The Michigan Prop 1 Money Trail — A One-Way Street

The Michigan roads proposal is paved with cash, but it flows in mostly one direction. Regardless of how voters feel about the content of the bipartisan compromise, in the interest of complete transparency, they should additionally know a thing or two about the campaign spending, both for and against the ballot measure.

Prop 1 mailer

Carl Levin comes-a-courting via pricey personalized mailer

In this case, it’s the Prop 1 proponents who enjoy the considerable largess of a broad array of financial backers, leaving opposition spending in the dust. This particular ballot measure is unique in its bipartisan origins, an oddity also reflected by the similarly bipartisan battle lines.

The non-partisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network reports that those promoting a “yes” vote on the roads measure have outspent the opposition by a factor of over forty-four to one. Safe Roads Yes spent $8,658,349 attempting to persuade voters to approve the ballot question. They were largely bankrolled by MITA — the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, who dropped $5,571,230 on the cause as of April 23rd.

Rich Robinson, director of MCFN, describes the meager opposition landscape:

Three committees that have registered to oppose Proposal 1 have raised a total of $195,527. The Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals has raised $172,555, of which $161,535 was contributed by Paul Mitchell III, who self-funded $3.56 million while running unsuccessfully in the 4th Congressional District Republican primary in 2014. Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan has raised $12,092. Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases has raised $10,880, of which $10,000 was contributed by the political consultant John Yob of Grand Rapids.

Democracy Tree demurs on suggesting how readers should vote, but we certainly encourage folks to get out and have a say tomorrow. Ballot initiatives in off-season elections typically draw lower voter turnout, often attracting those who favor the proposal. Polling on Prop 1 indicates a possible rout, with 61 percent against the proposal. Their reasons for the thumbs-down are: no new taxes, wasteful government spending, and distrust in Michigan’s government.

Even lawmakers, many of whom were responsible for cobbling-together the plan, are loath to weigh-in on it, with only 31 percent responding to an Associated Press survey. Presumably they don’t want to get pegged for its defeat, or victory. A chicken-shit response over a chicken-shit proposal — how apropos.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

MLive provides a calculator to determine how much Prop 1 will cost you.

View all proponent contributors HERE, and opponent contributors HERE — a very short list.

 

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Michigan Lawmakers Resolve to Gut the 14th Amendment

GOP Lawmakers Cherry Pick the Bill of Rights on Marriage Equality

Bill of Rights 2

It must hurt — the mental machinations and intellectual inconsistencies necessary for Michigan’s GOP lawmakers to, time and again, churn-up conspiracy theories about federal government overreach. Tinfoil hatters are nothing new, but their numbers have swelled under Tea Party influence. Borne out of irrational fear of various “agendas”, mostly conjured out of thin air, the far right finds this brand of self-inflicted paranoia irresistible.

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers oral arguments on the issue of same-sex marriage, Michigan lawmakers have proposed a concurrent resolution decrying the anticipated court ruling against those states where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized. Federalism is employed as grounds for discrimination:

“Whereas, This arrangement of federalism best meets the needs of the states which often vary in customs and values and which are in a position to best understand the needs and desires of their own citizens. Altering wrongs on the part of government is much more easily accomplished at the state level than at the federal level.”

In a thinly-veiled, disparaging reference to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the resolution lays the groundwork for why we should ignore the Fourteenth Amendment altogether:

“Whereas, Generations after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, the United States Supreme Court began to embrace novel legal doctrines, most notably the Incorporation Doctrine which, contrary to prior court precedent, redefines the Fourteenth Amendment to be a constitutional watershed, one which makes every state and local law or custom subject to federal oversight, thereby proclaiming unto itself an authority never granted to it by the people. Beginning in the mid-1900s, the courts began to use the Fourteenth Amendment as a pretext for subsuming the long existing powers of the states, shaping society according to their own philosophies, and in the process, destroying federalism and rendering the Tenth Amendment all but meaningless.” [emphasis mine]

As an example of what happens when the high court treads on states’ sacred sovereignty, Senate Concurrent Resolution-12 cites the 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision which denied citizenship and legal standing to African-Americans. Could they possibly have referenced a more inappropriate case in the service of their current battle to deny civil rights to LGBT citizens? (Of course, the resolution also neatly side-steps the second part of that infamous ruling — where the court circumvented federal government authority to regulate slavery in federal territories. Presumably that part was okay?)

