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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Ryan v Zerban, Whose Idea Was a Debate Without Rebuttals?

After watching the first Paul Ryan - Rob Zerban "debate," I wrote "nobody won the debate and nobody got schooled" and I thought, how could that be with anybody having a political debate with the ideologically-locked Paul Ryan?

It didn't make sense until watching the second debate that I realized (and others did as well) that no rebuttals were allowed during the debate.

How do you have a debate without any rebuttals?

It's worth noting that more than once during each debate, Ryan stated that opponents and others who don't agree with him shouldn't criticize, but should instead present solutions, does seems to imply that he is sensitive to being corrected or criticized.

So, whose idea was no rebuttals?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Divide and Conquer Club Polish Their Badges Over Glowing GDP Report

Sunday's Janesville Gazette headlined an article about how Rock County's GDP growth is among the best in the nation. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, there was alot that wasn't highlighted in the article. The most glaring item is the fact that Rock County's gross domestic product in general was starting at a lower baseline than most U.S. communities since GM closed in late 2008.

An example of this effect is New Orleans. It boasts some of the best economic growth indicators in the country. Why? Because it's rebounding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with the help of billions in federal taxpayer dollars. Yes, government plays a huge role.

The housing mortgage crash of September 2008 coupled with the GM closure was our little hurricane. Sure, the devastation was nowhere near what N.O. experienced, but we lost at least 2,000 family raising "production" salaries along with another 1,000 in coat-tail operations. Even though those jobs have not been replaced, my hat is off to those surviving small businesses that have adapted to these new pressures. But any growth starting from that new "bottom" beginning in 2009 will be a greater percentage of the principal than if starting from a higher position in 2006.

The good news is Rock County's establishment did not go further south after the dust settled in the post-GM era. The bad news is the number of Rock County residents on FoodShare has rocketed 107 percent since 2008.

So boasting a leading GDP growth rate in 2014 is not exactly a sure sign of explosive new job growth or an improving economy like it would have been 100 years ago. In 1914, that indicator would have meant Rock County's economy is sizzling hot, but back then GDP growth was a result of job expansion driven by labor. Today, it is job contraction driven by automation and capital.

That also means a higher GDP growth rate today is increasingly the result of fewer people working harder to produce more - for less. According to the Gazette story, production is up 6% since the 2009 Great Recession bottom baseline.

It's not about jobs.

In this new era, it's a report showing that legislative policies designed to increase wealth at the top are indeed working with lower wages and fewer jobs, AND a local economy starting from a comparatively lower baseline than many (but not all) communities. Unfortunately, this is what the GDP growth rate story tells me the most.

Interestingly enough, the Gazette enlists the opinions of the divide and conquer booster club, Forward Janesville, and their county government liaison, whose legislative agenda and economic development principles bolster the logic of my viewpoint.

But instead of keeping their optimism in check, they confidently polish their badges, "we're leading the pack" and give credit to several businesses "expansions." Business expansions whose taxpayer sponsored "incentive" packages were guaranteed not by creating more jobs, but predicated on fewer jobs than they currently provide - not mentioned in the story.

I also sense that timing and political logistics play a role for the claims and credit they seem to be taking just two weeks before an election. To put it another way, had Romney and Ryan won the White House in 2012, the Ryan/Hendricks/Walker Kochtopus would have held up the area’s increased GDP report as a result of their policies and political victory. So on another hand, these folks are gaming the narrative.

Locally, what their displayed optimism (and timing) does is further perpetuate the false notion that incentive packages loaded with tax credits, tax cuts, forgivable loans and free stuff for the top - works - and somehow make businesses hire employees they don't need. They want to keep that gravy train rolling, yet at the same time they lack the same confidence and optimism to guarantee positive job growth in exchange for those incentives. With that said, I'm not trying to justify the "incentive" charade at all. Just trying to align their confidence game with their optimism.

Lastly, these fine folks gloated and giggled over people whose backs were against the wall after GM closed because they were left with no choice but to take considerably lower wages for their work. That's not what I would call an inspiring community spirit. Or, when your economic development team views higher wages, civil rights, pensions and employee medical leaves as burdens on economic development, you're not exactly creating a welcoming environment for workers to provide economic security for themselves or their families.

