Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Send In Your Census Form Yet?

Census


C'mon. It's important. In a shocking editorial break from Michele Bachmann, even the anti-government DNews says so.

The numbers being collected are powerful. They're used to set up congressional districts and determine how many seats we have in the U.S. House of Representatives. They're used to divvy up Electoral College seats among the states, affecting not only how much clout we have in choosing presidents but how often the contenders will want to campaign here.

Census counts also determine how billions of dollars in federal funds -- our own tax dollars included -- are distributed.

A special note to all the teabagger and militia types out there who think you are being rebellious and stuff by not turning in your census form:

Look. If you are going to go all tinfoil and get seriously crazy over false anti-Obama internet rumors and then cost the government massive amounts of money when we have to first stop you from your dangerous activities only to then have to turn around pay for your public defenders too, well, we really need you to fill these things out. Chances are we can bill the feds for most of your mess, but it's almost guaranteed that the state incurred some expense somewhere over this, and we simply can't afford it.

So be a pal and do your duty. It may be your own public defender on the line if you don't. Thanks for your cooperation, and have a nice day.

Renewable Energy: Reducing Our Dependence on Domestic Oil

When it comes to renewable energy, you may have noticed that politicians have grown fond of the phrase "reducing our dependence on foreign oil". Well, in light of President Obama's forthcoming announcement on expanding offshore drilling, it looks like that phrase needs to be amended to include the word "domestic", or maybe shortened to the much simpler "reducing our dependence on oil", period. Either way, consider this new development a warning shot across the bow for environmentalists, and hopefully we can take it as a call to double down on the push for a national renewable energy standard.

The offshore expansion idea is a huge disappointment, to say the least, but consider the following: There is a chance that drilling won't happen at all, or it will be very limited in its scope if it does, even with the added territory being opened. Why? It costs a frickin' fortune. As was pointed out during the "Drill Baby Drill" phase of the campaign in '08, the oil companies aren't exploring the areas that are open to them now because it is so cost prohibitive. Much easier to sit at a computer, push a button and play stock swap, than invest in intensive environmental studies that may not pan out, and spend billions in equipment for new platforms even if they do. Add the legal battles to the mix, and you are looking at drilling occurring way, way down the road. The US Dept of Energy also pointed out at the time that even if you opened offshore areas today, it wouldn't have an impact on the price of oil until 2030 - an eternity when it comes to how fast we are moving on new renewable technologies.

For environmentalists, the best bet is to keep up the push towards renewable energy to help prevent drilling from happening at all. Same goes for building new coal plants. We get wind and solar to the point where it can achieve "grid parity", and get that infrastructure in place and grow it to the point of being even cheaper than fossil fuels, and the need to suck the Earth dry will eventually come to an end. It's simple if you ignore the complexity, but in theory, this is what will happen.

It probably won't happen in our lifetime, but we have to start somewhere. The steps we are taking today can build toward that future - and that means building the infrastructure to get renewables on the grid as quick as we possibly can.

Even better yet, let's build it right here in Michigan. Yesterday, they held a groundbreaking ceremony in Monroe for Ventower Industries, planning a new wind turbine tower plant to be opened in 2011. 150 new jobs will be created. Since expected capacity is 250 towers a year, these must be the huge, commercial-sized turbine towers we are talking about.






As the video points out, Monroe Community College is already training students for this work. And another development in the renewable energy training department yesterday: Grand Rapids Community College is offering a first in the nation safety training course for servicing wind turbines. Someone has to climb up there and fix the heads, and we are going to crank out the qualified people. The eye is towards building in the Great Lakes, but these students will be able to work anywhere.

Grand Rapids Community College students will be qualified to work on wind turbines anywhere in the world after completing an international safety course, say leaders from two European companies.

...

The community college will offer safety training to employees who will work in confined spaces hundreds of feet off the ground and near tremendous amounts of electricity. Others will be tied to the hubs, or nacelles, of the turbines and rappel down the sides of the 300-foot towers for safety checks and repairs.

The college could start quickly, with the first students entering the 80-hour program in May and as many as 400 students completing training by the end of the first year. Certification is not yet required by U.S. or state government but is required by many agencies that insure companies working on a wind farm site.

Baby steps, but they are solid steps, to be sure.

Consider it a race to beat the oil companies to the punch when it comes to our energy demands. Your planet depends on it.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Obviously not a problem, if you're a Michigan Democrat.

Caveats: This is Rasmussen. It's still early. It will change. But one stat points to a serious problem that no one seems to have the money to address, and that is - who in the hell are you people?

The telephone poll of 541 like Democratic primary voters found 53% had no preference when asked to choose from the three contenders, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (8%), House Speaker Andy Dillon (12%) and state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith (10%). Seventeen percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen said they preferred a different candidate altogether.

All three of the announced candidates suffer from relative obscurity, with 59%-65% of Democratic voters saying they don’t know them well enough to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion, Rasmussen said in a news release about the poll.

"Undecided" and "Not You" are the big winners so far with the Dems. Not good. Lack of a strong presence at the top of the ticket has the potential to hurt those down the ballot - but again, it's still early.

As for the GOTea Party, there is some cold comfort in the fact that Cox seems to keep falling behind in all the recent polls, but there is still the possibility that it's simply the east side splitting the vote at this point. It should also be pointed out that "undecided" leads here as well.

The Rasmussen poll had Hoekstra at 27%, Snyder, 18%, Cox, 13% and Bouchard, 5%. Thirty-two percent were undecided and 5% would prefer another candidate.

The Snyder ads have really dropped off now; he obviously doesn't have the money that DeVos had to keep flooding the airwaves with a new commercial every three weeks or so.

Count your blessings, and enjoy the peace.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Schauer Faces the Tough Questions, Walberg Embraces the Extreme

Night and day with these two. Rep. Mark Schauer is out there answering the tough questions from constituents...



A show of hands later revealed that this meeting, held in Adrian mind you, had its fair share of health care reform supporters as well.

Many questions directed at U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer during an appearance Monday were hostile to the recently passed health care legislation, but a show of hands revealed much more support for the bill than was obvious from those questions.

Schauer, D-Battle Creek, appeared before about 100 people, mostly senior citizens, at the Lenawee County Human Services Building to discuss the recent health care overhaul legislation.

Some audience members and Schauer went back and forth about whether the bill would help or harm Medicare, whether it would reduce the federal deficit or help small businesses provide health insurance, and whether people in the country illegally would be covered by the bill.

The AP reports that some seniors left when things turned "contentious", perhaps an indication that some people are getting tired of those who come to these things to just to display anger and shout down others. They reported a 50-50 split in the audience. Schauer held his ground, and some members of the "silent majority" came up and thanked him for his vote afterwards.

Roger Roback of Madison Township said he supports most aspects of the bill but wasn’t taking much away from the meeting because other audience members “never let (Schauer) finish explaining what he wanted to tell us.”

Schauer said he was not surprised by the prevalence of questions clearly hostile to the legislation.

“There’s no surprise to me that there’s a (group) of people who are strongly ideologically opposed to the bill,” Schauer said. However, he said, half a dozen people approached him after the meeting to thank him for voting for the bill.

“A lot of people who are helped (by the bill) have been silent,” he said.

They probably don't want to deal with the monster-shouters, and who can blame them. Meanwhile, Tim Walberg, rather than explaining what he would do about health care, was sending out fund raising e-mails that not only were striking in their redundant use of the word "conservative" - he highlights that some of the most extreme shouters in the US House are his buddies.

Among conservatives in the U.S. House, there is a renewed energy and passion to win a conservative majority in the U.S. House in November. In conversations with proven conservatives like Mike Pence, Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan, Peter Roskam, Joe Wilson and with the support of leading Michigan Members Dave Camp and Candice Miller, they have assured me they want me back in the U.S. House working with them on behalf of our nation.

Bachmann and Wilson, not exactly the shining beacons of civil behavior there. Interesting how he separates Camp and Miller from the real "conservatives" as well. Time to remind everyone how those congressional Republicans fared in the recent health care debate:

The standing of congressional Republicans is more negative. While 26% rate their work on health care as good or excellent, a larger group, 34%, say it has been poor.

While there may be division on the health care issue, it doesn't mean that people are buying what the Republicans have to sell - mainly because they don't have anything to sell but their hostility and extreme behavior. That certainly won't solve the health care issue, or anything else for that matter.

