May 29, 2009

U of M study concludes a workplace smoking ban will not hurt business

Another study was just released that puts to rest the myth that a workplace smoking ban, including bars and restaurants, will result in a drop in business and a loss of jobs.

The University of Michigan Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy released a study on Thursday that concluded the state's bars and restaurants would not be hurt by a proposed workplace smoking ban. The study said “in economic terms, most high-quality research finds that smoking bans have not had negative effects on the revenues of restaurants and bars.”

The most opposition to the workplace smoking ban has come from industry groups like the Michigan Restaurant Association (MRA) and the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) who make the false claim that a ban will cost jobs to their members.

The MLBA has been very vocal about their opposition, citing debunked studies to make their claim. But the U of M study concluded that “many of the studies finding negative effects were either conducted by organizations with links to the tobacco industry or funded by the tobacco industry or industry groups supported by the tobacco industry.”

But most surprising was that Andy Deloney, vice president of public affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association, was quoted in subscription only Gongwer as saying agreed there would be increases in statewide restaurant sales after a smoking ban was implemented. He has been one of the most vocal critics of the ban, testifying in committees and widely quoted in news reports.

"Almost every single year in every single state total statewide restaurant sales go up," he was quoted as saying.

Other studies have also concluded the ban will not hurt business, such as the Indiana University Center for Health Policy, Grand Valley State University and Public Sector Consultants Inc. report “Smokefree workplaces: The Impact of House Bill 4163 on the Restaurant and Bar Industry in Michigan.”

The effects on casinos are a little more mixed, and part of that problem is because there is little data available. Delaware is one of the few states that have data available. The report concluded “two of the three studies found that the Delaware smoking ban negatively affected revenue at Delaware’s three racinos.”

“On the other hand, a study analyzing the impact of smoke-free ordinances in Massachusetts on gambling sponsored by charitable organizations, such as bingo, found that such ordinances did not affect gambling revenue.”

The fact is no one can explain how just 22 percent of the population who still smoke can have such an economic effect. Most gamblers who are bothered by smoke go across the Detroit River to the Windsor casinos where smoking is banned.

The health effects of deadly secondhand smoke are undisputed, and the study concluded “Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and in adults who do not smoke. The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”

The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), housed at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, conducts and supports applied policy research designed to inform state, local, and urban policy issues. Through integrated research, teaching, and outreach involving academic researchers, students, policymakers and practitioners, CLOSUP seeks to foster understanding of today’s state and local policy problems, and to find effective solutions to those problems.

May 28, 2009

Only Republicans think it’s OK to charge admission to political debates

Only in the world of Republicans can a decision by a candidate to skip a so-called political debate where admission is charged can he earn their scorn.

Both the Michigan House and Senate canceled session on Thursday so lawmakers can attend the annual three-day Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce's Mackinac Policy Conference. Thursday evening an event called “The Great Gubernatorial Debate” moderated by “Off the Record’s” Tim Skubick was held.

Invited to participate were Republican gubernatorial candidates Sen. Tom George, Terri Lynn Land, Mike Cox and Peter Hoekstra, and Democratic candidates Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith and Lt. Gov. John Cherry.

Cherry decided to skip the debate because admission was being charged and it was a fundraiser. Over at the official unofficial GOP blog “Right” Michigan, they gave Cherry a hard time for skipping it, saying he “snubbed the event.”

I say good for him. Who the heck charges admission to a political debate? The tickets were $175 in advance and $200 at the door. Plus, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, a GOP candidate, was not even invited. The rightwing blog failed to mention that.

In the 14 years I have been a journalist and in politics. I have only heard of one other time where admission was charged for a political debate between candidates for elected office.

Last June the Livingston County Teen Age Republicans (TAR) sponsoring a candidate forum for the two open Michigan House seats and charged admission.

Editorial says $2.65 billion in annual health care costs is too trivial for the Legislature to address

Apparently, the editorial board of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus thinks that $2.65 billion in annual health care costs in Michigan is too trivial for the Michigan Legislature to address.

The editorial in Thursday’s edition on the workplace smoking ban has the headline of ‘Stalemate over smoking distracts from key issues,’ and the paper continues to display a disturbing understanding of how the Legislature really works. Their contention is that the public health issue that kills 3,000 nonsmokers a year from lung cancer alone is too trivial to undertake because the state’s largest employers are near bankruptcy.

Apparently they believe 148 opinionated men and women with different views should get in one room and work on nothing but economic issues. The fact is that the Legislature is broken down into committees of five to nine people dealing with specific areas, from Agriculture to Transportation. It’s much easier for that small group to negotiate and then make a recommendation to the full House and Senate to debate and vote on. Could you imagine the din and confusion if 110 people tried to negotiate? There are 18 standing committees in the Senate and 24 in the House, and it’s much easier to work in small groups and present the result to the larger group to vote on. It has worked that way in the Federal Congress for more than 200 years.

This is the second editorial where they gig the Legislature for daring to consider the “frivolous” workplace-smoking ban instead of addressing the state’s economy, and even the paper’s general manager, who has been in journalism for more than 20 years, displays a disturbing ignorance of the legislative process with his own misinformed column last year.

The editorial displays a total ignorance of the issue claming, “This issue has been in front of the Legislature repeatedly in recent years.” That is simply not true. It has been introduced every session for the past decade without even a single committee hearing until last session when a hearing was finally held in June 2007 and both bodies of the Michigan Legislature passed a version of the ban.

They are even wrong about the politics of the issue, saying “the Republicans there had clearly indicated they didn't want to see a ban enacted at all, so they were making an issue of the Democrats' casino exemption.” Not true. This is a nonpartisan issue, and a look at who voted for and against the ban would show them that. The simple fact is that this has widespread support on both sides of the aisle. The Senate Majority Leader is the one who does not want it, and he is using the casino issue as political cover. The editors should insist that he allow the issue to get into a conference committee as soon as possible and he assign members who will really try and work out a compromise.

This claim really shows a lack of understanding of the issue and their failure to do the slightest bit of research. “Those who advocate the ban may argue that it is a public health issue, and so see this as an important issue. Given such a perspective, perhaps this bill was a top priority, back when the ban was first proposed years ago.”

When you consider they use the words, “may argue that it is a public health issue” you begin to see the problem. The U.S. Surgeon General said 20 years ago secondhand smoke was deadly and causes health problems, and study after study backs that research up. That there is any doubt and that the editors use the word “may” illustrates the problem.

Perhaps an editorial supporting the ban or asking why Livingston County’s two representatives in the House voted against the bill would be more helpful. If they are against it, then say so and say why. They could have pointed out that 37 other states have already enacted a smoking ban, including the latest to do so; the tobacco road states of Virginia and North Carolina.

If they want to keep harping on the economy, fine. Instead of attacking the legislature that can do nothing to improve the lot of the state’s largest employers and the national recession, how about advocating for something that will save taxpayers money?

Smoking is very costly and is literally sucking the air out of Michigan’s economy. Smoking directly results in $2.65 billion in annual health care costs in Michigan, of which $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.

May 27, 2009

Brighton attorney Michael Hatty is the newest Livingston County Circuit Court Judge

Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Brighton attorney Michael Hatty to the vacant judicial seat in 44th Circuit Court in Livingston County today.

