Billionaire Sheldon Adelson holds the First In The Nation presidential primary

sheldon_adelson

sheldon_adelson2Looks like New Hampshire is losing our “first-in-the-nation-Presidential-primary” status.

According to press reports, the FIRST “primary” for the 2016 Presidential campaign is being held this weekend in Las Vegas

…as each of the likely GOP candidates gets interviewed by moneyman Sheldon Adelson.

“Certainly the ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary for any Republican running for president,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush.

Reportedly, this weekend’s events include a poker tournament, a Scotch “tasting”, and a VIP dinner “hosted by the Adelsons in the private airplane hangar where Adelson keeps his fleet.”  In-between those events, “Adelson is scheduled to hold casual one-on-one chats — over coffee, at dinner or in his private office — with the prospective candidates.”

A senior strategist who has advised past GOP nominees said the 2016 hopefuls ‘are just falling at his feet.’

So… if Billionaire mogul Sheldon Adelson gets first crack at vetting the presidential candidates… where does that leave regular Republicans, here in the Granite State?

Senate GOP Sentences Future Retirees onto Social Services

Image by Marc Nozell (CC Flickr)
Image by Marc Nozell (CC Flickr)

Image by Marc Nozell (CC Flickr)

CONCORD – THURSDAY, on a party-line vote, the Republican-controlled Senate killed SB 364, a bill sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Larsen, (D-Concord), to create real pension reform for employees hired on or after July 1, 2011. Hard-working new public employees harmed by the disastrous retirement changes in 2011’s HB2 told their personal stories during the bill’s committee hearing. Today they came back to Concord in hopes to convince their Senators to vote for their families, for the economy, and against resource-shifting to the social services net.

“It’s a sad day in New Hampshire when our legislators refuse to listen to their constituents, kicking the can of real pension reform down the road again to burden a  future generation. Our public employees deserve better than partisan politics being  placed ahead of common sense and dignity.” said Laura Hainey, President of AFT-NH.

Chris Cummings, representing NH Troopers’ Association, noted the impacts this low new member benefit program is having on recruiting and retaining high-quality employees in the Granite State. “This bill would have given us an opportunity to compete for the best and brightest recruits to address today’s law  enforcement challenges. With this vote, Senate Republicans have turned their backs on the public safety of New Hampshire.”

For more information on the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition, please visit nhretirementfacts.com and follow us @NH_RSC

UPDATED 1715

Senator Larsen Comments on Senate Bill 364

CONCORD – Senator Sylvia Larsen released the following comments after the defeat of Senate Bill 364 which would create real pension reform for newly hired public employees.

“I am disappointed we could not get a Senate majority to help pass SB 364. This bill would not change the fact that new hires are now required to work longer, retire at an older age, and pay more for their retirement benefit. It does however, include a compromise in the form of a defined contribution plan for Group I, which until recently has long been opposed by workers. I believe this bill represents real pension reform.”

“I believe there were unintended consequences during the 2011 legislative changes to the New Hampshire Retirement System, that’s why I introduced Senate Bill 364. After reviewing data last year from the New Hampshire Retirement System, I came to the conclusion that the Legislature must act now or else there will be a substantial social cost down the road.”

The current retirement plan creates a future generation of impoverished public employee retirees. It will provide only 45-49% salary replacement in retirement. Experts say that all retiring workers whether in the private or public sector need to receive between 80-85% of your last working year’s salary. Current law leaves the average firefighter retiring in 25 years with only $34,000 and teachers averaging $24,000 in retirement pay. That’s hardly a liveable wage now, let alone 25 years from now”

“Under the changes made in 2011, retired police, firefighters, and teachers thirty years from now could qualify for social services. It’s unacceptable to think that firefighters – who don’t receive social security and who spent decades running into burning buildings – would now be forced to survive on food stamps. We know we have problem now and have the advantage of years to offset the shortfall,” said Senator Larsen. “If we don’t act now, the Legislature will be kicking the can down the road and hoping a future Legislature will find a way to foot the bill and avoid thousands of police officers, firefighters, and teachers living on social services.”

“By failing to address the problem now and pass real pension reform, we are pushing costs for the state and taxpayers further into the future.”

The Rules change that could end gridlock in the US House

GOP pretzels

Record dysfunction in Congress: it’s NOT just the Senate, and NOT just the filibuster.

