Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lee Camp on the Shock Doctrine

I consistently like what this guy puts out. Lee Camp on why "elites hate it when democracy gets in their way," and how they'll knock it down if given the chance.

I started to read the "Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein, but started to get too disgusted and pissed off because it was ringing too true to me, so I had to put it down. And yes, as Lee mentions around 3:30, the whole Act 10 "solution" had "Shock Doctrine" written all over it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This week is WisGOP corruption- through the revolving door

A couple of Republican members of the State Assembly announced they were leaving their posts recently, and not surprisingly, both have a strong stench of payback for political favors surrounding the moves.

State Rep. Mark Honadel from South Milwaukee, the head sponsor of the giveaway Mining Bill to Gogebic Taconite, abruptly announced today that he would resign from the State Assembly to "pursue an opportunity in the private sector." Hmmm, I sure wonder if that private sector opportunity has anything to do with businesses that might have benefitting from this sellout of a mining bill, or lobbying his old buddies in the Legislature to keep the money funnel going to his contributors?

Nah, I'm sure there's no connection between this resignation and who benefitted from the bills this guy's had a hand in jamming through. Just like it's total coincidence that an overwhelming majority of GOP legislators ignored huge opposition from grassroots and tribal group, and decided to back the mining bill after millions of dollars of campaign donations from pro-mining interests flowed to WisGOP candidates over the last 3 years.

Also leaving is the Assembly's Number 2 guy, Scott Suder. He announced last week that he was resigning from the Assembly to double his salary as a Scott Walker appointee to the Public Service Commission, as an administrator with water and other utility regulation. Putting a GOP hack politician in charge of a PSC area? I'm sure there's no chance for quid pro quo in THAT gig, is there? I mean, it's not like we've seen another former GOP rep go to the DNR and give breaks to former campaign contributors, letting them to spread shit around Oconomowoc. Naw, things like that never happen. And yes, even though Suder was the guy who led the charge in ramming partisan garbage like Act 10, transvaginal ultrasounds and the mining bill through the Assembly, I'm sure he'll call it fair once he gets to the PSC, and do nothing to give Republicans and Republican-donating businesses the upper hand.

The Suder appointment was bad enough for Fitzwalkerstani corruption, but Scotty S is also a big part of a deeper mess that seems to be a payoff GOP/ Koch front groups with taxpayer dollars. Jason Stein and Paul A. Smith had the story this Sunday in the Journal-Sentinel involving the "United Sportsmen of Wisconsin," and it includes Suder giving away $500,000 in state funds to this group.
George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, [praised] the goal of the grant but question[ed] the criteria attached to it. The wording of the budget motion prevented Meyer's federation from applying for the award.

"We aren't criticizing the purpose of this at all," said Meyer. "We think its purpose is important. But clearly it looks like it was put together for one group."...

In an interview, Suder said the grant would help to avert a "looming crisis" for hunting and fishing and ensure the future of those pastimes in the state. He said he talked to United Sportsmen and other groups about the grant but wasn't aware that United Sportsmen would include his former chief of staff, Luke Hilgemann, in the application as one of its educators.
Hmmm, so what is Luke Hilgemann doing now?
Hilgemann recently left his job overseeing and lobbying for the Wisconsin chapter of [Koch front group] Americans for Prosperity to take a job in Washington as the No. 2 executive for the group favoring conservative economic policies.

Amazing how these things work out in GOPland, isn't it?

I also wondered where I had heard of United Sportsmen of Wisconsin before, punched up the Google, and it linked to this great interview with Internet journalist Greg Palast. I then remember that I mentioned this article a few weeks before the November elections last year, but this part of the interview is worth repeating.
The Koch Operation, Americans for Prosperity, had its Chief set up a front called United Sportsmen of Wisconsin. United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, which appeared and then instantly vanished after the recall vote, using the Themis machine, were able to identify likely Democratic absentee voters in key recall areas. Because there were also votes, by the way, on legislatures. The Themis machine was able to get the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin to identify Democratic voters, send them letters saying here’s where you mail in your ballot, and here’s the deadline. The address was a phony, it was their own, and the date was after the legal date for submitting an absentee ballot. So, either way, you were fucked like a duck. The Sportsmen basically were hunting Democrats.
By the way, PR Watch points out that other members of the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin include NRA lobbyists, Tea Party members who organized pro-Walker rallies, and board members on the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families. Are these guys into hunter education, or another type of "[re-]education"? Hmmm?

To sum it up, Scott Suder arranged to have $500,000 of taxpayer dollars go in a mostly uncompetitive grant to a Koch electioneering group that admits they will mostly use the cash for "staff and consultants." And this grant is set up to continue for $450,000 in the next two-year budget, and the one after that, and for every budget until it is formally taken out. You thought Chicago had crooks in their government? Throwing taxpayer dollars to groups that seem to have no purpose other than promote GOP campaigns is Blago-like material, especially when you combine this with Suder's appointment to the PSC being announced right before this story hit.

Now, this article may seem like a lot of leg work to draw these connections, but it's not anything special at all - it just requires remembering a few details and dialing up some Internet searches. But for some reason, I can do this in 2 hours to post a blog item as a hobby, while "professional" Wisconsin journalists who are drawing a pretty good salary somehow can't. Now, the reason they can't do this boils down to 3 possibilities- 1. They're incompetent 2. They're gutless or 3. Their bosses restrict them from doing so. I'll leave it up to you to decide which of the 3 it is.

