Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Over the River and Through the Woods PoliLinks

The Curmudgeon is taking a break for the holiday weekend because he can. This thread will be updated occasionally through Sunday but may not be updated at all. Check back once in awhile during TV timeouts or family fights....

Action on Climate Change

Yesterday we noted the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing that a clear majority of Americans survey – 59% – support federal action to combat climate change. Today President Obama will be once again labeled dictator/emperor by the Koch Brothers wing of the Republican Party (that would be all Republicans plus Mary Landrieu and Joe Manchin) by acting against emissions of ozone from power plants and factories.
"Job killer" they will scream, ironic since ozone is a "people killer" which is linked to asthma, heart disease and premature death. Some of the critics are the same folks who whine about regulations on coal designed to protect the lungs of coal miners.
The regulations would lower the threshold for ozone pollution by about 10%, not exactly revolutionary but a step in the right direction. Reducing ozone in the air has been a priority of such radical, socialist groups as the American Lung Association and American Heart Association as well as every environmental group you can name.

The Schuette Bigotry Campaign Rolls On

Elections have consequences. In this instance, it's the reelection of Bill Schuette as "defender of the people" (but only if they are straight). Schuette is rolling ahead with his expensive defense of Michigan's constitutional bigotry aimed at LGBTs. Yesterday, those oh-so-progressive states of Arkansas and Mississippi became the latest to have their gay-marriage prohibitions ruled unconstitutional, leaving Michigan (and Schuette) in the dust.
April DeBoer and Janet Rowse are suing to overturn
Michigan's discrimination against LGBT families. And they
adopted a fourth child yesterday. Schuette feels their kids
would be better off in foster care.
Our friends at Eclectablog were kind enough to post a link to Schuette's defense of bigotry. Basically, Schuette's argument is that the people have the right to enact a state constitutional provision that (in the opinion of virtually every federal trial court so far) violates the U.S. Constitution. If you replace the concept of "same sex" with that of "same race," Schuette's arguments could have been used to defend the anti-miscegenation laws that made interracial marriages illegal, something overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court 47 years ago in Loving v. Virginia.
Schuette also continues to maintain that marriage is about having kids: 
...the State has an interest in encouraging men and women to marry because of its interest in stable relationships for the procreation and raising of children.
So if a couple agrees not to have children, their marriage is invalid? Don't tell Mrs. Curmudgeon, because that was our decision when we were married 21 years ago.

The Levin Brothers

For 32 years, Carl and Sander Levin have been a team on Capitol Hill. For much of those three decades, they have been a power team. Carl Levin chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee; His older brother chaired the House Ways and Means Committee until Republicans gerrymandered their way into power, and remained as the ranking minority member on what is generally considered the second most-powerful committee in the House (behind Budget).
They hold the record for the longest service of brothers in the Congress.
The retirement next month of Carl Levin is breaking up the team. Now 83, Sandy's retirement isn't too far down the road, either.
For The Curmudgeon, it is a poignant transition. He flew Carl Levin around Michigan in a four-passenger plane during Levin's first campaign (in 1978) for the U.S. Senate, and he has been friends with Carl's older brother dating back to Sandy's days as state Senate Democratic Leader and two-time Democratic candidate for Governor (losing both times, narrowly, to William Milliken).
The two men define the nobility of public service.
Jay Grossman has a fitting tribute to the two of them in today's Detroit Free Press. Give it a read.

Questions About the Michael Brown Shooting

A prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. There was no indictment in the Michael Brown shooting because the prosecutor didn't want one, even going to the extreme of acting as officer Darren Wilson's de facto defense attorney during the grand jury proceedings. 
He has Wilson on the stand, and threw softballs at him. No challenging inconsistencies, no challenging judgement calls by the officer. It was non-feasance bordering on incompetence.
The failure of the St. Louis County prosecutor to treat Officer Wilson like a suspect left open some basic questions, questions which George Stephanopolous also avoided in his equally softball interview on Good Morning America.
The initial confrontation between the two was because Brown was jaywalking. Officer Wilson said that led to Brown coming to his patrol vehicle, reaching inside, and attempting to take Wilson's gun out of his hands. Wilson said Brown then walked away from his patrol car, then turned around and charged him.
Question: Officer Wilson, why did you have your weapon drawn for a jaywalking stop?
Question: Officer Wilson, have you ever drawn your weapon before, and under what circumstances? 
Question: Officer Wilson, if you feared for your safety, why didn't you simply put your car in gear, step on the gas, and disengage from Brown?
Question: Officer Wilson, you said Brown initially turned away from you, and then charged you "like a football player". Why didn't you take action to avoid further physical confrontation and instead shoot him?
Question: Officer Wilson, were you trained to immediately use deadly force in confrontations with jaywalkers, or did your training include instructions in how to defuse confrontations? Did your training in hand-to-hand combat include immediately firing your weapon five times?
These are questions which should have been asked, and would have been asked by a competent prosecutor.
Just as in the O.J. case, they probably will only be asked as part of the civil proceedings when Michael Brown's family sues Officer Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department. And they may never be answered since Wilson can, and probably will, refuse to testify in the civil case as is his right under the 5th amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday Before Retail-Palooza Weekend

Tis the season for giving thanks for our blessings, so today's roundup of interesting items from the internet begins with the giving of thanks to some special people.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Obama presented the nation's highest civilian award to 18 people yesterday. Of that amazing group, three are Michiganders. Here's what the President had to say about them, from the official White House transcript of the presentation ceremonies:

Stevlund Judkins a.k.a. Stevie Wonder (born in Saginaw)

Don't get Michelle talking about Stevie Wonder now. (Laughter.) Early copies of Stevie Wonder’s classic album Talking Book had a simple message, written in Braille: “Here is my music. It is all I have to tell you how I feel. Know that your love keeps my love strong.” This is, by the way, the first album I ever bought with my own money. I was 10 years old, maybe 11, with my own cash. I didn't have a lot of it. And I listened to that -- that thing got so worn out, had all scratches. Young people, you won’t remember this, but you’d have albums. (Laughter.) And they’d get scratched. 
For more than 50 years, Stevie has channeled his “Innervisions” into messages of hope and healing, in becoming one of the most influential musicians in American history.
A musical prodigy with an electrifying voice, Stevie’s blend of R&B, and jazz, and funk, and blues, and soul, and whatever else you've got, speaks of love and loss, justice and equality, war and peace. But what really defines Stevie’s music is the warmth and humanity that resonate in every note. Some of his songs helped us to fall in love. Others mended our hearts. Some motivated us on the campaign trail. (Laughter.) And thanks to Stevie, all of us have been moved to higher ground.

