Archive for the ‘The Economy’ Category
Earlier today, news broke that the United States Postal Service (USPS) wishes to eliminate mail delivery on Saturday. (Supposedly, packages will still be delivered, but nothing else.) This is despite the fact that Congress, as a whole, has opposed eliminating Saturday mail delivery as it would be disastrous for rural communities, as many of the US Representatives have said — including Republican Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) — along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont, a long-time US Rep. before ascending to the Senate) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).
I picked these three members of the US Congress for a reason — none of them, not one, are Democrats. (Yes, Sanders caucuses with the Ds. But he still isn’t a D.) Which shows there’s bipartisan support to keep the Post Office open six days a week, both a sensible and logical decision.
It may not seem like it to those of us who live in cities, but post offices are desperately needed in smaller communities. There are places with only one post office for the town or municipality (and that one being the only one for miles around). There are states that are largely rural (Nebraska, for one). Having mail get delivered only five days per week would be incredibly harmful to Nebraska, much less Alaska . . . especially as in the latter, people get oil mailed as well as food, medication and paychecks.
For that matter, those of you who believe all checks are electronic need to think again, too. There isn’t always a viable alternative to a paper check, especially if you’re sending in a bill. Many companies charge you a “convenience fee” to pay by debit card or other electronic means, which is why checks are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. And if you think your car company, for example, is going to be more likely to give you a break due to your payment being late due to a postal service cutback, think again.
Senator Sanders was blunt about the impact of these potential cutbacks, especially considering how a bill he’d proposed last year passed the Senate with ease — but was never taken up whatsoever by the House:
“Providing fewer services and less quality will cause more customers to seek other options. Rural Americans, businesses, senior citizens and veterans will be hurt by ending Saturday mail,” Sanders added.
Amen, brother! Amen.
While the Los Angeles Times article about the proposed cutbacks pointed out another possible reason for the USPS to make this announcement at this particular time:
The announcement came with little advance notice to lawmakers, who were preparing to renew an effort to pass postal legislation this year.
Though many members of Congress insist they would have to approve the cutback, Donahoe told reporters that the agency believes it can move forward unilaterally. The current mandate for six-day delivery is part of a government funding measure that expires in late March.
“There’s plenty of time in there so if there is some disagreement” with lawmakers, “we can get that resolved,” he said.
Or in other words, the USPS did this to force the Congress to act.
Here’s the main problem with the USPS, folks. It’s that the Congress requires the Post Office to pre-fund retirements and health care fees for seventy-five years. (No misprint.) No other company in the world is forced to do such a thing, yet the Congress put this onerous burden on the Postal Service because it helps the Congress mask the deficit a little bit.
But change is not the biggest factor in the agency’s predicament – Congress is. The majority of the service’s red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment – $11.1 billion in a two-year installment last year – and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the past fiscal year, lower than the previous year.
So because the Congress has “fuzzy math skills,” the rest of us get screwed. (How typical.)
My view is simple: The Post Office should not eliminate Saturday delivery. The main reason for this is logistical. Right now on Mondays, there’s twice as much mail to be delivered. With the possible elimination of Saturday delivery as well, there would be three times as much mail to be delivered — but with the same amount of carriers. What sense does this make?
The US Senate plan, which was passed in April of 2012, should be followed. There should be a two-year moratorium placed on the Post Office eliminating one day a week from their delivery system, while every other way of cutting costs should be pursued. (Let’s hope the Senate will include rolling back the onerous requirement of pre-funding retirements and health care costs for seventy-five years, as that’s the main reason why the USPS is so far in the red.)
At the end of two years, if there’s no other way to proceed, then a day should be picked in the middle of the week to eliminate as that would be likely to be less harmful than the elimination of Saturday delivery.
So the way to fix the current problem is this — the US House of Reps needs to act. They need to pass a bill that goes along with the bill that has already passed the Senate in order to keep the USPS from unilaterally acting in a way that would be seriously harmful to rural residents.
“The postmaster general cannot save the Postal Service by ending one of its major competitive advantages. Cutting six-day delivery is not a viable plan for the future. It will lead to a death spiral that will harm rural America while doing very little to improve the financial condition of the Postal Service,” Sanders said.
So, the USPS has shown its hand. Many are upset about it, including Sens. Sanders and Collins and Rep. Crawford, the President of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, and talk show host and MSNBC analyst Ed Schultz.
(And if you haven’t guessed yet that I’m upset as well, you need to up your reading comprehension skills a bit. Seriously.)
Now, will the Congress as a whole act? Or will they do what they’ve generally done for the past four or five years — sit on their butts, point fingers, and otherwise be useless wastes of time and space who are getting paid for what seems like very little reason?
It’s all down to you, Congress.
Act responsibly. (Please.)
Remember how I said a few days ago that I was having trouble coming up with meaningful blog subjects?
Well, forget that, because today’s blog subject is so easy I’m surprised no one else has taken a whack at it.
Put succinctly: who came up with the idea that Powerball should cost $2 per line rather than $1 in this terrible economy? And why hasn’t that person been fired by now due to this atrocious idea, rather than Powerball being about to institute their new $2-per-line “fee schedule” on January 15, 2012?
As of that date, Powerball will raise its opening jackpot to $40 million (meaning you can never win less than this if you take the multi-year option prize) and will guarantee that you’ll win $1,000,000 if you match five of five numbers (rather than the current $200,000). And they’re touting that the “overall odds” to win a prize will be better — I don’t see it, but whatever — which must be the reasoning they used.
