Monday, March 31, 2008

Gableman's attack ads scare Wisconsin's children!

Feds need to bail out states and economy!

Now that the Fed has bailed out one of the nation's most aggressive and reckless investment firms, Bear Stearns, President Bush and his economic advisers should turn their attention to helping the states and the American people.

At least 25 states are expecting budget shortfalls for the 2009 fiscal year. It is the largest number since 2002, when in the aftermath of the 2001 recession 37 states were forced to cut their budgets.

Many of these states owe their problems to stark declines in tax revenues after an implosion in housing markets. California is looking to fill a $14.5 billion hole for its next fiscal year, and Arizona’s $1.8 billion budget gap is 16 percent of its general fund, the largest percentage in the nation.

Wisconsin's deficit now stands at more than half a billion dollars ($527 million).

If the states cut their spending, government demand for goods and services will decrease , exacerbating the recession at the very time that fiscal stimulus policies are needed.

States, unlike the federal government which is allowed to engage in deficit spending, are required to balance their budgets. As a result, most states are cutting spending, particularly in education, as revenues decline.

According to the New York Times:"... eight states are cutting into the budgets for higher education, and nine states are cutting into their financing for primary and secondary education.

Delaware will not finance new school construction, and in Arizona, where school enrollment continues to explode, the Legislature, which wants to continue to pay cash to build schools, is fighting the governor, who would prefer to borrow for that construction in light of the state’s woes...

To help close a $600 million budget gap in Virginia, the state made hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts at universities, including dorm cleaning staff, library budgets and graduate assistantships...

In California, Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget for 2008-9 includes a $4.4 billion cut in public education, the largest ever considered in the state. School districts, preparing for next year’s budgets, are already contemplating cuts to their staff. In the Alameda school district in Northern California, trustees voted to reduce the $83.7 million budget by cutting $200,000 to the sports programs, eliminating music programs for all children below fourth grade and increasing class sizes in ninth grade to an average of 29 students, up from 20.

If it appropriate for the federal government to lend hundreds of billions to banks and unregulated investment firms that financed a mountain of risky mortgages now headed toward default, then it is reasonable to assist states that are struggling under the weight of the mortgage meltdown and the financial crisis that followed.

The Bush administration and federal regulators are largely to blame for this mess because they turned a blind eye to reckless lending and investing. Their commitment to deregulation fostered the housing bubble, putting people in homes they couldn't afford and allowing financial speculators to mask the risk by slicing and dicing loans to the point that they could no longer keep track of them.

Officials, like Alan Greenspan, whose job it is to oversee these types of excesses, sat quietly by as the bubble inflated, or blew air into it by encouraging "innovative" lending schemes.

Now that the President and federal policy makers admit that the economy is in deep trouble, they have a responsibility to help the states cope with the fall-out by providing them with the revenue they need to balance their budgets without cutting education or other necessary funding.

A failure to assist the states will cause increased suffering and deepen the recession.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Stop-Loss": an important and disturbing film

The U.S invasion and occupation of Iraq is now 5 years and counting.

More than 4,000 members of the U.S. armed forces have been killed and 29,451 have been wounded.

We are spending more than $10 billion a month on the war.

A new movie, "Stop-Loss" by Kimberly Peirce, whose brother served in Iraq, is a powerful indictment of the continuing U.S. occupation, our treatment of returning vets and the widespread use of "Stop-loss" to supply troops for the occupation and surge.

Over 81,000 Iraqi war veterans have been forced to return to combat under the military's Stop-loss policy, the involuntary extension of a service member's enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond the normal term of service.

Put simply, a veteran's discharge is unilaterally canceled and he or she is sent back to Iraq. Stop-loss is the military's way of continuing to throw troops into the Iraq quagmire even as recruitment declines.

So much for the "volunteer" army!

The irony that an administration that accused opponents of the war of being disloyal to the troops is using these very young men and women, against their will, as cannon fodder is not lost on the film makers or the actors who play the returning combat veterans.

While the Journal Sentinel's movie critic criticized the film as leaving "...something to be desired as art."

