Thursday, January 30, 2014

Facts clear Burke of any "presidential rudeness"

Obama changed itinerary, so Burke couldn't meet with the president

In a state run by conservative Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin is full of progressives who are all Monday-morning quarterbacks, ready to disseminate their complaints to whomever will listen.

I should know: I am typically one of them.

In this instance, however, I take issue with my fellow progressives. Their hearts are in the right places, but their attitudes and condemnations seem too readily released, with very little regard for the timeline of events over what has transpired.

The latest episode involves Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke taking time to meet with western Wisconsin constituents rather than going to an event where President Barack Obama would be speaking.

Some progressives took the time to especially mock Burke, who they assumed was snubbing the president.

Comments across Facebook have described Burke as “avoiding” the president, whose poll numbers have slipped in the Badger state. At Cognitive Dissidence, blogger Jeff Simpson wrote that Mary Burke has gone “rogue.” And the Republican Party of Wisconsin says she’s hiding from a president with poor poll numbers.

All of these ideas, all of these statements, are based little on fact and more on contempt for the candidate herself. Except in the case of the Republican Party, because Burke lacks the hard-left progressive credentials, she’s clearly “too self-righteous” and doesn’t really want to win.

I reject those notions. It isn’t fair to cast such a shameful light on Burke, who is honoring a scheduled commitment she made.

As always, facts tend to shed more light on the situation than suppositions and innuendos. As he’s a closer source to the real story, Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said on his Facebook status:
...originally the President was going to spend more time in WI and come in [Wednesday]. When that was being discussed Mary was going to meet with the President. Then the White House changed their plans. The President called Mary today and they had a really good conversation about how WI is lagging our neighbors in economic growth and other topics. The President told Mary to keep her schedule in Western Wisconsin and that there is plenty of time for them to campaign together before November. The Burke campaign has had this day scheduled for quite a while.
The parts above in bold -- that the White House changed their plans, and that the president told Burke to keep her schedule -- should give pause to anyone thinking that Burke was somehow disrespecting the president.

Burke being in Waukesha on Thursday wouldn’t have done much anyway -- she wouldn’t have spoken, as this wasn’t a campaign event, but rather would have been a member of the audience, there to listen to the president’s speech on the important policy items he had outlined in his State of the Union address.

Let’s consider that for a moment: which would do more good for a campaign? Sitting and listening to a speech, or getting to shake hands and speak personally with scores of Wisconsin citizens?

I have no doubts that my progressive brothers and sisters are concerned about this upcoming election. It’s going to be a tough one, and we’re all going to give our two cents when it comes to what direction the campaign should take. That’s fine, and should be encouraged.

But let’s douse the flames of contemptuous rumor with a bit of truth and information. Mary Burke didn’t say no to seeing the president today; she initially said yes to meeting with him, but had to change plans after Obama changed his itinerary. She spoke with him on the phone, and they agreed that she should keep her plans as scheduled.

That’s a fair portrait of what really happened. And let’s be honest: had Burke canceled her meetings in western Wisconsin -- an important constituency that generally determines the winner of statewide elections -- wouldn’t we instead see headlines critiquing her of snubbing Wisconsinites? Wouldn’t that have hurt her more in the long run?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Latest Marquette Poll shows leftist shift in some of WI voters' attitudes

Dem challenger Burke should support progressive policy stances if she wants to win

The Marquette Law School Poll was released today. Several results of the poll were released via Twitter this afternoon, and many of the results indicate Wisconsin has a leftist perspective on certain issues.

On the issue of minimum wage, an overwhelming number of Wisconsinites approved raising the base rate at which low-income people got paid.

About a quarter of citizens wanted the minimum wage to stay where it is right now, at $7.25 per hour. More than a third wanted the wage raised to $9.00 per hour, and another quarter of Wisconsinites want to see a $10.00 minimum wage hike. 4.8 and 9.9 percents wanted to see the minimum wage raised to $11.00 and $12.00 per hour, respectively.

Overall, a total of almost 73 percent of Wisconsin citizens want a minimum wage raise of some kind, when asked specifically about which wages they preferred. Only about 27 percent wanted no change, didn’t respond, or had no answer.

The issue also transcended across political lines. As Democrats and Independents overwhelmingly responded in favor of some wage hike, a majority of Republicans, too, preferred raising the minimum wage to at least some higher levels.

