# Recession

Weekend open thread: Job news edition

Last week’s horrible nationwide jobs report for June is another danger sign for the U.S. economy. Charles Lemos put the numbers in perspective here. The U.S. unemployment rate doesn’t appear to be rising, but that’s mainly because discouraged workers have stopped looking for a job. Other pieces of the economic picture aren’t looking great either, and some analysts think we are on the brink of a double-dip recession.

In terrible news for central Iowa, Wells Fargo announced on July 7 that it is “eliminating Des Moines-based Wells Fargo Financial and 3,800 positions nationwide.” From the Des Moines Register report:

Wells Fargo Financial will eliminate 2,800 positions in the next six months. The majority of those will come with the closing of 638 Wells Fargo Financial stores around the country, including 12 in Iowa. Only 14 of the initial layoffs will be in the Des Moines headquarters.

Wells Fargo also will eliminate an additional 1,000 positions in the next 12 months, most of those positions in Des Moines, said David Kvamme, president of Wells Fargo Financial. […]

Currently, Wells Fargo Financial has approximately 14,000 team members throughout the country, and 3,500 in Des Moines. The remaining 10,600 jobs will transition to other Wells Fargo units, including mortgage and community banking.

Laid off employees will receive 60 days’ working notice and a severance package.

Affected Wells Fargo employees also are encouraged to apply for other jobs throughout the company. Wells Fargo currently has more than 400 open positions in the Des Moines area, Kvamme said.

Wells Fargo is Iowa’s largest bank in terms of deposits and Central Iowa’s largest private employer with about 12,900 employees in the Des Moines area.

The Des Moines area is far from the worst place to do job-hunting; unemployment and the cost of living are pretty good compared to other medium-sized cities. Still, that’s a lot of people who will hit the job market at the same time.

Here’s some good news from the past week: the Iowa Utilities Board adopted “rules to encourage the development of more small wind generation systems across Iowa,” the Newton Independent reported.

One prominent Iowan got a new (unpaid) position this week, as President Obama appointed Vermeer Corporation president and CEO Mary Andringa to his 18-member export advisory council. Heavy-hitter Iowa Republicans tried to recruit Andringa to run for governor last year, and she is a chair of Terry Branstad’s campaign.

The celebrity job story of the week was of course LeBron James abandoning the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. I haven’t watched an NBA game in years, but I think James should have stayed in Cleveland, or at least not humiliated his hometown on nationwide television. A couple of good takes on the unprecedented dumping via tv special: Bill Simmons for ESPN and Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Some enterprising person was able to make google searches for “Terry Branstad” turn up ads for cheap drugs from Canada. The ads look like they are coming from Branstad’s official campaign website. Luke Jennett of the Ames Tribune got the scoop. As of Sunday morning, the problem still hadn’t been fixed.

This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend.

UPDATE: Who else watched the World Cup final? I was rooting for the Netherlands, but at least it wasn’t decided by penalty kicks. Spain scored a goal in the final minutes of extra time to post its fourth straight 1-0 victory. (Paul the psychic German octopus was right.) I’m happy for Spain, because they looked like the better team for most of the game, but it’s incredible to think that they are the World Cup champions after scoring eight goals in seven games.

Continue Reading...

Pawlenty appealing to "Party of Hoover" set

Not content to push for a balanced-budget constitutional amendment in his own state, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has endorsed the idea of a federal constitutional amendment to require Congress to pass balanced budgets every year. The Wall Street Journal’s Amy Merrick observes,

Previous efforts to pass a national balanced-budget amendment have foundered in Congress. Many lawmakers believe deficit spending can help boost the U.S. economy during downturns, and calls to balance the budget sometimes fade as other priorities surface.

It would be insane to restrict the federal government’s ability to run deficits during a recession. That’s not just something many members of Congress “believe,” it’s a consensus view among economists. But don’t worry, Pawlenty isn’t entirely rigid on the subject of deficit spending:

Mr. Pawlenty’s proposal for a federal amendment would include exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies. The U.S. has been at war for most of the past decade.

No self-respecting Republican ever let spending worries stand in the way of a blank check for war.

Although it’s tempting to laugh at Pawlenty’s proposal, I think highlighting the budget amendment could boost his standing in the 2012 presidential race. His idea isn’t outside the GOP mainstream; leading Republicans proposed a federal spending freeze instead of the stimulus bill Congress passed in February. Republican politicians in Iowa have also embraced Hoovernomics.

The idea could prove popular with the GOP rank and file too. Mike Huckabee gained a lot of traction in Iowa during the summer of 2007 by being the only Republican to endorse the so-called “fair tax.” That idea is even wackier than a federal spending freeze during a recession, but many caucus-goers embraced it.

Any comments about Pawlenty’s prospects or the Republican presidential field are welcome in this thread.

Continue Reading...

New GOP robocall uses old GOP playbook

Oh no! Representative Leonard Boswell must be quaking in his boots now that the National Republican Campaign Committee is running this robocall against him in Iowa’s third district:

“Leonard Boswell spent 2009 helping liberal Speaker Nancy Pelosi push a massive government takeover of health care, a cap-and-trade energy bill that will increase costs for Iowa workers, and a massive $787 billion pork-laden spending bill that he called a stimulus but that has not helped the Iowa economy. Tell him your New Year’s resolution is to watch his votes in 2010 to make sure he is voting for Iowa families, not the liberal agenda of the Democrat party leaders in Washington.”

For years, Republicans have trotted out versions of this script against Boswell: blah blah blah Nancy Pelosi blah blah blah liberal agenda blah blah blah Democrat Party. It hasn’t resonated before, so why would it work now?

Specifically, I don’t think they will get far running against the stimulus package. Even in a weak economy, Boswell will be able to point to dozens of programs from the stimulus bill that benefited Iowa families. He has brought money to the district through several other bills passed this year as well. The Republican alternative, passing no stimulus and freezing federal spending, would have made the recession far worse.

