Thursday, November 5, 2015

Michigan’s New Road Tax Package

It isn’t generally well known, but woodchucks are very good at math and Michigan’s new road tax package made this woodchuck whistle.

One of the more interesting requirements of being a working class person is that you must own and maintain a vehicle mostly for the benefit of your employer so you can get to and from work. A full-time or part-time minimum or low wage employee has the same requirement for basic transportation as someone in the working middle class or the professional class.

Half of all working people earn less than $30,000 per year and 40% earn less than $20,000 annually. A full-time, minimum wage employee earns $16,952.

Imagine that you are that minimum wage worker. You drive the national average of roughly 15,000 miles per year and own a used sedan that gets 22 MPG. Michigan’s fuel tax is currently 19¢ per gallon and you pay about $130 annually in Michigan motor fuel tax or roughly 0.75% of your annual income.

Beginning January 1, 2017, your minimum wage will go up and you will earn $18,512. The fuel tax will also go up to 26.3¢ so you will pay about $180 or roughly 0.9% of your annual income.

The annual ad valorum tax on your vehicle is currently about $95 but it will go up 20% to $114. The combined annual motor fuel and ad valorum tax will be $244 or 1.3% of your annual income.

The working middle class will not feel the same pinch. “The teacher, the firefight or the construction worker earning fifty something”[1] will pay roughly the same tax if they drive an economical vehicle that is at least three years old. The combined annual motor fuel and ad valorum tax will be just 0.45% of their incomes.

Six-digit earners will hardly even feel this tax increase but low income earners will be punished badly. Part-time, minimum wage earners are hurt the most. They may have to work more than a week just to pay motor fuel and ad valorum tax; a six-digit earner will pay it with just a few hours labor.

For those who purchased hybrid or electric vehicles to reduce their fuel costs, think again. You will be charged an additional $30 to $100 annually at the time of vehicle registration.

In a cruel stroke of irony the package of bills will not even begin to fix the fiscal mess called road funding. A complicated package of reformulated distribution of tax revenues and earmarks from the general fund will be implemented over a period of six years beginning in 2016 and ending in 2022. Increased funding during this period is heavily dependent on reductions in funding for other state programs and assumptions about increased revenue based on inflation.

Talk about kicking the can down the road, this package takes seven years to implement and almost all of the money comes in the last two years with most of it coming from reductions in other spending.

So why does this woodchuck whistle?

Because once again, the Republicans have failed to recognize and implement the most fiscally sound and responsible solution … increase taxes on big corporations. Instead they have increased the burden on the working class, especially on low income earners while setting up future reductions in funding for state programs that help the same low income working people.

Most of the people who are hurt by this and hundreds of other bills moved through Michigan’s legislature since the Republicans have taken over don’t vote. This woodchuck thinks that maybe they are not doing the math.

[1] “President Obama Speaks to the Middle”, Vine Street Report, December 6, 2013,

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Focus Groups/Online Polls Call Sanders the Winner; Media Call Clinton the Winner

OK, so I am totally biased and nothing was going to happen last night that would have changed my mind about the candidates. I support Bernie Sanders for President but I didn’t think last night was Bernie’s best performance. So, imagine my amazement when I check out post-debate Internet polls: – Sanders (58%), Clinton (36%), O’Malley (2%), Webb (1%), Chafee (1%) – Sanders (74%), Clinton (18%), Webb (4%), O’Malley (3%), Chafee (1%)
Facebook/CNN – Sanders (81%), Clinton (13%), O’Malley (2%), Webb (2%), Chafee (1%) – Sanders (55%), Webb (31%), Clinton (11%), O’Malley (2%), Chafee (1%) – Sanders (57%), Webb (24%), Clinton (8%), O’Malley (7%), Chafee (4%)

I don’t guess I should be surprised that Bernie did well with the Social Media savvy Facebook audience where he got 81% of the votes. I was more surprised that he did so well with 58% in the Daily Kos poll were the audience is largely made up of active Democratic Party members and he soared on Slate to 74% where I believe the audience to be more “left of center” than “Democrat”.

Maybe the real story in the numbers is how Hillary’s support fell through the floor on the less partisan Time poll and on the somewhat more Republican or even conservative Drudge Report where she only got 8% and was beat by Jim Webb who got 24% of the vote. Even in the more conservative Drudge Report poll, Bernie is the clear winner with 57%.

