According to a 2009 Pew survey, 75 percent of Democrats believe there is solid evidence of global warming compared with only 35 percent of Republicans.
Climate change has been enmeshed in the culture wars where beliefs in science often align with beliefs on abortion, gun control, health care, evolution, or other issues that fall along the contemporary political divide. This was not the case in the 1990s and is not the case in Europe. This is a distinctly American phenomenon.
For skeptics, climate change is inextricably tied to a belief that climate science and policy are a covert way for liberal environmentalists and the government to diminish citizens' personal freedom.
A second prominent theme is a strong faith in the free market, an overriding fear that climate legislation will hinder economic progress, and a suspicion that green jobs and renewable energy are ploys to engineer the market.
The most intriguing theme is strong distrust of the scientific peer-review process and of scientists themselves: "Peer review" turns into "pal review," and establishment scientist-editors only publish work by those whose scientific research findings agree with their own.
Though the Volt has its share of flaws, it is unquestionably a good car. More to the point, as I discovered when I drove it, the Volt makes sense for the economic and cultural moment we’re in now. The psychological grip it held me in, the smugness I felt as I drove past gas stations, the way it implicitly encouraged me to stick with battery power as much as I could — others are going to feel that as well. Somewhat to my surprise, I actually felt a pang of enviro-guilt when I gave the car back and returned to my gas-guzzling ways. Mr. Farah told me that Volt owners often drove 1,000 miles or more before they needed to buy gasoline. I believe it. It has extremely high word-of-mouth potential.
The second thing it convinced me of is that the electric car is no longer some environmental pipe dream. Several years ago, I drove the Tesla, and though it was a wonderful experience, its high price and limited utility did not give me confidence that electric cars were ready for prime time. The Volt has made a believer out of me. At this moment of maximum uncertainty about how the future will play out, the Volt is comforting in its combination of new technology and old. Eventually, we’ll have batteries that can get 300 miles per charge, and an infrastructure solution that will replace gas stations. Eventually.
In the meantime, we’ve got the Volt. It’s a start.
Wernig in Gaylord has a demo Volt.
6/24/11 e-mail from Senator Levin regarding Afghanistan troop drawdown
I wanted to share with you my comments on President Obama's address to the nation Wednesday night on Afghanistan:
"The president's decision represents a positive development, although in my view the conditions on the ground justify an even larger drawdown of U.S. troops this year than the president announced tonight. I will continue to advocate for an accelerated drawdown in the months ahead, and for enhanced training and partnering with Afghan forces, because only they can provide durable security for their nation.
"The conditions justifying a larger drawdown include the progress U.S. and Afghan troops and our allies have made to improve security in Afghanistan; the faster than expected growth of the Afghan security forces; the death of Osama bin Laden and the decreasing number of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan; and the need to transition as quickly as possible to Afghan responsibility for Afghanistan's security to increase the chances for long-term success of the mission there."
BACKGROUND ON AFGHAN NATIONAL SECURITY FORCES
- The Afghan National Security Forces are ahead of schedule to meet their target of 305,000 by October of this year.
- There are more than 100,000 more Afghan soldiers and police than there were when the U.S. troop surge began.
- 96 percent of Afghan army units and 83 percent of police units in key terrain districts are partnered with ISAF units.
- From April 2010 to March 2011, the number of major operations that were conducted with partnered Afghan units rose from 54 percent to 95 percent across all the regional commands.
Congressman Conyers has reintroduced HR-676 as “The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.” To keep momentum going for Single Payer, he has been holding strategy meetings with activists, labor leaders and Members of Congress throughout the country.
In Michigan, Single Payer activists and leaders of numerous organizations - UAW Retirees for Single Payer, AARP, MichUHCAN, Physicians For a National Health Program (PNHP), Gray Panthers, Raging Grannies, Interfaith Health & Hope Coalition and others, met on April 28, 2011 and agreed to call an organizing conference to educate and mobilize Single Payer supporters throughout the State. Our organization, “Michigan Improved Medicare for All” (MIMA) is planning a one-day conference targeted for the last quarter of 2011, focused on gathering support to strengthen the movement.
The goals of the conference are to:
Identify the numerous non-profit, labor and faith communities and others that are supportive of Single Payer healthcare.
Promote State-wide communication to link communities and organizations together.
Train and set-up a speakers’ bureau to educate on health issues.
Identify and organize Congressional Districts to impact Congress.
Create an organizational model that may be established in other States.
To maximize the success of this one-day conference, we are asking for support from you or any of your colleagues and to speak to your organization on HR-676 “The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.”
Dr. Margaret Flowers, a highly respected Congressional Fellow of “Physicians for a National Health Program” (PNHP), that advocates for Single Payer health care reform, will be one of the keynote speakers.
The conference will include a continental breakfast, breakout refreshments and a box lunch. We have plans to raise funds to support this effort. I will be calling you to schedule a speaking engagement with your organization to explain the plan and to gain your support.
Please contact me at 248-674-3520 or Olivia Boykins/Special Assistant to Congressman John Conyers at 313-319-2766.
In solidarity, Marylyn Schmidt, Speakers Committee Michigan Improved Medicare for All (MIMA)
[The Global Commission on Drug Policy report] describes the total failure of the present global antidrug effort, and in particular America’s “war on drugs,” which was declared 40 years ago today. It notes that the global consumption of opiates has increased 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. Its primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders.
“Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”
[T]hree-quarters of new admissions to state prisons are for nonviolent crimes. And the single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increasing more than twelvefold since 1980.
Not only has this excessive punishment destroyed the lives of millions of young people and their families (disproportionately minorities), but it is wreaking havoc on state and local budgets. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pointed out that, in 1980, 10 percent of his state’s budget went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and only 7.5 percent to higher education.
Maybe the increased tax burden on wealthy citizens necessary to pay for the war on drugs will help to bring about a reform of America’s drug policies. At least the recommendations of the Global Commission will give some cover to political leaders who wish to do what is right.
