Aug 31, 2009

Get to the Peters townhall before the ‘tea baggers’ and ‘birthers’

There can be no doubt that the extremist rightwing Washington, D.C. lobbying groups behind the fake, Astroturf and misnamed “tea parties” are the same people scripting the disrupting of the townhall meetings of Democratic Congressman.

Republicans are promoting a pair of townhall meetings in Oakland County this week; one they plan to disrupt and one they don’t. The first one is actually tonight, Monday Aug. 31. The “health care townhall” is set for 7-9 p.m. at the Mott High School Performing Arts Center, 1151 Scott Lake Rd. in Waterford 48328 hosted by Freshman State Rep. Gail Haines, R-Waterford. Yes, you heard right; a state Representative.

Apparently, the meeting is for residents of Waterford, Lake Angelus and West Bloomfield Township, and photo ID is required. Can you imagine if a Democrat asked for an ID the fake outrage we would hear from the right? The ad also says, “Please no fliers, handouts or political signs on the school’s premises.”

Now, if they said none of those things that we saw at Democratic townhalls were not allowed inside I could understand, but they are not even allowed outside? Come on.

The first question I would like to ask Rep. Haines is what the heck is a state lawmaker doing hosting a townhall meeting about federal legislation? I know the answer, but I would like to hear her answer. The reason is that Republicans see defeating the President on health care reform is a way to get power back on both the state and federal level.

These farces are apparently taking place in Oakland County, and they bring in speakers who are against health care reform. Extreme right-wingers Reps. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, and Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, recently held one of these farces, and Knollenberg said if there were seats left after all the residents of his district were seated others could attend. He reneged on that promise.

The other townhall meeting is actually being hosted by a U.S. Congressman: U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. The townhall is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sep. 1 at West Bloomfield High School, 4925 Orchard Lake Rd. in West Bloomfield, 48323.

You need to get there at least a half hour early because the tea baggers have been pushing this hard, and you can bet they will disrupt it so they can get on the local news and on Faux “news.”

The bill that will allow local municipalities to enact a workplace smoking ban is a smokescreen

The move to pass House Bill 5077 in the Michigan Legislature that will allow local municipalities to enact a workplace smoking ban, including bars and restaurants, is a huge waste of time and a smokescreen because it will not stand up in court.

Rep. Gary McDonnell, D-Rudyard, introduced the bill on June 10.The House Regulatory Reform Committee was supposed to take up the bill this week, but it was taken off the agenda.

A few years ago some local communities got tired of the Michigan Legislature not doing its job and pass something that has overwhelming support from Michigan residents, and they passed local ordinances that banned smoking. They were taken to court, and the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a local ordinance cannot be more stringent than state law. So, even if this made it through the Senate, it will be struck down.

The Senate is already sitting on HB 4377; passed by the House with bipartisan support in May that bans smoking with the exception of casinos, and Senate Bill 114 that has no exceptions.

But, we know for sure even if the bill passed and was not struck down, Livingston County residents will not be protected from deadly secondhand smoke. The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus did a story on it, and every elected official quoted in the article said each business should make the choice.

But the simple fact is that this is not a choice issue, this is a public health issue, and the government has a duty to protect the public health. Secondhand smoke kills 3,000 Michigan residents a year and results in $2.65 billion in annual health care costs in Michigan. Secondhand smoke causes heart disease, stroke, dementia, cancer, breast cancer and non-fatal diseases, such as asthma, inner ear infections, major depression and other afflictions in non-smokers.

Not a single sentence in the story mentioned either the court issue or the public health damage secondhand smoke causes to the almost 80 percent of Michigan residents who do not smoke.

Aug 29, 2009

Newspaper promotes anti-Obama Astroturf farce

The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus finally got around to promoting the Anti-Obama partisan “Tea Party Express” bus tour that will be in Brighton next month, but they only give a passing mention of who is really behind this Astroturf farce.

This latest spontaneous uprising is sponsored by something called the “Our Country Deserves Better PAC (OCDB).” The PAC was formed in August 2008 by veteran Republican California political consultant Sal Russo and former GOP California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian. The PAC’s mission is to oppose Obama and the "Democratic Congress." It boasts on its web site that "we must stand up to Barack Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress." The PAC also solicits contributions by stating, "Help us fight the Democratic Congress!"

So much for this nonpartisan crap; which makes the quotes by Livingston County’s Michigan Republican legislative delegation that much more disingenuous. Here’s one: “it’s time for those upset with state and national taxation to speak up, regardless of political affiliation.” Here another ridiculous one: “There's a lot of people concerned. It's a grassroots effort, not something that is led by any elected official.”

There was no balance in the article either, and if it’s really nonpartisan or people speaking out “regardless of political affiliation” then why was not a single Democrat quoted in the article? If you see a Democrats engaging in this fake, Astroturf “tea party” next month throw a net over them.

I can’t wait to see the signs from that Republican event.

Aug 27, 2009

The Gray Panthers want to put a face on the uninsured

We are all aware that 50 millon Americans have no access to health care coverage, but for many people that is just a number with no connection to real people.

The fact is 11,000 people a day are joining the ranks of the uninsured as more companies shed health care benefits for employees to compete with the rest of the industrialized word that have universal health care. Since 1998, premiums for employer-sponsored coverage have increased 119 percent, and nearly 9 million workers in large companies with 100 or more employees had no coverage in 2007.

The Gray Panthers want to put a face to those 50 million people, and they are collecting Health Care Horror Stories for a Private Health Insurance Crises Quilt.

The book “Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis — and the People Who Pay the Price” by Michigan author Jonathan Cohn put a face on many of these uninsured. Those include the 55-year-old Cambridge special education teacher who died because she had to be diverted from a hospital ER that was capable of performing a “cardiac catheterization” to one that was not quaffed to perform it because the ER was overflowing.

Or the aeronautical engineer in California who lost his wife to aggressive cancer because had no health insurance after he was re-hired at his old company after a layoff because he was a “contract” employee. Or the retiree from a meatpacking plant who lost his health care because the company dropped it for retires to be able to compete. Or the small business owner who could not get health coverage because she had diabetes and fell victim to a scam. Or the person who paid premiums for years, but her policy was canceled when she finally needed to use it.

That’s just a small sample. I’m sure everyone knows someone in that boat.

The Grey Panthers wants to hear from you and your neighbors, friends and family.

So, here’s what they need:

1. Send your photo, approximately 8" x 10" that shows your face.
2. A brief story in large print - 1/2 inch if possible- on a sheet of paper about
8" wide, 6" high about private Insurance abuse and denial.
3. Caption in LARGE print - bright magic marker like-"Policy Canceled When I Got Cancer"

By providing the Grey Panthers with this information, you are giving them authorization to use your photo and story for public use. They would like to be able to use your name, so if you sign your story with your name, your name will be added to the quilt. If you choose to remain anonymous, sign your story "Anonymous."

Please mail the information by September 3, 2009 to:

Beverly Hummel
6213 Dahlonega Road
Bethesda. MD 20816

The Grey Panthers are a national organization with local chapters of activists of all ages dedicated to social change. They work to make America a better place to live for the young, the old and everyone-in-between. They address peace, health care, jobs, housing and lots of other concerns to citizens.

Aug 26, 2009

Senate Republicans thumb their noses at Michigan consumers

LANSING -- Michigan Senate Republicans continue to stand up for the powerful and thumb their noses at Michigan consumers, but Sen. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, called them out on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

The House passed a package of 12-bills last week on Aug. 19 that holds insurance companies accountable who wrongfully deny customer claims. The package of bills were referred to the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Regulatory Reform today, and the chair of the Committee, Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond, is an extreme right-winger, and he has said publicly he has no intention of even holding a hearing on the bills.

That did not sit well with the Senate Minority Floor Leader.

