Nel's New Day

December 31, 2018

Shutdown, Cracks in Democracy on Last Day of 2018

Filed under: Elections — trp2011 @ 5:05 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Day Ten of Government Shutdown: Not satisfied with taking paychecks from 800,000 federal workers, almost half of them required to keep working, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has signed an executive order to freeze pay for about two million public employees in the coming year. He canceled a scheduled 2.1 percent pay raise that would almost keep wages up with rising inflation. After signing $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy and big business, DDT decided that he didn’t want a deficit. Many “furloughed” workers—including janitors, security guards, and cafeteria workers in federal buildings won’t be paid after they were told not to come to work because companies can’t bill the government for services that shut down. Congress could override DDT’s order with a two-thirds veto-proof vote in both chambers.

DDT’s threat to close down the southern border if he doesn’t get his wall soon could cost the U.S. commerce a billion dollars every day, a spike in car prices, and problems with factories. Another casualty would be foods that come to the U.S. from Mexico while the weather keeps agricultural production in the United States. Arizona, Michigan, Texas, and Utah—all DDT states—each sent over one-fourth of their exports to Mexico las year. Workers in both Mexico and U.S. comprise a majority of the almost one-million legal border crossings each day. A six-hour closure between San Diego and Tijuana last Thanksgiving cost the local economy $5.3 billion.

The longest government shutdown in history began in 1995 when House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) led the Republicans to cut Medicare. President Bill Clinton refused. After 21 days, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KA) led his GOP members to pass the appropriations bills without Gingrich’s cuts to Medicare, and the House voted the same way. Todd Purdum writes that Gingrich later admitted that part of the reason he closed the government in November 1995 before the December 16 shutdown was that Clinton had pub in a rear cabin on Air Force One while returning from Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in Jerusalem and made him exit by the rear stairs. Gingrich knew that Clinton wouldn’t sign a bill that increased Medicare premiums and cut environmental regulations. “It’s petty,” Gingrich said, “but I think it’s human.” Clinton’s stance on both shutdowns helped him win the 1996 election, but Gingrich got his revenge by working with Monica Lewinsky to force Clinton into an impeachment. The question is what consequences will come out of the current White House tantrum leading to the 2018-19 shutdown.

Lest anyone think that DDT is not “working” on the last day of 2018, he is still angrily tweeting. One claim calls out former chief of staff John Kelly in his statement that the “wall” doesn’t have to be concrete. He wrote, “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media.” Like a king, DDT is waiting at the White House for the Democrats, excoriated in his tweets, to come begging to give him funding for his wall. In one tweet, he blamed Democrats for the death of two Guatemalan children in ICE custody this month, writing that the wall would have stopped it. He also tweeted to Democrats that he was sitting in his office waiting for them to come and give him his wall although a reporter found no Marine posted outside the door of the office.

Republicans take pride in their cruelty toward people in the United States with the statement that “Elections have consequences.” When Democrats and progressive ballot measures succeeded in the midterms, however, the GOP in several states refused to take the consequences of the party’s failures. Instead, they spent the last few weeks of the term during the lame-duck session by destroying the will of the people through democracy.

Despite gerrymandering and voter suppression, Michigan and Wisconsin became the poster states with dozens of bills to overturn policies won by majority vote and restrict elected Democratic officials. Many of the new laws reversed increases in the minimum wage and expansion of voting rights.

Michigan passed over 400 bills in less than two months, many of them signed by outgoing GOP Rick Snyder. He did veto four bills that exceeded legislative powers. The legislature may have blocked the use of growing cannabis for personal use, changing the way to appoint the non-partisan commission, and requiring voters to register at a county clerk’s office rather than the polls which removes the approval for same-day voter registration by a majority of the state’s population. Earlier the legislature had blocked a ballot measure on raising the minimum wage and paying sick time by enacting the proposals and then immediately removing these provisions with a simple majority after the midterm election. The legislative action on sick leave exempts almost 40 percent of Michigan workers. To block future ballot measures, legislators made the process of collecting signatures far more difficult and costly. Other lame-duck laws give a $115 million corporate tax cut and mandates that doctors prescribe abortion pills in person.

Other Michigan laws restrict powers of incoming Democrats—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, AG Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson—all of whom replaced Republicans. Limitations include the governor’s authority in blocking a pipeline across the Strait of Mackinac, the AG from withdrawing from a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act without legislative permission, and the secretary of state in increasing voter access.

More Michigan laws passed after the election of Democrats:

  • State agencies must prove “clear and convincing” need to impose strong state regulations than federal ones.
  • A $1.3 billion online sales tax revenue was diverted from schools to roads and other priorities.
  • A grading system of A through F is mandated for public schools.
  • Federal toxicity values instead of those established by states must be used for cleaning up hazardous substances.
  •  A measure requiring permits for degrading wetlands made key concessions to developers.
  • Municipalities not already imposing licensing requirements on specific occupations cannot pass ordinance to do so.
  • States agencies may not use drones to surveil facilities subject to licensing or other government requirements.
  • The hunting age for deer, bear, and elk on public lands was reduced to ten years old.

The busy Michigan legislators will probably be crushed by some of Gov. Rick Snyder’s vetoes. A major veto was on the bill that would have permitted legislators to interfere in court cases. In neighboring Wisconsin, losing Gov. Scott Walker signed every lame-duck bill given him, many of them ones that copied those in Michigan. Wisconsin must remain in lawsuits opposed to the ACA, and the new governor cannot dissolve Walker’s misnamed Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) which gives loans and incentives to businesses connected with Walker and other Republicans. The legislature now has oversight instead of the governor. Other laws require Medicaid recipients to have drug-testing requirements that have not worked in other states and limits early voting to two weeks. Permits granted to the hugely expensive project that acquired large subsidies from Wisconsin taxpayers, Foxconn, have been moved from the GOP AG to the GOP legislature.

Walker’s power grabs caused even his staunch GOP supporters to say that his actions will “destroy” his legacy, already one that destroys the formerly progressive state. Despite its promises, Republicans failed to protect affordable insurance on pre-existing conditions as the ruling from a judge in Texas endangers the future of this health care that people overwhelming desire.

In one day, Wisconsin’s GOP senators approved 82 Walker government appointees a month before he left office, including two members to the state’s public university board. One of the positions had been empty for over a year. Thirty of the appointments had no public hearing, and some had failed to file a statement of economic interest. Eight years ago, Walker urged outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle not to “finalize any permanent civil service personnel” during his last two months in office, writing about “common practice for political appointees to use this time to ‘bump down’ into permanent civil service positions.” He added:

“I believe these appointees should be required to go through the same application process as any other civil servants and my Administration will review any new permanent hires during the next two months so they can be considered for termination during the probationary period.”

