3.24.2006

Thoughts on the debate - Bumping It Up Edition

Just a quick post to keep these posts near the top:

Thoughts on the debate - Sales Tax Edition

Thoughts on the debate - Partisanship Edition

Bush Second to Only Jefferson....

1,889 days and no vetoes: Bush gaining on Jefferson
WASHINGTON — President Bush today becomes the longest-sitting president since Thomas Jefferson not to exercise his veto, surpassing James Monroe.
Monroe was in office 1,888 days before he vetoed his first bill on May 4, 1822, a measure to impose a toll on the first federal highway. Jefferson never exercised his veto during two terms in 1801-09.
Today is Bush's 1,889th day in office, and no veto is in sight. As of Wednesday, Congress had sent him 1,091 bills. He signed them all.


Emanuel gets it right....

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., scoffs at that: “This is a rubber-stamp Congress. Why would he veto anything?”


So, lets take back Congress, OK?

Walker's Out

Walker withdrawing from governor's race
Milwaukee County Executive says he can't match Doyle's fund raising


Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is pulling the plug on his bid for the governor’s office, leaving fellow Republican Mark Green a clear shot at incumbent Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in November.

God in the Constitution?

Is God in the Constitution?

Well, here's a test- click here.

Then press CTRL-F (the find command), then type GOD in the window that pops up.

Click 'Find Next'

You will see that God is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States.

I don't point this out to create controversy - just to inform.

Republican Plans for Election 2006:


Tom Toles by way of What's Left

Republican Plans for Iraqi Reconstruction Seem to Be the Same As Wisconsin Republicans:

From a briefing by James F. Jeffrey, Senior Advisor to the Secretary and Coordinator for Iraq:

And in terms of -- we weren't going to ask for more money, this was a bit of confusion that came up recently over the word "reconstruction" and I've talked to some of you about this. When we use "reconstruction," we use it in the broad sense of capacity-building, having a USAID democracy advisor with the Iraqi and UN Electoral Commission and that kind of thing. In the narrower sense, reconstruction in people's minds is building plants, is putting electricity on and that kind of thing. What we said was we weren't going to be doing much more of that. And in fact, in these two budgets, the only new construction is related to prisons, you know, which we see as a rule of law, capacity-building. So we have shifted away from that. There is no significant new money apart from that in our accounts for reconstruction in the narrow sense of building up the infrastructure.


Ah yes, winning hearts and minds...

3.23.2006

Thoughts on the debate - Partisanship Edition

I also wanted to followup on Mr. Sundquist's comments on partisanship.

I am proud to be the chair of the Winnebago County Democratic Party. It turns out the Paul might not be as proud of his association with the Winnebago GOP.

If you look at their Newsletters - he has advertised in many of them:

November 2005 - October 2004 - August 2004 - March 2004

Why is it he is embarrassed to be a Republican? After I mentioned this in the debate, he leaned over and told me that he asked the Winnebago Republicans to stop running the add.

I really don't think that they would run an advertisement without permission, do you? If you look at the issues - it is just him and Ben Ganther. It is not like they were lost in all the adds.

Well, unlike Mr. Sundquist, I am proud of my party. I am proud of what I stand for.

But, I can understand why Paul would want to deny that he is a Republican... Have you seen their ratings lately?

But, more importantly, what does the partisanship say about the race itself?

I believe that it gives insight into what the candidates will do on the board. As Mr. Sundquist said in a recent presentation before the Winnebago County Board, "tourists bring their dollars and not their social problems."

I am, however, interested in social problems. Most of what the county board deals with in it's budget is related to 'social problems.'

According to the original budget proposed by Mr. Harris, the following areas had budgets of:

Public Safety - $16,356,404
Health and Human Services - $23,378,615

I would consider these areas that address 'social problems' - for a total of $39,735,019 in spending.

This is 64% of the total budget, and 79% of the budget without debt service. This is what I want to work on first and foremost.

As a Democrat, I want to find a way to properly fund Winnebago County's commitments to victims of domestic violence, to the elderly, the disabled and the working poor lacking in health insurance. All programs that faced cuts in the last budget.

