Saturday, June 28, 2008

Senate Passes Energy Bills With Lower RPS

More dead of the night legislation, but, hey, at least they did something. It's a start.

Unfortunately, they set one of the lowest renewable portfolio standards in the nation - nowhere near the number we need to be at to attract the investment and job providers away from other states that will have stronger demand.

Why do the Senate Republicans want to deny Michigan jobs?

Senators fell more along party lines, however, when voting 20-15 to require that a combined 7 percent of Michigan's power come from wind or be saved by more efficient light bulbs and appliances by the end of 2015. The proposal is not as robust as a House plan setting up a state energy efficiency program along with requiring 10 percent of power be green by the start of 2016.

For example, here are a a few of our neighbors standards: Illinois - 25% by 2025. Same with Ohio and Minnesota. Pennsylvania - 18.5% by 2020. New York - 25% by 2013. Wisconsin is the lowest around us - 10% by 2015. (Indiana doesn't have one. Yet.)

Reaction from Senate Dems-

Mark Schauer - "Tonight’s effort is a good start as we seek to green Michigan’s economy. But the diminished renewable energy standard isn’t aggressive enough to attract significant investment in renewable energy technology. I expect the legislation to be stronger when it hits the Governor’s desk."

Buzz Thomas - “Senate Democrats wanted to create jobs, establish energy independence and environmental safeguards, and improve the efficiency of how we use and generate our power with this policy, but it’s unfortunate my Republican colleagues weren’t compelled by the same concerns. We will continue to advocate for this comprehensive approach while negotiations continue".

Mike Prusi- "The original intent of this package when it came out of committee — and which I then supported — was not upheld tonight, and I couldn’t in good conscious support any of these pieces of the package. I hope my colleagues in the House return the backbone to these bills, and pass the sound energy policy the people of this state need.”

No details on the efficiency program - the least mentioned, but one of the most important pieces of this package. Want to stop new coal plants from being built? Go read that diary and see how efficiency can help do that.

Looks like the Senate gave DTE and Consumers what they wanted, along with deskewing business rates back onto residential consumers - but weakened the provisions that would bring Michigan jobs, help reduce our dependence on buying out-of-state power, and let's not even mention that pesky global warming thing.

History will not be kind to these people. I guess when we clear out the Senate in 2010 we can play catch up with the rest of the world then.

Michigan Energy Fair 2008

Michigan Energy Fair Sign

Everyone needs to go to Manistee once this summer. Except for the Michael McManus signs that litter the beautiful countryside, the area is absolutely gorgeous. So, go. Go before you can't afford to drive there anymore.

I took my shot yesterday to attend the third annual Michigan Energy Fair, brought to you by the folks from the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association. It's held on the Manistee County Fairgrounds - a place complete with an old grandstand with a dirt oval track, food vendors, barns for exhibition space, music, and entertainment for the kids. Your typical Midwestern small-town setting for a summer fair, except instead of livestock auctions or car races, this fair had home energy vendors and both citizen and government energy organizations, dedicated to promoting/selling alternative and renewable energy.

Ready to outfit your home to curb rising energy costs? This is the place to be.

"What we have is a huge frustration of the average homeowner with the rising costs of energy prices," said Allan O'Shea, chairman of the Manistee County Board of Commissioners, an event sponsor. "They need to be around some energy experts to give them some focus."

Dozens of workshops will feature experts on wind and solar power, indoor air quality, green building techniques, recycling, biodiesel fuel and ethanol, water conservation and home canning. Legislation and energy policy updates will be available, as well as seminars on investing in green energy.

Yesterday was the initial set-up. I didn’t notice any workshops or seminars going on in the tents set-up for that purpose; I believe those are mostly taking place today and tomorrow. Governor Granholm was on hand to give a speech to kick off the fair, which tied in very nicely with yesterday's announcement that Mascoma is going to open the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant here in Michigan.

“Michigan is on the cusp of a new energy revolution,” said Granholm to a crowd of fair attendees. “The sky’s the limit.”

Friday morning Granholm announced that Mascoma Corp., a Massachusetts-based company, will build its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Chippewa County in the Upper Peninsula. She said the project is worth $250 million and would bring more than 500 jobs.

“It helps to re-brand Michigan,” she said about the announcement.

From major corporation announcements such as this, down to selling simple home solar/wind/efficiency improvement ideas, there is a huge economic upside there for the taking.

Bauer Power

Bauer Power out of Wayland. Mlive has a great article about them - started by home builder Mark Bauer, they are working with Cascade Engineering setting up solar and wind power for commercial and residential use.

The biggest application of Bauer Power to date is at Elzinga's Greenhouse near Kalamazoo. Its 26-mile continuous-loop geothermal system combined with solar panels heats and lights four acres of greenhouses, Bauer said. It is the largest combined geothermal and solar installation in the Midwest, he said.

"Americans have a choice. (Renewable power generation) is more expensive than fossil fuels, but it leaves a legacy of no detriment to the environment, and it's sustainable for years and years. Renewable is about the big picture."

Solar Works

Solar Works from Whitmore Lake. They put solar, wind and "green growing" together in one mobile unit - the pole in the back is a small wind turbine. Had a nice conversation with owner Damon Dotson - real nice guy, go say "hi" if you are in need of a small system. They come already assembled and ready to go.

Skystream Wind Turbine

A bunch of vendors sell Skystream turbines for residential use.

Garn Wood Boiler

Garn Wood Boiler. This obviously is for home heating, other vendors had smaller indoor/outdoor wood stoves - including one stove that runs on biodiesel.

US Department of Energy

The US Department of Energy had a huge display about their "Clean Cities" program. Other government representatives - the Michigan Dept. of Labor and Economic Growth, the State of Michigan Energy Office, the Department of Environmental Quality - am I forgetting anyone? Major corporations such as DTE and Consumers were there as well.

Montcalm Community College

Montcalm Community College is training people to work at Uni-Solar in Greenville.

Coal Protesters

Coal Protesters. Chatted with the very nice lady from the Sierra Club - they had a booth set up to gather signatures to protest the planned building of eight coal plants in the state. Now, I don't think that is going to happen - these things cost an absolute fortune to build, and with the price of coal skyrocketing, I believe that if these are indeed planned, they will be put on hold. There is also talk of capping emissions on the federal level - if that happens, the price of coal use will become prohibitive.

This is where the efficiency portion of the legislation that was just passed last night comes into play. According to the original AP article on that portion of the energy package, we will need four coal plants in Michigan soon to keep up with growing demand. If we enact efficiency and cut that demand, we can knock that down to one. And if renewables can take off, we can move away from coal altogether in the future. This is why the legislation is so important - it's not enough to say "no coal", we have to get power from somewhere, and we need to start moving down the road to clean energy right now.

And I can't wait until we try to tell the Chinese to cut emissions - that is going to be another huge problem. We can address global warming here in America, but we will be able to persuade other growing economies to go along?

Crowd Before the Speech

The crowd gathers in the grandstand for the governor's speech. Notice the very small space from the wall to the seats-

Granholm 5364

Governor Granholm. Little photography lesson for you - if your subject has a strong light behind them, you have to either use a flash (which looked horrible in this situation) or zoom in closer, or your subject will appear dark in your pictures due to the backlight. As a result, I couldn't get any wider shots of this speech, but I managed to get some real nice close-ups - so that was cool.

She talked to the crowd about the importance of the RPS, asked them to call their Senators - little did she know what the night would hold. She also told them about the Mascoma announcement and her trip to Sweden, telling them how Michigan has the same qualities that could make us a national leader in alternative energy use and development due to our geography, manufacuring capabilities and workforce. Companies are starting to look at Michigan and we have had some victories such as Mascoma, but we need a strong renewable portfolio standard to attract the major investment that a GE, for example, would bring.

Granholm Talks to the Crowd

Governor talks to the crowd after the speech.

There are a few more vendor/governor pictures in the Flickr set, take a look if you are so inclined. I realize I'm publishing this late on Saturday - if you are in the area, try to get there tomorrow, if not, make some plans for next year. Very educational experience, and you can't beat the surroundings!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Senate to Move Energy Bills Today?

