Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Governors Fight to Save Their States... and the National Recovery

Double-dip recession? The words are certainly being uttered more and more, and it becomes a definite possibility if Congress doesn't pass the unemployment benefit extension and the Medicaid funding for the states. Since Congress appropriated this money in various forms before, 30 state governors felt free to base their budget plans on these incoming federal dollars. Thanks to obstruction from the Senate Republicans, those states now have to scramble to either raise taxes or make huge cuts in their budgets, the likes of which could be a severe drag on any recovery that is happening.

47 governors have signed a letter pleading with Washington to extend these programs. 47. Republican, Democrat, all asking for this pass. Today, a bipartisan group of governors traveled to DC to press the issue with lawmakers. Gov. Granholm previewed the implications for Michigan before she left...

Without the unemployment extension, 400,000 Michigan workers will lose their benefits by the end of the year. "If we have 400,000 people who can't make mortgage payments and can't put food on the table, what are the ramifications of that?" Granholm said.

The loss of Medicaid funding means $555 million in cuts will have to be made, Granholm said. Cuts to Medicaid pharmacy benefits, mental health services and nursing home services are all on the table, as is a further 35 percent reduction in the reimbursement rate to doctors who see Medicaid patients. A cut that drastic would mean physicians would likely stop seeing Medicaid patients all together, Granholm added.

And then she had to deal with Tweety. Keeping Matthews focused was difficult, but she managed it well. Watch the video. In it, President Obama calls out the Republican strategy -"If Obama fails, we win. If we just keep on saying no to everything, somehow people will forget who got us into this mess in the first place, and we'll get more votes in November".

Seems to be the Republican plan. And they are willing to take down the economy to do it. Gov. Granholm calls them out as well:



This afternoon, the Governor's Office released a more detailed list of the cuts we are facing - and the words "double-dip" came up again.

“Inaction on this issue will force this nation into a double-dip recession and strike another severe blow to our state,” Granholm said. “State budget cuts will have to be made that directly impact the well-being of Michigan citizens and their families.”

Granholm said closing the $560 million budget gap could mean:

• cuts of up to 30 percent in payments to physicians and other health care providers who treat 1.8 million Medicaid beneficiaries, further limiting access to quality health care and greatly reducing federal funds that flow in the state economy;
• additional cuts in mental health services;
• reductions in safety net programs that provide basic living expenses to more than 82,000 low-income families;
• further reductions in funding to local governments for critical services like police and fire protection;
• deeper cuts in state funding for colleges and universities.

And for the "just cut more!" crowd? We have a list of the cuts the state has already made. Besides resolving $10 billion in budget deficits and cutting more as a percentage that any other governor in the country...

“We now have nearly 11,000 fewer state employees than in 2001 and have negotiated more than $650 million in employee concessions,” Granholm said. “We’ve cut the number of state departments by 25 percent since 2003 and closed 14 prisons and prison camps. We’ve renegotiated state contracts, sold off excess property and improved energy efficiency to save another $1.5 billion.

Other cuts include:

• cut Medicaid provider rates by 8 percent and eliminate several optional Medicaid services;
• reduce mental health funding for Michigan citizens who rely on it by more than 15 percent last year alone;
• cut aid to Michigan cities, villages and townships by more than 16 percent since 2004, reducing funding for services like police and fire protection;
• reduce university funding by nearly 10 percent since 2002 while tuition costs have risen by 88 percent;
• cut student financial aid by $135 million last year, further impairing access to higher education.

Consumer confidence is falling, car sales are slowing, the jobs numbers are tepid at best - and now the Republicans want to prevent any economic recovery for political purposes. Let's hope that the governors got through to some people today, or get ready for the possibility that we go back into recession. And that won't be pretty. At all.

Like the President said, don't forget who got us in this mess, and don't forget who is preventing us from getting out.

And then vote accordingly.

75% of No Worker Left Behind Graduates Are on the Job, So Let's Cut Funding

UPDATE: KBH at the AP has an excellent story on this, as well as the numbers on how many Michigan residents will be cut off from unemployment benefits soon - and what that will mean to the state.

Bang your head on the keyboard kind of stuff. First, the good news. Of the 57,855 people who have completed training with the No Worker Left Behind program, 75% of those workers have obtained or retained employment. A huge number, given the hiring climate out there during the Aug 2007 - Dec 2009 time frame.

A new report completed by the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth (DELEG) shows that 57,855 No Worker Left Behind (NWLB) participants completed training, and of those who completed training, 75 percent have either obtained or retained jobs. Additionally, 59 percent of NWLB's core participants - those workers who are unemployed and underemployed when they entered the NWLB program - found new jobs despite double-digit unemployment rates across the state, an 11 percent increase from the last reporting period.

Go read the whole thing at DELEG. Smashing success. 131,833 total enrollment as of June 1st, more on waiting lists. Tens of thousands of people with jobs, people who otherwise might have been on unemployment or other services, thousands more that are in training now, and will gain employment when they complete the program... well...

You know how the Republicans love to talk about how we have to "cut spending"? Yeah, that means you, unemployed person who wants training so you can go to work and keep your house and feed your family. You're "spending".

Michigan's worker retraining program will limit its new enrollment starting Thursday following a 39 percent cut in federal work force dollars, which pays for a significant portion of the popular No Worker Left Behind program.

Students in training will be allowed to finish their program and the 20,000 on the waiting list will be allowed to enroll. The total enrollment will remain around 60,000 annually, but the majority of people in training will be those in school rather than new enrollees, the state's work force chief, Andy Levin, said today at Lansing Community College.

Oh, and to all those businesses out there that were looking for a trained workforce? You're "spending" too. Guess you can foot the bill to educate people if you want trained staff. Too bad for you.

Republicans. Bad for people, bad for business. Say it often, because it's true.

Here's hoping Congressional Dems will fight for this. If they don't, you really have to start to question whether they want to see economic recovery or not. Lowering the unemployment rate is the goal - and a program like this is a key to that end. To cut something so successful, that helps people and business alike, is a tragedy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Michigan Wins Silver Shovel Award for Economic Development

Seems the Republican talking points about Michigan's ability to attract businesses to the state are dead wrong. Area Development Online tracks business expansion and facility planning throughout the entire country - and they certainly seem to think that Michigan is on the right track, awarding us a Silver Shovel in the big state category (population above 10 million) for the projects that are creating new jobs and bringing investment to the state...

This year’s Gold and Silver Shovel Awards are presented by Area Development magazine to the states that were able to fine “the winning formula” over the past year — some using innovative approaches, but all putting in the kind of effort necessary to achieve success when it’s never been more important to do so.

We share the category award with Texas and Florida, proving that we can and do compete very well with the so-called "low cost" southern states. The specifics:

While no state has endured harder times in recent years than Michigan, positive news on the development front may offer some hope that the state’s economy may be turning a corner. Long dependent on the auto industry for jobs and its tax base, Michigan’s list of top projects is refreshingly diversified, which reflects on the state’s recent emphasis on new industry categories, particularly alternative energy.

And even though some of the state’s top projects have an automotive focus — including a $43 million venture undertaken by General Motors — the revived facility in Wayne County’s Brownstown Township is not for making cars, but rather auto battery packs. The first advanced lithium-ion battery for a mass-marketed electric vehicle will be manufactured at a previously idled facility, creating 130 jobs. Up the road in Livonia, A123 Systems will open a $55.7 million facility producing the same kind of product and creating 844 jobs.

Peppered throughout Michigan are projects with a modern bent, including a $37 million expansion in Holland of a wind energy composites facility by Energetx Composites, and a $41.2 million expansion by Draths Corp. of its bio-materials plant in Okemos. Dow Corning also gets into the alternative energy game, constructing a $158 million facility in Thomas Township for the manufacture of solar energy-related products.

Add this to our Governor's Cup rankings of the past few years from Site Selection magazine - and it really starts to add up. The economic development plan we are following right now is paying off, and it obviously is very competitive with the rest of the country.

What was all that Republican blather about high taxes and regulation driving away businesses? Turns out that isn't true at all.

What a surprise.

Democratic Debate Coverage

Democrats are great at fighting other Democrats, aren't they? If only they would bring that much verve into directing their fire at the real problems facing Michigan...

