Pandemic updates, GOP attacks transgender youth. Mark Wilson and Marianne Udow-Phillips

March 15, 2021

Michigan Policast for Monday, March 15, 2021

  In this episode:

  • Pandemic updates: power grabs, recovery, imaginary horribles
  • Marianne Udow-Phillips on Michigan's COVID response and nursing homes
  • Professor Mark Wilson on the pandemic-driven transformation of America
  • Political notes
  • Transcript

Cover:  Mike Shirkey just doesn't understand why the Governor doesn't trust that everyone will do the right thing … Torch Lake, July 4, 2020

Jump to:

Pandemic updates: power grabs, recovery, imaginary horribles

“In a fiery and at times inaccurate letter, Albert argued the Legislature needs to have a greater role in pandemic public policy.

“The governor’s refusal to allow the people of Michigan a voice in the decisions that affect their daily lives is simply unacceptable,” Albert wrote.

For months, Whitmer has asked the Legislature to send her any comprehensive plan of attack that would keep people healthy and safe. Lawmakers have sent her multiple bills to strip away power from the governor and the health department director, but she has vetoed these measures.” ~Source

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has the power to sue Gov. Gretchen Whitmer if she allocates federal COVID-19 relief funds provided to the state but not appropriated by the Legislature.

On a party-line vote, the Senate granted Shirkey the authority Thursday. In a floor speech, Shirkey did not say why this power was needed. A spokesman said the move is a precaution. ~Source

Dr Seuss’s estate decided to voluntarily stop producing six of his books. These books contain racist imagery that Dr Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel) may too have been ashamed of. ~Source

Mr and Mrs. Potato Head have been around since the early '50s. In fact, the first toy commercial is credited to the Potato Heads back in the early '50s. And clearly kids were playing with it then. It's been a part of Hasbro and a part of childhood around the world. The Potato Heads, Mr and Mrs. Potato Head, continue to be offered. But the opportunity is to introduce the entire Potato Head family.

And so the team is actively busy getting ready for a family, kind of a play pattern launch, where you'll have children and other family members that kids can also play with. And it really comes from great consumer insight. The consumer was saying, and parents and kids were both equally saying, that more creative play from Potato Head would be a good thing. And so we're expanding the brand. The Potato Heads are a big family, and we need to share that with the world. ~Source





Under the Rescue Plan, the cost for a 64-year-old making $58,000 a year drops from an average of $12,900 per year to $4,950, while the cost for a 45 year-old with the same salary drops from $6,200 to $4,950, according to a February report by the Congressional Budget Office. ~Source

Marianne Udow-Phillips on Michigan's COVID response and nursing homes

Lucido skipping nursing home vote to campaign for his next office

The Michigan Democratic Party slammed Lucido’s “partisan games,” noting he missed a December vote on COVID relief funding, some of which would help nursing home populations, and voted against a separate amendment in June that would have given more money to skilled nursing facilities. ~Source


“In Michigan, 33% of the more than 16,000 Covid deaths were in nursing homes. Nationwide, that percentage was almost 39%.” ~Source



Professor Mark Wilson on the pandemic-driven transformation of America



Political notes

In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated ADF as an anti-LGBT hate group, citing the following:

  • ADF’s support for criminalization of same-sex marriage.
  • Its attorneys’ defense of state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people in Europe.
  • Its officials’ suggestion that homosexuality is linked with pedophilia.
  • The group’s claim that gay rights will “destroy our society.”

One SPLC executive has said an ADF lawyer’s support of an Indian law banning gay sex was “what really pushed [them] over the top” in designating the organization a hate group.


The fact that so many states and members of Congress have simultaneously introduced these bills is not a coincidence. This is the latest coordinated effort by national anti-LGBTQ activists to spread myths and misinformation about what it means to be transgender and chip away at support for LGBTQ equality writ large. ~Source


“Instead of celebrating better access and more participation, their response is trying to eliminate access to voting for primarily communities of color,” Abrams, who is credited for being a key player in turning Georgia purple, said on State of the Union. “And there's a direct correlation between the usage of dropboxes, the usage of in-person early voting especially on Sundays, and the use of vote by mail and the direct increase in the number of people of color voting.” ~Source









Joe Biden  00:04

I will not relent until we beat this virus. And I need you, the American people, I need you. I need every American to do their part. That's not hyperbole I need you. I need you to get vaccinated when it's your turn. And when you can find an opportunity and to help your family, your friends, your neighbors get vaccinated as well.


Walt Sorg  00:28

The previous guy said I alone can fix it. The current guy says we're in this together and working together. It could be a joyous for the July. I'm Walt Sorg.


Stacy Abrams  00:44

What we saw happen on January 6, the insurrection in Washington DC was a violent version of what we're watching happened in state capitals across the country. What they are trying to do is to undo the election by silencing those they didn't agree with and that is by and large communities of color, young people and the words


Christine Barry  01:05

That's Stacey Abrams on the nationwide epidemic of Republican bills to stop people from voting, and the efforts include Michigan. I'm Christine Barry.


Announcer  01:15

This is Michigan Policast. With Christine Barry and Walt Sorg, Michigan politics and policy and the National stories impacting our pleasant peninsulas.


Walt Sorg  01:24

We have a double dose of great guests this week, we'll talk with MSU urban planning guru Mark Wilson, on the post COVID world of urban life, and also to the head of the University of Michigan Center for Health and research transformation. And what Michigan did right and did wrong with nursing homes. Let's begin as we have her most episodes over the last year, Christine with the pandemic. We still got republicans in the legislature playing political games with protecting the health of the state. Exhibit one is usually his Senate Majority Leader Mike shirkey, who is ready to proclaim mission accomplished and throw away all the precautions.


