Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Unintended Consequences: Medical Marijuana

Whatever were the supporters of Michigan’s 2008 Medical Marijuana Initiative thinking? Did the growers and users of marijuana think that they would be allowed to do so lawfully if they had a doctor’s note? If so, that was very shortsighted.

One of the many bills that passed in the final week of Michigan’s 2013 legislative calendar was Senate Bill 660 (Substitute S-3) which will “allow under certain circumstances and regulate the possession and use of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis by certain individuals” and regulates the “sale of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis through licensed facilities.”

This bill amends the “controlled substances” list and specifies that “marijuana” is classified as a Schedule II drug.  Furthermore, it prohibits a person from manufacturing, distributing, prescribing, or dispensing pharmaceutical-grade cannabis without a controlled substance license.

In short, the supporters of Michigan’s 2008 Medical Marijuana Initiative got exactly what they asked for … marijuana is just as lawful to manufacture, distribute, prescribe, and/or dispense as codeine, morphine and oxycodone.

But wait … that is NOT what they wanted, they wanted to be able to have the kind of autonomy that people who grow potatoes have. But not for everyone, just for themselves, for the special people who think of themselves a “medicinal” users.

This is part of the fundamental failure of special interest politics. Supporters or opponents of this or that social, political or economic reform are only interested in their own narrow view.

I spoke with several people in 2010 that I thought would be interested in helping to end marijuana prohibition but they were not.

One only wanted to make it legal to cultivate, harvest and manufacture THC-free industrial hemp products such as might be used for paper, textiles, cellulosic plastic, biofuel, cooking oil or high-protein meals. Another was only interested in making marijuana legal to cultivate, harvest and personally use as “medicine”.

I experienced the same lack of enthusiasm for ending marijuana prohibition when approaching candidates, political party and labor leaders, environmentalists and many others who all readily admitted privately that they thought it was a good idea but refused to be publically associated with any effort to end marijuana prohibition. Their focus on their own special interest prevented them from embracing the special interests of others for fear that they might loose a few supporters.

Even the people in the movement to end marijuana prohibition refused to be labeled as supporters of any movement other than their own.

Based on the 2008 election results, 38% of voters oppose the use of marijuana, even to save human life or spare human discomfort. That is a big voting block! They have spent the last five years working out how they are going to keep anyone from ever having the liberty to choose for themselves to cultivate, harvest, manufacture, or use in any way, shape or form a plant of the genus Cannabis.

Why do they hate liberty so much?

It isn’t just “them”; the pro-industrial hemp and pro-medical Cannabis voters are just as hateful when it comes to simple recreational use. The civil libertarians, most of which do not use marijuana for any reason, are probably the only objective party in the social question but they are about 7% of the voters.

Without the mutual support of industrial hemp enthusiasts, recreational users and principled civil libertarians, the so-called medicinal marijuana users are a much smaller and less politically influential block of voters than the 38% who oppose Cannabis just because they are closed-minded, hateful conservatives who think Jesus said something in the Bible about Cannibis being the devil’s weed.

This is just one example of how narrow-minded special interest gets in the way of political, social and economic progress. The one special interest group that seems to be able to get past this is the one with lots of money and only one special interest … more money.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What Does Obama's Runaway Government Spending on Social Programs Look Like?

My conservative friends keep telling me that under the Obama administration there has been something called “runaway spending” on social programs. So I’m going to try to find it.

The big three social programs are health care, education and welfare. But wait, almost all of the growth in these programs took place under budgets approved during the Bush years! And social spending has been flat or declining throughout the Obama years.

Maybe there are some other programs where there is runaway growth? My conservative friends tell me that government is just too big and costs too much. Maybe there are runaway costs for general government, transportation or other spending?

Nope! Except for a spike in 2009, after the last year of Bush, there is no evidence of runaway spending. In fact, it looks like spending is going down.

It’s probably in defense or protection?

Wrong again! All of that growth took place during the Bush years and spending is down.

It has to be interest payments on debt!

How many times can we be wrong? The Obama administration has done a great job of reducing the interest paid to service debt.

I’ve got it … its pensions … Social Security spending is out of control.

This is seriously old. Social Security growth is pretty much the same as it has been for decades and just reflects a growing population of retirees.

Is it possible that there isn’t actually any runaway growth in the Obama years?

Apparently not.

At least we know one thing … under Obama the deficit has grown out of control … hasn’t it?

Even the deficit is shrinking under the Obama administration. Of course it  grew dramatically the last year Bush was in office. But it has been coming down ever since.

Maybe there are just a lot of people who are telling one another how the government is growing out of control under Obama? Maybe they are wrong? Maybe they don’t care that they are wrong? Maybe they have other reasons for disliking Obama?

I think I have figured it out! 

Obama is Irish!


I want to be very clear that I am NOT blaming or giving credit to President Barack Obama for any of the spending trends. Congress, not the President, is responsible for spending. The purpose of this article was to demonstrate the absurd assertions made by conservatives that under the Obama administration there has been something called “runaway spending” on social programs.

Is the Obama Presidency a Disaster?