[T]he American government should support and enact the reforms laid out by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
Arguing that the U.S. food supply is 99 percent safe, House Republicans cut millions of dollars Thursday from the Food and Drug Administration’s budget, denying the agency money to implement landmark food safety laws approved by the last Congress.
Saying the cuts were needed to lower the national deficit, the House also reduced funding to the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspection service, which oversees meat, poultry and some egg products. And lawmakers chopped $832 million from an emergency feeding program for poor mothers, infants and children. Hunger groups said that change would deny emergency nutrition to about 325,000 mothers and children.
The business sector is dazzlingly productive, but it also periodically blows up our financial system. Yet if we seek another model, one that emphasizes universal health care and educational opportunity, one that seeks to curb income inequality, we don’t have to turn to Sweden. Rather, look to the United States military.
It has been an escalator of social mobility in American society because it invests in soldiers and gives them skills and opportunities.
The United States armed forces knit together whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics from diverse backgrounds, invests in their education and training, provides them with excellent health care and child care. And it does all this with minimal income gaps: A senior general earns about 10 times what a private makes, while, by my calculation, C.E.O.’s at major companies earn about 300 times as much as those cleaning their offices.
The military is innately hierarchical, yet it nurtures a camaraderie in part because the military looks after its employees. This is a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it continues with a veterans’ health care system that has much lower costs than the American system as a whole.
While one of America’s greatest failings is underinvestment in early childhood education (which seems to be one of the best ways to break cycles of poverty from replicating), the military manages to provide superb child care. The cost depends on family income and starts at $44 per week.
One of the things I admire most about the military is the way it invests in educating and training its people. Its universities — the military academies — are excellent, and it has R.O.T.C. programs at other campuses around the country. Many soldiers get medical training, law degrees, or Ph.D.’s while in service, sometimes at the country’s finest universities.
Then there are the Army War College, the Naval War College and the Air War College, giving top officers a mid-career intellectual and leadership boost before resuming their careers. It’s common to hear bromides about investing in human capital, but the military actually shows that it believes that.
Millionaire business owners get a $1.7B tax break; 19 local school janitors pay the price
The 11 full-time and eight part-time custodians at Gaylord Community Schools (GCS) face an uncertain future as the district contemplates privatizing custodial services to save money and improve its chances to qualify for new state funds to schools which utilize best financial practices.
Retired teacher who loved her job doesn't recommend teaching anymore
Sue Taylor loved being a Spanish teacher for 32 years, but she's not sure she'd do it again as she watches the benefits of seniority, untaxed pensions and collective bargaining being stripped away by Republican legislators in Michigan.
"If somebody said, 'My kid is studying to be a teacher,' I might say, 'I'd rethink that,'" said the 59-year-old retiree from Dewitt Township north of Lansing. "I've moved from thinking it was the noble profession to now (being) the beleaguered profession."
General Motors' venture capital arm said Monday that it will invest $6 million in Proterra, a leading maker of zero-emission commercial transit buses, as part of its plan to develop next-generation transportation technology.
Proterra's EcoRide BE-35 bus is powered by lithium-ion battery packs that give the bus a 40-mile range between chargings.
Jeff Granato, president of Proterra, based in Golden, Colo., said the buses can be recharged in 10 minutes with Proterra's fast-charging system.
For some students, as the years spent at MSU pile up, so does the mountain of debt stemming from tuition costs.
However, helping students and their families manage that debt is something the Michigan Education Trust, or MET, program has been doing for 23 years.
MET is a program that allows parents to prepay for college credits in preparation for when the time comes for their children to go to college. By purchasing a contract, parents can lock in tuition rates at the time of purchase and avoid paying more if the cost of tuition increases.
Scary Movie (22533)
Another blow to public service employees and retirees
The idea of Medicare as a money-saving program may seem hard to grasp. After all, hasn’t Medicare spending risen dramatically over time? Yes, it has: adjusting for overall inflation, Medicare spending per beneficiary rose more than 400 percent from 1969 to 2009.
But inflation-adjusted premiums on private health insurance rose more than 700 percent over the same period. So while it’s true that Medicare has done an inadequate job of controlling costs, the private sector has done much worse.
Both Medicare and private insurance will be unsustainable unless there are major cost-control efforts — the kinds of efforts that are actually in the Affordable Care Act, and which Republicans demagogued with cries of “death panels.”
The point, however, is that privatizing health insurance for seniors, which is what Mr. Lieberman is in effect proposing — and which is the essence of the G.O.P. plan — hurts rather than helps the cause of cost control. If we really want to hold down costs, we should be seeking to offer Medicare-type programs to as many Americans as possible.
Senator Stabenow opposes oil company tax breaks, promotes alternative fuel
With a shiny new Chevy Volt charging next to her, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., spoke at an East Lansing gas station Friday, calling for more alternative fuel options as gas prices linger around $4 per gallon in the Lansing area.
Stabenow gave a press conference at the family-owned H&H Mobil station, 1500 Haslett Road — the first service station in Michigan to install an electric-car charging station — lambasting major oil companies and calling for an end to taxpayer subsidies for the industry.
She instead advocated using the $21 billion in taxpayer money currently subsidizing the top five oil companies to help deflate the federal deficit.
Those who pin on a fake military medal or falsely claim military service on a job application could wind up in jail under a proposed state law.
"(The fraud) lacks integrity and diminishes the importance of those who have put their lives on the line," said state Sen. John Moolenaar, a Midland Republican who sponsored the Senate bill.
"It's stolen valor," Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican and bill cosponsor, said of such deceptive practices.
This is 2011 Senate Bill 386.
Stealing valor is certainly a contemptible thing to do, but, since it costs about $20,000 to keep someone in a county jail for a year, the cost to taxpayers for this "theft" could be as high as $20,000 per thief just for the jail costs.
