Gov. Snyder — Sly or Just Plain Stupid on Refugee Question?

Following is an infographic from the White House outlining the rigorous (9-part) screening process for refugees. If the Republican governors who wish to block refugee resettlement knew about this, they are guilty of intentionally misleading the public. If they were ignorant of the process, then their administrations are woefully incompetent to enjoin such a major public policy decision while lacking vital (and easily obtained) information. One or the other.

From the White House:

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While nothing is risk free, this certainly should reassure those supposedly skittish governors. It’s also worth asking, given the ready availability of this information, why did they jump to such wild conclusions if not for pure political theater?

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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President Obama Spanks Gov. Snyder at G20 Summit News Conference

“That’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are.” President Obama speaking at the G20 Summit today on the issue of refusing Syrian refugees.

Obama remarks

President Obama’s press conference at G20 Antalya Summit

Several weeks ago, Democracy Tree wrote about Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Sen. Gary Peters, and Gov. Rick Snyder putting out the welcome mat encouraging Syrian refugees to consider calling the Motor City their new home. However, in the wake of the Paris attacks, Snyder has one-eightied his position on Syrian refugees in what commentator Jack Lessenberry termed “a decision that was politically easy”, noting that this is exactly what ISIS wants with this qualifying remark:

“Of course, it is doubtful if the leadership of that perverted organization is even aware of an obscure lame-duck governor somewhere in the American Midwest.”

Well, maybe ISIS doesn’t know about the “tough nerd”, but President Obama sure does. He spent the last day and a half at the G20 Antalya Economic Summit in Turkey, where topic number one was what to do about the metastasization of the terrorist threat, economics be damned. Prior to catching a flight to Manilla earlier today, the president held a news conference with journalists from around the world where he was peppered with various iterations of the same question — why aren’t we more militarily involved with “boots on the ground” in ISIS-held territory? With increasing annoyance, the president explained ad nauseam that the problem can not be solved by simply capturing real estate through methods of conventional warfare. The enemy is an ideology that is spreading through social media, feeding on a sense of disenfranchisement among a small group of Islamic millennials turned militant.

The recalcitrant media exchange spurred the president to get fired-up about the rise of xenophobic policies toward Syrians refugees fleeing terror. His finishing remarks included this strong rebuke:

“It is very important that we do not close our hearts to these victims… somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.”

Saying “It’s popping-up in the U.S.”, Obama acknowledged his concern about hearing of leaders back home already engaging in that brand of rhetoric. He admonished those who are giving-in to craven politics, urging leaders “not to feed that dark impulse.”

Was he talking about Gov. Snyder? Likely yes, among others. Snyder’s reversal on the Syrian refugee issue made national media this morning just hours before the president spoke. Michigan leaders were among the few who had supported Syrian resettlement, so Snyder’s retrograde policy move was sure to have been brought to the president’s attention.

In his usual manner, Snyder carefully avoided loaded hate-speech in the announcement reversing Michigan’s policy on Syrian refugees, stating that his “first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.” The reality is, if nefarious types wish to enter this country, doing so through regular channels is much easier than going through the extensive, time-consuming vetting process for refugees. And, Michigan mustn’t forget its own sobering history of home-grown terrorism.

Over 51 percent of registered Syrian refugees are children according to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. How quickly some choose to forget that heart-breaking photo of the body of that small Syrian boy washed ashore.

UN Syrian refugee chart

Source: UNHCR

As previously reported by Democracy Tree, there is a shameful irony to the situation. Prior to Syria’s internal conflict and battle with ISIS, that nation was host to many times more desperate expats than any single European nation is currently being asked to absorb. In 2010, Syria hosted over 1.3 million refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, and Iran. They were not held in squalid camps, but were integrated into communities, poor as the Syrians were. Children were enrolled in schools. Healthcare, food assistance, and vocational training were made available, additionally, micro-loans and grants were offered to help families start a new life. The cost was in the millions — with UNHCR support, $90.1 million was spent in Syria as of 2010.

These are good people who deserve compassion, not politics as usual. Shame on Gov. Snyder.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin


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New Traverse City Mayor Takes on Hunger Challenge

Traverse City Finds a New, Progressive Breed of Leadership for Michigan

“You gotta give back something. I don’t want to see people suffering.” — Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers on what drives him as a public servant.

Jim w:Estes, Duggan

Mayor Jim Carruthers, center, with outgoing T.C. Mayor Mike Estes, left, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, right. Photo: Carruthers

Asking political leaders about the cost of a gallon of milk remains the quintessential “gotcha” litmus test of their experience as a “common person.” At the national level, candidates immersed in the rarefied air of the campaign trail continue to get tripped-up by similar queries on the basics of life. Traverse City, Michigan however has a new leader who could score big time as a contestant on The Price is Right.

Sworn into office just this week, Jim Carruthers has opted to make his first act as mayor to take-on the SNAP Challenge. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the “challenge” is an attempt to live within the restrictions of the program — spending $28 a week on food, that’s four bucks a day, or $1.33 per meal. According to, the average cost of a meal in Grand Traverse County, where Traverse City is located, is $2.91 — well over twice the SNAP allotment.


The week before Thanksgiving is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless, and November is Awareness Month for many organizations. In that spirit, the Northern Michigan Community Action Agency, Northwestern Michigan College, and Goodwill Industries are sponsoring a series of events to highlight this problem which often remains hidden within our communities. shines a light on food insecurity problems across the nation. They offer a county-by-county interactive hunger map of Michigan revealing that overall, Michigan has over 1.6 million hungry residents — that’s 16.4 percent of its population. No county was immune — at the low-end we find Livingston at 10.5 percent, with over 19,000 people suffering from food insecurity. A number of counties are well above 18 percent. And it’s not just an urban problem — only three of the Upper Peninsula’s 15 counties had rates below 15 percent. In Michigan, hunger is an equal opportunity affliction.

