Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Thread: On the Internet

The Curmudgeon is considering a new policy that anyone who disagrees with him will no longer be allowed to read this blog, limiting readership to undecided blog-readers and people who already like him.
Along The Tubes of the Internets this autumnal Tuesday:

@OneCowardlyNerd faces off with audience of supporters ... well, mostly supporters
Bruce Fealk (c), whose ticket to NerdPalooza was cancelled,
stood outside the WMU auditorium in hopes of scoring a
ticket from a scalper
Despite their best efforts to fill their massive 150-person audience with sycophants, campaign contributors and The Accountant's next-door-neighbors, a couple of non-believers slipped into Rick Snyder's first "town hall" campaign rally in Kalamazoo. The first question out of the chute was about the Governor's secret slush fund which, we assume, was filled by corporate checks but we'll never know. Another questioner made it clear the Snyder flip-flop on screwing union members with "right to work for less" legislation showed he can't be trusted.
And the Free Press story notes that Snyder was called out for his disingenuous claims of more money for school kids:
Craig Herschleb, a Kalamazoo school board member who works in the pharmaceutical industry, attended the event but said he was disappointed he didn't get to ask his question: "Are public school children better off in their school in 2014 than they were in 2010?" Herschleb believes the answer is 'no' ...
(The Curmudgeon is guessing the campaign staffer charged with planting questions will get a sharp scolding from The Accountant, but any fine levied will be rescinded.)
Outside the hall, protesters asked questions that actually were worthy of answers on things like the pension tax, cuts to the classroom and his administrations growing list of scandals.

Snyder Lies During First Campaign Rally (a.k.a. 'Town Hall')
According to the Free Press coverage of the NerdPalooza, Snyder claimed his position on right-to-work has never changed.
Snyder said he supported the change before he became Governor...
But before he became Governor, he actually said something else.
Here's the story from mLive.com, September 6, 2010 in a story headlined with the unfortunately wrong prediction of "Right-to-work policy is unlikely to happen in Michigan."
"He thinks it would be just too divisive at a time when we need to bring labor and management together to try to work on these issues," (campaign spokesman Bill) Nowling said. Nor does Snyder favor any legislative effort to make Michigan a right-to-work state, he said.

Incumbent governors fear wipeout
Malloy, Snyder Corbett Quinn, Brownback, LePage
Politico's James Hohmann reports that as many as a dozen incumbent governors face defeat next month.  Hohmann ranks Rick Snyder as 6th most likely to take a tumble.
Topping his list (in order) are Republicans Tom Corbett (Pennsylvania) and Paul LePage (Maine), Democrats Dannel Malloy (Connecticut) and Pat Quinn (Illinois), and Republican Sam Brownback (Kansas).
Following Snyder on Hohmann's endangered species list are Rick Scott (R-Florida), Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin), John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado), Nathan Deal (R-Georgia), Sean Parnell (R-Alaska) and Butch Otter (R-Idaho).

Getting Real About Education Funding
Mike Connell
Governor Snyder, Accountant, is good at making numbers "prove" whatever needs proving. He can make a case that he has "increased" support for education, yet public school districts are going broke, teachers are seeing pay and benefits cut, and school boards are screaming at Lansing.
This article, from retired Port Huron Times Herald reporter Michael Connell, lays out the facts pretty clearly. It's a "must read" if you want the upper hand when talking with a Snyder apologist over his sorry record on education funding.
Spoiler alert: the column's headline is "Traditional Schools Could Be Doomed."

Scientists Trace Extreme Heat in Australia to Climate Change
September 29, 2014
How much more proof do we need that we are permanently damaging our planet? The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action: crop failures leading to higher food prices, billions in storm damage, increased deaths from climate extremes, economic disruption from blizzards/ice storms ... you'd think those profit-loving Republicans would finally get on board.
But that would displease the owners of America's leading provider of pollution, the Koch brothers. And we all know the GOP isn't ready to displease Chuck and Dave.

So the U-M quarterback had a concussion after all
This story is going from the sports pages to the front page because, as Richard Nixon demonstrated to all of us, the coverup is often more serious than the crime. The second rule is "don't screw up on national television."
The University of Michigan looks to have violated both of those rules.
From bad pizza to
bad football: David
Brandon is on the
hot seat at U.M.
In this case it's about the health of a "student-athlete" who was left in a football game after what the University now admits (after 2 days of denials) had a concussion, something which was pretty obvious at the time to anyone with two eyes. And it's about a University athletic director who puts out a written statement reversing field shortly at 1 a.m. rather than at the weekly scheduled news conference organized by his staff. (Brandon did not attend the news conference.)
Athletic Director David Brandon is already on the hot seat because he has committed the ultimate sin for a big-time, big-money athletic program: hired a football coach who is losing games ... badly.
Now he's really in trouble because this story transcends winning and losing. It is now a story about jeopardizing a young man's health. The incredibly irresponsible failure to pull quarterback Shane Morris from a game after he was slammed helmet-to-helmet, and then staggered back to the huddle, could be the final straw for a University that despises losing so much it pushed out Lloyd Carr as coach after a 9-4 season.
The Curmudgeon has several friends who have played college and professional football, some of whom now suffer from permanent brain injury because they sustained repeated concussions. A great university is supposed to be in the business of developing young minds ... not damaging them.
The University of Michigan, which has done cutting-edge research on this very subject, should and must be held to the highest standard in protecting the health of its hired hands.
News stories such as ABC's report, and how it reflects on the image of U-M, is a part of why Brandon and Hoke are in trouble.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hooray-It's-a-Sunny Monday Links

The Curmudgeon can officially hoot over two siblings with degrees from the University of Wyoming. One of them could be in for a double-treat, as her Ph.D. is from The Ohio State University. Then there are a brother, two nieces and a nephew with degrees from Maryland...

