Monday, January 31, 2011

Snyder's "Citizens Guide to Michigan's Financial Health" Made Simple

Governor Snyder released a "sobering" 20-page booklet that explains Michigan's fiscal woes today; lucky for you I have experience with these things and can explain it in simple terms that anyone can understand.

1) He wants to cut taxes.
2) You're going to pay for it.

See? Wasn't that easy?

The rest is just details.

The Solar Death Ray! Fun for Republicans of All Ages!

Politico has a story today about the U.S. House Republicans and the major-league temper tantrum they are throwing when it comes to energy subsidies. Nothing like wasting my time reading old news that has been rehashed for a new article about lobbyists preparing for battle on this front...

House Republicans have their own targets. The conservative Republican Study Committee recently outlined $2.5 trillion in spending, tax breaks and subsidies it wants to see cut over the next decade, including billions of dollars in Energy Department research, vehicle, fuels, weatherization and energy efficiency programs.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton is planning his own examination of energy subsidies, with a particular eye on wind and solar power.

“Since I am sure that the industry will never give up its free money voluntarily, now is the time for us to slash it on our terms,” the Michigan Republican wrote in December in The Daily Caller.

But that was before we discovered the solar-powered death ray. Yes, that's right, Republicans will not be able to resist this practical application of solar power in the name of the military–industrial complex that they love so much...

Going to cut solar subsidies now, Fred? Think of the jobs being created here, from the mirror manufacturers (do we make those here anymore?) to the firefighters to the emergency room workers for anyone who gets remotely close to the focal point of this powerful piece of equipment. It would number in the tens, at least.

Sheesh. Why do the Republicans hate America?

Still the One

It's the robots, I tells ya. When it comes to manufacturing, we tend to get wrapped up in the outsourcing and wages argument, and for the most part we overlook the fact that our mechanical friends took over while we were busy pointing fingers. The bottom line: The U.S. is still No. 1 - we just need fewer breathing bodies to do the work.

"There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products," President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address last week.

Yet America remains by far the No. 1 manufacturing country. It out-produces No. 2 China by more than 40 percent. U.S. manufacturers cranked out nearly $1.7 trillion in goods in 2009, according to the United Nations.

The story of American factories essentially boils down to this: They've managed to make more goods with fewer workers.

The United States has lost nearly 8 million factory jobs since manufacturing employment peaked at 19.6 million in mid-1979. U.S. manufacturers have ranked near the top of world rankings in productivity gains over the past three decades.

That higher productivity has meant a leaner manufacturing force that's capitalized on efficiency.

The US added 136,000 manufacturing jobs last year - the first uptick since 1997. Here's another chart that shows just what has happened in the past decade, and take a look at the drop that occurred when the clock struck midnight on the year 2000:


China is catching up on output though, jumping from 6 percent of the global total in 1998 to 15 percent in 2008. The U.S. accounted for 18 percent in '08. And while we have ceded the trinkets to other countries, the high-tech stuff demands quality that so far the overseas manufacturers haven't been able to provide.

Centerline (Machining & Grinding in Hobart, WI, which makes parts for the paper industry) CEO Dietzen says she isn't fazed by Chinese manufacturing. Some of her customers have placed orders with Chinese companies, she says, only to return, frustrated, to her company.

Chinese factories want mainly big orders. And they demand lots of time to fill them.

Dietzen says her clients are "finding when they get their parts back from China, they're not always what they want. So we end up doing the work anyway."

Think about your $30 DVD player that broke after three months, and then ask yourself if you want your car or medical implant held to the same manufacturing standards. Makes you wonder about the solar panels and the big turbines as well, but so far reports have quality as equal to or better than Western manufacturers. Add in the government subsidies and currency manipulation, and I don't see how we can capture the mass green manufacturing market - unless it's the highly-specialized niche products that we can make with a quick turnaround time.

Of course if (and when) oil goes through the roof and adds to shipping costs, all bets are off. U.S. manufacturing will see even higher growth when the margins are right - but it will still be the robots doing all the work.

( has some great pictures of the new generation of robots and all they can do - and take heed, it's not just manufacturing jobs on the line these days. We may just innovate ourselves to the point where we all will exist to service the machines some day.)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

To Capture The Sun

I used to joke about having a small wind turbine installed on my laptop for those times when the power went out. Turns out that I wasn't very far off the mark, and the genius minds have already developed all sorts personal renewable energy devices for just such an occasion - or just to carry around in general. Not turbines per say (although I found small cell phone charger that is solar/tiny turbine powered), but plenty of solar gadgets can be found at a site called EarthTech Products. Laptops, I-Pods, cell phones, outdoor lighting, camping/survival equipment, you name it, they probably have a solar charger it. A lot of these items are still pretty pricey, but we are obviously well on the way to being able to capture your own energy, helping to eliminate the need to run to the nearest coffee shop or plugging in surreptitiously to a McDonald's outlet to recharge (fess up, you know you have done that).

Some students at the University of Michigan have gone one better, creating a personal solar panel charger the size of a paperback to export to developing countries that have persistent electricity outages. Not only will it charge a cell phone, it is equipped with small LED lights for reading purposes - and they hope to get this product in the $15-$20 range so it is affordable. It's a great idea - and it landed them $500,000 in venture capital to get it off the ground.

As a child in Mali, Abdrahamane Traoré often did his homework by the sooty, dim light of a kerosene lamp.

As an adult in Michigan, he sometimes has a tough time reaching his family back home. Traoré's mother must walk to a neighboring village to keep a cell phone charged.

Electricity isn't always a plug away in much of the developing world. That's why Traoré and University of Michigan engineering student Md. Shanhoor Amin teamed up to develop the Emerald, a personal solar panel the size of a paperback.

The young engineers are the founders of June Energy, an award-winning start-up spending its second semester in the TechArb student business incubator. The company recently received more than $500,000 in venture capital, and it's about to ship its first 40 domestic orders. Amin and Traoré, along with chief technical officer Allan Taylor, are planning a trip to Kenya and Mali later this semester to test their prototype with the people it was primarily designed for.

The device fully recharges after three hours in the sun, and it provides up to 8 hours of reading light. Check out the video below:

They hope to market it to organizations like Engineers Without Borders, perhaps find uses with medical or military teams, or basically any other situation where it could be handy.

I'm looking at my cell phone that's plugged in right now, sucking down that coal juice from Consumers Energy... ah well, one of these days, maybe I'll remedy that situation - and slap some solar film on the laptop as well. Now to power the TV and the coffee maker...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Soapy Williams Calls From the Great Beyond to Support the DRIC

By now you have probably heard that we have five... count 'em five... living Michigan governors throwing their support behind building the new bridge from Detroit to Windsor.

Governor Rick Snyder announced his support for plans to build a second bridge over the Detroit River in his State of the State address last week. Snyder said he had secured an agreement with the federal government to allow Michigan to count $550 million Canada has offered to invest in the project toward Michigan’s federal match for road funds. This development will ease the burden on the budget and ensure the state will have funds for statewide road repairs and infrastructure improvements in future years.