Carruthers, who previously served as a city commissioner, is video documenting his experience on a daily basis through social media. The first day was devoted to amassing his $28 larder. As a healthy adult male, he should be taking-in between 2400 and 2800 calories per day. A tall order if he intends to consume cost-prohibitive healthful fare, as is his custom, mostly.

Cheap, calorie-dense processed foods, lacking in basic nutrition, are more than a temptation for SNAP recipients — often they’re the only available choice within Michigan’s many “food deserts”, where more worthy options simply don’t exist.

Mayor Carruthers lives in a community with an abundance of food sources — from traditional grocery stores, to big boxes, corner markets, pricey organic co-ops, fleets of food tucks, and roadside farm stands that dot the bucolic landscape — Grand Traverse County enjoys a cornucopia of potential nutritional privileges, all in plain sight, but just out of reach to 12.9 percent of its citizenry — 11,350 people.

Carruthers gathered his week’s cache of consumables from a local Spartan store, taking advantage of store brand pricing, and discounted items with a looming “sell by” date. Purchasing fresh produce is problematic for those on a tight budget — for example, a single apple runs between $1 and $2 — and that’s in an apple producing region of the state. Fruits and vegetables are a luxury on 28 bucks. Another concern is that those healthful market fresh foods are often low in calories — that high-end apple yields only 95 calories. It seems that rice and pasta may be the big winners at the checkout lane for the mayor.

“It’s hard. It’s hard to get enough to eat and feel satisfied with it, and not feel hungry.”

Mid-week into his SNAP Challenge, I sat down with Carruthers at a coffee shop in the trendy Warehouse District of Traverse City. Just a few steps away, within his line of sight, was an artful pastry display case full of tempting treats. We ordered nothing. The shop owner being sympathetic to his plight, provided us the table space to simply chat. Carruthers readily admitted that he was feeling a bit tired and physically chilled on the restricted diet. Accustomed to spending up to $100 a week on sustenance in our admittedly pricey foodie-destination town, he was not quite himself. Yes, he had already seen a slight weight loss, and was expecting more to come.

This being his first week in office as mayor, he discovered his attendance was mandatory at myriad functions — all where food would be the centerpiece of the event. That morning he had dropped-in at a daily community breakfast for the hungry put on by a local church. But, had he even wanted to grab a plate, he found himself swarmed by people seeking introductions and wishing him well. No time for food there.

After our late morning chat, Carruthers was headed home to get his first meal of the day. With his $28 allowance he had managed to procure some produce — a discounted tub of spinach that was about to stale date, a bag of carrots, another of broccoli slaw, and some mushrooms. He also brought home some frozen peas, tortillas, cheese, canned beans, pasta, rice, and a 99 cent frozen lemonade. He took a pass on luxery items like milk, butter, and mayo.

Carruthers, a born activist who’s not afraid of putting himself on the line, successfully championed an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance proposal in the city that earned him threats of all manner, often viciously directed at his sexual orientation. Pasta and rice aren’t going to deter this gutsy guy. Public service is in his blood. His grandfather served as mayor for 43 years in a sleepy little hamlet in northern Ohio. Driven by compassion and the golden rule, Carruthers explained “You gotta give back something. I don’t want to see people suffering.”

If not with food, our new mayor will certainly have his plate full of issues — some dividing the mostly progressive community. Growing pains over development and allowable building heights, establishing a permanent Safe Harbor homeless shelter in the city, and the possible acquisition of a community swimming pool from the financially strapped county are all front and center. And that’s just his first week.

Mayor Carruthers however, is up to the challenge, and in it for the long haul.

Want to help combat hunger in your community? Click HERE for a database listing agencies working against hunger.

Jim and Amy

Mayor Carruthers with a certain blogger

Amy Kerr Hardin

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Michigan Gets it Right — Know the Law on Identity Theft

Typically legislative resolutions earn little more than a passing chuckle — they’re either complete partisan hogwash or inane attempts by lawmakers to pad their legislative record with silly things like declaring January the Official Dish Soap Appreciation Month.

But Michigan’s House managed to patch together a strong bipartisan showing for a resolution of actual substance last week. They are calling upon the U.S. Congress to enact legislation to prevent federal agencies from printing Social Security numbers in their entirety on correspondence. Seems simple enough. Michigan already enacted such a law — way back in 2004 — which prohibits the use of any more than four consecutive digits of a Social Security number. The resolution makes note of that fact:

Under the Michigan Social Security Privacy Act (2004 PA 454), various prohibitions on the use of an employee, student, or other individual’s Social Security numbers are in place. These include certain prohibitions on mailings that contain a Social Security number. Except for certain exceptions, it is prohibited to include all or more than four sequential digits of a Social Security number in a document or information mailed to a person.

Know the Law — When to Just Say No

What many citizens are unaware of though is that they do not have to provide their Social Security number in a variety of circumstances. Of course, the number is absolutely necessary to file taxes, secure credit, and to secure employment. Those who haven’t recently been in the job market may be surprised to learn that many employers demand to physically view Social Security cards.

Who can we safely say “no” to then? For starters: Doctors and Schools.

Say No to the Doctor

With the exception of Medicare and health insurance companies, healthcare professionals and hospitals are not entitled to Social Security numbers, although they all too often ask for them with possible debt collection in mind.

Medical records are a prime target for hackers because they provide a treasure trove of personal information that is not available elsewhere. Stolen medical data is a hot commodity, yet few consumers are aware of how sensitive this information truly can be. Beta News reports this week that in a survey of 1,000 American adults, only 11 percent cited medical records among their top security concerns.

