Friday, December 31, 2010

Crystal Ball-Gazing for 2011

It's time to get out the crystal ball and project what's ahead for Michigan and Livingston County in 2011. (Hint: It's not pretty.)

10. With Republicans in control in Lansing, the GOP will go after poor and working people with a vengeance, wacking programs such as health care for the poor, pensions for teachers, salaries of prison guards, and so on.

9. Republicans will look for someone to blame for their problems in balancing the state budget while giving huge tax breaks. They will turn to scape-goating
immigrants, passing anti-immigrant measures like Arizona's which will never save the hundreds of millions of dollars they claim but will burden everyone with having to carry papers to prove our citizenship over and over again.

8. Michigan's economy will continue to improve as out-going Gov. Jennifer Granholm's priorities for diversifying the economy continue to take hold and the reborn auto industry sees on-going growth. Republican Rick Snyder will take credit for the upswing and the news media will let him get away with it.

7. Michigan's film industry tax credts will survive any Republican repeal effort, but lawmakers will impose new reporting requirements that they would claim were burdensome and job-stifling if Democrats had imposed them on any other industry. Nevertheless, the new reports will let the news media write hard-hitting stories on topics such as how much money was spent on George Clooney's make-up for "Up in the Air." Rep. Cindy Denby will faux express outrage at the expense.

6. Republicans will attempt to override the will of the people by passing legislation repealing voter-approved measures allowing stem-cell research and medical marijuana.

5. Republicans will do their best to gerry-mander legislative and congressional districts so that more safe Republican districts are created, diminishing real voter choice at the polls. But redistricting at the congressional level in a way that protects all GOP incumbents will prove harder than they anticipate and create GOP in-fighting.

4. Rick Snyder will turn out to be far more conservative than the news media portrayed him during the campaign as the Engler administration appointees he brings in and the ultra-right Republican Party dictate policy on key issues.

3. The Howell school district will be embroiled in a new controversy that involves the right of Christians to be mean to anybody they want to because that's what they say their religion means, but really boils down to the administration wanting to beat up on teachers.

2. Livingston County will continue to shovel county responsibilities, such as law enforcement and road maintenance, onto local townships, requiring them to raise taxes so that Republican county commissioners can crow about their low tax rates. Services will continue to deteriorate, as wait times for 911 response go up and road conditions go down.

1. Townships such as Handy in Livingston County will have difficulty making their payments to the county for the $100 million spent for water and sewer systems built for private developers. Some townships will begin exploring naming an emergency financial manager, but the development will be concealed from the public for months.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Envelope, Please

We've been through the list of top political stories in Livingston County, counting down on Wednesday (Dec. 29, 2010) from Number 10 to Number 2. I've been feeling the suspense building the last 24 hours, and now it's time to reveal the top political story in Livingston County during 2010.

Drum roll, please. The top political story in Livingston County during 2010 was:

--The Livingston County Commission's debt management subcommittee was revealed to have failed to approve minutes of its meetings for ten of its meetings going back to August 2009.

The maneuver was discovered when a Freedom of Information Act request was filed for the minutes and the subcommittee had no actual minutes to release, only "drafts." At its next meeting, the debt management subcommittee suddenly decided to approve its back minutes.

The failure to approve minutes was an example of the way the all-Republican county commission tried to keep secret for months the depths of the problems that the county and many of its townships face from their decision to build water and sewer systems for developers without requiring adequate security, even as Michigan was losing jobs in its major industry throughout the decade.

The secrecy was destroyed when Bloomberg News singled out Livingston County as the center of the problem in Michigan.

County commissioners and former official, such as former chair Rep. Bill Rogers and former Handy Township Supervisor and now state Rep. Cindy Denby, continued to cover up their role in causing the crisis. They insisted there was no way to foresee slowing demand for housing in Livingston County, even as figures show Michigan lost jobs from 2001 on and even as they approved more and more subdivisions while others remained unfilled.