Yes, he managed to finagle the feds and we get to apply this toward our funding match for state road repair. Not sure how many "future years" it will cover, and we will just ignore the fact that it's another "one-time" funding fix that we all thought was going to stop (ha ha ha) now - but what the heck. Get it while the getting is good. Not like the Canadians are going to keep throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at us on a regular basis.

Snyder made some calls to highlight all the bipartisan former governor support behind the effort. In order of appearance on the press release, we start with Governor Milliken...

“This new bridge means not only immediate jobs and long-term economic growth for southeast Michigan, but for the entire state,” Governor William G. Milliken said. “Michigan’s long-time partnership with Canada is one of our state’s most important economic assets, and this crossing builds and strengthens it.”

... and move on to a rather exuberant Jim Blanchard...

“This project secures our economic future and, in the short-term, will employ thousands of people who need work and can stimulate our economy,” Governor James J. Blanchard said. “It’s manufacturing, it’s agriculture, it’s food processing, it’s high-tech, it’s tourism, it’s rebuilding the neighborhoods and the community of southwest Detroit, it’s Michigan’s future, and it’s now!”

... followed by Big John Engler, who certainly would be twisting some Republican arms to get this done...

“We need a new international trade crossing,” Governor John Engler said. “It will open trade and open markets, which is exactly what Michigan needs right now. We have to access these global markets.”

... and finally Governor Granholm, who would probably be happy to attend any ribbon-cutting, provided Mike Bishop was also attending and positioned somewhere near the edge of the bridge for convenient pushing purposes.

"Michigan job providers say they need the crossing, Michigan workers want the jobs it will create, and building the bridge will solidify good relations with our neighbors in Canada," said Governor Jennifer M. Granholm. "Universal support for the bridge should make final approval of this project a no-brainer for state lawmakers."

But the most surprising voice of support came out of the Mackinac Island area, an untraceable call received at the Romney building yesterday...

"Why am I being summoned to this matter? A new bridge to Canada? Of course you should build a new bridge to Canada. Why wouldn't you build a new bridge to Canada, especially if someone else is paying for it? Michigan had to struggle to raise funds for my bridge. First the federal governemnt turned us down, and then we had to sell bonds and the market went bad... it was a huge problem. And you say Canada is willing to put up the money? Really? What is wrong with you people?

What? Republicans in the Legislature are blocking it for political purposes? Oh. I understand completely. Well, good luck with that."

Governor Snyder threw in some numbers on the press release to provide some punch: In 2009, Michigan did roughly $44 billion dollars in trade with Canada. More than 237,000 Michigan jobs are directly connected to trade with Canada. One out of every eight jobs in Detroit is in the export industry and in Grand Rapids it is one out of every seven. Half of all daily trade between the United States and Canada travels through the Michigan-Ontario border and nearly 60 percent of all Michigan exports go to or through Canada.

And of course, there are tens of thousands of jobs that would be created to be considered as well. But who's counting?

For those of you who don't remember Soapy (and I certainly don't, I barely remember Blanchard) here is an interesting piece of video that puts a face and a voice to the man.

Soapy seems like he was a pretty cool guy. Build the damn bridge already.

Beecher Business District Hopes to Create a "Solar City"

For those who don't know, Beecher is just to the north of Flint - and they have hit on an idea to draw the curious crowds of shoppers, and save their businesses some money, too. There are 66 businesses on Saginaw Rd. off of 475, and they are hoping to get grants and donations and whatever it takes to get them all equipped with solar panels.

Go for it.

Solar City is the business association’s latest effort to lift up the Beecher business district, part of a struggling neighborhood that falls into both Genesee and Mt. Morris townships.

“People don’t want to come (to Beecher). We’re going to change that,” said Jacky King, owner of King Karate at 5339 N. Saginaw Road and co-founder of the business association. “I think Solar City is the way to do it. ... We will change this community.”

26 panels for each building is the average estimate, with the total cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million. They hope to have it completed within a year. For those businesses that don't use a lot of power, it may cover their entire electric bill.

Mike Besser, owner of Roma Pizzeria and Restaurant at 5227 N. Saginaw Road, said even a 25 percent savings would be huge — considering his energy bills range from $1,600 to $2,200 a month.

“It’s just one more little step (in the right direction) and that’s what we need,” Besser said. “I think (the project) would make people stop looking at all the negative aspects of the area.”

Once the solar panels are installed businesses could save an estimated $47,000 combined each year, Craft said.

Now imagine if everyone did that...

Michigan Begins to Cut LIHEAP Heating Assistance Funding

As far as I can tell, this one is on Congress. Michigan received $276.5 million on base and contingency funds for heating assistance in 2010; this year the figure appears to be $183.5 million based on "continuing resolutions" passed in December. Remember, they don't have the federal budget done yet, and apparently they did not pass contingency funds for LIHEAP. Therefore, the state has already started with the cuts. This morning the stories are starting to trickle in...

From WZZM Grand Rapids:

Cuts to state funding for emergency energy relief are threatening to leave hundreds of West Michigan families out in the cold.

Agencies that provide that help are scrambling this week to help as many families as possible before the money runs out. A WZZM 13 viewer contacted 13 On Your Side about the problem.

"This is unprecedented," said Mary Trucks, executive director for FiveCAP Community Action Agency, which serves Mason, Manistee, Lake and Newaygo counties. "For rural and low income families it will be devastating."

Trucks says when Congress passed a continuing resolution for 2011, it rolled back funding for many state-level programs to 2008 levels. That meant a $49 million cut to the money Michigan uses for energy assistance.

The Michigan Department of Human Services, facing money shortages with money for other programs, is juggling cash to put it where it is needed the most.

Not sure that DHS can just "juggle" money that is allocated from the feds for specific purposes, but the report goes on to say that DHS has indeed pulled back the funding - while the need in this area has grown 35%.

From 9 & 10 News Cadillac:

Hundreds of households in the Grand Traverse area alone will be left without any help when it comes to heating their homes.

The state helps to fund emergency heat programs for community action agencies.

But they're taking that funding away starting next week.

From the Midland Daily News:

The Mid Michigan Community Action is losing more than $500,000 of LIHEAP Crisis Assistance funding that is being reclaimed by the state. That amount would have served up to 1,000 families across Bay, Clare, Gladwin and Midland counties.


Agencies were given one week notice of this decision.

Nothing out of the Detroit papers or the AP yet, but it's still early.

Welcome to the trickle-down austerity movement, cutting off heating assistance in the dead of winter. When Republicans in Congress say they want to return to 2008 funding levels, this is what they are talking about - ignoring all the increased need caused by the Great Recession. And chances are, all these new Republican governors and legislators at the state level will be happy to oblige.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Please Mr. Postman

There is something charming about this version, as if it's coming through on an AM station in the dead of night...

"Please Mr. Postman" was Tamla Records first number one hit in 1961.

Motown gave the Marvels the star treatment. Gordy renamed the group the Marvelettes and had "Please Mr. Postman" re-written for them and released as their first single in the summer of 1961 on the Tamla imprint with Gladys Horton singing lead. The song took fourteen weeks to hit the #1 position on the Pop chart, a record for its time. The song also held at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart for seven consecutive weeks. It was the first of two million-selling gold certified 45's for the group. An album also called Please Mr. Postman was rush released to capitalize on the girls initial success but neither it or subsequent four albums charted.

