Apr 29, 2011

Study shows smoking ban has improved the health of hospitably employees

Sunday will mark the one year anniversary of the day Michigan’s popular workplace smoking ban went into effect, and a study just released by Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) shows the law did what it was supposed to do: protect bar and restaurant employees from deadly secondhand smoke.

The added bonus is that the smoking ban has not hurt business in bars and restaurants, but it has improved it. These facts, however, will not stop critics - especially the ban's biggest critic, the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) - from pushing the lie that it is harming business. The bottom line is that the law is a public health issue, and the MDCH air monitoring proves that.

The MDCH study measured the cotinine levels of 40 bar and restaurant employees working in the same bars four to six weeks before the ban went into effect on May 1, 2010 and then and 6- 10 weeks after the smoke-free law, and the results showed the level of secondhand smoke exposure decreased significantly among bar employees after the law went into effect.

"The law was passed to protect Michigan residents, employees, and visitors from the dangerous health effects secondhand smoke and our studies show that the law is doing its job," said Dr. Greg Holzman, State Chief Medical Executive. "The Surgeon General's Report released in December warned that even short-term exposure to secondhand smoke can have serious health implications for those who suffer from heart disease and respiratory conditions."

Researchers measured the levels of cotinine and NNAL - chemicals found in urine that indicates a person's level of exposure to secondhand smoke – in the 40 employees in 13 counties, and each participant also completed a respiratory and general health questionnaire. The results found cotinine levels went from an average of 35.92 nanograms per milliliters before the law to zero after. Bar employees also reported improvement in reported general health status and respiratory health, including wheezing, allergy symptoms and coughing after the law took effect.

Air monitoring studies were also conducted before and after the smoke-free law went into effect in the state's six major regions including the Southeast, West, Upper Peninsula, Northern Lower Peninsula, Thumb, and Central, and results of the air monitoring studies demonstrate a significant decrease in exposure to secondhand smoke in restaurants of all participating areas to date.

In December the Department of Treasury found that overall sales tax collections in restaurants and bars were up 2.84 percent over last year, verifying that there has never been a credible study that shows a drop in business from a smoking ban. But that has not stopped pro-smoking groups like the MLBA from pushing the lie that it has, and the MLBA has a history of pushing debunked studies to try and prove that lie.

In fact, Lance Binoniemi, executive director of the MLBA, continues to push that lie, and he was quoted in the Detroit Free Press claiming that “the state is losing $1.5 million a week” without an ounce of proof. He is still pushing the effort to weaken the law to amend the law to permit so-called “smoking rooms” and smoking patios. In fact, there are three bills pending to weaken the law.

Instead of weakening the law we should strengthen the law, and it’s time smoking was banned in the casinos.

Apr 22, 2011

Indoor smoking will soon be dead in all 50 states

The dirty dozen has shrank to the smoky seven, but a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says all 50 states could have smoke-free worksites, restaurants and bars by 2020 if current trends continue.

As Michigan approaches the first anniversary of May 1 when the popular workplace smoking ban went into effect, only Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming have no restrictions in place.

The CDC projection is based on the rate at which states have been passing laws to protect people from second-hand smoke over the past decade. Over that time period, 25 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning smoking in all three of those venues.

According to the report, secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure causes lung cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in nonsmoking adults and children, resulting in an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmoking adults each year.

In December of last year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin issued the strongest report ever on smoking and secondhand smoke: “A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease - The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease.” The 30th Surgeon General Report on smoking since the landmark 1964 Surgeon General's report that first linked smoking to lung cancer confirmed what many other peer revived studies have shown; that as little as one cigarette a day, or even just inhaling smoke from someone else's cigarette, could be enough to cause a heart attack and even death.

The CDC report confirms that, saying “Smoke-free laws substantially improve indoor air quality, reduce SHS exposure and related health problems among nonsmokers, help smokers quit, change social norms regarding the acceptability of smoking, and reduce heart attack and asthma hospitalizations.”

The smoking ban in Michigan has been a success, despite the hysterical cries of pro-smoking groups like the Michigan Restaurant Association and the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association that it would harm business, and the fact is it has done the opposite. It’s now time to take the next step and ban smoking in casinos.

The problem is that bill has not yet been introduced. It’s really sad that the only bills currently pending in the Michigan Legislature addressing smoking just carve out more exceptions and attempts to weaken the law.

Apr 13, 2011

GOP budget plan is ‘Ludicrous and Cruel’ and ‘radical, almost otherworldly’

The proposed budget by the U.S. House Republicans really illustrates what the Grand Oil Party really stands for: throwing money at the super rich while shredding the social safety net and attacking the poor and the middle class.

Nobel Prize Economist Paul Krugman calls the budget floated by Paul Ryan “Ludicrous and Cruel” saying it is “voodoo economics …with an extra dose of fantasy, and a large helping of mean-spiritedness.”

The budget assumptions are based on an unemployment rate of 2.8 percent — “a number we haven’t achieved since the Korean War,” and according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the large part of the supposed savings from spending cuts cutting programs that mainly serve low-income Americans will go to pay for more tax cuts for the rich. “In fact, the budget office finds that over the next decade the plan would lead to bigger deficits and more debt than current law. “

LA Times columnist Tim Rutten says Ryan’s fantasy plan “would push the aged into poverty,” calling it an “attempt to abolish Medicare and gut Medicaid, while further lowering the taxes paid by corporations and wealthy individuals.”

It just goes to reason that they want to kill Medicare because it's the most efficient and popular health insurance program in the country with more of each dollar going into actual health care instead of overhead and profits and salary for the CEO. In fact, the prigram operates with 3 percent overhead compared to 15-30 percent by for profit providers.

The CBO has outlined what adoption of this proposal to supplant Medicare with vouchers and private insurance exchanges would mean, and it means “the overall cost of healthcare would go up, and retirees' out-of-pocket medical expenses would double — an increase that would push tens of millions of people living on fixed incomes over the financial brink.”

Henry J. Aaron, a Senior Fellow of Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, confirms that Ryan’s will not reduce the deficit, calling the plan “radical, almost otherworldly.”

In addition to killing Medicare and cutting Medicaid by 75 percent, it cuts spending on just about everything the government does. “By 2050, government spending would be a smaller share of the economy than in any year since the presidency of Herbert Hoover,” and we know how well that turned out. “Among the programs that would suffer drastic reductions would be national defense, housing, education, agriculture, the environment and veterans affairs.”

It’s funny that Republicans like Ronald Reagan and more recently Dick Cheney said deficits don't matter, but now at a critical time when we are coming out of the longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression deficits now matter. It’s like they want the economy to tank.

Apr 12, 2011

Moroun spreads cash and misinformation

It’s old news that Republican billionaire benefactor and Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun is spreading misinformation and lies in order to keep his monopoly on the busiest commercial border crossing in all of North America, but as the public-private partnership for the planned Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge inches toward a reality, he has pulled out all the stops.

Most people have seen his TV commercial full of lies and the Michigan Truth Squad has called them out on their $400,000 worth of lies and scare campaign. The Moroun family now has bought the help of Faux “news” pundit Dick Morris and the Washington, D.C.-based rightwing think tank “Americans for Prosperity.”