Walker also recently gave the outgoing attorney general a seat on a court in Waukesha County ― a position that doesn’t require state Senate approval.

Residents in both Michigan and Wisconsin resent handouts to large corporations, especially Walker’s $4.5 billion in state and local subsidies to Foxconn. The state is not scheduled to break even on the deal until 2043. Snyder’s Michigan “mega-deals” with incentives over $50 million” drain education, healthcare, transportation, and parks. The deals claim to create jobs, but the 29 big deals that cost taxpayers $7.1 billion include General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler. Incentives average $465,000 per job, and advantages may not appear for years.

Florida’s new GOP governor-elect Ron DeSantis plans to stall any enactment of the state’s successful ballot measure, passed by an almost 65-percent vote, to return voting rights to felons completing their sentences. Legislative language could also restrict the law’s intent. A lawsuit could run into problems because DeSantis will replace three liberal-leaning justices immediately after he is sworn in, leaving the court with a six-to-one conservative majority.

Pennsylvania tried to unseat a legally elected state legislator, Ohio introduced legislation to stop people from amending the state constitution because a popular vote restricted gerrymandering, Missouri tried to block a stop to election fraud by popular vote, Georgia purged voters from registration rolls with no excuse, and North Carolina can’t seat a U.S. representative because he bought absentee ballots that would then be used to pad his vote. The Republicans grow more and more desperate because they know they cannot win elections with illegal election fraud and drawing districts that always favor the GOP.

Happy New Year!

January 21, 2016

Flint’s Poisoned Water Problems Not Disappearing

In the wake of his PR disaster—and the Flint residents’ water disaster—Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released 249 emails to show that he was not to blame. Heavy redactions in the emails don’t hide the administration’s dismissive and belittling attitude toward people concerned about health issues from the brackish water coming into their homes. After traces of “coliform and fecal coliform bacterium” appeared in the city’s water plant, officials just added chlorine to the water. An email from Snyder’s Chief of Staff shows how the administration refused to take responsibility:

 “I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that [State Treasurer] Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.”

The emails accused residents of using their children’s health as a “political football” and refused action after a hospital and a university stopped using Flint water because it was corroding their metal instruments.  An email stated that Flint residents were only concerned about the aesthetics of the water, “taste, smell and color being among the top complaints.”

According to Snyder, the released emails represent all the Flint-related correspondence in 2014 and 2015. Missing are the ones from 2013 which began the debacle through key decisions. Aides have been non-committal when asked about release of these emails. Snyder has been “invited” to appear in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 3, 2016 regarding the poisoned water that government has provided Flint residents. He has not been “called” to appear because only Republicans can do this.

The EPA may also be asked to appear at a congressional hearing.

A few missing pieces from yesterday’s blog on the Flint water travesty:

In December 2011, Snyder appointed Michael Brown as emergency manager of Flint to replace elected Flint officials and act unilaterally as an extension of state executive power. Brown was George W. Bush’s head of FEMA during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. He sent untrained rescue workers to the disaster area while telling fire and rescue departments not to send trucks or emergency workers without a direct appeal from state or local governments. Three days after the disaster, he told the media that he was not aware that the New Orleans Convention Center housed thousands of evacuees who lacked food and water and blamed those stuck in the city of not choosing to leave the city, despite the lack of transportation. Brown quit the FEMA job days after the hurricane. Later he declared that President Obama wanted the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so that he could “pander to the environmentalists.” Brown lasted in Flint for only nine months.

In March 2013, State treasury and Department of Environmental Quality officials ignored external reports showing that changing the water to the Flint River would not save money Three months later Flint’s emergency manager abandoned Detroit water.

In August 2014, Flint River water violated National Primary Drinking Water Regulations twice with more violations in September and December of that year. Last September, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claimed that spikes in illnesses from lead were “seasonal and not related to the water supply.”

The first cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint in five years appeared two months after the water source was changed. After a year with 47 cases and five deaths, Snyder declared that the epidemic was over, but the numbers doubled in the next months. The incidence of this waterborne bacterial infection that can be deadly for between 5 to 30 percent of those who contract it is nine times greater in Flint than the national average. Doctors had predicted the onslaught of the disease because of iron caused by corrosion. No one will ever know the source of the Legionnaires’ disease because Michigan failed to take the appropriate cultures. The disease could return with warm weather because the state has not done any testing.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, the director overseeing a region including Flint, resigned after it was discovered that she told the former Flint mayor that a report from one of its own scientists be concealed until it was vetted and revised.

The EPA has announced an emergency order requiring that the state and city “take a series of immediate steps to address the drinking water contamination in Flint.” It said the city and state’s response to the crisis has been “inadequate to protect public health.” The EPA will take over lead sampling because of repeated delays and a lack of transparency in the water crisis continue to pose “an imminent and substantial” danger to residents. Months after the EPA required corrosion controls be added to Flint’s water system and the water source be shifted back to Lake Huron water from the Flint River, “underlying problems” and “fundamental deficiencies” remain. The state has one day to comply with the order.

Michigan is also ordered to create a public website for all reports and sampling results, and the state is to inventory all homes in Flint with lead service lines. The EPA told Flint and Michigan to establish an independent advisory panel on drinking water issues and required that the city must show “technical, managerial, and financial capacity” before moving to a new Lake Huron water system.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, President Obama announced that the federal government will send at least $80 million next week, some of it to be used to rebuild water lines and other city infrastructure. The funding comes from a federal revolving loan fund that provides low-cost loans to eligible entities, including municipalities for water infrastructure projects. Replacing lead service lines and making other infrastructure repairs could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The EPA, which could also be called to appear at a congressional hearing said to be set for early next month, also requested that its Inspector General evaluate Region 5’s supervision program for public water systems, a move U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., applauded as a way to “better understand how EPA could have helped prevent Flint’s water crisis and what they can do to keep this situation from ever happening again.”

Last September, a Flint lawmaker asked Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Shuette, to investigate the Flint water situation. Schuette, a Republican thought to be considering a gubernatorial run, refused. In December, his staffer said that an investigation was not necessary. Five months after building negative publicity about Flint water, Shuette said he would launch an investigation the day after Snyder asked the president to declare a federal emergency in Flint.

In the weeks after Schuette refused to investigate, national media attention on Flint increased, and on Jan. 14, Republican Governor Rick Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency. The next day, Schuette had changed his tune. He said that he would launch an investigation “without fear or favor.” He office is already defending state officials in a lawsuit generated by protesting Flint residents alleging that officials ignored evidence of the toxic water.

Under state law, the AG has to represent emergency managers when they are sued, but the entity that the manager runs has to pay for the legal costs. Thus the same person who investigates the water poisoning also protect the officials who did it while the people bringing the law suit must pay for the defense’s legal costs. Schuette has not said whether he will bring in outside counsel.