The Marvelettes faced stiff competition by 1964 with the rise of the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas; the group turned down "Where Did Our Love Go" which went on to become the Supremes first number one hit. That, and health problems in the group seemed to seal their fate. Although they preformed throughout the 60's and had a few more hits along the way, the group was essentially done by 1970.

Inkster native Gladys Horton left the group in 1967. She passed away yesterday at the age of 66 in a nursing home in LA due to complications from a stroke. RIP - and thank you for the music.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Michigan State Employees' Same-Sex Partners to Get Health Benefits

The sweet sound of justice.

The Michigan Civil Service Commission voted 3-1 today to extend health care benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees, despite objections from Snyder administration officials who said the state can't afford the millions of dollars the change will cost.

Commissioners said it was mainly an issue of trust because the benefits extension had been negotiated in good faith between the Office of the State Employer and public sector unions.

Now we have the Snyder administration already going back on the promise to "run the state like a business". The majority of Fortune 500 companies now offer domestic partner benefits, with seven out of the top ten realizing that is what you have to do to attract and retain the best and the brightest to work for you. Also important to mention here is the fact that younger workers want to live in an atmosphere of tolerance and diversity; a message like this is essential to stopping the "brain drain" in Michigan.

But Jan Winters, the new director of the Office of the State Employer, said the benefits extension will cost more than what was originally negotiated back in 2004, partly because the agreements approved today include not only an additional adult, but the adult's dependents.

"We've very concerned, because something that costs millions of dollars is something the state of Michigan cannot afford right now," Winters told the commission, citing a projected $1.8 billion deficit for the next fiscal year. "If we spend the additional money, we're going to have to figure out where it's coming from."

Original estimates put the price tag at $6 million - not exactly your big-budget ticket item. Is the Snyder administration now saying that we can't afford to make this simple but obviously important investment in our "business" and our people?

And here we believed him when he said he was a good businessman.

It will be interesting to see if this provision is removed when they try and force all the union employees into one benefit package. Stay tuned, this isn't over yet...


My question of the day is: Can we succeed at developing renewable energy in spite of the Republicans trying to drag us down? When I keep seeing these stories day in and day out, sometimes I think we can. With President Obama's call for 80% renewables by 2035(!) in the SotU speech last night, the hope is we can get past the talking heads obsession with trivial issues such as gun control and the hand-wringing over the deficit and get the conversation focused on moving forward with this issue. Every little step we take will help, and here are just a few reported in the last couple of days:

  • The Mesick School District is looking to put 20 wind turbines on their 1440 acre property, and has entered preliminary talks with Michigan Energy on a five-year study for feasibility. The district currently relies on "forestry sales" for part of its income; while using 200 acres for turbines would reduce that figure by $5-$10,000 a year, turbines could bring in up to $200,000 a year.

  • Muskegon County Wastewater Management Systems has 11,000 acres near Lake Michigan and is currently seeking proposals from utility-scale wind developers. With continuous acreage, no homes on the land, and adjacent landowners believed to be interested in a wind project, the area looks prime for a major wind site. They are looking to do it soon to take advantage of the federal energy credits that passed Congress in December and will run through the end of this year.

  • A foundry project announced last year for Eaton Rapids is close to clearing the final hurdles needed to begin construction; Sweden's URV USA will produce castings for wind turbines and is expected to hire 280 people this year, with other local companies expanding to help them meet the demand (and this is why we recruit outside firms to locate here). The 7-story foundry will be an example of "clean" manufacturing; city officials claim that the building will have the environmental impact of "one McDonald's restaurant". Does that mean that seagulls will wait by your car for the occasional french fry tossed from the window?

  • DTE is getting in on the electric trash action; the Times Herald reports that DTE Energy and DTE Biomass have combined to create Blue Water Renewables, which will set up processors on the Smiths Creek Landfill to convert methane gas to electricity. St. Clair County will then sell the energy back to DTE; up to 3.2 MW is expected to be produced. DTE claims that this is "among the first commercial-scale gas-to-energy productions in the country". 

  • Former Michigan DELEG chief Skip Pruss gives a nice interview to the Metro Times today, explaining why he thinks that green energy has an unlimited market and will be "much more robust and of longer duration than the Internet revolution". And it's not a question of if, it's a question of when - it all depends on whether or not we are wise enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

  • Cone Drive Gearing Solutions of Traverse City will be adding 20 manufacturing employees thanks to landing a contract with BrightEnergy, who is currently working on the "world’s largest concentrated solar power complex" in the Mojave Desert in California. The jobs are expected to last through 2013, with hopes of further business down the line. 

  • LG Chem will pony up $20 million over 20 years to train workers for its advanced battery facility in Holland. The company struck a deal with Grand Rapids Community College through the Michigan New Jobs program to train an estimated 3,000 workers it will need for production over the course of the contract, with 400 jobs scheduled by 2013. The plant will initially produce batteries for the Chevy Volt. 

  • Depending on the outcome of an application for tax incentives from MEDC up for review next month, Redford Township will see Florida-based Mountain Valley Recycling hire up to 400 local workers for a new recycling facility that will begin operations "as soon as possible". The facility will recycle plastics from commercial sources, expanding into taking residential material over time. It will be located in the old Ford Parts Distribution Center.

  • CEO Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical is setting what he hopes will be a new standard for business; the company will partner with the Nature Conservancy on a $10 million project that will "put the impact of the environment on the forefront of every business decision". Calling the joint effort that will be developed from scientific models a "powerful approach to sustainability", Liveris has planned three pilot sites for the next five years, and hopes are the first site will be in the US. 

  • Green jobs? It's happening. Happening right now, everyday. Now imagine what could happen if we make the smart move and invest more...

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    California Dreamin'

    I feel like some of you out there are looking to me for reaction to Governor Granholm's announcement yesterday - and I just want to say that I'm very, very happy for them to be moving on to what sounds like... well, paradise. It's a fitting reward for all the hard work and strife they have had to endure these past few years, and I wish them nothing but success and happiness in everything they do.

    "May the road rise up to meet you.
    May the wind always be at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face,
    and rains fall soft upon your fields.
    And until we meet again,
    May God hold you in the palm of His hand."

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Deep Freeze Sunday: January 23, 2011

    Greenville goes green. Or greener, we should say. This video of the city installing solar panels on Greenville schools and city buildings from a few weeks ago (print story here) ties in nicely with this week's story about Energy Works of Ann Arbor planning to help 90 Michigan schools install solar and wind systems in the next three years as part of the Michigan Renewable Schools program.

    Been lost in some books and my own little austerity movement here. I'm still paying attention though, saving all these links, news junkie that I am. One thought that keeps coming back to me: Since Snyder will focus on "tending our garden" here in Michigan rather than striving for diversity in our economic base (potential fatal flaw in the plan, IMO. See: Engler, John), we better hope the auto industry keeps on keeping on - and keeps getting greener. The efforts we have made to diversify into other sectors such as "energy, defense and film" are predicted to pay off this year, but once again autos and auto suppliers are leading the way in job growth. With that in mind, some items of note from this week:

  • Voltage! GM is bumping up production on the Volt; the original plan for 10,000 this year now has a target of 25,000, and the 2012 goal of 60,000 is now in the neighborhood of 120,000 - if they have the demand and can produce enough parts. CEO Dan Akerson wants to spread the technology to other GM models in anticipation of predicted oil prices reaching a $120 a barrel. "We don't want to be caught flat-footed as we were in 2008." Or 2001, for that matter.