Morris will work for anyone who pays him, and the so-called AFP organized and financed the teabaggers. The AFP has sent out glossy, full-color direct-mail pieces and radio ads against three Republican senators who have not taken a position on DRIC. The DRIC bridge has widespread bipartisan support, including the last three Michigan Governors and the current one; Snyder, Blanchard, Engler and Granholm.

The shrinking but vocal teabaggers have taken up the cause, blogging about it and calling lawmakers because Moron has sold it as a public bridge against a government bridge, ignoring the fact that public uses are just that, and if the DRIC bridge it not built, the 10,000 jobs and a new bridge will go to Buffalo.

Moroun claims a second bridge is not needed because traffic across the bridge has fallen, while he ignores the basic truths that we are just coming out of the worst recession since the Great Depression and the domestic auto industry going into bankruptcy. The fact is Ambassador Bridge “traffic jumped 11.4 percent between 2009 and 2010,” and Moroun has not explained why then he wants to build a second bridge if traffic is falling.

But the biggest lie is that DRIC will lose money and stick Michigan taxpayers with $100 million every year, and that is the scare tactic they are peddling. Canada has agreed to pay Michigan’s estimated cost of $550 million, and it will not cost Michigan taxpayers a penny. The Canadian government has called the proposed bridge its most important infrastructure priority and it will not give Moroun a permit to land this bridge to, again, empty into downtown Windsor.

Apr 11, 2011

Make your voice heard at the Capitol Wednesday

Some 10,000 people will be in Lansing on Wednesday April 13 to protect the working poor and middle class at the We Are the People Rally.

The rally is being organized by the Michigan State AFL-CIO, AFSME and Working Michigan. To accommodate working people who work different shifts, it will run from 1-6 p.m., and because of that, new people will be arriving all day. Last month more than 5,000 were at the Capitol for the “Storm the Capitol” rally. The numbers were actually more than that because, like what will be happening Wednesday, people were coming and going all day.

Various labor groups are also sponsoring buses, and that information can be found on the Facebook event page. The union-busting attempts by the Republicans have rallied people to the side of labor. In fact, polls are showing that Americans strongly oppose efforts to strip unionized government workers of their rights to collectively bargain.

Because of that over-reach, many non-union people have joined the protests all over the country, so to help those people get to the rally, plus gas approaching $4 a gallon, a page has been set up for people who want to car pool or share a ride.

There are also some interesting committee meetings they can take in while they are in the Capitol, and all committee meeting are open to the public and citizens can speak.

The House Education Committee is meeting at 9 a.m. in Room 519 of the House Office Building (HOB), 121 N. Capitol, across from the Capitol, and the subject of the hearing is an overview of teacher tenure in the State of Michigan.

The Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Higher Education is meeting at 12:30 p.m. in the Senate Appropriations Room on the 3rd Floor of Capitol Building. The committee will be discussing the Higher Education Budget, as well as the popular MSU Cooperative Extension Service program.

The Appropriations Sub-Committee on K-12 public education funding is meeting at 11 a.m. or right after the Senate session in the Senate Appropriations Room on the 3rd Floor of Capitol Building. Testimony will be held on the School Aid budget.

Apr 8, 2011

Teabggers want to shut the government down while trying to blame Democrats

U.S. House Republicans, egged on by their masters the teabggers, are refusing to comprise on the current budget and are angling for the first government shutdown in 15 years as of midnight tonight while trying to blame the Democrats for it.

Congressional leaders are negotiating around-the-clock negotiations, but clearly Republicans are not negotiating in good faith. Republicans are insistent in including pie-in-the-sky policy provisions in a budget agreement, known as riders that would strip funding for Planned Parenthood and neutering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There is little doubt Republicans want a government shutdown no matter who it hurts, and their masters, the small minority known as the teabaggers, are urging them not to compromise. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., has repeatedly said “shut it down” while in the same breath trying to blame Democrats.

Pence and other rightwing Republicans spoke before a small rally of teabagges on Thursday where teabaggers were chanting “shut it down,” yet they are still going to try and blame Democrats for the shutdown.

Besides the ridiculous, unrealistic and harmful policy riders the Republicans want in a budget bill, it is less than 1 percent of the budget that is being haggled here. It’s as if they don’t really want to reach compromise.

That’s what you get when you put people in charge of something they hate. Compromise is what created this country, but Republicans refuse to do it. Actually, their masters, teabaggers, refuse to let them.

Apr 7, 2011

Good news for progressives: Kloppenburg win and Beck demise

In a preview of the 2012 election, JoAnne Kloppenburg was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday over the incumbent in a backlash to the union-busting attempt by teabagger Governor Scott Walker.

In a usually slow March election, voter turnout was very high, and Kloppenburg unseated incumbent David Prosser, a Walker pal who made it very clear how he will vote when the hastily passed union busting bill makes its way to the court.

The election was a clear referendum on the union busting efforts by Republicans in the Midwest states, and it was the first election since last November; allowing people to turn protest into action.

Going into the race after the primary election in February, incumbent David Prosser was the hands on favorite, having pulled in 55 percent of the vote over Kloppenburg, his second highest leading opponent, who received just 25 percent of the vote. After Walker’s union-busting legislation that would kill collective bargaining rights for state workers, the race became a focus for the energized Democratic base. However, A recount is expected.

The Wisconsin State Journal is reporting that the high voter turnout, double for a normal March election, has been a boon for the recall attempt of eight Republican Senators. The Journal is reporting that recall leaders got plenty of signatures outside of polling places on Tuesday, so much so that they have enough signatures to put them over the top for a second Republican recall.

The close vote indicates that not all eight will be successful, but it can change the makeup of the body, as well as keep the energy going until next year’s election. A recall of two Michigan Senators for a tax vote in 1983 gave Republicans control of the Senate they have never lost, despite more people voting for Democratic Senators in 2006 than Republicans.

I am not normally a fan of recalls for a single vote, but when that vote required you violate the law, sneak in and out of the Capitol under armed guard to make the vote and lock people out of their Capitol to do it then I would make an exception.

There is also recall attempt against a couple of the heroic Wisconsin 14 Democratic Senators who left the Capitol to deny a quorum, but it does not appear to be much of a threat. In fact, the recall against Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, has only two signatures so far; the organizer and his wife, and the 60-day window to gather signatures runs out April 25.

I can’t wait for next year’s election, and we only need to limit the damage Republicans can do in the next 16 months.

Yesterday saw even more good news. Faux “news” madman Glenn Beck announced he leaving his show; a victim of falling ratings and disgusted advertisers. It’s unclear if it is voluntary.

The ratings for the first quarter of 2011 showed Beck's show had lost close to a third of its audience, especially among advertiser-prized viewers ages 25 to 54, where he was down almost 40 percent. But, it was the advertisers that really did him in, and they were leaving in droves because they did not want to be associated with his crazy end-of-world conspiracy theories and racist rants.

I expect his ratings to make a surge for next couple of days and maybe weeks because people want to see what conspiracy theory he whips up and who he blames for this.

Apr 6, 2011

Median CEO pay jumped 27 percent in 2010

While teachers, police officers, firefighters and public employees are being blamed for the Bush recession that has state and local governments struggling to balance their budgets, and public employees have made large concession of pay and benefits, there is some good news: median CEO pay jumped 27 percent in 2010.

