Apr 29, 2008

Drug-addled gas bag Limbaugh tries to incite riots

Drug addict Rush Limbaugh continues to flirt with breaking the law, this time urging his robot-like radio audience to incite riots.

Limbaugh has been urging his lemmings still voting in primaries to waste their vote by crossing over and voting for Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton because the GOP nominee has already been chosen. Limbaugh has labeled his perverting of the democratic process “Operation Chaos.” He took a step further last week when he urged his listeners to incite riots at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this fall.

“The dream end is this continues right up to the convention, and we have a repeat of 1968 with burning cars, riots and fires,” Limbaugh said on his radio show last week. “That’s the objective.”

Limbaugh is one of the most racist and hate-filled conservative radio talk show hosts among a genre celebrated for its hate-filed tirades against anyone they disagree with. It remains to be seen if Limbaugh will be held accountable for inciting a riot, but his past history indicates that will not be the case.
His “Operation Chaos” move almost got him in trouble, but the Ohio Attorney General's office stated that it would be hard to prosecute anyone for falsifying a change of registration, because of the difficulty of proving a voter's fraudulent intent. Never mind that it disgraces the men and women who scarified and died to win the right to vote. In my lifetime we saw African -Americans and patriotic Americans who were killed, beaten and attacked by dogs for the right to vote in the south, and we allow this man to get away with this.

Limbaugh’s other brush with the law was when he used his housekeeper to doctor shop for prescription OxyContin, aka “Hillbilly Heroin.” Before his brush with the law, he called addicts criminals, saying “they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.” He changed his tune pretty quickly when he was busted. He avoided jail time by agreeing to 18 months of drug treatment.

It makes you wonder why Republican’s heroes are all criminals.

Apr 28, 2008

Well-known journalist gives his take on fall elections

HOWELL -- Respected journalist Jack Lessenberry will offer up his opinions and biting wit on the upcoming election in Michigan at 7 p.m. May 8 at the Howell Opera House in downtown Howell, sponsored by the nonpartisan Voter’s Voice of Livingston County and Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton.
Lessenberry’s lecture is called "Michigan and the Election: Are Any Surprises in Store?"

Lessenberry has worked as a foreign correspondent and executive national editor of The Detroit News, reporting from more than 40 countries. His writing has appeared in such national publications as Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe. He is also a professor of journalism at Wayne State University, and his freelance columns appear in The Metro Times, The Traverse-City Record Eagle and The Toledo (Ohio) Blade. He is also a senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio. The Oakland County resident has ties to Livingston County. When Hometown Newspapers was a Michigan company, Lessenberry was the executive editor of the newspaper chain before it was purchased by mega-chain Gannett.

The Voter's Voice is a group for independents, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans formed in 2002 for people concerned about politics and public policy. In the past it has sponsored forums on health care and campaign finance.
The event is free and open to the public.

Apr 26, 2008

Steil’s useless bill shows why Republicans can’t govern

Rep. Glenn Steil, R-Grand Rapids, became the most recent Republican in a long line on of Republicans to introduce a ridiculous piece of legislation designed simply to embarrass and set up Democrats.

On April 24 Steil introduced House Bill 6018 that allows “those Michigan taxpayers who feel the state's taxes are too low can voluntarily write a check to the state's general fund for whatever amount they feel is fair.” I’m sure he knows you can already do that, and few people will say their taxes are too low.

But this was designed as one more piece of gottcha politics. This is Steil’s lame response to the decision last October to increase the state income tax and place a sales tax on some services that helped balance the state budget, erased a $1.8 billion budget deficit and avoided a government shutdown. The Democrats did the heavy lifting to do the right thing and keep the doors of Michigan open, and the Republicans are using it against them.

As budget bills have been passed the last couple of weeks, Republicans have no problem spending that money. Unlike Steil, I don’t want something for nothing, and I understand one of the costs of living in the greatest country in the world and the greatest state in the country are taxes. I’m sure when Steil drives from Grand Rapids to Lansing three times a week he uses the interstate highway system to get there. Who does he think paid for that? The freeway fairy?

I am not crazy about paying taxes, and I don’t necessarily want to pay more. I just want everyone to pay there fair share. If each person pays a little you can accomplish a lot, and that’s one reason people band together to form a government.

Another example of the GOP’s “gotcha” politics is Senate Bill 776 that bans the so-called called partial-birth abortions. Federal law already bans the rare procedure. This is just a way for Republicans to set up vulnerable Democratic House members. The legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan said as much at the legislative lobby day last week in the capitol. He said they hate wafflers, and they would roast them on Election Day. This is not about reducing abortions at all.