Republican extremists in the House have also been using parliamentary tricks to block legislation – including bills that had bipartisan support and would have passed if our elected Representatives were actually allowed to vote.

“The use of ‘closed rules’ has excluded most House members from full participation in the legislative process,” Rep. Louise Slaughter, ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, wrote earlier this week.

“Under a closed rule, no amendments are allowed on the House floor. As a result, House Republicans are able to pursue a politically driven agenda without allowing commonsense amendments that could achieve bipartisan compromise.  This approach has also empowered the most extreme members of the House to pursue narrow policy goals at all costs.”

Like, say, the government shutdown.

“On Sept. 30 — the eve of the government shutdown — Republicans on the House Rules Committee changed the rule so only House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) could call up a Senate-passed clean funding bill — a bill that has the votes to pass the House and would end the shutdown, if it were given a vote.”

One man, standing in the way of a vote that impacts millions of Americans.  (Remind you of anything?  Such as: then-Senator Scott Brown single-handedly blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, back in 2010?  The Senate couldn’t vote until they added an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.)

This is what’s REALLY wrong with Congress:  our elected Representatives aren’t being allowed to vote on legislation that has bipartisan support.

GOP leadership is using the “closed rule” process to keep the House from passing legislation.  Last year was the most “closed” year in House history.  “In fact, the House GOP passed as many closed rules in a single week in October as during the entire last year of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) speakership.”

The Senate is finally reforming the filibuster.

Isn’t it time for the House to reform the “closed rule” process?

Deportation, Physical Abuse, & Stolen Paperwork; What Will It Take For A Vote On Immigration?

Don't deport my mom

Don't deport my momEveryone is jumping up and down over the fact the House of Representative finally did something!  Yeah, they passed a bill!  The fact is that passing this budget is a big deal for a couple of reasons.

Passing this budget means that we will not be forced into another government shutdown.  The budget funds the government for the next two years.  This also means that Congress will not be jumping from crisis to crisis every three months.

Passing this budget also means that the house can actually put aside their ideologies and pass legislation is a bi-partisan way.  Speaker John Boehner did something nobody expected him to, and chastised the right-wing conservative groups for trying to block this budget.   The question is whether or not Speaker Boehner will continue this rebellion and start to actually pass a few bills in the house.

I know just where Boehner can start, comprehensive immigration reform.  You know the bill that already passed the Senate with strong bi-partisan support, and is just waiting for the House to pass it.  The Speaker has said on multiple occasions that passing immigration reform is a major part of the Republican agenda and it should be done.

Sadly the House of Representative closed up shop for the year. They went back home to their districts without even discussing immigration.  Now we must wait until early January until we see if John Boehner will bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

“Our immigration system desperately needs reform. Our broken system puts significant strain on our communities. It also hurts American workers and legal immigrants, not to mention illegal immigrants, whose families live on the margins of our society,” said Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH).

That means we will have to wait about 25-30 days before the House reconvenes and a vote can be held.  In those 30 days over 30,000 aspiring citizens will be deported.  30,000 families ripped apart.  On average 1,100 aspiring  citizens are deported every day.

To add further insult to these people who are chasing their own version of the American Dream, the Immigration Policy Center reports that immigrants are being mistreated while in US custody.

“Overall, we find that the physical and verbal mistreatment of migrants is not a random, sporadic occurrence but, rather, a systematic practice. One indication of this is that 11% of deportees report some form of physical abuse and 23% report verbal mistreatment while in U.S. custody”. (Emphasis added)

If we put these figures into action that would mean that in the next 30 days while Congress is on vacation and not passing immigration reform, 3,000 immigrants will be physically abused during their deportation.

As if physically abusing immigrants already in custody is not enough, it is now being reported that over “one-third (1/3) of all immigrants taken into US custody had their belonging taken from them and not returned.”  Some items may be trivial, but not all of them. “Among deportees who were carrying Mexican identification cards, 1 out of every 4 had their card taken and not returned. The taking of possessions, particularly identity documents, can have serious consequences and is an expression of how dysfunctional the deportation system is.

The Immigration Policy Center continues:

 Our study finds that migrants processed through Operation Streamline, or held in detention for a week or longer, are most likely to have their possessions taken and not returned.”