Mike Shirkey  02:02

We have learned a lot in this last year plus, that have allowed people to understand what they have to do. We've done the great Michigan's hasn't done a very good job of embracing the safety precautions that have been laid out. And businesses have no reason and no motivation and will do everything possible to keep their customers, their suppliers, their employees and their families safe. And there shouldn't be any restriction they should be allowed to open up to their maximum capacity based on their own judgments and their own decisions. It's time to time inform, inspire, encourage in the most important part that this governor has not done and still continue to do is to trust people.


Walt Sorg  02:46

Let me respond to that very simply, most restaurants, most businesses will in fact do the right thing, as will most Michiganders, but that's true for a lot of things. But we still have state laws and regulations to protect us against those who aren't responsible. We have speed limits. We have health inspections of restaurants, we have anti littering ordinances, we have laws against animal abuse and on and on and on. And when it comes to COVID, the irresponsible few are a threat to the rest of us. And quite frankly, I'm getting really tired of this argument that we just have to trust the people to do the right thing because it only takes a small minority doing the wrong thing to put us all in danger.


Christine Barry  03:24

Yeah, I mean, that's the story of the pandemic. And look, well, let's be clear Shirkey doesn't worry about protecting people. He's talking only about the economy. And, you know, you mentioned the health inspections, and so on. Shirley would do away with those as well if he could. But the point that you make about those laws, the speed limits, health inspections, that kind of thing. There are costs associated with all of these laws. All of these laws have an economic factor. There are enforcement and oversight costs, the in health inspections, in particular, there's cost to the business owner for compliance. But those costs aren't as sharply and widely felt as a pandemic response. And that's kind of our difference. Right. That's what makes it so easy for Shirkey and the like to say, let's get rid of these restrictions and do the right things. Trust us. We know a lot about this virus and we know how to protect ourselves. And it sounds appealing. It sounds easy. Yeah. The businesses aren't going to do anything to hurt their business. Of course not. But look, we don't see republicans do the right thing ever. They don't wear masks because they think it's a political statement. They won't take the vaccine. I think it was 47%. We talked about last week. They won't release pandemic aid the republicans in the legislature because in in Shirkey's, words they want to spank the governor. I mean, these guys can't even accept that the election was legitimate and Shirkey can't tell the same story from one minute to the next. So when he says, you know, trust the people, we know that we can't. They show us who they are. And we have to believe them. Now setting that aside, well, last week, we had the first case of the South African variant show up a boy in Jackson County, this particular variant spreads faster. We don't know how well the vaccines hold up against it yet. We don't know if the effects are more severe. We do know people are still dying from COVID. We know they're going to keep dying, dying, even after more and more people vaccinate because some people are just more vulnerable. So your choices right now are, if you're a republican are to either open up everything and hope for the best thoughts and prayers, whatever. Or release the pandemic aid, get the vaccine follow health precautions, and, you know, work with everyone else to get through it. And Shirkey's out there advocating thoughts and prayers.


Walt Sorg  05:51

Yeah, 533,000 Americans so far have died from this virus that we want to say that that's a pretty serious outcome for one year. And there's a new study just came out it was done by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Medical University of South Carolina two pretty credible sources. It was published in the American Journal of preventive medicine. Let me just read the opening of the press release the per capita rates of new COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 deaths were higher in states with Democratic governors in the first months of the pandemic last year, but became much higher in states with Republican governors by mid summer and through 2020, possibly reflecting COVID-19 policy differences between GOP and democrat led states. According to this study by researchers at the Hopkins School of Public Health and the Medical University of South Carolina, we'll put a link to both the press release and the full study on our website. But it's pretty clear that these republican policies, such as in Texas, Mississippi, and Florida, are resulting in people dying and of course, it started at the top with Donald Trump, a man who was so proud of this vaccine that he takes all the credit for developing that he and his wife took it in secret. It is been leadership from the top to get people to die. Meanwhile, you've got people like governor Whitmer, you've and it's not just governor Whitmer, it's, it's quite a few governors, Republicans and Democrats, Larry Hogan in Maryland, among them and the governor of Massachusetts to Republicans, as well as a bunch of Democrats who have taken the hard steps taking the political hit. But they're keeping their people alive at a higher rate than the republicans that are watching their constituents die. The Republicans, meanwhile, in the legislature continuing to use all the federal money that has been granted to Michigan and they're holding it hostage, still trying to get the governor to give up some of her power to deal with the pandemics so they can implement their open states policies. Mike shirkey is very open about it.


Mike Shirkey  07:48

Unfortunately, the reality is the way the public health code is written that these orders do period, the weight of law, and there's no no opportunity within those in the borders and within the laws for the legislature to weigh in. And so we're using tools like, like putting requirements on spending, to, frankly to put some pressure on the governor to display and share the data and science that she insists is being used but yet has not been revealed to frankly anyone yet.


Walt Sorg  08:23

You know, the governor actually vetoed a one bill that would have limited the health department's ability to issue statewide epidemic orders to close the schools. And her veto message was kind of to the point. At the bottom of the letter to the legislature she wrote House Bill 4049 is a reckless idea poorly executed and poorly timed. I am vetoing it sincerely Gretchen Whitmer. That kind of makes the point


Christine Barry  08:47

Yep, it is what it is, like so many of the bills that come out of the Republican House and Senate. Well, even as those political games continue in Lansing, the Whitmer administration and local health departments continue to ramp up vaccinations. Nearly 2 million Michiganders have now received at least one dose of the vaccine with 1,000,010%. Fully vaccinated. Effective this week everyone 50 and older is eligible to sign up for the vaccine. And it will be open for all adults by the end of the month.


Randy Rainbow  09:23

….. I'm so tired of quarantine, Mr Biden bring me vaccine.