The Internet audience may not represent the broader audience of likely voters in the upcoming Presidential Primary Elections, but if they tell us anything it is this, Hillary is in second place among those who watched the debate and participated in Internet polls. Hillary can’t even beat Jim Webb when the audience is not left of center and would certainly do poorly in swing states where voters are largely independent or right of center.

When the public has a chance to hear him and know what he stands for, Bernie has a broader appeal than Hillary and has a better chance of winning in a General Election.

So how did the media spin this?

CNN has a long history of giving a lot of attention to online polls and focus groups. They never even mentioned how candidates did in Facebook/CNN poll where Bernie thrashed Hillary. And they gave almost no attention to their focus group where an audience that started this debate leaning toward Hillary ended it in strong support of Bernie.

CNN and other media reports seem determined to paint Hillary Clinton as the winner. At one point I noticed the focus group showed by a hand vote strong support for Bernie Sanders and the CNN news reporter said, “I see that you evenly divided in your support for Hillary and Bernie.”

CNN’s web page has a large picture of Hillary and the top and their own report indicates the winner was Hillary Clinton. Again, no morning coverage from the focus group or the Facebook/CNN Internet poll.

I am beginning to think that Bernie Sanders could be taking the Oath of Office and media pundits would still be talking about Hillary Clinton.

Monday, October 12, 2015

What is the difference between Social Security and Old-Age Insurance?

It’s a trick question!

When most people say “Social Security” what they really mean is “Federal Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance”. When they say Social Security “tax” what they are referring to is a mandatory “contribution” made under the Federal Insurance Contribution Act.

The loose use of words leads many to believe that Federal Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance is something like “retirement” when it is actually “insurance”.

Retirement programs are supposed to begin paying out when you are too old to work hard and/or long hours; the statutory age is 55. Many people would partially retire and continue to do lighter work or work shorter hours after age 55 but many others are ready to fully retire.

Old-age insurance[1] is designed to pay benefits to those who have outlived their retirement. The expectation is that we will begin dying off sometime between age 62 and 72. Most working people will not have been able to earn enough in their working age years to live off their savings beyond age 67.

In theory, a person who works 35 years and saves diligently should be able to live 12 years off those savings. In reality … only a small percentage of working people will have incomes high enough to personally save for retirement.

When the old-age and survivors insurance program was conceived in 1935, a mandatory contribution[2] of just 2% on the first $3,000 of wages[3] paid for the benefits received by those who outlived retirement[4]. At that time, 70% of workers had annual wages less than $3,000[5].

The low wage earners who bore most of the expense were working class people who would not be likely to have incomes sufficient to save for retirement and employer-provided retirement was uncommon. Many, if not most, low wage earners worked until they died and died before they were eligible for old-age insurance.

On the other hand, 5% of wage earners had annual wages greater than $10,000[6]. Labors were light and hours were short for these high wage earners who were also able to save for retirement and were far more likely to have a company pension. Light work and early retirement contributed to longer lives and these were the primary beneficiaries of old-age insurance.

Even in 1935, old-age insurance was something of a Ponzi scheme that depended on contributions of a large, low-wage working class to insure the retirements of a smaller class of managers and owners.

The emergence of a middle-wage to high-wage working middle class changed everything!

Unions negotiated successfully for higher wages, better workplace safety and shorter work hours. Technology reduced the physical demands of work. Many working class people began to qualify for employer-provided pensions.

These new working middle class people began to live longer and the cost of providing old-age insurance benefits went up.

Today, the contribution rate is 12.4% on the first $118,500 of wages with an additional 2.9% contribution for Medicare hospital insurance.

This is how Ponzi schemes work and why they fail. They work when many contribute and few benefit. They fail when more people begin to benefit and the contribution requirements hit something like a maximum limit.

Nobody really cares how difficult it is for the low-wage working people to pay or how many of them die working without ever qualifying for old-age insurance benefits. But when the new middle-wage and high-wage working class people as well and the many managers and owners begin to feel the pinch of higher mandatory contributions and see their own benefits shrinking, their support for the scheme dwindles.

Some high-wage earning regressives call for an end to old-age insurance and a return to the wild and wooly days when every person had to fend for them self and only a very tiny percentage of society could ever expect to stop working hard, long hours. They think they would do better if they didn’t have to make contributions but they are terribly wrong and underestimate the benefit they receive. They also fail to see how much of it comes to them at the expense of low-wage and middle-wage earning workers.

Many middle-wage to high-wage earning workers take a moderate position calling for reforms to old-age insurance to keep it solvent. They want to make sure that they will continue to receive its benefits even if most low-wage earning people do not. This is a defense of the status quo made by people who insist they are taking a progressive position.

