4/08/2015

Demonizing the poor

One of the many consequences of having so many states controlled by Republicans is that there has been a flurry of bills demonizing the poor. One of the most common ways of doing so is by dictating what can and cannot be bought using food stamps and other forms of assistance. Many of these bills feed off of stereotypes of the poor - and stereotypes of "those people."

Emily Badger at The Washington Post notes that there are a lot of problems with these bills:

The first is economic: There's virtually no evidence that the poor actually spend their money this way. The idea that they do defies Maslow's hierarchy — the notion that we all need shelter and food before we go in search of foot massages. In fact, the poor are much more savvy about how they spend their money because they have less of it (quick quiz: do you know exactly how much you last spent on a gallon of milk? or a bag of diapers?). By definition, a much higher share of their income — often more than half of it — is eaten up by basic housing costs than is true for the better-off, leaving them less money for luxuries anyway. And contrary to the logic of drug-testing laws, the poor are no more likely to use drugs than the population at large.

The second issue with these laws is a moral one: We rarely make similar demands of other recipients of government aid. We don't drug-test farmers who receive agriculture subsidies (lest they think about plowing while high!). We don't require Pell Grant recipients to prove that they're pursuing a degree that will get them a real job one day (sorry, no poetry!). We don't require wealthy families who cash in on the home mortgage interest deduction to prove that they don't use their homes as brothels (because surely someone out there does this). The strings that we attach to government aid are attached uniquely for the poor.

That leads us to the third problem, which is a political one. Many, many Americans who do receive these other kinds of government benefits — farm subsidies, student loans, mortgage tax breaks — don't recognize that, like the poor, they get something from government, too. That's because government gives money directly to poor people, but it gives benefits to the rest of us in ways that allow us to tell ourselves that we get nothing from government at all.

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler has called this effect the "submerged state." Food stamps and welfare checks are incredibly visible government benefits. The mortgage interest deduction, Medicare benefits and tuition tax breaks are not — they're submerged. They come to us in round-about ways, through smaller tax bills (or larger refunds), through payments we don't have to make to doctors (thanks to Medicare), or in tuition we don't have to pay to universities (because the G.I. Bill does that for us).

I would add a fourth problem: many poor people don't vote.

There's a strong correlation between income an voter turnout. Nearly 80% of those who make $150,000 per year voted in 2008 - almost twice the turnout rate of those who make less than $15,000.

Of course, that also ties in with voter ID laws.

I've never been extremely poor (I've always had a roof over my head, for instance), but I've felt the pain of being on a limited income - and even no income.

It sucks.

But this sinister trend is is part of a vicious cycle that is undermining our civic life. Poor people are less likely to vote, so politicians ignore their needs. And because many politicians ignore the poor, the poor don't think government matters - so they don't vote.

It's up to us - poor, middle class, and everyone else - to break that cycle.

In the coming weeks, I'll talk about how we can break this cycle.

4/02/2015

Thank you, MLive Media Group and Jack Lessenberry


Michigan needs at least $1.2 billion per year to address its steadily deteriorating roads. Some experts say we need as much as $2 billion per year. The situation requires new revenue, and we need it yesterday.
Voters must pass Proposal 1 on May 5. Failure to do so will have harmful consequences for schools, cities and our state's economy -- not to mention your car and yes, potentially your safety.

Don't be fooled by the anti-Proposal 1 talk of a Plan B. There is no viable alternative. The closest thing to it was the failed Bolger plan of 2014, a scheme that would have eventually cost our schools a devastating $800 million per year.

Indeed, any proposal to fund road improvements without raising taxes will likely result in big losses for schools and cities. There isn't anywhere else in the budget that would provide the kind of money our roads need.

The whole thing is worth a read.

So is this from Jack Lessenberry who notes that if Proposal 1 passes:

There will also be a little more money for local governments and the schools, and even some to invest in mass transit. Plus, the working poor would get a much-needed break.

The EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit stripped from them earlier in the Snyder administration would be fully restored; for many, this will make a significant difference.

Politics really is the art of the possible, and I don't think there is any other rational choice.

If the voters turn down Proposal 1, none of those good things will happen, at least not for years, and the roads will get worse and worse.

The arguments against it are mediocre at best, ridiculous at worst. I'll have more on that next week.

Fundraising emails work! ... except when they don't. An insider's perspective.

