Dec 31, 2009

Michigan Legislature pushing a pair of useless teabagger health care resolutions

The Teabaggers have a new cause to rally for, and they have a new ally in their corporate sponsored Astroturf “tea parties:” the Michigan Legislature.

Rightwing Michigan lawmakers have introduced a pair of grandstanding resolutions aimed at much needed health care reform that means little or nothing just to play to the base. The resolutions would amend the Michigan Constitution, and they “state that no federal law shall compel any person, employer or health care provider to participate in any public or private health care system. The resolution also says “the purchase or sale of health insurance or coverage in private health care systems shall not be prohibited by federal law or rule.”

We have seen how the right will push any lie to stop health care reform to protect the huge profits of insurance companies, and it’s sad the Legislature is wasting time on this useless stuff and enabling them. They disrupted townhall meetings held last summer because they don’t want people to hear anything but their misinformation, and this is just an attempt to rev up that misgauged hate we saw at townhall meetings put on by Democratic lawmakers.

Senate Joint Resolution K was introduced by Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, on Aug. 27, 2009, and it was referred to the Health Policy Committee where it is awaiting action. Kuipers is running for the 2nd District Congressional seat that will be vacated by “Twitter” Pete Hoekstra who is running for Governor. This is just a grandstand play to the extreme righting base that is taking control of the GOP.

House Joint Resolution Z was introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Kentwood, on Aug. 19, 2007, and it too was referred to the House Health Policy Committee where is awaiting action. I don’t know much about Amash. He is a freshman with no record, so I don’t know what he’s running for. But he is a teabagger and has spoken at some of the Astroturf “tea parties.” It’s sad that he endorsees the blatant racism that goes on at these “tea parties,” but that’s where the GOP is headed.Just to be to be placed on the ballot either resolution must pass both the Michigan Senate and House with two-thirds of the members in each chamber voting yes.

This is nothing but another bone to the extreme teabaggers. It resembles the 10th Amendment resolutions approved by the Michigan Legislature last summer that “affirm Michigan’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

There is nothing in the federal health care reform bills that compel anyone to give up their private health insurance.

Dec 30, 2009

Republican spin on Detroit foiled terrorist attack is out of control

Right-wingers are spinning so hard on the attempt on Christmas day to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit Metro Airport they are in danger of spinning themselves into the ground.

We had rightwing U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C, who apparently hates union members and police and fire fighters more than he does terrorists. He is filibustering President Obama’s nominee for the position of administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) because he has not answered questions on his position on unionizing TSA employees. First, it’s not up the TSA administrator. If a majority of workers say they want a union they have one; it has nothing to do with who is in charge. Unions are the most democratic thing in the workplace.

His excuse is they will less flexible. Democratic strategist James Carville had a very good point on a talk show. The hundreds of fire fighters and police officers who died in the World Trade Center during 9/11 were union members. Did that stop them from sacrificing their lives?

Then we have “Twitter” Pete Hoekstra shamelessly using it to raise money for his Michigan Gubernatorial run. This is a guy who held a press conference to tell the world the U.S. had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the ranking Republican on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee has compromised more classified information than Mata Hari. It’s amazing he still has a security clearance.

But the most recent outrageous spin is that of U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Macomb County, leading a lynch mob against the “Underpants Bomber.” According the to the AP, “Miller urged the Justice Department to immediately classify the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a packed Detroit-bound plane as an enemy combatant and turn him over to the military for enhanced interrogation and trial.”

“Enhanced interrogation?” That is a code word for torture, and there are two things wrong with this. First, information obtained from torture is unreliable. Second, torture is illegal as well as immoral. A friend of mine, also a military veteran like me, was angry when he heard Miller’s comments on WJR. See, there is this thing called the Geneva Convention that makes torture illegal, and it protects combatants.

Now, I know terrorists ignore it, but how can we expect other countries to respect the Geneva Convention when the U.S. - the shining example of fair play and freedom - ignores it? My friend has a grandson who just graduated from Navy boot camp, and he is angry that Miller is putting him in danger. Apparently, Republicans have been watching too many episodes of “24.” I saw rightwing tool Pat Buchanan on TV recently saying we should deny the underwear bomber his pain medicine. That’s called torture, Pat.

But the “Underwear Bomber” is a criminal, and he should be treated as such; not raised to the level of a soldier like he wants. He should be tried as a civilian in U.S. District Court in Detroit just like the Justice Department is doing just like the 6th amendment says.

The Detroit incident bears a striking resemblance to the incident involving another al-Qaeda bomber, Richard Reid, AKA the Shoe bomber. You will recall that he was arrested on December 22, 2001 for attempting to destroy an American Airlines Boeing 767 bound to Miami from Paris, France with an explosive in his shoe. He was convicted on charges of terrorism and is currently serving a life sentence without parole in the United States.

Why weren’t Miller and the Republicans screaming about the shoe bomber being tried in civilian court? How is the shoe bomber any different than the underwear bomber?

Dec 29, 2009

Rightwing Republican puts airports at risk because the TSA workers might unionize

The national news has been all over Michigan since the failed terrorist attack on Christmas day to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit Metro Airport.

“Twitter” Pete Hoekstra is shamelessly using the incident to fundraise for his Michigan Gubernatorial run, and right-wingers have used it to attack the President like they do everything. But MSNBC host and Rhoades Scholar Rachel Maddow reported on a very interesting tidbit over airport security last night.

Apparently, rightwing U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C, is filibustering the President’s nominee for the position of administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) because it could lead to unionizing the TSA workers who check bags and passengers for explosives and weapons.

In this guy’s warped mind, denying the people who keep passengers safe a decent wage, benefits and safe working conditions is somehow going to make them more motivated to do a better job. Is this guy for real?

He is holding up the nomination of counterterrorism expert Erroll Southers simply because the workers might be allowed to organize. Southers is a former FBI special agent, and he is currently the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence. He also is the associate director of the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, and he served as a deputy director of homeland security for California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two Senate committees have given Southers their bipartisan support, but one member of the minority party is putting the American people at risk for political reasons. All of this just to avoid giving workers a voice. The Republicans hatred of the American worker knows know bounds.

Dec 28, 2009

Capitol newsletter lists top Legislative accomplishments of the decade

With the end of the decade just three days away, reporters and writers are reflecting on both end of the year and end of the decade with the best of stories and lists. Subscription only Gongwer has put together a list of the most significant laws passed in the Michigan Legislature in the past decade.

My number one is the workplace smoking ban, but it was just number three on their list. Ironically, the Michigan Legislature finally passed a workplace smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants earlier this month after a fight that took the entire decade.

No. 10 – was raising the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.40 an hour in 2006. Despite Republicans controlling both the House and Senate, Gov. Jennifer Granholm managed to get it done. It was accomplished by attempt to go around the Legislature. Democrats launched a petition drive, and when Republicans saw how successful it was, they went ahead and approved it in the Legislature.

No. 9 – was the groundwater withdraw package of bills to regulate withdrawals of Michigan's groundwater. “In 2006, the first regulations and permits were imposed. Then in 2008, the state went further with the Great Lakes Compact and significantly toughened those rules. Much of the debate surrounded the groundwater withdrawals of the Nestle water bottling plant in Mecosta County.”

No. 8 – was the energy reform package of 2008. It also reversed a legislative decision in 2000 to provide customer choice and instead capped that at 10 percent of the load for Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison to give them the demand stability they said they needed to be able to finance new power plants in the state. But the most important thing it did was create a Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). It required the utility companies to provide least 10 percent of its power by a renewable power source by 2015. It doesn’t go nearly far enough, but it’s a start.

