Thursday, March 31, 2011

Happy Opening Day: Baseball Fans, Take Your Michigan-Made Seats

Upper Deck
Comerica Park, 2008. Tigers home opener is April 8th.

Little known fact: Today, thousands of baseball fans across the country will be sitting on seats that were made right here in Grand Rapids.

It’s been what you might call a home run year for American Seating Company when it comes to its stadium business.

The hits have been one after another: 20,000 seats for the Boston Red Sox, 28,000 for the Baltimore Orioles, 35,000 for the Florida Marlins and 42,000 to the Washington, D.C., Nationals.

The Grand Rapids company’s baseball seating business is up at least 25 percent over last year, said Bruce Weener, vice president of sales. His company shirt is embroidered with the motto: “We know baseball.”

American Seating provided the seats for Comerica Park above, as well as seats for the White Sox, Giants, Indians, Rangers, Brewers, A’s, Phillies and Cardinals. Grand Rapids-based Irwin Seating provided specialty seats for Yankee Stadium, where the Tigers start the season today. Irwin also has provided specialty seats for the Lions' Ford Field and many other stadiums across the country.

American has been in Grand Rapids for a long, long time - quite a feat in this day and age of the moving and shrinking American manufacturing base.

The nearly 125-year-old American Seating has been around almost as long as America’s pastime — and has been making seats for baseball teams since the early 1900s. The original seating in Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, was American Seating.

The company lives up to its name. The chairs are made in its factory on Grand Rapids’ Northwest Side.

Sports seating accounts for about 20 percent of the company’s overall sales.

They make automotive and classroom seating, amongst other things. They also recycle old seats into new products, so you could call them environmentally conscious as well.

Cheers for Grand Rapids workers - now let's play ball!

Legislature's Greatest Achievement? Robbing from the Unemployed

Today, Governor Snyder and his band of Reverse Merry Men will hold a presser to review the destruction they have brought to the state, but Sen. Richardville has indicated what he thinks is the greatest triumph - kicking people who are down.

The bill reduces state-level unemployment benefits for workers who file starting Jan. 15, 2012, a move that would then reduce the weeks of federal benefits for which they qualify.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, on Wednesday described the unemployment bill as the Legislature's greatest achievement. The bill, which includes provisions to crack down on fraud in the unemployment system, will benefit workers and businesses, he said.

"By reducing the weeks … from 26 to 20, we reduced the cost to business on an annual basis between $600 million and a billion dollars," Richardville said. "It's an accomplishment that's huge for businesses."

The Democrats have introduced legislation that would restore the weeks back to 26, but that is not going to happen.

Not until 2014, anyway. By then, things could be a lot worse, according to Rick Haglund.

A conservative friend of mine, commenting on a front-page New York Times story about the measure, which I posted on my Facebook news feed, suggested we go further and end employer financing of the unemployment insurance system.

His solution? Since employees are the ones who receive jobless benefits, make them finance the system through payroll deductions.

Employee contributions to support the state’s unemployment insurance system could cost Michigan workers as much as $900 a year each under the current structure.

Initially, this idea struck me as too far removed from mainstream thought of how economic safety nets should work to ever be considered by policymakers.

But maybe it’s not so unimaginable. Already three states — Alaska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — require small contributions from employees to their unemployment insurance systems.

And business lobbying groups in Michigan say Snyder’s historic shrinking of benefit weeks doesn’t go far enough to cut the cost of Michigan’s system, which pays a maximum of $362 a week to eligible laid-off workers.

Might as well just require that everyone cut a check directly to the Chamber. It's obvious they are running the government now, and the government shall serve them only.

UPDATE: The MDP released a video covering Snyder's Greatest Hits of the first three months on the job. Love the spooky music.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

$3.69

gas0985


Buy that fuel efficient car yet?

"Hundreds of drivers wait in lines for 'cheap' gas near Bay City"

Alvin Forster remembers when gasoline was 25 cents a gallon, but today found himself waiting in a line of vehicles to pay $3.47 a gallon.

"They've been going up all over," said Forster, 88, of Monitor Township. "People ain't working, I don't know how they can afford it."

