Saturday, January 31, 2009

Super Bowl 43

I'm 4-6 for the playoffs, so there is no redemption here unless I want to pick the Pro Bowl (I don't).

So, I will take the.... (drum roll)...

Arizona Cardinals!

Simply because they are the underdogs. I've seen the Steelers win, I've never seen the Cardinals win. And I'm still ticked off at Ed "Sneaky" Rendell.

But honestly, I could care less about either of these teams... so may the best one win. Hope it's a good game.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday On My Mind

In the news today...

  • The Freep noticed the Senate Republicans coming after the working people to pay for their business tax cuts. Blowback time.

    The idea, which came as a Senate panel moved this week to kill the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) surcharge, should go nowhere.

    Federal and state earned income tax credits reduce taxes and supplement wages for low- and moderate-income workers. Michigan's Earned Income Tax Credit was worth up to $480 last year and could provide eligible families with twice that amount in 2009.

    Roughly 700,000 Michigan households qualified for the state Earned Income Tax Credit in 2008, the first year it was available. Jansen says freezing the credit would save the state $175 million next year. But penalizing so many vulnerable families during perhaps the worst economy since the Great Depression isn't just unconscionable; it's bad economic policy for the whole state.

    The governor did as well, mentioning it first thing in her radio address today.

    Yes, Republicans, keep coming after the poor and working people on your "more tax cuts" strategy - it's a sure way back to victory in these tough economic times.

  • Speaking of tough times, the state is looking for summer sponsors to serve meals to hungry kids.

    Last year, 510,000 low-income Michigan children qualified for the Summer Food Service Program, but only around 69,000, 14 percent, had access to sites to receive meals in their neighborhoods. The program is administered by the state with funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    If there is an organization in your area that can help out, have them get in touch with the Dept. of Education at or call (517)373-3347.

  • The man in the ice that became a nationwide story now has a name - Johnny Redding. May he rest in peace.

  • There is a rumor floating that 2000 state employees may be laid off due to budget cuts. This gave Senator Alan Sanborn (R-Worse Than Cassis) a case of the vapors.

    Macomb County Republican Alan Sanborn calls the news a "ploy."

    "That's what she typically does, threatens layoffs because she's not willing to make the truly tough cuts," Sanborn told Skubick. "That will raise a public outcry and I think that's what this is designed to do."

    Hmmmm. When Mike Bishop wanted to let go of 14,000 state employees to balance the budget in '07, I don't seem to recall Sanborn having a problem with it. I even did a search and everything... nope. Wasn't an issue. Imagine that.

  • For the third year in a row, less trash went into Michigan landfills. Good deal.

  • Fred Upton is invited to Obama's Super Bowl party at the WH. What's up with that.

  • Bishop proposes combining the DNR and the DEQ; departments that were separated under John "Less Government" Engler back in 1991. Granholm had the idea back in 2002. Seeing as how the Pubs controlled the legislature back then, I wonder what I would find if I searched on that...

  • Anyway, the State of the State Address is next Tuesday at 7PM. Not much is being released on it yet. With the budget being in flux - bet it's hard to make any serious plans until we know more...

    Gov. Jennifer Granholm plans to offer a "no frills" speech in her seventh annual State of the State address. The Democratic governor will lay out her plan for the year ahead during an hour-long address Tuesday night at the Capitol.

    Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said Friday that the state's tight budget will require the governor to stick to three priorities: job creation, protecting families, and training and education.

    BFM will be covering the State of the State Address - both with a live blog and Twitter updates! And this year I don't have a broken arm (knock on wood), so I will shoot the hell out of the thing!
  • Thursday, January 29, 2009

    Falling Five Stories 1/29/09

    A roundup of the Michigan news:

  • As predicted, the Michigan Senate votes 25-11 to make the budget deficit deeper by repealing the MBT surcharge.

    And Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said it's irresponsible to speed the death of the surcharge without identifying ways to handle the loss of revenue that would cause: $166 million immediately and $593 million a year by the time it would be fully phased out in the 2010-11 budget year.

    "What has happened to my fiscally conservative friends?" asked Sen. Mike Switalski, D-Roseville. "Do they really wish to return to the days of fiscal imbalance?"

    No Senator, they want you to take the hit for the cuts. Just like they wanted you to take the hit for raising taxes. This is not about being "conservative", or even "responsible", this is about partisan brinksmanship.

    This bill goes nowhere in the House, and is a total waste of the taxpayer's time, just like all the other times they pulled this stunt. (See: 2008)

  • If you ever doubt the power of photojournalism - just take a look at this story in the Detroit News. It has had me rattled all day. I can tell by the DN Twitter feed that some are upset by its publication, but the story behind it warrants its release: the body had been there for weeks and no one reported it.

  • A reminder of what the Michigan Republicans in Congress voted against yesterday: an estimated $18.6 billion in relief for our state. Granted, this is just an estimate, but it was an estimate from the pros at the Center for American Progress ...

    $404 million for weatherization and other energy programs.
    $1.3 billion for roads, sewer upgrades and other infrastructure.
    $2.5 billion for education, including K-12 and college repairs and modernization, Pell grants and child care block grants.
    $4 billion for unemployment benefits, job training programs, public housing and emergency shelters, and similar programs.
    $4.8 billion for state services, including Medicaid.
    $5.7 billion for tax cuts, including $500 breaks for individuals earning no more than $100,000 annually.

    The Freep's Ron Dzwonkowski already pointing out how this vote might spell trouble for the GOP in 2010.

  • Speaking of energy efficiency and modernization: The DEQ building in Bay City will not only be the "greenest" building in Michigan, it will be one of the greenest buildings in America.

    State officials hope to gain a platinum rating for the building, the highest standard awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. It would be the only platinum-rated building in Michigan, and one of only about five in the United States, Diebolt said.

    A wind turbine, solar panels, smart sensors for temperature adjustments, ceiling tiles made from wheat, and insulation made from blue jeans. A great example and future case study of what can be accomplished. Go read.

  • Saul Anuzis looks to be a longshot going into the vote for RNC chair. Brewer rubs it in. Since Ron Weiser is taking over in Michigan, anyone want to guess where Saul ends up? Perhaps we should have a contest... but I can't figure out what the winner should receive...
  • Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    100% Opposition to the American Recovery

    Heard the news lately?

    Major companies are announcing layoffs by the thousands on a daily basis. Last Monday saw 77,000 layoffs in one day alone, and unemployment claims hit a 26 year high.

    Caterpillar Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp., Home Depot Inc. and ING Groep NV led companies today announcing at least 77,000 job cuts as sales withered and construction slowed amid a global economic recession.

    In the U.S., the firings brought the number of job eliminations this month to more than 150,000, according to Chicago-based executive search firm Challenger Gray & Christmas.

    The firings came as American jobless claims hit a 26-year high, reaching 589,000 in the week ended Jan. 17, as shrinking demand for products and services forced companies to lower costs.

    Unemployment rose in every state in the union last month.

    Rising unemployment spared no state last month, and 2009 is shaping up as another miserable year for workers from coast to coast.

    As a result, consumer confidence is at an all-time low. Consumer spending accounts for 2/3rds of the American economy.

    Americans' mood about the economy darkened further in January, sending a widely watched barometer of consumer sentiment to a new low, a private research group said Tuesday, as people worry about their jobs and watch their retirement funds dwindle.

    The Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index edged down to 37.7 from a revised 38.6 in December, lower than the 39 economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected. In recent months the index has hit its lowest troughs since it began in 1967, and is hovering at less than half its level of January 2007, when it was 87.3.

    46 out of 50 states are suffering from moderate to severe budget deficits, the estimate of the depth doubling in past two months alone.

    Estimates vary on how deep state budget shortfalls are right now, but the latest figures from a congressional watchdog organization show states and localities will have to close $312 billion in deficits for 2009 and 2010, nearly twice the group’s previous projection in November. “The current results represent a significant deterioration,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a Jan. 26 update to Congress.

    A plan to address the worst economy since the Great Depression comes up for a vote.

    The White House-backed legislation includes an estimated $544 billion in federal spending and $275 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses.