Walt Sorg  09:57

Oh Lord, I do love Randy Rainbow


Christine Barry  09:59

you You know that song is gonna be in everybody's head now?


Walt Sorg  10:02

Oh, yeah, it isn't. If you really want to get it into your head, never a brain worm, go to our website, click on the link, watch the whole thing on YouTube. It is it's one of his very best and he does a lot of great things. The President's first primetime national address focused on us. Mark contrasts with the previous guy whose speeches tended to focus on him. And we heard something from this president that was missing in all of 2020 true empathy for the immense suffering and grief caused by the pandemic.


Joe Biden  10:32

As of now, total deaths in America 527,726. That's more deaths than in World War One, World War Two, Vietnam War, and 911 combined. their husbands, wives, sons and daughters, grandparents, friends, neighbors, young and old. They leave behind loved ones, unable to truly grieve or to heal even to have a funeral. But I'm also thinking about everyone else lost this past year to natural causes. By cruel fate of accident or other disease. They too died alone. They to leave behind loved ones who are hurting badly.


Christine Barry  11:27

Yeah, his message is not surprising. He started out his his presidency with a memorial to the COVID-19 victims. So it's, it's really nice to hear. And we also heard something else that was missing in the past year, and that is realism. The previous guy promised that the virus would just magically disappear. It was supposed to do that by Easter of 2020. President Biden warns that it's still not over. But it can be if we work together.


Joe Biden  11:57

We need everyone to get vaccinated. We need everyone to keep washing their hands, stay socially distance, and keep wearing the mask, as recommended by the CDC is even if we devote every resource we have beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity. And national unity isn't just how politics and politicians vote in Washington, what the loudest voices saying cable or online. Unity is what we do together as fellow Americans,


Christine Barry  12:31

adding to the call for unified action, and new public service announcement featuring four former presidents,


PSA  12:38

our fellow Americans right now the COVID-19 vaccines are available to millions of Americans. And soon they will be available to everyone. The science is clear. These vaccines will protect you and those you love from this dangerous and deadly disease. They could save your life. So we urge you to get vaccinated when it's available to you. That's the first step to ending the pandemic and moving our country forward. It's up to you.


Christine Barry  13:09

And passage of what many called the most significant domestic legislation in 55 years, dating back to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society got very mixed reactions based solely on politics. Senator Gary Peters lauded the effort by the Biden administration during debate on final passage,


Gary Peters  13:27

as we consider the American rescue plan, there are signs of hope, particularly with ramped up vaccine production. We are beginning to emerge from a very dark winter. But our work is not done. We cannot be complacent. We cannot let up. This virus does not take a day off and so neither can we. This package will not mark the end of our efforts to crush this virus but it will provide a massive shot in the arm to help families to safely open up our schools and to accelerate the development of more vaccines.


Christine Barry  14:07

Meanwhile, Republicans and their media partners did everything they could to change the subject away from the overwhelmingly popular bill. on fox news the most covered story last week was


Fox News  14:19

Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Susan Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss for Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss a Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss God Seuss Dr. Seuss Seuss Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss, you're a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really. You're as cuddly as a cactus. You're as charming as any. Mr. Gary.


Christine Barry  15:21

Actually that montage from media matters goes on for another 45 seconds.


Walt Sorg  15:26

And the other major story on Fox Of course Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head. As a result, their viewers may be very confused when they notice $1400 or more are showing up in their bank accounts over the next few days. Meanwhile, we've got a republican county prosecutor trying to turn the governor's response to the pandemic into a criminal case. Peter Lucido. The prosecuting attorney of Macomb county wants to have a panel to review nursing home deaths. You may recall Peter Lucido, as the former Republican member of the State Senate who is basically censured by his colleagues instructors, some of his committee assignments for being a sexist pig he was guilty of several instances of sexual harassment involving a reporter involving a another senator, and also a lobbyist, he still managed to get elected prosecutor of Macomb County. And this is one of the things that has bothered me a little bit, Christine, ever since they announced the indictment of Governor Snyder in the Flint case, and that is politicizing the criminal process to take on your political enemies. I don't necessarily say that's what was done with Governor Snyder. But I do think that that is being used as the the rationale by Peter Lucido and Republicans to try to criminalize the governor's response to the nursing home crisis at the beginning of the pandemic. I wanted to take some of the politics though out of the discussion, just get down to the facts to the state and the governor do the right thing when it came to the treating of our older citizens, the ones that were needing assisted living. A study from the University of Michigan Center for Health and transformative research offers some answers into that. We're joined by the director of the Center, Marianne Udow-Phillips.


Walt Sorg  17:10

Marianne Udow-Phillips, thank you so much, first of all, for joining us on the Policast. To explain what's going on what has gone on with this crisis. There's been a lot of talk, a lot of it politically generated over the state's response to the crisis has impacted our nursing homes. Your organization did a pretty in depth study of how the state didn't compare it with other states. What were the conclusions you reached?


Marianne Udow-Phillips  17:31

So yes, we did a study that was looking at two things we were looking first of all, we did this study over the summer of 2020. And we were looking first of all going backwards at what the state did when COVID hit relative to nursing homes. And then we were also looking at going forward what what would be the recommendations we would make to the state to protect nursing home patients better in in the future. And so in terms of going backwards, when we looked at what the state did, we concluded that the state's actions in March when they set up the regional hubs for nursing homes, were appropriate that they had, in fact followed the CDC guidance that they were absolutely reasonable in terms in the context of the crisis that was happening on COVID. I and we looked in depth, the best we could with the data that was available at the performance of the state in the nursing home cases and deaths. And we found that the hubs overall performed better than the non hubs that the that the death rates were lower in the hubs, there was a 17% death rate in the hubs and in the nursing homes hubs compared to 26% in the non hubs, so they looked better than the non hubs. And overall, Michigan had a lower percentage for the time period, we were looking at the lower percentage of COVID cases in nursing homes than the US overall,


Walt Sorg  18:58

it seems for the casual viewer of statistics that the nursing home numbers would seem bad, but only because most of the people who have died in this pandemic are older people. And when you look at nursing homes, that's who lives there.


