Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.) to speak at CMU April 2

CMU scores big:

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark will be speaking on campus April 2.

The Speaker Series Committee had narrowed its selection to three candidates in
January, with Clark as its top choice.

"Gen. Clark has a very broad and impressive background," said Martha Logsdon, political science professor and Speaker Series committee chairwoman. "It seems to us so many people are interested in world affairs."

BTW: Don't forget to check out WesPAC.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Senator Carl Levin in Mount Pleasant

Senator Carl Levin, the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, this morning (February 19). In case you have just returned from vacationing on Mars, Senator Levin is the person who is leading the charge in the Senate to hold the Bush administration accountable for the debacle in Iraq. He is an equally powerful force in Democratic efforts to bring our troops home.

Levin took his seat as a Senator in 1979, which meant that several of the people he addressed today had not been born when he first went to Washington. So for them, he was living history.

Among his listeners were a teenage girl and her mother, neither of whom had any prior experience with politics: they were just curious about who he was and what he was like. What did they see, and what did they hear as the man in the picture stood next to their table and addressed his audience?

Levin is an unpretentious man to has spent most of his adult life in the Senate. He spoke clearly and with a quiet passion as he described his efforts to use his experience and seniority to find his way through the labyrinth of Senate politics to extricate our country from Iraq. He has a sense of humor and is able to laugh at his own foibles as he skews his political opponents and the ideologues who parade their egos through the halls of Congress.

Levin was challenged on his “no” vote on CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standard.* He explained why he thinks the entire standard should be changed in a way that would actually greatly reduce CO2 emissions and put the American auto manufacturers on an equal footing with foreign competitors. For me, it was an eye-opening experience both for the alternative his proposed and for the simple manner in which he stated his objectives.

So, what did the mother and her daughter see and hear today? In truth, only they can say. I saw and heard a man who has served Michigan and his country most of his adult life. I saw a man who has finally reached a position of influence that he uses wisely and for the common good. I saw the man who is, and who will continue to be in 2008, the senior Senator from Michigan.

*This is the legislation that requires that the “fleet” of cars and trucks produced by one company (for example, all the models that GM makes) to have an average mpg (miles per gallon) rating by a certain date.The current rating process works like this: Each year, GM (or any other auto maker) provides one example of each model of car or truck it makes for testing by a government agency. This “fleet” includes the big gas-guzzlers and also the small, high mileage vehicle that might not sell well, but that is really not GM’s concern: it’s in the fleet because it skews the average upward.

Levin pointed out that the new legislation would actually allow Toyota to sell bigger vehicles than American producers because all of Toyota’s vehicles have better gas mileage. Unfortunately, American automakers have hung their financial futures on sales of big cars and trucks which means they would lose their market niche.

Instead, Levin believes that it would be better to move away from the “fleet” model to a “line” model: for example, set standards for all trucks of a certain size made by all producers.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

No Misspelling Left Behind

The consequences of inadequate education funding will be seen for decades.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

No surprise: Camp refuses to stand up for our troops and oppose escalation

Congressman Dave Camp was one of 182 members of Congress who voted to oppose standing up to President Bush's plan to escalate the war in Iraq. Congressman Fred Upton of St. Joseph (in the southwestern part of the state) was one of 17 Republicans to join almost every Democrat in supporting the non-binding resolution, but alas, Camp just didn't have the gumption to say yes.

Like I said, though, no surprise.

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Ethanol and Global Warming

This is a digression from matters that are purely political, but there is an environmental battle going on in Ithaca that will affect us all in mid-Michigan. Perhaps you have read the series of articles in The Morning Sun about the Liberty Corporation’s efforts to build an ethanol plant in Ithaca.

On the surface, this seems like a boon to the local economy: farmers can sell their corn to the plant where it is converted into ethanol. Ethanol is then mixed with gasoline (at present–plans are to convert completely to ethanol to power vehicles in the future) which ultimately would reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Powering vehicles with ethanol would, according to the purveyors of ethanol, also reduce carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) and thus reduce a proven “greenhouse gas” that is contributing to global warming. A win-win for everyone, right? Not quite.

