need to talk about the whole system. When we find ourselves in a situation so interminably resistant to change in the face of the most extreme catastrophes, the problem is that we have built a system that serves money instead of humans. March for gun control, by all means. But then turn your attention to the companies and the politicians who live well while so many people die, and think about what it is going to take to dislodge them from the place they have been perched so comfortably for so long. Reality is proof that we are not yet radical enough. We have an entire political system that doesn’t work. We need to break it in order to change it. If we can’t do that, the price is more broken bodies.
The bad guys will only stop when it becomes too damaging for them to keep doing bad things (or not doing good things). That pain can come the ballot box, the pocketbook, prosecution, or other means (looks over glasses). But it must come, or else they will keep allowing us to be hurt while they laugh and keep the money rolling in.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

For 2021, Wis gained more jobs than ever....and still lagged most of America

I wanted to get a few thoughts in on the recent "gold standard" of jobs reports, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which has now released numbers through the end of 2021.

It's a 2-sided report from Wisconsin's perspective. On one hand, the 2.4% of job gains is the best year of job growth that Wisconsin has seen in the 20 years that the QCEW has tracked the stat. The down side is that most of the nation grew more than twice as fast, with job growth just under 5.2%.

The converse of those numbers is that the state didn't have as much of a hole to dig out of as other places. Wisconsin didn’t lose as many jobs as most states in 2020, both in the US (finishing 22nd) and in the Midwest (3rd out of 7 states). But the lack of loss also helps explain the lack of gains in 2021, when 5 out of the other 6 Midwest states brought back jobs at a faster rate than we did.

Put it together, and Wisconsin was down 2.4% in terms of net job change as 2022 began, putting us smack dab in the middle of the Midwest.

In the QCEW report, this means that we were around 69,000 jobs (-2.39%) below where we were at the end of 2019. That’s quite a bit less than the 91,000 jobs (-3.04%) that were reported to be lost over the same time period in the monthly jobs reports, which indicates that some of 2021’s numbers are likely to be revised higher.

The same goes for the country as a whole, as we found out that the jobs market boomed even more than we thought it did last year.

Change in jobs, monthly job reports vs QCEW
Dec 2020 – Dec 2021 Change
Monthly reports +4.73% (+6.74 million)
QCEW report +5.17% (+7.29 million)

That’s another 550,000 of job gains that weren’t accounted for in the monthly jobs report, even after benchmarking added gains earlier this year. Pretty good stuff, although we will have to look to see at the next QCEW report to see if some of the continued torrid growth that we have continued to see in the jobs market might simply be “catching up” to the reality that there were a decent amount of jobs that weren’t reported before.

Lastly, this report says that wage gains (via the average weekly wage) weren’t as massive as they were in 2020, but still built upon that big jump to leave weekly wages above where they were at the end of 2019. This is true in both the country as a whole, and in Wisconsin, though Wisconsin slightly lagged behind on the rate of growth.

And before you start saying “BUT INFLATION”, let me note that the CPI rose by a total of 8.5% over those 2 years. Remember that 2020 had very little consumer inflation (1.3% from Dec 2019 to Dec 2020) so that year had bigtime real gains….if you still had a job (big if, I know). Some of those real wage gains were given back in 2021 (5.9% wage gains in US vs 7.1% inflation, and 5.4% in Wisconsin), but it was still quite a bit ahead overall as this year began.

I understand that some of those wage gains from 2020 and 2021 have likely gone away as profiteering inflation stayed high in the first 1/3 of 2022. But because of the wage gains and stimulus checks and other assistance that happened in the 2 years prior, there was a lot of cushion built up, which helps explain why we are still seeing retail sales and manufacturing activity rising beyond the rate of inflation in recent months. And despite the higher gas prices, Americans are expected to take to the roads in much higher numbers for this Memorial Day weekend vs last year.

So what the QCEW tells me is that our state still has jobs left to gain, but our 2.8% unemployment and relatively low population growth might mean there isn't much more to gain back. The monthly jobs reports have been positive so far in 2022 (up by nearly 30,000), but let's see if that growth in wages can start matching the US rate, and can keep workers ahead of the rising prices that we have seen in this year.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

COVID leveling off in Wisconsin just in time for the Summer?

COVID cases spent all of April and the first half of May climbing higher in our state. But ahead of the Memorial Day weekend (and the start of tourism season in Wisconsin), we are finally getting signs that this recent wave is cresting and receding.

