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.