“I object to those referrals and hope that the Senate would change that referral,” Thomas said. “I do so because the chair of the committee has already indicated, even before those bills were sent over to the Senate, that they would receive absolutely zero consideration or debate. In fact, one news report quoted the chair as saying, ‘Do you want these bills labeled do not resuscitate or dead on arrival when they come to the Senate.’"

The House Insurance Committee took some very emotional testimony as people talked about paying their premiums for years, but the insurance company simply refusing to pay at all or delaying it for years so they can settle for a much lower cost.

“Michigan citizens who routinely and regularly pay their insurance premiums expect, when they file a claim, to be offered an opportunity at some form of benefit, “ Thomas said. “The issue of insurance companies wrongfully denying consumers who have legitimate claims in their time of need deserves a thorough, open discussion in the Michigan Senate.”

The chair of the House insurance Committee, Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, was targeted with robo calls, and she and Democratic members of the committee were subjected to attack radio ads by a group called the “Coalition to Insure Michigan's Future.” Sanborn even showed up at the House committee hearings to assure the insurance industry that they had nothing to fear as they continue to reap record profits.

“If the chair of the committee is so confident in his position that he is willing to attend a House hearing and declare this effort over before it's even begun, he should have the courage to hold the hearings and take a vote,“ Thomas said. “If he truly believes his own rhetoric and reasoning, debate your position and let us move on to a vote.”

Senate Republicans have routinely given insurance companies every protection possible at the expense of consumers. In fact, 46 other states have enacted similar protections proposed for consumers that have been bankrupted by profiteering insurance companies who put profits above people.

“If the majority expects anyone to take them seriously when they claim to care about the economic struggles of Michigan families, they will refer these bills to a committee willing to consider them, since again, regretfully, the chair of the committee now with jurisdiction is apparently unwilling to hear from those who have been wronged,” Thomas said.

Michigan insurance companies have also been allowed to legally discriminate against Detroit drivers and other urban drivers for years in the form of Redlining. Detroit consumers pay an average of more than $5,000 a year for auto insurance, the highest rate in the nation. Michigan consumers pay among the highest insurance rates in the nation.

But Senate Republicans refuse to allow the redlining bills to move. Sen. Martha G. Scott, D-Highlander Park, is the sponsor of the anti-redlining bills, and a rally is planned for September 30 on the Capitol lawn to fight the practice of redlining and the high cost of auto insurance.

Union endorsement in Senate race is anti-worker

Michigan Senate Republicans have been waging a war against Michigan workers and collective bargaining, so it was with shock and disbelief that I learned that Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Michigan State Council had endorsed the Republican in the race for the vacant 19th Senate District over Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson.
I emailed them for an explanation and to voice my objection, and to point out the fact that Senate Republicans have been pushing the union busting “Right to Work for Less” bills, and to let them know that increasing their thin majority will ensure the bills will move. But Mel Grieshaber, the Executive Director of SEIU Local 526M that represents prison guards, assured me that was not the case.

“Mike Nofs has signed the laborers pledge and we have seen it,” he wrote. “He does not support right to work, nor will he vote for it if it comes up in the Senate.”

He was so adamant to defend the misguided endorsement that the word “signed” was in all caps. I beg to differ. The Senate Republicans owned a 21-17 edge when now U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, held that seat. Giving them a 22-16 edge with a special election win in November and a leg up in the 2010 election will only embolden them to push RTW. I’m sure when the Republican Caucus gets Nofs behind closed doors and twists his arm the pledge will not be worth the paper it’s written on.

Proponents of RTW claim the law would do away with the requirement that workers must be in a union to be employed at a union shop. However, federal law already protects workers who don't want to join a union to get or keep their jobs, and gives workers the right to opt out of a union. But they must still pay union dues. RTW would give them the option of not paying dues while still enjoying the benefits of being in a union.

Unions in RTW states are required by law to defend non-dues-paying members involved in a dispute or charged with a grievance at work, but even those employees do not have to contribute dues. The simple fact is RTW does not give workers more rights, but instead it weakens unions and their ability to bargain for improved benefits and working conditions, which they call the real intent of RTW. The union, by law, must represent all workers equally.

Last session, there were RTW bills in both the House and Senate that did not get out of committee. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi. This session, there is only the House version: House Bill 4081 introduced by Rep. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy. I’m sure Cassis will be reintroducing the Senate version soon, especially if the Republicans increase their majority this November.

I also got a response from SEIU political director Vaughn Thompson, who assured we that Nofs, as well as Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, are both “pro-worker.” I about fell out of my chair when I heard that one. I don’t yet know a whole lot about Nofs’ record, but I’m familiar with the record of the man from my hometown of Monroe. He is anything but pro-worker, and I don’t understand how he got that undeserved reputation.

“We all know that Right to Work is wrong for Michigan and so does Mike Nofs and some others pro-worker Republicans like Randy Richardville,” Thompson wrote.

Perhaps he forgot about Senate Resolution 16 that was approved with every single Republican, including Richardville, voting yes in February that asked the U.S. Congress to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Under the EFCA an employer could only challenge a card check petition if fraud or illegal coercion was alleged, and not automatically call for an election when the majority of workers say they want a union by signing pledge cards.

Perhaps he forgot about the vote on House Bills 4785-86 that would provide unemployment benefits to individuals who are only available for and seeking part-time work and those in an approved job training program who have exhausted their regular benefits that would pump $140 million in federal funds into Michigan. Every Republican voted against it, including Richardville.

Perhaps he forgot about Richardville, chair of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, stripping out a provision in Senate Bills 4453-4455 that would help workers having their homes foreclosed on. The provision would have 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. That provision passed the House, but it was striped out and approved along party lines in the Senate with Richardville standing up for banks against workers.

You need to reconsider that endorsement.

The end of an era

Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy
February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009

Aug 25, 2009

Bridge company goes after critic with recall

Its official; the misguided recall of a dedicated advocate for her Detroit district is being recalled for refusing to kowtow to Grosse Pointe billionaire and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun.

According to subscription only MIRS, three recall petitions were filed against Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, for daring to stand up to Moroun and representing her district. Detroit resident Robert Cartwright is listed as the official filer of the petitions, but the Ambassador Bridge Company has hired connected Detroit political consultant Adolph Mongo to run a recall campaign against Tlaib.

Moroun is already building a second bridge span right next to the current Ambassador Bridge, and they do not have one single permit; not from the City of Detroit, the state of Michigan, the federal government or the Canadian government. The company is also taking Riverside Park and 23rd street because it claims an old act of Congress designated it an instrument of the federal government because it controlled traffic on an international crossing. Tlaib has been a vocal critic of that action.

The Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study has widespread bipartisan support, and they are going forward with building a new crossing a mile away near the Del Ray neighborhood. The exhaustive study has the support of the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as the majority of local and state officials.

The Bridge company has a history of flouting the rules and doing what it pleases. The bridge company is dragging their feet on the $170 million Gateway Project in order to endanger the project to kill the DRIC bridge. The Gateway Project will address long term congestion mitigation issues and provide direct access improvements between the Ambassador Bridge, I-75 and I-96. The project will also reconstruct I-96 and I-75, accommodate traffic for a potential future second span of the Ambassador Bridge, and access to the Mexican town International Welcome Center.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) said it is having ongoing issues over contractual obligations with the Bridge Company, and the state could be in danger of having to pay back the federal funds for the project if they fail to meet the original "Purpose and Need" of the project. The federal government is providing 80 percent of the money.

The proposed recall language must go before the Wayne County Election Commission for a clarity hearing within the next 20 days, and if the language is approved, it is good for 180 days, but the actual petition drive for signatures must be within 90 days. In other words, there must be 90 days between the first and last signature. They must collect signatures equal to 25 percent of the number of voters who submitted a ballot in the 2006 gubernatorial race, and that comes out to a ridiculously low number of 1,846 signatures.

The recall must be based on the language and reasons approved by the election commission, but Mongo told MIRS recall organizers also will use Tlaib's support for turning over Cobo Hall's management to a regional authority against her during the recall campaign.

