Thursday, June 30, 2011

Putting Themselves First--Again

Michigan Republicans are putting their narrow political concerns ahead of everybody else, especially schoolchildren, again.

Rick Snyder has already signed a budget that cuts $470 from the funding for each student statewide -- some $564 million a year. And it did this at a time when the state school aid fund has millions of dollars in surplus and is growing.

But Republicans continue to insist that the state has no more money to spend on educating the next generation of nurses, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and CEOs.

But there is money laying in plain sight -- the tax money that Republicans are planning on spending to hold a presidential primary in 2012. The Michigan Democratic Party has already decided to hold a caucus -- at its own expense -- on May 5 in lieu of asking taxpayers to pay for a special primary election.

Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, made the point that the money should go to schools in a statewide push by Michigan Democrats earlier this week criticizing the deep cuts to education.

But Republicans, who are so eager to cut funds for school children and to raise taxes on senior citizens and poor people, won't give up the tax-payer funded primary.

It seems like if people really want smaller government, cutting an unnecessary political perk for the Republican Party would be a good place to start.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Join Livingston Dems for Brighton Holiday Parade

Everybody loves a parade, especially on the 4th of July!

Livingston County Democrats will walk in the city of Brighton's 4th of July parade on Monday, July 4. The party's float, featuring the mechanical donkey, "Chicago," will lead party members in the parade.

The parade floats will line up around the Brighton Education and Community Center at Main and Church Streets. Look for the Demcorats' float on Spencer Street behind the BECC building or ask parade organizers in the information booth in the parking lot at the BECC building for the location of the Livingston County Democrats' float.

The parade begins at 10 a.m. but we will begin assembling at 9:30 a.m. Please show your patriotic colors by wearing a blue or white shirt. We will have candy to distribute to children along the route.

The Brighton parade is a long tradition in the community and participating is a great way for Democrats to show our strength to the community. Children love to participate, too, either by riding in strollers or handing out candy along the route.

If you'd like more information on participating in the Brighton parade, call party headquarters at (810) 229-4212 or email

See you there!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Start of a Trend?

Brighton appears to be one of the first communities in Michigan to lose jobs due to Rick Snyder's plan to "reinvent" Michigan.

Fronius USA, a solar company with its American headquarters in Brighton, says it is moving to Indiana due to tax incentives, where it plans to create 512 jobs by 2016. The state of Indiana said its offer of $4.25 million in tax credits and other incentives prompted the move.

Snyder is getting rid of incentives and instead cut business taxes by $1.7 billion by dumping the taxes on senior citizens and the poor. But even though Fronius, as a limited liability corporation, would not owe income taxes in Michigan under the new law, it's not enough to keep the company in Michigan.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is trying to figure out exactly what happened and why, which doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in Snyder's operation.

Brighton isn't the only city to lose jobs due to Snyder's "reinvention" of Michigan. According to the Detroit News, Spartan Motors Inc. is moving some its operations from Michigan to Indiana, too.

Let's hope this is not the start of a trend.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Livingston Dems Push Rogers to Probe Spy Attempt on U of M Prof

Allegations that the CIA may have been spying illegally on someone right next door have prompted Livingston County Democrats to call for an investigation into the matter.

The party's executive committee on Thursday urged U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers to have the House Intelligence Committee look into whether George W. Bush's White House pressured the CIA to spy illegally on Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan. The resolution was prompted by reports in The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press that came from a retired CIA counter-terrorism official who said the White House wanted to dig up dirt on Cole to discredit him because he was critical of the Iraq War. Federal law bars the CIA from spying on an American citizen while in this country.

Cole teaches history at the University of Michigan with an emphasis on the relationship between the Muslim world and the West. In 2002 he began his Informed Comment blog for commenting on Middle Eastern and American politics. He also has appeared many times on television and been interviewed by the press.

The U.S. Senate's Intelligence Committee has agreed to look into whether Cole was spied upon, but Rogers has only said that it was up to the Justice Department to handle it.