Non-sports items we've noted on the internet this morning include:

Rick Snyder Town Halls Are Invitation-Only
Invited Mark Schauer to Town Hall, but cancels tickets
of anyone else who might disagree with him
The "tough nerd" apparently isn't very tough, after all. The Governor announced 10 Town Hall meetings where the he would to talk directly with the people. Apparently, he doesn't want to talk with all the people -- just the ones who support him.
In other words, it is a series of staged presentations designed to create an aura of openness when just the opposite is the reality. It is identical to a tactic that was used so effectively by Tricky Dick Nixon way back in 1968.
The campaign claims they are only giving tickets to "undecided" voters. Lonnie Scott of Progress Michigan, whose ticket to the first "town hall" was cancelled, responded:
If the Snyder campaign is only allowing in undecided voters, then I should be considered ‘undecided’. I can’t decide whether Gov. Snyder is totally corrupt or completely incompetent.

Blind Pig Finds Acorn
The usually clueless Nolan Finley, editorial page editor for the Detroit News, is usually so far in right field that he's straddling the foul line (baseball analogy in honor the Tigers' fourth-straight division title).
His latest screed actually contains a suggestion that he occasionally gets it, noting that the tea party has an agenda of tyranny in which a minority controls the agenda. Of course he uses that fact as a reason to attack Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but, given Finley's track record, we'll excuse that as just "force of habit".

What You Need to Know About Tax Inversions
The latest lobbyist-enabled tax avoidance scheme for corporations is to renounce their U.S. citizenship, officially set up shop in a tax haven, and continue to take in profits from their U.S. operations. It's called "Tax Inversion" and it is more proof that corporations are not people: people can't proclaim another country as their home and then avoid paying taxes on money in the U.S. That option is only available to big multinational corporations.
Burger King is the latest company to take advantage of this scam. The home of the Whopper won't shut down U.S. operations. It will just avoiding paying to support the country where it makes most of its profits.
The White House has put together a fact sheet on tax inversions and how it is screwing the rest of us.
Half of all the inversions have taken place in the last five years and, over the next decade, will divert $20-billion from the U.S. treasury.
President Obama has taken action to stop some of the abuses, but is limited in what he can do through executive action (despite lame claims from Ted Cruz et. al. the President is a dictator, he actually understands the limits of executive power).
It will take Congressional action to close this blatantly unpatriotic corporate tax avoidance scheme. With the billions corporate giants have invested in buying Congress, chances for that happening are slim. And if Republicans take over the Senate, the odds go down to "cold day in Hell".

Kochs Shift from Voter Deception to Voter Suppression
The Kansas bad-boys are renowned in Michigan for their multiple anti-Obamacare ads that fact-checkers found to be mostly fictitious, including one featuring a woman who actually saved a bunch of money and got better coverage when she shifted to an Exchange-listed plan. She was so brainwashed by the Fox News/Koch propaganda machine that, even when she was told the good news by the right-wing Detroit News, she refused to believe it.
Now Chuck and Dave are investing some of their massive bank account in North Carolina in an effort to confuse potential voters over how to register. Turns out the instructions in their "official voter registration" application mailer contains multiple "mistakes" which could delay or derail a person's registration, effectively taking away their right to vote.
In the minds of America's richest brothers, it isn't how you play the game. It's whether you win or lose. And when you have unlimited money to throw at the process and no consciences, anything goes.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Graduated Income Tax - Fact vs Fear

The Michigan State Chamber of Commerce is sounding the alarm about a change in state taxes that would CUT TAXES for 90% of us.
Twelve Democrats have introduced a it's-not-going-anywhere-but-will-die-in-committee Constitutional amendment to allow a graduated state income tax. Already the State Chamber has started fear-mongering. Its message, quite simply: a graduated income tax would raise taxes (in the words of a tweet from Chamber president Rich Studley) "working families & job providers."
That is economic baloney.
Michigan State economist Charles Ballard, whose graduated tax proposal is strongly supported by most progressives, says his plan would actually lower income taxes for 90% of Michigan working families (people I call "profit providers" since their labor creates the profits generated by their employers).
A graduated income tax would bring Michigan into line with the overwhelming majority of states. Of the 41 states with an income tax, 34 have a graduated tax. Michigan is one of just 7 with a flat-rate tax.
Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
Equally troubling is the fact that Michigan's flat-rate income tax is part of a taxing structure that is regressive. A 2013 study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that, in Michigan, the MORE you make, the LESS you pay in state/local taxes.
Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
Families in the top 1% pay 5.8% of their income in state and local taxes, while the poorest Michiganders (in the bottom 20% of income-earners) pay 9.7%.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Linkages

A point of personal privilege: Anne Savage, the much-too-good-for-him wife and business partner of Eclectablog publisher Chris Savage, is in a tough battle with what the doctors believe is viral meningitis. She's been in-and-out of the ER with high fevers and headaches.
The prognosis is positive but it is definitely a rough patch for two really good people.
(Chris is posting updates on Facebook so it's not violating their privacy to share.)

From across the Internets on Friday:

Aramark Is Now Schuette's Political Problem Too
Democratic Attorney General candidate Mark Totten has planted the Aramark logo directly on Bill "On Duty" Sehuette's back.  As a member of the State Administrative Board, Schuette voted in favor of the state's three-year, $145-million contract with the company that has brought food shortages, maggots, drugs, sex and mur
der-for-hire to state prisons. Fully one-third of Aramark's employees have been banned from Michigan prisons in the last year.
In a news release Totten challenges Michigan's chief law enforcement officer to do something.
“Bill Schuette approved this prison contract, yet despite multiple reports of misuse of taxpayer funds, he refuses to investigate,” Totten said. “This is a waste of taxpayer money and a dangerous abuse of power in the prisons he helps oversee. Bill Schuette needs to do his job.”

