Dec 31, 2007

Top labor stories of 2007 feature a strike and an assault on labor

Organized labor was under attack in Michigan with proposals aimed at busting unions and increased moves to privatize many services and send them to non-union employees at often lower wages and benefits. But the biggest news that had Michigan residents on edge was the contract negotiations between the Big 3 and the UAW.

UAW and The Big 3 sign a contract after short strikesThe United Auto Workers signed a historic four-year contract with the Big 3 automakers in the fall that called for moving unfunded retiree health care costs into an independent trust administered by the UAW. The contract did not come easy and in September the UAW launched a nationwide strike against General Motors as 73,000 UAW members walked off the job and hit the picket lines at the nation's largest automaker. Luckily, the strike only lasted two days before an agreement was reached. In October, the UAW reached an agreement with Chrysler after a strike that only lasted a few hours. The contract Ford and the UAW signed in December was reached without a strike.

Right to Work Laws pushed
Republicans in the Michigan legislature made a concerted push to enact so-called Right to Work laws this year. Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, introduced Senate bills 607 and 608, and the companion bills in the House – House bills 4454 and 4455 – were introduced by Rep. Jack Hookendyk, R-Kalamazoo, and Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire. Both bills sat idle in their respective committees, despite Republicans controlling the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop saying that passing Right to Work was a priority in 2008. There is also talk of a Right to Work ballot initiative in Michigan appearing in mainstream media outlets, and that may be a story for 2008. Right to Work laws allow workers to enjoy benefits won by trade unions but not pay union dues.

Pro-labor law makes it out of the HouseThe Michigan House tried to put an end to the unfair advantage that unions feel management has when there is a drive to establish a union. This came in the form of House Bill 4316, known as the Worker Freedom Act sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows, D-Lansing. The bill would prohibit employers from making workers attend mandatory meetings where employers have a captive audience to put out negative and anti-union information. The bill passed by a 56-49 vote on July 18, 2007, and it’s still currently in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee awaiting action. The practice of gathering employees to put out one-sided information is a staple in management’s fight to stop a union-organizing effort, while union organizers are sent to the sidelines to try and pass out info as employees zoom out of the employee parking lot. According to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency, a study of more than 400 union representation election campaigns found that during 92 percent of union organizing drives, employers forced their employees to attend closed-door, anti-union meetings. In addition, 78 percent of employers directed supervisors to deliver anti-union messages to employees in one-on-one meetings.

Employee Free Choice Act approved
In March, the U.S. House approved HR 800, the Employee Free Choice Act, by a vote of 228-183. It will allow workers to organize a union free of an employer’s intimidation, free from fear of being fired and free from retaliation. The bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., on Feb. 5, and it had bipartisan support with 233 co-sponsors. The bill would allow employees at a work site who want a union to simply sign a card clearly indicating support for a union, and the company is required to recognize the union. Under the current law, even if the majority of the workers sign up for the union, the company can simply veto that decision and call for an election.

GM cuts workforce
General Motors Corp. announced in December it plans to offer buyouts to 5,200 of its 72,000 hourly workers. This will allow GM to hire new workers at lower wages. The deal was part of the agreement reached in September between the union and GM.

Brief State Government Shutdown Leads Top 10 Legislative Stories of 2007

It was an historic year for the Michigan Legislature. Michigan residents saw things from the legislature they have not seen in many years, and in some cases we saw things we had never seen before. The obvious big story in the legislature was the first state government shutdown since the time of Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams almost a half century ago.

1- State Government shutdown
The first shutdown of state government since the 1950s occurred in the wee hours of Oct. 1 when the legislature missed the midnight deadline for passing a state budget that erased the $1.8 billion deficit. The shutdown only lasted a few hours, and the legislature balanced the budget with a combination of spending cuts, reforms and new taxes. Following 15 consecutive years of tax cuts, the resulting tax increase was perhaps a bigger story than the shutdown itself. The lawmakers voted to set a 6 percent sales tax on certain services and raised the state income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.45 percent. The historic legislation came after months of charges and counter charges, one-upmanship and bad blood between the two political parties and between the governor and the senate majority leader.

2- Democrats take control of the House
Democrats took over control of the House of Representatives on Jan. 10 for the first time in almost a decade with the swearing in of the 110 House members. The Democrats won control of the House with a 58-52 margin following the general election in November 2006, and they already had their work cut out for them with a $700 million deficit in the current budget needing to be fixed and a projected $1.8 billion deficit in the budget that needed to be approved by Oct. 1. Lawmakers also had to find a replacement for the Single Business Tax (SBT) the Republicans had killed in a campaign move in the summer of 2006 without a replacement for the revenue in sight. Rep. Andy Dillon took the gavel as Speaker of the House, and he immediately restored debate to the House floor that had been silenced in recent years under Republicans' control. Despite picking up a few seats in the Senate and the fact more people voted for Democrats for the Senate, because of gerrymandering of the district boundaries, Republicans were able to hang on to control of the Senate. Sen. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, was elected as senate majority leader.

3 - Recalls
The tax increases approved by the legislature in October led to recall attempts after months of threats that any lawmaker voting for a tax increase world be recalled from office. 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 activist Tom McMillin, 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 do away with a $1.8 billion budget deficit. However, 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.

4- Michigan Business Tax approved
In June the legislature ended almost a year of worry, hand-wringing and speculation by passing the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) that replaced the Single Business Tax (SBT) following another all-too-common late-night session. The bill ended months of business uncertainty that scared off investors to the state. The new structure provides tax cuts for more than seven out of 10 Michigan businesses and provides tax cuts to both small businesses and Michigan’s major manufacturers. It is a fair, simple tax that will provide the same amount of revenue as the Single Business Tax it replaces, while encouraging job creation in Michigan. The GOP-controlled Legislature voted in August 2006 to eliminate the SBT two years earlier than planned, without a replacement in sight. The move led Standard & Poor's to lower the state's rating on general obligation bonds to "AA,” costing the state more money to borrow funds for any reason.

5- First budget deal reached
The first marathon legislative session and the first possible state government shutdown was avoided in May when House Democrats stymied a shutdown of state government and avoided cuts in health care and education by eliminating most of the $800 million deficit in the current budget, which had just three months to go, with spending cuts and other measures. The deal ensured there were no cuts to the K-12 per-pupil foundation grant and Medicaid.