On May 15, we hit a 7-day case average of 2,200 in the state. But now that number is down near 1,800, and going the right way.

COVID-related hospitalizations had also been on the rise in Wisconsin over recent weeks, but that may be leveling off as well.

The increased hospitalization was a main reason that the Centers for Disease Control said last week that 1 in 4 Wisconsin counties had high levels of COVID concerns, with masking recommended indoors in those places (not that I expect that advice to be necessarily followed).

Hopefully the number of counties in orange can start going down with the next CDC update, which drops on Friday. And despite the rise in cases and hospitalizations, deaths have remained low, as there hasn't been a week with more than 20 deaths since the start of April.

This indicates that vaccination and treatments really are making a difference in cutting down on severe outcomes at this point. Which means the COVID overhang in the economy is very small, despite the rise in cases.

So I'm glad to see some signs that our recent runup in COVID might be waning just as Summer starts to kick in. But keep being smart out there, especially if you're traveling, because you still don't want to get this, and lose a few days out of the few months we have warm weather and outside activites.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

How RoJo gets paid off, and pays his donors back

Remember this story from last August about Wisconsin's senior US Senator?

[US Sen. Ron] 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....

Confidential tax records, however, reveal that Johnson’s last-minute maneuver benefited two families more than almost any others in the country — both worth billions and both among the senator’s biggest donors.

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.
And we found out today that RoJo is getting another kickback from these oligarchs in the hopes he can stay in office after 2022.

And let's not forget RoJo's other big national booster in 2016, and the arrangement he worked out with them.

Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that the National Rifle Association (NRA) violated federal law by using a common vendor to coordinate illegally with four U.S. Senate campaigns.

Campaign finance law prohibits coordination between candidates and outside groups like the NRA. In order to preserve their independence, FEC rules limit how a vendor may work for both a candidate and an outside group supporting that candidate. Politico Magazine reported, however, that a consulting firm set up a shell corporation for the apparent purpose of helping the NRA evade these rules...

“There is substantial evidence that the NRA funneled millions through a shell corporation to unlawfully coordinate with candidates it was backing,” said Brendan Fischer, director, federal reform at CLC. “The NRA using inside information about a candidate’s strategy to create ‘independent’ ads supporting him creates an unfair advantage, and it violates the law. According to the Supreme Court, groups like the NRA can only make unlimited expenditures if they are independent of the candidates they support, and it falls to the FEC to enforce the laws that preserve that independence and prevent corruption.”

Politico uncovered that the directors at OnMessage – a powerhouse GOP consulting firm – created a shell corporation called Starboard, located at the same address, and which appears indistinguishable from its parent company. The NRA’s lobbying arm and PAC contracted with Starboard to create ads supporting U.S. Senate candidates Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner, and Thom Tillis in 2014, and Ron Johnson in 2016; those candidates, in turn, hired OnMessage. The NRA, which is effectively Starboard’s only client, consistently listed Starboard’s address as that of OnMessage, and OnMessage has repeatedly taken credit for advertisements that the NRA paid Starboard to produce.
And this is why RoJo and other GOPs will go out of their way to block attempts to tighten up our absurd gun laws after yet another horrific mass murder, this time at a Texas elementary school. And they will ignore the overwhelming majority of Americans in the process, because they only care about the dirty NRA dollars and the small group of gun nuts who have an outsized influence in Republicans primaries.

And don't forget how relaxed our gun laws have become on the state level, and the real reason why that is.

If that amoral scumbag was still our Governor, we'd have students being able to carry guns on school grounds today. Thank God he is not.

This only changes when we vote out more GOP crooks beyond Scott Walker this November. Or else the senseless mass killings and oligarchy will continue, and this state and this country will continue to spiral downward.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Robbin' Vos wants Dem stimulus to pay for cops. But won't do anything to fund the police himself

Ever since the Biden stimulus gave funds to the State of Wisconsin and to communities around the state, Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos and other Republicans in the gerrymandered Legislature have resented the fact that they can't tie the hands of Governor Evers or other Dem-led cities with how those funds are used. But that's not stopping them from making "suggestions", most recently by recommending that the local assistance funds be used to pay for more police.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos doubled down on that stance in a letter to the city of Racine’s mayor and common council. Both Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine) joined Vos in issuing the letter, calling on the city to spend its allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on law enforcement.

