Nov 29, 2007

Student holding anti-war protest in conservative Livingston County

Just when you needed some assurance that the current generation is engaged in what’s going on in the world and not just going through life with their Ipods on with their face glued to a Game Boy and there is some hope for Republican-heavy Livingston County along comes Pinckney Community High School senior Chris Dzombak.

He is again leading an anti-war protest in downtown Pinckney at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. Dzombak is dedicated to ending the tragic deaths in an ill-planned and unnecessary occupation in Iraq that has already cost more than 4,000 lives, maimed thousands more and wasted billons of dollars. He also braved the cold last January to lead an anti-war protest, and he was also out in May to protest the President’s veto of Congress’s spending bill for the Iraq civil war/occupation.

Those interested in marching should meet on the sidewalk along M-36 next to the Pinckney town square around 10 a.m., and the march will last until about noon.

Anyone willing to attend and help these students out in predominately Republican Livingston County are welcome, and all you have to do is just get off the Howell/D-19 exit from I-96 and follow D-19 straight south until the road ends; and you will run right into the village square.

Nov 28, 2007

When Is Calling Someone a Wacko Not Name-Calling? When Beckmann Does It

In the world of conservative radio host Frank Beckmann, calling someone a “wacko” is not name-calling.

Last week Beckmann, who hosts the morning show on WJR-AM, was railing against the international scientific body the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that just issued a report that said, "warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” His take on all those who believe climate change and global warming are serious problems is that they are environmental wackos. “They have really gone over the edge; that’s why I call them wackos,” Beckmann said. “I’m not into name-calling.”

Why he does not consider calling someone a wacko as rising to the level of name-calling I have no idea. But after about a month of monitoring his show for two and a half hours a day, I have begun to see how his conservative Republican bias manifests itself despite repeated denials and claims that he is fair and balanced.

His conservative guests outnumber other guests by a wide margin, and when he does have the conservatives that reflect his views and opinions on, he rarely has anyone from the other side to counter what they say. They can rest assured they will not be asked any tough questions or challenged, and chances are very good that Beckmann will agree with everything the person has to say.

A perfect example of that was at play Tuesday when Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter was a guest in what turned out to be little more than a 10-minute campaign infomercial. Duncan’s quote that, “We (Republicans) are the party of the middle class” really surprised me; not so much that he said it but that it went unchallenged. It’s Republican tax cuts over the years that benefited the richest 5 percent in this country at the expense of the disappearing middle class that has created a huge and widening gap between the rich and poor and shrunk the middle.

Beckmann’s support for the Iraq invasion is pretty clear, and that’s reflected in his choice of guests, including author and retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, who was on the show Tuesday. His support for the war is so strident that Peters has been described by some people as being from the “Diplomacy Be Damned, Shoot the Bastards" wing of the Republican Party.

The same show also featured an interview with John Howell about a boycott of the anti-Iraq war film "Redacted." You can be sure that neither Peters nor Howell got any tough questions.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Livonia, was on the show. McCotter was riled up about people in his district receiving robo-calls about the inability of the federal government to hold Communist China accountable for its repeated violations of fair trade policy. He was there to complain about the “Great left-wing attack machine,” and he had a receptive audience. This is the first time I have ever heard of this alleged machine. McCotter, and Beckmann too, seem to believe only Democrats and liberal groups use “attacks,” as he calls it.
I wonder where they were during the Clinton presidency when rich guys like Richard Mellon Scaife were offering rewards for people to dig up dirt on the Clintons through the so-called "Arkansas Project." I wonder if McCotter has ever been publicly accused of murder, rape or drug smuggling like Clinton was.

He also made the ridiculous statement that Republicans don’t use robo-calls.

McCotter’s biggest complaint was over the McCain–Feingold Act and what he calls attack ads by faceless, liberal groups that receive unknown financing. The McCain–Feingold Act is a bipartisan campaign finance bill that tried to regulate so-called “soft money.” Getting the bill passed was a hard-fought battle, and it has not been very successful at regulating soft money, but apparently McCotter thinks it does not go far enough. If he has a bipartisan proposal to improve it then he should propose it.

“When Frankenstein turns on them, then perhaps we will see something done with the wonderful McCain–Feingold Act that so many liberals and well-intentioned people want to make politics more transparent and free of money,” he said.

Beckman’s agreement that only Democrats engage in attack ads was very interesting. “They say we have the American Family Values and the political right that finance campaigns,” he said. Apparently, the word "we" means Beckmann includes himself in the Republican Party.

Nov 26, 2007

Help choose the Grinch of the Year

When Thurl Ravenscroft sang the lyrics “You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch” in 1966 he may have had Joseph Luter III, the President of Smithfield Packing, in mind.

The Christmas season is a time for giving, but for some people and corporations it’s just another day in a year of profit at all cost. That has inspired national Jobs with Justice (JWJ) to again launch its annual 'Grinch of the Year' elections to determine the most deserving greedy Grinch in their hometowns. This is JWJ’s seventh annual online Grinch of the Year election to determine the national figure that does the most harm to working families.

They are asking people from all over the country to submit a nomination for the national Grinch of the Year by Friday with a few sentences on why you think the nominee is deserving of such an honor. Based on the nominations, JWJ will chose the top two or three and conduct online voting to chose the winner.

Last year’s nominees were Luter, CEO of largest pork slaughterhouse in the world in southeastern North Carolina, and the eventual winner, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The company earned the honor by forcing 15,000 United Steelworkers members out on strike at 16 plants across North America in October 2006. Despite concessions given by USW members and retirees in 2003 to insure that Goodyear remained in business, Goodyear is now insisting on additional plant closings and even deeper concession in this round of bargaining.

Past nominees for the honor include Wal-Mart, President George W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Cintas, Comcast, Verizon Wireless, Angelica and Continental General Tire.

JOW was founded in 1987 to help improve the standard of living for working families, fight for job security and protect working American’s right to organize.

Anti-Iraq War Movie “Redacted” Is Drawing Fire as It Comes to Michigan

Critics of the anti-Iraq war film “Redacted” plan to continue their nationwide boycott effort when the movie opens in the Detroit area on Friday.

The film, by Academy Award-winning director Brian De Palma, was financed by self-made millionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks. It's a fictionalized story about the brutality of combat, based on the March 2006 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl and the killing of her entire family near Baghdad by four members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, and the cover-up that followed. Several soldiers have been convicted in connection with the crimes.