It's further telling they referred to themselves in the past as the ambassadors of optimism. They had to - because it's not about jobs.


RNR - How the Janesville Gazette Can Help Rock County (Jan. 2011)

RNR - Janesville Is Not Paul Ryan's Kind Of Town

Mother Jones - Americans Working Harder Charts

Friday, October 17, 2014

Walker: "Property Taxes Went Down." Renters, What Say You?

Here's an interesting link sent in from Facebook friend E.B.

JS Online Politifact Excerpt:
When Walker claimed that his various income and property tax cuts amount to $322 in the 2014 tax year for the average family, our rating was Mostly True. That comes to about $27 per month.

We found that the income and property tax cuts would save the median-income family at least that much in 2014, although not every average family would save that much, particularly if they are not property owners.

Just to state the obvious here, if they're not property owners, they are renters.

In an unrelated story that seems to show the property tax "pass down" theory is indeed a one way street, Janesville Council Member Douglas Marklein recently said that if Janesville voters approve of a property tax increase referendum this November, he intends on passing down the increase to his renters by raising their rent. He said any smart landlord would do the same.

We know those "tax savings" figures are a bunch of political hooey, but for the sake of staying on a positive note here, we should ask renters (many are low income, but not all) if they enjoyed a rent reduction of about $30 (or $20) a month this year. If not - why not?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Local "Divide and Conquer" Booster Mentioned In Koch Funding Story

Local divide-and-conquer booster Diane Hendricks of ABC Supply (Beloit) was mentioned in a recent story at Politico. In their article, Koch Donors Uncloaked, Hendricks is listed among a handful of ultra-rich conservatives paying at least $1M to fund Koch's new super PAC "Freedom Partners Action Fund."

Politico Excerpt:
The deep-pocketed political network created by the billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch this summer quietly launched a super PAC that can buy explicitly political ads supporting Republican candidates rather than the issue-oriented ads they‘d been airing for years.

The catch: For the first time, the network’s donors would be publicly identified if they gave to the super PAC.

Their "candidate advocacy" ads don't have to necessarily be in support of a candidate. The Super PAC can attack opposition candidates as well so long as the PAC's donors identities are disclosed.

This is a different set-up from the "dark money" laundering schemes Gov. Scott Walker was accused of coordinating with the issue advocacy group Wisconsin Club for Growth.

In Walker's scandal, prosecutors turned up evidence that showed the governor redirected supporters for recall candidates to funnel millions of dollars into Wisconsin Club for Growth, later to be used to coordinate and develop campaign themes and political ads. Issue advocacy groups can accept corporate and individual donations without limitations and no donors disclosure.

Nevertheless, if you spot the fine print "Freedom Partners Action Fund" buried somewhere in a political attack ad, you'll at least know these are paid for by the one-tenth of one percenters who are making a concerted effort to buy our elections.


Blue Nation Review - These Are The People Buying Your Elections For Republicans

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Federal Judge Blocks State Campaign Coordination Laws From Being Enforced

We knew this was coming after it was reported less than two weeks ago Citizens For Responsible Government Advocates filed suit to have the Wisconsin state law Scott Walker and conservative groups are accused of violating struck down and/or suspended.

As expected, Federal Judge Rudolf Randa came to their rescue.

JS Online Excerpt:
Madison — U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa on Tuesday barred state election officials and Milwaukee's top prosecutor from enforcing their interpretation of campaign finance laws limiting the ability of candidates and purportedly independent groups from collaborating.

Besides acting like thought police by prohibiting prevailing interpretation of laws, Judge Randa was not shy about stating how important it is to exempt these groups from the state law since the election is only three weeks away.

AP Excerpt:
Randa, in agreeing to temporarily block enforcement of the law, said that time was of the essence with the election just three weeks away. Walker is in a tight race for re-election against Democrat Mary Burke. [...] "Any further delay threatens to negate the effectiveness of CRG's requested relief," Randa wrote of the group.

That's bold.