This matter hits pretty close to home. Ann Arbor is only 25 miles from Mike Rogers' hometown. Many of his constituents go to school or work in Ann Arbor. Shouldn't he be worried about illegal spying taking place in his own backyard?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cynical 'It Won't Change Anything' Attitude Hurts Redistricting Transparency

The Republican-dominated Legislature is rushing to approve a plan to draw new political boundary lines that will help determine who represents Michigan residents for the next decade. The rush means few people have had a chance to look at the map in any detail much less comment on it.

For something as crucial as the integrity of democractic representation, the process needs to be slowed down. But in the face of Democratic complaints, the Livingston Press and Argus is basically saying, "Sit down and shut up."

Says the editorial, "But the Democrats are barking up the wrong tree when they argue that the maps should tour the state for the summer to get public input before a final vote this fall. It's a nice idea, but other than giving partisans a chance for a forum, it won't change anything. Republicans are going to adopt the maps because they favor Republicans."

For an entity that depends on government transparency in order to do its job, that's an amazing statement. In effect, it's saying, "Why should we care what any government does? We don't have a vote and can't change it so just forget about it."

The editorial assumes there is no public interest at stake here aside from whatever the Republicans or Democrats want. It doesn't have to be that way. Years ago, I knew a newspaper colunmnist in another state who closely examined the redistricting plan put forward by the Republican Party. He demonstrated that it under-represented urban voters and over-represented rural voters. He wrote column after column about the unfairness and then challenged the author of the plan to a series of debates around the state. In the end, the plan was defeated and one that was fairer to a majority of voters in the state -- who lived in cities -- was adopted.

He didn't just throw up his hands and say, "Politics is politics and all you whiners shut up." He actually examined the proposal for fairness to voters and then did something about it. But he's dead now. I hope good journalism as it relates to redistricting hasn't died, too.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tax Cuts Still Not Enough for Business?

Apparently, a $1.7 billion tax cut for business isn't enough. Michigan "stinks" as a place to do business.

That's according to the Detroit Free Press on Sunday.

The newspaper says Michigan needs to be "more hospitable" to business.

What exactly does that mean? The columnist doesn't say. Should we assume he means right-to-work-for-less legislation? Does he mean ending all regulation of business? Getting rid of worker-safety requirements?

The article mentions Michigan's strong public universities as attractive to business, but Rick Snyder and the Republicans have already slashed funding to those institutions. Tuition increases to replace some of the lost state funds will make it harder for many students to attend and graduate, giving the state a smaller pool of college grads available for hiring. Is that attractive to business?

A little more specficity would be nice, but the columnist's problem may be that he won't know what it is that makes Michigan a better place to do business until Snyder tells him. You can bet whatever Snyder proposes that he claims will make Michigan's business climate more "hospitable" is what the columnist will support. That's one of the problems with business columnists. They end up as cheerleaders for whatever business leaders demand.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rogers Shouldn't Sweep Spying Allegations Under the Rug

News that George Bush and the CIA were up to no good is hardly shocking, but this time the news hits pretty close to home -- just down the road in Ann Arbor.

The Bush administration twice asked the CIA to spy on University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, a critic of the Iraq War, in order to dicredit his criticism, according to a former CIA official.

Had the CIA actually spied on Cole, that would have been illegal since federal law since the days of Watergate has prohibited the CIA from spying on American citizens.

Cole writes an extremely well-informed blog on the Middle East, titled Informed Comment. He is fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, and lived in parts of the Muslim world for 10 years. He has appeared on numerous network and cable television shows as a commentator and has written books on the Middle East, including Engaging the Muslim World.

But he ran afoul of the Bush administration for daring to criticize the Iraq War.

Since the allegations of the White House trying to use the CIA to spy on American citizens are a crime, Cole believes, rightly so, that Congress should investigate. He has called on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to look into the allegations.

And guess who heads the House Intelligence Committee -- Rep. Mike Rogers. And guess who says he isn't interested in looking into the allegations -- Rep. Mike Rogers.

