Saturday, December 19, 2015

Walker writes another JS opinion fairy tale.

I guess it’s all in how you look at criticism. 

Scott Walker and every Republican in the legislature represents the uber-conservative wing of the party, the activists who will go to any length to pass their agenda. The voters are sadly starting to catch up.

Framing the Criticism: Criticism, to Walker and like-minded conservatives, is always coming from their “opponents.” Claiming the mantle of infallibility is never a good starting point in a multi-party system of government.

So here's how Walker started off his recent JS commentary:
Many of our political opponents seem to be frustrated with the positive progress being made in our state (see Rep. Daniel Riemer's Dec. 10 column ). Thankfully, the facts point to a true comeback story.
A true comeback? Only if you believe the middle-class is doing just fine. 
Middle-class taxpayers are better off in Wisconsin today than we were five years ago.
Nope, but if he's says it enough, people will believe it. from March, 2015:
WSJ: Despite a new report showing Wisconsin has the fastest-shrinking middle class in the U.S., the Gov. Scott Walker administration says the state is headed in the right direction. 
Same script, same lie. And because Wisconsin has always been near the middle or back end of job creation, it's reasonable to assume the low unemployment rate would have happened anyway, thanks to an improving economy. But Walker will take full credit anyway.
Walker: "Property taxes are lower on a median-valued home than they were five years ago — Income taxes are also lower..."
And what did we give up for that? We defunded our parks, dramatically defunded the UW, made some of the biggest cuts to K-12 in the nation, defunded the DNR, and won't fund transportation for road building/repair. The fact that the state didn't collapse right away means its working. High bar, huh?

Voucher Disaster Alert: Achievement Gap worst in nation: After 25 years of vouchers, promoted as a way to help minorities escape their failing schools, our achievement gap is now the worst in the nation. But vouchers are set to expand anyway. Forget the achievement gap, just focus on the overall state scores, which are still impressive:
Walker: "Schools are doing better. High school graduation rates are up again — now ranking third in the nation. Reading scores are up in fourth and eighth grades. ACT scores are second best in the nation."
Well, sure, that's because the state is still using Common Core, which is about to come to an end, and vouchers hasn't completely defunded our public schools yet...but that's coming too.

Frozen Tuition's won't be for long: Set to expire in 2017, Walker's artificially frozen tuition gimmick will result in huge future increases. I mean really, get serious:

Walker: "For the first time in University of Wisconsin history, in-state tuition is frozen at all UW campuses for four years in a row. That makes college more affordable for our students and working families."
And don't get me started on Walker's costly mistake not taking Medicaid expansion, and his liberal use of taxpayer money to pay off the hospitals treating the uninsured who now can't afford health insurance due to co-pays and deductibles:  
Walker: "During my time as governor, we eliminated the waiting list for Medicaid access to health care for people living in poverty and helped those above poverty transition into the workplace."

Friday, December 18, 2015

Walker Republicans working up to Secret Government, attempt after attempt after attempt....

Republicans talk big about "integrity" and "public confidence" in government, a joke to be sure, but closing that government to the public isn't one way they'll ever get that done.

And pretending communications between lobbying and elected officials is unimportant and off limits for public scrutiny is doubly insulting. They got caught, and are now backtracking:
State officials are backing away from their effort to ease the requirements for maintaining public records following a backlash among open government advocates.

The board that oversees state public records will instead revisit its August vote on so-called transitory records, such as texts and other messages deemed to have only temporary value, its chairman Matthew Blessing said ThursdayThe August action by the Public Records Board could limit the access of citizens and media outlets to information from texts, emails, Facebook messages and other electronic methods that public employees might use to communicate about official actions.
If you think state officials will make this go away, you're mistaken, they're still going to make texts messaging exempt:
...the board "will place those items on a detailed agenda for an upcoming meeting."
And just like before, when Walker threatened to do away with our open records laws, he took a few steps back hoping to deflect blame, for now anyway. Too late...
A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker distanced the governor's office from the issue. "The Public Records Board has been in place long before the governor took office and has received no directive from our office," Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said.
Still, Walker tried to make it seem like his governorship is open to the public:
"Occasionally, when I get emails or texts on my own personal phone, I forward those to my state account so it's easy for us to do a search on those," Walker said. "So they're actually in the state system" ... he tries to document texts or other communication he receives on his personal cellphone."
Of course he does, since they're really part of the public record. But in reality, Walker would make those emails and texts "transitory," off limits.