No. 7 – Was the mandatory minimum sentencing laws repealed in 2002. “ Michigan's tough anti-drug laws, especially its mandatory life sentence without parole for anyone trying to deliver 650 grams of cocaine or heroin, earned infamy in the pages of Rolling Stone, which profiled the case of Gary Fannon, who was serving a life sentence under the so-called 650 Lifer Law.” Even with that, Michigan’s incarceration rates were the 2nd highest in the 12-state Midwest region, and our rate is the 11th highest in the nation, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

No. 6 – was the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. It was a low point in Michigan when we put discrimination into the Constitution. It was led by the state’s and nations’ leading anti-gay hate group, the American Family Association (AFA) of Michigan.
No. 5 – was the law passed in the lame duck session that made Michigan a “shall issue” state for concealed weapons. It was my introduction to how strident the pro-gun people really are. Not a word about it was spoken during the 2000 election season, but it was passed in the lame duck legislative session in December of 2000.

No. 4 – was the affirmative action ban in 2006. Some of the same people that were behind the same sex marriage ban were behind this ballot question that bans affirmative action programs based on race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin. Even though there was widespread evidence of fraud in collecting the signatures, this was allowed to stand.

No. 2 – was the "Race to the Top” education reform legislation passed just two weeks ago. The package of bills seeks to position the state to compete for up to $400 million in federal funds through President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" program that requires states to enact major education reforms to receive the funds. Among the things the bills would do is to expand the number of charter schools by allowing current charter school operators to open new charter schools, provide a path for alternative teacher certification and stipulates that districts with at least 25 percent of their students in the lowest achieving 5 percent of buildings in the state would be run by a CEO appointed by the state superintendent.

The top measure of the decade – according to Gongwer – was the replacement of the Single Business Tax (SBT) with the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) in 2007. The Republicans killed the SBT in the summer of 2006 with no replacement in sight as a campaign gimmick because they knew the Republican scandals would hurt them. It did, and they lost control of the Michigan House.

Livingston County lawmaker again leads Senate in missed votes

Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Marion Township, again led the Senate in missed votes in 2009 with 304 missed votes out of 716 votes, according to Michigan Votes.

Garcia missed 42 percent of the votes in the past year, but he attributes his number of missed votes to his duties as a Colonel in the Michigan Army National Guard. However, that’s something that has been ridiculed by the Senate leadership. Garcia has led the Senate in missed voted every year since at least 2006.
In the House, Rep. Doug Bennett, D-Muskegon, missed the most votes of any Legislature with 311, but he suffered a brain hemorrhage this past summer. He was followed by Rep. Mike Simpson, D-Jackson, with 194 missed votes, but he missed time with a rare blood disease that led to his tragic and untimely death on Dec. 18.

Dec 27, 2009

President Obama wins praise for his commitment to ethics

Rightwing Obama haters love to use the catch phrase Obama’s corrupt “Chicago-Style Politics,” but ethics watchdog groups are saying he is a breath of fresh air compared to the last eight years.

According to Washington newspaper “The Hill,” “President Barack Obama scores well among ethics watchdog groups in his first year in office, though they’d still like to see more from the president.”

The paper went on to say, “Obama has wielded the power of the White House to craft an executive order that limited lobbyist hires in his administration, push federal agencies to share more of their data with the public and begin releasing visitor records for the executive complex on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

After eight years of perhaps the most secretive administration in history, and one that dealt in the politics of personal destruction against anyone who opposed them in the slightest way, Obama is a welcome change.

“After the last eight years, it is refreshing to see a president, through his rhetoric and action, who understands the way that the system works is a problem. That just a great place to start with,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center.”

Obama has been criticized for appointing czars, for some unknown reason, but ethics groups praise it.

“Obama wins the most applause for putting senior aides in place whose primary job is better ethics and transparency in the federal government. The appointees include Norm Eisen, Obama’s Harvard Law School classmate and the administration’s ethics czar who is stationed in the White House Counsel’s office; Beth Noveck, the deputy chief technology officer who is leading the Open Government Initiative; and Vivek Kundra, the chief information officer.”

We all remember the Republican K-Street scandals. Lobbyists for the energy industry and other industries were soon running the departments they were once lobbying. Republicans were turned out of power in 2006 and lost control of both the U.S. House and Senate because of their culture of corruption, from the likes of Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff and Bob Ney. Obama has put a stop to that.

“(Norm) Eisen was the author of the tough executive order, signed by Obama on his first full day in office, designed to slow the revolving door between government and K Street. That order also bans ex-Obama administration officials from lobbying their former colleagues. The president has repeatedly targeted K Street, limiting contacts between lobbyists and administration officials on stimulus projects and issuing agency guidance banning lobbyists from serving on advisory boards. That has led to consternation among lobbyists who have pushed back against the measures.”

Dec 26, 2009

Propaganda piece in local newspaper helps spread teabagger’s lies and misinformation

It’s tough time to a reporter for a local daily newspaper, and for an example you just need to see a story on health care reform published in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus on Christmas Day called “Health bill bitter pill for activists.”

It’s also a prefect example of a reporter not having the time to not fact check a story, as well as example of how ridiculous the notion of the “liberal media” myth is. Reporters still have to find copy to fill the news hole during the holidays when it’s almost impossible to get hold of sources that are off and not in their offices. They also are trying to get enough copy in the can so they can have a day off, and the news hole is usually bigger because there are more advertising this time of year.

What you usually get as reporters struggle to find copy is this piece of garbage that is basically a propaganda piece. This paper has a history of supporting rightwing causes, and it worked hard promoting the racist, Astroturf tea party held in Brighton this fall. But this piece is unbelievable, and all it’s really doing is promoting a teabagger’s blog. It’s certainly not hard to find a teabagger in Livingston County and someone who is against health care reform. Some balance would be nice, and I find it hard to believe they could not find someone who supports health care reform, considering the majority of Americans support health care reform, it would not have been hard. Talk about a lack of balance in an article.

In the article a Hartland Township resident named Wes Nakagiri claims health care reform led him to become an activist, yet he has a page on the sewer of the internet known as “freedoworks.” Then he makes perhaps the most outrageous claim - and I have heard lots outrageous lies on health care reform - I have ever heard.

He claims that he knocked on doors in his subdivision, and he claims, “In a voting precinct where 40 percent of voters supported President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, Nakagiri discovered only about 28 percent of the same voters support what he calls "a federal takeover of health care."

First, it’s not a “federal takeover of health care.” Perhaps he has not heard of Medicare. But I know he has because his party is using the lie to scare seniors in opposing health care reform that it will kill Medicare.

Second, for him to come up with that 28 percent figure, he would have to have knocked on the doors of the 458 people who voted for President Obama in Hartland Township's Precinct 3, yet he admitted he didn’t. I don’t know how he would have even found out how they voted on a secret ballot, but, he said:

He “knocked on 142 doors in the Dunham Hills subdivision. He found 82 people home; of those, 59 people signed his petition opposing the health-care plan.” Of those 59, how many voted for President Obama? Even if every one of those 59 voted for the President, that would only be 12 percent.

The story says, “Nakagiri started a blog and is in the beginning stages of putting together a local activist group against big government — specifically, the national health-reform proposal — and has already received substantial local support.”

We already have a group like that: it’s called the tea baggers, and in conservative Livingston County is anyone surprised he found support for his “petitions” and his new rightwing group?

Just what Livingston County needs: Another rightwing group spreading false propaganda.

Dec 25, 2009

Glenn Beck is his own favorite charity

While people all over the country are celebrating Christmas today with family in numerous and unique ways, one timeless way to make the day has been through giving: giving to family and friends and those in need. Somebody should tell that to rightwing wacko Glenn Beck.