Aug 24, 2009

‘Freedom Fest’ censors speech

We already know the Astroturf “tea parties” are fake and the disruption of townhall meetings conducted by Democratic members of Congress are scripted by the same right wing lobbying groups, but now we find out a recent “Freedom Fest” is not free.

On Sunday, a so-called “Freedom Fest” was held at the Main Bar in Ovid, organized by the likes of rightwing extremist Howell School Board member Wendy Day. But it was not free, and a person who dared to ask a question and insert some reality into the anti-government and anti-President Obama rhetoric was thrown out by police.

Some Livingston County residents may remember Tom Ford when he ran for the state Senate seat in 2001 vacated by Mike Rogers when he was elected to Congress. He dared to ask a brief question and a comment, and he was escorted out by police.

Freedom of speech is not a cherished right of conservatives. It’s OK for them to shout down people at townhall meetings, but they can’t stand the slightest bit of reality and dissent.

However, it was their event, and I can understand if he was disrupting it like the tea baggers were disrupting the townahall meetings, then he should have been escorted out. That was not the case, and if it were not caught on video by WILX, they would be making that claim.

I attended Camp Millie training with Mr. Ford a few years ago, and there is not a more peaceful man. He is a retired Catholic school teacher and a peace activitist.

Ford said wrote the organizers when he heard about the “Freedom Fest,” and asked them for 3 minutes of speaking time as a contrast to what other speakers were going to present, thinking freedom really meant that. He was turned down, and so he went to the event and paid his $5 bucks where he was arrested.

It amazes me how afraid right-wingers are to defend their ideas, and their attempt to silence anyone who disagrees with them.

Aug 23, 2009

Campaign to take back the Michigan Senate in full gear

BLACKMAN TOWNSHIP -- I knocked on my first door Saturday in the quest to take back the Michigan Senate from the obstructionist Republicans, knocking on doors with Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, in his race for the 19th District that represents Calhoun and Jackson counties that was vacated with the election of Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, to the U.S. House in November.

The unusually cool August weather made it a pleasant day; although the Jackson County township subdivision with no sidewalks and long sloping driveways gave me a great workout. It was also cool to get a mini-tour of Jackson with the former mayor of the city where Griffin is very popular.

I also discovered the coolest book store in downtown Jackson called The Book Exchange, and there were rooms and rooms filled with used books.

The reception was very warm, and many people said they are supporting him. We didn’t restrict the canvassing to just Democrats and independents, so that was a good sign. Only one guys said he would not vote for him, but he wasn’t even on he walking list; his wife was.

I was surprised at the number of people who were not aware of the special election. We will really need to work hard on our get out the vote efforts, and it will be even more important in a special election. That will be even harder with the announcement last week that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Michigan State Council endorsed the Republican in the race.

Apparently, they have not heard about the bills pending in Michigan Senate to make Michigan a right to work for less state introduced by Senate Republicans that is just an excuse to break unions. Apparently, the Republican is a former police officer and the SEIU represents corrections officers. I can’t think of another reason.

Republicans enjoy a slight 21-16 majority in the Senate, despite more people voting for Democrats in the last Senate election in 2006. The Senate is where good legislation and policy go to die. We saw an example last week of how they continue to put politics above helping Michigan with their 10th Amendment show.

Just in this session alone that just began in January, Senate Republicans have blocked meaningful Legislation that includes the workplace smoking ban many people have been clamoring for, laws to make voting easier that has bipartisan support and were passed in the House, redlining for auto insurance and the unemployment bills that will give Michigan families running out of unemployment access to $140 million in federal funds.

We need your help to make Michigan a better place. There are organized walks every Wednesday and Thursday at 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays starting at 10 a.m. Walking is great exercise, and if you like meeting people and care about Michigan, volunteer at one of the offices, and not just for walking.

Martin Griffin for State Senate (Calhoun office)
38 Michigan Ave E.
Battle Creek, MI 49017
(269) 425-4333

Martin Griffin for State Senate (Jackson office)
218 S. Mechanic St
Jackson, MI 49201
(517) 392-0800

Aug 21, 2009

Right-wing think tank continues to attack state workers

I guess sometimes they can’t help themselves.

As you may have heard, respected Michigan State University professor of economics Charles Ballard recently issued a report that said state employees earn less than their private-sector counterparts with comparable educational attainment, on average. Hard working state employees have been blamed for the state’s budget problems the last few years, and it has become very fashionable to attack and bash them. But, the fact is they have been doing more with less for years.

State employees cost taxpayers $3.7 billion less than eight years ago because of wage and benefits cuts, and 11,000 fewer workers. Under big government advocate John Engler – that’s’ sarcasm for some of my critics – we had 61,493 state employees. In 2006 there were only 52,255 employees. That number continues to go down with layoffs, and the Department of Agriculture, for example, recently ended all inspections of pet shops and riding stables, as an example.

But the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus went looking for a reason to bash the report, and it didn’t have to look hard. In a story that appears at the top of the front page above the fold on Thursday, Ballard made the true statement that state employees have made "considerable sacrifices" in recent years to help the state address its ongoing budget challenges.

That did not sit well with Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy for the rightwing think tank Mackinac Center, who said employees in the private sector had made sacrifices too. My question to Mr. LaFaive on a day when all state employees are on an unpaid furlough day: is who said they didn’t make sacrifices?

Here’s the big difference, Mr. LaFaive, no one is bashing private sector employees like they are state workers.

“LaFaive said Ballard's report only takes wages and salary into account, and doesn't include the dollar value of health and other benefits. He said a state worker on average receives $30,000 in non-cash benefits as part of their overall compensation package.”

I can’t imagine what $30,000 in cash benefits he could be talking about. He can’t possibly mean health benefits alone.

If he does, I would compare the cost of health care to that of any private company that has 50,000 employees. It’s a simple fact that the larger the pool the cheaper the cost.

Like every other American, the benefit cost per month for out of pocket, deductibles, co-pays and prescriptions have steadily increased for state employees. In fact, Ballard's study notes that the cost per month for state workers for a family health insurance plan more than doubled what they paid in 2007. In fact, since 2000, premiums for family coverage have increased by 73 percent.

Isn’t time for real health care reform?

Aug 20, 2009

Health care reform rally set for Saturday in Oakland County

Health Care Now 9th District in Oakland County is sponsoring a rally for health care reform at 11 a.m. Saturday Aug. 22 in Birmingham, across from Border's bookstore.

We are aware of the highly organized “tea baggers” and “birthers” stirred up by outrageous lies from the rightwing Washington, D.C. lobbyists groups and think tanks Americans for Prosperity” and “Freedom Works” – the same people behind the fake, Astroturf “tea parties – that have been hijacking Democratic townhall meetings and shouting down the Congressman and anyone who disagrees with them. This is a chance to join in the fight of our lives, and rightwing extremists have been fighting health care reform since 1961 with the introduction of popular Medicare.

Bring your friends, family and neighbors, and don’t forget your signs.

The rightwing blogs have been abuzz about Service Employees International Union (SEIU) allegedly busing in 100 members to a health care rally in Jackson near the office of U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek. They made the explosive charge that there were “…rented vans and encouraged people to carpool to the event.” They use the usual “thug” labels for middle class working people who dared to band together to get a better shake from their employer, and they are even going as far as to steal the name “Astroturf.”.

I don’t see any union members or health care reform supporters trying to shout anyone down, and it was certainly not scripted by the insurance lobby like the Astroturf Townhall meetings are.

Oh my God, liberals and environmentalists car pooling to an event to show support for Schauer? Who would have thought that would happen? Working people rallying for health care reform when health care premiums for family plans have increased 78 percent in Michigan since 2000? Somebody better alert the corporate, conservative media. Stop the presses; I’ve wanted to say that since the first time I saw by byline in print.