First, let me be very clear that I am NOT an Obama apologist. I am a social, political and economic progressive and civil libertarian; I have been more than a little disappointed by action or inaction of the President That being said, it must be admitted that the foundational cause of my disappoints lays not with the President but with Congress and We the People who have failed to support better candidates for elected office at all levels.

The duties and powers of Congress are laid out in Article I Section 8 of the Constitution for the United States of America. It is the failure of Congress to perform its duties that is at the root of my disappointment with government and our failure to elect representatives who are both able and willing to ensure that those duties are fulfilled in the best interest of We the People.

Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Congress refuses to collect sufficient taxes to retire its debts and pay for the operations of government. Where Congress does make provision for taxation, it does so without uniformity. There are two phrases that come to mind, one is “fiscally conservative” and the other is “fiscally responsible”.

A fiscally conservative tax policy supports and preserves the existence of a servant class. The word conservative transliterates to con- “with” + servus “servants” + -ate (forms adjective from verb) + -ivus (forms noun from adjective).

A fiscally responsible policy tax supports and preserves trust and accountability. It persuades We the People that Congress is “able to discharge obligations or pay debts”.

Where a fiscally conservative tax policy punishes the servant class and benefits the ownership class, a fiscally responsible tax policy ensures that the obligations and debts of the United States of America are satisfied by a pragmatic and fair a means as possible.

I refuse of overburden the reader with examples, but I believe it is a well established truth that the financial wealth of America is overwhelmingly concentrated at the very top leaving little to nothing for the vast majority of the people. The top 1% benefit disproportionately from their labors to such an extreme that they now possess 42% of the financial wealth of the nation. The next 4% are not far behind with 30% of the financial wealth. The bottom 80%, which is almost all of us, now shares just 5% of the financial wealth.

This class division is supported and preserved in large part by a fiscally conservative tax policy that creates loopholes in the tax code for the super-wealthy. The corporations that they own avoid paying taxes by off shoring income, capital gains which make up the largest share of their income are taxed at a far lower rate than the wages of working class people, and unbelievable tax supported subsidies for the wealthy go almost unnoticed while what remains of our middle class focus on the help we provide the lowest income earners.

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

The failure of Congress to tax its wealthiest income earners is aggravated by the fact that it ends up borrowing from them what it should have taxed from them. The great irony of this fiscally conservative and irresponsible policy is that it reduces the incentive of those who have the means to invest their accumulated wealth in productive enterprises.

Much of the borrowings of government are used to subsidize additional profits to large corporations that are already profitable. And, if government did not borrow so much, it would be almost impossible the super-wealthy and for mega-corporations to preserve their off shore earnings in US dollar denominated accounts.

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization …

Would anyone be surprised to learn that one of the best ways to earn money abroad and avoid paying taxes on it is to take advantage of treaties with complicated commerce provisions in them? The same is true in the United States where a foreign company that may ultimately be owned by American investors avoids taxes under the commerce provisions of a treaty.

And what is this, “To regulate Commerce … among the several States …”? Large corporations play the commerce rules of one state against the commerce rules of another to create income advantages for themselves. This is true in agriculture, manufacturing and financials.

Failure to regulate commerce has resulted in a flight of industry and jobs to foreign nations where labor is virtually at the wages of slavery and where the environment can be exploited without regulatory interference. 

The failure of Congress to create rational pathways to citizenship for immigrants has allowed businesses to exploit the cheap labor of unlawful immigrants AND has undercut the value of labor for lawful citizens.

The failure of Congress to prudently and fairly regulate commerce has harmed We the People in the bottom 80% for the benefit of a very few people in the top 1% or 5%.

To establish an uniform … Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States; To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures; To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

The groundwork for income inequality and economic collapse was laid when Congress, on behalf of We the People, outsourced its Constitutional duty to issue sound money (both securities and coin) for use by We the People as a medium of exchange. We no longer have the ability to exchange the value of our labor, goods or services without first renting (borrowing into circulation) money form one of the commercial banks.

A private tax is levied on every dollar in circulation (whether paper or electronic but not on coins) in the form of interest on loans. Since only the principle is ever loaned into existence, there is never enough money to pay back both the principle AND the interest. This creates an unending and upward spiral of dept.

Ironically, repaying loans without borrowing more shrinks the money supply and lays the foundation for recessions. The interest paid on loans represents a wealth transfer from the working class producers whose income is relatively low to the ownership class lenders whose high income is mind-blowing.

The interest on privately issued, debt-based money is ultimately passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices on everything. That means that the lenders earn profits on everything that money is used for even though they have nothing to do with the production of good and services.

Bankruptcy for some, perhaps many, is the inevitable consequence of a money supply that cannot meet the demands for repayment on commercial loans. There is approximately $1.19 trillion in circulating Federal Reserve Notes. In 2006, it was estimated that roughly 60% of US Federal Reserve Notes (or $450 billion) were in circulation abroad and unlikely to ever be repatriated.

How can less than $740 billion in notes extinguish an estimated $60,677.9 billion in debt? What would be left to circulate as medium of exchange? Roughly $40 billion of coin? What if the foreign currency and the coin were also used to repay debt? There would be no medium of exchange but there would still be $59,447.9 billion in debt.