Beck is begging people on his web site to give to him instead of their favorite charity so he can buy a new Mercedes. He is urging everyone in the household to send $1 to “Glenn Beck's New Car Fund.” Can this guy be anymore classless? Probably.

From his web site: “While Glenn Beck has meet (sic) with former Presidents, had dinners with Governors and played with dolls at a Super Bowl party - there is one thing he's never done, he's never been the owner of a Mercedes S600. Now is your chance to real make a difference in someone's life.”

Make a difference in someone's life? Unbelievable. You would think he might support the American worker and the country and beg for a domestic car, like the Cadillac CTS, bit not Beck.

The request was put up some time ago, so I don’t know if he raised enough money to actually buy the car. However, Pay Pal is still accepting donations.

Since 2003 he can afford to buy the car himself. It’s estimated he makes $23 million a year; at least before advertisers began deserting him like rats from a sinking ship after his racist remarks directed at President Obama.

Dec 23, 2009

Dillon recall accomplished with fraud

It took a little while, but apparently the law has finally caught up with Leon Drolet and the fraud he used in the recall attempts back in 2007 against primarily Democratic state Representatives who voted for revenue increases to keep the state government going and avoid a shutdown.

Drolet is former Republican state Representative, Macomb County Commissioner and executive director of the so-called Michigan Taxpayers Alliance (MTA). All the recalls fell by the wayside except the recall of Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford, but it was accomplished with fraud and deceit, out-of-state money, illegal petition gathers, cash for signatures and illegal campaign contributions. Although it actually made it on the ballot, voters soundly rejected it.

However, today Michael Bastianelli, 28, of Westland and Harvey Robinson, 39, of Redford were arraigned in 16th District Court in Livonia on two felony counts of uttering and publishing and making false statements related to recall petitions during the Dillon recall attempt. They were released on $20,000 personal bonds. A preliminary hearing is set for January 5.

Subscription only Gongwer reported “Bastianelli allegedly forged petition signatures, while Mr. Robinson allegedly paid homeless people at a Detroit shelter to sign the names of residents living in Mr. Dillon's (D-Redford Twp.) district, said Attorney General Mike Cox spokesperson Nick DeLeeuw,” a former blogger. DeLeeuw was singing a different tune back before the 2008 election when he said, “This is exciting stuff. Rose (Bogaert) and Leon did a great job fighting the thugs, the criminals, the powers-that-be (Miles Handy) and the courts to give voters in Andy Dillon's House district the choice to recall him this November.”

Who are the thugs again?

Drolet, of course, denies knowing the pair, telling Gongwer that “he met Mr. Robinson once when he turned in some signatures. Mr. Robinson was working for a petition signature collection firm, Mr. Drolet said. However, he did not recognize Mr. Bastianelli's name.” Right.

“This is an indictment of Leon Drolet,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer in a press release. “The Drolet-led recall now has two people charged with felonies – proving Drolet may even stoop to breaking the law in order to get what he wants.”

The State Police began investigating in May 2008 after receiving 499 complaints of documented forgeries and nearly 2,000 additional suspected forgeries, indicating a widespread campaign to commit fraud. Still, the measure went on the ballot in November of 2008.

“These arrests are also an indictment of the entire recall effort against Speaker Dillon,” said Mark Fisk, partner of Byrum & Fisk Advocacy Communications, the lead consultant for Dillon in the anti-recall effort. “Drolet and the recall supporters used forgery, fraud, and deception throughout the recall campaign. Thanks to the Michigan State Police, the criminals are being punished and these tactics continue to be exposed.”

Deranged Beck named 2009 Misinformer of the Year

In perhaps the easier pick in years, Faux “news” madman Glenn Beck was named Media Matters' 2009 Misinformer of the Year.

Media Matters always has a lot to choose from in picking its annual award - just from the Faux line up alone - from cable news to right-wing radio, from online publications to major newspapers. But, the former Morning Zoo shock jock's unique brand of vitriol, stage theatrics, and hyperbolic fright, make him an easy choice for Media Matters’ 2009 Misinformer of the Year.

When he wasn’t crying, going off on demented rants telling people to get off his phone or whipping up the corporate-funded tea-baggers he was calling the President of the United States a racist, saying he was a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred of white people.”

I would say the guy needs a straightjacket, but the reality is he may just have hit on the rightwing formula for success: say the most outrageous, false smears against any non-extremist tea bagger, and you can rake in the millions and be assured of success. It has worked well for the likes of Hanity, Coulter, O’Reily and Limbaugh.

Media Matters dug deep through the more than 3,500 detailed research items they released this year to select Beck as the annual "Misinformer of the Year.” He joins other past winners Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews, ABC, and Sean Hannity

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. They have earned the wrath of the likes of O’Reily for daring to smear him by putting the actual unedited, video of him up smearing himself.

Dec 22, 2009

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce named Scrooge of the Year

The results have been tabulated and the winner of the - actually loser - 2009 National Scrooge of the Year is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, thanks to its narrow, radical agenda advocating for anti-worker, profit-focused solutions to the broken health care, labor, and environmental systems.

The annual contest for the greediest, most cold-hearted company or person of the year is put on by the National Jobs with Justice, and voting took place between Dec. 7-21. The anti-worker and middle class chamber beat out nominees Bank of America, nominated for their role in the sub-prime lending crisis and failure to extend credit to small businesses; Hyatt Hotels for their Scrooge-like firing of 100 housekeepers in Boston and other anti-worker actions’ Publix Supermarkets for their resisting the call to be part of the solution to human rights violations in Florida fields by continuing to buy tomatoes from growers prosecuted for modern-day slavery; and student loan lenders Sallie Mae and Citibank for their expensive, variable rate loans for students.

“There was plenty of competition for the award this year, but the similarities between Scrooge and the Chamber of Commerce were hard to beat,” said Jobs with Justice Executive Director Sarita Gupta. “The ghost of years past would show that the policies they've promoted including deregulation and maximizing profits at the expense of workers are directly connected to the destruction of America's middle class."

Many people confuse the U.S. Camber of Commerce with their local chambers that actually promote the community and local business. Voters chose to dishonor the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as their loser this year as it's became increasingly clear that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has developed into a front group for a few narrow interests, not a membership association that represents the voice of mainstream American businesses. The Chamber has spent millions of dollars lobbying against legislation that would benefit workers and families like the Employee Free Choice Act, health insurance reform, paid sick days, and environmental regulations. Their extreme positions have led some companies and local chapters of the Chamber to disaffiliate from the national group.

Jobs with Justice is a national organization with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights and struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice and worker‘s rights.

Dec 21, 2009

Whitmer and House Democrats push for restoring consumer protection

LANSING – Michigan consumers could again enjoy some basic protections from predatory businesses that it once enjoyed a decade ago.

The House Democrats introduced legislation last week that would amend the Michigan Consumer Protection Act to restore its original intent to protect Michigan consumers and properly hold deceitful businesses accountable for their practices. A 1999 Supreme Court ruling from the GOP-controlled court essentially gutted the law, and since then Michigan has been a buyer beware state. The original Michigan Consumer Protection Act was approved with bipartisan support in 1976, making it a leader in consumer protection.

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, has been a long-time proponent of consumer protection, and she joined House Democrats at their press conference in support of the legislation. She sponsored the same measure in the Senate, Senate Bill 573, but it has been stalled in the Senate for some time. She is hoping the House action will get the ball rolling and break the log jam like it did for the workplace smoking ban.

