Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Virg Bernero Town Hall in Grand Rapids

If these guys are going to show up two blocks from my house, the least I can do is go grab a couple shots, right? Right. Here is your Democratic ticket, hard at work listening to the concerns of business owners and community members in Grand Rapids...


IMG_2242_9733 That's Cory DeMint above, owner of the Electric Cheetah restaurant on Wealthy St. in the Eastown area. He's been having trouble with obtaining a liquor license, and was telling our candidates about the frustrations he has with the process. Now, liquor licenses and laws are a tricky and expensive business, and I'm not going to pretend that I know what all goes into obtaining one, but I bet that both of these mayors can tell you about it - and that is what I keep coming back to when it comes to this election.

Experience. Experience working in government. Experience with the rules and regulations and ins and outs of the machine. The "trendy" campaign these days wants to run as an outsider - but do you really want a rookie to walk into the Capitol and try to run the place, not knowing how all this works? Not me.

The mayors listened to the folks gathered around this table, took names, took notes, and understood exactly where these people are coming from. Best of all, they know how they could help - having worked with the system themselves, they can identify the buttons you have to push and the calls you have to make. A certain someone cannot claim the same thing.

I hope they don't follow the "trend" and run away from their experience with government. It's an asset that will serve the public very well.

UPDATE: Check out the MLive/GR Press shot. I have to smile at my instincts for photojournalism. Too bad they are laying off photojournalists by the boxcar load these days - it's a job that I obviously can do.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Snyder Celebrates Battery Jobs Created by Granholm, MEDC and the Recovery Act

The hypocrisy. It burns. Republicans enjoying the fruits of job creation they have criticized, tried to obstruct, and would eliminate if they were elected.

Riddle me this: If Rick Snyder is this big "jobs creator" - why in the world would he have to introduce the Republican ticket at a site for a battery plant that Granholm and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation brought to Michigan? No jobs of his own that he can point at? Hmmm? DeVos is probably kicking himself right about now for not trying to pull something like this off...

Count Republican gubernatorial nominee Rick Snyder as a supporter of Michigan’s move to dominate the domestic vehicle battery industry.

Snyder — the self-proclaimed “tough nerd” and winner of the bruising August GOP primary for governor — selected Bayer CropScience as the backdrop Monday to introduce the Republican general election candidates to Muskegon.

Bayer’s 400-acre chemical park development is the future home of fortu PowerCell, a $623 million, 734-job advanced battery plant planned by a Swiss-German startup company. Groundbreaking for the initial 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is expected in April 2011.

“Batteries are important to our future,” said the Republican candidate, who faces the Democratic nominee, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, in the Nov. 2 general election. “Our automotive industry is critical to the state.”

For a guy who wants to criticize "happy talk", he sure knows how to sling the vapid statements. But I digress.

Governor Granholm brought fortu PowerCell to Michigan, the result of a overseas jobs trip made in July 2009. As you probably remember, Republicans have frequently criticized these missions as "little more than public relations opportunities after the groundwork for business expansion has already been laid by state economic development officials" (DNews 2008), amongst other various partisan attacks over the years. Even if they want to claim these jobs are the result of MEDC's legwork, keep in mind that Snyder is very critical of our economic development efforts, and is threatening to eliminate the very same tax incentives that gave him this photo-op today. From Snyder's site:

The MEDC has been mismanaged by the current administration. When Rick Snyder was appointed by Gov. Engler to be the first chair of the MEDC, Michigan was ranked No. 1 in the nation for five years for new business expansions by Site Selection Magazine. Now the state has dropped to the bottom in business-friendly rankings and is just ahead of Mississippi for new business expansions according to Site Selection.

Actually, John Engler wanted to eliminate incentives as well, and quickly put them back when Michigan gained the reputation of "having unilaterally disarmed" in the war for economic development. As far as the claim abut Site Selection, in March of 2010, the magazine ranked Michigan No. 3 in the nation for major new corporate facilities and expansions in 2009. We placed No. 3 in 2008 as well. Snyder goes on to say...

Lansing’s career politicians have wasted tax dollars on expensive ad campaigns and false incentives while promising job creation – without fixing Michigan’s tax and regulatory system. With a million jobs disappearing this decade, Michigan’s economic troubles can’t be solved through television ads or taxpayer-funded credits. Lansing politicians need to get out of the business of picking winners and losers through incentives.

Geez Rick, without these incentives, where would the Republicans hold their campaign events? Chances are fortu PowerCell would have gone somewhere else had it not been for the tax incentives, efforts of the Granholm administration, MEDC, the wonderful people in Muskegon, and, according to this story, the "political climate" in North America that would bring the electric car to market, wants to end a dependency on fossil fuels, and also address climate change. Interesting. Wonder which "political" entity has been touting those measures - because last I heard it was "drill, baby, drill", and Rush claiming no one wants a Volt coming from the Republican side of the aisle. Good thing no one mentioned that to fortu CEO Alan Greenshields.

Michigan became the prime location for the company’s planned manufacturing plant based on the understanding and assistance of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., a personal visit by Gov. Jennifer Granholm with company officials in Germany last summer and the reception received by Muskegon Township and local economic developers, Greenshields said.

“The Michigan MEDC has been first class,” Greenshields said. “I find the people here in Muskegon down to earth and refreshingly friendly. We have found an attractive location with a great quality of life for our future staff.”

And on top on the state battery tax incentives, let's not forget that the Recovery Act - which no Republican voted for - brought Michigan $1.35 billion for advanced battery research and production. We now have 16 battery companies setting up shop here - and that's expected to create upwards of 62,000 jobs.

So, yes, Rick, "batteries are important to our future" - a future that was made possible by Granholm, MEDC, President Obama, and the votes of Democratic lawmakers in Congress. Might want to mention that the next time you use one of these sites for campaign purposes.

Meet Virg Bernero

Nice video from the MDP. Give it a look. I was hoping that someone recorded his convention speech since I couldn't be there on Sunday - but so far, nothing has popped up. Maybe later.

Bernero is on a bus tour of the state this week - depending on the timing, I will try to hit the Grand Rapids appearance tomorrow, and let you know how that goes.

But I'll be honest with you here, kids: I'm struggling with this, big time. The grief and alienation I feel is pretty overwhelming right now, and that feeling keeps me from getting emotionally engaged in this election. Vote for Virg? You bet. Will tell my friends and relatives to do the same. Stand out here on this stage and take bullets for him? Different story.

P.S. - Love the photos. ;-) Need some more?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jobs, Justice and Peace March

Some shots from the Jobs, Justice and Peace March in Detroit on 8/28/10. Enjoy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Press Conference on the Michigan Supreme Court

Shorter Betty: "You guys suck. Let me list the ways. I'm outta here. Bye!"

It was a righteous smackdown. Watch if you are so inclined, if only to see the governor in a skirt. (what the hell was that all about, anyway?)

Best of luck to our newest Justice, Alton Thomas Davis. Something tells me he is going to need it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bing Endorses Bernero for Governor

Mayor Dave Bing gets on board...

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing today endorsed Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero for governor.

“Although there are many complex issues and problems facing most urban communities throughout this country, Detroit’s challenges are even greater,” Bing said in statement “It will require a unique sensitivity, an unwavering commitment and experienced leadership to help move our city and state forward. Given his success as mayor of Lansing, I believe Virg Bernero possesses these qualities.”

Key word here is "experienced". Snyder would walk into the shark pool and not know what in the world is going on - and that is something that will be a big problem if he were to be elected. At his campaign appearance in Grand Rapids today, he claimed that Lansing was in "crisis" and needed immediate action - but when it came to answering specifics on what he would do, his answers were along the lines that he needed to study the issues and see what would "get results".

So, which is it, immediate action, or more talking and studying? There was a serious disconnect in message there. Not sure if the press picked up on that, but watch for it in the future.

Bernero somehow has to play the outsider card, but also tout his experience too; emphasizing his knowledge on how the machine works, and that he will be able to get things done a lot sooner than someone who is going to need on-the-job training.

Tricky to pull off, but it's doable.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Budget Work Pushed to September, Republicans Want to Pass "As Many Cuts As They Can"

The Do-Nothing Legislature is doing what they do best, and that is... nothing. They are going to take the budget to the last minute one more time, Republicans will insist on getting everything their way, and it's highly unlikely the House will put up much of a fight.