But that is not enough to justify raising the price from $1 to $2 per line, especially as the popular “multiplier” feature is not included — it’s still separate. So if you want to “multiply” your prize, you’ll now have to pay $3 per line rather than $2. While this isn’t as big a jump — because the multiplier feature has remained the same at $1 per line — this is still a jump and most people won’t bother.
Now, as to the reality of why people play Powerball and other lottery games of chance? It’s because we all want to hope for better, and Powerball plays off that in its advertising. The typical Powerball ad says, “With one dollar, you can buy a ticket — and a dream.” And that’s pretty much what you’re buying with regards to Powerball, as the overall odds aren’t that great (view current odds here).
Anyone with half a brain knows that playing the lottery is a fool’s game. You’re better off, really, to bury your dollar in the backyard than you are to play the lottery, yet many people — including myself — do play the lottery mostly because they want to dream about something better. And hey, there’s lots of ways to waste a dollar — so why not?
But when you’re talking about putting $2 down for each ticket rather than only $1, things change. Suddenly, you’re having to pay double the amount of money and that doesn’t seem reasonable — especially as the economy remains awful in many parts of the country, including my own Wisconsin.
Which is why this is such a stupid idea that I really don’t understand why anyone would want to roll this out just past the New Year, especially considering how many people are struggling just to pay for the basics, much less optional luxuries like a lottery ticket.
Here’s what’s likely to happen with regards to Powerball as of 1/15/2012; sales will plummet. Those who have a dollar and a dream will play MegaMillions instead (which draws on Tuesdays and Fridays in many states and has kept its price, sensibly, at $1 per line), or will play their own state’s lottery, or will maybe just save it and bury it in the backyard.
And the reason Powerball sales will plummet is this: the economy is bad. It is brutal. And in the Midwest, where money is at a premium, lottery sales have already gone down — so why do the Powerball execs want to make it even worse?
So if I can see this new “fee schedule” as a non-starter as a regular lottery player who’s spent more than her share of cash on the Powerball over the years, why can’t the Powerball execs?
Oh, yeah. They must not have been hit by the horrible economy, so they actually think there’s enough money out there to do something like this.
I have news for you, Powerball execs: think again. Or watch your business go south. Way south.
There’s a new group in town, and they want the Congress to raise taxes — on themselves.
Never heard of them? Well, they call themselves the Patriotic Millionaires, and they even have their very own Web site.
Here’s a lengthy excerpt from their original letter to Congress (from patrioticmillionaires.org):
We are writing to urge you to put our country ahead of politics.
For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you increase taxes on incomes over $1,000,000.
We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more.
Our country faces a choice – we can pay our debts and build for the future, or we can shirk our financial responsibilities and cripple our nation’s potential.
Our country has been good to us. It provided a foundation through which we could succeed. Now, we want to do our part to keep that foundation strong so that others can succeed as we have.
Please do the right thing for our country. Raise our taxes.
There are a good many statistics on the side of their Web page, including the following facts:
- Only 375,000 Americans have incomes of over $1,000,000.
- Between 1979 and 2007, incomes for the wealthiest 1% of Americans rose by 281%.
- During the Great Depression, millionaires had a top marginal tax rate of 68%.
- Today, millionaires have a top marginal tax rate of 35%.
- Reducing the income tax on top earners is one of the most inefficient ways to grow the economy according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
- 44% of Congress people are millionaires. The tax cuts were never meant to be permanent. (emphasis added)
- Letting tax cuts for the top 2% expire as scheduled would pay down the debt by $700 billion over the next 10 years.
The Patriotic Millionaires number two hundred strong, and are growing daily. They believe that it’s plain, flat wrong for millionaires to be taxed at a lower effective level than people in the middle class. And they’ve put their money where their mouths are by going to Washington on November 16, 2011, in order to lobby Congress, influential anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist, and others for a higher tax rate for themselves. (Here’s a link to the story from the Los Angeles Times if you don’t believe me.)
The Patriotic Millionaires only want taxes raised on people who make one million dollars ($1,000,000) a year and above; they want no other taxes raised. As several members of the group said (from a tape played on tonight’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell program), they want their taxes raised because they feel it is wrong that everyone else is suffering, while they, themselves, have gotten much richer over the course of the recession.
I’m glad the Patriotic Millionaires group exists, and I’m very glad they’re getting some airplay. They need a whole lot more, because they’re the “job creators” the Congressional Republicans keep touting as “needing” this big tax break. Yet this is a spurious argument, as the millionaires kept pointing out on tonight’s Last Word (link to that is here), and as quoted in this article from Yahoo News:
Patriotic Millionaire Robert Johnson, former chief economist of the U.S Senate banking committee, said that the current economic system is not broken, but it is “working on behalf of those who designed it in their favor.”
“America is no longer based on markets and capitalism, instead our economy is designed as ‘socialism for the rich’ – it is designed to ensure that the wealthiest people take all of the gains, while regular Americans cover any losses,” he said at a press conference this afternoon in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a Las Vegas economy where regular Americans put their money on the table and the richest 1 percent own the house,” he said. “And if the 1 percent happen to lose money, the 99 percent bails them out – covers their losses and then stands by watching while the house does it all over again.”
Note how well Mr. Johnson put that? Well, he should know, being an economist — one who worked for the United States Senate Banking Committee, at that. Yet the Congressional “Supercommittee,” which is made up of twelve members (six Rs and six Ds), is once again stalled out with regards to any tax increases because the Rs, quite predictably, are refusing.
So as you see, it doesn’t seem to matter what these millionaires say; the Congress (44% of its members being millionaires) keeps saying “no.” And the only reason I can come up with for that is this: Congress doesn’t want to raise taxes on millionaires because such a tax increase will hurt some of its own members. (I’d say, “Poor babies,” but I don’t even think that highly of them.)
