Jan 29, 2008

GOP response to SOS promises cooperation

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester sounded a note of harmony and future cooperation in his response to Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s State of the State address Tuesday night.

The leader of the Senate Republicans chose to make the response himself this year instead of a member of the caucus as in years past, and it was a short and sweet speech. I a year filled with partisan bickering and fighting that led to a historic but brief shutdown of state government that led the public to give the state Legislature one of the lowest approval ratings in state history, Bishop acknowledged that fact and promised to foster bipartisanship.

“We recognize our citizens are frustrated with their elected officials after last year's budget battle and what will go down as one of the most tumultuous years in the history of the Michigan Legislature,” he said. “Tonight, the governor outlined her blueprint on ways we can work together on such things as energy policy, health care reform, education, the environment, road infrastructure and all those things that have historically defined our state's priorities and contribute to our everyday quality of life.”

Bishop still managed to get in a dig at Democrats and the governor over the tax increases enacted in October that are still being felt politically in the form of ongoing recalls of Democratic lawmakers who voted for the increases.

“We must send a clear message that we - Republicans and Democrats- will do everything we can to pursue common sense public policy with the sole objective of making Michigan competitive in the 21st century,” Bishop said. “That objective has become much more attainable with the governor's recent pledge not to raise taxes in the coming budget cycle.”

The governor announced two new initiatives to grow new jobs in Michigan: the Michigan Job Creation Tax Credit -will cut or altogether eliminate taxes for a company that creates jobs and the Michigan Invests Fund that will give high-growth companies the investment capital they need if they invest it in Michigan.

Bishop’s equal time response was short on policy details, but indications are it may be Republican-controlled Senate. Many bills sent over from the Democratic-controlled House have stalled in the Senate.

“This is also a good opportunity for the governor to show restraint and good judgment and not call for new programs that the state and its residents cannot afford,” Bishop said. “Michigan residents expect their leaders to speak directly to the heart of our economic problems and offer specific, concrete solutions.”

Democrats open new front in recall battle and fire salvo at DeRoche

Democrats opened a new front in the recall battle that was launched late last year against the primarily Democratic legislators who voted in October to increase the state income tax and place a sales tax on some services that helped balance the state budget and erased a $1.8 billion budget deficit by launching a recall of their own.

Democrats filed recall petition language on Monday against House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, charging his vote against repealing the state's pharmaceutical company immunity law that allows consumers to sue drug companies who cause death and injury through negligence. But Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said in a statement that DeRoche was targeted for his complicity in the recall efforts against other House members for their votes on the recent tax increases.

The recall is being spearheaded by the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance (MTA), led by Republican Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, and an Oakland County group calling itself "Stop Hurting Michigan's Kids," led by conservative activitist Tom McMillin. However, the Michigan Republican Party has been towing an electronic around to the districts of Democratic members targeted for recall. The prop lists the payee as "Democrat big spenders" and the dollar amount as "more than Michigan can afford."

Brewer has charged that the recall is being financed by out of state money and special interest groups to try and undermine the will of the voters, and that may have been born out last week when the group Taxpayers to Recall State Representative Robert Dean filed a lawsuit in Kent County Circuit Court claiming their First Amendment right to freedom of speech are being violated because of the requirement that petition gatherers live in the district.

Under Michigan election law, the petition gathers must be registered voters in the district the person being recalled represents. The recall effort has been seeking people to work for $9 an hour and $2 for each signature over 50.

Recall language has already been approved for House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township; Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville; Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms, Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren; Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids; and Rep. Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak. Those rejected of because of unclear language intended for the recall petitions include Sen. Jerry Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores; Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Muskegon; and Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch.

Jan 28, 2008

Sick of hospitals? New Web site lets Michigan consumers compare costs and quality

LANSING – Michigan lawmakers and their staffs are getting their first look at a Web site called Michigan Hospital Information, aimed at bringing price and quality information about the state's hospitals to consumers in an easy-to-use format.

The site is a voluntary effort developed by the Lansing-based Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA), a non-profit association consisting of a blend of hospitals and health systems that advocate for hospitals and their patients.

“This is a great example of voluntarily taking the initiative,” said Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, the chair of the House Health Policy Committee. “Not everything has to be legislated.”

The Web site, which is now up and running, lists the 50 most frequent inpatient and outpatient medical procedures covered by Medicare. Consumers can find the average charge, the average payment, the average length of stay and the total number of patients who received this procedure at all of Michigan's hospitals.

The data is provided by the independent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The site also provides data on surgical infections and the common causes of hospitalization.

The goal of the Web site is to assist consumers in making better health-care decisions and help drive down costs. “We have 146 nonprofit hospitals across the state, and when it comes to public policy we need to act as one,” said Gerald Fitzgerald, the president of the MHA.

The Web site also provides a glossary of medical terms to help consumers interpret and understand the data. For example, hip and knee surgery is usually called “lower body reattachment,” but the Web site uses layman terms to describe the procedures and costs.

“We are not like other organizations that just put the information out there,” Fitzgerald said. “We want people to understand it.”

Many states require that their hospital data be published, but it is often in obscure, hard-to-find publications or it must be read at the hospital. For example, the data in California is published in two books the size of New York City telephone directories.

“Obviously, that was not an effective way to get the info to the consumer,” said Jim Lee, the vice president of data policy and development for the MHA. “We think this is the best way to distribute the data.”

Cuts to preschool program avoided with supplemental budget bill

LANSING - The Michigan School Readiness Program (MSRP) that provides early childhood education to Michigan’s 4-year-old, at-risk public school students was saved from drastic cuts after the state House Appropriations Subcommittee approved an additional $18.7 million in funding for the program last week.

The committee unanimously reported House Bill 5531, the School Aid supplemental bill, out of committee, but it faces a difficult battle for passage after it passes the House and goes to the Republican-controlled state Senate. Many supporters of the MSRP fear much of the funding will be stripped out of the final version that passes the Senate.

“This is a victory, and this is the first step in the process,” said Rep. Matt Gillard, D-Alpena, the chair of the committee. “We need to continue to keep this funded.”

The MSRP program is for four-year-old children who may be at risk of school failure, and each child must have at least two of the 25 identified risk factors to be eligible. Early childhood education has been a priority for the governor in the last couple of years. Research shows that children who are provided with a high-quality preschool experience show significant positive developmental differences when compared to children from the same backgrounds who did not attend a preschool program.

Because some of the larger and poorer school districts took up a larger portion of the slots this year and the economy in Michigan continues to falter, many of the state's 552 school districts saw a dramatic drop in funded slots. Compounding the problem was the fact that the state budget was passed on the deadline day of Oct. 1, 2007, after school had already started. Many school districts had already filled the slots they thought would be funded but many were not. That led to cuts in other programs and services to keep the kids who had already started school in the MSRP program.

Several individuals and groups testified before the subcommittee about the need to fully fund the school readiness program. Maria Sutka, the director of the Childhood Program Office at Wyandotte Public Schools, said the district requests funding for 250 slots but only received funding for 44.

“We have been underfunded for the last couple of years,” she said. “We are desperately trying to hang on to our program.”

Ronnie Rose, a teacher and parent of a child in the program, told the committee what the program has meant to her child.

“I know as a parent I have seen a huge difference in my child,” she said. “I am very emotional about this because it is so close to my heart.”