Rumors are flying fast and furious that the Senate will move the energy package today. The AP's take on it is here (seems Eggert is copping an attitude on this) and this was Gongwer's version last night-

Senate members have spent much of the week discussing energy policy, but not in public. With lawmakers hoping to finish work for the summer on Friday the chance that the Senate may act on energy bills looms large.

Sen. Cameron Brown (R-Fawn River Twp.) told reporters Thursday there may be a series of substitute bills ready Friday on the package that would both provide certainty to the state's major utilities while ensuring that customer choice is not hampered.

All week long Senate Republicans have discussed various issues in HB 5524, HB 5548 and HB 5549, and a series of proposed changes and substitutes to the bills have been exchanged. On both Tuesday and Wednesday Republicans spent the bulk of those days discussing energy legislation in closed caucuses.

We will see what happens with the "changes" - it would require the House coming back to vote on them after break. (and you would be willing to do that, right, guys?) Perhaps that "happy medium" can found here as well, just as it has with the budget and water bills.

Stay tuned...

Renewable Energy - "Possibly the Biggest Economic Opportunity Ever"

And the Michigan Legislature is going to watch it sail on by.

Granted, both of those statements are a bit strong, but both of them could possibly turn out to be true when all is said and done. Rumors from MIRS had the Senate working on our energy bills yesterday, but with the big rush to get, well, everything done in the next 48 hours, it seems hard to believe that they will be able to pull this off in time, but one can always hope.

So, here is one more push, one more argument of why it's imperative that we act sooner rather than later. Last week, the big money gathered in New York City at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum (REFF)to discuss strategies for investment into renewable energy, everyone recognizing the opportunity in front of them, but looking for direction on where to go next. There are risks for investors, and apparently "Congress' failure to extend the Investment (ITC) and Production Tax Credits (PTC)" has caused capital to shift elsewhere for the short term, and other hesitancy on the part of the major names.

Even in the light of market uncertainty, there is this-

All risks considered, the world's leading investors are recognizing that a transition to a clean energy economy is the single biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century — and possibly the biggest economic opportunity ever. The U.S. represents one of the largest renewable energy markets, so merchant bankers, private equity firms and venture capitalists are all educating themselves about how to navigate this immature yet promising marketplace and make the right decisions to drive the industry forward. REFF is an event designed to give financiers the tools to invest in this increasingly complicated space.

Investors are concerned that this is a repeat of the 70s oil shock, and that demand will drop if oil prices drop and we all get comfy again and continue to ignore the reality of the dangers of relying on fossil fuel use. Not the case this time around, say organizers-

The political and economic landscape is now perfect for strong, sustainable industry growth: The scientific debate over climate change is over; the price of oil will probably not fall dramatically, if it falls at all; developing countries like China and India are emerging as major energy consumers, increasing the demand for all types of energy; and despite the short-term political stalemate in Washington, there is bipartisan recognition that renewable energy is an economic driver and a necessary part of national security strategy.

“There are so many factors converging at once. It really is a perfect storm,” said David Sandalow, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. “I just don't see this as another repeat of what happened in the 70's. This is the real thing.”

Just yesterday, a new report was released that highlights the concern; fossil fuel use/energy demand is expected to jump 50% in the next two decades due to increased consumption from emerging economies such as China and India. They are predicting $186 for a barrel of oil by 2030; that seems a bit low in light of recent price spikes, but too hard to tell this far out. China is expected to rely on nukes and coal for its electrical needs - and imagine what that will do to global warming if emission caps are not put in place. For the sake of the planet, we better pray that fossil fuel use is altered substantially in the coming years.

That is just one reason that investors are recognizing that renewables will be the way to go, and the industry is currently laying the foundation to bring more alternatives to market.

As the renewable energy industry works to put meaningful amounts of capacity online, the market remains very volatile for investors, especially in the U.S. However, the industry is finally approaching the form that it will eventually take on a larger scale, making the market a bit more clear for investors, said Michael Liebreich, CEO of New Energy Finance.

“We went through a number of years where people were waking up to renewable energy and energy efficiency, but they didn't know quite what that meant in terms of how they would integrate into the energy infrastructure,” Liebreich said. “We're now starting to get more clarity on how that will work.”

Liebreich and others point to the growing size of installations, increased consolidation of the industry and refined promotion policies as the factors creating this clarity. As a result of this continued “shake out,” the ability of firms to see how and where to invest their capital is continually improving.

What does all this mean? Jobs. Lots and lots of jobs as this emerging technology takes hold across the country and across the globe. Where the investment capital goes, the jobs will follow - and major investors across the country are lining up to be in the "right place at the right time".

The only question left is - will they come to Michigan? That's up to the people in Lansing. We can start down this road right now and position ourselves to be in the right place at the right time when the money people come calling, or we can ignore the writing on the wall and watch this golden opportunity slip through our grasp.

Your choice lawmakers. History awaits.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Some Details on the '09 Budget

Bits and pieces of the budget agreement are being reported this morning - K-12, universities, and cities will see a bump in funding, but will it be enough to cover escalating costs? Time will tell, but indications are tuition will still go up, and schools and cities will still have to make cuts. One thing is for certain - something is better than nothing, and this budget process seems to have gone a lot smoother than expected.

The small print is still being negotiated, but here is what has been reported so far from a conglomeration of sources-

K-12. Detroit News is reporting an average of a $72 per pupil increase, MIRS reports a 1.5 percent increase, both the AP and Gongwer indicate the target will be set today - here is the AP's take -

A House-Senate conference committee likely will start meeting Thursday to decide how much more aid to give K-12 public schools, many of which run on a July 1 fiscal year and want to set their budgets -- another reason the Legislature plans to finish the budget this week.

Proposals have ranged between $55 to $110 more per student to $71 to $142, depending on how well a district is now funded. Districts now getting the per-student minimum of $7,204 would get the biggest increases.

Community colleges and universities will see a 1% increase. They also managed to get $220 million for capital outlay to be split evenly between the schools.

Revenue sharing to cities will increase 2% - down from the 4% originally proposed.

Gongwer reports a 0.5 percent cut from departments across the board. $50 million will be cut from the Dept. of Corrections budget, and there seems to be some indication that they are looking at capping some film credits under the Treasury's discretion. Careful, we don't want to scare Hollywood away. Will be interesting to see how they handle that one.

$100 million will not be put towards the Budget Stabilization Fund, but you knew that was coming. And hey look! Here's $20 million we can save in prescription coverage. Good deal. Love how they always manage to find a few million here and there when they need it.

Bits of good news - young adults will still receive Medicaid coverage. Money will be made available for No Worker Left Behind (yes!) and the 21st Century Jobs Fund - no solid figures yet, but both are important when it comes to training and getting people back to work. $4.8 million will go to the Detroit Zoo operational funds. Also, they are "taking a look" at the proposal to create smaller high schools - but nothing has been determined there yet.

Bits of ominous news, courtesy of the Detroit News-

Medicaid funding, a state trooper school to add 100 new officers and a tax break for the working poor were among items also on the bubble in the negotiations.

Uh oh. Go after the EITC and I’m going to have to yell at someone.

A couple of final thoughts - who needs Mike Bishop when we have George Cushingberry to dis the governor? And, you gotta love Bob Emerson. From MIRS-

Budget Director Bob EMERSON roamed the Senate this morning in a shirt from his daughter that read, "Don't piss me off. I'm running out of places to hide the bodies." He said there would be a deal today and he delivered.

"They're not that far apart," Emerson said. "It's the last yard that's the hardest."

"Everyone realizes the importance of not doing things like last year," he added.

By the afternoon, the shirt disappeared and a deal was at hand.

Good thing. We probably don't have the money to bury more bodies.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Michigan Association of Police Organizations Endorse Schauer

Sweet! From the inbox -

Today the Michigan Association of Police Organizations (MAPO) announced their endorsement of State Senator Mark Schauer (D-Battle Creek) in his campaign for Michigan's 7th Congressional district.