Michigan Dems Call Out Phony Non-Profit
The group is called "Michigan Jobs & Labor Foundation." Apparently, the non-profit corporation's focus is on jobs for Republicans in the state Senate. The secretive bunch (thank you crappy campaign finance disclosure laws) seems to spend all of its money on ads extolling Republican candidates for the Michigan Senate. But non-profits aren't allowed to actually ask you to vote for or against someone ... just to "call them" and tell them to keep up the good work or go to Hell, depending on the issue.
Democratic chair Lon Johnson is calling on the IRS and Michigan Secretary of State to investigate the group which has, effectively, already admitted guilt by pulling the ads from both TV and its YouTube page.
One clue as to the political intent of the group: its officers:

  • President- former Republican state Senator Phil Hoffman, now a Lansing lobbyist
  • Vice president- former Republican state Senator Alan Sanborn, now a Macomb County probation officer
  • Corporate secretary- Matt Marsden, whose day job is press secretary to Senate Republican leader Randy Richardville
  • Treasurer- Ellen Kletzka, also an officer of the GOP consulting firm The Sterling Group which fronts numerous secretive tax-exempt corporations engaging in political advocacy

The organization's official phone number reported to the IRS is the same number as the State Senate Republican Campaign Committee. The "Foundation" reported income of $632,25
0 in 2012.

"The information that’s already been uncovered about this organization has raised serious questions about whether the Michigan Senate Republicans are flagrantly violating Michigan's campaign laws," said Johnson. 
"There is seemingly no reasonable explanation as to why the phone number for this organization that’s listed on file with the IRS is the same phone number used by the Senate Republicans' campaign committee. I would expect both the state and the IRS to follow up immediately with a thorough investigation into this organization's finances so the people of Michigan can know the truth."

Snyder Ad Criticizes Schauer for Vote to Increase School Funding
(The Bill Passed the Senate Unanimously)
Rick Snyder continues to use accounting gimmicks to show he's "increasing" spending on public education when just about any member of any school board will tell you he has taken money out of the classrooms.
The latest exercise in misdirection is an ad featuring "Linda," allegedly a school teacher who thinks Snyder is just peachy. (Apparently she hasn't heard about the increased taxes on her pension that await her.)  And the ad, in effect, attacks a Schauer vote on a 2003 bill which increased funding for K-12 education by $152.4 million. The bill was approved by the GOP-controlled state Senate 38-0.
As for the conflicting claims over support for public education, the FY 2011-12 Education budget actually cut $1.159-billion from education at all levels including $931-million from K-12. And the ongoing expansion of for-profit charter schools is draining even more money out of public school classrooms.
To back up his numbers, Schauer quotes from that bastion of GOPism: The Detroit News:
"But the $14.7 billion education package laid out Thursday relies heavily on incentive-laden funding some say is unfair. And it fails to fully restore funding cuts made last year, when Snyder trimmed more than $1 billion from Michigan’s School Aid Fund.” [Detroit News, 2/10/12]

Zack Pohl, Schauer's Communications Director, informs us that
"Linda" actually lives next door to Snyder's $1-million lake mansion

God Bless Jon Stewart, Chapter 9000
The Daily Show brings sanity to the discussion more than any media outlet in existence. They did it again Thursday with Jon Stewart's totally appropriate rant at those upset over the coffee-cup salute and the crass hypocrisy of jackasses like Sean Hannity and Karl Rove. Enjoy...

The controversy over the secretive Michigan Jobs & Labor Foundation is just one more example of why Michigan's campaign finance laws are a joke. Rich Robinson, the respected head of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, has an excellent column in the current issue of Dome Magazine on ending the secrecy. It's time the voters knew who was spending millions to influence their vote.

From ThinkProgress.org
Yes, the $4,800 went to the same candidate who has benefitted from $8-million or so in campaign spending by the Koch Brothers: "Silent Terri" Lynn Land.
Ms. Land is perfect for the coal industry. She doesn't believe in climate change, she isn't worried about greenhouse gases, and she's all for the Keystone pipeline even though it won't create jobs in Michigan (or the United States) but will raise gasoline prices in the Midwest.
The story has come to light because Murray Energy, the nation's largest independent coal company, is being sued by a former employee who claims she was fired for refusing to give campaign money to candidates chosen by her boss.
In 2012 the New Republic reported that employees of Murray Energy are told when hired they are expected to contribute 1% of their salary to the company PAC by automatic payroll deduction.

From Mother Jones:
Libertarian Republican Sam Brownback made no bones about it when he became Kansas Governor: he believed in tax-slashing economics, and he followed through. 
At the behest of his home-state billionaire buddy Charles Koch he wiped out state taxes for 200,000 small businesses (including 20 subsidiaries of Koch Industries), slashed the personal income tax with the biggest cuts for his wealthiest constituents. He gutted the power of teachers' unions, privatized Medicaid and dumped thousands from the welfare rolls.
Brownback called in scandal-plagued New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie in an effort to revive his
flagging reelection campaign (KCTV photo)
He even paid Reagan-era economics guru Charles Laffer $75,000 for three days work encouraging the Legislature to enact his radical agenda. Backed by Koch money he also launched a successful purge of moderate Republicans from the Legislature. 
Well, the results of the experiment are in: #EconomicsFail, a state in "cardiac arrest."
The state's $700-million budget surplus is now a $238-million deficit; both Standard & Poor's and Moody's have downgraded the state's bond rating.
And Sam Brownback is on track to lose his reelection bid in one of the most reliably Republican states in the nation. His reelection is opposed by a coalition of Republicans. (One of the purged GOP moderates, state Senator Jean Schodorf, is now the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Right Hand Meet Left Hand

This is really choice:
The Republican Governors Association has just released a new ad condemning Mark Schauer's outspoken support for the Affordable Care Act, claiming it will kill us all.

At almost the same moment, Governor Rick Snyder issued a news release congratulating himself as Medicaid signups (made possible by Obamacare) topped 400,000. "We are helping create a healthier, stronger Michigan and driving out state's continued comeback."
Isn't Rick Snyder a member of the Republican Governors Association? You'd think so...

Making Economic Sausages

The Curmudgeon subscribes to the adage there are two things you never want to see being assembled: sausages and legislation. Add to the list politically motivated economic studies...

