Jun 30, 2010

DRIC bridge and 10,000 Michigan jobs dead until at least the Lame Duck session

The Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee said he was going to slow walk any attempt to build the much-needed planned Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge over the Detroit River between Canada and Windsor, and he confirmed that Tuesday with a speech on the Senate floor.

The Transportation Committee has been holding hearings on House Bill 4961 that would authorize Michigan to enter into a public-private partnership with Canada to build the bridge, but Senate Republicans – the only Republicans in the state – are against the bridge, and they have fought any attempt to build the bridge in order to help Republican benefactor Matty Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, keep his monopoly.

Chair of the Transportation Committee, Sen. Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac, said the committee held six hearing on the DRIC totaling 10 hours of testimony, as well as testimony in 2006. He said despite four years of lead time, he was not going to be rushed. He complained that the committee did not get HB 4961 until last May, despite the fact that it had been introduced in May 2009 in the House.

“For years, the House worked on the proposal, and we were not privy to how or why certain changes were made to the bill,” he said. “But now after a year’s work by the House, the Senate is expected to ram this measure through in a matter of weeks.”

It makes you wonder if he was living in a cave since 2006, or why he is against working with his counterparts in the House.

He also questioned Canada’s offer to pick up Michigan’s $550 million share of the project.

“In addition, there are questions on how Canada’s financial contribution to a bridge project would work,” Gilbert said. “Would it be a gift; A loan; What are the ramifications; If it is a loan, would that trigger the constitutional requirements of a two-thirds vote by the Legislature?”

Gilbert said the committee will continue to sort through the details to make an informed decision, but he will not be rushed. However, he has pledged to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and all interested parties.

That means it will not get done this summer, and it will have to be taken up in the Lame Duck session in November.

“My top priority throughout all of this is to protect the Michigan taxpayer,” he said. “I will not support any legislation on DRIC from this body that will leave the taxpayer on the hook for one single dime.”

Sen. Ray Basham, the Minority Vice-Chair of the Transportation Committee, said he appreciated Gilbert’s fair handling of the hearings and attempt to get the facts, but he set the record straight on the Canadian offer.

“I especially appreciated the testimony of transport minister John Baird who came before our committee a week ago,” he said. “But I do remember John Baird saying that this was not a loan. This was Canada putting up the money that Michigan would have put up had it been able to and then Canada getting its money back through tolls.”

Basham also said this was not a new concept, and the U.S. did the same thing for Canada in 1938 with the Blue Water Bridge.

“Also Canada has been our partner, even in the war in Afghanistan, and suffered losses also,” Basham said. “They have also been our partner in transportation and commerce. They are our partner in many things and will continue to be.”

Jun 29, 2010

New documentary on teabaggers is the new Psycho

AFI lists Psycho, Jaws, The Exorcist and the Silence of the Lams as some of the scariest movies of all time; they have not seen "The Rise of New Right," a documentary with Chris Matthews.

In the documentary aired earlier this month, the MSNBC anchor summed up all the tea bagger nonsense that began almost two years ago with his opening statement.

“A raging hostility toward the elected government of the U.S.,” Matthews said. “Their common enemy, the President of the U.S., Barrack Obama.”

He highlights the extremisms of the teabaggers, including birhters, the Michigan Militia, secessionist groups and white supremacists. Matthews offers a crisp timeline, and a quick moving pace. Teabaggers and my rightwing critics on this blog will dismiss it because Matthews is a host on MSNBC and because of his past political affiliation. The problem is he used the teabaggers own words. How do you deny them?

We have rightwing extremist Alan Keyes, for example. I had the misfortune of hearing him speak when I covered the local anti-choice dinner where he was the guest speaker. The Maryland Republican is one of the early so-called leaders of the birther crowd. Keyes has an obvious hatred of Obama because Obama creamed the carpetbagger in the 2004 Illinois Senate election.

“Obama is a radical communist,” Keyes said. “We’ve got to stop him, or the U.S. will cease to exist.”

That’s a sane man? Funny, he calls Obama a communist, but the co-hosts of my favorite radio show have ignited a debate by calling Obama a corporatist who has tacked to the center on every issue. Even if Keyes’ insane rantings were true, the U.S. is stronger than just one man.

The documentary talks to teabaggers and shows photos of their racist signs, including the Gadsden flag that the first Marines used in 1775; just one of many symbols teabaggers have misused. It is displayed at the fake Astroturf “tea parties,” anti-health care rallies, militia events and even by Republican members of Congress playing to the extremists that control the GOP.

“The flag flew as a warning to the occupying foreign oppressor,” Matthews said. “Now, the enemy is not a foreign king, but the government chosen in an honest election by the American people.”

The documentary also talks to the Michigan Militia; a fringe, anti-government hate group. They are now trying to claim a legitimate role, but this is the same anti-government hate group that wants to overthrow the government by force of arms that went into hiding after the Oklahoma City terrorist attack in 1995. They were always there, but only the diehards stayed when people discovered what they were really all about in 1995.

Now, they are trying to clean up their image, but the mission and beliefs are the same as they were the last time we had a Democrat in the White House. But they have done such a great PR job hiding what they are really all about and the fact that the fringe element has taken over the GOP that their membership has tripled since Obama was elected President.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the documentary was the look back at the last tine the extreme right held away in this country, the McCarthyism of the 1950s and the rightwing John Birch Society. The language and rhetoric are eerily similar. Those people played on the fears of people just like they are now.

When you watch, “The Rise of New Right” make sure the lights are on, and you do not watch it alone.

Jun 28, 2010

The Michigan Truth Squad checks the Republican noise machine

With the Republican noise machine, the conservative media and millions of dollars spent on 30-second TV ads this election season, it’s hard to decipher the truth from hype and outright lies; enter the Michigan Truth Squad.

The Michigan Truth Squad is a project of the Center for Michigan, a "think-and-do tank” formed by Phil Power, the former owner and publisher of Hometown Newspapers, in 2006. The Truth Squad will promote honesty and integrity in the political campaign season.

The Truth Squad is enlisting the help of voters, and they can win prizes when you see a questionable claim in the political advertisements you see or hear this year. “If you hear or see a political ad - on TV, radio, in the newspaper, in the mail, on the Internet, via email- direct mail piece, individual campaign website, blog, press release, or other campaign material that raises questions in your mind,” send it to the Truth Squad. “ If a tip exposes an exaggeration, misinformation, an outright lie, or a distortion,” they will “call a “Foul!” on the candidate and campaign.” The tips can remain anonymous.

Tipsters will have a chance to win Truth Squad T-shirts, Flip Ultra camcorders and a grand prize two-night stay at the luxurious Greektown Casino-Hotel.

Doing the refereeing and investigating the tips will be Rick Haglund and Susan Demas. Haglund is a veteran reporter, covering Michigan business, economics and government at newspapers throughout the state. Most recently, at Booth Newspapers, where he wrote a statewide business column. He currently writes freelance for the Grand Rapids Press, Crain's Michigan Business, Detroit Legal News, The Center for Michigan, Dome magazine and others.

Livingston County residents will remember Demas when she briefly worked at the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. She writes a weekly syndicated political column reaching 3 million readers every week, appearing in RealClearPolitics, the Detroit News, Lansing State Journal and eight newspapers for Mlive.com, the largest news site in Michigan. She currently writes for MIRS, Michigan Information and Research Service that covers the Capitol in Lansing.

Jun 25, 2010

Senate Republicans would rather bash the President than stop the Asian Carp

LANSING – The massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reaffirmed a few things about Republicans: that it will criticize President Obama just for waking up in the morning, and they hate government and say the private sector can do everything better until the private sector causes a disaster and they call for government help.

A pair of resolutions introduced and approved in the Senate on Thursday reinforced those two principals. They attacked the President and tried to blame him for the BP oil spill.

On Wednesday researchers confirmed that at least one Asian carp had been discovered in Lake Calumet, above the locks at the Chicago River, and that led Republicans to introduce and approve Senate Resolution 166 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 47 on Thursday.