  • As of now trucks are still in demand, leading GM to add a third shift at the Flint Truck Assembly plant to produce more Silverados and Sierras. 650 workers will be called back out of the layoff pool of 3,500. Truck sales increased 15% last year, but rising gas prices may put a damper on demand in very short order - leaving GM hesitant to reopen mothballed facilities in Spring Hill, TN and Janesville, WI. Flint has the equipment already in place.

  • Bill Ford and Anthony Earley, chairman and CEO of DTE Energy, are geeked about electric cars, telling a crowd at the U of M's Ross School of Business Friday that the technology will bring a "revolution" to Michigan as the industry plans more all-electric and hybrid gasoline-electric powertrains in the future.

  • Which would you rather drive around: An electric model, or a car that has big fuel tanks of compressed natural gas? Think about accidents, and get back to us on that one. Ford has produced some natural gas Transit Connect Taxis for Chicago cabbies; the engines are more efficient and reduce greenhouse gases, but the infrastructure for refueling will be a challenge for anything other than commercial use. Popular Mechanics has a good article on CNG powered vehicles, already in use in other places in the world, but a simple cursory search produced pictures of a Honda Civic that "blowed up real good" in an arsonist fire... I don't know about you, but it makes me nervous. CNG may be greener, but it sure seems dangerous. And again, it's a fossil fuel. We may have plenty of reserves, but we still have to get it out of the ground - and that's bad for the environment.

  • Been watching the knee-jerk reaction to President Obama's appointment of Jeff Immelt to the new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness board. Yes, GE has been guilty of out-sourcing thousands of jobs in the past, but I'm going to reserve judgment on this for now. Immelt is one guy who seems to understand the importance of manufacturing in America, and GE has produced jobs in this country, including a big investment in Michigan, in the last few years. He is walking his talk. Let's see what he can do. The example of Evergreen Solar closing up shop in Massachusetts and moving to China should be a warning shot across the bow on the green jobs issue; either do something to prevent that from happening, or stop getting us all excited about mass green manufacturing. And we better move to protect those batteries right now.

  • On that note, we come to the focus of the State of the Union address this Tuesday, a preview of which can be seen in the President's weekly address, or this special message also released yesterday. Jobs, jobs, jobs, American competitiveness, and apparently Republicans and Democrats will be holding hands and singing the Black Eyed Peas "One Tribe" in the aisles. Ahem. You know you would pay good money to see that.

  • Politics. Sigh. Bored. Saul. 2012. Stabenow. Please, don't. So, so tired of all the stupid bullshit - and with Saul, that's what it would be. (as opposed to the others? Yeah, I know.) One name that is not popping up on the MSM radar yet, and that is Dick DeVos. I'm telling you right now - he is all over the TV in the west with his aviation school and other "good deeds", Amway is doing its best to refurbish their name in national advertising, and I figure there is something behind it. Hope I'm wrong - but if I'm not, he certainly has the money to make a run, and that factor alone is why the Rs would let him try. Keep an eye out.

  • Union membership drops again. Losses in manufacturing have dropped Michigan to eighth in the nation when it comes to having a unionized workforce; that's down from sixth in 2009. Only 16.5% of our workers (627,000) are in a union now, and nationwide it's only 11.9%, so can we quit with the false equivalency of comparing to corporations when it comes funneling money to candidates and campaigns? The unions are in decline while corporations are raking in record profits (and apparently are busy sending that money to the freshmen GOP ranks) - by 2012 it will be no contest. Nip that talking point in the bud now.

  • One last shot of green: The Center for American Progress has a great article about "Maintaining Michigan’s Clean Energy Momentum" from Kalen Pruss - it's a nice roundup of how far we have come in the past few years, and what we need to do next to keep creating jobs in this growing field. We should probably e-mail this article 20 times a day to Fred Upton's office to drive home the point - it's a winning issue, and if the Rs obstruct investment and the jobs that come with it, better make sure America knows who is stopping our progress.

    Back to my book. And football. And making some chili, just the ticket for this cold winter day.

    Have a great week.
  • Thursday, January 20, 2011

    New Poll Surprises Journalist Who Didn't Pay Attention to Previous Polls

    New in town?

    More surprising in the poll by EPIC-MRA is that 64 percent say they would accept some increase in taxes or fees to help balance the budget, which has a projected shortfall of $1.8 billion.

    That runs counter to the dogma spouted by Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature. Both have said they won’t entertain tax increases to balance the budget – only spending cuts.

    Two-thirds of the electorate seems like a lot of support for revenue increases. Anybody out there in positions of power listening?

    No. They aren't. Well, not now, anyway.

    64% is roughly par for the course, has been for quite a while.

    9/25/09 - "64 percent of voters support some level of revenue increases to balance the budget".
    10/20/09 -"In terms of overall budget issues, a wide majority (62 percent) thought some revenues should be used to solve the budget problem".
    12/02/09 - "75% said some tax increases are needed to balance the budget". (that came after they slashed school funding)
    1/14/10 - "Kellogg Foundation: Michigan Residents OK with Tax Increases".
    2/28/10 - "59% of the people are OK with raising at least some taxes".
    4/20/10 - "61% said the state should increase taxes".
    6/1/10 - "63% are OK with at least some increases in state taxes".

    Except for the Kellogg study, all the rest are EPIC, asking the same question. Here is the latest poll that is referred to above:

    64 percent supports balancing the state budget with at least some tax increases
    44 percent favors balancing the state budget with mostly budget cuts
    44 percent favors balancing the budget with equal cuts/tax increases, or mostly/only tax increases
    13 percent favors balancing the budget with mostly or only tax increases

    Carry on.

    One Tweet to Rule Them All

    This about sums it up.

    MichiganDems Overall good speech by Gov. Snyder tonight. It sounded like a Democrat could have given 80% of it. What did you think?

    Must... resist... temptation... to... twist... knife...

    What to say. Yes, expanding the 21st Century Jobs Fund is a great idea. Very surprised about that one. Love the thought of the Office of Urban Initiatives to help with big city issues, and the promise of incentives connected to revenue sharing seems to assure that revenue sharing will indeed survive in some form. Not clear what was meant by "government initiatives to increase access to health care", but it sure flies contrary to the usual Republican rhetoric about "socialized medicine". Good to see the call for funding for Pure Michigan, which the Republicans had previously obstructed, and the call for the Detroit River International Crossing to be built, which the Republicans had also previously obstructed. "P-20" education is an interesting concept that we've heard... somewhere... before; maybe some sort of scholarship or something is in order there. And how about the idea that we should encourage more immigrants to come to Michigan and start businesses? Bet that had Hoogendyk clutching his pearls, wherever he is today. Maybe we need a page on the Michigan Dashboard that measures teabagger angst, because it's probably off the chart right about now with all this talk of new government outreach and expansion.