The School Aid Fund showed a budget surplus at the end of this year of $60.7 million, and $25 million of that was put back into the School Aid supplemental bill. However, that is still $96 million less than last year, according to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.

Jan 25, 2008

Pressure for action on popular smoking ban goes high tech

The Lansing-based Campaign for Smokefree Air (CSA) is taking its campaign to ban smoking in Michigan workplaces high-tech with a video contest to urge the Michigan Senate to act.

The Smokefree Video Challenge is looking for the most creative ways to tell the Michigan Senate why Michigan workplaces -- including restaurants and bars -- should be smoke free. CSA is challenging people to produce short, two-minute videos that will be placed on YouTube telling Michigan's senators why Michigan should become the next smoke-free state.

According to the group's Web site, CSA will review all submitted videos and will choose the top five. Then those videos will be placed on the CSA Web site, where people will vote for their favorite video. The winner will receive travel vouchers toward a trip to the smoke-free city, state or country of their choice, and with some 30 states and numerous countries already smoke free -- France is the latest to go smoke free -- they have a lot of destinations to choose from. The winning video may also be used in upcoming CSA advertising. The deadline for submissions is March 14.

In early December, the Democratic-controlled House approved House Bill 4163 -- introduced by Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint -- by a vote of 56-46. When the bill was referred to the Republican-controlled Senate, a brief fight ensued as to what committee it would be sent to. Proponents of the bill wanted it to go to what many saw as the most logical place for it: the Health Policy Committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. Tom George, is receptive to the ban. George is a medical doctor.

Instead, it was sent to the Government Operations and Reform Committee, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. Although the ban has lots of support from people from both parties, Bishop has said he will not only not allow the bill to be voted on, it will not get even get a hearing.

That comes on the heels of a poll released on Jan. 23 by CSA that says an overwhelming majority of Republican voters support legislation to make Michigan workplaces smoke free.

The poll was conducted Jan. 9-12 by Lansing-based EPICA/MRA, which polled more than 500 self-identified Republican voters. The poll said 76 percent favored smoke-free legislation, including 62 percent who "strongly favor it." That number drops when you ask respondent if that includes bars and restaurants, but it's still a majority of voters at 67 percent.

"We're hoping Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop takes this information to heart," said Judy Stewart, the spokesperson for CSA, in a press release.

Jan 23, 2008

Online poll unmasks WJR’s bias

Either Detroit radio station WJR-AM 760 is not aware there was also a Democratic primary in Michigan or it’s finally admitting it only caters to the right side of the political spectrum. A recent poll asking people who they plan to vote for during Michigan’s Jan. 15 presidential primary only listed Republican candidates among the choices.

The poll confirmed what many former listeners of the powerful radio station have been saying for years since the station lost the broadcast rights for Detroit’s professional sports teams. To illustrate how conservative the listeners of the 50,000-watt radio station have become with a steady diet of conservative radio hosts, the poll put former conservative Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in second place with 25 percent over Arizona Sen. John McCain with just 10 percent. The real election results were much different, with McCain finishing in second behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 30 percent of the vote with Huckabee in third with just 16 percent.

The self-proclaimed “Great Voice of the Great Lakes” has become the “Great Conservative Voice of the Great Lakes” with an almost exclusive line-up of conservative hosts that includes Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Even the few local hosts are conservative, and in a poll the Michigan Messenger conducted last October, WJR morning host Frank Beckmann was voted the second most biased commentator or reporter in Michigan. This was an honor Beckmann did not appreciate, and he claimed in numerous emails he was fair and balanced, despite plenty of documentation to the contrary.

Jan 21, 2008

Recall effort moves forward with court ruling

Circuit Court Judges in Wayne and Macomb counties gave the recall efforts against state legislators who voted to in October to increase the state income tax and place a sales tax on some services that helped balance the state budget and erased a $1.8 billon budget deficit a shot in the arm last week by overturning the decisions by local county Election Commissions.

The decisions by Wayne County Circuit Judge William Giovan and Macomb County Circuit Judge Mark Switalski overturned rulings of the commission that the recall langue on the petitions was unclear, and it cleared the way for recalls against House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township; Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville; Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms, and Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, to go forward. The effort is being led by Republican Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, the head of the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance (MTA).

Recall efforts against two other Democratic state Representatives is already in the signature gathering stage. The Oakland County Election Commission approved recall language against Rep. Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak, at a clarity hearing in November, and also in November the Kent County Board of Electors approved the recall petition language for the attempted recall of Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids.

Those recalls pending against lawmakers who had recall language rejected include Sen. Jerry Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores; Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch and Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Muskegon. The MTA has court challenges pending against them.

Petition gathers were out during the Jan. 15 Michigan presidential primary election collecting signatures. Numerous Dean supporters braved the cold and snow on election day by manning the more than 30 precincts in the 75th House District to make sure anyone signing recall petitions had both sides of the story. There was some action at the polls, and police were called to a disturbance. However, no arrests were made and no one was asked to leave the premises. The people involved in the nuts and bolts of the Dean and Donigan recall effort on both sides have been rather tight-lipped. The only person willing to talk was at one of the polls for the Dean campaign on election day, but he declined to give his name.

"We are simply giving them the other side," he said. "Our education volunteers are simply saying Robert Dean voted to keep Michigan government from shutting down at the 11th hour."

He also said the recall effort has been seeking people to work for $9 an hour and $2 for each signature over 50. A email sent to the MTA received a reply confirming the petition gathers were being paid, but the spokesperson declined to identity themselves or to comment further.

“The amount paid to some of the gatherers is up to the independent consulting firm that hired them, the email said. “As an independent contractor, that is their internal business. I have heard of no harassment by this firm. But yes, they did call the police when the blockers would not stop trying to intimidate our unpaid volunteer petition circulator at that poll.”

Representative from the Royal Oak Area Democratic Club that is fighting the Donigan recall attempt did not return repeated phone calls.

The Democrats are fighting the recall at the signature gathering point because the conventional wisdom is that once the required signatures are collected and the yes or no question on whether the lawmaker should stay or go is on the ballot the fight is lost. The legislature has a low approval rating among people of all political parties, and the only people who turn out for this kind of election with a low voter turnout are the ones who launched the recall. It is doubtful people will vote to save a legislator’s job. Democrats want to contest the process through all the required steps in contrast to the last tine a state Legislator was recalled in 1983 when two Democratic state Senators were recalled for voting for a tax increase that gave Republicans control of the Senate they enjoy to this day. Democrats say the recall is just an attempt by Republicans to regain control of the House they lost in November 2006

The MTA is under a serious time-constraint. Section 168.951 of Michigan Election Law says that a recall petition cannot be filed against an elected official during the last six months of the officer's term of office, and the General Election is just 10 months away. The recall 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.

The petition circulator must collect only those signatures of voters registered in the House District of the lawmaker being recalled, and the person collecting the signatures must also be a registered voter in that district. The petitions must contain the signatures equal to at least 25 percent for all the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in the district of the lawmaker being recalled.

Once enough signatures are collected, the petitions are sent to the Secretary of State, which has seven days to begin to verify that the petitions are in the proper form and the signatures are from registered voters in the district. The target of the recall then has the right to challenge the signatures. Within 35 days after the petitions are filed with the SOS, the office must make a determination if the petition is sufficient or deficient, and if it's sufficient it then notifies the county clerk that the a recall election is to be held on the next regular election date that is not less than 95 days after the date the petition is filed. If the recall is successful, the seat is immediately vacant, and a special election to fill the vacancy shall be held on the next regular election date. The governor may appoint someone to fill the seat until the election is held and the successor sworn in.