Wow, this is their smoking gun? “…Rented vans and encouraged people to carpool to the event.” Wow. I’m stunned. I guess that dispels those polls that say 70 percent of Americans want health care reform is bunk, or that that the overwhelming victory in November when health care reform was a campaign issue was a fluke. Union members – regular working middle class people, not thugs – want health care reform, and it’s their union dues that paid for the van, if that story is true. It wasn’t money from the $1.4 million a day the insurance lobby is spending to kill real reform through rightwing lobbying groups like “Americans for Prosperity” and “Freedom Works.”

If this fails, the health insurance companies will continue to line their pockets at the expense of good medical care for the middle class, and if this passes, the majority of the 50 million U.S. citizens with no access to health care will be covered. The right is complaining about working people pooling their money to get out and fight back against misinformation, showing their support for a cause they have been fighting to gain for the past 50 years and to stop the shouting down of Democratic Congressman? Just sad.

What the right is really mad about is we are finally starting to fight back against their disgusting and disruptive tactics.

Election politics speeds Gitmo resolutions through the Senate

LANSING – Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, may have set a record for getting a piece of legislation through and approved Wednesday; showing what a strong motivation politics and an approaching election are.

Kuipers introduced a pair of Senate Resolutions on the Senate floor in the morning Senate session on Tuesday to ask the President and Congress to declassify intelligence information regarding the Gutantanamo Bay detainees. That afternoon the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Kuipers, took testimony on the resolutions and passed them to the Senate. The next day on Wednesday, the full Senate took them up and passed them.

He already had a receptive crowd of “tea baggers and “birthers” for the committee meeting because he was taking up a pair of resolutions on the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a favorite cause of extreme right-wingers for years.

Ironically, there was basically only one witness for the Gitmo resolutions; although a few “tea baggers” filled out cards and got a few minutes of mike time. But it was dominated by U.S. Rep. Pete “Twitter Pete” Hoekstra, R-Holland, a harsh critic of the President and for closing Gitmo.

But the really important thing to note is that Hoekstra is giving up his seat in Congress to run for the Republican nomination for Michigan Governor in 2010. Guess who is running for Hoekstra’s open seat and desperately wants his endorsement? If you guessed fellow Holland native Kuipers you get a gold star.

Kuipers announced his decision to run in December, along with fellow Republican State Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland. Clearly, the Gitmo detainees will be a campaign issue, both nationally and in the Gubernatorial race. Gitmo will join the budget and the Michigan State Police Headquarters as campaign issues in Michigan in 2010; for the Gubernatorial race, the entire Senate and the entire House.

You have to wonder if Kuipers’ decision to showcase Twitter Pete had anything to do with who he will endorsement for his old seat? I’m guessing heck yes.

As you know, the state is considering housing Guantanamo Bay prisoners at the soon-to-be-closed Standish Maximum Correctional Facility. Most Standish officials, many Standish residents and many state officials favor the move or at least exploring it to help the local economy.

There is a townhall meeting set to discuss the issue in Standish tonight, and it’s no coincidence that some of the GOP Gubernatorial candidates are falling over themselves to hold press conferences in Standish.

State Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, used the Senate floor to campaign for Michigan governor Wednesday, but he supports at least looking into housing the Gitmo detainees at Standish. I’m not sure that position will serve him well in the GOP primary.

“Some argue that incarcerating enemy combatants here will make Michigan a target, but we are already a target,” George said from the Senate floor Wednesday. “We have a federal center in Battle Creek, Fort Custer, and other National Guard bases. We have Selfridge Air National Guard Base, VA hospitals, federal courthouses and defense contractors. We are already a target.”

Now that the Senate has passed a couple of resolutions that do nothing so quickly in a mere 24 hours, they can now take up some legislation that will help Michigan residents and have an effect on their lives that has been staled for years and months in the Senate, like the budget, the workplace smoking ban the majority of people have been clamoring for, take up laws to make voting easier that has bipartisan support and were passed in the House, auto insurance redlining or take up the unemployment bills that will give Michigan families running out of unemployment access to $140 million in federal funds.

Now that those two resolutions have passed in the Senate, the next question is when will extremist Republican Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, introduce the Gitmo resolutions in the House?

Aug 19, 2009

Senate candidate dumps on Michigan

LANSING – Michigan House Democrats have been working for the last nine years or so to address the complaints of Michigan residents over out-of-state and Canadian trash filling up Michigan landfills, but one former state Representative who profited from it wants to join the Senate in blocking legislation addressing the problem.

Mike Nofs - the Republican candidate for the Michigan Senate’s 19th District - has been dumping on Michigan for years – all while making a profit and protecting the interests of the garbage industry at the expense of Michigan and its residents.

While serving as a Calhoun County Commissioner in the 1990s, Nofs pushed for the expansion of a garbage dump onto land he owned in Convis Township. Once the Commission approved the expansion, Nofs sold his property to BFI Waste Systems of North America for an undisclosed amount of money that he referred to as “higher than market value.” While he skipped town with his profits, his neighbors were left with a dump in their backyards which takes foreign garbage.

Nofs has also taken campaign contributions from the garbage industry and, as a state representative, he continually voted to allow foreign trash to be dumped into our communities.

Nofs is running against Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, for seat in the 19th District that represents Calhoun and Jackson counties that was vacated with the election of Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, to the U.S. House last November.

Canadian and out-of-state-trash from as far away as Florida makes up nearly a third of the trash dumped into our landfills. In addition to the capacity imported trash is eating up, it has also caused some much more serious problems that have cost taxpayers money. Trash haulers have brought in hazardous waste, radioactive material and raw sewage. Two garbage spills by out-of-state haulers in Wayne County’s Huron Township in 2006 cost taxpayers more than $200,000 to clean up.

One of the most effective ways to combat this problem is through economics, and having the lowest dumping fees in the Midwest has made Michigan a magnet for other people’s trash. A perfect example of what the Griffin and the House are trying to accomplish with the fee increase occurred in 2002 when Pennsylvania raised its fee from $3.25 a ton to $7.25 a ton and saw trash imports fall from an all-time high of 12.6 million tons to an annual decrease to a low of just 9.6 million tons in 2006; the first time in more than a decade imports fell to below the 10 million ton mark.

“Mike Nofs is not the type of person we need representing the 19th District,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer. “Nofs has personally profited from garbage companies and time and time again has voted to protect the garbage industry and greedy corporations – putting them ahead of his constituents. Foreign trash is ruining the health and beauty of this great state and Mike Nofs is one of the reasons why.”

Right wing performance art featured at committee meeting

LANSING – In an out of control Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, the committee approved a pair of Senate Resolutions to ask the President and Congress to declassify intelligence information regarding the Gutantanamo Bay detainees before a decision is reached to house them at the soon-to-be-closed Standish Maximum Correctional Facility in northeastern Michigan.

Originally, only two items were supposed to be on the agenda; a pair of non-binding resolutions that “affirm Michigan’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” That resolution has been a rallying point for years for the extreme right-wingers, and the audience was made up primarily of “tea baggers” and “birthers.”
But committee chair Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, introduced the two resolutions on the Senate floor earlier in the morning, and they were considered a few hours later. U.S. Rep. Pete “Twitter” Hoekstra, R-Holland, a critic of housing the detainees in Michigan and a candidate for Michigan Governor, testified for most of the meeting.

The ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, he said he had info that no one else had on the prisoners, and they were too dangerous to be in a Michigan community like Standish. I’m not sure how much different Standish would be when you consider how many Navy families live at Gitmo. Hoekstra also said there were legal questions that needed to be addressed.

“We do know that when we move them onto U.S. soil, they receive some of the same civil rights U.S. citizens have,” he said. “We are unclear what civil liberties they have in Gitmo.”

Federal officials toured the prison in Standish this week as a potential place for Guantanamo Bay detainees, and the President has vowed to close the prison there because it stands as a symbol of oppression to the rest of the world and mars the America’s reputation as a beacon of freedom.

