Friday, September 29, 2006

Washington's Fuzzy Math

The McClatchy Washington Bureau looked at the Bush administration's latest spin on the budget deficit and found the following:
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that the federal deficit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 will total around $260 billion, aided by a surge in revenues. That's $58 billion lower than last year's deficit and about $77 billion lower than projections at the beginning of the fiscal year.

Great news? Budget experts in Washington and on Wall Street say it's a welcome development, but misleading. Washington's funny math excludes the Social Security trust fund, which is running a $177 billion surplus this year. Washington spends it, but doesn't count it as spending. It's officially listed as "off-budget" borrowing. [...]

So the deficit is actually about $437 billion, the CBO calculates: the $260 billion official deficit plus the $177 billion borrowed from the trust fund. Since the money is "borrowed," it adds to the gross federal debt, which is expected to reach about $8.5 trillion by Jan. 1.
Talk about creative accounting! Enron would be proud.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Just DeVos

Sport fans - scroll down to read about DeVos and the Orlando Magic, but first let me start here: Following up on yesterday's post about DeVos' claim that legislators should work for the citizens and not special interest money, DemWave points to this embarrassing information:
His election conversion on special interest money is notable given this report from late August in the Detroit News indicating that the Republican Governors Association will be funneling $750,000 in out-of-state special interest money to Michigan to aid the DeVos campaign's on-going efforts to engage in a single-state deception and talk down the Michigan economy. [...]

Unfortunately for DeVos and the Republicans, the Republicans Governors Association has had problems this election cycle with tainted special interest money. Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that the RGA was returning $500,000 in ethically questionable contributions it had received from Michael Scanlon, the business partner of Washington lobbyist, former National Chairman of the College Republicans, Bush/Rove buddy, and convicted felon--Jack Abramoff.
DemWave also came across this story about DeVos and the Orlando Magic from Florida:
The Amway Guy is caught up in the middle of a brewing political controversy in Central Florida. The controvesy surrounds the Orlando Magic--the struggling NBA team that Dick DeVos has owned since Daddy Rich "The Nut Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree" DeVos transferred ownership to his children (including The Dick) last October.

Apparently the current arena used by Amway's Team is not good enough for Dick DeVos. Dick and his Orlando Magic want taxpayers to build a new arena for them. [...]

In typical DeVos fashion, the Magic will only reveal how much they will contribute to the new $385 million arena after local taxpayers commit to build it. Just like Dick DeVos refuses to disclose where he stands on issues and how he'll pay for new proposals until after Election Day. DeVos and his Orlando Magic are playing the stall game.
One Florida columnist blames poor management skills as the reason taxpayers are reluctant to chip in for a new stadium:
But mismanagement by the DeVos family broke up a championship team and created a never-ending string of failed overhauls -- one incredibly engineered by a minor-league hockey general manager with no NBA experience. That, not the building, is what alienated fans, emptied the arena and turned the Magic into money-losers.
That contradicts the image we're being sold here in Michigan that depicts DeVos as a great businessman and manager. Taking a championship team and turning them into a money-loser isn't my idea of success.

Finally, here's another letter-to-the-editor from the Traverse City Record-Eagle that points to another DeVos lie:
I called Republican Action for clarification on one of DeVos' confusing television ads. They told me what that ad really means, and here it is: When DeVos says Michigan products are in China and 70 other countries, he really means that those countries, with their own employees, are producing Amway products. Michigan products are not being exported to those countries. [emphasis added]

And when he says he "saved 4,000 Michigan jobs," he really means that he's making more money by outsourcing, so he doesn't have to fire 4,000 Michigan employees.

DeVos doesn't make jobs; he makes millions to spend on misleading ads.

Evelyn Petersen
Traverse City
Thanks for giving us the "true" picture, Evelyn.

Bob Seger To Tour

If my hubby is reading this, here's what I want for my birthday and Christmas (which conveniently for him are close together). Bob Seger is going on tour according to the Free Press!
After months of teasing at the idea -- and a decade of pestering from fans -- Seger will hit the road this winter, he announced Wednesday night on "Late Show With David Letterman." [...]

Seger told the Free Press earlier this month that any tour would likely open in Grand Rapids, and with shows at the Palace of Auburn Hills and Joe Louis Arena in December.
Oh, one more thing. Seger has a new album out too - Face the Promise. Our anniversary is this weekend and that would make a great gift! (There might even be a good makeout song on it!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

DeVos Calls the Kettle Black

I wonder if Dick DeVos ever heard of this expression: The pot calling the kettle black.

I say that because this morning the Detroit Free Press reported that "Devos wants Lansing legislators to follow his example and use their own dime, rather than lobbyist-paid junkets, to travel and enjoy tickets to sports and entertainment events."
"I think the perception out there is far worse than the reality," DeVos told the Free Press, after a speech to the Rochester Rotary Club. "But we have to make sure that we're working for the citizens of Michigan, not the special interests."
That's really laughable considering the DeVos family is a lobbying entity in and of themselves. Seriously. Take a look at these facts the MDP put out in a press release today:
LANSING- Today the Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer sharply refuted Dick DeVos’ claim that he would implement a package of “Special Interest” bills as Governor. Brewer pointed out how hypocritical DeVos’ position is given that he has not only been directly associated with numerous political action committees (PACs), but he has even created several of them. DeVos has given millions of dollars to Republican candidates and campaigns and lobbied them for legislation that benefited him and his company Amway.

