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“A Loud And Depressingly Familiar Voice”: The Koch Brothers Kick Detroit While It’s Down

Over the last five months, a deal has come together that would solve some of the most contentious issues in Detroit’s bankruptcy. It would minimize the pension cuts for 30,000 retirees and city workers, save the city’s art collection and give a reasonable amount of money to the city’s bondholders.

As expected, there were some objections from a few big insurance companies that stood to lose heavily. But with the support of Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, the deal seemed to have a shot in the state legislature, which would be required to spend about $195 million of tobacco-settlement money on behalf of Detroit’s pensioners.

And then, a few days ago, a loud and depressingly familiar voice rose in protest. The Koch brothers, through the screeching megaphone they built known as Americans for Prosperity, condemned the deal and announced plans to contact 90,000 conservatives around the state to build up pressure against it. The Associated Press reported that the group threatened to run ads against any Republicans in the legislature who voted for the deal in the coming days.

AFP has already set up a website — “No more bailouts for Detroit!” — that plays on the long-running, sometimes racially inflected resentment of Detroit around Michigan.

“Michigan has rewritten its laws numerous times to give Detroit special treatment and more financial assistance,” the website says. “Unfortunately, all this help has encouraged, rather than corrected, bad behavior. Years of fiscal mismanagement, corruption and cronyism resulted in Detroit’s staggering $18 billion of debt. Yet its leaders continue to blame the State for Detroit’s problems.”

The poor management of the city by its own officials is well-known and stretches back decades, but the state and its residents bear a huge responsibility for Detroit’s plight. State officials allowed fleeing white residents to hide behind suburban boundaries that depleted the city’s tax base while cutting revenue sharing. The think tank Demos found that revenue sharing cuts amounted to a third of the city’s revenue losses between 2011 and 2013.

As Robert Kleine, a former state treasurer, wrote in the Detroit Free Press last August:

“Detroit may have mismanaged finances, but the state’s cuts to revenue sharing doomed the city. One option would have been for the state to restore revenue sharing to previous levels which would have been worth nearly $200 million to Detroit. The state could have afforded to do this if it had not cut business and income taxes in 2000, and then given business another $1.8-billion tax break in 2011.”

Under the circumstances, the proposed state contribution on behalf of vulnerable pensioners is a modest way to make up for Lansing’s decades of abandonment. But it’s too much for the Kochs to stomach. They apparently want city workers and retirees to publicly suffer for the sin of having been union members. They want bondholders and insurance companies at the front of the creditors’ line, and don’t seem to care if the Detroit Institute of Arts has to sell off its paintings and sculptures to put them there.

As they have in so many other areas of public life, two of the country’s wealthiest citizens are using their good fortune to make life far more difficult for those at the bottom of the ladder.

 

By: David Firestone, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, May 21, 2014

May 22, 2014 Posted by | Detroit, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Good Girls Don’t Have To Pay”: Michigan’s Shameful “Rape Insurance” Plan

No one plans to get raped, to be the victim of incest or to find herself pregnant when her birth control fails or was not used (something that is a joint responsibility, which lawmakers trying to legislate sex sometimes forget). So why would anyone buy abortion insurance? Who plans for such a thing?

Yet, this is exactly what Michigan’s legislature is requiring women to do. Using a rare procedural tactic, the state’s legislature is forcing – without the signature of the governor, conservative Republican Rick Snyder – women to obtain “abortion insurance” even before they get pregnant. The idea is so extreme that even Snyder opposes it. And it flies in the face of perhaps the most important part of the Affordable Care Act, that which prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage due to “pre-existing conditions.”

It’s similar to policies some people have had prior to the passage of the ACA, policies that, for example, demanded people buy special cancer insurance just in case they get the serious illness. Who thinks he or she will get cancer? But if you do, and you don’t have the coverage to pay for the very expensive treatment, you’re dead. Maybe literally.

What makes the Michigan law so hateful and misogynist is that it has little to do with actual cost; abortions don’t cost as much as chemotherapy and tumor-removal surgery. It’s about shaming women, insisting that they brand themselves with a big scarlet A on themselves to show they think they may be just the sort of irresponsible whores who might need abortion access at some point. Good girls, apparently, don’t have to pay, since they won’t be having sex.

And what about cases of rape or incest? It shouldn’t matter, since the decision to have an abortion ought not be based on whether the female in question is a victim or sexually active. But women and girls – some of whom might be too poor to pay for an abortion or too scared to come forward after an assault – will have to pony up for an abortion or pay in advance.

This raises some interesting issues for the defense, should a female report a rape or incest to police. So, Miss Slutsmith, you purchased abortion insurance. Should we not infer that you were planning to get pregnant – and could not possibly have been raped or abused by a male relative?