Last week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections Reform held a hearing on the question, but they had both opponents and supporters of the plan testified, including Standish residents, the city manager and county commissioners. The Senate hearing had just Hoekstra and a few “tea baggers” there for the 10th Amendment show who testified.

The Republicans used the show to take numerous shots at the President and Democrats.

“The President is going to have to come up with some convincing answers as to why Gitmo should be closed and why they should come to Michigan,” said Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, and one of the most rightwing members of the Senate.

Although this was clearly a show and the Republican’s minds are already made up, Democrats supported the concept of getting more information.

“I’m going to support this, but it is with some angst,” said Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing. “The money we will receive is not the bottom line, and we need to have a robust debate; but I was just handed this a few hours ago on the floor.”

There are supposed to be no demonstrations at committee meetings, but Kuipers let that go on, as well as attacks on Democratic members. Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, brought up the irony that information on Gitmo has been restricted to just the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee, but the resolution is asking that same info be released to the entire Michigan Senate. That brought an unprovoked and unbelievable attack by Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, that Clarke was trying to make it partisan. Like the show put on by the Republicans was not partisan.

“I try to keep an open mind, but I don’t appreciate these personal attacks,” Clarke said.

Rochester Hills “tea bagger” Jeff McQueen made the unbelievable and racist point that Michigan should be the last place to consider housing Gitmo detainees because of the large Arab-American population in Dearborn.

“A cell of Middle Eastern men would stick out like a sore thumb in Utah, but not in Dearborn,” he said.

That brought a rebuke from Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, who said as a retired Ford employee he has spent lots of time in Dearborn, and said the most dangerous terrorists before 9/11 was Tim McVeigh.

“I have lived and worked in the Downriver area for more than 30 years, including Dearborn, and I have never met a terrorist,” he said.

Aug 18, 2009

Senate Republicans throw fake ‘tea party’ during Judiciary Committee meeting

LANSING - Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, threw a fake Astroturf “tea party” Tuesday, but the only problem was he chose the Senate Judiciary Committee to do it, and six other Senators had to hear the drivel usually spouted at the fake “tea parties.”

With a boatload of meaningful Legislation the Senate Republicans could take up, like the budget, the workplace smoking ban many people have been clamoring for, laws to make voting easier that has bipartisan support and were passed in the House or the unemployment bills that will give Michigan families running out of unemployment access to $140 million in federal funds. Instead, the committee wasted almost two hours on a pair of resolutions that mean absolutely nothing.

The Judiciary Committee approved - there was no reason to vote against them - Senate Resolution 17 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 4. Both resolutions “affirm Michigan’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

This has been a rallying point for extremist right-wingers since the militia was widespread back in the mid 1990s; it’s no coincidence they are back.

The sponsor- Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, - said it was a no-brainer. He was right. This was simply playing to the base.

“There is nothing to debate,” he said. “All this does is remind us of what we already agreed to.”

I agree. So, why did we waste two hours listing to extremist Republicans rail against the Democratic administration and crap about “state’s rights?”

Representatives of rightwing extremist groups tramped up to the microphone one after another to read their talking points. We heard from groups like the rightwing Republican Washington, D.C. lobbying group and think tank Americans for Prosperity - the people behind the “tea parties” and disrupting town hall meetings - something called the “campaign for liberty” and even a rightwing blogger who said she helped organize the fake tea party in Lansing.

The hearing raised more questions that were answered. Like where were these people railing about the federal government when George Bush was shredding the Constitution?

Where were these people when Bush conned Americans into a useless war that did nothing but endangered this country?

Where were these people when Bush violated the separation of powers with the signing statements that said he wasn’t going to uphold the law?

Where were these people when Bush was spying on American citizens?

Where were these people when Bush was dictating what we had to teach with no dime left for any child program?

Where were these people when Bush was blowing the cover of undercover CIA agents?

Where were these people when Bush was politicizing the U.S. Justice Department?

Where were these people when Bush was giving no bid contracts to his cronies in Iraq?

Where were these people when Bush was giving out bank bailouts?

We even got a long, rambling speech from former extremist Republican State Representative Jack Hoogendyk, a board member of Michigan AFP and a candidate for just about every office in Michigan.

“The first 10 amendments were therefore added to include the ancient, unalienable rights of Anglo-Saxon freemen so there could be no question as to the strictly limited authority the people were conferring on their central government,” he said.

In an earlier time in this country, the states used the 10th amendment to justify repressive and immoral policies, including slavery, to secede from the union, to deny African-Americans the right to vote and southern states invoked it as a barrier to enforcement of the 14th Amendment and to justify segregation and Jim Crow.

Bishop emulates Yogi Berra

LANSING – Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop’s, R-Rochester, actions on the current Michigan budget remind many of the words of a famous philosopher when he said, “It's like deja-vu, all over again.”

Bishop has already been called out by veteran Capitol correspondent Tim Skubick for speaking out of both sides of his mouth and saying one thing to the press and another in the closed-door budget negotiations between the Governor and the Speaker of the House. He loves to play to the press and the public, and he seems to do it the year before the election so Republicans can campaign on it. In 2007 his draconian budget cuts would have cost some 600 state employees their jobs. He has been campaigning for Attorney General from the Senate floor for the past two years.

But he knew in 2007 that House Democrats would have to be the adults and do the right and responsible thing and introduce tax increases to avoid the brief government shutdown we had in 2007. He had hopes to use that to help win back the House in 2008, but it fail miserably because voters saw through the sham.

But he is at it again this year. Last week, according to subscription only Gongwer, Bishop mouthpiece Matt Marsden said the Republican caucus is open to discussing tax changes, but not general tax increases, and that the House would have to act first on any such measure.

Gee, I wonder when we head that before? Of course the House will have to do the responsible thing and again take the heat for Republicans. Somebody has to be the grown up.

House Speaker Andy Dillon. D-Redford, responded without the help of a mouthpiece, saying “They made the same demand in 2007 and also dictated what was acceptable which led to the disastrous Michigan Business Tax surcharge that is hurting businesses across the state. Any budget solution is going to have to be worked in a bipartisan way and both chambers - including the State Senate - are going to have to shoulder responsibility, not just seek ways to avoid them."

Marsden is paid well to be snarky, rude and misleading, and he doesn’t miss a beat; dismissing the comment as “more typical Dillon rhetoric." He said unlike the House, the Senate has passed budget bills that are balanced and that available revenues could support. "We're out there with what our proposal is, like it or not," he said.

The Senate plans to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class, and among the cuts the Senate has approved and are being roundly criticized include cutting Medicaid services, such as chiropractic, adult dental, optometric services and some community mental health funding; eliminated the Alzheimer’s Outreach Program; eliminated the $4.7 million for the state’s 78 Child and Adolescent Health Center (CAHC) Program sites; $18 million in cuts from the Healthy Michigan Fund and a 8 percent cut to Medicaid providers; eliminated the Michigan Promise Scholarship; a $110 cut in the per student foundation grant, eliminated School Readiness grants and Early Childhood funding; and a 12 percent cut to local revenue sharing.

Aug 17, 2009

Book highlights the history of health care coverage in the U.S.

After more than a month of waiting for the July monthly selection of the Progressive Book Club because the demand was so heavy, I finally received the books last week.

The selections were Gov. Howard Dean’s “Prescription for Real Healthcare,” and “Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis — and the People Who Pay the Price” by Michigan author Jonathan Cohn.

I heard Cohn speak back in October 2007 at a “Counter Colulter” event that raised money for a free dental clinic, and I knew if the book was half an interesting as his lecture was, the book would be great. I was right. I have only read less than half the book in a week, but it has been informative, shocking and sad.

He goes through the technical aspects and history of health care in America, and he puts a human face on the consequences of decisions made by health insurers.

