Monday, June 30, 2014

The Bucks situation- from the sports side

As I allow myself a few minutes between heading down to the basement for another severe weather warning, I must say that it's been an interesting week surrounding the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks. And I'll keep this post limited to the basketball side, although there's been interesting movement on the arena issue as well.

If you haven't heard, the Bucks apparently are going to fire head coach Larry Drew and trade two second-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets to get head coach (and probable Hall of Fame point guard) Jason Kidd to coach the team. This has developed very quickly, and it's gotten a lot of national news, with some of that angle seeming to be because the East Coast-based media is shocked to see someone want to go from the Big Apple to Milwaukee for any reason. But apparently past relations between Kidd and one of Bucks' new co-owners played a role.
Sources said Bucks co-owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry met with Kidd on Friday in New York City after asking for and receiving permission to talk to Kidd a few days before Thursday's NBA draft.

Lasry had a previous relationship with Kidd, but Edens did not. The source said Kidd told the owners that he would like to have the job. He was intrigued by the challenge of coaching a young, rebuilding team that just added the No. 2 pick in the draft in Duke's Jabari Parker, the source said.

The source said the Bucks' ownership wanted Kidd because he handled pressure and a number of egos on the Nets in his first head-coaching stint and guided them into the playoffs.
ESPN's Zach Lowe has a long, in-depth article on the website's Grantland section that brings up another reason the Nets were willing to part with Kidd- they may lose up to $144 million this year, and weren't willing to pay Kidd the big money and added player personnel responsibilities that he wanted.
This is all unfolding within the broader context of the Nets’ organization. Bruce Ratner, a longtime Nets higher-up, is open to selling his minority stake in the team, and the New York Post reported last week that Mikhail Prokhorov, the team’s principal owner, would like to cut costs and scale back spending to make that minority stake more appealing.

That’s a valid concern. The basketball side of the Nets’ business is projected to have lost $144 million over the 2013-14 season, according to a confidential memo the league sent to all 30 teams in early June. (Grantland has reviewed and verified the memo with a half-dozen sources.) If that strikes you as out of whack, that’s because it is.

The NBA expects nine teams will end up having lost money once luxury-tax distribution and revenue-sharing payments are finalized. The Nets, with that monster $144 million figure, are the biggest losers. Next in line? The Wizards, with projected losses of about $13 million. That’s right: The Nets lost $131 million more than any other NBA team last season. This is what happens when you pay $90 million in luxury tax for an aging roster and play in a market so large you are ineligible to receive any revenue-sharing help.
So Kidd decided to jump ship and go somewhere he would be wanted, but he still won't have player-personnel duties with the Bucks, something I find to be a huge positive, as I think giving Kidd both roles was a recipe for disaster form both the coaching and player personnel sides. Lowe also is skeptical of such an arrangement, noting that it only recently has worked for the Spurs (who have had Gregg Popovich as coach and GM for 5 titles and nearly 20 years), with the jury still out on many other coach-GM's. That being said, Lowe notes that the decision to hire Kidd was one made by the Bucks' new owners, and not Bucks GM John Hammond or Deputy GM David Morway.
The Bucks are also banking on Kidd as a draw for free agents. Milwaukee’s new ownership group, led by Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, two private-equity giants, wants to win big. The days of competing for profits and the no. 8 seed under Senator Herb Kohl are done, and that change had everyone in Milwaukee’s front office excited to work within new parameters. That front office — GM John Hammond and David Morway, his top deputy — is safe for now, per sources familiar with the situation. The Bucks swear up and down they want Kidd only as coach, and not in the dual role he pursued at the last minute in Brooklyn.

Maybe that’s true. But Hammond and Morway had no clue the Kidd talks were happening, per sources and published reports, and that’s not exactly a great indicator of the organization’s investment in them. It’s also not in the best-practices manual to leave your top two basketball decision-makers out of the loop on a massive decision like this.
No it is not in the manual, Zach, and it certainly seems to be a potential set-up for another power-play for Kidd if he wants to acquire certian players and Hammond and Morway might not, which you might want to keep an eye on as free agency starts tomorrow. The Bucks should have some money to spend in this off-season, as taking on Kidd's estimated $2.5 million salary is doable because Lowe points out that the Bucks made a profit last year, despite having the lowest home attendance in the league last year.
The finances matter for the Bucks, too. They are not thrilled about paying two coaches at once. (they still have to pay Drew what's remaining on his contract). Milwaukee is projected to make $14.8 million in basketball-related net profit for the 2013-14 season, according to that league memo, but they’re one of several small- and mid-market teams propped up almost entirely by revenue sharing. Milwaukee will get about $18 million from revenue sharing and $3 million more from luxury tax payouts, easily eclipsing the $6.5 million the team lost on its own account.
Ironically, that payout is from the same luxury tax that Kidd's former team, the Nets, were paying into.

I agree that Lasry and Edens wanted to make a big splash, and certainly this hiring of Kidd has done that. It at least gets the rest of the basketball world talking about the Bucks, which isn't something that's happened often in the last decade-plus. But they'd better get off to a good start next year, because the back-stabbing nature of this move has knocked down some of the very good vibes that had come from the Bucks with the recent ownership change, Lasry and Edens' outreach to the Milwaukee committee (including hanging out with fans at a downtown bar last month), and the drafting of the 19-year-old Parker to rebuild around.

For the record, I felt Drew should have been replaced after last year's 15-67 disaster. It wasn't all Drew's fault, and I think he's no better or worse than probably half the coaches in the league, but you can't stay in the same direction when you have the NBA's worst record in the league, as effort alone should win 20-25 games. That being said, I can't guarantee Jason Kidd is much better, as he was on the hot seat early halfway through his first year with the Nets, until the team turned it around and got into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. This isn't exactly Popovich or Phil Jackson taking over, Kidd is still an unknown quantity when it comes to how good (or bad) a coach he is.

That said, Lasry and Edens are at least trying to pump up interest in the Bucks into being "something worth seeing", and that's an upgrade over what we've seen in the recent past. And it has the extra advantage of possibly encouraging some people that a new arena is a good investment (and yes, I think this is a factor). But I also think those efforts and today's hiring of Jason Kidd something that could turn against them if the team has a bad year in 2014-15, because this is kind of a seamy deal, and it won't take much losing to make the average Wisconsin sports fan sigh and say "Same old Bucks. Screw 'em."

Time for term limits on SCOTUS?

I say yes. 2 10-year terms max, with approval by the Senate each time. This also enables them to outlast any president that appoints them, so it maintains some freedom, if they choose to use it.

But we can't have people like Scalia throwing his weight around for 30 years, and do you think John Roberts would be pulling his garbage if he was in danger of losing his job next year? Of course not.

OK Baggers, you want a new Constitutional convention? Then start with this.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Iraq- "There should be accountability."

Two great clips that call out the news media and the neocons on their total fail when it comes to discussing the Iraq situation these days. The first is from Katrina Vanden Huevel, editor of The Nation and writer for the New York Times, who tears up Bill (Wrong About Everything in the Middle East) Kristol on George Stephanopolous' roundtable, and slyly calls out the media as well, saying "there should be accountability" for all of those ivory-tower nimrods who were so wrong about Iraq in the 2000s.

I despise Bill Kristol because I think he's an absurd legacy case who always wants to have the U.S. fight wars, but never wants to pay for them, and doesn't care about the results that follow. But I also have an extra level of disgust for alleged "news" organizations who keep giving him and other neocons a seat at the roundtable and airtime to spin their ridiculous policies WHEN THESE PEOPLE HAVE NO CREDIBILITY ON THE ISSUE.

America's finest newscaster put it perfectly on Thursday, hammering John McCain as the senile fool that shouldn't be allowed in one more Sunday morning green room. Jon Stewart also asked why these right-wingers seem to believe every taxpayer dollar should be funneled to the military and foreign countries for adventures that lead to major human and fiscal costs with no positive outcome, but call investing in services for AMERICANS "wasteful spending."

I love the fact that Sarah freaking Palin is in the background in that "Hell No" clip with McCain. That pick alone should have banished McCain from Sunday shows for good.

This priorization of military over domestic needs and "culture of defendancy" (thanks, Jon) is not a new concept. A very wise man noted the same trend nearly 50 years ago.
While the anti-poverty program is cautiously initiated, zealously supervised and evaluated for immediate results, billions are liberally expended for this ill-considered war. The recently revealed mis-estimate of the war budget amounts to ten billions of dollars for a single year. This error alone is more than five times the amount committed to anti-poverty programs. The security we profess to seek in foreign adventures we will lose in our decaying cities. The bombs in Viet Nam explode at home: they destroy the hope s and possibilities for a decent America. If we reversed investments and gave the armed forces the antipoverty budget, the generals could be forgiven if they walked off the battlefield in disgust.

