Governor Snyder’s Tragically Failed Dashboard

The False Promise of Spreadsheet Public Policy

“The people of Flint got stuck on the losing end of decisions driven by spreadsheets instead of water quality and public health.” — Dennis Schornack, Aide to Gov. Snyder

Republicans just love standardized tests to measure “outcomes” — especially to evaluate the performance of the public sector. Ask any school teacher and you’re bound to get an earful.

Fully enamored of the concept, newly elected Gov. Snyder implemented his Michigan Open Performance Portal, aka dashboard, back in 2011 as a means to measure the progress of his “relentless positive action” found through “best practices” — a misguided calculation intended to culminate in his triumphal presidential aspirations. The governor’s administrative team also touted the online tool as a shining example of governmental transparency — a real-time repository of actionable information.  Yet, time has proven, over and again, that his spreadsheet-based policy plans have failed to demonstrate measurable, or even anecdotal, progress at nearly every turn during his troubled tenure in Lansing.

And now, Michigan finds the governor’s dashboard gone tragically haywire, not just in concept, but in terms of actually measuring anything remotely useful — if it’s even functioning at all. The dashboard’s stated goal was to “provide a starting point for change in communities.” In reality, it reports stale-dated, static data in a number of generalized categories, while too often missing meaningful content where it truly matters. Additionally, it offers some spotty in-depth numbers specific to sub-categories, at times touching-on individual units of government through a variety of links — which may, or may not work.

Here’s the perpetual “page not found” message for the Flint dashboard — a city that was subjected to years of rule by the governor’s hand-picked emergency manager.

MI Dashboard -Flint

City of Flint Dashboard Website — Not Found

The Flint water crisis, arguably the most critical consideration in Michigan, is conspicuously absent from the governor’s statewide dashboard — not found under any of the eight primary categories, including “Health and Wellness”,”Infrastructure”, nor “Public Safety”, or even “Energy and Environment.” Even in the subcategory of “Water”, all we find are metrics for monitoring beaches, aquatic invasive species, and raw sewage discharge. Toxic levels of lead in the drinking water apparently doesn’t merit a mention, footnote, or an obscure link. Nothing.

The links to Michigan’s counties are equally useless. Of the 83 counties in the state, 82 have ratings on health “outcomes” and “factors” based on 2014 data compiled by County Health (Keweenaw County is not ranked.) Genesee, with its county seat of Flint, ranks 81st under both categories, yet the detailed report indicates a zero percentage of problems under “drinking water violations“, employing data from 2012/13.

Snyder’s focus on corporate-model public policy apparently extends only to measuring the bottom line of the balance sheet — health outcomes simply don’t factor into the equation. If meaningful measurements were taken, they are nowhere to be found. A former Snyder advisor, Dennis Schornack, explained how the governor failed the citizens of Flint:

“The people of Flint got stuck on the losing end of decisions driven by spreadsheets instead of water quality and public health.”

The fallout from Snyder’s disastrous policies has become an academic case study at a number of universities. Bridge magazine reports that Wayne State, Grand Valley State, Michigan State, and Harvard have already focused on the details of his failed legacy. As academics write curriculum on Flint, Snyder’s dashboard still remains out-of-order — begging the question: What else don’t we know about the other 82 counties, including unranked Keweenaw, with its pristine shoreline?

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin




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Michigan Legislator Proposes Law to Eliminate Cruel Forms of Punishment in Schools

“Seclusion in schools is a dangerous and unregulated practice that puts children at risk of harm.” — Mark McWilliams, Director of Information, Referral and Education Services at Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc.

seclusion room

Seclusion Room, photo: MPAS

Many have seen that heart-wrenching video of the terrified 5-year old Georgia school boy enduring a paddling over his misbehavior at the hands of unbending school administrators. Much of the nation was horrified to learn that this kind of physical abuse remains perfectly legal in 19 states, primarily in the “spare the rod” bible belt region. Corporal punishment may shock the delicate sensibilities of the residents of more refined states, but they too would benefit from a closer look at other, also perfectly legal, “enhanced” techniques employed in their school systems — both public and private.

A Michigan public school my children attended during their early years had a small room in the administrator’s office — windowless, containing only a cot. About the size of a small closet, it was reserved for two purposes — a place for sick children to be quarantined prior to parental pick-up, and an isolation holding cell for the naughty. If one can get past the ill-advised practice of exposing truculent children to all manner of contagion, the salient question would be: Is the use of isolation, officially referred to as “seclusion” among academics, an appropriate and effective practice?

