Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Protecting the Millionaires

With a minimum of fanfare Governor Rick Snyder has protected Michigan from the potential disaster of college football players forming unions. Not that any players or unions have said anything about organizing a union, but if they wanted to, they no longer have the option. Snyder signed a bill declaring the football players are not "employees" of a university.
"The bill would ensure that college athletes are students, first and foremost, and should not be treated as employees by their schools," Snyder said in a written statement.
He could just as easily have signed a bill declaring that the moon is made of Swiss cheese. Just because it is enshrined into law doesn't make it true.
Football players are no less "employees" than their peers who sling burgers at the local fast-food joints surrounding their college:

  • They are recruited by the universities for their ability to perform their job
  • They signed a contract with the university, which includes a one-year "non-compete" clause (called a "binding letter of intent")
  • They are compensated for their efforts as athletes (called a "scholarship")
  • They can have their contracts cancelled for poor performance as an athlete
  • They work assigned hours, or risk having their contracts cancelled
  • They generate revenue for their employer

So how is that not an employee-employer relationship?
They truth behind the law is protecting the millionaires who profit from the labor of these "student-athletes."
It is fitting that Snyder signed the law the same day the University of Michigan awarded the supervisor of their football employees, Jim Harbaugh, a contract that pays him a minimum of $40-million over seven years:

  • $35-million base salary
  • Guaranteed 10% raises in years three and five
  • $2-million signing bonus
  • Additional performance bonuses that could add millions (he makes even more if his players perform well on the field)
  • An undefined promise of a deferred compensation package after his first year
  • He even gets a small bonus ($150,000) if his players do well in the classroom.
This isn't a rant against Harbaugh. His salary package is in line with the pay for other first-tier football and basketball coaches at MSU and around the nation (although most of those in the top tier only got the huge money after actually winning some games).
The argument against player unions – and actual salaries for players – is that it would bankrupt college football. The reality is that it would take away from the absolutely ridiculous pay structure that has been built for coaches, assistant coaches, athletic directors and support staff.
The highest paid public employees in Michigan all are college athletics folks. And it isn't just the head coaches and athletic directors. The newly departed defensive coordinator for MSU, Pat Narduzzi, was being the same salary as MSU's president, and around four-times the salary of top-tier professors. Athletic Director Mark Hollis (admittedly one of the nation's best ADs) is also about the same amount as President LouAnna Simon. (All are in the $800,000+ per year category.) All of the assistant football and basketball coaches at MSU and UM make more than many tenured professors at their universities: we value teaching layups more than teaching physics, philosophy or agriculture science.
For her part, Dr. Simon supports the current system of enriching coaches and administrators while
A "student athlete" can lose his scholarship
(i.e., be "fired") for an on-the-job injury.
short-changing the athletes who generate the money. In an op-ed she co-wrote for the Wall Street Journal Simon laments
Our concerns...extend beyond the economic and practical difficulties created by transforming the college-sports relationship into one of employer-employee. To call student-athletes employees is an affront to those players who are taking full advantage of the opportunity to get an education.
Do we really want to signal to society and high-school students that making money is the reason to come play a sport in college, as opposed to getting an education that will provide lifetime benefits?
What a load of double-speak crap. 
Does anyone think the one-and-done basketball players who make up the bulk of Kentucky's top-ranked basketball team really give a damn about their English lit class? They are at Kentucky for one reason, and one reason only: to prepare for the N.B.A. The fact that some kids are able to leverage skills in golf or tennis to pay for their education as justification for not paying the hoops stars is, quite simply, Marxist. Talk about income redistribution!
Defenders of the system quickly point out that the athletic programs at MSU and UM are self-sufficient, and the salaries come from revenues generated by athletics. That is true, but only at a handful of top universities. 
Only 20 Football Bowl Subdivision athletic departments finished in the black in 2013 according to the NCAA. Despite that record of losing money, the average salary paid to coaches at those schools has doubled since 2006. The vast majority of schools dip into their general revenues to subsidize the over-the-top salary structure for coaches. And all schools' salary structures for athletics are impacted by the mega-contracts awarded to the Nick Sabans, Jim Harbaughs and Tom Izzos.
The answer Snyder and the Legislature have provided is one that protects the multi-million-dollar compensation structure for coaches and administrators rather than protecting the "student-athletes" they profess to support. If they truly supported the players, they'd rein in the salaries paid to the coaches. Instead they protect the status quo.
The Curmudgeon once spent several years working with the Michigan State football team and got to know a lot of players. He remembers one in particular: married with two children and, even with his scholarship, dependent on handouts from family and friends to keep his own family fed. They lived in poverty for one reason: so he could work for his dream of playing in the NFL.
He achieved that dream. But repeated concussions ended his career in less than two years. He was a lineman, so he didn't make the big bucks. Today he is totally disabled and impoverished.
The coaches for whom he played, and who won a lot of games thanks in part to his talents, are all multi-millionaires living in luxury.
That ain't right.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Wasting Money So Conservatives Feel Good

Any law stigmatizing the poor and reinforcing prejudices about welfare recipients is music to the ears of The Right. So a new state law, already shown to be a waste of money elsewhere, is being greeted with hosannas by Michigan Republicans including the Accountant who should know better.
The bills set up a three-county pilot program for drug-testing welfare recipients. Ask any conservative and they'll tell you that those huge welfare $350/month checks are being used to buy pot and crack instead of the Ramen noodles and peanut butter for which they are intended.
The Republican image of welfare recipients
Michigan tried this once before with a blanket demand that welfare recipients regularly pee in a cup. That law, like a similar law in Florida, was ruled unconstitutional because it conveniently ignored the constitutional requirement for "probable cause" before searching people. That includes using “an empirically validated substance abuse screening tool.”
So the new law mandates case workers to have reasonable suspicion that one of their clients is living the high life at taxpayer expense before mandating the tests. (The law, by the way, could ensnare people who are legally smoking marijuana for medical purposes. Collateral damage, however, is perfectly O.K. in the Cheneyesque world of "greater good".)
What constitutes abuse? Simply using a controlled substance, or exhibiting anti-social behaviors because of the drug use? How about alcoholism? Too much caffeine?
Most important, though, is what's the point?
Rick Snyder justifies that law, as he does many paternalistic "Father Knows Best" laws, as being in the best interests of welfare recipients.
"This pilot program is intended to ensure recipients get the wrap-around services they need to overcome drug addiction and lead successful lives. We'll then have opportunity to assess effectiveness and outcomes."
If the purpose is to save money by rooting out thousands of drug-abusing welfare cheats, it is probably a waste of money.

A seven-year study by the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan found that 16%-21% of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families had used illicit drugs in a 12-month period; about 3.5% had a drug dependence or abuse problem. Those numbers are somewhat higher than in the overall population as reported by the Centers for Disease Control. But both a Senate Fiscal Agency study and a short-lived mandatory testing program in Florida two years ago found no significant differences in drug abuse rates between welfare recipients and the general public.
Incidentally, amendments to the bills during debate to expand drug testing to others receiving state government money (like legislators) were defeated on voice votes.
Another problem: DHS caseworkers rarely see their clients, because their caseloads are ridiculously high. If they don't actually talk with recipients, how are they supposed to flag "substance abuse" using "an empirically validated substance abuse screening tool"?
The good news: it is a pilot program, so that multi-million-dollar cost of setting up a statewide program will be avoided once lawmakers face the ugly reality that drug screening welfare recipients costs more money than it saves.