Hatty will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Circuit Court Judge Stanley J. Latreille on April 3 after 26-years on the bench. Hatty applied for the vacancy along with Brighton attorney Rick Trost, and former Democratic state representative candidate and attorney Matt McGivney, Charles Widmaier and Green Oak Township attorney and former chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party Matt Evans.

Judge Hatty will serve until the next election in 2010, and he will then have to run to fill the remainder of Latreille's term that runs through 2012.

Hatty is currently the Deerfield Township attorney. The township was in danger of becoming the lighting rod for controversy like Hamburg, and the State Police actually raided township hall and seized records. He did a masterful job in steering officials through that storm. He has been a private attorney since 1980, practicing every kind of law. Hatty served as the General Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee has clerked for Attorney General Frank J. Kelley and he has a long list of civic and professional activities and affiliations.

Congratulations to Judge Hatty.

Smoking ban passes House with bipartisan support but exceptions may kill it

LANSING – The workplace smoking ban passed in the House Tuesday with bipartisan support, but the exceptions in the bill will just give Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, an excuse to kill a bill he doesn’t support but 70 percent of Michigan residents do support.

After holding a caucus most of the afternoon on Tuesday, the House leadership allowed a vote on House Bill 4377 that bans smoking in casinos and so-called cigar bars. The bill passed by a vote of 73-31 vote.

In a true bipartisan vote, 17 Republicans voted for the bill, and seven misguided Democrats voted no. There were 12 amendments submitted to the bill, including some silly ones, like exceptions for race tracks and making a smoke filled place in a bar that employees would allegedly not have to enter. Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, and Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, offered amendments for a total ban, but House leadership refused to even allow a vote on those amendments.

This is the same scenario that developed last session when the House passed a version with exceptions and the Senate passed a version with no exceptions, and Bishop assigned two members to the conference committee to work out a compromise between the two versions who refused to negotiate, killing the ban But the overwhelming number of supporters of the ban are looking on the bright side and hoping this will get the ball rolling. The bill got 17 more votes this time than when the bill passed by a vote of 56-46 in December 2007.

The real indication of how serious Bishop is may be what committee the bill is referred to. Last session it was buried in the committee he chairs that never meets, the Committee on Government Operations and Reform. The common sense place is the Health policy Committee, but the chair of that committee, a medical doctor, favors the ban. But there is indication he may actually try to reach a deal.

It was telling than Bishop’s mouthpiece Matt Marsden was quoted as saying “the Senate will set the agenda on when to act on the matter and not be pressured by any group on a different time frame for action.” Bishop’s office has been flooded by supporters of the bill, and that was the only reason he even allowed a vote last year, not expecting it would pass.

The opponents of the ban put out their usual false talking points when hearing news of the bill’s passage. Lance Binoniemi, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, put out his usual debunked, false talking point about how it will cost jobs.

"I challenge lawmakers to explain to the thousands of workers they just turned their backs on, why their jobs aren't worth protecting," he said "It's a sad day for Michigan when Las Vegas-based casinos are worth protecting and Michigan's mom and pop businesses are penalized.”

I challenge Binoniemi, again, to explain how just 20 percent of the population can have so much effect on the economy, and why the 37 other states that have a smoking ban are not experiencing job loess. He is silent. It seems he is more interested in selling cigarettes than booze.

May 26, 2009

Lansing insiders are aware of Bishop’s incompetence

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, took the biggest dip in approval ratings from Lansing insiders in a survey conducted by the subscription only Capitol newsletter MIRS and EPIC/MRA last week.

The Capitol insider's survey was e-mailed to well over 1,000 lawmakers, lobbyists, association executives and executive branch officials over a three-week period that ended last week. The last one was conducted two years ago, and Bishop received a 59 percent positive job approval rating. However, this past survey gave him the biggest downward swing with only 28 percent who now think he's doing a positive job. That cannot bode well for his bid for Attorney General. The fact that the GOP Senate caucus has blocked any meaningful legislation and his refusal to compromise to accomplish anything has a lot to do with the rating.

His counterpart in the House, Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford, received a 43 percent overall positive job approval rating.

In a demonstration that the buck stops at the top and the person in charge gets the blame, Gov. Jennifer Granholm received a dismal rating of just 16 percent. But the good news is that 80 percent of the insiders believe Lt. Gov. John Cherry will be the Democratic nominee for Governor next year.

The Republican side is very muddled, but Attorney General Mike Cox is the leader with just 24 percent. In second place was Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land with 17 percent, along with Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who has said he is not a candidate. U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, was in third with 16 percent.

May 25, 2009

County GOP continues to make a sham of nonpartisan races

Genoa Township businessman John Conely and the Livingston County Republican Party are at it again, and they are determined to stomp out Democrats, even in a nonpartisan race.

In a story in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, a story on Conely’s latest exploits fails to mention his past activities. According to the article, six months before the next school board election in November, Conely is on his favorite kick and posting signs around Brighton. This latest sign calls for residents to elect "competent" members to the Brighton Public School Board who can "balance a checkbook and spend taxpayers' money wisely."

There are two seats up for election on the school board. Republican Bill Anderson is not running for re-election, but incumbent Joe Carney plans to run for another four year term. Carney is the former chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party, so Conely’s campaign is targeting just Carney.

Gee, no surprise there.

Back in February 2007, the county GOP was not content with controlling the entire county Board of Commissioners, the state Senate seat, the two state House seats and all but a few Township board positions, so they went after the nonpartisan school board elections.

In the spring of 2006 the county GOP started endorsing candidates, and Miles Vieau a former Brighton School Board member, a member of the GOP executive committee and an associate of Conely‘s, took the next step and began recruiting and training Republicans to run for school board. He also offered GOP volunteers to work on their campaigns.

Fast forward to the fall of 2008, and the Livingston County Republican Party and Conely ran an illegal campaign to try and stop a combined building millage and technology/bus bond that would equal about 1 mill.

Conely again used signs as one weapon, Bulldog orange signs that said, "Vote no on the Brighton School millage."

The millage failed, and it was revealed just two days after the election that a group calling itself "Parents Union Local No. 1" was pushing to reopen the teacher contract that was just approved in April 2008.

The so-called leader of that group was none other than Conely, and the rest of the group consisted of members of the county GOP executive committee; attorney and former University of Michigan GOP regent Neal Nielsen, county assistant prosecuting attorney Bill McCririe and Vieau.

The deadline for filing for school board seats is Aug. 11, and it remains to be seen if Conely will run for the board or if he is just clearing the way for other Republicans.

The bottom line is we need independents, progressives and liberals to run for school board to combat this naked GOP power grab. Nominating petitions and affidavits for anyone 18 or older wishing to run for a four-year term are available at their county clerk’s office, municipal clerk’s office or school board office.

Just one more example of Republicans giving lip service to supporting the troops

HOWELL -- Like many people on Memorial Day, I took in a Memorial Day parade, and I watched the parade in downtown Howell with some of my grandchildren.

It was uplifting to see people cheering the veterans groups and the color guard. We can only hope that same support materializes Tuesday when the Human Resources Committee of the all-Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners meets at 7 p.m. May 26 in the commissioners chambers at the courthouse annex, 304 E. Grand River in downtown Howell.

The Livingston County Veterans Committee sent out a mass email to all veterans in the county urging them to attend the meeting, and the plan to ask the committee to meet its obligations and properly fund the depleted Veterans Relief fund.