    Included is money for traditional job-creating programs such as highway construction and mass transit projects. But the measure tickets far more for unemployment benefits, health care and food stamp increases designed to aid victims of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    Tens of billions of additional dollars would go to the states, which confront the prospect of deep budget cuts of their own. That money marks an attempt to ease the recession's impact on schools and law enforcement. With funding for housing weatherization and other provisions, the bill also makes a down payment on Obama's campaign promise of creating jobs that can reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

    The Republican answer?


    The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimous in opposition despite Obama's pleas for bipartisan support.

    They did have an alternative - more tax cuts. Or, as it was called just a short time ago, "more of the same".

    A GOP alternative, comprised almost entirely of tax cuts, was defeated, 266-170, moments before the final vote.

    Any questions?

    Senate Republicans Suggest Using Stimulus Money to Cover Budget Deficit

    Today, the Senate Republicans will once again vote to eliminate the MBT surcharge, the monster they created in '07 because they were intent on making Democrats pay a political price for raising taxes, the monster they repeatedly brought up last year, said they would address, and never did, the monster that haunts their guilty subconscious in a way that only Lady MacBeth would understand.

    They blew up the budget last February over it. They vowed to fix it at Mackinac in May. They blew up the budget again in October, using it for a political stunt a month before the election. When all they had to do was come up with the corresponding budget cuts or replacement revenue, they repeatedly refused to do the heavy lifting.

    That brings us to today, where they will try the same thing again, and for some reason, expect different results. The deficit this would create reads as follows: $166.1 million in Fiscal Year 2009 (this year), $457.5 million in 2010 and $593.4 million in 2011. The sharp folks at MIRS pinned Senator Mark Jansen down this time, and asked him how the Republicans intended to pay for this - and the answer was a hanging curve ball of hypocrisy that left me wondering just how far I could hit it out of the park.

    The Republicans, who are running around wagging their finger and insisting that the governor not use the federal stimulus money to plug holes in the budget, are now suggesting that we can use the federal stimulus money to plug holes in the budget. In their roundabout Republican way, of course.

    First, Republicans will deny the problem is as big as the Republicans said it was just a short time ago.

    Jansen said that this is the year that Michigan has to consider real cuts to the budget, which looks to be running a $1.4 billion deficit. However, he said he wasn't sure if the number would be that high.

    Next, bring up the boilerplate answers about cuts. Prisons. Destroy the growth in the film industry, the one thing that is creating nationwide excitement about Michigan and bringing jobs, money and that creative "youth" class with it. Gone. And oh yes, let's not forget the obligatory attack on the poor, because after all, you can't be a Republican without making sure the poor are made to pay so the rich can have their tax cuts. And state employees need more pain as well. You know, the usual suspects.

    He said there need to be more cuts to Corrections than were outlined in the Council of State Governments report, which clock in at $16 million of the $2 billion budget for FY '10. Jansen also said the film industry tax credits should be on the chopping block and the EITC, which helps low-income families, should be frozen. Other things to look at are consolidating state departments, state employee pay cuts and early retirements, he said. Jansen said he's also amenable to Speaker Andy DILLON's (D-Redford Twp.) idea to open up the entire tax structure and possibly put a measure on the ballot.

    And when it is pointed out that the fix for the MBT be revenue neutral, that is where the fun begins...

    Although Republicans are dying to slay the surcharge, they recognize that there needs to be a deal with Dillon and the Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM administration. The administration has wanted revenue neutrality, but Jansen said that might not be necessary, even with the existing deficit. He notes that Michigan will be getting federal stimulus money. That could be used for the General Fund, Unemployment Insurance Agency fund and road fund.

    There you have it - Republicans want to use the stimulus to fix the deficit.

    Better tell that to Matt Marsden.

    "We can't let the stimulus package distract us from fixing our structural problem. We should be taking steps right now to begin scaling back and righting this ship."

    Might want to clue in Pete Hoekstra too.

    "What it will potentially do is enable the state to walk away from some of the tough decisions it will need to make and it will push them off somewhere into the future," Hoekstra said. "It will pump intravenous budget dollars into the state budget which is hemorrhaging. We may get addicted to it, but I don't think it will stay around long-term."

    The Holland GOP Congressman said his fear about the stimulus could lead states to take the easy way out.

    "You think given our current leadership, that's what's going to happen?" MIRS asked Hoekstra.


    Those are just two recent examples. You can find many editorials and other snide comments from the DeVos Flying Monkeys all over the place when it comes to how we will use the stimulus money, when the truth is - it's the governor who is saying that we are going to cut, cut, cut this upcoming budget and not rely on the stimulus money.

    Really. I've been trying to ignore her because she was seriously harshing my Obama buzz, but in light of Senator Jansen's statement and Hoekstra's pre-emptive strike of blame, it's time to point out who is on the side of fiscal responsibility here.

    "A real strategic part of this is a careful investment in the things that will create permanent jobs," Gov. Jennifer Granholm told The Associated Press in a phone call from Washington on Monday. "You want to have lasting impact. ... You cannot use this to fix a budget problem and in two years find yourself in the same position."


    Granholm has said to expect cuts when she makes her budget proposal for the 2009-10 fiscal year next month. "It's not going to be pretty," she said last week.

    And this-

    "For this year, we are not going to prorate K-12," the governor said during a late-morning news conference. "But all bets are off for next year."

    And this January 9th radio address, where she invokes FDR, and said this-

    Despite already making more than $130 million in budget cuts this year, we face an additional budget deficit of more than $1 billion that must be addressed in coming months.

    Some may argue that the economic stimulus package being debated in Washington will solve these problems for us, but that just is not the case.


    We have to continue to cut, reform, streamline and downsize.

    Everyone get the message? Cuts. She is going to cut the hell out of the budget - and that will leave the Legislature in the position of having to vote to cut their local schools, cities, cops and firefighters, and health care access by huge amounts that they could not bring themselves to do back when we were facing about the same budget hole two years ago. It will be '07 flipped on its head.

    Unless, of course, you want to use that stimulus money, like the Senate Republicans are suggesting. Just remember who it was that wanted to address the structural deficit, and who it was wanted to opt for the “one time” fix, because right now the Republicans want you to believe otherwise.

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    Hoekstra Playing Both Sides of the Fence on Stimulus

    Turtle Power Pete, praising the stimulus plan on 12/26/08.

    U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, who expects the state to get "a couple hundred million dollars" for roads and bridges alone, said the stimulus bill "really potentially becomes a bailout for the entire state."

    Here is Pete yesterday, after the Congressional House Republican leadership decided they do want "more of the same", as in, bipartisanship means giving them everything they demand, or they take their toys and go home.

    Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, says he would vote against the package as currently written.

    "I'm really concerned that it's a giveaway, not a stimulus," Hoekstra said. "Will it do anything for Michigan's economy in the long run? I am very skeptical. Right now, I'd vote no. But the president is coming, to talk with House Republicans and if he takes Republican input, we'd have to see then."

    Go ahead and vote "no", Pete. Seriously, I think you should. Stand up for those hard-core Republican principles of "more tax cuts" and a government that "can't fix it".

    THAT is the "change" we voted for, right?

    "It's OK If You're A Senate Republican"

    Matt Marsden, taking a shot a Mark Schauer, 8/13/08. All from MIRS-

    "Mark Schauer might want to get off the campaign trail and start paying attention to what's going on in Lansing," Marsden said, referring to Schauer's race in the 7th Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Tim WALBERG (R-Tipton).

    A fun fact - the Senate only met twice in July of '08 (17th and the 24th), and twice in August of '08 (13th and the 27th). Not exactly sure what Mark Schauer was supposed to be "paying attention to" when the Republicans were at the beach and ignoring the energy legislation, but apparently he should have been there just in case they decided to show up and work. Or something.

    Fast forward to today, and the accommodations that can be made... if you're a Republican. Committee assignments are being switched around; McManus is off of Finance and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education...

    McManus said the process wasn't official, so she declined to comment on specific assignments, but she stressed that she's chairing for the next two years the joint Capital Outlay Committee, which she said will be "very time-consuming." She'll also remain Chair of the Campaign and Election Oversight and Natural Resources committees.