In a statement made after issuing the letter Vos said the letter urged Racine officials, “to commit a substantial amount of federal funds towards reducing crime and protecting communities by investing in additional policing.” The city of Racine has been allocated $46 million in ARPA funds, with a second wave of monies on its way. Vos accused the state’s parole commissioner John Tate, a member of Racine’s common council, of being “soft on crime,” adding, “no wonder crime is on the rise.” So far this year, the city of Racine has seen six homicides, which is double the number recorded last year. One recent shooting victim was a local business owner....

“This is an opportunity to show the community they [city officials] are addressing public safety and supporting the police too,” said Vos, who pointed out that the Racine Police Department currently has 20 vacancies. In their joint letter Vos, Wanggard, and Wittke scold and lambast Racine’s local elected officials. “Property crime is also on the rise,” the letter states. “Following years of declining rates of motor vehicle theft, incidents in the city are the highest they have been since before Mayor Mason and most of you were elected.” The letter adds, “Immediate action must be taken to put more officers on the street.”
First of all, it's hilarious to see Vos try to promote ARPA dollars as a way to deal with a problem, because zero Republicans voted for ARPA in Congress. This means that if those funds are used to shore up law enforcement, all of the thanks should go to Joe Biden and other Dems who put ARPA into law, right?

Governor Evers called Vos's bluff today, by setting aside some of the state's ARPA funds to make changes around Milwaukee's Deer District after there were shootings following the last Bucks home playoff game, as well as other safety improvements.
Gov. Tony Evers announced Monday he will send $2.2 million in federal funding for additional security measures in downtown Milwaukee and support other police investigative efforts.

For downtown, the funds will help pay for police overtime costs in that area this summer, according to a news release from Evers’ office. It will also allow the city to install fencing that can be remotely raised and lowered to create pedestrian-only zones on weekends and during major events.

The money will also help the Milwaukee Police Department hire civilian contractors to manage ballistics technology used to investigate gun crimes and the processing of sexual assault kits, the release said. Forensic workstations, “night vision devices,” and a device that will provide instant, on-scene ballistics analysis can also now be purchased by using the funds.
That seems to be a good one-time deal, and the equipment and technology upgrades should have ongoing benefits. But as a "fiscal conservative", Robbin' Vos should recognize that asking to pay for ongoing increases in spending with one-time funds is going to be a problem when those funds run out. So is Robbin' and the rest of the Wisconsin GOP going to do anything to help cities like Racine and Milwaukee be able to afford those officers in the future?

HAHAHAHA!!! You're funny.

And Vos and the rest of the WisGOPs won't allow levy limits to be raised to help local communities afford officers, or giving those communities the chance to pass a sales tax, even if all of those sales tax dollars could only go to police, fire protection or other public safety services.

But that sure won't keep Robbin' Vos and the rest of the dishonest WisGOPs from trying to claim that its Dems who somehow "defund the police". Even though it's WisGOPs who prevent many Wisconsin communities from having the resources to pay for and maintain their police forces. And that reality can't be repeated enough.

Another good April jobs report in Wisconsin. But how much further can we grow?

Late last week, we found out that Wisconsin followed the trend of the rest of the country, and continued to add jobs while keeping unemployment low in April.
Place of Residence Data: Wisconsin's labor force participation rate was 66.5 percent in April, unchanged from March, and 4.3 percentage points higher than the national rate of 62.2 percent for April. Wisconsin's unemployment rate in April was 2.8 percent, tying the record low set in March and 0.8 percentage points below the 3.6% national unemployment rate for April.

Place of Work Data: Wisconsin total nonfarm jobs increased by 2,700 from March to April 2022 while private-sector jobs increased by 3,100 over the same period.
Pretty good place to be in, to be sure. After a lull last Summer, the state has added more than 42,000 jobs over the last 6 months, and nearly 83,000 more Wisconsinites identify as "employed" now versus the end of 2020.

But you'll notice that the state is still 65,000 jobs below our pre-COVID peak. So how is Wisconsin so low on adding jobs yet still has record-low unemployment? WPR’s summary of the state jobs report includes this reasoning from an official at the Department of Workforce Development.
Wage increases may be having another effect on workers: They're permitting some to forgo a part-time evening job.

