Friday, July 30, 2010

Scenes from the Michigan Oil Spill

I've often wondered how I would react to covering a disaster. Yes, I'm having fun shooting events, places, people in Michigan. I absolutely love it. I live for it. But, as I once told a friend, "Real photojournalists have to shoot icky things, like car crashes and Republicans and stuff". I'll never forget the time I met one of the Freep photogs at a political event. It was fun to watch her work, listening and learning about the craft. A few short days after that event though, she was shooting the wreck where those four kids tried to beat the train in Detroit. They didn't make it. It gave me chills thinking about it.

So, I shied away from doing this at first, afraid of the horror I would see, sensitive little twit that I am. This oil spill, being so close to home though, I had to go. I wanted to see firsthand. And I'm glad that I did. Sometimes, I think that we see so many disasters on the TV and the internet that we become desensitized to it all; it becomes commonplace, and somehow still far away, if it doesn't hit your hometown. To be present for history like this though, it becomes way too real. And you understand why some journalists end up with PTSD.

Planning to work my way up the Kalamazoo River from the west, the first stop I made was in Plainwell. I knew the oil hasn't traveled that far of course, but I wanted a comparison, a point of reference. The first thing I noticed was the height and the speed of the river - it had overflown the boardwalk, and it was moving fast. And this was my first contact with another fellow traveler, out to look at the damage. On the way back to the car, a gentleman pulled up next to me and asked, "Is it here yet?"

No. It wasn't. We talked for a while, reliving the time line of events and covering the usual questions that ranged from grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, and sorrow. This scene would be repeated at every. single. stop. I made during the day. I talked with quite a few people who were in a vague state of shock, trying to make sense of it all.

Kalamazoo was a road construction nightmare, so I moved on as quickly as I could. Next stop was Galesburg, right before Morrow Lake, off I-94. Ran into a biologist as I parked the car; he is currently living in Chicago but had grown up in the area, and still has friends and family here. He came home as soon as he heard about the spill. He had traveled the road all the up to Marshall, showed me some shots he had taken, and gave me some tips as to where to go. Very somber conversation. I wasn't quite sure where I was at that point, and he explained that this spot was practically the opening of Morrow Lake - and that the oil was here. Not thick, certainly not as bad as it was upstream, but definitely here.

And it was. First thing you notice is the smell. Heavy, industrial, you recognize it right away. It just hangs in the air. Walking down to the river, past the warning signs, it gets stronger. At this spot on the river it didn't seem so bad - but the oil was noticeable; along the edges and in the rocks and vegetation, a slight rainbow sheen was present. And every once in a while, you would see more floating in the river, moving fast toward Morrow Lake. In Augusta, about the same thing. There really isn't much to Augusta, so I moved on.

Battle Creek was a different story. Standing on the Helmer Rd. Bridge (which is actually in Springfield,) there were large clouds of sheen moving down the river. Rainbow swirls; growing and stopping and growing again. And this was the first spot I noticed blobs of oil, dark brown clumps traveling in lighter brown pools, as it spreads out in the water. The oil on the vegetation was thick, black, a good six inches or so covering everything that was remotely close to the flowing river. The odor is the air was very heavy. It was there that I realized how awful this stuff really is - I don't think people can appreciate it until you see and smell it in a 360 setting. It brings tears.

This scene was downriver from two sets on booms and skimmers in the immediate area. Jackson St., which runs along the river on the north side, was closed. Numerous trucks lined the road as the cleanup crews had set-up shop there, and to their credit there were a lot of workers present. They were stringing more boom, traveling in boats up and down the river, sampling the water, doing whatever it is they do...

Moved on, up and around the closed section and then back down, ran into another set of guys doing the same thing a little further east. Still in Battle Creek at this point - and the oil along the sides of the river was thicker, higher up on the vegetation. Chatted with some more residents of the area, and always the same question, "Why didn't they stop it sooner? How come they didn't know it was happening?" No answer to that. Not yet anyway.

On to Marshall, and in particular, the Ceresco area. The place where they are currently evacuating people because the air is so bad - and it is. It is noxious. The area around the 11 Mile Rd. bridge really told the story; the smell was horrible, and thick, black oil clung to the trees and rocks along the river. Big brown blobs were still moving along at a very rapid pace. Most of the shots of thick oil in the slideshow came from here. It was hard to shoot, with the sun reflecting the trees, but anywhere you see a darker color in the water - that was oil. And there was a lot of it. Apparently it was nothing like it was the first few days though; residents of the area, standing and chatting with all us lookie-lous, were telling us it was sooo much better than it was. Oh man.

12 Mile Rd. was closed at Ceresco Dam, as more of the cleanup crew was present. Tanker trucks, cops, more workers, guys with clipboards... it was quite the gathering. Thunderous water was still spilling over the dam, and with it, more brown clumps could be seen. The area below the dam was thick with black oil. And the ever-present smell was very heavy at this point - and it was here that I started getting a headache and nausea. Maybe it was the heat of the day, the dehydration setting in, the gawd-awful Micky D's for lunch, the churning emotions at observing all of this... or maybe it was the benzene in the air. Who knows. It would stick with me until my head hit the pillow, that smell still in my nose, and I'm still not feeling all that hot this morning.

I traveled further into Marshall after that. Passed a bunch of big tanker trucks coming out of the area, I'm hoping these are the recipients of the estimated half million gallons of oil they have already pulled out of the river. Many roads that led to the water in the south of town were barricaded, workers and trucks driving in and out, so I decided not to mess with it anymore, and started to make my way back. I wanted to check out Morrow Lake and spots beyond.

It was getting late, the sun sinking on the horizon. Didn't see or smell anything at the lake right offhand, but it was so hard to tell. After the dam at Ceresco, I felt like I was covered in the stuff. Stopped at a little park in Comstock, this is beyond the Morrow Dam, and a couple of teenagers who lived there told me that the smell had been really bad in the morning, but the wind had now shifted. We talked for a bit, and I mentioned the sheen on the water that I had seen, especially the clouds in Battle Creek.

"What's sheen?", the older kid asked me. He continued on. "I don't know what that is, all I know is I saw this rainbow stuff swirling on the top of the water in the park this morning. The EPA guys told us that they were coming to use this boat launch, and that they would be here soon to close the park." Channel 3 from Kalamazoo showed up to interview this guy. Whether they used the footage or not, or whether anyone believes him or not, I don't know. They can debate the spread of this all they want, he knows what he saw, he was very sincere about it, troubled look of frustration on his face.

All he wanted to do was help with the animals. His friend did as well. The park was filled with ducks and geese, still clean at this point, waiting for us to commence with the feeding already. I think they will be safe. Morrow Lake should catch anything that is still coming, anything that happens to make it through the increasing booms and barricades up river. But from that point, all the way back to Marshall, someone has a helluva mess to clean up.