Poverty, urban problems and social progress generally are ignored when the guns of war become a national obsession. When it is not our security that is at stake, but questionable and vague commitments to reactionary regimes, values disintegrate into foolish and adolescent slogans.

It is estimated that we spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill, while we spend in the so-called war on poverty in America only about $53.00 for each person classified as "poor. And much of that 53 dollars goes for salaries of people who are not poor. We have escalated the war in Viet Nam and de-escalated the skirmish against poverty. It challenges the imagination to contemplate what lives we could transform if we were to cease killing. .
- Martin Luther King, Feb. 25, 1967

The macho militarization fetish that righties display with alarming frequency bears to mind the warning from a Republican from a very different time:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address, January 17, 1961.

And our media is failing in keeping citizens knowledgeable when it allows fools like Bill Kristol and John McCain more access to the airwaves than people who got it right when it came to Iraq. The question is whether that failure is intentional.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Wisconsin revenues drop again, and deficit keeps blowing up

Since we saw April's tax revenues fall well short of expectations following two rounds of Koo-Koo tax cuts, it made today's release of the May revenues from the Department of Revenue quite important. And I had an idea that the numbers would be weak because the DOR refused to release the numbers until late this Friday afternoon, to try to bury the numbers. Then I saw the figures, and I understood why.

May 2014 vs May 2013 Wisconsin tax revenues
Income taxes -5.5%
Sales taxes +0.2%
Corporate taxes -20.2% (!)
Excise taxes -0.6%
Other taxes +1.4%
TOTAL CHANGE, MAY 2014 VS. MAY 2013 -2.5%

The picture looks even worse when you look at how tax revenues have gone since the start of calendar year 2014, which is when most of these tax cuts were being given back to Wisconsinites. And those tax cuts have not trickled down into more sales, as the sales tax increase has slowed down drastically compared to the 5.8% year-over-year jump it had in the last 6 months of 2013.

Jan-May 2014 vs Jan-May 2013 Wisconsin tax revenues
Income tax -11.7%
Sales taxes +2.4%
Corporate taxes -22.0% (!)
Excise taxes +0.7%
Other +2.9%

June is the final month of the fiscal year, and there are a lot of extra revenues bunched into that month as there are year-end collections that get charged back over the next couple of months. And I'll be charitable and assume that the last month of fiscal 2014 will have the same amount of Income Tax and Corporate Tax revenues as there was at the end of 2013(even though they have fallen short so far). I'll also assume we'll have the same 2.4% increase in sales taxes that we have had so far in calendar 2014, and that excise and other taxes stay on track to meet the LFB revenue projections (Excise and Other Taxes are on track as it stands today).

Wisconsin revenue shortfall using "rosy" assumptions
Income taxes $33.6 million
Sales taxes $24.1 million
Corporate taxes $115.6 million
TOTAL SHORTFALL $173.3 million

And this is the good-case scenario. If we assume June 2014 also has a 5% decrease in income taxes, that's another $59.6 million added to the shortfall, and a 20% decrease in corporate taxes would put the state another $33.5 million in the hole. If that scenario happens, the revenue shortfall balloons to $266.1 million.

So add this shortfall to the $642 million projected General Fund deficit in the 2015-17 budget (noted on Page 5), then double it (since each year starts off lower). You're now looking at a structural deficit near $1 billion and perhaps higher if the "rosy assumption" doesn't hold up. It also means we could be facing a deficit by this time next year if the shortfall continues (we had $100 million in cushion before the revenue shortfall happened), which would require action to clean up the problem.

And I'm not even including the extra costs from Walker's stupid refusal to take the federal Obamacare money to expand Medicaid or the extraordinary expenses caused by the polar vortex winter. We'll know more about those in the coming weeks and months, and if the revenue shortfall continues, it could paint a dire budget picture in Wisconsin- one that's very different than the one Scott Walker and WisGOP were planning to spin for the November elections.

Friday fun- Brewers and Will Smith

Happy Summer Friday folks, and feast your eyes on this coming out of Milwaukee.

A few thoughts.

1. The Brew Crew's Will Smith is a whole lot better at getting out of jams than he is breaking out the jams.

2. Mike Fiers apparently took some falsetto singing lessons while in Triple A Nashville. And after being sent down on Wednesday, he'll have more time to work on it. (Sorry bout that, Mike.)

3. The Rob Wooten "I'm from NC" part actually isn't bad.

4. YOU DON'T ICE FISH IN A BOAT!!! C'mon Brewers promo team! I grew up in the burbs, only shot a gun once, and have never ventured out on the lakes in wintertime, but even I know you don't (and can't) use a boat. Though having Wang in the boat is a nice touch.

5. Things are a lot more fun in baseball when you're 49-32 and 5 1/2 games up at the season's midway point. But they can't let up now.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Debunking more WisGOP job excuses

Sometimes the right-wing spin on Gov Walker's job failures is quite pathetic. And Tom Hefty of the Bradley Foundation-funded Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is the latest to come up with this type of weak sauce.

Hefty's first claims are that Wisconsin's wages are gaining, and therefore, the job situation isn't as bad as "37th in the nation and worst in Midwest for job growth" would indicate, and that the overall numbers are still good.
Wisconsin, we now know, ranked 12th highest in the country in average wage increases in 2013. Our wage increase was 1.2% while the national average wage increase was zero.

Rising wages are obviously good news for Wisconsin families. The Wisconsin unemployment rate is 5.7%, lower than the national average of 6.3%. At 68%, the Wisconsin work force participation rate — the percentage of Wisconsin citizens in the work force — is higher than the national average of 62.8%.

So, to sum up: Wages are rising. The unemployment rate is low. And a high percentage of Wisconsin residents have jobs. But still we have sluggish job growth.
The wage part is intriguing, as the QCEW tells us the state's average weekly wage increased $10 to $865. But what's not mentioned is that at the end of 2010, Wisconsin's weekly wage was already at $837, and has only grown 3.34% in the three years Scott Walker has been governor. When you realize the CPI has increased by 6.33% from the end of 2010 to the end of 2013, making for a inflation-adjusted LOSS of 2.8%. But it makes for a nice story if you narrow it down into one year, so we'll let Hefty have the wage increase stat- for now.

As for the low unemployment rate and high participation rate? I have mentioned numerous times, "Scott Walker, you didn't build that." Wisconsin was 1.4% below the U.S. unemployment rate when Walker took office in January 2011 (7.7% vs. 9.1% nationwide), so being 0.6% below the US now means the rest of the country is lowering unemployment faster than we are. Same goes for the participation rate, as the Wisconsin DWD notes that the state's participation rate was 69.0% in 2010, so it's actually DROPPED under Walker by 1.0%. That 68.0% is also below several other states in the hardworking upper Midwest and Great Plains.

Participation rates, May 2014
Neb 71.7%
N.D. 71.1%
Minn 70.5%
S.D. 70.0%
Wis. 68.0%
Ill. 65.1%
Mich 60.5%

So those "positive" stats aren't a big deal, and if anything makes Wisconsin look subpar, but Hefty doesn't stop there. Dane County had the 9th-largest increase in weekly wages among large counties in the U.S. for 2013, and Hefty tries to make a back-door "Act 10 wasn't so bad" justification by pointing out this out.
Dane County is worth noting for another reason as well. The numbers for wage growth would appear to refute those who blame Act 10 for Wisconsin’s economic performance. If Act 10 did indeed have a negative impact, it would logically appear most sharply in Dane County, the area with the greatest percentage of government jobs. Instead, Dane County wage growth has been extraordinarily high.

That’s good news, but that story conflicts with the Democrats’ campaign narrative.

Ninety miles to the east, meanwhile, there is yet another story — and a much more dismal one. Milwaukee County’s job growth last year was 0.5%, or 249th among 335 counties. Wages grew in Wisconsin. Average wages declined in Milwaukee by 0.2%.

Wisconsin as a whole, in other words, had a job growth rate half the national average, and Milwaukee had a job growth rate half the state average. As noted, wages in Wisconsin as a whole grew faster than the national average. In Milwaukee, they declined.
First, that line about Act 10 wages in Dane County is dishonest on its face, because Act 10 didn't change what people's WAGES were, but it did change their TAKE-HOME PAY, based on higher employee contributions for pensions and health insurance, and that's what's helped diminish Wisconsin's economy.

