Sunday, May 31, 2009

Finley Afraid Republicans Can't Win

Poor Nolan. Saddled with a failing newspaper and a failed political party and philosophy, all he can do nowadays is cling to the failed strategy of trying to blame Granholm and "Big Labor" for all the state's problems, desperately trying to convince himself and anyone who still bothers to listen to him that the Republican Party does have relevance, yes it really does, darn it, if only somehow they could sell the idea that they deserve to be elected simply because "Granholm sucks".

Today's column, so out-of-touch and inappropriate seeing as how it's coming on the eve of one of the biggest events in Michigan's history, finds Finley trying to deliver a little payback for an incident that happened up at Mackinac. Seems that a session led by Nolan on "accountability", turned into a session on "blame", as the panelists fell into that increasingly boring and pointless sport of pointing the finger at the Governor for all our woes. Scapegoating is easy; looking in the mirror for your own "accountability" turns out to be a bit more difficult. One wonders if they realized that Dan Mulhern was in the audience when they started down that road. Dan stood up to point out that Michigan residents are "tired of conflict and negative talk", and he touched a nerve when he questioned why Finley was running the panel when the Detroit News wasn't faring all that well in the great newspaper demise of the past few years.

Crain's has the story on the exchange, Crain's tweets were a bit more revealing though.

#mpc Mulhern to N. Finley: "Ironic that you are running this show when you are on a ship that has been sinking for years." Again. OH SNAP.

#mpc Finley to Mulhern: "If I’m sinking, you are the captain." Huh? Does Dan Mulhern own a newspaper? I think Finley missed the point...

#mpc Nolan Finley just got booed and hissed by the crowd after saying Granholm had taken no action in six years. This session is on FIRE!!

Dan does have a point. The Detroit News has fallen a lot farther than the Freep under Nolan's direction, tumbling 15 places from #34 to #49 out of the top 100 newspapers from 2004 - 08 (the Freep went from #18 to #22). And, this was a crowd that was anti-Granholm, so you know that Nolan must have made himself out the villain somehow. Good show. That, in itself, was very telling of how the wingnut bashing of Granholm will fail (again) - but when you look at the reality of the Republican party and its declared gubernatorial candidates, it's really all they have. Finley tries to grasp at straws today, playing up the so-called Democratic "fears" about Cherry that are looking more and more like a Republican attempt at a wedge, as he conveniently ignores the unpopularity and lack of coherent message coming from his own party. He trots out these Republican candidates as if they were to be revered as the possible saviors of Michigan...

At least five Republicans who are openly exploring a run for governor in 2010 were on the island for the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual powwow. The Republican menu includes Attorney General Mike Cox, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, state Sen. Tom George, Congressman Pete Hoekstra and retired computer mogul Rick Synder.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard was also working the island, for reasons unstated. Dominos Pizza CEO David Brandon says he thinks about the job every day, but dreads a grueling campaign. John Rakolta, chairman of Walbridge Aldinger, perked ears by not denying his gubernatorial ambitions on WJR's Paul W. Smith show.

Are you in awe yet? Are you? Let's take a closer look at the list, shall we? Nolan really doesn’t want you to; if you notice, he never says what is positive or different about this group or how they would be better at this job, he trots them out and leaves them there to continue with his attack on Cherry. Let’s add it up for him. We have Mike "More Tax Cuts and No Way to Pay For Them" Cox, Terri "Can't Start A Fire With A Can of Gasoline and a Blowtorch" Lynn Land, Pete "Really Not A West-Side Flip-Flopping GOP Congressman, Honest" Hoekstra, Rick "Another Rich Guy With A Record for Outsourcing" Snyder, Mike "Can't Decide Where and How to Lose Next" Bouchard, David "No One Knows Who I Am" Brandon, and John "Hope They Don't Remember the Hitler Ads" Rakolta.

Wow. And those links come without much effort. Barely scratching the surface shows that the Republicans themselves are in deep trouble with this crop, and that was also evidenced by the so-called "debate" they held at Mackinac. No new ideas on where they would lead the state, these guys were all over the board on party message, even when they were simply mouthing the same tired and shallow talking points about "taxes" and "reform". There was nothing there. And the only thing they had in common was to bash Granholm some more, probably because they don't dare bash the very popular Obama at this point.

When you add that to a deeply unpopular national Republican Party that continues to trend downward in voter identification as they look to shock jock radio hosts for "leadership" in the need to please the only base they have left, the base that continues to tout purity and drive those desperately needed moderates from their ranks, well, you can see why Finley refuses to look for accountability within his own party. It's a pretty desolate and lonely place.

The great untold story about the conference were the underlying themes that presented themselves. When you get past the political nonsense, what really came out of Mackinac? What were the exciting ideas and solutions that has people talking about the future, causing business leaders to be generally optimistic in these dark and troubled times? Alternative energy and the new hybrid/electric auto industry. The rapidly growing film industry. Diversifying the economy into health care and other areas that require innovation and entrepreneurship. Keeping young professionals here.

In other words, Granholm's ideas.

The leadership poll conducted by John Bailey & Associates makes you question how we can hold that the governance of this state is so poor, while the the ideas that originated with that governance are so strong that they generate this kind of optimism.

  • When asked to look ahead at the next five years, respondents felt positive that Michigan’s business climate will be stronger. At 70 percent, the 2009 numbers are slightly higher than the 2008 results.

  • 73 percent of respondents think the state’s efforts to attract more businesses in alternative energy sectors will help diversify the state’s economy. (14 percent
    disagree and 13 percent “aren’t sure.”)

  • 67 percent agree that Michigan’s new film tax credits will help diversify the state’s economy. (20 percent disagreed and 13 percent “weren’t sure.”)

  • Other results: Michigan is viewed as a "3" or below as a "good place to do business", and road funding solutions are all over the place, the government should control the stimulus money over business, and Cherry actually leads the pack of declared candidates, but most are still undecided. So, there are areas to work on here, but the main ideas that cause a sense of optimism for this state are themes that the current Democratic leadership has championed, and, for political implications alone, ideas that the Republicans fought against every step of the way. We would do best to remind people of that every chance we get.

    Long story short - Granholm's ideas are winners, even as she is taking the fall for the state’s economy in a general way. You will see people like Finley try to divert your attention from the truth in those ideas, in their quest to bring the Bush Republicans back to power. Don’t fall for it.

    Never underestimate the Democrats ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory though. If they don't stand up and point out when Republicans are stealing these ideas and at the same time trying to shift the blame on the current leadership for the unstoppable downfall of the auto industry, Finley and his extreme right wing masters just might be successful with this wedge. It's doubtful, but still something that needs to be addressed with the correct framing as this progresses. 2010 is a long way away, and there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge between now and then, but a solid offense started now can blow right through the tissue-thin protests of the Michigan Republicans and their whining mouthpieces like Finley.

    Perhaps we should keep baiting them as well. It's tempting to chastise Mulhern for playing in the political gutter (seriously dude, it's beneath you), but anything that keeps these guys shooting themselves in the foot might be a good thing. "Granholm sucks" is not a winning strategy; the people need to feel like the next governor will continue to work towards a better future, and keep following these ideas and solutions that bring such optimism now. "Hope" still works in our favor.

    As of right now, that path is best exemplified by John Cherry and the Democrats - a fact that drives Nolan absolutely nuts. You almost feel sorry for him.


    Saturday, May 30, 2009

    Plant a Tree in a Michigan State Park

    Click here to plant a tree in a Michigan state park. Hat tip to the Bay City Times.

    Odwalla, billed as a "natural health beverage company," is donating $100,000 worth of trees to be planted in state parks in Michigan, California, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah, Ohio, Texas, Maryland and Virginia.
    You can go online to to choose the state park system where you'd like a tree to be planted.

    The trees will be used to support reforestation and planting initiatives across the country, company officials said in a news release.

    No registration required, just a start button click and a drop down menu to choose your state.

    Friday, May 29, 2009

    Mackinac Center's Jack McHugh on the "Ignorant Masses"

    Hey Michigan. Did you know that the Mackinac Center thinks you are the "ignorant masses"? Jack McHugh had some select words for Tim Skubick's column today; just thought I'd drag them out for everyone's consumption, see what y'all think. Good to know where we, the public, really stand with the "enlightened ones" at the Mac - but don't feel bad, he condescends to Skubick as well.

    Tim talks about the fact that candidates for governor are going to say the usual things that they always say... and he's more than a bit cynical (and maybe bored) with it. Aren't we all?

    But when they come calling, ask them for specifics. “What can you do to turn the economy around?”

    And when they launch into their “we will cut business taxes bla, bla, bla,” call for a time out.