"MAPO is proud to endorse Mark Schauer for Congress," said Richard Weiler, President of the Michigan Association of Police Organizations. "The law enforcement community is excited about the possibility of Mark bringing to Congress the same commitment to public safety that he exhibited in the Michigan Legislature. We look forward to calling him Congressman Schauer."

MAPO's eight member organizations represent three-fourths of the state's 19,500 certified police officers. Throughout his career in the Legislature, Sen. Schauer has fought for strong public safety services by making sure communities have adequate resources for police and fire protection.

Here is a list of all the folks involved-

Member organizations include: The Michigan State Police Troopers Association, the Michigan State Police Command Officers Association, the Police Officers Labor Council, the Michigan Association of Police, the Warren Police Officers Association, The Detroit Police Officers Association, The Detroit Lieutenants and Sergeants Association, and the Flint Police Officers Association.

That is a group you want by your side. Congratulations, Senator!

Deal Reached on State Budget for '09

Must be the Republicans really didn't have a problem with those "revenue enhancements" after all. Sure is easy to spend that money, isn't it, Mike. It will make it hard for anyone campaigning to complain about taxes though, correct? Republicans wouldn't want to be hypocritical or anything.

Top lawmakers and Gov. Jennifer Granholm say they have tentatively agreed on how much to spend on state government next budget year.

The state would spend about $44 billion under the deal reached Wednesday, 1.8 percent more than this year. That's about $400 million less than what Granholm proposed in February.

Makes this next statement from Bishop rather confusing-

"There really weren't any sticking points. We had the momentum going forward," said Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R- Rochester). "We knew where we were going to get in and cut."

Bishop added that in the future state government needs to take a more serious look at structural reforms to cut costs.

OK, Mike. As soon as you termed out, we will be able to get more stuff done. Guarantee it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Revolutionary Views

Big hat tip to the Detroit Free Press for highlighting the work of photographer Anne Savage of Revolutionary Views.

First, it was a 360-degree panorama of the Obama rally at Joe Louis Arena (and her website provides two other shots from that as well), and now they have two versions of last night's Target Fireworks over Detroit, taken right by the Ren Cen. Well worth a look. Zoom up, down, fast, slow - amazing view from both events.

Her website features other Michigan sights such as The American Horse at Meijer Gardens, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and even a prison cell at the Ionia Reformatory.

Cool stuff, check it out.

Will Legislature Leave Job Creation Behind?

Our legiscritters are anxious to get out of town and start campaigning, chomping at the bit to inform the voting public of the laundry list of all those wonderful things that they won't be able to get done next year, because when it comes right down to it, it's "too hard" or they are "too inexperienced to understand how this works" and gosh darn it, term limits are holding them up from making progress right now. But we are getting ahead of ourselves; that's next year's unfinished business and we have this year's unfinished business to contend with first.

This is the last week before summer break, and then we get to pay them to go out and campaign. Indications are that they are scrambling to finish their budget targets, but the budget itself might not be completed until September. The Blue Cross package (which I have not paid one whit of attention to) looks stuck until after the election. They did manage to get the Great Lakes Compact/water withdrawal legislation done, and they do deserve some applause for that. Clap, clap. Sincerely.

But as far as creating jobs in Michigan? You know, that thing that Mike Bishop promised us would be the focus of this year's legislative session? Ask yourself, what one industry is enjoying explosive manufacturing growth. What one industry has captured the nation's attention in the wake of rising energy costs and global warming. What one industry is a perfect fit for Michigan's natural resources and manufacturing workers and facilities. Figure it out?

Apparently, that one industry is the one that the Legislature is going to leave behind in the rush to get out of Dodge. From MIRS-

Until last weeks' shenanigans in the Senate, the renewable energy portion of the package might have been ready to move soon. Now, however, the whole package seems to be on hold. The market reform portion of the package was already stuck in the mud and now the entire package looks like fodder for lame duck.

Michigan will miss out on the jobs that are being created as we speak, jobs that are going to states such as Ohio and others that have moved forward with policy that attracts alternative energy manufacturing-

Over the past three years, the U.S. wind industry has enjoyed a relatively stable policy environment. The federal production tax credit (PTC), the primary economic driver for wind, has been in place without interruption since August 2005 -- after being extended for two years in the energy policy act of 2005, and extended for one additional year (through 2008) at the end of 2006. In addition, more than 10 additional state renewable energy standard (RES) programs have been put into place, bringing the total number of states with an RES to 26 plus the District of Columbia. During that time, total wind capacity grew by 150% and the annual market size more than doubled.

U.S. manufacturers previously unfamiliar with renewables are finding a demand for their existing output (e.g., bearings) in the wind industry while other companies are tweaking their products and retooling their facilities to serve the wind industry and take advantage of this growing market.

It is no coincidence that over the same period, the U.S. found its stride — in this case, that stride being a rapid clip — in expanding domestic manufacturing capacity for wind power components. Dozens of new manufacturing facilities serving the wind industry have been brought online across the U.S. the last few years.

This next paragraph just screams "we can do this stuff in Michigan", and they go on to cite our own K & M Machining and Dowding Manufacturing as examples of companies that are already getting in the game.

Growth in U.S.-based manufacturing has not been limited to just the turbine assembly companies and manufacturers of major wind components. Wind power's supply chain is reaching straight down through the underpinnings of U.S. manufacturing, spurring expansion in domestic capacity for producers of basic products and materials that are needed in multiple industries. Perennial suppliers to the automotive and other major heavy-equipment industries — such as steel providers, foundries, and fabricators — are now serving wind energy, providing raw materials, metal castings, and machining for wind turbines.

Not to mention gear boxes and other various components that go into wind energy. Suppliers currently can't keep up with demand. And besides the danger of losing out to other states in this race, we might lose out to global competition as well.

Any sign of wavering policy support for wind in the U.S. could quickly shift wind component manufacturing out of the country and into the global market, severely damaging the golden opportunity to expand this nation's manufacturing production capacity and create jobs.

Seeing wind's impact on their economies, many U.S. states are doing their utmost to keep that from happening. States such as Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio have been quick to seize the wind opportunity, creating task forces and outreach plans to find ways to capture wind component manufacturing interest from companies both abroad and within their state borders. Since 2005 Iowa alone has successfully enticed wind energy companies to locate at least a half-dozen new major manufacturing facilities in the state, luring thousands of jobs to the Hawkeye State. As for Ohio, Gear Technology magazine notes that "from castings for gearboxes, to tension bolts, to pitch control system, Ohio companies are already manufacturing key components for this rapidly growing industry." To capitalize on those resources, the state's energy office recently established a wind industry supply chain outreach effort, the need for which was further enhanced with the recent passage of a state RES.

Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania have all passed their renewable energy standards. As we have mentioned time and time again, investment is going to the states with a RPS in place - and most states have stronger requirements than ours will be, which, as is stands as passed by the House, is 10% by 2015. Senate Republicans are even balking at that. Ohio laughs at us.

Unfortunately, our standards not strong enough according to the American Wind Energy Association - and they won't even move to get it done before they leave for break.

Or will they? My hope is that that statement is proven wrong before the end of this week. A long time ago, the governor suggested splitting the RPS from the rest of the package, and perhaps these people will come to their senses and at least pass this little portion and get Michigan on the map and attract attention from some major manufacturers. Or, we can fall further behind, waiting until the end of the year or later, and someday people will wonder why we didn't take advantage of this golden opportunity. That would be tragic - and for a Legislature that has been met with constant criticism for their lack of action on important issues, this will go down as their greatest failure when someday the totals are added up and the money and jobs are found elsewhere.

Dow to Raise Prices Another 25 Percent

Time to get reacquainted with the word "inflation". Where Dow goes, other companies are sure to follow.

Dow Chemical Co. will raise the prices of its products for the second time in a month to deal with the continued high costs of energy and related raw materials.

