Thursday, December 30, 2010

A reader disagrees about accepting back $800million in rail development tax dollars.

A regular contributor to the letters to the editor section of the Daily News, Mr. Schmiege disagreed with me when I suggested we should have let the feds give Wisconsin back $800 million of our own tax dollars.

All jobs are not created equal

University of Wisconsin-Washington County philosophy professor Mark Peterson doesn’t get it. In his recent editorial he blasted yet-to-be Gov. Scott Walker for killing the train that would have connected Milwaukee and Madison, rejecting $800 million of “our money” from the feds and eliminating the potential for 13,000 jobs (9,570 permanent).

At least, Peterson tacitly admitted that the train was a make-work project. He didn’t talk about the few riders who would be spending over $100 a day to ride the train, subsidized by every Jim and Jane in Wisconsin, and perhaps beyond. He didn’t talk about the $3 billion deficit facing Walker and the state, or the $2 trillion federal deficit. No, he is all for spreading the wealth or debt, as it were, no matter what it costs in real, useful jobs.

The classic take-away from the professor’s piece is this, ‘What’s wrong with a make-work project?” and “Do we think the jobs are real only if the business community ... creates them?”

A job is a job, but not all jobs are created equal. Jobs that produce no genuine benefit tend to go away under capitalism – as they should. Not so under socialism. We usually have to add to them.

In the train case, the money is going to other states. It’s too bad all states don’t reject federal exploitation. Perhaps the federal budget could be balanced, and the money could be kept in the states.

Mark takes potshots at corporations that “exported Wisconsin jobs” and won’t pay “wages that once-upona-time created the American Middle Class.” He doesn’t understand that wage rates depend upon what people are willing to pay for products and services. He may as well blame you for not paying more for your Christmas purchases. Government has more responsibility for exporting jobs than do corporations.

Monte Schmiege, West Bend

What's most interesting to me here is that Mr. Schmiege may well be the only person in Washington County who actually addresses me by my professional titles... which is nice, but I think he's being sarcastic, I can't tell.

Regardless, thank you once again Mr. Schmiege for your observations.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Are Right-Wing Libertarian Internet Trolls Getting Paid to Dumb Down Online Conversations?

Or are they doing it to amuse themselves while eroding civil discourse? :^)

Are Right-Wing Libertarian Internet Trolls Getting Paid to Dumb Down Online Conversations? | Media | AlterNet

"Articles about the environment are hit harder by such tactics than any others. I love debate, and I often wade into the threads beneath my columns. But it’s a depressing experience, as instead of contesting the issues I raise, many of those who disagree bombard me with infantile abuse, or just keep repeating a fiction, however often you discredit it. This ensures that an intelligent discussion is almost impossible - which appears to be the point."

Not that this sort of thing happens here. ;^)


Fox report: Favre to be fined, not suspended - JSOnline

Fox report: Favre to be fined, not suspended - JSOnline

Why the Tax Deal Confirms the Republican Worldview

Why the Tax Deal Confirms the Republican Worldview | TPMCafe

Americans want to know what happened to the economy and how to fix it. At least Republicans have a story - the same one they've been flogging for thirty years. The bad economy is big government's fault and the solution is to shrink government.

Here's the real story. For three decades, an increasing share of the benefits of economic growth have gone to the top 1 percent. Thirty years ago, the top got 9 percent of total income. Not they take in almost a quarter. Meanwhile, the earnings of the typical worker have barely budged.

The vast middle class no longer has the purchasing power to keep the economy going. (The rich spend a much lower portion of their incomes.) The crisis was averted before now only because middle-class families found ways to keep spending more than they took in - by women going into paid work, by working longer hours, and finally by using their homes as collateral to borrow. But when the housing bubble burst, the game was up.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tea Party's true colors. That was fast.