6- Service tax repealed
Just hours after the sales tax on services that was just approved in October was set to go into effect, the legislature repealed it during another all-night marathon session in December. The service tax will be replaced by a 21.99 percent surcharge on the taxes businesses already pay under the new Michigan Business Tax (MBT), effective Jan. 1, 2008, but the surcharge will sunset in 2017. The move followed months of pressure by business groups claiming they would be seriously hurt by the 6 percent sales tax on services, and it came after lots of closed door negotiations between House and Senate leaders.

7-Rock-bottom prices on iPods
A chicken in every pot and an iPod for all 1.65 million Michigan school kids. That was a story that made national news, and Republicans hammered Democrats with it, even though it was not true. During an April press conference with Speaker Andy Dillon, House Democrats talked about bringing technology to education. In that discussion, the idea of buying iPods or mp3 players for students came up, and some reporters ran with the false story that Democrats wanted to buy an iPod for every school kid for a mere $38 million. It was front-page news for a few weeks at a time when spending cuts and tax increases were being discussed before the story was debunked.

8-Majority leader censors blog
Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, took the unusual step of censoring a liberal blog that apparently had been very vocal in pointing out what it called Bishop's failure to negotiate in good faith during the budget crisis. Subscription-only Gongwer News Service reported Bishop ordered "Blogging for Michigan" blocked from being accessed from Senate computers, claiming that the blog was “created by a Senate employee using Senate equipment.” The blog was actually created and operated by Shiawassee County resident Christine Barry, a systems engineer, from her home. After four days of solid pressure from both the left and right side of the political spectrum, Bishop relented and lifted the ban.

9-House Democrats deliver on campaign promises
House Democrats got to work immediately on issues they campaigned on and that won them control of the House. House Democrats introduced and approved a bill in January that ended immunity for drug companies if their drugs kill or maim the people who take them, and the measure also repealed the current ban enacted in 1996 by then-Gov. John Engler designed to shield huge pharmaceutical companies from responsibility. The Democrats also addressed voters' concerns about Canadian and out-of-state trash streaming across our borders - some 6.2 million tons of out-of-state-trash in 2005 alone-, and legislation approved by the House banned any landfill expansion until 2011. However, the bills remain stalled in the Senate.

10-Publication of staffers' and state employees' salaries draws ire
The Lansing State Journal irked both state employees and legislative staffers with their salary database this year. In July, the LSJ published the name, title, department, workplace county and salary of every state employee. In June, the salaries of legislative staff members in the Michigan House of Representatives were added to the searchable list of salaries maintained by the LSJ. There was an immediate backlash, and many state employees boycotted the LSJ. The Coalition of State Employee Unions told state employees the unions were coordinating efforts to address the problem, pledging to pursue legal action and urging members to reconsider their Journal subscriptions. Critics claimed the decision to publish the information was an invasion of privacy that could lead to possible identity theft, and it was a cheap shot because of the timing of publication when spending from the state budget was being cut. The Michigan Senate decided not to wait around for a Freedom of Information request from the LSJ for salary information on Senate employees, and the Senate established a web site with that information without the names to protect employee privacy.

Dec 27, 2007

Libraries Are Booking Adventures for Families in Southeast Michigan's Museums

Libraries now let patrons check out a lot more than books: VHS and DVD movies, books on tape and CDs, MP3s, games, magazines and even art. But thanks to Macy’s, you can now check out southeastern Michigan museums and other cultural venues.

The two-month-old Detroit Museum Adventure Pass program allows library-card holders at about 160 participating libraries in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, St. Clair and Livingston counties to check out free passes for two or four people to 25 participating cultural venues, ranging from the Arab American National Museum to the Ypsilanti Historical Museum. Each library has five passes for each venue.

“Macy’s had a lot of success with the program in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and they wanted to export it here,” said Maud Lyon, the founding director of the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan. “They approached us in the spring to get the program going.”

The Cultural Alliance is a nonprofit umbrella organization representing the arts and cultural organizations in seven counties in southeast Michigan. The concept is simple: Just present a library card at a local library and receive two or four passes, depending on the venue.

The program is designed to get kids and families excited about visiting some lesser-known and unusual arts and cultural venues in their own backyard. It also provides free access to families who may not be able to afford to take advantage of these cultural activities and builds awareness of the participating arts and cultural organizations in Michigan, which is near the bottom among states in arts funding.

“So far, the response had been tremendous,” Lyon said. “In the first six days alone, we had 800 people use the passes.”

Museums and cultural venues in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago, where the program began, reported significant attendance gains, especially at smaller, lesser-known venues.

“They (venues) have been very happy with the program,” Lyon said. “One venue said 20 percent of its attendance was from the passes, and some were reporting they were selling more memberships because of the passes.”

The program, which runs through next October, is designed for families and friends instead of large groups and tours. The hope is families will use the passes for some positive and educational family time.

“It would be a great way to entertain, especially between the holidays,” Lyon said. “You can get the kids out of the house and see what the area has to offer.”

Dec 26, 2007

Ward and Garcia have the worst 2007 voting records

Two of Livingston County’s three state lawmakers boasted the worst voting records in Lansing, and the pair led their respective bodies with the most missed votes in 2007, according to an annul report by Michigan Votes, maintained by the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, led the hit parade by missing the most votes of any Legislator with 133 missed votes. Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Marion Township, led the Senate in missed votes and was second overall with 120 missed votes.

Garcia may have some mitigating circumstances for the missed votes because he was a member of the majority party in the Senate, and he was involved in the budget negotiations that helped end the brief state government shutdown in October. But that does not account for 120 missed votes. However, that was not the case for Ward in the House controlled by the Democrats.

On a positive note, the third Livingston County lawmaker – Rep. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township - was one of 22 lawmakers with a perfect voting record, and did not miss a single vote in 2007. All three lawmakers are term-limited.

Dec 23, 2007

Club for Growth goes after McCain for Michigan remarks

If we needed any proof here in Michigan that Sen. John McCain’s campaign for the Republican nomination for President has picked up some steam and is alive and well we only needed to see the press release put out by the conservative Club for Growth.

The release came in response to a Dec. 21 Detroit Free Press article where McCain told the Free Press editorial board he would “use federal money to make up the salary differences for workers who lose manufacturing jobs and take lower-paying positions while they train for new careers.”

The country has lost 3 million manufacturing jobs under the current administration to outsourcing and other causes, and the U.S. auto industry has been hit vary hard. The Club for Growth release came out as soon as the Free Press article was published, and it calls McCain’s plan “welfare” and pandering to Michigan voters as the Jan. 15 Michigan primary election fast approaches.

