Friday, March 30, 2012

Democrats' Idea Could Pay Off for Livingston County

Several months ago, Livingston County Democrats learned that Oakland County was filing a lawsuit against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to collect back taxes from the two mortgage giants. The privately owned but federally backed mortgage lenders had not been paying transfer taxes on real estate, claiming they were exempt as part of the federal government.

We thought this could provide some needed revenue for our county. Jordan Genso, then party chair, went to the Livingston County Commissioners and urged them to look into joining the lawsuit. The all-Republican county commission didn't take that step, but a federal judge later created a class-action lawsuit.

That lawsuit has resulted in a ruling that the two lenders do owe the transfer taxes. Livingston County Register of Deeds Sally Reynolds says the ruling could mean $217,000 for the county. It's disappointing that Reynolds sounded negative about the extra revenue for the county, complaining that it was an "ongoing nightmare."

A good use of that money would be to start a foreclosure prevention program in Livingston County, as local Democrats said at the time.

The local media didn't mention that it was Livingston County Democrats who first brought the issue up here, but it was.

The public has the idea that it's only Republicans in Livingston County that have good ideas. Here's one case where it was Democrats who were on the ball.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bishops Aren't The Only Ones With Religious Freedom

Catholic bishops are used to having the final say, on everything -- where priests serve, which parishes are closed or kept open, how money is spent.

They don't function in a democracy and pay little attention to what the faithful in the pew want. They're not elected. They're appointed.

So why is it not surprising that they think the First Amendment right to religious freedom applies only to them and not the rest of the world? That's the distortion that was behind the Catholic Church-orchestrated rally at the Livingston County Courthouse on Friday (March 23, 2012).

The rally-goers want to deny artificial birth control to all women, not just the handful of their own members who follow the bishops' edicts. They want the federal government to do for them what their own preaching has been unable to do -- prevent women from using birth control, even when birth control is needed for medical reasons, such as treating ovarian cysts. And they consistently -- and dishonestly -- mix up abortion with the idea of birth control, ignoring the evidence that pills that cause abortion are not covered by the birth control requirement.

So the bishops want to exercise their religious freedom at the expense of everybody else in the country.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why I Love and Hate March Madness

OK, this isn't a partisan political post. But it is about something a lot of people are thinking about right now -- March Madness.

March used to be one of my favorite times of the year. Not only do my husband, daughter, father, two brothers-in-law, two nieces and one nephew have birthdays in this month, it is also a great time to be a college basketball fan.

The excitement is incredible. From the day the tournament lineup is set until the final game, there is always another great game to talk about and re-live. Everyday is a new highlight reel. Until the last game when the winner is crowned.

Which brings me to Michigan State and it's sorry performance on Thursday. They got beat to a lower-seeded team after playing poorly. They went out losers. Nobody remembers right now the great season they had and all the great games they played since last November to get to the Sweet 16. The only taste in their mouths is of defeat.

And that's why I also hate March Madness. Only one team gets to feel like winners -- all the others go home losers, no matter how many wins they piled up along the way. In a little while, the bitterness fades and the promise of a new season will replace the losing.

You win some, you lose some. It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game, etc., etc. That's what coaches tell their players. But it's hard to remember that when all the focus is on the one winner and everybody else is just another loser.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Where are Climate Change Deniers This Spring?

It happens every winter. Washington, D.C., gets a big snowfall, and those who claim there is no such thing as climate change start showing up on Fox News insisting that the snow is proof that no climate change is occurring. As if climate change meant there would be no snow anywhere on the planet again.

So I'm wondering, with this year's mild winter, where are they now?

Why aren't we hearing from Fox News and its science-deniers that there is no climate change? As Detroit flirts with record high temperatures, why are the climate change deniers in hiding?

Friday, March 16, 2012

'Road We've Traveled' Puts First Term in Perspective

The public's memory is short. In the days of the 24-hour news cycle, Facebook, and Twitter, news stories come and go in hours.

Faced with that fact, President Obama's re-election campaign isn't banking on his supporters and the general public remembering his accomplishments. "The Road We've Traveled," the new 17-minute video by Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim
is a not-so-subtle reminder of how deep the recession was when Obama took office in January 2009 and how far we've come since then.

"When we look at today's headlines, do we remember what we as a country have been through?" asks Tom Hanks, who provides the voice-over for the film.

The film reminds viewers that the economy Obama inherited was in free-fall until his economic stimulus package revived it and turned it in a positive direction. Then it proceeds to an "Obama's Greatest Hits" run-down of key moments in his administration -- the auto industry rescue, , passage of health care reform, winding down of the war in Iraq, the successful hunting down of Osama bin Laden,repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and reform of the college loan process that has saved students millions of dolllars.

That, and much more, is all packed in to the 17-minute film. Michigan comes in for its share of attention, with the "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" headline. That opinion piece, written by Republican Mitt Romney, is the only reference to one of Obama's potential 2012 opponents.