Marianne Udow-Phillips  19:11

Yes, well, the nursing home numbers, in terms of deaths from COVID are bad, not just in Michigan, and not just in the US, but frankly all over the world. And they're bad for a variety of reasons. Some of it is because certainly as you say they're the most vulnerable population because we know that age is directly associated with COVID death rates. We also know that comorbidities are directly associated with COVID death rates and people in nursing homes both are older and they have many health conditions that put them at risk. But it's also some more bigger systemic issues that long predate COVID, about nursing homes, about staffing in nursing homes, and frankly, how we treat seniors as a country.


Walt Sorg  19:53

We were kind of making up the rules as we're going in the beginning of this disaster. Nobody had really experienced it. For looking back now with what we've learned in the last 12 months, are there things now that we know should have been done differently back then that back then we just had no way of knowing?


Marianne Udow-Phillips  20:09

Well, we made a number of recommendations in the summer about ways to strengthen the policies, and the approaches the state was taking towards nursing homes. And so for example, we learned that there were certain criteria or certain qualifications that enabled nursing homes to perform better than others. And we suggested the step that the states apply those new qualifications. So for example, the state in the early days used an overall measure of quality that was developed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, we learned through more research, that one element of that measure was really most important. And that element was staffing ratios, that the staffing ratios in the nursing homes were the most significant part of performance by the nursing homes in their effectiveness and keeping patients safe. And so we recommended the state shift from this overall measure to this more detailed measure about staffing. So we learned a number of things like that, as time went by, that enabled the state to now put in much stronger criteria for the hubs than they started with.


Walt Sorg  21:19

It seems like a million years ago now, but when this first started in Michigan, the infections were pretty well concentrated into Southeast Michigan. And we're looking at a real crisis in the hospitals in terms of capacity, as that spread out, as the cases spread out in Michigan, and we didn't have capacity issues nearly as great. Did that change the way where the results were getting in nursing homes and what we were able to do?


Marianne Udow-Phillips  21:43

Yeah, so you know, the the issues really were significant all across the state in terms of hospital capacity, because our rural areas just as have fewer hospitals. And as they get overwhelmed with cases, they also needed a place to transfer patients who were stable, and no longer needed hospital level care, because they were still getting too many COVID cases, right. So you know, the issues really weren't different between the rural areas of our state with regard to nursing homes, and the more urban areas, however, just like the rest of the country, and just like the hospitals, nursing homes over time, and we now have national data on this got better at taking care of COVID patients. So a couple of things that happened early on. As a country, we set as a priority, we set hospitals as a priority for personal protective equipment. And you'll remember, in those early days, we didn't have enough personal protective equipment, even for our hospital staff, right. They were reusing masks, you know, some of them were, we're creating their own masks, and nursing homes had even less of that personal protective equipment. Over time, they got more, right. So they were better prepared to take care of their patients as they got more personal protective equipment. But we did not as a country set nursing homes on the same priority as we did the hospitals in the beginning.


Walt Sorg  23:02

Your report also called for increasing opportunities for safe visitation. How important is that personal relationship between these the patients, the nursing home, and their children, their grandchildren?


Marianne Udow-Phillips  23:13

Oh, this is such a critical issue. In fact, the the advocates that the Ombudsman the folks that represent families, and really monitor those, those nursing home, from a consumer standpoint, raise this issue very early on. So if you have patients, you know, there are a number of patients in nursing homes who have dementia who get confused, and their family, maybe the only people they trust to feed them, for example, and when the families aren't there, we saw a lot of nursing home residents who lost weight, who wouldn't eat, who were depressed, mental health issues were very significant. And, you know, again, this was a these are policies to limit nursing home visits that we've got put in place across the country. But there was a real trade off on the mental health and social isolation of those nursing home patients to try to keep them safe from COVID. They lost a lot in terms of the mental health and their physical health, just by not seeing their families who are often frankly, their advocates too, and who know who can monitor what's going on with them in terms of safety and quality of care.


Walt Sorg  24:19

You mentioned that Michigan did a lot better in terms of deaths in nursing homes than many other states without naming names necessarily. What are the other states do wrong that we did? Right?


Marianne Udow-Phillips  24:30

Oh, that's that's an interesting question. I don't know that our study was detailed enough to to answer that because we didn't study all of the other states. But what we did look at again, were Michigan's policies, and we did do, you know, a literature review. And we did do interviews of people all across the country. And, you know, as I said, we think that the hub policy was a good policy for the state of Michigan, and many other states now have adopted something more similar to what we did on the hub. So the idea of having facilities that met certain quality criteria, and who were who were staffed to take care of COVID patients, we think really was a good policy. And as I said, Now we know more about that what those criteria should be and how to equip those facilities and train the staff better than we did at the very beginning.


Walt Sorg  25:20

Maryann yoodo. Phillips from the Center for Health and transformative research. Thank you so much for helping us separate the politics and from the policy a little bit on this very, very explosive and emotional issue. Have a great day.


Marianne Udow-Phillips  25:32

Oh, thank you. Walt, happy to do it.


