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App for requesting an absentee ballot

From 10/10/14 Senator Levin e-mail message

I’m so excited about an innovative new program launched by the Michigan Democratic Party. This new website is secure and easy to use, and allows qualified Michigan voters to apply to receive an absentee voter ballot using a smartphone.

Please consider clicking here to visit MIAbsentee.com from your smartphone - or texting MI to 228466 now to apply to receive an absentee voter ballot.

Republicans bigger threat than Ebola says commentor

Reader comment from 10/15/14 The New York Times oped article regarding Ebola by Frank Bruni

"We Americans do panic really well." Well, yes and no. We panic just fine about wars on Christmas, and great white sharks, and young black men in hoodies. But we don't panic about things very much worth panicking over, like electing Republicans intent on destroying the planet, Obamacare, the safety net, consumer protections, gun restrictions, voting rights, public education, the separation of church and state, equal protection, economic justice, non-economic justice, truth, fairness, and any government action even remotely designed for the greater good of society, unless it's incarceration, executions or war. 

With the election fast approaching, and Republican lies filling the airwaves across the country, we should be very, very nervous.

The flu kills more Americans each year than Ebola has killed in the history of the world

From 10/14/14 Mlive.com op-ed article by Susan Demas

Apparently, we're all supposed to be freaking out about Ebola right now.

The media, especially CNN and Fox News, have served up plenty of fear and misinformation because it makes for good TV (and ratings). 

Ebola's relative exoticism (It's from Africa! There's no cure!) is feeding hysteria and conspiracy theories (Obama did it!) ...

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is screaming for Obama to tap an "Ebola Czar," stat. A more rational response would be to argue the United States could use a surgeon general right now.

Of course, Obama has named a nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, but he hasn't been confirmed because the NRA is deeply offended that he regards guns as "a healthcare issue." ...

Attorney General needs to do just one thing

Snyder is not a moderate

From 10/10/14 Mlive.com op-ed article by Susam Demas

A lot of folks voted for Rick Snyder in 2010 because they thought he'd be a moderate governor.

And here's a friendly reminder: If Snyder had governed like one, he wouldn't be fighting for his political life right now.

Of course, the Republican was never going to coast to another near-20-point rout in 2014. He's facing a credible Democratic opponent in former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer instead of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, whose animated tirades are kryptonite for independent voters.

But Snyder has dragged Michigan further right than anyone in modern history -- yes, superseding the record of Republican maestro John Engler.

That's repelled a lot of independents and Democrats who supported Snyder last election.

Thanks to national media coverage, the governor is best known for signing Right to Work, harsh abortion restrictions and a ban on same-sex partner benefits for public employees.

There's a reason why Snyder isn't campaigning on these issues: they're not terribly popular with independents.

Although it's not the official campaign line, you'll hear a lot of folks gloss over his record, mumbling that Snyder was just indulging the whims of the more conservative GOP legislative leadership.

That doesn't exactly scream leadership, but the hope is that it will mollify moderates.

But given the odds that Republicans will keep control of the Legislature next term, why would voters believe Snyder will stop appeasing the right if he's re-elected?

Snyder's top priority has always been economic policy. And that agenda has also been extremely conservative.

He's slashed unemployment, welfare and workers' compensation benefits. He's cut regulations, despite concerns over hurting public safety and the environment.

The former Gateway CEO's crowning achievement was pushing through a $2 billion corporate tax cut, followed by eliminating the Personal Property Tax for businesses.

Although Snyder claims these tax cuts were about "fairness," not ideology, he's also signed legislation making it harder to go after corporate tax cheats.

And a lot of people, especially seniors, don't think it's particularly fair that their taxes have skyrocketed so corporations can pay less. Snyder oversaw a $1.4 billion tax hike on individuals by eliminating popular tax exemptions for children, pensions and charitable donations.

Education cuts also haven't been very popular. Less money is getting into the classroom than before Snyder took office and the minimum per-pupil allowance is down, which is what we all care about. 

The governor claims he's increased spending, largely because he's counting appropriations for retirement costs. That's great. But what voters see is too many districts having to increase class sizeslay off teachers and cut programs to stay afloat.

To blunt the edges of his hard-right record, Snyder has stressed his few moderate achievements, like backing the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

But his message has been undercut by the Republican Governors Association, which is currently running an ad savaging Schauer as the real Obamacare lover.

Maybe Snyder will be saved by a $2.3 million ad buy from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's SuperPAC, billing him as "the governor that put partisanship aside."

It's good marketing, even if it's detached from reality.

But even if Snyder loses because he's veered too far right, it will still be worth it for conservative special interests.

Why? It will probably take decades for Democrats to undo the last four years. They'd need to control all branches of government, as Republicans currently do -- and have the backbone to push their agenda.

That wouldn't be the case if Snyder truly was the post-partisan, technocrat governor he sold himself as in 2010.

And Snyder still has a pleasant, moderate demeanor going for him, not to mention a flush campaign account. So he may very well win another term anyway.

Peaceful political transition in Afghanistan

From 9/26/14 The New York Times op-ed article by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

On Monday in Kabul, the Afghan people will inaugurate their next president, one who will work in tandem with the country’s first-ever chief executive officer — marking the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history and the first peaceful leadership transition in more than 40 years....

The gains of the past decade — for the security of our country and our allies and in the lives of the Afghan people — have been won with blood and treasure. They must not be lost. I reminded the men who now lead Afghanistan that we were committed to their country for the long haul but that we measured that commitment in our ability to credibly look a combat-disabled American veteran or a Gold Star mother in the eye and tell them that, going forward, Afghans themselves would compromise and govern as selflessly and effectively as Americans fought and sacrificed for them and with them the past 10 years. Our job now is to support Afghanistan for the Afghans — and to stay committed to a country of people who believe in a better future with an inclusive government that serves them all. Even as this political transition concludes and as Afghanistan takes responsibility for its own security, we must continue to support that aspiration.


Undisclosed corporate campaign money

From 9/24/14 The New York Times article by Jonathan Weisman

[A]n error by the Republican Governors Association recently resulted in the disclosure of exactly the kind of information that political committees given tax-exempt status normally keep secret, namely their corporate donors and the size of their checks....

The documents, many of which the Republican officials have since removed from their website, showed that an A-to-Z of America’s most prominent companies, from Aetna to Walmart, had poured millions of dollars into the campaigns of Republican governors since 2008. One document listed 17 corporate “members” of the governors association’s secretive 501(c)(4), the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, which is allowed to shield its supporters from the public.

A funny comment about a WAPO article

From 9/24/14 The Washington Post article by Paul Waldman titled, "Some good news about Obamacare that even conservatives should love"

I wish that during a press conference, Obama would give an extended soliloquy where he extolled the many virtues of toilet paper. Conservatives would immediately denounce toilet paper as an insidious Islamofascist plot to infiltrate Americans "from the rear" and swear to never use it again!

We all get tax breaks in Michigan, but some of us get more than others

From 9/23/14 Bridge Magazine article

Tax breaks for manufacturers, heavy industry

Type of tax


2014 tax break value


Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Industrial Processing


Exempts sales to persons for use or consumption in industrial processing. This tax expenditure estimate excludes raw materials used in production. This estimate includes exemptions for durable and non-durable manufacturing equipment and utility expenses.

Property and Other Local Tax Expenditures

Personal Property Indust./Commercial Ad Valorem


Exempts industrial personal property from the 18-mill property tax for local schools and the state education tax (6 mills). Commercial personal property is exempt from 12 of the 18 mills for schools.