Marlo Thomas (born in Dearborn)

To some, Marlo Thomas will always be “That Girl,” who followed her dreams to New York City and kind of was running around Manhattan, having fun, on her own terms. To others, she’s the creative mind behind “Free to Be … You and Me,” whose songs taught a generation of kids that they were strong and beautiful, just the way they were.
 As a founder of the “Ms. Foundation,” Marlo helped turn women’s hopes and aspirations into concrete social and economic progress. And she’s helped build the hospital her father founded, St. Jude’s, into one of the premier pediatric hospitals in the world. She recalls her dad saying, “There are two types of people in the world: the givers and the takers. The takers sometimes eat better, but the givers always sleep better.” I love that saying. Marlo Thomas sleeps very well because she’s given so much.

John Dingell (born in Colorado, represented Michigan in Congress for 59 years)

When John Dingell’s father, a New Deal Democrat, passed away in 1955, John stepped up. And over the course of six decades -– a congressional career longer than any in history -– John built a peerless record of his own. He gaveled in the vote for Medicare, helped lead the fight for the Civil Rights Act. For more than half a century, in every single Congress, John introduced a bill for comprehensive health care. That is, until he didn’t have to do it anymore. (Laughter and applause.)
 I could not have been prouder to have John by my side when I signed the Affordable Care Act into law. John will retire at the end of this session, but at 88, he’s still going strong. And his life reminds us that change takes time; it takes courage and persistence. But if we push hard enough and long enough, change is possible.




The Blue Wall ... of Doom ... for the National GOP

Michigan Republicans, along with their counterparts in several other states, want to change the Electoral College so the losing presidential candidate (presumably a Republican) would still get some of the states' electoral votes. The motivation, according to a Republican columnist in the Houston Chronicle, is that without a change it is becoming virtually impossible for a Republican to be elected President.
Columnist Chris Ladd posits that any mainstream Democrat goes into the campaign with a virtual lock on 253 of the 270 electoral votes needed to become President. The map tells the story:
"Republicans," Ladd writes, "are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level across the most heavily populated sections of the country while intensifying their hold on a declining electoral bloc of aging, white, rural voters. The 2014 election not only continued that doomed pattern, it doubled down on it."
The "Blue Wall" of Democratic dominance does not include Virginia, a state that has moved further towards Democrats in the last several elections. Throw in that state's 13 electoral votes and you have 270 in the Blue column, meaning Democratic victory for the White House.
"This means that the next Presidential election, and all subsequent ones until a future party realignment, will be decided in the Democratic primary. Only by sweeping all nine of the states that remain in contention AND also flipping one impossibly Democratic state can a Republican candidate win the White House. What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with 2016 GOP primary voters can accomplish that feat? You do the math."

Voodoo Economics for Roads

House Speaker Jase Bolger is floating a plan to raise $1-billion for roads without raising taxes. His solution: convert the 6% sales tax on fuel into a fuel tax, and count on economic growth to make up the difference. In other words, continue to underfund things like K-12 and higher education and say we've solved the problem.
"You'd have a billion dollars more for roads and you'd have a billion dollars more for schools and you wouldn't raise taxes," Bolger told The Detroit News, thanks to projected growth in sales tax receipts.
It's thinking like this, during the Engler administration, that put Michigan in a deep hole. Engler passed politically popular tax cuts during his administration to shore up GOP strength at the polls (the tax cuts didn't become effective until he left office), then headed to Washington D.C. while the Granholm administration had to deal with both declining state tax collections AND the implosion of the domestic auto industry.
Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) sums up the problem concisely: "I can't imagine there's many people who think that just funding schools based on faith-based economics is a good idea. Any proposal that doesn't actually raise new revenue is not a serious proposal for road funding."
Mike Thompson - Detroit Free Press

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Michigan PoliLinks

It's going to be a short week for many of us, The Curmudgeon included. Today's highlights: figuring out which discounted turkey will grace the House of Curmudgeon on Thursday. Decisions, decisions, decisions...

