Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Late Six O'Clock News - Chrysler Roundup Edition

Sorry this is late... here is a brief roundup on some of the Chrysler fallout. For more, just go to the Free Press or the DNews, they are adding stories all the time.

  • Ever-optimistic Governor Granholm smacks down all the concerns of the hand-wringers at CNBC. I like it. This is the official statement...

    "I'm pleased that the president has given us certainty that Chrysler will survive and thrive. The next two months will be challenging, but the future for Chrysler is now more certain than it has been in a long time, because we know that jobs will remain and new jobs are coming. Chrysler will succeed in a way that brings new technologies, new products and new customers, and that's good for Michigan and the nation. I'm thankful for the huge sacrifices of Chrysler's employees who made this happen and thankful that the president is encouraging the nation to get out and buy American cars."

    ... but the video is much better.

  • Read the reaction of Michigan's congressional delegation here. Democrats hopeful, Republicans wary, and the Michigan Republican Party once again will try to take political advantage of the state's pain. Just admit it, they want things to be bad for us - it's the only way they know how to regain power.

  • Chrysler will shed 8 plants and various equipment for $2.3 billion. No word on which plants yet.

  • Suppliers shut down three plants today by refusing to ship product, but the plants are going into hibernation Monday anyway, so not sure what that accomplished. Someone else out there buying parts right now?

  • Nardelli is out after Chrysler emerges from bankruptcy, he will take a job at Cerberus.

  • The Michigan House voted 76-33 to divest in Oppenheimer Funds, Perella Weinberg Partners' Xerion Capital Fund, and Stairway Cap Management, although we don't have our retirement holdings there, so I'm not sure exactly where we held investments. Nice gesture though, hope the Senate follows suit.

  • Speaking of Perella, they changed their minds today. Too little, too late, too bad, you're already on the list.

  • Bill McGraw at the Freep has a brief history of Chrysler and what it has meant to Detroit over the years.
  • Hedge Funds to Force Chrysler Bankruptcy?

    Fiat? Check. UAW? Check. Major creditors onboard? Check. It seemed like a 30 day miracle, to put these big pieces together in agreement... but in the end, greed wins. Greed always wins.

    There still is time, but right now it's not looking good.

    Chrysler’s fate was in the hands of about 40 hedge funds that hold about 30% of its debt. Although four banks holding 70% of the debt had agreed to erase it for $2 billion, the hedge funds were holding out for a better deal.

    To entice the hedge funds into going along with the banks, the government on Wednesday afternoon added $250 million to the $2 billion that the banks had settled for and gave the hedge funds a 6 p.m. deadline to work it out, two people briefed on the talks said.

    But several of the funds came back with their own different counterproposals, leaving the Treasury Department to bargain with 46 funds, the person said. Treasury extended the deadline into the evening, but, when it appeared there was no central authority to negotiate with, decided to end talks around midnight.

    The deal was sweetened, and they still said no. Chrysler will go on, it's just going to be... complicated, to say the least. Send in the lawyers.

    Government officials have insisted that Chrysler could go through a "quick rinse" or "surgical" bankruptcy filing under Section 363(b) of Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code, allowing for a quick asset sale that could allow the healthy parts of the automaker to emerge in as little as 30 days.

    And then you guys can fight over what is left. Hope it costs you lots of money. In a nutshell...

    The U.S. Treasury would loan Chrysler billions in debtor-in-possession financing -- a major hurdle for Delphi -- so that Chrysler could operate under court protection and would buy the "good" Chrysler, forming a new company.

    The "bad" Chrysler, including some dealer agreements and other debts, would remain in bankruptcy and be liquidated over months or years.

    And just think, we get to go through all of this again with GM - a much bigger monster, indeed.

    No one knows what this is going to look like when it's done, so I'll be damned if I try to guess at this point. The deadline is 11:59 PM tonight... maybe there is another miracle in there, but don't hold your breath.

    Just another white-knuckle day in the state of Michigan. Do you ever get the feeling that we are turning into a bunch of adrenaline junkies?

    Budget? What Budget? Michigan $1.3B in the Red

    Bam! Right back to harsh reality. Remember that budget deficit for this year, the one that was estimated to be at $785 million just a few weeks ago? Well, check again.

    Michigan's mushrooming budget deficit has grown to $1.3 billion, state officials confirmed today.

    Legislative leaders and administration officials were informed Tuesday night by Budget Director Bob Emerson that the shortfall in revenue for this budget year, estimated at $785 million only a couple of weeks ago, has climbed more than 50 percent, sources said.

    That's gotta be a mid-year record. Rumor had it that agreement had been reached on $300 million or so in cuts towards the first figure, with the rest to be filled with stimulus money. Granholm was going to issue the Executive Order, Repubs weren't pitching a fit, Jelinek even quoted to MIRS...

    "We're going as deep as far as we can," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Ron JELINEK (R-Three Oaks). When asked if the whole $785 million would be addressed in cuts, he said. "I doubt it. I think that's pretty ambitious. We don't want to lay off the whole state."

    ... which totally contradicts everything that Bishop ever said about this, but anyway....

    Now what? And, how in the world do you do the budgets for FY 2010 with these numbers? Everyone who was complaining about the cuts already on the table - you better start thinking about working on selling new revenue. We all love the State Fair, but in light of these numbers, saving the local police department might have to come first.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    Throwing the Wingnuts Under the Bus: Michigan GOP Apologizes to Huntsman

    So, who speaks for the GOP on this issue? Is it Gary Glenn? Or is it Ron Weiser, who called John Huntsman and apologized for the wingnutty inconvenience? From the Salt Lake Tribune:

    Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said there was no explanation given when the event was canceled. She said the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Ron Weiser, called the governor and apologized for the inconvenience. The state party also has arranged for Huntsman to appear at another fundraiser Saturday morning, instead.

    Does this mean the Michigan GOP accepts someone who believes in civil unions for gay couples? Has anyone informed Gary Glenn of this development?

    Another interesting tidbit that came out in MIRS: Ed Rivet, head of Michigan Right to Life, refused to condemn Pete Hoekstra's wishy-washy stance on pro-choice candidates. During a radio interview on WWJ in Detroit, Rivet fell into silence when questioned about Hoekstra.

    Why the "no comment?"

    "It serves his interest and mine," Rivet concluded by saying that sometimes it's best to just "move along."

    While another Republican source concluded the Hoekstra comment was "not going to help him" in a Republican primary, where RTL does hold some sway, the thinking in the RTL camp is that candidates often say stuff so they don't "look extreme" and Hoekstra's comments at this read are not a "deal breaker” and the anti-abortion group is willing to give him the "benefit of the doubt for now."

    Or, the Michigan Republicans have decided that "wingnut" doesn't sell anymore, and they are going to do their best to shut these people up before they lose more elections. Something to keep an eye on. We know they aren't "moderate" at all, but they might start pretending to be, just to fool the public.

    Michigan Swine Flu Information Center

    UPDATE: The Livingston County case has been positively identified as the swine flu. The woman is at home and is doing fine, but yes, the flu is here in Michigan.

    BFM is getting a boatload of hits from people searching for information on the swine flu in Michigan, so in the interest of serving that searching public, I'm going to turn you all over to the state and let them deal with it. ;-)

    Michigan has set up a Swine Flu Information Center at From there you can get the latest updates on the swine influenza A/(H1N1) flu, as well as links to the CDC, the WHO, and other health organizations that have all information that you may need.

    A 2nd "probable" case has been identified in Michigan; a 34-year-old Ottawa County woman who was released from the hospital last Friday. Testing for this new strain works like this:

    The state will send the lab results to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see if she tests positive for the virus.

    Michigan is still awaiting word from the CDC on a probable case out of Livingston County, which is located 45 miles northwest of Detroit. A 34-year-old woman is recovering at home after returning by car from a vacation in Texas.

    Also Tuesday, the state partially activated its Emergency Operations Center in Lansing to coordinate the response of state agencies and local governments to the flu outbreak. The center was partially opened during a 2007 tornado storm and during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

    People with flu-like symptoms who show up at Michigan doctor's offices, clinics and emergency rooms are being tested for influenza A. If the test is positive and the patient has traveled in an area where swine flu is known to have been, then the swab is sent to the state for testing.