Stay classy, GOP. Keep driving those independents and moderates away. A grateful nation thanks you.

WDET, Detroit's Ethnic Media Join to Raise Awareness of 'Alarming Growth of Right Wing Extremism'

From the PR Newswire. Good to see the words "Tea Party movement" and "right wing extremism" uttered in the same breath with growing frequency - and now we have a Michigan editorial effort designed to raise awareness and shine some light on these people.

WDET-FM, the Detroit public radio station owned and operated by Wayne State University, today announced an important issue-oriented collaboration focusing on Right Wing Extremism with four of the region's most-read independent newspapers, The Jewish News, The Arab American News, The Michigan Chronicle and Latino. The five media entities have established a partnership to raise awareness of the growth of Radical Right movements in Michigan, and the country at large. The Michigan media entities have collaborated with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization and one of the authoritative research institutions in the areas of hate groups, discrimination and exploitation.

Mikel Ellcessor, WDET's General Manager says, "The explosive growth of three distinct groups, the Tea Party movement, the Patriot movement, with the militias as their paramilitary arms, and the nativist anti-immigration movement has been underway for the past year. While these are distinct movements with their own animus, there is a well documented, and rising, level of extreme rhetoric coming from all three groups. This rhetoric has contributed to an environment that is fostering violence from the extreme right and multiple instances of domestic terrorism."

The SPLC points out that Michigan seems to be ground zero for right wing militia growth - not exactly something we want to put on the travel brochures, to be sure - but documenting the activities of these groups puts the spotlight on how they routinely threaten violence in subtle and not-so subtle ways.

The partners in the project commissioned a special report by the SPLC that noted "after more than a decade out of the spotlight the militias have come roaring back to life across the country. Michigan, once again, is a hotbed of militia activity." The SPLC documented 34 militia groups in Michigan - a staggering number when one considers that a year earlier the SPLC found only 42 militias in the entire country. As of 2009, there were 127 militias in the United States - an increase of more than 200 percent.

And it not just the groups themselves that will come under this scrutiny - any politician that encourages extremism will be held accountable as well. Mike Bishop and other Republicans who have embraced the teabaggers and their "angry mobs" might want to think twice about getting too close to this fire as they try and use these groups for campaign (and donation) purposes. Media apologists like Nolan Finley should be held accountable as well, as back-handed and slippery as he is.

Arthur Horwitz, the publisher of The Jewish News, one of the collaboration partners, says, "As America and Michigan navigate a difficult economic and social landscape, it is our right and duty to engage in robust discussion about the issues of the day and to hold our elected officials accountable at the ballot box. However, when people of responsibility and power in government and the media incite others to express their displeasure through violence, slander and intimidation, they have to be called out. As representatives of Michigan ethnic media outlets, we appreciate and cherish the freedom and opportunity our country provides and the responsibilities that come with them. We have also felt the sting of bias, defamation and discrimination and are united in speaking out against hate mongers, and those who enable them."

The New York Times featured a profile of some Tea Party activists over the weekend, the examples being older people who had lost their jobs, have too much time on their hands, and are pushing for that mythical "smaller government" - even though "a number of its members acknowledge that they are relying on government programs for help". One Michigan Tea Party organizer profiled in the piece is unemployed former auto parts worker Jeff McQueen of Rochester Hills - same guy who protested at the Auto Show back in January. He blames the government and free trade agreements for his unemployment, has since spent his time organizing tea party groups in Michigan and Ohio - and apparently is becoming a media face of the movement, because he keeps popping up everywhere.

“Being unemployed and having some time, I realized I just couldn’t sit on the couch anymore,” he said. “I had the time to get involved.”

He began producing what he calls the flag of the Second American Revolution, and drove 700 miles to campaign for Mr. Brown under its banner. Flag sales, so far, are not making him much. But he sees a bigger cause.

“The founding fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor,” he said. “They believed in it so much that they would sacrifice. That’s the kind of loyalty to this country that we stand for.”

It's also the kind of "loyality" that McQueen has indicated might move Tea Party members to violence.

McQueen: This flag has never been meant to replace the national flag. This flag has a specific purpose and it's time has come. To show the politicians and the media that we're ready for a second American revolution. And with that, you know, in America we have a choice of four boxes for political change. We can go to the soap box, the ballot box, or we can go to the jury box. And hopefully we won't have to go to the bullet box.

Ashbrook: Bullet box? Are you talking about armed revolution?

McQueen: Have you seen the ammunition sales the last twelve months?

That's a pretty tame statement, but it is just one example of the rhetoric that implies violence will happen if these groups don't get their way - and it's coming from someone in our state that is gaining national visibility. Take that example to the extreme, you start to get groups like the Hutaree, who formulate plans of violence against innocent people.

Refugees of the Republican Party who think that these groups are benign because of the constant "popular" media exposure need to be aware of exactly who they are dealing with here - and the efforts of WDET and others will be instrumental in getting the word out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Sunday Paper: March 28, 2010

fixi196
Spring brings stimulus roadwork. This is the "Fix on I-196", looking west toward the Grand Rapids Medical Mile skyline. The stimulus served to speed up this project and do it right - adding another lane in both directions to accommodate a growing downtown. That being said, avoid I-196 through GR at all costs for awhile, 'cause it's a nightmare at rush hour.


Hey JC, JC, won't you fight for me? Sanna, Ho-sanna, hey, Superstar... sorry this is late. I was jammin'.

  • The NY Times features a story this morning on states that are proposing raising service taxes to combat huge budget deficits, Michigan and Pennsylvania are featured. There's Ed Rendell, trying to steal our thunder again...

  • More economic indicators are showing recovery in Michigan is underway: The Michigan Retail Index "showed the highest level of sales activity since August, 2007". 129 retailers are surveyed on a scale of 1-100, anything above 50 is considered growth. February had the index at 56.7; a year ago it was 40.8. 46% of retailers reported increased sales, 39% declines, 15% no change. Optimism abounds; the seasonally adjusted outlook for a period through May has the index at 70.7.

  • Rising optimism is also translating in auto sales, and that means stronger manufacturing purchasing in Michigan, which of course brings jobs. The Southeast Michigan Purchasing Managers Index, which tracks purchasing trends including employment, jumped 27% from January to February. PNC Financial Services Group Inc. predicts that incomes in Detroit will grow 2.5% in 2010, but figures that job growth will be sluggish.

  • Folks in Menominee are rallying around Bart Stupak, as the anti-choice crowd's threats of violence are backfiring in a big way. Major wingnut fail, essentially attacking a usual ally on that front.

  • Pete Hoekstra missed 71% of the votes in March to campaign? Tsk tsk.

  • Speaking of inaction: Because the Legislature waited so long to settle the Pure Michigan funding, what little ad space we can buy now will start later, cost more, and there is a chance that all the good slots are taken. There really is no excuse other than incompetence and/or laziness, having been warned of this last fall, and again in December and January.

  • Trouble in paradise? Looks like the Bishop-Dillon nuptials are OFF again, as Andy Dillon has nothing but praise for Kevin Elsenheimer and Mike Nofs in this radio interview, and takes a shot at his BFF Mike in this story at WKAR. I think someone's feelings have been hurt here...

  • ... and it's too bad that Speaker Dillon doesn't talk about Democrats in the same glowing terms he saves for his "R" buddies. He wouldn't really comment on the Granholm vs. Cox health care lawsuit(s) issue in that radio interview, only to say that it's an "interesting dynamic". The Governor is now teaming up with other Democratic governors with an offer to help defend the legislation. And when it comes to the health care vote itself, Dillon tells MIRS that he was "undecided". Seriously? After all that we went through, for over a year? Here is the headline:

    Dillon 'Not Sure' On Health Care Reform Bill
    "Gubernatorial hopeful House Speaker Andy DILLON (D-Redford Twp.) told MIRS Thursday that he's not sure whether he'd have voted for the national health care reform bill that Congress passed last weekend."

    Um, is it possible that we could get a Democratic House leader that actually supports Democrats for a change? Might be helpful when it comes to the elections this fall. Kthxbai.

  • Go right through for MSU... Elite Eight action today at 2:20 on CBS. Be there.
  • Saturday, March 27, 2010

    Spring Break 2010: Legislature Leaves Schools in Limbo As They Take Another Vacation

    Vacation all I ever wanted...