I noted with disgusted amusement this morning one story that claims that the governor may have "over-reacted" to this disaster. Well, seems to me that once she started screaming her fool head off, they got on the ball and sent more help in. May have prevented even more damage from being done, as earlier reports and stock market sites this week seemed to be more concerned about when the pipeline would re-open than they were the environmental destruction and loss to the area. So, if she over-reacted, good for her. I wish she had lit the damn river on fire to get their attention. Maybe it was the shock of seeing this first-hand, because making it stop, now!, is your initial gut reaction when you see it up close and personal, or, maybe it was memories of Kathleen Blanco awakened. Hard to say. But kudos to her, and to Congressman Schauer as well, for yelling as loud as they possibly could about this.

Keep it up. There is a whole lot of cleaning up that needs to be done here. Don't let these guys slack off for one minute.

And yeah, I can shoot disasters. I'd just rather not have to, so why don't we keep a close eye on potential danger from now on, ok? Accidents will happen to be sure, but one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure as we are finding out, and I'd much rather show y'all the beautiful scenery of this state, instead of shots of its destruction. Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oil Spill is Now Past the Morrow Dam

So much for the "last stand". Guess we are going to find out what happens when benzene hits PCBs.

A Michigan State Police emergency management official said this evening that the viscous flow of oil has breached the Morrow Dam and is bearing down on a federally designated pollution zone on the Kalamazoo River, potentially adding to the cost of the disaster’s cleanup.

Tom Sands, the deputy state director of emergency management and homeland security for the Michigan State Police, said he saw a light sheen of oil past the Morrow Dam near Galesburg during a flyover this afternoon.

That would mean that the oil is closer to a Superfund site, an Environmental Protection Agency designation for heavily polluted areas. And Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who spoke to reporters tonight along with Sands, said the presence of oil at a Superfund site “completely explodes the amount of money needed to address” the spill.

Enbridge is still trying to claim that the oil has not traveled past Fort Custer in Augusta. Anyone file suit on these people yet?

Bernero Takes Commanding Lead in New EPIC Poll

I still am wary of polls, and we have a lot of undecideds, but I feel a little better when I read this:

In the Democratic primary election for Governor, if the election were held today, would you vote for Andy Dillon or Virg Bernero?

32% Andy Dillon
40% Verg Bernero
28% Undecided/Refused

How certain are you that you will vote for your preferred candidate?
40% Very certain
39% Somewhat certain
20% Not certain at all
1% Undecided/Refused


It looks like this sampled a lot of pro-choice...

On the abortion issue, do you think of yourself as pro-choice, meaning that you support allowing women to have the right to an abortion, or do you consider yourself pro-life, meaning that you oppose abortions except where it is necessary to save the life of the mother?

64% Pro-choice
26% Pro-life
10% Undecided/Refused

... liberals....

Thinking in political terms, do you think of yourself as a liberal, moderate or conservative?

47% Liberal
31% Moderate
15% Conservative
1% Other
6% Undecided/Refused

...but perhaps that really IS representative of the Democratic base, and this media blather about how we should move to the right is just a bunch of crap.

Generally speaking, do you consider yourself to be a Republican or a Democrat?

82% Democrat
12% Independent
3% Republican
3% Undecided/Refused

Why would 3% of Republicans say they are going to vote in the Democratic primary, when they have such a hot race of their own? Beats me. Takes all kinds I guess.

Go read the WXYZ story for more of the questions asked. Six days to go - and then the real fun begins.

Governor Granholm Slams Enbridge Response on Spill, Oil Nears Galesburg

WOOD TV is reporting that the oil slick is nearing Galesburg this morning. Just to the west of Galesburg is Morrow Lake, and efforts are being made to make sure that body of water is, in the words of an EPA official, the "last stand". If not, the chances of reaching Lake Michigan become even greater.

Governor Granholm doesn't seem to trust Enbridge to tell the truth on what has happened here, and after the Gulf spill, can't say as I blame her.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is not happy with the response of Enbridge Energy Partners to the Marshall oil spill that has now according to Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel spilled 19,500 barrels of oil into the region.

Calhoun and Kalamazoo Counties have both declared a state of emergency because of a massive oil spill near Marshall, making them eligible for federal help and the Governor wants the EPA to take over the cleanup immediately, and not leave it up to Enbridge Energy.

She also doubts their estimates of the amount of oil that has leaked saying:

"I have great knowledge that companies will do what they can to protect their reputation, their interest and their shareholders. I worry that we were undersold in terms of the amount of crude that was released. We do not want to see a repeat of what happened in the Gulf."

A state of disaster was declared last night by Executive Order, and that will free up even more resources to help tackle the spill. Watch the presser here:

The area is being closed off with barricades where they can, and the DNRE is advising people to stay away, even issuing tickets to people on the water last night. Many volunteers have wanted to help with the animals, but the fear is they will do more harm than good - so please, leave that to the pros. Besides, this is a highly toxic environment that could make you sick as well.

Mary Dettloff, with the DNRE cautions the Benzene level of the water and the air near the water can be very dangerous to humans. State and federal agencies are waiting for special respirators that will allow their teams to take to the river banks and begin animal rescue efforts.

It's heartening to see so many people that want to help, and perhaps they will get that opportunity later - but let the officials take care of things for now. People are asked to call 1-800-306-6837 and report the location if you spot any animals in distress.

Another factor here is they aren't quite sure what will happen if this hits the PCBs that are present in the area. Past the dam on Morrow Lake is an EPA Superfund clean-up site, and they aren't too worried about it, but... well, you know how that goes.

The Kalamazoo River Superfund site stretches 80 miles from the dam downstream to the mouth of the river in Saugatuck.

To what extent the oil — and more specifically the benzene that evaporates off of it — will have on the polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that are located in river banks, flood plains and sediment is not yet known, Dollhopf said.

Environmental experts are saying that this is "like another nail in the coffin" for cleaning up the river - and that the damage is going to last for years.

* Sigh *

This is why we can't have nice things.

And one last horrifying note: The juxtaposition of this coverage, surrounded by constant ads from certain politicians that are screaming for "less regulation!" on business, is really enough to turn your stomach. Who needs benzene to make you nauseous when we have politics?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

State Emergency Operations Center Activated in Response to Oil Spill

Just released from the Governor's Office:

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today activated the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to ensure all state resources are readily available to protect public health and the environment in response to the oil spill that occurred July 26 near Marshall.

Enbridge Energy Partners shut down the pipeline after locating a leak on July 26, which stopped the source of the oil. To help contain and remove the spill, seven booms with skimmers were placed in the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River to collect the oil. Response agencies are also working to develop a barrier around the spill. No injuries have been reported.