Christine Barry  25:44

I'm guessing that's what it sounded like in the Oval Office after the final congressional approval of the American rescue Act, the $1.9 trillion bill will have a direct impact on all of us. Here are some of the highlights the additional $300 a week in unemployment that continues through September 4. There's no federal income tax on the first 10,200 and unemployment assistance, as we discussed last week. Well, I think it was, of course, stimulus payments and tax credits, assistance for health care spending, funding for schools to offset pandemic related costs and aid for state and local governments in certain industries. And there are grants made available also to struggling restaurants and bars. President Biden said in his statement Saturday that he expects the American rescue act to generate up to 6 million new jobs across the United States and add $1 trillion to the gross domestic product,


Walt Sorg  26:42

I think it possibly is more significantly for the long term is the decision they made to put into the act, direct payments to parents of young children $300 a week for the next year for a child to help support them during this time. It's the first time that the United States has ever done anything like this, although it is done pretty commonly in a lot of Western European nations. But the nice part about this from a political standpoint is is that the payments expire, just as the 2022 election campaign is getting into full swing, and it puts the republicans between a rock and a hard place, then do we allow this benefit to go away? Or do we continue a benefit that we absolutely despise. And that will be an interesting battle a year from now. But for now, lower income and middle income families will be getting some help with child support in a way that will allow two income families, for example, to get back to work. That is the brilliance of those by $300. For a kid, that's almost enough to cover childcare for the week. And it will allow that parent to go back to work without being worried about their child. And I think that is very significant. You add to it, the older kids that are going back to school because the schools will be reopening in a matter of weeks in most cases. And that's really going to be a shot in the arm to the economy. I think it's a brilliant move on multiple levels, both political and economic.


Christine Barry  28:06

Yeah, I agree. And to your point that it's a shot in the arm. I mean, they you know, this money is targeted for people who spend their money. They don't keep it they have to spend it. So yeah, it's a it's money that goes straight out into the Academy, which everybody should be happy about.


Walt Sorg  28:21

And the latest polling from both Morning Consult and from CNN shows that there is continued very, very high support across the nation bipartisan support for how the president is handling things. When it comes to handling of the Coronavirus situation, President Biden gets 55% positive and just 26%. Negative 30%. Random is just fair. Congress gets a much lower rating excellent only 9% good 23%. And congressional Democrats, though come out way ahead of Republicans on that subject. Everything about what the President is doing right now is both good policy. And it's good politics because it's supported. You also have a poll from CNN finding pretty much the same thing. We'll put links to both of those onto our website. The other thing, Christine, that we've noted and we've talked about before is the major impact the pandemic has had on everything really in our lives, just like 911 it really is a transformative event, bringing or accelerating changes that will last long after we've beaten the virus. In a lot of things large and small, our lives have been altered forever. Someone who studies these trends is Professor Mark Wilson. He's a professor at MSU School of urban planning.


Walt Sorg  29:38

Dr. Wilson, I suppose the first place to start is the fact that you and I are both talking from our homes right now. Something that a year two years ago, we wouldn't have imagined happening for an interview like this. But it's really kind of where we are going even before the pandemic and that's accelerated the trend in the last year. What are the implications for urban centers, especially in Michigan and across the nation,


Mark Wilson  30:03

there's actually quite a lot of possibilities. And one of the problems we have as planners is is trying to capture the directions of where the changes will take place. But some of the things that come to mind will be if people are working at home rather than in the offices, what will happen to commercial real estate, will the office remain the same as it's always been? Or will it in fact, be an opportunity to scale back the size of offices, and really change their nature, because if you only go into the office once or twice a week or a month, or even a year, then your office may have a different function, it will be more a place for gathering and conversing rather than a place for quiet work. So one change I see is in the commercial real estate market. A second change will be on where people want to live housing choices and rents. And so many people make choices about where they work, depending upon where they and or their spouse working and decide to choose an appropriate distance. But if those proximities are needed anymore, then I think it will be a whole new way of thinking about space. So some of the evidence we've seen already is that the outer suburbs of cities, and near metropolitan areas are growing very quickly. Whereas downtown areas for residential housing are losing and especially cities like San Francisco or New York or London, with very high rents have found that those rents have dropped in the city centre, as people realize they can find more and cheaper housing further away. It also opens the potential for people to choose where they live. Based on the amenity value, they pick a place that is comfortable, they like the environment, which for some could be downtown. For others, it could be rural areas. And so we see estimates that places like say, Traverse City in Michigan could grow because it's an opportunity to gain access to the lake and to nature, get still be able to work and cover visiting across the state. So of the the next change that comes to mind, is that if we do have reduced commercial real estate in cities, and growth in suburban and near Metropolitan communities, what happens to those areas that rely on taxes. So I know in my case, I pay in tax in East Lansing at MSU. And many government workers pay income tax because they they work in Lansing. But if you have been on remote work, because of COVID, then both of those cities when in fact be losing revenue, because people aren't resident in them. And they're not even working in them anymore. So I can see a huge hit to local public finance, that will affect the resources that flow into the coffers of cities to provide the services they need to offer.


Walt Sorg  33:45

Another profound change it would seem to me would be in retail. I know in the last year especially I've gotten very used to doing all of my shopping online and either having curbside pickup for things like groceries or having UPS and FedEx delivered to my front door by just by buying it from somebody who will ship it to me and I'll have it the day or two and not have to go into a store. We've seen malls, shopping malls all across the state and across the country are having huge financial problems I know in the Lansing area. Both malls right now are struggling financially. Are they dinosaurs?


Mark Wilson  34:19

Oh, I can see it accelerating. A lot of my work has been on how disruptive technology affects cities. And one of the first pieces I wrote in the early 90s was how the internet would affect cities in my the name of the article was the fall of the mall. Essentially seeing that the shift to online, both digital delivery, you don't need a DVD you just stream it or having goods delivered will change things and I think this is going to be a huge change. And I can see many malls and this was already a case before COVID but I think it's an accelerated it dramatically. Apparently New York City now receives 2.5 million packages a day, of which 90,000 are stolen on average. But it means that the city now has a delivery issue. It has delivery congestion in ways that it needs to address. And so this is just another example of there are all these small changes taking place and accumulating, but they could have a huge impact on how a life unfolds.


