Monday, January 31, 2011

Livingston County Looking for a Hand Out

Livingston County officials rail against taxes and federal officials every chance they get. But when they want something, the first place they look is to Washington, D.C., for a handout.

The latest example is the road commission, which is complaining that there won't be any funds from the big, bad federal government for more road projects.

How can there be more money for road projects when no one is willing to raise taxes, especially the Republicans Livingston County continually elects and re-elects?

The county is discounting the big favor the federal government is doing Michigan by allowing it to count Canadian contributions for a new bridge over the Detroit River to Canada as matching funds from the state of Michigan for federal highway dollars.

That, in effect, means that Livingston County will benefit from money from a foreign government because it is so anti-U.S. government.

Pretty pathetic when we are taking hand-outs from foreign governments because we are too cheap to fund our own government properly.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Just What Does Mike Rogers' Vote for Repealing Health Care Reform Mean?

We all know that Republican Rep. Mike Rogers voted to repeal health care reform, but we don't know exactly what that means for us.

For example, Medicare recipients in the prescription drug donut hole received a $250 rebate check as part of health care reform. At least 3 million people have received their checks already. If health care reform is repealed, do those people who have received the check have to pay back the $250? If they can't pay, will Mike Rogers send IRS agents out to make them pay? If they don't have to pay it back, how is that far to other Medicare recipients who won't be getting a check?

What about those Medicare recipients who have taken advantage of the dozen or more preventive health care screenings such as annual physicals that Medicare now covers due to health care reform? Are they going to have to repay Medicare for those services? If not, why not? How is that fair to Medicare recipients who haven't yet taken advantage of those covered services?

Many children with pre-existing conditions are now receiving health care coverage due to health care reform. Does Mike Rogers want the coverage for those children yanked now? Couldn't that result in catastrophic consequences for some seriously ill children? You know, sort of like death panels.

And what about adult children, up to age 26, who were able to stay on their parents' health insurance? Are they now kicked off?

Haven't heard word one from Mike Rogers about how he is going to deal with these people if repeal were to succeed.

Why am I not surprised?

Friday, January 28, 2011

It's Not Socialism vs. Capitalism

Republicans would have us believe that until President Obama was elected, the U.S. was a capitalist economy, pure and simple, and ever since then it has become a socialist republic, a la the former Soviet Union.

Never mind the fact that the bank bailouts they despise happened under George Bush, in 2008. Details, details.

But the fact is, even before that, the U.S. economy was a mixed economy, not purely capitalist. Business had become intertwined with government in many ways -- from businesses that depended heavily on government handouts, dating back to the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, to the military industrial complex that began growing in the 1950s, and on and on.

This pure capitalism vs. pure socialism argument has lately focused on Ford Motor Co. being held up as an example of a company that rejected government help, in contrast to General Motors and Chrysler.

Of course, the truth is that Ford Motor Co. itself would have faced dire straits had GM and Chrysler shut down. Since Ford shared many suppliers with GM and Chrysler, those suppliers would have likely gone out of business and threatened Ford's survival. That's why Ford supported the government aid for its cross-town rivals.

Now there is more proof of Ford's lack of purity. The news that GM has dropped its application for a $14 billion loan from the Department of Energy noted that Ford itself had obtained a $6 billion loan from DOE in 2009, the same type that GM was now rejecting.

Not quite so pure, is it?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oh, No! Movie Credits Bring More Jobs to Michigan

More bad news for those who hate Michigan's film tax credits.

The Michigan Film Office has approved the biggest project yet under the program -- a prequel to the Wizard of Oz being planned by Disney. Oz: the Great and Powerful would be filmed at a huge new studio in Pontiac, located in a renovated auto plant, according to the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday (Jan. 26, 2011).

Republicans need to kill this thing before any more people get jobs.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Which State of the Union Line Galled Livingston GOP the Most?

If there were a contest to decide which part of President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night (Jan. 25, 2011) Livingston County Republicans hated the most, I think I might go with his suggestion that Americans should respect teachers.