DeVos’ wife Betsy wrote in a 1998 Roll Call opinion editorial, “I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.”

“An ethics bill from a man who has a long history of soft money influence peddling is like having the fox guard the chicken coop. This is DeVos’ campaign using more than just a little ‘political license,’ it is hypocrisy and deception at its worst,” Brewer said. “DeVos’ own wife admits that their family buys influence and they expect things in return. They have given millions of dollars from their PACs and own personal wealth to ensure that they continue to profit at the expense of the people.”

Dick DeVos personally created the PAC Restoring the American Dream in 1997. The Detroit Free Press reports that the PAC “has given $1 million to scores of Republican candidates around the country, mostly those running for the U.S. House and Senate.”

Dick DeVos was also one of the founding members of the Great Lakes Education Project and All Children Matter, a state and federal PAC to promote school vouchers. Dick DeVos also oversaw the creation of Altipac, a political action committee formed when he was the President of Alticor (Amway).

The Center for Responsive Politics reported that while Dick DeVos was President of Amway, the company gave nearly $7 million dollars to Republican candidates and organizations. Common Cause reported in 1994 that Amway made record-setting soft-money contribution of $2.5 million to the Republican Party. Dick DeVos and Amway used that soft-money influence to successfully lobby for Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China (PNTR) and other trade agreements.

Business Week reported in 1995 that Dick DeVos was a key member to then Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s “Corporate Kitchen Cabinet.” The Washington Post cites Gingrich as the central figure to inserting a tax loophole into the 1997 federal tax and budget bill which primarily benefited Amway and its Asian investments, to the tune of nearly $300 million according to Common Cause.

DeVos personally allowed Tom DeLay to hold a Republican Majority Issues Committee meeting on his yacht.

“I noticed that DeVos’ ethics package did not include limitations on using your family’s yacht to funnel millions into political campaigns,” Brewer said. “It also did not include anything about disclosing tax returns. Dick DeVos’ campaign has been trying to hide the real DeVos from the people of Michigan and this press stunt is just another attempt to hide him further.”

The Republican Legislature has refused to support Governor Granholm’s reform measures that will strengthen ethics laws, increase financial disclosure requirements, and reform campaign finance laws.

To view DeVos’ family contributions visit the Detroit Free Press’ breakdown of their donations.
The Free Press also mentioned Granholm's reform measures:
In April, Granholm trumpeted bills that would require full financial disclosure by all elected officials, a beefed-up State Board of Ethics, a ban on state employees who manage and award contracts from soliciting campaign contributions from vendors and a ban on public officials accepting contributions in a state building.

Granholm's proposals would have had an impact on DeVos had they been Michigan's law this year. She wanted to expand a requirement for financial disclosure for statewide elected officials to include candidates for state office, as well as all legislators and candidates for the Legislature.
That bill was defeated. Instead, a series of so-called campaign finance reform bills promoted by Republican Mike Ward were approved. House Bill 6128 allegedly regulates so-called "soft money,” but that's an audacious claim according to Mike McGonegal (candidate for the Michigan House):
Rich Robinson, Director of the non-partsian Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said in published reports in June that the bill favors Republicans because they rely on wealthy individuals for contributions. He also said an individual who violates the law faces up to three years in prison and fines of up to $5,000 or both, but if a large corporation or company violates the law all they face is a fine of up to $10,000. Huge corporations like Enron, other energy companies and pharmaceutical companies that funnel huge amounts of cash to Republicans would have no deterrent to continuing that practice. [emphasis added]
How convenient for DeVos. I bet he sleeps easier at night knowing his rhetoric is nothing but empty air as long as he has Mike Ward and other Republicans on his side.

Suing the Auto Industry Won't Fix the Problem

Will there ever be good news for the auto industry? Last week, California filed a lawsuit against the six largest automakers in the United States alleging emissions are causing global warming, injuring the state's environment and economy, and endangering public health. Most of the opinions I read applauded the lawsuit. Zack @ Pohlitics said:
The auto industry has been complacent with the looming climate crisis for decades, and it's about damn time that something like this happened to push them to do something about it.
I agree that the auto industry was short-sighted and should have been working toward curbing these emissions a long time ago, but they're only one part of the problem.

Ironically, California blogger, Blognonymous, agrees:
The decision to pollute more is entirely in the hands of John Q. Public. You can buy a SUV...or not. The Prius is there if you want it. You can own a car...or not. Public transit is there if you want to take it. Mileage and emissions stats are there for you to read...or not.

If AG Lockyer wants to sue someone, he should sue California's 40,000,000 drivers.
Absolutely. He should also sue the drivers in our other 49 states, along with every trucking firm, package delivery service, taxi fleet, etc. In fact, Honda expands on this even more: "The real issue regarding climate change is how the United States as a nation, not the individual states, is going to address the proliferation of greenhouse gases."

Unfortunately, Washington has demonstrated bipartisan failure in this area for years, but it is the Bush administration that currently speaks for the nation, and the results speak for themselves:
Bush turned back on the Kyoto global warming treaty, partly as a result of pressure from ExxonMobil.

Only a tiny fraction of American companies that pollute have signed up for President Bush's voluntary program to reduce emissions of gasses that many scientists believe cause global warming. [CBS, 1/1/04]
Most recently, EPA chief, Stephen Johnson, rejected the recommendations of his staff — and an unusual public plea from independent science advisers — choosing instead to tighten only one of two standards regulating the amount of lethal particles of soot in the air. The Clean Air Act requires the standards to be reviewed every 5 years. They remain at their original 1997 level.