More than a mere time-out — a cooling of one’s heels in the hallway, seclusion is a technique of dubious efficacy, which all too frequently targets special needs students, and is employed in lieu of thoughtful and professional intervention and redirection. The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education reports that while children with disabilities make up 12 percent of the school population, they comprise 58 percent of those subjected to seclusion, and a whopping 75 percent of those forced to endure physical restraint.

Among its opponents, the practice falls into the same category as physical restraint of children — another misguided technique regularly used with the intent of correcting challenging behavior. However, not only are these practices dehumanizing and cruel, they simply do not produce favorable results.

Acting through executive action earlier this year, President Obama put an end to solitary confinement of juvenile offenders in prison, yet our schools routinely put very young children, guilty of little more than acting their age within their mental capacity, in solitary for a good portion of their school day.

Stop Hurting, an advocacy group working to put an end to restraint and seclusion, describes the consequences of these barbaric practices:

There is no evidence of the therapeutic or educational value of restraint and seclusion. They are practices that are neither ethical nor beneficial, and often cause a spiraling effect in which additional unwanted behaviors may arise. Further, there is an existing and growing body of evidence in support of positive alternatives in addressing challenging behaviors.

Michigan lawmaker Rep. Frank Liberati (D-13) is championing a package of ten bills that would restrict the use of “archaic methods”, such as restraint and seclusion in the state’s public schools. His son has Fragile X Syndrome — an inherited condition among boys, which is a disorder often accompanied by autism and similarly marked by a spectrum of intellectual disabilities and a number of behavioral problems — the kind of which could prompt restraint and seclusion measures in the classroom.

House Bills 5409 through 5418 layout a detailed plan for eliminating cruel forms of classroom punishment, providing training for school personnel on effective techniques, plus requirements for a documentation and reporting process. The House Fiscal Agency reports that this legislative package is nearly identical to the recommendations made by the Michigan Department of Education compiled by a group of parents, advocates, educators, policy makers, and service providers convened between 2004 and 2006 to study and develop effective policies that protect the dignity of all students and the integrity of the educational process.

Calling it long overdue, Elmer Cerano, executive director of MPAS, supports this legislative package:

“Public schools are still the only service system where these dangerous practices remain unregulated and unreported. The bills before the committee strike a good balance between the legitimate needs of educators and the safety of children.”

Video of Liberati testifying before the Michigan House Education Committee:

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Michigan GOP Lawmakers Want to Eliminate Licenses for Water Heater Installers

“After given everything that’s gone on, why in God’s name would the legislature try to pass something where you don’t need a license with water heaters, especially in this situation?” – Scott Smith, Water Defense

Scott Smith

Scott Smith, Photo: LinkedIn

Admittedly, if a homeowner is intent upon bypassing contractor licensing requirements to install a new water heater, they probably wouldn’t let Michigan Compiled Law stand in their way, but if several Republican lawmakers have their say, the practice would become the norm. Rep. Dan Lauwers (R-81), along with two of his colleagues, have introduced legislation to eliminate occupational licensing for the installation of hot water heaters.

At first blush, one might believe the proposal is meant to help Flint residents expedite important repairs to their compromised plumbing. After all, the Flint water crisis task force recommended remedial action for the city’s households specifically citing that water heaters have been damaged — in some cases causing explosions. However, aiding Flint homeowners is not likely the impetus behind the bill.

When something smells fishy with GOP legislation, typically there are found some sketchy characters lurking in the shadows, and this is no exception. As part of a nationwide push to eliminate licensing of the trades as a rule, the Michigan proposal fits-in squarely with the Koch brother’s plan.

The Koch political machine has been busy persuading state legislatures to dismantle occupational licensing requirements. Mark Holden, the Koch’s point man, given seemingly unlimited resources to lobby on their behalf, explained to USA Today “we don’t constrain ourselves by a budget.” The publicly visible portion of their campaign can be found on the editorial pages of numerous newspapers across the country, with a stock letter penned by Holden, identical in every detail except for the name of the state. You can read the letter published in the Detroit News HERE.

The Koch plan has found some support within the Obama administration, which is also calling for easing of some requirements. But, is this a good idea for hot water heater installers — where knowledge of plumbing, electrical, and gas lines is critical to ensure safety?