For some reason, teachers are the group Livingston County Republicans love to attack. More than immigrants, more than Muslims, more than trial lawyers. Their dislike of teachers shows over and over again in letters to the editor, their on-line story chats, in school board elections, in many school board members' relations with teachers, you name it.

I've never been able to figure out why. Perhaps it's simply because teachers insist on being paid in cash now, instead of being given free room and board at a parent's house for a month at a time. Or maybe because they're allowed to keep teaching after they get married. Or maybe because so many of them are now men.

Probably it has something to do with Republican disdain for education in general, their insistence that facts don't matter, and if they just insist something is true, it will become true -- George Bush's "we make our own reality" blah, blah, blah.

Whatever the reason, disrespect for teachers by adults filters through to students, who fail to take academic achievement seriously. Which of course Republicans blame on teachers.

Other countries in the world do things differently. In Japan, teachers are highly respected. Students do well in school compared to American students. Is there a connection? Let's try it and find out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Only Time Republicans Care About Mental Health

Mental health care is not high on the agenda of many Republicans. Gov. John Engler had no compunction at all about storming into Lafayette Clinic in the middle of the night to evict mentally ill patients because he wanted to cut the state's role in mental health.

But ever since Jared Lee Loughner murdered six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, earlier this month, Republicans have become experts on mental health. He's mentally ill! He has to be. He wasn't influenced by hate-filled political rhetoric, phrases like "Second Amendment remedies," or cross-hairs on district maps. He's mentally ill!

So the right thing to do would be to make sure there's plenty of mental health care available for troubled individuals. That is, if you really believed mental illness drove Jared Lee Loughner to political assassination and attempted assassination.

Yet what does Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer do in the wake of the mass murders -- propose cutting mental health care.

In what world does that make sense?

Monday, January 24, 2011

PhDs and the Future

I just finished reading an interesting book on the founding of Google, called The Gooogle Story. Although it´s mostly a celebratory account (and maybe there are mostly good things to say about the search engine giant) I came away with one strong impression.

The age of the MBAs is over. The age of the PhDs is here.

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were both doctoral students at Stanford when they began working on their search engine. They ultimately took leaves of absences as their project became all consuming. But they are academically grounded through and through. And they hired many people with doctorates in their fields. They wanted the best in their fields in terms of knowledge, a questioning attitude, the ability to focus, a sense of vision, and on and on.

People who exploited other people´s ideas, even in a good way, just weren´t enough. When Google went public, Brin and Page stiffed the big Wall Street firms and did it their way, slashing fees paid to firms to handle the IPO, making the stock available to small investors, and so on.

Google continues to search for the best talent it can find, even if that means going into Microsoft´s back yard. The two giants even went to court over whether Google could hire someone away from Microsoft. Imagine, big corporations fighting over people with PhDs, once derided as people who deal only with abstractions and can´t do anything in the socalled real world, except create a whole new economy built around the Internet.

To add even further insult, Google makes a point of saying it runs its company like a university rather than a business. That includes giving employees 20 percent time, one day a week to work on whatever they find interesting.

What all this adds up to is the importance of higher education, and the importance of contininuing to invest in it even in tough economic times.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Taxpayers and Transplants

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose health problems even as a much younger person are well known, said recently he may decide to have a heart transplant.

Taxpayers, of course, will pay for it through his government health care. No problem.
There has been no outcry that we can't afford it, even though he will be on expensive anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life.

In Arizona, though, talk of taxpayer-funded transplants has Republicans doing their usual rant against anti-government spending. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer decided to cut funding for transplants for sick poor people because she says the state can't afford it. About 100 people who were told they would get transplants had the rug pulled out from under them.

Protests mounted, and two people who had been on the list for transplants died after the funding was cut -- the result of a real death panel that was entirely of Republican making rather than merely Republican imagination.

Finally, on Friday (Jan. 21, 2011), Brewer relented and came up with the $800,000 for transplants this year.

