Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sunday No Football News Dump

  • Talk show bonanza today. Governor Granholm will be on "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer this morning, and also taped an interview with CNN's John King for "State of the Union". He thought it would be fun to Twitpic some shots of Lansing and the Capitol building. Check local listings for show times, or watch it all on the internet later like I do.

  • With her eighth and final State of the State Address coming this Wednesday, the retrospectives on Governor Granholm's time in office are starting to creep into various stories here and there. Dawson Bell at the Freep does a brief sketch today in a story that only skims the surface of what went down. Stephen Henderson has praise for the Governor's proposals that were put on the table last Friday, but seems to have amnesia when it comes to the other times in the past where she has tried for sweeping reforms, namely the two-cent tax reform plan that now makes perfect sense in hindsight. (Thanks a lot, Andy!) Peter Luke also goes down this road today, looking at the endless budget grind and taking some pointed shots at the Legislature, and somehow ends up at Bob Bowman. Awkward, but there it is. Kathy Barks Hoffman beat everyone to the punch last week, but doesn't sound very optimistic that lawmakers will overcome the ever present partisan gridlock that will only get worse with an election year.

  • As if to emphasize the problems of that gridlock, protesters of all shapes and sizes and issues are expected at the State of the State Address; the usual teabagger suspects will be joined by students protesting the Michigan Promise and education funding cuts, also a group that wants to draw attention to the issues of foreclosures and utility shutoffs, and another that wants to lobby for more mental health funding. Maybe they can organize a "funding vs. no funding" tug of war or something.

  • Polls, polls, polls, here we go with the endless polls on this year's gubernatorial race. The latest is an EPIC special that shows Mike Cox in the lead for the Gee-O-Tea Party nomination with 32%, Twitter Pete at 25%, and Mike Bouchard, keeping up with his tradition of failing to excite anyone, ever, at 16%. For the Democrats, even though she really hasn't said a word yet, Denise Ilitch is the front runner with 23%, followed by Gary Peters, who shouldn't have been included in the poll, at 9%, and, in what might be the most surprising number from this, Andy Dillon at 8%. (Dude. That's bad.)

    Head-to-head competition show the Goopers winning all face-offs at this point - but the Dems haven't even really started yet, except for Alma Wheeler Smith having the guts to face down the R's at a forum in Grand Rapids this week. Read that link to see the R's continue their business tax cut mantra, to hell with everyone else attitude. And thank you Alma for showing up to inject some sanity into the show.

  • Rick Snyder is failing to draw much support, but his fellow Republicans are trying to take him down anyway. Seems robocalls went out to Republican party activists that tell of Snyder's outsourcing of jobs and transferring Gateway product warranties to an insolvent company. Little pre-emptive shot to combat the millions of dollars in TV ads slated to start Monday that could boost Snyder in the race?

  • Money is tight for the rest of the field this year, as a tough economy, donor fatigue, and a legislature that took $7.2 million out of the State Campaign Fund to balance the budget has candidates scrambling to find some cash. No way they will hit the $56 million spent in 2006. If we are lucky.

  • Speculation is floating that the recent bankruptcy filing of Affiliated Media could spell the end of the Detroit News. I've often wondered how that city was supporting two papers; it might not for much longer. Someone make sure and pick up Hornbeck and Greilick if that happens, k? And lookee here, the DNews eds are FOR raising taxes! When the Chamber tells them they should be, anyway.

  • Happy endings, at least for the moment. Teachers in Livonia deserve a round of applause: Rather than layoff 40 teachers, the union overwhelmingly approved a measure to take furlough days and bump up contributions to health care premiums to save those jobs and help out the district, which took a $4.3 million dollar hit in the budget. Principals and administrators did the same. They called on the Legislature to "act now" and make funding education a priority.

    Let's hope so. It looks like the Governor is making her best attempt to get these reforms done, and now it will be up to the Legislature to rise up and meet the challenge. Given their track record of the past three years, it's no wonder people are skeptical - but these lawmakers have a legacy to think about as well.

    Don't they?
  • Friday, January 29, 2010

    Club For Growth: Schauer Cut More Pork Than Miller And Camp in 2009

    Hahahaha! I'm taking this one straight out of the inbox:

    This week the free trade group Club for Growth, which endorsed ex-Congressman Tim Walberg in 2006 and 2008, released its "RePORK Card" to identify members of Congress who were most willing to vote to remove earmarks, or "pork," from the federal budget. Congressman Mark Schauer (D-MI) had the highest ranking of any Michigan Democrat according to the report, scoring higher than Rep. Dave Camp and Candice Miller - both of whom recently endorsed Tim Walberg in the GOP primary.

    "To get our economy back on track, Congressman Schauer believes Washington must tighten its belt by cutting wasteful government spending and focusing on job creation," said Sarah Blaney, spokeswoman for Schauer's campaign. "Club for Growth has spent millions of dollars on Tim Walberg over the past two election cycles, but even they can't deny the fact that Mark Schauer did more to cut pork from the federal budget last year than the only two Republican members of the Michigan delegation who've been willing to endorse Walberg."

    For comparison, Schauer scored a 43% on Club for Growth's "RePORK Card," while Republican Reps. Dave Camp and Candice Miller scored 31% and 24%, respectively (higher percentages equal more votes to eliminate earmark pork). The national average for Democrats was 3%, with a median of 0%. Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats had an average score of 7%, and a median of 0% (52 members), and freshmen Democrats had an average score of 10%, and a median of 1% (32 members).

    “While Mark has voted against wasteful projects like Maine Lobster research, he’s also proven he’ll fight for any federal funding that creates jobs here in Michigan," said Blaney. "This stands in stark contrast to Tim Walberg who disingenuously took credit for funding he requested after voting against it. Instead of sitting on the sidelines like Walberg did, Schauer is getting results for Michigan."

    Wait, we coulda had lobster? Going to have to have a talk with the Congressman next time I see him...

    Granholm to Propose Sweeping Changes to Streamline Government, Early Retirement for Employees

    Whew! When she lets loose, man, she really flies. It's like being hit by a truck that came out of nowhere. In a preview of what Governor Granholm is going to propose for her final year in office, it looks she wants to do... everything that everyone has ever suggested over the past few years. In the first of this series of proposals to streamline the government and eliminate the deficit that was released today, Granholm is proposing early retirement for thousands of state employees and teachers. Christoff hit the inbox first, so we will go with his story.

    In a stroke that could dramatically restructure the workforce of state government and public schools, Gov. Jennifer Granholm today said she’ll prod into retirement 39,000 teachers and 7,000 state employees with at least 30 years of service, and double the cost public employees pay for health care coverage as part of her final year plan to reshape and downsize the cost of state government.

    Granholm wants to replace many of the employees who would be pushed into retirement with younger, less expensive employees.

    Newly hired public employees would pay 20% of their health care costs, about twice what state workers now typically pay for health insurance, under her proposal, which comes as state lawmakers debate their government reform plans. The 20% figure is the same one Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop proposed last week when he unveiled a Republican plan for two constitutional amendments aimed at cutting the cost of government state government.

    Employees would be given incentives to retire, saving $1.8 billion over 10 years and $87 million the first year. If 39,000(!) teachers retire, that would save $230 million in the first year alone. Problems might occur with the idea of a 20% payment on health care, and the fact that we would lose a lot of experienced employees that are vital to running state departments. But, if we are consolidating departments down in an effort to streamline, we were going to lose them anyway. Nice thing about this is that it would be voluntary. Also voluntary would be the ability for schools and universities to join a new state health care plan, and, if it's cheaper than what they have now, it seems you could entice people to join rather than force them as Dillon's plan would do. Easier said than done, I know. So... we will see if enough people would get on board with this to make it fly.

    But wait! That's not all! If we act now, we can accomplish the following items that read like a laundry list of both Republican and Democratic ideas for reforming the government. This comes from the radio address today:

    Included in the governor’s agenda are steps to further reduce the structural deficit, facilitate local government and school district cost-cutting, enhance accountability in government, and modernize the budget process. To advance these goals, the governor is proposing to:

    • reduce costs by providing positive and negative incentives to encourage 7,000 eligible state employees and 39,000 eligible public school employees to retire;

    • increase state employee participation in a new health-care plan that maintains critical benefits for new state workers and their families while reducing the cost to state government by 21 percent;

    • eliminate lifetime health care for legislators;

    • continue reforming Michigan prison policies to reduce costs;

    • shift to a two-year state budget cycle;

    • audit state contracts annually and review all tax expenditures biennially to identify needed changes and savings;

    • implement pay-as-you-go budgeting;

    • give local government, school, university, and other public employees the option to participate in the state of Michigan’s new, cost-effective health-care plan;

    • require competitive bidding of contracts and additional shared services among local governments and schools;

    • end immunity for prescription drug companies to enable recovery of Medicaid dollars as in 49 other states;

    • streamline elections by allowing no-reason absentee voting, on-line registration, and elections-by-mail in some cases;

    • require financial disclosures of all state elected officials and candidates;

    • tighten ethics standards for elected officials, appointed officials, and state contract managers; and

    • better regulate corporate special-interest campaign spending.