If you believe this study, Minnesota has a lousy business climate -- and Indiana's is Grrreat!
We have another economic "study" built to support somebody's political agenda.
This time the patron is that champion of letting business people do whatever they want, the Michigan State Chamber of Commerce. The willing supplicants: economists at internationally renowned Northwood Institute (apparently the University of Phoenix econ department was busy.)
The study purports to rate state business climates from top to bottom and, to nobody's surprise, shows Michigan's climate is improving now that we have a government that attacks unions, doesn't worry about polluting the groundwater with fracking chemicals and doesn't believe in taxing businesses. Mind you, the Pleasant Peninsulas still rank in the bottom half, but the Chamber sees that glass half full because of the enlightened supply-side mantras of Mr. Relentless Positive Action (unless you are a school kid, senior, union member or public employee...).
Checking the Midwest, the study ranks Indiana as the best place to do business (18th overall); Minnesota checks in at 29th.
Of course, Minnesota has the strongest economy in the Midwest and Indiana's economy is even weaker than Michigan's.
The real agenda of the Chamber is made evident by a comment in the mLive story attributed to Chamber president Rich Studley, who moans that increasing the minimum wage will hurt Michigan's business climate.
The Studley Doctrine: Living wages = Good business climate.
By the way, the study contends the worst business climate in America is that of Massachusetts. Sure.
Massachusetts has 5.8% unemployment, 22% better than Michigan's 7.4%.  Massachusetts' median household income is about $67,000, 37% higher than Michigan's $49,000.

Throwback Thursday: The Little Rock Nine

It was 57 years ago today - September 25, 1957 - when nine negro teenagers were escorted into Little Rock High School by armed soldiers. They were called the Little Rock Nine.

One of them was Ernest Green. The Curmudgeon had the pleasure to talk with Green 51 years later, which was also the 50th anniversary of his enrollment at Michigan State University. His perspective on the changes in American society were amplified by an event a month prior to the interview: the nomination of Sen. Barack Obama for President of the United States, an event Green witnessed in person.
You can listen to the interview here.

Thurday In Internet-Land

The Curmudgeon is getting ready for the invasion of the Cowboys into East Lansing for what promises to be a gorgeous early autumn Saturday. With two siblings who hold degrees from the college campus located 7,165 feet above sea level, he has deep respect for their ability to even breathe while practicing.

Here's what we are seeing on the Internets this fine Pure Michigan day...

Obama Likely to Campaign for Gary Peters
TPM reports the President, whose campaigning is being curtailed due to his low job-approval numbers, will in fact campaign in Michigan for Gary Peters.
It is totally understandable that the President's job approval is low. After all,
  • We've had nearly five years of uninterrupted job growth
  • The stock market has more than doubled since he took office
  • The nation's percentage of people without medical insurance has plunged
  • The Bush-era budget deficits have been cut in half
  • We have record domestic production of oil and gas, reducing our dependence on foreign sources
  • He saved GM and Chrysler from bankruptcy, thus saving Michigan's economy
That is, truth be told, a record of failure.
But he'll be coming to Michigan anyway and you can bet he will receive a warm, enthusiastic welcome.

UPDATE - Here Comes Michelle!
Michigan Democratic Chair Lon Johnson has confirmed that First Lady Michelle Obama will campaign in Michigan for Peters and Mark Schauer. Details coming...

You Can Talk With the Accountant at His First Town Hall
Michigan's Accountant in Chief, foundation-building Rick Snyder, says he wants to talk with the people of Michigan, so he'll meet with the unwashed masses at a series of 10 "town hall" meetings. You can go! Just register here for the first event in Kalamazoo to be held next Monday evening.
Earlier this week we posted a conversation between Michigan citizen Bruce Fealk and assorted Snyder minions, futilely trying to find out how to attend these events. The Curmudgeon is pleased to report Mr. Fealk's frustration has ended. He is aware of the Eventbrite registration process and has already procured his free ticket for the Kalamazoo event!

Another Amazing Aramark Embarrassment
Just when you thought the privatizing disaster in our prison system couldn't get any worse, it does.
An Aramark food services worker at the Kinross Correctional Facility outside Sault Ste. Marie is suspected of soliciting an inmate to murder another inmate.
Shades of Orange is the New Black.
After her prison term ends, The Curmudgeon expects
 "Big Red" will get a food-service job with Aramark.
Governor Snyder is now between a rock and a hard place. Had he acted at the first signs of trouble to end the Aramark contract, the whole thing would be ancient history and forgotten by the voters. Now it is front-and-center in the campaign, a symbol of bad management decisions that places corporate profit above the public interest.
Snyder put himself there with his blind faith in the wisdom of privatizing state government services, and turning them into profit centers for his corporate peers. A big problem with privatizing is that in order to 1) save the state money, and 2) generate a profit, the contractor ends up paying its workers less than had been paid to public employees, and the contractor cuts corners with suppliers.
You get what you pay for. In this case, you get maggots in the food line, sex in the kitchen, smuggling of drugs and other contraband, and now, murder for hire.

Followup: Snyder Fires Michael Moore in a Voicemail
The Curmudgeon took note yesterday that Oscar®-winning Michigan native Michael Moore had been dumped from the Michigan Film Advisory Board in favor of a venture capitalist buddy of the Governor's, Ted Serbinski.
Moore is the most successful documentarian in history. He also is the force behind the state's largest film festival, held every year in Traverse City.
The Governor showed class in how it was done: a voicemail message from a staffer in the appointments office. Moore kindly has shared the voicemail.

Fake News Site Attacking Dem Congressional Candidate Earns Flagrant Foul
The race between Tim Walberg (R-19th Century) and Pam Byrnes in the 7th congressional district is mostly down-and-dirty. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) gets special credit, though, for coming up with one of the most deceitful and unethical tactics: creating a phony "news" website.
The NRCC's make-believe "news" website
We all know that many people believe anything they read on the internet if it comes from an attractive web site (the Curmudgeon gets lots of those links from his cherished mom-in-law). Well, the NRCC knows it as well. So they take a cue from their allies at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and create a website that masquerades as journalism.
One of them, the South Michigan Update, promotes all sorts of half-truths and distortions about Pam Byrnes and disguises them as "journalism."
The Michigan Truth Squad doesn't think much of the tactic:
"Creating a website meant to fool voters into believing it is a news site, and publishing a fake news story attacking a candidate, is the height of deception and a disservice to the public."