    If cutting taxes were the answer, how come former Gov. John Engler’s $2-billion in tax cuts did not insulate the state from an eight-year recession?

    When they can’t answer that, they will launch into turning the economy around by eliminating all the bureaucratic red tape in Lansing.

    Take this to the bank: even if there were not a stitch of red tape left, that would not work either. If no one wants to create jobs, red tape is a moot issue.

    Next they will harp about knowing how to work with business, and those ties would send the jobless rate plummeting.


    Never fear. McHugh comes down from Mount Arrogant in a comment to bring us the gospel according to The Extremes That Are Unelectable Simply Because We Are Stupid. The magic elixir for Michigan's economy? Less taxes, less regulation, less pay for you, the worker.

    You know, just like the Bush Years. That worked so well, didn't it?

    That’s it. That’s all they - we - have to do. Note that to make it happen will require things that you and most Dome readers will hate and declare to be “politically impossible,” including major reductions in taxes, government spending and regulatory burdens. Adult supervision at DEQ. Perhaps a Right-to-Work law.

    Not more Jeff Daniels ads. Not more MEGA tax breaks or cash subsidies to the politically sexy industries du jour. Not more borrowing against cigarette lawsuit revenue to buy more Pure Michigan ads. All that stuff is eyewash for the ignorant masses (and/or payoffs to politically well connected “rent-seekers”), and everyone reading this publication knows it or should know it.

    As if the Mac Center didn't take "payoffs" from the "politically connected". Or those that want to be, if only they didn't have such arrogance speaking for their ideas.

    Go ahead, call the public "stupid" some more. See how far that gets ya. We will all be socialists before you know it.

    US Small Wind Turbine Market Grows 78% in 2008

    The AWEA comes out with some timely info this morning. Someone send this to T Boone. I hear he is looking for places to invest.

    The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reports that the U.S. market for small wind turbines – those with capacities of 100 kilowatts (kW) and less – grew 78% in 2008, with a total of 17.3 megawatts (MW) of new installed capacity, offering new evidence that consumer demand for clean energy options is on the rise.

    And the most important point - who made them? We made them. Well, about half of them anyway, but we are talking worldwide production. That is saying something given the competition of cheap foreign labor.

    U.S. manufacturers sold about half of all small wind turbines installed worldwide last year. U.S. market share amounted to $77 million of the $156 million global total. (Worldwide, about 38.7 MW of new small wind capacity was installed in 2008.)

    Growth in the small wind sector is largely attributable to increased private investment that has allowed manufacturing volumes to increase, particularly for the commercial segment of the market (systems 21-100 kW). The still-largest segment of the market, residential (1-10 kW), was likewise driven by investment and manufacturing economies of scale, but also rising residential electricity prices and a heightened public awareness of the technology and its attributes.

    And for the future? Predictions on sales, even in this global recession, are phenomenal. Can you think of another industry at this time, besides bankruptcy law firms and lawyers, that will forecast this sort of growth?

    The study included a poll of small wind manufacturers, who project a 30-fold growth in the U.S. small wind market within as little as five years, despite a global recession. Much of this estimated growth will be spurred by the new eight-year 30% federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) passed by Congress in October 2008 and augmented in February 2009.

    And if we get a national RPS (or RES) - look out.

    Ignore this segment of the economy at your own peril. If and when the credit markets loosen up and investors get a line on some $$ - this is definitely the place to be, big and small wind production both.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009

    Why Do Republicans Hate Alternative Energy Job Creation in Michigan?

    Watching the tweets from Mackinac at #mpc09. If you can get past Dennis Lennox practically wetting himself and squealing like a teenage schoolgirl every time he spots a Republican "name", there is some good info on there. Very interesting and telling exchange went on just a second ago, and it's worth pointing out just who wants to create jobs in Michigan, and who wants to dismiss them out of pure partisan politics.

    T. Boone Pickens and Governor Granholm teamed up this morning at Mackinac to talk alternative energy. Unfortunately there wasn't a live video stream (will post if someone Tubes it later), but I followed on Twitter, and at Nathan Bomey's live blog. The reactions were very positive - until you get to the Republican followers, who were just looking to take a shot at Granholm.

    RightMichigan: RT @robmacomber @S4hubbard @JBApr #mpc09 T. Boone pushing back @Govgranholm's dream of everyone owning a small wind turbine @ home. (Sweet!)

    robmacomber: RT @S4hubbard: RT @JBApr: #mpc09 T. Boone pushing back @Govgranholn's dream of everyone owning a small wind turbine @ home. (Good for him!!)

    Hmmm. Not sure exactly what T Boone said, but perhaps someone needs to tell Cascade Engineering that Republicans don't support their efforts to create jobs in Michigan. Cascade makes the Swift Turbine right here outside of Grand Rapids - and they have had a tremendous response to the product, with amazing future potential for growth.

    "With rising energy costs and increased environmental consciousness, we've seen more people turning to small wind," said Michael Ford, who leads the renewable energy business unit of Cascade Engineering. "For the past several months, we've been inundated by requests for Swift before we even launched the product. The SWIFT Wind Turbine design solves many of the challenges of previous residential and commercial scale wind turbines: it registers as a whisper on decibel charts, it's efficient, it's safe and it's clean."

    According to the American Wind Energy Association, the small wind turbine market is expected to grow 18-20 percent per year through 2010 -- despite the lack of federal-level incentives for small wind systems to date. However, accelerated growth is expected as new tax incentives go into effect in January. With the incentives, residents may see a credit up to $1,000 per system and commercial customers may see a credit up to $4,000. These incentives are expected to catalyze a 40-50 percent annual growth in the industry, making renewable energy more attractive to businesses and consumers.

    Cascade Engineering supplies the auto industry, and has recently made efforts to diversify into alternative energy to save/create jobs - they were even featured in the Washington Post as a company that can shape Michigan's economic future.

    Not only will small home units create jobs, the Michigan Public Service Commission just gave the green light to net-metering, which will allow consumers to save money on their energy bills by using home systems, as well as feed excess power back to the grid.

    Net metering occurs when customers with renewable energy generators produce electricity in excess of their needs, providing power back to the serving utility and receiving a credit for power they supply to the system. It is anticipated that most net metering customers will be using wind or solar generation equipment.

    “The new statewide net metering program means residential and business customers can add small renewable energy electric generation projects onsite and get credited for the energy they produce in excess of their needs -- at the full retail rate,” noted MPSC Chairman Orjiakor Isiogu. “As a result, my fellow Commissioners and I expect the number of net metering customers to skyrocket.”

    There you have it. The Republican "base" is just giddy at the thought of stopping job creation and denying consumers relief on their bills, all born of their zeal to trash the Governor. Now ask yourself why it took so long to institute the RPS. The "Party of No" isn't interested in moving Michigan forward - and gladly cheers at all attempts to stop progress.

    Visteon Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, Will Others Soon Follow?

    Visteon is Ford's biggest supplier of auto parts, providing the pieces for the F-150 right on down to the new hybrid models that are touted to be the saviors of the industry. Now Ford gets to finance this bankruptcy, or liquidation may follow - and that would put Ford itself at risk.

    Parts suppliers are the heart and soul of auto manufacturing in America and elsewhere - and they are in deep trouble. We lose them and the whole system will collapse. Foreign and domestic alike. Number two on Visteon's big customer list? Hyundai.

    Visteon Corp., a former division of Ford Motor Co. and one of the country's largest auto suppliers, put its U.S. operations into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday morning.

    Visteon's bankruptcy is the latest casualty in the U.S. auto industry, which has been hit by the Chrysler LLC bankruptcy and awaits an imminent filing by General Motors Corp. Though expected for months, a Visteon filing could complicate matters for Ford, the one Detroit auto maker to so far avoid government aid. Visteon doesn't have any financing lined up from banks, and will have to lean heavily on Ford and other auto companies for cash to get it through a restructuring.

    As of Dec. 31, Visteon employed 11,000 salaried workers and 22,500 hourly workers world-wide. It also had $893 million in unfunded pension obligations.

    Visteon UK filed in March and closed three British plants. Chances are they will be forced to do the same here, as Chairman Donald Stebbins indicates that "capital structure and legacy costs are not sustainable" given the plant shutdowns and auto industry restructuring. That means more layoffs of current workers and benefit cuts to retirees, when translated into real world implications.

    This could be the first of many, as suppliers are scrambling to find the way to make it through this dry spell. The banks aren't helping.

    Visteon's bankruptcy comes at the beginning of what is likely to be a painful global contraction among companies that supply auto parts. With auto makers building fewer cars and taking longer to pay their bills, suppliers are burning through cash and finding banks reluctant to lend to an industry beset by uncertainty.