According to a USA Today analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International, they found that median CEO pay jumped to a mere $9 million a year, but workers in private industry, meanwhile, saw their compensation grow just 2.1 percent in the 12 months that ended in December 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I have not met any workers in the private or public sector who has gotten a raise in the last couple of years, and some Michigan state employees have taken a pay cut twice so far in the past three years, as well as taking unpaid furlough days to help balance the budget.

American workers are taking home less in real weekly wages than they took home in the 1970s.

The only people doing well in this economy are the superrich and now, apparently, CEOs. In fact, in 1965 the average CEO was earning 24 times what the average worker was making, but that has jumped to 263 times at a time when workers are making concessions in wages and benefits to make a company solvent.

The superrich have gotten spectacularly richer over the last four decades while their fellow citizens either treaded water or lost ground. The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s pretax income in 2007 — up from less than 9 percent in 1976. From 2002 to 2007, that top 1 percent’s pretax income increased an extraordinary 10 percent every year. But the boom proved an exclusive affair: in that same period, the median income for non-elderly American households went down and the poverty rate rose.

In addition to a 27 percent pay increase, CEO bonuses are up a whopping 47 percent. It can and will be argued by right-wingers that they earned that large raise by increasing profits 47 percent, but, as USA Today points out, they boosted those profits by cost-cutting – AKA outsourcing - and layoffs. In fact, CEOs who slashed their payrolls the deepest and laid off the most workers took home 42 percent more compensation than the year’s chief executive pay average for S&P 500 companies, according to the 17th annual executive compensation survey by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

But the gravy train does not end with a boost in pay and bonuses. CEOs saw the estimated future value of stock and options awards take off in 2010, with the median value gaining 32 percent to $5.6 million. These stock and options, many of which were granted when stock prices were much lower than they are now, stand to create a shower of wealth when CEOs cash them in.

Apr 5, 2011

The right has to stoop to imposters to try and paint unions as violent

The right is spinning out of control trying to paint your neighbors, friends and relatives as “union thugs” simply because they are standing up for their civil right of collective bargaining.

The massive crowds protesting the right's assault on public sector unions have been peaceful, and it is driving the right crazy that no one is buying their lie that they are violent. The leading rightwing blog in Michigan is going berserk trying to portray firefighters, police officers and teachers as “animals. In fact, a few Michigan teabaggers have been at the protests trying to provoke a confrontation so they can get it on tap to try and make the claim that they are violent. Kind of like what went on from the regime in Egypt.

It has been driving them crazy that they have not been able to elicit a violent response, so now they are trying to plant imposters to incite a riot. Extremist Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said he considered planting some “troublemakers” into the huge crowd of pro-worker protestors that have flooded into Madison. The only thing that stopped him was that he was afraid it might force him to bow to the majority of people who support collective bargaining rights, not that it would endanger people.

But Walker and teabagger Republican Grand Traverse County Commissioner Jason Gillman are not the only Republicans who feel that way.

Republican Johnson County, Indiana deputy prosecutor Carlos Lam resigned last week after the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism traced an e-mail he sent to Walker urging him to fake an attack to make it look like the pro-union protested had did it to in order for Walker to gain sympathy.

The e-mail was one of the tens of thousands of e-mails released in an open-records settlement the Walker administration reached with a local paper and the Associated Press after Walker lied and said he had thousands of emails supporting his union busting attempt.

“I've been involved in GOP politics here in Indiana for 18 years, and I think that the situation in WI presents a good opportunity for what's called a "false flag" operation,” Lam wrote. “ If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions' cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the public unions.”

When confronted with the evidence, Lam initially lied and said he had not sent the e-mail, claiming that he had been the victim of identity theft before he confessed.

This is not the first Indiana Republican thug to lose his job for advocating violence against peaceful, working class citizens. Indiana Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox lost his job after tweeting that the protesters should be dealt with using “live ammunition,” following that up with “against thugs physically threatening legally-elected state legislators & governor? You’re damn right I advocate deadly force.”

Tell me again who the thugs are?

Some idiot over at the Detroit News even went so far as to compare working people that are our friends, neighbors and family with the murderous, Detroit prohibition-era Purple Gang because they support those who support them. If you want to know why newspapers are barely surviving, you just need to know that this guy is what passes as an editor today.

This idiot named Jeffrey Hadden is comparing a legal boycott with murder and vandalism.


Apr 4, 2011

Anniversary of MLK assentation also a day to show support for collective bargaining

Organized labor has long marked the anniversary of the senseless assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4 1968 in Memphis, Tenn. Because he long recognized collective bargaining as a civil right and risked his life to protect it, but this year the anniversary has special meaning with the all-out attempt by Republicans to roll back that important civil right.

Beginning with worship services on Sunday, and continuing through the week of April 4,unions, people of faith, civil and human rights activists, students and other progressive allies from all over the country will host a range of community and workplace focused actions, from a teach in at the University of Michigan to a vigil at 6 p.m. today on the Capitol steps in Lansing.

The respected and revered civil rights leader who preached non-violence and civil disobedience to further civil rights was gunned down on a motel balcony, shot in the neck as he was preparing to lead a march of sanitation workers in that southern city protesting against low wages and poor working conditions. The workers had been granted a charter by AFSCME in 1964, but the city refused to recognize it.

King had long supported the civil right of collective bargaining, like his 1961 quote about right to work for less were he linked collective bargaining to civil rights, saying, “"In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights."

Working condition had gotten worse for the sanitation workers with the election of a new mayor in Memphis in 1968. He had refused to take dilapidated trucks out of service or pay overtime when men were forced to work late-night shifts. Sanitation workers earned wages so low that many were on welfare and hundreds relied on food stamps to feed their families, according to the King Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. That is currently the direction we are heading today.

On Feb. 11 more than 700 men attended a union meeting and unanimously decided to strike. The strike might have ended a few weeks later on Feb. 22, when the City Council, pressured by a sit-in of sanitation workers and their supporters, voted to recognize the union and recommended a wage increase, but Mayor Henry Loeb rejected the Council’s vote, claiming that only he had the authority to recognize the union and refused to do so.

The following day, after police used mace and tear gas against nonviolent demonstrators marching to City Hall, Memphis’s black community was galvanized. Meeting in a church basement on Feb. 24, 150 local ministers formed Community on the Move for Equality (COME), under the leadership of King’s longtime ally, local minister James Lawson. COME committed to the use nonviolent civil disobedience to fill Memphis’s jails and bring attention to the plight of the sanitation workers. By the beginning of March, local high school and college students, nearly a quarter of them white, were participating alongside garbage workers in daily marches; and over one hundred people, including several ministers, had been arrested.

King arrived in Memphis on April 3, 1968 to support the workers, and he was persuaded to speak by a crowd of dedicated sanitation workers who had braved another storm to hear him. A weary King preached about his own mortality with the speech that has become famous, telling the group, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life--longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now… I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

The following evening, as King was getting ready for dinner, he was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The struggle did not end with the murder of King, and on April 16 a deal was reached that allowed the City Council to recognize the union and guaranteeing a better wage.

Go to the official “We are One” web site, and you can just type in your zip code to find an event near you.