The same day he made these comments, two former administration officials admitted they were told to keep important communications secret. No, really, it was that quick:
But on Friday, a new report found former members of Walker's cabinet say the administration has had a policy of communicating official business through private channels. Peter Bildsten, former secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions, and Paul Jadin, former head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., told the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that they were instructed in Walker's first term by then-Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch not to use official email or state telephones to relay important information or documents. Huebsch said, "Don't send me an email of anything important on my state computer, and don't call me on anything of importance on my state phone. If you have anything of consequence or importance, call me on your personal phones or walk it over."
Because open government and open records is so important to the Walker authority?
jsonline: "And that is how most communications were handled going forward," Bilsten told Dee J. Hall of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Jadin said he remembers Huebsch "bragged" about not using email and "making a big deal about what emails were discoverable."
Huebsch went as far as to throw both important members of Walker's cabinet under the bus, in an incredible juvenile moment of lying:
Huebsch, who now serves on the Public Service Commission, denied he told cabinet members "to avoid making public records" and said the allegation that he told them not to use state telephones is "ludicrous. In this era of 'gotcha' politics, where opponents and some journalists use anything available not just to embarrass but destroy, extra caution is essential."

Walker's Wisconsin 37th in Private Sector Job Growth. June to June Slowest since Great Recession ended.

Ask a “Stand with Walker” supporter about how well the governor is doing, and you’ll get rave reviews. Sadly, the reason has less to do with Walker’s jobs and business success than it has to do with their satisfaction level of just being in power.

The latest bad news about job growth will again get the Walker treatment; distract supporters by talking about the low unemployment rate, which by itself, is another manipulated area of failure; Walker made it more difficult to get and/or stay on unemployment, and the exodus of labor leaving the state for higher wage jobs elsewhere.

And yet the consequences of simply keeping Republican politicians in power, no matter how bad it gets, continues to mount; slow job growth, increased utility rates, a eventual dramatic hike in tuition, declining wages, and local referendums to increase taxes for schools and road funding. 

Many of us knew we were in trouble when conservative voters we’re high fiving Walker’s $1 cut in property taxes. Pathetic?

Wisconsin is slipping nationally again…but so what, right:
WPR: The latest "gold standard" job numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Wisconsin ranked 37th in the nation in private-sector job growth from June 2014 to June 2015.

Wisconsin also ranked eighth out of 10 Midwest states. Among states that share a border with Wisconsin, only Iowa added jobs at a slower rate.
And while Walker bashes Obama for the nations higher unemployed non-participation rate, it’s just another distraction: 
Overall, Wisconsin added 30,759 private-sector jobs, a growth rate of nearly 1.3 percent. By comparison, the national economy added jobs at a rate of 2.3 percent.

This June-to-June period was one of the slowest for Wisconsin since the Great Recession ended.
Here are the numbers from a June report:
During the four years of Walker's first term, Wisconsin ranked last among its peer states in the Midwest, a region that shares a common economy of factory cities and farm towns. Wisconsin's 35th job-creation ranking trailed Michigan (10th), Indiana (18th), Minnesota (23rd), Ohio (25th), Iowa (31st) and Illinois (33rd).
It should also be noted how big money from big business, especially during Walker's presidential fund raising, had the attention of Republican politicians, when they should have been focusing in on smaller business startups:
Research Finds Wisconsin Is Home To Fewest Startups In The Nation: Ask WMC Leader Jim Morgan why Wisconsin comes in dead last in the race to attract new entrepreneurs, and he'll tell you it all comes down to perception.
The Walker war on Milwaukee has had an especially negative impact on startup businesses, the real source of job creation:
Wisconsin looks like a lagging state in technology entrepreneurship, said Greg Meier, managing director of WERCBench Labs, an accelerator for Milwaukee-area tech start-ups. The issue is particularly acute in and around Milwaukee, which is in a "deficit situation" in terms of technology innovators, Meier said. "The rest of the world isn't waiting for us to catch up," Meier said.