America's Priorities Match Obama's Priorities

The news media focus on national polls is like teenage gossip: do they like me? The Presidential approval rating, hovering just below 50%, is the national fascination. It's a lot like the lyrics to Colbie Caillat's song Try:
Wait a second.
Why should you care, what they think of you?
When you're all alone, by yourself, do you like you?
You don't have to try so hard, you don't have to give it all away.
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up, you don't have to change a single thing.
That's the message of the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: you don't have to change a single thing. It shows the President's approval ratings continue to be slightly under water, 44-50%. But it also gives Obama one of the highest approval ratings of any political leader tested in the poll. Other approval/disapproval ratings:
  • Republican Party 31-43%
  • Democratic Party 38-41%
  • Jeb Bush 26-33% (the balance "neutral" or "not sure/don't know this person")
  • Scott Walter 15-14%
  • Ted Cruz 16-26%
  • Marco Rubio 21-19%
  • John Boehner 16-41%
  • Harry Reid 16-31%
  • Elizabeth Warren 23-17%
  • Rick Perry 20-29%
  • Joe Biden 35-38%
  • Rand Paul 26-23%
  • Chris Christie 29-29%
  • Nancy Pelosi 21-47%
  • Mitch McConnell 18-27%
  • Hillary Clinton 43-40%
  • Ben Carson 17-7%
On issues, the majority of Americans support the Obama agenda  (just as long as you don't give issues the label "Obama"). By a 52-46% margin, people think government should do more (and not less) to deal with national issues. The most important issues, according to the poll:
  • Reducing costs of student loans - 82%
  • Increasing spending on infrastructure - 75%
  • Raising the minimum wage - 65%
  • Approving emergency funding for Ebola in west Africa - 61%
  • Addressing climate change through limits on carbon emissions - 59%
  • Approving the Keystone pipeline - 54%
  • Eliminating most tax deductions in return for lower tax rates - 49%
  • Approving use of U.S. troops to fight Isis - 49%
  • Reducing Medicare/Social Security for the wealthy - 44%
  • New trade agreements with Asian nations - 44%
  • Lowering the corporate tax rate by eliminating business tax deductions - 43%
  • Cutting funding for the Health Care law to prevent implementation - 41%
  • Creating a legal status for some immigrants - 39%
  • Raising the Social Security eligibility age - 34%
So what we have here is a failure to communicate: the people's priorities match, for the most part, the President's priorities and are at odds with the priorities of Congressional Republicans. So, logically, the American people put Republicans in charge of Congress.

Looting Detroit

I told you once before that there were two times for making big money: one in the up-building of a country and the other in its destruction. Slow money on the up-building, fast money in the crack-up.
          —  Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind

While retirees were seeing cuts to their pensions, and people were having their water shut off because they were unable to pay their bills, lawyers were racking up millions in fees for "services rendered" on behalf of the bankrupt city. WXYZ-TV in Detroit has done an outstanding job nailing down some of the most egregious legalized thefts in the $200-million legal bonanza. Much of the abuse involves Governor Rick Snyder's hand-picked law firm, Jones Day (that was the firm where Snyder found his first Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr).
Limousines, outrageous hourly fees for walking to court, $20 to receive emails (and more to actually read them), monitoring news media, long-distance limo rides ... the list goes on and on.
The full reports begin here

Nolan Finley: I'm Such an Idiot

Nolan Finley knows he was a fool for allowing himself to be interviewed for The Daily Show. Did he really think that he could outwit people who win Emmys for their wit? Apparently the Finley ego is big enough to think that was possible. On Sunday he tried to recover from the resulting embarrassment by charging that TDS edited the interview to make his look bad, and ... gasp ... the segment wasn't that funny.
In case you missed it, here's the segment reporting on Detroit's two-tiered approach to collecting water bills: shutting off water for poor people, and ignoring past-due bills for sports arenas.

Friday, November 21, 2014

TGI Michigan PoliLinks

The Curmudgeon wraps up his week preparing the official launch of the holiday season in Lansing, Silver Bells in the City, highlighted by the lighting of the state's official Christmas tree. Silver Bells has traditionally also been the launch of the Michigan Crappy Weather season. Sadly that has come early. Pure Michigan is, along with the rest of the nation, seeing another wild weather swing that climatologists told us years ago would be a part of global climate change. Brrrrrr! But at least The Curmudgeon won't be shivering in the stands of Spartan Stadium or "The Big House" tomorrow...

More on Gerrymandering

An article on the Koch-funded Mackinac Center's blog claims gerrymandering isn't the reason for Republican dominance of the state Legislature. This flies in the face of the fact that Democrats won more votes, in total, for the state House yet actually lost seats (now with a 63-47 GOP majority), and Republicans won 50.7% of the vote for state Senate, and turned that into a 27-11 (71%) majority of members.
It's because of Wayne County, say the election-rigging defenders. The Wayne County vote distorts everything, so really the system is fair.
So The Curmudgeon decided to test this theory. He recalculated Michigan's legislative voting, but eliminated all Wayne County districts from the vote. And he found that gerrymandering was very much at play: Republicans jammed Democrats into as few districts as possible in order to win as many GOP seats as possible:

STATE HOUSE EXCLUDING WAYNE COUNTY
                                 Votes         Seats Won     Avg. Victory Margin
Democrats     47.6%   30(33%)   8,845
Republicans   52.3%   60(67%)   6,416

STATE SENATE EXCLUDING WAYNE COUNTY
                                 Votes         Seats Won     Avg. Victory Margin
Democrats     45.4%    5(16%)   34,254
Republicans   54.5%   26(84%)   14,478

Immigration Reform

What if a tree falls in the woods, but there's nobody there to hear it. Does it make a sound?
What if a President makes a major policy announcement, and the broadcast networks ignore it. Does it still count?
Shame on ABC, NBC, CBS and (of course) Fox for not carrying the President Obama's speech. There is going to be a major debate on the President's actions, perhaps even resulting in efforts to shut down the federal government and/or impeach the President. It would be nice to begin the debate with an informed electorate. But apparently Grey's Anatomy and The Big Bang Theory are more in the public interest than a major domestic policy speech by the leader of the Free World.

In case you missed the speech, you can watch it in its entirety here.



Public Pensions, Private Profit

The Washington Post offers a surprising and sad analysis of public pension fund investments, noting that the money invested to protect the retirement of public employees is helping finance the loss of their jobs.
Getting shafted by the pension that is
supposed to protect him
An example: the pension fund of Chelmsford, Massachusetts schools invests in a private firm called Aramark. (You may have heard of Aramark. It's the company that has brought maggots, illicit drugs, sex-with-prisoners and murder-for-hire into Michigan's prisons through its eclectic food services.)
Aramark contracted with the school district to replace the district's custodians ($25/hour) with Aramark employees ($12.50/hour). The result: Aramark profits, reduced costs for the school district, and a lot of janitors taking it in the ass.
This pattern is surprisingly pervasive: The retirement funds of firefighters, teachers, prison guards and others are invested in private firefighting companies, private public-school-service companies and private prisons. These companies may offer the promise of high investment returns, but they may achieve those returns at the expense of the public employees themselves.