So why is it one person deserves a heart transplant at taxpayer expense, no questions asked, and sick poor people who were eligible for care one day can be kicked off the rolls at the whim of a Republican governor, and it takes a national outcry to get her to change her mind?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Item Pricing Repeal -- Who Will Get the Savings?

I happen to be a fan of item pricing. I use it religiously. I like to know how much an item costs, even after I get home and put it on my shelf. I like to know how much I'm spending per ounce -- is the bigger box really the better value? Is this store cheaper than that other one?

I guess it was the way I was raised, by parents who never forgot the lessons of the Great Depression and taught me how to shop for value, not just low prices. I used to clip coupons regularly, organizing them by category and sorting through them before grocery shopping. But they have become mostly promotional gimmicks used to entice us to buy highly-processed foods that are high cost and low nutrition.

So I rely on item pricing even more. Now businesses are renewing their push to get rid of it in the guise of saving money. Who gets the billions in savings they claim will result? Will it be reflected in lower prices? Who is promising that?


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Something to Watch from State of State

Livingston County should keep a close eye on one piece of legislation outlined in the State of the State message on Wednesday (Jan. 19, 2011). That's the proposal to let emergency financial managers intervene earlier in entites with severe financial problems.

How could that possibly affect Livingston County, one of the wealthiest counties in the state and with the often-bragged about lowest tax rate?

The fact is several townships may soon be unable to pay back their share of the $100 million the county has borrowed for them in order to build water and sewer systems for private developers, who later walked away from the projects and left taxpayers holding the bag. One of the worst affected is Handy Township, who got deeply in debt when Republican Rep. Cindy Denby was township supervisor and thought the world was going to move to Handy Township even as the Michigan economy shed jobs by the hundreds of thousands throughout the decade.

If Handy Township can't make it's debt payments, will a financial manager be needed? Will Denby and the other Republican lawmakers from the county slip something into this bill to help out Livingston County -- like that $5 million taxpayer bailout they proposed earlier?

Keep your eye on the ball.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Teaching and the 'Real World'

People in some parts of our economy like to pretend that those who teach others are not part of the "real world." I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean. Does it mean that there are no consequences to what we do? That if we do it poorly nothing bad happens?

The Tucson shooting, allegedly carried out by a one-time community college student, demonstrates that the classroom is very much part of the "real world."

When Jared Lee Loughler was given a "B" in a class, for example, he became so angry that the teacher was frightened for her safety. That seems pretty "real" to me. Instructors in other classes said they were so alarmed by his outbursts that security had to be called. That seems pretty "real" to me.

When I look at the wall of my classroom and I see instructions on what to do if there is an "active shooter" in the vicinity, that seems pretty "real" to me.

Of course, one doesn't have to be have an accused mass murderer in the classroom to know that what we do matters. An unfair grade can keep a student out of graduate school, medical school, or law school -- someone who could go on to offer new insights about our world, discover life-saving medical break-throughs, and so on. That seems pretty real to me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ban Mass Murder Clips to Make Us Safer

There probably isn't any way to stop people bent on taking a gun to a public place and committing mass murder. At least not in the current climate where the only rights that matter are Second Amendment rights. But could we at least do something to reduce the death toll by banning?

Jared Lee Loughler had an extended clip that allowed him to fire 31 rounds before having to reload his semi-automatic hand-gun. Only when he stopped to reload was an elderly woman able to knock the clip out of his hand and allow others to wrestle him to the ground.

Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York is introducing legislation once again to stop the sale, trade, and exchange of high-capacity ammunition clips -- legislation she has introduced yearly since a ban on such clips was allowed to expire in 2004. McCarthy's husband was murdered by a gunman who used one of the clips in a mass murder on a Long Island commuter train in 1993. The legislation wouldn't affect the guns, only an attachment to the guns. And law enforcement would still have access to them, just not potential mass murderers.