The New York Times movie critic, A.O. Scott gave it a very positive review:

..there is a grim, accidental timeliness in the release of “Stop-Loss,” which focuses on the ordeal of American soldiers in and out of combat...Ms. Peirce’s not only an earnest, issue-driven narrative, but also a feverish entertainment, a passionate, at times overwrought melodrama gaudy with violent actions and emotions....

...its messy, chaotic welter of feeling has a tang of authenticity. Instead of high-minded indignation or sorrow, it runs on earthier fuel: sweat, blood, beer, testosterone, loud music and an ideologically indeterminate, freewheeling sense of rage.

“Stop-Loss” makes no argument beyond the recognition of that fact. It is an imperfect movie — marred, if anything, by its sincere affection and undisciplined compassion — about the imperfect young men who keep returning to a war the rest of us would prefer not to think about.

This is an important and disturbing movie.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Go Badgers

When the Badgers takes the court against Davidson tonight, most fans will be rooting for the "underdog" Davidson.

Mike Ogle of the the New York Times points out that the fans and sports commentators have it wrong.

While the Wildcats of Davidson were ranked in the preseason top twenty-five, the Badgers, who won the regular season and Big Ten Tournament, were not even mentioned.

Davidson boasts players from 6 states, 6 countries and 3 continents, while the Badgers are mainly home grown.

Coach Bo Ryan spent 15 years coaching UW Platteville, a Division 3 school in Southwestern Wisconsin before being given a chance by UWM.

OK, Bo hails from Pennsylvania. But that was a long, long time ago. And Pennsylvania a lot like Wisconsin in any case.

Eleven of Wisconsin's players hail from the state including starters Brian Butch (Appleton), Michael Flowers (Madison) and Greg Landry (Milwaukee). And Trevon Hughes went to St. John's Military Academy in Delafield. The only starter not from Wisconsin is Joe Krabbenhof from the basketball hotbed of South Dakota! Wisconsin's sixth man, Jason Bohannon, is from Iowa.

The Badgers have done it with local talent, teamwork and grit.

Other than Butch, a solid player who has never quite lived up to his high school All American status, the Badgers were not considered top tier recruits. But they are better athletes than they are given credit for and have bought into Ryan's defense first, share the ball, deliberate swing offense to become one of the best teams in the nation. They are proving that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

For those of us who attended Wisconsin in the very lean days of Eno Hendrickson, the Badger's current success is all the sweeter. On Wisconsin !

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bowling Congress' departure suggests need for targeted development

Two weeks ago the U.S. Bowling Congress (USBC) announced that it will move its national headquarters and 190 jobs from Greendale to Arlington, Texas.

The decision was made despite concerted efforts by the Milwaukee 7 and state officials to keep the Congress in Milwaukee. Even Sports Illustrated columnist Frank Deford joined the effort writing that Milwaukee and bowling go together like baseball and crackerjacks.

Once the decision to relocate was announced, the usual cast of market fundamentalists used the decision to attack Milwaukee's business climate, suggesting that the USBC was leaving because taxes are too high and regulations to onerous.

The facts suggest a different motivation- to integrate the operations of the USBC and the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America (BPAA), bowling's trade association, which is located in Arlington, and use the resulting efficiencies to help grow the sport of bowling. USBC President Jeff Boj√© admitted as much stating:” With USBC and BPAA under the same roof, there's an untold number of ways we can work together to help grow the sport. There already are a number of joint programs that we work together on and this proposal would allow us to do so even more."

This was a deal that had little or nothing to do with tax rates and regulation.

Rather it is an attempt to revive a sport that has been losing market share for years by promoting collaboration between bowling's two most prominent organizations.

The decision was an admission that the USBC, created in 2004 by the merger of four bowling organizations had failed to"... reverse an exodus of members the past 20 years, stabilize bowling as both a recreational activity and a sport and address bowling's stodgy image." Nationally the combined membership in the organizations has fallen from about 10 million 20 years ago to about less than 3 million today.

