Monday, January 31, 2011

The new urge for democracy

In looking at the recent popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen — there has been some speculation about why they are happening.

Among all the other theories, I would like to throw out the suggestion that the recent American elections had something to do with it.

Americans, fed up with high unemployment, a stagnant economy and a government that seemed oblivious to the difficulties of the common man, voted a lot of the rascals out of office.

What a lesson for the rest of the world -- particularly those countries that suffer under much worse economic conditions than that of the U.S. -- and have no freedoms of expression, of the press and no chance to have a say in how their governments are run.

Throw in social media and the increasing ability to share those frustrations across the country and television coverage of other uprisings in other Arab countries.

All these things bring home the realization that they face a future of no change and little hope for a better life. Spontaneous uprising seems quite predictable.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Item pricing inertia

Gov. Rick Snyder generated a certain amount of steam in his recent state of the state address when he talked about getting rid of anti-competitive laws and used the example of Michigan's item pricing law.

Michigan is one of just two state that have such an outmoded and non-productive law. And, since few consumers understand it or appreciate it, one has to wonder why Michgan still has it.

Shouldn't any useless and non-competitive law be abolished? Doesn't the state need every advantage and doesn't it need to shed every disadvantage?

Just look at who is in favor of this law and why. It is the unions representing retail workers who are afraid it will result in fewer workers.

This is similar to the thinking in old thinking in India and China where excess workers were retained in useless occupations, because otherwise those workers would have nothing to do. Have we come to that? And, I might point out that that line of reasoning is rapidly disappearing in those over-populated former third-world countries. They are the ones who are now employing their excess workers with our jobs.

Who else favored it? Former Attorney General Mike Cox used to make headlines by conducting media-focused raids on large retailers such as WalMart. They were caught redhanded not following the useless law and were fined -- but probably not enough to cover the cost of the investigation or the prosecution. It was a bit of political grandstanding intended to win votes. Well, you can tell from the last election that nobody remembered it as a blow for the little guy.

I think most people recognize that unit pricing is just one more hidden tax that does little more than support the bureaucracy that is charged with enforcing it.

So go for it Gov. Snyder. Stamp out those useless laws and see how much of the state bureaucracy we can shed with them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Item pricing law is pointless

Gov. Rick Snyder said in his State of the State address that there are regulations in place that help no one, and hold us back economically.
Good example would the the Item Pricing Law. If you want to read all the details and exceptions of the law, go to
But in a nutshell, the law demands that retailers mark every item and if their check-out price scanners do not match the price, the customer can collect a bounty for the difference.
The law is silly for a number of reasons.
Nearly every item in every store has a bar code and the check-out scanners use the bar codes to record the price. To demonstrate how far out of date the law is, there are phone apps that will read bar codes and tell you the price in that store, and also the price for the same item in nearby stores.
What is needed is a law that protects customers who respond to point-of-purchase sale signs and buy items because of reduced prices, but due to store computer errors are charged the regular price at checkout.
Such errors on sale items, which under the law do not have to be price labeled and are exempt from the penalty, make the present law useless.
In other words, nobody wins with this law and it should be repealed or rewritten.
Forget the requirement about item pricing and replace it with a total focus on bar code accuracy and penalties for all errors (especially sale items) which do not check-out at the prices that agree with the signs in the aisles.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More health care discrepancies

Health care in America is so expensive that people without adequate insurance can lose their homes and their life savings.
But people with no possessions can get care for free -- basically because they have nothing to lose.
On the other hand, people with wealth can travel to countries with cheaper health care. Poor people are stuck with what is here and within range of what they can reach.
In America, it is uncertain who makes the decisions about how much is too much when it comes to the cost of health care. In countries with national health care, the decisions are made by bureaucrats. Whenever such limitation-of-service decisions are made, those patients with wealth have the option of traveling to other countries for care. Poor people do not have that option.
In America, where some people have premium health insurance and others have cheap health insurance, those with premium insurance have the most to lose under a universal health insurance plan. However, because people with no insurance now get some health care for free and would have to exercise some health-care responsibility under a mandatory insurance program, you could argue that they lose -- at least from the standpoint that it will cost a lot less to care for them.

The cost of health care

The problem is that health care in America is wasteful and expensive. Insurance hides the true cost, but so does mandatory emergency care.
To get a true picture of how out-of-kilter American health care is, you have only to look at the major medical care corporations and their focus on customer satisfaction.
The difference between hospitals and other businesses is that hospitals have a certain percentage of customers who do not pay. But the non-payers get the same level of customer care. In other businesses, those who don't pay get edged out of customer care and usually cut off completely. Hospitals continue to serve them.
What is more. Many of those customers who come into the emergency rooms of hospitals should be going to their regular doctor for minor aches and pains. But many just go to the emergency room, which is much more expensive -- but not to them.
For those with no insurance, emergency rooms are their only option, because hospitals can't turn them away, but doctors' offices can.
Another indication of how out of whack this situation is: We complain about the rise in the cost of insurance, not the rise in the cost of health care. We are attempting to do something about the rise in the cost of insurance and the availability of insurance, while doing almost nothing about the rise in the cost and availability of health care.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

State of the state

Michigan is the only state in the nation to lose population in the last census.