Rogers needs to reconsider that. Rogers talks a lot about keeping Americans safe. He needs to make sure that American citizens are safe from our own government. Rogers must change his mind and look into whether the CIA did in fact spy on Cole, whether they spied on anyone else, whether the White House received such information and what they did with it.

Rogers has a special obligation to carry out such an investigation, given that Cole is a Michigan resident. Some of Rogers' own constituents may well have studied under him.

For the sake of his own state, Rogers shouldn't sweep this under the rug.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Case of Misplaced Priorities?

If you search on the internet for "heroin deaths in Livingston County" you will get 43,400 results and learn that deaths from heroin overdoses in Livingston County may well set a record this year if the current rate continues -- 13 so far in 2011.

If you search on the internet for "marijuana deaths in Livingston County, you will get this message, "No results found for 'marijuana deaths in livingston county.'"

So which drug do elected officials spend their time worrying about? Marijuana, of course, specifically medical marijuana. Brighton is the latest local government to debate ordinances to control medical marijuana dispensaries -- establishments that are legal ever since Michigan voters approved a ballot issue authorizing medical marijuana in the state.

And Livingston County Prosecuting Attorney David Morse is so worried about medical marijuana that is going after a dispensary because he thinks they are in technical violation of the medical marijuana law.

Perhaps more of the energy being spent on medical marijuana would be better spent on the drug that is killing people instead of the drug that is legally helping sick people.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Snyder's Private School Shows the Rich Really Are Different

No wonder Rick Snyder has trouble understanding what goes on in Michigan public schools.

According to Michigan Messenger, Snyder's own child goes to a private school that spends $20,000 a year on each student -- and doesn't think it's enough, even as Snyder has slashed $470 per student from Michigan public schools.

Snyder can send his kid to a private school if he wants to. As a multi-millionaire, he can afford the best education money can buy. He must think education is important. For his kid. But why doesn't he think it's important for all Michigan children?

His spokesperson's comments about the disparity in funding were non-responsive, claiming the cuts were necessary because of a lack of revenue, when we all know the school aid fund has a half billion dollar surplus and the state general fund is taking in hundreds of millions more than anticipated. The spokesperson had the nerve to say that schools should be "focusing on the growth of students." Exactly how they will do that even less money while the school Snyder's child attends can't get by on $20,000 a year, well, she didn't say.

I wonder how this news might have impacted the debate over school cuts had it come out a month ago.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Far-Right Propaganda Creeping into News Stories

One of the tactics the far-right has used for years is to repeat the same phrases so often that they eventually acquire a negative connotation. We know that happened with the word "liberal," but there is a host of others, including referring to the Democratic Party as "the Democrat Party," a grammatically incorrect construction.

Some of the phrases become so familiar to far-right extremists that they carry special meaning that others don't immediately pick up on, referred to as "dog whistle" politics. Sometimes, people have heard them so often that they start to use them even if they don't agree with the coded message.

One of the words that has become burdened with negative meanings is "government." Far-right extremists use it instead of "public," as in "government schools" instead of "public schools."

Americans For Prosperity, for example, has tried to smear the prospect of a public bridge over the Detroit River between Michigan and Canada by calling it a "government" bridge.

And now the Detroit Free Press's Dawson Bell appears to have joined in, referring to the bridge proposed by the state of Michigan and the Canadian government as a "government-sponsored bridge" rather than a public bridge.

It's a subtle difference, but an important one. The Free Press should let opponents of the publicly-owned bridge pay for their own propaganda, rather than spread it for them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

'Oz' Turnout a Peek at What Snyder Threw Away

A lost opportunity. That's what I thought when I read about the thousands who turned out in Pontiac over the weekend for a chance at a job as an extra in the movie Oz.

The movie just got in under the wire, being approved for Michigan's film incentive program before Rick Snyder axed it because it doesn't fit with his ideology of ending taxes for every business in hopes one of them will create a job someday, but hey, no promises.

Snyder threw away a lot when he ended the program, or gutted it so that the movie industry cannot rely on it. He threw away a chance to continue creating a brand new industry for the state that would counterbalance the auto industry; a way to keep young people in the state who have special talents; a way to create a new image for the state instead of the old, out-dated Rust Belt image. The change was just starting to take hold with the location of studios here that would provide steady jobs through post-production work as well as filming, but Snyder pulled the rug out from under them.