But then again, the law doesn’t address men’s sexual health. It doesn’t insist that men pay in advance, for example, for treatment for sexually transmitted diseases or for Viagra. They get to have sex without consequence, unlike the women. They don’t have to give up their privacy and undergo the humiliation of paying extra to deal with erectile dysfunction or gonorrhea. But for the women – shame! The word is appropriate here. But it ought to be directed at the Michigan legislature.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 13, 2013

December 14, 2013 Posted by | War On Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Caught Between Arithmetic And Ideology”: Can Republicans Afford To Buck The Tea Party?

Since the Tea Party emerged following President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Republican governors have frequently been the faces of some of the most extreme policies in recent political memory. Even before her infamous “finger point” at the president, Arizona’s Jan Brewer was signing and defending her state’s racial-profiling bill, SB 1070. In Ohio, John Kasich championed a law—later repealed by voters—to strip public employees of bargaining rights. In Florida, Rick Scott has pushed a plethora of hard-right policies, from drug screening of welfare recipients and government employees to reductions in early voting. Michigan’s Rick Snyder, who has a moderate streak, went to the extreme last December when he approved “right to work” legislation in a state built largely by union labor.

Yet Brewer, Kasich, Snyder, and Scott are among the nine GOP governors who have staked considerable political capital on Medicaid expansion, a key piece of the Affordable Care Act. They haven’t been quiet about it, either. Brewer made good on a threat to veto every piece of legislation that came before her until lawmakers sent her a bill to expand Medicaid. Snyder rankled his party when he told recalcitrant Republican state senators to “take a vote, not a vacation.” Scott was among the first Republicans to announce his support for expansion. Kasich, struggling to win support from his party’s lawmakers, has vowed to find a way to expand Medicaid even if they won’t.

All this, while in Congress, the Tea Party Republicans have worked tirelessly to shut down the government rather than see the Affordable Care Act continue, marking it as the emblem of Obama’s big-government liberalism.

By championing Medicaid expansion, these governors are defying the Tea Party, which was instrumental in their elections. Such defiance has been exceedingly rare from Republican officeholders on any level since the Tea Party revolution of 2010. That election transformed state legislatures and governors’ mansions—in many cases overnight—into ideological strongholds. Increasingly, the policy priorities of national right-wing groups like ALEC and Americans United for Life began to take precedence over state-specific agendas, and bipartisanship disappeared from state capitols almost as thoroughly as it has Congress. “The broader pathologies of our politics have clearly moved to the state level,” says Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author with Thomas Mann of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which made the case that Republican extremism and hyper-partisanship has crippled Congress.

But Kasich, Snyder, and Scott govern states that Obama has won twice. They have all struggled with low approval ratings and polarized the electorate with their far-right policies. They all face tough battles for re-election in 2014. By backing Medicaid, they were guaranteed to inspire Tea Party wrath. By opposing it, they would deny health coverage to huge numbers of low-income residents, shut the door on billions in federal funding, and risk further alienating voters.

“Republican governors are caught in a tug-of-war between arithmetic and ideology,” says William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “For some of them, ideology wins, and for others, who are looking to their self-interest and the interests of their state at least in the short to medium term, they have done a very simple calculation and that is that the Medicaid expansion is a good deal for their states.”

There’s little denying that Medicaid expansion to cover many more adults, is a good deal for every state. For the first three years, the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the cost for new recipients. After that, states will never pay more than 10 percent of the costs of expanded coverage; the rest of the bill goes to Washington. In Ohio alone, more than 500,000 people would gain access to coverage. With more people covered, of course, the costs to states of uncompensated care will drop. In June, a report from the Rand Corporation found that the first 14 states that opted out of expanding Medicaid will have 3.6 million more uninsured residents, lose $8.4 billion a year in federal payments, and pay an additional $1 billion in uncompensated care in 2016.

The arithmetic hasn’t been enough to convince most Republican governors to back Medicaid. Sixteen of the 30 oppose expansion, including the chief executive of another state Obama won twice, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Three other GOP governors had yet to venture a position.

Then there’s Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, a governor emblematic of the dilemma facing unpopular Republicans in swing states. Obama won Pennsylvania by 11 points in 2008 and by 5 points in 2012. But Corbett, who won in the 2010 wave, has stuck to the Tea Party agenda on everything from voter ID to welfare cuts. He was quick to announce that his state would reject federal funds for Medicaid expansion.

Under enormous pressure, however, he changed his mind, and last week announced he would support Medicaid expansion if the federal government agreed to a slew of concessions. Unlike Walker, a strong favorite in 2014 thanks to weak and divided opposition following a failed recall attempt, Corbett is among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country. Corbett is now trying desperately find some political path to moderation—though it’s likely to be too little too late and it stands in contrast to those like Snyder and Kasich, who actually took the lead on the issue.

