Apr 30, 2009

Another roadblock thrown up in the quest for clean and healthy air

Just when you think you have seen everything certain members of the Legislature can do to thwart the will of the people to enact a workplace smoking ban that has the overwhelming support from both Michigan residents and lawmakers, the House Regulatory Reform Committee has found a new one.

After reversing an earlier plan to table voting out a bill until the summer, the Committee met Wednesday to vote out a flawed bill that exempted casinos, but Chair Bert Jobson, D-Detroit, pulled a fast one and tabled a vote at the last minute, saying he wants to work out a compromise between House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

Gee, I thought that was what a confrere committee was for.

All this does is give Bishop more cover to kill this bill. He only allowed a vote last session after intense pressure from supporters of the bill. Johnson also used the old excuse that the Legislature cannot do two things at one time, saying work can’t be done on the smoking ban because the budget is the priority. How can 148 people work on the budget deficit, and the function of committees is to work on a variety of issues.

Last session the House passed a bill that exempts casinos and the Senate passed a version with no exceptions. The conference committee could not reach - or refused to reach - a compromise between the two versions and the bill died.

According to subscription only MIRS, “Johnson said he was not told what to do by the leaders, but since the smoking ban was going to have a "negative economic impact," it was better to hold back any vote.”

Please show me any proof of "negative economic impact.” That is simply not the case, and study after study from the 35 states that have a ban prove that.

This is simply a cop out, at best. We need to pass something, no matter how flawed, to get the ball rolling and force people to act.

Apr 29, 2009

The GOP continues to be as predictable as snow in January

Republicans are getting pretty predictable these days, and a couple of hot news stories prove that: the news that U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter has come out of the cold and joined the Democratic Party and the Swine Flu epidemic.

Shortly after the long-time Pennsylvania Senator made the painful, personal decision to leave a party he had spent a lifetime supporting, the attacks from the Republicans began in earnest. Instead of placing the blame where it belongs - for their lack of relevance - they attacked Specter.

Gee, who could have predicted that?

RNC Chair Michael Steele issues a statement to party faithful shortly after the news saying, Specter “…committed a purely political and self-serving act today. He simply believes he has a better chance of saving his political hide and his job as a Democrat.”

The latter part of that statement is true, he does have a better chance of getting elected as a Democrat, but Steele fails to explain why that is. That is the same reason many former loyal Republicans voted for Democrats last November: the hard right turn of the GOP. The fact is party left them, they didn’t leave the party.

Steele gets even further unhinged saying, “Arlen Specter handed Barack Obama and his band of radical leftists nearly absolute power in the United States Senate.” “Radical leftists?” Is he serious?

I have heard some people say – taking a Faux News line – that Democrats shouldn’t be so gleeful because if you look at Specter’s voting record, he is really a Republicans, but he will be just wearing Democrat's clothing.

You might want to tell Steele that because he claims Specter has a “left-wing voting record.” I wish I had a dollar every time Steele used the word “leftist” in his rant. The good news is Democrats have a big tent, and when Sen. Al Franken is finally seated we will have a filibuster proof majority.

Rightwing hatemongers like Ann Coulter-wannabe Michelle Malkin are blaming illegal immigrants for the Swine Flu pandemic, much like the plague was blamed on the Jews. “I've blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration,” Malkin wrote. She ignores, of course, that the biggest group carrying the virus to the U.S. has been a group of prep school students in New York after vesting Mexico.

I wish the weather was this easy to predict.

Apr 28, 2009

Minority party reduced to fake outrage

LANSING – It must really be tough being a Republican these days.

The good news for the Republican Party, however, is that is has fit into its role as the minority party quite nicely. President Barack Obama has an approval rating of 68 percent in the first 100 days, so the GOP is reduced to criticizing him because he uses a teleprompter, he shook the hand of an elected leader of a country the right hates or the First Lady shows her arms too much. The biggest debate in the RNC is what false smear to use against Democrats. The front runner appears to falsely labeling Democrats as “socialists.”

But here in Michigan the GOP will not be outdone for pettiness and grasping for straws. The guy who runs the official, unofficial GOP blog, “Right” Michigan, is taking Lt. Gov. John Cherry to task for hosting a fundraiser for Sen. Hansen Clark on Thursday at the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association that has an open bar. Really, is this all you got?

His fake outrage is that it’s a lunch fundraiser and there is an open bar at the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. I’m sure people in Lansing will be shocked. It’s kind of funny because this guy claims he was once a House staffer, so I’m surprised at his false outrage.

When the House is in session you can rest assured there will be luncheons, fundraisers. lobby days and demonstrations to get the attention of lawmakers or draw attention to thier issue. On any given day you can see a giant duck on the lawn of the Capitol to some nut hauling around a giant pink fiberglass pig.

Unfortunately, money helps people win elections, and fundraisers are common in Lansing. Usually, they are held in a few venues in Lansing, such as the Governor's Room at Karoub Associates and the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. In fact, there are four scheduled this week at the Wholesalers Association, and both parties take advantage of the excellent service they provide.

I have been to a few of those, and I will be at one this week. There is a small bar there – as the photo shows, and I have never paid for a drink there. Granted, I have always ordered a Coke, but I am assuming if you want a Budweiser it will not cost you anything. However, to be honest, I have never tested this theory because I am not much of a drinker.

He is making a big deal of the fact that it is being billed as a "Mid-Day Fun-Raiser,” and they are urging people to Support a "two hour moratorium on dry political fundraisers.” The fact is all fundraisers try and find a theme to draw people and to standout from the numerous other fundraisers and invitations that cross the desks of lawmakers.

Then he claims, “The event is scheduled to begin thirty minutes after the Michigan Senate is gaveled into session this Thursday.” That is a complete lie, but not uncommon for this guy. Senate sessions always begin at 10 a.m., and the fundraiser is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.

Apr 27, 2009

Cropsey may declare war on Canada over Ambessador Bridge

State Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, appears to be ready to declare war on Canada because they are not willing to give a GOP benefactor a permit to land a second Ambassador Bridge on Canadian soil.

Grosse Pointe billionaire and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun wants to build a second span next to the current Ambessador Bridge - only one of two international border crossings in the country in private hands - but the Canadian and U.S. government wants to a new public-private bridge at a site located downriver from the current Ambassador Bridge at the site of the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) Study. Cropsey and Senate Republicans have pulled out all the stops to help Moroun keep his monopoly, going so far as to threaten arrest and to hold up the Transportation Budget to get their way.

Canadian Ambassador to the United States Michael Wilson spoke at a teleconference sponsored by Michigan State University's Canadian Studies Center last week, and according to subscription only MIRS, he said building a new Detroit/Windsor bridge at a site located downriver from the Ambassador Bridge is "a top priority of the government of Canada.

Cropsey called Wilson’s support and comments on the DRIC study “absolute hogwash."

The Ambassador Bridge crossing is the busiest border crossing in North America. More than $200 billion in trade went between the U.S. and Canada through Michigan in 2008.Canada does not want to grant permit to land the new Ambassador Bridge on the Canadian side because 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.

Cropsey said Canada is trying to force the U.S. to pay for an "enormous boondoggle" in the DRIC. Asked what would happen should Canada refuse to grant permits for a second Ambassador span to be built, Mr. Cropsey said, "If Canada doesn't want to have trade with the U.S., that's their problem."

I’m not sure what he means. Senate Democrats are accustomed to his browbeating, insults and threats, but it’s something new to Canadian officials. I’m not sure if Cropsey plans on calling out the Michigan National Guard or what to stop trade that directly supports 7.1 million U.S. jobs, 221,500 Michigan jobs, and one in three Canadian jobs.

Apr 26, 2009

Livingston County has more self-appointed community censors

One thing there is no shortage of in Livingston County is self-appointed community censors, and the latest are Oceola Township resident Mary Pruneau and Iosco Township resident Marta Soto.