Start-ups create more jobs than established entities, he said. "We reap the seeds we sow at the end of the day," Meier said, "but we sow very few seeds in terms of entrepreneurship."

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ryan's Omnibus bill abandons American workers for cheap imported labor and waters down prevailing wages.

Rep. Paul Ryan has done so little to help labor and business in Wisconsin, it’s almost stunning. As House speaker, Ryan is taking that attitude nationwide.

Even my conservative friend in Milwaukee alerted me to this story via his most reliable news source, Breitbart. It wasn’t as badly written as almost everything else is there, but still, I’m ready to go with The Hill’s story first:
The $1.1 trillion omnibus bill includes language that would dramatically increase the number of visas available for foreign workers … The provision could more than triple the number of H-2B visas for foreign workers seeking jobs at hotels, theme parks, ski resorts, golf courses, landscaping businesses, restaurants and bars … intended to boost the supply of non-agricultural seasonal workers.
I can see a need for agricultural labor, that's always been an issue, but this is ridiculous. The changes were spread out and almost unnoticeable in the 2,000-page budget (see pictures).

And after getting caught undermining American labor, surprise, it wasn't exactly Paul Ryan’s fault. Hey, he never did promise to protect American workers specifically. He just promised not to provide a path to citizenship. Come on, you knew that right?
A House GOP aide said the visa provision was written by the Judiciary Committee, and that the Speaker was not involved. The aide added that Ryan did not pledge that he wouldn’t touch any programs related to immigration.
Ryan's a true leader. But the bills threat to labor is real, no matter how fast Ryan backs away from taking responsibility. Oh, and he’s not exactly promising to immediately change the provisions either. 

Even Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions blasted the attack on labor. Pinch me I must be dreaming:
“These foreign workers are brought in exclusively to fill blue collar non-farm jobs in hotels, restaurants, construction, truck driving, and many other occupations sought by millions of Americans. The GOP-led Congress is about to deliver Obama a four-fold increase to one of the most controversial foreign worker programs. The result? Higher unemployment and lower wages for Americans.” Sessions estimates the number of H-2B visas will soar from 66,000 to 250,000 because of the language in the omnibus.

NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reduced legal immigration levels, criticized Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for allowing the provision into the omnibus after pledging to look out for American workers. “H-2B visas are for low-skilled foreign workers who typically compete with people who have a high school diploma or less and these are the people who are struggling the most. These are the people that Ryan seemed to be referencing in his speech and yet he sneaks in a provision in the omnibus that’s going to quadruple the number of low-skilled foreign worker visas.”
Ryan is also going after prevailing wages, like his old friend Scott Walker did in Wisconsin, leaving that decision up for corporate abuse. Here's that section of the bill:

So much for "Ryan calling on Congress to look after working-class families."
The AFL-CIO and the International Labor Working Group also took aim at the visa provision, warning it would lead to exploitation of foreign workers and Americans losing jobs. “The language basically rolls back protections for low-wage workers and guest workers and American workers in this industry while lowering the protections for workers” … it would also water down workers’ protections in dangerous industries such as forestry and seafood harvesting. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

New Republican low: Kill the innocent families of terrorists!

The party of sociopaths? That would explain how Republicans could so easily ignore the horror of the Newtown massacre, and every other mass shooting since. Their callous indifference should have been a major tip-off.