In other words, different year, same story, and no one is surprised by this anymore.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) said he expects target meetings to take place among the top negotiators between now and September 7 with the hope of getting conference committees to act on budget bills as soon as possible. There are some concerns with some aspects of Granholm's plan, Bishop said, but lawmakers still need details on some pieces, such as opening up for bid the state's liquor distribution.

Overall, Bishop said Senate Republicans want to pass as many cuts as they can to reduce the size of what he said is a $1 billion deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year facing the next governor.

"We'd like to take as big a chunk out of that problem as we can," he said.

Of course they do. Much better to hurt people on the Dem watch rather than take responsibility for their "all cuts" fiscal policies. And amazingly enough, Republicans are more than happy to spend that federal assistance money - just as long as they get to decide how it's spent.

House Republicans do appear weary of accepting the governor's plan to transfer $200 million from the School Aid Fund to pay community colleges in the current fiscal year.

Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Birmingham) and Rep. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) said they want reforms tied to the proposal, as well as a process to pay the SAF money back, before they're willing to vote on the transfer.

A major piece that remains in question is the state employee retiree legislation (SB 1226 ) that is stuck in the Democratically led House. "We are still encouraging the House to do it," Emerson said, acknowledging that there has been little to no progress on passage of the issue in the House.

Not sure why the minority party is calling the shots here... oh wait, I remember now. Had a bit of traumatic amnesia there for a moment. Never mind, carry on.

With the Senate adjournment, the question of a constitutional ban on Great Lakes drilling will die for this year. The folks who are serious about getting this on a ballot in the future will probably have to take it outside the legislative process - but kudos to Dan Scripps for giving it a go, and blasting the Senate in the process.

"Michigan's waters are too important to our way of life and our economy to just throw it all away because the Senate wants to take even more time off of work," said Rep. Daniel Scripps (D-Northport) said in a statement. "With the disaster in the Gulf and the recent oil spill in our own Kalamazoo River, it's more important than ever that we protect our workers' jobs and small businesses in Northwest Michigan and across the state from the economic ruin that an oil spill in our Great Lakes would cause. It's too bad that the Senate has gone back on break without giving voters the power to safeguard our Great Lakes."

It would be nice to see this added to the Great Lakes Compact some day. Getting all the states and Canada together on the issue would be a monumental task, but it's worth a try. Throw sulfide mining on there too, while we are at it.

Progressive activists would do well to start thinking about how to get their issues straight to the ballot for 2011 or 2012. The challenges of funding, gathering signatures, etc. and so on - start planning now. It appears to be the only avenue you can count on to get the questions in front of the voters.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Blogger

Laughing in recognition:

"Hey, Morning Joe is on!"

"Oh, I want to die..."

Right, Mom? And this:

"If I don't do this, if I don't do all of this in a very careful sequence, the magic doesn't happen, Jamie. The magic can't happen, OK?"

Hat tip to digby, who I would be if I weren't such a neurotic little basket-case. ;-)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Governor Granholm on "Meet the Press"

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

Dick Armey makes my skin crawl, but I like listening to the Guv. She manages to get the word "jobs" in there - which is what every Democrat should be doing from here on out.

And I love watching how people work in their talking points, regardless of the question asked. It's an art form. ;-)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Sunday Paper: August 22, 2010

"The World's Largest Waterslide" brought thousands of people to downtown Grand Rapids yesterday - some waiting as long as four hours to ride 500 feet down the Lyon St. hill by Grand Rapids Community College. Check out the 1000 px version here.

Some stuff to ponder on this fine August day...

  • Kathy pointed this out in a Blast over on the side, but let us bring it out front and center for everyone to see. You know how the Republicans love to screech over and over that people don't want to pay taxes for public services? Yeah, well, they were lying. We loves us some taxes.

    Across the state, voters approved 86 percent of the 623 ballot proposals affecting how much they would pay in taxes or, in a few cases, fees, according to a Center for Michigan analysis. They OK’d 96 percent of the requests to either renew taxes or restore rates that had been reduced by the Headlee amendment in the Michigan Constitution.

    And perhaps most surprising: They supported too 69 percent of the proposals that were flat-out tax increases.

    Now the rabid anti-tax loons are saying, "Oh, it's OK if it's for local government." Uh huh. Funny that wasn't mentioned before.

  • The Sierra Club of Ontario is looking to block the DRIC, claiming that the bridge would threaten endangered species. Permits have already been granted though, and the court challenge is expected to fail. But, the MI Senate is still sitting on the legislation, having made changes to the House bill and yet noting voting on it. 10,000 jobs, obstructed by the Republicans. Campaign commercial, anyone?

  • August is NOT November, as John Lindstrom of Gongwer correctly points out in Dome Magazine. And I will admit, I've been guilty of this myself. I'm sorry, I'll try to stop.

    So it is time, more than time, in fact, to remind people to breathe oxygen, not the polluted air of assumption. The only thing inevitable politically now is that the voters will decide between Mr. Snyder and Mr. Bernero. There is much yet to occur before either man can plan on standing on the cold steps of January and raising his right hand for the oath.

    Check out his analysis of the possibilities and problems facing the candidates. Good stuff. And a good message to everyone to just settle down - anything can happen between now and then.

  • Governor Granholm will appear with Dick Armey on "Meet the Press" today to talk teabaggers and elections and fun things like that. Lucky her, eh? Check your local listings.

  • Piranha 3D! No, it wasn't shot in the Capitol Building like you would think, it wasn't even shot in the state of Michigan, but the post production team spent six months in Ann Arbor working on the film - the first movie to bring the technical work of post editing to our state. Read the Freep article for the details, and see how this facet of the industry has the potential to create a great number of permanent movie jobs.

  • Midland has been ranked No. 3 in the country for economic growth potential and for Alternative Energy Industry Leaders by Business Facilities Magazine. The rankings were for cities under 200,000 in population. This comes on the heels of Michigan itself being ranked No. 3 in the country for "Alternative Energy Leaders" by the same mag, trailing only Arizona and Iowa. Nice to see that others are paying attention and applauding our efforts here. We should do the same.

  • Speaking of those outsiders and their applause, the New York Times ran a nice piece on the rebound of the auto industry and how it has helped Detroit - but they warn that there still may be excess production capacity overall. Time will tell.

  • The Feds were aware of problems with Enbridge concerning "corrosion monitoring and its delayed reporting of spills" as far back as 2002. That can't be good for the lawsuit. Rep. Mark Schauer, along with company officials and the EPA, will be holding a community meeting to update the situation this Thursday night, August 26th, at 7:30PM at the Marshall Middle School auditorium. Bring your questions to the top.

  • The ship Westmoreland went down in Lake Michigan in 1854, carrying winter supplies from from Milwaukee to Mackinac Island. On July 7th, diver Ross Richardson found the ship - and now you can see the video of the wreck, courtesy of MLive. He won't reveal the exact location until he has documented the findings, rumors of gold and all...
  • Friday, August 20, 2010

    Michigan Leads Nation in Employment Gains in July

    Hat tip to MLive Job Search via the Bureau of Labor Statistics - this fact is worth a front page post. Not sure of when the last time this happened, but for July of 2010, we led the nation in job gains - and by a pretty healthy margin, too.

    In July, nonfarm payroll employment increased in 37 states and the District of Columbia and decreased in 13 states. The largest over-the-month increases in employment occurred in Michigan (+27,800), the District of Columbia (+17,800), Massachusetts (+13,200), New York (+10,500), and Minnesota (+9,800). The District of Columbia recorded the largest over-the-month percentage increase in employment (+2.5 percent), followed by Hawaii and Maine (+0.9 percent each), Michigan (+0.7 percent), and Oklahoma (+0.5 percent).

    Our unemployment rate fell for the fourth straight month, albeit just slightly, down to 13.1. Nevada is still leading the nation at 14.3, and California follows us at 12.3 - so we probably won't move off that position anytime soon. But for now, the surge in manufacturing is the main reason we are leading the pack when it comes adding new jobs.

    Michigan's employment gains were due to a 20,100 increase in factory jobs.

