Monday, October 6, 2014

Weekend Update Links

As The Curmudgeon digests the ever-growing debacle that is Michigan football, and revels over a Spartan victory against an actual high-quality team, we catch up on the weekend's goodies from the internet.

Today is the last day to register to vote
The Curmudgeon suspects that most/all readers of this blog are registered and many, like The Curmudgeon, have already voted. But if you know someone who isn't registered today is their last chance to register because we don't have the imagination to implement same-day registration. Click here for the website with the 4-1-1.
One warning for college students: if, after registering to vote, they then renew their drivers license using their parents' address, their voter registration will have automatically been changed back to that address.
Students have the right to vote either at their permanent residence (Mom and Dad's place, although they may cringe at the word "permanent"), or in the city/township where they reside in student-ghetto splendor.
If they don't check, and the registration has been shifted, they may show up at the polls only to find that our beloved Secretary of State has effectively taken away their right to vote.

Why Tax Policy Gets Complicated
One of the axioms of government is that "the best tax is a tax paid by other people." Folks generally like the idea of riding on someone else's coattails. A somewhat more enlightened idea is that taxes should be apportioned based on the ability to pay taxes. (The Mackinac Center calls this socialism, of course, since its members typically have mucho ability to pay but don't want to.)
Yet, when polled on the issue of transportation funding, the winning strategy (albeit with just 29% of the total sample) was raising the sales tax. But that is one of the most regressive forms of taxation – a tax that falls most heavily on those with the least ability to pay. Making things worse: unlike income and property taxes, the sales tax can't be deducted on your federal tax return.
This chart, from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, tells the story:
So what would be the better solution? Two ideas come to mind:
  1. Since businesses benefit from better roads, they should pay a reasonable proportion of any increases used for transportation. While businesses pay sales tax, it generally is a minor business cost. Institute a simple-to-compute tax, such as a tiny gross receipts tax, on all business entities other than sole proprietorships.
  2. Most states have a graduated income tax which recognizes ability to pay; only seven states have a flat-rate income tax. Change Michigan's tax to a graduated tax, building a rate structure that generates additional revenue dedicated to transportation.

It's Time for Michigan to Consider a Graduated Income Tax
mLive columnist Rick Haglund joins with The Curmudgeon in looking at bringing Michigan into line with the 36 states that already have some form of graduated state income tax (only seven have a flat rate).
Michigan's current tax structure is regressive: the lowest 20% actually pay more of their income in state/local taxes than wealthy folks like Rick Snyder. And it's getting worse with the Snyder tax cut benefitting most business owners (while raising taxes on regular working stiffs and retirees).

The Charter Schools Debacle Isn't Limited to Michigan
Salon has an in-depth look at how the charter schools experiment has succeeded ... in showing up charter schools aren't the solution to what ails public education. The headline for the article sums it up pretty well"
The great charter school ripoff: Finally, the truth catches up to education"reform" phonies
And, in case that is too subtle for you, Salon's Jeff Bryant adds:
Instead of the “bargain” political leaders may have thought they struck with seemingly well-intentioned charter entrepreneurs, what has transpired instead looks more like a raw deal for millions of students, their families, and their communities.
Michelle Rhee's career
catapulted after Washington, D.C.
schools student test scores
improved under her
leadership. It was later discovered
the scores were doctored.
The article chronicles charter school failures across the nation, how the charter movement's biggest success has been in diverting tax dollars from public classrooms to the bottom lines of charter school operators and their management. The common thread: politicians look at low-performing public districts, and decide the solution is to "hand over the cities' public schools to the highest private bidder."
The Salon report comes on the heels of a week-long series in the Detroit Free Press detailing the lack of accountability, performance and transparency in Michigan's biggest-in-the-nation embrace of for-profit charter school operators. 
It turns out Michigan, while at the forefront of charter school abuses and failures, is not alone. Grifters like Michelle Rhee have become wealthy thanks to money from avowed enemies of the K-12 education system like the DeVos family to create an environment where education becomes a profit center for the private sector. They have been aided and abetted through a system that rewards charter sponsors like Central Michigan University with a percentage of the school aid that follows every child into a charter school.