Clearly, coupling this highly personal information with a Social Security number is always a bad idea.

If a healthcare provider requests your Social Security number, Consumer Reports advises:

  • Leave the area on the form blank. Often, the provider won’t even ask or notice.
  • If they do, explain that you’re “concerned about identity theft and prefer not to reveal my Social, except in those situations where it’s mandated by law.” If you feel pressured, consider choosing another facility or doctor, if you can. Some folks offer just the last four digits of their number.

Unfortunately, Medicare and health insurance companies are still permitted by law to obtain Social Security numbers.

medicare card


In the case of Medicare, it’s printed right on the card as the claim number. Consumer Reports advises patients to present their card at the first office call, then make a copy to carry in their wallet with all but the last four digits of the number blacked-out .

Legislation was introduced last January to remove this information from Medicare cards, but it is currently languishing in committee with giving it a 1 percent chance of being enacted. Another example of elected officials unwilling to serve the best interests of the American people.

It’s even worse for those purchasing insurance under the Affordable Care Act in state and federal marketplaces. Insurers are required by law to obtain an enrollee’s Social Security number, including the numbers of all household members covered under the policy.

As for those enrolled in an employer group plan, once again, the feds insist your Social Security number be attached to your insurance records under provisions of the Mandatory Insurer Reporting law.

So, pretty much every man, woman, and child is at risk of identity theft via health insurance records.

This is no hypothetical problem. Just last February, Blue Cross Blue Shield customers in Michigan were exposed through a large-scale hack at Anthem. The fall-out is yet to be known.

This is beyond bad public policy — it’s pure lunacy.

Say No to the School

Many lower-education places of learning ask for student, and sometimes parental, Social Security numbers for their records. The Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, makes it abundantly clear that families have the right of refusal:

  • Some school districts request a student’s social security number during enrollment to use as a student identification number. If a school district requests a student’s social security number, it must: (1) inform you and your child that providing it is voluntary and that refusing to provide it will not bar your child from enrolling in or attending school, and (2) explain for what purpose the number will be used.
  • A school district may not prevent your child from enrolling in or attending school if you choose not to provide your child’s social security number.
  • A school district may not require you to provide your own social security number in order for your child to enroll in or attend school.

Security Trouble in Higher Ed

Students of higher education however, face the daunting spectre of both the Common App and the Federal Application for Student Aid — aka, the dreaded FAFSA. The Common App does not require a Social Security number if an applicant does not have one, i.e. foreign students. But, they continue to press for the information from American applicants.

FAFSA, on the other hand, requires everything but a DNA sample. Expect to report Social Security numbers, along with a mind-boggling minutiae of personal financial and employment details — you have no secrets in the world of higher-ed. Although the U.S. Department of Education has been making efforts to increase security for FAFSA accounts, recent changes may have actually made it easier for hackers to access online information. They now offer nine Challenge Questions to choose from — one being “What color was your first car?” to retrieve the new personalized ID, which replaces the old-school PINs.  To hackers, this question must look like a magical portal to vast sums of data. Edvisors offers advice on how to protect accounts:

  • When providing an answer to a Challenge Question, ignore the question. Instead, create a second password consisting of a random collection of numbers and letters, including uppercase and lowercase letters, and use that as the answer. That will prevent a hacker from guessing the answer based on the question. Be sure to record this second password for later reference.
  • Treat the answer to the significant date question as though it were an 8-digit PIN and do not use a date or other easy-to-guess numeric sequence.
  • Close the web browser after using it, to clear the cache.

Like FAFSA, other federal and state programs by necessity have access to Social Security numbers and financial information– particularly those that require income verification through the IRS — food assistance, like SNAP, comes to mind. Without substantive reform, the potential exposure to hackers is endless.

Michigan lawmakers have it right — the federal government must up their game to protect citizens from identity theft. They should stop using Social Security numbers where not absolutely necessary, and further lock-down databases that contain them. Additionally, regulatory law to protect individuals from careless creditors must be strictly enforced — both in their lending practices and the protection of sensitive data.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin


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The Michigan Voter’s Guide to Their Ballot — November 2015 and 2016

November 3rd, 2015 — A Slow Day at the Polling Place. Not so Next Year — Learn What to Expect

vote here sign

With just a few short days remaining before the November 3rd election, there seems to be a dearth of media attention over what to expect on ballots statewide. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not at all nefarious. It may be hard to believe, especially with all the stateside and national political wrangling, but many precincts will not be holding an election at all because there’s nothing to be decided.

View it as a blessed relief in terms of the absence of political signs, mailers, and robocalls — 2015 trick-or-treaters are not at risk of impaling themselves on the legions of campaign yard signs typical of this time of year.

There are no statewide ballot proposals this year, but not so next year — we forecast a bumper crop, possibly rivaling the packed ballot of 2012. Voters need not despair, 2015 offers a number of local issues to draw them to their polling places. Numerous races, proposals, and millages are up for decision in many communities. To learn if you have any boxes to check in your locale, find a list of precincts with ballot items by clicking HERE. Peruse your sample ballot information HERE. Determine if you’re registered to vote and locate your polling place HERE.

Don’t forget to bring your driver’s license.

Next Year Brings on the Crazy– 2016 Overview

In addition to the presidential election (who knew?) and various local races, Michigan voters must weigh-in on all 110 seats of its House of Representatives (as it does, rain or shine, every two years), additionally two Republican-held Michigan Supreme Court seats are up for grabs, plus we can expect the predictable number of special elections…then there’s the daunting list of potential proposals — the cloak and dagger section of the ballot.

Supreme Court Flip?