The committee consists of five members appointed by the Board of Commissioners to oversee operations of the Veterans Affairs Department. The committee says Public Act 214 provides that a county must levy a millage to fund Veterans Relief, but Livingston County has not been levying the required millage like the surrounding counties of Shiawassee, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Ingham do.

The committee is asking the County Commissioners to approve a 1/20th of a mill levy, but so far the County Commission has refused to take a vote on authorizing a Veterans Relief Fund millage.

Veterans Committee Chair John Colone is asking all of the more than 13,000 veterans who live in Livingston County to show up at the meeting and show their support. The Veterans Committee met several weeks ago, and the committee declared an "Emergency" because Veterans Relief Funds have been exhausted for 2009. The downturn in the economy and the war in two countries has increased demand on the fund and for help.

Republicans have a long history of doing little but waving the flag and saying they support the troops, but they refuse to support them where it really counts.

Last January the same Board of Commissioners declined to replace the director and the administrative assistant at the Livingston County Veterans Affairs Department when they retired at the end of February.

For Republicans, support the troops is just a campaign slogan. If the Board of Commissioners fund the Veterans Relief like they are required to, the Livingston County Republican Party may not be able to put billboards up along I-96 that brag the county has the lowest county tax rate among Michigan's 83 counties. Of course, as this illustrates, the county has the least amount of services.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the commissioners chambers at the courthouse annex, 304 E. Grand River in downtown Howell next to the Historic County Courthouse.

May 22, 2009

Republicans put the con in Convention

Apparently, the misnamed and misguided “tea parties” organized by rightwing Republicans and extremist hate groups allegedly to protest government spending and taxation has spawned a convention and a political party.

The gatherings were organized primarily by a pair of conservative Washington, D.C.-based lobbying groups and Republicans last month as so-called “grassroots efforts" turned out to be nothing more than an anti-President Obama rallies and a fundraiser. It has been claimed they are nonpartisan efforts, despite Republican elected officials who spoke at and helped organize the rallies.

Something called the “Michigan Tea Party State Convention” is set for June 13, and organizers claim the farce “isn't about party politics- it is about We the People.” That is simply not the case; this is just another Republican rally. My friend, ka_Dargo, discovered it was Wendy Day who registered the Tea Party Convention domain name.

Day is a member of the Howell School Board, a founding member of the anti-gay hate group LOVE (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) and a member of the Livingston County Republican Party executive committee.

The so-called convention will be held at the Capitol City Baptist Church in Holt, south of Lansing, and it will feature “general sessions,” “break-out sessions” and “winning ballot initiatives.” The fact is that 5013C non-profit groups, such as churches, are not permitted to do anything to help or hinder the election of any candidate to public office, and this clearly violates that rule.

A look at the panels for the breakout sessions further dispels the myth that this is a nonpartisan event, and it clearly proves it’s a GOP rally.

One of the breakout sessions is called “Welcome to the Underground! New media panel on blogging and social networking.” That is an area the Republicans have had trouble with, and the decision to include this in the convention is so surprise. One of the panelists is Nick De Leeuw, a former DeVos for Governor staffer who now runs the official unofficial GOP blog “Right Michigan.”

Another session called “Headlines and Interviews- Working with Media” features Detroit News reporter Dawson Bell, named one of the most biased reporters in the conservative media, and it will be moderated by former Republican state Representative and Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, who is also a candidate for Michigan Senate in the 11th District.

The session on ballot proposals will be moderated by Scott Hagerstrom, the director of the extremist rightwing group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) of Michigan, one of the two lobbyist groups that organized the “tea party.” He was also a staffer for former right wing Republican Rep. Jack Hoogendyk.

The session on the state of the economy features panelists Jack McHugh, a senior legislative analyst for the rightwing think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy; Paul Kersey, the director of labor policy at the same rightwing think tank; and moderated by Ken Braun, a policy analyst for, you guessed it; the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Doctors grill Dillon and Bishop on why there is no workplace smoking ban

LANSING -- On the day the House Regulatory Reform Committee reported out House Bill 4377 that bans smoking in most workplaces, including bars and restaurants, those Legislative leaders responsible for dragging their feet on this important public health issue got an earful from those who see the devastating effects of smoking and deadly secondhand smoke.

House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, were two of seven Legislatures on a panel Wednesday at the Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS) Leadership Conference, and despite some pressing concerns facing physicians in the state, such as state public health dollars being cut, Medicaid reimbursement rates getting cut another 4 percent, talk of individual health care reform and Blue Cross/Blue Shield increasing and a possible “physicians tax” on the horizon, the hot topic was the smoking ban. In fact, subscription only MIRS reported the two leaders were “grilled” on the subject.

Even Dillon’s announcement that the bill had moved out of committee just minutes ago did not appease the angry physicians. According to MIRS, one speaker told the legislators that “she's tired of hearing in incremental updates about how a bill is in this chamber or committee, or whatever. She said it's been a year since legislative leaders addressed MSMS and the bottom line is that nothing has changed. Smoking is still allowed in bars, restaurants and casinos while Ohio, Wisconsin and an increasing number of states along Tobacco Road can manage a smoking ban.”

MSMS Past President Michael Sandler urged the lawmakers to just get it done with an impassioned speech, and he said there are no roadblocks or reasons not to get it done.

“This is not a partisan issue. Just get it done. You've got a study from (former Senate Majority Leader and current Public Sector Consultants analyst Ken) Sikkema that shows you don't lose money,” he said. “If you have to have an exemption or two, fine. This is something the Legislature can do that won't take budget wrangling to get done. Please. You'll look great."

Bishop has the biggest roadblock, only allowing a vote on a bill with no exceptions, and he has refused to compromise. That has been his cover to kill something 70 percent of Michigan residents support but he doesn’t.

May 21, 2009

Is the MLBA director selling booze, smokes or BS?

LANSING -- Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) executive director Lance Binoniemi appears to be selling cigarettes instead of booze, based on his press release Wednesday after the House Regulatory Reform Committee reported out House Bill 4377 that bans smoking in some workplaces, including bars and restaurants.

“Lawmakers just took the first step toward handing pink slips to nearly 7,500 Michigan workers,” he said “Last time I checked, picking and choosing what businesses will fail in Michigan is not in our lawmakers’ job description.”

No, but what is in their job description is protecting the public health, and that’s what this issue is about. Secondhand smoke kills and causes countless health problems, and that’s the primary mover behind this: protecting the health of the 80 percent of the population who do not smoke. In fact, Article IV Section 51 of the Michigan Constitution says about the duties of the Legislature, “The public health and general welfare of the people of the state are herby declared to be matters of primary public concern.”

The MLBA has been using debunked studies to make the false claim that bars and restaurants will lose business when the smoking is enacted. That defies logic and the facts. Michigan is one of only 13 states without a smoking ban, and just this week the Tobacco Road states of North Carolina and Virginia enacted a smoking ban.

Binoniemi makes the false claim that in addition to costing jobs, the bill will reduce tobacco tax revenue by $27.5 million on a full-year basis. So once again, Mr. Binoniemi, are you selling booze or tobacco? I’m still waiting for the answer to how 20 percent of the population can have such a huge impact on the economy?

There is no creditable study that says there will be a job loss with a smoking ban.
The money saved by the state will more than make up for the loss of sales lost by s drop in the sale of cigarettes. Smoking is literally sucking the air out of Michigan’s economy. Smoking directly results in $2.65 billion in annual health care costs in Michigan, of which $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.