Shares of Dow and other chemical companies dipped Tuesday following the announcement that it will raise prices by as much as 25 percent next month. That follows price increases of up to 20 percent that took effect June 1.

Midland, Mich.-based Dow makes key ingredients used in paints, textiles, glass, packaging and cars.

Not only that, the are increasing the shipping surcharges (which will be passed along to the consumer) and looking at laying off workers.

As part of the announcement, Dow said it's adding a freight surcharge for North American customers of $300 per shipment by truck and $600 per shipment by rail effective Aug. 1. The company said it will add the surcharges in other regions later this year.

Dow also announced it's moving ahead with plans to temporarily idle or cut production at a number of manufacturing plants. Dow's automotive unit is cutting costs that include workers and plants in light of a North American sales decline.

So, when do we start calling this an official "energy crisis"?

Chairman and Chief Executive Andrew Liveris said in a statement the steps are "extremely unwelcome but entirely unavoidable" as global energy costs surge.

"The price increases we announced May 28 helped, but they were not enough to fully cover the additional costs we are now facing," he said. "Even since our last announcement, the cost of hydrocarbons has continued to rise, and that trajectory shows no sign of changing."

Might want to stock up on a few things before prices go through the roof.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Feeling My Pain

... are the people in Midland. I've been talking about this all year, and no one seems to give a damn. (well, some people do - but you catch my drift)

While we are skeptical of some of the numbers that are being bandied about by the supporters of wind and solar production projects in Michigan, we are surprised that few people are even interested in listening to presentations about how alternative energy will play a growing part in the energy mix in Michigan as we look to the future.

Only about 20 people attended a "We Can Solve It" town hall forum Wednesday evening to hear presenters talk about the opportunities in Michigan - especially in Mid-Michigan. The event, sponsored by the United Steelworkers Local 12075, deserved better attendance. There were no comments to a story published in the Midland Daily News on-line edition.

We find that surprising, and troubling.

Yeah, me too. But then again, they didn't listen to Jimmy Carter either and look where we are now.

They scream about jobs, well, here is an industry that is creating jobs. They scream about global warming, well, here is the (partial) answer to that as well. They scream about wars for oil, and here is what we can do to reduce our dependence on oil. Win-win-win, no-brainer, obvious situation... and Michigan is going to lose out because our legislature won't act.

Already the House of Representatives has passed legislation that will require the state to buy 10 percent of its power needs from alternative energy sources. The bill has not passed the Senate.

And some people, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, want that figure to be as high as 25 percent by 2025.

Maine is at 40%, and California will have a ballot proposal this year that might require 50%. We argue over a lousy 10, and "experts" are saying it's not strong enough.

The editorial said that Michigan relies on 83% of it's power from coal and nukes as of now - and we are going to need more. The only way to reduce this number is alternatives and efficiency/conservation.

Now they are talking "after the election". Like we have all the time in the world to wait.

And people wonder why I seem so frustrated.

Deal on Water Compact Reached

Breaking on WOOD-

Negotiators have a deal on regulating large-scale water withdrawals in Michigan.

An announcement expected later Monday afternoon from top lawmakers paves the way for the state to approve a regional compact to prevent Great Lakes water from being sent outside the drainage basin.

No details available yet. Let's hope the bill doesn't say "sponsored by Nestle" in the fine print.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Silver Linings: State Added Jobs in May

Lost in all the dismal numbers about Michigan's unemployment rate was this interesting fact - we actually gained jobs in May.

Despite the high unemployment rate, the state had a net increase of 6,000 seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll jobs in May, according to a monthly survey of employers.

About 3,000 of those were in manufacturing, which rebounded slightly as strikes ended in the auto industry. Leisure and hospitality services added about 4,000 jobs while professional and business services added about 3,000.

Was it enough to meet the huge increase in demand? No, obviously not. There is no getting around the fact that the number of people looking for jobs far outweighs what is available out there, but indications are that is exactly what this statistical jump is - an influx of summer job seekers pushing the numbers up.

The rush of people looking for summer jobs swelled the size of Michigan's labor force, then pushed up the unemployment rate when they were unsuccessful, said Rick Waclawek, director of the state's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

Waclawek and other economists cautioned not to read too much into this month's numbers. It could take a few more months of information to determine whether the May rate symbolizes a long-term increase or if it's a temporary statistical blip.

Charles Ballard, an economist with Michigan State University, said the state has not seen a one-month jump in the monthly rate this large since at least the mid-1970s. That makes him wonder about the accuracy of the estimates.

"I never like to put too much stock in one-month numbers," Ballard said. "The most important thing you can do is look back in a couple of months and see if this holds."

The bad news is that it might hold - and, we still have shed thousands of jobs overall this year. If you remember, economists had predicted earlier this year that our unemployment rate was going to jump to around 8% or higher in 2008 before it leveled out and started to go back down in 2009. Now, due to the national recession, they are pushing that recovery back into 2010. Crain's points out that due to the rising energy costs and the credit/mortgage crunch, top CEOs have been looking to cut costs - and that is coming in the form of labor. National unemployment numbers last month also saw the highest jump since the 80s.

Every month so far this year, cautious employers have eliminated jobs. The unemployment rate rose to 5.5 percent in May from 5 percent in April, the biggest one-month rise in two decades.

CEOs are still an optimistic bunch, with 70% predicting they will hold their current employment levels or even increase payroll - although that number is down from 78% in April. They are nervous, though, and they are "tempering their expectations" about overall economic growth.

So, Michigan, what do we do now, here at home, that will help start to turn these numbers around? For starters, we can completely ignore Mike Bishop, who immediately pulled out Dick DeVos Talking Point No. 1 - "Cut Government", which has absolutely no bearing on job creation whatsoever. Matter of fact, we lost 3000 government jobs lost month, which only adds to the unemployment rate. According to MIRS, the Senate response to the unemployment numbers was to stop working for almost an hour, probably waiting for Dick to call on the bat phone and give them their marching orders.

"While the new unemployment figures are certainly shocking and disappointing, they serve as another reminder that state government must make the necessary cuts to reduce the size and scope of government," said Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R-Rochester).

Key word there? "Disappointing". Oh yeah, the chip that DeVos planted in Bishop's brain has been activated alright, and Republicans are going to use this as an excuse to continue to bury their head in the sand and parrot their extreme partisan agenda of "cut taxes and government", even though none of the news reports indicate that "taxes and government" is the cause of the problem. Deliberately obtuse, or just plain stupid? You decide.

Legislation before the Senate could be part of the solution however, but it looks like that may be obstructed and/or delayed. We will get to that in a minute. First, Governor Granholm and Speaker Dillon got together and issued a joint release that asked for the Legislature continue to work on the energy package and consider adding to the capital outlay budget - two areas that promise to produce thousands of jobs for Michigan.

The governor and speaker today pledged to work together to immediately implement an economic stimulus package and capital outlay bill that would create even more job-creation tools in Michigan.

Just yesterday, the state House approved House Bill 6208 that establishes the Choose Michigan Fund program, a loan program for job creation or retention projects to qualified businesses. The program is designed to allow Michigan to better compete with other states to bring new jobs here.


Governor Granholm said she is encouraged by lawmakers' attention to the most promising job-creation legislation still to be finalized: A comprehensive energy package that will create tens of thousands of jobs in construction and operation for renewable energy generation facilities like wind farms.

The governor may be optimistic, but the ever-pessimistic MIRS tell us that the "conservative Republican majority" in the Senate won't see fit to pass this legislation, and the difficulties in fine-tuning the small print between the House and Senate will push this into the lame-duck session after the election - costing Michigan precious time and perhaps thousands of jobs in a sector of the economy that is enjoying explosive growth and increased competition by the day. We can’t afford to fall further behind, but in an election year, cowardice rules all.

Even if the Senate is able to move its version of the Energy package before the end of the summer, it's likely the process of ironing out the differences between what the House wants and what the Senate wants isn't going to happen until after the November election.

House Energy and Technology Committee Chair Frank ACCAVITTI (D-Eastpointe) said he has no idea what the Senate will do with the proposal, but whatever changes are made are likely to be too complicated and too political to work out before Lame Duck.