Hefty makes some crack about how Madison as the "government center" of Wisconsin now has higher average wages than the "commercial center" of Milwaukee. But this ignores that most of the wage gains in Dane County are in the private sector. Average weekly wages in Dane County's state government jobs only went up 2.4% in 2013, while average weekly private sector wages went up by 6.0% in 2013, so the state government jobs didn't raising wages as much as the private sector jobs did. And let's not forget that Dane County has boomed precisely because it promotes a high-services, liberal approach that presents a high quality of life that attracts talent from other places, so maybe being a "government center" isn't such a bad thing, as opposed to "privatized to death" Milwaukee. Dane County government has defied Act 10 by actively negotiating and extending agreements with their public employees, with a new agreeement just announced this week for 2016.

So I really wouldn't call our strong economy here in Madtown as some kind of proof that Act 10 is "working." But Mr,. Hefty could thank us for carrying the load while much of the rest of the state declines under his boy Scotty. As for Milwaukee's bad rankings? It isn't just them. Why didn't Hefty mention stagnant or declining wages in other counties in Southeastern Wisconsin? Couldn't be because they vote Republican and back this Bradley BS, could it?

Changes in average private sector weekly wage, 2013
Waukesha Co. -1.3%
Walworth Co. -1.0%
Washington Co. +0.6%

But then again, when did WPRI (aka We Promote Republican Idiocy) ever want to admit their suburban base may be faring as bad or worse than "those Dem voters" in Milwaukee?

Oh, and speaking of wages, why didn't WPRI mention this stat in the latest QCEW report.

Average weekly manufacturing wage, Midwest, Q4 2013
Ill $1,308
Mich $1,277
Minn $1,169
Ohio $1,129
Iowa $1,116
Ind. $1,088
Wis. $1,086

I don't ever want to hear the words "Wisconsin skills gap" again, unless it is followed by "Wisconsin wage gap."

I know Tom Hefty needs a paycheck from these guys and has to try to spin away the failures of Scott Walker and 3 years of lagging job growth, but the arguments that guys like him are trying to sell fall apart with even a few minutes of research.

C'mon righties, can't you do better? Oh wait, I think I know that answer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Downward spiral of corporate Madison radio continues

Local Madison radio took another hit yesterday with the firing of WIBA-AM morning host Mitch Henck. While Mitch was a little too "golf guy Republican" for my taste and I rarely listened to them, he still has been part of this community for 2 decades, and never struck me as a copycat, divisive screamer of a host. And not surprisingly, the reasons were not to replace Henck with a new and improved local host, but instead was solely done to boost Clear Channel's bottom line.
“It’s a corporate thing,” he said. “The ratings were good. It was a matter of cutbacks.”

“I sensed that this was the direction the industry was moving in,” Henck added, citing a growing preference for syndicated hosts over purely local ones. Henck was on every weekday morning from 8 to 11 a.m. for “Outside the Box.” “

They didn’t really give me the word until [Monday], though. That’s the way it works."
Mike Conway on 96.3 FM also got let go in this Clear Channel move, and it also comes after the pre-Thanksgiving massacre at 1670 AM in 2012, where leftie talker Sly and the station's entire news staff were taken off the air in favor of a third sports talk station in the market. Most of those guys have landed on their feet since then (heck, Sly's ratings are probably better these days on 93.7 FM), but it still is an awful trend that is driving down the level of discussion and knowledge of issues that makes it much harder for the Scott Walkers of the world to throw absurdities against the wall and get away with it.

Tim Morrisey is another former local Madison radio guy, and he penned an excellent blog discussing the mess that exists in over-the-air radio these days, and says that local radio is not a sustainable model.
Hearing the news about Mitch Henck was not surprising in any way, but it was still tough to take. You can’t spend four decades working in broadcasting, as I did, and not be dismayed at how it’s really no longer a sustainable model. People can get music anywhere today. New songs aren’t “broken” by radio stations any more – they’re first heard on social media sites. A local, live DJ after 9 AM has become rare. Newscasts, if a radio station even has them any more, are rare after 9AM and even then may originate in a city far away....

Mitch had a very good career in broadcasting, spending the last dozen years at WIBA-AM after a long stint in TV news. His “Outside the Box” show had excellent ratings; his demise had nothing to do with that. Mitch was never a partisan hack, like so many of the talk show hosts you hear today, either whining the left-wing agenda or screeching the right-wing agenda. Sure, Mitch talked politics – but he also talked basketball, music, and above all, Mitch talked about LOCAL stuff.

He even shared his struggles trying to get his golf score down.

That’s the puzzling thing: about the only thing radio has left going for it is the “live and local” aspect, but shortsighted broadcast managers for the past seven years have steadily gotten rid of the only thing they really had going for them: local talent who talked about local stuff, whether they were doing a music-based show or a talk-based show. That’s why they’ve made the model unsustainable. They’re getting rid of the only thing they really have going for them any more.
Couldn't agree more with that last statement. Morrisey also notes the brutal debt problems that debt-owned Bain Capital has with Clear Channel (over $20 billion worth), which explains why they continually cut expenses by firing staff and replacing them with syndicated programs that take away any unique quality a specific station may have. And of course, we as listeners lose as the quality of news and information-giving goes down, replaced by national claptrap that often has little relevance to our day-to-day lives.

The economics of corporate radio's gutting of local radio at least add up (even if it's a worse product and ultimately destructive to a well-functioning society). But I still want to know why relatively responsible broadcasters like Mitch Henck get blown out, while people like THIS are still allowed to pollute the airwaves.

Between having people like THAT keep a job, along the tens of millions it gives each year to Rush Limbaugh (despite Rush's plummeting ratings), and it sure makes you think that Bain (who former CEO is Mitt Romney) and Clear Channel have another agenda in mind that goes past digging themselves out of their cavern of debt. That one-sided type of hate talk has to be called out and ended, as it continues to spiral of lower quality and lower standards that has wrecked over-the-air radio in much of this country.

If the Brewers, Badgers and Packers went off AM 1310, no one would listen to the garbage they put out during the day, especially with any semblance of a quality, recognizable local voice going away. Maybe we should let those guys and their advertisers know that, and we can all end up better off.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wisconsin lags again, this time on home sales

One item that suffered with the polar vortex winter was home sales. As the weather has heated up, it appears some of the U.S. growth is thawing out, but it isn't as hot here in Wisconsin.

1. U.S. housing sales had its largest seasonally-adjusted one-month jump in nearly three years last month, starting to dig their way out of the slump that this sector had been in for the first part of the year.
The National Association of Realtors said on Monday existing home sales increased 4.9 percent to an annual rate of 4.89 million units. May's increase was the largest since August 2011.

"The housing market has quite some ways to go to recover its recent sluggishness, but positive momentum in the sector suggests that housing has begun to show signs of life," said Gennadiy Goldberg, an economist at TD Securities in New York.

Economists had forecast sales rising only 2.2 percent to a 4.73 million-unit pace last month. Sales, which rose in all four regions, were driven by the single-family home segment, the largest portion of the market.
That being said, home sales are still down 5.0% compared to May 2013, so we're not completely out of the woods. But with job growth continuing and no other new headwind to drive the economy down, it certainly is a step in the right direction.

2. Locally, the Wisconsin Realtors Association reported that home sales were DOWN 6.9% compared to May 2013, the fifth month in a row we've been down, and down 8.0% for the year. Yes, they compare year-over-year at the WRA instead of adjusting for seasonality with their stats, but it still doesn't look good.
Existing home sales for May were either flat or down in every region of the state in May. The northeast region was essentially unchanged from May of last year with sales down 0.1 percent. Existing home sales fell 2.2 percent in the west region and they were down 3.8 percent in the north region. However, sales fell between 9.3 percent and 12.5 percent in the south central, southeast and central regions, comparing May 2014 with May of 2013.

“In spite of weaker sales compared to last year, our median home prices continue to rise,” said [WRA President and CEO Michael] Theo. Median prices are up 3.8 percent in May and they are up 3.6 percent year-to-date. The regional picture was mixed with prices up in three regions (southeast, west and northeast) up between 4.6 percent and 5.4 percent in May and the south central region essentially flat. In contrast, median prices in the central region fell 3.3 percent and they were up 20.6 percent in the north region. “Median prices are often volatile in these two regions due to the shifting mix of primary versus vacation homes that sell in any given month,” said Theo.
As noted, the southern half of the state had some of the largest drops, and it was especially pronounced in the southeastern corner of Wisconsin, with the exception of Ozaukee County.