Apr 1, 2011

Governor Snyder's First Three Months on the Job

Snyder ignores thousands of residents to meet with aging Texas rock star

Thousands of Michigan voters have been in the Capitol to try and get their voices heard on the disastrous budget proposal by Gov. Rick Snyder and his union-busting efforts, but he can’t find the time for them. It’s seems ironic that a non-resident can then get a personal audience with him.

Draft-dodger, philanderer and Texas resident Ted Nugent got a one-on-one private meeting with Snyder to talk about hunting issues on Thursday. I suggest you call the Governor’s office at (517) 373-3400 and ask for a personal meeting with the Governor. Good luck.

Many of those people protesting his budget proposal that balances the budget on the backs of children, senior citizens and the working poor voted for him, but I guarantee they will not get an audience.

Nugent, who moved to Texas during the Bush Administration, endorsed Snyder during his campaign of little more than slick TV ads and bumper stickers. Snyder’s bumper sticker saying of “Job One is jobs” appears to be job three behind union busting and meeting with aging Texas rock stars.

Rightwing Republican think tank continues to use FOIA for intimidation

You have to wonder if it's a case of the chicken or the egg with the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the rightwing Republican think tank “Mackinac Center for Public Policy to intimidate and to dig up dirt on opponents.

The partisan Republican think tank, financed by right-wingers like the rightwing billionaire Koch Brothers, submitted a FOIA request last week to the labor studies departments at Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan aimed to intimidate pro-labor dissenters and stifle academic freedom.

The FOIA request is seeking emails in which the terms "Scott Walker," "Wisconsin," "Madison" or "Maddow" are being used. This is very similar to the Howell Public Schools infamous E-mail case that began four years ago, and, in fact, it has some of the same players.

In May of 2007 anti-union activist Chet Zarko, who passed away last summer, filed a massive FOIA request with the help of teabagger and former Howell School Board member Wendy Day seeking union emails in a fishing expedition to embarrass the Howell Education Association that were in tough contract negotiations with the school district. It was never determined who was paying Zarko, and he denied anyone was. But it was the Mackinac Center that ended up bankrolling his long court fight.

The district released some emails, but an injunction was issued stopping Zarko from receive any more of the 5,500 emails. However, he published the ones that put the union president in a bad light.

In January of 2010 the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the emails sent and received on Howell Public School computers between union members were not public record, and they concluded that under the FOIA statute the individual teacher’s personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory. The three-Judge panel said it was a question that must be resolved by the Legislature.

After the death of Zarko, the Mackinac Center continued with the case, but the Michigan Supreme Court has refused to take up the case.

It begs the question if Zarko was being paid by the Mackinac Center, or if the Mackinac Center copied Zarko to use the FOIA as an intimidation tactic against teachers with their bottomless money pit. There is no reason they should get any of the emails based on this case.

It’s ironic that MSNBC host and Rhodes Scholar Rachel Maddow is a target of the rightwing think tank. The Koch Brothers bankrolled the union busting attempt in Wisconsin, and Maddow exposed the fact that they are also bankrolling the stealth union busting attempts in Michigan.

The Koch brothers are financing the Mackinac Center, and it was the Mackinac Center that basically wrote the anti-democratic and anti-union emergency financial managers (EFM) package of bills pushed and signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Rick Snyder, also a former wealthy CEO.

It’s well past the time Mackinac Center loses its non-partisan and nonprofit status so we can see who is funding them. They are not nonpartisan.

Mar 31, 2011

Michigan now offers the fewest weeks of unemployment in the nation

Michigan Democrats are working on a bill to restore the six-weeks of unemployment Republicans lopped off a bill the Governor signed on Monday.

The Governor signed House Bill 4408 into law on Monday, despite every single Michigan U.S. Democratic Congressman and groups like the Michigan League for Human Services urging him to veto it. The bill was meant to reduce fraud and clear up some technical language so that unemployed Michigan workers could continue to receive federal extended benefits up to 99 weeks. But Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, slipped in an amendment cutting the state benefit period from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.

Gov. Rick Snyder blamed the decision to stiff workers on the Legislative Republicans, but he signed the bill anyway. Since he took office in January, Snyder has signed 15 bills into law, and he has held a press conference for each bill signing, except his one. He even held a press conference for the bill signing for the anti-union and anti-Democratic Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) package of bills when more than 5,000 people were just a few hundred yards away on the Capitol lawn protesting against the EFM expansion.

But there was no press conference for this bill signing.

The only good news is that 150,000 Michigan residents will continue to receive 20-weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits that will keep the economic recovery going and will allow them to put food on the table and maybe keep their homes. The bad news is that it will permanently reduce the number of weeks of state-funded unemployment benefits. As a result, workers who file as of January 15, 2012, will only be eligible for 20 weeks of state-funded benefits, instead of the current 26, before going to federal benefits. With this reduction Michigan will now offer the fewest weeks of unemployment in the nation.

What is even worse is that because federal unemployment extensions are proportional to the number of weeks the state offers, this change in the law means a Michigan resident making a claim next year could receive 22 fewer weeks of benefits than they would have this year if the drop in unemployment from the highest it has been since the Depression does not continue. In other words, unemployed workers in Michigan will also lose 16 weeks of federal unemployment benefits.

For most laid-off workers, 20 weeks provides little leeway for a decent job search, especially during recessionary periods when any work is hard to come by. But to illustrate how out of touch the Republicans really are, they actually believe people would rather collect $362 a week – the maximum – than work. In fact, Rep. Ken Yonker, R- Caledonia, said that unemployed workers would, “rather be on their unemployment (than working). So, sometimes we’ve got to have tough love.”

Unbelievable, but this is typical of Republicans. What makes it even worse is Snyder’s attitude. His campaign was nothing but slick TV ads and bumper stickers, and one of the favorite false talking points was “Job One is jobs.”

Apparently, that’s not the case.

After a speech to the Michigan Association of Counties on Tuesday, Snyder was quoted as saying, “Next year, my main issue is, let’s start the job creation process” and questioned the results of the Republican Legislative anti-middle class agenda pushed through in the first three months of 2011, stating that GOP lawmakers had done nothing to help the state’s ailing job market while creating serious concerns for workers with legislation that would allow contracts to be broken and jobs eliminated.

“What happened to ‘Job One is Jobs,’” said Senator Bert Johnson, D-Detroit. “Those same people whose unemployment benefits you just cut can’t wait until ‘next year’ for you to focus on job creation.”

To make sure workers can hold on, Rep. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, and Senate Democratic Floor Leader Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, announced that they are working on legislation that would restore the weeks of unemployment insurance cut by HB 4408. The new law would make Michigan, which has been hardest hit by joblessness in the past decade, the only state in the country to reduce unemployment insurance for their families.

“This is not the time to cut unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs due to circumstances beyond their control,” Hunter said. “Restoring these six weeks of benefits will ensure that workers have all the assistance they need while they are searching for employment.”

Mar 30, 2011

Nurses and public education supporters converge on Lansing today

LANSING – Things are quiet here in the Capitol city in the first week of a two week spring break where the House and Senate are not in session, but there are at least two protests and demonstrations set for today, as well as a couple of stealth-like committee meetings.

The Michigan Nurses Association is town today, Wednesday March 30, for a conference at the Lansing Center, and at 1 p.m. they will march from the Lansing Center to the Capitol for a rally on the Capitol steps in a show of support for safe patient care and against the Governor’s proposed budget cuts that balances the budget on the backs of the working poor and middle class.