"It's too hard". That familiar mantra of the lawmakers who lack the courage and conviction to act on the measures that can bring Michigan job growth. Well, "disappointing" would be the correct word in this instance. Seems crazy to cry about high unemployment numbers and then turn around and obstruct actual job creation.


Let's hope they move to get this done.

Obama to Begin TV Ads in Michigan

... and 18 other states, starting tomorrow.

Check it out- it's a good one.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dillon Slaps Finley. Crowd Cheers.

This is a prime example of why Andy Dillon ties me in knots. Sometimes he steps up and does the right thing. I'm not sure about the wisdom behind lawmakers spending their time getting tangled up with the media, but for Nolan I think we can make an exception.

You go Andy.

It is not productive, however, to cast partisan stones. It was the Democrats who invited the business community to help craft the new business tax after the Single Business Tax was repealed without a replacement. The House Democrats worked with the business community to repeal the service tax and continues to work with it to simplify the new business tax and eliminate the surcharge.

House Democrats are working with the business community and the state Senate on more government reforms to lower the cost of running the state and to make sure we have the infrastructure and education system to allow Michigan to compete in the 21st century.

Finley's article forgets that while we must improve the business climate, we also need to protect our working families and ensure that taxpayers' dollars are used to help Michigan businesses and employees.

Seems to me that House Democrats are the ones getting the work done for both business and citizen alike, while the Senate wants to "take the summer" to study things like the all-important energy legislation, along with other assorted bills that the House finished long ago. Anyone else notice that? Anyone else notice that the House has been better when it comes to working with business than the Senate has been?

But I won't cast partisan stones either. Oh no, not me.

Except when I have to. Which is often. ;-)

Obama at Joe Louis Arena : The People You Meet

Gore, Obama and Granholm

(More pictures of the event at the Flickr set)

The excitement of seeing Obama in front of 20,000 screaming people is thrilling, I will give you that - but a few guys I met yesterday left a greater impression on me than any mega-rally ever could.

I got to Detroit around 2:30 in the afternoon, parked at the Joe Louis garage, checked out the scene. At that point, the line was only to the back of the arena, just starting to make its way down the sidewalk to the river, so I wandered down to the riverfront for a stroll to take in the picture perfect Detroit in June day. The media couldn't check in until 6, so I had some time to kill. S'alright, I planned it that way to avoid rush hour and get pictures of the growing crowd, just soak in the atmosphere.

Hart PlazaWhile I was walking around playing wide-eyed-tourist-with-a-camera, I had the opportunity to chat with some of the citizens of Detroit that were hanging around Hart Plaza. I could have gone over to the RenCen and played real paparazzi, waiting for the dignitaries to show up for the fundraiser... nah. Better to enjoy the day. It was on the Plaza that I met a guy who was the walking, talking product of the things we need to do to help people get back on their feet after a bad stretch or a job loss - all of the points of a campaign speech, a politician's vision, the talking points we take for granted, here was someone living the reality of what we can do when we make sure to put investment into our people.

He called himself GR, or G-Rap at first (yes, that was funny to me being from Grand Rapids), but after I told him what I was doing there and about blogging state issues, he opened up, told me his name, told me his story - and I could have sworn someone or something planted him in my life to show me the path the campaign speech takes right on down to the real. Now, thanks to the wailing and hand-wringing from the right that has been going on since Reagan, sometimes by reflex you start to question just how effective government initiatives can be - but here in front of me was a guy dedicated to turning his life around, and with a little hand up, was on his way to a better future.

Turns out G did a bit of time in the system. I didn't ask what for, didn't really care, does it really matter? No. What matters is what he is doing now. When he got out, he entered the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, and with the help of No Worker Left Behind funding, he now has a CDL - a commercial drivers license, for those who don't know. Wants to be a truck driver. Whipped out his license to show me as proof. He also spoke of a third local program that I didn't recognize, one that is trying to help him find a driving job. Right now there is an issue with regional runs; leaving the state is a problem and they are working on that. Point being, with a bit of direction and training, the guy has a much better shot at avoiding falling back into the trap of hopelessness. He is excited about being on his way to a better tomorrow.

We talked about recidivism, and how that needs to be addressed. "Bunch of guys will be leaving the system and need some training to get good jobs". Couldn't agree more. He rattled off all this stuff that I had only read about, and it was wonderful to meet someone who had put it to use for his own life.

We walked on and he filled me in on a bit more about his plans, we talked about the war, the economy, the greedy Republicans, and what would happen if they won this fall and stayed in power. Both if us agreed that the hole would just get deeper, and even if and when Obama wins, it's going to take some time to get out. When we reached the Joe, the line was incredible - all the way around the back of the arena and doubled, one line along the river, and another that wound back around to get in. There were also people on the second level walkway in line. Monster crowd. The usual vendors were hawking the usual stuff, and the people were pumped. I tried to talk him into getting into the line - told him that he should see Obama in person. I don't know if he did, but I hope so. I bet he would recognize and agree with a lot of the things the man said.

Another interesting note - all three guys I talked to yesterday seemed to indicate that they didn't think Obama would win this fall. Two of them said verbatim, "The country isn't ready for that" - meaning the country wasn't ready to elect an African-American president. Maybe living in Detroit had taught them lessons that I just couldn't see - as I told G, the first vote I ever made was for Jesse Jackson, and the second vote I made included Gerladine Ferraro, and I guess I just take all this for granted. I'm just sorry it took this long to get back to this point. G thinks that Hillary would make a great vice-president; another guy emphatically didn't want her on the ticket. So, we have a split decision there on anecdotal evidence.

The crowd inside was not so kind. The booed the governor loud and long when she mentioned Hillary - I give her points for even bringing it up, because they must know that there is a strong chance that this is going to happen, but, they also realize that the healing needs to happen as well. As you have probably read and heard by now, Obama chastised the crowd for their behavior and put in a lengthy pitch for Hillary, pointing out that there were more similarities between them than differences. And as I have said a couple times now, there are a lot of similarities between what Barack says and what the governor has been saying for months when it comes to Michigan's economic future. Compare and see. Or maybe one of these days I will spell it all out.

Thanks go out to the friendly people I met yesterday. I really enjoyed talking with you. I hope that people will embrace the message of unity and realize that we can't win if we are divided. You may want to boo the mention of Hillary, or trash the governor, but remember, you indirectly hurt guys like G when you do so, keeping us in chaos and helping McCain peel off independents and women. Republicans aren't going to support helping workers, furthering education, or moving towards alternative energy and all the jobs and investment that will bring. And you know it.

Stay strong Detroit. It's time to come together now. And listen, really listen, to what these people are saying. You will find our leaders pulling in the same direction, we need to do so as well.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Breakfast in Battle Creek

Schauer 3705

Beautiful day. Country drive. Battle Creek. Free food. Mark Schauer. I am so there. Can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning in June.

This was the first time I had attended the Battle Creek Cereal Festival. Had heard it was fun - it is. Michigan Ave. is closed to set up "The World's Longest Breakfast Table", and volunteers serve up cereal from Kellogg's, Post and Ralston, along with juice and Pop Tarts. "Thousands" of people descend on the area to enjoy free breakfast and entertainment. The theme this year was "Promoting a Healthy Community"; Minority Health Partnership set up free health screenings, had activities for kids and people were able to register for MI Child and the Calhoun Health Plan. Live music and other entertainment, various vendors and causes and local teams - the Battle Creek Blaze football team was there, as well as the Michigan (Un)Fair Tax people - and everything in-between.

The street was packed. Mark Schauer was there to mingle with the crowd and eat some cereal. Yes, the Senator can eat and talk with folks at the same time - two bowls, as a matter of fact...

These are thumbnails - click on the picture to see a larger view, or, just jump to the Flickr set to see what I've got up there so far.


The star of the show - bowls were lined up at various stations; grab one, find the milk guy and go. People were wandering the crowd handing out Pop Tarts and Capri Sun juice pouches.