The Obama Recovery Moving into High Gear

For the last five years, the U.S. economy has been recovering from The Great Recession of 2008. We have had 55 consecutive months of private-sector job growth (the longest streak in history), unemployment is below pre-recession rates, the stock market is at record levels and (most importantly for Michigan) automobile sales have rebounded to pre-recession levels.
The University of Michigan's economic research folks say things are poised to get much better. In a report issued yesterday, the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics (RSQE) project GDP increasing from a rate of around 2.7% in 2014 to 3.1% next year, the first annual reading above 3% since 2005. RSQE projects a gain of more than 5.5-million jobs in the next two years, with light vehicle sales growing from 16-million this year to 16.3-million in 2015.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thursday Michigan PoliLinks

The Curmudgeon has begun shopping for his Thanksgiving turkey. Not the kind that haunts the Capital, but the kind that actually tastes good...


Another GOP Talking Point Dies

Among the many doom-and-gloom predictions of Republicans during and after the healthcare debate was the claim employers would dump healthcare benefits, choosing to instead pay the lower-cost penalties, and letting the healthcare exchanges pick up the tab.
Wrong. Again. Just like "death panels," "skyrocketing premiums," "growing deficits" and all the other throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks baloney.
Today's headline in the Washington Post: Few Employers Dropping Health Benefits, Surveys Find.

The GOP Faces of Diversity

These are the folks who will chair committees in the Republican-run U.S. House of Representatives beginning in January. The lone woman is Candice Miller, who gets to run the House Operations Committee. That's the committee in charge of running the actual facilities of the U.S. House. It's sort of like the job Mr. Carson holds at Downton Abbey: the butler.
And, as at Downton Abbey, everyone is strikingly pale.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Emily Bittner describes the leadership team as lokiing "like an episode of Mad Men...".

Second Most-Expensive Governors Race Ever

Nearly $50-million was spent promoting Rick Snyder and Mark Schauer for governor of Michigan, with the vast majority of that money ($36.6 million) coming from third-party individuals and groups.
Rich Robinson, head of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, scoured television station records to calculate that $47.6 million was spent on TV ads making the campaign second only to the Granholm-DeVos race (2006) in spending. Amway Billionaire Dick DeVos poured more than $30-million into his failed effort to unseat Granholm.
The total spending gave Snyder an edge of about $6.6 million in ads. Nearly all of the outside spending for the Schauer campaign came from the Democratic Governors Association which funded $15.4 million of Schauer's $17.7 million in outside expenditures. Snyder's outside backers included the Republican Governors Association ($10.4 million), the Michigan Republican Party ($5.7 million) and billionaire Michael Bloomberg's PAC ($2.7 million).
None of the individual contributors to the outside spenders is reported. The outside groups are permitted to solicit/accept corporate contributions.

Getting Smarter on Prisons

Michigan is the only that which spends more money
 than on prisons than on higher education
A rare bipartisan effort could result in massive savings for the state budget. Republican Joe Haveman is leading the charge for changes to Michigan's draconian corrections policies which critics say leave too many people in prison for too long. Simply bringing Michigan's sentencing and parole standards into line with national averages could save in excess of $200-million a year.
The outside group pointing the way is the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending (CAPPS) which posits that reducing Michigan's prison populations, done in a way that does not increase risk to the public.
There's much more on the potential savings from corrections reform on this week's Michigan Policast, where we interview Barbara Levine, Associate Director of CAPPS.

Immigration: Executive Orders OK for St. Ronnie of Hollywood, Not So for the Half-Black Kenyan Socialist Muslim

Yes, The Curmudgeon is well aware that double standards are common amongst the good people of Congress. But it really gets tiresome to see the GOP continually screaming "unconstitutional" and
October 19, 1983: St. Ronnie explains HIS executive order
modifying immigration enforcement and allowing millions
of undocumented workers to stay in America.
"impeachment" when Barack Obama does something for which precedent was set by St. Ronnie, Daddy Bush or W.
They even get exorcised when Obama plays golf ... a game enjoyed by presidents going back to William Howard Taft. 
The latest GOP tantrum will be a manufactured outrage over an Executive Order modifying U.S. immigration enforcement priorities. No matter that every President since Eisenhower has issued EO's on immigration, including St. Ronnie and Bush-41 (just like every President ever has received multiple increases in the debt ceiling). 
When Obama does it, time for impeachment and "shredding the Constitution" and a deeper shade of orange as John Boehner says some crap about the will of the people (something he gleefully ignores  on issues like immigration reform, gun-purchase background checks and increasing the minimum wage).
Enough already. Grow up. For just a little while, try to get out of unending campaign mode and actually govern.

Michigan's Fading Congressional Influence

Michigan is quickly losing power in Congress. For the upcoming session, the only committee chaired by one our own is the House Administration Committee, the sole House committee chaired by a woman (Candice Miller). In the words of Rachel Maddow, that committee is basically the one in charge of the House cafeteria and restrooms. It gives Ms. Miller all the influence of Downton Abbey's butler, Mr. Carson.
Gone from Congress is much of Michigan's power:
  • Dave Camp (retired) chaired Ways and Means
  • John Dingell(retired) senior member of the House and wheeler-dealer nonpareil
  • Mike Rogers (retired) chaired Intelligence
  • Carl Levin (retired) chaired Armed Services
  • Debbie Stabenow, lost Agriculture Committee chair in GOP takeover
So who's left in a position of power?
  • Fred Upton chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee which makes him Michigan's most powerful member of Congress
  • Stabenow will likely be the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee
  • Sandy Levin continues as the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, one of the Big 3 House committees
  • John Conyers continues as the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee
That's a pretty weak foundation for Michigan's congressional delegation. And things will get worse. Levin (83) and Conyers (85) will be retiring sooner rather than later.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TGIW Michigan PoliLinks

The Curmudgeon is considering hibernation this winter. Or moving to Panama or the U.S. Virgin Islands or the oh-so-dangerous gun-toting Sunshine State. Pure Michigan winters ain't much fun when you don't ice fish or ski...



