Mar 31, 2008

40th anniversary of assassination of civil rights leader marked with tribute to labor

It was a warm spring day in Michigan in 1968 when TV and radio programming was interrupted with special bulletins to inform viewers and listeners that civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

This Friday, April 4, will mark the 40th anniversary of the day the respected and revered civil rights leader who preached non-violence and civil disobedience to further civil rights was gunned down on a motel balcony, shot in the neck as he was preparing to lead a march of sanitation workers in that southern city protesting against low wages and poor working conditions. King would die from his wounds a short time later in a Memphis hospital.

After King's assassination, Michigan Governor George Romney declared an official period of mourning in Michigan, and he ordered all flags in the state to be flown at half-staff. King's assassination led to riots in more than 120 US cities, but luckily, Detroit was spared. Detroit had just witnessed the worst riot in state history the year before, and 43 people had been killed and scores more injured in the race riot that set portions of the city ablaze in 1967.

Just a month after King's assassination the country would further be rocked on June 5, 1968, when U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated as he celebrated a win in the California Democratic Presidential Primary.

To mark the fact that King’s last act before he was murdered was to help organized municipal employees, the Young Democrats of America Labor Caucus, Lansing Democratic Future and Michigan Young Democrats are hosting a community tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and the public employee unions at 6 p.m. April 8 at the Teamsters Local 580 hall, 5800 Executive Dr. in Lansing. A donation is requested.

Mar 26, 2008

Federal Court ruling muddies primary picture

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds issued a ruling Wednesday afternoon that threw even more confusion and uncertainly into Michigan’s already muddled Presidential Primary election fiasco.

The ruling struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the law that would give the voter lists from the Jan 15 primary only to the two major political parts and to no others, saying it violated the First Amendment right of other parties to access and to report on information of public interest. The minor political parties had joined with the Metro Times and a political consulting firm to challenge the statute, saying it was illegal because it excluded everyone but the Republican and Democratic parties from accessing the list that should be public record.

The Hillary Clinton campaign quickly seized on the decision, and in a press release they called for Sen. Barack Obama to join her in calling for a new election.

“In the wake of today's court ruling regarding Michigan’s January 15th primary, we urge Senator Obama to join our call for a party-run primary and demonstrate his commitment to counting Michigan's votes,” said Clinton Campaign Manager Maggie Williams.

Mark Grebner, founder of Practical Political Consulting, was the plaintiff in a state lawsuit first filed in Ingham County Circuit Court challenging the provision. He eventually lost the state lawsuit in the Michigan Supreme Court on a split vote. Following that a separate group filed a new lawsuit in federal court. Grebner said the statute was aimed at companies like his East Lansing company that sells targeted political mailing lists.

“This suit was aimed at me personally,” he said. “It was aimed at my business.”

In a report in the Detroit Free Press, State Elections Director Chris Thomas said the state would not appeal the decision. Grebner said the Secretary of State has is treating the election like there was no election at all, based on the ruling.

“The Secretary of State issued a statement saying the election never took place, so she’s not giving out the list to anyone,” he said. “It seems like a bizarre idea to me.”

Spokespersons for the Republican and Democratic parties could not be reached for comment.

As Iraq war toll hits 4,000, ex-GI says media isn't telling the story

Don Bortz of Waterford served a year in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. As someone who follows events in Iraq and keeps track of former comrades-in-arms, the war is never far from his mind.

But this month, as the war entered its fifth year and the 4,000th American soldier was killed in combat -- 169 of those from Michigan -- he is frustrated with the lack of media coverage of the conflict and the impact that has on how Americans view the war.

“I think the media doesn’t like to cover things unless there is a big change or there is something they consider newsworthy,” he said. “For the soldiers it’s Groundhog Day -- every day is pretty much the same.”

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, only 3 percent of the news in February 2008 was devoted to covering the war, a statistic lamented by groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Like many Americans, Bortz enlisted in the military following the 9/11 attacks. After basic training he was immediately deployed for 11 months to a location he can't disclose. In 2005 he was sent to Iraq for 12 months. Although Bortz is against the war, he said only health problems stopped him from re-enlisting and going back to serve another tour in Iraq. However, his allegiance is to his fellow soldiers, not the mission.

“There are no greater bunch of guys than soldiers,” he said. “I just thought about how I would have felt if I didn’t go back, and a friend of mine was killed while I was sitting at home. I don’t think I could have lived with myself.”

Bortz is one of the many Iraq or Global War on Terror vets running for political office. He is a candidate for the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. “There are a lot of problems with our state and country, and I want to help solve them,” he said.

For example, if elected, Bortz wants to help returning veterans further their education and adapt to civilian life, as the GI Bill did for returning vets of other wars. The GI Bill was been diluted steadily over the years, he says, and the result today is considerably fewer benefits and more red tape. He wants the county to provide free tuition to Oakland County Community College for Iraq vets.

“I talked to a lot of people about this idea, and it has been received well,” he said.

Mar 25, 2008

A bit of history: Michigan's only labor museum taking shape

MONROE -- Michigan has a long and rich history of organized labor, but that history is being lost as labor union membership falls off and some smaller unions fold.

Bill Conner, the president of the Monroe County Council CIO Social and Welfare Association, is putting his labor, sweat and money into preserving that history with the restoration and improvement of the only labor museum in the state. Since 2001 the association has been planning to turn the historic Phillip Murray Building in downtown Monroe into the Monroe County Labor History Museum, and in February of last year after lots of work it opened for business.

Conner is also the curator of the museum, housed in a two-story brick building that was built in 1912, and Conner, who was born and raised in Monroe, is a walking encyclopedia of labor history in the area. He said the building had been used off and on for a union meeting hall for a number of years before it was owned by the association. In 1935 some eight unions that represented production and factory workers within the American Federation of Labor – that consisted primarily of skilled trades -- split to form the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Monroe once had numerous paper factories, and those workers were represented by the CIO. At their peak the unions in the CIO represented more than 6,000 paper mill workers.