Whitmer said with the economy as it is, it is important to protect residents' pocketbooks with these common sense reforms.

“During these difficult times the last thing Michigan consumers need is to be taken advantage of by a dishonest business,” she said. “It’s time that we stand up for our citizens and reject the Supreme Court’s partisan rulings that allow companies to rip off the hardworking people and honest businesses of this state.”

Michigan was once a leader in consumer protection, and the plan would simply restore the Michigan Consumer Protection Act to what is was 33 years ago. It would apply to all businesses and industries it originally covered – giving consumers and authority’s ways to hold companies that commit fraud accountable. It would also require companies that engage in dishonest business practices to pay back money to consumers and face stiff fines of up to $25,000 for fraudulent practices.

Obviously, the Republicans objected, and they went so far as to accuse Whitmer of campaigning for Michigan Attorney General by appearing at the press conference. Whitmer announced earlier this month that she is seeking the Democratic nomination for AG, but she introduced SB 573 back in May.

“We believe it's really not appropriate for her to be trying to run her attorney general campaign from the Senate floor," said John Truscott, spokesperson for Mr. Bishop's attorney general campaign, in subscription only Gongwer. "Senator Bishop will not be bullied into taking up legislation that is basically a full employment act for trial lawyers."

Truscott, the former mouthpiece for former Gov. John Engler and the Bush/Cheney campaign in Michigan, trotted out the standard GOP excuse for stalling bills that do not benefit corporations: “There are far more important issues the Legislature is dealing with," he said.

But a former GOP candidate for AG and a member of the Senate Republican caucus went to Whitmer’s defense.

“Everything Mike Bishop has done is through the prism of running for Attorney General," said Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, in subscription only MIRS. "I actually think that consumer protection is an important concept."

Clarke may challenge Cheeks-Kilpatrick for Congressional seat

State Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, may be running to unseat U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit.

The term-limited Senator told subscription only MIRS last week that has been approached to run against the long-time Congresswoman. He has not made a final decision but he has not ruled it out. I hope he makes a run.

Kilpatrick has represented the 13th District for seven terms. But after her son – former disgraced Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick - was embroiled in scandal, she faced two challengers last year, and she was almost unseated in the primary. The two Democratic challengers basically split the vote, and Kilpatrick squeaked by. The 13th District represents most of the east side of Detroit, as well as some of the northern portion of the Downriver area. Clark’s 1st Senate District is located within most of the 13th District where he is very popular. Clarke also challenged her son for Detroit Mayor in 2005, but failed.

MIRS reported that polling has indicated that Kilpatrick is vulnerable once again in 2010. Although Kilpatrick has never been involved in a scandal, that I’m aware of, it would be great to have someone as upright as Clarke in the office.

Clarke serves as the minority vice-chair of the Health Policy Committee and the Commerce and Tourism Committee. He also serves on the Judiciary Committee, the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and the Government Operations and Reform Committee. He has been an outspoken champion of foreclosure protection and insurance reform, and he has spoken passionately about it on the Senate floor.

Livingston County Democrats are familiar with Clarke after he spoke at the annual Edwin B. Winans Dinner in 2007. He told the story of how his political career began as an undergraduate at Cornell University when he beat another undergraduate from a rich, well-connected family named Ann Coulter for a student council seat.

Clarke grew up from humble beginnings in a working class neighborhood on Detroit's lower east side to attend an Ivy League university and become an attorney. He was raised alone by his mother, who worked as a school crossing guard, after his father passed away when he was just 8 years old. While in the third grade, an observant teacher recognized his artistic ability that promoted him to take art classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and it eventually led to a scholarship to Cornell University where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Clarke then attended Georgetown University Law School. After he received his law degree he returned to Michigan to practice law. He was elected to his first of three terms in the Michigan House in 1990. Clarke is not afraid to challenge an incumbent. He unseated an incumbent in the Senate in 2002, and he took on the incumbent Detroit Mayor in 2005.

Dec 18, 2009

Popular smoking ban bill signed into law

LANSING -- At an emotional and celebratory ceremony at the Michigan Brewery Co. Pub, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed House Bill 4377 into law making Michigan the 38th state to go smokefree.

HB 4377 will make all Michigan bars and restaurants smoke-free, including those within casinos, protecting the health of patrons and employees alike. The legislation will exempt the Detroit casino floors, cigar bars and tobacco specialty businesses. It will go into effect on May 1, though many bars and restaurants are expected to start the transition sooner than that.

It was a packed house at the ceremony, and many lawmakers were joined by health care advocates, as well as supporters and some parents who just wanted their children to see the historic event. The act is called the Dr. Ron M. Davis Law, and his widow, Nadine Davis, was also on hand at the ceremony.

“I have long supported a smoking ban that will protect employees, patrons and citizens from the dangers of secondhand smoke,” Granholm said. “This laws shows that the health of Michigan citizens is a top priority. We will create more smoke-free environments with this law, which will lead to a healthier state.”

Also speaking to the boisterous and happy crowd was Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, who has led a more than decade-long crusade in the Legislature to protect Michigan workers from dangerous secondhand smoke exposure.

“With the Governor’s signature today, workers around the state will soon be able to breathe a little easier,” he said. “A lot of people have been waiting for this day for a long time, and I am pleased that we were able to pass this law during my time here. While this finally moves Michigan in line with a majority of states around the country.”

Basham also said the first bill he introduces in 2010 will be a bill to make the Detroit casinos smokefree.

“There are still some employees who will have to work in smoke-laden environments, and I will keep fighting for them as well,” he said.

Studies have shown that nearly two-thirds of Michigan voters support a workplace ban that includes bars and restaurants. Data from the New York City Department of Finance shows that tax receipts increased by 8.7 percent, or approximately $1.4 million, after the city went smoke-free. Between March 2003, when the city went smoke-free, and December 2003 there were 10,600 new jobs in its bars and restaurants. Florida saw similar results, and reported that retail receipts for taverns and bars that served food remain unaffected by its smoke-free law.

Online voter registration clears the House

LANSING – The House approved a pair of bills on Thursday that will allow residents to register to vote online.

The House approved House bills 4539 and 4540 mostly along party liens with a vote of at 68-36 apiece. House Democrats continue to eliminate barriers to voting and make it easier for residents to both register and to vote and discharge their duty as U.S. citizen, but those bills continue to be stalled it the Republican-controlled Senate. Bills passed in the House and stalled in the Senate so far to make it easier to vote include no reason absentee voting, early voting and allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

Rep. Kim Meltzer, R-Clinton Township, has been the point person in the House fighting any attempt to increase voter turnout and make it easier to register and to vote, and she trotted out her standard GOP boogieman: ACORN. She told subscription only Gongeer, “groups like ACORN could submit fraudulent voter registrations.”

Macomb County Clerk and former Democratic Secretary of State Candidate Carmella Sabaugh and Rep. Lesia Liss, D-Warren, launched a website to show how the process would work if the bills are approved.

The site asks for citizenship status, whether the applicant will be 18 at the election and an email address. It also provides an explanation of the rules for registering online. A succeeding page asks for the personal information needed to complete the registration. To alleviate Meltzer’s baseless fears, you must vote in person in the first election after you register with, of course, a photo ID card.

Dec 17, 2009

Anti-gay hate group wants the state to forfeit $400 million if state protects bullying

LANSING -- The Michigan Legislature is burning the midnight oil on Thursday evening and Friday morning to enact the "Race to the Top" package of bills that will position Michigan to receive up to $400 million in federal funds through President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" program that requires states to enact major reforms to receive the funds.