The Double Standard Over Welfare Abuse

Christmas dinner with the extended family is always an eye-and-ear opener. While The Curmudgeon lives and dies politics, the rest of the clan lives in the real world. Listening to them chat about the issues of the day can be most instructive.
They complain about Obamacare even while benefitting from their state-government-funded health insurance. There is anger over immigration, even though the family isn't far removed from immigrants who came over from Europe a century ago. There is outrage over the "anti-gun" Obama administration even though the President hasn't done a damned thing about gun control.
In other words, it sounds like an in-person version of "Fox and Friends."
One conversation thread this year was about people buying "luxuries" with their EBT cards (that's the tech version of Food Stamps), or selling their EBT benefits for cash: people buying steaks and lobsters and junk food instead of kale and peanut butter; others trying to exchange their benefits for cash so they could buy cigarettes or weed or iPhones or whatever. The consensus: there's a lot of abuse of the program. They confuse the exceptions for the ordinary.
But of course there is abuse. Name me anything of value that isn't abused, something where there is 100% compliance with the rules.
The Curmudgeon doesn't condone abuse of government benefits or anything else. We should all play by the rules. But one wonders...

  • Do you pay the state's use tax on your internet purchases? You are supposed to report that on your annual state income tax return.
  • Do you always obey the speed limit? Ever run a red light?
  • Do you stretch the truth on your federal tax deductions, or "invent" some cash charitable contributions or exaggerate your tax-deductible mileage?
  • (This is for just one special person) why don't you pay state excise tax on your cigarettes that you buy from a friend with a "roll your own" machine?
  • Have you ever returned something to a retail store even though you didn't buy it there?
  • Do you report income made at garage sales, or selling on eBay, or reselling stuff you find at estate sales?
  • Do you smoke marijuana without benefit of a medical marijuana card? Or lie to the doctor to get a card?
  • Do you shop merchandise at a local retail store, and then order it (for less) over the internet?
  • Ever text while driving?
  • Ever drive after drinking?

The EBT program serves an important purpose: providing sustenance for people who might otherwise go hungry. Yes, it is abused. It shouldn't be. Human nature being what it is, some people will inevitably take advantage of the generosity of others.
But we shouldn't be judging a program by the exceptions to the rule, anymore than I judge you for fudging other rules that impact your life.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
And the rest of you, shut the hell up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Gasoline prices peaked at a national average of $4.11/gallon in July, 2008.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Week Thoughts

Regardless of your religious bent, this is a special week in America, the week where we preach "Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men" as we simultaneously defend torturing our enemies and the shooting of unarmed, often mentally ill people.

Cops Are Pissed and Scared - But They Can Be Their Own Worst Enemy

The Curmudgeon likes cops. As a part-time Uber driver, The Curmudgeon has on several occasions been stopped for the most insignificant traffic violations (crossing a white line, 4mph over the limit) by East Lansing police late at night. They aren't harassing him - just making sure that the minor violation isn't a symptom of drunk driving. They have always quickly released The Curmudgeon without a ticket, without a warning. As someone who sees a lot of young drunks driving late at night in the vicinity of MSU, The Curmudgeon appreciates their diligence and thanks the officer for helping keep the streets a little safer.
  • Police in New York City turn their back on their Mayor because of his comments on the suffocation death of an unarmed man guilty of nothing more than 1) being large, and 2) selling loose cigarettes on the street, and blame him for inciting a mentally ill career criminal for murdering two of their own.
  • Police in Missouri don riot gear in preparation for protesters, turning a suburban St. Louis town into a re-creation of Fallujah.
  • We get weekly news stories on unarmed people being shot by officers who claimed they were in fear for their lives, but whose actions give the appearance of choosing deadly force as their first option
  • Police departments across the nation warn their officers that they could be the next cops murdered for no reason.
No decent human being condones violence of any sort towards police officers. But policemen who worry they could be murdered for no apparent reason should try to use that fear in a constructive manner: it is the same fear felt every single day by many people of color.
People like Rudy Giuliani, FOP presidents and every conservative blowhard on the radio don't do cops any favors by refusing to acknowledge an undeniable fact: there is a very tiny percentage of police officers who are criminals and should be treated as such. 
Rather than acknowledging that reality, "The Blue Wall" goes up every time their is a fatal shooting of an unarmed civilian by a police officer, sending out the message "we believe all cops are perfectly within their rights to shoot and kill people whenever they feel like it."
Lawyers aggressively seek out bad lawyers and boot them out of the profession - the attorney discipline process is strong and can be very harsh.
Doctors will testify in malpractice cases when they see another doctor mess us.
Airplane pilots (including The Curmudgeon) will report other pilots who fly in an unsafe manner so the FAA can take appropriate action. (Michael Bell has an outstanding essay on Politico on this point.)
Police? They circle up and verbally attack anyone with the temerity to suggest their is a bad cop within their ranks.
The process of healing the very visible chasm between police and the people they are sworn to protect must include a very visible admission by police that there are bad cops, and they have to go. When dozens of unarmed people are annually executive by police officers – and include minorities, the mentally ill and children – police need to insist on a full, fair and open investigation rather than simply hunkering down and automatically maintaining the innocence of the shooter.
Then we might start making some progress.

The Failed President

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average tops 18,000 for the first time. It was at 8,077 the day Barack Obama took office.
  • Price of gasoline nearing $2/gallon. It peaked at $4.11/gallon in July, 2008.
  • Unemployment rate 5.8%, the lowest since July 2008. 
  • Job growth is at a 15-year high ... the best performance since Bill Clinton was President.
  • GDP increase of 5.0% in the third quarter, the strongest quarter since 2003.
  • The rate of Americans with no health insurance at 13.4%, the lowest rate recorded since Gallup started tracking in 2008.
  • The federal deficit is at its lowest point since before the Bush Great Depression, and has been decreased each of the last five years.
With this record of "failure" one wonders why the President's approval rating is hovering around 48%. Maybe the non-stop, non-factual criticisms from the right as amplified by unquestioning media? "Healthcare Train Wreck Will Destroy the Economy." "Dodd-Frank Banking Reform Will Destroy the Country." "Obama's Energy Policies Will Destroy Our Economy." "Acting on Climate Change Will Destroy Our Economy."
All of those GOP talking points during the last five years have helped the GOP politically. But all of those talking points have proven to be wrong. WRONG.
The current silence from Republicans in the face of this undeniable resurgence of the American economy leads to one inescapable conclusion: they are more worried about seizing political power than in seeing America succeed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Thus Endeth the Session

The lame ducks are returning to their lair after concluding a post-election session that could have been worse. A review of some of what passed, and did not pass...