It wasn't financial. The state now has millions of dollars pouring into the treasury that it wasn't planning on and can clearly afford the incentives.

So what were they thinking when they decided to throw away this chance to build a new industry? Was it strictly ideological -- the unfounded belief that government shouldn't have any role in helping industries thrive, even though it clearly does that all the time?

Or was it strictly political? Do Republicans hate Hollywood that much because of its tendency to support Democratic candidates? Do they hate the fact that many of the long-term jobs would be unionized?

Whatever it was -- ideological or political -- it was foolish beyond belief.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hune Having a Failure to Communicate

Joe Hune is in hot water again.

The Republican state senator already was in the spotlight for refusing to take a position on building a public bridge to Canada to ease commercial traffic between businesses in Michigan and across the border.

Now he's in trouble for writing in the Fowlerville News and Views that the Legislature increased funding for local schools by $200 per pupil -- when in fact they really cut it by $470 per pupil.

Hune told the Livingston Press and Argus, "I'm not trying to lie and deceive."

Really? What would he call it when he tries to make a silk purse into a sow's ear in the eyes of the public? Isn't he trying to obfuscate the truth when he says he should have said the Legislature provided $200 more per student than what Rick Snyder asked for? Why would that have been better? It doesn't tell the public how schools are faring compared to the current situation, only how they would do compared to a hypothetical.

It's hard to see where Hune goes from here. He gets in trouble when he doesn't say something and then gets in trouble when he does say something. Maybe it's not the message, but the messenger that's the problem.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Putting Sex Scandals in Context

There are lots of experts on the Middle East who are trotted out on cable television shows, but one of the best comes from right here in Michigan -- Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan.

Cole, author of Engaging the Muslim World, is always insightful and isn't called upon by cable television nearly enough. His Informed Comment blog is a must-read for people interested in international affairs.

This week, he provided a perspective on American political sex scandals that I haven't seen elsewhere. I highly recommend his highly readable blog, titled "Our News and Their News."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sticking His Nose Into Other People's Business

You have to wonder how Howell public school teachers are feeling right now.

They just voted to not only freeze their pay but take home fewer dollars by paying more for their health insurance, all while agreeing to take on more work.

And for their sacrifices, they've gotten nothing but criticism.

First, three of the seven members of the school board voted against the contract because the cuts weren't deep enough.

And then, a board member from a neighboring district shows up to criticize the contract with the teachers. John Conely, a member of the board for Brighton Area Schools, thought he should stick his nose into Howell's business by pushing the Republican agenda of attacking Howell's health insurance carrier. Statewide, Republicans love to attack the carrier because it is related to the Michigan Education Association.

But he didn't stop there. He went on to accuse Howell teachers of "strong-arming" the public into not attending board meetings -- with absolutely no evidence to back him up. And he criticized Howell board members who had family members who were teachers.

And he didn't just come to one Howell board meeting. He came to two of them and made similar remarks.

Being lectured by Conely didn't sit well with Howell board members, given that his district is in deficit and theirs isn't.

But it probably didn't sit too well with Howell teachers, either. They have to be wondering -- where does this guy get off? Conely's comments make it harder for teachers and other public employees to agree to concessions. If you know you're going to get beat up no matter whether you take concessions or not, why bother? You might as well fight harder to hang onto what you've got if this is the thanks you get.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Getting a Dose of His Own Medicine

A year ago, Joe Hune was the toast of the far right. In his campaign for the state Senate, he threw around words like "big government" and "debt" at campaign events like they were candy for kids at a 4th of July parade.

Now, Hune is refusing to take a stand on whether the state of Michigan should build a bridge to Canada, opposed by the owners of a private span who want to keep their lucrative monopoly. As a result, opponents of the new bridge are attacking Hune in the same style of rhetoric he used to win his seat.

