Friday, November 30, 2007

End of the World Is Near!

If you listen to the media mouthpieces for Michigan business, life as we know it is about to come to an end. The sky if falling. The apocalypse is nigh. Martians are about to invade, Oh, the humanity!

The source of all this hand-wringing?

Starting Saturday (December 1, 2007), barring a major development, certain Michigan businesses will have to start charging a service tax.

And it is just so complicated they just don't think they can figure out how to do it.

The Detroit Free Press' story on the service tax by Dawson Bell included this claim:

"The owners of landscaping, warehousing and consulting firms said the new tax is a nightmare of complexity and confusion that would inflict huge compliance costs in addition to the tax itself. Sarah Hubbard of the Detroit Regional Chamber said Michigan business would spend nearly a billion dollars interpreting and adapting to the new tax, and many still won't know whether they are following the law."

Oh, come on. A billion dollars because you have to collect the tax on manicures but not hair cuts? This is complicated?

The Free Press also ran a list of services that are taxed. Seems pretty straight-forward to me -- hot air balloon rides, landscaping services, limo rides, that kind of stuff. Don't businesses know whether they're offering hot air balloon rides? Are there business owners out there who can't remember whether they expanded their nail salon into a limo service recently?

My reaction to the service tax has always been -- it's about time. I've lived in this state nearly 19 years and one of the strangest things about moving here was the lack of a service tax to go along with the sales tax.

I grew up with a service tax in Iowa. I guess the business people in Iowa must be a lot smarter than the people in Michigan because they seem to be able to figure out which services are covered by the tax and which are not. Pet grooming wasn't covered, but people grooming was. Legal services weren't covered, but lawn services were. They managed to figure all that out way back in the 1960s without the aid of electronic calculators or programmable cash registers.

The political lore about the passage of the service tax there is that Gov. Harold Hughes sat down with the Yellow Pages and picked out the services that he thought should be taxed. There wasn't a category for pet grooming in those days, so it didn't get covered until later.

What I like about the service tax is that it tends to fall on higher income people more so than the sales tax. Most poor people don't hire landscape services or get pedicures or take hot air balloon rides. And well-off people are not going to start installing their own landscaping to save 6 percent, believe me.

And the competitive argument I just don't get. If all businesses in the same category have to collect the tax, aren't they all on the same footing?

Change is always difficult, and independent business owners don't like to be told what to do. But the reaction and consternation seem to be all out of proportion to the inconvenience.

It's possible, of course, that Michigan business people really aren't smart enough to figure out how to collect 6 percent on the services they provide.

If that's the case, then I understand why Iowa leads off the presidential nominating process and not Michigan.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Native Americans to the Rescue on Stem Cells?

Could the presence of Native Americans in Michigan help those who support embryonic stem cell research do an end-run around Michigan's restrictive laws on the topic?

The possibility was raised at a presentation Tuesday night (November 27, 2007) by Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures held at Livingston County Democratic Headquarters. The Livingston Press and Argus provided a concise account of the event in editions for Wednesday (November 28, 2007).

Marcia Baum, executive secretary of the stem cell group, and former Congressman Joe Schwarz, a former Republican and now an independent, explained the science and politics surrounding embryonic stem cell research to a group of 33 people at the event.

Currently, federal funds cannot be used for embryonic stem cell research, but Schwarz expects the next president will sign legislation allowing that to occur. That would release about half of the National Institutes of Health's $27 billion budget for such research. California is not waiting for federal funds and has approved a $3 billion bond issue to provide research funds.

Because of a 1978 law, Michigan researchers would not be able to take advantage of the federal funds. Legislation to repeal that measure has not made it out of a House committee. In lieu of action by lawmakers, a ballot issue, with bipartisan support, is being considered for the fall of 2008.

But if groups such as Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference succeed in defeating the ballot issue, there might be an alternative.

A member of the audience Tuesday night brought up the possibility of doing embryonic stem cell research on Indian land in Michigan. Under well-established legal doctrine, Indian reservations are sovereign nations not subject to the laws of the state. An Indian community that is interested in economic development other than casinos could invite researchers to use their lands for a research lab where they could operate free of state laws, using federal funds once they become available.