Transportation: More Taxes for Working Families

Update – Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Rich Studley, who actively supported a gas-tax increase, first tweeted this morning the Chamber's opposition to the ballot proposal; an hour later, backed down by saying the Chamber won't take a position on the sales tax increase until next year.
Early this morning an all-night legislative session wrapped up with the foundation of a transportation funding package. Final approval of some of the pieces is planned for later today. (If one piece of the puzzle is pulled, the entire deal collapses.)
The good news: there's a chance that Michigan's roads will finally begin to heal through the infusion of more than $1-billion in additional maintenance money.
The bad news: it only happens if voters, in a special election, agree to raise the income tax by 16.7%, adding a penny to every item dollar spent on goods. And, if passed, the bulk of the tax falls on the shoulders of middle-class families while the top 20% and business pay significantly less (in terms of their total income).
The key elements of the package jammed through the Legislature in the closing minutes of the 2013-14 session:
  • The sales tax on gasoline will, over time, be earmarked completely for transportation. Currently the sales tax on gas goes to schools and local government.
  • Public transportation will get a $112-million increase in funding, something urban Democrats love and most Republicans despise.
  • Voters will be asked in May to raise the sales tax from 6% to 7% to replace the money lost to schools and local government. 
  • Higher registration fees will be assessed against trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds.
  • Owners of electric and hybrid vehicles will face additional fees (The Curmudgeon owns a Chevrolet Volt)
  • Services will remain immune from sales tax, so those tickets to MSU and UM football, along with tanning parlor fees and ski lift tickets, will be tax-free.
  • The state Earned Income Credit, which benefits lower-income working families, will be restored (after being gutted by the Snyder administration three years ago).
The compromise is being hailed by the Governor and legislative leaders:
  • "I feel good." - Rick Snyder
  • "This is a victory for Michigan residents." - House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel
  • The package deserves "enthusiasm and support" - Term-limited Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer
  • "Days like today make it easier to say good-bye." - Whitmer again, on the sometimes rancorous  negotiations with legislative Republicans
Democrats were needed to get the 2/3 vote necessary for a constitutional amendment raising the sales tax, and leveraged that into critical guarantees: the EITC restoration, and guaranteed increased funding for K-12 education. Republicans hated that part of the deal but Greimel and Whitmer held strong.
So the roads will get fixed. But at what price?
The sales tax is, without question, the most regressive tax around. It falls most heavily on those with the least: the bottom 20% of income-earners pay a much higher percentage of their income as sales tax as those with higher incomes.
Source: Institute for Tax and Economic Policy
And, beginning next year, sales tax isn't deductible on your individual income tax returns (individuals who itemize currently have the option of deducting either state sales or income tax). Businesses pay fairly little in sales tax as a percentage of their gross revenues, and the expense is fully deductible on federal returns. 
The other problem with the package: it all hinges on voters agreeing to raise the sales tax to 7%. That would be tied for the second-highest state sales tax in the nation (along with Indiana and Mississippi), trailing only California's 7.5%. (Several states have local sales taxes which, combined with the state tax, bring the total to more than 7%. In Missouri and Oklahoma you can be taxed a whopping 10.85%.)
And there is no "Plan B." If the sales tax is defeated (and you can bet the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity will campaign mightily for a 'no' vote), the new Legislature has to start all over again.

In Other News...

This portion of today's post will be updated as details trickle out of the capital.

Legalized Bigotry Bites the Dust

The deceptively named "Religious Freedom Restoration Act", which gave the official state okey-dokey to bigotry founded in "sincerely held personal beliefs" expired without a Senate vote. But count on it reappearing next session with the Legislature tilting even further right.
Ditto for another bill allowing adoption agencies to refuse to allow same-sex partners to adopt, a bill built on Attorney Bill Schuette's belief that orphans are better off in foster care than being exposed to The Gay.
A lot of credit goes to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville for keeping the cuckoo out of the final deliberations. Never thought I say it, but we're going to miss Richardville (term-limited) in the coming session. 

Medical Marijuana

Legislation which would have clarified the voter-approved medical marijuana law didn't make it, leaving uneven enforcement across Michigan and more opportunities to anti-pot Attorney General Bill Schuette to continue thumbing his nose at Michigan voters.

The Tax

The state will more aggressively collect sales tax on internet sales by companies that have a physical presence in Michigan (a.k.a. Amazon). It's called the "Main Street Fairness Act" because brick-and-mortar stores which pay all sorts of Michigan taxes start with a 6% price disadvantage when competing with non-tax-paying online retailers. 
Michigan law already requires consumers to voluntarily report online purchases, and pay the 6% tax, when filing their state tax returns. The law is unenforceable and generally ignored.

Election Rigging Bills Die

Two bills designed to make it more likely Republicans win elections have died ... for now.
  • Changing Michigan's presidential votes from "winner take all" in the electoral college to a plan awarding some of Michigan's votes to the second-place candidate
  • Moving the election of the Oakland County Executive from presidential election years to mid-term election years, when Democrats typically show up in smaller numbers
Also defeated was a bill which would have banned local communities from negotiation "community benefits packages" with developers who receive local tax incentives or grants. The bill was seen by many as the first step towards outlawing prevailing wage agreements between developers and local governments, something that would result in lower wages for construction workers.
All three bills were considered "toxic" to Democrats who made it clear passage of any of the three would likely have resulted in Democrats refusing to support the transportation package.

Teacher Evaluation Bills Die

Bipartisan legislation reforming the process for evaluating K-12 teachers died in Senate committee. The bills were supported by both school administrators and the Michigan Education Association. The bills would have beefed up professional development requirements for teachers, increased in-the-classroom evaluations by principals, and reduced reliance on standardized testing results.

Science Loses Out to Loggers

A bill which would prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from protecting natural resources is on its way to the Governor.
Pushed by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), whose family runs a logging business, the bill tells the DNR it cannot made land use decisions based on protecting biodiversity. Casperson's problem: protecting the ecosystem gets in the way of his family's profitable harvesting of timber.
From the Michigan Environmental Council's Brad Garmon:
"it's an anti-science bill that sends exactly the wrong message about the state's priorities and values, and threatens Michigan's reputation as a state that promotes and protects our forests, wildlife and outdoor recreation."
The best hope now is that Governor Snyder gets lobbied by former Governor William Milliken, a champion of environmentalism. Milliken's endorsement of Snyder played a major role in the latter's election four years ago. Legislation like this is anathema to his legacy, and should be vetoed.
Here's a click here for MEC's statement following Senate passage of the Casperson bill earlier this year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Ducks Quack On

One down, one to go. The United States Congress is done for the year. Today the solons of the Michigan Legislature are scheduled to wrap up their post-election bill-a-thon. We'll be writing about their actions ... and inactions ... tomorrow after the dust settles.

Speaking Truth Has Consequences

The head of the U.M. Communications Department is in hot water for speaking her mind on the state of the national dialogue as represented by the GOP in Congress. She wrote a column titled "It's okay to hate Republicans" for a progressive website. The article spells out the horrendous policy imperatives of national Republicans which are, quite frankly, hateful.
Professor Susan Douglas makes just one error with the column: she talks about hating Republicans rather than hating their policies.
She writes "I can't stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform of championing fetal 'personhood.'"
Douglas and The Curmudgeon have something besides loathing of GOP policies in common: earlier in her life she worked for a Republican who was part of the rational wing of the party (does it exist anymore?). In her case, it was Republican state Senator Fred Lippitt of Rhode Island. In the case of The Curmudgeon, it was U.S. Senator Charles Percy of Illinois (a family friend who delivered the eulogy at funeral services for The Curmudgeon's father).
Typically the right wing at U.M., led by a member of the Board of Regents, Andrea Newman.
On her Facebook page, Newman calls the column "extremely troubling and offensive."
Newman is correct in stating that the column "expresses and condones hatred toward an entire segment of individuals in our society based solely on their political views" and shows a disrespect for "the right of others to hold views contrary to their own."
Gotta admit that people like Rush Limbaugh, most of Fox "News" and Ted Cruz make it easy to disdain all Republicans. But The Curmudgeon remembers, too, that there are still many Republicans who have good hearts and the best of intentions. Sadly too few of them survive Republican primaries, leaving us with non-stop hypocrites like John McCain (the king of policy flip-flops), total asshats like Darrell Issa and Ted Cruz, and mindless idiots like Michelle Bachmann, Louis Gohmert and Steve King.
But there are also thoughtful people who, although generally wrong on major issues, are a net plus for the competition of ideas that makes a democracy work. Retiring Michigan congressman Dave Camp and Mike Rogers are in this category. So are Rand Paul, Susan Collins, Rick Snyder and Brian Calley. Hell, even Bill Schuette (generally an asshat) occasionally gets something right.
So, Professor Douglas, hate the policies. Don't hate the entire class of people called "Republicans."