Beyond the issue of the minimum wage, Wisconsinites also favor another measure designed to lower property taxes: raising taxes on the wealthy. More than 64 percent are for raising income taxes on those earning over $250,000 annually; only 32 percent oppose.

Conversely, raising the sales tax as a way to lower property taxes is opposed by a majority of citizens. Only about 39 percent of Wisconsinites would support a plan to raise the sales tax; 57 percent think it’s a lousy idea.

When it comes to electoral promises, residents of the state want to hold Gov. Scott Walker accountable for his jobs pledge. More than 29 percent call the issue “very important” to them, and nearly 39 percent called the issue “somewhat important.” In all, 68 percent of Wisconsinites suggested that the issue would be important to them in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

That should be alarming to Gov. Walker. Of those polled, almost 8-in-10 expressed skepticism that he would reach the goal by the end of his term.

There are some concerns from the polling, however, specifically when it comes to Mary Burke. The Democratic challenger to Gov. Walker polled remarkably high in the October poll, but in the latest polling her numbers have slipped. Put in a head-to-head matchup, Burke trails Walker by about 47-41 percent.

Many may see this as a troubling sign of the way things will be in November. But even the Marquette Law Polling blog calls this stat too early to make any rationale prediction about. Indeed, nearly 70 percent of Wisconsinites haven’t heard enough about of her to know how they feel about Burke as a candidate.

That’s the “grain of salt” that can be taken from this poll for progressives and those opposed to Walker. If Mary Burke endorses these issues -- supporting a reasonable raise in the minimum wage, a responsible taxation model that lowers property taxes, and pointing out the failures of the Walker administration to produce his jobs pledge -- we could see things turn around, especially once the public starts to get to know Burke.

If she goes the other direction, opting to take a “middle ground” stance on these issues, it could spell disaster.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Walker says minimum wage hike (but definitely not tax cuts!) is a "political stunt"

Hypocrisy in criticism as governor tries to shut off debate on wages

“I think [a proposal to raise the minimum wage] is nothing more than a misguided political stunt,” Gov. Scott Walker said recently.

That’s the way to talk about policy proposals, I guess, if you’re Gov. Walker. A popular policy change -- three out of every four Americans support a minimum wage raise -- Walker somehow thinks that it’s all a gimmick, that Democrats support helping the poorest of workers simply for cheap votes.

What can we make of Walker’s plan to cut taxes, then? Isn’t that a “political stunt?”

Of course it isn’t. Tax cuts could never be a political stunt. Not in an election year, right?

The average homeowner is set to receive about $150 in tax savings from Walker’s plan. Meanwhile, an increase in the minimum wage by $2.85 (up to $10.10 per hour) would increase wages for those single full-time workers by about $5,928 annually.

With 94,000 minimum wage workers recorded in the state of Wisconsin in 2012, that amounts to an influx of about $557.2 million yearly into local economies across the state, without costing the state a single cent in revenues.

But I guess nearly $557.2 million in increased wages for minimum wage workers -- not to mention the increases in wages for those that are earning just slightly above the minimum wage -- is just another “political stunt” in Walker’s eyes.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Walker unfairly calls unemployment, minimum wage debates distractions

Walker seeks relevancy through criticisms of Obama

Gov. Scott Walker apparently believes that the Barack Obama needs to be a one-issue president.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Walker described President Obama’s latest push for raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits as a “desperate” attempt to distract the American public from problems with the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

“They want to desperately talk about anything other than Obamacare,” Walker said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
The issue over extending unemployment benefits for long-term workers is relevant now because those benefits expired for millions of Americans just this month. It isn’t too far-fetched to understand why President Obama might want to discuss the issue.

As for the minimum wage, Obama brought that issue up almost a year ago, in his State of the Union address in February.

“Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour,” Obama said then.

The argument that Walker is making -- that Obama is trying to distract attention away from health care reform -- is a common talking point that is being made by several Republican lawmakers, not just the Wisconsin governor.

Indeed, it’s a line that’s been used several times in the past few months. Whether it was filibuster reform, making inroads on negotiations with Iran, or on a renewed push for immigration reform, every subject these days seems to be a distraction from Obamacare, according to conservatives.

What’s the more likely scenario? President Obama is just doing his job. As the chief executive, it’s his duty to cover a wide variety of subjects, not just focus a single topic. Assuming he’s supposed to do otherwise -- what Walker and conservatives elsewhere are effectively getting at -- is a foolish premise to escalate.

