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Excerpts from recent Michigan editorials

Mon, 08/09/2010 - 11:29am
Manufacturing.net

Jackson Citizen Patriot. Aug. 3, 2010.

New regulations should not be the first option after Kalamazoo River oil spill

With public anger barely subsiding from the BP spill, Michigan on July 26 suffered its own oil-related environmental mess. Somewhere around 1 million gallons of crude oil poured into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, sparking new calls to tighten rules on the oil industry even before workers scrambled to stop the first wave of pollution.

The BP spill and this one are entirely different. One started a mile below the Gulf of Mexico from exploration and has spread across hundreds of miles over months. The latest mishap contaminated 25 miles of river when a pipeline carrying oil from Indiana to Canada broke.

One similarity should be the response. We encourage regulators and lawmakers to work swiftly to determine what started this spill - but not to jump into new regulations that ultimately will drive up costs for the public.

Proper regulations have a place and, in fact, have improved pipeline safety in the U.S. As the Detroit Free Press reported ... updated federal rules were put in place in 1999. The number of accidents involving oil pipelines fell from 460 in 2002 to 339 last year. More money is being spent on inspections and the number of inspectors has grown.

... Congress had been looking at the issue of pipeline safety, but not urgently. Coincidentally, the BP spill happened shortly after President Obama announced plans to allow more off-shore oil drilling.

The reality with both BP's drilling and this case is that they filled a need. Our society relies on petroleum and expects that companies can explore for and transport oil safely. For the most part, they do.

When they don't, as with the Kalamazoo River, federal officials have an obligation to find out what went wrong. In particular, there are complaints that Marshall-area residents reported a smell several hours before the pipeline was shut down. In addition, this is a 41-year-old pipeline, and regulators have raised questions about its durability and that of several other lines.

Enbridge, the company that operated this pipeline, should be accountable and pay the cost of a cleanup that will take months. If it broke any laws, there should be civil or even criminal penalties.

The biggest issue we hope federal officials can address is this: Is the network of oil pipelines that crisscrosses the nation reliable? Many pipes date back to the 1950s and 1960s and are at risk from corrosion. Is their condition being properly monitored, and are operators like Enbridge keeping up with replacing eroding pipes?

Improving this infrastructure, like rebuilding crumbling highways, can be expensive. So can the cost of adding regulators to the federal payroll. We would like to see Congress collaborate with this industry to take on the big picture, instead of merely fitting Enbridge for a black hat.

This spill may eventually lead Congress to change the way operators of oil pipelines do business. That, however, should not be the first option.

___

The Macomb Daily. Aug. 6, 2010.

Meltzer's underhanded campaign tactics backfire in primary

Poetic justice: Justice, as in some plays, stories, etc., in which good is rewarded and evil is punished, often in an especially fitting way.

Was Kim Meltzer's defeat in the primary election for the Republican nomination in the state Senate's 11th District poetic justice?

We're probably not alone in asking, since the once-popular Meltzer apparently, at least in part, caused her own downfall with egregious campaign tactics.

Just a few weeks prior to the primary, Meltzer touched off a media frenzy when she announced she would propose Michigan follow in the footsteps of Arizona with laws that would force police to check anyone who could be suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

Despite the controversy in Arizona, where national organizations threaten to boycott travel in the state and cancel conventions and trade shows, many conservatives jumped on the Meltzer bandwagon.

It was an obvious ploy for pre-election publicity and it worked. Meltzer was on television, radio news shows and quoted in virtually every newspaper in southeastern Michigan, including this one.

But the state representative was still facing two well-known opponents also seeking the GOP nomination in the 11th Senate District.

Jack Brandenburg and Leon Drolet are both former state representatives and, like Meltzer, are pro-business, anti-tax advocates.

It was going to be a difficult choice for GOP voters, since the three have similar positions on key issues.

That was probably a factor in the candidates turning the campaign into what one publication labeled "the Macomb County Chainsaw Massacre."

Like any campaign that hits below the belt, we can't be sure who took the first swing.

But we are sure that a late campaign flier from Meltzer set a new low for underhanded tactics.

One side of the flier showed an obviously doctored photo of a hitchhiking Brandenburg with the slogan "Hit the road Jack, and don't ya come back no more," a reference to a recording by Ray Charles. It included references to Brandenburg's voting record and an unproven reference to a sexual harassment claim, among other things.

But it was the flip-side that was really outlandish.

It said that Drolet "cosponsored (a) bill that would have allowed sexual acts between homosexuals in public restrooms, public parks and public restrooms - exposing our children to that filth."

We'll forgive Meltzer mentioning public restrooms twice in the same sentence.

But we won't forgive her for setting a new low in trashy campaigning.