But, apparently they aren't doing that. Instead, in last night's debate, the voters were treated to more disingenuous attacks from both candidates, and we received more evasion on the solutions that we all know need to happen for Michigan to thrive: You can either restructure our tax base and bring in more revenue to fund education, schools, roads, public safety and health care, or you can make more horrific cuts to a state that is at its bare bones already - a move that will drive more businesses and citizens out of Michigan to look for a better quality of life.

That's it. That's the choice. Find the revenue, or make the cuts. And not one candidate - Republican or Democrat - is being honest about what we are facing. Republicans are insisting on the trickle-down fantasies of Bush economics; more tax cuts for the rich, and everything will be fine, right? Wrong. Been there, done that, it didn't work, and the country has suffered greatly for it. And the Democrats, well, they just won't say what they would do. Out of fear of losing votes, out of lack of direction from the party in general, who knows why they behave like this... which, of course, is the very behavior that is going to lose them voter confidence in the long run. When will they learn that lesson?

Budget question. Bzzzz. Wrong answer. Out of both of you.

Both were reluctant to embrace an idea popular among liberal policy advocates in the Democratic Party, a graduated income tax rate that would shift the Michigan flat rate of 4.35 percent to a structure that taxes higher incomes at higher rates.

Dillon said any change would have to be approved by voters through a constitutional amendment, but declined to say whether he would lead the effort as governor. He does support expanding the sales tax to services, cutting the sales tax rate and rewriting the Michigan Business Tax to lessen the burden on employers. Bernero said he favors tax reform he didn't outline, but said "I can't say whether we would do something to increase taxes at this point."

Sorry guys. About the only thing you have going for you is that you aren't batshit insane liars like the Republicans are.

If Dillon is truly this bipartisan leader that he claims he is, there is no reason he can't get that plan done today. It's already on the table. Michigan is in a budget crisis - here, right now, this very second, schools and cities need to know the answer - and yet, after another six months of promises that this budget would be done, it's not done, and it's not likely to be done anytime soon. Out of all the candidates running for governor, Speaker Dillon, with a huge majority in the House, is in a position to actually do something about our budget problem. And in the past two years, while Michigan was in the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, he hasn't done a damn thing.

That one fact makes all of his promises about the future ring false. Please, don't tell me you need to be governor to make it happen, when you can't move anything at all today. If the Republicans in the Senate stopped it from happening - well, more the better for the Democratic campaign. You have your issue to fight with. But to do nothing at all, when you have this huge majority? Sorry, but Dillon can't even move the members of own House, let alone the Republicans, and that speaks to a very serious problem with the Democrats in general.

As much as the Republicans live in trickle-down fantasy land, Dillon lives in some sort of bipartisanship fantasy land, and as such, he gets steam-rolled by Mike Bishop and the Senate when he and his cowardly caucus won't stand up for the people and the things that matter to this state. In a perfect world, "bipartisanship" is what we should strive for, no doubt about that - but that is not what is happening here. Not at all. You can't have "bipartisanship" when one side refuses to cooperate. We have a Republican Senate that is more interested in destroying the Democrats than they are about moving this state forward, and Dillon's failure to acknowledge that fact - and fight back - has already cost us dearly. It's cost us in quality of life as schools and cities make drastic cuts, it's cost us in voter enthusiasm as the cuts take hold at the local level, infuriating citizens and public leaders alike. It shows in the latest State of the State poll from MSU. People in Michigan believe the economy is getting better, and yet they do not like or trust state government. Stop and ask yourselves why that is.

Bernero seems to have the fight in him, but he loses me on the Detroit bridge issue. Don't know if it's the Moroun money talking here or what, but turning down thousands and thousands of construction jobs and a half a billion dollars is just plain stupid. And the fact that he is being evasive about a tax plan is pretty predictable, seeing as how the Democrats don't flat-out lie like the Republicans do, but it just seems to be more of the general evasion tactics on the part of the Democrats as a whole - and this voter is tired of it. Stand up, or step aside and let us find someone who will stand up. Easier said than done, I know, given our lack of bench strength, and that's another problem that needs to be addressed. Perhaps that will happen if the worst happens in this election, if you catch my meaning.

So - you tell me, Democratic voters of Michigan. I know who I'm voting for in August, but I will abide by your decision, and do what I can to help point out that the "more tax cuts!", trickle-down economic plans from the Republicans would be devastating to the people and quality of life in this state. Other than that, I'm rapidly losing interest in all the nonsense.

Here is a round-up from all your favorite Michigan reporters on last night's debate - go read, and make your decision. Dillon won't agree to any more debates because he plans on taking the month of July off to campaign instead of doing his day job, so this is it for the head-to-head match-ups between the two.

Peter Luke is cited above, read the whole story here.
Chris Christoff covers the debate for the Detroit Free Press.
Mark Hornbeck carries the Detroit News. If it wasn't for him and the awesome photographers, I wouldn't bother with the News at all anymore.
Mike Householder writes it up for the AP. Where's KBH?
The Center for Michigan will provide video sometime today - keep watching that space. (As of this writing, the last Republican debate is still up.)

Good luck to us all. We are going to need it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Sunday Paper: June 27, 2010


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Solar Ball. Dow Diamond in Midland is believed to be the first minor league stadium in the country to utilize solar power. Connected to the stadium's main grid, through the course of a year these panels produce 28.56kw hours of power - the amount of energy equal to the electricity consumed by seven homes.


Summer breeze... makes me feel fine...

  • As Bruce pointed out below, some big breezy renewable energy news came out late Friday at the Michigan Energy Fair; John Deere announced they will open three new wind farms in Michigan, two of which will be the biggest in the state. This will mark a huge increase in Michigan's total wind power production, bumping capacity by 61% to 374 megawatts. This hasn't received a lot of coverage yet, hope to hear more on the announcement soon...

  • Michigan is one of five states where homeowners facing foreclosure have some new help coming; the Michigan "Hardest Hit" fund will provide mortgage assistance to people who are unemployed (a first, other programs wanted income), people who have had a medical emergency or for whatever reason have fallen behind in payments, and a restructuring plan to knock down principal for those who find themselves underwater. Check with MSHDA for more details, the program is expected to kick off in July.

  • Andy Dillon releases his secret plan to end the war in Vietnam solve Michigan's economic woes. It all sounds pretty reasonable, which begs the question, why not do it now? If the Speaker can do all this reachin' across the aisle and gettin' things done - well, then, go do it. Get the Promise Scholarship back THIS year. Or, stop talking about it, because every time it comes up, I just remember how incredibly pissed off I am that Dillon agreed to cut it in the first place.

  • A constitutional amendment to ban drilling in the Great Lakes is moving through the House. A largely symbolic move, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. Hopes are that we can lead other states and Canada to follow suit.

  • Very bummed about the Hangar 42 deal, but as they say - the show must go on. Los Angeles film producer Randall Emmett has launched Grand Rapids Films and Services, a company that aims to be a one-stop shopping service for those shooting in the GR and West Michigan area. "Services include production-crew hiring and training, recruiting local vendors for lighting, catering, hotels, security and other services and budget consultation." Or, as we like to call them, jobs. Right, Nancy?

  • A rare phenomena occurred here Thursday night: A Republican was honest. Don't blink, you'll miss it!

    The sharpest Republican-on-Republican attack came from George, who said his opponents promise to enact tax cuts without legitimate proposals to cut spending at the same time.

    "Those tax cut promises are fiscal fantasies," George said of Cox's promise to cut business taxation by $2 billion.

    And then they went back to reminding me why I never used to pay attention to state politics in the first place... Oh, and by the way? Every Republican candidate except Snyder opposes the extension of federal unemployment benefits because they don't want to burden "business". And for the unemployed folks? Well, that's just too bad for you. In a state with 13.6% unemployment. Damn, that's cold. Just remember, you were warned...

  • Peter Luke shows us once again today why he totally rocks at laser-sharp political analysis as he explains the impossible situation we find ourselves in concerning the state budget and the insane promises the candidates are making. One sentence levels them all:

    Playing on voter dissatisfaction with Lansing probably makes political sense however much it conveniently ignores history, the facts and basic arithmetic.

