Dec 30, 2008

False smears earn hatemonger Hannity the 2008 Misinformer of the Year dishonor


With all the smears and misinformation put out by the conservative media against President Barack Obama and the Democrats in 2008, it would seem to be hard to choose just one person who has conveyed the most misinformation and smears. Not so says media watchdog Media Matters, and it chose Faux News talking head Sean Hannity as the 2008 Misinformer of the Year.

Hannity won the award hands down, despite many people to choose from; including numerous right-wing radio hosts, cable news pundits, major daily newspapers and online publications. Month after month, Media Matters shone the light of accountability on the media, which all too often pass along conservative spin, smears and distortions as fact. They did so by posting the actual video of misinformation and a transcript, defeating the claim that it took things out of contest.

It also documented the many lied and smears of fellow Faux talking head Bill O'Reilly's misinformation by actually posting the video, and it earned them his ire, calling them "the most dishonest website in the country." And how do they do that? By actually posting the audio and video of O'Reilly's misinformation.

Media Matters dug deep through the more than 3,500 detailed research items they released this year to select the annual "Misinformer of the Year." But Hannity's tactics left little doubt that the blow dried talking head deserved the dishonor. He left no smear of a progressive leader or issue unspoken, turning both of his cable television programs and his nationally syndicated radio show into cesspools of conservative misinformation.

His nightly show on Faux News was filled with examples of taking what Obama said and distorting it. His constant refrain was Obama'a alleged "radical associations," and that means if Obama and the alleged radical were in the same place at the same time once. Almost every long, convoluted question that was really a statement put out by Hannity always included the words, "Bill Ayers, Rev. Wright, Louis Farrakhan and Rezko." Even Obama's family have not been off-limits.

In addition to simply mouthing Republican talking points, Hannity has continued to use debunked smears against Obama and Democrats in general, give a platform to the most despicable smear merchants, defending Republicans and even raising money for them and failing to disclose that little fact.

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Dec 24, 2008

Wall Street crooks named Grinch of the Year


Wall Street executive’s unchecked corporate greed helped them win the Ninth Annual National Grinch of the Year Award for 2008 sponsored by Jobs with Justice.

After taking nominations from all over the country, voting began on Dec. 2 for the dishonor of the person or group who caused the most harm to working families. The nominees besides Wall Street were anti-worker corporate lobbyist Richard Berman and current U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

The Bush administration threw money at Wall Street with zero oversight, while requiring the Big 3 and the millions of blue collar workers they employee to jump through hoops. Over the past 30 years, conservatives successfully gutted regulation and preached 'smaller government' while millions of Americans lost good jobs and Wall Street and corporate America made record profits. Wall Street invented new, more complicated ways to make money off other people’s money Now that the party’s over; Wall Street wants to plunder the rest of us to pay the bill for their greedy rampage. This comes on the heels of news banks refuse to even say what they did with the money we gave them.

That greed helped Wall Street win with 47 percent of the vote.

Like any election, there were write-in candidates. Popular write-in candidates included Blue Diamond, American Airlines, United Airlines and perennial favorite and 2002 winner George W. Bush.

The 'Grinch of the Year' awards began locally with JWJ coalitions around the country highlighting the greedy Grinch in their hometowns, and that tradition continues. Union-busting Western Union edged out Mary Junck, CEO of Lee Enterprises (publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and others in a crowded field in Missouri. In Colorado, JWJ delivered Grinch of the Year awards to Jake Jabs, CEO of American Furniture Warehouse, and Steve Ells, CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Jobs with Justice is a national organization that runs national campaign for workers' rights, with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights and struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice. Jobs Local Jobs with Justice Coalitions unite labor, community, faith-based, and student organizations to build power for working people.

Dec 21, 2008

Newspaper editor continuers to display his ignorance of the legislative process with opinion on smoking ban


An Open Letter to Rich Perlberg, the general manager and executive editor of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, on his latest column on the workplace smoking ban.

Your column and the paper’s editorial stand on the smoking ban demonstrated a disturbing lack of understanding of both the issue and the legislative process. The column is especially disturbing considering it is coming from someone who has been in journalism for some 20 years.

First, secondhand smoke is deadly, and it’s far from a mere annoyance. The U.S. Surgeon General has been saying that since 1986. Now, you may choose not to go to your favorite place for a beer and a burger because of a small minority of people who still smoke, but what about the employees who have to choose between health and a needed job? Where is their choice?

You keep blaming Andy Dillon and the House Democrats for the failure, but you ignore Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop‘s role. The House passed a smoking ban way back in December 2007 after taking testimony in committee. Prior to the 10 previous years the ban had been pending, it never got so much as a committee hearing. Detroit lawmakers wanted the casino exception because they are under the mistaken belief the Detroit area casinos will lose business to the Native American casinos. They weighed the short-term jobs issue in an already depressed area against the long term health effects.

Once the bill was sent to the Senate, Bishop tried to bury it by sending it to the committee he chaired. This committee has never met, and it’s where bills go to die. He publicly said he would never allow a vote because he’s against it. Only the pressure from the public forced his hand and he allowed the bill to be discharged to the full Senate floor without a hearing. The sponsor of the Senate smoking ban, Sen. Ray Basham, introduced a substitute to the House version with no exceptions. That passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

The House balked, and instead of concurring in the Senate sub, they sent back a substitute to another bill with the same exceptions. Bishop declined to allow a vote on that bill. Finally in September, Dillon allowed a vote on the total ban, but it failed 50-49. It needed a majority of the 110 members to pass.

Dillon then took the bull by the horns a few weeks ago and assigned a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate passed version. The two Democratic members of the committee voted for both versions of the bill. It took Bishop almost a week to assign his three members to the committee as the clock ticked down to Sine Die. The two Republicans members he assigned to the committee were two of the most conservative Senators in the Senate, and they both voted against the bill.

Finally, in the wee hours of the morning as a possible compromise was reached, the Republican members of the conference committee never even bothered to show up.

You and the editorial board have called this important health care issue trivial, saying things like “Why doesn't the Legislature balance the budget, provide fair and equitable funding for public education, and eliminate odious business taxes?”

There are 148 lawmakers. How many people can get in a room and negotiate over tax policy, the budget and education funding?

That’s why the Legislature is broken down into committees of five to nine people. It’s much easier for that small group to negotiate and then make a recommendation to the full House and Senate to debate and vote on. Could you imagine the din and confusion if 110 people tried to negotiate?

There are 18 standing committees in the Senate and 24 in the House dealing with specific areas, from Agriculture to Transportation, and it’s much easier to work in small groups and present the result to the larger group to vote on. As for the budget, it’s so important that the appropriations committee is broken down into even smaller subcommittees - 16 in the Senate and 19 in the House - that deals with each state department.

Dec 19, 2008

Workplace smoking ban dies despite a workable compromise ignored by GOP


Despite overwhelming support for an indoor smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants, the bill - House Bill 4163 - died in the early morning hours of Friday as the Conference Committee tasked to work out a compromise between the Senate passed version and the House passed version could not reach an agreement to present to their perspective bodies.

The House passed a version in December of 2007 that included exceptions for casinos and others, and the Senate passed a complete ban in May after intense pressure from non-smoking advocates finally forced a vote. The six-person bipartisan committee met for three days to find a compromise, but the bill was sabotaged by Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, who assigned two staunch opponents of the ban to the committee.

All bills not passed on Thursday and Friday die, and they must be reintroduced in the new session that begins in January. Sen. Ray Basham, a tireless advocacy for smoke free workplaces in Michigan for the past decade, vowed to reintroduce the bill next month.