Senate Democrats objected to the partisan language in the resolution that said,
“A resolution to call the Obama Administration to task for its failed leadership on preventing Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes and call again for immediate actions to prevent further carp movement into the Great Lakes.”

Last February, the Senate unanimously passed two similar resolutions that urged the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate actions to prevent the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and to develop long-term strategies to address this problem. But this time the Republicans thought it more important to take shots at the President than address the problem.

Last winter the federal government launched a new $78.5 million plan to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. However, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm deemed the proposed measures insufficient, and she directed Republican Attorney General "Manoogian" Mike Cox to seek a legal solution. He filed a motion to the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency order to close the locks connecting the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal to Lake Michigan. However, the conservative court rejected the motion. I guess we need a better AG if he can’t even win in a friendly court.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Prusi, D-Ishpeming, introduced an amendment to strike out the partisan language, but the Republicans would have not of that, and it failed along party lines. Prusi said the President was taking the recommendation of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the resolutions should single out them and not the president. At the very least there is no reason to make it a partisan attack.

“They have been the ones who have been delaying and studying and perhaps giving the President some bad advice on how to resolve this issue,” he said. “But I don’t think that it will serve us well if we just point the finger at the President, making this into a partisan issue.”

It makes no sense to ask some to do something, and then attack them at the same time. The resolution also attacks the President for the BP oil spill, despite the fact that the oil-friendly Bush Administration stripped out regulations and allowed BP the permit to drill when they did not have adequate safety measures in place or a real plan to address an oil leak.

“Whereas, The Obama Administration already has one ecological disaster on its watch. The administration should not allow another disaster with longer-term consequences and within its power to prevent from coming to fruition.”

Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, noted the irony of the Republicans scramming for government help now.

“I would like to welcome my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to the belief that the government needs to be strong and vigorous in its mission to protect the people from harm and to help us address harms in the environment that we cannot address on an individual basis,” she said. “I think it is wonderful that we have bipartisan agreement on that issue today. I hope that we remember it when we have other environmental issues come up in the near future.”

Brater also said she hopes the Republicans sudden concern for the environment continues. She said Republicans can’t continue to call for smaller government, refuse to pay the true costs of environmental protection to keep invasive species out of our ecosystem and prevent other harms to the environment, refuse to regulate industries that cause environmental harm and then blame the person who happens to be in the White House when a disaster that has been brewing for decades finally comes to a head.

She called on the Republicans to start moving bills in the Legislature to protect Michigan from ecological disaster that they have been blocking.

“Sitting in the natural resources committee right now are bills to prevent mercury from circulating in our bloodstream; bills to prevent bottles which contain petroleum plastics from being wasted and instead have a deposit and to be recycled; and bills to protect our water and air,” Brater said. “Most interestingly, a bill that would prevent the spread of invasive species in our ecosystem, introduced by the good Senator from the 32nd District (Prusi), is languishing in that committee.”

In the end, the majority of Democrats, unlike Republicans, put partnership aside, and the resolutions passed by a vote of 31-3.

“We should work with the federal government to provide the resources to prevent more of these invasive species from entering our ecosystem at our ports and through our ships that are circulating, and many other ways that we should be working together to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from destroying our ecosystem,” Brater said.

Jun 24, 2010

Bill to do away with casino exception to smoking ban introduced

As promised, the next battle against deadly secondhand smoke got underway today when Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, introduced Senate Bill 1406 that will do away with an exception for casinos to the popular workplace smoking ban that went into effect on May 1.

SB 1046 would make the Detroit casinos smoke-free and extend to casino workers the same protection bar and restaurant patrons and employees enjoy from secondhand smoke. Basham has been fighting for the health of Michigan workers for more than a decade, and he was a key figure in helping pass legislation that took effect in May to make the state’s bars and restaurants smoke-free.

“Secondhand smoke doesn’t make any exceptions or exemptions, and Michigan law shouldn’t either,” Basham said. “The Legislature finally took action to protect patrons and workers in the state’s bars and restaurants from secondhand smoke exposure, and the men and women who work in the state’s casinos should be extended the same consideration for their safety.”

According to surveys, nearly two-thirds of Michigan voters support a workplace ban that includes bars and restaurants. Michigan became the 38th state to protect its workers from deadly secondhand smoke exposure. South Dakota, Montana, Vermont, Nebraska and Louisiana have strengthened their laws even further to make their workplaces, including restaurants, bars and gaming areas, 100 percent smoke-free. Data from the New York City Department of Finance shows that their tax receipts increased after the city went smoke-free, and there was also significant job growth in its bars and restaurants.

The predictions of a drop in business were not only false, but many bars and restaurants actually reporting an increase in business after the law went into effect.
Last summer air quality testing (AQT) conducted in Detroit’s three casinos revealed indoor pollution levels that were eight times higher than outdoor air, debunking the claim casino operators made in committee hearings on the smoking ban that their ventilation systems should earn them an exception to the workplace smoking ban.

When House Bill 4377 was approved with a bipartisan vote last December that made the Dr. Ron M. Davis Act law, a compromise exempted Detroit’s three casinos and so-called cigar bars because some people falsely believed the propaganda that a smoking ban would harm business. The success of the ban disproved that. Some critics of this public health issue pointed to the casino exception as proof that the smoking ban was not about protecting the health of workers and customers. This bill shoots that argument down.

“Casinos may be a safe-haven for smokers, but they’re like a gas chamber for workers,” Basham said. “Most Michigan bars and restaurants have gone smoke-free without any major uproar or a decrease in business, and have been able to still accommodate smokers without putting their non-smoking patrons and employees in harm’s way. It’s time for our state’s casinos to do the same, and I hope my colleagues in the Legislature will act quickly to pass this legislation.”

Secondhand smoke is the second leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and at least 200,000 workers die every year due to exposure to second-hand smoke at work. In 2006, the Surgeon General concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and that eliminating smoking from all indoor areas is the only way to fully protect people from secondhand smoke exposure.

We have Barton’s apology but still waiting for the apology from the rest of the House Republicans

Some times the Republicans' actions are so out there that even the conservative corporate media can’t ignore it, and the editorial in Tuesday’s edition of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus on the right’s apology for the massive oil spill and wrecking the Gulf coast ecosystem is one of those times.

You will recall last week that of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House and Commerce Committee, apologized to BP for its treatment by the President and having to pay for the damage they caused. He called the President’s Obama’s securing of a $20 billion escrow account from BP to pay for the clean up and compensate Gulf Coast residents who have lost their livelihoods and way of life a “shakedown.”. Barton was quickly forced to apologize for the apology, but make no mistake about it, that is the official position of a number of House Republicans.

That is also the official policy of the Republican Study Committee, the caucus of House Conservatives with some 117 members, including Barton. Its membership also includes Michigan Congressman Dave Camp, R-Midland; “Mad” Thad McCotter, R-Livonia; and “Twitter” Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland.

The editorial got it right:
Remember when conservatives were nearly fainting in horror when Obama made civil gestures to foreign nations early in his administration? Why, he was apologizing to foreigners. That was silly, but that was the claim.”
“So one would think that there would be praise for a president who negotiated a minimum $20 billion escrow account from BP. Instead, Barton went overboard, publicly criticizing our nation’s president while abjectly apologizing before a foreign business leader.”

Good job conservative editorial board. We also need to remember this in November.

Jun 23, 2010

Time to send a politician with integrity to Congress

Disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was indicted this afternoon on 19 fraud-related charges by a federal grand jury, including 10 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, five counts of filing false tax returns and one count of tax evasion.

According to the Detroit News, the indictment, the most high profile of a City Hall corruption investigation that has spanned more than five years, alleges that Kilpatrick used the nonprofit Kilpatrick Civic Fund to pay for his mayoral campaigns in 2001 and 2005, as well as personal items for him, his family and friends.

The news also said, “although sources and some court documents have indicated that investigators have looked at the role Kilpatrick's father Bernard played in his son's administration, he was not named in today's indictment.,“ however, the investigation is still ongoing.