The two are urging a boycott of the recently opened Family Video store in Howell after discovering they apparently have a small room in the back where you can rent X-rated videos. Apparently, deciding not to rent one is not enough for the pair, and they want to tell you want you can and can’t rent, too.

The pair wrote letters to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, and because it apparently was a slow news day they picked up on it. Livingston County has a history of such self-appointed censors, like the group that tried to censor mannequins at Victoria’s Secret.

A group of parishioners at Green Oak Township's Holy Spirit Catholic Church launched a letter writing campaign against the Victoria’s Secret store in the then new Green Oak Village Place in the fall of 2006 because they were dressed in lingerie. A few days later the group also targeted a new adult video, lingerie and novelties store in Brighton.

At about the same time that group was in full swing, the anti-gay hate group called LOVE - (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) launched its book-banning quest; first with the book “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them” and then it went after Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison's first novel, "The Bluest Eye," and an acclaimed memoir written by Richard Wright in 1945, "Black Boy, " as well as the classic Kurt Vonnegut novel "Slaughterhouse Five.”

Like many people, I was surprised the store had an x-rated section. The Family Video store opened just a month or so ago, and I joined shortly after that. I like the inexpensive prices, including free kid’s movies. Since joining I have rented at least a couple of movies every week,

The newspaper helpfully listed the titles of some of the adult titles available, such as Blondage," “Girls Behind Bars,” “Bad Wives" and "Girls Get Hot." After renting movies there, I know anyone would invite the embarrassment of the clerk saying, “Terminator 2 is due back Wednesday and Girls Get Hot is due back Saturday.”

It’s great to see a new business thriving in the City of Howell. For a number of years the location was a sporting goods store, but it moved to a new location a few miles east down Grand River Avenue to a strip mall in Genoa Township. The single building housed a shoe store for a few months, but they left, too.

After sitting empty for some time, the company that owns Family Video gutted the building but for a few walls and developed a beautiful building. I’m not sure how many people it employees, but it would be a shame if a few small-mined people cost employees their jobs.

I have some simple advice for Ms. Pruneau Ms. Soto: don’t rent them. Better yet, go to Blockbuster, but stop the ridiculous boycott.

Pruneau makes the false claim that pornography “increases violence toward women.” That’s simply not true. The problem with that argument is that even though pornography is more widespread and available than ever online, violence against women is down. Since 1993, according to the FBI crime statistics, rape is down 72 percent and other sexual assaults have fallen by 68 percent. Even in the last two years, when the FBI reported up ticks in violent crime, the number of rapes continued to fall.

Apr 24, 2009

Workplace smoking bill is back on track

LANSING -- Despite House and Senate leaders saying earlier this month they would not address the workplace smoking ban, the House Regulatory Reform Committee is holding a hearing on the ban on Wednesday.

House Bill 4377, introduced by Rep. Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint, is on the committee’s agenda that will meet at noon on April 29 in room 326 of the House Office Building in Lansing, and the meeting is open to the public. The bill, unfortunately, has exceptions for so-called "cigar bars" and casinos, but it’s a start. The committee is expected to actually take a vote on the bill.

Obviously, the pressure from the two-thirds of Michigan residents who support the ban got the bill untracked. This is the fourth hearing on the ban this session, and the last one was held on April 1.

Anti-foreclosure bills in jeopardy with choice of GOP conferees

LANSING – It may be some time before Michigan gets any real relief from the home foreclosure crisis if the move by Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop on Thursday is any indication.

Bishop named Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, to the conference committee trying to find a compromise between he House passed version of the anti-foreclosure bills and the Senate passed version. Bishop did a similar thing with the smoking ban bill in December when he assigned two Republicans who voted against the bill to the conference committee. That bill died despite a workable compromise.

Earlier this month the Senate approved a package of three bills, House Bills 4453-4455, along party lines that would have given a 90-day reprieve from foreclosure for homeowners who commit to working with their lender and a housing counselor that was approved by the House with bipartisan support in March. The bills passed by the House stipulated that if at the end of the 90 days a homeowner is eligible for a loan modification, but the lender does not give it to them for whatever reason, then the lender would be forced to take the foreclosure through the judicial process.

But Richardville, a shill for the mortgage industry whose greed plunged the country into a financial meltdown, stripped the third party provision out of the bill, and he fought off numerous attempts by Senate Democrats to put the provision back in the bill on the Senate floor. Richardville, carrying water fort he mortgage industry, used the lame excuse that it ads an extra step for mortgage companies and may cost them a few more dollars.

Consumer groups like the Michigan Advocacy Project and the Michigan Foreclosure Taskforce said stripping the judicial piece out of the bill will cost more people their homes.

In addition to mortgage industry shill Richardville, Bishop added extreme right-winger Alan Sanborn – who has a history of non-comprise and divisive rhetoric - to the three-Senator contingent. The only good news is the addition of Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit.

Apr 23, 2009

Shaking hands

This is a simple question: Why are Republicans having so much trouble with President Obama shaking hands with the democratically elected president of Venezuela at a chance meeting at the Summit of the Americas?

Republicans oppose no reason A/B voting with no reason

LANSING -- Michigan Republicans continue to resist any attempt to increase voter turnout and make it easier for citizens to cast their ballots.

The House Committee on Ethics and Elections voted two bills out of the committee to the full House along party liens on Wednesday that allows no reason absentee voting. There are only six reasons for A/B voting in Michigan: age 60 years old or older, unable to vote without assistance at the polls, expecting to be out of town on election day, in jail awaiting arraignment or trial, unable to attend the polls due to religious reasons or are appointed to work as an election inspector in a precinct outside of your precinct of residence.

There is no doubt that no reason A/B will increase voter turnout, and at least 28 other states allow it.

“It’s amazing that in a country where the cornerstone of democracy is the vote, we do not do everything in our power to make it easier for people to vote,” said Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, the chair of the committee. Angerer has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Secretary of State, but she has not spoken publicly about it.

Local clerks who run elections have been in support of A/B voting for years, and the numerous municipal and voting advocacy groups lined up in support of the bills was impressive.

Among those supporting no reason A/B voting are The Michigan Election Reform Alliance, The Michigan Election Coalition, The League of Women Voters, The Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, The Michigan Municipal League, The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, The Michigan Association of County Clerks, The Michigan Townships Association, Common Cause Michigan and The Michigan Nonprofit Association. The only people opposing the bill are the House and Senate Republicans.

Evan Hope, the Chair of the Legislative Committee for the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, said no reason A/B is the association’s top priority right after early voting. He said people who don’t meet the six conditions for getting an A/B should not have to lie to get one.

“We see it all the time when people come into our office,” he said. “They hesitate, and some have to lie and some just say I hope I can find the time to vote.”

The bills passed out of the committee were House Bill 4097 sponsored by Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, and HB 4367 sponsored by Rep. Woodrow Stanley, D-Flint. The bills are basically identical, and it’s unusual that identical bills are moved on together. In fact, a Republican member of the committee asked about that. Griffin is a candidate for the vacant 19th District Senate seat up for election in November, and Senate Republicans will not approve anything with his name attached to it.

Angerer knows that firsthand. Angerer unseated an incumbent Republican when she won her first term in 2004. Republicans, who controlled the House then, were so incensed that she wore a target on her back for two years, and Republicans refused to let her even get the simplest of resolutions passed.

“I want to give the Senate the best opportunity to vote on this and pass it regardless of the sponsor,” she said.

No reason was given for the Republican’s opposition. Reasons floated in the past for opposition has been corruption and fraud, but that was not brought up during the hearing. None of the numerous clerks or voting advocates were asked about that or brought it up.

Apr 22, 2009

Cropsey admits he sabotaged the workplace smoking ban in the conference committee

LANSING -- Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, admitted on the Senate floor Wednesday that the workplace smoking ban bill died in the conference committee last December because he refused to compromise.

