Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Budget Done: Who Had September 29th?

Check your squares! Who had the late afternoon of September 29th? You may have won fabulous prizes!

Yes, the legiscritters managed to take this down to the last 30 hours of the fiscal year (insert eyeroll here), but ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we have a state budget.

Michigan lawmakers wrapped up the key pieces of the next state budget on Wednesday, without tax increases and with spending cuts in many programs other than aid to public schools.

The Legislature was beating its budget-balancing deadline that coincides with the start of the new fiscal year Friday. Lawmakers missed similar deadlines in 2007 and 2009.

Some of the final bills passed Wednesday by the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-run House included money for road projects and human services such as foster care and child welfare.

Lawmakers are erasing a projected $484 million deficit in the next budget. The deficit would have been far larger if it weren't for extra federal help.

No doubt. As Christoff was quick to point out, this budget contains $1 billion in federal aid, and we can thank the Congressional Democrats for helping us to avoid some really brutal cuts on top of the cuts we had to make - for this year at least.

As far as the next budget being $1.6B in the hole? You can thank the Republicans for that. Better do it quick though, because just as sure as I'm sitting here, they are going to start blaming the Democrats any... second... now...

UPDATE: Some details from the DNews:

• The restoration of $154 per student to public school districts in the new fiscal year. Schools that had been bracing for more cuts will get at least $7,339 per student -- $23 more than schools received this past fiscal year. Earlier this year, $154 per student had been cut from school funding to help erase a deficit in the 2010 budget.

Most community colleges will be safe from operating budget cuts, but universities face a 2.8 percent reduction.

• The Legislature scraped together $84 million the state needed to put up to receive $500 million in federal road project funds. The state will sell short-term notes, redirect some driver's license fees and use savings in other areas to raise the money.

• The proposed bridge between Detroit and Canada took a hit. The Department of Transportation budget limits spending on the Detroit River International Crossing to traffic study contracts already signed. Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, railed against the project on the floor of the Senate, calling it a "boondoggle."

"MDOT's credit card has been revoked," Cropsey said.

• Approval in the Department of Human Services budget to hire 684 additional child welfare workers, 417 of whom will work in child protective services. Those additional workers will cost the state $37.1 million.

Those workers are "desperately needed," said Sharon Parks, president of the Michigan League for Human Services. "There were some good things, like the restoration of some optional services (for the poor), such as adult dental and podiatric care."

Good to hear about the child protective service workers. And Cropsey can be responsible for the loss of thousands of construction jobs. Don't let the door hit ya, Alan...

The Choice This November

(sorry for the video repeat, this is cross-posted from BFM)

More meta wars, distracting my attention. Sad thing is, I knew it was coming the second "stop whining" was uttered, I told myself to not read the highly predictable reactions from the usual suspects on both sides - which, of course, was even louder whining - but ultimately found myself powerless to tear away from the ensuing food fight. It threw me right off my train of thought, jammed up my writing, and left me wanting to scream, "Don't make me turn this country around and go back! All of ya, quiet down back there!"

Geez. And I don't even have kids.

So, to the Obama administration: Whoever told you this would be a good strategy - it's not. See: The Food Fight. Every second spent on this is a second taken away from important issues. You are only feeding that which you claim you want to stop, your supporters are stuck having to defend your statements and that only serves to divide "the base", whoever the hell they are at this point. Even worse though, you run the risk of alienating the casual voter, who, let's say, is struggling with economic difficulties and has yet to see a light at the end of the tunnel and is frightened about that, or, maybe someone who wanted more from health care reform (by a 2-1 margin even) and may feel a bit disappointed about now. These folks might erroneously think your words were directed at them, and why take that chance when voter enthusiasm is a concern?

To the "Professional Left", both those that are incensed and those that take this stuff in stride: Consider this a going-away present for Rahm, because he is announcing his run for mayor Friday, according to the Sun Times. With that, we might see a change in attitude from the administration. That's the hope - because if this is the strategy of the Democratic Party and it continues, we will lose more than we gain.

Let's try this strategy instead: Show the voters the choice in front of them this November. This is one of the best ads running right now, brought to you by AFSCME.

Says it all, doesn't it? This realization might already be sinking in out there, as we can see the Generic Democrats gaining ground in the latest WSJ/NBC poll as "the base" starts to come home. The only reason for the 3-point difference between the two parties is the likely voters vs. registered voters split - with registered voters, the parties are tied. That means that Dems have to concentrate on the GOTV effort more than anything, and giving people something to vote for is the way to do it. The ad above does that, and it's something that I would dearly love to see more of from the party.

Yes, we still can - but only if we show up. Give people a reason, and they will.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Sunday Paper: September 26, 2010

The sculpture "A Matter of Time" is one of thousands of pieces of art on display in Grand Rapids through Oct. 10th, as my city has been overrun with 1700 artists from 21 different countries in 192 venues along with thousands of people to view it all for the second annual ArtPrize competition that kicked off this week. This piece depicts the "relationship between humans and the Earth by displaying the effects of the BP oil spill on animals and marine organisms", and its focal point is a globe in the outstretched hand - which at the time of this shot had been stolen. It has been replaced now, but the whole incident begs the question, "Can we replace the Earth?" And that's ArtPrize, as deep as you want it to be.

With that long-winded caption, let's segue right into our own "matter of time" environmental issue to begin this week's tidbits:

  • The Enbridge pipeline that ruptured near Marshall has the go-ahead to restart at reduced pressure on Monday, the company receiving six months to a year to fix the forty known problems on the line as it operates under independent inspection and many stern letters of warning. That should do it, right? No worries though, if an "immediate" problem pops up, they have 14 days to fix it. Time is money, and oil is money, and we should know by now who wins that race. (see sculpture above)

  • In case that wasn't disturbing enough, the Freep reminds us today that we have 67,000 miles of old and crumbling oil and natural gas pipelines in this state, some of which never get inspected at all. Check out this "leaky time bomb" map of the pipelines and 17 accidents that have happened in Michigan in the past decade alone. Striking was the proximity of oil lines to water; the Saginaw Bay, the Mackinac Straits, the Au Sable River, up along the scenic and tourist-heavy west coast on Lake Michigan, not to mention every body of water near the Detroit area - all could make the Marshall accident look like a warm-up, don't you think?

  • Moving on to our favorite on-going man-made Michigan disaster now. Shocking as it is - it appears the Legislature is going to have the budget done on time. No, really, they mean it, honest, it's a done deal, sure, you betcha. The job that they said they would have done in the spring by June 30th after vacation looks to go right down to the wire, so place your bets for Thursday the 30th, I'm guessing late afternoon/early evening. With the Senate Democrats withholding immediate effect on the retirement plan and Mike Bishop making childish "we'll git you next year" threats, it might be wise not to count chickens here - although the major pieces are in place for the remaining budgets to pass. When the complaints arise that it isn't balanced, remember who prevented that from happening in the first place.

  • The UAW is pulling its money out of Chase to the tune of "hundreds of millions" of dollars, citing the company's refusal to help with mortgage foreclosures in Michigan and treatment of workers at the financially-tied RJ Reynolds tobacco farms in North Carolina. Go get 'em, Bob. Actions speak louder than words, and the UAW is signaling that they are willing to take action to draw attention to the problems that need to be solved - and that's a good thing.

  • Anyone else notice that Snyder doesn't have a plan for running the government, or is it just me? That isn't stopping him from promising more money to cities if they adopt the "best methods" for providing services though, even though he can't name what they are, even though he is talking about creating more government to determine how to proceed next. Looks like $2 million in political consultants buys you lines that get past the teabaggers, or, maybe they weren't serious about "less government" in the first place. One possible future: We should hire someone to go and scream "death panels!" when these committees meet to determine how much money your fire department needs, yes?

  • My hero, Carrie Jones. New head of the Michigan Film Office, Jones gets mucho applause for standing up to the Cassis Anti-Film Crusade, knocking down the negative talking points one by one while explaining the benefits of having this industry in our state to both a Senate committee and in this excellent article from Gonger/MiTech this week. Go read, she rocks. Nancy even admits that the hearings are a waste of time seeing as how nothing will change under the lame-duck legislature, but she still plans on being annoying right down to the last minute anyway.