Forster was one of hundreds of drivers today to wait in line at a Kroger gas station, 945 N. Euclid Ave., in Bangor Township.

Jim Lecuyer, of Oscoda, waited almost an hour and a half to fill-up his 2007 Chevrolet Sierra.

"It's a little steep, but it isn't as bad in comparison," Lecuyer said. "A lot of the other stations are $3.69."

It's $3.69 all over Grand Rapids tonight.

Energy policy, anyone?

Americans are acutely focused on their financial well-being, even as turmoil in the Middle East commands international attention. And the foreign unrest is directly affecting them by boosting oil prices. More Americans — 77 percent, up from 54 percent last fall — now say gas prices are highly important to them.

It's already over $4 in Chicago, parts of New York, and all along the west coast. Coming soon to a station near you...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Graduated Income Tax on the Ballot for 2012?

Cranky Jack was complaining today that the Democrats haven't introduced any counter-proposals to Snyder's budget. Well, they have now.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, has introduced a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to implement a graduated income tax in Michigan, saying the evidence is clear that state residents want income to be taxed in accordance with ability to pay.

"I call on the Republican majority to pass this resolution and place a graduated income tax proposal on the ballot," Irwin said in a statement. "Then the people of Michigan can decide whether they want a more fair and equitable distribution of our tax burden."

And the Republicans promptly laughed at that notion as they walked out the door for cocktails at the country club.

Irwin cited the Wayne State study completed last fall that showed that 64% of Michigan adults favored a graduated income tax. He claims it's not a direct counter-proposal to Snyder's plan, but a way to get people thinking about the idea again - seeing as how the Republican majority would never, ever, consider bringing this up. Ever.

Somebody else has an idea though, a name that should be familiar, and can possibly pull this off...

Former state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, a Washtenaw County Democrat, recently said she's not counting on the Legislature to put the issue on the ballot.

Instead, she's forming a grass-roots action agency to work toward collecting some 300,000-plus signatures from voters in order to put a graduated income tax question on the ballot in November 2012.

THAT would be interesting. Very interesting. Where do I sign?

Repeal of Item-Pricing Can't Be Repealed

Never figured that anyone would really want to mount an effort to make retailers start pricing items again, but just in case those price gun manufacturers get any funny ideas...

Item-pricing was popular with much of the public. The law just signed by Snyder has a provision that makes sure the new law cannot be reversed by a citizen referendum.

Seriously, was that really necessary? Will all legislation contain this "provision" from now on? Do we need a citizen referendum to repeal all the provisions written against citizen referendums?

Snyder says the item-pricing repeal will create more jobs because it will "give opportunities for lower prices and more economic opportunity". Unfortunately, the Meijer spokesman on hand did not immediately announce an across-the-board price drop to pass the savings along to consumers, but he did mention that certain employees can expect a "small adjustment in hours".

Be grateful there will be shelf tags to tell you what the price is, even though you will probably forget it by the time you get to the register. The original language didn't even call for that - it was a "compromise" to require retailers post the price by the item.

If this keeps up, next thing you know 'ol Fred is going to have you unloading the truck out back...

Bronze Medal: US Drops to 3rd in Clean Energy Investment

Sucks to slip a notch, but third isn't all that bad, especially considering the jump in investment that occurred after we started coming out of the recession. Let's hope that momentum continues. It's doubtful we will catch China at this point, but we should be able to pass Germany again with a little effort.

The United States fell one spot to third place in clean-energy investment last year as the lack of a national energy policy hurt purchases in wind and solar power and other technologies, a report said on Tuesday.

China came in first and Germany second, according to the report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race" by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent, nonprofit group.

In the previous year the United States had fallen from the top spot to second place, behind China.

A comprehensive energy bill died in the Senate last July. Washington also has failed to pass national mandates for utilities to produce minimum amounts of clean power that environmentalists and some analysts say would boost confidence for alternative energy companies to invest in the country.