Gee, maybe that has something to do with this bit of information at Tom Paine:
[...]But polluter industry lobbyists have been working hard to block significant improvements to current standards. The electric power industry has been the leader in this coordinated industry campaign, mobilizing at least eight governors to parrot power industry arguments.

On July 12, a cadre of industry lobbyists—including those from the oil, coal, electric power, chemical, steel, auto, diesel engine and other industries—made their case directly to [Bush EPA appointee] Johnson.

Their message: Don’t “move the goalposts,” or make current standards much tougher. Quicker than George Allen could say “macaca,” this precise phrase was used by no fewer than four Republican senators the very next day in a hearing organized to pressure Johnson, who was rumored to be considering tougher standards.
After reading about these lobbyists, it also makes me wonder if there's some truth behind stories like this one from Michigan's thumb where a community is struggling to get their wind turbines operating:
Pauly said he thinks the utility is putting up roadblocks because it doesn't want to see someone else generating electricity in the Thumb.

The windmills had been operating for about a month. DTE gets most of its power from burning coal.

"DTE, it's the only game in town and they're concerned about the money," Pauly said. "I hate to say that and I don't generally talk like that, but in this case, I think that's exactly what it is."
Suing the auto makers will not result in tougher standards. That will take honest, ethical leadership at the top. I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Update: Click this link to read about Jennifer Granholm and what she's doing to protect the environment.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Unpublished Letter About DeVos

From Lew @ Unbrainwashed comes this letter about gubernatorial Republican candidate, Dick DeVos, that the Grand Rapids Press refused to print (creative differences!):
Michigan's economy is in the toilet. People like Dick DeVos blame Gov. Granholm for our state's current economic woes and say we need leadership to get us out of this.

Let's look at DeVos's leadership. In the last decade, he shipped 1400 jobs out of Michigan, as well as millions of investment dollars into Communist China, while at the time, Michigan was under a Republican governor. If every other manufacturer followed DeVos's lead, there'd be nothing left of our great state.

If DeVos had faith in Michigan, not only would 1400 jobs still be here, but investing the money in Michigan and not China would have created more jobs. 1400 more people could have bought cars, bought homes, or could have afforded newspaper subscriptions. Because those jobs are now gone, 1400 orders for new cars were never made. Because new car orders fell, autoworkers had to be laid off. Many parts manufacturers throughout the state that supply for both the cars and the machines that help build them had to lay people off.

Many other businesses who did follow DeVos's lead also shipped jobs to China. Now, the country is beginning to see the results. Automakers shutting plants. Housing markets starting to slow. Trade deficits are up. The new service jobs created do not pay enough to drive the economy, nor do they create enough goods to close the trade gap.

DeVos likes to blame Jennifer Granholm for a lack of leadership, but part of being a leader includes taking responsibility for your actions. A leader is willing to make sacrifices, unfortunately, under DeVos, once again it will be the working people of Michigan who will be asked to make that sacrifice.
DeVos and Bush=GOP clones.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Can We Get a Refund?

Here's a bit of trivia from Andy Rooney I caught last night on 60 Minutes.
The president doesn't work alone. I have a list, and by my count, he has 433 assistants.

They make a total salary of $28,000,000.
That's $28 MILLION for people with titles like "Director of Lessons Learned" (with an annual salary of $106,000) or "Gift Analyst."

My favorite is "Ethics Advisor." Bush has two people who advise him on right from wrong. They've obviously done a lousy job. Do you think us taxpayers could get a refund?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The GOP Makes Me Dizzy

Heh, heh! This cartoon from Tom Tomorrow explains why I've had to take so much Antivert lately.

Thank goodness Clinton is doing something about it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bush's Tax Cuts = Tax Deferrals

From Bonddad @ Kos: "This graph highlights the last 40 years of US debt growth. Let the graph sink in for a minute because it explains a very simple truth: over the last 25 years, Democrats have a proven track record of handling the nation's finances with maturity. The Republicans have a track record of handling the nation's finances with pure recklessness."

Bonddad gives another example of the Bush administration's fiscal recklessness with this information from The Bureau of Public Debt:
In 2002, total debt outstanding increased from $5.807 trillion to $6.228 trillion, or $421 billion.

In 2003, total debt outstanding increased from $6.228 trillion to $6.783 trillion, or $555 billion.

In 2004, total debt outstanding increased from $6.783 trillion to $7.379 trillion, or $596 billion.

In 2005, yet total debt outstanding increased from $7.379 trillion to $7.932 trillion or $553 billion.

So far in 2006, total debt outstanding has increased from $7.932 to $8.527 trillion, or $595 billion.

Despite the administration's claims they will halve the budget deficit by 2008, the Treasury continues to issue over $550 billion dollars of net new debt every year. That means the deficit is not under control in any way.
At the beginning of 2002, the total outstanding debt was $5.807 trillion - today it stands at $8.527 trillion. Bush is neither fiscally responsible nor conservative. He can brag about cutting taxes all he wants, but a deficit is nothing but taxes deferred. Sooner or later, the bill will come due.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pix from Niagara Falls - and a Poll Question Too!

I finally got around to transferring my pictures of Niagara Falls from my digital camera to my computer. I took dozens, but I'll only bore you with three! The first one shows the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, which I think are simply magnificent. You can't appreciate the power and force of the falls until you stand next to them and hear the thunder of the water rushing over the edge. In fact, our hotel room on the 22nd floor faced the falls and we could hear the roar from up there when we opened the window. If I remember correctly, somewhere between 5-6 million cubic feet of water flows over the edge every minute.