It’s up to Congress to stop playing games and raise taxes on millionaires because it’s the only ethical, honest thing to do. Period.
And if it hurts them, personally . . . well, that’s just too bad now, isn’t it?
Tonight, via MSNBC’s ”Rachel Maddow Show,” I found out about the Website Occupy Writers because Maddow had author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) on to discuss his recent post at that site. A few of Lemony Snicket’s salient points from his post at Occupy Writers follow:
6. Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.
11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.
(Good words. I can’t top them.)
Note that OccupyWriters.com is where many of my favorite authors have signed up in support of the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Everything Else movement that’s going on right now. A few of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors who’ve signed their names in support at that site include Rosemary Edghill, Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Melinda Snodgrass, Laura Resnick, Laura Anne Gilman, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Neil Gaiman – I’m sure there were more, but those were the ones I noted right away. There are many, many writers on that list, some who are extremely well-known (like Salman Rushdie), some who are well-known to SF/F readers like myself (see above) and some who aren’t known — including some editors of various magazines, including Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar. (I’d gladly sign my name to the list, too, but I don’t have a novel published yet. Otherwise, I’d have done this as soon as I knew the site was available.)
What I think is great about OccupyWriters.com is that it shows that people who are creative understand what’s going on in this world. Our economy is not just bad; it’s truly terrible, and it’s something that all Americans — not just the “bottom 99%” — should care about. These writers get that, which is great.
Now, it’s time for the top 1%, like those who sit in the United States Congress, to realize that without the “bottom 99%,” nothing gets done in this country. Period.
Speaking of that, CNN’s Jack Cafferty has an excellent blog about why the Congress doesn’t seem to care at all about the “bottom 99%”. This is because they, themselves, benefitted from the horrible policies they instituted — greatly.
During the height of the recession, Congress actually became 25% richer. Meaning they were “feathering their own nests” while the rest of us got the shaft — as disgusting as this is, there’s more to the story.
From Cafferty’s blog post:
“Roll Call” reports that members of Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010.
That was up about 25 percent from 2008, during the height of the recession.
And these wealth totals likely underestimate how rich Congress really is. That’s because they don’t include homes and other non-income generating property, which could come out to hundreds of millions in additional dollars.
This wealth is split fairly evenly between both Democrats and Republicans.
Overall, about 200 members of Congress are millionaires. Once again, this doesn’t include the value of their homes.
So did you catch all that? As bad as this is that the Congress is so much wealthier, overall, than the rest of the country — including the vast majority of their own constituents — this doesn’t even include the value of their homes or other property, which anyone else would have to claim as a matter of course as part of his or her overall wealth.
Cafferty continues a bit lower with:
Another expert suggests members of Congress do better with their investments than the average American because they are privy to inside information.
Really? Seriously? They would take advantage of that… something that is clearly illegal for the rest of us?
The bottom line is this body of lawmakers has next to nothing in common with the average American. Yet we keep sending most of the same rat pack back year after year.
Here’s my question to you: What does it say when members of Congress got 25% richer during the height of the recession?
I don’t know about anyone else, but what it says to me is that Congress is behaving in an unethical, immoral, blatantly dishonest manner. And it once again reminds me why we must be vigilant, watch what our representatives do (not just what they say), and perhaps most importantly of all, keep an eye on who — and what — is financing their campaigns.
This is why I, for one, intend to vote out as many wealthy incumbents who are in Congress as I possibly can. In this case, there’s one name who tops my list — my long-time Representative, Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), who clearly has forgotten that most of his constituents make far less money than he does. Ryan has done himself no favors, either, as he’s shown little to no understanding of the whole “Occupy” movement, nor any compassion as to how difficult it is nowadays to find work in America — even for our honored military veterans, some of whom have gone out in support at various “Occupy” protests and have been hurt badly by police, most especially in Oakland, California.
And I’m sorry; I cannot support anyone who doesn’t want to help promote job growth in this country. Rep. Ryan’s been in office for twelve whole years; he’s had twelve years to try to improve the economy, and he’s done very little about it. Ryan has obviously lost touch with the people of his district, and more importantly, the people of this country. If he can’t even figure out that the economy is in the tank, so the House of Representatives should have better things to do with their time than re-affirm “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States (as they did earlier this week) rather than take up any measure that could possibly help create employment in this country (see previous post for details), I know that just about anyone would do a better job as my US Rep. than Paul Ryan.
Worse yet, he’s said several times that he doesn’t understand the “Occupy” movement; he doesn’t believe it’s helpful. Yet military veterans, who Ryan claims to appreciate, are coming home to no jobs and a 12% unemployment rate, which is why some are going to “Occupy” protests across the US of A in order to ask, “Where are the jobs, and why doesn’t anybody in Washington, DC, or in the halls of power seem to care?”
I’m sorry; if you can’t be bothered to understand why people are upset because there’s a high unemployment rate overall, including a very high unemployment rate for returning military vets who’ve fought the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, it’s time for you to go.
So please, Mr. Ryan — don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.
I, indeed, am an “Occupy Writer” even if I never am able to sign that petition — and I hope that I’ve done my level best to speak for the bottom 99% this evening, even if I did originally say “top 99%” because I was thinking about our morals, manners, and ethics — where we are, indeed, the top 99%, and those who don’t get it have to be the bottom 1% in these areas.
Folks, once again, I had a promising story bounce out of a market. I have tried this particular story, “Sounds of Nightfall,” at every major market and most of the minor markets . . . sometimes it gets good comments, and other times, it has drawn a “huh?” reaction.