Jan 20, 2008

SC win bodes well for McCain in Florida with its heavy military population

It would seem surprising that a U.S. Senator from out west in Arizona would beat out a southern Governor in the heart of Dixie, but that’s what Arizona Senator John McCain did in winning the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary Saturday over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

There had to be some tension in the Straight Talk Express camp after finishing a distant third in Nevada on Saturday with just 13 percent of the vote behind the winner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 51 percent and Ron Paul with 14 percent. But South Carolina, with its heavy military veterans and U.S. Navy population, came through for the former Navy pilot with 33 percent of the vote to Huckabee’s 30 percent and another southern favorite son, former Tennessee U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, with 16 percent.

South Carolina is where McCain met a bitter defeat in 2000 that destroyed his presidential hopes against then Texas Gov. George W. Bush. The win has to give the McCain camp a good feeling going in to the upcoming Jan. 29 contest in Florida that also has a heavy military presence.

McCain is a graduate of the Naval Academy, and after receiving his commission, McCain earned his Naval Aviator wings and was flying combat missions over North Vietnam from U.S. aircraft carriers. On his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam in 1967, he was shot down and badly injured and spent five years as a POW.

Charleston, S.C. – where McCain set up his election headquarters – once boasted one of the largest naval stations and naval shipyards on the East coast before it was closed during the last base realignment, but many naval veterans chose to retire nearby or stay there after they were discharged to work for a military contractor. One of only two Naval Weapons Stations on the East Coast is located just outside of Charleston in Goose Creek.

Many Navy veterans are well aware of the McCain name, and both his father and grandfather were decorated and respected Navy Admirals. In fact, one of the most powerful naval ships in the world is named for them. The USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) is an Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer home ported in Yokosuka, Japan. But that is the second Navy ship to bear the McCain name, and the first USS John S. McCain (DDG-36) was commissioned in 1953, serving as a Cold War warrior until it was decommissioned in 1978.

Florida has one of the largest naval bases on the East Coast at Mayport near Jacksonville with two aircraft carriers stationed there, as well as two Naval Air Stations in the Jacksonville area, and Navy bases in Key West, Orlando, Pensacola, Milton and in nearby Kings Gay, Ga.

Romney has a large lead in delegates with 72 to McCain’s 38 followed by Huckabee with 29, but they have a long way to go to reach the magic number of 1,191 to wing the nomination. Florida is the most populace state to hold a primary so far, and the delegates picked up there will be go a long way toward reaching the magic number. However, Florida is in a similar boat as Michigan, and they were penalized with the loss of delegates by the national parties for moving their primary up early just like Michigan.

The polls say McCain has the early lead in Florida with 26 percent of the vote over former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani with 22 percent according to CNN. Giuliani has bet the house on Florida with its large population of transplanted New Yorkers, and Florida is the only place he has campaigned, for the most part.

Both parties will then turn their attention to "Super Tuesday" on February 5, when 22 states hold their primaries.

Jan 19, 2008

When you can’t debate you censor

We saw last summer how Republicans hate to be challenged when they try to lie and spin facts, and when Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, censored the liberal blog Blogging for Michigan by banning it from Senate computers we saw how far they will go when challenged with the truth.

I felt that same wrath when I was banned last week from commenting on the leading right wing blog, RightMichigan, by paid GOP operative Nick DeLeeuw.

It’s pretty sad when their positions are so flimsily they cannot even defend them, and because they can’t defend their positions they just shut people up. Many of my blogger friends and colleagues ask my why I bother posting on right-wing blogs and put up with all the personal attacks. It’s pretty simple: How hard and how fun is it to have a debate with yourself or with someone with the same position. Hell, how do you even debate yourself?

Actually, I don’t get a whole of lot out of these debates and exchanges because after I destroy their positions and punch holes through their lies and half truths, I get greeted with name-calling. When you do not have a leg to stand on that’s what you get. I should have expected this because his boss has a “blog” that does not even allow any comments. They want to be able to spin their lies without being called out on it.

One of their favorite insulting names for me is troll. Whenever I disprove their spin and point out their lies I get called a troll instead of them backing up their position. I’ve repeatedly asked how I can be a troll when to comment I have to be registered with a screen name and password that has to be approved. You can comment here anonymously because I can defend my positions, and I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe.

It doesn’t really bother me that I got banned because I was just wasting my time debating people devoid of real ideas and closed minds, but the lame excuse he used to get rid of someone who was kicking his ass in debate really bothers me.

The other favorite slur against me is a play on my screen name, and I’m called Commie Guru, or similar variations. Very clever of them, but unfortunately, that’s what passes for real, intelligent debate on that blog.

Being called a Communist is something that is particularly offense to me because I spent 20 years in the Navy during the Cold War. I made some 10 overseas extended deployments during that time away from my family, and it really bothers me to be called a communist after that.

The people on that blog, like many Republicans, are what Al Franken calls “Chicken Hawks” meaning they are pro-war but refuse to serve in the military to back that up. DeLeeuw and the few posters there are the very definition of chicken hawks. There is one serial poster there who continually calls me a communist, but at the same time keeps telling me how much he supports the Iraq occupation and the troops. One day I called him out on a particular offensive anti-troop remark, so I began calling him “troop-hater” when ever he called me a communist. Childish. Yes, but what can I say.

In reality, I know he nor DeLeeuw are really not troop-haters. They are just indifferent, and they want them to go and fight and come home, shut up and then disappear.

Back to what got me banned. DeLeeuw posted some untrue things about the people tying to discourage people from signing the petitions in the misguided recall attempt against Rep. Robert Dean. He claimed the paid signature collectors were being harassed, so I went right to the source to get the information and found out that DeLeeuw was lying. He later posted video he took that proved I was right.

To make a long story short, I was banned for – get this - “chicken-hawking.” I have no idea how he reached that conclusion since I served in the military and am against the Iraq occupation.

If I misstated anything here or I am incorrect feel free to add your comments. You can even do it anonymously.

See, I don’t censor people here.

Jan 14, 2008

The Toxic Toy Parade will march into Kalamazoo

Instead of the parade of the toy soldiers, the United Steelworkers (USW) and dozens of allied community, environmental, health organizations, the AFL-CIO and other labor groups from across the nation are holding a toxic toy parade to demand Congress take immediate action to protect Americans from the USW says are a dangerous threat posed by the millions of lead-laced toys and other unsafe products infiltrating the country.

“The massive toy recalls this holiday season drew attention to the much larger problem of the countless dangerous imports – tires, toothpaste, fake drugs, pet food – making their way on to U.S. store shelves,” said USW President Leo W. Gerard, in a press release announced the USW “Protect Our Kids – Stop Toxic Imports” campaign set to begin Wednesday. “People are starting to realize that we’re paying the price for cheap, imported goods so corporations can make bigger profits. “

The USW is calling for support for the U.S. Food and Product Responsibility Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and in the House by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.). This legislation would safeguard Americans against toxic food and products by shifting the responsibility on to the backs of the companies producing the goods and the importers importing them.