How can this be happening?  Just because they are not American citizens does not mean that the US Government can trample their rights.  This is just another reason we need to pass immigration reform.  We must put an end to the daily deportation of these aspiring  Americans.

To bring attention to the need for real immigration reform advocates began a ‘Fast for Families’ on the National Mall.  Many of the faster’s are well known in the ongoing fight for immigration reform, including Eliseo Medina.  The Fast For Families includes bio’s of all of the faster’s, and this is what they said about Eliseo:

Eliseo Medina is described by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the most successful labor organizers in the country” and was named one of the “Top 50 Most Powerful Latino Leaders” in Poder Magazine. Medina served as the International Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for 17 years (1996 – 2013)

They began their fast with a declaration.

What is our faith, our words and our history worth if not translated into action, sacrifice and redemption? The world has witnessed the beliefs and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez translate in courageous acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to gain justice for a community of people who were underserved and discriminated against. We now humbly attempt to follow the examples of these great teachers and the teachings of Scripture to align our own hearts with the heart of God, who desires justice for immigrants and immediate justice for the 11 million undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters within our borders. Our faith requires nothing less. Today begins our vow to abstain from sustenance.”

(Read the full Fast for Citizenship: The Moral Obligation to Pass Immigration Reform)

These brave men and women have been fasting for over 35 days now.  They have received visits from many supporters including President and Mrs Obama, Rep John Lewis (D-MS), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and many more.  To bring more attention to their fast, members sent multiple letters to Speaker Boehner asking him to bring the bill up for a vote.

After 30 days of surviving on nothing but water, the fasters have handed the torch over to a new group of fasters.  Congressional Representatives and union leaders quickly stepped up to fast for immigration reform. Every day since, members of Congress and immigration advocates have come forward to fast on the National Mall in their place.

How many families will have to be ripped apart by deportation before Speaker John Boehner will bring an immigration bill to the floor of the house?

How many people will be physically abused, and have their property and identification cards stolen from them before Speaker Boehner will bring an immigration bill to the floor?

What does it take to convince the Speaker that we need immigration reform now!

AFL-CIO Pushes For Immigration Reform With New Ad

Video Ad Screen Shot

Labor Federation mobilizes workers to pressure House Republicans to pass immigration reform with roadmap to citizenship and workers’ rights

Efforts tie into coalition “Cost of Inaction” mobilizations

Today the AFL-CIO announced the release of new, hard hitting television ads that call out Republicans for obstructing comprehensive immigration reform, citing anti-immigrant statements by Republican lawmakers.  In addition to the ads, labor will launch in-district mobilizations to increase pressure on House Republicans to support immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship and protection of workers’ rights. Providing 11 million aspiring Americans with the chance to come out of the shadows and contribute to our communities will protect the rights of all workers, the AFL-CIO has said.

These ads represent the next step of the labor movement’s unprecedented nationwide campaign to reform the nation’s broken immigration system and create equal access to the American Dream. The ads will run in Spanish and target districts with large Latino constituencies in Bakersfield, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Atlanta, Ga.; and Orlando, Fla. The ads will also be broadcast in English in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

“The time for acting on immigration reform is now, and the labor movement has decided to throw down in a big way to make it happen,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.  “Every day, over 1,000 people are deported, while House Republicans refuse to act on immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship and workers’ rights.  We won’t stop until the deportation crisis ends and aspiring Americans have the roadmap to citizenship they deserve.”

Online actions and mobilization by the labor movement will tie into coalition actions targeting nine key House Republicans as part of the “Cost of Inaction” campaign.

“I have been working on this since the days of Governor Pete Wilson in California when he tried to demonize immigrants back in the early 1990s,” said AFL-CIO Los Angeles Labor Federation head Maria Elena Durazo. “We know what happened. We saw how that worked out.  The time to act is now. Or the Republican Party may never again be able to get support from immigrant communities.”

 

GOP House Members still fighting? Gonna be costly.

Last person leaving, please dock the doors

No, it’s not de ja vu. It’s just that… so much of it is still exactly on-point.  Wish it wasn’t, but it is. So, with very few updates, here’s a repeat of my post from February 6, 2013:

————————

Last person leaving, please dock the doorsHoping for bipartisan cooperation, now that the election is over? Think again.