Share the video with your friends and undecided voters. Ask them if they can imagine Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or Mitt Romney doing half of what Obama accomplished.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Signing of Grad Student Union BIll Shows Need for Constitutional Amendment

Rick Snyder's comments on signing a bill that bars some graduate students at the University of Michigan from forming a union sound so pious.

It would alter the "critical relationship" between students and teachers, Snyder says.

Well that sounds good to someone who has never worked as a graduate student in a university setting, but it's meaningless for a couple of reasons.

In the first place, students hired as research assistants may not even work for anyone who teaches them in the classroom. In the years I worked as a graduate student instructor, I never once worked for a person from whom I took a course. I might conceivably have taken a course at some point from some of them, but not all of them taught graduate-level courses and not all of them were in the area in which I eventually decided to concentrate. So it just doesn't follow that once you are a graduate student anyone you work for is automatically your teacher and that your relationship with them is somehow altered.

Furthermore, if you did work for a faculty member who had control over your grades and future, isn't that even more reason for needing a union? Do we really want a faculty member to be able to say to a student that they need to work round the clock to finish a lab project, with the student knowing that they if they refuse it might affect their course grade, approval of their thesis, or some other decision crucial to finishing their studies? If issues such as wages, hours, and working conditions are taken out of the faculty's hands, that threat is removed.

Hopefully, Snyder's signing of this bill putting student employees in the same category as serfs will be undone soon. Labor organizations in Michigan are collecting signatures on an amendment to the Michigan Constitution that would protect the right to bargain collectively for conditions of employment. The aim is to put the measure on the November ballot.

Signature collectors will be out soon. Be sure to sign!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Game Change Portrayal of Palin Foreshadows Her Later Behavior

Game Change, the HBO film about 2008 presidential election campaign, won't change many minds about the little known Alaskan governor picked by John McCain to be his running mate.

Many people made up their minds a long time ago that Sarah Palin was woefully unprepared to become president. And in the ensuing three and a half years, a lot more have soured on her.

There certainly were some moments in the film when Palin was portrayed sympathetically -- missing her baby, talking to her deployed son as he left on a mission, dealing with a pregnant teen daughter.

But the context of what Palin has done in the time since the campaign supports the overall portrait of her that emerges in the film -- someone with great political skills but who is unwilling to do the hard work necessary to be the leader of a government, someone who seems to connect with average voters but who is ultimately obsessed with herself. The film is sort of a prequel to Palin's later actions.

Seeing Palin portrayed on the screen refusing to prep for her media interviews or debate brought to mind her decision to step down as governor of Alaska after the campaign was over.

Listening to her obsess about her poll numbers in Alaska during the midst of the national campaign and trying to hog the limelight by delivering her own concession speech on election night was a reminder of her ham-handed response to the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Palin made herself out as the victim, calling it a "blood libel" that people suggested Palin's use of a gun site to designate Giffords' district as a high priority for Republicans contributed to a climate of violent political rhetoric.

In short, Palin's actions after the campaign confirmed many of her flaws showcased in the film. Sure, McCain aide Steve Schmidt and others take a lot of the blame for the decision to pick Palin and the way she was vetted for the job, but the way Palin reacted after joining the ticket is all her own doing.

It could have been a brilliant pick, but at the end of the day Palin could not make it work.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lawmakers Should Look in the Mirror Before Decrying High Tuition

In their own way, Michigan Republicans like Sen. Joe Hune and Rep. Bill Rogers seem to agree with GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum that people who go to college are "snobs."

In an article in the Livingston Press and Argus on Sunday (March 11, 2012), both Hune and Rogers came out against a Democratic plan to eliminate $1.8 billion in business tax credits and direct the money to lowering tuition costs at state universities.

Hune found it unacceptable. Why, the very idea that businesses should pay to help educate their future employees -- the engineers, accountants, computer programers, and others who will do the work that produces their profits -- was beyond Hune's comprehension. Somebody else should pay for that, apparently, so businesses can reap the benefit at no cost to themselves.

Rogers came across as clueless as to what has happened to higher education funding in Michigan in the last decade. Decrying tuition increases, Rogers demanded to know "where is that money going."

Sad to say Bill, but it has gone to replace the funds that state government used to provide -- like the more than $800 per student cut in higher education funding you approved last year.

Ir Rogers wants to know why college tuition is up to $400 per credit hour at Michigan State University, he should look in the mirror.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Let's Not Forget Michigan's Tar Sands Disaster

Nearly two years ago, an oil pipeline burst and spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. Two years is an eon in the days of the 24-hour news cycle so most of the media in Michigan has forgotten about it.

Leave it to Rachel Maddow to not only remember the mess, but to tie it to one of the national issues of the day -- construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which Republicans are trying to pressure President Obama into approving.

On her MSNBC show Friday (March 9, 2012), Maddow noted that the national already has tar sands pipelines like Keystone and they have created messes of the kind that opponents of Keystone warn about. Her case in point was the spill in the Kalamazoo River. At the time of the spill, officials said the mess would be cleaned up in a mere month. But here we are nearly two years later, and work is still on going. Turns out, oil from tar sands is heavy and rather than floating on the top of the water so that it can be skimmed off, it sinks to the bottom of the river bed.