Rep. Lauwers defended his legislation as “common-sense.” This would come as a shock to Scott Smith, lead investigator at Water Defense, a non-profit founded by actor/activist Mark Ruffalo. Smith, who has been working with the plumbers union to test Flint water, was a guest on The Tom Sumner Program this week discussing the rigors of properly testing and retesting Flint water at all points. Smith, more than once stated that “common-sense” is apparently not very common as evidenced by the way state officials have bungled this crisis time and again. In particular he mentioned the notion of using non-licensed hot water heater installers as an example of the paucity of sound judgement.

“After given everything that’s gone on, why in God’s name would the legislature try to pass something where you don’t need a license with water heaters, especially in this situation?”

Welcome to the “water wonderland” that is Michigan Mr. Smith.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Michigan’s Offshore Corporate Tax Cheats Revealed

As reporters pour over the recently leaked “Panama Papers”, searching the massive document dump for names familiar here in the U.S., the Obama administration used the occasion to push for a crackdown on corporate tax inversions — an ongoing problem draining the nation’s economy of revenue by the billions. Inversions are tax avoidance schemes in which corporations affiliate with foreign holding companies as a means to relocate as a phony headquarters overseas to enjoy the benefits of lower tax rates. Losses to the U.S. tax base are estimated to potentially be well over $100 billion, but GOP defenders of the shell game claim it is necessary because U.S. corporate taxes are too high.

Also in recent news is the story of Johnson Controls, a Wisconsin-based firm that announced earlier this year their intention to merge with Tyco International Ltd. to take advantage Ireland’s 12.5 percent corporate tax rate. Johnson does plenty of business in Michigan.

Cheating Michigan

Fortune magazine lists the top inversion offenders, and not surprisingly Tyco made the list. But, are there any companies from Wisconsin’s neighbor to the east on the naughty list? Two Michigan companies made the top-tier — Perrigo PLC and Delphi Automotive PLC.

channel islands

Delphi Automotive headquaters. Image: Wikipedia

Perrigo, an over-the-counter drug manufacturer out of Allegan, also files under an Emerald Isle address. In recent years the company sued the FDA for not moving fast enough on approving a controversial OTC testosterone cream. By avoiding U.S. taxes, they are not paying their fair share in supporting the work of the FDA — thus, American tax payers doubly bear the burden of their corporate greed.

Delphi, a well-known automotive parts manufacturer from Troy, has incorporated itself for tax purposes in the Channel Islands. They benefitted handsomely from the auto industry bailout at great tax payer expense, but they weren’t yet done screwing-over cash-strapped Michigan.

Cheating Michigan Extra: Once, Twice, Thrice, and Beyond

Perrigo and Delphi have something else in common — they’ve both enjoyed untold tax breaks from their ex-pat home of Michigan. The corporate subsidy tracking database provided by Good Jobs First offers a glimpse into their stateside tax shenanigans. Over the years, Perrigo has bilked Michigan tax payers and communities out of at least $40.6 million in the form of multiple tax abatements and rebates. It is impossible to know exactly how much money was involved because, until recently, the record keeping was spotty at best — which is also the case with over two dozen property tax abatements awarded to Delphi.

Oh, and Johnson Controls, they’ve nicked Michigan too, for a whopping $317 million. They additionally took numerous property tax rebates for which full data is not available. Of the reported amount, there was a $168.5 million “megadeal” — a term used by Good Jobs First to describe obscenely large tax breaks which are often brokered by a corporation as terms for continuing to do business within a state or community — also known as extortion.

Some would have us believe that these kinds of tax dodges are simply the price of doing business with “job creators.” Unfortunately, the cost of the tax giveaways is often upside-down compared to the gross payroll generated. In other words, another kind of bad deal Michigan simply cannot afford.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin



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Lansing’s Death Panels — Bad Public Policy is Killing Michigan, Literally

Death by Infrastructure — It’s More than Flint

Michigan’s voters, motorists, and lawmakers alike aren’t kidding themselves into believing the paltry roads budget plan enacted last fall is anywhere close to what’s needed to keep the state safely on the move, especially since the skint deal won’t even phase-in for a number of years — conveniently after its promoters have left their current office, while hundreds will have lost their lives navigating unsafe roads.

The Michigan Department of Transportation issued a report a few weeks ago that laid bare the true nature of the hazardously underfunded scheme Lansing put forth — a plan that’s leading the state’s crumbling transportation network down the same rabbit hole as Flint’s water system. How many people are destined to lose life and limb on recklessly neglected roads? As it stands, Michigan drivers will find out the hard way — but this time around, the blame can be placed squarely on the legislature for turning a blind eye to the scope of the problem — failing in its core responsibility to adequately fund the state’s basic infrastructure needs for the health and safety of the public.