Bowling grew as the nation's manufacturing base and industrial workforce expanded. By the end of World War II, bowling was a billion dollar industry that involved between 12 to 16 million Americans. It reached this status in part because it was promoted by the U.S. armed forces during the War and because unlike tennis or golf anyone with a few dollars and the desire could play.

In the postwar years bowling alleys were stripped of their hardscrabble origins and unsavory reputations. They were reconstituted with chrome and neon, becoming "transitional" institutions that exposed and helped integrate mainly white working-class families into the emerging middle-class mass consumer culture.

Milwaukee's working class embraced bowling. Unions like UAW 248 (Allis Chalmers), UAW 75 (Seaman Body/ American Motors) United Steelworkers 1114 (Harnischfeger) and UE1111 (Allen Bradley) organized teams with thousands of participants. Dick Stoll regularly reported on bowling in the Wisconsin CIO News' "Down Your Alley" column.

Bowling has declined as Milwaukee has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs and as other forms of recreation have become more accessible and desirable. In a real sense consumers have voted with their feet, leaving the bowling alleys and the USBC behind.

The USBC decision is an effort to reverse these very real market trends as was the M7s effort to retain the headquarters in Milwaukee.

One of the ironies of the M7 approach to economic development has been been its focus on retaining corporate headquarters even as it has embraced the global economy's relocation of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs from Milwaukee.

Its efforts to save the headquarters of Midwest Express, Miller and now the USBC stand in stark contrast to its laissez faire approach to deindustrialization and support for "free trade" agreements like NAFTA that has cost Wisconsin 25,000 manufacturing jobs and China's most favored nation status.

Put simply the M7 has worked tirelessly to save the job of Midwest CEO Tim Huekesma, but done little for Milwaukee's real life Ralph Kramdens.

The failure to keep the USBC in Greendale, despite a package of more than $8 million, also suggests the limitations of an economic development approach that relies on subsidies and economic incentives.

Such an approach is inadequate because every region of the country offers similar deals. Arlington's competitive advantage was the possibility of creating a critical mass of bowling activity on an international campus. It's the same reason Madison is emerging as a biotech center-federal and state funded stem cell research conducted at the University of Wisconsin has created a critical mass of scientific talent and knowledge that is attracting additional public and private investment. As this research is commercialized and the UW and Wisconsin Technical College System produce the sector's scientific and technical workers, the state's biotech sector will expand.

This economic development model can work in Milwaukee if we strengthen relations between our advanced manufacturing sector and the area's engineering schools, technical colleges and apprenticeship programs.

Such an approach won't solve all of area's economic problems, particularly Milwaukee's depression level rates of African American unemployment. For that we need to ensure that publicly subsidized developments like the Park East or UWM's Engineering School include community benefits such as local hiring and training and pay the prevailing wage. In addition, we should press to locate projects like the new Engineering School in the City of Milwaukee to maximize its economic impact.

These targeted economic development strategies are far more promising than offering the same economic incentives as every other region or engaging in self-flagellation.

The question is whether Milwaukee's political and civic leadership has the resolve to pursue them?

Monday, March 24, 2008

U.S shadow banking system faces 21st Century version of 1930's bank runs

Paul Krugman explains in layman's terms the causes of the nation's financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression, and suggests why it has not become a Presidential campaign issue:

America came out of the Great Depression with a pretty effective financial safety net, based on a fundamental quid pro quo: the government stood ready to rescue banks if they got in trouble, but only on the condition that those banks accept regulation of the risks they were allowed to take.

Over time, however, many of the roles traditionally filled by regulated banks were taken over by unregulated institutions — the “shadow banking system,” which relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass those safety regulations.

Now, the shadow banking system is facing the 21st-century equivalent of the wave of bank runs that swept America in the early 1930s. And the government is rushing in to help, with hundreds of billions from the Federal Reserve, and hundreds of billions more from government-sponsored institutions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

Given the risks to the economy if the financial system melts down, this rescue mission is justified. But you don’t have to be an economic radical, or even a vocal reformer like Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to see that what’s happening now is the quid without the quo.

Last week Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, declared that Mr. Frank is right about the need for expanded regulation. Mr. Rubin put it clearly: If Wall Street companies can count on being rescued like banks, then they need to be regulated like banks.