Over the past few months the USW Women of Steel have conducted lead screening tests in more than 25 cities across North America to educate families about the threat of lead contaminated toys and other products. They conducted Tupperwre-like house parties in people’s homes just before Christmas where they brought a toy to be tested for lead. The union is also offering the free screening kits that were used at the parties, and they are very easy to use.

In Michigan, the Toxic Toy Parade of Concerned Citizens will be visiting downtown Kalamazoo and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton’s, R-St. Joseph, office, at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 to illustrate the importance of this issue. The Congressman will be presented with a toy for charity and a lead test kit. The office is located at 157 S. Kalamazoo Mall. A hazardous waste barrel will be available for those wishing to drop off lead contaminated toys.

Beginning with the recall of 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine toys in June 2007, more than 6 million toys have been recalled for high levels of lead. Lead can cause a variety of health problems, including learning disabilities, stunted growth, kidney damage and even death. Other toxic imports include lipstick, toothpaste, seafood, children’s lunchboxes and pet food.

Petition drive to guarantee Michigan health care gets off the ground

Beginning with the presidential primary Tuesday and continuing through the summer, people can expect to see an army armed with blue petition forms seeking signatures to give Michigan residents affordable health care.

Health Care for Michigan is a coalition of labor, religious and activist groups that wants to amend the state constitution to require the Legislature to pass laws to ensure that "every Michigan resident has affordable and comprehensive health care coverage through a fair and cost-effective financing system."

Constitutional amendments require the valid signatures of registered voters equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor in the last election. That comes out to 380,126 signatures that must be collected by July 7 to put the measure on the November general election ballot.

The groups have already started collecting signatures, and they have 90 days between when the first and last signatures are gathered to turn the petitions in to the Secretary of State. To ensure the group has enough signatures that can withstand challenge, the coalition hopes to get 425,000 signatures. The group held press conferences across the state last week to help create a buzz, and members are busy training people to circulate petitions and to act as representatives for the drive.

“We are certainly creating a lot of excitement across the state,” said Valerie Przywara, a field organizer with Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network, a statewide network that promotes comprehensive health care.

John Freeman, chairman of the of the ballot committee, said political leaders in Washington and Lansing have failed to deal with a broken health care system. The constitutional amendment, he said, would require that state leaders craft a "Health Care Security Plan" that ensures that people who currently have health insurance won’t lose it, provides health insurance coverage for those without it and controls and reduces health costs.

“Far too many people are one serious accident or a pink slip away from bankruptcy and losing their health care, and that’s wrong,” Freeman said last week. “No one that works hard and plays by the rules should have their families or business cast into financial ruin because they don’t have access to affordable health care.”

The petition drive has picked many supporters, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Also supporting the drive are more than two dozen organizations, including the Service Employees International Union, AARP Michigan, Michigan Unitarian Universal Social Justice Network, Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), Michigan Disability Rights Coalition and the Michigan Osteopathic Association.

U.S. manufacturers, especially automakers, are finding it hard to compete globally because of the high cost of supplying health care to employees and retirees. Foreign governments are helping foreign auto companies compete by providing health care for employees to make their cars cheaper and U.S. cars more expensive. There are also an estimated 750,000 to 1 million Michigan residents with no health care at all.

The main opposition is coming from business groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which say they are concerned with the cost of providing government health care.

“We are, of course, preparing for opposition, but we really don’t see any major opposition,” Przywara said. “We believe the petition drive supports both a private and public solution to a major problem.”

Every election season Michigan residents are bombarded with petition drives, and this year voters may see petition drives aimed at allowing use of medical marijuana, allowing anyone 18 and older to use cannabis on private property, calling for a part-time Legislature, make Michigan a so-called Right to Work state and even a measure to put every tax increase on the ballot. Many critics say it is far too easy to get something on the ballot, and it takes away the concept of representative government in favor of mob rule. They also say any legislator can introduce a bill for universal health care at any time. But proponents say the petition drive, if successful, would give the Legislature the ability to craft its own health proposal.

“The constitution is the highest authority,” Przywara said. “We are simply telling the Legislature what we want with this petition drive, and we will hold them accountable.”

Jan 13, 2008

McCain wows them at Livingston County town hall meeting

GENOA TOWNSHIP - Arizona Sen.. John McCain and the Straight Talk Express made a stop in Livingston County’s Genoa Township Sunday for a town hall meeting where he addressed a standing room only crowd on everything from Iraq to the Great Lakes Compact.

The Republican presidential candidate received a warm welcome from the large crowd that jammed inside the Crystal Gardens ballroom, and McCain spoke for more than an hour and answered numerous questions from the audience, taking his message to Michigan voters.

“Michigan’s best days are ahead of us,” he said. “It has been hard and it has been tough for Michigan, but I believe Michigan will lead the way in green technology.
“Michigan saved the word in World War II, and they can do it again,” he said.

McCain won the crowd over with his humor and one-liners, even at the expense of himself and Michigan as he highlighted its economic problems and the loss of population in the Great Lakes state

“I love Arizona, and I am grateful for all of the Michiganders who have come there,” he said. “I just don’t want you to think you have to come there.”

He told the crowd he hopes he is not following in the steps of other Arizona favorite sons who have run for the presidency and failed in their quest, including the father of modern conservatism Sen. Barry Goldwater, former Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Congressman Morris Udall.

“Arizona may be the only state in America where the mothers don’t tell their sons they can grow up to be the president,” McCain joked.

McCain brought an impressive group of people to campaign with him aboard the large Straight Talk Express bus, including the co-chairs of McCain’s Michigan Steering Committee; Michigan Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob and Republican National Committeewoman Holly Hughes. Yob served as the MC, and he led the crowd in chants of “Mac is Back.”

“You know that Michigan is McCain country, and he picked up five more Michigan newspaper endorsements today,” Yob said. “The score was John McCain five, the rest zero.”

In addition to the many local dignitaries and politicians on hand for the rally were U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; former Republican . Congressman Joe Schwarz and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has been stumping for McCain across the state.

“We want someone who keeps it real, like the young people like to say,” Pawlenty said. “One of the values we have here in the Midwest is we want a straight shooter.”

It was not all sweets and flowers for McCain, and he was grilled on his immigration policy, and his immigration stance has led to protests and anger at some stops on the campaign trail.

McCain said he wants to secure the borders but offer illegal immigrants some kind of way to become citizens in a sane and humane way that includes some kind of punishment and redemption. He was asked by one audience member to do away with the law that allows the child of an illegal immigrant to automatically become a U.S. citizen

“I want people treated on a case-by-case basis, or at least by category,” he said. “I’m not going to call up a soldier who is serving in Iraq and tell them I’m deporting his mother.”

McCain was also asked to defend his position for voting against making the Bush tax cuts permanent.

“If you cut taxes you have to cut spending, or you will be in the same fiscal instability we are in now,” he said. “We cannot have this fiscal instability and put the future burden on the backs of our children.”

McCain has broke with the Republicans and angered some of the base with his position on global warming to the point he is called a liberal, but he also believes in promoting nuclear power as a way to combat climate change.

“I believe in climate change,” he said. “I will argue that with anybody.”

McCain pledged he would put a stop to the kinds of pork barrel spending that has led to things like Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.”

“In my 24 years I have never received or proposed a pork barrel project for my state,” McCain said. “I will veto any pork barrel project that crosses my desk as president.”