The roads plan, crafted and supported largely by GOP lawmakers, offers a mere $1.2 billion per year, and that, only when it fully takes effect in five year’s time. While that may sound like a lot of jack, MDOT puts it in perspective with a cost comparison for reconstructing and maintaining roads on a per lane-mile basis, based on a variety of quality levels and lifespans.

MDOT per lane-mile

Source: MDOT Roads Task Force Report 3/16

By that math, Michigan could at best address only several hundred miles of road lanes with a twenty year lifespan, per year. That estimated “design life” (shorter than the shelf life of a Hostess Twinkie) is the current standard in the state. Long-term cost savings could be had with increased upfront investment — something that’s not going to happen with the current shrink-the-government mentality ruling Lansing. Lawmakers built trip wires into their roads plan that lockdown funding disbursements, making them subject to future approval based on the state’s ability to demonstrate it can build longer-lasting roads. According MDOT figures, Michigan’s roads are currently losing value at the rate of $3 million per day.

Not surprisingly, Michigan doesn’t stack-up well against other states on infrastructure reinvestment. A longitudinal study of state-level funding issued earlier this year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Michigan was sorely lagging. Between 2002 and 2013, the state ranked third worst in the category of percentage of gross domestic product dedicated to infrastructure — logging a net decrease over the period. Michigan has been allocating only 3.4 percent of its budget to infrastructure projects — tied with Vermont for second worst in the nation — leaving motorists to pay the price for the state’s neglect.

MDOT graphic

Source: MDOT

It’s more than roads, bridges, and water supply. Brick and mortar public schools are badly in need of attention, particularly in Michigan. Detroit Public Schools are beyond a disgrace for the state, yet Lansing continues to dither on proper funding. With deadly mold, vermin, and lack of proper heat and water, DPS is the poster child for the national trend of ignoring infrastructure needs in areas of chronic poverty.

CBPP chartThe CBPP reports that nationwide infrastructure spending is at a 30-year low at a time when it is most optimal to shovel money into long-term upgrades.

The investment will improve state economies, now and in the future.  Higher-quality and more efficient infrastructure will boost productivity in states that make the needed investments, lifting long-term economic growth and wages.

Opportunities to finance infrastructure investment abound. Today’s historically low interest rates are especially favorable to such borrowing, and state and local debt is below pre-recession levels.

As with many states under Republican control, Michigan’s tax revenues have been irresponsibly slashed. Under the Snyder Administration, massive corporate tax breaks have eroded the state’s ability to reinvest in the future. Part of the spending must come from rolling-back those corporate giveaways. Businesses place a premium on quality of life issues when deciding where to locate — the Flint fiasco, bad roads, and crumbling schools are making a persuasive argument for businesses to swipe-left on the Great Lakes State.

Moving forward, lawmakers will be tempted to rely heavily on public-private partnerships, or P3s, which draw on private capital to bankroll infrastructure improvements. The nonprofit privatization watchdog group, In the Public Interest, warns that these arrangements must be carefully crafted to protect the interests of citizens. ITPI offers the following best practice guidelines to states and municipalities that enter into contracts with the private sector:

  • Incorporate job quality and equity policies, like prevailing wage standards and apprenticeship utilization requirements, into P3 enabling legislation and/or project contracts.
  • Incorporate targeted hire programs into the construction, operations, and maintenance of infrastructure to ensure that disadvantaged communities, like low-income families, women, people of color, and those with a criminal record, have real opportunities.
  • Create Community Workforce Agreements (CWAs) that establish targeted hiring goals, training opportunities,  and jobs for communities of need.
  • Establish boards or other advisory bodies for oversight of equity programs and policies.

If properly implemented and managed, TTPI believes P3s can be a useful tool to create jobs and build communities. Yet, privatization screw-ups are another problem proven to plague the Snyder administration. Sloppy governmental oversight is just as large a concern as is falling prey to greedy contractors. Michigan has a bad track record for both.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Motorists Beware — Highway Bandits with Badges

Highway Piracy, American Style

Planning on a safe domestic vacation over spring break? Be warned then of a growing epidemic of highway piracy across the country.

Yep, one of the most unsafe places to travel is right here in the good ol’ United States of America, especially in states like Michigan. Don’t count on the cops helping you though– because they’re the ones lying in wait to take your cash, maybe even your car, along with everything in it. It’s become so hazardous along most well-travelled vacation routes across the nation, that the State Department should issue a warning.