Cereal Festival Crowd

Crowd shot.

Schauer 3524

Breakfast is served.

Schauer Stickers

Team Schauer out in force. Who started this sticker craze anyway? Might make for a good trivia question one of these days.

Kate Segal

This is Kate Segal. She is running for House - 62nd District. She had stickers, too. Matter of fact, I'm pretty sure you can't run for office in Michigan unless you have stickers to slap on people.

Schauer 3750

Good picture of Mark.

Empty Bowl

Empty Bowl Sale. Kids and local celebs make bowls, and they sell them off and donate the proceeds to the Food Bank of South Central Michigan.

Kelloggs Ads

Not sure if this is a warehouse or what - but the side of the building has old Kellogg ads. It's on Michigan Ave.

Babies For Schauer

Schauer and the obligatory baby. He put a sticker on the baby carrier... of course.

Fun morning. If you ever get to chance to go to the Cereal Festival... make sure you do!

Republicans For Obama

Seen today on M-37 on the way to Battle Creek... just had to share this one.

Republicans For Obama

Sorry the quality isn't a little better, but I decided that trying to change my camera lens at 65mph probably wasn't a good idea...

Gov. Granholm, Rep. Wasserman Schultz Discuss Choice for Independent Voters

Game on. It's so... on.

Check out this Obama press call with Governor Granholm and Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz - seems Granholm is a bit miffed that McCain is reaching out to Clinton supporters and independent voters on women's issues. She reels off what is quite possibly the longest run-on sentence that I have ever heard her utter, and that is saying something. The governor rips McCain on being anti-choice and anti-privacy - and also goes after McCain donor Clayton Williams. Wasserman-Schulz does the same for other women's issues such as equal pay. Smackdown!

Granholm speaks to Michigan issues such as trade, jobs, and manufacturing - praising Senator Obama for his policies and pitching the Obama appearances here next week. Wasserman-Schulz speaks to the foreclosure crisis and the difference between Obama and McCain's plans on helping homeowners.

The governor also tells us that she has been assured by Senator Obama that Michigan's delegation will get full votes at the convention.

Interesting press call, about 15 minutes long. Take a listen.

The Detroit News has the story here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Just Pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard. Please.

For the love of God, please. If there is one thing this Legislature can do to create jobs and investment in this state, it is passing a renewable portfolio standard.

Back on January 23rd, I wrote a diary entitled, "Senate Republicans to block renewable portfolio standard?" - if you need evidence of the validity of the statement above, read that, look at the quotes, and follow the links.

I don't know how much overwhelming evidence is necessary. I don't want to run around yelling "obstructionists!" all the time. I'm tired of it. I really am. But we are going on five months later now, other states are moving forward with either setting their initial renewable standards or beefing up existing ones, taking that investment money that would be coming into our economy, creating jobs that would go to Michigan workers.

And what is going on in our Senate? Little. Excuses, stall tactics, indications that they aren't going to be moving anytime soon, but maybe they are, nobody knows. Today could be the day, but they also said that last week... from MIRS, June 3rd, Wayne Kuipers indicates he sees no need for further action.

However, it's not clear that the Senate panel will move either bill at all. Sen. Wayne KUIPERS (R-Holland) said the Senate had passed its own legislation and "didn't see a need for any additional RPS bills."

The Senate passed SB 1000, which set RPS standards for state government only, and which Republicans said was a much more business-friendly bill than a government mandate.

The people who don't believe in government mandates slapped a mandate on the government and called it done. Makes your head hurt to think about the irony there. The interesting thing is the support amongst other Republicans is seemingly being ignored by certain leaders at the top of the Republican food chain; the energy bills passed with strong bipartisan support in the House, Sen. Cameron Brown moves to break the tie-bar on the RPS from the rest of the energy package, and Sen.Patty Birkholz moved to strengthen the steps we need to take to get to 10% by 2015, which I believe would put us more in line with what the American Wind Energy Association was asking for when they complained that the House renewable standards were too vague.

Sen. Mike PRUSI proposed an amendment, saying the RPS standards were "tepid," getting the state to 10 percent renewable energy by 2015. He proposed for the state to get to 10 percent of the ultimate 10 percent goal by 2010, 20 percent by 2011, 30 percent by 2012, 50 percent by 2013, 80 percent by 2014 and the full goal by 2015.

The other two Democratic members, Sens. Dennis OLSHOVE (D-Warren) and Buzz THOMAS (D-Detroit) were absent, so Prusi was hesitant to go for a vote on his amendment.

"I can see which way the wind is blowing, and it's not through a turbine," Prusi cracked.

Chair Bruce PATTERSON (R-Canton) then reminded him of his earlier complaint when Patterson and others were cracking wise: "Why does everyone on this committee think they're a comedian?"

Prusi withdrew his amendment after Sen. Patty BIRKHOLZ (R-Saugatuck) introduced an amendment, which passed. It mandates no less than 5 percent RPS by 2010, 7 percent by 2012, 9 percent by 2014 and 10 percent by 2015. Prusi added that if the Birkholz amendment was stripped, "mine will reappear in all its splendor and glory" on the floor.

There is support for this on both sides of the aisle - but the usual suspects are showing the usual lack of leadership on this package. Not only do we have Kuipers above - Mike Bishop indicated that the Senate should take its sweet time on the package - Gongwer, June 10th.

While little legislation overhauling Michigan's utility and energy regulatory system has moved so far from the Senate Energy Policy and Public Utilities Committee, its chair, Sen. Bruce Patterson (R-Canton), said committee members are working towards resolution of the issues.

But that does not necessarily mean there will be a "straight line to an outcome," Mr. Patterson said, a point he said he had also made to House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Twp.).

He also said he has been told by Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) that while it was hoped (back in February) all the issues surrounding the complex issue of energy regulation would be reported to the full Senate by the end of June that if his committee needed more time to resolve the topic, then he should take more time.

Why not. Jobs and investment aren't important to Bishop, even though he said that was his goal at the beginning of the year. And to top it off, the last time Speaker Dillon was at BFM, he indicated just how much time and testimony has already gone into the whole issue-

One last thing. Democrats and Republicans on the Energy and Technology Committee spent over two years on this issue working with Phds in nuclear physics, engineers, business owners and their purchasing managers, utilities, the public service commission, the business chambers, manufacturers, alternative energy suppliers and Abate (who were against this but we invited them in the room to negotiate the legislation), environmentalists, ex-utility employees and industry analysts from Wallstreet. We went over the legislation numerous times with most of them in the room fighting and debating it line by line (no exaggeration). Thousands of hours were invested. In the room were Republicans and Democrats and the experts. When we had an issue we didn't trust the utilities on, we asked the business experts to provide the language.

Guess the question now is: Where was the Senate all that time? What were they doing that they aren't up to speed on this now? Are they that derelict in their responsibilities to our state?

Anyone that was paying attention last year knows the answer to that question. Anyone who saw how they screwed up the MBT because of their desire to score political points knows the answer to that question. It's beginning to look like we are watching the same strategy put in play again, this time a boatload of jobs and money and the environment are on the line.

Today might be the day that tells the tale of whether they will get this done or not. Please, prove my doubts and fears wrong.


I'm Voting Republican Because...

Hat tip to Bruce at "Vote No on JOE (Knollenberg)" for this inspiring video. May we all see the error of our ways.

Energy Bills Pass Out of Senate Committee

Holy shit they actually did it. Disregard previous whining from this morning.

A state Senate committee on Thursday approved energy legislation that, among other things, sets new requirements for use of renewable energy and restricts electricity customers’ ability to choose alternate suppliers.

The bills approved by the Senate Energy Policy and Public Utilities Committee now go to the full Senate.

Hailing the Thursday action was the Michigan Jobs and Energy Coalition, which supported the House-passed package and said it would provide affordable electricity and a structure to encourage development of new plants.

Michigan’s two largest energy companies – DTE Energy Co. and CMS Energy Corp. – have been major supporters of the bills, which include measures to establish a new approval process for power plants and utility rates, and eliminate businesses’ current subsidy of residential rates.