    Lawmakers started a two-week spring break Friday. They leave Lansing with no consensus on how to erase a projected $1.7 billion deficit in the budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

    Most lawmakers appear to be against Granholm's proposal to raise more than $500 million by extending a slightly lower sales tax to services that are not now taxed. Granholm's proposal to save money through a retirement incentive package has stalled. Many lawmakers are reluctant to vote for spending cuts, especially to education and public safety programs.

    They won't vote for revenue. They won't vote for cuts. Sound familiar? Same pattern as last year, but with the added pressure of an election looming this time around. They blew past a deadline to pass a school/state employee retirement package, jamming up school districts who are making personnel decisions and struggling to cope with last year's cuts, let alone look at the cuts that the Republicans are proposing on the next budget that Dillon will eventually vote for... and Governor Granholm might as well go ahead and set-up a Margarita IV drip to get through the rest of this year.

    "I can't wave a magic wand," Granholm told the Michigan Public Radio Network. "I cannot push the vote button for these legislators. They have one constitutional responsibility… they don't want to do the tough things, and everything I'm asking them to do is tough because there is no easy way out. We cannot get this done unless we take some really hard steps, and it's hard for them to do in an election year. So the question is, for them, you can say ‘no’ to reforms and ‘no’ to cuts and ‘no’ to revenues, but you continue to say that and we’ve come up against a budget deadline, and it means another shutdown, and that happens one month before a general election in November.

    So the question for them is: Do they want to see another shutdown of government a month before they are on the ballot, in which case I think the citizens would be justified in saying that ‘you don’t deserve to be returned to Lansing’, or, do you want to get the tough votes done and then go back to your district and explain to people that this is very difficult and we are trying to reshape Michigan’s government, Michigan’s tax structure, and Michigan’s economy to move into the 21st century."

    And it’s not only what she said, it’s how she said it, and you really need to hear it to appreciate the urgency of the situation. Unfortunately for the Governor, as Speaker Dillon recently whined to an audience, she needs to hold their hand, cut their meat, read them a bedtime story, and be there to kiss all their owies for them when they fall down and go boom! and scrap their knees. It seems that neither the Speaker, nor anyone else in the House, can take any responsibility for their actions, or show any initiative when it comes to protecting the public schools. Pity them.

    "The governor never built relationships (with legislators)," Dillon said. "That's why it's difficult for her to get votes when she needs them."

    So that's why Dillon passed a Republican all-cuts budget last year. Basically he is admitting that he, as Speaker, cannot get the job done. He has zero power to move legislators to vote for what is best for Michigan, and he will not stand up for what should be standard Democratic values. School funding used to be a standard Republican value as well, before they all went crazy Galt on us over the past decade or so. No help there - and that is the reason why the voters gave the Democrats such an overwhelming majority in the House the past two election cycles.

    Sorry folks, but this is a no-brainer. If you can't decide whether or not you are going to invest in a future for Michigan's children, if you can't decide whether or not you are going to push school districts into bankruptcy, if you can't decide that a quality education is worth fighting for, and especially if you drag this whole thing out in some sorry-ass attempt to try and save your own jobs while you put other people's lives on hold... you deserve to be voted out of office. This is cowardice, plain and simple.

    The following links are "This Week in K-12 Cuts", the stories keep coming. Hundreds of school employees with their livelihoods on the line. Interesting that some districts are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to retirement...

    Onaway: Cutting band, not replacing retiring teachers, cuts to athletics.
    Kalkaska and Forest Area: Stimulus saved/created jobs. As that money goes away, those districts are looking at cuts.
    Muskegon Area: Looking at privatizing 145 bus drivers in six different districts in the Muskegon area. Concessions saved their jobs last time around, but more cuts need to be made.
    East Grand Rapids: Looking at privatization of 19 custodians.
    Thornapple Kellogg: Layoffs of teachers, custodians, support staff. Pay-to-play fees will rise, driver's ed privatized.
    Rockford: Offering retirement incentives, hoping for 25 or so teachers to bite to help cover a $3.8 million deficit. 110 are eligible.
    Northville: Six Northville school employee groups, union and non-union, agree to a 2% wage reduction to save jobs and money in a district facing a $2 million deficit. Transportation will make cuts, reduced budgets for supplies, and layoffs in office, custodial, and elementary media are still planned.
    Traverse City: $3 million (!) in wage and benefit cuts, $1.2 million in transportation cuts, $500 thousand comes from increased class sizes and other savings.
    Sault Ste. Marie: They haven't decided on what to cut yet, only that "painful budget cuts" are coming, and they are very frustrated because they have cut $23 million in the past seven years while retaining one of the lowest millage rates in the state. They want parents to call Lansing.
    Sturgis: $2.5 million deficit, hoping that retirement incentives they are offering will take out 12 teachers. Other cuts on the board: 10% on supplies, eliminate field trips and the DARE program, cuts to athletics, outdoor education, other office cuts. May charge to participate in sports.
    Tecumseh: Hoping that 16 teachers will take a district buyout before they have to make layoffs.
    Adrian: Has notified 36 teachers of possible layoff due to a $1.7 million deficit. Expects to call most of them back, but they haven't determined how they will balance this budget after that.
    Cass City: Is taking a wait-and-see approach on their cuts, realizing these guys are going to jack them around. They've been here before.

    Enjoy your vacation, legislators. You might not have the luxury of such generous benefits at your next place of employment.

    Notes From the Underground: 3/27/2010

    MIRS:

    Granholm Frustrated With Legislature
    "Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM said today she's "very frustrated" now that lawmakers have headed for the hills for two weeks for their traditional spring break, leaving lots of issues up in the air."

    Is Cox Healthcare Lawsuit Moot?
    "A little-known amendment to the new federal health care law could make Attorney General Mike COX's lawsuit against it moot."

    Dillon 'Not Sure' On Health Care Reform Bill
    "Gubernatorial hopeful House Speaker Andy DILLON (D-Redford Twp.) told MIRS Thursday that he's not sure whether he'd have voted for the national health care reform bill that Congress passed last weekend."


    What's the matter, Andy? Did the Republicans tell you to say no?

    The guy won't back up the Governor, the guy won't back up the President, the guy won't back up the voters in the Democratic Party, the guy kisses Republican ass every single chance he gets. No way in hell will I vote for him this fall.

    Gongwer:

    NEWSMAKER FRIDAY: VILIFIED STUPAK DEFENDS HIS HEALTH VOTE
    Death threats leading to State Police protection. Unplugging his home phone because of the persistent hate on the other end of the line. Thinking he had been called a baby killer on the floor of the U.S. House. The single most important member of Congress on the most sweeping social legislation in a generation.

    GRANHOLM VENTS FRUSTRATION AT LEGISLATURE IN RADIO INTERVIEW
    Michigan's lawmakers seem unable to make tough decisions, Governor Jennifer Granholm said in a radio interview, though the state cannot deal with its ongoing fiscal problems unless lawmakers are willing to make tough, hard choices. Speaking on a radio call-in show the morning after the Legislature recessed for two weeks, Ms. Granholm made plain her frustration that lawmakers left without dealing with her state worker/public school employee retirement proposal or fully financing the "Pure Michigan" ad campaign.

    HOEKSTRA UNDERGOES SURGERY ON CAROTID ARTERY
    U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Republican candidate for governor, underwent surgery Friday to clear out some plaque in his right carotid artery, but his campaign said it expected him to resume a full schedule next week.

    STATE JOBLESS RATES RELATIVELY THE SAME, BUT MICH. STILL TOPS
    Michigan's 14.1 percent unemployment rate in February was still the highest in the country, but the state was one of only seven and the District of Columbia to report declines in the number of people without a job, according to a report issued Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    24 STATES RAISED TAXES IN '09 WHILE NORTH DAKOTA CUT THEM
    In the face of severe falling revenues due to the recession, 24 states raised taxes by more than 1 percent, while 25 states made no significant tax changes in 2009 and North Dakota was the lone state to actually cut taxes.

    Insert "blood to the brain" joke here. Hey Pete, where's my turtle fence?

    Saturday Obama: Historic Reform



    Just so it doesn't get lost in all the health care hoopla, President Obama highlights the student loan reforms that were passed this week.