On the other hand, Gov. Walker's comments indicate that he is probably just trying to become relevant on the national stage. Why else would he hop on the “Obamacare distraction” bandwagon, offering little in originality on his part? With a new book and presidential aspirations brewing in the back of his mind, Walker desperately needs to appear more interested in topics that go beyond the Wisconsin border.

But hey, I guess those jobs can create themselves, right?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Walker wrong on minimum wage workers: most aren't "just starting out"

Half of minimum wage workers are over 25 years old; 3 out of 8 are over 30

Gov. Scott Walker recently stated his absolute opposition to raising the minimum wage.

“I started out just like Paul Ryan did down the road from me working at McDonald's. Jobs that involve the minimum wage are overwhelmingly jobs for young people starting out in the workforce.”

The median age for a fast-food worker is 29 years old. In 2012, nearly 76 percent of workers earning the minimum wage or below were older than 19 years of age, and about 50 percent were older than 25. Three out of every eight workers earning the minimum wage or lower are over the age of 30, a proportion that’s higher than those between the ages of 16 and 19.

They are not “overwhelmingly” teenagers, as Gov. Walker suggests. In fact, just the opposite is true. Minimum wage earners (and those earning less) are overwhelmingly 20-somethings or older.

Via the Economic Policy Institute
But still, wouldn’t the minimum wage hike hurt teen workers? The science is mixed on this one. While minimum wage hikes in the early 90s and the most recent hike in the late 2000s indicate that teens have seen higher rates of unemployment following a raise in wages, research into the subject suggests other economic factors, such as recessions (which hit during both periods) play a much larger role in teen unemployment than wage hikes.

Meanwhile, when the minimum wage rose during the mid-90s, at a time when there was economic growth, teens not only kept pace with previous employment levels but actually saw an increase in employment in the years that followed.

Raising the minimum wage wouldn’t only overwhelmingly benefit young workers. Scott Walker is wrong on this one, and bases his "facts" on ill-conceived notions on who minimum wage workers really are.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Walker's policies leave us wondering: could we have done better without him?

Economy was improving at a far better rate under his predecessor; other economic indicators show we're lagging behind the rest of the nation

It’s not uncommon to hear a remark during an election period, especially in one seeking to oust an incumbent, that goes along these lines: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

That line won’t work in Wisconsin, however, because some improvements have been made economically. Yet, our state lags behind the rest of the nation in several economic factors.

The improvements that we HAVE seen aren’t necessarily due to a local policy or set of policies, but rather may have to do with the overall economic improvements seen nationwide.

So, while the state has improved, we need to consider whether it was due to any “reforms” that Gov. Scott Walker implemented or not. With that in mind, it’s clear to see that Walker’s “successes” have failed Wisconsin’s working and middle classes, and as a result, the state has lagged economically.

The question we have to ask ourselves with regards to Walker & Co. is this: could we have improved faster with him and his GOP colleagues out of office, with other lawmakers in the seats that they have held? In other words, could Democratic lawmakers have done a better job than Walker and legislative Republicans?

All of the signs show that, while improvements were made in the past three years, they were made at a much slower rate in the state than they were nationally. In the latest QCEW jobs survey -- the standard that Walker INSISTED we go by prior to the recall election -- Wisconsin ranked 37th in the nation in terms of private sector jobs created.

When his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, left office, Wisconsin ranked 11th in the nation in that same ranking. We were doing pretty well with the recovery at that point. What changed?

Walker implemented a series of cuts to tax packages that benefited the working poor. He implemented Act 10, which one UW economist predicted cost us more than 20,000 jobs from being created. He’s recently made it harder for nearly 100,000 Wisconsinites to get insurance under BadgerCare, and he’s considering a plan that will raise taxes on those earning the lowest of incomes.

It’s no wonder that Wisconsin is behind, and ultimately will continue to remain behind under Walker’s watch -- without strengthening the consumer base, there’s no demand created, and thus no need for a substantial increase in jobs in the state.

In that regard, Gov. Walker has failed the state of Wisconsin. No amount of tax cuts for corporations or the wealthiest of the wealthy will create jobs the same way that helping the working and middle classes will. Until Walker realizes that, the state will continue to fall behind the rest of the nation, and we’ll still be left wondering: could we have done better?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Audio Commentary: Tom Coburn, and the worst year that wasn't

Many other years deserve the distinction, and 2013 comes nowhere close to them

Today I speak about a recent assertion by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn regarding his belief that the year 2013 was one of the worst years for the United States. Text of the audio is found below the jump.

Record music and voice