“Our focus is protecting Michigan citizens and our environment by providing any needed state resources to expediently address the situation,” said Granholm. “Officials with several state agencies are actively engaged in this response effort and are working in concert with local and federal agencies to ensure that our response is timely and effective.”

Officials with the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (MSP/EMHSD) conducted a helicopter flyover today of the affected areas to adequately assess the extent of the spill and impacts to the environment. Since July 26, a representative of the MSP/EMHSD has been on scene to assist local response efforts as needed.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) are on scene working to conduct an environmental review and ensure the safety and protection of wildlife, fisheries and water resources. To expedite the delivery of resources to the affected area, the Michigan State Police (MSP) Traffic Safety Division lifted Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations extending the number of hours allowed for commercial drivers.

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is advising people not to eat fish from Talmadge Creek or the Kalamazoo River. The MDCH is also advising people not to touch or swim in the Talmadge Creek or Kalamazoo River and to avoid the general area of the spill. These advisories are temporary and will remain in effect until a determination is made by state and federal officials that affected water is safe for fishing and swimming.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) is mobilizing the State Animal Response Team (MI SART), which is an interagency, coordinated resource dedicated to Michigan animal emergency preparation, planning, response and recovery. If activated, MI SART will implement a safe, environmentally sound and efficient response on the local, county, state and federal level.

The MDA is advising all producers and homeowners using the Kalamazoo River, or other connected surface water, for crop or lawn irrigation or watering animals (including livestock, pets, etc.), to immediately stop using those sources of water and seek alternate sources. Additionally, people should restrict access by livestock or pets to those impacted water sources.

Residents with concerns or who wish to report affected wildlife are encouraged to call 1-800-306-6837, which has been set up by Enbridge.

The Battle Creek Enquirer is on top of this story with numerous links on their front page - check with them for the latest info.

Kalamazoo River Oil Spill Fumes Spread Over Battle Creek

I've been wrapped up in some other things this morning and haven't been able to stay on top of this - but it sure doesn't look good. Damnit.

Battle Creek area residents are being warned to stay away from the Kalamazoo River because of a major oil spill.

An estimated 840,000 gallons of oil leaked into a creek Monday that feeds into the river.

Area media were reporting that odor from the spill hung heavy over Battle Creek this morning.

"It is unknown at this time how far the spill has traveled and exactly what areas have been affected. It is assumed due to the current level of the Kalamazoo River and the speed of the current that the entire Emmett Township area and beyond has been affected," according to an advisory issued today by the Emmett Township Public Safety Department.

Calls to Chicago-based Enbridge Liquids Pipelines were not immediately returned today. A message on a company hotline set up for the spill said "we regret any inconvenience this has caused to the community."

Regret any inconvenience? I'll bet you will after the lawyers get done with you. The Calhoun County Health Dept. is starting to mutter phrases like "largest in Michigan history" and "lasting consequences for underground water contamination" and "very toxic environment", and the Freep is reporting that volunteers are being asked to help rescue wildlife... apparently it's like having a little piece of the BP Gulf spill right here at home.

Heartsick over this already, and I haven't even begun to read everything yet.

Congressman Schauer will be holding a press conference on the spill shortly, and Senator Levin has promised federal resources for clean-up and called for the company to pay for all damages.

Stay tuned as more details develop...

UPDATE: Some video from WWMT in K-zoo:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Sunday Paper: July 25, 2010

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, Michigan. Coming to a quarter near you in 2018. Pictures cannot do this beauty justice - this is something you really need to see in person. Go. You won't regret it.

How about some good news this morning?

  • Thanks to the new rigorous high school curriculum, test scores for Michigan high school students are at their "highest levels ever" in math science, reading and writing. For more details on the report, or to see the database to find out how your district ranked, click here.

  • Michigan's advanced manufacturing sector is growing, according to a new report prepared for the University Research Corridor by the Anderson Economic Group. 65% of our state's manufacturing jobs are now advanced manufacturing, meaning they "make high-tech products, develop or apply process for future manufacturing or have productivity growth rates significantly above the U.S. average." The wages are well above average as well, coming in at $64,122 a year, as compared to $40,935 for all jobs in the state.

  • Pontiac's new movie/TV studio will break ground this Tuesday. Raleigh Michigan Studios will occupy the former General Motors plant on the Center Point campus, building a new 200,000 sq. foot complex, and will hire up to 3,000 people or more in the next few years. Construction will be complete in 2011. Does anyone else find it amusing that Rakolta is a part of this? No word on whether or not the Bundys will attend the ceremony.

  • Zeeland-based Gentex, maker of auto-dimming car mirrors and other products for the aerospace industry, can't keep up with demand and is hiring at a rapid pace. Figures show "profits (are) up 179 percent and sales up by 72 percent over the second quarter of 2009". Gentex has received targeted MEDC tax credits over the years, starting with Engler in 2002, so I'm sure we won't have any complaints about their success.

  • As predicted, Ford is kicking ass and taking names. The company enjoyed solid earnings from April through June, raking in $2.6 billion for its fifth-straight quarterly profit. Chrysler also turned a profit in the second quarter, and is expecting to its initial public stock offering in 2011. Everyone is hedging their bets a bit to see where the economy is going next, but the automakers appear to be on solid ground now - so be sure to thank the nice President for saving our state's main industry. Obama will be making a tour of a few auto plants next week; Ford in Chicago and GM and Chrysler here in Michigan.

  • The Holland City Council and Board of Public Works approved leasing land for wind farms on 3,000 acres throughout Allegan county; studies will begin soon to find the best possible locations for turbines that could produce up to 130 megawatts of renewable energy. And if you missed the blast over on the side, Duke Energy, a major national player in renewable energy, is checking out the Manistee area, talking to farmers and the community about leasing land for a 101 megawatt wind farm there.

  • Warm water and beautiful weather are the combination that is attracting huge crowds to Lake Michigan beaches this summer. Ottawa county parks are enjoying a 27% increase in attendance over the chilly 2009 season, and other areas along the lakeshore are reporting similar figures. Get out and enjoy - but be careful out there. With this increased water activity, it seems we are having more reports of drownings and other mishaps, so remember, be safe. Drinking and boating don't mix, and rip currents are very dangerous. If a red flag is flying on the beach, use extreme caution near the water.

    That's it - this beautiful day awaits...
  • Welcome to My Nightmare

    If you read around the Michigan papers this morning, you'll see why this song was on my mind. Thought, what the heck, let's have some fun with it...

