Bishop’s Pledge

The Budget Impasse continues here in Michigan. It’s been two weeks since Governor Granholm presented her solutions to fix the deficit (a mix of program cuts, tax cuts and, by far the most controversial, a 2% tax added to services) which were then were soundly rejected by the Senate Republicans, led by Mike Bishop.

This wasn’t much of a surprise. Senator Bishop is a big follower of the Tax-Cutting Guru Grover Norquist, who believes using taxes to help those in need is a form of theft. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, here’s an exchange between Alain de Botton and His Non-Benevolence:

“Why shouldn’t the state help the needy?” asked de Botton.
“Because to do that,” said Norquist, “you would have to steal money from people who earned it and give it to people who didn’t. And then you make the state into a thief.”
“You’re suggesting that taxation is theft?
“Taxation beyond the legitimate requirements of providing for justice is theft, sure.”

Bishop even signed Norquist’s famous Taxpayer Protection Pledge (TPP). It reads as follows:

I, ____________, pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ district of the State of _________ and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.

It’s pretty simple and straight-forwarded. President Bush has signed it. So have lots of other Michigan Republicans, including Congressmen Mr. Grin Mike Rogers, the Club for Growth’s Tim Walberg, and Non-Smoking Seminar Advocate Joe Knollenberg. You can see how it’s done wonders for cutting the Federal Deficit. The pledge is not yet as famous as the Communist Denial: I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party. But it does have a devoted following.

I must confess, that just like Norquist and his followers, I hate paying taxes. I also hate paying revenue enhancements, fees, service charges, and even for parking, too. Who doesn’t? Like the New York Yankees, taxes are an easy thing to hate. But they pay for many things I like and many things I don’t. That’s the bargain I’ve made with my fellow citizens.

Unfortunately for Senator Bishop and TPP signatories, balancing budgets that pay for services many people want is not simple. Hence all the silence and secrecy surrounding the details of the Senate Majority Leader’s plan to plug the fiscal hole in the budget. Not to mention the diversionary tactics of setting up a subcommittee to investigate the state’s prisons and the Corrections department (announced after the Governor said she would close a prison in Jackson to save money) and holding hearings to find out what the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is doing (apparently, Senate Republicans had no idea that the state of Michigan has a public/private partnership that has been successful in luring businesses here).

Yet another day went by and yet another story quoting Republicans appeared in a local paper in which they claimed they can fix the shortfall with cuts alone (but none to education) and no tax increases. But not even so much as an outline for a non-tax-increase plan was revealed.

Then yesterday Senator Bishop sent an open letter to the Governor asking to meet with her to resolve the budget crisis.

While there were clearly areas of common ground in your initial Executive Order, we have stated publicly on several occasions, that raising taxes without an exhaustive review of all other options is not a path we are interested in pursuing.

Again with the no tax increase. You see, if Senator Bishop votes for any kind of tax increase (no matter how small), he will be put in Norquist’s Hall of Shame.

Which might not be such a bad thing. Norquist and his people believe that government is inherently evil, and that it should never try to do anything more than keep a standing army and lock up people who break laws. The fact that a government program like Social Security has worked and continues to work drives them crazy because it points to a big gaping hole in their narrow ideology. (Note: it is scientifically impossible for any person who supported or voted for Amway Guy last year to make the criticism that Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme.)

It might help Senator Bishop if he remembers what he said when he took the oath of office. Here’s what the Michigan Constitution requires you to pledge, from Article 18:

Sec. 1. Members of the legislature, and all officers, executive and judicial, except such officers as may by law be exempted, shall, before they enter on the duties of their respective office, take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (of affirm) that I will support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of ________ according to the best of my ability.” And no other oath, declaration or test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust.

That’s pretty simple, too. Plus, last time I checked, taxes and tax increases were constitutional. Seeing as how it’s the taxpayers of Michigan who pay Senator Bishop’s salary, it would be reasonable to expect him to uphold his pledge to us before following the intellectually and morally bankrupt path being slashed by Norquist and his followers.

So the question is: Where do you stand, Senator?


Mario Vargas Llosa at the Wharton Center

I have just come back from a lecture by Mario Vargas Llosa at the Wharton Center on the MSU campus. He spoke about the similarities and essential differences between literature and history. It was very stimulating.

He said (and I’m paraphrasing much less eloquently) fiction is about lying and using those lies to show the hopes and passions of people at points in history. What history can’t do. History having a moral obligation to sticking to the facts. But the writer, working from his or her own memory and personal conflicts, in using these lies to create fiction, affirms the sovereignty of the individual.