It seems like most Republican bills are conceived just to keep them in power and little else. When Republicans controlled all three branches of state government until Jennifer Granholm was elected little was accomplished. If we need any more proof that we can’t trust Republicans to govern we just need to look what they did with the federal government when they controlled all three branches of government.
George Bush and the Republicans took the first budget surplus in years and turned it into one of the largest budget deficits in history, deceived us into an unnecessary war with no end in sight and plunged us into a recession. Thank God the American people saw the light and began the process of taking the keys to the car away from the GOP in 2006.

Steil’s ridiculous bill will die like it should in the Tax Policy Committee.

Apr 22, 2008

UAW president says free trade agreements are costly to U.S.workers

HAMBURG TOWNSHIP - United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said the country's free trade agreements are responsible for the loss of 1.8 million jobs to China and an annual trade deficit of $815 billion.

The loss of manufacturing jobs to China and other low wage countries has become a major presidential campaign issue, and Gettelfinger told a receptive crowd of more than 100 people at the 25th Annual Edwin B. Winans Dinner put on by the Livingston County Democratic Party last week that the trade agreements are anti-worker and anti-union.

"Look, we are not against trade; we are for fair trade, not free trade," he said."There is nothing wrong with trade, but what are we getting in return?"

Gettelfinger said the trade agreements are not being enforced because worker's rights are not being protected, environmental laws are not being followed and safety rules are also being routinely violated .He said the race to the bottom for the lowest wage is really the goal of the free trade agreements. He also said labor has never been involved in any trade talks.

"They don't want workers to have a voice when they talk about these trade agreements," he sad. "Labor is not at the table trade when these trade agreements are being worked out."

Gettelfinger said there have been 20 straight months of manufacturing job losses. As an example, he points to the situation with the trade imbalance with South Korea. South Korea exports 700,000 cars the United States annually, but the Big 3 automakers combined only export 6,500 cars to South Korea.

"Why would our government sit down and negotiate a trade agreement like that," Gettelfinger said. "They are stealing our jobs."

Gettelfinger also said labor unions and organized labor are under assault and are unfairly blamed for the loss of jobs, but unions are responsible for every worker right, from employer provided health care to the recent increase in the minimum wage.

"There is no other institution to give worker's equity and justice," he said. "When you walk in the door you are an at-will employee unless you are in a union.We are proud of who we are and what stand for."

Gettelfinger began is career in the UAW on the assembly line, and he said he is sick and tired of seeing stories in the media about greedy union members when the media ignores stories about CEO compensation. He said up until 1976, the average CEO made about 36 times more than the average worker. He said in 1993 that had increased by 131 times and BY 2005 CEOs were making 369 times more than the average worker.

"Not much makes my blood boil anymore, but when I see stories in the media about greedy union workers now that makes my blood boil," Gettelfinger said. "Where are the stories about that (CEO compensation) ? Why is that not on the front burner?"

Gettelfinger is an outspoken advocate for a national, universal single-payer health care system. He said the U.S. spends $2 trillion or 16 percent of its Gross Domestic Product every year on health care, but there are still 47 million Americans without health care coverage.

"Why shouldn't the people who come to my home to pick up the garbage have the same health care as a corporate executive; why not," he said. "Health care should be a right, not a privilege."

Gettelfinger negotiated the historic contracts with the big 3 in 2006 that made the UAW responsible for retiree health care, and he said that will both help the Big 3 compete and ensure retirees are protected

"I want to say to the retirees here tonight, you do don't have to worry abut your health care," he said.

Apr 18, 2008

Author says U.S. is a dumping ground for unsafe products

LANSING -- The United States is the dumping ground for unsafe products and products manufactured with harmful chemicals, according to internationally acclaimed journalist and author Mark Schapiro.

Schapiro is the editorial director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, and spent more than two years writing his book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power. He was the featured speaker at the Ecology Center's annual membership meeting last week, as well as making a stop in Lansing to talk to lawmakers.

“The U.S. is becoming the recipient of products that are banned in other parts of the world,” he said. “That will only increase in the future. I never thought that would happen here.”

That is already happening with toys made in China, and the U.S. market has created a situation where products – such as cosmetics, personal care products and cleaning products -- with less stringent controls and regulation are made for the U.S. market and safer products go to places like the European Union. Schapiro’s book looks at the economic effect the EU’s decision to implement stricter controls is having on the U.S. In 2005 the EU passed the U.S. as the world’s largest consumer market, and it is also requiring the manufacturers of consumer products to eliminate potentially harmful chemicals.