Up until this ruling, the state law in question was active and enforceable and is the law used as the basis for the John Doe investigation into Walker's 2012 recall campaign. This also happens to be the same law Randa previously attempted to negate when he admitted it had been cleverly circumvented by Walker and his support groups.

The double irony here is many conservatives, in their convoluted effort to pretend like Walker did not break the law, have claimed that the law Randa has now suspended doesn't prohibit issue advocacy coordination, yet they sued to have the law from being enforced.

The moral of this story continues to offend.

Don't like a particular law? Just get it struck down or disabled long enough to do your dirty deeds. Raw power in all its glory.


PR Watch - Randa Redux: Federal Judge OK's Dark Money Coordination in WI <-- by Brendan Fischer

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rob Zerban Delivers In First Debate Against Entrenched Incumbent Ryan

In his second campaign against the GOP incumbent, challenger Rob Zerban finally got his chance to debate Rep. Paul Ryan on stage at Carthage College in Kenosha.

I'll begin by stating that I was not at the debate in-person, but I did watch it live streaming from Carthage College in its entirety. Zerban did not disappoint.

Journal Times Excerpt:
“What do you do when you a see a problem? Forget about the talking points. You go up and put a solution on the table,” Ryan said.

Zerban accused Ryan of not acting when the deficit grew under President George W. Bush and, on a question about pay inequality between men and women, ripped him for voting against legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.

“This is why people have a problem with members of Congress right now,” Zerban said. “Their actions and words don’t match up.”

It's so true and Ryan is at the top of that smoldering heap of failure. What Paul Ryan says at townhalls and debates does not match his actions in Congress, and Zerban was smart to point that out more than once during the debate without losing the gist of the question. There were a couple of moments (for me) where Zerban's calmness (as he appeared on camera, in-person may have been different) and solid grasp of the issues made me forget that the entrenched Ryan has 16 years in congress over Zerban.

Another issue they greatly differed on, climate change, quickly made the intertubes since the Pentagon released a report just hours before the debate that rising sea levels and other effects of climate change will pose major challenges for the US and our military. Zerban said climate change is man-made and Americans should accept the challenge as an opportunity to invest in renewable energy.

The Koch-sponsored Ryan of course disagreed with Zerban's position and that of scientists. He claimed the benefits do not outweigh the costs, essentially implying the problem will go away on its own.

Nobody "won" the debate and nobody got "schooled," but I believe Zerban delivered what many folks have been anxiously waiting for - a solid candidate with the ability to represent the people, articulate reality and with the courage of his convictions.

Carthage College: Watch Zerban - Ryan First Debate

Monday, October 13, 2014

WEDC Piles On "Help" For Local Business Donor To Walker

This is a story from about two weeks ago posted in the Janesville Gazette titled, "State tax credits help GOEX project in Janesville."

At first I was going to post only a brief for archival purposes on what appeared to be just another fear market enterprise ransom paid to a local company threatening to move out of Janesville, but once again I got hung up on several key points of the "incentive package."

First off, this was another deal in a long line of "job creation" deals in Janesville where the current number of workers employed by the business is either well above the minimum number expected to be retained or matches the number of new jobs to be created - before the deal is struck.

In Wisconsin WEDC Excerpt:
MADISON, WI. OCT. 1, 2014 – GOEX Corp., a manufacturer of plastic sheet products, is more than doubling the size of its operations in Janesville—a project expected to create about 30 new jobs and retain 130 existing ones.

Except, according to the Gazette article, the company had 152 employees at the time of the tax credit announcement. So how does that work? Will they "retain" 30 new jobs along with the 130 existing for a total of 160 jobs retained?

Not quite, but it sure does seem they want it to appear that way. The bottom line is GOEX must retain a minimum of 130 jobs over the next three years to (still) qualify for the credits. That means they can lose 22 employees and still be OK to claim $655,000 in WEDC tax credits. That doesn't sound very incentivizing to me.

Secondly, and this is getting redundant, the folks involved in this deal make it sound like a competitive process was involved.