    Year after year, we’ve seen billions of taxpayer dollars handed out as subsidies to the bankers and middlemen who handle federal student loans, when that money should have gone to advancing the dreams of our students and working families. And yet attempts to fix this problem and reform this program were thwarted by special interests that fought tooth and nail to preserve their exclusive giveaway.

    But this time, we said, would be different. We said we’d stand up to the special interests, and stand up for the interests of students and families. That’s what happened this week. And I commend all the Senators and Representatives who did the right thing.

    This reform of the federal student loan programs will save taxpayers $68 billion over the next decade. And with this legislation, we’re putting that money to use achieving a goal I set for America: by the end of this decade, we will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

    To make college more affordable for millions of middle-class Americans for whom the cost of higher education has become an unbearable burden, we’re expanding federal Pell Grants for students: increasing them to keep pace with inflation in the coming years and putting the program on a stronger financial footing. In total, we’re doubling funding for the federal Pell Grant program to help the students who depend on it.

    To make sure our students don’t go broke just because they chose to go to college, we’re making it easier for graduates to afford their student loan payments. Today, about 2 in 3 graduates take out loans to pay for college. The average student ends up with more than $23,000 in debt. So when this change takes effect in 2014, we’ll cap a graduate’s annual student loan repayments at 10 percent of his or her income.


    Like the man said, we are taking guaranteed federal subsidies out of the hands of the bankers, and putting it in the pockets of students. To top it off, this is something that voters in both parties agree is a good idea.

    But the best of all, it provides us with yet another example of how the Republicans have gone right around the bend on their own talking points lately...

    “The Democratic majority decided, well look, while we’re at it, let’s have another Washington takeover,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and a former federal education secretary. “Let’s take over the federal student loan program.”


    The government took over a government program. Shocking. And keep your government hands off that Medicare, too.

    It's right up there with the teabagger who goes on national television and to the Washington Post to brazenly advocate that people resort to violence to stop this "tyranny", calling for followers to break the windows on Democratic offices over health care reform, only to find out later that he receives government disability checks.

    If Tea Party hysteria wasn't so dangerous to innocent people and this country as a whole, it would be laughable.

    Friday, March 26, 2010

    Notes from the Underground 3/26/2010

    MIRS:

    Senate Shelves Public Worker Retirement Bills
    "Senate Republicans' refusal to take up a state and public school employee early retirement plan today doesn't bode well for the caucus' signature 10-point reform plan, Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R-Rochester) admitted today."

    MDOT Budget Crashes
    "In the final vote of the night, the House gave a giant raspberry to HB 5889, a proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 spending plan for the Department of Transportation (MDOT)."

    Senate Sends Texting Ban, House Pushes 'Ignore'
    "After months of delay, the Senate today passed a ban on texting while driving, but made it a primary traffic offense, causing it to stall out, once again, in the House."


    Gongwer:

    M.D.O.T. BUDGET FAILS AS HOUSE OKS FIRST APPROPRIATIONS
    Nine hours into session Thursday, the House failed to garner enough votes for a Department of Transportation budget reliant on a gasoline and diesel tax hike to match available federal funds to the state, but mustered the needed number of votes to pass six other budgets.

    IN SHIFT, SENATE PASSES PRIMARY BAN ON TEXTING WHILE DRIVING
    The Senate made a major change Thursday to legislation that would ban motorists from texting while driving as they made the violation a primary offense, allowing police to ticket drivers for texting without having to first pull them over for committing another infraction.

    D.C.H. FACING THREE-MONTH BACKLOG ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA CARDS
    Department of Community Health officials are just getting to applications residents sent in December seeking a medical marijuana card, but are more quickly denying those applications they immediately deem improper, a legislative panel was told Thursday.

    HOUSE REPEALS HELMET LAW FOR 21 AND UP
    Motorcycle riders could take to the streets helmet-free as long as they are 21 or older and have a $20,000 insurance policy to cover medical benefits under legislation the House dividedly passed on Thursday.

    PARK PASSPORT BILLS HEAD TO GRANHOLM
    The final bills in a legislative package to allow motorists to pay a $10 fee when they renew their annual vehicle registration to receive a permit to use any state park or boating access site are on their way to Governor Jennifer Granholm.

    MELTON: NO VOTE DATE FOR FUND CAP
    Rep. Tim Melton, chair of the House Education Committee, said he would continue exploring the idea of capping school district fund balances, but he was not ready to commit to a date the measure might move to the House floor.


    Yes, let's bring up the helmet issue again. That's absolutely brilliant. Nothing like a bunch of frivolous, divisive bullshit to distract from the fact that they can't figure out how to fund schools, roads, public safety and health care.

    Michigan, Writ Large

    I loves me some Paul Krugman:

    Mr. Obama seems to have sincerely believed that he would face a different reception. And he made a real try at bipartisanship, nearly losing his chance at health reform by frittering away months in a vain attempt to get a few Republicans on board. At this point, however, it’s clear that any Democratic president will face total opposition from a Republican Party that is completely dominated by right-wing extremists.

    For today’s G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan — not Reagan the pragmatic politician, who could and did strike deals with Democrats, but Reagan the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare would destroy American freedom. It’s a party that sees modest efforts to improve Americans’ economic and health security not merely as unwise, but as monstrous. It’s a party in which paranoid fantasies about the other side — Obama is a socialist, Democrats have totalitarian ambitions — are mainstream. And, as a result, it’s a party that fundamentally doesn’t accept anyone else’s right to govern.

    In the short run, Republican extremism may be good for Democrats, to the extent that it prompts a voter backlash. But in the long run, it’s a very bad thing for America. We need to have two reasonable, rational parties in this country. And right now we don’t.

    This is the very same thing that has been going on in Michigan ever since Mike Bishop has led the obstruction parade in our Senate - but you would never know it, because it does not get reported as such. We won't see a voter backlash like we might at the national level, simply because people don't know what's going on.

    Unfortunately, our Democrats have not made it a practice to point it out, choosing to remain silent or even embrace the extreme themselves, and therefore they will share the blame for the Legislature's incompetance. If they think that will save them in the fall, if they think that they can simply pass this off on the governor - they are dead wrong.

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Gretchen Whitmer Speaks Out on the Violent Backlash to Health Care Reform

    Senator Whitmer speaks for me.



    Text:

    “I had the privilege of speaking to youth in government this morning, and one of my messages was the importance of civility. Though they are bound to disagree this weekend — and robust debate is healthy for our democracy — I reminded them that you can disagree without being disagreeable. I urged them to learn from the awful stories in the press about how some fanatics have reacted to the Health Care Reform Bill in Washington, D.C. I did not mention — much less criticize the Tea Party — because political discourse is a valuable part of our democracy.

    There are many thoughtful Americans who oppose the Health Care Reform bill and I respect their right to do that. Unconscionably, though, some fanatics associated with that movement have engaged in speech and action that harkens back to the violent and turbulent 1960s. Racial epithets were waged against Congressman John Lewis who marched in Selma, Alabama and was beaten within an inch of his life fighting for civil rights. A civil rights hero. These fanatics spit on Congressman James Clyburn. My children know you don’t spit on anybody. They hurled homophobic hate words against Congressman Barney Frank because he is gay.

    Bigotry? Intolerance? Hatred?

    These hateful words are used to intimidate, degrade and hurt people, and have no place in political discourse and debate. And we have worked hard to remove these prejudiced and degrading terms from our vocabulary, altogether. And now reports of death threats . . . cutting gas lines, delivering a coffin to the front lawn of a lawmaker. And even threats to KILL THE CHILDREN of Democratic legislators who supported the bill. This has gotten way out of hand, as this rhetoric and rancor is turning into violent action.

    And in my view, perhaps the worst offense is that people in leadership positions are silent and astonishingly in some cases actually encouraging this horrifying behavior. None of us should take lightly this dangerous trend. We as leaders, as legislators should condemn behavior like this — Republican and Democrat alike. If we don’t quell this now, it will surely foment and as a society we will all pay as election tensions rise.

    As John Nichols wrote in The Nation:

    “Tea Party activists need to disassociate (themselves) from the behaviors that were on display (since) Saturday. Those behaviors discredit sincere activism and insult not just John Lewis but the memory of Ronald Reagan, who wisely declared 20 years after the March on Washington: ‘(The) long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war, is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.’”

    Please join me in condemning this activity. I have a resolution condemning that behavior that I hope you will add your name to. I authored this resolution not to endorse the health care bill — because I know we don’t all agree. I wrote this not to criticize the Tea Party — again because that would be divisive.

