Saturday, December 31, 2011

Let's all sing Handel's Messiah! Corporations! Corporations!

Handel's Messiah is one of the great holiday traditions. We can't let the holiday season pass without an updated version of the classic. This version extols the real saviors of our era -- corporations! They must be singing Hallelujah as the political season approaches and the gift of Citizens United begins to really give them what they want -- total economic domination and the political power that comes with it.

Enjoy! (And remember, it's satire.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Blank Slate Governor Filling in Some Spots

Let's face it. Michigan voters didn't know much about Republican Rick Snyder when he was elected governor. He didn't reveal much about what his political views were, relying on commercials about being a nerd. The result was that people projected their own hopes for what they wanted him to be onto essentially a blank slate.

Take for example, his views on gays. People took a Snyder comment about gay marriage and expanded that to believe that he was a "moderate."

As the months have gone on, Snyder has signed legislation that would warm the heart of any conservative -- virtually stripping people of their right to vote for local elected officials, gutting funding for local schools, slashing funding for public universities, eliminating taxes for businesses and shifting the burden to the elderly.

But the legislation that finally brought Snyder into focus for a lot of people was his signing the bill banning governments from giving benefits to domestic partners of their employees. In effect, Snyder was willing to tell the world that gay people are not welcome here.

Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson wrote that the "good governor" had sided with the bigots in signing the legislation. Dickerson understated the matter. If Snyder had signed legislation banning domestic partner benefits for interracial couples, would anyone have doubted that he was a racist? If he had signed legislation banning domestic partner benefits for Christians married to Muslims, would anyone have doubted that he was a religious bigot?

How many pieces of similar legislation does Snyder have to sign before people recognize that Snyder didn't just side with the bigots against gays. He is one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is Rogers Looking Out for You? Certainly Not

Time flies, but it seems like just a few weeks ago that Rep. Mike Rogers was giving speeches decrying the "uncertainty" that small business owners must deal with due to something or other President Obama's administration has done. Was it too many federal regulations, the traditional boogey-man of the Republican Party? Or maybe it was uncertainty of whether taxes would go up, which they haven't under Obama.

Whatever it was that was causing the "uncertainty," Rogers was certain that "uncertainty" was what is holding the economy back from recovery. And he was certain that Obama was behind the "uncertainty."

Thanks to Rogers and his fellow Tea Party Republicans in the U.S. House, business owners big and small, working people, people on unemployment, and bealth care providers who treat Medicare patients are all facing a whole lot of real uncertainty, as opposed to the kind dreamed up by Rogers.

The source of the uncertainty now is the Republican House's refusal to go along with a tax cut for working people that was already passed by the Senate. The two-month extension of the payroll tax cut was included in a bill that also includes an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed and heads off a big cut in reimbursement rates for health care providers under the Medicare program. Although 39 Republicans in the Senate voted for it, the Tea Party Republicans in the House are refusing to even bring it up for a vote. Instead, they pulled a parliamentary maneuver designed to put the measure into conference committee. And now they've gone home.

Did Rogers and the Tea Party Republicans create more uncertainty for business owners who don't know how much to withhold in their employees' wages? Did they create more uncertainty for health care providers, for people on unemployment, for workers who don't know whether they will lose $1,000 out of their paychecks next year?

I'm certain they did.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rogers Defends Health Insurers that Waste Half of Premiums

Who in their right mind would defend bloated bureaucracy and overhead so high it eats up almost 50 percent of every dollar taken in? Why, Rep. Mike Rogers, of course.

The Brighton Republican is lining up to defend health insurance companies selling policies to Michigan residents that spend as little as 52 cents of every premium dollar on health care to policy holders.

The Detroit Free Press, in an article Tuesday, reported that Michigan had tried to wiggle out of a provision in the health care reform act that says insurers must spend 80 cents out of every premium dollar on health care. Only 20 cents can be spent on administration, including multi-million-dollar salaries to their CEOs.

