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Monday, October 31, 2011

We ARE The People

This is the text of a speech given by Anne Pawli at the WATP event held on Saturday, Oct. 29.
     We are a diverse coalition of organizations, the old, the young, the retired, the unemployed, students and workers, who understand evil is afoot in Michigan.  We were promised the American Dream but woke up in a nightmare, where elders' pensions are taxed, the poor are left hungry and homeless, teachers and other public employees are scapegoated as parasites on the system and working class women and men are told to downsize their plans for a secure retirement.  We are here because we know if we don't unite and face our foe together, we will be picked off and trampled underfoot one by one by one.  It has already begun.   
    We are nonviolent.  We treat each other, and those who do not understand the urgency of our cause, with dignity and respect.  As MLK said, “Don't bring your opponent to their knees, bring them to their senses” and that is exactly what we intend to do.  But let's be clear: nonviolence does not mean we acquiesce to the outrageous policies coming out of Lansing.  We will stand together, arm in arm, back to back in support of each other, and we will stand toe to toe against the 1-percent and politicians who do not believe the shared burden of sacrifice pertains to them.  We will not go quietly into that good night.
    We are a voice for those being forced to bear more of the burden of Lansing's misguided policies than they can possibly shoulder.  We are demanding our voices be heard by those elected to represent us.  WATP invited Sen. Goeff Hansen, Rep. Holly Hughes and Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright to attend today's rally.  We expected our representatives would have the moral courage to face their constituents and defend or justify their votes on legislation which will hurt the most vulnerable among us.  We hoped they had solutions for the terrible problems their new policies will create.  All three legislators said they had prior commitments.  Only Rep. Hovey-Wright felt compelled to change her plans so she could join us today.   
    We are angry, but we will not let our anger control us.  We cannot afford to be paralyzed by our rage.  And so we are here today to harness our outrage into action.  The powers in Lansing think we are distracted, asleep, hopeless and helpless.  They couldn't be more mistaken.  The sleeping giant has awakened.  We are going to organize, educate, motivate and irritate if we have to, our neighbors, friends, relatives and coworkers.  We are going to make sure what happened last November doesn't happen in 2012.  We are the people.  We have the power.  We are watching.  We are listening. And we will vote for our best interests Nov 6, 2012.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

LETTER TO THE 53%

Below is a letter written to one of the 53%ers.  Norm Kittleson got it from Daily Kos, by Max Udargo  It is not hostile and is exactly the kind of thing we need to be saying to those who disagree with us.


