Friday, August 30, 2013

Questions about football persist

Thousands of fans and players are taking part in that annual rite of fall, the start of the high school football season.

Meanwhile, enthusiasts are suddenly finding they have to defend the game.

The National Football League may have settled the lawsuit against it over concussions. But the issue is likely to continue.

High School football participation numbers have gone down each of the past four years, according to data from The National Federation of High School Activities Associations.

“The headlines indicate football’s headwinds. ‘Is American Football Evil?’ ‘Should Kids Play Football?’ ‘Is Football Wrong?’ ‘Should We Ban Football?’ Some questions give answers just by asking,” wrote Daniel J. Flynn in The American Spectator. He is author of “The War on Football: Saving America's Game.”

It’s all worth a discussion. At the very least, rules for football practices should be reviewed and revised when necessary, as has been done by Pop Warner, the  oldest and largest national youth football organization.

Ultimately, however, this is America, land of the free, a nation where football is entrenched in our culture. Any decisions about the sport ultimately ought to be left up to the participants and, for youth, the parents. They just need to be sure they have all the facts.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Kudos to Kowall, Marleau, Gregory

Two Oakland County Republicans were among the eight  who this week voted to expand  Medicaid in Michigan, ensuring its passage. It took some courage on their parts.

Sens. Mike Kowall of White Lake and Jim Marleau of Lake Orion voted for the measure. Two Oakland County Republicans, David Robertson of Grand Blanc, who represent parts of the north section of the county, and John Pappageorge of Troy were among the 18 Republicans opposing the expansion, which passed 20-18.

The county’s fifth senator,  Vincent Gregory of Southfield, was among the 12 Senate Democrats who unanimously voted in favor of the law.

Marleau and Kowall now face the possible wrath of Tea Party proponents who could threaten their political futures. Instead, voters should commend their independence.

Many Republicans wrongly cast the issue as a proxy for Obamacare. It needed to have been seen for what it is, which is an offer by the federal government to pay most of the cost for the medical care of 400,000-plus poor residents, thereby absorbing a cost now paid primarily by current health insurance ratepayers.

In 2007, interestingly, it was Pappageorge who took the bipartisan route as he joined fewer then a handful of Senate Republicans passing an income tax hike pushed by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Democratic House.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A tale of two Obamacare mandates

Historically, Republicans have been good at math.

For example, it has always been their virtue that they point out when the country is spending more than it is taking in.

Is this GOP expertise in numbers changing?

The question arises because, despite indications it is dead or at least on life support from a numbers standpoint, the “Defund Obamacare” movement is still a cause for some of them.

“I learned to count in Maryville (Tenn.) City Schools,” Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander recently told his critics on the right. “So I know that if you only have 45 votes and you need 60 senators to get something important done like balancing the budget and fixing the debt, then you have to work with other people — that is, IF you really care about solving the problem, IF you really want to get a result, instead of just making a speech.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel suggested an alternative to Defund Obamacare, but it has a flaw: It equates the individual and employer mandates that are features of the new law. But at least it acknowledges that Defund Obamacare has insufficient support in Congress.

Strassel suggests an assault on Obamacare’s individual mandate. She says the GOP ought to push for a delay in the Jan. 1, 2014 effective date for the mandate requiring individuals to have health insurance. The fine for not having insurance in 2014 is a whopping $95 per adult. (By the way, those earning beneath a certain income level are exempt from the fine.)

Strassel’s logic is that since the administration delayed the effective date of the employer mandate to Jan. 1, 2015, the individual mandate also should be delayed for a year.

That argument is possibly enough to convince some House Democrats of joining Republicans to go along with. The merits of the suggestion are something else, however.

Comparing the individual and employers mandate is akin to an apple and an orange. One has nothing to do with the other. 

Employers faces tens of thousands of potential fines for not supplying insurance to employees, while the responsibility for insurance actually rests with the individual. Individuals remain free to seek employment with employers who offer health insurance benefits, or seek coverage in the individual market.

The idea of a mandate actually originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation, had been backed by many Republicans, and was implemented in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor. The premise is simple: There is no such thing as a free lunch. No freeloading. Since everyone uses the health care system, everyone (who is able) needs to pay. These are good old Republican notions.

Strassel also is mathematically challenged, by the way. The Senate is unlikely to approve a delay even if it passes the House and President Obama has a veto power he is likely to wield.

Some in the GOP appear to have a short memory but they lost the last two presidential elections.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Our privacy is an important issue

There is the story of the little girl who, during the Camp David Peace talks of the 1970s that pre-empted her favorite TV shows, said to her father: “I know it’s important Daddy, but it’s boring.”

Well, the discussion about your First and Fourth Amendment rights is anything but scintillating, and the revelations — shocking, really — about the extent to which the federal National Security Agency has gathered information about private citizens seems to be eliciting little more than a collective yawn from the general public.