But will that logic prevail politically?

Not if Mr. McCain makes it to the White House. His chief economic adviser is former Senator Phil Gramm, a fervent advocate of financial deregulation. In fact, I’d argue that aside from Alan Greenspan, nobody did as much as Mr. Gramm to make this crisis possible.

Both Democrats, by contrast, are running more or less populist campaigns. But at least so far, neither Democrat has made a clear commitment to financial reform.

Is that simply an omission? Or is it an ominous omen? Recent history offers reason to worry.

In retrospect, it’s clear that the Clinton administration went along too easily with moves to deregulate the financial industry. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that big contributions from Wall Street helped grease the rails.

Last year, there was no question at all about the way Wall Street’s financial contributions to the new Democratic majority in Congress helped preserve, at least for now, the tax loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

Now, the securities and investment industry is pouring money into both Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s coffers. And these donors surely believe that they’re buying something in return.

Let’s hope they’re wrong.

The entire article is linked.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Patrick McIlheran's straw man

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's resident Republican Party apologist, Mr. Patrick McIlheran, castigates economists for saying that the war in Iraq has cost $3 trillion when it has ONLY cost $750 billion.

Two problems.

First, no one has said that the war has cost $3 trillion.

Economists like Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, a former President of the Council of Economic Advisers and VP of the World Bank, and Yale University's William D. Nordhaus have estimated that the war will eventually cost more than $2 trillion.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office recently confirmed these projects.

By creating a straw man, Mr. McIlheran conveniently ignores the Bush administration's promises that the invasion and occupation would pay for itself.

“Iraq has oil,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Fortune magazine in 2002, discussing the potential cost of an Iraq invasion and how it would be met. “They have financial resources.”

Paul Wolfowitz, formerly Rumsfeld’s deputy, was even bolder when he testified before Congress as the war began that: “The oil revenues of that country could bring in between $50 (billion) and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction.”

The President’s men saw what they wanted to see — Iraq's 115 billion barrels of oil reserves beneath the desert. They were blind to the reality: An oil industry decimated by more than a decade of economic sanctions, with technological decay and even geological deterioration of the fields already gnawing at it.

The rash predictions about Iraqi oil paying for the American invasion and occupation of Iraq were always suspect, part of the administration's marketing campaign to sell the war as a short and relatively cost-free operation.

Secondly, this war, the second most costly in U.S. history, is being fought with borrowed money.

McIlheran is a self proclaimed fiscal conservative. Yet he completely ignores that this is the first time in US history that we cut taxes while waging a war. Or that the resulting deficits will be passed on to future generations.

In 2006 the U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimated that if we "stay the course in Iraq, McIlheran's preferred strategy, the deficit will increase by $313 billion over the next four years and $1.3 trillion over the next decade.

Even if we accept McIlheran's $750 billion figure, the cost is more than 7 times what the Bush administration said the war would cost. Or as New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, recently wrote we are spending $12.5 billion a month or $5000 every second. As Senator Everett Dirksen once said: "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money."

The problem, Patrick, is not that some are overestimating the long-term costs of the war, but that the Bush administration was as wrong about the cost of the war as it was about almost everything else in Iraq. On this your silence is deafening!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Bear Stearns: privatized gains, socialized risks

The Bush administration and federal regulators are largely to blame for the nation's growing financial crisis. Their laissez faire practices fostered the housing bubble, putting people in homes they couldn't afford and allowed financial speculators to mask the risk by slicing and dicing loans to the point that they could no longer keep track of them while earning billions.

Alan Greenspan and other high-ranking Federal Reserve officials watched as the bubble inflated, or worse, blew more air into it by encouraging "innovative" lending schemes.

Once the housing bubble blew-up, the Bush administration has refused to help homeowners who, having been enticed into taking out loans they could not afford, are now facing foreclosure.

The President justified federal inaction less than a week before the Fed bailed our Bear Stearns, asserting that "one of the worst things you can do is overcorrect." Resurrecting Republican arguments against raising the federal minimum wage, he said that federal intervention "would make a complicated problem even worse - and end up hurting far more homeowners than we help."