Gov. Snyder was an accountant with no elected office experience before he took over a state with a population of almost 10 million people. Before the Flint water crisis, he had contemplated a run for president. Snyder is a prime example of what happens when the private sector attempts to take over government functions.

After almost two years of Flint water’s fiasco, the state Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh said that “we should have been more aggressive. He blames two top officials in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance for the misinterpretation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, but both officials still have state jobs. They just been reassigned to keep away from the Flint water issues. No one has been fired over the catastrophe.

flint safe to washTen days ago, Rick Snyder told the media that the Flint water is so safe that he would let his grandkids bathe in it. It’s a safe assertion because he doesn’t have grandchildren. This poster on the right has been removed from the government website.

This is Republican leadership at its “finest.”

After I wrote the above, I went into the kitchen and ran the water a few seconds, grateful that I don’t live in a state with governor-appointed emergency managers instead of elected officials.

 

June 14, 2015

Christian Unjustified Paranoia Leads to Discrimination

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) may be a Catholic, but he opposes his church’s leader in climate change. Santorum thinks that Pope Francis should stay quiet about this subject because the pope isn’t a scientist. Santorum said,”I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality,” he said. Francis has an advanced degree in chemistry—which makes him a scientist.

During his interview on the Fox network, host Chris Wallace asked Santorum:

“I guess the question would be, if he shouldn’t talk about it, should you?”

Santorum answered that “there are more pressing problems confronting the earth than climate change.”

Santorum has company in Bill Donohue, Catholic League president, Bill Donohue, who thinks that the pope’s authority lies only with faith and morals. Donohue wants Pope Francis not to talk about climate change because “no one has ever said that air pollution is intrinsically evil.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who proved to his personal satisfaction that climate change doesn’t exist because he threw a snowball on the Senate floor, is equally upset with Pope Francis. He said:

“Everyone is going to ride the pope now. Isn’t that wonderful,” he said. “The pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours…. I am not going to talk about the pope. Let him run his shop, and we’ll run ours.”

A Presbyterian, Inhofe doesn’t need to follow the Pope’s precepts, but Santorum and Donohue should. And the pope is scheduled to speak to Congress in a little over three months.

The persecution complex of fundamentalist Christians ratcheted up when Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, a far-right mega-church leader in Texas, compared the treatment of Christians in the United States to Germany’s treatment of Jews before the Holocaust. “They marginalized the Jewish people, disparaged them, and make them objects of contempt.” Questioning from Fox’s Sean Hannity led Jeffress to add that Christians in the United States are “treated as objects of contempt by the media and once that happens then the taking away of further rights will be very easy.” Jeffress’ terror comes from LGBT rights in receiving businesses and services.

After Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order allowing refusal of services based on the provider’s religious beliefs, the “religious freedom” fans scored victories in other states. In Michigan, faith-based adoption groups can refuse to work with any couples that violate the groups’ religious beliefs. The bill was put on the state Senate’s agenda at the last minute with no notice, and the House immediately concurred. North Carolina now allows magistrates and registers of deed to recuse themselves from performing marriage duties that might violate their religious beliefs. The number of legislators required to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto was lowered because of absent legislators, some who had voted against the bill the first time. North Carolina’s bill has an interesting twist. Any North Carolina officials opting out in writing cannot perform marriage duties for the next six months, creating long delays for couples wanting to marry in rural areas. [My question is whether they still get paid.]

Although both Michigan’s and North Carolina’s laws are intended for same-sex couples, the legislation is so broad that anyone can be the brunt of discrimination. Almost 40 years ago, Carol Ann and Thomas Person, two legally blind North Carolinians, were denied a marriage license by two different magistrates because of their skin colors. This happened nine years after the Supreme Court had declared that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. Person recently wrote, “The magistrate told us that marrying an interracial couple went against his religious beliefs.” The current law gives magistrates the right to discriminate against couples because of their race, religion, divorce status—in short, anyone.

At least one presidential candidate thinks that Christian discrimination is more important than LGBT rights. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson is positive that being LGBT is a choice and that LGBT people don’t suffer discrimination because they don’t have to drink out of different fountains from heterosexual people. He refused to discuss LGBT rights further, insisting that they talk about discrimination against Christians in the United States. T. Steelman wrote:

“When you have your Bibles confiscated, churches burned and gun-toting idiots protesting outside your sanctuary then you can talk about being persecuted. Nobody is stopping you from worshiping as you wish or burning you at the stake for heresy. Until they do, please just stop it.”

On his 700 Club program, Pat Robertson first explained that the death of a woman’s child was human error rather than the fault of God.  Then he explained to her that God killed the woman’s baby because he could grow up to be Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin or a serial killer. According to Robertson, God deliberately terminated the baby’s life to save the world.

The Duggar story keeps growing after the revelation that the oldest of 19 Kids and Counting molested at least four of his sisters, one of them five years old at the time, and another young girl several years ago. Two weeks ago, the parents refused to let DHS talk to a child in their care after a 911 call. The refusal led to a county DHS employee calling police for help. The information was revealed after Fox’s Megyn Kelly gave a cozy interview with the parents when patriarch Jim Bob Duggar said that child molestation is common in Christian families.

The Duggars had a compelling reason for not divulging Josh Duggar’s molestation of his younger sisters. While Jim Bob was in state legislature, Arkansas passed a law that the children could not have been homeschooled if Josh were forced to register as a sex offender. Jim Bob said that he knew Josh’s actions were crimes, but he didn’t trust government-sponsored programs to help Josh.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee continued to support the Duggars after the truth came out. He told Megyn Kelly that “a person is innocent until proven guilty” although Kelly said, “But he confessed.” That didn’t matter to Huckabee, who joked that he wanted to be transgender as a teenager so that he could shower with high school girls.

Another of Huckabee’s friends has also been accused twice of child molestation. John Perry, the man who co-authored several of Huckabee’s books, escaped “sustained” allegations of “sexual battery” against children because the statute of limitations had expired. Perry was ex-communicated from the Presbyterian church because he “has confessed to committing heinous and repetitive sin […] and has not shown evidence of repentance.” Perry molested one of the girls for three years.

Have you read what the religious right has written about the alleged history of former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert molesting his high school students? No? There’s a reason. The conservative religious media is staying mum on the issue: to them, it’s not really news.

People who think that separation of church and state might delight in this exchange between Australian comedian and satirist David Thorne and the self-proclaimed “School Chaplain” at his son’s school. The email exchange is five years old but priceless.

“Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins,” according to Mayor Will Rogers’ sign in Hawkins (TX). Putting the sign on public land isn’t any violation of the constitution, according to Rogers, because “Jesus is part of every major religion in the world, so you can’t pin one religion on Jesus.” No wonder U.S. ranks 14th in the world in education. I’m surprised that the nation isn’t lower.