Here’s an excerpt from another essay:

Removing blindfolds, expressing indignation in the face of injustice and demonstrating that there is room for hope under the most trying circumstances, are all things literature has been good at, even though it has occasionally been mistaken in its targets and defended the indefensible.

The written word has a special responsibility to do these things because it is better at telling the truth than any audiovisual medium. These media are by their nature condemned to skate over the surface of things and are much more constrained in their freedom of expression. The phenomenal sophistication with which news bulletins can nowadays transport us to the epicentre of events on all five continents has turned us all into voyeurs and the whole world into one vast theatre, or more precisely into a movie. Audiovisual information-so transient, so striking and so superficial-makes us see history as fiction, distancing us by concealing the causes and context behind the sequence of events that are so vividly portrayed. This condemns us to a state of passive acceptance, moral insensibility and psychological inertia similar to that inspired by television fiction and other programmes whose only purpose is to entertain.

I have only read “Death in the Andes” which I thought was excellent. Now, some more books to go get to add to my TBR pile.

What Is Republican Senator Mike Bishop Doing?

The House passed three bills (MI HB 4044, 4045, & 4046) to repeal Michigan’s drug liability laws.

What is Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop’s response?

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop has said the bills won’t be a priority in his chamber.

I hope that means he’s hard at work on his counter budget proposal. But something tells me that’s not the case.

So he doesn’t want to help Michigan consumers and he still doesn’t have a list of programs he would like to cut from the budget. What is Republican Senator Mike Bishop doing?

He’s been sending out press releases like this one (PDF), with quotes like this:

“Michigan is currently in a state of economic crisis, but closing prisons, reducing our state police force and putting the public’s safety in jeopardy is not the way to solve our budget shortfalls.

“For our part, Senate Republicans have no interest in playing politics with public safety. Despite no warning from the governor’s administration, Senate Republicans will do what we were sent to Lansing to do – to find solutions to serious problems like these without endangering Michigan families and neighborhoods.”

And we’re still waiting for those solutions, Senator Bishop…hello?…hello?…Michigan to Senator Bishop…Budget proposals needed from you…All we see is vapor…

[Update: Your colleague Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer (D) is sitting across the aisle Senator Bishop, eagerly awaiting your proposals.]

[Update again: Senator Bishop says the 2% sales tax on services is not the solution. But he still doesn’t offer any specifics. He sticks to his mantra: government bad, taxes bad. (This reminds me of “Napster Bad!”.)

“We honestly believe it can be done,” said Bishop calling for the consolidation of services to make the required budget cuts.
Advocating substantial reform, Bishop was seemingly short on specifics.

His faith in his own party’s ability to make budget cuts without raising taxes is not matched by any empirical evidence so far that they have the skills to do so.

“This is not about Republicans or Democrats, it is about common sense,” said Bishop. “I can’t get over the fact that this idea of a tax increase is even on the table.”

I can’t get over the fact that this man has the unmitigated gall to spout on and on about what he’s against, but yet he provides not one solution. And what’s an even bigger act of passive idiocy is the way the press in this state is letting him get away with it!]

MI Republicans Say "No" to Cuts, Again

Just how ridiculous are these guys? Today Senator Mike Bishop doesn’t want Governor Granholm to close any prisons as a way to cut money from the budget. He wants to set up a committee to look into it.

Remember, just last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected Granholm’s EO for dealing with this year’s budget shortfall.

“The Republican caucus has said we can get it done with cuts and we’re going to put our money where our mouth is,” Bishop said. He didn’t specify where the cuts would be made but said school aid reductions are on the table.

It was a budget in which they concurred with 90% of the budget cuts.

“Our communication broke down between each other but not in a negative way. We just didn’t have time to sit down with the House,” [Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Shirley] Johnson said, noting that lawmakers agreed with 90 percent of Granholm’s proposed cuts.

The entire state of Michigan is still waiting for Bishop and the Senate Republicans to come up with their list of cuts…We’re still waiting…So far, it doesn’t look like a whole lot is getting done.

Note: If you want a window into just how uninformed the Republican leadership apparently is, take a look here.

Reaching Readers Beyond Other Bloggers and Those-In-The-Know

This very excellent interview with Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books provides plenty of insight into book publishing today. Of particular interest is what he had to say about the role of the Internet and bloggers.

The practical uses it offers in the editing and production of books aside, in the current reality, the Internet is a tremendous tool for publishers to reach those readers who want something besides the designated book of the season. This will become even more the case so long as review inches are shrinking in the print media (which I fear will be right to their complete disappearance). And as the influence of the literary bloggers grows — as I think it will once they convince those readers who are not bloggers that the blogs are the source of information about What to Read — that is, once readers recognize that bloggers have an authority that the reader reviews on Amazon do not — then the Internet will be an even more powerful tool for publishers.

