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Sunday, February 27, 2011

BOOK END

On August 4, 1981, two things happened.  My beautiful daughter Robin was born.  And Ronald Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers.  In the ensuing 30 years, the rich have become much richer, the poor have become poorer, and the middle class has shrunk.  If we were to continue in this direction indefinitely, we would eventually lose our middle class.

We simply cannot allow that to happen.

My dad always said that the reason for our vibrant democracy is because we have a strong middle class.  I didn't understand what he meant, but I get it now.  When people lose faith, and when they lose hope, they stop voting.  When that happens, corporations swoop in to take over.  We saw that clearly and sadly in the last election.   Now it is clear that the results of that election are taking us further in the wrong direction.

In Wisconsin, the governor thinks he can eliminate collective bargaining for most public employees, even though we now know that collective bargaining is not the cause of  budget deficits. We also know that collective bargaining helps, not hurts, our educational systems. 

He claims to be trying to solve the budget deficit.  Fact is, the unions have agreed to cut their own benefits to help their state. But that's not enough for Governor Walker. He wants to break unions and further shrink the middle class.  interestingly, he did not try to go after fire fighters and police officers, who donated to his campaign. 

In Michigan, Republicans promised it over and over.  "No new taxes.  Our families are struggling and simply can't afford it."  Now that they have taken power, what is the first thing they want to do?   Raise taxes on our poorest working families by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit  (EITC), which not only helps families, it stimulates the economy.  Even Ronald Reagan loved the EITC.  Apparently, Republican concern for working families has been thrown to the wind in their glee to protect the corporations that funded their campaigns.

Across the country, Republicans have boldly stepped up their plan to ruin the middle class and continue to put the wealth of our country in the hands of a few people.

But now there is hope at the end of this long, dark tunnel.  "It is as though a sleeping giant has awoken," said Pat Guillan in a post to this blog.

And a  sleeping giant has indeed awoken.

Over 70,000 people came out in Madison, objecting to Gov. Walker's dictatorial "I will not compromise," stand.  Thousands more came out in Lansing and across the country to stand with them-- and with the courageous Senate Democrats in Wisconsin.  Those senators refuse to allow a bill to end collective bargaining to sweep through Wisconsin's legislature. 

You can feel it in the air.  Hope has returned.  We are taking back our democracy.

It will not be easy, but we can do it if we pack away our differences and stand together.  In the end, we are still a democracy and the will of the people can prevail.  But it will not be easy.  Thousands of demonstrations across the country is a good start.  We need to continue to peacefully demonstrate until Governor Walker resigns. 

The long, slow slide of the middle class began 30 years ago.  Let's make August 4, 2011 a bookend to that day.   It will be the day we celebrate my daughter's 30th birthday.  Let's make it a day for an even larger celebration, the new rise of the middle class.

Friday, February 25, 2011

BLATENT DISREGARD


Former Majority Floor Leader, Michigan Democrat Kathy Angerer, early in her career as a State Representative, was contacted by a group of parents in her community whose children had been impacted by Autism.  After digging into the issue, she found the problem was that insurance companies who paid for Speech Therapy services for children could exclude children with autism.  When Kathy learned all of the information, she went to work to change that injustice.  She studied the issues.  She met with stakeholders.  She had legislation drawn up.  She then held committee hearings, informed legislators, had parents and even autistic children themselves  testify in Health Policy committee.  The bills she had introduced to remedy the situation passed out of committee and through the full House and on to the Senate.

Then Senate majority leader, Senator Mike Bishop, looked her right in the eye and promised her he would bring the bill up for a vote if she did A, B, C, and D. But she had to wait until the very last day of session.   So Kathy again went to work.  She jumped through the hoops he laid out.  She lined up her votes in the Senate.  She once again had hearings, this time  in the Senate committee.  Parents and students once again testified.  It passed through the committee, ready to be brought up for a vote on the Senate floor.  She waited patiently for the last day of session, because she believed  the Republican Senator's promise.  But guess what happened.  On the last day, when there were no more options left, Senator Bishop changed his mind.  The bill was not brought up for a vote.  It died.  Autisitc children and their parents were brushed aside by the "pro family" Senate Republicans.  And to this day, the speech therapy services that are vital to their development can be denied by insurance companies.