February 26, 2014

What the Do-Nothing U.S. House Is Up To

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:26 PM
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Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress helped people—create jobs by improving the infrastructure, keep families together by not sending small children back to Mexico when they don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, etc.  But in the U.S. House, Republicans have announced that they are through legislating until after the 114th Congress arrives in 2015.

Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) hasn’t quit yet. He’s introduced a bill with the optimistic name of “Save American Workers Act” designed to change the definition of “full-time” from 30 hours to 40 hours a week in the Affordable Care Act. Young thinks that corporations that have more than 50 employees are cutting their hours below 30 hours a week to avoid paying health insurance on them. Although there has been no large-scale shift in hours, Young maintains that companies shouldn’t have to pay health insurance for employees working 39 hours a week or less.

The Congressional Budget Office has weighed in on the bill’s effects. Making “full-term” 40 hours would kick about one million people off health insurance. Some of them might find Medicaid in the states that provide this or be able to pay less for insurance through the marketplace tax credits, but almost 500,000 wouldn’t fit into these categories. Another impact would be a $73-billion cost to the government over a ten-year period, adding this amount to the deficit.

Young’s bill had 208 co-sponsors in the House—at least before CBO came out with its numbers.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has decided to again question Lois Lerner, former IRS official, who was already interrogated about the myth that the agency audits targeted Tea Party groups. Congress came up with nothing the last time. The FBI came up with nothing. Journalists came up with nothing. House GOP members have paid $14 million in their attempt to create a scandal that wasn’t. A letter from the IRS reports that 255 IRS workers spent 97,542 hours responding to congressional investigations. It also stated that the $14 million didn’t include work by the offices of Legislative Affairs, Public Affairs, Human Capital, and the Executive Secretariat.

This is the background of the investigation costing $14 million. After over 5,000 applications for 501(c)(4) status swamped the IRS within the two years after SCOTUS’s ruling in Citizens United, the agency was falsely accused of giving “heightened scrutiny … to non-profit applications from Tea Party-affiliated groups.” Before this decision, organizations had to report who gave money and how much. After Citizens United, 501(c)(4) organizations could keep all donors secret as long as the groups claimed to be at least a little bit for “social welfare.”

The Revenue Act of 1913, the law that covered this situation before Citizens United,” required that earnings be “devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.” In 1959, the IRS adopted a new regulation by adding that this “exclusively” devotion be also “primarily engaged.” Thus Citizens United went with “primarily” which morphed into “somewhat” or “a little bit.”

In June 2013, the Inspector General for Tax Administration sorted out 298 cases of the 5,000 political organizations, none of which was denied 501(c)(4) status. Of these, 96 were identified by “Tea Party,” “9/12,” or “Patriots.” Thus fewer than one-third of the identified cases appeared to be right-wing groups. All of these groups are violating IRS regulation because of the “devoted exclusively” part of the policy.

Today the House voted 243-176 to pass Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)’s bill to block any new IRS regulations and make it illegal for the administration to follow the law. “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014” would keep the IRS from defining political activities for “social welfare” groups. Fourteen Democrats joined all 229 to vote for the measure.

Camp used the First Amendment in his bill, calling on free speech rights that have nothing to do with 501(c)(4) groups. No regulations prevent the people in these organizations from saying whatever they want with the usual restrictions. The tax-exempt status of organizations is a government subsidy; political campaigning in secret does not receive these subsidies. Up from $1 million in 2006, one-fourth of the $1 billion spent in 2012 came from these groups, some of it illegally provided by foreign donations.

Not satisfied with attempting to ignore existing law by controlling IRS regulations, Camp has released a monumental tax reform plan of almost 1,000 pages. His actions go against the wishes of party leaders who consider—correctly—that this overhaul will endanger the GOP in an election year. One of the most vivid parts of Camp’s plan is his slaughtering the sacred cows of deductions for home mortgage interest and carried-interest tax breaks for hedge fund managers. Deductions for state and local taxes also disappear in the plan. Credit unions would keep their tax exemptions. Banks would gain a tax, but only 0.035 percent.

On the side of the wealthy, the proposal lowers the corporate rate to 25 percent, whacking off 2 percent each year for five years. Taxation on most offshore income that corporations have stashed away would also be limited.

As Politico wrote, the proposal “includes something to offend seemingly everyone: manufacturers, the poor, Wall Street banks, governors and deficit hawks.”

I’m with Kevin Drum when he writes about the nuggets in the long document that make for fun reading.

 

  • It’s highly specific: One of the deductions to be dropped is “preventing makers of violent video games from qualifying for the R&D tax credit.”
  • The language doesn’t always sound like a Republican: The plan makes references to “Wall Street tycoons” and proposes to end tax breaks that allow university presidents to live tax free in mansions.
  • The cuts go across the board: On the one side, he cuts the Earned Income Tax Credit; on the other he wants to get rid of the NFL’s tax exemption on their annual $9 billion take.

 

The House also passed a bill yesterday allowing owners of cell phones to unlock them for personal use but not for resale. It looks as if the House has pretty much quit—at least for now.

They should look at Michigan to see a legislature that passes bills. The extreme GOP legislature has joined with the state’s right-wing governor, Rick Snyder, to pass the emergency manager law allowing the governor to replace any elected official with his own man, the so-called “right to work” law that passed after voters were locked out of the capitol, the “rape insurance” bill requiring women to purchase this insurance separately from other health insurance, and the fanatic anti-abortion legislation. The most recent bill, that gives every indication of passing is a daily $1,000 fine for picketing workers. Any labor organization leading or organizing a strike will be fined $10,000 a day.

Since the GOP took over, Michigan has joined the South in poverty. Its average income ranked 35th in the nation in 2012. Personal income between 2000 and 2010 increased 18.5 percent compared to 45.2 percent for the United States, a state growth that ranked 50th out of 50 states over a 30-year period.

This is what the United States could become if the Republicans take over as they did in Michigan.

December 27, 2012

If Six People Had Lost the Election …

One example of what the Republicans wanted to do in the 112th Congress came from Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) who lost his campaign to switch to the Senate. Earlier this year, he proposed a “license to bully” amendment to the defense budget guaranteeing blatant discrimination against harassed LGBT people in the military because there could be no discipline for this action. The House even passed the amendment. The Senate didn’t consider the amendment, but the lame-duck Senate is trying to put it back into the bill. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is working with Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), both with anti-gay records. McKeon had pledged to pass clean defense bills that were “not weighed down” by social issues but has done just the opposite.

Imagine if the Republicans had taken over the Senate and the presidency as well as the House. Only six elections made the difference—five Senators and one president. If President Obama had lost and if six more Senate seats had gone to the GOP, both the legislative and administrative parts of the government would have been Republican joining a highly conservative Supreme Court.