Nevertheless, someone needs to pay attention.

And there was  good news this week from the give-credit-where-credit-is-due category. 

The federal government launched “IC ON THE RECORD” with  the goal of providing the public with direct access to factual information related to the surveillance activities carried out by the intelligence community.

At the same time, the NSA declassified three secret U.S. court opinions Wednesday showing how it obtained as many as 56,000 emails and other communications by Americans with no connection to terrorism annually over three years, how it revealed the error to the court and changed how it gathered Internet communications.

The opinions show that when the NSA reported that to the court in 2011, the court ordered the NSA to find ways to limit what it collects and how long it keeps it.

The NSA reported the problems it discovered in how it was gathering Internet communications to the court and shortly thereafter to Congress in the fall of 2011, according to the Associated Press.

Three senior U.S. intelligence officials said  that the NSA realized that when it was gathering up bundled Internet communications from fiber optic cables, with the cooperation of telecommunications providers like AT&T, that it was often collecting thousands of emails or other Internet transactions by Americans who had no connection to the intended terror target being tracked.

While the NSA is allowed to keep the metadata — the address or phone number and the duration, but not the content, of the communication — of Americans for up to five years, the court ruled that when it gathered up such large packets of information, they included actual emails between American citizens, it violated the Constitution’s ban against unauthorized search and seizure.

In the opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court denouncing the practice, the judge wrote that the NSA had advised the court that “the volume and nature of the information it had been collecting is fundamentally different than what the court had been led to believe,” and went on to say the court must consider “whether targeting and minimization procedures comport with the Fourth Amendment.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan warned about complacency on the subject of privacy.

“The end of the expectation that citizens' communications are and will remain private will probably change us as a people, and a country,” she wrote.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Good advice from Greimel

Tim Greimel’s role pertaining to Pontiac has changed since the days when he was a county commissioner. Back then he attended every civic improvement meeting imaginable as the city grappled with its problems.

Neither he nor anyone else possessed any magic elixir. But Greimel and Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavitch have, over the years, probably done more than anyone to build a leadership corps that can serve the city in the future.

Now Greimel is House minority leader in Lansing. It’s a highly partisan role but he left that approach at the state capital as he advised the Pontiac School Board the other day.

Gov. Rick Snyder recently declared the district in financial emergency due to its $37.7 million debt. The board has been offered four potential paths as it moves forward.

They prefer reaching a consent agreement with the state to an emergency financial manager, but Greimel warned them that they had better follow it to the letter.

“I have reason to believe that some (in Lansing) want to see an emergency manager in this district,” Greimel told the board.

 And there is certainly nothing he can do about it since it is an executive branch decision and as a Democrat Greimel is in the minority anyway.

Unlike Pontiac’s city council, the school board has done everything in its power to manage its own house and right its ship. But there was just a too long a history of corruption and incompetence to overcome.

No one on the board denies the seriousness of the situation.

The district has 30 days — or less if Treasurer Andy Dillon says it will be less than 30 days — to negotiate the consent agreement, which must be then approved by the full board.

“It is difficult to know what the treasurer will insist on. It could include prior approval of expenditures,” Greimel said, and it will include what will happen if there is a violation of the agreement.

Although mediation with vendors and labor unions could be the alternative measure if the district violated the consent agreement, Greimel doubts that would be the outcome.

“My guess is the state is likely to insist on, if there is a default, there will be an emergency manager,” he said, according to conversations he has heard in Lansing.

A fourth option is bankruptcy.

There is a fifth option too — disbanding the district. But that would require state legislative action. And no one on the board favors that.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thank you, Lou Schimmel

Now 76 years old, you have to wonder what was in it for Lou Schimmel when he accepted the post of emergency financial manager for Pontiac in 2011.

It must be old-fashioned duty to country.

“When offered this job at that time, two years ago … had it been anywhere else, I would have said no,”  Schimmel told Oakland Press reporter Dustin Blitchok.

There must have been some sentimentality for a city he loves. He graduated from Pontiac High School in 1955.

“Pontiac was my greatest success, by far,” Schimmel said.

“The basic blueprint Schimmel used in Pontiac has existed for more than 20 years: A financial plan he delivered to then-Mayor Wallace Holland on Nov. 19, 1991 reads as if it were written yesterday,” Blitchok wrote.

The report said the city should sell “its golf course, two cemeteries, hospital and stadium.”

The sale of Pontiac Municipal Golf Course closed this week. Schimmel contracted the operation of the city’s cemeteries to the Detroit Memorial Park Association last year. Pontiac General Hospital was sold in the 1990s and former Emergency Financial Manager Fred Leeb auctioned the Silverdome for $583,000 in 2009.