The health care bill doesn’t even contain a weak public insurance option, let alone a “government takeover.” I don’t dispute that there will be plenty for the Republicans to attack in that bill, but Boswell will be able to point to items that benefit Iowans, such as new Medicare reimbursement rates to benefit low-volume hospitals (including Grinnell Regional Medical Center and Skiff Medical Center in Newton).

Boswell fought for concessions in the climate change bill that weakened the bill from my perspective but will be touted by his campaign as protecting sectors of the Iowa economy. Anyway, many people’s utility bills are lower this winter because the recession has brought down natural gas prices.

It’s fine with me if the NRCC wants to drain its coffers by funding robocalls like this around the country. I doubt they will scare Boswell into retirement or succeed in branding him as a Washington liberal.

Continue Reading...

Des Moines metro rated fourth-best "bang for the buck" area

Forbes.com compiled a list of the best “bang for the buck” cities in the U.S.:

To find the cities that offer the most bang for the buck, we looked at the country’s 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas–geographic entities defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, for use in collecting statistics– across these measures: foreclosures as a percentage of home prices; vacancies; unemployment rates; a three-year job-growth forecast; a three-year home-price forecast; housing affordability; median real estate taxes; and median travel time to work.

The Des Moines/West Des Moines metro area ranked fourth out of 100:

With low unemployment, at 6%, few vacancies and a promising home price forecast, the real estate market shows fresh signs of robustness. And its home prices make it possible for budget-conscious home buyers to get in the door–it scores above average for home price affordability.

The Omaha/Council Bluffs area ranked first on the Forbes.com list, and also ranked first on the list of cities “best surviving the recession. “No other Iowa metros were large enough to be considered for this analysis.

Click here and scroll down for more details on the methodology used to assess unemployment and healthy housing markets. Click here for the list ranking all 100 most populous metro areas. If you’re feeling down now that snow has arrived in Iowa, consider how much more affordable life is here compared to most of the sun belt cities.

Continue Reading...

"Best Performing Cities" index sees improvement for most Iowa metros

The Des Moines Register brought to my attention a new report ranking 200 large metropolitan areas and 124 smaller metropolitan areas:

The 2009 Milken Institute/Greenstreet Real Estate Partners Best-Performing Cities Index ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth.  The components include job, wage and salary and technology growth.

The list of smaller cities includes eight Iowa metros, and you can view the details here. My short take is after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Recession Widens Gap Between Rich and Poor

(Click here for more on growing income inequality in the U.S., and note that the U.S. has now fallen behind Europe in terms of economic mobility. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report.

It seems like the one constant that can be depended on in this country anymore in good times or bad is the fact that working folks are working harder and harder and simply are not getting ahead. Even before the Republican recession last year wages have stagnated for decades and the gap between rich and poor has only widened as our middle-class continues to shrink. New numbers show that while incomes across the board have fallen, the recession has once again hit middle and lower class working Americans the hardest.  

Continue Reading...

Links on making ends meet in the 2010 budget

With the economic recession continuing to drag down tax revenues, the 2010 budget that the Iowa Legislature approved in April is likely to require significant adjustments.

In June the Legislative Council agreed to cut more than 10 percent from the Legislature’s budget in 2010. The cost-saving measures “include a pay freeze for all legislative employees, reducing travel budgets, and cutting back next year’s legislative session by 10 days.”

A State Government Reorganization Commission will look for other ways to cut spending next year. It will be interesting to compare that commission’s proposals with the kind of cuts Iowa Republicans have been advocating. During the last legislative session, Republicans called for $300 million in spending cuts, but I have been unable to find a link to a document with details about that proposal. (Note: I’ll have more to say in a future post about the state budget reforms Iowa Republicans proposed yesterday.)

After the jump I’ve posted some links and analysis related to the budget constraints facing Iowa and just about every other state right now.

Continue Reading...

Christian Fong dusts off Obama's playbook

Given Barack Obama’s Iowa caucus breakthrough and convincing general-election victory here, it was only a matter of time before someone else built an Iowa campaign around his strategy. I didn’t count on a Republican being the first person to try, though.

Enter Christian Fong, who made the Republican race for governor a lot more interesting last week.

Some early impressions of Fong’s personal narrative, political rhetoric and electoral prospects are after the jump.  

Continue Reading...

Iowa Republicans more like "Party of Hoover" than party of future

The Republican Party of Iowa is celebrating its “rising stars” tonight at an event featuring Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Judging by what we’ve heard lately from Iowa GOP leaders, they’re gonna party like it’s 1929.

Case in point: Iowa Senate Minority leader Paul McKinley. The possible gubernatorial candidate’s weekly memos continue to whine about spending and borrowing by Democrats (see also here). Republicans would rather slash government programs and provide “targeted” one-year tax credits.

The lessons of Herbert Hoover’s presidency are still lost on these people. I apologize for repeating myself, but excessive government spending cuts can turn an economic recession into a depression. Since state governments cannot run budget deficits, it makes sense for the federal government to help the states “backfill” their budgets. That was the express purpose of the state transfer funds in the stimulus package.

In addition, it is prudent to spend federal funds on projects with long-term benefits. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was in Des Moines on June 23 to highlight the first installment of what will be $41 million in stimulus funds for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects in Iowa. Energy efficiency programs in particular will have huge collateral benefits, saving consumers money while helping the environment.

No matter how many times Republicans repeat their misleading talking points about the I-JOBS state bonding initiative Democrats passed this year, it is prudent to borrow money for worthwhile projects when interest rates are low. I don’t hear McKinley or other Republican leaders telling businesses not to borrow money to make capital improvements.

Share any thoughts about Republican ideas, rhetoric, or career lobbyist Haley Barbour in this thread.