Friday marks the 40th anniversary of one of the biggest, most expensive, most destructive social policy experiments in American history: The war on drugs.
So began a war that has waxed and waned, sputtered and sprinted, until it became an unmitigated disaster, an abomination of justice and a self-perpetuating, trillion-dollar economy of wasted human capital, ruined lives and decimated communities.
An effort meant to save us from a form of moral decay became its own insidious brand of moral perversion — turning people who should have been patients into prisoners, criminalizing victimless behavior, targeting those whose first offense was entering the world wrapped in the wrong skin. It feeds our achingly contradictory tendency toward prudery and our overwhelming thirst for punishment.
Last week, the Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a 19-member commission that included Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary general; George Shultz, President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state; and Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, declared that: “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”
A tragic death and minimum $850,000 bill for taxpayers
The two Gaylord men arrested on drug charges following the investigation into the Jan. 1 heroin overdose death of 18-year-old Aubrey Checks from Gaylord, were sentenced to prison this week in 46th Circuit Court.
In order to make up for an anticipated loss of $465,000 in revenue due to cuts in state aid funding for next year, Johannesburg-Lewiston (J-L) Area Schools superintendent Jim Hilgendorf said the district will start by not replacing three teaching staff and one support staff member, who are not expected to return in the fall.
“For the first time we had a surplus for schools,” he said, explaining there was enough of a surplus to provide for an increase in funding of $260 per student. “The cuts are the result of business tax cuts and breaks and that’s what’s wrong with all of this. The bottom line is when Proposal A was passed in 1994 it was very clear what the intentions were when it was framed. The revenue generated from Proposal A was meant for public schools.”
Regardless of the intent of Proposal A, school districts across the state; J-L included, will be forced to make do with less for the coming school year.
“We run as much as we can for as long as we can,” the J-L superintendent said.
Vanderbilt Area School (VAS) superintendent John Palmer said past cuts and declining enrollment have left nowhere else for the embattled district to reduce staff or eliminate programs.
“We can’t cut anymore because we’re down as far as we can go. There’s nothing left to cut,” Palmer said Monday in response to current state legislation, which will result in about a 6 percent loss of around $93,000 in funding next year from the district’s current $1.5 million budget.
Although part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget plan for schools has included exploring school consolidation as a way to save money, Palmer does not expect Vanderbilt to seriously consider consolidating anytime soon.
The problem, explained Palmer, is a 1997 school expansion building project for which the bonds won’t be paid off for another 10 years. According to Palmer, any district which were to consolidate with Vanderbilt would have to assume the liability for the remainder due on the building bonds.
Canada has a single-payer health-care system. The government is the only insurer of any note. The United Kingdom has a socialized system, in which the government is not only the sole insurer of note but also employs most of the doctors and nurses and runs most of the hospitals. And yet, measured as a share of the economy, our government health-care system is the largest of the bunch.
And it’s worse than that: Atop our giant government health-care sector, we have an even more giant private health-care sector. Altogether, we’re spending about 16 percent of the GDP on health care. No other country even tops 12 percent.
As for the approach that’s helped every other industrialized country achieve universal coverage at about half our costs? Well, we’re still not ready to talk about that.
Republicans want all public employees to pay 20% of their health insurance
[T]he state Legislature now is eyeing a proposal that would require every public employee in Michigan to pay at least 20 percent of the cost of health insurance coverage.
The Republican-controlled Senate passed the measure last month; it also passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would make the change specifically for state and university employees. Under the state constitution, the Legislature is restricted in its ability to change benefits for state and university employees.
Republican proponents say the change is needed to bring public worker benefits in line with those in the private sector and restore the state's financial solvency. Public workers and Democrats oppose it because they say it would erode rights of workers to negotiate benefits.
The current proposal comes on the heels of concessions made last year by most state employee unions to begin requiring all new hires to pay 20 percent toward their health care and a new law requiring state and public school employees to pay 3 percent of their salaries toward retiree health care.
Currently, most longer-serving state employees are paying a 10 percent premium for health care. It varies widely among public school districts - with some employees paying no premium.
Impact of Republican budget cuts on Gaylord Community Schools
The Gaylord Community Schools (GCS) board voted to pink slip 11 1/2 teaching positions at a special meeting Wednesday, the direct result of funding cuts to Michigan schools as approved by state legislators last week.
GCS budget and finance director Carlee Allen said the deep school cuts — which will amount to around $606 per pupil (see related story) in Gaylord next year — will result in a loss of around $2.7 million in funding, or a 10 percent cut from the district’s current budget of around $25 million.
Just one vote
HB 4361 was the bill passed May 12th by the Michigan Senate that eliminates the charitable tax credit, reduces business taxes by $1.8 billion, taxes pensions and increases taxes for the working-poor. The vote on this bill was 20-19 with Lt. Governor Brian Calley casting the tie-breaking vote.
No Democrat voted for this bill. It's important to note how close this vote was. Just one more Democrat in the State Senate could have made a big difference here, an important example of why ELECTIONS MATTER!
For the moment, Michigan drivers seem to be on a gasoline seesaw.
We're going up while the rest of the country is going down.
Consumers have done their part, cutting gas consumption by 4.3% from a year ago, conserving more than those in the rest of the country, according to MasterCard.
Crude oil prices have fallen more than $12 a barrel in the last month... Gas prices elsewhere in the country are falling.
The simple explanation is [midwest] oil companies aren't making enough gas, even for the lower demand.
With prices varying widely from one region to another, why can't Midwestern wholesales [sic] buy from markets in New York, Houston or even California? [T]he cost of trucking would wipe out the savings.
Republican Congressman Benishek's case for proposed Medicare voucher system
From 6/2/11 e-mail from the Congressman
Religion and politics don't mix: but, just this once --
Less than 18 months before the next presidential election, Republican-controlled statehouses around the country are rewriting voting laws to require photo identification at the polls, reduce the number of days of early voting or tighten registration rules.