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Obama Signs Unemployment Benefits Extension, Payments to Begin in One to Two Weeks

    The tyranny of the petty, mean-spirited and incredibly hurtful federal GOP obstruction tactics are finally over, and thousands of Michigan residents will once again be able to pay their bills and feed their families. President Obama has signed the unemployment benefits extension, and the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency is rolling on getting those benefits out to people as quick as they possibly can. From the President:

    Today, I signed the unemployment insurance extension to restore desperately needed assistance to two and a half million Americans who lost their jobs in the recession. After a partisan minority used procedural tactics to block the authorization of this assistance three separate times over the past weeks, Americans who are fighting to find a good job and support their families will finally get the support they need to get back on their feet during these tough economic times. Now it’s time for Congress to act on more proposals that support our economic recovery, including passing critical aid to our states and support to small businesses. Small businesses are the engine of job growth, and measures to cut their taxes and make lending available should not be held hostage to partisan tactics like those that unconscionably held up unemployment insurance.

    From the Michigan UIA:

    "We have teams of staff ready to process claims for the federal extensions and estimate that within two weeks, we should have most if not all federal unemployment benefit payments in the hands of those who are eligible for them,” UIA Director Stephen Geskey said in a statement released today.

    Two main groups of people are affected:

    * 9,500 workers who exhausted their state unemployment benefits after the federal programs expired. If you're in this group, you will be receiving a letter with special instructions on how and when to apply for the federal extensions.

    * 60,000 unemployed workers who had been receiving Extended Benefits until that program ended with the week ending July 3. If you're among this group, you simply need to continue contacting the MARVIN system once every two weeks. If you stopped contacting MARVIN when benefits were halted, the UIA staff will contact you directly for the information needed to pay you for any back weeks of unemployment to which you are entitled.

    If you don't receive your payments or are not contacted by the agency within the next two weeks, you are supposed to call 1-866-500-0017 and select option #3 to speak with someone on the staff.

    If there is any justice in this world, this stunt from the Republicans should come back to bite them in the ass this fall. By showing their true colors, pushing for more tax cuts for the wealthy while denying average Americans relief, they have angered the prized "Independent" voter along the way. Keep up the good work, GOP!

    According to polls, more people are identifying themselves as Independents (40 percent) than either Democrats (30 percent) or Republicans (26 percent). Also, in more than half of polls taken, Independent voters are more likely to be unemployed than either Democrats or Republicans. Fifty-nine percent of Independent voters support an extension of federal unemployment benefits.

    Democrats need to hammer home this difference in the parties, right here, right now. The GOP is there to serve wealthy interests alone, and they have grown so arrogant that they will make no apologies for that fact - the welfare of regular working folks like you be damned. They don't care if you lose your home. They don't care if you can't feed your kids. They don't care about you at all, and they reveal their true goals here every single time they act to obstruct any sort of economic recovery taking place.

    Whether the Dems take advantage of this simple truth, well, that remains to be seen.

    Where is Dillon's Budget Plan?

    Oh goodie, the lawmakers are back, and Mike Bishop has that all too familiar gleam in his eye at the prospect of making more cuts to the budget.

    Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm appeared to be holding out hope that Congress will revive a measure that would give Michigan an estimated $560 million in additional federal money to help provide health care for the poor. The Medicaid measure appeared to be dead in the U.S. Senate, but Democrats say they haven't given up the fight for the legislation that would assist Michigan and several other states with budget problems.

    Meanwhile, Republicans who run the Michigan Senate were drawing up plans to make more budget cuts on the theory that the federal money isn't going to materialize. Lawmakers already have passed a budget bill that will preserve funding for public schools, but other programs covered by the state's general fund — including universities, health care and tax revenue-sharing payments made to local governments — could face further cuts.

    "Every cut so far that we've proposed is going to be deeper," Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop said Wednesday. "That's about as specific as I can be right now."

    Bishop can't wait to dump this problem on the heads of city officials, college presidents, and health care providers. He wants to cut, cut, cut - and pass those back-door tax increases on to you, hard-working citizen of Michigan.

    Ready to pay more for college tuition? Ready to lose more cops and firefighters from your cities and towns, raising your insurance rates and putting your family and valuables in danger? Ready to see your health insurance premiums rise again, as hospitals look to recoup the cost of the loss of funding by raising their rates? At a time when Michigan should look to invest in its people, infrastructure, and quality of life issues to attract new business and investment in the state, Republicans are obviously dead set on destroying what we have left - and then blaming the Democrats for the resulting damage.

    What will Andy Dillon do to stop that from happening?

    * crickets *

    It's been two years running now that Dillon and the House Democrats have not provided a coherent budget plan. They will not vote for cuts, they will not vote for reforms, they will not vote for revenue, they will let the Republicans take charge of this situation - and then they will probably whine like children and blame Granholm, who HAS provided the best budget plan out there, when they lose the election this year.

    This is ridiculous, and not what we voted for when we gave the Democrats this large majority in the House. Andy Dillon is in the best possible position to fight for his campaign promises RIGHT NOW. If he can't get his plans through his own caucus with this kind of majority, how does he ever hope to do it as governor?

    Waiting for the answer...

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010


    I write like
    Margaret Atwood

    I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

    Cool. That was from an analysis of the Whirlpool post. When I plugged in the last Sunday Paper post, I got James Joyce. Another post came up Dan Brown. Apparently I don't have a style that is consistent with any famous writer.

    And here I was shooting for Stephen King...

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Bittersweet Whirlpool

    Big announcement out of Benton Harbor today. Whirlpool, armed with MEGA credits that landed Michigan this investment over competing sites in Chicago and Atlanta, is consolidating its global headquarters in the area, spending $86.8 million to build a new campus building and condense 15 other facilities in two older buildings, giving them a total of three main facilities that will retain "up to 2,336 total jobs, including 868 directly at the company".

    Good thing, right? Keeping those jobs here, when they would have gone to Illinois or Georgia? Can you imagine the caterwauling that would have taken place had Whirlpool packed up and left the state altogether? The screeching would have been fierce from the naysayers, and you know it. But once again, the Governor is of course damned if we do and damned if we don't, and found herself in the insane position of having to defend keeping these jobs here in Michigan. Unreal.

    Flanked by executives of the affected companies, Granholm added, “The folks standing behind me would not be choosing Michigan if we didn’t have the economic tools to make a good business case for them.

    “Every state is competing, and we cannot lay down our arms. So anyone on either side who says we should be eliminating the Economic Development Corporation or reducing our incentives does not understand how things are playing out globally, that we must compete if we’re going to keep these job providers here.”

    Rick Haglund called out the gubernatorial candidates for their duplicity yesterday, predicting that whoever wins the race will keep these credits in place. He calls it the "dirty secret of gubernatorial campaign" - but it really isn't so secret to those that are paying attention. Republican complaints about tax credits are just so much noise designed to both attack the strengths of the current administration and to avoid being specific about their own fiscal plans.

    Whether tax incentives are an effective method of creating jobs and business investment is almost irrelevant.