Employment numbers belie Steve King's high-school research

Representative Steve King bragged about his 11th-grade research project in the Thursday edition of the Des Moines Register:

As a junior at Denison High School, I wrote a term paper on President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. I began working on the paper with the intention of confirming what I had been taught in school – that FDR’s government recovery programs brought America out of the Great Depression.

I started my research believing in the success of Roosevelt’s economic-recovery programs. To support this claim, I spent hours at the Carnegie Library in Denison reading past editions of the local, biweekly newspaper.

My reading began with the 1929 stock-market crash, and I examined every issue through the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Those stacks of old papers turned upside down everything I had been taught in history and government class about the New Deal. As I searched for information proving the New Deal stabilized the American economy, I instead found the exact opposite: high unemployment, a struggling stock market and continued hard times.

Later statistical findings confirm my 11th-grade research. Throughout the 1930s, the unemployment rate never dipped below 14 percent. FDR’s tinkering with the free market frustrated investors, and the 1929 high point for the Dow Jones industrial average was not reached again until 1954.

Roosevelt possessed tremendous leadership skills and inspired many Americans, including my hard-hit family. Charisma aside, historians often inflate the true economic record of the New Deal. Roosevelt tried one big government program after another, with poor results. Many of Roosevelt’s programs and initiatives led the government to compete directly with the private sector for capital and workers, with Washington making the rules.

Massive government spending did not lift the United States out of recession. Instead, FDR’s big-government programs prolonged the Great Depression. The best we can say about the New Deal is that it may have blunted the depths of the Depression, but the trade-off was it delayed economic recovery until World War II and our post-war industrial advantage brought America out of the Depression.

Ah yes, the “poor results” of big-government programs introduced by FDR. Programs like Social Security, which dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which “set maximum hours and minimum wages for most categories of workers.”

But never mind the safety net for seniors and regulations that improved the quality of life for workers. What about King’s central claim, that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression? This is now a key right-wing talking point against government spending in Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

It is wrong to say that no economic recovery occurred during the New Deal. On the contrary,

The economy had hit rock bottom in March 1933 and then started to expand. As historian Broadus Mitchell notes, “Most indexes worsened until the summer of 1932, which may be called the low point of the depression economically and psychologically.”[18] Economic indicators show the economy reached nadir in the first days of March, then began a steady, sharp upward recovery. Thus the Federal Reserve Index of Industrial Production hit its lowest point of 52.8 in July 1930 (with 1935-39 = 100) and was practically unchanged at 54.3 in March 1933; however by July 1933, it reached 85.5, a dramatic rebound of 57% in four months. Recovery was steady and strong until 1937. Except for unemployment, the economy by 1937 surpassed the levels of the late 1920s. The Recession of 1937 was a temporary downturn. Private sector employment, especially in manufacturing, recovered to the level of the 1920s but failed to advance further until the war.

Unemployment continued to be high by today’s standards throughout the 1930s, but King ignores the sharp reduction in unemployment following the introduction of New Deal policies.

The bottom line is this: the unemployment rate dropped by 9 percent during the pre-World War II FDR era, and the absolute number of unemployed people dropped by 36.7 percent (from 12.8 million unemployed in 1932 to 8.1 million unemployed in 1940).

World War II significantly reduced the number of unemployed Americans, but again, it is false to claim that the New Deal programs accomplished little on the employment front.

By way of comparison, under King’s hero Ronald Reagan, the unemployment rate only dropped by 2.1 percent, and the absolute number of unemployed people dropped by 19.0 percent (from 8.2 million in 1981 to 6.7 million in 1988).

The U.S. population was a lot bigger during Reagan’s presidency than it was in FDR’s day. If Reagan’s policies were so much better for putting people to work, why did we not see a larger decrease in the total number of unemployed Americans during the 1980s? Why did we see such marginal improvement in the unemployment rate during Reagan’s presidency?

If we look at employment figures under every president since FDR, King’s nemesis Bill Clinton comes out ahead. During his presidency, the unemployment rate declined by 2.9 percent, and the total number of unemployed dropped by 36.3 percent (from 8.9 million in 1993 to 5.6 million in 2000).

Note: Chase Martyn had a go at King at Iowa Independent, but he was too kind in my opinion. The facts do not support King’s assertion that the New Deal delayed economic recovery and failed to address high unemployment.

Someone please talk King into running for governor in 2010 so we can get a less odious Republican representing Iowa’s fifth district.

Continue Reading...

Nine Predictions for 2009

(The 2008 Bleeding Heartland election prediction champion gets out the crystal ball for the year to come... - promoted by desmoinesdem)

My apologies for not getting this in closer to the actual new year, but you could say that “a day late and a dollar short” has been the theme of the new year so far for me. Or five days short, as the case may be.

In any case, before we start the new political year for real, I thought it might be fun to share our predictions for the new year. Here are nine predictions of mine for two thousand and nine.

1. The state budget is in far worse shape then we think. Expect the fight over the budget to get ugly, quick.

The Iowa state fiscal year runs from July 1 2008 to June 30 2009–right in the heart of the economic meltdown. Given that the estimates for this period are just starting to come in, it's reasonable to assume that the stories we're currently hearing about the “budget crisis” represent only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Likewise, the 1.5% across-the-board cut currently proposed by Gov. Culver isn't going to be nearly enough to solve the crisis. It's going to get ugly and fast.

2. Unemployment will hit 10% by the end of 2009, and recovery will not come until early 2010.

Call me a pessimist, but I think things are going to get much worse before they get better. When you combine the potential failure of the Big 3 (a still unresolved issue, by the way), plus a global manufacturing slowdown, with the fact that up to 25% of retail stores may declare bankrupcy in the next year–you have the recipie for unmitigated economic disaster.  