The administration didn't harbor the same concerns about a federal rescue of the nation's financial elite, guaranteeing $30 billion for J.P. Morgan Chase' s firesale purchase of Bear Stearns, one of the industry's most aggressive and reckless investment firms.

A New York Times editorial, "Socialized Compensation," notes that: "The ongoing bailout of the financial system by the Federal Reserve underscores the extent to which financial barons socialize the costs of private bets gone bad.

Compared to the cold shoulder given to struggling homeowners, the cash and attention lavished by the government on the nation’s financial titans provides telling insight into the priorities of the Bush administration. It’s not simply a matter of fairness, though...if the objective is to encourage prudent banking and keep Wall Street’s wizards from periodically driving financial markets over the cliff, it is imperative to devise a remuneration system for bankers that puts more of their skin in the game.

The costs of such a lopsided system of incentives are by now clear. Better regulation of mortgage markets would help avoid repeating current excesses. But more fundamental correctives are needed to curb financiers’ appetite for walking a tightrope...

...until bankers face a real risk of losing their shirts, they will continue blithely ratcheting up the risks to collect the rewards while letting the rest of us carry the bag when their punts go bad.

The editorial is linked here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Barack Obama's speech on race and union in America

I don't know if Barack Obama's speech, "A More Perfect Union," will help or hurt him in his effort to win the Democratic nomination for President. The voters will decide that.

I am convinced more than ever, however, that Barack Obama is a different kind of politician.

This speech and his candidacy are not defined by poll-driven consultants or political expediency. They are based on his understanding and appreciation of American history and his commitment to social justice.

The speech was remarkable for its honesty, morality and understanding of the American experience. It was the best speech I have ever heard a presidential candidate make.

Attached is the New York Times editorial, "Mr. Obama’s Profile in Courage," about the speech and below is a video of the speech.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ignores MPS students in robotics competition

It's great that the Journal Sentinel ran a front page article on the FIRST Wisconsin Robotics competition.

FIRST - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - is a nonprofit group that promotes careers in science, technology and engineering to young people.

Three local teams were recognized in the Journal's piece, Thomas More High School, Marquette University High School and a team composed of the three Waukesha public high schools.

But the local paper didn't even mention that students from 5 MPS high schools participated:

  • Team 1268-Washington High School, MATC, GE Volunteers, Rockwell Automation and United Wtaer.
  • Team 1675-Milwaukee Tech and Rufus King, Rockwell, GE, George Mosher, Milwaukee School of Engineering and Milwaukee Rotary
  • Team 2547-Bay View and Genesis High School, NASA, Rockwell Automation, GE Volunteers, Hayes Bicycle, Nighthawk Radiology.

There are 3500 MPS students currently enrolled in pre-engineering programs, more than in any school district in the nation!

Yet, even Milwaukee's Mayor, Tom Barrett, failed to recognize the participation of MPS students and high schools in his official Proclamation supporting the FIRST competition.

According to MPS officials, their student "were crushed" by the lack of official recognition from the MJS and Mayor.

It's great that the MJS recognized that Milwaukee Vincent girl's basketball team won the state division 1 championship for the 2nd year in a row. And it is understandable that it reports on disturbances that break out at some of the high schools, even if such events are relatively infrequent.

But how about recognizing MPS's high achieving students and the faculty, staff and private and public sector partners who are helping these young people achieve?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fed bails out Bear Stearns: welfare for Wall Street!

In light of the Fed's announcement that it will bail out Bear Sterns, Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) asks:

"Why is the Fed, an agency of the government, using our tax dollars to keep Bear Stearns and its rich managers and shareholders above water?

Baker continues: After all, the government supposedly doesn't have enough money to provide kids with health care and childcare, to guarantee families decent housing or to meet a long list of other needs. Why do we have the money to lend tens of billions of dollars to Bear Stearns at below market interest rates?

There are two points about this bailout that should be clear. First, this is a bailout - we are handing money to Bear Stearns. Second, we don't have to hand tens of billions of dollars to the country's richest people to save the financial system.