“A federal grand jury subpoenaed records and testimony related to possible abuses in fundraising and expenditures connected with the former mayor's nonprofit foundation, the Kilpatrick Civic Fund. U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, the mother of the former mayor and ex-wife of Bernard Kilpatrick, was twice subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, first in March and again this month.”

As far as I’m concerned, Kwame Kilpatrick is old news, and I’m more concerned with his mother. We simply need someone in Congress who is above reproach, like State Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit. Last year’s primary showed Kilpatrick was vulnerable because of the scandal that sent her son to jail, and she was almost unseated in the primary after 13 years in Congress.

I want Democrats to be above reproach. Democrats like Eliot Spitzer resign, but Republicans like David “Hooker” Vitter, Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford and John Ensign continue to serve.

You can’t fault a mother for defending her son, but when so many people are involved in the scandal - from associates and family to friends - it’s hard to believe she is 100 percent clean. But the perception is there

But Clarke took the high ground, and he was quoted in the Detroit News saying, “
said the indictment is "sad news for (Kilpatrick) and his family."

"Even though it's just an indictment, it reinforces the perception that Detroit politicians are self-serving and dishonest," he said, who added he won't make the indictment a campaign issue. "That image we must change in order to change the region economically. Detroit is the brand for the entire region, if not the state."

Approval of mass transit bills will spur development

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously approved bills on Tuesday to allow development incentives for transit projects.

The Senate committee unanimously reported Senate bills 1235 and 1238 - a package of five bills - that would allow building authorities and tax increment finance authorities (TIFA) to fund transit-related projects. Mass transit and always attracts development and jobs.
Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, the Vice Chair of the Commerce and Tourism Committees, said the legislation will better serve families and workers already in Southeastern Michigan and attract more to the area with a modernized transit system.

“We must be aggressive in attracting new families and businesses to locate in the city and do what we can to keep people here,” Clarke said. “ Michigan needs to be the engine and not the caboose when it comes to competing against other states for improving and expanding our mass transit system. Detroit and the rest of the state have been facing some major economic challenges, and it’s going to take innovation and forward thinking to move the city and the state forward.”

Clarke has been a major advocate for reforming Detroit’s transit system, promising an easier mode of transportation for Michigan residents. These bills will support projects like the proposed light rail transit for the Woodward corridor. Expanding the state’s current transit system will create jobs, reduce the financial burden on families and businesses and make transportation easier. It will also spur growth in Michigan cities by giving residents and visitors alike more options to get to and from their destinations.

“These bills have been unanimously approved by the Commerce and Tourism Committee, and now its time for the full Senate to take the next step and pass this forward-thinking legislation,” Clarke said. “Public transportation helps our communities, our commerce and our environment, and its time for our state to take action to launch our transit system into the future.”

The other bills in the package, SBs 1233-1234 and 1236, are expected to be taken up by the committee soon.

Jun 22, 2010

Senate Democrats protect utility workers, and citizens from unauthorized utility hookups

A package of bills sponsored by Senate Democrats o prevent energy theft from dangerous unauthorized utility connections and protect utility workers when they go out to disconnect those hookups unanimously passed the Senate today.

The four-bill package aimed at protecting citizens and workers —Senate Bills 1310-1313— were sponsored by Sens. Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit; Tupac A. Hunter, D-Detroit; Dennis Olshove, D-Warren; and Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit.

“Unauthorized utility connections are dangerous and can cause damage, fires, and even the loss of lives,” Hunter said. “These bills will help protect citizens and utilities from the problems these unauthorized connections cause.”

This package caused some tension in the Republican Caucus last month when Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, blasted his caucus leader, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, with a press release accusing Bishop of playing “insider political games” that “put Michigan lives at risk” after Bishop referred the package to the Judiciary Committee instead of Patterson’s committee - the Energy Policy and Public Utilities Committee - where preliminary work had been done.

SB 1310, sponsored by Hunter, would require a utility to use a best practices approach to stopping theft and the unauthorized use of service. In the event of unauthorized use, a customer would be required to provide proof of residence or property ownership and payment of damages and any past due charges before service is re-established.

SB 1311, sponsored by Thomas - the Senate Democratic Floor Leader - would make it a crime for a person to attempt to sell or transfer electricity or natural gas with penalties of up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines or both. SB 1312, sponsored by Olshove, sets sentencing guidelines for energy theft.

“Whether it’s a car, money or energy, we cannot allow people to take what’s not theirs,” Olshove said. “We need to take strong measures to protect our energy resources, the people who legally pay for them, and the workers charged with distributing them.

Clark-Coleman sponsored SB 1313, which would create penalties for an assault on a utility worker while performing duties ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony with a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a $10,000 fine for causing a worker’s death.

“It is our job to protect the public and those whose jobs are essential to everyday life,” Clark-Coleman said. "Utility workers should have the same protections as postal workers and others who directly serve the community.”

The package now goes to the House Committee on Energy and Technology.

Stale Livingston County leadership will stall any economic opportunity

Since last April the two main chambers of commerce have been holding meetings across the county for a “New Economy Summit” with the goal of laying out the process for writing a strategy for developing Livingston County's economy in light of the realities of the 21st Century.

It accomplished little because the all Republican Board of Commissioners are more interested in being able to put billboards up along I-96 that brag the county has the lowest county tax rate among Michigan's 83 counties than take any of the recommendations to make the county any thing other than a bedroom community. That has been one of my pet peeves since I moved here to my wife’s hometown 12 years ago.

We may have a low tax rate, but few services. Like the organizers of the forum said, quality of life amenities will improve the economy in Livingston County, "not industrial parks, not low wages, not low taxes."

Livingston County has no YMCA, yet smaller communities have them. We have no community colleges, yet almost every surrounding county has one. We have no county park system. We have no mass transit system. Our young people have to leave once they graduate from high school. Now, babies can no longer be born in the county after Saint Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital in Howell announced last month that they are closing the birthing center at the hospital.

Now, it’s apparent that the organizers of the summit are beginning to realize the hopelessness of the situation with the stagnant leadership this county is saddled with, and we will always be a bedroom community with little opportunity or reason for young people to stay.

Another session was held last week, and Glenn Pape, the regional land-use policy educator for the southeast region of the Michigan State University Extension, summed it up very well:

“He said the county needs to create economic opportunities here instead of sending people to commute to jobs in other communities. He noted Livingston County will remain a bedroom community, but "we can become the best damn community around,” according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

I have wanted to comment on the situation on the hospital since I read about it, but this is my first opportunity. People were able to have their children born in the county for 82 years, but no longer. Does that even qualify as bedroom community anymore?

I covered the hospital in 2003 when it opened its $3 million birthing center renovation. I also wrote the story in May 2002 when it changed its name from McPherson Hospital, the name it had when it opened in 1928. I got a glimpse of how little the leadership at Saint Joseph Mercy care about the community.

The McPherson family settled Howell in 1836, but you will be hard pressed to find the once abundant name on anything in the city, other than a small street. Many long-time community members were upset at the name change because so many people had participated in the fundraising drive to establish and expand the hospital.

The McPherson family deeded their ancestral home on Michigan Avenue - site of the present day Banker’s Square and the former McPherson State Bank - to the city for a hospital that opened with 18 beds in 1928. When the need arose for a new hospital, a 10-acre site at the present location was purchased for $10,000 from the McPherson estate in 1954.

A fundraising campaign began in November of 1954 with the goal of raising $254,000. When the campaign ended in April of 1955, $789,000 had been raised from every segment of the community.

Ground was broken on the present hospital on July 15, 1956, and on Jan. 4, 1958 the 75-bed hospital opened for business. In 1990 the hospital underwent a $15.5 million expansion and renovation project.

The bottom line is to move forward we need forward thinking leadership.