To complicate matters, I do not expect President Obama's recovery measures to be passed before May of this year. (There are already signs that a long battle is ahead for this bill.) That means that many of the infrastructure projects given funds through the program will miss out on the summer construction window–meaning they likely won't start until Summer 2010. Many other measures, like tax cuts or social programs won't go into effect until 2010 as well…moving the light at the end of the tunnel further and further away.

3. The Big 3 will not survive in their current form. Get ready for the Big 2.

Regardless of whether the auto bailout was the correct move at the time, by the time the big ball drops in 2010–there will no longer be a Big 3 as we know them now. My best guess is that one of the Big 3 automakers (most likely Chrysler) will implode into disorganized bankrupcy. No buyer will be found, and the brand will simply cease to exist. This will spark a crisis that will either lead to the organized bankrupcy/restructuring of the other companies, or government assistance with severe Bob Corker style conditions. 

The good news is that out of the multitude of laid-off engineers and designers, we could see new  and innovative technologies, designs, and companies form. By 2020 we could all be driving solar hybrids designed and built by ex-Big 3 designers who started their own companies.

6. The Supreme Court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage in the case of Varnum v. Brien.

Beware the ides of March rings true in Iowa in 2009. Expect a ruling on the case of Varnum v. Brien to come down with a rulings for several other cases on March 13, the conclusion of the Court's March session. When that happens expect a whirlwind of craziness to descend on the state: national media, a rush of spring weddings, celebrity attention, half-cocked legal challenges, right-wing rants, Fred Phelps-ian protests, legislative blustering, Steve Deace's head exploding, and who knows what else.

I don't think the moon turning to blood, the dead walking the streets, or any other Pat Robertson-style pronouncements will come true…but expect a wild ride.

5. The Republican candidate for Governor will be a serious contender who already holds a major elected office.

The current fight over the RPI chair has a definite and familiar theme: change. Old hacks are out, new hacks are in. While there is a faction of the GOP that clings to BVP like life preserver, the majority of the party is, I think, waiting for someone new to come along.

That someone is either State Auditor David Vaudt, Sec. of Agriculture Bill Northey, or 4th District Congressman Tom Latham.

Vaudt looks to emerge as one of the main faces of opposition to Culver on budget issues, a position he could use to slingshot him to the governorship. Northey is the darling of the Republican Party and, with agricultural issues on the back-burner this year and little to do, may find the Governor's race an attractive prospect. Latham, by all measures a low-importance member of the minority party might decide that its now or never for him. And he has nothing to lose: if he wins, he's the Governor; if he loses, he can run again as the elder-statesman in the dogfight that will be the new 3rd district.

Continue Reading...

Events coming up this weekend and next week

Not a whole lot is happening yet, but things will pick up quickly once the legislature is back in session, beginning January 12.

As always, post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of an event I’ve left out.

Saturday, January 3:

The Iowa Citizen Action Network is organizing a “Roadmap to Economic Recovery” town hall meeting from 10:30 am to noon at the Bidwell Riverside Center, 1203 Hartford in Des Moines. For more details about the event, read this post at Century of the Common Iowan.

Monday, January 5:

At 10 am the Des Moines Register’s editorial board will interview top Iowa Republicans in the legislature: Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, and House Minority Whip Linda Upmeyer. People will be able to watch the interviews live at the Register’s website.

Tuesday, January 6:

At 9:30 am the Register’s editorial board will interview top Iowa Democrats in the legislature: Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, House Speaker Pat Murphy, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. People will be able to watch the interviews live at the Register’s website.

Thursday, January 8:

From the Iowa Environmental Council e-mail bulletin, via Angela Clark of enrgPATH:

Sustainable Business After Hours meet monthly at Mars Café, the second Thursday of every month. Jan 8 is the next one at 5:30 p.m. This is for anyone in business that is interested in hearing about how others are incorporating sustainability into their business. We feature a non-profit group each month from the Sustainability spectrum as well. Hope to see you there!

Practical Farmers of Iowa is giving you a chance to see the documentary “King Corn” and meet the film-makers:

The movie King Corn is coming to Des Moines, along with co-star Curt Ellis and director Aaron Woolf, for a Practical Farmers of Iowa fundraiser on January 8. The screening will be at the Fleur Cinema, and movie time is 7:00. After the movie, join Curt Ellis and Aaron Woolf for dessert, drinks, and discussion.

King Corn’s Curt Ellis: “We are supporting Practical Farmers of Iowa through this fundraiser because they provide a vision for what all Iowa agriculture might look like a generation from now: family-driven farms growing healthy and sustainable food in thriving local communities.”

King Corn tracks two college kids’ quest to understand the food system.  “As city kids from the coasts, we had no idea that the food we were eating–meat, milk, or soda–had its roots on a corn farm.  When we found out just how much of our diet was coming from that one crop, we decided to see the Corn Kingdom for ourselves,” said Curt. “We moved to Iowa , grew an acre of corn, and followed the fate of our crop as food. Along the way, we found out some wonderful things about agriculture, and some disconcerting things about our food.”

Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $10 for students. To purchase tickets, call Suzi at (515)232-5661 or fill out and send in the ticket order form.

Sponsors for this fundraiser are Des Moines Area Community College , Drake University Environmental Science and Policy Program, Environmental Nutrition Solutions, Iowa Farmers Union, Sage, Slow Food Des Moines, and the Wallace House Foundation.

Practical Farmers of Iowa includes a diverse group of farmers and nonfarmers. Corn, soybeans, beef cattle, and hay are the top enterprises for PFI farmers, although many have a variety of other operations, including fruits and vegetables. PFI’s programming stresses farmer-to-farmer networking through research and demonstration, field days, conferences, and more. For more information, call (515)232-5661 or visit www.practicalfarmers.org.

Friday, January 9:

The Iowa Commission on the Status of Women is having a lunch and learn to discuss its legislative agenda for the coming session:

12 noon – 1 p.m.

