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Semantics alive and well in Lansing

Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The use of semantics in politics is probably right up there with the oldest activities known to mankind.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says the practice is certainly alive and well in Lansing.

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The popular definition of “semantics” is using carefully chosen words to covey one truth to avoid using the obvious words to deal with a higher truth.

With that said, a couple of weeks ago I called Michigan Senate Republicans a bunch of hypocrites for trying to kill Medicaid expansion in Michigan.

Their arguments against it were a collection of stern warnings about the dangers of creating another legacy cost that would get passed on to our children and that it was a part of the dreaded Obamacare.

Essentially, they argued, it was just too expensive.

It was pretty much the same argument they’ve used over the past few years in coming up with one tough solution after another, affecting education, workers rights, charities, teachers, welfare recipients—or as the Michigan lawyer blog puts it: “people with jobs that that don’t pay much. You know—everyone.”

But with Medicaid expansion, which will give nearly a half-million Michigan residents a chance to have actual health care, instead of using ridiculously expensive emergency rooms as doctors offices, the federal government, under the auspices of the affordable care act, would pick up the tab.

One hundred percent of it for four years and then 90 percent after that. A no-brainer.

The beneficiaries are people who work, who have jobs, live just above the poverty line, but have no health insurance.

Their employers don’t offer it and they can’t afford it one their own.

Which brings us to why I referred to senate republicans as a bunch of hypocrites. Two year ago, in October of 2011, this same group of people—this same group—who so passionately argues against health care for poor people—voted to give themselves lifetime healthcare. Imagine that.

At that time, the House had passed a retroactive bill that would have ended retiree healthcare benefits for all legislators who didn’t have six years of service under their belts by January 1 of 2007.

That didn’t sit well with the Senate. So, it passed a bill that protected retiree benefits for all but two Senators, and most House members, who had six years in office, prior to January 1 of this year.

In other words, yes, our state is in financial trouble. Yes, we do have to make budget cuts. Yes, we’ve slashed a lot already and will cut more.

But no, we will not cut our own retirement benefits.

We will cut them for future lawmakers, but not for ourselves.

After watching my commentary, one viewer wrote her Senator, who happens to be Tonya Schuitmaker—by all accounts, a kind, thoughtful, caring legislator.

“I told her,” the viewer said, that “I could not understand her vote on health care for the most vulnerable of our working citizens,” and went on to say she hoped she would be there when the Senator “answered to her God why she voted no,” to extending Medicaid.

And this is where things get to be a matter of semantics.

Senator Schuitmaker wrote her back, and said to me the same thing on the phone this morning: that to suggest that Senators voted to give themselves lifetime health benefits was woefully misleading.

Why? Well, the Senator said, the vote of two years ago, quoting now, “ended that practice going forward.”

Huh? Well, true. In a kind of “I’ve-got-mine-the heck-with-you” fashion, it did end it going forward.

Okay. Compliments all around.

But the undeniable fact is, the vote of two years ago also protected health care benefits for all but two Senators.

It was the crust on the bread. It was carefully worded and carefully done.

Senators of the future won’t get it. But the sitting ones will. Not bad for six years of work.

Not bad for a group of politicians who then have the audacity to turn around and suggest health care for a huge disadvantaged segment of our population is too expensive and not in our best interest.

That’s called hypocrisy. Even with semantics, I can’t think of another way to say it.

In this corner, I’m Tom Van Howe.

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FED-RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer says that incoming economic data and market developments will likely determine whether the Fed boosts interest rates in September.

Fischer says that before the recent turbulence in financial markets, there was a "pretty strong case" for starting to hike rates in September. But he adds that the Fed is watching how events unfold following the surprise announcement by the Chinese that they plan to devalue their currency.

Fischer says that central bank officials have not made a decision yet on whether to raise rates but would be closely following data such as next week's jobs report and market moves before the Sept. 16-17 meeting.

Fischer said the plan is still to move rates up very slowly and gradually.

CONSUMER SPENDING

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers increased their spending by a moderate amount in July, while income growth was propelled by the largest jump in wages and salaries in eight months.

The Commerce Department says spending rose 0.3 percent in July, helped by a big jump in purchases of big-ticket items such as cars. June's result was revised up to a matching 0.3 percent gain.

Incomes increased 0.4 percent. The key category of wages and salaries rose 0.5 percent, the biggest advance since last November.

The report indicates that consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, got off to a good start in the third quarter. Economists believe the economy will be fueled in the second half of this year by solid income and spending gains.

CONSUMER SENTIMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Plummeting stock prices have taken a toll on U.S. consumer confidence, though there are signs the setback may be temporary.

The University of Michigan says its consumer sentiment index fell to 91.9 this month from 93.1 in July. The index is still up 11.4 percent from a year ago.

The figures provide an early read of the impact on consumers from the 1,900 point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average over six days through Tuesday. Stock prices have since recovered some of those losses.

The University of Michigan surveys consumers throughout the month and so some of the responses were tallied as the stock market plunged.

Even so, the survey also found that Americans remain confident about the U.S. economy and their personal finances.

FACEBOOK-ONE BILLION A DAY

NEW YORK (AP) -- You, your mom, your grandma and elementary school buddy Lawrence might have been some of the billion people who logged in to Facebook on Monday -- the first time that has happened in a single day. That's right, one billion people, or one-seventh of the Earth's population.

It was a big symbolic milestone for the world's biggest online social network, which boasts nearly 1.5 billion users who log in at least once a month. CEO Mark Zuckerberg marked the occasion with a Facebook post.

Most of the billion people who logged in on Monday were outside the U.S. and Canada. Of Facebook's overall users, more than 83 percent come from other countries. This is also where Facebook's next billions of users will likely come from as it grows.

CHEATING WEBSITE-CEO

NEW YORK (AP) -- The CEO of adultery website Ashley Madison is stepping down in the wake of the massive breach of the company's computer systems and outing of millions of its members.

Avid Life Media Inc., Ashley Madison's parent company, says Noel Biderman's departure was a mutual decision and in the best interest of the company.

Hackers originally breached Avid Life's systems in July and then posted the information online a month later after the company didn't comply with their demands to shut down.

Ashley Madison, whose slogan is "Life is short. Have an affair," purports to have nearly 40 million members.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is promising to offer a plan within a month to overhaul the tax system, calling himself "king of the tax code."

He's been hinting at such a plan recently, saying that wealthy Americans should pay more.

In a phone-in interview Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show, Trump says, "I know the hedge fund guys. ... These guys don't really build anything. They shuffle papers back and forth."

Trump says he'll unveil a plan to simplify the tax code and eliminate some deductions, asserting "nobody knows the tax code better than I do."

Trump says hedge fund managers are big supporters of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and GOP rival Jeb Bush and adds, "I will have a plan."

He says hedge fund managers won't be happy.

PENTAGON-TECHNOLOGY

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- Defense Secretary Ash Carter is announcing that the Pentagon will fund a new venture to develop cutting-edge electronics and sensors that can flex and stretch and could be built into clothing or the skins of ships and aircraft.

The high-tech investment could lead to wearable health monitors that could be built into military uniforms or used to assist the elderly. Or it could foster thin, bendable sensors that could be tucked into cracks or crevices on weapons, ships or bridges where bulky wiring could never fit. The sensors could telegraph structural problems or trigger repair alerts.

Carter plans to lay out the details for the newly created high-tech innovation institute in a speech Friday in California's Silicon Valley.

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