Archive for June, 2014

Everyday Hegemony Or Is It Rather Hegemony Every Day?

June 22, 2014

Joe Williams, reporter for the Newark Advocate, embarrassed himself this week. Badly. One of his ongoing reports on the continuing activities of Newark’s city administration and council in trying to address the continuous lack of maintenance on Newark’s road infra-structure (street repair and paving) repeats a refrain he’s utilized since the issue surfaced at the beginning of this year with its new make-up of council (previously the majority was the same party as the mayor’s administration, now it is the other party has council’s majority). In the 6-17-14 Advocate (“Newark income tax hike heads to ballot”) he writes “The income tax proposal replaces an earlier suggestion to seek a 2-mill property tax to raise that same $1.6 million annually for street repairs. The council previously asked Licking County Auditor Mike Smith to certify the millage and projected earnings but took no further steps. Proponents of the increase say an income tax protects fixed income for seniors while collecting earnings from people who work in the city but live elsewhere.” Williams had covered each step in the original 2-mill property tax consideration and is well versed in the “an income tax protects fixed income for seniors while collecting earnings from people who work in the city but live elsewhere.” refrain. On 6-22-14 he comes out with an extensive exposé for The Advocate entitled “What is a neighborhood? Aging housing stock, more rentals pose challenges”. Within this report we find Williams citing statistics that have been steadily growing in the last 4 years: “Steady conversion of single-family homes into rental properties is another concern. The residential areas in and around downtown, specifically the 1st, 2nd and 7th wards, have 18 percent more rentals than the other four wards. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, rentals account for 44 percent of Newark’s occupied housing units. Add in vacancies, and homeowners occupy just 51 percent of the city’s housing.” Did Williams sit on this pertinent information during his continuing coverage of the 2-mill property tax debate that ever so quickly shifted to an income tax determination? The hegemony of claiming that property tax increases threaten those seniors on fixed income who reside in their own homes while income tax increases “collect(ing) earnings from people who work in the city but live elsewhere.” is shown to be bogus by Mr. Williams own account. Those seniors affected by a property tax increase compose a mere fraction of the 51% of Newark property owners involved. 49% would be like those “people who work in the city but live elsewhere”. Not only that, but those who make up the ownership of 49% of Newark’s property DON’T make up 49% of Newark’s electorate (something Ohio’s legislators who recently enacted restrictions on township JEDZ were well cognizant of). Investigation might reveal that those “who work in the city but live elsewhere” comprise an even smaller revenue enhancement resource than those who own 49% of the city’s property. What’s good investigative reporting about if not to “connect the dots” (remember that from 13 years ago?)? Mr. Williams is well versed in the explanations for why an income tax is preferred to a property tax. His karaoke performance reproduces and perpetuates the hegemony of our ever growing income disparity (which only contributes to the “Steady conversion of single-family homes into rental properties”).

Well-Versed

June 19, 2014

Try as one might, it is hard to picture Newark’s Mayor Jeff Hall turning cart wheels, pom-poms in hand, yelling “Pass the tax!” Yet that’s exactly what Analysis concludes needs to happen given the recent efforts on the part of the administration and council to come up with a solution to the chronically deteriorating streets of Newark. “Hall said he plans to meet with residents to answer their questions before they vote on the tax hike. “It’s our job to get out to explain it to the public so they’re well-versed about what they’re doing when they go to the polls in November,” he said.” (“Income tax hike on to ballot” Newark Advocate Joe Williams 6-16-14). If the Hall administration will not don cheerleading outfits and rally for the tax then what other possibilities are available? A Pavetonia bike ride staged in downtown Granville since the roads of Newark would make for an uncomfortably bumpy event? Maybe a Race For The Repair half marathon, again, some community like Heath or Granville where the runners wouldn’t dread literally hitting the pavement. A 5K Walk For Roads To Ride On would be alright in Newark provided entrants wear durable hiking shoes (rather than walkers) given the hit/miss nature of sidewalks in the city. A Hot Asphalt community spaghetti dinner, or fish fry if you’d prefer (perfect for a really hot summer’s day when you could demonstrate to the kiddies how an egg could be cooked if there was a decent asphalt road). Let’s Do It In The Road fashion show and tea might bring them out. Repave To Boot would require the Hall administration hold up wingtips while gathering donations at the intersection of 4th and Main (OK so they are shoes, not boots but Soles For Repaving might offend some of the brethren). Or how about a city wide Smooth Cruising-Newark Dreaming raffle with the winner taking home a new set of tires, wheels and alignment? A Get Out Of Dodge (while roadwork is contemplated) vacation package auction might require soliciting some deep pocket sponsors, but is more than well worth the effort. Given the plethora of options available, Analysis can understand the mayor’s eschewing pom-poms and cheering for reasoned explaining.