"We're seeing fewer people working multiple jobs, and we're seeing fewer people working part-time jobs, which is somewhat related," [DWD chief economist Dennis] Winters said. "One of the reasons we think this might be the case is that with higher wages, those people don't need a second job."
That rings true, especially given that we know the highest wage gains over the last year have been on the lower end of the wage scale, particularly in food services and hospitality.

It also rings true that Wisconsin would be among the states where a sizable amount of older workers have decided to retire in recent years. The Wisconsin Counties Association released a study last December discussing the state's aging workforce, and the lack of younger Wisconsinites slated to take their places in coming years.

Combine that with COVID wracking havoc on public health, and it illustrates a serious challenge that state lawmakers have to meet – getting more people to want to come to a cold-weather state to increase the state’s economic potential. If we don’t find ways to provide and extend this state’s advantages in a way that encourages people to come here and stay here, we can only get so far.

It's true that Wisconsin’s job market is in a pretty good place if you’re looking for work and/or want to improve your job situation. But if we want the state to get beyond where we are today, we need to improve our infrastructure at both the physical and human levels, and get real leaders in charge who will deal with the 2020s as they exist.

We also need economic policies that lead to wage growth for everyday workers, while encouraging talent creation, particularly among new/small businesses. That type of strategy is certainly not what we’re seeing from the Koched-up fools who call the shots in Wisconsin’s Republican Party these days, as they would rather continue the giveaways and “divde-and-conquer” mentality that led to the state falling behind in the 2010s. That GOP mentality rewards campaign donors and corporate cronies who only want to gobble market share and profits while not having to do more work and improve their products.

Allowing the state to be run by regressive Republicans who destroy public schools and reproductive rights while allowing policy-making to be done by crooked and low-educated hacks isn’t a winning plan for the 2020s. This is a time when many Americans have more choices in where they want to live, and in who they wish to associate with. Encouraging a racist, two-tier society that panders to resentful, self-centered twits who peaked in high school isn’t something that’s attractive to a lot of people with real game and life options.

So if we want to avoid having our job growth grind to a halt over the next couple of years, then we shouldn't keep those lowlifes and their failing policies in power this Fall. We're near-maxed as it is, and backwards laws and a regressive mentality isn't going to change our current demographic limitations.

Getting back into the fold

Did some traveling to see my mother receive her Master's degree (a great accomplishment on a lot of levels) and to see friends from out of state. It was great to get away from some of the awfulness that we all tend to marinate in when we lock into news on a daily basis.

I also was able to lock in a sweet rate and cost on my car, which was coming off lease. It ended up being a much better situation than if I had to get another vehicle at an inflated price, and even though US auto production had a big jump in April, it has yet to translate into more cars being on the lot and available to buyers (according to the agent I dealt with).

But I certainly have some thoughts on what's been happening at the state and federal levels, and you'll see some more typical posts from me as this week goes on. But figured I'd drop a quick update and get that out to you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Was I off-Target on my retail take yesterday? Or is Wall Street off-target today?

One day after the Commerce Department reported strong retail sales for both March and April, there was news from a major retailer that seemed to completely contradict those good numbers.
Target's earnings didn't hit the mark. Far from it.

The retail giant reported a stunning 52% drop in profit for the first quarter, badly missing Wall Street's forecasts. The company blamed higher expenses due to continued supply chain disruptions. Consumers also are holding back on nonessential purchases because of rampant inflation.

Shares of Target (TGT) plunged 25% Wednesday, its worst day since 1987......

It appears that Target shoppers are still spending on daily essentials, such as food and beverages and beauty products. Target said overall sales for the company were up 4% from a year ago, topping analysts' estimates.

As prices soar, consumers aren't splurging on bigger-ticket items, such as televisions and exercise equipment. The company noted that there were "lower-than-expected sales in discretionary categories," and Target was forced to write down the value of excess inventory that's stuck in warehouses.
This news and the blaming of inflation for higher costs wrecked the stock market, to the tune of a 1,164 point loss in the DOW Jones Industrial Average. The DOW is now down nearly 15% from its peak in early January.

And that came a day after Wal-Mart also announced disappointing earnings, and saw its stock have its largest 1-day drop since 1987.
The worsening outlook shook Wall Street’s faith in Walmart’s ability to cope with higher costs for merchandise, transportation and labor. The results also underscored the pressure on US consumers as soaring prices send sentiment to the lowest in a decade. Walmart and peers already were facing tough comparisons to early 2021, when federal stimulus payments bolstered household spending during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon set the stage for more price increases at the world’s largest retailer, saying the company would seek to balance customers’ needs with the goal of delivering profit growth. His goal is to raise prices while seeking to stay below competitors and limiting the price bumps on entry-level food items....