“The European Union has taken a proactive approach to getting these harmful chemicals out of products,” Schapiro said. “The EU takes an approach that it wants to prevent hazards before it causes harm.”

In the EU market, it’s up to the manufacturers to prove the chemicals in their products are safe, but in the U.S. it’s the exact opposite. In other words, the burden of proof in the U.S. is on the consumer to prove something is unsafe. To prevent or remove a chemical from the market, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration or individuals in court must demonstrate that the chemical presents severe risk to humans. Schapiro also said the problem is compounded in the U.S. because the proof must be overwhelming and beyond a shadow of a doubt, and a perfect example of the absence of 100 percent proof is the debate over global warming.

“In science, it’s very hard to come up with absolutes,” he said. “That often leaves us in a state of paralysis.”

Schapiro said that while hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals are being phased out with safer alternatives and other chemicals are being vetted to see if they are safe in the EU, there has not been a chemical removed from the U.S. marketplace in 18 years. He also said more than 6,000 chemicals were grandfathered in when the law governing chemicals in consumer products went into effect in 1981, and those chemicals have not been completely vetted for safety.

“The fact is 90 percent of the chemicals in the market here have never been vetted,” he said. “The EU is requiring data on every chemical.”

Schapiro said he realizes chemicals are necessary, but he said there are safe alternatives that our chemists and engineers should be looking into. The fear with more regulation in the U.S. is that jobs will be lost and the cost of making the products will increase. Schapiro said that’s true in the short run, but profits are up in the EU. Schapiro said that’s because when given a choice between a similarly priced product made in the U.S. and one made in the EU, consumerswill choose an EU product over a U.S.-made product because they know the EU product is safer.

“We live in a world where chemicals do a lot for us in everyday life; there’s no question,” Schapiro said. “I spent a lot of time looking at the economic effects of the EU effort.

“A year after they made the decision to implement the regulations, they had their biggest profit ever in cosmetics,” he said. “There is no question that there is an initial cost to change, but there is a savings in the long run.”

The EU standard has had a positive effect because many companies are quietly – very quietly – abandoning the practice of making a separate version of a product for the EU market and another for the U.S. market, and they are now just making the safer and higher standard product for both markets.

To be sure, some companies are fighting the change tooth and nail. “We have seen a major increase in the lobbying effort by U.S. companies,” Schapiro said. “You have seen K-Street in Washington move wholesale to Brussels because that’s where the changes are taking place.”

But because of the higher EU standards many U.S. companies, such as Dow Chemical in Michigan, are scrambling to release data on the chemicals they use in their products, and Schapiro said that would benefit U.S. consumers.

“You have a major company right here in Michigan assembling a whole array of toxic data on chemicals they never had to before,” he said. “For the first time Americans are going to have a real choice on the products they use.”

“The bottom line is that the rest of the world is finding alternatives to these toxic chemicals,” Schapiro said.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger featured speaker at annual fundraising dinner

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger will be the featured speaker at the Livingston Democrats' 25th annual Edwin B. Winans Dinner Saturday at the Hamburg VFW Post, 8891 Spicer Rd., put on by the Livingston County Democratic Party.

Gettelfinger negotiated the historic labor contract with the big 3 automakers last year that included the union taking control of retiree health care costs. He is also a strong advocate for a national single-payer health care system that would make health care accessible and affordable for every U.S. citizen. He is also involved in the negotiations to seat Michigan’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention this fall.

The dinner will feature excellent food, conversation, a silent auction, a cash bar and a legal 50-50 raffle. There will also be some special guests, including state Sen. Hansen Clarke – last year’s guest speaker - and Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith from neighboring Salem Township in the South Lyon Area.

The dinner is also the opportunity for the party to honor the hard work and dedication of its many hard-working volunteers over the past year with awards like the John D. Donohue Citizenship Award. The award is named after the last Democrat to serve on the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, who passed away while in office in 1996. Other awards that will be handed out include The Herb and Ruth Munzel Distinguished Service Award, the Chairman’s Special Recognition Award and the Unsung Heroes Award.

