Jun 30, 2008

Bishop punishes Michigan voters for his ignorance

LANSING -- Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, punished the Democrats and a member of his own caucus who briefly took control of the Senate to move three important bills out of committee on June 19 by further disenfranchising voters.

Subscription only MIRS reported last week that Bishop took away the vice chairmanship of the Senate Health policy Committee from Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, who joined the Democrats in discharging an annexation bill – House Bill 5779 - he wanted and the so-called Kreiner fix bill Democrats wanted. He was also booted off the Senate Government Operations Committee. Of course, that committee is chaired by Bishop and rarely, if ever meets. It’s where Bishop sends bills he wants to block from ever being voted on.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, was kicked off the useless Government Ops Committee and the important Senate Campaign and Election Oversight Committee, for a second time. The person who came up with the rules to take advantage of the Republican ignorance and move the bills, Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, was kicked off the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will go from seven to six members.

House Bill 4301 is designed to address the recent interpretation by the Michigan Supreme Court in the case Kreiner v. Fischer. This bill was passed by the Michigan House of Representatives on March 14, 2007 and was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary where it remains, and it would go a long way to helping people injured in automobile accidents recover damages.

The bipartisan HB 5779, the annexation reform bill, was introduced by Rep. Mark Corriveau, D-Northville, and it has overwhelming support. Last week 1,300 letters against the proposed annexation of part of Northville Township to Livonia were hand delivered to Michigan Senators.

All three bills were sent back to committee to die.

Republicans use public political debate as fundraiser

The Livingston County Republican Party wants citizens to be informed voters and know the issues the candidates they are voting for in the primary election in August support. That’s a great and admirable goal, but the disgusting part is they want to charge you to do so.

The Livingston County Teen Age Republicans (TAR) is sponsoring a candidate forum next month for the two open Michigan House seats, but they are charging you 5 bucks to attend the forum and hear from the candidates. I have been around politics for a few years, but I can’t recall being charged for a political debate so the party can raise money.

Republicans Jason Corosanite and Bill Rogers are facing off to run against Democrats Donna Anderson of Brighton and Milford resident Tom Crawford for the open 66th District seat that includes the city of Brighton and the townships of Marion, Oceola, Brighton, Genoa, Green Oak and Milford.

Republicans Charlie Aberasturi, Cindy Denby and Frank Portelli are facing off against Democrat and Hamburg Township resident Scott Lucas for the open 47th District seat that includes the City of Howell and the townships of Cohoctah, Conway, Deerfield, Hamburg, Handy, Hartland, Howell, Iosco, Marion, Putnam, Tyrone and Unadilla.

In a primarily Republican county like Livingston County, the primary winner will more than likely be the winner of the General Election in November – although that may be in doubt this year with the long coat tails of the next President, Barrack Obama – and if you have an uncontested race in the Democratic primary you may want to vote for the best Republican candidate.

The good news is the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus sponsors a debate for both the primary and the General Election that costs nothing, and it is truly a public service and not a GOP fundraiser.

GOP launches racist attack on Katrina victims

The Livingston County Republican Party is taking up the racists remarks of its hero Rush Limbaugh and launching a thinly-veiled racist attack on the Hurricane Katrina victims with a letter writing campaign.

The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus published a letter to the editor from Howell Republican Tom Worley that basically accused the victims of Hurricane Katrina of being looters, thieves and whiners, as compared to the victims of the current flooding in the Midwest, specifically Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who are non-complaining, salt-of-the-earth people. The not-so-subtle point the Livingston County GOP and Limbaugh are trying to make is people in the Midwest are white and the backbone of America versus the people in New Orleans who are black and criminals. The political debate in Livingston County has taken a decidedly ugly turn since Allan Filip took over as chair of the party almost two years ago, and this is just one more example.

While the floods in the Midwest are devastating and the courage of the people affected is inspiring, the damage pales in comparison to Katrina. Hurricane Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes and the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, displacing more than half a million people, killing over 1,700, and causing $81.2 billion in direct damage. One magazine even named it one of the top 10 worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

The loss of live can be contributed to both the ferocity of the storm and the short time people had to prepare. The people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama did not have nearly the amount of time the people of the Midwest had to react to the category 5 hurricane.

When you talk about New Orleans, many did not have the means to evacuate. Many urban dwellers do not own a car because they simply do not need one. It is estimated up to 100,000 New Orleans families did not own a car.

I would imagine it takes at least a few days of rain to raise flood waters like it did in the Midwest. Even Worley said in his letter that, “When this happened in 1993, I had the privilege of visiting the flooded area.” Flooding for those who live in a flood plain is not something new to them. But the biggest difference in the reaction of FEMA.

Their actions in New Orleans served as a perfect example of what not to do in a disaster, and the lessons leaned from their disgraceful performance in New Orleans will help everyone else. Even the official news source from the Republican Party, Fox News agrees.

“Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina turned FEMA into a punchline, many homeowners, politicians and community leaders in the flood-stricken Midwest say that so far, the agency is doing a heckuva job — and they mean it.”

Jun 26, 2008

Next Michigan governor speaks in Livingston County

HOWELL – A packed house at the historic Livingston County Courthouse listened in rapt attention to the next governor of Michigan Tuesday evening, at least that’s what many in the crowd were hoping for when former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer spoke in the historic courtroom where he felt right at home.

Archer was a guest of the Livingston County Democratic Party to talk about the relationship between Michigan’s largest city and the suburbs, but one of the first questions during the Q & A period was will the Detroit Democrat run for Governor.

“I am looking at the governor’s office out of respect for the people who asked me to do so,” he said.

A poll taken by Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling (PPP) on June 21-22 showed Archer ahead of some of Republicans who have been mentioned as possible candidates for the 2010 gubernatorial race. The poll has Archer besting U.S. Rep. Candice Miller by a wide margin of 41 to 29 percent and Attorney General Mike Cox 40 to 33 percent.

Archer has a varied and impressive resume that includes a stint as a public school teacher, a succesful law practice, a law professor, a Michigan Supreme Court Justice and the mayor of Detroit. He also has a solid business background and connections Democrats do not normally have, serving as the chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, serving on major boards like Compuware and serving as the chair of a major law firm that represents many large corporations. Many seem him as a force that can unite the bickering political forces that have helped stall progress in Michigan.

Although Archer is proud of his accomplishments that saw him rise out of poverty in rural west Michigan, he wants to ensure the next governor, who ever they may be, raises the bar and addresses the current problems Michigan faces.

“This state cannot afford to have somebody in office who is completing on-the-the-job-training.," he said. “They need to understand the needs of Michigan, and how to meet those challenges.”

Archer said the governor has to ensure the environment is conclusive for business to grow jobs as much as a governor can control certain factors, and he said the governor has done that.

“Business is in business not to lose money; business is in business to make money,” he said. “Jobs don’t create jobs, businesses create jobs. We have to create a climate in the state and in our communities that grows jobs.”

Archer cited the recent tax breaks for the film industry as a perfect example of creating that climate; and going after an industry that would not otherwise come to the state. He said he realized the importance of incentives for the film industry when the bio movie on the Temptations was not filmed in Detroit where the members grew up and thrived.

“It’s so rewarding to see Gov. Schwarzenegger in California try to figure out how to catch Michigan,” he said. “Don’t be surprised if you see them (filmmakers) come to Livingston County.”

Archer, a former public school teacher for five years, said education is going to both turn Michigan around and ensure the U.S. competes and wins in a global economy. He said the era when a high school diploma was all you needed to find a good-paying manufacturing job are long gone, and he said it will take a bare minimum of two years of education after high school to find a decent job.

“For America to be strong, we need to find a way to educate all of our children,” he said.

Archer, who grew up in poverty in rural Cassopolis, said it was the community as well as his parents that helped him get an education and rise out of poverty, and he said we need to get back to that because educating young people is everybody’s concern.

“I couldn’t go home from school in Cassopolis without someone saying, ‘come here boy and let we see that report card’ because they all knew when they came out,” he said. “Somewhere we lost our way.”

Archer said his father only had a third grade education and his mother a high school education, but he said from the day he was born his parents drilled into him he would be going to college.

“My parents made it clear to me my entire life I was going to go to college,” he said. “They didn’t know what I was going to study because they had never set foot on a college campus.”

One of the reasons Archer spoke in Livingston County was to speak on the relationship between Detroit and the suburbs. He said the health of Detroit will have a major effect on the state, and Detroit is a name that’s recognized all over the world. He said for business to decide to move to Michigan, the city and Detroit have to have a solid image, an educated workforce, solid infrastructure and incentives. Archer also said the entire metro region has to work together to be successful.

“It’s not about Detroit versus Livonia, Flint or Howell; Detroit is recognized worldwide,” he said. “It’s not just the Detroit region against the Chicago region, Baltimore region or the Los Angles region, it’s competing against the Tokyo region, the Bonn region or the Melbourne region.”

Archer said one of his proudest accomplishments was helping turn Detroit around. He said in this two terms as mayor, there was $22.2 billon worth of investment in Detroit, decreased crime and he helped turn devil’s night into angel’s night.

“Detroit did not have a good image,” Archer said. “There was not a lot of pride in Detroit.

“I found there was a reservoir of good will about Detroit because so many people had good memories of living here once,” he said.

Senate calls special session

LANSING – The Michigan Senate will meet in a rare Friday session at 10 a.m. before it breaks for the summer.

Speculation is that the budget conference committees will be able to present conference reports after a budget agreement was reached Wednesday by administration and legislative officials. There is also speculation the Senate will take up the energy bills, House Bills 5524-5525 and 5548-5549. The complex package of bills were passed by the House with bipartisan support on April 17, and the Senate Committee on Energy Policy and Public Utilities passed all but HB 5525 by a vote of 5-3 on June 12.