Jun 21, 2010

Republicans roll out false talking points over BP escrow account

The latest Republican talking point on the BP oil spill and worst ecological disaster in U.S. history is that President’s Obama’s securing of a $20 billion escrow account from BP to pay for the clean up and compensate Gulf Coast residents who have lost their livelihoods and way of life is that it’s unconstitutional.

Like everything else President Obama does, the Republicans will criticize him no matter what he does for any reason, and they are throwing around words like “tyranny” and “strong-arm” to describe the President’s move to ensure Gulf residents are properly compensated, unlike the victims of the Exxon Valdez disaster where victims waited years to be properly compensated.

I saw rightwing tool and TV pitchman Ben Stein was on the Larry King show pushing the lie that the escrow account was unconstitutional. Considering BP voluntary created the fund, I have no idea what constitutional principal was violated.

Drug addled gas bag Rush Limbaugh has already criticized the President for not doing enough and then doing too much recently made the ridiculous charge that the fund was “Organized Crime in White House.”

But the worst remarks were those of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House and Commerce Committee, apologized to BP for its treatment by the President and having to pay for the damage they caused. Fellow Republicans ran away from him as fast as possible, and Barton apologized for the apology within minutes, but that’s how Republicans really feel.

Here is the scary thing and what voters need to remember in November: if Republicans controlled the House, Barton would be the one regulating oil companies like BP, and people in the Gulf who have lost the way of life they have enjoyed for generations would get nothing.

A great friend of the taxpayer passes away

A true consensus builder, Republican Oakland County Commissioner Jeff Potter died of an apparent heart attack this morning at his South Lyon home.

Potter served as the Mayor of South Lyon for 13 years. I met him when I covered the City for the South Lyon Herald in the late 1990s. He helped made South Lyon the fastest growing city in the state and the small city of some 10,000 people a pleasant city to live in.

He was an organizer and founding community sponsor of the Huron Valley Trail System, which connects many southwest Oakland communities and area parks. In addition, Potter authored a Strategic Land Acquisition project to preserve land for 'greenspace' and future parks. There were lots of housing developments then, and Potter persuaded the developers to connect the development into South Lyon’s growing bike trail that eventually pushed all the way to the Kensington Metro Park and Island State Recreation Area.

He was an expert at putting coalitions together. In 1998 the city needed a new city hall and the growing South Lyon School District needed new board offices. Potter had the bright idea of buying one piece of property and building one building, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars. For that project he was honored with the Distinguished Leadership in Joint Public Services Award and Outstanding Project Award for southeastern Michigan, by the Center for Joint Public Services.

Former South Lyon Mayor John Doyle, who took office after Potter was elected to Board of Commissioners in 2003, said it best when he told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus that Potter was the "best leader the city of South Lyon has ever had."

He will be missed.

Canada continues to be a thorn in the side of right-wingers

Right-wingers must have did a spit take with their orange juice this morning when one of their favorite whipping boys, the Associated Press, had a positive story on another of their favorite whipping boys, Canada, called “Canada's economy is suddenly the envy of the world.”

The conservative AP reports our best friend to the north’s economy grew at a 6.1 percent annual rate in the first three months of this year, the housing market is three-quarters of the 400,000 jobs lost during the recession have been recovered. Not only that, every Canadian citizens has access to quality health care.

“The banks are stable because, in part, they're more regulated. As the U.S. and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries over the last 15 years, Canada refused to do so. The banks also aren't as leveraged as their U.S. or European peers. There was no mortgage meltdown or subprime crisis in Canada. Banks don't package mortgages and sell them to the private market, so they need to be sure their borrowers can pay back the loans.”

No one is saying, despite claims by right-wingers, that Canada is the model the U.S. should follow in regard to financial reform, but there is no doubt we should take them as an example of a success story.

They are also using the story to blame the victims and the Democrats for the economic meltdown while ignoring the role of Wall Street, unscrupulous bankers, brokers and secondary market people who made a fortune off of the misery of many hard-working Americans.

They are blaming the National Homeownership Strategy passed under President Clinton, and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act passed under President Carter.

Jun 20, 2010

Hansen Clarke takes early lead

State Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, has taken an early lead in his bid to replace Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick in Michigan’s 13th District seat in the U.S. Congress and restore some integrity to the seat.

Two of the state’s top political consultants and pundits, Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consulting and Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics, conducted a poll that gives Clarke a 27 to 19 percent lead over the incumbent and mother of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Grebner told the Free Press the poll sample is too small to draw strong conclusions - only 137 responses that was done by automated phone call - but it gave the many people who have stepped up to volunteer for the Clarke campaign something else to celebrate Saturday at the grand opening of Clarke’s campaign headquarters.

Clarke served three terms in the House and two terms in the Senate. His Senate District represents most of the east side of Detroit, as does the 13th Congressional District. The 13th Congressional District also includes the Downriver communities of Lincoln Park, Ecorse, River Rouge and Wyandotte.

Clarke serves as the minority vice-chair of the Health Policy Committee and the Commerce and Tourism Committee. He also serves on the Judiciary Committee, the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and the Government Operations and Reform Committee. Clarke grew up from humble beginnings in a working class neighborhood on Detroit's lower east side to attend an Ivy League university and become an attorney. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Cornell University, and he graduated from Georgetown University Law School. After he received his law degree he returned to Michigan to practice law. He was elected to his first of three terms in the Michigan House in 1990.

Jun 18, 2010

Candidate against Rogers emerges

Democrats in the 8th Congressional District were disappointed, and some angry, when Democratic Kande Ngalamulume suddenly announced earlier this month he was dropping out of the race past the withdraw deadline, but a write in candidate has emerged.

Clinton County Democrat Lance Enderle announced he plans to run for the seat as a write in. According to subscription only MIRS, there is a possibility Enderle’s name could actually appear on the November ballot instead of Ngalamulume’s. Enderle would need more votes than Ngalamulume in the Aug. 3 primary to replace him on the Nov. 2 ballot. But there is also another way.

If Ngalamulume moves out of state, or dies, a provision in state law is triggered that would allow the chairs, secretaries and treasurers of all give five counties within the 8th District to convene a special 15-person panel to name a replacement nominee after the Aug. 3 primary, according to MIRS.

Ngalamulume is reportedly in Philadelphia or Chicago looking for work. If he registers to vote in one of those states, the panel will be triggered. MIRS said Ngalamulume “told a local supporter this week that once he finds a job out of state, he would register to vote at that location.”

“However, Ngalamulume also told 8th Congressional District Democrats in an e-mail a couple weeks ago that he would not change his voter registration information, meaning a write-in candidate would need to defeat him during the Aug. 3 primary in order for his name not to appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.”

Political consultant Joe DiSano on his pod cast, “Two Guys Named Joe,” said Bob Alexander, who ran twice against incumbent Republican Mike Rogers, is helping Ngalamulume pay off his estimated $5,000 debt.

Ngalamulume’s withdraw this late in the game angered many people, and DiSano was one of the most vocal.

“What he is doing is reprehensible and shameful,” he said.

MIRS said “Alexander said Ngalamulume told him in an e-mail four days ago that he would change his voter registration information once he found a new job, which would open up the chance for the Democrats to pick someone new.

The 8th Congressional District Democratic Committee is meeting tomorrow in Bath, and this will most likely be a topic of discussion.

Enderle is a progressive Democrat, and he says he believes in small business, agriculture, tax equality and individual Freedom. He said he believes money has nearly destroyed the political process, and he has pledged he will not take any PAC or any special interest money.

Cropsey has a meltdown over DRIC

LANSING – Ambassador Bridge owner and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun’s chief lobbyist, State Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, had a meltdown on the Senate floor on Thursday while fighting off the effort to build the much-needed planned Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge over the Detroit River between Canada and Windsor.

Cropsey has gone the extra mile for Grosse Pointe billionaire in the past; at one time he appeared to be ready 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 Senate was debating the budget bill for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) when Cropsey when off on a verbal tirade MDOT director Kirk Steudle following the defeat of an amendment effecting DRIC.