Hello,
I briefly visited the “We are the 53%” website, but I first saw your face on a liberal blog.  Your picture is quite popular on liberal blogs.  I think it’s because of the expression on your face.  I don’t know if you meant to look pugnacious or if we’re just projecting that on you, but I think that’s what gets our attention.
In the picture, you’re holding up a sheet of paper that says:
I am a former Marine.
I work two jobs.
I don’t have health insurance.
I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
But I don’t blame Wall Street.
Suck it up you whiners.
I am the 53%.
God bless the USA!
I wanted to respond to you as a liberal.  Because, although I think you’ve made yourself clear and I think I understand you, you don’t seem to understand me at all.  I hope you will read this and understand me better, and maybe understand the Occupy Wall Street movement better.
First, let me say that I think it’s great that you have such a strong work ethic and I agree with you that you have much to be proud of.  You seem like a good, hard-working, strong kid.  I admire your dedication and determination.  I worked my way through college too, mostly working graveyard shifts at hotels as a “night auditor.”  For a time I worked at two hotels at once, but I don’t think I ever worked 60 hours in a week, and certainly not 70.  I think I maxed out at 56.  And that wasn’t something I could sustain for long, not while going to school.  The problem was that I never got much sleep, and sleep deprivation would take its toll.  I can’t imagine putting in 70 hours in a week while going to college at the same time.  That’s impressive.
I have a nephew in the Marine Corps, so I have some idea of how tough that can be.  He almost didn’t make it through basic training, but he stuck it out and insisted on staying even when questions were raised about his medical fitness.  He eventually served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has decided to pursue a career in the Marines.  We’re all very proud of him.  Your picture reminds me of him.
So, if you think being a liberal means that I don’t value hard work or a strong work ethic, you’re wrong.  I think everyone appreciates the industry and dedication a person like you displays.  I’m sure you’re a great employee, and if you have entrepreneurial ambitions, I’m sure these qualities will serve you there too.  I’ll wish you the best of luck, even though a guy like you will probably need luck less than most.
I understand your pride in what you’ve accomplished, but I want to ask you something.
Do you really want the bar set this high?  Do you really want to live in a society where just getting by requires a person to hold down two jobs and work 60 to 70 hours a week?  Is that your idea of the American Dream?
 Do you really want to spend the rest of your life working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week?  Do you think you can?  Because, let me tell you, kid, that’s not going to be as easy when you’re 50 as it was when you were 20.
And what happens if you get sick?  You say you don’t have health insurance, but since you’re a veteran I assume you have some government-provided health care through the VA system.  I know my father, a Vietnam-era veteran of the Air Force, still gets most of his medical needs met through the VA, but I don’t know what your situation is.  But even if you have access to health care, it doesn’t mean disease or injury might not interfere with your ability to put in those 60- to 70-hour work weeks.
Do you plan to get married, have kids?  Do you think your wife is going to be happy with you working those long hours year after year without a vacation?  Is it going to be fair to her?  Is it going to be fair to your kids?  Is it going to be fair to you?
Look, you’re a tough kid.  And you have a right to be proud of that.  But not everybody is as tough as you, or as strong, or as young.  Does pride in what you’ve accomplish mean that you have contempt for anybody who can’t keep up with you?  Does it mean that the single mother who can’t work on her feet longer than 50 hours a week doesn’t deserve a good life?  Does it mean the older man who struggles with modern technology and can’t seem to keep up with the pace set by younger workers should just go throw himself off a cliff?
And, believe it or not, there are people out there even tougher than you.  Why don’t we let them set the bar, instead of you?  Are you ready to work 80 hours a week?  100 hours?  Can you hold down four jobs?  Can you do it when you’re 40?  When you’re 50?  When you’re 60?  Can you do it with arthritis?  Can you do it with one arm?  Can you do it when you’re being treated for prostate cancer?
And is this really your idea of what life should be like in the greatest country on Earth?
Here’s how a liberal looks at it:  a long time ago workers in this country realized that industrialization wasn’t making their lives better, but worse.  The captains of industry were making a ton of money and living a merry life far away from the dirty, dangerous factories they owned, and far away from the even dirtier and more dangerous mines that fed raw materials to those factories.
The workers quickly decided that this arrangement didn’t work for them.  If they were going to work as cogs in machines designed to build wealth for the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies, they wanted a cut.  They wanted a share of the wealth that they were helping create.  And that didn’t mean just more money; it meant a better quality of life.  It meant reasonable hours and better working conditions.
Eventually, somebody came up with the slogan, “8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, 8 hours of sleep” to divide the 24-hour day into what was considered a fair allocation of a human’s time.  It wasn’t a slogan that was immediately accepted.  People had to fight to put this standard in place.  People demonstrated, and fought with police, and were killed.  They were called communists (in fairness, some of them were), and traitors, and many of them got a lot worse than pepper spray at the hands of police and private security.
But by the time we got through the Great Depression and WWII, we’d all learned some valuable lessons about working together and sharing the prosperity, and the 8-hour workday became the norm.
The 8-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek became a standard by which we judged our economic success, and a reality check against which we could verify the American Dream.
If a family could live a good life with one wage-earner working a 40-hour job, then the American Dream was realized.  If the income from that job could pay the bills, buy a car, pay for the kids’ braces, allow the family to save enough money for a down payment on a house and still leave some money for retirement and maybe for a college fund for the kids, then we were living the American Dream.  The workers were sharing in the prosperity they helped create, and they still had time to take their kids to a ball game, take their spouses to a movie, and play a little golf on the weekends.
Ah, the halcyon days of the 1950s!  Yeah, ok, it wasn’t quite that perfect.  The prosperity wasn’t spread as evenly and ubiquitously as we might want to pretend, but if you were a middle-class white man, things were probably pretty good from an economic perspective.  The American middle class was reaching its zenith.
And the top marginal federal income tax rate was more than 90%.  Throughout the whole of the 1950s and into the early 60s.
Just thought I’d throw that in there.
Anyway, do you understand what I’m trying to say?  We can have a reasonable standard for what level of work qualifies you for the American Dream, and work to build a society that realizes that dream, or we can chew each other to the bone in a nightmare of merciless competition and mutual contempt.
I’m a liberal, so I probably dream bigger than you.  For instance, I want everybody to have healthcare.  I want lazy people to have healthcare.  I want stupid people to have healthcare.  I want drug addicts to have healthcare.  I want bums who refuse to work even when given the opportunity to have healthcare.  I’m willing to pay for that with my taxes, because I want to live in a society where it doesn’t matter how much of a loser you are, if you need medical care you can get it.  And not just by crowding up an emergency room that should be dedicated exclusively to helping people in emergencies.
You probably don’t agree with that, and that’s fine.  That’s an expansion of the American Dream, and would involve new commitments we haven’t made before.   But the commitment we’ve made to the working class since the 1940s is something that we should both support and be willing to fight for, whether we are liberal or conservative.  We should both be willing to fight for the American Dream.  And we should agree that anybody trying to steal that dream from us is to be resisted, not defended.
And while we’re defending that dream, you know what else we’ll be defending, kid?  We’ll be defending you and your awesome work ethic.  Because when we defend the American Dream we’re not just defending the idea of modest prosperity for people who put in an honest day’s work, we’re also defending the idea that those who go the extra mile should be rewarded accordingly.
Look kid, I don’t want you to “get by” working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week.  If you’re willing to put in that kind of effort, I want you to get rich.  I want you to have a comprehensive healthcare plan.  I want you vacationing in the Bahamas every couple of years, with your beautiful wife and healthy, happy kids.  I want you rewarded for your hard work, and I want your exceptional effort to reap exceptional rewards.  I want you to accumulate wealth and invest it in Wall Street.  And I want you to make more money from those investments.
I understand that a prosperous America needs people with money to invest, and I’ve got no problem with that.  All other things being equal, I want all the rich people to keep being rich.  And clever financiers who find ways to get more money into the hands of promising entrepreneurs should be rewarded for their contributions as well.
I think Wall Street has an important job to do, I just don’t think they’ve been doing it.  And I resent their sense of entitlement – their sense that they are special and deserve to be rewarded extravagantly even when they screw everything up.
Come on, it was only three years ago, kid.  Remember?  Those assholes almost destroyed our economy.  Do you remember the feeling of panic?  John McCain wanted to suspend the presidential campaign so that everybody could focus on the crisis.  Hallowed financial institutions like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch went belly up.  The government started intervening with bailouts, not because anybody thought “private profits and socialized losses” was fair, but because we were afraid not to intervene -  we were afraid our whole economy might come crashing down around us if we didn’t prop up companies that were “too big to fail.”
So, even though you and I had nothing to do with the bad decisions, blind greed and incompetence of those guys on Wall Street, we were sure as hell along for the ride, weren’t we?  And we’ve all paid a price.
All the” 99%” wants is for you to remember the role that Wall Street played in creating this mess, and for you to join us in demanding that Wall Street share the pain.  They don’t want to share the pain, and they’re spending a lot of money and twisting a lot of arms to foist their share of the pain on the rest of us instead.  And they’ve been given unprecedented powers to spend and twist, and they’re not even trying to hide what they’re doing.
All we want is for everybody to remember what happened, and to see what is happening still.  And we want you to see that the only way they can get away without paying their share is to undermine the American Dream for the rest of us.
And I want you and I to understand each other, and to stand together to prevent them from doing that.  You seem like the kind of guy who would be a strong ally, and I’d be proud to stand with you.