Regressives and moderates both hold conservative positions. They see themselves as a class above low-wage earning workers. But low-wage earners make up between 50% and 60% of all working people. The new working middle class and the old upper class have formed something like an unholy alliance to pick the bones of low-wage working class people.

The alliance breaks down along class lines when either class begins to see themselves as over-burdened or under-benefitted. It gets to be an argument about shifting costs and redefining benefits. The middle class insists that the upper class just needs to pay more and the middle class should pay less. The upper class insists that they already pay too much, should pay less and that the middle class should pay more.

Both classes agree that the lower class pays too little and costs too much. Every compromise made by the middle and upper classes cost the lower class more and reduces the benefits to the lower class.

True progressives are the only real liberals in the argument. They come from all classes but make up a minority of the voices in the argument. A truly progressive solution would be to terminate the old-age insurance scheme and replace it, and many other social assistance programs, with a basic income guarantee for all.

A basic income guarantee would be paid to everyone all of their life. It would eliminate the need to food assistance, temporary cash assistance to needy families, holiday and vacation pay, minimum wage, parental income support of college students, most alimony and child support payments in divorces, unemployment, disability and retirement.

Social Security and old age insurance are the same thing. They are part of the pseudo-socialist platform of programs that serve the agenda of the upper-class and the middle class including the new working middle class, at the expense of the low-wage working class.

A basic income guarantee would be different. It would benefit everyone and maybe that is what the middle and upper class fear most … they depend on the low-wage working class for their high quality of life and fear that their quality of life will diminish if the quality of life for others goes up.

They instinctively know that they are mega-consumers and that fair distribution of wealth would be unsustainable if everyone wallered up to the trough and slurped up goods and services like pigs. The middle and upper class like being pigs and mega-consumers and they don’t want to change anything.

They don’t care if the distribution is unfair and leaves many feeling deprived.

They don’t care if the distribution is inhumane and leaves many in a state of poverty.

They don’t care if their generation consumes resourced needed by future generations, if their generation’s money system leaves future generations in debt, if their generation’s destruction of the environment leaves future generations with an uninhabitable world.

They do not care about anyone but themselves.

It’s time for low-wage working people to get smart and realize that if they do not act now they will die deprived and impoverished. It is time for young people to realize that their generation will be left without resources, without a stable money system and will struggle to live in a world that has been devastated by the previous generation.

Stop listening to lame arguments about how much better off we would be if we would just end Social Security and let the so-called free market take care of it.

Stop listening to lame argument about how much better off we would be if we would just reform Social Security so that if would continue to care for the few at the expense of the many.

Start arguing for a better future in which everyone has a basic income guarantee at all ages and in all conditions!

Now that would be … different.

[1] Hereafter “old-age insurance” means “Federal Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance”.
[2] Contributions include both the employer and the employee portions.
[3] "Historical Social Security Tax Rates", Table 1, Tax Policy Center,
[4] Includes workers, surviving family members and disabled workers.
[5] "Statistics of Income for 1935", U.S. Treasury Department, Bureau of Internal Revenue,
[6] "Statistics of Income for 1935", U.S. Treasury Department, Bureau of Internal Revenue,

Friday, September 25, 2015

Relevance of Organized Labor in the Past, Present and Future

I want organized labor to be relevant in the future of social justice movement but it just isn’t (at least not as currently organized). Organized labor exists to get higher pay, better work conditions and improved benefit packages for its members … and no one else.

At some point in our past the invention of the corporation paved the way for progress. It made possible the allocation of larger quantities of resources and the cooperation of people over longer periods of time.

The first corporations were cities and universities. Then business ventures that served public purposes such as the building of ports, canals, roads, rails and utilities such as water and electric were all incorporated. Finally, private business ventures incorporated and humans began to do big things that could not be done by sole proprietors and partnerships.

The bargaining power of a worker was small in the face of such large business interests and bargaining collectively gave workers a substantially better prospect for higher pay, better work conditions and improved benefit packages. At least it did so long as there was solidarity in the bargaining unit and support in the community.

One other important factor in the effectiveness of bargaining units was a high demand for labor coupled with a limited supply of laborers. Natural population growth and immigration have increased the supply of laborers. Technology has reduced the demand for labor.

It may be a myth but as some point in our history many believed that organized labor would lead to universally just and equitable division of the surplus to the working class. Some utopist thinkers expected the natural growth of the labor movement would lead to some form of democratization in the workplace such the nationalization of major industries and employee ownership of many smaller businesses.