“It was not uncommon in those days for the kids to come into the plants and bring their father their lunch or dinner,” Conner said. “They ran 24-seven, and if their relief did not show up, they worked for 16 hours.”

On Feb. 5, 1946, the CIO purchased the building after making a down payment by assessing each member a one-time fee of $12.75. In 1953 the building was dedicated to Philip Murray, the first president of the United Steelworkers of America, following his death in 1952.

Over the years, the building fell into disrepair, and the first floor was divided into two buildings with a marriage wall with a separate entrance; the west side of the building was leased to a social club. Three years ago the association began a fund-raising effort to raise $1.5 million for the renovations, and the association took over the entire building.

“We are asking the labor unions in the area to make a financial commitment over a period of years,” Conner said. “In a perfect world we would like to raise the money in three years.”

Renovations began in the west-side, first-floor portion of the hall, and the renovations revealed a beautiful wood floor and a ceiling that resembles the impressive, decorative ceiling in the state Capitol.

“Once we got in here and started the renovations, we realized what a gem we had,” Conner said. “We have been doing a lot of renovations, and we have made some great discoveries.”

The first display opened for visitors last February in the west side of the building, and the museum used a grant from the Michigan Council of Humanities to create a display called “The Eyes of the Nation Were on Monroe” to mark the bitter and violent attempt by the CIO to organize the Republic Steel plant in Monroe in 1935. Some 100 strikers were met by an armed posse deputized by the mayor of Monroe and the Michigan National Guard. The display features 20 displays, each 24 by72 feet, that are lightweight and can easily be moved for a traveling display, as well as easy storage to make way for new displays.

The museum has even received some corporate help from companies like Consumers Power, but the biggest help has been from in-kind donations from the building trade unions in sweat equity.

“They are giving us a lot of help,” Conner said. “The money we raise goes toward material, and we take advantage of the free labor. It will be a great showcase for them.”

Much of the expense will be to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plans are to knock out an entrance between the two halves of the building on the first floor. An elevator will be built in the back of the first floor in the east side of the building, and ADA restrooms will be built on the first floor. A large office on the first floor of the east side of the building will be turned into a hands-on display for elementary school students.

“We are really aiming at kids in the fourth and fifth grades, and we have also gone into the schools to bring the history of labor to them,” Connor said. “We need to teach a new generation to understand that the standard of living we all enjoy came on the backs of organized labor.”

The second floor is still used as a meeting hall for union and community groups, and that will continue. However, there are plans to build five small offices in the rear of the hall on the second floor that will be rented out to union locals that will help pay for upkeep of the building. Conner has lined the walls of the second floor with the framed charters of defunct union locals he has found during the renovations.

“When they went out of business, the charter was pulled of the wall and chucked in an office,” he said.

Conner said the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University is also working on some permanent displays for the walls that will highlight organized labor’s accomplishments, like the eight-hour workweek, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)and the Social Security Act.

The museum is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.To make a donation of memorabilia or artifacts contact Conner at To make a monetary contribution to the renovation fund contact Robert Hoffman at

Mar 24, 2008

'IT and Global Economy': WSU program to help small automotive suppliers

LANSING -- Competing in a global economy means keeping costs as low as possible and continuing to look for ways to cut costs. Wayne State University and the state of Michigan hope to help the state’s tier II and III auto suppliers compete by improving their information technology.

Wayne State’s School of Business Administration has been piloting a program called "Information Technology and the Global Economy" that puts students into the small, specialty plants that supply parts to the auto industry and other manufacturers to improve their IT capability.

"If you look at the firms that are successful, they are the ones that are using info technology," said Myles Stern, a professor at Wayne State. "Some companies lack basic info technology."

The pilot program has been so successful that WSU hopes to export it to the rest of the state. Last week WSU presented the program to the state House of Representatives’ Commerce Committee.

"This is a very important segment of our state’s economy," said Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, the chair of the House Commerce Committee. "It is a very important segment of our economy that’s in trouble."

WSU has piloted the program at Lear, one of the world's largest suppliers of automotive interior systems and components based in Southfield, a company that has more than 20 facilities all across Michigan. The program will benefit both students and the plants.

When it starts in the fall, it will be a three-year program. Undergraduate and graduate students will form teams of two to three students and visit four to six plants a year. They will observe, make recommendations for improvements, work with the plant manager to implement the recommendations and train the plant personnel to use the IT fix.

Mar 18, 2008

Do you have questions? Ask Granholm live on Wednesday

Gov. Jennifer Granholm will talk about subjects that are on the mind of every Michigan resident -- the economy, jobs, health care, education and more -- during a special televised town hall meeting Wednesday night in which she will take questions live.

The state’s six NBC affiliates will broadcast the meeting live beginning at 8, originating from Grand Rapids. The meeting will be moderated by WDIV Detroit anchor Devin Scillian and WOOD Grand Rapids political reporter Rick Albin.

“Michigan's economy has been challenged like no other state in the nation, and I am looking forward to talking with citizens on how we can move our state forward," Granholm said. "I am grateful to the NBC affiliates for their generosity in hosting and broadcasting a town hall on this very important issue."

The meeting will be aired as a public service on WDIV Local 4 in Detroit, WOOD-TV8 in Grand Rapids, WEYI-TV NBC25 in Saginaw, WILX-TV10 in Lansing, WPBN/WTOM TV 7 and 4in Traverse City and WLUC-TV6 in Marquette.

Mar 17, 2008

It's alive! Michigan health-care reform package is resuscitated

After months of negotiations and hearings, a package of bills aimed at reforming health coverage in the state may be pushed through the Michigan Senate within days.

