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News Archive 2011 3rd Qtr

Tribal chairman Bailey to run 1st Congressional District Democratic primary

From 9/30/11 Detroit News article by Marisa Schultz

Peshawbestown, Mich.— The campaign to represent northern Michigan's 1st Congressional District is expected to gain a new candidate this weekend.

Derek Bailey, tribal chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, will announce his intention Saturday to run for Congress. He would face ex-state Rep. Gary McDowell of Rudyard in the Democratic August primary. McDowell lost in November to Republican Dr. Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls in a heated race for the seat held by longtime U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee.

The 1st District is shaping up to be Michigan's most hotly contested election and one with national implications. Democrats are targeting it as one of 25 they can win back in 2012 to retake the House.

Republicans on Michigan Supreme Court side with business

From 10/2/11 Traverse City Record Eagle article by the Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of drug maker Merck & Co. in a dispute over millions of state Medicaid dollars spent on an arthritis drug that was pulled from the market.

In a 4-3 decision released Saturday, the court declined to hear an appeal from the attorney general's office, which wants to recover at least $20 million spent on behalf of Medicaid recipients who used Vioxx.

The Supreme Court's three Democratic justices wanted to take an appeal but the Republican majority prevailed.

Editorial: Health premiums jump, but don't blame 'ObamaCare'

From 9/28/11 USA TODAY editorial

Medical inflation won't be addressed by re-debating or repealing the 2010 law. If anything, its politically divisive "individual mandate" to buy coverage, headed Wednesday for Supreme Court review after appeals, might hold down premiums by eliminating free-riders and giving insurers millions of new customers. But other cost pressures will continue.

In the end, there are only two options. One is to have patients pay for more of their care out of pocket, forcing them to shop around. The other is to enhance government's ability to bargain for health care on behalf of everyone, pressuring prices downward. While different ideologically, these two approaches could coexist in the real world if people were given a choice of which plan to enter.

But that pragmatic idea was killed off in 2009 by conservatives fearful people would pick the public option. So instead of being able to solve the problem by voting with their wallets, people are stuck with rising bills and politicians pointing fingers.

Massive Republican backed funding cuts impact Otsego County poor

From 9/28/11 Gaylord Herald Times article by Lorene Parshall

OTSEGO COUNTY — Because of massive federal and state funding cuts, the most vulnerable in our area can expect a cold, hard winter.

Dave Burney, program coordinator of United Way’s First Call for Help program, is appealing to the community for assistance.

“One of the problems is cuts in the LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program),” Burney said. “The federal funds flow through DHS (Department of Human Services), and it’s facing a 50 percent cut.”

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is cutting $100 million from its Emergency Food and Shelter Program. The program was created in 1983 to help people in times of emergency. These cuts will affect low-income families in rural areas the most. Although Michigan’s unemployment and poverty rates continue to rise, additional thousands face cuts to cash assistance from DHS.

Michigan is one of the first state governments to require low-income families to list assets to prove eligibility for food stamps, instead of basing it on income. It is the first state to cut the number of weeks people can receive unemployment, trimming it by six weeks. The state’s earned income tax credit for low-income families also is being cut.

“Another problem is that the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) will no longer be able to collect from energy companies to fund the state’s Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund,” Burney said. “Last year, First Call for Help received $50,000 in funds to help local people.”

Independents are not bipartisan (What good did bipartisanship ever do anybody?)

From 9/25/11 New York Magazine op-ed article by Frank Rich

[I]ndependents, who represent roughly 36 percent of voters, are not the monochromatic ideological eunuchs they’re purported to be. One polling organization that regularly examines them in depth, Pew, has found that nearly half of independents are in fact either faithful Democrats (21 percent) or Republicans (26 percent) who simply don’t want to call themselves Democrats and Republicans. Another 20 percent are “doubting Democrats” and another 16 percent are “disaffected” voters, respectively anti-business and anti-government, angry and populist rather than mildly centrist. The remaining 17 percent are what Pew calls “disengaged”—young and uneducated Americans, four fifths of whom don’t vote anyway. There’s nothing about the makeup of any segment of these “all-important independent voters” that suggests bipartisan civility has anything whatsoever to do with winning their support.

To pursue this motley crew of the electorate as if it had a coherent political profile is nuts. Its various subsets are on so many different sides of so many questions no ideological hermaphrodite could please them all. Rather than win these voters over with bipartisan outreach, Obama may instead have driven them away. His steep decline among independents is paralleled by the decline in voters who credit him as a “strong leader.” A president who keeps trying and failing to defuse partisan tensions risks being perceived as a wuss by Democrats, Republicans, and, yes, independents alike.

A radical movement controls one of the two parties. That party is so far right that when Ron Paul, now polling third among the GOP contenders, told a debate audience this month that “9/11 came about because there was too much government,” not a single one of his opponents dared object. Like it or not, Obama is the sole alternative to this crowd in 2012.

For Obama to pull it out against a slick conservative populist like Perry—or some yet-undeclared Perry alternative who could still emerge to usurp him among the tea-party troops—he cannot revert to his usual [bipartisan] ways.

“Maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country,” Perry said at his maiden debate. It is time, and Obama is certainly capable of giving as good as he gets. The Washington hands who assume Perry and his constituency will self-destruct are as misguided as those who thought the conservative movement couldn’t survive provocative language like the 1964 Goldwater mantra “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” Extremism in defense of liberty may be a vice, but so is retreat in the face of extremism. The many who would have Obama surrender without a fight in 2012—whether Beltway wise men addicted to bipartisanship, vain and deluded third-party entrepreneurs, or White House strategists chasing phantom independents—are fiddling while America burns. If Obama succumbs to their siren call again, he will too.

SNL Republican debate

Republican Congressman Benishek votes to kill Michigan auto jobs

From 9/24/11 MDP press release

Most of the Michigan Republican Congressional delegation doesn’t care about Michigan auto jobs. Members Dave Camp, Fred Upton, Thad McCotter, Candice Miller, Mike Rogers, Dan Benishek, and Tim Walberg all voted to kill Michigan auto jobs last night when they voted for a stopgap budget bill (HR 2608, RC 727, 9/23/11) that cuts $1.5 billion from an auto industry loan program.

Affordable Care Act (Obamacare for you Republicans) increases insurance coverage for 18 to 25 year olds

From 9/21/11 Gallup pole reported by Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fewer young adults in the U.S. reported lacking health insurance coverage in each of the three quarters since the new healthcare law in September 2010 began allowing young adults to stay on their parents' plans up to age 26. About one in four (24.2%) 18- to 25-year-olds reported being uninsured in the second quarter of this year, down from 28% in the third quarter of 2010, and nearly the lowest Gallup has measured at any point since it began tracking health insurance coverage rates in 2008.


August 5th, 1981: The day the middle class died

From 8/5/11 Michael Moore letter

Beginning on this date, 30 years ago, Big Business and the Right Wing decided to "go for it" -- to see if they could actually destroy the middle class so that they could become richer themselves.

And they've succeeded.


Republicans have been relentlessly effective at rebranding every failing of the Bush administration as Obama’s fault.