    This is just the start. More will be announced at the State of the State Address next week, and during the budget presentation on Feb. 11th.

    Ambitious much, Governor?

    Michigan Chamber of Commerce Threatens Lawmakers Who Won't Raise Taxes for Roads

    Here is something you won't see everyday. The anti-tax Michigan Chamber of Commerce does a full 180 when it comes to raising gas taxes for road work - and makes insinuations that lawmakers who don't support this might receive the cold shoulder come election time.

    Can I get a Nelson Muntz "haw-haw!" out of this one? Gotta love the irony here.

    Lawmaker fears that voters will punish them for raising taxes, hardly popular, is one reason why the gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1997. Some business groups, however, are warning legislators that rejection of road tax increases will count against them when it comes time to make endorsements.

    “We’re saying to lawmakers ‘if not now, when? And if not now, what is your alternative?’ ” said Rich Studley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “There is a real cost to the political and financial neglect of our transportation system, lost jobs, time, wages, money. It’s very quantifiable.”

    There is also a "real cost" to the political and financial neglect of our education, public safety and health care systems as well, also "very quantifiable", and the hypocrisy of the Chamber is not lost on anyone who pays attention to these things. But, putting that aside for now, the loss of road funding is a huge issue for this state. If we don't pony up for federal matching funds, we stand to lose billions of dollars and thousands of construction jobs.

    As predicted at the beginning of December, the Michigan Dept. of Transportation had to cancel 243 planned road projects yesterday due to lack of funding, and, not only will that cost us $2.1 billion in federal dollars over the next five years, money that will now go to other states mind you, it will cost us thousands of construction jobs as well. Maybe even cause some road construction businesses based in Michigan to take their shiny, expensive trucks and skilled employees and follow the money out of state as well.

    If lawmakers don’t act on revenue this year, road construction employment would drop from 17,000 in 2010 to about 7,000 by 2012, according to department estimates. Overall construction spending on state highways and bridges would drop from an annual average of $775 million to $232 million.

    In a time where "jobs, jobs, jobs" are the first words to tumble from every lawmaker's lips, this would be the perfect opportunity to lead with job creation (or retention) as the reason why this increase is necessary. Throw in the benefits to business, and quality of life issues such as car repair costs and such, and it's a no-brainer, right?

    Not if you are a teabaggin' Republican who is up for election this year.

    The House has a bipartisan proposal to raise the gas tax 4 cents by March 2010 (would anyone even notice?) and another 4 cents by 2013. Diesel taxes would go up 12 cents in that time frame. Rep. Dick Ball (R) and Pam Byrnes (D) introduced the proposal earlier this week. Oddly enough, they didn't lead with the strong suit of "jobs" on this issue, but talked about "critical repairs" and "doing what's right" and getting beyond the partisan politics to serve the state. Nice touch. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell Republican legislative leadership to get on board and back the plan.

    Bill Nowling, spokesman for House Republicans, said a tax vote on roads may not occur until after the November election.

    “I don’t see the appetite to take this up right now,” he said. “We know we have a funding problem. We’re not sure this package addresses enough of the reform issues.”

    Zzzzz. The words "reform issues" and "appetite" are soooo Bishop circa 2009. That's how unoriginal the House Republicans are. But it is telling that they are indicating that nothing gets done until after the election. Remember that. The Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have a new word this year...

    Matt Marsden, a spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, said he expects Republican lawmakers will remain skeptical of proposals to fix roads with higher taxes.

    In other words, "no". Might as well just adjourn until after the election, right?

    Republicans in our legislature are now acting against the expressed interests of "business", with Bishop ignoring the wishes of the Chamber on this issue, and the Business Leaders group and their ideas for overall reform. The zeal to appease the extremists in their party will cost the state untold damage on this and other issues that are important to businesses, as lawmakers stall for yet another year.

    Will "businesses" now notice that the Republicans are not on their side?

    Gongwer/EPIC Poll: Voters Oppose Bishop's Plan to Cut Public Employee Pay

    Voters have consistently opposed most everything that Mike Bishop suggests. They didn't like the all-cuts budget from last year, they don't like the new proposal that would cut public employee pay and benefits. A Gongwer exclusive:

    Proposed constitutional amendments from the Senate Republicans to cut the pay of every public employee in the state by 5 percent and require them to contribute 20 percent to the cost of their health insurance would fail to win public approval, according to a poll commissioned by Gongwer News Service.

    The poll, conducted by the Lansing-based polling firm EPIC/MRA, showed 40 percent of voters would support the constitutional amendments while 49 percent would oppose them.

    Interesting stat, the proposal gained favor in Detroit 48-40, but was strongly opposed out in the hinterlands 55-35. Other than that, men and women opposed, black and white opposed, educational levels had college degrees split and anything under opposed. Those making over $100,000 a year were in favor. And in the chase for what is becoming the most prized voter of all - those golden independents - the survey said:

    Perhaps most significantly, independent voters opposed the plan, 51 percent against to 37 percent in favor. Democrats were even more strongly against it, 65-28. But Republicans supported it, 54 percent in favor to 36 percent against.

    "The proposal is not appealing to independents," Mr. Porn said. "Democrats are solidly against it, and Republicans are not that enthusiastic about it."

    The poll also asked about the overall plan, which includes more cuts to Medicaid that wouldn't be on the ballot, and support drops even further, 46-37.

    Matt Marsden tried to explain away these results by indicating the voters don't like "change" as he questioned the wording, meaning, if they could twist it around to their liking they would get different results. No doubt. But when poll after poll after poll has shown that the public is NOT in favor of the Republican "all cuts, all the time" agenda, and that they are OK with revenue increases to fund public safety, education and health care, it becomes incumbent on the Democrats to offer a competing proposal that the public will support.

    Wouldn't you think?

    Maybe everyone should become an "independent". Perhaps they will listen to us then.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010

    Candice Miller Needs Some New Lines

    Candice Miller, complaining about the Recovery Act back in February of '09:

    Here is Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., explaining her vote against the bill Friday despite the benefits to her home state: "Michigan is a state of about 10 million people, and we are the hardest hit, as I said, by this economy. And yet we are expected to get approximately $7 billion from this bill. And apparently the Senate majority leader has earmarked $8 billion for a rail system from Las Vegas to Los Angeles? You have got to be kidding. You have got to be kidding."

    Er, no, turns out Reid didn't earmark anything, and the $8 billion was to be divided across the country. Moving on, here's Candice today, upset that Michigan only received $40 million out of the bill she voted against:

    "This is economic stimulus? You gotta be kidding me," says Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller.

    Representative Miller has obviously run out of creative declarations of exasperation when she doesn't get the money that she won't take the responsibility of voting for in the first place. Won't you help? Send your suggestions to Candice here. Show your bipartisan spirit and lend the Republicans a hand - endlessly complaining about the Obama administration and obstructing progress for America is hard work!

    By the way, this is just the start of the funding for high-speed rail, with Michigan, Indiana and Illinois receiving $244 million for improvements on the Detroit to Chicago line. We hope to receive more in the next round of funding, and by that time maybe Candice will have some shiny new expressions of disgust she can show off to the press.

    Dillon Tells Audience Legislature "Probably" Won't Act on School Funding This Year

    Nothing like throwing the game before it has even started, right? Andy Dillon tells an audience of parents and educators in Livonia that they better get ready for more cuts, because we shouldn't expect anything out of this Legislature this year. They have their future jobs to think about.

    Per-pupil funding is expected to be cut by at least another $268 because of an expected $400 million shortfall in the school aid fund, the legislators said. And school districts will be asked to contribute more to their employees' retirement.

    In Livonia, per-pupil funding was unexpectedly cut by approximately $475 in the middle of this school year, necessitating budget cuts and employee concessions to save jobs and programs.

    While some people advocate reforming school funding, the state Legislature probably won't “step up to do tough things” in 2010 because it's an election year, Dillon said.