Inside the Koch Brothers' Toxic Empire
If you don't already have nightmares about the impact of the Kansas bad-boys on America, you will after reading this well-documented Rolling Stone unauthorized profile of Chuckie and Dave. They have come up with dozens of ways to make money by adding to the pollution of our air and water, figuring out that it is cheaper to pay record fines than to simply act responsibly.
A 1996 explosion at a Koch pipeline in Texas. Two teens died.
The Kochs paid what was then the largest wrongful-death
judgment of its kind in U.S. history: $296-million.
One way to save us all money on our health insurance premiums is reducing the number of people who show up in the emergency room and don't pay. Uncompensated costs historically have been massive, and that cost ends up in the premiums the rest of us (with insurance) have to pay. It's one of the reasons for that $5 aspirin tablet you read about.
Uncompensated care costs the rest of us money
in the form of higher health insurance premiums
HHS reports that the Affordable Healthcare Act has brought with it a projected $5.7-billion drop in uncompensated care. The savings are the biggest in states which has expanded Medicaid coverage to include working families up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($4.2-billion or 73% of the total).
And the rate of uncompensated care is even going down in states that did not expand Medicare (leaving millions still without coverage). The reason: more families can afford to buy their own coverage because of the premium subsidies available through the Healthcare Insurance Exchange.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Breaking: Michigan Dems File IRS Complaint Over Land Family "Charity"

Photo: Todd Heywood
The I.R.S. is probably a little gunshy about investigating tax avoidance schemes involving political campaigns (and Lois Lerner is still on administrative leave), but Michigan Democrats nonetheless are going after the tax-exempt World Mission charity. The organization, created by Terri Lynn Land's family, got caught doing a little campaigning on her behalf.
Here's the text of the party's news release issued this morning:

LANSING – The Michigan Democratic Party today called for an IRS investigation into Republican Terri Lynn Land using her family charity, World Mission, as an extension of her campaign. Democrats held a press conference outside the World Mission store in Lansing, where news reports show the charity trying to recruit supporters with Land’s campaign yard signs. As a tax-exempt organization, the IRS prohibits World Mission from advocating for candidates. MDP also sent the complaint to the Michigan Treasury, per an IRS suggestion.
Land refuses to answer serious concerns from independent experts about her charity. Her unwillingness to tell Michiganders the truth and hide in a bunker is nothing new:
  • Land is potentially self-funding $3 million illegally, but why won’t she release her self-funding transactions? 
  • Land pays 2.2 percent in taxes despite being one of the wealthiest candidates, but admitted she files separately from her husband for political reasons. Why won’t she release her husband’s taxes? 
  • Land is hiding her business experience working for her family’s business, Land & Company. What is her true business experience?
  • Land receives special perks from Land & Co. like a company car and cell phone, but is she paying income tax on the benefits?
  • Land is potentially breaking the law by renting two campaign trucks from her brother in law below fair market value. Why won’t Land say what she pays for rent or what she thinks fair market value is for the trucks?
  • Land admitted she was in contact with Super PACs – a violation of federal law – but why won’t she say what they discussed?
  • Land’s campaign lawyer, Charlie Spies, started a Super PAC to secretly funnel millions and launch negative attacks. If Land says she isn’t involved with the Super PAC, why won’t she support real-time disclosure?
  • And now, Land is using her charity as an extension of her campaign, but why won’t she discuss World Mission or even say whether she’s donated to the family’s charity?
"Michiganders are fed up with Republican Terri Lynn Land continuing to potentially break the law to further her political ambition as she refuses to answer serious questions from independent experts. Now, independent experts are raising concerns that Land is using her charity, World Mission, as an extension of her campaign which violates IRS law," said Kevin McAlister, Michigan Democratic Party Senior Communications Advisor. "Michiganders deserve the truth from Ms. Land - on her charity, her potentially illegal self-funding, and her business experience - but she refuses to answer straightforward questions, so MDP is calling for an IRS investigation into Land’s charity. With less than six weeks until Election Day, Ms. Land needs to stop hiding in her bunker and start addressing the controversies swirling around her."
The Huffington Post recently examined World Mission and Land’s close ties to the charity. Then, the Arab American News noted that World Mission promotes intolerance by calling Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists "obstacles" that must be overcome to spread Christianity. 

World Mission is run by Land’s father, husband, and brother in law – all owners of the family’s business, Land & Company. Land & Co. got tax breaks by loaning millions to World Mission, in addition to office space, supplies, and carpeting. MDP has also learned that World Mission outsourced to China the production of talking Bibles in 2003. The group, financed by Land's family, uses the Bibles to reach non-Christians.

Midweek Linkages

Some of the great and good information wafting through the Tubes of the Internets midway through a gorgeous week-long PureMichigan weather orgy.

Bill Would Require Insurers to Offer "Rape Insurance"
One of the most disgusting laws jammed through our tea-party-run Legislature was the Right to Life petition to prohibit insurers from including any form of abortion coverage as a standard coverage. The ban applied to all health insurance, not just insurance subsidized through the Affordable Care Act.
It would require women to take out an added-cost rider to protect them in the event they became pregnant due to rape or incest. Democrats immediately labeled the extremist position "Rape Insurance."
The problem: insurers don't offer the rider on any individual plans, and only seven of 42 insurers offer the coverage in group plans. As a result most women can't make the decision to protect themselves.
Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) and Representative Pam Faris (D-Clio) have introduced a bill requiring health insurance companies to offer the extra coverage. You can bet Right to Life will order its stooges in the Legislature to ignore the bill
It's Now Illegal to Kill Wolves in Wyoming
While the Michigan Legislature is hell-bent on killing wolves back down to endangered-species-eligible numbers, the very conservative state of Wyoming is going in the other direction. A judge Tuesday ruled against efforts to make it possible to shoot at many wolves as you wanted, for any reason you wanted.
The lawsuit was filed by a coalition of groups
in 2012 including Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity.