I believe the people of the 17th district deserve a county board member who is interested in these subjects for the betterment of the entire county.

This race is not partisan, but it is easy to see how the partisanship shapes the interests of the candidates.

Thoughts on the debate - Sales Tax Edition

I’ve just left the League of Women Voters debate. Let me tell you – 45 seconds are not enough to answer complex questions about financing and partisanship and any other number of items that came up.

I thought I’d take a few minutes here and run through items that were not covered or were cut off.

I have written on the sales tax issue in the past. I supported it in the last budget.

Why? Because I wanted to avoid another swipe of the credit card – here is what the Northwestern had to say after last year’s budget:


He (Harris) had praise for the 36-member board’s scrounging for savings. But he said the board-approved budget relies heavily on one-time budget maneuvers. Harris pointed to two key decisions: The reduction of a county property and liability insurance fund by $750,000 and a correction due to overestimation of fringe benefits by $500,000.

Both adjustments shift numbers in the budget and won’t be available to support spending next year.

It foreshadows another debate in late 2006 over implementation of a half-percent sales tax in 2007.

“We put most of the tough choices off this year,” said Harris, who advocated turning to a sales tax to preserve jobs crucial to public safety and delivering services for poor and elderly residents.


and



The board also shifted more-than $400,000 in county road projects initially slated to be paid for with direct taxes to borrowing. While the amendment takes money off the 2006 tax rolls, taxpayers will cover the debt costs with interest in budgets to come.


There it is, swiping the County Credit Card - just like they have done for the last several years. They were presented with a balanced budget, and suggestions for re-establishing county services, while still providing Tax-relief for property owners. They shirked the responsibility.

I will always fight for a balanced budget.

We cannot continue to tap into funds for insurance and putting off paying our bills for the future.
Now, let’s talk about the sales tax as it would have affected the 17th district.

The average home in Oshkosh is assessed at $86,300 and the average income is $37,636. Under the sales tax proposed, the 2-year tax increase would be $3.86.

That’s all. Winnebago could have had a balanced budget for $1.93/year for the average taxpayer.

Here is a worksheet that runs through and explains all the numbers.

Where will much of the sales tax revenue come from? People that are using county services now, yet not paying property taxes to Winnebago County - tourists.

The extra costs to the county for Country USA, EAA, boat patrols and any number of other county protections and services would be offset by the revenue from their purchases.

Now, I will look at all possible ways to avoid a sales tax, but I will do everything I can to have a balanced budget. And keep it fair for Winnebago's working families.

Wow, how was I unable to get that out in 45 seconds?

History, Another Reason to Work on Alternate Forms of Energy Now in the USA:

From today's Altercation:

Oil, as everyone knows, became the all-important fuel of American global ascendancy in the twentieth century. But before that, nineteenth-century Britain was the coal hegemon and seventeenth-century Dutch fortune harnessed the winds and the waters. Neither nation could maintain its global economic leadership when the world moved toward a new energy regime. Today’s United States, despite denials, has obviously organized much of its overseas military posture around petroleum, protecting oil fields, pipelines, and sea lanes.

Bush's Trillion Dollar Baby:

Bob Hebert in the NYTimes some excerpts:

George W. Bush's war in Iraq was never supposed to be particularly expensive. Administration types tossed out numbers like $50 billion and $60 billion. When Lawrence Lindsey, the president's chief economic adviser, said the war was likely to cost $100 billion to $200 billion, he was fired.

Some in the White House tried to spread the fantasy that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the war. Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary and a fanatical hawk, told Congress that Iraq was "a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

The president and his hot-for-war associates were as wrong about the money as they were about the weapons of mass destruction. Now comes a study by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University, and a colleague, Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, that estimates the "true costs" of the war at more than $1 trillion, and possibly more than $2 trillion.

"Even taking a conservative approach and assuming all U.S. troops return by 2010, we believe the true costs exceed a trillion dollars," the authors say.
The study was released earlier this year but has not gotten much publicity. The analysis by Professors Stiglitz and Bilmes goes beyond the immediate costs of combat operations to include other direct and indirect costs of the war that, in some cases, the government will have to shoulder for many years.