    The House speaker said people have a right to be angry. “I'm angry at the dysfunction in Lansing,” he said.

    So, you did nothing to address our problems last year, after you promised that you would, you're already admitting that nothing will get done this year, after promising us last fall that it would, and you want us to hire you again? And I'm not speaking just to Dillon, I'm speaking about everyone running for office, from both chambers. What do you possibly have to show for accomplishments at this point? The texting ban?

    Whaddaya say, voters? While we should probably give out some points for honesty here, perhaps it's time to find some people who are interested in, you know, actually working for the good of this state instead of constantly kicking the can down the road and saying "no, we can't".

    EDIT to add this: Bishop is already threatening an all cuts budget if he doesn't get his way with the union-busting, unconstitutional cuts to the state employees. This is a MIRS headline:

    "Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R-Rochester) today said that if his caucus' reforms don't go through, he has an all-cuts budget at his fingertips for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011."

    This is what happens when you don't stand up to the bullies - they just keep bullying you. And Michigan gets hurt.

    Will the Democrats respond? Will the press, and more importantly, those "business leaders", even notice that Bishop is not compromising on reforms and tax structure? Where is all that "bipartisanship" that everyone claims is so important?

    The Freep called out Bishop on his so-called "plan" today - will others step up to the plate and do the same?

    Running the State Like a Business: Pure Michigan Advertising Edition

    We've often heard that we need to run this state "like a business". Ignoring the vast differences between the goals of government vs. the goals of for-profit businesses, let's play along for a moment. Tell me, what smart business cans its advertising campaign, especially when that campaign has been a roaring success? Does that sound like a smart "business" move?

    As you may or may not remember, the Pure Michigan campaign was drastically slashed in the Bishop-Dillon budget agreement, dropping from $30 million in funding back down to $5.4 million - and the winter ad buy was canceled. This came after reports in the summer showed that our tourism industry had some "surprising increases" that were attributed to the campaign, with many vacation areas and events reporting a surge in visitors, growing during the height of the "Great Recession". Yesterday, Comerica released the 4th quarter Michigan Tourism Index, and it showed another uptick in the formula that uses equally weighted data from lodging, entertainment and travel reports.

    Comerica Bank’s Michigan Tourism Index jumped six points in the fourth quarter last year to a level of 94, which is the highest level since the second quarter of 2008.

    The index averaged 90 last year and 92 in 2008.


    The index took a dive in '08, starting with the high gas prices and continuing though the national crash in the economy that happened in the third and fourth quarter, but ever since then it has been slowly back on the rise. Without the boost in national advertising, would we have seen the relatively good results for tourism that we saw in '09? Chances are, no.

    Another indication of the success of the campaign, for the third year in a row, Michigan.org was the No. 1 tourism website in the country.

    The web page garnered more than 12.6 million hits in 2009, nearly a 8 percent increase over 2008.

    Michigan.org received more visits than any other state tourism Web site in 2009, according to Hitwise, an online measurement company.

    "Our Pure Michigan marketing effort is driving a record number of potential visitors to michigan.org," said George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, a business unit of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

    Michigan tourism is an $18 billion-a-year industry, employing 192,000 and generating $874 million in annual state tax revenues.


    Web-based marketing has done very well, even generating a new spin-off site called "PureMichiganLiving.com", which lists job openings and carries positive stories about people and businesses that have moved to Michigan. This looks to be a great recruiting tool, as long as we can get some TV behind it. The web goes a long way, but television is still the place to be for maximum exposure.

    So here we are at the beginning of '10, and tourism based Michigan businesses are left in the lurch at this point, waiting for our legislature to get its act together and fund this campaign so they can make their advertising plans for the year. Many of them "piggyback" off of state advertising - and inaction is threatening the summer tourism season. Cable TV buys need lead time, and the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be.

    The campaign promoting Michigan's travel destinations to a nationwide audience won't be able to make a summer advertising splash unless it gets substantially more money approved within the next few weeks, organizers say. Reduced advertising would be a significant blow to a Michigan tourism industry already struggling to weather the state's long-running economic slump.

    "We need this resolved soon," said George Zimmermann of Travel Michigan, the agency that created and launched the Pure Michigan campaign. "We need to be on the air in March. And you've got to buy it before you're on the air, so we need a little bit of lead time to make the buys."

    Local tourism officials said uncertainty over the state's funding issues is throwing a wrench into their seasonal advertising plans. Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the local CVB "piggybacked" its advertising push in recent years with the state's Pure Michigan campaign in several Midwest markets.


    The House passed a measure in December that, of course, went nowhere with the Senate, and Republican Jason Allen tells the Traverse City Record-Eagle that they are looking for "an equitable, bipartisan solution". Fine. But do it fast.

    For all the talk of running the state "like a business", this is no way to run a business. Dropping a wildly successful campaign that is bringing people in the door shows a remarkable lack of business sense, and if that's the case, we should we trust them on any other "business" rhetoric they care to utter?

    Ilitch Polls Even With Three Republican Candidates

    Gongwer got their hands on a poll conducted by the Mellman Group out of DC, and I thought I'd throw it out here simply because I'm super pissed off about the incredibly sexist notion being floated that voters wouldn't accept another "blonde female" for governor. A recent edition of Lansing's version of the Church of the Savvy had a good giggle over that, with Christoff implying that issue has been raised in Democratic circles.

    Really? Can you imagine the same thing being said about a white guy after the Bush years? Or any guy at all? Me neither. So here is the poll, probably leaked on purpose, but so what. I'll bite.

    It tested Ms. Ilitch against Oakland Sheriff Mike Bouchard, Attorney General Mike Cox and U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra. It was unclear who paid for the survey.

    Ms. Ilitch received 31 percent against 30 percent for Mr. Bouchard, 32 percent against 30 percent for Mr. Cox and 32 percent against 33 percent for Mr. Hoekstra. The balance in each of the match-ups was undecided.

    The survey was conducted among 600 registered voters and had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

    What does it mean? Absolutely nothing at this point, except that she holds her own against these gentlemen right from the start, and perhaps the pundit class and Democratic leaders should dismiss the idea that voters would have a "blonde female" bias right away. After all, if Republicans want to try and use that, it might be a boon to the party - an attack her gender could backfire in a big way.

    I know it pushed my buttons, being one of those "blonde females" myself, but I wouldn't vote for someone based solely on gender - and I would hazard a guess that by now, an overwhelming majority of the voters would feel the same way. So, let's knock off the stupid, and find out where she stands on the issues - assuming she wants to run at all.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    We Have Met the Enemy

    Michael Cohen, writing for Newsweek in this must-read web exclusive, lays out the biggest problem facing President Obama: It is us. Between the Congress, the electorate, and the media that enables it all, it seems the term "ungovernable" isn't just for California anymore.

    First, he calls out the "obstructionist Republicans". Glad to see this moniker is starting to stick across the country; Lord knows we have seen it enough in Michigan to understand it right off the bat. And it applies to the GOP across the entire governing spectrum as far as I can tell: From the national right on down to the local, they just say "no" to every attempt made towards bispartisanship, and as a consequence, nothing gets solved - and then they promptly blame everyone but themselves for the problems they refuse to fix. It's maddening, and it's about time that people started to call them out on it.

    Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain. The most bizarre feature of post-Massachusetts political spin is that President Obama has done a poor job of reaching across the aisle. But any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to—because they aren't actually very interested in governing the country.

    Cohen goes on with some examples using health care; Republicans did nothing about it when Bush was in charge, and now, instead of offering counter-proposals or their ideas, they simply lie about the whole thing or threaten filibusters to halt progress. Why do they do this? Well, when you hire people who show nothing but contempt and disdain for the system they work for, don't be surprised when that system stops working.

    There is no governing ideology behind these obstructionist tactics except to demonstrate that government is simply unable to operate effectively. So far, mission accomplished.

    Cohen doesn't spare the "spineless Democrats". Putting health care on the back burner after the Brown victory is a huge tactical mistake at this point.

    Even if Democrats pass health-care reform, it's an extraordinary commentary on their lack of confidence. Instead of making their case to voters, the first thought among Democrats was to run for political cover. Such fecklessness raises the question: if Democrats with a huge majority in both houses of Congress and control of the White House can't pass the centerpiece of their agenda, what can they possibly hope to accomplish? Why should anyone vote for a party that has such little demonstrated faith in their own principles?

    Most people at this point are probably confused as to what those Democratic "principles" are. I know I am. Lack of a strong message, and the inability to take a stand for anything or anyone, has brought about the most stunning drop in enthusiasm among the faithful that it's a wonder anyone will turn out this November. While that feeling will certainly change as time goes on, Cohen points out that the "increasingly incoherent electorate" has some issues it needs to face as well.