Change in home sales, May 2014 vs. May 2013
Ozaukee Co +3.3%
Milwaukee Co. -7.8%
Waukesha Co. -11.6%
Racine Co. -11.9%
Washington Co. -18.5
Kenosha Co. -19.5%

Waukesha and Washington Counties also were subpar when it came to prices in the region, with Waukesha's median sales price only up 3.9% vs. the same month in 2013, and Washington County was down 6.0%, a drop of more than $10,000. Interestingly, the reddest-voting counties in the Southeastern Wisconsin also are the ones having price growth below the 3.6% increases we've seeing statewide so far in 2014.

Year-to-date median home sales price 2014 vs. 2013
State of Wisconsin +3.6%
Walworth Co. +3.4%
Ozaukee Co. +3.2%
Waukesha Co. +1.3%
Washington Co. -0.4%

So Wisconsin's home-selling economy continues is struggling in year 4 of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, but the Realtors have endorsed Walker anyway, despite five straight months of sales declines, and a failing jobs record. And among the biggest places that are falling behind are the dead-red areas surrounding Milwaukee, who apparently would rather support the "divide and conquer" Governor that's making their wealth stagnate. It sure makes you wonder why these people would continue to bet on the same WisGOP hand that they're losing with.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A few John Doe angles to look at- (updated 3:27pm, 6-22)

The tentacles involving John Doe Deux, Governor Walker, and the right-wing oligarch groups connected will play out in the near future. I could write a lot about that case and the 266 pages of documents released with it last week, but I'd rather focus on a couple of specific tangents to that case.

1. Check out the name that comes up on Page 124.
The affidavits which are a part of the record outline the close coordination by R.J. Johnson with other FOSW (Friends of Scott Walker) agents, including Governor Walker in the 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin Senate and Gubernatorial recall campaigns. Agents of FOSW and WiCFG (Wisconsin Club for Growth, headed by Johnson) , such as Mary Stitt and Kelly Rindfleisch, were involved in fundraising for the 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin Senate and Gubernatorial recall campaigns not only for FOSW, but also WiCFG.
Kelly Rindfleisch AGAIN! This is after she was charged in John Doe 1, and couldn't officially work for Walker, and also when she was allegedly working for GOP super-donor Michael Eisenga at "National Lending Solutions" in 2011 and 2012. Let me give you a great graphic the Root River Siren made last year to remind you what kind of character Eisenga is, and how he's connected with GOP organized crime department.

Gee, you think Kelly's "job" with Eisenga might have been a cover for something else? No wonder Eisenga thought Rep. Joel Kleefisch owed him the chance to get out of paying child support. And is this at all related to Eisenga's huge contribution to the Republican Governor's Association in 2013?

On a related note, was this job a way to make sure the Walker and Koch folks could keep a close eye on Rindfleisch as her court case made its way through the system, to make sure she didn't give up the goods on what was really happening in Milwaukee while she "worked" there during Walker's 2010 campaign?

2. A claim by the Walker folks and other right-wing oligarchs is that the governor's campaign collaborating with "issue advocacy" ("tax cuts are good") is OK vs "express advocacy" (i.e. "vote for/against Walker"). The prosecutors say the problem with that thinking is that this defense was thrown out 15 years ago in case involving a fake front group set up by Mark Block, aka "the Smoking Man" for Herman Cain, (called the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation) could not coordinate with Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign blog has a good rundown of how that played out.
It has been settled law in Wisconsin that this prohibition on coordination between candidates and interest groups applies to organizations doing election-related "issue advocacy." Application of the coordination ban to so-called "issue ad" groups was challenged in the late 1990s in the case involving a group that was found to be coordinating with Justice Jon Wilcox’s 1997 campaign for reelection to the state Supreme Court.

State election authorities heavily fined both Wilcox’s campaign as well as political operative Mark Block, who ran the issue ad-sponsoring Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation. At the time, the fines were the largest in state history for campaign finance violations. Block also was banned from involvement in Wisconsin elections for three years. The state's enforcement actions were contested in court, and ultimately were upheld in a 1999 ruling.
After Block's three-year ban ended, he signed on as the director of the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity chapter in Wisconsin (I'm sure that's just coincidence). And there as Mike McCabe mentions in the article, the endgame for the Koch crowd is to eradicate any laws relating to coordination and the subsequent disclosure of donors' names.

There's a second question that should be answered here. Given that the recall election loophole enabled candidates to raise unlimited funds, why did R.J. Johnson and others launder money like this? The only answer I can come up with is to hide the names of the donors to Walker and the GOP Senators, and to allow those people to write off taxes as a "donation" to these alleged social welfare groups. Which would be right down the Kochs' alley.

3. There are many groups that prosecutors say Wisconsin Club for Growth laundered money through in 2011 and 2012. Some of these are mentioned on page 125 and 126, ending with the email Walker sends to Karl Rove claiming that Johnson is the main point guy in this whole scheme. This includes allegedly sending $4.6 million to "Citizens for a Strong America", as well as over $1 million to Wisconsin Family Action, nearly $350,000 to Wisconsin Right to Life, and $245,000 for United Sportsmen of Wisconsin.

The prosecution also mentions the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin "were involved in coordinated absentee ballot application activities during at least the 2011 Senate recall elections. And that's where you need to remember how we first found out who United Sportsmen of Wisconsin were and are, through a story by Brad Friedman's Bradblog that mentioned United Sportsmen was part of a group giving fraudulent data on absentee ballots in the August 2011 Senate recall elections against 6 GOP Senators who voted for Act 10. And this will stun you, but their organization's roots go directly back to the Koch-Americans For Prosperity money train.
The PO Box described as the "Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center" on those mailers belonged to a Rightwing family group tied to the anti-abortion movement. A spokesperson for the group, as we reported, said that while they were part of a "coalition" with AFP, they claimed to have had no idea AFP was using their PO Box on the mailers until they started receiving them, and that they hadn't seen the mailer before it went out. For their part, AFP claimed the incorrect date was simply a "typo" in two districts where they had sent the mailings, and that "liberals" were making a "mountain out of a molehill" about it all. Late last week, however, in a followup mailing, the group admitted that it had gone out to "everyone" in all of the state Senate districts, rather than just the two where Democrats will face recall elections next week (as opposed to tomorrow's GOP recalls) and blamed the incorrect date on their printer.

The United Sportsmen of Wisconsin (USW) mailers, almost identical in form, font, content, and type-setting, as we showed, had no information about who had paid for the mailings on them, and instructed voters that they needed to return their absentee ballots to the elections clerk by August 4th --- even though ballots may be delivered to the Wisconsin election clerks as late as the close of polls on August 9th.

Since we ran our article over the weekend, which suggested, among other things, previously-undocumented coordination between AFP and USW, and since there was little information to be found about USW on the web, a number of readers have been digging in to try and figure out exactly who the so-called United Sporstmen of Wisconsin actually are, as have we.

And, whaddaya know, a bit of digging reveals that the group was very recently founded by one John W. Connors, a long-time staffer and director of Americans for Prosperity, a College Republican leader, and a rather prolific founder of a number of hard-right political front groups with a record of deception in recent Wisconsin elections.
Now that prosecutors are alleging United Sportsmen's funding came from R.J. Johnson, who took his orders fro Scott Walker, were these dirty tricks ordered to be done by Walker and/or Johnson? What about similar groups that were allegedly coordinated through these guys, and how much pay-for-play boodle was handed out in exchange for campaign contributions and other kickbacks. United Sportsmen of Wisconsin nearly got their hands on a $500,000 grant last Summer, allegedly for " hunter education training", despite there being no evidence they had done anything other than this type of ratf*ck campaigning in the 2 years they'd been in existence.

This ultimately led to the resignation of GOP Majority Leader Scott Suder, who bowed out to even take a job as a lobbyist for the paper industry (quite convenient given that Koch owns Georgia Pacific paper mills in the state, isn't it?). How much of that taxpayer money has been and is being used to fund campaigns and promise kickbacks today?

These are the kinds of questions that aren't as salacious as the "Walker criminal scheme" ones, but they may be every bit as important. As the real story with John Doe is one of hiding donors, money-laundering and tax evasion (which helps explain all the screeching about the IRS looking into the tax status of these groups- it exposes the money train). What it's led to is a cycle of campaign contributions, "independent" ads, and using the officials elected with those ads to gain connections and profits at the expense of everyone else in the state. And unlike what Chicago corruption used to do in the "good old" machine days, the WisGOP style of machine politics hasn't helped the Wisconsin economy in any way.