The resolution boldly hijacks a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural speech, where he accused the high court of misappropriating power. SCR-12 contorts the meaning and intent of his words to make a case for state-sanctioned discrimination — talk about misappropriation!

Then, in the very next “Whereas”, lawmakers kick to the curb Article III of their beloved U.S. Constitution:

“Whereas, Among a free people, living in a democratic, constitutional republic, it is a grave injury to democracy itself that a single judge or court could, simply by decree, set aside or overturn the expressed will of the entire people.”

Apparently, the only part of the U.S. Constitution these lawmakers care to recognize when it comes to same-sex marriage is their overly-expansive interpretation of the Tenth Amendment conveying broad authority onto states. Fourteenth Amendment, among other inconveniences, be damned.

And what of the purported federal court power grab?

It’s very conditional — nuanced you might say. They were perfectly content with the Sixth Circuit’s ruling against same-sex marriage, and Citizens United, also fine of course, or that little squabble called Bush v. Gore — no problems there. Indeed, no “grave injuries to democracy” with those rulings — as long as one keeps that tinfoil hat securely cinched in place.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

See the House version here.

 

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Meet the New Queen of Angry White Male Political Porn

Democracy Tree doesn’t typically stray into dust-ups across the pond, but here we make an exception, because this story needs telling. 

Step aside Ann Coulter. Fox News babes, you can take a powder. There’s a new face for the angry white male political porn genre. Her name is Katie Hopkins, and she spews hatred and ignorance with the same gusto as in her former career as a British reality TV personality. She now writes for The Sun, a Rupert Murdoch tabloid known for its outrageously salacious content.

Katie Hopkins

Hopkins recently earned the condemnation of the United Nations over her commentary on the Mediterranean refugee crisis where men, women, and children have risked and lost their lives fleeing Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Egypt, and Syria, among other war-torn countries, at the mercy of human smugglers. Her words demonstrated the utter soulessness of her shallow kitten-heeled existence. This year alone, 1750 people have died attempting the crossing — thirty times the number of the previous year. The scale of the human tragedy should melt even the coldest heart. Yet, Hopkins opted to leverage these horrific events to further her own narcissistic thigh-flashing ambitions.

Here’s a taste of her latest vitriol from a piece she penned for The Sun titled Rescue Boats? I’d Use Gunships to Stop Migrants. The subtitle itself exercises even less subtlety than Kim Kardashian on a bad day: “NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in the water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad… I still don’t care.”

Oh, and she’s just getting warmed-up…

“Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look like Bob Geldolf’s Ethiopia circa 1984, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum-seekers shelling-out benefits like monopoly money.”

It was the word “cockroaches” that earned Hopkins the United Nations slam. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights points out that similar references were used by Nazis and during the Rawadan genocide:

“The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches. This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author.”

Did Hopkins violate any laws? Zeid suggests she may indeed have.

“I am an unswerving advocate of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), but it is not absolute. Article 20 of the same covenant says: ‘Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.’”

Note also how Hopkins neatly conflates the term migrant with refugee. While it’s doubtful the former contestant from the British version of The Apprentice has a whiff of an inkling of a clue about international and European Union refugee law, that lack of key information doesn’t stop her from belching-out a hate-filled rant designed to arouse her equally ignorant readership. It’s pure Murdoch puffery.

International law on refugees is clear as dictated by the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and as further amended to expand its scope in 1967 to define and protect refugees worldwide. That body of law itself is sufficient to offer safe harbor to those in need. Yet, the European Union, of which Hopkin’s nation is a member, took the extra measure to spell-out for affiliate states in exacting detail, through the Council Directive of 2004, their legal obligation to address this kind of humanitarian crisis.

refugee boat

The petition, “Remove Katie Hopkins as a Columnist“, is resonating with UK citizens, having garnered just under 300,000 signatures as of this writing. Not that Murdoch, and company, will take heed. Instead, they will likely be emboldened, interpreting this as a sign of success in awakening the dark souls of their docile readers.