    The states are playing the incentives game at such a competitive level that they have conditioned businesses to expect a big break for adding jobs.

    “Before we all start talking about doing away with incentives, every candidate should be doing some research on what other states are doing,” said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place, a regional economic development agency based in Grand Rapids. “Our competitors are offering more, and we can keep up or get out of the game,” she said.

    This is the world we live in. This is the reality of today. We play, or we die. Michigan has been doing a pretty good job of attracting these businesses, another 6,272 jobs (1,530 direct new jobs) and $177.5 million in investment from 14 other projects announced along with Whirlpool today. Some of them may do better than expected, some of them may never pan out, but the fact that we landed them over states like Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts, and others shows that we are competitive with ALL the various low to high tax and/or wage states. The MEDC is doing a good job - that is why the Republicans attack it.

    Here comes the bittersweet part though. While we rejoice that we have kept Whirlpool's HQ here, and the company is poised to grow in the future, it is partly coming at the expense of American manufacturing jobs and workers once again. Replace "Whirlpool" with "Electrolux", and "Evansville" with "Greenville", and you know what just happened in Indiana, as the final 650 shift workers were laid-off from Whirlpool’s Evansville plant at the end of June as production has moved to Mexico. They even had a final cookout to get together and say goodbye, just as Electrolux workers did here. Some workers are angry, others are looking to the future and new opportunities, city leaders are looking at new businesses to come to the community, and the story reads identical to what happened in Greenville - and in many other cities and towns and states across the country in the past few decades. While we can be angry about the loss of these jobs and feel great empathy for these workers and this town, and, although politicians keeping making promises, no one has moved to stop it yet...

    At a time when the nation’s economy is struggling to gain momentum, Whirlpool’s decision is an unwelcome step backward. It continues a trend in which the nation has lost nearly six million factory jobs over the past dozen years, representing one in three manufacturing jobs.

    As long as we, as a nation, do not address the idea of fair trade, and the importance of maintaining a strong manufacturing base, those jobs are going to continue to leave. No tax breaks, tax cuts, tax anythings, can compete with $1.57 an hour labor in Mexico, period, ever. Even conservative darling Mitch Daniels, and the (supposedly) low-tax state of Indiana, could not keep Whirlpool manufacturing jobs in Evansville. Mexico itself starting losing these jobs to China, and even China is starting to see jobs go to other low wage countries. Maybe the global economy will someday find a balance, but it's not going to happen in our lifetime.

    Bottom line: These jobs are gone. They're not coming back. The best we can do, absent a strong (but fair, not protectionist) national trade policy, is to keep fighting for the jobs we can create or retain here in Michigan, as we have with the MEGA credits above. Any talk of removing them is at best nonsense, and at worst suicide.

    So the story of Whirlpool is certainly bittersweet. We should be grateful they chose to stay in Michigan and thank MEDC for putting together the package. If certain Republicans had been allowed to follow their own rhetoric, these jobs announced today would be lost as well. And that would have been a whole 'nother post... and while it might have been fun to do to the Republicans what they have done to this governor, let's just take the jobs instead, and keep working towards a brighter future for Michigan and its people.

    Right-to-Work (For Less) Legislation Reintroduced in the Michigan House

    If this doesn't motivate union members to get active in this election, nothing will.

    A Macomb County lawmaker will attempt to resurrect legislation this week making Michigan a right-to-work state, even though a similar bill failed in the state House less than two years ago.

    State Rep. Kim Meltzer, R-Macomb Township, announced Monday she is the chief sponsor on a pair of bills introduced during the legislative recess last week — which should get a first reading in Lansing on Wednesday.

    House Bills 6348 and 6349 would prohibit businesses from making union membership or dues a condition of employment. The law makes exemptions for the federal governments, some railway employees and union contracts that were in effect before the legislation gets enacted — although those pacts must be altered upon renewal to comply with the law.

    Only 19.9% of Michigan workers are currently represented by a union, and make no mistake about it, the Republicans mean to bust them for good this time. This will not get past the House this year... but next year is another story. Destroying the rights of workers and eliminating unions altogether is the ultimate goal of those on the extreme right.

    Meltzer cites the Tea Party as the driving force behind the effort.

    “The Tea Party (political movement) is erupting in the state, and people are more concerned with wanting a government with more accountability,” she said. “Unions nationwide collect something like $4.5 billion annually in dues, and much of it goes into unreported campaign contributions to candidates that tend to favor increasing the size of government and spending.”

    We won't mention the "unreported campaign contributions" from the wealthy who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of working people though. The question will then become: Who will they steal from next, after they have finished destroying the middle class in this country? It's not like cutting the wages of working folks will be enough to fill the insatiable greed...

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Republican Candidates for Governor Support Film Incentives... in Wisconsin

    Imagine what would have happened if we had taken Nancy Cassis' advice and cut or eliminated Michigan's film incentives. It probably would look a lot like what is happening in Wisconsin, where Governor Jim Doyle changed the state's 25% credit into a grant program with a yearly spending cap... and now Republican candidates for governor are vowing to reinstate some version of the incentives, although they are being pretty vague about how they would do it.

    The three main gubernatorial candidates all support changing the state's film incentives to attract more film projects, after Gov. Jim Doyle drastically scaled back tax credits a year ago.


    (Republican candidate Scott) Walker's spokeswoman Jill Bader said Walker was disappointed that Doyle made the incentives less attractive and he is looking at what other states have done before he comes up with a final plan.

    "The film tax credits can give Wisconsin the competitive advantage we need to bring jobs and investment into the state," Walker said in a statement.

    (Republican Mark) Neumann's spokesman Chris Lato said Neumann supports tax credits that lead to business growth. He said Neumann would conduct a cost analysis to ensure the incentives result in measurable economic development. He said the previous credits didn't have focus on developing a thriving new industry, and "Mark would demand more accountability and would work to ensure a more favorable result."

    Yeah, yeah, more politician-speak about "accountability" which is all fine and dandy, and who knows if those Republicans are really sincere about returning the incentives or just playing to election-year expectations, but the lesson learned in Wisconsin should serve as a warning to us in Michigan that if we plan on cutting our incentives, we can pretty much kiss this business goodbye. That is exactly what happened in Wisconsin when Doyle changed the program; films stopped shooting, studios went bankrupt, and the ones that are left are clamoring for the credits to return.

    Jay Schillinger used to be head of business development at Pulse Communications in Green Bay, which had planned to expand in response to the incentives. But the owner declared bankruptcy, partly because of losing business due to the changed incentives. Schillinger bought the assets and started NorthCoast Productions in Green Bay. He said it's been doing well, concentrating on video production and commercials but he's pushing for better incentives knowing he and other parts of the industry could do much better.