    ... and the Senate Republicans concede they are looking to the next election cycle.

    "It's important that we have returning members on committees to create a seamless process as we move into 2010," said GOP caucus spokesman Matt MARSDEN. "Sen. McManus can also focus more on her Secretary of State run."

    Already ahead of ya there, Matt. McManus is definitely all about McManus.

    "I'm not worried about who's running; I'm worried about Michelle McManus and what I intend to do as the next Secretary of State," she said.

    Priorities, you see. Being the Senator from the 35th might figure in there somewhere in the next two years, but it's obviously not at the top of the list.

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    Stop Utility Shutoffs to Elderly in Winter

    This needs to stop.

    A pathologist said a 93-year-old Bay City man froze to death inside his home - his body found days after city workers said they limited electricity flowing to the house.

    Marvin E. Schur lived alone, wife died several years ago. No kids. Neighbors say he was hard of hearing and had "a little bit of dementia". The city had applied a "limiting" device to his power supply in advance of a shutoff; a customer has ten days to make arrangements on overdue bills before they shut the power off completely. You draw too much power, and the thing shuts down, cutting off your power. Neighbors were unsure if he knew how to reset the device, so essentially this was a shutoff, even though the power company can claim otherwise.

    Sad thing is - he was going to make the effort to pay the bill.

    George Pauwels Jr. said Schur owed almost $1,100 in electricity bills to the city of Bay City, though Pauwels said he noticed money clipped to those bills on Schur's kitchen table the day he found Schur's body.

    And the really tragic part about all of this - the exact same thing happened last year. 90-year-old Phyllis Willett of Vicksburg was found dead in her home, her mentally disabled daughter suffering injuries from exposure and frostbite, four days after their electricity was shutoff by Indiana Michigan Power. She also had the money to pay her overdue bill - but no one had contacted her in person. IMP paid a "settlement" with the Michigan Public Service Commission of $127,250, which was divided up between two charities that service the elderly. The company acknowledged that they failed to properly notify of shutoff - and as of this month, they are being sued by Willet's brother.

    Last year, the House Dems introduced a "package of bills" to stop this from happening - and it went nowhere. HB5593 would have required notice in person or certified mail of a shutoff. That was the only one formally introduced at the time - if there were more later, they weren't reported.

    Something stronger than that is required when it comes to protection for the elderly. The House Dems had a good plan in print...

  • Prohibit utilities from shutting off a senior's utilities in the winter and require them to work to ensure that those with mental disabilities don't have their utilities shut off.
  • Require utilities to give customers at least 15 days notice before shutoff and notify them in person or by certified mail, and give low-income customers who are part of the Winter Protection Program 30 days to pay their delinquent bill before shutting off service.
  • Mandate that utilities visit the home of a senior customer who has not restored service within three business days to tell them how they can resolve the situation.

  • ... whatever happened with this?

    There will be an outcry over this needless death, just like last year. Let's hope there is further follow-up this time, and prevent this from happening again. Shutting off power and heat to the elderly in wintertime is never justified.

    Sunday, January 25, 2009

    Michigan Venture Capital Investment Doubles Over '07

    Takes money to make money and the jobs that come with it, so this was a bit of good (and surprising) economic news for Michigan:

    Venture capital investment in Michigan companies soared last year, reaching a level not seen since the peak of the technology boom in 2000, a report released Friday shows.

    Michigan also improved its standing as an attractive place for venture capital. It ranked 16th among the states in terms of venture capital investment last year, up from No. 25 in 2007, according to the MoneyTree report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

    Wait, something's not right. Could have sworn that someone was out there talking about how horrible this state was for business, about how no one in their right mind would ever want to come here.

    Hmmm. Who was that again? Oh well, never mind. Guess they were wrong.

    Last year, venture capital firms invested $245.7 million in 43 Michigan companies. That's more than double the activity of the previous year, when 22 Michigan companies received $104.7 million from venture firms.

    Even during the big 4th quarter bust, Michigan was drawing the $$. We still gained while the rest of the nation was scrambling. That might be because of the effort we made to attract the growth industries, so it's a real good thing we didn't listen to those that wanted to dismiss them as the "latest trendy idea".

    Michigan's strong performance came despite a national slowdown in venture capital investment last year.

    Nationwide, $28.3 billion went into 3,808 deals in 2008, down 8.4% from $30.9 million in 3,952 deals in 2007.

    The only sectors to gain investment dollars were clean technology, information-technology services and media and entertainment. Clean technology refers to alternative energy, pollution and recycling and power supplies and conservation.

    Unfortunately the Bush Recession will probably deny us a repeat performance in '09, but maybe after that...

    When the money people come to town, you know it shows that we were headed in the right direction after all. Just got to weather this storm and we will be back to it, provided we stay on the path and not get side tracked by the nay-sayers who would denigrate our state in an attempt to serve their own selfish special interests.

    Friday, January 23, 2009

    Just For The Record

    Seems there is a little mistake in today's column from a respected Lansing journalist.

    Well, more than a little. Big, actually. And easily corrected by anyone with a library card.

    Last year the House and Senate spent around 100 days in Lansing. While they are technically back in session this month, they are not exactly getting off to an urgent start.

    You can thank the governor for that, in part.

    Lawmakers need to see her blueprint for action, but they'll have to wait until Feb. 3 to hear her State of the State Address.

    It was not always thus.

    Previous governors spoke within the first two weeks of January.

    Under this governor, it's always late January or early February.

    Um, no. Dates of the State of the State Addresses of John Engler, 1998-2002, are as follows:

    January 29th, 1998
    January 28th, 1999
    January 19th, 2000
    January 31st, 2001
    January 23rd, 2002

    And one Peter Luke column from 1/20/2002 indicates that Big John's first address in 1991 didn't come until February 11th. It's hard to find records online beyond that; last year Dome Magazine indicated that it was Blanchard who turned it into the really big show that it is today. Previous governors simply wrote a message to the legislature that "frequently went unnoticed".

    So, I'm not trying to pick on Engler here, just pointing out a factual error that is easily corrected with a simple search. Hard to tell when the date started getting pushed deeper into January because most of this stuff is located in deep archives that you have to go to the library to see, but my guess would be that it started with Blanchard.

    One other thing. I've certainly been one to skewer the legislature for their long vacations, did it just recently as a matter of fact, so I don't have a lot of room to talk, but, the statement indicating that they have to wait for a "blueprint for action" gets totally blown out of the water by the House activity that occurred yesterday.

    Legislation significantly altering how property taxes are assessed, banning certain write-in candidates from the ballot and instituting state contract and economic development incentive preferences for Michigan workers were among the some 119 bills and five constitutional amendments introduced in the House on Thursday.

    The House did not introduce bills during its first session day last week, unlike the Senate. But the number of House bills introduced Thursday significantly dwarfs the Senate's own 18 bills and one constitutional amendment introduced thus far this term.

    Mea culpa to the House, looks like you have been busy after all. I'm willing to eat some crow on that one.

    How about you, Tim?

    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    Someone Needs to Ask Mike Cox the Hard Questions

    Another day, another op-ed from a Michigan Republican who thinks that we can simply cut taxes and everything will magically be fixed, all our problems solved by the philosophy that got us into this trouble in the first place. Cox claims that we have a budget surplus and that we should refund it - the same trick that was tried by House Republicans last year that was shown to be erroneous and quickly dismissed from consideration. That won't stop Mike from pulling it out again though, proving that Cox is as clueless as he is unoriginal.

    In an interview Wednesday, the attorney general said state policymakers will never make the tough choices to deal with the state's longstanding structural budget problems as long as surplus money is available.

    "I think tax rebates and cuts are effective ways to stimulate the economy," said Cox, who is seeking the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

    Cox said he hasn't hammered out details of how a rebate might work or how much an individual taxpayer might receive.