Maine's Incoming Teabagger Gov Gives Own Daughter A $41K Job | Crooks and Liars

590,000 Republican Lies About Public Employees | Crooks and Liars

590,000 Republican Lies About Public Employees | Crooks and Liars

The government is now impeding an economic recovery. But it's not for the reasons you often hear...It's because, at the state and local level, it's firing people...Consider this: If we only counted private-sector jobs, we'd have had positive jobs reports for the last nine months. As it is, public-sector losses have wiped out private-sector gains for the past four months.

Delusional GOP Poses Serious Threat to America

The craziness continues.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Self-made American myth #2: Who makes $250K?

Self-made American myth #2: Who makes $250K? | political madness

Any idea what proportion of American families make more than $250,000 a year? Or, to potentially make it easier, any idea what proportion of families in your state make more than $250,000 a year?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know—most people don’t. The actual number, nationwide is somewhere less than 3% of families earn more than $250,000 a year. What did the survey respondents say when asked this question? The average response was close to 17%!—meaning your typical survey respondent thinks that almost 1 in 5 families in America earn that kind of money, when the answer is closer to 1 in 50!

The REAL Reason Why the Tea Parties Were Stupid

The REAL Reason Why the Tea Parties Were Stupid « The Reality-Based Community

3 Reasons Right-Wing Lies About Joblessness Stick

Wow, because it turns out that Conservatives are the dreamy-eyed idealists.

I knew it.

3 Reasons Right-Wing Lies About Joblessness Stick | Economy | AlterNet

Of course, this story line makes no sense. From liberal Paul Krugman to archconservative Alan Greenspan, economists agree that joblessness is not caused by unemployment benefits. With five applicants for every job opening, the overarching problem is a lack of available positions—not a dearth of personal initiative.

Class Warfare Begins: Conservatives Want To Tax The Poor

Of course.

FreakOutNation » Class Warfare Begins: Conservatives Want To Tax The Poor

Friday, December 24, 2010

Stop the war on Santa!

Hi everyone,

I hope your winter holiday brings you everything you deserve.

This week's column.

Stop the war on Santa!

The so-called war against Christmas is a war against the past, but the war against Santa is a war against the present(s!).

The Santa-driven economy is strong but, in keeping with November’s national vote in favor of what Citibank has dubbed the new American Plutonomy, we need to be on guard against any backsliding. Money was crowned king in this last election and so, this year, we need to protect American profits by standing strong with Santa against the enemies of the Holiday Shopping Season – the most important economic institution of the fiscal year.

Our new corporate plutocrats, and their recently elected elves in Congress, have taken a patriotic stand against all those crazy sidebars to history: you know, stuff like social justice, remembering the poor, allowing sentimentality or even morals to intrude on the bottom line, and any regulations imposed on any company at any time.

While it’s true that the Holiday Shopping Season does include a few religious holidays and that these traditions are comforting in difficult times, remember: a wise manager knows you can’t run an economy on comfort or happiness. Plus, the Establishment Clause in the Constitution protects serious-minded business people from bleeding heart traditionalists who want to erode the season’s economic impact by placing religious or moral – or human – constraints on free trade.

Like giving workers a day off on Christmas, for instance. Why should Americans who want to improve their circumstances by working extra hours be locked out of their jobs by government red tape? Why should businesses have to sacrifice profits, the life blood of this country, for the sake of giving lazy employees a day to watch football and eat too much?

This nonsense has snuck into our national narrative. Consider the historical revisionism of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Over the past hundred years, sentimental intellectual-elitist theologians and their Hollywood-based co-conspirators – people who have never had to meet a payroll or pay taxes on capital gains – have done everything in their power to turn a beautiful novel, one in which Dickens documents the common sense application of free market economics, into some kind of morality play.

Look more carefully into the real character of Ebenezer Scrooge and you’ll be surprised to find that he’s not an amoral and miserly misanthrope; he’s a talented executive who understands how the real world works and protects his employees by protecting his profits. After a long night courageously fending off malicious ghosts who, one after another, attempt to convince him to abandon his fiscally sound economic commitments, he puts on a big spread for his family and then subsidizes Tiny Tim’s health-care package.