A group is also holding an education rally for today at the last minute because the House K-12 Appropriations sub-committee called a last minute committee meeting for 2 p.m. today, just meeting the time requirement for the Open Meetings Act, to take testimony on the School Aid budget.

Snyder’s budget will ensure many school districts will fall into financial martial law and require an all-powerful emergency financial manger by cutting more than $700 per pupil and raids the School Aid Fund for K-12 to cover the Higher Education budget.

The meeting is being held in room 352 of the Capitol, and not only are committee meetings open to the public, but you have a right to speak. To make sure your voice is heard, arrive early because testimony is on a first come first serve basis. Make sure you fill out a committee card located right outside the committee room to let them know you would like to testify and make sure the committee clerk gets it. A written copy of your testimony is preferred, but not required, in addition to your public comments, and the standard is to bring 15 copies of your testimony so that every member of the committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, gets a copy.

The Senate so-called Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is also meeting at 8:30 a.m. this morning to consider a couple of anti-collective bargaining measures. They will be taking up Senate Bill 7 that would create the "Publicly Funded Health Insurance Contribution Act" to require that all public employees pay at least 20 percent of the premium costs of health insurance plans, regardless of what was agreed to in collective bargaining.

The committee is also taking up Senate Concurrent Resolution C that would amend the State Constitution to require all state employees, local government employees and employees of public universities to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premium.

The committee meets in rooms 402 and 403 of the Capitol.

Mar 29, 2011

Time to end the corporate welfare gravy train

With the Republicans in the U.S. Congress proposing cuts to successful and useful programs; like Planned Parenthood, Head Start, Pell Grants, NPR, nutrition grants for pregnant low-income women, the Environmental Protection Agency and many others, they continue to ignore that fact that corporations are not only reaping record profits, but many are not paying any income taxes and some are getting refunds.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., put out a list of the top 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders. As April 15 fast approaches and hardworking Americans fill out their income tax returns this tax season, General Electric and other giant profitable corporations are avoiding U.S. taxes altogether.

Sanders has called for closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He also introduced legislation to impose a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires that would yield up to $50 billion a year. The senator has said that spending cuts must be paired with new revenue so the federal budget is not balanced solely on the backs of working families.

“We have a deficit problem. It has to be addressed, but it cannot be addressed on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the poor, young people, the most vulnerable in this country,” Sanders said in a press release. “The wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country have got to contribute. We’ve got to talk about shared sacrifice.”

Here is the list:

1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.
3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

Mar 28, 2011

Senate Democrats move to protect voter’s choices and the School Aid Fund

LANSING - Senate Democrats announced today at a press conference that they will be introducing a constitutional amendment to guarantee money from the state’s School Aid Fund is dedicated to K-12 education and not diverted to the general fund

The amendment comes in response to Gov. Rich Snyder’s budget proposal which would divert money from the School Aid Fund to pay for other measures of the Governor’s budget, including corporate tax giveaways.

“Governor Snyder recently said ‘It’s not about politics; It’s about doing the right thing,’ and his budget is far from it,” said Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D – East Lansing. “He wants to cut school funding so the state can afford corporate tax handouts that have no guarantee of creating jobs. I ask what corporation would want to locate in a state with the failing school systems his budget would surely create.”

When citizens voted in 1972 to create the Michigan Lottery and again in 1994 to pass Proposal A, they did so with the understanding that the funds generated by these measures would be dedicated to supporting public education. The Governor’s proposal to divert that money to fill a deficit in the state’s General Fund budget is a clear strike against the intent of the voters.

“The citizens of Michigan have made it clear that they expect education to come first,” said Sen. Bert Johnson, D – Detroit. “This is exactly the type of accounting gimmick Governor Snyder said he wanted to avoid, and is yet another example of this administration saying one thing and doing another.”

Senate Democrats said they would be hosting a series of town hall meetings throughout the state to seek input from Michigan’s families on their concerns and priorities for the state budget, and they have invited Snyder to attend because of his love of townhall meetings.

“The people of Michigan have to live with the consequences of the budget passed by the legislature,” said Sen. John Gleason, D – Flushing. “It is only fair that we ask them for their input and ensure that their voices are heard within the Capitol chambers as these significant decisions are being made.”

Here are the townhall meetings, and most locations are TBD at this time.

Oakland County
Thursday April 7

Western Wayne
Thursday, April 14, 6:00pm-7:30pm VFW Hall, 27345 Schoolcraft, Redford.

Monday, April 18

Thursday, April 21

Monday, April 11, 6:00-8:00pm

Grand Rapids
Tuesday, April 19, 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Monday, April 11

RNC may sell democracy

It appears the Republican National Committee (RNC) is taking a cue from the Livingston County Republican party and charging a fee for democracy.

CNN is reporting that the RNC is considering selling the broadcast rights for debates between its presidential sacrificial lambs to news outlets. That’s not at all surprising from the party of big money. It was something the local party did but on a much smaller scale in the 2008 primary when it charged admission to a debate for the two open Michigan House seats as a fundraiser.

The RNC is more than $22 million in debt from the 2010 midterm elections, despite millions of dollars coming in from corporations, both foreign and domestic.

Not only that, but the Republican Governors Association spent more than any of the major non-party spenders in federal campaigns through its network of state political action committees in the last election cycle. The RGA spent $113.7 million - just in calendar year 2010. It spent $131.8 million over the two year election cycle. In fact, it spent more than rightwing cash cows the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Action Network, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent combined in 2010.

It remains to be seen if the RNC's sale of democracy is even legal under the law, and whether any network, other than the official propaganda arm of the GOP - Faux “news,” will make a bid. However, considering almost all of the current GOP candidates are already on the Faux payroll, it may be a waste of money.

Mar 25, 2011

Save the "We the People" program

The National Republicans are using the Bush recession to go after their favorite things they love to hate, like unions, Planned Parenthood and NPR, and some other essential program may fall victim to Republicans job-killing cuts, the "We the People" program.

We the People is a nationwide program developed by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Civic Education. The group’s mission is to foster the development of informed, responsible citizen participation in civic life. The actual program is based on materials developed by the center, and the program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Yesterday I, and many other past We the People panelists, received an e-mail from Howell High School teacher Mark Oglesby, a past Michigan Teacher of the Year finalist, urging us to help save this important program. Here is the letter:

If you haven't heard, the federal funding for We the People is in danger. Historically, it has been supported by Congress through the Democracy for Education act. The funding provides textbooks, teacher training, and support for civic education to each of the 435 congressional districts. However, with the current definition of an "earmark" and the mood in Washington D.C. toward earmarks, the funding for We the People - Center for Civic Education - has come under fire and is not included in the current budget(s) being discussed and debated.

Please help restore the funding for the We the People program. You know firsthand what this valuable program does. It engages students and gives them the necessary knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to become productive citizens. Thousands of students across Michigan and the 8th Congressional District have benefitted from this outstanding program. Without question, it is the best and most important program I have been a part of as an educator.