This week our inboxes were once again cluttered with emails from campaigns and other political organizations. But why?

It's quite common for folks in the world of digital politics to claim that these emails work. On its face, it's not incorrect; every time an email goes out, the dollars - at least a few of them - come in.

But there's a cost. A huge cost.

These EOQ blitzes annoy supporters -  and when people are annoyed, they unsubscribe. Each unsubscription equals another person who is less connected to the campaign - and we need them connected if we want them to volunteer or donate. Plus, there seems to be more of a focus on short-term metrics like dollars - at the expense of a long-term sense of community and connectedness.

President Obama set out to change politics - and the country - for the better. That included changing the relationship between campaigns and supporters. He understood that we need to make people feel connected if we want them to support us, to volunteer for us, to donate to us. A few years after Howard Dean pioneered email fundraising, Obama revolutionized it. The conversational tone is still featured in today's OFA emails.

Unfortunately, most campaigns have run away from that (just like they ran away from our President himself).

Today, political fundraising emails have gone out of control, offering little substance except for fear and groveling. No updates on events, no big announcements, pleas for money.

And that money? Well, a lot of it is going toward consultants - including digital consultants - when it could instead go towards things that could help us win elections.

The consultants see dollar signs.

The Democrats see defeat.

We have fewer seats in Congress than at any point since the Truman era. Democrats have only 58 of 148 seats in Michigan's legislature. Voter turnout in 2014 was lower than any other midterm since 1942 - when many eligible voters were overseas. (Yes, gerrymandering played a role - but how did the gerrymanderers get in office? Exactly.)

We can do better. I know we can. The Democratic Party is one of the greatest forces for good in the world. Not just the country - the world.

That's part of why I founded Humanoid Digital. It's also why I am so active in the Party.

Let's fix this. Together.

3/28/2015

Michigan Democratic Party opts for March 8 primary; Delegate Selection Plan open for public comments

The Michigan Democratic Party has released its draft Delegate Selection Plan for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, which will center on a March 8 presidential primary. The Plan itself has a lot to it, including procedural guarantees (i.e. nondiscrimination clauses); how delegate spots are allocated to presidential candidates; and specific rules on how the process of electing delegates works. (If it seems like there's a lot of legal-ese, it's because the DNC requires it in each state's delegate selection plan.)

The plan also calls for processes and efforts to ensure participation by Democrats of various races and ethnicities, as well as young, LGBT, and disabled Democrats. It also calls for education on the delegate selection process, as well as opportunities for financial support for less well-off Democrats who'd like to attend.

Under the rules, Michigan will have a total of 152 delegates:

  • 19 "Superdelegates," which include members of Congress and the Democratic National Committee;
  • 17 Party Leader and Elected Official (PLEO) delegates, elected by State Central on June 11, 2016;
  • 29 At-Large Delegates, elected by State Central right after PLEOs are elected; and
  • 87 District-level delegates apportioned to congressional districts according to how well the Democrats do in those districts. They'll be elected at district conventions on May 21, 2016.

Holding the primary in conjunction with the Republican primary offers a number of advantages:

  • We'll potentially have some influence. Iowa, new Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada all go in February; the rest of the states can go March 1 or later. There are incentives for states to go after April 1 - and Michigan took advantage of such incentives in 2012 and may again in 2020. But while other states go later, Michigan will likely have a say in the event that the nomination isn't settled by early March.
  • We can test GOTV strategies and tactics.
  • It'll save us money and effort on holding a caucus - money and effort that will instead go toward electing Democrats.
  • We'll be compliant with the DNC's rules regarding timing. Never forget or repeat 2008.
  • We'll have more data. As I mentioned recently, if both parties have a competitive primary, then
    Democratic voters who may have in the Democratic primary, providing more accurate clues as to the voter's actual political leanings. (Given the choice between two competitive primaries, you're probably going to choose the party with which you more closely align.

    Not that there won't be any crossover - there's usually some - but it will be minimal, and the odds are against Michigan being part of another Operation Hilarity. Phone banks and polls only go so far in deterring who's a Democrat and who isn't.

The plan will be formally approved at the April 25 State Central Committee meeting in Grand Rapids - but not before a public comment period. Under Delegate Selection Rule 1.C, all public comments must be received for 30 days and submitted to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, which then goes through each state's plan with a fine tooth comb.