    Not only are the banks reluctant to lend, it turns out that one bank in particular has slowed the process down considerably, at least as far as GM and Chrysler are concerned. Remember that $5 billion that the feds made available to parts suppliers back in March? Turns out that Citibank, recipient of $50 billion in TARP funds mind you, was "overwhelmed" by the program and wouldn't answer supplier inquiries, even though the auto companies had approved these suppliers for payout.

    All our paperwork has been in for weeks,” said the CEO of a Detroit company that makes molded parts.

    After General Motors Corp. approved his company for the program, the CEO spent weeks trying to obtain guarantees on his receivables, including three weeks of due diligence with his lender and others.

    “But Citibank does not return phone calls or e-mails,” he said.

    The program allows suppliers designated by GM or Chrysler L.L.C. to get paid early for their parts shipments or to use government guarantees of payment to borrow from their private lenders. The cash outlays are administered by Citibank, but GM and Chrysler decide which of their suppliers can participate.

    Another CEO, who runs a Detroit-area trim supplier, faced similar problems. GM and Chrysler “say we are on the list of suppliers qualified for aid,” he said. But he has yet to hear from Citibank, which he said is overwhelmed by supplier demand.

    As of mid-May, Chrysler won court approval to pay these suppliers outside the Treasury program, and GM is expected to do the same. And since it only covered the parts that have already shipped, it can't help suppliers get through the shutdowns that are occurring now. Quick aid will be imperative to getting these companies past this summer.

    Governor Granholm made an ominous plea on Tuesday concerning the suppliers. Dr. Ed Montgomery was in town to talk about grants for energy programs, which is a good thing and all, but doesn't come close to addressing the massive job loss we could soon be facing if these guys don't get some help. Are the Feds listening?

    "We are in the next week going to see some massive change in our economy. Whatever happens in the next week, we know that things are going to go dark for a while," she said. "The urgency cannot be overstated. We need to provide the suppliers a means to get through the next 60 to 90 days."

    Auto parts suppliers account for over 600,000 jobs across the country according to the Center for Automotive Research. Between that and the closing dealerships, the wave of job loss threatens to be tremendous indeed, and will accelerate into the fall, causing a drag on any economic recovery this country could hope to have.

    Let's hope the federal government gets a clue and provides some quick relief this time, and please, let's see if we can avoid getting this tangled up in the banks. Don't know how that would work out - but just do it. Find a way. We can't afford to lose these companies because they can't get through the "red tape" that bailed-out banks are putting in their way.

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    Michigan Backs Graduated Income Tax, Film Credits

    Hey, here's a bit of good news. Ballot proposal, anyone?

    Nearly twice as many Michiganians favor a graduated income tax that would lower the tax rate on the poor. The survey of 600 registered voters by EPIC-MRA of Lansing found 60 percent favor a graduated income tax as a replacement for the state's 4.35 percent flat tax on income for everyone while 33 percent oppose the idea. The poll, taken May 18-21, has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

    Nice numbers. Dems, indies and women rule.

    The survey shows Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to support a graduated income tax by 78 percent to 34 percent. And 59 percent of independents back the proposal. Two-thirds of women respondents favored the graduated tax to more than half of men respondents.

    And I'm loving this next set of stats. You got trouble, Nancy. A film cap would not be popular, and makes it very unlikely to get through the House, unless those Dems want ads run against them in 2010. The question was leading in the possible responses as well, indicating the credits take from state, but not mentioning that the credits bring jobs, per say, just "industry". Interesting, that. Makes me wonder who is writing these questions, and what their motivation is. Anyway, WOOD has the full script here, but the Detroit News version carries the pertinent info without all the script prompts. Easier to read.

    A maximum 42 percent tax break for filmmakers who shoot movies in Michigan has its backers and its detractors. Some say it is bringing a new industry and high-paying jobs to the state; others say the $100 million cost of the state credit this year is too big of a price to pay.

    But the film tax credit drew overwhelming support from poll respondents. The survey shows 70 percent favor it to 21 percent opposed.

    Other poll numbers - the $10 fee for parks squeaks by 50-45, but the question did not indicate that it is voluntary. Probably would make a difference, don't you think? And the RPS question was worded with a horrible leading slant...

    "Do you favor or oppose a proposal that would require 10 percent of the energy generated in Michigan to come from renewable energy sources, which would mean higher energy bills for consumers?

    ... and even that was very close, with a 48 opposed to a 45 support. Gotta love EPIC and their strange scripts. Or, not.

    600 people, May 18th-21st. Take it for what it's worth, because some of that wording is very curious indeed. Good to know that progressive ideas still come out on top though.

    June Public Hearings on Streamlining the Michigan State Government

    I've been wondering what became of this idea ever since it was announced last winter. Eighteen departments consolidated down to eight probably will eliminate a lot of duplicate functions, increase efficiency, and afford easier accountability. You would think anyway. Looks like public hearings will be getting underway soon; June 16th and 24th to be exact for the first two, locations to be determined.

    Get those ideas ready. You want reform? This will be some big-time reform.

    How best to do that will be tackled in a half-dozen public hearings Cherry will lead around the state. He said his mission is to redesign a government that was created in the 1950s to sustain an auto industry that will no longer be as economically dominant.

    “We need to ask, ‘What is it state government should do?’” Cherry told reporters.

    That likely will mean fewer state departments, each designed with a specific purpose. Cherry said those purposes fall under seven core functions:

    • Public safety
    • Education
    • Public systems, which includes roads, water and waste systems, utilities and communication systems.
    • Well-being, which means freedom from hunger and access to medical care.
    • Environmental sustainability
    • Economic opportunity and prosperity by promoting jobs and entrepreneurship
    • Efficiency and effectiveness

    Massive undertaking, although by the time we cut another billion out of the budget, it might be easier than we think. The challenge will be to get all the "interest groups" to cooperate and surrender their fiefdoms. The same problems come up in trying to consolidate local governments and school systems; state government will be no different - and this is where we will meet the Republican stonewall of hypocrisy. The complaints about the cuts and/or elimination made to HAL and Agriculture show they will defend their "interests" vigorously.

    Much of this will be accomplished by executive order once plans are finalized, end of the year is the due date, with more changes to be announced at the 2010 State of the State Address.

    We are going to find out just how serious the Republicans are about "reform" now. Get ready to rumble!


    Havin' a Marillion kind of day. Metal instruments on root planes, Supreme Courts across the land, and nasty Michigan media members all make me miss my drums so because I want to hit something with a stick real, real bad.

    (And no, not humans or animals. Don't take that too literally.)

    "From the Time-Life-Guardians in their conscience bubbles
    Safe and dry in my sea of troubles
    Nine to five with suitable ties
    Cast adrift as their side-show, peepshow, stereo hero
    Becalm, bestill, bewitch,

    Drowning, drowning in the real."

    Good thing the lyrics are so cryptic. You have to be a broken-hearted rebellious teenage drunk to understand. That's what makes it good.


    Monday, May 25, 2009

    Memorial Day 2009

    Memorial Day 2007 Oakhill Cemetery Grand Rapids version 2

    From the Freep:

    How do we best honor them? By standing up whenever and however we can for those ideals; by exercising and defending in our own way the freedoms we too often take for granted; by calling out injustice wherever it occurs, in this country or abroad; and by never forgetting the truth upon which America declared itself a free nation, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

    Strong words. Worth defending.

    Today, we pause to remember those who died doing so. We honor them every day by living up to the cause for which they sacrificed.

    Thursday, May 21, 2009

    Amway to Hold "Private" Fireworks Over Downtown Grand Rapids Tonight

    This is so comical. And so typical. Amway is holding a bunch of events this week to celebrate their 50th anniversary, and tonight they will have fireworks in the downtown Grand Rapids sky.

    The public is not invited to attend. No, I'm not kidding.

    An eight-minute display "much larger and much more intense" than the longer Celebration on the Grand fireworks show will light up downtown over the Grand River tonight.

    But the public is being discouraged from taking in the spectacle.

    The show, expected around 10 p.m., is part of a series of private events Ada Township-based Amway Corp. is holding this week for more than 1,000 visiting executives and distributors, marking the company's 50th anniversary.

    Big hush hush. Don't look! This is just for the "special people".

    Amway spokeswoman Kate Makled said the company would prefer the public stay away from what Mike VanLoo, of Melrose, described as "almost an eight-minute grand finale."

    "We're not encouraging anyone, including employees, to drive down for this -- it's just a few minutes of fireworks," Makled said in an e-mail.

    Matter of fact, Amway won't tell you anything. You are going to have to use taxpayer dollars to find out what is going on. You thought you had a right to know what is going on in your public sky? Guess again, citizen.

    Grand Rapids Fire Inspector Ted Jensen, who coordinates fireworks permits, said he was asked by the "event organizer" not to release information about the show to the public.