    Fiscal fantasies. And as far as getting anything solved this year, you know, to help give Michigan a leg up on any national economic recovery that is taking place? Fuggetaboutit.

    Everything done this decade by Granholm and legislative leaders in both parties didn't create the mess, it averted an even bigger one. They don't get any credit because a mess remains. Now, the options for cleaning it up exist outside the realm of the possible given the pressures of election-year politics.

    The options for cleaning it up have been placed on the table before, another good one was offered earlier this year, but the answer with this legislature has always been "no". And it's not just the election that is holding us back - it is obstructionist politics in general. They didn't create the mess, but the stalemate of the past few years between our House and Senate certainly didn't help matters much.

    Prediction: They kick the budget beyond the primary. With the fastball Congress just threw at our heads, coupled with the usual lack of urgency out of this body of lawmakers, it's a fairly easy prediction to make. Is it vacation time yet?

    Have a great remainder of the weekend...
  • Friday, June 25, 2010

    Republicans Deal Devastating Blow to Michigan Citizens, Budget

    The details are becoming clear on what this latest round of US Senate Republican obstruction means to the state of Michigan.

    Bottom line? The Republicans are going to hurt a lot of people - and they are doing it for political purposes.

    Without its share, Michigan will lose extended unemployment benefits for 87,000 people starting July 1, and won't receive more than $500 million in federal Medicaid payments that the administration had counted on for next year’s budget.

    Granholm called U.S. Senate Republicans obstructionists for blocking the funding bill, despite pleas from 47 governors who face deficits or large numbers of unemployed residents.

    Republicans are sociopaths. They hurt people. And they don't care. I'm done mincing words about this.

    Granholm and state lawmakers already are struggling to plug a deficit of at least $1.5 billion next year. She said adding another $500 million in red ink would force painful cuts either in Medicaid services -- perhaps drug, mental health or nursing home payments -- or reductions in funds for colleges or revenue sharing that helps local governments pay for basic services such as police and fire protection.

    The little kids. The college students. The elderly. The unemployed. The sick. Your family, when you can't get a cop or firefighter. People will be hurt. People will lose their health care, people will lose their homes, people will not be able to feed their children.

    Because of the Republicans. For political purposes.

    Granholm said 408,000 Michigan recipients stand to lose their unemployment checks by the end of the year. And the denial of $500 million in additional federal Medicaid money means Michigan physicians will see another 35% reduction in reimbursement for treating Medicaid patients.

    That will force many doctors to stop treating Medicaid patients, leaving many of the state’s 1.6 million Medicaid recipients without primary health care, including pregnant women, those with disabilities and seniors, Granholm said.

    Republicans want government to be broken, they want citizens to be hurting and angry, they will obstruct anything and everything that will bring the economy recovery - and they do this all in the name of regaining power.

    Mike Bishop is probably smiling at the thought of getting to demand more cuts - and he is going to have his list ready by next week. Already been working on it, his list of people he can hurt. Who rushes to do such a thing, besides someone who relishes the job with glee?

    Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) however told reporters that he had been preparing for the chance the proposal would fail.

    He said he would present a series of proposed cuts to his caucus on Tuesday. While he would not specify where those cuts would come from he said they would be spread over a number of departments.

    Sociopaths.

    They hurt people. For political purposes.

    But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know.

    Question now is: What are we going to do about it?

    Thousands of Teachers Rally in Lansing for Education Funding

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    What the legislators saw from the 4th floor of the Capitol. It's more impressive in the 1000 px view.

    Ooo, are those teachers mad... they came to Lansing by the thousands, they have signs, they have loud voices, they have motivation, and they have lists. Lists of Democrats who made bad votes last year. They are no happy with you guys, and a couple of times the word "November" was mentioned by the speakers at the rally. You've been warned. Could be why Speaker Dillon and the House Dems are suddenly defending the School Aid fund from the Republicans...

    Negotiations over the state's K-12 schools budget remain at an impasse. Republicans from the Senate want to use some of the schools money to fill holes in other areas of the budget. But House Democrats say they don't want to do that.

    House Speaker Andy Dillon says lawmakers appeared to reach a deal yesterday. It later fell apart.

    "So I thought we would get it done today, but the Senate appears to want to hold the school budget and the kids hostage to solve the current year shortfall, and I don't want to use the school aid fund money to do that."

    Looks like the Speaker is trying to make up some lost ground. Dillon, in a campaign post last night, is proclaiming that he is standing up for education, and will not raid the School Aid fund to cover the shortfall in other areas of the budget.

    OK.

    But we heard that last year.

    Until Dillon and the House Dems really make it stick, and present a comprehensive plan that funds the budget that they say they want, it's just so much noise. Bishop is already saying "No, no, no", of course - so, what now? Got the spine to take this to a shutdown? Or, will we see yet another capitulation, and pass whatever the Republicans want, only to see them turn around and use the cuts against Democrats this year?

    Unknown as of this writing. The teachers have already endorsed Bernero, who came to speak at the rally with his elementary school principal wife Teri. Here they are below with MEA president Iris Salters....

    salterberneros2

    The crowd seemed very enthused to hear his speech; plenty of Bernero signs and stickers were around. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out with the unions splitting the endorsements - I get the impression there are a bunch of educators who will not turn out for Dillon in November if he wins the primary.

    But, if he manages to get a good budget done, that could change...

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Asian Carp Found Beyond Lake Michigan Barrier

    Insert long line of expletives here.

    Federal and state officials in Illinois plan to announce this afternoon that they found a live bighead carp in Lake Calumet, 6 miles on the Chicago side of Lake Michigan, in an area near where a poisoning operation that ended June 4 took place.

    Several members of Congress were notified today of the find. The creature, commercial fishermen looking for carp as part of wider carp hunting missions, was 34.6 inches long and weighed just under 20 pounds.

    This is the first time anyone has found an Asian carp, live or dead, beyond an electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Lockport. The nearest carp to the barrier was a dead one found last December after a massive poisoning of the shipping canal.

    But the Army Corps of Engineers said it has no plans to close any locks in response to the fish find. There are no locks that can be closed between Lake Calumet and Lake Michigan.


    The calls for closing the locks will begin again, but in my mind, I keep seeing Newt in "Aliens" saying, "It won't make any difference."

    Better find another way to deal with these things. And soon.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    The Airing of Grievances



    Miss last night's debate? Watch it in its entirety here.

    And then you tell me what you think... because I made it half-way through and couldn't take any more. Dillon's words and goals in no way match his actions of the past two years, and Bernero says some things that I totally disagree with.

    My instincts are telling me, "Don't pile on. These guys are going to have a hard enough time as it is." So, I'm not going to jump down their throats.

    Not right now, anyway. Got some other things I have to do today...

    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    VP Biden Travels to Midland for Dow Kokam Advanced Battery Plant Groundbreaking

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    In the waning days of 2008, our lame-duck legislature passed a very significant piece of legislation - up to $355 million in tax credits designed to lure advanced battery manufacturers to the state. They did this at the very same time GM and Chrysler were on their knees before Congress: With plummeting auto sales and soon to run out of cash, days before President Bush had thrown them a lifeline of $17 billion to keep them both running for the immediate future. It would be President-elect Obama's problem now, and, even though things were looking up as to getting further aid, there were no guarantees that the domestics would survive.

    Within weeks of passing the battery tax credits, the stories of manufacturers showing interest in Michigan grew. Even though GM had temporarily halted construction on its Volt engine plant, the company announced in January that they would build an advanced battery plant and research center here. A123 Systems, LG Chem, Compact Power, others applied for both federal and state credits as this advanced manufacturing became a new Michigan reality - giving us a chance to corner the market, because no one in America was manufacturing this product. In February of 2009, Dow Kokam was awarded tax credits to build a battery facility in the Midland area, which brings us to today's groundbreaking ceremony...

    The joint venture, called Dow Kokam, involves the Midland-based Dow Chemical Co. A spokeswoman for Dow Kokam says the project will help power the local economy along with new modes of transportation.