Investment was up 51% last year in the US to $34 billion, but that fell below China's $54 billion and Germany's $41 billion. And last year, China announced they would be spending upwards of $738 billion over the next decade - which, at the current pace, would double our efforts. China is shooting for a 15% non-fossil fuel energy production by 2020. Wave goodbye as they leave us in the dust; unless we pass a law for mandatory lobotomies for Republicans, we aren't going to catch them.

Doesn't mean we give up though. We still lead the world in venture capital investment, but what is happening is that ideas that are developed here in the US quickly leave for other countries where there are incentives creating the demand to produce and implement the products. Glad to see Governor Granholm as the voice behind the media blitz on this report, so take it away...

"There had been a theory out there that China was rising so fast in clean energy because of its low labor costs," Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor and adviser to Pew, said in an interview. "This is not about labor costs, this is about policy."

...

Granholm said increasingly China and other countries developed and distributed ideas generated by the U.S. venture capital system. Alternative-energy firms prefer setting up manufacturing and distribution plants in countries that have national incentives.

About 30 U.S. states have passed their own so-called renewable portfolio standards, which set mandates for minimum amounts of power from alternatives. But often they are surrounded by states that lack the mandates, which discourages investment, Granholm said.

Certainly the patchwork approach of different standards and target dates in the states is confusing, but it is obvious that states that have renewable standards are the ones creating demand. For some, implementing a national standard won't matter because they have already set their goals very high (and interestingly enough, some of the states with the highest populations have set the highest standards).

We have already seen how the demand works here in Michigan, even at our low standard of 10% by 2015. We have manufacturing companies expanding into wind and solar parts and systems, and we have energy companies directly participating in the creation and installation of solar and wind farms, not to mention biofuels and biomass projects as well - all of which is creating jobs.

For yet another example, at the beginning of this month, it was announced that DTE is soliciting projects from all over the state to help them meet our RPS goal. A group of companies, led by New Generation Power out of Illinois, and including Albion's Patroit Solar, Holland's Solar Street Lights USA, and Windemuller out of Whitehall/Wayland, proposed a 200 MW wind/solar farm near Albion. This will create 500 jobs for installation and construction - and an estimated 100 permanent jobs afterward. The size is enough to produce power for nearly all of Calhoun County, including the city of Battle Creek.

Patriot Solar received a MEGA tax credit in February, planning on expanding their tracking system production line as they solicit more big projects such as this. They are expected to create nearly 200 permanent jobs of their own in the next five years, 108 of those coming in 2011.

RPS = jobs. Policy works. It all comes down to whether or not we are willing to fight for the policy. That's where it gets tricky at the federal level. What say you, Democrats? President Obama will outline his vision on energy policy this Wednesday at Georgetown U., and again on Friday when he inspects a "clean fleet" of corporate vehicles in Maryland. It's obvious that he is behind this - hopefully we can muzzle the Upton's of the world, and get the rest of Congress behind this as well.

Yeah, a girl can dream. We will get there someday, now it's just a question of how fast we are willing to do it - or how far behind the rest of the world we are willing to fall.

Snyder Blames Legislature for Cuts to Unemployment Benefits

Right under the bus they go. As you may have heard by now, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being the first in the nation to reduce weeks of state unemployment from 26 to 20, starting in January of 2012. This action has made the national news, from the front page of the WaPo last week, to a top ten story on the AP wires yesterday, to the NY Times today. That's the kind of publicity that will attract the best and the brightest to locate here, right? Right. Or not.

Now, before you go pointing your finger at the bossman, be advised that he didn't really want to do this, you see. It was all the Legislature's fault. Yeah. That'll work.

A spokesperson for Snyder said last week he would have been willing to sign a measure that kept the state at 26 weeks of benefits, but the votes for the measure were not there. The spokesperson also said Snyder may be willing to look at changing the weeks back if the federal government votes to restore the unemployment benefits program before the end of the year.

Sure he will. What makes him think that the Republican votes will be there in the future if they aren't there now? Not going to happen. While Snyder tries to make himself look like the good guy, the Michigan Chamber is applauding what is essentially another business tax cut, pointing at our $3.9 billion federal unemployment trust fund debt as the reason they are afraid that business taxes might go up in the future. How did we get so far in debt in the first place? Business tax cuts, of course.

