Monday, December 19, 2011

Michigan Legislature Offers More Fiscal Destruction

I heard on NPR this morning that the Republican held Michigan Legislature snuck a bundle of legislative uglies onto the calendar for the Wednesday right after Christmas, when they figure no one pays attention. Probably, they are correct that fewer eyes will scrutinize their misdealings. But, the evil that lurks on that calendar in various stages of the law making process might sadden even the most cynical observer. It's worth a look.

Most of the lawmaking seeks to screw wage-earning people out their hard-earned money, and funneling the filthy lucre to the corporations who own Michigan Republican representatives and keep the revolving door money-go-round spinning. (Bust unions, privatize government functions, bankrupt public education to replace it with for-profit schools, cut business taxes, eliminate environmental regulation -- do all that, and you're sure to find a corporate or lobbyist sinecure waiting for you when you term-limit out of state government) Hoo-rah! Read up. Be informed. Maybe "we" won't vote for them next time. Maybe...

Have a look at Follow The Money, a site devoted to state campaign finance information. See where your representatives get the juice for their campaigns. And who they owe favors to.

And give some thought to the Republican devised Starve The Beast approach to governance.

The list is long, so I give you my favorites:

No. 103

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
11:30 A.M.

HB 4445 Rep. Moss
Appropriations; supplemental; school aid supplemental; provide for fiscal year 2010-2011.
Amends secs. 11, 11m, 22a, 22b, 51a, 51c & 74 of 1979 PA 94 (MCL 388.1611 et seq.).
(Returned from Senate with Senate substitute (S-1) and immediate effect; laid over 1 day November 10, 2011.)
(I.E. House April 13, 2011.)
(For Senate substitute (S-1), see Session Website.)

The 2011/2012 education appropriation bill cuts about $200 million from public education (analysis/breakdown). I know a lot of this stuff is mandated by law, and I know this was a done deal months ago, but laws and deals can be changed, and for example, reducing education spending because homeowner property value assessments decreased seems short-sighted (the cost of education didn't decrease, so those homeowners' children will receive less "education)." Further, about $30 million was saved in reduced borrowing costs (due to reduced interest rates), but was cut from the budget instead of re-directed to education needs. Seriously. Our "need" for education did not diminish by $200 million in one year, so is it not logical to find the money for something as important as education?
And lo, these cuts comes at the same time that our illustrious governor eliminated corporate taxes on all but C corporations. The governor suggests corporate tax cuts translate into more jobs. They don't. And if we are less well-educated, we are less able to secure what jobs there are.
SJR C Sen. Jansen
Labor; civil service employment; health benefits of public employees and officers; allow legislature to regulate.
Amends the state constitution by adding sec. 9 to art. XI.
(Reported by the Committee on Oversight, Reform, and Ethics.)
(Not adopted; motion to reconsider postponed temporarily June 30, 2011.)
(Reconsidered; passed for day August 24, 2011.)
(For House substitute (H-2), see Session Website.)
(Requires 2/3 vote for adoption, Const. 1963, Art. 4, Sec. 43.)

This bill prevents public employee unions from negotiating health insurance plans -- the legislature, helpfully, intends to do it for them.

HB 4466 Rep. Scott
Labor; public service employment; changes in provisions concerning teacher strikes; provide for.
Amends secs. 2a & 6 of 1947 PA 336 (MCL 423.202a & 423.206).
(Reported by the Committee on Education.)
(For proposed House substitute (H-2), see Session Website.)

This law means to prevent teachers from going on strike, or if it fails to that, it will fine teachers a day's pay for every day they are on strike, and threaten them with revocation of their license to teach. It will also fine their union $5,000 / day on strike. And I thought Republicans hated intrusive laws.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

Empathy -- One Thing The 1% Lacks

We always hear about the haves and have-nots, and we know to "have" means to possess financial security -- or at least the illusion of it. Most Americans have no such illusion of financial security. The vast majority lives hand to mouth, and stands one paycheck from ruin. But, there are those who rise to the pinnacle of affluence, they are a minority but they dominate American society. In fact, through corporate sponsorship of politicians, they own our government and dictate the conditions under which the rest of us subsist.

Wikipedia defines empathy as follows:
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B. Titchener as an attempt to translate the German word "Einfühlungsvermögen", a new phenomenon explored at the end of 19th century mainly by Theodor Lipps. It was later re-translated into the German language (Germanized) into "Empathie," and is still in use there.
How many of us have worked for sleazy martinets who repeatedly make astonishingly unsympathetic demands of employees. How many times have we heard the pleas of employers who insist a minimum wage intrudes unfairly on the free-market, who insist collective bargaining impairs competitiveness, who insist taxes on business profits impede job creation. And while the chiefs ardently make their pleas for unfettered, Darwinist capitalism, they extract from the same ostensibly suffering business salaries and bonuses that reach many multiples of the least well paid in their organization, multiples that exceed in some cases more than 10,000 times the wage of their lowest paid staff, i.e. $20,000 vs. $200,000,000 per year.