Scientists–pesky folk that they are–are telling us that unless steps are taken to reduce fuel usage, we’ll be using 26 million barrels per day by 2025. Even if every kernel of corn grown in the United States was used to create ethanol and none was left for food, only 1.5 million barrels per day will be produced.

Our total oil use is expected to grow from 21 million barrels per day today to more than 26 million barrels per day by 2025, but even if we used all our corn to make ethanol–with nothing left for food or animal feed–we could only displace perhaps 1.5 million barrels per day of this demand. Even with my limited math skills I can see that there is a problem here; we would still be short 24.5 million barrels per day under current estimates.

Okay, you say, so humans and livestock would no longer eat corn, but think of the reduced CO2 emissions: that has to count for something, right? Ethanol does, indeed, reduce CO2 emissions by a small percentage (8.2%), and the percentage of reduced carbon monoxide is actually a little bit higher. But ethanol still produces CO2, and the proposed plant in Ithaca would produce between 315,000 to 600,000 tons of CO2 that would be released into the atmosphere each year by Liberty’s own calculations (315,000 is actually Liberty’s number, while the 600,00 figure comes from pre-and post-production estimates that Liberty excluded) .

This means that people living in the Ithaca area will have a new experience in the summer: smog. They will be very likely to have trouble breathing, will develop many kinds of respiratory problems, and suffer the various diseases and allergies consistent with living in a polluted region. True, the farmers who grow corn will have more money and there might be more jobs for people in Ithaca, but everyone in the area will have trouble breathing the air that comes with the process that turns their corn into ethanol.

A number of states across the country are rushing to set up ethanol plants without much forethought about the ecological issues involved. In fact, there are plans on the drawing boards for more than ninety coal-burning ethanol plants: one is already working in Iowa. The regulatory agencies in Iowa are apparently blind to the serious damage that burning coal has already caused. The continuing damage this plant is causing is not just within the borders of Iowa, but around the world, just as ethanol plants is Michigan will degrade not only our Michigan environment, but the environment of the entire planet.

Contact the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and let them know that our environment has to take precedence over money. The battle being fought in Ithaca is not just about Ithaca, but about the air we, our children, and our grandchildren will be breathing. Join the fight!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Debate Over Bush’s “Surge”

This is, as Yogi Berra said, "This is like deja vu all over again." Writing as a Vietnam vet, what is going on in Iraq bears an uncanny resemblance to the fall of Saigon. Bush wants to send in more troops to prop up the puppet government, but can’t say how he will tell if the surge succeeded or not. I suppose it will succeed because he will say that it has. Maybe he can land on that carrier again and announce “Mission Accomplished” one more time.

When I was in Vietnam, my buddies and I often said that Nixon could end the war by saying that he had won, then just leaving the country. He more or less did indeed do this a few years later, during which time a few thousand American lives and untold Vietnamese lives were lost. Bush is in the same position in Iraq.

What nobody seems to be talking about is where he plans to get the 21,000 additional troops. All branches of the military–excepting the Air Force and Navy perhaps–are already stretched to the breaking point. There are very few new bodies to be had. Soreserves are being put on alert, some after having just returned home after tours of duty that were extended by months or years. There are reports of troops in Afghanistan having their tours involuntarily extended and being told that they will be part of the surge in Iraq.

All of this for what reason? Bush will get his “surge,” the situation will remain as it currently is, or more likely worsen, and then what? Because neither he nor his Republican lads in Congress have any clear plans, they drag out the tried and true charges of lack of patriotism, “if we don’t fight them there, we’ll be fighting them here” (which is one of my favorites), and the laughable concern that we will lose credibility with our allies and the nations of the world. As if the administration and Republicans are not already the laughing stock of the world.