Earnings are likely to drop about 1% this year, the retailer said in a statement Tuesday, abandoning its previous forecast for a mid-single-digit gain. In the first quarter, adjusted profit sank to $1.30 a share, below the lowest of 29 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

While revenue growth remained robust, U.S. sales of groceries accounted for much of the growth -- and they tend to have lower margins than general merchandise, sales of which fell. The results are a “clear negative,” Adam Crisafulli, an analyst at Vital Knowledge, said in a note to clients.
Interestingly, both Target and Wal-Mart beat estimates on revenues, but the pressures from higher costs and a need to pay higher wges to employees (THE HORROR!) hurt the retailers' profits.

So did I miss something yesterday in the strong retail report? It does seem like a few sectors drove April's increase, with one of the biggest being non-store retailers such as Amazon.com (+2.1%). That comes in contrast to big-box retailers such as Super Targets and Wal-Mart (+0.1%) and a sector of retail that sells a lot of physical things (-0.5%), whose COVID-era boom has now come back down.

And while bars and restaurants had a strong April (+2.0%) and spending on cars and auto parts rebounded (+2.2%), many areas of "store"-type retail didn't do so great. So maybe the overall spending isn't going down, but it is being displaced into other areas. And that adjustment is coming at the same time that cost pressures are hitting those same sectors.

That being said, if consumers aren't buying certain big-ticket items and there's excess inventory, shouldn't that limit inflation? My guess is that these retailers will TRY to pass along the cost increases to consumers, but if consumers aren't going to bite on that, I would anticipate inflation to level off quickly in several sectors.

And given that there has been such a labor shortage in the retail sector, causing average hourly wages to rise by 5.7% for non-supervisors in the last year, would a slowdown in demand be the worst thing there? It might buy some time and get staffing back into balance, and as long as it doesn't lead to significant job loss , this could be a situation where cooler growth lowers inflation and gives consumers a better situation.

Sure, it might hurt the bottom lines and distress Wall Street, but given that corporate profits went up by 25% for 2021, I think they'll get by.

Bottom line, Wall Street has been more than a bit Bubbly in recent years, and now they're getting touchy when it is obvious that they can't keep grabbing those profits forever, given labor shortages and other price-jacking by suppliers. But don't let the end of their cocaine party be something that screws it up for the rest of us. Main Street can get the upper hand here, if they choose not to accept what the big-money types are trying to push over on them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Inflation not holding back consumers, manufacturers so far

While US consumer sentiment has dropped to its lowest levels in a decade as we get bombarded with higher gas prices and inflation stories all over the news, the American consumer sure isn’t acting depressed.

Consumers kept spending in April, with retail sales rising about in line with Wall Street expectations despite an ongoing surge in prices.

Monthly sales rose 0.9% overall, just below the Dow Jones estimate for a 1% increase, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Excluding autos, sales increased 0.6%, which was better than the 0.4% estimate….

In addition to the solid showing in April, March’s spending was revised substantially higher, from the original estimate of a 0.5% increase to a 1.4% gain. Ex-autos sales were revised sharply higher as well, to a gain of 2.1% in March against an original 1.1%.

On a year-over-year basis, sales were up 8.2% on the headline number, and 10.9% excluding autos.
That big March revision likely means that we will see the loss in US GDP not be so much when the revised GDP figures come out next week (and we get a look at 1st Quarter profits – speaking of inflation).

The 0.9% increase in retail sales and (1.3% minus gasoline) is well above the 0.3% increase in the Consumer Price Index that we saw for April (and 0.6% in CPI minus energy). So despite how much Americans say that they’re stressed by inflation, the higher prices are not causing them to change their spending, and the overall economy keeps chugging along.

Even one laggard in the retail sales report really wasn’t a bad sign to me, as a 0.2% (dollar) decrease in sales from food and beverage stores means should be more supply on the shelves (baby formula excluded), which should put a cap on the double-digit increases in food prices over the last year.

On the flip side, spending at bars and restaurants had a big 2% leap in April following a 1.9% increase in March. You wouldn’t be seeing that if consumers were really freaked out over the state of the economy and fearing job loss. Spending in those establishments is up nearly 20% compared to this time last year, and has rocketed ahead after an Omicron-related swoon in December and January.