A Totally Predictable Result

Our ideology-driven Legislature thinks preventing people from doing something incredibly stupid is Big Brotherism at its worst. So the geniuses decided to accept the fraudulent claims of the we-hate-motorcycle-helmets crowd regarding safety, and repealed Michigan's mandatory helmet law. Mind you, we still have a mandatory seat-belt law ... that's required by federal law (damn socialists).
So now we have a little data, and Surprise Surprise: the helmet law repeal has led to more deaths and serious injuries.
File this finding under "Duh."
It isn't just a joke, folks. People dying terrible deaths on the roads isn't funny.
According to a study by the U.M. Transportation Research Institute, reduced helmet use translates into 24 more deaths and 71 more serious injuries a year in Michigan.
Remember, this is a country that got its panties into a bind over Ebola which still hasn't killed a single American citizen.
And it isn't theoretical. It is happening thanks to the "yes" votes of a majority of legislators. They have blood on their hands for those votes.
What is sad: legislators, according to the linked article in Bridge magazine, are not even really interested in reinstating the helmet requirement.
Sayeth committee chair Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba): "It's not coming out of committee. I don't see any support for it." Casperson claims ignorance of any studies showing that the law is resulting in deaths and serious injuries. He apparently hasn't looked very hard.
The response, by the way, from the lobby group that pushed through the mandatory helmet repealer, Jim Rhoades of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, has a classic response to the academic study:
"These people just make things up."
What a tool.

Michigan Election Rigging Draws National Attention

The GOP scheme to move some of Michigan's electoral votes into the Republican column while still losing the election is drawing a lot of deserved national attention.
The latest version of the scheme, fronted by lame duck Republican Pete Lund, awards 9 of Michigan's electoral votes to the winner between Republicans and Democrats. The winner would received one additional electoral vote for every 1.5% his/her margin exceeds 50%. The plan totally ignores votes cast for third-party candidates. (Ross Perot received 8.7% of the 1996 vote in Michigan; if "fairness" is the criteria, that should be worth 1 electoral vote.)
A blogger at Daily Kos who uses the handle Karoli calls the Michigan plan the test case for Republicans which, if successful, would be copied in other Obama-carried states that are run (thanks to gerrymandering) by Republicans. That list includes Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania (until the end of the year, when Democrats take over the Governor's office), Wisconsin and Michigan. (If this is a such a pro-democracy move, why aren't they doing it in Texas?)
Maddow Blog editor Steve Benen notes that Lund plan is being pushed by national Republicans and cites an article in the National Review which calls the power grab "pretty tempting" because it would make it "nearly impossible" for a Democrat to be elected president. 

Detroit's Water Crisis: Another National Black Eye

The Daily Show has taken a look at Detroit's efforts to cut off water to poor people in the city (while ignoring corporate deadbeats who don't pay their water bills). In the process, Jessica Williams makes Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley look pretty cynical, hypocritical and callous, although I'm not sure Finley knows it.

Thank You

Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both voted against the Keystone Pipeline.
The near-win for the multi-thousand-mile long pollution-disaster-in-waiting project was a testament to the busy savvy of the Koch brothers. While the pipeline with 1) not add to U.S. energy supplies, and 2) only create a handful of jobs, it would mean billions in profits for Davey and Chuck Koch. 
As for the supposed jobs benefits, the CEO of TransCanada conceded over the weekend that the project would only create 50 permanent jobs. (The temporary 4,000-to-9,000 projected construction jobs could more readily be created by much-needed public works projects like repairing roads, sewers and water systems nationwide.)

Will A Festivus Tree Highlight a Pure Michigan Holiday?

There are folks who want to put a pure Christian holiday display on the state Capital lawn: a nativity scene. While erecting a Walmart checkout lane might be a more appropriate symbol of the holiday season, The Curmudgeon understands the desires of Christians to pretend Christmas is still a religious holiday, and to celebrate it on public land owned by Christians and non-Christians alike. The request is under review by some commission in charge of what gets put on the Capital lawn. Appropriately its members include onetime Engler spinmeister John Truscott who knows an opportunity for an old-fashioned political mud fight when he sees one.
But!
Frank Constanza introduces Jerry Seinfeld to the
Festivus Pole. Could it be coming to Michigan?
The creche would open the door to other "holiday" displays, both serious and whimsical. The precedent would be set for a display for Ramadan, Yom Kippur or a Shinto Matsuri (Google it!). But it would be open to more festive and even irreverent displays, as Jonathan Oosting gleefully notes in his mLive story.
I personally would love to invite Jerry Stiller to Pure Michigan to light the Festivus tree. Or maybe some celebrity chef could join us for the dedication of a display from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster display.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Michigan PoliLinks

The Curmudgeon is thinking it's probably too late to rake the leaves from the lawn, currently buried under several inches of white precipitant that's not supposed to be here for another month or more. But inclement weather doesn't stop our hardy politicians from doing their thing (which, for the hard-working Legislature, means going deer hunting).