Even if we applied all demand deposits and travelers checks, which we can't because of fractional reserve banking, the money supply would be zero and there would still be over $58 trillion in debt!

The math is impossible and the experiment in outsourcing our money system to the lenders may have nearly run its course.

By my study, we have been through many smaller or larger collapses in the last several decades because of this and it is the principle cause of income and financial wealth inequality. I don’t know if there is a great big collapse in our future or if we will just keep squeezing out the working class people and so that the ownership class can get wealthier.

Ultimately, we need sound money issued into circulation by We the People without creating debt.

As late as late as 1971 the US Treasury issued interest-free United States Notes as legal tender. Issuing part of the money supply as United States Notes not only reduced the tax burden but it reduced the debt and reduced bankruptcies without harming any lender or reducing the money supply which is the cause of recession.

The case for issuing $1 coins as money is closely linked to the need for additional debt-free money.

On a lighter note, the failure of Congress to act on the issue of 1¢ and 5¢ coins is costing the taxpayers money. These one-cent coins should be retired in the same manner as the half-cent was. The nickel should be replaced with a half-dime that costs less to produce.

But Congress is failing to fulfill ifs duty to establish a public medium of exchange and We the People, or at least 80% of us, are paying the price.

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

Here is the Constitutional mandate for the establishment of Post Offices and the maintenance of roads for use in mail delivery. The Post Office has operated tax free for most of its existence but profiteer and crony capitalists insist that it be outsourced. The fact is that without a publicly owned and operated post office most of the nation’s geography would not have delivery service.

Private delivery companies only make regular deliveries to the most profitable geographic areas and let the Post Office make the final delivery to areas where it would have to operate at a loss. In this manner, the public US Postal Service customers pay more to protect the profits of private delivery companies.

And what about those roads? So-called Constitutionalists have almost convinced us that there was no role for federal government in road maintenance, but the founders wrote it into the Constitution. So, why doesn’t Congress allocate sufficient money to establish and maintain roads?

Instead of doing its duty, Congress has acted to destroy the Post Office and under-fund roads. We the People loose again.

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Now there is a big, fat failure of Congress! Conservatives that are all dressed up like they love the Constitution are screaming for Congress to stop funding the sciences and the arts. Also, patent and copyright laws are no longer protecting the authors and inventors, they are protecting the corporations.

And what about that “limited time” clause? This line almost failed to make its way into the Constitution because the founders wanted to be sure that new invention and creativity would not be stifled to protect the profits of earlier inventors and creators longer than was necessary to compensate them for their labor.

Today, life itself is patented; farmers, inventors, patients and artists are being hamstrung by patent laws to protect the corporate profit-taking. Congress has failed again to act in our best interest where it has a duty to promote science and arts and write patent and copyright laws in such a way as to balance the promotion of progress while protecting invention and creativity.

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. …

Precious little is said beyond “executive power”. The duties of the President are largely “administrative or supervisory”. The president executes the laws and policies which are established in Congress.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; … he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed …

The real power of the President is the power of recommendation and approval. The duty to send bills to the President rests with Congress. Even the disapproval of a bill by the President is nothing more than a returning of the bill to Congress with objections. All of the duties beyond administration and supervision clearly lay with Congress.

But Obama …

Frankly, I am tired of hearing this crap! Stop blaming the President for the disasters that belong to Congress. 

In fact, stop blaming Congress too! You elected them and you could have done better if you had just cared enough to be involved in the process that gets them elected. 

Your minimum duty is this:

1. Be registered to vote and keep your registration current. Don't let others tell you this is to difficult; it is almost automatic for people getting a driver's license or state identification card. All you have to do is check the box! 

2. Be aware of upcoming elections as well as the candidates and the issues that will appear on the ballot. Some people think we only vote every four years but there are potentially four elections every year. A lot of candidates and issues get voted on between Presidential year General Elections. 

3. Talk to other people about upcoming elections. Word of mouth and conversation are still the best ways to promote ideas or discover what others are thinking. We can't expect to be represented by consensus builders if we aren't consensus builders.

4. VOTE! Vote in every election, not just the Presidential year General Election. Vote in candidate race AFTER you have learn more about the candidates. Vote on every ballot issue AFTER you have learned more about the issues.

Stop complaining about Obama and start focusing on your own personal duty to send someone to Congress that can work with others to do what the Constitution requires of them. And make sure that YOU are doing your duty before you complain about whether or not others are doing theirs.

Friday, December 6, 2013

President Obama Speaks to the Middle?

Middle Class

Yesterday, President Barack Obama spoke to the “Middle Class” at Osawatomie High School in Osawatomie, Kansas. We know he was speaking to the “Middle Class” because he used the phrase “Middle Class” a total of twenty-six times.

Obama told us who the Middle Class were; they were the teacher, the nurse or the construction worker earning maybe $50,000 a year. He told us that they were people who have a college degree, that unemployment for people with college degrees is about half the national average and income is twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma.

But what is the “middle”? In statistical jargon, there are four key measures for any population of data points; mean, median, mode and range. The middle value of any population is the median. The value that appears most often is the mode and the average of all values is the mean. Range is the difference between the highest value and the lowest value in the populations.