In a mailing to Hune's constituents, Americans for Prosperity-Michigan warns that the new bridge means "$500 million of NEW FOREIGN DEBT for Michigan" and "Bigger Government and More Bureaucracy." It warns that "taxpayers get stuck with the bill!" if the bridge is built.

This is the same group, by the way, that put up fake-eviction notices on properties in Detroit to scare people into opposing the new bridge.

The group urges Hune's constituents to call him "and tell him that Michigan doesn't need foreign debt."

The bridge has Hune in a tough spot. He wants to stay cozy with the tea-bagger crowd and the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, but his Republican governor Rich Snyder wants the bridge and Hune doesn't want to publicly challenge Snyder. So for now, he's trying to sit on the fence, hoping that Democrats will provide enough votes, along with a few GOP ones, to pass Snyder's priority for the Republicans.

It's a pleasure to see Hune in such a spot. And the mailing, with its inflammatory rhetoric so reminiscent of Hune's own just a year ago, is a great way to make him swallow a taste of his own medicine.

Monday, June 6, 2011

'Making the Pie Smaller' -- The Latest Installment

Michigan Republicans, who claim they know all there is to know about promoting business, have once again shown that they don't. Once again, they've shown that they only know how to make the economic pie smaller, not bigger.

The latest evidence comes in two news stories. The first is the news that Howell teachers have agreed to a new contract that freezes salaries, increaess their workload, and makes them pay more for for their health insurance. All that and it still doesn't take care of the hole in the district's budget due to Rick Snyder's $470 per pupil cut in state aid to local schools. What it does do is make sure that Howell teachers have less money to spend at restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations here in Livingston County. That's less business for those establishments, less profit, less need to hire more employees. By keeping a surplus in the state school aid fund and forcing districts to make cuts, Snyder and his Republican buddies are hurting local businesses.

They aren't done, of course. The Lansing State Journal reports that next on the agenda is forcing state employees to pay 20 percent toward their health insurance. The same thing will happen statewide. At a time when the state treasury is taking in hundreds of millions of dollars in unexpected revenue, state workers will have less money left in their paychecks, less money to spend at businesses all across the state. The state constitution, however, hampers the Legislature's ability to do this unilaterally so Republicans are proposing an amendment to the state constitution to impose the requirement.

The justification for both these developments is that employees in the private sector always pay 20 percent of their health costs, so just because they're treated unfairly, public employees should be, too. In other words, let's spread the misery around instead of trying to make things better.

In the process, Michigan's economy will be made smaller than it otherwise would be.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mackinac Island Forum Offers Fantasy Island Education View

Michigan business and Republican leaders have been meeting on Mackinac Island for the last several days, congratulating themselves on their success in fattening their own wallets by cutting funding for local schools and higher education in this state.

Perhaps they really don't understand that that is a short-sighted approach to economic growth in Michigan. Or perhaps they do know it and realize how bad it looks. Either way, they decided they'd better act like they care about education and understand it's importance so they invited a few educators to speak at the conference.

And one of made them all feel better by just blaming teachers for everything that's wrong with public schools.

According to the Detroit Free Press:

"Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, spoke at the conference and said public schools' success rests solely with teachers, who should be fired if their students don't go on to college.

"'If you get paid to educate a child and you cannot do it, then you should probably go into a different business,' he said."

Really? Every student must go to college, whether they want to or not? Does Canada live on a Fantasy Island where no one needs a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, or a mechanic? No one has to draw blood, drive a school bus, stock shelves in grocery stores, pick up the trash, mow lawns, lay ashphalt on our roads, plow snow in the winter? And all the people who do these jobs are failures because they didn't go to college? So their teachers should be fired?

What poppycock. Michigan needs to send more of its students to college. Income tends to rise with education. Many of the best jobs of the future will require college degrees. But not all jobs will need that training. And not everyone likes school. That's just a simple fact. Not everyone has college-level ability -- even some who come from well-off families. And because of high tuition rates -- due to inadequate state support -- too many bright students from poor families can't afford to go to college.