Anyway, I’d found a jazz magazine that does a short fiction contest, so I decided to try “Sounds” there, as it’s about a jazz musician who’s been helped by the spirits of two deceased saxophonists — Charlie Parker and Art Pepper — and I hoped for the best.
Unfortunately, it didn’t win a prize there — they have first, second, and third prizes available — and it bounced out after about a month and a half.
I write urban fantasy, mostly. (Every once in a while, I surprise myself and write space opera. Or even hard SF, when I can wrap my mind around the concepts.) This was a story that was in the queue for the magazine Dreams of Decadence when it suddenly went under about a year ago; that’s probably as close as “Sounds” has been to actually getting published.
I’m starting to think that I should put together a bunch of my short stories that have drawn good comments, or, “I nearly bought this, but . . . ” types of things, and put them at SmashWords and at Amazon.com. I don’t know how well they’d sell, of course, but at least they’d be out there and off my computer.
See, this is how the economy affects writers. Mainstream magazines, even in the SF/F genre, have to be cognizant of the “bottom line” — how much profit, or at least as little of a loss as possible, can they make during this economic downturn? With the digital realm affecting print magazines in various ways, that means there are more markets available than before — but most do not pay very much. And all of them want to find people who have sales, and a following, and/or have gifts of self-promotion if at all possible, all in order to drive sales and page-views.
Now, this is perfectly understandable from an economic perspective, but it hurts newer writers — or unknown ones, like me — because we don’t necessarily have names. We don’t necessarily have enough of a Web presence to drive page-views. All we have are good stories that we want people to read, and sometimes, that doesn’t seem to be enough. (But I shall persevere.)
So that’s about it, as far as a short story update; a few stories and one poem are out at various markets — and I did get a story into the Writers of the Future contest last quarter, for whatever that’s worth — but my main strengths as a writer tend to come out when I’m writing novels, not short fiction. That’s why I work on my novels more, even though they take more time and thought to write . . . but I also work on the shorter forms (short story, novelette, novella) because I want to master them, too. (We’ll see how long that takes, or if I ever get there.)
My general advice for other writers is this: go out there and write whatever you can. Then try to sell it — ralan.com is one of the best places to go to find markets, while duotrope.com is another good one (both are free, but take donations if you’re able to help them out) — however you can. Some of my fellow writers have discussed how they use spreadsheets; they mark off which magazines they’ve tried, and when, and where, so if you find this a useful tool, go for it. And don’t let rejection get you down; just keep trying, because you never know when someone’s going to like your work.
As for the “Changing Faces” update, I’m happy to report I managed about 1800 words (the first words written on this project, at all, since last year sometime) and believe I have a good starting point for chapter 20. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m cautiously optimistic at this time.
Figure it this way: if I get any words in during this time of great stress (with the bad economy, many personal issues including the ill health of my very good friend Jeff, and other things), I’m ahead of the game. Which is why when I turn on my computer later tonight, and see what else I can get with regards to this MSS, I hope to be able to better develop the nascent “I think I know what’s next” feeling and get it actually down on the page. (Here’s hoping.)
Folks, I have two quick updates, though if you’ve been paying attention to US politics at all, you know full well that the debt ceiling crisis is over (for now).
First, the Wisconsin Senate passed a bill, 19-14, to agree with the Wisconsin Assembly that new claimants for unemployment will have to wait a week to receive benefits. This passed on a party-line vote, meaning 19 Rs voted for it, while the 14 Ds voted “no” because they don’t like the idea of employers being able to lay someone off for a week, then call them back, without those employees getting paid.
Now it’s up to Gov. Scott Walker (R) to sign this bill so people can start to receive their Extended Benefits. Many people have been out of EB since 4/16/11, and may only receive another week or two — yet any money beats no money at all, and this is something everyone who worked for an employer has paid into.** (If you are an independent contractor and have lost your job through no fault of yours, there’s still no remedy for you. As I am now an independent contractor, I completely understand.)
So now, we’re just waiting on Scott Walker to do his job and sign this bill. Let’s hope he signs it soon, as there are real people hurting in Wisconsin who need this money. (If he doesn’t sign it quickly, well, that’s just another reason to recall the man come January 2012.)
As for the whole debt ceiling issue, I am appalled by the final solution. I know that getting something done was better than nothing at all, but the problem with the solution is that it allowed the most radical, right-wing extremists in the Republican Party to basically hold up everyone else until they got what they wanted. These people ended up winning the argument because they refused to give in; they refused to do their jobs as politicians, trying to figure out what the “art of the possible” is and made everyone else figure out that the only possible action was to give in to these extremists even though giving in was the wrong thing to do.
My biggest problem remains this one: once you pay the Danegeld, how do you get rid of the Dane?
So we have not defaulted, but the world as a whole has been exposed to the ridiculously petty nature of our politics. And the world, it appears, dislikes it as much as American citizens do.
Hard to see any “winners” here, including the radical, right-wing extremists, even though they obviously feel they have won. One would hope once they go back to their states or districts and get a taste of how people are feeling, they will be rudely disabused of that notion, as according to this poll, 77% of Americans feel our elected representatives have “behaved like spoiled children.”
In my opinion, there are no winners in this process; the national debt is still there, and still really isn’t being dealt with, while the lack of revenue in this deal (or, in plain terms, raising taxes or at least allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire) doesn’t help anything, either. Further, if there was more of a focus on jobs, promoting ways of keeping people employed in order to perhaps keep the tax cuts that the businesses and the wealthy like, maybe we wouldn’t be quite as bad off as we are right now.
