Friday, May 30, 2008

Gas taxes buy roads, maintenance and transit!

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Barbara Fischer hits a new low in promoting market extremist ideology over reality with her column defending oil company profits and subsidies today.

She writes the "state and federal government receive more than 50 cents a gallon for doing nothing."

Where does Ms Fischer think the funds for the interstate highway system, the nation's single largest public works project, came from? The oil companies? General Motors?

Between 1956 and 1982 every single federal gas tax dollar was used to build and maintain the interstate highway system.

This $129 billion expenditure directly subsidized the American automobile industry which, as late as the 1970s, was responsible directly or indirectly for one out six private sector jobs in the country and gave rise to the blue collar middle class. It also subsidized the trucking industry which replaced railroads as the main way of transporting manufactured goods, raw materials and agricultural produce after the World War II.

Post war suburbanization, for better or worse, was made possible by the construction of the interstate highway system.

Since 1983 most federal gas tax revenues have been invested in the interstate highway system while a small portion, between 11.1% (1983) and 15.5% (2007) has been used to support mass transit.

In 2006 Wisconsin received over $630 million in federal highway support and $69.6 million for transit from the federal gas tax. For every dollar Wisconsinites pay in federal gas taxes the state receives $1.06.

How does Ms Fischer think that the state of Wisconsin pays for state highways and the maintenance of those highways?

It's the state gas tax stupid!

That state gas tax also funds local transportation aids that help pay for local street and road maintenance, transit ($101 million) and transport for the disabled and elderly ($15.4 million).

That adds up to a whole lot of nothing!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Invest in veterans-pass the new GI BIll!

Monday was Memorial Day-a time to honor our war dead.

President Bush and Republican presidential nominee John McCain used the occasion to praise the nation's military personnel and promote the war in Iraq. At the same time, both men continued to oppose bipartisan legislation that updates the GI Bill, which has fallen far behind rising college costs, that would benefit thousands of Iraqi War veterans.

The legislation which has already passed the House would pay full tuition and other expenses at two year colleges and four -year public universities for veterans who served in the military for at least three years since 9/11. President Bush, who avoided the Vietnam War by enlisting in the National Guard, has threatened to veto it because he says it is too generous and would discourage re-enlistments.

The controversy made me think about my father and uncle.

My dad enlisted in the United States Navy in 1941 to, as he wrote in a letter from the front, "fight the Nazi bastards." After training at the Great Lakes Naval Station, he became a Lieutenant J.G. and served as Chief Officer on a PT boat at Anzio during the invasion of Italy. Upon his return in 1945, the GI Bill paid for him to go attend Harvard University. He became an outstanding teacher who touched the lives of thousands of students. The University of New Hampshire endowed a scholarship in his name.

My uncle, Arnold, was wounded in Okinawa during the last big battle of the war. Public Law 16, a more generous version of the GI Bill for disabled veterans, paid for his undergraduate education and first two years of graduate studies. While in grad school at Columbia University he worked at IBM's first research facility, the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory, which opened in a renovated fraternity house near the campus. The first male from his family of eight to graduate from college, Arnold conducted groundbreaking research in microelectronics in the 1950's before most people had ever heard of it and later helped write the first computer programs in physics for IBM.

Both of these men, the children of immigrants, became part of a generation of highly skilled, university educated scientists, engineers and knowledge workers who provided the brain power for America's post-war economic growth and shared prosperity.

The United States government invested in "the greatest generation" out of gratitude for their national service and because it was good for the country. It did this despite a national debt that was more than 121.7% of the GDP, significantly higher than the current 69.3% and despite projections that depression would follow the end of the war.

The GI bill worked as the post-war economy grew much faster than the debt. This investment in human capital paid for itself many times over.

Yet, President Bush and Senator McCain oppose updating the GI Bill, claiming its generous benefits, I kid you not, will encourage too many vets to attend college. They argue that it would discourage re-enlistments in our military which is having difficulty meeting recruitment goals despite lower recruitment standards. They ignore the Congressional Budget Office's projection that updating the GI bill would actually increase recruitment among those who need financial assistance to enroll in college.