  • And about those credits, Detroit 1-8-7 premiered to mixed reviews this week, drawing both praise and scorn and lots and lots of viewers and chatter in the Detroit area, and that's one of those intangible benefits that Jones is talking about. And hyper detail critics, settle down. It's a pilot. It's a TV show. Not everything will be true to life, and we should probably call it "soda" anyway. Give the show time though, and it will grow. The jobs certainly are, so keep tuning in to help out the home team. Future episodes will feature more of the city and that alone will be fun to watch.

    What else is happening out there? Recent electric car/renewable energy news (there has been a bunch) deserves stand alone diaries one of these days, and I'll get to those soon - but it looks like that big shiny ball in the sky may distract my attention and lure me into checking out some cool outdoor art today.

    Enjoy it while it lasts...
  • Friday, September 24, 2010

    Figuring Out the Bishop Playbook

    * looks at calendar *

    September 24, 2010. Skooby figures it out. Just a tad too late, wouldn't you say? Some of us saw this coming a long, long time ago.

    Now, we know how rigid Republicans are about following the rules. So they killed the rental car fee, and state tourism officials killed the fall-color-tour Pure Michigan campaign because there’s no moola.

    This was pure politics trumping good public policy. Senate GOP folks are more interested in winning back their seats than pouring more money into the economy.

    If that is not a dereliction of duty, what the heck is?

    It wasn't really about winning their seats, since most of them are termed out anyway. It was about making the Governor and the Democrats take the hit for Mike Bishop's refusal to compromise and find solutions to problems, so it was really about winning power back for the Republicans, period. And to show you how that works, you can check out story after story after story after story in the Michigan media about the cancellation of the fall ad campaign that did NOT point out the fact that it was the Republicans that refused to fund Pure Michigan, just that "the Legislature" made the cut. See how easy it is?

    And look, the Senate Republicans did the same thing on other issues too! Imagine that!

    When the business community suggested a new tax policy to increase the sales tax and expand it to services, the governor got on board and some economists chimed in, too.

    Some of that new money could have been used to erase the state’s mushrooming deficit that is about to be passed on to the next administration.

    And the Republicans are complaining the loudest about not fixing the “structural deficit.” But given a chance to side with their friends in business and create a better tax system, they said nope.

    As always, they want it both ways. Gripe about the problem, reject any sensible solution to it, and then blame the other party for messing things up.

    That, of course, is Pure you-know-what.

    Sure is Tim. Tell your friends. We wouldn't want the accusation of "dereliction of duty" to start spreading to other professional types in Lansing, if you get what I'm saying here.

    Might want to keep an eye on DC as well. The Bishop Pure Obstruction Playbook is currently being applied in the US Senate, and if Republicans take back the US House, you can guarantee that we will see "pure politics trumping good public policy" on a scale like you wouldn't believe.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Bernero - Snyder Debate Scheduled for Oct. 10th

    So I'm sitting there at lunch, spending my movie extra money, all of which I have earmarked to support local businesses because I figure that on some sub-atomic level it's bothering Nancy Cassis - and this breaks on teh Twitter. Never fails.

    One debate, October 10th. And it looks like it will be the only one.

    The two major party candidates for governor, Democrat Virg Bernero and Republican Rick Snyder, have agreed to hold a single debate on Oct. 10 at a TV studio in Wixom.

    The 7 p.m. debate will be available for broadcast by television stations around the state, the campaigns announced today.

    KBH reports it will be available on the internet as well. Sponsored by the Center for Michigan, it will feature questions from panelists from the Freep and the DNews, hopefully not Nolan Finley. Sane people only, please. We don't need to hear loaded questions from ideologues, simply because we don't really have one from the left.

    So there.

    Will Republicans Raise Taxes Under Snyder?

    Let's relive recent history, shall we? Republicans have obstructed every single tax reform plan offered up in the past few years, Mike Bishop claiming that we have to "live within our means" as the Senate insisted on cuts only budgets. You saw it last year, you've seen it this year. We are very lucky that Democrats in the federal government came to the rescue and helped us (and every other state in the nation) fill holes that would have caused utter devastation had we actually faced the worst of this storm - for example, take last year's deep cuts and triple them. (Rough math - we were facing a $3 billion dollar hole and ended up cutting around $1 billion. Correct me if I'm wrong.) To top all this off, Republicans are currently riding an anti-tax tiger in the form of the teabaggers, hoping to sweep into power on this manufactured anti-government outrage - even though we have cut more out of government that any state in the nation in the past decade or so, even though we are currently paying less taxes than we did under Engler, even though Michigan is basically a low-tax state. No matter. The facts never matter when faced with fanaticism.

    Cut, cut, cut, that is all we have ever heard. So, it comes with a bemused chuckle to hear someone like Senate Republican Roger Kahn suggest that they will have to raise taxes to fill the estimated $1.6 billion hole that they will be faced with on the FY2011-12 budget. Say what?

    Yes, you read that right. Tax increases. Ha ha... ha. First, the good news on this year's agreement for the Dept. of Community Health budget, a $14 billion monster that covers Medicaid and other health services, mostly funded by federal money. Lawmakers are restoring some previously cut services, and the proposed cuts to mental health and physicians, etc and so on, will be avoided. This is a good thing.

    Money for dental, podiatry and vision care for Medicaid recipients would be restored under a $14-billion budget for the Department of Community Health approved Tuesday by lawmakers and headed to Gov. Jennifer Granholm to sign.


    With $650 million in federal stimulus money, the Department of Community Health budget avoids numerous cuts, including $50 million in mental health services the Senate had proposed; that reduction is now $1 million. The budget takes $2.4 million from the state general fund, the rest coming from federal aid.

    Also, it cancels a 4% cut in Medicaid reimbursement to physicians and hospitals that the Senate had proposed.

    Hat tip to Mr. Christoff for correctly pointing out that the Senate had proposed the cuts - even if he didn't use the word "Republican". We can add to that the proposed Republican cuts to education, both K-12 and college, Pure Michigan, revenue sharing, economic development efforts, and road funding as well. Follow the link. And then check out the original Gongwer story to see all the cuts they insisted on making this spring because they refused to raise revenue or restructure our tax base. When it came to addressing our long-term problems, the answer has always been "no". You know this. You lived it.

    They insisted on a broken government, a broken government is what they are going to get - and faced with that prospect, suddenly a tax increase doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all. Doh!

    Lawmakers warned that the community health budget will create a $500-million budget hole in 2012 when the federal stimulus money is gone. Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, said the next Legislature likely will enact a combination of spending cuts, reforms and tax increases to avoid a deficit.

    Republicans? Suggesting we raise taxes? Get out! But it's true. Even Rick Snyder's convoluted and incomplete plan to eliminate the MBT threatens to raise taxes on business, and he is proposing the creation of bigger government as "systems would be established to measure the success of state programs". What does that mean, exactly? Someone offering to do that for free? No? Didn't think so. And for a guy who is running around saying that we need "action now!" in Lansing, when you look at his plans and listen to his answers on the tough questions, you will find that he has been pretty elusive on details, claiming we need more time to study what all these "best practices" he plans to implement would actually entail. No matter. The facts never matter when you are riding that wave to the top; they only matter when the wave comes crashing down on the shore and you have to actually do something that people probably won't like.

    Still, where is all that teabagger outrage over this? Why no protests in the streets, why no threatened defections from the voting ranks? Could it be that all the screaming and whining and foot-dragging was just a big 'ol manufactured ruse to obstruct any and all progress as long as the Democrats were in power? Call it a hunch. You've seen it in Lansing, you're seeing it in DC, and chances are Michigan Republicans will turn their finger of blame on Obama should they take power and "have" to either raise taxes or actually take responsibility for making devastating cuts to services. The starting gun for 2012 goes off the second this election ends, and chances are they are working on the talking points already.