From 9/19/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Bill Keller

[Presidential] inaugurations, of course, are ceremonial ephemera. After the “Ask not” comes the Bay of Pigs. After the 60-plus approval rating comes the 9-plus unemployment rate. But it is worth pondering how we got from that day to this partisan clamor, how we lost that sense of common cause, and how it became a consensus of the commentariat that Barack Obama is in serious danger of being a one-term president.

The decline in Obama’s political fortunes, the Great Disappointment, can be attributed to four main factors: the intractable legacy bequeathed by George W. Bush; Republican resistance amounting to sabotage; the unrealistic expectations and inevitable disenchantment of some of the president’s supporters; and, to be sure, the man himself.

Obama inherited a country in such distress that his Inaugural Address alluded to George Washington at Valley Forge, marking “this winter of our hardship.” Unfunded wars, supply-side deficits, twin housing and banking crises enabled by an orgy of regulatory permissiveness — that was the legacy Obama assumed. In our political culture if you inherit a problem and don’t fix it, you own it. So at some point it became the popular wisdom that Iraq and Afghanistan were “Obama’s wars,” and that the recession had become “Obama’s economy.” Given the systemic burden Bush left for his successor, that judgment seems to me to be less about fair play than about short memories. But this is what passes for accountability in our system. And the Republicans have been relentlessly effective at rebranding every failing of the Bush administration as Obama’s fault. The historical truth, therefore, is no longer a viable political shelter for the Obama presidency. At best we can hope it serves as a caution against those who preach a return to the indiscriminate tax cuts and regulatory free-for-all that helped produce our lingering mess in the first place.

Another toxic legacy of the Bush years is an angry conservative populism, in which government is viewed as tyranny and compromise as apostasy. The Tea Party faction has captured not only the Republican primary process, but to a large extent the national conversation and the legislative machinery. In Congress the anger is pandered to by Republicans who should know better, since their nihilism discredits not only the president they have cynically set out to make a failure, but their own institution. Voters are frustrated by this — Congress has the approval rating of bedbugs — but it remains to be seen whether the electorate will punish the real culprits or simply reward the candidates who run against that bogeyman, “Washington.”

The disenchantment of the liberals may seem less consequential; it’s not as if they are going to vote for Rick Perry. But Obama needs their energy if he is to keep his office and have any allies left in Congress. What he gets instead is a lot of carping. Obama’s deal to continue the Bush tax cuts, his surrender of a public option on health care, his refusal to call the Republicans’ bluff on the debt ceiling rather than swallow budget cuts — these and other compromises amount, in the eyes of the Democratic left, to crimes of appeasement.

Against Obama we have a cast of Republicans who talk about the federal government with a contempt that must have Madison and Hamilton spinning in their coffins... : neuter the Fed; abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and a few other departments; turn Medicare and Social Security into individual 401(k) programs; dismantle national health care and revoke consumer protections.

The rich should pay their share

From 9/19/11 The Washington Post op-ed article by Dana Milbank

“Class warfare,” protested Paul Ryan.

“Class warfare,” complained Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

“Class warfare,” judged House Speaker John Boehner.

The president welcomed the charge. “I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or teacher is class warfare,” he told the Rose Garden crowd of 200. “I think it’s just the right thing to do.”

A moment later, the class warrior added: “Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. . . . Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both. This is not class warfare. It’s math.”

FDA underfunded

From 9/16/11 The New York Times op-ed by Joe Nocera

“In January, Mr. Obama signed a food safety law that provides broad new authority to the Food and Drug Administration,” wrote Robert Pear in Friday’s Times, in an article about the Congressional appropriations mess. But House Republicans, he added, had voted “to cut the agency’s budget.”

Well, yes, in a nutshell, that is the sad story of the food safety law — the first major change in how the government regulates food safety in over 70 years. But the way the Republicans have dealt with its funding represents more than appropriations problems. It also represents the way they’ve allowed their unyielding antitax, antispend ideology to get in the way of common sense — and the common good.

There is certainty about one thing, though. The next time there is an E. coli outbreak, we’ll know who to blame.

Corporations are stockpiling cash

From 9/17/11 The Lansing State Journal article by the Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Americans' wealth declined this spring for the first time in a year, as stocks and home values fell. At the same time, corporations increased the size of their cash stockpiles.

The combination could slow an already weak economy because it implies that families have less to spend and businesses are reluctant to expand.

Lack of compassion has become a matter of G.O.P. principle

From 9/15/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

[At the CNN/Tea Party Republican primary debate] CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.” Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether “society should just let him die.”

And the [Tea Party] crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”

[V]ery few of those who die from lack of medical care look like Mr. Blitzer’s hypothetical individual who could and should have bought insurance. In reality, most uninsured Americans either have low incomes and cannot afford insurance, or are rejected by insurers because they have chronic conditions.

So would people on the right be willing to let those who are uninsured through no fault of their own die from lack of care? The answer, based on recent history, is a resounding “Yeah!”

In the past, conservatives accepted the need for a government-provided safety net on humanitarian grounds.

[C]onservatives used to be willing to accept government intervention in the name of compassion, given the clear evidence that covering the uninsured would not, in fact, cost very much money. As many observers have pointed out, the Obama health care plan was largely based on past Republican plans, and is virtually identical to Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts.

Now, however, compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.

And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

Are voters ready to embrace such a radical rejection of the kind of America we’ve all grown up in? I guess we’ll find out next year.

Governor Snyder, where are the jobs you promised?

Recovering the Constitution from conservatives

From 9/15/11 Washington Post op-ed article by Ruth Marcus

Tea Party types and other conservatives talk about how they’d like their country back.

The rise of these self-proclaimed constitutional conservatives is an ominous development that has received too little notice — and too little push-back.

It sees a hobbled federal government limited to a few basic activities, such as national defense and immigration. The 10th Amendment, reserving to states the powers not granted to the federal government, would be put on steroids. The commerce clause, giving the federal government the authority to regulate commerce among the states, would be drastically diminished.

A white paper by the liberal Center for American Progress spells out the potential consequences of the constitutional conservative vision. Programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would be deemed to exceed the federal government’s enumerated powers.

The federal government would cease to have any role in education, eliminating funding for public schools and college financial aid, and in combating poverty, ending food stamps and unemployment insurance. Laws on everything from child labor to food safety would be overturned.

“This is a way to weaponize the Constitution to prevent a real debate about how the government can solve national problems”. Strong words, but the constitutional conservative vision is too extreme to continue to ignore it in the hope that it will fade on its own.

Republicans attempt to weaken teachers' unions

From 9/15/11 Lansing State Journal article by the Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. — The Republican-led Michigan House has narrowly approved a proposal that would prohibit public schools from automatically deducting union dues from employee paychecks.

The House approved the measure Thursday by a 55-53 vote. The measure advances to the Republican-led Senate.

Supporters of the bill say it will put more money in teachers' paychecks, at least up front. Teachers could write checks to unions later to cover their dues.

Opponents say the proposal is another attempt to weaken teachers' unions and inconvenience teachers in the state.

A separate proposal that could soon come up in the Michigan Legislature would make Michigan a so-called "right to teach" state.