What about a failed state in the Middle East? The Republicans like to shake that skeleton. The nation of Iraq was a construct of the British after WW I, and like every other construct, it needed a ruthless dictator to hold it together. Enter Saddam Hussein. What country buttressed Hussein's power for decades? The U.S. What has happened to every other nation constructed of warring tribes who are forced to live together by a foreign military? They fall apart. So there is already a failed state in the Middle East: Iraq. Who caused it to fail? All the presidents who supplied the dictators with their military power-base. George II is not bright enough to know that by removing the dictator who held the country together was tantamount to pulling the central thread from the garment. He's been watching Iraq unravel ever since, and our valiant troops have paid the price for his arrogant stupidity.

For the U.S., the concern should be how to spare any more American casualties and yet leave some shred of hope for the weak central government, but historically, puppet governments rarely have lasted once the U.S. has left unless the U.S. left the country in the hands of a military dictatorship (this is what happened at the beginning of the 20th century in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Haiti). There is no strong Iraqi military because the Bush folk got rid of the generals and officers who controlled Hussein's military because they were Bathists. That was one of the first blunders they made. But I digress.

So will Bush get his “surge?” Probably. Will it make any difference in the level of violence or make the Iraqi government more capable of surviving after we leave? Probably not. If the U.S. withdraws our troops, will the government collapse? Of course. Will the government collapse if we withdraw quickly? Yes. Will it collapse if we withdraw slowly? Yes.

Fast or slow, the troops must come home. The sooner, the better.

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Letter to Morning Sun about Jack McHugh article

On Tuesday, February 13, the Morning Sun ran an editorial by Jack McHugh. McHugh works for the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, a conservative “think tank” that was very supportive of John Engler’s administration. In case you have forgotten, Engler left the state with a seven-billion dollar deficit, a school-funding system that never worked, and did what he could to remove government regulations for business…that John Engler, remember? Curiously, the Mackinaw Center never challenged Engler’s poor management, but has done nothing but challenge Jennifer Granholm’s efforts to clean up Engler’s financial mess.

Surely Mr. McHugh is aware that when a governor speaks of “investing” in education or infrastructure, this is not the same as when a business owner speaks of “investing,” because the expected “returns” on the investments are completely different. But maybe not; maybe he really does not understand the difference.

He might ponder the differences as he drives his car on publicly-funded roads, buys gasoline at stations that are regularly inspected (by government inspectors) so he receives what he pays for, or reads his paper by lights in a warm house (utilities are regulated by taxpayer-funded state employees). Perhaps he attended a state-supported university in Michigan where professors (state employees, all) helped him hone his political thought. These are just a few of the results of the “investments” Granholm is talking about, and investments that governors before Engler understood. Or maybe he does understand, but prefers to grouse. That’s okay. It is, after all, a free country protected by the military and police who are paid for by us all.

Peace and Justice on Valentine's Day

Enjoy those flowers and chocolates today, but just take a moment to think about and perhaps do something about how they came to you. Amy Goodman reminds us today on Democracy Now that those flowers probably came from places like Ecuador and Columbia where flower plantation workers are exploited at poverty wages.

Much of the chocolate could have come from African nations were child labor and even slave labor harvest those cocoa beans. And big spenders need to avoid blood diamonds that have fueled some African conflicts for decades.

Peace and justice dictates a kiss and a hug and a little cute poem for your sweetie today.

Democracy Now can be seen live from New York on public access TV, Charter Cable Channel 3 Monday through Friday in Clare, Gratiot and Isabella and is also available now on both major satellite networks at 8 a.m. We are hoping to have a local rebroadcast soon each evening. Stay tuned for the latest.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

On Rightsizing Local Government and School Districts

Almost lost in Gov. Jennifer Granholm's 2007 State of the State Speech was a brief mention of the carrot being offered to local jurisdictions to reduce the cost of wrongsized local schools and governments. In tough times big and small businesses are forced to get more efficient just to survive, but one of the greatest inefficiencies in Michigan is the sacred cow of township government and small school districts.