Condemning Electoral College Vote Rigging Scheme

The Republican drive to make Michigan irrelevant in presidential politics moved forward Monday, Despite overwhelming negative testimony from witnesses, the Republican-dominated House Elections Committee appears poised to move the bill for a floor vote. Bill sponsor Rep. Pete Lund said he wasn't surprised by the negative outcry, but he could care less: he's not changing his bill.
Lund claims presidential campaigns ignore Michigan because it is reliably Democratic. The reality is something quite different: Michigan received 17 visits from presidential campaigns and ranked 10th in campaign spending.
The bill does for Republican presidential candidates something they haven't been able to accomplish since 1988: win some electoral votes in Michigan. It awards a portion of Michigan's votes for President to the general election loser if the second-place candidate gets as little as 41% of the state's vote.
On Monday dozens of citizens, watchdog groups and members of the Michigan Election Coalition presented testimony at an Elections and Ethics Committee hearing in opposition to House Bill 5974, sponsored by Rep. Pete Lund, which would effectively rig presidential elections in Michigan.
Sharon Dolente, director of the Michigan Election Coalition: “This bill is an effort by politicians to change the rules to benefit themselves at the expense of the people. It is the role of the citizens of this state, and not legislators, to determine who governs our state and our country.”
Philip T. Shepard, Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University: “Real democracy requires that the will of the people, a majority of the people, can effect desired changes in government. When the will of the people is systematically blocked, say by an oligarchy masquerading as something else, the people’s will will find other ways to express itself.
Attorney Patrick Levine Rose: “This bill will not increase democracy. It does the opposite. It magnifies the Electoral College’s most basic flaw – namely, it increases the chance a President will be elected without having won the national popular vote.”
Scott Foval of People for the American Way: “I implore you to reject this type of electoral rigging. Rather, I would humbly suggest that if candidates wish to win the presidency that they – and I am referring to all candidates not just one party – begin to represent all of the people, promoting ideas and policies that bring about full equality and fairness, re-enfranchisement of every voter, and reject extremist ideas such as this legislation.”
Walt Sorg of the Michigan Election Reform Alliance: “As a unilateral action, this bill only serves to reduce Michigan’s national influence and reduce the impact of Michigan’s voters on national policy. We urge its defeat.”


Republicans Love Uber, But A Divorce is Pending

The growth of peer-to-peer commerce through such internet ventures as Uber, Lyft, AirBNB et. al. is a good fit for the GOP mantra of entrepreneurism and removing the shackles of government regulation. All of the companies were created in conflict with traditional regulatory/business models: Uber and Lyft challenge traditional taxi and limousine services; AirBNB allows individuals to compete with motels and hotels.
But Uber's CEO has laid down a meme that will drive the GOP nuts: the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is important to their business model. From Buzzfeed:
The CEO of Uber said Friday that Obamacare has played a crucial role for his army of drivers, an unusual, partial endorsement of the president’s signature policy from a man often cast as a hero of anti-government libertarianism.
BuzzFeed News reported in October that the new, subsidized market for health care has been a boon to companies like Uber, which are essentially digital middlemen relying on armies of independent contractors. Figures ranging from Uber drivers to Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber called the health care overhaul crucial in the emergence of the sharing economy, but Uber had remained officially silent on the subject until Friday.

Any company that says Obamacare is good for business is, well, probably personna non grata with the GOP faithful. To be continued...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Michigan PoliLinks

While The Curmudgeon patriotically roots for all the Michigan professional teams, he was delighted to see Drew Stanton shine in Arizona's defeat of the Lions. Stanton was a standout at Michigan State and one of the truly good guys in athletics. One of his first moves after graduating from MSU was to set up a charitable foundation. And he continues to provide both financial support and his time to charities in Michigan as well as in Phoenix.


Election Rigging Hearing

Republicans, frustrated that they can't win elections by getting more votes than Democrats, are holding a hearing today on their latest effort to win-even-while-losing: rigging the Electoral College. 47 states have a winner-take-all system for awarding their electoral votes which select the President. A swing state with 16 Electoral votes, Michigan is an important player in the game of presidential politics.
Michigan's election-rigging scheme is part of a national GOP plan to steal votes away from the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee (via Think Progress)
But Democrats have been winning the game in Michigan for the last two decades (all the way back to George H.W. Bush), so Republicans have decided "if you can't beat them, steal from them."
Lame duck right-wing zealot Pete Lund, who apparently isn't a big fan of democracy, wants Michigan to give one-third or more of its electoral votes to the candidate that loses the election. Under the Lund bill, the winning candidate would need 60% of the vote to get all of Michigan's 16 electoral votes. Anything less and the votes would be split.
It would be like giving an athletic team a partial victory for simply trying hard.
Today the House Elections Committee will hold a hearing on the proposal which will be packed by opponents of rigging elections.
But just because the public clamor is against the bill, that doesn't mean Republicans won't go for it anyway. Think Emergency Fiscal Manager, wolf hunting, rape insurance, right-to-work, minimum wage. Legislators know what is best for us.

Even More Election Rigging

The Detroit Free Press reports that Republicans want to move the election of the Oakland County Executive from presidential election years to the mid-terms. That, of course, helps Republicans since Democratic turnout historically always drops in mid-terms.

Doing Something Sane (for a change)

At least some Republicans in the Legislature are doing something that actually makes sense for the state. Two examples:
Corrections Reform
Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland) is sponsoring a legislative package to reduce costs in Michigan's prison system by ending the cycle of locking people up and then throwing away the key. Michigan keeps too many people in prison for too long, Haveman says, and it is wasting tens-of-millions of dollars every year (perhaps as much as $250-million).
He has a package which would, among other things, require that prisoners be released after serving their minimum sentence unless there is a specific reason to keep them longer. The average prisoner serves 127% of their minimum now. That's expensive, and there is no indication the policy is making us safer.
Haveman's package also 
  • revises the Community Corrections Act to include alternatives to prison
  • modifies the impact of probation violations based on the severity of the violations
  • creates a Criminal Justice Policy Commission to review Michigan's harshest-in-America sentencing guidelines
The package is strongly supported by the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, a group that focuses on the huge (unnecessary) costs of the prison system. Barbara Levin, associate director for policy of the group, will be our guest later this week on the Michigan PoliCast.