It seems to me that the folks in Washington, DC, have a very narrow view of the world. Perhaps they can’t help it; they meet up with wealthy lobbyists and wealthy business owners and mostly wealthy people day by day, right? (In order to fund their campaigns, they need these people to help them, because it’s become too expensive to stay in Congress once you’re there without the help of very wealthy people.)
But pegging the tax cuts to the amount of people these businesses employ seems like a very good idea — that way, people would be employed, thus more tax revenue overall would be flowing into the system. And that way, there’s an impetus for businesses that may be sitting on a lot of money (and many are; don’t kid yourself) to hire, in order to keep the tax breaks they love so much.
That, to my mind, would be a “win-win.”
** Note: A person I respect read me the riot act over Extended Benefits. All I know is what the folks at Unemployment told me; these are programs people have paid into, and their employers alike . . . I agree that no one ever expected people to have to stay on unemployment over a year. Nor that we’d still have over 9% reportable unemployment in the US of A, either, which makes it much more difficult to find work.
WI Rs dither over Unemployment Benefits Extension . . . while National Rs Continue their Do-Nothing Ways
Folks, again I have two topics for discussion.
First, the Wisconsin Republicans have acted up again, refusing to pass a bill to extend unemployment benefits — or, rather, refusing to pass the same, exact bill. The Republican-controlled Assembly passed a bill that requires a one-week wait for unemployment benefits (a one-week, unpaid wait, at that), while the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill that did not require a wait and passed that decisively, 30-3 in an unusual bipartisan vote.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s headline put it, “Dispute on Jobless Benefits Puts Unemployed in a Bind.” A relevant quote from the article:
Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly agree they should accept the federal money to allow the unemployed to collect benefits for an extra 13 weeks – in part because that won’t hurt the state’s struggling unemployment insurance fund. But the two houses cannot agree on whether to make laid-off workers wait a week for their initial benefits – a move that would save the fund money.
The main problem is, some in the Assembly believe it will take months to resolve this issue — months, when some Wisconsinites have been out of unemployment since April 16, 2011! As stated in this article:
“It’s not something we’re going to leave hanging out there,” said Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). “It’s just trying to come to the right answer. We all understand the stakes here.”
The senator’s brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon), has said he wants to fix the problem soon, but added that lawmakers might not be able to do it until September.
As you see — it’s July 22, 2011, right now as it’s just clicked over to midnight as I write this. Not doing anything until September would indeed take months, at a time when even Republican Gov. Scott Walker admits that unemployment rates are too high in parts of the state (including my own Racine, WI).
I’m sorry; I agree fully with Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona), who said this:
“It is due to incredible incompetence or coldhearted calculation that we are delaying passage of this bill . . . It’s time we recognized that the workers in Wisconsin that have lost their jobs are not toys to be played with,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said.
Miller is exactly right. He knows what happened here; the Senate Rs, six of them facing impending recall elections, voted to say they want unemployment extensions done right now and not to wait a week before any worker receives benefits, either — partly because they are facing recall, and this looks good for them. But the Senate Rs knew full well that the Assembly Rs wouldn’t play ball here; none of them are facing recall (they aren’t eligible for recall until January of ’12), and they don’t seem to be very concerned about the possibility of a recall election, either, as normally their seats would be up at the end of ’12 anyway.
So what the Senate Rs did is this — they figured they’d “have their cake and eat it, too.” They did this in order to look compassionate, but their real beliefs are probably in line with the Assembly Rs, who aren’t budging and won’t budge, even though many people in Wisconsin haven’t had any unemployment since April 16 of this year and won’t get any until this bill is finally passed.
As of now, the Senate will have to take it up again next Tuesday, July 26, 2011. They may well not do anything other than affirm their same bill; this will once again allow themselves to look good, while knowing that the Wisconsin unemployed workers remain shut out of the decisions . . . remember, unemployment insurance is not welfare. It is our right, as workers, as we’ve paid into it and deserve to be able to tap into it when times are very hard and bad (as they are now).
I implore the Wisconsin Legislature, Rs and Ds alike, to do the right thing here. Pass the unemployment benefits extension now. Worry about the one-week cut later.
As for anything else, the national Rs also do not impress me with their willingness to work together toward anything. The deficit talks remain stalled out, with word tonight according to Ed Schultz at MSNBC and Keith Olbermann of Current TV that President Obama has met with both Rs and Ds and wants his “Grand Bargain” to take place.
Don’t know about the “Grand Bargain” yet? Well, it’s simple — it would cut the deficit by cutting three essential social programs, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security in exchange perhaps for some tax revenue (maybe by raising taxes on the top 1% of the country, maybe by closing tax loopholes). Yet Social Security is running at a surplus — any short-term “deficit” there is because the Congress keeps raiding the “lock-box,” nothing more — and while I support an end to waste, fraud and abuse in Medicaid and Medicare (including disallowing really expensive medicine — something that costs over $500 monthly and will not add any life expectancy to a cancer victim, say — unless that expensive medicine actually helps to restore life and health to someone so that person can re-enter the work force after his/her health crisis has been taken care of), I do not support any other changes to these essential programs.
Basically, there are now three groups of people in Washington, DC. Those who will work with others in both parties. Those who will work with others in their own party only. And those who won’t work with anyone, period, because they think raising the debt ceiling is morally wrong.
While I have some sympathy, emotionally anyway, for this last group, no one has ever been sent to Washington, DC, to completely obstruct the process of governing. Instead, they’re sent to work and make the best deals they can, so refusing to do so is pointless and absurd, not to mention a waste of taxpayer money. Because last I checked, it’s the taxpayers — i.e., all of us — who pay the salaries of the House of Reps.
So what we have here isn’t just a “failure to communicate,” as the movie actress once said. It’s a failure to even understand what communication is, much less do anything about it.