The second picture was taken from Journey Behind the Falls where there is a series of tunnels and observation platforms that bring you behind the water. I'm not claustrophic, but I felt very uncomfortable down there. The walls and floor are slimy and wet and the thought of tons of rock above me made me uneasy. What can I say? The older I get, the more neurotic I become! (I also skipped the Maid of the Mist this time. I survived that 30 years ago and decided not to push my luck!) They provided us with yellow plastic rain ponchos to protect us from the water, and I got several pictures, but we look like drowned rats so I decided not to embarass myself by posting them.

The final picture shows the American Falls on the left and the very narrow fall adjacent to that on the right is called Bridal Veil Falls.

On a side note, I had several opportunities to engage Canadians in conversation while I was there so I decided to conduct my own unofficial poll. The question was: Who do Canadians believe is the best American president in recent history? The answer quite surprised me - Bill Clinton. They love the man over there. They believe he had the potential to do great things for our country and the world, but he was stymied by Republican self-serving zealots who put the party ahead of the country.

It seems like the GOP's image is taking a beating from everyone these days.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Will the Real DeVos Please Stand Up?

DeVos is drawing criticism from a diverse group of people across Michigan. From the GLBT community, comes this response to news that the DeVos family provides continuing support to the American Family Association's boycott of Ford Motor Company:
Dick DeVos Jr. is running for governor on a single message - jobs - and his wife's family is trying to put one of our state's leading manufacturers out of business.

DeVos can no longer hide behind the moderate mask that he has worn this entire election year. And GLBT voters need to not be fooled that DeVos is running for governor in order to improve the economy. DeVos would be a disaster for Michigan.

If a Republican like DeVos were to win the gubernatorial race, it would set back our state by decades. Every anti-GLBT piece of legislation imaginable would fly through the Republican controlled legislature and be signed before anyone knew what happened. State resources would dramatically shift toward faith-based charities that would continue to discriminate against minorities, including GLBT people. He would roll-back progress on civil rights, work to dismantle public education and move Michigan so far to the right, that we wouldn't recognize our state at all.
Our state's large Arab community is unhappy too. DeVos canceled an appearance with AAPAC (Arab American Public Affairs Council) members last week citing family issues (an appearance he requested), but it turns out he changed his mind because of pressure from the Detroit Jewish News. It's editor urged local politicians and candidates "not to attend AAPAC events or accept contributions from the group because of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and arguably anti-Semitic comments by its leaders.” The paper later claimed credit for the canceled meeting.

DeVos met with a handful of Arab community leaders after this snub to apologize for “mistakes” committed by his campaign, but the Arab American News isn't buying it - and they're not mincing words either:
The DeVos campaign has not disavowed the Jewish claim of victory. This defeat for Arab Americans facilitated by DeVos is a major problem for a candidate who is trying to sell himself as a bridge-builder and a catalyst for harmony and peace. Just like Bush’s poodle, DeVos appears to be the Jewish community’s poodle. And on this occasion I would like to thank Mr. Dick DeVos for creating such a mess out of a simple campaign stop, which he requested in the first place. He saved us the embarrassment and the awkwardness of being cordial to him and to his Republican Party. He may have also provided our community with a real incentive to go out and vote in this election.

We know where Dick DeVos stands on the most important issue to our community; namely the Arab-Israeli conflict. He stands with his boss, George Bush, squarely on the side of Israel. A vote for Republicans is a vote for war and a vote for Democrats is a vote against the war. President Bush has already framed the debate of this mid term election and you can either vote for “staying the course” of war or you can vote for searching for peace. Republican candidates in Michigan including DeVos and Senate candidate Michael Bouchard have fallen in line and have chosen to be the yes men of Bush. [...]

Good riddance to DeVos and to his warmongering party. This episode revealed to Michiganders the kind of incompetence that the Republican Party has become famous for. His campaign ads claim that he is an experienced chief executive. The way he has mismanaged this simple campaign meeting speaks volumes of his abysmal skills. [...]

By listening to the "Detroit Jewish News," DeVos proved to be even dumber than his boss, George Bush. He has already resorted to the politics of exclusion and applied sanctions against Arab Americans before taking office.
The paper points out that Michigan has 100,000 Arab American voters who will go to the polls in November and exercise their democratic rights. They also point out they most likely will vote for someone who didn't insult them.

Finally, from Michigan Daily comes college student Sam Butler's opinion of DeVos:
"I will build roads where jobs are and where jobs will be." That is the one of many deliberately ambiguous headers in Dick DeVos's "Economic Turnaround Plan" - and it scares the bejesus out of me. It is alarming for two reasons. First, it reveals Dick DeVos's commitment to building more roads. In his section entitled "Building a Transportation System that Encourages Job Growth," DeVos doesn't mention public transportation once. He rails against how much money we lose through gas prices and traffic congestion and yet proposes to solve these problems by building more efficient highways. [...]

This brings us to the second part of why DeVos's statement is so frightening. Where does DeVos think jobs will be in the future if not where they are now? Although not explicitly stated, the Grand Rapids native would probably answer his hometown. After all, it is where the Amway heir's office is located and where more roads and public transit would make his commute a whole lot easier.