“I am absolutely crestfallen over this; as close as we came to seeing this effort through only to come up empty-handed, it’s very difficult,” He said in a press release. “But I haven’t given up hope over the last 10 years, and I don’t plan to start now. Going into year 11, this will remain my top priority, and I don’t care whose name is on the bills as long as this issue gets some traction.”

Although this is the farthest the bill has ever progressed in Michigan, Basham vowed to push a ballot proposal in necessary.

“This is certainly a setback, but not a defeat,” Basham said. “I will keep pushing for the health of all men, women and children in this state, and if the Legislature won’t take action on behalf of the people, I’ll see to it that we put this issue on the ballot and before the voters. I know I will see smokefree air for all Michigan workers some day, it’s just too bad it won’t be today.”

In fact, this is the first time a ban ever received a vote in Michigan, and it was voted on three times in the House and once in the Senate. The majority of lawmakers voted for it in some form. Anti-smoking advocates wasted no time in bombarding legislative offices with emails expressing their disappointment in the failure to protect the health of Michigan residents

Detroit area lawmakers were under the mistaken belief that a ban in the Detroit casinos would send people to the Native American casinos, costing Detroit much-needed jobs. Numerous studies have shown that is not true. The conference committee found a workable compromise, but the Republicans members didn’t bother to meet to consider it. The House and Senate session lasted a marathon 25 hours, beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday and continuing into 11 a.m. Friday.

The chair of the Conference Committee, Rep. Brenda Clack, called a meeting for 12:30 a.m. to consider the compromise, but subscription only MIRS reported that because Clack “was a little late,” Sen. Alan Cropsy, R-DeWitt, and Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, left and could not be bothered. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond, never bothered to even show up. All three GOP members voted against the bipartisan public health issue.

The promising compromise was to pass a complete ban with an exemption for casinos until 2011. By that time, the state would be renegotiating compacts with the Indian tribes and at that time the state would insist that the tribal casinos go smoke-free.

This is a bipartisan issue, and both Democrats and Republicans have voted both for and against the bill. We need to protect the health of Michigan residents like 34 other states and 50 foreign countries have protected their residents.

Dec 18, 2008

Bishop and Senate Republicans work to kill smoking ban


Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and Senate Republicans on the Conference Committee are turning a bipartisan public health issue into a partisan political issue, and they are trying to kill the workplace smoking bill as the last Legislative session day before all bills not approved die.

Bishop and the two Republican members of the conference committee tasked with coming up with a compromise between the House-passed ban and the Senate passed total indoor smoking ban- Sens. Alan Cropsey nad Alan Sanborn - all voted aginsat the bill, but Bishop assigned people who want to kill the bill to come up with an 11th hour compromise.

The confrence committee met early this morning before the session today, and for the third straight day, nothing was accomplished. The three obstacles who voted against the bill are now preaching the public health benefits of a complete ban over the House passed version that exempts casinos. That has to be the height of hypocrisy. The benefits of partial ban are better than nothing, which is what we have now.

The House and Senate are expected to meet until midnight, but it does not look good for any kind of smoking ban, despite the overwhelming support for it. All bills not passed today die and they must be reintroduced in the new session that begins in the New Year.

If this fails the blame belongs to Bishop and his two cronies. The Detroit Free Press called for passing the ban in its editorial today.

“What a nice Christmas present that would be for the nonsmoking majority and for bar and restaurant employees whose health is imperiled daily by secondhand smoke. What a great opportunity to send children a message that the leaders of Michigan know smoking is dangerous and public health is important.”

I could not agree more.

“Michigan is among 16 states without a ban, which perhaps, in the current economy, could be justifiable if people from all the other states were flocking here to light up. But there's no evidence Michigan is profiting as a destination for nicotine junkies -- and plenty of evidence of the health costs associated with smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.”

Dec 16, 2008

Senate Majority Leader continues to try and sabotage smoking ban


LANSING -- The push to reach a compromise on the workplace smoking ban is still alive, despite the best efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop to politicize a bipartisan issue and kill the bill.

The Conference Committee that is charged with coming up a compromise between the Senate and House passed version met for some two hours Tuesday without reaching an agreement, and another meeting has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday in Room 424 of the State Capitol in Lansing. The conference committee meeting is open to the public.

Bishop has always been against the bill, and he has done his best to kill it at every turn. When the House first passed the bill way back in December 2007 that included an exception for casinos, he sent it the committee he chaired, the Committee on Government Operations and Reform instead of the more logical Health Policy Committee. Bishop’s committee has never met, and it’s where bills go to die. The Health Policy committee is chaired by a medical doctor who supports the ban.

After constant pressure from the 80 percent of Michigan residents who support the important public health issue, he finally allowed a vote, and in May the Republican-controlled Senate passed a substitute bill introduced by Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, with a bipartisan vote that enacted a total ban.

Bishop then assigned two of the most conservative senators who both voted against the bill to the three-person Senate contingent to the conference committee instead of one of the nine Republicans Senators who voted for the bill.

Bishop was upset over the weekend over a letter Basham sent to supporters from all over the state. The letter called a ridiculous compromise proposal the Republicans floated known as "pay to play" that allows the bar or restaurant owner to purchase a permit that allows the owner to continue to poison his workers and non-smoking patrons. What it really is is "a license to kill."

Bishop was on rightwing radio station WJR this morning, and he said Basham, who has been fighting for the smoking ban for a decade, was “out of control on the issue, and has let emotion takeover.”

He also continued to try and further politicize the bipartisan public health issue by blaming the House Democrats for the license to kill; saying the so-called license to kill “compromise” came from Rep. Barb Farrah, D-Southgate. That doesn’t make much sense because Farrah voted against the bill both times; with the exceptions and without them.

There is no excuse for not getting this done before all bills died after Thursday when residents so overwhelmingly support a smoking ban. I want to see a total indoor ban like the Senate passed, but I know that sometimes compromises have to be made. All or nothing isn’t the way to go. I can see talking a bite of the apple now and protecting the health of as many workers and customers as possible, and when a partial ban proves what 33 other states and entire countries like Italy, Scotland and Ireland already know - that a ban does not hurt business - we can finish off the apple and a total ban will be put into effect.

Dec 15, 2008

Overwhelming pressure from smoking ban supporters rattles Senate Majority Leader


The pressure from Michigan residents to enact a workplace smoking ban, including bars and restaurants, is getting to Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

Apparently, Bishop got hold of a letter Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, sent to the hundreds of people from all over the state who signed the smokfree dining petition on his web site. The letter informed them of the status of the bill and urged them to contact Bishop and the Republican members of the conference committee to tell them to find a compromise and pass the bill before it dies at the end of the session on Thursday. Word is Bishop is upset over the letter, and he is using the letter to accuse Basham, a member of the conference committee and a strong supporter of the ban, of not bargaining in good faith.

Republicans have floated a ridiculous compromise known as "pay to play" that should be called the more accurate name of "pay to kill." It allows the bar or restaurant owner to purchase a permit and the permit allows the owner to continue to poison his workers and non-smoking patrons.

Part of the letter said, “We must, therefore, make sure the Senate Republican Majority Leader and the Senate Republican Conferees know that a” pay to play" or "license to kill" proposal is absolutely unacceptable. To that end, I strongly urge you to contact their offices immediately with this message.”

The House and Senate both passed different versions of the smoking ban, House Bill 4163. A conference committee consists of three members from each legislative body to work out the differences in the two versions. The committee works out a compromise, and their respective bodies give it an up or down vote, and no amendments or substitutes are allowed. All three Republican members of the committee voted against the bill. How that doesn’t qualify as negotiating in bad faith, only Bishop knows.