State Capitol, Room 116

Free and open to the public * Bring your lunch and join us!

2009 Policy Agenda

1.      Enhance protections for equal pay.

2.      Provide sustainable funding for domestic violence and sexual assault centers across the state.

3.      Extend gender balance requirement on boards and commissions to political subdivisions of the state.

4.      Support policy and research to assist low-income women entering skill shortage areas.

The annual conference of Practical Farmers of Iowa opens in Marshalltown:

The 2009 PFI conference, “Biological Harvest: The Sustainable Farmer’s Hidden Opportunity,” will take place at Marshalltown Community College January 9 and 10. Keynote speaker Joel Huesby, fourth-generation farmer who farms in Washington State, speaks with great optimism about the future of agriculture and the tremendous opportunities for “farming with the sun.” Friday evening of the conference King Corn co-star Curt Ellis and director Aaron Woolf will show a sneak preview of their new film, tentatively titled “Big River,” that looks at the environmental impacts of high-intensity corn production. Dave Baker from the Beginning Farmer Center is available for private consultations. Holistic veterinarian Will Winter will host a one-on-one coffee shop Saturday. Other highlights include: business meeting, member posters, Iowa-grown meals, silent auction, and many opportunities to network with fellow farmers and agriculture advocates. The conference offers a diverse line-up of workshops. For more information or to register, visit www.practicalfarmers.org or contact Suzi Berhnard, (515)232-5661, suzi@practicalfarmers.org.

Saturday, January 10:

From the Iowa Environmental Council e-mail bulletin:

A meeting of anyone interested in habitat and water quality issues in the Walnut Creek Watershed will occur on Saturday, January 10, in the morning. The exact time and place will be announced later. Walnut Creek is a tributary of the Raccoon River, and it has significant rural and urban watershed areas. The tentative meeting schedule includes an introductory slide presentation and overview, interest- and issue-based working groups, and discussion of outreach to communities and potential funding sources. If you want a detailed announcement of the meeting, please send an email to Lee Searles at searleslr@msn.com or contact him at 515-979-6457.

Continue Reading...

Now that is a great idea

From Daily Kos user rok for dean:

In 1950, the average pay of an S&P 500 CEO was less than 30 times that of an average U.S. worker; by 1980, prior to the “Reagan Revolution,” the average pay of the S&P 500 CEO was approximately 50 times higher than that of an average U.S worker.  But by 2007, the average pay of an S&P 500 CEO had soared to more than 350 times as much as that of an average U.S. worker.

This is both immoral and unsustainable in a democracy.  By way of comparison, in Europe, an average CEO only makes 22 times as much as an average worker, and in Japan, only 17 times as much.

If America wants to be competitive again, we need to reduce CEO pay to a level comparable to CEO pay in Europe and Japan.  I know exactly how to accomplish this feat.  The [United Auto Workers] should agree to immediately lower U.S. union worker pay to a level equal to the level paid by their non-union, non-American competitors.  In return, auto CEO’s must agree to permanently lower their compensation to only 20 times that of an average union worker.

Sounds fair to me. How many Republicans who’ve been beating the war drums about excessively generous pay to union workers would agree to those terms?

It’s true that union workers get paid more than non-union workers (though strong unions are associated with higher average wages even for non-union workers in the same area). But in a country where two-thirds of our gross domestic product depends on consumer spending, higher wages are not a bad thing.

In any event, unions are not primarily to blame for the auto industry’s current problems. Toyota is about to post its first operating loss in 70 years despite having an entirely non-union workforce. The tough economy has diminished demand for new cars.

American automakers also have to bear the burden of our broken employer-based health insurance system, but that’s a topic for another diary.

The same Republicans who claim they’d never raise taxes on Americans are only too happy to slash the wages of middle-class auto workers. As rok for dean says, let’s call their bluff and see if they would be willing to tie executive pay to a reasonable multiple of the average worker’s salary in the company.

Side note: my dad was a Republican, but it really bothered him when corporate executives would receive exorbitant salaries and bonuses even as they were driving their companies into the ground. Rewarding good performance is one thing, but paying incompetent managers obscenely high salaries is another.  

Continue Reading...

Open thread on the auto bailout (updated)

I opposed the massive Wall Street bailout rushed through Congress this fall, but if the government can provide hundreds of billions of dollars to financial firms with no oversight, it’s only fair that $13.4 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program be used to prevent General Motors and Chrysler from collapsing:

“These are not ordinary circumstances,” Bush said at the White House today. “In the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse is not a responsible course of action.”

The cost of letting automakers fail would lead to a 1 percent reduction in the growth of the U.S. economy and mean about 1.1 million workers would lose their jobs, including those in the auto supply business and among dealers, the White House said in a fact sheet.

‘Necessary Step’

President-elect Barack Obama endorsed the plan, calling it in a statement a “necessary step” to avoid a major blow to the economy.

“I do want to emphasize to the Big Three automakers and their executives that the American people’s patience is running out,” Obama said later at a news conference. “They’re going to have to make some hard choices.”

The United Auto Workers are “disappointed” that Bush added “unfair conditions singling out workers,” the union’s president, Ronald Gettelfinger, said in a statement.

“We will work with the Obama administration and the new Congress to ensure that these unfair conditions are removed,” Gettelfinger said.

This diary by TomP has a lot more detail and reaction to the bailout deal.

It would be grossly unfair for only the workers to be asked to sacrifice to make these companies profitable. Some Republicans, notably Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee are explicitly trying to drive wages in union shops down to the level paid to non-union employees of Japanese automakers in the southern states.

But it’s no coincidence that the standard of living in states with more union workers is higher than the standard of living in the deep south.

I don’t know enough about the details to know whether this bailout can save GM and Chrysler, but failing to act was not an option with so many jobs on the line.