    It's never their responsibility to lead. Heavens no. Notice that? And always remember the adage, IOKIYAR. After all, these are the people that can yell their head off about deficits as they simultaneously push to make them even deeper with more tax cuts for the wealthy. The facts don't matter. They have no shame. They have no honor. As some joker in my life suggested, "Watch, Snyder will propose a 2% tax on services eventually, and call it his own grand plan". At this point, I highly doubt that will happen, as I expect the Republicans will continue to stack the deck in favor of the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the middle class, and there is something about the 2% plan that is just too... fair. Can't have that, can we? But you never know.

    It sure will be interesting to see how the Republicans will explain away any tax increases that they do offer up though. My bet is they vote them through, and find a way to blame it on the Democrats. Any takers?

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    CNBC Video: Governor Granholm on Reviving Michigan's Economy

    True confession: I'm at the point where I can barely stand to watch any cable news. Any of it. Yes, I should be watching Keith and Rachel, I know, but usually by that time of night I want to tune out of the political world and just... not think about this anymore. Never works because my mind is always chewing this stuff over, but hey, if there is a "House" marathon on, politics becomes just a dull hum in the back of my head. TV is the poor man's Valium. (And I'm all excited about Detroit 1-8-7, filmed right here - watch it tonight at 10!)

    I do try to catch the governor when she's on cable - but that has become difficult to swallow as well. Even the supposedly "liberal" MSNBC seems to be filled with all the "Obama is doooomed!" and "Democrats are doooomed!" talking points and hyper-nonsense that has reduced the important issues of the day right down to the lowest common catch-phrase denominator, and it has become way more irritating than informative. (For the perfect example of this phenomena, check Granholm's recent spot with Norah O'Donnell, count the number of Republican talking points and rude interruptions, and you'll see what I mean.)

    CNBC is usually worse than MSNBC. All worship of money, all of the time, it's what they are about, so naturally it panders to the angst of those poor Wall Street wizards who have been so hurt by this recession. Honestly, it brings a tear. Or unbridled rage, one or the other. Larry Kudlow took a shot at the battery incentives after the governor's appearance during the A123 grand opening - and put a damper on what was a very positive piece. 300 jobs already here, half of which were filled with previously unemployed people - and up to 3000 total jobs on the way, and there was Kudlow, spitting on the government involvement in this so far very successful public-private partnership. Better those jobs go to Asia, Larry? Ugh.

    Today though... today was different. Maria Bartiromo let her run, and it was a great advertisement for the positive things that are happening in our state. Watch and see. It's all about policy, whether it be green energy, worker training, education, entrepreneurship, investment - the works. Enough so that I wanted to post it here and show it off.

    If cable news tones down the shrill factor and actually becomes informative, maybe I'll start watching it again. I don't expect that to happen of course, but I can always dream.

    Amash Too Extreme, West Michigan Republicans Endorse Democrat Pat Miles

    Justin and Friends at Tea Party Rally, April 2009. President Obama had been in office less than three months at this point.

    West Michigan has its fair share of wingers, there is no doubt about that. But what most people miss is the fact that, overall, we are pretty darn moderate - and the extreme views and votes of Justin Amash definitely do not represent the majority of the wishes of the 3rd district. I've dubbed him the Nancy Cassis of the MI House; he simply votes "no" on everything. Some examples: Amash voted against preventing utilities from shutting off heat and power to elderly customers, he voted against bills that would toughen laws against human trafficking, he voted against a bill that would allow soldiers actively serving their country out of cell phone contracts. And as far as support for quality of life issues like education and other public services, you don't even have to ask, do you?

    Amash is a drown government, right-wing Norquist Republican, a puppet who puts his ideology before the needs of his constituents time and time again. Backed by the DeVos family and out-of-state wealthy special interests such as the Club for Growth, we can probably expect an onslaught of misleading and negative advertising against Pat Miles to start any second now. And, should Amash be elected, his voting record shows that you can guarantee he will align himself with the most extreme members in the House, lawmakers such as Michele Bachmann who are promising to stop all progress and "investigate" the Obama administration, with an eye towards impeachment.

    One very encouraging development is happening though: Moderate Republicans in the West Michigan area are taking a stand against Amash. Long-time GOP backers are coming out in favor of Democrat Pat Miles, and 50 of them have put their names on paper - bucking the wealthy power structure and taking a stand for moderation and sanity. Bless their hearts. Follow the link for the full list, here are a few statements behind the names:

    William Farr, a former Kent County GOP chairman who ran as the GOP's candidate for state attorney general in 1970, challenged Amash's GOP credentials in a statement.

    "His views are so extreme, I think he is even to the right of the tea party movement," Farr said. "Just because someone is a Republican is not enough to earn my vote. I want someone who is in the mainstream and that person for me is Pat Miles."

    Serafin and Eleveld, who were chairmen the Kent County GOP in the 1970s, also chaired the GOP's congressional district campaign. "He (Miles) has a background of working to solve the problems, and I know he will take that constructive philosophy to Congress," Eleveld said.

    "I know he will put solving problems above rigid ideology," said Keary Sawyer, a Grand Rapids lawyer who lost to the late U.S. Rep. Paul Henry in his 1984 bid for the congressional seat. Sawyer is the son of the late Hal Sawyer, a Republican who once held the seat.

    Also on the list are Marla Ehlers and Heidi Ehlers Rienstra, daughters of 3rd District Rep. Vern Ehlers, who announced early this year he would not run again.

    "Party labels are not as important as character in choosing our next representative in Congress," Marla Ehlers said in a statement released by the Miles campaign.

    Wish these Republicans success with their message to the 3rd district voters - and maybe, just maybe, this will catch on, and give other moderates the strength to stand up against the forces who are promising to make things so much worse than they are now. Our future depends on it.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Michigan's Largest Windfarm to Open Near Breckenridge in 2011

    Now THAT's what I'm talking about. 200MW of wind-power goodness, bringing some construction jobs to start, bucks to local farmers from land leases, and much needed tax revenue to schools...

    Gratiot County will grow a new crop of 125 giant wind turbines sprouting on 30,000 acres of farmland, creating the largest wind farm in Michigan.

    The more than $440 million project will generate 200 megawatts of electricity when finished next year, enough to power nearly 54,000 homes, and bring rural communities and school districts with little industrial tax base and farmers much needed cash, backers say.

    Work starts Nov. 1st. Chicago based Invenergy Wind will hire 150 for construction and 15 permanent maintenance workers, and DTE will sign a 20-year lease ($1.1 billion) to buy the power, and it will constitute 4% of DTE's total power when completed. And just look what it does for the local schools...

    Taxes for Gratiot County government, townships and school districts and payments to farm families could amount to $100 million over the next two decades, he said.

    Breckenridge Community Schools could capture $800,000 in the first year alone, he said.

    “All of a sudden, this takes our school system from a struggling school system to one that’s doing quite well,” Ostrander said.

    Business and government leaders collaborated to remove obstacles to getting the farm off the ground, he added.

    More please. More of this, please, all over the state. DTE has acquired the rights to 80,000 acres in the Thumb area, with plans for more farms by 2015. Now we need to get cranking on the west side and UP as well...

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: September 19, 2010

    Elephant Perp Walk. Unfortunately not the Republican kind. Every year when Ringling comes to Grand Rapids, the elephants and horses have to get off the train some distance from Van Andel Arena, so they hold a very brief parade through the downtown streets to get them to the show. I was surprised at how fast they move along - so much so I couldn't change the lens in time to get more of the line-up in this picture.

    What is going around? I've had this horrible cold for a week that is just now finally going away. A few mini-diaries of pent up frustration for you...

  • According to WOOD TV, odds are increasing that Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero will not be holding any debates. Rick Albin reported that news following the policy forum in Grand Rapids last Friday, and he seemed pretty unhappy at the development. Oddly enough, WOOD chose not to put that report up on YouTube or their site, instead opting for the AP story and noon news video, where Tony Tagliavia previewed Albin's report by saying the campaigns "are not giving voters the full picture of their choice for the state's top office". Indeed. Hope other reporters pick up on non-answers too. The Freep has already made their views known on the debate issue.

