Monday, September 30, 2013

Hard to be Open for Business when no one wants to come

I was surprised at the level of retweets I got on this subject, so it clearly hit a nerve, and I'm going to link to the article on this page as well. Governing magazine compiled Census data that showed where people moved to in 2012, and Wisconsin was 48th in the nation when it came to the number of people that came here from another state in 2012. Governing explains how it made its rankings.
In all, states welcomed more than 8.9 million new residents in 2012. Census data released last week paints a portrait of each state’s new crop of residents, showing significant variation across different demographic groups.

For the most part, newcomers mirror a state’s existing population and that of the surrounding region.

But this isn’t always the case. To examine differences in each state’s newest residents, Governing compiled updated data published by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Mobility data was pulled for two groups: those moving from a different state (about 7.1 million individuals nationwide) and from abroad (approximately 1.8 million).

It should be noted that this analysis considers only individuals relocating to a state in 2012. It does not account for those moving within a state, births, deaths or net migration totals.
Basically, Governing did a measure of where people are moving to, and here's how Wisconsin fared (hint, it wasn't good).

Stats involving movers to Wisconsin
Total out of state movers 116,995
Movers as percent of state's population 2.1% (3rd lowest out of 50)
Median Income of Domestic Movers $16,764 (7th lowest out of 50)
Education attainment: Bachelor's degree: 43.2% (18th in U.S.), Master's degree: 18.6% (15th in U.S.)

Even the high levels of educational attainment aren't all that great in context, because many of those that move to Wisconsin include grad students moving to the Madison area to study at the UW (which has been subject to serious funding limitations and GOP criticism in recent years). With that atmosphere floating around, good luck getting those high-skill people to stay after their studies are done, especially when you have states like Minnesota (15th for Bachelor's movers, 18th for Master's), Illinois (8th for Bachelor's, 11th for Master's), and Michigan (19th for Bachelor's, 13th for Master's) competing for that same talent.

Wisconsin is also failing to compete in wages, as shown by the recently-released Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. A good example of this is how the state matches up with its Midwestern neighbors when it comes to what they pay workers in manufacturing.

Average weekly manufacturing wage, Q1 2013
Ill. $1,313
Mich $1,277
Minn $1,180
Ind. $1,180
Ohio $1,110
Wis. $1,053
Iowa $1,008

Low wages aren't going to make people want to pack up and come here either. And despite the large amount of talk that Gov. Walker and WisGOP make about manufacturing and business development (by the way, the Gov wants you to know that Manufacturing Month starts tomorrow!), they NEVER discuss the low wages that are a primary cause of this state's alleged skills gap in these industries. In fact, Walker puppetmasters like Diane Hendricks would love it if wages were even lower in Wisconsin!

So when you combine the low wages with the cuts in public education, the institution of regressive social policies, and having a whole lot of ideologically-driven fools call the shots at both the Capitol and the Governor's Mansion, it adds up to being 48th in the nation in having out-of-staters move to our state. And those who do move tend to be poorer than other areas, and likely have lower skill levels to go with it, because the better skilled can get paid more elsewhere. That's not exactly raising the level of the talent pool in this state and making it attractive for businesses to want to come here, and sounds a whole lot more like some low-quality of life Confederate state that smart people leave as soon as they can.

If we're going in this direction in Wisconsin, it sort of flies in the face of being "Open for Business", doesn't it?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The numbers don't lie, but the Guv sure does

With the release of this week's Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages yet again showing Wisconsin in the bottom half of the U.S. for job growth (click here for the always-awesome interactive chart), the Walker Administration has now decided to raise its game. They are lying and deceiving at higher levels of mendacity.

Here's the first one, where Walker tried to resurrect a zombie lie on Friday.
"These numbers are March to March, and in March of last year, we were still three months out from the recall election," Walker said at a press conference in Chicago, where he appeared at an economic forum. "And as I point out repeatedly, employers in the state were basically frozen until they knew what would happen in that election and the uncertainty it caused."

In reply to a question about Wisconsin's jobs growth, from a Chicago news organization, Walker added this elaboration:

"There's no doubt in our first two years, because of the protests, the recalls, that they had an impact early on. Much as there is concern nationally about the impact of Obamacare and the impact it has on employers, they just wonder with uncertainty."
THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. And one glance at the QCEW private-sector job numbers for Wisconsin proves this.

Every year more people are working in Wisconsin in June than March because of Summer tourism and related seasonal employment. But a larger number of people dropped off the work rolls in the 9 months AFTER the recall than in the same time period for the 2 years before it.

QCEW change in raw Wis. private-sector jobs
Jun 2010-Mar 2011 -67,954
Jun 2011-Mar 2012 -68,107
Jun 2012-Mar 2013 -81,761

So the we had an increased drop of 13,600 jobs in the time after the recalls vs. the same time period in the previous two years. The same reality shows in the seasonally-adjusted job charts. Let's use both 6 and 12-month intervals after the June 2012 recall, and the intervals before that.

Change in Wisconsin jobs, seasonally adjusted

Dec 2011- Jun 2012 +15,700 all, +18,800 private
Jun 2011- Jun 2012 +34,600 all, +37,600 private

Jun 2012- Dec 2012 +9,800 all, +5,000 private
Jun 2012- Jun 2013 +25,800 all, +25,600 private

You can see that hiring hit a wall after the recall, and didn't pick up compared to the same time period before the election. In fact, there is more proof that Walker winning the recall stopped job growth in Wisconsin, instead of ramping it up.

Also, there's a WisGOP talking point of "look at the last 4 months of job growth." And while those last 4 months look impressive, with more than 35,000 jobs added, isolating those 4 months is a classic case of cherry-picking. It conveniently leaves out the jobs bomb in April, when more than 20,000 jobs were lost in Wisconsin. If you change the last 4 months of job growth into 6 months, the stats look like this.

Job change in Wisconsin, Feb 2013- Aug 2013
All jobs +9,100 (average +1,517)
Private sector +14,700 (average +2,286)
1-year rate: +18,200 all, +29,400 private

Not really much different than we had before, so unlike what Scotty said on Friday in Chicago, I don't see any evidence that there'll be a "significant increase" in the pace of job growth in Wisconsin by the end of the year.

And here's the second big lie by Walker and company that got exposed this week. The GOP oligarchs at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce have been running hundreds of thousands in ads claiming Wisconsin's economy is doing well and crediting Gov. Walker for this allegedly strong performance. I pointed out some of these out-of-context deceptions earlier this month, but someone a whole lot higher up in the food chain also called out Walker and the WMC for their lies late last week.
Walker and WMC have also been quoting the Philly Fed’s “Leading Indicator," a 6-month forecasting of the Coincident Index for each state, to say Wisconsin’s economy is projected to show the second-largest improvement in the country.

“We do not consider state rankings based on the coincident and leading indexes to be valid,” says Paul Flora, Senior Economic Analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in an email to the Cap Times.

Flora says the differences in the various state economies influence the relative change in the index from month to month. He says an older, mature economy, such as New York, tends to experience smaller percentage changes than a smaller, younger economy, such as North Dakota.
Now, I also have extensively quoted the Philly Fed's state indexes over the last couple of years as proof of Walker's failures, but I've always done it as a point of comparison with other states, and done it from a common starting point in time, with all states starting at 0. As mentioned previously, what makes the Walker folks so dishonest about how they use these numbers is that they cherry-pick the last 3 months, and ignore the longer-range time that puts those numbers in perspective. You know, like how Wisconsin is dead last in the same index in the Midwest since Walker took office over 2 1/2 years ago.

