Trump's demands run into McConnell's maneuvers
(CNN) — In the weirdest of twists at the end of his presidency, President Donald Trump is now in league with Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders over $2,000 Covid-19 relief checks, doing battle with Republican leaders over Pentagon policy and warning the political party he overtook and remade in his own image could soon be dead.
Strange days at the end of the Trump era.
And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a solution to anger both Democrats and Trump. It's an elegant form of political chess and a cynical form of governance that will both maintain the status quo of $600 relief checks and dispatch Trump's other demands, leaving the President with nothing to show for his recent tweets.
The standoff over coronavirus relief checks entered a new phase when a bill that passed through the House with mostly Democratic support landed in the GOP-controlled Senate. Most House Republicans opposed it and others, like Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, perhaps unwilling to choose between their mercuri
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Continued growth but also contention in Michigan's rooftop solar industry
The rooftop solar industry in Michigan has been growing over the past several years and overall costs for homeowners are going down, as they are around the country. But with no state tax credits and the federal credits getting smaller, we wanted to know: how much bang do you get for your buck? According to the Solar Energy Industries Association , Michigan ranked 26th overall in the country in 2020 for being generally solar friendly, trailing behind neighboring Midwest states like Illinois which ranked 17th, Ohio which ranked 18th, and Wisconsin which ranked 19th. Indiana ranked below Michigan at 32nd. According to SEIA, Michigan's overall prices for solar energy have dropped around 45 percent over the last five years. “I would say easily we’re shaving off $60 a month," Bob Chapman told Action News outside his Southfield home, where he had solar panels installed back in 2017. Chapman paid around $13,000 for his 4 kWh system, which really ended up costing under $10,000 with the federal tax credit at the time, which was 30 percent; it's now down to 26 percent. Chapman shared his recent DTE bills with us, which show that from October to May of 2020 his energy bills were less than $10 per month, which is just a meter charge. In all of 2020 he paid $250 for electric. “For six months of the year my bill is $9," he said. Chapman, like all rooftop solar users, utilizes his energy company's grid almost like an energy bank; he stores excess energy until he needs it, then DTE gives him a credit on his bill. State limits on how much utility companies like DTE or Consumers Energy are required to give back to users is threatening the continued growth of Michigan's solar industry, said state Rep. Greg Markkanen, a Republican representing several counties in the Upper Peninsula. “They shouldn’t be limited to 1 or 2 percent as a cap," he said. Markkanen is pushing for the cap to be gone altogether in a bill he just introduced in the State House, HB4236. Utility companies have concerns with the measure, like "the absence of a solution to address the continued shifting of costs from customers with rooftop solar systems to customers without it," wrote DTE's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Camilo Serna in a Feb. 17 testimony on the measure. DTE has promised net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. "There is probably a commonly held view that private solar customers utilize the grid less than a typical residential customer. In fact, they rely on the grid more. Distributed generation customers not only draw power from the grid, but they also export power to the grid. The constant fluctuation in their demand for power results in their utilization of the grid at a level 23 percent higher than the average residential customer," Serna said. "Distributed generation customers also place a “call” on the grid, requiring the grid to be ready to meet their demands at any time of the day and always during the night... we feel it’s fair to ask them to pay for their use of the enabling infrastructure, Serna also said during his testimony to state lawmakers. You can read Serna's full testimony here: DTE Testimony by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd “Our neighboring states have no cap whatsoever. It opens up the industry, it allows for growth," Rep. Markkanen told Action News. For home solar users, there's still some level of sticker shock said Seger Weisberg with Strawberry Solar, a company based in Detroit. Almost all of the cost for home solar panels is upfront. “One of the positive things that I’ve seen in the time that I’ve been in solar is that those costs are going down, but it is a newer technology with equipment," Weisberg said. 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The Mormon church is being sued for $5 million by a prominent ex-member over accusations of fraud
James Huntsman is the brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and uncle of "The View" co-host Abby Huntsman. Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images A 2019 IRS complaint alleged the Mormon church improperly used charity funds on commercial projects. James Huntsman is suing the church for $5 million, the amount he says he donated over decades. If returned to him, he says he will donate the funds to charity. The church has denied wrongdoing. Visit Insider's homepage for more stories . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been accused of fraud by a member of a prominent Mormon family. James Huntsman, brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, filed a lawsuit in a US District Court in California on Tuesday seeking to recover $5 million. James Huntsman said the church defrauded him and other members by accepting billions of dollars intended for charity and instead using it for commercial purposes. "For decades, in a fraudulent effort to elicit the donation of tithing funds from Mr. Huntsman and other devout Church members, the LDS Corporation repeatedly and publicly lied about the intended use of those funds, promising that they would be used for purely non-commercial purposes consistent with the Church's stated priorities," the lawsuit says. "Behind the scenes, however, rather than using tithing funds for the promised purposes, the LDS Corporation secretly lined its own pockets by using the funds to develop a multi-billion dollar commercial real estate and insurance empire that had nothing to do with charity," it continues. A tithe , or tithing funds, is a payment by a church member equal to 10% of their income. In Mormonism, like some other religious traditions, members pay a tithe to the church , with the funds intended to be used for mission work, building and maintaining temples, education, and humanitarian causes. In a statement provided to Insider, Eric Hawkins, spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, denied the church had misused tithing funds. "Mr. James Huntsman resigned his Church membership last year. Now, he is demanding through his lawyers that tithing he paid to the Church as charitable contributions be returned to him," Hawkins said, calling Huntsman's claims "baseless." Citing early 2000s remarks by former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, the statement said the funds for the mall in question came from "commercial entities owned by the Church" and the "earnings of invested reserve funds." The lawsuit alleges the church spent funds intended for charity on a shopping mall and a private insurance company The lawsuit claims the church "brazenly misappropriated" charitable funds "to build a commercial shopping mall and bail out a private insurance company." It cites a whistleblower complaint to the Internal Revenue Service that was filed more than a year ago by David Nielsen, a former senior-level investment manager with Ensign Peak Advisors, the investment arm of the church. The complaint, obtained by The Washington Post in December 2019, alleges the Mormon church stockpiled $100 billion in accounts intended for charity and used tax-exempt member donations to support two business ventures, spending more than $2 billion over 10 years. Nielsen said Ensign bailed out Beneficial Life, a church-run insurance company, in 2009 with $600 million in funds. He said another $1.4 million was invested from 2009 to 2014 into the City Creek Shopping Center, a mall in downtown Salt Lake City that is partially owned by the church. Church leaders have repeatedly said tithing funds were not used on the mall. According to The Post, the IRS complaint also said Ensign had not directly used funds for religious, educational, or charitable activities in decades, though there was no documentation provided to back up the claim. Huntsman said if the tithes he paid are returned to him, he will donate them to groups 'marginalized' by the church In addition to being the brother of a former Utah governor, Huntsman is also the son of Jon Huntsman Sr. , the late billionaire businessman and philanthropist. The lawsuit uses harsh words against the church that Huntsman belonged to for much of his life. It says he paid an annual tithing from 1993 to 2017, amounting to millions of dollars, and that he held leadership and teaching positions in the church during that time. But, it says, the church engaged in a "campaign of lies and deceit" to defraud church members of billions of dollars. "This is not a case about faith; it is a case about fraud and corporate greed," the lawsuit says. 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‘They are, in effect, supporting racism’: Black leaders ramp up filibuster pressure on Senate Dems
Rev. Al Sharpton has been trying to put pressure on Democratic senators unwilling to end the filibuster. | Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images Black civil rights leaders, voting rights advocates and elected officials are ramping up their lobbying of Senate Democrats to nix the filibuster, arguing that they can keep the rule in place or pass voting rights legislation, but not both. In a half-dozen interviews, top officials framed the choice as existential for a party that depends on Black and brown voters — and they are planning pressure campaigns both privately and publicly to make that clear. Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, said in an interview that he and others have begun talks to hold town halls and rallies in the home states of senators like Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have said they opposed scrapping the filibuster. “The pressure that we are going to put on Sinema and Manchin is calling [the filibuster] racist and saying that they are, in effect, supporting racism,” Sharpton said. “Why would they be wedded to something that has those results? Their voters need to know that.” Manchin remains one of the key votes on any voting rights legislation, like he is for most of the Democratic Party’s agenda in the Senate, where they hold just 50 votes. But he is being targeted specifically by voting rights advocates because he remains the only Senate Democrat not to sign on as a co-sponsor of the For the People Act — which would drastically transform nearly every aspect of the American electoral system, from campaign financing to how elections are conducted. Manchin said on Wednesday that he wanted to see both parties “come together” on the bill, telling reporters that while there were so many good things in the proposal, “we should not at all attempt to do anything that will create more distrust,” in the election process. And in an interview with The Wall Street Journal , Manchin, who co-sponsored the same bill in the last Congress, suggested the package should be focused just on voting rights, which would likely mean shedding sections on everything from campaign finance to lobbying ethics. Hailing from a conservative state, the senator may welcome the idea of progressive activists targeting