McCain said he initially opposed the Iraq strategy that earned him criticism from his own party, but he is now convinced the surge and current strategy in Iraq are working. He believes Iraq is the key to defeating Al-Qaeda, and he thinks the U.S. should do everything possible to capture Osama Bin Laden.

“I will follow him to the gates of hell,” he said. “I will get Bin Laden, and I know how to do it.”

McCain said part of his war on terror will include increasing health care for the vets actually fighting the war and who have served America in the Armed Forces in the past.

“We are going to have to expand the VA,” he said. “I’m going to give every vet a plastic card they can take to any doctor to get health care.”

McCain continues to rack up important Michigan endorsements

Sen. John McCain picked up some interesting endorsements last week in Michigan, including prominent state newspapers and Michigan politicians.

Polls show McCain and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are neck-and-neck here as the primary fast approaches. McCain already won the nod of Michigan’s two largest newspapers with the endorsement of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, and on Sunday he added the Jackson Citizen Patriot and the Livingston County Daily Press and Argus to the endorsement tally.

The Citizen Patriot said this about McCain, “Fundamentally, he is a straight shooter who has stood by our involvement in Iraq and the need for immigration reform even if it has cost him votes.” The Citizen Patriot is owned by Advance Publications, the same company that owns the Ann Arbor News, the Bay City Times, the Flint Journal, the Grand Rapids Press, the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Saginaw News.

The Press & Argus endorsement is not surprising because it is owned by Gannett, which also owns the Detroit Free Press. The P & Argus said McCain “is a solid conservative whose views resonate with Livingston County Republicans. He is a pragmatic, tested politician who will forge necessary alliances, whether with Democrats when bipartisan solutions are needed or with other nations in battling terrorism.”

McCain also picked up the endowments of one of Michigan’s most respected political leaders on Thursday with the announcement that former Gov. William G. Milliken is endorsing him. Milliken also endorsed McCain in 2000 that helped put McCain over the top in Michigan against then Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Milliken is respected among moderates of both political parties.

According to a column written by syndicated columnist George Weeks – a former Milliken press secretary- in Milliken's hometown paper the Traverse City Record Eagle, Milliken had this to say about McCain, "I have long admired Senator McCain for his straight talk and service to the country. There's a real sense of integrity in the firm positions he takes, even though they are not always popular. I don't agree with him on all issues, but I like his well-earned reputation of saying what he means, and meaning what he says."

Milliken served as the Michigan governor from 1969 to 1982. He served as Lt. Governor with former Gov. George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, from 1964-1969 until the senior Romney resigned to run for the Republican nomination for President in 1969. The endorsement of someone who served with his father cannot bode well for the junior Romney.

Livingston County’s Michigan Legislative delegation is split on their endorsements. A letter to the editor in the P & A co-signed by state Sen. Valde Garcia, Rep. Joe Hune, as well as the chair of the Livingston County Republican Party and the county sheriff, endorses Romney.

But an even more bizarre letter to the editor appeared in the P & A from Rep. Chris Ward, R-Genoa Township endorsing McCain. The apparent flip-flop has Ward apparently flopping back to McCain.

Ward was one of four state representatives from Michigan to serve as legislative co-chairs of the McCain campaign in September 2006, and Ward was also named co-chair of the Straight Talk America Michigan Legislative Advisory Team. But Ward announced in June 2007 he was resigning from the McCain Campaign and switching his allegiance to former actor and lobbyist Fred Thompson.

It’s unclear why Ward changed his mind, and in the letter Ward says, “His (McCain’s) stand on immigration made me shift my support to former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. Michigan independents and Republicans need to get to the polls on Tuesday and give John McCain a big victory. Our country would benefit from his leadership.”

Jan 10, 2008

FAQ for the Michigan 2008 Presidential Primary

The starts and stops of Michigan’s presidential primary, which saw politicians play with the House Bill that moved it up and made it a primary instead of a caucus, saw some of the leading Democratic candidates withdraw their names and lawsuits filed to stop the election. This may have lead to many Michigan voters being confused about Tuesday’s primary. These Frequently Asked Questions will address any concerns.

Where do I vote?
Registered voters will vote at the same polling place they vote for all normal elections. The Michigan Secretary of State has an online Voter Information Center where you can find your polling place complete with a map by simply typing in your name and where you live.

Who is administering this election?
This is a state-run primary election and will be administered by county, township and city clerks.

What is the difference between a presidential caucus and a presidential primary election?A primary election is run under state law and paid for by the state, while a caucus is a nomination process paid for by a political party and run under its rules.

What are the voting hours?The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15, but state law says all people in line when the polls close will be allowed to vote.

I want to vote on Jan. 15, but I have not registered to vote yet, so can I still register to vote or register at the polls?No. Michigan election law requires all voters register at least 30 days before the election. You would have had to register by Dec. 17, 2007 to vote in this election.

How do I vote absentee?
If you are a registered voted and expect to be out of town on election day, are age 60 or over, are disabled, unable to vote without assistance at the polls, are in jail awaiting arraignment or trial, unable to attend the polls due to religious reasons or you are appointed to work as an election inspector in a precinct outside of your precinct of residence, you may vote by absentee ballot under Michigan election law. People meeting that criteria have until 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, to request a ballot at their local city or township clerk's office, and they must be returned to or received no later than 8 p.m. on election night at the local clerk's office.

What do I need to bring to the polls?
You must have in your possession and show a Michigan driver’s license, a Michigan ID card or any other current picture ID to vote. If you do not have those, you will be allowed to vote by signing an affidavit saying you are not in possession of picture identification before you are issued a ballot.

Is this a closed or open primary?
No party registration is required to vote. However, you must declare a party affiliation to vote, and you will be given either a Democratic or Republican ballot. You can only vote in the Republican primary or the Democrat primary – not both. As in all elections, your vote is kept private, but which party you choose will be recorded.

Who are the Democrats appearing on the ballot?
The Democratic ballot will have five choices: Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich and Uncommitted. However, Dodd has already dropped out of the race.

Who are the Republicans on the ballot?
The Republican ballot will include: Sam Brownback, Rudy Giuliani, Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo and Uncommitted. However, Brownback and Tancredo have dropped out of the race.

What is “Uncommitted”?
A vote for “Uncommitted” is a vote to send delegates to the respective national convention who are not committed or pledged to any candidate. Those delegates can vote for any candidate they choose at the convention.

Hey, where are John Edwards and Barack Obama?
The Democratic National Committee threatened to not seat Michigan delegates because they violated party rules by holding an early primary, and John Edwards, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson withdrew their names in protest of Michigan’s decision to go early. Biden and Richardson have both since dropped out of the race.

Can I just write them in?
No. No one has filed as a write-in in from either party, and any write-in votes will spoil the ballot and be disregarded. The Michigan Democratic Party is urging Edwards and Obama supporters to vote "Uncommitted," and those delegates will be sent to the Democratic National Convention as undecided and can vote for any candidate.

How will Republicans select a presidential candidate?
Republicans will nominate their candidates for President and Vice President and adopt a platform at the 2008 Republican National Convention. The convention will be held in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., Sept. 1-4. Michigan Republicans will send 60 delegates to the convention based on the results of the voting in Michigan’s presidential primary. The bulk of them, 45, will include three from each of Michigan’s 15 congressional districts, plus 10 at large, two bonus and three party leaders.