As you recall, the House passed a version in December of 2007 that included exceptions for casinos and others, and the Senate passed a complete ban in May after intense pressure from non-smoking advocates finally forced a vote. A bipartisan, bicameral conference committee was then formed to work out the differences between the two versions, and it presents that compromise to their respective bodies for an up or down vote. A workable compromise was reached in December, but the three Republican members - who voted against the ban - refused to even consider it. Clearly, they had no intention of trying to work out a compromise, and Cropsey confirmed that Wednesday.

“Now when it came to conference committee, the previous speaker was on the committee, I was on the committee, and I took the Senate version and said if we aren’t going to look at the property rights issues, if we are going to look at the public health issue, then let’s do what is right for public health and have the total ban on smoking, “ Cropsey said Wednesday. “You know, I was the only person on that conference committee who held tight to that position—the Senate position.”

In other words, Cropsey, who voted against Senate version he upheld, refused to compromise on a committee whose function it was to reach a compromise. Even though the majority of Michigan residents support a smoking ban, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop doesn’t, and that’s why he appointed two Republican members to the committee who voted against the bill.

The debate was spurred by plans by Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, to introduce a bill to place a smoking ban on the statewide ballot in 2010.

“As you all know, for the past 10 years, the Legislature has tried to pass a smoke-free worksite bill that will protect our citizens against harmful smoking-related diseases and lung cancer. Hunter said. “Unfortunately, these efforts have consistently failed, and due to disagreements regarding exemptions for casinos, bars, or restaurants, Michigan has yet to see a solution to this problem.”

The bill would do away with the requirements for collecting signatures. The cost to do that could be in the millions, and even though the majority of people support the ban, tobacco companies will spend millions to fight it.

“I don’t believe that we should pass watered-down legislation full of concessions that bend and bow to the influence of special interests,” Hunter said. “The only interest that I am concerned about today and as we move forward is that of the citizens we all serve across this great state of Michigan.”

The only problem is Bishop can kill this bill like he did the smoking ban bill. Only the intense pressure from the supporters of the ban forced him to allow a vote last year. In fact, I think it’s that pressure that led Hunter to introduce the bill. However, it will be interesting to see what excuse Bishop comes up with to kill this bill.

Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, a co-sponsor of Hunter’s bill, as well as the smoking ban bill, Senate Bill 114, urged the Senate to hold hearings on both bills.

“For my entire legislative career, I have fought on behalf of a majority of Michigan’s citizens who feel Michigan workplaces should be smokefree, only to have my concerns fall on deaf ears or be drowned out by special interests,” he said. “I had hoped to protect the health of Michigan workers through state legislation, but I am confident that if we let the people of Michigan decide at the ballot box, we can finally move Michigan forward on this issue.”

The delay on taking up the workplace smoking ban is a smokescreen

LANSING – Its’ pretty clear Legislative leaders used a lame excuse to suspend action on the workplace smoking ban, and that fact is becoming more clear every day.

You will recall that at the start of a much-needed two-week spring break earlier this month, House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said the workplace smoking ban will be shelved this spring to concentrate on the budget. The House Regulatory Reform Committee that had held three straight weeks of testimony on the ban and nothing else has now moved on to apparently more important matters.

When they meet today, they will take testimony on House Bill 4715 introduced by the chair of the committee, Rep. Bert Johnson, that modifies investment of money in the state lottery fund. It will also consider HB 4565 introduced by Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing that requires tagging of certain beer kegs.

That is much more important than taking action on a public health hazard that kills 3,000 people a year in Michigan.

For even more important issues, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, chaired by Rep. Dudley Spade, D-Adrian, is meeting on Thursday to discuss an even more pressing issue: proposed administrative rules for unarmed combat (mixed martial arts). Now, I’m sure lottery, beer kegs and mixed martial arts are very important issues to some people, but so is protecting people from deadly secondhand smoke. The legislature can work on the budget as well as work on other issues at the same time.

The April 10 edition of “Off the Record” hosted by Capitol Correspondent Tim Skubick makes its pretty clear the decision to put off the ban is just a smokescreen.

Apr 21, 2009

Michigan GOP pulls out the old ‘Liberal media’ myth to raise money

There is nothing like a classic, and Sharon Wise, the Co-Chair of the Michigan Republican Party, rolled out an oldie but a goldie in a mass fundraising email.

Wise used the old standby myth that hatched from the paranoid mind of Richard Nixon of the so-called “liberal media” political strategy that has worked so well for the GOP for more than 30 years. Wise claimed the so-called:
“liberal media is at it again-this time attacking the Michigan Republican Party through a variety of news stories for supporting the thousands of you, hard-working, taxpaying residents who showed up at Tea Parties across Michigan last week.”

We already know the misnamed tea parties were pro-Republican, anti-Obama partisan political rallies organized by Washington, D.C. lobbying firms, and the many of the small minority who showed up were extremist fringe groups. But the bankrupt GOP is continuing to use the Astroturf rallies as fundraisers.

The GOP collected a lot of email addresses on April 15, which was a major reason for the rallies, and Wise is asking people for an online contribution. Did anyone doubt this was coming?

“The Cherry Democrats and the liberal media are mocking you-and Republicans-who want to see accountable and responsible spending from state government.”

The Cherry Democrats?

The news “stories” in question is a single column by Booth Newspapers Lansing correspondent Peter Luke where he simply points out the anti-tax stance taken on April 15 is contrary to the stance taken by business-backed funding increases for transportation of traditional GOP friends like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Luke also pointed out, correctly, that “Republicans intend to run next year against income and business tax increases approved in 2007, even though no Democrat was defeated in 2008 for voting for them.” In fact, the Democrats increased their majority by nine seats in the state House.

I guess it’s true that the facts have a liberal bias.

He also pointed out “the tax protesters conveniently neglected to mention that Michigan's 4.35 percent income-tax rate is lower than it was under most of Republican Gov. John Engler's 12 years in office.”

The simple fact is that the media is, for the most part, impartial, with the exception of GOP cheerleading outfits like Faux “News,” and if anything the media is conservative. Media consolidation by a few mega corporations where profit is the only consideration has proven that.

Right-wingers have new heroine and VP candidate in Miss California

Right-wingers have a new heroine; a Josephine the Plumber, if you will.

That heroine is Miss California Carrie Prejean. She was the runner up at the Miss USA pageant on Sunday, and she is claiming her answer in the exciting Q & A section of the pageant cost her the crown.

I have no idea if that’s true, but I certainly hope that’s the case.

After picking his name in a fish bowl, she was asked by judge Perez Hilton whether gay marriage should be legalized in all 50 states. She stammered, and then replied, "In my country, and in my family, I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman."

I guess some people don’t cotton to discrimination. Again, I have no idea if that answer cost her the crown, but like I said, I hope it did. If the judges can’t take their answers into account, then do away with that portion of the competition and replace it with something else.

But her answer earned her more fame and adulation from the right than the person who actual won the crown; who happened to be Miss North Carolina, Kristen Dalton, by the way.

We will see Prejean’s face all over Faux “News,” and considering the qualifications of the last GOP Vice-presidential candidate, I expect to see her in politics. After all, Sarah Palin failed to make it to the Miss USA pageant after Miss Wasilla failed to win the Miss Alaska crown.

Apr 20, 2009

Basham recognized for his quest to enact workplace smoking ban

His decade long quest to enact a workplace smoking ban has earned Michigan Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, an award as a Public Policy Champion by the Michigan Public Health Week Partnership.

The Michigan Association for Local Public Health, the Michigan Public Health Association, the Michigan Public Health Institute, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan School of Public Health have partnered with the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) to implement Public Health Week activities that runs from April 20-26.