Decades of Budget Cuts Are Hurting Michiganders
Michigan's never-ending reductions in public investments are killing our state. Priorities Michigan held a news conference yesterday to provide examples of the state's "penny wise, pound foolish" exercises in parsimonious budgeting is destroying what used to be a great state.
"Over a decade of disinvestment and budget cuts made by legislators are clearly hurting Michiganders, from increased class sizes in schools making it harder to learn to crumbling roads and bridges that are dangerous to drive on," said Nathan Triplett, the non-profit organization's project director.
Triplett was joined by Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann, who had to deal with our crumbling system of sewers and storm drains on a daily basis; Shannon Nobles of the Michigan League for Public Policy, which focuses on the human toll resulting from budget cuts; and Dearborn school teacher Jane Mazza, who noted the lack of even basic supplies in many schools.
Two examples of how we are pinching too many pennies: Michigan ranks dead last in per capita spending on roads, and tuition at our state's universities rank among the highest in the nation.
In the interests of full disclosure, The Curmudgeon's three-year-old, 43,000-mile car needs $800 in front-end repairs thanks to Michigan potholes. Mrs. Curmudgeon is not amused.

Cadillac Move Demonstrates Futility of Tax-Cutting Strategy
At the heart of the Republican economic dogma is that cutting business taxes and other costs is the key to economic growth.
That dogma is disproven by Michigan's top private-sector employer with a single announcement.
General Motors is moving the headquarters of Cadillac to one of the highest-cost cities in the world: New York City. Cadillac is moving to a city which has

  • higher taxes
  • higher levels of government regulation
  • higher labor costs, and 
  • higher rents 

than just about anywhere you can find.
If you accept the GOP dogma of cost-cutting your way to prosperity, the decision is incomprehensible.
The reality is that business costs are just one factor in business location decisions. GM is setting up shop in the SoHo section of Manhattan, "the heart of a city renowned for establishing trends and setting standards for the global luxury market," according to a GM statement.
For a more effective economic development strategy, re-read the item just above this one.

Marijuana Tax Revenue May Top $3-Billion a Year with Legalization
The estimate comes from the wonky personal finance site NerdWallet, which projects Michigan's tax haul in excess of $100-million annually. The figure does not take into account any savings from reductions in public safety budgets. A 2010 study by Harvard economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron estimated savings somewhere north of $8-billion annually, with Michigan saving about $400-million on prisons, police and courts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Michigan's Obamacare Choices to Increase 33%

Yes, the naysayers told us Obamacare would mean fewer options for consumers.
Yes, they were wrong ... again.
HHS has announced that 77 new insurers will offer plans somewhere in America in 2015, an increase of 25 percent. Even Republicans concede that added competition can only be a good thing for consumers (that's the claim they make for charter schools!).
Michigan will see a 33% increase in the numbe
of insurers offered through the federal exchange.
In Michigan, four additional providers will bring the total offering plans to 16, the most for any state on the federal insurance exchange (and just one fewer than the overall leader, New York).
Michigan used to be a state where Blue Cross Blue Shield had a virtual monopoly and commercial insurers complained they really couldn't compete. With enactment of the Affordable Care Act, insurers obviously feel they now can compete in our state. That means better coverage options and better prices for all of us.
According to HHS, studies have found "a correlation between greater competition and lower costs for consumers.... Specifically, an increase of one issuer in a rating area is associated with a 4% decline in the second lowest-cost silver plan premium, on average."

Obama Administration Acts to Curb Corporate Tax Dodgers

The tactic is called "tax inversion." A company moves its official headquarters (and profits) to another country to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
The Obama administration has moved to curb at least some of this unpatriotic abuse of the tax code.
Republicans say that's because our corporate taxes are too high.
Fine. If taxes are too high, companies can and should move. But they can't expect to continue to rake in their profits from U.S. consumers (taking advantage of U.S. government services and the infrastructure built by our taxes) without paying U.S. taxes.
It's like rent.
You think your rent is too high in, say, Bloomfield Hills. So you move to a lower-tax community. Unlike corporations, which continue to "live" in the U.S. even though they are now foreign, you actually have to physically move.
You don't get to take the Bloomfield Hills schools or fire department or city parks with you. If you want the privileges, perks and advantages of living in Bloomfield Hills you pay the taxes.
The story of Burger King is especially galling because Burger King relies on U.S. poverty programs to subsidize its profits. Most Burger King employees are paid at below-poverty-level wages, most are part-time which means the company avoids paying for their medical coverage. The slack is taken up by U.S. taxpayers for Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8 housing, Earned Income Credit and other subsidies enacted to help the working poor.
And how many hamburgers would they sell if we didn't have government-built roads? Or government-built airports (many of which have Burger King franchises)? What if they didn't have the USDA protecting the quality of the meat they buy?
So Burger King's owners make huge profits, and avoid contributing for the very government services that make those profits possible.
Or consider the case of energy companies which extract fossil fuels from American soil, ship it around the world with the protection of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, but dodge paying taxes? We're talking about Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil which combined for tax subsidies of $23 BILLION.
The list of profitable U.S. companies which pay no federal taxes and even, in some cases, get huge refunds, is staggering. In 2012, 111 of the multinational companies in the Fortune 500 were profitable and paid no federal income tax for at least one out of five years; 55 had multiple no-tax years; 26 paid no taxes over the entire five-year period. 43 companies in the list received an aggregate refund of $28-billion. In other words, those 43 made more money AFTER they filed their taxes than before.
Senator Carl Levin is spending his last few weeks in office working to fix this abuse of our tax code. Given the nature of the do-nothing Congress all he'll be able to do it make some noise and lay the foundation but, barring a miracle, any effort to require American businesses to pay their fair share to support this nation will die from a Senate filibuster or House intransigence.

Happy Tuesday Links

First of all, if you don't already receive the daily digest please enter your email address on the left.
If you have a subscription, you might notice big holes in unexpected places. That is where a YouTube video should be appearing but, for some reason, does not.
I'm working on figuring it out. Until I do, if you see a hole in the email click on the link for that item and you will magically be transported to the item!

The Curmudgeon is working on a voter registration drive all day today, so the updates to this post may be sporadic at best. Here is some of the stuff going around the internets as we officially begin the day and begin autumn...