EDIT: State Rep. Nick Milroy had a great tweet which links to a poster from this event in October 2012 showing just what kind of "outdoors education" United Sportsmen of Wisconsin believes in. What a scam.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

3 good months don't outdo 27 bad ones

Caught this press release come across from the Governor's Office, and found it worth looking into.
Wisconsin’s Economic Growth Ranked 3rd in the Nation
Exceeds National Growth Rate for Second Month

Madison – The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia released its July coincident economic indexes for states today. Their data shows Wisconsin has had the third best economic growth in the nation. Additionally, this is the second consecutive month that Wisconsin’s growth has outpaced the national average.
Ah yes, the monthly Philly Fed report that I'd mentioned numerous times in the last couple of years. And in looking at the report itself, Wisconsin seems to be in an impressive place, as one of the few states in the dark green, indicating the strongest economic growth for the last 3 months.

Now we know a big reason for these positive economic reports has to do with the big job numbers from May and June, which we know is largely due to increased seasonal hiring in part--time, low-wage jobs and a springback from the cold winter and spring that depressed warm-weather hiring in March and April. Not surprisingly, only measuring May, June and July will make things look pretty good, but when you look at the months preceding it, it's not as great.

And when you go back further, this bears itself out. Wisconsin may have 1.3% growth over the last 3 months in the Philly Fed index, but it's only 1.8% since the start of the year. Stretch this out to 12 months ago (right after the "uncertainty" of the Wisconsin recall ended), and we don't look very good at all.

Change in Philly Fed Coincident index, July 2012- July 2013
Mich +3.72%
Minn +3.50%
Ind. +3.13%
U.S. +2.89%
Ohio +2.59%
Wis. +2.52%
Iowa +2.42%
Ill. +2.34%

EVEN THAT doesn't give the full story about the results of WisGOP policies in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, because this chart shows that even with these strong results in recent months, Wisconsin still has had the worst economy in the Midwest since Scott Walker took office in January 2011, and would need to continue to massively outperform in the coming months just to get to the middle of the pack of its Midwestern peers.

So let's take the Walker Admin's bragging with a grain a salt. Sure, the stats of the last 3 months are good news for Wisconsin's economy, and if it continues for another year, we can point back to the Spring of 2013 as the point where it started turning around. But given the failing record of Scott Walker and company in the 2 years before that, and his 8 years of failure in Milwaukee County, I'm calling the good numbers a seasonal fluke, and you're going to have show me continued growth as the weather cools off before the MacIver propagandists can even try to be serious when the claim "It's Working."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Again, DWD tries to take credit for Obama recovery

Caught this funny press release, in another example of how the Walker Administration has sometimes made it hard to tell the difference between the Department of Workforce Development, and the Friends of Scott Walker. Check out how the DWD tries to make it seem like "it's working", and how prosperity is right around the corner in Wisconsin.
In another sign of Wisconsin’s improving economy, initial claims for Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance benefits have fallen below 8,000 for five consecutive weeks. Wisconsin has not had five straight weeks with initial claims below 8,000 since 2005.

“Initial and regular weekly claims have been declining for some time, but the initial claims total in the latest weekly report is especially welcome news,” DWD Secretary Reggie Newson said. “This is another sign of Wisconsin’s improving economy under Governor Walker’s leadership, and there is much more work to be done to create more jobs and prepare workers with the skills needed to fill those jobs.”

Wisconsin weekly initial claims first dipped below 8,000 in the week ending July 20, 2013, marking the first time they’ve been less than 8,000 since September 2007. The number has remained below 8,000 through the week ending August 17, totaling 7,625 for that week. This is the first time Wisconsin has seen five straight weeks with initial claims below 8,000 since 2005 and only the second time since 2000.

In addition, as of the end of July, the year-to-date average number of Wisconsin weekly initial Unemployment Insurance claims is at a 13-year low, at 10,778.
Sounds good, right? And on the surface it is, as claims have generally fallen each year in Wisconsin over the last 4 years.

But you'll also notice that unemployment claims are around their lows for the year in August regardless of how bad the economy is. And once summer jobs start ending in the coming weeks, those numbers will go back up.

And the drop in unemployment claims in 2013 is hardly unusual in America. The U.S. continues to have new claims at their lowest levels since the Great Recession started, with last week's unadjusted claims figure of just over 279,000 the lowest since September 2007. So despite the way DWD portrays it, it's not a big deal that Wisconsin also is having its lowest level of unemployment claims since September '07, since the country as a whole has its fewest layoffs in 6 years.

This chart will also show this trend, as Wisconsin's year-over-year drop in unemployment claims is not much different than the nation's. A number below 0% means Wisconsin is doing better than the nation, while a number above 0% means we're falling behind. While we're not above 0, like we were earlier in the year, we're not much below 0% either. This is in stark contrast to the last year of the Jim Doyle/Dem regime, when Wisconsin's drop in claims was 10-20% more than the U.S.'s.