    I deliberately drafted this resolution merely so that statespeople of good will can stand together and condemn this dangerous trend that threatens real political discourse in our country.

    I hope you will join me by adding your name to the resolution on my desk.”

    And I hope that everyone will remember that there are people in our society who face this sort of threat every day from those who are intolerant of others.

    The gay kid who is bullied and beaten. The woman walking into a Planned Parenthood. The doctor who serves those women, wearing a bullet proof vest. People of color, who have had to endure just about everything in the book. The atheist who faces condemnation. Heck, even political activists who are stalked and harassed, online and in person. We feel this wrath. And usually we are alone in our struggle; no police protection, no media to lead off with our story on the six o'clock news.

    Remember us too, politicians, and speak out against this behavior. Senator Whitmer's resolution is not online yet; it will be interesting to see who stands with her.

    Senate Republicans Vote Against Funding the Pure Michigan Campaign

    No-No Nancy strikes again, and it looks like the Senate Republicans are going to pull the plug on Michigan's tourism advertising for the summer.

    An attempt by Democrats to force a Senate vote on a funding plan for the Pure Michigan tourism ad campaign failed this morning.

    The Senate vote 20-15 against discharging from committee a House-passed bill to pay for the TV and radio ads with a $2.50 surcharge on rental cars at airports that would raise an estimated $20 million.

    "This bill would create a new tax in this state," said Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi.

    This must get done today. The Legislature is leaving on vacation for two weeks after this session, and time has run out for a national summer ad buy. While negotiations are still going on, chances are the Republicans are going to severely damage our ability to attract new visitors to the state this year.

    Tourism is the third biggest industry in Michigan, employing over 193,000 people, and for every dollar invested in promotion, $2.86 is returned to the state. According to a report from USA Today, 43 states add taxes or fees to car rentals, with many of them directing that revenue towards their tourism efforts. Even the "5 Most Tax-Friendly US Cities for Travelers" have car rental fees attached (HI, OR, and FL to be exact).

    But those facts don't matter to the Senate Republicans. They would rather put Michigan jobs and tourism businesses in jeopardy, cut much-needed tourist revenue to the state, and take an award-winning advertising campaign off the air, rather than compromise on their stance to never invest in anything, ever.

    Your Michigan GOP - voting to destroy the good things in Michigan, every chance they get.

    UPDATE: The Center for Michigan has a very good story complete with an action alert with the names/numbers of the legislators to contact. Check it out. (h/t Rick Haglund)

    UPDATE 2: The Senate won't budge, and we won't have a national campaign this year.

    The Legislature has approved $9.5 million for the Pure Michigan tourism ad campaign, less than tourism advocates wanted and not enough to advertise Michigan as a choice vacation spot beyond the Midwest states and Ontario.


    Sorry to all the businesses that rely on tourism dollars - this Senate has made it clear they will not invest in Michigan.

    Granholm Directs Cox to Intervene in Health Care Lawsuit

    It's a thing of beauty. Cox has now been directed to intervene in his own obstruction. You can read the whole letter here, complete with the pertinent articles of the Michigan Constitution, as well as a Freep quote from Mike Cox himself. Nice touch. Special thanks to MM for typing out this next part so I didn't have to:

    “I certainly do not question your authority or even your obligation when specifically authorized under MCL 14.28 to intervene in litigation in your capacity as Attorney General and to vigorously advocate those positions you believe are most consistent with the constitution and laws of this state. Your statutory authority does not, however, override the superior constitutional authority vested in the Governor to determine the position to be taken by the executive branch of the state government and certainly does not authorize you, as Attorney General, to unilaterally, and without consultation, to determine and declare the policy position of the state of Michigan.

    Accordingly, pursuant to the constitutional authority vested in me as Governor, and the statutory duty imposed upon you by MCL 14.28, I am directing you to intervene in the Florida litigation on behalf of the Governor, the state of Michigan, and the Michigan Department of Community Health to uphold the recently enacted federal health care legislation and to protect and preserve the important protections afforded our state and its citizens by the new law.”

    Expect the standard Republican temper tantrum from Cox later today. It should be very obvious by now that the Teabag Party has no intention of behaving like rational adults in this or any other matter - let's see if Cox wants to dig the hole even deeper.

    UPDATE: Cox tells WOOD TV8 that he will provide representation for the Governor's position - after he reiterated his anti-gay and anti-affirmative action stances as examples of where he has disagreed with the Governor before. Have to keep polishing those wingnut credentials for the race, ya know, but it's very interesting that he chose to back down here.

    Notes from the Underground 3/25/2010

    Gongwer:

    M.E.G.A. BILL ROLLS, BUT NO M.E.D.C. HEADS
    The House moved several of bills designed to prevent the fraud that was allegedly perpetrated on the Michigan Economic Growth Authority Program earlier in the month, but it appeared Wednesday there would not be any disciplinary action within the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as a result of the con.

    GRANHOLM ORDERS COX TO INTERVENE IN FAVOR OF HEALTH CARE BILL
    Asserting her constitutional authority, and citing statutory authority that has the governor as the attorney general's client, Governor Jennifer Granholm has ordered Attorney General Mike Cox to intervene in the lawsuit he filed against the new federal health care law to defend that law. She did so in letter that blasts Mr. Cox for presuming to speak for the state in filing the action to try and overturn the law.

    MAIN: FUNDING NEEDED NOW FOR 'PURE MICHIGAN' ADS
    Michigan Economic Development Corporation CEO Greg Main does not care where the money comes from, but if it doesn't come by Friday, there will be no summer tourism advertising program.

    SENATE MOVES MORE FROM TANK CLEANUP FUNDS
    The Senate approved Wednesday the budget for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment after removing more dollars from the leaking underground storage tank cleanup fund.

    R.T.L. DROPS ENDORSEMENT OF STUPAK
    Right to Life of Michigan's political action committee said Wednesday it was dropping its endorsement of U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) for his Sunday vote in favor of the national health care bill.

    HOUSE PANEL APPROVES HELMET LAW REPEAL
    In a continuance of a battle more than three decades old, a House committee on Wednesday reported a bill to repeal the motorcycle helmet law, despite objections from the majority of people who testified.

    Who can we pander to next? Anyone but the school kids, the poor, the elderly...

    MIRS:

    QUOTE OF THE DAY
    "It doesn't matter, there isn't any money anyway."

    - Rep. Fred MILLER (D-Mt. Clemens) when asked to comment on the fact that the House has yet to pass a departmental budget.

    Tea Party Groups Launch Health Care Petition Drive
    "Tea Party-type groups are launching a petition drive to put on the November ballot a Constitutional amendment designed to allow Michigan to opt out of the federal health care reform measure President Barack OBAMA signed into law Tuesday."

    Senate GOP: We Have Votes On Retirement Bills
    "Senate Republicans expressed confidence today that they can pass Thursday an early retirement package for state and public school employees. And that's even if some of its caucus members peel off."

    The Senate pulled out the incentives to those who are considering retirement, but at this point, you might want to take any deal and run. Republicans are hell-bent on destroying the schools and the government, and it doesn't look like the House will stop them.

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    L. Brooks Patterson Tells Bishop to Back Off on the MEGA Outrage

    Teabagger Extraordinaire Republican Tom McMillin, in reaction to the news that convicted embezzler Greg Short of RASCO had received a $9.1 million dollar MEGA tax credit:

    “We want to find out what we can do to get back the taxpayers’ $9.1 million,” the Rochester Hills Republican told The Associated Press.

    This was the first indication that Republicans were going to immediately turn this situation into their next piece of "Pandering Outrage Performance Art". Representative McMillin should know that no cash upfront is involved in granting MEGA credits; companies receive a tax credit based on the number of jobs they create - and that comes after verification that they have created the jobs. No jobs, no tax credit. The taxpayers never lost any money on this deal, so either McMillin doesn't know how this program works and therefore should not speak to it, or he was embellishing the severity to rile up "the base".

    Same goes for Mike Bishop. Lagging in his race for Attorney General and just looking for an excuse to get some juicy publicity, he jumped on the story as well, calling for immediate investigations to "every credit package awarded by the state", and off we go down the distraction trail once again.