Michigan is an example of how destructive this could have been.

Worried about the loss of his super-majority in the legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder pushed through 282 laws since November 6 during the lame-duck session. The law that got the greatest media notice was the union-busting “right-to-work” bill that Snyder put through the legislature after he said he had no interest in taking away union rights. No warning, no hearings, no public input, no floor debate—just two days between its passage and Snyder’s signing.

All private-sector and public-sector unions—except firefighters and police—are blocked from their rights. Maybe because the two exempted unions have a large number of Republicans? The law requires that employees cannot be required to pay union dues. The process not only weakens bargaining for better wages and working conditions but also limits the unions’ participation in elections.

The Koch brothers political machine and the conservative lobby group ALEC, which write bills for legislators, had been planning this action for months. The non-profit Mackinac Public Policy Center spent $5.7 million in 2011 alone to fight unions. The two major financiers of the company are Charles Koch and Dick DeVos, son of Amway’s founder and loser to Democrat Jennifer Granholm for governor in 2006.

Mackinac was also a major supporter of the “financial martial law” allowing “emergency financial managers” to take over municipalities and drive out the elected officials. Upset by this law, voters removed the Republican super-majority in the November election and overturned this law, forcing Snyder to work fast. After the people overturned the law, the legislature put it back—again including the managers’ ability to void union contracts and labor agreements.

These bills are harder to overturn with a ballot referendum because both are attached an appropriations measure.

Not content with attacking workers and elected officials, Snyder attacked women’s rights. The so-called “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act” states that “[h]ealth care providers could refuse to perform certain medical procedures, and employers could opt not to provide coverage for certain medical services as a matter of conscience.” The 1978 state law allows any medical professional and institution to refuse to perform abortions. Now they can refuse to provide contraception and “other services and medications that they oppose as a matter of conscience.”

Just in case the “Protection Act” doesn’t stop enough abortions, Michigan also passed an anti-abortion law which has been called “the nation’s worst.” Ms. reported, “HB 5711 requires that clinics meet the same standards and regulations as surgical centers and that fetal remains are to be treated the same as a dead human body, including authorization from the local or state registrar before cremation. The bill also requires that doctors provide a written ‘risk assessment’ to patients at least 24 hours before having a procedure and prohibits the use of telemedicine to prescribing abortion-inducing medication. Doctors will also have to certify that a woman is not being coerced into having an abortion by asking probing and invasive questions as a result of HB 5711.”

One House bill that failed was barring the use of “foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights”—the “anti-Sharia” bill.  The courts had already overturned a similar Oklahoma law that specifically mentioned Sharia. Some Michigan Republicans are still convinced that President Obama is a Muslim, bad because Rep. Dave Agema thinks “just about every terrorist is a Muslim.” Agema’s bill was similar to model legislation produced by David Yerushalmi, the conservative attorney who once urged the U.S. to declare war on Islam and referred to liberal Jews as “parasites.”

Other religious groups in the state, such as the Michigan Catholic Conference, opposed the bill because it might affect any religious group that chooses to enter into a contract based on their religious beliefs. After all, the Pope doesn’t live in the United States.

The only bill that Snyder vetoed was the right to carry concealed weapons in schools. He probably would have signed that one too if not for the 26 people killed in the Newtown (CT) school.

Snyder still has 23 months before his next election, but his popularity is plummeting, down nine points since the sweeping legislation. His disapproval rating is up 19 points. The question is how long the voters’ memories are.

Governors across the nation will undoubtedly follow Snyder’s actions during the last month. The result:

  • Severe economic problems because lower wages from union-breaking means that people will have less spending ability;
  • Fewer elected officials retaining the right to perform their responsibilities because governor-appointed managers will take over towns and cities;
  • More deaths from illegal abortions because of the severe restrictions on legal abortions;
  • A greater number of unwanted pregnancies from severe restrictions on clinics limiting contraception for poor women.

This next year, the Michigan House still has a GOP majority but not a super-majority. The irony is that Michigan has more Democrats than Republicans. It is the gerrymandering of districts following the 2010 census that  allowed the GOP majority to continue.

gerrymandering

 

The same thing happened in the U.S. House where the GOP controls almost 54 percent of the seats in the 113th Congressional House although they lost the popular vote by at least 1.2 million.

Some Republicans in the House report that they are willing to let taxes on the wealthy increase. They’re coming back to town in three days; we’ll see what they do then with one day left to overturn the law they passed 18 months ago.

August 3, 2012

Michigan Voters Win

Ten days ago, I wrote about how petitioners in Michigan went to the state’s Supreme Court to get a referendum on the ballot after it was refused by the Board of Canvassers in a partisan 2-2 deadlock. Their petition was to overturn the state’s emergency financial manager law that has allowed towns and school districts to be taken over and run by Gov. Rick Snyder’s appointees, disenfranchising the voters who selected the people who Snyder deposed.

The Board of Canvassers ruled against the petitions on the basis that they had  the wrong type font size despite the petitions’ approval bythe state’s Board of Elections. The state requirement for font size is 14 point. Petitioners used a Calibri font, making the 14-point size unacceptable to challengers. To see how hard the anti-referendum people fought to keep a legitimate referendum off the ballot, the ten pages following p. 16 of the Opinion make for good reading.

The petitioners won! In a 4-3 decision, the judges ruled today that the petitions met the state requirements and can be certified for November’s election. One of the four Republican judges broke from the other three to join the Democrats. The immediate result is that the law, which has been used for over a year, is now frozen for the next three months until the Michigan voters determine its outcome.

Putting the law in limbo creates confusing implications for towns and school districts that had lost its local leadership. In Muskegon Heights school district, the new emergency manager privatized all the schools into a charter system. In Benton Harbor, the new emergency manager sold the local park, donated to the city a century ago, to a wealthy developer. Three holes of the private golf course are already in place.

In Detroit schools, the new emergency manager ordered a ceiling of 61 students in every class. For the past two years he fired all the teachers. This year he has forced any rehired teachers to follow his personal contract with greatly reduced teacher pay and refused any negotiations with the teachers. Detroit leaders slashed the city workforce to avoid Snyder’s assigning the city an emergency manager. The question is whether this agreement will stand because it was done under duress.

Flint, Pontiac, and Ecorse all have governor-appointed emergency managers as do public schools in Detroit and Highland Park. River Rouge and Inkster also have consent agreements to avoid an emergency manager.

Snyder said that the emergency managers will remain because an earlier law will go into effect. Challengers said differently, meaning that question will almost certainly go to court. The earlier law did not allow as much latitude for the manager in breaking contracts and removing pensions.

The repeal side is behind by 10 percentage points, but 20 percent of voters are undecided. A November vote at least gives people the right to determine their fate rather than handing it over to the governor’s appointees.