Basham has pushed to implement the ban to protect the lungs of the 80 percent of Michigan residents who do not smoke from deadly secondhand smoke. The legislation advanced further than it has ever had in the past decade last year, winning approval from both the Senate and House last session, but the two bodies could not reach an agreement on which ban to enact and it died.

The House Regulatory Reform Committee had been holding hearings on the ban earlier this month, but for some unknown reason they have put the ban off using the lame and false excuse that the state budget takes precedence.

MDCH will highlight the week at 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 21 at its annual Hometown Health Heroes celebration in the Capitol Rotunda. During the event, the department and its partners will recognize eight Public Policy Champions who have either introduced new legislation to address gaps in the state's safety net or who have been long-time supporters and advocates of good public health programs. MDCH also will recognize 12 "Hometown Health Heroes" who have worked collaboratively to make their community a healthier place to live and grow.

"I congratulate our Public Policy Champions and Hometown Health Heroes," said MDCH Director Janet Olszewski in a press release. "These individuals and groups are premier examples of what it means to be a health advocate for the people of Michigan.”

Besides Basham, the Public Policy Champions include U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, for his SCHIP legislation; U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, for sponsoring the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act (LEAN Act); Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard; Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, D-Salem Township; Sen. Michele McManus, R-Lake Leelanau, for the booster seat law; and Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Paula Baird for her smoking cessation program with adoptive families.

The 2009 Hometown Health Heroes include: Social Justice Facilitator Team, Ingham County Health Department ;Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District; Genesys Maternal Infant Health Program in Flint; Dan Gorman , Montague; James Hiller, CEO, Hiller's Markets in Southfield; David M. Luoma, MD, MMM, CPE in Marquette; Sameer Ohri, DO, Pontiac; Patricia O'Neill, Grand Rapids; Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital Riley Foundation - Kelly Potocki, Standish; Lucy Tomasi-McGuire, Cadillac; and Washtenaw Area Immunization Action Coalition.

After more than a decade long silence the Michigan Militia is back

“This is like deja vu all over again."

Those famous words by hall of fame New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra can describe the political situation today. We saw fringe, extremist hate groups promote and show up in full force at last week’s anti-Obama, pro-Republican misnamed “tea parties.”

White supremacists groups, militia groups and secessionist groups pushed the Astroturf “tea party” hard. Just a few weeks before the “tea party,” the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning that violent, anti-government rightwing fringe groups are on the rise. The election of the nation's first black president and the current economic recession are contributing to a resurgence of right-wing extremist groups, which had been on the wane since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Republicans and conservatives are disputing the report, but last week’s ugly protests just confirmed the report. All this stuff sounds all too familiar to me.

I was in the heartland of the Michigan Militia movement in the mid-1990s. I returned to Michigan after a 20 year absence in 1994, with just an annual visit to see family, after a career in the military. I took my first civilian job as a reporter for a mom and pop weekly newspaper in Lenawee County’s Blissfield. I was immediately stuck by ugly, anti-government rhetoric.

After technically working for the government for so long the rhetoric came as a shock to me. I would on occasion pick up the pirate radio broadcasts from alleged Adrian minister Rick Strawcutter. This stuff was unbelievable. Government conspiracies were around every corner, and the government was guilty of everything from climate control to cameras on stop lights to control and enslave people.

I’m sure much of it was tied up in Republican’s blind hatred of President Clinton and the tax-payer financed witch-hunt to bring him down. After a couple of years at that newspaper, I moved on to the daily in Adrian. One night I decided to cover a seminar on Gulf War syndrome. Almost every where I have worked I have been the only veteran, and as a Gulf War veterans I felt it was my duty to get the word out on this important issue that I really did not know much about.

What I found shocked and angered me, and it was just another anti-government conspiracy pushed by the militia.

But much of that anti-government rhetoric stopped not long after August 10, 1995 with the indictement of Timothy McVeigh for the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil until 9/11, and right-wingers don’t believe rightwing extremists groups should be monitored? Give me a break.

This is taken from a letter McVeigh wrote to a newspaper in the letters to the editor section: “Taxes are a joke. Regardless of what a political candidate "promises," they will increase. More taxes are always the answer to government mismanagement. They mess up. We suffer. Taxes are reaching cataclysmic levels, with no slowdown in sight ... Is a Civil War Imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that. But it might.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I heard some of that same rhetoric last week.

After blogging about the extremists like the Michigan Militia helping organize “tea parties” I received a comment from Genoa Township resident Michael W. Lackomark, of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, Livingston County, MI.

He told me the Michigan Militia was not a hate group, and the protest was really about “…every year the "Rich" will have less and less, and more of us are going to have to pick up the slack to keep paying on all these government "Promises" .” Man, that sounds familiar.

But the Livingston County connection brought me back to an incident involving a friend of mine and one of my best sources when I worked as a reporter in Livingston County, former Fowlerville Police Chief Gary Krause.

In late 1993 Fowlerville police stopped a car after midnight and found three young men with blackened faces wearing camouflage uniforms. One officer noticed a clip of bullets on the floor of the car. The car was searched, and the police recovered several loaded semi-automatic rifles, 700 rounds of ammunition and various military equipment, including night vision goggles. Also discovered were notes in the car indicating the men had been conducting night surveillance of police department communications. The men skipped bail, and instead 50 militia members showed up for the arraignment, they called cops 'punks in badges,' and they said the next time one of them was stopped they'd shoot the cop.

To take a quote from the 1992 movie “Poltergeist:” “They’re back.”

Apr 17, 2009

Senate Republicans again put partisan politics above meaningful legislation

The only thing that really concerns Michigan Senate Republicans is maintaining their slim majority in order to block meaningful legislation, and the move by Mike Bishop to form a so-called “Auto Industry Action Team” confirms that.

He assigned five Senators to the “workgroup,” and all are Republicans. If you need any further proof that this is just one more Bishop publicity stunt just look at who he assigned to the group.

Besides himself, he assigned Senators Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, extremist right-winger Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, Jason Allen, R-Traverse City and Bill Hardiman, R-Kentwood.

None of these people have an ounce of experience in the auto industry, and Senate Republicans have continuously voted against workers and the middle class in favor of CEOs. They have also voted against the Hire Michigan First package of bills, and Richardville has proven to be a shill for the banking industry that helped plunge the country into the worst national recession since the Great Depression. Bishop’s number one concern is his campaign for Michigan Attorney General.

Two Democrats who have actually worked in the auto industry, Sen. Glenn Anderson and Ray Basham, were not asked simply because they are Democrats.

In the crisis the state and nation are facing, Bishop should put the good of the state above partisan politics.

Another Astroturf “tea party” post-mortem

As the hyped hoopla fades on the Astroturf “tea parties” organized by corporate friendly rightwing Washington, D. C. lobbying groups, a quick post-mortem is in order.

Washington based “Americans for Prosperity” said there would be no elected GOP officials speaking at the Lansing Republican political rally, despite Republicans speaking at rallies all over the nation. It also didn’t stop Wendy Day, extremist rightwing Republican Howell Public School Board Member and founder of the anti-gay hate group known as LOVE (Livingston Organization for Values in Education), from speaking.

It also didn’t stop former GOP state Representative and director of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance Leon Drolet from speaking. Drolet used the event as a fundraising opportunity as did other Republicans. Drolet also is looking for more exposure because he just acknowledged he is a candidate for Michigan Senate in the 11th Senate district in 2010. It’s ironic that a guy who hates government has never held a job outside of government, unless you count this brief stint at MTA hauling around a huge pink fiberglass pig.

Then it’s puzzling that AFP denied the person who represents Lansing in the U.S. House an opportunity to speak, Mike Rogers. Subscription only Gongwer reported that despite his office issuing a press release that very day saying he would speak, Rogers was not allowed to speak to the crowd, and it was reported “he left the event early after being told he would not have an opportunity at the podium.” It did not say if he left in a huff or why he didn’t stay to hear what the other stellar speakers had to say.