According to subscription only Gongwer that covers the Capitol:
“The lead critic of DRIC in the Senate, Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey (R-DeWitt), uncorked a denunciation of DRIC on the Senate floor so furious that he his voice cracked into a squeak at one point.”Kirk Steudle!" Mr. Cropsey bellowed like a parent to a child, pausing almost as if he hoped Transportation Director Kirk Steudle was in the gallery and would respond. "Why don't you give us what the Legislature requested?!"
"This is absolutely abysmal," he yelled, his voice cracking into a squeak and prompting some snickering on the floor. "Are we supposed to vote on this in the dark too, just like the House did?"

Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, introduced an amendment to the budget bill – House Bill 5889 - that would remove the provision that prohibits MDOT from expending any funds on DRIC unless the Legislature passes legislation allowing the construction of DRIC.

“As you all know, we are currently deliberating on this legislation, and under current MDOT boilerplate language, that vote has to have occurred by June 1 of this year,” Basham said. “While I understand that this body is elected to delay the vote in order to fully study and evaluate the legislation, there is no certainty as to when or even if that vote will occur. I believe it is inappropriate to the MDOT expenditures to vote on the bill when we have already failed to meet our own imposed deadline.”

For the past three weeks the Senate Transportation Committee has held hearings on House Bill 4961 that would authorize Michigan to enter into a public-private partnership with Canada, the U.S. and a private sector developer/financier to build the DRIC bridge.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, promised an up or down vote on the bill some time ago, but he reneged two weeks ago, saying there would be no vote because MDOT declined to release revenue data on how much money the tolls from a new DRIC bridge would generate. Steudle said he supplied the traffic study as required, and that releasing the revenue data would worsen the state's negotiating position when hiring a concessionaire to participate in the public-private partnership that would oversee the new bridge.

However, to speed the process, Steudle released the study on Wednesday, but Senate Republicans – the only people against building the DRIC – are now saying it’s not enough and they also need at lest 30 days to study it. It also led to Cropsey’s temper tantrum.

“The report we received in our offices yesterday was a preliminary traffic and revenue study,” he said. “They dragged their feet for six weeks before they gave us the final parts of that.’

The Basham amendment failed, and the bill was then passed along party lines with one Republican joining the Democrats in opposition. However, the bill failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote for immediate effect. That is often used as a form of protest, but it will not matter much because the House and Senate passed different versions and a conference committee will have to work out the differences.

The toll study, however, showed the area will support two bridges, but it will eat into the profits of the 81-year-old private border crossing.

According to the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday:
“A proposed second bridge across the Detroit River would generate about $70 million in its first year of operation and as much as $240 million by 2035, according to a study the Michigan Department of Transportation released today
DRIC revenue during that time would rise from $70.4 million in 2016, the bridge’s first year of operation, to $238.2 million by 2035. It would be more than enough to pay off bonds that would finance the bridge, Steudle said.
Steudle acknowledged that the Ambassador Bridge would lose traffic and revenue once the new bridge is opened, but he said there will be enough of both to support DRIC, the Ambassador and the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.”

Jun 17, 2010

Celebrate the grand opening of the Hansen Clarke campaign HQ

The campaign of State Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, for U.S. Congress in the 13th District is holding a grand opening of its campaign headquarters from 1-4 p.m. Saturday June 19 in Detroit, and the public is invited.

The HQ is located at 3143 Woodward Ave., three blocks South of Mack between Charlotte and Perterboro. Food will be served and everyone's invited to come celebrate a victory in August with the community. Clarke will speak at 3 p.m.

Clarke is term-limited after serving three terms in the House and two terms in the Senate. His Senate District represents most of the east side of Detroit, as does the 13th Congressional District. The 13th Congressional District also includes the Downriver communities of Lincoln Park, Ecorse, River Rouge and Wyandotte.

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

Clarke grew up from humble beginnings in a working class neighborhood on Detroit's lower east side to attend an Ivy League university and become an attorney. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Cornell University, and he graduated from Georgetown University Law School. After he received his law degree he returned to Michigan to practice law. He was elected to his first of three terms in the Michigan House in 1990.

For more information or to RSVP, please call (313) 971-2455 or (313) 833-5901.

Senate Republicans ignore the pollution of CAFOS

LANSING – The Gulf oil disaster demonstrated less regulation and oversight is not a good thing. Someone better tell that to the Michigan Senate Republicans.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved resolution 158 that urges “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rescind rules that would require dairy farms to have oil spill prevention plans for milk storage tanks.” It passed – unfortunately, with bipartisan support – by a vote of 24-10.

Eric Barren at Michigan Liberal had a good on this a few days before Wednesday’s vote:

“The definition of oil is not "petroleum." Oils are substances that at room temperature are viscous liquids that don't mix with water. Alas, the critical, illuminating piece of science is buried under reverse Ripperisms ("Ice cream, Mandrake, childrens' ice cream?"), accusations of government run amok and the standard objection of seemingly insensitive environmental lobbyists.
Those objections, incidentally, make a good deal more sense if you highlight the -- you know -- fundamental science of the issue rather than descending into the same lousy environmental reporting that has helped slow our collective response to global warming for two decades. Instead, we get some tired old narrative about gummint bureaucrats run amok, and policy direction that pretends that calling something an oil is the same thing as calling it petroleum, which itself places policy at odds with basic science definitions.”

The sponsor of the resolution, Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, said if the EPA does not act to rescind the rules, we should ignore the law.

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, noted the irony of that position. Kuipers is running for Congress in the seat vacated by “Twitter” Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland.

“I find it ironic that the previous speaker says we should disregard federal law, yet he is on a mission to go there and make it,” Whitmer said. “With regard to this resolution in front of us, this is a resolution and I think it is odd timing to ask that the EPA not require prevention plans for oil spills; anyone watching C-SPAN around here?”

Whitmer said milk is a wholesome product in a child’s body but not in Michigan’s waterways. Milk can have very serious environmental consequences once released into our surface waters.

Whitmer said according the University of Wisconsin Extension Service, milk has a high biochemical oxygen demand (BOD). BOD measures the amount of oxygen consumed when organic matter, such as milk, is broken down by bacteria. In streams and lakes, bacteria would need the dissolved oxygen from 1,600 gallons of water to break down the organic matter in one pint of milk. Because it depletes oxygen, discharging milk into surface waters can upset biological communities and kill fish. The minimum tank size of 1,320 gallons would be enough to deplete the oxygen in almost 17 million gallons of water.

“Milk also has a high concentration of phosphorus, a nutrient that causes the growth of algae and aquatic plants which can deplete oxygen levels in our lakes and streams, exacerbating an existing problem with excess phosphorus in our waterways,” she said. “In today’s world, it’s especially true that it is not unreasonable to ask that emergency plans be in place in case of milk spills or the failure of bulk milk storage tanks.”

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have been cited for polluting rivers and streams in Michigan with runoff from manure, and these are huge factory farms. A small CAFO would have 1,000 cows that would result in, at the rate of 20 gallons a day per cow, a volume of milk reaching 20,000 gallons a day. But the largest CAFO in this state hosts 3,000. So we are talking about 60,000 gallons of milk a day.

“Now just to put this in perspective, we are not talking about a few cows and a pretty red barn with a dairy maid sitting on a stool with a little bucket milking a cow,” said Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor. “That is not what happens on these farms these days. We have, unfortunately, in this state made it all too easy for CAFOs to operate in this state after they were expelled by the country of the Netherlands.”

Jun 16, 2010

Bridge company rolls out some new excuses to kill the popular and bipartisan DRIC bridge

Employees of the Ambassador Bridge Company didn’t miss a trick on why they should keep their monopoly on the 81-year old bridge and the only private international border crossing for motor vehicles in North America.

On Tuesday the Senate Transportation Committee continued hearings on House Bill 4961 that would authorize Michigan to enter into a public-private partnership with Canada, the U.S. and a private sector developer/financier to build the much-needed planned Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge over the Detroit River between Canada and Windsor. Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) President Dan Stamper testified before the committee, continuing his company’s misinformation campaign. Stamper threw in the kitchen sink against the DRIC bridge, including his favorite whipping boy, Canada, for daring to pick up Michigan’s cost for the bridge and wanting a different location for a new bridge to land on the Canadian side.