June 20, 2012

Should Women Be Stopped from Saying ‘Vagina’?

On alternative media (where you can get real news), the story about the two female Democratic state representatives being banned from talking on the Michigan legislative floor hasn’t gone away. Instead it’s gotten better.

The problem for the male Republican lawmakers started when two women fought the vicious anti-choice omnibus bill and talked about vaginas and vasectomies. Rep. Barb Byrum even shouted at the speaker when he refused to let her address an amendment that would put restrictions on vasectomies in the same way that the men wanted to restrict abortion.

Early statements from the Republicans protested Rep. Lisa Brown’s use of the objectionable word “vagina” on the state legislative floor. It may have been difficult for them to object to the use of “vagina” because the bill uses the term three times. Since then, they have searched for another reason to dissent that might be more acceptable to the public.

Rep. Wayne Schmidt said, “It wasn’t about body parts. It wasn’t about dissent. It wasn’t about anyone’s religious beliefs. It was that last comment that took it a step too far, and that’s what crossed the line about … The ‘no means no’ comment. That went a step too far. As I said to someone up north here, it’s like giving a kid a time out for a day, you know. Hey, time out.”

Thus Schmidt wants to treat a colleague like a bad child and, at the same time, tell women that they have no right to say “no.” He’s saying that women must be silenced if they want to say “no,” that they must have a time out because women don’t have the right to say “no.” If women try to say no, then they will be banned from speaking at all.

Dahlia Lithwick has injected a bit of black humor into the situation. In this bit of satire she supports the silencing of women in the following manner:

The scourge of women being allowed to speak the word vagina in a legislative debate over what happens when women use their vaginas must be stopped. And if women are not capable of regulating their own word choice, the state should regulate it for them. To that end, we propose that the Michigan House promptly enact HB-5711(b)—a bill to regulate the use of the word vagina by females in mixed company.

The bill will include Part A(1)(a) providing that any women who seeks to use the word vagina in a floor debate be required to wait 72 hours after consulting with her physician before she may say it. It will also require her physician to certify in writing that said woman was not improperly coerced into saying the word vagina against her will. Section B(1)(d) provides that prior to allowing a female to say the word vagina a woman will have a mandatory visit with her physician at which he will read to her a scripted warning detailing the scientific evidence of the well-documented medical dangers inherent in saying the word vagina out loud, including the link between saying the word vagina and the risk of contracting breast cancer.

Because some women who say the word vagina in legislative proceedings occasionally come to regret having used the word, Part C(7) provides that there will also be mandatory counseling with counselors who have never used the word vagina in their lifetimes, and who would indeed die before they ever used such a word. Moreover the state health code is to be amended such that no woman who says the word vagina may do so out loud or in mixed company until and unless she is in a facility with full surgical capabilities. Objections that speech is not in fact a surgical procedure notwithstanding, it’s clear that the risk of saying the word vagina out loud is such that it should not be undertaken without proper medical safeguards to guarantee against any and all risks of negative consequences.

There is to be no exception in the event that a woman uses the word vagina as a result of rape, incest, or to preserve her health or ability to have future pregnancies. If women were intended to use the word vagina, there would be a word for vaginas.

Also, provision d(9)(a) of the bill would amend the current law to ensure that if any listener who hears the word vagina spoken aloud—although it may be the medically correct term for a woman’s reproductive organs—feels any religious objections to such speech, that speech may be curtailed in the interest of preserving the listener’s religious freedom as detailed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Any other marginally relevant provisions of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution are herein rescinded as needed.

Finally, Michigan state health statutes shall be amended by provision 12(b)(6) which provides that prior to speaking the word vagina out loud, any female resident of Michigan shall undergo a mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound procedure, during which she must watch such ultrasound while listening to a government-scripted speech about the grave dangers of speaking anatomically correct words, aloud, in an enlightened democracy.

Such speech will, by necessity, include the word vagina.

You can join the people who object to Wayne Schmidt’s statement.

February 28, 2012

Santorum Goes over the Edge, Loses Two States

If it’s Tuesday, there must be an election somewhere. And there is—Arizona and Michigan. Newt Gingrich have been uncharacteristically quiet, which may change now that he just got another $5 million for his sugar daddy billionaire. He does have a 28-minute political ad that claims he can bring gas down to $2.50 and no longer be reliant on oil from “Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran.” These, of course, are lies because the president doesn’t control the gas prices and the U.S. doesn’t import oil fromIran. Despite his accusations of a massive reduction in U.S. development of oil, production surged during the first two years of President Obama’s administration after its downward trend in the previous five (Bush) years.

Ron Paul just indicates “anything that Mitt wants.” The rumor is that Paul wants Romney to pick his son, Rand, as vice-president. Both Gingrich and Paul know that both the states voting today were lost causes for them, and they moved ahead to Super Tuesday in another week.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum spent the past few weeks smearing each other, trying to win Michigan. Republican Gov. Paul LePage (Maine) said, “If they continue to beat each other up, then maybe we should get somebody unknown to go against Obama. They’re damaging themselves. It’s like a marital battle. Somebody’s got to apologize.” Chances are very good that these two are way beyond that. Even if they did apologize, no one would believe them.

Romney continues to make bizarre comments, for example when he offers people the chance to visit his parents at the cemetery where they are buried and loving the height of the trees in Michigan—sort of like Rick Perry hugging his bottle of maple syrup in Vermont. Then there was the shirt that a fan gave him that said “Mitt Happens.” But he’s largely kept to the script of criticizing Santorum.

Santorum, on the other hand, keeps going farther and farther over the edge, either from arrogance or desperation. Last Sunday morning he told George Stephanopoulos: “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.  The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. This is the First Amendment.  The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion.  That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square.” He said more, but I can see your eyes glazing over.

Santorum was so hysterical that he said he wanted to “throw up” when hearing John F. Kennedy’s statement that he would not allow his Catholic beliefs to rule the country. Kennedy actually said, “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.” Santorum missed the fact that Kennedy paved the way for Santorum, a Catholic, to be as successful as he is.

The question is whether Santorum would want to “throw up” at this president’s statement: “Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.” He might, until someone told him that the president who said this was the revered Ronald Reagan.

After declaring that Obama has a “war on for-profit colleges” (Obama must be busy with all these “wars”), Santorum said, “President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!” He continued by claiming that Obama wants people to go to college because he wants them to be liberal. “That’s why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

Santorum’s hatred of college is a 180-degree turn since 2006 when his Senate campaign website stated, “In addition to Rick’s support of ensuring that primary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania are equipped for success, he is equally committed to ensuring the every Pennsylvanian has access to higher education. Rick Santorum has supported legislative solutions that provide loans, grants, and tax incentives to make higher education more accessible and affordable.”