Michigan Business Tax Certificated Credits

MEGA Vehicle Battery Credit


Provides for MEGA credits for the mass production of certain plug-in traction battery packs for electrical motor vehicles that qualify for a federal tax credit. The maximum amount of these credits that may be claimed in calendar 2011 (impact seen in fiscal year 2012) is $40 million. The credit is refundable, but may also be carried forward for up to 10 years.

Property and Other Local Tax Expenditures

Industrial Facilities Development


Allows local governments to grant property tax exemptions for up to 12 years to encourage the establishment of new industrial facilities and the creation, restoration, or replacement of obsolete facilities. In lieu of property tax, an industrial facilities tax is levied on industrial property (building, machinery, and equipment, but not land).

Property and Other Local Tax Expenditures

Air and Water Pollution Control


Exempts air and water pollution control equipment from the property tax after approval and certification by the State Tax Commission

Property and Other Local Tax Expenditures

Personal Property Industrial Facilities


Provides an exemption from the industrial facilities tax equal to the portion of the tax attributable to the 6 mills for state education tax and the 18 mills for school operations.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Air and Water Pollution


Exempts the sale of personal property purchased or installed as part of air or water pollution control facilities

From 9/23/14 Bridge Magazine article

Tax breaks for businesses

Type of tax


2014 tax break value


Federal Adjustments

Employer Contributions to Insurance


Exempts employer payments for employee medical insurance from taxation. Also exempts employer payments for life insurance premiums on the first $50,000 of life insurance.

Federal Adjustments

Employer Pension Plans


Exempts employer payments into qualified employee pension plans from taxation

Michigan Business Tax Certificated Credits

Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA)


Provides numerous credits for new or expanding firms based on additional payroll and health care costs or additional business activity costs associated with an expansion or new location

Property and Other Local Tax Expenditures

Homestead Exemption for Farm Property


Exempts qualified agricultural property from local school operating mills. The estimate includes all property classified as agricultural, including houses

Federal Adjustments

Accelerated Depreciation


When a person buys property to be used in a business or to earn rent and the property has a useful life of more than one year, the cost of the property is typically depreciated over its expected life. For tax purposes, a person may deduct depreciation at an accelerated rate. The federal tax expenditure estimate for depreciation now compares tax law depreciation with the estimated economic depreciation adjusted for inflation.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Gratuity and Tips


Excludes a separately billed and itemized gratuity or tip from a retailer’s gross proceeds.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Bad Debts


Effective January 1, 1984, a retailer is allowed to deduct the amount of bad debts related to previously reported, taxable retail sales at the time that these debts become worthless or uncollectible.

Property and Other Local Tax Expenditures

Railroad Right of Way/Broadband Credit


Public Act 50 of 2002 provides a credit for the state utility property tax for a company that installs telecommunications equipment with information carrying capability exceeding 200 kilobits per second in both directions. This credit was intended to accelerate the introduction of broadband Internet access to Michigan. Provides a credit to railroad companies for maintaining or improving certain rolling stock and rights-of-way in Michigan.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Collection Fee


Sales and use tax returns are due by the 20th of the month for sales made the previous month. A seller may retain 0.75 percent of the tax (not to exceed $20,000) if proceeds are remitted by the 12th of the month, or 0.50 percent of the tax (not to exceed $15,000) if proceeds are remitted from the 13th through the 20th of the month.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Communication and Telephone Exemption


Exempts communications and telephone service from coin-operated installations, switchboards, concentrator identifiers, and interoffice circuitry and their accessories for telephone answering services and directory advertising proceeds.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Interstate Trucks and Trailers


Exempts purchases of qualified trucks and their trailers (and parts affixed to them) by interstate motor carriers from sales and use tax. An exemption based on out-of-state usage would lower the tax expenditure to $12,000,000

Insurance Company

Michigan Association and Facilities Credit


Provides a credit for payments made to the Michigan workers’compensation placement facility, the Michigan basic property insurance association, the Michigan automobile insurance placement facility, the property and casualty guaranty association, and the life and health guaranty association

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Cargo Aircraft


Exempts from use tax aircraft owned by an air carrier certified by the United States Department of Transportation and used solely for the transport of air cargo.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Vending Machines and Mobile Facilities


Exempts the portion of gross proceeds representing commissions paid to an entity otherwise exempt from the sales tax where the gross proceeds are from certain non-electric vending machines where consideration is 10 cents or less. Also exempts sales of nonalcoholic beverages, and items sold near room temperature from a mobile facility or vending machine.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Employee Meals


Exempts meals provided by employers to their employees starting in 2002

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Telephone Services


Exempts tangible personal property located on the premises of the subscriber and central office equipment or wireless equipment directly used in transmitting, receiving, or switching, or in the monitoring or switching of a two-way interactive device.

Tobacco Products Tax

Licensee Expenses


Exempts 1.5 percent of the cigarette tax due from licensees, and 1.0 percent of the tax on other tobacco products, to cover their expenses in administering the tax.

Motor Fuel Taxes

Public Vehicles


Exempts fuel purchased for motor vehicles owned or leased by state, federal, or local governments from motor fuel taxes.

Motor Fuel Taxes

Evaporation and Loss Allowance


The 2 percent evaporation and loss allowance was replaced in 1997 by a 1.5 percent allowance for the collection of fuel taxes.

Property and Other Local Tax Expenditures

Obsolete Property Rehabilitation


Under the Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA), commercial buildings in qualified local governmental units may be granted an OPRA abatement certificate, which results in reduced property taxes on the increased value of renovated and redeveloped facilities.

Corporate Income Tax

Small Business Alternate Tax Credit


For qualifying smaller firms, provides a credit that effectively lowers the taxpayer’s tax to 1.8 percent of adjusted business income. Qualifications include: Gross receipts must be less than or equal to $20 million (the credit is phased out for firms with gross receipts between $19 million and $20 million). Total adjusted business income may not exceed $1.3 million. Allocated business income limit for any one owner may not exceed $180,000 (with a credit phase-out between $160,000 and $180,000).

Insurance Company

Disability Insurance Exclusion


Exempts the first $190,000,000 of disability insurance premiums written in Michigan.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Aircraft Parts


Exempts sales of parts and materials affixed in Michigan to passenger, cartage, and certain other aircraft from tax.

Motor Fuel Taxes

Diesel Fuel for Jobsites and Charter Firms



Michigan Business Tax Certificated Credits

Film Credits


Provides credits for film production expenditures made after February 2008. To be eligible for the credit, companies must enter into an agreement with the Michigan film office. The MBT provides a 40 to 42 percent direct production expenditure and 30 percent qualified personnel expenditures film production credit; a 25 percent investment film infrastructure credit.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Radio and TV


Exempts sales to persons licensed to operate commercial radio or television stations when the property is used as a component of a film, tape, or recording produced for resale or transmission.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Commercial Domestic Aircraft


Exempts from use tax aircraft owned by domestic passenger carriers if the aircraft is used primarily in regular commercial passenger transportation

Aviation Gasoline and Marine Fuel

Interstate Flight Refund


Airlines that operate scheduled interstate flights receive a refund of 1.5 cents per gallon of aviation fuel used.

Insurance Company

Michigan Examination Fees Credit


Allows an insurance company to claim a credit equal to 50 percent of the examination fees paid by the company during the year under section 224 of the insurance code"

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Rail Rolling Stock


Exempts rail rolling stock and selected other related equipment, material, and supplies from sales and use taxes

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Returned Vehicles


Exempts from gross proceeds “a refund less an allowance” for motor vehicle buybacks by manufacturers under provisions of the lemon law.

Motor Fuel Taxes

Fuel for Off Road Use


Exempts fuel purchased for motor vehicles used exclusively on nonpublic roads.