The fundraising dinner is named after Edwin B. Winans, Governor of Michigan in 1890-1893. He lived in Unadilla and Hamburg Townships and represented Livingston County as a State Representative, probate judge, and Governor. He is buried in the Hamburg Cemetery. Winans Lake is named after him. Tickets are $60, and tickets can be obtained by calling the Livingston County Democratic Party at (810) 229-4212, or at the door if they are still available. The event starts at 6 p.m. and the dinner begins at 7 p.m. This is the party’s largest fundraiser, so come out and support the party and get ready for an exciting election season.

Apr 17, 2008

First recall attempt to get off the ground is also first to crash

The group attempting to recall Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids, admitted failure and is throwing in the towel.

According to a report in the Grand Rapids Press, a spokesperson from Taxpayers to Recall Robert Dean said the group was unable to collect the 8,714 signatures needed to force a recall election.

The recall attempt was led primarily by the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance, led by Republican Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, and it launched recall attempts against primarily Democratic lawmakers who voted to increase the state income tax and implement a sales tax on certain services that helped balance the budget and do away with a $1.8 billion budget deficit. The Dean recall was the first recall attempt to get off the ground after the recall language was approved last November.

Time ran out on the Dean attempt, and it is also quickly running out for the remaining recalls. Under Michigan Election Law, once recall language is approved the language is good for 180 days, but the actual petition drive for signatures must be within 90 days. In other words, there must be 90 days between the first and last signature. Also, a recall petition cannot be filed against an elected official during the last six months of the officer's term of office. The term for state Representative expires on Dec. 31, and the election is less than seven months away

Language has already been approved in the recalls against Rep. Marty Griffin, D-Jackson; House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township; Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville; Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms; Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren; and Rep. Aldo Vagnozzi, D-Farmington Hills.

Recalls pending against lawmakers who had recall language rejected include Rep. Mike Simpson, D-Liberty Township, Rep. Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak, Sen. Jerry Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores; Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, and Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Muskegon.

Apr 15, 2008

The race for the 9th Congressional District features confrontations, videotape and Dr. Death

The U.S. Congressional race for Michigan’s 9th District may be a microcosm of the presidential election in Michigan, and it will also be an interesting race to watch that has already seen confrontations, videotape and now a guy with the nickname of Doctor Death as a candidate.

U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R- Bloomfield Hills, is seeking his ninth term in the U.S. House, and he will be challenged by Democrat Gary Peters, a professor at Central Michigan University and a former state Senator, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the well-known assisted suicide doctor, who plans to run as an independent.

The district’s boundaries are contained entirely in Oakland County, the second largest county in the state with 1.2 million residents. The county has long been known primarily as a Republican county, but that is fast changing as it trends Democratic. The Republicans maintain a 13-12 edge on the county Board of Commissioners, and the county executive, L. Brooks Patterson, is very active and well known in state and national Republics politics.

“Oakland County has been considered Republican, and most of the county commissioners are Republicans,” said Glenn Clark, the Republican Chair of the 9th Congressional District and a Troy resident. “However, it has gone blue at the top of the ticket since 1992.”

Michigan itself has been blue since 1992, and the last time it went for a Republican presidential candidate was for President George H.W. Bush in 1988. However, the decision by Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama not to campaign here for the primary, coupled with the decision by the Democratic National Committee not to seat Michigan’s presidential delegation in retaliation for moving up the presidential primary in violation of party rules, makes Michigan vulnerable to going red.

“It is definitely a swing district,” said Rochester Hills resident and Democratic activitist Bruce Fealk. “The district went for (Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John) Kerry in the last election”

Fealk, who operates the blog “Vote no on Joe,” is a story himself. He has been a vocal anti-war critic, and he began following Knollenberg around at events, as well as appearing at parades, wearing a huge papier-mâché likeness of Knollenberg. Fealk tried repeatedly to get Knollenberg to meet with him and other anti-war protestors to talk about the war, as well as the veto of the bipartisan SCHIP legislation. When that failed, Fealk began following Knollenberg around with a video camera.

That led to a confrontation last October between Fealk and Knollenberg’s then chief-of-staff, Trent Wisecup, in a convenience store. The incident made state and national news, and Wisecup called Fealk “un-American,” “not a citizen” and “blinded by” his “hatred of this country.” Fealk made more news when he was arrested in February in Troy while attempting to videotape a panel discussion on Black History Month, hosted by the Oakland County Republican Club.

But Peters also has a person trailing him with a video camera. CMU student Dennis Lennox has been following Peters around for months claiming Peters should not be teaching at a public university while running for Congress. That also led to a confrontation that made state news, although it was with a CMU dean and not Peters. Lennox has used that publicity to launch a bid for the Republican nomination for the 110 District seat in the state House.