But the hopes and the dreams of thinking people succumbed to the baser instincts of those who got caught up in their personal circumstances. Big business told unions, “OK, you but not them,” and the unions agreed.

Union leaders will tell you that higher pay, better work conditions and improved benefit packages for its members has led to higher pay, better work conditions and improved benefit packages for everyone else. This almost sounds like the trope promoted by big business that when businesses prosper the whole community prospers … trickle down economics.

I would argue that what has improved pay, work conditions and benefit packages for workers in general has been public policy. Government employees have historically enjoyed better pay, work conditions and benefit packages than non-government employees. As the government employed more people, the pressure on non-government employers to provide similar pay, work conditions and benefit packages increased.

The Fair Labor Standards Act and the expansion of government oversight in the workplace by agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Labor Relations Board played a larger role in improving pay and work condition than competition for labor in an organized labor market.

Organized labor has played a constructive role in all of this, but has failed to evolve from representing a few, to representing many, to representing all. This happened because organized laborers arrived at a comfortable place on the economic ladder. Its members stopped seeing themselves as the “working class” and started seeing themselves as the “hard working middle class”.

Organized labor formed an in-group and without any real intention to do so relegated unorganized labor to the out-group. The unorganized working class fell behind and began to resent the organized working middle class. If you say this didn’t happen, you have your head up your [fill in the blank]!

A Gallop poll indicates that public confidence in organized labor dropped from a high of 39% in 1970 to lows of 19% to 20% from 2007 to 2013. Recent polls indicate that it may be rising and is up to 24%.

Still, our confidence in labor unions is less than our confidence in banks at 28% only a bit better than big business at 19%. You have to be in Congress for the public to have less confidence … just 8%.

Contrast this with the public confidence in small business which is at 67%!

Politically, labor finds its natural alliance with Democrats and small business owners find their natural alliance with Republicans. It should be no surprise that the alliance of Republicans with small business benefits it more than the alliance of Democrats with labor. It should also be no surprise that many Democrats have quietly developed relationships with big business to offset the disadvantage of their alliance with labor.

According to the Census Bureau, only about 6.6% of private sector jobs are union jobs while 35.7% of the public sector is organized labor jobs. It is only natural that a large population of people who have low pay, bad work conditions and little or no work benefits will be envious and even resentful of the small population of people who enjoy better pay, work conditions and benefits.

The general public does not see economic opportunity for itself in public sector employment and employment at a union shop. Big business has let the general public down and provides some of the worst paying jobs anywhere with no hope for worker protection offered by labor unions or government. It looks and feels like the general public has been pooped on by all three of them.

I am a friend of the labor family and I believe strongly in the need for government. I am critical of labor and the government because I want both to improve and play a positive role in economic prosperity for all, especially the working class.

I saw a political sign a few weeks ago that read, “Big Government is the Problem; Small Government is the Solution.” I would like to amend that to read, “Unrepresentative Government is the Problem; Representative Government is the Solution.”

Here is one thing I think labor MUST DO to earn the trust of the people who feel abandoned both labor and the government as solutions to their economic impoverishment and or deprivation, “Fight for $15!”

The current “Fight for $15!” is nothing more than an effort to organize fast food workers into labor unions. That needs to stop!

The “Fight for $15!” must be a fight to make sure that everyone who works earns a living wage and $15 per hour is the least a full time employee can earn and enjoy an independent, self-supported and dignified life. Everyone should earn at least $15 per hour, not just those who have jobs in union shops.

The current tactics of organized labor are failing to earn even $15 per hour for many, if not most, of the organized labor family. Those who continue to earn better wages do so mainly by either working excessively long hours or by looking the other way while their employer picks up temporary worker at lower wages.

In a world were technology has made it possible to live on 30 or fewer hours per week, it is almost impossible to convince hard working middle class people that they should stop working 50 to 60 hours a week and work just 40 hours. Labor unions are doing nothing to make more jobs available to more people when each worker is doing two jobs and earning the income of two people.

Organized labor must stop competing with non-organized labor for wages and must insist on wages sufficient to support an every individual or family from just one 40 hour job. The “Fight for $15!” is one way to do that.

Organized labor must oppose the phony conversion of low wage jobs into salary positions as a vehicle for compelling employees to work more than 40 hours without overtime. None of these salary workers are union members but the labor family has to fight for social justice both inside and outside the union family if it hopes to have social justice for its own membership and the confidence of the public.