Religious "Freedom"

Think Jase Bolger's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" isn't about legalizing bigotry and discrimination? Heavens, no, cries Bolger's mouthpiece. It is about protecting "sincerely held
"Sincerely held beliefs" don't give you have the
right to inflict your stupidity on others
religious beliefs."
In reality, it is part of a national campaign among conservatives to reverse advances made in civil rights for people who don't think like them. The examples abound of conservatives urging folks to claim religious freedom as they discriminate against others.
In introducing his bill, the lame-duck Speaker of the House cited those poor bakery owners who might be "forced" to sell their products for use at a gay wedding, thus consigning the baker to eternal damnation in the fires of Hell.
"As more states have marriage that includes two men or two women, more people are going to be confronted with a decision: Do I follow my conscience, politely decline to participate in a same-sex celebration and be punished? Or do I surrender my freedom to live and work faithfully at the government's command?" – Greg Scott, spokesman for the Alliance Defending Freedom.
What if my "sincerely held belief" is that African-Americans are 3/5 human, and not deserving of sitting at my lunch counter? How about refusing to let a Jew or Muslim in my store because of my sincerely held belief that non-Christians are believers in a false God?
When you open a business, you are subject to government regulation. Don't like the idea? Then don't open a business.

The John Boehner Legacy

The 113th Congress is officially the least productive Congress in modern history, enacting 234 laws. Even the "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1947-1948 passed more than 900 laws. The second least-productive Congress? The 2011-12 Congress, which ended with 284 laws passed.
Now, Republicans are fond of complaining that the Senate is the problem with Harry Reid sitting on an unusual number of House-passed bills. Not true, according to The Fix at the Washington Post. The number of bills blocked in the Senate is about average. And a lot of the DOA bills achieved that status thanks to Republican filibusters which generally has gummed up the works since Democrats took (temporary) control of the Senate.
The John Boehner legacy: lots of noise, not many solutions. But at least they passed about 40 bills repealing Obamacare.

Other Blogs You Need To Read

There are many great blogs out there. Two of them should be on your "must subscribe" list
Eclectablog has a staff of first-rate writer/reporters that cover Michigan politics and policy like a blanket. There are multiple daily posts that often uncover news you will read there first.

Democracy Tree is the work of my Michigan PoliCast colleague Amy Kerr Hardin. Hard-hitting, well researched, and always intriguing. Read it.

And, while you are at it, subscribe to Michigan Policast, a weekly political commentary recorded by Amy, Christine Barry (most recently with Blogging for Michigan) and The Curmudgeon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December Madness

The Lame Ducks have concluded quacking in Washington, and are wrapping up their duck-turd-manufacturing in Lansing. Where are we at?

Another Bad Idea for Roads

Lawmakers seemed determined to come up with the most regressive plan possible for funding road repairs. 
The latest trial balloon is for raising vehicle registration fees. Governor Rick Snyder had proposed raising registration fees on private cars a whopping 60% in his original package.
Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), in supporting the idea, actually explains why it is a bad idea. He tells The Detroit News the increase should be considered because taxpayers who itemize deductions on their federal tax returns can deduct some of those fees and reduce their federal taxes.
Of course, lower income folks do not itemize. Many seniors don't itemize, because they don't have a mortgage deduction anymore. So those folks don't get a federal tax benefit.
And the tax is uneven. One of The Curmudgeon's neighbors is a 91-year-old woman, in good health, who drives her car about 4,000 miles a year (mostly to get to the grocery store or medical appointments). Someone with an identical car who drives 10-times that amount would pay the exact same increase in registration fees.
Another bill eliminates the depreciation schedule for most new vehicles and locks in the registration fee for the life of the vehicle. So a person driving a 15-year-old car would be paying a fee based on the original new-car price of the vehicle, not the $3,000 he paid at the used car lot. Guess who gets screwed in that scenario?
Another sign that the registration fee idea is a bad one: it is supported by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, long a champion of insulating businesses from as much responsibility for state finances as possible and dumping it on the shoulders of low- and middle-income workers.
Democrats need to say 'no' to still another effort to add to Michigan's already too-high income gap.

Enabling Tax Cheats

The tea party that now essentially runs Congress hates the IRS. After all, in enforcing laws passed by Congress, the IRS had the temerity to challenge whether all those right-wing political groups really qualified for tax-exempt status. What the tea party saw as a political vendetta was actually the IRS trying to keep tea party types from cheating on their taxes.
So Congress got even with the bad guys in Treasury and cut their budget ... again. The net effect will be to make it easier for people with high-priced accountants (or one of those firms Alan Thicke shills for) to cheat on their taxes. So those of us who file an honest (well, mostly honest) tax return end up paying our share while the fat cats dodge their taxes. Because without enforcement, only a fool would pay their full share.
To make it even more enticing for those fat-cat CPAs and attorneys to help their clients skim money out of the treasury, they keep adding more loopholes to the tax code.
Because taxes are evil. Government is evil. Paying our fair share is evil.

Unintended Consequences

The planned Satanic display
With Republicans in a lather to pass the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it is entertaining to note that our Bible-thumping lawmakers will have to put up with a Satanic holiday display during December. Unlike the Legislature, the Michigan State Capital Commission actually recognizes that the Constitution protects all of us, not just Christians, and has approved a three-day display by a bunch called The Satanic Temple.
Former Engler chief flack John Truscott, chair of the Commission, says the idea of non-Christians "hijacking" the holiday disgusts him but he recognizes the First Amendment protects things that disgust him.
Maybe we need a Festivus Pole as well?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Spartans Play Defense

What is Michigan State University hiding?
George Will
While University President Lou Anna Simon defends the decision to hire George Will as winter semester commencement speaker, the University is doing all it can to hide (for now) how much Will is being paid.
The selection is under fire from students, alumni (including Sen. Debbie Stabenow) and women's rights advocates due to Will's antediluvian views expressed in a Washington Post column in which he comments on "the supposed campus epidemic of rape."
The Curmudgeon has no problem with MSU having a speaker who spouts nonsense – that's a healthy part of the diversity of ideas the University should champion.
But The Curmudgeon is among those who don't think the University should pay Will the equivalent of two-year's tuition for the privilege of spouting his nonsense, even if he does so with big words, flowery prose and a professorial bow tie. Will's minimum speaking fee, according to his agency, the Washington Speakers Bureau, is at least $40,001. (But that's a bargain: the fee includes travel expenses.)
Not George Will
So how much is MSU is paying Will? Enquiring minds want to know.
Which is why the progressive media watchdog Media Matters filed a FOIA for the contract. MSU, which had five days to respond, responded on the sixth day that it needed more time to comply. That extension, if fully utilized, means the University will not divulge Will's speaking fee until after he has safely left East Lansing this Saturday.
Standing up for a diversity of ideas is one thing. Stonewalling the public is another. It is a sorry day for the Green and White.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday Michigan PoliLinks

The Lame Duck Legislature is moving into high speed, causing as much damage as possible to Pure Michigan before it (thankfully) adjourns for the year in a week. Some of the many bills that are up for debate ...