    80% Democratic ideas? Could be. Shame that the House wasn't willing to walk the plank for them before, isn't it? But let's get back to the reason why. The rubber hits the road when it comes to paying the bills, and that is where the problems will start. Since we are once again being treated to the Republican Free Lunch promise of more service from less revenue, we have yet to find out who the "winners and losers" are when it comes to picking up the tab that inevitably comes due.

    The perfect metaphor for that speech was the bit about eliminating item pricing - lots of good ideas offered without a sticker that indicates the cost. It will all be revealed when we hit the check-out lane in the next few months.

    I missed the shoot. Never thought I would, but I did. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted...

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    100% Renewable Energy by 2030

    A couple of wonks out in California crunched the numbers, and found it is doable. The amazing thing is they leave out biofuels and nuclear. From National Geo:

    "We wanted to show that wind, water, and solar power are available to meet demand, indefinitely," says study co-author Mark Delucchi, of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis. He and Mark Jacobson of the civil and environmental engineering department at Stanford University began to tally the build-out that would be needed to supply renewable energy for all the world's factories, homes, and offices, as well as all transport—cars, planes, and ships.

    Their argument that such a revolution was both possible and affordable by 2030, first explored as a thought piece published in Scientific American before the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, is detailed in a study published last month in the journal Energy Policy.

    Think of all the jobs this massive undertaking would create.

    Delucchi and Jacobson estimate that a drive for 100 percent renewable energy would require a massive building binge. For instance, the world would need nearly 4 million wind turbines, and they'd be big ones—rated at 5 megawatts (MW). That's two or three times the capacity of the majority of turbines on the market; 5 MW turbines were an innovation introduced offshore in Germany in 2006, and China just built its first 5 MW wind turbine last year.

    The pair estimate that the world would need 90,000 large-scale solar plants, each with a capacity of about 300 MW—both those that rely on photovoltaic panels that make electricity directly, and concentrated solar power plants that focus the sun's rays to boil water to drive electric generators. At present, fewer than three dozen such utility-scale solar plants are in operation worldwide; most are far smaller.

    And the big solar systems wouldn't displace the need for rooftop power; the researchers estimate a need for 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt solar PV systems as well. Think of that as one rooftop PV system for every four people on the planet.

    A few technological problems are in the way; meeting supply and demand peaks, creating a modernized grid, energy storage in batteries, etc. - but nothing that cannot be overcome. Even a problem with a rare earth element (here we go again) used in turbines could have a solution.

    The main bottleneck, they argue, could be the production of rare earth metals such as neodymium, which is often used in making magnets.

    To build all the electric generators to go into the millions of wind turbines they envision, worldwide production of neodymium would have to more than quintuple. But there should be enough neodymium available, the study argues, since current world reserves of the element are about six times larger than needed.

    There are also ways around this bottleneck, Delucchi and Jacobson argue. Other types of magnets could be used in turbines, and rare earth metals could be recycled. No such recycling program exists today.

    Go read the whole story. Fascinating stuff. While it's unlikely to happen that fast of course, it does show that it is possible - "it really depends on will power".

    And lots and lots of money, too.

    (hat tip to Sven G)

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Michigan's Largest Wind Farm to Double in Size

    Holy cow. Back story here. Today's story here.

    What is already slated to be the largest wind farm in Michigan could within two years be twice the size.

    Chicago-based Invenergy announced Tuesday it is in the early stages of expanding its four township, 125 turbine, 30,000 acre-wind farm development to five more townships — Lafayette, Emerson, North Star, Newark and Hamilton — in southern Gratiot County.

    Kevin E. Parzyck, Invenergy Wind senior project manager, said the second phase of the project will be very similar to the first phase, and should be in the same ballpark of costing $440 million and generating 200 megawatts of electricity. The second phase of the project, like the first, will create 10 to 15 long-term jobs, and extend construction jobs for about 150 people.

    DTE has agreed to buy first-phase power for 20 years, and that will provide 4% of their total energy production. No agreement yet on this new development. I hope I am in a position to be able to go grab some shots of these...

    Turbine components should begin arriving in July, and the 328-foot-tall turbines, reaching a height of 464 feet from the ground when the 271-foot-long spinning rotors extend vertically, should be erected by late 2011 or early 2012, he said.

    ... and I never did make it over to the Thumb. Maybe this summer/fall I can hit them both. If not, McBain it is.

    Beats the hell out of more coal plants, that's for sure. Yea, us!

    Defense Go Get 'Em

    Democrats on D. Again. If anyone thinks "the American people" want to get into another long and contentious debate on health care reform, they are nuts. Sure would be nice to see the Dems practice some aikido here and direct this energy towards, oh, I dunno, the economy and jobs, perhaps? Yes, I can dream.

    Just got this next bit 'o info from the White House media team. Seems that just under half of Michigan's residents are a bunch of pre-existing sick puppies. Damn. "Non-elderly" too. Out of roughly ten million in population...

    Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today released a new analysis showing that, without the Affordable Care Act, up to 4.4 million non-elderly Michigan residents who have some type of pre-existing health condition, like heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis or cancer, would be at risk of losing health insurance when they need it most, or be denied coverage altogether. Across the country, up to 129 million Americans would be at risk.

    Under the full range of policies in the Affordable Care Act to be enacted by 2014, Americans living with pre-existing conditions are free from discrimination and can get the health coverage they need, and families are free from the worry of having their insurance cancelled or capped when a family member gets sick, or going broke because of the medical costs of an accident or disease. Repealing the law would once again leave millions of Americans worrying about whether coverage will be there when they need it.

    Opposition to health care reform as passed is easing, with only 1 in 4 calling for an outright repeal at this point. And, seeing as how the GOP doesn't have a coherent health care plan of their own to offer, it would seem the Dems could blow all kinds of holes in this strategy - if they can get on top of the media message and point these things out right from the start.

    Mix in a little offense with the D, and maybe the Republicans will have to answer for themselves for a change. Not that they will suddenly start being honest or anything, but it will help slow down the attacks and maybe get us back to talking about progress instead of turning back the clock.

    Toyota Learns the Lesson on Rare Earths

    GM, Ford, et al., might want to take some notes here. Japanese manufacturers have had enough of being jerked around on rare earth supplies thankyouverymuch, and they are moving on now.

    Toyota Motor Corp., the world's largest seller of hybrid autos, is developing an alternative motor for future hybrid and electric cars that doesn't need rare-earth minerals at risk of supply disruptions.

    Toyota engineers in Japan and the U.S. are working on a so- called inductive motor that's lighter and more efficient than the magnet-type motor now used in its Prius, said John Hanson, a company spokesman. Research is at an "advanced stage," he said, without saying when vehicles with the motors may be sold.

    "It's a long-term approach," said Hanson, who is based at Toyota's U.S. unit in Torrance, California. "When you're looking at a geopolitical issue like rare-earth supply, that can lead to developments that create very good solutions."

    The motor could help cut Toyota's dependency on rare-earth materials from China, which controls more than 90 percent of the global market for the metals. China's government cut export quotas for the first half of 2011 by 35 percent last month. That follows a 72 percent reduction in the second half of 2010, causing the price of some of the metals to more than double.