How will Democrats select a presidential candidate?
Democrats will nominate their candidates for President and Vice President and adopt a platform at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The convention will be held in Denver, Colo., August 25-28. Michigan Democrats will be represented by a delegation of 156 delegates, 21 alternates, 18 convention committee members and four pages.

Jan 8, 2008

Local election officials gearing up for Michigan Presidential primary

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, like the rest of Michigan, is gearing up for the 2008presidential primary on Jan. 15 that is a first for the state.

Swope said his office staff is putting in some overtime to ensure the election is ready to go after numerous starts and stops for court actions, candidates withdrawing and other things, as well as training election workers. Unlike past elections of any kind in Michigan, voters will have to declare if they want a Republican or Democratic ballot before they vote and a record will be made of that. Swope said he has spent some time with his election workers addressing how to handle that situation.

“It’s a pretty unique election in that you have to declare a party to get a ballot,” he said. “Other states do it, but it’s a tradition in Michigan to keep that secret. I expect my staff to get some flack over it on election day.”

There is a full slate of Republican candidates, but some of the top Democratic candidates have withdrawn their names from the ballot to protest Michigan’s decision to have an early primary in violation of the national party’s rules. Those wishing to vote for former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama or Gov. Bill Richardson should vote “Uncommitted,” and those delegates will be sent to the Democratic National Convention as undecided. Swope cautioned under no circumstances should anyone enter a write-in candidate because the ballot will be spoiled and disregarded.

The polls open at 7 a.m. and will remain open until 8 p.m. Swope said he will have extra workers at the 62 precincts at 43 locations across the city to ensure lines are not long. This is the second election in which voters will be required to show a picture ID card to vote, and Swope said he has incorporated lessons learned from the last election. Voters will be asked for an ID, and if they do not have one, they will be asked to sign an affidavit saying they are not in possession of picture identification before they are issued a ballot.

“We don’t send them back to their car or their house,” Swope said. “We simply have them sign an affidavit.

“I strongly oppose asking for an ID, but that's the law,” he said. “We don’t enforce traffic laws, we enforce election laws.”

Because the election is being held in usually cold January, Swope said he has had a high number of absentee ballots. He sent letters to everyone over age 60 asking them if they wanted an absentee ballot, and so far Swope said he has more then 6,100 requests. People who are over age 60 or will be out of town on election day have until 2 p.m. Saturday to request a ballot at their local city or township clerk's office, and they must be returned to or received no later than 8 p.m. on election night at the local clerk’s office.

Because it is hard to find large groups of people gathered at one place during the cold, winter months, voters can expect various groups at the polls collecting signatures on the day of the primary. Groups trying to get legislative initiatives on the general election ballot include Health Care for Michigan pushing for universal health care, a group pushing a part-time legislature, a group wanting to require every tax increase be put on the ballot and an initiative to make Michigan a so-called right-to-work state. There are also individuals collecting signatures to recall lawmakers who voted last October to both increase the state income tax and implement a sales tax on certain services –- the sale tax has since been repealed -- that helped balance the budget and do away with a $1.8 billon deficit.

“People collecting campaign signatures must follow the same rules as a candidate campaigning at the polls,” Swope said. “They have to be 100 feet away from any egress used by voters.”

Jan 7, 2008

Labor ready to fight Right to Work, but enemy may be hard to find

Organized labor in Michigan is busy gearing up for what it believes is the first battle in the push by conservatives to make Michigan a so-called Right to Work (RTW) state, but organized labor may not have anyone to fight in the initial round.

For months there have been rumors of a push by conservative groups and individuals from out of state to make Michigan a RTW state by collecting signatures for a citizen initiative. Proponents of RTW claim the law would do away with the requirement that workers must be in a union to be employed at a union shop. However, federal law already protects workers who don't want to join a union to get or keep their jobs, and the law gives workers the right to opt out of a union. But they must still pay union dues. RTW would give them the option of not paying dues while still enjoying the benefits of being in a union.

RTW bills are before both the Michigan House and Senate, but are stuck in committee. In the House, Rep. Jacob Hoogendyk, R-Kalamazoo, introduced Bill 4454, and Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, introduced Bill 4455, both to make Michigan a RTW state. In the Senate, Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, introduced companion bills, 607 and 608. Union officials say they are hearing that petitions will be circulated to make RTW a ballot initiative, and organizers of the petitions will use the Jan. 15 Michigan Presidential Primary to collect the signatures. But union officials say no organized effort has stepped up to lead that effort, and there appears to be some concern among those pushing RTW that the high turnout expected in the 2008 General Election may hurt the cause because Michigan has such a high union membership that can be mobilized to vote.

“The latest info I have is there will be no signatures gathered at the polls here,” said Paul Hufnagel, the president of the Greater Lansing Labor Council.

To start a citizen initiative, supporters of RTW only have to collect the valid signatures of registered voters equal to 8 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor in the last election. That comes out to 304,101 valid signatures of registered voters. Once the petition signatures are verified, the state Legislature has 40 session days to adopt or reject the proposal, and if it is rejected it is placed on the ballot for the next general election.

But although labor is not sure that signatures will be gathered during the primary, leaders are not conceding the point, and in case RTW supporters do mount a petition drive, labor is actively recruiting people to be at the polling stations where signatures will be collected and give the other side of the issue and ask voters to decline to sign. The plan is to have at least one person at each of 2,500 polling places across the state during the time the polls are open in two shifts. Training sessions are being held for those volunteers signed up right up until the polls open.

“The Michigan Republican Party may have placed this on the back burner, but it is still out there,” Hufnagel said.

Labor leaders say that even if there are no signature gathers at the polls this time around, the issue is not going away any time soon, and those pushing RTW see Michigan, as the home of the United Auto Workers (UAW), as a chance for a symbolic victory.

“(Senate Majority Leader) Mike Bishop has said his number one priority is right to work, but he knows he does not have the support in the Legislature,” Hufnagel said. “We could see the domino effect; as Michigan goes, so goes the rest of the country.”

Labor leaders say even if there are no signature gathers at the polls this time around, the issue is not going away any time soon, and those pushing RTW see Michigan, as the home of the United Auto Workers (UAW), as a symbolic victory.

“(Senate Majority Leader) Mike Bishop has said his number one priority is right to work, but he knows he does not have the support in the legislature,” Hufnagel said. “We could see the domino effect; as Michigan goes, so goes the rest of the country.”

McCain picks up endorsement of Michigan’s largest newspapers

Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., received a major boost in Michigan with the endorsement of Michigan's largest newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, on Sunday.

The Free Press endorsed McCain in 2000 when he won the Michigan Primary, and the paper did it again, saying McCain's steadiness and consistency make him the choice for Michigan Republicans.

“John McCain is, again, the best candidate to carry the GOP banner into the fall. While the Free Press differs with McCain on a number of issues, the Arizona senator is a smarter, more tested and pragmatic leader who has shown since 2000 that he knows how to build bipartisan alliances around issues.”

Last week McCain picked up the endorsement of Michigan's second largest newspaper, the Detroit News. The Free Press has a circulation of more than 353,000 readers on weekdays – according to the Michigan Press Association - and a circulation of more than 712,000 on Sunday. The Detroit News has a weekday circulation of more than 226,000.