As a parent, I was horrified to learn that my 23-year old daughter nearly fell victim last week to a law enforcement asset seizure scam while she was traveling through Tennessee on her return trip from Universal Orlando Resort in Florida after visiting Harry Potter World to see the shop were they sell magic wands and capes.

The shakedown was conducted by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Her ordeal is so commonplace in the state that the ACLU has issued warnings to motorists passing through. Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee, Hedy Weinberg, explains:

“The thousands of people who will be traveling Tennessee’s highways for the holidays may not realize the serious financial risk they take when driving through our state.”

They want your cash and valuables, and are willing to exploit civil asset forfeiture laws to get it. These laws allow troopers to seize travelers’ belongings on the mere suspicion that they were involved in a crime. The simple act of carrying vacation money is considered suspect. The abuses in Tennessee are so grave, the ACLU has additionally set-up a survey to catalogue the true scope of the offenses by law enforcement. The problem is certainly not contained to Tennessee. In fact, you can count on one hand the number of safe states to motor through.

Anatomy of the Police Scam

Here’s how these state-sanctioned rackets work — a scenario repeated untold times on any given day across the nation.

In my daughter’s case, her and her driving companion were traveling north on I-75 in a vehicle with Michigan plates — clearly vacationers, making them an easy mark for Tennessee state troopers, who were a notable presence along the route. While passing another vehicle, they exceeded the speed limit by 6 miles per hour — not the type of offense that would typically warrant a police stop. Nonetheless, they were pulled-over for that reason, or so they were initially told.

Her friend, who was driving, was immediately ordered to exit the vehicle, and was placed in the back of the patrol car. This occurred before they ran a check on his driver’s license. Minutes later, another patrol car approached, and the officer started grilling my daughter with a series of leading questions, starting with an inquiry as to how long she had known her companion. Next came a lengthy interrogation which was clearly intended to lead her to believe her friend was a known drug dealer. She answered honestly, denying all of the implied allegations. At this point, my smart, hardworking, college-graduated, Harry Potter-loving daughter was placed in the back of the other patrol car, with no explanation given.

While sitting in the back of the trooper’s car, she listened as the dispatcher relayed over the police radio that neither of them had any record.

Yet, the troopers proceeded to conduct a thorough search of their vehicle, and all its contents, including my daughter’s intimates. If they were looking for drugs, they found none.

The thing is, they weren’t really looking for drugs at all. They were searching for cash — the kind of cash vacationers are known to carry. They found none of that either.

This offense occurs with shameful regularity in Tennessee, among other states — cops confiscating vacationers’ spending money under immorally lax civil asset forfeiture laws. Laws which allow the police to seize money without a whiff of a crime. Weinberg describes the scam:

“Each year, Tennessee law enforcement agents seize millions of dollars simply by asserting that they believe the assets are connected to some illegal activity, oftentimes without ever pursuing criminal charges.”

When the officer released my daughter he admitted, “we go through about 30 or 40 of these before we find anything” — as if to imply they had legitimate grounds for abusing 4th Amendment protections as a matter of routine.

With no money found — they were permitted to leave. No speeding ticket was issued, nor mentioned again.

Lawmakers Unite to Smack Down the Cops

Both Tennessee and Michigan lawmakers have been battling to rein-in the notoriously criminal excesses of their “boys in blue.”  Talk of a legislative remedy came to a head last fall in numerous states, with promises to revisit the problem in 2016. This is the kind of public policy issue that resonates well on both sides of the aisle — as we’ve seen in Michigan, where a number of bipartisan remedial measures were enacted last year, but more are still necessary. Both states had earned a “D-” rating from the Institute for Justice on their civil asset forfeiture laws. They were joined by dozens of other states — particularly along the heavily travelled I-75 corridor.

Asset Seizure map

State grades on forfeiture laws. Source: Institute for Justice

Michigan has a long way to go on this issue. I spoke with Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-53) about the pace of reform. He believes the state is making some progress with last fall’s legislation, but clearly has much more to do. Irwin termed the package of proposals enacted late last year as “important reforms”, yet admitted they “didn’t end the abuses of asset forfeiture law.” Under the new statute, law enforcement agencies are now required to report to the state on all assets seized, and to demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that the action was warranted. Irwin contends that the problem won’t be properly addressed until Michigan law requires a conviction for forfeitures.

