Requiring Michigan women to plan ahead for an unplanned pregnancy is not only illogical, it’s one of the most misogynistic proposals I have ever seen in the Michigan Legislature.
— 

Michigan Democratic Leader, Gretchen Whitmer. The board of medicine just approved a Right to Life of Michigan petition banning abortion insurance coverage. If approved by the Republican majority legislature (and not allowed to go to the voters), it would require patients to purchase an additional rider to cover abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

Nearly half of the pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and about 40% of those are terminated. The cost of a first trimester abortion ranges anywhere from $300 to $950. Nearly 60% of women who experience a delay in accessing safe, legal abortion have cited the time it took to raise the money and make arrangements. Those delays increase the cost of abortion, as well as the risk of complications.

PETITION TO STOP ANTI-GAY SEGREGATION BILL

Okay so there’s a text post going around about the anti-gay segregation bill in Kansas that has over 40,000 notes already. You can read about what’s going on here. It’s very likely that it’s going to get passed, and the bill is extremely unlawful, with many loopholes to discourage any action to be taken against it.

A petition was started on whitehouse.gov today, which you can view here, to ask the government to take action against this bill. If a text post about the issue can get 40,000 notes in a day, then this petition can definitely get the 100,000 signatures by March 15th of 2014.

Everyone’s help is needed, because this is our country, and this bill doesn’t just affect the LGBT community, it affects every single American and this country in a negative way. 

HELP PROTECT CHILDREN FROM "EX-GAY" CONVERSION THERAPY

Minnesota has gathered national attention due to Michele Bachmann’s husband Marcus Bachmann. His counseling clinic “Bachmann & Associates” was exposed by national news outlets for offering gay conversion therapy as a method of “treatment” for LGBT citizens.

Legislators in MN are already looking into addressing the problem of allowing conversion therapy as a “treatment option” for youth.

In order to successfully introduce legislation banning conversion therapy for minors in MN, public support and outreach towards MN Senators and Representatives is essential.

To help with this public outreach, A Man named Alec Fischer has started a petition on change.org.  With your help we can show our lawmakers that we don’t want to allow psychiatrists within our state to fix something that isn’t broken.

Please sign Alec’s petition asking lawmakers to support legislation banning this harmful practice and help us make Minnesota a safer place for all children. 

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE PETITION

Just before Thanksgiving, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) issued new “emergency” regulations that overhauled the existing regulations on abortion clinics. These 21 pages of rules give DHH the authority to immediately shut down a clinic without opportunity for appeal, even for simple infractions. Clinics have stated that they would be unable to meet the burdensome and excessive requirements, and this would lead to the closure of all five clinics in Louisiana.

Oh my god, these regulations are the height of impossibility. Among other things, patients have to have certain medical information documented by the clinic a month before their procedure. This is a 30-day waiting period.

Louisiana residents, there is a hearing on Wednesday, January 29 at 9:30 am in Room 118 of the Bienville Building in Baton Rouge. PLEASE submit written comments (the link has sample letters) or get there early wearing purple to match the folks at the New Orleans Abortion Fund.

TEAM Act Seeks Tax Exemptions for Olympic Medalists

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Congress is considering a TEAM effort to allow Olympic medal winners to keep their winnings without having to pay Uncle Sam a share of the gold, silver or bronze they bring in.

TEAM as in the Tax Exemptions for American Medalists Act (H.R. 3987), introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb 4, 2014 by Rep. Blake Farenthold from Texas.

Timed to perfection to coincide with the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the purpose of the TEAM Act is very specific – “Amends the Internal Revenue Code to exclude from gross income, for income tax purposes, the value of any medal or prize money received on account of competition in the Olympic Games.”

Unlike other tax law amendments that spill over into large reams of paper and are sure to raise objections from at least half of Washington DC, the TEAM Act is a simple half-page worth of legislation that no one really objects to, if only because no cares about it – other than the medal winners.