In April, after some political brawling, Governor Granholm and the Republican leaders of the Legislature announced a major transportation package. The bill allows residents of Grand Rapids and Southeastern Michigan to vote to approve 25 year tax levies that would be spent on proposed mass transit projects in each of those areas. Such long-term millages are vital because local funds are required to gain access to the $114 million in federal funds that are earmarked for Michigan mass transit projects.

Originally, the $114 million was meant to fund a light rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit. However, these funds were hijacked by an entrenched Republican contingent in the State House that wanted those federal funds to go exclusively to a different Michigan city and its suburbs - yep, Grand Rapids. They passed a transportation bill that was thankfully vetoed by Governor Granholm last December precisely for its exclusion of Southeastern Michigan.

I had the privilege of listening a state representative speak to a group of students recently. Most of us had just spent the summer commuting from Ann Arbor to Detroit, and the status of the rail line quickly dominated the conversation. He was surprisingly candid about the legislative fisticuffs and explained how there is a growing Republican notion in the state Legislature that Michigan's second-largest city should become the new linchpin of Michigan's economy and cultural identity.

As the saying goes, that would be funny if it weren't so serious. Detroit is the center of Michigan's vitality, and strengthening the connection between Ann Arbor and Detroit would strengthen Michigan as a whole.

[...] the troubling part of the debate is that it points to a larger right-wing mentality that any funds put towards revitalizing Detroit are wasted. DeVos's reluctance to pay attention to Detroit is one of the most important gubernatorial election issues that nobody is talking about.
All three writers make valid points that speak volumes about DeVos' character. DeVos quietly funds faith-based charities that discriminate against minorities and he turns his back on Arab Americans and the City of Detroit. He may call himself a bridge-builder on camera, but don't let that fool you. DeVos plays the same game that Bush does. If you're not one of his "base" - one of the chosen ones - he'll turn his back and forget about you quicker than Bush forgot about Osama bin Laden. Remember that when you vote in November.

Taking Care of Business

I have a few loose ends that I need to take care of. First, you might have noticed my first paying advertisement on the right. I was invited to join blogads several months ago by Michigan Liberal and decided to sign up. I never actually expected to get an ad since I'm a small fish in a very large pond - and I expected any ads I might be offered to be political in nature - so I was surprised to see the one on the right. It's from the Association for Homeowners Across America and I'm guessing they decided to run an ad on my blog because I post a lot of stuff about the economy. Actually, the ad does qualify as political too. Duh!

I don't vouch for any company or person who chooses to run an ad on my blog, but I can point you to this article about the AHAA. They were created to be the successful homeowners' resource, and part of their mission includes helping people become homeowners through down payment assistance.

Also, I have not had time to read up on the issue of Congress eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. This was discussed quite a bit in the media last year and I remember having mixed emotions about it at the time. I will tell you that my husband and I benefit from the deduction because our interest payments + our property taxes + our charitable contributions puts us well over the standard deduction. We don't have any dependents so this helps us reduce our tax liability.

Anyway, if you feel strongly about keeping the mortgage interest deduction, click the ad and sign their petition urging Congress to keep it. (For those of you in California, I remember reading that the greatest number of taxpayers claiming this deduction come from your state. Please feel free to chime in!)

Finally, I have a little something for Lew @ Unbrainwashed about the mock documentary BELIEVE that takes aim at the deceptive practices of Amway. According to the Grand Rapids Press, the film premiers in Lansing tomorrow (Sept. 21) and opens in the Grand Rapids area and elsewhere in Michigan Oct. 13. In Grand Rapids, it will play at the Cinemark theaters at RiverTown Crossings and Woodland Shopping Center. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bush Leaves Michigan in the Cold

Bush's benign neglect of the auto industry is no secret here in Michigan, but I never thought he'd show a similar disregard for our poor and elderly. With winter approaching, Michigan's low income families are being left out in the cold according to the Daily Mining Gazette [emphasis added]:
Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the release of almost $8 million in energy assistance for 14 states. Strangely enough, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota were not included in those 14 states. Three very cold states who deal with very long winters were left out of some much needed assistance with no explanation.

The funding comes from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which is a federally funded program to help low income households with their heating bills. [...]

Between the amount of low income families in the area and the high heating costs we are sure to have this winter, there is no reason for Michigan, and other cold states, to be excluded from the $8 million given in assistance.

According to HHS, the aid is being given to those states “in which low-income households make greatest use of fuel oil to heat their homes.”

This is their reasoning for leaving us out — most Midwestern states use natural gas instead. There should be something done to look again at this decision and Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Wisconsin’s Gov. Jim Doyle are urging President Bush to reverse this unfair decision.
Aid is being given to those states who make the greatest use of fuel oil? That doesn't make sense. The program is designed to assist low income people with their energy needs. Period. It doesn't favor one source of energy over another. Here are the details:
The LIHEAP statute authorizes HHS to assist eligible households in meeting the costs of home energy, which is defined as a source of heating or cooling in residential dwellings. Households are eligible under Federal standards when incomes do not exceed the greater of 150 percent of the poverty level for their state or 60 percent of the state median income. However, states may set income limits as low as 110% of the poverty level. The law requires benefits to be targeted to households with the highest energy costs in relation to income and household size. [emphasis added]

During the last four years, for example, funds were released to provide heating assistance to offset extreme cold, price spikes in heating oil, propane and natural gas and to cover the additional cooling costs in the Midwest during a prolonged summer heat wave.
Natural gas futures recently plunged 10% to a two-year low after U.S. government data showed record supplies - and they are more than 50% lower than a year ago - but analysts are saying consumers should not breathe too easily just yet:
For starters, a lot still depends on the weather this autumn and winter. "When it's cold out, prices go up and consumers use more," said Wachovia Securities economist Jason Schenker.