That is why Democrats cannot work with Republicans.

Now we have Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin.  He loudly proclaims and brags about the fact that he will not compromise.  He won't negotiate.  And when he thought he was talking to billionaire David Koch, he further revealed his true self.  He is on tape expounding about a plan to trick the Wisconsin Senate Dems back to the State Capital.  His plan is right there on the tape.  He even considered adding people into the protests that would  "stir things up", which could have led to violence. 
 
It is interesting to note he has refused to return the calls of legislators elected by the people.  But when he thought it was David Koch on the phone, he had a good twenty minutes to devote to the discussion.  Seems like he feels more indebted to billionaire David Koch than his own constituents.

 Governor Scott Walker has now revealed who he is.  It is now perfectly clear he is not  working for the people of Wisconsin. It is time for him to resign.  And it is time for Republicans to call for his resignation.

When Chicago's Governor Blagojvich's corruption was revealed, Democrats joined Republicans to impeach him.  Now Gov. Walker has proclaimed that he will not compromise.  He will not negotiate.  He will try to trick the duly-elected State Senators.  He would consider adding an element of violence to peaceful protests. He won't talk to legislators elected by the people, but he will spend twenty minutes talking to a billionaire who helped fund his campaign.   It is time for Republicans to step up and demand that he resign.





Maybe then the country can return to honestly working together to make decisions which will solve  our difficult problems fairly and reasonably.  That's what we hire our leaders to do.  Let's insist on them doing it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Truth About Republican Leadership

"I will not compromise!"

That is Governor Scott Walker's battle cry.  Finally, our Republican leaders are being clear about who they are.  They have been unwilling to compromise for years.  Now they are letting the world know.  We have it in those four short words.

" I will not compromise!"

I wonder where we would be right now if our founding fathers had that attitude.  I doubt we would have the strong democracy we have had for all these years.

Now we appear to be facing the same thing right here in Michigan.

In 2007 we brought the film industry to Michigan and it has been steadily growing ever since.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into our state because of it.  Jobs have been created.  A crew base has been established.  Studios have developed.  Our young people have come back to the state in droves.  Out of work carpenters and plumbers have been trained in a completely new industry. Spirits have been lifted.   It was the bright spot on the horizon of diversifying our economy.

And our new governor ruined it.  He put a $25 million cap on the rebates. 

Mitch Albom said that with that negligible amount, we might as well just fold it up and end our blossoming new industry right now -- in its tracks.  And basically, that is what has happened.  Projects that were in process have shut down and gone home.  We are the laughing stock in both New York and California. 

This legislation was passed into law in 2007 with a broadly bipartisan, nearly unanimous, vote.  Now Governor Snyder has irresponsibly and single-handedly ruined it.

"I will not compromise"

That mantra is now ringing throughout Michigan.  Governor Snyder isn't saying those words, but those are his actions.

And this is just the beginning.  There is a movement afoot in Lansing to cut public education to the nub, take over local governments and schools, end binding arbitration for police and fire, raise taxes for our poorest working families and older citizens, destroy prevailing wages, and  end item pricing. 

"I will not compromise."

That is their mantra, and that is what is driving this agenda.

The tax code in the state of Michigan is regressive, which means the more money you make, the less percentage goes to taxes, the less you make, the higher percentage goes to taxes.  In short, the poorest pay an undue share to keep our state going.  Nowhere, in any of the proposals they have put out, have I seen anything to rectify that sad situation.

How long will our poorest citizens have to shoulder this financial burden to protect wall street millionaires like Rick Snyder?

No one knows.  But this we now know.