“This is exactly the kind of plan you expect to hear from the Democratic candidates, not an alleged economic conservative,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey in the press release. “The government should not be in the business of guaranteeing wages.”

Club for Growth is non-profit political organization with some 40,000 members with a political action committee (PAC) that raises money for conservative candidates who support a “low-tax and limited-government agenda.” The group has a history of backing conservative Republicans even against incumbent moderate Republicans.

Michigan residents are familiar with one of the most well known instances of Club for Growth’s handy work. They pumped thousands of dollars into the campaign of ultra-conservative Tim Walberg in his primary battle in the summer of 2006 against incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, and the moderate Republican lost his bid for reelection to Walberg in the 7th Congressional District despite Schwarz having the support and endorsement of the state Republican Party Chair and President George Bush

Ironically, Schwarz is now a member of McCain’s Michigan Finance Team that raises money in the sate for McCain.

Dec 22, 2007

FCC ownership ruling will hurt Michigan

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently overturned a 32-year-old ban aimed at doing away with media monopolies and ensuring there is a diversity of voices on the airwaves and in print

The administrative ruling will let owners of a TV or radio station buy a newspaper, or vice versa, in the nation's 20 largest media markets. The ban put in place in 1975 barred a single company from owning a TV station and newspaper in the same market. Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was joined by his two fellow Republican on the commission in favor of the proposal, and the commission's two Democrats voted against it.

Before the ink is even dry on this new rule it will allow waivers for six new newspaper-broadcast combinations and 36 grand fathered stations.

The Detroit News, owned by Denver-based Media News Group – one of the largest newspaper companies in the United States – immediately came out with an editorial favoring the move. The editorial did point out that its parent company did own a TV station, but the editorial skirted the issue of the problems with the consolidation of all of the news outlets into one giant voice. Detroit is the 11th largest media market in the country, and this ruling will apply to Detroit. The gist of the editorial is that because of technology like blogs and other new information sources, “there's no way a company can control the flow of news and entertainment by owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market.”

That may be good news for blogs like the Michigan Messenger, but if it will be good for traditional journalism and the general public remains to be seen.

Critics like the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) - a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank - allowing more media consolidation will diminish local newsgathering. Proponents of the new rule say allowing cross-ownership may help to forestall the erosion in local news coverage by enabling companies to share newsgathering costs across media platforms.

But it ignores the danger of consolidating all the media voices into something owned by a few companies. Newspapers are a perfect example, and there are few independent newspapers anymore. Take the Detroit News, for example. Their parent company owns and operates 57 daily newspapers in 12 states with combined daily and Sunday circulation of approximately 2.6 million and 2.9 million, respectively, and they are proud to tell you those facts on their web site. Just recently in 2005 the News was purchased by from giant newspaper chain Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S. that publishes 85 daily newspapers, including USA TODAY. After the smoke had cleared, Gannett walked away with ownership of the Detroit Free Press and the bulk of metro Detroit suburban weekly newspapers known as the Observer and Eccentrics.

During the 1920s more than 500 cities and towns had two or more competing newspapers - including about 100 cities that had three or more - today only about a half dozen communities have a least two newspapers, and those tend to operate under joint agreements allowed under the Newspaper Preservation Act, like the News and Free Press in Michigan under the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA).

This consolidation means there are less reporters and less competition. According to the EPI, since 1975 the number of media outlets has indeed increased, but at the same time ownership has become more concentrated. Today there is simply less diversity of opinion and less diversity of news sources.

This corporate takeover of newspapers means solid reporting, independence and integrity are taking a backset to profit and pleasing the shareholders. Media conglomerates are stressing profit maximization over concerns of localism and diversity, according to the EPI.

The situation is not much different in TV and radio where the airwaves are provided free by the government in exchange for diversity of views and opinions and informing the public. Anyone who has listened to radio station WJR-AM, the most powerful radio station in Detroit, knows about that lack of diversify of opinion. In contrast to the News editorial, there many be 24-hour cables news outlets, but news programming offered by affiliates of NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox still accounts for about half of all television viewing.

Dec 21, 2007

Pork king named Grinch of the Year

Smithfield Chairman Joseph Luter III was named the winner – or loser depending on your point of view – of the seventh annual online "Grinch of the Year" election sponsored by National Jobs with Justice that determines the national figure who does the most harm to working families.

Luter edged out American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey with 28 percent of the more than 10,000 votes cast online. Luter proved perseverance is a virtue, and his perseverance in maintaining an environment of fear and intimidation for workers earned him a nomination last year. Smithfield, which operates the largest pork slaughterhouse in the world in southeastern North Carolina, operates one of the most dangerous work sites in the United States where workers are injured, harassed, intimidated and threatened by Smithfield management, according to Jobs with Justice

Arpey earned his second place finish for his treatment of union employees. In 2003, workers gave concessions to keep the airline out of bankruptcy. Now that the company is back in the black, according to Jobs with Justice, upper-level management is reaping the benefits with millions of dollars in bonuses, but workers get nothing.

Verizon Business’ Bob Toohey took third place for his efforts to suppress worker organizing with 15 percent of the vote.

In a surprise move, United Airlines’ CEO Glenn Tilton took 13 percent of the vote as a write in candidate. The remaining votes were split among Burger King CEO John W. Chidsey, American Motion Picture and Television Producers President J. Nicholas Counter III, and a number of write-in candidates.

The 'Grinch of the Year' awards began locally with Jobs with Justice coalitions around the country highlighting the greedy Grinch in their hometowns. That tradition has remained in many areas. Paul Levy of Beth Isreal Deaconess Hospital was elected Massachusetts Grinch of the Year. Paul Dockendorff, CEO of Northwest Security Services, Inc. was elected Grinch in Martin Luter King County, WA, and Tomlinson Linen was elected Grinch of Pierce County, WA.

The South Florida chapter named Jose Infante, owner of South Florida Maintenance Inc., as their Scrooge of the Year. The chapter representatives said his company owes employees over $90,000 in back wages. His company violated the city and county living wage ordinances, so workers were forced to take him to court. SFM and the City of Miami agree the money is due--but like Scrooge not a penny has gone out.

In St. Louis, record 14,268 votes were cast, and Illinois Distributing Company was named Grinch of the Year. Despite profits so high they have built a new $15 million building and bought out a competitor distributorship, Jobs with Justice said Illinois Distributing Company has imposed a contract on its drivers that slashes pay and health care benefits.