However, the anti-gay hate AFA of Michigan spent Thursday afternoon instructing their members to bombard lawmaker’s office over possible language in the bills that will require schools to adopt a policy that prohibits harassment or bullying at school, as well as prohibiting the harmful and potentially deadly bullying from telecommunications devices. Somehow, the homophobes are upset because it extends protection to students who may be gay.

The disgusting letters come directly from an AFA press release. Chief homophobe Gary Glenn said his group is "hopeful that Republican state senators won’t allow themselves to be bullied by homosexual activist groups and House Democrats into caving in on this matter of principle in hopes of a payoff from federal tax dollars being dangled by the Obama Administration."

The Race to the Top package does a number of things. It would expand the number of charter schools by allowing current charter school operators to open new charter schools, provide a path for alternative teacher certification and it stipulates that districts with at least 25 percent of their students in the lowest achieving 5 percent of buildings in the state would be run by a CEO appointed by the state superintendent.

Separate versions passed the House and Senate earlier thinks month, and a conference committee consisting if three members of the Senate and three from the House are meeting to reconcile the two versions and come up with a compromise. Once that happens, each body will give it an up or down vote. There can be no amendments or substitutes, and if rejected the bills are dead.

Negotiations have been on and off most of the day, and they are expected to go into the early morning hours.

Apparently, the AFA is claiming language in House-passed version is similar to Matt’s Law. So, if it remains in the conference report, the AFA wants us to miss out on $400 million just because we want to protect gays from violence? That’s simply disgusting.

Matt's Safe School Law is named after Matt Epling, a popular East Lansing middle school student who committed suicide as a result of bullying in school, and it would require public school districts in Michigan to establish bullying policies. It has passed the House with bipartisan support, but the Senate refuses to take it up.

Smokefree bill will be signed into law tomorrow

Gov. Jennifer Granholm will sign House Bill 4377 into law tomorrow, Friday that finally makes all Michigan’s workplaces smokferee and free of deadly secondhand smoke, including bars and restaurants smoke free.

She will sign the much-anticipated bill into law at a bill signing ceremony at 1 p.m. at the Michigan Brewery Co. Pub in downtown Lansing, 402 S Washington. The Michigan House and Senate passed the bill with bipartisan support on Dec. 10.

The law is named after the late Dr. Ronald Davis who died of cancer last year. Davis is the former Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Henry Ford Health System, and he is the former president of the American Medical Association (AMA). Dr. Davis also served as director of the Center for Disease Control’s Office on Smoking and Health from 1987 to 1991.

The bill will go into effect on May 1.

Dec 16, 2009

Newspaper passes off opinion piece on smoking ban as news

It appears that the news hole of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus is matching its editorial page or the two are merging, based on an article in Wednesday’s edition on the workplace smoking ban called “Business owners expect to take hit.”

The paper has consistently editorialized against the smoking ban approved last Thursday and even ridiculed it. The fact is there is not one shred of evidence to support the claim that bars and restaurants will be hurt by the smoking ban. How do we know that? Because we are smoke free. have evidence from the 37 other states that are smoke free and entire countries that

We also have Michigan-based studies from respected organizations.

The University of Michigan Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy released a study on May 29, 2009 that concluded the state's bars and restaurants would not be hurt by a proposed workplace smoking ban. Another recent study in the spring of 2008 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” – also found a smoking ban had no negative economic impact on bars and restaurants.

I know the reporter knew about theses studies because I had a friendly debate with him on the smoking ban over the weekend on Facebook. He, as the article shows, is against the smoking ban.

It might be a fair article if it was on the opinion page because the business owners who are quoted in saying a ban will hurt them are basing it on their opinion, not on real evidence or results. Also, no where does anyone ask the questions: how can the 20-23 percent who still smoke have such an effect on business?

The manager of the Howell Bowl-E-Drome makes the ridiculous, baseless claim that “he expects a 25 percent to 30 percent loss of business when the ban goes into effect. “ Does he really believe people will stop bowling just because they can’t smoke and bowl at the same time? Please. Why not challenge that ridiculous claim?

The manager of Lu & Carl's and Stout Irish Pub, two nice places off of Grand River in Brighton that I have been to, is claiming that he will lose business. But the even more ridiculous claim he makes is that customers will drive more than 40 miles to a Detroit casino just to have a smoke and a beer.

If the customer does that, they will also have to gamble because the ban only exempts the casino gaming floor, not the casino’s bars and restaurants. Why was that not brought out in the article? I know the reporter knew about it.

The only restaurant the kills the reporter’s premise is from Livingston County’s most popular and successful restaurant, Stillwater Grill in Brighton. Here is the major difference between this and the claim by the manger at Lu & Carl's and Stout Irish Pub: it’s based on results, not opinion.

It would have been hard to ignore the Stillwater Grill in the story because it is named the top restaurant every year in the poll the paper runs annually.

The Stillwater Grill in Brighton went completely smoke-free on its own about a year ago in both the dining area and bar, and the results have been the same as what we have seen in the 37 other smokefree states.

General Manager Dan Carter said, "We never saw a decrease because of it. We actually saw more people coming in and saying positive things than coming in and saying negative things.”

The bottom line is that this is a public health issue, and even if it did hurt business it should not matter because secondhand smoke is deadly and there is no is safe amount of secondhand smoke. The fact that it does not hurt business is just a bonus.

The Governor will sign House Bill 4377 into law on Friday afternoon, and the smoking ban will go into effect May 1.

Dec 15, 2009

Snarky videos debunk climate deniers talking points

Climate change skeptics have gotten some ammunition with the recent stolen emails by taking a few sentences out of context gleaned from 13 years of private correspondence.

However, Midland resident Peter Sinclair has been debunking the deniers lies, myths and talking points for a number of years, and most recently he has produced a series of snarky Youtube videos called "Climate Crock of the Week." Sinclair was recently featured in The Michigan Environmental Council’s (MEC) quarterly magazine.

The videos are both educational and entertaining, and they use lots of graphics, snark and sarcasm. He explains climate science in layperson’s terms, and he also uses lots of sources to back up his presentation. He compares deniers to cartoon character Bevis and Butthead. He also debunks the Beck/Limbaugh talking points.

"Like P.T. Barnum said, ‘if you want to draw a crowd, start a fight,’” He told the MEC. ”If it’s going to be on Youtube, it’s got to have an edge.”

His latest work that blows holes in the deniers’ arguments is called “Deniers love the ‘70s.” In it, he debunks the latest denier talking point that science predicted global cooling in the 1970s. Sinclair was one of the people personally trained by former Vice-President Al Gore to present a special slide show of his Academy Award winning movie "Inconvenient Truth.”

The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) is a coalition of more than 70 organizations created in 1980 to lead Michigan’s environmental movement in achieving positive change through the political process.

Michigan continues to give away its biggest natural resource away for free

Here’s a pretty simple question? Who does the ground water in Michigan belong to, as well as the water of the Great Lakes and our numerous lakes, rivers and streams?

It seems to me it belong to the people, so why are bottled water companies like for Nestle Waters North America Inc. pulling it out of the ground for free? I guarantee this, Alaska doesn’t give its oil away for free, and every Alaska resident gets an annual check. Try this, go to the local 7-11 or party store and try buying a bottle of water for under $1. You simply can’t do it.

Bottled water is the single largest growth area among all beverages, that includes alcohol, juices and soft drinks. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over the last decade, from 10.5 gallons in 1993 to 22.6 in 2003, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation.

Lt. Gov. John Cherry has proposed a 10-cent per bottle surcharge on bottled water. It will not be a direct tax to the consumer, but to the bottler. The modest proposal will raise $118 million a year, and it will be used to restore the Michigan Promise Scholarship axed last month in the state budget.