Middle Income

The median American household income in 2012 was $51,371.[1] That must be the middle Obama was speaking about when he told us that “a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker, maybe earns $50,000 a year”.

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
~Mark Twain

But “household income” is NOT synonymous with individual wages. The measure of household income tells us nothing of how many people worked, how many hours they worked or whether the income was derived from their work or from other sources such as pensions and annuities, business income, rent, interest or other capital gains.

According to the Social Security Administrate the average compensation (wages, tips and the like) for 2012 was $42,498.21 but the median compensation was estimated to be just $27,519.10.[2] What this means is that half of the people who worked and earned money in 2012 were compensated with less than $27,519.10. We still do not know how many hours they worked or what their hourly rate was, but we do know that they did NOT earn “maybe $50,000 per year”.

The Surest Route to the Middle Class

“In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the Middle Class. The unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree or more is about half the national average. And their incomes are twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma.”

Education - Unemployment

To understand this statement, the words have to be un-wrapped and the rhetoric exposed. The national average unemployment rate of those 25 years of age and older is 5.8% and the unemployment rate for those with a Bachelor’s degree and higher is 3.7%.[3]

But this too is misleading because the number is artificially reduced by the inclusion of those with advanced degrees who are the least likely to be unemployed.

In 2010, people with a Bachelor’s degree made up 19.4% of the total population, 23.2% of the employed population and 13.5% of the unemployed population. People with advanced degrees made up 10.5% of the total population, 13.0% of the employed population and just 4.8% of the unemployed population.[4]

Weighted for percent of population, the unemployment rate for those with an advanced degree is roughly 2.8% and for those with a Bachelor’s degree is 4.2% or nearly three fourths the national average … NOT even close to half.

Is an Associate’s degree a “college education”? In 2010, people with an Associate’s degree (including vocational degrees) made up 9.1% of the total population, 10.5% of the employed population and 18.2% of the unemployed population.

The unemployment rate for those with an Associate’s degree is 5.2%, roughly the same as the national average.

But other factors remain to be considered, such as age. Unemployment is especially high among those who are 25-34 years of age; 42.4% of the people in that age range are college graduates and the unemployment rate is 7.2%.

The question then becomes not just what percent are unemployed but what do they earn when they are employed.

Education – Wages

Excluding those with advanced degrees, in 2009 a person age 25 to 34 years old with a Bachelor’s degree earned an average of $45,692 and with an Associate’s degree earned $35,544. The same age person with some college but no degree earned $31,392 and a high school graduate earned $27,511. Those who were not a high school graduate in the same age range earned $19,415.[5]

The president’s choice of words was very careful indeed. While 42.4% of people in this age range have a college degree, only 11.6% did not graduate from high school. High school graduates and those with some college but no degree make up the largest part of the population at 46.1%.

The truth is that a person in this age range with a Bachelor’s degree only earns, on average, 45% more than a person with any education whatsoever beyond high school. Most of their added income is consumed by the necessity of repaying loans or by higher tax rates.

And remember, these are means or averages, not medians or modes. If income distribution curves tell us anything it is this, the median is always lower than the mean and the mode is always lower than the median. In other words, half of the college graduates will earn significantly less than the mean and a college graduate is far more likely to earn dramatically less than the mean.

Education, Unemployment and Wages

Unemployment is NOT the result of having too few educated people. In fact unemployment is also high among educated people. When President Bill Clinton finished his term of office in 2000, the unemployment rate for those age 25 years and over with a Bachelor’s degree and higher was just 1.7% compared to the current rate of 3.7%. Even those with a high school diploma and no college had a lower unemployment rate of just 3.4%.

In the year 2000, 65.3% of the population had jobs and today only 61.1% have jobs. In the year 2000 just 24.4% of the population had a Bachelor’s degree and higher[6], today that number has risen 29.9%. The population of college educated people has risen 5.5% but the employment ratio has dropped 4.2%.

Note: The employment ratio remained well below 61.1% from 1948 until 1985. The ratio was commonly 56-59% from 1948 until 1978. Current employment ratios represent a correction toward historic levels of employment except that modern employees are underpaid.

Did educating a higher percent of the population reduce the employment ratio? Of course not! Educating people creates a ready supply of qualified labor, but it does not create jobs.

What about wages? President Obama told us about well established public sector teachers with a college education, experienced college educated nurses and skilled construction workers with union jobs earning $50,000 per year. But new entrants in these vocations are not fairing as well in spite of the larger number of college educated people.

Most of the new jobs are in retail, food service and hospitality. Are the people stocking shelves at the grocery story, serving food in restaurants, and making beds at hotels earning more because they have college degrees? Not a chance!

Roughly half of college graduates who have work say that their college degree was not required. This is especially true of those earning lower incomes. 38% of college graduates found white collar jobs and 49% of them said that a college degree was not required. 18% of college graduates found blue collar jobs and 81% of them said that a college degree was not required.[7]

With the exception of postgraduates and professionals or executives, the majority of college graduates indicate that a college degree is not required for their job.

Wages and Hours - A Fair Shot and a Fair Share

Some people thought that President Obama was talking about the “minimum wage”, but he wasn’t; he only used the phrase “minimum wage” once in reference to President Theodore Roosevelt’s vision for wages, work hours and education. Roosevelt called his vision “New Nationalism” and introduced it at a speech given in Osawatomie, Kansas on August 31, 1910.