    "Obviously, we're only looking at temporary employment through the construction phase, but we're creating about 1,000 construction jobs," said Kristina Schnepf, spokeswoman for Dow Kokam. "Once the first phase of construction is complete (in 2012) and the facility is fully operational, we intend to add 320 full-time technical positions. They will be career positions within a high-skill manufacturing environment."

    Dow Kokam hopes to complete a second phase of construction in the future that would amount to an additional $345 million investment, for a total of $665 million in all. The second phase would increase total jobs at the factory to about 800 career positions, Schnepf said.

    Dow Kokam received $161 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Department of Energy to help build the Midland facility. That’s one reason Vice President Biden plans to personally attend the groundbreaking ceremony this week.


    Thanks to our tax incentives and funding from the Recovery Act, 16 companies are now building battery factories in the state. Last August, VP Biden announced that Michigan would be receiving $1.3 billion - over half the funds available - for developing this technology. Dow hasn't signed any contracts as of yet, but has plans to enter both the vehicle market as well as specialized areas.

    The factory remains a business in the development stage. It is seeking work contracts as automakers begin building more electric-powered vehicles.

    "We are actively pursing the attention of, and getting inquires from, all of the major automotive companies," Schnepf said. "Obviously, Detroit is a critical automotive market and we are pursuing that heavily, but we have not announced any customers at this time."

    In addition to their primary objective of powering "plug-in electric" and electric-hybrid vehicles, Schnepf said Dow Kokam will also work to meet the needs of commercial vehicles, marine transportation, heavy equipment and defense contracts.


    We are placing a huge bet on this technology, but with automakers and others rushing to get electrics and electric-hybrids on the market, we are poised to create an estimated 62,000 jobs in Michigan - jobs that could have easily gone somewhere else.

    Few people believe that current lithium ion technology is adequate to replace gas-powered vehicles on a mass scale. As with other technologies, the advanced battery will evolve. But that means areas already fostering the industry should enjoy a leg up in the future, assuming they can adapt to future changes.

    Nearly every state has some program in place to promote clean-energy technology and industry. Michigan's historic strengths as a manufacturing center — as well as its willingness to invest heavily in this area — will give it a big head start if and when clean energy really pays off.

    The race is on worldwide.

    "The Michigan programs not only get the companies in Michigan," says Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank, "but I would venture to say that in some cases, without the Michigan incentives, those plants would have gone offshore."


    Thank the nice President and Congress for not only saving the auto industry, but for investing in its and our future. And yes, thank the previous legislature, too. They can do good things when they try - and, given the money being invested here and the jobs being created, it sure looks like we are off to a very good start.

    The Sunday Paper: June 20, 2010

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    Grand Haven at sunset, a couple days shy of the Summer Solstice. Summer officially begins at 7:28AM tomorrow morning. Get out there and enjoy!


    Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there - hope you have an excellent day today! Some news from the week...

  • For the first time ever, the Big Three have surpassed foreign auto makers in the J.D. Power and Associates' annual report of initial vehicle quality. Ford led the way with a dozen models rated in the top three in their respective categories - more than any other automaker.

  • The first 4,400 Chevy Volt buyers will receive a free home changing station. The stations can recharge the battery faster than the regular 120V overnight plug-in. Ford and Nissan are offering the same; the Energy Dept. is awarding grants to get 15,000 charging stations into homes and businesses.

  • Meet the candidates - the Freep is running a series that profiles all seven guys running for governor. And don't forget, Andy and Virg debate tomorrow night on WOOD TV, the station will stream it live starting at 7PM.

  • This week, Grand Rapids Press explores the ways we can keep young talent in Michigan by creating vibrant urban areas that offer diversity of thought and people, "tolerant" attitudes to different religions and lifestyles, education and business opportunities, mass transit and walkable downtown areas, ways to get involved in the community, and selling the whole package to the rest of the country. Sound familiar? It should. It's a pretty cool idea.

  • A new study shows that health care reform is going to be a good thing for Michigan. As of now, 3.8 million people, 39% of our population, is either uninsured or on various forms of Medicaid, and that consumes 22% of our state budget. One staggering figure - unpaid medical bills accounted for $2 billion in 2008, a 94 percent rise from 2004. After health care in fully implemented in 2014, the "state's uninsured numbers would drop from 1 million now to less than 150,000". The Freep has more on the study here.

  • Mike Bishop offers another budget deal. Yawn. After complaining about how we have solved budget problems with "accounting gimmicks, that borrow against the future, that create one solution and a far bigger problem" he proceeds to do that very same thing again by simply shifting money around in departments. Oh, and we still have to pass all the nasty Republican cuts. In keeping with tradition, Speaker Dillon "did not talk to reporters" about the budget situation, as the House, for two years running now mind you, has not offered a solid budget plan. Are we sure Dillon actually wants to be governor?

  • Michigan ranks second in the nation for lightning injuries, and on average, lightning kills more people per year than tornadoes or hurricanes. Stay safe out there...

  • Detroit will host the 2010 U.S. Social Justice Forum starting next Thursday, an event that is described as a "movement building process ... the next most important step in our struggle to build a powerful multiracial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational, diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and changes history." It has sent Nolan Finley into a outrageous and immature name-calling hissy fit on the front page of the DNews today, so you know it has to be good.

  • A poll that made me smile: Hansen Clarke leads Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick in the race for Congress in the 13th district. Senator Clarke opened his Detroit HQ Saturday. Gonna need me a t-shirt...

  • Ending on a nice note: The ranks of volunteers grew in America in 2009; 1.6 million more people signed up to help various efforts in their communities, raising the nationwide total to 63.4 million volunteers total. And Michigan ranks above the national average on the number of people who offer their time; 28.7 of citizens participate in our state, while the nationwide rate is 26.8. Grand Rapids is in the top ten of midsized American cities, with an average of 36.3 hours volunteered per resident. Looking for opportunities to volunteer? Check the Michigan Community Service Commission web page for ideas.
  • Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Time for Dillon and Bishop to Step Down?

    To dream, the impossible dream...

    Detroit Free Press, May 13th:

    Dillon and Bishop like to say they have a good working relationship, but so far all they have to show for it is a bipartisan nothing-burger.

    Each man has made notable efforts to jump-start the budget negotiation process. But neither has been able to rally his caucus behind what virtually everyone outside the Legislature agrees will be needed to fix Michigan's structural budget imbalance: a combination of spending cuts and the elimination of loopholes that currently exempt much of Michigan's economic activity from taxation.

    Every day the standoff lingers is a day Michigan goes deeper into the hole. Taxpayers deserve a new legislative leadership team that is focused fully on the budgetary crisis at hand.

    They are not going to "do the right thing" here. That much is obvious. Self-serving election year politics are the priority, the future of the state and the welfare of its people be damned. Nothing gets fixed this year. Nothing. The best we can hope for out of these two is to cobble something together that hurts the fewest citizens possible. Doesn't matter if they use federal dollars, doesn't matter if they securitize the tobacco money again, this legislature is going to leave a big, flaming mess for the next, and we might as well just accept that.

    When it comes to the needs of the state, its future, its people, the words "sacrifice" will not be found in any lawmaker's personal agenda this year. Sacrifice is for other people as far as they are concerned - and that means you, citizens of Michigan. You will be asked to sacrifice in the form of higher tuition, higher insurance rates, more expensive car repairs, longer wait times for the police and fire department to show up, many other ways these "cuts to spending" turn into back-door tax increases as they trickle down to the local level. And, your state is being asked to sacrifice precious time as the national recovery takes hold, while these two worry about their personal campaigns for higher office.

    Lansing State Journal, June 1st:

    Bishop and his Senate Republican caucus are adamant about avoiding tax reform, even though the state is pulling in less than $7 billion a year for its general fund. That's down more than 30 percent since John Engler was writing executive budgets.

    Over in the House, Speaker Andy Dillon seems less and less in touch with his own Democratic caucus and unable or unwilling to confront Bishop with a package of spending cuts and tax reforms that polling shows the public could accept.

    It cannot be a coincidence that both these men are leaving the Legislature at the end of the year, and that both are vigorously pursuing higher state office (Dillon for governor, Bishop for attorney general).

    The LSJ Editorial Board noted some time ago that Dillon's aspirations interfered with his day job and created a need for him to step down. Last month, the Detroit Free Press Editorial Board argued Dillon and Bishop should step aside.