The 9th District consists of the townships of Bloomfield, Oakland, Southfield, West Bloomfield, and pats of Orion and Waterford Townships, as well as the cities of Auburn Hills, Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clawson, Farmington Hills, Farmington, Keego Harbor, Lake Angelus, Orchard Lake, Pontiac, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Sylvan Lake, Troy and Royal Oak. It is the home of many whiter collar engineers, the headquarters of Chrysler and the home of a major Division I university, Oakland University. It has elements of both suburban life and urban life.

“This is a working class area with lots of white collar workers; kind of middle of the road,” Clark said. “It’s a great district to live in, and Troy was ranked as one of the safest places to live in the nation.”

Knollenberg – a U.S. Army veteran - owned insurance offices before going into politics, and used his connections as the former chair of the Oakland County Republican Party to run a successful congressional campaign in 1992. He has the makings of a political dynasty, and his son, Marty, is a member of the Michigan House. Knollenberg is the ranking member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Peters was born and raised in Oakland County, and he was a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve in a Construction Battalion unit (Seabees). In the private sector, Peters had taught at Oakland University and Wayne State University. He was the vice president of investments at UBS/PaineWebber. Peters also served as a vice president at Merrill Lynch.

His first foray into politics was serving on the Rochester Hills City Council. He was elected to the Michigan Senate in 1994 and served two terms before he was term limited. In 2002 he ran for the Michigan Attorney General and lost a close race to current AG Mike Cox by just 5,200 votes among more than 3 million votes cast. In 2003 Peters was appointed by the Governor to run the Michigan State Lottery. Last year Peters was named the Griffin Chair in American Government at Central Michigan University.

Kevorkian earned his reputation and nickname of Dr. Death by assisting in the deaths of nearly 100 terminally ill people. He ran afoul of the law in Michigan many times because it does not have an assisted suicide law, but he also managed to stay out of jail with the help of his attorney, Geoffrey Fieger. The cases earned so much media attention that Fieger parlayed that name recognition to win the Democratic nomination for Michigan governor in 1998, but he lost to the incumbent in the general election.

Without Fieger’s guidance, Kevorkian made a mistake that proved to be his downfall. On September 17, 1998, Kevorkian himself administered a lethal injection to 52-year-old Thomas Youk, who was suffering from terminal Lou Gerhig’s Disease. In past assisted suicides, the person committing suicide had injected themselves or used the machine Kevorkian designed. Kevorkian compounded his mistake by allowing the videotaped suicide to be broadcast on “60 Minutes” and then daring authorities to try to convict him or stop him from carrying out assisted suicides.

Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder by a Michigan jury in 1999 and sentenced to serve a 10-25 year prison sentence. Kevorkian, 79, is terminally ill with Hepatitis C, which he contracted while doing research on blood transfusions in Vietnam, and he was paroled on June 1, 2007 due to good behavior. He has indicated he plans to run as an independent. Many people have dismissed his run as insignificant, including many Democrats. Veteran Michigan journalist Jack Lessenberry, who was one of the first reporters to cover Kevorkian, dismissed it as just one more attempt at the publicity he craves.

But Republicans are hoping the lifelong Oakland County resident can drain off liberal vote for Peters.

“He’s a household name here,” Clark said. “It will be very hard to ignore him.”

As the incumbent, Knollenberg has had little trouble winning reelection over the years. He has had little trouble against a list of relatively unknown Democratic candidates, winning easily: winning 55 percent to 40 percent in 2000, 58-39 in 2002 and 58-39 in 2004. But 2006 was different. He had a close race with relatively unknown liberal radio talk show host and political activist Nancy Skinner. Knollenberg won by his smallest margin ever, 51-46 percent. Skinner indicated she was going to run for the seat again, but she got of the race early, deferring to Peters.

Ironically, she has ties to a candidate who many say may be a factor in this race. In 2004 she was living in Chicago and was a Democratic candidate for an open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, losing in the Democratic primary election to one Barack Obama.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took notice of that race after 2006, the current candidate and the trend of the district to designate it one of two targeted seats in Michigan.

“He is definitely on the edge,” Fealk said. “If we are ever going to unseat him this will be the year. Gary Peters is an excellent candidate and has done an excellent job of fundraising, and he has the DCCC and the unions behind him.”

Knollenberg votes with President Bush on most issues, and many people think he is vulnerable there because of the president’s low approval ratings, as well as Knollenberg’s position on the war in Iraq.