The boycott includes the Mavericks and their sponsors, and other companies owned by Cuban, including HD Net, Magnolia Pictures and Landmark Theatres. Conservative Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has also supported the boycott of the movie.

John Howell, a former U.S. Marine from Illinois who says he became involved in the boycott from writing about Iraq on his Web site, was a guest on Frank Beckmann’s radio show on WJR-AM last week to talk about the campaign.

“I don’t know why anyone would see a movie when Brian De Palma said he made a movie that he said is anti-troop,” Howell said. “It is not anti-war, it’s anti-troop. He said if George Bush can lie about Iraq why can’t I; these are quotes by Brian De Palma."

Howell said he has picketed outside theaters where the movie has been shown. The film opened on Nov. 16, but is only being shown in Cuban's Landmark Theatre chain. It is the nation's largest theater chain dedicated primarily to exhibiting and marketing independent films.

Howell said he had not seen the film. "You won’t see us in front of 'Rendition' or 'Lions for Lambs' protesting because those are policy movies,” Howell said. “We can discuss policy all day long, but you should not defame the troops. I will not give them a dime of my money to see it.”

The boycott group has a Web site that features an online petition, and Howell said there are plans to send the petition to Cuban. He also said there are plans to picket at Mavericks' road games. Howell called the movie “un-American” and “treasonous in a time of war,” and said that it gives “aid and comfort to the enemy” and that it will serve as a “propaganda and recruiting” film for al-Qaida and jihadists.

“This movie will get service members killed,” he said. “Any guy in the Muslim world who is on the fence who sees this movie, with the way they can edit this film, will turn them into a jihadist.”

De Palma, who also wrote the screenplay, said in interviews that the movie was very similar to his 1989 film “Casualties of War,” which was set in Vietnam. In other interviews De Palma said he wanted to bring the horrors of war back to the American people that have been hidden from the American public, such as barring video and still photos of the flag-draped coffins of fallen U.S. service members returning home from Iraq.

But Howell said if De Palma wants to do a film about atrocities, then he should "make a movie about the atrocities committed by al-Qaida.”

“Redacted” opens Friday at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Road at Telegraph, Bloomfield Hills.

Nov 23, 2007

Former Congressman Schwarz leads stem cell research discussion panel

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures (MCSCRC) is presenting a panel discussion on stem cell research featuring former Republican Congressman Dr. Joe Schwarz.

The discussion is sponsored by the Livingston County Democratic Party and will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday Nov. 27 at the party’s headquarters, 10321 East Grand River Ave. Suite 600, Fonda Place in Brighton. In addition to Schwarz, Marcia Baum, the executive director of (MCSCRC), will be on the panel. The public, regardless of party affiliation, is encouraged to attend.

The MCSCRC is an educational coalition with the goal of educating citizens about stem cell research, and it does not endorse, propose or oppose legislation. Embryonic stem cell research has the potential to cure serious diseases like Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal-cord injuries and Alzheimer's, but conservative, pro-life groups have blocked embryonic stem cell research in Michigan.

Schwarz is a medical doctor from Battle Creek who was first elected to Congress in 2004 to represent the 7th Congressional District as a moderate Republican. He was targeted in 2006 by conservative groups like the conservative Club for Growth. He was unseated in the primary by conservative Tim Walberg, R-Tipton.

Nov 22, 2007

Michigan House Democrats fight back against recalls with web sites

Michigan Democrats established a pair of web sites to fight back against the recalls they say are nothing but political witch-hunts launched for political reasons with the aid of out-of-state special interest groups and money.

The Michigan House Democrats launched a pair of webs sites called “Stop the Recall" and “Decline to Sign.”

The Michigan Taxpayer Alliance, led by Republican Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, and an Oakland County group calling itself "Stop Hurting Michigan's Kids," led by conservative activitist Tom McMillin, has launched separate recall attempts against primarily Democratic lawmakers who voted to increase the state income tax and implement a sales tax on certain services that helped balance the budget and do away with a $1.8 billon budget deficit.

The conventional wisdom is that once the required signatures are collected and the yes or no question on whether the lawmaker should stay or go is on the ballot the fight is lost because the only people who turn out for this kind of election with a low voter turnout are the ones who launched the recall. Democrats want to contest the process through all the required steps in contrast to the last tine a state Legislator was recalled in 1983 when two Democratic state Senators were recalled for voting for a tax increase that gave Republicans control of the Senate enjoy to this day. Democrats say the recall is just an attempt by Republicans to regain control of the House they lost last November.

The process has not gone well for the two groups, and so far only two of the nine lawmakers targeted for recall have had the recall language approved; Reps. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids, and Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak. Those rejected of because of unclear language intended for the recall petitions include Sen. Jerry Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores; Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Muskegon; House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford; Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville; Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms; Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren,and Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch.

Nov 21, 2007

Pioneering "Political Graveyard" Still Just a Hobby for Ann Arbor's Kestenbaum

What began as an experiment and a hobby for Ann Arbor resident Larry Kestenbaum has gained him recognition all over the world.

Kestenbaum started and operates the Web site “The Political Graveyard.” In 1996 he put the U.S. Congressional Directory listings of the burial sites of lawmakers on the infant World Wide Web.

In the 11 years it has been up, Graveyard has evolved into perhaps the most comprehensive political biography site in the nation, with entries for more than 175,000 U.S. and state lawmakers, ambassadors and mayors of major U.S. cities, both dead and alive. More than 10,000 people a day visit the site.

“I’m 52, and I have done a lot in my life,” Kestenbaum said. “I have never received so much praise and recognition for anything I have ever done in my life. It’s really something to be praised for doing something you really enjoy.”

Kestenbaum is an attorney and the Washtenaw County clerk and register of deeds, as well as a former Washtenaw County and Ingham County commissioner. His father was a history professor, and it was Kestenbaum’s own interest in history that started him on the path to being an Internet pioneer.

He is amazed at the number of people who have heard of the site, he said, and it has been a great icebreaker as well as helpful in his own political career. “When I was a political candidate the Political Graveyard opened doors for me. People said, ‘If you can do that you would make a great clerk.' '”

Back in 1996 when the Internet was a vast, untapped resource, it was a friend that got him involved. He said the friend raved about this new thing called the Web and urged Kestenbaum to check it out.

“He said the World Wide Web is a great thing, but I thought it was a waste of bandwidth,” Kestenbaum said. “But he kept at me.”