Republican legislators say the new rules, which have advanced in 13 states in the past two months, offer a practical way to weed out fraudulent votes and preserve the integrity of the ballot box. Democrats say the changes have little to do with fraud prevention and more to do with placing obstacles in the way of possible Democratic voters, including young people and minorities.
Tax credit for homeless shelter and food bank donations repealed
The tax bill passed by the Michigan House and Senate and signed by our governor was HB 4361. In addition to taxing pensions, reducing the Earned Income Credit for the working poor and eliminating or lowering business taxes for business owning millionaires, this legislation also eliminates the state income tax credit for donations made to homeless shelters and food banks.
A couple filing jointly could receive up to a $200 state tax credit for donations made to food banks or homeless shelters; that credit has been eliminated. Since homeless shelters and food banks rely heavily on donations (e.g. about half of our local homeless shelter's annual budget relies on donations), this legislation makes it more difficult for them to raise funds for these desperately needed services.
Both our state senator, Senator Moolenaar (R), and our state representative, Representative MacMaster (R), voted for HB 4361.
Students and poor bear brunt of state budget cuts, seniors and poor get tax increases
Democratic lawmakers said the budget bills will force students and the poor to shoulder the brunt of the budget cuts.
The measures "force schools to increase class sizes, cut band and arts programs, sports and after-school clubs and eliminate advanced placement classes," said state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren. "This is not a statement that we should be making. Cutting schools will make our state less attractive to business and investment."
The Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, launched television ads accusing lawmakers who voted for the bills of giving businesses a huge tax break at the expense of education.
The Senate approved the final two-bill package Thursday by votes of 21-17 and 23-15. The House approved the measures earlier in the afternoon on votes of 62-47 and 59-50. Both chambers passed the bills along party lines, with most Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed.
The plan cuts the state's minimum per-pupil foundation allowance for public schools to $6,846, a drop of roughly 6 percent. That cut includes a $300-per-student reduction. There's also a $170-per-student reduction that's already on the books but was not felt this school year because the drop in state funding was filled with extra federal funds.
State aid to universities will drop 15 percent across the board. Universities would lose more state aid if they don't limit tuition increases to roughly 7 percent this fall. State aid to community colleges will drop by about 4 percent.
The social safety net also takes a hit. Most able-bodied welfare recipients face a stricter four-year lifetime limit to receive benefits. The state's clothing allowance program for children on welfare has been reduced. State-reimbursed indigent burials are now restricted to cases where the deceased's body is not claimed. The state's disability assistance monthly payment will be cut to $200 for new applicants, down from $269.
Business tax cut
Snyder on Wednesday signed separate budget-related bills that cut business taxes and raise income taxes on some Michigan residents. Some of the changes are phased in, but by 2013, businesses will see a $1.7 billion tax cut while individuals will pay $1.4 billion more.
On Thursday, with both his budget and his sweeping tax reforms safely through the Legislature, Snyder praised the GOP majorities in the House and Senate for getting the job done by his May 31 deadline.
Individual taxpayers will pay $559 million more next year in taxes than they did before, an amount that rises to an extra $1.4 billion in 2012-13. Much of that will come from seniors who will have to pay taxes on non-Social Security retirement income. Low-income workers will see the Earned Income Tax Credit drop from 20 percent of the federal credit to 6 percent.
Our representatives in Lansing, Senator Moolenaar (R) and Representative MacMaster (R), both voted for this legislation.
A school aid measure approved 21-16 mostly along party lines in the Senate would cut funding by an additional $300 per pupil in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Democrats said the school aid measure approved by the Senate is better than what Snyder originally proposed. But Democrats remain upset that there are school aid cuts at all, saying they are not necessary and are being made only to help pay for a business tax cut that Republicans wanted and Snyder signed into law Wednesday.
Senator Moolenaar (R) and Representative MacMaster (R) both voted for this bill.
Let’s see: Voters don’t seem to like cuts to Medicare, cuts to education, or tax cuts for the rich. So what are “the people” trying to say?
From the beginning, too many Republicans (and too many in the media) saw the Tea Party as a broadly based movement whose extreme anti-government views reflected the popular will.
This was never true. The Tea Party consisted of citizens on the right end of politics who were always there but got angrier and better organized after Obama was elected. They crowded the polling places on Nov. 2 while progressives found other things to do. The Tea Partyers were joined in voting Republican by many middle-of-the-road Americans understandably unhappy with the state of politics and the economy.
But those middle-of-the-roaders never bargained for what Paul Ryan — or Govs. Rick Scott, John Kasich of Ohio or Scott Walker of Wisconsin — had in mind for them. Now they’re talking back. They’re not as loud as the Tea Party. But as Hochul’s victory showed, they’re starting to be heard.
Democrat wins Republican U.S. House seat: Medicare was the issue
Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul won a House special election in western New York on Tuesday night, a Democratic triumph in a conservative district that many regarded a referendum on House Republicans’ efforts to reform Medicare.
Republicans promised job creation but are doing nothing
As Gov. Rick Snyder prepared today to sign a landmark tax reform bill, he was sharply criticized by a coalition of labor and environmental groups for not doing enough to promote jobs, and especially clean energy industry jobs.
The BlueGreen Alliance said Snyder and Republicans are more interested in undercutting collective bargaining, health care benefits and taxing pensioners than they are in producing more jobs.
AFL-CIO Michigan president Mark Gaffney said government must play a more direct role in job creation. He said the auto, solar panel, and planned high speed rail projects in Michigan are flourishing because of federal government money and intervention. He said the renewable energy industry needs similar government help.
[Gaffney] said Snyder’s $1.8 billion tax cut for businesses is repackaged supply side economics that has failed in the past to create jobs or monetary benefits for the middle class.