But Michigan employers had their taxes reduced in 2002, and it's one reason the state unemployment insurance fund was depleted, said Rick McHugh, an Ann Arbor attorney for the Washington-based National Employment Law Project. The organization advocates policies to help unemployed people and low-wage workers.

With the Chamber highlighting Michigan's debt for everyone in the national press to see, and crying about how taxes on business are going to go up to pay for it, it's doubtful that any new businesses would be enticed to move here by this cut to unemployment benefits. Bad PR, all the way around.

And it's all done to play starve the beast. Cut taxes, create a deficit, insist on benefit cuts to pay for it. Lather, rinse, repeat, obviously the answer to the problem of debt is to keep reducing our income, and then passing the bill along to someone else. That someone else is you. Oh, and by the way, little mentioned is the fact that this will reduce the weeks of federal benefits as well.

But under federal formulas, federal unemployment aid will be reduced, too, because Michigan's maximum period is shortened. That would mean that someone who is laid off after Jan. 1 would be entitled to 16 fewer weeks of extended federal unemployment.

Which practically eliminates the 20-week extension, which was the reason for this action in the first place.

Nicely played, Republicans. You have to admit, they are the best grifters this world has ever seen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Brayan Villarreal

Brayan Villarreal 3014

Meet one of your new Tigers. This is Brayan Villarreal, only two years ago he was at low-A ball, so give him a break if he gets roughed up a bit at first. He ended the 2009 season with the Whitecaps at 5-5 - but he has held a pretty good ERA going up the ladder, so maybe he is ready. I guess we will find out.

It's been so cold I've had a hard time thinking about baseball starting, but I'm looking forward to meeting the new crop of Tiger talent. Let's play ball!

Hoosier House Dems Go Marching Home

The AP report has union members cheering the return, so, not following the nuance of the whole thing, I'll take their word that they got what they wanted. This report comes from Chicago Breaking earlier in the day:

Indiana House Democrats who fled the state nearly six weeks ago to protest a Republican agenda they considered an assault on labor unions and public education planned to return to the Statehouse today, ending one of the longest legislative walkouts in recent U.S. history.

Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said he and his fellow Democrats would return from their headquarters-in-exile in Urbana after winning concessions from Republicans over recent weeks on several proposals.

"This timeout gave millions of Hoosiers a real voice in their state government," Bauer, D-South Bend, said in a statement.

"Winning concessions from the Republicans". Say that out loud. Say it again. Doesn't it sound nice? Doesn't it sound like something we need to hear uttered more often?

You bet it does. Wish there were a way we could get it uttered in Lansing. C'mon people, get your creative thinking caps on...

Overconfident Much? MI GOP Head Dismisses Current Potential Republican Senate Candidates

Far too early to be seriously talking about the numbers surrounding the Senate 2012 race, but it's never too early to point out the arrogance of a tone-deaf Michigan Republican Party. Seems GOP head Bobby Schostak overstated his case on a potential Republican candidate to challenge Debbie Stabenow, and in the process admitted that the names mentioned so far are considered second-tier by the party. You just have to chuckle.

Michigan GOP Chairman Robert "Bobby" Schostak said in an interview he believes a Republican challenger to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow will emerge who is "head and shoulders" above the potential candidates mentioned so far.

Those potential candidates include former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and former state party Chairman Saul Anuzis.

"Is there a name yet to be announced that could … all of a sudden be head and shoulders, 'wow, that's the perfect person,' they absolutely will win, and the others should step aside?" Schostak asked in an interview.

"I expect that will happen, but I don't know who it is. They haven't met with me yet, if they're out there."

Terri Lynn Land took offense.

"Basically, what he is saying is he doesn't like us, which is a pretty rude thing for the state party chairman to say," Land said Friday.