These clips are the instruments of mass murderers. They turn ordinary killers into mega-killers. Why can't we do without mass murder clips?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Violent Rhetoric Matters in Wake of Tucson Shooting

Some people would like us to ignore all the violent rhetoric that preceded the shooting deaths of six people, including a federal judge, and the serious wounding of U.S. Rep. Giffords in Tucson.

But we shouldn't.

What Tucson did was make the violent rhetoric real, to show us what those words really mean.

When politicians lke Sharron Angle talk about "Second Amendment remedies," this is what those words really mean -- shooting our leaders like judges and members of Congress -- whether or not Sharron Angle intended that anybody actually do it.

When people appear at Democratic rallies with signs about the "blood of tyrants" needing to water the tree of liberty from time to time, this is what those words mean -- shooting our leaders like judges and members of Congress -- whether the bearer of the sign intended somebody actually do it.

Those words were part of the political context we were living in prior to Jan. 8, 2011, whether or not they were a contributing factor to the Tuscon deaths.

Now that we see what those words mean in practice, people need to ask themselves whether that is what they want. Is that how they want their political system to operate?

If Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, and protesters at political rallies mean something different, they should use different words because from now on, the images of Tucson will be linked with crosshairs on congressional districts and bodies in a Safeway parking lot. If people continue to use those words and images, they will have a tough time convincing people that they mean something else.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Experts: Granholm Left Snyder Millions in Budget Surplus

The endlessly-repeated Republican story line about how bad things are in Michigan is starting to fall apart.

Just as the Livingston Press and Argus was quoting far-right economist David Littmann as warning that Michigan is in a "death spiral," and that massive cuts to the salaries and benefits of Michigan public employees were needed, word came of a totally different scenario.

Economists in Lansing agreed on the economic outlook for the state budget this year and projected a surplus. That means that the state will take in more money that it will spend this year, even as other states, including Republican-run Texas, wrestle with multi-billion-dollar deficits.

The state's general fund will have a surplus of $277 million at the end of this fiscal year. The school aid fund will be even better off, with a $523 million surplus at the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Overall, tax revenues are expected to grow 1.5 percent.

The state still faces a deficit for the following year which will require tough budget decisions, but it is projected to be smaller than earlier thought.

A death spiral? Perhaps for Republican nightmare scenarios.

So the County Commission DOES Have a Role in County Roads?

I'm confused, and readers of the Livingston Press and Argus must be, too.

When Democratic candidates for Livingston County Commission pointed out the poor condition of county roads and pledged to stop spending money on wasteful projects and fix the roads instead, the county commission insisted it had no role whatsoever in county road building. That was all up to the road commission and all the county commission did was appoint the commissioners and set their salaries and then totally ignore whatever they did. Even though the commission has an "infrastructure committee."

The Livingston Press and Argus backed them up on that during the campaign and again later, insisting in its year-end story wrapping up political highlights of the year that the county commission doesn't have anything to do with the roads.

So here we are on Friday (Jan. 14, 2010) and we read in the Livingston Press and Argus that the county commission plans to give $1.5 million to the Latson Road interchange project.

So the newspaper and the commissioners are admitting that the county commission DOES have a role in road construction in this county when it chooses to. And the conclusion is obvious that it has CHOSEN not to do a darn thing about the poor roads in the past.

The county commission didn't say where this $1.5 million for the Latson Road project is coming from and the reporter apparently didn't ask. My guess is it's coming from the deliquent tax revolving fund.

The article also is interesting because it draws a direct connection between county commission spending, or not spending, on roads and its foolish backing of sewer and water projects for private developers which have now gone belly-up and left the taxpayers holding the bag.

Commissioner Dave Domas didn't want to give the money to the road commission for the Latson Road interchange, only loan it to them. As the newspaper reported:

"Domas said the county must pay attention to several pressing financial issues, including accounting for township water and sewer special-assessment projects the county has backed with its credit rating. Several assessment projects have been built without expected development, which will leave the county responsible for paying them off if townships fail to."

In other words, Domas can see that county taxpayers are going to soon be getting a big bill for the county's borrowing to cover losses in these special assessment districts and he wants to have some money in reserve so that taxes don't have to be raised to pay off Wall Street.