“It’s outrageous that our lawmakers turned their backs on Michigan’s small businesses at a time when they need it the most,” Binoniemi said. “House Bill 4377 is a job killer, plain and simple. I just hope other members of the House will be willing to protect the hundreds of businesses and thousands of Michigan workers that were forgotten today.”

No, Mr. Binoniemi, secondhand smoke is a killer and you re turning your back on employees who have to make a choice between their health and a paycheck.

May 20, 2009

Smoking bill passed put of committee

LANSING -- The House Regulatory Reform Committee reported out House Bill 4177 Wednesday that bars smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants.

The bill exempts so-called cigar bars and casinos. After an entire month of testimony and two starts and stops, the Committee reported the bill out to the full House floor in less than two minutes. It’s unclear exactly what the substitute the committee approved looks like, but Chair Bert Johnson said there may be more exceptions when the bill is on the House floor. That could come as early as today or Thursday.

It’s unclear what the Senate will do. The smoking ban died last session because the Senate conferees refused to compromise on the version they passed that had no exceptions.

The vote was near unanimous, and only Rep. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, voted no, and Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, passed.

Rightwing blogs misrepresenting veterans protest

LANSING – Veterans groups will rally on the Capitol steps at 3:30 p.m. Thursday to protest cuts made to the Veterans Service Organization (VSO) grants in the current budget and the complete elimination of the VSO in the 2010 budget that begins Oct. 1.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved an Executive Order earlier this month that cut $389 million in spending from the current budget. The cuts include across the board cuts to every state department of at least 4 percent, cutting more than 200 state jobs, requiring at least six unpaid furlough days by state workers and cuts to local governments of more than $41 million. What made the cuts so difficult is that there are only four months left of the fiscal year and most of the funds have already been spent.

Local veterans groups are upset that $1 million was cut from the $4.1 million VSO budget, and they are also protesting Senate Bill 250 that appropriates the money for the department for the fiscal year 2010. The Governor’s proposed budget allocates $4 million for the VSO grants, but SB 250 completely deletes that money and it transfers it to the Veterans Affairs Directorate that is responsible for managing the administrative functions of the Michigan Veterans' Trust Fund.

Rightwing groups and blogs are spinning the story as a protest against Gov. Jennifer Granholm while completely ignoring the role of Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, the sponsor of SB 250 and the chair of the State Police and Military Affairs Appropriations Sub-Committee. It was his idea to delete the money for the VSO grants and transfer it to the Veterans Affairs Directorate.

I would ask why are they going after the Governor and not Garcia, but I know the answer to that one.

I personally know Garcia, and like me, he is a veteran. I know he believes he is doing the right thing that will benefit veterans, and he may be right. But it makes no sense to attack just the governor.

The VSO grants are used to fund benefit counselors in the county veteran’s offices, and these councilors help veterans wade through the complex rules to get the benefits they deserve. Apparently, Garcia wants more control over how the money is spent, and that is the reason for the move.

SB 250 was passed favorably out of the Appropriations Sub-Committee on April 1 to the Senate floor and it is awaiting action. Apparently, Sen. Dennis Olshove, D-Warren, is planning to intruding an amendment to the bill when it is debated on the Senate floor that will restore the money to the VSO.

Many veterans will already be in town for the 14th Annual Veteran's Memorial on May 21 to mark Memorial Day, and it should be well attended.

May 18, 2009

Bishop again blocks popular public health measure

The House Regulatory Reform Committee is set to vote out a workplace smoking ban on Wednesday that exempts so-called cigar bars, tobacco specialty retail stores and casinos, but subscription only Gongwer is reporting that once again Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop is blocking any realistic chance of getting any ban in place by refusing to compromise.

According to Gongwer, the only version that would be entertained by Bishop is a ban with no exceptions. Last session the Senate approved a version with no exceptions and the House approved a version with exceptions. The two versions then went to the conference committee, whose sole function is to work out a compromise to present to their respective bodies. But Bishop managed to sabotage something the majority of people want by assigning two people to the conference committee who don’t want the smoking ban and refused to compromise.

Michigan is one of only 13 states with no smoking ban.

If Bishop wants a bill with no exceptions, then act on it and get it to a conference committee that will actually try and work out a compromise. Senate Bill 114 is in the committee he chairs. Why not hold a committee hearing and pass it to the floor, or just discharge it to the floor?

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) is continuing to push the false claim that a workplace smoking ban will hurt business, and they are asking for an “exemption for restaurants and bars that serve alcohol because of the projected loss of business from smokers who would stop patronizing the establishments.”

"In addition to killing jobs, this bill will reduce the state's revenue at a time when there's a $2 billion deficit projected for 2010," said Lance Binoniemi, MLBA executive director, in a press release, according to Gongwer.

There is no study that supports that claim, and, in fact, every study from every state and entire foreign countries that have already enacted a ban shows the exact opposite.

I would like Mr. Binoniemi to explain how less than the 25 percent of people who still smoke can have such an effect on the business of a bar and restaurant.

It seems that the MLBA is more interested in selling cigarettes than anything else.

The House Regulatory Reform Committee will take up the ban at noon Wednesday in Room 326 in the House Office Building, 124. N. Capitol. The meeting is open to the public.

Misinformation against workplace smoking ban goes online

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) is taking its misinformation and false claim that a workplace smoking ban in Michigan will cost jobs online with a new website.

They are continuing to make the false claim that “750 small businesses and 7,500 Michigan jobs are at serious risk.” They are also making the claim that that has been the case in the other states that have enacted the ban. Then they offer the usual cherry-picked studies to prove it.

One study the MLBA continues to use to prove its false is an Oct. 1, 2004 study of a smoking ban in Dallas, Texas that has been debunked. The debunked study claimed that restaurants saw a 9 to 50 percent drop in sales. But when researchers from the Texas Department of State Health Services reviewed the study, they concluded that the methodology was flawed, the data used from the state was either misunderstood or misapplied, and the conclusions were simply wrong.

The fact is there have been absolutely no credible studies that show a negative economic impact resulting from a state-wide or country-wide smoking ban, and commons sense supports that. Not only that, this is a public health issue, and there is no dispute about the deadly effects of secondhand smoke.

Opponents of the workplace smoking ban steadfastly refuse to tell us how less than 25 percent of the people who still smoke can have such a huge economic effect.

I was a smoker for 20 years, so I may be able to understand this. If bar A is smoke free and bar B allows smoking, and if I’m a smoker I will go bar B. But if they are both smoke free, I will still go to a bar.

I’m sure the folks at the MLBA are good people, and truly believe their cause, but the evidence is simply not on their side, leading them to fudge the evidence. It’s telling that if you look on their list of links on their main web site, you will find a link to Philip Morris/Altria.

It seems every time the ban gets closer to becoming a reality we get this misinformation from the MLBA. The House Regulatory Reform Committee will take up the ban at noon Wednesday in Room 326 in the House Office Building, 124. N. Capitol. The meeting is open to the public, and we simply need to get our supporters out to counter this misinformation.

May 15, 2009

Workplace smoking ban expected to be voted out of committee

LANSING – Behind the senses maneuvering has led to the workplace smoking ban moving forward again in the Michigan Legislature.