    The story goes on to explain that Tesla already has motors that don't use rare earths, and they will supply Toyota with motors for a new SUV that goes on sale in 2012. Toyota is also working on a magnesium-sulfur battery that can hold twice the capacity of lithium-ion cells - another area to keep an eye on as we get our fledgling battery industry off the ground here in Michigan.

    I'm not sure why the rare earths story originally caught my eye, but now it seems I can't get away from it. From a NY Times story that tells of gangs running illegal mines in China, complete with murder, mayhem, and environmental destruction, to an NBC story from Richard Engel that tells of how the wildlife of the Serengeti might be at risk due to the Tanzanian government's plans to build a commercial road to transport rare earths from the Lake Victoria region to sell to China - it's popping up everywhere on my radar.

    President Obama meets with President Hu Jintao of China at the White House on Wednesday, and the NY Times whistles past the graveyard in an op-ed this morning that urges the President to tell the Chinese to "behave", or they won't get any respect. Seriously? Respect from whom? Since the Chinese are busy cleaning our clocks when it comes to debt issues and their surging economic development, it's doubtful they will listen to any finger-wagging from us as they laugh all the way to the bank. Diplomacy is always nice, but we hardly have the upper-hand here.

    Respect will come if we make efforts to move away from our glaringly apparent over-dependence on Chinese goods and materials such as rare earths. Until then, it's hard to see where we have any leverage at all. Complaints to the WTO might help, but certainly will take too long and will fall short of their desired effect.

    Take a tip from Toyota, and let's get out from being under the threat of this constant economic manipulation coming from China. I know I probably sound like a flaming old-school (real) conservative when I say these things, but it's only common sense that we don't trade a dependency on foreign oil for a dependency on foreign... everything.

    UPDATE: The AP has a good story on currency manipulation and how that relates to manufacturing...

    America's trade deficit with the world, estimated at $500 billion last year, would drop by up to $120 billion if China let the yuan rise 20 percent over the next three years, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank.

    Such a change would create about a half million U.S. jobs, mainly in manufacturing, which typically pays above-average wages, the institute's economists are forecasting.

    ... and tells us of bipartisan noise coming from Congress on legislation to address some of these issues. Good to see.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Toronto's Electric Trash

    Stabenow and Levin are running around today celebrating the end of some (not all - Albin just said it will cut it down by 40%) of the Canadian trash entering our state...

    Michigan senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin said today that cities and towns around Toronto have stopped sending their residential trash to Michigan, as they agreed to do in the fall of 2006.

    The two senators struck a deal then with Ontario officials to end those garbage shipments. Most of that trash went to the Carleton Farms landfill in Wayne County, which stopped taking Canadian residential waste on Dec. 31.

    What will Toronto and surrounding cities do with their waste now? Something we need to start doing with our own landfills wherever we can.

    Effective January 1, 2011, all of Toronto's waste requiring landfill disposal will go exclusively to the City-owned Green Lane Landfill.

    The Green Lane Landfill has been in operation since 1978. In April 2007, the City purchased the site located in Southwold Township in the County of Elgin, southwest of London, about 200 kilometres from downtown Toronto.

    Over the years, the Green Lane Landfill site has evolved from a small waste disposal operation to a modern, state-of-the-art facility with onsite treatment of leachate and a methane gas collection and flaring system. Today it is an environmentally sound solid waste disposal facility that meets or exceeds all provincial legislative and regulatory requirements. By 2013, the landfill gas generated and captured at Green Lane Landfill will be sufficient to produce approximately 10 megawatts of electricity, which is to be used to help offset the need for electricity from non-renewable sources.

    10 MW is nothing to sneeze at, and Green Lane claims that they can get to 16 MW with time. Toronto expects the landfill space in London to be sufficient for 17 to 28 years, depending on how successful recycling efforts are - and so far, it sounds like they have been very successful. That has slowed the trash trucks coming to Michigan over the past few years.

    • In 2009, 44 per cent of Toronto’s residential waste was diverted from landfill through the Blue Bin, Green Bin, Yard Waste and other diversion programs. That equals 363,891 tonnes of garbage.

    • Toronto's Green Bin organics program, which collects food waste, wet-paper waste, diapers and pet waste from 440,000 single-family homes and about 70,000 multi-residential units weekly, is the largest organic waste diversion program on the continent.

    • In 2009, the Green Bin program diverted approximately 85,000 tonnes of organic waste from landfill (resulting in 2,500 fewer trucks to Michigan landfill).

    • In 2009, Toronto residents recycled 139,757 tonnes of recyclables through the Blue Bin program (resulting in 4,100 fewer trucks to Michigan).

    And why Michigan in the first place? We are cheap. Too cheap. Way too cheap.

    In a telephone call with reporters, Stabenow said stopping commercial trash is tough and the most effective way would be for Michigan to raise its tipping fees from 21 cents per ton. The state’s rates are the cheapest among Great Lakes states.

    Wisconsin charges $12 per ton and Illinois charges $2 per ton, Stabenow said, making Michigan an economic magnet for trash not only from Canada but from other states.

    Yeah, let's change that. Have some pride, people.

    Anybody Here...


    From the "I Have A Dream" speech:

    But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

    We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

    It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

    But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

    "Justice" is a word that keeps returning to my thoughts when I ponder the current state of events. The battles against racism (and I would add sexism) continue to this day, and as always it boils down to economics. It did then, it does now, and will forever more...

    What would Dr. King think about today's record income gap between the rich and the rest of us? What would he think about the current and coming "austerity movement", that is demanding the poor and middle-class sacrifice to finance more tax cuts for the wealthy?

    Can't imagine he would approve, can you?

    Economic justice seems to be in short supply these days, and we are called to fight for equality now more than ever. Who will lead the charge?

    UPDATE: Digby has more. I so want to be this woman when I grow up.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Republicans Want to Raid the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund

    I knew this was coming, and it doesn't surprise me a bit that Agema is behind it. Republicans can't resist a chance to raid the coffers and shift money out of one successful program so they can avoid the heavy lifting it takes to properly fund other areas of the budget. That money just calls out to them in the night. From Michigan Votes:

    House Joint Resolution B (Shift state oil and gas revenue from recreation to roads )

    Introduced by Rep. David Agema (R) on January 13, 2011, to place before voters in the next general election a Constitutional amendment to no longer deposit all of the revenue from oil and gas leases on state property into the Natural Resources Trust Fund, which uses the money on recreational infrastructure projects, state parks and to buy more state land. Instead, just 20 percent of this revenue would go into the fund, and under House Bill 4028, most of the rest would go to road construction and repair projects, plus some for airport projects.

    "Most" of the rest? Here is a description of what the NRTF is all about:

    The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) has been in place since 1976. It provides financial assistance to local governments and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) to purchase land or rights in land for public recreation or protection of land because of its environmental importance or its scenic beauty. It also assists in the appropriate development of land for public outdoor recreation.

    The MNRTF is supported by annual revenues from the development of State-owned mineral resources, largely oil and gas. It is governed by Article 9, Section 35 of the State Constitution and Part 19 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 451 PA 1994, as amended. The program is administered by the MNRTF Board of Trustees and the Grants Management office of the DNRE. The MNRTF Board of Trustees meets six times a year and all meetings are open to the public.