"That has been brought to my attention and I think it's fascinating," Baum said.

So right-to-life fanatics have a choice -- they can oppose the ballot issue and let research move to Indian lands, where no laws will govern it unless the tribe adopts its own statute, or they can support a state law allowing embryonic stem cell research with appropriate safeguards.

Either way, the research will go forward.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Medical Research? Medical Waste?

The recent announcement of the reprogramming of human skin cells to mimic embryonic stem cells has caused much confusion. As usual, the publicity arm of the Republican Party a.k.a. Fox News is talking it up to follow the right wing position that now research is no longer needed on embryonic stem cells. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Why would a promising breakthrough in curing disease be abandoned because a new breakthrough, untested and with serious problems, has come along? Wouldn’t it make sense to pursue both research avenues?

Let’s look at examples of some diseases. Stem cell research holds promise for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Scientists are also researching other methods to grant relief from Alzheimer’s. We have drugs today we didn’t have ten years ago and a better understanding of Alzheimer’s. Should other research into Alzheimer’s be stopped because of the promise of a stem cell cure? I don’t think so. Every avenue of research should be open to every scientist because we don’t know where the cures lie without taking advantage of every method of research.

We’ve made great strides in cancer research and many lives have been saved because of that research. Suppose, however, that once chemotherapy was proven to kill cancerous cells, we cut off research into other treatments and causes of cancer. So we give up looking for genetic cures, radiation cures, investigating the role of pollution in air and water because we now have one treatment that seems to work. Pretty foolish, huh?

This is what the religious fundamentalists are proposing. These fundamentalists and the Republican Party know that 70% of Americans support embryonic stem cell research. This is a serious election issue for them because it could cost them the election. They mistakenly connect embryonic stem cells research with abortion. There is no relationship with abortion, which is the termination of pregnancy, since the embryos were never implanted in a womb.

Then there is the old “slippery slope” argument used by Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Marion Township. Using embryonic stem cells will lead to all kinds of abuses, he claims. I wonder why the "slippery slope" argument is never applied to war or capital punishment, which HAVE taken us to terrible abuses of human life.

Garcia does not understand how in vitro fertilization creates embryos. The embryos are created with sperm and ova from one set of parents OUTSIDE the body. More embryos may be created than a couple will use. Today, in Michigan, these become medical waste. If Garcia is really concerned about the destruction of embryos, then he should be against the in vitro fertilization clinics that create the embryos. No danger of him doing that – taking such a position would definitely raise a huge outcry.

There are serious drawbacks to skin cell stem cells. Retroviruses are used to open the cell and retroviruses can cause cancer. There are other serious hurdles for the skin cells that may take years to overcome. How well the skin cells can mimic embryonic stem cells is not yet known.

It’s important for us to understand this new science well enough to make choices whether we will support it and whether we will vote for legislators who will support it. Future cures and the future of Michigan’s high tech jobs will depend on us, the voters.

Come to the Stem Cell Research presentation on Tuesday, Nov 27, at Democratic headquarters to get the information from experts you will need to make up your mind about stem cell research. This will be your opportunity to ask important questions.

Contact information: 810-229-4212. E-mail:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Livingston Dems' Stem Cell Panel Set for Tuesday, Nov. 27

Do you know someone who suffers from diabetes or Parkinson's disease, or has had a spinal cord injury? Are you wondering whether you'll enjoy your golden years or worried that you'll develop Alzheimer's?

Then the Livingston County Democrats have an event for you -- a panel discussion on the potential of stem cell research. Former Congressman Joe Schwarz, a Battle Creek physician, will headline the panel, co-sponsored by Livingston Democrats and Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures.

The event, which is open to the public, will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at Livingston Democrats’ headquarters, 10321 E. Grand River, Suite 600 of Fonda Place, Brighton.

“Stem cell research is a topic that is of vital concern to many Michigan residents,” said Donna Anderson, vice chair of the Livingston County Democrats and the organizer of the event.