So once again, the Walker Administration is trying to take credit for a growing U.S. economy that continues to grow (at least for now), and tries to ignore the above-trend record of the Doyle/Dem regime, which put Wisconsin on a strong footing before the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sen. Vinehout gets her budget geek on

One of many reasons I like State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout is that she's willing to be wonky, and her recent blog post at Uppity Wisconsin is a good example. Vinehout breaks down the state budget in a detailed, to-the-point manner that shows the flaws and dangers Wisconsin will face over the next few years as a result of this irresponsible WisGOP policy.
Myth number one says the state spending is less and implies the size of government is smaller.

But, according to numbers released by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the 2013-15 budget spends $4 billion more than the previous. In fact, state spending is greater than it has ever been in Wisconsin’s history.

The new spending goes to a number of expensive new programs. Half of the $4 billion goes to health spending. But for first time in many years there are fewer people covered by state health programs. Nearly 100,000 people are expected to lose state health coverage by January. Not taking federal money for Medicaid expansion left the state budget and citizenry in worse shape.
In addition to getting less bang for the Medicaid buck, another report by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows Gov. Walker's decision not to take Obamacare funds will make Wisconsin Number 1 in the country for throwing people off of Medicaid and onto the federal health care exchanges. This right-wing bubble-world decision not to take the federal Medicaid funds looks dumber by the day.

Back to Sen. Vinehout's breakdown.
When spending is greater than revenue – a deficit exists. Lawmakers are bound by the state constitution to balance the budget.

To do this, budget writers carried money over from the last fiscal year to create a technically balanced budget. But when spending exceeds revenue the imbalance catches up with us in the next budget creating a “structural” (or built in) deficit.

A recent report from the LFB pegs this deficit at the end of the 2015-2017 budget at MINUS $545 million.
And that doesn't take into effect the Transportation Fund, which is projected to spend $108 million more than it takes in for the next two years, and has increasing debt service in future years to pay due to massive borrowing in this budget.

Sen. Vinehout touches on this in the next myth she busts.
The third myth says the state eliminated the debt. This is false. In fact, state debt reaches record levels in the 2013-15 budget.

Why? The budget increases borrowing by more than $2 billion. Almost half of this borrowing goes to transportation spending. In addition, debt payments not made in the last legislative session catch up to lawmakers.

When debt payments are not paid, interest adds up. In the depths of the recession, Governor Doyle delayed debt payments to gain cash and keep government going.

In the 2011-13 legislative session, Governor Walker did not pay an even larger amount of debt payments coming due. Because debt payments were not made more money goes to pay off debt in this budget than ever before.
And that's why this state is fiscally screwed looking ahead, because we decided to pass Koo-Koo tax cuts, turn down the ACA's Medicaid money, and borrow instead of keeping taxes level, taking the Medicaid funds, and paying our bills as we go. And that choice will handcuff this state for many years ahead, regardless of who is governor.

This type of detailed breakdown is exactly why I wish Sen. Vinehout would run for governor. It's her combination of fire, attention to rural issues and wonkiness that makes for a complete contrast to the suburban dullard currently in office. And she's the type of candidate that appeals to voters that the DPW needs to get for 2014.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back in the 40s

Had a feeling this would happen when I saw last week's job numbers, but got it confirmed with today's release of the state-by-state employment numbers from the BLS. After a couple of seasonally-affected bumps in May and June, Wisconsin's mediocre July report means that it is sliding back down toward the rear of the pack when it comes to jobs created over the last 12 months.

Wisconsin's 2,000 job gain in July (1,800 in the private sector) was the lowest in the Midwest, and it 6th out of 7 in the region when it comes to job growth in the last 2 months, regardless of what measure you use.

Midwest job growth, all jobs July 2012-July 2013
Mich +70,300
Ill. +55,500
Minn +55,000
Ind. +54,800
Ohio +37,700
Wis. +25,800
Iowa +25,600

Midwest job growth %, all jobs July 2012-July 2013
Minn +2.02%
Ind. +1.89%
Mich. +1.73%
Iowa +1.69%
Ill. +0.97%
Wis. +0.93%
Ohio +0.73%

Midwest job growth %, private sector, July 2012- July 2013
Iowa +2.14%
Mich +2.02%
Ind. +2.01%
Minn +1.91%
Ill. +1.26%
Wis. +1.18%
Ohio +1.06%

Not good any way you slice it. And this sucky performance also shows up in the nationwide stats for jobs over the last year, as Wisconsin is back in the 40s when it comes to job growth.

U.S. job growth %, July 2012- July 2013, all jobs
38. Ill +0.97%
39. Bama +0.95%
40. Wis. +0.93%
41. N.Y. +0.90%
42. Wyo. +0.90%
43. W.Va +0.84%

U.S. job growth %, July 2012- July 2013, pvt. sector
40. Ill +1.26%
41. N.Y. +1.26%
42. Bama +1.25%
43. Wis. +1.18%
44. Ohio +1.06%
45. Neb. +0.95%
46. Penn +0.79%

So what was our fair guv doing today in light of these bad numbers? Going out to NYC to be on MSNBC's "Morning Joe", of course! And naturally, he gave a self-promoting statement that had no connection to reality.
On a federal level, Republicans are known as the “party of no,” but on a state level Walker says Republicans are a party of optimism, relevance, and courage.