    We want "change", but we don't want to change. Health care, for example:

    On health care, polls indicate that Americans want Congress to extend access, cut costs, and tame the insurance industry. But they don't want their own benefits affected, or government's role in the health-care system to increase, or be mandated to buy insurance. In short, they want change, but they reject the most commonsense means of bringing that change about and generally refuse to sacrifice for the greater good of society as a whole.

    Part of the problem here is that the public feels they have already "sacrificed" enough: They've lost jobs. They've lost homes. They've lost health care. Their wages are stagnant (or have been cut) while the cost of living keeps going through the roof. They are terrified that the American Dream is slipping away from them: No matter how hard they work, no matter if they play by the rules, they can't hope to ever get ahead, for themselves or for their children. In this sense, the word "sacrifice" leaves the public with the impression they have to "give up" something more, rather than "give to" something that will bring them a better life in the long run. There's a big difference between the two, and we are right back to the problem of framing the message once again.

    Cohen thinks that President Obama should be honest with America about all these things. Maybe so. But somehow, I don't think that "knock it off" is going to go over too well, either, no matter how badly we need to hear it. This is a critical moment in time, and it will set the tone for a difficult year to come.

    I wish President Obama all the luck in the world with "us". He is going to need it. We are a real pain in the ass, but overall, we are worth the effort. It may not seem like it at times, but deep down you know it's true.

    The Fix on I-196 Project Visualization



    Hey Grand Rapids drivers, check this out. Anyone who drives this stretch (and I try to avoid it myself) knows how much this work needs to be done.

    Thank the nice President for the jobs and safety improvements this will bring to the city.

    Stupak Won't Run For Governor

    Good to know.

    U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, declaring he is not ready to give up his seat, said Monday he will not run for governor and will instead begin circulating petitions for a 10th term in his 31-county district that includes all of the Upper Peninsula and 16 counties in the Lower Peninsula.

    ...

    Stupak said "a lot of people" subsequently told him "it's the right place, the right time" for him to run for the office that on occasion "has been in the back of my mind."

    But, in a phone interview before his formal announcement, Stupak said he concluded there was not enough time to raise the necessary money and otherwise mount a primary campaign. He estimated the ideal goal would be about $5 million, although $3.5 million might be enough.

    Thanks for playing, Bart. You can go back to undermining the party in DC now.

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Investing in Early Education Saves Michigan Taxpayers Millions, Increases Revenue

    As you are reading this story, remember that Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans suggested eliminating all early childhood education funding in the current fiscal year budget. They didn't get their wish, but funding for preschool in the Bishop-Dillon budget agreement was "drastically reduced" - and that is going to end up costing us more in the long run.

    Preschool saves Michigan taxpayers mountains of money and increases revenues -- about $1.15 billion over the past 25 years, according to the first comprehensive study of the state's programs for children from birth to 5 years old, to be released today by state Schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan.

    "Tax dollars are increasingly scarce," said Andy Heller, Early Childhood Investment Corp. spokesman. "Lansing needs data to set spending priorities, and research shows that early childhood programs are a sound investment."

    The study, "Cost Savings Analysis of School Readiness in Michigan," estimates cost savings and revenue generated from the state's investment in programs that set the stage for school success.

    This report is a conservative estimate, using a range of studies on the results of early childhood education programs here in Michigan and elsewhere when Michigan data wasn't available. The breakdown on the savings proves to be pretty predictable; common sense solutions to problems tend to yield positive fiscal results.

    K-12 saved $221 million by reducing spending on students who otherwise would have to repeat a grade, addressed learning impairments with early intervention, and saved money on replacing teachers who burn out and leave the profession due to working conditions caused by bad student behavior and performance. Government spending saw the biggest overall reduction at $584 million; cuts to juvenile crime, adult crime, child abuse and neglect, improved employment chances reducing need for Medicaid and welfare, reduced child care subsidies, and increased productivity and income from better employment conditions, all lifted the burden of taxpayers. Reduced social costs to the public of $347 million included statistics on the reduction of property and violent crime losses, improved health care outcomes due to reduced drug and alcohol abuse, and increased incomes of employed parents who had more time when their children were enrolled in preschool.

    To put it simply: You can pay a little now and see long term benefits, or you can make more cuts and pay a lot more later.

    If the state’s current investments in school readiness were discontinued or reduced, these annual savings and revenues would subsequently erode, causing a significant negative impact on the State of Michigan's future annual budgets and overall economy. Conversely, those benefits will rise if the state sustains its current level of investment and will increase exponentially as a result of increased investment in the Great Start Readiness Program, Great Start system, and other high-quality and comprehensive programs that promote early educational preparation.

    The estimated annual cost of expanding the Great Start School Readiness Program to all eligible children is at most $236 million, based on a cost of $6,800 for a full-day program per new student. That cost is less than half of the annual educational, social, and economic benefits that would eventually be realized through this additional investment in Michigan’s future.

    As part of the solution to Michigan's ongoing budget problems, sure beats the hell out of "just cut everyone's salary!", doesn't it?

    Believing in the Change You Can't See

    Apparently we were supposed to take it on faith that politicians have our best interests at heart when it comes to health insurance reform.

    With House and Senate leaders trying to figure out how to proceed legislatively, Mr. Axelrod also issued a warning to Democrats who were reconsidering their support for the health care measure.

    “As a political matter, the foolish thing to do would be for anybody else who supported this to walk away from it,” he said. He added, “The underlying elements of it are popular and important, and people will never know what’s in that bill until we pass it, the president signs it and they have a whole new range of protections they never had before.”

    Uh, David? Do you realize that you just identified the problem here?

    It's simply stunning that the people who ran one of the most brilliant campaigns in history have failed so miserably when it comes to selling their own policy.

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    And Then There Were Four...

    These are usually the best games of the year.

    NY Jets at Indianapolis
    Minnesota at New Orleans

    I literally flipped a coin on the Vikings/Saints game.

    4-4 for the playoffs.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010

    Sunday News Dump


    Lincoln Face
    Clever marketing wins.


    Some stuff to ponder while we are waiting for the Magic Bipartisanship Pony to arrive:

  • The Auto Show has surpassed last year's attendance and will be well past the target of 700,000 by the time it closes later today. Great quote from this story:

    "It is quite crowded," she said as her boys oohed and aahed over the cars on display. "There has been a change in the economy. Everybody is interested to see what they (automakers) are coming up with."

    Aside from the one small fire, Cobo seems to have held together this year, and now the chatter is starting about adding the name "Detroit" back to the title of the show. Pride comes back to the Motor City, and that's a beautiful thing. More pics from the show here.

  • It takes money to create jobs. Although venture capital investments plunged during the height of the Great Recession, Michigan still remains in the top 20 in the nation for $$ invested in 2009. As the credit markets open up (please?) expect that amount to rise in 2010. Hey, wait a minute... I thought that we were a horrible place to do business, and no one wants to come here! Must be the Republicans haven't scared off everyone yet. Or they are lying, one or the other. For a history of Michigan's economic diversification strategy, check out the excellent article by Rick Haglund in Dome. Turns out Milliken is responsible for all of this. We've had mixed results, but it's not like we changed over from fur and lumber to manufacturing on a dime either. Time brings perspective.

  • Michigan has landed its biggest movie production yet - DreamWorks will start filming "Real Steel" with Hugh Jackman in June. The $80 million dollar production will shoot in Detroit and other locations across the state. Pray that our Legislature doesn't screw up the film incentives during the next budget battle...

  • Bigotry is still alive and well in the MI GOP, as SOS candidate Paul Scott decides that he will make transgender individuals a campaign issue. He's going to make it a priority that those individuals "will not be allowed to change the sex on their driver's license in any circumstance", because nothing says "Michigan is open for business" like some ignorant jackass making it a point to show how backwards we are to the rest of the world. Maybe you should make it a priority to visit Jocelyn Benson's website instead.

  • While we are on the subject of Bad Republican Behavior, the Senate Republicans are busy trying to undermine the will of the voters on both stem cell research and medical marijuana, which you may remember are ballot proposals that passed by overwhelming margins. If the House even considers messing with this while other important issues are ignored, I am going to throw a fit. You've been warned.

  • Mike Bishop, makin' friends everywhere he goes. Or not.