Public comments may be submitted to midemparty@michigandems.com.

3/26/2015

Troll So Hard, Debbie Stabenow/Tom Cotton edition

Man, is this amazing.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) delivered a pitch-perfect trolling lesson to the Senate on Wednesday, filing an amendment calling to defund "the purchase of stationary [sic] or electronic devices for the purpose of members of Congress or congressional staff communicating with foreign governments and undermining the role of the President as Head of State in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States."

In other words, Stabenow wants to defund Tom Cotton letters.

Earlier this month, Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, organized a letter to Iranian leaders warning that future presidents may not abide by a deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions currently being negotiated by the Obama administration. Cotton garnered 46 additional GOP co-sponsors, and outraged even many critics of the Iran talks for addressing the letter directly to top Iranian government officials and bypassing the executive branch, which is constitutionally charged with negotiating foreign pacts.

...

But these legislative dominance rituals often do have real political consequences, even when they do not result in direct policy changes. Cotton's Iran letter has been politically unpopular, and even simply raising the issue through the amendment process could force senators who signed the letter to take another round of heat.

I have two amazing Senators.

3/17/2015

Kentwood City Commission unanimously backs Proposal 1

The Kentwood City Commission unanimously approved a resolution supporting Proposal 1, which, if passed, would increase road funding.

Commissioners Betsy Artz, Michael Brown, Bob Coughlin, Jerry DeMaagd, and Mayor Steve Kepley supported it. Being an MDOT employee, new Commissioner Steve Redmond (formally appointed and sworn in tonight to succeed Sharon Brinks) abstained due to a possible conflict of interest. Commissioner Erwin Haas was absent.

If Proposal 1 passes, Kentwood will see nearly $3.8 million in funding for road projects in Fiscal Year 2016 - a 22% increase over Fiscal Year 2014. By Fiscal Year 2018, that would increase to more than $5.1 million - nearly 65% more than 2014.

The final version of the resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, Michigan’s roads and bridges threaten driver safety and contribute to countless accidents each year, as drivers swerve to avoid potholes and other road hazards; and

WHEREAS, 38 percent of Michigan’s state- and locally-owned urban roads and 32 percent of the state’s state- and locally-owned rural roads are in poor condition; and

WHEREAS, Michigan has relied on Band-Aid, short-term fixes for our roads instead of investing enough money to fix our roads for the long term; and

WHEREAS, Michigan invests less per capita in transportation than any state in the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, the longer we wait to fix Michigan’s roads, the more it will cost us; and

WHEREAS, in addition to threatening public safety, Michigan’s crumbling roads hurt our economy; and

WHEREAS, Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot is Michigan’s best chance to finally fix our roads with funds that the politicians can’t divert somewhere else – while also supporting Michigan’s long-term future by investing in our public schools and local communities;

WHEREAS: Having adequate resources to fix our crumbling roads and bridges is crucial to helping improve the state’s economy and generate an estimated 15,000 new skilled and high-paying jobs in Michigan; and

WHEREAS: Because safe roads are essential to the movement of goods throughout Michigan, Proposal 1 is supported by some of Michigan’s leading organizations of job providers including the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Michigan First, Business Leaders for Michigan, the West Michigan Policy Forum, Detroit Regional Chamber, Small Business Association of Michigan, Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Lodging and Resort Association and more; and

WHEREAS: Having safe roads is vital to the success of municipalities and is supported by some of the state’s leading associations including the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, and Michigan Townships Association; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood supports Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot to provide the funding needed to finally fix our roads for the long term; and

RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood knows the 1-cent increase in the sales tax will benefit local communities and help ensure drivers’ safety on the roads; and

RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood formally supports Safe Roads Yes! because if it passes, every penny we pay at the pump in state gas taxes is guaranteed in the constitution to go to transportation.

3/09/2015

A few thoughts on Sigma Alpha Epsilon

By now, you're probably familiar with the outrageous, offensive behavior of (now-suspended) members of the fraternity in Oklahoma.

