- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

Midland Daily News. April 14.

Veteran wait times unacceptable

Most Americans would agree with this statement: Our nation’s veterans deserve better treatment than they are currently receiving at VA medical centers across the United States.

An Associated Press investigation into the wait times veterans still face - one year after Americans learned that many sick men and women who have served our country were stuck on waiting lists hoping to someday receive treatment - showed that the Department of Veterans Affairs has made zero progress in fixing the problem.

That’s right, the same number of patients are facing long waits for treatment today as one year ago. No improvement at all.

This, despite major reforms instituted by the VA months ago and an additional $16.3 billion from Congress to take steps to reduce the wait time, such as hiring more doctors and opening new centers.

The AP investigation found that the number of veterans waiting 30 to 90 days for treatment has remained flat, while the number of veterans waiting more than 90 days has nearly doubled.

A bright spot for the Mid-Michigan area is the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, which also operates a number of community based outpatient clinics. The medical center is performing much better than facilities nationwide, where an average of 2.78 percent of veterans have to wait more than 31 days to receive care. At the Aleda E. Lutz center, the percentage is 1.55 percent, well below the national average and facility wait times in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.

Still, with all that money from Congress and the reforms introduced to address the waiting list problem, Americans have a right to expect that some progress is occurring. As stated earlier, our nation’s veterans deserve better than this.


The Detroit News. April 14.

Lift ban on energy exports

Now that U.S. oil and gas production is booming, there’s little justification for maintaining the ban on liquefied natural gas exports. Removing the 1970s ban would stimulate domestic energy production, keep the fracking-induced job boom going and increase national economic output.

Domestic crude oil production recently reached its highest level since 1972, hitting 9.1 million barrels per day. According to the International Energy Agency, the United States is now the world’s largest oil and gas producer, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Hydraulic fracturing and other technologies have opened up production, especially in Texas and North Dakota, which produced almost half the nation’s oil in April 2014, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA).

Yet only one export permit has been approved since 2010 to provide natural gas to a country with which the U.S. doesn’t have a Free Trade Agreement. Last year the Obama administration approved exporting a lighter crude oil, a condensate, that’s passed through distillation towers and is therefore considered a petroleum byproduct. That gave two Texas companies the green light to export the condensate.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, under the leadership of Rep. Fred Upton, has persistently pushed for Congress and the Obama administration to move on bipartisan legislation that would lift the ban. This year and last, the House passed bills to expedite the approval process for natural gas exports. The Senate is considering similar measures, and President Barack Obama has acknowledged advantages to opening up exports.

Those opposed to exports fear global competition will hike domestic gas prices. Manufacturing and chemical companies in particular have been fighting efforts to lift the ban, including Dow Chemical of Midland.

Opening up exports might increase natural gas prices in the U.S., but the current market provides enough price cushion to at least test out the impact of expanded exports. Further, the domestic natural gas market would respond to increased demand, likely with more production.

Even from an environmentally-conscious perspective, opening up exports makes sense. The modest increase in natural gas prices might push consumers to turn to alternative energy sources, including renewables. Data from an October 2014 EIA study backs this up.

The U.S. economy could add up to 300,000 or 400,000 jobs over the next several decades by expanding exports, and could reduce the trade deficit by $22 billion. A Brookings Institute study found crude exports could add between $600 billion and $1.8 trillion to GDP by 2039.

The perceived oil scarcity that led to the LNG export ban is no longer an issue for the United States.

Energy policy is critical to the country’s economic growth, and it’s time this outdated ban is lifted.


The Holland Sentinel. April 12.

Snyder right to not sign RFRA legislation

We were happy to hear Gov. Rick Snyder say he would veto any sort of Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation should it appear on his desk.

With all the outrage surrounding Indiana, it’s not hard to see why Snyder, normally business-minded and apathetic to social change, would nix the idea while it’s still being debated in the state Senate.

Snyder has worked hard to bring Michigan out of the recession, adding more jobs to the state’s economy than any other governor in the Midwest. He recently boasted about adding 400,000 private sector jobs since being elected in 2010 and the state’s unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 14 years at 5.9 percent.