Which is exactly what Democratic candidates were saying last fall.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Will Lawmakers With Guns Work Exactly?

Now that some of our lawmakers have decided to carry guns to protect themselves from voters on shooting rampages, I'm wondering exactly how that will work.

Let's say they're at a town hall meeting with their gun. Do they take the gun and put it on the table so that everyone can see it? If so, how do they know they'll be able to grab it once trouble starts and not be shot first? Do they wear it in a holster and become quick draw artists? Do they keep it trained on the audience in case someone fires?

Will they undergo firearms training so that the audience is confident the lawmaker will hit the person they are aiming at and not some innocent bystander? Will the lighting in the hall be good enough so that the lawmaker will be able to identify exactly who fired the shot? What if someone fires and a couple people jump up with guns drawn? Will the lawmaker shoot all of them out of an abundance of caution? Will the lawmaker remain calm under fire and be able to aim accurately?

What do they do if someone sneaks up behind them in a crowd? Will they have eyes in the back of their heads and be able to see them before the assailant gets off the first shot?

How will guns at political events affect the political dialogue? Will voters feel comfortable disagreeing with an armed politician? I don't know. This isn't my idea. It's up to those who are proposing gun-toting lawmakers to answer the questions.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Some Things I Would LIke to Know After the Tucson Shooting

There are some things I would like to know after the shooting deaths of six people and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress on Saturday (Jan. 8, 2011).

What was the name of the person who sold the gun to this deranged person and how does he or she feel now? How did the shooter act when he was purchasing the gun?

The accused apparently lived with his parents. What attempts did they make to get mental health care for him after he was dismissed from college classes due to his mental imbalance? Were they unable to afford mental health care, was free care unavailable, did he refuse care, or did they think it was unnecessary? Encouraging mentally ill people, if he was indeed mentally ill, to get care is often difficult, but I'd like to know what attempts were made.

What were his sources of information about the world? His rhetoric includes much talk of unconstitutionality and the gold standard, the former part of the far-right Republican Party rhetoric of today while talk about gold is common on Glenn Beck's show.

Does Sarah Palin regret putting cross-hairs on the congresswoman's district? Will she do it again?

How do other members of Congress feel about having town hall meetings now? Will they continue to do so? How will this affect our democracy?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Health Care Bill's Tax Break a Winner with Employers

You won't hear Republicans talking about this provision of the health care reform act when they try to repeal it next week. It would be too hard to explain to business groups why they want to take it away.

But a tax credit for small businesses is expanding the number of companies offering health insurance to their employees -- private health insurance.

The Los Angeles Times reports that some insurers have seen increases of as much as 58 percent in small businesses buying insurance since the health care reform measure was passed in March. The tax credit for health insurance premiums, which can amount to as much as 35 percent of the premium, is already in effect.

The newspaper reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City has been aggressively marketing the tax credit to small businesses and "is reporting a 58% jump in the number of small businesses buying insurance since April, the first full month after the legislation was signed into law."

So the question for Republican Mike Rogers and other Michigan Republicans in Congress is, why do you want to take away this tax credit that is helping small businesses?

Friday, January 7, 2011

How the 'Lowest Tax Rate in the State' Makes Us Less Safe

Livingston County's all-Republican County Commission continually brags that we have the lowest tax rate of any county in the state, but they never admit the shortcomings of that approach, one of which became brutally obvious recently.

The Livingston County Sheriff's Department didn't have enough deputies on hand to take defendants to court so the court system had to grind to a halt, according to a story in the Livingston Press and Argus on Friday (January 7, 2011). That's not a minor thing for the dozens of lawyers and clients waiting for their day in court. The newspaper implied it was a waste of time to have deputies "sitting in a courtroom," but the fact is that accused criminals can't just be left in courtrooms with no security. Courthouse violence against judges, witnesses, and lawyers is a reality in America.