Motor Fuel Taxes

Municipal Franchise Vehicles


Refunds gasoline tax to persons operating passenger vehicles under a municipal franchise, license, permit, agreement or grant, such as taxi cabs.

Tobacco Products Tax

Bad Debt Deduction


Allows cigarette wholesalers to deduct any losses from bad debts

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Driver Training


Exempts property used for demonstration or driver training programs

Alcoholic Beverages Taxes

Small Brewer’s Credit


Allows brewers who produce less than 50,000 barrels annually to apply for a $2 per barrel credit on the first 30,000 barrels produced.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Commercial Vessels


Exempts sales of commercial vessels of 500 tons or more when purchased on special order. Also exempts bunker and galley fuel, provisions, supplies, maintenance and repairs for the exclusive use of such vessels engaged in interstate commerce.

Sales and Use Tax Expenditures

Sales of Business


Excludes from the use tax non-inventoried property purchased as part of a business.

Motor Fuel Taxes

Diesel Fuel for Railroads


Exempts diesel fuel used by railroad locomotives from motor fuel taxes.

Motor Vehicles Registration Fee

Intercity Commercial Buses


Intercity commercial buses pay a registration fee of $25 rather than a tax based on weight.

City Income Tax

Net Profits of Financial Institutions


Net Profits of Financial Institutions n.a. Exempts net profits of financial institutions and insurance companies from the city income tax. No statewide estimate is available.

In some cases, the state does not estimate the value of a tax break, leaving the tax break value empty in its tables.

If you're out of work, it's your fault, say Republicans

From 9/21/14 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” Holy 47 percent, Batman! ...

Only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens. ...

In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. ...

Mr. Boehner was clearly saying what he and everyone around him really thinks, what they say to each other when they don’t expect others to hear. Some conservatives have been trying to reinvent their image, professing sympathy for the less fortunate. But what their party really believes is that if you’re poor or unemployed, it’s your own fault.



Impact of Michigan politicians on Michigan's economy? Not much!

From 9/4/14 Bridge Magazine article by Charles Ballard

As the race heats up between Republican Governor Rick Snyder and his Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer, it’s worthwhile to ask how much difference the election will make to the Michigan economy. The answer is that, while it will probably make some difference, no governor in any state can bring about sudden and dramatic improvements to the economy. Like it or not, the Michigan economy is greatly affected by events beyond our borders, over which we have little or no control.

Rep. Benishek's Conservative Action Score: 78

From That's My Congress website

The Conservative Action Score is calculated by compiling a series of observably conservative roll call votes and bill cosponsorships in the 113th Congress and comparing Dan Benishek's behavior against that conservative standard:

  • Disregard for constitutional protections of American civil liberty
  • Secrecy and exclusion of citizens from government
  • Support for discriminatory policy
  • The symbolic denigration and practical undermining of science and education in America
  • Active harm to the environment or passive allowance for environmental destruction
  • Pursuit of further advantage for those in America who are already its richest
  • Dismissal of peaceful possibilities and obeiscance to the military-industrial complex

A score of 78 means that Representative Benishek has taken 78% of the possible conservative actions identified on the That's My Congress scorecard.

H.AMDT.8 to H.R.152

It's bad enough that Republican members of Congress like Paul Broun still refuse to accept the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change. What's worse is when they refuse to support programs that help to protect the United States against the extreme weather events that have been made more common by climate change. Representative Paul Broun's Amendment 8 to H.R. 152 attempted to strike funding for enhanced satellite capabilities for the National Weather Service that would provide advanced warning of extreme weather events - saving money and saving lives. Representative Chaka Fattah criticized Broun's amendment, saying, We've had the greatest series of severe weather events - over $1 billion each - that we've ever had in our history. It is not time for the greatest country and the wealthiest country in the world to retreat or to equivocate in making sure that we have the very best weather service information, and this satellite system is critically important thereto. Still, hundreds of members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for this economically and scientifically unwise amendment.

Rep. Benishek has followed a conservative course by voting for this bill.

H. Con. Res. 23

The consequences of failure to ratify the international Arms Trade Treaty are clear. Deadly weapons will continue to be easily available to members of Al Quaeda and other terrorist organizations, if the House Republicans have their way. These weapons will be used against American soldiers, and will help terrorists, dictators, and international criminal organizations to increase their power. H. Con. Res. 23 seeks to cripple the international Arms Trade Treaty by preventing the United States from completing ratification.

Rep. Benishek has followed a conservative course by cosponsoring this bill.

H. Con. Res. 25 Amendment 3

If the Back To Work Budget from the Congressional Progressive Caucus had passed, it would have increased income taxes for millionaires and billionaires, eliminated tax loopholes for households with an annual income of over $250,000, brought education budgets back up to responsible levels, restored funding for jobs programs in impoverished communities, put income from investments at the same level of taxation as income from work, and ended tax breaks that reward outsourcing of jobs to overseas sweatshops. The Back to Work Budget would have shut down the pipeline of subsidies to polluting fossil fuels companies, reduced military spending to 2006 levels, and set a price for the emission of carbon pollution that causes disastrous climate change. The Back To Work Budget would have cleaned up both the environment and the economy. However, a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives joined Republicans to vote against the legislation.

Rep. Benishek has followed a conservative course by voting against this bill.

H.R. 1072

For decades, spokespersons for corporate interests have come up with many theoretical reasons why privately-run for-profit programs should be more efficient than government-run programs. However, empirical research into the matter has failed to consistently find an economic or operational benefit of privatization. Privatization of military operations, for instance, has led to infamous fraud, waste, delays and other abuses. Privatization of other government services has interfered with the oversight and transparency. Despite this, corporate interests in Congress continue to push privatization. In the late Winter of 2013, Congressman John Duncan introduced H.R. 1072, legislation that requires the privatization of government services in many agencies, without the context of study into whether such privatization would actually do any good.

Rep. Benishek has followed a conservative course by cosponsoring this bill.

H.R. 1406

The title of H.R. 1406 -- the "Working Families Flexibility Act" -- is fitting in a perverse way, because it insists that Working Families become Flexible to meet the whims and reduced-pay preferences of corporate America. If passed, H.R. 1406 would end overtime pay in America. Under the new system, employers could push workers to take on long work hours but pay them as if they weren't working overtime. Instead of being paid extra, employers could assign workers "comp time" off, which might be reasonable if workers could take that time off when they needed to (driven by a sick kid, a wedding, or the demands of that second job they need to make ends meet). But no, under H.R. 1406 workers can only take off that "comp time" when employers don't need them on the job anyway. Any abuses of employees by employers is supposed to be covered by the Wage and Hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor, but that's a joke of a provision considering that the division has suffered a giant backlog under budget cuts with less than 1 investigator per million workers. H.R. 1406 would be better entitled the "Work Workers Harder, Cut Overtime Pay and Gut their Families Act."

Rep. Benishek has followed a conservative course by voting for this bill.

Amendment 2 to H.R. 2218

Coal wastes contain toxic levels of heavy metals, and when they are not dealt with responsibly, they are present a significant hazard to human communities and natural ecosystems. The amendment to H.R. 2218 from Henry Waxman would have required that, when coal companies deal with the coal wastes, they take action to protect human health and prevent pollution of the natural environment.

Rep. Benishek has followed a conservative course by voting against this bill.

Amendment 100 to H.R. 2397

The National Security Agency, a U.S. military spying organization, has been caught seizing massive numbers of private telephone records, grabbing information about who Americans are talking to the telephone and when these calls occur. This surveillance includes practically every telephone communication in within U.S. borders, and has been conducted without any evidence, as required by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, that the people whose private information is seized and searched are connected with criminal activity. The Amash amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act would have required the NSA to specify particular individuals as targets in its investigations, rather than conducting a massive dragnet of all telephone communications.