    No, Mike doesn't hammer out the details in his fantasy scenario, and that is the problem. He wants to give back this budget "surplus", while every. single. lawmaker. from the governor on down is telling us that we are already looking at drastic cuts to cover a looming $1.4 billion budget deficit for 2010. Cox even grabs the old DeRoche quote about the state needing to go "on a diet" - an oldie but a goodie that didn't fly the first time around and only shows that there is nothing new in this "plan" of his.

    If you need further proof that Mike is more than just a few cards short of the deck here - even ever-reliable rightwing loon Matt Marsden notes that he is way off-base.

    "With all due respect to the attorney general, to suggest we have a surplus to return to taxpayers is not accurate," said Matt Marsden, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

    "It would be great if we could supply some relief. That money is needed to draw down deficits (in 2009 and 2010) so we might right the economic ship long-term."

    Enough. From here on out, any Bush Republican who suggests that the answer is "cut taxes", should also be made to put up the corresponding budget cuts to pay for that plan. Until they do, they are just wasting our time and should be laughed off the stage.

    Let's hear the consequences of your idea, Mr. Cox. How many prisons do you want to close? We might have to do that as it stands. Going to stop revenue sharing to cities so local officials will be forced to raise taxes to maintain police and firefighters? Want to cut higher education spending and watch tuition go through the roof, putting college out of reach for Michigan students? Kick everyone off of Medicaid so the burden falls on doctors and hospitals, who will raise the rates charged to private insurance? Cuts to our own third-rail issue, K-12 funding?

    Tell us. Tell us where the cuts should come. Tell us how you would sell your "back-door" tax increases to the public in a time when they are increasingly looking to government for help. Tell us how you would deal with the outcry from mayors, educators, police and public safety officials, and health care providers when they demand for you to come up with the answers to mountain of problems you would lay at their feet.

    Until then, you are simply passing the buck on making those "hard choices" yourself, the same thing you so indignantly accuse the legislature and the governor of doing.

    This is going to be bad enough as it is. "Dig faster and deeper and make others clean up the mess" is not the answer.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    Michigan Chamber of Commerce Misses the Obvious on Unemployment Agency Claims

    Back to Bush Recession reality today. George may be gone, but the aftermath of "conservative" economic policy still hits our state pretty hard.

    The state announced Wednesday that its seasonally adjusted jobless rate for December soared to 10.6 percent. That's up from 9.6 percent in November and the highest monthly rate recorded in the state since December 1984.

    The slide has continued with the downfall of the national economy that increased speed last September, the last two months of the year being exceptionally bad.

    Michigan's jobless rate has increased by nearly two percentage points since September. Job reductions were widespread in December, throughout nearly all of Michigan's major industry sectors. Payroll jobs fell by 97,000 in November and December alone.

    Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, said job losses accelerated in the second half of 2008 in Michigan and the United States.

    The national average jumped from 6.8 to 7.2, putting a strain on state unemployment agencies all across the country. Three states totally crashed, others are experiencing the high volumes and long waits that we have seen here in Michigan.

    About 4.5 million Americans are collecting jobless benefits, a 26-year high, so the Web sites and phone systems now commonly used to file for benefits are being tested like never before.

    Even those that are holding up under the strain are in many cases leaving filers on the line for hours, or kissing them off with an "all circuits are busy" message. Agencies have been scrambling to hire hundreds more workers to handle the calls.

    Systems in New York, North Carolina and Ohio were shut down completely by technical glitches and heavy volume, and labor officials in several other states are reporting higher-than-normal use.

    California has reported a record number of calls; Kentucky's lines were "overwhelmed". Staff and expanded services are being added in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington - and those were just the states that were provided as examples for ABC's story.

    It is happening everywhere. And naturally, the people in Michigan who complain the most about "state spending" are the first to complain when services aren't available. Even though this is a nationwide problem, with numerous examples that indicate it as such, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is pretty sure this is all Granholm's fault.

    "With unemployment steadily climbing, the Unemployment Insurance Agency and governor's office should have seen this problem and taken appropriate steps to be prepared," said Block, the state Chamber's director of health policy and human resources, in a statement.

    She criticized the agency for worrying about a name change, and proposing new ergonomic rules, as "misplaced priorities."

    And speaking of "misplaced priorities", the MCoC wants the Legislature to start an investigation into the matter, as if it isn't glaringly obvious as to what is going on here. Nothing like wasting lawmakers time and taxpayer money to score partisan points when improvements to the system are already on the way...

    50 employees have been added since July, 90 more are coming by the end of the week, server capacity has been expanded, internet use has been encouraged and is up by 30%. They are doing this as quick as they can, and other improvements were announced today to further help eliminate the problems.

    • in addition to the 50 staff hired last July, UIA is hiring another 276 employees to staff Remote Initial Claims Centers (RICCs) and Problem Resolution Offices (PROs), beginning January 26;

    • RICCs, which are call centers, will remain open three hours longer each day, until 6:00 p.m. on weekdays.

    • PROs will be open two additional hours each day, and staff will work each night until 7:30 p.m. to process additional claims.

    • expanded hours for automated telephone system (MARVIN), including adding availability on Saturdays, beginning January 29;

    • opening an additional call center in Lansing that will add an additional 200 lines to assist citizens;

    launching an internet version of MARVIN, allowing individuals to certify for their benefits online instead of by telephone, beginning January 21;

    • adding additional computer servers to enable the UIA to process up to five times the normal volume of claims filed electronically, effective immediately;

    • adding additional server capacity to the UIA’s online web account system for unemployed workers, which allows them to check the status of their claims online to further reduce call volume, beginning January 26;

    • adding further main frame capacity to increase the number of claims that can be processed during the day;

    • seeking and receiving union agreement to contract with former and retired agency staff who can quickly come on board to assist;

    • increasing already mandatory overtime for all UIA staff – compulsory nine-hour work days and three Saturdays per month, beginning January 26;

    • re-assigning current DELEG staff to assist the UIA with adjudications;

    • enhancing the Employer Web Account Management (EWAM) system to allow employers to manage their accounts online, including free access to the UIA employer handbook to promote online services;

    • condensing training for new staff hires to one week with supplemental on-the-job training and expanded training hours including evenings and weekends

    The state has been pretty proactive about addressing these problems, especially given the speed that this all came on.

    Question now is: Will the Michigan Chamber of Commerce be willing to help pay for the expanded state services? Or are they going to continue to call for more tax cuts for business and reduced state spending? The hope is they will join us in the real world and work toward solving the problems, rather than continue on with the "cut and spend" failed economic policy and calls for useless money and time wasting investigations. Lawmakers have better things to do.

    "The gentleman from Michigan is recognized for one minute"

    In this new era of bipartisanship, it would probably be wrong for me to tell Mike Bishop to "eat your heart out", so I won't do that. But this was just so cool to see that I had to share it with the rest of you.

    Congressman Mark Schauer, on SCHIP:

    Mr. SCHAUER. Madam Speaker, I came to Washington to be a voice for those in my State who are hurting.

    H.R. 2 will help children and families who are victims of our economic crisis; 100,000 children in Michigan lack health insurance. That is immoral and weakens our economy. This bill ensures comprehensive health care coverage for children, and is an investment in prevention and approved overall health status for America.

    With Michigan's economy in crisis, with our Nation's economy struggling, with our families losing health insurance due to this recession and unfair trade, now is exactly the right time, colleagues, to act, to cover 11 million children with the health care coverage they deserve and need.

    Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    President Barack Obama 2009 Inauguration and Address

    Video courtesy of CSPAN - contains both the oath and the address - and what an address it was. Watch and see.

    Change has come to America! Check out

    Your Governor, Terri Lynn Land

    Right now, Smilin' Terri Lynn is the acting governor of Michigan. No kidding.

    With Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM and Lt. Gov. John CHERRY both in Washington, D.C., for President Barack OBAMA's inauguration, that leaves Secretary of State Terri Lynn LAND in charge. Michigan's Constitution stipulates that when the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are out of the state, the Secretary of State fills in as acting Governor.

    Granholm and Cherry hosted a fundraiser in D.C. on Monday and are expected at the Michigan Ball this evening.

    Land stepped into the role on Sunday evening and will relinquish her duties at 9 a.m. Wednesday, spokeswoman Kelly CHESNEY said.