The paper cast the security matter as a "feud" between a local judge and the sheriff, no doubt spin from some Republican in county government who wants to cover up the fact that the sheriff's office is down 18 deputies. Some townships pay for their own police protection to make up for the county's failure to provide adequate service because of the GOP's low tax line. That system makes the county's lowest tax rate brag a lie. The Republican county commissioners push the costs and responsibilities that they should be covering onto townships via a shell game that makes them look good and leaves us less safe.

But the bottom line is the county sheriff's office doesn't have enough deputies to do the job. And that's the county commission's fault.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Now We Know What 'Shared Sacrifice' Looks Like

It's becoming clear what "shared sacrifice" is going to look like in Republican Rick Snyder's administration -- a 25 percent raise for managers.

The Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday (January 4, 2011) that Snyder had hired Michael Finney to run the Michigan Economic Development Corporation at an annual salary of $250,000 -- 25 percent more than the $200,000 Gov. Jennifer Granholm had paid his predecessor. And Finney gets 18 percent of his salary on top of that for deferred compensation.

But Finney is still making a "sacrifice" because he was paid $259,000 a year in his private sector job.

Where is the additional $50,000 going to come from in a time of state budget deficits? Out of the hides of the secretaries, administrative assistants, data crunchers, and other employees of state government. They'll be doing the sacrificing and Finney will share in the proceeds.

I get it now.

Hune's Quarter of a Million-Dollar Legislative Campaign

Livingston County is a county where everyone always votes Republican, we are told over and over again, so why did Joe Hune close in on spending a quarter of a million dollars in his state Senate campaign?

That's right, nearly a quarter of a million dollars -- or $222,196 to be exact. That's according to Hune's latest report filed with the Michigan Secretary of State's office. The Livingston Press and Argus Tuesday (January 4, 2011) claimed Hune had only spent about half that amount - $116,000. But Hune's final report shows the figure is much greater. You can look it up.

Hune raised even more than he spent -- a total of $298,400, leaving him with a big chunk of cash on hand for four years from now.

Hune's Democratic opponent, Chuck Fellows, spent about $10,000. Yet Hune kept going to insurance company and farming political action committees with his hand out, seeking more and more money to run in what we are told is a safe Republican district against an under-funded opponent. Is that the way a fiscal conservative handles finances? Why couldn't Hune just say , "No, No, No" to all that money?

Hune says there was no quid pro quo in exchange for all the cash his campaign raked in. Of course not. Hune's donors are professionals. They give money in exchange for favors routinely and they know how to do it to and stay within the law. What is expected of Hune is understood automatically, sealed with a wink and a nod, or maybe an artfully worded questionnaire.

While Hune grabs all the money from big financial interests, he keeps the home folks distracted with his ultra-right wing statements about illegal immigrants and the U.N. coming to take away your guns. That way, the folks at home won't notice that he plans to sell them down the river with votes in favor of big money interests against their economic interests. But, boy, they won't have to worry about the U.N. taking away their guns. Because by the time Hune and his cronies get done fleecing us, we won't be able to afford guns anymore.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Americans Deserve a Raise

American corporations need to re-learn the lesson Henry Ford gave the world in 1914, when he instituted the $5 day.

Ford's reasoning was simple -- pay workers enough so that they can afford to buy the product they produce, and the company will sell more product and make more money.

American corporations have forgotten that lesson, and that's one reason our economy is struggling. Corporations racked up record profits in the third quarter of 2010. That's right, record profits -- 30 percent over the previous year. Search the internet fot the phrase "3rd quarter corporate earnings record" and look at the long list of companies reporting record earnings.

Yet wages remain flat. And that means demand remains flat. People who are not getting raises feel uncertain about their jobs and are careful with their money, especially when the corporate media is mostly silent about the record profits corporations are raking in and stressing gloom and doom.

In order to put more demand into the economy, the Obama administration extended the Bush tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the wealthy, who won't spend the money anyway. The thinking was that the proportion of money going to 98 percent of the population would be spent, creating more demand in the economy. In effect, government gave Americans a raise because corporations wouldn't.