If passed into law, the bill becomes retroactively effective as of Dec 31, 2013, which means U.S. Olympic team members returning back from Sochi with medals may not be taxed on their winnings.

The tax they need to pay under current law includes the income tax on the value of the medal they win, plus the prize money they get from the U.S. government.

For the record, the U.S. Olympic Committee awards Olympic team members $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for a silver medal and $10,000 for a bronze.

The actual medal itself is not really a factor, because it doesn’t have that much intrinsic value based on the market prize of the metal.

The Sochi gold medal contains just 6 grams of gold with a 999 hallmark, while most of the rest is. All told, the podium value of the Sochi gold medal is around $566.

The Sochi silver medal is worth only about $323. The bronze medal, made of copper, tin and zinc, is worth is $3.25.

So, basically, as far as income tax on Olympic medals is concerned, it’s a non-issue and its inclusion in the proposed bill is a complete waste.

That leaves the question of taxing the prize money. That would depend on the tax bracket into which the medal winner falls. Most first-time medal winners are young and not wealthy enough to fall under the 35 percent bracket or even the 28 percent bracket.

Let’s say a gold medal winner adds taxable income of $25,566 in the 25 percent bracket, which means $6391.50 in taxes. Even this could more than be balanced out by showing deductions for training, equipment and other expenses related to the income.

Practically speaking, this bill isn’t going to make the IRS cash counters go ka-ching, so to speak. But it’s a good motivator for athletes to try and bring home more medals.  

Photo - sochi2014.com            

USARK - United States Association of Reptile Keepers


Read this Lacey Act article by Kassandra Royer of Royer Reptiles. You’ll learn something. Then, comment against the Constrictor Rule if you haven’t at www.usark.org/2014-blog/constrictor-rule-1/. And share!

"There is an ever-expanding piece of law called ‘the Lacey Act’ that has been around since 1900. It was created to help stop the massive slaughter of native game animals for export by commercial hunters. Today, it does a lot more than that, as government likes to keep adding to their lists of things to do.

Perhaps one of the most useless pieces of the Lacey Act is the “Injurious Wildlife List.” Injurious means “causing or likely to cause harm.” The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is responsible for enforcing this monster, defines Injurious Species as: ” Injurious wildlife are mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, mollusks and their offspring or gametes that are injurious to the interests of human beings, agriculture, horticulture, forestry, wildlife or wildlife resources of the United States. Plants and organisms other than those listed above cannot be listed as injurious wildlife.”

When a species is added to the Injurious Wildlife list, it makes it a federal crime to transport that species across state lines. You can keep them, breed them and sell them- within your own state- but you can’t take them if you need to move across the country, and you can’t sell them to someone outside your state.

Take a look at the mammals that are currently classified as “Injurious Wildlife”

Flying Fox (Fruit Bat)
Mongoose
European Rabbits 
Raccoon dog
Brushtail possum
Indian Wild Dog aka Dhole
Multimammat mouse aka Soft-furred rat

How many do you recognize? How many have you heard about on the news? Any hint that fruit bats or Indian wild dogs are invading the United States and wreaking havoc? Lots of brushtailed possums damaging agriculture? Seen a mongoose lately? Nope. The only animal you’re probably familiar with on that list is the European Rabbit. They are literally everywhere in the United States. They’re all over, fully established feral populations- but if you transport one across state lines- that would be a federal offense. Nevermind that all the domestic rabbits came from the European rabbit…

The flying fox is invasive in Australia. Brushtailed possums have colonized New Zealand, and the mongoose is invasive on several tropical islands. The Raccoon Dog is invasive in North Europe.
The Indian Wild Dog is not only NOT invasive, it’s now classified as Endangered in what is left of it’s native territory. It is classified as injurious because it kills livestock in it’s home country… A similar situation exists for the multimammate mouse- they cause damage in their native African habitats, but they have not invaded any other countries.