“We’re more optimistic than our friends in Washington. We’re not just against something, we’re laying out a plan, laying out a vision,” Walker said. “That’s how you lead.”
The stats show that the only place Scott Walker is leading the state is straight off a cliff. And no real leader would be using his palace guards to arrest fire fighters in uniform, like Scotty's Capitol Police did today.

This guy's such a paper tiger. Time to start poking a whole lotta holes in him. C'mon DPW, run some ads and TELL PEOPLE THE FACTS. NOW.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Another example of "freedom" due to Act 10

Got an email this weekend from my friend, who we'll call Amy. Amy had taught late-elementary and middle school for over a decade in Wisconsin, and the message said the following:
In a little over a week, I will not be returning to school like I have for as long as I can remember, but instead I will be embarking on a new a [redacted on request] Training Instructor. I'll still be teaching, but I'll be training hospital staff on the applications. I'm incredibly excited about this new challenge and all the opportunities that the position offers, but I'm also feeling very sad to leave a profession that I admire and love. Despite my mixed emotions, I am sincerely ready to move on.

There is no coincidence that Amy decided to do so after teaching under Act 10 rules for 2 years. She'd had a taste of the "freedom" from union representation that the law had done, and she got cuts to her take-home pay for her and her family, which doesn't work well when you have a 3-year-old and 1-year-old at home. Amy also had to endure many unprompted rips from parents and their kids who had taken on the anti-teacher attitudes that Icki McKenna, Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling fed them through the airwaves. At a certain point, she felt it was time to be open to look for greener pastures, and the health systems training job opened up.

And props to the company for being wise enough to interview and hire Amy for this job. Now do I think she'd be training hospital staff if Act 10 and the "divide and conquer" governing strategy of Scott Walker and company never happened? Hell no. She'd be preparing to start another year of molding young minds and her school district would be reaping the fruits of a damn good teacher. Instead, she's moving on, and the district is going to have to scramble to find someone to replace her, and that teacher won't be nearly good enough nor familiar enough with the students to have her district end up better off for 2013-14. To boot, this district is in a relatively rural area, so good luck trying to recruit someone to pick up and move 30 miles from Madison to take over a classroom in a new area.

I don't blame Amy for doing what she did. I was a former teacher myself that chose to move on. I did it mostly to move back to Wisconsin and further my education, but I also eventually bumped my pay by more than 50%, and I didn't have a family to help support like she did.

As a report from last week shows, more teachers are being let go by districts in the post-Act 10 era, so there's not high job security like there was in the past. In addition, administrators are getting average raises of $4,000 at the expense of teachers, so why not jump before someone trumps up a charge and pushes you out? It proves again that if you take teachers for granted, and impose unrealistic expectations and rules upon them without giving them the respect and compensation they deserve, many of them will do what anyone else with talent would do in a job where they're treated like crap- they go somewhere where they won't be treated like crap.

At a certain point, you can't be so selfless that you end up poorer and angrier when you come home from your job, even if you do care for the kids and want to help them succeed. As a result of the teacher-bashing and Act 10 restrictions, a lot of teachers preceded Amy in leaving the profession, as the number of FTE teaching positions is down nearly 5% in Wisconsin in the last 5 years.

Amazing how the "market-based" anti-education losers forget this simple fact of economics- if you underpay and mistreat people with skills in demand, there will be a shortage of qualified candidates to make your product. I bet Amy's district won't be the only one facing a huge last-minute staffing mess that has to be fixed when classes begin in 2 weeks, and wait till you see the amount of school closures and tax increases that are coming for 2014 due to the continued flatlining in education funding.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Vouchers proven as the SCAM they are

Look, I already knew school vouchers were a cynical scam meant to defund public education and (like many things in Fitzwalkerstan) funnel taxpayer dollars to campaign contributors. But this week, we found out it's even more of a money shuffle than we thought, with the funds going into fewer and fewer hands, and the concept of "school choice" being shown to be a total lie.

The Department of Public Instruction broke down more than 2,000 of the applicants who wanted to go to 25 of these voucher schools, and it turns out that the vast majority of these kids aren't coming from public schools.
The top 25 schools had 2,069 eligible students apply to be in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Of those students, 76 percent (1,566) did not attend a Wisconsin public school last year, and 24 percent (503) were from public schools. Of the 2,069 eligible students, 67 percent (1,393) attended a private school last year.

The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program is limited to 500 students for the 2013-14 school year. State law requires the department to conduct a random drawing of eligible student applications and allocate 10 seats to each of the 25 schools and then fill the remaining 250 seats randomly. The random selection of student applications will be conducted by computer next week.
Even worse, the voucher system passed by WisGOP and backed by Walker did not give precedence to students who were trying to move from public schools to private schools. So what this means is that it is likely a majority of families getting funds to send their kids to private schools were already sending their kids to private schools! Which makes the voucher payment nothing more than a WELFARE PAYMENT to those parents, and a TAXPAYER-FUNDED PAYOFF to the schools who have worked just fine without the government cheese.

And by the way, it is extremely likely that those funds will be going to churches and other religious organizations, as every one of the top 25 schools that students applied to are Christian-affiliated (and 20 of the 25 are Catholic). So my taxpayer dollars are now paying mostly Catholic schools to educate kids that they were going to educate anyway (which means the funds could conceivably be used elsewhere in the Church). That's a reassuring thought.