Michigan tourism booms in 2010: out-of-state visitor spending soars 21%
Michigan's tourism industry saw dramatic gains in 2010, generating an estimated 10,000 new jobs as out-of-state leisure visitor spending soared 21 percent, the first time non-resident visitors outspent in-state travelers.
An extensive national survey of U.S. travel volumes and spending conducted by D.K. Shifflet & Associates, showed visitor spending in Michigan jumped from $15.1 billion in 2009 to $17.2 billion in 2010 – the biggest one-year increase in travel spending in Michigan history.
Kurt Metzger of Data Driven Detroit reported last week that tourism-heavy counties in Michigan, such as Grand Traverse County and Leelanau County saw some of the state's best population gains in the 2010 U.S. Census – evidence that the tourism industry continues to be an economic driver in Michigan.
Recent data indicates the positive results for Michigan tourism in 2010 have continued to carry over into 2011. According to Smith Travel Research, Michigan hotel occupancy through April, 2011 is up 9.6 percent over the same period in 2010; a strong start for the 2011 summer travel season to build on.
The Pure Michigan tax funded tourism advertising campaign and the auto bailouts were programs Governor Granholm and Democrats pushed hard for. We're now seeing the benefits.
Unions say Michigan's state government is more top heavy with managers than some other states. They said changing the manager-to-employee ratio would allow the state to spend more money on front-line services.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is seeking $145 million in concessions from state employees for next fiscal year.
The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.
“There’s a perception that the private sector is always going to do it more efficiently and less costly,” said Russ Van Vleet, a former co-director of the University of Utah Criminal Justice Center. “But there really isn’t much out there that says that’s correct.”
[D]ata indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year.
The research, by the Arizona Department of Corrections, also reveals a murky aspect of private prisons that helps them appear less expensive: They often house only relatively healthy inmates.
“It’s cherry-picking,” said State Representative Chad Campbell, leader of the House Democrats. “They leave the most expensive prisoners with taxpayers and take the easy prisoners.”
During the 48 hours I spent in Detroit, I met enthusiastic black, white and Asian people, from age 10 to over 60, almost all of whom agreed that food is the key to the new Detroit.
I was driven around the city by Dan Carmody, director of the 120-year-old Eastern Market, whose huge sheds are crammed with vendors on Saturdays, when as many as 50,000 shoppers buy everything from Grown in Detroit vegetables to Michigan asparagus to flats of flowers to hydroponic tomatoes. In other words, a typical big-city covered market mash-up.
But if the market is familiar, the rest of Detroit is anything but. Read the paper, and you see a wasted landscape; go there, and you see the sprouts emerging from the soil.
Imagine blocks that once boasted 30 houses, now with three; imagine hundreds of such blocks. Imagine the green space created by the city’s heartbreaking but intelligent policy of removing burnt-out or fallen-down houses. Now look at the corner of one such street, where a young man who has used the city’s “adopt-a-lot” program (it costs nothing) to establish an orchard, a garden and a would-be community center on three lots, one with a standing house.
A Capuchin monastery operates gardens spanning 24 lots, five of which they own; at one of them, I meet Patrick Crouch, who’s supervising 10 gardeners-in-training and reminds me that “community gardens are not just about ‘gardens’ but ‘community.’”
The gardens are everywhere, and you almost can’t drive anywhere without seeing one.
The Senate on Tuesday blocked a Democratic proposal to strip the five leading oil companies of tax breaks that backers of the measure said were unfairly padding industry profits while consumers were struggling with high gas prices.
Despite falling eight votes short of the 60 needed to move ahead with the bill, top Democrats said they would insist that eliminating the tax breaks to generate billions of dollars in revenue must be part of any future agreement to raise the federal debt limit.
Under the proposal, Democrats would have eliminated five different tax breaks enjoyed by the multinational oil companies, producing an estimated $21 billion over 10 years.
The bill would have applied to BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.
Hines, a 6-foot-4 forward from Central Lake High School, became Michigan's all-time girls basketball leader in points and rebounds, surpassing the previous marks of 2,989 points and 1,667 rebounds. She averaged 29 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks this winter to lead Central Lake to a 26-1 record. Hines was named Miss Basketball, the Michigan Gatorade player of the year and the Associated Press Class D player of the year.
Hines is the first incoming MSU player to earn PARADE All-America honors since Tiffanie Shives in 2005. She was one of four incoming Big Ten athletes named to the 30-player team.
The rebounding domestic auto industry is helping the state get back on its feet as the Detroit Three have seen their first increase in market share since 1995, Fulton said. He expects all sectors except government to add jobs over the next three years, while teaching and government jobs continue to shrink.
Number of auto assembly plants closed in U.S.since 2008
Number of auto assembly plants closed in Michigan since 2008
U.S. auto production capacity in Michigan
Michigan disposable income increase in 2011
Inflation in 2011
Fulton's forecast does not take into account a broad tax proposal that will slash business taxes while requiring more from individual taxpayers. Gov. Rick Snyder could sign the measure into law as early as this week.
MIDLAND — A Gladwin County man has asked to take out a recall petition against GOP state Sen. John R. Moolenaar, citing his vote to expand the powers of emergency financial managers and support of tax increases.
Dennis J. Perry, Democratic supervisor of Hay Township in Gladwin County, filed recall petition language this week against the Midland Republican, said Midland County Clerk Ann Manary.
The three-member Midland County Election Commission will review the petition language for clarity later this month before petitioners may collect signatures to attempt to have a recall election.
Petitioners claim Moolenaar "has proven himself unfit" to represent his constituents in his 10-county district in northeastern lower Michigan, the document says.
The language takes aim at the senator's vote in favor of expanding emergency financial manager's powers "to invalidate, without court order, legal and binding contracts entered into by properly elected local authorities. He voted for tax increases upon retirees and low income families, but instead of addressing the deficit, supported huge new tax cuts for large corporations," the petition reads.