It seems America has not cornered the market on the ignorance of the privileged white male (and female) exceptionalism.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michigan Lawmakers Vote to Allow Toy Guns to Look Real

Michigan’s legislature is poised to enact a bill that should be of grave concern for parents who, unlike GOP lawmakers, will immediately understand the true danger of this proposed law.

airsoft gunz

Airsoft Toy Guns

Senate Bill 85 will make it difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement to distinguish between toy pellet guns and lethal firearms. The proposal previously passed in the Senate, and was just today approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) describes the legislation:

SB 85 maintains the prohibition on local gun safety rules for air guns or pneumatic weapons that were recently taken out of the definition of “firearm.”

I offered an amendment to require markings – like orange tips – to help distinguish between air guns and firearms. I also offered an amendment to allow schools to develop school safety laws regarding firearms. Both amendments were defeated.

Last December, the nation was outraged when a Cleveland Police Officer shot and killed a 12-year old who was playing with a toy gun. The child was shot within seconds of the officer’s arrival on the scene. Confusion caused by these toy replicas is a common problem, with police departments across the country regularly reporting trouble with determining the nature of a weapon. Just two weeks ago, St. Paul police were dispatched on a similar call, but thankfully they acted with discretion noticing the orange tip on the weapon, as reported by the South Washington County Bulletin.

A 16-year-old St. Paul Park male was stopped by police in the 1100 block of Portland Avenue after a resident reported seeing him with a gun March 6. As police approached he set the gun down. It was an Airsoft Pistol, clear plastic with an orange tip, and shaped like a Colt Model 1911 .45 caliber handgun. He was advised about the city ordinance on firing the gun in city limits. Police said he understood why he caused alarm and realized his mistake.

Another common occurrence is sightings of these weapons causing school lockdowns. Earlier this month, a New Jersey middle school had a lockdown incident triggered by an Airsoft gun. A few days prior, an elementary school in Kansas went into lockdown due to a child with the toy in his possession. And a couple of days earlier a Missouri school district had an Airsoft incident, but they didn’t go into lockdown because the problem has become so commonplace in their district. The Superintendent there explained that they have at least one Airsoft incident a year now.

Irwin described to Democracy Tree why this is so dangerous for Michigan:

This is part of a long-term trend to expand gun rights. Since we have very expansive rights to own and wield guns in Michigan, the opportunities or action in the legislature is limited to pushing a boundary that is already at its logical limits.

The crux of SB 85 is that it will prevent local governments from enacting gun safety regulations like orange tips on toy guns. It is regulations like this that can prevent the sort of tragic misunderstandings that have happened just recently. There was the incident in the Walmart and the prominent incident in Cleveland.

The Airsoft guns in the above photo were confiscated by me from my young son many years ago. They shoot little plastic pellets. My concern at the time was three-fold: I did not wish for him to grow up embracing a gun-loving mentality, the weapons look far too realistic, and conceivably the pellets could cause physical harm. My son is grown now, and not in the least deprived culturally due to my previous parental action. (It’s worth noting, the weapons came into his position through his friends. So, if they want them back, they’ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands. Sorry boys!)

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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The Ugly Truth About Snyder’s Prop 1 in Michigan

Governor Snyder’s Road to Washington

In the event Michigan voters are not already sufficiently bumfuzzled as to how they should vote on Proposal 1 — aka, the ballot question on roads and sales tax, or was it fuel tax? or vehicle registration fees? infrastructure improvement? school funding? revenue sharing? Or perhaps, simply put, the measure has become the great legislative platypus of Michigan. Step aside wolverine, we now have a new candidate for state animal, or perhaps mascot for Snyder’s potential bid for a 2016 presidential run.

platypus

It’s enough to make one wish to stick their finger in their eye. Yep, Prop 1’s come to be one hot mess, uniting odd political bedfellows — both for and against, with newspaper editorial boards engaging in acts of head-splitting cognitive dissonance, often too painful to read in their entirety. The pro/con lists on the subject consist of both practical realities and ideologies that seem to defy typical partisan patterns.

So, it pains Democracy Tree to point out yet one more divisive blip on the Prop 1 political radar for the already put upon voter’s consideration.

Item: Gov. Snyder has been sniffing-around political circles and media pundits about a possible 2016 presidential bid, and, at least in his own mind, success or failure of the roads package vote may be the pivotal point in his decision-making process.