According to subscription only Gongwer, Stamper said “the DRIC represented a continuation of Michigan rolling over to Canadian interests, citing the practice of Toronto sending its waste to Michigan landfills.” According to subscription only MIRS, Stamper said “Canada is lusting over Michigan's sovereignty by agreeing to cover Michigan's $550 million cost for the bridge.”
"Canada will have powers in Michigan," Stamper said. "This is the biggest power grab in history." Robert Noble, the Consul General for the Canadian government, laughed off the comment as ridiculous in his press availability after the hearing.

One of the more bizarre reasons for the bridge company has put out to kill the DRIC bridge is that the traffic study proves there is no need for a second span, but Stamper offered no explanation on why the bridge company is already building a second span without a single permit. The company has been ordered by Wayne County Circuit Court to tear it down and return the property they illegally took to build on.
Stamper them made the claim that the Legislature would need a two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, along with a public vote, to authorize the financing. When that was debunked, he then went on to claim that it would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution in that Michigan would be entering into a financial agreement with a foreign power without Congressional sign-off, something that is barred by Article 1, Section 10. The only problem with that is that the DRIC project has the support of the federal government.

There was also disagreement between the bridge company and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) about how the $170 million Gateway Project that addressed long term congestion mitigation issues and provided direct access improvements between the Ambassador Bridge, I-75 and I-96 was configured. MDOT said the Ambassador Bridge folks didn't live up to their agreement in building the project. The bridge company used delaying tactics in the hope it would hamper the DRIC bridge, and it almost required the state to pay back the federal money for the project. Stamper blamed MDOT for not allowing the completed project to open, but the courts ordered the bridge company to tear down the start of the second span.

No vote was taken on HB 4961. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, promised an up or down vote on the bill some time ago, but he reneged last week, saying there would be no vote because MDOT declined to release revenue data on how much money the tolls from a new DRIC bridge would generate. MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said he supplied what was called for and releasing the revenue data would worsen the state's negotiating position when hiring a concessionaire to participate in the public-private partnership that would oversee the new bridge.

However, in an attempt to jump over another blockade thrown up by Republicans going to bat for Ambassador Bridge owner and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun, he released that data to committee members today.

Hopefully, the committee will vote the bill out of committee next Tuesday.

Jun 15, 2010

Teabagger Congressional candidate advocates armed revolution against the U.S. government

If you want to see how really deranged teabaggers are, you just need to watch a political ad by Rick Barber, one of two Republican candidates for the U.S. Congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Alabama, where Barber advocates armed revolution against the U.S. government.

In the ridiculous ad, an unhinged Barberm a teabager, tells some actors dressed as some of the Founding Fathers, "And I would impeach him." It’s not clear who he is talking about.

The ad goes on with Barber sitting at a table in an empty bar saying "and if that's not enough - some of your men own taverns. Sam - I assume he means Sam Adams, but I didn’t know he was on a first name basis with one of the architects of the principles of American republicanism - you were a brewer, Mr. President, a distiller. You know how tough it is to run a small business without a tyrannical government on your back."

He then goes on to rail against the evil IRS.

The ad goes on with Barber saying, "Now I took an oath to defend that with my life," jabbing his finger on a copy of the Constitution sitting on the table. "And I can't stand by while these evils are perpetrated."

"You gentlemen revolted over a Tea tax - a Tea Tax!" he shouts at the Founding Fathers. "Now look at us." The camera then zooms in on the actor playing Washington, his chin resting in his hand in a moment of contemplation. "Are you with me?" Barber asks.

Someone should tell him the Revolutionary War was fought over taxation without representation, which we obviously have or Barber would not be able to run for office.

The camera cuts to a tight shot of the actor playing Washington with a look of disgust and anger on his face, speaking slowly and deliberately with a clinched jaw he replies: "Gather your armies."

Now, this is either Barber advocating treason or an endorsement by President George Washington.

The ad continues to try and re-write history. David Weigel of the Washington Post reports that "President Washington presided over, and approved, the first tax levied by the federal government -- the 1791 whiskey tax." "When the tax met resistance, he approved the assembling of militias to enforce the law and mobilization of agents to collect the revenue." Not only that, in 1756 the Boston Town Meeting elected Adams to the post of tax collector.

This is clearly Barber’s 15 minutes of fame. Earlier this month he forced a runoff in the GOP primary, despite only winning about 28 percent of the vote against the other GOP candidate, Martha Roby, who did not get the 50 percent necessary to avoid a July 13th runoff.

He was on Dylan Ratigan’s show on MSNBC today with a smug look, and he quickly backtracked on the ad, saying “It’s not a call to arms it’s a call to action.” That was for the sane and moderate Republicans, but the teabaggers got it.

Jun 14, 2010

Support the workplace smoking ban by playing the lottery on Saturday

Apparently the billons of dollars the tobacco industry has spent over the years to convince smokers that they have some constitutional right to smoke and poison the majority of non-smokers with deadly secondhand smoke is paying off.

A group of bar owners is claiming that 22 percent of the people who still smoke in Michigan is having an effect on their business, despite studies and the results of bars and restaurants that are doing a booming business after the May 1 workplace smoking ban went into effect and numerous studies and results from the 38 other states with bans.

Apparently, bar owners will refuse to sell Michigan Lottery games from 11 a.m. Saturday, June 19 to 2 a.m. June 20. They have a Facebook page full of lies, and they say they will not sell “Keno, pull tabs, Lucky Lines, Daily 3 and 4, Fantasy 5, and Classic Lotto.”

I don’t play the Michigan Lottery much, but I am going to make it a point to go to a local bar in downtown Howell and play one. I urge you to do the same.

The group is claiming that this is a “private property” issue when the fact is that this is a public health issue, and the Michigan Legislature not only has the right to protect the public health they have a Constitutional duty to do so.

This is not the first Facebook group to spread lies to stop something that has overwhelming support of Michigan residents, and according to the Detroit Free Press, the person organizing the boycott claims they have “enough supporters to cost the state lottery between $12 million and $18 million in sales.”

That claim is as ridiculous as the one that just 22 percent of the population can have such an economic impact.

That’s money bar owners will lose in commission from lottery sales, and I’m more than happy to make sure that the commission goes to bars that care about the health of their customers and employees.

The Free Press said “a boycott would draw the attention of the Michigan Lottery Bureau.” Lottery spokesperson Andi Brancato said “lottery retailers have agreements with the state to sell tickets, and those contracts could be reviewed by the lottery bureau.” In other words, they could lose their license to sell lottery products if they refuse to sell to customers.

The “leader” of the misguided boycott is trying to pass the lie that such a boycott will not hurt public schools. That is simply not the case.

The fact is the Michigan Lottery has contributed $15.2 billion to Michigan's educational system since 1972, including more than $600 million in 10 of the past 12 fiscal years. Almost all of the money, 95 percent to be exact, goes to fund K-12 public education. Unfortunately, lottery money only makes up 5 percent of the $12.8 billon K-12 budget.

Go to your favorite local bar next Saturday and play the lottery. If they decline to sell you a game ticket, go to another bar that will, and then lodge a complaint with the Michigan Lottery at (517) 335-5600.

Jun 13, 2010

People’s hearing on unfair credit scoring practices set

Michigan consumers tired of paying the 12th highest auto insurances rates in the nation will convene in Lansing on Wednesday for a people’s hearing on unfair credit scoring practices.

Insurance companies base the rates they charge for auto insurance on factors that have nothing to do with their driving record or the value of their car. Insurance companies can set rates based on education level, credit score, zip code and even job title.

Rates should determined by a person’s driving record and the value of their car, but the Senate Economic Development Committee refuses to take up bills correcting that wrong that will lower rates for Michigan consumers. So the people will hold a hearing at 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 16 in the Mackinac Room of the House Office Building, 124 N. Capitol in downtown Lansing.