    File this one under: Things you wish you didn't know.

    Hey, at least it's not Cox.

    A Song for the New Day in America

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    24 Hours To Go

    I can't remember exactly when, but sometime in 2004 I found a java script countdown clock and put it on my blog. Titled "Bush by the Second", I had programmed it to count down to noon on January 20th, 2005, and watched it with growing anticipation as the days peeled away throughout the year.

    There was no way this country was going to re-elect this guy, right? I knew it would be a close election, but there was no doubt in my mind that Kerry would win. It just didn't seem possible that we would vote to return this criminal to office. Well, you know how that turned out. I went to bed sometime in the early hours of November 3rd, 2004, feeling sick to my stomach. Literally nauseous.

    Mark Morford. I was into him at the time.

    It simply boggles the mind: we've already had four years of some of the most appalling and abusive foreign and domestic policy in American history, some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace and it's all combined with the biggest and most violently botched and grossly mismanaged war since Vietnam, and much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn't possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant.

    Shock. Over the next few days, searching for anything to make me feel better, I blogged some good stories: Cincinnati repealed its anti-gay law, California voted to fund stem cell research. Ashcroft quit, as did Betsy DeVos. But the bitter taste remained, and got worse: Bush proclaimed he was going to spend his "political capital", reports from Ohio indicated problems with the electronic voting machines, Americans flocked to Canada's immigration web site, the violence in Iraq continued, a man committed suicide at Ground Zero, Jerry Falwell was to form a group to "guide an "evangelical revolution", based on the results of the election.

    That clock on my site mocked me. I was disgusted with the Democrats, disgusted with the country, just plain disgusted with everything. I toyed with taking the damn thing off, or just quitting blogging altogether, walking away from the fight. But Molly Ivins gave me an idea of what was to come...

    Now, you know you cannot keep a dog that kills chickens, no matter how fine a dog it is otherwise. Some people think you cannot break a dog that has got in the habit of killin' chickens, but my friend John Henry always claimed you could.

    He said the way to do it is to take one of the chickens the dog has killed and wire the thing around the dog's neck, good and strong. Leave it there until that dead chicken stinks so bad that no other dog or person will even go near that poor beast.

    The thing'll smell so bad that the dog won't be able to stand himself. You leave it on there until the last little bit of flesh rots and falls off, and that dog won't kill chickens again.

    The Bush administration is going to be wired around the neck of the American people for four more years, long enough for the stench to sicken everybody. It should cure the country of electing Republicans.

    That sounded so prophetic to me. She was right. Given their attitude after the election, it was certain that these people would continue on with the madness that would lead us to ruin, and therefore, eventually, change. I reset the clock to January 20th, 2009. I forget the exact numbers it read at that moment, over 1500 days though, and there it sat for the next four years, counting down the days, hours, seconds...

    My life was radically altered in 2005 with the death of two of my closest friends. Long story short, over the course of four years, everything I knew was slowly stripped away from me - the band, the job, the people I loved. Still I blogged though. It helped. Got into photography. Started reading Kos religiously. Learned how to blog "better"; creating the thread of an argument with multiple stories, and writing straight from the heart (thank you Maryscott) - and pumped all that rage and grief onto the electronic page. I had this governor I liked a lot, you see, and I decided to stick with this through the 2006 election, because dammit, they weren't going to get her too... and the rest, as they say, is history. Pretty wild stuff for an ex-drunken bass player/artist who had very little inclination to get that interested in the political world. I set out on a mission.

    You can thank George Bush and all his disciples in this state for that. Disastrous Republican "conservative" policy, coupled with your smug arrogance and faux righteousness, turned me into the fighting machine that I am today. At the time this publishes on BFM, the clock will say "0 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes...." and the goodbyes are finally, finally starting for real. Meteor Blades summed it up the best...

    Good-bye to your rip-offs, your malice, your arrogance, your ignorance, your outlawry, your denial, your deceit, your cronyism and your stubborn refusal to cease pushing the envelope in the department of shameless villainy. Goodbye to the administration you constructed of turdiness and explained with truthiness. To your smirk and your snarl. To your conscienceless cruelty. Good-bye to your corruption, your vanity, your world without grays. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, you insufferable despots, and good riddance.

    But never farewell.

    ... and the feeling of excitement, anticipation, and of sweet, blessed relief, will continue to grow until that magic moment when Bush is on the plane out of town, and a new era dawns in this country.

    Change is coming to America, but change doesn't happen overnight. There still will be those out there clinging to Bushism, to divisiveness, to failed policy, to the old way of thinking. Like the last bits of rotted flesh on that skeletal chicken, their stench will be around to remind us to be vigilant for the infection that wants to remain in the body politic. Their incessant avarice, ignorance, and desire for a people divided and conquered will cause them to say things like this:

    We believe that a Democrat is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man -- a debt that he proposes to pay off with other people's money -- our taxes.


    We fear that no Michigander's life, liberty, or property is safe when a Democrat-controlled Legislature is in session.

    Or this:

    I do not support no-reason absentee voting. Anything the Democrats want so badly, I am naturally suspicious of and almost always opposed to.

    That would be Mike Bishop and Michelle McManus, uttering those words that seek to destroy our positive sense of purpose, our coming together to make this a better state, a better world. They are just two examples of the attitude that still lingers and wants to keep hold - and there are so many others, as you probably know.

    Don't let them in. Don't let them win. It will take time, maybe years, to heal from this sickness, to return our state and country to full strength. Our task now is to keep fighting until the last traces of the infection can no longer threaten to destroy our lives and the lives of others, to stop it in its tracks before it can grow and make us ill again.

    I'm going to reset my clock after tomorrow to a countdown to spring training, and do my best to look forward to a positive future, and I hope, some "change" for myself as well. But I will still be here, still be watching and calling out the warning when the need arises, and, given some of the statements already made that indicate some people haven't learned the lesson yet, the need to do so will be frequent.

    24 hours more of darkness. Say your goodbyes. Tomorrow, the light starts shining once again.

    Sunday, January 18, 2009

    NFL Championship

    Philadelphia @ Arizona
    Baltimore @ Pittsburgh

    Even though the idea of an all-Pennsylvania SB sounds interesting, I'm going to take the upstart birds today. Just for kicks.

    Having a bad playoffs - 3-5 record. Bah. And then they went and fired Chucky.

    When does baseball start?

    Saturday, January 17, 2009

    Reform Michigan Government. The Whole Darn Thing.

    Mike Bishop - 12/29/08.

    "There's going to be a transformational change in state government," he said in a Dec. 29 interview. "We are cutting important stuff, no question about it. People in this state are going to be asked to accept a different form of government."

    OK. Whatever you say, Mike.

    Governor Jennifer Granholm is apparently beginning the process of a massive overhaul of state government to "transform" it so government is more flexible and responsive to new economic realities, sources have said.

    She may make the restructuring announcement part of her State of the State address on February 3.

    While details are sketchy, Ms. Granholm apparently is naming Lt. Governor John Cherry to chair a new executive committee of her cabinet, with top officials acting as secretaries to oversee the multi-year effort that will extend through the rest of her term and go possibly into the first term of her successor.

    One source, and all spoke on background, said Mr. Cherry has signaled this announcement at several interviews where he has said Michigan's government structure is now based on a 1950s manufacturing model when it must be based on 21st Century realities that reflect an economy that is now largely services-based.

    You wants reform? You want cuts? You want to fix the ongoing "structural" deficit problem that comes up year after year? That is what you are gonna get. And this is the time to do it.

    But the economic crisis the state is undergoing, with the need for cuts to help keep government's budget balanced, helps put officials in a position to undertake the overall review, sources indicated.

    There are indications that legislators, universities and others will be asked to be part of the review process.

    The review process will look at how to eliminate duplication of functions, standardize operations and procedures, sources said. Those would be in keeping with other efforts Ms. Granholm has taken to streamline some operations, they said.

    The process is expected to take years because of the complexities of adjusting law, moving personnel, closing offices let alone agencies and departments (and one source said eventually departments will be consolidated and eliminated) and re-establishing functions.