“No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so that after his day's work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load. We keep countless men from being good citizens by the conditions of life with which we surround them. We need comprehensive workmen's compensation acts, both State and national laws to regulate child labor and work for women, and, especially, we need in our common schools not merely education in booklearning, but also practical training for daily life and work.”

President Obama said, “I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules.” But what is this “fair share”?

The average work week is about 35 hours and our fair share is about 35 hours per week so that is what most of us should be working. Wages should be high enough to support an individual and their small family on 35 hours per week of employment.

Because many full-time employees work excessively long weeks to earn higher wages, other workers are unable to get sufficient work hours to meet their basic needs. So that some people can be paid vey high wages, other people must be paid very low wages.

Part-time is 1-34 hours per week, full-time is 35-40 hours per week, and over 40 hours per week is considered to be overtime. One study observed that “overtime workers were more likely to be male, white, and middle-aged, with higher levels of education and income.”[8] Another study shows that about 11% of employees work more than 50 hours per week (16% of men work very long hours compared to 6% of women).[9]

If doing our fair share is important, it is also important to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to do their fair share. Some need to work less so that others can work more.  If earning our fair share is even going to be possible, some workers will need to lower hourly rates so that others can earn higher hourly rates.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly hours of all employees in private employment is 34.9 hours per week and the average weekly earnings are $844.23. If every person currently employed were to be paid $24 per hour and every person worked 35 hours per week, each working person would earn $43,690 per year. All of the work would be done and it would cost no more than the current wage distribution.

In Germany, the first 8,004 € ($10,936.67) of household income earned is tax free, an additional allowance of 7,664 € ($10,472.09) of tax free income is made for each adult and 7,008 € ($9,575.73) of tax free income is allowed for each child. A family of four could earn the equivalent of $40,560.22 without paying any income tax in Germany. The next 5,465 € ($7,467.38) are taxed at the low average rate of 14% and the following 39,410 € ($53,849.82) are taxed at an average rate of just 23.97%. A small family could earn the equivalent of $101,877.42 without paying a high income tax rate. Taxes leap up to 42% and then 45% for higher income ranges. These high tax rates discourage high wages, multiple incomes per household and long work hours.[10] There is no maximum number of hours that Americans can work or be expected to work, but all across Europe the maximum is 48 hours.[11] France has a 35-hour workweek by law and other countries in Europe generally have similar working time. Annual work hours are reduced by a relatively high amount of paid annual leave, usually four to six weeks.

None of the so-called champions of the people, not even Barack Obama, are talking about a fairer and more equal division of wages and hours.  There will be no new and progressive legislation that would firmly establish the 35 hours work week or a living wage for all people. Maybe, if we elect enough Democrats, the minimum wage will be increased a little bit?

Working class people cannot solve this problem! The ownership class will only employ as many people as are needed for profit motivated production of goods and services at the lowest wage they can get away with paying and working class people lack the resources to employ themselves at better wages. The same people that own it all and won’t employ us or pay us, don’t want the government to employ us or pay us either. It’s almost like they are … Republicans.

Tax the Rich

President Obama is talking about taxes; he mentioned taxes twenty-one times. He is beating the same not-so-progressive drum that Democrats have been beating since he took office. Extend the payroll tax cuts … restore the Clinton era personal income tax rate of 39% for incomes over a million dollars … close loopholes and shelters that lower the effective tax rate on millionaires. Maybe if we elect Democrats they will make this happen, but it will be a cold day in a hot place before the Republicans will let this happen.

Appeal to Fairness

Forgive me, but I was hoping to hear a tall, clean shaven, dark skinned version of Robert Reich, instead what I heard was mostly rhetoric for his support base who are the established, employed, people with college degrees in the public service sector such as educators, professionals and paraprofessionals with seniority like nurses and upper tier skilled labor in unionized trades like construction workers who earn roughly $50,000 per year or more, are responsible home owners and tax payers.

I didn’t hear anything for the 60% or more of the population who fall short of the implied “Middle Class” standard. He sang the sweet hymn of praise for the holy grail of the Middle Class … education. He talked about how virtuous they were, how they worked hard, got an education, were responsible home owners, and how they paid their taxes and how the government programs they liked had all suffered to shrink the evil budget deficit.

Now it’s time for others to pay more taxes! And its time for others to get an education and get to work! How other people need to be responsible like them and do their fair share like they have already done.

Am I being too cynical? Maybe.

Roosevelt and the New Nationalism

The average listener or reader has no idea what the nationalism movement of the late 1800s was or what new nationalism in the early 1900s was. Nationalism was a bold and progressive movement with the aim of nationalizing the important industries of the nation such as public utilities, banks, railroads and eventually agriculture and distribution.

But that is another article that needs to be written.

My closing thought is this, the Obama speech was riddled with praise of the market-based economy … competition for jobs, competition with foreign industries, economic growth and consumerism. What America really needs is a great big dose of cooperation to replace all of that competition, but that isn’t what Obama learned in school and it isn’t what most of us learned or want to hear.