Rep. Benishek has followed a conservative course by voting against this bill.

Our radical attorney general

Governor Snyder takes care of businesses but not retirees

Michigan's charter schools unaccountable

From 6/22/14 The Detroit Free Press article by Jennifer Dixon

Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools — but state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest, and the state demands little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and how well children are educated.

A yearlong investigation by the Detroit Free Press reveals that Michigan’s lax oversight has enabled a range of abuses in a system now responsible for more than 140,000 Michigan children. That figure is growing as more parents try charter schools as an alternative to traditional districts.

In reviewing two decades of charter school records, the Free Press found:

Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.

And a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies that rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it, saying they’re private and not subject to disclosure laws. Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits.

Republicans using VA scandal as excuse to block health care reforms

From 6/20/14 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

You’ve surely heard about the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A number of veterans found themselves waiting a long time for care, some of them died before they were seen, and some of the agency’s employees falsified records to cover up the extent of the problem. It’s a real scandal; some heads have already rolled, but there’s surely more to clean up.

But the goings-on at Veterans Affairs shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of a much bigger scandal: the almost surreal inefficiency and injustice of the American health care system as a whole. And it’s important to understand that the Veterans Affairs scandal, while real, is being hyped out of proportion by people whose real goal is to block reform of the larger system.

Study shows U.S. health care lowest quality and most expensive

From 6/16/14 The Washington Post article by Lenny Bernstein

A report released Monday by a respected think tank ranks the United States dead last in the quality of its health-care system when compared with 10 other western, industrialized nations, the same spot it occupied in four previous studies by the same organization. Not only did the U.S. fail to move up between 2004 and 2014 — as other nations did with concerted effort and significant reforms — it also has maintained this dubious distinction while spending far more per capita ($8,508) on health care than Norway ($5,669), which has the second most expensive system.

The Gilded Age repeats

From 6/13/14 Washington Post op-ed article by Lina Khan and Sandeep Vaheesan

Since the early 1980s, executives and financiers have consolidated control over dozens of industries across the U.S. economy. From cable companies and hospitals to airlines, grocery stores and meatpackers, where once many small and mid-size businesses competed, today we see a few giants dominate. They use their power to raise prices, drive down wages and foreclose opportunity. Wealth is transferred from consumers, workers and entrepreneurs to affluent executives and shareholders.

Koch brothers lobby to repeal campaign finance laws

From 6/14/14 The New York Times editorial

It’s not enough, apparently, that some of the wealthiest Americans spend millions to elect their candidates to Congress. Now they are using their fortunes to lobby Congress against any limits on their ability to buy elections.

Koch Companies Public Sector, part of the industrial group owned by a well-known pair of conservative brothers, has hired a big-name firm to lobby Congress on campaign-finance issues, according to a registration form filed a few weeks ago. The form doesn’t say what those issues are, but there are several bills in the House that would reduce the role of anonymous big money in campaigns, and restrict the kinds of super PACs and nonprofit groups that the Koch brothers and others have inflated with cash.

The Senate is also planning to vote this year on a constitutional amendment that would overrule recent Supreme Court rulings and allow Congress and the states to limit donations to candidates, as well as spending on behalf of candidates. Clearly, it’s vital to the Kochs and others like them to prevent such limits from being enacted

Criminal justice reform

From 5/24/14 The New York Times editorial

Since the early 1970s, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled to 2.2 million, making it the world’s biggest. That is five to 10 times the incarceration rate in other democracies.

On closer inspection the numbers only get worse. More than half of state prisoners are serving time for nonviolent crimes...

The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.

8 Million

A Marxist here, a Marxist there, here a Marxist, there a Marxist, everywhere a Marxist

From 5/11/14 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

Everywhere you look these days, you see Marxism on the rise. Well, O.K., maybe you don’t — but conservatives do. If you so much as mention income inequality, you’ll be denounced as the second coming of Joseph Stalin; Rick Santorum has declared that any use of the word “class” is “Marxism talk.” In the right’s eyes, sinister motives lurk everywhere — for example, George Will says the only reason progressives favor trains is their goal of “diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”

So it goes without saying that Obamacare, based on ideas originally developed at the Heritage Foundation, is a Marxist scheme — why, requiring that people purchase insurance is practically the same as sending them to gulags.

And just wait until the Environmental Protection Agency announces rules intended to slow the pace of climate change.

A rational Republican

From 5/6/14 The New York Times op-ed article by Jon M Huntsman Jr. (chairman of Atlantic Council, former Republican Utah governor, ambassdor to China and Republican presidential candidate in 2012)

“TO waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”

These words were spoken by one of the nation’s most passionate conservationists: Republican President Teddy Roosevelt.

Among Tea Party Republicans, 41 percent told Pew last fall that global warming was not happening; another 28 percent said not enough was known.

So obtuse has become the party’s dialogue on climate change that it’s now been reduced to believing or not believing, as if it were a religious mantra.

This approach reached a new low last month during a North Carolina congressional debate at which all the Republican candidates chuckled at a question on climate change — as if they had been asked about their belief in the Tooth Fairy.

While there is room for some skepticism given the uncertainty about the magnitude of climate change, the fact is that the planet is warming, and failing to deal with this reality will leave us vulnerable — and possibly worse. Hedging against risk is an enduring theme of conservative thought. It is also a concept diverse groups can embrace.

Obamacare failed to fail

From 5/6/14 Mlive op-ed article by Susan J. Demas

If your Twitter and Facebook feeds are anything like mine, they're crammed with conservatives' doomsday prophesies about Obamacare.

In fact, they've been like that since, oh, 2009.

It's been a nonstop bombardment of breathless condemnations against a law whose fundamental purpose is simple: to get more people health insurance. But because it's not very popular to come out against that concept, Republicans have glommed on to a host of other reasons to hate it.

Some are silly and paranoid, like Sarah Palin's rants about nonexistent death panels. Others are true, like last fall's embarrassing website glitches.

But the fact that so many Republican politicians are willing to embrace any argument, even false ones, in their all-out war against Obamacare hurts their cause. And it makes it harder to fix problems with the law -- which should be the goal of Republicans and Democrats alike.

Why are Republicans so dedicated to Obamacare's demise?

From 5/4/14 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

Last week, House Republicans released a deliberately misleading report on the status of health reform, crudely rigging the numbers to sustain the illusion of failure in the face of unexpected success. Are you shocked?

From 5/1/14 The Detroit News article by Carla K. Johnson

The Obama administration says 8 million Americans chose a health plan on the new insurance markets in the first year of the historic health care overhaul.

The numbers include 272,539 Michigan residents who chose health plans in the new insurance marketplace. Enrollment is expected to rise to an estimated 468,000 over the first several years of the program.

More than 4.8 million gained coverage through Medicaid and children’s insurance programs, according to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services. Roughly 200,000 have enrolled in Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program, called the Healthy Michigan Plan, since the program launched on April 1.


From 4/29/14 The Washington Post op-ed article by Katrina vanden Heuvel

[T]he real “takers” with a stunning sense of entitlement are the biggest corporations and banks, the richest Americans. They view their tax dodges as an inherent right, their inherited estates as a birthright. They treat the public commons as a resource that they should be free to plunder and regard any regulations that would protect those resources as an infringement on their liberty. Corporations are now arguing in court that that the First Amendment gives them the right to evade the law.

“People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs — the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs — still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors and acting like we should thank them.