Let’s just cut to the chase: Would any of that Christmas morning joy have happened if Scrooge weren’t rich? The revisionists always get sanctimonious about Bob Cratchit having to work (gasp!) on Christmas but, as we all know, it’s the rich who create the jobs. Where would Bob Cratchit have been without Scrooge? Collecting lumps of coal along the railroad tracks in the dark of winter, that’s where. Without Scrooge he wouldn’t have had a job in the first place and, without that job, he never would have been able to support all those children and, most telling of all, without the good will and financial foresight of his boss – whose discipline and restraint allowed the invisible hand of the market to work the real magic in this story, the magic that guaranteed Mr. Cratchit a salary – Tiny Tim would have grown up lame and unable to work.

“A Christmas Carol” is not a story about the moral and spiritual dangers of greed – and the possibility of human redemption born out of compassion and charity. That’s just crazy talk. It’s about the miracle of trickledown economics, an economics that makes it possible to say “God bless us every one.” Saying “God bless us every one” is easy – creating jobs, that’s the heavy lifting.

This explains the recent, and valiant, efforts to curb unemployment benefits by fiscally responsible members of Congress. If you take the misery out of unemployment, people won’t be forced to take lower salaries which, after all, improve profit margins. Worst of all, if you take the misery out of life, then people would be happier and, as every Scrooge out there knows, what matters – the economy – isn’t interested in your happiness.

So while the narcotic blizzard of this Holiday Shopping Season swirls around your head, like egg nog and rum in a high speed blender, pay careful attention to where your true happiness lies – and to the lies that keep you from your true happiness.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reaganomics Redux

Merry Christmas everyone!

Reaganomics Redux

Since Ronald Reagan was president, median hourly wages have barely budged, and America's vast working and middle classes have taken home a steadily smaller share of the nation's income (adjusted for inflation). The typical male worker today is earning less than the typical male worker thirty years ago.

Yet the richest 1 percent of Americans is now taking home a larger percentage of the nation's income than at any time since 1928. And we recall what happened in 1929.

Governor-elect Walker needs better political "training"

Hi everyone,

Sorry about the terrible pun, but it looks like our next governor is going to make that sort of thing easy.

You might have seen it in the news, but the Feds pulled high-speed railroad development money from Wisconsin and Ohio last week. Our governor elect was opposed to taking federal money from the beginning of his campaign so, now that he's won, the feds said "okay" and moved the funds to the other states in the running.

Saturday's column

Gov.-elect needs political "training"

The best joke I’ve seen so far about Scott Walker’s job creation program is this one:

" I hear Scott Walker is already creating jobs – in Florida and California."

Except, of course, it’s no joke. Walker, who claimed that his election meant Wisconsin is open for business, has already managed to cost Wisconsin 13,000 jobs and he isn’t even governor yet. Pretty funny stuff.

Things have changed a lot since the last time we had a Republican governor. Try as I might, I cannot imagine Tommy Thompson, with whom I often disagreed but who’s actions I always understood, throwing away $800 million in relatively free federal funding. Tommy would have made the appropriate noises about wasteful Washington spending, and then put the interests of Wisconsin’s families first.

Here’s what Walker cost those families: 4,732 construction jobs and 9,570 permanent jobs after construction was completed. That’s about $173 million in wages Wisconsin families will never see now that Gov.-Elect Walker has stuck to his guns.

One of his complaints was that this railroad was another stupid government make-work project. Well, what’s wrong with a make-work project in a state where so many people are out of work? Is the problem that the feds are sponsoring it? Do we think the jobs are real only if the business community to creates them?

That hasn’t worked out very well. The manufacturing sector which once dominated our industries took their profits, exported Wisconsin jobs to China and now blames Wisconsin workers for wanting to earn the kind of wages that once-upon-a time created the American Middle Class.

Bad Middle Class. Who do you think you are anyway? Shut up and be grateful, you peasants.