Oh yeah, these schools also aren't held to the same accountability standards as public schools. Yes, Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Steve Kestell want to have voucher schools graded along with all other types of schools, with the possibility of "restructuring," closing the school, or other punishments if the school falls short in 3 straight years. But this has obvious flaws, the first of which is that grading schools without having poverty as a major consideration is a failed premise to begin with. And as we saw in Indiana, what happens when a certain favored charter or voucher school is in danger of failing, do they cover it up and change the grades, like Tony Bennett and company did in Hoosierland? Fortunately, I can't see Tony Evers cheating like this, but imagine if GOP hack Tom Pridemore had somehow won? No way would they be judged fairly.

More realistically, does anyone think Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is going to make any effort to put vouchers on a fair playing field with public schools? Especially when the last 3 WisGOPs that had his Speaker position all work for the voucher lobby, and Vos became Speaker in no small part because of big donations and promotions by the voucher folks to get GOPs elected. (I'm not even going to mention Vos needing his 2nd annulment, as I'm sure THAT doesn't play in here :P) Like most Republicans in the 21st Century, the voucher boys are all about getting taxpayer funding without taxpayer accountability, and they sure as hell aren't going to give that status up unless they have to.

Finally, if you actually did believe that school vouchers weren't a scam and were really intended to give parents choices on where to send their kids to school, I got a few questions for you. Wouldn't public school parents be given the first priority to get a voucher to test out these places, since conceivably they're the ones who have fewer "choices" without vouchers? Wouldn't you demand voucher schools to have the same accountability tests and measures as public schools, if "choice" and "competition" are the main goals? And why in the hell would you give rich parents a tax break of up to $10,000 to pay for their kids' private school tuition, but offer no similar tax break for choosing to send their kids to public schools?

Because the answer to those questions is that Walker and WisGOP want to favor private sector schools over public ones, creating a two-tier school structure where the private schools and the parents of the kids who go to private school get all the advantages at the expense of public schools and public school parents.

The two-tier school system is important to keep in mind, as nearly 60 years ago, Brown v. Board of Education ended "separate but equal" schools after overwhelming evidence showed that the schools were NOT equal. And given what's being set up by the Wisconsin GOP and its welfare-ridden voucher system, separate but equal is being reinstated in Dairyland in a big way.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Getting back to normal with a tepid July jobs report

I figured things might settle down in this month's Wisconsin jobs report after three straight months with changes of more than 10,000 jobs. And it turned out I was right, as the state gained 2,000 jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis for July, and 1,800 in the private sector. Granted, you have to do a lot of searching through the DWD's convoluted release, but that's the bottom line- a largely stagnant report, with unemployment also staying level at 6.8% for the month as well.

Going inside the numbers, it look like the big gainer is in the Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities sector, which had a "gain" of 2,600 jobs that seems mostly related to lower than normal July layoffs (they lost 300 in the unadjusted survey). The big loser? The seasonally-related Leisure and Hospitality, which "lost" 2,600 jobs despite adding 2,300 in the unadjusted survey.

So let's look at the last 5 months, now that things have gotten back to normal after the cold Spring delayed seasonal hiring, and explained some of the major swings we saw.

Total job changes, Wisconsin 2013
March 2013 -7,000
April 2013 -21,900
May 2013 +9,400
June 2013 +18,700
July 2013 +2,000
March-July TOTAL +1,200

That number's not so good over 5 months, and as you can see, it's meant that the Walker jobs gap has grown again, now nearing 53,000 private sector jobs, and 48,700 overall.

Also released by the DWD were the numbers the state sent to the BLS for the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW), the "more complete" report that gets a lot of hype when the national report comes out every three months. These figures include a bad stretch of job numbers in Fitzwalkerstan, as the end of Q1 2013 only had an increase of 24,124 private sector jobs compared to the end of Q1 2012. 2,000 jobs a month adds up to less than 100,000 jobs in 4 years, which sure ain't 250,000.

In fact, 24,000 private sector jobs is barely over 1.0%, in a time when private sector job growth in the country was around 1.9%. As this next chart shows, the year-over-year increase in private-sector jobs in Wisconsin has continued to be on a downward trend, since peaking in March 2011- the month Act 10 was passed into law.

And the raw numbers show a drop of more than 40% in jobs compared to the Act 10 month of March 2011, with this trend also going in the wrong direction.

Now in the 4 months in between the March QCEW report and today, the state's added a little over 2,000 private sector jobs a month instead of flatlining like it did between March and June 2012, so I'd guess June's QCEW report may look a bit better. But it's still well below the national trend, and I'd anticipate Wisconsin to continue to lag the nation in the jobs department. In fact, once the seasonal jobs from May and June go away in the next 2 months, we may be back to sucking once again.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The silent problem- rural poverty is rampant

A couple of quick stories that illustrate the same thing. First of all, here's the nationwide story, an excellent rundown by Bloomberg news regarding increasing rural poverty, and their voting patterns.
Among the 254 counties where food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, Republican Mitt Romney won 213 of them in last year’s presidential election, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data compiled by Bloomberg. Kentucky’s Owsley County, which backed Romney with 81 percent of its vote, has the largest proportion of food stamp recipients among those that he carried...