And because utilities purchase fuel throughout the year, it is the average price they pay -- not the lowest price -- that gets passed along to customers, said Paul Wilkinson, a vice president at the American Gas Association. For this reason, Wilkinson said consumers should expect modest, not major, savings.
Natural gas may have fallen, but so has oil. The energy assistance should be available to ALL people who qualify under the program's guidelines. It shouldn't matter what type of energy they use to heat their homes or where they live.

Maybe Grahholm should invite our "compassionate" president to spend the winter here in Michigan. I recommend Mohawk in the Upper Peninsula where a record total snowfall of 390.4 inches was set in the winter of 1978-1979.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I'm sorry for the brief absence but the last two weeks or so have been difficult and time consuming. First, we had to euthanize our dog. She's been a part of our family for 16 years and I'm sure I don't have to tell you how difficult it was to make that decision. The only thing that made it bearable was our veterinarian's statement when he saw her. He said she looked worn out from all the pain. We probably should have let her go 6 months ago, but we just couldn't find the courage. I'm going to miss that little white Westie. She was like one of my children.

We barely had time to adjust to our dog's absence when family arrived from England to spend a week at our house. I work from home and I told myself it would be a cinch to get up a little earlier and do some work, post something on my blog, and entertain my guests the rest of the day. It only took one day for me to realize that was unrealistic. We live in the country and anything worth doing or seeing is at least an hour or more away. By the time my head hit the pillow at night, getting up earlier than usual was not a priority.

To complicate things even more, we had agreed in advance to drive our friends to Pittsburgh this past weekend via Niagara Falls. We have family in Pittsburgh and our guests are spending this week with them. Anyway, I found out it is almost a thousand mile car trip to go from the Flint area to Port Huron to Niagara Falls and then through New York to Pittsburgh and back to Flint again through Ohio. We left on Thursday and got home last night to an empty house, and the realization that our dog was gone hit me like a ton of bricks all over again.

So, that explains my absence. Thanks for leaving comments while I was gone. I'll be back to posting again soon.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Undeclared War on America's Middle Class

Alternet has a great excerpt from Thom Hartmann's latest book, Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class. It's a long read, so I'll just give you the highlights (with emphasis added). First, the statistics:
You can't be middle class if you earn the minimum wage in America today.

The American dream and the American reality have collided. In America we have always said that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can take care of yourself and your family. But the minimum wage is just $5.15 per hour. With a 40-hour workweek, that comes to a gross income of $9,888 per year. Nobody can support a family, own a home, buy health insurance, or retire decently on $9,888 per year!

What's more, 30 million Americans -- one in four U.S. workers -- make less than $9 per hour, or just $17,280 a year. That's not a living wage either. [...]

In the 1950s middle-class families could live comfortably if just one parent worked. Today more than 60 percent of mothers with children under six are in the work force. Not only do both parents work but often at least one of those parents works two or more jobs. [...]
Second, here is the argument the right often uses to justify our declining standard of living:
Cons argue that we have to choose between having high wages and having low prices. They are wrong.

Take the case of Wal-Mart. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), Wal-Mart could pay each employee a dollar more per hour if the company increased its prices by a half penny per dollar. For example, a $2 pair of socks would then cost $2.01. This minimal increase would add up to $1,800 annually for each employee.

I wouldn't mind paying more for a pair of socks if it meant that my fellow Americans would be able to pay for good health care.

And I wouldn't mind paying one cent more for a pair of socks if it meant that parents could be home at night and on the weekends spending quality time with their kids. That's a real family value.

Here's what all this talk about wages really comes down to: Would you rather pay 10 percent more at Wal-Mart and get 30 percent more in your paycheck, or would you rather have lower prices and an even lower paycheck? That's the real choice: We're either spiraling up into a strong middle class, or we're spiraling down toward serfdom.

The choice is ultimately about whether we want to have a middle class in this country. [...]
Finally, some people will say we don't really have a choice because corporations are struggling to pay wages and benefits and stay in business. Not so, says Hartmann:
The problem isn't the economy. Corporations are making more money than ever. The real income of people whose net worth exceeds $100 million is doubling.

What's happening is simple: The rich are getting richer and the entire spectrum of the middle class is disappearing.

We can easily trace this decline to Reagan's first public declaration of war on the middle class when he went after the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) in 1981. He broke the back of the air-traffic controllers' union and began the practice of using the Department of Labor -- traditionally the ally of workers -- against organized labor and working people.

Reagan liked to say he was against "big government." What he really meant was that he was against Roosevelt's New Deal. He was against Social Security, the minimum wage, free college education (he ended that in California as its governor), and programs like the WPA. He believed in the discredited concept of "trickle-down" economics -- the theory that if you create a corporatocracy, the rich will nobly spend some of their money to help the rest of us. The American people don't need handouts. Our workers just want to be paid a living wage for a fair day's work. We can't count on the corporatocracy to give us what we earn, so we need a strong labor movement to give us the power to negotiate our wages and benefits. Ultimately, it's all about power. [...]
So, what can American workers do? What kind of power do we have? Hartmann says to fight back we must battle on two fronts:
First, we must recognize and reclaim the government programs that create a middle class (I've abbreviated his list):
    - Return to the American people our ownership of the military, the prison system, and the ballot box.