    MNRTF projects provide for natural resource protection and outdoor recreation. By law, no more than 25 percent of the Trust Fund revenues available for appropriation each year can be used for development, therefore the majority of funding is allocated for acquisition projects.

    Stealing from paradise to pave the parking lots. We made a boatload of money on leases last spring as speculators drove up the price per acre in anticipation of new fracking technology that will reach natural gas. That money is supposed to be set aside to develop our parks and recreation, so citizens and tourists alike can enjoy this beautiful state. So, add it all up, not only are we going to use techniques that poison the environment to reach fossil fuel deposits that will only profit the select few, we will destroy our ability to fund the purchase of new land for more parks in the future.

    Surprised the enviros haven't jumped on this, but it really hasn't been reported in the MSM yet. Governor Milliken, care to respond to this new legislation? We could probably use a word from you before this gets off the ground. It's either that, or get ready to fight on a ballot proposal in the next election.

    Congratulations Michigan, you've elected the Republicans. They are going to try and steal everything that isn't nailed down - and they will even try to steal some of the stuff that is.

    Got that bridge up on eBay yet?

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Congressional Approval Ratings Explained

    Hugs and kisses!

    "The IRS will not start processing your federal return due to tax laws passed in December 2010".

    There was this election, see, and then we had to free the hostages... and now they won't get to work on this until mid-February or so.

    * sigh *

    2011 Detroit Auto Show Goes Green

    The Auto Show opens today to the public. While a lot of the buzz has been directed at the new electric vehicles, MEDC has set up a display that focuses on the "four industries it believes will continue to grow in our state: wind energy, advanced battery, solar and bio energy", and featured is a company we have heard from before...

    The biogas project is leading the way in a new form of alternative energy for cars and trucks. It's starting to lead the way in Michigan's green sector.

    "It's a dual fuel, so you can run liquid petroleum or the bio methane," said Tom Guise, CEO of Swedish Biogas International.

    The Swedish Biogas International Co. -- in conjunction with Flint's Kettering University -- is showing off a Chevy truck that has been converted to run on biomethane, which will be produced at the bio-gas plant in Flint Township.

    "For city vehicles and things that don't leave the community, you can run them all on biomethane," Guise said. "That's what they do in Sweden. The buses and garbage trucks run on biomethane to save the cost of having a dual-fuel vehicle."

    The bio industry has been growing in fits and starts, moving away from food stocks and looking at alternative sources. We got some more good news this week when it was annouced that the Valero company is going to purchase all of the estimated 40 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol production from the refinery that Mascoma is going to build in the UP. Mascoma will produce ethanol from wood pulp and other scrap lumber stock.

    Valero will invest up to $50 million in the Kinross plant, said William J. Brady, Mascoma’s chief executive. The entire plant would cost $350 million, and not all of that is in hand yet, Mr. Brady said, but “getting the Valero investment has made the rest a lot easier.’’

    Other investors in Mascoma include General Motors. Mascoma is seeking loan guarantees from the Energy Department.

    The company, which planned to use wood waste, could turn out to have the first commercial-scale plant. Mr. Brady said that three other companies could also produce ethanol from cellulose in the near future: BlueFire Ethanol, which uses grasses; POET, which is turning to cobs and other nonfood portions of the corn plant; and Abengoa, which is turning to parts of the corn plant beyond the kernel.

    Good to see that Kinross is back on track - they were supposed to open in 2008, but of course hit the same bump in the road that we all did. Now to get the feds to move on the loans.... (and what's up with Wixom, anyway?)

    Michigan's Got Talent

    Must be some of that advanced manufacturing I've been hearing about.

    A northern Michigan woman has put her own spin on Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” by making a replica out of laundry lint.

    Laura Bell of Roscommon collected lint from her dryer and fashioned it into a 14-foot-long, 4-foot tall reproduction of the Italian Renaissance painter’s masterpiece.

    Bell says she needed about 800 hours to do enough laundry to get the lint, and 200 hours to recreate the mural. She bought towels of the colors she wanted and laundered them separately to get the right shades of lint.

    14 feet. And here I've been throwing the stuff away...

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Someone Forgot to Reinvent the Michigan Republicans

    Same old divisiveness, same old cruelty that suggests the poor and working class should be first in line for "shared sacrifice" while we hand out more tax cuts for business interests. Meet the 96th Michigan Legislature, controlled by a Republican majority that is running the same old playbook they devised decades ago. First, we bust what is left of the unions...

    New House Speaker Jase Bolger said a labor law review by his fellow Republicans would be conducted to gauge whether making Michigan a “right-to-work” state makes economic sense and would create jobs.

    While Gov. Rick Snyder said throughout the campaign that having a right-to-work discussion would be too divisive at a time when he says management and labor have to work together, Bolger said Wednesday nothing should be off the table.

    Right-to-work laws are becoming increasingly irrelevant with each passing day, a leftover theory from our manufacturing past that really doesn't apply in the new global economy. Manufacturing jobs are not moving to right-to-work states these days (and looking at the auto assembly and parts employment totals by state as of Dec of 2008, you wonder if that was an overblown myth in the first place); they are moving to Mexico and overseas, or they are being replaced with automation. Concessions made by UAW members in 2007 and during the bankruptcy restructuring in 2009 got us to wage parity with the foreign automakers, eliminating that tired argument. And if right-to-work laws somehow guarantee jobs, why is it that 5 of the top 10 states with the highest unemployment rates as of November of 2010 are right-to-work states?

    Right-to-work is designed to keep wages low and thwart attempts for workers to organize, while further depressing what is left of a natural Democratic constituency. Win-win for those Republicans that are looking to serve the interests of business and score partisan points at the same time, so it's not surprising that it would be one of the first initiatives they would introduce.

    Moving on, we reincarnate the specter of welfare recipients milking the system, because people with small children that have to jump through a myriad of hoops to pull in an average of $428 a month are somehow still living the high life out there. Cut 'em off now, make it retroactive...

    House Republicans also intend to call a “strict” 48-month time limit for welfare benefits, which currently can be extended past 60 months if recipients are working or in job training. And he wants to review and correct what he called “abuse” of the Bridge Card food assistance program.

    Bolger would start the clock retroactively to provide current and future recipients an absolute maximum of four years of assistance.

    “Michigan should help its citizens break the cycle of dependency, not create one for them,” Bolger said.

    Michigan's welfare rolls actually declined by 1.7 percent between June of 2008 and June of 2009, a period of time that saw our unemployment rate skyrocket as the national recession kicked into gear. Getting benefits is difficult in the first place; you must have minor children, and you cannot have more than $3,000 in assets or earn more than $812 a month. You also have to meet strict requirements as far as training and a job search is concerned. As a result, at the end of 2009, there were only 120,000 families on what is now known as "welfare" - and that funding comes mainly from the federal government.

    $362.9 million in Family Independence Program benefits to more than 120,000 families and households with minor children. Of this total, more than $300 million of the benefit dollars were provided by the federal government, not state taxes. These benefits help families pay rent and house payments, property taxes, utilities, clothing and other living costs, and the money is primarily spent in local communities.

    Republicans are targeting those families that somehow made it to the one-year extension apparently, claiming that it will save $45 million. And the key word here is indeed "families" - the only people left on what is referred to as welfare are those with children, and that $400 a month might be the only thing keeping them in a home. Singling them out to be the first to sacrifice is beyond cruel.