By the way, all three U.S. automakers have made a lot of mistakes over the years, but kudos to management of Ford Motors for locking in a large credit line while credit was easy to obtain. In case you were wondering, that’s why Ford is not currently on the brink of collapse, begging for a government bailout. Nevertheless, I’m sure Ford will have to do a lot of restructuring to adapt to this tough economy, just like GM and Chrysler. I can’t imagine 2009 will be much better for new car sales than 2008 was.

Chrysler has already idled all of its plants for a month. Ford is extending the holiday break at most of its plants until January 12, and GM plans massive production cuts next year.

Those actions may be necessary to save the automakers, but they will have disastrous ripple effects in all the communities where the idled factories are located.

Some of these problems could have been avoided if Congress had fixed our broken health-care system years ago. This report is more than two years old:

The competitive disadvantage of U.S. automakers resulting from the absence of a national strategy on health care financing is becoming increasingly clear. GM faces legacy costs (health care plus pensions for retired workers) of $1,500 per car. Together, the Big Three automakers support roughly 800,000 retirees, compared to less than 1,000 for foreign-owned competitors in the United States.

Clearly the failure to address America’s health care finance problems has become a major competitive disadvantage for our economy as a whole and has placed U.S. workers in a diminished bargaining position for wages and job security in relation to the rest of the industrialized world. Targeting retiree health costs offers an opportunity to provide strong incentives for industry action on fuel savings investment and reduces the competitive disadvantage.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: Why I am not surprised to learn that banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are giving out large bonuses to some executives after receiving billions in bailout money from the federal government?

Note also that George Bush attached all kinds of conditions to the loans for automakers, while major financial institutions just got free money with no oversight.

Continue Reading...

Culver cuts spending across the board by 1.5 percent


Gov. Chet Culver announced an across-the-board budget cut today and said education and Medicaid won’t escape unscathed.

Culver announced a 1.5 percent across-the board reduction in an attempt to deal with the state’s declining revenues.

The governor said staff reductions and employee furloughs are likely, which will be determined by each department. “It’s going to be painful,” he said.

The cuts announced today amount to $91.4 million and will have an effect on services, Culver acknowledged. In addition, Culver ordered a transfer of $10 million of unused money into the general budget. Most of that transfer money will come from an underground storage tank account, which is used to investigate and clean up any past petroleum contamination from underground storage tanks.

A week ago, Culver announced $40 million in cuts, largely through a hiring freeze and limiting out-of-state travel. In addition, Culver said he will ask the Legislature to withdraw plans for a $37 million new office building.

Combined with cuts announced Dec. 9, the total is $178.4 million in reduced expenses in the current budget year that ends June 30.

Clearly spending cuts in the current year are unavoidable because of the decline in projected revenues.

When state legislators draft next year’s budget, though, I hope they will not rely only on spending cuts to make up for projected lower revenues. David Sirota explains why:

Almost every single economist agrees, the last thing we want to do in a recession is slash government spending. We want, in fact, to increase that spending so that it is a counter-cyclical force to a deteriorating economy. So the question, then, is how to most safely generate the revenue to maintain or increase that spending. By  “most safely” I mean how to raise the revenue in a way that will minimize any negative economic impact. And the answer comes from Joseph Stiglitz:


“[T]ax increases on higher-income families are the least damaging mechanism for closing state fiscal deficits in the short run. Reductions in government spending on goods and services, or reductions in transfer payments to lower-income families, are likely to be more damaging to the economy in the short run than tax increases focused on higher-income families.”

So, first and foremost, you don’t want dramatic spending cuts (beyond the usual rooting out of waste/fraud) and you don’t want to raise taxes on middle- and lower-income citizens who both need the money for necessities, and are the demographics that will most quickly spend money in a stimulative way. That leaves taxes on the super-rich, and Stiglitz – unlike anti-tax ideologues – has actual data to make his case.

For more information, see Budget Cuts or Tax Increases at the State Level:

Which is Preferable During an Economic Downturn?

Will Democrats dare to raise taxes, knowing that Republican candidates and interest groups will hammer them for it in 2010?

I have no idea, but if drastic spending cuts send the economy further into recession, 2010 isn’t going to be a picnic for Democrats anyway. I doubt they’ll rally the troops with “At least we didn’t raise your taxes” as a campaign message.

When analyzing the new Iowa House Democratic committee assignments, Chase Martyn noticed,

Almost all vulnerable Democratic incumbents have been kept off the Ways and Means committee.  In a year of budget shortfalls, Ways and Means will likely have to send some tax-increasing bills to the floor.

Post any thoughts about the budget/spending/taxes debate in this thread.

UPDATE: The press release from Culver’s office is after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: If you think Iowa’s budget outlook is grim, read this short piece about the situation in California.

THIRD UPDATE: Nancy Sebring, the superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools, announced plans to cut $3.3 million from the current-year budget (about 1 percent) in light of the state budget cuts. Presumably most if not all school districts in Iowa will need to take similar action. I wouldn’t be surprised if fiscal constraints force more of our small school districts to merge.

Continue Reading...

Obama: We can't fix the economy without fixing health care

Strong words from President-elect Barack Obama at yesterday’s press conference introducing Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services:

Some may ask how, at this moment of economic challenge, we can afford to invest in reforming our health care system. Well, I ask a different question — I ask how we can afford not to….If we want to overcome our economic challenges, we must also finally address our health care challenge.

Obama also promised to address health care “this year,” implying that he will spend political capital to get a plan through Congress in 2009.

Daschle linked health care reform to economic recovery:

Addressing our health care challenges will not only mean healthier and longer lives for millions it will also make American companies more competitive, address the cause of half of all of our personal bankruptcies and foreclosures and help pull our economy out of its current tailspin.