    MEDC and Governor Granholm immediately moved to review procedures, and were very forthcoming in admitting that mistakes were made here. Embezzler Greg Short had omitted the fact that he was on parole, and had provided convincing financial evidence to the MEGA board that he was in fact credible. While details on the finances can't be released due to an upcoming State Police investigation, MEDC CEO Greg Main told a House Committee that "we were provided information that suggests he did have the cash", as well as offers from the competing states of Virginia and New York.

    Granholm has signed an executive order that changes MEDC procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again. Main has offered to resign, gentleman that he is, but this was a case of a con artist that fooled the entire system, not the fault of one particular employee. It also should be pointed out that most of the companies that apply for credits are already established; Of the 600 credits awarded since the year 1994, only 20 are start up businesses, and those have come in the past couple of years. Going to do background checks on GM? Or an international company like Fiat? Of course not.

    Mistakes were made, that is true. And they are being corrected. Now the worry becomes that the roadblocks the Legislature wants to put in place, and perhaps the continued trumpeting of this issue by people that are caught up in election season fever, are going to scare away potential new deals (and jobs) as Republicans may try to milk this for all it's worth.

    Enter L. Brooks Patterson, who is going to grab Senator Bishop by the scruff of his neck and tell him to "knock it off". From Gongwer:

    Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) has said a Senate committee will review every credit awarded, but Mr. Patterson said he was meeting with Mr. Bishop to encourage them not to be too extreme in the review.

    Don't mess with Brooks. Brooks is a big fan of MEDC. Oakland County has been on the receiving end of many economic deals, and they don't want new ones held up in any way, shape or form. Patterson admits that this could have happened to him as well.

    But any government that engages in trying to attract companies runs the risk of such a scandal occurring, Mr. Patterson said, including Oakland County. “I’m sure my turn’s coming one of these days,” he said.

    “This guy was a con man, that was his modus operandi, and that’s what got him into trouble in the first place, and he’s good at what he does,” Mr. Patterson said, “because he conned the M.E.D.C. and the governor.”

    And he even admits that our economy is on the upswing.

    “These folks are being courted,” he said. The scandal of the potential fraud could not have erupted at a worst time for the state, he said. Because Michigan’s economy is so weak it desperately needs all the new developments it can capture, and because the economy is starting to show some life some companies are indicating interest in the state."

    Man, I hate it when Brooks Patterson is the voice of reason. He's a lot more fun when he's all riled up and being bombastic - but he is correct in this instance. You pry too much into company finances, or delay the process, and we will lose business.

    So, knock off the show, Republicans. You too, tag-along Dillon. Yes, we need to conduct background checks, especially on the start-ups, and that will be done - but we don't need any continued attempts to score political points here. Time to take our lumps and quietly move on.

    Notes from the Underground 3/24/10

    Gongwer:

    GRANHOLM REVAMPS M.E.G.A. AFTER FRAUD CASE
    In the wake of a controversy involving a tax credit granted a convicted embezzler, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation will see changes in how it processes Michigan Economic Growth Authority grant applications, and the MEGA board will see changes in its structure to better oversee the approval process, under orders issued Tuesday by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

    PATTERSON: TOO MUCH M.E.G.A. REVIEW COULD HURT PROSPECTS
    As legislators prepare to review procedures the state uses to grant Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax credits, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said the process could delay decisions by months and threaten the ability of the state and his county to land new deals.

    STATE EMPLOYEES PROTEST PAY, PENSION PLANS
    Several hundred state employees took an extended lunch Tuesday to protest plans to eliminate a coming pay raise and to encourage those eligible to retire.

    CIVIL RIGHTS CALLS FOR MIGRANT HOUSING IMPROVEMENTS
    Calling migrant housing conditions in the state "unconscionable", the Civil Rights Commission has called on the state to improve living conditions for migrant workers and to sanction those who do not improve their facilities.

    PANEL OK'S END TO RETIREE BENEFITS FOR STATE OFFICIALS
    With some debate but considerably less emotion than in the Senate, the House Government Operations Committee reported legislation on Tuesday that would end retiree health care benefits for many elected officials.

    SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE OKS RETIREMENT BILLS
    Legislation enacting a key proposal of Governor Jennifer Granholm, to encourage state workers and teachers with at least 30 years service to retire, cleared a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.


    MIRS:

    Senate Retirement Plan: All Stick, No Carrot
    "State and public employees would be offered an early retirement incentive that's all stick and no carrot in the eyes of the retirement eligible, but would save state and local governments a combined $291 million next year and a combined $3.9 billion in savings by Fiscal Year 2020, under a pair of bills that moved out of a Senate panel this evening."

    Background Check Put On MEGA Applicants
    "The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) will require tax credit applicants to undergo a background check and a new chief compliance officer will make sure the research is conducted, under an executive directive Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM signed today in response to the RASCO debacle."

    Michigan Republicans Target Education For Budget Cuts

    Also, the sun rose in the east today.

    Senate Republicans followed through on that 3.1% cut to universities and community colleges...

    Republicans appear largely unified in cutting university and community college funding, although many Democrats are opposed. Community colleges are increasing enrollment as Michigan moves to retrain workers during the economic downturn.

    "Our community colleges are growing and they are more vital to our economy than ever before," said Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit. "We should not be cutting them now."

    Students are concerned that a cut in state aid will lead to higher tuition increases headed into next fall.

    See more about the intended Senate Republican cuts here. They aren't finished yet with all of them yet - check the details on the four budgets they passed yesterday at Mi-Tech - but indications are they plan the cram the rest down our throats this week. (Like that turn of a phrase? Can't exactly remember where it comes from...)

    And House Republicans are targeting early education and programs for at-risk students. If we target the really vulnerable in this crowd, i.e., the youngest and the neediest, we can run around and brag about how we increased the K-12 funding! See how that works?

    The House GOP leaders said K-12 school funding could be increased $18.50 per pupil next year if about $430 million in targeted support for special programs like early childhood education and supplements for at-risk students were eliminated.

    They also are going to cut business taxes, introduce privatization schemes (translation: state contracts for their wealthy campaign donors), and rob from county revenue sharing, the poor, state workers, and over a half a billion in "department cuts", whatever that means. But what else is new.

    The House Republicans also proposed $146.4 million in savings from reforms to welfare, prisons and other state services, a proposal to privatize veterans hospitals for a savings of $18 million, $665 million in department cuts, a 10 percent reduction in county revenue sharing, rescinding the 3 percent scheduled pay hike to state employees and other measures. Savings from the plan would total $1.5 billion.

    Add it all up - more cuts to vulnerable people, more backdoor tax increases for you, reduced quality of life throughout the entire state, and no reform to our tax structure. Unless you count more tax cuts as reform.

    Can we stop pretending that Republicans have any valid ideas on what constitutes good governance now? Can we also stop pretending that they intend to work in a bipartisan fashion? Because it's the same thing year after year: More "my way or the highway" statements and behavior as they insist on running the "drown government" playbook, when they say "reform" they really mean "cut", and Michigan citizens end up paying the price for their malfeasance and short-sightedness sooner or later.

    Only one question remains now. The Governor put her plans on the table. The Republicans put their plans on the table. Notice who is missing?

    Where are the House Democrats?

    Sure would be nice if we could borrow Pelosi for awhile.

    UPDATE 4:30PM: Senate Republicans have voted to cut K-12 $118 per pupil, and have slashed health care to the poor.

    Schools would get a $118 per pupil cut under the state School Aid budget approved by the Senate Wednesday afternoon, along with reduced budgets for the departments of Community Health and Natural Resources and Environment.

    ...

    The Department of Community Health would see $107.5 million in general fund cuts under the budget bill the Senate passed.

    The budget would eliminate Medicaid for 18- and 19-year-olds, for a savings of more than $10 million, slash funding for non-Medicaid mental health services and cut Medicaid physician payments by 4 percent. Funding for dental services for adult Medicaid recipients would be restored.


    Granholm has vowed a veto on the K-12 cut. Do they have enough votes to override? Better start rounding them up...

    Obama Signs Health Care Reform Into Law, USA Today Poll Shows Americans in Favor

    ICYMI, here is today's signing ceremony for health care reform:



    Besides the word "historic", you can now add "popular" to the list of descriptors for this legislation. Once people learn of all the benefits that this will bring, lo and behold, they start to come around to the idea...