Michigan Messenger reporter and photographer Todd Heywood got some excellent photos, including this shot of Rogers at the event.

At the GOP rally in Chicago, organizers turned down RNC Chair Michael Steele's request to speak in a vain atempt to keep up the farce that it was a grassroots effort organized for everyday people.

In November of 2010 this will all be forgotten, and what will be remembered is the GOP’s association with extremist fringe groups like white supremacists and militia groups.

Apr 16, 2009

The Milli Vannelli of protests brings out the whiners and obnoxiously selfish

Like millions of patriotic Americans, I spent yesterday working and getting my taxes in the mail.

Despite withholdings from my paychecks and the deductions for my mortgage interests and other deductions, I ended up writing a check for $341 to Uncle Sam because I had a chunk of income with no withholding taken out earned from freelancing. Once I left work yesterday, I rode home on the MichiVan Commuter Vanpool that receives a small federal subsidy, using the interstate highway paid for and maintained by state and federal tax dollars. Once I got home, I had just enough time to grab some clothes and go to my second job teaching swim lessons at the high school pool, paid for by state and my property taxes.

The point of the recap of my day? Simple. I agree, in part, with Republican-nominated U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes when he said:
“I like to pay taxes,“ he said. “They are the price we pay for civilized society.“

I agree with having to pay the price to live in a civilized society and the greatest country in the worlds, in my opinion, but I really don’t like to pay taxes all that much. I don’t like to pay taxes, but I know all of the good it does and that it’s my patriotic duty. I guess if I made enough money that I didn’t have to worry about a paying all my bills every month and keeping the mortgage up I would agree 100 percent with Justice Holmes.

I didn't get the opportunity to get out of my office yesterday to hear Sam the digital converter box promoter speak at the fake Astroturf “tea party” in Lansing because a co-worker was on vacation, and I had to man the office and could not leave for lunch hour. I tried to watch it on the Press & Argus web site. But it was lurching and unwatchable, but it turns out I didn’t miss anything; the same old rhetoric and lies that did not work in November. But the Washington, D.C. lobbying group that organized the farce did not get their money’s worth out of old Sam. He could not have spoken for more than 10 minutes.

I had to watch the recaps on the cable News channels when I finally got home, which was strange since I have been haring the lie since the February “tea parties” that the media was ignoring them. The one thing that struck me was that these people were protesting in parks and on the Capitol lawn; all things paid for with tax dollars. I also heard a much better description of the GOP rally from a Democrat. He called it the “Milli Vannelli” of protests.

Girl, you know it’s true.

I also agree somewhat with veteran journalist Jack Lessenberry - where I lifted the Holmes’s quote – when he says, “I like paying taxes.” “This is a pretty wonderful country, and I like to contribute my bit to it. That doesn’t mean I approve of everything the government does. I think every cent spent on the Iraq war is wasted, and I wish the feds would spend it on rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure instead.”

I agree with the later; the former; not so much. However, I understand the good it does and it’s the dues for being in the great club I am a member of. If I don’t agree with how it’s being spent, I let my elected representatives know, and I have not missed a single vote in the last 15 years; including city council, school board and primary elections.

To quote Mr. Lessenberry one more time with a sentiment I saw plenty of yesterday, “I don’t mind paying taxes, and regard those who whine about them as obnoxiously selfish.”

I wish I had said that.

Apr 15, 2009

The lies keep on coming in GOP, anti-Obama Astroturf rally

The lies on the Astroturf Republican, anti-Obama rally set for today keep on coming.

I received an email from the Livingston County chapter of the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Americans For Prosperity that is co-sponsoring the misnamed “tea parties” disguised as GOP rallies telling who the speakers would be. We already know elected Republican officials will be speaking at other rallies because it is a GOP campaign rally.

AFP made it a point to say there would be no elected officials speaking in Lansing, saying “No elected officials will be speaking at the event. This is truly a grassroots Tea Party.” That’s two lies right there.

The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus reported this morning that Wendy Day, extremist rightwing Republican Howell Public School Board Member and founder of the anti-gay hate group known as LOVE (Livingston Organization for Values in Education), would speak at the Lansing event. So much for no elected officials speaking.

The piece was a classic example of shoddy journalism filled with inaccuracies passed off as fact, and it was basically a promo that should have appeared in one of the advertorial publications the company produces where businesses and people pay to have a flattering article written about them.

Considering the mandate President Obama received, how many seats the Democrats picked up in Congress in November and that 61 percent of Americans thing the income tax they pay is fair, this is basically a protest against democracy.

Apr 14, 2009

GOP using Astroturf partisan political rally disguised as a “tea party” as a fundraiser

We already knew the April 15 rallies were partisan Republican political affairs with plenty of anti-Obama hate speech thrown in, so it should come as no surprise that right-wingers are using the Astroturf rally organized by Washington, D.C. lobbying groups as a fundraiser.

Former GOP state Representative and head of the so-called “Michigan Taxpayer Alliance (MTA)” Leon Drolet is using the occasion to send out a fundraising email. The MTA is co-sponsoring the Lansing event along with the extreme rightwing Washington, D.C. lobbying group “Americans for Prosperity,” and Drolet is also asking people send a check to his Macomb Township home.

As you may recall, Drolet’s 15 minutes of infamy came in 2007 when he tried to intimidate lawmakers from voting to keep the state government going and avoid further harmful spending cuts when the budget faced a $1.8 million deficit. After much blustering and threats to go after Democrats who did the right and courageous thing and voted to keep government open, he only managed to gather enough signatures to place a recall on the ballot against House Speaker Andy Dillon.

However, it was accomplished with fraud and deceit, out of state money, illegal petition gathers, cash for signatures and illegal campaign contributions. Once it got on the ballot, voters soundly rejected it. Drolet, who has never had a job in the private sector, was seen around Lansing and in districts represented by Democrats hauling a large, model pink pig.

What was the benefit of that sham? According to the pig man:
“Battling to recall the House Speaker wasn't cheap - the Michigan Democratic Party and the Speaker spent well over a million dollars to fight the recall.”

I don’t know if that is true, and since Drolet said it, its suspect. However, is that a reason for people to attend the allegedly nonpartisan Astroturf “tea party?” To send him money to campaign against Democrats?

Then the man who has never had a job in the private sector took his standard shot at government employees that has become a standard GOP refrain.

“Just last week, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average public employee is paid $39.25 an hour in salary and benefits - $11.90 an hour more than comparable private-sector citizens. Benefit costs for government workers cost $13.38 an hour compared to $7.98 for private-sector workers. Who is serving who? “

He, of course, provides no reference, but even worse, he is comparing apples to oranges to smear dedicated state employees. Private sector employees include minimum wage, low skilled workers, but most state employees are not entry level, and the majority of them hold college degrees. In fact, if you go to the Michigan Civil Service web site, 80 percent of the jobs listed have this education requirement: “Possession of a bachelor’s degree in any major.”

Not to be out done in taking advantage of the Astroturf, GOP campaign event, RNC Chair Michael Steele sent out his own letter to make some scratch. Steele sent out a mass email urging people to send a tea bag to Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and while you are at it, he hopes “you will also take this opportunity to make a secure online contribution of $25, $50, $100, $500 or $1,000 to the RNC today.

The Astroturf and misnamed “tea parties” should be well intended after the way Faux News has been playing it up and doing promo after promo advertising where their “unbiased” hosts will be present. Plus, almost 60 million people voted for Republicans in November, but the good news is almost 70 million voted for President Obama.

No matter how many people and rightwing hate groups show up tomorrow, they will continue to be in the minority. A recent Gallup poll finds that 61 percent of Americans say they regard the income taxes they have to pay this year as fair.

I guess we will see the other 39 percent tomorrow.