The truth is there are only a few dozen of our state's more than 1,200 townships that provide significant services that couldn't be provided more efficiently by another local government organization. Michigan also has hundreds more school districts than it needs. The rest are a waste of taxpayer money. But township governments are a sacred cow that John Engler was keenly aware of, but he refused to commit political suicide by doing any more than suggest the need for reform. Same thing with the school districts. Eliminating unneeded township governments could provide hundreds of millions of dollars of savings to taxpayers. It could be higher, but noone is really looking at the size of local entities as a problem.

One of the myths perpetuated by both small school districts and rural townships is that local is better. Like all myths, there is a kernel of truth there. But when standards and rules are dictated by federal and state edicts, local control doesn't really exist. Local officials can only determine how to implement, not what is to be implemented and organizations that are too small are notoriously inefficient at implementation. Many of the smartest local officials already recognize this and are making some effort to change.

But while most similar sized states to Michigan number their school districts in the dozens, Michigan has more than 500 local school districts and another 57 regional educational service districts. Perhaps it made sense to have that many school districts when it took hours to travel five miles, but when miles can be covered in minutes and seconds, it is a waste of taxpayer money to allow small inefficient school districts and townships to continue in operation.

Years of tax and budget cuts now have taken most fat out of local budgets and taxpayers now are paying to have their kids participate in extracurricular activities in Michigan's wrongsized school districts. But small local school districts are still political sacred cows.

In our Isabella County we have school buses from different school districts traveling on the same county roads and three school superintendents and costly administrative staffs where one would do fine. By some estimates savings of 20 to 30 percent in local education could be saved by rightsizing Michigan school districts.

By rightsizing we mean just that. Most of Michigan's more than 500 school districts are too small to take advantage of economies of scale, but a few are too large to manage effectively, most notably, the Detroit Schools.

It is refreshing to see that Gov. Granhom is acknowledging the problem exists, but tossing a carrot to local jurisdictions to work together is just a band-aid on a large open wound. In her last term she has the opportunity to do something meaningful after few of the sacred cows accept the state grants for doing what they should have been doing more of -- learning how to get smarter and more effiicient by working together.

Pushing for real reform by rightsizing Michigan schools and townships will probably take more stick and less carrot in the future. But a few bucks spent on estimating more accurately the potenial waste of the wrongsized jurisdictions could be a first step towards real reform. We need better roads and more money spent in our classrooms and less on the administration and inefficient structures of Michigan's wrongsized local jurisdictions.

Could Michigan save taxpayer dollars and get better services by eliminating half of its local school bureaucracies and would Michigan taxpayers be better off with hundreds of fewer township governments? You betcha.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

From the Governor's Office: State Board and Commission Vacancies

I got this in an email from the Kent County Democratic Party. Perhaps you may be interested.

The Governor's office is looking for general public members to fill spots on thefollowing boards.

If you would like to play a role in the Governor’s administration, please submit your name to Joan Bowman at or call 517-881-2170.

In general public spots, the applicants should not have any professional affiliation with the industry they would be regulating as a member of the board.

  • Elevator Safety – usually general public spot is held by a person who uses a wheelchair or other individual with a disability(note the use of “person first” language)
  • Landscape Architects – 3 positions
  • Barber Examiners – 3 positions
  • State Carnival Amusement Safety Board – 1 position
  • Board of Cosmetology – 2 positions
  • Board of Plumbing – 1 position
  • Interviews are being held this week for the new Athletic Trainer Board
Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to hear whom the Governor plans to appoint to the CMU Board of Trustees.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Note to Land, Cox, and Camp: Michigan is watching

The Michigan Democratic Party has unveiled a newly expanded GOP Watch section of its website - a treasure trove for anyone looking for dirt on Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Attorney General Mike Cox, Congressman Dave Camp, and the 2008 Republican presidential candidates.

Among the highlights: Camp voted against expanding stem cell research, raising the federal minimum wage, and fixing Medicare and our energy policy. Michiganders' records are at risk of being stolen due to Land. And the unethical Cox won't protect consumers.

With both Land and Cox considered potential 2010 gubernatorial contenders, it will be interesting to see what else the MDP can dig up on them.

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