Monday, November 21, 2011

You Couldn't Write a Better Script for Failure

Do Republicans want to bring the film industry and its jobs to Michigan?

Looking at their plan to require legislative approval for the tax credits for each movie, I wonder.

The proposed legislation would replace former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's program that allowed qualified film projects to receive refundable tax credits of up to 42 percent of the cost of the projects. Instead of a maximum of 42 percent, the legislation would have maximum credits ranging from 25 percent to 32 percent, depending on the type of expenditure, according to the Livingston Press and Argus.

The problem I have is not so much with the reduced percentages, although it's strange that wages for the crew is reimbursed at the lowest level. If the object is jobs, it seems like that would merit a higher reimbursement rate. Even so, my biggest concern is with the notion that instead of being administered by a state film office, the tax credits would be voted on as an appropriation for each film by the Legislature. That process has multiple pitfalls. In fact, if you wanted to script the failure of the process, I don't think you could write a better one than what is in the Republican bill.

Great film projects surface on their own timetable, not the Legislature's. The legislative process is a cumbersome, time-consuming one. What happens if a filmmaker seeks a tax credit at a time when the Legislature is off on one of its many recesses? Won't a film office in a competing state be able to authorize tax credits before our lawmakers can get back from their summer vacations?

Will this process favor large corporations, who can afford expensive lobbyists, over start-up companies who can't? Some small Michigan companies are doing great work in the film industry, but they could wind up being shut out in favor of large, well-established studios with political muscle.

Might it mean campaign contributions from those corporate PACs will find their way into the campaign coffers of lawmakers who support Film A over Film B? Will lawmakers try to oppose some sort of values litmus test on the films that are awarded tax credits? What sort of disputes will that lead to that can delay or even kill a proposed appropriation? How is that "business friendly"? What filmmaker will want to bother when they can go elsewhere?

The film industry can be a valuable industry that will provide high-paying, long-term jobs for Michigan's creative and talented work force, especially if post-production studios have a chance to establish themselves. But I fear the legislative approval process for films is unworkable, and maybe even designed to fail.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Joe Hune Near Top of the List in Taking Lobbyist Meals

One thing is for sure. Republican Joe Hune isn't going hungry in Lansing doing his job as state senator.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Hune is third on the list of lawmakers taking free meals from lobbyists. The $1,903 in free meals puts him behind only Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville ($2,985) and Rep. Frank Foster ($2,814), both Republicans. Seven of the top ten free eaters were Republicans and three were Democrats.

You can bet those meals weren't paid for by local TEA Party members. I wonder how they feel knowing their guy Hune is sitting down for one free meal after another while a lobbyist for corporate interests bends his ear about how to vote on bills before the Legislature. It's not that the meals buy the vote of Hune or any other lawmaker. It's that the meals give those lobbyists special access to lawmakers that the average voter doesn't have.

According to the Free Press, the biggest spenders on free meals for lawmakers were multi-client lobbyist firms. No labor union was in the top five in free food buyers.

Hune makes enough on his legislative salary to split the tab at these meals.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Former Livingston County GOP Chair Makes News

The former chair of the Livingston County Republican Party is making headlines, but not in a good way.

Allan Filip, who was chair of the local party during the 2008 election, was hired as director of external affairs by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson last December. But now the Michigan Democratic Party says Filip was caught on taxpayer time hiring people to collect signatures to recall Democratic lawmakers. MDP Chair Mark Brewer has filed a complaint over the matter.

Filip says he left the Secretary of State's Office before coordinating the recall signature effort.

Even if that's true, shouldn't there be some sort of "cooling off period" between the time someone leaves the Secretary of State's office, which oversees Michigan elections, and the time the ex-employee takes a partisan job? This situation seems as bad as the revolving door between government and lobbyists. It just doesn't look right.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Here's a Quote for Stabenow Campaign to Tuck Away

U.s. Sen. Debbie Stabenow doesn't know who her Republican opponent will be in her 2012 re-election contest. But if its Clark Durant, here's a quote Democrats need to file away for future use.

In an interview with the Grand Rapids Press, Durant was asked about the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

"In regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Durant said the protesters should 'go find a job.' In regards to the wealth gap the movement decries, Durant said, 'I think it should be wider.'"

That's right. Durant wants more income inequality. Having the 400 richest families in America owning more wealth than the bottom 60 percent isn't a problem in Durant's eyes. Less upward mobility for American youth? Just what the doctor ordered as far as Durant is concerned.

Should be a campaign ad in there somewhere.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where Were the People in GOP Debate?

Something was missing in last week's Republican presidential debate. It took me awhile to notice it, what with Perry's 53-second brain freeze and the drama over the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain.

That "something" was the main thing that matters in all these debates and the general election itself -- people.