“It's time for the big bottlers to pay their water bill, just like you and I do,” Cherry said. “We can use the proceeds from that water bill to fund the education our young people need to compete, as well as the protection of our water resources Michigan desperately needs.”

Education is the number one factor that will help diversify the economy and improve the economy. The $4,000 Promise Scholarship, which impacts higher education funding for 96,000 students, was axed, and parents and students are livid over it. It will cost $100 million to restore the scholarship.

The leftover $18 million would go toward funding the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)'s wetlands protection program, which nearly was transferred to the federal government this fiscal year for lack of funding, and other conservation initiatives.

“We are surrounded by majestic Great Lakes, as well as tens of thousands of inland lakes, rivers, and streams,” Cherry said. “For hundreds of years, water has defined our lives, our livelihoods, and our unique Michigan culture. Today, it is threatened by pollution and depletion.”

Although nothing in the legislation would stop the producer from passing the cost onto the consumer, considering they pay nothing for our water; little of the cost should be passed onto the consumer.

As expected, Nestle, other bottlers and Republicans immediately began running around like Chicken Little telling us the sky was falling and it was a “job killer.” Really, perhaps the bottlers can go to the southwest part of the country and get their free water.

Dec 14, 2009

Major battle won on the smokefree front, but the public health war continues

I have written 90 posts over three years on the workplace smoking ban, and now that the Legislature finally did the right thing and approved a partial ban on Thursday, I’m experiencing a slight case of withdrawal.

I got a pretty good fix this weekend, and I had to knock down some of the same, tired old arguments from the other side. I had a long running debate on Facebook with a former colleague at the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. I was, frankly, quite surprised that he was against it, and the arguments he used. Again, so much for the myth of the “liberal media.”

His tired arguments mirrored the same arguments the Op-Ed page of the paper used to editorialize against it. But, over the weekend they ran a poll, and support in conservative Livingston County was more than 60 prevent for the workplace smoking ban. Like I have said time after time, this is a nonpartisan issue.

The Detroit News ran a CyberSurvey on the issue, and 49.3 percent say are pleased with the smoking ban that was passed, and just 36 percent said it was too restrictive. Another 14 percent said it did not go far enough. I don’t think it went far enough either, but I am more than satisfied, for now. Compromise is necessary to get things done in politics. Like President Obama recently said about the health care reform debate, “we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

That means 64 percent who took the survey support a workplace smoking ban and 36 percent do not. That pretty much reflects how the entire state feels.

It was also interesting to read the rightwing blogs. Even though almost 70 percent of Michigan residents support the ban, not one right wing blog was for it, not one. If you need any more proof on how out of touch the Republican Party really is there it is. Plus, it was a bipartisan bill, and Republicans and Democrats were on both sides of the issue.

Here’s a little sample of the rightwing opinion:
“Nanny Statists Win”
“Here's a thought: why not let people make their own decisions?”

Here’s another one:
“I'm left scratching my head that people in my own party, the Party of Lincoln and Reagan, the Grand Ol' Party, are trumpeting about the smoking ban in Michigan along with Democrats who have ruined our state, giving a failed governor a Leftist victory in removing more freedoms from the citizenry.”
That’s a lot of lies in one run-on sentence.

Some are hard to follow, but here is one, as near as I can tell, on how a ban will hurt bar business. That myth, of course, has long been debunked:
“An after work beer and a smoke at a bar will not translate to an after work beer in the local watering hole alone. Bar patronage will decrease.”

Here’s another one:
“Arguments abound on the RINO designation with those who still support the Republicans that vote "progressive," saying "but you should concentrate on the 95% that you agree with them on.. “

The good news is I expect to continue to write about the workplace smoking ban. I think there was enough support in the House to pass a clean bill. The fight is not over. This is a huge victory; make no mistake about that, but that was the big battle, and we still have a smaller battle before we have won the war.

There is still a bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 114, that completely bans smoking, including casinos. This was a true grassroots effort, and we need to step up the pressure to pass this and protect all workers, no matter where they work. We still have a year left in the current legislative session. A great time to pass this would be during the lame duck session next December.

Dec 11, 2009

Michigan Notable Books of 2010 has something for every one

The 2010 list of Michigan Notable Books includes a famous author, a biography on Michigan’s most well-known rocker and the story if perhaps the most famous Michigan sporting event that changed how we watch college basketball in March.

Every year, the Library of Michigan selects up to 20 of the most notable books, either written by a Michigan resident or about Michigan or the Great Lakes. The selected books are honored in the year after their publication or copyright date. Each selected title speaks to our state's rich cultural, historical, and literary heritage and proves without a doubt that some of the greatest stories are found in the Great Lakes State. Michigan Notable Books selection committee includes journalists, library, book sellers and academics, and they screen 250 up to 400 titles per year to come up with the best of Michigan.

Michigan Notable Books is an annual program with roots stretching back to Michigan Week 1991. Here are 2010’s selections:

American Salvage: Stories by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Wayne State University Press).

Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family's Secret by Steve Luxenberg (Hyperion).

The Art Student's War: A Novel by Brad Leithauser (Alfred A. Knopf).

Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing by Arnie Bernstein (University of Michigan Press).

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt).

Have a Little Faith: A True Story of a Last Request by Mitch Albom (Hyperion).

Isadore's Secret: Sin, Murder, and Confession in a Northern Michigan Town by Mardi Link (University of Michigan Press).

January's Sparrow by Patricia Polacco (Philomel).

The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit: Stories by Michael Zadoorian (Wayne State University Press).

Michigan's Columbus: The Life of Douglass Houghton by Steve Lehto (Momentum Books).

Nothing But a Smile: A Novel by Steve Amick (Pantheon Books).

Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer, by Paul Taylor (Kent State University Press).

Our People, Our Journey: The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians by James M. McClurken (Michigan State University Press).

Pandora's Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway by Jeff Alexander (Michigan State University Press).

Roses and Revolutions: The Selected Writings of Dudley Randall edited by Melba Joyce Boyd (Wayne State University Press).

Season of Water and Ice by Donald Lystra (Switch Grass Books/Northern Illinois University Press).

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (W. W. Norton)

Travelin' Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger by Tom Weschler (Wayne State University Press).

Up the Rouge!: Paddling Detroit's Hidden River by Joel Thurtell. Photographs by Patricia Beck (Wayne State University Press).

When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball by Seth Davis (Times Books).

Newspaper misses the point on workplace smoking ban

As the smoke clears following the passage of the historic workplace smoking ban yesterday that includes bars and restaurants, it has been interesting to read all the congratulatory messages and the news report.

Not surprisingly, Livingston County’s Legislative delegation all voted against protecting the public from deadly secondhand smoke. All three are Republicans, but that should not matter in this important, bipartisan public health bill.

Reps. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, and Cindy Denby, R-Handy Township, joined 23 other Republicans in voting no, but 20 of their fellow caucus members did the right thing and voted yes. Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Marion Township, joined 12 Republicans voting no, but nine did the right thing.

I respect Garcia, but his reasons for voting no were disappointing. He told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus that many restaurants that allow smoking are investing in ventilation systems to prevent smoke from permeating buildings. He said the system of offering both smoking and non-smoking sections still works.

Really? Does he believe smoke obeys a non-smoking signs? If the Senate had held a hearing on the bill like the House did, he would have heard from Dr. Greg Holzman, the medical officer from the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH), who testified in committee last March that there is no ventilation system invented that can clear out secondhand smoke.