So what if Wisconsin gained some jobs and lowered unemployment- they should

With the release of the state-by-state jobs report for May 2014 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, we now have a little more context behind the Wisconsin DWD's May jobs release that came out on Thursday. For May, Wisconsin actually lost jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis (1,000 total, 400 in the private sector), while 36 states gained jobs, and the U.S. as a whole gained 217,000. But that came on the heels of two Wisconsin increases of a combined 16,100 private sector jobs, so some reversion could be expected.

And that's the spin that the DWD was putting out on Friday, as they tried yet another, "It's Working" release that included the following stats.
Wisconsin's unemployment rate had a statistically significant decrease between May 2013 and May 2014. (2014 5.7% v. 2013 6.8%). Wisconsin's unemployment rate has fallen for 10 consecutive months.

Wisconsin has a statistically significant private-sector job (Current Employment Statistics) increase between May 2013 and May 2014 at 38,100, which ranked 18th nationally.

Wisconsin had a statistically significant total nonfarm job (CES) increase between May 2013 and May 2014 at 47,500, which ranked 14th nationally and the best of total nonfarm job growth rate of any neighboring state.

In isolation, these numbers sound pretty good. But let's look at the nationwide and Midwestern scene and put it in perspective. First of all, we know that more than 11,000 of those gains are overestimated, as I have previously noted, as the monthly numbers listed an increase of 39,700+ private sector jobs in 2013 vs. 28,141 in the recently-released QCEW. So let's drop those year-over-year numbers to 36,500 total and 27,100 private, which isn't all that impressive at all. And I won't even mention the 9,400 increase in government jobs that has taken place, which kind of belies that whole "conservative, small government" thing.

As for unemployment haing a "statstically significant decrease"? SO WHAT! 22 other states had drops in their unemployment rate of 1.1% or more. 9 other states had unemployment rates of 5.0% or less a year ago, so they were near full employment already. Walker deserves little to no credit for a declining unemployment rate in Wisconsin, as most of the states that had relatively high unemployment in May 2013 did as well or better at getting people back to work as Wisconsin did.

In fact, among the 5 Midwestern states that had unemployment rates over 6.0% in May 2013 (the 5 east of the Mississippi), Wisconsin's drop is the LOWEST.

Unemployment drops, Midwest, May 2013-May 2014
Ind. -2.0%
Ohio -1.9%
Ill. -1.7%
Mich -1.4%
Wis. -1.1%

In addition, Wisconsin's unemployment rate of 5.7% is NOT statistically significant from the nation's 6.3%, unlike Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio. There's no accomplishment here, and in fact, the numbers suggest that it's the national recovery under President Obama that's lifting the state past the regressive Walker/WisGOP policies.

And that fact is no better illustrated than the Walker jobs gap, which grew yet again with May's job losses. We're now more than 58,000 private sector jobs behind where we'd be if we merely kept up with the rest of the country, and more than 51,000 jobs overall.

So if the Walker Administration wants to toot their own horn and claim that Wisconsin is propspering, there's only one proper two-word response. "THANKS OBAMA!" And no thanks to Walker and WisGOP.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

We used to be just like other Midwest states- then came Walker

As our governor desperately tries to spin away from documents showing he was allegedly at the center of a "criminal scheme" to help oligarchs launder campaign money and evade taxes, he tweeted this out yesterday.

At first glance, my reaction was "give me a break," but I figured I'd go to the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages and see for myself. And if you do a skin-deep survey of the years 2005-2007, which is when Burke was Commerce Secretary under Doyle, it has a shred of truth, as Wisconsin was between 37th and 41st in private sector job growth in those years, while we've been between 35th and 37th in the 3 years that Walker has been governor. Granted, that's like saying losing 90 games in a baseball season isn't as bad as losing 95, (you still suck either way), but Walker's clearly trying for Politi-crap to give him a "mostly true" for that statement and trying to show the state wasn't well-off to begin with.

However, those 3 years mentioned by Walker happened to be the 3 lowest-performing years of job growth in the Doyle regime, as shown below. It's also important to remember that Doyle was viciously opposed by a GOP-led Legislature from 2003-2007, and only got a Dem majority in both houses for 2009 and 2010 (and you'll see Wisconsin kept afloat quite well compared to the rest of the nation), while Walker has been able to shove most anything he wants through the WisGOP rubber-stamps in the Legislature during his 3 years.

QCEW private sector job growth, Dec-Dec, 2002-2013

Doyle takes office Jan. 2003
2003 +0.23% (25th in U.S.)
2004 +1.69% (30th)
2005 +0.83% (41st)
2006 +0.92% (39th)
2007 +0.33% (37th)

Recession begins December 2007
2008 -2.34% (23rd)
2009 -5.05% (29th)
2010 +1.50% (11th)

Walker takes office, Jan. 2011
2011 +1.31% (35th)
2012 +1.47% (36th)
2013 +1.20% (37th)

Bad enough that we're reverting to the bottom half of the nation, as we did for much of the 2000s, but even that fact hides just how awful the job growth record has been for the Fitzwalkerstanis. And that reason is because the Bush years were brutal for the Midwest economy, in no small part due to massive offshoring of jobs in the previously-industrial Midwest, as well as lower population growth than the rest of the nation. In every one of the years between 2003 and 2007, more than half of the 7 Midwestern states had job rankings below 30th, so it's not that surprising that Wisconsin struggled in that same period.

Walker has been lucky enough to have his 3 years of office coincide with the jobs recovery under President Obama, and the new growth in the Midwest that has happened in the wake of the auto bailout and other measures that have helped reverse the decline under Dubya. With that in mind, let's take a look at how Wisconsin has shaped up in that same period with our Midwestern neighbors, and the Walker effect becomes much more pronounced.

Doyle takes office Jan. 2003
2003 +0.23% (1st of 7 states in Midwest!)
2004 +1.69% (3rd of 7)
2005 +0.83% (5th of 7)
2006 +0.92% (3rd of 7)
2007 +0.33% (4th of 7)

Recession begins December 2007
2008 -2.34% (3rd of 7)
2009 -5.05% (4th of 7)
2010 +1.50% (3rd of 7)

Walker takes office, Jan. 2011
2011 +1.31% (LAST out of 7)
2012 +1.47% (LAST out of 7)
2013 +1.20% (6th out of 7)

So Wisconsin was a fairly normal Midwest state when it came to job growth in the Doyle years (with the exception of 2003), but under Walker they have been horrible, and the 2011-2013 3-year total job increase of 4.04% is also the worst in our region. If you had a sports team that was consistent around the middle of its division, and then had 3 years at or near the basement, there's no way you'd accept that coach staying on if you gave anything resembling a damn.

But Walker has to somehow convince people that he shouldn't get run, so that's why he's desperately shelling out $250,000 for a negative ad blitz that basically says the Doyle/Burke years were even worse, and therefore you can't risk going back to them. Too bad for him that any kind of drilling down into the numbers makes the Doyle years look prosperous compared to the crap we've seen for the last 3 1/2 years.

Forget John Doe- THIS is the primary reason Walker should be bounced in 4 1/2 months. And messaging like this from the Wisconsin Dems would be a complete winner, combining the crookedness and economic failure that has been the Walker era, with a better way forward with Burke. It has the added advantage of being true.

Friday, June 20, 2014

John Doe Deux- follow the money

I could rant a long time on yesterday's John Doe document dump that shows Governor Walker at the center of a "criminal scheme." But I'll save that for another time. Instead, I'll give you a look at the great chart the Washington Post put together based on those documents, which shows how this scheme worked.

And that's what this case has been about from Day 1- tax evasion, money laundering, and evading campaign finance and disclosure laws. And none of those items are allowed under Citizens United or McCutcheon . These fake Koch/ Bradley groups can do their OWN ads, but they can't work with Gov Walker to send funds to each other, because that's considered a campaign contribution to a candidate, and is subject to campaign finance limits and disclosure.

Anyone who tries to deflect off of this point is being dishonest, and it's why this case will be back on once the Court of Appeals overrules at least part of Judge Randa's crooked, biased decision.

As for the rest, read the account from the guy who's been on this case from the start- Capper at Cognitive Dissidence. And remember this clip from a movie about another group of GOP scumbags who were claiming a "partisan witch hunt" 40 years ago.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

2013 like 2012 and 2011- Wisconsin way behind on jobs

When today dawned, it appeared the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages would be a big deal, as we would see how Wisconsin shaped up vs. the rest of the nation in job growth for all of 2013 on the "gold standard" report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And then the Governor got named in official documents as being in the "center of a criminal scheme", and it'll knock this story off of the front pages for a couple of days.