A couple of hours later, the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production report showed that America’s factories weren’t being hurt by inflation, and in fact were picking up steam in April.
In April, total industrial production increased 1.1 percent—the fourth consecutive month of gains of 0.8 percent or greater—and manufacturing output rose 0.8 percent. The index for utilities moved up 2.4 percent, and the index for mining advanced 1.6 percent. At 105.6 percent of its 2017 average, total industrial production in April was 6.4 percent above its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization climbed to 79.0 percent, a rate that is 0.5 percentage point below its long-run (1972–2021) average….

Manufacturing output rose 0.8 percent in April and was 5.8 percent above its year-earlier level. The indexes for durable and nondurable manufacturing increased 1.1 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively, while the output of other manufacturing (publishing and logging) moved up 0.9 percent. Excluding an increase of 3.9 percent in the production of motor vehicles and parts, factory output rose 0.5 percent….

Capacity utilization for manufacturing increased 0.6 percentage point in April to 79.2 percent—the highest level since April 2007—and was above its long-run average by 1.1 percentage points. The operating rate for mining rose 1.1 percentage points to 80.1 percent, and the operating rate for utilities moved up 1.6 percentage points to 77.0 percent. Both rates remained well below their long-run averages.

And those indexes are based on total output and capacity, not costs or prices. The highest manufacturing capacity in 15 years sure seems like a good spot to be in. It also goes along with an increase in manufacturing employment of 174,000 jobs for the first 4 months of 2022, and job growth averaging more than 40,000 a month over the last year.

Yes, I know inflation is a pain. I don’t like the higher prices either and we need a stronger response against corporate greed and speculation (one of the main culprits, in my opinion). But American consumers aren’t slowing down, and it seems that April’s overall economic numbers are looking up.

In addition, job and wage growth is continuing, especially at the bottom end of the job market (go look at what Summer jobs are fetching). So the “stagflation” talk seems to be Wall Street/GOP wishes over any type of reality, and I maintain that our biggest risk these days is not in rising prices (which should level off anyway, if supply and demand truly matter anymore). Instead, I worry about the Fed overshooting on rate hikes, causing a bigger slowdown than is needed and crashing assets in a way that spreads over into the Main Street economy with a significant effect on November’s elections.

And yes, I am maintaining some cynicism on that, especially when the last guy (who gave the store away to the banksters while many Americans struggled to recover from the Great Recession) is dropping the "s" word without regard to reality in 2022 .

Monday, May 16, 2022

Given increasing COVID, is Wisconsin heading toward NYC-type COVID advisories?

Unlike what we were seeing this time last year, COVID cases continue to march higher, even as we warm into Spring and late Summmer. And the country's largest city is now asking people to return to more active mitigation.

WHEREAS, on May 16, 2022 New York City is approaching “high” level of COVID-19 alert which represents high community spread and increasing pressure on the health care system. This is on the basis of three CDC COVID-19 community level indicators: new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days, new admissions with COVID-19 per 100,000 people in the last seven days and percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients....

All individuals, regardless of vaccination status or past COVID-19 infection, should wear a mask at all times when indoors and in a public setting, including at groceries, building lobbies, offices, stores, and other common or shared spaces where individuals may interact such as restrooms, hallways, elevators, and meeting rooms. This is particularly important in settings with people who may not be vaccinated or consistently wear masks, or where ventilation is poor. This advisory applies to all individuals in New York City over the age of two years who can medically tolerate wearing a mask.
And we are also seeing this happen in Wisconsin, where we are averaging more than 2,000 new cases a day (and those are the cases reported to the Department of Health Services, people who test positive at home and never report it likely are generally not included in this figure). And with COVID continuing to be more widespread, a few counties have now reached the levels that NYC is trying to avoid.
Seven Wisconsin counties have high COVID-19 community levels, meaning residents should again wear masks in public indoor settings, regardless of whether they are vaccinated, health officials said Monday.

The counties with high rates are Barron and Rusk in the northwestern part of the state; La Crosse County and neighboring Monroe and Vernon counties; and Kenosha and Racine counties in southeastern Wisconsin…..