They will not compromise.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Michigan's Own Governor Walker

Have you seen what is happening in Wisconsin?  Public workers are standing up for their rights.  For thirty years, the middle class has been under attack.  The result is exactly what we see today:  fallen wages, people losing their homes, health care putting people in the poor house, college students  stuck with huge loans when they graduate. 

For thirty years now, the rich have been getting richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class has been shrinking.  I have been wondering when someone would stand up and say  "enough."  That is exactly what is happening right now in Wisconsin.  Thousands are descending on their capital,  standing up to Governor Walkers' quest to destroy their bargaining rights. 

Those protesters are determined, bright and persistent.  They found their courage and found their voice.  We will never be the same again.

Meanwhile, we in Michigan are facing our own challenges.  Our governor has proposed a new budget. He ran as a moderate,  but there is nothing moderate about this budget proposal.   He wants to raise taxes on our poorest families and senior citizens.  There are hundreds of millions of dollars of loopholes he could close.  There are services and graduated income tax.  Instead, he proposes raising taxes on the poor to protect the rich. 

Right out of the Republican play book.  Shameful!

He wants to cut the foundation allowance to students, cut revenue sharing,and  eliminate the film credits. Unbelievable!  All this while his State Budget Director, Mr. Nixon, gets paid $250,000 a year, approximately $100,000 more per year than our last budget director.  I think someone needs to explain to Governor Snyder what shared sacrifice actually means.

It seems like perhaps Gov. Snyder did not learn his lessons.  At Gateway he paid too much for the people in top management, then ended up sending his company to China.  I hope the same thing does not happen to us in Michigan.

Friday, February 11, 2011

HOW TO HELP CHILDREN IN A CONSERVATIVE WORLD

Many years ago, we decided that as a society we would protect children who are being slapped, kicked, burned, beaten up and sometimes even killed in their own homes.  We decided not to look the other way but to take action. 

In the state of Michigan, anyone who works with children is required by law to report suspected child abuse.  Protective Services workers, also known as P.S. workers, are the ones who investigate to determine a course of action for those vulnerable children.

When I worked for the Child and Family Services agency in Marquette, Michigan, I came to know many P.S. workers.  I developed deep respect for them and their work.  Talk about a tough -- but important -- job.  They are truly heroes.

First, they are on the spot with the child.  They take pictures  if necessary and get all of the pertinent information.  This, obviously, requires a great deal of wisdom and sensitivity, to be dealing with young children at their most vulnerable moment.  Then the tough work:  determining whether it is truly abuse.  This would be an easy job if abusers had it written across their foreheads.  Unfortunately, though, it is not that easy.  It requires research  to determine what is actually happening in that home.  The P.S. workers interview friends, neighbors, relatives, the children involved and their teachers. 

They then must weigh all of that information to determine if the child is safe in that home.  Should the family receive help?  Should the child be removed from the home?  These are tough, tough questions.  The child's life could depend on the answer.  A wrong decision could cost a child his or her life.

People who are responsible for large sums of money traditionally receive six or seven figure incomes.  Interestingly, though, those who are making life or death decisions for our most vulnerable children barely make a living wage.    That in itself makes quite a statement.

Now it gets even worse, because along comes the Republican party to insist on pay and benefit cuts to those workers.  Instead of raising their pay, they want to cut it.  


This lack of respect for our most vulnerable citizens is, of course, at odds with Republicans' stance on "life".  Seems like they are only for life when they have political motive, but will sell children out at the first opportunity when it is to protect the wallets of our wealthiest citizens.

Not only do we have P.S. workers, we also need people to license safe homes and work with the families.  Those people need top-notch training and supervisors to help with the decision-making process.  Every link of this chain is critical to the health and safety of our children.  It is sad that our Republican leaders, who claim to be for families, step up not to help, but to  remove links and weaken the chain of safety for our children. 