That a minority of Republican governors has backed Medicaid expansion does not add up to a major shift in the political dynamic. But it could be significant, depending on the outcome of the 2014 elections. If a governor like Scott or Kasich can manage to win re-election even after infuriating his right-wing base on a key issue, it will send a couple of important messages to other Republicans, at least those in purple states: Yes, the Tea Party can be bucked. And no, making policy based on the needs of your state does not amount to certain political death. It might even save you from it.

 

By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, September 23, 2013

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Important Milestone”: In Michigan, A Defeat For The Tea Party And Victory For Common Sense

Obamacare took a big step forward on Tuesday night, when the Michigan Senate approved an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program. The state House is likely to back the same measure, as early as next week. And while the program requires a special federal waiver, the Obama Administration is likely to grant it. Assuming all of that happens, Michigan will become the twenty-fifth state to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, a few hundred thousand residents are likely to get insurance—and the state will get a much-appreciated infusion of federal funds, while putting up a much smaller share of state money.

For the advocates of making health insurance available to all Americans, it’s a huge victory. But the victory did not come easy—or without some last-minute drama.

Tuesday’s vote was the product of a long, sustained campaign by Democrats, moderate Republicans, progressive organizers and business leaders. For months, they have made the case for expansion—citing the likely financial and health benefits for Michigan’s uninsured citizens, and the expected boost to Michigan’s economy. The federal government is picking up most of the expansion’s costs, they have argued, and hospitals need the revenue to make up for money they lost on charity care and declining reimbursement from other sources.

Among those assessing the statistical impact were Marianne Udow-Phillips, director at the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation and a lecturer at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. As she told me on Wednesday,

if you look at all the facts—the fact that the majority of physicians in the state are ready to serve this population; the positive impact on the state budget, on the state’s economy at large, on hospitals, on businesses, on all those who are currently insured (by reducing cost shifting) – not to mention the half a million people who will directly benefit by getting health insurance coverage in a program that has the highest satisfaction of any insurance coverage type in the state  – you have to draw the conclusion that the Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for the state.

Governor Rick Snyder and the state Chamber of Commerce have been among the strongest proponents of expansion. The state’s health care industry, naturally, has lobbied furiously. But Tea Party Republicans and their allies have been dead set againt it, arguing that Medicaid is a wasteful, expensive program that subsidizes the indolent—and that the size of the federal subsidies masked the true impact on the state, which would actually be negative.

Writing this week in the Detroit Free Press, Joseph G. Lehman and Clifford W. Taylor from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy warned that

The state’s main incentive to expand Medicaid is a federal promise to transfer to Michigan $2 billion (increasing to $3 billion) annually for three years if we add 320,000 Michiganders earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level to Medicaid rolls.

After three years our federal subsidy would shrink by $300 million per year, meaning either Michigan taxes increase by that much or lawmakers kick 320,000 people off Medicaid, which seems unlikely.

Expansion supporters have responded that, even after the reduction, the federal government would still be picking up 90 percent of the new cost. They have also tried to accommodate concerns about Medicaid efficiency, by, among other things, proposing that some Medicaid recipients pay a portion of their own costs. The compromises changed a few votes, and in June the state House approved its version of the expansion. But the Senate in June surprised everybody, including the governor, by rejecting the measure. One likely reason: Tea Party groups, and their financial backers, were threatening to support primary challenges to Republicans who voted yes.

The expansion’s supporters spent the remainder of the summer making their case, rallying the public, and lobbying individual members. As of Tuesday morning, they were confident they had 19 senators willing to vote yes. That would produce a tie in the 38-member chamber, with the lieutenant governor prepared to vote yes and break the tie. But when the Senate first voted in early afternoon, only 18 said yes. The chamber quickly voted to reconsider and, after a feverish few hours of lobbying and meeting, tried one more time. This time, the bill passed 20 to 18.

Progressives aren’t thrilled about some of the compromises, particularly those asking Medicaid recipients to pay a larger share of their costs. (Sarah Kliff has more of the details if you want them.) And it’s not out of the question that the federal government will raise objections, because the federal Medicaid law limits the ability of states to change the program. But given political resistance to any expansion, supporters are mostly elated at Tuesday’s outcome. “It’s not perfect, but it’s going to help nearly half a million Michiganders,” Amy Lynn Smith wrote at Electablog, a progressive website based in Michigan.

Michigan’s decision is an important milestone in the effort to make Medicaid available to all low-income Americans—an endeavor that has proven far more difficult than most experts anticipated. Last summer, when the Supreme Court made it easier for states to reject Obamacare’s planned expansion of Medicaid, many of us assumed the vast majority of states would participate anyway. The need for coverage was too great, and the allure of federal money too tempting, for even most Republicans to reject. Quite obviously we were wrong. Conservatives serving either as governor or state legislators have successfully blocked expansion across a wide swath of the country, including the huge states of Florida and Texas, where a few million people would be eligible.