The full legilsture will not return from summer beak until Sept. 9. The Senate, however, has set tentative session dates for July 15-17, July 22-24 and Aug. 13, 27 and Sept. 2. No word on the House, where all the seats are up for election. The Senate seats will not have to stand for election until 2010.

Update: The House will also be in session at noon on Friday 6/27.

Jun 25, 2008

Schauer endorsed by major state law enforcement organization

State Sen. Mark Schauer continues to rack up endorsements in his quest to knock off ultra-conservative Tim Walberg in the race for the 7th Congressional District seat.

The Michigan Association of Police Organizations (MAPO) announced their endorsement today in a press release. The MAPO’s eight member organizations – such as The Michigan State Police Troopers Association and the Michigan Association of Police - represent three-fourths of the state's 19,500 certified police officers.

“MAPO is proud to endorse Mark Schauer for Congress," said Richard Weiler, President of the Michigan Association of Police Organizations, in the press release announcing the endorsement. “The law enforcement community is excited about the possibility of Mark bringing to Congress the same commitment to public safety that he exhibited in the Michigan Legislature. We look forward to calling him Congressman Schauer.”

Jun 22, 2008

Gang of Four slams the door of justice in the face of citizens

BRIGHTON – If you’re an individual suing an insurance company or a corporation in Michigan you will lose. It’s as simple as that.

Since the Republican majority, known as the “Gang of Four,” took over the majority of the Michigan Supreme Court, an insurance company has not lost a case in a decade. The four activist judges – Cliff Taylor, Robert Young, Stephen Markman and Maura Corrigan - have gutted consumer protection laws, watered down environmental protection laws and weakened individual rights. The doors of justice have been slammed shut in the face of ordinary citizens and swung wide open for insurance companies and corporations.

“They have radically changed Michigan law,” said Ypsilanti attorney Doug Shapiro, at a recent forum on the Supreme Court sponsored by the Livingston County Democratic Party. “In 10 years, no one has won a case against an insurance company; if you are the plaintiff, you lose.”

The court’s decision has empowered insurance companies and made them less responsive to consumers.

“Insurance companies once had to act in the best fiduciary duty to the insurance, not just make money,” Shapiro said. “Not any more.”

As for a perfect example of that, Shapiro said in the past, people had a year to sue their insurance company after a claim was denied; ironically, to keep litigation down. Now, the clock starts ticking as soon as the incident occurs. The insurance company can put off the insured for a year, lose paperwork and simply delay a decision until the clock runs out. It also applies to someone who is mentally incapacitated because of the incident, overturning a 50 year precedent.

The gang of four has also expanded government immunity so much that government can only be sued if a pot hole is so large you have to climb out of it. Governments do not have to plow snow, maintain proper lighting and other basic safety issues. For example, the gang of four recently ruled the City of Lansing cannot be held liable in the 2005 death of 7-year-old Chantell Buckner, who was struck and killed by a drunk driver while walking along a curb because a city plow had covered the sidewalk with snow.

“There is no incentive for the government to address those safety things,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro also said the gang of four’s arrogant actions have destroyed product liability in the state.

“If you read the opinions, they mock the sense of justice,” Shapiro said. “Like the Bush Administration, justice is like the Geneva Convention, quaint.
“They have said it’s not the court’s duty to provide justice,” he said.

The gang of four were never elected, and were initially appointed. But, they are acting as a partisan, unelected four person legislature. Only Taylor is up for election, and there is a grassroots effort to defeat him and bring some fairness back to the court.

They know they have an uphill battle because incumbency for the Supreme Court is worth up to 30 percent of the vote. Plus, there is considerable ballot drop off, and most people don’t get that far down on the ballot.

The Justice Caucus has formed the “Supreme Challenge” to target Taylor. The Michigan Democratic Party has not named a nominee, but Orion attorney Marietta S. Robinson and 3rd Circuit Court Judge Deborah A. Thomas have been mentioned as candidates. Michigan Lawyers Weekly conducted an online poll, and both Robinson and Thomas trounced Taylor with more than 75 percent of the vote.

Jun 20, 2008

Dennis Archer to speak at Historic Livingston County Courthouse

The Livingston County Democratic Party is hosting former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the historic Livingston County Courthouse in downtown Howell.

Archer will speak on the interrelations between Michigan's urban, suburban and rural areas, and it will include coffee and dessert. Archer has had a storied and varied career that has touched every aspect of public life, as well as a successful career in the private sector. It is that background and success that has many people mentioning his name as the next Democratic Governor of Michigan.

Archer was born in Detroit but raised in poverty in rural Cassopolis. He taught learning-disabled children in Detroit Public Schools for fives years until he earned his law degree from the Detroit College of Law, attending classes at night.