Gary McDowell

Gary McDowell, the Democrat who ran against Republican Dan Benishek in the 1st Congressional District in 2010, is running again. His website is at www.mcdowellforcongress.com.

Gary did well in 2010, a year dominated by Republicans. He can win this and we can help make that happen by contributing to his campaign.

The GOP's immigration nonsense

From 9/11/11 The Washington Post editorial

WHEN QUIZZED on the problem of illegal immigration at their debate the other night, the Republican presidential hopefuls were by turns vague, evasive, confused, contradictory and — in the notable case of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who opposes a border fence because it might prevent law-abiding Americans from withdrawing their savings and fleeing to Mexico in a crisis — harebrained.

If a majority of the GOP aspirants agreed on anything, it was that nothing meaningful can be done about the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system and the presence of 11 million undocumented immigrants until the southern border is “secure.” And as Texas Gov. Rick Perry asserted, “It is not safe on that border.”

That sounds very grave. There’s just one problem: The border today is more secure than it has been in years, according to virtually every yardstick accepted by Republican and Democratic administrations for decades. Illegal crossings, as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions, are at their lowest level in 40 years, and rates of nearly all measurable crimes are plummeting in border communities.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Perry want more manpower and technology on the border. But they never mention that Border Patrol deployments have already tripled over the past 15 years, not counting 1,000 more officers being recruited and trained in the current year, let alone the addition in recent years of thousands more boots on the ground from an alphabet soup of other federal agencies plus the National Guard.

Ms. Bachmann wants “a fence on every part of that border,” by which we assume she means the 1,350 miles not already fenced. But fences are costly and easily defeated (think ladders and tunnels). More to the point, they are utterly irrelevant to the 40 percent or more of undocumented immigrants who enter the United States legally, then overstay their visas.

President Obama's American Jobs Act speech (text)

At American Jobs Act speech, Republicans giggle

From 9/9/11 The Washington Post op-ed article by Dana Milbank

“You should pass this jobs plan right away!” Obama exhorted. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) chuckled.

“Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary — an outrage he has asked us to fix,” Obama went on. Widespread laughter broke out on the GOP side of the aisle.

“This isn’t political grandstanding,” Obama said. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) guffawed.

“This isn’t class warfare,” Obama said. More hysterics on the right.

“We’ve identified over 500 [regulatory] reforms which will save billions of dollars,” the president claimed. Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) giggled.

Regulations, taxes aren't killing small business, owners say

From 9/1/11 McClatchy Newspapers article by Kevin G. Hall

Politicians and business groups often blame excessive regulation and fear of higher taxes for tepid hiring in the economy. However, little evidence of that emerged when McClatchy canvassed a random sample of small business owners across the nation.

USA Today editorial board believes unemployment can't be solved in the short run

From 9/7/11 USA Today editorial

Presidents these days have limited resources and are fighting powerful economic headwinds. Spooked by economic uncertainty, consumers are cutting back on spending, and corporations are delaying hiring while they hoard their cash. Housing is weak, and the foreclosure backlog is far from being resolved. Europe is in the throes of a banking crisis, and once-booming Asian economies are slowing. Technology has made many jobs obsolete, and globalization means many low-skill jobs will be outsourced to low-cost labor markets.

If all that weren't enough, state and local governments are cutting back. Since May 2010, when aid to states from the 2009 stimulus package began to run out, more than 1 million government jobs have been eliminated. That has erased more than half of the 2million jobs created by private employers, leaving a net gain of just 959,000 jobs.

With the federal government already running trillion dollar deficits, new stimulus — either the spending favored by Democrats or tax cuts embraced by Republicans — simply adds to debt woes. So rather than offering more of the same gimmicky, poll-tested jobs proposals, both parties should focus on strengthening the economy for the long term.

Buy, Buy American Pie

Perry and Romney's health care positions

From 9/4/11 The New York Times editorial

During his 11 years as governor of Texas, Mr. Perry has shown a shocking lack of concern for low- and moderate-income Texans who can’t afford health insurance or who have to struggle to keep it. His bromides about less government, more free-market and more self-reliance have neither held down costs nor made Texans healthier. Despite that record, he seems determined to carry that approach into the White House if elected.

Mr. Romney, in his four years as Massachusetts governor, played a major role in formulating sweeping health care reform that has shown remarkable success in expanding coverage at tolerable cost. After running away from that record in his 2008 campaign for the nomination, he has now embraced it as right for Massachusetts — but not for the nation. Voters will have to decide whether his hypocrisy would follow him into the White House and really lead him to undo the national reforms.

A must read article

From 9/2/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Jonathan Chait, a senior editor for The New Republic

Liberal critics of Obama, just like conservative critics of Republican presidents, generally want both maximal partisan conflict and maximal legislative achievement. In the real world, those two things are often at odds.

This is one of those articles that just can't be summarized. Please read the article, it's instructive.

GM sales jump 18 percent in August

From 9/1/11 The Lansing State Journal article by Kevin Polzin

DETROIT - General Motors Co.'s U.S. sales jumped 18 percent last month, driven partly by locally made vehicles that also saw double-digit gains.

The carmaker reported today it sold 218,479 vehicles in August, up from 185,176 one year earlier.

Rick Perry op-ed in the Wall Street Journal re auto bailout

From The Wall Street Journal 12/2/08 op-ed article by Texas Governor Rick Perry and South Carolina governor Mark Sanford

Take for example the proposed Big Three auto-maker bailout. No amount of taxpayer largess could fix a business culture so fundamentally flawed.

Rick Perry on auto bailout

From The Huffington Post 11/21/10 article by Amanda Terkel

On the auto bailout, despite GM going public last week and sending billions of dollars back to taxpayers, Perry still insisted that it wasn't successful and said the federal government shouldn't be involved in private sector growth.

Let Detroit go bankrupt

From 11/18/08 The New York Times op-ed article by Mitt Romney

IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Rick Perry quotes from his recent book, Fed Up

From 9/2/11 The Caucus article by Michel D. Shear

  • Social Security - “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal”
  • Climate change - “all one contrived phony mess”
  • Social Security - a "failure that should never have been enacted"
  • New Deal - In a long section about how the New Deal of the 1930s was responsible for “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles of federalism and limited government,” he cites Social Security as “by far the best example of this.” He calls Social Security “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,” and seems saddened by the fact that “its desirability is hardly questioned any longer.” He asserts that the New Deal did not work to bring the country out of the Great Depression and says that its social programs — like Social Security — “never died, and like a bad disease, they have spread.”
  • Social Security - "a Ponzi scheme"
  • Massechusetts politicians - “Texans, on the other hand, elect folks like me,” he wrote. “You know the type, the kind of guy who goes jogging in the morning, packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets, and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter’s dog.”
  • Health Care Reform Act - “the closest this country has ever come to outright socialism.”
  • Global warming - “It’s all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight. “Al Gore is a prophet all right, a false prophet of a secular carbon cult."
  • 16th Amendment, which gives the federal government the power to levy an income tax, and the 17th Amendment, which allows direct elections for senators - “mistakenly empowered the federal government during a fit of populist rage in the early 20th century.”