  • In that AP story it is revealed that Snyder's lack of experience in government shouldn't be a worry because "he has spent time with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a fellow Republican, to discuss running a state". Indiana's unemployment rate is above the national average, currently 11th in the nation at 10.1%, and their poverty rate has jumped to 12th in the nation at 16.1% - well above the national average of 14.3%. I know Michigan Republicans get all starry-eyed about Daniels (he's soooo dreamy), but with these numbers, is Mitch really someone we want to be taking tips from? Uh, no thanks.

  • Even after all the hard knocks we have taken, Michigan's poverty rate ranked 20th in the nation at 14%, surprisingly below the national average. Not that any of these numbers are good, mind you - we have a severe problem across the country that is expected to go even higher when this year's numbers are added up. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that nationwide 3.3 million people were kept out of poverty thanks to the extended unemployment benefits, so, thank the Democrats for that.

  • Governor Granholm serves up the green jobs in this great article at Grist, explaining the steps we are taking in Michigan and making the pitch as to why the nation needs to get its act together and start investing more in clean energy.

    The question for America is: Do we want the U.S. to lead in clean energy, or do we want to take a backseat to countries like China? To paraphrase a line from Wayne Gretzky, China realizes that clean energy is where the puck is going, and they're skating toward it. According to a recent Pew study, China invested $34.6 billion in clean energy and energy efficiency in 2009 -- more than any other country. The United States was a distant second with $18.6 billion invested. China manufactured and installed more wind turbines than any other nation last year. These facts only bolster the case for why the United States must adopt policies to create a long-term sustainable market for wind energy -- or risk being left in the dust.

    National RPS, anyone? Please?

  • Action on the trade/manufacturing front: The US Steelworkers have filed a complaint with the Obama administration accusing China of World Trade Organization violations by illegaly subsidizing exports of clean energy equipment like turbines and solar panels. It's about time someone made it official. The administration has 45 days to decide whether to take up the case, and if they do, that might lead to formation of a W.T.O. dispute resolution panel in Geneva. For an extensive look at how China has rapidly cornered the global clean energy market (and may be creating their own financial bubble that could burst), check out this article in the NY Times. Reports of green American jobs leaving for China already is especially disturbing. Krugman has some thoughts on China's currency manipulation as well. Stay tuned...

  • Michigan's film incentives are back in the news in a big way. The Wall Street Journal published a glowing story on how the film industry has brought a new spark to Detroit; jobs and training for workers, money for local businesses that serve film crews and celebrities, the promise of studios that will provide year-round permanent employment. On the heels of that comes a report from the Senate Fiscal Agency that claims a net revenue loss - but with a caveat that they cannot yet adequately measure the total economic impact of the incentives.

    "Estimating the revenue impact of the film incentives adopted in 2008 has been difficult and will remain vulnerable to a wide margin of error until the State has enough experience to discern the correlations between projected media activity, the claimed credits, and wider economic conditions. In addition to major uncertainties, such as those created by the current weak economic climate (and associated lending crises), the ever-changing landscape of competing film incentives in other states and countries, and the wide variation in the costs associated with different productions, a variety of more administrative issues have complicated the estimates," the paper said.

    And as the Freep points out, you can't measure the "intangibles". SFA director Gary Olson admits as much as well, and the story goes on to give some very tangible examples of how the industry has brought a boatload of economic activity to workers and local businesses alike. Nancy Cassis, of course, has chosen to ignore all these points is yelling her head off about "holding hearings" on the report to continue her anti-film crusade. Maybe it's a good thing that Bishop is refusing to work for the rest of the year.

  • Good news for small businesses looking for help getting loans: After months of Republicans blocking the legislation, the US Senate finally passed the package that will set up a $30 billion fund to help community banks provide loans, as well as "cut capital-gains taxes to zero for some small-business investments and expand expensing of investment in new equipment." One Michigan business that has already been helped by SBA loan assistance is Proos Manufacturing in GR, who has now hired back employees they previously laid-off during the downturn in '09. With this funding, more small businesses will be able to get the credit they need to get rolling again...

    Moral of all these stories? Better vote for Democrats, or we end up the "Indiana of the North". You've been warned.
  • Friday, September 17, 2010

    New Ad Targets Snyder's Anti-Choice Stance

    Pulling out the big guns with this one. Scary poll numbers do that to you.

    Sure good to see Democrats standing up for choice, because I was really beginning to wonder there for a minute. This might help pull more women and moderates into the fold, even though social issues are taking a back seat to the economy this time around.

    Secchia May Have a Surprise Coming on Right-to-Work Demands

    Uh oh. Looks like we may hit a bump in the road on the way to turning Michigan into that low-wage state that the wealthy West Michigan Republicans have always dreamed about. Yesterday, the bombastic voice of Pete Secchia boomed across the land, implying that the election defeats suffered by Dillon, Bishop and Bill Hardiman were somehow caused by the fact that they didn't do what their masters demanded they do.

    He called out two politicians whose campaigns were cut short last month — Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford, whose run for governor fell short; and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, who failed to win the Republican primary bid for attorney general. He said both men are examples of voters holding legislators accountable — both voted for the Michigan Business Tax, which has been widely criticized by the business community.

    "Our message is, 'Paybacks are hell,'" Secchia said. "We think Dillon paid for his position on the MBT."

    Funny, that. Could have sworn the CW was that Dillon paid for his position on union benefits, and that they were the ones who took him out. Guess everyone wants to share the glory when it comes to Andy's defeat. And you just have to point and laugh at Mike Bishop, because it was the his party who took out the SBT so they could play political games for DeVos in '06, dragged their feet forever when it come to replacing it with the MBT, and it was Bishop's grandstanding on taxes in '07 in an attempt to use those votes for partisan gain that led to the MBT surcharge. Tangled webs and all, and now to have a high-roller Republican like Secchia indicating that Bishop paid the price for the obstruction and chaos they orchestrated? It's a knee-slapper when you really think about it.

    Doug DeVos (little brother to the Dickster) went one better, and indicated that these politicians are bought and paid for, thank you very much, and they haven't performed like they were supposed to. Oops.

    "People have had it," DeVos said. "We've had it with the lack of response from people we've put in place to create that environment."

    DeVos called on attendees to let their voice be heard by grabbing politicians in "personal spots" by withholding campaign contributions and votes until the issues important to business are addressed.

    The rest of you voters of Michigan need not apply. The wealthy want the MBT eliminated (only little people pay taxes, don'tcha know) and they want those unions busted with right-to-work legislation - and they mean to get it this time.

    Secchia said the agenda set in 2008, which included eliminating the Michigan Business Tax and making Michigan a Right-to-Work state may have been ignored in Lansing, but it started a conversation that will drive change.

    "Right to Work was hardly discussed prior to 2008. It was like a pork chop at a Jewish picnic -- it was ignored," he said.

    And it might just be again. The growing consensus is that right-to-work laws don't really make that much difference in our new global economy, and even if they did, the guys running for governor don't have any interest in pursuing the matter.

    Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero agreed Friday that making Michigan a right-to-work state is not something they'd pursue if elected governor.

    The two candidates said the issue is too divisive and would get in the way of efforts to create more jobs and spur Michigan's economy.

    But what if the legislature takes it up? Snyder still says no. No one has uttered the word "veto" though - maybe that's a question some intrepid reporter can ask at the next town hall.

    Will DeVos and Secchia make good on their threats should Snyder be elected and not perform as they desire? Since his tax plan may even involve raising taxes on business, they better get those recall petitions lined up. Or, they can stop making these threats, one or the other. Wouldn't want to get to the point where they aren't taken seriously anymore, right?

    Mike Bishop Denies Michigan 10,000 Construction Jobs

    Chalk up another failure for the Legislature. Man, that legacy just keeps getting worse, doesn't it? Broken budgets, missed opportunities...

    The Michigan Senate is unlikely to vote this year on a proposed public-private partnership that would clear the way for another bridge to be built between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

    A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop said Thursday that the senator says there doesn't appear to be consensus on the issue.

    If the Senate doesn't vote this year, it would be left to the next Legislature and governor to address the issue starting in 2011.