Apr 13, 2009

Come out and enjoy a fun Sunday afternoon with the Livingston County Democrats

The Blue Tiger Democrats and the Livingston County Democratic Party is sponsoring a fun afternoon of fun, games and food on Sunday.

Join a fun bunch of people at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at party headquarters, 10321 E. Grand River Ave. in Brighton at 600 Fonda Place, just east of Grand River and Old US 23 in Brighton.

There will be a sloppy joe buffet and the inaugural LCDP Brownie Cook-off. Bring your kids, and there will be outdoor games, weather permitting. The event is free, and all you have to bring is yourself and your own beverage.

Actually, there is a small price for admission, and the cost is just an item to donate to LACASA; a non-profit supports that shelters victims of domestic violence, including adults and children, educates the community and encourages positive action.

They are looking for all-purpose cleansers to Zip-up hoodies and everything in between. A full list is available on the web site, but it basically is anything a family displaced from their homes with just the clothes on their back can use.

If you plan to attend, please RSVP with Pam Green at (734) 347-0335 or pgreen1210@sbcglobal.net.

Stevens and Siegelman cases very similar: all but the end result

If you needed any proof that it is a new day in the country with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, we have the case of former Republican Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, whose corruption conviction was thrown out on a technicality.

Stevens was convicted of seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from a wealthy oil contractor just a week before he lost his bid for re-election. Apparently, the U.S. Justice Department admitted it never turned over notes from an interview with the oil contractor, so new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made the decision to disregard a jury verdict and not seek another trial. Steven’s lawyer’s praised Holder as "a pillar of integrity."

This is the same U.S. Justice Department that was the most politicized justice department in history, and U.S. attorneys were hand-picked for their Republican partisanship. Under Bush, it functioned much like the IRS did under Nixon. In 2006 U.S. Attorneys were fired if they did not go after Democrats and actually investigated real corruption by Republicans.

One of the most glaring examples was the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Many people believe Bush’s brain and henchman Karl Rove was behind this persecution, and that’s one reason Rove is fighting subpoenas.

Don Siegelman was not in prison because he’s a criminal but because he belonged to the wrong political party in Alabama. Siegelman was the most successful Democrat in that Republican state. But while he was governor, the U.S. Justice Department launched multiple investigations that went on year after year until, finally, a jury convicted Siegelman of bribery.

He was sentenced to seven years in a federal prison camp in Louisiana. Stevens didn’t do a second behind bars. In fact, Siegelman was denied 45 days to report to prison to give him time to put his affairs in order, an opportunity which is commonly granted to other offenders. Siegelman was immediately taken to a maximum security prison. While in prison, Siegelman endured solitary confinement.

The main charge against Siegelman was that he took a bribe, giving a position on a state board to businessman Richard Scrushy, who had made a big donation to Siegelman’s lottery campaign that would benefit public schools. The position on the state hospital regulatory board was an unpaid position, and Scrushy had served on the same board over the past three Republican administrations.

The evidence was thin at best, and the star witness against him was subsequently convicted of extortion; upon being given 10 years in prison he cooperated with prosecutors to lighten his own sentence by testifying against Siegelman. Although the witness engaged in over 70 interviews with the prosecution against Siegelman, none of the notes detailing these interviews were shared with the defense.

That was the very reason the Steven’s conviction was overturned. Why not Siegelman? The judge in Steven’s case said the prosecutors in the case should be investigated. The same should be done in Siegelman’s case. In fact, in November 2008 new documents revealed alleged misconduct by the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney and other prosecutors in the case. Extensive and unusual contact between the prosecution and the jury appears to have occurred.

Like Stevens, Siegelman was running for re-election during his trial.

Apr 11, 2009

Republicans pushing the myth that the “tea party” protest is a grassroots effort

As the April 15 deadline for filing your federal income taxes approaches, right-wingers are buzzing about their misnamed and misguided “tea party” allegedly to protest government spending and taxation.

That the alleged tea party is non-partisan is the first myth, and the second myth is that it is a “bottom-up, grassroots protest.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a partisan, Republican anti-Obama event. What it certainly is not is a tea party. The Boston Tea Party was staged to protest taxation without representation. That’s simply not the case here, and the American people spoke loud and clear when and where it counts the most: at the ballot box.

Many of the events will feature Republican elected officials as guest speakers. The hysterical hate against the President is increasing, and it will be on full display April 15. White supremacist and militias groups will be well-represented at the “tea parties“, and I guarantee that we will see crude, homemade signs there that say crap like “Hitler gave good speeches too,” “Obama Bin Lyin’” and “Impeach Obama.” We saw some of them at the misnamed “tea party” back in February. Is every protest by Republicans called a “tea party?”

It is also not a grassroots effort. The Washington, DC-based, rightwing think tank Freedom Works, chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader and rightwing Republican Dick Armey, is working hard to organize it. The Washington, D.C.-based rightwing think tank Americans for Prosperity is also organizing the “tea parties. “ It has a web site complete with talking points.

There is even a web site where you can get gear to wear to the event.

The rightwing blogoshere in Michigan is pushing it hard, but they, of course, ignore the fact that the last Bush administration budget rang up a $500 billion deficit and added more than $4 trillion to the national debt over his eight disastrous years. During the first Bush term, when the Republicans controlled Congress, government spending grew on average at an annual rate of over 4 percent — far higher than during the Clinton administration.

If you need further proof that this is an anti-Obama rally, the event is listed by the Michigan Legislative Council as a “Nationwide Chicago Tea Party.”

Nationwide Chicago Tea Party
East Steps & Walks, North & South Lawn
9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Apr 9, 2009

Republicans are sore losers

Republicans are sore losers. If you need any proof of that, you just need to look at the examples of former Sen. Norm Coleman and the so-called and misnamed “Tea Party” protest set for next week.

Despite losing the election, every court case and in every recount Sen. Al Franken gets more votes, Coleman refuses to concede after five months. For five months Minnesota has only had one Senator. Remember when Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 General Election? He was called a sorer loser from election night until the day the Supreme Court ruled. Just a six-week period, not five months. Why isn’t the pres calling Coleman a sore loser?

According to Media Matters, a Nexis search found nearly 900 "sore loser" press mentions in Gore articles between November and December 2000. So much for the “liberal media” myth.

But the worst example of Republicans as sore losers is the so-called “Tea Party” protest set for this weekend to April 15. My friend Johnny C over at Motor City Liberal calls the event what it really is: an ugly, partisan protest against the President. Previous tea party protests have attracted protesters who called for impeaching Obama while slurring the President’s name as “Obama Bin Lyinm,” according to Think Progress.

He comments on an article on Think Progress that debunks the myth that the partisan protests are simply “displays of regular Americans in protest of government spending and extreme taxation” instead of what they really are, partisan, political anti-Obama rallies organized by extreme rightwing groups like “Freedom Works” and “Americans for Prosperity.”

It is also being organized by some of the most extreme rightwing groups that include militias, secessionists and neo-Nazi white supremacist groups.

The white supremacist group Stormfront is pushing the “tea party” hard. The Michigan Militia is also holding a “tea party.” I thought that fanatical, anti-government group was dead after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The Republic of Texas movement that wants to secede from the union is appearing in North Texas, along with mainstream Republican leaders. I thought that secessionist thing was settled way back in 1865.

The Republicans will be in good company on April 15.

Tobacco-rich North Carolina approves workplace smoking ban

.The news in Michigan is that the much sought after and popular workplace smoking ban, including bars and restaurants, is stalled in the Michigan Legislature, but the news in tobacco-rich North Carolina is that the state House just approved a ban last week on smoking in work places and restaurants.