Anti-government anti-arithmetic Republicans

From 9/1/11 The Washington Post op-ed article by Eugene Robinson

Thank you, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, for emerging from your secure, undisclosed locations to remind us how we got into this mess: It didn’t happen by accident.

It was the Bush administration, you will recall, that sent the national debt into the stratosphere and choked off federal revenue to the point of asphyxiation. Rather than raise taxes to cover the cost of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush opted to maintain unreasonable and unnecessary tax cuts.

So far, the wars and the tax cuts have cost the Treasury between $4 trillion and $5 trillion. If Bush had just left income tax rates alone, nobody except Ron Paul would be talking about the debt.

Bush was hewing to what had already become Republican dogma and by now has become something akin to scripture: Taxes must always be cut because government must always be starved.

The party ascribes this golden rule to Ronald Reagan — conveniently forgetting that Reagan, in his eight years as president, raised taxes 11 times. Reagan may have believed in small government, but he did believe in government itself. Today’s Republicans have perverted Reagan’s philosophy into a kind of anti-government nihilism — an irresponsible, almost childish insistence that the basic laws of arithmetic can be suspended at their will.

The Bush administration also pushed forward Reagan’s policy of deregulation — ignoring, for example, critics who said the ballooning market in mortgage-backed securities needed more oversight.

We face devastating unemployment. Many conservative economists have joined the chorus calling for more short-term spending by the federal government as a way to boost growth. But the radical Republicans don’t pay attention to conservative economists anymore. The Republicans’ idea of a cure for cancer would be to cut spending and cut taxes.

Perhaps they’re just cynically trying to keep the economy in the doldrums through next year to hurt Obama’s chances of reelection. I worry that their fanaticism is sincere — that one of our major parties has gone completely off the rails. If so, things will get worse before they get better.

Having Bush and Cheney reappear is a reminder to step back and look at what Obama is up against. You might want to cut him a little slack.

Using innocent Americans as hostages -- S.O.P. for G.O.P.

From 9/1/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

“Have you left no sense of decency?” That’s the question Joseph Welch famously asked Joseph McCarthy, as the red-baiting demagogue tried to ruin yet another innocent citizen. And these days, it’s the question I find myself wanting to ask Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who has done more than anyone else to make policy blackmail — using innocent Americans as hostages — standard operating procedure for the G.O.P.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Cantor was the hard man in the confrontation over the debt ceiling; he was willing to endanger America’s financial credibility, putting our whole economy at risk, in order to extract budget concessions from President Obama. Now he’s doing it again, this time over disaster relief, making headlines by insisting that any federal aid to the victims of Hurricane Irene be offset by cuts in other spending. In effect, he is threatening to take Irene’s victims hostage.

Republicans want to raise taxes on the poor

From 8/30/11 The New York Times editorial

In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party’s most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.

These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama’s payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.

At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.

Pete Hoekstra calls for repeal of Wall Street reform

From 8/29/11 Huffington Post article

Former Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra, who is now running for the U.S. Senate in Michigan, called for the repeal of Wall Street reform legislation on Monday.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) endorsed Hoekstra at Monday's event.

Hoekstra is running against incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is leading by nine points, according to a recent poll.

On Monday afternoon, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer sharply criticized Hoekstra's comments.

"This just demonstrates yet again whose side Pete Hoekstra is on," said Brewer in a call with reporters. "He voted against Wall Street reform originally. And rolling back the consumer protections and the oversight of Wall Street contained in that reform package will demonstrate on whose side Hoekstra is. He isn't on the side of Main Street or the middle class. We need to hold banks and Wall Street accountable for the mess they created when we almost had the second Great Depression because of their financial recklessness."

Repealing the Dodd-Frank legislation has become a popular position for GOP candidates.

President Obama has said he will fight any Republican attempts to repeal the legislation, which, among other things, created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "We are going to stand up this bureau and make sure it is doing the right thing for middle-class families," he said in July.

Congressman Benishek's position on large oil company taxes at odds with his leadership (and Democrats)

From 8/24/11 Petoskey News article by Brandon Hubbard

"(Democrats) talk about raising the taxes on the oil companies. I think oil companies pay their fair share," Benishek said.

From 4/28/11 NPR article by Jim Zarroli

"We're in a time when the federal government is short on revenues," he [Republican House Speaker John Boehner] said. "We need to control spending, but we need to have revenues to keep the government going. And [oil companies] ought to be paying their fair share."

The Treasury Department says oil companies will get more than $40 billion in tax breaks over the next decade. They get $12 billion for deducting certain drilling costs, for instance, and an additional $11 billion for the so-called energy depletion allowance.

Michigan lawmakers' education ranked 32nd among states

From 8/22/11 The Lansing State Journal article by Scott Davis

Forget those stereotypes about Texas being a hayseed state that spawned such governors as Rick Perry and George W. Bush, who did poorly in college.

When it comes to school smarts, Texas state lawmakers are near the head of the class nationally - way ahead of Michigan, where state lawmakers scored below average in a recent ranking.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 72.9 percent of Michigan's state lawmakers had a four-year college degree or above, compared to 86.2 percent for Texas. Michigan ranked 32nd of all states nationwide in that category

Snyder's approval numbers low

From 8/22/11 The Lansing State Journal article by the Associated Press

In the survey released today by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA, 33 percent gave the GOP governor a positive job rating while 62 percent gave him a negative rating and 5 percent were undecided.

Thirty-one percent say the state is headed in the right direction, while 54 percent say it's on the wrong track and 15 percent are undecided.

Multi-national corporations don't report overseas employee counts

From 8/21/11 The Washington Post article by Jia Lynn Yang

Some of the country’s best-known multi­national corporations closely guard a number they don’t want anyone to know: the breakdown between their jobs here and abroad.

The latest data show that multinationals cut 2.9 million jobs in the United States and added 2.4 million overseas between 2000 and 2009.

Some of the same companies that do not report their jobs breakdown, including Apple and Pfizer, are pushing lawmakers to cut their tax bills in the name of job creation in the United States.

[M]any firms, including some whose executives have counseled Obama on the economy, do not put their number of U.S. workers in their annual reports.

Data from before 2009 showed IBM rapidly shifting workers to India. Dave Finegold, dean of the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, estimates that 2009, when the company stopped sharing its U.S. employment figure, also marked the first time the company had more employees in India than the United States.

Companies that have stopped reporting counts of overseas employees include:

  • Pfizer
  • Proctor & Gamble
  • IBM
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Apple
  • AT&T

GOP pledges allegiance to the Tea Party

"Corporations are people my friend"

Corporations are people, too

From 8/12/11 The Washington Post op-ed article by Alexandra Petri

Mitt Romney is right that “corporations are people, my friend.”

Really, they’re functionally indistinguishable. Most of my best friends are corporations. Whenever I have barbecues, they come over in large bodies. “Thanks for the invite,” they say.

In the eyes of the law, corporations are just people with better logo design. “We the corporations of the United States,” is how the strictest constructionists read the Constitution’s preamble.

Guns don’t kill people, I am told. Corporations kill people. At least this is how it seems to Mitt Romney. “I can say definitively that corporations are people,” he adds, “because they often approach me, embrace me warmly, and hand me wads of money. That is something humans do also. It is what separates us from apes.”