Prop 1 is the governor’s baby. He brokered the labyrinthine bipartisan deal after the legislature demonstrated their continued inability to, well frankly, produce basic and necessary legislation of any kind. The package is what is called a “Christmas Tree Bill”, with a little something in it for everyone. In this case, it’s a series of tie-barred proposals that function more like a Rube Goldberg machine than actual sound and responsible public policy.

With the vote looming, the Associated Press reports that Snyder is on the brink of a decision, apparently neatly timed with the May 5th vote:

An aide close to the governor said Snyder is considering a presidential run and that a decision could be made in a few weeks. The aide was not authorized to speak publicly about Snyder’s plans and requested anonymity.

In terms of pure politics, Snyder very much needs Prop 1 in his win column, both for his legacy and to bolster his street cred as a ready for prime time player in the beltway.

In the meantime, Snyder’s team is busy dipping a flirtatious toe in the crowded GOP presidential pool. In addition to forming a 501(c)(4) group to raise money for a potential bid (’16 and/or ’20), the governor has slated a national speaking tour to promote the economic recovery of the state. It is doubtful he will mention the role the federal stimulus and auto bailout played in the comparatively less than impressive results of the Great Lakes State, but the state Nerd-in-Chief will certainly take credit for the albeit anemic clawing out of the hole.

Another possibility is that Michigan’s governor is hedging his bets here by positioning himself as a possible running mate for one of the rare, not-so-looney, yet better known presidential potentials — a group as scarce as hens teeth in Iowa. One way or the other, Snyder would never concede to play second-fiddle to a rabid social conservative, Tea Party advocate, or full-on Libertarian, even though his actual legacy has often swerved severely past them to the farthest reaches of the right. Jeb Bush may find the ideal dance partner in the Michigan governor. Snyder, not known for his dynamic communication skills, has nonetheless not engaged in the level of abusive hubris-laden rhetoric found in other contenders such as GOP governors’ Scott Walker of Wisconsin and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, both who seem to take a sick delight in taunting and insulting public sector employees, particularly teachers.

It’s all down the road though…literally.

How will I vote on the May 5th roads proposal? As of now, the plan is to go to my precinct at the crack of dawn, grudgingly show my photo I.D., enter the voting booth, and promptly stick my finger in my eye — after that, all bets are off.

finger in eyeAmy Kerr Hardin

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Massive Tax Scam Under Investigation

“The scam will not stop until people start going to jail.” — Senator Collins

Collins

Today marks the end of tax time for most filers, but it’s just the beginning of tax scammer season, and you’re the prey. All they need is your phone number or email address to set the fraud in motion.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, has had it with the U.S. Department of Justice not acting to protect taxpayers. Today she convenes a hearing on the subject, and intends to grill department officials over their history of inaction.

Last month, CBS News told the story of North Carolina Pastor Al Cadenhead, who fell victim to an IRS agent impersonator who scammed him out of $16,000 in the space of a few hours. The imposter reached Cadenhead through his cell phone and threatened him with arrest for, you guessed it — tax fraud. The pastor was told that the IRS was going to freeze his accounts and put a lien on his house. The caller I.D. was rigged to show a 202 area code to appear as if generated from Washington, D.C.

While it may seem obvious to an observer that this was clearly a scam, and some may be tempted to blame the victim, in the moment Cadenhead panicked, and only later that day did realization sink in.

“My heart was racing. It was racing. I am very afraid at that point…I don’t want to cause embarrassment to my family, to my church. I’m retiring in a few months. This is not how I want to be remembered, being arrested.”

Collins saw the CBS report and asked Cadenhead to testify at today’s hearing. The particular scam he fell for is widespread, with at least 10,000 targeted each week, and 400,000 people having reported receiving a similar call. Over 3,000 taxpayers have fallen prey to the scheme to the tune of $15.5 million. Although, those numbers may be much larger because some are hesitant to admit they were fooled.

The Justice Department’s preliminary investigation found that the calls are being generated by a sophisticated overseas crime ring, but they warn that the probe could take years to complete. That’s not good enough for Collins.