Remember the definition which clearly stated the species had to be detriment to the United States? Only the mongoose qualifies, since they are in Hawaii…though the mongoose was listed 59 years before Hawaii became a state. Legislators heard some scary news from other countries and dropped the ban hammer, with little to no consideration of whether or not those animals actually pose a risk to the U.S.

Now- let’s take note of which mammals are missing from this list:
The wild boar is conspicuously absent. These invasive mammals cause damage to the United States agricultural sector and environment estimated at 1.5 BILLION dollars *per year*. NOT LISTED AS INJURIOUS.

The common house mouse as well as the black and brown rats are NOT native species- we brought them over from Europe! They are responsible for crop and property damage to the tune of over $19 billion dollars a year in the United States. NOT LISTED AS INJURIOUS

Nutria (a beaver sized water rat) are yet another introduced species which can now be found in 40 states. Each year- in the United States, mind you, not some distant country- they are responsible for a minimum of one million dollars worth of damage by wrecking levees, banks and roadbeds with their burrowing activities. NOT LISTED AS INJURIOUS.

You might say, “Well, the rats and nutria have been here forever!” Okay, I see where you are coming from, but remember the Fish & Wildlife Service still thinks the European Rabbit needs to be on the list, and they’ve been around “forever” as well.

Two of the first animals added to the Injurious list were the European Starling and the House Sparrow . Yep- those are also not native to North America! They have displaced native species and have been causing crop damage valued at as much as 800 million per year.- They were removed from the Injurious List in 1960 because regulators realized having them listed ***DID NOTHING*** to prevent them from spreading. You don’t say?

In the 113+ years that the Lacey Act has been around, dozens of species have been added, most of them very damaging aquatic species (fish, mollusks & crustaceans) Since those species can spread themselves without any help just by traveling through waterways, having them listed is virtually useless as well.

It wasn’t until 1990 that a reptile was added to the Injurious Species List- the Brown Tree Snake. You won’t find any in the United States, either. They became invasive in Guam, which, if we are nitpicking- is a US “territory”.

In 2012, more species were added- big, “scary” snakes- the Burmese python, yellow anaconda and two subspecies of African Rock Python. Anacondas have never colonized outside of their native south american habitat, anywhere in the whole world. There are no invasive colonies in the United States today. The same is true of the Rock Pythons.

The Burmese python- due to the destruction of import facilities by Hurricane Andrew in 1992- were able to establish a small colony in the Everglades. It has been 22 years and they have failed to expand outside of southern Florida. Cold spells in the winters of 2008 and 2010 demonstrated that the Everglades Burmese pythons cannot tolerate temperatures near freezing.

Are the Burmese invasive in the Everglades? Absolutely. What is not being said is that a full 25% of the animal life and nearly half of the plant species found in South Florida are NON NATIVE!

Now the Fish & Wildlife Service wants to add even more species to the list! They want to go ahead and throw in the other three species of anaconda- even though they are rare in captivity, and have never, ever established an invasive population- not even in the Everglades! 

They’re also after the famous boa constrictors- which are also not invasive or damaging to anyone, anywhere in the United States. As a matter of fact, there are boas that are native to northern Mexico- if the boa could expand further north, nature would have run that course all by herself! Also on the list- the Reticulated python- which has the impressive record of never having established a colony outside of it’s native range, EVER- and there are no wild colonies in the United States.

These species clearly do not fit the definition of Injurious wildlife given by USF&W- but they do represent people’s pets and a niche industry that focuses on the *captive* breeding of fantastically colored versions of these snakes that sell for thousands of dollars both domestically and overseas.

With over a century of history under it’s belt, it’s glaringly obvious that the Lacey Act is 100% ineffective at preventing the spread of invasive animals in the U.S. Moreover, the law doesn’t even attempt to curb the activity of the absolute worst of the worst injurious wildlife species- instead focusing on those animals with sensational taglines that “might” possibly be injurious. If it were not so injurious to the US Citizen, the Injurious Wildlife list would quite the joke.