Oh, and by the way, Jack Brandenburg won the GOP nomination and will face Democrat Jim Ayers in the general election.

And Drolet? He has filed a libel lawsuit against Meltzer.

And she may also lose in court.

___

Times Herald. Aug. 3, 2010.

Automakers' improvement is good news

Critics of big government continue to argue against Washington's financial rescue of Chrysler and General Motors. While the debate about government intervention rages on, there's no question that both auto manufacturers are showing significant signs of recovery.

Chrysler LLC, the smallest of the Big Three, is the latest domestic automaker to deliver good news. Its Sterling Heights assembly plant, once slated to close in 2012, will add a second shift next year and 900 workers.

The announcement came as President Barack Obama visited Chrysler's Jefferson North plant in Detroit. The president was there to defend the government bailout of Chrysler and GM, and the new jobs bolstered his case.

Washington's controversial rescue of the ailing automakers was unprecedented. Its managed bankruptcies of Chrysler and GM and mandates for the production of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles angered big government opponents and raised concerns about the auto industry's future.

Without government intervention, however, the nation's auto industry almost certainly would have collapsed, a fact the president didn't understate.

"If we had done nothing, not only were your jobs gone, but supplier jobs were gone and dealership jobs were gone, and the communities that depend on them would have been wiped out," Obama said.

Thanks to the bailout, the fortunes of the auto industry are showing promise.

GM used the president's visit to its Hamtramck factory to announce 45,000 Chevrolet Volt electric vehicles will be built in 2012 instead of the 30,000 it previously planned.

Moreover, the automaker is expected to file for approval with the Securities and Exchange Commission this month to become a publicly traded company. GM has repaid almost $7 billion in government loans. It can repay the remaining $43 billion only when it returns to the public market.

The growing health of GM and Chrysler is encouraging news for Michigan. Although the auto industry won't be as big as it once was, it still is a leading source of economic development and badly needed jobs.

It's also promising news for the Blue Water Area. St. Clair County's manufacturing base is tied to the auto industry through the production of auto parts.

County leaders are developing a strategy to create new industries and wean manufacturing from its traditional auto industry dependence. Still, the automakers' recovery promises to be an economic boost.

Phil Leonard, a plant manager at Punch Tech in Marysville, a third-tier parts supplier to Chrysler, said for the first time in two years, Punch Tech is running overtime shifts.

Leonard is a firm believer in the bailout.

Without it, "we wouldn't be here," he said.

___

The Oakland Press. Aug. 2, 2010.

Crackdown on health care fraud is a must

If the congressionally approved health care overhaul has any chance of succeeding, federal agencies will have to figure out how to keep tabs on its expenses.

That was made obvious earlier this month when federal authorities announced the largest Medicare fraud bust in history.

The numbers are staggering.

Ninety-four persons, including many doctors and nurses, were indicted in five states, including Michigan.

They are accused of cheating the government out of $251 million by billing Medicare for unnecessary equipment, physical therapy and HIV treatments that patients never received.

And in a separate Brooklyn case, authorities indicted six patients who shopped their Medicare numbers to various clinics. More than 3,744 claims were submitted on behalf of one woman in the past six years.

We're not private investigators, but how is it possible for our government to approve 3,744 health care claims from the same person? Obviously, there was a major lapse of oversight.

As might be expected, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder put a positive spin on the bust.

"With today's arrests we're putting would-be criminals on notice: Health care fraud is no longer a safe bet," Holder said in a report by The Associated Press.

We're glad to hear that, but the statement begs the question: Why was it ever considered "a safe bet?"

Fraud is not new in federal programs and critics for decades have been crying for the government to clamp down on it.

News reports said that 360 agents took part in the one-day raids. They arrested a total of 36 people - or one person for each 10 federal agents.

There will always be a certain criminal element - even licensed doctors - who see the government as an easy mark for a quick buck. Why not bill Medicare dozens of times for the same wheelchair?

Now, however, there are reports organized crime has infiltrated Medicare fraud because it brings in more money than dealing illegal drugs and, if caught, has less severe criminal penalties.

We wish Holder, and everyone else in the federal government, good luck on the crackdown.

Particularly when it's noted that cleaning up the estimated $60 billion to $90 billion a year in Medicare fraud is a key for paying for President Barack Obama's controversial health care plan.

The president worked hard to get Congress to approve his plan - with all its known and unknown problems. The jury is still out on how successful the plan will be as far as health care costs are concerned. ...

There's no doubt we need health care reform. The question is if the current plan is the answer.

Common sense tells us no, but instead of throwing it out, use it as a base and then improve upon it.

In political Washington, that's going to be difficult, but not impossible.

If you have your health, life is good, but a little spending money doesn't hurt either.

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