However, some people did move into the state.

How many came because the safety net is better here than where they were? How many left because the safety net is better in the state they went to than it is in Michigan?

Friday, January 14, 2011

State taxes: Up or down?

This week Illinois took a radical step by balancing the state's seriously in-the-red budget by raising the state income tax 66 percent -- a record for a one-time tax increase -- and raised the state corporate tax to the highest level of any adjoining states.
Wisconsin, which is no slacker on corporate taxes at 7.75 percent, immediately invited Illinois visitors to "Escape to Wisconsin" the theme of a former tourism campaign.
But, the real winner is likely to be neighboring Indiana, already the lowest for business in the region, and a magnet for new manufacturing.
Here is a tip for all those Illinois Democratic legislators and Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn who argued that businesses will not flee: Take a look at Texas. That state has a history of low taxes and is one of the top population and business growth states in the nation.
Also, I have a question. How does a state that has revenues of $25 billion, manage to overspend by $15 billion. That sort of carelessness deserves a recall not a tax increase.
Meanwhile, Michigan is struggling with its own deficit and how to handle business taxes.
Michigan's is facing a measly $1.5 billion deficit, compared to Illinois' projected $15 billion shortfall.
However, Michigan's economy is considerably worse than that of Illinois. And Michigan is the only state in the nation that lost population in the last census. Our neighbors, including Illinois, complained about a mere reduction in growth.
All eyes are focused on newly elected Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and what he will say in the upcoming state of the state address on Jan. 19.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fair reporting on snow

For the sake of fairness, I should report here that on my way home last night on 59, the roads were snowcovered but the traffic was moving steadily at between 30 and 40 mph.

The conditions did not change significantly when I reached the Macomb line.

However, I should add that the traffic on 53 going north from 59 was slower -- in the 20 to 30 range. I cannot offer any explanation for this difference other than that snowfall seemed to increase further north.

I say all that because I recently stated in this blog that the roads in Macomb are often clearer than the roads in Oakland. Last night, I could see no difference.

Responsibility for stretching credibility

Sarah Palin is correct whenhe says news reports and analysis after the Arizona shootings encourage violence, even as those reports condemned it.

I followed the coverage over the weekend and I was struck by how quickly, and without any substance, reports linked what Palin said during the campaign to the shooting.

However, her choice of the term "blood libel" to characterize this reporting is at best ignorant and equally inaccurate.

According to Wikipedia:Blood libel (also blood accusation refers to a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, in European contexts almost always Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims have – alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration – been a major theme in European persecution of Jews.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Assassination and history

There have been a number of news reports that drew a vague link between SaraH Palin and the suspected assassination attempt against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

One of those was in the Oakland Press, and you can read the reader comments pro and con on the association.

I really like the following from TheaterTickets. I found it strangely balanced.

" We may never know whether Palin's gunsight crosshairs, or one of her favorite phrases ("re-load") may have caused this, but it may have.

It probably didn't help that recently a Democrat politician had an ad with him holding a gun shooting an ad for a bill he didn't favor.

It probably didn't help that a chief of staff for a Republican congressperson recently reversed the phrase "ballots instead of bullets" to say that if ballots didn't work maybe bullets should then be used.

It probably didn't help that a candidate running aganst Palin, invited people to an event where he made a fully-loaded M-16 rifle available for test firing. That may be legal but it doesn't help calm the political environment, but instead inflames it.

Oh, by the way, the Federal judge who was killed was nominated by George H. W. Bush. This conservative judge wanted to stop by and tell Gabrielle Giffords that he was thankful for her support for better finances for the federal judiciary.

And Gabrielle Giffords is a blue-dog (conservative) Democrat. She was formerly a Republican. Also note that she is a CEO of a small business, she is pro-gun, rides motorcycles and said to be (by Dems and Repubs) one of the most non-inflammatory politians in the Congress. Her husband is a Navy Pilot/NASA astronaut.

If Palin feels anything, has a conscience, etc, I wonder how she feels about her own rhetoric and actions now?

I also wonder about Gabrielle's opponent in the last election, who thought M-16's were proper at a political rally (i.e. if he has any feelings or conscience).

I liked Meet The Press today; the panel featured a Repub congressman, a Tea Party new congressman, and three Democrats.

I particularly like what one of the Demos said. He, a member of the Black Caucus in Congress, said that BOTH parties need to stop saying, "My party is correct, and your party is evil." "

Obviously "Tickets" has given this some thought and gone looking for background.