The GOP presidential debate solidified that point in the most brutal way when the blood thirsty crowd supported of the idea expressed in the headline story pictured to the right by Sam Stein.

Make no mistake, this really is the path Republicans want to take us down, as a nation.
Donald Trump: “We have to be much tougher, we have to be much stronger than we've been. We have people that know what is going on … I would be very, very firm with families. And frankly, that will make people think, because they may not care much about their lives. But they do care, believe it or not, about their families' lives.”

Dr. Ben Carson: “You have to be able to look at the big picture and understand that it's actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job rather than death by a thousand pricks.”

When co-moderator Hugh Hewitt, no shrinking violet when it comes to conservatism, asked Carson if he was “OK with the deaths of thousands of innocents children and civilians,” the crowd mercilessly booed.
How long will it be before Republicans rationalize going after other perceived enemies, like the Democrats? Isn't it time they took their country back? Like Jeb said:
"The idea that that is a solution to this, is just crazy!"

Here's a string of tweets during the debate:

Jeb Bush's Trickle Down Plan Forces Cuts to Safety Net Programs.

Republicans are back at it again, proposing massive tax cuts that will only result in massive revenue shortfalls.

Now it's Jeb Bush's turn to offer up another crisis creating trickle down budget.

That means cutting social safety net programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, education, etc.. This is getting so old.

Economist Jared Bernstein wrote this about the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center analysis of Jeb Bush’s proposed tax cuts. The TPC’s findings:
First, the Bush plan lowers tax rates on both individuals and businesses, on both earnings and investment income. It repeals the estate tax, and shifts to a territorial system for multi-national corporations (meaning they don’t have to pay U.S. taxes on foreign earnings). 

TPC estimates that the plan would lose $6.8 trillion in the first decade relative to the current tax code, and $8.6 trillion in the next decade; that’s 2.6 and 2.3 percent of expected GDP over these years. 
And because this is another iteration of trickle down economics, the trillion dollar budget losses will be offset magically with cuts to discretionary spending, which really isn't discretionary at all.

Creating a Budget Crisis to Cut our Safety Nets: As the TPC pointed out:
If the deficit effect is as large as we estimate, government borrowing would push up interest rates and crowd out private investment, possibly offsetting some or all of the positive incentive effects. The campaign has said it intends to cut spending to offset any revenue loss from its tax cuts. Offsetting a deficit this large would require very large cuts in entitlement and discretionary spending.
Take a look at who benefits again in the chart. Big surprise? Still, conservative voters don't mind getting the tax cuts scraps. Behold the results of supply side economics:

Ryan's big gift to Big Oil will cost consumers at the pump.

It's not unexpected to see the Republican Party, foot servants to Big Oil, hand their favorite deep pocketed lobbyists another big win, all at the expense of the American driving public:
AP: Congressional leaders and the White House have reached agreement on a massive year-end tax and spending package ... An end to the ban on U.S. crude oil exports ... Lifting the decades-old export ban has been a top energy priority for Republicans for more than a year ... the liberalisation of exports will help companies producing in the US by enabling them to find the most profitable markets for their oil.
But that's going to raise the price of gasoline. The "abundant" supply of U.S. oil will disappear, costing consumers more in the long run:
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is throwing another proposal into the mix with his idea that certain oil refiners — who are likely to see reduced profits if oil exports are allowed and domestic prices increase as a result — should get tax credits in the deal.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Should everybody get a "universal basic income" in the U.S.?

Finland is getting rid of the welfare state in 2017 and replacing it with something called a "universal basic income."

Tired of wealth redistribution to the poor? Well this is it. No cheating, fraud and no purposely embarrassing hoops to make poor people jump through. Everybody gets the same un-taxed monthly check regardless of income. Simple, but can it work, and how will it cover those who will still fall through the cracks? Here's the fascinating story:
In 2017, Finland will introduce a type of universal basic income scheme, in which most of the country's welfare state will be abolished and replaced with a single €800 (£579, $879) per month stipend, payable to all Finns, regardless of their income, tax-free.