Obamacare is working

From 4/19/14 The New York Times editorial

Eight million people have now signed up for insurance on the new health care exchanges, the president announced, a milestone that seemed out of reach last fall when the federal website wasn’t working and Republicans were jeering at that fiasco. Not only are the overall numbers strong, but a substantial portion of the sign-ups — 28 percent, so far — are between the ages of 18 and 34, a sign that healthy people are joining the system, which will help keep premiums affordable. That number should ideally be a little higher, but it is an unmistakable refutation of the predictions of failure from health care reform’s opponents.

Solar panels now cheap enough to solve green house gas problem

From 4/18/14 Nytimes article by Paul Krugman

If truth be told, I thought of the idea that wind and sun could be major players as hippie-dippy wishful thinking.

But I was wrong.

That sounds like hyperbole, but you realize that it isn’t when you learn that the price of solar panels has fallen more than 75 percent just since 2008.

It’s even possible that decarbonizing will take place without special encouragement, but we can’t and shouldn’t count on that. The point, instead, is that drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now within fairly easy reach.

So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be. The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests. What could go wrong? Oh, wait.

There are more of us, but, we don't vote.

From 4/17/14 Mlive op-ed article by Tim Skubick

In a compelling and scary piece of research for Democrats, writer David Wasserman suggests that midterm elections have “always drawn older voters and usually drawn white voters to the polls in disproportionate numbers” compared to their younger counterparts who for some reason take a hike during those off year races..

He concludes, “That amounts to a built-in midterm turnout advantage for Republicans."

Republican budget favors rich at the expense of everyone else

From 3/11/14 Gaylord Herald Times article by the Associated Press

Republicans promised a balanced budget by 2024 but would do so at the expense of poor people and seniors on Medicaid, lower-income workers receiving "Obamacare" subsidies, and people receiving food stamps and Pell Grants.

Democrats countered with a plan that would leave Obama's health care plan and rapidly growing health programs like Medicare intact, relying on $1.5 trillion in tax hikes over the coming decade to bring deficits down to sustainable but still-large levels in the $600 billion range.

Only Republican roads to be fixed

From 4/8/14 Mlive.com op-ed article by Susan J. Demas

As Michigan's infrastructure continues to crumble, Republicans have devised a creative solution ensuring that at least some roads don't resemble the surface of the moon.

They'll fix your pothole-pocked roads all right -- as long as you live in a GOP district.


From 3/26/14 The Detroit News article by Matt Charboneau

The smiles were wide as the confetti fell after the Big Ten championship game. Coach Tom Izzo fought back tears as he made the rounds through a sea of ecstatic Spartans. Amidst all the green and white stood the smallest Spartan sporting the widest grin. Lacey Holsworth, just 8 years old and battling cancer, patiently waited for her friend, her brother, her Superman.

Democratic state vs. Republican state

From 3/24/14 Mlive.com article by Rick Haglund

California’s scary budget deficit has been erased, mainly through an income tax hike on the rich that voters approved in 2012. The state’s projected surplus this year is $4.6 billion.

California’s economy has produced a million new jobs since the end of 2010.

And more than one million workers got raises after Brown signed a bill that boosted the state’s minimum wage from $8 an hour to $9 an hour in July. California’s minimum wage will jump again to $10 an hour in 2016.

Brown also has been praised for keeping a tight rein on spending.

Michigan has taken a different tack in its recovery course. Snyder’s first budget in 2011 cut taxes for businesses, and raised them for pensioners and many low-income families.

Patrimonial Capitalism

From 3/23/14 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

[W]e’re on the way back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent.

Yet another Republican lie revealed

From 3/11/14 The Gaylord Herald Times article from the Associated Press

Washington — A Dexter cancer patient featured in a conservative group's TV ad campaign denouncing her new health care coverage as "unaffordable" will save more than $1,000 this year under the plan, The Detroit News has learned.

No free lunch with auto insurance

From 3/11/14 Bridge Magazine article by Red Roelofs

Cost shifts
Motorists in Colorado saw premiums drop by about $200 after its no-fault policy expired in 2003.

A closer look suggests that medical providers and health care consumers were stuck with the bill, as costs shifted from the auto insurer to hospitals and health insurers.

A study by the Colorado Office of the Governor found that health provider charity care – unpaid bills – doubled, from 14 percent in 2002 to 29 percent in 2006. Another study found that Colorado Medicaid expenses related to auto accidents increased by 205 percent after its no-fault law lapsed. Hospitals typically pass along unpaid bills through higher charges, which in turn leads to higher health insurance rates.

Who pays
Auto insurance policyholders pay $186 per vehicle per year to cover catastrophic injury claims. The funds go to the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association to reimburse insurers for personal injury protection benefits after they exceed $530,000.

The Democrats Stand Up to the Kochs

From 3/10/14 The New York Times editorial

Democrats have for too long been passive in the face of the vast amounts of corporate money, most of it secret, that are being spent to evict them from office and dismantle their policies. By far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races, for example, has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections.

Now Democrats are starting to fight back, deciding they should at least try to counter the tycoons with some low-cost speech of their own. Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal — no party should — but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs.

Ignore “reformers,” U.S. schools doing just fine

From 3/14/14 Bridge Magazine article by Al Churchill

We are not doing well on international tests, it is said. We need charter schools, vouchers, standardized tests. Punish educators and unions. Create online courses. Grade our schools A-F. Unfortunately, for those making that case, our schools are, largely, not failing. They are doing pretty darn good as a matter of fact. Schools that are not doing well, generally, exist in the midst of poverty.

[A]ccording to former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, “…American schools, in which fewer than 10 percent of the students were poor, outperformed the schools of Finland, Japan and Korea” on the latest Program of International Student Assessment (PISA). Finland, Japan and Korea are top performers. Call it whatever you like: poverty, demographics or socioeconomic circumstance. It matters and American schools do well when demographics are considered.


From 3/3/14 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

[W]e used to marvel at the wrongheadedness of policy makers during the Great Depression. But when the Great Recession struck, and we were given a chance to do better, we ended up repeating all the same mistakes.

Senate candidate Peters plans to attack Land for not supporting the auto bailout

From 3/2/14 The Associated Press article by David Eggert

Michigan Democratic Rep. Gary Peters planned Monday to put Republican Terri Lynn Land on the defensive in their U.S. Senate race by highlighting her 2012 opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, which is widely credited with saving the U.S. auto industry.

More work / less pay

From 12/18/13 Bridge Magazine article by Ron French

Many of the fastest-growing jobs in Michigan in the coming decade will be jobs most people won’t want – with pay so low that many workers will qualify for food stamps.

A Bridge Magazine analysis of job projections found that four of the six occupational categories adding the most jobs through 2023 pay workers, on average, between $10 and $13 an hour. This raises the prospect that the state that built the blue-collar middle class will become better known as the home for the working poor.

Governor’s signing bill that shields identities of ‘issue ads’ donors a disgraceful abandonment of principle

From 1/6/14 Bridge Magazine op-ed article by Phil Power

When politicians don’t want people to notice what they’re doing, they often do it at a time when they think few are paying attention.

So it was no surprise that Gov. Rick Snyder chose to sign the highly controversial Senate Bill 661 on the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s, when most folks’ minds weren’t on public policy.

The bill did a number of things, such as doubling the amount of money individuals can give to a candidate.

But most of all, it was carefully crafted to block Secretary of State Ruth Johnson – or anyone in the future – from forcing disclosure of who pays for the so-called “issue ads” that every election become more and more influential in Michigan politics.