Rick Snyder's administration wanted to phase in the rule, claiming it was so hard to meet that the companies might stop doing business in Michigan. But the Obama administration rejected Michigan's bid for an exemption from the 80-20 rule, saying there are many carriers selling individual policies who meet the rule and that the insurance market would remain stable and competitive.

Rogers, rather than standing up for his constituents who buy health insurance, jumped to defend insurance companies. He didn't explain why it was a good deal for his constituents that up to 48 cents out of every premium dollar they paid is wasted on something besides medical care. But he said it would be bad if companies that suck up money in that way decided to stop selling policies in the state.

According to the Free Press:

"Insurers and their subsidies falling short of spending 80 cents on care, based on 2010 data, were Golden Rule Insurance (United Healthcare), spending 60% of each dollar on care; Time Insurance (Assurant), 65%; Aetna, 70%; Humana, 70%; and World Insurance (American Enterprise) 52%."

How hard is it to meet the 80-20 rule? Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan manages to spend 93 percent of each premium dollar on medical care and just 7 percent on administration. For the federal government's Medicare program, the figures are more like 98 percent and 2 percent.

Under the law, companies that spend more than 20 percent of premiums on administration owe rebates to their customers starting in August. The newspaper reported that "rebates owed to customers would be Golden Rule, $10 million; Time, $5.3 million; Aetna, $1.7 million; Humana, $1.3 million; Priority Health $200,000, and MEGA at $2.6 million."

When those checks come in the mail, thanks to health care reform, I hope they include a notice that Mike Rogers thinks consumers don't deserve them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Another Way to Protest Lowe's Caving in to Bigotry

About 100 brave souls stood up to religious bigotry this weekend with a protest outside a Lowe's Home Improvement Store after it caved in to a far-right "Christian" group and pulled its advertising from a show about Muslims in America.

Lowe's deserves to hear from Americans who understand the nation's history of religious tolerance and are appalled by the company's decision to back out of advertising on TLC's "All-American Muslims" show. The company needs to know that there is an economic price to be paid for bigotry.

Here's another way besides protesting outside the store to make the point.

Take your shopping list and go to Lowe's. Fill up your cart with the light bulbs, Christmas decorations, new flash light, whatever is on your list.

Then, instead of heading to the checkout lane, head to the customer service counter, and ask to speak to a manager. Tell the manager you plan to purchase these items, but because of Lowe's anti-Muslim bigotry, you won't be buying them at Lowe's. Leave them in the cart, take your list, and find someplace else to buy them.

Translate the company's bigotry into dollars and cents and maybe the company will get the message.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Rally to Save the American Dream from the Grinch!

A Grinch tried to bring down the spirits of some hard-working Michiganders, but watch what happened!

This was organized by We are the People Michigan, and held on the rainy afternoon of December 14.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Republicans prepare to Deliver Another Slap in the Face to Democracy

Since the 2010 election, Michigan Republicans have been intend on showing the public they know what's best for them, regardless of what the people have voted for in the past.

The Medical Marijuana initiative that passed in 2008? Attorney General Bill Schuette has been doing his best to dismantle it with court challenges.

The stem cell research initiative that passed in 2008? The Republican-controlled Legislature has imposed burdensome reporting requirements to try to stifle that job-creating, life-saving research.

The right to vote in local elections? Gone, or soon to be, in Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac, Flint, and Detroit.

And the latest afront to democracy and the rule of law is in Oakland County. Oakland County followed the same law that all the rest of Michigan's 83 counties did in drawing new districts for electing county commissioners. The clerk, treasurer, prosecutor, and heads of the county Democratic and Republican parties met and devised new boundaries for electing the county commissioners. It wasn't a problem for Oakland County before, but this time, a majority of that group was Democratic. Republicans didn't like the plan and challenged it in court, but the Michigan Court of Appeals said it met the legal guidelines and upheld it.

Not satisfied that the rules were followed, Republicans have decided to change the rules. A measure in the Legislature would allow the Oakland County Commission -- and only that county commission -- to draw their own boundaries. Republicans like that approach because they control the county commission, 15-10.