    - Fight for free and public education...

    - Fight for a national single-payer health-care system based on Medicare.

    - Fight for Social Security -- do not let it be privatized or co-opted.

    - Fight for progressive taxation... and use the money to pay back the Social Security system and to fund an economic investment program.

    - Fight for a living wage and for the right of labor to organize.

    - Fight for a national energy program that puts people and the planet -- not Big Oil -- first.
When America has a strong middle class, democracy will follow. The opposite is also true. To fight back, we must also make use of the ballot box. We can achieve the economic programs that make the middle class possible by using the power of our democracy to vote for those politicians who support the middle class. We've been conned for long enough. It's time to take back America.
Think about this in November. YOU have the power to take back the American Dream for all working Americans.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Two Documentaries With Michigan Ties

This is a golden time for documentary films. Over the past several days, discussion has revolved around the ABC docudrama The Path to 9/11, and earlier this summer Al Gore's film about global warming, An Inconvient Truth, did well at the box office. I'm not surprised that filmmakers are producing documentaries about the war or climate change, but I was surprised to learn about two new documentaries that touch us here in Michigan. Even more interesting is the fact that both films touch the DeVos family.

Robert Greenwald's film, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, uncovers the connections between private corporations making a killing in Iraq and the decision makers who allow them to do so. One profiteer the film focuses on is Blackwater Security, which was founded by Erik Prince. Erik's sister Betsy was the head of the Michigan Republican Party until early 2005, and she is married to Dick DeVos, Amway heir and Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate. There are numerous sources and articles about Blackwater, but you may remember the company's name because they're being sued by the families of the contractors killed in Falluja in March 2004. The DVD documentary goes on sale September 26 and grassroots screening is October 8th-14th.

The second documentary with links to Michigan and DeVos I learned about from Zack @ Pohlitics. BELIEVE takes a satirical yet critical look at a fictional MLM company, Believe Industries and its devotees. And while the story is fictional, much of BELIEVE’s dialogue and events are based on the actual experiences of Loki Mulholland (writer and director), a former Amway distributor.

Zack recently interviewed Mulholland and asked him questions about DeVos, Amway and the gubernatorial election. Here's the exchange [emphasis added]:
POHLITICS: Since your film skewers multi-level marketing firms, do you see anything wrong with Michigan electing someone like DeVos as its next governor, considering that he used to run one of the largest MLMs on the planet?

LM: I’m an independent and I don’t tell people who I’d vote for but I can tell you who I wouldn’t vote for and that’s DeVos. Amway’s business culture is one of, in essence, taking advantage of people’s dreams and having them part with their money. When you have better odds of succeeding in Vegas than you do in multi-level marketing something’s not right. And, I think it’s fair to say, DeVos has been raised in that culture. You really can’t separate the two.

I think Amway and the DeVos camp have realized this and that’s why Amway has been airing their, “I am Amway” ads. If people are going to rightfully associate DeVos with Amway and 83% of the state has an unfavorable opinion of Amway they have to do something to change people’s opinions. It’s just like Bush and the War in Iraq. As the war goes, so goes Bush. As Amway goes… so goes DeVos.
That's the quote, folks, from a former Amway distributor.

If you're interested in seeing BELIEVE, they're doing a special screening in Lansing on the 21st of September. Then they're releasing the film October 13th in Detroit, Lansing, Flint, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids. Following it's debut in Michigan,the film will make a 20 city whistle stop tour of the country with a future release date in the Mountain West region in February/March. I BELIEVE I'll make it a point to see both of these films.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tell ABC to Tell The Truth About 9/11

Go to Think Progress and read the numerous misrepresentations and inaccuraries in ABC’s planned docudrama The Path to 9/11.

Then follow this link and tell ABC to tell the truth. The goal is to have ABC fix the major inaccuracies in their program or else refuse to put it on the air. The events leading up to September 11, 2001 are too important and too tragic to play politics with the facts.

You can also help by calling ABC Headquarters and registering your opinion: 212-456-7777.

Labor Day, continued...

Because American workers deserve a voice everyday - not just once a year:

David Sirota: On America Working, The war on workers
The GOP is waging a war on workers to the point where Republican leaders think it is now acceptable to refer to workers in terms reserved for military targets and terrorist threats.

This isn't surprising - Republicans understand that if they destroy organized labor, they will destroy one of the last remaining institutions that fights for the economic interests of workers. If that happens, the GOP's corporate donors will be even better able to have their way in the political arena. In other words, they understand that destroying labor would result in the completion of the hostile takeover of our government by Big Money interests.
Working America: Less isn't more
The problem is that a country with such stark divides between rich and poor is in deep trouble. Especially when that country is a democracy.
Workers Are Ready for a Change in Congress
George Bush isn’t on the ballot this November, but his agenda is – and the Republicans in Congress who have rubber-stamped his priorities are.
Bush Administration Exports More Homeland Security
Looks like Homeland Security doesn’t include job security. The U.S. Coast Guard, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has given a Philadelphia shipbuilder the green light to outsource U.S. jobs.
Duluth News Tribune Editorial
New census data show nearly one-third of American workers put in more than 40 hours per week, with millions of people working more than one job.