Michigan’s high court is currently enjoying a 5-2 conservative majority, yet with two of the right-leaning seats up for popular vote next year, there remains a theoretical chance to flip the court. Justices’ Robert Viviano and Joan Larsen must defend their seats. The Gov. Snyder appointees are serving out the terms of convicted felon Diane Hathaway and the recently retired Mary Beth Kelly — a Democrat and a Republican. Larsen, who took Kelly’s seat, is required to run in 2016 even though the term would have expired in 2018.

Supreme Court trivia: All five Republican Justices were initially gubernatorial appointees, but both Democrats came to office through election, as was also the case with Hathaway, for whom orange really is the new black, after being found guilty of felony mortgage fraud. When elected in 2008, she came from behind to defeat incumbent Republican Clifford Taylor — a victory credited largely to a negative ad of dubious veracity put out by Democrats. Fact discredited a portion of its content and there were cries for reform at the time.

Ballot Proposal Mania — 2016

Updated 10-30-15: The petition drive to repeal Michigan’s Prevailing Minimum Wage law has decided to relaunch a new effort, and to scrap the previous submission that was under fierce scrutiny. Citing problems with the process of both the gathering and validation of signatures, the group has announced they will try again. Facing costly litigation of dubious outcome, they made an economic choice. It remains to be seen if it will result in a new petition, and if they’ll get a refund from the group hired to do their work.  Lost may be the necessary support in the legislature to compel lawmakers to bypass the voting process for the initiative to enact without a popular vote, as the Michigan Constitution allows. The reason behind the whole drive was to override Gov. Snyder’s opposition and veto authority.

The Secretary of State reports a number of other petition drives underway for the 2016 general election.

STOP OVERCHARGING: Proposed initiated law to enact the Fair Medical Prices for Consumers Act to prohibit a health provider from charging a higher price for medical goods or services than a price charged to other persons for the same or similar medical goods or services.  

COMMITTEE TO BAN FRACKING IN MICHIGAN: Proposed initiated law to amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to prohibit the use of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). 

MICHIGAN CANNABIS COALITION: Proposed initiated law to create the Michigan Cannabis Control and Revenue Act.

MICHIGAN COMPREHENSIVE CANNABIS LAW REFORM COMMITTEE: Proposed initiated law to create the Michigan Marihuana Legalization, Regulation, and Economic Stimulus Act. 

RAISE MICHIGAN: Proposed initiated law to create the Earned Sick Time Act.

CITIZENS FOR FAIR TAXES: Proposed initiated law to create the Corporate Fair Share of Taxes Act.

In addition to these initiated law petitions, there’s also a constitutional amendment drive in the works:

LET’S VOTE MICHIGAN: Proposed constitutional amendment to amend Art. II, §4 of the Michigan Constitution to require voting by mail.

Petition Trivia: In addition to the public petition process, lawmakers may also place items on the ballot. But here we are interested in citizen driven petitions. Since the 1963 Constitution, the people have put a number of ballot questions up for popular vote: 31 amendments, of which ten were approved; initiated laws found a 7 out of 13 success rate; referenda however are the odd duck — they are typically a challenge to an existing law, and are worded such that a “yes” vote is to retain the law, thus, the one out of ten approved by voters means just the opposite — a 90 percent rejection rate of standing law was achieved.

The voice of the people must remain powerful in Michigan. And to keep it so, the next petition drive should be one to amend the Constitution to close the loophole that allows lawmakers to enact, by fiat, veto-proof initiated laws as a way to thwart democracy. Its time has come.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

To contact any of the ballot question committees find them listed HERE.



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Ironic Back Story: Challenge of Petition Signatures on Repeal of Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Law

Updated 10-30-15: The petition drive to repeal Michigan’s Prevailing Minimum Wage law has decided to relaunch a new effort, and to scrap the previous submission that is under fierce scrutiny. Citing problems with the process of both the gathering and validation of signatures, they have announced they will try again. Facing costly litigation of dubious outcome, they made an economic choice. It remains to be seen if they will actually petition again. They may have lost the necessary support in the legislature to compel lawmakers to bypass the voting process for the initiative to be enacted without a popular vote, as the Michigan Constitution allows. The reason behind the whole drive was to override Gov. Snyder’s opposition and veto authority.

The Devil’s in the Details — What the Media isn’t Reporting and Why the Legal Challenge May Fail

(Updated for content 10-27-15, see below)

Michigan law does not require petitioners to accurately state the nature of a petition to potential signers, although there are strict rules about other forms of misrepresentation in terms of the mechanics of the signing process.

Legal provisions of that nature are now being invoked by the group Protecting Michigan Jobs, asserting that over 100,000 signatures collected in the petition drive to repeal the Prevailing Minimum Wage law are invalid, thereby negating the ballot proposal. The union-bashing petitioners submitted about 390,000 signatures, with a requirement of under 253,000 needed to secure a place on the ballot. Challengers are claiming that people signed the petition multiple times.

Ironically, the legal challenge to the petition is spearheaded by none other than the same individual who championed the union-bashing Emergency Manager law. Yes, John Pirich is the same guy who failed with his 2012 challenge on the font size (font-gate) of the petition drive to repeal the Emergency Manager law. At the time, many viewed his challenge as a disingenuous attack on the democratic process.

The 2012 incident did spur the Secretary of State to clarify font requirements. This latest petition challenge is similarly tricky in terms of the law, and surely will spur the Secretary of State to toughen the rules again.

The effort to repeal Michigan’s Prevailing Minimum Wage law may well be on the rocks, but it all comes down to a review by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. Backers of the petition drive paid $1.1 million to a Las Vegas organization to gather the signatures to put the initiated law on the ballot in 2016. The group, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, padded the total to ensure they passed the standard sampling test of the Board of State Canvassers.