    If the state lab determines the sample is an untypeable strain of influenza A, it rules it a "probable" case of swine flu and asks the CDC for confirmation.

    As you can imagine, both the state and the CDC are probably being bombarded with tests at this point, so it's hard to tell when these cases will be confirmed or dismissed. (see update above)

    In the meantime - don't panic, and just follow the common sense rules: Avoid close contact with people who are sick, stay home if you are sick (I know, that can be hard to do in tough economic times with demanding employers, but try), cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, wash those hands! frequently, and practice other good health habits like proper sleep and exercise to help keep your immune system in tip-top shape.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    Six O'Clock News - Equal Pay Day Edition

  • MI House Democrats are reintroducing pay equity legislation in honor of National Equal Pay Day. Women earn .78 on the dollar compared to men; in Michigan that falls to .71, 44th among the states according to 2007 census data. Key line in this story?

    Some similar bills passed the Democrat-led House in recent years but died in the Republican-led Senate.

    And Little Suzy Creamcheese wonders why we "whine" about Mike Bishop. Well, after you have read the line "died in the Republican-led Senate" on hundreds of stories concerning legislation that was designed to help the people of Michigan and move this state forward, and you check the numbers on the production out of that very same "Republican-led" Senate, you start to see exactly where the problem is, don't you? I mean, who wouldn't? Well, since some members of the "traditional" media have been blinded by those "mirthful, aquamarine eyes", we have to try any way we can to get the word out. So sorry if that disturbs you. Not.

  • Speaking of the wingnuts, Kent County Republicans have cancelled a speech by very popular Utah Governor John Huntsman. Described as a "rising star" in the GOP, the Mormon Huntsman supports - gasp! - civil unions, and the local head of the Kent County Republican Party Joanne Voorhees pulled the plug on that issue alone, citing the local Tea Party (seriously?) and the desire to "stand on principle". OK Jo, you stand on your "principle" of bigotry and intolerance, and we'll keep winning the elections. Sounds like a plan.

  • While the Republicans are still pulling bonehead moves like that, the real world carries on, and the fallout from the GM announcement continues. GM is going to force 1,000 to 1,200 dealers to close, and word comes today that American Axle will cut hundreds of jobs in Detroit and move them to Mexico. GM is American Axle's biggest customer.

  • Better car news - Ford claims that they got 81.5 mpg on an unmodified 2010 Fusion just by using "fuel-saving driving techniques", like coasting to red lights and smooth acceleration. Yowza. Sounds like they might have a winner with this car.

  • The U of M has landed a five year, $19.5 million research grant "to improve the efficiency of solar materials, which are used in photovoltaic solar panels and geothermal technology", strengthening Michigan's position as a leader in solar energy technology. The grant comes from the DoE and is funded by the stimulus. The White House has declared the U of M one of its 46 "Energy Frontier Research Centers", collaborations designed for breakthroughs on alternative energy development. Nice.

  • Deb Price and David Shepardson at the DNews has a nice write-up on how the Obama administration has helped Michigan with stimulus funding for roads, advanced batteries, health care, budget woes, unemployment and more. Good summary of the first 100 days and the benefits to this state, especially when you think of what it would be like had McCain won... * shudder *. Let's not go there.

  • Forgot to mention yesterday, NPR ran a great series last week: "Remaking Michigan, Retooling Detroit". Check the link for 13 segments on the various issues facing the continuing diversification of our state.
  • Chrysler Creditors Agree to Deal

    Oh thank God. Hat tip to Graham and the breaking news tweet - the WaPo is reporting that Chrysler's creditors have seen the writing on the wall and came to the conclusion that something is better than nothing. Not out of the woods yet, but it's looking better...

    The Treasury Department reached an agreement with Chrysler's creditors late last night that may prevent the troubled automaker from going into bankruptcy, a source familiar with the matter said today.

    The carmaker had owed a fractious group of 45 banks, hedge funds and other firms about $6.9 billion. These creditors have agreed to write down the debt to $2 billion.

    The two sides had been far apart in the negotiations, leaving Treasury officials little choice but to prepare a bankruptcy filing. Indeed, one government official said last week that it would take a "miracle" for a deal to be worked out. But the lenders realized that they would have received far less in a bankruptcy and ceded to government demands.

    The UAW ends up holding the majority stake.

    A source familiar with the matter said if the restructuring of the storied American automaker is completed according to the tentative deal, the union would have a 55 percent stake in the company, the Italian automaker Fiat would eventually hold a 35 percent stake, and the government and Chrysler's lenders would share a 10 percent stake in the company. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the talks.

    The UAW needs to ratify the deal made over the weekend, that vote is expected tomorrow. Go read the story for the complete breakdown on the details.

    I'm thinking I need a Zeo. Do they come in any other color besides orange?

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    Six O'Clock News - Why Can't Mikey Do Math? Edition

  • Mike Cox has a little math problem. OK, it's a big math problem. We are (rough guess) $2 billion in the hole right now, and Mike wants to "cut the new $2.6 billion Michigan Business Tax in half and repeal the $700 million increase in personal income taxes". To pay for this, he has identified $187 million in tax increases for teachers and state employees! How that equals roughly $4 billion in revenue shortfall, I'm really not sure, but I do know that it proves that Mike Cox has no business being in any position that has anything to do with the public safety and well-being. Seriously dude, you are a fiscal joke when you say things like this.

  • Mike's math problem just goes to show that we DO need more college graduates in this state, and it's a darn good thing we raised the high school graduation requirements as well. People need to be able to see past the lies of the "cut taxes" crowd. On that note, it was great to see that Michigan named its 10 Michigan Promise Zones over the weekend; all these communities will now be able to raise the funds to guarantee college for their local students.

    Designations have been awarded to Baldwin Community Schools, Battle Creek Public Schools, Benton Harbor Area Schools, the City of Detroit, the School District of the City of Hazel Park, Jackson Public Schools, the Lansing School District, the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, the School District of the City of Pontiac and the Saginaw School District.

    Don't be like Mike, kids. Go to college. Take lots of math. We need people who can budget.

  • Swine flu hysteria is good for one Michigan business - O'Mara Scientific medical supply in Grandville (right outside GR) had over one million surgical masks ordered over the weekend. Interesting quote: "While not mentioning names, Sobczak says he is filling orders for the world's largest pharmaceutical company, the first and second largest contract research organization and emergency planning organizations in the state". Do they know something we don't?

  • Want to see some really cool shots of Michigan Central Station? The Freep has 5 inside and outside 360 panoramas from photog Anne Savage of Revolutionary Views. A suit has been filed to block demolition of the station, claiming that the city has not made a survey of the building's historical value. Can't imagine what it would cost to restore the place, especially after seeing all the damage, but it sure would be nice if someone tried.

  • Maybe we should start calling him "Torture Pete". Go read how Hoekstra manages to sit on both sides of THAT fence as well. Good grief, Pete, take a stand already.

  • Yet more film professionals praise Michigan for its commitment to growing the industry here, and they see a very bright future for us, IF we don't mess with the incentives already in place.

  • Bid for a Michigan vacation! The Michigan Festivals & Events folks have 63 items up for bid online including stays at various resorts, Tiger tickets, seminars, and more. Have to register at the site, which is free.

  • In case you missed it, Michigan's first road stimulus project broke ground last Friday up on I-75 near West Branch. I forget where I saw it, but someone somewhere was complaining about the signs that were made that designate it as a "recovery project". Why do Repubs hate sign makers? And, you just know if there weren't signs made to identify it, they would accuse the government of trying to hide "waste, fraud and abuse" or some such thing. Eh, probably should just ignore the nay-sayers; there are people working right now because of the stimulus, and Lord knows we need all the road fixin' we can get. Onward and upward. The first of many to come.
  • "Probable" Case of Swine Flu Hits Michigan

    Break out the hysteria. Surgical masks are flying off the shelves in Detroit according to the Freep. Even I'm wondering if any of the people I was within close proximity to last weekend had recently been out of state. Those retirees out at the ballpark are always talking about the trips they take...