    Gongwer cites the split between the DNR and the DEQ as an example - that took seven years.

    Between Dillon wanting to overhaul the tax system, and the governor wanting to overhaul the entire government (who gave these people Wheaties for Christmas, anyway?) - we are going to find out just how serious the Republicans are about "reform".

    Good luck everyone. Look forward to seeing how this all shakes out.

    Cue the World's Smallest Violin

    Someone pass Sen. Grassley some tissues.

    A push by congressional Democrats to make good on Barack Obama's pledge to provide millions more American children with health care coverage has Republicans accusing them of breaking the president-elect's promise of bipartisanship.

    Senate Finance Committee Republicans said legislation approved by the committee on Thursday that would expand a popular children's health insurance program violated a spirit of bipartisanship that went into earlier versions of the legislation.

    That "spirit of bipartisanship" Grassley refers to is the red meat the Republicans wanted to throw to their special interest groups: big insurance, and those folks on the right who don't like dem foreign people. Or their kids.

    Grassley blamed Democratic leaders rather than committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, for producing a bill that he said omits a number of items sought by Republicans including provisions aimed at preventing the government run program from "crowding out" private insurance plans.


    Republicans also opposed an amendment that would drop a five-year ban on providing the children's health benefit to legal immigrants, which Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas called a "poison pill" that injects immigration, a divisive issue for Republicans, into the children's health debate.

    "We've been thrown underneath the bus," Roberts said.

    Better get comfortable down there, Pat. The days of your thievery are over.

    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Senate Republicans Out of the Gate: Increase Deficit, Expand Government, Eliminate Choice

    And they're off! Senate Republicans introduced bills in yesterday's session - and the first three out of the box were all we need to know about the direction they are taking.

    SB001 - Eliminate the surcharge on the MBT by '10, a problem they created in '07 with their partisan nonsense, a problem they still haven't been able to fix, even though they spent all last year saying they would do so. So easy to just cut that revenue without saying how you would replace it, or what you would cut to mitigate its loss. From MIRS:

    As for replacing the roughly $700 million in revenue that the surcharge brings in, Jansen said he's open to the idea. But he said the most important thing is to send a message to the business community about the surcharge.

    Former House Tax Policy Chair Steve BIEDA said he'd like to see the surcharge go the way of the dodo, as well, but it has to be done in a "realistic" manner by filling the budget hole.

    "Show me the money," he said. "It's kind of like eating your dessert before your vegetables."

    Wow, does that sound familiar. Once again, when it comes time to do the heavy lifting or make the hard choices on this sort of action, the Senate Republicans take a pass. They still don't have a clue when it comes to dealing with the consequences of digger the hole deeper, or they don't want to take responsibility for it, one of the two.

    SB002 - Create a small business ombudsman's office and compliance advisory panel as an autonomous entity in the department of management and budget. Actually this sounds like a good idea - but it creates "more government" at a time when we are facing a huge deficit for '10. How are we going to pay for it? Members of the advisory panel would not be paid, but can be "reimbursed for expenses". Go read the bill - sounds like a powerful government office that would require a lot of support staff to accomplish its goals.

    And behind Door No. 3, here is the bill that shows that the Republicans are still under the control of the extreme rightwing forces in this state. We will take this one verbatim-

    SB003 - Sec. 3. In the construction of the statutes of this state, the rules stated in sections 3a to 3w 3x shall be observed, unless such that construction would be inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature.

    Sec. 3x. The word "individual" shall be construed to mean a natural person and to include a fetus.

    Get that? It's the first step to eliminating freedom of choice.

    Republican priorities are exactly as the title above states: increase the deficit, grow the government, attack abortion rights.

    Here is the kicker in all of this: Andy Dillon comes out yesterday, proposing sweeping changes to government. Not sure what has gotten into him, but it appears he really wants to get some things changed and make this all work for the better for our people and our state, even "choking up" at one point in his speech yesterday talking about a family in his neighborhood that lost their home. Details on his plans are sketchy at this point - but he wants to see action before summer, the biggest items being revamping our tax structure and creating a catastrophic health care plan to deal with runaway costs. Monster issues. He wants to tackle property taxes, business taxes, and there are rumblings about a graduated income tax. The News has a pretty good rundown on the items, but this quote in MIRS sums it up:

    "Our tax system is too complicated and stifles economic growth," the Speaker said. "Property taxes are too high and can rise even while values are dropping. We must act aggressively to improve our business tax, repeal the surcharge and cut property taxes to help create an environment of job retention and creation.

    "However, meaningful tax reform can only come through a ballot initiative, so we can address constitutional provisions that prevent us from legislating comprehensive reform. For this reason, I ask the Senate and the Governor to join us in crafting a job-creating, comprehensive tax reform measure that we can put before the voters."

    Big ambition from the Speaker. Don't know how he intends to do all of this, but if he can figure it all out and protect our quality of life - go for it. Let's cheer him on.

    Response from the Senate Republicans? Bet you couldn't predict this one, in the Freep...

    "Enough with the cutesy stuff like ballot proposals," said Senate GOP spokesman Matt Marsden. "The Legislature was elected to do a job."

    Or this, again from MIRS:

    "Why doesn't Dillon send his salary in with it," Marsden said. "I mean -- if he wants the voters to do the job he was elected to do."

    Yes, the Legislature was elected to "do a job", but I'm pretty sure that job doesn't entail fiscal irresponsibility, focus of divisive issues, and petty, personal attacks on a leader who wants to try and get things done. Now that Marsden has attacked both the governor and the Speaker of the House, does he really have room to talk about the "tone" of this conversation?

    Apparently this is all the Senate Republicans have to offer us; no real answers to our problems, and more partisan bickering. It’s starting to look like this will be a long, hard year if that is the prevailing attitude that we will have to deal with as we attempt to move our state forward in these trying times.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    Fresh Fish! Here Comes Michigan's 95th Legislature

    Leaked from the Michigan Film Office today, with apologies to Frank Darabont:

    SCENE - INT - Lobbyists ring the circular balcony in the Capitol Building, looking down to the first floor below. The 95th Michigan Legislature, smartly dressed, is marched in single file, stacks of papers in their hands, apprehensive looks on their faces, wondering why they ever ran in the first place.

    CROWD ABOVE CHANTS: Fresh fish! Fresh fish! Fresh fish! Fresh fish!

    LOBBYIST ONE: Here fishee, fishee, fisheeeee!

    VOICE OVER:...and when they put you in that cell, when those bars slam home, that's when you know it's for real. Old life blown away in the blink of an eye...a long cold season in hell stretching out ahead...nothing left but the next two years to think about it.

    LOBBYIST TWO: You're gonna like it here, new fish. A whooooole lot...

    CROWD CONTINUES: Fresh fish! Fresh fish!

    VOICE OVER: Most new fish come close to madness the first night. Somebody always breaks down crying. Happens every time. The only question is, who's it gonna be?

    The 2009-10 Legislature starting Wednesday features 46 new members in the House. The 110-seat chamber is led by Democrats who padded their advantage in last November's election.

    Democrat Andy Dillon of Wayne County's Redford Township will again be the House speaker. Kevin Elsenheimer of Kewadin is the new Republican leader.

    Republicans are the majority party in the 38-seat Senate. Mike Bishop of Rochester returns as the Republican leader and Michael Prusi of Ishpeming takes over as the Democratic leader.

    CROWD: Fresh fish! Fresh fish! Fresh fish!

    Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Lansing. We hope you enjoy your stay.

    EXTRA DVD Bonus! Andy Dillon speaks to the press! Go Andy!

    “We must live within our means while at the same time protecting education, investing in job creation and worker training, assuring access to health care for our most vulnerable citizens and maintaining police and fire protection for our communities,” Dillon said.

    That will be a neat trick. Show us how to do it!

    The Courage of John Cherry

    My first reaction to this Freep piece featuring John Cherry was an entirely selfish one. "Thank God. I won't feel so horribly alone on the internet anymore", my thinking being that I would be the only one out here for the next two years highlighting the positives from the Granholm administration and sticking up for the Michigan Dems. My second reaction was, "Wow. Here is a guy that is willing to stand up for the good things that we have done, for the progress we have made, and not cower in fear from the Republican talking points that dominate the media and the public discourse". And then I get all pissed off that the Democrats have allowed that to happen in the first place, but, moving on...