The big problem is growth! Unrestrained population growth, unrestrained stripping of the earth’s resources to feed our population growth, and unending growth in debt necessary to pay interest on the money privately loaned into the economy for most of the last century.

Nobody talks about the big problems because there is still profit to be made exploiting the last of the earth’s resources and destroying our environment using the last of the cheep fossil fuels and the endless of supply of cheap human labor that can be obtained from a huge population of well educated people who are deep in debt and afraid of what will happen next week if they don’t get a paycheck this week.

[1] American Community Survey Briefs, “Household Income: 2012”, September 2013, U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr12-02.pdf.
[2] Measures of Central Tendency for Wage Data, Social Security Administration, extracted from the Official Social Security Website on December 5, 2014, http://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/central.html.
[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics for the Current Population Survey, data for Sep 2013, Not Seasonally Adjusted, extracted December 5, 2013.
[4] U.S. Census Bureau, "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012”, Section 4 - Education, page 152, "Table 231. Educational Attainment by Selected Characteristics: 2010", http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/12statab/educ.pdf.
[5] U.S. Census Bureau, "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012”, Section 4 - Education, page 152, "Table 232. Mean Earnings by Highest Degree Earned: 2009", http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/12statab/educ.pdf.
[6] U.S. Census Bureau, Education Attainment: 2000”, http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/c2kbr-24.pdf. Note: The number of people with Associates degrees and some college but no degree also rose significantly.
[7] GALLUP, "Majority of U.S. Workers Say Job Doesn't Require a Degree", September 9, 2013, http://www.gallup.com/poll/164321/majority-workers-say-job-require-degree.aspx.
[8] "Long hours of work in the U.S.: associations with demographic and organizational characteristics, psychosocial working conditions, and health", Grosch et al, 2006, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17036350.
[9] OECD, "Better Life Index: United States", extracted December 5, 2014, http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/united-states/.
[10] Wikipedia, "Income Tax in European Countries", sub. Germany, extracted December 5, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_European_countries#Germany.
[11] Wikipedia, "Working Time", sub. Germany, extracted December 5, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Spade Blasts 90% Pay Raise for Top State Investment Officials

“Irresponsible, Unacceptable” Move Ignores Importance of ALL Workers

            17th District State Senate candidate Doug Spade (D-Adrian) called the recent decision to give huge pay raises to top state investment officials an insult to the men and women who not only have gone years without a raise, but have been required to accept wage and benefit concessions in order to remain employed.
            “When Michigan’s unemployment rate is the third highest in the country and when workers in both the public and private sectors are not only coping with wage and benefit cuts but are also laboring under the higher taxes imposed on them by Lansing lawmakers, giving seventeen top bureaucrats raises of up to 90% each is irresponsible and completely unacceptable,” Spade said.  “It’s another reason why the public’s distrust of government is at an all-time high.”
            Annual pay raises for several top state investment executives ranged from $105,000 to $158,000, making the state’s chief investment officer---at $333,000---the highest-paid person in state government.
            “There are tens of thousands of people in Lenawee and Monroe Counties who perform tasks every day that are just as valuable, if not even more important than those made by investment decision-makers,” Spade said.  “People who educate our children, protect our families, produce the food we eat, make the products we use, and provide the services we need.   Many have gone for years without even the smallest of raises, barely enough to keep up with rising expenses.  It’s an insult not to value them as highly as a group of select portfolio managers.”
            Spade said the move should spark the same level of public outrage that occurred in the wake of the 38% pay raises legislators received more than 10 years ago.
            “Those raises were completely out of line, and that’s why as State Representative, I immediately introduced a constitutional amendment to keep them from happening again,” he said.  “These newest raises are just as egregious and must be rescinded.”
            Spade said the action reflects an ongoing pattern of disconnect between government insiders and the public and private sector workers who are truly responsible for providing the essential services people depend upon and for bolstering Michigan’s economic growth.
            “It’s a sad day when state policies put such a high priority on retaining top investment executives,” Spade said.  “Why aren’t we investing more in retaining the teachers, police and fire officials, and the small businesses that are vital to maintaining thriving communities where people want to live, work, and raise their families?  These are not second-class citizens holding second-class jobs.  Rather, they are absolutely essential to Michigan’s well-being and success.” 

Doug Spade for State Senate. (November 26, 2013). "Spade Blasts 90% Pay Raise for Top State Investment Officials". [Press Release]. Received November 26, 2013. Reprinted with permission. For more information contact Doug Spade for State Senate, www.dougspade.com, doug@dougspade.com, (517) 266-9898.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

LTE: GOP shutdown affecting people, not just national parks

A chain closes off the River Raisin National Battlefield Park from visitors.
I just drove down E. Elm Ave.and noticed that the River Raisin Battlefield Visitor Center has been shut down. Apparently, when Tim Walberg shut down the parts of government that he didn’t like, the other parts got shut down, too.

Republicans can say they didn’t want to shut the government down, but I don’t believe them. I was at a recent town hall meeting with Tim Walberg when the subject came up. Enthusiastic, hand-picked, Walberg supporters literally applauded at the prospect of shutting down the government to stop Obamacare.