Americans need more money in their pockets, but it shouldn't come from the government, which has to borrow money from the Chinese in order to give it to us. It should come from our employers, the same corporations who earned record profits in the third quarter of 2010. Record profits. Keep repeating that. Corporations reported record profits in 2010.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder claims he can revitalize Michigan's economy with an entrepreneurial spirit. What good will it do for Michigan people to start new businesses if people can't afford to buy the goods and services they invent and offer?

Americans need a raise. And it should come from corporations, not government. They can afford it. Don't let them tell you otherwise.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Snyder's 'Shared Sacrifice' Is Suspicious

Republican Rick Snyder took office over the weekend as Michigan's governor promising "shared sacrifice" for Michigan.

We all know working people are going to sacrifice as Republicans go over pay and benefits of teachers, firefighters, state troopers, prison guards, and anyone else who serves the public. But who else? Certainly not wealthy people in Michigan as Snyder already has said there will be a budget with no tax increases, only cuts.

So who exactly is going to share in the sacrificing besides the people who do the work?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Another New Year's Resolution

Michigan needs to resolve to fix another of its political structural problems besides its redistricting process, and that is the way it elects its Supreme court justices.

In 2011, Michigan should put together a ballot proposal for having Michigan Supreme Court justices appointed by the governor and then stand for retention by the voters. Justices are now nominated by political parties and then run on the non-partisan ballot. The last election was dominated by special interest spending. Now we are faced with the prospect of Bob Young, one of the most ideological justices ever to sit on the high court, possibly becoming the chief justice.

The new approach won't be perfect -- and maybe there are ways it can be improved, such as asking the state bar to vet nominees -- but it would be better than what we have now. Too few people vote in the judicial races because they are hard to find on the ballot and are not included in the straight-ticket voting. Fewer still cast an informed ballot.

Gubernatorial appointment would not take all the politics out of the high court, but it would reduce the influence of special interest money. And voters would still have a role in deciding whether or not a justice retains his or her seat on the high court.

Now is the time to address the way justices are elected, rather than waiting until the heat of the next campaign.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Michigan Resolutions for 2011

We're not quite done with our out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new news business cliches here at Living Blue. We've had our top ten stories of 2010 and our top ten predictions for 2011. But there's one more cliche -- the New Year's resolutions.

So here we go, with the first of these resolutions.

Michigan should resolve -- it must resolve -- to reform major pieces of how it conducts business. And Democrats in Michigan should resolve to write ballot issues addressing them and to put them on the ballot in 2012.

The first should re-write the way Michigan re-districts itself. The process should be taken out of the hands of the Legislature and the courts and be turned over to the Legislature's non-partisan bill-writing agency, the Legislative Service Bureau.

The service bureau would be required to write a redistricting plan for state Senate, state House, and congressional districts that meets key criteria such as crossing a miniminum of political boundaries, are reasonably intact, and so on, while being nearly equal in population. The plan would be due to the Legislature by July 1. Lawmakers could either accept or reject it, without any changes. If it is rejected, a second plan would be prepared by the Legislative Service Bureau and presented to the Legislature by Aug. 1. Lawmakers could either accept it or reject it, but could make no changes. If that plan is rejected by lawmakers, the Legislative Service Bureau would write a third plan, which would automatically take effect.

This is roughly the "Iowa plan" for redistricting. It is not perfect, but it is far more fair than the political wrangling that usually takes place. The goal of redistricting should be to create districts that make sense for the voters, not that favor the party in power over the other party, as is the case in Michigan right now.

Now is the ideal time to talk about reforming redistricting, while the ugly process is playing itself out. Voters, to the extent they ever tune in on something as arcane as redistricting, will be more aware of it than at any other time. As Democrats talk about their ballot issue and the need for fair, non-partisan redistricting, the spotlight will be turned on Republicans and their dirty political dealing.

Democrats should resolve to take the high road and back reform of the redistricting process and now is the ideal time to do it.