Land could be a strong candidate, but you get the impression she doesn't have the fire to put herself out there as a frontrunner. Once again she takes a back seat to the boys, and is deferring her decision on a run until Hoekstra decides, which is almost an automatic admission that he would be the stronger candidate. As for Hoekstra, Skubick has read the tea leaves and is confident he won't run, preferring to enjoy a lucrative life out of the mud pit that is the modern day political race. (and if Tim is right, that really says something about how distasteful campaigning has become. Hoekstra is a political animal, and if he doesn't want to play the game anymore...) Turtle Pete will make a decision in the next couple of weeks.

Schostak knew he screwed up when he said it, and tried to take it back. Big points to Paul Egan at the DNews for reporting it anyway.

Schostak's communication director, Jennifer Hoff, who sat in on the Thursday interview, shortly afterward sent an e-mail to The Detroit News asking that the "head and shoulders" comment not be used.

"The chairman just asked me to follow up with you on the U.S. Senate stuff," Hoff said in the e-mail. "He would prefer you not reference it as 'head and shoulders above the rest' when discussing the Senate race and the possibility of a yet unknown getting in who is more than qualified but not really being talked about at this time. He wants to be considerate of all who are involved."

Oops! Too late. And it might not matter anyway. Given the current public sentiment on Republican governance, what with the tanking poll numbers and almost daily protests and all, 2012 might be yet another wave election that sweeps the extremists right back out of power again. The GOP overreach that is going on in the states, coupled with Republican obstruction that increasingly looks like it will bring about a federal government shutdown, will make the GOP very unpopular when it's all said and done. According to PPP, Stabenow is already the beneficiary of the anger that is mounting out there.

stabenowchst6613The biggest beneficiaries of the Midwestern backlash toward newly elected Republican Governors might be the Democratic Senators up for reelection in those states next year. Earlier this month we found Herb Kohl and Sherrod Brown in pretty solid shape for reelection in Wisconsin and Ohio respectively, and now Debbie Stabenow's standing is looking much improved from when PPP last polled Michigan in early December.

Stabenow's net approval rating has improved six points to +7 (46/39) from its +1 standing (41/40) in early December. More importantly she now leads all of the Republicans we tested against her by double digits. She's up 10 on former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land at 48-38, 12 on former Congressman Pete Hoekstra at 50-38, 17 on former state GOP chair Saul Anuzis at 52-35, and 19 on announced candidate Randy Hekman at 52-33. The numbers against Land and Hoekstra are most telling because we also tested them against Stabenow in December. Stabenow is now doing 6 points better against Land, having led by only 4 at 45-41 on the previous poll. And she's doing 11 points better against Hoekstra, having led by just a single point at 45-44 on the original survey.

All will change by next year of course. The Democrats still have to present their case, and they can't simply sit back and count on the Republicans to continue to shoot themselves in the foot. And who knows what events may transpire between then and now that will throw all the current polling right out the window. But as it stands, the trends are starting to take shape right now, and any Republican that thinks they still have some sort of sweeping mandate for their slash-and-burn public policy is going to be very surprised come next year.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro

I never doubted that we would elect a female president someday, because the first time I ever voted in a national election, there was a woman on the ticket. So, I took it for granted. Little did I realize that it would take so long to see the next one - but I know we will get there someday. I hope it's in my lifetime.

RIP Geraldine Ferraro, and thank you for breaking that glass ceiling and being a role model for millions of women. I'm sure her presence heightened my interest in paying attention to politics, even though I wouldn't get active in it until many years later.

Geraldine A. Ferraro, the former Queens congresswoman who in 1984 strode onto a podium to accept the Democratic nomination for vice president and to take her place in American history as the first woman nominated for national office by a major party, died on Saturday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She was 75.

The cause was complications from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that she had battled for 12 years, her family said in a statement.

“If we can do this, we can do anything,” Ms. Ferraro declared on a July evening to a cheering Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. And for a moment, for the Democratic Party and an untold number of American women, anything seemed possible: a woman occupying the second-highest office in the land, a derailing of the Republican juggernaut led by President Ronald Reagan, a President Walter F. Mondale.