He was a partner in a Detroit law firm, and he was also active in Democratic politics, directing successful campaigns from Detroit City Clerk to U.S. Congress. In addition to practicing law, Archer was also an associate professor at Detroit College of Law and an adjunct professor at Wayne State University Law School.

Archer was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1985, serving until 1993, and he was named the "most respected judge in Michigan" by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He stepped down to run for the Mayor of Detroit to succeed legendary Mayor Coleman Young, and in 1993 he won with 57 percent of the vote in a bitter campaign. He served two terms until 2001. Archer helped improve the city and its image, and he helped cut down the crime rate and improved city services. He also helped bring the Lions and Tigers back downtown with Ford Field and Comerica Park.

Archer then returned to the private sector, becoming the first African-American president of the American Bar Association. He is currently the chairman of the respected law firm Dickinson and Wright.

The public is invited to attend, and a $10 donation is requested. The courthouse is located at 200 E. Grand River Ave. For more information, call (810) 229-4212 or email livcodems@sbcuc.net.

Smokefree proponents push to get ban in place before election break

LANSING – With just one week left in the Michigan legislative session before the summer break, proponents of the workplace smoking ban, including bars and restaurants, are making one last big push to get a clean smoking bill to the Governor.

The Campaign for Smokefree Air placed print ads in the state’s largest circulation newspapers urging lawmakers to pass a clean smoking bill that has no exceptions or so-called "carve outs." They are also urging members to contact their legislator, as well as House Speaker Andy Dillon, to urge them to act.

As you recall, the Senate passed House Bill 4163 in May that had no exceptions. But the House punted and passed a vehicle bill, HB 5074, that banned smoking in workplaces with exceptions, including non-Native American casinos, bingo-halls and so-called “cigar bars.” The House still has 4163 to act on, and supporters are asking the House act on that bill. The Senate has also not indicated if it will act on HB 5074.

The Senate was spurred into action in May after sitting on the bill for months by a report by the leading Lansing research firm Public Sector Consultants Inc. called “Smokefree workplaces: The Impact of House Bill 4163 on the Restaurant and Bar Industry in Michigan” that concluded there is no net economic impact on bars and restaurants.

The coalition is also saying the same thing for casinos. According to statistics provided by Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, a year after Delaware implemented comprehensive smokefree legislation, state revenue from gaming increased by 3 percent to $5.7 million. According to the California Board of Equalization, California’s bars, casinos and gambling clubs continue to profit since going smoke free in 1998, and sales increased from $8.64 billon in 1997 to $11.3 billon in 2002. Since the Massachusetts smokefree law went into effect, net keno sales have increased $121,000 per year.

Casinos that are not smokefree have up to 50 times more cancer-causing particles in the air than highways and city streets jammed with diesel trucks in rush hour traffic. A recent study of 17,000 gamblers in Las Vegas found that four out of five gamblers do not smoke. No one can explain how one in five people can carry so much weight and have so much more money than the rest of us.

The decision to create the carve outs came out of fear that the three Detroit casinos will lose business to the Native Americans casinos that do not have to ban smoking. Again, no one has explained how such as small group – only 21 percent of the state’s population smokes – control so much money or why they have so much power. It also makes no sense that with gas costing more than $4 per gallon, why any sane person would drive 160 miles – the distance from the Detroit casino – to the nearest Native American casino just to smoke a cigarette. It is easier to drive to Windsor where casinos are smoke free, and many people do so, in spite of the congested Ambassador Bridge and the passport hassles.

To contact your state Representative, go to www.house.mi.gov to find your representative’s email, fax or mailing address, and a mass email to supporters are urging them to send the ad as an attachment. You can also call the American Cancer Society at 1-888-NOW-I-CAN today and ask to be transferred directly to your state Representative.

Jun 19, 2008

Progressive Book Club finally goes online

It’s here, finally. After months and months and even years of checking the web site to see if it was functioning, the Progressive Book Club is finally up and running and taking orders.

The introductory offer includes three books for just $1 each, and you can choose from some great titles, like the “The Real McCain,” “A Time to Fight,” by Sen. Jim Webb and Al Gore’s “Assault on Reason.” It also offers a place to debate books, discussions, forums and a blog. Perhaps even more importantly, the purchase of a great book will benefit your favorite progressive organization.

The PBC will donate $2 from the purchase of every book over $10 to your favorite organization, from the Animal Defense Fund to the Wellstone Action Fund.
Conservatives have had a place to buy the latest hate-filled trash from the likes of Ann Coulter at the American Compass Book Club and Conservative Book Club for years, and now liberals, progressive and reasonable Americans now have their own book club now.

Check it out.

Senate Democrats stage bloodless coup

LANSING -- Senate Democrats staged a bloodless coup Thursday and briefly took over control of the Senate.

The minority Democrats used some procedural magic and wrestled control of the Senate from the majority Republicans, who have a 21-17 edge in the Senate. Democrats - with the help of Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Lansing - took advantage of the fact three Republicans were out of town to pull off the takeover.