Only two things will be accomplished by the addition of these species to the Lacey Act- the destruction of dreams, and the bankrupting of small businesses.

http://www.fws.gov/le/pdf/CurrentListInjuriousWildlife.pdf/" - Kassandra Royer

Thanks, Kassandra! The reptile community is stronger with people such as yourself working on our behalf.

Photo: Boa constrictor longicauda © USARK - United States Association of Reptile Keepers

In fact, the new DHH regulations could decrease patient safety, putting patients at a higher risk of complications. As pregnancy advances, procedures become more involved and more costly, said Ellie Schilling. And because Louisiana already bans abortion after 20 weeks, a patient who seeks a legal abortion at 16 weeks could be forced either to seek an illegal abortion or to forego the procedure altogether after waiting 30 days for a blood test.
— 

Louisiana is attempting to shut down all abortion clinics in the state

No doctors were consulted about the new regulations, nor were abortion providers notified about the new rules. Even general hospitals don’t have regulations like this.

Folks in Louisiana, please get to Baton Rouge for a hearing on Wednesday morning, email abortionfundnola@gmail.com with your comments, or submit your opposition (must be received by Jan. 30) to:

J. Ruth Kennedy

Bureau of Health Services Financing

PO Box 91030

Baton Rouge, LA 70821-0930

What’s on the 2014 Tax Law Agenda

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The year gone by was unusually productive in terms of changes in tax law. The 800-pound gorilla was obviously the set of tax provisions that came into effect under the Affordable Care Act. But Congress managed to upstage the ACA by doing nothing and letting 55 tax provisions expire on Dec 31.

The question now is - What’s going to happen in 2014? The Godzilla and King Kong of this year’s tax law agenda in front of Congress are tax reform and the Marketplace Fairness Act.  

Tax Reform – Tax reform has been in the works for years without being taken seriously by Congress or by the taxpayers.

All the drama over fiscal cliffs, shutdowns and sequestration in 2013 forced people to sit up and take notice of tax reform as a possible permanent solution to the mess.

However, Senator Max Baucus, the main point man who was handling tax reform, is being packed off to China as the next Ambassador, which is not good news for people hoping to see a tax reform bill being voted on this year.

Marketplace Fairness Act – With Godzilla dead, the focus will shift to the Internet sales tax to be implemented on online sales under the framework provided by the Marketplace Fairness Act.

This is virtually a done deal, since Congress is behind the curve on this one. Online retailers such as Amazon have already worked out separate deals with individual states. Many of the deals Amazon has agreed to actually came into effect on Jan 1, 2014.

Implementation of the Marketplace Fairness Act therefore merely makes the process more orderly for both businesses and the states.

International Tax Avoidance – One of the watershed moments of 2013 was Switzerland agreeing to allow their banks to cooperate with U.S. tax authorities as required under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

It effectively knocks down the wall of secrecy behind which untold billions are tucked away by U.S. citizens in offshore accounts all over the world.

The next stage takes it further with a proposed network of bilateral agreements between nations to share tax data and unearth complicated tax avoidance schemes by corporate taxpayers.

This is a complex issue agreed upon by world leaders at the G-20 Summit. With hundreds of billions of dollars at stake and the plan required to be implemented by 2015, Congress is likely to take it up in 2014, even if only to decide what happens with the money.    

Tax Extensions – Unless tax reform takes care of everything in a single bill, many of the 55 tax provisions that were allowed to expire on Dec 31 will soon be revived through amendments attached to one of the other big bills.

The only question is about when this will happen. It’s an election year, so nothing much is going to happen in the last quarter.

The extensions have to be done now in January while the lapsed provisions are still newsworthy. If not, other items will take center-stage and the extensions will be pushed back again and again to near the end of the third quarter, at which point it gets a lot more difficult to get anything passed.

Photo credit – senate.gov

Did you know that President Ford signed legislation to ensure Veterans Day wouldn’t fall on Monday every year?