Don't get me wrong, a good short-term uptick is a nice thing to have, but it doesn't change the fact that the overall record is horrible. Basically, falling for WMC's BS is the equivalent of getting excited because the Brewers have had one of the best records in the NL for their last 21 games (14-7). Just because that stat is true, it doesn't mean the Brewers still won't finish well below .500, and it doesn't change the fact that the franchise had a lousy year. The strong finish also shouldn't be a reason you should consider the Brew Crew to be playoff contenders in 2014.

Unfortunately, we're a lot more honest in this country when it comes to discussing sports than we are in discussing politics. But our media needs to remember that there are not "two sides to the story" when you are talking about raw numbers, be they in job creation, or in comparing the figures in an index over time. You can debate why something did or did not happen, but Scott Walker can't be running around saying Wisconsin job creation picked up after the June 2012 recall elections WHEN THE ACTUAL NUMBERS SHOW IT DID NOT.

Walker, WisGOP, and WMC would never float these lies if our state's media would simply DO ITS JOB AND CALL THE WALKER FOLKS OUT when they try to slip these things by them. We need to pound this reality into the public sphere, and ridicule the weak-minded people who fall for these clear lies, to show bystanders how wrong these people are, and to give a higher authority to FACTS AND HISTORY. If that means a full-frontal attack on right-wing radio stations and media that continue to display these deceptions and lies as fact, then that's what it takes.

As someone who makes a living partly due to data and formulas, I resent the Wisconsin GOP trying to spin things that are clearly proven false by the numbers. And our voters and our media should be equally insulted that this dishonest Administration views them as gullible suckers.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wisconsin continues to struggle with jobs

A few quick thoughts on yesterday's release of the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages.

Wisconsin is still in the doldrums when compared to the rest of the nation. 31st in the country in total jobs created, and 34th in the nation in the private sector. The only reason they weren't in the 40s (like I thought they'd be) is because large states like California, Texas, Michigan, Florida and Georgia had big increases, which helped explain how the overall U.S. private sector increase of 1.6%, but the median state was more like 1.3%.

That being said, Wisconsin's private sector job increase of 1.08% is still the lowest it's been since Sept. 2012, and you have to go back to September 2010 to find one lower than that. In fact, this recent Quarterly report gives us a good look at the effect of Walker policies, as Act 10 was passed into law in March 2011.

Private sector job change, Wisconsin
March 2010- March 2011 +1.90%
March 2011- March 2012 +1.79% (-0.11%)
March 2012- March 2013 +1.08% (-0.61%)

And we continue not to measure up to our Midwestern neighbors, ranking 5th out of 7 for job growth, with Michigan and Minnesota doubling us up at over 2% growth.

We'll have more on this later, including the absurdity of Scott Walker trying to take credit for adding more jobs than 28 other states, while leaving out that we have more people than 30 other states. But it is obvious that Wisconsin continues to lag the rest of the nation and its Midwestern neighbors, and with the 20,000 job loss in April still to be counted, those bad stats are in line to continue, no matter what WMC's ads try to tell you.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Once again, 3 good months doesn't change Walker's bad record

I noticed that Scott Walker has a new favorite economic metric- the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's monthly state-by-state indexes. And with good reason, because the state coincident indexes released today show that Wisconsin had the 2nd highest-growth in the U.S. for the Summer months of June, July and August. And I know this'll stun you, but Walker's office came out within a few hours with a press release mentioning it.
Wisconsin’s growth rate over the last three months is the best in 25 years and the state’s ranking is the best in history.

“This is more great news, not only for the state, but for job-seekers and employers as well,” Governor Walker said. “A better economy means a better quality of life for all Wisconsinites, and that is why it is my top priority. This latest history-making ranking is one more sign we are heading in the right direction.”
Notice the mention of "heading in the right direction." Because that's what a politician does when their policies have generally failed but they've had a recent upturn. Bush and Cheney gave a whole lot of "heading in the right direction" comments while our troops were in Iraq. Didn't mean things were handled right, or that things wouldn't revert to horrible soon.

And I wasn't the only guy who noticed our fair leader now proclaiming how the Philly Fed survey was the one to look at. Wisconsin Public Radio pointed out how the Guv has conveniently stopped talking about another economic stat.
About a month before his recall election, monthly estimates showed Walker had lost jobs his first year in office. To counter that, Walker sped the release of actual job counts showing job gains. (and he lied about what those numbers were).

“The numbers we're talking about today aren't a poll,” he said at the time. “They're an actual survey of more than 150,000 employers of this state.”

The numbers Walker highlighted that day and for more than a year since are the backbone of the federal government's Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which economists regard as the most thorough and accurate job measure.
But quoting the QCEW as an accurate measure of how you're policies are doing is so 2012.
“Rankings that come out are typically based on quarterly numbers that come out from [the Bureau of Labor Statistics], which are a six-month lag,” [Walker] says. “What we're trying to look at is not six months ago … but where are we going to be in the next six months.”

Walker is talking about the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's Leading Index, a complex prediction of where state economies are headed based on several factors, including housing permits, interest rates, and hours worked in manufacturing.

Marquette University's Charles Franklin says it's telling that Walker is moving away from a hard job count that's easy to understand to a much more complicated estimate that's hard to explain. “Politicians are not economists,” he says. “What politicians care about is the perception of how the economy is doing rather than the best or most reliable measure.”
It's also no coincidence that Walker's change of emphasis has happened when the QCEW is slated to be released this week, and will likely show Wisconsin in the bottom 10 of states for job growth from March 2012- March 2013. In addition, let's see if those job numbers stay strong now that the kids are back to school and frost will be soon be showing on some pumpkins.

And notice that Walker's only mentioning Philly Fed stats from the last few months. The guy's been in office for more than 2 1/2 years now, with a WisGOP majority for almost all that time. Why doesn't he stand behind the whole body of work?

Well, this chart shows you why- even with the good summer months of 2013, Wisconsin is still DEAD LAST in the Midwest in the Philly Fed index during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Sorry Scotty, but the nice recent numbers do not erase more than 2 years of failed policies. And your newest job creation package is a classic "too little, too late" move, in the hope that voters have forgotten what you've been pulling for nearly 3 years.

Well, I sure haven't forgotten how badly you've screwed Wisconsin's economy. Just like the 2013 Brewers, one late-in-the-term good streak doesn't change the fact that this still has been a lousy team over at Walker and Friends. And just like the Brewers, the minor improvements we are be seeing now may mean very little for how well things go in 2014.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Decent August in Wisconsin, but still behind the curve

This week featured another Wisconsin jobs report, and it was a relatively good one, with 7,300 private sector jobs added, and 6,100 overall. Some of the private sector growth was offset by downward revisions for July by 1,800, meaning July actually had a seasonally-adjusted loss of jobs by 100. But even if you knock off the July loss, 6,000 private sector jobs gained in two months is in line with the seasonally-adjusted increase of 35,000 private sector jobs in Wisconsin for the last 12 months.

If we go inside the numbers for August, there are a couple of standout figures. The first is the increase in Construction jobs, 3,300 on a seasonally-adjusted basis, and 2,000 on a non-seasonally adjusted one. This means that seasonal layoffs in construction aren't happening, and instead we're seeing hiring in late Summer. Now, we'd only gained 1,000 jobs in the Construction sector for the 11 months before August 2013, so it remains to be seen if this is a sign of growth, or just a one-month fluke of timing. But certainly good news if you work in those industries.

On the flip side are the job stats in Manufacturing for Wisconsin. July was revised down by 2,500 jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis, and 500 more Manufacturing jobs were lost in August, for a total of 3,000 fewer Manufacturing jobs than we thought we had this time last month. Some of this was expected, as Page 2 of this month's U.S. jobs report pointed out "auto manufacturers laid off more workers for model changeover in July than in recent years," and there were big downward revisions in Manufacturing for July nationwide.