But the Medicaid expansion has gotten support from several other Republican governors, including Jan Brewer in Arizona (where the expansion is already going forward) as well as Rick Scott in Florida and John Kasich in Ohio. Florida looks hopeless, at least for the time being, given the grip extreme conservatives have over the legislature. Ohio is another story: The politics there look a lot like the politics in Michigan. The same goes for Pennsylvania, although that state’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, doesn’t yet support expansion.

Obamacare’s Medicaid component, in other words, is moving ahead. But progress is taking place in fits and starts, with frequent setbacks, thanks mostly to political opposition that’s strongest in the most conservative parts of the country.

Yeah, you should get used to that pattern.

 

By: Jonathan Cohn, Sebior Editor, The New Republic,

August 31, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“More Sickening Than Stomach Flu”: With The Help Of ALEC, Corporate Greed Is Making Us Sick

The failure of our corporate and political leaders to make sure every worker gets good health care is causing some unpleasant consequences — like widespread stomach flu.

Ill workers often spread illness, because millions of employees who deal directly with the public are not covered by paid sick leave policies. So, when they come down with something like the stomach flu, they tend to drag themselves to work, rather than going to bed until they recover, since staying home means a loss of pay — or even the loss of their jobs.

Low-wage workers in the restaurant industry are particularly vulnerable and, since they handle food, particularly threatening. Nearly 80 percent of America’s food service workers receive no paid sick leave, and researchers have found that about half of them go to work ill because they fear losing their jobs if they don’t. As a result, a study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that ill workers are causing up to 80 percent of America’s stomach flu outbreaks, which is one reason CDC has declared our country’s lack of paid sick leave to be a major public health threat.

You’d think the industry itself would be horrified enough by this endangerment of its customers that it would take the obvious curative step of providing the leave. But au contraire, amigos, such huge and hugely profitable chains as McDonald’s, Red Lobster and Taco Bell not only fail to provide such commonsense care for their employees, but also have lobbied furiously against city and state efforts to require paid sick days.

Ironically, the top corporate executives of these chains (who are not involved in preparing or serving food to the public) are protected with full sick leave policies. For them to deny it to workers is idiotic, dangerously shortsighted — and even more sickening than stomach flu.

But what about our lawmakers? Where’s the leadership we need on this basic issue of fairness and public health? To paraphrase an old bumper sticker: “When the people lead, leaders will follow. Or not.”

Not when the “leaders” are in the pocket of corporate interests that don’t like where the people are leading. Take Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who never met a corporate pocket too grungy to climb into. This story starts in 2008, when the people of Milwaukee took the lead on the obvious need for a program allowing employees to earn a few days of paid sick leave each year, to be used if they fall ill or must care for a sick family member. Seven out of 10 Milwaukee voters approved that measure in a citywide referendum.

Corporate interests, however, sued to stall the people’s will, tying the sick leave provision up in court until 2011. By then, the corporations had put up big bucks to put Walker into the governorship — and right into their pocket. Sure enough, he dutifully nullified the Milwaukee vote by passing a “state pre-emption” law, autocratically banning local governments from requiring sick leave benefits for employees.

Just three months later, Walker’s pre-emption ploy was the star at a meeting of ALEC, the corporate front group that brings state legislators into secret sessions with CEOs and lobbyists. There, legislators are handed model laws to benefit corporations — then sent home to pass them. At a session overseen by Taco Bell, attendees got copies of Walker’s no-paid-sick-leave edict, along with a how-to-pass-it lecture by the National Restaurant Association. “Go forth, and pre-empt local democracy!” was the message.

And, lo, they did. Bills summarily prohibiting local governments from passing paid-sick-leave ordinances are being considered in at least 12 states this year, and Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have already passed theirs.

Florida’s process was especially ugly. Organize Now, a coalition of voters in Orlando, had obtained 50,000 signatures to put a sick leave referendum on last November’s ballot. But, pressured by the hugely profitable Disney World empire, county commissioners arbitrarily removed it from the ballot.

The scrappy coalition, however, took ‘em to court — and won, getting the referendum rescheduled for a 2014 vote. Disney & Gang scuttled off to Tallahassee this year to conspire with Gov. Rick Snyder and GOP legislative leaders. Quicker than a bullet leaves a gun, those corporate-hugging politicos obligingly delivered a “kill shot” to Orlando voters by enacting a Walkeresque state usurpation of local authority.

By spreading Walker’s autocratic nastiness from state to state, money-grubbing low-wage profiteers are literally spreading illness all across our land.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, August 14, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Corporations | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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