The Senate Health Policy Committee, chaired by Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, a medical doctor, has been holding hearings on House Bills 5282-5285, known collectively as the Individual Market Reform package. The committee received the bills from the House last fall. Versions of the complex and controversial package are to be considered in the next week or two.

The bills, whch are backed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, would change and update the rules for individual health insurance coverage as more and more employers choose to end coverage for employees to cut costs. The individual health care market was once just a very small piece of the health insurance business, but it is growing larger fast as employers eliminate care.

Proponents of the bills say that, if passed,they would prevent insurance carriers from increasing rates for people who get sick during their coverage period, establish uniform criteria for all insurers and create a fair and competitive playing field for all consumers and insurers. Opponents say the bills would eliminate competition, increase costs and reduce access to health care.

Blue Cross is tax-exempt in Michigan, and in exchange they are the insurer of last resort, meaning they cannot turn anyone down for health coverage. They also administer Medicare and MI Child in the state.

The four-bill package was introduced last October, passed quickly by the House on Oct. 24 and sent to the Senate. The bills had bipartisan support in the House, with two of the four bills in the package sponsored by Republicans, and it was thought they would be signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm before Christmas. But opponents of the bills slowed the Senate process to a crawl.

Some strange political bedfellows have joined forces to oppose the bills, including the United Auto Workers, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican, and the Gray Panthers of Metro Detroit.

Legislative offices of both parties have received numerous letters, emails and phone calls for and against the bills. Many letters of support have come from Blues employees, while opposition has come from employees of other insurance providers in the state. A group calling itself the Coalition For a Fair and Competitive Insurance Market formed in opposition to the bills. The coalition consists of other insurers in the state, including AAA of Michigan, Auto-Owners and Citizens Insurance.

On Thursday.the coalition launched a web site called "Stop the Bluesopoly." In the press release announcing the new site, the coalition said it is particularly concerned about HB 5284 and 5285 because they do not deal with individual health insurance. The coalition says that the bills will enable the Blues to spend subscriber dollars to expand their monopoly rather than reduce subscriber rates.

“These two bills open the door for Blue Cross Blue Shield to use the tax-free billions it has accumulated to purchase any business, such as a hospital, casino, flower shop or restaurant,” said Kurt Gallinger, vice president and counsel for Amerisure Companies and a member of the coalition. “Allowing the Blues to enter other markets and use their tax-exempt status to unfairly compete could drive out other competition and extend its monopoly into any business.”

Mar 14, 2008

The comedy styling of Saul Anuzis

I enjoy laughing and comedy. That’s why my favorite radio show is the “Stephanie Miller Show.”

Usually it’s not a good thing to generalize, but. Liberals are actually funny. Conservative's lame attempts at comedy almost always fall flat. For examples, we just need to look at “comedians” Rush Limpbaug and Ann Coulter or the Faux attempts at the Daily Show rip-off, the Half-Hour News Show. Limpbaug and Coulter are hilarious if you are a racist homophobia.

In addition to my daily doses of Stephanie to make me laugh, I also have Michigan’s Republican Party Chair Saul’s Anuzis’s daily dose of spin via what he calls “Articles of Interest” on his “blog.” It’s not really a blog because he does not allow any comments. I guess I can’t blame him because of the crap his staffers write, but he should not call it a blog. But I guess if I wrote that stuff I would not want to have to try and defend it. You find the kind of humor there that makes you say, “is he for real.”

Today, he is enjoying the fact that Kalamazoo businessman Jon Stryker is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. This is the same Justice Department that fired U.S. attorneys because they refused to investigate and make up charges against Democratic politicians. The same Justice Department that for the first time in history has been politicized and used as a weapon by the bushies. Nixon used the IRS to go after his enemies, but Bush used a department that is supposed to uphold the law to go after enemies. I guess former Nixon aide John Dean had it right when he used the title “Worse than Watergate” for his book about the Bush Administration.

And why do Anuzis and the GOP hate Stryker? What is his crime? He contributes to Democrats. In his daily does of BS, Anuzis claims that Stryker “spent more than $5 million of his own money buying a majority in the Michigan House of Representatives.” I hope Anuzis keeps believing that was the reason.

But the funniest line from Anuzis is this one, “”After spending millions of dollars to buy Governor Jennifer Granholm’s re-election…” That’s’ one of the sickly, funny lines. Hey Saul, did you forget who your candidate was in 2006? Your candidate's only qualification for the job was that he inherited millions of dollars from his family’s pyramid scheme. He spent millions of those inherited dollars trying to buy the seat.

Stryker is a rarity among Democrats who happen to be rich; he inherited his business that makes him rich. Almost every conservative billionaire has inherited their money.

The hatred of billionaire philanthropist George Soros if a perfect example of the misguided GOP hatred. Here is a man who escaped Nazi-occupied Hungary as a teen with nothing but the clothes on his back, and he managed to become a billionaire with his wits and hard work. He gives millions to charity, he helped end apartheid in South Africa by giving money for scholarships to black students there and he helped end Communism by funding dissident movements behind the iron curtain. You would think he would be a hero to the right and a model of what they say they stand for. No. Why? Because he contributes to liberal causes, he's the devil and evil. They call him the liberal sugar daddy.

Contrast that to the conservative sugar daddy – the one they hate to talk about - Richard Mellon Scaife. He got his money the old fashioned way, he inherited it by being a principal heir to the Mellon banking, oil, and aluminum fortune.

Scaife is the class act that bankrolled the conservative hit magazine “The American Spectator,” and he also financed the so-called” Arkansas Project” that paid people to come up with dirt on President Bill Clinton.