Just this week, an additional reform, introduced by Rep. Peter Lucido (R-36), passed in the Michigan House. If approved by the Senate, it would eliminate the bonding requirement for retrieval of seized assets. The current law forces property owners to post a 10 percent bond just to challenge a forfeiture. Irwin supports this reform, explaining:

“As a citizen you shouldn’t have to pay to exercise your 5th Amendment right to due process.”

Irwin cited recent changes in New Mexico law as a model for appropriate reforms. The Tenth Amendment Center, an avid states’ rights organization, agrees that advances in the southwestern state are a good example of sensible civil asset forfeiture reform. Taking a swipe at the situation in Tennessee, the organization put out this statement:

“Tennessee legislators need to disregard the hysterical whining of police lobbyists afraid of losing their cash cow and aggressively pursue asset forfeiture reform.”

Earning the only “A” grade from the Institute for Justice, New Mexico leads the way — where assets may only be seized if all of the following criteria are met:

(1) The person was arrested for an offense to which forfeiture applies.

(2) The person is convicted by a criminal court of the offense.

(3) The state establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture.

Michigan lawmakers need to take a cue from New Mexico and step-up to protect traveling citizens and vacationing motorists from highway bandits with badges.

BONUS: Below is a short video from the Institute for Justice describing the massive scope of the problem — guaranteed to make your blood boil.

Beware the highway bandits folks! Enjoy your Easter weekend and spring break holiday.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

UPDATE: Feds reaffirm support of asset seizure laws.

UPDATE: Michigan Family a case study of asset forfeiture abuse.



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Michigan Lawmakers Move to Protect Student Journalism from Censorship

Freedom of Speech for Student Journalists? — Everyone in Michigan, Democrat and Republican, Should Support It. Now, More Than Ever!

A certain obnoxious Republican presidential candidate has made it his priority to slam journalists — literally, body slamming them to the ground with no justifiable provocation, and seemingly for the sheer amusement of his rabid followers. This past weekend the reviled GOP contender upped his game by blaming everybody but himself for the jackbooted thuggery of his devotees and security detail.

He’s no longer a mere sideshow, with the nomination within his greedy reach.

Among his oval office objectives is a strict curtailment of fourth estate free speech. Millennials, having nursed at the generous bosom of those freedoms found in social media, along with the protective powers of encryption technology, have the most to lose if this narcissistic, hate-filled lunatic somehow finds his way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The crypto-fascist’s presidential fantasies spell nothing but trouble for both the 1st and 4th Amendments. Fascism is as fascism does, and he’s been doing it in spades.

Free speech and privacy are at stake.

Protecting the core tenets of journalism is critical, especially in Michigan, where governmental transparency is among the worst nationwide. And yet, student journalists are too often the subject of unconstitutional censorship — these are the same young men and women the state needs desperately to keep its leaders honest.

A small bipartisan group of Michigan senators have acknowledged the importance of a free and impartial press, and are offering legislation designed to shield student journalists from the heavy administrative hand of censorship burdening so many of Michigan’s public schools and universities.

Instead of encouraging budding journalists, school administrators are unfortunately choosing harsh policies of “prior review” and “prior restraint” meant to hobble meaningful content and stifle honest reporting. Student journalists, as with all reporters, are bound by laws that prohibit libel and slander along with the strict guidelines of professional journalism, yet their basic right to freedom of speech is under increasing attack. Prior review rules require an administrator to approve all articles, and restraint provisions are designed to specifically block certain topics altogether, for example pieces on religion and politics, LGBT issues, and other controversial social concerns. Not only are these policies a violation of the 1st Amendment, they simply promote bad journalism.

The Journalism Education Association describes prior review as “serving no legitimate educational purpose. Prior review leads only to censorship by school officials or to self-censorship by students with no improvement in journalistic quality or learning.”

Charles Haynes, of the Newseum Institute, addressed young reporters from across the country at the National High School Journalism Convention a little over a year ago. After spending the week with these aspiring writers, he lamented that “hearing their stories of censorship and control by school officials is cause for worry, if not despair.” Haynes explained that the disturbing tales related to him at the convention were “consistent with trends I have seen around the country. A growing number of public schools restrict school newspapers (or shut them down entirely) and, in other ways, limit student political and religious speech.”

The bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers is proposing a substantive free press protection for student journalists — not a symbolic constitutional exercise, as is too often the case with Michigan’s dysfunctional legislature. Three of the four sponsoring Senators hold a majority on the five-member committee considering the bill. Instead of the proposal being sent to the Committee on Education, where it would normally be considered, it was shunted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill’s key sponsor Rick Jones (R-24) sits as the chair, along with fellow GOP lawmaker Patrick Colbeck (R-7), both are joined across the aisle by Steven Bieda (D-9). They have what it takes to send it to the Senate floor, and there’s no reason to doubt their intent.

The legislation would apply to school districts and state universities equally, the latter of which are measurably restrictive of free speech in general — known for instating unconstitutional policies regulating student speech and protests on campus, often at the behest of students who mistakenly believe they possess a right not to be offended by the words of others.

Michigan’s schools of higher learning score near rock-bottom with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The organization rates public institutions across the nation on 1st Amendment protections — offering three grade categories: green, yellow, and red lights for free speech, including student journalism, on campus. Michigan schools are among the worst, with the following universities receiving a red light: Eastern Michigan, Grand ValleyState, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Oakland University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Wayne State, and Western Michigan. Not much better, with a yellow light rating, were: Michigan State, Northern Michigan, and Saginaw Valley.

A majority of concerned Democrats, Republicans, and Independents can easily agree that the blowhard GOP front-runner is bad for the state of our nation, so let’s encourage Michigan lawmakers of every stripe to reaffirm their commitment to the 1st Amendment by passing this legislation to protect student journalists.

Because we need them now more than ever to speak truth to power.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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The Real Reason Michigan Polls Were Dead Wrong on the Democratic Primary

Source: AP, via Washington Post

Political pollsters, pundits, and prognosticators, including the exalted wizards at Five-Thirty-Eight, truly screwed the pooch by calling the Michigan Democratic primary for Hillary.

Those same pundits, now sporting an egg facial, have posited a number of possible factors for their error with wild suppositions — including a large number of cross-over voters, a late surge due to Bernie’s ground game, voter debate reactions…on-and-on

None of these theories are the likely cause of the staggering difference between the numerous polling results, with Hillary enjoying on-average a 20-point lead, versus the actual voter outcome. Especially in light of the fact that the Republican polling numbers were pretty much spot-on.

What gives?

The short answer is: angry white men and their landlines. The longer answer though, is a bit more nuanced.

First, new FCC rules which took effect nearly a year ago, placed limits on auto-dialing of cell phone numbers and the use of fully automated surveys on numbers listed as cells without express prior consent, thereby reducing the efficacy of telephone surveys and polls.

Below is the landline-skewed polling meta-data that the media and pundits used to come by their flawed Democratic, and their accurate GOP predictions:

Michigan polling meta data

Millennials don’t typically have landlines, and they are one of the key demographics that came-out in droves to vote for Sanders. Young adults and non-whites are increasingly likely to shun tethered phones altogether:

Pew on cell phones

While the angry old white guys of Michigan hit the pause button on Duck Dynasty to dutifully answer their landline surveys — pressing 1 for Trump, 2 for Cruz, and 3 for Kasich, (bing! bing! bing!), a swath of Democrats remained unmolested by pollsters — leaving Democratic party leadership to settle-in, believing they had it in the bag with an easy slide home for Hillary.

Yet, it wasn’t just the under-thirty crowd that helped Sanders sweep nine out of ten of Michigan’s counties. Also under the pollsters’ radars were outstate Democrats, even those with landlines — whose phones rang mostly from get-out-the-vote calls — no broad-spectrum, non-partisan polling up north, only the occasional conservative PAC push-poll to punctuate the desolate howls of coyotes and whistling wind.

Democrats in west and northwest Michigan, along with a hardy crew of Yoopers — groups traditionally marginalized in state politics — toothless hillbillies that we are, ruled the day in the primaries. This is no small thing. At long last, outstate voters had a seat at the grownups’ table. The shifting power of political demographics may have the potential to move the needle on important public policy issues — not the least of which would be equity in school funding.

Michigan is certainly experiencing a time of change — let’s hope it’s for the better, because it can’t get much worse.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin



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Michigan GOP Senators Plan to Invoke the Wrath of God on Election Day

If five Michigan GOP senators have their way, religious leaders will be legally permitted to threaten voters with excommunication, dismissal, or expulsion from their church if they do not vote as ordered in public elections. Yes, you read that correctly — these lawmakers are calling for a change in the Michigan Election Law to allow religious electoral extortion through intimidation.

angry god

Yesterday, Senators Patrick ColbeckMike Green, Tom Casperson, Jim Marleau, and Mike Shirkey introduced SB 832 amending Sec. 931 of PA 116 of 1954 to remove the criminal penalty for religious coercion of the electorate. Under current Michigan law, it is a misdemeanor to threaten voters into casting their ballots a particular way, or to compel them to refrain from voting altogether. The statute specifically prohibits religious leaders from using coercion to influence voting behavior.