“He is very vulnerable on the war,” Fealk said. “If you look at his campaign web site, the war is not even listed as an issue. He is also very vulnerable on health care and the economy. People really need to look hard at his votes.”

Clark disagrees, and he said most people in Oakland County do not want the U.S. to leave Iraq before the mission is complete.

“That will be just one of many issues,” he said. “The fact is most people don't want to be there forever, but hey want to win. Most people I talked to who are against the war are not in favor of an immediate withdraw.”

There is also speculation on the effect the top ticket candidate will have on this race. Fealk says the historic nature of the potential Democratic nominees is sure to increase voter turnout for the Democrats, but he thinks Obama’s nomination will have a larger effect on turnout in the more urban Pontiac area and benefit Peters.

“I don’t want to make it a race issue, but I expect to see more turnout if he is the nominee,” he said. “I definitely think Obama will have a positive effect on turnout.”

Clark thinks Republican nominee Sen. John McCain will rally the district's many independent voters.

“John McCain is a candidate that will send a strong message to independents, and I think John McCain is the type of candidate we need to carry Michigan and Oakland County,” he said. “Michigan will be very important, specifically Oakland County, and I think we can win.”

Slain civil rights leader's words inspire organized labor

LANSING -- "In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights."

Those words might have been spoken by a current labor leader as right to work laws are being pushed all over the country, including in Michigan. Instead, they were spoken by perhaps the most respected civil rights leader in the world, Dr. Martin Luther King, in 1961.

April marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of King in Memphis, Tenn., and organized labor has never forgotten that the revered civil rights leader was in Memphis April 4, 1968, to lead a march of city sanitation workers protesting against low wages and poor working conditions. King not only worked tirelessly for an end to racial discrimination, segregation and Jim Crow laws, but he also worked to improve the lot of workers and to end poverty.

The Young Democrats of America Labor Caucus, Lansing Democratic Future and Michigan Young Democrats hosted a community tribute last week to honor both King and the public employee unions.

"Dr. King shared organized labor's vision," said Michael Parker, the secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local 580 in Lansing. "The things he fought for are the things we are fighting for today.

"He fought from a basis of love and not hate. We need to remember the person on the other side of the table is a person."

Philip Schloop, the business manager and international vice president of the International Union of Operating Engineers and a retired Detroit public school teacher, was the guest speaker. Schloop's parents were missionaries, and he said it was King's message that got him involved in the civil rights movement and organizing.

"The reality was he really understood the intersection between labor, civil rights and worker's rights," Schloop said.

He said King's words in 1961 are still relevant in 2008 as the assault on labor unions continues with so-called right to work (RTW) laws. Schloop said King called RTW a way to destroy unions and collective bargaining, and King called RTW a fraud.

"Here we are in Michigan today fighting a right to work assault," he said. "Dr. King realized way back in 1961 this was an assault on worker's rights."

Schloop said it was also telling that King was trying to help municipal workers on that fateful day in 1968. Schloop said state workers in Michigan were unfairly used as scapegoats in the state budget impasse last October.

"The Republicans are attacking public employees as the enemy," he said. "Who do you think teaches your children, who ensures you have clean drinking water and who protects the people?"

Apr 14, 2008

Michigan Legislature gets back to work following spring break vacation

LANSING -- The Michigan Senate will reconvene Tuesday following its two-week spring break, and it will mark the first time both the House and Senate have been in session at the same time since March 20.

The House took its two-week break following the House session on March 20 and it returned to session last week, but the Senate began its break a week later than the House, leaving for its two-week vacation on March 27.

Like the House last week, most of the work upon returning will be in committee. The Senate Health Policy Committee will begin holding the first in a series of hearings on the package of bills aimed at reforming health coverage known collectively as the Individual Market Reform package, House Bills 5282-5285, leading up to an expected vote on April 30. Just before the Senate adjourned for two weeks, the chair of the committee - Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo - introduced substitutes to the bills already passed by the House.

Subscription only Gongwer news service is reporting the package of bills on renewable energy - SB 1126, SB 1128 -1130 and SB 1132 – is expected to move on the Senate floor this week.

Apr 11, 2008

Why doesn’t Bouchard just send confiscated pot to troops?

The arsine move by Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard to send 3,700 cigars confiscated in a drug raid to troops in Iraq got me to thinking about my days in the military and the smoking habit that was so difficult to kick.