But this doesn't explain the slippage we saw in Wisconsin for August, and it doesn't explain why we've seen 6,600 manufacturing jobs go away in Wisconsin over the last 6 months.

And yes, Wisconsin is ahead of the nation's in adding manufacturing jobs since Gov. Walker took office in January 2011. But as I brought up while debunking WMC's lies about Walker's job record, Wisconsin has the 2nd-highest percentage of jobs in manufacturing in the country, so we should be ahead of the national rate when manufacturing jobs are being added.

We've had a nice runup in jobs since the disasters in March and April, but the losses in those two months and the stagnation before that leave us well into the hole compared to the rest of the country. Despite some recent narrowing, the Walker jobs gap is still nearly 40,000 jobs overall, and nearly 50,000 in the private sector.

And keep your eyes peeled on the next two months, as kids go back to school and seasonal jobs end. That caused a lot of the "increases" in May and June, as those kinds of jobs had more hiring than normal, and if those jobs aren't maintained in Fall, we'll see those turn into job "losses" in the next couple of reports.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wisconsin slipping in 3 major economic stats

Just a burst of economic data out today, and I want to center on one report in particular, which is the Census Bureau's annual release on Income, Poverty and Health Insurance coverage in America. I wanted to break out this report to show what happened in 2012, and how both the country and the state of Wisconsin has fared in the wake of the recession. And Wisconsin has certainly slipped in these areas in the age of Fitzwalkerstan.

The country is still stagnating in this category, and it's one of the big letdowns in what otherwise has been a steady expansion over the last 4 years. Real (inflation-adjusted) household income is 8.3% its 2007 peak in the U.S., and now sits at just over $51,000. Even in what seemed to be an increasing expansion in 2012, the Census Bureau says real household income dropped by $83.

The same trend of falling income holds in Wisconsin, as we were down $56 to $53,079 in 2012, and still are nowhere near our 2006 peak of over $58,000. While Wisconsin didn't see the disasters that other industrial states like Michigan, Indiana and Ohio had (and Ohio and Indiana are still having), we also are well behind Minnesota, whose household incomes have gone up each of the last 2 years, with a median income more than $8,000 above Wisconsin.

Median household income, 2006-2012

So this one you really can't throw on Walker, since Wisconsin's income stagnation is mostly reflective of the income stagnation in the rest of the nation. But it is worth noting how Iowa and Minnesota are rebounding while we stay flat.

The poverty rate in America stayed the same in 2012 as it was in 2011, at 15.0%, and has largely been unchanged from its 2009-2010 average of 14.8%. Wisconsin's rate was lower, at 11.4%, but that good news masks a bigger story. Wisconsin's rate was much lower in the 2 years that the state was under Doyle/Dem control, at 10.5%, but the poverty rate spiked to 13.1% in Wisconsin in Walker's first year in office, in 2011. As you can see, it was 1 of only 2 Midwestern states to see such a rise in poverty over these two years.

Poverty rate, U.S. and Midwest states

In fact, the Census Bureau says Wisconsin's 2-year average increase of 1.7% made it one of only 7 states in the nation to have a statistically significant rise in the poverty rate in the country. And with no other state in the Midwest having such a jump, including other GOP governors taking over in Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. So it sounds like Scott Walker's brand of TeaBag austerity is a definite standout when it comes to increasing poverty in Wisconsin.

Health insurance
I've mentioned Walker health insurance plenty of times, including an analysis of just how stupid his anti-Obamacare policies are from both a fiscal and policy standpoint. But now the Census Bureau offers hard proof that more Wisconsinites are now doing without health insurance since Walker has taken office.

It doesn't look bad on the surface, as Wisconsin is still 7th-best at having its citizens with health insurance, with an uninsured rate of 9.7%. But Scotty didn't build that strong standing, as a comparison with the same stats from 2010 will show. Wisconsin has fallen from 5th to 7th in the U.S. during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan for having the lowest rate of its people be uninsured, and our neighbors to the west was one of the states that passed us.

Lowest rate of uninsured, 2010
1. Mass 5.5%
2. Haw. 7.7%
3. Ver. 9.3%
4. Maine 9.3%
5. Wis. 9.4%
6. Minn 9.7%

Lowest rate of uninsured, 2012 and 2010 change
1. Mass 4.1% (-1.4%)
2. Ver. 7.0% (-2.3%)
3. Haw. 7.7% (0.0%)
4. Conn 8.1% (-3.1%)
5. Minn 8.3% (-1.4%)
6. Maine 9.5% (+0.2%)
7. Wis. 9.7% (+0.3%)
8. Iowa 10.1% (-1.9%)

Also notice that the only two states in that 2012 list that had higher uninsured rates also elected two of the most obnoxious TeaBag governors in 2010- Walker and Maine's Paul LePage. It doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Wisconsin's slippage in having its citizens be insured really stands out when you compare our 2010-2012 increase in uninsured with the decrease that's been going on both nationwide, and in the Midwest.

Rate of uninsured, 2010 vs. 2012

And with this trend in place, and many states taking Obamacare and expanded Medicaid benefits in the coming months, I'm thinking Wisconsin won't maintain its top 10 ranking in uninsured much longer. Which means Scott Walker has taken away yet another reason that Wisconsinites could take pride in - because we are no longer a unique place that had a government who cared about its most vulnerable citizens.

So in addition to the 51,000 job Walker jobs gap, we now have numbers showing that Wisconsin's incomes have stagnated, with more people falling into poverty, and more of its citizens lacking health insurance during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. Other than shifting funds and power to campaign contributors and other oligarchs, does anyone think "it's working" with Scott Walker.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Koch/Bradley fronts keep lying about Wisconsin pensions

The right-wing propaganda machine tried to slip another one through in Wisconsin recently, and they were shot down with vehemence. And no, it shouldn't surprise you that it has Koch/ALEC fingerprints all over it.

In the Orwellian-titled "State Budget Solutions" webpage, there is story after story claiming a crisis in pension funding, and the need for "reform." One of these stories claimed that the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), which handles most Wisconsin public employee pensions, were underfunded by nearly $60 billion dollars, and were only 57% funded. Also interesting is that the 57% figure was still the best-funded system in the country, according to State Budget Solutions (or SBS, as I'll call them)So how did the SBS people come up with this figure?
Figures were drawn from state Fiscal Year 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, as well as the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports and actuarial valuations published by individual plans. In each case, figures were from the most up-to-date valuation available at the time of research. Plans were compiled based on the United States Census Bureau's Annual Survey of Public Pensions and state-level financial reports. Plan liabilities were discounted according to the 15-year Treasury bond yield as of August 21, 2013. That rate was 3.225 percent.
That part in bold is key, because the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF) took a look at that report, and noticed that it was heavily flawed.
At issue is the rate of return to be used in determining the present value of those future obligations. In general, the argument for using a low rate of return, like the current yield on Treasury bonds, to measure the present value of those future benefits is based on the theory that a guaranteed, low-risk rate accurately reflects the guaranteed nature of the future benefits. Not only has the approach been rejected by the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the unique benefit features of the WRS make the use of such a low rate of return inappropriate. For example, under the WRS, the future accrual of benefits for active employees is not guaranteed. Benefits to be earned in the future can and have been changed by the legislature from time to time. In addition, pension benefits for active employees and retirees are linked directly to investment performance and change based upon that performance. Effectively, the report assumes that employers bear all the risk in the WRS and that the benefits of active and retired participants and beneficiaries are immune to those risks. It is well known that the WRS does not operate that way. Indeed, benefits payable to retirees have been cut by more than $4 billion over the last 5 years in response to the financial crisis of 2008.