Bishop had no intention of even allowing a vote on the bill back in May. He sat on it for five months, and even sent it to the committee he chairs where bills are sent to die. The committee has never met. Only the grassroots effort by supporters of the bill flooding his office with emails and phone calls led him to allow a vote. For him to be upset with a letter urging people to contact his office is ridiculous.

The good news is the conference committee meeting set for 10 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, is a go. The conference committee meeting is open to the public, and it will be held in Room 424 of the State Capitol in Lansing.

Basham is not the only person supporting the smoking ban and thinks the pay to pay option is ridiculous. Janet Olszewski, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), issued a press release today urging the legislature to pass the bill and for the committee to reject the so-called “play to pay” option.

“While compromise may be needed, the state Legislature must protect its citizens from second hand smoke," she said. "Michigan needs a strong, firm, concrete law that outright bans smoking in public places. Allowing businesses to buy their way out of the law would be unacceptable and unfair to Michigan residents."

Rally at noon Monday to show support for auto workers


Rudy Reyes, a retired GM worker from Lansing UAW Local 602, is organizing a rally at noon today at the Capitol in downtown Lansing in support of the bridge loan for the Big 3 automakers.

According to TV station WLNS, the rally is the result of a grassroots organization that includes retirees and current GM employees as well as unions, churches and other interested people from across the state. If you’re anyway near Lansing today drop by and show your support for workers.

Dec 14, 2008

Conference Committee meeting for indoor smoking ban may not happen


Although there is still hope that nonsmokers in Michigan will be protected from deadly secondhand smoke with a workplace smoking ban, the prospects of that happening any time soon are getting dimmer after the Chair of the Conference Committee formed o work out the differences between the Senate passed version of House Bill 4163 and the House passed version canceled the a meeting of the committee set for Monday morning.

The meeting has been tentatively rescheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, December 16 in Room 424 of the State Capitol in Lansing, but the rumor in Lansing is it will be rolled to Wednesday or Thursday, the last session day before all bills not passed die. Schedule changes or cancellations for this and all committee meetings is available 24-hours a day at (517) 373-8140.

Columnist Peter Luke has an excellent column on the hypocrisy of Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop assigning the two most conservative Senators in the Senate who voted no on the bill to the conference committee.

The many supporters of the workplace smoking ban, that includes bars and restaurants, have been flooding legislative offices with phone calls, emails and letters urging their representatives to do the right thing. Here’s some contact information to keep the pressure up.

Senator Mike Bishop
(517) 373-2417 or (877) 924-7467
senmbishop@senate.mi.gov

Senator Alan Cropsey
(517) 373-3760 or (866) 305-2133
senacropsey@senate.mi.gov

Senator Alan Sanborn
(517) 373-7670 or (888) 353-2526
senasanborn@senate.mi.gov

Representative Dave Hildenbrand
Phone: (517) 373-0846 or (877) 328-3086
rephildenbrand@house.mi.gov

Dec 12, 2008

Senate Republicans put power and politics ahead of the country and people


If anyone had any doubt that the U.S. Senate Republicans opposition to federal loans to save the U.S. domestic auto industry was just an excuse to break the United Auto Workers (UAW) and kill the middle class, the decision by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and his GOP cronies to scuttle the hard fought negotiations that would have provided a $14 billion loan package is proof of that.

Apparently, the loss of some 3 million jobs and a national depression are worth killing a group that primarily backed Democrats to McConnell and company. According to the AP, Senate Republicans killed a deal that had already passed the House because the UAW declined to arbitrarily cut wage cuts to "bring their pay into line with U.S. plants of Japanese carmakers. The UAW refused to do so before its current contract with the automakers expires in 2011." "Republicans insisted that the carmakers …bring wages and benefits in line with those paid by Toyota, Honda and Nissan in the United States."

Since when do foreign companies carry so much weight in U.S.? This comes just a year after the UAW agreed to an historic contract that created a two-tier pay stem that dramatically reduced wages for new workers; to as low as $14 an hour. The UAW also agreed to return to the bargaining table as a condition to get the loan. It makes no sense to arbitrarily agree to such a ridiculous demand.

Judy over at LivingBlue offers an excelent analysis of the $400 billion in subsidies and giveaways at taxpayer expense a foreign manufacturer got in a southern, non-union state while denying a $14 billon loan to a U.S. manufacturer and 3 U.S. million workers.

The solution should be for the Japanese plants to organize to lift all workers up to a decent, living wage and benefits, but the foreign companies make that extremely difficult. They locate in rural, conservative areas like Kentucky that are hard to get to by organizers and that are grateful to have any job that's off the farm. That's why there are so many meat packing plants in rural settings. Then there are the trained union busters.

According to the AP, "Hourly wages for UAW workers at GM factories are about equal to those paid by Toyota Motor Corp. at its older U.S. factories, according to the companies. GM says the average UAW laborer makes $29.78 per hour, while Toyota says it pays about $30 per hour. But the unionized factories have far higher benefit costs."

Good for them. Of course, the foreign auto makers have less so-called "legacy costs." A legacy cost is a retiree like my dad who worked all of their lives to enjoy a decent retirement. Yet, a minority of Republicans put politics and power before the country and people. There's a reason they go their ass kicked in the last election.

Maybe the next time we are in a massive war like World War II, we can ask the foreign manufactures if they would please make our tanks, armored vehicles, weapons, vehicles and aircraft. Let's hope the Chinese never call in their debt we owe them; they have more people than we do, all the money and now all the manufacturing. Instead of Detroit being the "Arsenal of Democracy" that honor can now can go to Beijing.

This decision to screw the worker and the country is in sharp contract to the $700 billion no-strings attached giveaway to the banks and the finical industry.

Auto Banks
$14 billion loan $700 billon free
Require oversight, like a car czar No oversight
Auto CEOs hand to submit a plan None required
Required employee concessions None required
Scrutinized mode of transportation Phoned it in

Dec 11, 2008

Come out and show support for workplace smoking ban at committee meeting


LANSING – Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint, Chair of the Conference Committee on House Bill 4163 that bans smoking in all workplaces, announced the committee will meet at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 15, in room 424 of the State Capitol.

UPDATE:The Committee Clerk has canceled the meeting on Monday, and it is tentatively rescheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday Dec. 16. Schedule changes or cancellations for this and all committee meetings is available 24-hours a day at (517) 373-8140.

The six-person committee – consisting of Clack, Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale; Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, R- Lowell, Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor; Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt; and Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond Township – will be taking testimony from the public, and the meeting is open to the public.

This may be the last opportunity to voice your support for this important public health issue. Conference committees consist of three members from each legislative body to work out the differences in the version passed by the House and the one passed by the Senate. The committee works out a compromise, and their respective bodies give it an up or down vote, and no amendments or substitutes are allowed.

The House passed a version of HB 4163 that exempts casinos, tobacco retailers, bingo halls, horse racing tracks, cigar bars and private residences where a business is run with the owner being the only employee. The Senate passed version has no exceptions. The task will be to work out a compromise between those versions. Republicans have also floated a ridiculous compromise known as "pay to play" that should be called the more accurate name of "pay to kill." It allows the bar or restaurant owner to purchase a permit, and he can then continue to poison his workers and non-smoking patrons.

Some of the problems facing getting this done are all three Republican members - as well as Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R- Rochester - voted against the bill. There is also apparently only one Senate session left in the session before all bills die.

Although the Democratically-controlled House met all three days this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the Senate only met on Wednesday of this week, and they will not come back again until next Thursday Dec. 18. Apparently, Bishop needs more vacation time. However, in fairness, the Senate did meet until 3 a.m. on Wednesday/Thursday. I wonder what great policy can come out of a 3 a.m. session?