And all the while, the United States of America’s credit rating starts to slip . . . people start to worry about losing their jobs (for example, much of the Federal Aviation Administration is being held up due to similar problems and they could end up “furloughed” — meaning they don’t get paid — as early as Saturday) . . . fewer people work, meaning the tax base gets lower overall, meaning the deficit increases. All very, very bad things.
President Obama, by putting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the table for discussion, has caused some of the Rs — those willing to work at compromise — to salivate at the bit. But as President, Mr. Obama is supposed to be working on behalf of all Americans, including the least among us. Those who are ill. Those who are helpless. Those who are on fixed incomes, such as those on Social Security who have nothing else. Not only for the needs of the wealthy, none of those likely to need those three programs.
I stand with Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann tonight (among others), who wonder what this Democratic President is doing by even thinking about cutting these essential programs. Because it’s just not right to kick anyone when they’re down . . . not the poor, not the disabled, not the helpless, not anyone.
And that’s all cuts to those three programs will do. Hurt those who cannot help themselves.
Before we get to the latest folks being recalled, the first update has to do with the Wisconsin Supreme Court election. The two sides (Prosser and Kloppenburg) have come to an agreement about the recount, and it will start next Monday. Please see this story for further details, which gives details about how this particular state-wide recount (the first in twenty-two years) will take place:
Now, as for the newest pending recalls — the drive to recall the Republican 8 continues, as the committee to recall Republican Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) turned in 30,000 signatures — significantly more than the 20,043 signatures required by law (1/4 of the last election) — to see her recalled.
However, we now have three Democrats — Jim Holperin (D-Conover), Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha) and Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) — who have had recall petitions filed against them. The signatures needed for Holperin was 15,960, with over 23,000 turned in; the signatures needed for Wirch was 13,537, with over 18,000 turned in, and the signatures for Hansen was 13,852 with nearly 19,000 turned in.
See this link for further details:
The main difference between the Dems and the Rs at this point is that two of these three Dems appear to be in “safe,” heavily Democratic districts — Hansen and Wirch both have districts that went for Kloppenburg in the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election, while Holperin’s district is the only one I’d really tend to be worried about — while all five of the Rs with recalls pending could easily lose and lose big.
Here’s a quote from the rally to recall Alberta Darling held on Thursday, April 21, 2011, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article of the same date (link posted above):
Kristopher Rowe of Shorewood, a Darling recall leader who created the Facebook page that sparked the campaign, told several hundred people at the Kletzsch Park rally that they weren’t done until Darling was voted out of office.
“We’re going to finish, and we’re going to finish strong,” he said.
Now, you might be wondering why, in particular, recall groups have focused on getting rid of Alberta Darling. It’s because she was co-chair of the committee that allowed Gov. Scott Walker (R)’s “budget-repair bill” into the whole Senate; she had all the power in the world to stop that bill from ever coming to light unless/until some of the worst problems with it were fixed, yet she refused to use it.
Further from the Journal-Sentinel article:
Darling is the fifth Republican state senator against whom petitions have been filed.
Darling, a co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, is a central figure in the budget battles that spawned recall efforts against eight Republican and eight Democratic senators. Her opponents clearly will try to hang the budget on her, as did one rally speaker, who referred to the proposed budget as “both immoral and bad economics.”
As I’ve said before, the other four Republicans with recalls pending are: Luther Olson (R-Ripon), Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse), Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) and Sheila Harsdorf (R-Hudson/River Falls).
And finally, it is confirmed that both Sheldon Wasserman (former Rep., who nearly beat Darling in 2008, losing by about 1000 votes) and Sandy Pasch (the current Rep., D-Whitefish Bay) are seriously thinking about challenging Darling in the pending recall election. (Note that the Journal-Sentinel had a PolitiFact article today saying it’s wrong to say any of these Senators have been recalled; all we can say is “recalls pending,” as I’ve been saying, or that the “recall petitions have been filed.”) Both are strong candidates, and the Journal-Sentinel rates this race as “the most competitive race . . . in the Milwaukee area” (there are five Senators, both R and Dem., who will have to run in recall elections providing the signatures hold up).
Because of the pending recount in the Kloppenburg-Prosser judicial race, it’s possible the recall petitions will take longer to “‘vet” than usual; the Government Accountability Board has been quite busy this year, with no signs of letting up, and it’s the GAB that must oversee both things.
Finally, in personal news, I have one good thing to report. I wrote 2000 words into part 47 of AN ELFY ABROAD last night, breaking a log-jam that had lasted three weeks after first talking with a friend about the story, then hearing from a different one why I should just give it up already. (Obviously I disagreed with my second friend.)
Otherwise, I just hit the six year and seven month observance in my personal “grief journey” . . . I tried hard to distract myself and even succeeded for a while, but then I wondered, “What the Hell am I doing?”
The state of Wisconsin continues to be in turmoil due to Governor Scott Walker (R) and his blatant attempt at a power-grab. For the third week in a row, protests are going on all over the state — so what does Walker do about it?
Nothing. (That’s right. Zero. Zip. Diddly-squat.)
But the Republican Governors’ Association and the Republican National Committee, along with “independent” groups like the Koch Brothers’ funded “Americans for Prosperity” and the misnamed “Wisconsin Club for Growth” have television ads all over the state claiming that Scott Walker is “leading” while the “Wisconsin 14″ (or “Fab 14″ as some are now calling them) have “refused to do their jobs.” This is an attempted framing of the narrative that’s a complete and utter distortion of the facts, and is one I’m just not willing to allow.