Citizens of Finland will be allowed to spend it in any way they want. No longer will state benefits be doled out based on the status, personal circumstances, or the qualifications of the applicant. Everyone gets €800 a month.

Basic income is one of the most-discussed, least implemented macro-economic ideas. Basic or universal income enjoys support ... Both Marxists and libertarians have proposed basic income schemes. Milton Friedman was an early proponent.

Left-wingers like it because it dramatically allows the collective wealth of a nation to be shared in way that provides support for all. It does away with the punitive, humiliating nature of collecting welfare benefits. No more food stamps, credits, or housing benefit, where the state decides for you what its largesse can be spent on.

Conservatives like it because it kills off the massive administrative bureaucracy required to handle hundreds of micro-benefits and all the application paperwork they generate. It makes the state smaller. And because it leaves the money directly in the hands of individuals — rather than as credits or forced payments for certain services like energy or food — it lets the market decide what the cash gets spent on. The poor can now pay the rent or play the casino, with no further moral requirement for the state to step in.

In Finland, €800 a month will cost the government €52.2 billion a year. The government's revenue for 2016 is €49.1 billion. In theory, the shortfall should not be a problem because not every Finn is an adult (only those of working age will receive it) and richer Finns' payments will be taxed. In addition, the end of other social programmes should produce savings.

This is the other part of the huge appeal of basic income: it's technically neutral on the government's income statement, but everyone will instantly be able to see how much tax they're paying and how much welfare they're receiving in return.

One of the criticisms of basic income is that it would kill off the desire to work. Few studies have been done of this, but those that have indicate that people only reduce their work hours by a small amount on average.

The fact that a fiscally neutral basic income scheme would pay out only £423 per month per adult (€585 or $644) means almost everyone receiving it would still need a job. £423 a month is simply not enough to survive — or even pay rent — in most areas of Britain.

It might disincentivize some work, however. Young people living for free with their parents might suddenly feel rather rich. And that would mean employers currently offering unpleasant jobs with low pay might need to increase their pay rates or go out of business.

That might not be a bad thing: A basic income pre-supposes that most people want to work anyway, because productive activity is how we create meaning and identity. Basic income would give workers the freedom to not be forced into the jobs that no one wants — think about rubbish collectors — or to let people grow richer by taking on those onerous tasks. It might force society to revalue unpleasant but necessary tasks, and reward them more justly.

It would alter the labour market in favour of labour, in other words.
Check out this Wisconsin research experience,  similar to the basic income, but known back then as a "negative income tax."
Researchers in the Office of Economic Opportunity, the brain trust for Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in the midsixties, began planning a large-scale field experiment of the idea. Several sites in New Jersey were ultimately selected for the test, which was launched in 1968 with the University of Wisconsin's Institute for Research on Poverty in charge of the research and a Princeton-based firm, Mathematica Inc., in charge of field operations and data collection.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Republicans ignore Jobs, Wages, Business Startups...dream up ways to stay in Power.

Imagine finally electing a Democratic governor, bringing to an end one party Republican rule. Well, that's not going to make much difference if Republicans get their way.

The scheme is simple and costly to taxpayers: Our Republican gerrymandered legislature is planning to insert their own partisan “inspector generals” into the governors agencies to supposedly stop what they would call “waste, fraud and abuse.” Hey, it’s just oversight of the executive branch, that’s all, a not so separation of powers grab.

And it would cost every budget tight department hundreds of thousands of dollars. LaCrosse Tribune:
Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that … could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars and open the door to cronyism, according to critics.
Not mentioned in the article? How this proposal sets up an earlier Republican idea that would get rid of the Legislative Audit Bureau. That didn't go over very well, but who knows, maybe no one will notice this time.