More than half of the Owsley County’s population -- 52 percent -- received food stamps in 2011, the most recent yearly number available. The county, which in 2012 was 97.6 percent non-Hispanic white and had 4,722 residents, had a median household income of $19,344, well below the Kentucky median of $42,248 and the $52,762 figure nationally, U.S. census data shows. Roughly four in 10 residents live below the poverty line.

Hal Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, represents the county and in winning his 16th term last year got 84 percent of its vote. His 5th congressional district in southeast Kentucky has the largest proportion of food stamp recipients among any held by a Republican, the data shows.

That didn’t keep Rogers from voting for a farm bill in June that included cuts of about $2 billion annually from food stamps. That bill failed because it lacked the bipartisan support traditionally necessary for farm bills to pass.
The article goes on to point out that over 70% of the Congressional districts that have the highest amount of food stamp recipients are held by Republicans. Sort of goes against the whole "Dem voters are moochers" thing, doesn't it?

Same holds in Wisconsin, where Wispolitics notes the same pattern holds for high food stamp use in rural areas, and that food stamp usage is up for the state as a whole.
...15 percent of the state's residents got food stamps during the average month in the first half of 2013, right at the national average. But according to the Department of Health Services, June’s total caseload is up 4.7 percent from the previous June. In all, the department reports a caseload of 420,649 assistance groups, such as families, comprised of 861,633 people....

In all, the review found 19 of 72 counties with above average FoodShare recipients. This total does not include Marquette County, which at 15.2 percent, was near the state average.

Menominee County, home of many Menominee tribal members and a traditionally poor area of the state, showed a monthly average of 49.9 percent of its residents on FoodShare, the review found. Other rural areas of the state with above average concentrations of food stamp recipients were: Sawyer (21.2 percent), Langlade (20.3 percent), Ashland (20.3 percent) Adams (19.1 percent), Rusk (19 percent), Washburn (18.2 percent), Burnett (17.3 percent), Douglas (17.1 percent), Juneau (16.6 percent) Iron (16.4 percent), Richland (16.2 percent), Barron (16.1 percent), Forest (15.9 percent) and Wood (15.9 percent).

In addition to Milwaukee County, where 30.2 percent of residents—a total of 286,476 people—received FoodShare benefits during the average month, other urban centers with above average food stamp recipient percentages included: Rock County at 19.4 percent, once home to the GM plant and related manufacturing jobs; Kenosha at 18.2 percent; and Racine at 18.1 percent.
So 80% of the top 20 counties in Wisconsin for food stamp recipients are outside of Urbanized areas, including 4 of the top 5. So how did these guys vote in the 2012 recall and presidential elections? Let's break it down.

1. All Dem - 6
2. Obama/ Walker - 7
3. All GOP - 7

Pretty evenly distributed, isn't it? Obama got 13 of these 20 counties, and Walker got 14 of them, showing where either the Dem Party of Wisconsin or the national GOP could make inroads, depending on how things go. Given that Walker and the GOP are the ones looking to demonize FoodShare recipients and others that receive welfare, I would think the Dems should be able to pick up some of the individuals in those counties with high levels of poor people.

Of course, that would be if those people have the failures of trickle-down and austerity brought to their attention, got to the voting booth, and stopped voting for distraction issues like guns or religion. It seems pretty clear what the Dems message needs to be, particularly in light of many GOP and rural areas facing massive cuts and/or property tax increases for their public schools next year. So just f-ing do it!

Friday, August 9, 2013

This weekend, celebrate true job creators- MAKERS OF BEER!

Yes, it's that weekend again here in Madtown, as the 27th Great Taste of the Midwest happens tomorrow, and for the 6th straight year, I will be there. Almost as impressive is what's going on tonight in Madison, with the Great Taste pre-parties at numerous bars. It seems like this has doubled compared to last year, and downtown's going to be a total madhouse as a result. You bet me and 3 buds coming up from Hoosierland will be in on it.

And it fits that the pre-parties have jumped, because so has the craft brewing industry the last few years. The Denver Post has a great rundown on the industry's double-digit growth.
Craft-beer dollar sales and volume were up 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively, through June, according to the nonprofit trade association. During the same period last year, sales and volume were up 14 percent and 12 percent. The sales growth comes amid a continued swelling of the craft-brewing ranks. Through the first half of 2013, there were 2,483 craft breweries in the United States, 20 percent more than in the first half of last year. Additionally, there were 1,605 breweries in planning at the end of June.
So if you put the two numbers together, that means sales up 31% the last 2 years, and volume was up 27%. Not shabby in the least.

And as this chart from the brewers association shows, there are over 500 more breweries in the U.S. than there were in 2011, to the point that we now have more breweries in America at any time in the last 125 years. And give a big thank you to Jimmy Carter for deregulating the industry in the late '70s!

Wisconsin certainly has played a role in this revival, as this handy-dandy interactive display shows the state ranks in the top 10 nationwide for number of breweries, total production, and production per capita.