These costs, the study says, "include disability payments to veterans over the course of their lifetimes, the cost of replacing military equipment and munitions, which are being consumed at a faster-than-normal rate, the cost of medical treatment for returning Iraqi war veterans, particularly the more than 7,000 [service members] with brain, spinal, amputation and other serious injuries, and the cost of transporting returning troops back to their home bases."

In an interview, Mr. Stiglitz said that about $560 billion, which is a little more than half of the study's conservative estimate of the cost of the war, would have been enough to "fix" Social Security for the next 75 years. If one were thinking in terms of promoting democracy in the Middle East, he said, the money being spent on the war would have been enough to finance a "mega-mega-mega-Marshall Plan," which would have been "so much more" effective than the invasion of Iraq.

At his press conference on Tuesday, President Bush made it clear that whatever the cost, American forces would not be leaving Iraq soon. When asked whether a day would come when there were no U.S. forces in Iraq, he said that decision would be made by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.

3.22.2006

Bush: Others Will Clean Up My Mess

Bush says Iraq pullout up to 'future presidents'
Warns leaving too soon would boost Al Qaeda

WASHINGTON -- President Bush suggested yesterday that US troops might stay in Iraq beyond his presidency, which ends in 2009, saying at a press conference that the issue of removing troops from the country ''will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."

The president, responding to aggressive questioning at the hastily arranged morning session, declined to give a timetable for pulling US soldiers out of the increasingly unpopular war. But he warned several times about the danger of a ''premature" withdrawal.

''There's no question that if we were to prematurely withdraw and the march to democracy were to fail, then Al Qaeda would be emboldened," Bush said. ''Terrorist groups would be emboldened. The Islamo-fascists would be emboldened."


"Oh yea," he added, "I hope the next guy will take care of that deficit thing. too..."

3.21.2006

Jobs, Wages and Cars in America

How is the Auto Industry a reflection of the entire economy? Click here to find out. Below are some excerpts of the article:

Not Your Father’s Detroit
The Motor City virtually created the old era of shared prosperity.


Today, the middle has fallen out of the economy. What can we do to get it back?

Modern American manufacturing -- in some sense, modern America -- had begun in Highland Park. In 1913, Henry Ford opened his first real factory there, featuring the world’s first large-scale assembly line. The following year, he announced that he’d pay his employees an unheard-of $5 a day, based on the theory that if they made Model-T’s, they should be able to buy them. In fact, the purchasing power of Ford workers didn’t become truly substantial until the United Auto Workers (UAW) unionized the company in 1941; thereafter, the discontents of factory work notwithstanding, the economic life of Ford workers became, in a sense, a marvel of the world. As members of the predominant union in the predominant industry in the predominant economy on the planet, the auto workers at the Big Three enjoyed not only good pay but the nation’s first comprehensive health insurance, supplemental unemployment insurance, generous pensions with retiree health coverage -- all paid for by the companies, which had no trouble covering these costs.

The problem -- America’s problem -- is that the abrupt end of the living standards that Wixom workers enjoyed isn’t exceptional; it’s emblematic. Across the economy, the wages and benefits of ordinary Americans are under assault. The new model American manufacturer, which once may have offered wages and benefits comparable to the Big Three, has typically cut its wages to somewhere between a half and two-thirds of what Ford and GM have been paying. Highly profitable Caterpillar Tractor, for instance, now offers its new hires just $22 an hour in wages and benefits, half what it pays its more senior employees. “There is a balance that must be struck,” Caterpillar group president Douglas Oberhelman told The New York Times, “between being competitive and being middle class.”

The decline in income is hardly limited to manufacturing. A new survey of the nation’s 361 metropolitan areas, which account for 86.3 percent of the nation’s GDP, has found that the average wage of jobs lost in the recession of 2001-2003 was $43,629, while the average wage of jobs created in 2004-2005 was $34,378 -- a tidy 21 percent decline. While productivity increased by 11.7 percent between 2001 and 2004, median household income rose by a scant 1.6 percent.