I can recall few instancfes in which a candidate talked about a real person he or she had met while campaigning, someone who told them a story about his or her life that the audience could relate to or that illustrated the impact of the policies these candidates support or oppose. This debate should have been full of such stories. After all, it was supposed to be about the economy and jobs, and we are in need of more jobs. But the closest anyone came to talking about real people was Newt Gingrich talking about Henry Ford.

There are a number of possibilities. Perhaps these candidates are doing very little actual campaigning of the kind that candidates used to do in Iowa and New Hampshire and instead are spending their time in private fund-raising, media interviews, and speeches to special interest groups. They may be running a version of a "virtual campaign" in which they never really have to talk to voters so they don't have any examples of how voters are suffering.

Or it may be that the Republicans' positions -- against government actually doing anything to help people and in favor of dismantling regulations that protect people -- just doesn't lend itself to telling stories about how those policies would impact real people. At least not stories that most voters would want to hear.

Who's going to tell a story about a 1 percenter who can't redecorate a yacht if the government raises his taxes? Not a real sob story?

Who's going to tell a story about a doughnut shop owner who's mad about "government" regulations after food inspectors found rat feces in the flour?

The truth is policies Republicans favor hurt the average person so much that it is hard to illustrate them with stories that convey the idea that the candidates care about us. This will be a much bigger problem in the general election. If President Obama illustrates his policies with stories about people he met in Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania, he'll be connecting with voters while the GOP candidate praises the virtues of the "free market." Free markets don't vote. People do.

Friday, November 11, 2011

It Wasn't Just 'Let DETROIT Go Bankrupt'

Democrats are letting the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination off the hook on the issue of rescuing the American auto industry. Ironically, they're doing so by using Mitt Romney's own words against him.

Romney's "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" opinion piece at the time of the auto industry rescue seems devastating, and in many ways it is. Bringing it up is especially effective here in Michigan, of course.

But why should the rest of the nation really care about Detroit and Michigan's troubles, when they have troubles of their own? By implying that the rescue was only for Detroit, or jobs in Michigan, Democrats let voters in the rest of the country forget about auto industry jobs around the nation -- in assembly plants, dealerships, and auto suppliers.

They also let people forget that not only Chrysler and General Motors would have disappeared, but so would the suppliers that furnished parts to Ford. Ford's survival would have been in jeopardy at that point, too. So even though Ford did not need a rescue itself, it needed a rescue for Chrysler and General Motors in order to stay in business. This point was made at the time, but it seems to have been lost.

Democrats need to remind voters of the broad national impact of Romney's foolish plan, not narrow it to one region.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perry Gaffe Distracts from Failures of Other Candidates

Texas Gov. Rick Perry finally overshadowed all the other contenders for the Republican nomination for president. Just not in the way he would have preferred.

Perry's huge stumble ranks as the most embarrassing moment I've seen in a debate at that level. It was as bad as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's inability to even read her notes in a 2010 debate, but the stakes were much higher for Perry Wednesday night. His inability to name the three government agencies he would eliminate was particularly embarrassing because the one he couldn't come up with just happens to be the one that regulates the largest industry in his state -- the Department of Energy.

Perry's flop is a shame because it takes the spotlight off all too many other failures by the other candidates -- for instance, their insistence on attacking the rescue of the auto industry by holding on to the fairy tale belief that private equity markets could somehow have handled the matter at a moment when the nation's financial markets were crippled.

And Herman Cain's ridiculous defense against sexual harassment allegations -- hey, there are only four accusers and thousands of women who say I never touched them. Then he shows his high regard for women in general by calling former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a "princess."

Then there was Newt Gingrich pretending to be a historian, lauding the business genius of Henry Ford when it's commonly known that when Ford started out he was terrible at handling the business details, as opposed to the mechanics of building the vehicle.

The Perry moment will go down in history, but the other moments won't do much for the campaigns of the remaining candidates.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

So Many Reasons to Celebrate!

Election Day gave Democrats around the country many reasons to celebrate. Let's list them, just to savor the moment a little longer.

1. The crushing defeat of Republican John Kasich's bill to strip the rights of public employee unions in Ohio.

2. The sound thrashing by voters of Mississippi's proposal to declare a fertilized egg to be a "person," not only outlawing all abortions but potentially preventing the use of many forms of birth control as well as invitro-fertilization.

3. The recall of Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of the state's anti-immigrant law that allows police to demand papers from anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.

4. The rejection by Maine voters of a Republican-passed bill to do-away with same-day voter registration, a tradition in the state for 38 years.

5. And in Michigan, the recall of Republican Rep. Paul Scott. The Genesee County lawmaker and chair of the House Education Committee was a staunch supporter of Republican Rick Snyder's anti-public school, anti-teacher, anti-middle class agenda.