Kestenbaum's original intent for the site was to help preserve a cemetery in Washington, D.C., where many politicians were buried. It had fallen into disrepair and was losing funding. The intent was also to identify where famous politicians are buried. He said many times famous people turn up in cemeteries off the beaten path when most people think they are buried in Arlington National Cemetery or other well-known places.

“Often, famous people die in obscurity,” he said. “I thought it would help people who may be writing a grant to preserve a cemetery, as well as impress my friends from graduate school.”

Kestenbaum said it was pretty easy doing the initial research, but most of the work was software programming-related in a new medium. He began by creating a page for each county in the U.S. and each province in Canada where U.S. politicians may be buried.

Once the data was online, however, he discovered someone else was doing basically the same thing. Just a year earlier Jim Tipton had started a site called “Find a Grave,” but it dealt mostly with celebrities. Kestenbaum wrote Tipton to see if it was a conflict, and Tipton told him to go ahead because he was filling a unique niche.

Over the years, Kestenbaum began matching the data and refining searches. For example, you can find politicians who were killed in duals (46), those who were Rhodes scholars (31) or those who were portrayed on U.S. coins or currency (44). You can search for a politician in any number of ways, including alphabetically by name, by state of birth and by office held.

“I would constantly think about new ways to match them,” Kestenbaum said. “I used to do a lot more programming than research when I started, but that has changed.”

Because there wasn’t much of a Web presence, especially for local governments, back in 1996, when people searched for their county government Kestenbaum’s site would often come up in the search results. That led to some nasty emails from people thinking his site was their county government. Kestenbaum said his most memorable email was one that said simply: "Your sheriff is a son-of-a-bitch.”

“It was a lot of fun lining up all that geography,” Kestenbaum said. “Because local governments did not have much of a Web page they would get my page, and thinking I was the webmaster they would email me demanding to know why the office wasn’t open for them to get a fishing license.”

It also set up the site to be included at the top of Internet searches. You can type in just about any U.S. politician in any search engine and The Political Graveyard will be one of the top search results returned.

Kestenbaum does most of the research himself, and he plans on rolling out another update very soon. He does have an email group of about 300 members that he uses to help with research. He will, for example, ask them if they have any information on a certain person.

Because Kestenbaum was somewhat of a pioneer in the world of the Internet, he has seen how Internet advertising has evolved. Although he accepts advertising, which he says does well because of the thousands of hits the site receives every day, he’s not going to quit his day job. He still maintains the site as a labor of love.

“I really resisted advertising because I thought it would distract from the site,” Kestenbaum said. “I have learned a lot about web advertising over the years.”

Nov 20, 2007

As Globe Warms, WJR's Beckmann discredits Granholm's Climate Initiative

WJR-AM radio host Frank Beckmann took his act -- and his conservative views -- on the road last week to the Los Angeles Auto Show.

On Thursday, he railed at Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s executive order creating the Michigan Climate Action Council to develop a comprehensive climate action plan for the state. Beckmann is well known for claiming climate change and global warming is a huge conspiracy and hoax thought up by liberals.

While the world’s most prominent scientists tell us the debate now should be about how best to combat the problem of climate change, not whether it is or isn't occurring, Beckmann thinks he has all the answers.

Beckmann complained that there were no scientists on the new council, which is still being formed, but he said the “… wackos will be represented.” His comments came just a couple of days before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international scientific body, issued its fourth assessment, which said “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” I’m sure very soon Beckmann will use his daily show to prove the world’s best scientists wrong.

Beckmann joked that the high Michigan unemployment rate should help reduce the world’s reliance on energy, which contributes to warming. It may have been funny to him, but for the worker who saw his or her job outsourced, it may not be so hilarious. I wonder where Beckmann was in the ‘70s when the unemployment rate in Michigan was in double digits and gas stations were running out of gas and closing. That stretch of driving less didn’t seem to relieve the country's reliance on foreign oil much.

Beckmann, who came in second in an informal Michigan Messenger poll of the most biased commentators, has demonstrated one thing in recent years: If you want to get on his show, all you really need to do is find fault with the governor. He had Livonia Mayor Jack Kirksey on his show on Thursday to talk about the decision by online mortgage broker Quicken Loans to move from its Livonia headquarters to Detroit. Who do you think Kirksey was upset with over the move -- Quicken? Or perhaps Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick? No, he was upset with the governor for her role in the decision to move. Instead of complaining that 4,000 jobs are going from Livonia to Detroit, he should be celebrating that 4,000 jobs stayed in Michigan.

But Beckmann’s take was that Granholm aided the Quicken deal because she owed a debt to the city and Kilpatrick for helping get her re-elected last November. With her landslide win, garnering almost 60 percent of the vote, I don’t think she’s beholden to anyone.

As an online company, I would guess Quicken could have moved its headquarters anywhere in the world. I’m reading a good book called “The World is Flat,” by Thomas Friedman, in which he talks about jobs being outsourced to India and other developing countries. Quicken not only had the governors of 49 other states throwing money and incentives at it, I’m sure many other countries were making offers. It would have been incompetence for Granholm not to become involved, and I can guarantee Beckmann would have hammered the governor if those 4,000 jobs had gone out of state.

Kirksey called it job raiding, but it should be called job retention and expansion. I wonder how many companies fled from Detroit to the suburbs since 1967? How many people who work at Quicken actually live in Livonia?

The rest of the week brought more examples of Beckmann’s consistent bias, which includes primarily booking conservative guests on any issue and getting his own opinion in even when asking questions of the few non-conservatives be books.

A perfect example was William Cohen, who was on the show Thursday. Cohen, a former Republican congressman and U.S. senator, was secretary of defense from 1997-2001 under President Clinton. Beckmann tried to blame the draw-down and the “wrecking of the military” after the end of the Cold War on Clinton, but Cohen pointed out that it occurred during the senior George Bush's presidency, when he cut the military by one-third.

Cohen told Beckmann that Clinton actually increased military spending. Instead of admitting his obvious mistake, Beckmann's response was “… that was the Gingrich Congress.”

Nov 16, 2007

Panel takes aim at developing a comprehensive climate action plan

Gov. Jennifer Granholm took two steps Wednesday to help the environment: She created a council to develop a comprehensive climate action plan by the end of next year, and she ordered a 10 percent cut in state use of energy, also by the end of next year.