    Americans by 9 percentage points have a favorable view of the health care overhaul that President Obama signed into law Tuesday, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, a notable turnaround from surveys before the vote that showed a plurality against it.

    By 49%-40% those surveyed say it was "a good thing" rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill. Half describe their reaction in positive terms, as "enthusiastic" or "pleased," while about four in 10 describe it in negative ways, as "disappointed" or "angry."

    You can also add "unpopular" when it comes to Congressional Republicans. For all their caterwauling about how they and they only represent the "majority of the people", know that they most certainly do not - and the ratings on their behavior fare the worst out of everyone involved.

    The findings are encouraging for the White House and congressional Democrats, who get higher ratings than congressional Republicans for their work on the issue. The poll shows receptive terrain as the White House and advocacy groups launch efforts to sell the plan, including a trip by Obama to Iowa on Thursday.

    No one gets overwhelmingly positive ratings on the issue, but Obama fares the best: 46% say his work has been excellent or good; 31% call it poor. Congressional Democrats get an even split: 32% call their efforts good or excellent; 33% poor.

    The standing of congressional Republicans is more negative. While 26% rate their work on health care as good or excellent, a larger group, 34%, say it has been poor.

    Want more? Media Matters has the results of a few other polls:

    Echoing many on the right, Newt Gingrich today sent an email claiming, "In every recent poll the vast majority of Americans opposed this monstrosity."

    But that just isn't true. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found last week that Americans supported the legislation by a 46%-42% margin. The Economist published a poll showing that 53% supported the bill and 47% opposing it.

    They also cite a CNN poll that shows when you add in the 13% who feel that this legislation didn't go far enough, you have another majority that either supports this reform or wants to expand it even further.

    Perhaps as a result of this feedback, notice how the Republican talking points have suddenly turned into "repeal and replace" rather than simply "repeal". It took all of 24 hours for that to happen, as the R's realized that they are now on the wrong side of history, and no one wants to take away the instant benefits to small business, kids and the elderly. What a surprise.

    Still a long way to go towards selling the benefits of this plan as the questions come up and the details come out, still a lot of screaming and distortions and frivolous lawsuits from the right-wing to be heard - but now Republicans are working to repeal popular legislation, and they don't speak for the majority of Americans. Keep that in mind the next time they claim that they do.

    The Republican campaign of fear needs to end. As Krugman said, this was a "victory for America’s soul." We have joined the rest of the world in making health care a right - and it's time to move forward, and make it even better as we go on.

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    "I Promised Teddy"

    P042109PS-0476


    Despite his illness, Senator Kennedy made a forceful appearance at the Democratic convention in Denver, exhorting his party to victory and declaring that the fight for universal health insurance had been "the cause of my life."

    He pursued that cause vigorously, and even as his health declined, he spent days reaching out to colleagues to win support for a sweeping overhaul; when members of Obama’s administration questioned the president’s decision to spend so much political capital on the seemingly intractable health care issue, Obama reportedly replied, "I promised Teddy."

    I saw this on Kos and just lost it. It's been a long day.

    The House just passed the 216 mark for votes on the Senate bill - and we just entered into a new chapter in American history.

    Celebrate tonight, and remember that tomorrow, the battle for progress will still carry on.

    Waterloo



    This song goes out tonight to Senator Jim DeMint. Tell me sir, who's your daddy?

    Heh.

    It is Time to Pass Health Care Reform



    "We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have... shine."


    Watch this speech. One of his best.

    At last report, the vote will be held around 9 tonight - maybe later, knowing how these things go. If you are following the big boys, you know that there are rumors of an executive statement to appease Stupak, there are threats of teabagger violence, there are all sorts of head-spinning, outrageous things going on and claims being made... but just know this: We are on the verge of making history.

    If you want to keep up with the latest rumors and breaking news, head on over to the Huffington Post or Daily Kos, and they will be happy to oblige.

    Better yet, tune in to CBS at 2:30PM and root, root, root for MSU! Let's go Spartans!

    Either way, it's going to be an exhausting, exhilarating day. Pace yourself.

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: March 21, 2010

    googlepan2600
    For a change of pace, here are some happy people with signs. The Grand Rapids Google Fiber Flash Mob, a "small but enthusiastic" crowd of around 500, turned out for a rally to encourage Google to bring their high-speed fiber optic network to town. Grand Rapids rates first in Michigan, third in the nation for "digital conversations" about Google fiber. See a few more pics from the rally here.


    Some news you may have missed while you were watching basketball. Or the health care follies. Or both.:

  • Peter Luke finds that the Republican candidate rhetoric often doesn't match up to Republican lawmaker reality. As we all know, Republicans love to eat the lunch, they just don't want to pay the bill. They are truly the party of dine-and-dash...

    Tea Partiers seeking answers from the candidates this primary season might want to ask whether any of them, upon taking office, would send that $1 billion right back to Washington to preserve Michigan’s sovereignty and pay down the national debt.

    Giving back federal money might not fly with Republican lawmakers who last week complained in a resolution that when it comes to federal highway money, Michigan wasn’t getting enough as it is. Senate Republicans not only want more highway aid, they want the same nice deal in the federal stimulus that exempts the state from having to match it. That way they don’t have to ask motorists, who in August or November might be driving to the polls, for a gas tax increase.

  • "They won't vote on reforms. They won't vote on revenues. They won't vote on cuts - but they'll do everything else", says Lynn Owen, the Governor's budget legislative liaison, quote courtesy of MIRS. Owen is speaking about... you guessed it... the Legislature! The House did manage to pass the Pure Michigan funding, but Andy Dillon now informs the media that they won't get the state employee/teacher early retirement bills done until after... you guessed it... spring break! Surprise, surprise, surprise, they are leaving other people hanging while they take a vacation. Again.

  • Speaker Dillon has plenty of time to campaign though. Whether it's pandering to the latest Republican mob outrage du jour, or standing up on a stage with Pete Hoekstra and saying, "Me too! I'm a Republican too!" as he disses the governor, Andy has all the time in the world to do anything but his current job. That must be why the latest poll shows that a Joe Schwarz run pulls more independents and Democrats to his side than it does peel voters off the R column. By the way, Hoekstra smokes Dillon 35-22. Now there's a barbecue.

  • Add Davison to the list of schools making cuts; the district is dropping driver's education and is talking of pink-slips for teachers. As this great diary at DKos explains, the very sad thing here is that this is happening all over the country, as state budgets are still dealing with the fallout of the recession.

  • Some better news - auto sales are very strong to start the month of March, reaching an annual rate of 12.1 million cars according to J.D. Power. The numbers have not been seen since the Cash for Clunkers surge. Edmunds.com puts the figure even higher, at 13.2 million SAAR. More cars: J.D. Power's long-term auto durability report tells us that "seven of the 10 models with the lowest number of problems were built by either General Motors Co. or Ford Motor Co." Customers still perceive the brands as having quality issues though. Only time is going to change that.

  • Some Michigan residents receiving food assistance will see a bump in their monthly total, thanks to the state leveraging low income energy assistance into extra food aid. DHS estimates that every $5 spent means $9.20 to local economies, and that this will translate into $360 million in total economic activity in the state. Wonder what the formula for road funding is...

  • ... because Isabella County is the latest local community that might have to ask voters for a millage to repair their roads. Maybe they can ask Speaker Dillon about that the next time he's in town for a Republican gubernatorial debate.

  • Community colleges and universities over on the west side are gearing up to train people for all the battery jobs that are headed our way - but as Rick Haglund points out, these are not your high-wage manufacturing jobs of old. Still, they do pay better than your average no benefits, no stability service jobs - so let's get to it.

  • Michigan's 3rd Congressional district just may have found themselves a good Dem candidate. I don't know much about Pat Miles yet, but he looks promising. After years of the party throwing sacrificial lambs to the Vern Ehlers machine, it will be nice to have a shot at this seat for a change. You guys are going to fund this race, right?

  • "I think people should be able to watch ‘Jeopardy!' in peace." - Mark Schauer. See why he said that here. And gee, we've only just begun.
  • Friday, March 19, 2010

    Schauer Announces Health Care Vote on MSNBC



    I'm listening to MSNBC this morning, talking about the undecided Dems that are "facing election" this fall - implying that they are more concerned about re-election than they are doing the right thing here. Figures. Since Mark Schauer represents one of those "R-leaning" districts, and has been deluged with negative TV ads for weeks, it makes his stand all that more courageous. Watch as he explains how he came to his decision to vote for the bill.