The politicians will try to do their best to obscure the first point. They say, "we aren't giving them money - we're lending money and we're getting interest, so the government can make a profit."

This is what politicians tell people who they think are stupid. No private bank would lend money to Bear Stearns at the same interest rate and under the same terms as the Fed. (We know this for certain; otherwise, Bear Stearns would not have run to the Fed.) When the government makes a loan at below market interest rates, it is giving away money. People on Wall Street know this very well, that is how they got to be fabulously rich: They borrow money at a lower interest rate than they lend it out.

If they can't get away with the "no bailout" nonsense, the Wall Street welfare boys will then try the route of claiming we have to bail them out in order to prevent the whole financial system from collapsing. Such a collapse could turn the recession into a depression leaving millions unemployed for years.

This is also nonsense."

Read the entire column

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Republicans propose $200 billion tax cut for the super rich!

The inheritance tax is a tax on inherited wealth that is paid by the very wealthiest of American families, the Rockefeller's, Hilton's, DuPont's, Kennedy's and Vanderbilt's to name just a few.

These are the rarefied folks who were born with a silver steam shovel in their mouths!

It was one of their own, Republican President and former rough rider, Teddy Roosevelt, who first proposed a tax on inherited wealth, although it did not become law until 1916, eight years after he left office.

Roosevelt believed that the transmission of enormous wealth to young men ''does not do them any real service and is of great and genuine detriment to the community at large.''

What really mattered, according to Roosevelt, was to have a national community based on citizens' political equality, relative economic equality and interdependence.

For Roosevelt, the inheritance tax was a moral issue as well as an economic one. ''If ever our people become so sordid as to feel that all that counts is moneyed prosperity, ignoble well-being, effortless ease and comfort,'' he warned, ''then this nation shall perish, as it will deserve to perish, from the earth.'' Wealth, he declared, should only be ''the foundation on which to build the real life, the life of spiritual and moral effort and achievement.''

His cousin President Franklin Roosevelt echoed these themes in the middle of the Great Depression when he argued: ''The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people...'Inherited economic power is as inconsistent with the ideals of this generation as inherited political power was inconsistent with the ideals of the generation which established our Government.''

Not according to the modern Republican Party whose Senator Jon Kyl ( R, Arizona) is proposing a $200 billion inheritance tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. Most of the windfall would go to estates valued at more than $10 million per person, the richest 0.1 percent.

The government would have to borrow to make up for this $200 billion giveaway to rich heirs, worsening the deficit and adding about $100 billion in interest to the nation’s tab. To put it simply you, your children and grandchildren would finance this tax cut for the super rich!

The New York Times editorialized against this irresponsible money grab today. It is linked here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Iraq war is undermining the nation's current and future prosperity

The $3 trillion dollar cost of the war in Iraq is undermining the nation's health, education and prosperity!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Official unemployment rate masks the real rate of unemployment

David Leonhardt, a New York Times economics writer, explains in his column that the official unemployment rate hides the much higher "real" rate of unemployment.

Thirteen percent of prime-age males in the U.S. are not working, a post-World War II high that acts as an anchor on hourly wages and compensation.

"...the average unemployment rate in this decade, just above 5 percent, has been lower than in any decade since the 1960s. Yet the percentage of prime-age men (those 25 to 54 years old) who are not working has been higher than in any decade since World War II. In January, almost 13 percent of prime-age men did not hold a job, up from 11 percent in 1998, 11 percent in 1988, 9 percent in 1978 and just 6 percent in 1968.

Even prime-age women, who flooded into the work force in the 1970s and 1980s, aren’t working at quite the same rate they were when this decade began. About 27 percent of them don’t hold a job today, up from 25 percent in early 2000.

There are only two possible explanations for this bizarre combination of a falling employment rate and a falling unemployment rate. The first is that there has been a big increase in the number of people not working purely by their own choice. You can think of them as the self-unemployed. They include retirees, as well as stay-at-home parents, people caring for aging parents and others doing unpaid work.

If growth in this group were the reason for the confusing statistics, we wouldn’t need to worry. It would be perfectly fair to say that unemployment was historically low.