Obama also named Jeanne Lambrew as Daschle’s deputy. Ezra Klein is very pleased with that pick:

Lambrew is an incredibly talented and knowledgeable health wonk, and her involvement should cheer liberals. Unlike during the campaign, when Obama’s health care team seemed heavy on relatively cautious academics, Lambrew has long White House and executive branch experience, and comes to health care as a crusade as much as a topic of study. As Jon Cohn says, the importance of her presence “goes beyond the fact that she happens to know a heck of a lot about health care. She, too, has a strong commitment to what you might call the ‘social justice’ side of the debate.”

For more from Lambrew, check out her congressional testimony from late October, where she argued that “the short-run economic crisis has health policy causes and effects-and arguably the most serious long-run economic challenge is our broken health care system.” That was almost exactly the message Obama delivered today. And it’s the message that will be heard in the White House, and translated into a political strategy by Tom Daschle.

In this article for The American Prospect, Klein compares Obama’s team of “health care heavyweights” to Bill Clinton’s disastrous strategy for pushing health care reform in 1993 and 1994.

The major battle will be making sure there is some public insurance plan Americans can opt into, so that private insurers will need to cover health care in order to compete for customers.

Continue Reading...

Layoffs will leave more Americans without health insurance

The Principal Financial Group lowered the boom on 300 workers in central Iowa yesterday:

Principal Financial Group laid off 550 employees Tuesday, including 300 in its Des Moines headquarters, the company said.

Principal, one of the area’s largest employers, has approximately 16,400 employees worldwide and 8,000 in the Des Moines area. […]

The Des Moines-based insurance and financial services company said the cuts are due to continued deterioration of U.S. and global markets.

Principal reported a net income of $90.1 million for the third quarter, a 61 percent decrease from $232.3 million in the same period a year ago. Principal also told a state development agency last month that it is no longer interested in receiving tax incentives in exchange for creating 900 jobs in Iowa.

The last day for most affected employees will be Dec. 31, and all affected employees will receive severance and career assistance, the company said.

It’s great that people will receive severance pay and career assistance, but they will be entering a very tough job market. Other local employers, including Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, have already laid off workers this fall. Finding a job with pay and benefits comparable to what Principal offered won’t be easy.

This isn’t just an issue for central Iowa. As nyceve writes in her latest diary, rising unemployment is expected to greatly increase the number of Americans lacking coverage for basic health care. Add that to the list of problems with our costly and inefficient employer-based health insurance system.

Continue Reading...

Reactions to the horrendous November employment report

Kula2316 posted several clips containing economists’ reactions to news that U.S. employers cut more than half a million jobs in November. From a story in today’s Washington Post:

Indeed, the economy is unraveling so fast as to defy analysis through the usual statistical models. Among the phrases found in normally sober reports from the nation’s top economic forecasters yesterday: “god-awful,” “wholesale capitulation,” “shockingly weak” and “indescribably terrible.”

“The numbers here are truly horrific,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group, a consultancy. “It is clear this economy is now deteriorating with frightening speed and ferocity.”

Many experts expect the economy to get worse before it gets better. I graduated from college in what we thought was a gruesome hiring environment during Poppy Bush’s presidency. People who could get into some kind of graduate school jumped at the chance to stay off the job market for a year or two.

If you are looking for a job now, or plan to be looking soon, I recommend Teddifish’s Daily Kos diary on How to get a job when no one is hiring. Teddifish’s advice is mainly geared toward people starting out their careers, but the comment thread under that diary is full of ideas that apply to job-seekers of any age and experience level.

For instance, several people recommended sending a thank-you note after a job interview. That can help you stand out among the competitors. Even if you are not hired right away, sending a note to thank the interviewer for his or her consideration can help you in the future. Often an employer’s first choice doesn’t work out for whatever reason.

I’ll share one tip, which got me the job that changed my life: If you are a finalist for a position and don’t get an offer, call to find out why you weren’t hired.

I had had what I thought was a very positive interview in September. I heard a week or two later that I had made the cut to their short list, and they would be making a decision soon. October passed and I never heard anything. I assumed they hired someone else.

This job was in a different city. In January I went to that city, thinking I had another promising lead. While I was in town, I decided to call the guy who had interviewed me in September, who was the director of the institute where I wanted to work. I was nervous, but I had been advised that it was worth asking why I hadn’t been hired.

When he got on the phone, he said, “Boy, am I embarrassed to be talking to you.” It turned out that they weren’t 100 percent happy with any of the finalists, so the position was still open. (I was considered too inexperienced.) But as long as I was in town, he invited me to come down to their office.

Then I got to meet with the man who was going to head the department I had applied for. That interview went very well. He liked me and felt that while I didn’t have a lot of directly relevant experience, I had skills and background that suggested I would have a lot to contribute. He also knew of and respected one of the references listed on my resume.

Within an hour they offered me a job and I was talking to someone in human resources about moving and temporary housing while I looked for an apartment. It was surreal.

I don’t know if professional head-hunters recommend calling to find out why you weren’t hired, but it worked out for me.

Share any thoughts about the economy or job market in the comments.

UPDATE: Several Daily Kos commenters recommended Dick Bolles’ book “What Color Is Your Parachute?” He has a website with information for job-hunters and career-changers here.

Continue Reading...

How bad is this economy?

Worse than you thought:

Skittish employers slashed 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years, catapulting the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent, dramatic proof the country is careening deeper into recession.


As companies throttled back hiring, the unemployment rate bolted from 6.5 percent in October to 6.7 percent last month, a 15-year high.

“These numbers are shocking,” said economist Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economics Advisors. “Companies are sharply reacting to the economy’s problems and slashing costs. They are not trying to ride it out.”

The unemployment rate would have moved even higher if not for the exodus of 422,000 people from the work force. Economists thought many of those people probably abandoned their job searches out of sheer frustration. In November 2007, the jobless rate was at 4.7 percent.