While Wisconsin's growth leveled off in 2012, it looks like it's back in growth mode, as I see several new names at the Old Fashioned every time I go there, or at other fine drinking establishments in this town. This includes the brand-new Pecatonica Brewery and their Nightfall- a tasty lager I sampled last night.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin knows where true job creation comes from (unlike many of the corporate slime that pollute D.C.), and has asked for a excise tax break for small brewers, to help them get into the business and incubate as they start out. At the state level, I'd go the other way, and would rather raise the beer tax on macrobrewers, which not only raises revenue for the state, but also reduces some of the price advantage the big guys get from economies of scale. Miller/Coors/SAB doesn't need our help, but folks starting up their dreams might, and I can't think of many other industries worth helping more than something many of us actually use and enjoy, like beer.

So hope to join you around the Square tonight, or at Olin-Turville this weekend during this great Summer weekend, and raise it up for the true job creators- the makers of great beer!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Jake's state budget reference guide

LFB had their final summaries of the 2013-2015 state budget come out today, so I figured I'd link to them here, in case you (or I) want easy access to get back to certain info in the coming months and years.

Here's the overall budget summary page, with all departments split out.

Here's the paper explaining every fee and tax change in the budget. Get a scoresheet for this one.

Here's the list of all of the transfers of funds that are part of this budget. This includes $213 million of General Fund money going to the Transportation Fund in the next two years.

Here's the paper explaining that property taxes are expected to go up around 2% each of the next two years. Your community may vary, of course.

And lastly, here's a look at the General Fund totals for 2013-2015, and the next budget from 2015-2017. You will note that the estimated structural deficit for 2015-2017 has now increased to $545 million, and that assumes $117 million a year in transfers to the Transportation Fund WON'T happen in the next budget.

On a related note, you know what's missing from this list? An estimate of the 2015-2017 Transportation Fund, and it's very possible that deficit will be even higher than the General Fund one, which would put the total amount of structural deficits at well over $1 billion.

So there it is, feel free to report back to this page as you have a need to look things up. And if you do have such an urge, I have one thing to say to you.

As am I. Dig in!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Walker keeps taking credit for Doyle success

I caught this quote from Governor Walker the other day, as he blew off Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's calls for Wisconsin to push for marriage equality.
“Four years ago his unemployment rate was at 9 percent, ours was too. Ours is about two-and-a-half points lower, his is still at 9 percent,” Walker told reporters yesterday at State Fair Park following a cabinet meeting. “Of course he wants to talk about anything but unemployment and job creation.”
Well, let's look at that claim, shall we? Let's go to the BLS's site on state unemployment rates, and do a bit of comparing. We'll start from July 2008, which is when unemployment started picking up from the Great Recession, and we'll also note that the Wisconsin Legislature was under full Dem control from January 2009 to January 2011, and then under total GOP control starting in January 2011.

So 4 years ago, in January 2009, Wisconsin's unemployment rate was 7.1% and Illinois was at 8.0%. And that gap has generally grown from there.

Wisconsin vs. Illinois unemployment "gap"
Jan 2009 0.9%
Jan 2011 1.7% (+0.8% vs. 2009)
Jan 2013 2.0% (+0.3% vs. 2011)
June 2013 2.4% (+0.7% vs. 2011)

So the gap between Illinois and Wisconsin grew more in the 24 months that Jim Doyle and the Dems ran Wisconsin than the 30 months we've had in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan since January 2011. So when it comes to the fact that Wisconsin has lower unemployment than Illinois, as Scotty's Republicans constantly told us last year "You didn't build that." I'm not even mentioning the increasing amount of Wisconsinites that have found work in Illinois and Minnesota in the last few years, which helps explain why Wisconsin's unemployment looks better than its lousy job creation stats would indicate (and Illinois is hurt by this same measure).

In addition, if Scotty tries to say the biggest reason we have better performance than Illinois is related to the FIBs chronically underfunded pensions, well Scotty, you didn't build our good position in that, either. The LAB released a report last month reiterating that the Wisconsin Retirement System's pensions remained fully funded. And once the stock market crash year of 2008 comes off of the five-year smoothing period (which it will after the next report), the funded status will look even better. Keep this in mind if you hear Walker and/or sqwauk radio types trying to say in the next few months "We're in danger of being Illinois/ Detroit and going broke," and therefore we'll investigate some kind of privatization scheme. It's bullshit, and it shouldn't take another state-funded report to shoot Scotty down on this lie.

So keep this context in mind as Walker and WisGOP continue to lie by omission in claiming that it's GOP policies that have put us in a better spot than our neighbors to the south. We were already doing better than the FIBs when Jim Doyle and the Dems ran the state, and in fact, our position was greatly improved under Dem control. The only reason this gap has maintained under Walker is because he hasn't had enough time to screw things up as badly as things are in Illinois....yet.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tying school aids to performance leads to cheating and corruption. PERIOD

As a former Indiana public school teacher, I have been watching with great interest on the saga of former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett. And I'm sure this will stun you, but it has to do with pro-corporate education "reformers" giving preferential treatment to private schools (and the campaign donors that head them) over public schools.

Indiana has "reformed" its K-12 funding in recent years to allow for some funds to go to private and charter schools, and some of that aid is tied into test scores and evaluations from the Indiana Department of Education. If this sounds familiar, it should, because the Bradley Boys in Wisconsin want to put in a similar "performance-based" system here, and the increase in voucher schools is a part of this, as it's done under the veneer of "competition" for public schools.