How do these crass entrepreneurs, these venal captains of industry justify such incomes for themselves while at the same time justify meager pay and benefits, meager financial security, for the least compensated? The simple formula derives from the fact that the best paid feel a sense of entitlement to such largess derived from an over-inflated sense of self worth, while they feel absolutely nothing for those whose labor enables their compensation. They feel no sense of obligation, much less shame when they take so much, and give so little.

How is that possible? How is it possible to accrue so much to oneself, and to feel no compulsion to share collectively attained profits with the staff, the nation, the culture that created the conditions for generating that wealth? The answer derives from one condition: those who freely exploit exist unburdened by empathy. Empathy is the force that holds the majority back, prevents them from demanding -- from taking -- that which is rightfully theirs. As the empathy-bound majority stills their hand from justifiable action, a tiny majority who feels no compunction to share wealth -- wealth created by the majority -- grab as much as they can and declare themselves righteous victors. And then they smile and say, "To the victor goes the spoils." In their eyes, after all, life is a battle, and since they feel nothing for their victims, no empathy whatsoever, they are the perfect free-market soldiers.

For an egregious example of the empathy-less, perfect free-market soldier, consider the folks who invented Pay-Day loans with interest rates that exceed 400%, loans made to the least capable of enduring such usury; people who earn minimum-wage, with no health insurance, and no savings to buffer them against day to day exigencies; the most vulnerable, marginal workers in our economy. Yet, the Pay-Day loan-makers see only a source of profit in the wages of kitchen staff, motel housekeepers, nursing home orderlies, farm workers, convenience store clerks. The Pay-Day loaners claim to provide a valuable service. They truly believe that line. They lack empathy.

Consider the profiteers who dreamed up sub-prime loans with ballooning interest rates they knew perfectly well their clients could never sustain. The underwriters laugh at clients put on the street while surrounding home values plummet and millions lose the life savings invested in their homes. They laugh at deceived 401K investors who saw their retirement accounts evaporate when they bought securities derived from bundles of these worthless mortgages; securities rated AAA by ratings agencies. Yet, the underwriters feel no sense of responsibility for the pain they inflicted on homeowners and middle-class investors. They lack empathy.

Consider investment bankers who execute proprietary trades to bet against the securities they sell to deliberately deceived pension fund managers. The pensions of thousands evaporated while the bankers took home immense windfalls. Yet, the bankers feel no shame. They are proud of their market acumen. They boast of their domination of the witless. They lack empathy.

Consider weapon vendors who sell overpriced weapons to our government with the implicit threat that not buying such weapons consigns our nation to destruction by invisible but implacable forces of evil, that politicians who object to such excessive expenditures of our national treasure are complicit with forces of evil. After they shame politicians -- and bribe politicians -- into compliance, they lobby those politicians to provoke hostilities with other nations. This insures they will sell even more weapons, while unjustifiable war wreaks havoc on millions of innocent civilians. Yet, the politicians and war profiteers feel no shame, no guilt, no sense of obligation to those whose lives they ruin. They lack empathy.

Even amongst the exploited, amongst the indebted, wage-earning majority there are multitudes who lack empathy, and hope one day to do the exploiting for a change. They are not evil. But they lack empathy. Consequently, they lead hollow, empty lives, and grow angry because they never get the material compensation they feel owed. Among them, it seems, are observers who insist they do not "get" Occupy Wall Street. Surely, most of the obtuse who claim the point of the occupy protests escapes them are well and truly part of the 99% -- likely even the bottom half of the 99% -- they have at least one thing in common with the exploitative, venal 1%: they are incapable of empathy.

Who possesses empathy and puts it to good use? Think of those who sacrifice what little free time and spare change they have to the public good; to leave the world a better place; to give more than they take: environmental activists, animal rights activists, child-welfare advocates, human-rights advocates, anti-war protesters, labor activists, government accountability activists, progressive taxation activists, etc, etc. Gnawing, relentless empathy drives them to act. Those who lack empathy condemn the activists amongst us as simple-minded do-gooders, as busybodies, as tree-huggers, as smelly hippies, as -- wait for it -- socialists.

Those who lack empathy do not understand the urge that compels the empathetic to upend the status quo. The notion frightens them into self-induced rigor mortis. Think of the activists who founded this country. They had empathy. Think what the status quo-ers of our society -- the Fox News bloviators and their minions -- would do with them. Empathy must prevail. It will.