    John Cherry has to know what is going on out here. He's not stupid. He hears the "chattering class" loud and clear I bet. And yet, he proudly points to the accomplishments that have been made, despite the challenges of this economy. Dzwonkowski hits him with a big dose of Saul, and he easily bats it down....

    Cherry: I think, for one, some of the things we've done, a great deal of the things we've done in the Granholm administration, is going to have a positive impact on building Michigan's future economy, in terms of attracting new businesses, in terms of building the kind of higher education system that we need to develop talented people, improving the Great Lakes to make sure that we attract people, making sure that we have alternative energy so that we are energy independent from the Middle East and can export the technology that we develop in this state.

    A number of good things are happening, so, I'm one that, first of all, will defend our record, and suggest that the type of change that we are going to have, and Michigan will change, is the kind of change the I represent, one that recognizes that we have to stop this downward spiral that we are seeing as the auto industry changes and grapples with its future challenges, we have to begin to invest in this state's future, protecting those institutions that will make Michigan strong in the future like education, the Great Lakes, alternative energy, and those are the things that the governor has stood for.

    And then he tells the truth about the Republican Party and their ideas- pay attention, because this is where they will lose the game...

    Cherry: I would suggest that what the Republican will have to offer is really quite frankly not much different from what President Bush has offered, or what we have saw occur here at the national level, when we talked about the auto loans that were important for saving Michigan's basic industry...

    Dzwonkowsi: The Republican Senators who opposed...

    Cherry: They turned their back on Michigan, and I don't think we need to have someone who will turn their back on us, lead us.

    And there it is. The Republicans once again will try to run against Granholm...

    Republican pollsters said Cherry may have just handed the GOP its basic campaign message: " 'Do you really want eight more years of a one-state recession?' I can see the slogan now," said Lansing political consultant Tom Shields of Marketing Resource Group. "If the lieutenant governor wants to run on a record of losing a half-million jobs, the Republicans will certainly welcome that."

    ... and offer up their extremist Norquist/Bush ring-wing ideas as the "solution": the elimination of "government", which causes government to be dysfunctional, more tax cuts for business and the wealthy, cuts to programs that citizens want and need, more focus on divisive social issues like equal rights for gays and abortion, etc. and so on.

    That worked so well in '06 and '08, didn't it? Not only did we win the governor's chair in huge numbers in '06, we took back the House, increased the numbers in '08, and now have started to take back the Supreme Court. Yes, you just keep on bashing Granholm, Pubs. It's a proven winning strategy. For us.

    While John Cherry might have to deflect criticism of the Michigan economy by the boxcar load, at least he doesn't have to defend an entire failed philosophy of governing, and that is all the Republicans will have to offer, and you know it. We are doing the right things and moving in the right direction - all it takes is for the Democrats to have the courage to stand up and point it out. And if they do, maybe some of that will start to stick in the media for a change, and we can finally drown the "drown government" crowd in the bathtub. Or one of the Great Lakes, I don't care which. Just get it done because I'm tired of listening to them.

    It is either that, or we can continue to let Saul set the tone as we wring our hands and always wait for that "perfect" progressive candidate that never, ever materializes. For me, I'll stick with the fighters who fight now, because I know we are doing the right things here.

    Thank you Lt. Governor. I don't really want to start to play Election 2010 yet, but my hope is that if we have to, we start setting the stage this year with positive talking points and action with an eye towards the future. After all, I want to sweep the Senate, too.

    You can watch the full interview below and see what we are up against- and by the way, kudos to the Freep for their video work lately. It's getting better all the time.

    The LG also offered up his plan for improving the Great Lakes yesterday, which is why he was making the editorial rounds in the first place. You can check that out here at the DEQ Great Lakes page.

    Do Senate Republicans Want to Cut School Aid for This Year?

    Watch the major over-reaction from Matt Marsden here, and ask yourself just who has a problem with being reasonable about the state budget.

    The budget for '09, which started last October 1st, is only $196 million short at this point. Yes, that seems like a lot to you, but in the big picture of the state budget and the coming deficit of $1.6 billion for '10, cuts in other areas for now are preferable to taking away money from the schools, yes? Of course. The governor took school cuts off the table for this year, with a caveat...

    "For this year, we are not going to pro-rate K-12," the governor said during a late morning news conference. "But all bets are off for next year."

    And Marsden freaks. Totally freaks.

    Matt Marsden, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, countered that "it's outlandish" to suggest there may not have to be budget cuts this year.

    "The legislature will hold education harmless if possible, but we have to be careful of taking anything off the table," Marsden said.

    "We can't let the stimulus package distract us from fixing our structural problem. We should be taking steps right now to begin scaling back and righting this ship."

    Marsden added that "the governor is not in a position to take anything off the table." Lawmakers will work with her governor in balancing the budget, as is required by the state constitution, he said.

    "The governor is not starting the conversation off on a good tone," he said.

    No one mentioned the stimulus package. No one mentioned the "structural problem". We aren't talking about those things yet - but Senate Republicans once again tip their hand as to how this is going to go down this year: wild accusations as to motive, over-reaction about "tone" on the simplest of statements, and general crying and flailing about like a child told they would have to finish their vegetables before they get their desert.

    The governor's radio address last week acknowledges that the stimulus is not the be-all, end-all answer to our budget issues. And while new Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi is making reasonable suggestions about closing loopholes and things of that nature, it is rather curious that Bishop's spokesperson is insisting that cuts to schools should be "on the table" for this minor piece of the current budget shortfall. Say, you guys get around to cutting your own salaries and benefits yet? Didn't think so.

    Someone needs to ask the Republicans for a list of their ideas on cuts. Seriously, get them out here. Let's see what their priorities are. As if this over-reaction from Marsden doesn't tell you.

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Motown Records 50th Anniversary: The Four Tops "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"

    50 years ago, Berry Gordy Jr. received $800, and started Motown Records. Today, a ceremony was held at Hitsville to mark the occasion-

    Today is Motown Day in Detroit, as declared by officials from the city, county, state and federal government this morning at a press conference at Detroit's Motown Historical Museum on the 50th anniversary, to the day, that Berry Gordy received the $800 loan with which he launched his record company.

    The festivities at Hitsville -- which included Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr., U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano -- launched a year (at least) of activities commemorating Motown 50 all around the world. Today from noon to 4 p.m. and the rest of the week during those same hours, Motown luminaries -- like Duke Fakir of the Four Tops, Rosalind Holmes of the Vandellas, and musicians Uriel Jones and Dennis Coffey -- will be stationed around the museum telling stories about their Motown years. Martha Reeves of the Vandellas (also a member of the Detroit City Council) was in Germany, but will take part in the tours this week as soon as she gets back in town.

    Diana Ross performs at the Palace tonight as well.

    For Motown's official birthday, I wanted to honor the guy that I share a birthday with - Levi Stubbs. Levi passed away last fall, which sent me on a mission to find the song above on YouTube. As I read the remembrances of the group and the man, I realized that only his character surpassed his talent. While other Motown artists fell to the trappings of fame, money and ego, Levi stayed true to his group, his city, and his family. It was never "Levi Stubbs & the Four Tops". When Motown Records moved to LA, the group stayed in Detroit. 3,200 people showed up for his "homegoing" last October, including just about every living luminary connected with Motown - a testament to how much the man was honored in that community of people.

    The Four Tops line-up performed together for an amazing forty four years - starting as high school students in Detroit, and ending with the death of Lawrence Payton in 1997. Today, only Duke Fakir remains. Read the Tops full story here.

    "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" was the Tops first No. 1 single, hitting the top of the charts in June of 1965, one week after I was born. Holland-Dozier-Holland rip off Holland-Dozier-Holland here; the chord progression is almost exactly the same as "Where Did Our Love Go", but the rhythm section sets it apart enough to make it an entirely different song - and it's one of my all-time favorites, as my neighbors would tell you. They are probably sick of hearing it - but I think I will go play it again, real loud, in honor of the memory of Levi, and in honor of this historic day.