  • Bank of America is now a part owner of the Detroit News, as its parent company Affiliated Media Inc. has filed for bankruptcy. BoA received $45 billion in TARP funds. Does this mean that the taxpayers have now bailed out Nolan Finley? Maybe irony isn't dead. For the record, I believe BoA may have paid back the TARP funds by now - but if we hadn't bailed them out, Nolan's ego would have been "allowed to fail". Hmmm. Maybe there is something to all that free market stuff after all...

  • Washing the Republican out of your brain by ending on a good note: Michigan companies and their employees have stepped up in a big way to help relief efforts in Haiti. Watch out for fraud though; it's out there. Check this diary at Kos for a list of reputable charities.
  • Friday, January 22, 2010

    Won't Somebody Please Think of the Corporations?

    The view from the other side.

    Dozens of current and former corporate executives have a message for Congress: Quit hitting us up for campaign cash.

    Roughly 40 executives from companies including Playboy Enterprises, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's, the Seagram's liquor company, toymaker Hasbro, Delta Airlines and Men's Wearhouse sent a letter to congressional leaders Friday urging them to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns. They say they are tired of getting fundraising calls from lawmakers — and fear it will only get worse after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling.

    And here you thought this would be a problem for the average citizen. Corporate CEOs are tired of looking out the window to see some long-faced Congresscritter standing there with his or her nose pressed up against the glass, begging for table scraps like a lost puppy left out in the rain. It's breaking their hearts that they can't feed them all.

    Congressional candidates who find themselves attacked by a flood of special-interest TV ads in the 2010 elections will likely reach out to their party's biggest donors for money to help them counter the blitz.

    "Members of Congress already spend too much time raising money from large contributors," the business executives' letter says. "And often, many of us individually are on the receiving end of solicitation phone calls from members of Congress. With additional money flowing into the system due to the court's decision, the fundraising pressure on members of Congress will only increase."

    These beleaguered CEOs sent the letter through Fair Elections Now, a group working to pass public campaign financing legislation. Thursday's decision gave them a new sense of urgency, realizing that they can't change their phone numbers to hide away and still have customers find them, too.

    Here in Michigan, campaign finance guru Rich Robinson doesn't forsee a big problem. Anyone with half a brain and money to spend has already worked around the law, and there are only so many broadcasting hours in the day they can fill with this drivel. And when you really stop and think about the last two election cycles, how could it possibly get worse?

    The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Thursday seems certain to boost the political power of big business and labor. But Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network said the ruling won't have much effect on Michigan campaigns because "it is highly unlikely that there are any corporations in Michigan that don't know how to get in the game."

    He noted that the state's political parties and the Chamber have spent around $50 million during the past decade for candidate-focused television issue ads in gubernatorial and state Supreme Court campaigns, spending that was allowed in Michigan even before Thursday's ruling.

    Robinson would like to see disclosure laws passed in the state, but, like the CEOs above, and the citizens weary of being subjected to the endless mudslinging during election years, we are going to find that trying to get these guys to cut off their own oxygen will be impossible. Think about buying a TiVo with your tax refund. Might be the best investment you can make.

    Maybe we can get those CEOs to join us in a ballot proposal...

    The White House Year in Photos by Pete Souza



    "White House Photographer Pete Souza shares moments from President Barack Obama's first year in office."

    If there is one person I am jealous of in this world, it's a guy by the name of Pete Souza. First of all, he's got a Canon 5D Mark II, which I probably wouldn't even know what to do with it's so nice, but most of all - the guy is so incredibly talented. Watch this slideshow for some amazing shots of the first year in the WH, and, if you are interested in the back story on any of them, check the detail page for commentary.

    I can't imagine what it must be like to have that kind of access and witness history like that, let alone be able to capture the seemingly perfect emotion and paint the picture of each setting.

    Fantastic work.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    What's Wrong With This Picture?

    From the NYT:

    With Democrats reeling from the Republican victory in the Massachusetts special Senate election, President Obama on Wednesday signaled that he might be willing to set aside his goal of achieving near-universal health coverage for all Americans in favor of a stripped-down measure with bipartisan support.

    Later in the story, the obvious problem with that idea is mentioned...

    Republicans showed no new signs of willingness to work with the Democrats. Asked what he would be willing to work on with majority, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, offered meek praise for Mr. Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan but did not offer a single example on domestic policy.

    So, we will try the same thing again, and expect different results...

    (Senator) Pryor said Democrats should reach across the aisle. “We are a lot better off when we work in a bipartisan way,” Mr. Pryor said. “Republicans have a lot of good ideas.” But when he and other Democrats tried to work with Republicans last year, Mr. Pryor said, “we were flatly rejected.”

    Even though we know it won't work...

    "You cannot dance with someone if they are not willing to dance with you," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ. He called GOP complaints that the Democrats wrote a partisan bill "pretty lame, when they have made a political calculation that their path to victory is to have the president fail."

    The Democrat that figures out the answer to this problem, wins.

    Residential Renewable Energy Net Metering Customers Double in the Past Year

    Keep in mind these figures are taken from the height of the Great Recession. Imagine what happens when recovery really takes hold. The price on these systems will start to come down as the technology continues to improve in both ease of installation and increased energy efficiency. Some day, you will be your own power plant.

    A new report from the Michigan Public Service Commission shows that the number of net metering customers in the state more than doubled in the fiscal year running from July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009. Those customers have small wind- or solar-powered generators connected to the electrical grid, and they receive credit for the energy their systems generate but isn't used.

    The PSC says the number of net metering customers statewide increased from 53 in the 2007-2008 fiscal year to 137 in 2008-2009. Wind installations increased from 29 to 96 and solar installations increased from 23 to 39.

    Are these huge numbers? No. But it shows the trend of the future. Existing construction will retrofit, and new construction will include these systems from the start. "Green" is here to stay - and it's very exciting to witness the start of the energy revolution.

    Maybe we can save this planet yet.

    Auto Show Pics




    When the going gets tough, the tough get going - and this tough had to get away from the computer and all the "Democrats are DOOMED! chatter yesterday, so I headed on down to the NAIAS 2010 in Detroit to see what all the brouhaha was about. Good call. It was a lot of fun. I briefly thought about jumping through the hoops to get a media pass back in late December, but I decided that if I was going to do this, I wanted to go with the public to watch their reaction to the cars. Another good call. They did not disappoint. They packed the place yesterday, so much so it became hard to shoot at times.

    Initial impressions - Ford is going to kick everyone's ass. It's easy to think that, given that they commanded nearly half of the floor space, but as far as variety of models, presentation of product, and value for your buck, they got it goin' on. For the second year in a row, Lincoln Mercury caught my eye in a very good way. I never gave them much thought before, but that's twice now that their product and excellent display turned my head. Ford rules the show this year, and they attracted a huge crowd of interested people.

    GM. What to say about GM. First of all, I'm in love with the Volt. They give a great talk on the features of this car, and apparently you can run the thing from your hair dryer or something. As you know, one of the challenges facing electric hybrids is the infrastructure problems of exactly where to plug-in - and the Volt can charge on a standard household outlet for .80 cents a day. Sold. For short-range everyday city driving, it's definitely cost efficient, especially if gas climbs back up to the $4 gallon range. Add the aerodynamics, the excellent mpg when the gas kicks in, the sharp design and the fact that it leans towards a mid-size rather than some of the smaller offerings, and I think GM has a winner here. Price will be an issue, and they went out of their way not to divulge that information yet. Guesstimates are putting it at 40 g's, with a healthy tax credit to offset the initial cost. I want one.

    Other than that, you can tell GM is half the company it used to be. No Saturns (which breaks my heart), Saabs, Hummers, Pontiacs, and suddenly the floor space allotted to them seemed too big. They also didn't put on the show that Ford does, probably because they just can't afford it right now. BUT, the Cruze looks interesting, the Silverados are nice, I never was much of a Buick fan but they seem OK, and of course Cadillac is still very sharp. I'm rooting for GM to pull it together and make a good comeback, and I think they are headed in the right direction.

    Chrysler put on a nice display considering they didn't have a huge variety to work with - but they made it work somehow. A healthy crowd milled about their offerings. Audi was super sharp, as was Mercedes. VW was very good as well. Toyota/Lexus was alright, a little too plain in a way that I have a hard time putting my finger on. The Electric Avenue display was interesting - but too dark. I think with better lighting it might have been more successful.

    If you can, get to the show before it closes. It's well worth the effort.