The Detroit Free Press is owned by Gannett, and it remains to be seen if the entire chain in Michigan will endorse McCain. Gannett products in Michigan include the Battle Creek Enquirer, the Lansing State Journal, the Livingston County Daily Press and Argus and the Port Huron Times Herald.

Jan 5, 2008

McCain campaigning hard for Michigan Presidential Primary

Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will maintain a solid presence in Michigan leading up to the Jan. 15 Michigan Presidential Primary.

Cindy Pine, the Hamburg Township Supervisor and the former chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, said McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” will land at 2 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Crystal Gardens Banquet Center, 5768 E. Grand River Ave., in Livingston County’s Genoa Township for a town hall meeting that’s free and open to the public.

McCain is coming off of a respectable fourth place finish in the Iowa caucuses with 13 percent of the vote, and many pundits are calling it a victory for McCain. McCain spent very little time or money in Iowa, instead focusing on the New Hampshire primary set for Tuesday. The surprise win by Mike Huckabee over Mitt Romney- the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney - in the Iowa caucuses may be a good thing for McCain, who decided several months ago to stake his entire campaign on New Hampshire, where he is ahead of Romney in the polls.

It was not too long ago that McCain was falling like a rock in the polls, and supporters were jumping off the Straight Talk Express like rats from a sinking ship. We have seen that scenarios play out right here in Michigan, which may make McCain’s Michigan visits interesting.

Here in Livingston County, Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, was named as one of four state representatives from Michigan to serve as legislative co-chairs of the McCain campaign way back in September of 2006, and Ward was also named co-chair of the Straight Talk America Michigan Legislative Advisory Team. But Ward announced in June of last year he was backing off of his previous endorsement of McCain for the Republican Presidential nomination and switching his allegiance to former actor and lobbyist Fred Thompson; before Thompson was even running.

In September Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced he was resigning his post as Michigan chairman of McCain's presidential campaign.

McCain has had past success in Michigan, winning the 2000 Michigan Presidential Primary over then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, despite an almost guarantee of a Bush victory and endorsement by former Michigan Gov. John Engler. McCain just recently picked up a Michigan victory of sorts, receiving the endorsement of one of Michigan’s largest daily newspapers, the Detroit News.

But there is also some opposition to McCain in Michigan. The Michigan State University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom is planning to demonstrate against McCain's immigration policies when he appears for a town hall meeting at 4 p.m. Jan. 13 at the MSU Kellogg Center, 55 South Harrison Rd. in East Lansing. The MSU YAF has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Other Michigan appearances by McCain include: a Grand Rapids rally and town hall meeting at 10:15 Jan. 9 a.m. at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Northern Jet Management, 5500 44th Street SE.

A Macomb town hall meeting 10:45 a.m. Jan. 12 at the Andiamo Celebrity Showroom, 7096 Fourteen Mile Rd. in Wayne.

An Oakland town hall meeting 3:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Clawson High School Trojan Hall, 101 John M Ave.

A Battle Creek town hall meeting 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Burnham-Brook Center, 200 West Michigan Ave.

A Kalamazoo town hall meeting, 9:45 a.m. Jan. 14 at Kalamazoo Christian High School, 2121 Stadium Dr.

A Holland town hall meeting 12:15 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Hope College DeWitt Theater, 141 Columbia Ave.

A Spring Lake get out the vote rally and town hall meeting, 4 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Nichols Company, 1391 Judson Rd. in Spring Lake.

A Kent County get out the vote rally, 5:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Kent County Republican headquarters, 264 Leonard St. NW in Grand Rapids.

A Traverse City get out the vote rally 8n a.m. Jan. 15 at Northwestern Michigan College Hagerty Place, 715 East Front St.

Jan 4, 2008

Dodd throws in the towel after poor showing

After capturing less than 1 percent of the vote in Thursday night’s Iowa Caucus, Connecticut Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Dodd announced he is dropping out of the race for President in 2008.

Calling the past year spent year campaigning for the presidency as one of the most rewarding in a career of public service that includes five terms in the U.S. Senate, Dodd called it quits in a short speech to his supporters.

“But there is no reason to hang our heads this evening -- only the opportunity to look towards a continuation of the work we started last January: ending the Iraq War, restoring the Constitution, and putting a Democrat in the White House,” he said. “We made a real difference in shaping the debate, and we'll continue to do so in the coming days, weeks and years.”

Despite dropping out of the race, Dodd’s name will remain on the ballot for the Jan. 15 Michigan primary, along with just fellow Democrats U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Mike Gravel.

Jan 3, 2008

NLRP says union members cannot use employee provided email for union business

The National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling just before Christmas that will have a negative effect on union organizing by ruling that employers have the right to prohibit workers from using the company’s e-mail system to send out union-related messages.

The New York Times reported that in a 3-to-2 the board held that it was legal for employers to prohibit union-related e-mail so long as employers had a policy barring employees from sending e-mail for “non-job-related solicitations” for outside organizations.

The ruling is a significant setback to the nation’s labor unions, which argued that e-mail systems have become a modern-day gathering place where employees should be able to communicate freely with co-workers to discuss work-related matters of mutual concern.

Union organizers have limited access to workers; often reduced to passing out information to workers as they zoom out of employee parking lots with the windows of their cars rolled up in sharp contrast to employers who can make employees attend mandatory anti-union meetings.

“It will make it very difficult to get access to workers,” said Paul Hufnanagel, the president of the Greater Lansing Labor Council.

The ruling involved The Register-Guard, a newspaper in Eugene, Ore., and e-mail messages sent in 2000 by Suzi Prozanski, a newspaper employee who was president of the Newspaper Guild’s unit there. She sent three e-mail messages about marching in a town parade and urging employees to wear green to show support for the union in contract negotiations.

During the years that this case was pending, many companies were uncertain whether they could bar union-related e-mail. But the labor board’s decision gives companies nationwide the green light to prohibit union-related e-mail as part of an overall nonsolicitation policy.

Labor leaders attacked the decision, calling it part of board rulings that have favored employers and undercut workers.

“Anyone with e-mail knows that this is how employees communicate with each other in today’s workplace,” Jonathan Hiatt, general counsel for the A.F.L.-C.I.O, told the New York Times. “Outrageously in allowing employers to ban such communications for union purposes, the Bush labor board has again struck at the heart of what the nation’s labor laws were intended to protect — the right of employees to discuss working conditions and other matters of mutual concern.”

The ruling comes as the nation’s labor unions continue to struggle to reverse their membership declines. They represent just 12 percent of the nation’s work force, down from 35 percent in the 1950s.

Hufnanagel said it will have a very negative effect on anyone trying to organize private sector employers over public employees or even trying to negotiate a union contract.

“You have more access to those employees working in the public sector simply because they work in public buildings,” he said. “I come from the public sector, so I am aware of that.”

The two board members who dissented asserted that the employees’ interest in communicating with other employees about union activity and other collective concerns should, with regard to the e-mail system, outweigh the employer’s property interest.

They wrote, “The majority erroneously treats the employer’s asserted ‘property interest’ in e-mail — a questionable interest here, in any event — as paramount, and fails to give due consideration to employee rights and the appropriate balancing of the parties’ legitimate interests.”

In many past cases, the labor board ruled that employers engaged in illegal anti-union discrimination if they barred workers from engaging in union-related speech on bulletin boards or telephones when they allowed workers to communicate on bulletin boards or telephones about other matters.