The President and Mr. McCain who routinely accuse opponents of the war of failing to support our service men and women are dishonoring those who have sacrificed by refusing to update the GI Bill. Giving up golf, the President's self proclaimed sacrifice, doesn't help our returning veterans.

Over 4,000 service men and women have lost their lives in a war that has lasted longer than the one my dad and uncle fought in.

The men and women of the "greatest generation" earned the nation's gratitude. The GI Bill acknowledged that by financing their education. They in turn continued to serve the country with the education that the GI Bill afforded them. America's service men and women today are no less worthy. They need us and the country needs them. Congress should pass the new GI Bill and the president should sign it into law.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wisconsin Supreme Court election attracts attention

April's Wisconsin Supreme Court election continues to attract attention, most recently on the front page of the May 25th New York Times.

In the election a little know and inexperienced Burnett County Circuit Court judge, Michael J. Gableman, defeated Wisconsin's only African American Supreme Court Justice, Louis Butler. Over $5 million was spent, mainly by outside groups on negative ads. As Paul Soglin, among others have noted, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) has spent huge amounts in the state's last two Supreme Court elections in an effort to promote hard line Republican candidates with very weak credentials.

The Times reports that Gableman's campaign ran a negative, racially charged ad that accused Butler of using a loophole to free a convicted rapist who then went on to rape again. Many believe that the "loophole Louie" label and the Willie Horton style ad were so effective that they led to Gableman's narrow margin of victory.

Normally, state boosters would welcome a feature story on the front page of one of the most prominent papers in the country. But this isn't the kind of publicity that Wisconsin needs. It certainly won't help keep or attract young professionals, particularly young people of color, to the state. But, what the hey, we earned it at the ballot box.

Adam Liptik writes that:

Last month, Wisconsin voters did something that is routine in the United States but virtually unknown in the rest of the world: They elected a judge.

The vote came after a bitter $5 million campaign in which a small-town trial judge with thin credentials ran a television advertisement falsely suggesting that the only black justice on the state Supreme Court had helped free a black rapist. The challenger unseated the justice with 51 percent of the vote, and will join the court in August...

The question of how best to select judges has baffled lawyers and political scientists for centuries, but in the United States most states have made their choice in favor of popular election. The tradition goes back to Jacksonian populism, and supporters say it has the advantage of making judges accountable to the will of the people. A judge who makes a series of unpopular decisions can be challenged in an election and removed from the bench...

In the rest of the world, the usual selection methods emphasize technical skill and insulate judges from the popular will, tilting in the direction of independence. The most common methods of judicial selection abroad are appointment by an executive branch official, which is how federal judges in the United States are chosen, and a sort of civil service made up of career professionals.

The entire article is linked.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Soccer, footwork and basketball

Over the past decade there has been a big increase in the number of foreign-born players in the NBA.

The three stars on the NBA's reigning champion, the San Antonio Spurs, are Tim Duncan (Virgin Islands), Tony Parker (France) and Manu GinĂ³bili (Argentina). Their rivals in this years Western playoffs are the LA Lakers who have six players who were raised overseas including the NBA's MVP, Kobe Bryant.

The New York Times', Billy Witz, writes that this is no accident. All of these athletes and others like Steve Nash (Canada) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), are former soccer players who benefited from international football's emphasis on footwork, angles, spacing, and movement without the ball.

The article is linked here.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Will Republicans hold John McCain accountable?

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan told his fellow Republicans at their Wisconsin's state convention that "the party needs to hold its members accountable and to stick to its principles."

Is Ryan, considered a candidate for the vice presidency, serious?