The day will start with a march to the HOB beginning at noon from the steps of the Hall of Justice, 925 West Ottawa.

In addition to Melvin “Butch" Hollowell, the Michigan Automobile and Home Insurance Consumer Advocate, the panel will consist of Eleanor Josaitis, Co-Founder of Focus: HOPE; Dr. Oscar King III, President, Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity, Inc.; Michael Dabbs, President, Brain Injury Association; and Linda Teeter, Executive Director, Michigan Citizen Action.

The event is sponsored by Michigan Citizen Action, America Votes, Michigan State AFL-CIO, Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault, Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, Inc. and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

There is limited transportation available to and from Lansing. Call Sen. Hansen Clarke‘s, D-Detroit, off ice at (877) 252-7537 or the Automobile and Home Insurance Consumer Advocate at (313) 456-3535 for more information.

Jun 11, 2010

SOS candidate Benson reiterates her support for early voting in Michigan

The Democratic candidate for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced today her intentions to take an “Oath of Nonpartisanship” win she is elected as the next Secretary of State and takes office in January 2011.

“I firmly believe that our Secretary of State must operate the office in a nonpartisan manner,” Benson said at the annual meeting of the Oakland County Women Officials’ Network on Friday. “That's why upon taking office I will take an Oath of Nonpartisanship, pledging to the citizens of Michigan that I will operate the office in a neutral and nonpartisan fashion.

“To Michigan voters that means you won't find me co-chairing any campaigns or endorsing any candidates in elections over which I will serve as the final certifier of election results,” Benson said. “Michigan citizens deserve to have full confidence that their elections are clean, honest and fair.”

Benson also took the opportunity on Friday morning to reiterate her support for Early Voting in Michigan.

“A citizen casting a vote is the lifeblood of our democracy,” she said. “In these tough economic times, when some families are having to work more than one job to make ends meet, early voting options help them to still be able to vote and be heard.”

Citing a recent Michigan League of Women Voters poll that showed 70 percent of Michigan voters support efforts to make voting more convenient, supporting early voting and no reason absentee voting. Benson said she wanted to make sure that Michigan citizens enjoy the same types of access to voting that citizens enjoy neighboring states.

That’s in sharp contrast to the Republican SOS candidates. Cameron Brown and Michele McManus voted against an amendment on no reason absentee voting after Senate Democrats forced a vote in March. GOP Secretary of State candidate Ruth Johnson wants to make it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots, and she is calling on county clerks and state leaders to withdraw an early voting proposal.

As one of Michigan’s leading election law experts, Benson has worked to eliminate barriers to voting and preserve the integrity of our elections throughout the state. In 2007 she successfully led an effort to block the closing of a Secretary of State branch office in Buena Vista Township, convincing the United State Justice Department that the closure violated the Voting Rights Act. During the 2008 election, she was called to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, where she called on Michigan Secretary of Secretary Terri Land to ban the use of foreclosure lists to challenge voters’ eligibility on Election Day.

After earning her B.A. at Wellesley College, she began her career at the Southern Poverty Law Center, investigating hate groups and hate crimes throughout the country. She earned an M.Phil as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and subsequently earned her law degree from Harvard Law School.

Benson is currently a law professor at Wayne State University Law School, she not only teaches Election law, she has also published the first major book on the role of the Secretary of State in enforcing election and campaign finance laws. Benson's book, "State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process," highlights best practices of Secretaries from throughout the country and seeks to inform voters about how Secretaries of State from either side of the political spectrum can work to advance democracy and election reform.

Watch Michigan Summit keynote speaker live in your PJs

If you are unable to attend the Michigan Summit: “Blueprint for Change” tomorrow, you can still see and hear keynote speaker, green jobs pioneer Van Jones, live from the comfort of anywhere on your computer.

This year’s Michigan Summit, sponsored by Progress Michigan, is being held at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing. Registration begins at 8 a.m. June 12, and the first session will start at 9 a.m. Online registration is closed, but you can still register at the door.

Jones is just one of an impressive array of 43 speakers and panelists at the daylong summit that runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also speaking is economist Dr. Robert Johnson, a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, who took on “Too Big To Fail” banks in his testimony before Congress and helped shape the landscape for real Wall Street reform before Congress. He’ll lead discussion on a 2010 reform agenda for Michigan that creates good paying jobs, strengthens communities, improves education, protects families, enhances the environment and expands freedoms.

Other speakers include Catherine Orenstein, founder of New York-based The Op-Ed Project; Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and Dan Kildee, President of Community Progress. Michigan lawmakers Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Sarah Roberts, Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, Rep. Woodrow Stanley and Rep. Kate Segal will also speak.

Jones is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. In 2009 he served as White House advisor on green jobs. Jones was named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009 and designated a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum.

The mission of Progress Michigan is to provide a strong credible voice that holds public officials and government accountable, assists in the promotion of progressive ideas and uses state-of-the-art web based new media to creatively build grassroots support for progressive ideas. Progress Michigan is a marketing department for progressive ideas. It works year round to challenge conservative propaganda in the media and make sure that progressive perspectives are heard.

A guest essay on perhaps one of the most controversial issues in the world

There is nothing more complex and volatile than the situation in the Middle East, especially the situation with Israel and the Gaza strip. However, in the world of right-wingers, any one who questions the actions of the United State's great friend, Israel, is anti-Semitic and hates Israel. Simply not true. It’s amazing that in such a complex situation, they have a black and white answer with no gray areas.

I have been to Israel a few times on deployment, and it is simply one of the best places in visit on a Mediterranean cruise. I have a ton of respect for the Israeli people, and I am frankly in awe of them. However, their government is not perfect, nor is every thing it does above reproach.

A couple of events have put the situation in the news. On May 31 Israeli commandos boarded six ships from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that was attempting to break the blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid and building supplies to the Gaza strip. Nine people onboard were killed. At the very least, there should be a United Nations investigation.

In addition to that, respected veteran journalist and Wayne State University graduate Helen Thomas stirred enough controversy with her remarks that Israel should “Get the hell out of Palestine,” that it led to her retirement. Another respected veteran journalist, Jack Lessenberry, has an excellent essay on Thomas. In no way were her remarks anti-Semitic, nor do they question Israel’s right to exist. Another former journalist turned blogger like me, Eric Baerren at Michigan Liberal, has the right’s reaction; or at least reaction from an alleged journalist.

One thing I learned as a journalist is that there are two sides to every story. I’m going to present the other side with an essay from a friend of mine, Mares Hirchert of Hartland. These are her opinions, and I do not necessarily share them.

Whenever Israel commits yet another atrocity, its defenders are quick to redirect public attention away from the grisly crime scene.

Currently, there are headlines about allegedly anti-Semitic comments made by senior White House correspondent Helen Thomas. Pundits across the land evince outrage at her off-the-cuff 25-second statement made to a man who appears to be holding a camera right in her face.

Thomas issued a public apology for her words, but this was insufficient to assuage the wounded feelings of powerful antagonists, and she has now retired from a long and distinguished career.

Before we examine her comments and evaluate their possible validity, let's look at other recent events having to do with Israel.

On May 31st Israeli commandos killed at least nine unarmed volunteers attempting to take humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

According to eyewitness reports and forensic evidence, many of these aid volunteers were shot at close range, including a 19-year-old American citizen killed by four bullets to the head and one to the chest fired from 18 inches away.

Israel immediately imprisoned eyewitnesses and hundreds of other aid participants, confiscated their cameras, laptops, and other possessions, and prevented them from speaking to the press for days. Among the incarcerated were decorated U.S. veterans and an 80-year-old former ambassador who had been deputy director of Reagan's Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism.

When they finally emerged and were able to tell their stories, many described horrific scenes of Israeli commandos shooting people in the head, of those tending the injured being shot in the stomach, of people bleeding to death while flotilla participants waved white flags and pled for help.