    Michigan’s manufacturing job market has stabilized thus far in 2010, said Rick Waclawek, director of DELEG’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives in a statement. "Automakers and suppliers minimized July retooling layoffs, reflecting streamlined production schedules, strong vehicle sales, and lean inventories," he said.

    Economists warn that this may slow as the year goes on (and some leading indicators are already reflecting that fact), but for now we have a little manufacturing momentum going for us, which is very nice. Hope to keep it that way.

    Another area we have to watch out for this fall is public sector layoffs. The top two states that lost the most jobs in July, North Carolina and New Jersey, came because of budget cuts to education and reductions in local government. The LSJ warned this morning that Governor Granholm's latest budget proposal will certainly include layoffs with a 3% across-the-board cut to state departments, but, as state agencies are scrambling to shake the loose change from the couch to prevent that from happening, we will see what comes out in the long run.

    And remember, the bottom line is this: We can raise revenue, or we can make cuts. Since the Legislature refuses to raise revenue, we are going to make cuts. All the kvetching in the world doesn't change the math (or the politics) of the situation. As long as the Republicans are saying "No!" to any sort of compromise on revenue, we don't have any options here - we just have to hope that these departments will be able to hold the layoffs to a minimum.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010



    More from Wrigley later...

    Budget Update: New Plan Protects Critical Services, Leaves Money for Rainy Day Fund

    Since this legislature will not tackle the tough job of reforming our tax base, this is the best we can hope for. Governor Granholm's new plan includes cuts, some reforms, and non-tax revenue to fill the combined two-year gap of $786 million (and with a mere half billion in next year's deficit - that's way better than we thought it would be. Thank God for the feds). Let's get this done. Gongwer has the best breakdown on the proposal, but the Governor's release has the best summary:

    The governor today detailed her latest recommendations to address the budget shortfalls for the current year and fiscal year 2011 budgets. The governor’s proposal provides fiscal stability while continuing to protect the state’s critical priorities — including job creation efforts, schools, and health care — from additional devastating cuts.

    For fiscal year 2010, the governor is recommending shifting funding for the state’s 28 community colleges to the School Aid Fund where the surplus funds can cover the $208.4 million appropriation. The state also will receive an additional $94 million in federal funding due to changes in the way the federal government funds prescription drug coverage for seniors eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. Together, these changes address the $302.7 million shortfall in the current year.

    For fiscal year 2011, the governor is recommending a combination of additional spending cuts and one-time, non-tax revenue to address the existing shortfall resulting from increased spending pressures, legislative refusal to consider corrections reform and a physician-provider assessment, and lower-than-expected federal funding through the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).

    Among the cuts recommended are a 3 percent administrative reduction for all state agencies, $50 million cuts in the Departments of Community Health, Human Services and Corrections, and restructuring of the state’s long-term debt obligations, reducing spending by $77.3 million. Combined with the cuts proposed in the executive budget recommendation in February, the governor has recommended more than $602 million in general fund spending reductions for the fiscal year.

    The governor’s budget recommendations also include three one-time, non-tax revenue proposals to provide needed revenue in the wake of lower-than-expected federal funding. The proposals — a tax amnesty period for Michigan taxpayers, reform of the state’s abandoned property laws, and changes to the liquor regulation and distribution system — will provide $304.8 million for the fiscal year 2011 budget.

    Go read the Gongwer story for the details. K-12 is howling mad about using these funds for community colleges - but that's just too bad. Since Republicans are insisting on busting unions and blocking any sort of reform that would shore up funding for schools, both K-12 and college alike, this is it. If we can get out of this with current school funding intact and no revenue sharing cuts to cities, we will be ahead of the game.

    This proposal also leaves $100 million for the Rainy Day fund. Sure would be nice if these guys could get out of here leaving a surplus for the next governor and legislature - that way, they can't get blamed for leaving a mess if the Republicans do take over, because you know damn well the people who have obstructed progress all this time will be sure to turn around and complain about the consequences of their own actions. Proof? Here's Bill Nowling, recently of the House Republicans, now working for the Snyder campaign:

    Said Nowling: "It's a great opportunity to do something for Michigan. I'm as frustrated as people outside of Lansing that say Lansing can't get anything done. And I've seen it every day from the inside."

    We may change elected officials, unfortunately we can't change the people that surround them. The same Lansing special interests and political workers will be around, supposedly guiding the new recruits, but in all likelihood will be pushing the same 'ol, same 'ol agenda. Too bad we can't ask them to leave as well, eh? Starting to think that the entrenched political cabal down there is a big part of the problem.

    But so be it. And a note to state workers - take what you can get and run. They are coming after you next. No layoffs in this budget, but it does include a retirement plan, the details of which are still unknown. If you are anywhere close to retirement - go. Now. It might get very, very ugly after this year.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Show Us Your Guns!

    Who is old enough to remember that Saturday Night Live commercial parody? Anyone? I haven't been able to find it on the net, but I can see it in my mind. It was a joke sketch in the 70s, grandma working in the yard, smiling, and pulling out a pistol for the rolling camera - but now all too real for the Royal Oak Arts, Beats and Eats festival that takes place over Labor Day.

    How do you know when things have gone a little too far in wingnut land? When L. Brooks complains.

    "These guys want to make a point and don't give a damn about the charities the festival supports," the Republican leader and festival founder told The Oakland Press. "I have a problem with these gun-toting zealots."

    Patterson told the newspaper he's received dozens of calls from people who say they won't come to the festival for fear of safety and, in typical firebrand fashion, offered a bold suggestion: "If they want to carry guns, why don't they join the army and get their asses over to Afghanistan?"

    Because that would require courage, Brooks. Much better to flash that faux machismo and intimidate families with children at an arts festival rather than face real men who have a definite purpose for carrying firearms in the open.

    Royal Oak has its hands tied, this is a state law, and you know what that means...

    Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday she is not planning to seek a change in state law, noting such an effort would not go over well in Lansing. "I could initiate it, but I'd get no support in the Legislature," she said during an appearance in Detroit, per The News.

    First of all, that would require lawmakers actually doing some work, which we all should know by now won't happen, and second, it would require standing up to a predominately right-wing special interest group, which we all should know by now won't happen, even if it's simply to allow cities to set their own regulations on the subject.

    I've always been rather neutral on guns. You want one? Fine. Understandable. Feel the need to flash it around in public at an arts festival? You've probably got some serious insecurity issues if you need to show the world what a badass you are - and those are the kind of people that probably should not be carrying guns in public.

    But whatever. I doubt many people will show up with guns, and the ones that do are only looking to draw attention to themselves. Kinda like the guys who need to buy fancy sports cars to make up for other... uh... shortcomings.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Big Banks Refusing to Help Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

    Remember the announcement about the Hardest Hit Fund, a program designed to help homeowners who were facing foreclosure work with their lenders so they could save their homes?

    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.

    Funding is coming through TARP. Since that initial announcement, Michigan has received $128 million more for the fund, enough to help another 13,000 homeowners... but at the time of the second announcement about a month later, only 70 homeowners had been approved for help. Why? Part of the reason is that some big banks are refusing to take part in the program.

    Go get 'em, Governor.

    Gov. Jennifer Granholm unloaded on several big banks today, saying it was outrageous that they received huge government bailouts, but refuse to participate in programs that would help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

    “They need to participate unless they want to own all these homes that are going into foreclosure,” she said during an event in Detroit to publicize the federal government’s infusion of $128 million in foreclosure prevention funds to the state.

    She singled out Wells Fargo, Citibank, Chase and Bank of America as four banks that got bailout funds, but haven’t signed on to the federal program, called “Hardest Hit” fund.

    “I’m really grateful for all the homegrown banks that are participating,” Granholm said, noting that 150 Michigan banks are participating in the program. “And the (U.S.) Treasury Department really needs to pressure the big banks.”

    Yes, they do. Will we see some response from Congress and the White House on this issue?

    If you are looking for help with your mortgage, check with the MSHDA Hardest Hit site for a list of participating lenders.