But that doesn't mean this report should be ignored, because today's release continues to show the failure of Scott Walker's economic policies, as Wisconsin continues to be behind the rest of the nation and its Midwestern neighbors when it comes to job creation. As usual, you are welcome to click around on the QCEW's awesome interactive site to take a look at the stats yourself.

In the QCEW, Wisconsin ranked 37th in overall private sector job growth, with an increase of 1.21% (28,141 jobs). That barely kept them out of the basement for worst Midwestern job growth, and was well behind the 2.1% job growth that was seen in the US as a whole.

Private sector job growth, QCEW 2013
Mich +2.57%
Ind. +1.94%
Minn +1.91%
Iowa +1.73%
Ohio +1.71%
Wis. +1.21%
Ill. +1.20%

But it's not just 2013 that Wisconsin has struggled in when it comes to job creation. In fact, when you look at all 3 years of Scott Walker's tenure, it's DEAD LAST in the Midwest for private-sector job growth.

Private sector job growth, QCEW, Dec 2010- Dec 2013
Mich +8.71%
Ind. +6.88%
Minn +6.29%
Ohio +5.65%
Iowa +5.20%
Ill. +4.21%
Wis. +4.04%

And when you plug in the year-over-year monthly stats from this report, Wisconsin's job growth is lower than it was at the end of 2010, when Jim Doyle and the Dems handed the state's political leadership over to Walker and the GOP, and in June 2011, when Act 10 was approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Walker's first budget took effect.

Don't count on this number getting better in the future either. The May jobs report from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development showed the state lost 400 private sector jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis last month, and 1,000 overall, in a month where the U.S. added 217,000 jobs overall. With barely over 10,000 private sector jobs added since the end of 2013, don't count on Wisconsin jumping into the top half of the U.S. for job in any of the remaining 4 quarters in Scott Walker's first term, just like it hasn't since Walker's policies offically became law. And no amount of Koch ads changes that fact.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Walker's 1990s private prison scheme leads to today's mess

Well this is intriguing. The Progressive Magazine ran an article from the Center for Media and Democracy's Brendan Fischer connecting Scott Walker's past to his anti-Milwaukee present. And yes, there's a connection to a couple of names we've seen before.

One of the developments that led to Wisconsin's massive disparities in outcomes between whites and blacks is the passage of "tough on crime" measures in the 1990s, which emerged in no small part due to sensationalist media stirring up white suburban fears about minority criminals (I grew up in Tosa in this time period, don't tell me race wasn't part of the "crime issue"). This is reflected today in Milwaukee's poisonous suburb vs. city polarization -a polarization described in Alec MacGillis's cover story in the New Republic this week which went into great detail to show how Walker has used that racial division to his political advantage.

Fischer notes that Walker had a major role in developing these "lock em up" measures early in his career, which still manifests in Wisconsin's expensive and disproportionaty minority prison population.
Most notably, as a state legislator and ALEC member in the 1990s, Walker pushed ALEC-inspired tough-on-crime measures that experts say contributed to Wisconsin having the country's highest rate of African-American men behind bars. As governor, he has eliminated programs designed to track and remedy these disparities, and rolled-back efforts to soften harsh sentencing laws, even as sentencing reform gains bipartisan support across the country.

Nationally, the incarceration rate for African-American men is 6.7 percent, but it is nearly double in Wisconsin, at 13 percent. This rate is three percentage points higher than in Oklahoma, the state in second place. According to recent data, African-American men are only 6% of Wisconsin's overall population but 48% of the state's prison population.

These complex disparities don't have a single cause, but criminal justice experts say that tough sentencing laws passed in the late 1990s -- with Walker's backing -- have been a significant contributing factor.

"The explosion really took place in the year 2000 to 2008 where mandatory sentencing, three strikes was put in place and it more than tripled the population in just a few years, which meant about half of the black men in their 30s or early 40s in Milwaukee County would have spent time in the state's correctional facilities. And two-thirds of the men come from the six poorest zip codes in Milwaukee," University of Wisconsin Professor John Pawasarat told National Public Radio.
The Fischer article also links up to a Capital Times article from 1999 where then-State Rep. Walker was trying to follow the ALEC-influenced policy of having state prisons be run by private, for-profit corporations, with more prisoners being imported in the name of jobs and cash.
Walker's proposals go way beyond pending legislation to buy or lease the Stanley prison from a private company. That prison would be operated by the state.

One of Walker's proposals would hand over the operation of Wisconsin state prisons to private companies, allowing them to take on a responsibility the state has held exclusively since 1851. No action has been taken yet on that bill.

His other proposal would clear the way for private companies to incarcerate convicts from other states, opening Wisconsin to a free-market trade in U.S. prisoners. That bill passed through Walker's committee last week and may reach the full Assembly in November.
And look who's one of the groups lobbying Walker and others in the State Legislature to get in on the prison-profit game- Wackenhut Corportation! Remember them? This Rachel Maddow story from the time of the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising may jog your memory. Walker's sweetheart deal with Wackenhut and his shoddy treatment of County courthouse guards presaged similar lies and union-busting he did as Governor. Also note that Maddow's rightful analysis that Act 10 was a political move to give GOPs a leg up in elections.

Of course, Walker's privatization ploy ended up costing Milwaukee County taxpayers more than it would have cost to keep the unionized guards in the first place. This is yet another example of the pay-for-play mentality that this governor has, and I thank Brendan Fischer for finding these articles which enabled me to see Wackenhut's involvement in Scott Walker's prison privatization schemes from the 1990s. Those moves and the ALEC support behind it ties the circle together to explain the awful situation we see today in Wisconsin, with the worst racial disparities in America along with extreme political polarization, and run by a failing, corrupt governor that is driving the state into the gutter.

Colbert notes Scotty's not "Unintimidated" on marriage equality

Good stuff here. "This is a personal matter between [Scott Walker] and his pollster."

"I am passionate about my unwillingness to express or say the words."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Weathering the storms

Last night featured some nasty tornadoes that blew through Southern Wisconsin, with winds up to 120 miles an hour. This caused serious damage to many buildings on and around the UW-Platteville campus, as well as in Verona, where an elementary school was among those places damaged. Madison also had several homes suffer damage (we were spared, fortunately), and power outages were reported throughout these areas.

Gov. Walker surveyed this elementary school in Verona as well as the UW-Platteville campus to give a more thorough accounting to the feds, so the state can give that information to the feds in the hopes of getting a federal disaster declaration, much as Walker did 2 years ago in light of massive flooding near Superior. The storm will lead to huge costs for UW-Platteville andthe Verona school district, with new expenses for previous unforeseen repairs being required. An interesting sidelight to this is that the UW System's budget was just approved by the Board of Regents earlier this month, including all tuition and room and board rates. Obviously, this was with the assumption that Platteville's dorms and football stadium would be operating at full strength, and if that is not the case when school starts in 2 1/2 months, there could be some serious budgetary adjustments to come if there is not state and/or federal aid coming, and not just at the Platteville campus.

In addition, the tornadoes are causing numerous disruptions to homes and streets, and the extra up-front costs involved in these expenses could also cause a burden without other outside assistance. There may be an assumption of risk and regular "Act of God" funds set aside, but I have a hard time believing individuals, insurance companies and the communities that got hit by the storms were counting on something this severe.

Ironically, there was another story on weather-related budget issues in the news today, as the Appleton Post-Crescent mentioned several communities in their area are already feeling a budget pinch from the Polar Vortex winter.
...the phenomenon also took a heavy toll on snow- and ice-removal budgets in Appleton, Kaukauna, Menasha and Neenah.

A review by Post-Crescent Media shows the four cities overspent their 2013 snow- and ice-removal budgets by 17 percent to 44 percent.

It also shows the cities largely have spent their 2014 snow- and ice-removal budgets in the first few months of the year, leaving little or no money for winter storms that might occur in November and December.

“This is as bad as I can recall,” Neenah Finance Director Mike Easker said. “It’s not only what happened at the end of December, but all of a sudden we’re behind the eight ball in the beginning of the year. We’ve literally spent the entire weather budget in the first three months of the year.”
Those cities were able to cover their large expenses in 2013 by moving money from other areas of the budget, such as not buying pieces of equipment or by using savings in other departments. But that also means that it becomes much more difficult to pull from those sources if we get more snow before the end of this year, and deferred maintenance and equipment now means more expenses that have to be paid for in the future.