Maybe he’s right. Corporations are made up, by and large, of people. Some of those people are insanely, absurdly wealthy, and instead of trickling the money back to us like Ronald Reagan told them to, they are hoarding it in the form of bullion.

We love small business, in theory. But many of these businesses are not small by choice. John Steinbeck said: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

And when we cease being embarrassed, sometimes we form corporations.

At least that’s what Marriott told me at my last garden party.

Bachmann wants unemployment to rise and U.S. to default

From 7/13/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Dana Milbank

When Michele Bachmann was asked during a television interview last week whether she thought higher unemployment would increase her chances of winning the presidency, she gave an unexpectedly candid reply: “I hope so.”

On Wednesday, she argued that failure to raise the debt limit — a prospect that even Republican congressional leaders say could lead to economic catastrophe — might not be such a bad thing.

Rick Perry: the rootinest, tootinest, doggone shootinest cowpoke this side of the Potomac

From 8/19/11 Detroit Free Press staff blogger and political cartoonist Mike Thompson

The publication "The Nation" reports that 230 people in Texas have been executed under Perry, including one man, Cameron Todd Willingham, who was most likely innocent and whose stay of execution was denied by Perry. The Dallas Morning News reported that the state budget Perry signed earlier this year yanked financial aid away from 43,000 college kids and slashed funding to public schools by $4 billion. And according to the Financial Times, Texas leads the nation as the state with the most people lacking health care coverage and is tied with Mississippi for the title of "most minimum wage jobs created by any state."

His Anger Is a Start

From 8/16/11 The New York Times editorial

Faced with a divided Congress and an economy in desperate straits, President Obama tried bargaining with Republicans, he tried adopting some of their ideas and he pleaded with them for reasonable policies to help stave off disaster. For his efforts, he got nothing but a cold shoulder and the country got a credit downgrade.

Now, on a bus tour in the Midwest, he is bitterly pointing the finger at his opponents for their refusal to consider any new revenues to tackle the deficit and their insistence on deep near-term spending cuts that will only cause more economic pain. His anger is long overdue.

The Revenge of the Rating Agencies

From 8/9/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Jeffrey Manns

THE credit rating agencies are taking advantage of the country’s financial problems to increase their own political power. They want to ensure that regulators do not reduce their autonomy and influence.  

Their strategy is brilliant. They are not piling on all at once by downgrading the United States in concert. Standard & Poor’s is the bad cop for now, taking the first swipe at the United States last Friday, and seeing its influence confirmed by the stock market’s dramatic reaction. Moody’s and Fitch are playing the good cop — exercising restraint about a potential downgrade, yet still flexing their muscles by criticizing the government both publicly and behind the scenes.   

The rating agencies have the federal government over a barrel. If politicians ignore rating agencies’ warnings, they risk a withering assault of additional downgrades that could undercut confidence in the government and inflict soaring interest rates. The good-cop, bad-cop routine is especially potent because a downgrade by two of the three major rating agencies could lead to negative consequences, such as requiring some bond issuers to secure additional collateral.

The extremists' impact on the economy

From 8/8/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

[W]hat makes America look unreliable isn’t budget math, it’s politics. And please, let’s not have the usual declarations that both sides are at fault. Our problems are almost entirely one-sided — specifically, they’re caused by the rise of an extremist right that is prepared to create repeated crises rather than give an inch on its demands.

The truth is that as far as the straight economics goes, America’s long-run fiscal problems shouldn’t be all that hard to fix. It’s true that an aging population and rising health care costs will, under current policies, push spending up faster than tax receipts. But the United States has far higher health costs than any other advanced country, and very low taxes by international standards. If we could move even part way toward international norms on both these fronts, our budget problems would be solved.

So why can’t we do that? Because we have a powerful political movement in this country that screamed “death panels” in the face of modest efforts to use Medicare funds more effectively, and preferred to risk financial catastrophe rather than agree to even a penny in additional revenues.

The real question facing America, even in purely fiscal terms, isn’t whether we’ll trim a trillion here or a trillion there from deficits. It is whether the extremists now blocking any kind of responsible policy can be defeated and marginalized.

Sleepy Man Banjo Boys on Letterman June, 2011

Republicans idle 4,000 FAA employees and tens of thousands construction workers in effort to weaken unions

From 8/2/11 The New York Times article by Edward Wyatt

Senate negotiators tried and failed on Tuesday to end a stalemate over temporary financing for the Federal Aviation Administration, leaving 4,000 agency employees out of work and relying on airport safety inspectors to continue working without pay.

If the stalemate continues through Labor Day, the government could lose roughly $1 billion in tax revenues on airline ticket sales.

The impasse centers on disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over a program that subsidizes commercial air service to rural airports. But behind the scenes, a larger fight has been taking place over federal rules on labor elections in the airline industry.

But the House temporary bill also would end $14 million in subsidies that provided commercial airline service to 16 rural airports. The law was written in a way that appeared to single out for closing airports in the states of prominent Senate Democrats, including the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. Democrats say Republicans are trying to save a few million dollars at the expense of the ticket tax, which would generate roughly $200 million a week.

Mr. Reid said Republicans were using the rural airport issue as cover for an effort to change a recently instituted federal labor regulation that made it easier for unions to organize at airline companies.

The new regulation, instituted by the National Mediation Board, requires an employee vote on labor representation to be approved by a majority of those voting. Previously, the rule required a majority of all affected employees, meaning that employees who failed to vote were counted as “no” votes.

Rework of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" by Gospel choir promotes Detroit

Tea Party’s War on America

The exerpts from this article don't do it justice. Please click the link and read the entire article.

From 8/1/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Joe Nocera

You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them.

These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America’s most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn’t care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took.

Like ideologues everywhere, they scorned compromise. When John Boehner, the House speaker, tried to cut a deal with President Obama that included some modest revenue increases, they humiliated him.

All day Monday, the blogosphere and the talk shows mused about which party would come out ahead politically. Honestly, who cares? What ought to matter is not how these spending cuts will affect our politicians, but how they’ll affect the country. And I’m not even talking about the terrible toll $2.4 trillion in cuts will take on the poor and the middle class. I am talking about their effect on America’s still-ailing economy.

America’s real crisis is not a debt crisis. It’s an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn’t address unemployment, it’s guaranteed to make it worse.

Inflicting more pain on their countrymen doesn’t much bother the Tea Party Republicans, as they’ve repeatedly proved. What is astonishing is that both the president and House speaker are claiming that the deal will help the economy. Do they really expect us to buy that? We’ve all heard what happened in 1937 when Franklin Roosevelt, believing the Depression was over, tried to rein in federal spending. Cutting spending spiraled the country right back into the Great Depression, where it stayed until the arrival of the stimulus package known as World War II. That’s the path we’re now on. Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.

For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough. After all, they’ve gotten so much encouragement.

President Obama's 8/1/11 comments regarding deficit ceiling compromise

Deficit deal a disaster

From 7/31/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

To escape chaos, a terrible deal

From 7/31/11 The New York Times editorial

The deal would avert a catastrophic government default, immediately and probably through the end of 2012. The rest of it is a nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists. It will hurt programs for the middle class and poor, and hinder an economic recovery.