    If you are with one of the big boys on that list, call your Congresscritter and yell a lot. It's absolutely ridiculous that these beneficiaries of taxpayer funds are now refusing to lend a hand to help both homeowners and the national economy.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    A Night on the Set of "Touchback"

    Let's start this off with some links about the economic impact of the movie industry on the West Michigan area, certainly the most important part of this story. It was very evident from the moment I stopped at a gas station right off the highway, and found a bunch of customers heading to the set, people who wouldn't have been there otherwise. That is spending that won't show up on any tax credit forms, and it happens more than anyone realizes. So, not only do you have direct spending from the production, there is indirect spending by people who are working or watching the production, and that creates and retains jobs as well... keep that in mind, as you read though this tale of one person who spent one night on a movie set, and multiply it by the thousands of people that this industry will touch in the course of a year.

    Media buzz has been fierce on the films shooting in Grand Rapids this summer; seems we can't go a day without a story being featured, whether it be TV or newspaper or both. Friday morning was no exception, WOOD-TV running a story on the filming of "Touchback" out in Coopersville, a small farm town about 15 minutes outside of GR. Coopersville's main claim to fame before this was that they are the home of Del Shannon, other than that, there isn't a lot going on out there. Just another farming community, mired in the hard times that have touched us all. This past week though, the place has exploded with action. Hollywood, and all that entails, descended on the town and put them to work, spending "millions" when you add it all up...

    The Family Fare grocery store in Coopersville, 1181 W. Randall St., was raided Tuesday by "Touchback" production members filming scenes at the area high school football stadium.

    touchback7625"They wiped us out of all the ice," store director Mike Farrell said.

    In one day, the production team spent a couple thousand dollars on ice, fruit, vegetables and refreshments, Farrell said. The store even had to go to its Allendale affiliate to replenish its stock of mini-Gatorade bottles.

    Producer Lisa Kearns said the production will spend millions in the area on everything from gasoline and hotel rooms to restaurants and entertainment.

    Lots of folks are cashing in, businesses that otherwise wouldn't be seeing this level of volume. From "caterers to port-a-potty companies, crane operators to grocery store directors", the activity surrounding a major movie production is filling the local registers and keeping a lot of people occupied. And they are hiring too; 75% of workers on the film are local or in-state, according to the producer - and that includes the "talent". After all, they aren't flying LA in here to fill the stands for stadium shots...

    So, I'm half listening to the TV last Friday morning as usual, reading the news on the internet, wondering what in the world I'm going to try to write about, when the call goes out for 500 extras for filming that evening. Thought, what the heck, let's give it a try. It's a story. And an experience. Registered online at JR Galatic, a Lansing based talent agency, and sat back and waited for a reply. Hours went by. Nothing. I thought maybe I was too late, maybe I screwed something up, when around three in the afternoon I received an e-mail with instructions and a map to the high school, and the adventure began...

    Cattle call

    7PM, Coopersville High School. Hundreds of extras line-up, waiting to sign in. It would be a while. The usual crowd rumors start. Not everyone will get paid, thunderstorms are on the way, were you here last night? etc and so on. For the most part, people were smiling and having a good time, excited to be part of this, anticipating the night to come.

    A wardrobe wrangler came down the line, asking those in shorts if they had brought long pants (the football scenes are set in Ohio in October), asking people to lose the logos or anything that might carry a date. We had been asked to wear black and yellow and white, school colors of the "Coldwater Black Bears" (not a real school). The only yellow I own is a t-shirt that I wore over a long sleeve black shirt, and a yellow hat that has a very obscure and unofficial tiny Whitecaps logo on it. Had to get rid of both. Turned the t-shirt inside out, and had a black hat with me as well. That has a small "Saturn" logo stitched on the side by the buckle, I tried to hide it with my glasses. It passed.

    The thing I most wanted to hide though was my camera. I kept it in a small black camera bag at first, sure that they wouldn't allow it. My plan was to keep it by my feet and sneak some shots in. Turns out it wasn't an issue at all, as you can see above. Matter of fact, they didn't say a word about cameras or phones. You would think that those would open the door for some huge anachronisms; crowd shots with people holding their cell phones to their ear... we will see how that comes out in the end. Having just watched "Remember the Titans" for the umpteenth time, my guess is a lot of the wide shots will be blurred backgrounds and it won't be an issue.

    For the Rep. Agemas of the world, yes, they checked IDs and had us fill out the standard employment paperwork, as well as a second page that asked again for proof of Michigan residency for tax credit purposes. We were supposed to bring a copy of our drivers licenses, and if you didn't, they kept your license so they could make a copy. By the time I got up to the table, they had this huge pile of Michigan licenses - and I can't imagine the nightmare of signing up hundreds of new "employees" for one night. They handled it well though. To keep people from simply filling out the paperwork and then leaving, we couldn't turn it in until the end of the night after filming had finished. Clever.

    Passing out signs

    Out to the field after that. Crews wandered through the stands, handing out signs to hold, asking people to move into the empty areas so the grandstand would appear to be packed. Concessions was doing a booming business - according to one article the food was donated, and it was cheap. We were provided with one free meal that consisted of a hot dog, chips, cookies and bottled water, as well as free Gatorade throughout the night. And boy did that come in handy. Dressed for October on a night in the mid 70s with high humidity, I probably dropped five pounds in water weight alone. Free to shoot, I went into "photographer mode", constantly walking up and down and all around the place looking for shots, knowing the shooting sports action in the dark with the haze in the air was going to be a major challenge... my brain just goes to a different space. I was actually working two jobs at that point; that of an extra, and that of a photojournalist. I had my mission.

    Barry Sanders came out early and addressed the crowd, which of course brought huge cheers and pumped everyone up. It was also the start of "Summerfest" in Coopersville, and as soon as it was dark, we were treated to fireworks. So I'm sitting there, eating a free meal, watching fireworks explode behind an American flag, having just taken some pictures of my most favorite football player ever. Yeah, you could say I was having a good time. As all of this was going on, they were setting up the field to shoot, players warming up, and equipment put in place...

    Helmet Cam

    The "Touchback" plot summary from IMDb: "At the brink of financial disaster, a former football star turned farmer and family man attempts suicide to save his family. However, when he wakes up he finds himself back in the past, reliving the events that led up to his career-ending, life-altering injury. He is forced to choose between his simple life and the path to fame and fortune."

    So, it's your typical "road not taken" story, which we all can relate to. The very cute Brian Presley plays our football hero Murphy, Kurt Russell is the team's coach. Marc Blucas, who played "Riley" on Buffy TVS, is Murphy's best friend. They all appeared to be having a good time, joking with the crew and the players. After some prompting from the crowd, Russell smiled and came over to shake some hands and chat for a bit. And yes, I'm aware of his politics, but that certainly didn't matter this evening...


    The majority of this night was spent shooting football action. They walk through the choreographed plays, every block and tackle at half-speed, then three-quarters, then full. In the picture above, the dude in the cowboy hat is indicating where the camera will be. As this is going on, the crowd is filled in on what is happening in the scene over a microphone, and asked to react accordingly. It's funny how you get into the emotion of the moment, cheering a scripted play as if it were real. Your rooting for the team, your rooting for the kid, who is getting the crap beat out of him apparently, the angst of the come-from-behind win...

    The players had the action down very well. They would repeat a scene over and over, always hitting the same mark. About the only thing they couldn't control was the ball itself; filming a fumble that would bounce out-of-bounds, or an errant throw that didn't hit the receiver, or a missed point after attempt, and so on. Do it again. Actors had stunt players for the full-speed, full-hit scenes - but for the most part they did the work too, and made convincing football players.

    The night wore on...

    Watching the playback

    Roughly half the extras were volunteers; high school kids, people from the community. They started drifting out after midnight or so, and the reduced size of the crowd had us moving to fill the empty areas, depending on the angle of the shot. The guys running the action were very entertaining, keeping us enthused and awake by telling jokes and singing songs, praising our work ("you guys are great!") - the crew and the locals working the stadium couldn't be nicer. It was getting harder though as time went on; the heat was very draining, and after all it was the middle of the night. Some folks were sleeping in the stands, some were sleeping in the grassy areas, the cheerleaders laid right down on the track. I can see how this would get boring after hours of hanging around; my camera saved me from that fate. Others were reading books, or playing on their phones - so, let that be a lesson if you ever decide to be an extra. Bring something to do with you if you can, the down times can get long, especially on an all-nighter like this.