For an excellent story on that you should read “Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative” by former American Spectator writer David Brock, who now operates the web site that Bill O’Reily calls the “Left Wing Smear site Media Matters.” All they do at Media Matters is post his words and actual videos.

No wonder billo hates them.

Mar 13, 2008

Film production incentive package is fast-tracked through the Legislature

LANSING –Both the Michigan House and Senate pushed through a package of bills on the fast-track Wednesday aimed at luring film production work to Michigan.

House Bills 5841-5855 and Senate Bills 1168-1172 include a wide variety of tax breaks and incentives intended to make Michigan attractive to filmmakers. The hope is the package will mean jobs and millions of dollars of investment in the state. SB 1168 was passed on Thursday by a vote of 34-1 after Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, raised concerns about the refundable credit provision of the bill.

“We have the opportunity to do something that will have an important effect on our economy,” said Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, one of the sponsors of the bipartisan, bicameral package of bills. “We can expect to see increased film production in the state this year.”

The Governor is expected to sign the bills as soon as possible.

Mar 11, 2008

Kilpatrick blasts text-scandal critics in State of the City address

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick laid out his vision for the City of Detroit in his seventh State of the City Address Tuesday night. But he took the last five minutes to take shots at his critics, including TV stations, for what he called “a hate-filled, bigoted attack on his family” over the growing text-messaging scandal.

“In the past 30 days I have been called a n----- more than anytime in my entire life,” he said. “In the past three days I have received more death threats than I have in my entire administration. I've heard these words before, but I've never heard people say them about my wife and children. I don't believe that a Nielsen rating is worth the life of my children or your children. This unethical, illegal lynch-mob mentality has to stop.”

Kilpatrick was greeted by a standing ovation and shouts of “We love you Kwame” from the crowd of some 3,000 inside Orchestra Hall when he was introduced, in sharp contrast to the 50 or so protestors outside demanding his resignation. An emotional Kilpatrick ended his 70-minute speech to a standing ovation as well.

Kilpatrick has been under fire since text messages, revealed in a lawsuit by police whistleblowers, showed he had an affair with his then-chief of staff even though he denied it in court testimony. Next week the City Council plans to vote on a resolution asking him to resign over the scandal, in part because the council says it received false information from attorneys about why the mayor abruptly decided to settle the whistleblower case, costing the city millions of dollars.

On Monday, the scandal took on a new dimension as a retired police clerk swore in an affidavit that she saw a 2002 police report in which dancer Tamara Greene claimed she was attacked by the mayor's wife during a party at the city-owned Manoogian Mansion. Kilpatrick has denied such a party took place. Greene was later found murdered.

Adding more fuel to the Kilpatrick resignation chorus were comments Tuesday from Michigan Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, like Kilpatrick a Democrat, that the city can’t wait for the results of a criminal investigation and trial to resolve the text-messaging scandal.

But Kilpatrick tried to put that all behind him during his speech. While he made a few offhand references to the scandal -- at the beginning of the speech he referred to "the Kwame Kilpatrick roller coaster ride” -- he attempted to paint a picture of hope and optimism.

“Tonight we are at the dawn of an era of a new Detroit,” he said. “Detroit, this is our moment, and we are here to examine the state of Detroit.”

Kilpatrick highlighted the huge development projects that are transforming downtown, including the renovation of some 75 blighted buildings with millions of dollars in new investments. He also addressed the problems facing the city’s neighborhoods, offering a program called the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. He plans to sell $300 million in new bonds to finance improvements.

He also highlighted police protection, saying he plans to deploy six new mobile police stations in recreational vehicles, and put 300 new police officers on the streets. “We are using technology to bring the police station to you,” he said.

He also outlined addressed juvenile crime with a plan for a residential boarding academy for troubled students, at the old Belle Isle Boat Club site, that would include a Navy ROTC program.

But at the end of his speech he appeared to catch many by surprise when he attacked his critics and said: “I humbly ask that we say 'no more' together."

WSU Prof: Splitting Michigan presidential delegation may be best solution

Finding a way to seat Michigan’s presidential delegates has dominated the news in the last week, and as it gets closer to the Democratic National Convention in August, any potential solution will be hard to implement.

“This is a real sticky problem,” said Wayne State University political science professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson. “A lot of people are talking about a lot of different solutions, and all of them have problems.

“We have gotten ourselves in a ditch, and we don’t know how to get out,” she said. Her proposal is to split the Michigan delegation 50-50 between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama..

Michigan and Florida were penalized by the Democratic National Committee for moving up their presidential primaries to have more of a voice in the selection process and have the candidates address issues facing the two states. The DNC stripped the two states of their delegates because of the early primaries, and the DNC said it would not seat the delegates at the convention in Denver in August if they went forward with the early primaries. With the race between Clinton and Obama so close, Florida and Michigan’s 366 delegates are critical.

Clinton won in Florida, where both candidates’ names were in the ballot, but neither candidate campaigned there during the primary. In Michigan Clinton won, but Obama’s name was not on the ballot. The latest plan floated for Michigan is a mail-in vote, and that would still cost a lot of money.

“I’m concerned if that if they do something slap-dash, it will be suspect,” Sarbaugh-Thompson said.

Sarbaugh-Thompson said the best solution for Michigan is to simply split the delegates 50-50. She said because most states have doled out their delegates via a percentage of the vote instead of a winner-take-all situation, the delegate split has been pretty close even when one candidate was a big winner.

“My personal recommendation has been that, if you look at what happened in Wyoming, where Obama won big with more than 60 percent of the vote but only got seven delegates to her five, it should be split straight down the middle,” she said.

The latest poll has the two candidates almost dead even in Michigan, and Sarbaugh-Thompson said it would seem to make sense to split the delegates.