Accusations from a couple of months ago that petitioners were misrepresenting the intent of the petition may play heavily in the Board’s decision — but, not because of the most obvious reason.  It was reported that paid petitioners were purported to be saying the petition was to “ensure transparency in government.” (I can personally verify I overheard a petitioner in Traverse City saying just that to a potential signer.)

Michigan law says that petitioners may not illegally certify a petition they did not personally circulate, and they may not knowingly allow someone to sign the petition twice. The law also provides that signers may not knowingly sign a petition more than once — that’s the catch that may create a legal mess. Signers could be found to have been under the impression that they signed two separate petitions — one for “transparency in government” and another to repeal the Prevailing Minimum Wage law, that’s a possible legal point.

Pirich asserts that more than 20,000 people signed at least twice, but the Board of State Canvassers could determine that the majority did so inadvertently. While several individuals were reported to have signed up to ten times, that fact may not play into the calculation as to whether to validate the numbers because a certain amount of deceit is present in all petition drives, including opponent’s attempts to sabotage the effort by invalidating entire pages this way.

Whatever the decision, Michigan voters will not see the question on their November 2016 ballot.

The petition drive itself was a complete farce — with its sole purpose being to allow the legislature to enact a veto-proof law based on gaining enough signatures, as they may do so according to the Michigan Constitution — meaning it will never go to a popular vote.

Since the GOP assumed control of the Michigan House nearly five years ago, they have abused this initiated law loophole as a matter of practice — effectively bypassing the democratic process two times out of the six occurrences in the past half century.

Michigan Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-23) introduced legislation late last month designed to regulate and provide penalties for false statements made by petition gatherers on ballot questions and recall attempts. The bill would make it a misdemeanor for someone who “intentionally makes a false statement or misrepresentation concerning the contents” of a petition.

If enacted, it could create a litigation quagmire for all ballot question committees, forcing them to spend thousands fighting legal challenges. Protecting Michigan Jobs has already shelled-out $136,000 to Pirich for his services — clearly, challenging petitions is a lucrative pursuit for the lawyer, who incidentally is the former chair of the Michigan Board of Ethics, appointed by Gov. Snyder.

Update: It should be clarified that the Board of State Canvassers is an appointed body of four — two Republicans, and two Democrats, and therefore may deadlock the vote, as happened with the Emergency Manager petition certification. That spurred a court challenge that eventually led to the question earning a spot on the ballot, in spite of Pirich’s efforts otherwise. Initially, the Court of Appeals applied the “substantial compliance” rule to their order for certification. That ruling was subsequently rejected by the Michigan Supreme Court. However, in a 4 to 3 ruling, the high court instead found that the petitions fully complied with the letter of the law.

The precedent now is that there remains precious little, if any, grey area in the compliance decision process. The ruling took the whimsy out of the mix.

If the Prevailing Minimum Wage question similarly deadlocks (which it likely will), it too could end up in the courts. The precedent set by the Supreme Court could cut both ways though.

The Board of State Canvassers will employ the standard sampling test, and if the petitions are within compliance by that measure the board is compelled to certify. Otherwise, they would have to demonstrate that the petitions were absolutely not in compliance as to the number of valid signatures, meaning they would have to go through more than 50,000 pages of signatures and definitively disqualify roughly 140,000 signatures. That’s a tall order.

Either way, there are ten months for litigation, and plenty of money to be spent.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin


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Michigan Gun Hoarders, and the Beginning of the End for the National Rifle Association

Gamrat Gunz

Gamrat’s Facebook photo July 2015

NRA’s New Poster Children from Michigan May Help Spell the Demise of the Gun Lobby

Prior to Cindy Gamrat’s expulsion in disgrace from the Michigan House, Democracy Tree wrote about the former lawmaker’s package of bills designed to completely do-away with registration and licensing of concealed weapons. Accompanying that article was a July 26, 2015 photo gleaned from Gamrat’s Facebook page showing her standing next to some folks at a Second Amendment event.

Gamrat said of the meeting: “I had a wonderful time spending time with some of the top Second Amendment supporters and defenders in Michigan today.” She didn’t offer the names of the individuals, although their gaudy display of weaponry certainly made the two memorable.

Det. News pic

Photo: The Detroit News

Lo and behold, they popped-up again in a Detroit News article last week. It seems Gamrat’s friends attended the deceptively named “Global Rally for Humanity” held in the predominately Muslim community of Dearborn, Michigan. Attendees at the anti-Islam protest were strongly urged to open carry weapons at the event, as was the case at similar demonstrations across the nation that day. In addition to carrying sidearms, some participants held signs with “Stop the Islamization of America”, but the overwhelming majority of participants turned-out to be counter-protestors.

The hateful rally was a miserable flop of the kind the gun lobby should expect to get used to in the future.

A Gun Nut Overreach 

The dismal turnout of fellow gun-toters didn’t appear to deter Gamrat’s friends. Their names are Chris and Marty Welch, a couple from Cadillac, Michigan, a small town located several hours north of the previous weekend’s Islam-bashing event. The Welch’s explained to the News that “We’re here for the second amendment, not for no religion or anything.” That disclaimer smells a bit specious — kind of like saying: I only attended the KKK rally to demonstrate it’s okay to wear white after Labor Day. The Global Rally for Humanity was clearly meant to intimidate the Muslim community on religious grounds, and to conflate them with terrorism and ISIS.

As it turns out, the Welch’s do in fact frequent Second Amendment events. There are Getty Images available for purchase of both posing with guns and flags. They show up again armed and star-spangled in a WZZM Channel 13 report on a gun rally in 2014. And, there’s also a YouTube interview with them from April of this year at an NRA sponsored event in Nashville, Tennessee. Chris did most of the talking, at one point referring to his wife as “100 percent hillbilly” — which she didn’t seem to mind in the least. Queried about his personal arsenal, Welch explained “It’s what this country is built on — God, guns, and blood.”