Business Tax Cuts Don't Create Jobs, Because Taxes Are Often Not the Major Concern
To hear Republicans talk, Michigan's "high" business taxes drove us into a recession at the end of the Engler administration ... and the massive Snyder business-tax cuts will be our long-term economic salvation. "You may not feel it now, but you will..."
Unfortunately, the actual real world demonstrates that this is delusional economics.
Greenville's Electrolux plant. RIP.
As part of its six-part series on state taxes, the always thought-provoking Bridge e-zine looks at the factors important to businesses when making decisions on where to locate. Turns out taxes are low on the list for many companies.
Other factors can and often are more important: labor costs, availability of skilled labor, proximity to markets (especially important to manufacturers), transportation infrastructure, regulatory structure and quality of life all are important.
Hanging our economic hats on the hook of "low-cost state" is bound to fail. The Bridge analysis talks about the decision of Electrolux to close shop in Greenville, moving 2,700 jobs to Mexico and South Carolina. The reason: cheaper labor.
You can always find cheaper labor, if not in the south of the United States, then outside our borders (unless you want to match Mexico's $1.57/hour wages).
A more intelligent strategy is outlined in the latest report from Michigan Future, which looks at the strongest state economy in our region: in Minnesota. Instead of focusing on cutting costs, Minnesota focuses on investing in people, infrastructure and quality of life. It is paying off.

The Eternal General Joins Bill Milliken in Endorsing Mark Totten
Frank Kelley, the man who "wrote the book" on a consumer-protection-oriented Attorney General, has added his endorsement to Mark Totten's campaign for A.G.
Kelley served 37 years as Michigan's top lawyer, the longest service of any statewide elected official in any state in American history. He served under five Michigan Governors in both parties. During his tenure his focus was on protecting ordinary citizens from government and big corporations. He successfully campaigned for unit pricing, fought excessive utility and insurance rate increases, and was a champion of environmental protection (he often battled side-by-side with Milliken on environmental issues).
Kelley left office a long time ago (in 1999), succeeded by Jennifer Granholm, but his name still carries a lot weight. Kelley turns 90 this New Years Eve and is still active in the law firm he co-founded with one-time state House Republican leader Dennis Cawthorne.
A lifelong friend of The Curmudgeon, Kelley is mentally every bit as sharp today as he was back in the day even if he has slowed down a step or two. His renowned sense of humor remains intact. He opened a speech to the state Democratic convention in August with the line "you probably were asking 'is he still alive?'"
Yes he is most certainly alive and well.
Kelley's support is a plus for Totten in his battle with tea party favorite Bill "I Wanna Be Governor" Schuette.

Fred Upton Has Changed. Amazing what a lot of oil money can do.
6th District challenger Paul Clements' latest TV ad is beginning to make the rounds, taking Whirlpool heir Fred Upton to task for evolving from a pretty decent environmentalist to a tool of the oil industry. Oil ... isn't that the foundation of Koch Industries?

Five Awful GOP Governors Who Need to Go
The Daily Beast columnist Michael Tomasky minces no words describing the horribleness that is embodied in five products of the tea party surge in 2010. Fourth on his list is Michigan's own Accountant-in-Chief, Richard Dale Snyder.
"Snyder is too conservative for that state. It's as if, oh, Indiana had a Democratic governor – it's something that happens, but it's just not the natural order of things."
Joining the man who presided over Gateway Computer's demise on Tomaskey's Hall of Shame list are Florida's Rick Scott, Cheesehead Scott Walker, Georgian Nathan Deal and America's
"highest-ranking elected baboon," Maine's Paul LePage.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Breaking: Finally, A Gubernatorial Debate

All the criticism aimed at Rick Snyder has had its impact. There will be at least one televised debate, utilizing a "town hall" format, on October 12 in Detroit broadcast on public television.
The two campaign agreed to have the editorial page editors of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press as the moderators for a one-hour event. It will be broadcast at 6 p.m.
Significantly, the audience will consist of "undecided voters" as determined by pollsters from the two newspapers and not be screened by either campaign.
Schauer's campaign welcomed the agreement. Former state Senator Dianne Byrum said in a written statement
"We are excited that Michigan voters will be able to see the two candidates who want to be Michigan's governor sharing a stage to debate the issues that affect them and their families. Mark will share his vision of a building an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top, and the governor should be prepared to defend his record over the past four years. While it's great that this debate has been scheduled, we remain optimistic that there will be more debates between now and Election Day."
Chances for a second debate are slim. Snyder has been studiously avoiding debates and instead announced a series of ten "town hall" forums in which the audience would inevitably be hand-picked by the Snyder campaign.
Free Press editorial editor Stephen Henderson is happy to be part of the debate but laments that it isn't nearly enough. The Pulitzer Prize winning writer said it is long past time when control of debates was taken away from candidates and turned over to a non-partisan debate commission.

Snyder Draws Heat from Toledo Blade, Washington Post

Snyder Scandals, Dodging Debates, Draws Criticism from Outside Our Borders
It's not just Mark Schauer and some Michigan media taking more shots at The Accountant. Today he's taking shots from two influential newspapers.
The growing mess that is the Snyder administration and Snyder reelection campaign is harshly criticized on the editorial page of the middle-of-the-road Toledo Blade, a newspaper that has significant circulation in Michigan's southeast corner.
The paper cites the growing list of scandals and missteps by Snyder: the Aramark mess in the prisons,  the MSHDA expense account scandal, "not on my agenda" Right to Work for Less law, the pension tax and top aide Rich Baird's double life as a resident of both Illinois and Michigan.
The paper concludes "he would do well to apologize to <the voters>, and provide a full explanation of these missteps. He should also agree to televised debates with his rival, as his two predecessors did."
This comes the same day as the highly read The Fix in the Washington Post labeled the Schauer-Snyder race one of "The 12 governors' races you need to watch this year", with the comment "believe it or not, there are no debates set in this race... It's hard to believe that will hold up in a competitive contest in one of the most populous states in the country."