While the majority party, the Democrats managed to discharge Senate Bill 124 from Judiciary Committee to the full floor. The bill addresses the recent interpretation of law by the Michigan Supreme Court in the case Kreiner v. Fischer, and it gives more freedom in the courts for people who have been seriously injured in an auto accident.

Although that is a real victory for the regular guy over the insurance companies who have not lost a case in the Michigan Supreme Court for the past 10 years, the real enjoyment was the look of befuddlement and frustration on the face of Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey. Priceless.

Jun 18, 2008

Canadians announce location for new Windsor to Detroit bridge

The Canadian government announced its decision today on where it will locate a new Detroit to Windsor bridge in a press release from Transport Canada.

The Canadian crossing will be the Brighton Beach section in west-end Windsor, and the new crossing would alleviate frequent traffic jams and long delays on the Ambassador Bridge and through the Windsor-Detroit tunnel caused by the 17 traffic lights semi-trucks must go through in downtown Windsor to reach the highway. The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest commercial border crossing in all of North America.

"Today's announcement of the locations of the inspection plaza and new bridge brings us a step closer to an end-to-end transportation solution that will support international trade and, therefore, enhance the economies of Windsor, Essex County, Ontario and Canada,” said Lawrence Cannon, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

The location is the culmination of technical studies, analysis and community input by the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study teams - part of a joint effort by the Michigan Department of Transportation, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, Transport Canada and Ontario's Ministry of Transportation - on both sides of the border that began in 2001. The U.S. location will be located in Detroit's Delray neighborhood.

There has been intense debate on the DRIC study, and Grosse Pointe transportation billionaire Matty Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge, is planning to build a new bridge right next to the old one. Today's announcement will most likely mean it will be a bridge to nowhere unless his intense lobbying efforts are successful on the Canadian side of the border as they has been on the Michigan side with people like state Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, the Senate Majority Floor Leader.

The Detroit International Bridge Company operates the Ambassador Bridge, one of only two border crossings owned by private individuals.

Jun 17, 2008

MEDC says give film tax breaks time to work

LANSING – Officials from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation told lawmakers Tuesday to give the recently enacted tax breaks for filmmakers time to work.

Even though the bills passed almost unanimously in March, Republicans have criticized the bipartisan package as a giveaway to one industry. Lisa Dansock, from the MEDC, told the House Commerce Committee that since the bills were approved, 30 films have been approved that will spend more than $230 million in the state, and Michigan is one of the top spots for film production.

It has also led to infrastructure investment in soundstages, studios and other structures totaling $25-$50 million. It will also contribute to stopping the brain drain of young, creative people leaving the state, and it will help retrain displaced workers.

“It’s really interesting to see the ripple effect,” said Committee Chair Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale. “When we draft legislation we set goals, and we are meeting the goals.”

What has come under fire is the incentive that allows production companies a 40 percent rebate on the Michigan Business Tax (MBT). But Dansock said the estimated $86 million in rebates will not occur until 2009, and only after all of the production costs have been verified and audited. She also said that money will go into the coffers of Michigan businesses.

“We need to let these incentives work,” she said.

Jun 13, 2008

Ambassador Bridge representatives lash out at MDOT and military

LANSING – Representatives from the Detroit International Bridge Company received little hard questioning at a hearing of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Thursday, despite skipping the hearing they were originally scheduled to testify at two days earlier, claiming a scheduling conflict and then getting busted by the committee chair at the House Office Building where the committee hearing was held just after the hearing adjourned.

The committee has been holding hearings on the DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing) study, and the lobbyist for the bridge company that owns and operates the Ambassador Bridge, Mickey Blashfield, and company president Dan Stamper were asked about conflicting traffic estimates the company provided that has apparently angered Canadian officials. Instead, the company said the numbers the DRIC team and the Michigan Department of Transportation provided were “grossly inaccurate.”

“We have a four year result to look back at the DRIC estimates, and it shows how far they were off,” Stamper said.

Stamper said the truck traffic peaked in 1999, but Committee Chair Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint, said there has been an upward trend in truck traffic since 1972. Gonzales said 2006 was a record year for truck traffic. The bridge company, however, estimates a flat forecast for the next 40 years. Stamper said they have hired a neutral third party to do a traffic study.

The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest commercial border crossing in all of North America, and its has enormous effects on the economy of both Canada and the U.S. Almost 30 percent of all U.S./Canada trade and over 25 percent of the truck traffic between the U.S. and Canada passes through the Detroit-Windsor gateway. This U.S.-Canadian trade directly supports 7.1 million U.S. jobs, 221,500 Michigan jobs, and one in three Canadian jobs. More than $1 billon in trade crosses the bridge every single day. Increased traffic and increased security concerns led to a partnership between the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, Transport Canada, MDOT and the Ontario Ministry of Transport to increase traffic lanes and capacity across the Detroit River, and the DRIC study began in 2001 to find the best place to build a second crossing.