It did not turn out that way — not by a long shot. After the roars in the Moscone Center had subsided and a fitful general election campaign had run its course, hopes for Mr. Mondale and his plain-speaking, barrier-breaking running mate were buried in a Reagan landslide. But Ms. Ferraro’s supporters proclaimed a victory of sorts nonetheless: 64 years after women won the right to vote, a woman had removed the “men only” sign from the White House door.

I still have a bumper sticker from '84 somewhere in a box - and I actually saw one on a car within the past couple of years. Let me see if I can dig that shot up...

UPDATE: Couldn't find the shot, but found a great video interview at the NYT:

Last Word: Geraldine A. Ferraro.

Covers her life and career. Take a look.

Michigan Job Gains at 10-Year High

Took this title straight from the DNews. It's buried in small letters down on the webpage.

U.S. companies have added jobs for 12 straight months, but the gains across the country have been uneven and a little surprising.

California and Michigan, which each suffered some of the worst job losses during the recession, are adding jobs again. California last month had its single best month for job creation in more than two decades.

But... but... but... we haven't cut taxes yet! We haven't busted the public employee unions yet! How could this be? Well, it "be" simply because we still are depending on manufacturing for job growth, and auto sales have picked up. Amongst other things too, like the renewable energy manufacturing jobs that were pointed out the other day. It's not all auto, but you could hazard a guess that the ripple effect is happening again.

Comerica Inc. Chief Economist Dana Johnson said Friday: "With its manufacturing sector leading the way, Michigan is repeating the historical pattern of having a stronger recovery than the nation after having a much worse downturn."

Could be why the DNews isn't making a big deal out of the story. They don't want to embarrass an editorial staff that is fixated on unions and government as being the cause of all our woe, when it's actually consumer demand that is the main driver in our economy, period. And check these numbers - after all the predictions that we wouldn't see job growth until 2011 or 2012, we actually added jobs in 2010. So there.

Michigan, meanwhile, added 71,000 jobs last year. That's the first sustained job gain the state has had in the past decade, said Sophia Koropeckyj, a managing director at Moody's Analytics.

Michigan's unemployment rate has plummeted from 13.5 percent to 10.4 percent, the biggest drop in the nation.

Half of the decline reflects a large drop in the state's work force. Once unemployed workers give up looking for jobs, they no longer count as unemployed.

Yes, the drop in the labor force is part of it, but you gotta love those numbers, especially the "biggest drop in the nation" in the jobless rate line. When comparing with other states, it can be informative (and fun!) provided your state is on the upswing. But, when it comes to percentages and revisions on the hard numbers, we are back to the old adage, "Does anybody really know what time it is"?

They have revised the labor force numbers along with our unemployment (technically described as the "jobless rate" in the official stats) numbers for the past few years. For example, as reported in the news throughout 2009, we were above 15% for months. Some were worried we might break our all-time high of 16.8% set in Dec. of 1982. After the revisions, it now shows we hit the highest percentage at 14.1% in Aug.- Sep. of 2009 - and started to drop back down from there. That's way earlier than the initial reported December of '09, 14.5% high-water mark.

Makes you wonder if that would have had any effect on the election hype of 2010. If the economy was turning earlier than we thought and was reported as such, would it have made a difference? Would it have killed some of the urgency in both the news and the campaign advertising? In the fall of 2010, right before the election, we were at a reported 13%. The revision now shows 11.6%. Quite a drop. Still high, of course, and maybe it wouldn't have mattered, given everything else that was being said about health care and taxes and all the other tripe that was being thrown about by the campaigns. But still...

Back to present day. We now are at fifth place in the nation, dropping below poor Rhode Island, who can't seem to ever catch a break. Wish Gov. Chaffee luck, he's going to need it. Nice to see the heat off of us for a change though, and let's hope that Snyder's short-sighted economic policy doesn't slow our recovery down. The DNews is also reporting today that he is having second thoughts about business tax incentives, which kind of tells you he didn't think this thing through - and that's a scary indication that he really doesn't know what he is doing.

Stay tuned.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Michigan Central

Detroit: Michigan Central Station

The Freep went straight for the cynicism on this story:

Critics were reacting skeptically today to promises that Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun intends to clean up his derelict Michigan Central Station, one of Detroit's architectural icons that has slowly rotted over the past two decades.