Furthermore, contrary to the report’s assertion that the WRS uses a single 7.2% rate of return, the WRS in fact uses a far more conservative 5.0% rate for retired participants and for active and inactive participants following retirement. The 7.2% rate applies only to active participants prior to their retirement. This is approximately equivalent to using a 5.5% rate of return for all participants at all stages of life. The diversified and balanced investment portfolio of the WRS has met and is reasonably expected to continue to meet or exceed that rate over the long-term. For example, the actual rate of return for the WRS over the last 10 years is 8% through July 31, 2013. Using these more appropriate return rates for the WRS helps ensure adequate funding for future benefits at a reasonable cost today.
So the SBS people are putting out numbers that are simply not relevant to how the WRS operates. It also is worthy of noting the strong performance of the administration of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB), who chooses the investments for the WRS, as the higher 8% rate of return includes the stock market crash from 2007-2009.

With the WRS's generally-accepted assumptions put into place, Wisconsin pensions are on firm ground. And it's not just the ETF saying that, as Wall Street analyst Morningstar put out a report today mentioning that Wisconsin's public employee pension system was one to be envied.
Several states have very strong pension systems. Six states have funded levels of more than 90%, and seven have [unfunded liabilities] of less than $100 per capita. Wisconsin remains the strongest system, with a 99.9% funded ratio and [an unfunded liability] of $18 per capita.
So why is there such a difference from what the SBS people are saying? Take a look the SBS "Partners" at the bottom of the page, and then cross-check them with the Center for Media and Democracy's Sourcewatch, and you get the answer.

The State Policy Network (SPN)

The Franklin Center for Public Integrity (Integrity! That's the joke son!)

The Freedom Foundation

George Mason University's Mercatus Center

And yes, ALEC

What do they have in common? All part of the "research organizations" that have received heavy backing from foundations headed by Charles and David Koch and Harry and Lynde Bradley. Yep, SBS is nothing more than a right-wing Koch/Bradley propaganda page, and like most Koch/Bradley outfits, produce nothing but lies that are thrown out to try to deceive a lazy, unsuspecting media.

This clip from Robert Greenwald's "Koch Brothers Exposed" cannot be played enough. It shows similar lies that Koch groups and the right-wing noise machine have said about Social Security, with narration from the amazing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Regardless of what Paul Ryan and other Koch whores may say, Wisconsin's public employee pensions system remains the model that other states should copy, and has no need to be touched or modified in any way. We know the greedheads at the Koch and Bradley Foundations will never be satisfied until they grab every last dollar from a worker to put into their pockets, and the pockets of paid propagandists like the "State Budget Solutions" network. Which is why we need to call out anything these fake front groups that tries to pass off souped up (S)BS like this as fact.

Breaking down Bucky's screwjob from Saturday

I've had about 36 hours to digest this, and yesterday's ass-kicking by the Pack helped to calm me down over, but what happened to the Badgers on Saturday was unacceptable, and I'll break down just how badly this was screwed up by Pac-12 officials.

First, the final 18 seconds of the ASU-Wisconsin game, for your viewing "pleasure".

So let's take the events as they occur.

0:18 UW QB Joel Stave snaps ball, goes to middle of field to set up FG.

0:15 While awkward, Stave takes knee, sets ball down, and whistle clearly blows the play dead. ASU sideline will later claim that it's a "fumble" due to Stave not being down at the time, but the refs' whistles clearly indicate that the ruling on the field is no fumble. The play clock is not a factor in this play, but it starts its 40-second countdown from the point is which the play is ruled dead, meaning the next play can be started once the offense is set and/or they substitute. Bucky is not subbing, so the ball should be spotted and able to be snapped immediately.

0:12 Badger line is trying to be set, but ASU defenders are lying on the ball. If there are any second thoughts about this play being a fumble, the refereeing crew should be stopping the clock to discuss this. They are not, indicating that they have decided that Stave was down, and that it's Badgers' ball.

0:09 Umpire taps ASU defender on shoulder because defender IS STILL LYING ON THE BALL. At this point, any type of competent crew stops the clock because of the obvious delay, and very well may throw the flag on ASU for intentional delay of game. Stave is turning to the head ref to ask what's going on.

Remember, in this circumstance, the officiating crew is supposed to spot the ball as quickly as possible and get out of the way, allowing the offense a chance to spike the ball, which the Badgers would be set to do right now except that, you know, AN ASU PLAYER IS LYING ON THE BALL. But no delay of game, or any stoppage of the clock to allow players to unpile, given that there is no fumble.

0:06 The ASU player IS STILL LYING ON THE BALL. Stave turns away from ref and offense is trying to line up. Umpire has still not gotten the ball to be spotted.

0:04 Umpire finally spots ball (with no urgency whatsoever). Badgers' Kenzel Doe is giving a "WTF"? type of reaction at the top of the screen.

0:03 Umpire stands over the ball AND TELLS BADGER O-LINE TO BACK AWAY, which is the exact opposite of what he should be doing, which is running away from the line of scrimmage so UW can get set and snap the ball.

0:01 Badger line gets set to try to snap and Stave gets under center, almost in defiance of the umpire's direction.

0:00 Clock runs out before Badgers can snap the ball, with the umpire finally deciding to scramble out of the way.

Next 5 seconds, ASU players run off celebrating, Stave makes a beeline for the ref and starts screaming at him.

These refs could not have screwed up that sequence more if they tried, and between this ending and some very sketchy pass interference calls earlier in the game on UW, it sure makes you wonder if they did try.

I want AD Barry Alvarez to formally protest this game, because these refs misinterpreted rules delay of game, spotting of the ball, and the ability for the offense to snap the ball at the end of the game. Now, I have no illusions that their protest will be upheld, as there was still a field goal to kick, and they aren't going to fly UW's football team back to Tempe to play the last 10 seconds. But this should be done anyway to make the Pac-12 explain itself, and to make damn sure it takes action.

At the very least, I expect a formal apology from the Pac-12 to UW, and for those refs to be banned for at least a couple of games for their flagrant incompetence (at least I hope it was only incompetence). And if I'm UW, I'm demanding that Pac-12 officials never be allowed to do a Badger game in a Pac-12 stadium ever against. Where officials are from is written into contracts for these kinds of games, and so it has to be a condition, because these homer refs cost UW a great chance to win this game.

(EDIT: Yep, the Pac-12 has already admitted that these refs screwed up, saying that they didn;t "properly administer the end of game situation and act with appropriate urgency on the game's final play." No shit, guys. Apparently, the refs have been "reprimanded", whatever that means, and no, Alvarez is not satisfied with this response).

This ending is giving me flashbacks to this disaster from last year.

As a liberal in the state of Wisconsin, I'm really tired of seeing my guys get screwed by incompetent and corrupt officials, whether it be on the football field, or the courtroom. Something needs to be done about both....and NOW.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dissecting WMC ad's deceptions, one by one

Apparently the GOP is quite scared of the perception that Gov. Walker's administration is failing on jobs and the economy, because front group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is out with a large TV ad buy that literally claims Wisconsin's economy is taking off like a rocket. I've been fortunate enough not to spot this ad, but I did notice WMC's release that goes with the ad, and I want to break down the claims they make.
“Wisconsin’s business climate has improved dramatically since 2011, and 94 percent of state business leaders say the state is headed in the right direction,” said WMC President\CEO Kurt R. Bauer.
Talk about meaningless, members of a Republican front group think that the Republican governor is doing a good job. And the majority of fans in green and gold in Lambeau on Sunday will be rooting for the Packers. These guys are already reaching.