Walberg told his supporters that he agreed. Then he expressed his concern that if they shut down the government, the president would have more latitude over spending than Congress and could continue to spend money on Obamacare.

The Republican war on Obam­acare isn’t just shutting down our battlefield museum and cutting back social benefits to low-income working people. It is holding up federal grants that help fund the state and local levels of govern­ment.

It is also beginning to impact one of Monroe’s leading industries — agriculture. Who would have guessed the same program that provides assistance to purchase food also provides assistance to produce food? Apparently Walberg is willing to hurt farmers to avoid helping low-income families!

It’s time for Republicans like Walberg to admit that this is their shutdown; they wanted it and they got it. 

Ernie Whiteside Monroe

(Re-posted from Monroe Evening News, Wednesday, 10/16/2013, Page A4.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I’m not just frustrated … I’m angry!

For many years I have been listening to the inside out, upside down, double reverse, white is black and black is white nonsense that flows off the lips of people who can only properly be described as idiots.

Probably nothing makes me loopy like hearing someone (an idiot) say, “… both parties …” I think I might need therapy if I hear that again.

The reasonable center is NOT being held hostage by the far left AND the far right! The far left will chain itself to a tree to save it; the far right will lock others in a burning building to save it … and then blame the fire department if they don’t put the fire out in time to save them.

There is a line in the Big Black Book that I am fond of, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” I know that you are all with me in spirit, but sometimes my body feels just a bit lonely.

There is nothing quite like standing alone on the sidewalk with a bullhorn in one hand and sign in the other screaming at a building. There are usually two or three of us, so we take turns carrying the sign and screaming, but it is still hard to believe that we are winning the fight because we have something called “grassroots support”.

The budget is kind of puny too. They keep telling me that the ones who work to many hours to show up for actions send money, but I’m not so sure where they are sending it.

Meanwhile, up to 80,400 people file into Spartan Stadium and pay $80 or more each to be entertained. I desperately want to believe it isn’t true, but I think we have a collective priority problem?

Before I became an active member of the Democratic Party, I seriously believed that there where small, local levels of Party organization in each city and township and that the county Party had thousands of people who were actively involved and making small, medium and large contributions of time and money. Wow! I was sure wrong!

Did I mention that I was frustrated and angry?

The people that others elected to represent me in Lansing and Washington are literally shutting down our government. They are underfunding important public services so they can give tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest 1% of people. They are using tax dollars to outsource public services for private profit (it’s called privatization but it isn’t actually privatization).

And now they have literally shut down our federal government!

THEY are NOT Democrats … THEY are Republicans! And, there is a difference!

This can’t happen again in 2014, we outnumber them by a long short but we have to get behind our candidates and our causes and we have to show up at the polls.

The problem is that I just can’t figure out what it takes to get thousands of people motivated to adjust their priorities and invest in our collective wellbeing and the wellbeing of future generations.

Seriously folks, it doesn’t matter who wins the next big game at a major sporting event or who wins some contest on a reality show. Let the damned zoom machine set in the garage and collect dust for a while. Our future is in jeopardy and we can’t afford to be distracted by games.

We are in fact the majority and we need to act like it!

Do the minimum:

  1. Be registered to vote.
  2. Be informed about upcoming elections, the candidates and the issues.
  3. Share how you feel about candidates and issues with others.
  4. Vote in every election, on every issue and for every office.

Do more:

  1. Join the Michigan Democratic Party
    1. Be a member
    2. Participate
    3. Make a contribution
  2. Support a Democratic candidate or cause
    1. Put a sign in your yard, a sticker on your bumper or wear a pin
    2. Help out with door-to-door canvassing or phone banking
    3. Contribute some money
    4. Host an event
  3. Become a precinct delegate or candidate of the Party
  4. Write letters to the editor or blog to the Internet
  5. Ask others to help

I’ll bet there will still be time for some of those other things like sporting events, reality TV and zooming around on your zoom machine. It really is just a matter of setting priorities.

It isn’t just you or me; it is us and the future generations who depend on us. We must not let our collective best interests be jeopardized for the benefit of a small class of people who wish to exploit us for personal gain. We must not be apathetic, ignorant or foolish and we must not let those who are outnumber us at the polls.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Forgotten Farm Bill – Patterns of Behavior

In July I reported “What happens when a nation of small family farms becomes a nation of large corporate agri-businesses?”[1]

Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
On June 10th the US Senate sent a bill to authorize agricultural programs through 2018[2] to the House. Michigan’s own Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and she worker with Republicans to produce a bill that would get their support.

To be honest, this bill was a big disappointment to me, it expanded subsidies that largely benefit large corporate agri-businesses and reduced support for food assistance programs. But this is what happens when Democrats chair the committee … they compromise for the greater good of the nation.

A month later, July 10th, the Republicans in the House passed a bill to provide for the reform and continuation of agricultural and other programs of the Department of Agriculture through fiscal year 2018[3] that retained the increased subsidies for large corporate agri-businesses but totally stripped out all funding for food assistance programs.

Representative Tim Walberg, Michigan's 7th Congressional District
Representative Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) and other enthusiastic supporters of gutting food assistance programs were well aware that the farm bill they passed had absolutely no chance of ever being passed in the Senate or signed by the President. Republicans used to reach across the isle and craft bills that could get support from Democrats … the way Senator Stabenow did.