Impact of debt limit agreement

From 7/31/11 The New York Times by Binyamin Appelbaum and Catherine Rampell

“Unemployment will be higher than it would have been otherwise,” Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of the bond investment firm Pimco, said Sunday on ABC. “Growth will be lower than it would be otherwise. And inequality will be worse than it would be otherwise.”

He added, “We have a very weak economy, so withdrawing more spending at this stage will make it even weaker.”

Republican Congressman Benishek's comments about corporate tax rates

Headline: Views differ on the shape of the planet

From 7/28/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

[I]f one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.”

[W]hen reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism.

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality.

But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

McCain criticizes conservatives for holding debt ceiling vote hostage to passage of a balanced budget amendment

Despite boom in corporate profits, jobs still a bust

From 7/23/11 The Lansing State Journal article by Paul Wiseman of the Associated Press

Strong second-quarter earnings from McDonald's, General Electric and Caterpillar on Friday are just the latest proof that booming profits have allowed corporate America to leave the Great Recession far behind.

But millions of ordinary Americans are stranded in a labor market that looks like it's still in recession. Unemployment is stuck at 9.2 percent, two years into what economists call a recovery. Job growth has been slow and wages stagnant.

"I've never seen labor markets this weak in 35 years of research," said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Corporate profits, in contrast, accounted for an unprecedented 88 percent of economic growth during those first 18 months.

U.S. corporations are expanding overseas, not so much at home.

U.S.-based multinational companies have been focused overseas for years: In the 2000s, they added 2.4 million jobs in foreign countries and cut 2.9 million jobs in the United States, according to the Commerce Department.

In the U.S., companies are squeezing more productivity out of staffs thinned out by layoffs during the recession. They don't need to hire. And they don't need to be generous with pay raises; they know their employees have nowhere else to go.

According to Tea Partiers, the answer to all this U.S. worker misery is more tax breaks for multi-national corporations, that will use this windfall to create more jobs -- overseas of course.

Sleepy Man Banjo Boys

When Letterman asked the oldest brother why they're called the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, he explained the name was chosen because the youngest, Johnny, the banjo player, wasn't strong enough to hold the heavy banjo and supported it on his belly while lying in bed.

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with politics? Absolutely nothing!

15% annual return on money spent on college

From 7/19/11 The State News article by Beau Hayhoe

If college education can be considered an investment, some researchers argue that students are getting far greater returns for their money than ever before.

The Hamilton Project, a Washington, D.C., research group, recently found that through the years, college tuition has provided an inflation-adjusted annual return of more than 15 percent, far outpacing the average annual return for real estate or stocks.

We can't afford to invest in our kid's futures

From 7/16/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Nicholas D. Kristof

All across America, school budgets are being cut, teachers laid off and education programs dismantled.

[W]e nation-build in Afghanistan and scrimp at home. How is it that we can afford to double our military budget since 9/11, can afford the carried-interest tax loophole for billionaires, can afford billions of dollars in givebacks to oil and gas companies, yet can’t afford to invest in our kids’ futures?

House Republicans vote to weaken the S.E.C.

From 7/15/11 The New York Times article by James B. Stewart

The economy is still suffering from the worst financial crisis since the Depression, and widespread anger persists that financial institutions that caused it received bailouts of billions of taxpayer dollars and haven’t been held accountable for any wrongdoing. Yet the House Appropriations Committee has responded by starving the agency responsible for bringing financial wrongdoers to justice — while putting over $200 million that could otherwise have been spent on investigations and enforcement actions back into the pockets of Wall Street.

Utility Shelves Ambitious Plan to Limit Carbon

From 7/13/11 The New York Times article by Matthew L. Wald and John M. Broder

The decision could set back for years efforts to learn how best to capture carbon emissions that result from burning fossil fuels and then inject them deep under-ground to keep them from accumulating in the atmosphere and heating the planet. The procedure, formally known as carbon capture and sequestration or C.C.S., offers the best current technology for taming greenhouse-gas emissions from traditional fuels burned at existing plants.

The abandonment of the A.E.P. plant comes in response to a string of reversals for federal climate change policy. President Obama spent his first year in office pushing a goal of an 80 percent reduction in climate-altering emissions by 2050, a target that could be met only with widespread adoption of carbon-capture and storage at coal plants around the country. The administration’s stimulus package provided billions of dollars to speed development of the technology; the climate change bill passed by the House in 2009 would have provided tens of billions of dollars in additional incentives for what industry calls “clean coal.”

But all such efforts collapsed last year with the Republican takeover of the House and the continuing softness in the economy, which killed any appetite for far-reaching environmental measures.

A senior Obama administration official said that the A.E.P. decision was a direct result of the political stalemate.

Republicans' war on government

From 7/13/11 The Washington Post op-ed article by Harold Meyerson

Yet in opposing any tax increases on the rich as part of a debt-reduction deal, House Speaker John Boehner vowed Monday that “the House cannot pass a bill that raises taxes on job creators.”

Job creators? What job creators? Over the past two months, according to employment statistics, we seem to have completely run out of job creators, though American multinational corporations are having no trouble creating jobs in the cheap-labor nations of Asia. Small businesses, however, cannot expand until American consumers start buying more, and American consumers can’t start buying more until they work their way out of the debt they incurred during the recent decades of pervasive income stagnation.

The Republicans, that is, have embraced market libertarianism at the very moment that America’s market capitalism is functioning worse than at any time since the Great Depression. Their timing is so perverse that we have to seek explanations for their radicalism that go beyond those of economic philosophy.

Republicans, to be sure, have long waged a war on government, but only now has it become an apocalyptic and total war. At its root, I suspect, is the fear and loathing that rank-and-file right-wingers feel toward what their government, and their nation, is inexorably becoming: multiracial, multicultural, cosmopolitan and now headed by a president who personifies those qualities. That America is also downwardly mobile is a challenge for us all, but for the right, the anxiety our economy understandably evokes is augmented by the politics of racial resentment and the fury that the country is no longer only theirs.

Levin works to close tax loopholes

From 7/13/11 The Detroit News article by Nathan Hurst

Sen. Carl Levin said Tuesday he's again aiming to close tax loopholes that allow large companies to avoid paying certain taxes by funneling money through off-shore banks and corporate shells.

The bill would primarily strengthen U.S. authorities' ability to investigate, prosecute and seize assets from companies that use off-shore tax havens to avoid paying Uncle Sam and require companies whose primary business functions are in the United States to maintain corporate headquarters and pay taxes here.

Battery Innovation Act helps Michigan says Stabenow

From 7/10/11 The State News article by Marina Csomor

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., thinks Michigan soon could be the advanced battery capital of the world, and she came to MSU Friday to announce an initiative that would help the state realize this potential.

Don't blame both sides for debt impass

From 7/11/11 The Washington Post op-ed article by Eugene Robinson

Washington has many lazy habits, and one of the worst is a reflexive tendency to see equivalence where none exists. Hence the nonsense, being peddled by politicians and commentators who should know better, that “both sides” are equally at fault in the deadlocked talks over the debt ceiling.