We need to be out in force if possible on Monday to show our support for this important public health issue.

Bishop assignees GOP members of conference committee for smoking ban bill who voted against it


It appears the workplace smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants is moving forward after Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, finally named the Senate members of the Conference Committee for House Bill 4163, but his choices for the committee appear to be just giving the measure lip service.

Conference committees consist of three members from each legislative body to work out the differences in the version passed by the House and the one passed by the Senate. The committee works out a compromise, and their respective bodies give it an up or down vote, and no amendments or substitutes are allowed.

The assignment of Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, is obvious because he has been fighting for the ban for more than 10 years, and he sponsored the Senate version, SB 109, as well as the substitute the Senate approved in May of this year by a vote of 25-12. But he assigned two of the most conservative Republican Senators in the Senate to the committee, and they both voted no in May. It makes no sense to assign people who want to see it fail.

Rounding gout the committee are Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, and Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond Township.

The House assigned their conferees on Dec. 4, and they are Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint, - the sponsor of HB 4163 - and House Minority Floor Leader Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell. Hildenbrand voted no on the bill in December 2007 when it passed by a vote of 56-46. So among the conferees, the three Democrats voted yes, and the three Republicans voted no. It seems like a recipe for failure, but maybe that is the intention.

You may recall that in December 2007 the House passed a version that excluded casinos, tobacco retailers, bingo halls, horse racing tracks, cigar bars and private residences where a business is run with the owner being the only employee. In May, the Senate passed a substitute introduced by Basham that had no exceptions.

With a maximum of four tentative session days left in the session before all bills die, it will be tough to get this done.

Contact Cropsey at (866) 305-2133 or email at senacropsey@senate.michigan.gov and Sanborn at (888) 353-2526 or email at senasanborn@senate.michigan.gov to urge them to negotiate in good faith and get his done.

Dec 9, 2008

Anti-union activists continue to try and divide and attack teacher’s union

If we need any more proof that anti-union zealot and rightwing activist Chet Zarko and rightwing Howell School Board member Wendy Day are co-conspirators on the assault on the Howell Education Association (HEA) - the union representing the district’s teachers - we just need to see Day’s latest escapade.

After Day posted an email from a member of the HEA from a private, password protected union email group on her blog in October, the law firm representing the HEA sent the school district’s attorney a letter demanding Day cease and desist from her illegal monitoring activity of the union. As the union member’s employer and a person who negotiates the teacher’s contract, Day is in violation of the Public Employment Relations Act by illegally restraining public employees from their right to engage in lawful union activities. It is also unlawful to intimidate or interfere with the administration of a labor organization.

Apparently, Day is making the ridiculous claim that she is blogging as a private citizen, and not as an elected school board member and the employer of the teacher’s represented by the HEA. That’s simply not possible. If she wants to do post confidential emails obtained from her employees, then she needs to resign her seat on the school board.

She made some even more ridiculous poor persecuted me claims on her blog, claiming her right of free speech has been violated. She also demeaned that “the HEA cease and desist harassing and intimidating me” or she will sue. She is also demanding a public apology from HEA leadership, naming them specifically. She also went on to claim she “filed a complaint with the ACLU, the MI Civil Rights Commission” and her local union. Wait, did she say the liberal ACLU?

What Day is attempting now is exactly what Zarko is trying to do; the old Republican trick of trying to divide people and pit them against each other. She also claims, “the HEA does not have as unified as front as like they think they have (sic).” The answer to that is, who cares?

Again, there is nothing more democratic in the workplace than the union. They elect their leaders, and the majority has to approve any contract the leaders negotiate with people like Day. I don’t care if 49 out of 100 union members vote against the contract, it’s still a majority.

This saga began back in May 2007 after Zarko contacted Day, a founding member of the anti-gay hate group called LOVE (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) PAC. Shortly after that, Zarko filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking emails sent by union leaders on district computers. After receiving some of the emails before an injunction was issued stopping the release of any more emails, Zarko claimed the union illegally conducted a large amount of union business on public time, including trying to retain MEA (Michigan Education Association) affiliated MESSA health-insurance. That claim was debunked because the union has a recognized right to use the computers.

Zarko is now using the same tactics as Day and the anti-public education GOP front group “Education Action Group,” of trying to divide the union members by finding someone who voted against the contract or disagrees with the majority. Again, who cares?

As I have said before, release the emails sent from the school computers, but any emails sent to or from the HEA private email group is a clear violation of the law. Because the union tends to be spread out, I’m sure some negotiation went on via email. As a formal journalist, I favor open government and sunshine laws. If Day wants to publish private union negotiations, then the school board should not go into closed, executive session to discuss the union contract.

Dec 8, 2008

Newspaper refuses to ask tough questions of anti-union zealot and rightwing activist

The Livingston County Press & Argus still refuses to ask any tough questions of anti-union zealot and rightwing activist Chet Zarko.

I hesitate to even blog about this because this guy absolutely craves seeing his name in print, no matter where it appears. I almost think his ego is the driving force behinds this witch-hunt, but I doubt he does anything for free.

The newspaper chose to take an AP story on the court case involving the Wayne-Westland Community Schools district and compare it to Zarko’s witch hunt. A Wayne County Circuit Judge has sided with the Michigan Education Association (MEA) to stop the Wayne-Westland district from releasing union-related e-mails sought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The case is similar to the one Zarko stated back in May 2007 when he submitted a FOIA request on a fishing expedition to get ammunition to smear the Howell teacher’s union with. That case also has been appealed.

The article says,
“He (Zarko) said he expects to find communications about a small percentage of teachers who wanted to accept an additional 1 percent pay increase on top of what was offered instead of the union-affiliated health benefits, which was a sticking point during negotiations and resulted in HEA protests at school board meetings. This is a matter facing many school districts in Michigan, he said.”

The question has to be asked, who cares? Unions are the most democratic organization in the workforce. The union leaders negotiate the contract, and the members vote on it. Each member gets one vote. Tell me, what’s more democratic than that? Why does it matter what the “small percentage of teachers” wanted? The majority of voters wanted something different.

I initially thought this was just an attack on unions, public schools and teachers. Granted, it is, but it appears to be a bigger, coordinated attack on the MEA. Zarko has steadfastly refused to say who is paying him, but clearly somebody is.

The article talked about some vague sounding group called the “Education Action Group.” The paper called it “an organization seeking school spending reform. “ But what it really is, is a Republican front group dedicated to destroying public education and pushing vouchers, something Michigan voters strongly rejected a few years ago.

Its run by former Michigan Republican Party (MRP) staffer Kyle Olson and MRP lawyer Eric Doster. I don’t know how closely Zarko is associated with this front group, but the reporter should have asked.

Are editorial writers totally clueless as to what's important in state?


If you need any more proof of the dire consequences of newspaper consolidation and downsizing, you just need to read the editorial in the Sunday edition of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

The editorial blasts the Michigan Legislature for daring to consider the “frivolous” workplace-smoking ban instead of addressing the state’s economy. It illustrates a glaring ignorance of how the legislative process works, even the status of the bill and it also ignores the hard work of people who have lobbied for this bill for more than a decade. It also displays ignorance of what power the state, any state, has to lift the nation out of the recession the country has been in since December 2007.