The problem is that in the current recovery, unlike any recovery since the advent of the New Deal, almost all new revenue to corporations is going to profits, and virtually nothing to wages. (In the five recoveries before the current one, 25 percent of new corporate revenues went to profits and 75 percent to employee compensation; in the current recovery, 59 percent has gone to profits and just 41 percent to compensation.)

The middle is falling out of the American economy. At first glance, from a sufficient distance, we may appear to be doing just fine. The GDP, after all, grew by 3.6 percent last year; unemployment has fallen to 4.8 percent. But what once distinguished the United States among the nations of the world was not simply the volume of our wealth, but our distribution of that wealth. In the decades following World War II, we were something new under the sun: the nation with the first middle-class majority. Between 1947 and 1973, productivity in the United States rose by 104 percent. Median family income in the United States also rose by 104 percent. Since then, however, productivity gains have outpaced median family income by a margin of three to one, and in recent years, by eight to one.
Indeed, as Northwestern University economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have demonstrated in a recent study, over the past couple of decades, all the income from productivity gains have gone to the wealthiest 10 percent of our countrymen.

To any dispassionate economic historian, it’s no mystery how America managed once to attain broadly shared prosperity. Between 1875 and 1975, the level of schooling for the average American increased by seven years, with a sharp increase in the number of college-educated Americans in the decades following World War II. Our technological innovation, often spurred by the investment of federal defense dollars, was second to none, and those innovations were turned into products at factories here in the United States. Unionization was at an all-time high in the years that median income tracked productivity, so high that the wage-and-benefit packets at unionized firms set the standard for non-union firms, too. Immigration was at an all-time low. We encountered little competition from other nations’ economies.

None of these conditions pertain any more. Americans’ level of schooling has stopped rising after a century of steady increase, and even if it were continuing, a raft of new studies suggests that many of these good jobs of the future will be offshored to cheaper climes. We shun industrial policy, while our competitor nations entice our corporations abroad. Unions, which once represented 35 percent of the workforce, now represent 12.5 percent, and just 7.9 percent in the private sector, ushering in an age of wage and benefit reductions. Globalization of production has enabled the majority of leading American corporations to get cheaper labor abroad and reduce labor costs at home.

This is a crisis for the nation; it is a crisis for all advanced economies to the extent that our brand of capitalism comes to dominate theirs. But it is particularly a crisis, and challenge, for liberals and Democrats in the United States and for Social Democrats (and even social Christians) in Europe and other advanced economies. For, at heart, the parties of the left and center left are the parties of broadly shared prosperity. That is their -- our -- raison d’ĂȘtre. In any given election, the inability to lay out a plausible scenario for renewing mass prosperity is not likely to leap out as the Democrats’ most glaring deficiency. But it creates a terrain on which bad stuff can happen. The alternative to a politics of economic advancement is often a politics of social resentment. The steadily declining income of white working-class males over the past quarter-century correlates to their increasingly rightward voting habits. We can’t prove the correlation is causal, but does anyone believe it’s coincidental?

In raw numbers, the fastest growing occupations between 2004 and 2014, says the bureau, will be retail salespersons, nurses, post-secondary teachers, customer service representatives, janitors, waiters, food-preparation workers, and home-health aides. Five of the 10 fastest-growing occupations fall under the BLS’s designation of very-low income -- which the BLS defines as an annual income under $20,184. In such an economy, sending more people to college is not really a panacea. In 2002, says the bureau, 26.9 percent of all jobs in the United States required college degrees; in 2012, that will rise to just 27.9 percent -- one measly point.

Casual observers of unions could have been forgiven last summer if they failed to fathom what the unions that left the AFL-CIO to form the Change to Win Federation had in common. Politically, the unions ranged across the spectrum. hat united them was that they represented workers whose jobs could not be exported: nurses, truckers, supermarket clerks, carpenters, laborers, hotel workers, and janitors. Together, they represented 6 million workers -- which left, by their count, 44 million workers in those sectors unorganized.