While we wait for our economic leaders to, well, to start leading – which we can expect now that they’ve bought and paid for the legislature and governor’s office in Madison – why not accept a federally funded railroad? I mean, the tax dollars they were going to send us are, after all, OUR MONEY. Remember paying your taxes? Wouldn’t you have liked to see $810 million come back to Wisconsin?

Walker didn’t toss away someone else’s money – he gave away your money; and he gave it away to Illinois and Florida and California. I wonder if they’ll send a thank you note, or maybe a gift box with some of that California cheese I keep hearing about.

Walker did raise the question of how much this would cost the state in the long run – a good question and a surprising one coming from the party that has lately tied its economic yachts to the anchor of short-term profit. But, his true colors eventually showed themselves. Walker claimed this was a bad deal because operating expenses would stick the state for about $7.5 million a year after construction was finished.

This is disingenuous for at least two reasons: 1. $7.5 million works out to about four-tenths of one percent (0.4 percent) of the state’s $2.1 billion annual budget for transportation infrastructure and 2. federal subsidies – like the subsidy for the Hiawatha Line between Milwaukee and Chicago – would probably knock that down to $750,000 a year: three fewer zeros and less than it costs to operate the governor’s mansion. Frankly, that sounds like a pretty good deal – especially in a state with 7.8 percent unemployment (as of October 2010).

But Walker clearly isn’t interested in the long-term investment potential. Milwaukee already spent about $10 million to help set up Talgo, the Spanish company that came to Wisconsin (and brought real jobs with it) to build trains for this route. Talgo is now thinking about pulling up stakes and moving someplace where trains are wanted – a good business decision and one precipitated by a lousy political decision. This is one reason why Robert Kraig from Citizen Action of Wisconsin called Walker’s anti-job, anti-train position “economic treason.”

I’m afraid I have to disagree with Mr. Kraig on a technicality. For it to be treason, Mr. Walker would have had to lie about his intentions – he hasn’t. He claimed all along to be opposed to any investment in this railway project.

People voted him in with eyes wide open; it’s just that elections have consequences. Voters who were persuaded by the blitzkrieg of billionaire funded political infomercials for Republican “pro-job” candidates this fall shot themselves, and the state, in the foot. They elected a candidate who promised job creation and then found a way to eliminate 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin even before moving into the governor's mansion. California and Florida will be laughing all the way to their new train stations.

I never thought I’d say it but: Tommy, wherever you are, please phone home.

Turning down our own tax dollars because accepting them would be bad for us? Who's the Nanny now?


Friday, December 17, 2010

Glenn Beck Claims that Jesus Christ Opposed Social Justice

Oh, and here I thought that last one was the topper. Silly me.

Glenn Beck Claims that Jesus Christ Opposed Social Justice

Does this mean I only have to love the people who deserve it? -- or who can afford it?

House Republicans Block Child Marriage Prevention Act

So, over in the Senate they're blocking the 9/11 responders bill, they're thrilled about a judge blocking a provision in the new health care bill that Republicans inserted in the first place, and now the House Republicans are blocking a bill to help prevent child marriages.

Their owners must like lots of babies as new cheap labor.

House Republicans Block Child Marriage Prevention Act

9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster

More proof about what's really important to the current crop of Republicans.

9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 12/16/10 - Video Clip | Comedy Central

A preview of Saturday's column: Walker makes Wisconsin a new joke in CA.

Oh yeah. He did.

Wisconsin, Ohio and federal stimulus funds: California is happy to take your money -

Remarkably, the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio seem to have taken us up on an offer so disadvantageous that the most shameless infomercial producer would hesitate to promote it. After being awarded a combined $1.2 billion in stimulus money to build rail projects — $810 million for a train from Milwaukee to Madison in Wisconsin and $385 million for a rail line linking Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland in Ohio — the governors turned it down. Instead, it will be distributed to train projects in 13 other states, with California being the biggest single beneficiary.