The second possible explanation — a jump in the number of people who aren’t working, who aren’t actively looking but who would, in fact, like to find a good job — is less comforting. It also appears to be the more accurate explanation.

Various studies have shown that the new nonemployed are not mainly dot-com millionaires or stay-at-home dads. (Men who have dropped out of the labor force actually do less housework on average than working women, according to Harley Frazis and Jay Stewart of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

Instead, these nonemployed workers tend to be those who have been left behind by the economic changes of the last generation. Their jobs have been replaced by technology or have gone overseas, and they can no longer find work that pays as well. West Virginia, a mining state, is a great example. It may have a record-low unemployment rate, but it has also had an enormous rise in the number of out-of-work men.

These nonemployed remain a distinct minority of the population. But the growth in their numbers is one reason that overall wage growth has been so weak lately. With such a large pool of people who aren’t employed — but willing to work for the right price — those who do have jobs find themselves with less bargaining power. Since 2003, total compensation, including the value of health insurance and other benefits, has failed to keep pace with inflation for most workers, according to Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Nobel Prize winner puts Iraq war cost at $3 trillion

Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, who presciently challenged the Bush administration's rose-colored, low-ball costs of the war in Iraq more than two years ago, recently testified before Congress' Joint Economic Committee that the long-term cost of the war will reach $3 trillion.

Stiglitz, a former World Bank VP and Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, told the Committee “Because the administration actually cut taxes as we went to war, when we were already running huge deficits, this war has, effectively, been entirely financed by deficits. The national debt has increased by some $2.5 trillion since the beginning of the war, and of this, almost $1 trillion is due directly to the war itself ... By 2017, we estimate that the national debt will have increased, just because of the war, by some $2 trillion.”

Bob Herbert's column on Stiglitz's appearance before the committee is linked here .

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Walker mismanages transit system, undermines economic growth

Milwaukee County Executive, Scott Walker, says government needs to be run like a business.

But there’s not a business anywhere that would succeed if it was mismanaged the way Mr. Walker has mismanaged the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS)!

Walker, who has no private sector experience, has raised prices, while cutting service- a recipe for failure!

Last year ridership plunged 9% to a 33 year low even as national transit ridership soared to a 50 year high in response to high gas prices and growing traffic congestion.

Walker doesn’t grasp rudimentary economics. You can attract riders/customers with low prices. Or you attract them by offering high level (quality) services. But no enterprise, public or private, can raise prices and slash service and operate successfully.

Yet, this has been Walker's strategy for the Milwaukee County Transit System.

From 2001- 2007, Walker increased adult cash fares by 30% from $1.35 to $1.75 and weekly pass fares by 52% from $10.50 to $16. He eliminated seventeen bus routes; reduced service on sixteen routes; ended year round downtown trolley service; and cut night time service.

This year he raised the adult fare again-to $2.00. It is now one of the highest in the nation. And he cut four additional routes! Walker proposed cutting many more routes, but the County Board restored them.

And Walker’s not done. He plans to slash service 35% more by 2010.

Walker’s brags about holding Milwaukee County’s spending to the rate of inflation. But his 2001-2007 adult fare increases were 18% more than the rate of inflation while weekly pass prices soared almost 33% more.

With gas prices expected to approach $4 a gallon, many Milwaukee residents and suburban commuters are looking for cheaper, alternative transportation. Walker’s plan for the transit system coupled with his obstinate opposition to developing a catalytic light rail system has left Milwaukee with no viable transportation alternatives. It has also shifted costs to the Milwaukee Public School District, forcing the district to raise property taxes and cut school servces to pay for Walker's shortsighted student fare increases.

The United State Bowling Congress is leaving Milwaukee. Miller’s corporate headquarters may follow. While suburban businesses face labor shortages, unemployment remains stubbornly high in the County.

Does the County Executive really believe Milwaukee can attract and retain jobs and corporate headquarters without a viable public transit system?

Does Mr. Walker really think we can connect the unemployed with employers experiencing labor shortages without affordable and efficient mass transit?

When you put a fox in charge of the chicken coup, the feathers fly.