By Max Udargo

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A SOLUTION TO MEN BEHAVING BADLY; ELECT MORE WOMEN


Published: Sunday, June 19, 2011, 7:26 AM
The Muskegon Chronicle
Roberts1.jpgCokie and Steve Roberts
Men who cannot keep their pants up or their ears open are causing two of Washington's larger problems. And the remedy is the same: Elect more women to higher office.
Sex scandals and budget deficits might not seem like similar issues but in an important sense they are. In both cases, male arrogance and ego come into play. And in both cases, that leads to risky behavior -- emailing salacious images to women or jeopardizing the credit rating of the country.
Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, got it right when she told the New York Times: "Women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody." Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary in the Clinton administration, added: "There are certain men that the more visible they get, the more bulletproof they feel. You just don't see women doing that; they don't get reckless when they're empowered."
Start with sex. After Rep. Anthony Weiner was revealed as a serial sender of phallic photos, folks tried really hard to compile a list of licentious women. The sinners included Helen Chenoweth, the late congresswoman from Idaho who carried on a long affair with a married man, and Katherine Bryson, a state legislator from Utah who got caught with her lover on a surveillance camera. To fill out the meager roster, historians had to dredge up Catherine the Great, who took many young lovers but died in 1796.
There are many reasons for this disparity starting with time. Men apparently have it, and women don't. One of the great unanswered questions is how Weiner squeezed in so many online flirtations. His colleague from New York, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (the mother of two small boys), once said of cheating: "While I'm at home changing diapers, I just couldn't conceive of it."
Then there's the "reckless" factor mentioned by Myers. Men might feel "bulletproof" but women know life doesn't work that way. They know there's always a price to be paid. Rep. Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican, told the Times: "Every time one of these sex scandals goes, we just look at each other, like, 'What is it with these guys? Don't they think they're going to get caught?'"
Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist, said the same self-confidence that enables a man to run for office could also fuel his sense of entitlement: "It's the Icarus phenomenon. You think you have wings and you can fly up to the sun and down to the water. Sometimes you burn and then you sink."
But sex scandals don't ruin the country's credit rating. The current struggle to raise the debt ceiling is far more serious, but males in both parties are exhibiting the same chest-thumping (or chest-baring) behavior that sank Weiner. Let's be clear, women can be highly partisan warriors (see Sarah Palin and Nancy Pelosi), but as Walsh noted, if their goal is to "do something," rather than "be somebody," women are more likely to submerge their egos, listen to their rivals, and seek pragmatic compromises.
In today's Senate, female members represent one of the few islands of civility. They meet regularly for private dinners, co-sponsor legislation, and have even written a book together. In a recent interview with Christiane Amanpour of ABC News, Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, argued that women "inject less libido, less testosterone" into the decision-making process. "We don't necessarily project our egos into cutting a deal," she explained.
On ABC's "This Week," author Claire Shipman agreed that an overdose of male hormones makes harmony much more difficult. "There's something about a group of men and testosterone, you know, making risky decisions, that's very real," she said.
Torie Clarke, who learned something about male behavior during her years as the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, added: "You can see guys within a company competing with one another all the time, often to see who can get to the top of the food chain, versus women who more often will say, 'I'm going to get in there, and let's get this done.'"
All men are not jerks, and all women are not gems. But females still hold less than 17 percent of all seats in Congress. And if you don't think Washington would be better off with more women in positions of power, answer this question honestly. Can you imagine a female legislator taking a picture of her private parts and sending it to a youthful male admirer? We rest our case.
Steve and Cokie's new book, "Our Haggadah" (HarperCollins), was published this spring. Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

MICHIGAN'S FUTURE

On March 16, just 75 days into his administration, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law PA4, legislation that can deprive local governments of all authority.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This bill can take away the rights of your legally elected representatives -- and your rights as well.

Michigan has had  Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs) for many years.  They could go into a city struggling with financial challenges and work with all parties involved to find solutions.  The bill signed into law on March 16 changed all that. The person representing the state is now an Emergency Manager and is essentially a dictator.

Once a financial emergency is declared, not one local person has any say  in what will happen to that village, city, township, county or school district.  State officials have the authority to make all decisions, via the Emergency Manager.   Yes.   Democracy can be legally  ripped out of our hands. When you wade through all the verbiage, this can essentially be done at the whim of the State Treasurer -- or the State Superintendent for a school district.

What can an Emergency Manager do?  Lots.  He or she can strip local elected officials of all authority (Section 15 (4) ),  reject, modify or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing contract (Section19, (j) ), lock elected or appointed officials out of their offices (Section 17 (2)), terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement (Section 19 (k), apply for a loan, (Section 19 (s) )order mileage elections (Section 19 (t), borrow money (Section 19 (u) consolidate or eliminate departments (Section 19 (n) ), sell off assets (Section 19 r ).  He/she can even go so far as to dissolve the municipal government.   (Section 19 (cc).  He/she can do all this  -- plus much more -- without input from any local official.  Should this happen in your community, your voice will be silenced.

“Who pays this EM?” you might ask.  The local unit of government.  How much do they cost?  There is no limit.  Detroit’s EM costs Detroit $400,000.  a year.  Benton Harbor must pay their EM $11,000 a month.  Oh, and by the way, the average income of the residents of Benton Harbor is $10,000 -- a year!