Uber Hits a Roadblock

Efforts by the ride-sharing company to set a statewide standard for regulating the new transportation concept came to a crashing halt yesterday. The House defeated a bill pushed by Uber and Lyft which would have preempted local regulation of app-based ride-sharing services. The two major hangups: taking away local control, and inadequate requirements for insurance.
Efforts to set statewide rules for ride-sharing services
(Uber and Lyft) came to a crashing halt in the state
House yesterday.
Personal auto insurance is void when carrying a passenger for hire. Therefore both companies carry liability insurance for drivers and passengers; Uber also provides drivers with $25,000 collision coverage (with a $1,000 deductible). The chief lobbyist for the insurance industry urged lawmakers to slow down until complex details over insurance could be worked out to assure drivers and passengers that they were fully covered.
And onetime Michigan Municipal League lobbyist Andy Schor (D-Lansing) unsuccessfully offered an amendment which would bring back some local control. Lansing and East Lansing have joined together to craft a regulatory structure for Uber/Lyft, as has Detroit and several other cities. "My concern is that this bill takes all of that hard work that was done regionally and wipes it out," Schor said. After his amendment was defeated, Schor opposed the bill.
Disclosures: 1. The Curmudgeon drives for Uber and really likes it. 2. Andy Schor is a personal friend of The Curmudgeon, and a damned fine legislator.

Stabenow: George Will Honorary Degree a Mistake

Senator Debbie Stabenow, an MSU alumna who grew up just miles from the East Lansing campus, has criticized the University's decision to hire George Will as winter semester commencement speaker and award him an honorary doctorate.
In a written statement, Michigan's soon-to-be senior senator says
"His statements on sexual assault are inaccurate, offensive, and don't represent the values of our state or MSU. I urge the University to continue their efforts to combat campus sexual assault, including the recent convening of the University Task Force on Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence."

Will, the pithy right-wing talker and columnist is sparking on-campus outrage because of his remarkably outdated views on sexual assault on college campuses. In a January column in the Washington Post,
Will refers to on-campus assault cases as a "supposed campus epidemic" and posits that 'no' doesn't always means 'no' if the women ultimately caves in to physical or psychological intimidation.
Will is also one of the media's leading climate-change deniers, dismissing it at one point by saying "we're having some hot weather. Get over it."

"Religious Freedom" Law Could Overturn 42-Year-Old Ordinance

In 1972 East Lansing became the first city in America to ban discrimination against gays. Since then, many other cities in Michigan have followed that lead.
East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett warns that Speaker Jase Bolger's "Religious Freedom Protection Act" could effectively topple those ordinances by reinstituting the right to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or identify. In an email distributed by Freedom Michigan, Triplett writes:
these critical protections may be at stake if a package of dangerous bills—including the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—move forward and are signed into law.
As Mayor of East Lansing, it is my duty to uphold Michigan’s constitutionally protected right to religious freedom. But this misguided bill goes too far—and it’s downright dangerous.
If this broadly and poorly-written RFRA bill passes into law, it would allow individuals or businesses to ignore any law they feel burdens their religious beliefs—and that includes laws like East Lansing’s LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. What’s more, this law would open the floodgates to countless frivolous lawsuits against cities and towns across Michigan, which we would be forced to defend with our scarce taxpayer resources.
That’s why I am urging you to contact your Senator now and tell them to oppose this harmful package of bills that will allow discrimination against LGBT Michiganders under the guise of religious freedom. Click here to send a message to your Senator now.
The unintended, costly consequences of RFRA are already being played out in cities across America.
In Texas, a religious group has used the states’ RFRA to sue the city of Dallas over the city’s health code and food safety standards, arguing that these laws are in violation of their strongly held religious beliefs as they serve food to the homeless. This expensive litigation has been ongoing for seven years, diverting critical resources that could be better used elsewhere.
I’m proud of the welcoming community we’ve built in East Lansing—and it would be devastating to see our long-standing nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people eroded and our taxpayer dollars wasted by one harmful bill.
With exactly one week left in the lame duck session, your Senator needs to hear from you now. Click here to tell your Senator to vote against these harmful, discriminatory bills.

More GOP Election Rigging

While some long for a White Christmas, The Curmudgeon longs for legislative adjournment. The longer our right-wing dominated non-representatives are in session, the worse things get.

More Election Rigging

Republicans don't like the inescapable fact that Oakland County is moving into the blue column. In Presidential elections, Democrats tend to win countywide offices. In 2012, 54.4% of voters cast a straight ticket for Democrats, just 45.3% for Republicans.
Barack Obama carried Mitt Romney's home county 53.4%-45.4%. Democrat Lisa Brown ousted the Republican Bill Bullard as county clerk; Mike Bishop (now Congressman-elect) lost badly to Democrat Jessica Cooper for county prosecutor. Oakland County voters were also ticket splitters, reelecting longtime County Executive Brooks Patterson with 56.7% and Sheriff Michael Bouchard with 58.9%.
Thanks to gerrymandering, the Blue-leaning county still sent nine Republicans and just five Democrats to the state House of Representatives in 2012.
These numbers are disturbing to Republicans who fear that when Patterson retires, his successor will likely be a Democrat. That's because Oakland is becoming a Democratic county.
When they can't win elections, they change the rules to improve their odds
Republicans did it three years ago by changing the way county commission districts were drawn. Instead of having the job done by a bipartisan commission, they passed a special bill turning the 2011 redistricting over to the Republican-controlled county commission. Governor Rick Snyder did linguistic backflips to claim the bill encompassed "two elements of good government": making the election cycle the same as in Wayne and Macomb counties, and reducing the number of county commissioners.
Now, a bill sailing through the lame duck Legislature would change the term of the County Executive so that Patterson's successor is elected in a non-presidential year. The theory: fewer Democrats vote in mid-term elections, so that increases the likelihood that Republicans will hold onto the top county job. The bill passed the gerrymandered state Senate on a party line vote yesterday and, no doubt, will get prompt attention in the state House before adjournment.
This comes on top of efforts to rig the election of President of the United States by ending the century-old practice of "winner take all" for the state's electoral votes. Republicans, who concede they can't win statewide for President, are pushing through a change which would give the loser a share of Michigan's 16 electoral votes. In 2012, it would have given Mitt Romney 5 electoral votes as a consolation prize for losing in his home state.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Lame Duck continues to quack down the street and, as has become the norm, little good and plenty not-so-good is being accomplished. The Curmudgeon shudders and dreams of December 18 when this right-wing pep rally comes to a close.