My hometown paper’s editorial on this historic victory was not a surprise, considering they have called the 12-year fight unimportant and displayed a disturbing lack of understanding on how the Legislature works. But it was confusing, and it left readers unsure of what their position really is, other than they had a hole to fill as deadline approached.

It starts with this ridiculous gem: “Do Michigan lawmakers really want to take a position that it is OK to kill casino workers as long as there are some jobs saved in the process?
Apparently so.”

Please. That statement makes no sense when you later go on to say, “If business owners want to allow their customers to smoke, they should be allowed to. The public is free to choose other establishments if they don't like a smoke-filled environment.”

If it kills people, and it does, then it's not a freedom issue it’s a pubic health issue. The reality is that secondhand smoke kills. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen containing 4,000 chemicals, including 43 cancer-causing chemicals. In Michigan alone 3,000 people die each year from secondhand smoke. Smokers' rights end when their personal choices negatively impact the health and well-being of nonsmokers, and what freedom is it that allows their addiction to affect the 80 percent of the population that does not smoke? This is especially important given that secondhand smoke is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

As for jobs, it will have zero effect. How do we know? We have the results from the 37 other states with smoking bans, as well as from the many countries with smoking bans, like Ireland, Italy, Canada and Turkey.

After New York went smoke-free, studies were conducted to evaluate the impact of the smoking ban on restaurants and bars. The results showed an increase in employment and sales tax receipts from these establishments. Regardless, there have been absolutely no studies that show a negative economic impact resulting from a state-wide or country-wide smoking ban. In fact, two recent studies in Michigan reaffirm that fact.

The University of Michigan Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy released a study on May 29, 2009 that concluded the state's bars and restaurants would not be hurt by a proposed workplace smoking ban. Another recent study in the spring of 2008 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” – also found a smoking ban had no negative economic impact on bars and restaurants.

It should also be pointed out that the exception only applies to the gamming floor, not the casino’s bars and restaurants, which are smokefree. If anyone thinks we have giving up on banning smoking in the casinos, they are mistaken.

I believe a clean bill with no exceptions would have passed the House yesterday, thanks to the new freshman Representatives. Last session before it ended and all bills not signed into law died, the House took up a clean bill. It got the majority of votes, but it failed to get the required 56 votes to pass. I think this time around it would have gotten the required number.

It would have picked up Livingston County’s two House votes.

The fight is not over, and strange things have happened during Lame Duck.

Dec 10, 2009

Michigan is finally smoke free

LANSING -- Michigan bars and restaurants will be smoke free on May 1 after the Michigan House and Senate passed House Bill 4377 with a bipartisan vote on Thursday.

The compromise exempts Detroit’s three casinos and so-called cigar bars, but gaining approval of the same version of the bill from both houses has been difficult.

“What better way to spread health and good cheer this time of year than passing this legislation to make Michigan workplaces smokefree,” said Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, who has championed the cause for some 12 years. “I have been working to protect the health of Michigan workers for more than ten years, and today we are taking a huge step forward for the state and executing the will of the people.”

The substitute passed the Senate by a vote of 24-13, and it immediately went across the Capitol where the House concurred in the substitute by a vote of 75-30. The governor is expected to sign the bill immediately.

The House initially passed the HB 4377 back in May, but the Senate maintained it would only take up a bill that had exceptions or carve outs. But Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, introduced the substitute with exceptions after heavy pressure from the public to get a bill done. More than 60 percent of Michigan residents support a smoking ban, and supporters have been relentless in lobbying lawmakers.

“I appreciate the bipartisan support, especially the leadership of my colleagues Senators Ron Jelinek and Tom George, to make this bill a reality,” Basham said. “Ideally, I would like to have seen this bill pass with no exemptions, but I was willing to reach a compromise to see this become law. I will continue to advocate for the health of all Michigan workers, and I hope we can revisit the issue of casino floors in the future.”

They still had to fight off substitutes and amendments that would have weakened the bill or made it harder to pass in the House. Proposals included a bill with no exceptions, allowing bars located near the casinos a waiver if they had a drop in business and an exception for Detroit Metro Airport.

The most interesting amendment came from Sen. John Gleason, D-Flushing, that proposed naming the act the “Raymond Basham Smokefree Michigan Act.”

“There is not a single person in this chamber or who has left because of term limits who hadn't been approached by Senator Basham,” Gleason said. “I think his diligence and devotion to Michigan's health care should be rewarded with this small act.”

But Basham declined because the act is named after the late Dr. Ronald Davis. Davis is the former Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Henry Ford Health System, and he is the former president of the American Medical Association (AMA). Dr. Davis also served as director of the Center for Disease Control’s Office on Smoking and Health from 1987 to 1991.

House bills will allow residents to register to vote online

LANSING – House Democrats continue to eliminate barriers to voting and make it easier for residents to register to vote and to discharge their duty as U.S. citizens and vote.

On Wednesday the House Ethics and Elections Committee took testimony on two bills that will allow residents to register to vote online. As more people go online to pay bills, pay their taxes and get their news, this is a natural. The committee took testimony on House Bills 4539 and 4540, and they are expected to vote them out to the full House floor next week.

Thanks to House Democrats, Michigan is again becoming a leader in removing barriers to vote. If the bill becomes law, Michigan would follow Arizona and Washington as just the third state in the nation offering online voter registration. Michigan was one of the first states to adopt motor voter registration.

If approved, a person who was not registered to vote at the address where he or she was residing could submit a voter registration application electronically on the website. A person who submitted an application electronically would have to do all of the following:
Attest to the truth of the information provided on the voter registration application by affirmatively accepting the information as true.
Affirmatively assent to the use of his or her most recent digitized signature if captured or reproduced by the Secretary of State.
Sign the voter registration application with an electronic signature.

Amendments to enhance security are expected, but the bills have the support of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, Michigan Townships Association and Michigan Association of County Clerks.

The legislation, however, faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate, and forward looking bill designed to make it easier for people to vote have been met with silence in that chamber, even though they have the backing municipal clerks and the Republican Secretary of State.

Bills sent over from the House so far include no reason absentee voting, early voting and allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

Dec 8, 2009

Some Democrats pushing to change the name of the annul state Jeff-Jack dinner

One thing I like about being a Democrat is that there are so many different kinds of people in the party with many different views.

We have Blue Dogs, pro-life Democrats and Pro-choice Democrats. Try finding a pro-choice Republican; They are few and far between and becoming more scarce everyday. We often fight with each other because we have such a big tent. Unlike the Republicans, we don’t have a purity test. I guess that’s why more people call themselves Democrats.

So, it was with surprise that I learned that the Livingston County Democratic Party recently passed a resolution asking the Michigan Democratic Party to remove the name of President Andrew Jackson’s name from the title of the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, the MDP’s largest annual fundraising event held at Cobo Hall in March, known affectingly as the Jeff-Jack.

The resolution objects to the 7th President’s human rights record and his actions toward Native Americans. The notorious Indian Removal Act of 1830 forcibly removed Native American tribes from their traditional tribal lands in the southern states of Georgia and Florida to west of Mississippi, and it became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Despite that record, someone told me Jackson should not be viewed in the light of today’s policies. Regardless, it raises an interesting debate. The Indian Removal Act was very popular at the time, and many Americans favored extermination of the Native American tribes instead of removal.

The Livingston County Republican Party calls their annual fundraising dinner the Reagan Dinner, and Reagan was no great shakes as a president; he wasn’t even the best Republican president.

Jackson, like many of the Founding Fathers, was a slave holder. But unlike previous presidents, he was the first president that was not born an aristocrat.