The facts are these. On February 11, 2011 (a Friday), in the afternoon, Scott Walker sent what he called a “budget repair bill” to the Wisconsin state house (lower house is the Assembly, equivalent to the national House of Reps., while the upper house is the state Senate) which called for an end to collective bargaining along with deep cuts in Medicaid along with the state-run Badger Care program which takes care of low-income adults and children. Walker stated at that time that if his “budget repair bill” wasn’t passed, the Wisconsin state workers would end up with layoffs (rather than the mandated “furlough days” under the previous Governor, which continue to be in effect through June 30, 2011; these are days the workers do not get paid, and state government does not function), and he urged the bill’s swift passage.
The reason this didn’t happen — the swift passage — is because the fourteen Senate Democrats (out of thirty-three) fled the state. You see, by doing this, they denied Scott Walker’s bill a quorum in the state Senate. At that time, every single Republican would’ve voted “yes” on this bill, including my state Senator, Van Wanggaard (R), even though Wanggaard is a former policeman, a former policeman’s union member, and worst of all, a former policeman’s union representative. (This seems mighty hypocritical to me and I’ve said so; my e-mail to him was very short and succinct. I said, “Vote against this bill or prepare to be recalled.” That’s because I dislike hypocrisy with a passion and Wanggaard, along with Scott Walker himself, did not campaign on such radical and extremist ideas.)
At any rate, the “Fab 14″ left the state and have been in Illinois ever since. But the Assembly eventually passed this bill — though legal efforts are underway to see if chicanery was involved as the Assembly had been in session for over 63 hours and somehow, many Dems in the Assembly weren’t allowed to vote while some of the R’s weren’t even in the room yet were counted (by osmosis? Wisconsin’s state constitution does not allow for votes via proxy; you must actually be in the Assembly chamber to vote.) — while the Senate remains stalled out due to the “Fab 14″ staying out-of-state.
Yesterday, two things happened of consequence. One, the Capitol building was locked, which is against the Wisconsin state constitution (this had been going on for a few days at night, but yesteday apparently was the first day the building was locked as a whole), and two, State Senator Glenn Grothman (R), called the Wisconsin protestors who’d been occupying the statehouse (as is their legal right under the Wisconsin state constitution) “slobs,” re-iterating his comment from the day before, this time on Lawrence O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” primetime show on MSNBC.
Now, the importance of the Grothman comment was this: O’Donnell brought on four protestors, one a very articulate young, female student, one a skilled tradesman in his forties, one a nurse in her late forties-early fifties, with the other woman’s age being unable to be determined by me (but she was obviously a professional woman); her profession was announced but somehow I lost track. At any rate, these four were far from “slobs,” yet Grothman refused to relent; instead, he poured on the vitriol, saying that most of the people occupying the capitol building were “students, or unemployed people, having a holiday, banging their drums and screaming” at him, and that this had never happened in all his years in the state Senate.
But this is the age of YouTube, my friends . . . Grothman’s comments are assuredly there by now, and there’s a big problem for him in them. You don’t call Wisconsin protestors’ by the derogatory word “slobs.” Especially when some of them come from your district, the 20th (representing West Bend and parts of Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, and Dodge counties), and most especially when you are the Assistant to the Senate Majority Leader (second in line). This looks really, really bad to call Wisconsin protestors, who are also taxpayers and voters, “slobs.”
The good news from my perspective is that Glenn Grothman is in danger of being recalled. Here’s a link from the Capitol Times (Madison, WI):
And here’s a story from the Daily Kos:
The fact of the matter is that Grothman, along with seven other Republican Senators, are in danger of recall, while three of the five Senators on the Democratic side who’ve been targeted may have real problems holding their seats (especially considering they’re all out-of-state at this time). I would tend to think Grothman’s comments regarding the protestors and taxpayers and voters of Wisconsin would drastically hurt him no matter how much money the Republican Party of Wisconsin throws his way (much less people like the Koch Brothers, who are out-of-state but are extremely wealthy; the $43,000 they gave to Scott Walker is pocket change for them).
At any rate, this is what Scott Walker has done so far. He’s divided the state — right now, according to a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute (a reasonably neutral place), 52% would vote for Tom Barrett (the Democratic candidate in the last election) while only 45% said they’d vote for Walker if the election were held today with the knowledge that Walker wants to break public employee unions. Here’s a link to that:
And the beat goes on, because of Walker were vulnerable to recall today (he is not, as my state Senator Wanggaard also isn’t; they both have to be in office one full year before they can be legally recalled), he’d be in deep trouble because 48% would vote to recall him, while 48% wouldn’t, and the other 4% are “undecided.” (Note these poll numbers were taken before Walker’s recent budget bill for fiscal year 2011-12; in that bill, Walker would cut something like $900 million from the public schools/public educational efforts. These numbers to recall will go up, and the numbers of people dissatisfied with Walker will also go up due to that.)
As the Guardian (a UK newspaper) noted, Scott Walker may be an ex-governor far sooner than anyone would’ve imagined; see this link for further details:
You see, Wisconsin voters don’t like it that the state isn’t able to do its business, but most of them are placing the onus of responsibility on the Governor, Scott Walker, rather than the fourteen Senators who did the only thing they could do to slow down or stop the “budget repair bill” — and they are right.
Scott Walker, in short, is very bad for Wisconsin. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites all over the state have gone out to protest, while hundreds of thousands more have expressed their support for the “Fab 14″ and have written letters to the editor condemning Walker’s actions. (One or the other.) And there are all these recalls going on for the Republican Senators that I discussed — those vulnerable to recall now — while assuredly if this “budget repair bill” ever passes with Van Wanggaard’s support, he’ll be recalled as soon as humanly possible, too.