Jobs with Justice is a national campaign for workers' rights. Around the country, local Jobs with Justice Coalitions unite labor, community, faith-based, and student organizations to build power for working people.

Dec 20, 2007

Ballot question petitions get the OK

LANSING - The Michigan State Board of Canvassers gave approval Wednesday to a pair of initiative petitions seeking to place questions on the November 2008 General Election ballot but rejected a third.

The petitions presented to the four-person partisan board previewed a crowded General Election ballot next November, and the petitions submitted call for the Legislature to pass laws to “ensure that every Michigan resident has affordable health care coverage,” a petition calling for a part-time legislature and a petition requiring a state-wide vote on every tax increase. The board also set the deadline to challenge signatures already collected to allow the use of medical marijuana on the ballot.

Erane Washington-Kendrick, the Democrat chair of the board, stressed that approval does not mean endorsement of the proposal; only that the petitions meet requirements of font size and form, and approval is simply a courtesy that means the petitions cannot be challenged later for improper form once the resources have been expended to collect signatures.

Petitions drives enacting legislation have become a part of the political scene in Michigan, and the proper collection of signatures has come under recent scrutiny by both the board and Michigan courts. In an unrelated discussion about giving the University of Michigan access to old ballots for a research project, Republican board member Lyn Bankes said fraud was used to gather signatures for Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) that was placed on the November 2006 ballot, but the courts never ruled on that fraud in allowing Proposal 2 to go on the ballot.

“Some of these (petitions) are so silly there will be paid signature gathers,” she said. “I can see fraud involved in that, and we are not equipped to handle that.”

The board gave approval to the petition submitted by Madison Heights-based Health Care for Michigan that would amend the state constitution to require the legislature to pass laws to ensure that “every Michigan resident has affordable and comprehensive health care coverage through a fair and cost-effective financing system.” Constitutional Amendments require the valid signatures of registered voters equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor in the last election, and that comes out to the signatures of 380,126 registered voters that must be collected by July 7, 2008.

The petition submitted by the Saginaw-based Part-Time Legislature Ballot Question Committee was also approved. It calls for a part-time legislature, calls for cutting the salaries of lawmakers from $79,650 to $40,000 a year with a 1 percent deduction for each day absent; eliminates post service pensions, retirement benefits, medical or life insurance; set the legislative session from March to July; limits special sessions to just 20 days per year and requires the governor to submit a budget within the first three days of session.

The same group calling itself the People's Choice Tax Repeal Committee had its petition rejected. The board said the petition was too wordy and hard to understand. However, that does not mean the signature collecting cannot go forward, but the petitions would be easier to challenge and throw out later on.

“That’s a lot of verbage to read even if it meets the 8-point (font size) requirement,” said Shelly Edgerton, the Republican Vice-Chair of the board.

The petition would amend the state constitution to mandate an election if the legislature creates a new tax, continues a tax, reduces a tax deduction or tax credit or increased the effective rate or base of tax.

The board also set the deadline to challenge signatures already collected by Citizens for Compassionate Care to allow the use of medical marijuana. The deadline is 10 days after a sample of 500 names is drawn, and the board expects the drawing of the representative sample to take place about mid-January. The committee has already submitted about 475,000 petition signatures to put the issue on the ballot. Because it is an initiative and not a constitutional amendment, only 8 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor must be collected, which comes out to 304,101 signatures of registered voters.

Dec 19, 2007

Michigan’s 2008 Notable Books named

The Library of Michigan announced the 2008 Michigan Notable Books, highlighting Michigan people, places and events.

The books are chosen from both fiction and non-fiction books published in Michigan, by Michigan authors or books about Michigan. State Librarian Nancy Robertson said the books chosen showcase the diverse experiences of Michigan's people and life in the Great Lakes State.

This selection of books published in 2007 demonstrates the variety present both in Michigan life and in its literature: conversations with President Gerald Ford; the involvement of and impact on Michigan in the Civil War, World War II and Vietnam War; poetry that celebrates Michigan's natural wonders; novels that use Michigan backgrounds to tell stories of family or intrigue; and tributes to Michigan's unique art, architecture and music, and the finest in Michigan foods and wines.

Michigan Notable Books is an annual program with roots stretching back to Michigan Week 1991. The list is complied by representatives from the Library of Michigan, the Archives/Curious Book Shop in East Lansing, Capital Area District Library, Cooley Law School, the Grand Rapids Press, Michigan Center for the Book, Michigan Historical Center, Michigan State University Libraries, Northland Library Cooperative, ProQuest Information and Learning and Schuler Books and Music.

"For seven years the Library of Michigan has honored the best in Michigan literature, and this year is no different," Robertson said. "This year's Michigan Notable Books offer compelling reads that reach far beyond the borders of the Great Lakes State with their power to touch readers and their contributions to Michigan's rich literary culture."

The 2008 Michigan Notable Books are:

Alden B. Dow: Midwestern Modern,” by Diane Maddex (Alden B. Dow Home &

“Connecting the Dots: Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project” (Wayne State University Press)

Elijah of Buxton,” by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic)

“The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam,” by Tom Bissell (Pantheon Books)

“Fork in the Road with Eric Villegas,” by Eric Villegas (Huron River Press)

From the Vine: Exploring Michigan Wineries,” by Sharon Kegerreis and Lorri Hathaway (Ann Arbor Media Group)

“Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed,” by Paul Trynka (Broadway Books)

Mackinac Bridge: A 50-Year Chronicle, 1957- 2007,” by Mike Fornes (Cheboygan Tribune Printing Co.)

"My Brave Mechanics:" The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War,” by Mark Hoffman (Wayne State University Press)

“One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II,” by Lita
Judge (Hyperion Books for Children)

“Paper Tiger: One Athlete's Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football,” by Ted A. Kluck (Lyons Press)

“A Primer on Parallel Lives,” by Dan Gerber (Copper Canyon Press)

“The Red Parts: A Memoir,” by Maggie Nelson (Free Press)

“Returning to Earth,” by Jim Harrison (Grove Press)

“Sailing Grace,” by John Otterbacher (Samadhi Press)

“The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane
Johnston Schoolcraft,
” edited by Robert D. Parker (University of Pennsylvania Press)

“Stealing Buddha's Dinner: A Memoir,” by Bich Minh Nguyen (Viking)

“Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie,” by Patty Pinner (Taunton Press)

Up in Honey's Room,” by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow)

“Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations With
Gerald R. Ford
,” by Thomas M. DeFrank (G.P. Putnam's Sons)

Dec 17, 2007

Right to Work Push Designed to Bust Unions, Labor Says

Organized labor says the push to make Michigan a so-called Right to Work state by conservative groups and individuals from out of state is designed to end collective bargaining, drive wages down, kill unions and damage the middle class.