If he is, the Republican faithful could start by asking their presumptive presidential nominee, John McCain, why he:
  • supports the high income Bush tax cuts which he voted against in 2001 because they were fiscally irresponsible?
  • inserted $14.3 million into a 2003 defense bill for a land acquisition program that provided a windfall for an Arizona developer, SunCor Development, whose executives have given McCain $224,000 in campaign contributions?
  • said he'd keep troops in Iraq for 100 years and now says they will be out by the end of his first term?
  • sought and accepted the endorsement of the extremist Pastor John Hagee, who says God caused Hurricane Katrina to wipe out New Orleans because it had a gay pride parade the week before and who advocates invading Iran to hasten the coming of Armageddon?
  • supports his wife, the daughter of a multimillionaire Anheuser Busch distributor, in refusing to release her tax returns?
  • met with the Arizona developer, convicted racketeer and bailed-out savings and loan operator, Charles Keating, in 1987, a year after his wife and her father invested more than $350,000 in a strip mall developed by Mr. Keating that the New York Times has called a "sweetheart deal?"
Ryan and his Republican brethren have apparently given McCain an accountability pass when it comes to straight talk!


President compares giving up golf to soldiers' sacrifice in Iraq!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

2008 unlike past presidential elections

Frank Rich writes that the 2008 presidential election is very different than previous elections which is why the pundits have gotten so much so wrong:

Almost every wrong prediction about this election cycle has come from those trying to force the round peg of this year’s campaign into the square holes of past political wars. That’s why race keeps being portrayed as dooming Mr. Obama — surely Jeremiah Wright = Willie Horton! — no matter what the voters say to the contrary. It’s why the Beltway took on faith the Clinton machine’s strategic, organization and fund-raising invincibility. It’s why some prognosticators still imagine that John McCain can spin the Iraq fiasco to his political advantage as Richard Nixon miraculously did Vietnam.

The year 2008 is far more complex — and exhilarating — than the old templates would have us believe. Of course we’re in pain. More voters think the country is on the wrong track (81 percent) than at any time in the history of New York Times/CBS News polling on that question. George W. Bush is the most unpopular president that any living American has known.

And yet, paradoxically, there is a heartening undertow: we know the page will turn. For all the anger and angst over the war and the economy, for all the campaign’s acrimony, the anticipation of ending the Bush era is palpable, countering the defeatist mood. The repressed sliver of joy beneath the national gloom can be seen in the record registration numbers of new voters and the over-the-top turnout in Democratic primaries.

Mr. Obama hardly created this moment, with its potent brew of Bush loathing and sweeping generational change. He simply had the vision to tap into it. Running in 2008 rather than waiting four more years was the single smartest political decision he’s made (and, yes, he’s made dumb ones too). The second smartest was to understand and emphasize that subterranean, nearly universal anticipation of change rather than settle for the narrower band of partisan, dyspeptic Bush-bashing. We don’t know yet if he’s the man who can make the moment — and won’t know unless he gets to the White House — but there’s no question that the moment has helped make the man.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mother's Day-a cry for peace

It is estimated that Americans will spend $3.5 billion at Mother's Day brunches and a total of $15.8 billion on Mother's Day this year.

As we celebrate, it's worth recalling that Mother's Day began as a woman's protest against war and its aftermath.

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), a social activist, wrote the American Civil War anthem, 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.

She was an abolitionist and feminist who walked the Civil War battle fields and worked with the widows and orphans of that war.

When conflict between France and Germany threatened a new war, Howe penned her Mother's Day Proclamation urging mothers to rise up and prevent their sons from going to war. In 1872 she began promoting June 2nd as a Mother Day for Peace.

Howe was unsuccessful in getting Mother's Day for Peace established. It wasn't until 1914, on the eve of World War I, that President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day a national holiday.

On this Mother's Day, when over 4,000 American mothers (3,935 since President Bush declared "mission accomplished")and more than one million Iraqi mothers have lost their children to the senseless and costly U.S invasion of Iraq, it's worth reflecting on the Holiday's origins.

Mother's Day Proclamation

by Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Arise then...women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask

That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Extend Unemployment Benefits

The nation lost an additional 20,000 thousand jobs in April.

Most industries shed jobs last month, as has been the case since last November..

Notably, construction losses have spread from residential housing—reflecting the deep weakness in that sector—to non-residential building, which is also now on a consistent downtrend. Since the peak in construction employment in September 2006, the sector has shed almost 460,000 jobs.