    Towards the end of the night I wandered over to the other side of the field and watched the playback for a bit, and there was Barry on the bench. Don't know if he had been there all night or not, but they wouldn't shoot his scenes until after five in the morning. While I was over there, they changed the crowd from "home" to "away", and when I looked up again, everyone was in red and waving "Raiders" signs. Oops. Since I was still in yellow, I stayed out of those shots, and watched from a distance. And I was ready to go at that point too, dawn was just over the horizon - and I was wiped out. Couldn't turn in the paperwork until they released us though, and when we finally did, they filled in some hours in the overtime slot, so this will end up being more than the original $75 that was promised.

    Per hour, it's not a lot of money, of course - but the experience? Priceless. For everyone involved. We've got a real good thing going here, a whole new industry is being born. Some other state would be happy to take this business from us, and we would be very foolish to turn it away. Sure, a lot are "temp" jobs - but so is working at Amway or Steelcase nowadays. That argument doesn't fly. Not at all. And, with studios coming in and home-grown talent being developed, more and more these jobs will be permanent as the industry grows roots.

    I'm in the talent database now, and if circumstances are right, I'd do it again. I'm part of those roots. It's an opportunity that exists for me on a small scale, and for others, on a much larger scale. It is creating new careers. It's the perfect vehicle to keep the young and creative here in our state, and to draw others to Michigan as well. Let's hope the powers that be, or that come to be, don't screw this up.

    They are closing some streets in downtown Grand Rapids this week to shoot "30 Minutes or Less". Maybe I'll go get some shots of that too... and spend some money in a local downtown business while I'm there. That won't show up on any tax credit form at the end of filming, but it shouldn't be discounted - because it certainly adds up to more jobs being created in the long run.

    Gone Hollywood

    "They're gonna put me in the movies..."

    Yours truly will be an extra for filming tonight, one of about three thousand filling the stands. The call went out this morning on WOOD to go sign up with JR Galactic Talent - the first 500 people receiving $75 to appear. Thought "what the heck, I'd love to try this, just in case it goes to another state if the Republicans get their way, and... Barry Sanders, man. Barry Sanders."

    So I signed up. Cost $10 (grumble), but it's worth it. Sent my info, sent a picture, and I just got the instructions for my film debut - I'll be playing the part of "football fan" with a whole bunch of other folks. The real fun part? This takes place in October of 1991, a championship game at night, dress accordingly. That means heavy clothes on a day where the heat index is in the mid-90s. Whee. But Barry Sanders, man...

    Will let you know how it goes. Since they didn't have digital cameras or smart phones in 1991, I don't know if I'll be able to snap some shots or not, but I'll tell you all about the process. I imagine it's going to be a lot of wait, wait, wait... cheer real loud!... and then wait some more.

    Oh, and Nancy? $75 bucks, which I guarantee you I will promptly put back in the Michigan economy. So, I do believe you can BITE ME now.

    This should be fun.

    Marsden Admits That Senate Republicans Will Pass Along a "Broken Budget"

    Finally some honesty. Senate Republicans are admitting that the budget process is broken, and they are simply going to pass the problems on down to the next governor and legislature.

    To set this up: Earlier this week, after the feds passed the aid to the states bill designed to save teaching jobs and shore up Medicaid funding, Mike Bishop flew into his usual default "just say no to everything" stance, indicating that he was going to insist on an all-cuts budget anyway. Try and contain your shock at that one. Skooby tells us the tale:

    The state senates majority leader says he doesn't want to use $660 million in new federal funds to erase the budget deficit. Instead Mike Bishop wants more service cuts to eliminate a so-called "structural" deficit. All of this sets up another battle with the governor.

    Of course it does. That's all Bishop has done for three years as leader of the Senate - obstruct anything and everything that will help the state of Michigan during the most severe downturn since the Depression. The answer is always "no", it doesn't matter what the question is. Republicans want power back, the game was to take out Governor Granholm and the Democrats, and, thanks to the lack of pushback from Andy Dillon and the House, it appears that this "just say no" strategy is going to work. We really don't have to drag the poll numbers out here, do we?

    A year ago Senate Republicans essentially forced through a budget with no new revenues, and bitter cuts to popular programs. Every effort by Ms. Granholm and legislative Democrats to either stand them down or force them to retreat failed.

    Having succeeded once, along with facing the best chance Republicans have had in years to recapture the governor’s office, and with a fair chance of taking total control of state government, Republicans will not bend on a budget doing anything less than what they accomplished a year ago.

    But Bishop jumped the gun on trying to refuse to use this federal money, and both Ron Jelinik and Matt Marsden stepped up to walk Mikey's latest tantrum back for the press.

    Matt Marsden, Bishop's spokesman, said Thursday that the majority leader's comments were meant to be philosophical.

    "We're going to take this money -- it's going to help us out of our problem this year," Marsden said. "But we're still going to have this problem next year. We're passing on to the next generation of leaders ... a budget that is still broken. And we can't expect the feds to come in and help us every year."

    Senate Republicans made damn sure the budget was "broken", that the government was "broken", and, just like their counterparts in DC who ran up the federal credit card during the Bush years with tax cuts for the rich and now want to turn around and complain about deficits, you can bet that Michigan Republicans are going to take full advantage of this situation for election purposes. It was a stupid mistake for Bishop to spout off like that, facing the deficit that we are. Nasty cuts are coming anyway, and, since the Democrats won't stand up, chances are they are going to take the blame. The lesson of the Promise Scholarship ring a bell with anyone?

    But it's nice to see that Matt Marsden made the admission that this legislature is a failure. Just so the record is clear and all. For history's sake. So, let the legacy show that in a time of great crisis, all the Republicans could do is say "no", and pass the problem along for someone else to fix.

    And if that means the Republicans have to fix it, so be it - but what do you want to bet they will simply point their fingers at someone else when they fail again.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    GM Posts $1.3B Net for Second Quarter

    Wonder what Richard Shelby has to say about this... nah, maybe it's best to just let him be, and never take him seriously again.

    General Motors earned $1.3 billion in the second quarter, mostly in North America, which more than offset a $200-million loss in Europe and smaller profits from the rest of the world.

    The automaker generated $2.8 billion of cash in the April-through-June period bringing its reserve of cash and salable securities to $32.5 billion.

    "I am pleased with our progress on achieving our business objectives," said Chris Liddell, vice chairman and chief financial officer. "We have delivered strong product, maintained cost discipline, progressed strategic initiatives such as restructuring Europe and acquiring AmeriCredit.”

    Comparisons to last year's numbers produce some pretty wild results due to the bankruptcy filing, but they show substantial growth nonetheless. Revenue rose to $33.2 billion, up 44% from last year. GM sold 731,000 vehicles in North America, up 85%, but indications are the retail demand is still a bit sluggish.

    But 42% of passenger cars sold in the U.S. were to rental companies, corporations and government fleets, up from nearly 30% a year earlier. This indicates that retail demand is not coming back very strong due to the nation’s 9.5% unemployment rate and consumers who have seen their credit scores damaged by unemployment or home foreclosures.

    While GM’s second-quarter was its second consecutive quarter profit after making $865 million between Jan. 1 and March 31, North American employment only grew by 2,000 jobs from the end of 2009 to 105,000 at the end of June.

    That might change pretty soon. Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with I-H-S Automotive, reports that because GM cut so much production last year, they can't keep up with demand on some of the best sellers - and that may lead to some very good news for some workers in other states.

    In fact, GM is having trouble meeting demand for new launches, because the company eliminated so much production capacity, so quickly.

    Lindland says the big challenge for GM in the third and fourth quarters of this year is keeping dealers stocked with the hottest cars and trucks.

    "That's kind of the worst case scenario," says Lindland, "where a consumer goes into the showroom and wants to buy the new Chevy Cruze and it's not there and they go someplace else."

    GM is likely considering re-opening one of the two plants it put on "standby" -- either the Janesville, Wisconsin plant or the Springhill, Tennessee plant.

    Will Bob Corker be available for photo ops if and when Springhill comes back on line? That would make for some fun video. Maybe he would like to get in on the IPO as well. Matter of fact, maybe we should buy some shares for him, and send them as a gift of thanks for all his help. Wouldn't that be nice of us?

    General Motors Co. plans to file paperwork to launch a public offering on Friday, two people briefed on the matter said today.

    The move -- first reported by CNBC -- will allow GM to begin selling shares before year's end, and will come a day after the company will report a profitable second-quarter results.


