Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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

Main Street vs. Tea Party

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

State vs. Local Control, Chapter 17

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

For Once, Michael Moore Isn't the Controversial One

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

Coercing an Abortion

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

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