Lawmakers aren't even following their own rules in trying to change the rules for Oakland County. The Senate is skipping committee meetings to ram it through the Legislature before the holiday recess.

Republican abuse of power seems to know no boundaries.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Are Livingston Republicans Signing on to 'Picking Winners and Losers'?

I wonder if the Tea Party Republicans know what their elected officials in Livingston County are up to regarding the Ann Arbor SPARK contract.

Livingston County officials seemed to be trying to sneak the $1 million, three-year deal in the backdoor when nobody was looking by holding closed door meetings to have it explained to them. After that was exposed, the deal has been slowed down enough so that people can at least ask a few questions. Not that the answers from the economic development corporation with strong ties to Republican Rick Snyder have been very illuminating.

But the power point presentation made to Livingston County government officials suggests that grants and loans to private businesses are part of the deal. When Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm did it with the film industry, Republicans attacked it as "picking winners and losers."

But it looks like that is some of what Ann Arbor SPARK does. The power point presentation, no longer available on the Livingston Press and Argus website, says that its services for start-up businesses include "microloans" and "pre-seed investments."

In 2010, Ann Arbor SPARK says it awarded "12 pre-seed investments and 30 microloans" to start-ups. Between 2006 and 2010, Ann Arbor Spark reported it made 54 pre-seed investments in 52 companies, at an average of $225,000 per company, and it made 48 microloans to 46 companies, averaging $39,000 per company.

Ann Arbor SPARK's power point presentation didn't explain where that money came from, but since private business is only kicking in $60,000 of the $335,880 a year that Ann Arbor SPARK wants from Livingston County, the question should be asked whether taxpayer funds will be going to private companies or whether there is another source of funds for these "pre-seed investments" and "microloans."

In other words, will Livingston County be picking winners and losers with our tax dollars? Given that Republicans hated that idea so much when Granholm did it, it's pretty remarkable that no Republicans are putting up a fuss over that possibility.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

With a Wink and a Nod, Republicans Defend Emergency Manager Law

Republican Rick Snyder is falling all over himself to reassure Detroiters that race has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that his administration has taken over or is about to take over the goverments of cities home to half the minorities in the state -- Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Flint, Ecorse, and possibly soon, Detroit.

His latest attempt is the interview with Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley in Sunday's paper.

Some Tea Party Republicans may not have motives that are so pure. People who attended a town hall meeting in March in Fowlerville says that Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, reassured the audience that the law was meant to apply to the "Detroits" of the state. Those who were there say that Rogers winked when he said "Detroits," which is dog-whistle speech for "minorities" in the ears of many people in Michigan.

So you can believe Snyder that taking away the elected governments of so many minority-dominated cities is absolutely pure coincidence. Or you can make sure you sign a petition repealing the draconian emergency manager law. For more information, visit Michigan Forward, the group circulating petitions to repeal PA4, the emergency manager law, for a list of petition-signing sites.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

War is over if you want it-flyer Detroit Area Peace with Justice

Flyer from Detroit Area Peace with Justice:  War is over if you want it!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Don't Let the Grinch Steal the American Dream!

Tis the season to be on the lookout for the Grinch. Not the holiday season, but any time when the Michigan Legislature is in session considering bills that will steal the American Dream.

The Grinch already has taken millions from K-12 education, from higher education, and from needy families. The Grinch has raised taxes on our senior citizens, in order to give a tax break to business, chipping away at the American Dream of a secure retirement. The Grinch is trying to take away rights of workers, especially teachers who want to be able to negotiate for fair wages and decent class sizes.

We Are the People is organizing a rally to ask Santa to restore those cuts. Come and help show your opposition to the Grinch, at a special Holiday Rally to Save the American Dream. Come Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 4 p.m., to the Mill Pond Gazebo in downtown Brighton. For more information, ontact Debby Buckland, organizer for We Are The People, at 810-599-2128 or

Monday, December 5, 2011

Debt Ceiling Debacle Really Did Hurt

Right after the contentious debate over raising the debt ceiling last summer, I had the feeling that the recklessness of that debate had helped slam the brakes on the recovery underway in the U.S. economy. I know I personally felt less confidence about the direction of our nation, given the willingness, even eagerness, of so many Republicans to gamble with our nation's financial stability for the sake of politics.