    The woman tested positive for a non-human variety of influenza, said Dr. Donald Lawrenchuk, Livingston County Department of Public Health medical director, after visiting a petting zoo in San Antonio. It is unclear if she got the illness from another person or pigs at the zoo. She went to an urgent care clinic in Brighton on Sunday, complaining of flu-like symptoms.

    During the weekend, MDCH alerted hospitals to be on the lookout for late season flu-like illnesses.

    The health department is working with the federal government to increase the state’s stocks of the anti-viral medicines Tamiflu and Relenza, said Dr. Greg Holzmann, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Community Health. Health officials are concerned that this animal virus may spread quickly through people, rather than stay isolated with people who have had contact with pigs.

    Mike Bishop's office offered this as proof that "government doesn't work" and immediately called for more cuts to the Dept. of Community Health. OK, I'm joking about that last one, but given how Congressional Republicans killed pandemic prep from the stimulus, and they are currently blocking Sebelius' nomination to HHS, and seeing as how DCH is one of Bishop's favorite targets for cuts, it's really not a stretch to believe that, is it?

    Go wash your hands.

    What Say You, Bondholders? Michigan's Future Lies in Your Hands

    GM. 21,000 jobs - which translates into probably well over 100,000 when you factor in suppliers, local business, etc. and so on and ad nauseam to infinity and beyond. 16 plants by 2012. 42% of the dealers by 2010. Pontiac, Hummer, Saab, Saturn - gone. Labor costs from $7.6B to $5B by 2010 as well, a whopping 34% reduction.

    You wanted restructuring? You got restructuring. You wanted labor to make concessions? You got that too. The UAW has reached acceptable terms with Chrysler, Fiat and the government.

    When our elected officials went off on the banks last week, I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant to jump right on that bandwagon. A part of me was still a bit resentful of the "tough love" attitude of the Obama administration towards our automakers, knowing that the people who are going to pay the price of that "tough love" had nothing to do with the demise of the manufacturers in the first place. Take your "tough love" and shove it; this state has already paid its dues. Add that to the double standard that seems to exist between the value of blue collar vs. white collar worth, a life-long irritant to me as well, and I just didn't trust "the man" to make this right. Last week, it all seemed a bit of a dodge to put this solely on the banks. Don't get me wrong, I was 80% there, but there was a nagging feeling that the Obama people could do a little more to reel them in as well.

    Governor was all up in arms. Watch the video. Kinda freaks me out when she gets like this.

    The sternly worded letters were sent. Other Michigan officials jumped in with letters and pleas as well. All good, but asking bankers to have a heart is like.... well, asking what is left of the Republican Party to have a heart. The chances of these people having a "come to Jesus" moment is slim indeed.

    What cost to Michigan? The Freep had some guesses from Comerica's Dana Johnson. Given what we have seen in the past five months or so, I think these are a bit low.

    Even if Chrysler does not disappear, Moody's is forecasting that about 260,000 jobs would be lost in Michigan between the end of 2008 and mid-2010.

    If Chrysler has to liquidate, the estimate goes up to 315,000 jobs lost.

    If General Motors Corp. were to disappear and sell off assets, the estimate goes up to 360,000 jobs lost between late 2008 and mid-2010.

    More fuel for the fire? Reports from this weekend tell us the bankers have taken their billions and are back to their high-flying ways, drawing the ire of one Paul Krugman this morning.

    Still, you might argue that we have a free-market economy, and it’s up to the private sector to decide how much its employees are worth. But this brings me to my second point: Wall Street is no longer, in any real sense, part of the private sector. It’s a ward of the state, every bit as dependent on government aid as recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a k a “welfare.”

    I’m not just talking about the $600 billion or so already committed under the TARP. There are also the huge credit lines extended by the Federal Reserve; large-scale lending by Federal Home Loan Banks; the taxpayer-financed payoffs of A.I.G. contracts; the vast expansion of F.D.I.C. guarantees; and, more broadly, the implicit backing provided to every financial firm considered too big, or too strategic, to fail.

    One can argue that it’s necessary to rescue Wall Street to protect the economy as a whole — and in fact I agree. But given all that taxpayer money on the line, financial firms should be acting like public utilities, not returning to the practices and paychecks of 2007.

    And if they drive Chrysler under, I'll help gather the pitchforks and torches, if y'all are so inclined. While that is fun to think about, why is there still that sneaking suspicion that they are going to get away with this?

    Thursday will tell the tale. Our state is in for a world of hurt anyway, on that day we will have a better indication of just how bad it's going to be. No matter what happens though, we need to plow ahead with our diversification efforts so this doesn't happen to us ever again.

    Off to Lakeland

    We were just talking about Jordan yesterday, and this morning he's gone. Such is life in the minors.

    One last shot.

    Off to Lakeland

    Saturday, April 25, 2009

    "God will get you for that, Walter"

    When you grew up with role models like this, women's equality was never a question.

    Rest in peace, Bea Arthur.

    GM to Idle 13 Plants This Summer

    You do realize what this will do to our unemployment rate, when you factor in suppliers that will likely shutter/layoff as well. Not to mention the state budget, $800 million or so in the hole as we speak and looking at $1.4B for 2010 (and climbing).

    And we haven't even factored in Chrysler yet.

    This is bad. Real bad.

    General Motors Corp. is temporarily idling 13 plants in the U.S. and Mexico this summer, including several in Michigan, and cutting 190,000 vehicles to help shave surplus inventories and align production with demand.

    Troy Clarke, president of GM North America, was to outline the production cuts during a 3 p.m. news conference, but the idlings range from one to nine weeks.

    The struggling automaker, which was originally expected to detail the production cuts Friday, also is making the cuts because negotiations with parts supplier Delphi Corp. to end a prolonged bankruptcy case has been unsuccessful and GM believes the supplier or its lenders could force the automaker into an "uncontrolled shutdown."

    Go read the DNews piece for the list of plants and length of shutdown - it varies.

    Just a sample of what I'm talking about...

    Layoffs in the heat of the growing recession continue to hurt West Michigan, including the accelerated shutdown of General Motor Corp.'s Wyoming stamping plant, now set for June 26.

    That facility is now down to a single shift now, and suppliers and businesses across the area are paring their workforces.

    Lansing, we have a problem. This is part of the reason I haven't been harping on the current budget - I get the feeling that the revenue estimating conference in May is going to look like a tidal wave coming at us, and all the partisan sniping is going to be for naught because we are all going to drown anyway.

    Someone get that Obama dude on the phone...

    Update: KB Hoffman confirms my fears.

    Senate Republicans Once Again Block Action on Drug Company Immunity Bills

    The Senate Democrats tried to force a vote on the drug company immunity bills, and once again the Senate Republicans obstucted movement on the legislation.

    LANSING- Senate Democrats today continued to fight for Michigan victims of harmful prescription drugs as they moved to take up the House-passed legislation to end drug immunity for companies whose products kill or injure patients. Victims looked on from the gallery and were forced to wait even longer for justice as Senate Republicans continued to stonewall the effort to repeal the law.

    “We should be leading the country in consumer protection, not voting against it,” said Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing). “By failing to support this legislation, Senate Republicans are taking away a basic human right and ultimately telling Michigan victims that they are second-class citizens who don’t deserve justice when they or their loved ones are harmed or killed by the misconduct of drug companies.”

    This time, some folks who have been harmed from these products were looking on from the gallery as the Republicans did this. Must see video from Gretchen Whitmer:

    Ballot proposal, anyone?

    Thursday, April 23, 2009

    DeVos Does Good: International Art Competition Coming to Grand Rapids

    Life really does conspire to throw you curves sometimes, and this morning I'm finding myself stunned and amazed and even thrilled that I have actually titled a post "DeVos Does Good", and that Grand Rapids is being positioned to be some sort of leader in the international art community. Consider my mind blown.

    The public announcement is taking place right now, but WOOD has received the details (through the AP) on the event. Just read.

    Organizers of the first ArtPrize art competition hope to receive thousands of entries vying for more than $400,000 in total prize money, including the top prize of $250,000. The event will run from Sept. 23 through Oct. 10 at perhaps hundreds of venues throughout a three-square-mile area of downtown Grand Rapids.