Main Street vs. Tea Party

As e-commerce grows in popularity, brick-and-mortar businesses rightly clamor for a level playing field. They note that folks like Amazon and not only can undercut them on price thanks to huge volumes, but they aren't saddled with the state's 6% sales tax.
The Curmudgeon's solution is a non-starter: get rid of sales taxes. They are the most regressive tax ever invented with low-income families spending a much larger portion of their incomes on the tax than folks with bigger incomes. 
Sales taxes are unevenly applied: you get socked 6% on the clothes you buy for your kid, their school supplies and even their little bicycle. But such luxury items as tanning booths, Detroit Lions tickets and ski-lift tickets are tax free because they are "services" and not goods.
The Curmudgeon would replace the revenue lost (and it's a lot) with a combination of individual and business income taxes.
But lawmakers are headed in the other direction: make sure the big online retailers also pay sales tax. That, of course, is an instant loser with the tea party folks who believe all taxes are the spawn of the devil. It is putting Republicans in the awkward position of deciding between the tea party crazies who are so important to the party, and hometown retailers who actually contribute to our society.
The tea party position is eloquently expressed by former state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, who tells the Detroit Free Press "these bills will do nothing to grow a business-friendly environment in Michigan. It will mean more government, more regulation, more compliance and more tax collection."
He's right on that last point: by dodging sales taxes, internet retailers are shorting Michigan of nearly $500-million a year according to state Treasury officials. And, under Michigan law, you and I should be "voluntarily" paying the tax anyway when we file our state returns. Yah, right.

State vs. Local Control, Chapter 17

The latest battle over local control is being waged in the backseat of cars. Well, sort of.
The House is poised to vote on legislation which would assert state regulation of the increasingly popular ride sharing services, Uber and Lyft. Those companies link private car owners with people needing a ride using smartphone apps. The companies take a percentage of the fare in exchange for making the connection and collecting the money via credit cards.
With Uber and Lyft, your ride is minutes away via
a smartphone app.
Local governments have traditionally regulated cab companies, and that has created a mishmash of rules as well as costs. It also has created a system that's pretty inefficient. The Curmudgeon, who drives for Uber, has heard from countless passengers how the traditional taxi model simply does not provide good, prompt service.
HB 5951 would set state standards for ride-sharing services which, when compared to regulation of cab and limo companies, are pretty lax. It provides for criminal background checks of drivers, vehicle inspections and minimum insurance coverages.
In addition to the tension between local and state control, the insurance issue creates a three-way tension between the companies, their drivers and the insurance industry. Insurance on private vehicles always includes an exclusion when the vehicle is being used to carry-for-hire. Uber and Lyft provide $1-million in liability coverage for drivers and passengers, along with collision coverage for the drivers' vehicles. The insurance industry (along with some drivers, including The Curmudgeon) say the insurance coverage is too little. And cab companies point out that they are required to carry higher levels of insurance.
The industry is pushing to get the bill passed during the lame duck session; the insurance industry is looking to delay action into the new session. Local governments (many of which are very supportive of ride-sharing) are urging amendments to maintain local control.

For Once, Michael Moore Isn't the Controversial One

Flint-area native Michael Moore, Oscar-winning filmmaker and first-class agitator, is often the center of controversy when he speaks. He's outspoken, he's very liberal, and he's funny.
Remarkably, a network TV pundit will instead have the title of "most conversion" this weekend in East Lansing when he joins Moore as one of three commencement speakers at Michigan State University. 
George Will, the pithy right-wing talker and columnist is sparking good-sized protests because of his remarkably outdated views on sexual assault on college campuses. In a January column in the Washington Post, Will refers to on-campus assault cases as a "supposed campus epidemic" and posits that 'no' doesn't always means 'no' if the women ultimately caves in to physical or psychological intimidation.
Will also concludes that claims that 20% of coeds are victims of sexual assault are grossly inflated, projecting an actual rate of less than 3%.
Ironically, the third speaker at MSU's winter graduation ceremonies will be the president of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan, who has been dealing with the aftermath of the botched Rolling Stone story alleging gang rape atba UVA fraternity, a story which the magazine has now disavowed.

Coercing an Abortion

Lawmakers are debating whether to make it a crime to "coerce" a woman into having an abortion.
Nothing in the bill deals with coercing a woman NOT to have an abortion, something protesters who ring abortion clinics do in several states.
The majority of legislators, beholden to Right to Life, may not like abortions. But the fact remains it is the right of a woman to make that decision. They should not be coerced in either direction by anyone.
Imagine the outrage on the right if picketers harassed people entering gun shops to buy pistols, and did everything they could to prevent folks from entering "businesses of death". The gun lobby would be outraged, screaming about Second Amendment rights.
Too bad they don't give a rat's ass about other constitutional rights.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Two Stories of Customer Service

The story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the writer from a lawsuit.

For once, we leave the worlds of politics and public policy to vent a little. Kindly cut The Curmudgeon a little slack.
After spending more than a half-hour on hold awaiting customer "service" from his internet service provider (let's call them "ATT Your Service Internet"), The Curmudgeon decided he'd move his business to a company that was offering a better price for faster service. We'll call this company Cumquat.
So he goes online with Cumquat and orders their service. They have a really attractive first-twelve-months rate of $39.99 for really fast internet plus a bunch of neat streaming options. It only takes a few minutes to jump through the internet hoops and soon The Curmudgeon has an email in the inbox with the message

Good news! Your order is confirmed.

But instead of the $39.99 price shown on the website, the price has magically increased to $44.99/month. A call to customer "service" results in an "adjustment" to the rate ... but no apology for the computer-generated up-charge.
Since The Curmudgeon is handy with the wires, he had opted for the self-install option to save the $99 installation fee. And he orders a cable modem online from a company named after a big river so he doesn't have to rent one from Cumquat. All of this happens in late November.
That "Good News" email says nothing about needing to do anything other than wait for the super-easy self-install package and follow the instructions. When the package arrives, The Curmudgeon notes that the instructions basically say plug one end of the cable into the wall, the other into the modem. There's nothing about getting the internet signal from the Cumquat box (that's out back along the property line) to the wall which, as it turns out, is kind of important.
Now it's mid-December (three weeks after the "Great News" email), and the modem has arrived. He contacts Cumquat to ask them when they are going to connect their service from the utility box outside to his domicile. He now learns that the Cumquat definition of "self-install" apparently includes climbing up the poll, figuring out which wire is the internet, and then stringing a line to his house. So he reluctantly accepts their kind offer to pay them to provide him with a wire connecting him to the service they have so kindly agreed to sell him.
But they can't install it for another 2 weeks. All told, it would add up to a month from "Great News" until they get around to actually providing the service.
The Curmudgeon tells the courteous online customer service representative (who speaks excellent English for someone who lives in Bangalore) thanks, but no thanks, I'll go elsewhere. "If your company is this big a pain when trying to sign up a new customer, I can only imagine how much more it will suck once you have lured me in." The CS rep faithfully tries to dissuade The Curmudgeon but, being a curmudgeon, he sticks with his decision.
Meanwhile, he has a brand-new $100 cable modem that just arrived from the river company. It takes just two mouse clicks to get a return authorization for a full refund (minus return shipping). That is how customer service is supposed to work.
The river company maintain customer loyalty by putting the customer first.  Cumquat could learn a lot from them.
And The Curmudgeon is mindful of the fact that Cumquat is leading the charge for the FCC to change the rules on internet access in a way that would give it more of a stranglehold on the internet in a way I'm pretty sure we won't like.