One bill also requires that electricity providers obtain at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

Color me stunned. On to a full Senate vote next.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nancy Cassis: The Voice of Reason

Ha! Made you look.

This one is for you, Naz. Seems Roger Khan (R-Ceti Alpha VI) has introduced legislation that will let people claim an "exemption from any local non-homestead school operating millage for a secondary homestead". In other words, a big tax break on your vacation home.

Now, if I were an expert on property tax law, I would be swilling cocktails at the country club right about now instead of waiting for the chicken to thaw so I can make some tacos, so I will let Nancy tell us why this is a bad idea.

"This is not really to address the foreclosure problem in the state," she said. "This allows a resident to claim a second homestead and not pay the 18 mills (on that property).

But Nancy, this is * wink * designed to keep people from selling their vacation homes, maybe even boost sales in those areas! Why would you be against that?

"This could be potentially devastating on communities Up North," Cassis said. "Those local school taxes play a significant role in those areas for schools to operate.

"Spurring home sales is not a good enough reason to take away a school's tax money," Cassis said. "Who is going to make up the money then?"

Wow. You know you have a problem when Nancy Cassis is the voice of reason. What should we do instead?

"I don't think this is smart tax policy," she said. "We should be lowering taxes and putting the reigns on spending before turning our attention to vacation homes."

Ahhhh, I see. Tax cuts for everyone. Pull in those reigns on education spending. Nancy wants to devastate schools AND communities across the board instead of just those in vacation areas.

Geez, Roger, get with the program, would ya?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Manpower Survey: Michigan Employers Plan to Hire This Summer

New numbers from the Manpower's quarterly survey are surprising in light of the news of a jump in the national unemployment rate - maybe we have weathered the worst of the storm here in Michigan. Grand Rapids and Traverse City fare well in the number of employers who plan on adding to the payroll this summer, and statewide, the percentage of employers hiring outweighs the number who plan on decreasing staff. Good news.

The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, released today, found 23 percent of Grand Rapids area companies interviewed plan to hire employees in the third quarter, while 7 percent expect to shed workers.

As a result, Grand Rapids is expected to see a net increase of 16 percent of employers adding to their payrolls -- a faster clip than the state average of 10 percent but on par with the nation, according to the quarterly survey by the Milwaukee-based employment firm.

The heaviest hiring is expected in Traverse City, where 50 percent plan to hire. Ann Arbor expects the least with only 3 percent. Combined with the 17 percent of employers in Ann Arbor that plan to cut jobs, the city's overall index is -14.

The Holland area -- which includes the Perrigo operation in Allegan -- will keep pace with the state average. In the Lakeshore area, 31 percent of employers plan to add workers while 21 percent expect to shed them.

WOOD indicates that Manpower is a pretty accurate survey on the mood of employers, they also tell us that the Upjohn numbers should be out soon, and taken together, the two will give us a good handle on the state of the business climate in Michigan.

Special hat tip to the GR Press, who combined this story with a YouTube video from drugmaker Perrigo Inc. They are trying to recruit scientists from all over the country to work at the Allegan based company, and they have taken to the web to prove that they are a "hip, fun place to work". Not quite sure they pulled the "hip" part off, but you have to give them big points for creativity.

Michigan. Not your Daddy's Rust Belt anymore. Efforts like Perrigo's will help change the perception that we are stuck in our manufacturing past - we now are moving into the knowledge-based economy.

More of that, please.

UAW Endorses Obama

Not any shock, really, but worth a post. The machine will get in gear now.

The United Auto Workers Union endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president Tuesday, placing one of Michigan's most powerful Democratic Party institutions behind the Illinois senator.

Though not a surprise, the endorsement will likely be welcome for Obama, who has faced some criticism in Michigan for his positions on auto industry issues. And it means two Michigan superdelegates who are UAW officials likely will vote for him at this summer's convention.

"On every issue that counts, we can count on Barack Obama to stand with our members, our families and our communities," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in a written statement.

Saddle up!

Will Michigan Be Last to Ratify the Great Lakes Compact?

Ohio beats us to the punch once again.

After a two-year hold up, state lawmakers on Tuesday moved to make Ohio the sixth state to approve an agreement aimed at protecting the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Compact, a framework between eight states and two Canadian provinces, would prevent most diversions of water from the lakes' basin to arid states in the South and Southwest.

Ohio had been a major obstacle to the pact because of a disagreement over whether the plan would inadvertently violate property rights for groundwater on privately owned land. House Speaker Jon Husted, a Republican, and Democratic Minority Leader Joyce Beatty, reached a deal Monday to affirm private property rights and set the stage for Tuesday's vote.

The Senate passed the compact by a vote of 33-0 to join the House, which approved the compact last month. Gov. Ted Strickland has said he will sign it.

Ohio's Legislature gets the job done. And Pennsylvania is close behind.

Minor differences need to be worked out between the Michigan House and Senate in how to implement the Great Lakes Compact in that state, while the Pennsylvania Senate is expected to follow House approval this year. The bill cleared a Senate committee Tuesday.

Michigan, the Great Lakes State, might be the last to ratify the Great Lakes Compact. How embarrassing. House Dems have finished up the legislation, and now it rests in - ta da! - the Republican Senate, where it will join all those other bills that would help move Michigan into the 21st Century... but for some reason, they just can't seem to make things happen over there, can't ever seem to get the job done.

Why, it's almost like they plan it that way...

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Republican's Hidden Tax Increase: Spectrum, Priority Raise Rates

Spectrum Health is the largest health care provider in West Michigan, owning 9 hospitals and operating 140 service sites. Priority Health, owned by Spectrum, operates one of the area's largest health care insurance plans. Faced with substantial Medicaid and Medicare losses, they will be raising rates this year for those of you who can afford to pay.

Spectrum Health, faced with mounting losses caring for Medicare and Medicaid patients, plans to raise rates at its Butterworth, Blodgett and Helen DeVos Children's hospitals an average of 8 percent in the coming year.

At the same time, Priority Health, the insurer owned by Spectrum, will increase the premiums it charges employers by about 7 percent, Michael Freed, Spectrum's chief financial officer, said Thursday at the hospital system's annual public meeting.

He attributed much of the increase to what he called a "hidden tax" on businesses, since Spectrum makes up the shortfall in Medicare and Medicaid payments by raising rates for other patients.

Remember this when the Republicans cry about "tax increases" this year; they are increasing your bills with their fiscal irresponsibility, they just call it "reform" and hope you won't notice. Our Michigan Senate Republicans propose cutting young adults from Medicaid - did you think the hospital would just absorb that cost? No, they will pass it along to you, as evidenced above. Republicans will claim they are saving money for the state, but what they are really doing is raising rates on business and people who have insurance. That way, they can avoid responsibility, and when you can't afford insurance anymore, well, it's your own damn fault.

Turning to the national level, John McCain has voted to cut, restrict and underfund Medicaid at least seven times, and Medicare a whopping 28 times. His record of slashing health care is long and downright sinister - children, seniors, veterans, no vulnerable America will be left healthy in McCain's world. Get out your checkbook.

Too bad for them, but in the end game, it's really too bad for you. But hey, according to the Republicans, it's just "reform". You can afford to pay for everyone with skyrocketing insurance rates, just don't ever call it "taxes", OK?

Michigan Ranks Near Top in Health Care for Children

I've been waiting for the Michigan media to pick up on this story, hoping to get a little more background info - but for whatever reason, they never did, or just haven't gotten around to it yet.

According to a study by the Commonwealth Fund, Michigan ranks in the top of the nation when it comes to categories like access, quality, and cost when it comes to our children's health care. The Washington Post did an article, and it included this great quote from Dr. Edward L. Schor, the Commonwealth Fund's vice president for child development and preventive care-

"In this study, we found a four-fold difference in the rates at which children are uninsured," Schor said.

The number of uninsured children varied widely across the states, from a low of 5 percent in Michigan to a high of 20 percent in Texas. States that had the most insured children tended to have the highest scores on quality of care, Schor said.