The weekend before the inauguration, Republicans gathered in Williamsburg to discuss strategies for “fighting” the President. Just a week later, former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan was telling a gathering of conservatives that “Republicans control both the House and most of the statehouses. So we have to oppose the president and the Senate on some fronts—and engage them on others…”

Does that sound like cooperation to you?

Looks like it’s going to be an interesting next few months. Two dates to mark on your calendar:

On March 1st, the sequestration cuts are scheduled to go went into effect. Cutting government services through these automatic, across-the-board cuts is expected to send the economy back into recession. One example: according to a study commissioned by the airline industry, the FAA’s share of the sequestration cuts is about $1 billion a year. That cut would reduce the nation’s air traffic between 5% and 10%, and the country would lose between 66,000 and 132,000 jobs related to air transportation. The irony? The economic losses would cause tax revenues to drop by as much as $1 billion a year. (Hmmn… $1 billion in tax revenues lost because of a $1 billion spending cut. Not a whole lot of deficit-reduction going on, is there?)  After members of Congress were inconvenienced by airport delays, the FAA was granted special treatment under the sequestration act.  Recent estimates of the economic costs of sequestration include:  1.6 million jobs and 1.2% of GDP.

On March 27th  September 30th, the “continuing resolution” that funded federal government expired. That means a possible “government shutdown”. According to Politico, a majority of GOP House members “are prepared to shut down the government to make their point. House Speaker John Boehner ‘may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,’ said a top GOP leadership adviser.”

What happens if the government shuts down? Federal employees who are deemed “essential” are still required to go to work – they just don’t get paid until after Congress approves a bill to pay them. The last time there was a significant government shutdown, almost a half-million federal employees were required to work without pay for three weeks.

The economic damage went far beyond the family finances of federal employees. The crisis also caused 11 states to suspend unemployment insurance, due to lack of federal funds. Veterans’ services were suddenly unavailable (including counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and pension and education payments). The crisis affected the oil industry, leaving more than 10,000 barrels a day untapped while companies waited for federal reviews. The tourism industry suffered millions of dollars in losses each day of the shutdown, because passports and visas were not processed. The housing industry suffered when $800 million worth of mortgage loans were delayed. The crisis halted cleanup of 609 toxic waste sites. It left hundreds of thousands of children in limbo, waiting for foster care or adoption.

And that was only a partial government shutdown. Most of the government still had funding, during that shutdown. (Just imagine what may happen on March 27th! now!)

There’s a moral here, folks. Government services are integral to our nation’s economy.

Is there any hope that Congress could learn that lesson, in the next month or so? Or is the GOP going to insist on doing economic damage, “just to get it out of their system”?

All Signs Point To A Government Shutdown

House Speaker John Boehner

There is little doubt in my mind that a government shutdown is eminent.  This means anyone who gets a paycheck from the federal government will be either forced to work without pay or forced into furlough status (stay home and not get paid).

Including the military the government employs 4.4 million workers (OPM).  Every one of those people will not be getting paid for work on beginning on Tuesday.

Obviously not all jobs are able to just close up shop.  These are called essential employees.  They could be FBI investigators, Air Traffic Controllers from the Department of Transportation, Secret Service, US Marshalls, some of the people from the Social Security Administrations, and our US Military.   All of these people must go to work, do their normal jobs, but will not get paid for their time.

All of them except the military.   This is another reason that people are really thinking that the GOP is going to push us over the edge.  Late during the night on Friday night the US House passed the “Pay Our Military Act” by a unanimous 423-0.  There is no doubt that the military is special.  They are spread out around the world and they cannot just stay home if the government shuts down.  Not to mention that over 5000 military families receive SNAP (food stamps) from the government on top of their pay.  The SNAP program was recently gutted during the Farm Bill debate.

Many people agree we should be paying the military in the event of a shutdown but what about the other essential government employees.  Those employees who still have to go to work but will not get paid.   What about their families? Why is it ok to continue to pay the military personnel, but not the essential employees?  Better yet, pay everyone and don’t shut the government down.

“I think they’re showing their hand, and it’s unfortunate, because it’s not just our military personnel who will be hurt by the government shutdown,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., at a news conference after the meeting’s conclusion. “The shameful part of it is that Republicans are essentially telegraphing that they intend to shut down the government, and the only folks they are going to worry about, with the government shutdown, are the military personnel.”