The GOP's Disdain for Local Government

There was a time when a core value for Republicans was "local control". Their mantra was that communities were best left to govern themselves with minimal interference from the state.
That has changed in this new world of paternalistic Republicanism. The "new Republicans" believe that they know best. They ignore or subvert voter referenda, and they overturn local decision making whenever something does not fit with their world view.
The disregard of the voters' collective will has been well documented here and on many of the blogs you see over in the left column. Those one-finger salutes to voters include
  • Passing an emergency manager law to replace the nearly identical law overturned by voters
  • Preventing a statewide vote on the minimum wage through legislative tricks
  • Making the outcome of TWO overwhelming statewide votes against wolf hunting irrelevant, again using legislative trickery
  • Raising taxes on seniors and middle class families while cutting taxes for businesses, something wildly unpopular in polling
  • Failing (so far) to do a damned thing about the worst roads in America
Their disdain for local government and local decision making is part-and-parcel of Governor Snyder's appropriations bills which demand "best practices" to maximize (shrinking) state revenue sharing and K-12 funding. Of course, he is the one who decides what constitutes "best practices." If you don't do it the Governor's way, you lose money.
The "Emergency Manager" law gives a state-appointed dictator the ability to ignore local elected officials (and the voters who elected them). If he feels like it, the EM can even dissolve the local government and make it disappear. That is pretty much what happened to the Muskegon Heights school district. The Emergency Manager spun it off to a private company and told the school board to take a hike. (Ironically, the company gave it back to the state because owning the public school system wasn't sufficiently profitable.)
More recently our paternalistic, we-know-best solons have inserted themselves into local contract negotiations between elected school boards and teachers, decreeing that union dues cannot be collected through payroll deduction and, of course, decreeing that the locals cannot negotiate an agency shop agreement.
Now they want to tell taxpayers how their local tax moneys can and cannot be spent when it comes to local construction projects. House Bill 5977 would prohibit community benefit agreement ordinances, as well as paid sick leave, living wage, prevailing wage, local hiring and contracting, and other issues that deal with the relationship between a private employer and workers.
As a consumer, I have the right to decide how my money is spent. If I disapprove of the way Walmart treats its employees, I can choose to shop elsewhere unless they change their ways. Collectively, as local taxpayers, we should have the same right. If our community, through its elected officials, decides it only will spend our tax money in ways that coincide with our values, we should have that right.
But Republicans don't think so. They don't believe in prevailing wages, benefits for workers, family values represented by parental leave. So they want to substitute their values for the values of the people who are paying the bills: the local community.
Because Republicans know what is best for us. Thank you, Daddy.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday Michigan PoliLinks

Today is "Repeal Day" in recognition of the ratification of the only U.S. Constitutional Amendment that repealed another amendment.
On December 5, 1933 Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st amendment which repealed the 18th amendment, thus ending Prohibition. For those who constantly justify heinous behavior based on the Constitution, we should remember that it has been amended 27 times, meaning we as a nation decided 27 times something wasn't right with the Constitution because things evolve.
So don't tell The Curmudgeon that we can't do anything about rampant gun deaths because a bunch of old, rich white men decided 230 years ago to put a comma in the middle of the 2nd amendment.

And in honor of "Repeal Day" The Curmudgeon will probably down a few stiff ones because of all the harm being done to our state and our democracy this week by the Michigan Legislature.

Magic Fairy Dust Transportation Plan Advances

Lame duck House Speaker Jase Bolger has decided that we can put nearly $1-billion into road repairs by simply siphoning sales tax money collected on gasoline sales away from schools and local governments. It's the "free lunch" plan for running government.
His rationale is that projections show significant increases in the school aid fund over the next few years (thanks to the Obama recovery, now in its fifth year). He forgets that schools and local governments were devastated by cuts over the last decade thanks to 1) the Bush Great Recession, and 2) Engler-imposed tax cuts that went into effect after King John left town. Rather than letting them begin to heal by benefitting from the improved economy, he prefers to let them wallow in mediocrity because roads are important, kids and cops not-so-much.
The state House has passed Bolger's plan to phase out the sales tax on gasoline over six years, raising the wholesale gas tax an equivalent amount, and earmarking all the money for road repairs. The bill passed with all Democrats and three Republicans voting no. It passed around 9 p.m. last night, almost the exact moment another type of transportation plan was being broadcast on NBC: Tinkerbell used her Magic Fairy Dust so that the Darling children could to fly to Never-Never Land with Peter Pan.
The bill goes to the Senate which, in a rare moment of fiscal reality, has voted to raise the wholesale gasoline tax to actually have the money to pay for the priorities of road repair AND K-12 education AND local police/fire/road repair.

This is bill is not a solution to our deteriorating transportation infrastructure. The bill robs Peter to pay Paul by diverting revenue that should be going to our already under-funded schools and cities,” said Nathan Triplett of Priorities Michigan (and also Mayor of East Lansing).
Legislators have already cut billions of dollars from revenue sharing to our communities in the last decade and millions more from education. Michiganders deserve better than a short-sighted gimmick that legislators are masquerading as a long-term fix to our crumbling infrastructure.”
One of the excuses used by Republicans in supporting the Fairy Dust Transportation Plan was "anger" that some transportation money goes to transportation in the form of mass transit, non-motorized pathways and airports. Apparently Republicans have forgotten that it's called a Department of TRANSPORTATION, not a Department of ROADS AND BRIDGES.
Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) summed up the reality of the legislation elegantly when he said "the bill should have been referred to the Committee on Hocus Pocus rather than discharged to the floor and dignified with a vote."
The three Republicans voting against the bill were Dave Pagel (R-Oronoko Twp.), Paul Muxlow (R-Brown City) and Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuck). 

Clean Energy from Polluting

The state House has decided that burning trash is a form of "renewable" energy, sending to the Senate a bill that counts fuel derived from burning garbage as a renewable energy source. Environmentalists call the concept "irresponsible." The Curmudgeon calls it "creatively insane."
Renewable energy resource?
Some forms of energy derived from trash, specifically methane produced in landfills, are classified as renewable energy. Landfill-produced gas has special status because it actually takes a pollutant and eliminates it in an environmentally responsible way (powering electric generators). The toxic byproducts in the landfill gas is filtered out.
HB 5205 takes the concept to a new extreme, allowing polluters to burn tires, construction debris or water bottles and call it 'renewable energy.' Lisa Wozniak of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters said the bill is "nothing more than a dangerous plan to pollute our air, land and water. It sets a dangerous precedent by changing the scientific definition of renewable energy."
The bill was supported by a the chemical industry, as well as Michigan State University.

That Obama Economic Failure

For five years Republicans have been telling us about the failure of the Obama economic program, and the "train wreck" that is Obamacare.
A lot of Americans buy their story, based on the President's approval ratings hovering in the mid 40s month after month. But the reality is so different.
Today the Department of Labor released the monthly employment figures showing 321,000 jobs were added to the economy in November, and the unemployment rate has dipped to 5.8%. It also reported hourly earnings up 0.4% during the month (an annualized rate of nearly 5%). It is the 57th consecutive month of job growth, the longest such streak in U.S. history. In that time, the U.S. economy has added 10.9-million jobs. (During the reign of W, a total of 1.2-million jobs were added to the economy and, of course, at the end of that nightmare the country was shedding jobs at a rate of nearly 800,000 per month.)
And as to that healthcare nonsense: an additional 10-million Americans now have healthcare coverage, and the rate of increase for premiums has slowed dramatically.
This is what the GOP calls "failure."