It sickens me for two reasons. First is the obvious - it’s racist, offensive, and immature. But there's another reason it disgusts me: it goes against every impression I’ve ever had of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

I never joined a fraternity during my undergraduate days. I had a lot on my plate back then. But I did come to respect most of the fraternities and sororities at CMU. And of all of the Greek organizations on campus, I held the highest regard for Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

Almost every interaction I had with SAE members - in student government, residence life, and everything else - was positive. They demonstrated respect, integrity, and commitment in all they said and did.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon members approach the concept of a True Gentleman in a way that I, a non-member, presumably cannot. However, I do know that SAE members take to heart these words by John Walter Wayland:

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

The SAE members I met at CMU didn't merely talk about honor and virtue. They lived it. And they still do. No racists in Oklahoma can stop me from holding SAE members in high regard, particularly those whom I have had the privilege to know.

3/05/2015

Michigan and Ohio Democratic Parties file joint SCOTUS brief in support of marriage equality

From Ye Olde Presse Shoppe:

“Here in Michigan, far too many families have been denied liberty and justice for too long, because of the out of touch actions of Republicans Bill Schuette and Rick Snyder,” said Lon Johnson, Michigan Democratic Party Chair.

"Thousands of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on frivolous, fringe arguments, which have only served to embarrass our state. This effort to deny equal rights to parents and children, based on nothing more than a desire to score cheap partisan points with the far right wing of the Republican party, is just wrong,” added Johnson.

Mark Totten, one of the attorneys who wrote the brief, said "for two years now the State of Michigan has argued that the children at issue in the Michigan case would be better off as orphans then have two gay parents. That's wrong. The rights of these kids - so many of whom are special needs – to have two loving parents should not be decided at the ballot box."

Here's the brief.

3/02/2015

Get off your "both parties are the same" high horse already

Are the two parties REALLY the same? Are both parties REALLY equally to blame for Issue X or Problem Y? When voting, is it REALLY more virtuous to split your ticket than vote straight ticket?

Come on.

Just last week, Scott Walker compared protestors to ISIS. A Nevada lawmaker likened to a fungus that can simply be washed out. An Idaho lawmaker suggested that women need to swallow cameras before having an abortion. A Kansas lawmaker said she wants to criminalize ‘harmful’ books.

All in one week.

All Republicans.

And odds are, none of them will pay any sort of price within their party. If anything, they might get rewarded. Rewarded!

In today's Republican Party, decent people are being pushed out* while the far-right are being elevated.** Heck, Ronald Reagan would be considered much too liberal for many Republicans today.

Gerald Ford? Dwight Eisenhower? Don't even think about it.

Are Democrats perfect? Hell no! I get that, as do most Democrats. We're human beings, we make mistakes, etc. But I'll take the imperfections of our Party, our candidates, and our elected officials any day of the week - especially if that day is a Tuesday in early November.

*See: Lugar, Dick; see also: Schwarz, Joe.**See: Agema, Dave; see also: Glenn, Gary.

2/21/2015

Describe the May 5 road funding proposal in 100 words. Go!

MLive probes a decision facing the Bureau of Elections and the Board of State Canvassers: Coming up with a 100-word description of the May 5 ballot proposal.

Fun fact: Whenever a statewide proposal is to appear on the ballot, the Bureau of Elections crowdsources language (or at least officially they do). The Bureau of Elections then comes up with proposed language, publishes it online, opens it up for public comment, then submits the proposal to the state Board of Canvassers, which must ratify the language.

Here's the proposed language as of February 21:

A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO INCREASE THE MAXIMUM SALES TAX RATE FROM 6% TO 7%, ELIMINATE SALES AND USE TAXES ON GASOLINE AND DIESEL FUEL, DEDICATE A PORTION OF USE TAX REVENUE TO THE SCHOOL AID FUND, REVISE PERMISSIBLE USES OF THE SCHOOL AID FUND, AND TRIGGER OTHER LAWS THAT INCLUDE DEDICATING REVENUE FOR ROADS AND OTHER TRANSPORTATION PURPOSES. The proposed constitutional amendment would:
  • Set maximum sales tax rate at 7% (now 6%).
  • Exempt gasoline / diesel fuel from sales and use taxes.
  • Dedicate portion of use tax to School Aid Fund (SAF).
  • Allow use of SAF for public community colleges and career / technical education and prohibit use for higher education.
  • Trigger laws that include but not limited to:
    • Increase sales / use tax rates to 7%;
    • Increase motor fuel tax on gasoline / diesel fuel and vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes;
    • Require competitive bidding and warranties for road projects; and
    • Increase earned income tax credit.
Should this proposal be adopted?
YES
NO