Now onto the data, and the use of that data.
In July, Wisconsin ranked second in the entire nation for potential economic job growth, reported the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank.
I mentioned this survey when it came out 6 weeks ago, but there's a problem with WMC quoting that. There's been a Philly Fed leading index survey since then, and Wisconsin doesn't rank as high there.

Philly Fed leading index, August 2013
1. Ind. +2.77%
2. N.J. +2.77%
3. Miss +2.53%
4. Minn +2.35%
5. Maine +2.18%
11. Ohio +1.81%
12. Ari. +1.68%
T13. Ga. +1.62%
T13. Wis. +1.62%

Not exactly 2nd in the nation is it? But WMC does the classic lie by omission by using the prior survey, and not the one where Wisconsin falls 11 spots. There's another related lie by WMC later on. July the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank reported that Wisconsin was No. 1 in the Midwest for potential economic performance.
But in August, Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio were all ranked higher than Wisconsin, leaving us 4th out of 7 Midwestern states- the middle of the pack. WMC ain't gonna tell you that, will they?

Here's WMC's next claim.
And, Wisconsin outpaced Indiana, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan in wage growth, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The best I can figure is that this comes from the most recent Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, and this one could be true, as Wisconsin had the second largest weekly wage growth in the Midwest in 2012 under this survey at 4.8% (only Minnesota was higher at 5.1%). Of course what's not mentioned is that Wisconsin still had the 3rd-lowest weekly wage in the Midwest, and it was after a 2.5% drop in wages in Walker's first year in office- the 2nd largest drop in the Midwest. So while WMC's claim is technically true, it's leaving out the failure in Walker's first year, which helps explain the gain in year 2, since it's from a smaller number.

Here's the final WMC claim to take apart.
In June, CNBC reported Wisconsin ranked 5th in the nation for new manufacturing jobs.
Sounds impressive on its face. But it's not, because as the National Association of Manufacturers points out, in a growing economy, Wisconsin SHOULD be in the top 5 in America for manufacturing jobs.

States with highest % of jobs in manufacturing

Ind. 16.4%
Wis. 16.2%
Ark. 13.6%
Mich 12.8%
Ala. 12.7%

So for Wisconsin to be in the top 5 for manufacturing jobs is as impressive as saying we're top 5 for binge drinking- it's not a major accomplishment. And you know who should know this better than anyone? Wisconsin MANUFACTURERS and Commerce!

Well, you'd believe that if you thought WMC members had an actual clue about business and were something more than a greedy oligarch's club that's an arm of WisGOP. But they're not, and that's why they released this dishonest ad. And I also think they sense Walker's starting to slip in the polls, as reality is starting to sink in to the casual Wisconsinite, and they felt they had to try to drive home the propaganda to keep the big lie moving.

Too bad for them that Summer's ending, and we'll see the decline continue soon enough as those warm-weather jobs end. And WMC propaganda like this is going to fall flay because a whole lot of people like me aren't going to let their crap go unchallenged.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

United Sportsmen scandal deepening

Jeez, you peel the skin off of the "United Sportsmen of Wisconsin" onion, and the stench is overwhelming. Gov Walker's role is funneling the now-revoked $500,000 grant to United Sportsmen is more direct than we knew as well.

Dee Hall and Mary Spicuzza of the Wisconsin State Journal have that story today.
Gov. Scott Walker's use of his veto pen on June 30 helped keep alive a $500,000 grant that the politically connected United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation later won -- then lost when it was revealed the group misled state officials about its tax status and its president had been cited for illegal bear hunting.

Walker's budget veto removed the provision calling for federal funds to be used for the two-year grant, leaving intact language stating that the grant would come from state funding.
You can even go to the last 2 pages of the Governor's veto message and see it yourself. (note: I found this link through DOA site, after Walker's website scrubbed the veto message) Walker says he made the veto because he felt the federal Wildlife Restoration Act and Sport Fish Restoration Act would not be the places that these activities should be funded from.

As someone who has worked in the grant administration business, I can also tell you another possible reason for that veto- using state dollars can be a way around federal oversight. You see, when you have a federal grant, you generally need to show that this grant was distributed to a deserving entity and that this decision was done competitively and fairly. You also need to tell the feds what you're doing with the grant, and the feds then have the ability to look into you and the organizations that are carrying out the grant's activities. There also may be extra auditing and reporting duties that could set off red flags if the feds feel the funds are going to the wrong things.

When you devolve this into a grant to be administered by the state Department of Natural Resources, a lot of these requirements don't have to be in place, (although it can be if the state wants). And in the not too distant past, you could have civil servants with collective bargaining rights being the ones determining the grant, and therefore not be likely to be giving away political favors since they wouldn't owe any. However, if you have a DNR Secretary that's a former homebuilder a high school education and a "Chamber of Commerce" mentality" and whose organization previously looked the other way when GOP contributors dumped human waste all around Oconomowoc., there are fewer barriers to get around when it comes to throwing taxpayer money to a Koch electioneering group.

It's also hilarious to hear Walker spokesperson Jocelyn Webster try to blame the Legislature for inserting the provision. That kinds falls flat when you realize Walker TOOK THE ACTION TO MAKE THE VETO, so his office clearly knew what this was. If Walker's office was truly blindsided by this and missed this provision, there would have been no action taken, and we'd be changing a federal grant, not a state one.

Scotty and his handlers knew exactly what they were doing when they changed this to a state grant- they were making it easier to funnel money to his backers. This thing has real LEGS, folks, and you can bet United Sportsmen of Wisconsin aren't the only groups who have gotten taxpayer dollars after this administration reduced oversight of the funds.

By the way, we're continuing to find out more about United Sportsmen of Wisconsin....and less in some instances. The Journal-Sentinel and Jason Stein's and Patrick Marley's continued investigation into the group shows it to be even more shady than we even thought.
In statements with a donor in 2011, United Sportsmen represented itself as a nonprofit. But on Friday, the group said in a statement that it was a for-profit entity.

Either way, the group doesn't show up as having filed a Wisconsin income tax return — a basic step for both companies and charities that a half-dozen experts on accounting and tax law told the Journal Sentinel that United Sportsmen likely should have done.
You know, when you're changing your story, chances are quite high that you're not an ethical outfit. But I suppose when you're a Koch front group whose main members are former staffers of outgoing Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, a lack of ethics seems to go with the territory (heck, it probably helps!)

And the fact that United Sportsmen of Wisconsin hasn't filed taxes is kind of a big deal, because in order to dodge filing taxes, United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, has to be a 501 (c) (4) "social welfare" organization, and file appropriately. And the IRS says that in order for it to be a social welfare organization, it has to be working for more individuals beyond WisGOP politicians.
To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements). For example, an organization that restricts the use of its facilities to employees of selected corporations and their guests is primarily benefiting a private group rather than the community and, therefore, does not qualify as a section 501(c)(4) organization....An organization is not operated primarily for the promotion of social welfare if its primary activity is operating a social club for the benefit, pleasure or recreation of its members, or is carrying on a business with the general public in a manner similar to organizations operated for profit .

Seeking legislation germane to the organization's programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes. Thus, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may further its exempt purposes through lobbying as its primary activity without jeopardizing its exempt status. An organization that has lost its section 501(c)(3) status due to substantial attempts to influence legislation may not thereafter qualify as a section 501(c)(4) organization. In addition, a section 501(c)(4) organization that engages in lobbying may be required to either provide notice to its members regarding the percentage of dues paid that are applicable to lobbying activities or pay a proxy tax. For more information, see Lobbying Issues .