JG Excerpt:
“When the time came to look for a new manufacturing site, we looked at other communities and other states,” Gray said. “We have an exceptional workforce in Janesville and Rock County and preferred to stay here if at all possible.

And again, the parties involved should state what other communities were in competition with Janesville and what packages they offered. How are we supposed to know if we're paying them (GOEX) enough if we don't know who and what the competition is? Cue: eyeroll

But here's the most troubling part. GOEX had previously received $594,000+ in TIF surplus cash from the city and $650,000 from WisDOT for a frontage road and railroad spur - SIX MONTHS AGO - predicated on the same 130 employee threshold AND the project is already underway. They can lose 22 to 30 employees and still qualify for the "incentives."

So what could be the driving force why GOEX would pick up $655K from the WEDC on top of those others based on a negative benchmark?

GOEX is owned by Joseph Pregont, and according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Database, donated $15,600 to Scott Walker since 2010.

In Janesville alone, there were three recent transactions (United Alloy $1.5M, Helgesen $2.4M, GOEX $1.9M) that involved "expansions" and the spectre of "competition" whose taxpayer funded awards total $5.8+ million remain guaranteed not by creating jobs, but allow shrinking the workforce by 50 to 80 employees.

That is not moving forward in my book.


RNR - Developer "Wins" $2.4M From Taxpayers, City Council Grovels Into The Camera

RNR - Collectivism To The Rescue Of Yet Another Janesville Business

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mary Burke Impressive In Debate Against Career Politician

While I was a little surprised that we did not hear the words "union bosses" and "moving forward" over and over from the flapping lips of Gov. Scott Walker, it was hard not to notice how his quirky little smiles, mannerisms and cadence immediately reminded me of one other politician - Ronald Reagan. Walker of course happens to be a huge fan of Reagan.

I've seen some "grades" handed out on social media for Walker's and Burke's performance in this debate that are more wishful thinking than accurate. You got to remember that Walker is a fast-talking extremely well-rehearsed "baby-kissing" career politician. In fact, he's too well rehearsed as several answers he gave were for questions that were never asked.

One example was a question asking what new ideas the candidates have for creating jobs with the questioner stressing, stressing that it should be about something that wasn't done before.

Walker basically said he's going to "go forward with things that have worked" meaning nothing new and it was done before, and that he doesn't want to go backward, meaning nothing new again. Doublespeak much? He then proceeded to rattle off old talking points about his opponent's jobs record under Gov. Doyle. That wasn't the question. He never answered the question simply because he didn't rehearse or have the notes for that particular question. His answer flowed smoothly, but it was for whatever rehearsal question that best fit the actual debate question. Walker also made the same sausage out of the minimum wage question.

The big difference I saw was that Mary Burke excelled at ad libbing. Her answers came across straight forward and without reservation. Her mistakes were honest. She wasn't perfect. But she was pretty damn good. And most importantly, Burke showed she is not a politician.

Considering Burke's and Walker's history, this being the first time Burke is on the big stage with lights glaring and cameras rolling - she did extremely well. I give her a solid B+ based on that criteria. But the "honeymoon" is now over. That means she needs to prepare twice as hard for the next debate. People will expect more and better next time under a more watchful and critical eye. The onus is all on Burke to finish it off.

Considering Walker's whole life revolves around politics, I'd give him an overall solid C and because his next appearance will likely drone on in the same bulletin points flatlining fashion, he won't do much better or worse. On the other hand, if we're grading the ability to avoid answering questions with glazed-over dead eyes precision in full monotone gobble-dee-gook surround without a single flinch - Scott Walker gets a AAA+.

I talked to a Walker-supporting conservative neighbor soon after the debate and asked what his first thought is about Burke. He seemed irritated but said, "she sounds like she really supports the little guy." He was not being sarcastic. The "little guy" connotation caught me by surprise.

Take that for what it's worth.

CSPAN - Video: Wisconsin governor’s full debate

The Political Environment - Burke has more than held her own against incumbent Governor

Democurmudgeon - Mary Burke smoked the elusive Scott Walker comeback

PoliticusUSA - Democrat Mary Burke Dominates Scott Walker In First Wisconsin Governor Debate