Gun Hoarding Marks the Beginning of the End for the NRA

gun pile

Guns, God, and Blood?

In the wake of the recent Oregon shooting, writer Alec MacGillis penned a thought-provoking piece in The New York Times urging readers not to give up hope on reigning-in America’s gun mania. The article titled “The Gun Lobby’s Power is Overstated” brings to light a number of aspects seldom heard in the din of argument following these all too frequent tragedies.

First, gun ownership — as an overall percentage of the U.S. population — has decreased dramatically over recent decades, but among those dwindling few who do acquire weapons, they are stockpiling them. (One could make the case that it’s a form of hoarding disorder.) What this means in practical terms is that the gun lobby and manufacturers have a smaller and smaller number of supporters being concentrated into increasingly isolated pockets across the country — a fact that is likely to inform lawmakers who have traditionally gone along with the NRA, just to get long.

MacGillis reminds us that in the wake of Sandy Hook, the two Democrats in the Senate who voted against the 2013 gun control initiative were subsequently snubbed by the NRA, the lobby instead backed Republicans running against them. Both lost their seats the following year.

Driving his point home, MacGillis offers:

“Meanwhile, two Democratic governors who signed tough gun laws, in Colorado and Connecticut, both won re-election in an otherwise brutal year for their party. A year earlier, Terry McAuliffe was elected governor of Virginia, the N.R.A.’s home state, while running on an outspokenly anti-N.R.A. platform.”

Gun Advocates Fire Back

MacGillis’ assertion stands in stark contrast to an opinion piece published three days later at titled Debunking the “Declining Number of Gun Owners” Lie. Citing a 2011 Gallop poll finding that 47 percent of households were at that time in possession of some type of firearm, the author, admitting that surveys do not reflect true data, instead relies on an uptick in concealed carry permits and gun sales as the basis for the imagined surge in armed Americans.  In fact, another Gallop poll indicates a marked decline of gun-ownership households over the past 55-plus years:

Gallup on guns

The pro-gun site additionally simply scoffs at the findings of a comprehensive longitudinal study from the Violence Policy Center which found that the number of households with firearms has shrunk to slightly over 32 percent by 2014, down from just under 50 percent in 1973 — a finding which translated into an overall decrease in individual ownership by 10 percent during that period. Whichever survey is more accurate is unknown, but they both show a clear downward trend.

HH gun 73-14

Violence Policy Center 2015 went on to brag that the gun industry is “virtually the only part of the economy to show steady growth during the Obama Presidency.” Are we now to believe that the 12.8 million private sector jobs created between Feb. 2008 and June 2015 are mostly in the gun industry? It seems the only meaningful correlation between Obama and gun sales would be those select individuals who rush out to amass firepower whenever the president comments on America’s propensity for violence — derisively tagged “ammosexuals”, they are few in number, but heavily armed.

In addition to the MacGillis piece on the shrinking number of gun owners, which earned traction at a number sites, there seems to be a stronger tone coming from the media on gun control in general. Jess Cagle, Editorial Director at People, used his position to urge Americans to take the message directly to all 535 members of Congress. His editorial went to the extraordinary length of including links to email and twitter accounts of all the lawmakers. Cagle said:

“We need to know that our representatives in Washington, D.C., are looking for solutions and not giving up, and they need to know if we agree or disagree with their strategies.”

As for Gamrat and her friends, like it or not, we are all judged by the company we keep, and the failed lawmaker has already demonstrated clearly through personal affiliations her inability to live up to the higher standard of integrity expected of an elected official. The Welch’s attendance at the anti-Islam event speaks for itself.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Find the congressional contact list from People HERE.

Related: Ann Arbor School Board President tells Lansing to end its romance with the NRA — story HERE.

Find a list of concealed carry permit holders in Michigan who killed in cold blood HERE.

Postscript update: One argument put forth in defense of America’s fascination with firepower is that gun deaths have plummeted since the early 1990s. This is almost entirely due to the advent of cell phones and to excessive incarceration. Phones changed the nature of drug dealing, and thus, decreased gang violence because dealers were no longer on the streets. The early 1990’s crackdown on drug-related crime is a substantial causative factor in the skyrocketing rate of incarceration. Many dealers are now behind bars serving exorbitantly long sentences, so the spike in crime has subsided.

While the decrease in gang related death is certainly good news, it doesn’t mitigate in any way the number of deaths still occurring on American soil.

A recent Forbes article contained a few enlightening infographics. The first is a comparison of the U.S. gun death rate to our peer nations (It would be inappropriate to do an apples to oranges comparison with the war-torn or unstable countries that are experiencing violent unrest.)

Comparison by peer nations:

Forbes graphic 1

Gun deaths versus automobile deaths in the United States:

Forbes graphic 2

Suicide and unintentional gun deaths in the United States remain alarmingly high. Remember, there are 88 guns per 100 people, although most of those weapons are increasingly concentrated into fewer households. They all too frequently fall into to the hands of children, and Michigan is among the worst.

Child gun deaths, nationally, over a one-year period (2014):

Forbes graphic 3


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A Loving Tribute to the Indomitable Spirit of Bonnie Bucqueroux

Bonnie with Lemmy

Bonnie with Lemmy

Today we learned with great sorrow of the passing of the indomitable Bonnie Bucqueroux — journalist, educator, activist, artist, gardener, cook, writer, videographer, environmentalist, mentor, friend, and serious dog lover. Bonnie was the very definition of polymath, although she’d never admit to such.

Our long-distance friendship started only four years ago, but will remain one of the most important I’ll ever know.