The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.
Doesn't really sound like United Sportsmen were following those rules, were they? It sort of begs this question.

I think it's about time we find out what United Sportsmen of Wisconsin REALLY does, and more impotantly, who's paying for them to do it. Especially now that they can't use $500,000 from the State of Wisconsin, like Scott Walker's veto pen would have allowed them to do until they got exposed.

P.S. - An astute reader pointed out in the comments section that Governor Walker's webpage has now scrubbed the veto message, so I used the DOA site to restore the link. Innnnnn-teresting.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Catching up on events in Fitzwalkerstan

It's been a busy week here, with houses to close on and birthdays to celebrate, so I wanted to recap a couple of recent

1. The corrupt debacle involving the Koch front group "United Sportsmen of Wisconsin" reached a head this week, with Gov. Walker's office deciding it had no choice but to keep the United Sportsmen from receiving their tailor-made $500,000 grant. This comes after a couple more Walker Admin screw-ups, including DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp claiming that there originally was no problem because United Sportsmen had followed all of the requirements laid out in the grant (of course they did, Scott Suder wrote the grant specifically for them). The Journal-Sentinel also described some additional sketchiness that came to light regarding the people that worked for United Sportsmen.
The Journal Sentinel reported last Friday that the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation Inc. appeared to be improperly claiming a federal tax-exempt status during the process of receiving a grant to promote hunting and fishing in the state.

The group, which has close ties to Republican politicians and other conservative organizations, now says its president, [Andy] Pantzlaff, was confused when he told state committee last week that United Sportsmen had been approved by the federal Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. However, United Sportsmen also had stated that on its letterhead in a letter to the state.

"Mr. Pantzlaff did not speak directly with the foundation's counsel concerning the 501(c)(3) status, and was mistaken about the exemption process," said a statement issued by the group. "There was no intent to mislead anyone and ... the foundation apologizes for any confusion caused by this misunderstanding."
Riiight, because Andy Pantzlaff can be trusted to follow laws. Especially involving the hunting and fishing duties he was supposed to be "educating" about.
Earlier Thursday evening, DNR chief warden Randy Stark confirmed that Andy Pantzlaff, the president of United Sportsmen, was cited for hunting with the wrong license in Langlade County on Sept. 11, 2005, and later convicted and fined. Stark said he couldn't immediately offer more details on the citation, which is a municipal violation and not a criminal one.

The violation involves the state fish and game laws that United Sportsmen would have been receiving taxpayer money to teach to new hunters and anglers as part of its grant.
Look, if I lied about things on a job application, not only would I be disqualified from the job, I'd be subject to jail time for fraud. Why isn't Andy Pantzlaff able to be prosecuted the same way for lying about United Sportsmen's 501(c)(3)'s status, and for not revealing his hunting-related conviction? C'mon JB Van Hollen, show me that there are real consequences for these guys for trying to grab taxpayer dollars under false premises.

Don't think that Walker allegedly asking the DNR to rescind the grant lets his administration off the hook for this fiasco. Walker had a chance to line-item veto this thing when his staff was going over the budget, but he didn't. He also is still planning to give Suder a hefty pay increase at his new administrator job at the PSC, so apparently Walker has no problem having people directly connected to the United Sportsmen mess in charge of this key position. The Walker Admin only did this because it was hurting Walker's standing with the public, and it begs the question about how many other similarly cronyist money shifts are going on with these guys. If we had a real media in this state, they'd be smelling blood in the water right now.

2. Speaking of unaccountable cronyist money-funneling, check out this article about the voucher students in Green Bay- where more than 90% of voucher recipients in the area's catholic schools already were taking classes at these schools.
Most of the 41 students coming into the Green Bay Area Catholic Education system using private school vouchers already are part of the parochial school system.

GRACE, the state’s largest Catholic school system with nine schools, split into three entities to apply for the new voucher program. Those entities, and Notre Dame Academy, learned last month they are part of the new voucher program. Notre Dame will have 10 students using vouchers.

All but three of the GRACE students already are part of the program, officials said. The small numbers are spread throughout grade levels, so schools won’t have to hire additional staff this year.
So in GB, the voucher program isn't causing students to attend different schools, and instead doesn't seem to be doing anything other than send taxpayer dollars to the Catholic churches that run these schools.

And if Assembly Speaker Robin Vos continues to get his way, these subsidized voucher schools won't have to face the same accountability rules every other type of subsidized school would have to, and money would continue to be poured into these schools no matter how badly they fare (in clear contrast to what they want to do to low-performing public schools). Democurmudgeon has a good breakdown of Vos's attempts to shut down any accountability measures for vouchers, and you might also remember how Vos told State Sens. Mike Ellis , Sheila Harsdorf and Glenn Grothmann at their pow-wow at Inn on the Park about how he could find $200 million in venture capital to start up new voucher schools.

And as I pointed out nearly 2 years ago when that video first came out, all of these politicians admit that poverty (or lack thereof) is a main driver behind school performance measures, but these Republicans don't care about reducing poverty or improving school performance as much as they care about how to funnel taxpayer money to the voucher advocates that fund their campaigns. The results of this first year of statewide vouchers is bearing this out, with most of the vouchers going to families that already were choosing private schools, and paying for them.

3. I was glad to see Public Citizen follow up on the Walker Administration's attempts to lie about the changes in insurance costs for Obamacare, and they have filed an Open Record request requiring the Insurance Commissioner's Office to "show their work", to reveal where the OCI came up with their claims of extreme increases in insurance costs due to Obamacare. I mean, the OCI didn't just pull these numbers straight out of their ass, so there has to be a trail of where the calculations came from, right? That's the way you handle politicized deceptions of data- you make these guys show their work, which will reveal the (usually intentional) flaws in the comparisons. It also means you won't need to wait for Politi-crap to give it a "halfway true" by allowing the Walker Administration to get away with using "average rates" when people don't choose based on averages, but instead will compare the costs that they'll have to pay for the level of coverage they need.

It's also interesting to note that Minnesota released their own study last week on what Obamacare will do for insurance rates, and it shows that in a state that had a similar high level of health care services to Wisconsin in 2010, Minnesota will end up having the lowest Obamacare exchange rates in the country. Of course, Minnesota chose to spend the time and effort to set up their own state exchange to better fit Obamacare to its current programs, but Walker threw that option away in Wisconsin, cynically turning down millions of federal dollars to help set up Wisconsin's own exchange, and deciding to throw Wisconsinites onto the one-size-fits-all federal exchange in an attempt to screw up Obamacare's implementation. Yet again, Minnesota is passing us by in taking care of its citizens, and running things in a more efficient and better way than we do in Fitzwalkerstan. And don't think people with career options in the Upper Midwest aren't noticing.

So there are some of your updates. We'll see if there's any fallout from these failed Walker policies in the next couple of weeks as the Legislature comes back into session, and Marquette Law comes out with another Walker approval rating poll.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Walker Admin keeps deceiving on Obamacare

The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance released a study yesterday on Obamacare, and even before I looked at the results, my BS detectors were going off like mad. I know that Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel gave over $10,000 to Gov. Walker's campaign in 2010, breaking campaign finance rules in the process, and was a longtime insurance industry lobbyist before taking the position in Walker's Administration, so he isn't exactly a person to be trusted to give a straight scoop on how Obamacare will work.