This is a 34-page Public Act.  I simply cannot cover it in this limited space.  Be assured, though, that this law has the potential to strip local control from every unit of government in this state.  Read it for yourself.

Our elected officials who supported this bill gave a wide variety of excuses.  “Oh, this will only be used in the direst of circumstances.”

 “Oh, and why then have they trained 400 of these managers?” I asked.  No answer.

“Don’t worry,” some legislators say, “there are 18 check points.”  They forget to mention that only one of those 18 points is needed.  And the last check point?  “The existence of other facts or circumstances that in the sole discretion of the state treasurer (or state superintendent in the case of a school system) indicate financial stress.”

“Oh, this is just to help our communities,”  said another legislator.  Really??  Extortion now helps our communities?  You do what we want, or we deprive you of your Democracy?  Un-american.

This bill could easily lead to selling off communities’ assets.  Will an EM come in to Muskegon Heights and sell off Mona Lake Park to the highest bidder? Will an EM come in and sell off their state of the art high school to a charter school?  There is nothing in law to prevent them from doing that.  Will they want to sell off Pere Marquette a few years from now?  There would be nothing we could do to stop them.

The city council in Benton Harbor, Michigan, has already had its power stripped by its Emergency Manager,  Joe Harris.  Here is what Mr. Harris had to say:

“The fact is that the city manager is now gone.  I am now the city manager.  I replaced the financial manager.  I am now the city manager and the financial manager.  I am the city manager, the financial manager, the mayor, and the city commissioners and I don’t need them.”

There you have it.  Michigan’s new future.



(We simply cannot sit by idly and allow this to happen.  In my next post, I will talk about actions we can take.)

To read this law for yourself:
Go to Michigan.gov
Click on Michigan Government tab
Click on Michigan Compiled Laws (on the right side)
Click on Public Acts (left side of screen)
Put Public Act 4 in the appropriate place
Click on the square next to Public Act














Sunday, April 24, 2011

TIME TRAVEL?

I just saw something I thought I would never see in my country.  Students who loved their school and wanted to stay there were dragged  out by uniformed police officers.  Yes, you read that right.  The students do not want to leave their school.  They love it there.  They are learning there.  And uniformed officers dragged them out, while the students screamed in terror.  It should probably come as no surprise to anyone that these students were young, female and black.  This would never happen to white middle class kids.

I feel like I have time-traveled back to the fifties, when black students simply wanted to go to a good school, and whole towns fell completely apart.  I hope there are people out there who care and will stand up for those young people.  Apparently, it is not going to  be their elected officials.

Most people know by now that in Michigan our Republican legislature and governor gave unbelievably broad powers to Emergency Financial Managers (EFM).   These EFMs can not only nullify contracts, they can fire local elected officials and sell off assets.  In other words, EFMs do not have to listen to the people in the communities they take over.  They become dictators.  Local citizens’ hands are tied; they can only resort to begging -- and civil disobedience.

The EFM in Benton Harbor this week stripped all power from the Benton Harbor City Council.  Oh, excuse me, not all their power.  They can still call meetings, accept the minutes, and adjourn meetings.  That’s it.  All other decisions will be made by the EFM.

And in Detroit, the EFM decided to close schools, including the Catherine Ferguson School, a place for young women who are pregnant or have young children and still want to pursue their education.  These young women and their children will grow into adults.  The best case scenario is that they are educated.  I guess that will not be happening now.  An effective place of learning is being closed down by the EFM.  The young women decided to turn to a technique that broke down the walls of Jim Crow in the fifties and sixties.  They had the courage and will to turn to to civil disobedience.  They  held a sit-in at their school.  Their thanks for trying to get an education?  They got dragged out of their own school and hauled off to jail.

I am sick about it.  I hope you are too.

We simply cannot sit by and do nothing when dedicated students are dragged out of their own school by uniformed police officers.

I talked to my state representative about the Emergency Financial Manager bill today.  She seemed to think that because the mayor of Benton Harbor did something wrong, it was okay to take over cities, sell off assets, end contracts.  I was disheartened to think she was returning to the same “blame the victims” mentality that has been used since the beginning of time to oppress people.

There are actions we can take.  There is a rally at Benton Harbor at noon on Wednesday.  The more people that come, the stronger statement we make.

Soon there will be petitions to circulate.  If we can get signatures to equal 5% of the people who voted for the governor in the last election, the law is stopped in its tracks until it is put to a vote of the people.  We simply must stop this travesty.

This week it’s Benton Harbor and Detroit.  Who is next?

Friday, April 15, 2011

WHAT EVER HALPPENED TO TELLING THE TRUTH?

"Not intended to be a factual statement."

Within a matter of just a few days those words have become iconic.  Just to make sure you're aware of the back story here, that is the excuse  Senator John Kyl's office staff gave when asked about a grossly inaccurate statement he made.  Right on the floor of the Senate, Senator Kyl said 90% of Planned Parenthood's funding went to abortions.  When faced with the truth,  that only 3%  went to abortions, his staff came back with that reply.

"It was not intended to be a factual statement."

In other words,  Senator Kyl knowingly lied to the American people on the Senate Floor.  His lie has now been written into the Senate Journal.  Maybe Senator Kyl should put out a disclaimer on all of his statements.  Let us know which ones are  intended to be  lies.

The Colbert report has poked a good deal of fun at this comment.  Many others have joined in the fun, too.  Say anything you want, as a matter of fact.  When someone asks about its truthfulness, you can always just say,  "it was not intended to be a factual statement."

It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic.

The truth has become so scarce that someone actually thought this was a sensible thing to say -- and that would explain this egregious attempt to tell a bold-faced lie to the public from the Senate floor.
An entire industry has grown up around the lie that President Obama is not a citizen and thus is not serving legitimately.  Now Donald Trump wants to run for president based on that lie.   Joe Farah of the website World Net Daily, which has promoted that lie consistently, admitted to Salon.com this week that his site publishes "some misinformation."