    The likelihood of such withdrawals is less even than the Legislature adopting a balanced and prudent state budget by July 1.

    And that, Michiganians, is leadership the state no longer can afford.

    See the clock running over on the top of right-hand side of the page? Apparently it is going to hit zero, and, what a shocker, the budget will not be finished. Gongwer headline, last night:

    BUDGET MAYBE DONE IN JULY, OFFICIALS SAY

    While it is not likely to come as a big surprise, officials in the administration of Governor Jennifer Granholm do not see any likelihood the needed changes to the 2009-10 budget and passage of the 2010-11 budget will come by June's end, but they are hopeful that a resolution can be reached by early July.

    July 1st is the last session day scheduled as of this writing, and that is the start of the traditional two-week July 4th break. Because they are anxious to get out and start campaigning this summer, there is a chance that they will return the week of the 5th and try to get something done. But don't hold your breath. Maybe that clock should be left up there as a little reminder to the voting public that, once again, these two cannot deliver. On anything.

    There is another clock running though, that being the one the hits zero on August 3rd. That is when you, citizens of Michigan, can weigh in on the performance of these two "leaders". If you are lucky, you can weigh in on the performance of your local representatives as well. Won't that be nice?

    Looking forward to it. With glee. My only regret is I can't vote on both ballots.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    U.S. Senate Stiffs the States, Unemployed

    This is not good. Besides the unemployed who need this to pay the bills and keep their homes, 30 states - including Michigan - are counting on this money to balance their budgets.

    Republicans and a dozen Democratic defectors in the Senate dealt a defeat to President Barack Obama Wednesday, just days after he pressed Congress to renew pieces of last year's economic stimulus bill.

    A catchall measure combining jobless aid for the long-term unemployed, aid to cash-strapped state governments and the renewal of dozens of popular tax breaks for businesses and individuals failed to muster even a majority in a test vote, much less the 60 votes that would be required to defeat a GOP filibuster.

    Now, Obama's Democratic allies have been forced back to the drawing board in their efforts to pass the measure, which also would protect doctors from a looming cut in Medicare payments and raise taxes on investment fund managers. A new, scaled back version of the measure is likely to be revealed Wednesday afternoon.

    Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said after the vote that "Plan B" is to do some "shuffling, rearranging of some of the provisions" of the bill but not making wholesale changes.

    Just on Saturday, Obama made a plea for the measure, including $24 billion in aid to cash-strapped state governments to help avoid tens of thousands of layoffs and ensure the economy doesn't slip back into a recession.

    The petty bastards are talking about cutting $25 a week from the unemployment benefits, and maybe giving doctors a "short reprieve" from the massive cuts to Medicaid payments, instead of relief through the end of next year, guaranteeing that we run up against this problem again real soon. Just like we keep doing with unemployment extensions. Which is driving people crazy.

    But the big damage might come from a slow-down in a fragile nationwide recovery. If the states don't get this aid, the President warns that they will lay off thousands of "teachers, police and firefighters" and that could send us towards a double-dip recession. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports that these types of layoffs have already slowed the economy one-half to one percentage point in the 1Q of 2010 alone, with estimates that up to 900,000 public and private sector jobs are at risk. If we don't get this aid, the cuts will go deep indeed...

    At least 34 states — two-thirds — will cut jobs and services, with impacts throughout the economy, if the aid isn’t enacted.

    * Twenty-three states (as of June 10, 2010 and including the District of Columbia) have completed work on FY2011 budgets that rely explicitly on the Medicaid extension. If Congress does not extend the funds, governors and legislatures will have to revisit those budgets and consider new cuts.

    * Sevens states have not yet passed their budgets but assume extension of the Medicaid funds in the governor’s and/or legislature’s budget proposals. Failing to enact the extension will make already-difficult budget discussions even more difficult and require more cuts.

    * Virginia and Mississippi didn’t include the extension in their budgets but explicitly stated that they will reverse job-killing cuts in those budgets if the additional Medicaid funds are approved.

    * At least two states, Oregon and Wisconsin, enacted two-year budgets last year that now have large budget gaps. Extension of the Medicaid funds would reduce the size of the cuts these states otherwise must impose.


    Yes, Michigan is in the mix as well. Don't even want to think abut us having to revisit the numbers on our budget if this doesn't come through. And I don't know about you, but I'm getting awful damn tired of fighting with our own team about this stuff - the need out here is very real, and to pull the plug on economic recovery efforts at this point risks a repeat of a 1937 performance. Krugman called it at the beginning of the year...

    There will be lots of bullish commentary — and the calls we’re already hearing for an end to stimulus, for reversing the steps the government and the Federal Reserve took to prop up the economy, will grow even louder.

    But if those calls are heeded, we’ll be repeating the great mistake of 1937, when the Fed and the Roosevelt administration decided that the Great Depression was over, that it was time for the economy to throw away its crutches. Spending was cut back, monetary policy was tightened — and the economy promptly plunged back into the depths.

    Right now, Democrats are enjoying leads in the AP-GfK polls when it comes to which party Americans want controlling Congress. But put those Americans through massive state and local fights over more cuts and/or raising taxes, as well as pulling unemployment benefits, right before an election? Are you kidding me with this?

    It's hard to understand how the US Senate can be so politically and fiscally tone-deaf at the same time. And it sure would be nice if we had a party that supported its leadership. I swear, the conservadems do more damage to the party than the Republicans can even dream of.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Dillon Goes on the Air

    You can check it out on YouTube if you would like, or you can spare yourself the nightmares and just read the AP description...

    House Speaker Andy Dillon will launch the first TV ad in the Democratic governor's race on Tuesday.

    The 30-second spot aims to introduce the lawmaker to Democratic voters, half of whom remain undecided according to recent polls. It promotes Dillon's record as a former business turnaround specialist and his success in passing a bill creating a state fund to invest in jobs.

    Yes, it's curious that Dillon chose to focus on the 21st Century Jobs Fund, created in 2005 to target high-tech and knowledge based start-ups for investment and access to capital so they could create jobs and bring new industry to the state. It is a fine idea, attracting the careers and companies that are both in high demand today and have predicted growth for the future.

    A leeeetle issue happened to the Fund in last year's budget though. As part of the General Government budget, you know, the same budget that cut 11% from revenue sharing when Dillon decided to take the "tough fight" to our Michigan cities funding for cops and firefighters, the damage to the 21st Century Fund went something like this, originally from MIRS:

    The 21st Century Jobs Fund takes a $46.5 million cut, leaving the program with $28.5 million in FY 2010. Typically, that fund is supposed to be operating at $75 million a year.

    It was probably one of those things that the House was going to "get back later", right? From the Gongwer story on the vote:

    Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Twp.) told reporters after the vote that he had enough votes to pass general government originally, but there was some trepidation among members.

    "They just want to know this arrangement is going to come together," he said of restoring the revenue sharing cuts in a supplemental. "I believe it will."

    He said in order to get the continuation budget in place it was necessary for the House to pass the general government budget.

    The measure, which besides the revenue sharing cut includes reductions in various state departments including the Legislature and Executive Office, passed finally on a 56-52 vote.

    Democrats who supported the bill were: House Majority Floor Leader Kathy Angerer (D-Dundee), Rep. Pam Byrnes (D-Chelsea), Rep. Bob Constan (D-Dearborn Heights), Rep. George Cushingberry Jr. (D-Detroit), Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Twp.),Rep. Kate Ebli (D-Monroe), Rep. John Espinoza (D-Croswell), Rep. Richard Hammel (D-Flushing), Rep. Michael Lahti (D-Hancock), Rep. Richard LeBlanc (D-Westland), Rep. Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard), Rep. Tim Melton (D-Auburn Hills), Rep. Mike Simpson(D-Jackson), Rep. Jim Slezak (D-Davison) and Rep. Dudley Spade (D-Franklin Twp.).

    We all know how that turned out, as the budget was one of the six that Bishop held hostage for weeks in an attempt to obstruct any changes to the cuts, whether it be cops and firefighters or job creation programs or whatever. It was not open for negotiation. And anyone with a brain in their head knew that at the time.

    But wait! That's not all! The 21st Century Jobs Fund is under attack again this year from Senate Republicans...