Yet, these lawmakers plan to strike that section clean:

SB 0832

Excerpt: SB 832

Under this amendment church leaders could, in effect, set-up a protection racket — pay-up with your vote parishioners, or go to hell.

The senators are leaving intact the section of PA 116 which deals with the crime of offering a voter an inducement of “valuable consideration” — defined as including, but “not limited to, money, property, a gift, a prize or chance for a prize, a fee, a loan, an office, a position, an appointment, or employment.” That would remain illegal.

So, by their reckoning — given the select manner in which they intend to amend the 62 year-old law, one wonders: Do these five lawmakers find church affiliation to be an asset of less than “valuable consideration?”

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Elections and Government Reform for consideration.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Gov. Snyder’s Failed Friday News Dump & Schuette’s Salacious Red Herring Story — Oh, The Games They Play

As the effluence of Gov. Snyder’s carefully timed bolus of damning emails was discharged in bulk on the media last Friday, the political fallout went from bad to worse for him and his closest aides. Digging for a story, speed-reading reporters easily connected the dots — those same dots the governor’s office claimed not to have seen. Yet, while the details of the governor’s prior knowledge of the poisoning of Flint’s water floated to the surface, spreading like a river of sludge through online reporting — other mischief was afoot.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who at first was hesitant to investigate the Flint water scandal, and finally, last month acquiesced under public pressure to attempt to learn who might possibly be culpable, also had a craftily timed scheme of his own at the end of the work week.

Schuette, who has had gubernatorial aspirations over the full breadth of his interminable multi-decade tortoise crawl to the governor’s mansion, cannot afford to have Snyder vacate the office prior to November 2018. Were that to happen, be it through resignation or criminal findings — Michigan’s Constitutional order of succession would put Lt. Gov. Brian Calley behind the governor’s desk. Calley, who harbors a serious gubernatorial itch himself, would then be sitting in the political catbird seat — a place where Schuette would prefer not to see him. As an incumbent in 2018, Calley would enjoy the full faith and credit of the Republican party — an asset necessary to win. Schuette would be locked-out of his Lansing dreams.

Thus, Friday’s news cycle became a choreographed dance of politics.

It unfolded midmorning, on the slowest news day of the week, when Michigan was served-up this headliner:

Good Morning Michigan

While the ugliness of the morning’s news sank-in and increasingly pointed squarely in the direction of Snyder’s culpability, this story abruptly caught the imagination of angry Republicans and Democrats…exquisitely timed, just as they took their afternoon social media coffee break:

Good Afternoon Michigan

Nothing’s juicier than a sex and corruption scandal, especially when it potentially culminates in politicians being fitted for orange jumpsuits. After Schuette broke his latest Todd Courser/Cindy Gamrat story, the AG circled-back to double-down with the media, reaffirming his intention to prosecute the two naughty lawmakers to the fullest, by gum!

On Saturday, Courser’s attorney, Matt DePerno, released a statement on the charges against his client:

Yesterday, Attorney General Schuette filed baseless criminal charges against Todd Courser that are political in nature and have come at a time to take heat off the misconduct of others.

Courser’s legal counsel did not elaborate as to who those “others” might be, and we are not suggesting that the fallen lawmaker is exculpable, but his client seems to have become a political pawn in the game of the attorney general’s lofty ambitions.

The timing of these two stories is curious to say the least, in spite of Schuette going out of his way to show how he set-up a firewall between his office and the governor’s for the purpose of the Flint investigation. It is doubtful Snyder’s staff participated in coordinating these releases — not because they were insufficiently clever, but because at that time they were in the midst of yet another PR shake-up, with the governor frantically firing and replacing his political spin team, again. But, Schuette certainly must have understood the significance of claiming the news cycle for himself, taking the shade off the office of the governor. After all, it’s in his best interest to limp the politically crippled governor through to the end of his term.

Good luck with that Mr. Schuette — you’ll need scandalous material aplenty to shield the governor from his own incompetencies for the next 32 months.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

(Updated 2-28-16 to remove reference to recall as a means for Calley to assume governorship. The new recall law calls for a new election.)

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