Pontiac’s citizenry owes a huge debt of gratitude to Schimmel. From many, all he has gotten is ignorant abuse. It continued Monday as City Council President Lee Jones — perhaps the poster child of incompetence among the city’s elected officials — called Schimmel’s departure from the position “bittersweet.”

“He leaving; that’s sweet,” Jones said.  “The bitter is the document that was left. Thirteen pages given to us five minutes before a 1 p.m. meeting — I think that was kind of unacceptable.”

This from a man who couldn’t understand one simple rule of government: Don’t spend money you don’t have.

Well, at least Council President Jones is leaving too. He is not seeking re-election. Now that’s sweet.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bring back the old Gary Peters

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters is running for the U.S. Senate, but the question is, which Gary Peters is running?

Is it the one who represented the former 9th district in Oakland County or the one who represents the new 14th district that stretches all the way to Detroit?

To be sure, the difference may be more in image than in substance, but you can see it for yourself by checking out the news releases issued from his office since Peters became a congressman in 2009.

He seems to have adopted a more confrontational, strident and partisan approach.

Perhaps the most striking example is Detroit Bulk Storage’s petroleum coke export business, on which he was called out in a commentary published in The Wall Street Journal.

Peters said in a recent news release that he is seeking a comprehensive solution on how to properly store pet coke and a study into the long-term health and safety implications of pet coke.

“Pet coke should not be blowing into people’s homes and businesses or draining into the Great Lakes watershed,” Peters said.

He might have added that the Grand Canyon is deep.

“Most people watching their city teeter on the brink of collapse would welcome the fact that Detroit is at the crossroads of an energy revolution in North America,” wrote Henry Payne in The Wall Street Journal. “To meet American's voracious thirst for petroleum products, millions of barrels of Canadian-mined oil sands are shipped across 2,000 miles of pipeline to Marathon's giant refinery off I-75 in southwest Detroit ...

“Pet coke is being tested by local utility DTE Energy for use in its coal-fired plants. In a neat twist, the material is also being exported back to a Canadian power plant in Nova Scotia (as well as to other countries) via barges loaded at the Detroit waterfront,” Payne continued.

Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality has approved the project. The federal Environmental Protection Agency said pet coke, which is  a common ingredient in electricity and steel production, is nontoxic, Payne wrote.

“By going after the city's burgeoning industry in pet coke — a byproduct of oil-sands refining — ‘green’ politicians like Detroit's U.S. Rep. Gary Peters hope to further discourage Canadian oil exports from ever making it to the Keystone Pipeline or other American refineries,” Payne wrote.

In taking his critical stance, Peters is following the lead of his new constituents in Detroit, led by the incompetent Detroit City Council. God forbid that he should stand up to this dysfunctional, nonfeasant group.

Peters won election and re-election to his old 9th district seat by attracting the votes of thousands of Republicans and independents to an unprecedented degree, even in the face of the Republican landslide victory of 2010. He conducted himself in an intelligent, independent and bipartisan fashion; indeed, that is the record of his public service.

Let’s hope the old Gary Peters re-emerges. We’re at his mercy since he seems destined to replace Carl Levin in the U.S. Senate. The Republicans appear to be in disarray in fielding a candidate.

Michigan has a history of statesmanlike U.S. senators regardless of party. Think of Levin, Philip Hart, Robert Griffin and Arthur Vandenberg.

Peters is capable of attaining that caliber.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Spying and our right to know

Edward Snowden must have taken wry satisfaction in President Obama's call last week for an overhaul of the nation's surveillance policies.

Snowden, you will recall, is the man who leaked the existence of the National Security Agency's possession of a huge collection of Americans' phone records. He has chosen exile in Russia instead of facing criminal charges in his own country.

Snowden may have broken the law, but bear in mind, we would not know the extent of the government's capacity to reach into our private lives had he not made his disclosures.

And we deserve to know, even if national security requires use of this data in the fight against terrorism.

Largely because of Snowden, we must assume there are virtually no limits to what the government theoretically could know about all of us. It ought to end some of the nonsensical talk about our constitutional rights. Our constitutional rights do us no good if we have a bad government that ignores them. This should underscore the necessity of choosing honorable public officials.

The question is raised in extreme circles as to whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor. The same can be said for Bradley Manning, the soldier who gave U.S. government war logs and State Department cables to Wikileaks, an organization that exists to make such disclosures.

In both cases, much of what was disclosed should not have been confidential in the first place.   This perchant for secrecy, by the way, has always been true of government at every level, from the local planning commission to the United Nations.

  "I’m not sure that heroism — or, if it’s more your speed, the dastardly perfidy — of Manning and Snowden really matters in the end," wrote Tom Watson in Forbes. "What does matter is that there are other Bradley Mannings and Edward Snowdens out there right now, with their fingers on keyboards connected to vast databases that remain — only in theory, as it turns out — secret. What matters is that digital security in our still young, newly-networked age is losing almost as quickly as privacy — and privacy has lost, almost completely."