    He said the Depp film was great, but they had a number of independent films planning to film in Wisconsin that left when the incentives changed.

    He said the industry was just gaining momentum when Doyle's actions caused it to come to a "screeching halt."

    "We have to give it a chance and if the candidates are sincere in this, which I think they are, it needs time," he said. "... I think it's not far-fetched to think that Wisconsin could really be a hub of film making activity, which would be great for job creation."

    Michigan has major studios in the works, especially in the Detroit area, facilities that will create thousands of permanent jobs in the entertainment industry for our state. But, as quickly as they came here, they can pack up and leave again as well - as some fledgling studios in Wisconsin found out the hard way.

    Remember that the next time some Michigan Republican complains about the film credits - there are other states that are looking to get back in the game after cutting their incentives, and they will be glad to take this business, and the jobs it creates, away from us. Sure would be a shame to lose the momentum that we have developed to another state - only to revisit the issue a couple of years down the road and have to play catch-up once again.

    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: July 18, 2010

    Manistique East Breakwater Lighthouse

    Late, late edition. Spent the past week roaming the highways of the Upper Peninsula, basking in the perfect weather and absorbing with awe and amazement the natural wonders that exist in the northern reaches of our state. I buried myself with the camera, shooting just over 4000 pictures (I kid you not) and I got some great ones - but to tell you the truth, pictures cannot do the incredible beauty of upper Michigan in the summer justice. You really need to see it for yourself. Go. You will not be sorry. More to come on that, as I sort through the experience...

    Did my best to avoid politics (couldn't escape it completely) and stayed off the internet for four whole days (!), so I'm busy playing catch-up. Just a few stories that caught my eye right off the bat:

  • Peter Luke opts for the Socratic method today to spell out why the Republican candidates running for governor are so incredibly boring. The answer is always in the question...

    Has any candidate made a convincing argument that voters have heard? Has any made the case that their opponents aren’t qualified for the November ballot? That’s what campaigns are about. That voters don’t appear to be particularly enthusiastic isn’t the voters’ fault.

    Bingo. These guys are simply spewing platitudes and fiscal nonsense. The voters aren't buying it.

    Mostly bland pronouncements about how cutting business taxes will cure Michigan’s economic ills, even though Michigan’s business taxpayers will pay $100 million less in fiscal 2010 than they did in fiscal 1997. Because none of them bother with the arithmetic of how they’ll accomplish it, pledges that Michigan will again create jobs — by far the top issue — lack force or conviction.

    Tax cuts for business will not create consumer demand, and consumer demand is what creates jobs. No one will run out and hire more staff if the consumer demand isn't there. We have tried the "more tax cuts" economic theory, it hasn't helped the average voter - and they know it. Can't blame them for not being thrilled at the prospect of a future of more trickle-down policy that somehow never seems to reach their own household.

  • What's the difference between a tax incentive and a tax cut? Plenty. Rick Haglund explores the successes, failures, and the (Mac Center manufactured) controversy surrounding Michigan's MEGA credits. Bottom line on that: Michigan has to offer incentives to lure major development, or the business will go elsewhere. It's major development that diversifies our economy and feeds small business; to leave the game now would be devastating. We cannot afford to fall behind. Greg Main of the MEDC points out that the competition will eat our lunch for us if we eliminate incentives, and that they only pay off when jobs are created...

    He says it’s absurd to think Michigan can eliminate tax incentives and survive in the economic-development war among the states.

    “There’s not a state in the union that doesn’t have some kind of incentive program,” he said.

    Main and others note Michigan’s MEGA incentives are structured so companies don’t receive a dime until they create the promised jobs.

    “If companies don’t do what they say, it costs us zero,” Kitchens said. “It’s a great deal for the taxpayers.”

    Engler tried to dismantle our economic development program, as all the Republican candidates this year are promising to do - and he very quickly put it back "after Michigan quickly gained a reputation around the country as having unilaterally disarmed in the war among the states for business investment"... are we going to have to learn this lesson all over again?

  • Gongwer has a couple headlines worth mentioning about our ever-looming budget deficit issue: A disturbing report says that the $525 million that Congress stiffed us on in Medicaid funding would have to come out of the General Fund - and that would be very bad news. Still hoping they act on that, but it's not looking good. On a brighter note, June revenues came in at $104 million higher than predicted, showing that we do have some growth going on out there - and every little bit helps. Since those legislators were hard at work over vacation tackling the budget issue, it should get done as soon as they get back this week, right?

    Starting to think it might be better to kick the budget down the road and let the obstructionists be responsible for the cuts that are coming. Problem is, they will just blame it all on the Dems, who, of course, will refuse to stand up for themselves. Dillon release the House budget plan yet? No? Didn't think so. Pretty much explains this voter's lack of enthusiasm right there.

  • Speaking of those Democrats, the Freep's Chris Christoff analyzes the "truth behind the claims" in the gubernatorial race on that side of the aisle. Give it a read if you are so inclined.
  • Friday, July 09, 2010

    Random Thoughts

    A few items for your perusal, starting with some good stuff and working our way back to politics, as I always seem to do...

  • Good people.

    Would your family be interested in doing something like this? Check out the MI Family Builds Michigan page for more info.

  • Comerica Bank's Michigan Economic Activity Index rose again in May and is up 12% from last year - but the pace of the recovery is starting to slow down. Dana Johnson thinks that the "broad-based gains in the national economy should result in sustained moderate job growth in Michigan" over the entire year. Sure hope he is right.

  • Michigan's research sector is "booming", according to The Scientist magazine. The latest ranking of the "40 Best Places to Work in Academia in 2010" highlighted Van Andel Institute, Calvin College, Michigan State University and Wayne State University as examples of how "Michigan is making itself a leader in the life sciences". Awesome.

  • Graffiti artist Banksy outs the Packard plant owners. Check this great DKos diary for the full story and some wonderful photos - although now I'm curious as to why the city couldn't just take back the property before if no one was paying taxes and/or claimed ownership. Fill me in if you know the details on that.

  • A Grand Rapids pizza parlor is gearing up to serve as the setting of the multi-million dollar movie "30 Minutes or Less". Vito's Pizza on the west side is undergoing a make-over, and - listen closely, Rep. Agema - "getting the restaurant 'movie-ready' has provided employment opportunities to several businesses in West Michigan". Painters, plumbers, and other contractors are working 10 hr days to prepare for shooting to start later this month, and it is expected to run through October. This is just one of three movies shooting in GR this summer.

  • A couple of MUST read editorials this week. The Freep calls out the GOP on the "deficit spending" hysteria...

    The new deficit hawking among congressional Republicans is enough to make you gut-sick over political hypocrisy. It's doubly revolting given the fact that the victims of their preening are middle-class families still struggling to find work after the financial crash.