Sometimes the comments are more interesting than the article

From 2/10/14 Mlive.com Tim Skubick op-ed article regarding Dem candidates showing for Obama farm bill signing at MSU

This [Republicans criticizing Dems for showing up at bill signing] drags us all down to a level of rightwing insanity that I don''t even want to think about. American Movement Conservatism represents a continuous appeal to the inner swine in human beings. Unique in American history in its success in ceaselessly mobilizing human stupidity. American values are being debased by the right-wing cult of greed, over-consumption, and self-indulgence. The Republican Party's extremism on social issues, and Republican support for unaffordable tax cuts for the wealthy and their stunning lack of consistency on just about every major issue is the corupting issues of our time. The Dems actually try to improve the lives of the average person, whereas the GOP mouths endless propaganda hoping people will be fooled into thinking they care about the average person. Look at the damage the Republican Party has done to America through their control of Governorships, State Legislatures, and local School Boards. If you are not at the voting booth for each and every election, making your voice heard for each and every contested seat, then you are ceding control of the City, County, State, and Nation to people who DO NOT have your best interest in mind.

Politicians do the bidding of the people who matter to them and with an apathetic population unwilling to put forth even the slightest effort to hold them accountable, politicians are free to concentrate all their efforts on those who fill their PAC coffers.

The words "... of the people, by the people, and for the people" should be thundering within you and driving you to the voting booth."

Michigan's budget surplus

From 1/17/14 Mlive.com article on state of the state speech reader comment


Ending up with an extra billion is easy:

(1) Raise taxes
(2) Cut services
(3) Put the screws to the middle class
(4) Watch people flee the state in droves (the middle class)
(5) Ignore public infrastructure
(6) Gut public education (and LIE about it with cooked numbers)
(7) Cut help to those with children, the elderly and the unemployed.

Then "find" a billion dollars ... and suggest that you just did something great.


Divided States of America

From 1/12/14 The New York Times article by Monica Davey

Residents in the twin ports of Duluth, MN and Superior, WI find their lives diverging, now that Minnesota is governed by Democrats, and Wisconsin by Republicans.

Cross of gold

From 12/23/13 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

Back in 1936 the economist John Maynard Keynes argued that increased government spending was needed to restore full employment. But then, as now, there was strong political resistance to any such proposal. So Keynes whimsically suggested an alternative: have the government bury bottles full of cash in disused coal mines, and let the private sector spend its own money to dig the cash back up. It would be better, he agreed, to have the government build roads, ports and other useful things — but even perfectly useless spending would give the economy a much-needed boost.

Clever stuff — but Keynes wasn’t finished. He went on to point out that the real-life activity of gold mining was a lot like his thought experiment. Gold miners were, after all, going to great lengths to dig cash out of the ground, even though unlimited amounts of cash could be created at essentially no cost with the printing press. And no sooner was gold dug up than much of it was buried again, in places like the gold vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where hundreds of thousands of gold bars sit, doing nothing in particular.

2013 The Same Old Grand Old Party

ALEC goes secret

From 12/4/13 The New York Times editorial

ALEC is currently organized as a charity under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, meaning donations to the group are tax deductible but have to be disclosed. Charities aren’t allowed to lobby, but many state and federal officials said that’s what ALEC was really doing. Now the group is setting up a new arm, called the Jeffersonian Project, organized as a social welfare organization under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. Such groups are allowed to lobby, and though donations are not deductible, they do not have to be disclosed. (That’s why they have become the vehicle of choice for secret donations in support of political candidates, which has corrupted the campaign process.)

Political center a myth - no chance of a 3rd party coalition

From 12/3/13 The New York Times op-ed article by Thomas B. Edsall

There is so much pop psychology surrounding swing voters, but there is very little evidence that there are key demographics in the population that are inherently swing voters.

The Calo family

Jay Calo running for 105th State House seat

11/25/13 report by Otsego County Democratic Party Secretary Bob Mammel

Democrat Jay Calo has announced his candidacy for the 105th Michigan State House seat.

The incumbent, Republican Tea Partier Greg MacMaster, has announced that he's going to run for the State Senate, not the House, so this will be an open seat.

Jay lives in Gaylord and has a website, www.votecalo.com.

Secret donors to 501(c)(4) corporation influence governor

From 11/14/13 Bridge Magazine op-ed article by Rich Robinson

Unfortunately, the lofty vision of Governor-elect Rick Snyder didn’t last long.

Just five weeks after he took office he had his very own 501(c)(4) social-welfare corporation: New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify – the NERD Fund. In its first two years of operation, the NERD Fund raised $1,686,000 and ran unaccountable government activities out of the Governor’s office. The NERD Fund is not required by law to disclose its donors to the public, and it hasn’t.

What’s wrong with that? Set aside the Governor’s relentless positivism for the moment. Think about the donors. Do you suppose they are anything but rational economic actors? Do you suppose that it never occurred to them that they had the opportunity to be undisclosed special supporters for an official who can propose a $50 billion budget, veto a law, reinvent regulation, appoint judges, authorize no-bid contracts, supersede local governments and generally administer state government?

Absentee Ballots

We have a new Web page, Absentee Ballots, that briefly summarizes the process for obtaining an absentee ballot and provides the links to the Michigan Secretary of State pages that detail the absentee voting process and the form for requesting a ballot.

American health care poor compared to other advanced countries

From 11/18/13 The New York Times editorial

Even as Americans struggle with the changes required by health care reform, an international survey released last week by the Commonwealth Fund, a research organization, shows why change is so necessary. The report found that by virtually all measures of cost, access to care and ease of dealing with insurance problems, Americans fared poorly compared with people in other advanced countries.

A doctor's answers to questions posed by Koch brother's anti-Obamacare ad

Gerrymandering dooms our democracy

From 10/28/13 Bridge Magazine op-ed article by Phil Power

If we’re going to save America from repeated near-disasters like this month’s war over the government shutdown and the near-default on our debt, we’ve got to have an urgent conversation about gerrymandering, both in Michigan and the entire nation.

Here’s why.

The practice of “gerrymandering” — drawing congressional and legislative districts to favor one political party or the other — is at the core of our deeply dysfunctional and hyper-partisan political system that produced the shutdown and nearly resulted in default.

Virtually all the Tea Party-backed, hard-right congressional representatives who provoked the recent crisis are from districts so heavily gerrymandered Republican that they’re in virtually no danger of voter backlash in a general election. If an incumbent’s seat is gerrymandered safe, there’s no political downside to adopting whatever radical ideology is fashionable at the moment.


Let’s not beat around the bush. Unless we cut the cancer of gerrymandering out of the core of our political system, our days as a great nation are numbered, doomed by a dysfunctional, hyper-partisan and crisis-prone politics. We need a serious conversation about reforming this practice, and it needs to start right now.

Fox News hires fake bloggers

From 10/21/13 The Washington Post op-ed article by Erik Wemple

As Media Matters for America reports, based on NPR media reporter David Folkenflik’s new book Murdoch’s World, Fox News’s PR agents fanned out to create dummy accounts in order to rebut critical material in the comments sections of blog posts regarding Fox News.

Today's GOP

From 10/7/13 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it last year in their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become “an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

But there’s one more important piece of the story. Conservative leaders are indeed ideologically extreme, but they’re also deeply incompetent.

Tea Partiers are not "conservatives"

From 9/24/13 op-ed article by Thomas B. Edsall

Whether they did so out of conviction or fear, House Republicans bent to the will of the dominant Tea Party faction of their party and voted 228 to 1 on Sept. 20 to make continued financing of the federal government contingent on defunding the Affordable Care Act.

Whatever you think of this strategy, the tactics are radical. How can Republicans, courting a full-fledged fiscal crisis, claim to be conservative?

Hate speech

From 9/6/13 Bridge Magazine op-ed article by Jim Heynen

According to FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, “most members of the House (of Representatives) now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party.” The Other has been redistricted away from us. We’re talking only to those who agree with us.