    On economic development, the general government bill bludgeons the 21st Century Jobs Fund with a 65 percent cut to save $48.5 million. And the Senate ditched funding from a new tax on cars rented near Detroit Metropolitan Airport urged by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and majority House Democrats to fund the Pure Michigan advertising campaign.

    The House-passed version called for a 3.1% cut, and the Senate Dems did their best. To no avail, of course, because we will not have bipartisanship when it comes to this Senate. You should know that by now.

    Democrats sought to restore 21st Century funding to the House-passed level, which would be a 3.1 percent cut from current year funding, but their amendment was rejected on a party-line vote. Still, Sen. Valde Garcia (R-Howell) said he had misgivings about the size of the cut and might oppose the bill on the floor.

    "I have some reservations about how deeply we cut this particular program, especially since it is about creating jobs for the future," he said.

    The 21st Century Jobs Fund has seen a considerable drop in funding under Dillon's watch. A Crain's report describes the evolution of the entire program, and sums it up like this...

    When the $75 million annual revenue stream started up in fiscal 2008, there was full funding toward the program's job-creation purposes plus an additional $50 million appropriation for tourism and business promotion, for a total of $125 million.

    But in 2009, the Jobs Fund got just $52.9 million, with $22 million being diverted to the budget gap, according to the administration.

    In the current fiscal year, the Jobs Fund got just $28.5 million.

    In upcoming fiscal 2011, the state Senate has proposed reducing the contribution further to provide $26.5 million. That compares with $75 million proposed by the governor and nearly $73 million proposed by the House, an amount that is expected to be reduced during reconciliation talks with the Senate to approve the budget.

    Will Dillon cave to the Senate again on a program that he is touting in his own advertising?

    Anyone want to place any bets?

    It's actually a very nice ad, and I agree with him on that thing about hiring Michigan workers at the end there - but notice that hasn't passed yet either. So much for that ability to forge agreements across the aisle. Seems like lately it's been a one-way street only.

    Yeah, thanks, but I'll pass. Seen this show before.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    One Week in the Michigan Film Industry

    Waterfront Film Crowd
    Movie fans above stream out of a screening at Saguatuck's Waterfront Film Festival on Saturday. It was all I could do to get a couple of shots before I was trampled by the mass of people heading for the shops and restaurants downtown.


    It truly is a shame that Michigan's film industry isn't making any money. Looking at three major stories on activity in this business reported in just the past week alone, it's shocking to think that, when you listen to Rep. Agema and certain Republicans running for office, no one but no one is turning a profit or creating jobs here. When you have permanent to temporary to tourism, all the major aspects of job creation and investment surrounding the industry covered in the news in the span of a few days - how is it possible that some still want to claim this industry hasn't been successful for the state?

    OK. Imagine a world where none of this happened... because if certain people had their way, none of this would have happened.

    The first story that grabbed notice was about permanent investment and infrastructure. The city of Allen Park recently stepped up recruitment and has landed some big names for its studio/entertainment campus in the 800,000 sq. ft. former Visteon complex; besides Unity Studios and the Lifton Institute for Media Skills already on grounds, in the past week it was announced that the site will feature new Michigan businesses, others that are moving in, some that are expanding, to new recruits from out-of-state. Nope, we're not making a dime on this...

    Now, as the city has been forced to take over marketing of the site, the Allen Park Studio Center buildings are at 58 percent occupancy and enough leases have been signed for the city to be close to covering expenses.

    Friday, the Center for Film Studies announced it will leave Madison Heights to lease 10,000 square feet on the campus. The move comes on the heels of an expansion of two tenants and the addition of a feature film in production on the campus.

    In addition, another deal is on the table for 20,000 square feet for a set design company, and an offer was submitted Friday to the city for a North Carolina entrepreneur to buy a large part of the campus.


    That North Carolina entrepreneur owns the property rights to over 25 movies, and recently joined with a Las Vegas based company to form Global Renaissance Funding L.L.C., - a venture that plans to raise between $20 million and $100 million to finance movies. In other words, he's got the money to back his projects, and he's put in an offer.

    Besides the new business coming in, established business is expanding at the complex.

    In addition to new tenants, current tenants are expanding. Roush Industries Inc. has grown from roughly 200,000 square feet to 315,000 square feet.

    The Stautzenberger College originally took 20,000 square feet for its medical and massage training school, but plans to take another 20,000 square feet for a film and media training program, said controller Roger Kidd.

    Friday, Center for Film Studies co-owner Mort Meisner said an additional entity he co-owns, Scenic Prop and Design, will soon move its manufacturing center from Fraser to the film campus, taking 20,000 square feet.


    We have your permanent infrastructure setting up in the state, growing as the business grows, building on "each deal with another". They're creating the studios and making the props, they're training people for careers, and they're out scouting locations for films, spreading money and jobs all across Michigan...

    The next chapter in the "X-Men" movie franchise is looking for places to film in Michigan.

    WOODTV.com movie blogger Aaron Lafferty reports that production of "X-Men: First Class" is scouting for areas with a 1960s, South American or Central American island feel. Crews are looking for café and bar locations with an Argentinean feel and an art deco cafe or restaurant that overlooks a body of water. The movie also calls for a Miami-style harbor for yachts.

    If you know any locations that would work, you are asked to call the West Michigan Film Office at (616) 245-2217.


    Need to insert some digital palm trees in the final product, but other than that, there should be plenty of art deco 60s style locations in Michigan, simply because we haven't been able to afford new decor for the past forty or so years. Plenty of places where time has stood still. And when they find that one perfect spot, they are going to spend a lot of money in the area and support your local businesses, so if it's in your backyard, give 'em a call.

    So, we go from news of permanent studio locations with investment, training and jobs, to news on shooting locations that will be a boon to local business, to last but certainly not least, we have the excitement that all the above brings: The producers, the crew members, the writers, the actors, their families and friends, joining with movie buffs from all over the country, coming to our state to add to our tourism coffers and celebrate the creation of art.

    Saguatuck's Waterfront Film Festival attracted a huge crowd for three featured films that were shot in Michigan, one of those films drawing 700 fans Friday night, and similar numbers for the others were reported throughout the three-day weekend. Michigan cast and crew who worked on the films were part of the reason this festival generated so much excitement, but film fans from all over the country came for the show. Final numbers for attendance aren't in yet, but officials Saturday relayed that "long lines and several sellouts" were the norm for the 12th annual installment of the event. And, given that every available inch of parking was taken and they were shuttling people in on buses, you can bet there were some smiling business owners on the west coast this morning...

    Up and down Saugatuck’s downtown streets, crowds of people donned event badges and shopping bags, often stopping to eyeball a festival schedule.

    Peggy Boyce, who owns Local Artists Co-op Discovery Art Center at 347 Water St., credits the festival for jump-starting business early in the summer.

    “Usually, the first weeks of June would be deader than a doornail around here,” she said.


    Wait, wouldn't you like a tax cut, instead of all those customers?

    No?

    Think before you vote. Or, just pretend that none of this happened, because as quickly as this industry is getting off the ground, it could go away again just that fast as well. But please, don't try to claim that were aren't making any money from the film business, because it's pretty easy to prove that we most certainly are. One week of watching the news does that trick just fine.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: June 13, 2010

    ciolast
    The Congress of Industrial Organizations HQ. Muskegon Dems should recognize this sign. The AFL and the CIO merged back in 1955.


    A special shout-out to those who quietly give back to help others starts off this week's edition...

  • Why is it the DNews can run at least one union-bashing editorial a day, but somehow can never find the ink to show how unions have been willing to make sacrifices? Couple more stories of union members making concessions to save jobs popped up this week: The Farmington Police opted for pay cuts and reduced benefits to save public safety jobs in that town. “We want to help the city... we want to preserve the services in Farmington,” Public Safety Department Commander Terry Purves told the city council. And in Montague, teachers accepted a four-year contract with concessions and health care savings to keep bus drivers and custodians from being privatized. Next time someone says we need to cut public employee pay and benefits, check and see if your locals have already given at the office. It happens more than you think.