    ArtPrize creator Rick DeVos, grandson of multibillionaire Rich DeVos, a co-founder of direct-sales giant Amway Corp., and son of Dick DeVos, a former Amway president who unsuccessfully ran for governor as the GOP candidate in 2006, said Wednesday he has been considering the idea for a couple of years.

    Rick DeVos said it will be an annual event, with the prize money underwritten by the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. Betsy DeVos, his mother, has twice served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party.

    Dick and Betsy are going to pay for an art competition that has no restrictions. That was the key in this whole thing, to me anyway. To any artist, actually.

    (Rick) said the competition will be open to any artist age 18 or over, whether they are professional or amateur. There will be no restrictions on the art itself.

    "That's completely open," DeVos said. "It's totally multiformat, multisensory, multidisciplinary, multimedia. We're not try to prescribe a particular sort of style or message or anything like that. It's really just about a creative expression."

    The winners will be voted on through interactive, social media - the web and the mobile phone - and Grand Rapids venues, both indoor and out, will host the displays. A web site will be launched later today. Besides the big money for first, $100,000 will be awarded for second place, $50,000 for third place and $7,000 for fourth through 10th places.

    Rick DeVos, 27, who launched, a social networking site for film buffs, said he has attended numerous film festivals and other large-scale cultural galas. He believes Grand Rapids, a city of 200,000 people with a vibrant arts scene, is ideally suited to host a major art competition.

    "I've been to a lot of these events and have seen the energy that they create for the participants but also the vitality of the communities in which they are hosted, and have thought for a long time that Grand Rapids would be a fantastic spot to create kind of a new, international event, and thought we were really ready for that," he told The Associated Press.

    Grand Rapids. An art mecca. DeVos family, not trying to push an agenda. Heh. After all of that, I'm going to expect to see Cheney donate all his money to Amnesty International and Bush confess that he voted for Obama. Kudos to Rick for pushing for the idea, and kudos to Dick & Betsy for giving their kid the freedom (and the funding) to make it happen.

    Credit where credit is due. The second they go back to their political agenda, well, I will too, but at this moment I'm very proud of my little town.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    The Detroit News (Hearts) Gretchen Whitmer's Ideas On Savings

    Game over. When you are a Senate Republican and you have lost the Detroit News editorial page, you know you are havin' a bad day. The News takes up Whitmer's idea for savings in the Legislature...

    Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, recently argued that $2 million to $3 million could be saved now if all 37 senators agreed to get along on the lower office budget awarded each minority Democrat. It looks like at least another $190,000 could be saved by doing the same thing in the House.

    Whitmer's claims have been dismissed as partisan grandstanding, but citizens are tightening their belts. Businesses are cutting back. Lawmakers should do the same.

    The Senate has finally put their budgets online, and this small step towards transparency should be acknowledged (insert sound of one hand clapping here), but there still is the issue of the difference in staff funding on the table...

    From the Senate Dems release:

    “This is a small victory on transparency for the taxpayers, but it only reinforces the need for permanent transparency and additional savings,” said Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), sponsor of SR 15. “We must make sure that this online access is solidified into law so some future politician can’t take it away if they so choose. And we need to cut the bloated majority budgets for some immediate savings, as we consider other cuts to our state budget.”

    The Secretary of the Senate listed the budgets on the official Senate webpage at You must then select the “Senators” link and the “Budgets” link will be posted on the bottom left hand corner. Anyone viewing the links will note that the individual Majority office budgets are approximately $100,000 more than the minority budgets, with the Senate Majority Leader’s office topping $760,000.

    Three quarters of a million dollars ?!? No wonder they want to divert attention to the Executive. And it's no wonder they can afford to have "advisors" tell them how bad they suck. And here I was, doing it for free for all that time. If they would just have listened to me years ago, we could have saved the taxpayers a lot of money.

    Michigan Republicans Need Study to Tell Them That They Suck

    You would think that after two consecutive crushing election cycles where they got their ass thoroughly kicked, coupled with a rapid defection of moderates and independents from the party that has brought them down to a 32% self-identified base, would indicate to some people that the message of extreme wingnut just isn't quite selling with the public anymore - but oh no, not our GOP here in Michigan. Seems they didn't have a clue. The "Grand Oblivious Party" actually needed a strategist to spell it out on paper for them - and apparently it has caused quite a stir amongst Senate Republicans.

    Now, are you really telling me that these people didn't know how unpopular they are? Really? Wow. OK. Are you sure we should alert them to this fact? Might be better to just let them stay asleep. But, since it's out there...

    Dennis Darnoi is a strategist for MDJ&R Strategy Consultants, and some unknown client had asked for this research. Parts of it were leaked to MIRS on Monday. Basically, it said the Republicans can't win in 2010 on gay bashing and tax cuts. Duh. Thought that was pretty evident to anyone that is remotely paying attention to the outside world, but it caused Nancy Cassis to make copies of the story and inform the other members of the caucus just how unpopular they really are.

    Miner refused comment on information MIRS received from other sources that the Darnoi report was the subject of a closed caucus. Copies of Monday's MIRS story were passed around by Sen. Nancy CASSIS (R-Novi) and the story's subject manner was discussed.

    Danori was on the Senate payroll as an advisor to Mike Bishop - until yesterday. According to MIRS, he and his $39,000 a year salary has been "scrubbed" due to a general housecleaning in the face of the budget deficit, and he is moving on to some position that has to do with Bishop's "future".

    Uh huh. Sounds like a lot of bullshit Lansing drama going on once again, and it's really not surprising to find Mike Bishop at the center of it. Starting to think the guy thrives on this stuff. Glad they have all this time to meet and talk about this; apparently the problems and real issues facing the state take a backseat to partisan studies that are done so far in advance they really don't have any relevance right now. Nice to know where the Senate Republican priorities are though. And here you thought the budget might carry a bit more weight at this time.

    Meanwhile, Skooby informs us yesterday that the Goopers have no intention of letting up on pushing the wingnut meme, and to that, we should give them a round of applause. If they are going to screw around with the budget issues, stall on identifying their "cuts" and "reforms", and obstruct progress on easy issues like the smoking ban, they should certainly stick to their guns and see if they can drive that base down even further. Right?

    The "new" state Republican Party recently sent out a survey to get a feel for the attitudes of the Michigan GOP rank and file. Nine of the twelve questions were so slanted that this "poll" can hardly be called an objective tool for measuring sentiment.

    Besides, the party could have saved the money, as it knows the answers to loaded questions such as: Do you agree that Americans want more socialism in government?

    Should bureaucrats in Washington be in charge of making your health care choices?

    Should Republicans unite to fight judicial nominees who bring a personal, left-wing agenda on social issues to their jobs?

    Or should we stop Democrats from cutting our intelligence agencies or bringing back Clinton-era restrictions on inter-agency communications?

    Geez if any good Republican can't get those questions right, they should be booted out of the party.

    You are so right, Tim. If they don't have foam-at-the-mouth reactions to socialism (wait, wasn't that supposed to be fascism now?), activist judges, and the word "Clinton", they have no business being a Michigan Republican. Pay no attention to these studies, people. Stay Bush, and things will work out just fine.

    For the rest of us.

    Six O'Clock News: Earth Day Edition

    Columbine Baby After the RainHas Earth Day become too commercial, causing green fatigue? Nah. Anything that gets people thinking "green" is a nice reminder, even if it is only the logos on NBC stations. Subliminal. It's all good.

  • Chrysler debuts an all-electric van in DC, a joint project with the Postal Service as the first electric fleet vehicle. No agreements are signed of yet, of course, with Chrysler being one week away from bankruptcy. Michigan officials from Rep. Gary Peters to Gov. Granholm are blasting the bankers latest offer to reduce debt as "unacceptable", the governor even sending letters to the big money people and setting up phone calls for further discussion...

    "Who knew when we were bailing out the banks we were setting them up to kill the auto industry,” Granholm said. “They need to think about the tens of thousands of workers whose lives hang in the balance because the banks want to get a better deal than what even the market will bear. It’s totally unacceptable.”

    President Obama was in Iowa today while American automakers were showing off their green cars in DC and meeting with members of Congress. The President reiterated his desire to see incentives for both automakers to produce and citizens to drive the "next generation of clean energy vehicles".