Wily Coyote And The Road Runner

June 18, 2014

Scott Walker and John Kasich both ran as the Republican Party’s candidate for governor in their respective states, Wisconsin and Ohio, in 2010. Both won by narrow margins. Both are governors of states in which their party also maintains the majority in the legislature. Both utilized this dominance to revamp their state’s economic situation through revisions to their state budgets. Out of the box, both made cuts to their budgets that involved how education, municipalities, public health services, infrastructure, etc. was funded. Both attempted to “rein in” public unions – Walker successfully retaining his grasp under duress, Kasich letting go without leaving any fingerprint. The similarities continue (for other reasons too involved for the limited capacity of Analysis), but ended with Walker’s successful (and historic) recall election defense. Today, both are running for re-election – Walker in a cliff hanger, Kasich quickly dusting his opponent. Apart from being fierce Big Ten rivals, the two states are remarkably alike, usually being lumped in with the category of “rust belt” or Midwest states. Today, their economies are likewise quite comparable in terms of unemployment levels, education capacity, legislature make up, voting demographics, etc. According to Scott Bauer of the AP (“Wisconsin’s Walker dogged by a promise not kept” 6-17-14) the anvil that dropped on Scott Walker’s current campaign fell in 2010 – “”I want my Cabinet secretaries to have branded across their heads, ‘250,000 jobs,'” Walker said at a December 2010 meeting of the Dairy Business Association. “I want them to know their job is on the line because my job is on the line to create 250,000 jobs in the private sector.”” To date current accounts given show only 101,000. “Walker has cited his own reasons, including uncertainty caused by his recall, concerns about the federal health care law and the sluggish national recovery.” In 2010 John the governator (to be) relied on the speed of the cavalry (“hold on, the cavalry’s on its way”), much as someone would say “the sun will rise again” at 4 in the morning. In 2010, his former associates on Wall Street noticed the trend was turning, the worst was over, and there was only one way to go and that was up (which is where the stock market currently has been in continuous record breaking territory). Aside from the difference regarding public employees, Kasich utilized his party’s virtual dominance in the legislature and state’s supreme court to implement something much more effective — JobsOhio. With jobs creation in the hands of a “public private” enterprise, John the governator raced away from the pitfall that has ensnared his Wisconsin counterpart. With JobsOhio being a private entity operating at the speed of business and sworn to secrecy, with an imprimatur provided by the dominant party’s legislature and affirmed by the party’s justices, catching a glimpse of the actuality of Ohio’s employment situation is highly unlikely. The speed of business is just too fast (high speed electronic trading and all). Bauer ends his article with this assessment: “Working with a compliant Republican Legislature, he has cut taxes by nearly $2 billion, saying the lighter burden would help both businesses and consumers. He also eased environmental regulations and made it more difficult to sue businesses. Although governors often pledge to improve the economy, other factors carry much more weight. “There’s no credible evidence that anything state governments do intentionally to create jobs actually work,” said McGee [UW Oshkosh economics professor Kevin McGee].” With JobsOhio operating at “the speed of business”, how are we ever to know?

Build It And They Will Come

June 13, 2014

And Grow Licking County will take credit for it. The public/private “partnership” that is the Licking County Chamber of Commerce just asked for a raise (same faces, different titles). In a previous blog post (Anticipation 5-28-14) Analysis cited statistics presented by AP economics writer Josh Boak showing that corporate CEO’s take home 257 times what the average worker makes. According to Boak, in the past year the average worker received a 1.3% pay increase, the CEO’s got an 8.8% increase. Thursday, June 12, Grow Licking County requested the taxpayers of Licking County fund the Chamber’s enterprise to the tune of $220,000 per year (To clarify for Newark’s State representative, and spouse of Grow Licking County’s chairperson and the Chamber’s president (no, not polygamy, one and the same person!), that would be two hundred thousand with five zero’s to the left of the decimal point). According to the Newark Advocate’s Joe Williams (“Grow Licking County seeks increased county aid” 6-13-14) Grow Licking County received $50,000 worth of public support in 2012, 2013 and got a raise of $30,000 in 2014. This in addition to the money it soaks municipalities through flexing its job creation muscle. How does Grow Licking County stack up with national averages on pay increases? 12 to 13 is zero, about what the average worker received. 13 to 14 there’s a 60% increase of take home income. Not bad considering the folks funding it only received a 1.3% increase. How about the latest, from 80K to 220K? Analysis needs a calculator and some head scratching for that one. That’s a 175% increase of revenue in one year. Advantage Chamber! You go girl.