him. Nevertheless, Sharpton’s remarks reflect the more intense, personalized push set to come targeting Democratic holdouts on voting rights bills. The longtime civil rights advocate and television personality said that Democrats are deploying a “risky strategy” by not pushing rules reforms to pass such legislation. Civil rights leaders, he warned, might have less reason to help generate enthusiasm and turnout in the 2022 midterm elections without being able to point to actual laws Democrats passed. “Many of us and certainly all of us in the civil rights leadership are committed to policies and laws and causes, not to people's political careers. We're not into that. We want to change the country,” Sharpton said. “And if there is not feasible evidence that we're doing that, it is not in our concern to be aggressively involved.” Color of Change President Rashad Robinson echoed Sharpton’s warnings, saying Democrats risked turning off community validators like his group that are instrumental in getting people of color to the polls. “What do they expect me to say if we can't get anything passed? Do they want me to go out and explain to people [what] the filibuster [is]?” Robinson said. “[Voters aren’t] going to want to hear about the filibuster. They're not going to hear about bipartisanship. They're going to hear about how you fought back in the face of the barriers that were put in the way.” Lawmakers and advocates have increasingly recognized that any voting rights-centric legislation — like the For the People Act or the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, which was named after the late civil rights crusader and would restore preclearance key provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 — cannot pass in an evenly divided Senate that maintains the filibuster, since Republicans remain united in opposition to the bills. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to let either bill see the floor when he controlled the Senate. And during Wednesday’s hearing on the For the People Act — known as H.R. 1 or S.1 — Republicans on the Senate Rules committee, including McConnell, lit into the bill. Facing that GOP opposition, activists have called for scrapping the filibuster entirely, or for creating a carve-out specifically for voting rights legislation. Though Manchin has previously dismissed a filibuster carve-out for voting rights on grounds that it’s like “being a little bit pregnant,” activists hope it can win over Democratic senators who are uneasy with entirely blowing up the Senate rules. “I fundamentally believe that Congress alone has the ability to create a unified threshold for democracy in our country,” Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams said in an interview. “I believe there needs to be a carve-out, an exemption, a suspension of the filibuster.” Abrams and others argued that the current exemptions to the filibuster — from Supreme Court nominations to the use of budget reconciliation — and efforts of Republican state legislators to introduce restrictive voting laws opens the door for a voting rights exemption as well. “This is not new,” she said. “I believe that there is both exigency and there is a precedent for creating this [filibuster] carve-out in order to protect democracy.” The same urgency expressed by those in the activist world has, in recent weeks, been picked up by prominent Black Democratic elected officials. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), one of two Black Democratic senators, devoted his maiden floor speech last week to talking about voting rights and said a “Senate rule” should not stand in the way of them. He also raised the issue of the filibuster with President Joe Biden on a call with Senate Democrats Monday evening. Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), the lead sponsor of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, said at a briefing hosted by the Southern Poverty Law Center last week that Democrats needed to be “prepared to maybe do away with the filibuster” to pass it in the Senate. Former President Barack Obama also called for the filibuster to be scrapped when eulogizing Lewis last year , decrying it as a “Jim Crow relic” that stood in the way of protecting voters. “He speaks with a powerful voice,” Abrams said of Obama. “And when he was able to call out and emphasize its importance at the funeral of our nation's strongest defender of voting rights, I believe he should be heard.” Increasingly, prominent Black activists and lawmakers have tied keeping the filibuster to the era of Jim Crow segregation and other racist institutions in America. It is, they say, fundamentally a block on the power of Black Americans throughout the country. “I said that to the Biden administration and said it to the Democrats, you cannot be serious about dealing with racism, and then you don't get living wages done. And you're never gonna get living wages done … and health care if you don't push and fight against voter suppression,” said Rev. William Barber II, who led “Moral Mondays” protests in North Carolina, calling voting rights and economic empowerment “inextricably bound together.” If you can't support getting rid of the filibuster, Barber added, “Don't tell me you love John Lewis. John Lewis wanted living wages, and he wanted voting rights." Georgia Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who represents the district once held by Lewis, hasn’t said whether the Senate should outright get rid of the filibuster. But she is hopeful that Congress will pass voting rights legislation. She points to Republican state legislators in her home state of Georgia who have pushed back on proposed restrictive changes to election laws in the Peach State as reasons for optimism. "I am convinced that there will be some fair minded people here in Washington that will see that democracy supports both parties," Williams said. "This isn't about partisanship, this is about the foundations of our democracy in this country." 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