Mr. President, I've been told you are a serious man, a deep thinker, and that you've said you want to raise the level of the debate when it comes to immigration reform, so I can only assume that you are serious when you suggested yesterday that, to secure our borders, the United States should build "...a moat with alligators."
I actually think a moat might be a very good idea and I'm wondering how many alligators it would take to secure the entire border.
Rather than quote from this article, it should be read in it's entirety. It sums up our prison situation better than anything you'll find. And, yes, it was written by Newt Gingrich, the guy we love to hate.
Michigan's improving economy likely will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue this year and next, the House and Senate fiscal agencies said Friday.
The House Fiscal Agency warned, however, that the new business tax cut will cut revenue in the budget year that starts Oct. 1 and that about $77 million of this year's surplus likely will have to be used to fill the resulting hole.
"Overall revenues are up, but the tax proposal that was just enacted will wipe out a portion of those increases," House Fiscal Agency deputy director Mary Ann Cleary told The Associated Press.
Gov. Rick Snyder won approval Thursday for his prized reworking of the tax code, and perhaps the only surprise was the obstinacy with which a few of his fellow Republicans resisted.
The House Fiscal Agency estimates that the first full year of the new 6% corporate income tax will raise $749 million. That may be a low estimate, considering that the economy appears to be picking up. But it also is a number that can go into freefall in bad economic years. The reason Michigan had a string of seemingly awful taxes (the Single Business Tax and then the Michigan Business Tax) was precisely because they stayed steadier during recessions. Someday soon, lawmakers may look back at them with nostalgia.
As far as the individual income tax goes, many, many Michiganders will pay more. You do not raise $1.4 billion in new revenue without dinging almost everyone.
[E]arly retirees will be up in arms, as will public retirees who have never faced taxes on their pensions before. And the pension compromise seems arbitrarily unfair to those born in 1953 and thereafter, who get no pension breaks until they turn 67 -- particularly given the beating many 50-somethings have taken during the recession.
Still, the hardest part to accept remains the fact that the increase in the personal income tax does nothing to close the current budget gap.
Both of our state representatives, Greg MacMaster (R) in the House and John Moolenaar (R) in the Senate, voted for these tax changes.
Buyers of foreclosed homes may not be able to sell them
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled last month that a company called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. [MERS] did not have the right to initiate foreclosure by advertisement on two homes because it didn't actually own any interest in the debt.
That might sound unexceptional, but for the fact that MERS, whose business is keeping electronic mortgage records, has initiated thousands of similar foreclosures in Michigan.
The court's decision could invalidate those proceedings and potentially impact foreclosed homes that since have been sold to new buyers.
Not only have people lost their homes under a process the Court of Appeals declared illegal, said Curtis Hertel Jr., the [Ingham] county register of deeds, but "we also have people who have legitimately bought those homes and now are going to have problems insuring the title in the future when they go to sell the property."
Right wing activist U.S. Supreme Court guts class action
The Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 vote in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion is a devastating blow to consumer rights. By upholding the arbitration clause in AT&T’s customer agreement requiring the signer to waive the right to take part in a class action, the court provided other corporations with a model of how they can avoid class actions. It gave companies even more power when it also ruled out class-based arbitrations.
These are major setbacks for individuals who may not have the resources to challenge big companies in court or through arbitration.
Three days before House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Catholic University, dozens of faculty at Catholic colleges — including many from the university — have written the Catholic speaker, criticizing him for having a record “among the worst in Congress” on protecting the poor.
The letter does not protest Boehner’s visit or ask the school to rescind its invitation but urges him to “reawaken your familiarity” with Church teaching on the subject of poverty. It focuses on the 2012 budget Boehner is shepherding, criticizing it for cuts that would hurt the poor and are “particularly cruel to pregnant women and children.”
The liberal Catholic writer Michael Sean Winters blogged Wednesday morning that the proposed budget would increase abortions because it cuts funding to programs that serve at-risk pregnant women, who ostensibly would then be more likely to seek abortions.
In determining who is a “major” candidate for president, let’s begin here. Those who support the legalization of heroin while mocking addicts are marginal. It is difficult to be a first-tier candidate while holding second-rate values.
Tea Party says Paul Ryan and Speaker Boehner aren't radical enough
Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, proposed budget cuts so severe his plan has been described as a suicide note. Boehner, the House speaker, rushed the budget to passage before Republicans grasped the potential fallout from their vote to replace Medicare.
Yet even this was not enough for the tea party.
On Monday morning, tea party leaders from around the country gathered at the National Press Club for a news conference denouncing Boehner and Ryan in terms normally reserved for that most loathsome of creatures, the Democrat.
Republicans in Congress have gone on the warpath this budget season against family planning programs at home and abroad.
[T]his year, Republicans in Congress have been trying to slash investments in family planning. A budget compromise last month cut international family planning spending by 5 percent, but some Republicans are expected to seek much bigger cuts in future years.
Ah, but there was one Republican-sponsored initiative for family planning in Congress this year. It provided contraception without conditions — for wild horses in the American West. It passed on a voice vote.
Maybe on Mother’s Day, we could acknowledge that family planning is just as essential for humans as for horses.
Photo from an anonymous source. Click photo to enlarge.
Osama's death questioned
From 5/5/11 e-mail sent to the Otsego County Democratic Party Executive Committee
How do we know Osama is really dead? I demand to see a death certificate. And I won't settle for some document purporting to be a death certificate. I want the real thing signed by a real doctor. Do we really know that Osama was even at the compound? How could he be living at that compound for so many years and the Pakistanis didn't know about it? It just doesn't make sense. There should be people in the neighborhood who knew Osama. A gardener, a paperboy-somebody. But I haven't heard from them. I am hoping that Trump will send some of his crack investigators over there to take a closer look at this. Until he does, I just don't believe it.