My first encounter with Bonnie was when I stumbled upon a three-part interview she taped with fellow MSU colleague Eric Scorsone on the topic of Michigan’s new Emergency Manager law. At the time, I was with a group that eventually formed the ballot question committee to petition for the repeal of the harsh law. Scorsone, an Ag-Econ professor, is an expert in the area of municipal economics. Bonnie peppered him with a barrage of well-informed and insightful questions. The information she obtained became much of the groundwork for our successful petition drive, and eventual repeal of the law.


Bonnie loved drawing tomatoes!

Since that time back in 2011, we have had an ongoing conversation about a number of topics — both political and personal. She generously shared her wide-ranging knowledge and experience, always taking time out of her busy schedule to talk or Facebook message. More than once, she helped me navigate journalism ethics questions. One of my guiding principles has always been to ask myself “What would Bonnie do?” On those occasions when the answer didn’t come, Bonnie was just a phone call away.

Bonnie always inquired of my son Scott, a student journalist, offering encouragement and praise of his work. She was pleased to learn that Scott has continued his journalism pursuits at the Michigan Daily. Scott just got a little promotion of sorts there, and I was looking forward to sharing that with Bonnie, she would have been delighted.

Here’s a sweet story of how she helped Scott through a very difficult time during his junior year at Traverse City Central High School. Scott worked on the school newspaper as photo editor and the editor of a satirical page called The Leek — fashioned in the spirit of The Onion.

The Leek, a longtime feature at the paper, always pushed the edge — known for its extreme hyperbole, loaded double-entendres, gentle lampoons of administrators — with school policy always in the crosshairs. Exactly the kind of stuff Bonnie loved! Scott devised an infographic that mocked “grinding” — a form of dirty dancing the school had recently banned. Some mean spirited person, for reasons still unknown, uploaded the graphic to all the regional news outlets’ various social media (TV, radio, print) without making it clear that it was a satirical piece. The scandal exploded with calls for his expulsion, suggestions that he should be flogged, among other hurtful threats. The story was picked-up by the AP, and was appearing across the nation.

Within about 48 hours, the media discovered that they’d been duped by the anonymous uploader, and the retractions and mea culpas started. Still, Scott felt sick about it. School administrators stood by his side, but it wasn’t until Bonnie shared a similar experience with him that he felt better.


Lemmy, Bonnie’s muse

It seems Bonnie’s no holds-barred approach to life was with her at an early age. She too, worked on her high school paper. Tasked with writing about prom fashions, she decided to take a different look at the features story. She submitted a satirical piece suggesting that the latest look in prom wear was a maternity gown, given the number of teen pregnancies. Ooops, her school administration wasn’t so supportive though. She nearly got herself kicked-out of school.Sharing her experience made Scott feel like a kindred spirit. She told him not to buckle under pressure, and he hasn’t.

Bonnie has always been passionate about student journalism, encouraging the next generation to keep at the profession even though it’s in flux. Bonnie was deeply concerned with the prospect of heavy-handed editorial control on school papers. Excessive censorship, she felt, stifled the learning curve. Proud of her former students, she followed their progress, and was truly pleased to see them doing well and working hard.

While many professional journalists are quick to scorn citizen journalism, not so Bonnie. If she had her way, everyone would be publishing and podcasting. On one occasion, she gently suggested I correct a minor misspelling, apologizing, saying she was “a born proofreader”, and kindly acknowledging how difficult it is for self-publishers to edit their own words. Amen to that! It was so good to hear that from a person of her experience.

There are confidences she shared that, while I’ll never repeat, left me feeling blessed to have been trusted with some of her life’s difficulties. She sure listened to plenty of mine!

Bonnie, even in poor health, was funny, sarcastic, feisty, tough, humble, generous, quirky, and forever thinking-up new creative endeavors to pursue.

I’ll finish with my last direct communication with her, once again demonstrating her selfless nature. We had just finished a long phone conversation. She was worried that none of her meds seemed to be resolving her DVT condition, but that didn’t stop her from railing against the scourge of paywall journalism, among other annoyances. As always, Bonnie gave me sage advice, and left me feeling energized and grateful for her friendship. I messaged her right away, and am glad my last words to her were those of deep affection:Bonnie FB message

I’d like to think she’s in a good place, surrounded by dogs, baking turduckens, drawing tomatoes, and fighting the good fight. I’ll still continue to ask myself “What would Bonnie do?”

She will be missed.

Christmas 2006 — Bonnie’s “The Tale of the Turducken” video.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin





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MICHIGAN LAWMAKERS PIG-OUT — Lobbyists’ SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Politicians

Oh Snap! Michigan Politicians Caught Being Wined and Dined by Lobbyists – 2015 Report

This year’s first SNAP Report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network is a who’s-who of Lansing lawmakers. Lobbyists fed Michigan’s elected officials like so much foie gras destined for the butcher — once again stuffing their gullets full of food and spirits to buy their allegiance. They shelled-out over $21 million in the first seven months of the year, with much of it spent on proffered delights and delectables, and precious little of it itemized.

Bean King-Jacob Jordaens

Detail, The Bean King, J. Jordaens c. 1640

Rich Robinson, Director of MCFN, compiled the data from the Michigan Department of State, finding that lobbyist spending is up slightly from the same period last year. Lobbyist dollars — the other form of “dark money”, are not easily tracked due to poor disclosure requirements. Many of the biggest players are multi-client firms who spread their entitlements just thinly enough that they safely skulk below the reporting thresholds for particular categories.

Hey Big Spender

The top ten firms, all multi-client, reported dolling-out considerable sums to influence Michigan officials in the first half of 2015. Little of it was itemized as to the beneficiary.