I don’t know if someone on the local editorial board wrote this, or it came from some larger Gannett newspaper - like the Lansing State Journal or the Detroit Free Press - or if it came from company HQ in McLean, Va. Regardless, somebody needs to get a capitol correspondent who understands the process. Perhaps if they do we will not get simplistic and misguided arguments like this:

“What, then, will state legislators be dealing with in Lansing this week as they try to wrap up their work in lame-duck session? Surely, they'll be wrestling with the important issues of the day, how to help those who are hurting, and how generally to get the economy back on track ... Right?”
Wrong.
The House plans to vote this week on whether you should be able to smoke a cigarette while you drink your beer at the local tavern. “


Here’s the thing; the news editor of the P & A should know how Lansing works because for a few years he was the Lansing correspondent for the entire Hometown Newspapers chain when the chain was locally owned, and he knows the Legislature is ran by committees.

Asking 110 House members and 38 Senators to try and negotiate anything is impossible, and that’s why the Legislature is broken down into committees of five to nine people. It’s much easier for that small group to negotiate and then make a recommendation to the full House and Senate to debate and vote on. Could you imagine the din and confusion if 110 people tried to negotiate?

There are 18 standing committees in the Senate and 24 in the House dealing with specific areas, from Agriculture to Transportation, and it’s much easier to work in small groups and present the result to the larger group to vote on. As for the budget, it’s so important that the appropriations committee is broken down into even smaller subcommittees - 16 in the Senate and 19 in the House - that deals with each state department.

What the paper seems to be advocating is that the rest of the Legislators sit by and do nothing. As for addressing the state’s unemployment problems, they have addressed numerous issues. This very newspaper has been filed with stories, photos and editorials on the film being shot at Parker High School, and that was because of the film incentive package approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Senate Democrats have also tried to address home foreclosures, but it has been blocked.

There is only so much a state can do to affect the economy because they cannot effect monetary or trade policy.

Perhaps they are advocating what Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, is doing, saying the Senate will not address any legislation until Gov. Jennifer Granholm issues her budget-cutting Executive Order. The good news is she issued the order on Friday to trim an estimated $240 million from the current budget that will allow Bishop to allow the rest of the elected Senators to do the work we hired them to do

The editorial really shows how clueless the editorial board, or whoever wrote this trash, is. The editorial also claims”

“The House plans to vote this week on whether you should be able to smoke a cigarette while you drink your beer at the local tavern. That's right, the proposal to ban smoking in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants, is expected to come back and take center stage in Lansing. Remember, the big point of debate on this bill was whether the rules should be different somehow if you have a slot machine lever in your hand at the same time you drink a beer and smoke a cigarette.”


Not true. The House has assigned its three members to a conference committee to work out the differences between the Senate passed version and the House passed version. Once and if a compromise is reached, the compromise gets an up or down vote on the respective floors. The House passed House Bill 4163 in December 2007 that exempts casinos, and the Senate passed a different version in May that had no exceptions to the ban. However, Bishop has not assigned the members of the conference committee. If this goes forward - and if it’s going to be “center stage” it’s news to me - it will only tie down six of the 148 members, and the vote will take but a few minutes.

This bill is a matter of life and death for many people, and those people have been working hard for more than a decade to get this bill passed. So the question to the editor’s ridiculous question: “C'mon. Is that really the most important thing we have to discuss right now?” The answer is hell yes. For them to ridicule such a life and death bill is irresponsible and ignorant at best.

There is no safe amount of secondhand smoke. It directly kills more than 3,600 people a year, and it contributes to the deaths of another 50,000 deaths annually.

Dec 5, 2008

House passes early voting bill that will not get by Senate Republicans


The Michigan House continued its quest to improve voter turnout and make it easier for people to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. This time, the House approved a bill that will allow early voting in Michigan.

On Thursday, the House approved House Bill 4090 by a vote of 58-50 that will allow Michigan the same convenience we saw voters in other states enjoy. The common sense measure gives local clerk's plenty of leeway in how to do it.

The polls will be open on Friday, Saturday and Monday before each election. The clerk's office is already required to be open on the last Saturday before the election to collect absentee ballots, so it's just an extra two days. The clerk only has to open one polling place, instead of all the precincts, which could just be the local township, village or city hall where the clerk is already. It also only requires the polling place to be open for eight hours a day, and the clerk can pick the hours.

This will increase voter turnout by being open for working people on the weekend. The problem is this bill is tie-barred to HB 4048, a bill to allow people to vote with an absentee ballot for no reason. But the Republican-controlled Senate has jumped through hoops to disentrance voters, and it refuses to allow a vote on HB 4048, that was just approved by the House in September, as well refusing to act on the Senate version.

The Senate has been the biggest obstacle to getting anything passed, and it took one more step in that direction this week.

Thursday was the last scheduled session day during the Lame Duck session, and all bills not passed by the end of the month are dead. There are three tentative session days scheduled for next week, and three the week of Dec. 16. But when the Senate adjoined on Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, surprised the entire Senate when he said the Senate will not come back until Wednesday instead of Tuesday, meaning there is now only a maximum of five days left to accomplish some major legislation.

The House was in session from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in an attempt to address this major legislation, but Bishop's ego is again holding the state hostage.

According to subscription only MIRS and Gongwer, Bishop said the Senate will not address any legislation until Gov. Jennifer Granholm issues her budget-cutting Executive Order. But the Governor has said all along she wants to wait on cuts in light of plans for a federal stimulus package, as well as talks on cuts with legislative leaders. Why not have an agreement or a consonance in place on cuts before an EO with cuts is issued.

You will have to ask Bishop's ego.

Dec 4, 2008

Twas the night before the workplace smoking ban was approved


LANSING -- Everyonr is familiar with the poem “Twas the night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, but Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, read a new version during statements in Thursday’s Senate session.

This version was written by Dr. Ronald M. Davis of East Lansing, and it talks abut the pending workplace smoking ban. He wrote it last year, but it ran in Thursday’s edition of the Detroit Free Press. Unfortunately, Dr. Davis passed away last month of pancreatic cancer. He was the immediate past president of the American Medical Association and director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, as well as a dedicated advocate of the smoking ban.

He will not be around to see the measure passed, but Basham proposed naming the law after Dr. Davis when it passes the House and Senate.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the House (of Representatives),
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. House Bill 4163 had been through both chambers with great fanfare, and there was a great yell of triumph from the Campaign for Smokefree Air.

Children with asthma were wishing for the best, of visits to restaurants with clean air in their chests. And Mama in her apron could work for a living, without the worry of cancer the secondhand smoke was giving.

When out in the Capitol lobby, there arose such a clatter, the people all wondered just what was the matter? Ohio has done it, and Illinois, too, so many states were smoke free, why is it so hard for Michigan to do?

Then it became clear, there was smoke in the air, from opponents who warned lawmakers, “You’d better not dare.” “We have,” they said, “our own science for you;
just listen to us, so you’ll know what to do.”

But it wasn’t enough, and CSA found their excuses easy to snuff. In a flash, we showed them the truth: smoke free air is needed at every work site – from office, to factory, to bar and to booth.

The people of Michigan called out in the night, “please Mr. Lawmaker, please make it right!” We want what they have – in Arizona, Arkansas, California and Colorado.
Why can’t we be like Connecticut, Florida, Georgia and Idaho? From Louisiana to Maine, in Maryland, Minnesota, Montana why they’ve even bet on smoke free air out in Nevada! New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, the Dakotas – residents are protected and smoke free, just like the folks in Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee.
Out west in Utah, up north in Vermont, in rainy Washington and political D.C. - they’ve figured it out, so why, why, oh why can’t we?

So the lawmakers voted and did the right thing, they proved to constituents that they had been listening. But then I awoke with a terrible start; I grabbed for my pillow and clutched at my heart. For I had only been dreaming of a smoke free Michigan, and I know those who want it will have to try again and again. You see, even though the House and Senate have each voted, it’s still no cinch. The chamber can’t seem to agree on a final version, which is our own Christmas Grinch.