Analysis finds other news this past week contributes to understanding how this “public/private partnership” pollutes our democracy much as blue green algae does our water resources. AP correspondent Julie Carr Smyth reported on the related JobsOhio lawsuit ruled on by the State’s Supreme Court (“Liberal policy group can’t sue over jobs agency” 6-10-14). “The lawsuit alleged that JobsOhio’s funding structure violates a prohibition in Ohio’s Constitution against turning taxpayer dollars over to a private entity. That question remains unresolved, unless another lawsuit is brought against the nonprofit job-creation board that Kasich envisioned would move “at the speed of business.”” Later she writes “[dissenting Justice Paul] Pfeifer said the decision marked the third time the Republican-dominated court had failed to determine the constitutionality of legislation creating JobsOhio — saying first “not here,” then “not now.” “Today, this court ends all doubt about when it will determine the constitutionality of the JobsOhio legislation, essentially responding, ‘Not ever,’” he wrote.” That same day in a separate AP article (“More required from Ohioans getting unemployment” 6-10-14) Analysis read “Those applying for unemployment compensation will have eight weeks to upload a new resume at OhioMeansJobs.com and make it “public,” so potential employers can find it.” This all hearkens the contemporary culture of the NSA exposed by Edward Snowden, ostensibly creating outrage throughout America. Yet here this same culture is found within the very fabric of Ohio’s and Licking County’s everyday. Where the money goes – that’s private. Where the money comes from – that’s public.

Rhetorical Manipulation

June 9, 2014

Analysis’s raggedy old Webster’s gives “the art of effectively using language in speech or writing, including the use of figures of speech” and “the undue use of exaggerated language; bombast” amongst its definitions of “rhetoric”. Couple that with commercial interest and you get slick Madison Avenue marketing. Case in point would be the recently enacted Ohio legislation SB 310 which, according to the Dispatch, John the Governator will enact. Cincinnati Republican State Senator Bill Seitz originally proposed SB 58, ending Ohio’s alternative energy requirements and standards. His rhetoric centered around “the market” and how these standards would cause the utility companies to charge higher rates. Zanesville’s Republican Senator Troy Balderson revamped the elimination idea with a “freeze” of these standards while the efficacy of the standards themselves are researched (effectively the same, but under the guise of a different rhetoric, temporary suspension versus elimination). His rhetoric centered on determining whether customer costs would be more or less with or without the standards. How noble! The liberals and greenies decry this as a Koch brothers and ALEC conspiracy. Given the preponderance of this very same kind of legislation appearing in state legislatures across the country coupled with the President’s initiative to call attention to global warming and tighten coal fired power plant emission controls, there’s some truth in that. But wait, there’s more. Though Ohio is not the heaviest user of coal in generating its electricity, it is up there amongst the top users. Some of that coal is from Ohio mines. Staying with coal is, to say the least, completely conservative (Webster’s first definition is “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc.” Sounds about right). Further “market” rhetoric by conservative legislators is that alternate energy sources (like wind or solar) are currently only possible thanks to state and federal subsidies. Of course the senators elide their own subsidizing shale energy (fracking) with the current tax package that allows the industry to be excused from paying the commercial activities tax. These “elision” fields likewise avoid disclosing that the natural gas produced by this very process, is cheaper than coal to generate electricity. But this just leads to more rhetoric. What about the commercial interest motivating our conservative legislators?

Analysis has a recent AEP bill before it. 15% of this particular bill is attributable to various non-generation, transmission or distribution costs (what it takes to get Sparky from there to here). There is a “Retail Stability Rider”, a “Deferred Asset Phase-in Rider” and a “Phase-in Recovery Rider”. Still unfazed by all the riders? Well, how about the most expensive of the bunch, the “Customer Charge”? Yes, you read that right, a charge just for being a customer. All this thanks to our legislators, John the Governator, and PUCO, though the names have been withheld to protect the guilty. These charges are there because the various utility giants that have control over Ohio can put them there. Enough said. What about those utilities themselves?