After studying various location options, the DRIC study found the best option was to build a crossing about a mile from the current Ambassador Bridge.

However the private, for profit bridge company has fought that in an effort to keep its monopoly, saying there is not enough traffic to justify a second crossing and then going forward with building a second span right next to the current one, despite not having clearance from the Canadian government to connect it to Canadian soil. Additionally, traffic on the Canadian side of the Ambassador empties into a city street in downtown Windsor, and trucks must go through 17 stop lights to reach the freeway. Backups can be as long as 5 miles, and Canadian officials do not want to see more traffic dumped onto city streets.

In 2007 Canada passed legislation, The International Bridges and Tunnels Act, to strengthen the Canadian government’s control over all international crossings. Specifically the act says “No person shall construct or alter an international bridge or tunnel without the approval of the Governor in Council.” The government of Canada is on record as opposing a new bridge at the Ambassador Bridge’s current location.

Security has obviously been a major concern in a post 9/11 world, and only two international border crossings are in private hands. The committee presented video testimony from Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey who supports the DRIC location, and Stamper went out of his way to discredit McCaffrey. He said McCaffrey praised the Bradley fighting vehicle on CNN during the Iraq occupation, but he did not reveal he sat on the boards of several military contracting corporations. He also claims McCaffrey never disclosed he was on the board for a major supplier to MDOT. Stamper also claimed the bridge was the safest crossing in the country.

“We are the only bridge crossing in the country that has armed security 24-hours a day,” he said.

Gonzales asked Stamper if law enforcement had access to the bridge at all times, and Stamper ducked the question, saying Customs controls that; they just operate the facility. Stamper also said they had a massive floating bridge stored in a warehouse in case of a terrorist attack and the bridge was impassable. Stamper also used this opportunity to take some shots at MDOT.

“I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but they haven’t had any adult supervision, and that has allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do,” he said.

In what will be a major talking point for the bridge company to keep its monopoly, Stamper said the twin bridge only impacts the view from the old bridge. The DRIC crossing will displace 400 homes, 50 businesses and churches and non-profits. He said the company has spent $500 million since 1993 buying up property for the new bridge, but it has all been industrial property and will not affect anyone.

“We’re committed to it, and we will finish it,” he said. “We have invested half a million dollars of our owner’s own money.”

Only Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Chelsea, called him on that testimony.

“For you to say you’re not going to have an impact is inappropriate,” she said.

Stamper also says the DRIC crossing will be built with tax dollars, but that is simply not true. In fact, his bridge would be financed the same way the DRIC crossing would. Both bridges will be financed by revenue bonds secured by future tolls. Both spans of the BlueWater Bridge and the International Bridge - publicly owned international crossing structures in Michigan - were financed this way, as well as the original construction of the Ambassador Bridge

The prospect of a second, privately-owned international crossing has been met with significant opposition, and the DRIC option has widespread support among groups and entities that do not always see eye-to-eye. Supporters include the Southeast Michigan Council of State Governments (SEMCOG), the Big 3 automaker and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Gonzales asked Stamper why all the DRIC supporters were wrong, but he was right.

“The Big 3 would like five bridges all operated and subsidized by the government to keep fares low,” Stamper said. “At the heart of the matter you have a private company that has been operating efficiently for the past 18 years. The government wants to change that and build a government bridge that displaces 400 homes.”

Testimony is expected to continue next week with testimony from MDOT, but Stamper said he wants to come back and testify after MDOT does.

Jun 12, 2008

Bridge company reps skip hearing

LANSING -- The representatives from the Detroit International Bridge Company, the private company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, played hooky from the House Transportation Subcommittee Tuesday that was anticipating taking testimony on the DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing) study.

The lobbyist for the bridge company, Mickey Blashfield, and company president Dan Stamper were supposed to testify before the panel Tuesday, but they opted out by sending a letter to Subcommittee Chair Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint, in which he said it was "not possible to adjust pre-existing schedules and prepare further testimony,” according to the subscription only MIRS. But in a mid-day news conference, according to MIRS, Gonzales told reporters that he'd spotted Blashfield in the lobby of the House Office Building shortly after he'd adjourned the hearing. Then the Flint Democrat blasted Blashfield for skipping his scheduled testimony and handed out a copy of the letter he said Blashfield had sent him, claiming that he couldn't testify due to the scheduling problem.

“They wanted to hear what MDOT had to say before they testified,” Gonzales said during the abbreviated hearing. “They are acting like Obama and Clinton.”

That will change Thursday, and the bridge company representatives are expected to testify at 10:30 a.m. today in the HOB.

Amazingly enough, in the era of 9/11 the busiest international border in North America is owned by a private for-profit-company. Currently, the Ambassador Bridge is the busiest commercial border crossing in all of North America, handling 20 percent more trucks than its closest competitor and almost double the commercial traffic of the next busiest crossing on the Canadian border. In all, almost 30 percent of all U.S./Canada trade and over 25 percent of the truck traffic between the U.S. and Canada passes through the Detroit-Windsor gateway. This U.S.-Canadian trade directly supports 7.1 million U.S. jobs, 221,500 Michigan jobs, and one in three Canadian jobs. More than $1 billon in trade crosses the bridge everyday.