    After months of screaming from the right, and screaming from the left, I find myself turning to Paul Krugman for a bit of sanity. He has been a fair critic on the Obama administration on many issues - and he is for this bill. I defer to his knowledge of economics...

    Can we afford this? Yes, says the Congressional Budget Office, which on Thursday concluded that the proposed legislation would reduce the deficit by $138 billion in its first decade and half of 1 percent of G.D.P., amounting to around $1.2 trillion, in its second decade.

    But shouldn’t we be focused on controlling costs rather than extending coverage? Actually, the proposed reform does more to control health care costs than any previous legislation, paying for expanded coverage by reducing the rate at which Medicare costs will grow, substantially improving Medicare’s long-run financing along the way. And this combination of broader coverage and cost control is no accident: It has long been clear to health-policy experts that these concerns go hand in hand. The United States is the only advanced nation without universal health care, and it also has by far the world’s highest health care costs.

    Can you imagine a better reform? Sure. If Harry Truman had managed to add health care to Social Security back in 1947, we’d have a better, cheaper system than the one whose fate now hangs in the balance. But an ideal plan isn’t on the table. And what is on the table, ready to go, is legislation that is fiscally responsible, takes major steps toward dealing with rising health care costs, and would make us a better, fairer, more decent nation.

    All it will take to make this happen is for a handful of on-the-fence House members to do the right thing. Here’s hoping.

    Theory is always different from practice, of course, and we will see how this plays out in the years to come. Assuming it passes. We do know one thing though - if this goes down in flames, it will embolden the crazies on the right, the Democrats will all run for cover, and nothing will ever get done. Not on health care, not on anything. This is coming down to a test of Democratic strength, which was always suspect in the first place.

    If they don't win this one... well, imagine what this country will be like if we go back to the Republican economic policies that got us here in the first place.

    It's do or die time. Quite literally.

    Notes from the Underground 3/19/10

    The news you can't afford.

    MIRS:

    QUOTE OF THE DAY
    "They won't vote on reforms. They won't vote on revenues. They won't vote on cuts -- but they'll do everything else."

    - Lynn OWEN, the Governor's budget legislative liaison, expressing his frustration over the House and Senate failing to move on a meaningful budget resolution.

    Gov's Early Retirement Plan Goes Into Overtime
    "Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM's plan to save the state, local governments and school districts $450 million through a carrot-and-stick early retirement plan will not pass the Legislature in time to meet the original April 15-May 15 window the Governor wanted to give veteran employees to consider an early departure."

    Revenue Sharing Cut Restored In House Budget
    "The House Democratic caucus blinked for the first time today on the prospects of an all-cuts Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 budget when it restored a previously passed 3.1 percent cut to state revenue sharing to cities, villages and counties by linking the funding to 10 various "loophole closing" bills."


    Gongwer:

    RASCO FIASCO: SCOPE OF TAX BREAK SCAM GROWS
    When Richard Short applied for a tax break to convince Michigan officials to give him an incentive to locate Renewable and Sustainable Companies LLC, his new company that promised to build technology in Flint that would integrate communication with essential utilities in the developing world, he gave state officials reason to hustle.

    REVENUE SHARING SPARED AS HOUSE PANEL APPROVES 4 BUDGETS
    A plan to cut revenue sharing was thwarted Thursday and communities across the state would actually see a 1 percent increase in payments if the Legislature signs off on closing some tax loopholes under one of four budgets the House Appropriations Committee approved.

    COX SLAMS HOEKSTRA OVER MISSING PROCEDURAL VOTE
    Attorney General Mike Cox's gubernatorial campaign attacked U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra for being in the state campaigning for governor instead of in Washington, D.C., to cast a vote on the federal health care bill.

    HOUSE PANEL EXPLORES SCHOOL FUND BALANCE CAPS
    School districts could only keep 15 percent of their general revenues in the bank under legislation being considered by the House Education Committee, but the panel was urged to bring that number even lower in initial testimony Thursday.

    TRANSPARENCY HURT D.H.S., HOUSE PANEL TOLD
    The effort by Department of Human Services officials to be truthful about data regarding the foster care system, even if that meant revising figures, may have hurt the state's image with court monitors that just released a review of Michigan's progress, lawmakers were told Thursday.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    House Votes to Fund Pure Michigan Campaign

    This is coming down to the wire. If they don't get this done within the next two weeks, we will lose the summer ad buy - and businesses based on Michigan tourism will suffer for it. Lost revenue, perhaps even lost jobs. Today, the House Democrats did something good...

    The Michigan House has passed legislation that would add a $2.50 daily charge on vehicles rented near airports to help pay for a popular tourism advertising campaign.

    The main bill in the package to fund the Pure Michigan campaign passed the Democrat-led House by a 56-52 vote Thursday mostly along party lines. The package would let the state loan up to $20 million to the campaign and repay it with revenue from the rental fees.

    The bills now go to the Republican-led Senate, which hasn't supported the idea of using a new rental car fee to fund tourism promotion.

    No-No Nancy Cassis is the hold up once again, as she has so far indicated she won't consider the issue. Even though 43 states tax or add fees to car rentals, a lot of them putting that money towards tourism, our Senate Republicans would rather kill this award-winning, highly successful campaign that brings in millions and supports Michigan businesses and workers than slap a measly $2.50 on a rental car.

    Pure Michigan Republican Stupidity.

    Speaker Dillon might actually have a trick up his sleeve on this one though. According to Michigan Radio, they tie-barred this funding to the new background checks that will be conducted for company officials applying for MEGA credits. Since Mike Bishop is prancing around today and demanding investigations into every single business that ever got a MEGA credit ever (all the way back to Engler days?), will the Senate then turn around and kill this legislation?

    Probably. They are just that mean. But at least we will know where we can lay the blame.

    Michigan District-by-District Benefits of Health Care Reform

    OK. Let's do this.

    First, the CBO numbers are out (h/t DKos):

    1. CUTS THE DEFICIT Cuts the deficit by $130 billion in the first ten years (2010 – 2019). Cuts the deficit by $1.2 trillion in the second ten years.

    2. REINS IN WASTEFUL MEDICARE COSTS AND EXTENDS THE SOLVENCY OF MEDICARE; CLOSES THE PRESCRIPTION DRUG DONUT HOLE Reduces annual growth in Medicare expenditures by 1.4 percentage points per year—while improving benefits and lowering costs for seniors. Extends Medicare’s solvency by at least 9 years.

    3. EXPANDS AND IMPROVES HEALTH COVERAGE FOR MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES Expands health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans Helps guarantee that 95 percent of Americans will be covered.

    4. IS FULLY PAID FOR Is fully paid for – costs $940 billion over a decade. (Americans spend nearly $2.5 trillion each year on health care now and nearly two-thirds of the bill’s cost is paid for by reducing health care costs).

    Sounds great. And yesterday, the US House sent out a district-by-district breakdown for the entire state. Since right-wing groups, particularly Citizens United, have been dumping thousands of dollars into the advertising market in my area attacking Mark Schauer (they have been on all the time for the past few weeks, and they plan to run more after the vote), let's use CD-07 as an example.

    In Rep. Schauer’s district, the health care reform bill will:

    • Improve coverage for 442,000 residents with health insurance.
    • Give tax credits and other assistance to up to 167,000 families and 12,100 small businesses to help them afford coverage.
    • Improve Medicare for 109,000 beneficiaries, including closing the donut hole.
    • Extend coverage to 30,000 uninsured residents.
    • Guarantee that 8,600 residents with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage.
    • Protect 1,600 families from bankruptcy due to unaffordable health care costs.
    • Allow 51,000 young adults to obtain coverage on their parents’ insurance plans.
    • Provide millions of dollars in new funding for 12 community health centers.
    • Reduce the cost of uncompensated care for hospitals and other health care providers by $52 million annually.

    That's just one example, check the link above for your district.

    You've read the arguments for months. This legislation is not perfect, not by a long shot. But, it is a step down the road towards a sane health care policy for this nation, and chances are, it will get better with time. The system, as it stands, cannot continue as it is. It is heading for collapse. Getting this in place will be the start of addressing the problem.

    And since the wealthy wingnuts are so vehemently against it, you know there has to be something good about it.

    Get it done, Congress.