If all states performed as well as Michigan when it came to providing insurance, then 4.6 million more children would have health insurance, Schor said. "That would cut the rate of uninsured children in half," he said.

Big pat on the back for Michigan - ranked first in the number of children with insurance. Overall, we rank 12th in the country when the 13 performance indicators are added together.

The Commonwealth Fund provides an interactive map to compare the states, and they mention the "distinct regional differences" when it comes to children's health care. The map looks vaguely familiar, with a few exceptions. Perhaps if they would have used red and blue to distinguish the top performers from the rest... well, you catch my drift.

The State of Michigan press release on this story can be found here.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Class Act

Watching Hillary's concession speech. She got me with the story about the woman in hospice, brought tears to my eyes. Didn't think I would react like this. I have to admit, all the crap I have read in the blogosphere has really hardened my heart to this whole race - mostly, I just wanted the damn thing over.

Strong support for Barack. Strong support for Democratic values. Hitting on all the things that progressives hold dear.

I am loving this speech.

Thank you, Senator Clinton. I hope that your supporters can get past their hurt and see the wisdom in your words. We need to elect Barack Obama and Democrats everywhere if we have any hope of turning this country around. And after that, we need to support them as we deal with the aftermath and consequences of Republican economic and foreign policies, a fallout that might take years and years to fix.

Yes, we can. Let's do it.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Question for the Detroit News

Or maybe someone more familiar with the printing/distribution process of newspapers can answer this for me. Seems the News made a teensy little mistake with today's paper-

Jonathan Wolman says the headline incorrectly read "Clinton, Osama meet to discuss unity" and appeared Friday on page 17A of about 45,000 newspapers distributed north and west of downtown Detroit.

Wolman says the error was the result of a wrong choice made during a spell-check search and was caught and corrected about 20 minutes after the newspaper began publishing.

Wolman says the newspaper "made an immediate fix, even with papers on the press, and we have apologized."

My question - why were the incorrect papers allowed to be distributed at all? Already on the truck, were they? That could be, I really have no idea - but given the time frame indicated by the News and their "quick fix", it seems like someone just didn't want to pay the expense of reprinting those copies. Better to let an inflammatory headline slide... what the heck, maybe even get a little publicity out of it too.

UPDATE: We did hear from someone "in the biz" who wishes to remain anonymous - and yes, this could very well be a physical logistics problem. If the trucks are gone, impossible to get them back and expect to have that day's paper delivered at any reasonable time. Also - and I've noticed this before too - in Microsoft Word, "Osama" is the word the program wants to replace "Obama" with. It happens in their Mail program as well. So, instead of being a vast right-wing conspiracy, it's actually a vast Microsoft conspiracy. ;-)

Given the far-right editorial slant of the Detroit News and the propensity of those on the right to make fun of Senator Obama's name, it becomes easy to question mistakes of this nature. For the record, I will say that the Detroit News is probably the best paper in the state as far as depth of articles and presentation of content. As far as their journalism goes, they are really good, and I'm sure they won't let this happen again.

Perhaps someday they will take a deeper look at their editorial stance and find some balance that reflects the reality of the world we live in - at that point, an error like this can be forgiven as just an error, rather than thinking that there might be some deeper meaning behind it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Another Good One

Obama 3234

Senate Republicans Open Door For Creationism in Science Class

Jobs and the economy? Not a concern. Pandering to the national extremists on the right? Michigan Republicans have turned it into an art form. Legislation was introduced in the Senate yesterday that would allow the "academic freedom to teach evidence regarding controversial scientific subjects". From Gongwer-

SB 1361, sponsored by Sen. Bill Hardiman (R-Kentwood), now joins HB 6027, which was introduced in April by Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland). The bills are essentially identical and represent the latest iteration of a national effort to allow challenges to teaching of evolution and open possible teaching of creation theories that have a religious basis.

Michigan is one of the states that evolution critics hope could act on legislation that would encourage a challenge to the teaching of evolutionary theory. Recent articles from several religious news groups, posted on the website of the Discovery Institute (the organization that has led the drive over the last several decades to challenge evolutionary teaching), cited Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina as other states where legislators are considering similar legislation.

Global warming and human cloning figure in this as well. Not really sure exactly who is out there pushing for cloning, but it seems to be a major concern of those on the flat-earh side of modern thought.

SB 1361 and HB 6027 both say the "Legislature understands that an important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills they need in order to become intelligent, productive and scientifically informed citizens. The Legislature further understands that the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, human impact of climate change and human cloning, can cause controversy and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects. This section is intended to provide clarification in these matters."

That clarification being that they would punt to the state board, local school boards, principals, and charter school directors, who would have to somehow make it possible in their districts to allow the introduction of right-wing views in science class under the auspice of teaching critical thought. A noble gesture on the surface, but really just a way to open the back door for teaching creationism as science, as well as blowing the dog whistle to a few other groups who want to deny the realities of the world we live in.

Some Good News on Alternative Energy Jobs in Michigan

Just wanted to note a couple of things. Renewafuel, part of the Cleveland-Cliffs operation, is building a $10 million dollar biofuel facility up near Marquette. 25 jobs created at the facility, plus an untold number of indirect jobs for area loggers and farmers to supply the plant.

Renewafuel makes environmentally friendly biomass fuel cubes using wood by-products, grains, grasses, seed hulls, paper waste and so on, as a replacement for burning coal. Check the environmental benefits -

"If we use a ton of our fuel to displace a ton of coal, it will result in a 100 percent reduction in greenhouse gases emitted because of the nature of the products we are using,” said Renewafuel President Jim Mennell. “It will be a 90 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide and over a 50 percent reduction in mercury emissions."

The new plant will produce 150,000 tons of these cubes every year; 90,000 to be used by Cleveland-Cliffs operations, and the Marquette Board of Light & Power is testing the cubes to see if they can be used to replace coal at their Shiras plant. So far, indications are that they will be successful. Cool stuff.

On another note, United Solar Ovonic, my favorite company to watch, announced they are now hiring in Greenville, and are now moving towards profitability.

United Solar Ovonic L.L.C., makers of solar laminate products, began hiring employees for its expanding Greenville plant, the company said Monday. It expects to hire 400 employees.


A subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices Inc., United Solar, accounts for 90 percent of ECD’s projected 2008 revenue of $220 million to $245 million.

ECD, based in Rochester Hills, which has shown quarterly losses since its founding in 1960, showed signs of a profitable summer by reporting a net income of $7 million for the third quarter that ended March 31.

And finally one last bit of news - The Senate moved to break the tie-bar on the RPS bills from the energy package yesterday, but they did not report it out of committee. What that all means to the future of the legislation, I don't know at this point - all I know is that they are costing us jobs and investment every day that this package sits without action. This is THE growing industry in America, and legislative bickering is leaving Michigan behind. We would be seeing all kinds of stories like the ones above if we had a renewable portfolio standard. As it stands, we will just have to take what we can get until these guys wake up and do the right thing.

Let's All Laugh at Mike Cox

This one is for you, quaker. Recently, Mike Cox joined 9 other Republican attorney generals in asking the California Supreme Court to stay its ruling on gay marriage in California. The answer for Mike and other meddlesome people came down today, and it's "No".

Think of it Mike! Thousands of legally married gay people from California are going to come to Michigan! Whatever will you do? Bet that makes Mike break out in a cold sweat, maybe for more reasons than we know...

California's highest court has refused to stay until after the November election its decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

Conservative religious and legal groups had asked the California Supreme Court to stop its order from becoming effective until voters have the chance to weigh in on the issue.

Unfortunately, a ballot measure to ban equal marriage rights will be up for a vote in the state this November. This gives California gays about a four month window to get married, and then they might be overturned - which would create all kinds of fun legal ramifications. Meanwhile, the California economy will get a boost from the economic activity - estimates from a UCLA study predicted $370 million over the next three years, if allowed to stand.

Better hurry and spend that money, and then come say "hi" to Mike. He's looking forward to meeting you.