I knew things were bad (I have a couple of friends who’ve been laid off this fall), but I am surprised the monthly job-loss total is worse than at any time since 1974. That is terrible.

At Daily Kos, TomP has Barack Obama’s response to the unemployment numbers. Excerpt:

At the same time, this painful crisis also provides us with an opportunity to transform our economy to improve the lives of ordinary people by rebuilding roads and modernizing schools for our children, investing in clean energy solutions to break our dependence on imported oil, and making an early down payment on the long-term reforms that will grow and strengthen our economy for all Americans for years to come.”

It looks like Obama will try to fold a lot of energy and infrastructure programs into a large economic stimulus bill early next year. That’s a smart approach, but I hope he won’t make too many concessions to boondoggles like “clean coal.” Also, I would hope that a large portion of the infrastructure spending goes on fixing and maintaining current roads and bridges, along with expanding rail travel. Too often federal spending on the transportation sector goes largely toward new road construction.

Continue Reading...

Congressional Democrats Forget Key Part of Obama's Relief Package?

Cross posted at myDD.

CQ Politics is reporting on the Democratic leadership's desire for a second package to strengthen the economy that largely lines up with Barack Obama's plans. But are Congressional Dems omitting aid to state governments, one of the key planks of Obama's plan?:

Democrats have been contemplating a second effort to inject money this year into the faltering economy. The idea appears to have gained traction, particularly among congressional leaders, since Monday when presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois outlined a $50 billion stimulus proposal that will serve as the centerpiece of a two-week economic tour of battleground states.

Though the prospects for a second stimulus package are slim, the debate gives congressional Democrats an opportunity to rally around Obama.

The massive economic stimulus package enacted in February focused on tax breaks for businesses and rebates for individuals and families.

Obama has proposed a second round of rebate checks, an extension of unemployment insurance, aid to state governments and a new $10 billion fund to help stem the tide of home foreclosures.

He also proposed increasing investment in infrastructure such as roads, schools and bridges.

“There’s a need for additional targeted stimulus,” said Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad , D-N.D.

Schumer said infrastructure investment and a second round of rebate checks could be part of the new package, which Democrats are likely to unveil after the July Fourth recess

State government spending is a key prop holding up the economy during a recession. Dem leaders might want to check out the NYT, which pointed out earlier this week:

At $1.8 trillion annually in a $14 trillion economy, the states and municipalities spend almost twice as much as the federal government, including the cost of the Iraq war. When librarians, lifeguards, teachers, transit workers, road repair crews and health care workers disappear, or airport and school construction is halted, the economy trembles.

Continue Reading...

Regency executives try to get out of repaying personal debt

Nice try. Two top executives from Regency Homes sought to avoid repaying about $2.7 million plus interest owed to Wells Fargo on personal lines of credit:

A Polk County district judge rejected arguments from Richard Moffitt, Regency’s chief executive, and John Gamble, Regency’s former chief financial officer, that Wells Fargo & Co. exerted “undue influence and economic duress” against the executives and prevented them from repaying the debt.

The men – along with Regency executives Jamie Myers and Rob Myers – say Wells Fargo put a chokehold on the leaders’ income in December 2007, when it demanded all net proceeds from Regency’s property sales. The leaders claim Wells Fargo’s actions denied them their ability to repay their personal lines of credit.

Moffitt had a $2 million line of credit with Wells Fargo; Jamie Myers, Regency vice president, has $1.5 million; part owner Rob Myers had $1 million; and Gamble had $750,000. Leaders said the lines were used to invest in residential and commercial developments.

The sound you don’t hear is the world’s saddest song being played on the world’s smallest violin.

Give me a break. These guys had a pretty good run during the housing bubble. I am sure that they accumulated plenty of securities and other assets that could be liquidated in order to repay personal lines of credit.

Too many Americans are happy with “high risk, high reward” investments as long as they are reaping the rewards. When they get burned by the risks, they try to weasel out of paying the price.

Meanwhile, “Iowa banks with ties to Regency Homes or other real estate-related businesses continue to report troubles with loans to that industry.” It will be a while before we know the full extent of the fallout from Regency’s suspension of operations last month.

Continue Reading...

Iowa's largest home-builder lays off entire staff

If you aren’t already convinced that the housing market is in big trouble, maybe this article from Saturday’s Des Moines Register will change your mind:

Iowa’s largest home builder, Regency Cos. of Des Moines, has laid off the entire staff of its home building business and left behind 300 homes that lenders and buyers will now have to sell or finish.

Jamie Myers, president of Regency, told 103 people working at Regency Homes offices in West Des Moines and Cedar Rapids on Friday afternoon that their jobs had been eliminated and that construction would halt. Myers said it became impossible for the company to continue after a lending agreement with Wells Fargo & Co. ended in December without a renewal.

“We don’t have the cash flow to pay them,” he said of employees.

Myers said it’s hoped that enough money will be generated from the sale of homes already built to pay lenders and contractors.

Myers didn’t rule out a bankruptcy for the company, which concentrates in the Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Iowa City areas.

The prize for the most absurd spin of the week has to go to Rich Krier of Krier Homes Inc. in Indianola, who

didn’t see Regency’s troubles as a particularly bad omen for the Iowa home building industry. “It’s like a borrower having a problem with a bank,” he said.

He cannot be serious. Regency is not just like any old borrower. We are talking about the giant among home-building firms in Iowa. If Wells Fargo pulled the plug on their loan arrangement, they must be pretty sure that the housing market is in a severe downturn.

The archives of the Bonddad Blog have plenty of material explaining the housing bubble and subsequent downturn.

I wish we could get back some of that prime farmland that home-builders turned into suburban housing. Clearly the new housing that has been built in recent years exceeds market demand in Iowa.

Continue Reading...
Page 1 Page 2