I recently read an article suggesting that organized labor could have a new life if only it was to look beyond a demographic of well-paid, white, male, baby-boomers and focus on a new demographic of women, blacks and young adults. I think this is incredibly short-sighted.

Expanding the in-group still leaves you with and in-group and an out-group. There is a union jingle that is so appropriate for this conversation, “All in and none out!”

Focusing on a demographic that is feeling more pain and discomfort in our current economy and excluding other demographics that are non-the-less in great discomfort is nothing more or less than petty exploitation of the greater misfortune that pits one unfortunate group against another group who misfortune is not so great.

Another part of the problem is this: If we address certain economic issues that effect everyone such as by providing government administered healthcare for all, robust government administered retirement programs that meets everyone’s needs or universal rules for employment that cap weekly work hours we also make the need for a labor union as currently organized less significant.

Organized labor must evolve and it has failed to do so. For example, when a corporation closes the doors on a factory, the workers need to demand that they be given the opportunity to reopen the doors and form a worker’s cooperative. This is an evolution that would involve the kind of radical organizing that our grandparents did to form what we now know as labor unions.

This isn’t to say that organized labor is failing everywhere. Skilled trades are organized in much the same way as temporary employment agencies that are owned by the temporary employees. They need to insist on an end to the distinction between temporary and permanent work that gives corporations an incentive to outsource employment to corporate temp agencies instead of skilled trade unions.

We also need to end the distinction between part-time and full-time work that pits full-time union members against part-time union members.

Union organized trade schools are slowly but surely loosing out to tax-funded community college programs that train workers without unionizing them. Organized labor needs to look to Europe and see how modern education systems work and get behind reforms that take us in the right direction for everyone without regard for the classical union v. big business conflicts.

Adapting to change and ending the in-group versus out-group division is a big part of the challenge organized labor must accept if it is to be as relevant in the future as it was in the past.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hillary Clinton Has No NEW Proposals to Curb the Price of Prescription Drugs

I just read an article suggesting that “one of Hillary Clinton's first major policy proposals is to curb the price of prescription drugs”.[1]

This woodchuck whistles!

Hillary Clinton’s plan for lowering prescription drug costs[2] is not anything new or revolutionary; it is just a fresh spin on old rhetoric.

“Hillary Clinton believes we need to promote competition and leverage our nation’s bargaining power to lower drug costs on behalf of Americans.”

There you have it, an appeal to romantic capitalistic expressions that makes this woodchuck put his little woodchuck paw on his little woodchuck heart and squeeze out little woodchuck tears.

“Hillary Clinton believes that we need to hold drug companies accountable to lower drug costs for Americans. And this isn’t a new fight for her. She fought against special interests for affordable health coverage in the 1990s and as a Senator. In her 2008 campaign, she called for allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to reduce prices and rein in costs. She’s been committed to this fight throughout her career, and is continuing it today.”

Tough words that mean absolutely nothing! What is her plan?

“Her plan will demand a stop to excessive profiteering and marketing by denying tax breaks for direct-to-consumer advertising and demanding that drug companies invest in R&D in exchange for taxpayer support – rather than marketing or excessive profits. She will encourage competition to get more generics on the market and create a Federal backstop for when there are excessively high-priced drugs that face no competition. And for Americans struggling with prescription drug cost burdens, she will cap what insurers can charge consumers in out-of-pocket costs, putting money back in the family wallet.”

If you want to understand a message, always start at the end and work your way to the beginning.

“She will cap what insurers can charge consumers in out-of-pocket costs.”

This does absolutely nothing to reduce the price paid for pharmaceuticals. The focus is on “out-of-pocket costs” to the final consumer. There will be a price to be paid for this and it will be reflected in higher insurance premiums and probably in higher tax subsidies to help low income families pay those higher insurance premiums.

“She will encourage competition to get more generics on the market and create a Federal backstop for when there are excessively high-priced drugs that face no competition.”

The rhetoric crosses a woodchuck’s eyes.

Who doesn’t know that there are already motivations in place to encourage insured people to take advantage of generic drugs when they are available? Who doesn’t know that there are already requirements for insurance to pay more when generic drugs are not available? Will she propose amending patents to make more drugs generic? And what is “a Federal backstop”?

All rhetoric, nothing new!

“Her plan will demand a stop to excessive profiteering and marketing by denying tax breaks for direct-to-consumer advertising and demanding that drug companies invest in R&D in exchange for taxpayer support – rather than marketing or excessive profits.”