Sen. Carl Levin is one prominent Michigan Democrat pushing the vote by mail option, as is former U.S. Rep. David Bonior, who was the campaign manager for former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. That option would not be that expensive. It’s estimated it would cost about a third less than a normal election at no more than $2 million, compared to the $10 million spent on the Jan. 15 Michigan primary. But some of the biggest potential problems include who will count the ballots and what to do with the fact Michigan runs an open primary where the voter does not have to declare a party to vote.

One thing is certain: There is no support in the Michigan Legislature for paying for any kind of do-over with tax money. In a story in the New York Times on Sunday, Gov. Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey and Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania were quoted as saying they would be willing to raise half the $30 million it would take to conduct elections in both Florida and Michigan.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said during an interview on Sunday on Grand Rapids TV station WOOD that a caucus is out of the question. He said it would take “millions of dollars” to pull off, but more important is the time factor. Caucuses have been held in Michigan on the Democratic side in the past, and Brewer said it takes nine months to a year of planning and preparation to pull off. The party has two months. Additionally, Brewer said the Obama campaign is against a do-over, and he said the party would need at least 1,000 caucus sites and the people to deal with a voter turnout that could be as high as 2 million people.

“You simply could not run 1,000 sites with just volunteers,” Brewer said. “It just can’t be done, and you would have to hire staff.”

Sarbaugh-Thompson said she is also concerned about the meddling of Republicans in any remaining primaries because they have already chosen their nominee, and there were plenty of crossover votes in Ohio last week.

“Thanks to the Republicans, the process did not end on March 4 Super Tuesday,” she said. “The longer the Democrats keep this going, the less time there is to heal the party.”

The one thing most people agree on is the delegation must be seated. Both states are swing states – although Michigan has been blue since 1992 – and it's doubtful that the White House can be won without winning Florida or Michigan. In addition to the money lost paying for a a do-over election that could be used in the general election, Democrats upset at not being seated would not be very thrilled about helping with the get-out-the-vote activities in November.

Mar 10, 2008

Republicans cheer for Gov. Eliot Spitzer

The news today that New York Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer was picked up on a federal wiretap arranging to meet in a prostitute disturbed me, and I knew right-wingers were going to have some fun with it.

That is until I began to think about it. The Democrats have a long way to go before they can equal the scandals of the Republicans. In light of what we learned what the Bush administration will do to go after political foes after the Federal attorney firings, it seems suspect that it was a federal wiretap that brought him down.

I just wonder if Spitzer will get the same reception as U.S. Sen. David Vitter got after his involvement with prostitutes was revealed. The Louisiana Republican got a standing ovation from the Republicans in the Senate when he returned. I guess after Sen. Larry Craig’s troubles Republicans were so happy Vitter’s troubles were with females they just had to break out in cheers. When the so-called party of family values is involved in a sex scandal instead of the usual money and bribery scandals it’s news, but when the sex scandals do occur they usually involve sex with underage boys.

At any rate, Spitzer will be welcomed on Faux News. It welcomes criminals with open arms, such as prostitute toe-sucker Dock Morris, convicted felon Oliver North and racist cop Mark Furman. But in truth, he probably will not be welcomed there. They already have their token non-conservative in Alan Colmes. Maybe if he hated the Clinton’s like Morris does Spitzer will be welcomed at faux.

Still a chance to make your voice heard in the Envision Michigan contest

The welcome signs of spring in Michigan is also signaling an end to a contest that is bringing home the beauty and joy of living in Michigan.

Since October the nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank The Center for Michigan has been sponsoring the weekly Envision Michigan Story Competition, but the deadline for submitting entries is April 30.

Every week since October, the center has been choosing from submissions of essays, photos and multimedia presentations illustrating what people love about Michigan, what they dislike about Michigan and their vision for Michigan’s future. The 26 weekly winners receive a $50 Meijer gift card and a chance for the grand prize of a $12,000 scholarship to one of Michigan’s public colleges and universities and other prizes.

Past winners include essays and photos about Michigan’s natural beauty and resources, the joys of four distinct seasons, family vacations and Michigan from a hot-air balloon.

In addition to the weekly and grand prizes, there is also a first-place prize that consists of a $5,000 scholarship to a Michigan public university. Additional prizes include four second-place awards of $2,337.50 scholarships and four third-place prizes of $1,000 travel vouchers to a selected Michigan resort. Fourth prize is a $500 vacation package to metro-Detroit and fifth place is a $500 vacation package to The Betsie Bay Inn in Frankfort.

The Center for Michigan was founded by Phil Power in 2006 as what he calls a "think-and-do tank.” Power is a former University of Michigan Regent, but since 1965 until he sold the company in 2006, Power was the owner and publisher of Suburban Communications Corporation, that published the Observed and Eccentric weekly newspapers, Hometown Newspapers and Community Newspapers in the Lansing area.

The Center's stated objective is to “assist our state through its current period of wrenching economic trouble and to lay the foundation of informed hope for a better future Michigan. It will help develop and execute comprehensive, long-range and, in some cases, radical policy solutions to transform Michigan's business, economic, political and cultural climate.”

Power is the center's president and director, but its steering committee includes a mix of people from Michigan’s academic community, political leaders and business leaders, such as Paul Hillegonds, senior vice president at DTE Energy and former Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives; well-known journalist Jack Lessenberry; former Gov. William Milliken, and Doug Rothwell, the former CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Ferraro, first woman on a national presidential ticket, says Michigan should hold do-over primary

LIVONIA -- National political experts Geraldine Ferraro and Bill Kristol weighed in on the hot debate over the Michigan and Florida primaries before a crowd of Michigan political dignitaries Thursday night, with Kristol predicting that Michigan could be voting as late as June for a Democratic presidential nominee and Ferraro calling for a do-over primary in Michigan.