In response to the need to increase capacity and redundancy in case something happened to the bridge, the bridge company is building a second span next to the current bridge to maintain its monopoly. Two bridges right next to each other should make a terrific target for terrorists looking to cripple the economy. Canadian law does not allow an international crossing to be in private hands, so it will be a bridge to nowhere.

In 2000, a partnership was formed by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, Transport Canada, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the Ontario Ministry of Transport in response to a 1998 Freight Transportation System Study by the Ministry of Transportation, Ontario looking at cross border freight activity. The purpose of the partnership is to provide for the safe, efficient and secure movement of people and goods across the U.S.-Canada border at the Detroit River in order to support the economies of Michigan, Ontario, Canada and the United States. This bi-national partnership began the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study.

Gonzales - and many other government, business and military leaders - say the decision on the crossing is the most important infrastructure decision since 1950 when the Mackinac Bridge agreement was reached.

Jun 6, 2008

Indoor smoking ban decreases cases of heart disease

Hard evidence that indoor smoking bans are benefiting the health of people are beginning to come in, and one of the first national smoking bans is showing positive results.

In just one year after Italy enacted a national smoking ban, researchers in Rome found an 11.2 percent reduction of acute coronary events in persons 35 to 64 years and a 7.9 percent reduction in those ages 65 to 74, according to a study in, “Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.”

Researchers in Rome compared the rate of acute coronary events from 2000 to 2004 to those occurring in 2005 after the ban was enforced, and they came up with the significant numbers. This was the first study in Europe to show the long-term health benefits of smoke free legislation in public places. Other European countries that are entirely smoke-free include England, Germany, Ireland, Scotland and France Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death in Italy, and this study affirms smoking bans have a tremendous positive effect on public health.

“Smoking bans in all public and workplaces result in an important reduction of acute coronary events,” said Francesco Forastiere, M.D., Ph.D., co-author of the study and head of the Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology Unit, Department of Epidemiology, Rome E. Health Authority, Italy. “The smoking ban in Italy is working and having a real protective effect on population health.”

In Michigan, studies have primarily focused on the economic effects on bars and restaurants, such as the recent study by Public Sector Consultants that showed there is no drop in business and revenue after a smoking ban is enacted.

Although critics of smoking bans are ignoring the two reports by the U.S. Surgeon General that says there is no amount of secondhand smoke and it is killing thousands of people every year, policymakers are not. Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, said the report is what changed his mind when he voted for the ban last month.

The Senate is currently considering House Bill 5074 that bans smoking in workplaces, with the exception of non-Native American casinos, bingo-halls and so-called “cigar bars.”

Jun 5, 2008

Its official: Recall is dead

LANSING – The recall against House Speaker Andy Dillon is officially dead after Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land issued an official declaration saying the petition drive fell 776 short of the 8,724 signatures necessary to put the recall question on the Aug. 5 primary ballot.

"I commend the professionalism of the local election officials and the Bureau of Elections as we moved through this extensive and time-consuming review process," Land said in a press release.

The Bureau of Elections' preliminary findings released on May 23 showed that only 8,224 signatures were valid, but after a more intensive look at the petitions the number of invalid signatures grew to 7,789 invalid signatures.
Republican Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet and his group filed 15,739 signatures with the Bureau of Elections on May 1, but the Michigan Democratic Party presented evidence of fraud and forged signatures.

The Department of State said all evidence of forgery and fraudulent signatures would be turned over to Attorney General Mike Cox and the Wayne County prosecutor’s office.

New CDC study shows smoke free laws are quickly spreading across the U.S.

A new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the number and restrictiveness of state laws regulating smoking in private-sector worksites, restaurants and bars increased substantially over the past three years.

The report was published in the CDC’s weekly journal Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report, and the analysis found the number of states with strong smoke-free laws tripled between December 31, 2004 and December 31, 2007. According to the CDC, Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and at least 50 carcinogens and causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults.

The report also says “eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from second hand smoke exposure.” To that end, the CDC’s “A Healthy People 2010 objective” calls for establishing laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that make indoor public places and worksites completely smoke-free.

Since the study period, several more states have enacted smoke free laws, with Iowa being the latest, and 33 states have banned indoor smoking. Once the laws are fully implemented, more than 53 percent of the U.S. population will live in jurisdictions with smokes free laws that include bars and restaurants.

Late last month the Michigan House approved a smoking ban bill in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, with the exception of non-Native American casinos, bingo-halls and so-called “cigar bars.” A few weeks earlier the Senate had approved version, House Bill 4163, that had no carve out outs. The House sent their substitute bill, HB 5074, to the Senate, and it is currently awaiting action in the Senate.