Is there any way to guess what all of these words mean? Woodchuck’s get dizzy and fall over trying to understand it all.

Direct-to-consumer advertising is just television commercial, those annoying pop-up ads on the Internet and advertisements in magazines that suggest you “talk to your doctor” about their brand name of medication.

Do pharmaceutical companies actually get “tax breaks” for advertising? Or is this something that falls into the category of “expenses” which offset costs and are not “tax breaks”. Is she suggesting that we make it illegal to advertise?

All of the attention is now on price gouging by a company called Retrophin which sells a drug called Daraprim, which is the brand name of pyrimethamine, a drug used to prevent malaria and treat toxoplasmosis.

Have any of you ever seen any advertisement for Daraprim? No? And you didn't rush to doctor and ask for Daraprim by name? Maybe this isn't the problem?

We have been hearing this rhetoric for decades now and nothing has changed except that drug continue to be outrageously expensive and pharmaceutical companies continue to earn outrageous profits.

Let’s return to the offensive article that suggested Hillary has a proposal to curb the price of prescription drugs. 

The article begins by sharing a graphic of other countries where the prescription drug Celebrex is less expensive than it is here in the United States. What all of these countries have in common is national, single-payer health insurance. This is nothing like the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

The Affordable Care Act subsidizes the high cost of healthcare to reduce the out-of-pocket costs experiences by insured people by lining the pockets of insurance companies with tax subsidized insurance premiums. The high costs and the high profits are still there but they are less visible.

National Single Payer is a plan that reduces the obscene cost the old fashioned way … it reduces the obscene profits being earned. It pays for healthcare directly and eliminates the for-profit insurance companies. It limits how much pharmaceutical companies can charge by limiting how much it will pay.

Democrats controlled both houses of Congress four of the six years that Hillary Clinton was a Senator. If Hillary and the Democrats wanted to reform the laws to curb the price of prescription drugs they had their chance.

Hillary and the Democrats want to talk but they don’t want to walk!

Bernie Sanders has consistently supported the one thing that we know reduces the cost of prescription drugs … National Single Payer Health Insurance.

So why do the people at Vox write about Hillary and fail to mention Bernie?

I have an answer, I think they want the prices to come down but they don’t want to do the things that will actually bring them down. I think they want to be “mainstream” and avoid being “extreme”. They are part of what they think is a great move to the center but it really a great move to the right.

This woodchuck whistles!

[1] Vox, After Obamacare, Democrats turn to prescription drug prices as health-care priority (Sep 22, 2015),

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Democrats spend too much time talking about Republicans

I’ve been beating this drum for a while now and this morning it came up again.

Republicans in the Michigan legislature want to change how we allocate electoral votes. HB 4310 and SB 0489 would require that two of Michigan’s electoral votes be allocated based on the statewide popular vote and that one electoral vote be chosen in each of Michigan’s congressional districts.

This would result in a disproportionate number of electoral votes being awarded to Republicans because of the gerrymandering of congressional districts. For example, in the 2012 presidential election Mitt Romney, the Republican, with only 44.7% of the popular vote would have gotten a windfall 62.5% of Michigan’s electors.

But look what we are doing; we are talking about the Republicans.

We all know that the current system of “winner takes all” is unfair. Is there a better plan being offered by the Democrats?

Yes! But Democrats aren’t talking about it; instead they are talking about how unfair the Republic plan is.

The present unfair system of apportioning presidential delegates to the Electoral College benefits Democrats. Barack Obama, the Democrat, won with just 54.2% of the popular vote but he was awarded 100% of Michigan’s electors.

A few Democrats in the Michigan Senate are supporting SB 0088, a bill that would establish an National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to elect president. This bill has passed in ten states and was previously introduced into the 2013-2014 legislatures in both houses. But, there was not and is not a peep about it in the news.

And it isn’t just the media that is ignoring this good piece of legislation; the Democrats are giving no attention to it either. I have been very active in the Democratic Party for five years now and even though I have heard hundreds of Democrats bring up the bad Republican bills, I have never heard anyone mention the good Democratic bills.

Democrats are so busy trying to look like non-partisan centrists that they won’t tell you that they have proposed amending Michigan’s constitution (see HJR AA) to replace our highly partisan system of apportioning congressional and legislative districts with a much better non-partisan system.

In Congress, House Resolution 2173, the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015, would require States to conduct Congressional redistricting through independent commissions. Shouldn't we be talking about this instead of just complaining about Republican gerrymandering?