Walt Sorg  35:29

Using Lansing as an example, its downtown infrastructure in support of its economy is changing. While the office space is emptying out, especially the state office space, it now has its first grocery store, something that it hasn't had for literally decades, is that a sign of things to come for urban areas where they're going to become much more residential,


Mark Wilson  35:51

I would certainly hope so. Because one of the problems of many communities and living in the Lansing area, I see this, that often where you live, there is no where you could walk to. It's wonderful to walk around the streets and enjoy nature. But there's very little you can transact walking around in ways that used to be very common when there were mom and pop kind of stores and you could even walk to work. In some cases, I'm hoping that a lot of interest will steer towards remaking urban space. And so for example, the vast amounts of Lansing downtown that are devoted to surface parking, Lansing was voted create a city of 2018 because it had one of the highest rates of surface parking lots, I look at a satellite photo of downtown Lansing, and it's primarily parking lots. If those aren't going to be used by commuters, then I'm hoping that we think creatively about mixed use developments, some commercial, some residential, bringing people back to the city, we don't need to develop the edges of our city we need to develop the land we have that is being underused. So I see it as a disruption. But I also see it as an opportunity to rethink how our cities could be.


Walt Sorg  37:07

What other redirections on a policy level do cities need to make to adjust to this changing economy? Where do they need to redirect perhaps some of their tax revenues to prepare for what's already happening to them?


Mark Wilson  37:21

I think one that comes to mind we haven't spoken about yet is the internet and access to the internet. And even though the Internet has been around for 30 plus years, and for many, it is not really an issue, the digital divide still exists. There are still communities that have poor service, costly service, no service. And this is not just in cities, it's also in rural areas. And many communities in Michigan, have long suffered from poor internet accessibility. And I think that will continue to be an issue. it hinders learning, it hinders work. And it also hinders things like shopping and entertaining, getting access to services. So I am hoping that cities do focus. And I know many of them already have been thinking this for decades about making sure that every resident has access to affordable and effective internet. So one would be that rollout of services. Another thing to think about is what does it mean, as a community, if suddenly a lot of the people that used to leave for the day are spending the entire day there? Does that change demands on public space on services, on the way the city is organized and run broadly talked about the tax implications? Does it mean that there'll be more demands on suburban communities because people are there all the time, and may need more services? Or they may demand things? Because they're now there all the time? These will all need to be filtered into how we remake our cities.


Walt Sorg  39:04

What about the transportation infrastructure have historically, it has been really oriented towards commuters? And clearly commuters are less of a factor in our society now? How should we be thinking about our transportation spending in the next 50 years?


Mark Wilson  39:21

Yeah, I think that it's a double edged sword when we look at transportation, both because of the COVID work from home impact, but also things like autonomous vehicles coming in in the next few decades. One of the positives I see is great reductions in pollution. people taking shorter journeys, which lend themselves better to electric vehicles because you have less range anxiety if you're just going around town and not commuting long distances. So there's some pluses there. But I also see a negative and that is that public transit is mass transit and the mass means it's designed for a lot of people And if a lot of people aren't using these mass transit systems, they're very difficult to scale back. And it also means that those that have no choice, but public transit may find that services are cut back, because there's not as many people needing them. And so when you do need, like transit, it may not be there. Or it may be a two hour wait. So there are both positives and negatives that need to be factored in. And I think one of the subtext of what we've been talking about in this podcast is the whole issue of social equity, who will gain the benefits of these changes, and who will also face barriers and costs and disadvantage as a result?


Walt Sorg  40:48

Let's get into one last area before we wrap up, and that is the very specific implications for cities like East Lansing and Ann Arbor that are basically built around universities and students. Clearly, that's changed in the last year because we haven't had students for the most part, what what long term possibilities Do you see for cities like East Lansing and in Arbor?


Mark Wilson  41:10

Well, I can say that from our own experience at MSU, is that students really miss being on campus. And as a lifelong student, and professor, I do love campus communities, they have a lot of energy and vitality. They're creative, innovative spaces. So I don't think the hit student populations will be that great, because the in person learning experience is positive. But there will certainly be cases where more things are done at home or from a distance. I can also see a positive However, because if you currently are living in an expensive metropolitan area because of you need to be near a job that is suddenly now flexible and working from home, then you may find a college town is a very attractive place to live. college towns usually rank very high on livability and services. And so it could be that college towns could draw from more costly metropolitan areas of people who want the college town environment, access to services to the arts to culture to innovation, at a lower cost to where they're living now. So I would hope that communities would look to what their advantages are. And think about branding and promoting those advantages to an increasing work from home population.


Walt Sorg  42:39

Do you miss having your students in front of your face instead of on being on having him on the screen?


Mark Wilson  42:44

Yes, yes, it's a very strange phenomenon. It really is. It's very hard to sort of talk out into the ether. And it's much harder to get interaction. And just to read, whether something is clicking or something is misunderstood or confusing. So, fortunately, we'll be back. Hopefully, most of our classes in the fall at MSU,


Walt Sorg  43:09

Dr. Mark Wilson from the School of planning, design and construction at Michigan State University. Thank you so much for your insights. We appreciate having you on the podcast.


Mark Wilson  43:18

It's been a pleasure, Walter, I've enjoyed talking with you.