Now there's a little bit of evidence to back up how I felt. In a column in the Sunday Detroit Free Press, Tom Walsh wrote of the impact the debate had on hiring in the view of Carl Camden, the CEO of Kelly Services.

Hiring of temporary workers was up 10 percent in the first half of 2011 compared to the previous year. But then came the debt ceiling debate an the Standard and Poor's downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. By August, the growth had melted away.

Walsh quoted Camden as saying:

"'That's the time of year when Kelly's part-time hiring usually goes into a cyclical upswing. It had been true for 60 years, but this time it was not true,' Camden told (Walsh). 'We moved sideways instead of seeing a cyclical boost. A lot of employment momentum was lost.'"

Walsh didn't blame Republicans directly, referring to partisan squabbling. But Camden makes it pretty clear what he meant.

"It wasn't the debate itself, it was the tone of the debate," Camden said. "People actually believed they might do something crazy, or crazed -- like saying it's OK for the U.S. government to default on its debt."

It wasn't President Obama or Democrats advocating a default on the debt. It was the party that supposedly knows so much about the economy that was engaging in the "crazed" talk about defaulting. Maybe people like Camden will have that in the back of their minds when the 2012 campaign heats up.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Payroll Tax Cut is Classic 1 Percent Over 99 Percent

Mike Rogers' Republican Party just can't help itself. Right now, they seem to be doing everything they possibly can to help millionaires and billionaires instead of working people. And they aren't even hiding it anymore.

That's clear from the debate over extending President Obama's payroll tax cut, which expires at the end of this year. The tax cut has saved working families an average of $1,000 a year. With the economy slowly recovering, now is not the time to take money out of the pockets of working people.

President Obama has proposed extending the current 2 percent payroll tax cut and increasing it 3.2 percent. That would mean up to $1,500 a year in the pockets of working families, giving a further boost to the economy.

Rather than add to the deficit, President Obama would pay for the tax cut with a surtax on the wealthiest sliver of Americans. You can click here to find out what the tax plan means for you.

So far, Republicans in the Senate have voted against the payroll tax cut in order to protect the 1 percent richest Americans. Let's hope Mike Rogers gets his chance to vote on the payroll tax cut for his constituents in the 8th Congressional District, even if it means Congress is still in session on New Year's Eve.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Snyder Out of Options on Detroit? Hardly

Pity poor Rick Snyder. According to the Detroit Free Press, the poor governor has no good options when it comes to the city of Detroit. Why, he is just going to be forced to name an emergency manager and he just can't help it.

Leave aside that he didn't have to push for the draconian law in the first place. Let's go right to the point that he and his fellow Republicans have helped create the budget deficit that is the cause of the city's financial problem.

The State of Michigan owes the city of Detroit $220 million in revenue sharing, enough to eliminate the city's structural deficit. That's according to another article in the Detroit Free Press. And if the Legislature claims it doesn't have the money, it could still help by allowing the city to raise its income taxes by $155 million, reversing a decline in income tax rates put in place a decade ago.

Why aren't those options for Snyder? Why isn't he pushing the Legislature to allow Detroit to raise its income tax and collect the money it needs to run the city? Why isn't Snyder asking the Legislature to pay the revenue sharing that is owed to the city of Detroit? The Free Press's crack Lansing staff didn't bother to pose those questions to Bing's staff, instead going with the "there aren't any other options" line that casts the governor in a sympathetic light.

It's hard not to conclude that the Snyder administration is helping push the city of Detroit into bankruptcy by withholding state aid and authority to raise taxes. The Free Press buries this information in a separate story, separating Snyder from options that aren't being used. This way, the focus is being kept on the so-called greedy unions who can be blamed for not giving more and more concessions that will result in fewer firefighters, fewer police officers, and more corporations taking over city services and milking them for profit.

That emergency manager law needs to be repealed so games like this stop.