North Carolina is home of the J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the second-largest tobacco company in the United States, and maker of such well-known cigarette brands as Camel, Pall Mall, Kool, Winston, Salem and Doral. For a baby-boomer like me, those products are household names after years of heavy advertising on every medium available. A smoking ban in North Carolina is comparable to a ban on driving automobiles on ozone action days in Michigan or gambling in Nevada.

This comes just a month after news that the home of the largest cigarette manufacturer in the U.S. and home of the Marlboro man enacted a smoking ban when Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine signed the bill into law in March.

North Carolina’s law is far from perfect, and it has its problems, including exempting bars. But it is a start, and it is more than Michigan has. If the two largest tobacco producing states can ban indoor smoking, why can’t Michigan?

The North Carolina law also exposes the danger of not enacting a complete ban and instead making exceptions like Michigan is considering. The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association is vowing to fight the bill as it moves on to the Senate because they fear patrons will choose to grab some bar food and enjoy a cigarette rather than visit a restaurant and go without a smoke. However, they also ignore the peer-reviewed studies that show that’s simply not true and how less than 24 percent of the population carries so much economic clout.

This situation is very similar to Michigan, and you have to wonder if the Restaurant and Lodging Association ever supported the bill. In Michigan, the Restaurant Association has fought any smoking ban bill tooth and nail, despite what its members think.

I’ll keep an eye on this to see if Michigan or North Carolina becomes the 36th state to enact an indoor smoking ban.

Apr 8, 2009

Bloggers organize boycott of Chase Morgan

Michigan bloggers are spearheading a nationwide boycott of JP Morgan Chase over the bailout bank’s refusal to help out struggling Big 3 automaker Chrysler, putting 300,000 jobs in jeopardy.

JP Morgan Chase runs a large portion of Chrysler’s debt, and it is refusing to negotiate with the auto company on their debt: a move that could put thousands of hardworking American auto employees, the majority of them Michigan residents, out of their jobs by forcing Chrysler into bankruptcy. Anyone with a JP Morgan Chase bank account should close it out and to transfer their money to a local bank or credit union, and make sure they know why when you close it out.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said that any banks that received rescue money from the federal government should be open to making concessions on the debt Chrysler owes them to help the automaker reach a deal with Italian carmaker Fiat necessary for its survival.

There is also an online petition and a Facebook group.

Dillon says House can’t address more than one issue at a time

Apparently, Michigan House and Senate leaders can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

At the start of a much-needed two-week spring break, House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, are saying the workplace smoking ban will be shelved this spring to concentrate on the budget, according to the Detroit News. How 148 people can work on a budget at the same time is beyond me, but that’s the excuse.

Although Dillon has never been stingy on allowing a vote on the smoking ban – allowing a vote twice last session - unlike his counterpart in the Senate, he is not keen on the ban. This bad news comes on the heels of three week of testimony and two field trips on the smoking ban – the last hearing being April 1 – by the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

The ban has the overwhelming support of Michigan residents. Just last month, EPIC-MRA of Lansing released a poll that showed two-thirds of Michigan voters favor a smoking ban in all workplaces, including Detroit’s casinos.

The leading proponent of the smoking ban, Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, chided the leadership for their inability to address more than one issue at a time.

“I'm OK with multi-tasking," Basham told the Detroit News. "When 3,000 people are dying in Michigan every year from secondhand smoke and smoking-related diseases are costing us billions a year for health care, we should find time to deal with this."

The fact is this bill has been in the Michigan Legislature for the past 11 years. Now, you don’t have time?

The science on the damages of secondhand smoke is undisputed: 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.

As for costs, it cost cash-strapped businesses more to delay joining the other 35 states with workplace smoking bans. Smoking directly results in more than $2.65 billion in annual health care costs in Michigan, of which more than $881 million is born by the state Medicaid program. In fact, each household spends $597 annually in state and federal taxes due to smoking-caused government expenditures. Smoke-free worksites would eliminate these extra health care costs and would do so with virtually no implementation costs.

Furthermore, by creating a smoke-free work environment, business owners can eliminate a variety of associated costs, including higher health, life, and fire insurance premiums, higher worker absenteeism, lower work productivity, and higher workers' compensation payments. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the cost savings of eliminating secondhand smoke in the workplace to be between $35 and $66 billion a year. Given the state of Michigan's economy we really can’t afford not to go smoke-free.

To his credit, Dillon has allowed vote and committee work on the workplace smoking ban. Bishop has done nothing, and he only allowed a vote on the ban with no committee hearings last May. As expected, it passed. He has been dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing by the pressure of public opinion.

People are getting restless, and talk of an expensive ballot proposal is building, especially if lawmakers continue to shirk their duty to protect the public health.

Call and write Andy Dillon and Mike Bishop and ask them to do the right thing and support what the majority of Michiganders want; now, not this summer.

Dillon can be reached at (888) 737-3455 or andydillon@house.mi.gov
Bishop can be reached at (877) 924-7467 or senmbishop@senate.michigan.gov

Apr 7, 2009

Indiana University study debunks myth that smoking ban will hurt Detroit casinos

Representatives from the Detroit casinos testified before the House Regulatory Reform Committee last month on the dire job losses a smoking ban in the casinos will cause with zero evidence to support that claim, and a study released last month by Indiana University Center for Health Policy called “The Economic Impact of Smoke-free Policies on Business and Health” debunks the myth that a smoking ban will cause a drop in business and job losses.

The study concludes, “although limited research has been conducted on smoke-free
laws’ economic impact on casinos and the gaming industry, the available research shows no negative revenue impact.” That includes sales and gaming receipts.

“Currently, 15 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have enacted 100 percent smoke-free laws for gaming establishments, with more anticipated in 2009. Many casino operators fear that by alienating smokers, they will lose longtime customers; they doubt that nonsmokers will be able to replace loyal patrons. However, in a 2006 study by University of Nevada, Reno researchers concluded that four out of five casino patrons are nonsmokers; casino customers do not smoke any more than the average US population smokes.”

The simple math that no opponent of this public health issue can explain is how 20-25 percent of the population can control so much money and has so much economic clout.

The report says, “news report headlines reading “Smoking ban may be to blame for Illinois casino revenue declines,” coupled with studies reporting similar findings by economist Michael Pakko and researcher Richard Thalheimer, both of whom have strong ties to the tobacco industry, have continued to fuel concerns and resistance toward smoke-free legislation. But studies finding an adverse impact on casino, bar, and restaurant revenue have been criticized regarding potential bias and questionable funding sources.”

The conclusion by bar and restaurant owners of a loss in business, revenue and job loss are based on opinion and not fact. In fact, you will not find one credible study to prove that.

The study took a wider look at the hospitality industry in general, and it reached the same conclusion as casinos. The simple fact is nonsmokers, who outnumber smokers 3 to 1, “would recover or increase any sales lost from smokers, because nonsmokers have been avoiding establishments that allow smoking.”

New York has was one of the first states to pass tough smoking laws, and in 2003 the state banned smoking in all public and private restaurants, bars, bowling facilities, taverns and bingo halls. Sales actually increased after the ban.

In 2004, “a Department of Health study found that the city's restaurants and bars prospered despite the smoking ban, demonstrating increases in liquor licenses, jobs and business tax payments. The report stated that tax receipts increased 8.7 percent from April 1, 2003, to January 1, 2004, compared to the same period in 2002–2003.

The same thing has occurred in the 35 states and numerous countries that have banned smoking in the workplace, including bars and restaurants.

It’s long passed the time that Michigan did the same and banned smoking in the workplace, including bars, restaurants and casinos.

Apr 6, 2009

State Parks Passport will increase funding and attendance at state parks

LANSING -- Michigan’s beautiful and numerous State Parks could get a shot in the arm under pending legislation that will increase funding and attendance.

At a joint meeting of the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Great Lakes and Environmental Committee last week, the committees took testimony on the four-bill bipartisan, bicameral package of bills: Senate Bills 388-389 and House Bills 4677-4678.