The House Regulatory Reform Committee will take up House Bill 4377 at its next meeting on Wednesday May 20. The bill ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, but it would provide exceptions for so-called cigar bars, tobacco specialty retail stores and casinos.

The ban, which has overwhelming support from both residents and lawmakers, has had numerous starts and stops since the legislative session began in January. The committee held hearings on the ban for four straight weeks in March with a plan to vote out a bill in April, but in early April, 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.

An apparent reversal put the bill back on the agenda, but Committee Chair Bert Jobson, D-Detroit, tabled a vote at the last minute, saying he wanted to work out a compromise between Dillon and Bishop. Last year, the House passed a ban that had exceptions for casinos, and the Senate passed a ban with no exceptions.

The bill was killed in the conference committee called to work out the differences. The rumor in Lansing is that the leaders want to deal and get the bill to the conference committee as soon as possible. Obviously, the calls and letters from supporters turned the tide again.

The Committee will meet at noon at Wednesday in Room 326 in the House Office Building, 124. N. Capitol. The meeting is open to the public, and HB 4377 is just one of six bills the committee is considering.

Anti-gay hate group fights against protection against violence for gays

LANSING – It’s amazing the hoops right-wingers will jump through to deny rights to the gay community.

We saw a perfect example Wednesday at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee where Republicans voted against House Bills 4835 and 4836 known as the hate crime bills. The bills would increase the penalties for crimes committed because of person's bias toward another person or group based on race, disability, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other reason. The rub for right-wingers is that it dares to protect gays, a group that has suffered the most violence in recent years.

The measure was approved during the last Legislative session in the House, but, like most bills, died when the Senate failed to take them up.

As usual the hearing brought out the anti-gay hate group the American Family Association (AFA) led by homophobe Gary Glenn. He said the bill should not include protections for homosexuals or transvestites. He presented his usual biased and debunked testimony, like the bills will censor people and religious expression. He continues to use the debunked example of a grandmother in Philadelphia arrested for a hate crime.

Brian Mackey, Washtenaw County prosecutor and spokesperson for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, testified in favor of the bill. He prosecuted one of the first hate crimes when the law went into effect in the early 1990’s. He said the bill in no way infringes on the 1st Amendment’s freedom of speech or religion.

“This takes no one’s rights away from anyone, and it hurts no one,” he said.

Glenn claimed the bills are only intended to make the gay lifestyle acceptable and mainstream. Mackey denied that.

“I don’t base my decision on who I prosecute on what the Triangle Foundation says,” he said. “I’m bound by the law, and that’s how it should be.”

Unlike the current law, the bills would ensure the conviction would be based on the perpetrator's intent, not on the actual status of the victim. Mackey said it’s the offender who makes the choice, not the victim.

“I can be attacked by someone who mistakes my sexual orientation,” he said. “Mr. Glenn can be attacked by someone who mistakes his sexual identity.”

Mackey brought up Livingston County’s racist past it cannot shake with the story of former resident and Klan member Robert Miles, who lived in rural Cohoctah Township north of Howell, in the 1970s and ‘80s. Mackey prosecuted an associate of Miles’ who helped him tar and feather a pro-integration high school principal. On the surface, it might seem like a harmless prank until you realize why it happened; to intimidate more than just the principal.

Mackey used another example of simple graffiti that is just destruction of property, but if the person wrote something like “Hitler didn’t finish the job,” then the person has assaulted the entire community.

“You should be convicted for what you really did,” he said.

What’s really telling is the numerous groups in support of the bills, and they include the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, The Michigan Department of State Police, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, The Triangle Foundation, the Mt. Pleasant Area Diversity Group, The Women’s Commission, The Advisory Council on Asian Pacific Affairs, The Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services, The Anti-Defamation League and the Grand Rapids Community Relations Committee.

Those in opposition, just two: the American Family Association and the so-called The American Decency Association.

The bills were passed out of committee, and should be taken up in the House very soon.

May 13, 2009

Committee moves bill on 16-year-old vote

LANSING – House Democrats stuck another blow for bringing more people into our democracy and increasing government participation by reporting two bills out of the House Committee on Ethics and Elections on Wednesday that will allow 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

The Committee, chaired by House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Kathy Anger, D-Dundee, reported House Bill 4261, introduced by Rep. Lesia Liss, D-Warren, and House Bill 4337, introduced by Rep. Robert Jones, D-Kalamazoo, the bills out to the full House Floor.

Chris Thomas, director of the state Bureau of Elections, testified in support of the bills, and he said when a 16-year-old goes to the Secretary of State’s office for their driver’s license, they would be allowed to pre-register to vote. Once the person reaches age 17 and a half, they would be sent their voter ID card. They would be allowed to vote in the election occurring in the year they turn 18, not on their birthday, which is existing state law.

The only no votes were cast by two Republicans on the committee: Rep. Kim Meltzer, R-Clinton Township, and Rep. Kenneth Kurtz, R-Coldwater. However, neither gave any reason for opposing it.

Some Republicans have resisted any effort to increase voter turnout, such as their opposition to no reason absentee voting, approved by the House earlier this month.

May 12, 2009

Livingston County Democrats and Labor step up for future college students

Livingston County Democrats will award three scholarships, totaling $1,300, to three Livingston County high school seniors for their essays on what organized labor has meant to them and their communities.

“These students have seen the benefits to families and communities when working people come together to support each other,” said Greg Stoey, chair of the union relations committee of the Livingston County Democrats. “In good times and in bad, organized labor has been there to help people.”

The Livingston County Democrats announced the contest in March, and originally they thought they would only be able to offer two scholarships, totaling $600. But because of the generosity and working people and unions, the party was able to award three scholarships totaling $1,300..

First place goes to Vivian Burgett, a senior at Pinckney High School, and carries a $600 scholarship. Second place goes to Tanner Gallant, a senior at Hartland High School, and carries a $400 scholarship. Third place goes to Marie Markell, a senior at Hartland High School, and is worth $300.

The essays were judged by Harold Stack, director of the Center for Labor Studies at Wayne State University.

Contributions to the scholarship came from individuals, the Livingston County Democratic Party, and the following labor organizations: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 252 of Washtenaw County; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 665 of Lansing; Michigan Building and Construction Trades; Washtenaw Skilled Building Trades; Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 190; International Brotherhood and Electrical Workers Local 58 of Detroit; United Auto Workers Local 1284; United Auto Workers Local 598, and United Auto Workers Region 1-C.

The essays will be published here soon.

May 11, 2009

Former Livco GOP Chair ‘earns’ promotion

The Michigan Republican Party announced it has hired Hartland Township resident Allan Filip as the new director of field operations.

Livingston County residents will remember Filip as the chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, and in the two years he was the chair the political debate in Livingston County took a decidedly ugly turn since Filip took over as chair of the party. It began when he was named as the chair and the press was barred from the county GOP convention.

Under his “leadership,” he attempted to politicize nonpartisan elections, improperly tried to influence a bond issue and made a false accusation that the county Democrats carried signs depicting “hate speech” in the Melonfest parade.

We see what it takes to succeed in the GOP.

GOP staffer may be in trouble for telling the truth

LANSING -- Another Michigan Senate GOP staffer may be in danger of losing their job for daring to tell the truth.