At what point did some of our Republican leaders decide that lying was acceptable?   

Senator Patrick Moynihan once commented that we are entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts. I agree.   We base  our own personal decisions on facts; we must have factual information to make our public decisions as well.

That's why something that happened at the state capital recently is so disturbing.  Mitch Bean, director of the Non-Partisan House Fiscal Agency, has been going to member's districts teaching citizens of our state about the budget problems we are experiencing, how we got to this spot and how we might find our way out.   When he speaks, citizens are suddenly informed and empowered, better able to make good, solid decisions.

Interestingly, Jace Bolger, speaker of the House, has now informed Mitch Bean that he can no longer make these presentations in members' districts.  When I contacted Speaker Bolger's office asking why, he didn't even have the guts to respond.

Our forefathers were clear when they put this democracy in place.  We must have an informed citizenry if we are to survive.  That will be difficult with the Senator Kyls, Joe Farrahs and Speaker Bolgers of the world attempting to shut down the truth.

Monday, April 11, 2011

GOVERNMENT SHUT-DOWN ANYONE?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Triangle Fire, Maine's New Governor and Senator Mark Jansen

Okay, friends, bare with me.  I like to keep these posts short, but this could be a long one.  This week, particularly has seen many things converging at one time.

First, there was March 25, the hundred year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.
146 people died within the space of 15 minutes that day, mostly the young teen-aged girls who worked in the factory.

Working conditions in that factory were terrible to start with -- long hours, low pay, no safety precautions.  Other similar factories had become unionized by this time.  But not the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  Its owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris  led the opposition to union organizing.  So their workers continued in  sweatshop conditions without reasonable safety precautions.

Even worse, the young girls who worked in this factory were locked in every day.  Yes, the owners were so fearful of the workers stealing scraps of cloth that they locked them in; the young women were then searched before they left for the day.  In trial, it was revealed that the owners lost a mere $15. a season to theft.  That was why those young women were locked in that day.  That was why they died.

A young New York Social worker, Frances Perkins, was one of the horrified New Yorkers who witnessed this scene -- and the teen-aged girls who went up in flames or leapt to their deaths.  Instead of just saying tsk, tsk, she took action.  She pushed the New York State legislative leaders, assemblyman Al Smith and State Senator Robert Wagner, to head an investigative committee. The legislature then made sweeping changes.  New laws governed workplace safety, wages, hours, and working conditions.

A step forward for the workers in this country.

Francis Perkins later became the first woman on a presidential cabinet when FDR appointed her to be his Labor Secretary.  Together, they brought much-needed changes to America's working men and women.

Well, another thing happened this week.  Maine's Governor Paul LePage ordered the removal of a 36' mural in the Department of Labor. "The mural depicts the brave (and often bloody) struggles of Maine's workers in achieving living wages, establishing a 5-day work-week, and eliminating child labor." (Susan Fagin in a letter to the editor).  Seems this new Republican governor not only wants to metaphorically give hard working men and women a punch to the gut by removing a mural that honors them, he wants to change the names of the conference rooms as well.  One of those rooms was named after Francis Perkins.  Yes, the Francis Perkins who saw to it that those young women did not die in vain and that laws were put into place to protect workers.  He wants her name taken off that conference room.

And what happened back here in Michigan?  Senator Mark Jansen introduced legislation to eliminate MIOSHA,  the agency that monitors workplace safety.  He doesn't want to improve it.  He doesn't want to make it less onerous.  He wants to eliminate it.  Maybe this pro-life Republican Senator would be happy to see us return to the days young women lost their lives unnecessarily in tragic fires.  His callous attitude toward the lives of working men and women cheapens the very movement that claims to promote the sanctity of life.

So these three things converged this week:  anniversary of the New York Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Maine governor wanting to erase that part of history that gave meaning to those young women's lost lives, and a Michigan State Senator wanting to eliminate the department put in place to keep workers safe.  I believe these three taken together can serve as a warning to us.  If we don't stand up and fight for workers' rights, they will be gone before we know it.  Those who stood up for working men and women, instead of being honored as heroes, will be erased from history.  And we could go back to the days when owners locked their workers in, lest the owners lose a few cents.

If this coordinated attack on workers' rights doesn't get Americans to vote in the next election, I don't know what will.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

REPUBLICAN LEGISLATORS, WHERE ARE YOU??

I have noticed in recent years the Republicans in our state legislature have developed a new tradition.  Avoiding constituents.

I first noticed it shortly after I came into office.  A large corporation wanted to come in and take water from the headwaters of the Muskegon River.  People were wildly upset about this, so they called together a forum.  They invited 13 legislators from the area to talk about water.  Our precious, life-giving water.  I was the only legislator to show up.

Then, a few years later, when the legislature was about to make massive cuts in education, a group of citizens -- superintendents, principals and parents -- went to the capital to meet with their State Senator, Senator Mike Bishop.  He wouldn't come out to meet them.  So they sent notes in to him -- approximately 200 notes.  Usually legislators get one or two notes a week.  He received 200 of them within just a few moments.  Did he come out to meet with his constituents?  No.  He walked out the back door.

Last spring a citizen, Melissa, was determined to use the tools of our democracy to learn about the education budget.  She checked with the legislators to see what dates would work for them.  Representative Hansen, Senator VanWoerkom and myself -- and a few other Republican legislators -- were scheduled to meet with these constituents.  A crowd of about 80 people showed up that night.  But not the Republican legislators.  I talked with those constituents by myself that night.