Granholm created the Michigan Climate Action Council to develop a comprehensive climate action plan for the state with the issuance of executive order 2007-42. Granholm said in a press release that the council is part of an overall plan designed to both mitigate the impact of global climate change in Michigan and capitalize on the economic opportunity that addressing those changes will present for the state. The council will consist of 35 representatives from public interest groups, environmental organizations, utilities, the manufacturing sector and other key industries, universities and state and local government. Eight of the members will be assigned by position by statute and the rest will be at-large appointments.

The council is charged with submitting a preliminary plan to the governor by March 31 outlining a list of policy recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including short-, mid-, and long-term reduction goals. A more detailed final report with specific recommendations is due by Dec. 31, 2008.

Liz Boyd, the governor’s press secretary, said although they have many people in mind for the at-large positions on the council, no one -- other than the statutory members -- has been appointed yet. She also said this will be a unique panel because it will include people from the energy and other manufacturing industries along with environmentalists, people that are often at odds with each other.

“We have not yet named anyone to the council, but with the interim report due in March it will be very soon,” she said.

Steven Chester, the director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), will chair the council, and staff support will be provided by the DEQ.

Those statutory members already named to the Michigan Climate Action Council by law are Don Koivisto, the director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture; Keith Cooley, director of the Department of Labor and Economic Growth; Lisa Webb Sharpe, director of the Michigan Department of Management and Budget; Rebecca Humphries, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources; the president of the Michigan Strategic Fund; Orjiakor N. Isiogu, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission; and Fred Nurnberger, the state climatologist.

Granholm also issued an executive directive which will require a 10 percent reduction in energy use by the end of 2008. The state plans to meet the goal through the implementation of new energy efficiency measures. As part of the directive, the state will -- wherever feasible -- “increase use of alternative fuels in its fleet of vehicles; develop a materials management plan to ensure environmentally sound purchasing, use, reuse and recycling of materials by state departments; and ensure that new state owned or leased buildings meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. The state will also reduce its electrical energy purchases by 20 percent by 2015.”

Granholm is in Milwaukee for the Midwestern Governors Association Energy Security and Climate Change Summit. Governors from across the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois and Iowa, as well as the premier of Manitoba, were on hand to sign historic agreements to strengthen America’s energy security by increasing production and use of renewable energy, promoting energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gases.

“The Midwest can be either a big winner or the big loser in the energy and climate debate," Granholm said in a press release. "To win, we need strong regional innovation and collaboration, backed by strong and perhaps unprecedented federal actions and investment, to advance accelerated deployment of lucrative energy and climate technologies."

Nov 13, 2007

Despite a short week conservative talk radio host has lots of examples of his bias to choose from

Despite being only on the air for two shows last week because of illness, conservative WJR-AM radio host Frank Beckmann has plenty of examples of his bias on display.

His show on Wednesday, as are all of his shows, served as a two-and- one half hour platform for his conservative views. That’s fine, but not when he claims he is fair and balanced. He chose Wednesday to talk about what he calls the Global Warming hoax. Despite every reputable scientist agreeing that global warming and climate change have been caused by human beings through the high emission of greenhouse gases Beckmann, apparently, really knows the truth because he did the research on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web site. He referred the guest to the links on his web site to prove he has the answers on climate change that Nobel Prize-winning scientists do not. So, I took a look. The things he chose to link to clearly demonstrates his bias.

A few that really got me were, “As discussed by (Republicans) L Brooks Patterson and Bob Daddow at the (Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce) Mackinac Policy Conference” and “Satirist, Lecturer, Writer, and Political Commentator recently spoke to the (conservative think tank) Heritage Foundation, "Regurgitating the Apple: How Modern Liberals 'Think."”

The day after Michigan resident Michael Moore’s latest movie “Sicko” was released on DVD, Beckmann had as guests on his show the makers of the documentary “Manufacturing Dissent,” a 2007 documentary that exposes what the creators say are Moore's misleading tactics and mimics Moore's style of small documentary makers seeking and badgering their target for an interview. The film was made over the course of two years by Canadians Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine. Beckmann did not bother to hide his glee at going after Moore, and his closing comment to the filmmakers said it all, “We’re going to convert all of you liberals.”

On Thursday Beckmann had state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, as a guest The softball questions he throws at Bishop are bad enough, but the disturbing part is what Beckmann lets him get away with saying without ever challenging him. Like this gem:

“The Republicans are in the minority in the Legislature,” Bishop said.

I almost fell out of my chair on that one. Even though that’s what voters clearly intended to do last November when 60 percent of the total votes cast for Senators were for Democratic Senate candidates, the Republicans still control the Senate 21-17.

Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley had a few gems of his own. On Thursday he wrote, “Chrysler's new CEO Bob Nardelli is taking on more than just the nuts and bolts turnaround of the automaker. He appears to be out to break the mentality of collective entitlement that permeates the domestic auto industry, and infests much of Michigan as well. Nardelli is considering extending bonuses beyond the executive suite deep into the ranks of Chrysler workers, based on the company's performance and an individual’s contribution.”

The “mentality of collective entitlement?” We know where Finley stands.

Recently, the obscene compensation CEOs were making has been an issue as the gap between the rich and poor widens and the middle class is in danger of going the way of the dinosaurs. Nardelli was the poster boy for that problem.

In 1965 the average CEO was earning 24 times what the average worker was making. But in 2005, the average CEO was making 262 times what the average worker is making. As the CEO of Home Depot, Nardelli made $38 million, or roughly $100,000 a day, in 2005, but the average worker who is selling the product and is the public face of the company is making just $10 an hour on average with few if any benefits. Nardelli continued to make this outrageous salary despite the company’s stock going down 6 percent in six years, and it fell 40 percent during his tenure.

Finley uses his Sunday column to tell us how wonderful Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is and how bad Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is.

“Romney gets the auto industry -- in fact, he's offered himself up to run an automaker if this politics thing doesn't work out. “

I’m sure he’s qualified.

Detroit Free Press reporter Dawson Bell came in third in our poll, but I have seen no bias. He wrote three articles last week: a story on the Supreme Court argument on same sex benefits, the court decision to stop the Michigan primary and a feature on term limits.

Nov 10, 2007

Home parties held to test for toxic toys

As the holiday shopping season gets set to kick off, coupled with recent news of the discovery of dangerous toys with lead paint, toxic chemicals and even the date-rape drug GHB, many consumers are having misgivings that the toys they may buy are safe.