We may not think of these jobs as commanding decent wages, but in fact, union density is determinative here. Hotel room maids in cities where hotels are almost entirely unionized make $20 an hour; in cities that are half-unionized, $12 an hour; in non-union cities, $7 an hour. In heavily unionized Las Vegas, hotel workers can avail themselves of employer-funded training programs to advance to more highly skilled jobs, and make enough to buy homes that would be far beyond the reach of hotel workers in non-union towns. In the largest unionization drive currently underway in the nation, UNITE HERE (the hotel workers union) is using the threat of a strike this summer against hotels in most unionized cities to compel some national chains to agree not to oppose the organization of their workers in non-union cities.

A 2005 study of 20,000 firms by economists Lucian Bebchuk and Yaniv Grinstein finds that the percentage of the typical firm’s total earnings paid out in compensation to the company’s top five executives grew from 5 percent in 1993-1995 to 10 percent in 2001-2003. Bebchuk and Grinstein conclude that out of the $83 billion that the 99.99th percentile of wealthiest Americas reported on their taxes in 2001, $48 billion was the income of companies’ top five executives, which averaged $6.4 million (CEO salaries averaged $14.3 million). With their salary and benefit levels set by corporate boards and compensation committees on which their fellow CEOs sit, the men who run American business are paid a fortune to retain a fortune. Nice work if you can get it.




Tomah Journal: If Senate won't vindicate Feingold, history will

Here is the link - here is where i saw it (thanks Xoff).

How can we know if a President isn’t abusing his authority to eavesdrop on American citizens? We can’t, at least under President Bush’s sweeping claim of wartime executive power.

That’s the issue at the core of Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold’s brave and lonely attempt to censure President Bush. Feingold has never asserted that “we shouldn't be listening to al Qaeda communications” as White House Communications Director Scott McClellan falsely claimed. Feingold is challenging the President’s interpretation of the law and whether government can ever spy on Americans without a search warrant, even when Americans are communicating with someone in another country.

Such warrants aren’t hard to get. In 1978, Congress established special courts under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The law recognizes that emergency circumstances often require immediate action and allows the executive
branch to obtain a warrant within 72 hours of the search. Not only does the law strike a balance between national security and civil liberties, it also respects the balance between the executive and judiciary. America has a long and wise history of checking unlimited power of any single branch of government, especially when individual rights are at stake.


Even if the searches are legal, which many legal scholars vehemently dispute, there’s a public policy issue that goes beyond President Bush. Would Republicans feel comfortable giving a Democratic President this kind of clandestine power? What would keep a Democrat from eavesdropping on Rush Limbaugh hoping to uncover embarrassing information on Limbaugh’s prescription drug history or failed marriages? It was only 40 years ago when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, unchecked by search warrants or judicial oversight, abusively wiretapped Martin Luther King, Jr. We can only hope that President Bush is limiting eavesdropping to genuine terror suspects and not gathering information on political adversaries exercising their First Amendment rights.

Nobody argues against eavesdropping on terror suspects. Nobody argues that warrants shouldn’t be classified or post-dated under exigent circumstances. However, it doesn’t take a pacifist to insist that a magistrate -- someone who doesn’t serve at the pleasure of the president -- review electronic eavesdropping requests. It’s not only the law; it’s the only way to conduct surveillance consistent with the Fourth Amendment. Senator Feingold is right to insist that the President honor both the law and Constitution. If Feingold’s fellow Senators won’t vindicate his stance, history will.

Altercation Letters are Still Better Than Mine:

Name: Dennis Croskey
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
Newsweek says their poll results show a "bitterly divided" electorate. If a 2 percent margin of victory in November 2004 can be trumpeted as a mandate, what would the proper term be for a 65 percent disapproval rating? Doesn't sound very divided to me.

3.20.2006

More on the Budget - How big is a trillion?

For those who struggle to balance their checkbooks every month, it might be difficult to comprehend the meaning of Thursday's vote by the U.S. Senate to raise the government debt limit to nearly $9 trillion.

After all, how much is a trillion?

It's the number one followed by 12 zeros. But that doesn't shed much light on just how deeply in debt the federal government is that it must pass a law enabling it to borrow up to $8.965 trillion.