“This is a standard-of-living issue more than a labor issue,” said Brent Gillette, the national field director for the Michigan AFL-CIO. “They would take away the ability of trade unions to collective bargain and pool together to benefit the workers they represent.”

RTW bills are before both the Michigan House and Senate, but are stuck in committee. In the House, Rep. Jacob Hoogendyk, R-Kalamazoo, introduced House Bill 4454, and Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, introduced HB 4455, both to make Michigan an RTW state. In the Senate, Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, introduced companion bills, Senate Bills 607 and 608.

But the big push may come in the form of a ballot initiative. To get the question on the ballot in front of voters, supporters of RTW have to collect the valid signatures of registered voters equal to 8 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor in the last election. That comes out to 304,101 valid signatures of registered voters.

“It’s pretty easy to get something on the ballot in Michigan,” Gillette said. “It only takes half a million signatures, and they certainly have the money to do that.”

Gillette said labor expects collecting of signatures to start during the Jan. 15 presidential primary, when large groups of people will be out. In the meantime, Gillette said, unions are educating their members on the RTW issue.

Proponents of Right to Work claim the law would do away with the requirement that workers must be in a union to be employed at a union shop. However, federal law already protects workers who don't want to join a union to get or keep their jobs, and gives workers the right to opt out of a union. But they must still pay union dues. RTW would give them the option of not paying dues while still enjoying the benefits of being in a union.

Unions in RTW states are required by law to defend non-dues-paying members involved in a dispute or charged with a grievance at work, but even those employees do not have to contribute dues. Opponents of RTW say such a provision does not give workers more rights, but instead it weakens unions and their ability to bargain for improved benefits and working conditions, which they call the real intent of RTW. The union, by law, must represent all workers equally.

“This would allow an employee to opt out, for whatever reason,” Gillette said. “He can opt out but still benefit from all the hard work of union members. It’s a free-rider kind of situation.”

Some of those groups and individuals pushing RTW include the Michigan and U.S. chambers of commerce; the conservative National Right to Work Foundation; Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Payer Reform and the anti-union Alliance for Worker Freedom; Wal-Mart and Holland Coors of the Coors beer dynasty. In Michigan the effort is being pushed by the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

“The major push for Right to Work for less is from what we consider right-wing groups,” Gillette said. "It would be a huge feather in their cap to turn Michigan. They want to use the fear and anxiety over the Michigan economy to accomplish it.”

Gillette said Oklahoma is the latest of 22 states that have adopted RTW laws, and it lost more than 22,000 manufacturing jobs after RTW took effect. North Carolina, an RTW state with the smallest percentage of unionized workers in the country, has lost more manufacturing jobs than Michigan.

Workers in RTW states make an average of $5,900 less in annual salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, the rate of workplace deaths is 41 percent higher in RTW states, according to the bureau, and 20 percent more workers in RTW states go without health insurance.

Gillette said the fatalities clearly demonstrate unions do much more than just improve wages, benefits and the standard of living. They train both union and nonunion workers, provide professional standards, ensure worker safety and even retrain workers whose jobs are outsourced.

“A lot of those functions would be lost if the free-riders get their way,” he said.

Monday is the last day to register for primary

The last day to register to vote in the Jan. 15, 2008 Presidential Primary is 5 p.m. today, Dec. 17, despite last minute maneuvering to stop the disputed primary election.

The deadline to register to vote is 30 days before the election, and that makes the date the close of business today. Absentee voting is already taking place. Registered voters can vote by absentee ballot if they meet one of two requirements - they will be out of town for the election or they are age 60 or older or have a disability that will not allow them to go to the polls. If you meet one of those conditions and have not received an absentee ballot, contact your local county clerk. The applications for absent voter ballots may be obtained by contacting your city or township clerk. Requests for absentee voter ballots must be in writing. On the absentee voter application, voters are reminded that they must check a box to indicate which party’s ballot they would like.

Dec 14, 2007

Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company issued permits

The Department of Environmental Quality announced in a press release Friday its decision to approve a series of permits to the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company to conduct mining operations at the proposed Eagle Project Mine near Marquette.

The department’s decision follows a period of extensive review by the DEQ of public comments and supporting information to determine whether Kennecott’s proposal met the strict standards contained within Michigan’s air quality, groundwater, and mining laws. The DEQ is required to make its decision based solely on whether a proposal meets those standards.

“This has been one of the most thorough reviews of an application ever done by this agency,” said DEQ Director Steven E. Chester. “In the end, Kennecott’s proposal met the high standard set by Michigan’s environmental laws.”

Chester said that information received during the public comment period resulted in a number of changes to Kennecott’s permits to alleviate concerns that were expressed by the public and ensure that Michigan’s resources are protected.

“We have made every effort to address the public’s concerns within the limits of what the law allows,” said Director Chester. “We must now remain vigilant in ensuring that Kennecott complies with its permits and lives up to its end of the bargain in keeping Michigan’s environment safe.”

The mine needs five permits to begin operations. The company had to obtain a mining permit, a groundwater discharge permit, an air use permit, a lease from the DNR for use of state-owned surface property and a mining reclamation permit. Friday’s announcement means that Kennecott must still acquire a surface use lease from the Department of Natural Resources for the project.

Telephone surcharge passes on last session day before holiday break

For the first time in Michigan, cell phone users will be assessed a surcharge to fund 911 emergency telephone services after the Michigan House and Senate gave approval to Senate Bills 410 and 411 Thursday on the last day of session in 2007.

Many county and other municipalities that operate emergency call centers have complained that as more and more people switch from traditional land line telephone service to wireless cell phones, funding for operating the emergency centers is falling because there are less land lines paying the 911 tax. Currently, land lines are charged 29-cents per month on their bills and cell phones are charged nothing. The version headed to the Governor for her signature adds a 19-cent surcharge to cell phones and internet phones and lowers the surcharge for land lines from 29 to 19-cents.

The revenue neutral bill also allows county governments to establish 911 fees on cell phones in their counties and allows local governments to put the fees to a vote of the public. The bills passed the Senate by a vote 33-3 and passed the House 92-15. The fee was set to expire on Dec. 31, and the new version sets a sunset for just two years on Jan 1, 2009.