Watson suggests "pioneer" is a better word to attach to Snowden and Manning.

Gathering information is easy, and getting easier — as millions of consumers voluntarily put their personal data on public or corporate networks. Keeping that information secret is clearly much more difficult, and may be getting harder. That’s why Snowden and Manning — whether traitors or heroes or neither — should be rightly be regarded as the first arrivals of the wave still to come."

It is a brave new world indeed.

Medal of freedom for Manning?

Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The truth about Obamacare

Want the truth about Obamacare and not just political spin?

Then turn to Kaiser Health News. The site constantly updates with the latest on the Affordable Care Act.

For instance, it is reporting that with less than eight weeks to go before the official launch of the new health care marketplaces under the federal health law, backers of the law are ramping up to encourage people to sign up.

"But there’s another effort gearing up this month as well," the news service reports. "Opponents of the health care law are making one last-ditch effort to run Obamacare off the rails before it gets fully implemented."

Probably the most aggressive effort is coming from FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group. It’s urging people, particularly young people, not to sign up for health insurance.

“They can skip the exchange, pay the fine, and in doing that, do what’s best for them financially, and we hope help hasten the collapse of Obamacare,” said Dean Clancy, the group’s vice president for policy.

Now let's take a closer look at what Clancy is saying. He wants young people to game the system. He also is tacitly suggesting they ignore their own health care by gambling that because they are young, they needn't worry about health issues.

However, young people are very susceptible to problems like high blood pressure or cholesterol. Even someone who is only 27 can prevent a lot of damage by discovering this at an early stage.

Also, although young people disproportionately do not use the health system, when they do and lack  insurance, the rest of us have to pay for it if they end up in the emergency room due to, say, a traffic accident. Federal law requires hospitals to provide emergency care, regardless of cost.

Although young people may not get the return on their health insurance that senior citizens do, when they do need the system, they will want it to be healthy. That's why they need to pay their way now.

Summing up, everyone needs to do their share. Freeloaders ought to be discouraged. That's just the American Way.  

To be sure, ACA may not be a perfect law. But it will provide coverage to millions of individuals, saving the rest of us the high cost of emergency care in the process.  If there is a better way to do it, let's reform Obamacare. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pontiac voters choose wise path

Congratulations to Pontiac voters!

Not to sound overly patronizing, but they have decided they think democracy is a good idea for their city.

They made excellent choices in choosing nominees for mayor Tuesday. Library Board Chairwoman Deirdre Waterman and incumbent Mayor Leon Jukowski will square off in November.

Both have supported the reforms necessary to bring Pontiac back from what has virtually been a bankruptcy, though the law doesn't define it as such.

That's the good news. The bad news is that between them, Waterman and Jukowski got less than 44 percent of the vote. The rest went to three unqualified candidates who would have led Pontiac back to the sorry financial state from which it has been liberated.

We have seen too often in Michigan where emergency managers come in to cities or school districts to set things aright, just to have them return to the ruins from which they emerged.

New Pontiac officials can succeed where their predecessors failed. They need to follow one simple rule: Don't spend money the city doesn't have.

Not that the word is "simple." No one says it will be easy.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Michigan Way prevails on Medicaid

Michiganians should be grateful for the small show of bipartisanship shown as the Senate Government Operations Committee moved forward on the proposed Medicaid expansion.

State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat, termed it  "a distinctly Michigan process."

There is, indeed, a Michigan Way in terms of how the legislature has worked and let's hope it continues. It is this: when all sides have had a chance to be heard, a vote is taken and everyone accepts the result.

Not so on the national scene, where extremists increasingly carry the day, and many  issues are never resolved.

Many Republicans realize that there is a difference between opposing Obamacare and supporting the Medicaid expansion. The latter will provide coverage for more than 400,000 residents, providing compensation to hospitals currently providing the service free and passing the expense onto insurance ratepayers. The federal government also is paying the full cost — nearly $2 billion annually — for the first three years of the program.

Many Republican-led states are rejecting the expansion, thereby leaving the money on the table. That could become an issue in next year's elections.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Deeper meaning to MLB crackdown?

It is natural to look at isolated events to see if there are broader implications. Thus, we sought to read some societal significance into the George Zimmerman verdict, even though it was likely a one-of-a-kind event.

So now we turn to the crackdown in Major League Baseball on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. There is little tolerance for use of these banned substance among MLB executives, baseball fans or players, and a growing support for severe punishments.

Does this represent a broader sentiment in society against cheating in general or drug use in particular?

Again, this may be isolated to itself, because there is no similar crackdown in the NFL or NBA, and as for crime or drug use in general, there seems to be increased tolerance for freedom in terms of recreational  drug use. In fact, we now have reports of PED use among college athletes. If anything should spur general public outrage, you would think that would.

So far, no such trend is discernible.