    Bishop Declares War on Public Employees

    Look at trimming tax credits for business? Make everyone pay their fair share? Oh, hell no. Mike Bishop decides it is time for working people to keep on running that "race to the bottom" and take more pay and benefit cuts. See if we can bust their unions, too, while we are at it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop says the pay of teachers, professors and state and local government workers should be cut by 5 percent for the next three years to save money.

    He told reporters Tuesday that he's proposing a constitutional amendment to go to the voters in August that would suspend collective bargaining rights and allow the pay cut to take effect.

    He also is proposing that all public employees "pay 20 percent of their health care premiums unless they participate in a health savings account or wellness program." This, and "other changes" supposedly would eliminate the deficit we are facing for next year.

    More details to come. House Democrats were busy practicing their own bit of self-flagellation today by proposing the end of lifetime benefits for lawmakers. Probably a good idea, but the timing of this announcement plays right into the hands of the angry teabagger crowd that seems to be ruling the discourse lately - and it comes off as pandering to the insane outbursts of the extreme right. That the way this year is going to go? Thousands of people come down to Lansing to protest the cuts to schools, and no response is made for that, but boy oh boy, let the "drown government" crowd utter a peep, and we get right on it.

    Makes you wonder if they will ever get around to funding K-12. Or the Promise Scholarship. Or Pure Michigan. Or any of those things that really matter to our quality of life here in this state. And then they wonder why "the base" (which a short time ago meant "the majority of the public") is less than enthused about getting out to vote for them this time around.

    Get Your Recipes For Carp Ready

    The Supreme Court won't immediately close the locks, although there is a chance that they will act later on the "broader request for action" on the issue. Watch for Mike Cox to blame President Obama in 3... 2... 1...

    The Supreme Court rejected a request by Michigan for a preliminary injunction to close the locks temporarily while a long-term solution is sought to the threatened invasion by the ravenous fish. The one-sentence ruling didn't explain the court's reasoning.

    Governor Granholm and Governor Doyle of Wisconsin are calling for an immediate summit at the White House, so far there has been no official response.

    And why do you get the sinking feeling that it may already be too late?

    Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said additional carp DNA -- but no live fish -- had been found in three different spots along the Chicago River within a mile of where it flows into Lake Michigan.

    Might want to start looking at ways to eventually try and control the population. Easier said than done. Some form of carp morning-after pill or something - because if they are already in the big lake there will be no stopping them, and closing the locks won't make a damn bit of difference anyway.

    UPDATE: Late this afternoon it was announced that carp DNA was found in Lake Michigan.

    A federal official says DNA from Asian carp has been detected in Lake Michigan for the first time -- but it's still not certain whether the fish themselves have entered the lake.

    Gen. John Peabody of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says one sample of genetic material from the invasive carp has been found in Calumet Harbor, which is part of Lake Michigan.

    Like I said...

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Random Sunday Thoughts

    Some brief Sunday funnies. Or, not so funnies. I'm finding all my resolutions about "optimism" are being severely tested in the first couple weeks of this year. While there have been some good indications that things are starting to turn around here in Michigan, I can't shake the disgust I have with "politics" right now. Forgive my surly mood.

  • The Freep throws down the gauntlet to the Legislature - get the budget done by May 1st, or Dillon and Bishop should step aside. The odds of either of those things happening are pretty slim, but keep on dreamin'.

  • Peter Luke lays out the same argument, but in a thoughtful, analytic, in-depth, and non-threatening way. That's why I love him so. He takes a look at the proposals that have been laid out by the "business leaders", because at this point, what else do we have to go on? One line jumps out at me:

    The public would have to be persuaded that the increased taxes they’d be paying would help finance a better economic future for the state.


    Numerous polls and that study from the Kellogg Foundation (which Luke also wrote a great article about here, go read) show that the public already "gets it". It's not the public that necessarily needs convincing, it's the obstructionist Republicans and the dithering Democrats that need to step up to the plate and start putting this in motion.

  • The more Bart Stupak opens his mouth, the more I dislike him. What is it about Congress that turns these guys into such narcissistic jackasses? If it's such a burden for you to run, Bart, well then don't let the door hit you on the way out. Move a little faster though. Please. If you're not serious, you're a distraction that we don't need.

  • Denise Ilitch was a hit with the folks in GR - but it's not like she publicly addressed the crowd with her ideas on running the government. Still waiting to see who she is, trying to get past my prejudice against the wealthy - but the tortured artist that rules my psyche is intrigued by the fact that she is a designer. So, there's that. The clock is ticking though - and the appearance of Democratic indecision does not exactly instill confidence in the party as a whole.

  • A brief story on jobs and the stimulus once again exposes today's barrier to job creation - no, not "more tax cuts", small business loans.

    Noel Cuellar runs Primera Plastics, a Zeeland-based injection molding company that makes pieces for the auto and furniture industries. His business is up, thanks partly to opportunity created because other auto suppliers failed. But he can't find banks to lend him the money to expand -- a complaint heard by small businesses across the country.

    "If money wasn't an issue, I could add 30 people," he said. "How do you tactfully tell a customer 'no' and still stay in the game?"


    A bill introduced in the US House would tax excessive Wall Street bonuses at those firms that received TARP money, and redirect that revenue to the Small Business Administration for a temporary program that would offer low-interest loans to companies that are having a hard time getting a line of credit. Sounds like a plan. How soon can it happen?

  • The folks who police the mlive GR Press site have run into the same problem that blogs have had to deal with for some time - the comments under stories turn incredibly nasty, racist, sexist, threatening, you name it, it's ugly, they are scaring the nice folks away, and it's probably been a problem since mankind starting chiseling random thoughts on the cave walls. All I can say is - good luck, and welcome to my nightmare.

  • Ending on a positive note: A Grand Rapids boy is collecting teddy bears for the children of Haiti, and he started by donating his own. Very touching. The toys are scheduled to arrive in March after necessary needs are met.

    If you are looking to donate - check the new diary at Kos for a list of organizations that could use your help, or, take a look around your local community. Many civic groups are coming together with efforts to send money, items, and personnel, and if you're not comfortable with the online stuff, there is probably a local group that could use your time and/or donations. Give what you can.
  • Saturday, January 16, 2010

    NFL Playoffs

    Arizona at New Orleans
    Baltimore at Indianapolis
    Dallas at Minnesota
    NY Jets at San Diego

    1-3 last week - ugh.

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Bishop: "We'll Just Totally Have to Cut Higher Education Funding"

    And you thought tuition rates are high now...

    Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, has said the Senate will not act on any proposed tax increases despite some measure of public support, so Dillon said balancing the budget will require creative solutions.

    What will a balanced budget look like without tax increases?

    "My estimate is we'll just totally have to cut higher education funding," Bishop said, arguing that such a move will set back the state's progress towards a knowledge-based economy.

    Hmmm. So much for "compromise" coming out of the Senate. Wonder if those business leaders and all those who cry over Michigan's broken government will bother to point out who is holding up progress...

    Granholm Talks Autos on "Morning Joe"

    Governor Granholm is out there this morning, talking up those electric vehicles and battery manufacturing (did you see where A123 is going to be hiring hundreds of people in the Detroit area this year?), selling that new day in the auto industry as well as the state of Michigan. And finally we get around to trade, too...

    Scarborough: "I think a lot of people have bowed at the alter of free trade to a degree that it's not even an ideology, it's a religion. I think we need to talk about this some more. And debate it."

    Sounds like a plan, Joe. Hey, if Pat Buchanan is willing to help, get it all out there..

    Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



    The news that Ford is moving battery manufacturing from Mexico to Michigan is a great start. Here is a recap on the announcement they made Monday at the Auto Show:

    Michigan is stealing jobs from Mexico, bucking a decades-old trend as Ford moves battery production in-house in preparation for 2011 production of the Focus Electric at the Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne.

    ...

    •Ford will invest $450 million in Michigan as it begins production on electric vehicles. Combined with $550 million announced in May, Ford has announced roughly $1 billion in Michigan investment this year.
    •Ford estimates the investment will create approximately 1,000 jobs in Michigan
    •Ford will produce the Focus Electric at the Michigan Assembly plant in 2011
    •In 2012, the Michigan Assembly plant will also produce "the next generation Ford hybrid and hybrid plug-in"
    •Ford will bring battery system design and development "in-house as a core competency," and move production from Mexico to Michigan
    •The company will produce hybrid transaxles at the Van Dyke Transmission facility in Warren

    We don't want to see this work eventually outsourced. The fact that Ford (as well as the others) chose Michigan to locate it is a good sign - but we better be prepared to protect it before some other government decides to subsidize manufacturing these batteries below cost and eats our lunch for us.

    Help us out, Pat...