    "You have to file a Freedom of Information request," Jensen said. "That's the policy if you want the paperwork."

    The Press filed the request Wednesday afternoon. The process can take up to two weeks for the city to process.

    WOOD-TV says that they are closing Ah-Nab-Awen Park, this is the area right in front of the Ford Museum where the public usually congregates to watch fireworks, so they can further discourage the public from attending.

    I'd go try and take pictures, but I have concerns they might try to confiscate my camera. This is a private party for important people, and you know how the DeVos clan feels about that... shoot, they might have to try and pass an amendment or something if you insist on looking at their fireworks. You peasant you.

    MEDC Moves to Help Auto Suppliers Diversify

    Two company announcements made this week exemplify the story of Michigan as it relates to job loss and job creation during this massive restructuring of the auto industry.

    Yesterday, it was announced that auto supplier Metaldyne in Middleville has decided to shut down for good, citing the Chrysler bankruptcy, the uncertainty of GM's situation, the overall recession - and this key point - the tight credit market, as their reasons for closing. 110 jobs will be lost as of August 31st, just a small sample of the layoffs that are occuring in the automotive and manufacturing sector across the state, the layoffs that have added up to Michigan having the highest jobless rate in the country.

    The day before that, the MEGA board at MEDC announced another round of tax credits that will attract and retain the businesses that show the best potential for growth, and in that release was a company named WJG Enterprises...

    The plastic-injection molding company producing low-volume service parts for the automotive industry will diversify into production of new high-tech medical devices used in MRI and lab equipment through GE Healthcare Supplier Diversity Initiatives lead by Michael Lucas and Raphael Strosin. This has been made possible through the development of a strategic plan created by Christopher Baskel of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. This plan includes the mentorship of minority-owned companies to enter into the complex world of healthcare with the assistance of Donna Clutter and Lamont Robinson.

    That is expected to create 251 total jobs, 109 directly at the company - which is strangely coincidental to the number that Metaldyne is losing. The circumstances are different; Metaldyne being a part of a larger, major coporation and WSJ being locally owned (as far as I can tell), but this illustrates the direction that auto suppliers need to take if they want to stay around. Diversify your product line, and your chance of survival greatly improves.

    Efforts are being made to entice auto suppliers to grow into alternative energy, defense, and medical manufacturing; seminars are being held, credits being offered, as evidenced above. One problem companies are running into lately has been the lack of credit, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation has now taken steps to facilitate that money getting into their hands.

    A $12 million fund was launched by the state today to purchase participations in bank loans sought by auto suppliers working to diversify into growth industries.

    The Michigan Strategic Fund board voted today to allocate $12 million for the program, called the Michigan Loan Participation Program, to ease the restrictions to lines of bank credit faced by suppliers.

    “Stabilizing suppliers in Michigan is paramount to our economic diversification strategy,” Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Greg Main said in a statement. “Using these funds to loosen credit markets will allow many potential diversification projects to proceed, which will in turn bring jobs and investment to our state.”

    Patrick Anderson's protests about tax credits aside (and you have to just love a study that calls three areas of credits "ineffective" simply because there wasn't any data to study for them. How can you know it is "ineffective" then? And by the way, the MEA is officially on my list now. You guys want to suck up to people who want to destroy your union, you get what you deserve), this is exactly what we need to be doing - focusing on the diversification of the companies that are already here and are in danger of going out of business due to auto fallout. Helping retain these jobs and the companies that want to diversify into high-growth areas has to be a lot easier than starting something fresh from the ground up, or fighting with other states to attract new jobs and investment.

    We keep the base, the companies and employees, and we have a much better chance to keep growing from there. We let them go at our own peril.

    Let's Eliminate the MBT

    Yet another op-ed this morning from yet another Chamber of Commerce official who calls for the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax. Essentially, the business community wants to ignore the major factors of job loss to talk "more tax cuts", and once more try to shift the burden of the costs of modern society onto citizens...

    Many causes can be attributed to Michigan's recent economic malaise: the troubles in the domestic automotive sector, a downturn in the national economy brought on by the financial crisis in banking and the "flattening" of the global marketplace to name a few of the more popular ones. However, any honest debate about Michigan's troubles must include the negative impact of the Michigan Business Tax.

    Never mind that the business community had a big hand in shaping the MBT back when they made these very same arguments about the SBT. We will ignore the fact that they helped create the tax situation that they now want to complain about. Just like the Mac Center - they will use our economic malaise to push for their special interests alone - and disregard the cost of what this proposal entails.

    So, tell ya what. Let's agree to eliminate the MBT. Do away with it altogether. No taxes for business whatsoever. You win.

    Just one thing before we do though, and this should be demanded from all those that want to continue to make the suggestion that we cut revenue, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Republican Party on down the line. I'm going to shout this because the point seems to be lost on everyone every single time this argument comes up. Lean in closer. You listening now?


    You want to eliminate the revenue from the MBT? Show us how to pay for it. Better yet, show us WHO pays for it. When you do, we can have an honest discussion about the issue of taxes, decreased revenue, and state services. You can talk about the Chamber's list of "reforms" all you want, but there are reasons why the legislature hasn't taken them up, and my guess is that they would be unacceptable to the public, who elected these people to speak for us. We didn't elect the CoC to office. We tried that experiment; it was called "The Bush Years", and look where that got us.

    Until business interests put an acceptable plan on the table, this is just more of the same nonsense we went through when you eliminated the SBT, and we don't need to hear it. It cost us jobs and investment for nearly a year last time, and we simply cannot afford to do that all over again.

    The challenge has been issued. Put those cuts on the table. Show Michigan what it costs to give you another tax break. Or knock it off, before you drive away more investment with your anti-Michigan business rhetoric.

    Thanks for your attention. Enjoy your time at Mackinac next week, and try to come up with some long term solutions, other than simply finding the angle that puts that extra buck in your pocket today while the rest of the state goes broke. The infrastructure, the educated employees, the public safety you save, just may be your own.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    Michigan Tourism Up In First Quarter

    If you advertise it, they will come. The first quarter saw an uptick in tourism in Michigan, according to a quarterly index by Comerica.

    The $10 million national campaign touting Michigan's tourist destinations that began March 30 is already gaining traction; during the campaign's first four weeks, traffic to the state's tourism Web site,, was up 16 percent and page views were up 30 percent, compared with the same four weeks in 2008, a survey by the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association found.
    Almost half (48 percent) of the Web site users in April had annual household incomes of $100,000 or more, compared to 17 percent in April 2008. Travel Michigan is targeting higher-income residents from farther away to come and spend their vacation dollars at hotels, shops and restaurants, said George Zimmermann, the agency's vice president.

    MSU researchers predict that tourism will still be down overall because of the economy, but the advertising and low gas prices should help the state do better than the rest of the country.

    In honor of the advertising campaign, and all the pretty green we are seeing lately, here is the ad "14 Clubs".

    July 1st is the Deadline on Cobo and the Auto Show

    Talk to me about this. While I agree that the Senate Republicans are using some heavy-handed tactics here, I don't see the Detroit Council stepping up with any answers or acceptable counter proposals when it comes to saving the Auto Show.

    Time is running out.

    A Senate proposal that would make it possible for the North American International Auto Show to move to Oakland County if Detroit City Council doesn't accept a Cobo Center deal by July 1 may be Michigan's last hope to keep the show in the state, according to testimony this morning -- but an ultimatum is unlikely to move the council to accept the deal, Senate Democrats said.

    State Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, said the deadline makes City Council members feel a "gun is now being placed to their head saying, 'Accept or we move.' " He asked Doug Fox, chair of the 2010 show, whether he's in talks with venues outside Michigan -- or even outside Oakland County -- that are interested in taking on the auto show. Fox said no such talks are under way, but it's critical that the venue be decided this summer so plans can get under way for the 2011 auto show.

    But will the Council even put an idea or a voice of compromise into the argument? When they won't even show up for testimony...

    No one from the City of Detroit or Wayne County appeared to testify at the hearing. Initial reaction to the legislation, introduced Tuesday in the Republican-controlled Senate, from the city and its representatives ranged from tepid to hostile.

    ... then what are we supposed to do?

    I usually don't like weighing in on Detroit politics (something tells me to stay as far away from Monica Conyers as I can) - but we are talking state money and reputation here. It would be a shame to lose this show to another state.

    Obama Announces New Emissions Standards

    From the WH fact sheet:

    The proposed national autos program adopts uniform federal standards to regulate both fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions while preserving the legal authorities of DOT, EPA and California. The program covers model year 2012 to model year 2016 and ultimately requires an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 mpg in 2016. The result is a projected reduction in oil consumption of approximately 1.8 billion barrels over the life of the program and a projected total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 900 million metric tons. This groundbreaking policy is good for consumers, good for the auto industry and it helps our country by reducing pollution and promoting energy independence.