There is a letter circulating to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to urge appropriators to exclude authorized, national programs from the definition of an "earmark." Authorized, national programs such as Reading Is Fundamental, Teach For America, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, National Writing Project and Close Up are wholly different from congressionally-directed spending items, which only benefit a specific state, congressional district or region, and change year to year. These programs, on the other hand, have been authorized in federal legislation, are nationally-structured and have an established history of bipartisan support. Such programs benefit millions of individuals and families nationwide, in a majority of states, districts, and regions. It is evident that national, authorized programs are not what has invoked the public's demand for earmark reform and should not be classified as such. These authorized entities were considered as programmatic for decades prior to the 110th Congress I believe it was not the intent of the authorization committees to establish these programs as "earmarks."

This exclusion would apply to the We the People Programs, which are fully authorized in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and serve every state and congressional district. Your support is critical to ensure the continuation of the We the People Programs and other worthy national education programs that have been authorized in federal legislation and affect millions of students and teachers.

Please contact our Michigan's U.S. Senators and Representatives to encourage them to change the definition of "earmarks" and to restore funding for the We the People program. As our Founders believed, an enlightened citizenry is necessary for the continuation of our republic. We the People is a program that supports this vision.

Rightwing Koch brothers also bankrolling union busting crusade in Michigan

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to bust public sector unions and replace local control with centralized power in Lansing with this army of unelected and all-powerful emergency financial managers (EFM) has ties to the same union busting effort in Wisconsin.

Mother Jones magazine did a piece on the EFM bills Snyder signed into law earlier this month that gives an EFM, after just two days of training, the power to void union contracts, run a school district, fire the elected boards and councils, call for millage elections, disincorporate or dissolve the municipal government and kill collective bargaining.

Last month Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was pranked when he thought he was talking to conservative billionaire David Koch, one of the Koch brothers who has bankrolled teabaggers and is financing the current union-busting movement, on the phone when he was really talking to a liberal blogger that showed Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” was just a ploy to bust unions. The Mother Jones article shows that the Koch brothers are also behind the effort in Michigan. Like Walker, Snyder is creating budget deficits by taking away money from school districts and local governments with a $1.8 billion gift to businesses, allowing more EFMs to be needed.

The article says that since 2005, the rightwing Michigan think tank “Mackinac Center for Public Policy has urged reforms to Michigan law giving more power and protection to emergency financial managers.” “…In January, the free-market-loving center published four recommendations, including granting emergency managers the power to override elected officials (such as a mayor or school board member) and toss out union contracts. All four ended up in Snyder's legislation.”

The think tank has a history of union-busting and support for privatization, especially going after teacher unions. The article goes on to say that “the Mackinac Center does not disclose its donors. But a review of tax records shows that the group's funders include the charitable foundations of the nation's largest corporations and a host of wealthy conservative and libertarian benefactors. Between 2002 and 2009, the Mackinac Center's donors included the Charles G. Koch Foundation ($69,151), founded by the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, who, with his brother, David, is a major backer of conservative causes,” including the union busting efforts in Wisconsin and funding teabaggers.

Mar 22, 2011

HHS students rising above intolerant history of community

Young people in Livingston County are doing what they can to overcome the county’s racist and intolerant past, and that is why students at Howell High School chose to put on the play “The Laramie Project,” a play about the aftermath of the beating death of a gay student in Wyoming in 1998.

The students will give their final performance of the play tonight at 7 p.m. in the drama room of the high school, 1200 W. Grand River Ave. in Howell. Tickets are just $5 and will only be sold at the door.

As predicted, the anti-gay hate group known as the “Westboro Baptist Church” plans to picket. It’s really just one extended family, and most likely it will be just one person showing up with a few disgusting signs to shout some of the same disgusting BS they spout at the funerals of service men and women killed in action. I hate to give them any more publicity, and I am only doing it to highlight the counter protest.

The Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton are organizing a silent vigil to support the students, and that begins at 6:30 p.m. This group has done some excellent things in the community to support both human and gay rights in the community. If you go, please refrain from engaging the hatemongers because the Phelps family, like teabaggers, crave confrontation.

Ironically, it was an anti-gay hate group that helped give Howell and the school a bad name. The now defunct anti-gay hate group known as LOVE (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) was behind a book-banning drive more than four years ago.

The hate group was founded in 2006 by former school board member turned teabagger leader Wendy Day in response to a diversity flag they mistakenly labeled a gay pride flag.

So come out and take in the play for a mere $5 bucks or show your support by joining the counter-protest; or both. You can find them because they will have a banner that says, "Standing on the side of love."

Mar 21, 2011

Celebrate the first anniversary of the historic health care insurance reform

Wednesday will mark the first anniversary of the historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the largest overhaul of the health care system in decades.

Passage of the historic health care insurance reform lowers the cost of health care, increases the number of health care providers, holds health insurance companies accountable, improves the quality of health care and extends health coverage to 32 million people. It was a hard fought victory, and one of the biggest battles was to overcome the constant lies and misinformation from Republicans that continues today. In fact, the insurance lobby was spending $1.4 million a day to spread those lies and misinformation in an unsuccessful effort to kill the bill.

To celebrate the passage and one year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, The Michigan Consumers for Healthcare Advancement (MCHA), a coalition working to address the opportunities that healthcare reform presents, is sponsoring a week-long series of events beginning today in Grand Rapids and continuing through March 25 in Dearborn.

The celebration kicks off at 10 a.m. today at the Waters Building, 161 Ottawa Ave. NW Suite 305-C in Grand Rapids.

On Tuesday the celebration will be in Kalamazoo at 1 p.m. at the Family Health Center, 117 W. Patterson St. On Wednesday we will celebrate in the Capitol at Lansing at 10 a.m. On Thursday the celebration will be in Saginaw at the David R. Gomez Community Health Center, 501 Lapeer at 1 p.m. The celebration will conclude in Dearborn at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), 2651 Saulino Ct.

Mar 18, 2011

Senate Democrats move to protect civil rights

LANSING – Senate Democrats heeded the voices of the more than 5,000 working people who jammed the Capitol on Wednesday, and on Thursday they introduced Senate Joint Resolution I that would amend Michigan’s Constitution to guarantee every worker the right to organize and collectively bargain.

The Resolution was sponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, and it was co-sponsored by the entire Senate Democratic Caucus. The simple resolution reads as follows:

“Sec. 28. Every person shall have the right to form, join, or assist labor organizations and to bargain collectively through representatives chosen by the members of the labor organizations as to wages, benefits, and conditions of employment.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature has intruded a raft of anti-worker and anti-union bills, 40 to date, such as the radical anti-union and anti-Democratic Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) package of bills that were signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Ann Arbor. But, because Synder has said publicly, on the rare times he can be pinned down to a straight answer, that he does not want to bust unions, Senate Democrats hope he will support the amendment.

“Governor Snyder likes to talk about supporting the collective bargaining process, yet pushes through legislation that will strip away those rights away from Michigan’s workers one piece at a time,” said Sen. Bert Johnson, D -Detroit. “The thousands of workers that came to Lansing yesterday to voice their concerns deserve a clear answer from him on this issue.”

In fact, on Thursday a spokesperson for Snyder said that he has no intentions of getting rid of collective bargaining, and Whitmer said if that is truly the case, then Snyder should have no problem protecting that right within the state constitution.

“This amendment isn’t complex policy requiring weeks of review, it is one sentence that guarantees a fundamental right to our workers,” Whitmer said. “It’s time for the Governor to move past the carefully crafted talking points and tell us where he really stands on this.”