    Makes you wonder if the Canadians will pull their $550 million from the table at some point. Bet they are tired of waiting around on a bunch of people who are more interested in playing politics than they are with helping to create jobs or making it easier to facilitate trade between our countries. Maybe those folks in New York would be interested...

    UPDATE: Gongwer/MiTech has the complete story - this was an interesting tidbit:

    Critics of Bishop's decision will question the influence of the Moroun family, which owns the bridge through the DIBC. The Morouns recently gave $30,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the Senate GOP's political arm. And they put $35,000 into the Capitol Affairs political action committee from May through July. That PAC later gave $20,000 to Bishop's attorney general campaign fund (a major donation also went to the gubernatorial campaign of Oakland Sheriff Mike Bouchard).

    Some might say we have the best government money can buy. The Detroit Regional Chamber and other supporters are still hoping for a vote before the end of the year, but "reluctant" Republicans are concerned with the "awkwardness of an incoming governor inheriting responsibility for implementing a massive project he did not support."

    You folks that need jobs don't factor into that equation.

    UPDATE 2: Apparently Mike Bishop is going to refuse to do any work at all for the rest of the year. The House passed a bill that would let community colleges offer four-year degrees for high demand fields, but of course the Senate will not take it up.

    The bill received bipartisan support in the Democrat-led House and moves to the Republican-led Senate, where it may have a tougher challenge. Matt Marsden, spokesman for Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said "it's not something that is on the majority leader's radar."

    "We think that's something for the next administration to consider," Bishop said.

    Might as well clock out and call it a career then, "Senator". The quicker you leave the public dole, the better.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Thinking of Voting Republican?

    You'd better think again.

    I can't imagine what would have happened to this state without the federal help we have received over the past couple of years - and that help came thanks to the Democrats. You think the cuts we are making now are bad?

    Man, you ain't seen nothin'.

    I have these moments of darkness where I just give up. I give it all up and think, "You know what? Maybe we should have just let the auto industry fail. Maybe we should have just cut $3 billion out of a general fund budget that was taking in less than $8B. Just chop that baby right in half, and see how people like it when their schools and cities and hospitals go bankrupt. Maybe these Democrats are just enabling us with half-measures that ensure the "more tax cuts!" nonsense will continue. Maybe this state, maybe the entire country, needs to hit bottom, a REAL bottom mind you, one that is ever-so-much worse than it is now, a good old-fashioned Depression with a capital "D", with unemployment rates 10-15-20% higher and masses of people living in tents in the fields. Maybe it's the wake up call we really need, and maybe after all that pain and destruction, we will get some Democrats that will truly fight for people - because the people will demand they do so. And I'm not talking about slick ad campaigns of "change" or "reinvent" or the political scene that has all the charm and depth of professional wrestling like we have now, I'm talking actual riots in the streets that would scare the living shit out of everyone if they actually happened. I don't have kids, I don't have much family, the people I wanted to grow old with are already dead, so tear it up, America. I'll just go back to being a two-fisted drunk and watch y'all flip right the f__k out."

    But then I shake those thoughts off, and I get back up again. Whether I can continue to do that or not, I don't really know. Probably. I've come too far from my days of nihilism to backslide now - but it's always a possibility.

    This ad gives me hope. I see an ad like this, the strategy that I have always dreamed about and pleaded for - one that places emphasis on the importance of all those quality of life issues that are what made this state and this country great in the first place. Yes, it took a union to bring it up, but it's a start. I sure hope this meme catches on with the Democrats. I see shades of it sometimes. It's a winner. People want this stuff. People are willing to pay for this stuff - but you have to sell it first. The only question now is, will they?

    Perhaps not in time for this election, but maybe in time for the next. Because if you vote for Republicans, all progress stops. You will see more cuts to your schools, cities, public safety and health care, you will see your tuition and insurance premiums continue to rise, you will see your infrastructure further crumble to the ground, you will see your environment polluted, you will see your wages and benefits fall while the rich get richer, you can forget about any advances in equal rights or justice, you will see it all start to fall apart when you hire the people that put us in this position in the first place. When you elect people who hate the government to run the government, don't be surprised when it fails. Again. And maybe that's what it will take.

    Yes, the Democrats suck. We know this. But they still are a damn sight better than the failed fiscal and social policies that the "conservatives" would bring to the table. Deep down, we know that, too.

    And if we don't by now, well, let's all pray we don't have to find out the hard way.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Dow to Hire 100 for Powerhouse Solar Shingle Manufacturing


    Out of all the renewable energy home-based products hitting the market, I believe that this one has the most potential when it comes to a cost-effective system that offers both ease of installment and maintenance, without the fuss of aesthetics and placement that other systems such as wind turbines can produce. The picture above comes from the Dow Kokam car battery groundbreaking/announcement from June, but I was absolutely thrilled to see these on display there as well. After all, wouldn't it be great to plug your new electric car into your renewable energy home? Wouldn't it be great to produce all the energy you need yourself? Imagine every home and business as its own little power station. We are closer than you think.

    Introduced last October, the Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingle went into testing this year with the goal of mass commercial release in 2011 - and with today's hiring announcement, it appears they are right on schedule.

    “This represents a significant milestone towards bringing our Dow POWERHOUSE™ solar shingles to the market in 2011, and confirms that we are on track to deliver this pioneering new residential solar technology next year,” said Palmieri. “It is also the first phase towards bringing more than 1,200 jobs to the region by 2014 to support the production of our solar product here in Midland.”

    The initial wave of solar-related jobs at Dow’s Michigan operations will be in manufacturing, with hiring of qualified candidates expected to begin as early as the end of September. The Company worked closely with union officials to develop the criteria for these positions, and ensure the right skills were in place to support the anticipated 2011 market demands.

    Union jobs, you say? Not an issue. Dow has chosen Michigan to launch the first full-scale production of this product - and skill is what counts.

    “We’re excited to add these manufacturing jobs to our Michigan Operations facility to begin contributing to the local economic base immediately,” said Earl Shipp, Dow vice president for Michigan Operations. “As Dow adds to its portfolio of building-related solar-energy-generating products, we’ll continue to tap into the base of highly skilled workers we have right here in the Great Lakes Bay Region.”

    Time Magazine named the shingles one of the "50 Best Inventions of 2009" with good reason. They can be installed with conventional roofing tools, the power fed to a simple box in your basement that is no bigger than a regular fuse box, and that power can also be fed back to the grid. Earlier this year, Dow partnered with Cobblestone Homes to build Michigan's first net-zero house, using a combination of these shingles with geothermal heating and other energy efficient solutions such as sealants and insulation to produce the savings. While they warn that not every house can be made "net-zero", this proves there are products already on the market that can substantially lower energy costs and cut the demand for fossil fuels.

    It can be done. It will be done. Provided we don't blow it, we will see a day when all new construction will include renewable energy options such as this. And, as costs continue to fall as the technology becomes even more efficient and powerful, it will be easier to retro-fit existing homes as well. Even better yet, just recently there was a breakthrough in energy storage that pertains to these home-based systems - they have discovered a new catalyst that boosts the production of oxygen that can be stored in a fuel cell for later use. Wonkish science stuff is as follows:

    "Our goal is to make each home its own power station," said study leader Daniel Nocera, Ph.D. "We're working toward development of 'personalized' energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively. There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome — existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system."

    Such a system would consist of rooftop solar energy panels to produce electricity for heating, cooking, lighting, and to charge the batteries on the homeowners' electric cars. Surplus electricity would go to an "electrolyzer," a device that breaks down ordinary water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen. Both would be stored in tanks. In the dark of night, when the solar panels cease production, the system would shift gears, feeding the stored hydrogen and oxygen into a fuel cell that produces electricity (and clean drinking water as a byproduct). Such a system would produce clean electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week — even when the sun isn't shining.

    Integrate something like that with the products that Dow and others are offering, and we are well on the way to living in a society that can power itself with natural elements. This new catalyst has been licensed to Sun Catalytix, which "envisions developing safe, super-efficient versions of the electrolyzer, suitable for homes and small businesses, within two years." Give it a decade, maybe even less, for those improvements in fuel and solar cells to come about - and we are there.