Factory employment continues to slide, despite the export-boosting effect of the weaker dollar. In fact, the decline of 43,000 jobs in durable manufacturing (heavy industry) last month was the largest monthly loss since July 2003.

Almost 3 million unemployed workers have exhausted their benefits.

Another 5.2 million are employed part-time because they cannot find full time work, an increase of 850,000 from a year ago.

Wisconsin recorded the 3rd highest number of mass layoffs over the past year. And that was before Harley Davidson, General Motors/Janesville and Midwest Express announced layoffs.

When the original stimulus package was passed, President Bush refused to support extending unemployment benefits because his domestic policy agenda is limited to tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

Recall Mr. Bush originally campaigned that upper income tax cuts were justified by the nation's projected $5.2 trillion surplus.

When the recession began in March, 2001, shortly after he took office, the diagnosis had changed, but not Dr. Bush's medicine. Again the solution was high end tax cuts. The eventual $1.3 trillion tax cut was arrived at by taking 25% of the projected surplus despite the fact that it was disappearing in a sea of red ink.

As late as May of that year, when gas prices began to rise, President Bush's only solution was, you guessed it, upper income tax cuts.

Now unemployed workers are being held hostage to the President's supply side ideology.

In an editorial today the New York Times writes: "What is needed — now — is for Congress to extend jobless benefits for people who exhaust their initial 26 weeks of payments. Research is unequivocal that bolstered jobless benefits are more effective stimulus than tax rebates. They also have the advantage of being targeted to people in need...

Congress erred by not extending unemployment benefits in last February’s stimulus package. Lawmakers and Mr. Bush now have a second chance to fix that mistake. They must not squander it."

Congress must act now.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The All-White Elephant (AKA the Republican Party) in the Room

Frank Rich, the New York Times columnist, writes about the nation's double standard that judges black candidates on their most controversial associates, but not white candidates.

In his Sunday column he writes.:

... it is disingenuous to pretend that there isn’t a double standard operating here. If we’re to judge black candidates on their most controversial associates — and how quickly, sternly and completely they disown them — we must judge white politicians by the same yardstick.

When Rudy Giuliani, still a viable candidate, successfully courted Pat Robertson for an endorsement last year, few replayed Mr. Robertson’s greatest past insanities. Among them is his best-selling 1991 tome, “The New World Order,” which peddled some of the same old dark conspiracy theories about “European bankers” (who just happened to be named Warburg, Schiff and Rothschild) that Mr. Farrakhan has trafficked in. Nor was Mr. Giuliani ever seriously pressed to explain why his cronies on the payroll at Giuliani Partners included a priest barred from the ministry by his Long Island diocese in 2002 following allegations of sexual abuse. Much as Mr. Wright officiated at the Obamas’ wedding, so this priest officiated at (one of) Mr. Giuliani’s. Did you even hear about it?

There is not just a double standard for black and white politicians at play in too much of the news media and political establishment, but there is also a glaring double standard for our political parties. The Clintons and Mr. Obama are always held accountable for their racial stands, as they should be, but the elephant in the room of our politics is rarely acknowledged: In the 21st century, the so-called party of Lincoln does not have a single African-American among its collective 247 senators and representatives in Washington. Yes, there are appointees like Clarence Thomas and Condi Rice, but, as we learned during the Mark Foley scandal, even gay men may hold more G.O.P. positions of power than blacks.

A near half-century after the civil rights acts of the 1960s, this is quite an achievement. Yet the holier-than-thou politicians and pundits on the right passing shrill moral judgment over every Democratic racial skirmish are almost never asked to confront or even acknowledge the racial dysfunction in their own house. In our mainstream political culture, this de facto apartheid is simply accepted as an intractable given, unworthy of notice, and just too embarrassing to mention aloud in polite Beltway company. Those who dare are instantly accused of “political correctness” or “reverse racism.”

An all-white Congressional delegation doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the legacy of race cards that have been dealt since the birth of the Southern strategy in the Nixon era."

Read the entire column.