Democrats complain all day about how Republicans are suppressing voter registration. Then they forget to tell you about a Democratic bill that would allow a 16 year old applying for a driving license to preregister to vote (see HB 4799 and SB 0058) or a bill that would allow voters registered just ten days ahead of an election to vote (see HB 4816).

And what about Senate Bill 1970, the Raising Enrollment with a Government Initiated System for Timely Electoral Registration (REGISTER) Act of 2015, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont? This bill would require states to automatically register people to vote, if they are qualified, or update their voter registration when they apply for or update their state identification card or driving license.

Democrats run from the good progressive bills that they periodically offer and instead focus on the bad conservative bills offered by the Republicans. 

Maybe someone could explain this to me so that I can understand it? 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Are Republicans Trying to Make Absentee Voting Easier?

Why was this woodchuck totally annoyed to the point of whistling when he read, “New no-reason absentee voting bill backed by MichiganSOS Ruth Johnson”?

This looks like one of those incremental steps in the right direction which makes it difficult to understand why it is being sponsored by Republican State Representative Lisa Lyons and supported by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. It just makes my little woodchuck whiskers twitch; something is wrong with this.

House Bill 4724 would expand the definition of absent voter to include an elector who applies in person at the clerk's office and who presents photo identification and expand the 100-foot rule to a clerk's office during the 45 days before an election.

The bill was introduced today, June 17th, on the heals of an announced initiative to fundamentally change how ballots are cast in Michigan. On April 1st, Let’s Vote Michigan! began work on a ballot initiative that would make Michigan a Vote-By-Mail state. The first draft was submitted to the Secretary of State’s office on April 30th and returned with suggestions for correction. A final draft is expected to be completed within a week or two.

Is it a coincidence that legislation is being introduced by Republicans that would apparently make it easier to vote absentee shortly after being alerted to an initiative that could put ballots in the mailboxes of every registered voter in Michigan without any request whatsoever for an absentee ballot? Woodchuck hair bristles on the back of my neck.

The bill that was introduced will not increase voter turnout or even make it easier to vote, it will just remove a minor barrier to absentee voting that was not really stopping anyone who wanted an absentee ballot from getting it.

Voters will still have to drive to the township clerk’s office, which is often further away than their polling location. Absentee voters would no longer be able to mail in their request for an absentee ballot. This largely negates the benefit of absentee voting.

Voters would have to show a picture ID to satisfy some dogmatic view held by the conservative right that it makes elections more valid if you show up in person and present papers. Does that sound just a bit … fascist?

This bill creates something called an assistant who is authorized by a local clerk to receive absent voter ballot applications. This assistant would be required to have something called a "Certificate of Authorized Registered Elector Returning Absent Voter Ballot Application" and would, of course, be sworn to inspect the voters papers ... sieg heil.

The most interesting part about being an assistant is that the person would not be allowed to solicit or request to return the application of the voter which means that their special status as an assistant would be a secret and it would be a crime to let others know that you could help them. This makes my woodchuck eyes cross in confusion.

Instead of making it easier to get an absentee ballot, this bill makes it more difficult. Finally my woodchuck whiskers settle down. Republicans really are the monsters that we all know they are and this bill which appears to make absentee voting easier is just another deception.

And what about that ballot initiative that would actually put ballots in the mailboxes of each every voter in the State of Michigan? We don’t need it less because of this bill … we need it more!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Enough to Make a Woodchuck Quint

The census bureau and many other institutions routinely divide the American population demographics into statistical quintiles or fifths. Here is an example of how the demographics relate to age and wealth distribution, both divided into quintiles:

It is plain to see that there is no virtue in being in the first or second quintile of wealth distribution at any age or being in the third quintile and below the age of 55. Even at the third quintile age 55 and over or the fourth quintile below the age of 45, people are well enough off to be what we might call “job creators”.

Amazingly, the youngest people in the fifth quintile, those under age 35, are better off financially that most people in the first, second and even third quintiles.

It is easy to imagine that a small percentage of the population have low income because they lack skills or education and the like, but to imagine that more than half of the human demographic have a low net worth for such reasons is absurd.

It is also beyond absurd to imagine that the fifth quintile demographic has such a high net worth because of their superior skills or education.

Young people in any of the bottom four quintiles are in trouble. Middle aged people in the bottom three quintiles are in trouble. Wealth is concentrated in people who are age 55 and older, especially in the fourth and fifth quintiles.