The United Steelworkers International Union’s Women of Steel Program is trying to ease that fear, protect children from toxic products and educate the public and bring awareness to unfair and unsafe trade practice by holding Tupperware-like home parties called “Get the Lead Out” parties in people’s homes, churches, schools or community centers where they bring products and test them for lead and other toxins.

“We are trying to educate the public who are concerned about this growing problem,” said Sue Browne, an organizer with the BlueGreen Alliance - a partnership between United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club - who is holding a Get the Lead Out party in her Hastings home on Sunday. “They can go home and educate their friends and family about the problem and how to test for it.

“It’s a Tupperware party with a purpose,” she said.

Over the last few months millions of toys made in China have been pulled off store shelves because the toys are made with lead, and in recent months such popular toys, such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Dora the Explorer, Hot Wheels and Barbie accessories, have been discovered containing the heavy metal and recalled. According to the Centers for Disease Control, lead accumulates and can cause brain damage, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, kidney damage and even death. Just a few days ago the popular Chinese-made toy Aqua Dots was pulled off store shelves because of a link to the date-rape drug GHB.

It’s not just toys that are being recalled because of toxins, and the recalls include toothpaste, dog food and other products.

“A lot of our manufacturing jobs are going to China, and in return we are getting back dangerous products in our homes,” Browne said. “We have laws in our country to deal with hazards like this, but other countries don’t have to live up to the same standards.”

The parties are informal affairs complete with refreshments. Linda Lucas, an organizer with the Woman of Steel – a program to get women more involved in the union – has been to some of the parties to demonstrate the lead-testing process. They use a simple test kit that involves mixing a pair of chemicals together and rubbing the product with a cotton swab dipped into the solution. If the swab turns red the product conations lead.

They ask the partygoers to bring their own toys, jewelry or baby products to test, and the simple test kits can test up to eight products if none contains lead. The kits can also be obtained from the group’s web site.

“We had a mother test her two-week old baby’s bib, and it contained lead,” Lucas said. “We also give out information where they can go on line to find out what products are being recalled; the list is just too big for us to hand it out to them.”

Browne is hosting a party that’s open to the public at 4 p.m. Sunday at her home at 2137 Lower Lake Rd. in Hastings, 49058. An RSVP is requested but not necessary at (269) 945-4443.

“I am hoping to have at least 20-30 people, but I will be happy with however many show up as long as they go back and educate their friends and family,” she said.

Another demonstration will be held at the Woman of Steel Council Meeting at 11 a.m. Monday, November 12 at the Kent Ionia Labor Council, 918 Benjamin Ave. NE in Grand Rapids.

Nov 9, 2007

More newspapers and readers voting "no" on candidate endorsements

Do you vote the way your local newspaper tells you? More and more, the answer is no.

Many newspapers are no longer endorsing political candidates, and experts say the public is also placing less stock in endorsements.

Many experts say the charges of political bias that newspapers face when they make an endorsement are not worth the effort. Further, a 2004 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on endorsements from 1940 to 2002 concluded that an endorsement has very little effect on the outcome of an election.

“I think serious people read what a newspaper has to say about a candidate, but they don’t want to a newspaper telling them how to vote,” said John K. Hartman, a journalism professor at Central Michigan University. Hartman is the author of two books about USA Today, which has the largest circulation in the nation but does not endorse candidates.

“Some newspapers have stopped endorsing because it makes readers angry,” he said. “If they get angry at a news source they often just stop subscribing. It’s a business decision not to endorse.”

Phil Jerome -- who recently retired as the executive editor of Hometown Newspapers that once published community newspapers in Livingston County, South Lyon, Milford, Novi and Northville before being purchased by Gannett – said the advance of the Internet and other news sources has also diluted the effectiveness of newspaper endorsements.

“I don’t think they make as much difference as they used to,” he said. “It might have a lot to do with the advent of electronic media.”

The electronic media may actually make for a less-informed electorate. For example, 30-second ads – often attack ads – are taking the place of news analysis. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) - a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition of organizations and individuals concerned about the influence of money in politics and the need for campaign finance reform in Michigan - in the last general election in November 2006, political coverage averaged 1.46 minutes of airtime during a 30-minute newscast in the Lansing TV market. Prior to November, the average fell to a mere 27 seconds of political stories during a newscast. It was even worse in the Detroit market, with the average in October and leading up to the November election 1.23 minutes of airtime, compared to 22 seconds in September. But political advertising in the Detroit market during the fall of 2006 averaged 4.21 minutes per newscast for an average of about nine political ads. In fact, political ads, as well as weather and sports coverage, took up more than half of newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m.

Many people feel the drop in circulation for daily newspapers can be blamed directly on people getting their news instantly from TV, radio and the Internet. At the same time, community newspapers, which offer local news, are thriving. Similarly, many political experts say newspaper endorsements carry less weight the more visible and higher the office but more weight for local races.

“I think the more local the endorsement the more difference it makes,” said James Wojcik, a professor of journalism at CMU and a member of the CMU Journalism Hall of Fame. “If there is a hot local issue, newspapers will have more of an impact.”

The reputation for fairness and accuracy of the newspaper may also have an effect on how the endorsement is perceived. Dan Rock, campaign manager for the successful 2006 state House campaign of Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, said the endorsement of the employee-owned Monroe Evening News was very important.

“Getting the endorsement was like an authority figure saying it’s OK to vote for this person,” he said. “Just the name recognition -- it gives is a big help.”

Often the circulation of the newspaper determines how the endorsement is made and who makes it. On a large metropolitan newspaper, the editorial page editor and the editorial writers may make the decision; on some smaller newspapers, various editors and the reporter who covers the candidate or race may make the decision. And some newspapers may have citizens on the editorial board.

Jerome has sat in on countless endorsement interviews, and he said editors use face-to-face interviews, questionnaires and public statements to reach a decision. “You are looking for knowledge on the issues,” he said. “You are also looking for quality and where they stand on the issues.”

Citizens may assume that a newspaper is making an informed decision when it makes an endorsement. But when five of the six members of the editorial board of the Lansing State Journal voted to endorse Jim Marcinkowski for the U.S. House in the 8th District over incumbent Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, publisher Leslie Hurst opted to quash the editorial and endorse nobody it shook some of that confidence..

Jerome still thinks newspapers can play a viable role in the election process, but it will be in local races where the only information that readers get on a candidate is from the local paper.

“The local newspapers have more of an opportunity to make more of a difference,” he said. “They [readers] all know pretty much already who they are going to vote for in the national and statewide elections.”