“I’m going to chastise the Department for its failure to cooperate with our investigation, and for its lax attitude toward a scam that’s affecting thousands of American citizens. It is outrageous and inexcusable that the Department is not taking this more seriously and won’t even send a witness to testify. The scam will not stop until people start going to jail.”

It’s not just phones though. This week, I received the following message through my private email address:

tax email

Tax Scam Email

Sincerely? Pfft…Hardly! While it was easy for me to see this for exactly what it is — an attempt to obtain my Social Security Number — others may not be so savvy.

We all like to think we won’t be the target of fraud. Just last January my credit card number was stolen after a vendor I used was hacked. Say what you want about banks, but they were on top of the problem with an entire department devoted to catching the scoundrels. Thankfully, no money was lost.

Be careful out there folks.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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April 15th – Tax Day Not So Gay in Michigan

April 15 - 2The Same-Sex Couple Income Tax Purgatory in Michigan

Tax day — nobody likes it, other than CEOs living handsomely off the largess of Gov. Snyder’s legacy of corporate tax cuts. But, one class of Michigan citizenry remains considerably more burdened than most.

Legal status is everything.

Even the most honest folks could land in tax limbo, and potentially subject to a double dose of audit scrutiny if they’re wed outside of the current GOP dictum of one man and one woman. Yes, gay couples in Michigan find themselves in an income tax purgatory, particularly those married under quasi-hit-and-miss laws across the nation that are not recognized by the state.

There are two categories of same-sex couple taxpayers caught-up in the conflict between federal and state tax laws this year — the 300 gay couples that are legally recognized by the state of Michigan, and those married outside of that select group.

The Internal Revenue Service instructs that married same-sex couples may file a joint income tax return even if they are living in a state that refuses to acknowledge their status, such as Michigan, where the state tax code directs them to file separately:

Mich tax book on joint return

Source: 2014 Michigan MI-1040 Instruction Booklet

The tax booklet doesn’t address the 300 same-sex couples with legal status who presumably are allowed to file jointly in Michigan, and the treasury department doesn’t even know who those couples are.  They are indistinguishable from the unknown multitudes married outside of that brief window when the state allowed same-sex marriage, or those legally wed in another state.

John Lindstrom, the Publisher at Gongwer News Service, explains that the Michigan Department of Treasury has opted to ignore the problem altogether and further refuses to entertain any questions on the topic. Lindstrom blogged about his frustration as a journalist:

Nor will it be discussed, at least not on the record by any officials at the Department of Treasury. Or on background by them. Or for that matter, even off the record. Probably the best anyone could do in getting a response is a type of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge-know what I mean” shrug of the shoulders and uncomfortable clearing of the throat when the question is posed.

Lindstrom ponders two more salient questions. How would the state be able to identify a same-sex couple’s joint return in the first place, given the form does not inquire as to the gender of the taxpayer, in a world of myriad non-gender specific names? And, the second concern should spark the interest of fiscal conservatives — in Lindstrom’s words:

Does the state spend time and taxpayer money trying to determine which of the several million joint returns filed may be filed inappropriately by same-sex couples who are not authorized to file said joint returns?

Or, Michigan could just get with the times and recognize that a marriage is a marriage. It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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MDOT Blows $2.7 Billion on Seven Miles of Road

The Billion Dollar Roads Boondoggle in Pothole Season — Pure Michigan

While Michigan motorists bump along on dangerous roads, the Michigan Department of Transportation continues to advance their $2.7 billion unnecessary and wasteful project to widen a short stretch of I-94 in Detroit based on (now useless) traffic data from over a dozen years ago.

Opponents of the project met in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood today to ask Gov. Snyder to divert funds from this wasteful boondoggle to make much-needed repairs to roads elsewhere in the state. Petitions and letters were also delivered to his office.

A report released last fall from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund (Public Interest Research Group), titled Highway Boondoggles, Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future, cites the I-94 widening project as among the most needless in the nation. The report calls for state and federal decision-makers to reevaluate the plan, along with ten other pointless projects across the country.

“With the Federal Highway Trust Fund on life support, states struggling to meet basic infrastructure needs, and growing demands for investment in public transportation and other non-driving forms of transportation, America does not have the luxury of wasting tens of billions of dollars on new highways of questionable value.”