    Happy Birthday Motown!

    Sunday, January 11, 2009

    Motown Records 50th Anniversary: Diana Ross & the Supremes "Where Did Our Love Go"

    If I had to pick one favorite Motown group, it would be Diana Ross & Supremes. That was hard enough, picking one song from the Supremes to feature was even harder, so once again I'll go with the song that changed the group's destiny.

    "Where Did Our Love Go" was written in 1964 by the legendary songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland for the Marvelettes, who turned it down. At the time, the Supremes had eight failed singles, and only one of their songs had cracked the top forty...

    Upon learning the Supremes had chosen to record "Where Did Our Love Go", the Marvelettes warned the girls to stand up for themselves and not just take anything H-D-H would give them. As a result, when the song was recorded on April 8, 1964, there was a bit of animosity on the part of the Supremes towards singing the song. Lamont Dozier was forced at one point to redo the arrangement of the background vocals, replacing the original, more complex backing with simple repetitions of the word "baby".

    One of the most famous aspects of "Where Did Our Love Go" was its rhythm section, comprised primarily of footstomps. The sound effect was performed by an Italian-American teenager named Mike Valvano, who stomped down upon two wooden boards suspended by strings, to create the aural illusion of a group of foot-stompers. Handclaps were overdubbed for the 45 RPM single mix of the song.

    Since the lead vocal was originally written to be sung by the Marvelettes' lead singer Gladys Horton, it was arranged in a register lower than the Supremes' lead singer Diana Ross' natural register. The resulting vocal track had a sensual appeal not present in Ross' earlier songs, and she elatedly rushed to Motown chief Berry Gordy's office, and dragged him to the basement studio at Hitsville U.S.A. to hear it. Upon hearing the finished song, Gordy remarked that the song had potential, possibly enough to make it to the top ten.

    The song went to number one six weeks after it was released on June 17th, 1964. On tour with Dick Clark's "American Bandstand Caravan of Stars" at the time, the group went from being on the bottom of the bill, right to the top. "Where Did Our Love Go" was the first of five Supreme songs in a row to reach number one, launching the group to the status as perhaps the premiere act in Motown history. (let the arguments begin)

    Read the history of the Supremes here, and Diana Ross' own amazing story here.

    The Freep has a video interview with Holland-Dozier-Holland today, and an exclusive look inside a vault at Universal where the Motown masters are stored. Also, check here for a list of events taking place this week and throughout the rest of the year to celebrate Motown's 50th.

    GM to Make Volt Batteries in Michigan

    A major win for Michigan. This is huge. Via the NY Times this morning-

    GENERAL MOTORS will announce Monday that it will make lithium-ion battery packs to power the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and other extended-range electric vehicles at a new facility in Michigan. With the announcement, to be made during press preview days for the North American International Auto Show by Rick Wagoner, the company’s chairman and chief executive, G.M. becomes the first major automaker with a commitment to producing the advanced battery packs in the United States.

    G.M. is also is expected to announce the opening of a new advanced-battery test facility at its global electric-vehicle engineering center in Warren, Mich.

    This announcement, combined with the A123 announcement last week to build a lithium ion battery facility in Michigan (pending a DOE grant), marks America's first ventures into the mass production of advanced batteries, and we got it right here, baby. Tax credits for battery production, passed by the Michigan Legislature in December, created this opportunity for our state...

    Full details, including the battery-pack plant’s specific location, are not expected to be released in the Monday news conference. G.M.’s announcement comes three weeks after Michigan’s legislature approved tax incentives worth up to $335 million aimed at attracting advanced-battery manufacturers to the state. The credits will be apportioned depending on production volume and other factors. Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm is expected to sign the legislation.

    “This is very important, and it’s beyond symbolic,” said Brett Smith, speaking of the plant’s significance. Mr. Smith, assistant director for manufacturing, engineering and technology at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., explained that it is critical for the Detroit Three automakers to create an infrastructure in the United States for volume production of batteries for electric, plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles.

    ... and, by producing the batteries here in America, this means that we won't be "effectively trading dependence on imported oil for dependence on imported batteries." Most battery production is currently being done in Asia.

    Not to mention all the jobs that will be created in Michigan, so, thank you GM. More will come out on this tomorrow, but Mlive has a video of the governor talking batteries and what this mean for the state and the country, filmed at the auto show today.

    And if you like the pictures of the pretty, pretty new cars, just head over to either the Detroit News or the Detroit Free Press front pages and start clicking for all things Auto Show. I've got my eye on that new Bentley myself. ;-)

    Saturday, January 10, 2009

    Motown Records 50th Anniversary: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles "The Tears of a Clown"

    I picked "The Tears of a Clown" because the song literally changed the course of Smokey Robinson's life.

    "The Tears of a Clown" was originally released on the album "Make It Happen" in 1967, music written by Stevie Wonder and Hank Cosby, lyrics by Smokey Robinson. By 1969, Robinson had intended to leave the Miracles, citing a desire to spend more time with the family in Detroit and concentrate on his job as VP at Motown Records.

    The Miracles were very big in the UK, and with the group on the verge of breaking up, Motown was forced to search the back catalogue for a song to release. They remixed and released "The Tears of a Clown", and the song went to No. 1 on the charts. Looking to duplicate the success, Motown released it over here...

    This new found popularity prompted Motown to release the song as a single in the United States, where it became a number-one hit on both the pop and R&B charts within two months of its release. Despite the fact that The Miracles had been one of Motown's premier acts in the early and mid-1960s and its first successful group act, "The Tears of a Clown" was their first and only #1 hit while Smokey Robinson was lead singer.

    This kept Smokey in the band for another two years. On July 16th, 1972, Robinson introduced new lead singer Billy Griffin at a farewell concert in Washington DC.

    Song info thanks to Wiki, and you can read more on the long history of the Miracles here.

    NFL Playoffs

    Baltimore @ Tennessee
    Arizona @ Carolina
    Philadelphia @ NY Giants
    San Diego @ Pittsburgh

    2-2 last week, playing it safe this week.

    Friday, January 09, 2009

    Motown Records 50th Anniversary: Temptations "Get Ready"

    Next Monday is Motown Records 50th Anniversary. The city of Detroit is getting ready to celebrate some of the finest songwriting and most talented performers that the world has ever known, and in the middle of this cold, snowy winter with its dire economic news, the timing couldn't be better to revisit these inspiring songs and the people who made it all happen.

    Car show? Yeah, sure. But your 50th only comes around once. From the Freep-

    Get ready for a winter blast of warm nostalgia. A slew of anniversary activity is afoot, including events at the Motown Historical Museum, on the airwaves and on record store shelves.

    For Detroit -- the city that gave the label talent, a work ethic and its very name -- the good vibes come at a good time. While the city has maintained a dicey relationship with Motown since the label's departure for California in 1972, the bonds remain deep.

    The 50th commemoration will remind the world that Detroit isn't all mayoral scandals and auto industry crises.

    "This time, we get to celebrate," said Detroit City Councilwoman Martha Reeves, the veteran Motown star. "Maybe we get to heal some of the tension, ease some of the bad feelings. It's good timing."

    The hardest part about posting on this is that there were so many monster, all-time favorite, classic songs that it is difficult to select which ones to feature. Most of the clips on YouTube are lip-sync versions from dance shows, such as the one above from 1966. It's either that, or newer "reunion" tours, and I would rather show these groups as they were in the era when they were at the top.

    So here is the first offering, fittingly enough, the Temptations "Get Ready".

    The original Temptations version of "Get Ready", produced by Smokey Robinson, was designed as an answer to the latest dance craze, "The Duck". The Temptations' falsetto Eddie Kendricks sings lead on the song, which Robinson produced as an up-tempo dance number with a prominent rhythm provided by Motown drummer Benny Benjamin. In the song, Kendricks informs his lover to "get ready" because "I'm bringin' you a love that's true". The song made it to number one on the U.S. R&B singles chart, while peaking at number twenty-nine on the pop charts.