Their myopic thinking tells them the economy will miraculously blossom if only we cut those workers' pay.  There will be jobs for all.  Sunshine and flowers will rule the day.  But let's think about this again, through the prism of reality.  When that chain of safety is weakened with pay cuts, the workers on the front lines don't stay in those jobs long enough to acquire the sophisticated skills they need.  And those who stick it out?  Their morale sinks, just when they need it the most.   Children fall between the cracks, fail to get a good education, and come into adult life lacking skills.

And who  is filling our prisons, costing us millions of dollars?  Those very children, who are now adults.  Over and over we read that Michigan can come back, but we must have a trained workforce at hand.  Cutting pay of dedicated middle class workers will simply not create a trained workforce.  Quite the opposite.

These disastrous cuts are being proposed so  the Republican party can claim fiscal responsibility.  Cutting workers' pay and benefits is  neither responsible nor fiscally sound.  In spite of that, they continue their mantra that they are  on the side of children.  The steps they want to take will not only ruin our economy but  will also harm the very children they claim to love.

Our Republican leadership in Michigan consistently claim our budget is expanding, when in truth it is contracting. They claim we are a high tax state, which is simply not true.  They claim those working with our most vulnerable children are over paid, when in reality they are under paid.

It is time to expose their words and actions for what they truly are, an opportunity to put more money in the hands of those who already live on the lake, have two or three homes, take European vacations and drive the most luxurious cars -- at the expense of  those children being beaten up in their homes.

It is well past time to call them out on their inconsistencies and hypocrisy and ask them to truly be on the side of families and children.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snowpocalypse

Looking outside today I see two feet of snow blanketing my deck, my yard, and my cars -- but not the street in front of my house.  Fortunately, hardworking middle-class workers were up at the wee hours of the night making the streets passable.  With just a half hour of snow-blowing on my part, a safe trip to the store will be possible.  Not to mention that in event of emergency the necessary personnel could get here without delay.  I want to thank those workers who ventured out on a cold and blizzard-y night to keep us safe.  It's at times like these I'm thrilled for this service  -- paid for with my tax dollars.

There are those politicians that feel these hardworking people who came out in the middle of the night deserve a cut in pay, despite their extraordinary efforts.  Even worse, they try to describe these workers as "the privileged class," just because they've earned a fair wage, a satisfying retirement, and the opportunity to provide their family with health care. Those politicians have been working for years to turn all of us against public workers.  Let's not fall for it.

So, what kind of person would demonize such ordinary Americans?  A person who has political motive to cut taxes for our wealthiest citizens, that's who.

Across the country there are politicians trying to cut the wages of everyday Americans.  They are attempting to achieve this goal by demonizing middle class workers.  And its not just limited to those who keep our roads clear and passable.  Police officers and fire fighters, the people who keep us safe in our homes, are under attack as well.  Even those responsible for keeping criminals away from the general population aren't safe from vicious attacks on their livelihood.  In these hard economic times how does cutting the wages of middle class workers benefit the economy?  It doesn't.

The  idea here is to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and hope there is enough tax dollars left to clear your streets off after a snow storm; they hope there is enough left for our police officers to guard our streets and fire fighters to put out  fires; they hope there is enough money to educate the next generation.

It's called trickle-down economics, that tired old theory that if you cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, jobs will magically appear.  If this were true, of course, we'd already have plenty of jobs, since the Bush era tax cuts have been in effect since the beginning of the great recession.  Yet even now, as the stock market makes a comeback, businesses are still not hiring.  Thirty years ago when Ronald Regan introduced us to trickle down, his own Vice President, George H. W. Bush, called this policy "voodoo economics".

What we need is not more trickle down.  What we need is  bottoms up, letting the money start at the bottom and flow upward.  Let's pay that plow truck driver what he or she deserves.   When that person spends the money at the hardware store and to provide food for his family, he (or she) brings money directly into the economy.  Those businesses will suddenly need more workers, so jobs are created. 

Trickle-down is just another name for the the rich get richer.  Bottoms-up, however, helps all of us:  the workers, the merchants, their families, and everyday Americans everywhere.   Let's stick together and insist we pay everyday American workers the pay and benefits they deserve.  That way we all win.