  • The DNews has a story on the greening of Detroit, and brings us this surprise: Detroit has jumped from 43rd to 31st in a ranking from SustainLane of cities that support the environment. Replacing blight with gardens and more pedestrian and bike friendly paths helped make the leap. Also from the story: Michigan has the third-most housing units that have been certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Be proud.

    LEED Building Eastown
  • Another LEED building is going up in the Eastown area of Grand Rapids as I type, replacing a building the blew up from a gas leak over a year ago. Bazzani Associates has either built or retrofitted all sorts of green buildings in the Grand Rapids area.

  • The AP features green collar job training at Lansing Community College for this story on the nation's unemployed turning to the alternative energy field for new careers. The recession has caused a slowdown in hiring, but with the recovery package focusing on energy efficiency and renewables, things are expected to pick back up shortly.

  • This day was made for Ann Arbor, with their collection of hard-core enviros and their 90% recycling rate and whatnot, so it's only natural (ha ha) that they are holding all sorts of meeting and discussions and celebrations through this week. Check the link for some cool activities.

  • Bay City needs to step up its 20% recycle rate, or they will have to raise general household refuse fees. Cheaper to recycle than dump, sayeth the city officials.

  • The K-zoo Gazette tells of one lady who used to drive around in her pick-up and collect items to recycle, hauling them to a center in Portage. That turned into Kalamazoo County's curbside recycling programs that run today.

  • Leave it to the Grand Rapids Press to focus on how local churches approach Earth Day and environmental causes. Yeah, we still got it, whatever it is.

    Go hug your trees. Happy Earth Day everyone.
  • Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    Windspire Turbines From Manistee, and Why Manufacturing Matters

    This video has been on my mind since I first saw it over a week ago now. The first two minutes features an explanation on stimulus grants, important in their own right, of course - but at 2:23 in the video, watch what happens when you get the governor going on the auto industry, loans from Washington, AIG, and the importance of manufacturing to the future of America...

    Um, holy sh*t. Tell us how you really feel, governor. It's rare to see her go off like that, but truer words cannot be spoken at this point.

    We need to manufacture stuff in this country. For all the reasons mentioned. Yes, we need to attract the "high education attainment" jobs that Michigan Prospect has shown to be gaining the most ground in the American economy, but we cannot totally give up manufacturing, not in this state, not in this country. Quite simply, we cannot trade one foreign energy dependence for another. Whether that is car batteries, or the means to produce the juice to heat and power our homes, and we won't even get into the weapons of defense, we must be able to make these things in America.

    And why not in Michigan. We have the people, we have the know-how, we have the facilities. Which brings us to yesterday, and the grand opening of the Mas Tech/Mariah Power Windspire turbine factory in Manistee. I purposely waited to post on this to see how the traditional media would play it. TV from Traverse City did, as well as the Manistee newspaper, but all it got statewide was a small blip in the AP. Nothing from Detroit, nothing from GR, except a brief mention on one TV station. It's a shame. Mas Tech has shown us how this can be done - from retrofitting a former auto parts plant, to hiring former auto workers/machinists, to using 98% Michigan materials that can be recycled, to this very, very important fact - it is cost competitive with China. Sven Gustafson got the pertinent quote a few weeks ago:

    Mariah signed a 5-year production contract with MasTech.

    "Basically it guarantees them a profit and a few other unique things - but it's clearly a partnership, because if I'm not producing the lowest-cost wind turbine, I'm in trouble," said Mike Hess, Mariah Power's CEO.

    "That means I now can be as cheap as they can make it in China. And that's a huge advantage for me, because I'm 98 percent made in the U.S.A., but I'm at the same cost as it is in China."

    And there it is. We can compete with Chinese production, if you can refine the process to keep costs in line - and Mas Tech has on this item. Does that mean lower wages? Unfortunately yes - but they are living wages for the area; $20 hr. for skilled labor and no lower than $12 hr., and the company picks up 90% of health care.

    The Windspire is a low-cost, revolutionary design that can provide 25% of a home's electrical power. 30 ft tall with a six foot concrete base, from what I understand it plugs right in to your existing power system. A woman in Bay City has a combo Windspire/solar array powering her home, and one story pointed out that the governor is going to get one installed at the Lansing residence. With a low cost of $6500 and the 30% federal credit, along with the energy savings they provide, these things will pay for themselves eventually.

    Back to the main point - here is a product that is Michigan made with Michigan materials, and it's not likely to be outsourced because it is cost competitive. It will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels nationwide, help save the environment, all while employing Michigan workers... can we do the same with car batteries, solar film production, commercial size wind turbines, and all that goes into the manufacturing of these things?

    Mas Tech has proven that we can, and that is what makes this one of the most important stories to hit this state in a long time. Watch the video from the Manistee grand opening here, and read the state release for more details on how this all came about. This is just the beginning, if we are smart enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

    It's too bad the traditional media didn't make more of this story - it is the one we need to tell, over and over again.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Six O'Clock News - Our Pal Arnold Edition

    My how things change. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, one-time critic of Detroit, now is calling for the feds to help out the domestic auto manufacturers.

    "Detroit is going to be back. ... We all need to help Detroit," Schwarzenegger told the Society of Automotive Engineers convention here. "Right now, they are going through some painful times."

    Schwarzenegger has converted two of his Hummers, one to biofuel and the other to hydrogen. Hey Arnie, could we interest you in buying the entire line? Give ya a good deal right about now.

  • On top of that news, it comes out today that GM will lay off 1,600 workers in the next few days to "ensure long term viability". 47,000 jobs are expected to be cut by year's end.

  • Some laid-off and/or bought-out autoworkers are taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, attending training and starting their own small businesses. The Detroit News features a few of those adventurous souls here. It's an incredible amount of work, but with the right idea...

  • Michigan stimulus news: Water projects in the state are set to receive a total of $236 million, $168.5 million will be used for wastewater treatment and $67.5 million for drinking water improvements. The DEQ reports that 25% of that money has not been earmarked; communities have until May 1st for drinking water, July 1st for wastewater, so get those applications in. The arts community is also receiving some funds; $345,100 from the National Endowment for the Arts, and $87,000 through Arts Midwest. May 15th is the deadline for applications there, see the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs site for more details.

  • The Freep wins a Pulitzer for its coverage of the Kilpatrick scandal. In a show of class, the DNews acknowledges the honor on their front page. Very nice, on both counts.

  • From the This Would Certainly Be Ironic Department: Rick DeVos, son of Dick and grandson of Rich, is planning a "a major initiative that will affect the city of Grand Rapids for years to come". Rumor has it that it may be a movie studio - Pomegranate Studios was registered with the state earlier this year under the RDV Corporation name. It may not, big secrecy involved so far... the announcement is set for Thursday morning.

  • Looking for Earth Day (this Wednesday!) activities in your community? The DEQ has an interactive web page that features some activities by region. Check out their Earth Day page to see some of the things they are doing with the schools. They give trees to kids and have them make posters and everything. Surprised Cropsey hasn't accused them of recruiting for ELF.

  • Lions reveal their new logo - eh. Drew Sharp was not impressed. Glad they didn't go all kiddie cartoonish (think Ravens - who at one time had a cool bird that they ditched for the stupid one they have now). You can check out the new look at the Lions store. I'm waiting on the draft myself.
  • Bishop Admits That He Will Continue Obstruction on Drug Company Immunity Bills

    Looks like this one goes on the back-burner until we can take back the Senate in 2010. Mike Bishop will not address this issue, facts and budget and people who have been hurt by medication be damned. The GR Press today takes a look at one lady who wants to sue Ortho-McNeil-Jansen Pharmaceuticals after she learned on the internet that the company had been forced to issue a "black box warning" for side-effects from their anti-biotic Levaquin, which had been given to her after her knee surgery. She had no idea that the drug carried a higher risk of joint pain and ruptured tendons for patients over 60 - and neither did anyone else apparently, until the group Public Citizen sued the USDA to require the company carry the warning. In pain, she turned to the law for help.

    The kicker here? She is someone that believes in the "frivolous lawsuits" Republican talking point designed to take out the trial lawyers.