[Bold emphasis is mine]
This is not just what literary bloggers have to do. It is especially true for political bloggers. In 2004, Dean showed how you could organize and raise money over the Internet. The 2006 elections showed the influence of bloggers in keeping certain issues at the forefront of the news cycle, debunking slanders or myths, or getting information out to the public ignored by the MSM. (Bloggers have often highlighted where the MSM has failed to do its watchdog job in the political arena.)

Most of the audience for political blogs are those people who are activists, over-informed, or all-around political junkies to begin with. The next step is to convince the public that blogs are a source of information about who to trust in a given debate or campaign.

In both the literary world and the political world, blogs are picking up the large amount of slack left by the MSM (for an innovative example, see the litblog co-op.) Book review pages have shrunk in newspapers. (Don’t even get me started on the lack of authors on television outside of the Designated Book on Oprah and the occasional Today Show appearance.) Political coverage has shrunk too. Or should I say, meaningful political coverage has shrunk. There are plenty of partisan shoutfests on cable TV. But even those shows that attempt at being informative and meaningful, like Meet the Press, have been compromised as the Libby Trial has shown. From Tim Rutten’s column in the LA Times [hat tip to Transient Reporter for this one]:

[Tim] Russert came off looking particularly bad when, under cross-examination, it emerged that he made a public show of resisting a grand jury demand that he testify about his conversation with Libby, while secretly providing information to the FBI. Maybe that’s how sophisticated Washington journalists navigate “the system,” but an ordinary person with no more than the sense of right and wrong that they learned at Mother’s knee would call his conduct what it is: sleazy double-dealing.

The picture that emerges here is of a stratum of the Washington press corps less interested in the sort of journalistic privilege that serves the public interest than in the kind of privileged access that ensures prominent bylines and good airplay.

Bloggers wear their biases on their sleeves. We might not claim objectivity, but we’re not making any attempt to fake it either. Most bloggers write out of an honest passion for their subjects, be it literature, politics, sex, cooking, science, economics, entertainment, you name it. A passion that I hope will poke through the blogosphere and out to the general public someday soon. And then, who knows what changes will be brought to our political system or publishing? Given the dissatisfactory state of both, I have to believe the net effect will be positive.

The 2007 Tournament of Books…

will commence next week at The Morning News. Put in your votes!

Okay, here I make a confession: I have not read a single one of the nominees.

Does that make me a bad person? Or just someone who can’t afford to buy too many hardcovers in a given year? Or someone who is still playing catch-up, trying to read the big books from the past few years? Or someone who just doesn’t have as much time to read as he would like. Or someone who just makes excuses for not reading more new fiction?

Calling Granholm Irresponsibe, But the Naysayers Budget is Still Vapor

In yesterday’s Detroit Free Press, Ron Jelinek (R – Sen. 21) says it would have been “irresponsible for the state Senate to approve the governor’s executive order. The EO did not balance the budget and was not just an outline of cuts; it was part of her larger plan to raise taxes.”

And what big tax raise is that? A whole 2% on services. Which is estimated to cost the average family earning $57,000 a year approximately $65. That’s right, $65 per year. That’s $1.33 a week. You can’t buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks for that. Republicans the country over complain that taxes like this are too much. Ridiculous.

But Sen. Jelinek was not done. Here’s what else he said:

We cannot ask Michigan families to cover more than 50% of the deficit with new taxes. Senate Republicans want government to live within its means, which will mean cutting more than just 4.5% of costs.

Being responsible means crafting a plan that is right for Michigan and working with all interested parties to do so. Cooperation and compromise will be key to balancing the budget quickly but not balancing it on those who can least afford the added burden.

He makes that 50% of the deficit sound like it’s too much to be handed off to a small service tax. He also fails to note that there have already been significant cuts made to the budget since Granholm took office. Then he accuses the Governor of being irresponsible, because she didn’t craft the right plan for Michigan.

Well, Senators Jelinek and Bishop, we’re still waiting for your budget proposal. You guys have been claiming over and over to want to cut cut cut the government and cut cut cut taxes because it can easily be done with minimal pain. To these refrains you often add that not enough has been cut from the budget.

Governor Granholm put out her plan. You guys said no. A week after the State of the State we’re still waiting. That’s irresponsible.

Note: If you want to read more about how the budget cuts will be felt on people, you can read a lively and informed debate on Michigan Liberal between Eric B. (who writes the blog Among the trees) and Jack McHugh of the Mackinac Center.