6-8-14 Rob Wile for the online Business Insider reports “How Solar Will Destroy The Power Companies, In 5 Easy Steps”. Mr. Wile writes “Barclays recently downgraded the entire U.S. electric utilities sector to “underweight” on the threat posed by widespread adoption of solar-storage.” “The firm’s sweeping case focused in large part on debt markets’ apparent ignorance to challenge utilities are facing.” Wile gives the following five reasons for Barclays move: 1.Solar prices come down (Photovoltaic panels have dropped, and continue to drop in price. OK so much of that is due to subsidy but revisit the riders and customer charges as well as the recent tax package for fracking if you want to embrace that “market” rhetoric. Likewise Tesla has caused the price of storage batteries to continuously drop. Again, look at the legislators’ “laws” to keep Tesla out of Ohio). 2. The defection spiral commences (“Once the prices for everything get cheap enough, homeowners begin to leave the grid.” Duh!) 3. Utilities flail around in their state capitols seeking relief (already happening, dude) 4.The decommissioning process begins (“This is the key moment: Utility companies being forced to upgrade their plants in the face of a declining customer base. That’s a killer combination.”) 5. (this is the one that completely undermines “the market” rhetoric of our conservative legislators) The market turns (“In Germany, aggressive subsidies and a move away from nuclear led to an explosion of renewables expansion. Since the beginning of 2010 (though for reasons that go beyond simply that outgrowth), Germany’s two largest utilities had stock price declines of 55-60%, compared with a near 60% gain in the DAX.”) All this shows that the folks on Wall Street (company John the Governator used to keep when employed by the now belly up Lehman Brothers) know what is coming down. How do they know this?

Academics use a term called “disruptive technology” or “disruptive innovation” to describe what happens when what essentially involved a cumbersome or costly way of doing things is displaced by something, perhaps less comprehensive, but far more accessible and affordable. Case in point would be mobile communication devices (which once were incredibly cumbersome and expensive) and personal computers, now even smart phones. IBM, Hewlett Packard, the old Bell system and others all suffered as a consequence of disruptive innovation/technology (Kodak and Polaroid had to reinvent themselves thanks to digital imaging). Solar is likewise a disruptive innovation/technology. Folks like Seitz, Hottinger, Balderson and other conservatives, “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc.” need to be told the jig is up. The rhetorical manipulations employed by them to insure their own reelection financing is failing (“Customer Charge” indeed!); failing on account of the very market they so ardently invoke as the fountain of all solutions for all problems. In the case of alternate energy, is it the market they are dissing, or is it their responsibility (as elected representatives) to solve problems? SB 310 creates one, solves none.

September 28, 2013 Revisited

June 1, 2014

Donald Sterling, the LA Clippers, et al. are still in the news. No shortage of potential multi-billion (with a B) dollar buyers came out of the woodwork when the professional sports team’s sale was instigated. Oprah said 2 billion dollars was her limit. Steve Ballmer must have surpassed that with over $2 billion according to recent accounts. In addition to all the folks wanting to buy the Clippers, Donald himself sued for over a billion dollars saying he is being cheated. Analysis finds it useful to revisit an Advocate op ed letter written by Newark area State Representative Jay Hottinger intended to educate readers of the enormity of these sums.

“No one knows what $1 trillion dollars looks like, let alone 17 times that, so allow me to try to explain it. A trillion dollars is 1,000,000,000,000 — that’s 12 zeros to the left of the decimal point. A billion dollars is a thousand million, a trillion dollars is a thousand billion.” (Nation’s debt problem demands action, 9-28-13, The Newark Advocate)

Even without a calculator, Analysis finds that just this small sum of folks willing and able to purchase and/or own the LA Clippers involves sums of discretionary income that exceeds 1% of a trillion dollars (5 X 2 bil = 1% of a tril). This is just one professional sports team in just one city in just one country (the US). The discretionary nature of the economics of professional sports (and how they in no way reflect a city’s “home team”) can be found in another mega bucks franchise, the LA Dodgers (another $2 billion purchase). Currently, folks in LA who cannot afford the price of admission can only follow the “home team” on, that staple of the 1950’s, the radio. Mr. Hottinger, who currently is actively seeking (re) election as the area’s State Senator (not State Representative) is himself stuck in the 1950’s with outlooks and solutions to economic concerns. Public entities (like the City of Newark) are finding it difficult to obtain the needed funding for overdue public expenditure on infrastructure, etc. “The question still remains: What will be done about it? In August, state Rep. Matt Huffman, a Republican who serves the Lima area, introduced a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to introduce a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I signed on as a co-sponsor, along with 28 other legislators, all Republicans.” (Nation’s debt problem demands action, 9-28-13, The Newark Advocate) Instead of educating folks about how big a trillion is while promoting and endorsing tax breaks, tax credits and subsidies for those within that rarefied upper income atmosphere of discretionary spending ubiquitous throughout the US today, Mr. Hottinger should address “the question” by going where the money is (and it is there) rather than looking to where it is not.