  • Fewer teachers than hoped for are taking advantage of the state's early retirement deal; estimates of fourteen to sixteen thousand or so are well short of the 27,000 they had expected. This scenario was predicted by some when the bills passed - but it still will alleviate some of the cuts that had been proposed. Districts are reporting a mixed bag when it comes to covering the positions of teachers and staff that are leaving. Some will be able to avoid forced layoffs, some are going to have to hire new teachers, and some are worried about losing teachers because of "so many openings in other districts". What this means for the budget won't be clear until the final numbers are in; Friday was the deadline to apply.

  • Speaking of the budget, since lawmakers are refusing to enact the common-sense and solid fiscal plan that is already on the table, might as well spread that K-12 money around so colleges and other education programs don't have to take on the Republican cuts. Sorry schools, these people will not act this year to fix our chronic deficits, and is instead choosing to pass the (no) buck to the next legislature. Best that we save as many as we can now, and that means we gotta share whatever we can get.

  • One last budget note: House Dem Fred Miller brought up the idea that perhaps business tax credits can be trimmed to help fund education and other critical entrepreneurial programs. Since it makes so much sense to spread the "sacrifice" out and apply it fairly to everyone who has a stake in Michigan's future, of course this idea went nowhere. Thanks for trying though.

  • As of 2008, Michigan's birth rate was down 21% since 2000. Can't imagine 2009 was any better.

  • There is still some $$ available in the Cash for Appliance Clunkers program that started in the spring. The state and appliance retailers want you to know that the rebate amounts have been bumped up on things like furnaces and water heaters, and the standard appliance rebates are still running as well. Check here for more details.

  • Looking for something to do this afternoon? Today is the last day of Free Fishing Weekend. If you missed this weekend but want to get out there some other time this summer, remember you can always get a one-day fishing license through your mobile phone. That is government efficiency in action - expect to see more of it in the future as the increasingly wired world turns to online apps for speed and convenience.

  • Grand Valley State University issued the first in a series of Michigan wind energy briefs; the report will cover environmental issues, public perception of wind farms including offshore visibility, and placement of farms near existing electric infrastructure. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Lansing are just now putting together a work group to study the offshore wind issue, predicting it will be done "after the election". There's a shocker. S'OK, take your time, not like we NEED THE JOBS or anything. You've got campaigning to do. We understand.

  • 60 isn't too old to run for mayor. Just sayin'.

  • Me-ow. Check out the cat-fight between DeVos and Hoekstra over Republican special interests anointing Cox to be their puppet this past week. The battle seems to be over who is the biggest "insider" - as if any one of this group can lay claim to being some kind of "outsider" - Washington, Lansing, doesn't matter, they are all neck-deep in the big mud. If it didn't carry such tragic consequences for the people of this state, it would be laughable.

  • Got a question for any of the gubernatorial candidates? (Besides Snyder, that is?) Since I can't seem to get past the very broad, open-ended and rhetorical "What in the hell is wrong with you people?", I'll leave it to you to submit your questions for the WOOD TV debates, which will be televised live starting on June 21st for the Dems, and June 24th for the Pubs.
  • Friday, June 11, 2010

    Flags Half-Staff Saturday for Michigan Sailor Lost at Pearl Harbor

    Got this surprising and intriguing state release yesterday:

    Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today ordered United States flags throughout the state of Michigan and on Michigan waters lowered for one day Saturday, June 12, 2010, in honor of U. S. Navy Fireman 3rd Class Gerald George Lehman who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. Flags should be returned to full-staff Sunday, June 13.

    Fireman 3rd Class Lehman died less than a month after his 18th birthday aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma in Hawaii when the Japanese executed a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. For the past 69 years, his family believed that Gerald was unknown and unrecoverable. However, with advances in modern technology, Lehman’s remains were positively identified through DNA testing, and he will finally return home to be laid to rest on Saturday.

    And how they did it is, as they say, "the rest of the story". From the MiningGazette.com obituary:

    While the family believed that Gerald was unknown and unrecoverable, remains associated with Lehman had been placed in a grave with those associated with four other sailors. In addition to Swanson, Thompson, Buxrucker, Wyman and Lehman, other remains were also found to be interred in the same grave. With advances in modern technology, four of the five were positively identified and returned to their families. Only Gerald could not be returned to his family, because he and another sailor had the same mitochondrial DNA. How the case was solved is what makes this case a landmark, precedent-setting case. Lehman was identified by his own nuclear DNA found on envelopes Gerald had sent home to his parents. Delia Lehman, Gerald's mother, could have opened the envelopes across the top flap, read the letters, and discarded the envelopes, or she could have opened them across the top flap, resulting in contamination. Instead, because she saved the envelopes and opened them down the side, there was no contamination on the undisturbed flap, and 70 years after Gerald had sealed the envelopes, this simple act resulted in his successful positive identification.

    F3c (Fireman Third Class) Lehman, decorated with numerous awards such as the Purple Heart, WWII Victory Medal, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon, will be buried next to his mother in the family plot in Houghton. He is survived by one nephew and four nieces.

    Welcome home, Gerald - and thank you for your sacrifice those many years ago.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    The Real Power in the Michigan Republican Party Has Spoken

    It's not the voters. Oh no. Never the people. The real power that controls the Michigan Republican Party has made their pick, and their choice for "Lapdog That Will Serve Our Interest$ Only" in this election year 2010.... you know him, you loathe him, you've seen his doppleganger before in the form of George W. Bush... * drum roll *... the winnah is Mike Cox!

    "As a lifelong Republican activist and former State Party Chairman, I have witnessed Mike Cox fight for conservative values with the courage of his convictions," Betsy DeVos said in the statement.

    We all know what "conservative values" means nowadays, and Mike Cox certainly exemplifies them. More tax cuts for the rich, with no economic plan other than the nebulous "cut spending" without identifying who or what would be cut (Dick's 2006 playbook), more nasty attacks on fellow Republicans to make them fall in line (Betsy wielded the big stick on that one), regulation and scrutiny on other people's personal lives and decisions while taking a pass on your own indiscretions, an emphasis on creating partisan wedge issues by pointing the finger at the poor and the working union folks while handing your friends those big government taxpayer-funded contracts and benefits... need we go on?

    Everything that was bad about Republican rule, everything that we voted to "change" in '06 and '08, is all rolled up into one little neat ball in the form of Mike Cox. Cox will serve all those interests that Dick and Betsy and the Glenn Beck-lovin' people at the Michigan Chamber will tell him to. It would be the term in office that Dick DeVos never had, for they would be pulling the strings. And you know it. It's how they roll.

    As the big money falls in line, the radical social special interests are joining in as well - with rumors that the game is fixed.

    Word has spread among the gubernatorial camps that the critical Right to Life of Michigan endorsement is "wired" for Attorney General Mike Cox .

    "There are indications this was wired before they (the 18-member Right to Life PAC board) even looked at their questionnaires," said John Truscott, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland.

    Almost makes you want to root for Twitter Pete, doesn't it? He seems almost "mavericky" in his attempts at portraying himself as a moderate. John Truscott is certainly no stranger to the ways of the DeVoses, and he has to know what is coming next - an infusion of money into the Cox campaign for attack ads and other arm-twisting purposes, while Hoekstra struggles to raise money and maintain his "grassroots" image. Good luck with that.

    Lessenberry nailed them all the other day:

    Hoekstra, the only candidate from the western side of the state, has been leading in most polls, so Cox’s strategy seems designed to tear him down by attacking him for past votes in Congress.

    That may be good politics, but it’s lousy leadership. We need to try to figure out our future, not play games about the past. Voters need to hold all these candidates to the bottom line.

    Which is, simply, that state government isn’t working, mainly because we’ve gotten used to a lot of services, like education, foster care and paved roads. Trouble is, we can no longer hide the fact that the state is no longer is taking in enough money to pay for them.

    Our leaders have to decide to ask us to do one of two things: Either give the state more money, which means raising taxes.

    Or if they aren’t willing to do that, they need to admit what we‘re bound to get is less. Poorer schools; far more expensive colleges. Fewer police; crummier roads.

    None of them want to admit that, because they think we don’t want to hear it. But we should demand the truth.