When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed RFRA legislation into law, backlash was immediate and fierce. And it wasn’t just the bleeding-heart liberals.

Nine CEOs - including the three top public companies according to the Indianapolis Business Journal - signed a letter asking Pence to make changes to the law. Angie’s List, a publicly traded website containing crowd-sourced reviews of local businesses, announced it would put on hold a $40 million expansion of its headquarters in Indianapolis. The move would have added 1,000 jobs over five years.

Critics of the bill say it opens the possibility of discrimination against those who identify as LGBT. Supporters say it does no such thing and protects the religious liberties of business owners.

We’re not sure why business owners need such protections when the First Amendment does plenty to ensure religious liberty for all. However, we do know that promoting an open, inclusive business environment for the state of Michigan is important not just to Gov. Snyder, but all Michiganders.

Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, called Snyder in a Detroit Free Press article on April 2, a “smart CEO who will be happy to avoid that mess.”

“I think that’s what the governor is trying to do because it would send a negative message when we’re trying to attract talent to Michigan,” Baruah said.

Signing such legislation without also expanding the state’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing and hiring, to the LGBT community would send the wrong message and create the same public relations nightmare we’re seeing in Indiana.

The Sentinel editorial board wrote in this space (“Balancing LGBT, religious rights is our next challenge,” March 22) that “the governor of Utah signed into law a bill supported by both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mormon Church that protects LGBT individuals from discrimination in employment and housing while protecting religious speech and providing exemptions for clergy and religious institutions” and “if Utah can reach such an agreement, so can Michigan.”

Since Indiana’s governor signed the RFRA legislation, similar bills in Georgia and Nevada have died before reaching their governor’s approval. Both instances cited backlash from the business community. Gov. Snyder must be hearing the same outcry from the Michigan business community.

“We hope (legislators) are paying attention to the impact that Indiana’s decision is having on their state and really take that into consideration and listen to us when we talk about the impact of their decisions,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce in an April 3 article in the Grand Rapids Business Journal. “I think for the general business community, it does not want to be one that is discriminating against people in our community or looking to be one that is viewed as discriminating.”

Indiana and Arkansas have both made changes to their recent RFRA legislation (Arkansas at the behest of retail giant Wal-Mart), but Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle, who is a self-proclaimed Republican, said “this ‘fix’ is insufficient.”

“Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning,” Oesterle said in an April 3 article in the Indianapolis Star. “That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state.”

Michigan and Gov. Snyder don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. There is now overwhelming support for gay marriage - 63 percent of Americans support it in the latest CNN/ORC polling - and a Supreme Court decision looms large over the state this year.

However, Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, said he still intends to pursue Senate Bill No. 4 and give Snyder the chance to veto the RFRA legislation.

As good of a businessman Snyder is, he knows not to dive into a public relations mess.


The Mining Journal (Marquette). April 15.

New drunken, drugged boating standards make sense

We join what we suspect is a significant majority of people in the state of Michigan in applauding new laws addressing what might be described as drunken or drugged boating or snowmobile and ORV riding.

According to stories from The Associated Press, the laws regulating drunken and drugged driving were updated in 2003 with new regulations kicking in now covering sport craft, bringing more uniformity to the limits and penalties even when not in a car.

AP noted the legal alcohol limit while operating snowmobiles, watercraft and off-road vehicles while intoxicated will be lowered to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent to match the state’s laws for drunken driving on the road.

People under 21, meanwhile, would not be allowed to have alcohol in their system while operating any of these sport craft, and no one would be allowed to operate them with any amount of certain controlled substances in their body.

Some people are going to cry foul, perhaps maintaining that boating or snowmobile and ORV riding are fundamentally different activities than driving on a roadway.

Sorry but we support what state Rep. Dave Pagel, a Republican from Berrien Springs who was one of the sponsors of the new legislation, had to say.

“I think it sends a message that these are family activities and people should practice them safely,” he said.

We agree.

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