Once again the House passed another Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded, with a short list of demands.  Not only did they pass a delay (or repeal) of the Affordable Care Act (43rd time) they added in some other stuff they know they would have no other chance to get passed.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter stated in a recent press release;

House Republicans have voted 43 times to obstruct a law that was passed by Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, and reaffirmed by the 2012 election. It doesn’t matter what party or state you represent, holding vital government functions hostage in order to wage an ideological crusade is irresponsible and unacceptable.  These Tea Party tactics hurt our recovering economy and harm working families, seniors, and veterans.”

The GOP in the house who are debating how they are going to fund the government, are proposing that the ‘Medical Device Tax’ be removed.  You got it, they are saying,  ‘we cannot pay our bills so lets stop bringing in revenue as well.’

Of course that is not all.  The House GOP is also pushing their anti-women ideology in this Continuing Resolution.

Roll Call reports, “House leaders made the bill even more unpalatable to Senate Democrats by including a “conscience clause” allowing employers and insurers to opt out of providing coverage for contraception if they have moral or religious objections.”

Seriously I cannot make this stuff up.  The House is pushing to roll back women’s health in a government funding bill.  Talk about earmarks!

Both sides are saying they do not want a shutdown. NH Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s released this statement:

“By refusing to vote on the Senate-passed bill to keep the government open, House Republicans are choosing to shut down the government — plain and simple. This is not what responsible governing looks like. With a costly shutdown just two days away, we don’t have time for more pointless political theater. We need to pass a responsible bill that will keep our government running, our economy growing, and our families and businesses secure. My colleagues across the aisle need to stop putting ideology ahead of common sense and focus on having a rational debate about how to responsibly reduce the deficit, create jobs, and strengthen the middle class. The last thing our economy can afford right now is another manufactured crisis from Washington.”

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter also had a few other things to say about the Continuing resolution:

“Today, House Speaker John Boehner took one big step toward total surrender to the Tea Party and one giant leap toward shutting down the government.  It’s time for Speaker Boehner to reject the most extreme flank of the Republican Party and work across the aisle to keep the government running.”

“I am willing to work with anyone to improve the Affordable Care Act, but changes to the health care law should be debated through an open legislative process, not through a hostage-taking stunt.”

It is strange that the only option that the GOP is offering in reference to the ACA is a repeal/defunding.  Not one of them has offered any suggestions as to how to fix any of the problems they have found.  Not one of them has attempted to make changes to the law to improve it only destroy it.   Jon Favreau, former chief speechwriter for President Obama wrote this in the Daily Beast.

“If Republicans are so confident Obamacare will end badly, why not just shut up about it? It’s not like they have the votes to repeal the law—a math problem they still haven’t solved after 37 different tries. Their appeal to the Supreme Court ended in defeat at the hands of a conservative chief justice. And now the bulk of the plan will begin to take effect in just a few months.

At this point, why not sit back and wait for this crazy experiment to self-destruct? Why not let President Obama and the Democrats reckon with the millions of angry Americans who will undoubtedly hate their new insurance or their new insurance protections?

Because Republicans are terrified that Obamacare could actually work.”

Favreau is right.  If the program is so bad, then stop trying to block it.  The GOP should be encouraging its implementation, just to watch it self-destruct.

Only 24 hours till the potential government shutdown.  And only two weeks until we reach the ‘debt ceiling’.  That is going to be much worse and more dangerous than a government shutdown.

GOP to Voters: ‘We’re taking the ball and going home’

Im taking my ball by Fahrenheit45one via Flikr

I'm taking my ball and going homeSay, what?!

The Associated Press is reporting that:

The Republican National Committee, responding to plans by two television networks for programs about Hillary Rodham Clinton, approved a resolution Friday to block CNN and NBC from hosting GOP presidential primary debates.

The unanimous vote affirmed RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s threat against the networks if they went ahead with programs about Clinton, a possible Democratic presidential contender.

Let’s everybody stop, take a deep breath and count to 10 here.  It’s kind of embarrassing when one of our country’s two major political parties throws a temper tantrum:  “Do it MY WAY or I won’t play ball!”