Nov 8, 2007

Recall of Livingston County Republicans appears unlikely

HOWELL - While the recalls of some Legislators who voted to increase the state income tax and implement a sales tax on certain services that helped balance the budget and do away with a $1.8 billon budget deficit are going forward, the recalls against the two Livingston County Republicans who voted for the tax are apparently stalled.

Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, and Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, crossed party lines and voted for the tax. The two have faced some heat at home in their districts, and Ward lost his leadership position as Republican Floor Leader. An Oakland County group calling itself "Stop Hurting Michigan's Kids" led by Rochester Hills resident and conservative activitist Tom McMillin planned to launch a recall against Ward, that that has not materialized.

The Michigan Taxpayer Alliance, led by Republican Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, has launched recalls against other lawmakers, and the group said it plans to launch a recall against Garcia. That effort, apparently, is on hold. In an article published in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, Drolet said he's been in touch with some unidentified local people who want to organize a recall against both Ward and Garcia — but the senator has raised more interest.

"The passion out there seems to be with regard to Garcia, and the role he played in the service tax increase," Drolet said, according to the P & A. "It seems like the deeper, burning disappointment is with Senator Garcia."

But the two have some steady support in the predominately Republican county. The Voter’s Voice of Livingston County put out a release defending Ward’s votes. The steering committee said it wanted to publicly praise Ward for his courageous vote.

The Voter’s Voice is a multi-party political committee consisting of moderate Republicans, Democrats and Independents with the mission of providing accurate information to encourage the political participation of the moderate citizens of the county. It was formed in 2001, and it has sponsored forums on campaign finance and other political issues.

“Because we have a general understanding of the subtleties and complexities of current events, we appreciate Rep. Ward's reasons for voting as he did,” the statement said. “ He has suffered a great deal of abuse from his fellow Republicans and some citizens in his district, as he imagined he would. Nevertheless, he recognized that Michigan's fiscal condition is in crisis, and rather than remaining stubbornly partisan, he rose above the fray and did the right thing.”

Recall petitions have been rejected because of language include those of Sen. Jerry Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores; Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Muskegon; House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford; Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville; Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms; and Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren. Only the language for Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids, has been approved.

Nov 7, 2007

MSU students form PAC to help moderate candidates across state

The conventional wisdom is that to win a primary election you must appeal to the voter base, but all too often that leaves moderates of both major political parties out in the cold. Michigan State University senior Eric Gregory wants to change that.

He has formed the Mainstream Michigan Political Action Committee (PAC) with his former campaign manager and fellow MSU student, Derek Dobies, to help shape the debate in Lansing and all around the state and to help progressive and moderate candidates who may not have name recognition or a lot of money get elected to state and local offices.

Gregory said that in his home county of Oakland – as well as other predominately Republican and Democratic counties -- the real race is in the primary. And to win the primary, candidates often have to be extremely right or left to defeat candidates from the same party.

“All too often the people in the middle get left out, even if they are Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “We feel it’s our job to try and look at those in the middle.”

Gregory, 21, has been very involved in politics both as a student at MSU’s James Madison College where he is studying political theory and constitutional democracy and as a candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives for the 41st District that includes Troy and Clawson. He ran for the open seat last November, but he lost to a candidate with more name recognition in Oakland County, Republican Marty Knollenberg, who captured 58 percent of the vote.

“What really opened my eyes is that a lot of people are getting elected who are not responsive to their constituents,” Gregory said. “I want to continue to have an effect by helping good people get elected.”

Although the PAC plans on raising money for candidates, Gregory expects the PAC's real contribution to come in the form of directing volunteers to campaigns. He already worked on some local municipal campaigns, such as Maureen Brosnan for mayor of Livonia, Dayne Walling for mayor of Flint and Kevin Hrit for Troy City Council.

The results the first time out for the PAC were not great, however. All three candidates were unsuccessful in Tuesday's election. But Gregory and Dobies were not discouraged with the results of the start-up venture.

“We just filed as an independent PAC, so we will be raising money,” Gregory said. “What we really want to do is encourage college students to volunteer on campaigns.”

Gregory said he not only wants to attract the political science majors who routinely volunteer for campaigns, but he wants to attract students who are also interested in setting policy, who may be science majors, finance majors or from other fields of study. The PAC is not only seeking those students interested in policy as volunteers but as potential candidates.

“A lot of students are really interested in policy, but they get turned off by the rancor of partisan politics,” he said.

Gregory said he has no immediate plans to run for office anytime soon, and his current plans are to go to law school following graduation. He drew national attention last year when he was the focal point of an Associated Press article about young people running for political office. Producers at the “Montel Williams Show” read it and invited him to be a guest on the show in New York.

Senate kills service tax as debate turns ugly

LANSING – The Senate voted almost along party lines to repel the service tax on certain services Wednesday that could create a $613 million hole in the budget that was just approved last month.

The Republican controlled Senate voted 23-15 for Senate Bill that 838 that would repel the 6 percent sales tax on certain services that was just approved on Oct. 1 with House Bill 5198 that helped make up the $1.8 billon budget deficit and balance the budget.

“Yesterday, we heard from business people in the state, real human beings, who will be negatively effected by this tax,” said Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, the chair of the Finance Committee that tock testimony on the bill on Tuesday. “I can say there is a real bi-partisan consensus to repel this tax.”

The tax was set to go into effect on Dec. 1, but SB 845 approved last week delays its implementation until Dec. 20. Sen. Mike Prusi, D-Ishpeming, introduced an amendment to SB 838 that tie-bars it to a bill expected to come from the House that would make up the lost revenue and avert another government shutdown. Various solutions have been floated around that includes increasing the state income tax even higher or making up the lost revenue in the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) just approved last summer, and the Democratic-controlled House Tax Policy Committee is expected to come up with a solution very soon.

“I think we are all aware that the House Tax Policy Committee is working on a bill to make up the revenue,” he said. “My amendment simply tie-bars this bill to the one the House will come up with.”

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, said it may be a bad tax, but there simply has to be something approved first to replace it, pointing out it took more than six months to replace the Single Business Tax (SBT) after it was killed with no replacement that left many companies and businesses looking to relocate in Michigan in the dark.

“It seems to me by the overwhelming votes for the spending bills last week that there is a consensus to spending,” he said. “It would blow a $600 million hole in the budget.”

The amendment was defeated 21-16, and the mood then turned ugly. Democrats accused the Republicans of playing “gotcha politics” and the Republicans accused Democrats of lying.