As of Friday, the state had a daily average of 2,095 reported cases of COVID-19, the highest since Feb. 11. There have been major increases recently in coronavirus levels in wastewater in Eau Claire, Janesville, Kenosha, La Crosse, Lodi and Oregon, among other cities. Since COVID-19 testing has declined and results of increasingly used home tests typically aren't officially reported, health officials are looking at sewage as another indicator of coronavirus spread.

The counties in that high, orange category are in that situation due to increased hospitalization to the level of 1 in 10,000 over the last week. But it's highly-vaccinated Dane County that has the highest rate of new COVID cases in the state (nearing 50 per 10,000 residents over the last week). That's pretty darn demoralizing, but it does seem that the high level of boosters here in the Madison area is why we haven't gone into the orange zone.

The recent increase in COVID cases has not translated to higher deaths in Wisconsin as of this time, even with a slight bump up at the start of May. There has not been a day with more than 5 deaths in more than a month, well below what we were seeing earlier in 2022, and half the level we had this time last year.

It's also worth mentioning that we are under fewer (and basically no) restrictions at this time for both masking and capacity, other than a few school districts. So it's not surprising that we would have more cases. But it's still not a good situation, and while the weather has improved allowing for more outdoor activities, it still seems we have to be vigilant. And given that college graduations, Memorial Day travel and other mass gatherings are in store, we need to nip this in the bud quickly. If not, I have worries that there will be places in Wisconsin that will join New York City in recommending masking and other mitigations. And a lot of people really won't want to hear that.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Violence, bad righties and bad systems. All must be smashed, and "going high" isn't enough

I've been in a combination of rage and a funk after more than 20 people were shot in Milwaukee's Deer District following the Bucks' loss on Friday night, and the teenage white supremacist who killed 10 at a Buffalo grocery store, with most of the victims being Black.

Part of it is due to the reality that these horrible events will do nothing to encourage lawmakers to take steps to stop the violence due to our broken, crooked political system. If anything, it'll provide WisGOPs with another reason to play the racially tinged divide-and-conquer game that has held this state back for decade - a game that has maliciously hampered any chance for Milwaukee to take the steps needed to stop the violence, or any chance that they could invest in resources that would lessen the chances of this level of violence and hopelessness continuing.

But another part of it was summed up well by David Rothkopf in this outstanding Twitter thread, which shows how incidents such as these and the poisonous atmosphere that they marinate in is no coincidence. This is merely a piece of it.

And it feels like the forces of decency, equality and fairness are left largely on their own to fight this many-front war. We don't have the time or money that the forces of evil do, and our current political and media systems make it near impossible to get the large-scale changes that are needed to undo that damage.

But losing is not an option - not if we want to live in a state and/or country that isn't an anti-democratic Banana Republic(an) cesspool. And "going high", trusting the system and hoping for a return of "better Republicans" is not going to stop the slide we are on. It's going to require a CRUSHING at the ballot box, combined with a real loss of political, financial power, and having the political lawbreakers get locked up and incapable of using their vast resources to avoid legal consequences.

The frustrating fact is that beyond blasting out our truths and finding ways to break through then fog of (mis)information, I and people like me can only do so much more. We vote every election, we contibute every day, our communities generally do the right thing and are places that people want to move to and visit, and we work to fix what is in our control.

But it's going to take Dem politicians actually USING THE POWER THE VOTERS HAVE GIVEN THEM. This includes the Executive Branches in DC aggressively slapping down rogue red states and ensuring the rights of all citizens, and not passing the buck to voters or courts. It requires throwing out stupid traditions of Congress and dropping the hammer on disgraceful members who corruptly obstruct progress or encouraging violence against other members. And it requries elected officials at the state level ignoring what other crooked levels of government and courts may say, and working in the interests of constituents and good government over a radical, gerrymandered few.

I'm just sick of slogging through things in a state and country that should be much better than what we are dealing with today, and whose citizens voted for and support many of the changes that are needed. But the evildoers are allowed louder megaphones, bigger bucks and are willing to stir up the basest instincts of the worst people to maintain their ill-gotten gains.

And it's really hard for everyday people like me to respond with the massive, harsh, relentless attacks that the bad guys are willing to put on, because unlike RW trash and their oligarch puppetmasters, we have to be functional members of society. And that balancing act is what makes it really hard to grind through on a lot of days. It even made it hard for me to get excited about the Bucks' Game 7, because of the cloud around the Deer District shootings, and the overall ugliness of Wisconsin politics that it reminded me of.