Ferraro, the first woman vice-presidential candidate of a major party, said she thinks the Florida presidential delegates should be seated, but Michigan needs to hold a new vote. Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and conservative pundit, said what Michigan does depends on what happens in the Pennsylvania primary next month. Both states were stripped of their delegates to the national Democratic convention last summer for moving their primary elections ahead in violation of national party rules.

“I must tell you, if I was the attorney representing both states, Florida would be easier,” said Ferraro, who appeared with Kristol at a Michigan Political Leadership Program fund-raising dinner in Livonia. “They have a Republican governor and Legislature, and they can go to the [Democratic convention] credentials committee and say, 'How can we be disenfranchised? It was not our fault.' ”

Kristol said if Sen. Hillary Clinton beats Sen. Barack Obama in Pennsylvania in the April primary – and he thinks she will – the delegate race would be so close the Democratic National Committee would have to do something about Florida and Michigan.

“I predict Sen. Clinton will win in Pennsylvania because she has stopped his meteoric rise,” he said. “You could be voting in June.”

The Michigan Political Leadership Program at Michigan State University recruits, trains and inspires tomorrow’s public policy leaders with a 10-month-long weekend bipartisan curriculum. Ferraro and Kristol spoke separately, then shared the stage to talk about the current presidential election and their participation in past elections.

Ferraro made history as the first woman on a national ticket when she ran with Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale in 1984. She was a three-term congresswoman, first elected in 1978, representing Queens, N.Y. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to lead the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1994. She is currently a principal in the governmental relations practice of a major law firm.

Besides being editor of the influential, Washington-based political magazine Weekly Standard, Kristol led the Project for the Republican Future, where he helped shape the strategy that produced the 1994 Republican congressional victory. Prior to that, Kristol served as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during the administration of the first George Bush and to Secretary of Education William Bennett under President Ronald Reagan. Before coming to Washington in 1985, Kristol taught politics at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

With all of the talk of superdelegates, Ferraro was a member of the Hunt Commission – named after former North Carolina Gov. James Hunt – which came up with the concept. She said the convention fight in 1980 between former President Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward Kennedy resulted in a Democratic platform that was so liberal that her more moderate and conservative Democratic congressional colleagues refused to run on it or be associated with the president. The result was a Democratic Party in disarray that lost the White House and both houses of Congress to the Republicans.

“Will Rogers said, 'I’m not a member of an organized party, I’m a Democrat,' ” Ferraro said. “It’s funny when a humorist says it, not when it’s true.”

Ferraro helped push the unsuccessful Equal Rights Amendment while she was in Congress, and she makes no bones about being a Clinton supporter. As a prosecutor and vice-presidential candidate, Ferraro displayed a tough exterior in public, and she made it a point never to cry in public. She said when she voted for Clinton on Super Tuesday, she cried.

“I endorsed Hillary Clinton early on, and it has been a very emotional campaign for me,” she said. “When I pulled that lever, I felt that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton were standing right next to me saying pull that lever for your five granddaughters.”

Ferraro said she thinks if Clinton gets the nomination, Republican women will cross over to vote for her. But she also believes Republican nominee John McCain will have a tough time no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

“No matter who John McCain runs against, it will be an historic first,” she said. “There is a lot of excitement.”

Ferraro also said Obama’s campaign has increased both Democratic voter turnout and interest.

“He is running a very different campaign,” she said. “He has made no mistakes. He is creating a sense of hope, change and inspiration.”

Kristol said it will be a close race in November, but the election has some interesting twists. The voter turnout so far in the primaries has been double what it has been in the past. He said he expects the sometimes-dull national debates to pull in huge TV viewership, and they could be decisive.

“The significant thing about the election is it’s the first time since 1952 that an incumbent president or vice president is not running,” he said. “It’s like an open seat, making it much more volatile and unpredictable.”

Kristol said the Democrats would have to be favored to win because no Republican has held the White House for three consecutive terms in modern times since Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. But Kristol also said that history has shown voters tend to favor the more hawkish candidate when troops are engaged in a war, such as Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Richard Nixon in 1968 and Bush in 2004.

“It’s hard for any party to hold on to the White House for three terms,” Kristol said. “I don’t think the election will be a referendum on George Bush. It also will not be a referendum on the (Tom) DeLay, (Denny) Hastert and (Bill) Frist Congress. We had that in 2006.”

Molding future leaders in Michigan

LIVONIA –- Whatever happens with Michigan's presidential primary, there's another primary just five months away in August. It's the one for candidates for everything from mayors and county commissioners to the state House and the U.S. House.

It will be a pretty good bet that many of these candidates will be alumni from the Michigan Political Leadership Program (MPLP) at Michigan State University (MSU), part of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR), a nonpartisan public policy network at MSU dedicated to connecting legislators, scholars and practitioners through survey, evaluation and applied research, policy forums and political leadership briefings.

Once a month from February through November, 24 diverse individuals from the entire political spectrum meet on Friday evenings and all day Saturday for an intensive course that will equip them to be the state’s and country's future leaders, including hands-on training developing personal skills, such as public speaking and team leadership. Past alumni of the annual program that began in 1992 includes House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche, R-Novi; Rep. Ed Clemente, D-Lincoln Park; Detroit City Council President Kenneth Cockrel, Jr.; Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel: Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids; and Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland.

The program is open to Michigan residents who are committed to public service and are interested in running for public office. Applications are available in May and due in August. To be selected as a program fellow, the applicant must submit two letters of recommendation, two essay statements and employer support and approval.

The course is free to attendees, and each scholarship is valued at over $12,000. It covers course materials, overnight lodging and meals. Only travel expenses and some parking fees are the responsibility of the participant. The cost of the program is covered by MSU, the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. There are also various fundraisers held throughout the year that alumni are encouraged to attend, such as the 13th annual fundraising dinner held Thursday that featured former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and Weekly Standard editor and conservative pundit Bill Kristol.