Since World War I the United States traditionally commemorated Veterans Day on November 11, which had formerly been recognized as Armistice Day. The “Monday holiday” law passed in 1968 established a uniform holiday schedule for the Federal Government but as a consequence moved the observance of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October.

Although the official Federal holiday was observed on Mondays for several years many people continued to hold commemorations on November 11 as well. In September 1975 President Ford signed into law S.331 officially designating the original date as Veterans Day.

“I believe restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 will help preserve in the hearts and lives of all Americans the spirit of patriotism, the love of country and the willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good symbolized by this very special day,” President Ford said in his signing statement.

-from the Ford Library

You know the NFL as the National Football League. But the IRS knows them better as the Nonprofit Football League – that’s because the NFL has not paid any taxes since 1966 and average Americans are left paying higher taxes to make up for that lost revenue. Senator Coburn is trying to change that, and we support his endeavor.

The NFL has spent $3.6 million lobbying in recent years, and contributed more than $1.6 million to members of Congress. It leads all professional sports leagues in lobbying expenditures.

Lobbyists demonstrated their prowess by adding, “or professional football leagues” to the language regulating 501(c)(6) nonprofit organizations back in 1966, and it has remained there ever since. 

No wonder Senator Coburn has yet to gain the support of his colleagues – we know how powerfully corrupting money in politics and the role of lobbyists has become. The only way Congress will act in the people’s interest is if the people begin demanding it and show them where we stand! 

PETITION TO THE SENATE:  Please end the ludicrous subsidies to the NFL and repeal their nonprofit status now.  Sign on to the PRO Sports Act.

Private Collection Agencies For Delinquent Federal Tax Debts?

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Here’s a simple question – how do you feel about the IRS farming out collection of delinquent federal tax debts to private collection agencies?

For those who don’t keep track of what tax law Congress is fiddling with on any given day, this latest controversy is a part of the tax extenders bill.

Officially known as the EXPIRE Act (S.2260), it was voted down by the full Senate after being passed by the Senate Finance Committee. It’s now cooling its heels in the Senate, hoping to get another vote after negotiations which may extend into the next year.

As if there isn’t enough controversy and heat being generated by the renewal and extension of the boatload of expired tax credits and deductions that are the core components of this bill, Senators managed to add more fuel on the fire by sneaking in more measures.

One measure related to private collection agencies is drawing heavy fire from tax professionals and the media. The proposal included in the bill, if enacted into law, would allow the IRS to outsource collection of delinquent federal tax debts to private collection agencies (PCAs).

The best you can say about this idea is that Congress thinks it’s a good way to increase revenues quickly without raising taxes. Apart from that, it’s a terrible idea with extreme ramifications for taxpayers.

For starters, it’s not going to work because whatever else you think about the IRS, it’s a fact that the agency is highly effective at making people pay their taxes voluntarily. There’s no way a private tax collector will strike more fear into the hearts of delinquent taxpayers and make them pay when the IRS can’t do so.

Secondly, handing cases over to PCAs will remove any last vestiges of relief possible for those suffering from financial hardship and genuinely unable to pay their taxes.

All said and done, it’s a well-intentioned proposal that will do no good, but is likely to cause a lot of harm.

This is not just conjecture or opinion, but established fact based on the performance of the private debt collection (PDC) program administered by the IRS from 2006-2009.

Here’s what National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen, who was personally involved with the development of the PDC program and handled more than 3,700 cases of tax debts which PCAs were trying to collect.

Olsen says in a letter to Senators who asked for her opinion that “Based on what I saw, I concluded the program undermined effective tax administration, jeopardized taxpayer rights protections, and did not accomplish its intended objective of raising revenue. Indeed, despite projections by the Treasury Department and the Joint Committee on Taxation that the program would raise more than $1 billion in revenue, the program ended up losing money.”        

Well, that seems clear enough for ordinary mortals, but apparently not for certain Senators who are sticking to their guns and refuse to strike out the measure from the EXPIRE Act.

Photo credit – weeklydig/flickr

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