That's what passes for leadership in Livingston County.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010's Top 10 Livingston County Political Stories

The nation's news media is engaging in its annual "Top 10 news stories" ritual right now, but there is no reason to let them have all the fun -- or to believe their judgment is the only one that matters.

So here's a top 10 political news list for Livingston County, from a Democratic point of view.

10. Lance Enderle nominated to run last minute campaign against Mike Rogers in 8th District.

9. Democrat Annette Koeble runs for Hamburg Township treasurer, is named to planning commission by all Republican board in recognition of her qualifications.

8. Livingston County Democrats launch first-ever pot-hole contest, revealing sorry state of county roads under GOP management.

7. Incumbent County Commission Chair Maggie Jones squeaks out primary win over an unknown, earns nickname “Landslide Maggie.”

6. Incumbent County Commissioner Carol Griffith gets special treatment from Secretary of State’s office after failing to file campaign spending reports for years.

5. Nearly full slate of seven Democratic county commission candidates issue comprehensive, coordinated platform pledging “Smart Leadership, Smart Growth” for county in contrast to Republican drift.

4. State Senate candidate Chuck Fellows beats the crap out of Joe Hune in every forum and joint appearance they have and House District 66 candidate Jim Delcamp runs great grass-roots campaign.

3. House Districdt 47 candidate Garry Post wages aggressive campaign and puts incumbent Cindy Denby on the defensive for her do-nothing record.

2. Livingston County revealed to be $100 million in debt due to foolish real estate speculation by the county commissioners and townships, leading to Republican demands for a $5 million bailout from state taxpayers to prevent financial disaster in some townships. Commission Chair Maggie Jones and commissioners Jack LaBelle and Steve Williams along with county staff march into Livingston County Press and Argus offices and overwhelm editorial staff with their "It's not our fault" explanation for their fiscal incompetence.

And the top political story of 2010 is... Well, you'll have to wait until tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

GOP Mishandling of Hamburg Not Forgotten

A year ago at this time, Hamburg Township was gearing up for a special election -- one made necessary by Republican bungling and intra-party bickering. Clerk Matt Skiba had been recalled and the township residents had to pay the cost of a special election to replace him.

Meanwhile, the trainwreck of a treasurer -- another Republican put in office after GOP infighting -- was playing out, with Patrick Evon finally resigning in May. And later in the year, the lawsuits over the matter started piling up. They will keep the matter fresh in our minds in coming months.

In both cases, Skiba and Evon were the weaker candidates for office. The credentials of Democrats Debby Buckland for Clerk and Linda Taylor for treasurer were far superior. But Republicans blindly pulled the lever and Buckland and Taylor narrowly lost.

Months of public fighting could have been avoided with less partisanship in the voting booth.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Another Government Job for a Government Hater

There's nothing like having the best of both worlds, especially if you're Allan Filip.

Filip was chair of the Livingston County Republican Party a few years back -- you know, the party that hates government and wants to drown it in a bathtub.

But the ink on the 2010 election results was barely dry before Filip landed a new job -- working for state government. Filip will be director of "external affairs" for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

So now Filip, who worked for a party that hates government, has got a job in government.

"I'm happy to receive the appointment," the Livingston Press and Argus quoted Filip as saying.

Of course he is. Most professional government-haters can't wait to land a job feeding at the public trough.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Making Michigan a World Health Care Leader

It's not news to me that Michigan attracts people from all over the world because of the quality of its health care. Unfortunately, in the last few years, I've had to learn more about the quality of Michigan health care and the way it stacks up against the rest of the world than I ever wanted to.

While studying health care options, time and again people would recommend Mayo Clinic or specialists in California, but research into the statistics always pointed to Michigan doctors and facilities being the best for the problem at hand. Friends from other states were surprised and made borderline racist comments about the quality of nursing care and other problems they imagined we would encounter. They couldn't imagine that a city from the rust belt would be leading in anything, but they were wrong.

But all the homework on health care in Michigan vs. elsewhere got me thinking about how Michigan was able to build up expertise in these fields. And I came to the conclusion that in many ways the outstanding hospitals and programs we have are houses that organized labor built.

The men and women who bargained for health care coverage in lieu of other compensation for their labor created a demand for health care and a way to pay for it that otherwise would not have existed. Union employees with health care coverage paid for the care they got instead of depending on charity. And when hospitals and doctors are being paid, they can take risks with new treatments and specialists. And the demand and the payment stream were secure, guaranteed by union contracts, rather than depending on the largesse of some philanthropist.

It's one of the ways that organized labor benefited everybody in this state, whether they were members of a union or not. It's one of the ways that organized labor is part of the fabric of this state.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cutting Our Way to Prosperity?

Rick Snyder is a number cruncher, not an economist.

He thinks if state government would only cut everybody's wages, we'd all be better off, according to an interview in the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday (Dec. 22, 2010).

Let's review how that will work. Snyder waves his magic calculator and all the teachers in the state take a 10 percent wage cut, or maybe just 5 percent. They will all celebrate by going out to eat at one of the restaurants in downtown Brighton, right? Or maybe they'll head to the mall and buy some bling for themselves.

And the retired state employees whose benefits Snyder wants to cut? They'll react to smaller pension checks by playing more golf, eating breakfast every morning at one of our county's great breakfast spots. buying a little extra for their grandchildren at Christmas, which will make the cash registers ring, ring, ring.

Actually, no, they won't. They'll cut back what they spend. The economy will get smaller, not bigger.

What our economy needs right now is more consumer demand, more people willing to spend money rather than save it, so that businesses must restock their shelves, and their suppliers must add more people to produce what the businesses are ordering.

Snyder and all the Republicans who want to cut, cut, cut, are taking Michigan and other states in exactly the wrong direction. The sad thing is, they probably really do understand the economics of it, but just want to hurt public employees.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mike Rogers Opposed 9/11 Health Care, Too

Sen. Mitch McConnell shouldn't get all the "credit" for blocking health care for 9/11first responders.

What he and the Senate Republicans have done is heartless and cruel, of course. But they weren't the first.

Long before McConnell got into the act, our own Mike Rogers was voting against health care for 9/11 first responders. Here's the vote from the House on Sept. 29.

Rogers will make a great show of being patriotic and standing tough against terrorism, but when it comes to showing compassion for the people who actually put their lives on the line when terrorism came to our shores, Rogers refused.

The next time our first responders are asked to rush into a collapsing building to save American lives, they shouldn't have to wonder if Americans will return the favor when they get sick.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Health Care Reform Even a Child Can Follow

Opponents of health care reform have tried to make the issue unnecessarily complex, figuring that Americans would automatically be scared off if they said the bill was 1,000 pages long and therefore must be full of nasty stuff nobody is telling us about.

It's only one of the scare tactics that Republicans have come up with justify their opposition. But the Kaiser Foundation has come up with an easy way to explain the bill -- a cartoon.

The cartoon explains problems with the current system and the provisions of the bill -- requiring companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions (starting first with children), the end of coverage caps, allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26, high-risk pools for people needing costly treatment, more coverage of preventive care, and yes, the individual mandate.

And it makes that the point that the law saves money over the next 10 years. It doesn't add to the deficit, which people supposedly were so worried out. It reduces the deficit.

So take a look at the video here. Pass it on, and strike a blow against ignorance.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wonder How He Feels About Mitt Romney?

It's pretty clear Rep. Mike Rogers won't be supporting Mitt Romney for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. And if Romney gets the nomination, it's pretty clear Rogers will not lift a finger to help him.

How can he? After all, as governor, Romney supported the Massachusetts law that requires people to buy health insurance -- the same kind of requirement that Rogers says is so wrong in President Obama's health care reform measure.

And also the same kind of requirement that Republicans proposed in the 1990s when President Bill Clinton was trying to reform health care.

But that was then. This is now.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not So Pure Michigan Purely Funny

The fantastic, jobs-creating "Pure Michigan" ad campaign did get an extension from the Michigan Legislature. And I'll bet the creators of this spoof are glad

Clever, but I disagree with the part about the salt truck. In my experience, Michigan uses LOTS of salt. But I'll grant them poetic license.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Monopoly' Game Is Where We're Headed

When I was a kid, "Monopoly" was all the rage in my neighborhood. A group of neighbor kids, as we called ourselves, would gather in someone's basement and play. Games would go on all day, with a break to run home for lunch. Although we each started with the same amount of money, one by one we would lose our money and drop out and have to sit on the sidelines and watch. Eventually, somebody would end up with all the money. And then the game would be over.

That's the problem with the American economy today. Too few people have too much of the money. The rest of the people have nothing to play with. They have to sit on the sidelines of the economy, unable to buy things that other people make and sell. According to The New York Times, 1 percent of Americans have more than a third of the nation's wealth. Eighty percent of Americans have just 16 percent of the wealth. And no, it hasn't always been that way. Tax policies in the last few decades have increased the concentration of wealth at the top.

And Republicans think the answer is to give those few people even more of the money, which they cannot possibly spend. And no, they won't use it to "create jobs" because there is nobody to buy anything.

The end game is just like "Monopoloy."

P.S. I mean "Monopoly."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Was the Michigan Economy Bad Early in Last Decade?

Democratic candidates for Livingston County Commission rightly made this county's $100 million debt for overbuilding subdivisions an issue in the last campaign. But defenders of the Republican regime insisted that the multiple special assessment districts that were approved by townships, and then backed by county taxpayers, were not foolish investments. Nobody could see economic problems coming in Michigan, taxpayers were told over and over, so it was perfectly logical to keep approving more and more subdivisions that remain unfilled.

But now, when it comes time to assess the performance of Gov. Jennifer Granholm, people have changed their tune. Turns out, the economy was lousy all through the last decade and Granholm should have recognized it.

According to a Livingston Press and Argus editorial on Sunday (Dec. 12, 2010):

"While Michigan's economy has long bounced up and down with the domestic auto industry, there was no reason to believe that was going to be the case with the slump that greeted Granholm. There was plenty of reason to think otherwise.

"Michigan, as Comerica Bank economist Dana Johnson said early in the decade, had the most to lose because it, by far, had the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs. The state was not enduring a cyclical fluctuation, but instead enduring a fundamental shift.

"Over the last decade, Michigan has been suffering greatly while the rest of the country was doing well or at least limping by. That all changed by the end of 2008, when the rest of the nation's fortunes crashed. But Michigan had been in those economic throes for up to eight years by then."

So, according to the editorial, Granholm should have recognized the state's fundamental economic problems earlier, but county leaders like Maggie Jones, Dave Domas, Carol Griffith, and Jack LaBelle, (and state Rep. Cindy Denby) could not be expected to have reached the same conclusions and stopped putting taxpayers on the hook for subdivisions that are near ghost towns.

Granholm should have seen it coming, but Republicans here in Livingston County shouldn't be held to the same standard.

That's a double standard if there ever was one.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Leaving a Clean Slate

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been the right wing's favorite punching bag for the last eight years, but she is doing something her predecessor, their beloved John Engler, never did.

According to the Detroit Free Press on Saturday (Dec. 10, 2010):

"Granholm said that unlike three previous governors, she will leave her successor with a balanced budget and a $400-million surplus."

Engler left Granholm a budget mess from the previous year, which she had to immediately tackle while putting together the next year's budget. With all the state's problems the last decade, Granholm left the new guy a clean slate. He won't have to clean up after Granholm and even has $400 million to work with.

The tough cuts Granholm did on the budget year after year has been vastly under-appreciated.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Drawing the Lines

With the 2010 elections behind us, we can start to think about redistricting. All across the country, boundaries will be shifting and the politically-influenced contortions will begin.

The Sunlight Foundation makes no bones about some of the more ridiculously-drawn districts:
One day, there will be a brilliant, easy-to-use tool that enlightens our citizenry on the intricacies of gerrymandering and the political machinations therein. But that day is not today. Today we launch the crude, far-from-serious, yet very fun Better Draw a District – a project originating from the Labs Olympics. Built on the spirit of the 1812 origins of ‘Gerrymandering’, Better Draw a District thumbs its nose at other redistricting tools and encourages you to add graffiti to any and all congressional districts.
Do these districts surprise you? Do they make you wonder how democracy can really be representative if the shapes are so gnarled? Maybe they should. Before you write or call your congressman, please take a can of virtual graffiti and deface a few congressional districts.
Check out the Better Draw A District page, and try it on MI-08. It can't get any worse...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

(Un)Common Sense

South Lyon resident Chuck Fellows is a thoughtful, well-informed guy. Unlike many people, Chuck takes the time to learn about an issue before offering an opinion -- and he can always back it up with facts.

This is why I pay attention when he says something (it's also why I voted for him when he ran for state Senate this year).

In yesterday's Press & Argus, Chuck had a letter to the editor taking on Joe Hune's ridiculous stance on Michigan's "illegal immigrant problem."

Very calmly, Chuck pointed out Hune's (willful?) ignorance of existing law
Rather than create new law, Mr. Hune should educate himself on existing federal law and pending state legislation (SB 1372 of 2010, the same language as HB 4355 co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Genoa Township.)
and the likely reasons for the grandstanding
There is no good reason why any legitimate company employing legitimate people would not want to participate in this [E-Verify] program. [skip] Compliance would end the secret subsidy these [non-compliant] employers currently receive from the honest working people in this state.
Ah, but Mr. Hune has never let fact get in the way of a good rant.

We'll see where that leads us in the 2011 legislative year...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Same Old, Same Old

Comparing Apples and Oranges on 'Pure Michigan'

Would anyone compare the purchasing power of General Motors to that of a local diner or the local gas station?

Of course not. They're not the same. Yet that's what the Livingston Press and Argus did in its story on an imagined "debate" over the merits of the Pure Michigan ad campaign.

The story features no real debate at all in terms of the campaign. How could it? The program is a winner for the state, returning $2.33 in sales tax revenue for each $1 spent in advertising Michigan as a tourism attraction nationwide. The only debate is in the reporter's mind, who tries to create controversy by encouraging readers to be "outraged" over non-existent state advertising for General Motors products after failing to find anyone to make that statement for him.

At its heart, the story shows a basic inability or refusal to understand the nature of the tourism industry. Michigan's tourism industry is not made up of two or three huge companies fully capable of financing national advertising. It's made up of thousands of small enterprises that benefit whenever people from outside the local community come and spend money -- local restaurants, gas stations, campgrounds, motels, golf courses, gift shops, local museums, and so on. Individually, they simply cannot afford to advertise nationally the way General Motors and Ford can. Yet they all pay taxes to the state of Michigan in one way or another and provide jobs. The state benefits from their existence. It seems entirely reasonable that the state would help them thrive by doing something they cannot possibly do on their own -- advertising on their behalf nationally. Especially when it doesn't cost the state in the long run to do this.

The comparison to the beef industry check-off program also is misguided. That's a national program -- cattle raisers all over the nation contribute to that, not just those from one state. And of course, the beef check-off program is a government program, overseen by the USDA, even though the money comes from $1 a head from the producers. You can read about it here. Another off-the-mark comparison.

Instead of manufacturing outrage over non-existent state advertising for GM, the newspaper out to be reflecting disgust for the job-killing Republican State Senate.