Why would they do such a thing? Because it would cost taxpayer money to operate the rail lines after they're built. Scott Walker, Republican governor-elect of Wisconsin, fretted that his state's train would cost $7.5 million a year to operate. As train supporters pointed out to the New York Times, this is sort of like turning down a free car because you don't want to have to pay for gasoline and insurance. Not only did Walker and Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich, also a Republican, ignore the construction jobs the projects would have created, but they ignored the positive impact on their states' economies, freeways and environment that the trains would have brought to future generations.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hamilton on government.

For the Tea Partiers who think this is about money or morality.

‎''Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of man will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.'' Alexander Hamilton

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Pearl Harbor Day for American education?

Hi everyone,

Back after a couple of weeks buried underneath piles of grading and just in time for the ironically timed December 7th release of the OECD's report on education.

Oy veh.

Saturday's column

Dec. 7, 2010, a day that will live in infamy
We snooze on schools and lose footing to other nations

If you found out that America’s strategic position in the global marketplace had been eroded and that our future economic and political security was at stake, would you get out of bed and try to do something about it? Or would you ignore the bombs, hit the snooze alarm and roll over? Let’s find out.

Pearl Harbor Day isn’t just for memories any more. On Dec. 7 this year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released the results of their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) comparing the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds across 70 countries.

The United States took a hit – and this time it was our own fault.

In reading, math, and science. the United States landed well behind Shanghai, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Slovenia. The United States is in the middle of the pack along with Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Portugal.

Yes, really. Slovenia.

The list starts to blur the urgency of the situation, so here’s a number to hang on to: Canadian 15-year-olds are more than a year ahead of U.S. 15-year-olds in math and more than half a year ahead in reading and science – and Canada was behind Shanghai.

What can we do?

Some of the survey results were fascinating. Charter schools – or private schools for that matter – won’t help. The numbers indicate private school student performance is statistically similar to public school students. Competition doesn’t produce significant statistical differences either.

One factor showed up in all countries with school systems that outperform United States: They pay their teachers excellent salaries. This won’t be a popular option these days. We spend proportionally less on teacher salaries in this country than average OECD levels.

As we’ve found here in West Bend, plenty of people here believe they shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced, much less make any sacrifices, to guarantee the next generation gets a good education. But while we’ve been arguing about this, plenty of other countries sucked it up, made the necessary sacrifices and are leaving us in their dust.

The United States is now eighth from the bottom in terms of high school graduation rates among OECD countries. College graduation rates are even more revealing: the United States slipped from second to 13th place between 1995 and 2008, not because our rates declined but because rates have risen faster in other OECD countries. Eleven countries have passed us during the last 15 years – including China.

To summarize: We’ve remained stagnant as an educational power in the world while we continue to avoid investing in education at the levels that would keep us competitive for the rest of the world – even though we have the money.

Can you hear the sirens yet? Are we going to have to lose another USS Arizona, snoring away in port, before we roll out of bed and decide to try to keep up with the rest of the world?

So listen: The anti-school forces in West Bend who have tried every way from Sunday to cheat our kids out of the kind of education that will keep this country competitive on the global stage are – let’s make this simple – a threat to the economic future of the United States. These true believers believe we can compete by cutting educational opportunities instead of investing in them.

This might not be a problem if we only had to compete with Slovenia, but we need to compete with China. China will not be content to make cheap plastic junk forever and, from the looks of this Pearl Harbor survey, they won’t have to for much longer. They’re looking forward to replacing us politically and economically on the global stage, something that looks increasingly likely now that they’re ahead of us educationally.

So look: Our grandparents and parents made sacrifices for our benefit with good humor and dogged determination. But if you can’t stomach the inconvenience of educating the next generation, if you don't want to invest in the future of this country by doing everything you can to guarantee a “Smartest Generation” – and soon – then your priorities are just plain wrong.

The personal greediness sanctified by the Chicago School of Economics and accepted as an article of faith in this country during the past decade has become a real threat to the future of the Republic. Here’s your choice folks: Either help your country stay ahead in an increasingly dangerous and competitive world or get the hell out of the way.

Or, you could always just hit the snooze alarm, drift back into your happy American Dream and blow off your responsibilities.

Americans have gotten good at that.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010