“This panel is intended for anyone who has a debilitating disease, such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, or a spinal cord injury, and wonders how long they must suffer before science finds a cure. It is intended for anyone who has a friend or relative who has such a disease and hates to see them suffer. It is intended for anyone who fears they may develop a disease like Alzheimer’s and hopes science will find a way to prevent it. And finally, it is intended for people who want to see Michigan’s economy flourish and want to know if stem cell research is a way to bring research jobs to the state.”

Anderson said the presence on the panel of Schwarz, a former Republican who represented Michigan’s 7th Congressional District from 2005-2007, shows that support for stem cell research is bipartisan. Schwarz left the Republican Party and became an independent after he was defeated by conservative Republican Tim Walberg in the 2006 Republican primary.

“These diseases – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, Huntington’s, and others – do not respect party lines. They can afflict any one of us. And that’s why polls have shown widespread support for research into stem cells,” Anderson said.

A poll by MIRS/RossmanGroup/Denno-Noor taken in April found that 65 percent of Michigan residents would support a ballot proposal to allow stem cell research. Researchers at the University of Michigan have been among the leaders in stem cell research, but some have left the state because of a 1978 state law preventing research using embryonic stem cells. The law makes Michigan one of five states with the most restrictive laws in the country.

Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures is a non-profitable charitable organization dedicated to educating the public about the stem cell research process and its potential for developing treatments and even cures for diseases.

The event will include coffee, tea, and dessert. Donations to the party will be greatly appreciated. People wishing more information may call (810) 229-4212.

NOTE: The event is on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Just the Facts, Please

This has bugged me for awhile so it's time to say it and get it over with.

When County Commission Chair William Rogers announced his candidacy for the 66th House district, the Livingston Press & Argus all but annointed him the winner of the general election, still nearly a year away.

In its article in editions for Nov. 11. the newspaper noted, "The district is heavily Republican, so the winner of the GOP primary, scheduled for August, typically has the inside track for victory in the general election."

Why declare the race over before it's begun? Why not just give the facts? Why not just say that the incumbent, Republican Chris Ward, won re-election in 2004 with 71.1 percent of the vote and in 2006 with 65.7 percent of the vote? Then the reader can make a judgment for himself or herself about what those numbers mean.

But that would mean calling attention to a decline in the Republican share of the vote.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Livingston County Commission: Little Engine that Won't

When it comes to meeting the needs of its people, two headlines pretty much sum up the reality disconnect of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners: "Oil Prices Rise Above $94 a Barrel" and "County Wants Longer Look at Train Plan."

Yes, as oil prices skyrocket, and gas prices follow suit in our bedroom community, the Board of Commissioners continues to stall on bringing mass transit to our doorsteps. So more and more of the hard-earned dollars of Livingston County residents are going into the pockets of foreign countries instead of into the cash registers of local stores and restaurants.

For months, the commissioners have come up with one delaying tactic after another, without actually saying no to the plan for a commuter train between Livingston County and Ann Arbor. Apparently, they hope the idea of WALLY -- the Livingston and Washtenaw train -- will just go away.

The Livingston Press and Argus story in editions for Wednesday (Nov. 14, 2007) reported that the Livingston County Board of Commissioners won't contribute any money any time soon and won't support a tax increase for the service. And it wants to see a 10-year business plan before it joins the governing authority.

Commissioners like Bill Rogers and Jack LaBelle never seem to come right out and say they oppose subsidizing WALLY, but they sure seem to give that impression.
Perhaps they believe that subsidizing transportation with tax dollars violates their conservative principles. If that were true, I would expect to see a lot more toll roads in this county.

Perhaps they don't want to make people mad -- like the taxpayer who came to Tuesday's meeting and suported the proposal. And like the city of Howell and the Howell Downtown Development Authority, which both want the county to contribute to WALLY.

So instead of actually taking a position, the commissioners just delay, delay, delay in the guise of wanting more information.

Apparently, they think the idea of a train is too risky. I don't know how else to interpret LaBelle's question: "How is this thing going to work?"

Well Jack, the first car is called an engine and all the other cars are hooked to it, and the engine says, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can" and sure enough pretty soon the engine's wheels start to turn and then slowly the whole train starts to move.

Somebody needs to be the engine in this deal. Somebody needs to show some foresight and provide for the needs of our county. Somebody needs to show some leadership.