� Governmental Consultant Services Inc. – $947,832;
� James H. Karoub Associates – $734,014;
� Kelley Cawthorne – $540,293;
� RWC Advocacy (formerly Wiener Associates) – $389,789;
� Michigan Health and Hospital Association – $327,109;
� Public Affairs Associates – $325,106;
� Midwest Strategy Group of MI – $309,141;
� Muchmore Harrington Smalley Associates – $301,908;
� Kandler Reed Khoury and Muchmore – $238,675;
� Michigan Credit Union League – $211,587

Supplemental Nutritional Assistance for Politicians

The law requires lobbyists to report certain specifics of their bankrolling of elected officials, but in total, only $538,625 was divulged for travel, accommodations, and consumables. Of that, $112,000 went to food and beverages at group events, leaving $426,000 going directly to individuals — however, only 16 percent of that amount was connected to any named person.

Few received enough dough from any one given firm to be reported in their name, but of those identified, it was a bipartisan feast:

SNAP 2015

Source: MCFN

Robinson believes important steps should be taken to improve transparency in lobbyist spending. He suggests:

“Reporting by lobbyists could be made much more meaningful if multi-client lobbyists were required to report how much they spend representing each of their clients. State regulation requires only that multi-client firms report their overall spending and their roster of clients, but they do not have to report their spending as it relates to each respective client.”

The campaign finance watchdog further recommends that reporting thresholds should be “rolled back to zero”, and that reports should also indicate what policies, budgets, and pieces of legislation the lobbyists were advocating.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

For a list of the top 200 Michigan lobbyists click HERE.


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The Costly Xenophobia of Michigan GOP Lawmakers

Donald Trump’s got nothing on Michigan’s GOP xenophobes. Just as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Sen. Gary Peters, and Gov. Rick Snyder put out the welcome mat encouraging Syrian refugees to consider calling the Motor City their new home, churlish Republican lawmakers in Lansing have introduced legislation to prevent cities, counties, villages, and townships from creating sanctuaries for international refugees.

Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees Oct. 2, 2015, Photo: M. Fleming, UNHCR

Senate Bill 445 would prohibit communities from offering sanctuary to individuals lacking proper documentation. If passed into law, it would require local law enforcement agencies to act as gatekeepers, with a laundry list of onerous regulatory burdens, including regular reports to the Legislature proving they are laser-beam focused on throwing-out “illegals.” Failure to comply is not an option, the entirety of a municipality’s annual revenue sharing would be forfeited if they buck the proposed law. The not-exactly-liberal Michigan Municipal League had this to say about it:

“In addition to the bill’s obvious attack on local control and the needless unfunded mandatory reporting, the committee heard testimony from multiple individuals expressing concern about the message that a bill like this will send to the immigrant community. Municipalities and their employees could face increased liability and it decreases law enforcement’s discretion to perform their jobs.  Most troubling, though is the attempt to penalize every community in Michigan, regardless of size or their involvement in this issue, by holding revenue sharing hostage.  Even communities that do not offer their own law enforcement services would be subject to these mandates and potential penalties.”

There are already too many federal regulatory hoops for Michigan to jump through impeding its ability to welcome refugees — the state is currently limited to accepting no more than 4,200 per year. Pile on the political animus that seems to be core to the GOP presidential slate, and the displaced Syrian middle-class may just take their considerable talents and work ethic elsewhere.

However, international law may trump Trump and the Michigan Senate. These leaders all display a fundamental misunderstanding of the basics.

Let’s start with how frequently we hear the casual conflation of the terms “migrant”, “immigrant”, and “refugee” — words that have distinctly different legal meanings. Per the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR):

“Refugees are forced to flee because of a threat of persecution and because they lack the protection of their own country. A migrant, in comparison, may leave his or her country for many reasons that are not related to persecution, such as for the purposes of employment, family reunification or study. A migrant continues to enjoy the protection of his or her own government, even when abroad.”

International law on refugees is clear as dictated by the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and as further amended to expand its scope in 1967 to define and protect refugees worldwide. That body of law itself is sufficient to afford safe harbor to those in need.

No Person is Illegal

“No Person is Illegal” Austrian kids protest, photo: M.Fleming, UNHCR

The UNHCR provides a short list of basic human rights protected under international law for refugees:

  • The right not to be expelled
  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry
  • The right to employment
  • The right to housing
  • The right to an education
  • The right to public relief and assistance
  • The right to freedom of religion
  • The right to access the courts
  • The right to free movement
  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents

Over a quarter million Syrian citizens have lost their lives* in the civil war. Syrian leadership, now with the help of Russia, has made flight a do-or-die imperative. Those fleeing the crumbling nation have certainly earned the title “refugee”, with the vast majority having been taken-in by neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. By comparison, the European and American response has been pathetic.

UN tweet

The shameful irony of the concerted efforts to thwart the resettlement of these war-weary refugees is that prior to Syria’s internal conflict that nation was host to many times more desperate expats than any single European nation is currently being asked to absorb. In 2010, Syria hosted over 1.3 million refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, and Iran. They were not held in squalid camps, but were integrated into communities, poor as the Syrians were. Children were enrolled in schools. Healthcare, food assistance, and vocational training were made available, additionally, micro-loans and grants were offered to help families start a new life. The cost was in the millions — with UNHCR support, $90.1 million was spent in Syria as of 2010.

And now it’s our turn. There are currently more than 4 million UNHCR registered Syrian refugees, just over half of them are children, and with the stepped-up bombing campaign, these numbers are sure to continue to swell.

Michigan lawmakers must get out of the xenophobia business and allow these families to find a home in our state. If they’re truly worried about the threat of terrorism, they should focus on the white American male demographic instead.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Want to help? Click HERE to make a tax-deductible gift to UNHCR.

Updated 10-7-15. *The estimated number of Syrians who have lost their lives varies depending on the source.

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