And with their partisan “inspector generals” in place for 6 years, they could muck up and delay state agencies until another election cycle.
Rep. David Craig and Sen. Stephen Nass’ proposal calls for 13 inspectors general … assigned to investigate waste, fraud and abuse across 16 state agencies, including the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the departments of Administration, Corrections, Natural Resources and Public Instruction.
And what about conveniently timed “investigations:”
Legislative leaders also could direct the inspectors general to investigate agencies.
Of course they could. 
The inspectors general would be more pro-active than the Legislative Audit Bureau, which typically launches its reviews after the fact, they said. The party that controls the Legislature can further entrench itself by placing its inspectors general appointees within state agencies for six years. The inspectors general may feel beholden to launch or drop investigations according to partisan wishes.

Matt Rothschild, executive director of government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, warned “This could increase cronyism. It could increase corruption. It could entrench one-party rule. All three of those things are bad for democracy.”
You might have noticed the enemy of public education and the UW, Sen. Steve Nass, will have his inspector hitman inside the university to dig up another convenient phony outrage to cut even more funding.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

GOP targets for extinction Historical Preservation ordinances and County control over Conservative Townships in Liberal Dane County.

I never understood what Republicans thought was so wrong with our way of life in Wisconsin. Sure we were high on the tax charts, but that didn't include the states very low user fees, which taken as a whole, put the state near the middle of the nations pack.

Repulsed by the past, Scott Walker is reshaping the landscape, literally.

Be prepared to watch in slow motion the remnants of Wisconsin's historical architectural past disappear under the guise of "property rights." WSJ:
A proposal by state Republican lawmakers to enhance property owners’ rights would devastate historic preservation efforts in Madison and across the state, critics say.

A sweeping bill by (Republicans) Rep. Rob Brooks and Sen. Frank Lasee would prohibit municipalities from designating properties as historic landmarks without consent of the owner. And it would ban municipalities from requiring or prohibiting any actions by owners related to preservation of the historic or aesthetic value of the property without owner consent ... historic preservation ordinances (would) effectively (be) voluntary.
Entire districts have been designed and marketed for their architectural look, to promote a lively local economy and attract tourism. Now a few bad actors can trash the whole historical setting, even detract from it:
Madison Landmarks Commission Chairman Stuart Levitan said the proposal would undermine significant investments made in the city’s five historic districts and in other properties. “I can’t believe (the sponsors) have such a lack of understanding of what it means to live in a community environment.”
Sam Breidenbach, board president of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, penned; “In Madison, historic preservation is very much tied to planning and zoning. It’s not discretionary and arbitrary.” 

Carlen Hatala and Dean Doerrfeld of the city of Milwaukee’s Historic Preservation Commission, wrote: “It lessens the sense of community and commitment to neighbors when neighbors are ‘pitted’ against each other.”
I guess we're back at the underlying premise of the Walker Authority, "divide and conquer."

But obliterating the past is just one tactic. Republicans are targeting Democratic strongholds for division. For example; there's a bill that would let townships in liberal Dane County, and only in Dane County, secede from county control. This pits conservatively controlled towns against everyone else. But, as Mark Hazelbaker, the Dane County Towns Associations legal counsel said;
"79,000 people in Dane County are under the control of 430 other thousand people. And that isn't right. It's not American."

Even the conservative leaning Wisconsin State Journal couldn't help but call them out in today's editorial:
More than a dozen Republican lawmakers want to relax development rules in Dane County — but not in the counties they predominantly represent. It’s a classic case of imposing state legislation on others that the imposers don’t want to apply to their own communities.

So AB 563 singles out Dane County for looser development rules, even though most elected officials in Dane County are adamantly opposed to the change. It’s another case of Republicans who control the statehouse picking on the most Democratic-leaning county in the state. If this is such a good idea to empower rural towns, why aren’t GOP supporters applying the change to the bulk of their districts? They aren’t because those constituents don’t want the change, either. It’s always easier to apply legislation to someone else.