The bills were originally passed by the Senate in the spring, but it got caught up in the House after attempts were made to keep the same 29-cent surcharge on land lines and add it to cell phones as well. The extra funds raised would have been used to fund other emergency services.

The Legislature will reconvene on Jan. 9, 2008.

Dec 13, 2007

'Tis the season to vote for the Grinch of the Year

Not only is it the season for Christmas trees, holiday decorations and TV Christmas specials, it’s also the season when all the major awards shows from the Oscars to the Golden Globes begin announcing their nominees for the coveted awards.

But a more seasonally appropriate awards program is also on tap: the Seventh Annual Online Grinch of the Year poll sponsored by Jobs with Justice (JWJ) to determine the national figure who does the most harm to working families. Anyone with an email address can vote simply by going online. The nominations have been taken from all over the country. Those nominated this year are Smithfield Chairman Joseph Luter III; Verizion Business VP for Human Resources Bob Toohey; Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers President J. Nicholas Counter III; Burger King CEO John W. Chidsey, and American Airlines President and CEO Gerard Arpey. Votes are being taken now online.

JWJ was founded in 1987 to help improve the standard of living for working families, fight for job security and protect working Americans' right to organize. It is an independent pro-labor, non-profit educational organization.

SMITHFIELD Chairman Joseph Luter III
Smithfield, which operates the largest pork slaughterhouse in the world, was a nominee last year. The plant, located in southeastern North Carolina, employs 5,000 workers and kills and dismembers over 32,000 hogs each day. According to Jobs with Justice, Smithfield’s Tar Heel plant remains one of the most dangerous work sites in the United States, where workers who have not been adequately trained are forced to work at exceedingly fast line speeds while making repetitive hand motions in processing the pork. Jobs with Justice also says that workers are injured, harassed, intimidated and threatened by Smithfield management and that Smithfield maintains an environment of fear and intimidation. For more than 10 years now, workers at the Tar Heel plant have fought relentlessly for a voice on the job. In 1994 and 1997, workers tried to hold a union election but "were met with the company’s coercive fist," according to Jobs with Justice. After the vote count at the 1997 election, one union supporter and one union organizer were allegedly dragged out of the plant, beaten, insulted with racial epithets and arrested.

VERIZON BUSINESS VP for Human Resources Bob Toohey
Verizon is also a past nominee, and it has distinguished itself as one of the Grinchiest companies on Earth, squashing efforts by workers in its wireless divisions to unite in unions, attempting to abandon rural and less profitable communities in New England and threatening the health care and retirement security of its unionized workers, according to Jobs with Justice.

But management’s behavior at its large accounts division -- Verizon Business (VZB) -- really stands out. In particular, vice president for human resources Bob Toohey, has shown exceptionally bad behavior by stepping on the democratic rights of VZB workers, Jobs with Justice says. It all started earlier this year, when a majority of VZB technicians in the northeast signed cards to form a union. In response, Toohey (and friends) launched an anti-union campaign, allegedly spreading misinformation about unions and holding "captive-audience" meetings. Jobs with Justice says workers filed unfair labor practice charges at the National Labor Relations Board because Verizon Business illegally interfered with their freedom to form a union. In two separate cases, the NLRB issued formal complaints against VZB for violating federal labor laws by spying on workers, suppressing free speech in the workplace and issuing illegal warnings to union supporters.

The Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) represents the six major media conglomerates in contract negotiations with the Writer’s Guild of America. Jobs for Justice says Counter forced 12,000 members out on strike, putting tens of thousands of people out of work just before Christmas. Oddly, he can’t count. He says the writers can’t get a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars the conglomerates are making over the Internet because the media conglomerates can’t count the money coming in.

Farm workers who pick tomatoes for Burger King's sandwiches earn 40 to 50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has not risen significantly in nearly 30 years. Workers who toil from dawn to dusk must pick two tons of tomatoes to earn $50 in one day. Burger King -- the second-largest hamburger chain in the world -- has so far refused to work with farm workers and heed the call to improve wages and working conditions for those who pick their tomatoes, Jobs with Justice says.

AMERICAN AIRLINES President and CEO Gerard Arpey
Arpey asked employees to "Pull Together, Win Together,” and they did. Approximately 95,000 workers at American Airlines agreed to deep wage and benefit concessions in 2003 in order to save the company from bankruptcy. Now that the company is making money again, how are the workers being repaid for their sacrifices? Arpey awarded millions of dollars in bonuses to more than 800 of the top-paid executives at American this year. Lining the pockets of the top-paid executives while workers suffer is true Grinch behavior. The 95,000 workers got coal in their stockings for their Christmas bonus.

Livingston County YMCA hosting family basketball clinic

HOWELL — The newly formed Livingston County Family YMCA is holding a family basketball clinic from 9-11 a.m. Saturday at the Howell National Guard Armory, 725 Isbell St.

The clinic is for all ages, and the clinic will focus on basketball fundamentals from the organization that invented basketball in 1891. The cost of the clinic is just $5 per family, and participants can call to sign up or pay at the door.

The clinic is a prelude to the Livingston County Family YMCA Youth Basketball League that will run from Jan. 12 -Feb. 23 for boys and girls ages 6-8 and 9-11. YMCA Youth Basketball is designed to focus on three things: the number one rules is Fun. Every child plays, every child wins and major goals are to foster progressive skill development and promote healthy lifestyles.

YMCA Youth Basketball League Registration Deadline is Jan. 3. You can download a registration form at click on locations, then Livingston County or you can request a form by calling (517) 540-2325.

The Livingston County Family YMCA operates as a branch of the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit that serves Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Livingston counties.

Dec 11, 2007

Blue Tiger Dems kick for more civic involvement

Every November in even-numbered years, both political parties turn out thousands of volunteers to man phone banks, knock on doors and hand out campaign literature, but when the election season is over, those volunteers fade away. The Blue Tiger Democrats want to take those volunteers and put them to work making the community a better place to live.

“One of the big problems with the party, both political parties, is the start-and-stop mentality of the party,” said Frank Houston, the Civic Engagement Organizer (CEO) for the Michigan Blue Tiger Democrats.

The Blue Tiger Democrats were founded in 2005 by Bill Samuels, a longtime activist in Democratic and progressive causes, with the goal of getting the Democratic Party in touch with its original values and getting volunteers involved in civic programs and civic engagement. The Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) became the first state party in the nation to adopt the principles of the Blue Tiger Democrats organization and make it a permanent part of their state organizational structure last year, and last month they launched a Web site to find volunteers and match them with projects.