    Ten car companies and the UAW have embraced the national program because it provides certainty and predictability to 2016 and includes flexibilities that will significantly reduce the cost of compliance. The program also honors President Obama’s commitment to reconsider the denial of the California waiver by the Bush Administration.

    Good to see this diverse group come together and reach agreement on this - ending the dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels is paramount to both national security and taking steps to fight global warming. Thank you, President Obama, for making this a priority.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Michigan 90-Day Foreclosure Reprieve Passes Legislature

    The House passed a 90 day reprieve on foreclosures last week; was waiting to make sure that the Senate didn't screw something up. They didn't, and today it passed unanimously, with the provisions that the Senate Dems had fought for. Good job people. Governor will sign this as soon as it hits her desk, I'm sure.

    After years of fighting to help keep Michigan residents in their homes, Senate Democrats voted today to pass vital foreclosure prevention bills agreed upon by the House and Senate. The package will protect homeowners from foreclosure for 90 days, and also includes important provisions that Senate Democrats fought for that require lenders to work with residents to negotiate payments and prevent home foreclosures.


    Democrats strongly opposed previous changes made by Senate Republicans that removed the ability to force banks to negotiate with homeowners before foreclosing, and the compromise passed today includes an important judicial enforcement provision to hold lenders accountable that Democrats demanded. Elements of the foreclosure protection package passed today include:

    • Home loans that qualify for modification will qualify for judicial intervention if the lender chooses not to cooperate to modify payments.

    • Lenders will be required to send a notice of foreclosure to all homeowners. Currently, the lender has no obligation to notify the borrower.

    • Borrowers may request a meeting within 14 days of receiving a foreclosure notice, and once a request is made, the lender agrees to stop any foreclosure proceedings for 90 days.

    Michigan just fell out of the top ten states in foreclosures, but in sheer number of filings, we still came in at number nine. This was all before the recent auto fallout too, which will probably push the numbers back up again over the summer. Homeowners now have a 90-day window to try and work something out with their lenders so they can stay in their homes.

    If you need assistance, it's best to get help before you miss a payment. Call MSHDA to arrange to speak to a counselor at 1-866-946-7432. Or, visit them on the web at the "Save the Dream" web page for more info.

    WTG Legislature. Ya done a good thing here.

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    Mackinac Center Has No Credibilty on Right-to-Work Claims

    UPDATE: Lookee all the hits from Midland. Never fails, you blog about the Mac Center, and they come a runnin'. Wonder why they get so bothered by this...

    The Mackinac Center has been busted before for giving the public misleading information when it comes to Michigan's fiscal matters. Back in 2007, Mitch Bean of the House Fiscal Agency pointed out all the ways their claims about solving the budget deficit simply did not add up, and that they would cherry pick statistics to push their anti-worker agenda. This was ignored by the traditional media, and was only reported in MIRS. Probably not the first time this has happened over the years.

    Well, they are at it again, running to the press to make the claim that somehow Michigan's recession can be laid right at the feet of the unions, and to create jobs, we need to enact right-to-work legislation. As usual, the traditional press seems to take them at their word, and refuses to do any simple research on their claims. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to knock them down. Here's David Littmann from the Mac Center:

    An economist for a conservative think tank says Michigan could be headed for 20 percent unemployment by the end of the year - and he thinks the way out is for the state to get away from unions.

    David Littmann, senior economist for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, predicted anywhere from 17 percent to 20 percent unemployment by the end of the year. He said the key to attracting jobs is to become a right-to-work state.


    Littmann said unions have "strangled this state to death." Without a right-to-work provision, he said, the state will continue in its "graveyard spiral."

    Easy enough. Let's go to that expert named "Reality" when it comes to "right-to-work" being the key to having jobs. A simple check of the unemployment stats will do. In February of this year, when looking at the top 20 states in jobless percentage, eight states - getting close to half on the list - were "right-to-work" states, with two in the top five (North and South Carolina). If "right-to-work" guarantees jobs, why are there so many of those states with high unemployment rates? Totally ignored by Mr. Littmann, of course.

    Unions and Michigan. The interesting thing about that one: In 2000, when Michigan recorded it's lowest unemployment rate of 3.7, union members were 20.3% of the workforce. By 2008, when Michigan came in with an unemployment rate of 8.4, union members had dropped 18.8% of the work force. What does this prove? Not a lot, actually. We've been bouncing around an average of 20% union membership, and yet the unemployment rate has swung to extremes, regardless of how many people are in unions. If we want to use the Mac Center theories, we had lower unemployment when more people were in unions, for this decade anyway. Looking at the BLS statistics from 1989, Michigan was at 26% in unions back then, and only 18.8% now. Should be swimming in jobs, right? To further discredit their claim that low union membership = more jobs, North and South Carolina, both in the top five for unemployment, are #1 and #3 on the list of states with the lowest union membership. And Georgia, coming in at #2 on that list, is #15 in the country for unemployment as of February.

    Once again, the Mackinac Center's arguments don't add up. To be fair, this story did provide some counterpoint:

    Richard Block, an MSU professor in the School of Labor and Industrial Relations who studied labor laws in states, said there's no evidence that being a right-to-work state has an effect on economic growth.

    "Whether or not there should be a right-to-work law is a philosophical question," Block said. "It is not an economic question."

    Perhaps it is time for the traditional media to stop giving the Mackinac Center so much ink when in comes to their claims. Or at least, do some simple searching to find out if what they say has any basis in reality - and report the findings.

    Michigan Budget Deficit Reaction: What's Wrong With This Picture?

    Last Friday, the fiscal gurus in our state government decided on the target figure - $1.72B - for our budget deficit for FY 2009-10. This number is based on GM and Chrysler emerging quickly and smoothly from bankruptcy; if they don't, all bets are off.

    The reporters at Gongwer went looking for reaction to the number, and asked legislative leaders what they intended to do next. Here are the answers:

    Senate Republicans. Matt "My Boss Is Running For Office So I Need To Tone It Down Now" Marsden pulled out the usual "cuts and reforms" blah blah that they are famous for, and announced that they will be on a "retreat" today and tomorrow to discuss the issue. We did get this confusing and illogical quote from Ron Jelinek though...

    "Deep cuts are being made everywhere to balance the 2009 and 2010 budgets and even deeper cuts will have to be made to stimulate and revive the economy. We cannot depend on stimulus funding to help us out as there is not enough of it to fill-in the holes this year or next," he said.

    Cuts take away from the economy, they don't "stimulate and revive" it. Unless that was some sort of weird code, and they are still going to try and sell us the insane theory that "more tax cuts" will somehow fill this budget hole. Next...

    House Republicans were ready with their standard "cuts and reforms" answer as well:

    And House Minority Leader Kevin Elsenheimer (R-Bellaire) said even as the budget requires serious attention, and his caucus is committed to finding cuts and reforms needed to balance it, "the ongoing budget crisis cannot be a distraction to the real issue of getting Michigan back to work."

    So far, neither of these two have had to put their "cuts and reforms" on the table, and the governor and Democrats are taking the blame on the fallout from the cuts already made. This would be a great opportunity for the Dems to take control of the message, explain the situation and get their spin out there, right? Yes! Go!

    So without further ado, here is the House Democrats answer to the budget news... drum roll please...

    House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Township) was unavailable for comment Friday.

    Speaker Dillon, don't make me start yelling at you again, man. I don't blame you for not wanting to talk to the Lansing press corps. But please, come up with something to say, even if you run the risk of getting torn apart for it later. "No comment" is unacceptable, and it happens all too often.

    Democrats need to get their message out there, whatever it is, or Republicans will own the airwaves and set the tone - and knowing them, they will find a way to spin it to make you pay.

    We've been down this road before, haven't we?

    Just Breathe

    Pins and needles.

    Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, believed to be on President Barack Obama's short list to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, will be at the White House on Tuesday.

    An administration official confirmed to The Detroit News that Granholm will be at the White House for an event unrelated to the Supreme Court vacancy.

    No details are available about the event to be attended by Granholm. The Associated Press first reported that Granholm would be at the White House.

    Do dreams come true? This is too hard for me to talk about right now - but I'm willing all my positive mental energy towards having this become reality.

    I know in my heart she would make an excellent Supreme Court Justice.

    Good luck Governor. All my best.

    UPDATE: And on the other hand... there is this.

    The Obama administration is expected to unveil national tailpipe emissions standards Tuesday -- a major policy announcement that could finally end a more than five-year legal battle between California and Michigan.

    Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm plans to attend the announcement at the White House Tuesday.