More Union Busting

This time, our solons are making sure college athletes are denied the right to unionize. The rationale is that the athletes are not employees, just fun-loving college students engaging in extracurricular activities. This ignores the reality that
  • Athletes are heavily recruited for their athletic, not academic, ability
  • They work a strict assigned schedule in their "recreational" activity and are penalized if they deviate from the schedule
  • They are compensated for their work
  • Their work generates revenue for the schools
  • They sign a contract to perform the work (called a "binding letter of intent")
  • Their contract includes a one-year non-compete clause should they desire to transfer to another employer university
  • They can be "fired" at anytime by their supervisor (aka Coach)
  • Their "supervisors" are often paid more money than any professors on campus, salaries that are contingent on the success of the athletes. Some of these "educators" are paid several MILLION dollars a year thanks to the success of their fun-loving students.
So how is that not an employer-employee relationship?
Of course, this legislature is bound-and-determined to destroy labor unions whenever possible. Heavens forbid that workers have any power in negotiations with their employers.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Two Wins for Intolerance

Champions of discrimination, bigotry and intolerance scored have scored a pair of victories in the state Legislature, both compliments of lame duck House Speaker Jase Bolger.
Bolger signals "stop" to LGBT
civil rights protections
It begins with Bolger proclaiming the last rights to legislation extending the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to the LGBT community. Bolger and his allies insisted on a bill which only covered gays/lesbians, and did not provide civil rights protection for transgender citizens of Pure Michigan. That, they knew, would kill Democratic support for the bill - a poison pill that could preserve a status quo where you can be fired or refused service at a public accommodation (like a lunch counter) for not being straight. Now that their tactic has worked, they blame defeat of the bill on Democrats with Bolger mouthpiece Ari Adler telling reporters "the extremists on the left were successful in preventing civil rights protections for gays and lesbians in Michigan".
Killing the bill protects bigotry against any and all non-straights. Substitute "negro" for "gay" and you have exactly the situation that existed in the Deep South before the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Are "straights-only" drinking fountains next?

Just to reinforce Michigan's legal double-standard of civil rights, the Bolger bill giving legal status to bigotry-due-to-religious-beliefs bill was approved in committee on a straight partyline vote (sorry for the play on words...) and then immediately jammed through the full House, again on a partyline vote.
“This legislation opens up an unknown future for those who would fall victim to discrimination if Republicans can make it law,” said Rep. Ellen Cogen-Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“Where does the line end? So many people have different yet sincere religious beliefs, there’s a possibility that anyone can use this defense simply to discriminate.”
Rep.Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, offered several amendments to the bill, including ones stating that RFRA couldn’t be used as an excuse to discriminate and that RFRA couldn’t be used to justify child abuse. All were voted down along party lines. Other Democratic amendments also failed.
“This bill puts state government into the position of determining which religious views are sufficiently sincere to qualify,” Irwin said. “This violates the principle of separation of church and state. The amendments offered by myself and my Democratic colleagues in committee tried to offer some protection for Michiganders, but Republicans are hell-bent on destroying any small comfort left in our state.”
When he announced the bill just last month, Bolger used the example of a bakery owner who didn't want to provide the wedding cake for a gay marriage (should marriage equality ever become legal in Michigan) as someone who should be protected. Bolger believes that the baker has the right to shout out "don't let them eat cake!" if they're queer.
Bolger's bill allows all sorts of discrimination if the bigot in question can cite "sincerely held religious beliefs." The Curmudgeon can't wait until this law is used by a non-Christian in a way that thoroughly pisses off Bolger and his band of bible-thumpers. How about a McDonalds burger-slinger who refuses to serve bacon-cheeseburgers because (s)he's 1) Muslim, or 2) Jewish and thus claims immunity from firing on religious grounds?
How about someone attacks a banker because Jesus physically threw the money lenders out of the temple (Mark 11:15-1, 11:27-33; Matthew 21:12-17, 21:23-27; Luke 19:45-48, John 2:13-16).
You can be sure the Jase Bolger Discrimination-Is-OK Act of 2014 will be cited by healthcare workers in a myriad of creative ways to justify such things as refusing treatment for AIDS victims, or refusing to provide care to women for anything related to a legal abortion. Someday, somewhere a woman will die because she was denied medical treatment due to "sincerely held religious beliefs."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wednesday Michigan PoliLinks

The Holiday Party Season is officially begun in Lansing, a time for lame-duck legislators to combine job-hunting with bat-shit crazy legislation. Release the hounds!

Election Rigging Bill Delayed ... But Not Stopped

The House Elections Committee, which has been inundated with testimony urging a 'no' vote on changes to how Michigan votes for President of the United States, seems intent on moving forward with election rigging anyway.
At least that's the read-between-the-lines message from committee chair Lisa Lyons Posthumous. After a second hearing on the bill to give some of Michigan's electoral votes to the losing candidate in the presidential election, she talked with reporters. The Curmudgeon thanks activist Bruce Fealk for posting her comments, which seem to consist of "the Constitution gives us the right to fix elections."

The Michigan plan is gaining national attention (the kind we don't need), with the latest a blog post at ThinkProgress.

Transportion Fix at a Dead Stop

While the Governor huddles with bipartisan legislative leadership (yes, he knows he needs Democrats to fix the roads so, for once, he isn't ignoring them), some Republicans continue the drumbeat of "something for nothing," contending we can invest a billion dollars in fixing our crumbling roads without raising taxes. Maybe it's because Peter Pan is on NBC tomorrow night: the GOP now believes in magic fairy dust.
Speaking on behalf of reality, former House Fiscal Agency Director Mitch Bean says Speaker Jase Bolger plan to simply divert the money from school aid and local government is delusional. Bolger's rationale is that sales tax revenues are going up, so everything will be keen. Bolger fails to remember that when tax revenues plummeted (remember that Bush recession?) schools and local governments took a big hit. Apparently it's a one-way street for Bolger: schools and local needs are reduced during a recession, and then those reductions stand-in-place when things get better.
Speaking on behalf of the Magic Fairy Dust brigade is Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton), who pens an op-ed in the always obliging Detroit News explaining why we already have the money to fix our roads. Part of his argument is that the state shouldn't be funding mass transit. Of course that would mean more cars on the road, less mobility for people with cars and things like that. But Colbeck thinks it's a waste of money.

Latest Conspiracy Theory: 'Smart' Meters

Time to get out the aluminum foil hats and watch out for the black helicopters. The crazies were out in full force at the state Capitol yesterday to rail against 'smart' electrical meters being installed by utilities. It was at a public hearing called by House Oversight Committee chair Tom McMillin even though there is no legislation pending on the issue.
The new meters are more efficient since they transmit monthly readings back to the utility rather than requiring a meter reader to visit each customer. They also help utilities quickly spot outages, and provide the data needed to better plan future service expansions.
But they use radio waves to transmit the data, and that has the paranoid frothing. The meters, they claim, are a health and privacy risk.
The cellphones carried by these same people are definitely a far greater source of radio waves and, in all likelihood, a far greater threat to personal privacy. But that apparently doesn't matter in the world of paranoia - only the latest innovation is a threat.
The Curmudgeon has been hanging around the Capital for many decades and this is the same sort of ranting that comes up anytime there are significant technological advances. Back in the '70s people warned that the new-fangled ATMs would eat your money and you'd never see it again; cell phones have been under attack as a carcinogen seemingly forever; new business models like internet commerce and peer-to-peer commerce (things like eBay and Uber) -- all have been derided, defamed and opposed. Yet our society still stands.