    Whitacre said the Treasury Department will shrink its 61 percent stake to under 50 percent during the first sale -- but he said he hoped it was far more than that. The government swapped about $43 billion of its $50 billion government bailout for its majority stake in the Detroit automaker.

    "We want the government out. Period," he said.

    Can't say as I blame ya there, Ed. Here's hoping you achieve that goal as quickly as possible, and this goes down as one of the greatest "government bailout" success stories ever.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    US House Passes Aid to States, Michigan to Receive $698 Million

    Thank FSM. Come to mama...

    Michigan will be receiving $698 million in state aid from the federal government, as the House of Representatives, returning to Washington from its summer recess, voted to pass a bill to provide $26 billion in funding to the states for Medicaid and education funding. The measure passed on a vote of 247 to 161.

    The White House estimates the funding will save the jobs of some 300,000 teachers and other civil servants.

    Michigan will receive $380 million in Medicaid aid and $318 million in education funding, the equivalent of 4,700 average teacher salaries, according to numbers provided by federal Department of Education, reports the Detroit News.

    We were expecting $560 million for Medicaid, so that will still come up short. And since we have already settled the School Aid budget and districts have planned accordingly, who knows how that will be handled - but you can bet the squabbling has already started. Depending on the rules attached to the aid, it sure would be nice if we could do something about this problem:

    Michigan's declining investment in higher education is among the worst in the nation -- making it difficult for students to get degrees and the state to recover from the poor economy, according to a report released Monday.

    The first report of its kind by the Michigan League for Human Services found state aid and financial aid programs to Michigan's 15 public universities declined by nearly 17 percent from 2002 to 2010. Meanwhile, undergraduate tuition for in-state residents during that same time period jumped 88 percent.

    Funding for the state's 28 community colleges, meanwhile, decreased 7 percent between 2002 and 2010 as tuition increased 40 percent -- from an average of $54 to $76 a credit hour, the report showed.

    Read the whole report for the complete details. It's tragic. Michigan now ranks 45th in the nation when it comes to higher education funding, and was seventh highest in tuition increases thanks to the cuts from our legislature - and that should be unacceptable to us all. Scholarships have been lost, some kids have had to drop out, families and students are going further into personal debt, can you say "back door tax increase" anyone?

    Senate Republicans are proposing more cuts to higher ed to fill the budget gap, which in turn will send tuition even higher next time around. K-12 will throw a monster fit if they don't get this money, but perhaps we should think about spreading it out - if that's even possible. And keep in mind it's a one-time shot too. The next legislature/governor will still have to deal with the chronic funding problem.

    Good luck everyone. These guys will probably fight over this like starving dogs over a piece of meat, but it sure beats the alternative of nothing at all.

    UPDATE: Nope - can't use it for higher ed.

    SFA Director Gary Olson said the education funds are strictly limited to K-12 and cannot be used even for public universities or community colleges. He said the law requires the state to submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Education within 30 days.

    Olson said the funding also requires states to spend on education in the 2010-11 fiscal year what they spent in the 2008-09 fiscal year. Olson said that would require Michigan to spend another $243 million of the $326 million it receives, mostly likely having to go into the foundation allowance. He said officials were examining whether the spending would have to go into the foundation allowance or could go into the so-called categoricals that earmark funding to specific programs.

    Michigan Republicans are throwing a fit about this paid-for legislation that reduces the deficit, funds education, and closes tax loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas. They won't be happy until everyone makes $1.57 an hr., the unions are destroyed, and your kids are eating paste for lunch with 50 other children in their unheated classrooms, but what else is new.

    Time for Dillon to Resign as Speaker

    That's enough.

    "To me, the bottom line is the budget and getting it done as soon as possible," said (Joan) Bauer, D-Lansing. "Either the speaker needs to take an aggressive lead in the budget process, or give the authority to do so to someone else."

    Now. Now you say that. And here is where I start to feel a little sorry for Andy Dillon, saddled with a bunch of cowards who are more concerned about their own careers than they are with serving for the good of the state. Let's roll the video tape back to this post from March...

    "You know we did a couple of retreats with the caucus and I put the question before them and said if there is not a deal with the Senate, how many of you wanna make a statement and vote for revenues?" Dillon said. "It was a very small number."

    "Now if there was an agreement with the Senate, then I think, we'll struggle, but I think we could find the votes for it. But my caucus doesn't want to just walk the plank," he said.

    Your caucus doesn't want to do a damn thing. "They won't vote for cuts, they won't vote for reforms, they won't vote for revenue" I believe was the quote from one budget official earlier this year, and this is simply a continuation of last year's attitude, when the House passed Republican budgets using Republican votes. Elsenheimer even got the opportunity to brag about it. Pretty sad. Now ask yourselves why there is this so-called "enthusiasm gap". But I digress...

    Many have called on both Dillon and Bishop to resign their leadership posts; from the LSJ to the Freep editorial pages, to other lawmakers (in Dillon's case), to the pundits, the latest being Jack Lessenberry...

    First of all, when the legislature reconvenes next week, Speaker of the House Andy Dillon and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop should step down. I’m not suggesting they resign from the legislature; they should serve out their last four and a half months.

    But they should resign from the leadership.

    The Democratic gubernatorial primary was in large measure a referendum on Dillon’s record, and it was a landslide vote of no confidence. Bishop hasn’t covered himself with glory either, or done anything other than block any attempt at creative government by repeating an unthinking “no” to any mention of new revenue.

    Yup. Bye. Both of you. Now, it won't happen on the Republican side, being the lock-step naysayers that they are in their quest to regain power, cowards in their own special way, but if the House Democrats are now going to start complaining about how Dillon hasn't led on the budget when the caucus has proven over and over again that they refuse to step up as well, maybe it's time to turn it over to one of the more vociferous members and let them have a shot.

    Smith? Cushingberry? Melton? Bauer? Meadows? Who want to step up here? Dillon has indicated that he is more than ready to return to the private sector, he's "done (his) public service", and certainly can't be counted on to do what's best for the rest of the party.

    So turn it over, Speaker Dillon. These guys have sat in budget committees all year, they know the score. They are out here running their mouths, let them take a shot. Doesn't the thought of that make you smile? You know it does. Let's see who is ready to stand up for "Democratic values", you know, the ones that the we voted for in huge majorities in '06 and '08...

    Of course, this isn't about legislative roles, but political acumen and success. Where have the fortunes of Democrats gone under Dillon and the folks backing him?

    Dillon hasn't hesitated to undermine Gov. Jennifer Granholm's ideas on the budget. And he and the House caucus have shown themselves willing to let the Senate Republican majority set the agenda at the Capitol.

    Last Friday, Dillon tossed a note of disunity into a Democratic "unity" event by temporarily withholding an endorsement of Bernero.

    "Because neither candidate was well-known, they became defined by extensive advertising," Meadows argues. "Virg became the candidate of traditional Democratic Party beliefs and Andy was not. If given the opportunity to vote for those beliefs, most Dems will do so."

    And there are still more Democrats than Republicans in the state of Michigan - but maybe not for long, depending on what happens with this budget. It will weigh heavy on the November election. It may be too late for the House to stand up and fight, but it sure is worth a shot - and perhaps a new leader just may be the thing that generates some momentum.

    Monday, August 09, 2010

    Northern Lights

    One of my all-time favorite songs, posted again in honor of this fabulous picture of the northern lights over Lake Superior, taken near Marquette on August 3rd.

    Michigan Ranks in Top 10 in Nation for Farmers Markets


    The Fulton St. Farmers Market near my house is always packed. Very popular. Better get there early for a parking spot - even though the lot surrounding it is fairly big, it is usually full and cars are spilling out in the surrounding neighborhood. The market itself carries a large variety of items - plenty of locally grown fruits and vegetables, of course, as well as homemade bread, cheeses, craft items like yard ornaments and handmade jewelry, soaps... and on and on. Usually you can find a hot dog cart and street musicians hanging around there as well, turning it into a nice place to sit and have a snack and listen to some tunes.

    So it came as no surprise to see this story the other day, as I'm sure the scene is being repeated all across the state.

    Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its 2010 National Farmers Market Directory and Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for the most operational farmers markets. Currently, there are 271 operational farmers markets in Michigan listed in the USDA directory. California claimed the top spot with 580, followed by New York with 461, and Illinois with 286.

    "Between 2008 and 2009, we saw a 13 percent increase in the number of farmers markets operating in the state," said Governor Jennifer M. Granholm. "Dollars spent at area farmers markets are more likely to stay in Michigan, benefiting local communities and strengthening our economy."

    As the state's second largest industry, Michigan's agri-food sector generates $71.3 billion annually, making it a building block for diversifying the state's economy. Production agriculture, food processing and related businesses employ more than one million people. Michigan produces more than 200 commodities, making it second only to California in terms of agricultural diversity.

    Support your local farmers and craftsmen. I had a great sample of cheese made from goat's milk just the other day, and I can't get it out of my mind. I'm going back this week to get some. Ran into my neighbor while I was there, and she just loves some of the homemade bread they sell. Tells me it's cheaper than buying it in the store. So if you're in the neighborhood, be sure and check it out...

    Enjoy It While It Lasts: Michigan's Economy Expanding "More Than Twice as Fast as the Rest of the Country"

    Portrait of a recovery, but don't break out the champagne just yet. Stats from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank show that Michigan is one of five states "projected to grow strongly" over the next six months, but keep in mind that these figures walk right up to the point where the economy started to slow down again in June, as well as the fact that the Bush Recession hit us harder than any other state and we were climbing out of a deeper hole than everyone else. Reed Construction Data crunched the numbers from the Reserve:

    Eleven states have current economic activity indexes of 10% or more below the recent peak level. This is two fewer states than a month ago. The 28% shortfall in Michigan mostly reflects the collapse of the auto industry which began well before the recent recession. Michigan is now expanding at a 9% pace, Ohio 8% and Indiana 6%, more than twice as fast as the rest of the country. The manufacturing boom for exports and machinery that drives this is now subsiding but will remain positive. Manufacturing dependent states will expand very strongly well into next year. But it will take longer than that for the huge space surpluses that built in the last decade to be absorbed so that additional general use space is needed.

    The manufacturing boom has pushed the industrial Great Lakes states past New England as the strongest regional economy after many years at the bottom of the list.

    Yea for us - but can it be sustained? Unknown at this point. With consumer confidence collapsing again as corporations sit on record profits and refuse to hire, coupled with the insane notion that we should worry about deficits and pull the plug on assistance to citizens and states alike at this crucial juncture, right now it's not looking good.

    So enjoy the pretty picture while it lasts, and keep your fingers crossed that the voting public doesn't fall for the Republican theory that "more tax cuts" are the answer to all our problems.

    Dillon Doesn't Endorse Bernero

    You're a real class act, Andy.

    Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon did not endorse Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero during his remarks at a party unity breakfast in downtown Detroit this morning.

    Dillon told a crowd gathered at the Westin Book Cadillac that following the event he was leaving to join his family on vacation, but said “he can’t wait to get on the team” when he returns.

    Vacation. Understandable, given the grueling schedule that is a state-wide campaign, but when there is the pressing matter of a huge budget deficit looming, and that is your day job, the one you have managed to avoid for the entire year... oh, that's right. I forgot. When Dillon said the budget would be done in the spring, he didn't mean it. When Dillon said the budget would be done by July 1st, he didn't mean it. And when Dillon said he would endorse Bernero back in June...

    After the debate, Dillon indicated he would support Bernero if he won the August primary, but Bernero sidestepped a similar question.

    ... he didn't mean it. This is pretty much par for the course, actually. Or, maybe it was a tit-for-tat response to that earlier snub. Or maybe there is something else going on here...

    With unofficial results indicating a decisive victory for Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, some supporters of Andy Dillon said he would be a good person to balance the ticket and give Democrats a fighting chance to win the governor's race in November.

    “Andy Dillon would make a great lieutenant governor,” said state Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills.

    Um, no thanks. Not as it stands.

    Now, if by some miracle he comes out swinging on this budget and stands up for the people of Michigan, we could re-evaluate the situation. There is always a chance for redemption, but it would take some mighty strong convincing here, and recent history tells us that Dillon doesn't have the stones to do it. For now, we have to take him at his word that he is eager to be "on the team" - but always keep in mind that his word has been somewhat less than honorable for quite some time.

    Actions speak louder than words, and how Dillon behaves after vacation will reveal his true intentions.

    Wednesday, August 04, 2010

    Aid to the States Passes the U.S. Senate

    This is wonderful news for Michigan, for many other states as well. While it doesn't get us out of the woods by any means, it does help with the FY2010-11 deficit a great deal. From the front page at Kos:

    With the votes of Snowe, Collins, and Ben Nelson, the Senate finally managed to get cloture on an education jobs and state Medicaid payments bill, clearing the way for final passage with a 61-38 vote. The aid won't actually be off to states yet as House will have to vote on it as well, but the major hurdle has been overcome to provide the critical assistance to states to prevent layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and state workers.

    We still will have layoffs. There are still cuts coming, big ones too - especially if Dillon decides to play poor loser and punts on this budget. Place yer bets on that one, but my money is on abdication of responsibility. Call it a hunch.

    One interesting note to add: A headline at MIRS indicates Granholm said she would veto any continuation budget. Don't know the details on that, but I do know these guys have to have something finished by Sept. 30th - or perhaps the consequences of their actions, or inaction, will be felt in the election a month later.

    It's the great untold story out there right now. While everyone has visions of the future dancing in their head, we still have one big hurdle to get over this year - and it should be very interesting as to how they finally manage to do it.

    Tuesday, August 03, 2010


    Some voting music for you today. Yeah, I know it's not too inspiring, but it really sums up how I feel about the whole political scene this morning. A person can only take so many punches before they stop getting up - and I am pretty much there.

    But, get up you must, even if it's only to weigh in against the forces that would return us to the economic policies that are destroying this country. I've read a lot of chatter about progressives voting for Snyder to stop Cox, talked to a neighbor who is switching sides today to try and thwart DeVos-backed teabagger Amash in the 3rd Congressional district.

    And that's OK. People gotta do what they feel they must do. At least they care enough to get out there and do something; millions across the state today won't do anything at all.

    That's the real tragedy here - but given the choices and the tenor of this campaign, can you really blame them?

    Monday, August 02, 2010

    Republicans Are Preparing Deep Budget Cuts: Would Andy Dillon Vote to Eliminate Revenue Sharing?

    Yes, you read that right. Eliminate.

    No more money for your local cops and firefighters. Cities and townships that have already made drastic cuts to public safety, who have had to turn to their citizens with millage requests and tax increases just to stay at the minimum level of protection, will be dealt a knock-out blow if the "cuts only" crowd has their way.

    They won't tell you about it now, of course. You might not vote for them tomorrow if they did.

    The FY 2010-11 budget, the budget that is $1.5 billion or so in the hole, the budget they were going to get done by spring July 1st after vacation ???, the budget that is the legislature's constitutional duty to pass but has been pushed aside so candidates can deceive you with fiscal fantasies about our future, has received little attention in a media that is understandably wrapped up in the horse race - but one small story emerged last week with a detail that probably should be examined just a little bit closer.

    When Republicans say they are going to "cut government spending", keep in mind that YOU are "spending".

    Local governments and Medicaid may face some of the toughest cuts in an emergency budget proposal being prepared by state Senate Republicans.


    Bishop says even if the state does not get additional money from the federal government, Medicaid will not be exempt from further cuts. He says all areas of state government will feel the sting. That includes local governments, which rely on payments from the state to help pay for police and fire.

    "Every function of state government will be addressed and has been addressed, and revenue sharing will be a part of that," he adds.

    Bishop will not deny that local government revenue sharing could be eliminated altogether. Governor Granholm says those kinds of deep cuts are too damaging, and her plan will include new revenue to help fill budget gaps.

    Has anyone alerted city leaders about this? Doubtful. It might have come up on the campaign trail, and we couldn't have that. Candidates may have had to explain in detail how more tax cuts for the wealthy would pay for the cops and firefighters they are proposing to eliminate. That wouldn't be any fun.

    Every voter should stop and think about this. Republicans, across the board, are proposing to "cut taxes and cut spending" - and we are looking at the elimination of revenue sharing right now, never mind what they would cut in the future after they eliminate taxes for business. And, on top of this drastic public safety cut, the health care safety net is pretty much looking at destruction as well.