It’s worth noting that this hoopla is about a television series that hasn’t even started filming yet.

And “Clinton herself has understandably not given her blessing to the show, which could easily end up focusing on things the former Secretary of State would rather not call attention to.”

And up until a few days ago, it looked like the series would be produced by Fox TV Studios (yes, Fox).

But RNC Chairman Reince Priebus didn’t want Clinton to have any additional airtime — positive or not.

So Fox pulled out of the project.  Then the RNC voted to block CNN and NBC.  And now it looks like the whole project is on hold.

The idea that one political party can dictate what gets aired on television should scare the heck out of all of us.  That’s not what America is about.  That’s not what democracy is about.

The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market. (Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1919)

Think about the precedent that this is setting.  If the RNC has, in fact, succeeded in stopping this miniseries project, what’s next?  Will the GOP threaten to boycott any media outlet that runs stories about the taking-it-to-the-streets protests by fast food and retail workers?  Will the GOP threaten to boycott any media outlet that runs stories about how Obamacare is actually helping senior citizens?

Think about this, and then get really, really mad.  These days, most voters get their news from television.  What will happen to our democracy if one side succeeds in silencing the other?

On the playground, the threat to “take my ball and go home” only works if the other kids let the bully get his way.

Isn’t it a shame that NBC didn’t tell this particular “kid” to go ahead and go home?  It’s not like everybody in America wants to watch the Republicans in action, anyway.  During last year’s RNC Convention, the fourth episode of Honey Boo Boo topped the ratings.

State “Shared Taxes” Cuts have been Drowning Detroit: is Grover Norquist laughing yet?

norquist_drown_government

norquist_drown_governmentThe Bankruptcy Court judge overseeing Detroit’s “restructuring” is moving really, really fast.

And – at least so far – he’s following the schedule proposed by “Emergency Manager” Kevyn Orr and the law firm Jones Day.

  • Read more about Kevyn Orr here.
  • Read more about Jones Day here.

This Friday, August 2nd, the judge is expected to rule on Orr’s motion that a hand-picked “Committee of Retirees” be allowed to make decisions on behalf of the more than 20,000 retired city employees.

How’s this shaping up?  It looks a lot like what just happened in Stockton, California – where a similar committee just accepted $5.1 million as full “payment” for future medical benefits estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

And now that steamroller is headed straight for all those people who spent their lives working for the citizens of Detroit.

One of the many, many things that are wrong with this situation is: how completely the mainstream media has swallowed the spin offered by Michigan’s Republican Governor, Rick Snyder.

First, blame the unions.  (The Wall Street Journal’s “How the Unions Killed Detroit” is here.)

Next, blame “60 years of decline” – particularly the decline of the [unionized] auto industry.  (Watch Gov. Snyder on NBC’s Meet the Press here.)

Then, inflate the numbers.  All of a sudden, they’re not talking about annual deficits – not even the total accumulated annual deficits – they’re talking about “total debt”.   That includes bonds for the Water and Sewer systems.  For renovations to the Convention Center.  For the city’s Building Authority, and its Downtown Development Authority.  Its Transportation and Parking Funds.

Yeah, when you add it all up, that looks like a lot of debt.  But municipalities traditionally borrow the costs of capital projects, usually for terms of 20 to 30 years.  Just like most middle class families don’t pay cash when they buy a house.

But that “$18 billion” total debt number sure makes it seem like Detroit can’t possibly avoid bankruptcy, and can’t afford to keep its promises to its workers.

Great spin.

But what do Detroit’s auditors say?  Quoting directly from the city’s 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report:

The City has an accumulated unassigned deficit in the General Fund of $326.6 million as of June 30, 2012, which has resulted from operating deficits over the last several years.                                                                         

$326 million… $18 billion… Gotta admit: Rick Snyder sure knows how to spin things.

Let’s look at Detroit’s problem from another direction, for a minute.  Let’s consider – just for a minute – that maybe Detroit doesn’t have “a spending problem”, maybe it has a revenue problem.

The reality is, all around the country, municipalities depend on state revenue-sharing to make their budgets work.  Those of us who lived through New Hampshire’s Bill O’Brien years know this all too well.  State tax cuts and budget cuts “trickle down” and hit municipalities where it hurts.