Democrats didn't win everything on Tuesday, but they won a lot. Snyder, who campaigned for Scott, lost big. Is the recall enough to force him to reconsider the radical Republican policies lawmakers are pushing? I doubt it. But the wins may be enough to energize Democratic voters, who learned again the lesson of 2008. When Democrats vote, Democrats win. When they don't, we get stuff like the Ohio union-stripping bill, taxes on pensions, and attacks on the middle class. Let's remember that in 2012.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Taking a Hammer or Chisel to Workers' Rights

The full frontal assault on working people's rights to form unions and have a say in their wages and working conditions is poised to go down to defeat in Ohio on Tuesday (Nov. 8, 2011), according to polling in advance of the vote. If the union-busting measure does go down to defeat, it will be a tribute to the hard-work of union people all over the state.

Meanwhile, the undermining of the middle class continues apace in Michigan. Republicans in the Legislature have used less of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's sledgehammer and more of a chisel to take apart laws guaranteeing workers' dignity.

The state is undermining public employee unions by outsourcing jobs, even if it jeopardizes services being delivered and could end up meaning taxpayers have to pay more by providing food stamps and other benefits to the new low-paid workers.

The Legislature passed and Republican Rick Snyder signed bills attacking teachers' rights to have unions, as well. In the guise of tenure "reform," school districts don't have to go by seniority in laying off personnel. Who will be the first laid off now? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it most likely will be union leaders who will be the first to go.

Bigger battles lie ahead, for sure. And at some point Republicans may bring out the sledgehammer after all.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why Didn't Snyder Figure This Out Earlier?

Millionaire Rick Snyder really has forgotten how real people live, hasn't he?

How else can you explain his administration's decision to throw people off food stamps if they own vehicles worth $15,000?

Apparently, it never occurred to Snyder that people on food stamps don't just sit home. They go to job interviews, job training, even to work. They take their kids to school and doctor's appointments. They need a car to do that. And they may have a fairly decent car if they suddenly lost a job. Or the family may have two cars, not an uncommon situation in the state that put the world on wheels. And together they may be worth more than $15,000.

Snyder's administration has finally reconsidered the policy. Now, food stamp recipients will be able to exempt one vehicle from the $15,000 limit so that a family can keep two cars and can get where they need to go.

So why couldn't somebody as supposedly bright as Snyder is figure this out before? Why couldn't he figure out that it might be counter-productive to getting people off welfare if forced them to get rid of every tool they might need to get to work?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Former GOP Chair's Comments Shows Need for Obama's Jobs Bill

Sometimes your political opponents make your case for you. That's certainly true of former Livingston County Republican Party chairman Mike Murphy's comments about the state of public safety.

In an article in the Livingston Press and Argus on Tuesday (Nov. 1, 2011), Murphy complained that the county does not have enough deputies on the road to answer many emergencies. It won't get better "until people decide they want to pay to have more deputies out there."

And as his boss, fellow Republican and county Sheriff Bob Bezotte said about the lack of officers and its impact on public safety, "It's important to me, but it doesn't seem to be important to the bean counters up town because they've cut us so much."

The "bean counters" would be the all-Republican Livingston County Commissioners, whose budgets have resulted in the loss of 18 officers from the sheriff's department in recent years. And who, with Murphy's help, have bragged about having the lowest property tax rate in the state.

But Murphy doesn't seem too happy with the services that his very own "lowest property tax rate" politics produce. Perhaps if his leadership, and that of the county commission, had been different, the county might not be facing a situation in which suspected drunk drivers are not pursued because no deputies are available. Voters don't just "decide they want to pay more" taxes. Sometimes leaders need to explain to them why it is necessary, but local Republicans will never do that.

Nevertheless, Murphy's comments are useful because they help make the case for President Obama's American Jobs Act. The measure, which Republicans reject, would provide $5 billion nationally so that financially-strapped communities could keep firefighters and police on the job.

If local Republicans can't come up with the money to keep us safe, maybe they could ask Rep. Mike Rogers to vote for the American Jobs Act so that drunk drivers don't roam free any longer in Livingston County. Mike Murphy probably would like to have some of that money to hire more deputies.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rogers Standing Up for Medicare? Hardly

Is Mike Rogers having second thoughts about that vote for the Paul Ryan budget? That would be the budget that killed Medicare as we know it.

Judging from the volume of mail being sent to Livingston County voters regarding Medicare, you have to wonder. In the last few weeks, a group called the Partnership to Protect Medicare, based in Washington, D.C., has been filling mailboxes with expensive direct mail pieces claiming that the 8th District Republican has been "standing up for our seniors by preserving Medicare Part B" and other such nonsense.

Of course, Rogers did exactly the opposite when he voted for the Ryan budget earlier this year. He voted to turn Medicare into a voucher program that would drive up the cost of medical care for seniors by taking away their guaranteed coverage under the Medicare program and forcing them to buy coverage on the open market.

It's unclear what vote Rogers may have cast to protect Medicare, but the saturation mailings are helping to disguise his vote for the Ryan budget. By insisting over and over again that Rogers somehow stood up for Medicare, his supporters, whoever they actually are, are muddying the issue in voters minds so that they won't realize he voted exactly the opposite way.