    This is a party that inherited a $230-billion annual surplus when it took control of the White House and both houses of Congress in 2000, but blew it on two wars and big tax cuts. Where were the GOP leaders now decrying the growth of deficit spending when the beneficiaries were those in higher tax brackets? President Barack Obama inherited a budget that was $400 billion in the red.


    The about-face is stark and disturbing. It reflects a party whose principles have come unmoored from any regard for the country's middle-class needs, or the pain of joblessness felt by American families. It's the policy of a party that has taken its anti-government rhetoric to a dangerous extreme.

    Just go read it. And send it to everyone you know.

  • While you are at it, send them this one too - the words "fraud" and "Tea Party" come together in such a splendid way...

    The Tea Partiers, far from being a separate political entity, are just the most extreme right-wingers of the current crop of Republicans, hoping to repackage themselves in the eyes of voters.

    Yup. And it's possible that most voters will understand that, and will turn away from the insanity if enough Democrats make sure and call it out for what it is. Since the radical right wing operatives are going to unleash a $200 million dollar smear campaign this fall, it's going to take all hands on deck to address the lies that will be trumpeted and counter a fawning media that it intent on promoting this nonsense as some sort of legitimate movement.

  • Hysterical Pure Michigan ad spoofs. Very funny. Thanks - I needed the laughs.

    OK, that's it for now. Going to unplug totally for awhile, so no thread tomorrow.

    No, really, I'm serious this time - and I'm more than a little afraid I won't be able to do it. Wish me luck.
  • Wednesday, July 07, 2010

    When the Swift Boater Becomes the Swift Boatee...

    Hahahahaha! Republicans are sooo cute when they start attacking each other...

    A group started by the man whose firm helped produce the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that harmed Democrat John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid is now running TV ads against Michigan gubernatorial candidate Mike Cox.

    The Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America has been running radio ads against the Republican attorney general trying to tie him to a rumored-but-never-proven party at the Manoogian Mansion. Kwame Kilpatrick lived there when he was mayor.

    Now it's doing the same in 30- and 60-second TV ads on Fox News that group founder Rick Reed says will run in most of Michigan.

    On FOX. That is beautiful.

    Here in West Michigan, we were treated to weeks on end of hearing about what a free-spending liberal Pete Hoekstra was - courtesy of the wealthy GOP operatives that are supporting Cox, knowing that he will serve their "more tax cuts for the rich" Bush economic policies for them...

    In West Michigan, this year's tsunami of political advertising began in May when Cox, the state attorney general, and a group called Americans For Job Security spent much of their money on ads that attacked Hoekstra for being a big spender who supported a bailout of banks and Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere."

    Local television stations pulled the Americans for Job Security ads after Hoekstra's lawyers complained the ads were false and misleading.

    Though Truscott claimed the group's ads were linked to the Cox campaign, Cox has denied any connection to the group, which does not have to report its sources of money as long as it does not recommend a vote for a specific candidate.

    No, no connection whatsoever - except the Cox ads and the AJS ads said the exact same thing about poor 'ol liberal Twitter Pete. It was just a coincidence, right?

    Right. And now instant GOP karma's gonna get Cox...

    Time for those rich boys to hit on Synder too. He's obviously a flaming communist that needs to be taken down a peg. Better get on that, time is running out!

    Hardest Hit Fund: Help for Unemployed Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

    If I'm not mistaken, this is the first program where those who are unemployed can receive help to make mortgage payments. Michigan is one of five states (California, Nevada, Florida and Arizona being the others) that will split $1.5 billion from the bank rescue to help alleviate high foreclosure rates:

    The Helping Hardest-Hit Homeowners Fund will be available to homeowners drawing unemployment benefits, those who have fallen behind because of a temporary layoff or medical emergency, and previously unemployed homeowners who have returned to work at lower wages.

    Granholm said state officials also filed a request with the Obama administration to add to the group of potential applicants Michigan's long-term unemployed whose benefits have expired.

    The fund should be able to provide assistance for up to 17,000 Michigan households, she said.

    We will get $154 million to distribute starting July 12th. It runs through your lender, so call them first and see if they are set up yet (be patient with them, this is just getting underway), or, if you want further info, call 866-946-7432 or check out the MSHDA web page at

    This is one area where the government realized that it was too difficult for people to qualify for help previously, they made some adjustments, and now more families will be able to keep their homes. Very good news. Kudos to them for responding to the problems and to the need. A second round of states is expected to be approved soon (North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina) to join this program.

    If this applies to your situation, act soon. When it's gone, it's gone - because you know how the US Senate Republicans are when it comes to helping those that need it the most...

    Tuesday, July 06, 2010

    Got Vote? Today is the Last Day to Register for the August 3rd Primary

    Some facts from the Freep:

    Based on results of elections over the last four decades, only about 1 in 5 registered voters is expected to participate in the primary election, so the ability of a single voter to affect the outcome is greater. Plus, many elections for Congress and the Legislature are waged in districts that are overwhelmingly partisan, meaning the winner of the Democratic or Republican primary is generally elected in the fall, according to past election results.

    Only 1.3 million people voted in the state's 2006 primary, which was the last gubernatorial election year. That was about 17% of the state's 7.6 million registered voters.

    Since 1978, the highest voter turnout in a Michigan primary was 24.4% in 1982.

    Hear that? Your ability to affect the outcome of an election is much greater in a primary. Enthusiasm? You bet. I can't wait to get there on August 3rd and extract my revenge participate in our great democracy. Very much looking forward to it.

    If you want to check your registration, follow this link:


    If you find anything wrong in your information or don't show up at all, get thee to your local SOS office today and get it fixed.

    On a personal note: Since the legiscritters are going to be out until the 21st (and it's highly doubtful that anything will get done until after the primary anyway), my posting for the next couple of weeks will be sporadic at best, as I deal with a personal issue that is going to demand my attention. Plus, it's been a year since I've had a significant break from the 24/7 nature of watching the news cycles/maintaining this blog - so I'm going to take some time to try and unplug a bit, enjoy some Michigan summer, and refill the mental tank that at this point is pretty much drained - before crazy season really gets underway.

    Behave yourselves - and if you have primary candidates that you want to promote, now is the time to submit those diaries and maybe sway some opinions...

    Sunday, July 04, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: July 4, 2010

    Happy Independence Day.

    Late edition today - spent the morning enjoying the quiet of the city. When you remove the constant hum of the everyday traffic and activity, only the chirping of the birds and the rustle of the leaves in the breeze remains. The usually hectic streets become a remarkable picture of tranquility, and you take the time to stop and notice the beauty that surrounds you. My thanks go out to everyone who left town and made that possible. ;-)

    Here now the news. Today you get three mini-diaries that thread together that show we may have come to a crossroads in our economic recovery...