Christine Barry  43:23

All right, I think it's time for some political notes. First up the culture wars heating up again in Lansing with legislation taking aim at transgender people. Here we are again, with the republicans creating an imaginary enemy to rally against this time state senator Lana Theis of Brighton, introducing legislation that would require Michigan's locally elected school boards, or the boards of directors of charter school, to establish and maintain a policy that says if a girl or a boy wants to play on a school sanctioned girls or boys sports team than they can only play on the team that matches his or her chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth. And that last little bit is a is a quote starting with chromosomes and anatomy. Now, the way that it works right now is that the Michigan High School Athletic Association determines transgender student athlete eligibility on a case by case basis. And that allows them to take into account the individual's physical transition where they are in that transition process. They average two cases per year to students per year and this has not been a problem. But just like any other bigoted law that they do, it can have effects that you know, the unintended effects like consider this the roughly 800 girls want to play sports on a boys team. As of last year, it was about 800 girls, these girls are properly sexed and gendered and chromosome the way the GOP likes them. You But they want to compete against boys or they're in one of those schools where they don't have a choice because there's no girls team for that sport. So for example, if you have a boys and girls cross country team, but you didn't have enough girls to field the team, you know, the girls might want to run with the boys. This bill would prohibit that. And it's should be considered hate speech. Walt, this should be considered hate speech wrapped in legislation that probably came from one of their stupid legislative exchanges, because it isn't going anywhere. It doesn't solve a problem. And it's just meant to hurt people. It's just there to make a statement. And it's disgusting.


Walt Sorg  45:34

It's a part of the politics of grievance and distraction. They don't want to talk about COVID-19 because the President is doing so well. They don't want to talk about the economy because that's beginning to rebound is the COVID-19 situation, more and more comes under control. And this is why they are talking about this this issue. And the related issue really is the potato head thing of all things that that basically they have neutered the gender of Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head which is the stupidest damn thing I've ever heard. But it it's just the fox world of misdirection like I said earlier, people who only get their news from Fox News are going to be shocked when they see that money in their bank account. I've already got it. Mine showed up on Friday for my wife and be 2800 bucks it says the it'll clear on the 17th I think it's Wednesday and they got it out right away and literally millions of people are seeing that money in their accounts. And people only watch fox news you say what the hell is this all about? Some are gonna think they have to pay it back. Because they just have not been informed by this suppose news network that they they cling to so drastically. Another emotional issue in maga world of course is gun safety. The US House has passed universal background checks for gun sales, something that is supported by believe those 93% of Americans. According to a survey that was conducted on behalf of every town for gun safety and the difference, Senator 93% of Americans support background checks on all gun sales, on par with job creation and passing another COVID-19 relief package 86% of ticket splitters agree there is no excuse for this president in Congress not to pass background checks into law on day one. Well, they haven't done that yet. 78% of ticket splitters believe that requiring background checks on all gun sales should be a major priority to address in the first 100 days. The people who don't believe this are Republican members of the United States Senate. And so they're it'll sit one more argument for getting rid of the damn filibuster.


Christine Barry  47:41

And you know, that's a dumb thing to stand on, I guess for these republicans, because actually, I think some of the numbers that you mentioned, there are actually up from a few years ago, background checks are the low hanging fruit. The majority of gun owners agree on background checks. We you know, we don't agree on a lot of things. But background checks are such an easy thing, because so many people support it. That's a real safe space for the republicans to negotiate something. And if they had tried to do that, maybe they could have made some bipartisan progress on gun safety that would not have harmed them. It would have actually helped the country move forward. It would have been amazing. But here we are.


Walt Sorg  48:21

Yep, here we are.


Christine Barry  48:22

And all across the nation, Republican state legislatures are proposing laws that would make it a lot harder for people to vote. The movement is especially strong in republican states, which were won by President Biden. And it will likely happen in Michigan as well, on our sister podcast, a republic, if you can keep it former Democratic party chair Mark brewers said republicans will likely use a petition drive route to bypass both the people and the governor to enact voter suppression laws.


Mark Brewer  48:52

I suspect they'll do things like tighten up our photo ID law. They may try to ban drop boxes, put restrictions on the mailing of absentee ballot applications. That was very controversial here last year. And other restrictions. I expect we'll see that turned into legislation which our governor will detail, but then under Michigan law, they could attempt to take that to the ballot itself in the form of a ballot proposal. And then another little wrinkle that others have exploited here, the legislature can adopt that proposal without the governor being able to veto it with a simple majority vote a simple majority vote.


Christine Barry  49:30

And we'll have a link to that. And that's a really good episode, Molly ball is the guest on that episode. And in that voter suppression segment, she talks about how if you compare the United States to other countries, you see these ethnic and these religious majorities trying to game the system as they start to see their power slip away. And she compares the United States so that's really interesting. People should check it out. Of course, we'll have a link to it.


Walt Sorg  49:54

Yeah, Molly is the national political correspondent for Time Magazine. She's written extensively on voting suppression efforts across the country, including a major article in February in Time Magazine. Republicans had hoped that they had a scandal depend on governor Whitmer large payouts to departing state officials in exchange for non disclosure agreements. But then it turns out the republicans are doing the same thing, at least in the state senate where more than 30 confidential settlements to pay off former employees have been put in place over the last few years. Of course, Republicans will control the legislature for several years. So now it's 33 legislative employees have received tax dollars in accordance with severance or other similar payments since 2010. According to statements issued by the Senate and House business offices, the details of those are being suppressed, of course, because the legislature is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and they don't have to give out the information. Meanwhile, the governor has released a policy on confidential payouts. Critics are calling it lip service. However, what it does is to say that if a confidential payout is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Michigan, in other words, it's going to save costly litigation, that is something that can still be done.


Christine Barry  51:10

Yeah, you know, on the one hand, it's a bit disturbing that you have public servants with confidentiality agreements when they leave, because you don't know what's behind that. On the other hand, I don't really have an issue with confidentiality agreements, because you just mentioned that everything these days is about distracting and grabbing someone's attention away from the real issues. I wouldn't want these people to be going out and distracting and telling stories, whether they're, they're true from a certain perspective or not, and not letting us carry on with the business at hand. So, you know, I'm of two minds about it.