Cohn is a senior editor at The New Republic magazine. He is also a media fellow at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and a senior fellow at Demos a non-partisan public policy center. Cohn writes about domestic politics and policy with a primary focus on health care. Cohn has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone and Slate. A graduate of Harvard University, he now lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two children. “Sick,” his first book, was published in April 2007.

Cohn said that when he decided to write a book he chose to write about something no one else was writing about at the time. Cohn traveled all over the U.S. and some foreign countries and read every study and every source on health care he could get his hands on in doing the research for the book. In fact, the book has 50 pages of references and sources.

This book should be required reading for anyone who cares about the health care system debate, no matter what side you’re on. He presents real middle class Americans who worked hard their entire lives and played by the rules being wiped out by an illness.

Even the introduction is chock full of information. He debunks the myth that anyone has health care just by going to the Emergency Room.

A 55-yeaold Cambridge special education teacher named Cynthia Kline died because she had to be diverted from a hospital ER that was capable of performing a “cardiac catheterization” to one that was not quaffed to perform it because the ER was overflowing.

Cohn goes on to document that in a one-week period before Kline’s death, 67 percent of Massachusetts hospitals had to divert ambulance traffic and declare emergency overcrowding procedures. Another 40 percent of administrators said overcrowding led to “adverse outcomes.” Ambulances have had to be diverted to hospital miles away, or wait by the side of the road while they searched for a hospital that can take the patient. ER’s are being slammed because the 50 million people with no health care coverage go there when a routine problem turns into a major problem because they could not go to a doctor and get it taken care of.

The model for health care in America for years has been employer provided health insurance, but that is falling apart as companies get rid of it in order to compete globally with every other industrialized nation that provides universal health care, downsize employees, privatize, hire contract workers with no benefits or simply offshore to Third World Countries where there are no rules and befits.

Cohn talks about Gary and Betsey Rotzler. Gary was an aviation engineer for years, but he was laid off. He worked for a few years at anything he could find until he was finally hired back at the same company doing the same job as before; only he was a “contract” employee receiving no health care coverage.

After hiding worsening back pain from her husband and three children for years, Betsey was finally forced to take action, and within three days she was dead from cancer.

Kohn traces the history of health care insurance in America from the 1920’s when it became apparent that medical bills were becoming more than many Americans could bear. In 1933, a blue ribbon panel made the recommendation for some kind of medical insurance, but other countries went the way of government sponsored insurance, spreading the finical burden of as widely as possible.

Hospitals were bearing the brunt of this inability of people to pay, and many were going out of business. A hospital administrator at Baylor Hospital in Texas in 1929 hit on an idea where any teacher willing to pay monthly contributions to the hospital would be provided up to 20 days of free care as long as three-quarters of the teachers participated. It saved the hospital, and other hospitals did the same thing.

The plan grew and evolved into the Blue Cross system. The plan worked when any large group was involved, such s the Elks or other groups, so it was a natural that it became an employer-provided plan that was billed as an employee-incentive when they could not provide higher pay.

Blue Cross was the provider of choice until the 1950s, and people paid a community rate where every one paid the same and the healthy subsided the sick until the healthy became the sick. Commercial carriers saw it could work after seeing the Blue Cross example, and they figured they could make money if they only covered healthy individuals. Their number one goal was to make money, not the public good like Blue Cross. So, they want after the healthily BC subscribers by offering them lower rates that reflected their good health.

In order to compete, the Blues started to back off their founding principals and offered the same kinds of rate structures as the for-profits.

As more companies drop health insurance, it has created the individual market where people have to buy insurance on their own. The price is sky high because they do not have the group benefit, and if they have a “pre-existing condition” the premiums will be sky high if they can find coverage at all. Someone with diabetes, the most common disease in America where the most health care dollars are spent is spent, is almost out of luck. They can accept their money, but they can deny coverage for just about anything; blaming in on the pre-existing condition.

In country that says it provides itself on entrepreneurs and small business, those people simply cannot find affordable coverage. That has made the market rife for scam artist, and Cohn tells some sad stories about the victims of the scams.

I’m just starting to get into managed care or HMOs where the insurance company bureaucrats routinely makes medical decisions and gets “between the doctor and the patient. Like the Blues, this was a great program fro the common good until the for-profits got involved and mucked it up.

Aug 16, 2009

Leadership for Freshman Caucus is lacking

Remember all the fuss last winter when the 46 new Michigan State Representatives took the oath of office because of term limits?

It was one of the largest classes of incoming freshman lawmakers in the history of the Legislature, and this group formed a Freshman Caucus to foster friendship and cooperation that would address the problems facing Michigan. They even signed a pledge to cooperate even when they disagree. Livingston County’s own Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, was elected as the co-chair of the bipartisan caucus.

That pledge appears to be worth no more than the paper it was printed on. Veteran political correspondent Tim Skubick calls out one of the largest caucuses in the House as Michigan faces a budget crisis eerily similar to the budget mess in 2007.

In a column in the online magazine Dome, Skubick says they have failed to assert any influence on the closed-door negotiations between the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, is doing the same thing he did in 2007; telling the press he will not consider a revenue increase, but privately, he says he will support it if the Democrats take the heat again.

"Senator Bishop, it’s time to stop negotiating out of both sides of your mouth. For public consumption you demand that the budget be balanced with cuts and no new taxes, yet quietly behind the scenes you’ve given the green light to your minions to negotiate a possible revenue raising deal with the governor," Skubick wrote.

Skubick also has harsh words for Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, but he cannot question their honesty like he does Bishop.

He also calls out the freshman for the summer work schedule, but I disagree with part of that. He says, “the House has met one time since the first of July. That’s a six-week summer snooze.“ That’s simply not true. The House has met at least five times since July 1, and they have held committee hearings every day. The Senate has met twice and held no committee meetings.

However, Skubick did say there was some hope for the Freshman Caucus; at least the Democrats.

"There is one ray of hope. The bulk of the new Democrats demanded and got a closed-door meeting with two of the senior Democratic leaders, where they complained about the lackadaisical summer work schedule and griped about being left out of the loop on the budget. Major points for that. But the speaker did not attend. Major points off."

Maybe Rogers, a genuinely nice man, can organize a few more frames of bowling.

Aug 15, 2009

Ambassador Bridge Company hires political consultant to run recall against critic

It’s a simple fact of life that most rich people do not like being told no and certainly are not accustomed to hearing that word. Grosse Pointe billionaire, Ambassador Bridge owner and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun is a perfect example of that.

One person who has stood up to Moroun for her Southwest Detroit District is State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and she has become a target.

Moroun has been trying to build a second span right next to the current Ambassador 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.

But that hasn’t stopped Moroun. He has already began building his bridge to keep his monopoly even though he does not have one single permit; not from the City of Detroit, the state of Michigan, the federal government or the Canadian government. The company is taking Riverside Park and 23rd street because it claims an old act of Congress designated it an instrument of the federal government because it controlled traffic on an international crossing.

His money has lined the pockets of Senate Republicans who are fighting the DRIC study and refuse to fund it, and Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, appears to be ready to go so far as to declare war on Canada because they are not willing to give Moroun a permit to land a second Ambassador Bridge on Canadian soil.

The Ambassador Bridge Company has even been dragging its feet on the $170 million Gateway Project; hoping to endanger the project to kill the DRIC bridge, and it could cost the state millions of dollars. The Gateway Project will address long term congestion mitigation issues and provide direct access improvements between the Ambassador Bridge, I-75 and I-96. The project will also reconstruct I-96 and I-75, accommodate traffic for a potential future second span of the Ambassador Bridge, and access to the Mexicantown International Welcome Center.

Subscription only Gongwer is reporting that the bridge company has hired connected Detroit political consultant Adolph Mongo to run a recall campaign against Tlaib, although no petitions have been filed with the Wayne County clerk.

The bridge company has been running a high-priced PR campaign against MDOT and any other person standing in their way. Apparently, the bridge company hired Mongo a few months ago to publicly rebut Tlaib’s comments on the bridge, including organizing a group of counter protestors during a recent U.S. Coast Guard hearing. The U.S. Coast Guard has asked the company to show why constructing the ramp before receiving the government's permission isn't a violation of the law.