    Now all we have to do is figure out a way to give people like DTE and Consumers a cut so they don't try to throw up roadblocks when they are threatened with the loss of market share. But I get ahead of myself with statements like that. For today, Dow is creating green jobs, green union jobs to boot, with visions of thousands more to come in the future when this product takes off - and they are doing it right here in Michigan. Yea for us.

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Can Rick Snyder Control the Hyper-Partisan Michigan GOP?

    Compare and contrast these two statements.

    First up is Rick Snyder, running a campaign designed to attract moderates and independents, one that is promising to move beyond partisanship and include everyone in the discussion about the future of Michigan.

    Snyder said he will work to unite Republicans and Democrats, a goal that has led some to question whether Snyder isn't more of an independent.

    "It's not about partisanship," he said. "Why in the world would I go out of my way to make negative statements about anyone in the Democratic party when I want to work with them? That's just dumb. That just shows how messed up our system is."

    And here, representing that "system", is Ron Weiser, stating that the Republicans intend on having it all.

    Michigan Republican Party chairman Ron Weiser said Republicans need to seize the whole ticket if they're to have the power they need to turn the state around.

    "They are looking not only for a Republican governor but a Republican Legislature to pass a transformational agenda," he said.

    My guess is that if that happens, the concept of "bipartisanship" goes right out the window as the GOP runs the table on passing all the extremist legislation they have ever wanted. Snyder may preach cooperation, but as we have seen in both Lansing and DC, the Republican Party believes in no such thing.

    Voters may think they are electing a moderate - but he's got some very nasty baggage coming along with him. Democrats might be wise to take the focus off the candidate, and put it on Republican policy instead.

    Food for thought.

    UPDATE: Rick ducks debates!

    After earlier reports the two men running for governor agreed on three debates, the Rick Snyder campaign issued a statement saying no deal is done and no more negotiations are scheduled.

    Looks like we have an issue with conflict management. Going to just walk away when the legislature pisses you off, Rick?

    The Mouth Runneth Over

    And here is why the Rev. Jesse Jackson failed to become a force of change in this country, relegated to the sidelines for the most part over the years while the world moved on: He has this tendency to say the very wrong thing at the very wrong time, and he is doing it again, right now, in Detroit.

    It's a shame. The guy could be promoting the positives and bringing people together, and instead he is speaking out of turn and fanning the fires of an old division, a sleeping notion that we can't afford to awaken right now.

    The Rev. Jesse Jackson sparked the controversy this week when he told Detroit's City Council that the West Michigan battery plant should have been built in the Motor City.

    "The governor, a Democrat, brags about Michigan getting a battery plant, built north of Grand Rapids, as opposed to Detroit, the engine that drives the state," Jackson said, according to news reports. "We need industrialization, not farming. Detroit needs the battery plant."

    Was he talking about the Muskegon area plant, or the Holland area plant? Holland is actually south of Grand Rapids, and it has taken a pretty big hit over the years with the loss of manufacturing jobs. Muskegon, too. Both areas need the development. And someone needs to clue Jackson in that there are 16 battery plants coming to Michigan, one of which is very near the Detroit area, up and running already in Brownstown Township. The Volt is being built in Hamtramck, Ford is creating small car jobs at Wayne Assembly, GM stayed at the RenCen when it could have left, other companies are moving back to the downtown area - and don't leave out the many other economic projects sprouting in and around the city. In fact, the New York Times has featured numerous stories this year about the revitalization of the Detroit, here, here, and here if you want to get specific about it, highlighting the positive developments in the area. Ignoring all of that over one battery plant is not only disingenuous, it gives the subtle impression that Detroit is trapped in a cycle victimhood - when nothing could be further from the truth. It's a proud city with some really great people, and they are doing the best they can, as fast as they can, at bringing the city back. They should be applauded more often.

    Could Detroit use more jobs and development? Of course they could. But to pit different areas of the state against each other like this is total nonsense - unwanted, unneeded, and unnecessary. Maybe Jackson doesn't understand the dynamics here, the division that was created long-ago by west-side Republicans to fuel resentment towards Detroit. It has died down over the years, and it's not something we want to revive in difficult economic times, especially when we are just getting back on our feet. Development anywhere in the state benefits us all, and should be celebrated. Playing up this divide simply reinforces the old stereotypes about Michigan to the rest of the country, and that is a very, very bad thing when we are trying to attract business to settle here. No one wants to walk into a family feud. So, knock it off.

    And to dis urban farming is just stupid. "Cute, but foolish" applies to Jackson's criticism of the concept. Urban farming engages the community to care for the land and provides not only economic opportunities, but healthy food as well. Would it be better to just let those lots grow wild, attracting trash, animals and disease, becoming an eyesore that drags down property values and discourages development? Or perhaps another fast food restaurant instead? Urban farming might be the best use that land could hope to get at this particular point in time. Discouraging it is very unproductive.

    With all respect to Rev. Jackson, we don't need this sort of rhetoric right now. He is either uninformed about current events and the dynamics of this state - or he is fanning fires on purpose to create controversy and get media attention. If it's the former, he needs to catch up on the times. If it's the latter, well, that would be very disappointing. These off-base criticisms will only hurt Detroit, and in turn, hurt the rest of us as well.

    Take a look around at the good that is happening, Rev. Jackson, and help us promote the city of Detroit, as well as the rest of our state. The negative, we don't need. We've had enough of that. It's time to start looking up and striving for more growth in the future, not reliving the battles that should be well in our past.

    Thursday, September 09, 2010

    Looks Like We Have a Budget Deal

    I've been holding back on writing about this until it was more apparent that the deal was on solid ground, but with the Governor releasing a statement of agreement late yesterday, and the Senate moving to transfer funding to cover the general fund shortfall - it sure looks like this is going to happen. School districts and state employees are not going to be happy, and that might trip things up - but chances are they will find the votes to pass the entire package. The legiscritters want out of there so they can go campaign or find other jobs, ASAP.

    Since neither party will move to raise and/or restructure revenue, we are going to get more cuts, reforms, and funding transfers. It really is that simple. Don't want to raise the money? Then we have to do what we can to get by. At this point, K-12, revenue sharing, State Police and Agriculture are maintained, we are getting the federal money for the roads - and all of that is the best we can hope for. Gongwer spelled out some details Monday night:

    Under the proposal (SB 1226 ), state employees eligible to retire who agree to retire within a specified timeframe would get a multiplier on their retirement income of 1.6 percent instead of the usual 1.5 percent. There also would be an "80 and out" provision enabling employees with a combined age and years of service equal to 80, with at least 30 years of service, to retire with a multiplier of 1.55 percent of income. Those not retiring would have to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the retirement system.

    The deal would force department to pay for the 3 percent raise received by state employees without providing additional money to fund it, but it would exempt several areas from the de facto 3 percent reduction, notably revenue sharing. And the departments of Agriculture and State Police would be funded at the Senate-passed levels and avoid the 3 percent cut.

    And it appears that under the deal the state would come up with the $84 million in required funds to match $475 million in federal transportation funding. Without the match, the state would have lost that money for road and bridge projects across Michigan. Getting the matching money will be through administrative efficiencies in the Department of Transportation, along with restructuring some debt.

    Other provisions include refinancing state debt, a tax amnesty program, and shortening the time that the state waits to seize unclaimed property. No liquor deals, no fireworks. Whatever. Get it done.

    Already some editorialists have been weighing in on the deal, pointing out this doesn't solve our long term structural problem, that it is only balanced "on paper" and probably will fall short of projected expectations, etc. so forth and so on. No kidding. But what did they expect? This is an election year after all. With the Party of No betting that obstructionism is the winning hand, nothing good could have happened this year. Nothing.

    Always remember this though: Out of the "Big Three" involved in these negotiations, only the Governor put forth any sort of plan that addressed the need transition our revenue collections to reflect the changing Michigan economy and help solve these structural deficits. She's the only one. Bishop and the Republicans said "no" to any sort of compromise and insisted on cuts alone, and Dillon... well, we are still waiting on Andy's plan. Probably safe to say that he never really had one.