Rep. Jim Townsend (D-26) attended today’s event and had this to say about the project:

This morning I was at the United Sound System Recording Studio to speak in opposition of the wasteful I-94 expansion project. This historic building is just one of 12 commercial buildings, 14 individual homes, 2 duplexes and 2 apartment buildings that would be demolished as a result of adding more lanes.

Wasteful boondoggles such as this are why we are struggling to gain taxpayer’s confidence in our ability to invest their money wisely.

Townsend 2

Townsend’s words reflect the concerns of many Detroiters who believe the seven mile-long expansion will likely hinder the Motor City’s economic recovery. The PIRG report asserts that the widening project will make it “more difficult by further separating two neighborhoods that have been leading the city’s revitalization”. 

Midtown and New Center neighborhoods have been key to the rebirth of Detroit. Growth in cultural arts, commercial and retail development, along with innovative planning — like the recently launched $140 million streetcar project — will be put in jeopardy by bisecting these newly flourishing meccas. Under the MDOT plan, eleven bridges linking the neighborhoods would be removed, causing pedestrians and bicycle riders to travel an additional six blocks just to cross the road.

In late 2012, The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments conducted a survey of Detroit-area residents finding they reported no vexing problems with traffic jams, and they “would rather live with current levels of congestion (63 percent) than pay more to reduce traffic congestion (37 percent).” A wiser use of the federal funds would be to resurface crumbling roads which would have a positive impact on the wallets of Motor City commuters — saving them at least a portion of the $1,600 they sacrifice to pot holes every year.

In less than a month, Michigan voters head to the polls to weigh-in on the controversial ballot question to bump the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent and increase fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees to raise an estimated $1.25 billion in additional funds to repair Michigan’s roads. The bi-partisan measure has little hope of success though, and Gov. Snyder readily concedes there’s no plan-B in the hopper. Although to be fair, the governor wouldn’t want to tip his hand and play into the political opposition’s game. Recent MIRS polling indicates 55 percent against, 36 percent for, and 9 percent undecided on the proposal. GOP lawmakers who oppose the roads plan are offering-up their own plan-B which would substantially nick school and municipal funding to stir-up about $1.2 billion extra for roads.

Voters will have their say on May 5th.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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RFRA — The Political Wedgie That Keeps on Giving

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act — A Wedge Issue, of the Atomic Variety

Last week’s crucible of intra-party warfare sent the Republican Party reeling over the schism between social and fiscal conservatives which, much to the left’s delight, culminated in an epic self-inflicted political wedgie.

wedgie

The “clarification” amendment to Indiana’s RFRA law isn’t the end-all though — not by a long shot. The vector of religious freedom laws will predictably continue to produce clashes over civil liberties, particularly during the run-up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s much-anticipated decision on same-sex marriage later this year…. and beyond, as 2016 nears.

[NOTE: Today’s news brings word that Michigan State Rep. Gary Glenn (R-98) has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the American Family Association-Michigan in support of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. His effort will get lost among the thicket of amicus briefs — currently numbered at 130, and counting. Court clerks will likely be the only ones to lay eyes on it.]

In the interim, the battles are both large and small.

War on Discrimination:

During the latest RFRA kerfuffle there were numerous articles insisting that the Indiana and Arkansas laws were considerably worse than those enacted elsewhere — in fact, some went so far as to claim there’s little comparison between them and other statutes, specifically those modeled after the federal RFRA of 1993. This argument neglects the fact that the federal code has already been pressed into service to obstruct civil rights. Most recently, to deny women basic healthcare.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) took issue with the apologist approach of some journalists which, albeit inadvertently, gave cover to standing RFRA laws through leaving readers with the impression that the problem was limited to just the two states. The distinction being made was that the Indiana and Arkansas statutes gave corporations the express right to refuse service based on religious beliefs, and further protected them from civil litigation. All true. The Atlantic posited that these new laws were additionally more troubling because their obvious intent was to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals, and the other RFRAs were not crafted with that specific language. True again. But as FFRF points out, that doesn’t mean the standing laws haven’t also been applied with the intent to discriminate.