Last week Senate Republicans finally moved the package of bills known as the Hire Michigan First legislation, but they stripped the teeth out of the bills like they did the foreclosure bills. A GOP analyst for the Senate produced an analysis of the bills, according to subscription only MIRS, that said the package "won't have much real impact," but will get the Senate Democrats off their backs on an issue that could play poorly politically if left to fester.“ In other words, instead of trying to help Michigan’s economy they did it for purely political reasons.

According to MIRS, the spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus said the document was the analysis of one person from the policy staff. The analysis was produced at the request of Senators, and the document by analyst Jamie Clover Adams represents the individual personal policy view of the analyst.

You will recall last month Senate Republican consultant Dennis Darnoi wrote a white paper that looked at why Republicans have lost in the last couple of elections, and it said they cannot expect a backlash against the party in control to win in 2010. A couple of weeks later, the services of Mr. Darnoi - the former Chief of Staff for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop - were no longer required.

I hope Ms. Adams has her resume updated.

The 19-bill Hire Michigan First package was approved by the House in March, but Senate Republicans resisted efforts to pass the package.

The bills simply say a company that gets tax breaks and money from Michigan tax payers must hire Michigan workers when ever possible. The version the House Democrats passed rewards companies that employ 100 percent Michigan workers with state economic development incentives. The 12-bill package also encourages transparency and accountability by requiring companies that accept incentives to report on who they hire to ensure that Michigan residents are put first. The package also cracks down on companies that hire undocumented workers by creating penalties that include requiring them to pay back their tax incentives and barring them from future state contracts.

“It’s not enough to just see products that say, 'Made in Michigan,’ we want our products, buildings and bridges to be made by Michigan,“ said Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, a lead sponsor of the Senate package. “That’s why I fought for this issue every chance I got, and it’s why I will continue to push for the elements of this plan that weren’t included in today’s vote.”

Senate Democrats also tried to correct loopholes in the bills inserted by Republicans that will make it easier for companies to not hire Michigan workers. Additionally, three bills in the package have yet to see any Senate action:

Senate Bill 289, a bill that would change the current law requiring vendors who contract with the state to hire not less than 50 percent of Michigan residents to 100 percent of Michigan residents.

Senate Bill 288, a bill that would allow Michigan to cancel a contract or stop payment under a contract to a vendor who knowingly hires illegal aliens or who knowingly violates Michigan's Prevailing Wage Law.

This one makes no sense to me. Conservatives rail against the individual illegal immigrant crossing the border just to earn more money than he can’t earn in his own country, but they continue to refuse to hold the company responsible that hires them illegally, and creates the demand and makes huge profits accountable.

Senate Bill 291, a bill that requires vendors under state contract to report on the number of new jobs created under the contract and the number of Michigan residents hired on that project.

“You have weakened the provisions that protect the wages and the jobs here in Michigan,” said Senate Democratic Leader Mike Prusi, D- Ishpeming. “We have had a long tradition here in Michigan of fairness as it applies to jobs and the wages that are paid on these jobs when they are jobs under state contracts.”

Economy will be focus of Michigan Policy Summit Saturday

The 3rd Annual Michigan Policy Summit will bring together Michigan’s widespread progressive and liberal community to provide some progressive answers to Michigan's economy this Saturday at Cobo Hall.

The day will feature breakout sessions, a panel discussion and guest speakers. This year’s summit, sponsored by the Michigan Prospect, will focus on the economy with four priority issues that include clean energy, labor, health care and solving the foreclosure crisis. The unique thing about this group, for me, has always been getting progressive groups together to talk that may have different views that at times may seem the exact opposite, such as environmental groups and labor groups.

Registration is just $30, and it can be done in advance or on Saturday, May 16. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The summit has brought in some excellent speakers in the past. Past speakers have included former Gore-Lieberman 2000 campaign manger and Democratic National Committee member Donna Brazile, former Lansing Mayor and state Representative David Hollister, author and the host and executive producer of Democracy Now! Amy Goodman and humorist Jim Hightower. This year’s keynote speaker is Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.

There will also be a panel discussion featuring Jeffrey Howard, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU Healthcare Michigan; Dan Kildee, Genesee County Treasurer; Dave Ivers, Secretary Treasurer, Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO and Jamie Scripps of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

Michigan Prospect is a non-profit group formed in 1992 by a group of citizens committed to the principles of a just and humane society in order to encourage the development of sound public policies and effective public institutions through informed debate.

May 8, 2009

Come to Lansing for All American Lobby Day to stand against bullies

A coalition of Michigan organizations is banding together for All American Lobby Day in Lansing on Wednesday, May 13 to lobby for the passage of Matt's Safe School Law that would require public school districts in Michigan to establish bullying policies.

The anti-bullying legislation, Senate Bill 159, was introduced by Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, and it would amend the Revised School Code to 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. The bill specifies that all minorities, including religious and racial minorities and youth with disabilities, are protected.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10 percent are bullied on a regular basis. This year alone five students in the United States have died due to bullying.

A similar bill passed the House last session, but it died when the Senate declined to take up the bill. Anderson also introduced the same bill last session, but the Republican controlled Senate refused to give it a hearing. Although the bill had bipartisan support, it was killed by Senate Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt. The main opposition has come from extremist rightwing groups, such as the anti-gay hate groups the American Family Association (AFA) of Michigan because it extends protection to students who may be gay.

The law is named after Matt Epling, a popular East Lansing middle school student who committed suicide as a result of bullying in school.

Among those organizing All American Lobby Day include Project Light, National HRC, White House LGBT Task Force, Michigan Equality, University of Michigan College Democrats, Michigan Democratic Youth Caucus, American Family Committee and the Order of St. John the Beloved (Catholic Order).

He lobby day will kick off at 9 a.m. with training at Teamsters local 580, 5800 Executive Dr. in Lansing, and a press conference will be held at 1:30 p.m. on the glass floor rotunda in the Capitol.

Senate Republicans put office budgets ahead of public safety

LANSING – Senate Republicans had an opportunity to save some the jobs of some of the 80 Michigan state Troopers who will be laid off because of an Executive Order approved by the Senate and House Appropriations Committees earlier this week that cut $350 million front the current state budget that only has five months left, but they chose to keep the extra $3.5 million for themselves.

The Democrats tried to discharge Senate Resolution 15, sponsored by Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, from committee for a second time Thursday, but it was again defeated along party lines, 21-16. The resolution would set the office budgets the same for both Republicans and Democrats. Under the current situation, GOP Senate offices have five full-time staffers, but Democrats only have three. Over in the Democratic controlled House, each office has the same amount of staffers; two in each office, regardless of party. The money saved would go to the State Police Budget.

“Certainly, you Republicans can serve and operate your office budgets on the same amount in which we Democrats serve our constituents,” Whitmer said. “These are challenging times, and the Senate should show some leadership and step up on behalf of public safety in the state of Michigan.”

Why are constituents who live in the 21 Michigan Senate Districts represented by Republicans deserve better service than the 16 – currently – districts represented by Democrats? That was the simple question asked by Senate Minority Leader Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit.

“I see no reason why the Senator from Kentwood should have more money to represent his constituents as the Senator from the City of Detroit,” Thomas said. “That just doesn’t make sense. Are my constituents any different? I don’t think so.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, by far the most bombastic and partisan lawmaker in Lansing, made the claim that the GOP needed the two extra employers because the GOP is in the majority, and they are committee chairs. He never explained why the Democrats who control the House have the same amount of staffers as the minority Republicans. Even if the disparity was three staffers to four instead of five, there would be enough money to keep at least 21 troopers.