Walt Sorg  51:50

I've got to be consistent on this issue. I've been very critical of the former administration, which had non disclosure agreements with all of its top hires, and in fact, went to court to enforce several of them. And my position then is what my position is got to be now, these people work for the people, they don't work for the governor or the President of the United States, and you have a nondisclosure agreement that basically protects a public official, rather than protects the public, I think is probably going too far. What the governor is trying to say in her executive order is if it protects the people, then it's appropriate to do but how do you enforce that if you don't know what's in the agreement, why if it's non disclosure, you don't really you aren't really in a position to be able to judge whether or not it's protecting the people, or just protecting the public official,


Christine Barry  52:36

I would disagree with you a little bit, I think only the elected officials are the ones who actually work for the people, even though they're employed by the state, or whatever the body is, but the people who are appointed, they have less of a responsibility to the people


Walt Sorg  52:51

But Christian, they do take an oath when they accept these jobs, to uphold the laws of the state of Michigan and the Constitution of the State of Michigan, they don't take an oath to that public official. And that, to me, is the line of demarcation.


Christine Barry  53:07

But at some point, though, as an employee, you do have a right to a particular amount of privacy, even if you are an employee of a public body, because it's the nature of employment.


Walt Sorg  53:20

I should also admit that I once signed a nondisclosure agreement when I left a job, and it was a quasi public agency that I was working for. And we mutually agreed that I was going by by and we signed an agreement. Mutual non disclosure, non disparagement.


Christine Barry  53:37

Yeah. And I I, well, this isn't, this isn't public service situations, not the same at all. But I, when I was blogging about the shiawassee, county sheriff, and there was some people who came out and attacked me with a website that had very damaging destructive and untrue things on it. And we reached the settlement. And I had to agree to confidentiality and to not discuss it. And I felt very wronged by that. But it was the only way to get that agreement. So I agreed to it, because it was more important to me to just get it over with. So if it's more important for somebody to just say, Yes, I'll take the severance package, rather than draw things out and argue with you over two positions where, you know, you think you're right, I think I'm right. And neither one of us is doing anything illegal, then I kind of understand


Walt Sorg  54:28

  1. Meanwhile, in the wonderful world of gas.


Christine Barry  54:32

Yeah, the Whitmer administration continues to battle to shut down the Enbridge five pipeline underneath the Straits of Mackinac. A new report shows that it can be done without endangering the propane supply for the Upper Peninsula. The biggest problem is that it would take the cooperation of the legislature for it to happen, because while it would take millions of dollars of investments across five specific strategies that they've proposed: find alternatives for propane delivery, prevent price gouging, trigger market incentives to encourage retailers and suppliers to wean themselves off line five, monitor the propane supply, which we kind of already do and boost energy efficiency. And the republicans in the legislature, they control the legislature. They seem to be standing by their tunnel idea. And you know, frankly, well, had they dealt with this tunnel prior to midnight lame duck, then maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. But here we are, and they'll obstruct it. And I don't think that she's going to get the investments that she needs.


Walt Sorg  55:39

And I keep seeing advertisements on cable television that are sponsored by Enbridge boosting the pipeline, they are certainly all into do everything they can to get this new pipeline built under the Straits of Mackinac, much to the distress of environmental groups, Native American tribes in the area, and everybody else who relies really on not having oil spills in the Great Lakes.


Christine Barry  56:04

Well, and I don't, you know, I'm not a diver or anything, I've never been down there. But is this a tunnel where you could just go poke a hole in it? Like right now,


Walt Sorg  56:14

the bigger one work? Well, the bigger worry is it's just getting old. And you always you always gonna have natural events. We actually have earthquakes in Michigan, they aren't very severe. But we do have earthquakes and pipelines do burst, just as the folks who live along the Kalamazoo river and Enbridge pipeline, fouled up that river several years ago. And it's still kind of messed up, even though they've spent untold millions and trying to clean up the damage that they caused.


Christine Barry  56:40

And they lied about it. Let's be clear,


Walt Sorg  56:42

they lie a lot about it. And there's they're shown they've got problems with the current pipeline underneath the straights. And there have been anchor hits, you've got all sorts of ships that are going through there. And if they happen to have their anchor out and they drag across that they could burst, lots of things that can happen. The challenge is going to be coming up with alternatives that are safer. Because no matter how you transport highly volatile gases and liquids, there is the possibility of an accident. The difference is how much environmental damage Do you cause with that accident? Having a train blow up and having a huge fire is is god awful, but it's certainly not nearly as damaging is having the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Michigan and possibly, Lake Huron on as well polluted by untold 1000s of gallons of crude petroleum products.


Christine Barry  57:36

Yeah, and that's not just damaging to the economy. It's damaging to human life animal life for generations. So you know, what I was thinking was like this, this is a thing that's not really protected by anything. It seems to me that it's a kind of a security issue as well.


Christine Barry  57:56

Well, that's it for this week. Time to wrap up, figure out how we're going to spend that sweet $1400 federal check. For more information on today's topics head on over to our website, please www dot Michigan Policast comm links tweets videos means last week a recipe this week a transcript.


Walt Sorg  58:14

As always, we welcome your comments you can email us at or comment via our Facebook page or on Twitter. And make sure you subscribe to our republic if you can keep it with longtime Michigan political insiders Jeff Timmer and Mark Brewer. Their guests on Wednesdays podcast will be longtime Democratic Party pollster Stan Greenberg. You can find their podcast on Apple podcast, Google podcast tune in I heard radio. back in a week. So yeah.


Announcer  58:44

Michigan Policast with Christine Barry and Walt Sorg is a production of Michigan citizens for a better tomorrow.

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