    GOP 2010 Strategy: Focus on the Attack. The Media Will Oblige.

    According to Politco, the GOP strategy to take back the US House consists of running an attack smokescreen, perhaps to cover up the fact that the Party of No doesn't have any ideas except for the "conservative" policies that were roundly rejected in the past two elections...

    House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, one of 10 leaders who attended a strategy session in Annapolis, Md., this week, said the party will attack Democrats relentlessly for the stimulus, health care and cap-and-trade bills. Internally, Republicans call it the “80-20 strategy,” which, loosely interpreted, means spending 80 percent of the time whacking Democrats and the remainder talking up their own ideas.

    ...

    Cantor conceded that the public is far from thrilled with the GOP — in fact, the party’s image is worse than the Democrats’ — but he argues that Republicans will benefit most from the public loathing of Washington.

    And already we are seeing that here, as the Republican contenders for Gary Peters' seat spent last night at a forum in Farmington Hills indulging in a mutual admiration society event that had the AP reporter focusing on the attack strategy only.

    Issues? What issues? It's the dogfight that counts, right?

    When businessman Gene Goodman sat down after answering a question, former state Rep. Andrew "Rocky" Raczkowski gave him a thumbs-up and a playful pat on the back. On several occasions, the seated candidates applauded their opponent's response.

    On topics ranging from international trade and immigration to jobs and taxes, the trio of GOP candidates didn't differ much.

    This article won't tell you where the candidates stand on those topics though. It immediately moved to the bluster and false bravado and name-calling portion of the program, with a mention of the president's "sagging approval ratings" thrown in for good measure.

    "We definitely need to get Gary Peters the heck out of here," Goodman said.

    "I look forward to being your candidate — to wipe the snot out of Gary Peters," Raczkowski said.

    Businessman Paul Welday criticized Peters for matching the voting record of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

    "He calls himself a Blue Dog Democrat. ... I call him a Lap Dog Democrat," Welday said to applause and laughter from the dozens of audience members.

    What would the GOP do differently in regards to those important issues that concern the public? We don't know. Time will reveal the GOP policies as we continue on through this year, and those policies may very well be rejected again by the electorate, but pay attention to the constant drip, drip, drip of "Obama is unpopular!" that is starting now, and watch as it slowly becomes the accepted conventional wisdom going forward. It serves to fire up the Republican base and dispirit the Democrats - and come November, it may contribute to the reason why the Democratic voters would choose to stay home.

    It is still early of course, but this is how it starts. The Democrats would do well to figure out how they are going to combat this without seeming as if they are playing defense all the time. One way would be to point out that the GOP doesn't have any new ideas when it comes to addressing our problems and start calling this strategy out for what it is - a cover-up for the fact that the Republicans would return this country to its previous disastrous course.

    All they have is the attack. Call them out on it. For the Democrats, the time to start playing offense is now - before the media defines the race for you.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    2009 Michigan Congressional Environmental Scorecard

    Democrats did very well on Environment America's 2009 Scorecard. Republicans, not so much.

    Both of Michigan's senators and six of its representatives were named Environmental Champions based on their 2009 Congressional Scorecard.

    They received 100 percent scores on pro-environment votes, seven in the Senate and 15in the House. Nationally, 40 senators and 144 reps received top scores.

    How they scored:

    • Sen. Carl Levin , 100 percent
    • Sen. Debbie Stabenow , 100 percent
    • Rep. John Dingell , 100 percent
    • Rep. Dale Kildee , 100 percent
    • Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick , 100 percent
    • Rep. Sander Levin , 100 percent
    • Rep. Gary Peters , 100 percent
    • Rep. Mark Schauer , 100 percent
    • Rep. John Conyers , 93 percent.
    • Rep. Bart Stupak , 87 percent
    • Rep. Vernon Ehlers , 73 percent
    • Rep. Candice Miller , 60 percent
    • Rep. Fred Upton , 47 percent
    • Rep. Thaddeus McCotter , 33 percent
    • Rep. Mike Rogers , 20 percent
    • Rep. Dave Camp , 13 percent
    • Rep. Pete Hoekstra , 13 percent

    For the full report visit environmentamerica.org.

    Kellogg Foundation: Michigan Residents OK With Tax Increases

    Time for everyone to stop being afraid of the "t" word. Results of a study from the Kellogg Foundation are practically the same as those EPIC polls from last fall that show the majority of folks in this state are OK with tax increases when it comes to funding quality of life issues. And when you inform people of the pros and cons of the argument - support increases substantially. Two groups of residents were tested; 300 with a conventional survey, 314 in a "deliberative poll", brought together for a weekend to learn and talk about the issues.

    The deliberative poll, he said, is an effort to use social science to reveal what people think when they're informed and engaged. Participants broke into discussion groups to delve into the issues, and they were given pro and con arguments to consider.

    "All points of view, all walks of life deliberated about issues in small group discussions that were moderated. They really came to a considered judgment," Fishkin said.

    The polling found:

    • Support for increasing the sales tax increased from 37 percent to 51 percent and was opposed by 9 percent after deliberations.

    • Support for boosting the income tax went up from 27 percent to 45 percent, and opposed by 20 percent.

    • Support for cutting business taxes increased from 40 percent to 67 percent.

    • Backing for increasing the beer and wine tax was high before and after discussion, from 66 percent to 68 percent.

    "The public is willing to sacrifice, willing to invest, willing to pay the cost. However they demand transparency, accountability and different results," said Anne Mosle, vice president of the Kellogg Foundation.

    No more excuses, lawmakers. Massive cuts to education, public safety and health care are not going to fly again this year, so better get ready to vote for the "Grand Bargain" - and it better be a fair bargain at that. Both sides need to be willing to give, or we will fall right back into partisan gridlock. And if that happens, well, if you think the public is grumpy now, just wait until they have to pull the lever for you in November...

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Ilitch Visits the White House

    OK. I'll bite. Who is this woman?
    University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch met Tuesday with White House officials to explore a possible Democratic bid for Michigan governor.

    Ilitch, whose father owns the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers, met with staff there Tuesday, with President Barack Obama "stopping by the meeting," according to a White House official.

    My enthusiasm for this race is lower than low at this point, but I must admit, the pedigree has me intrigued. Since it seems that both parties are more focused on the needs of "business" rather than people (it will trickle down, honest!), maybe someone like Denise Ilitch will fit the bill. WWJ's bio says that she is a "tireless advocate for women and children" - that is a good start. Here's a bit more:

    A strong supporter of continuing education, Ilitch completed a mediation training course offered by the Michigan State Court Administrative Office through its Resolution Center in 2003. As a mediator, Ilitch works to enhance the traditional justice system by providing and promoting the use of Appropriate Dispute Resolution. She established the Denise Ilitch Scholarship at Walsh College in an effort to help young women earn their advanced degrees.

    Ilitch earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her Law Degree from the University Of Detroit School Of Law. In the Fall of 2005, Ilitch joined the University of Detroit Mercy's School of Law as its first Distinguished Visiting Business Executive. She mentors students interested in using legal training to go into business and serves as an advisor for students in the University's joint juris doctor/MBA program. She also gives guest lectures. The University of Detroit Mercy Law School named her 2007 Alumnus of the Year.

    Ilitch has served on the Boards of several civic, business, professional, charitable and civil rights organizations. She is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Detroit Branch NAACP. She served as a Detroit Red Wings Alternate Governor for the National Hockey League, and as a Board Member of Major League Baseball. Among her numerous awards and commendations are the B'nai B'rith International Great American Traditions Award and the Clara Barton Award from the American Red Cross.

    I'd be all for Alma Wheeler Smith, but quite frankly I don't see her getting her ideas through her own caucus in the House, let alone garnering support of the state party. Last I looked, Dillon is still the Speaker, and if the House Dems are comfortable with a leader who is a corporate "Democrat" that bows to all the wishes of the Republicans, well, it's time to look outside the system and see what else is out there.

    Maybe we can find ourselves a corporate Democrat that understands that you have to stand up for the needs of the citizens as well.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Fulton: Michigan Likely Saw Job Growth in 4th Quarter, Revenue Estimate Shows $1.6B Short on 2011

    I'm leading with the statement from Fulton because it kind of blew my mind. We lost 278,000 jobs in 2009, the most in 70 years, but we actually saw job growth in the 4th quarter? That is pretty amazing.

    The addition of about 10,000 jobs won't do much to help Michigan's highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate, which (U of M) economist George Fulton expects will remain around 15 percent through much of 2010.