Of 435 Congressional districts, Silver says perhaps 35 are competitive. In the remaining 400 districts we mostly talk to ourselves. And we mostly talk about the Other. It’s easier to refer to a Republican as a “Neanderthal” when all my neighbors are Democrats, or to label the President an “African Muslim” if only anti-Obama folks.

Moolenaar and MacMaster oppose Medicaid Expansion

9/6/13 by Bob Mammel

Our representatives in Lansing, Republican John Moolenaar and Republican Greg MacMaster, both voted against Medicaid expansion for their constituents. Medicaid expansion is designed for the working poor, those with incomes below 113% of the poverty line. For a single person, that’s about $15,000 a year.

Our Republican legislature failed to make the expansion “immediate”, which means that it won’t go into effect until after the current legislative session is complete in March, 2014, instead of January 1, 2014, when the program starts in other states. Every day beyond January 1, 2014, that Medicaid expansion is not in place, costs Michigan $7 million a day in lost federal revenue, revenue that goes to other states.

Moolenaar, who voted against Medicaid expansion, also voted two years ago (November, 2011) to give himself and fellow sitting senators lifetime health care at taxpayer expense. The senator claims we can't afford to give health care to the working poor.

America is doing a great job in creating low-skill workers

From 7/18/13 Bridge Magazine op-ed article by Bob Sornson of the Early Learning Foundation

If you wanted to create a system that limits educational options and consigns the vast majority of poor American children to continue to live in poverty, just look around you. Whether you live in urban or rural America, the results of an educational design which cripples young learners who are not among those most fortunate and nurtured are in evidence.

It is not just corrupt inner-city schools which are part of this educational design; it is the school in your community.

Ronald Reagan would not be a Republican today

From 5/29/13 The New York Times editorial

Bob Dole no longer recognizes the Republican Party that he helped lead for years. Speaking over the weekend on “Fox News Sunday,” he said his party should hang a “closed for repairs” sign on its doors until it comes up with a few positive ideas, because neither he nor Ronald Reagan would now feel comfortable in its membership.

 “It seems to be almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget or legislation,” said Mr. Dole, the former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate. “I mean, we weren’t perfect by a long shot, but at least we got our work done.”

The current Congress can’t even do that, thanks to a furiously oppositional Republican Party, and that’s what has left mainstream conservatives like Mr. Dole and Senator John McCain shaking their heads in disgust.

The difference between the current crop of Tea Party lawmakers and Mr. Dole’s generation is not simply one of ideology. While the Tea Partiers are undoubtedly more extreme, Mr. Dole spent years pushing big tax cuts, railing at regulations and blocking international treaties. His party actively courted the religious right in the 1980s and relied on racial innuendo to win elections. But when the time came to actually govern, Republicans used to set aside their grandstanding, recognize that a two-party system requires compromise and make deals to keep the government working on the people’s behalf.

The current generation refuses to do that. Its members want to dismantle government, using whatever crowbar happens to be handy, and they don’t particularly care what traditions of mutual respect get smashed at the same time.

Munetrix reports City of Gaylord in financial trouble

From 5/16/13 Bridge Magazine article by Ted Roelofs

Wayne County rated an 8, on a 1 to 10 scale in which 10 is close to financial catastrophe. And eight of 23 municipalities rated 6 or worse were in Wayne County. Nearby Flint rated a 7, as did Detroit – which was just described as “insolvent” and in “dire financial straits” in a preliminary assessment by emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

But the Munetrix breakdown also detected trouble in places such as Bangor, a Van Buren County city of 1,885, which earned a 5; the Village of Middleville south of Grand Rapids, a 5, the Northern Michigan City of Gaylord, a 4. The state capital of Lansing rated a 6.

Equal Pay Day


 Gretchen Whitmer Header

 Friends – 

Today marks Equal Pay Day in the United States, a date noted on the calendar every year to symbolize how far into 2013 women must work to earn what men earned in 2012. 

While we, both as a state and as a nation, have come so far in terms of recognizing the importance of equality in terms of race, gender and, thankfully, sexual orientation as well, the truth of the matter is that women are still facing discrimination in their paycheck every single day.  Even more troubling is that for the first time in years, the problem has actually gotten worse.

The latest report from the National Women’s Law Center shows that the earning gap between men and women widened across the nation recently as women are earning only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men with that gap even larger for women of color.   Here in Michigan we’ve fallen to 45th in terms of income equality between men and women in the United States with women earning only 74 cents compared to men in our state.

Yet, at a time when we should be working to find solutions to this problem, Republicans seem content to make it worse.  While “Right to Work” has been widely criticized for a number of very valid reasons, one critically important one is the fact that it jeopardizes language in contracts that unions have fought for to require equal pay for women.  Unfortunately, even as I spoke out on the Senate floor to point this fact out to my Republican colleagues as they rushed to pass that terrible legislation, they responded with indifference.

We can, and must, do better.  As we mark today as Equal Pay Day across the United States, let’s remind legislators here in Lansing that as we fight to create jobs across Michigan we must also fight to enact the policies that value women’s work and foster a thriving economy for us all.

We owe it Michigan’s next generation of women leaders to do nothing less.                                                                                                                                                            


Gretchen Whitmer Signature 

Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Senate Democratic Leader

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Michigan's Attorney General not "Guardian of the People"

4/8/13 The Detroit Free Press op-ed article by Mark Totten an MSU law professor and founder of www.AGforUs.com

Medicines heal. But on occasion, they also harm. And when they do, we need someone to protect us. That responsibility, in part, lies in the hands of the Michigan attorney general -- the "Guardian of the People." And yet, despite his response to the recent meningitis outbreak, Attorney General Bill Schuette is also among a group of legislators responsible for making Michigan citizens more vulnerable to these harms than the citizens of any other state in the nation.

Our State Senator, John Moolenaar, sponsors bill allowing health care providers to withhold services

From 3/21/13 Bridge Magazine article by Kathleen Gray

Health care professionals and institutions could withhold services if they had a moral religious or conscientious objection to the service according to a bill passed by the state Senate Health policy committee today.

Republican deficit scolds hurting young

  • From 3/28/13 The New York Times op-ed article by Paul Krugman

  • Yet there is, as I said, a lot of truth to the charge that we’re cheating our children. How? By neglecting public investment and failing to provide jobs.

    You don’t have to be a civil engineer to realize that America needs more and better infrastructure, but the latest “report card” from the American Society of Civil Engineers — with its tally of deficient dams, bridges, and more, and its overall grade of D+ — still makes startling and depressing reading. And right now — with vast numbers of unemployed construction workers and vast amounts of cash sitting idle — would be a great time to rebuild our infrastructure. Yet public investment has actually plunged since the slump began.

    Or what about investing in our young? We’re cutting back there, too, having laid off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and slashed the aid that used to make college affordable for children of less-affluent families.

     And why are we shortchanging the future so dramatically and inexcusably? Blame the deficit scolds, who weep crocodile tears over the supposed burden of debt on the next generation, but whose constant inveighing against the risks of government borrowing, by undercutting political support for public investment and job creation, has done far more to cheat our children than deficits ever did.

    Fiscal policy is, indeed, a moral issue, and we should be ashamed of what we’re doing to the next generation’s economic prospects. But our sin involves investing too little, not borrowing too much — and the deficit scolds, for all their claims to have our children’s interests at heart, are actually the bad guys in this story.

Michigan legislators again punishing teachers and faculty

From 3/17/13 Mlive op-ed article by President of the Michigan State Board of Education, John Austin

This week Michigan’s Right-to-Work law goes into effect. It was preceded by several weeks of new acrimony, as two legislative committees passed measures that would deny needed state funds to two of our research universities and several of our K-12 school districts as a form of punishment for negotiating long-term “win-win” agreements between management and labor.