More recently, a group of us went to a lobby day in Lansing.  When we went to see Senator Hansen, he was "in caucus all day long."  When a group from Muskegon went down to visit with their legislators, they sent a note in to see Holly Hughes.  She left by the back door.  We wanted to talk to Representative Ray Franz.  He was scheduled with "back-to-back" meetings all day.  I know enough about the system to know that there is no meeting more important than the meetings with your constituents.  We are the boss, after all,  the ones who pay them.  But this year, with all the tough legislation they are cramming through the legislature, they don't want to hear what we have to say.


I recently heard another example of that grand old Republican tradition of avoiding the people you represent.  A group of citizens wanted to meet with Representative Holly Hughes about the legislation that is essentially being crammed through the legislature at lightning speed -- and into law.  They wanted to meet with her before all of this legislation has already been voted on.

So they set up two meetings with her.  When the guy setting them up called back to verify, she heard there would be a group of citizens there, rather than just one.  Suddenly, she was too wrapped up with March is Reading Month and family obligations  to meet with her constituents.  This gentleman tried several times to get her agree to those meetings.  She refused.  Instead, she made up a story about how those meetings had never been set up in the first place.  It would have only taken a few hours out of her busy schedule to perform the duties she is being paid for.

You may have seen the flier he has posted around the district, asking the following question.  Where is Holly Hughes?  This flier further comments that Senator Hansen has already held two public meetings with his constituents.  Representative Marcia Hovey-Wright has met publicly with hers six times and has another meeting planned.  It is a very good question.  Where is State Representative Holly Hughes? 

I hope the representative will answer that question by scheduling a meeting with her constituents right now -- before all the voting has been completed. That, after all, is her job and how she earns her paycheck.  And that is what our democracy is all about.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

STANDING WITH WORKING FAMILIES

A few weeks ago John DeWolf and Steve Kegolovitz just decided we needed a protest rally right here in Muskegon to stand with working families -- both here and in Wisconsin.  So they threw one together.  The event happened a few hours ago.  Five hundred people came out of their homes for the rally and march.  I think people are finally getting mad.  500 people.

Several people spoke. 

Whitehall High School teacher Norm Kittleson gave a thorough history of how we got into this mess.  It is more than just a few bad decisions in Michigan over recent years.  It has been a consistent effort across the country on the part of our wealthiest citizens for the past thirty years -- to put the money in the hands of just a few people.  It began on August 4, 1981 when Ronald Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers.  It was intensified when the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to anonymous donations from corporations.  Today, we are actually at risk of losing our democracy.

Jill Bott, retired teacher, shared her experiences with a health problem.  Due to health concerns, her American dream that she has worked for all her life has vanished into thin air.  And what does our governor want to do about it?  Tax her retirement.  So he can give more money to Wall Street Millionaires.

Charles Nash did a great job of explaining the new Emergency Financial Manager legislation that recently passed through the legislature.  It could put complete control of local governments in the hands of an Emergency Financial Manager, no checks or balances.  They could fire elected officials, override local ordinances, and nullify labor contracts.  Every single Republican voted for this bill -- in both Chambers.  Their talking point is that Emergency Financial Managers will only be used in the most dire situations.  Tell me, then, why they are training 50 of these EFMs.  (Please see the previous post on this blog for more information about this bill).

During the campaign, all they talked about was how we needed to cut taxes.  Our working families just could not handle more taxes right now.  So what is the first thing they want to do when they take power?  They want to tax working families -- so they can give more money to the Wall Street Milionaires.

We talked about the demise of the film industry and the devastating blows to education and public safety.

Steve Markel reminded us of our unity and the only way out of this mess is for us is to stick together.  "We Are One," we chanted over and over again.

This event was not advertised in the Chronicle.  They wouldn't give that coverage.  In spite of them, though, 500 people in attendance.  Seems like our greatest tools to protect the middle class are social media, person-to-person contact, and the internet.  We simply cannot count on the corporate media.  But we can do this without them!

Last year, the Tea Party had front page coverage and a nice article because they had a  group of about 80 people.  It will be interesting to see how The Chronicle  will cover this rally of 500 people -- right across the street from them.

But to be effective this has to be only a beginning, not an end. We must have a sustained, consistent effort to inform our citizens and let our legislators know we will not stand by while they ruin our state.


  So stay tuned.  There is more to come.

Monday, March 14, 2011

CHILLING

 The article below was posted to my Face Book page by Dianna Jancek, manager of Sweetwater Market, who has spent a great deal of time in Benton Harbor.  The story is chilling -- for both Benton Harbor and our state.  Editorial comments on the bottom are my own.

The story of Benton Harbor is  complex.   But one fact is simple: Benton Harbor is a black majority community with most folks living at the poverty level or very modest means.

The elected City Commission is an all black commission. Wealthy white developers from St. Joseph, fueled with Whirlpool corporate cash, formed several development schemes and  decided that what the City of Benton Harbor REALLY needed was to give up their beautiful Jean Klock Park on Lake Michigan in order that they (the developers) might build a Jack Nicklaus golf course.  Bit by bit they have taken that property.

No one seems to have noticed who introduced this EFM Emergency Financial Manager bill. It was Rep Al Pscholka, who represents the cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Please keep these dates in mind: 

--April of 2010. Governor Granholm assigns an EFM to Benton Harbor. The EFM draws up a plan that, if followed, would have eliminated the City Manager and elected officials.

--January 4, 2011. The City Commission of Benton Harbor votes to "take back the power given to them by the voters" and passes a resolution stripping the EFM of his authority.

--January 5, 2011. Rep Al Pscholka sends a letter to now Governor Snyder requesting that the EFM be restored to Benton Harbor, saying the elected officials had no authority to do what they did. Apparently, it was realized that the regulations governing how and what an EFM can do were not sufficient, because 

--on February 8, 2011, Rep Al Pscholka introduced the new EFM legislation, which was passed quickly through the Michigan House and Senate, with all the Republicans supporting it. When signed by the governor,  it gives the EFM the authority to dissolve elected commissions. 