    Cox should be made to put his cuts on the table. Matter of fact, all of them should. Promising more tax cuts while also promising to fund education and other quality of life issues is a flat-out lie, as some in the media are starting to point out. And like DeVos, the Cox campaign should fall apart when the details become known to the public - his math doesn't add up, and his positions on the issues serve the extreme right only. Throw in the Manoogian rumors and his questionable funneling of state money to Republican donor's special projects, and it all adds up to a really bad choice for our state.

    Bottom line is: If you enjoyed the Bush years, you will love Mike Cox. Dick and Betsy will see to that. Right, John?

    Republican Attitude on Michigan's Film Industry: "Let's Kill It"

    No surprise here. Story after story has appeared over the past couple years on how the Republicans, as led by Nancy Cassis dancing at the direction of the extremists at the right wing Mackinac Center, have scared away jobs and businesses with their constant criticism of this industry. An example from August, 2009:

    Already, industry insiders say, the state has lost hundreds of millions in film spending to other states since talk of cutting or scrapping the credit surfaced late last year, a charge led by Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, chairwoman of the State Finance Committee. Others warn that cutting the credit could push business away from Michigan's fledgling industry simply because there hasn't been enough time to build a sufficient infrastructure -- studios and such -- capable of supporting long-term business.

    Legislative proposals, "even if unsupported, cause talk and rumors that cost Michigan a number of productions and jobs," said Jeff Spilman, managing partner of Ferndale's S3 Entertainment Group, which has worked to bring a number of feature film and television series projects to the state.

    Now we have word that Janet Lockwood, head of the Michigan Film Office, is retiring. It could be that after 19 years in that position, the last two incredibly hectic as the business took off with the new incentives, she just decided it was time. Or, it could be she got tired of being harassed by a few incompetent legislators that were hell-bent on playing political games with her job. It's hard to tell the real reason, but the story this morning from the GR Press uses words like "storm of criticism" and certainly plays on that angle. And as usual, that criticism is coming from a select few loud mouths only, that being Cassis, Rep. Dave Agema, who appears to be simply piling on at this point, and the director of the destruction, Michael LaFaive of the Mac Center. LaFaive cynically questioned the timing of Lockwood's retirement, while Cassis and Agema inadvertently pleaded their own incompetence. Watch:

    State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, and Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, both critics of film incentives, said they didn't blame Lockwood for the issues as much as they did the poorly crafted incentives program she administered.

    "My biggest thing is this whole thing with the film credits was when it was sold to us it was going to be good for Michigan and make money," Agema said.

    "My attitude was: If it makes money, fine. If it doesn't make money, let's kill it. That's my attitude now, let's kill it."

    In the past few years, the film incentives have created over 8,000 jobs, the "bulk" of crew jobs paying $30 an hr., and the business went from a "couple of million" a year to over $220 million last year - not to mention the blockbuster summer of filming that is expected this year, the new studios that are planning to open in the Detroit area, and the college classes that are filling up to train for this industry. It has "made money" for Michigan, that much is very obvious. It has also attracted the creative class to this state and kept some of our young people here. And any "questions" about the structure of the incentives that have arisen can be laid right back at the feet of the people who passed the legislation in the first place.

    Cassis said Lockwood's departure doesn't mean any substantial change will take place that would allow the public better scrutiny of its work.

    "People can come and go, but if the transparency and the disclosure is not in place, the system remains the same, the culture remains the same," she said.

    It certainly does - but the culture Cassis speaks of is the dysfunction of the legislature itself. Although Cassis has written bills calling for more transparency, it's very telling that clueless Agema didn't know a thing about them.

    Agema said he's in the process of authoring similar legislation but wasn't aware of Cassis' Senate bills.

    You would think that someone who claims to know what he is talking about would be aware of any legislation that has passed concerning the issue, but then again that would require Agema to actually care about the quality of his work and not direct his focus on playing partisan political games for election year purposes. We can't have quality and competence though, can we? It certainly wouldn't fit in with the current Republican "culture" in the Capitol - that being to over-hype problems in an effort to downplay any economic success, probably because success doesn't fit with their campaign theme this year. Call it a hunch.

    Republicans have seized on the deal with Hangar 42 in Walker as an example of the need for more transparency. Questions have come up about the value of the building and the credit they are claiming - and there is really nothing wrong with more scrutiny when it comes to tax credits, but that's not what is going on here. People like Cassis, Agema and LaFaive are using this one example as an excuse to can the whole program. It's like saying, "Hey, that window is broken, so let's burn down the whole house". And who really knows why Lockwood is retiring, but since they pulled the very same "witch hunt" with Greg Main and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation over the deal in Flint, causing business leaders to send an open letter telling them to knock it off because they were costing us jobs...

    Stung by a growing chorus of criticism over the effectiveness of state tax incentive programs, a group of business leaders overseeing Michigan's economic development office says the criticism is "unwarranted" and harmful to business attraction efforts.

    In a highly unusual move, the executive committee of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. issued an open letter Tuesday to the media and Legislature, warning that businesses looking to invest could go elsewhere if the future of the MEDC is threatened.

    "Political in-fighting is a clear warning to business that a state lacks a cohesive climate for economic development and a clear signal to invest elsewhere," said the letter, signed by the 17-member committee.

    ... maybe it's time to start bringing a little more "transparency" to Republican motives here, because it sure appears that they are obsessed with attacking anything that has been successful at bringing new business and investment to Michigan.

    Now why in the world would they want to do that?

    Monday, June 07, 2010

    President Obama Kalamazoo Central Commencement Address



    Sorry I took so long to post this here, got caught up in my own head again. Hate it when that happens.

    Can you imagine picking up your diploma and then shaking hands with the President?

    Some excerpts from the address:

    “… I’m here tonight because after three rounds of competition, with more than 1,000 schools, and more than 170,000 votes cast, I know – and America now knows – what you’ve done at Kalamazoo Central.

    Together as a community, you’ve embraced the motto of this school district: “Every child, every opportunity, every time,” because you believe, like I do, that every child – regardless of what they look like, where they come from, or how much money their parents have – every child who walks through your schoolhouse doors deserves a quality education.

    And I’m here tonight because I think that America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo Central about what makes for a successful school in this new century: Educators raising standards and inspiring their students to meet them. Community members stepping up as tutors and mentors and coaches. Parents taking an active interest in their kids’ education – attending those teacher conferences, turning off that TV, and making sure that homework gets done.

    Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is here tonight because these are the values – these are the changes – that he’s working to encourage in every school in this nation. This is the key to our future.

    But the most important ingredient is you: students who raised their sights; who aimed high and invested yourselves in your own success. It’s no accident that so many of you received college admission letters, Class of 2010. Because you worked for it. You earned it.”

    ***

    “…understand that your success in life won’t be determined just by what’s given to you, or what happens to you, but by what you do with all of that – by how hard you try; how far you push yourself; how high you’re willing to reach. Because true excellence comes only through perseverance.”

    ***

    “…meaningful achievement, lasting success – that doesn’t happen in an instant. It’s not just about the twist of fate, or the lucky break, or the sudden stroke of genius. Rather, it’s about the daily efforts, the choices large and small that add up over time. It’s about the skills you build, the knowledge you accumulate, the energy you invest in every task, no matter how trivial or menial it may seem at the time.”

    ***

    “… don’t make excuses. Take responsibility not just for your successes, but for your failures as well.

    The truth is, no matter how hard you work, you won’t necessarily ace every class or succeed in every job. There will be times when you screw up, when you hurt the people you love, when you stray from your most deeply held values.

    And when that happens, it’s the easiest thing in the world to start looking around for someone to blame. Your professor was too hard; your boss was a jerk; the coach was playing favorites; your friend just didn’t understand. We see it every day out in Washington, with folks calling each other names and making all sorts of accusations on TV.

    This community could have easily gone down that road. You could have made excuses – our kids have fewer advantages, our schools have fewer resources, so how can we compete? You could have spent years pointing fingers – blaming parents, blaming teachers, blaming the principal or the superintendent or the government.

    But instead, you came together. You were honest with yourselves about where you were falling short. And you resolved to do better – to push your kids harder, to open their minds wider, to expose them to all kinds of ideas and people and experiences.”

    For the full video of the speech, check out this page at whitehouse.gov.