    Let's add it up. WH confirms Granholm on short list. Cancels appearance to go to DC at moment's notice. No one has any details on anything, which fuels speculation fire... and then we get "emissions standards"?


    I seriously hate this business sometimes.

    Sunday, May 17, 2009

    Jeremy Bonderman Rehabs With West Michigan

    Here is my excuse for not going to the Policy Summit, besides the fact that I am a Bad Progressive! (ask anyone). Actually, I'm all about the photo-op, and baseball players, especially Tigers, do a whole lot better on Flickr than politicians. And there was the matter of the 15 minute drive versus the 2 1/2 hr. drive, which factored into the equation as well.

    I paid for my folly though. It was a beautiful spring day, but there was a mighty north wind coming out of center field that was freezing, so I suffered once again for my art. Not to mention my aversion to big crowds out there, and they had over ten thousand show up last night. Here is a brief set of the Jeremy Bonderman rehab start with the West Michigan Whitecaps. He picked up the win 13-6, looked solid, in command, velocity seems a bit low - but if I had to choose between him and Dontrelle Willis at this point, I'd go with him. Look for him back in the line-up soon.

    Now I'm going to be a Bad Homeowner! and blow off working on the yard that is starting to look like the jungles of Southeast Asia. Next February, when I look back at the shots of the sunshine and ball players, I will be glad I did. You only live once, right?

    Ciao, baby.

    Friday, May 15, 2009

    MI Senate Republicans Want to Raise Taxes, Create Government Programs For Health Care Fix

    So I'm reading this in the Detroit News yesterday, and I'm having one of those moments where I wonder if my life is really real, if I'm not actually in a version of the "Sixth Sense" where I'm dead and I just don't know it. This happens to me every once in a while when something so bizarre occurs that I think my mind must be making it up.

    "They don't know they're dead. They only see what they want to see."

    Like that. And then I try to pinpoint when it was I actually died, but I digress...

    Our Senate Republicans, yes, the ones in Michigan, want to create new government programs and raise taxes on business to pay for health care. You read that right.

    As many as half of Michigan's 1.2 million uninsured could get state-funded health insurance under a bipartisan healthcare reform proposal unveiled by the state Senate this morning.

    The four-bill package called MI Health, would create two state health plans: MI Access, an expanded Medicaid program; and MI Coverage, a state-funded health insurance plan for low-income workers.

    It also would provide a "reinsurance" fund to pay the costs of individually insured patients whose bills total more than $25,000 in a year. Consumer protections are included to prohibit insurance companies from hiking rates for sick patients, closing pools of consumers with too many sick patients and other practices to reduce their risks.

    Say whaaaa...? How can this be? The House Democrats unveiled their plan this week as well, and the House Republicans complained because they weren't focused on "jobs". What do you think they would have said about this next item?

    High on the list of differences is the funding mechanism for the Senate package, which (Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville) said will assess surcharges on large companies like the Big Three automakers and automotive suppliers that are struggling to stay afloat.

    "Adding a tax at this time -- we're going to be very cautious about that," Corriveau said.

    The Republicans are suggesting this? No way.

    Way. MIRS confirmed it later in the day, with this super added extra special bonus from Senator Tom George - he comes out and admits that Republicans have been obstructionist.

    George acknowledged that the GOP has been saddled with the obstructionist stereotype and said they're being proactive.

    “We don't want that. That's bad. We need to be helping find solutions using Republican principles,” he said.

    You can't just say no,” George added. “Michigan has problems that can't be ignored.”

    Which confirms that they have been the "Party of No", but now that it doesn't work for them anymore, they are going to change their ways by ... becoming Democrats, or something. I don't know, I'm absolutely floored by all of this. The devil is in the details, which have yet to be worked out, so I'm not going to make a major study of this right now. I'm still trying to figure out whether or not I'm actually alive at this point, or if some little kid is going to come along soon and clue me in.

    Fortunately the Senate Republicans solved my dilemma for me. At the very same time yesterday, they also proved that they still are those same 'ole Senate Republicans, indeed. To make this grand announcement, they put off voting for the 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures bill that the House had passed until next week, a move that delays relief for Michigan citizens facing imminent foreclosure, and irritating enough that the usually quiet Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi issued a statement about their negligent behavior.

    “Michigan families who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads have waited long enough for help from Lansing,” said Senate Democratic Leader Mike Prusi (D- Ishpeming). “There better be a darn good reason for Senate Republicans to have put them off yet again by sitting on their hands for another five days at least.”

    THAT is the Senate that I know and love. I must still be alive. Whew.

    Although I was looking forward to just walking into the ballgames for free. Oh well.

    Pick a Number, Any Number. $1.72B Short for 2010 Will Do. For Now.

    Ever get the impression these guys are just taking a shot in the dark at this point?

    The state treasury will take in $1.72 billion less next year than initially estimated, the state's top economists decided today, meaning Gov. Jennifer Granholm and lawmakers will need to make another round of deep budget cuts.

    The general fund, the state's main checking account, will collect $949 million less than projected a few months ago, and the school aid kitty will be light $733 million, the state treasurer and directors of the Senate and House fiscal agencies agreed during the semi-annual revenue estimating conference.

    "The numbers we have now put us back to 1965 when adjusted for inflation, and back then we didn't even have an income tax," Treasurer Bob Kleine said.

    The House says $1.58B. The Senate says $2.15B. The optimistic bunch at the Treasury goes with $1.39B. No one knows what a GM bankruptcy will do.

    Across the board cuts of 8% are in the works, coming on top of the 4% they just recevied. Ouch.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Auto Layoffs Hit the System - With the Dealers Yet to Come

    No one could have predicted... well, we could, and we did, and I'm not exactly sure why the Labor Department or the economic experts didn't see this coming...

    The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected last week, government data showed on Thursday, pushed up by auto plant shutdowns related to Chrysler's bankruptcy.

    Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits increased 32,000 to a seasonally adjusted 637,000 in the week ended May 9, the Labor Department said, reversing an easing trend of the previous two weeks.

    A Labor Department official said "a good part of the increase is due to automotive states and claims."

    This does not bode well for Michigan's unemployment stats, due out soon. Not only do we have to contend with the plant shutdowns themselves, we are looking at a big auto parts supplier fallout as well. As parts employment comprises of 54% of our auto-related jobs, the small layoffs that you hear about, such as the 30 workers at Metaldyne in Middleville that were directly related to Chrysler, are going to add up in a big way for us in the next few months - and we haven't even gotten to the full impact of GM yet.

    This is just the beginning of auto-related job loss for America. According to the Center for Automotive Research, a full 50% of the jobs are associated with dealerships - and today, the Chrysler ax is starting to fall. 789 dealers will be eliminated; WOOD TV just rattled off a few of the local names, and they are actually running a crawl on the bottom of the screen with the story. Watch for that to be repeated across the state today, as they are saying that 30+ (edit: 39 is the total number) dealerships in Michigan will close.

    Natural disaster analogies abound here, for it's hard to quantify the losses without grabbing for an event that can cause such devastation. Granholm: "Economic hurricane like Katrina". Obama: "Not a hurricane like Katrina". Arne Duncan yesterday: "Detroit schools like New Orleans after Katrina". I'll go all of you one better - this is like an earthquake. High gas prices were the foreshock, the sub-prime meltdown was the main event causing the deepening of the recession that brought sales to a halt, and the auto bankruptcies are big aftershocks. That doesn't quite work, but it works better than the one time event of a hurricane that hits and moves on.

    Now, think of the dealerships as a tsunami, as they take out major parts of entire communities, especially in rural areas. The Freep provided the figures:

    Each of those dealerships, on average, employs 53 people, so 159,000 workers nationwide could lose their jobs. That's more than GM and Chrysler's combined U.S. workforces.

    The impact extends even further. Powerful dealers have long been community leaders, donating to everything from political campaigns to Little League baseball teams and churches.

    What's more, closed dealerships change the landscape of communities, leaving behind thousands of empty stores and sprawling parking lots in an already struggling real estate market.

    And even they used the term "shock" as they spelled out the consequences in further detail.

    Indirect shocks also will be felt by bankers, insurance agencies, auto-parts stores, fast-food restaurants and newspapers, radio and TV stations throughout the country that depend on advertising revenue from local auto dealers. The average dealership, for example, spends about $400,000 a year on advertising, the National Automobile Dealers Association said.

    "For every job in a dealership, there is one other job in the community associated with it," said Kim Hill, who tracks the impact of auto industry contraction on communities at Ann Arbor's Center for Automotive Research.

    Just one? Sounds like a lot more than that, as all those industries will feel the pain of having dealerships close in their communities - not to mention the bottom line for city and state revenue.