Yes, you read that correctly.  The EFM can now come back, get rid of the city council, and take what rightfully belongs to Benton Harbor.  

The fight now is over what's left of Jean Klock Park and what it is sitting on it: a very valuable artesian water system owned by the city of Benton Harbor. Who will get to decide the fate of Benton Harbor?  Its rightful owners -- or Governor Snyder?

As alarming as this story is, it is simply an illustration of what this bill can lead to.  Any one of our cities could lose a valuable piece of property to the state.  Please spread this story just as far and wide as you can.  People need to understand what is at stake here.  The citizens of Benton Harbor acted responsibly and according to the law; they rallied around and elected people who would stand up for them.  When this bill passes into law, it appears as though the state will just be able to come in and take what rightfully belongs to the citizens of Benton Harbor.  Republicans run on the principle of local control, then vote to take property away from local communities.  Chilling.



Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Okay, friends, buckle up.  I am plunging into the driest topic known to man. The most dreaded of topics.  Tax policy.

But the truth is that in Michigan, tax policy is at the bottom of all of our problems. And by the way.  News flash.   School teachers, social workers, and snow plow drivers are not the root of our problem.  It is our regressive tax policy.  That's why we've got to talk about it.  It
's not surprising we're in trouble.  Our most pressing problem, and no one will talk about it.

The main problem?  Michigan's tax policy is regressive.  That means that the less money you make, the bigger your tax burden is.   The less you make, the higher percentage of your income goes to taxes.  The reverse is true as well.  The more you make, the less percentage of your income goes to taxes.  There it is; our backwards, grossly unfair tax policy.

Our governor spends a lot of time talking about shared sacrifice.  I love the concept of shared sacrifice, we are all in this together.  This is a wonderful idea, and I would love to believe that is what Gov. Snyder really wants.  But until he suggests turning our regressive tax policy into a fair policy, all talk of shared sacrifice is purely hypocritical nonsense.

The solution is simple, fair and would probably be quite popular if our Republican friends could bring themselves to speak truthfully about the issue at hand.  A graduated income tax, which 35 other states have, would go a long way toward solving our problem.  Most taxpayers would pay less than they are presently paying, and those who have higher incomes would pay their fair share, as they do in most other states.

You will never hear Republicans support a fair tax like that, though, because their wealthy benefactors -- the few who are making most of the money -- don't like it.  The Republican excuse is that the wealthy would make a beeline out of this state if we put a graduated income tax in place.  This is simply not true.  States with a graduated income tax are doing just fine --  much better than we are, as a matter of fact.
For those of you who love facts, here are some.  According to the Tax Foundation, 35 states have graduated income taxes.  Seven states have no income tax at all.  And nine states have flat taxes, such as Michigan has. (I'm including Washington, D.C. here) The only state with a lower flat tax than Michigan is Pennsylvania.  Somehow, they make up for that low flat tax, because their tax freedom day is April 21, 18th in the nation.  Michigan's is April 16, 31st in the nation.  That information comes from the 2009 Facts and Figures book, put out by the Tax Foundation.
 
So the Republicans are unequivocally opposed to a graduated income tax, such as 35 other states have, even very conservative states, at that.  So what do Michigan Republicans want to do instead of creating a tax that would be fair for all of our residents?  They want the less well off to carry an even larger  burden by eliminating the Michigan Earned Income Tax Creidt (EITC), taxing retirees, and cutting  funding for school children and college students.

Michigan needs true shared sacrifice.  I am a proponent of that.  But until shared sacrifice is spread across all incomes,  as soon as our tax policy reflects true shared sacrifice,  I think our governor should go back to the drawing board.  And we should stand together to get Michigan back on a track to true prosperity.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

ROBIN HOOD IN REVERSE?

 This is a letter written to our senator from Eric Justian, outlining the problems our governor is causing small businesses.  This is just another in a series of hurting every day people to make the rich richer.

Senator Hansen,

My wife owns a successful jewelry store in Norton Shores. She employs herself and another employee, she's about to hire a third person AND she 1099s her bench jeweler as a contractor. She has generated and collected tens of thousands of dollars in sales tax for the State of Michigan in the past three years. That store that she started from the ground, up after she lost her job while she was six months pregnant during the worst recession in most of a century...that store...it keeps our family afloat and alive. She's a tough woman.

But for some reason I can't exactly figure out, our Republican leadership is about to RAISE her business taxes.

And the worst part of it...her tax INCREASE isn't even going to keep our son's elementary school from closing. Oh no...instead, her tax INCREASE is going to blow an additional one billion dollar hole in the State budget.

You see...under the current Michigan Business Tax that our leadership loves to hate, VERY SMALL businesses get a chance to get rooted and start hiring and collecting sales tax revenue for the state before they start paying income and tax on profits.

Snyder's replacement with the 6% flat tax is going to start taxing Very Small businesses where they were not being taxed before.

It's a tax INCREASE on mom and pop shops that doesn't even go toward fixing our budget shortfall. In fact...it's a tax increase for mom and pop shops that ends up making our budget shortfall WORSE...and that shortfall for the tax INCREASE on mom and pop shops is going to be plugged by taxing pensions of retirees.

This is not a business friendly solution. This is not a solution that fosters NEW business and start-ups in Michigan.

I'm not sure when Republicans started to stand for fleecing small businesses and hard working middle class Americans in this country in order to very literally hand our money to the large businesses. I'm not sure when you started to stand for that, Mr. Hansen. And maybe you don't. 

But this new tax code is punitive to start-ups and mom and pop businesses. It's going to shut down mom and pop shops across the state...shops that have been generating revenue for Michigan and creating local jobs for years.

This is a bad tax code. 

Eric Justian






Thursday, March 3, 2011

DEMOCRACY -- OR PLUTOCRACY?