It’s obvious the GOP-controlled Senate has no intention of moving it because it was referred to the Committee on Government Operations, the place where bills go to die in committee. There are only two other items in that committee that never meets, and they are both sponsored by Democrats; one to creating an independent redistricting commission and the other to require a fiscal impact of every bill.

Barring the governor’s support and the Republics leadership in the House and Senate listening to the Governor to give it the required two-thirds approval, it will take a petition drive. Judging by the enthusiastic crowds in the Capitol the last couple of days, it will not be hard to get the more than 322,000 signatures to place it on the ballot.

Mar 17, 2011

A constitutional amendment to protect a civil right is proposed

LANSING –The most popular thing that came from Wednesday’s pro-working family rally at the Capitol aimed, primarily, at the anti-Democratic Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) package of bills was the announcement that House and Senate Democrats plan to be introduce an amendment to the Michigan Constitution to guarantee the right of Michigan workers to collectively bargain.

Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D - East Lansing, and House Democratic Leader Rick Hammel, D - Mt. Morris, made the announcement to more than 5,000 people who jammed the Capitol on Wednesday to voice their displeasure with the EFM bills that will give an appointed czar the power to suspend union contracts and the civil right of collective bargain and the ability to disincorporate or dissolve the municipal government.

“It’s time that politicians stop telling our working families what they want to hear, then pass bills that weaken their rights and threaten the wages and benefits of men and women who actually work for a living,” Whitmer. “This amendment would secure in Michigan’s Constitution the basic right for every individual to have a seat at the negotiating table. They say we’re not Wisconsin, well then let’s prove it.”

It was impossible to ignore the roar of the loud but peaceful crowd that spent the entire day in the Capitol on Wednesday, but Governor Rick Snyder, in his office just across the street from the Capitol, managed to do so. On Wednesday he signed the EFM bills into law.

Snyder has said he is not interested in busting unions, but his actions are saying otherwise. If he is not the Legislature sure is, and, that’s the only thing this Legislature has been doing since it convened in January.

A letter signed by the two Democratic leaders was delivered to Snyder’s office on Wednesday that thanked the Governor for his comments in support of collective bargaining in recent weeks and asked for his support on their effort. The letter stated, “Together, we can make it clear that developing a balanced budget can, and must, be done without sacrificing our state’s long held tradition of supporting our tremendous workforce.”

“They should not be using the excuse of balancing the budget to justify breaking their promise to the people who teach our kids and keep us safe,” Hammel said. “That approach will cost us jobs and worsen our economy, not save it.”

The resolution would require a two-thirds approval of both the House and Senate to be placed on the 2012 election ballot, but that appears very unlikely with the anti-worker bent of this current Legislature. It will take a petition drive, and it will require more than 322,000 signatures to place it on the ballot.

Mar 16, 2011

Republicans going after school districts that have been prudent with funds

LANSING -- With the final approval of the anti-union and anti-Democratic Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) package of bills in the House on Tuesday it’s not much of a stretch to believe there is a conspiracy afloat to bust public sector unions.

Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts $100 million in state revenue sharing to local counties, townships, cities and villages already struggling to balance their budgets because of declining property values, and he proposes a $420 per-pupil cut in public education funding. These cuts will mean more communities and school districts will require an EFM. Now, the news breaks that one of the more conservative members of the Michigan Senate, Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, is floating a proposal to cap a school “ districts' fund balance at 15 percent to prevent districts from stashing away too much money from year to year,” according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

The ending fund balance is money kept in reserve to make sure the budget is balanced in case of an emergency or an unexpected cut. It is also known as a rainy day fund. I wish I had a dollar for every time I sat in a school board meeting or municipal board meeting and heard the auditor say they recommend they keep the ending fund balance at least 15 percent of the total budget.

So, for those school districts that have been good stewards of the money, Republicans want to take it back. It seems Republicans are doing what they can to promote financial insolvency to the locals.

Because the fiscal years for school districts, as well as most municipalities, differs from the state – the budget year for schools starts July 1, for the state it’s Oct. 1 – districts need that fund balance to meet payroll and other necessities because districts do not receive their first school aid checks until Oct. 20 when teachers start work in July. With the safety of the fund balance they will be forced to borrow money to meet payroll, incurring more costs in interest payments.

Brandenburg has not yet introduced the bill. In fact, despite the fact that he is a member of the majority party and session has been underway for more than three months, he has not introduced a single bill or resolution.

Mar 14, 2011

The middle class will make their voices heard in Lansing this week

It will be a busy place in Lansing for the next couple of days as people from all over the state are stepping up to voice their concerns over Republican policies that are taking the state back years, taking away their right to vote for their leaders and busts unions.

A group of community activists are organizing “A Storm the Capitol” rally beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Corner of Michigan Ave., and Capitol Ave. in Downtown Lansing. The Facebook page for the rally says it will run until 6 p.m. Wednesday, and it says many people are staying the night for an all-night vigil until the doors of the Capitol open in the morning.

The House is expected to take up the main bill in the anti-union and anti-Democratic Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) package of bills on Tuesday because the Senate approved a different version of House Bill 4214 last week. Many people want to voice their displeasure with that anti-freedom bill.

But those patriots will not be alone on Tuesday. The AARP is holding a “It’s Not Fair Rally” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday on the Capitol steps and lawn to protest the Governor's plan to tax pensions. The AFL-CIO and Michigan League for Human Services will also be on hand on Tuesday to stand up for Michigan’s poor, middle class and elderly. They don’t have a lobbying firm.

One of the 40 anti-union and anti-middle class bills introduced so far in this legislative session will be considered, and the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on HB 4287 that will do away with the prevailing wage law. The hearing will start at 10:30 a.m. in 519 House Office Building, 121 N. Capitol. The meeting is open to the public.

On Wednesday beginning at noon on the Capitol steps the Michigan AFL-CIO affiliate unions and Working Michigan are holding a rally to stand up for Michigan’s middle class.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 519 of the House Office Building, 121 N. Capitol, the House Education Committee will take up HB 4306, a bill that forces local school boards to privatize services. All committee hearings are open to the public.

As always, a small contingent of teabaggers armed with video cameras will be there to try and provoke a confrontation. At a recent three-hour rally, a teabagger Republican and Grand Traverse County Commissioner managed to get 31 seconds of a confrontation on tape where a guy gave the teabagger the finger, which he promptly posted to a rightwing blog. They are trying, and failing, to paint these peaceful and energized working people as violent union “thugs,” so I expect them to be more and more desperate as public opinion continues to swing to the side of union workers.

Be careful, and the best thing to do is just walk away.

Mar 11, 2011

Two-day wonders have more power than elected officials

Now that the smoke is slowing beginning to clear after the Senate Republican’s approval of the anti-union and anti-Democratic Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) package of bills on Wednesday, people are very surprised when they discover how much power this person, appointed by the State Treasurer with no oversight and with no confirmation process after a two-day training session, really has.

As we know from the massive protests by union supports staged in Lansing over the last week that the EFM has the ability to void, modify or renegotiate contracts, including contracts negotiated in good faith with employee unions, as well as with local business and vendors.

The EFM also has the ability to run the academic side of school districts, not just the financial side. In other words, A CPA, or even a financial services firm can tell the local school district what textbooks to buy or what courses to drop or add.