    But Fulton told state government economists Monday at the revenue estimating conference that a small net job gain is a welcome change from the huge job losses Michigan saw in the first half of 2009.

    Now onto the revenue conference. The good news - no mid-year cuts to the schools will be necessary, FY 2010 is coming in pretty much on target. The bad news - we are anywhere from $1.62 billion (Hornbeck) to $2 billion (Christoff) short for FY 2011. Since Hornbeck has the happier number, let's go with his story:

    Tax collections for the general fund and the school aid fund will be $17.36 billion this year, a 5.1 percent decline compared to a year ago and $17.44 billion next year, the semi-annual revenue estimating conference between the state treasurer and directors of the House and Senate fiscal agencies determined.

    The consensus revenue numbers minus about $1 billion in federal recovery cash mean the general fund, the state's main checking account, will be $1.2 billion short and school aid will be short $423 million -- or $268 per pupil -- next year, said Gary Olson, director of the Senate Fiscal Agency.

    "We're going to have to have significant changes in tax and spending policies," Treasurer Robert Kleine said.

    Yes, you guys keep saying that, but somehow I'm having a hard time believing that any kind of "sane" is going to come out of this, because... well, you know. Certain people are running for certain offices and such. We will see what happens next. The Governor lays out her plan soon after the State of the State address, then the kids will stomp their feet and say "no", but they will also turn around and promise us that this will get done on time, yeah, you betcha. I'm guessing "after the primaries". If then. Or, maybe a miracle will occur, and the "Grand Bargain" will actually be made. You never know with this bunch.

    You can stop laughing now.

    Some interesting figures for the history books:

    Olson repeated information provided by University of Michigan economists that shows the state had the 20th highest per-capita income level at the beginning of the decade and dropped to 40th when the 2009 figures are tabulated.

    "From the top 20 to the bottom 10 in per-capita income -- the state needs to face the reality of that economic collapse," he said. "The last decade in this state has been unbelievable. We're not a wealthy state anymore."

    Mitchell Bean, director of the House Fiscal Agency, said when adjusted for inflation the state's general fund is back to 1964 levels.

    There might be some relief coming from Congress. Remember the House passed the Jobs for Main Street Act before they left for Xmas; that would bring Michigan around $950 million to put toward schools and Medicaid, freeing up money to plug in other places where it's needed.

    39 states have opened deficits for FY2010, and nearly all of them are facing the same problems we are for FY2011 as the stimulus money goes bye-bye. Hope they can get that legislation through the Senate. Sure would be a shame to undermine the recovery just as it is getting started.

    Teabaggers Outnumbered by Counter-Protesters at Auto Show

    Good. The Freep reports that "about two dozen" teabaggers came to protest for more tax cuts (their words), but they were outnumbered by auto workers shouting pro-worker slogans. Looks like certain bagger factions were more worried about appearances rather than saving Michigan jobs, though. Probably realized they were stepping over the line...
    Other local antitax groups, however, decided to stay away from the auto show, citing loyalty to the homegrown auto industry.

    “This is a huge event for Detroit and a lot of businesses depend on the revenues form this event,” said Joan Fabiano, a General Motors retiree and leader of Grassroots in Michigan, a Lansing-based Tea Party organization. “I’m adamantly opposed to the government takeover of a private industry, but at the same time, this particular action is ill-conceived and only hurts fellow Michiganders.”

    Ah. So you want to have your cake and eat it too. Good to know. Just as long as you recognize that Michigan will benefit greatly from this "government takeover". Might want to put this little fact in your teabag and steep it too...

    “The government’s investment is well placed and I think they will make a lot of money,” Whitacre told reporters on the sidelines of the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “It won’t be too long,” he added.

    Whitacre has said GM will pay back $6.7 billion in U.S. government loans by the end of June.

    Last week, Whitacre said he hoped GM will be profitable in 2010, a year ahead of previous predictions for the company that rushed through bankruptcy reorganization last year.

    And here is another one - GM is ramping up production and hinting at reopening shuttered factories to meet demand.

    Mark Reuss told reporters at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit that plants building the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Cadillac SRX crossover vehicles and the Buick LaCrosse sedan are at capacity and can't satisfy demand.

    Reuss mentioned an idled factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee, but stopped short of saying any plants would be reopened.

    He said if he does his job right and restores faith in the GM brands, the company could hire workers again. In the short term, he said the company will try to raise output at existing plants.

    Just think, if the teabaggers (and certain US Senators) would have had their way, none of this would be happening. Something to keep in mind as we go through this year and watch Republican politicians embrace Tea Party support.

    Ford Sweeps Car/Truck of the Year Awards at Auto Show

    WTG Ford!

    The Ford Transit Connect and the Ford Fusion Hybrid have been named the North American Car and Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show.

    The front-wheel drive compact van with a base price of $20,780 offers high fuel economy and a reasonable price.

    The Transit Connect's 136-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission provide adequate acceleration, and its small size makes it easy to park and maneuver.

    The Ford Fusion gets 41 m.p.g. in city driving. This is the third time in 17 years that a company has swept both awards.

    The DNews tells us 50 models were considered for the honor this year.

    The finalists for car of the year were the Ford Fusion hybrid, the Buick LaCrosse and the Volkswagen Golf. Among new trucks, the finalists were the Subaru Outback crossover wagon, the Ford Transit Connect and Chevrolet Equinox crossover.

    Last year, the Hyundai Genesis sedan was named car of the year and the F-150 pickup grabbed top truck honors. Hyundai Motor Co.'s win was the first by a Korean in the 18-year contest.

    Later today, Ford will announce that they are bringing work back from Mexico to Michigan. Governor Granholm, MEDC, and Bill Ford will hold a press conference on tax credits that will allow Ford to further its work on electric vehicles, amount as yet to be determined.

    Both Detroit papers have extensive coverage on the Auto Show - follow the Freep coverage here and the DNews here for the latest.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Sunday News Bites

    Clearing out the inbox and the saved links. Less clutter on the computer that way.

  • The White House has announced ARRA tax credits for green jobs in Michigan, 9 projects receiving $240 million (with a major chunk going to Hemlock Semiconductor, Dow, and other solar companies), to "foster investment and job creation in clean energy manufacturing". Note the word "manufacturing" here; these credits are going to existing companies that have the potential to hire soon. The WH bumped the allotment to the credit program with a focus on factory jobs:

    Last month, the White House endorsed a $5 billion increase -- to $7.3 billion -- in a tax credit program to boost factory jobs -- in part because they had to reject more than 350 applicants for the credits because there wasn't enough money.

    The Guv's office tells us that Michigan received more than 10 percent of the tax credits awarded nationwide, and this could bring more than $750 million in private investment to the state.

  • www.gretchenwhitmer.com. 'Nuff said. Lawyer Richard Bernstein will prove a formidable challenge on the Dem side, considering that he can self-fund to the tune of millions - but I'm still rooting for the one who has shown she will stand up to the likes of Mike Bishop. Go Gretchen!

  • Dave Bing was sworn-in as mayor of Detroit on Friday, my fav photog John T. Greilick has some awesome shots of the inauguration that incorporate the stunningly beautiful FOX Theatre in them. Nice job dude, makes me want to get back in there sometime.

  • The UP State Fair, set for next August, has gathered enough donations and sponsors to put the event ahead of the game on fundraising efforts. Will the Detroit area step up and do the same?

  • The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has released a carbon footprint calculator for local companies to use to evaluate their energy usage and look for savings. We be goin' green around here. Another interesting bit of GR news: The city leads the state in inbound migration (yes, there are people moving TO Michigan), followed by Midland, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Detroit. With all this new growth around here, it may just come to pass that GR could be seen as one of the more "progressive" areas of the state. Wouldn't that be a hoot? Never say never.

  • It's the Return of Dick DeVos. Or, an amazing facsimile. Luke brings us the news that Republican Rick Snyder plans to go on the air in February, and spend up to $5 million on TV ads. Hmmm. I think I've seen this episode before...

  • Another head-scratcher: Wonder why all the Granholm-bashing conservative editorialists around these here parts don't mention the fact that governors all across the country are struggling with approval numbers, and the ones that are running are facing difficult re-election battles. This AP story (which has been carried by numerous outlets nationwide) tells us that it doesn't matter if you're an R or a D; it's a brutal scene out there. Funny how that fact never comes up...

  • As predicted, election-year politics threaten to stand in the way of reform, and "business leaders" are scrambling to implement their Turnaround Plan before they run out of time. Who wants to break it to them that it's probably already too late?

    That's all for now....