“This is all about gotcha votes,” Prusi said. “This is about a vote so the media sitting here can go out and say the heroic Republicans are cutting taxes and Democrats are obstructionists.”

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said the Senate was voting to kill a tax they approved last month that would balance a budget they just approved last week. She also said most of the business people who testified at the Finance Committee said they did not like the services tax, they were barred from talking about a replacement they said was necessary.

“This is fiscally irresponsible,” she said.

Cassis took exception to her remarks, and Cassis had to be warned twice to direct her remarks to the chair and once to refrain from violating Senate rules about talking “disparagingly” about a fellow senator. She also said Whitmer was making things up and reinventing her positions. She also challenged the Democrats to “bring it on” to find a replacement.

“The Senator from Lansing talks out both sides of her mouth,” she said.

Unless the House approves SB 845 that delays implementation of the tax, it will go into effect on Dec 1. Compounding the problem that could lead to another possible budget standoff and government shutdown is the fact that the Legislature goes on a two-week break at the end of session on Thursday.

Nov 6, 2007

More recall clarity hearings scheduled

Rep. Joel Shelrtown, D-West Branch, is the latest state lawmaker to face a clarity hearing in the statewide move to recall legislators who voted to increase the state income tax and place a sales tax on some services that helped balance the state budget and erase a $1.8 billon budget deficit.

The hearing will be held before the Ogemaw County Board of Elections at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Ogemaw County Building and Courthouse, 806 W. Houghton Ave. in West Branch. The purpose of the hearing is ensure the language on the petitions is clear enough so that voters can understand the reason for the recall.

If the language is approved, the recall committee has 180 days to begin collecting the signatures of registered voters that must be equal to 25 percent of all the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in the 103rd District. Once the first signature is collected, the petitioners have 90 days to collect the proper amount of signatures to go to the next step in the process, so the time lag between the first and last signature must not be more than 90 days.

The petitioners will need to collect the required 9,473 signatures of registered voters from the far-flung 103rd District that includes four counties - Iosco, Missaukee, Ogemaw and Roscommon. – to place the question on the ballot.

The Michigan Taxpayer Alliance, led by Republican Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, has not had much success in getting approval of the recall language, and so far only the language approved is for the recall of Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids.

Rep. Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak, also has a clarity hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 16 in the courtroom of Judge Barry Grant at the Oakland County Circuit Court, 1200 Telegraph Rd. in Pontiac. This recall is being led by an Oakland County PAC calling itself "Stop Hurting Michigan's Kids."

Recall petitions rejected because of language include those of Sen. Jerry Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores; Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Muskegon; House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford; Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville; Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms; and Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren.

Nov 5, 2007

WJR's Beckmann balks at being rated among most-biased

WJR-AM radio commentator Frank Beckmann is not happy with the results of a Michigan Messenger reader survey.

Readers ranked Beckmann in second place among the most biased reporters, columnists and commentators in Michigan.

Beckmann tried to laugh the poll off, but it bothered him enough to email me six times.

Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley was picked as the most biased. But the impression I got from him was basically an amused “so what.”

Beckmann was a little different. Those who have watched Bill O’Reilly on his Fox News show "The O’Reilly Factor” constantly describe the national blog Media Matters as a “left-wing smear site” know how some people react when you hold a mirror up to them. What is Media Matters' great sin and how is it smearing O’Reilly? Simply by posting actual video of some of the stuff he says on his show.

“I addressed this on the air this morning," Beckmann wrote of the survey, "and stressed my disappointment at finishing second.....clearly, I failed to energiize (sic) my base and plan to get a better turnout next must be pleased with your truly massive response of 43 votes in a week....that's impressive.....I also adopted you as my official liberal website.”

I explained to Beckmann that although I too was disappointed at the small number of votes cast, Michigan Messenger has only been around for some six weeks, and that any startup venture in any medium begins slowly. I also explained that an online newspaper is a completely new medium, and obviously more people owned radios than computers. Also, to vote you had to register with a screen name and password, and like talk radio, many people may listen or read but they do not all call in or comment; I guess that’s where the term “long-time listener, first-time caller” came from. But the 43 votes was a constant theme with Beckmann, and he pointed it out in almost every email.

“You act as if your vote with 43 ballots is somehow significant,” he wrote. “By all measures, my show has been a success.....The Michigan Association of Broadcasters afforded me two major awards last year, for 'News Coverage' and for 'Personality of the Year.' ”

I pointed out to him, again, that although the 43 votes were fewer than I had hoped for, still it was the readers and not me who chose him as one of the most biased commentators. Perhaps the question I should have asked was if he thought a mere 43 votes was so insignificant, why was he wasting his time emailing me. He offered to let me appear on his show, but it wasn't clear he was serious.

I listened to his show last Wednesday and Thursday while working and a small portion of the show on Friday while driving. I discovered Beckmann was correct when he said he regularly has liberals and progressives on. But after listening I have little doubt that those who voted for him made a good decision. He clearly treats non-conservative guests he disagrees with much more differently than conservatives.

On the first show, on Halloween morning, just a few hours after the Michigan House had met until 4 a.m. to approve the final budget bills and avoid a second state government shutdown, he had a lot to say about the budget. He told his audience that the budget just passed actually was an increase from the previous year’s budget, but then failed to say why or point out that many payments made in this budget were payments that were delayed from last year’s one-time fixes that were due.

It was very telling who his first guest was. Tricia Kinley, the director of tax policy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, was there to push the chamber's attempt to kill the recently approved sales tax on some services. There was no one from the other side as a guest, and as always, there was no one to talk about how the budget would be balanced without the tax increase.

Beckmann did have former Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard on the show, but Blanchard had to call him out on trying to pass off White House talking points on the Iraq occupation as his own opinions.

The next day, Thursday, Beckmann had the House Republican leader, Rep. Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, on to talk about the budget, despite the fact that every published report pointed out DeRoche had absolutely nothing to do with the budget negotiations that avoided a government shutdown. Beckmann let everything DeRoche said go by unchallenged, including the misleading claim that House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford, has grown government and the number of state employees.

The truth is that there are fewer state employees now than there were in 1973, as there were more state employees under Republican governors Bill Milliken and John Engler than there are now. After Dillon’s segment, Beckmann chose to comment on what Dillon had to say but not DeRoche, and DeRoche's comments went unchallenged again.