I am very proud – some of my opponents say too proud - to say I spent 20 years in the military. I basically grew up in the Navy. I took on more responsibility, saw the world, learned about different cultures and people and became a husband and father. One unpleasant thing I took away from the military was a heavy smoking habit. I have to admit I smoked occasionly in high school, but as boot camp approached I put it aside once and for all. Now, at the expense of giving up my age, other than to say I’m a Baby-Boomer, smoking was very common then, and there were few places you could not smoke.

Once I got into boot camp, the company commander confiscated lighters and cigarettes because he claimed he found a cigarette butt in the head – that’s a restroom fro you non-squids. Now, I don’t know if that was true, but it allowed him to pass out cigarettes when the company was rewarded with a much coveted smoke break.

A smoke break was something that was held over our heads as an incentive; perform well, you get one, perform badly or break a rule, no smoke break. When one was granted, we would all gather in the break room where smokes were passed out and we were allowed to “smoke and Coke.”

It did not take more than one or two of thee smoke breaks for me to realize that I might as well join them. If you can image some 40 guys puffing away in a room the size of a large living room, I was smoking anyway. We all knew the harmful effects of smoking, but that was before we knew second hand smoke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 50,000 annually. During all that time, I never saw a cigar, and I don’t think it would have been allowed.

Needless to day, I was a smoker, and once out of boot camp when I could smoke when I dam well wanted, I took full advantage of that new freedom. Once I was on a ship, smoking was so common there was no place we could not smoke. It was so common that once a ship went three miles – I believe- from the U.S. coast, the cigarettes were tax free. Now, I may be showing my age again, but with tax free smokes, coupled with a great sale, I can remember buying a pack of smokes for less than a dollar. My first ship was an amphib, meaning, we carried Marines. The C rations – many left over from Korea – contained little packages containing four cigarettes.

Cigars were only smoked on the rare occasion. One was on the mid-watch in the Combat Information Center when we had some rough weather and a new boot on watch, especially an officer. The game would be to fire up a stinky stogie while someone else made a show of eating gross-looking sardines to see how fast we could make him barf.

As my career began to wind down, smoking was not only no longer an accepted, traditional and encouraged activity it was discouraged, and as part of the physical fitness push, we had to take physical fitness tests every three months. No longer was smoking allowed anywhere, and the last ship I was on you had to smoke outside, with the exception of night at sea when you could smoke in the crew’s lounge. That was in 1994. I doubt that's the case anymore.

Now, in 1996 I took the plunge and kicked the habit, and after more than 20 years of smoking it seems like I never smoked.

That brings me to Bouchard’s “grand” gesture. I wonder if the cigar wrapper has a campaign slogan for the political office he is running for next. If I was one of the troops, I would be a little offended. “I was going to throw this away, but I’ll give it you instead.” Then, to further illustrate where his head is, he's asking for money from other people to pay for shipping the cigars over. That’s some generosity. If you haven’t sent them, don’t.

I’ve heard people defend his alleged good deed by saying; it will help troops relieve stress by smoking a cigar. Let’s see, their health is already being endangered by the tremendous stress they are under, and now we want them to partake of something that will cause cancer and heart disease? Why doesn’t Bouchard send then some marijuana from his next bust? They were just going to get rid of it anyway - just like the cigars -, and it’s better for their health than cigars.

Then I’ve heard cigars are harmless. I don’t thing so. According to the American Cancer Society, one cigar may contain as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes. A single cigarette usually contains less than a gram of tobacco, while cigars, which vary in size and shape, can have between 5 and 17 grams of tobacco.

- Cigar smoke is more concentrated and toxic than cigarette smoke.

- Cigars are Addictive. The amount of nicotine in a single cigar is many times greater than what is found in a cigarette. A typical cigarette contains one to two milligrams of nicotine, while the nicotine content of a cigar is 100 to 200 milligrams, with some as high as 400 milligrams.

- Smoking as little as one cigar a day increases the risk for cancer.
Cigar smoking has been linked to several different cancers, most notably those of the oral cavity, which include lip, tongue, mouth, throat and larynx. Cigar smokers are also at an increased risk for lung cancer and cancers of the pancreas and bladder.

Apr 10, 2008

Pothole contest illustrates worsening condition of Michigan’s roads

LANSING -- If you think potholes are worse than ever, you're right. It's the worst pothole season in history, according to one advocate for more spending on roads.

And the worst potholes in the state are in the streets of Walker, Waterford, Saginaw and Jackson. That's the word from the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association.