    We've already cut more than $4 billion since 2001 to programs serving our most vulnerable citizens. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said that without the promised $560 million in federal aid, Michigan might be forced to cut up to 30 percent in payments to physicians and other health care providers who treat 1.8 million Medicaid beneficiaries, including 955,000 children. This would be devastating for many families who need access to affordable, quality health care.

    Physicians participating in the Medicaid program dropped from 88 percent to 64 percent between 1999 and 2005 - and that was before the 8 percent cut in the current budget.

    Translation: There won't be any doctors left to treat the roughly one in five Michigan residents that are currently being served by Medicaid. Those people will start showing up in hospital emergency rooms instead - which will raise the cost of your health insurance, and that will push more people and business off of private plans and on to Medicaid... and the spiral continues. You will pay for these cuts to "spending", one way or another.

    These examples are the biggest cuts being floated by the Republicans at this time. Community mental health programs are on the chopping block, other forms of assistance to low-income families that serve mainly children and aid to state colleges and universities - all are back on the table as well.

    Given the way that Andy Dillon rolled over for Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans on drastic cuts last year, the issue of whether he would pass another all-cuts budget using minority Republican votes becomes a very pertinent question. It's doubtful that anyone will ask him that in the next 24 hours, but, if he happens to win the nomination, you can guarantee that it will come up again. What has he had to say about this so far? (Crain's, sub only)

    House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, said in a statement that the FMAP situation “has forced everyone back to the drawing board...”

    Translation: * crickets *

    There is a chance that the US Senate is going to pass a watered-down version of aid to the states today. Harry Reid has offset the spending in the bill by cutting food assistance money (yeah, I know, that's stupid too), reduced the amount of Medicaid aid and included a 2011 phase-out so we can do this all over again next year, but once again, even though concessions are made, congressional Republicans are opposing the package. Crain's reports that this version would cut Michigan's take from $560 million to $300 million, leaving us a $260 million hole that Mike Bishop would gladly fill with the bodies of the sick and the poor and your ever-increasing insurance premiums.

    Would Andy Dillon do the same? Even if we get the federal money, we still are looking at a massive deficit. Will Dillon pass another all-cuts budget, one month before the election mind you, the consequences of which will ultimately be blamed on the Democrats and Governor Granholm? Republicans must be giddy at the prospect. House Democrats do their dirty work on "spending cuts" - and then they get to use it against the D's in the election. How convenient. The rewards of obstructionism are certainly great when no one takes the time to stand up and point out what is going on here, or presents an alternate plan that would maintain at least a minimum quality of life.

    Inquiring minds want to know what Dillon is going to do. Too bad we aren't going to find out until after it's too late.

    Sunday, August 01, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: August 1, 2010

    Boomtown Battle Creek. As of Friday, 25,000 feet of boom had been deployed at 26 different sites, and plans were to add 10 more sites by today. A special shout-out of thanks goes out to the grunts in the field, working up close and personal with this stuff - sounds like they are making good progress, although plenty of cleanup still remains.

    August already. Where does the time go? Some oil spill update stories for you this morning:

  • The spill is now being characterized as "contained", as crews have reached the break and found that no more oil is leaking out. Enbridge VP Steve Wuori says "it is highly unlikely there is any other break in the pipe" other than the one that was exposed. The section will be removed and sent to the National Transportation Safety Board lab for testing.

  • More reports are surfacing on how the Feds have been warning Enbridge for months to improve their pipeline safety. A time line released Saturday by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration showed that Enbridge last year discovered 250 imperfections with the line "that eventually would rupture". The company has fixed 35 of them, so, only 215 potential spots for rupture remain. That's comforting. Go read that story for all the evasive details.

  • The EPA has rejected the Enbridge plan for clean-up, saying that "technical information was missing and in other cases the plans were too general" and the overall it was "deficient". The company has until Monday to re-submit, which they said they will.

  • Here come the lawsuits. The first federal class-action was filed on Friday, intended to represent "all residents" who have been affected by the spill. A public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall at 800 Michigan Ave. in Marshall if you want to sign-on or get more information.

  • What did Enbridge know, and when did Enbridge know it? That is the question.

    Government logs show Enbridge Energy Partners reported crude oil spilling into a creek that leads to the Kalamazoo River at 1:33 p.m. Monday -- several hours after discovering the pipeline rupture and about 16 hours after Marshall-area fire departments received two calls complaining about a natural gas smell.

    And here is where it gets weird. Both the Marshall Fire Department and the Marshall Township Fire Department received calls about the smell in the air around 9:30 - 10:00 PM Sunday night...

    Mike Rae, chairman of the Calhoun County Board of Commissioners, told the Free Press on Friday that responding firefighters talked to an Enbridge employee Sunday, who said the smell was coming from a tank belonging to another oil company. Rae declined to elaborate on how he obtained the information but said, "I'll swear by it."

    Enbridge denied any worker was on the scene Sunday. Daniel, the CEO, also denied reports of an Enbridge truck at the oil leak site that night. He said Enbridge has confirmed that a truck of "very similar color and markings" to Enbridge was seen Sunday, but it was not the company's. He declined to elaborate.

    "That wasn't our tank, that wasn't our worker, and that wasn't our truck". Ooookay...

    At 9:45 AM Monday morning, Enbridge logged the leak. At 11:30, they confirmed it. Called it in to the Feds at 1 PM in the afternoon (lunch?), saying they had to quantify the leak before they could report it. And then they claim they were put on hold for thirty minutes. Ooookay... gee, seems they have an excuse for everything, doesn't it?

    Yeah. I think we're going to need to be doin' some investigatin' here...

  • Congressman Mark Schauer seems to think so as well, and announced the launch of that formal investigation on Saturday.

    Today Congressman Mark Schauer (D-MI) announced that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will be launching a formal investigation into the Enbridge oil spill. After discussing the leak with subcommittee leaders yesterday, Chairwoman Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Vice Chairman Tim Walz (D-MN) agreed to conduct hearings when Congress returns in September. The investigation will be conducted by the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. Schauer is a member of the panel, which oversees the nation's network of oil and gas pipelines.

    "Enbridge needs to answer some tough questions about how this happened, and I plan to hold them fully accountable," said Schauer. "Moreover, we need to learn why the federal agency that oversees oil pipelines failed to notify Congress about its concerns related to corrosion on Enbridge's Lakehead System. The company’s failure to report the incident in a timely manner put public safety at risk, and we need to make sure something like this doesn't happen again."

    Schauer has introduced new legislation that will require notification of a pipeline accident within a certain time frame, and if you miss it, pay the price. Three Michigan House Republicans (Ehlers, Miller and Upton) have thrown their names on the bill as well.

  • Speaking of slow responses, what took you so long to say something? Forget you have a day job? Couldn't find the political angle needed to turn this into a wedge issue? Just another day in the Theater of the Absurd. Love how some of these guys want to tell us that they are the ones to fix our problems while they are ignoring their current duties in elected office.

  • The Freep takes an in-depth look at pipeline regulations this morning, and then runs an editorial that calls for more state oversight on the aging pipes that run beneath our feet. They also want someone appointed to stay on top of Enbridge to make sure they clean up this mess.

    Those are excellent ideas, and of course they should be done. So, perhaps next time some candidate for office suggests we have to "cut spending and regulations" at the state level, the Freep will stand right up, point it out, and refuse to endorse that person. No? Then please, stop complaining after the fact; on this, on other important issues too. Getting tired of newspapers that indulge the fantasies of the drown government crowd, and then turn around and clamor for the government to prevent and/or fix these problems. There is no free lunch. Important oversight like this is considered "spending", and you can't have it both ways.

  • For some peace of mind, always remember that nature bats last. Experts tell us that "one day, the river will be thriving again", but when that time will come, no one knows. Years at best. The area will lose fish, birds, animals, and "organisms lower on the food chain" such as bugs and rare mussels for the time being, and concerns are that it is going to be very difficult to clean the thick vegetation in the area - but eventually, it will bounce back. As long as we stop this from happening again, that is.

    And on that note, we now return you to the toxic sludge that is this election season, spilling all over a TV near you at this very moment...