    On Capitol Hill, dealers plan to point out that the average dealership employee earns $40,000 a year and pays $7,500 in local, state and federal taxes. Among their many arguments, they also plan to note that fewer dealers also will reduce convenience for customers who need their vehicles serviced.

    Many dealers are planning on fighting this, but they don't have a lot of hope when sales are still stagnant. What can we do? Nothing. "Save as many as you can" (points if you can name the movie that came from). This is the inevitable fallout of the restructuring of the industry, some would say a necessary thing, but the aftermath and rebuilding of these communities will be difficult indeed, for some time to come.

    It's going to be a rough summer. Watch out for the scavenger wolves like the Mackinac Center, out there hitting the Michigan media, who want to blame unions and high wages for this; their rhetoric will be turned up to a fever pitch as they try and take advantage of this trouble and push for right-to-work laws and other extremist rightwing economic nonsense.

    Hang on tight, the biggest wave is yet to come.

    House Republicans Offer Up Some Good Old-Fashioned Government Reform

    You asked for it, you got it. Let's take a look at what the House Republicans have to say about government "reform". Kevin Elsenheimer has a few ideas that he offered up to the Detroit News this morning.

    Prison reform. A state that spends more incarcerating people than educating them is heading the wrong way. But rather than releasing felons and closing prisons, let's get to the bottom of why it costs Michigan thousands of dollars more to house each inmate than it does in neighboring Great Lakes states.

    Elsenheimer ignores the fact that we have the highest incarceration rate in the Great Lakes, and one of the highest in the nation. It's not necessarily the cost of locking them up, it's the sheer numbers we lock up. Study after study has shown this to be the core problem. Elsenheimer's statement here is simply code for reducing prison employee salaries, more union busting, with privatization thrown in as well.

    Reform 1: Pay prison employees less. Next?

    Education funding. Republicans want every cent of school aid funding they send to schools to make it into the classroom where it benefits students. Yet, nearly 40 cents of every dollar of school funding goes for administrative and operating costs.

    So, what does that mean, "send it into the classrooms"? Operating costs are what makes the classrooms run, from heat and books to the teachers and their salaries/benefits. Again, this is another back-handed way of trying to bust a union. While there may be more savings to be had in administration and consolidation, any time the Republicans are pressed on this issue, it always comes back to the pay for union employees.

    Reform 2: Pay school employees less. Moving on...

    Public employee retirement. The state, local municipalities and school districts must get a handle on rising retirement costs. Let's bring the public employees and teachers unions to the table and find out a way we can lower these costs in the future while ensuring employees receive the benefits they've earned. This is costly, but if we use federal stimulus to fund reforms, it will save billions of dollars down the road.

    This simply puts 1 and 2 together and actually mentions the unions, with the added suggestion that we whack the retirees, too.

    Reform 3: More union concessions, ignoring the fact that our state employees have already made numerous sacrifices over the past decade and are now comparable to the rest of the nation. Republicans want to perpetrate the myth the state employees are "living the high life", overpaid with generous benefits, when in truth, they are not. And finally, the one you have been waiting for...

    Job-killing government red tape. Let's call a moratorium on out-of-control regulations and honestly sit down and come up with regulations that work. Recently, LS Power announced it would not build its clean-coal power plant near Midland, taking with it about 1,500 good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in local economic activity. It said Michigan's regulatory environment drove it away. When government is costing us jobs, it's time to rein in government's zealotry.

    Yes, let's totally ignore the one big reason for this - the fact that LS Power lost its partner Dynegy Inc. (read: $$) in the project, the credit market drying up, and the costs of construction factoring into the equation. While there is uncertainty regarding regulations to come, if they had access to the money to build the plant, they would build the plant. "Regulations" are a convenient excuse to pull out, as the Republicans are using the recession as reason to continue to lower our environmental and employment standards, while dismissing the real problem of lack of credit for investors. Notice that?

    The bottom line with Republicans is always to let business do whatever they want, regardless of what that will do to employees, consumers, the environment, and the state's bottom line. Amazingly enough, Elsenheimer doesn't mention taxes here.

    Reform 4: Less regulation on business.

    Elsenheimer is head and shoulders above DeRoche, there is no doubt about that. There is some validity to his ideas here - savings can and should be found regarding prisons and education, and we should continue to strive for them - but as long as Republicans insist on conveniently ignoring some economic realities to focus on unions and employees making all the sacrifices, while "business" gets all the benefits without having to pay for the consequences of their practices or the upkeep of the society they want to operate in, we are simply continuing down the same road that got us here in the first place.

    Wrap it all up in a bow: House Republican “reforms” are simple, and all too familiar. Working people must continue to join the race to the bottom, while business gets all the breaks. Bush Economics 101.

    How is that working out for us?

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    "Mr. Transparency" Mike Cox Wants $143,000 to Release Records

    This just showed up in the in-box. From the MDP:

    Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer today blasted Attorney General Mike Cox for charging over $143,000 to search for public records on lawsuit settlements sought in a FOIA request by Brewer.

    “For a man who has been claiming for years that he supports open government, it is pure hypocrisy for Mike Cox to hide behind these obscene fees,” Brewer said. “What is he hiding? Michigan taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.”

    Brewer hand delivered the original request on April 8, 2009. The Attorney General then gave himself an extension before submitting a response on April 30, 2009.

    “Cox’s office has already located and reviewed the public records containing much of the requested information to create the self-promoting settlement ‘summaries’ and press releases on his website,” observed Brewer. “The only reason to charge such an outrageous fee is to prevent the public from discovering the real facts for themselves by seeing those public records.”

    Mark, IOKIYAR. You should know that by now. Transparency is for "other people".

    But this does beg the question - why is Cox both stalling and demanding money for what should be public record? Nothing on the wires about this yet, will update with reaction when it comes out.

    Update: Cox office claims that all 8,000 pages are available already and it would take 4,400 labor hours to put the info together. And yet somehow, we are supposed to put the entire state budget online for the wingnuts to see. THAT wouldn't take much time at all, would it.

    SFA: Michigan Budget Will Fall $2.1 Billion Short for 2010

    Talk about having the wind knocked right out of you.

    Michigan's recession-depleted budget, bailed out this year with $1.3 billion in cuts and federal stimulus money, will fall $2.1 billion short of projections next year, a new state report says.

    Finance experts previously had estimated a $1.6 billion shortfall for the next budget year that starts Oct. 1. But tax receipts continue to fall as the economy worsens, pushing the state deeper into the hole.

    These are staggering numbers.

    The general fund, the state's main checking account, will drop 9.3 percent next year to $6.7 billion and the school aid pot will decline 5.1 percent to $10.3 billion, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency report.

    State unemployment will be 14.2 percent this year and 16.9 percent next year, the report says. Vehicle sales will decline from 13.2 million last year to 9.3 million units this year and the rise slightly to 10.5 million next year.

    The House and Senate fiscal people will put it altogether this Friday for us, and come to a number that we will base next year's budget on - and given how we don't exactly know how a GM and Chrysler bankruptcy will shake out in the long run, this is going to be just a best guess at this point. And so far, it's scary enough, thanks.

    So, what so we cut now, Senator Bishop? Somehow, I don't think that privatizing prison food service is going to quite cover this bill. Better get those "reforms" on the table - and they better be good.

    All of you. Serve up those ideas, any ideas, because we are going to need everyone working together to solve this one.

    Nightmare on MIRS Street

    Mickey "Lieberman" Switalski tried to spring a cap on the film credits today, attempting to tie-bar a reduction on the refundable percentage and limiting the payout to $50 million, amongst other things, to part of the "Hire Michigan" bills that are moving through the Senate. Since it hadn't been discussed in committee, Republican Jason Allen opposed, and it was shot down in a voice vote.

    But not before the depths of hell were unleashed on the Senate floor, as the portal to Nancy Cassis' past was thrown open wide.

    Cassis recounted her performance in "Pippi Longstocking " in fifth grade, before criticizing the credits as a drain on the budget. When she finished, Committee of the Whole Chair Alan SANBORN (R-Richmond) grinned, "And we thank you for your performance."

    There is a mental image that won't easily be erased.

    Thanks Mickey. Thanks a lot. I don't think I'm going to be able to sleep tonight.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    GOP Plays Politics With Michigan Infrastructure

    A new report out today gives Michigan an overall grade of "D" when it comes to our infrastructure, complete with ominous warnings about quality of life and economic growth being threatened as a result. Will it take a bridge falling into a river before we listen?

    Based on an 18-month survey, the Michigan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers said nine vital infrastructure systems -- aviation, dams, drinking water, energy, navigable waterways, roads/bridges, storm water treatment, wastewater collection and transit -- needed massive transfusions of money if Michigan's economic prosperity and quality of life are to be maintained.