He was born in poverty from Irish immigrant parents in 1767 in Coastal Carolina, and his father died while his mother was pregnant with him. Jackson and his brother joined the Continental Army as boys serving as messengers during the Revolutionary War, and they served where the most vicious fighting of the war occurred in the Carolinas where atrocities on both sides occurred. Jackson and his brother contracted Small Pox while captives of the British, but his brother did not survive, leaving Jackson with no family.

Jackson was a self-made man and a frontiersman that became rich farming and raising race horses, but, unfortunately, he became rich on the work of slaves in Tennessee.

Jackson became a nationally recognized cultural hero following his defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, earning the nickname “Old Hickory.” The only thing close is the adoration of General Dwight Eisenhower following World War II.

This is an interesting question that should be examined and debated. There is no doubt Jackson was a great man, but he needs to be viewed in the time he lived. No one is denying George Washington was a great man, but he owned some 300 slaves when he died. There is also no doubt Abraham Lincoln was a great man, but he was actually hated by many during his time. And, even though he signed the Emancipation Promulgation freeing the slaves, he favored colonizing them outside of the United States.

Voting for the 2009 “Scrooge of the Year” award for the greediest, most cold-hearted company or person of the year is underway

The nominations are complete and voting for the 2009 “Scrooge of the Year” award for the greediest, most cold-hearted company or person of the year.

National Jobs with Justice was seeking nominations for its 2009 “Scrooge of the Year” award until Dec. 7, and the voting is underway for the top enemies of working men and women.

The nominees are Bank of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Hyatt Hotels, Publix Supermarkets, Student Loan Companies Sallie Mae & Citibank or if you are not happy with those enemies of working people, you can write in your own candidate. There is a great field of scumbag candidates.

Bank of America
Bank of America had a hand in the worst of the subprime lending excesses, providing financing to the four of the top five largest subprime lenders during the years prior to the crash including Countrywide Financial, Ameriquest, New Century Financial Corp, and First Franklin. Between them, these four firms issued over $320 billion in subprime loans from 2005-2007. As a result of these kinds of abuses, Bank of America helped crash the economy and then needed a bailout.

Bank of America accepted bailouts and backstops totaling $199.2 billion, with taxpayers still on the hook for $57.8 billion, plus an unknown amount from the Federal Reserve's $8 trillion in emergency programs. This money was supposed to help the banks get the economy going again, but little of this money has gone to relieve struggling homeowners and increase the flow of credit to small businesses.

In spite of receiving all this public assistance, Bank of America continues to work against the public good. During 2008 and the first half of 2009, BofA opposed bills which would directly benefit consumers, Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights and the Foreclosure Prevention Act, Helping Families Save their Homes Act, Truth-in Lending Act, Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.

To carry out its agenda, Bank of America has hired any number of unsavory lobbyists, including, in 2009, Andrew Barbour of the Smith-Free Group. Prior to working for Bank of America, Barbour represented the Financial Services Roundtable in its fight against legislation to restrict payday lending to the military because it would have capped interest rates on loans extended to soldiers and their families at 36 percent. Bank of America also opposed the bill.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
This Scrooge likes you to think it is the voice of American business. But in reality, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- and its CEO Tom Donohue -- are pushing a narrow, radical agenda. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Chamber has become a front group for a few narrow interests, not a membership association that represents the voice of mainstream American businesses. And it is increasingly at odds with both small and green businesses. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce often says it speaks for 3 million members, businesses both large and small," notes the New York Times. "What it doesn't promote as readily is that 19 supporters last year provided a third of the trade group's total revenue."

It is no surprise that the Chamber opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, or even paid sick days for swine flu. But it doesn't stop there. Members of the U.S. Chamber have been dropping like flies. Not only major corporations, but many local chambers of commerce, have quit or distanced themselves. One of the top concerns? The Chamber's extreme stance on environmental issues, including a call for a "Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" on climate change. There is also broad disagreement with the U.S. Chamber on health insurance reform, especially after it was caught red-handed trying to raise $50,000 to hire a "respected economist" to "study" (read: attack) health reform.

The bottom line? The Chamber is the ultimate Scrooge. Not only will Tom Donohue fight hard to put a lump of coal in your stocking at taxpayer expense, but it will claim that the lump of coal represents the "voice of American business" and is good for you.

But don't take our word for it. "They don't represent me," says Mark Jaffe, CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce. He adds, "they are playing games" with their membership numbers. "They don't have half the businesses in America as registered, dues-paying members." And he also notes that, "you have to be selfish, blind, or stupid not to want everybody to be required to have health care." Rob Black, vice-president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, says "we take a fundamentally different approach than the U.S. Chamber... we support a market-driven cap-and-trade system. It's good for business, but it's also a good way to try to spur innovation and new technologies."

system. It's good for business, but it's also a good way to try to spur innovation and new technologies."

Hyatt Hotels
Hyatt deserves a lump of coal in its stocking this year for its treatment of hotel housekeepers. A recently released academic study of worker injuries at 50 major hotels found that in the hotels studied, Hyatt housekeepers faced a greater risk of injuries than housekeepers at other hotel companies, and more than twice the risk of injury of other service sector workers.

In Boston, Hyatt fired the entire housekeeping departments of its three non-union hotels, replacing longtime employees making around $15/hour with subcontracted workers making the minimum wage. To add insult to injury Hyatt required Boston area housekeepers to train their replacements before they were fired.

At union Hyatts in San Francisco and Chicago, Hyatt is using the recession as an excuse to roll back healthcare and other hard-won contract standards. In Indianapolis, San Antonio, Long Beach and elsewhere Hyatt is fighting its own workers as they seek a fair process to organize a union.

While workers get the short end of the stick, Hyatt and its owners enjoyed a $1 billion pay day on November 5 when they cashed in on the initial public offering of Hyatt stock.

Publix Supermarkets
Publix Supermarkets is the 9th largest privately-held corporation in the US with 2008 revenues of over $24 billion. Since 2007, Publix has resisted calls to be a part of the solution to the human rights crisis in Florida's fields. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their allies are calling on Publix to pay just one penny more per pound for its tomatoes to directly improve worker's wages, and to work with the CIW to implement a code of conduct to protect farmworkers' basic human rights. Other corporations including Taco Bell, McDonald's, Subway, and Publix competitor Whole Foods have already agreed to these terms.

Publix, on the other hand, continues to purchase tomatoes from two of the growers tainted by last year's modern-day slavery prosecution, sends out videographers to tape farmworkers and their families at peaceful pickets, and refuses to support the growing partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and retail food giants aimed at ending decades of farm labor abuse in Florida. For more, read Publix vs. Publix, a must-read analysis on the two faces of Publix.

Student Loan Companies Sallie Mae & Citibank
An increasing number of students rely on private companies to finance their college educations, yet these loans get very little oversight from government regulators. Private student loans are expensive, mostly variable-rate loans that cost more for those who can least afford them. They lack the flexible repayment options of federal student loans, functioning more like a credit card than a student loan.

The federal government is considering regulating these loans, and the companies who sell them are fighting back. Unsavory Sallie Mae alone has spent millions on lobbying this year, and has already contributed $125,500 to federal candidates for the 2010 cycle. By USSA's estimates, they've spent at least a quarter million on ads in Politico and other DC are newspapers. Lenders (we are not yet sure who) have also hired Qorvis communications, a controversial PR firm, to astroturf on the issue. Apparently, Qorvis sees this as one of their specialties. Some lenders, like Citi, have even emailed their borrowers and urged them to take action against reform, without, of course, letting them know that it could mean an investment in student aid, early learning, community colleges, etc.

You can vote now, and the loser will be announced on Dec. 21.

Jobs with Justice is a national organization with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights and struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice and worker‘s rights.