The only hope the R’s have in Wisconsin right now is that people forget all these protests, forget the money-drain having extra police and fire in Madison has been, forget Scott Walker’s grandstanding and inability to compromise (when politics is supposed to be the “art of the possible,” meaning compromise is a must), and forget that his Lieutenant Governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, has stood right behind Walker and has not only affirmed her support for the Republican party line, but has said she’d do the same thing in his place. (The latter is what will end up getting her recalled, too, as she didn’t campaign on such drastic tactics, either.)
So it’s obvious, folks, what needs to be done. Walker needs to be recalled as soon as humanly possible, as does Kleefisch, as does every Republican Senator who has expressed unwavering support for this horrible bill — now or later. And if Van Wanggaard is smart, and wants to hold onto his seat for his four-year term (assuredly he’ll be out once he gets recalled; this is the only shot he has to keep his seat), he’ll vote against Walker’s horrible “budget repair bill.”
But no one said he has to be smart, and I for one am hoping he won’t be because I’m itching to work on recalling this man as I cannot stand hypocrisy in any way, shape or form.
** Note: My late husband Michael couldn’t stand hypocrisy either, and I really wish that he were here to help me work on the recall effort. Michael was an honest, able, ethical man who was deeply principled and would be appalled at all of this. I stand against Scott Walker and all he stands for, with the certain knowledge that my husband would back me and understand exactly why I must do this.
Folks, I don’t even know where to start regarding last night’s State of the Union speech (henceforth to be referred to by its acronym, SotU), except for one word, repeated three times: awful, awful, awful.
Why would I choose to repeat one word three times? Well, the state of the United States right now — or of our Union — is exactly that. Awful.
That the President of the United States, Barack Obama, talked around the problem rather than talked about the problem, is also exactly that — awful.
And finally, that the pundits did not call the President to account for not coming right out and saying, “Right now, people in the United States are suffering and rather than talk about nonsensical things or irrelevant things, I’m going to talk about them,” they, too, can only be summed up by just one word (you guessed it): awful.
I listened to the SotU last night and was appalled. Barack Obama is a very smart, literate, intelligent man who knows better than this. The American people were waiting for him to say, “I know it’s bad. I’m working on trying to make it better. I really think these things will work,” and only pick a few things to discuss — not so many things that after an hour of draining words, you don’t have anything to show for it but a bunch of meaningless quotes that won’t mean anything to the average person at all.
Yes, I get it that we need Green Jobs. Hillary R. Clinton ran for President in 2008 and this was one of her platforms; I am for Green Jobs. I see how they could actively help the economy if carefully managed, because Green Jobs won’t be able to be created overnight.
But talking about that as one of the hallmarks of your plan is not something most people care about.
No, Mr. President. What we care about is simple. The economy, stupid. (From Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid,” not meant as a pejorative.)
The economy is in the toilet. Unemployment is horrible — over 9% and rising — and the only reason it’s not well over 15% is because people have fallen off the rolls and have “aged off” the system. No provision has been made for these people, which is beyond disheartening; it’s as if the people in Washington, DC, including the President of the United States who should know better, have turned their backs on these folks (collectively called the 99ers). They can’t find work not because they aren’t qualified: most are. Not because they don’t want to work: they do. But because there aren’t anywhere near enough jobs for all the people who want work. That’s the fact, and it wasn’t even touched last night.
Nor was the second-biggest issue that’s currently on people’s minds — guns, or at least semi-automatic handguns with extra-large clips** wielded by people who are delusional and unable to understand reality like Jared Lee Loughner. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was discussed very briefly in the opening paragraph, then dropped, which left a huge opportunity on the table.
Next, I realize the SotU address is political theatre, but did we really need the theatre of the absurd?
I’m referring, of course, to the ridiculousness of seeing the Republicans and Democrats uneasily co-existing in front of the President rather than sit on opposite sides as they’ve generally done. No one looked happy with this, and if it was intended (as was said) to be a “call for civility” in action, it was a dismal failure.
Finally, I re-iterate: what about the jobs? What about the economy? What about the high unemployment? What are you going to do, Mr. President, about any of this, other than pontificate, obfuscate, and talk meaninglessly for over an hour?
The address, Mr. President, was simply too long. And it wasn’t what we wanted — nay, needed — to hear.
Regardless of the left-wing pundits, the right-wing pundits, the centrist pundits or whatever other pundits may exist . . . and regardless of how some of the SotU address might work in smaller “sound bites” . . . this speech failed the country. I don’t care what anyone says; I know the truth, as I’m a highly educated woman with a Master’s degree, and I’ve read a lot of history.
This speech was a dismal failure.
We needed to hear that you care, Mr. President. That you are trying to do something. And that what you’ll do will take effect this year. Not next year. Not the year after that. Not in 2020. Not in 2040. But this year. Now. Because things are bad and are getting worse.
That you did not, Mr. President, probably will affect your chances in 2012. For the worse. And I can’t believe you don’t have some advisor who isn’t a yes-man up there in Washington, DC, who should’ve told you that this speech was a stinker. Because if that person did so, you should’ve listened.
The 2011 SotU speech will end up making no difference in the long run, except to cement that you, President Barack Obama, are seen as well-meaning and benevolent, but also out of touch. Big-time.
** Jason Cordova kindly pointed out that Jared Loughner used a semi-automatic handgun rather than an assault rifle, and he is of course quite right. The main reason I keep thinking “assault rifle” is how big that clip was that Loughner was using — a legal size, yes, but still, very large. That doesn’t excuse why I got it wrong even though I’ve heard the term over and over again, of course. The error has now been corrected, as you see. BC