As in other situations, Santorum twisted what President Obama has said, including in his state of the union speech. Obama doesn’t use the term college; he says “higher education.” As Obama has pointed out, he wants every young person to have the benefit of an apprenticeship or education in a technical school, community college, or college/university. It’s exactly what Santorum wants, but he continues to denigrate the same vision from Obama.

With three university degrees, Santorum is so obsessed by his personal religion that he fails to remember his history. While campaigning in South Carolina, he said, “The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom… What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers. What we’re talking about are core American values.” Santorum overlooks the Crusades as the bloody medieval campaigns to take theHoly Landfrom the “infidels” (aka Moslems and Jews).

“I’m not a Washington insider,” Santorum claimed. Yet his $3.6 million income within the last few years came largely from “consulting” (aka lobbying) activities, and he was enough of an insider while he was in Congress to get millions of dollars in earmarks for his state. His ultra-partisan approach also gives him an insider aura.

Former Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-WY) called Santorum a “very rigid man … a lot tougher than [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich to deal with. And former Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH) said of Santorum: “I’m not opposed to bucking the establishment, but I always felt he was using the establishment for his own aggrandizement. I remember him saying, ‘You’ve got to give me a little slack. I need to vote for this for my state.’”

Santorum rejects prenatal testing, but, as one woman pointed out, this can kill the fetus. She reported on how her amniocentesis showed that medication was not helping her fetus’s Rh negative disease, caused by the pregnant woman’s negative blood type fighting with the fetus’s positive blood type. Because of the doctor’s awareness of the problem, the fetus could be delivered at the optimum time, saving its life.

Also on record as not wanting women to be in combat, he tried to clarify that gaffe by stating that he was worried about the men’s emotions, not the women’s. But his backup statement voided that justification, when he explained that women are “fully capable of flying small planes.”

Known for his refusal to believe in man-made climate change, Santorum referred to anti-fracking activists, the people who don’t want methane gas to explode from the faucet whenever it’s turned on, as a “reign of environmental terror.” He forgot to explain that he is a top recipient of money from drilling companies, and his campaign gets big oil bucks.

At least during the past month, Santorum has dropped his “income equality is good” and stop giving out food stamps campaign. Late night talk and comedy shows made mincemeat out him after this statement: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Santorum is campaigning to end the secular state, science-based information, education, and women’s health care with the return of patriarchy and the demonization of everybody but white, heterosexual, right-wing Christian males. Most conservative pundits recognize that he would be a lost cause as a nominee; even Santorum-supporter Rush Limbaugh said he “cringed” when he heard Santorum’s comment that he voted against his principles because politics is a “team sport.”

In her poem at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, Maya Angelou showed the way thatClinton’s administration wanted to be inclusive:

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African and Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

Reading these lines makes me think about the people who Santorum would exclude from having rights, despite the U.S. Constitution: all women who want reproductive rights including birth control, all men who want their sexual partners to use birth control, all unmarried adults who wish to have consensual sex, all people who are not members of the Catholic or evangelical churches, all LGBT people, all people of color, all college-educated people, and all people who want a public education. His exclusionary believes leave about 5 percent of the people under the great tent of this nation—as far as Santorum is concerned.

There is hope, however, because Santorum lost both Arizona and Michigan. We’ll see what outrageous things he says within the next week to struggle for delegates in the next ten states.

January 2, 2012

GOP Primary Rules Crazy

The first day of every Leap Year starts the frantic voting/caucusing for presidential candidates. This year the media has whipped its audience into frenzy over the Republican nominee; thus far only President Obama is on the Democratic side. The selection process has become even  more laughable this year than previously.

The first source of comedy comes tomorrow at the Iowa caucus. It’s not even a legal voting process—no ballots, no filing, no signatures, no fee: people just gather together to write down their choice on a blank sheet of paper or raise their hands for the chosen one. Despite the Republican push to force people to produce government-issued photo IDs before voting, the caucuses have no such requirement. Perhaps Republicans believe that only Democrats might perpetrate voter fraud.

Before the selection, candidates or their surrogates may give a last-minute pitch. Any Iowa resident who chooses to register as Republican by tomorrow night is allowed to participate. Seventeen-year-olds are allowed to take part as long as they turn 18 by November 6, 2012. So tomorrow night people will gather in 1,774 precincts in schools, churches, community centers, homes, etc. throughout the 99 counties to follow the infamous practice of  “first in the nation.”

Many people think that Iowa caucuses are vital because of the state’s large number of delegates. Not so! Their 25 delegates are about 1 percent of the total making the decision, and fewer than 10 percent of Iowa voters, at best 150,000 “deciders,” determine this nonbinding agreement. Thus the first decision in the nation for Republican presidential nominee involves 0.01% of Republicans, a number approximating the population of Eugene, Oregon.

New Hampshire disagrees with Iowa’s “first” claim. One week after Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire has a real primary with real ballots. From there on, the new Republican rules go crazy.

The Republican Party mandates that all states holding nominating contests before April award delegates proportionally. Sounds like a fair deal? States, however, may define “proportionally” any way that they wish. For example, in each of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts, the candidate who gets the most votes receives three delegates. The remaining 15 delegates in the district are then awarded “proportionally,” based on statewide results. Candidates have to get at least 20 percent of the statewide vote to get these delegates. My head’s spinning by now, trying to figure out how this works!

The Republican National Convention scheduled for August in Tampa (FL) should include 2,286 delegates with 1,144 required to get the nomination. According to the GOP Committee, it’s impossible for any candidate to get the necessary 1,144 before April. We just wait to see who drops out by then to thin the field.

The process gets crazier. States that scheduled primaries earlier than the Party allows have lost half their delegates. That includes Arizona and Michigan (2/28), South Carolina (1/21), and Florida (1/31). But the Party declared that South Carolina and Florida may award all their delegates to the majority candidate—forget the “proportional.” At least Floridawas okay with no “proportional” until December 31st when Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote that Florida’s delegates might have to be “proportional” because of protesters.

Michigan is following the Ohio “proportional” system but uses a slightly different approach. Reduced to 30 candidates from 59 per the GOP penalties for an early primary, Michigan plans to keep the 59 delegates (56 based on the primary and 3 the state’s RNC members) with each one of the 56 having one-half voting power at the convention. Because half of 56 is 28, not 30, fractions cause more difficulties. If a candidate gets 25 half-delegates, do they get 12 or 13 votes?  “We’ll work that out once we get closer to choosing the delegates who will go,” said Matt Frendewey, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party. The delegate system is as crazy as the candidates are!

Nate Silver, the man who puts together all the polls and then estimates the election results pretty closely, has this to say about tomorrow’s Iowa results:

“Our forecast model, which combines the Public Policy Polling survey with other recent polls of the state, also shows an effective three-way tie, although it has Mr. Romney ahead by the slimmest of margins. The model projects Mr. Romney to receive 21.0 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Paul at 20.6 percent and Mr. Santorum — whose numbers have been on the rise — at 19.3 percent.”