Mr. Barton is a self-taught historian who is described by several conservative presidential aspirants as a valued adviser and a source of historical and biblical justification for their policies. He is so popular that evangelical pastors travel across states to hear his rapid-fire presentations on how the United States was founded as a Christian nation and is on the road to ruin, thanks to secularists and the Supreme Court, or on the lost political power of the clergy.
The nation’s unnerving descent into debt began a decade ago with a choice, not a crisis.
In January 2001, with the budget balanced and clear sailing ahead, the Congressional Budget Office forecast ever-larger annual surpluses indefinitely. The outlook was so rosy, the CBO said, that Washington would have enough money by the end of the decade to pay off everything it owed.
Voices of caution were swept aside in the rush to take advantage of the apparent bounty. Political leaders chose to cut taxes, jack up spending and, for the first time in U.S. history, wage two wars solely with borrowed funds.
Now, instead of tending a nest egg of more than $2 trillion, the federal government expects to owe more than $10 trillion to outside investors by the end of this year. The national debt is larger, as a percentage of the economy, than at any time in U.S. history except for the period shortly after World War II.
All told, Obama-era choices account for about $1.7 trillion in new debt, according to a separate Washington Post analysis of CBO data over the past decade. Bush-era policies, meanwhile, account for more than $7 trillion and are a major contributor to the trillion-dollar annual budget deficits that are dominating the political debate.
Michigan House OKs business tax cut, new tax on pensions
The Michigan House held more than an hour of spirited debate Thursday before the Republican-led chamber passed a series of bills that would slash business taxes while raising taxes on retirees, the working poor and other individual taxpayers.
The 56-53 vote on the main bill fell largely along party lines, although six Republicans voted against it. Democrats blasted the measures, saying it was wrong to cut business taxes by $1.7 billion over the next two years while shifting the burden to seniors, children and the poor.
Instead of paying about $2 billion annually into the state's general fund, businesses would pay about $300 million. Only about a third of businesses would pay the corporate income tax.
Angry seniors protested in recent months against the proposal to tax most of their retirement income, and some GOP lawmakers were reluctant to vote for that tax increase. But the governor wrapped the pension tax into the bill cutting business taxes, virtually ensuring passage.
The measures passed Thursday also eliminate the state's Earned Income Tax Credit that gives an average of more than $400 annually to 700,000 Michigan families.
Tax credits for the movie industry and businesses that make batteries for electric vehicles would be scaled back or eliminated.
Our 105th District State Representative Greg MacMaster (R) voted for this legislation.
in Benton Harbor, one of Michigan’s first new local emergency managers under Public Act 4 described himself as an “angel of common sense” just days after he suspended democracy there by ordering the City Council to quit doing the people’s business.
While the public right now may be asleep when it comes to Michigan’s new anti-democratic emergency manager law, voters will likely soon be roused from their slumber by the sound of crumbling democracy in their local communities.
Ford profits jump 12 percent while GM still has larger market share
The Ford Motor Company reported on Tuesday its largest first-quarter profit since 1998, even as sales shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
In the United States Ford’s sales jumped 12 percent in the first quarter, and it narrowly outsold its larger rival, General Motors, in March.
This is all good news for Michigan. Fortunately the Tea Party didn't get their way on auto industry bailouts. If they had, GM's and Chrysler's market share would be zero and Michigan's economic situation would be much worse than it is.
Shortly after the governor announced his proposed state budget plan earlier this year, which included cuts of at least $470 per pupil, the Herald Times asked Vanderbilt Area School Superintendent John Palmer what it would mean for his district. He summed it up succinctly in one word: “devastating.”
Gaylord Community Schools Superintendent Cheryl Wojtas indicated the $915,372 in cuts is just the tip of the iceberg for her district. Adding the other proposed cuts and costs into the equation, Wojtas said the district could see a total loss in funding of around $2.1 million.
Educators say the governor’s plan to provide huge tax cuts to business is at the crux of the budget battle (see today’s guest column, an open letter to legislators by the SOS Coalition). Those tax cuts come in light of Snyder’s plan to “raid” — Johannesburg Superintendent Jim Hilgendorf’s word — the K-12 state aid fund of almost $1 billion and transfer it to higher education.
A serial killer has been released on parole — even though the original case was air-tight, the evidence overwhelming, and the public clamored for the ultimate punishment.
To understand what happened, we need to know the identity of the predator — and why it's been let loose. The killer, in this case, is vaccine-preventable illness. And it's free because of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Many of those parents have been duped by charlatans like Andrew Wakefield, the now-discredited British researcher who brought his anti-vaccine campaign to Brandeis on Wednesday night.
Wakefield's advocacy against vaccines has had tragic consequences by letting dangerous diseases back on the streets.
The study lead by Roland Zullo, an assistant research scientist at U-M’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy, found that every lost auto job resulted in eight additional jobs losses between 2001 and 2008.
[A]uto industry employment is only a third as large as it was a decade ago.
And related job losses resulting from layoffs or plant closings in the auto industry continue to occur for at least four years after the initial auto job cuts, the study found.
Nearly 6,000 jobs have been lost in state and local government just in the past three months.
Michigan was the only state in the country to experience a decline in state government general fund revenues over the past decade, according to the Treasury Department. General fund revenues fell 25 percent between 2000 and 2009.
Washington Post-ABC Poll shows broad support for Medicare as we know it and tax increase
In his speech last week, the president renewed his call to raise tax rates on family income over $250,000, and he appears to hold the high ground politically, according to the poll. At this point, 72 percent support raising taxes along those lines, with 54 percent strongly backing this approach. The proposal enjoys the support of majorities of Democrats (91 percent), independents (68 percent) and Republicans (54 percent). Only among people with annual incomes greater than $100,000 does less than a majority “strongly support” such tax increases.