The bills would cut the annual entrance fee in half from $24 to just $10, and it would allow residents to purchase a recreation passport at the Secretary of State’s office when you renew your vehicle registration. It is modeled after the program in Montana, and it operates on the honor system.

The bills are the result of planning by the Citizens Advisory Committee of Michigan State Parks. The state parks are a huge draw for tourism with a park no father than an hour‘s drive away for any Michigan resident, but they have not received general fund money for the past five years.

“The bills before this committee reflects years of frustration by legislators, professionals and educators who have wrestled with the challenge of funding state parks,” said Rev. Hurley J. Coleman, Jr., a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee. “The ebb and flow of economics has caused these important facilities and programs to react, diminishing the consistency of services.”

Supporters of parks, recreation and environmental groups came out in force to support the bills. Proponents say it will increase both funding and attendance. The cashiers who man the entrance booths will be freed up to perform other services in the park. Parks near border areas will still man the familiar entrance booths, and the entrance fees for out-of-state visitors will be the same.

Dennis Muchmore, the executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs - the largest statewide conservation organization in the nation, with nearly 100,000 members and more than 500 affiliated clubs - testified in favor of the bills, saying state parks are a key economic engine that generates $3.5 billion annually in spending by sportsman.

“The legislative proposal brought forth today is refreshing example of bicameral and bipartisan cooperation to solve our state’s many challenging problems,” he said. “But perhaps more importantly, it is also the calculated work-product of Michigan citizens through the Citizen’s Committee for Michigan State Parks: sportsman, academics, state and park officials, local governments and other citizen’s resource stewards.”

The Michigan Recreation and Park Association (MRPA), a non-profit association with over 2,000 members representing the public and private sectors of the recreation and park profession, came out strongly in favor of the bills. Darrin Duistermars, the president of the MRPA board, said the proposal will lower the cost of attendance and increase attendance.

“We strongly support the vision to establish a sustainable source of funding for state parks, boating facilities, forests, campgrounds and recreation areas,” he said. “Assessing a general motor vehicle registration fee in exchange for eliminating daily and annual park entry and boating fees will make access to state recreation resources more affordable for Michigan residents and provide the resources required to address crumbling infrastructure, maintenance and operational needs.”

However, there is some opposition out there. The Michigan Association of County Road Commissions and the Michigan Municipal League oppose it. They claim money from vehicle registration should only go to roads, and it is unconstitutional because it is a tax that should go to roads.

But proponents say the SOS routinely collects voluntary fees from specialty license plates for fundraising.

Even though the bills provide a half percent of the funding to the SOS office to administer the program, they are against it. They claim it may free up clerks at the state parks, but it will burden their lobby employees answering state park questions and increase the wait time in the branch offices.

The SOS also claims it is a slippery slope to using vehicle registering for other non-vehicle uses. It also claims it is unconstitutional because the funding for specialty license plates you must opt in, but for the park passes you must opt out.

This is the first of at least one more committee hearing just to take testimony, and the goal is to vote the bills out of committee by May.

Apr 3, 2009

Sam the digital converter box promoter to appear at ‘tea party’

Does every protest by right-wingers involve the Boston Tea Party?

Apparently, because of their lack of imagination it does. They are at it again, and on tax day on April 15 they are planning another “Tea Party” to protest “wasteful government spending at the state and national levels.” Apparently, they have even gone as far as to mail tea bags to political leaders.

They pulled a similar stunt in February that I called “Music and Meander.” They inflated the numbers of people who attended the event, and then attacked me because I underestimated the people who attended. I corrected my numbers, but they stuck with their inflated numbers.

But while they were hammering me on numbers, they inconveniently failed to explain what the Boston Tea Party has to do with the protest. The Boston Tea Party was staged to protest the Tea Act of 1773, and it was part of the discontent brought about by the Stamp Act of 1765. The Colonists were protesting "Taxation without Representation."

Will somebody please explains to me how this is Taxation without Representation? The American people spoke loud and clear in November, and the people they want representing them are representing them.

Perhaps instead of tea bags and signs displaying what they are told to write, they should bring a text book.

One of the organizers of the misguided "protest" in Lansing is rightwing extremist Howell Public School Board member and founding member of the defunct anti-gay hate group called LOVE - (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) Wendy Day. She was quoted in a recent edition of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as saying she hopes the President is listening.

“This is a grassroots effort, much like the Boston Tea Party, of standing up against the oppression of big government and out-of-control spending,” she said.

What she needs to do is audit a history class at Howell High School, or better yet, attend one of Mark Oglesby's government classes.

The Lansing people are all atwitter because Samuel Wurzelbacher – AKA “Joe the Plumber” – is going to appear. You will recall that he gained instant celebrity status after a chance encounter with President Obama and asked him a question during a campaign stop in Toledo. After that, the McCain camp trotted him out at campaign stops and shopped him as the everyman Joe the Plumber.

It turns out he wasn’t a plumber and his name wasn’t even Joe. We know President Obama will be good for the country, but he has been especially good for Sam the digital converter box promoter. He has been unqualified for every job he has held since October 12, 2008. and I can’t understand why anyone but his family and friends care about what he has to say, but they are calling his appearance a “big get.”

I guess Victoria Jackson was already booked.

Apr 2, 2009

Senate Republicans say yes to banks, no to homeowners

LANSING -- State Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, carried water for the home mortgage industry whose greed plunged the country into a financial meltdown by fighting off every attempt by Senate Democrats Wednesday to pass a meaningful moratorium on home foreclosure and keep people in their homes.

The Senate passed a package of three bills, House Bills 4453-4455, along party lines that would have given a 90-day reprieve from foreclosure for homeowners who commit to working with their lender and a housing counselor that was approved by the House with bipartisan support last month.

The bills passed by the House stipulated that if at the end of the 90 days a homeowner is eligible for a loan modification, but the lender does not give it to them for whatever reason, then the lender would be forced to take the foreclosure through the judicial process.

But Richardville, the chair of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, stripped that out of the bill in committee, and he fought off numerous attempts by Senate Democrats to put the provision back in the bill on the Senate floor.

Sen. Hansen Clark, D-Detroit, a long-time advocate of foreclosure protection for consumers, gave an impassioned plea to include the judicial hammer in the bill. Michigan ranks seventh in the nation for foreclosures, according to RealtyTrac. More than 145,000 properties were in foreclosure in 2008 – a 21 percent increase from 2007 and a 108 percent increase from 2006. In January of this year alone, 11,418 foreclosures were reported in Michigan.

“Our failure to have the courage to resist special-interest lobbying and for a change look out for the interest of the individual, not the large corporations who are benefiting right now from loans totaling billions of dollars of our kids and grandkids--tax dollars,” he said. “My amendment would require a judge to get involved with the foreclosure process. It would bring the borrower and the lender together so that they can voluntarily work something out.”

Richardville used the lame excuse that it ads an extra step for mortgage companies and cost them a few more dollars. The same mortgage companies whose greed caused the sub-prime mortgage mess that plunged the country into a recession. The national recession has severely hurt the auto industry, Michigan’s largest employer, and many Michigan residents have lost their jobs. Still, many banks refuse to work with homeowners who have fallen behind, and there is nothing the homeowner can do about it.

“The question is this: How many more people have to lose their retirement savings before we take action,” Clark said. “How many more homeowners must lose the value of their houses before we take action? How many more families need to end up in homeless shelters before we take some reasonable action to give those responsible homeowners who can afford to stay in their home a few more months to catch up on their mortgage payments?”

Consumer groups like the Michigan Advocacy Project and the Michigan Foreclosure Taskforce said stripping the judicial piece out of the bill will cost more people their homes.

Many Democrats crossed over and voted for the bills. Because they are substitutes, they have to go back to the House for concurrence, and more than likely they will end up in a conference committee where the bills will be fixed.