Of course, almost half the caucus-goers haven’t made up their mind yet! Who knows in what direction the delegate selection will head.

April 20, 2011

GOP “Small Government”

Conservatives pride themselves on pushing for smaller and smaller government whereas liberals are known for “big government” (aka regulations that help people be safer and more comfortable). But just look at some examples of the GOP’s “small government” concepts.

Imagine that you lived in a town that could be taken over by the state with no voter rights. That’s what happened in Michigan after GOP Governor Rick Snyder signed, on March 16, the Local Government and School District Financial Accountability Act. The law gives the governor the right to rule towns and cities with neither legislative oversight nor residents’ consent. By declaring that the town or city is in financial distress, he can legally appoint an emergency manager, answerable only to the governor. This person can then dismiss elected officials, close or reorganize schools, alter or abolish government contracts and collective bargaining agreements, control taxes and spending and even dissolve the town as if it never existed.

It seemed impossible that this would actually happen, but Gov. Snyder did exactly that when he appointed Joseph L. Harris as Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) of Benton Harbor, Michigan. With that appointment, elected officials are permitted only to call meetings to order, approve minutes, and adjourn meetings. Why would Gov. Snyder want to do this? When Whirlpool closed its plants and decided to convert old manufacturing land into Harbor Shores, a $500 million golf course and residential development, the development company wanted Jean Klock Park, a beautiful shoreline donated as a park for the public good and a children’s park in 1917.

The bill that allowed Gov. Snyder to take over Benton Harbor was sponsored by Al Pscholka, who has some interesting connections to the town. The former aid to Congressman Fred Upton, a Whirlpool heir, he represents the area that includes Benton Harbor, he is the former vice-president of the development company responsible for building Harbor Shores, and he was on the Board of Directors for a nonprofit involved in the Harbor Shores development.

Once appointed, EFM Joseph Harris didn’t waste any time in moving ahead with his plans. He first replaced people on the Benton Harbor Planning Commission, involved in decision-making about Benton Harbor real estate development, with his personal choices. These hand-picked people decide who gets permits, what the developments will look like, and who gets the best parts of Benton Harbor.

This is just the beginning. Snyder has over 200 EFMs in training, just waiting to take over more Michigan towns and cities. Financial distress in Michigan cities and towns will increase greatly because the state is withdrawing its support of them. And the mainstream national media is not reporting this!

As evident by the sweeping tide of union-breaking across the United States after Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker started his devastation, a conservative idea in one state moves to another. Although Walker says that he doesn’t intend to follow Michigan’s example, a business group in Milwaukee is pushing to stress tests for municipalities, euphemism for erasing elected officials in Wisconsin. Over a dozen states are considering a similar law. Your state could be next.

The federal budget has been settled for this year (which ends in September), but the conflict continues, first with deciding whether to raise the deficit and then to determine next year’s budget. Much has been said in the past few weeks about Rep. Paul Ryan’s recommendation for a budget that removes money for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. while lowering tax rates for the wealthiest people in the U.S. (Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, is from Wisconsin. What is there about Wisconsin!?)

A letter-writer to The Oregonian (Portland, OR) comments that watching Eric Cantor cradling “The Path to Prosperity” document reminds him of the Twilight Zone episode about the advanced alien race landing on Earth. As they promise benevolence and peace, they also have a handbook, ”To Serve Man.” That particular handbook is a recipe book.  He concludes, “Space ships which took Americans on vacations to the beautiful alien homeworld were on ‘the path to prosperity’ for alien restauranteurs and marketers of fresh or frozen food, creating jobs jobs jobs!”

Ryan’s plan, The Roadmap for America’s Future, would give the most affluent households very large tax cuts by reducing income tax rates on high-income households; eliminating income taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest; and abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax. The Ryan plan would cut in half the taxes of the richest 1 percent of Americans—those with incomes exceeding $633,000 (in 2009 dollars) in 2014. Households with incomes of more than $1 million would receive an average annual tax cut of $502,000. The richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans—those whose incomes exceed $2.9 million a year—would receive an average tax cut of $1.7 million a year on top of those from the Bush tax cuts.

At the same time, the Ryan plan would raise taxes for most middle-income families, privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, end traditional Medicare and most of Medicaid, and terminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The plan would replace these health programs with a system of vouchers whose value would erode over time and thus would purchase health insurance that would cover fewer and fewer health care services in the future.

To offset some of the cost of these massive tax cuts, the Ryan plan would place a new consumption tax on most goods and services. About three-quarters of Americans—those with incomes between $20,000 and $200,000—would face tax increases. For example, households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 would face an average tax increase of $900. The shift tax in burdens proposed by The Roadmap for America’s Future from the wealthy to the middle class results in people with incomes over $1 million paying much smaller percentages of their income in federal taxes.

How successful will this plan be? There are suggestions that this “roadmap to poverty” will destroy the conservatives.

Remember Arizona and its SB1070 that plans to identify illegal immigrants without profiling? (More small government?) Their latest ploy seems to be too much even for conservative Gov. Jan Brewer. Last Monday, she vetoed two bills: one would have allowed firearms onto parts of college campuses, and the other, referred to as the “birther bill,” would have mandated certain “proofs” of US citizenship for candidates running for president. The latter would have accepted a “circumcision certificate” if a long form of the birth certificate was not submitted. Is is the circumcision certificate that stopped her? Or is it the fact that John McCain might have trouble passing the “birther” law because his birth certificate was issued by the Panama Canal Health Department?

This “birther bill” concept is catching on across the nation. Thirty-seven states are considering it, and some are coming very close. Louisiana’s bill extends the birth certificate requirement to U.S. Congressional candidates. Another state wants not only the candidates’ birth certificate but also those of the candidates’ parents. And running on the birther wave, Donald Trump has a 52 percent approval rate from voting Republicans.

Unfair taxation is the topic of Iris Van Rynback and Pegi Deitz Shea’s picture book, The Taxing Case of the Cows:  A True Story about Suffrage, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Clarion, 2010).  One-hundred years after the American Revolution, women could not vote—but they could be taxed.  Sisters Abby, 72, and Julia, 77, Smith believed that this was taxation without representation, especially when town leaders taxed them an additional amount because they were single female landowners.  Their fight that began in 1869 lasted seven years during which time the sisters continually lost their cows and bought them back at auction.  They also had to sue the town for confiscating their home; supporters helped them financially by selling bouquets of flowers and hair from the cows’ tails with a black ribbon with the words “Taxation without Representation.”  These two “older” sisters show that anyone can fight unfair taxes, even when they may not think they have the backing to do so.

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