Jun 3, 2008

Nebraska Supreme Court says exceptions to smoking bar are unconstitutional

In a decision that may have repercussions for Michigan, the Nebraska Supreme Court recently ruled exceptions – or “carve outs” – to Omaha’s newly enacted smoking ban are unconstitutional.

Bars that did not served food, a racetrack and licensed Keno establishments were exempt from the October 2006 ban until 2011, but the ruling made that moot. The common sense ruling said "Nothing in the ordinance's stated purpose would explain why employees of the exempted facilities or members of the public who wish to patronize those establishments are not entitled to breathe smoke-free air or to have their health and welfare protected.”

Late last month the Michigan House approved a smoking ban bill in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, with the exception of non-Native American casinos, bingo-halls and so-called “cigar bars.” A few weeks earlier the Senate had approved version, House Bill 4163, that had no carve out outs.

The House sent their substitute bill, HB 5074, to the Senate, and it is currently awaiting action in the Senate, and it is unclear if they will even allow a second vote.

GOP chair makes disgusting and baseless claim

Dave Dishaw, chair of the Kent County Republican Party, is claiming a weekend break in at their headquarters is the work of Democrats without an ounce of proof. What is even more predictable than a baseless allegation without proof, is he is using the incident as a fundraiser.

According to the Grand Rapids Press, Grand Rapids Police said the break in occurred on Thursday, and “thieves entered a side door and took about $200 from a cash box, a laptop computer and a large box of stamps. They also smashed computers, crumpled banners and took miscellaneous items.” Police also call the GOP claim it was the work of Democrats stretching the truth; something very common to Republicans.

“I don't know what they're basing that on. ... That may be a stretch," Lt. Ralph Mason was quoted in the GR Press saying. "It was a burglary. They got a laptop, they got cash money. ... They obviously concentrated on things they can pawn or sell."

Dishaw posted a letter on the web site saying, “We knew the Democrats would do anything to win, but we didn't expect this! For the first time in history, the Kent County Republican Headquarters was broken into, vandalized and burglarized.”
And what will make it all better for Dishaw, “Your contribution of $100, $50 or just $25 will help support our candidates and spread our conservative values across Kent County! “

That about says it all.

This reminds me of the alleged anti-war vandalism at U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers office in Lansing. Back in March of 2007 the door locks glued shut, the building was spray-painted, a "Support Our Troops" sign attached to the front of the building was splattered with blood-red paint and a hand-painted sign was also plastered to an entryway window that said “Rogers There is Blood on Your Hands.” Rogers’ people made a lot of political hay with it, like in this case, but it took a long time for a picture of the alleged vandal to be published, in stark contrast to the amount of publicity and the noise Republicans made. There are still no arrests in that case, as far as I know.

If I was cynical, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to believe the Republicans staged this. When was the last time political operatives broke into a party’s headquarters? That would be Watergate, and the GOP made a hero out of the leader of the plumbers, actually burglar. That says a lot.

Jun 2, 2008

Michigan pundit says Democrats will keep control of the House in November

Bill Ballanger, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, reaffirmed the prediction he made last January that Democrats will retain control of the Michigan House in his latest newsletter.

Ballanger, a former Republican state Representative and Senator, put 52 seats in the Democratic ledger and 44 in the GOP side for the November General Election. He says six seats currently held by Democrats are rated as a toss up and eight Republican seats are listed as toss ups. Of the six toss up Democratic seats, four are held by incumbents, and incumbents are historically harder to unseat. All of the GOP toss up seats are open seats. There will be 45 open seats up for election this November.
The Republicans controlled the House for more than a decade, but in 2006 the Democrats won the House with a 58-52 majority.

Ballanger, one of the most respected pundits in the state, said in January the GOP will lose even more seats than they did in 2006. Since that time, however, we saw the budget mess and the brief government shutdown last October. A misguided recall attempt was made against Democratic lawmakers who voted to increase the state income tax and implement a sales tax – since repealed - on certain services that helped balance the budget and do away with a $1.8 billon budget deficit.

The recalls quickly fell by the wayside, and all the money and effort was redirected to recall House Speaker Andy Dillon. Despite spending $100,000 and illegally collecting signatures, that recall also failed.

Ballanger said the fragile 2008 campaign strategy to win back the House depends on thee things. The problem is two of the legs of that rickety stool have already been kicked out from under the Republicans.

Republican presidential nominee Grampy McSame will have to have some coattails, and we know that will not happen. However, that could be called a toss up, but he will be going against history. He also said the Dillon recall attempt needs to be on the ballot to draw attention to the tax vote.

Ballanger also said the GOP needs to recruit more female and minority candidates, and they failed again. There are currently only four female GOP House members, but they have recruited 28 this time. Their record on minority candidates remains abysmal. When I read this statistic, I thought it was a misprint. Here it is: there has not been a black GOP House member since 1902. That’s more than a 100 years.