  And sadly, Ted Nickel and company did not disappoint, as their study gives dire predictions of big increases in costs between 10 and 124 percent for people that go onto Obamacare exchanges and get a plan that has
  a $2,000 deductible that included drug coverage in the individual insurance market. We examined plans for a 21-year-old, a 40-year-old, and a 63-year-old. The rates were examined separately for Milwaukee, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Madison, Appleton, Wausau, Kenosha, and LaCrosse. The pre-reform plans are based on quoted rates effective July 1, 2013. Post reform plans are limited to plans from companies who have filed to participate in the federal exchange, and the averages will change if some insurers modify their service areas.
Sounds terrible and very unlike what we've seen from some other places! Why is that? T

  Because the comparison is BULLSHIT. Notice a few things are missing in the OCI release.

  1. What other items are in the insurance plans, and what are the limits in the coverage?
  2. What's the Obamacare plan being compared to? And are they the same coverage?
  3. Where does this total cost get derived from? Is it for an individual person, or is it an average?
  4. Can someone get a lower or higher level of coverage, and what's the change in that cost?

  As a former teacher, it's crap like this that explains why we ask students to "show their work." As of today, the OCI is still refusing to release the tables and insurance plans that these allegedly huge increases come from...which tells you that they know their release is bullshit, and that they are lying by omission.

  I wasn't the only guy to call this out for the deception it was. Citizen Action's Robert Kraig, who has been on top of the Obamacare changes in Wisconsin from day 1, let Nickel and company have it within 2 hours of the OCI's release, and illustrated the apples-and-oranges nature of the "study."

1. The rates released by OCI do not include tax credits which will be available to make health insurance affordable, and therefore do not report the true sticker price of insurance coverage purchased on the new marketplaces. It is misleading to only report average rates which do not take into account the generous premium tax credits. A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that nearly half of consumers on the new health insurance marketplaces will receive tax credits which will on average a reduce the sticker price of a family plan at the silver level by 32% (or $2,672). The subsidies would reduce the cost of a bronze plan by 77%. (Note: OCI does not say what level of exchange plan is being used in its comparison).

2. OCI’s rate comparison does not take into account the quality of plans. An exclusive focus on premium rates does not reflect total consumer cost. The Affordable Care Act establishes quality standards for insurance plans. While this may increase premiums in some cases where the consumer currently has substandard coverage, higher quality coverage has lower out-of-pocket costs for consumers when they get medical care. According to Dr. Jonathan Gruber’s analysis of the Wisconsin insurance market released by the Walker Administration in 2011, 38% of plans fall below the minimum standards of ACA.

3. The rates released by OCI do not take into account preexisting conditions and other factors. Average premiums do not tell the whole story because rates that are low today are a product of a system that discriminates against people with preexisting conditions and against women. Rates are expected to go down for people with health conditions and for women. In addition, many who are denied coverage or cannot afford discriminatory rates will be able to buy coverage. The rates for plans offered on the new marketplace take into account the addition of consumers currently facing discrimination, the current rates do not.

Kraig also points out that this pattern of GOP operatives deceiving about Obamacare is a disturbing pattern in recent years, both nationwide and in Wisconsin. In Indiana, Governor Mike Pence's Administration compared all levels of Obamacare exchange service, including the most expensive services as an equal portion and then averaging the rates together,  an absurd measure when they should be comparing apples to apples, with a certain level of Obamacare service being shown next to the exact same menu of services in the private sector.  Not surprisingly, the Obamacare exchange premiums are competitive and often less than the private insurance when done this way- the same way the average citizen or business owner will make his or her comparisons of services.

Ohio's GOP Lieutenant Governor pulled the same deception as Indiana's, using an average of all Obamacare plans to claim Obamacare could nearly double costs, but conveniently not mentioning that the average Ohioan would often pay less in premiums and out-of-pocket costs. And the most egregious example of this deception came to light recently in Georgia, whose Insurance Commissioner bragged in a county GOP meeting that he would try to screw up Obamacare implementation, and Governor Nathan Deal's family and business partners  have been getting huge amounts of money funneled to them from a PAC of insurance scumbags demanding that he keep people from using Obamacare correctly in Georgia.
And of course, in the Koch/ALEC-run state of Fitzwalkerstan, we've seen our own set of lies about the Affordable Care Act. In addition to Ted Nickel's BS release this week, you might remember the cherry-picked study of Dr. Gruber's in August 2011 that former DHS Secretary Dennis Smith tried to use to claim Obamacare wouldn't work in Wisconsin, and  Gruber ended up calling Smith out for not mentioning Gruber's conclusion that Obamacare was a "great thing" for Wisconsin. Governor Walker also got into the act, repeating then-Secretary Smith's lies in a Washington Post op-ed about what Obamacare would do wrong-  lies that were quickly shot down by Kraig and others.

Beyond the false rhetoric, there are also Governor Walker's horrible policy choices related to Obamacare. This includes Scotty's foolish strategy of  turning down $37 million that would have gone toward the state's version of an Obamacare exchange, hoping that Obamacare would eventually be repealed (how'd that work out for you, Scotty?). Walker then refused to take the expanded Medicaid funds in Obamacare,  increasing the state's amount of uninsured as well as the cost to state taxpayers (the definition of a lose-lose policy).

   Then again, Scott Walker, Ted Nickel, and Koch-funded GOP dingbats don't care about how Obamacare can help the constituents who pay their salaries, or even if implementing it property would help their state's economy by removing uncertainties that come from uninsured people refusing to spend money on other items out of fear of going broke due to a medical emergency. These scumbags just care about striking their pose for the oligarchs that pay their campaign expenses, in the hopes that they can mess things up so badly they can exploit citizen frustration in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

It is a disgusting dereliction of duty, and the way they are trying to keep citizens from taking advantage of this program through their lies and sabotage is nothing less than treason, trying to injure the quality of life for the United States and its citizens in order to get...what? A few more campaign dollars and votes?

But it also goes along with my theory that "If you're lying on an issue, you're losing," and I do think the GOP is losing on the Obamacare issue because of their arrogance and refusal to come up with any type of solution to deal with health insurance issues other than "no Obamacare", and stand to fall even harder in 2014 than they did in 2012 as a result. I sure hope so, as these low-lifes must pay a price for their crimes and willful deceits.

Monday, September 2, 2013

On Labor Day- A few stats and pictures

On this Labor Day, it's important to take a look at the numbers, and get an idea why we're in the two-tier society that exists today.

Here's the first, giving you a look at wages as a percentage of GDP over the last 65 years. The trend is hard to miss.

And it isn't because people aren't working harder or better. In fact, productivity has kept going up since World War II, but wages stopped growing with it about 35 years ago.

So where'd this extra productivity go? Right into the pockets of CEOs and stockholders, as corporate after-tax profits have nearly quadrupled since 2000, and are 30 times larger than they were in 1971- which also happens to be the time that wages as a percentage of GDP were at their height.

Not surprisingly, this increase in productivity and profits going to corporates directly correlates to a decline in the number of workers that are in unions. This is especially true in the private sector, where the percentages of jobs that are in unions were cut in half between the mid-1970s and mid-'80s.

Gee, the decoupling of productivity to wage gains also happened around the same time as '70s and '80s union-busting. What a coincidence!

Know what else has sent the average worker into stagnation? The failed belief that unrestricted trade with countries with lower work standards ends up as a win-win for the United States. Democurmudgeon had a good link to an EPI study that included these stunning pictures.

So to review: in the last 40 years.

1. Wages as a percentage of GDP has fallen significantly.

2. There are fewer people in unions with the power to stop this trend, and demand more money

3. With fewer checks on their power, productivity gains don't have to translate into better wages, so they become profits into the pockets of CEOs.

 4. Unrestricted overseas trade has cost workers hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the threat of offshoring has also kept wages down.