    She talked to a lawyer about suing the drug maker, Ortho-McNeil-Jansen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, but was told a 1996 Michigan law prohibited it unless she could prove the company had committed fraud, bribery or withheld information from the FDA.

    "Frivolous lawsuits have ruined this country," said Luckhurst, a self-described Republican leaning toward Libertarian. "This isn't frivolous."

    Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, said Michigan's immunity law is the most restrictive in the nation.

    "Anyone who sees there is no other state with a law like Michigan's must conclude either all the other 49 states are wrong or Michigan is wrong," he said. "I think it's the latter."

    Cue the obstruction, and this time it comes directly from the obstructor himself.

    "There are some things I have to be a stopper for," he said. "I don't have any intention of taking this issue up."

    Just the kind of talk you want to hear from a potential candidate for Attorney General, isn't it? If he won't consider this as a legislator based on his partisan leanings, how can you trust him in higher office to protect the citizens of Michigan?

    And - would the Senate Majority Leader care to list the other "things" that "he has to be a stopper for"? We can take a pretty good guess based on experience, but it might be nice if Bishop would just provide those "things" upfront so we know what to put on the ballot proposal. In the interest of saving time and all.

    Bishop admits it's all about the trial lawyers.

    The effort to repeal the immunity law "is pure politics of the worst kind," Bishop charged, adding that trial lawyers have "commandeered the Democratic Party."

    Since one-third of the House Republicans voted to repeal the law when it came around in '07, must be they have infiltrated the GOP as well. Pretty obvious who is playing "politics" here - it's the guy who keeps repeating the blatantly partisan talking point.

    The Senate Dems released an interesting statement from Gretchen Whitmer last week; a repeal of our one-of-a-kind law would help our budget deficit and also bring relief to business and insurance companies who currently have to pick up the tab from the damage these drugs create.

    Evidence provided to the House of Representatives before they passed their version of the repeal estimates the cost to Michigan for medical care, Medicaid reimbursement, and liability for overcharges for later-recalled drugs reach into in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Texas and New York, both states also dealing with severe budget shortfalls, were allowed to pursue drug makers to reimburse taxpayers for Medicaid costs of fraud and overpricing.

    Because the drug industry immunity law prohibits recovery from the makers of deadly drugs, Michigan businesses like local insurance carriers, and local governments such as self-insured municipalities as well as the state are forced to incur those losses instead. All 49 other states and their local insurance carriers and local governments are free to collect reimbursements from the makers of drugs that injure and kill.

    To sum it up, Mike Bishop doesn't care that Michigan citizens suffer, and wants the taxpayers to foot the bill for it, too.

    What a guy.

    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    Grand Rapids Chalk Flood 2009

    30,000 pieces of chalk. The downtown city sidewalks are your canvas. Go. Create. Write, draw, color whatever you want, any way you want it. Thousands of people, on a beautiful sunny day in April, journeyed to the center of Grand Rapids to put their mark on the city.

    And oh, the marks they made, they were beautiful. Lots of flowers. The Sun. The Earth. Beatles lyrics were big. "Love Wins". Hope. Peace. Slogans that made you laugh, slogans that made you think. Designs around the planted trees in the sidewalks, on the manhole covers, even in the streets themselves in a few places; circles, squares, lines, in all the colors of the rainbow. Sports teams; the Red Wings here and there. Local pro teams. Local high schools. The U of M more than once. Yes, there were many rainbows, hearts, mythical creatures like dragons and unicorns and mermaids, balloons, cartoons, everything from the drawings of children holding these big pieces chalk in their tiny hands that would be like a small tree trunk to an adult, to the college artists who brought their own rainbow in slim, sharpened sticks, the tools of their classes. Some worked with stencils, others brought a picture from a book to recreate, but most just used their imagination.

    Young, old, black, white, brown, rich, middle-class, and some of downtown's homeless, too - all had that determined look that comes with artistic creation as they drew, lost in what I call "The Zone", bent over their work in the warm sun, and all ended with a smile when their art was complete, showing their friends, taking a picture, and then moving on to the next blank cement canvas down the block. Music emanated from the speakers placed at Rosa Parks Circle, vendors sold food and drinks both outside and in. Crowded, but still comfortable, as everyone just enjoyed the day.

    Now, if you live in the media/internet world like I do, you would think that current events would be on people's minds. The economy, for the most part, right? Unemployment, foreclosures, taxes, "socialism", on and on and on and on... what would these people create, left to their own devices, with all this free chalk? I wondered. The organizer of the event, Rob Bliss, had asked that politics and religion and "offensive" things be left out of this, but it's not like anyone was going to stop you from drawing those things if you wanted. And to be sure, a few items did slip in here and there. Jesus made it onto the pavement in a few places, Obama put in an appearance, a "Fox News" logo in a red circle with a slash, but interestingly enough, nothing about taxes or ACORN, that I saw anyway. Out of the thousands of pieces of artwork and graffiti that covered the sidewalks for blocks - positive, healthy, happy, loving, and downright pretty won the day.

    And after some of the things I read and saw earlier in the week, this almost brought me to tears a couple times, when I stopped, really stopped to think, about the difference in feeling, in sentiment, in the whole vibration of the event. Something like this can really restore your soul.

    Simply beautiful. Thank you, Grand Rapids.

    GRAND RAPIDS -- Downtown flooded Saturday without a drop of rain or a dam bursting. Instead, sidewalks were awash with color as thousands of children, college students, adults and senior citizens descended on a sunny, warm central city for the first-ever Grand Rapids Chalk Flood, a free event organized by 20-year-old Rob Bliss.

    "I'm really happy. It's such a beautiful day, easily the best day in all of April," said Bliss, as artists of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors were spilling over from Rosa Parks Circle on to sidewalks throughout downtown.

    Dozens of boxes of thick, pastel sidewalk chalk sticks were being cracked open, the contents, purchased with private donor funds, distributed free to all who came. By day's end much of the stock of 30,000 sticks had been worn down to tiny chips and nubs.

    The result was several downtown blocks decorated with what may be the largest single-medium instant art display this city has ever seen -- at times beautiful, sometimes hilarious, always colorful.

    The Press story has a few YouTube videos, and if you want to see all 71 pictures at once, click here. Rob Bliss plans to hold more "urban experiments" in the future, can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Butterflies Are Blooming

    Here are some butterflies for your nice spring day. This is from the Meijer Gardens "Butterflies Are Blooming" event they hold every year - it is running through the end of April, so if you have a chance, come on over and see the show. If not, enjoy the pictures, and make sure you put it on the calendar for next year!

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Cassis Praises Film Studio That Granholm Brought to Michigan

    Get a load of this. Cassis is happy that Unity Studios is coming to Allen Park, but she refuses to acknowledge what brought the studio here, instead giving all the credit to studio head Jimmy Lifton.

    “This is one of the most exciting developments in recent years,” said Cassis, R-Novi. “It’s a tribute to the commitment, perseverance, and enthusiasm of Jimmy Lifton. He demonstrates the impact that one person with a clear vision can have on our economy.”

    Who's vision Nancy? That one person this time was Jennifer Granholm - and if you want to get real technical, the biggest push came from Republican Bill Huizenga, and this actually started many years ago. Back in 2004, the West Michigan Film Video Alliance formed to promote Michigan's movie potential. After "The Road to Perdition" and "8 Mile" were shot in the state, people began to sit up and take notice of the money and jobs that accompanied production. By September 17th of 2005, an editorial in the GR Press endorsed the idea - with the tax incentives of places like Canada, Louisana, and New Mexico already set as our target.

    Once Michigan's incentive package is in place, we can take the next steps to creating a thriving industry here. We invite regional economic leaders to work with us to create unique incentives and a marketing plan to promote West Michigan to filmmakers and commercial advertising agencies.

    By October of 2005, Huizenga was proposing that film would receive 100% credit on SBT sales tax on budgets of over a quarter of a million, with a graduated break for smaller budgets, and they would also receive a rebate of 30% on top of that. The Michigan Film Office started to get more involved at promoting the idea, as did other legislators, Democrats from the Detroit area according to press reports. By July of 2006, a bill had passed the House, but was stalled in the Senate (surprise!), due to "some legislators" who "preferred general tax cuts". Tick, tick, tick, went the clock - it was an election year after all, and we couldn't have anything good happen under the watchful eye of Dick DeVos, could we? - and the bills finally passed in the lame duck at the end of 2006, with Cassis complaining all the way.