    That is the bottom line on the whole affair. The blame games will continue on, to be sure, but the facts are the facts - whether or not the media wants to acknowledge them.

    And wish us all the best for the future. If Snyder wins, he has promised $1.5 billion in business tax cuts, and hasn't really addressed how he would pay for that. If Bernero wins, we still will have the problem of the Republicans refusing to be a part of the solution. And who knows what we can expect out of a bunch of rookie legislators.

    Better hope that national recovery continues, or we will be facing some very nasty decisions all over again by next year.

    Divided We Fall

    Is political expediency worth undermining your own leadership?

    As the president chided House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio on Wednesday for wanting to continue tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans, Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township -- a Democrat in a vulnerable seat -- added his voice to a growing number of people in his party who agree with Boehner.

    Obama wants to follow through on a promise to allow tax cuts passed in 2001 and in 2003 to expire for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making $250,000 or more, saying it will help cut the deficit. But increasingly, Democrats from more conservative districts are questioning Obama's move as unemployment remains high.

    Extending the cuts, Peters said, "is the right thing to do, as anything less jeopardizes economic recovery."

    No, most economists will tell you it's not the right thing to do. Extending the tax cuts for the wealthy will add to the deficit and are the least effective form of economic stimulus when it comes to the bang for your taxpayer buck. A better idea would be to invest in rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure, which would create jobs in the immediate future and pump that money directly to workers, businesses and local economies. The Recovery Act saved this country from an even deeper recession, and the growing consensus seems to be that it wasn't big enough... and yet...

    Peters also opposes Obama's plan to spend an additional $50 billion on roads, bridges and high-speed rail. He said there's already funding for infrastructure projects that hasn't been spent.

    Why not? Never mind, we probably don't want to know the answer to that. If Congress couldn't pump that money out fast enough to create more jobs before the midterms when unemployment is the huge campaign issue, then they will suffer the consequences. But, chances are that is a misnomer, that spending is probably already earmarked for projects that are just getting underway or will in the near future, as the tail-end of the original recovery funding is distributed. Or he is talking about the regular budget for infrastructure. Who knows.

    That is beside the point though. We can argue the economics of this all day; it's the really bad politics of the situation that is the most disturbing here.

    We finally have the President taking a solid stand on an issue. He's out there, standing up to the Republicans, standing up for the middle class, doing the things that progressives has been imploring him to do for quite some time now - and his own party is going to start "questioning" his moves?

    What does that tell the average voter? It tells them that the President can't be trusted, that his own party is losing faith in him. It opens the door for the "more tax cuts" meme to take hold - which will (bad pun alert) trickle down to the state and local levels as well. It puts those people who want to support both Peters and Obama in the untenable position of holding two diametrically opposed ideas at the same time - and you are doing all of this two months before an election?

    So, on what planet is this considered a good strategy? How well has undermining our own leadership to acquiesce to Republican wedge issues worked out for us in the past? Why is Peters doing this? You tell me, constituents of the 9th. How do you wrap your head around this one? At a time when we are supposed to pull together and cheer on the home team, suddenly the home team seems intent on making it awfully hard to do just that. Die-hard Democratic supporters can pull off the mental hijinks it takes, after all, we are used to it by now. But to that "average" Democratic voter, especially the one that opposes extending the tax cuts for the wealthy? It's a stretch - one that they might not bother to make on election day. They won't vote Republican, they just won't show up at all.

    It's very hard to see what Peters gains from this stance. Perhaps he can be persuaded to back off and support the President and the majority of his party - because to continue to fracture "the base" like this carries some very heavy fiscal and political long-term consequences that will undermine everything we want to achieve.

    Monday, September 06, 2010

    Mackinac Bridge Walk 2010

    Money. Mouth. Stop talking about it, stop thinking about it - just go do it.

    So I did.

    And let me tell you what - it makes for one long day to drive up in the dark (about 3 1/2 hours from GR), walk to the bus that takes you over, walk around after the bus and shoot the crowd, walk the bridge and shoot the crowd and the bridge, walk the city and shoot whatever - and then drive home in some of the most insane traffic I've ever seen.

    But it was a blast. I'm glad I did it. Little too cloudy for any spectacular shots, but the weather was actually very comfortable for walking, no rain when I was there.

    An estimated 42,000 people made the trek this year. I feel incredibly grateful that I could be one of them.

    Sunday, September 05, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: September 5, 2010

    up3036 fayette

    Different picture for you! This is from Fayette Historic State Park in the UP. Go see. Very cool place.

    News that I bookmarked and never wrote about...

  • The 53rd Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk kicks off at 7AM on Labor Day. This year's walk is in honor of longtime Mackinac Bridge Authority Executive Secretary Larry Rubin, who passed away this year at the age of 97. The five-mile, roughly two-hour walk is free, and if you've never done it before, you should give it a try before someone utters the word "privatization" and starts charging to participate. It's quite an experience.

  • Great summer weather and the Pure Michigan advertising campaign are being credited for a 5% spike in tourism this year, according to George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan. Mackinac Bridge crossings are up 2.7%, with hotels "up north" reporting anywhere from a 5-30% increase in bookings. The same is happening along Lake Michigan; hotels are up, and state campgrounds are reporting a 4% increase in reservations. Cities are reporting a boost as well, with both Detroit and Grand Rapids noticing an uptick in traffic at arts and sporting events. The Pure Michigan website traffic is up to 46,000 hits a day from 39,000 this time last year. Tourism brings roughly $15 billion to our state annually, and this year people in the business couldn't be happier. Unfortunately, the award-winning Pure Michigan campaign won't be running this fall, thanks to our "Just Say No to Michigan" Senate Republicans, who refuse to fund the effort - but notice how the entire legislature is blamed in all news accounts. The campaign for the summer of 2011 is in jeopardy as well, something that Zimmerman says "would be a tragedy of epic proportions".


  • More good economic news from Comerica Bank's Dana Johnson; the Michigan Economic Activity Index climbed three points in July, and the index is up 16 points from a year ago, the largest increase since 2004. Overall, the index is up 13% from last year. Nine seasonally adjusted coincident indicators of real economic activity are measured, such as manufacturing, construction, consumer spending, job growth, etc. Johnson warns that a national slowdown could constrain growth for the rest of the year. The University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business' "innovation index" is up as well, with trademark applications, incorporations and small business loans pushing the indicator to its highest point since the credit crunch began.

  • Gongwer's John Lindstrom talks lyrically of campaigns in this week's essay, both the before and after the election variety. It is the "reality of politics", the effort to win you over, followed by the effort to win the winning candidate over. I tend to be more cynical about the whole affair, realizing that people will sell you out for a buck and discard you when you no longer serve their purposes, but hey, that's life. Embrace the good that's out there, and keep on fighting. Somehow Lindstrom manages to make it all palatable.

  • Electric car news: The U of M has been chosen to "lead a research consortium between the U.S. and China to develop new electric vehicle technologies". President Obama established the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center in the summer of 2009, and, with matching funds from the government and universities and businesses such as "Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, A123Systems" and others, the consortium will accelerate the development of clean vehicle and clean coal technologies. In other news, Detroit received the first ChargePoint America charging station at NextEnergy this week, plans are in the works for 280 stations across Michigan when it's all said and done, kick starting the infrastructure to support the electric vehicle.

  • Hey Feds! We really want to get these renewable energy companies up and running in the Ford Wixom plant! Jobs, jobs, jobs, remember? Get off the stick, and get moving on those applications! Seriously, what in the hell is wrong with you people? Do you want a "green economy" or not?

  • Free potassium iodide pills are available to Michigan residents who live, work or visit within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant, thanks to the Michigan Dept. of Community Health. No alarm necessary, just a precautionary measure, but this child of the "China Syndrome" era still freaks out a little bit when I read stuff like that.

  • From the Freep: Michigan is actually very strict about giving tax credits to movie productions; 24% of applicants have been denied this year because they don't hit the goal of hiring Michigan residents or other criteria to qualify. "It's not a blank check. It's not carte blanche." says Ken Droz of the Michigan Film Office. Someone want to send that bit of info to Cassis? Thanks.