They also described being beaten brutally by Israeli forces, again and again - including those on ships that, in the U.S. media's judgment, experienced "no violence." A 64-year-old piano tuner from California, Paul Larudee, described hundreds of Israeli commandos boarding his ship. When he refused to cooperate with them, soldiers then beat him numerous times both on board the ship and after he was imprisoned on land.

Eventually he was taken by ambulance to an Israeli hospital. He wasn't treated, however, and Larudee believes he was taken there because Israel didn't want media to see his black eye, pronated joints, bruised jaw and body contusions.

Marine veteran Ken O'Keefe described similar beatings while in Israeli custody. In his case, the public was able to see his bloodied, battered face in video clips and still images - but only on the Internet, since American mainstream media failed to report on his press conference or to publish the many still photos of his injuries.

Other gruesome photos available to the American public only on the Internet are of Emily Henochowicz, a 21-year-old American student whose eye and eye socket were recently shattered by Israeli forces. She has since had her eyeball removed, three metal plates inserted in her face, and her jaw wired shut.

Henochowicz was not on the flotilla; she was taking part in a nonviolent demonstration against the Israeli assault when an Israeli soldier shot a high-velocity teargas canister into her face.

A Swedish citizen standing with Henochowicz said, "They clearly saw us. They clearly saw that we were internationals and it really looked as though they were trying to hit us. They fired many canisters at us in rapid succession. One landed on either side of Emily, and then the third one hit her in the face."

Henochowicz is not the first to have been shot by such a canister.

Thirty-year-old Basem Ibrahim Abu Rahmeh died when an Israeli soldier shot one at him at close range while Abu Rahmeh participated in a demonstration against Israeli confiscation of Palestinian farmland. A video of this is also available on You Tube; U.S. networks have also chosen not to broadcast this.

Californian Tristan Anderson was shot in the head by a similar canister while he was taking photographs following another demonstration. Part of Anderson’s brain was removed and he was in a "minimally responsive state" for 6-7 months.

He is now in a wheelchair, has almost no movement in his left arm and leg, is blind in one eye, and his mental functioning is significantly reduced. Photos of the shooting are also available on the Internet.

Since at least 2006 Israeli forces have closed off Gaza to the outside world, essentially imprisoning 1.5 million men, women, and children, and denying them foodstuffs, medicines, and building materials, as documented by such agencies as Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Christian Aid, which said that Israel was using food and medicine as weapons.

One of the multitudinous victims of this illegal siege is five-year-old Taysir Al Burai, who suffers from an acute neurological disorder and requires round-the-clock care. According to the UK Guardian, he could be cured if Israel would allow him to leave Gaza, but to date his parents' repeated requests have been denied.

Another victim is 7-month-old Mohammad Khader, whose swelling in the brain required specialized treatment unavailable in Gazan hospitals depleted by the Israeli siege. His distraught parents' applications asking Israel to allow them to travel abroad were similarly denied. Their tiny son died a few days ago.

Such stories go on and on.

Yet, the rage we see in the U.S. media is directed against none of this. People shot in the head, eyes and brain parts destroyed, the elderly beaten, small children and infants caused to suffer and die, parents to grieve - none of this has caused a hint of anger. In fact, most of it has been considered of too little importance even to report.

Instead, media reports are filled with outrage at "anti-Israel" words spoken by 89-year-old Helen Thomas.

In Thomas's lifetime Israel has ethnically cleansed over a million people, replaced them with colonists from around the world, committed dozens of massacres, tortured thousands of people, killed and maimed untold numbers of children, mangled limbs, and committed outrages on women, old people, the weak and the infirm.

It has assassinated people throughout the world, invaded numerous countries, spied on the U.S. , killed and injured 200 American servicemen (the anniversary is this week), and tortured and imprisoned Americans. All while receiving more American money than any other country on earth.

For years, long before her recent words, Thomas has been the target of Israel's vicious American volunteers, the Zionist blogosphere abounding with nasty slurs on her looks and her Lebanese ancestry, this latter also consistently emphasized by the media, despite her Kentucky birth and upbringing.

One of the reasons for the ferocious animosity toward her is the fact that Thomas is one of the very few mainstream reporters to challenge the neocon engendered lies that led the U.S. into wars that have caused massive death, destruction and tragedy and to continue to expose ongoing policies of violence and cruelty.

As the same groups and individuals who pushed the US into attacking Iraq have in recent years been escalating their efforts to push the U.S. to now similarly decimate Iranians under the pretext that Iran might be developing nuclear weapons, Thomas's questioning attempted to elicit from Obama the fact that Israel already posses nuclear weapons. While the rest of the press corps has conspired in the cover-up of this fact and others, Thomas worked to expose them.

Not surprisingly, the many people complicit in these manipulations, such as former Bush spokesperson Ari Fleischer, have led the charge against her.

It is useful to examine the video and context of Thomas's allegedly "anti-Semitic" comment.

A man, apparently holding a camera right in her face, asks for her comments about Israel. She says, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine . Remember, these people are occupied. And it's their land..." He interrupts her and asks where they should go. She responds, "They should go home. To Germany, Poland , America , and everywhere else."

While Thomas has since apologized for her hasty words and many Israelis have the right to continue living where they are, the reality is that Israeli settlers did, indeed, come from elsewhere; they are, in fact, illegally occupying Palestinian land (a fact acknowledged even by the U.S. State Department); and international law does require that they leave.

Many commentators evince particular anger at Thomas's inclusion of Germany and Poland as places to which Israeli colonists should return, suggesting that Hitler is still in control and waiting to pounce.

The happy fact is, however, that World War II and the Nazi holocaust ended well over half a century ago. In Poland today there is a vibrant Jewish revival with a 10-foot tall Menorah being lit in the center of Warsaw during Hanukah, and Germany has become, according to the New York Times, "a country where Jews want to live." In fact, in recent years more Jews have chosen to immigrate to Germany than to Israel.

Thomas's call for colonists to return to America (this destination was left out of many articles) is far from outrageous given that a great many West Bank settlers are from the U.S.

Overall, reporting on the incident has largely departed from the standard journalistic practice of quoting people from both sides of an issue. Quotes from Thomas supporters are missing, even though the You Tube page featuring the infamous video contains a large number of comments supporting her. In contrast, quotes from Thomas's detractors, almost all of them Zionists, are ubiquitous, but generally fail to divulge the speakers' frequent conflicts of interest.

For example, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz quotes Jeffrey Goldberg without mentioning that Goldberg is an Israeli citizen who served as a prison guard at an Israeli prison that held hundreds of Palestinians without charge, some killed in cold blood by the prison commander.

Mainstream media organizations do not seem to have investigated reports that the man who videotaped Thomas, Rabbi David Nesenoff, also made an offensive video featuring himself and another man impersonating a buffoonish Catholic priest and Mexican immigrant.

Similarly, news reports that a high school had disinvited Thomas as a graduation speaker almost never inform readers that many of the school's parents and students wished Thomas to remain, even though this unreferenced group may represent a majority of the school. Members of this group have created a Facebook page, "Helen Thomas should have been our graduation speaker," that states:

"The purpose of this group is to quietly but firmly protest the ability of a small minority to impose its will on the larger group through engaging or threatening to engage in disruptive discourse. This group affirms a belief in reasonable discussion and feel that in this scenario, a clear minority was able to override a larger majority by distorting the issues and discussion."

Replacing Thomas at the upcoming graduation ceremony will be CBS's Bob Schiefer, who has close family ties to George W. Bush and has rarely, if ever, challenged administration falsehoods that sent the nation to war and that keep it there still.

Regarding his reporting on Israel-Palestine, media watchdog Fairness and Accurate In Reporting (FAIR) issued an alert in 2006 objecting to Schiefer's "shallow, dismissive coverage of complicated and tragic events."

It is not known who will take over Thomas's front-row seat at White House briefings. Given the record of the current press corps, it is likely that Israel partisans are breathing a sign of relief.

One more obstacle to the Zionist juggernaut has just been removed.