Bill Moyers recently gave a speech in which he outlined clearly how we are becoming a plutcracy, a government run by just the wealthy, not the ordinary people.  This is a summary of that speech.  The parts in bold italics are direct quotes.


Executive Summary -- Welcome to the Plutocracy

We all know something is wrong.  We just don't what it is, nor do we know how to fix it.  Ordinary, hard-working people are hurting.  Wages are falling; an unprecedented number of people are losing their homes; health care is costing lives or savings accounts.  Yes, something is wrong. 

Bill Moyers wrote a an excellent piece about what that is and what we can do to help our country recover, so that ordinary people like us can live our lives to the fullest once again.

Basically, for thirty years, some of the wealthiest citizens of our country have been selling us a bill of goods under the guise of working for us.  They get richer, we get poorer.  They don't even try to disguise it any more.  
In 2005  the Wall Street giant Citigroup, set forth an “Equity Strategy” under the title (I’m not making this up) “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.”

. . . . from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent.  The average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income.  But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefited. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.
That’s wage repression.

Moyers goes on to show that this wage repression began with the Reagan presidency and has continued unabated ever since, due to a long series of legislative initiatives that have been systematically passed into law.  We often hear leaders sneeringly criticize our president because he is trying to "redistribute  wealth."  Well, the wealth has already been redistributed -- and it is not to the everyday people like us.  This has been going on for many years, but only now has it become more clear and obvious.   Only now are people having to live with the consequences of those decisions.

A  fraction of one percent of Americans  now earn as much as the bottom 120 million Americans.  Let me repeat that a different way.  If you add up all the salaries of the bottom 120 million Americans, it equals the salaries of a fraction of one percent of the wealthiest Americans.  Yes.  Something is clearly wrong.

Although there has been a gradual decrease in income to ordinary Americans for decades, the results are only evident now.  That's why everyone knows that something is wrong but we don't know what it is.  The changes have come slowly, so it is difficult to pin the change to the changes in the law.  But there is a clear connection.  And unfortunately, it is getting worse.

Due to the supreme court decision of last year, corporations can now give indefinite amounts of money to political candidates anonymously.  We saw the result of that decision in the last election.  Across the country, corporations gave anonymously in unprecedented amounts to candidates who would support their agenda.  Now those who constitute Citigroup’s “plutonomy” are buying our democracy.  Alan Grayson says lobbyists have walked into his office and said "I've got five million dollars to spend and I can spend it for you or against you."  Like I said, they are no longer even trying to hide it. (Alan Grayson, incidentally, did not go along to get along.  He stood up for us ordinary citizens.  He lost his election).

They ran elections void of truth and won massively in the last election. In Michigan the Republican party is now in charge of of the governorship, both chambers of the legislature, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly,  according to Gov. Rick Snyder's inaugural address, the first item on the agenda is a further a attack on the middle class -- a pay cut for public employees, a direct decrease in money coming into our communities.

Part of the reason for this massive take-over is that many did not vote.  People have become so discouraged and lacking in hope, they did not bother to go to the polls.  They are not armed with facts and don't know who to believe, so they stay home from the polls.

And until we get clean, responsible elections, we can kiss goodbye  to our government of, by, and for the people.  Welcome to the plutocracy.

Historically, when a government becomes a  plutocracy, its chances of continuing as a democracy diminish.   In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist Jared Diamond outlines how governing elites throughout history isolate and delude themselves until it is too late.  Any society contains a built-in blueprint for failure, Diamond warns, if elites insulate themselves from the consequences of their decisions, separated from the common life of the country.


" . . . the answer to the question: “Do the Rich Need the Rest of America?” is as stark as it is ominous: Many don’t. As they form their own financial culture increasingly separated from the fate of everyone else, it is hardly surprising that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people.”


Basically, they know ordinary citizens are suffering.  But they don't care.  They are so insulated from the rest of us our general welfare isn't relative to their daily lives.  Now they are in charge of the government -- at least in Michigan.

We have been here before as a country, in the gilded age of the 1890s.  We recovered then and we can recover now.  But to do that, we cannot simply look the other way and pretend all is well.  We must inform ourselves and others so that when the lies begin, ordinary people will not believe them.  And we must give people hope once again so they will vote in leaders who want a democracy of, by and for the people.


The legendary community organizer Ernesto Cortes talks about the “power to preserve what we value.” That’s what we want  – the power to preserve what we value, both for ourselves and on behalf of our democracy.  But let’s be clear: Even with most Americans on our side, the odds are long. We learned long ago that power and privilege never give up anything without a struggle. Money fights hard, and it fights dirty.  We may lose. It all may be impossible. But it’s OK if it’s impossible.   The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then nothing will be done, and when you’re on your death bed, you’re gonna say, “I wish I had done something."  But if you go and do the right thing NOW, and you do it long enough, good things will happen—something’s gonna happen.”















Tuesday, March 1, 2011

WE ARE ONE


This post was written by Steve Markel, Muskegon County Democratic Party Chair,  He read it at the Take Back the American Dream rally which was held on the steps of the capital last Saturday.  The crowd loved it and chanted with him:  
We Are One.
If we are to reclaim our middle class we must set aside our differences and remember that

WE ARE ONE

This country's Freedoms have been built by  American soldiers’ sacrifices.

This country's economy has been built by the American hardworking middleclass' abilities.

This country's intellect has been built by our American public educational system.

 Where would this country be if it weren’t for the American solider?

Where would Henry Ford be if it weren’t for labor?

Where would Bill Gates be if it weren’t for educators?


Let the terrorist that threaten our freedoms know, we are one.

Let the greedy that threaten to destroy the middle class know, we are one.

Let the uninformed that threaten to rob our children of an education know, we are one.
Stand up and be seen that we are one.

Shout out and be heard that we are one.

And never stop believing we are one.