This is patently false. The truth is that Democrats have made clear they are open to a compromise deal on budget cuts and revenue increases. Republicans have made clear they are not.

Taxpayers made money on the bailout

From 7/9/11 The Washington Post article by Allan Sloan and Doris Burke

The bailout of the financial system is roughly as popular as Wall Street bonuses, the federal budget deficit or LeBron James in a Cleveland sports bar. You hear over and over that the bailout was a disaster, it cost taxpayers a fortune, we didn’t really need it, it didn’t work, it was a failure. It has become politically toxic, which inhibits reasoned public discussion about it.

But you know what? The bailout, by the numbers, clearly did work. Not only did it forestall a worldwide financial meltdown, but a Fortune analysis shows that U.S. taxpayers are also coming out ahead on it — by at least $40 billion, and possibly by as much as $100 billion eventually.

When our boss assigned us to find out how much the financial rescue cost, we expected to find a monumental loss because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac seemed like a bottomless pit. Instead, we discovered that bailout profit payments from the Fed — which we hadn’t previously thought of as a profit center — are virtually certain to exceed taxpayer losses on Fannie and Freddie. We were surprised — and pleased — to discover taxpayers showing a profit on the bailout. We hope that you are, too.

We'll all suffer under "right to work"

From What "Right to Work" Would Mean for Michigan by Roland Zullo, Resarch Scientist, Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations, University of Michigan

To begin, the term “right to work” (hereafter RTW) is a misnomer. RTW has nothing to do with the right of a person to seek and accept gainful employment. Rather, RTW laws prohibit a labor union and employer from negotiating union security clauses. Union security clauses are contract provisions that regulate the collection of union dues. Unions typically prefer “union shop” terms that require every person benefiting from union representation to pay union dues. In RTW states, the parties are barred from negotiating union security clauses, making the default the “open shop,” where the payment of dues is optional for workers represented by the union.

Labor unions are nearly universal in their opposition to RTW laws, and their argument is straightforward: each person that benefits directly from union representation should pay their fair share of the cost of that representation.

Depending on the occupation, unionized workers earn wages that are ten to forty percent higher than their nonunion counterparts. The positive differential for other forms of compensation, such as health care insurance and pensions, is even greater. Perhaps more important than economics, however, are matters involving justice. Nearly all union contracts feature an informal form of due process: a grievance procedure that ends in final and binding arbitration through which unions resolve disputes over the contract and employer discipline. As such, in most union settings an employer must show proof that a worker committed a wrongdoing in order to discharge them. By contrast, in a non-union setting workers are “at will” and can be discharged for any reason (or none at all) that is not proscribed by federal law.

A union shop simply mandates that everyone pays their fair share. Open shop arrangements, on the other hand, are problematic because they present incentives for employees to refrain from contributing to the union, and “free ride” on the sacrifices of dues-paying members. Ultimately the financial support necessary to operate a union is undermined.

A second recognized role for labor is in the political system. Labor unions have a long history of pursuing legislation that benefits all wage-earners: higher minimum wage laws, universal health care, health and safety protections, to name a few. Union’s leverage to achieve gains in these areas is directly related to their ability to mobilize support during the political cycle. As such, unions operate telephone banks, engage in member education, and canvass communities to inform their members and the public to get out the vote. Under RTW laws we can expect resources for these activities to diminish, resulting in lower voter turnout among the working class and a political system that is less responsive to Michigan’s non-rich.

Finally, labor unions are active in civic affairs. As human institutions embedded in our communities, unions frequently organize collections on behalf of the less fortunate, they are among the largest givers to charitable organizations, such as the United Way, and they even occasionally fund popular community activities, such as little league teams. Under RTW, we should expect this role to decline.

Unions are certainly not flawless. They are organizations that breathe a measure of democratic life into an otherwise autocratic corporate culture. And as democracies, unions can embrace the best and the worst of human intentions. On balance though, labor unions have an admirable history. In every capitalist economy, the standards for economic, political and social equity are owed in part to a vibrant, independent union movement. Consider this final thought, fellow citizens, as you contemplate whether Michigan is to become a RTW state.

Republicans and the debt

From 7/4/11 The New York Times op-ed article by (Republican) David Brooks

The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.

Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal.

There are Democrats in the White House and elsewhere who would be willing to accept Medicare cuts if the Republicans would be willing to increase revenues.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name.

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

U.S. health plans cut premiums for consumers with preexisting conditions

From 7/14/11 The Washington Post article by Michelle Andrews

Uninsured sick people got some good news recently, or some of them did, anyway. Starting July 1, the Obama administration reduced the premiums by up to 40 percent in special high-risk insurance plans that the federal government is running in 17 states and the District.

These preexisting condition insurance plans, or PCIPs, were created under the 2010 health-care overhaul to provide guaranteed coverage to people who have medical conditions that often make them uninsurable in the individual insurance market.

GOP is a cult

From 7/4/11 The Washington Post op-ed article by Richard Cohen

The Grand Old Party, so named when it really did evoke America, has so narrowed its base that it has become a political cult.

Someone ought to study the Republican Party. I am not referring to yet another political scientist but to a mental health professional, preferably a specialist in the power of fixations, obsessions and the like. The GOP needs an intervention. It has become a cult.

To become a Republican, one has to take a pledge; one has to promise not to give the government another nickel.

Yet another pledge concerns abortion. In general, it demands a complete antiabortion position, not just personal opposition but opposition to judges, health officials and others who might, totally inexplicably, permit abortion. The pledge is silent about the usual exceptions — rape, incest, etc.

The hallmark of a cult is to replace reason with feverish belief. This the GOP has done when it comes to the government’s ability to stimulate the economy. History proves this works — it’s how the Great Depression ended — but Republicans will not acknowledge it.

Something similar has happened with global warming. It has become a conviction of much of the GOP that you and I, with our cars and factories and leaf blowers and barbecue pits, are off the hook — innocent of cooking the atmosphere. That being the case, it therefore is not the case that anything has to be done about it. Only much of science, common sense and your average walrus differ, but the GOP soldiers on.

This intellectual rigidity has produced a GOP presidential field that’s a virtual political Jonestown. The Grand Old Party, so named when it really did evoke America, has so narrowed its base that it has become a political cult.

Corporate tax break for the wealthy and K-12 cuts

From 7/1/11 Gaylord Herald Times article by Michael Jones

Gaylord Community Schools (GCS) board members had a busy night Wednesday when they adopted a $26 million budget, $1.3 million less than last year, and ratified contracts for seven of the district’s eight bargaining units.

Teachers, administrators and support staff all agreed to one-year contracts, which include a freeze on all salaries, except for step increases, with employees contributing up to 15 percent of their health care costs, including medical, dental and vision.

Allen said the reason for the wage freeze, changes to employee health benefits, last month’s teacher layoffs and the district considering privatizing custodial services is a result of the lack of state aid funding for schools in this year’s recently passed state budget bill.

According to Allen, Gaylord will see a decrease in funds of $606 per pupil from last year.

To compensate for a $1.7B corporate tax cut for the largely wealthy, both our Republican representatives in our State Legislature, Senator John Moolenaar and Representative Greg MacMaster, voted for these K-12 cuts.