MITA is a coalition working to secure more funding for Michigan's roads and bridges. It sponsored a month-long contest with the Michigan Transportation Team to identify the worst rim-bending potholes in Michigan. Judges chose the “winners” Monday from 70 photos submitted. The people submitting the winning photos each received a $318“service center scholarship,” the average cost to a Michigan motorist of crumbling and congested roads

“This was an extremely difficult decision because of the sheer number of potholes submitted that would do serious damage to your car,” said Mike Nystrom, vice president of government and public relations for the MITA and co-chair of the MTT. “With Michigan having the worst pothole season in history, there were so many craters to choose from.”

The pothole winners were:
O’Brien Road, Walker; South Jackson Street, Jackson; Irwin Drive, Waterford; and Veterans Memorial Parkway, Saginaw.

Because there were so many entries, the MTT also gave honorable mention to a number of potholes across the state: Dean Lake Road, Grand Rapids Township; Stadium and West Michigan Drive, Kalamazoo; Lafayette and Division Street, Grand Rapids; Ford Road, Canton; and John R, Detroit.

According to the Drive Michigan Campaign, Michigan has an annual funding shortfall of $700 million for its state transportation system and a shortfall of more than $2 billion for local roads. Drive Michigan wants to increase the state' gasoline tax 3 cents a year for three years - a 9-cent gas tax phased in over three years - and a slight increase in vehicle registration fees.

MTT is a broad-based, bipartisan partnership of business, labor, local government, associations and citizens with the goal of improving Michigan’s transportation infrastructure. The Drive Michigan campaign is committed to “promoting the development and maintenance of a safe, convenient and efficient transportation network.”

Apr 9, 2008

Investigative journalist to discuss toxic chemicals in everyday products and what to do about them

What can Michigan legislators do to help improve protections for the public against toxic products? That's one of the questions to be addressed by investigative reporter Mark Schapiro this week in Ann Arbor.

Internationally acclaimed journalist Schapiro is editorial director of the Center for Investigative Reporting and author of the book "Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power." He will be the featured speaker at the Ecology Center’s annual membership meeting set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Washtenaw Community College, 4800 E. Huron River Dr. in room 101 of the Morris Lawrence Building in Ann Arbor.

Schapiro’s new book investigates how corporations intent on thwarting passage of stricter environmental and health guidelines in the United States are forced to meet new demands by the European Union to improve their products. In his speech he will cover that issue and also discuss why Michigan receives toxic products from around the world and what the Michigan Legislature can do to help protect the public.

Schapiro has been an investigative journalist for more than two decades, focusing on environmental and international affairs, and his work has appeared in "Harper's, The Nation, Mother Jones" and "The Atlantic Monthly." He's also been a correspondent on the PBS program "NOW with Bill Moyers."

The Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit organization focusing on investigative reporting. The work is led by a small West Coast staff and augmented by a nationwide team of independent reporters and producers.

The Ecology Center is a membership-based, nonprofit environmental organization founded by community activists after the country's first Earth Day in 1970. It works at the local, state and national levels for clean production, healthy communities, environmental justice and a sustainable future. The event is free and open to the general public. Call (734) 761-3186, extension 104, for more information.

Apr 8, 2008

New way to get Lansing news that mainstream media may miss

With shrinking newsrooms and newsroom consolidation, only the state’s two largest newspapers and the largest newspaper chain maintain a Lansing bureau, meaning there is less reporting on what is going in the capital. But for those wanting to keep a closer eye on what’s going on in Lansing, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently launched a new bi-monthly publication called “Capitol Confidential.”

The publication is free. It's available just by signing up at the center’s Web site, and it's also available online.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy “is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute devoted to improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions,” according to its mission statement. Many people call it a conservative think tank, but the center describes itself as “dedicated to providing a free-market perspective on public policy issues that are economic in nature.”

Capitol Confidential, one of eight periodicals published by the Mackinac Center, focuses on the votes and proposals in the state Legislature that traditional, mainstream media may not cover.

Capitol Confidential complements and is similar to the Michigan Votes Web site operated by the Mackinac Center. The Web site allows people to search for bills and resolutions by number, keyword or lawmaker, and it gives the voting record for each bill, as well as the voting record for the individual lawmaker. You can also go to the site to set it up to receive individually tailored e-mails of bills when they are introduced by subject or lawmaker.

Capitol Confidential contains some of the same raw data, but it also provides more analysis of bills, resolutions and proposals.