  Sometimes correlation truly is causation, and this is one of those times. It's time to reverse the failing course of the last 40 years. Which mean we must have reps in Congress that demand FAIR trade, with parity in wages and working conditions instead of the race to the bottom that has benefitted no one but fat cats. And it means that unions and strict regulations on businesses are needed more than ever, to level the playing field and get more of those record profits into the hands of real people that'll use that money for useful items, instead of stock repurchases and dividends that benefit very few.

   So on this Labor Day, let's recognize that the U.S. economy is currently a losing game for the vast majority of people. And yes, changing the game will require a lot of this.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

If you thought that Koch front group wasn't seamy enough....

Apparently the corrupt assclowns at United Sportsmen of Wisconsin can't even get their nonprofit application to set up their dishonest organization. You may remember these guys, who seem to be nothing more than a Koch front group with a whiff of Wisconsin election fraud in their history, but had a $500,000 taxpayer-funded grant for "hunting and fishing education" funneled to them by a Legislative earmark, and approved by Gov. Walker. Here's the high-quality follow-up on United Sportsmen's $500,000 slush fund , as the Journal-Sentinel's Jason Stein covered the DNR's Sporting Heritage Committee meeting on Friday where a majority decided to give United Sportsmen the grant, and Stein was given the latitude by his J-S bosses to describe what really happened.
[Committee member Mark] LaBarbera asked United Sportsmen president Andy Pantzlaff if he could provide a copy of United Sportsmen's letter from the federal Internal Revenue Service showing it had received tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status. Pantzlaff, who called into the meeting, said he could provide that with enough time.

As of Thursday, there was no entry on the popular website, GuideStar, that United Sportsmen had filed the annual reports that federally recognized tax-exempt groups are supposed to file with the IRS, though sometimes those reports can lag in being filed or posted to GuideStar. Pantzlaff didn't respond to a reporter's phone messages and email request for this information.

The drafting file for the budget bill shows that a lawmaker asked for a specific change to the grant motion so the group receiving the grant would not have to be recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

In the legal memo released by [DNR Secretary] Stepp, her chief legal counsel Tim Andryk noted that, "(United Sportsmen is) not required by the statute to be tax exempt or be a sec. 501(c)(3) organization as inquired about at today's hearing, and thus a letter from IRS is not needed."
So because a certain lawmaker (cough- SCOTT SUDER -cough) made these changes to the grant, United Sportsmen can just pop up and get this grant while other qualified organizations are eliminated from consideration. How conveeeee-nient

Of course, if these guys at United Sportsmen can't be trusted to put in the right paperwork in time, why in the world should we trust them to carry out the "educational" functions of this grant? Especially when we already know the vast majority of this grant will pay for "consultants" like former Suder staffer Luke Hilgemann, who just took a job as the number 2 nationwide guy at the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity. Earlier, Hilgemann left Suder's legislative office to head up the Wisconsin version of the Astroturf group, and after Suder announced that he would leave the Legislature to get a big raise as a Walker appointee to the Pblic Service Commission, AFP-Wisconsin's page put up a nice "thank you" message to Suder, and said they were "looking forward to working with him" in his new job.

But I'm sure the fact that there are all these connections between Suder, Koch groups, and United Sportsmen with this tailor-made grant are total coincidence, and I really shouldn't be making that kind of stretch, should I?

Oh yeah, let's mention the other fun part of this United Sportsmen scam. It wants to be a 501(c)(3) organization - if it ever gets its documentation in (if you believe their cover story). As this website on this organizations notes, being a 501(c)(3) means
Strict rules apply to both the activities and the governance of these organizations. No part of the activities or the net earnings can unfairly benefit any director, officer, or any private individual, and no officer or private individual can share in the distribution of any of the corporate assets in the event the organization shuts down.

Further, lobbying, propaganda or other legislative activity must be kept relatively insubstantial[5]. Intervention in political campaigns or the endorsement/anti-endorsement of candidates for public office is strictly prohibited.
Being a 501(c)(3) also allows United Sportsmen to hide who their donors are, evade taxes, and even give a tax write-off to the people who fund. Which makes having this organization be a really good way to launder money to the campaign workers and GOP operatives that they'll hire for "educational" purposes.

And now us taxpayers are funding these guys for half a million dollars, with more to continue in later years unless specific legislation stops it. Sounds like Charlie Sykes has Exhibit A for his example of "A Nation of Moochers", now doesn't he? But somehow I'm thinking Chuckles won't really say much about this, given that this is the kind of cronyist grift he and his fellow Bradley boys LOVE.

As Sept. begins, where's the economy?

A couple of reports in the last week give us an indicator where things are in terms of the U.S. and Wisconsin economy. And it appears that growth continues for both, but with some warning clouds on the horizon.

First up is the strong upward revision to 2nd Quarter 2013 GDP, which rose from 1.7% on first reading, to 2.5% on the second. The biggest reason behind that revision seems to be a higher amount of exports than first thought, and slightly smaller imports. Good sign if you're in one of those industries, and consumption and private investment seemed to hold up well in 2nd quarter.

It also means that GDP remains on the continual increase that's been the pattern over the last 2 1/2 years.

That being said, the rate of growth over the last 12 months is less than we saw in 2012, and is back down in the levels of the middle of 2011- the last time we were facing a showdown over the debt ceiling.

In late 2011 and early 2012, we had strong GDP quarters, and bounced off of the sub-2% level. But third quarter isn't off to the best start, as personal income and consumer spending was tepid, and the new housing bubble showed signs that it may be starting to deflate. The stock market bubble is also indicating signs of popping, as August was the worst month for stocks since May 2012, with the S&P down over 3%.

Now, these weak reports are on the heels of strong reports earlier this summer, so it could be a one-time blip, with growth set to continue. But it's worth keeping an eye on, especially if Congress fucks around with the debt ceiling and federal budget in September (and they have to do something- the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30). It won't take much for this slowing to turn into a stall and a downturn.

That being said, the labor market remains strong, as unemployment claims are staying at their lowest levels in 6 years. Unadjusted claims have been down around 280,000 for the last 3 weeks, and are continuing to be down 10% year-over-year.

Wisconsin has been acting in tandem with this drop in claims, also down around 10% year-over-year, with claims under 8,000 in the time of year when they are traditionally the lowest. That being said, the numbers compared to the rest of the nation are sliding back up to the levels we had last year, as shown by the purple line in this graph.

And given that job growth this time last year was basically zero (1,700 private sector jobs total between June and November), and that a lot of the job "growth" in June and July was in seasonal jobs that are ending with the Summer, don't count on a blowout August Wisconsin jobs report. September probably won't be any great shakes either unless there's a radical change some time soon.

So while we're not in recession danger quite yet, I'm also not convinced the decent growth we've seen in the first part of 2013 will continue. Especially if the TeaBagger goofballs in D.C. try to do the bubble-world stupidity of screwing over Obamacare and/or shutting down the government in a budget battle. We're in a precarious spot in this recovery, without enough income or non-bubble growth to withstand an outside shock, and I'm worried it won't take much to end this 4-year-old recovery.

I don't want that, and I sure bet Scott Walker doesn't want that. Heck, he's already backing off on his 250,000 job pledge (with his staff hilariously trying to convince media outlets not to run the story, earning Walker nationwide ridicule). If this country falls into recession, Walker's claims of job growth and a balanced budget will both go completely down the drain, and his already-iffy re-election becomes very unlikely.

Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if that dope pulled the ripcord and decided not to run in 2014 if the economy turned bad in late 2013 and early 2014, because he knows a loss in the guv election would destroy his (delusional) chances of the 2016 GOP nomination, and a lifetime of wingnut welfare. Quitting would at least get him years on Faux News as a "contributor" and speeches among fellow oligarchs as part of the Sarah Palin Career Development Plan.