So write to your lawmakers and tell them to compromise and vote; tell them you’re watching and you’re taking note. It’s good for me and for you, good for health and business too; Be you naughty or nice, a smokefree Michigan is the right thing to do!

Workplace smoking ban inches toward reality with conference committee


Time is running out for the Michigan workplace smoking ban, including bars and restaurants, despite action in the House on Wednesday, but the person dragging his heels is the person who has done so all along, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.

On Wednesday in the Lame Duck session, the House moved to send House Bill 4163 to a conference committee to work out the differences in the version passed by the House and the one passed by the Senate. You may recall that in December 2007 the House passed a version that excluded casinos, tobacco retailers, bingo halls, horse racing tracks, cigar bars and private residences where a business is run with the owner being the only employee. But Bishop sat on the bill and refused to allow a vote.

However, pressure by constituents, voters and lobbying by the sponsor of the Senate version, Sen. Ray Basham, led Bishop to allow a vote, and in May the Senate passed a clean version of HB 4163 that did away with the exceptions.

The conference committee consists of three members from each body, and they work out a compromise. Once the compromise is reached, they present the conference report to their respective bodies. The conference report gets an up or down vote, and no amendments or substitutes are allowed.

The conference committee members on the House side are Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint, - the sponsor of HB 4163 - and House Minority Floor Leader Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

Bishop has not assigned any conferees from the Senate side, and he has indicated he has no intention to do so because he opposes a bill that has exceptions. The common sense thing to do is pass something and join the 33 other states to date that protects the public from deadly secondhand smoke.

Today is the last day of session, with three tentative days next week and three more the following week before the session is over and all bills die. Word is the Senate will meet next week, but not the week of Dec. 16. We need to act now.

Please contact Bishop and urge him to allow a vote on this important public health issue. He can be reached at (517) 373-2417 via fax at (517) 373-2694 or email at senmbishop@senate.michigan.gov.

Dec 3, 2008

House Democrats strike a blow for the workers and the shrinking middle class with the rejection of RTW


Michigan Democratic lawmakers helped put an end to the push for low wages, loss of benefits and the rollback of workplace safety standards by rejecting a bill that would make Michigan a so-called "Right to Work" state.

The House Labor Committee voted down House Bill 4454 introduced by rightwing Republican Jack Hoogendyk, R-Kalamazoo, during a committee hearing Tuesday.

Committee Chair Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mt. Clemens, brought the bill up under the heading "any or all business properly before the committee" on the agenda, and the bill was rejected along party lines. The vote means it will not be sent to the full House floor during the lame duck session and the bill is dead until it is reintroduced in January. Only Republicans Rep. Lorence Wenke, R-Richland, and Rep. Phil Lajoy, R-Canton, voted against workers and the middle class.

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. The law is being used to bust unions under the false claim that states with the law are seeing more job creation.

The assault on the middle class is not yet over, and the Senate companion bills are still pending in the Republican-controlled Senate. Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, introduced companion bills, Senate Bills 607 and 608. The bills are pending action in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism.

Dec 2, 2008

Voting for anti-working Grinch of the Year has begun


The nominations are in and the voting has begun for the Ninth Annual “Grinch of the Year” contest sponsored by Jobs with Justice that identifies the greediest Grinch that has caused the most harm to working families.

After taking nominations from all over the country for almost a month, the nominees are anti-worker corporate lobbyist Richard Berman and Wall Street executives.

Berman is a notorious lobbyist and hired gun for the alcohol, tobacco and fast food industries, who will say or do anything for the right price. He’s mounted campaigns to relax drunken driving laws, downplay the public health impact of obesity and indoor tanning and prevent an increase in the minimum wage. But he is a nominee for his latest attacks on labor unions and their members.

Berman has waged a multi-million dollar PR campaign against unions and the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would level the playing field by making it easier for workers to join unions. His smear campaigns do the dirty work for corporate special interests who want to deny their employees a fair wage, health care benefits and safety on the job.

We have seen the Bush administration throw money at Wall Street with zero oversight, while requiring the Big 3 and the millions of blue collar workers they employee to jump through hoops. Over the past 30 years, conservatives successfully gutted regulation and preached 'smaller government' while millions of Americans lost good jobs and Wall Street and corporate America made record profits. Wall Street invented new, more complicated ways to make money off other people’s money

Now that the party’s over, Wall Street wants to plunder the rest of us to pay the bill for their greedy rampage.

For conservatives and financial elites, when working class people face a crisis, plants close or health care costs triple, the system is working. They take all the private profits, but when the bubble bursts, and they can no longer sustain their profiteering rampage... well, they're too big to fail. And who pays the bill? The CEOs are telling Congress to send the bill to working people – the very people who have been forced out of their housing, out of their jobs, out of their healthcare and out of their pensions by Wall Street’s greed.

You can also write in a candidate, and I nominate the U.S. Senate Republicans for using the auto bridge loan to try and break up the United Auto Workers (UAW).

Vote online now.

Jobs with Justice is a national organization that runs national campaign for workers' rights, with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights and struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice. Jobs Local Jobs with Justice Coalitions unite labor, community, faith-based, and student organizations to build power for working people.

Dec 1, 2008

Articles attempt to whitewash Rep. Chris Ward’s House record


As the six-year term of Michigan Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, comes to a merciful end, some glowing articles are beginning to appear that are attempting to rewrite history.

The former House Majority Leader was going to be stripped of his leadership position before he resigned after daring to vote with the Democrats and raise the state income tax to avoid a brief government shutdown last October. He has been praised for his courageous vote, and rightfully so, in such places like Dome Magazine and the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. But it ignored the rest of his dismal time in the Legislature.

The recent opinion column by Press & Argus General Manager Rich Perlberg is really over the top. The piece bemoans the lack of cooperation and bickering between the two political parties, but it completely ignored Ward’s role in it.

As the person who set the agenda on the House floor when the GOP controlled the House prior to 2006, Ward was so heavy-handed that the Republicans did away with debate on the House floor, and the Republican majority even refused the simple courtesy of providing an agenda of the day’s bills in session. Ward’s actions were similar in committee, and as the chair of the Oversight, Elections and Ethics Committee he threatened to forcibly remove and arrest a Priest.

He was also notorious for bending over backward to help lobbyists, such as the developers of the Green Oak Village Place mall, and the wine bill that earned him the scorn of veteran journalist Jack Lessenberry. You could also rest assured the bills Ward pushed were designed to benefit the Republicans first and not the state or its residents.

When he ran for reelection in 2006 he was as scarce in the 66th House District and Livingston County as snow in July, and we don’t know where he spent the majority of his last term, but it wasn’t at work. He had the worst voting record in 2007, missing more votes of any Legislator with 133 missed votes. I don’t know if that contributed to his personal problems or losing his home to foreclosure, but he was not working full time. In light of the number of missed votes in 2007, the remarkable thing is he actually showed up to cast his vote for the budget bills.

Now, this may be called sour grapes because I volunteered for the person Ward beat in 2006, and there may be a grain of truth to that. What it did was make me pay attention to his actions, or lack of action, and it was frustrating to work hard to only see Ward win because he was an incumbent with an R after his name. It’s even more frustrating to be correct about something, and have people ignore it. I do know Mike McGonegal would have been responsive to voters and better represented them.

Perlberg’s column really goes over the top when he tries to compare Ward with former Republican Gov. William Milliken. That is outrageous, to say the least.

“If there is no room in our government for politicians such as Ward and Milliken, then can we really be surprised by the end product that we are getting?”

Please. The GOP has not had room for moderates like Milliken for many years with its hard swerve to the right, but Ward has contributed to that right turn.