In its new ruling, the board’s majority wrote that employers can allow workers to use e-mail for personal communications while barring them from organizational-related communications. The majority redefined the meaning of discrimination and wrote that the Seventh Circuit’s approach “better reflects the principle that discrimination means the unequal treatment of equals.”

Adopting another new policy, the board appeared to allow employers to bar e-mail for certain organizational activities, like promoting a union or Avon products, but not organizational activities related to charities.

The dissenters said the majority’s decision, in allowing employers to bar solicitation with regard to some activities and not others, “would allow employees to solicit on behalf of virtually anything except a union.”

Jan 1, 2008

Wordsmiths at LSSU release annual list of overused words

National attention is drawn each year to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and one of Michigan’s 15 public universities when the "wordsmiths" at Lake Superior State University in balmy Sault Ste. Marie release their annual “List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.”

As a reporter and writer, some of the words on the 33rd annul list are ones that I and other journalists have used and will most likely continue to use. With out further ado, here is the list of 19 words that made the list with explanations by the students from LSSU.

PERFECT STORM -- "Overused by the pundits on evening TV shows to mean just about any coincidence." --Lynn Allen, Warren, Mich.

WEBINAR -- A seminar on the web about any number of topics. "Ouch! It hurts my brain. It should be crushed immediately before it spreads." -- Carol, Lams, Michigan.

WATERBOARDING -- "Let's banish 'waterboarding' to the beach, where it belongs with boogie boards and surfboards." -- Patrick K. Egan, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

ORGANIC -- Overused and misused to describe not only food, but computer products or human behavior, and often used when describing something as "natural," says Crystal Giordano of Brooklyn, N.Y. Another advertising gimmick to make things sound better than they really are, according to Rick DeVan of Willoughby, Ohio, who said he has heard claims such as "My business is organic," and computers having "organic software."

WORDSMITH/WORDSMITHING -- "I've never read anything created by a wordsmith - or via wordsmithing - that was pleasant to read." -- Emily Kissane, St. Paul, Minn.

AUTHORED -- "In one of former TV commentator Edwin Newman's books, he wonders if it would be correct to say that someone 'paintered' a picture?" -- Dorothy Betzweiser, Cincinnati, Ohio.

POST 9/11 -- "'Our post-9/11 world,' is used now, and probably used more, than AD, BC, or Y2K, time references. You'd think the United States didn't have jet fighters, nuclear bombs, and secret agents, let alone electricity, 'pre-9/11.'" -- Chazz Miner, Midland, Mich.

SURGE -- "'Surge' has become a reference to a military build-up. Give me the old days, when it referenced storms and electrical power." -- Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio.
"This word came out in the context of increasing the number of troops in Iraq. Can be used to explain the expansion of many things (I have a surge in my waist) and its use will grow out of control . . .. The new Chevy Surge, just experience the roominess!" -- Eric McMillan, Mentor, Ohio.

GIVE BACK -- "This oleaginous phrase is an emergency submission to the 2008 list. The notion has arisen that as one's life progresses, one accumulates a sort of deficit balance with society which must be neutralized by charitable works or financial outlays. Are one's daily transactions throughout life a form of theft?" -- Richard Ong, Carthage, Mo.
"Various media have been featuring a large number of people who 'just want to give back.' Give back to whom? For what?" -- Curtis Cooper, Hazel Park, Mich.

'BLANK' is the new 'BLANK' or 'X' is the new 'Y' -- In spite of statements to the contrary, 'Cold is (NOT) the new hot,' nor is '70 the new 50.' The idea behind such comparisons was originally good, but we've all watched them spiral out of reasonable uses into ludicrous ones and it's now time to banish them from use. Or, to phrase it another way, 'Originally clever advertising is now the new absurdity!'" -- Lawrence Mickel, Coventry, Conn.
"'Orange is the new black.' '50 is the new 30.' 'Chocolate is the new sex.' 'Sex is the new chocolate.' 'Fallacy is the new truth.' -- Patrick Dillon, East Lansing, Mich.

BLACK FRIDAY -- "The day after Thanksgiving that retailers use to keep themselves out of the 'red' for the year. (And then followed by "Cyber-Monday.") This is counter to the start of the Great Depression's use of the term 'Black Tuesday,' which signaled the crash of the stock market that sent the economy into a tailspin. -- Carl Marschner, Melvindale, Mich.

BACK IN THE DAY -- "Back in the day, we used 'back-in-the-day' to mean something really historical. Now you hear ridiculous statements such as 'Back in the day, people used Blackberries without Blue Tooth.'" -- Liz Jameson, Tallahassee, Fla.

RANDOM -- Popular with teenagers in many places. "Over-used and usually out of context, e.g., 'You are so random!' Really? Random is supposed to mean 'by chance.' So what I said was by chance, and not by choice?" -- Gabriel Brandel, Farmington Hills, Mich.

SWEET -- "Too many sweets will make you sick. It became popular with the advent of the television show 'South Park' and by rights should have died of natural causes, but the term continues to cling to life. It is annoying when young children use it and have no idea why, but it really sounds stupid coming from the mouths of adults. Please kill this particular use of an otherwise fine word." -- Wayne Braver, Manistique, Mich.

DECIMATE -- Word-watchers have been calling for the annihilation of this one for several years. "Used today in reference to widespread destruction or devastation. If you will not banish this word, I ask that its use be 'decimated' (reduced by one-tenth)." -- Allan Dregseth, Fargo, N.D.

EMOTIONAL -- "Reporters, short on vocabulary, often describe a scene as 'emotional.' Well sure, but which emotion? For a radio reporter to gravely announce, 'There was an emotional send off to Joe Blow' tells me nothing, other than the reporter perceived that the participants acted in an emotional way. For instance: I had an emotional day today. I started out feeling tired and a bit grumpy until I had my coffee. I was distraught over a cat killing a bird on the other side of the street. I was bemused by my reaction to the way nature works. I was intrigued this evening to add a word or two to your suggestions. I was happy to see the words that others had posted. Gosh, this has been an emotional day for me." -- Brendan Kennedy, Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada.

POP -- "On every single one of the 45,000 decorating shows on cable TV (of which I watch many) there is at LEAST one obligatory use of a phrase such as ... 'the addition of the red really makes it POP.' You know when it's coming ... you mouth it along with the decorator. There must be some other way of describing the addition of an interesting detail." -- Barbara, Arlington, Texas.

IT IS WHAT IT IS -- "This pointless phrase, uttered initially by athletes on the losing side of a contest, is making its way into general use. It accomplishes the dual feat of adding nothing to the conversation while also being phonetically and thematically redundant." -- Jeffrey Skrenes, St. Paul, Minn.

UNDER THE BUS -- "For overuse. I frequently hear this in the cliché-filled sports world, where it's used to describe misplaced blame, e.g., After Sunday's loss, the fans threw T.O. under the bus." -- Mark R. Hinkston, Racine, Wis.

All that snow and cabin fever on Dec. 31, 1975 must have helped inspire former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe and his colleagues when they cooked up the idea to banish overused words and phrases and issue a list on New Year's Day. According to the press release announcing this year's words, the list comes from thousands of nominations received through the university's website. Word-watchers target pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the news, education, technology, advertising, politics, sports and more. A committee makes a final cut in late December, and the list is released on New Year's Day.