New Technologies
Local transportation is changing, city by city, with the smartphone-based systems of Uber and Lyft. The companies use technology to quickly match up people needing a ride with people available to provide a ride. While the new system functionally is similar to traditional taxicab service, there are significant operational differences:
Uber/Lyft drivers do not pick up "street hails" - people trying to flag down a ride - but only clients who have pre-registered with the companies
All transactions are handled by credit card, with charges calculated using GPS and smartphones. No cash on board virtually eliminates the possibility of a robbery
All trips are tracked, via GPS, in real time, adding to the safety of passengers since any criminal behavior can be quickly and accurately traced back to a specific driver
The services are widely popular among customers, and especially among college students in Ann Arbor and East Lansing. Female students are especially appreciative of transportation that they feel is much safer and secure than alternatives. (The Curmudgeon occasionally drives for Uber.)
Rep. Tim Kelly
Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Township) is pushing legislation to update Michigan law to recognize the new technology-based companies, creating a regulatory structure more attuned to the changes in technology. The bills differentiate between traditional limousine, taxicab and bus services and the Uber/Lyft models. The measures require adequate insurance coverages for both passengers and drivers, and standardize regulations across the state. House Technology chair Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) has joined with Kelly in putting the bills on a track aimed at passage in December.

If People Only Knew

Detroit Free Press writer Paul Egan has a story telling how many people would prefer raising the Michigan sales tax to pay for road fixes rather than increasing the gas tax or vehicle registrations. It's a classic example of people shooting themselves in their fiscal foot.
The sales tax is the most regressive form of taxation we have. The less money you make, the larger part of your income goes to sales tax. Conversely, if you are very wealthy, the sales tax has relatively little impact on you.
We wrote about it in October but apparently one article in this blog isn't enough to change public perception!
Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
A sales tax increase to fund roads is also a big winner for businesses. Virtually all business-to-business transactions are either sales-tax-exempt, or deductible as a business expense. So a sales tax approach gives businesses the benefits of better roads while having most of the costs paid by individuals.
A better solution: general taxation. Transportation systems are a general benefit, not just to people who use roads but to all of us. Even if we are agoraphobics, the roads are used to bring products and services to our homes. The most equitable sources of funding would be income taxes on individuals AND businesses earmarked for transportation.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday PoliLinks

Snow on the ground has The Curmudgeon looking forward to the annual visit to the in-laws in sunny south Florida, although he won't be wearing his hoodie in the land of early-bird dinners. Apparently that can be a capital offense...

Another Faux News Bubble Gets Burst

Readers of this blog probably already recognize that much of Fox News "reporting" is thinly disguised political propaganda that often diverges from reality and/or truth. Add to the list of faux scandals the puffery over government investments in alternative energy. "A colossal waste of taxpayer dollars" is among the nicer things said by the Fox bloviators.
Well, it turns out they were, uh, wrong.
The alternative energy investment program is actually turning a profit.
When venture capitalists, guys like Mitt Romney, invest money in companies they know that not all the investments pay off. Some lose money. Their goal is to end up with a positive bottom line. It's called "risk/reward".
That is exactly how the government's alternative energy program has worked. According to a report on NPR...
Overall, the agency has loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology. Companies have defaulted on $780 million of that -- a loss rate of 2.28 percent. The agency also has collected $810 million in interest payments, putting the program $30 million in the black.
When Congress created the loan program under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it was never designed to be a moneymaker. In fact, Congress imagined there would be losses and set aside $10 billion to cover them.

Senate Votes to Double Gas Tax

Now that they've been safely re-elected, Republicans in the state Senate have found the courage to do something about Michigan's worst-in-the-nation roads. 
Lame duck Majority Leader Randy Richardville has pushed through legislation which would change the gas tax to a charge against wholesale prices, beginning at 9% in 2015 and ratcheting up to 15.5% by the beginning of 2018. The Senate Fiscal Agency projects the tax hike would amount to between $781-million and $1.5-billion when fully implemented, depending on gas prices.
In exchange for Democratic votes needed to pass the bill, Republicans apparently agreed not to vote on legislation changing Michigan's electoral college or repeal the state's prevailing wage law. While not explicitly confirmed by Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer, she hinted that an agreement had been made to avoid issues that are "too overtly partisan" which is code for electoral college and prevailing wage changes.
In the final vote, 10 Democrats joined with 13 Republicans to pass the bill. The Senate then adjourned (after a one-day session) for deer-hunting season and Thanksgiving, and will return in December. (Must be nice to work for one entire day between September and December...)

Push for Paid Sick Leave Launched

A coalition of progressive groups is urging the Legislature to look at paid sick-day legislation as a matter of both good social policy, and because it is good business.
“This past election showed that the public supports paid sick days and family leave laws,” said Danielle Atkinson, director of Mothering Justice, noting that places like Massachusetts, Oakland, Calif., and two cities in New Jersey passed paid sick day legislation in the November 4th election. 
In a recent poll, 57 percent of respondents, including 79 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans, said it was “very important” for lawmakers to consider new laws to help keep working families economically secure, including ensuring workers the right to earn paid sick days.
This type of legislation is nothing new. In fact, many employers already have this type of policy in place,” Atkinson continued. “But for those who don’t have paid sick days, this type of law can be life-changing: it can make a world of difference for working women, single parents, and workers across the spectrum.”
More than 1.5 million Michigan workers — about 46 percent of the state’s private sector workforce — are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill.
“At some point in our lives, nearly all of us need to take time off of work to recover from an illness or a medical condition, get medical treatment, or care for a sick loved one or a new child,” said Marissa Luna, a new media specialist with Engage Michigan. “Many people cannot afford to lose a day’s worth of pay to take care of themselves or their loved ones when situations like those arise. Having guaranteed paid sick days would ensure that everyone has a fair shot at getting ahead and that no one would get left behind because of an unexpected problem at home.”
The press conference served as a launching point for the groups to begin organizing around the issue for the next two years. They believe that the beginning of a new legislative session requires a renewed push for priorities that benefit all Michiganders, including paid sick day legislation. 