    As far as Bridge Card abuse, you probably have heard the stories of a few of our more colorful scammers, sensational examples that make the local news. But as a percentage, the incidents of abuse are actually very small. With nearly 2 million people receiving food assistance, in 2009 DHS ran 7,143 investigations and found 5,214 cases of fraud. Not exactly your major crime syndicate in action. Rep. Dave Agema suggested putting pictures on cards at a high cost to taxpayers - but states that have tried that found it didn't make any difference in cutting down fraud, and discontinued the practice. While reports should be investigated, suggesting that "cracking down" should be a high priority is simply another canard to further demonize the poor.

    The biggest attack on low-income families though comes in the form of eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax break that goes to families with children, and is more often than not put right back into the economy. Even Nancy Cassis had a change of heart about eliminating that in 2008. So, while Republicans insist that businesses receive more tax cuts that may or may not be invested in Michigan, they are in effect raising taxes on low-to-moderate income working families - and that is guaranteed to remove that spending from our economy.

    “While we recognize the desire for everybody in the state to share in the sacrifice, poor people are being asked to be the sacrificial lambs. The Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low- and moderate-income working households, should not be the first credit considered among Michigan’s $36 billion list of tax expenditures, including tax breaks for big corporations.

    Eliminating the EITC will put more of the tax burden on those who can least afford it – the families of minimum wage workers and those who do important work in our state including janitors, waitresses, home care aides and child care workers.

    Also, the credit is a proven economic stimulus, and its elimination will hurt small business in local communities across the state. A report by the Anderson Economic Group finds that for each $1 in federal earned income tax credit, $1.67 is generated in economic activity.

    In addition to targeting the poor, the House Republicans are also promising to review and possibly repeal tax credits in those areas that have created jobs in the past few years; "new or expanding businesses, filmmakers, battery makers, hybrid vehicle research and neighborhood enterprise zones", according to the Freep. Throw in brownfield redevelopment as well. It seems that Republicans are intent on eliminating recent efforts that have brought us success so they can rerun the same plan that failed Engler (and Michigan) in the early 90s, or perhaps this is a dog-whistle to the lobbyists to commence with the free lunches and campaign contributions in an attempt to protect your client's current tax breaks. Someone might want to keep an eye on that as the Republicans pick "winners and losers" during these reviews.

    The wild card in all of this is still Rick Snyder - will he keep his promise to make sure that "no one is left behind", or will he simply become this century's version of John Engler? Time will tell.

    If he wants to avoid that fate, he better get to work on reinventing the archaic policies of his own party first.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Through the Eyes of a Child

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    From the prepared remarks (transcript here):

    So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

    That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

    And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

    So deserving of our love.

    And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.

    The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

    I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

    That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

    I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

    Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. “I hope you help those in need,” read one. “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

    If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

    May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Bond Falls in the UP


    Because I wanted something pretty to look at...

    Bond Falls is a 50-foot (15 m)-high waterfall of the Ontonagon River. The river drops 875 feet (267 m) down from Bond Falls Flowage, which is perched on the highlands of the western Upper Peninsula, to Lake Superior. Bond Falls is the first stage of this drop in elevation. From Bond Falls, the river continues northward to the Agate Falls Scenic Site.

    A "flowage", in the language of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, is a reservoir. Bond Falls is a natural waterfall, but it has been enhanced by a nearby dam built by the Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO). There is a rest-area park below the dam and waterfall, from which the falls can be admired.

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011

    Scenes from an Inauguration

    God I love doing this. I love to shoot. It was the camera that saved me as a blogger after 2006, it's only fitting that the camera be there at the end, right? And oh, the history I have captured in these past few years. When I look back at everything...

    Oddly enough, I wasn't going to take it with me. I had planned on going down just to give the G a hug goodbye. That's all. Didn't even have all that much to say to her, really - figure I left everything on the field over the past week. Planned to leave right after. But, at the last minute, I grabbed the camera anyway as I walked out the door. A sense of duty to that history, maybe - and the day was so nice I decided to stay and watch. It kind of felt like I was taking pictures at my own funeral though; outside myself, rather numb to everything, so I just took random shots without even thinking about what I was doing.

    The crowd was... polite. Not sure how to describe it. It wasn't all that big, it wasn't all that enthused. Just smiles and polite applause for everyone. One Tea Party guy walking around with a bunch of those "II" flags - but no one was buying them. No protests, no signs, such a switch from the last few times I had been down there for an event. Hard to believe it was the same place.

    Listened to Snyder (man, is he dull), got halfway through Calley, and the clouds started rolling in. Decided that was enough Republican for one day, and I had better get home for football. And some rest.

    It all brought a certain sense of closure. Maybe that was just what I needed. One chapter ends, and a new one begins...

    Tuesday, January 04, 2011

    Michigan on Track to Meet 10% Renewable Energy Standard by 2015


    The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) today released data showing the progress that Michigan's electric utilities are making to meet the state's renewable energy portfolio standard of 10 percent by 2015.

    "Michigan's electric utilities are on track to meeting the state's goal of having 10 percent of its electricity produced by renewable sources," said MPSC Chairman Orjiakor Isiogu. "The state's utilities are taking steps to build wind farms, promote solar energy and net metering, and purchase renewable energy credits."

    Electric providers reported renewable energy data estimates to the MPSC for 2009, showing some 3.63 percent of Michigan's electricity was produced by renewable sources. That amount is consistent with what Michigan's electric utilities' plans are for ramping up to reach the 10 percent goal.

    Previous data gathered by the MPSC estimated Michigan's renewable energy percentage was 2.9 percent in 2007.

    Needs to go higher - most states have gradually increased their RES (or RPS) once they got them up and running; if we are smart we will follow suit.

    The breakdown: "Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy have contracted for a combined total of 648 MW of renewable energy: 598 MW of wind energy, 45 MW of biomass energy, 4 MW of solar PV energy, and 1 MW of hydroelectric energy."

    Was surprised by the biomass and solar figures - would have expected the reverse. But, when you think about generation of energy on a mass scale, we haven't seen Consumers or DTE arrange for huge solar fields to be built. More of a individual business and residential endeavor at this point.

    Speaking of business and residential, our net metering effort in that area has gone from an "F" in 2007 (when we didn't have a policy) to an "A" for 2010. Net metering is when you can feed energy you produce back to the grid:

    Under a net metering program, when customers produce electric energy in excess of their needs, power is provided back to the serving utility, permitting the customer to receive a credit for power they place on the system.

    "Michigan has seen explosive growth in the number of electric customers that have installed renewable energy generation systems on their homes and businesses," noted Commissioner Monica Martinez. "This comes as a direct result of Public Act 295 of 2008, which put in place a net metering program that has proven popular with customers. It is gratifying to see the state's net metering program recognized by this national report."

    Renewables are working, efficiency is working, metering is working. Will we try and grow on these successful, generally earth-friendly initiatives, or will fracking become the new energy policy under the Republicans? Time will tell.

    Saturday, January 01, 2011

    Happy New Year 2011

    decmorn 060

    "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

    Wishing you all the best for the New Year...