“I wish I had something like the Michigan Political Leadership Program when I first ran for public office,” Ferraro said. “It was a very tough race in a conservative district.”

Mar 6, 2008

'A growth industry': Lawmakers see Michigan as Hollywood Midwest

LANSING -- Michigan lawmakers are hoping to make Michigan the Hollywood of the Midwest with a bipartisan package of bills aimed at attracting the film industry with tax breaks and other incentives.

A celebrity lineup testified on Tuesday at a joint meeting of the House Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, and the committees also heard from a wide variety of people involved in the film industry in Michigan supporting the package of bills.

Author and Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom has had three of his books made into movies, and he said the buzz over the incentives Michigan is offering is making its way all the way to the West Coast.

“This is a growth industry,” Albom said. “That’s something we are not used to around here.”

The incentives include a 16-bill package in both the House and Senate: House Bills 5841-5855 and Senate Bills 1168-1172. The bills in both chambers are almost dentical.

Some of the incentives in the package include allowing production companies a 40 percent rebate on the Michigan Business Tax (MBT); phasing out the old film incentives (by repealing the current sales tax credit for motion picture production companies); allowing an income tax credit; creating a IRA-like investment for any investment of $25,000 or more; giving an MBT credit for infrastructure improvements; including film and media production businesses among those eligible for Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax incentives; allowing production companies to borrow money through three different programs; giving a 50 percent tax credit for job training; and transferring the state film office from the Department of History, Arts and Libraries to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Actor/director/screenwriter Mike Binder, a Detroit native, said California is not giving film producers any incentives, and producers and filmmakers he has talked to said they are looking at filming in states that offer incentives.

“The great thing about these bills is it sends a message that Michigan is ready and willing to reinvent itself,” he said. “I have people calling me all the time saying they are ready to film here as soon as Michigan pulls the trigger.”

Binder said the City of Albuquerque, N.M., just built a multimillion-dollar sound stage, and he said there is no reason that could not happen in Michigan. He also said it’s amazing the number of actors, directors, producers and technical people with Michigan ties.

“There are small studios here, but I would like to see a major sound stage here,” he said. “You could shoot live TV shows, and you would have a 12-month presence.”

Actor, director, producer and Chelsea resident Jeff Daniels has become a spokesman for both the film and tourism industry in Michigan, and he said Michigan is ideal for filming because it offers every backdrop a director could want. He said when he shot “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” he dropped $1 million on main street Escanaba in just three months.

“I have long been an advocate for shooting in Michigan,” he said. “When I shot 'Escanaba in Da Moonlight,' I was told I needed to go to Canada. I believe in the people of Michigan. We have the talent.”

The only possible sour note heard was that the incentives are aimed more at attracting out-of-state companies and that not enough incentives for the film industry help companies already located here.

“It also has to be designed to benefit the people who are already here,” said Ed Gardiner of the Detroit Film Society.

The message at the hearing was clear, urging the lawmakers to enact the bills as soon as possible, but both chairs said they want to ensure the bills are correct before they are voted out of committee.

Mar 4, 2008

Presidential primaries spawn the next crop of impersonators

Not only have voters been watching the results of the country’s presidential primaries with anticipation to see who the major political parties’ nominees will be, but so have the country’s entertainers and impersonators.

A convincing impression of a presidential candidate or president can be a huge boost to a career, and we only need to look at NBC’s "Saturday Night Live" for evidence of that. The long-running late-night comedy show has even been a factor in the recent Democratic debates when Sen. Hillary Clinton brought up a recent SNL skit where the cast parodied the alleged kid glove treatment her opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, has received from the press. Clinton even appeared on the show last week next to cast member Amy Poehler, who does a pretty good imitation of the New York senator.

Original SNL cast member Chevy Chase’s send up of former President Gerald Ford launched his career, and other SNL alumni who have scored big with presidential impressions include Dan Aykroyd’s Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter; Joe Piscopo’s Ronald Reagan; Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush; Phil Hartman’s Bill Clinton; and Darrell Hammond’s Clinton and George W. Bush.

Taking a recent listen to some radio and comedy shows, it appears some impressionists have gotten Republican nominee Sen. John McCain down with his signature catch phrase, “my friends.” In addition to Poehler, many entertainment bureaus already have Hillary Clinton impersonators in their stable because they often get requests for both Bill and Hillary Clinton. That has held true for well-known first ladies and their spouses, like Ron and Nancy Reagan and George and Laura Bush. However, no one has yet mastered the voice of Obama.

“I have a few George Bushes, I have a Bill Clinton and a Laura Bush,” said Kathy Krajewski, the owner and founder of Rochester, Mich.-based Double Exposure. “I go out all the time to look at national acts; we need more impersonators in Michigan.”

Double Exposure primarily handles weddings, but it provides planning for every kind of party imaginable. It, like most party and entertainment bureaus, has stables of look-alikes and celebrity impersonators it can call on when a request comes in. Depending on the medium the impression is intended for, a good presidential impression may consist of a physical resemblance or having the speech patterns and gestures down.

“Every four years around election time you get more interest than you normally do,” said Bernie Stevens, owner of the entertainment bureau and party planning company Bernie Stevens and Associates, based in Holly, Mich. “Normally, you don’t get a lot of calls for political figures.”

If you bear a striking resemblance and have the speech patterns down of former Democratic Sen. John Edwards, for example, seeing him drop out of the race was not a happy event. The same thing would be true if you had former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson down cold.

George W. Bush is an impression many people have down, and those comedians who do him well hate to see him go. However, Stevens said there is usually a market for former presidents, depending on their popularity and if they are still alive. Doing an impression of a recently deceased president may not strike some people as funny.