    In the end, the Senate wasted over a year of our time with their obstruction, and they cost us jobs and investment. They finally relented after they had their hat handed to them in the election. In 2007, we saw some films shot here, and a new film studio open in Holland, but by then we had a problem. From the Detroit News, Jan. 3, 2008:

    But Michigan's plan wasn't adopted until several years after it was designed -- allowing at least a dozen states to leapfrog Michigan with better offers, said Bob Brown, a movie producer and member of the Michigan Film Advisory Commission.

    "We were late to the party and by the time the package got signed into law, it was no longer competitive," he said.

    Now we know who was responsible for that. Realizing that we had a hit on our hands but we needed to be more competitive, the governor turned up the heat, and pushed for the higher incentives that would beat everyone in the country. In the 2008 State of the State Address, as part of a "Michigan economic stimulus", Granholm called for a 40% credit, and it passed a few months after.

    Which brings us back to today, and Unity Studios. Cassis wants to avoid reality of what really landed this project, and instead focus on her push to lower the credit - but balance that with some populism by insisting that firms hire 90% Michigan workers, and add bigger breaks for "infrastructure". Fortunately the Detroit News puts that one to rest immediately.

    Sources said Michigan's aggressive tax credit policy for moviemakers -- which provides a refundable 42 percent break -- was key in landing the Unity Studios project. Because state law provides the biggest credit for in-state workers, having a steady stable of Michiganians already employed at the facility opens the door for production companies to get the big tax breaks.

    The Freep has Bob Ficano on record as saying "the project stems directly from the film incentives Michigan enacted last year".

    Last year. Maybe Senator Cassis should now acknowledge that it was Governor Granholm who was instrumental at bringing this particular studio to Michigan. She would, if she were an honest human being, but that is probably expecting a little too much from people who live to thwart progress in this state.

    MIRS reported yesterday that Jud Gilbert is backing off the effort to reduce our incentives, acknowledging that they don't have the support - but he threatens that it will be back and used as a weapon if the economy continues to slide. In the meantime, perhaps the Senate Republicans should stop making these threats, because they have cost us even more jobs. Today, it comes out that the talk of reducing our credits has scared away business. Three industry professionals talk to the Michigan Business Review, and Jeff Spilman, managing partner at S3 Entertainment Group in Ferndale, tells it like it is.

    Even the suggestion of a cap sends a chilling effect to Hollywood, Spilman said. Three productions planning to come to Michigan immediately pulled out of the state at the introduction of a similar bill last year, he said. That meant a loss of 450 jobs. Additionally, with a $50 million cap, nobody is going to build infrastructure for the industry, and with infrastructure comes permanent jobs.

    Senate Republicans are bad for business, and Cassis obviously is more interested in partisan games than she is at creating a vibrant industry in this state. She does, however, make an excellent argument for term limits - she can't hit the door fast enough.

    Six O'Clock News - History in the Making Edition

  • Sven Gustafson has another great piece on the advanced battery news and the implications it has for the state of Michigan. Reporters who don't focus on partisan issues have gone giddy over this move in the past couple of days, looking at both the possibilities and the downfalls of the new technology. CNN/Fortune magazine warns that a "handful of companies that end up controlling the battery industry will also control the car industry", and that Asian technology already has a head start. Dow expects a decision in mid-May on the location of its new plant, and the Holland Sentinel is still gushing about the work that will be done at Johnson Controls. Why, even Jack was impressed with both this and the movie studio news. So there you go.

  • High speed rail was on the Obama agenda today, a Chicago corridor that would serve Detroit being one of ten regional projects across the country designed to get America caught up with the rest of the civilized world. Besides the obvious job benefits, wouldn't it be nice to get some cars off of I-94?

  • Leon Drolet confirms in yesterday's MIRS that he is running for Alan Sanborn's Senate seat in 2010. Boy, for a guy who hates government, he sure can't seem to get enough of it in the form of a paycheck and benefits from himself, can he. Interesting, that. Questions abound: Will the man who so hates government spending offer his services for free? Will the people of the district be able to tell him apart from Sanborn? Will they let him park the pig on the grounds of the Capitol every day? Stay tuned.

  • The Michigan Militia is still out there, and they are still blaming government for all their problems. Go Galt already. Take Leon with you.

  • John Engler is still an asshole, and he blames Granholm (not by name because he's a coward, but you know who he means) for all Michigan's problems. You can go Galt, too, Big John. Don't see any monuments to your stellar "leadership" being proposed by anyone.

  • Grand Rapids is preparing for a Chalk Flood this Saturday. Organizer Rob Bliss has enlisted 5,000 Facebook friends to come downtown and draw on the sidewalks - no defacing public property with paint or anything, please, just sidewalk chalk in the area around Rosa Parks Circle. Bliss has done things like this before, organizing a "Zombie Walk" and a mass pillow fight last year. 30,000 pieces of chalk are being donated by local colleges for the event.

  • Finishing up with some wind energy news: According to the BC Enquirer/American Wind Energy Association, Michigan's wind industry is among the fastest growing in the nation. Looking at the chart in the report, apparently we were second only to Indiana by a lousy 3.5 MW in commercial development. Doh! Hate it when that happens. Iowa has surged past California for second place overall. 35,000 jobs were added nationwide last year.
  • Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Fun With Wingnuts

    Sign, sign, everywhere a sign... here are some of the fun and not so fun signs from the people who came out today to protest their tax cut. Most of these are from GR, there area a few from Lansing mixed in.

    ACORN is a big hit. "I Beseech to Impeach" comes straight out of the McCotter Fan Club, I bet. Abortion is OK, in one instance. Socialism was everyone's mind, and on a lot of the signs. I took the picture of the Beck sign thinking, "I'll have to read this when I get home". You'll see, although you might have to pause the slideshow at that point. "I Teabagged Obama" was... um... interesting, but I think my favorite is "Kiss My Tax Credit". Made me laugh. And I'm not sure how that picture of today's GR Press slipped in there...

    I do have one picture that shows extreme violence being done to two Democratic officials from Michigan. I've been going back and forth all day on whether to publish it or not. Part of me wants to, just to shed light on some of the violent imagery and rhetoric that is coming out of a certain faction of people on the right, but another part of me says, "don't feed teh crazy". It's pretty bad.

    In the end, I decided against it. Most of these signs are kind of funny; let's stick with that.

    For now.

    Teabaggers: Just a Few Years Late to the Party

    Nary a peep from all these "patriots" back when the real thieves were robbing the bank. This comes from the most excellent Meteor Blades, written Jan. 6th of this year, well before today's sore loser protest of "government spending". Go read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did.

    Where were those clarion warning voices during the eight years Mister Bush and his cronies were adding $5 trillion to the national debt, $1 trillion of it a direct consequence of tax cuts for the rich?

    I won't make you Google for the answer. They were in the same place they and their predecessors were when Ronald Reagan more than doubled the national debt during his eight years in office. Reagan talked a good game. His performance was something else. Just like today's nauseating Republicans. A large stimulus bill is "a horrible mistake," South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford said Sunday on CNN’s "Late Edition," with "dire consequences" for the dollar, inflation and the national debt. Now that we're in the midst of what could very well the worst economic downward spiral in 75 years, deficit spending is suddenly horrible.

    Yes, for all those that want to complain about "generational theft" and can't quite comprehend what has happened without pictures, the Congressional Budget Office has a nifty little pie chart to show you were all the money went when the Bush Republicans were in charge.

    So, where are all those great things that "tax cuts" were supposed to bring? Probably down in the Caymans. Bet folks like DeVos and Cheney are just laughing at the idiots out there today; after all, they made out like bandits from "tax cuts", and they got away with the lie that it would trickle down to their followers. Ha ha, joke is on us.

    And still, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see...

    So that $10.8 trillion that Cheney-Bush are leaving us with is not double what it was in 2001. Merely a 62% increase. In eight years. In fact, using inflation-adjusted dollars, in the past 28 years, the national debt has risen $800 billion during Democratic administrations, and a whopping $7.5 trillion during Republican administrations. Or, looked at another way, it's risen $100 billion a year during Democratic presidencies and $375 billion during Republican administrations. In the Cheney-Bush administration, it has averaged $500 billion a year.