There is broad support for keeping Medicare structured the way it has been since it was instituted in 1965: as a defined-benefit health insurance program. Just 34 percent of Americans say Medicare should be changed along the lines outlined in the Ryan [GOP] budget proposal, shifting it away from a defined-benefit plan. Under that proposal, recipients would select from a group of insurance plans providing guaranteed coverage, and the government would provide a payment to the insurer, subsidizing the cost. Advocates say this approach is more sophisticated than a pure voucher plan.
The Republican self-deception that draws the most attention is the refusal to believe that Barack Obama is American-born.
But there are Republican doctrinal fantasies that may be more dangerous: the conviction that taxes can always go down, but never up, for example, and the gathering consensus among Republican leaders that human-caused climate change does not exist.
Great Recession caused by bankers, gov't regulators & credit rating agencies
This week I joined Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma in the release of a bipartisan report on the causes of the financial crisis that pushed us into the recession that continues to afflict families in Michigan and across the country.
What did we learn in our investigation? Conflict of interest is the common thread that runs through this whole sordid story. Our bipartisan report pulls back the curtain on shoddy, risky and deceptive practices. We showed that major financial institutions deceived their clients and the public, aided and abetted by conflicted and deferential regulators and credit rating agencies.
Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, sounds upset. And you can see why: President Obama, to the great relief of progressives, has called his bluff.
President's 4/13/11 Deficit Reduction Speech at George Washington University -- text -- video --
[T]heir plan lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead. Our approach lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.
I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs.
In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.
Michigan is riding a wave of policy changes that have allowed it to shrink its inmate population by 12 percent, close 20 prisons and keep a growing number of parolees from returning to custody.
And because prisons are the most expensive option available, there are more cost-effective policies and programs. For example, it costs an average of $78.95 per day [avg. U.S.] to keep an inmate locked up, more than 20 times the cost of a day on probation.
The number marks the third year in a row that MSU has broken a record in the number of freshmen applications and it breaks 2010’s record by about 1,000, said Jim Cotter, director of the MSU Office of Admissions. It’s likely the university will receive close to 30,000 applications next year, he said.
Most other Big Ten universities also saw an increase in freshman applications, especially the University of Michigan, which switched to the Common Application this year — a standard application sent to various schools, he said.
There is no mystery regarding why students from all over the world are willing to pay very high tuition rates to attend Michigan's research universities: they're among the world's best. We've many problems in Michigan, but, the quality of these schools is not one of them.
Hundreds of Michigan schools are running low on savings, and many administrators say they are unsure how they'll avoid deficits if state lawmakers cut education funding as proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder for the fiscal year starting in October.
Snyder would shift $896 million in the school aid fund to colleges and universities, a move some districts see as a betrayal of the promise to use the fund strictly for K-12 schools. Democrats are trying to prevent the move.
It increasingly feels like the House GOP doesn’t want to take “yes” for an answer. Talks to avert a government shutdown at the end of the week appear to be breaking down. John Boehner has increased his demands from $33 billion to $40 billion -- and that’s to say nothing of the fate of the various amendments relating to Planned Parenthood, the EPA, the health-care law and much else. When he told his members that a shutdown was likely, he was met with applause.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN — Cuts are in the works for Michigan Works!’ funding at a time when the need for its services by the unemployed, under-employed and businesses are at an all-time high.
The U.S. House passed an appropriations bill, H.R.1, affecting funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. The bill includes massive cuts, primarily to domestic programs.
The bill included $3.8 billion cuts to the Workforce Investment Act. If this portion of the bill passes, Michigan Works!, the primary employment and training network in this country, would cease to exist by July of this year, according to Kurt Ries. Reis is the Michigan Works! director of an eight-county region which includes Otsego, Montmorency, Crawford, Cheboygan, Alcona, Oscoda, and Presque Isle.
Is Mackinac Center for Public Policy attempting to intimidate MSU, U of M and Wayne State professors?
The Mackinac Center, which describes itself as a nonpartisan research and educational institution and receives money from numerous conservative foundations, asked the three universities’ labor studies faculty members for any e-mails mentioning “Scott Walker,” “Madison,” “Wisconsin” or “Rachel Maddow,” the liberal talk show host on MSNBC.
But several professors who received the records request, which was first reported by Talking Points Memo on Tuesday, said it appeared to be an attempt to intimidate or embarrass professors who are sympathetic to organized labor.
Greg Scholtz, the director of academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, said: “We think all this will have a chilling effect on academic freedom. We’ve never seen FOIA requests used like this before.”
Unemployment benefits slashed
From a 3/28/11 Mark Brewer e-mail
Today, Governor Snyder signed a bill slashing unemployment benefits for potentially hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers in Michigan and making Michigan the only state in the nation to have fewer than 26 weeks of benefits. The new law cuts state benefits to only 20 weeks and eliminates 16 weeks of benefits covered by the federal government.
How can Republicans cut these benefits in this economic climate? Their attitude toward unemployed workers was exemplified by Republican State Representative Ken Yonker who said that unemployed workers would, "rather be on their unemployment (than working). So, sometimes we've got to have tough love."
Tough love? For hundreds of thousands who are out of work by no fault of their own? Tough love? For Michigan families who are struggling to feed their children and make their mortgage payments? Tough love? This isn't tough love - it is another Republican attack on the working people of Michigan.
Our 36th District Senator John Moolenaar (R) and our 105th District Representative Greg MacMaster (R) both voted in favor of 2011 House Bill 4408 to reduce future unemployment benefits.
The various Christians churches have had a long history of backing the right of workers to organize. This should not be at all surprising considering the emphasis of the Bible on freeing the poor and the oppressed from domination by the rich and powerful.
3/17/11 Representative Dan Benishek (R) votes Aye On Passage - House - H.R. 1076 To prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio and the use of Federal funds to acquire radio content
From 4/2/11 Prairie Home Companion radio show
A conservative lament: "Why don't you love me like you used to do?"