P.S. In the interests of full disclosure, I work part-time in Ann Arbor and would like to use this train to get to work. The University of Michigan has said it would subsidize train use for its employees, although I do not know if that benefit would apply to a part-time employee like me.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

True American Values

Bob Cesca has a wonderful essay in today's Huffington Post titled, "American Patriotism Crushed by Republican SUVs."

Cesca does a great job of summarizing the impacts of war, wastefulness and partisanship on the American spirit.
The actual retail price of the Bush Wars: $1.6 trillion, according to a congressional report released yesterday. And this generation of (civilian) Americans has never been asked to sacrifice a single damn thing in order to help ameliorate the cost of these historically expensive war efforts.
Somehow, according to the most-excellent marketing strategies of Roger Ailes and Karl Rove, it's more patriotic to go around saying you're patriotic than it actually is to be patriotic. The most trenchant right-wing tools among us are proud and grateful to receive the president's unpatriotic and irresponsible rich-man welfare checks during a time of war. In fact, President Bush yesterday listed his tax cuts for the super-rich as one of his successes, while later in the day he accused the Democrats of spending like teenagers with a new credit card.
That's rich. The president's ideologically-driven policies have bankrupted America, both financially and morally, and you and I are insane for being vocal about it?

Definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Moore: Call It 'Christianized' Medicine

Health care for all Americans is not a matter of socialism, but of Christian beliefs, filmmaker Michael Moore told a standing room only crowd of Democrats in Brighton Wednesday night.

Moore, speaking by conference call, said he was taught by nuns in school while growing up in Flint that taking care of other people who are sick or poor or in need is the Christian thing to do.

"Instead of socialized medicine, we should call it Christianized medicine," said Moore, adding that the Jewish and Muslim religions have similar beliefs.

Moore spoke as part of a Democracy for America event that joined people in 288 houseparties in 46 states and the District of Columbia. People at the events watched Moore's movie Sicko and then joined in the conference call.

The event brought more than 60 people to the Livingston County Democrats' headquarters.

Sicko, which has drawn excellent reviews, explores the tragic effects of America's for-profit health insurance system, which rewards doctors for denying care to sick people, and contrasts it with health care received by people in other nations. Too often, Moore found, Americans are paying more and getting less care.

Moore boils down the issue of health care in America to the essential question -- what kind of nation are we?

In the conference call after the movie was shown, Moore said Americans' fear of having government pay for health care instead of for-profit insurance companies is tied up with Americans' fear of their own government. Even though the United States claims that it is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, Moore said, people are still taught to be afraid of government. In effect, he said, we are afraid of ourselves.

Moore also said that American doctors are becoming a demoralized group, no longer making as much money as their Canadian counterparts because of the extra staff they need to argue with insurance companies over payment for patients' care.

Moore admitted that Americans can get elective care, such as knee surgeries, after a shorter wait than Canadians. But he pointed out that's because Canada believes in treating everybody, while the American system leaves out 50 million people. And he said he would rather live in a country that lets everybody in line, and wait an extra month for elective surgery, than jump to the head of the line at the expense of others.

The event was the third movie night sponsored by Livingston Democrats this year. Previous films screened were Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Robert Greenwald's Iraq for Sale.

The next film in the series will be another Iraq war documentary called No End in Sight.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ending Term Limits a Good Idea, but Lawmakers Really Need a Budget Deadline

The way Michigan's budget crisis was handled -- without state government having to shut down for more than a few hours due to last-minute legislative action -- is being blamed on term limits and none other than the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is behind the proposal to repeal them.

I'm skeptical.

Having well-heeled lobbyists for business propose something makes me suspicious right off the bat. When term limits were passed in 1992, some of the speculation was that inexperienced lawmakers would rely on lobbyists for advice and that lobbyists would essentially run the House and Senate, even more than they were doing already. Apparently, that hasn't happened, at least not to the extent the Chamber anticipated.

I didn't like term limits when they were passed in 1992, and I still don't like them. I'd like to see them gone entirely so that voters can decide for themselves who should go and who should stay in office.

Term limits make it difficult for the average lawmaker to learn the complicated budgeting process and bring that experience to bear on balancing the budget in financially challenging times. Lawmakers who are only around for a few years also do not have time to develop trust among themselves that can make it easier to reach solutions. And more importantly, they don't have to worry about the problems that their short-term solutions create, because they will be gone and won't have to deal with the fall-out. It will be someone else's problem.

But even after saying all that, I'm not sure that term limits alone are to blame for whatever problems people perceive in Michigan's legislative process. And the idea of docking lawmakers' pay if they don't show up for work seems even less likely to have a major impact. Other structural problems in Michigan's government play a bigger role, in my opinion, and should be part of any effort to change term limits if the proposal is to have significant impact.

One of the biggest problems is the open-ended nature of Michigan's budget process, due to our full-time Legislature. Although the legislative session begins early in the year and the governor presents an annual State of the State message in January, followed by a detailed budget proposal, lawmakers feel no pressure to act for months at a time. Governors have little power to force another branch of government to act.

This doesn't mean necessarily that lawmakers are lazy, although it can mean that. Witness the arrogance of Senate Republicans who went on vacation this summer even as state universities were begging for action on the budget.

Partly, it's human nature to put off distasteful jobs until later. When budget news is bad, there's always the hope that prospects will brighten as the year goes on. Why vote for unpopular budget cuts or tax increases early in the year that turn out to be unnecessary by year's end? You can bet lobbyists who oppose tax increases were whispering that into lawmakers' ears during the last 11 months.

Furthermore, negotiations on budget cuts take time. Who makes their final offer right off the bat when buying a car or a house? People usually dicker back and forth for a while. Imagine the amount of dickering that must go on when negotiating not just one deal, but dozens and dozens of them that go into a multi-billion-dollar budget, especially when all the deals have unpopular aspects.

Term limits, by putting inexperienced people with little trust of each other in charge of the process, makes the tendency to delay even stronger.

But to make sure the budget is finished earlier, lengthening time in office won't be enough. Any constitutional amendment that attempts to deal with the problem should include a deadline for legislative action on a balanced budget -- say July 1.

A July 1 deadline would help schools and universities plan for the year and set tuition levels. It also would ensure that a budget is in place in time to avoid a government shutdown before the Oct. 1 state fiscal year.

If fiscal conditions worsen after July 1, throwing the budget out of balance, lawmakers can always revisit the budget or the governor can take executive action.

Of course, both houses of the Legislature could enact their own rules requiring the budget to be finished earlier, but with different parties controlling each chamber that's unlikely to happen. And those rules could always be suspended by lawmakers, although that would look bad.

Another reform that should be included to avoid the problems seen this year would be to change the election of senators so that half stand for election every two years.

Under the current arrangement, no senator will be up for re-election in 2008. The entire chamber is insulated from public opinion until 2010. By then, voters will have forgotten the way the Michigan Senate impeded efforts to deal with this year's crisis. If half the senators were facing re-election next year, they might have been more anxious to get the job done for fear voters would take out their ire on them at the polls.

If public-spirited groups want to make fundamental change in Michigan's budgeting process, they need to do more than lengthen term limits or people will be disappointed with the results once again. And we certainly don't need more cynicism about public service.

Health Coverage Making You Sick? See 'Sicko' and Talk to Michael Moore

Is your health care coverage giving you headaches? Have you ever thought your health care procedures were going to be paid for by your insurance, only to have your claim come back marked "Denied"?

Michael Moore compiled thousands of such stories before making his movie "Sicko" on American health care. Reviewers have praised Moore's latest work. "Radically fierce and funny" is what the Rolling Stone reviewer called "Sicko." The New York Times' reviewer said it was ''the least controversial and most broadly appealing of Mr. Moore's movies." And also the funniest.

Now this Wednesday (November 14, 2007), you'll have a chance to see "Sicko" and to hear Michael Moore himself talk about the movie.

Livingston County Democrats are teaming up with Democracy for America to host a showing of "Sicko," along with more than 200 other groups around the country. After the showings, the groups will join in a conference call with Michael Moore.