Mongo has been invoked with many successful political campaigns, but he gained some notoriety in 2006 when he took out an ad in the Detroit-based Michigan Chronicle newspaper that featured photographs of Hitler and Gov. Jennifer Granholm and accused Democrats of taking African-American voters for granted.

Just say no to the recall, Moroun and the bridge company, but be careful if you do.

Aug 14, 2009

Senate Republicans play to the rightwing base and ignore important pending legislation

LANSING – If you need to see where the real priorities of the Michigan Senate Republicans are, you just need to be in Lansing Tuesday and take in the meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by right-winger Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland.

The committee will be considering two items: Senate Resolution 17 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 4. Both resolutions “affirm Michigan’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” I kid you not. With all the work that needs to be done, the Republicans feel the need to take up two non-binding suggestions that are little more than rallying points and fodder for rightwing Republican, Astroturf tea baggers.

The Republican-controlled Senate has met only once in August, nor have they held any committee meetings; other than campaign-like meetings, like the so-called “House Republican Jobs Taskforce” that only wants to meet with business owners. The Democratically-controlled House was holding regular sessions and committee hearings this month until this week when it gave it up waiting for the Conference Committees to send over the budget bills, and they held committee as late as Wednesday.

You will recall that the House and Senate passed different versions of the budget bills for each state department, and the bills were referred to a conference committee where the differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions will be resolved. The problem is that even though the bills were passed in June, the conference committees do not yet have them.

The Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader are in closed door negotiations over the state budget, and they must agree on targets before the bills go to the conference committee. You will recall that the Senate version included draconian cuts while the House version involved a mix of cuts and revenue from federal stimulus funds. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, has a history of negotiating in bad faith to make Democrats look bad, and we saw the same thing in 2007 when Democrats had to step up to avoid a brief government shutdown.

This development comes on the heels of a new report by the Citizens Research Council (CRC) of Michigan that says local units of government, colleges and schools are forced to make decisions regarding numbers of personnel, contracts, tuition levels, in "an informational vacuum" when their fiscal years begin in advance of legislative appropriation decisions. That's because in Michigan, many locals governments and school districts have July 1 as the start of their fiscal years while the state’s is Oct. 1. The later the budget gets approved, the more difficult it is for them to plan, but Senate Republicans have bigger fish to fry.

The Senate version of the school aid budget had drastic cuts that included a $110 cut in the per student foundation grant, eliminated School Readiness grants, Early Childhood funding and Child and Adolescent Health Centers. Many parents are enrolling their children in pre-school programs as the start of the school year fast approaches, but the programs will not be there if Senate Republicans have their way.

This comes on the heels of a report in the Detroit Free Press that says only 65 percent of children entering kindergarten classrooms this year were ready to learn the curriculum.

But where are the Senate Republicans priorities? Playing to the party base with meaningless crap like the 10th Amendment.

They could be taking up the workplace smoking ban many people have been clamoring for, or take up laws to make voting easier that has bipartisan support and were passed in the House or take up the unemployment bills that will give Michigan families running out of unemployment access to $140 million in federal funds. But where are the Senate Republicans priorities? Playing to the party base with meaningless crap like the 10th Amendment.

The 10th Amendment was ratified on December 15, 1791, and it basically restates the Constitution's principle of federalism by providing that powers not granted to the national government nor prohibited to the states are reserved to the states or the people.

Now, I’m not a Constitutional law professor and scholar like President Obama, but isn't the role of the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure laws uphold the Constitution? However, general opinion is that the Constitution grants Congress the authority to do more or less anything that is not explicitly prohibited by the first eight amendments.

It is, apparently, rare, for the Supreme Court to take up 10tn Amendment cases. Again, I’m not a Constitutional law professor and scholar, but the Court has only taken up such cases where the federal government compels the states to enforce federal statutes. In just the first time in 55 years, the Supreme Court invalidated a portion of a federal law for violating the Tenth Amendment in 1992 in a case that challenged a portion of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 that provided incentives for states to comply with statutory obligations to provide for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste.

It seems to me that if people have problems with the federal stimulus plan; appeal it to the conservative Supreme Court.

In earlier time in this country, the states used the 10th amendment to justify repressive and immoral policies, including slavery, the ability to seize abolitionist literature from the mail, secede from the union and to send slave-catchers into non-slave state territory to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, all in the name of state’s rights. There was apparently some war fought in 1861-65 over states’ rights and the ability of states to secede from the federal government.

During the 1960's civil rights fight, the 10th Amendment was used because southern states invoked it as a barrier to enforcement of the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment gave citizenship to and protected the civil liberties of recently freed slaves, and states’ rights were used to maintain Jim Crow and Segregation.

The 10th Amendment has been fodder for conservatives for more than a decade. The movement got a boost following the Democratic control of Congress and the White House and more traction when federal dictates about how to spend stimulus money raised hackles in places like Texas and South Carolina. It also got a boost with the fake, Astroturf “tea parties.”

I’m sure the Committee room will be packed Tuesday with the same people who say the President is not a U.S. citizen, go to “tea parties” and disrupt townhall meetings put on by Democrats, but I also guarantee that this meeting will be more respectful.

Aug 13, 2009

Bishop condones and encourages angry mobs

If there was any doubt that the disruptive, rude and intimidating behavior at townhall meetings is being caused by the lies and scripts provided by rightwing lobbying groups and Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop just confirmed it.

Bishop appeared on righting talk show host Frank Beckman’s show last week and condoned the angry mobs who have been disrupting and hijacking the townhall meetings of Democratic members of Congress, spurred on the lies and scripts provided by the health insurance lobby, rightwing lobbying groups and Republicans. Bishop went even farther by suggesting the angry mobs go after Gov. Granholm if the solution to the estiamnted $2.8 billon budget shortfall includes any sin tax increases.

With this Bishop involved, you know why budget negotiations are going so slow. The Governor, the Speaker of the House and Bishop are currently in closed door negotiations over the state budget. Part of the negotiations includes a number of rumored proposals to raise revenue to close some of that gap.

It’s obvious that bullying and intimidation is a favorite Bishop tactic. Just last week he officially justified the assault by Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, on 72-year-old Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit.

Michigan Democratic Chair Mark Brewer called Bishop out of those tactics, and pointed out that mob mentality and brawling are common themes with Bishop, recalling the brawl he was involved in on Mackinac Island a few years ago.

“We need to be having civil discussions on health care as we move toward reform,” Brewer said. “Condoning this mob behavior is despicable, but then again it’s coming from Mike Bishop, a practitioner of such tactics.”

You may recall that back in 2003 Bishop suffered a concussion, a chipped tooth, a facial cut requiring stitches and a battered nose after Bishop climbed into a horse-drawn taxi and told Aaron Kirk’s companion that she was too good to be with Kirk. Bishop admitted to telling Kirk’s companion, "You ladies ought to think twice about who you go out with at night. Police said that both combatants had been drinking, and that Bishop refused a breath test and that he declined to press charges.

Kirk got a year's probation after his no-contest plea to assault and a guilty plea to possession of marijuana and ecstasy.

This guy wants to be the chief law enforcement officer of Michigan?

Standish Correctional Facility could be home to Guantanamo Bay detainees

LANSING – A bipartisan coalition of State Representatives told the Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections Reform on Wednesday that they would accept out-of-state inmates and Guantanamo Bay prisoners at the soon-to-be-closed Standish Maximum Correctional Facility to save jobs.

The committee was holding hearings on the Interstate Corrections Compact, and the prison in northeast Michigan was the hot topic. Federal officials are scheduled to tour the prison in Standish this week as a potential place for Guantanamo Bay detainees, and both Pennsylvania and California are considering Michigan as a home for its overcrowded inmate population.