    ... and denial is a very powerful thing indeed.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Six O'Clock News: Michigan, The Battery State

  • Big car battery announcement today - four, count 'em four, companies will receive tax credits to build car batteries in this state. Over 6,600 direct jobs and $1.7 billion in research and manufacturing facilities for us, yea! The one that came as a surprise to West Michigan was Johnson Controls, who had recently announced major downsizing that had everyone nervous, so Holland is happy tonight. Here are the four, from the Freep:

    • Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions LLC. It will supply batteries to Ford from facilities in Holland.

    • LG Chem-Compact Power. The company is developing batteries for Chevrolet.

    • KD Advanced Battery Group LLC, a joint venture with Dow Chemical Co. to build an 800,000-square-foot plant to make batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles.

    • A123Systems Inc. It will build a plant in Livonia to make rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for Chrysler Corp.

    Unity Studios, the new TV/film production center in Allen Park, also held their official announcement today - the DNews has a good story about them. Altogether, Governor Granholm and MEDC announced 14 projects will create over 7,700 new jobs and bring over $2B in investment to Michigan - you can see the total list here.

  • WWJ reporter Jeff Gilbert got to test drive a Chevy Cruze with Volt technology (basically a Volt with a Cruze body), and he liked it. Check out the video to see what he had to say.

  • The Bay City Times is the latest paper to make the plea to lawmakers to leave the film credits alone.

  • DeVos Heliport Update: The Ada township board has put off a voter referendum on personal helicopters until August of 2010. This means that Dick is free to do as he pleases, and even if the referendum passes, it would still be up to the board to decide whether to change the ordinance. Moral of the story: Buy your own township board. While we are in the area of the Dick, it should be noted that Amway will hold a series of concerts celebrating its 50th anniversary, performers will include Sting, Wynton Marsalis and LeAnn Rimes. The public need not apply, the celebration is for distributors and top-level executives only.

  • A new Lions logo will be unveiled on April 20th, with stuff for sale on their website soon after. Don't everybody log in at once!

  • Michigan state employees overpaid? Not so, says a new study that finds they are at average or falling behind their peers in other states. Interesting fact from the article: According to the state Civil Service Commission, the number of employees has dropped 15.2 percent, from 62,057 to 52,600, since 2001. Hey, wait a minute, I thought someone said that government was growing...
  • Monday, April 13, 2009

    More Budget Cuts = Back Door Tax Increases

    You say you want more state budget cuts? We are scraping the bottom of the barrel as it is, as evidenced by the proposed state cuts to the Poison Control Centers in GR and Detroit. The state only provides a portion of the funding to the centers; the feds, the hospitals, and charity pick up the rest, and you get the impression this is one of those things that we are hoping will be covered somehow so we can keep it going (think feds and the wetlands protection). But, chances are you will pay for this cut, one way or another. Here is how it works in GR:

    The Poison Control Center at DeVos Children's Hospital has an operating budget of $1.4 million, and 17 percent of it -- $250,000 -- is an annual subsidy from the state of Michigan, according to the Spectrum Health statement. Another 21 percent of the funding comes from the federal government and 3 percent is support from the United Way.

    But the majority of the center's funding -- roughly 60 percent -- comes from DeVos Children's Hospital itself and the Spectrum Health spokesman, Bruce Rossman, said the possible state funding cut would force the children's hospital's patients to subsidize the poison center.

    Pay a little now, or pay a lot later. This is happening in nearly every facet of public life. Cuts to schools, roads, public safety, environment, health care, all of it - will come back to bite us somehow. Remember this the next time some state Republican insists on "more cuts", and yet won't tell you exactly what it is they would cut. Reason why? There is nowhere left to go where you won't end up paying eventually, or that some group isn't going to scream their head off about, because they all have done that so far. When you hear "we have to cut government waste and tackle reforms" from a Republican mouthpiece or any of these "citizens" at their sore-loser teabagging parties, just translate that into "we don't have any real ideas and are just wasting your oxygen and time when we talk". Makes it easier on your head.

    That being said, we still are in some really deep water on the budget, and we are looking at more cuts no matter how we play this. The stimulus will not cover the deficit...

    The state budget situation is so bad that every dime of federal recovery money could be used to patch holes in the budget, and significant cuts would still have to be made, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said today.

    "Suffice to say ... we have not seen an uptick in the sales tax, the income tax, the property tax or the business tax," Granholm said during a news conference at the State Capitol.

    State tax receipts have been coming in at least $100 million a month short of projections made in January due to the anemic economy. Legislative leaders will huddle with the state budget director Thursday to discuss the budget in detail, the governor said.

    ... and we have yet to see the Republicans put up their ideas for nearly $2 billion (or more) in cuts that they are insisting on.

    Cuts to the poison centers are going to be the least of our troubles. Get ready for an interesting year.

    Six O'Clock News - Get Your Earned Income Tax Credit Edition

  • Do your taxes yet? For those who have procrastinated, here is a reminder about filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit. See if you qualify; it might just put hundreds to thousands of $$ in your hand so you can put it back into the economy. Or, whatever else you might want to use it for. The Lt. Gov. takes the case to the Detroit News -

    The earned income credit is aimed at single people who make less than $12,880 and families with at least two kids earning less than $41,646. But many Michigan residents miss out on the credit, to the tune of more than $300 million a year. That's money that could help not only individuals and families, but also the state economy.

    "We leave plenty of federal dollars on the table," said Lt. Gov. John Cherry, at a recent event highlighting the earned income credit. "We need to think of this as our own economic stimulus. It won't go to Wall Street bankers, it will go right to your neighbor here in Michigan."

    600,000 Michigan residents miss out on this each year. $1.4 billion came to the Michigan economy in '07 from this credit, and that's no chump change. Check at the IRS site to see if you qualify, and don't forget the state credit as well. Happy returns!

  • The ban on tobacco in prisons has gone down without any major complications, and with an estimated 40 to 50 percent of inmates who smoke (well over the general average), if there were going to be problems, that was the place they were going to be. My local ballpark just banned it within the stadium gates, and that wasn't an issue, either. So, what's the holdup with the legislature?

  • More state quarters! A new series that "will mark a national park or other significant historic or geographic location in each state" as well as the territories starts in 2010. Michigan has selected the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore as our first choice, with three others listed as backups. Tim Geithner makes the final determination, so perhaps they will all feature major state banks by the time he is done. (joking! sort of.)

  • The turkeys have staged a rebellion in Grand Haven, ganging up on mail carriers and attacking as they leave their trucks. "Aggressive" feral swine are still a growing problem as well. You won't see that in any Pure Michigan commercial.

  • The 2000th federal transportation stimulus project was right here on I-94 in Portage, so we got some WH props today on that. Officials say competition is so heavy for these projects that it is driving down costs by 15% to 20% nationwide, so most are coming in under budget and on time.

  • Wind energy makes the news again in Michigan; one company starts hiring, and more are on the way. Global Wind Systems in Novi will hire 250 people for Michigan's "first manufacturer of delivery-ready, large-scale wind turbines". These are the big boys, 74 tons, for the commercial wind farms. Global does the final assembly. As far as future considerations, Dan Radomski of Detroit's NextEnergy is lining up suppliers with manufacturers to meet the growing demand; in the past 30 months, NextEnergy has landed $370 million in contracts for Michigan manufacturers, with $3 billion more up for bid shortly.

  • And finally, a follow-up on the plea for the Obama administration to put some heat on the bankers when it comes to automaker debt. According to the WSJ, it is happening.

    The federal government is taking an increasingly hard line with the creditors of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, trying to squeeze billions of dollars in concessions out of banks, bondholders and others.

    In both cases, the U.S. is directly and not-so-directly managing negotiations for the car companies as they prepare for what could be Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings.

    Read the whole thing for details. Word comes today that the Treasury is telling GM to prepare for bankruptcy. The governor called this a "game of chicken" on CNBC this afternoon... stay tuned. Looks like this will go down to the wire.