Monday Moanin' Links

The Curmudgeon freely admits stealing the phrase "Monday Moanin'" from the late Bob Talbert, longtime columnist with the Detroit Free Press. Plagarism is the sincerest form of flattery.

Compassionate Conservatives: Texas, Florida cities have highest uninsured rates in America
Because they hate Obama Obamacare, Rick Scott and Rick Perry lead states most in need of healthcare coverage ... but that refuse to take it.
Seven of the 11 American cities with the highest rates of uninsured residents are in states that refuse to accept the federally funded Medicaid expansion. Five of the worst nine are in Texas (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio) and Florida (Miami, Tampa).
The highest uninsured rates for major cities in a Medicaid expansion state are Los Angeles (4th) and Riverside (6th) California, reflecting the fact (angrily denied by anti-Obamacare types) that undocumented residents do not qualify for Medicaid or healthcare insurance subsidies.

Snyder Takes More Out of the Pockets of Retirees ... Again
First the pension tax which cost many retirees thousands annually. Then, doubling retirees' share of healthcare premiums which typically cost retirees $1,800 a year. Now, pensioners face even more cuts in the form of higher deductibles and co-pays.
Retirees under the age of 65 will feel the pain the most, but it impacts all state retirees (disclosure: The Curmudgeon is a state retiree and seeing Governor Snyder significantly reduce the retirement benefits promised when he was working for the state).
Among the increased costs:

  • Office-visit co-pays increased 33%
  • ER co-pays increased 300%
  • Brand-name (non-generic) prescription co-pays increased 50%
  • Annual individual and family deductibles increased 33%
  • Out-of-pocket maximum for individuals increased 33%, for families increased 50%

All of this is a part of Rick Snyder's "shared sacrifice" which seems to share the sacrifice among retirees, low- and middle-income families, while cutting taxes for his buddies at the country club.

Coast Guard Unprepared for Great Lakes Oil Spill - Sierra Club Demands Snyder Action
Of course we all know that Enbridge never has oil spills from its network of pipelines. That gunk still lingering in the Kalamazoo River? Just your imagination.
Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium/AP
So what do we do if the aging pipelines crossing the Straits of Mackinac pop a leak?
Well, we can't count on the United States Coast Guard. Rear Admiral Fred Midgette, commander of the district Coast Guard District 9, said in a memo to the Coast Guard's Deputy Commandant for Operations that we simply "are not capable of responding to heavy oil spills, particularly in open-water scenarios."
The Sierra Club is calling on Snyder needs to act immediately to assess the risk posed by the underwater Enbridge pipelines, and to stop heavy tar sands oil from being moved through the Straits.
The potential for environmental damage from a spill is in the catastrophic range. According to U. of M. research Dr. David Schwab, at any given moment there are more than one-million gallons of oil in the pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac. Because of current patterns the oil would quickly contaminate large portions of Lakes Michigan and Huron; even passenger ferry service and drinking water would be cut to Mackinac Island.

Wanna Go to a Snyder Town Hall? Good Luck!
The Governor won't debate because he wants to talk directly with the people and not with that pesky Mark Schauer.
When Oakland County activist Bruce Fealk, who is definitely a Michigan person and voter, tried to find out how to attend a Town Hall he got nowhere fast. Seems the Snyder campaign doesn't have a listed telephone number, and the Michigan Republican Party knows nothing. In fact, they referred Fealk to the Governor's office which was less than helpful.

Detroit Free Press Editorial: Put Children First
The paper, which devoted an eight-day series of articles to the (at best) mixed results of Michigan's embrace of charter schools, basically calls out the Governor and Legislature for forgetting about kids and focusing instead on their political agendas.
The editorial is an indictment of a government that is draining resources from public schools by expanding for-profit charters without safeguarding the kids or the taxpayers:
"Having more options doesn't translate into better options for parents and children."
The editorial laments a lack of movement in the Legislature, noting that "in the two months since the Free Press charter series was first published, reaction has broken down along distressingly partisan lines. That's not surprising when so much unsophisticated heat is generated in Lansing on education issues — from charter school advocates, from the Michigan Education Association, from the Mackinac Center, from any number of ideologically driven interest groups."

Snyder dumps Oscar® winning filmmaker from state film board
Library of Congress photo
Politics trumps all ... again. Filmmaker and political activist Michael Moore is anathema to the GOP and especially the tea party wing that controls the Republican agenda, so he's gotta go.

The Flint native (who now lives outside Traverse City
* is the most successful documentary maker in history
*has won an Academy Award for his work
* is the driving force behind Michigan's biggest film festival in Traverse City

But he is no longer a member of the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council, replaced by some Ted Serbinski, a Birmingham venture capitalist who is ex-director of technology for A&E Television.

Tim Skubick: Aramark is Gift That Keeps on
Giving to the Democrats

Yes, Tim, it sure is. But that's what happens when someone is blinded by an ideology which tells him privatizing is always the better solution for providing government services.
Unlike Aramark, government is not evaluated on profit-and-loss statements, but on effectively providing necessary services in the public interest.

Republican Sam Brownback
is in political trouble in  a
solidly red state
In addition to being the only headline this year to use the word "penury," the Washington Post editorial page sounds the alarm for supply-side Republicans everywhere. Cutting taxes and promises of unspecified budget cuts are politically attractive but fiscally disastrous.
In Michigan, Rick Snyder keeps telling us he has increased spending on K-12 education which, in the eyes of an accountant, he has. But he's done it in a way that has taken money out of the classroom. Just ask any school board member from anywhere in Michigan, Republican or Democrat. They'll tell you the reality of the Snyder budget.
And using tax cuts to spur your economy? Kansas went nuts with tax cuts. Snyder cut taxes for businesses with the promise that it would mean jobs, jobs, jobs ... but now refuses to say how many jobs have been "created" by his tax cuts, or by his income-cutting "right to work for less" law that wasn't on his agenda but passed in one day.
Kansas' experience is a warning for Snyder, Scott Walker, Rick Scott and every other tea party loving anti-government zealot across America. Sounds good, but it doesn't work.