The problem with Tim Walberg isn’t that he is a Republican, it is that his an ultra-conservative who is perfectly willing to let a good farm bill fail so that he can have his way on something he is ideologically married to, such as ending food assistance programs.

This is a pattern of behavior that we are seeing again with the budget. Tim Walberg and his Republican colleagues are willing to see the government shut down rather than put a resolution to continue funding government before the House that would have even the most remote chance of passing in the Senate or getting the President’s signature. They are willing to put agri-business at risk to have their way on food assistance and they are willing to put the welfare of the whole nation at risk to have their way on Obamacare.

No matter how this shakes out, we need new representation and we need to start supporting the candidate who will beat Tim Walberg now. Pam Byrnes (D-Chelsea) is a candidate that is able to see that the needs of our agricultural community are poorly served by a representative who is hostile to bipartisanship.

Pam Byrnes, Democratic candidate for Michigan's 7th Congressional District
In a recent interview[4], Pam Byrnes spoke about an achievement that she takes great pride in, the Cottage Food Bill. She worked with both Democrats and Republicans to craft a bill that would enjoy a large degree on bipartisan support. This bill made it easier for small local farmers that kept bees for honey or harvested maple syrup to produce and sell a finished product. It also helped small local farmers and crafters to produce certain types of food products in home kitchens or on the family farm.

This is exactly what we all want in representations, someone who is just plain reasonable and willing to work with others to do the right thing!

Next year, Pam Byrnes is going to need your help and mine in many ways but the best way you can her help right now is to make a contribution to Pam Byrnes for Congress. Tim Walberg has a substantial War Chest filled by Koch Brother supported groups like the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and others to take into the 2014 election.

We have to put thousands of small and medium donations together to beat a few big donations. I made my contribution to Pam Byrnes for Congress a few days ago so that it would be included in the quarterly report that closed out tomorrow night. Larger contributors look at those reports and count the number of donors and the total; when they see our support for her, it encourages them to add theirs and our small contributions turn into bigger contributions.

Please contribute to Pam Byrnes for Congress right away. We need a Congress that can work together and pass a budget. The current Congress has not passed a budget since May 2009 and isn’t even talking about doing so; they are working on something called a “continuing resolution”. Enough is enough! The campaign starts now!

[1] Vine Street Report, "What happens when a nation of small family farms becomes a nation of large corporate agri-businesses?", < http://vinestreetreport.blogspot.com/2013/07/what-happens-when-nation-of-small.html >.
[2] S. 954: Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013. See < http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s954 >.
[3] H.R. 2642: Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. See < http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr2642 >.
[4] eclectablog, "Pam Byrnes, Democratic candidate for Michigan's 7th Congressional District: A progressive breath of fresh air fo MI-07", < http://www.eclectablog.com/2013/08/interview-pam-byrnes-democratic-candidate-for-michigans-7th-congressional-district.html >.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Where is Randy? (Medicaid Expansion)

MONROE, MI (Aug 21, 2013) – A small group of concerned voters gathered outside the doors of the Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville field office on South Monroe Street but Randy was not there. That didn’t surprise anyone … Randy is never there.

Looking for Senator Randy Richardiville at his Monroe field office

Senator Richardville and other Senate Republicans have been hiding from their constituents all summer. They know that they should have passed House Bill 4371 before they went on summer vacation, but they don’t care.

Republicans are pretending that there are some little changes being made to the language that will in some way improve the bill. Here is the problem; Randy can’t move the consensus bill to the floor of the Senate without offending a handful of Tea Party Republicans.

That is why Senator Randy Richardville was award a Tea Party Crackpot Award; he simply lacks the ability to tell certain crackpots in his own party that they cannot hold up legislation that has the support of the Governor, bipartisan support in the State House, and the support of small businesses and healthcare providers across the state.

They may not be the true majority of Republicans in the Senate (or maybe they are), but the Senate Majority Leader is marching to the beat of their drum and has earned a Tea Part Crackpot Award for doing so.

Richardville told Monroe News that he was “not on vacation” (we might be annoying him with our relentless “Take a Vote, Not a Vacation!” message?).  He indicated that he was going to Lansing to work on House Bill 4714 (not that it needs any work) and that he expects a vote on the bill next week.

The State Senate will be back from its summer vacation on Tuesday August 27th and session is scheduled to begin at noon. Can we expect this to be done by 1:00 PM? After all, they have been working on it since March 23rd, 2010 when President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and brought it into effect and the Medicaid expansion provisions haven’t exactly been a mystery.

Tea Party Crackpot Award
There is one question that remains unanswered, “Will Randy be stopping by his field office any time soon to pick up his much deserved Tea Party Crackpot Award?” I don’t think I have ever seen a light on in the field office.

Click here to follow the progress of House Bill 4714 (2013) on the Michigan Legislative Website.

Click here to view "Facts About Medicaid Expansion: Improving Care, Saving Money" (PDF requires Adobe Reader to view).

Click here to let Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville know how important Medicaid Expansion is to you (or to congratulate him on winning the Tea party Crackpot Award).