The EFM has the ability to order millage elections for any amount or for any length of time, even after the two-day wonder is long gone back to Lansing or wherever they came from. It has always been assumed that an elected official would be careful about raising taxes because he has to answer to voters. The EFM answers to nobody.

The EFM has the ability to disincorporate or dissolve the municipal government with the approval of the governor or recommend consolidation with another municipal government. In other words, and will use the City of Howell because that is where I live, he can completely dissolve the city and make it part of Howell Township again, which is in worse financial because of its over-extension of water and sewer districts that also has very few services.

The EFM has the ability to recommend to the governor that school district be reorganized. In other words, Brighton and Howell Schools can be consolidated on his say so. The only good news is Lansing has the final say, but least he is elected.

The EFM has the ability to close schools and buildings. If he thinks Parker High School is not being utilized enough or properly he can close it, or any other school building in Howell.

The bill requires competitive bidding of contracts $50,000 or more. That means privatization.

The bills eliminates the salary and benefits of the chief administrative officer and governing body members during a receivership, except as restored by the emergency manager. He can do anything he wants with City Manager Shea Charles’s salary and benefits. Why work for free? Its’ kind of ironic that the majority of Senate Republicans refused to limit the pay of the EFM to that of the highest paid state elected official in the state; the Governor at $172,000, but they want to limit the pay of the city manager.

The bill removes all powers from local governing body and chief administrative officer. That basically fires Mr. Charles and the people you voted for.

Exempts a local government in receivership from collective bargaining requirements for five years or until the receivership was terminated, whichever occurred first. That is called union busting, which is the main thrust of the bills.

The bill provide that, beginning 30 days after a local government entered into a consent agreement, it would not be subject to collective bargaining requirements during the remaining term of the agreement, unless the treasurer determined otherwise. AKA union-busting.

And what could bring an all-powerful EFM to Howell, Howell Public Schools or any other community or school district suffering because the Governor’s proposed budget cuts revenue sharing to the locals and cuts $420 per-pupil in public education funding? The answer is not much after the bills made it much easier to start the process after expanding the triggers. That would not be a bad idea for identifying potential trouble if not for the power it gives to the two-day wonders.

An EFM can be set in motion with a simple resolution adopted by either the House or Senate. In the era of term limits I can see this could be easily abused.

Other triggers include a written request from the local governing body or chief administrative officer. A written request from a creditor with an undisputed claim that remains unpaid 6 months after its due date against the local government that exceeds the greater of $10,000.00 or 1 percent of the annual general fund budget.

Or, simply failing to file an annual financial report on time.

Mar 10, 2011

Senate Republicans approve anti-union and anti-Democratic EFM package of bills

LANSING – The only jobs the Michigan Republicans have created since taking office in January are those for Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) after the Senate Republicans passed the anti-union and anti-Democratic EFM package of bills on Wednesday

The package will make it easier for financially troubled municipalities and school districts to be taken over by an emergency financial manager, and the bills give the EFM almost dictatorial like powers. The bills take the power and authority out of the hands of the people legally elected by the voters and places it in the hands of a person appointed by the governor and the Legislature, and it allows the EFM - which is why Republicans have placed the bills on the fast track - to terminate contracts negotiated with labor unions in good faith.

Rick Snyder’s proposed budget has deep cuts in school aid and revenue sharing, and that, combined, with falling property values, will guarantee more school districts and municipalities are in finical trouble and ripe for takeover and government expansion.

“This bill, along with the Governor’s proposed cuts to revenue sharing and to our schools, is going to create a race to the bottom, which guarantees many of our cities and schools are going to head into bankruptcy,” said Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer.” How does this fit into the primary objective of jobs as job?”

The vote came on the very day that the Michigan Department of Treasury announced that more than 150 “student" are expected for the next Emergency Financial Manager training seminar slated for some time next month. Subscription only MIRS said “the course content in the two-day seminar will be expanded to include school districts along with local governments that might need what will be known simply as an "emergency manager" down the road.” Last month the two-day seminar graduated 65 people to go forth and shred union contr5ats and fire elected officials.

Like on Tuesday in the debate over third reading, a Democratic amendment to limit the salary of the EFM to that of the highest paid elected official in the state, the Governor at $172,000, failed. Seven Republicans crossed over to vote with the Democrats, resulting in a 19-19 tie, but the Lt. Governor broke the tie.

So far, the only job Republicans have created is that of dictator.

“I would ask the Governor and the Republican members of the Senate: Why are you okay with attacking the secretary who makes $35,000 compared—I would ask you, Governor, and the Governor you work for, and the members of your party: Why is it okay to challenge a secretary’s $35,000 a year job and have members in your cabinet who make $250,000 a year,” Whitmer said. “Why are you okay with attacking the firefighter who runs into a burning house, making $44,000 a year, risking their lives, and having a budget director making $250,000 a year? Why is it okay to attack a cop who ensures our community’s safety, making $46,000 a year, and not the emergency financial manager who can make upwards of $159,000 a year? Why is that okay?”

Yesterday saw 29 amendments floated, but the only ones passed were introduced by Republicans. After the defeat of the amendment limiting the pay of the EFM, Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, introduced an amendment saying that if the state is going to appoint an EFM and not limit the salary, the state should pay for the EFM. It only makes sense for struggling municipalities or school districts cutting the pay and firing trusted employees that live in the local community that the dictator from Lansing should be paid from Lansing. Predictably, it failed.

Many Democrats supported the idea of the early triggers that identifies early that a community may be in financial trouble and head off trouble early, but not the broad powers of an EFM. Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, introduced a substitute that retained all of the good points and got rid of the union-busting crap. But in the end, Republicans, like in Wisconsin, are more concerned with busting the unions.

“My concern is that, I think, we may be opening a can of worms, and we need to be very careful about these expansive powers that we are granting to emergency managers,” Hopgood said. “With this bill, as well as the budget and the laws and the stress that local communities and schools are experiencing currently, there is the concern that we are really balancing our budget through this bill on the backs of our employees, on the backs of our citizens who rely on the services for protection; in terms of our kids who are going to experience increased class sizes and schools that are closed.”

Because amendments were added to the main bill, it must now go back to the House for their concurrence.

Mar 9, 2011

GOP sneak attack proves union-busting had nothing to do with the budget

"In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin," said Democratic Sen. Mark Miller in a statement after Wisconsin Senate Republicans pushed a provision stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights through the state Senate on Wednesday evening after finding a way to bypass the chamber's missing Democrats and the Open Meetings Act.

This simply proves what Democrats and the majority of Americans have been saying; this was just a trumped up way to bust the unions and had nothing to do with balancing the state budget.

According to MSNBC, because the union provision was part of a budget bill, Republicans in the Senate needed at least 20 senators present for a quorum, but by separating out the anti-union measure, Republicans did not need 20 senators to allow a vote on that piece.

The only good news is that a recall effort is underway for eight of the Republican Senators.

People are outraged and on noon on Thursday middle class and freedom supporters will rally at state capitols or your city halls all over the country. Shortly after the Republicans procedural scam, Wisconsin people gathered at the Capitol to protest this injustice. Tomorrow in Indiana, organizers are expecting the largest rally in Indiana history at the Statehouse to protest a rash of anti-worker bills under consideration. More rallies are being planned every day.