“This is a fairly new program, and Michigan is only one of three pilot programs in the nation,” Houston said. “Michigan has really become a model program.”

The Blue Tiger Democrats were launched in Michigan last year with a massive project that educated people in metro Detroit about utility costs with town hall meetings, a door-to-door campaign and other outreach activities. Volunteers helped educate people about ways to help with utility costs, as well as help them with weatherizing their homes. Houston said they knocked on 30,000 doors, and they not only helped people deal with the high cost of heating their homes, but they also helped build the Democratic Party.
Partisan bickering has turned off many people who care about voting and civic involvement, and many people have simply lost respect for the political parties. Houston said partisanship has a place in politics, but far too much effort is spent in raising money for 30-second TV attack ads rather than getting people involved in the community.

"It's easy as Democrats to say the country is screwed up because of George Bush or the '90s were so divisive because of Newt Gingrich, but the simple fact is we have to take back our basic, core values," he said. "We have a responsibility to make the world a better place to live."

One ongoing project of the Michigan Blue Tiger Democrats has been to collect necessities for Michigan's Veterans Administration hospitals.

"A lot of people hear about what's going on at Walter Reed and how bad it is, but they don't know that many VA hospitals don't have the basic necessities," Houston said. "A lot of Democrats get unfairly labeled as not supporting the troops because they oppose the war. This is a way for them to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak."

The Blue Tiger Democrats are under the umbrella of the MDP, and Houston and the two other Blue Tiger staffers have been visiting local county Democratic parties and clubs. He said they have been to about 30 groups already, and they have been very receptive.

"We ask them to support this as a concept, and to commit to at least one project to better their community," he said. "A lot of Democratic clubs have been doing service projects for years. We are just helping them brand it and get more people involved."

There are some in the Blue Tiger movement that want to see the tiger replace the donkey as the Democratic Party's symbol. Prior to 1870, the tiger was the national symbol of the Democratic Party, adopted from the symbol of the firefighters of Engine No. 6 in Lower Manhattan. The donkey was taken from an 1870 cartoon, by Republican Thomas Nast, called "A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion."

"This is about taking back both our values and our symbols," Houston said.

Dec 10, 2007

MDP release guidelines for Presidential Primary

With the Michigan 2008 Presidential Primary just five weeks away, the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) released its voter guide to the Jan. 15, 2008 primary today.

Most of the guidelines apply to both political parties, and both state parties have been penalized by their respective national parties for holding an early primary. The Democratic National Committee voted to strip Michigan Democrats of all its 156 delegates to the national convention for violating party rules by choosing an early primary, and the national GOP said Michigan Republicans would lose half of their delegates at the convention for doing the same thing. The state GOP has not yet issued guidelines for the primary.

Perhaps the most important guideline is the deadline for registering to vote in the primary, and that is fast approaching. The deadline to register to vote is 30 days before the election, and that makes the date the close of business on Dec. 17, just a week away. Absentee voting is already taking place. Registered voters can vote by absentee ballot if they meet one of two requirements – they will be out of town for the election or they are age 60 or older or have a disability that will not allow them to go to the polls. If you meet one of those conditions and have not received an absentee ballot contact your local clerk.

Voters will cast their ballot at their regular polling places between the hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 15. In order to vote at a polling place under new rules just put into place for last month’s general election, a voter must show a photo ID or sign a statement saying that they do not have a photo ID with them to vote. Absentee voters do not have to produce a photo ID. Voters will be asked whether they want a Democratic or Republican ballot, and a record will be made of which ballot they take. The voter’s choice of candidate will be secret as in all public elections.

All the names of the Republican candidates will be on the ballot, but that’s not the case for Democrats because some Democratic candidates requested their names be taken off the ballot to protest Michigan’s violation of the early primary rules. The Democratic ballot will have six choices: Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, Uncommitted and Write in. A vote for “uncommitted” is a vote to send delegates to the Democratic National Convention who are not committed or pledged to any candidate. Those delegates can vote for any candidate they choose at the Convention. The MDP is suggesting that supporters of Joe Biden, John Edwards, Barack Obama or Bill Richardson should vote “uncommitted” instead of writing in their candidates’ names because write-in votes for those candidates will not be counted.

Dec 6, 2007

Smoking ban passes the House but may get butted in the Senate

The Michigan House approved a bill that bans smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants.

On Wednesday the House gave approval to House Bill 4163 - introduced by Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint - by a vote of 56-46. Opposition to the bill has come from powerful lobbying groups and trade associations, like the Michigan Restaurant Association, who object to the bill’s banning of smoking in bars and restaurants. They maintain that the choice to ban or not to ban smoking should be left up to the business owner, as well as claiming it will hurt business.

Exempted from the smoking ban in the bill were casino gaming floors, tobacco retailers, bingo halls, horse racing tracks, cigar bars and private residences where a business is run with the owner being the only employee.

Despite the close vote, it had bipartisan support with 10 Republicans crossing over to vote with the majority Democrats. But it also had bipartisan opposition with seven Democrats casting no votes. The bill also failed to get enough votes to give it immediate effect.

Despite the apparent victory, it’s doubtful it will become law or even taken up by the Republican controlled Senate any time soon. Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, introduced the companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 109, in January, and it remains stalled in committee.

In fact, Basham has been championing the smoking ban for more than 10 years, including the last five in the Senate, and he has not been able to get the bill out of committee or even to get the bill a hearing before the Committee on Economic Development and Regulatory Reform.

Proponents of the ban say that, according to the U.S. The Surgeon General, second-hand smoke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 50,000 annually, and there is no amount of safe second-hand smoke. In addition to the 50,000 deaths caused by the more than 4,000 chemical compounds found in second hand smoke, many toxic, it also causes more than 790,000 doctor visits a year for non-fatal diseases, such as asthma, inner ear infections and other afflictions. Second-hand smoke is the single, greatest environmental hazard most people will ever face.

Granholm cabinet member says ‘I won’t be back’

LANSING - One of the few remaining members of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s original cabinet announced Thursday she is stepping down to take the same post in California.