Michigan State House Republicans think other states know what's best for Michigan's environment

From 7/3/11 AnnAbor.com letter to editor by Robert M Gordon

It is 1976, and Lake Erie is nearly "dead" due to being covered in toxic algae. Governor William Milliken leads a fight to restrict phosphorous use in Michigan by passing an administrative order. The order took effect, the phosphorous run off was limited, and Lake Erie recovered. Our Michigan Legislature eventually codified the Milliken administrative rule into a statute, 32 years later in 2008.

Fast forward to present . . . our leadership in Lansing is considering House Bill 4326. If passed, it would prevent Michigan from enacting any environmental standards stronger than what the federal government has in place.

Michigan sits among over 20 percent of the world's fresh water, and is uniquely suited to determine how best to protect that invaluable resource. In effect, if passed the new law would give Nevada's U.S. senators as much authority as Michigan's, and give Texans and their U.S. House representatives nearly three times the sway as Michigan has. In sum, under HB 4326, Gov. Milliken would have been banned from being able to steward phosphorous limitations in the 1970's.

The purpose of the proposed legislation is to remove regulatory hurdles in order to make Michigan more "business friendly." Marginal mitigation of regulations in return for loss of control of the future of Michigan's natural resources? Is that would we voted into office last November? Stripping the state's ability to protect its water and wetlands would be short sighted, and foolish.

Robert M. Gordon

From Michigan Environmental Council press release

House votes to strip Great Lakes protections, governor's authority
Authority to mange fresh water would be ceded to Washington D.C

Michigan’s governor would be stripped of powers to protect the Great Lakes under legislation approved by the state House of Representatives today.

HB 4326 would prohibit a state agency from adopting a rule more stringent than federal standards unless specifically authorized by state statute. The bill – ostensibly designed to reduce regulations – reduces protections for the Great Lakes and undermines the power of Michigan’s governor to act decisively to protect them.

“This bill sends a simple message: The Michigan House thinks the Great Lakes aren’t worth protecting,” said Anne Woiwode, state director of the Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter. “They’re saying Michigan is the same as Mississippi or Arizona, and that is just wrong.”

James Clift, policy director with the Michigan Environmental Council, said Michigan has a unique role as stewards of the Earth’s greatest freshwater resource. This legislation would be an abdication of that role.

“Federal rules are designed to be a floor, not a ceiling, for protecting key natural resources like our lakes,” said Clift. “Yet this House vote indicates they believe that Michigan’s freshwater seas should be protected with the same one-size-fits-all rules they use in every other state.”

Great Lakes advocates point out that the Michigan Legislature already has the authority to strike down any rule made by a Michigan governor’s administration.

“The legislature is already the final word on regulations,” said Cyndi Roper, Michigan director for Clean Water Action. “But now they’re aiming to take away the governor’s authority to issue rules in the first place. It’s an attack on the governor, on future governors, and on the natural resources of Michigan.”

The governor’s rulemaking authority was most famously used in 1976 to help restore a dying Lake Erie. Gov. William Milliken’s administration restricted phosphorus in dishwashing detergent – a pioneering step that helped pave the way for the recovery of Lake Erie.

"As Michiganders know better than anyone, the Great Lakes are the economic and recreational heart of our state. Signing away Michigan's unique ability to protect them is nothing short of foolish,” said Ryan Werder, political director with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

Our State House representative, Greg MacMaster, voted for this legislation. No Democrats voted for this bill.

It's trickle-down, stupid

From 7/3/11 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

Watching the evolution of economic discussion in Washington over the past couple of years has been a disheartening experience. Month by month, the discourse has gotten more primitive; with stunning speed, the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis have been forgotten, and the very ideas that got us into the crisis — regulation is always bad, what’s good for the bankers is good for America, tax cuts are the universal elixir — have regained their hold.

And now trickle-down economics — specifically, the idea that anything that increases corporate profits is good for the economy — is making a comeback.

On the face of it, this seems bizarre. Over the last two years profits have soared while [un]employment has remained disastrously high. Why should anyone believe that handing even more money to corporations, no strings attached, would lead to faster job creation?

How can people simultaneously demand savage cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and defend special tax breaks favoring hedge fund managers and owners of corporate jets?

Well, here’s what a spokesman for Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, told Greg Sargent of The Washington Post: “You can’t help the wage earner by taxing the wage payer offering a job.” He went on to imply, disingenuously, that the tax breaks at issue mainly help small businesses (they’re actually mainly for big corporations). But the basic argument was that anything that leaves more money in the hands of corporations will mean more jobs. That is, it’s pure trickle-down.

What our economy needs is direct job creation by the government and mortgage-debt relief for stressed consumers. What it very much does not need is a transfer of billions of dollars to corporations that have no intention of hiring anyone except more lobbyists.

GOP trying to sabotage economy on purpose

From 7/1/11 The New York Times article by Greg Sargent

“Do they simply want the economy to go down the drain to further their political gain?” Schumer asked. “They seem to be against anything that may create jobs, because they view a weak economy as key to their political chances in 2012.”

“It’s an uncomfortable question, to be sure,” Schumer continued. “Are they trying to undermine the economy on purpose, for political gain? Harry Truman had a do-nothing Congress. The Republicans seem to be trying to make this a do-nothing-on-the-economy Congress.”

The latest evidence of this, according to Schumer: GOP Senators boycotted a hearing yesterday on three pending free trade deals they once supported.

“If there’s one thing the GOP has stood for throughout their history, it’s free trade,” Schumer said. “When Senator Baucus unveiled an agreement to proceed, you would have thought Republicans would jump for joy. Instead, Republicans took us down the rabbit hole once again.”

“Are Republicans opposing yet another measure they once supported simpy because that measure might be good for the economy?” Schumer asked, also citing GOP opposition to recent measures like a payroll tax cut and to small business development programs.Pressed by a reporter on whether he really believes the GOP wants to destroy the economy on purpose, Schumer went further than ever before and took this out of the realm of the hypothetical.

“It’s a thought you don’t want to believe,” Schumer said, “but every day they keep giving us more and more evidence that there’s no choice but to answer Yes.”

Republicans push to make Michigan a "right to work" state

From 7/1/11 The Detroit Free Press article by Chris Christoff and Dawson Bell

A grass roots movement to enact right to work laws in Michigan kicked off a campaign today that its spokespersons called a fight for free choice that will create more jobs.

The group, called Michigan Freedom to Work, could turn up the heat on an issue that has simmered in Lansing and gained momentum with a Republican-led legislature and governor.

Zack Pohl, spokesman for the counter-demonstrators, called the right-to-work push "the latest in a long line of attacks on working and middle-class families in Michigan."

Doug Pratt, spokesman for the MEA, said right-to-work laws have no track record of creating jobs. He said jobs are created through good education systems and well-trained workers.

"You look at the numbers in North Carolina and Oklahoma, they lost jobs when they went right-to-work," Pratt said.

But many Lansing observers say with the Legislature’s biggest issues behind it – passage of a new budget and sweeping tax reform – attention might turn to social and labor issues that were kept at bay by Democrats in the past.

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