But to label everyone who fails to go to college a failure and a sign of the system's failure is taking the lazy way out.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Senate Dem Video Sums Up Snyder, Without Saying a Word

Tax overhauls can get pretty complicated. Dropping this tax credit, raising this rate, exempting people above a certain age. Look at what happened with Rick Snyder's pension tax, with its three-tiered approach to socking it to older people in Michigan.

Regardless of the details, the overall story can be pretty simple, as in Snyder's case -- take from the people and give it to business.

Senate Democrats devised a video that underscores the unfairness of Snyder's plan with stark simplicited. It is the most effective video I've ever seen from the Democratic legislative caucuses.

After watching the video, if you'd like to sign up to help recall Snyder, you can sign up through Daily Kos, as Michigan Liberal points out, or you can check out Recall Rick on Facebook.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Romney Shuns Michigan in Announcing For President

Mitt Romney, who grew up in Michigan as the son of an auto executive and won the state's presidential primary in 2008, announced Thursday that he was running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 in a staged event far away from his Michigan roots.

Sure, Romney wanted to announce in New Hampshire because of its first in the nation primary status, apparently deciding he doesn't care that much about Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.

But it's not unusual for candidates to double-up on the announcements, stopping at more than one place to announce the "news." But Romney made no bid to get any media in Michigan for a very good reason -- an opinion piece he penned titled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

After basically telling the state to kiss its major industry good-bye and that President Obama's attempts to aid it would spell the demise of the auto industry, Romney can't very well come back here and ask for Michiganians' votes. Especially with Michigan automakers picking up market share, posting profits, repaying federal laws early, and buying back federally-owned stock.

Now, of course, Romney is trying to take credit for the auto industry rebound, yet another Mitt flip-flop.

So as President Obama prepares to visit an auto plant on the state's borders to announce the Chrysler stock buy-back, Romney is choosing to stay away.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A LIttle Perspective on Snyder's 'Accomplishments'

It's time for a little perspective on Rick Snyder and what the Michigan news media is calling his amazing accomplishments since taking office in January.

The Republican governor has several major advantages compared to his predecessor, Democrat Jennifer Granholm that explain the ease with which the budget that was just adopted.

First, Snyder has the luxury of having his own party control both houses of the Legislature, no small advantage but one that the news media rarely bothers to point out. Legislative accomplishments are easier to rack up when you are playing with people who are all on the same team. Second, many of the House members are brand new lawmakers who are much more easily led than veterans who know their way around the Capitol.

Third, Snyder had the luxury of being able to ask Republicans to do things that they like to do anyway -- cut taxes for businesses, stick it to poor people, attack public schools by slashing their budgets. This is an agenda made in heaven for Republicans, and the fact that the news media is amazed that it got done is surprising. Snyder would have had a much harder time of it had he asked Republican lawmakers to provide more funding for schools, for example, so that we really could "reinvent" Michigan. Snyder did not have to go against the Republican grain.

Fourth, Snyder benefits from an economy that is now growing and producing far more revenue than forecasters predicted even a few months ago, thanks to President Obama's restructuring of the auto industry. More than likely, people won't have to go through budget slashing year after year the way Granholm did. Of course there is a new attitude in Michigan, but that has more to do with the fact that the auto industry is making money again than with anything Snyder has done.

The fact is, Snyder rode into town just as things were getting much better in Michigan and now he wants to grab all the credit.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Republicans Not Done with Attacking Public Schools

The assault on public schools isn't over, just because Rick Snyder has stolen $470 per student from school budgets at a time when the school aid fund has a surplus and the state budget is taking in millions more than expected just a few months ago.

Now, it's time for Republicans to make it easier to fire teachers.

Right now, teachers receive tenure after a four-year probationary period. You would think that four years would be enough time for school superintendents to figure out that a teacher is or isn't doing the job. That's four years to do annual evaluations, observe the teacher in the classroom, examine lesson plans, and on and on. That's four years to decide if a teacher is making the grade and to document the lack of performance.

But apparently, it's not enough time. Four entire school years will pass without school superintendents being able to discern that a teacher isn't doing the job. Probably because the superintendents aren't doing theirs.