For Detroit, state “shared taxes” used to provide 16% of city revenues.  That means one out of every six dollars that Detroit budgeted came from the State of Michigan.

Then GOP right-wingers declared war on our government.

Look at how different Detroit’s revenues would have been, if the amount of “shared taxes” had stayed the same as it was when George Bush became President:

Detroit Shared Taxes

Data from Detroit Combined Annual Financial Reports available at http://www.detroitmi.gov/Departments/Finance/tabid/86/Default.aspx

An interesting math exercise: if the state had continued to pay the same amount of “shared taxes” as it did in 2001, Detroit would have received $4.1 billion in additional revenue over the years.  (And maybe the city wouldn’t have had to borrow quite so much to finance capital projects…?)

Just in FY2012, Detroit would have received $470 million more in “shared taxes” revenue – if the State had still been sharing revenue like it did in 2001.

And that would have been more than enough to wipe out the $326 million in accumulated operating deficits that Detroit’s auditor cited in the 2012 CAFR.

So maybe Detroit’s financial problems weren’t caused by the unions – or “60 years of decline.”  Maybe it’s not a “spending problem” – maybe it’s a “revenue problem”.

Maybe the problem is that the extreme wing of the GOP declared war on government back in 2001… and they’re still planning to “drown it in the bathtub.”

 

 

America’s economy: socialized risks, privatized profits?!!?

Edgar Degas, The Orchestra at the Opera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Edgar Degas - The Orchestra at the Opera - Google Art Project 2Orchestrated?!!? Why would anybody think the public messaging was orchestrated?

Just because yesterday – Sunday – a group of hedge fund investors sued the US Treasury over dividends they want to get from mortgage-guarantee firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (And of course, since it was Sunday, there were no Treasury representatives immediately available to respond to the lawsuit. Which means the public is hearing only the investors’ side of the story, in all those thousands of stories about the lawsuit now running nationwide.)

And in today’s Boston Globe, there is a column by former NH Senator John E. Sununu arguing that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be “retooled” – before the companies have the opportunity to “pay back the funds taxpayers sank into them” at the beginning of the Great Recession. (In case you’ve forgotten, we the taxpayers spent about $188 billion to bailout the two mortgage giants.)

The plan Sununu is endorsing wouldn’t actually eliminate government guarantees for the “retooled” and “reformed” new “Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation”. No, no… the corporation would still have taxpayers as a financial backstop. But somehow, through the magic of federal legislation, “private financiers should have incentives to manage risk more effectively than in the past.”

Sunday court filings? Monday newspaper columns? Why on earth would anybody think there might possibly be a deliberate messaging campaign here?

Here’s MY short version of what’s at stake:

In the past several months, hedge funds have been quietly buying up shares in Fannie and Freddie. Those shares used to be basically worthless…. but their value is rising even as I type this post.

And for the past couple of months, hedge fund lobbyists have been quietly meeting with Congressional leaders to push “reform” efforts similar to the plan Sununu endorsed in the Globe today. Under current law, “Treasury holds $188.5 billion in senior preferred shares in the two companies, representing the amount of aid they have drawn from taxpayers to stay afloat. [As of April,] The companies have sent back $65.2 billion in dividends, which count as a return on the government’s investment and not as a repayment. Treasury also holds warrants to purchase nearly 80 percent of the companies’ outstanding common stock. “ But now that Fannie and Freddie are turning a profit, hedge fund lobbyists want to return the companies to private ownership.

That’s what’s at stake: billions of dollars in profits.

In all the stories I’ve read today, nobody is suggesting the private sector should assume all the risk inherent in the mortgage market. No, it seems they’re happy to have the federal government – we, the taxpayers – as the ultimate guarantor. In other words, the risk is “socialized”.

They just want the profits to be privatized.

And the way they phrase it, it all sounds so reasonable… if you’re too hot and tired to think twice about it… or if you’re relaxed and in a good mood from a July 4th vacation. And besides, the story broke on Sunday, with nobody around to give the other side.

As a professional communicator, myself, I gotta admire their timing and technique.

But as a member of the 99%, I am appalled at their insistence that profits should belong to hedge fund investors, rather than to the taxpayers who will continue to bear the investment risk.

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Read “How do we get an economy that works for the 99%?” here.

Quote of the week:

“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis