Monday, March 28, 2011

What Public Employees Do

While Republicans in Michigan join their far-right friends across the nation in kicking public employees in the teeth for still having pensions, some Ingham County-area firefighters went about doing their jobs.

And we should make sure Rick Snyder is reminded of it everytime he starts dumping on public employees.

The Lansing State Journal reported over the weekend in an article headlined, "Chief: Leslie Firefighers Lucky to be Alive" what it is that firefighters actually do:

"Leslie Fire Chief Bruce Howe says five firefighters who fell through a roof while fighting a downtown building blaze Saturday are lucky to be alive."

It gets worse.

"The firefighters - among 10 firefighters injured Saturday during the fire at Moo's Bar & Grill - were trapped in the burning building for roughly 30 minutes until a rescue team pulled them from the structure, officials said."

Experiences like "fell through a roof" and "trapped in the burning building for roughly 30 minutes" should be enough to justify giving these people the pensions and decent salaries they negotiated.

But Snyder wants to pull the rug out from under them by allowing local governments to rip up their union contracts unilaterally if they are in financial trouble. And he wants to cut revenue sharing to make sure more local governments fall into financial trouble. Rep. Cindy Denby, R-Fowlerville, is pushing legislation that already has passed the House that would let local governments unilaterally dump the negotiated contracts if they are thinking about consolidating services.

Not sure how either of them would react if they were trapped inside a burning building for 30 minutes, after having gotten there by falling through a burning roof. But I bet afterwards neither one would want to do it again.

The supply of people willing to do those sorts of things in our society is really pretty small. If we drive them away, who will replace them?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spare Us the Platitudes, Snyder

Rick Snyder, who skated through a primary and general election campaign without ever having to say anything specific, is still spouting generalities and getting away with it.

Last week, he told business interests that the $1.8 billion tax cut he is giving them, paid for by senior citizens and poor people, is not about politics. "It's about doing the right thing," he said.

Spare us the platitudes, buddy. You are not the sole determiner of right and wrong for the entire state. Something isn't automatically "right" just because it's your policy.

Is it "right" to unilaterally break contracts between working people and local governments entered into freely by both sides, just because you want to? Why isn't the "right thing to do" to show working people some respect and renegotiate those contracts?

Is it "right" to rob $500 million from the school aid fund in order to force hundreds of school districts into such dire budgetary crises that they need to be taken over by someone you appoint?

Is it "right" to take away Michigan citizens' right to vote for local elected officials, virtually on a whim, so that you can rip up contracts you don't like?

Is it "right" to deny the unemployed in Michigan the same 26 weeks of unemployment benefits that other states give, when those extra six weeks contribute nothing to the state's budget problems yet pump millions into our state economy, helping keep families -- and local businesses -- afloat?

Is it "right" to tell teachers who were encouraged to take early retirement last year in order to save local districts money that, oh, yeah, now we're going to tax that pension we pushed you into taking early?

Is it "right" that most businesses in Michigan will pay no taxes on their profits -- ever -- no matter how many services they demand from our state government in the form of educated workers, public safety, and transportation?

Is it "right" to kill a new industry -- the film industry -- that is providing millions in new investment and thousands of new jobs, just because your predecessor started it?

None of these things is "right" just because you proposed them. But since you can't find any statistics to justify your policies, you played the platitude card. Better go back to the drawing board because the people aren't buying it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tasteless Appeal by Tea Party Group

One would think that trying to save lives would be something that could be done without injecting politics into it.

But if you're talking about something tea-baggers do, that would not be the case.

Livingston County tea-baggers are organizing blood drives, a worthy thing to do and something local Democrats have done in the past. But they couldn't just let it go at that. They had to make it political by using the theme, "Donate Blood, Before the IRS Bleeds Us Dry."

First of all, the tea-baggers vastly exaggerate the tax burden in this country. They ignore the fact that the overall tax burden in the U.S. is at the same level as 1950 and that federal taxes under President Obama are 13 percent lower than when George Bush was president. The decline is due in part to tax cuts included in President Obama's stimulus package -- something that tea-baggers conveniently forget when they attack the measure for adding to the deficit. So the appeal is not even accurate. The IRS is not bleeding anyone dry.

One wonders if the only way the tea-baggers could get their members to do a good deed for someone else was to resort to a bald-faced political lie as motivation.

Furthermore, what are the limits to injecting politics into saving lives? Will the Red Cross, which is supposed to be non-partisan, start allowing groups to designate their blood only for "red-blooded Americans," leaving out undocumented residents or gays or Muslims, for example?

Trying to save lives should be something all Americans can agree on. It should be done in a way that unites us, not divides us. Sooner or later, we all need help, and when we're helping each other we should help each other as human beings, not because we want to make a political point. Using someone else's misfortune to score political points is tasteless.

Friday, March 25, 2011

'Right to Vote' Replaced by 'Privilege to Vote' Locally in Michigan

You may not have noticed, but Michigan residents have lost the right to vote in local elections.

You may not have noticed because the local news media is not describing Rick Snyder's emergency manager legislation that way. But that is what it did.

The right to vote for our leaders at the local level has been eliminated. The right to vote for school board members, township trustees and officials, and so on is now only allowed in those communities that Snyder thinks deserves to have that right.

The right to vote for local leaders has been replaced by the privilege to vote, bestowed where Snyder thinks local leaders have done enough busting of unions and cutting of services to deserve the privilege.

Michigan news media have been treating this power grab through emergency managers as only theoretical, reassuring us as the Detroit Free Press did recently, that Snyder is a nice guy and would never do anything nasty.

But on Friday (March 25, 2011) the newspaper had to report that 150 school districts and charter schools are in deficit and more could be forced into the situation due to Snyder's cuts in state aid to schools, which are coming at a time when the school aid fund has a huge surplus.

Even taking out a large number of charter schools, which the local people don't get to elect and have no say over, that's an awful lot of people disenfranchised.

Everybody was fine with that concept when they thought it was only going to those black people in Detroit, but now it's clear the law will reach into every part of Michigan.

Everybody still OK with that?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Life Isn't So Plush for All Young Retirees

Supporters of Rick Snyder's plan to tax the pensions of Michigan retirees are trying to start some intergenerational warfare with their claim that many retirees are only in their 50s and therefore are better able to pay taxes on their pensions than older people.

This is a bubble that needs bursting.

First of all, many people forced into early retirement in their mid-50s were not happy about it. They were often planning to work several more years to build up their nest egg. Now, they find themselves living on a fixed income with far fewer reserves to fall back on than they had planned. On top of that, their smaller reserves are going to have to cover more retirement years -- maybe 10 more years.

Secondly, many retirees in their mid-50s still have mortgages to pay off. They likely expected to work until their 60s and to finish paying off the house by then. Now they have a mortgage payment, on top of the smaller savings.

Thirdly, it's not at all uncommon for people in their 50s to still have kids in college, maybe a couple. They expected to still be working when their children finished college. So now they have college tuition bills, a mortgage payment, and a smaller nest egg.

Fourth, many retirees in other years could easily find part-time jobs to supplement their income if their company fell on hard times and had to let them go early. But in this economy, employers are snubbing older workers, making that very difficult, especially when many companies are laying off at once. So these young retirees have limited ways to supplement their income, on top of the college tuition bills, a mortgage payment, and a smaller nest egg.

These people may be younger than previous retirees, but that does not by any means guarantee that they are better off. Their golden years may last longer but not be nearly as golden as Snyder wants us to believe.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Granholm's Program Gets Standing Ovation

Rick Snyder is getting all kinds of plaudits -- not for his own policies, but for one of former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's programs.

The Detroit Free Press says the tourism industry gave Snyder a standing ovation because he agreed to fund the Pure Michigan tourism ad campaign for $25 million. The program actually started under Granholm and has been hailed as a standout state tourism campaign.

The newspaper, of course, failed to mention that Snyder's predecessor started the campaign.

Wouldn't want to dull any of the luster for the newspaper's candidate, would they?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Budget Director Suffers from Irony Deficiency Anemia

Rick Snyder's new budget director suffers from a curable disease -- irony deficiency anemia.

John Nixon had the nerve to say on Off the Record recently not just for the quarter of a million dollar salary he is taking from the taxpayers, but because the state has great schools. And then he promptly turned around and defended cutting $600 million from school aid, claiming it's only a 5 percent cut and it won't make any difference in school quality. Never mind the fact that the schools had to take a cut last year and that the school aid fund has millions of dollars in surplus.

How does he think Michigan schools got to be so good -- by taking 5 percent cuts every year?

The irony of his remarks apparently went right over his head. That's why I believe he has a disease -- irony deficiency anemia. He should take some of his big salary and go out and buy a bottle of Geritol, the old cure for iron deficiency anemia. I'm sure it will work for Nixon's condition.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unasked Question on Off the Record Lets Snyder Off the Hook

Sometimes, it's not the questions reporters ask but the ones they fail to ask that make a difference. And that was true with the latest version of Off the Record, as reported in newspapers.

Snyder's budget director John Nixon, whose idea of "shared sacrifice" is making a quarter of a million dollars a year, defended the tax on pensions during the taping of the show. But apparently no one bothered to ask him about the provision in the Michigan Constitution that says public pensions are contractual obligations and may not be impaired or may not be "diminished or impaired" in anyway.

I would like to know if Snyder thinks that provision applies to his tax on pensions and if not, why not.

This is important because if it precludes taxing public pensions, Snyder will be hard put to justify taxing private pensions. And he won't be able to tax federal pensions at all, since a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, Davis v. Michigan, forbids discriminatory treatment of federal pensions compared to state pensions.

But for some reason, the state media shies away from asking Snyder about this, although Michigan Liberal has mentioned it. The fact is, if the pension tax were to pass, it almost certainly would be challenged in court, making it a phony part of the budget to begin with.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Backers of Emergency Managers Forget Snyder Won't be Governor Forever

As the emergency manager bill is signed into law, its supporters are pooh-poohing concerns that the measure is an autocratic overreach that allows for the end of local control in many communities in Michigan, wiping out at the whim of the governor the right of people to vote for their representatives, reinstating taxation without representation.

Don't worry, supporters say, Rick Snyder wouldn't do that. It'll only be used sparringly, they say.

News flash! Rick Snyder won't be governor forever. This law will outlast his term in office and that of many others. Can the supporters of the power grab guarantee that some future governor whom they don't like won't abuse the power? Of course not.

Can supporters of the law guarantee that it won't be used primarily against Democratic cities and townships and counties, eliminating local offices that are the training grounds for candidates for higher offices and thus weakening the party? Of course not.

Can supporters of the law guarantee that all contracts will be scrutinized carefully for expense and now only those of working people organized into unions? Of course not.

There are no guarantees. There are no checks and no balances.

We just have to trust our constitutional rights to unknown governors of the future forever.

What could go wrong with that?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's Not Fair!

Opponents of Rick Snyder's plan to raise taxes on senior citizens and the poor so that most Michigan businesses will pay no taxes descended on the Capitol in Lansing Tuesday and will be back today.

They chanted, "It's Not Fair," and they are right.

People plan for retirement for years. You've seen the commercials asking, "What's your number?" The "number" represents the amount of money needed to support yourself in retirement. People who thought they had the number covered are having the rug pulled out from under them. Too old to work, many of them, they will never benefit from the supposed jobs that the businesses are going to rush to create because they no longer pay taxes.

What is striking about the news stories on the taxation plan, (aside from the reporters who just don't get that these higher taxes are going to pay for tax cuts for businesses rather than to fill the state budget hole) is the number of people who say they will spend less as a result. Less spending for local businesses. But the businesses don't seem to get that less money means less demand for their products and services, which means less profit and less reason to hire people. And this is supposed to be about creating jobs.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Would Less Govenment Have Saved Lives in Japan?

Japan is reeling from the devastating earthquake and tsunami. It's people are suffering mightily from a 9.01 magnitude quake.

The deathtoll is likely to be well into the thousands. Horrible.

But it could have been much worse. Skyscrapers in Tokyo, nearly 175 miles from the epicenter, swayed, but did not collapse. Why not? Those pesky government regulations required them to be built to meet tough earthquake codes.

Buildings housing nuclear reactors at power plants are collapsing and fuel rods may be melting down. But radiation leaks -- at least those the companies are admitting to -- are at elevated levels but not yet lethal ones. Why not? Those pesky government regulations that required containment shells to be built around the reactors.

As horrible as the devastation is in Japan, it is not at the scale of Haiti. Why not? Those pesky government regulations.

Things are horrible. They could have been worse. And right now, I wonder how many people in Japan are wishing the government would get off their backs by repealing earthquake codes and nuclear power regulations.

Snyder: Give Me the Money and I'll Decide How to Spend It

Rick Snyder has a follow-up to the proposal that his appointees be allowed to dissolve local governments and turn the job of governing over to his appointees, including a corporation.

Now, he would like the Michigan Legislature to drop this whole appropriating thing and just give him all the money, to spend as he wishes. Snyder doesn't want to be bound by anything the people's representatives think. Just give him all $45.9 billion and he'll decide how to divide it up among departments and the people can decide if they like the final product.

Snyder will decide, without any public input, how much should go to each program in each department, because he is always right and needs no oversight. No pesky lawmakers looking over his shoulder and asking questions. None of those "laws" tying Snyder's hands. A program that he or his unelected department heads don't like? It just won't get any money because they decided behind closed doors, without hearings or debate. No checks, no balances, just one branch of government in total charge.

Are you curious about how much the state spends on something? Can't look at the appropriations bill because it won't tell you. Maybe you can find out from the Snyder administration, sometime, someday, if you file a freedom of information act request and wait and wait.

What is the role of the Legislature in all this? You know, the members of the House and Senate that we elected last fall? Just sign the check. So much more efficient if we just do away with all that time spent debating and understanding the budget and where the money goes.

That way, lawmakers will be free to spend all their time on the important issues, like guns and immigration.

This is a naked power grab, facilitated by term limits which has dumbed down our Legislature. If the Legislature gives up this power, it will never get it back, and that means we the people will never get it back.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back into the (Nuclear) Water

It's been a few decades since the nuclear power industry had a headline-grabbing event such as Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. People were starting to forget the damage that could be caused by these installations.

But the powerful earthquake that struck Japan March 11 is bringing the issue of nuclear safety back to the fore, just as the nuclear power industry is beginning to push for building more power plants in the U.S. Among the plans is an addition to Detroit Edison's Fermi plant.

Will watching a nuclear power plant building blow up on television as happened in Japan make a difference in how people view nuclear power? According to the New York Times, hundreds of thousands of people in Japan have been evacuated. At least three people have serious radiation sickness.
Core meltdowns are thought to have happened in two reactors.

And we're only at the beginning of knowing what happened, let alone understanding it. Bad news is likely to continue for days or even weeks.

And all this despite all the assurances we've heard over and over about the safety record of nuclear power and how we should build more of them instead of trying to curb demand for power through conservation.

They may have convinced a lot of people that it was safe to go back into the water, but with nuclear power the sharks just keep showing up.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Straight Talk for 9/11 First Responders -- Republicans Just Aren't That In to You Anymore

For a long time, police officers and firefighters were the only union members that Republicans thought were OK. Republican politicians loved to line up for the cameras alongside police officers, especially, to show how much they supported law and order, or something.

Then came 9/11. George Bush went to Ground Zero and ever after tried to claim that somehow he and other Republicans appreciated the sacrifices of the first responders in that crisis more than other Americans. A real romance between Republicans and first responders began among the ruins of the Twin Towers.

But in recent months, the bloom is off the rose of that romance.

Think back to December and the Republican refusal to fund health care for 911 workers. There's a big hint that Republicans are no longer enamored with police and firefighters.

Now in Michigan, Rick Snyder and Republicans in the Legislature are doing their best to undermine police and fire services. Snyder wants to cut hundreds of millions in local revenue sharing, money that is used to fund the salaries of police and firefighters.

And in the Legislature, Republicans are passing legislation to bust the union contracts in cities that are thrown into financial crisis by Snyder's revenue sharing slashing. It will be a devastating one-two punch -- create a crisis for local governments and then have a Snyder-appointee step in and rip up the contracts for police and firefighters.

But there's more. Turns out Republicans won't be able to drive every municipality into bankruptcy so they need more tools. Get rid of binding arbitration for police and firefighters in labor disputes.

But why stop with doing away with binding arbitration? Wouldn't it be easier just to do away with police officers entirely and just have everybody carry guns? As Tim Skubick reported in a March 10 blog, Republican Sen. Mike Green thinks that idea would work just swell:

"He not only wants guns in libraries; he wants them everywhere as he seeks to abolish all gun-free zones. He reasons with so many police officer layoffs and more to come, 'when there is duress, it is really a long time' to get help 'so why not let good law-abiding citizens protect themselves.'"

Not sure what the plan is for replacing laid off firefighters, but I'm sure the Republicans will come up with one.

So I hate to be the one to break the news to police and firefighters. It was nice while it lasted, but it looks like Republicans just aren't that in to you anymore.

Friday, March 11, 2011

So Now Snyder Is OK with Picking Winners and Losers

Government shouldn't pick winners and losers. Seems like I've heard that a lot lately from Rick Snyder's administration. It's his rationale for taxing poor people and old people, for ending tax breaks, for driving a new industry out of the state.

So it was a surprise to see him saying good things about the Pure Michigan advertising campaign on Thursday (March 10, 2011) when he signed into law a bill giving it an additional $10 million for advertising Michigan.

Didn't Snyder just pick some winners and create some losers when he took tax dollars and gave it to a particular industry? Why is that OK? People outside the golf course, hotel, restaurant, and gasoline industry are never going to see any benefit from that government spending. They're seeing their tax money go to helping another industry and that's bad, bad, bad. Blah, blah, blah. Especially since under Snyder's tax proposals, most of those businesses benefiting from Pure Michigan are the type that will never pay a dime of taxes to the state to help cover the cost. The studies that show Pure Michigan giving a huge return on its spending are the same kind that show the movie industry doing the same thing, yet those are discounted.

So for some reason that Snyder won't tell us, it is OK to pick winners and losers sometimes. Whenever he says it is.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Massive Power Grab by State But You Wouldn't Know It by Reading Local Media

If you want to know why so few people bother subscribing to newspapers anymore, look no further than the Thursday (March 10, 2011) edition of the Detroit Free Press. Specifically, the article on Rick Snyder's bid to win the power to wipe out local governments.

For 15 full paragraphs, this bid to do away with any local government that the governor doesn't like is describied merely as giving "more power" to emergency financial managers and allowing the state to "step in" sooner when communities have financial problems and similar vague, reassuring phraseology.

Not until the 16th paragraph, does the newspaper get around to admitting that these powers include dissolving local governments and forcing them to merge with another entity. And even that shocking bit of the truth is followed by more reassuring talk that that is a worse-case scenario.

It all sounds so benign, until you realize that the state is training hundreds of financial managers to step in to communities, putting potentially hundreds of Michigan communities in danger of extinction.

This measure is usually described "merely" as a union-busting measure, but it affects far more than unions. It strips Michigan citizens of the right to representative local government anytime the state can manufacture a financial crisis for communities by cutting off funds or imposing unreasonable requirements.

Could an article miss the point more completely than this one?

Shameful Assault on Democracy by Wisconsin GOP

Shameful is too weak a word to describe the thuggish attack on democracy by the Wisconsin GOP Wednesday. In violation of the state's open meetings law, Wisconsin Republicans passed a law that strips teachers, nurses, prison guards, and other public workers of the right to have a say in their working conditions and terms.

The video of the vote is shocking in its naked abuse of power.

Watch it and weep for democracy.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where Is the Tea Party on Snyder's Taxation Without Representation?

The Emergency Financial Manager bill scheduled to be voted on in the Michigan Senate Wednesday (March 9, 2011) strikes a blow at unions. You've probably read that. But it also eliminates democracy and that whole "no taxation without representation" thing, all in the name of responding to a "crisis." If the tea baggers really cared about their rights as citizens, they'd be all over this.

Snyder's bill would virtually set up dictators, appointed by his administration, who could abolish school districts and cities if they chose. That's right. Eliminate them, force them to merge without regard to whether that's what the public wants. This Emergency Financial Manager would not be accountable to the local people in any way. In fact, the manager wouldn't even have to be a person. It could even be a corporation, under the House version of the bill. In that case, the phrase "corporate master" would be literally correct.

And that's on top of the manager having the power to rip up any union contract, whether or not it contributed to the financial emergency. And how do you think a corporation would come down on that one?

This is not a hypothetical situation for Livingston County. The Brighton Area School District has been struggling to get off the state's deficit district list. Rick Snyder's deep and foolish cut in school aid will push it farther into deficit. It's not too much of a stretch to fear that Snyder would take over the district.

Rachel Maddow brought this bill to the nation's attention last night and links Snyder to the same radical agenda Republicans like Scott Walker is pushing in Wisconsin.

Here's video from Maddow's show explaining what Snyder is up to.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Snyder Dropping Milk Inspections: Let's Not Drink to That

What if you tried to de-regulate an industry and the industry didn't want to be de-regulated?

You'd look foolish, which is what Rick Snyder is doing with his plan to drop state inspections of milk producers. Snyder says the state would save $600,000 by dropping the inspections and turning it over to the Michigan Milk Producers Association, which doesn't want to do the job.

What could possibly go wrong with letting an industry regulate itself? How tough will the MMPA get on farmers that have unsanitary conditions? Won't the association be worried about losing too many members if it insists on tough standards? Not in Rick Snyder's mind.

Milk producers know that the public needs to have confidence in the purity of their product. Rick Snyder is hoping the public doesn't find out that an entity with a vested interest is charged with doing the inspections. Otherwise, milk labeled "Made in Michigan" will be something to avoid.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Moore: America Has Had a Financial Coup

Michigan filmmaker Michael Moore brought some straight talk to the crowd in Wisconsin on Saturday (March 5, 2011). To say it was powerful is an understatement.

In a half-hour speech Moore decided to make in person on the spur of the moment, Moore connected the financial crisis to the union-busting tactics of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his supporters, David and Charles Koch.

"America is not broke," Moore told a roaring crowd. "That's right. Neither is Wisconsin, contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so you will give up your wages, cut your pensions and settle for the life your great grandparents had."

Moore said, "The country is awash in wealth and in cash. it's just that it's not in your hands. It has been transferred in the greatest heist in history from the consumers to the bank accounts and portfolios of the uber-rich."

The nation, he said, has seen a "financial coup d'etat" that concentrated the vast majority of the nation's wealth in a very few hands. "Just 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined. Please, somebody in the mainstream media, report this fact just once."

As a result of the "financial coup d'etat," Moore said, "Wall Street, the banks, and the Fortune 500 now run this republic."

Moore said the Wisconsin battle is a result of the rich overplaying their hand. They couldn't stop at demanding financial concessions, but they had to go after people's souls, strip teachers of their dignity, and demean and dehumanize workers.

The strength of working people, Moore said, lies in their numbers.

"It's one person, one vote and that is the thing that the rich hate the most about America. ... And there's a hell of a lot more of us than there are of them," he said.

Moore thanked the Wisconsin workers and the Wisconsin "Fab 14" for standing up to Walker. "These 14 senators will go down in the history books of labor history in America," he said.

Moore said it better than I ever could. Watch the video for yourself.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Republicans Deep Into the Crazy with Their New Majorities

So what have Republicans been up to with the governorships and legislative majorities they won last November? Turns out, a whole lot of really crazy stuff. And that's not even taking into account Wisconsin's Scott Walker.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich called police officers idiots. Watch the video here. What a great way to inspire confidence in our first responders! Remember 9-11 anyone?

In Arizona, the Republican leader of the state Senate got into a fight with his girlfriend and when police were called, he claimed legislative immunity so he wouldn't get arrested. That's what I call real family values.

When they're not fighting to stay out of jail, Arizona Republican lawmakers are also setting themselves up as 21st century secessionists, passing a bill to allow the state to nullify any federal law it doesn't like. Didn't we fight a civil war over that?

Still in Arizona, Republican lawmakers want to create a special license plate for tea baggers, with the proceeds going, not to the state road fund, but to promoting tea party causes. No, I'm not kidding. Did David Koch file for bankruptcy or something?

But enough about Arizona. The Republicans in Texas are showing they're in touch with their crazy side, too.

In the Lone Star State, a Republican lawmaker wants to put people in jail for two years if they hire an undocumented worker -- unless they hire them as nannies or gardeners for their private homes.

Attacking state employees is part of the script for all Republican governors and lawmakers this year and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is no exception. On the campaign trail, he critized public employees for benefits that he said were too generous. And now that he is elected and drawing a salary as governor, he's continuing to collect the pension he drew for the years he was governor previously. Unlike other state employees, his pension won't be offset by his salary because he signed a special law exempting elected public officials from the deduction. And his pension will get even bigger now that he has returned to state employment because the governor's salary has gone from $105,000 to $150,000 a year. When it comes to double-dipping, Branstad is a "do as I say, not as I do" kind of guy.

And there is also the old Republican stand-by, attacking health care. A Florida lawmaker wants to impose a $5 million fine on any doctor who asks his patients about gun ownership -- something doctors do to encourage people to keep their guns locked up so children can't get at them and kill themselves accidentally. The sponsor claims the law is necessary because otherwise the federal government would use doctors to create a gun ownership registry via the health reform law. Totally false, of course, but why let that stand in the way of getting lots of free publicity.

And speaking of guns, Republicans in South Dakota want to make it legal to kill people who perform abortions. Guess that proves there are limits to some people's pro-life positions.

But nobody could be more pro-life than the Georgia lawmaker, who wants to make miscarriages a crime if the woman can't prove it was spontaneous. Now that's smaller government, isn't it?

I'm not even through a fifth of the states, but you've probably got the drift by now. How much more crazy can it get? I'll bet we haven't seen nothing yet.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Biting the Hand that Serves Him

Rick Snyder has apparently thought better about criticizing Michigan state employees as over-paid sloths who don't deserve their salaries.

Snyder has sent a letter to state employees more or less apologizing for the study he recently released which used distorted figures to claim that state employees are paid more than people in the private sector. Snyder, of course, cooked the books to come to that conclusion. He failed to take into account levels of education in making the comparison so that medical doctors were compared with burger-flippers.

Now that his phony comparison has been found out, Snyder promptly blamed the news media for making state employees look bad. According to the Lansing State Journal, Snyder wrote:

"I presented data on total compensation (salary, wages, pension benefits and health insurance benefits) because my point was not to make an apples-to-apples jobs comparison but instead take a look at how total public compensation compares to the total compensation of the working public that supports government… Unfortunately, the compensation story took on a life of its own in the media, diverting attention away from the real issues. You should hear my position directly, as opposed to the media reports and representations."

He didn't say what the "real issues" are, but presumably it has something to do with the $180 million in concessions he wants from state workers.

Snyder went on to try to make nice with public employees after slapping them in the face, telling them he thought they worked hard and:

"It is inspiring that so many of our colleagues take pride in their work, meet ambitious deadlines and understand that no matter what level of job they have, they try to make a difference in the lives of our citizens each day."

Translation: Snyder figured out that he needs state employees. Governors come and go, but state employees remain. They are the ones who deal with the public and do the work. If they perform poorly, it reflects on Snyder ultimately so it's not a good idea to bite the hand that serves you.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Putting Children's Health Ahead of Corporate Profits

Saying no to anything and everything associated with Barack Obama is what passes for deep thought in conservative circles these days. The conservative reaction is such a knee-jerk reflex that usually they end up looking ridiculous.

A case in point is the conservative attack on Michelle Obama for her campaign against obesity.

The focus on obesity among health professionals is not about how people look. It is not driven by a desire to have everyone look like anorexic super models. It's about wanting people to live longer, healthier lives. Obesity raises a person's risk for multiple diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, several forms of cancer, stroke, joint problems, sleep apnea, and gallstones.

Leaders of the Republican Party such as Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin have jumped all over Mrs. Obama. Limbaugh attacked Mrs. Obama for being too fat to pose for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and Palin accused her of trying to ban desserts. The underlying message is that Mrs. Obama is trying to use the government to force Americans to be healthy and that is the big, bad "nanny state."

Conservatives say what people eat is none of the government's business. But government does have a stake in having healthy citizens. People with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other problems associated with obesity may be less productive on the job. They may miss work more often than someone who is not sick. They usually require more health care, a cost that is shared by other Americans, whether they are insured privately or covered by Medicare or Medicaid. And unhealthy citizens make poor soldiers. This is not a new problem. In World War II, so many draftees had to be rejected due to malnutrition that the nation started the National School Lunch program. And malnutrition and obesity often are linked, as people may consume the wrong foods even though they take in more calories than they need.