Well this week, it's come to light that the evaluations in Indiana weren't exactly on a level playing field.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan’s grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.
Well, why did GOPs like Bennett and Neal care so much about Christel House in particular? Yep, you already know this answer.
However, the emails clearly show Bennett’s staff was intensely focused on Christel House, whose founder has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders ....

Bennett consistently cited Christel House as a top-performing school as he secured support for the measure from business groups and lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

But trouble loomed when Indiana’s then-grading director, Jon Gubera, first alerted Bennett on Sept. 12 that the Christel House Academy had scored less than an A.

“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012, email to Neal.

Neal fired back a few minutes later, “Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved.”

By Sept. 13, Gubera unveiled it was a 2.9, or a “C.”

A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a “C” to an “A,” including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high “B” look like an “A” and changing the grade just for Christel House.
But maybe Bennett was just doing this because he wants all schools to be seen as succeeding in Indiana? Uh, not really, as the Indianapolis Star revealed this week that 2 Indianapolis Public Schools didn't get the Christel House treatment, got labeled as "failing", and were taken over by the state.
Two Indianapolis Public Schools might never have been taken over by the state if then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett had offered the district the same flexibility he granted a year later to the Christel House Academy charter school.

The issue was similar in both cases. Christel House had recently added ninth and 10th grades, and IPS’ Howe and Arlington had added middle school grades. The students who filled those seats posted poor enough scores to drag down the schools’ overall ratings...

But in 2011, after IPS’ then-Superintendent Eugene White demanded Bennett consider the test scores of high school students separately from those of middle school students so the high schools could avoid state takeover, Bennett was unmoved.
Gee, you think Tony Bennett, a guy who was part George Bush's pro-voucher Chiefs for Change, might be OK with giving failing grades to public schools to show they "don't work" and use it as an excuse to throw more funds to private schools? OF COURSE HE WOULD.

And it gets even better. After Bennett was kicked to the curb this November in favor of Glenda Ritz (in no small part due to Hoosier teachers rallying against Bennett's favoritism and anti-public school mentality), he did what many Republican stink tank types do - grifted to a new opportunity. He got appointed to be Gov. Rick Scott's Superintendent of Schools in Florida, and he wasn't the only one in his family that got paid out of the deal.
In June of 2011, Tony Bennett, then Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, picked a for-profit education company in Florida to run a group of Indianapolis public schools.

The company, Charter Schools USA, set up operations in Indianapolis soon after the announcement and officially began running Manual High School, T.C. Howe High School and Emma Donnan middle school in the late summer of 2012. Millions of Indiana tax dollars have since flowed to the company, which has received many good reviews for its work in Indianapolis.

But a recent hiring decision by Charter Schools USA is sure to raise eyebrows and questions about conflicts of interest, particularly now that Bennett is embroiled in a massive controversy centering on special treatment given to certain Indiana schools during his tenure.

The decision: Charter Schools USA earlier this year hired Tony Bennett’s wife, Tina, as a regional director based in Florida, where Tony Bennett was hired late last year as commissioner of education. And, so, the bottom line is this: Tina Bennett is now earning a paycheck from the company her husband hand-picked to take over schools in Indiana, a decision that was very good for the company’s financial fortunes.
No payback there, right? Bennett gives a contract to Charter Schools USA, then allows Howe and other schools be listed as "failing" even though they wouldn't have to be, and then Howe is taken over by...Charter Schools USA. And when Dr. Tony moves to Florida, his wife lands a well-paying gig at the company that's raking in big bucks from Tony's contract (total coincidence, I'm sure).

But we shouldn't be surprised that such sleaziness follows school privatization policies. I've already mentioned other egregious examples of cheating and rigging this system, including the Atlanta cheating scandal and the Michelle Rhee-condoned "erase to the top" changing of test answers in Washington D.C.

What it proves yet again is that tying state aid and teacher pay to incentives such as test scores inevitably leads to some who will try to cut corners to get paid more. It's not unlike MLB and PEDs or Wall Street hedge funders, if there's a lot of money on the table and no major penalties for breaking the rules, some will look to unethical means to improve their performance.

And if there aren't strong teacher's unions to back up teachers who blow the whistle on these corrupt practices, then the cheating will be more likely to slip by, at the detriment of the majority of districts and teachers that do things the right way. This is often why high-stakes testing in schools and the busting of unions go hand-in-hand, because it reduces a check on the power of corrupt administrators and elected officials that may have an agenda well beyond education.

Just because Tony Bennett is a special kind of lying crook (he even admits in emails that he's been lying about how well his program was working) doesn't mean that what happened in Indy was an isolated incident. There are numerous school privatization grifters out there trying to grab taxpayer dollars to run their latest scheme under the guise of "school reform," and the same kind of scandal will inevitably happen here in Wisconsin unless we put a stop to it now.

Ironically, I left Indiana in 2005 in no small part because I wanted to get back to Wisconsin, as I saw the Badger state as maintaining a higher value on education and quality of life. And what did I get 5 years later? The Age of Fitzwalkerstan, where our governor has copied the policies of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and has gone out of his way to try to implement the same system that Tony Bennett failed at in Indiana. As someone who's still in contact with people who have had to work under Bennett's pro-privatization policies, I can say "You shouldn't be doing that."