I have no idea if Ward’s tax vote was his mea culpa for all the wrong things he did in office prior to Oct. 1, 2007. The fact is that’s the most nonpolitical vote he made in six years and perhaps the only vote he made where he put the state and its residents first. It’s wrong his political career is over because of that vote.

If people choose not to support him or vote for him again, do so because of his actions prior to the Oct. 1, 2007 vote to keep Michigan government open. Maybe when this term is over he will return to the guy I liked and admired before he left here in 2002.

Nov 26, 2008

Anti-union crusader continues to overstay his 15 minutes of fame


Andy Warhol's famous quote about every person being famous for 15 minutes may have to be extended to 20 minutes for rightwing blogger and anti-union activist Chetly Zarko.

The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus is carrying a story about the Howell Education Association (HEA) - that represents the Howell Public School teachers - decision to appeal a Livingston County Circuit Court decision to allow an estimated 5,500 e-mails written by union leaders on school computers to be released to the public. The case came about in May 2007 after Zarko submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) to get ammunition to smear the teacher's union.

He claimed the union conducted a large amount of union business on public time on computers owned by taxpayers, including trying to retain MEA (Michigan Education Association) affiliated MESSA health-insurance and using parent-teacher conferences to recruit parents to their side of a collective-bargaining debate. He received some emails before the school district realized there may be confidential parent-teacher info in the emails and put a stop to giving him anymore.

The district and the union filed for an injunction to stop release of the emails, and Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Latreille issued an injunction that prevented Howell Public Schools from releasing more e-mails by leaders and members of the teacher’s union until they could be reviewed.

In October 2008 Latreille determined that the e-mails written by union leaders on school computers are public record, but they were not released pending an appeal. That appeal was just filed.

This has been and always will be a fishing expedition by an anti-union crusader to smear a union. With the few emails he managed to get his hands on he made the ridiculous claim that HEA leaders have "conducted a large amount of union business on public time by using public resources for union business, specifically, the email server. But when that attack failed after the district said the union has a “recognized right" to use the server he took another tack and used the emails to cherry-pick a few sentences to claim union leaders were mean to a few members.

All along he claims he has been doing this as a public service, and he has also steadfastly denied any one is paying him for this crusade. But his quote in the article is curious:
"We weren't surprised at all," said researcher Chetly Zarko, who used Michigan's Freedom of Information Act in an attempt to obtain the information.

Perhaps he can explain who "we" are. His claim that he is doing this for the public's right to know is laughable, but his quote that if "we lose this battle, it will be harder for the mainstream press to look into and report on issues" is absolutely ridiculous.

Again, this is simply an attempt to smear the union; nothing more nothing less. As a former reporter, I am a strong supporter of FOIA and sunshine laws, but I'm not sure how a teacher's union equates to the government. None the less, I say give him the emails. This is just keeping the story alive, and if anyone has managed to slog through any of his blogs, they know this ink does nothing but stroke his ample ego.

Zarko has a history with rightwing causes. He was the communications director for the California group headed by Ward Connerly that came to the state to push the racist Michigan Civil Rights Initiative on the November 2006 ballot that did away with affirmative action. His attack on the HEA came after communicating with the anti-gay hate group known as the "LOVE” PAC (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) and “LOVE” and school board member Wendy Day. In the summer and fall of 2007 he helped push for the so-called "right to work" ballot issue that failed to materialize.

Michigan Senate promulgates 2009 Senate session schedule


The Michigan Senate Majority Floor Leader has promulgated the 2009 Senate session through the summer, and it does not look very ambitious.

The Republican-controlled Senate will not meet until Jan. 14. Following that one session day, there is a tentative session set for Jan. 20 that follows the normal routine of meeting Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The first solid session day is not until Jan. 27.

The schedule follows the normal routine until it takes the week of Feb. 24 off, and session continues again until the two-week spring break on April 7. Then it's back to work until the session breaks for the summer on June 25.

The Democratically-controlled House has not yet promulgated its schedule for the next session, but the first order of business will be to swear in the 44 new House members shortly after the New Year. The Senate has traditionally been the place where bills go to die, and that will most likely continue. It remains to be seen if the Senate will practice any bipartisanship this time around with the House Democrats picking up nine additional seats.

Meanwhile, there are only three session days left in the current Lame Duck session that begins next Tuesday, and it appears it will not be enough for the ambitious Lame Duck agenda. Among the things Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and other legislative leaders say they want to address in Lame Duck is the expansion of Cobo Hall in Detroit, getting an agreement for development of a light rail system along the Woodward Corridor in metro Detroit, completing action on promise zone legislation that will help communities allow residents to attend colleges free of tuition costs, addressing the surcharge on the Michigan Business Tax (MBT), foreclosure problems in the state and the workplace smoking ban.

In addition, the fiscal crisis is having a negative effect on the budget, and budget cuts may be addressed in Lame Duck. There are tentative session days set for the week of Dec. 9 and Dec. 16, and indications are they will needed and used. It's unclear if there will be marathon session days like the Legislature experienced last October and November when the budget was approved, but it's possible.

Nov 25, 2008

Griffin set to run for Schauer's Senate seat


Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, officially filed to run for the 19th District Senate seat vacated by Sen. Mark Schauer's, D-Battle Creek, election to the U.S. House.

Griffin was elected to his second term in the House earlier this month representing the 64th District, which includes the city of Jackson, Concord, Hanover, Napoleon, Parma, Pulaski, Sandstone, Spring Arbor and Summit townships. Senate District 19 covers Calhoun and Jackson counties. Griffin won his House seat (Correction) by unseating incumbent Republican Rick Baxter in 2006, and he will need that experience to win the swing 19th District.

Griffin has an impressive resume of government service at all levels. He served as mayor of Jackson from 1995 - 2006. Prior to that, he was a staffer in the Michigan Legislature for 12 years, as well as a staff member for five years with former U.S. Congressman Carl Pursell.

So far, Griffin is running against Rep. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, who is term limited. It's unclear if there will be a primary. Rep. Mike Simpson, D-Liberty Township, has been mentioned as a possible candidate, but he has not formally announced or filed a committee.

It's unclear when the Governor will call a special election, but the already short-handed Senate Democratic caucus will be even smaller after January when Schauer officially resigns to take his new seat.

Ford has the safest cars in the world


It has been tough the last week listening to talk radio in the middle of the Big 3 auto loan talks when callers called in to disparage auto workers, the UAW and the quality of the Big 3 products.

I just have to grit my teeth knowing it’s simply not true. I would place any American car against any foreign made car, so it was good news to hear today that on the list of the safest cars put out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Ford has the most cars on the list.

Ford was represented on the list by the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable passenger cars with optional ESC, and the Ford Edge, Ford Taurus X and Lincoln MKX midsize sport utility vehicles. Seventy-two vehicles earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick award for 2009. This is more than double the number of 2008 recipients and more than three times the number of 2007 winners, according to the press release announcing the winners. The numbers reflect automakers' push to make certain safety equipment more widely available.

Although foreign manufactures were also represented well on the list, so were U.S. automakers. Also on the list were Cadillac CTS, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and the Saturn Outlook.

I have driven nothing but American cars, with the exception of a two-year period when I lived overseas, and the quality and reliability of those has been fantastic a. I have owned my cars for an average of five years, and I put almost 300,000 miles on a Chevrolet Celebrity.

The bottom line is American cars are the best cars made.

Nov 24, 2008

Howell High School We the People team wins again


Howell High School students from teacher Mark Oglesby's senior government class won the "We the People" 8th Congressional District Competition over Mason High School on Friday.