The Livingston County event will take place at Livingston County Democrats' party headquarters, 10321 East Grand River, Brighton. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., with the movie starting at 7:15 p.m. The conference call with Moore will take place at 9:30 p.m. Coffee, tea, and desserts will be served.

Donations will be greatly appreciated.

If you'd like more information, please call party headquarters, 810-229-4212.

P.S. The Livingston Press and Argus mistakenly listed the event as planned for Tuesday, but is correcting that information in its Sunday edition. The event is Wednesday, November 14.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Recalls Slow to Materialize in Livingston

While recalls against lawmakers who voted to save our state from budget chaos are moving ahead elsewhere in the state, petitions have yet to surface in Livingston County against Republicans Rep. Chris Ward and Sen. Valde Garcia.

The Livingston Press and Argus, in an article in the edition for Tuesday (Nov. 6, 2007)quotes Michigan Taxpayers Association head Leon Drolet as saying people here are still interested in a recall but they want to find the "ideal window" of 90 days to collect the necessary signatures. And he says they want to make sure the petition language passes muster before rushing to file it.

Seems to me that the ideal 90-day window might be around the Jan. 15 Republican presidential primary, but I'm just guessing.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Caution: You Are About to Enter an Unfiltered Zone

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in Hamburg Townhip!
With a capital "T"
That comes right before "U"
And that stands for Unfiltered.
We've surely got trouble!
Right here in Hamburg Township,
Right here!
Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble...

My apologies to Meredith Willson, but that's what we've got folks. Trouble in Hamburg Township. We thought we were safe, but unbeknownst to us, we were "unfiltered."

All this time, the Internet, with a capital "I," has been flowing unfiltered into our library. And people have been allowed to go into the library and look at this unfiltered material. For years.

Not that it's been a real problem. Only once has a Hamburg librarian caught a patron doing something "inappropriate" at a library computer. The librarian who saw him apparently fondling himself called police, who whisked the man away.

But once was one too many times for the vigilantees on the Hamburg Board of Trustees, which decided to warn the public that the Internet is "unfiltered" at the library.

Never mind that the trustees do not control the library -- it has its own elected board and its own millage, although the township owns the building and the land on which the library sits.

Never mind that the library already has a policy in place for dealing with such situations and already has restrictions on the use of its computers.

Never mind that the unfiltered Internet that is spewing out dangerous ideas is also flowing unfiltered into thousands of homes in Hamburg Township, thanks to the cable franchise approved by the same Hamburg Board of Trustees.

The trustees, led by Trustee Pat Hohl, wasted who knows how much public money putting up this 20 square foot sign warning the public about the "unfiltered" Internet. According to the Livingston Community News, the trustees were going to say it was "unresticted," until they found out from the library board that there are 13 restrictions on Internet use.

So they went with "unfiltered," which makes it sound like a health hazard, until you get to the part about "objectionable material" possibly being visible to the general public.

So who defines what is "objectional material" -- Hohl and the rest of the trustees? And what exactly are their standards for determining that? They probably would find anything from or John Edwards' campaign "objectionable."

And once the trustees start finding things "objectionable" on the Internet, who says they'll stop there? What's next -- signs warning the public about "objectionable" material in the library's music collection, its newspapers, its books? I'll bet Hohl would find lots of "objectionable" material in The New York Times.

As Peg Eibler, library board vice president, put it, "To me, what they're doing is the same as book burning. It's book burning with a different media."

Having our ideas unfiltered, either by Hohl or anyone else, happens to be one of the rights guaranteed to us Americans by the Bill of Rights to our Constitution. And if you don't have a copy of the Bill of Rights, here's a link -- unfiltered -- to a copy on the Internet.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

More Democrats than They Think

Evidence that there are more Democrats in Livingston County than some people think can crop up in unusual places and at unusual times.

Like on Halloween.

I answered my door Wednesday night (Oct. 31, 2007) to the usual assortment of princess, ninjas, ghosts, and goblines and filled their opened bags and pillowcases with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and miniature Snickers.

But amidst the usual characters was a boy (I think) in a navy blue suit, white shirt, tie, a flag pin in the suit lapel, and a big rubber mask of -- Bill Clinton.

I was so glad to see him that I gave him extra Snickers.