    Of the nine systems, aviation, wastewater collection and energy received an overall rating of C, while the remaining systems received a D rating. In 2005, the society gave the entire U.S. infrastructure an overall rating of D+.

    Thirty-seven percent of Michigan's roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and thirty-nine percent of Michigan's major roads are congested, according to the report. Reasons why are the usual suspects.

    The six major reasons for the condition of the state's roads include: a history of underfunding, decline in fuel tax revenues, rising costs, rising demand, the diversion of funds and an aging infrastructure, according to the report.

    The anti-tax Michigan Chamber makes that rare exception for a tax increase to fix roads. Taxes are OK, you see, if they serve business, so they have been pushing on this issue for quite some time. You would think that they would see the light on other quality of life issues as well, since that would serve business too, but instead they call for "more cuts" on everything else. I guess we have to settle for whatever we can get. From MIRS:

    "Doing nothing on this key issue would mean lost jobs, bad roads, sending federal money for Michigan to other states, and a failure to improve public transit - which does not sound like a winning political strategy to me," he added.

    Political strategy? Is the Chamber admitting that politics comes before the needs of the state and its people and businesses? Silly rabbit, of course it does. Seems the Republicans have been warned by their strategists that any mention of the "t" word might cost them in an election that is a year and a half away, so we better not address our state's critical problems, lest someone pay a political price later. Makes you wonder exactly when anything can ever get done when they play these games this far out.

    Short version: GOP political futures are more important than the state's economic health or your safety. Just in case you haven't realized that yet.

    The problem that Studley and proponents of changing Michigan's fuel tax system face is that political operatives are getting nervous about public reaction to any change that could even has the whiff of "tax increase." GOP strategists are warning their lawmakers that backing a gasoline tax conversion or increase plan is just political suicide.

    "Now's not the time," one strategist recently told MIRS.

    Senate Republican Jud Gilbert is reported to have had five GOP votes last fall to throw out our gas tax and replace it with a new wholesale tax. Because they didn't move on this, that head count is now down to three, and after this warning, it's doubtful we will see any movement at all. The stimulus money helps a bit, but does nothing to solve the overall problem that we are underfunding road repair and other infrastructure needs.

    You can thank a pink pig and the GOP strategists next time you take the car for repairs. A recent report shows that we pay an average of $370 per motorist a year for our bad roads. Perhaps we should invest in training for more auto repair mechanics - looks like we are going to need them.

    Senate Republicans Obstruct Plan to Save 100 Michigan State Troopers

    Usually, it is us jumping up and down about Senate Republican shenanigans, so it is really refreshing to see this morning that the Lansing State Journal took notice of their latest efforts to be a bunch of jerks. As you may or may not know, budget cuts came to the Michigan State Police in the form of 100 troopers being laid off, and the press went absolutely ballistic about it. No one ever offers up just where else we should cut instead, or how we get the money to pay for these guys, they just react with outrage that it is happening. It's frustrating.

    Gretchen Whitmer came up with a solid answer for this dilemma though, taking her idea of legislator office parity that we have talked about before, and applying it to these cops. The House and Senate took a 4% cut on spending with this EO, but they never have addressed the fact that the majority offices receive more funding than those in the minority.

    Meanwhile, State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, tried to up the ante in the Senate. Last week, she modified her proposal to equalize spending on senators' offices, which she said would save $3 million, to direct the savings to the Michigan State Police. This would allow the state police to avoid the layoffs of an entire class of new troopers - a budget move that has come under particularly broad criticism.

    Senate Republicans pitched their usual hissy fit at Whitmer, Chatty Matty Marsden reacting ever-so badly to the thought of saving state police jobs.

    "Enough with the irrational screeching on this subject from Senator Whitmer's political pulpit," he said. "For the love of Pete, has she been AWOL this week? It was her Governor's E.O. that levied the trooper layoffs, to then turn around and use that issue to highlight her personal agenda sets a new bar."

    Irrational screeching? Wonder if he said the same about Mike Cox and "political pulpits". And Cox didn't even offer a solution to the problem.

    Whatever. Whitmer did, and here is what happened.

    This being the Michigan Legislature, the step forward had to come with two steps back.

    First, the Republican majority in the Senate set aside Whitmer's measure.

    Then, Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, pushed a legislative move that bars reconsideration until at least Dec. 31, Gongwer News Service reports.

    Nice, huh? The LSJ wasn't impressed. At all. They start with the pay issue.

    This isn't about who's doing the work. After all, the Legislature backs a plan for six furlough days for most state workers. The sacrifice is broad because the need is broad.

    Legislators, though, continue to hide behind the constitutional quirk that blocks an immediate cut in their own pay. Oh sure, they have gone through the requisite process to cut pay starting in 2011.

    But how does that help Michigan now?

    These same legislators are fine with cutting funds meant for staffers - the Senate will ask two furlough days of its staff, Gongwer reports. (How the House will absorb its cuts wasn't clear.)

    And they end with a demand.

    Michigan's fiscal problems are immense, but no less enormous is the crisis of leadership in Lansing. What kind of leader blithely accepts a full paycheck while expecting subordinates to absorb cuts?

    What kind of public servant reduces jobs and services while continuing to enjoy the full perks of office, plus all the entertainment that lobbyists can provide?

    Give the money back, legislators, give the money back.

    Senate Republicans had the chance to save these troopers, and they blocked it while they screamed about "partisan politics". Once again, it's pretty easy to see just who is playing politics, and who is offering up solutions to our problems.

    Even the LSJ can figure this one out. Didn't even need the bloggers this time.

    Monday, May 11, 2009

    Michigan Green Jobs Report 2009

    Today, they are holding a "Green Today, Jobs Tomorrow" conference in Lansing, featuring such notables as Van Jones and Hilda Solis, to talk about the green economy and the jobs it has already created here and across the country, as well as the enormous potential the industry holds for the future. To coincide with that, the state released a study on where we stand right now with "green jobs" - and the results are quite remarkable. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Michigan boasts 109,067 private sector green jobs: 96,767 direct green jobs (people directly involved in generating a firm’s green-related products or services) and 12,300 green support jobs (anyone from a janitor to an accountant whose job is created to serve direct green work).

  • Clean transportation and fuels is the largest green economy area in Michigan, comprising just over 40% of green jobs and reflecting Michigan’s automotive heritage. If Michigan succeeds in developing alternative fuel, hybrid and electric vehicles, this sector may grow significantly.

  • There is huge potential for growth throughout the green economy. Today, green jobs represent just 3% of Michigan’s overall private sector employment of 3.2 million.

  • Indeed, from 2005 to 2008, a sample of 358 green related firms added more than 2,500 jobs to Michigan’s economy, an employment expansion rate of 7.7% -- compared to the total Michigan average of negative 5.4%.

  • Among the renewable energy production firms in that sample, the growth rate hit 30%. Renewable energy production, which today is the smallest green sector, may be the fastest growing.

  • The green economy appears to be a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. Among our sample of 358 green-related firms, over 70 appeared to be newly created since 2005, accounting for nearly 600 jobs already.

  • Green jobs tend to pay well. Thirteen of the top 15 sectors of green employment have weekly wages above the overall private sector weekly average.

  • Green jobs encompass a wide range of occupations. Engineering and construction jobs are prominent, but many other jobs of all skill levels are required by the green economy.

  • Education and training are key for green\ employers. In multiple focus groups, employers emphasized the need for basics in math and reading with additional skills to be acquired on the - job or in school depending on the precise green job in question.

  • National RPS, anyone? The Obama administration is working towards that, it's only a matter of time. When it happens, let's hope that Michigan is well-positioned to take advantage of the demand it will create. Right now, things have slowed a bit in renewable energy because of the credit crunch, companies like Uni-Solar and Dowding Machining putting some folks on hiatus as they wait out the storm of this economy - but they will be back, and they will be back strong. Some proof: Because of our RPS, Consumers is seeking bids from private companies to create renewable energy projects (mainly wind farms at this point), and the figures they are throwing around will create many jobs. Added bonus - it can eliminate the need for coal plants as well.

    Consumers in January began seeking bids from third-party providers for small renewable projects. The 250 megawatts and 600,000 megawatt-hours roughly equates to a traditional base-load coal plant, Bishop said.

    "This is the big boys," Consumers spokesman Dan Bishop said. "That's a lot of power."

    The utility estimates the total value of the projects to be awarded – expected to be primarily wind farms – at more than $1 billion.

    "We anticipate this will lead to job-creation in Michigan," Bishop said.

    If we can make this a prominent sector of Michigan's economy, and somehow manage to keep some semblance of the auto industry too - there is great hope ahead. Just gotta survive this roller-coaster that we are on now, and not throw away our efforts in some misguided attempt to save state money.