So far, the State Legislature hasn't made a move to make up the difference caused by excessive local street maintenance costs in 2014, but communities in Wisconsin will see an increase in state aids of a little over $7 million statewide for 2015 (as noted on Page 14 of this report). Also, there is $9 million set aside for
...a sum sufficient appropriation from the general fund to fund a transfer to the transportation fund in the second year of each biennium equal to the amount of disaster aid payments made in that biennium in excess of $1 million for any single disaster event. Estimate the transfer at $9,000,000 GPR in 2014-15, which would increase estimated transportation fund revenue in 2014-15 by the same amount.
However, it remains to be seen if that $9 million is enough to handle the damage and repairs to state facilities that result from this storm alone. And that's before bringing up extra costs from the winter, or other natural disasters that have happened in the last year and are sure to happen in the next 12 months.

It is fortunate that we are only talking about repairs from the tornadoes today as opposed to loss of life like we did in places like Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama in recent years. But there is no doubt that these Wisconsin weather events are carrying a price tag, and in a state that already has budget deficits and major road work looming, the need to clean up and fix structures damaged by these storms just adds to those fiscal problems.

Monday, June 16, 2014

More on that New Republic article and the #wiright cesspool

1. I wanted to discuss the amazing New Republic cover story on "The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker" a bit more. There are other passages that I didn't have the time to go into this morning that show just how integral racism and propaganda are to Walker's political existence, and the Wisconsin Republican Party. Let's start with this one, where author Alec MacGillis visits the GOP convention that was held last month.
I arrived in Milwaukee on the weekend of the Wisconsin Republican Party’s convention. The crowd assembling at the Hilton was mostly male and nearly all white. The only visible diversity was in the age of the participants, with a large contingent of blue-blazered College Republicans milling alongside older men with canes. During a break in the proceedings, Jeff Johns, the genial chairman of the Ozaukee County Republican Party, warned me about Fond du Lac Avenue, which bisects the black swath of northwest Milwaukee. “You don’t want to travel that at night,” he says. “You’re basically traveling the colored section.” He also voiced suspicions about Democratic turnout operations in Milwaukee, with campaigns “picking people up for their votes” and rewarding them with “free meals and benefits.”
And how is Mr. Johns so sure the people in the "colored section" get these "free meals and benefits"? Why, Charlie Sykes and his comrades on Milwaukee's airwaves told him.
On Sunday morning, as the convention concluded with a closed-door prayer breakfast (because Jesus hated helping poor outsiders...), I headed to my hotel and flipped on the television, just in time for Charlie Sykes’s weekly show. One of Sykes’s panelists raised the issue of “an incident in the fifteenth aldermanic district where supporters of a liberal candidate bought meals for voters.” The fifteenth district is mostly black, the candidate is black, and the former acting mayor who provided the lunches to voters is black. But the panelist didn’t mention any of that. For his audience, who live beyond Fond du Lac Avenue and its check-cashing outlets and shuttered storefronts, over the city line where the humble frame houses and bungalows give way abruptly to McMansion subdivisions with names like Harmony Hills and River Heights, he didn’t need to.
Walker's supporters in the 262 know their "facts", despite the fact that they have nothing close to direct contact with those minority groups they denigrate, and differences of opinion are not tolerated. It results in a scary groupthink that has all but eliminated decent, everyday Republicans we were acquainted with, and has replaced them with Walkerbots that demand purity and acquiring power by any means necessary.
In the past dozen years, two moderate state senators in metro Milwaukee have lost their jobs in Republican primaries after falling out of favor with SykesBelling, while a third has moved sharply right to avoid their wrath. “The listenership is just so much higher here,” says Scott Jensen, the former Republican speaker of the state Assembly. “And the ability to get people to march in step when [the shows] are all hammering the same themes is extraordinary.” Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican state senator in southwestern Wisconsin who is retiring this year, is blunter. “Talk radio gets going and some of my colleagues end up wetting themselves,” he says. “It’s appalling.”

2. There's a good reason convicted criminal and voucher lobbyist Scooter Jensen notes that right-wingers are able to "march in step" in SE Wisconsin- because they all work for the same people. In addition to the article's revelation of Walker working hand-in-hand with the SykesBelling monster, remember Bruce Murphy's article from last October in Urban Milwaukee talking about how the Bradley Foundation and other Wisconsin right-wing organizations had created a propaganda behemoth. In case you wonder why right-wingers seem to operate in a different world than the rest of us, this bubble-world network helps to exaplin why, as groups such as the Bradleys and the Kochs fund "news" organizations like MacIver, the Wisconsin Reporter, and Media Trakkkers.
The overlap between these various groups is remarkable. The managing editor of Right Wisconsin is Brian Fraley who helped launch the MacIver Institute, where he continues to serve as a Senior Fellow. The Associate Editor of Right Wisconsin is Collin Roth, who worked for two years for Media Trackers. Then there is the ubiquitous conservative blogger James Wigderson, who also does columns for MacIver Institute and Right Wisconsin.

When it came to the fabricated story by Media Trackers on the supposed harassment of a gay Republican, Sykes had writer Brian Sikma, who hatched the story, on his show, and read some of the erroneous information on the air.

But to complete the circle here, you have to bring in the role of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Its columnist Christian Schneider wrote a column spreading the story on the supposed harassment of the gay Republican and Schneider and the newspaper later removed the column from the JS website.

For some time the Journal Sentinel ran columns by both Schneider and Mike Nichols, though both were getting paid by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, whose major funding comes from the Bradley Foundation. (Sykes has also been paid by the WPRI to edit its “Wisconsin Interest” online magazine.)

After I raised questions about this, Schneider stepped down from WPRI. And last month, the Journal Sentinel announced that Schneider was hired on staff. The position is part-time, according to JS editorial page editor David Haynes.
Shoot, it's the media version of a Citizens for a Strong America/United Sportsmen of Wisconsin "incest and money-laundering" party. The Wisconsin Republican Party should be thought of as a cold machine, both in terms of the top-down hierarchy that calls it shots, and in its uncaring method of "divide and conquer" governance.

3. As usual, Charlie Pierce sums it up well when it comes to our Gov, his spokesmodels in the media, and the mentality that his "divide and conquer" bubble-world supporters have. This closing paragraph also contains honesty that the average Wisconsin media member doesn't have the guts to use.
Now, it can be argued, seriously, that being the white guy who triumphed over all the collected Others of the conservative hatescape is a sure path to success, at least through the Republican primaries. Nonetheless, as MacGillis points out, Walker has been positively slavering in front of some of the worst that the "maintstream" American right has to offer. Read the whole thing. From my own experience that, if anything, MacGillis is soft-pedaling the viciousness of people like Mark Belling, who once said that cannibal murderer Jeffrey Dahmer represented the "logical extension of the gay lifestyle." That's the primordial ooze out of which Scott Walker crawled and into which he regularly returns. He is a beer-and-brat Lester Maddox. I guess the essential question for the country is whether or not this is a good thing to be or not.
It's good if you're part of Scotty's in-crowd and get some money and power sent your way, or if you're a stockholder in a media company that gets big money from the many political ads that result from this environment. But it sucks if you have a shred of decency and actually care about your state improving itself in the 21st Century.

Walker, Milwaukee talk radio skewered for their racism

This is an absolute must-read. The New Republic's Alec MacGillis went in-depth on "The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker." Click here to see the whole thing, and it shows just how connected Walker and his supporters are to race-baiting, and the toxic atmosphere that festers on Milwaukee talk radio. It also shows that this is a model that has zero chance of winning in a nationwide election that features much more racial and media diversity than we get in Wisconsin.

Here's a brief example:
Walker’s growing profile served him well as he advanced through the political ranks. In 2002, the Democratic executive of Milwaukee County, which encompasses the 600,000-person city and 355,000 in its inner suburbs, resigned amid a pension scandal. Walker won the special election and proceeded to spend the next eight years tussling with the Democratic-led county board over taxes and spending. He succeeded in making deep cuts to county parks and public transit; once, he sent layoff notices to county workers so they would pressure the council to buckle to his budget demands. So often did he call in to Belling’s show—to chat on air or to spin the host during a commercial break—that he had access to an emergency-only phone line to the studio that was off- limits to station employees, even for calls to family. “It was essentially the ‘zombies are rising’ line,” says [Christopher] Terry, the former WISN employee.