He then tried the ridiculous tack that the House Democrats have bigger office budgets, and that the Senate Democrats – and Whitmer - should also go to Washington, D.C. and tell them what to do.

“Well, I would suggest that maybe she walk across the rotunda and tell the Speaker of the House to equalize everyone’s budget over there,” Cropsey said. “I would suggest that maybe she go to Washington, D.C., where the Democrats have total dictatorial powers and suggest to them that maybe they ought to start playing fair and not do partisanship.”

But Thomas pointed out that even if the budgets in the House were equal like they were in 2006 when Democrats took control of the House, it would only saved $200,000 instead of $3.5 million.

“Well, the House already has acted, and the disparity that exists there is about $200,000 for 110 members, and out of our 37 members, $3.5 million,” Thomas said. “That, to me, sounds outrageous. It sounds like crocodile tears being cried on the other side.”

That was a view held by the Michigan State Troopers Association (MSPTA).

"The Troopers Association has tremendous concerns regarding the effect these layoffs will have on all of public safety," said MSPTA Vice President Christopher Luty, according to subscription only MIRS. "We appreciate that our lawmakers are willing to consider any measure that will keep our troopers working."

To avoid further embarrassment, the Senate Republicans used their majority to push a measure that will not allow the Resolution to be taken up until Dec. 31. It will remain in the Committee on Government Operations and Reform, where bills go to die because it rarely meets.

The executive order approved Tuesday was the result of the Governor working with the legislative leaders in the House and Senate. The cuts include across the board cuts to every state department of at least 4 percent, cutting more than 200 state jobs, requiring at least six unpaid furlough days by state workers and cuts to local governments of more than $41 million.

May 7, 2009

Come out for ‘Buy Bait Day’ Saturday

Bridge Watch Detroit is staging a protest this Saturday over the Ambassador Bridge Company’s heavy-handed tactics against a Detroit business owner who will not sell to Grosse Pointe billionaire and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun.

The Bridge Company has already begun building a second span right next to the current one; even though the Canadian government has said they will not issue a permit for the bridge company to land the bride on the Canadian side. But Moroun and company have already begun building that second span even though he has not received all off the needed permits.

The company began building the privately owned span with the construction of a massive six-lane entrance ramp. The company has razed every structure, home and business in its path, except one: The Lafayette Bait and Tackle Shop. In at attempt to freeze out business owner Dean Aytes, the company simply paved over all of the land in front of the bait shop. Finding out how to even find the front door is a harrowing experience, and it often leads people by accident over the current bridge to Canada with no way to turn around. The company has progressively landlocked the small shop.

The building is owned by Walter Lubienski, but rented by Aytes. Lubienski refuses to sell. Needless to say, the business is just hanging on, and that’s why Bridge Watch Detroit is sponsoring “Buy Bait Day.”

The event will kick off with a march at 2:30 p.m. from the shop at 23rd Street (inside the new bridge construction zone) to Riverside Park. People will meet at Delray Senior Pavilion 275 W. Grand Blvd. The event will run until 5:30 p.m.

Bridge Watch Detroit is an organization of concerned citizens coming together for the common goal of protecting Southwest Detroit's interests and making sure that the Detroit International Bridge Company does not stray from their original plan.

May 6, 2009

One extremist endorses another extremist

Apparently, the right is all atwitter that extremist rightwing Republican Tim Walberg is endorsing Mike Nofs for the vacant state Senate seat in the 19th District.

The seat was vacated when U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, unseated Walberg in November when voters rejected his extremist views, and the 19th Senate seat was vacated with Schauer’s move to Washington, D.C. Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, has also filed to run for the seat that represents Calhoun and Jackson counties. Griffin is a moderate who will better represent the residents of that district over the extreme GOP views that voters soundly rejected in November and have led to defections from the GOP as it continues its veer to the right.

This is little more than political payback because Nofs endorsed Walberg last year. Any endorsement from an extremist like Walberg is good news for the Democrats and the residents of Michigan.

May 4, 2009

No reason absentee voting approved with bipartisan support

LANSING -- The Michigan House of Representatives struck a blow for voters Thursday by approving no reason absentee voting with bipartisan support.

The House approved House Bill 4367 by a vote of 79-30 with 12 Republicans joining the entire Democratic caucus in approving the bill.

Under current Michigan law, there are only six reasons for A/B voting: 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. If the Republican-controlled Senate approves the bill, Michigan will join 28 other states that allow no reason A/B voting. However, they killed a similar bill last session by refusing to even allow a vote on it.

The bill will certainly increase Michigan’s abysmal average 25 percent voter turnout. A recent U.S. Census survey said more than 7.5 million people said they did not vote because of “logistical reasons.

Republicans have been against the measure for many years, and their reason is strictly political. The drumming they have taken in the last few elections and the recent defections from the GOP, such as Sen. Arlen Specter, its not surprisingly they are against it.

Among the many groups 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 one is really against it except, apparently, the 30 Republicans who voted against it. The GOP claims they are against it because of voter fraud, but that simply isn’t true. If that were the case, then why are The Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks and the Michigan Association of County Clerks supporting it? If fraud was a problem, why are they supporting it? They would see the alleged fraud before anyone else.

It’s funny to see how the GOP is falling apart. The official unofficial GOP blog - wrong Michigan - attacked the 12 Republicans who voted for the bill. One of the 12 was my state Representative, Rep. Cindy Denby, R-Handy Township.

I don’t agree with her on a lot of issues, but I know her from covering the township for three different newspapers and she is above reproach. The reason she supported it may be that she was the township clerk responsible for running elections, and then she was the Township Supervisor.

MRP’s radical agenda continues

We know the Republican Party is bankrupt of ideas and, based on their support of torture, morals too, but their quest for cash never ends.

Sharon Wise, Co-Chair of the Michigan Republican Party, recently sent out a mass fundraising email asking for money based on the news that Gov. Jennifer Granholm is being mentioned as a possible choice to fill the soon-to-be vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court with the retirement of Republican nominates Justice David Souter this summer. Ms. Wise is asking for your online contribution of “$25, $50, $100, $500 or $1,000 today.” I have no idea how money will stop President Obama from nominating her and the Senate to confirm her, but that is apparently irrelevant.

She throws out the usual terms, like “extreme Left line-up.” And “Her radical agenda has never been a secret.” When you consider the Governor’s margin of victory in 2006 and the amount of people who voted for Democrats in November, it appears that Ms. Wise is the extremists and the radical.

Her ending line is great, “Radicals like billionaire Jon Stryker and George Soros will be funding the Left's attempt to control the Supreme Court.” It amazes me that anyone can call George Soros a radical, and the right’s hatred of a self-made man like Soros baffles me.

Soros should be a poster boy for what Republicans claim are their ideals; a man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He escaped Nazi-occupied Hungary as a teen with nothing but the clothes on his back, and he managed to become a billionaire with his wits and hard work. He gives millions to charity, he helped end apartheid in South Africa by giving money for scholarships to black students there and he helped end Communism by funding dissident movements behind the iron curtain.

I have heard people say Granholm is not qualified, but she is as qualified as one of the best Justices in the history of the court: Chief Justice Earle Warren. His resume is similar to Granholm’s resume. He served three terms as the governor of California, the only person to serve more than two terms. Like Granholm, he also served a term as state Attorney General.