I Am Not a Crook. I Am Your Governor.
If you feel like every news cycle has a new story about some Governor with ethical or legal problems, you are right. American Bridge PAC has created a new web resource chronicling the scandals facing nearly half the nation's Republican Governors - everything from the FBI investigation into Sam Brownback's top aide to Chris Christie's multiple investigations in corruption-prone New Jersey to criminal investigations into Scott Walker's campaign finance operations to the two criminal indictments currently hindering Rick Perry's hopes of becoming President. It is an impressive and depressing story.
Oh yes, then there is the NERD Fund here in Michigan ... along with the other Snyder Scandals.
The roster of GOP governors with scandals is deep.
Best Quote of the Weekend
From Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson, describing the GOP pretender for the U.S. Senate, "Silent Terri Lynn" Land after she broke the silence long enough to embarrass herself on Michigan Public Radio, calling her:
a woman who loses ground every time she opens her mouth, a candidate so inarticulate that even voters ideologically disposed to support her aren't sure what she's saying.
The hardest job in this campaign belongs to Republican officeholders who are obliged to appear alongside Land whenever she emerges from seclusion to be introduced to some carefully vetted group of GOP donors as "the next U.S. senator from Michigan."

The Wedding Dress is Fetching, but the Claims Are Crepe
The monumentally sexist and stupid "wedding dress" ad from Republicans trying to attract young voters (we assume they weren't intentionally trying to repel them) is both factually inaccurate and silly according to the fact-checkers at the Center for Michigan.
In a break from tradition the Michigan Truth Squad commentary is loaded with snark. It should have been published with what Facebook users call "sarcasm font." A sample:
...someone needs to tell Gov. Snyder (perhaps the host of another reality show, “Cheaters”: Brittany is not a one-man woman. There are additional, nearly identical “Brittany” spots running for Republican gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott (in Florida), Tom Corbett (Pennsylvania), Bruce Rauner (Illinois), Bob Beauprez (Colorado) and Asa Hutchinson (Arkansas). Brittany describes them all as “a trusted brand, with new ideas that won’t break your budget.”
In other words, "Brittany" is a playuh.



The Antidote to Voter Suppression
Most people think of Michigan's Secretary of State as the person who handles license plates and drivers licenses. But the most significant part of the job rests with overseeing our most fundamental right in a democracy: voting
Ruth Johnson's record on voting rights is mixed at best. Michigan has some of the weakest campaign finance laws in the nation, especially those laws dealing with transparency. Secretly spending millions (corporate or personal) in a campaign is really, really easy under Michigan law. At
one point in her term she made noises about increasing public reporting of campaign spending, but within hours Republicans in the Legislature had overruled her with quickly enacted amendments to a law which actually doubled the amount of money fat-cats could throw into elections. It was almost too convenient.
Johnson has also been at the forefront of voter suppression, supporting more stringent voter ID laws while admitting there is no voter fraud; she has opposed multiple efforts to expand voting hours.
Enter civil rights attorney Godfrey Dillard. He is on record supporting expanded early voting, internet voting, and putting teeth into campaign finance laws that are now so easy to circumvent.
Will voters take the time to seek out the differences? Probably not, although polling suggests Dillard is running a close race to toss Johnson out of office.

Iowa, Chickens, and Campaign Journalism
The progressive media monitoring site MediaMatters.org has an excellent essay about how the mainstream media latches onto an overblown or invented piece of campaign trivia and turns it into the main story of a campaign.
Candidates Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst ... and the
chicken that crossed the road
Remember the "Al Gore claims he invented the internet" line? Well, Al Gore never made such a claim. He rightly stated that he was the member of Congress who pushed through legislation that provided the funding which allowed creation of the internet, transforming it from
a military communications channel into what he called "the information superhighway." His opponents, aided and abetted by the media, twisted his words into the ridiculous claim that he "invented" the internet. (Ironically, Al Gore had the last laugh. He invested early and heavily into startups like Google and Apple, piling up a fortune comparable to that of Mitt Romney.
Now, the MSM coverage in Iowa's Senate race has focused on a mostly made-up tale involving chickens wandering onto the property of one of the candidates. The essay, by Media Matters founder Eric Boehlert, is an excellent summation of a lot of what is wrong with national political "journalism".


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