On Friday, he had the Senate Majority leader, Sen. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, on to talk about the budget, and he got more softball questions than DeRoche. Beckmann did not bother to ask him how he actually planned to balance the budget without the revenue increases. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, should have been on to counter Bishop’s claims -- following the pattern of the day before, when the leaders of both parties in the House were on the show. But that did not happen.

Clarity hearings set for Monday

More clarity hearings are being held this week in the attempt to recall state Legislators who voted for the increase of the income tax and the sales tax on some services that avoided a government shutdown and helped balanced the state budget on Oct. 1.

Section 168.951 of Michigan Election Law says recall language must be submitted to the local county board of electors or election commission to determine if the language that will go on the petitions is clear and concise.
A clarity hearing for Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids, is set for 2 p.m. today in the second floor training room of the County Administration Building, 300 Monroe Ave NW.

A clarity hearing is also set for 1 p.m. today for Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Muskegon, before the Muskeon County Election Commission in the courtroom of Chief Probate Judge Neil Mullally in the Michael E. Kobza Hall of Justice.

So far four petitions have been rejected because of unclear language, but there are plans to appeal that decision in the Court of Appeals. The Wayne County Board of Electors rejected the language as unclear for House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford; Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville; and Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms. The Macomb County Board of Electors earlier rejected the petition for Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren.

Nov 2, 2007

Stop the Presses! Readership Decline Spells Bad News for Newspapers

Newspaper readership has declined every year for the past 20 years, but that decline is starting to accelerate as new and faster ways of getting news to people becomes more available.

In the fall of 2006 U.S. daily newspapers saw their biggest drop in circulation in 15 years when the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that average daily circulation dropped by 2.8 percent during a six-month period that ended Sept. 30, 2006, and circulation for Sunday papers – traditionally the biggest generator of ad income for newspapers - fell by 3.4 percent.

The drop in circulation has launched a vicious cycle and as circulation drops newspapers cannot charge as much for advertising, revenue falls and jobs are cut as newspapers try to cut costs. Ownership of newspapers by a few mega-chains is also having an affect as the newspapers try to turn a profit by cutting costs, but some observers say that bottom line mentality is hurting quality. In Michigan, The Flint Journal, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press are planning to cut staff with voluntary buyouts. However there may be more layoffs because newspapers are notoriously quiet about personal moves, and some papers are not filling empty jobs.

Phil Jerome - a reporter and editor for more than 30 years who recently retired as the executive editor of Hometown Newspapers that once published community weekly newspapers in Livingston County, South Lyon, Milford, Novi and Northville - said the large newspaper chains have had a negative effect on the quality of journalism. Mega newspaper chain Gannett, which publishes 85 daily newspapers, including USA Today, and nearly 1,000 non-daily publications, purchased Hometown Communications Network in 2004 from former University of Michigan Regent Phil Power. The purchase also included the weekly suburban Observer & Eccentric Newspapers.

“The big chains come in and just look at the bottom line,” Jerome said. “They need to please stockholders, so they cut costs.”

James Wojcik, a professor of journalism at Central Michigan University and a member of the CMU Journalism Hall of Fame said less reporters in the newsroom means less people to spread the workload around to, and the pressure to turn out a large volume of copy can have a negative effect on accuracy.

“Anytime you have less reporters the newsroom does not work as well,” he said. “When you have fewer reporters there is not the same scrutiny and transparency.”

But John K. Hartman, a fellow professor at CMU and an author of two books on USA Today – the most widely read newspaper in the nation, said because there is less advertising the news hole has shrunk; that means there is less of a need to churn out so much copy. Hartman said he sees newspapers, especially daily newspapers, in a state of transition. In the past newspapers made up to 25 percent of their income from subscriptions and single copy sales, but he sees them going to a free model in an effort to get the product into more people’s hands.

“I think when they go to the free model circulation will increase. Young adults will not put 50 cents into a newspaper box but if you give them a free copy they will read it,” he added.

The Internet has also had a significant effect on the industry, and more and more people, especially younger people are getting their news from the Internet, TV or other vehicles. It was not so long ago that almost every household in America subscribed to at least one newspaper but that’s not the case anymore. A recent study said the percentage of Americans who read a paper every day has fallen to just under 35 percent today from around 70 percent in 1972. The drop is even more dramatic for those people under age 30 where just 16 percent read a paper daily. But many people are reading newspapers free of charge online. According to a report by Reuters, a global information and news gathering company, the number of people visiting U.S. newspaper web sites rose 3.7 percent during the quarter that ended on Sept. 30, 2007.

The loss of circulation has meant a drop in jobs, and that has made competition for the fewer jobs keener and driven down wages and benefits.

“The wages are sub par and the benefits are awful,” Jerome said. “If I had to do it all over again I would not go into journalism.”

There are few union newspapers left in Michigan, and those few that remain are feeling the pressure of newsroom cutbacks. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, represented by Detroit Newspaper Guild Local 22, are offering Voluntary Separation Packages for those newsroom employees who are age 50 or above and have been with the paper 10 years or more. Eligible employees will receive two weeks of severance pay and health insurance for every two years of service up to a year’s worth of salary. Management will decide by Nov. 13 what applicants will be offered the package based on job titles and experience. The Flint Journal is offering a similar incentive to cut staff but management is mum about how many jobs it will cut.

“The Free Press said they want to keep the number (of employees) taking the package down to 16 and The Detroit News wants to keep it at six,” said Lou Mleczko, Newspaper Guild President.

Mleczko is having his first go at negotiating a contract with Gannett after it took over operation of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers, and the 40 newsroom employees the Guild represents have been working without a contract since July as concerns over health care have slowed the process.

“It’s not a real concern right now, but it could be a problem if we don’t reach an agreement soon,” he said.

Despite the low pay and benefits CMU professors Wojcik and Hartman said there is no drop-off in students entering the field of journalism. The interest in blogs, online publications and other new media has spurred an interest in both writing and reporting.

“There is still a good deal of interest in journalism,” Hartman said. “There is a much bigger interest in writing, and I think e-mail, texting and other multi-media things are driving that interest.”

Despite growing concerns over the possible death of newspapers most experts see community news and community journalism thriving if they embrace some of the new technologies.

“My philosophy is pretty simple,” Wojcik said. “I think the newspapers that are going to survive are the ones that provide constant updates on what’s going on right in my own backyard.
"If I want to find out what’s going on in Iraq I can tune into any of the 24-hour cable channels that cater to any bias I have. I am concerned if the city council is going to pick up my garbage,” he added.