But let's let Rachel explain, as only she can. (The most relevant part of the clip starts about six minutes in.)

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Does Romney Know Where His Parents Are Buried?

We can't let the Michigan Presidential Primary fade from memory without one more example of Mitt Romney's inability to connect with the people of the state where he was born.

A writer to the Livingston Press and Argus says in a letter published Monday (March 5, 2012) that in a telephone "town hall" right before the primary, Mitt appeared not to know much about Brighton.

According to the letter writer, "Romney only said that he had been through Brighton before, and knew where it was."

Now, there are lots of towns in Michigan and no presidential candidate can be expected to be familiar with all of them. But when you claim to be from the state and to believe that its trees are the "right height," you've set the bar a little higher for yourself.

Add to that the fact that both your parents -- George and Lenore Romney -- are buried in Brighton, and it would seem that maybe you might have a pretty vivid recollection of the place.

As the letter-writer put it, "I find it hard to believe that Romney didn't recognize the city that his parents are buried in."

I didn't hear the call, and the newspaper did not refer to any obvious attempts to independently verify the incident, but the exchange certainly fits the picture that Mitt Romney has been constructing of himself over this Republican presidential nominating process. When it comes to making a human connection, Romney falls far short, and that will hurt him against President Obama come November.

For Romney's reference, his parents are buried in Brighton's Fairview Cemetery, on the crest of a hill, overlooking Interstate 96, accoring to the website findagrave.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Will Helpline Group's Policy Mean MORE Unplanned Pregnancies?

Some Livingston County groups that help women deal with unplanned pregnancies are planning a rally against making sure birth control is easily accessible to all women.

If that sounds backwards, it's because it is.

Common sense would say that if you really were concerned about the impact of unplanned pregnancies, you would help women avoid unplanned pregnancies in the first place.

But not Life Force Livingston and Pregnancy Helpline.

An application by the groups to use the grounds of the Livingston County Historic Courthouse in Howell for a "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rally at noon on March 23has been filed with the Livingston County Commission, according to the agenda for the commission's meeting on Monday night (March 5, 2012). The application states that the event will be a "peaceful informative rally lead (sic) by local religious leaders speaking on the HHS mandate."

The HHS mandate, apparently, is the requirement by the Department of Health and Human Services that insurance companies offer free birth control under their policies, even those offered by Catholic-run schools, hospitals, and universities -- but not churches. The requirement has the bishops up in arms, demanding that they should be able to block even non-Catholic employees from having easy access to birth control on the grounds that the bishops' religious freedom trumps that of their employees.

The bishops' absurd position has turned into a nightmare for Republicans, after Rush Limbaugh attacked a Georgetown law school student as a "slut" and a "prostitute" and demanded that she post videos on line of herself having sex because she dared to stand up for women's right to have access to birth control. Limbaugh ignored the fact that Sandra Fluke wasn't even talking about the use of birth control for avoiding pregnancy, but for treating medical conditions such as ovarian cysts.

The local groups did not mention who their speakers will be, but Life Force Livingston involves representatives of many Catholic churches in the area, according to minutes of Life Force Livingston's meetings posted on its website. Pregnancy Helpline's attitude toward birth control is pretty clear from its website, too. If offers "abstinence education" and says its goal is to "empower women."

Seems like policies opposing access to birth control and pushing "just say no" will keep crisis pregnancy phone lines ringing for years into the future.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cleaning Up the Mess Denby and Rogers Left Behind

Like the pooper-scooper behind the elephants in the circus parade, the Livingston County Commission is going to try to clean up the mess that Reps. Cindy Denby and Bill Rogers left behind when they were local officials.

The two Republican officials were once Handy Township supervisor and Livingston County Commission chair, respectively. And in those capacities, the two "fiscally conservative" Republicans spearheaded an arrangement by which Handy Township borrowed millions of dollars for water and sewar improvements on behalf of private developers of new subdivisions. The county agreed to back the bonds with its full faith and credit, putting the county taxpayers on the hook if Handy Township failed to collect enough money to pay for the bonds.

The subdivisions never filled up with homes and the money that was supposed to be collected from homeowners never came in to pay off the bonds. Several other townships did the same thing, creating special assessment districts to pay back the bonds for these improvements without waiting to see if the lots in already improved subdivisions sold.

The mad rush for development outpaced demand and the lots never sold, making Livingston County, "ground zero" in the problem of Toxic Special Assessment Districts, according to Bloomberg News.

On Monday, (March 5, 2012), the county commission will try to clean up the mess by approving the issuance of up to $8.5 million in new bonds, replacing the previous bonds, with a longer repayment period in order to stretch out the payments to a level Handy Township can afford. The item and backup materials are item number 2012-03-080 at the bottom of page 2 of the agenda posted on the Livingston County website.

This fiasco has been a major headache for the county commission over the last two years or more. How can two people who created such a mess claim to have any credibility as fiscal conservatives?