  • Rick Haglund writes that for all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments the gubernatorial candidates are doing over the economic state of Michigan, the indicators this year are definitely pointing up. Nice to have someone in the MSM notice some of the same things I've noticed...

    Jobs appear to be returning, albeit slowly, to Michigan. Total non-farm employment has risen every month this year, even though the unemployment rate is still a too-high 13.6 percent.

    And for all the complaining that Granholm and the Legislature are mismanaging the state's finances, Michigan is in pretty good shape compared to many other states.

    True. They may be slow about getting the job done and that's irritating, but comparatively speaking, we are not facing some of the problems that other states are, simply because we have already made $10 billion in cuts over the years. That's why this is the time to invest, and make the state more attractive to prospective employers - not call for "more cuts".

    But Grimes says Michigan has an opportunity to attract more of those jobs because the state has comparatively lower wage rates and living costs than other places.

    Although the odds seem against it, long-suffering Michigan could be in for a surprisingly strong comeback.

    Although we have made strides towards diversifying the state's economy, this current bump still has strong ties to a resurgent auto industry - and that could falter with the recent drop in consumer confidence and that has produced slower auto sales. Fingers crossed we maintain some momentum, as both state and federal lawmakers grind progress to a halt for the sake of campaigning... because there are some scary things starting to happen...

  • A story from the NY Times shows that manufacturing jobs in America are making a slow but steady return, the problem for employers has been a lack of trained workers to fill the jobs that are available now. Companies are begging for people who have knowledge in advanced manufacturing techniques...

    The Obama administration has advocated further stimulus measures, which the Senate rejected, and has allocated more money for training. Still, officials say more robust job creation is the real solution.

    But a number of manufacturers say that even if demand surges, they will never bring back many of the lower-skilled jobs, and that training is not yet delivering the skilled employees they need.

    Gee, do you think maybe funding a jobs training program that addresses those specific needs might help? Maybe one that lands 75% of its graduates a job? Because the idiots just cut it. If you do, call your local obstructionist Republican and ask why the refuse to help willing and able American workers acquire the skills they need to fill the openings that exist today, and meet the obvious trend for the jobs of tomorrow. Even the "We Hate Everything" rightwing DNews editors agree that No Worker Left Behind is a sound idea and worthwhile endeavor - and as you know, for them to agree with a government program is some sort of miracle.

  • Cheers to Senator Debbie Stabenow, who has been very outspoken on the issue of restoring unemployment benefits, which are critical for helping to keep this recovery in motion. We just threw the equivalent of a city the size of Dearborn off of unemployment in Michigan, people that now may not be able to pay their mortgage or rent or even buy food for their families - and by year's end, that number may grow to nearly twice the size of the city of Grand Rapids. Imagine what that does to any recovery that is taking place. Senator Stabenow points out the double-standard that is happening in DC to Ezra Klein:

    Well, first of all, unemployment extensions have never, under a Democratic or Republican president, been funded other than through emergency spending [which is a technical designation that allows for deficit spending -- Ezra]. I’ve said it 100 times: if 15 million people out of work isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is. The second issue is that in order to get the stimulative effect out of it, the spending needs to be done on the deficit. Economists will tell you that. And third, Republicans want to pay for it from taking money away from the recovery dollars. Those are dollars being used to create jobs in construction and manufacturing incentives and alternative energy. To take money from job creation to fund unemployment benefits makes no sense.

    Through eight recessions since the 1950s, Congress has never dropped the extension when the jobless rate has been this high. It will mark "the first time since then that extended benefits have been allowed to expire when the national unemployment rate is above 7.2 percent". And this coming on the heels of the "Great Recession" is insanity.

    So, which way will we turn? Will we continue our slow but steady upward climb, or will we put the brakes on recovery through this continued election-year obstruction? Lawmakers are on vacation for the next few weeks, and we will find out the answer when they get back. Maybe.

    Celebrate your country today, and say a little prayer that the people we have entrusted with our future make the right decisions.
  • Thursday, July 01, 2010

    July 1st

    And the clock ran out.

    "It would be wishful thinking to think we could have all the budgets done by July 1," said Rep. Cindy Denby, R-Handy Township.

    She could have added that it is wishful thinking to think that Dillon and Bishop, who both are eyeing higher office, would actually do their jobs. But, no, in the Michigan Legislature, that's Alice-in-Wonderland thinking.

    Instead, Dillon, who thinks he should be governor, goes out of state to hire a firm to run an ad that says people should hire Michigan workers. And Bishop, who wants to be attorney general, can't do his job because he is too busy with petty politics — he won't let his mindless Republican robots in the state Senate confirm even the most routine appointments made by the governor.

    It's as if Dillon and Bishop think that the Peter Principle is embedded in the state constitution. They are total failures at their current job, so they figure they are entitled to promotions.

    Later today, they are expected to pass the K-12 budget. Then, they are going to run off to vacation and/or campaigning, patting themselves on the back for chipping in a whole $11 towards a previous $165 per pupil cut, when the only real victory here is that they somehow managed to not screw up a budget that had a surplus. Which is pretty amazing, actually, considering their track record.

    Other than that - the budget that they promised and promised and promised would be completed by now is nowhere near done. Don't even have committees assigned. Not even close. Can't use the Republican obstruction in Congress as an excuse, because that did not come up as an issue until just recently. If the budget were complete, and they had to revisit it as other states now are doing, that's a bit of a different story. But no.

    That's not what happened here.

    There isn't a deadline this Legislature doesn't run over. Government shut down twice in the last three years. What were the repercussions? Nothing. The Constitution doesn't mandate that lawmakers take it out of their checks. That they should see the back of a jail cell. That they be flogged at sunrise. Nothing.

    Instead, we hear Capitol prognostications that lawmakers won't pass a real state budget until after the Nov. 2 General Election to spare lawmakers running for re-election. How considerate.

    This is Standard Operating Procedure. And everyone knows it. The latest poll reflects the damage that has already been done by the dysfunction; Senate Republican obstruction and lack of pushback and coherent plan from Speaker Dillon and the House Democrats have taken a huge toll. And now the Republicans are very, very happy, dancing and bragging about the fact that they have destroyed the public's confidence and have effectively "broken" state government...

    The survey results, particularly the finding of how low public trust was in state government, were immediately trumpeted by Republicans.

    ... and that is going to cost the Democrats dearly.

    Charles Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State University and director of the survey, said that if he were advising the political parties on the basis of the results he would say to Republicans, "Keep hammering away," and to Democrats, "Get a budget."

    When you add this latest bit of bad press to the previous calls for Dillon and Bishop to resign, it's hard to fathom how either one of these guys gets elected to higher office.

    And that's a really bad thing when the guy that is supposedly on your side is running for governor.