Another way of looking at this is that those people whose skills or education do the least for others because they are retired or nearing retirement have the most wealth. This defeats the notion that skills and education are primary determinants in wealth distribution.

The extreme difference in net worth between the first and fifth quintiles is institutionalized class division in modern society and is little different than the caste systems of less advanced societies.

Those whose parents were in the best financial situation are also those in the best situation to acquire skills and education. In my opinion, there exists an association fallacy in relation to skills or education and wealth distribution, post hoc ergo proptor hoc.

The poorest segment of society is the victim of a cruel joke. They invest themselves in the acquisition of skills or education with the expectation that they will move out of their quintile into the one above it. The institutions that lend to them and educate them have no motivation to persuade them otherwise.

Here we transition from a discussion of household wealth to a discussion of household income.

A person born in the first income quintile with a college degree has roughly the same opportunity for future income as a person born in the top quintile without a college degree. For anyone in the bottom four income quintiles, the lack of a college degree will increase you prospect of remaining in or dropping below your birth quintile.

Watch live streaming video from frbsf at

In the bottom four income quintiles, your prospects of landing in any of the five quintiles after obtaining a college degree are roughly the same. So the question remains, does a college degree move you up the income ladder or just give you an equal chance of landing in any of the five quintiles?

What matters after that is how much it costs. Did you borrow or was it paid for by your wealthy parents? It does a person little good to land a job with fourth quintile income if they begin their career deep in debt with fist quintile net wealth.

This woodchuck quints at the thought of sending young people off to borrow money and gamble on an education as the thing that will move them up the income and net wealth ladder. And it is a BIG gamble! The distance between the bottom quintile and the top quintile is immense.

The only thing that makes fighting for a chance at being in the second or third quintile worthwhile is the fear of ending up in the first quintile if you fail to get a college degree. Woodchucks everywhere tremble at the thought. 

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Economic Mobility in the United States (video).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Proposal 1 ... Yawn

Here is why there is no real movement to oppose Proposal 1, “Everyone knows that it is going to fail!”

And it should fail!

Elected Democrats in Lansing are doing what they can to promote Proposal 1 but rank and file Democrats oppose it. The Democratic Party leadership is dancing around the issue because they want to support their elected leadership without offending the general membership.

There are three things that we all of us know but some of us are trying very hard to not know:

  1. This is a regressive tax increase that will hurt low and middle income taxpayers disproportionate to high income earners.
  2. None of the new money earmarked for roads, schools and local government will actually help roads, schools and local government. Other general tax money for roads, schools and local government will just be reduced to offset gains due to earmarked funds.
  3. The only reason we are even considering this is because of the insane reduction in corporate income tax passed by Republicans and the Republicans are already considering income tax reductions that will disproportionately lower taxes on high income earners.

If the proposal is unfair, will not actually fix the problem and is only being proposed to avoid taxing corporations and the wealthy, then we must oppose it.

But then, it hardly matters whether we oppose it or not. The voters are having none of this, they are going to defeat this proposal for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not the proposal is fair or will fix the problem.

The voters just don’t want to pay more taxes of any kind for any reason. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What Happened to the Lower Class?

Every politician and pundit knows that there is a class war and the middle class is loosing to the something called the top one percent.

What happened to the lower class and the upper class, do they no longer exist?

We want to believe that most people are middle class so we imagine that a graph of class division looks like a well-balanced bell curve with only a few in the lower and upper classes. The vast majority of us are somewhere in the middle.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

A more honest graph of class division is a skewed curve with the majority of the people in the lower class. The middle class is not statistically in the middle and it does not conform to any of the central measures such as the mean (average), median (middle) or mode (most frequent).

The middle class is more correctly an intermediate class that is between the lower and upper classes.

Everybody wants to be in the middle and nobody wants to be part of the outgroup, so we have relabeled the lower and upper classes as the lower middle class and upper middle class respectively. The outgroup now only consists of the very poor and the very wealthy and they are no longer regarded as classes.

This social agreement to reduce those who are in the outgroup to only those who are very poor and very wealthy makes any conversation about class division almost impossible. The lower class people do not want to be lumped in with the very poor who they regard as their inferiors. The upper class people fancy themselves to be hard-working people and do not want to imagine that their high income lifestyle is largely at the expense of low income people.

Nobody wants to be in the lower or upper class so nobody has to admit they are or even admit that these classes of people exist.

Whether we admit it or not, class division is a thing and until we admit it we can't talk about it.