During this period, the WOW counties continued to expand. But unlike suburbs elsewhere, they had not grown more diverse. Today, less than 2 percent of the WOW counties’ population is African American and less than 5 percent is Hispanic. According to studies by the Brookings Institution and Brown University, the Milwaukee metro area is one of the top two most racially segregated regions in the country. The WOW counties were voting Republican at levels unseen in other Northern suburbs; one needed to look as far as the white suburbs around Atlanta and Birmingham for similar numbers. The partisan gulf between Milwaukee and its suburbs in presidential elections has now grown wider than in any of the nation’s 50 largest cities, except for New Orleans, according to the Journal Sentinel series.
And here's another, which shows just how outsized the influence Milwaukee talk radio has on GOP politics in Wisconsin, as well as the high level of cynicism of a certain WTMJ morning talker.
Christopher Terry, who worked with Belling at WISN and now teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says that Belling is more of a “true believer,” whereas “if Sykes thought there was money on the other side of the street, he would sell out in a second.”

Over time, the two shows became known by a single name: “SykesBelling.” In the halls of the statehouse, Milwaukee City Hall, and area county governments, elected officials, particularly insufficiently conservative Republicans, lived in dread of denunciations by the hosts and the tsunami of angry calls from listeners that would follow. Sykes is credited with, among other accomplishments, having blocked public funding for needle-exchange programs and having helped drive into bankruptcy an urban mall after harping on security issues there. In April 2013, he played a clip of “It’s Free (Swipe Yo EBT),” a viral video produced by a right-wing activist in which an African American woman raps about liquor stores where one can allegedly use a food-stamp card. Returning to the same theme later in the year, Sykes declared, “The number of Americans who receive means-tested government benefits— welfare—now outnumbers those who are year-round full-time workers.” No other midsize city has this kind of sustained and energized conservative forum for discussion of local politics. The only counterweights on the left are Wisconsin Public Radio, with its implicit but restrained liberalism, a lefty F.M. talk show in Madison with limited reach, and two African American talk-radio stations in Milwaukee, one of which recently went out of business.
Now here's my question- where's the rest of the media stepping up to do something about it? This toxic, divisive brand of Milwaukee talk radio has helped cause an environment that has the Milwaukee area lagging in terms of competing for talent and quality of life. And that "divide and conquer" mentality in the Governor's office since 2010 has led Wisconsin towards the bottom in Midwest job creation and other economic measures.

Does the prospect of more ad money trump all when it comes to Journal Communications, Lee Enterprises, Gannett, and other media companies, even if it means the state and its democracy goes down the drain? So far, that answer has been yes, and those organizations should be held every bit as responsible as Scott Walker for the damage they have inflicted onto this once-great state.

And here's another question. Since the article makes it clear that SykesBelling are working in tandem with Walker, doesn't that mean Walker should be associated with every race-baiting and inflammatory comment made during their daily hate-a-thons? I say yes.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dropping out of NYC

Hanging in the La Guardia airport after a long weekend taking trains up and down Manhattan. The infrastructure and planning involved in the subway system is mind-boggling, with 3 and 4 different lines running at different levels in the same place. It shows that great public works aren't things that can't be done (unlike what many 262 types say), but it's a matter of priorities and will.

It's also a lot harder to be fat in NYC, because walking and stairs are such a part of everyday life. Also being in contact with other cultures is unavoidable, but you can also insulate yourself into your own social class quite easily, depending on where you shop, eat, and live.

Glad to be heading home, but it's been a great getaway (other than the 8.75% sales tax-that's quite a kicker).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dropping into NYC

Just landed at La Guardia, as me and the missus are celebrating 1 year of marriage and hopefully a Brewers series win over the Mets. So don't expect much in posting the next few days.

In the meantime, I'd rather you groove with some of the greatest ambassadors NYC has ever had.

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wisconsin GDP lagging. Badly.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released their annual GDP by state report today. And it offered more proof that no, Fitzwalkerstani policies are not "working" in Wisconsin.

At first glance, Wisconsin's 2013 GDP seems merely mediocre, 27th in the nation at a growth rate of 1.7%. However, that was below the U.S. GDP growth rate of 1.8% for 2013, and was the second-lowest in the Midwest.

But what makes this report look worse is the fact that previous years were also revised in this report, and 2012 was revised way down, which makes the 1.7% in 2013 come from a lower base.

Revisions to Wisconsin GDP 2010-2012
2010- Previous: +3.1%, Revised: +2.8%
2011- Previous +1.3%, Revised: +1.7%
2012- Previous +1.5%, Revised +1.0%

That 1.0% growth in 2012 was the slowest growth in the Midwest, and well below the U.S. rate of 2.5%. So in two full years of Act 10 and Walker budgets being in force, the result is growth of 1.0% and 1.7%. And when you look at the three years Walker and WisGOP has been in power, Wisconsin is a clear laggard when it comes to overall GDP growth.

Total GDP growth, Midwest 2010-2013
Ohio +7.70%
Minn +7.50%
Iowa +7.15%
U.S. +6.06%
Mich +5.82%
Ind. +4.92%
Wis. +4.48%
Ill. +3.96%

This is why it blows my mind when I read state polls and more than half of the state thinks the state is "going in the right direction." Other than hometown pride, how can you look at economic numbers like this, combine it with the $1.8 billion in shortfalls that have to be made up in the next budget, and possibly believe things are OK? It is disgraceful how far back we are compared to most of our neighbors, and I don't know why we accept a level of subpar performance in our economy that we'd never accept from the Brewers, Packers, or Badgers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vegas cop killing- it's not an isolated vaccuum

The story about the Las Vegas cop killers would have infuriated me had it happened a couple of years ago. But nowadays, it's just another mass shooting by another white guy driven over the edge, just like it was when Gabby Giffords was shot in Arizona and when all those children were massacred in Connecticut. And unlike those other 2 incidents, the connection between this incident and right-wing rhetoric is pretty obvious.
Witnesses told police one of the shooters yelled “This is the start of a revolution” before shooting the officers. Gillespie later said he could not confirm that.

The shooters then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. They then covered the officers with something that featured the Gadsden flag, a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, “Don’t tread on Me.”

The flag is named for Christopher Gadsden a Revolutionary War general who designed it. It has recently come back in vogue as an adopted symbol of the American tea party movement.
The couple that carried out the killings also made the trip to the Cliven Bundy ranch when he attempted to defy federal agents who asked him to pay debts he owed the government, and had numerous posts on social media discussing guns, revolution, "big government", and a need to fight against the New World Order.

Gee, where do you think this got those ideas from? Couldn't have been a result of the poison that's pushed all day and night on Faux News and AM radio could it? It couldn't be the propping up of deadbeats like Cliven Bundy as some kind of "patriot" on Faux News that made these guys sympathetic to the cause, did it?

Somehow, I'm not thinking Roger Ailes is thinking about the effect his corrosive, dishonest network is having, and is calling in BillO and company to "clean up their act." Not after smearing a returned POW and his family over the last week, as well as delivering racist, anti-Muslim rhetoric on top of it. Jon Stewart did a great job showing that disgusting act yesterday.

I'll also remind you that less than 2 years ago, Wisconsin had our own mass killing on a Sunday, as a white supremacist shot up a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek and killed 6 people before killing himself. And did that slow down the hate mongers in the Wisconsin GOP? OF COURSE NOT! Sen. Ron Johnson is still calling Obamacare the "greatest assault on freedom in the nation's history." In addition to the ridiculous mentality that somehow equates more people getting health care and the resulting control over their lives as "an assault on freedom", it also sends the unspoken message that the Obama Administration is a group of people that should be actively fought against. Combine that with deciding to take Barry Goldwater's statement of "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" literally, and why do we get shocked that these people get driven over the edge and perform these violent acts?

And because Republicans and GOP media don't care to exercise even a modicom of forethought over what happens after they make certain statements, and because our gutless media refuses to make them take responsibility for the inevitable violence that follows, this cycle of poisonous hate and division continues. May I remind you of who still gets 3 hours of airtime every day on AM 1130 in Milwaukee and AM 1310 in Madison?

And let's face it, if you're listening to Icki McKenna, you're not exactly a rational, decent person to begin with.

So I think it's well beyond time to take the GOP and their media enablers to task, and it's time to make every one of these cynical a-holes pay for riling up a stew that is rotting this country from the inside. We should take the names of advertisers and donors who support this rhetoric and expose it to the general public. Anyone who starts spouting off about prepping for "when the shit goes down" and fetishizing guns on Facebook? We gotta call that stuff to the cops, because it's stopped being figurative hyperbole far too often.

I'm done with it. It isn't a fucking game, and it isn't fucking "entertainment."