Famous impersonator Rich Little’s career took a bit of a nosedive after Richard Nixon left the limelight and then passed away. However, Little is making a comeback, and on a recent successful appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" he told the audience: “The key to staying on top is keep your act fresh and keep coming up with new people all the time.”

Historical reenactors are also in demand, and presidents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt are in demand. The good news is no one is going to hold them to having the voice right.
“Lincoln, Jefferson and (Mark) Twain; those are the big three,” Stevens said. “They are in such demand because most elementary school students recognize the face right away.”

Mar 3, 2008

State Superintendent: Don't Water Down New Grad Standards

LANSING -- Just months after the governor signed the Michigan Merit Curriculum into law, a move that enacted one of the most comprehensive sets of high school graduation requirements in the nation, some parents are complaining that the higher standards will cause more students to fail or drop out. But a number of officials are warning against giving in to pressure to ease the requirements.

The House Education High School Alternatives Subcommittee began holding hearings on the subject Thursday. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan told the subcommittee it was far too early to begin diluting the requirements. The new curriculum was signed into law on April 20, 2006.

“I’m asking that we don’t water this down until we see the effectiveness of it,” Flanagan said.

The bipartisan effort was aimed at educating a workforce that is ready to compete in a global, knowledge-based 21st century economy. It requires four credits of math, including algebra I and II. It also includes a requirement for completing an online course or learning experience.

Lawmakers say it’s their responsibility to ensure the curriculum is allowing all students to achieve success. “I think it is our responsibility to take a moment to reflect on the standards,” said Rep. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, the chair of the subcommittee. "That's something we don't want to take a departure from in any large measurable way,"

Flanagan said he believes the state is headed in the right direction. It is trying to correct a situation in which Michigan is below the national average for residents who hold at least a bachelor’s degree. The 2004 Cherry Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth said Michigan’s economic future depends on increasing that percentage.

“There was a period in this state that you could be a high school dropout and still have a place up north and drive a pretty nice car,” Flanagan said. “That’s done.”

Flanagan said because of this new, higher standard, Michigan has been seen as a national leader in education, and the state has received great publicity. He said watering down the requirements would make the high school diplomas less valuable, and he also said there is room for electives that turn out well-rounded students.

“Critics say it throws out the arts and electives, but that’s just garbage,” he said.

The subcommittee took no action and plans to continue to take testimony.

Mar 1, 2008

Coalition pushes to get the word out on digital TV transition

LANSING -- By this time next year, some 1.5 million Michigan residents in 600,000 households will wake up and turn on the local news and see a blank TV screen if they haven't made a crucial adjustment.

On Feb. 17, 2009, television will change dramatically when TV stations complete the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television broadcasting, and those 1.5 million residents who receive their signals via a TV antenna and rabbit ears who do not have a digital set will see a blank screen.

“This will effect every single household in America, and it is less than a year away,” said Rob Stoddard, a senior vice president for communications and public affairs for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

It will not be as catastrophic as many people think, but Stoddard said it’s absolutely necessary that the word gets out with all the facts. TV viewers will have three ways to ensure the 2006 federal law will not cause TV screens to go blank. TV viewers who subscribe to a cable, satellite or phone company service -- the majority of TV viewers -- will not have to do anything to get a normal signal no matter what kind of TV set they have.

People who receive their signal over the air can purchase a new TV set with a built-in digital tuner. The third way is to purchase a DTV converter box that plugs into your existing analog TV set. A converter box will allow viewers to receive free television signals.

The federal government is providing a $40 coupon to purchase a converter box that will allow people to receive free TV reception. Stoddard said the boxes sell for $40-$70 depending on the quality you want, and each household is eligible to receive two coupons.

The coupons are available right now, and a coalition called the DTV Transition Coalition, consisting of groups from the AARP to the FCC, has established a Web site at where people can apply for the coupons.

Industry experts say DTV will ensure better service, provide a dramatically better picture, better sound quality and allow TV stations to provide several channels of programming at once.

The kinks and glitches are still being worked out, and one is a situation with Low Power Television (LPTV) service, which is operated in rural areas and by nonprofit groups. A special pass-through converter box will be needed to receive that signal.

“They are not required to transition to DTV, and at the same time we are telling people to get the boxes,” Stoddard said.

The DTV Coalition said the majority of people who still receive over-the-air signals are the poor and elderly, and a nationwide transition could served as fertile ground for scam artists selling expensive, faulty converter boxes, charging high prices for unneeded instillation and talking people into buying unneeded new TV sets.

The coalition and other industry groups have donated billions of dollars and airtime to get the word out on the transition. Public service commercials are already being aired, and they will intensify as the transition day comes closer.

Michigan residents are already seeing the effects of the move to digital TV with the decision by one of the largest cable providers in the state, Comcast, to move the public access channels -- known as the public, education and government (PEG) channels –- into the 900-level digital range. This would put the channels out of reach of people with analog televisions before the Feb. 17. 2009 date unless they purchase a digital converter box.

Local, state and federal officials have reacted to complaints by the public. In separate rulings, both federal and state judges have ruled against Comcast and at least temporarily blocked the station moves to the digital range. Additionally, Senate Democrats introduced Senate Resolution 140, which encourages cable companies to keep those stations at their existing, lower-tier location so residents can continue to access those stations at no additional cost.

Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, introduced House Resolution 245 and Concurrent Resolution 64 that also seeks the same result, as well as co-sponsoring House Bill 5667 that ensures all cable subscribers will be able to access PEG channels until February 17, 2009, with no special equipment.

Because oversight of cable TV is a federal issue, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, is also addressing the PEG issue. He is one of the co-authors of the Communications Act that Comcast is operating under, as well as the chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and as such he has put the Comcast CEO on notice that the company’s actions are inconsistent with the act.