Teresa M. Takai, the director of the Department of Information Technology, announced Thursday she is taking the same position she holds in Michigan with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It didn’t take long for Granholm to find a replacement, and shortly after the announcement of Takai’s impending departure Granholm announced Kenneth Theis of St. Johns would fill the position. Theis is the chief deputy of the IT department under Takai

Theis has served in a leadership position since it was created, and he came to state government from General Motors (GM) Corporation where he was an executive. He has a master's degree in business administration from Northwood University and a bachelor's degree in automotive and heavy equipment management from Ferris State University. The Senate must confirm his appointment within 60 days, but if they do not act within that time frame the appointment becomes automatic.

The only remaining original members of the Granholm cabinet from 2003 are Patricia Caruso, the Department of Corrections director; Steven Chester, the head of the Department of Environmental Quality Director and William Anderson, the director of History Arts and Libraries (HAL).

Dec 4, 2007

Dingell-Anuzis push presidential primary plan

If the back-and-forth debate and on-again-off-again Presidential Primary election wasn’t strange enough, it got a little bit more unusual with the announcement Tuesday that Michigan Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzis and Michigan Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Dingell have collaborated on a bi-partisan presidential primary selection plan they say will put the debate to an end.

Last week the Democratic National Committee voted to strip Michigan Democrats of all its 156 delegates to the national convention for violating party rules by choosing an early primary, and the national GOP said Michigan Republicans would lose half of their delegates at the convention for doing the same thing. The Legislature went back and forth on whether to hold a caucus or an open primary after getting the news of the sanctions.

What is being dubbed the Dingell-Anuzis presidential primary selection plan is patterned after the Levin-Nelson Presidential Reform Bill in Congress. The plan would divide up states into six regions. There would be six sub-regions set up in each region, designating a representative cross section of America. The national parties would then set six distinct dates for when contests would be held. A lottery would determine the dates each designated sub-region could hold a presidential primary or caucus and no one region could be selected to go first for two consecutive presidential cycles, eliminating incentives for states to break the rules.

The original decision to hold the primary on Jan. 15 was to make Michigan more relevant in the presidential selection process instead of always allowing Iowa and New Hampshire – states not representative of the ethnic and racial make up of the rest of the country - to go first. Those two primaries go a long way toward choosing the eventual winner and eliminating under-performing candidates from the race.

“We need to end the monopoly of some states that always enjoy earlier contests while protecting every state’s right to be relevant in the process,” Dingell said in the press release put out the Michigan GOP announcing the plan.

The plan will be sent to both Republican and Democratic national committees for review and consideration for the 2012 cycle.

Dec 3, 2007

Schwarz. says prognosis for opposition to stem cell research is terminal

BRIGHTON -- As a medical doctor, former Republican U.S. Congressman Joe Schwarz has a calm bedside manner, but he minces no words when he speaks about his support of embryonic stem cell research and his condemnation of the people who oppose it.

“The disingenuousness on this issue by some organizations has been stunning, just stunning,” he told an audience of about 30 people gathered at the Livingston County Democratic Headquarters last week for a seminar on stem cell research sponsored by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures (MCSCRC).

Embryonic stem cells are primitive cells that can be generated in a Petri dish after an egg is fertilized by sperm in a dish in a fertility clinic, and they have the potential to cure countless diseases, such as autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis; cancers; cardiovascular diseases; circulatory and respiratory diseases; spinal cord injuries; infectious diseases like HIV; metabolic diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease; muscular dystrophies; neurological diseases of adulthood like Alzheimer's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease; and neurological diseases of childhood like Asperger's syndrome and autism. The embryos are never implanted in a woman’s body, and the embryos are routinely discarded by fertility clinics.

Schwarz said the majority of Michigan residents support embryonic stem cell research, and the opposition is another example of “tyranny of the minority.”

Federal law allows embryonic stem cell research, but it bans federal funding of it. But Michigan has even tougher restrictions, and Michigan law makes conducting the research a felony. Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, introduced House Bills 4616-4618 in April that lift that restriction, but the bills are stalled in the Judiciary Committee.

“There are only six or seven states that are as behind as Michigan,” Schwarz said. “Michigan – with our excellent research universities and Michigan being a populous state – is akin to a jack-rabbit state like South Dakota.”

Life sciences have been pushed as a way to diversify Michigan’s economy and create jobs, but neighboring states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois not only allow embryonic stem cell research, they are actively promoting the funding of the research. Schwartz said the University of Michigan is losing some of its top faculty and researchers to states that allow the research, like Florida, California and Texas.

“The train is leaving the station,” he said. “I want to be on it, I want Michigan to be on it and I want our research universities to be on it.”

The federal Castle-Degette bill – the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act -- that allows federal funding of embryonic stem cell research has passed Congress twice with bipartisan support, but President Bush has vetoed it. Schwarz said the simple bill will pass again, and he said the next president, no matter who it is or from what party – will sign it into law.

“This bill says a few things,” he said. “It says excess blastocysts (an inner cell mass containing cells that will form the embryo) can be donated to a facility doing embryonic stem cell research under guidelines set up by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.”

Schwarz also said the restrictions are contributing to job loss when research goes to other countries that do not have very stringent ethical laws on such research in place.
“As you know, stem cell research is going on offshore,” he said. “We are being beaten by Korea and Japan where we cannot guarantee research will be done as ethically as it will in the United States.”

Marcia Baum, the executive director of the MCSCRC, said she expects the issue to be on the ballot next November. The MCSCRC has a wide variety of people on its board, including doctors, directors of associations that advocate for cures for various diseases, and business and academic leaders. The advisory committee has both Democrats and Republican leaders, such as Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Schwarz and Mel Larsen, a former Republican state representative and the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

“Most people don’t understand the science, most people don’t understand what stem cells can do and most people don’t understand what’s going on in Washington,” she said.

The opposition to embryonic stem cell research has come primarily from the Michigan Catholic Conference and Michigan Right to Life. The MCSCRC has a speaker’s bureau that has been going to churches, service clubs and other groups to talk about stem cells. Much of the opposition has been because of claims that it will promote human cloning and that it is destroying human life.

“Some people want to call it the big ‘C,’ cloning,” she said. “It’s the fear of Dolly the sheep.”

Schwarz said the recent discovery that the possibility exists embryonic stem cells can be created without having to destroy an embryonic blastocyst shows promise, but the cells have the potential for developing cancer. He said regardless of what happens with these cells, research with embryonic stem cells need to continue.

However, proponents say there is no cloning involved, and no woman will be allowed to sell her eggs because the law will make harvesting eggs illegal.

“None of the stem cells are coming from abortion clinics,” said Matt Evans, the chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party. “That’s the evil rumor out there.”