For further perspective, I recommend going to Wikipedia and look up "assassination attempts against U.S. presidents The killings and attempted killings of U.S. politicians -- for a variety of reasons -- is certainly not a recent development.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Black justice leads Michigan Supreme Court

Robert Young Jr. was chosen chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The event passed without much fanfare despite the fact that Young is black and the only black justice on Michigan's top court, and he is the highest elected black official in Michigan.

Young is the second black chief justice in Michigan. Conrad Mallet Jr. was elected chief justice in 1997.

It should also be noted that Young was reelected in November despite a smear campaign waged by former Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver who claimed, in her speeches against his re-election, that she had secretly (and apparently illegally) recorded a 2006 conference call between the justices where Young had used the "N" word.

After the election, the court sent her a letter of rebuke because the Supreme Court conference discussions are supposed to be private. As far as I know, no one pursued the illegality of the recording -- in Michigan a conviction carries jail time and fine for illegally eavesdropping and recording a conversation prior to gaining the consent of all parties in a communication.

Regardless of the legality or appropriateness of the secret recording, what she alleged is ironic at best.

I blogged at the time that probably the only people who can get away with using ethnic slurs are members of the minority that is being slurred. I also found it surprising that a white member of the court should be lecturing a black member on the appropriate use of this word.

Weaver -- who had long running disputes with various justices on the court, including Young -- resigned from the court in the summer of 2010. The timing of her resignation allowed outgoing Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm to appoint Alton Davis, a Democrat, to replace her and tip the balance of the court in favor of the Democrats 4-3. That balance for the Democrats lasted less than four months, however, because voters did re-elect Young and also elected Republican Mary Beth Kelly in November. The majority is now back to Republicans.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Changing the cost of owning homes

Republicans are charging into Washington waving their "mandate from the people" to make fundamental change in government.
I hope they do, but that sort of change will not be accomplished by cutting spending -- although that will help. Real change requires new laws that end government interference in people's lives and in the economy.
To give an example, it is against the law to hold up a bank or to write a bad check, that is call theft. But people are allowed to live for some time in houses that they do not pay for, and the government protects them from being promptly evicted for non-payment. That is not considered theft.
It is against the law to break a contract, even a verbal implied contract in some cases, but it is commonplace to break a lease or a mortgage without penalty.
The difference is that the government has stepped in an said that people cannot be thrown out of their homes without due process -- and that process can stretch out for months and even years.
That is an admirable cause, if you imagine that those being kicked out are old people, or sick people or people with small children and then imagine how those people will suffer at being homeless.
But it also includes people who take advantage of the law to live for free as long as they can get away with it.
But whether you believe it is right or wrong to protect this one category of people who do not pay or do not live up to their contracts.
Housing is one of the few areas where the burden of paying for the free housing for those non-payment -- whether they are sympathetic causes or freeloaders -- not on the government, but on the owners of the properties or the banks who have loaned money on the properties.
In that sense, it is a narrowly focused tax on a group of people who have given no reason for deserving such a tax other than that they have property to rent or money to loan.
And, as we have found after the recent housing value implosion, such laws are a factor in the slow recovery of the housing market.
Why? Because when property values were constantly rising, those owning property or lending money secured by property, could afford this extra tax.
When property values continue to drop, there is real resistance to buying more property because the tax adds to the overall cost of owning the property.
There are two choices here for government -- it can change the law to make the penalty for non-payment of rents and house payments equal to other kinds of theft, or it can continue to shield non-paying renters and home-buyers but take the expense away from the owners and lenders and pay for it with general tax money.
Until that law changes, recovery in housing will wait until the value of property is again reliably increasing in value enough to offset the extra tax for owning it, or lending against it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Health care reform, round 2

Perhaps in this next round of the fight over health care reform, taxpayers and legislators can be told what is in the plan.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Who picks up after recycling?

The problem with government programs is that they sound like a good idea, but they lack complete people buy-in.
I offer recycling as an example. Where I live, recycling is responsible for most of the littering. The garbage company, which through a deal cut by the township board is a single carrier, has a rule that all recyclables must be put out in open bins so that it can be visually identified as recyclables. Anything in a plastic bag is tossed in with the regular garbage.
This works pretty well, except when pickup day is windy. On those days plastic and paper from the open bins blows all over the neighborhood. This litter, which often ends up in undeveloped woodlands, stays there forever. No one picks it up because although many people believe in recycling, none will take the trouble to correct its flaws.
So we have recycling, and because of it we also have the blight of litter.
No one, of course, comments on the irony of this because recycling is politically correct. Also, no one organizes a campaign to pick up the litter or does so on an individual basis.
So which is worse, plastic in landfills or plastic in previously unspoiled woodlands?
Both are bad.
I guess I just talked myself into taking a garbage bag and picking up litter — one vote for clean recycling.