The muddy reasoning of last week prompted FFRF to take out an ad in the Sunday New York Times pushing back on that line of thinking. They demand the wholesale repeal of the federal RFRA:

FFRF on RFRA

While repeal of the federal statute is unlikely any time soon, the FFRF point-of-view should be well taken, and voiced by the political left as conservatives ratchet-up on their self-inflicted wedge issue.

Smaller Skirmishes:

My alma mater, Marian High School, in toney Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is again in the spot light over their discriminatory LGBT policy position.

A predominately conservative community, they’ve been split over the all-girl Catholic school’s decision to terminate a teacher last fall. School administrators pink-slipped Barb Webb, a respected chemistry teacher, who just happens to be gay, and was expecting a baby. Marian officials never offered a specific reason for her termination, but it is widely believed to be due to her unconventional pregnancy. The Detroit Free Press reported:

Webb told the Free Press that her termination letter did not give a reason for her dismissal, but previous conversations with administrators pointed to a morality clause allowing firing over public conduct of “lifestyle or actions directly contradictory to the Catholic faith.”

Marian protestOver the months, supporters rallied around Webb, as pressure on school leadership mounted. The administrative decision to terminate her doesn’t square with the teachings of Pope Francis, who was named 2013 Person of the Year by The Advocate for his inclusive stance on LGBT individuals.

Webb has since delivered her baby, and Marian administrators have agreed to review their policy, although change has yet to become a reality, and no rapprochement appears to be in the works.

Marian magnet

Ironic Refrigerator Magnet

Marian’s policy inertia led one Oakland County official last week to offer an amendment to a proposal allowing the school to re-issue bonds to lower their interest rates. Commissioner Dave Woodward, a Democrat from Royal Oak, wanted to tie the school’s policy position on basic civil rights to their ability to issue the bonds. The Oakland Press reports:

The amendment stated that the county would issue the bonds only if the school agreed “to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, marital status or sexual orientation.”

Republican Caucus chair, Shelley Taub, shot-down the amendment and told Woodward to go “talk to the Pope.” Woodward quiped-back with a quote from the Pontiff:

“If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”

Amen to that.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Aramark Whistleblower Gets Canned

“Aramark did not fire the problem, Aramark fired the employee that was reporting the problems they failed to fix.” Jon Costa, Aramark whistleblower

Aramark moldy burger 2

Last year, Democracy Tree reported on the disgusting conditions found in the food vendor booths at Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums in Kansas City. Jon Costa, an Aramark food safety manager, threw-in the towel having finally had it with his employer constantly thwarting his efforts to clean house at the 26 stands he was charged with inspecting.

So, during game seven of the World Series he Aramark 2covertly snapped pictures which he then shared with ESPN and the Kansas City Health Department, but unlike Aramark, they took swift action. Immediately following the game, health department inspectors captured some shocking photos themselves, documenting that 20 of the stands were in violation of the health code, with 37 critical infractions cited. ESPN kicked-into investigative journalism mode to report the story.

Now, Aramark has finally taken action — they fired Costa. And he’s firing back, with an OSHA complaint.

Originally, the private food vendor placed the whistleblower on administrative leave and attempted damage control by sending a damning letter to ESPN discrediting him. (The redacted section is ESPN’s. If it contains Aramark claims against Costa, the corporation likely dug a liability hole as big as Kauffman Stadium.)

Aramark letter to ESPN

More Troubles in Michigan

Michigan, where Aramark holds the contract for prison food services, has also been in the news recently over disgusting conditions found under their watch.

CBS Detroit reports that last October an Aramark employee at the Saginaw Correctional Facility pulled meatballs out of the garbage to serve to inmates:

Apparently, an Aramark employee had thrown the food away before realizing more inmates still hadn’t been served. The employee, who has since been fired, then retrieved the food “rinsed them off, reheated them in the oven and instructed the inmates to serve them.”

The inmates refused to serve the trash-food, so the fired worker and another Aramark employee served the inmates themselves.

Last month, Progress Michigan released emails they had obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request regarding an Aramark employee who ordered kitchen workers to serve cake that had been eaten by rats.

Aramrk email

Blech!

It’s not just prisons and stadiums that must watch-out for problems with the private food vendor, public schools and universities are a mainstay of their business model. School boards would be well advised to review what’s been going-on in other schools under Aramark before contracting with the vendor.

View the Aramark Rap Sheet HERE.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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