Granholm has repeatedly said publicly she intends to serve the remainder of her second and last term that ends next year. But realistically, if the President asks such a huge responsibility of her and offers such a massive opportunity how do you say no?

May 3, 2009

The law enforcement officer responsible for the county jail condones torture

It’s a little scary when the second ranking law enforcement officer in Livingston County - who also runs the county jail - defends and makes excuses for torture, but that is exactly what Livingston County Undersheriff Mike Murphy is trying to do in a disgusting letter to the editor in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus on Sunday.

Not surprisingly, Murphy is the chair of the Livingston County Republican Party. In his disgusting letter he never points that fact out, and the editor had to do that for him. The letter is filled with misinformation, lies and exaggerations from the very first sentence.

He claims, “It has been a little over 100 days since President Barack Obama has taken office, and if it's any indication of what lies ahead for the next four years, America could be in dire straits.” Apparently, Sheriff Murphy has been asleep for the last eight years, and he is not aware of the recession former President Bush plunged the country into and the budget surplus he turned into a deficit. President Obama’s first 100 days have been spent cleaning up the mess left him.

He then launched into his standard rightwing talking points: “I could care less what a person's issue is, whether it's moving the economy toward socialism, placing limits on First Amendment rights by regulating free speech on the airwaves and on the Internet, or if it's trampling states' rights by trumping all their laws on abortion restrictions.” The socialism crack is the hottest GOP talking point, the First Amendment talking point must - I guess - be about the rightwing paranoia about the Fairness Doctrine, but I have no idea what he is talking about on abortion rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has been pretty clear on abortion.

But his real misguided wrath is reserved for national security and defending torture.

“According to The Weekly Standard, Obama has released classified intelligence to our enemies regarding the amount of coercive interrogation tactics the United States is willing to use. Such information in the hands of terrorists allows them to train for the watered-down tactics should any of their operatives be apprehended by American forces, thus making intelligence-gathering much less effective.”

There’s a great unbiased source. Coercive interrogation tactics is a nice, clean name for torture, and it has never made us safe and puts our troops in danger. The President has the right to classify and declassify information. Bush used the process to hide information. Nothing in the documents was new information that wasn’t already public knowledge.

Right-wingers claim that if you don’t condone torture you are a traitor and you are smearing the military. Nothing could be farther from the truth. After 20 years in the military, I learned hat crap rolls down hill, and the results of Abu Ghraib proved that.

Nine soldiers were convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. received the longest sentence — 10 years in prison. Lynndie England, a 23-year-old reservist photographed giving a thumbs-up in front of naked prisoners, is served three years behind bars. You don’t do 10 years in prison for making prisoners uncomfortable. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is not much different from a civilian court. The people who really should be behind bars are the ones who ordered the torture. Torture not only went on at Abu Ghraib, but in Guantanamo Bay as well. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water boarded 183 times at Gitmo. That’s just what we know about. If it worked so well, they why did we do it 183 times?

Guys like Sheriff Murphy will claim that water boarding is not torture. Not true. We prosecuted Japanese soldiers for war crimes for doing it after World War II, as well as U.S. soldiers who did it in Vietnam.

“He just doesn't understand that our enemies laugh and support such actions as banning enhanced interrogation techniques. Of course, why wouldn't they? Terrorists see this as weakness, not as a means to be liked by the world. Besides, this is not a popularity contest; it is about keeping people safe. Obama is dangerous, and he's wagering your safety and the safety of your family in an effort to make America nicer toward our enemies. My question is simple: Traitor, treason or just plain stupid?”

I would ask the same of Sheriff Murphy, “Traitor, treason or just plain stupid?” I would say the latter.

The U.S. once had - before Bush - a worldwide reputation for promoting human rights. It’s kind of hard to take the high road when you torture the most vulnerable. It’s even worse when you consider most people in Gitmo are not guilty of anything.

George Washington set the tone for our stance on how we treat prisoners, and people like Bush and Sheriff Murphy should not trash that. Despite atrocities committed by the British, General Washington refused to stoop to their level.

“Not only your Officers, and Soldiers have been treated with a Tenderness due to Fellow Citizens, & Brethren; but even those execrable Parricides [traitors] whose Counsels & Aid have deluged their Country with Blood, have been protected from the Fury of a justly enraged People,” he said.

The Geneva Convention is not quaint or outdated, it keeps our troops safe. I don’t care what terrorists or the enemy does to our prisoners, it does not justify torture on our part. Two wrongs do not make a right. Our greatest source of information in the Cold War that was fought for almost 50 years - primarily with intelligence - was from defectors, not torture. We want people coming to our side, and I don’t see how we can do that if they are afraid of being tortured.

The simple fact is you do not get reliable information from torture, and you will get what you want to hear to make it stop.

May 1, 2009

Another medical report points out harm caused by deadly secondhand smoke

We already know secondhand smoke causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia and non-fatal diseases, such as asthma, inner ear infections, major depression and other afflictions in non-smokers, but there may also be a link to breast cancer.

An international panel of researchers convened by the University of Toronto and chaired by the university's Neil Collishaw, M.D., found after its review of several recent studies and meta-analyses that exposure to secondhand smoke was causally linked to breast cancer in premenopausal women. It’s unbelievable that with all of these studies on the negative effects of secondhand smoke piling up, the workplace smoking ban in Michigan was delayed.

It’s ironic that Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford, is the one who threw a monkey wrench in the works. Publicly he has said he supports the ban, but he is the one holding it up. He also said back in January during the swearing in of the members of the 95th Michigan Legislature that one of his goals was to pass a workplace smoking ban before the Legislature breaks for the summer next month.

But he is the one stopping it. It is the advocates of the working smoking ban, two-thirds of Michigan voters, that got Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop to finally allow a vote last year, and they are now directing their attention to Dillon. I have defended him numerous times, but it’s time for him to do what he said he would do. Call him today at (888) 737-3455 or email at and tell him to do the right thing.

Don’t let Bishop off the hook. He can act on Senate Bill 114 at any time. He can be reached at (877) 924-7467 and It’s ironic that he wants to be the Michigan Attorney General to protect the citizens, but he refuses to protect the almost 80 percent of Michigan residents who do not smoke from a health hazard that without a doubt causes harm and kills.

GOP blogger continues fake outrage

LANSING -- Can the Republican Party get any more petty, desperate and pathetic? You bet.

The guy who runs the official, unofficial GOP blog, “Right” Michigan, stood out in the rain Thursday to video tape people arriving at a lunch time fundraiser for Sen. Hansen Clark, D-Detroit, at the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. He then put the images to the theme song for the TV series “Cheers” coupled with images of the Bush recession to try and make the impression that the world would come to an end because a lunch fundraiser was being held.

See, the huge crime was that you could also get a beer at the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. The lunch was just one of about seven events held in Lansing on Thursday to get the attention of lawmakers, two were held at the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association alone. In fact, there were four held at that very building this week, and more will be more held there next week.

He made a big deal of the event being held at 11:30 a.m. Apparently, in his world lunch is evil Next Tuesday Rep. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, is holding a fundraiser at the very same time and same place on Tuesday. Will he be there with his camera? I doubt it.

If this is all the Republicans have; no wonder they are the minority party.