We the People is a nationwide program developed by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center For Civic Education. The group’s s mission is to foster the development of informed, responsible citizen participation in civic life. The actual program is based on materials developed by the center, and the program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The competition is fairly simple, but the knowledge the students demonstrate is inspiring. Students are divided into teams of three to six students, and the teams demonstrate their knowledge of various areas of the U.S. Constitution before three judges made up of community leaders from the community and across the state in a format that resembles a Congressional hearing. They are then graded on a variety of areas, such as knowledge, reasoning, presentation and participation.

Oglesby has been the district's coordinator for a number of years, and his teams have been very successful at the annual state competition in Lansing. Over the past three years, Howell has finished third at the state competition. This year's state competition is set for Jan. 9 in Lansing, usually at the Lansing Center. Oglesby has left nothing to chance this year, and he has set up three practice competitions before the state competition using local attorneys, educators, judicial experts and community leaders.

Nov 21, 2008

Proposed auto company loans serve as excuse to bust unions


If you had the opportunity to save 3 million U.S. jobs from being lost, most people would say it’s a no-brainer and you would do it in order to not worsen the U.S. recession, but U.S. lawmakers are balking at giving the Big 3 automakers a loan to save those jobs.

It's ironic that we just threw $700 billon at banks with zero accountability, no strings and no guarantee any of it will be paid back, but we don't want to loan money to save 3 million jobs. I have a sneaky suspicion this is just one more attempt to break the union, a goal of Republicans for years.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) is being blamed for the woes of the U.S. auto industry, despite the fact that the credit crunch is making money for car loans scarce as moderate Republicans and cutting into sales. I saw some bozo on CNN last night from the rightwing Heritage Foundation making the outrageous claim that the average UAW workers make $70 an hour. Nothing could be further from the truth

People quickly forgot the huge concessions the UAW made in the contract that was settled in 2007. The Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) agreement that will be ran by the union that will over approximately 500,000 retired auto workers and took more than 70 billon in obligations off the books for the Big 3.

The two-tier wage system means new workers will make less than foreign car makers at some $14 an hour. That is not much money. To make matters worse, foreign car makers get government help with health care that adds more than $2,000 to the cost of an American car.

We can expect to see a big push to approve so-called "right to work" laws that really means the right to work for less. The UAW almost single-handily created the middle class, and this is just one more assault on the middle class.

Proponents of so-called "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. RTW does not give workers more rights, but instead it weakens unions and their ability to bargain for improved benefits and working conditions, which is the real intent of RTW. The union, by law, must represent all workers equally.

Earlier this year I read " The World Is Flat" by Thomas L. Friedman. The book makes the case for the benefits of globalization, saying the convergence of technology and events has allowed counties like India, Communist China and other Third World countries to become part of the global supply chain for services and manufacturing that has raised the standard of living. He claims it is not a race to the bottom for wages when companies send entire factories to Communist China so they can pay rock bottom wages of a $1 an hour because those workers will eventually organize and all workers will see an increase in wages, benefits and the standard of living will improve.

He ignores the desperate union busting in the U.S. We even have foreign companies locating in the southern U.S. where the unions aren't as strong so they can take advantage of workers.

Union organizers in China are being jailed for organizing workers. Workers in China are prevented from forming independent unions and many have been arrested for attempting to exercise that right and for defending other workers’ rights.

Nov 19, 2008

GOP cheers for 9.3 percent unemployment rate

I could hear the cheers from Republicans even in my office early this afternoon when the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth announced Michigan's seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in October rose to 9.3 percent, the highest unemployment rate the state has seen since July 1992.

It didn't take long for the official Republican blog to pick up the cheer. He, of course, is blaming the Governor for the national recession and finical meltdown that has led to the state's biggest employer facing bankruptcy and looking to Washington for a loan to save 3 million jobs. It's sad they are happy the state and country is facing tough times just to seize power.

"The national economic downturn appeared to have a negative impact in October on Michigan’s already weak labor market,” said Rick Waclawek, director of Leg's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives in a press release.

The biggest job loses, obviously, are in manufacturing, and the Big 3 cutting jobs has had a serious ripple effect because people do not have the kind of jobs that pay a living wage that helps fuel the economy.

I have been in that unemployment line in the past, and I can find nothing to cheer about. That was at a time when the unemployment rate was in double digits. The modern high of 16.9 percent unemployment was reached in November 1982. In fact, it stayed in double digits until 1985, and the unemployment rate stayed at least 8 percent until 1988.

Anti-gay hate group does not want gays to be protected from intimidation


The anti-gay hate group the American Family Association (AFA) of Michigan is busy spreading misinformation and insisting gay people not be protected from intimidating and hate crimes.

The AFA, led by homophobe, Gary Glenn, has had their supporters flood Michigan legislative offices with letters written by the AFA railing against House Bills 6340 and 6341 that addresses hate crimes. The bills were approved last week by the House before it broke for its two-week break, and it now goes to the Senate for consideration. The AFA falsely claims it supports censorship, it discriminates against religion and it gives gays special treatment and protection. Although the bill covers hate crimes committed because of ethnicity, race, disability and gender, it’s the protection it offers to gays that sets them off.

It's very similar to the objections raised about Matt's Safe School Law that would require public school districts in Michigan to establish bullying policies. In fact, it mentions those bills, HBs 4162 and 4091, in the letter.

"As with recent "bullying" legislation, HB 6341 segregates victims of certain crimes into special "protected class" categories -- including "sexual orientation" (homosexual behavior) and "gender identity" (cross-dressing) -- and then doles out special enhanced protection based on membership in those categories."


HBs 6340 and 6341 would increase the penalties for crimes committed because of person's bias toward another person or group based on race, disability, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other reason. According to the bill analysis, "A person is guilty of ethnic intimidation if he or she maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that individual's race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, caused physical contact with another; damages, destroys, or defaces any real or personal property of another; and/or threatens, by word or act, to do one of the fore-mentioned acts."

Also, a person who hung or displayed a noose on property; displayed a burning cross or displayed any symbol that is historically or generally understood as intended to intimidate or threaten would be eligible to be charged. Last year in Michigan, there were 28 convictions for ethnic intimidation under a similar law.

The letter uses a debunk incident as a reason to oppose the bills.
"Such legislation has also proven to be a serious threat to religious freedom in other jurisdictions such as Philadelphia, where a multi-racial group of citizens in 2005 was arrested and prosecuted intimidation" because they read Bible verses out loud on a public street during a "gay pride" festival in the city."

They are actually referring to a 2004 incident where 11 members of the group Repent America, an organization that dedicates a large chunk of their time to protesting pro-gay events. they are not as bad as the Westboro Baptist Church, but they share some characteristics.

The incident continues to be misrepresented, and it has been debunked on Snopes. What happened was that they were using a bullhorn to drown out a stage performance with anti-gay shouts during Philly's annual Outfest, which led several people on-site to confront them. This then led the police to ask them to move in order to prevent any potential violence, but they refused -- which then and only then led to them being arrested for such charges as failure to disperse, possessing an instrument of crime (a bullhorn), obstructing a highway, criminal conspiracy, and disorderly conduct. Under Pennsylvania's hate crimes law they were also later charged with "ethnic intimidation" -- but in order to receive this additional charge, they had to first engage in behavior that the officers found unlawful.

However, when the charges were contested in court, it was ultimately determined that no hate crime law had been violated, and the charges were dismissed.

That has not stopped so-called Christen groups like the AFA from using the incident to further their agenda. This is not the first time conservative religious groups have misrepresented an incident to further their cause, and the most recent example occurred at Mount Hope Church in Delta Township on Nov. 9 where the church's claims did not match the police report.

The assault of so-called Christians on gays is disturbing, like the banning of gay marriage in California financed by the Mormon Church.