  • Big congrats! go out to Tigers catcher Max St. Pierre, who toiled 14 years in the minors and through various personal problems to finally make the major league club this year. Max started the game-winning rally for the Tigers last night with his first hit, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd and a dousing of beer from his teammates after the game. Just goes to show that sometimes dreams do come true...

  • Looking for a place to stop on the way home from your weekend vacation? Ever wonder how those rest areas came about? Michigan is thought to be the home of the nation's first rest area, established in 1929 on Route 16 near Saranac in Ionia County. Check out for the history on the concept, as well as a state-by-state guide of available stops. Michigan has 81 rest stops and 14 welcome centers, you can find them all on MDOT's handy map.

    Safe travels to you all...
  • Saturday, September 04, 2010

    Energetx Composites, and Fighting the Republicans to Create Jobs in Michigan

    Creating jobs in the expanding field of renewable energy or any other sector has become quite the arduous and confusing task when you have right-wing operatives nipping at your ankles at every turn - just ask one Holland area company that keeps finding itself whipsawed between praise and condemnation for taking the plunge and using the available tools at its disposal to get new manufacturing established in this state. Its only consolation may be that it's not alone in its struggle, for many businesses are probably under the same gun - you just don't hear about them in the media, and for that they should be grateful. The story of Energetx is now reaching to the depths of right-wing absurdity after having to jump through all kinds of media and political hoopla in the past few years, and when you add it all up, sometimes its a wonder we have created any jobs at all. Certain people keep insisting on throwing up the roadblocks, as you will see.

    Energetx Composites first appeared on the radar in the summer of 2009, the Holland area spin-off of S2/Tiara Yachts receiving attention as one of the leaders in expanding its existing product line into making parts for our new green energy economy. With plans to produce hubs and blades for wind turbines, as well as other composites for the transportation sector, the company announced they would be investing $37 million in new buildings and equipment, and had received MEGA credits up to $27 million redeemable after (very important designation there, one that is often left out of these stories) they had created an estimated 1068 jobs over the next five years. Energext also received a $3.5 million clean-energy grant from the Recovery Act, a figure that is pretty small on the scale of the size of the production being discussed, and in comparison to other grants awarded across the nation. Keep that in mind, for "stimulus" will come up later in the story.

    All in all, pretty standard fare for a small to medium-sized business looking to launch a new job-creating endeavor. 46 other states that offer such incentives would be happy to take the business from us if they could - and if the Republicans, with the help of the media, continue with the rhetoric about removing the incentives, insist on creating new layers of bureaucracy, and keep trotting out the right-wing economists to put their negative spin on the issue, it gets to the point where you couldn't blame these companies if they did look for a state that wasn't ruled by the uncertainty of politicians who want to use economic development as a political football.

    In February, Pete Hoekstra used Energetx as a backdrop to attack the incentives, rudely attaching a gubernatorial campaign stop to a planned celebration of these new jobs, a move that forced company CEO David Slikkers into having to defend the credits to the press. As bad as that was, they should be grateful that they didn't have to produce the paperwork for the cameras - because that just might be coming next.

    Nancy Cassis has decided to finish her political career by introducing endless legislation that will burden companies and MEDC with new layers of government "transparency", the latest being accuracy in "press releases" of job predictions - a figure that comes from the businesses themselves, based on their estimates of future demand. Will companies want to downplay projections based on rigid expectations from the state, a move that could potentially drive away their investors? Probably not. It would be a definite negative in Michigan's column as far as locating here goes.

    And speaking of that future location, let's not forget Republican candidate Rick Snyder, and his repeated attacks on MEDC and his call to limit the use of credits, a campaign tactic that has alarmed economic development officials across the state as they publicly warn that such talk could drive business to other states that aren't endlessly debating the value of incentives. "It's dangerous when we talk about replacing incentives. People read this stuff." said Grand rapids economic development official Birgit Klohs. Proof positive of this phenomena came from the Free Press concerning movie industry credits, where industry officials have said that Michigan has already lost productions, and studios are wary of investing here due to talk of elimination.

    Maybe Cassis can introduce legislation that will force Republicans to declare just how many jobs we have lost due to their incessant negative chatter and repeated political stunts of the past few years. If she wants to talk about "eroding the public's trust" and risking "millions in taxpayer dollars", well, all of the above could certainly fall in that category. And, when you add the fact that the Republicans removed the SBT without a replacement and then complained about "uncertainty" in business taxes, a move that cost Michigan jobs and investment as it took a year to settle the issue, and on the heels of that came the Republican creation of the (supposedly) "job killing" MBT, complete with its dreaded surcharge that was tacked on because of Republican political grandstanding over taxes, you really have to question whether or not these people have any desire to create jobs in the first place.

    Whew. Add it up. It's been a nightmare - and the nightmare seems to just keep growing. Which leads us back to Energetx, who found themselves under the media glare once again this week. They have optioned 26 acres to build a $6.5 million dollar facility that will produce industrial-size wind turbine blades, a project that is expected to create 750 jobs. They also are applying for a Renewable Energy Renaissance Zone property credit that will last for twelve years, and, with contracts in place, they want to break ground next spring so they can get going on production. Once again, local economic development officials are praising the move as an example of how we can diversify our economy. So, what's the problem this time?

    Cue the newest right-wing created controversy: Creating demand for workers drives up wages. You see, the recession has been great for suppressing wages due to high unemployment, and if we go and create these new jobs, we darn sure better get those employees on the cheap. Or so claims one economist, whose ties run to the deepest of the darkest hearts in America...

    At least 750 jobs will come to the area, the company claims, but whether those jobs will alleviate the area's more than 10% unemployment rate is the subject of debate.

    "You have to ask the people who are going to take those jobs, are they people who already have work, or are they people currently unemployed and are now going to be able to work," said economist Russ Roberts from George Mason University in Washington, DC. "If it's the latter, the stimulus is doing what it's suppose to be doing. If it is the former, and the money is used to hire people who already have work, than the money will end up increasing the demand for those workers, forcing their wages to go up. Which is great for those people, but why do I as a taxpayer have to pay for that?"

    Wow. What a mind job. It's the closest you will come to an argument that wants to profess that high unemployment is basically a good thing. So, who is Russ Roberts? Besides being a professor at George Mason, a public university mind you, he is a J. Fish and Lillian F. Smith Distinguished Scholar at the Mercatus Center that is located there. What is the Mercatus Center? None other than a creation of the Koch brothers, the same folks who brought you the Right Wing &trade as it stands today. Described as the "primary underwriters of hard-line libertarian politics in America", the brothers are funding the "War Against Obama"; the money behind the "Americans for Prosperity" and other astroturf Tea Party efforts, the creation and funding of the Cato Institute as well as numerous extreme right foundations, you name it, they are in it, their billions of dollars are pushing their family's long held beliefs "in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation" as the driving force behind Republican policy today - and WOOD TV just calls this guy an "economist", never bothering to explain where this is coming from.

    In the mid-eighties, the Kochs provided millions of dollars to George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, to set up another think tank. Now known as the Mercatus Center, it promotes itself as “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas—bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems.” Financial records show that the Koch family foundations have contributed more than thirty million dollars to George Mason, much of which has gone to the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit organization. “It’s ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington,” Rob Stein, the Democratic strategist, said. It is an unusual arrangement. “George Mason is a public university, and receives public funds,” Stein noted. “Virginia is hosting an institution that the Kochs practically control.”

    That is how deep the rabbit-hole goes, kids. Not only are we fighting the inept Michigan Republicans and their endless arguing and obstruction about taxes and incentives, we are facing the long arm of the (sometimes) publicly-funded Koch brothers, who turn up in simple local media stories to "debate" new development that is going on at innocent companies such as Energetx.

    Of course, if the Republicans take back power, all bets are off and all this probably becomes "OK" - just as long as they can get a press release out of the deal. Or, given all that has come before, they completely botch the whole thing, and we have to sell the state for parts.

    Think about it, and vote accordingly. How can you trust these people with your money?