Michigan’s incarceration rate is the 2nd highest in the 12-state Midwest region, and in order to balance the state budget, Michigan is looking for alternatives to the expensive practice of housing non-violent and older prisoners. This has led to some prisons and camps being closed, and Standish is on the chopping block,. The prison accounts for as much as 25 percent of the local budget, and housing out-of-state prisoners with someone else paying for them would save Michigan jobs.

Accepting the out-of-state prisoners is a no-brainer, but accepting the Gitmo detainees has been met with mixed reaction. Accepting suspect terrorists on mainland U.S. soil has some people concerned, but officials down played that because the detainees have not been convicted, and they are no more dangerous than some of the murderers that are in the prison system now. There also has never been an escape from the prison.

“They are no more dangerous than the Bloods or Crips in California,” said Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch. “I don’t think there will ever be an escape, no matter who is housed there.”

Sheltrown, a Vietnam Vet, compared the prison to the job done by Vietnamese guards, but he said the prison guards at Standish are professional and well-trained

“There were no escapes at the Hanoi Hilton, and if they can do it, so can we,” he said.

The other problem with the Gitmo detainees is that the prison will be most likely be run by the Department of Defense, and that may not save many prison guard jobs because the guards most likely would be federal employees or even military. However, the auxiliary jobs like cooks and maintenance would stay, and they would also purchase supplies on the local market. There is also expected to be some building, and any prison would need a federal courtroom on site.

“That would still be a huge economic benefit to the community,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Farwell. “The prison accounts for 20-25 percent of the local budget.”

Lawmakers are concerned that there are no solid details on how Gitmo detainees would be housed, and they also want assurances that the area will be safe before making a final decision if they are chosen. Some residents have raised the possibility that the prison could be a terrorist target if it were to house Gitmo detainees.

All said there are a lot of variables involved in accepting Gitmo detainees, but their primary concerns are the safety of the community and jobs, not the politics of the situation.

“The anxiety and uncertainty of the employees and their families is first and foremost in my mind,” said Rep. Jeff Mayes, D-Bay City. “The political question is best left at a higher pay grade than mine.”

Aug 12, 2009

Freedom from deadly secondhand smoke comes to Iraq

Apparently, Michigan is going to be surpassed by Third World countries when it comes to protecting the health of its citizens, thanks to the failure of Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, to allow a vote on the workplace smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants.

The news comes from Iraq that the Iraqi cabinet has agreed to a draft law to restrict smoking in public places and ban tobacco advertising. If approved by the Iraqi Parliament, smoking would be banned in all government and public sector buildings, as well as outlawed in theatres, clubs, offices and on the public transport network.

Smoking is widespread in Iraq. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 41 percent of Iraqi men and nearly 7 women of women are smokers, compared to an overall rate of 22 percent in Michigan. Because it is so widespread in Iraq, it’s unclear if the ban will apply to cafes, bars and restaurants, but hopefully freedom will march on in Iraq and it will happen.

In June, Turkey, which ranks 10th in the world in tobacco consumption, banned smoking in bars and restaurants. Michigan remains one of only 13 states without a workplace smoking ban.

Iraq joins a long list of countries that have banned smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Those countries include Argentina, Belgium, China, Croatia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Malaysia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Scotland, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Wales, Uruguay and Zambia

That list does not include Australia, Canada and Germany that allows states and providences to enact individual bans, and the majority has done so.

It’s long overdue for Michigan lawmakers to do the right thing and join the rest of the country and world in protecting the health of innocent bystanders. Bishop needs to allow a vote on House Bill 4377, passed by the House in May that bans smoking in all workplaces, with the exception of casinos and so-called cigar bars, or allow a vote on Senate Bill 114 that has no exceptions.

Aug 11, 2009

Whitewash justifies Kahn’s assault

This past week we saw how Republicans use intimidation and bullying to advance their agendas, and now buying appears to be official policy in the Michigan Senate.

As was expected, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, cleared Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, of any wrongdoing when he verbally assaulted and charged Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit, in a Capitol elevator on June 17 following a hearing on the Department of Community Health (DCH) budget.

The Secretary of the Senate, appointed by and an employee of Bishop's, conducted an “investigation,” and as expected it cleared Kahn. Fellow Republican Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, had to restrain Kahn and stepped between the two in the elevator, but his official story is now that, “Never in my wildest imagination did I think Sen. Kahn was going to attack anybody.”

That’s not what he thought at the time. The whitewash justifies Kahn charging at Clark-Coleman with this jewel: “exiting the elevator diagonally toward Ms. Clark-Coleman's side. It concludes that Mr. Kahn "did move toward Sen. Clark-Coleman's side of the elevator. This may be the case because he had to pass in that direction to exit toward the Farnum Building."

Why he couldn’t leave the elevator straight out like most people was unclear. What’s even more disturbing is that the whitewash wasn’t delivered to Democratic leadership or to Clark-Coleman first; instead, it went directly to the press.

As we have seen from the townhall meetings, bullying and intimidation are policy tactics for the Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi, D-Ishpeming, said the most important thing he wanted was a simple public apology from Kahn, but no such luck. It’s a little funny when you consider what Bishop has punished others for. In fact, he has only sanctioned Democrats, with the exception of his opponent in the Attorney General’s race, and that was because he sided with the Democrats.

Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, was disciplined by Bishop by teaming up with Democrats to discharge a bill on annexation procedures that effects only his district. Bishop, who has a history of pettiness, also disciplined Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, - his possible opponent in the general AG race - and former Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, for also attempting to represent their constituents.

Those that agree with Bishop are cleared, but those that disagree are hammered. This man wants to be the Attorney General of the state?

Aug 10, 2009

Mobs continue to disrupt townhalls

The weekend political talk shows were filled with talk of health care reform and the extremist right-wingers stirred up by the health insurance lobby to disrupt townhall meetings.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews took a rightwing tool from one of the rightwing Washington, D.C. lobbying groups feeding tea at baggers lie to task. Matthews asked some great and tough questions, like when they chant “just say no” to disrupt a townhall meetings what exactly are they saying no to?

Are they saying no to covering people with pre-existing conditions like for-profit insurance providers routinely fail to do? Are they saying no to portability so people can take their health care with them when they change jobs, lose their jobs or start their own business?

Another amazing thing is how can so-called “freedomworks” be a nonprofit and nonpartisan? Even though Matthews is not a journalist, real journalists should take a lesson and actually ask some tough questions for a change. Everyone says we need - at least 75 percent do - to reform health care, but only the Democrats have a proposal, and all the Republicans can do is say no.

The attempt at health care reform has been around since the Truman Administration. We have had six GOP Administrations since; including when Bush controlled all levers of government, and we still have no health care reform.

The only thing Republicans want to do is stop President Obama at any cost.

I watched one show where some guy from the rightwing Weekly Standard said Democrats came out winners because of the townhall hijackings, but his reason makes no sense. I agree we came out ahead after the American people saw what these extremists are rally like, but his reason is way off.

He claims Democrats came out winners because it changed the subject and people were talking about the thuggery and not the contents of the bill. Say what?

Democrats want to talk about the contents of the bill, but the tea baggers will not allow it. He said opponents of reform are more passionate. I agree with that.

If someone told me there would be a “death panel” to decide if senior citizens would live or die I would be riled up, too. The problem with that is that is an outrageous lie, and I’m amazed anyone could actually believe that lie. So, what they have done is whip up a disruptive mob with lies, and now they are using the fact people are calling a mob what it really is as a fundraising gimmick.

No one has ever said these tea baggers were paid to disrupt the meeting. The fact is they are being manipulated with lies from the insurance lobby spending $1.4 million a day. Saying this is a nonpartisan grassroots effort is another lie.

We need to get our people out to these townhall meetings, and if there is violence people need to remember it wasn’t us that tried to shout anyone down.

I wonder when my Congressman, Mike Rogers, is going to hold a townhall meeting.