Apparently Michigan legislators were angry over universities and community colleges and school districts coming together with their employees, and in spite of Right-to-Work, figuring out how to reforge agreements that both save taxpayers money, and refocus on kindergartners learning their ABC’s, and graduate students doing cutting edge research.

Apparently this violated the “spirit” of Right-to-Work, which to Michigan legislators means: you are supposed to keep punishing your teachers and faculty.

What unions have done

From 3/27/13 Mlive.com comment by David Edwards

Did you know that labor unions made the following 36 things possible?

  1. Weekends without work
  2. All breaks at work, including your lunch breaks
  3. Paid vacation
  4. Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  5. Sick leave
  6. Social Security
  7. Minimum wage
  8. Civil Rights Act/Title VII - prohibits employer discrimination
  9. 8-hour work day
  10. Overtime pay
  11. Child labor laws
  12. Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
  13. 40-hour work week
  14. Workers’ compensation (workers’ comp)
  15. Unemployment insurance
  16. Pensions
  17. Workplace safety standards and regulations
  18. Employer health care insurance
  19. Collective bargaining rights for employees
  20. Wrongful termination laws
  21. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
  22. Whistleblower protection laws
  23. Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) - prohibits employers from using a lie detector test on an employee
  24. Veteran's Employment and Training Services (VETS)
  25. Compensation increases and evaluations (i.e. raises)
  26. Sexual harassment laws
  27. Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
  28. Holiday pay
  29. Employer dental, life, and vision insurance
  30. Privacy rights
  31. Pregnancy and parental leave
  32. Military leave
  33. The right to strike
  34. Public education for children
  35. Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 - requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work
  36. Laws ending sweatshops in the United States

Party with only 46% of vote won 64% of Michigan's Congressional seats

From 3/26/13 Bridge Magazine article by Derek Melot

Home-court advantage is a perennial topic of conversation in college basketball, but Michigan Republicans have to be congratulated – or pilloried – in how they have created a huge advantage for themselves in congressional elections. As this Bloomberg visual details, Michigan Republicans win by losing.

Even though they gained only just under 46 percent of the vote in congressional races in 2012, they took 64 percent of the seats (9 of 14).

“Jocelyn Benson, interim dean of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit and a Democratic voting rights advocate ... ‘The only real solution’ to decreasing congressional polarization is for states to create “an independent redistricting commission that has the power to not only draw the map but enact it as well,’ Benson said.”

Fixing gerrymandered Michigan districts

From 2/8/13 Eclecta Blog editorial

Yesterday, Democrats in the Michigan State House introduced a Joint Resolution that would significantly reform the redistricting process that happens every decade after the national Census. In contrast to the current process where the political party that is in control creates districts that favor their candidates and makes it harder for the opposition party to win seats, the new process would be conducted by a bipartisan commission, would be far more transparent, would allow input from any Michigan citizen and, perhaps most importantly, would prohibit the type of gerrymandering that currently plagues our state.

House Joint Resolution I was introduced by Representative Jim Townsend and co-sponsored by Representatives Jeff Irwin, Phil Cavanagh, Dian Slavens, Andy Schor, Marilyn Lane, and Sean McCann. The resolution would amend sections 2, 3, and 6 of article IV of the state constitution of 1963 and, if passed by at a least two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, would put a proposal on the ballot for Michigan voters to consider. This process does not involve the Governor of the state.

The new commission would consist of nine members:

    One member selected by the Speaker of the House
    One member selected by the Minority Leader of the House
    One member selected by the Majority Leader of the Senate
    One member selected by the Minority Leader of the Senate
    Five members selected by the Auditor General

All commissioners would be required to be a registered voter in Michigan. Individuals would NOT be allowed to serve on commission if they:

    Have been appointed to or elected to any public office
    Have been employed by a political party or a political party caucus in the immediately preceding 5-year period
    Have received compensation as a registred lobbyist in the immediately preceding 5-year period
    Are employed by an organization from which members of the commission are prohibited from receiving gifts or loans
    Have entered into a contract with the State of Michigan or are employed by a person who has entered into such a contract

Commissioners would not be permitted to solicit or accept gifts or loans from registered lobbyists, a union, a business registered with the State of Michigan, a political action committee, a nonprofit organization or a 501(c) or a 527 organization.

Members of the public would be allowed to submit redistricting plans and all of the business that the commission performs would be required to be in compliance with the Open Meetings Act. Additionally, all of their work would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Finally, and this is the piece that makes me the most happy, there are very strict rules about how legislative and congressional districts can be drawn. No longer will there be, for example, islands of one district in the middle of another one simply to benefit a single political party. The resolution requires that districts be “areas of convenient territory contiguous by land”. Areas “that meet only a points of adjoining corners are not” considered “contiguous”.

Bipartisan. Independent. Transparent. Open. This proposal has all of the hallmarks of a true democracy and a legitimate redistricting process. While it will chap the butts of Republicans who have been so shrewd in their redistricting over the past 20 years, they will have a very hard time defending a vote against this resolution and the people of Michigan would very likely support it as a ballot proposal as well.

This incredibly important resolution is now in the Elections and Ethics Committee. We’ll keep a very close eye on its progress.

Republican rejection of Obamacare in Michigan increases costs for small business

From 3/25/13 Bridge Magazine article by Rob Fowler, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan

The Small Business Association of Michigan supports the broadening of eligibility criteria to participate in the Medicaid program...

The reality is that people go to our health-care system and they get care, and if they can’t afford it, they still get care but it’s uncompensated. Uncompensated care actually gets passed along to those who can pay. It’s called cost shifting and it’s been happening for a very long time. And it has found its way into the base rates of health insurance for small businesses all across the state.

Medicaid expansion makes good business sense for Michigan’s government, its businesses and, most obviously, its uninsured – because getting coverage for the uninsured matters to business.

Obamacare has expanded coverage, saved consumers money, reined in health care costs and improved quality of care

From 3/23/13 The New York Times Editorial Board

Republican leaders in Congress regularly denounce the 2010 Affordable Care Act and vow to block money to carry it out or even to repeal it. Those political attacks ignore the considerable benefits delivered to millions of people since the law’s enactment three years ago Saturday. The main elements of the law do not kick in until Jan. 1, 2014, when many millions of uninsured people will gain coverage. Yet it has already thrown a lifeline to people at high risk of losing insurance or being uninsured, including young adults and people with chronic health problems, and it has made a start toward reforming the costly, dysfunctional American health care system.

PEW Center poll shows GOP favorability at 20-year low

From 3/22/13 The Washington Post article by Andrew Kohut

Andrew Kohut is the founding director and former president of the Pew Research Center. He served as president of the Gallup Organization from 1979 to 1989.

In my decades of polling, I recall only one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today.

The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Although the Democrats are better regarded (47 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable), the GOP’s problems are its own, not a mirror image of renewed Democratic strength.

Americans’ values and beliefs are more divided along partisan lines than at any time in the past 25 years. The values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than the one between men and women, young and old, or any racial or class divides.

Tuition is up because taxpayers pay less

The large increase in college tuition is caused by taxpayers paying less. The inflation adjusted chart below shows total cost, tuition and state funding for full time Michigan college students from 1987 through 2012. Charts showing U.S. averages and the patterns in other states can be found at http://www.sheeo.org/sites/default/files/publications/SHEF_All_States_Wavechart_2012.pdf.


Why ultra-conservatives like the sequester

From 2/26/13 The Huffington Post article by George Lakeoff

Ultra-conservatives believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them. They take this as a matter of morality. They see the social responsibility to provide for the common good as an immoral imposition on their liberty.

Why the stock market is at record highs

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