Democrats (Finally) Focus on Winning the States

Democrats are finally figuring out what Republicans have known for a long time: the real control of the American policy agenda is at the state level. Republicans now control 68 of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers, and hold 31 governorships. There are 23 one-party states controlled by the GOP (including, of course, Michigan); Democrats only fully control seven.
A conservative Washington D.C. outlet, the Washington Freedom Free Beacon, has uncovered a plan among big-money Democrats to finally focus on winning back control of states in time for the 2021 nationwide redistricting, because it is redistricting that has made the U.S. House the semi-permanent property of Republicans.
The plan, according to the Free Beacon, will funnel $100-million into state legislative races. This is something Republicans and their billionaire funders have been doing for awhile. In this cycle, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity spent hundreds-of-thousands in targeted state House districts. Their biggest win was knocking out Democrat Teresa Abed, the only Democratic incumbent to lose. She was the target of an estimated $200,000 in direct mail advertising from AFP. She lost by 310 votes out of 35,000 votes cast.

Another Farewell to Democracy

Governor Snyder's Emergency Manager for Flint has decided that he don't need no stinkin' elections. He's just going to appoint replacements for two city council members who resigned. 'Nuff said. Thank you Benevolent Lord Snyder for your superior judgement.
Darnell Earley, Lord High Commissioner and Ultimate Ruler of Flint

Sometimes the Public is Just Ignorant

That conclusion comes from a Rasmussen survey which shows 61% of Americans OPPOSE internet neutrality legislation because they like their internet service the way it is. The problem: net neutrality, which would regulate the internet as a public utility, is designed to maintain internet service the way it is with no money-driven winners and losers.
Source: Huffington Post
Without net neutrality, the internet providers would auction off the fastest transmission speeds to the highest bidders. The little guys would be left in the dust. Maybe it wouldn't be a return to dial-up modem days, but the likelihood of a throttle on many websites becomes a reality.
So, in reality, net neutrality is needed to keep what Americans say they want: a free and open internet, 
In a December, 2010 Rasmussen poll 56% said FCC regulation of the internet would be used to promote a political agenda and lead to censorship. That's like saying the FCC is going to censor telephone calls, or use your phone service to promote Kenyan-Muslim socialism. It may be paranoia, but Comcast/ATT et. al. are making the sale.

Speaking of Ignorant...

There's an interesting post this morning on the Crooks and Liars site. It seems Ted Cruz, that intellectual giant from Texas, opposes Net Neutrality because it's the internet version of Obamacare. I don't need to attack his moronic arguments because, apparently, conservatives are attacking his moronic arguments in a pretty convincing manner. Comments culled from Cruz' Facebook page:

Ed P As a Republican who works in the tech industry I can say that this statement shows you either have no idea what you are talking about or you are bought and paid for by the American Cable monopoly. This is amazingly an stupid statement and is disheartening.

Keith F Ted, I am as conservative as they come…. I want government out of just about everything… and I hate to say it, really hate to say it, but Obama is right on this one. I do not want my access and internet speed controlled by my ISP. It will be. The internet has been an open forum with little to no restrictions, that will change and not for the better. Bottom line, do not go against freedom of the net just because Obama is for it. Even an old blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile.

Joey C As a Republican whom also works in IT like Ed… You have no clue what you are talking about or you are company bought and paid for.

A Jinnie M Goddammit, stop making my party look like morons and look up net neutrality. It doesn’t mean what you and your speechwriters think it means.

Marvin E Ted Cruz, as a tech and fiscal conservative in Texas who generally votes Republican, I am incredibly disappointed by your completely inaccurate statement. Please read up on what Net Neutrality actually is and fire any staff you have who are advising you on technical matters.

Sam A Senator Cruz, you are wrong on this one. As a conservative voter and IT professional, I can assure you that Net Neutrality is a GOOD THING. Internet providers (who are also content owners) can’t be trusted (as has already been proven) to allow consumers equal access to content from their competitors. This is why the government needs to ensure Net Neutrality as it protects the consumer from the bias of their Internet provider. This is especially true since we don’t have real competition in this space.

Adam H Go find whatever rock you crawled out from under Ted and stay under it! Proud republican here, but not so proud to be blind like the good senator. Look how “great” our free market Internet is!!! I pay $100 a month for 15mbs / 100gb p/m capped Internet. Yep, those “free” markets really make it better lmao

David V Texas employer here… This is really the wrong issue for you. Drop this quickly and move on to something else before it’s too late. You’re starting to look like a Tea Party whacko growling for his corporate masters. Move on before you embarrass the Republicans out of the next presidency. Net neutrality is about ensuring a free market. America loves a free market. But hey, be against free markets and America. It’s cool. I’m sure no one will think of you when their Netflix slows down who wouldn’t have before.

Jimmy L Wow. I am embarassed that I supported you Ted. Face palm. I think it’s time that I “unlike” your FB page.

Eric E Kim Well I guess I’m now a democrat. Thanks for making it easy for me Ted. Don’t fck with my internet.

Paul J This clearly indicates that Ted is fighting mental health and, in his mind, he is winning. How far removed from commons sense can a person be? Yet another Republican soiling the waters and creating more confusion. Net neutrality is to everyone’s advantage! No CORPORATION can buy up and control the internet. THAT is what Cruz does not like.

America's Ebola Crisis

Remember before the election when every cable channel spent half their time tracking Ebola cases, possible Ebola cases and could-it-become Ebola cases? When the nightly network newscasts led with 8-to-10 minutes on Ebola? When Republicans (and a few Democrats) mounted their high horses to scream that the Obama administration was blowing it and putting America at risk for a modern-day version of the Black Plague?
(Yes, a brave doctor who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone will arrive in the United States tomorrow for treatment. But you can bet the coverage will be much more muted, much more in proportion to the actual news value of the story.)
Yah, that was two weeks ago. Before the election.
Election over. Obama's image damaged a little more as someone who really isn't protecting America.
And nobody in this country – NOBODY – has Ebola. No American – NONE – has died from an Ebola infection.
But the Ebola "crisis" did its job, helping drive the President's approval numbers a little lower just in time for the mid-term election.
Pathetic. Driving American opinion is like herding sheep. All you have to do is bark a lot.