In the conservative world view, government and important opinion leaders outside of government would stay silent and people would just be "responsible." Corporations would be free to "supersize" portions and push high-sugar and high-fat foods at children day in and day out. People, including impressionable children, would supposedly just make up their own minds.

But with no other information in the marketplace of ideas to counteract the message contained in billions of dollars in corporate advertising, people would hardly have a free, informed choice. And that appears to be just fine with conservatives who would sacrifice children's health on the altar of corporate profits.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

People Finally Getting a Peek at Snyder

What does it mean that Rick Snyder's popularity is dropping like a rock?

That's what the polls say. Snyder's approval rating plunged from 59 percent in January to 44 percent in February. His disapproval rating went from 8 percent in January to 27 percent in February. In other words, his approval rating dropped by 25 percent and his disapproval rating went up 300 percent.

One possible reading is that Michigan voters don't like his interpretation of "shared sacrifice" in which the people do the sacrificing and businesses divy up the rewards. And the polls bear that out, with his big tax increases for poor and working people being extremely unpopular. People don't see fairness in what he is proposing.

They also don't see any long-term gain. People will sacrifice if it means better schools for their kids, better police and fire protection, and so on. But Snyder's tax increases won't give people that. Schools and local communities are getting millions less.

People will sacrifice if they think it will improve the economy. That's why people like the film incentives. A company gets an incentive, they show up in your community to make a movie and they hire people and spend money and you can see it. But Snyder can't demonstrate that forcing working people and poor people to pay more taxes will mean anything more than bigger profits for businesses. He can't offer a single estimate of the number of jobs that will be created because we know from decades of cutting taxes for business that there is no guarantee lower taxes will mean more jobs.

Furthermore, people don't like surprises, and most of Snyder's proposals amount to a big nasty surprise. During the campaign, Snyder never said he was going to raise taxes on working people and poor people and senior citizens. He said he was going to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax but he never was pressed to say how he would make up the revenue.

In fact, he was never pressed to say much of anything. He only did one debate during the general election campaign. Most of what people knew about him came from his own commercials. Even his State of the State message was mostly vague generalities. Snyder's budget message was the first chance people had to learn what Snyder believed in.

And they don't like it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Snyder's Plan to Balance State Budget Unbalances Hundreds More

Rick Snyder supposedly has offered a plan to balance the state budget.

How much the budget was projected to be in deficit seems to be in dispute. Sometimes, news stories say the deficit is $1.8 billion. Other times, $1.4 billion or $1.6 billion.

Anyway, Snyder has a plan to get rid of the deficit -- by moving it to your local school district, university, city, or township. School districts will face state aid cuts of $470 per student, costing school districts millions of dollars even though the state school aid fund has a surplus. Universities are taking a 15 percent cut. Revenue sharing for cities and townships would be cut.

So by balancing one budget, Snyder has unbalanced hundreds more, leaving local officials with the chore of re-figuring their budgets while he can claim to have eliminated the state deficit, however much it is.

This is what passes for leadership in Michigan -- shifting the problem to someone else to solve.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mike Rogers and His Job-Killing Deficit Plan

Republican Mike Rogers and his fellow Republicans campaigned last fall on creating jobs, but now that they are in control of the U.S. House they are doing their best to destroy jobs.

That's according to a nationally known economist who advised Republican presidential candidate John McCain during his 2008 campaign.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, says the budget cuts approved by Republicans in the House will cost the nation 700,000 jobs by 2012.

On top of that, the budget cuts will close down the Michigan Works centers in Michigan that help thousands of people a day look for work.

Other economists besides Zandi have said the budget cuts would cut up to 2 percent off the Gross Domestic Product and possibly stall the recovery. The Goldman Sachs report making that prediction
came out last week.

Those reports seem not to have registered on Rogers, who seems hell-bent on throwing people out of work and then making it harder for them to find work in the middle of a recession.

It's enough to make one ask whether Rogers wants the economy to stay weak and the unemployment rate high so that President Obama will face more political troubles in 2012.