"It's hard to understand what a trillion is. I don't know what it is," confessed Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, this week when debating the government's staggering fiscal obligations.

So he conjured up a spending spree, something Americans might be able to relate to. "If you spent a million dollars a day for a million days (2,739 years)," you'd hit $1 trillion, Nolan observed.

To spend $1 trillion in the average American life span of 77 years, you'd have to be on a lifetime spending spree of about $35,580,857 and change every day from birth.

Don Albers, associate executive director of the Mathematical Association of America, said to forget about all the fancy numbers. "I don't think the problem so much is understanding that number as just understanding whether they've got more money coming in than is going out," he said.

And that's the rub. The federal government has been on a spending binge. Just since 2002, the Republican-controlled Congress has had to hike the Treasury Department's credit card limit four times, for a total of more than $3 trillion.


There's the problem, maybe the Chairman of the Budget Committee should understand his job. And maybe the Government shoud attempt to pay for the programs it funds. No more tax breaks for the wealthy.

The Consequences of Republican Budgeting:

Remember the Clinton surplus?

Bush signs debt limit increase into law
Senate approved massive $781 billion hike late last week


WASHINGTON - With no fanfare, President Bush signed a bill Monday pushing the ceiling on the national debt to nearly $9 trillion.

The measure allows the government to borrow an additional $781 billion and prevent a first-ever default on Treasury notes. It also lets the government pay for the war in Iraq without raising taxes or cutting popular domestic programs.

The debt limit increase was the fourth of Bush’s presidency, totaling $3 trillion. With the budget deficit near record levels, an additional increase in the debt limit almost certainly will be required next year.

The measure allows the debt limit to rise from $8.184 trillion to $8.965 trillion.

Capitol Punishment

A great article here - to good to sum up - just go there.

Quote of the Day (Smoking Edition)

"Having a smoking area in a restaurant is like having a peeing section in a swimming pool."

Thomas Pfeffer, of the American Heart Association in Los Angeles, on his support of a Calabasas, Calif., law—the first of its kind in the United States—that bans smoking in public places where people can be exposed to secondhand smoke

3.19.2006

A Must Read

Click this link for an analysis of Walker's handling of Milwaukee's budget and the results of his tax freeze.

Some highlights:

It's got to be the most bizarre campaign strategy for governor in the history of state politics.

In the midst of his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has sounded a public alarm that his county will require a major state bailout to avoid going bankrupt under his leadership.

Usually, when a politician seeks higher office, he attempts to portray himself as some sort of financial miracle worker whose management success has earned him the right to take on ever more daunting economic challenges.

Instead, Walker compares his operation of county government for the past four years to the growing financial disaster facing the nation's airline industry.

Unable to envision any other way to avoid financial ruin, Walker wants the state to pass legislation wiping out pensions and other benefits owed to employees and to take over all the county services Walker doesn't want to raise taxes to pay for.

In a curious way, Walker is paying the ultimate tribute to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, the man whose job he is seeking.

After all, Jim Doyle came into office facing a $3.2 billion state deficit run up by the administrations of Republican governors Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum.

Doyle made a campaign pledge to eliminate that enormous deficit without raising state taxes. Even though editorial writers throughout the state predicted such a feat would be impossible, Doyle accomplished it anyway.

If Doyle can make more than $3 billion in Republican financial mismanagement disappear at the state level, why shouldn't he clear up the economic mess Walker has made of Milwaukee County so the county executive can get back to more important things such as running for governor?

Walker's announcement is particularly amusing because, until now, the centerpiece of Walker's campaign for governor is that as county executive he has submitted a tax freeze budget every year.

Well, guess what happens when a conservative politician freezes taxes year after year while the costs of government continue to go up? Looming financial insolvency verging on bankruptcy.

Jeffery Hall - Ghost Tourist

Jeffery Hall, our Ghost Talk Ghost Walk guide, did his best to get us primed. He told how the city's original plan was a series of "squares'' around which shops and homes were built. Of course, early Savannah had cemeteries, but as the city grew, grave markers were moved andnew squares went up on top of the burial grounds holding 10,000 or more bodies.