"Who's going to volunteer to be a Boy Scout leader if you're stuck working all the time?" he asked. "Politicians are always talking about being pro-family. If people only have time for work, that's not a very pro-family society."
Last, but not least, Mike Thompson has the definitive Labor Day cartoon:

Monday, September 04, 2006

You Won't Read This in the Detroit News or Free Press

I would have expected to see this editorial in the Detroit Free Press or the Detroit News in years past, but Michigan's two largest papers have turned their backs on workers; particularly the News, which has aligned itself with big business and the Republican Party. Both of those papers could take a lesson from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [emphasis added]:
Editorial: Honoring labor / American workers deserve better than this

America's employed began the Labor Day weekend with news Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 128,000 new jobs had been created in August and that the unemployment rate had dropped a hair to 4.7 percent.

The new-jobs total in August was better than July's 113,000 but still way below the 150,000 needed to meet the number of new entries to the job market. Any joy at the slight drop in the jobless rate was tempered by analysts who said it was due to people leaving the job market in despair or in quest of more training, rather than an improvement in the jobs climate.

Previous news that wage increases are not keeping pace with the rising cost of living underlined the dilemma. Many people -- perhaps most -- are working harder and longer hours, but are still unable to keep pace.

Their concern is increased by a weak housing market, which means that most families' principal asset is losing value. Speaking last week in Gulfport, Miss., where he had gone to view the repairs that the federal government has failed to carry out in that Katrina-struck area, President Bush announced Delphically, "Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses," thus revealing a misunderstanding of procreation, economics or grammar, or all three.

Thomas Carlyle, a 19th-century Scottish essayist and historian, said: "The progress of human society consists ... in ... the better apportioning of wages to work." In other words, the quality of one's work should be rewarded proportionately, in wages and benefits or in other sources of satisfaction. That is manifestly not what is taking place in the United States. A CEO, even in a company with mediocre performance, pulls in millions of dollars in compensation, while a lower-wage employee, perhaps holding two jobs, can't pay the rent, afford medical insurance or put much aside for the children's birthday presents.
Michigan workers could use someone to speak up for them and advocate policies to reverse declining wages and benefits too, but don't look to the News for help. They ran a story today about new-era auto jobs that thousands of people are glad to work despite lower pay, less job security, and fewer benefits. They point out that "many of the new factory workers are learning firsthand the lessons of a global economy" but then go on to say, "the jobs don't promise the American Dream, but they are jobs worth having."

And what kind of job is "worth having" according to the News? One where a person could make $30,000 with overtime, a big improvement from Wal-Mart where a clerk earns $7 an hour. Yeah, right. I'd like to see William Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group, try living on $30,000 a year.

At least the Freep had the decency to point out a few truths [emphasis added]:
Michigan is among the particular places where the workforce is undergoing a wrenching transition of uncertain outcome. Thousands of manufacturing jobs have vanished, and thousands more will soon go the way of buyouts, retirement deals or outright elimination. There are no equivalent replacements on the horizon, and a serious ripple effect can be expected on the retail and service sectors. [...]

For those who are working, too many feel they must focus more on survival than on getting ahead. That does not create an atmosphere conducive to innovation, risk-taking and the "can-do" spirit that created the world's leading economy. But it's a predictable mood, considering that the economy has continued to grow since 2001 in terms of output while incomes have stalled or lost ground for all but the wealthiest households. [...]

In its annual State of Working America report, released Saturday, EPI said that despite consistent growth, the U.S. economy has failed to generate a "full employment" labor market where wages would rise as employers compete to attract and retain people.

"When it comes to an economy that is working for working families," the report concludes, "growth in and of itself is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The growth has to reach the people; the bakers need to benefit from the bread they create."
Falling wages means people have less to spend on non-essential items like newspapers, which might explain why the Free Press and News are losing thousands of subscribers each month. Why should workers pay for a paper openly hostile to their plight? Those journalists and editors who turned their backs should be careful about biting the hand that feeds them though. Who do they think will speak for them when their jobs get outsourced?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Defining Trickle Down

I love a straight-talker and this person doesn't mince words when it comes to unspinning the spin. Here's the quote from C-Span.
"The National Association for Advancement for Colored People & the National Association of Home Builders have joined together to address the issue of affordable housing for minorities."
Here's his/her reaction [emphasis added]:
Didn't know "poor" meant "minority". Then again, I didn't know most people equate "capitalism" with "democracy". Far as I'm concerned, they can take that "free hand" and plant it where the daylight don't shine. 'Cause you know, all trickle down means is: don't eat the yellow snow.

And on another related note: why is it that when conservatives throw, liberals chase. It seems to me we've been living in an age of "fetch" for at least six years, and the game shows no sign of ending. In the spirit of educate and inform, I present the following "Conservative-Liberal Translator":

Ending welfare as we know it. What this means is that while a single mother of two will have public benefits terminated, at the other end of the scale (true welfare), the CEO's of America's Fortune 500 corporations will continue to receive millions of dollars in welfare payments called "tax breaks".

Public-private partnerships for national healthcare. The first step in the plan was the Medicare Drug Benefit, or as it is affectionaly known around PHARMA headquarters, the "no more competition, we get it all" bill. There's a reason we need to start calling these guys "drug lords".

Raising the minimum hurts small business. Easy: show me. The example they use is the "mom & pop" neighborhood stores. Wrong example. "Mom & Pop" have a house in the burbs, enough cash to send their kids to college, and drive 50,000 dollar SUVs. But they can't afford a 1 - 2% increase in total business costs?
See, reality is easy. Your turn.