Dan Stamper, president of the bridge company, has been quoted this week saying that the company was acquiring permits to put a new roof on the Michigan Central Station and to put new windows in the building to make it easier to attract a developer.

Early next week, Detroit International Bridge plans to submit to the city the paperwork needed to receive the permits, said Alan Upchurch, a company spokesman.

This building fascinates me, as it has so many others. I grabbed just a few shots of it after an event in Detroit last year; didn't have much time (or courage) to go inside. (check out Forgotten Detroit for some inside photos). You can't really comprehend how big it is until you are standing in front of it. Quite imposing. And beautiful.

micent0104

Mlive has more:

The depot, standing in front of Roosevelt Park in the Corktown neighborhood, is the centerfold of Detroit ruin porn. Millions of passengers passed through the train station during its 75-year run, but it's sat empty for the past 23 years, aside from urban explorers and graffiti artists.

As Buildings of Detroit put it: "Nothing symbolizes Detroit's grandiose rise and spectacular fall like Michigan Central Station."

Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge along with hundreds of parcels in Detroit, has faced criticism for failing to maintain many of his properties around the city, including the depot. He's previously said he'd be willing to renovate the building if he could find a tenant -- or tear it down if there was a local consensus.

I'm not sure what "new windows" could possibly do for the place. Stamper estimates it would be $80 million for a complete renovation, and that sounds low to me considering all the damage inside. Still, I hope that someone does put the effort into it. It would be an amazing thing to see it restored.

micent0109

Hope to get down there again and take more shots one of these days...

Republican Careers Won't Be Included in the Shared Sacrifice

Details aren't available in the "free" press (yet), but the Legislature has a counter-proposal on Snyder's budget, and it includes kicking the can down the road so they don't have to face the consequences of their actions now. Sacrifice is for the little people, you see, and current Republican lawmakers aren't about to put their own careers in jeopardy. Don't be silly. From a headline in Gongwer:

Senate Republicans will propose a scaled back version of Governor Rick Snyder's proposed tax on pensions and an altered version of Mr. Snyder's proposed corporate income tax, Senate sources said Thursday.

Instead of Mr. Snyder's proposal - immediately taxing all pensions at the income tax rate of 4.25 percent, the rate set to take effect October 1, with no deduction on a certain amount of income - the Senate Republicans will propose applying the tax only to future retirees. Those already collecting pensions would not face additional taxation.

Profiles in courage right there. Some retirees will be more equal than others - especially those that might come out and vote in 2012. Nothing divisive about that plan, right?

To pull off this stunt, the corporate tax will be set higher at 6.75%, and according to MIRS, there are additional budget cuts as well. Something about the children...

"The Senate Republican Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget will include a slightly higher business tax, a shift in kindergarten eligibility and $250 million in additional budget cuts, MIRS has learned."

More cuts for you, more political cover for them, and a convoluted and confusing tax code that still will pick "winners and losers" in the long run. But hey, as long as this group of lawmakers doesn't end up on the "loser" side, they will find some way to justify their cowardly behavior. Wait and see...

UPDATE 8:00AM: Tip of the hat to Chad Selweski at the Macomb Daily Tribune, who is already three steps ahead of the rest of the media on this story. Take a bow...

In a closed-door meeting that lasted less than one hour, members of the GOP leadership of the House and Senate proposed raising Snyder's 6 percent corporate tax to 6.75 percent, and to levy it on all but the smallest companies in Michigan.

Lawmakers contend that the amended tax, combined with additional spending cuts, would allow for the restoration of the broad exemption on pension taxes, which costs the state $900 million a year.

But Snyder refused to budge on the tax on pensions, according to Sen. Jack Brandenburg, calling it a fairness issue. He insisted that the exemption for seniors, the most generous in the nation, must go, just as he has proposed eliminating numerous tax credits and deductions for the business community. The changes in Michigan tax policy sought by Snyder are integrated into a controversial "shared sacrifice" plan that mixes tax reform with budget cuts.

Sounds like Governor Snyder needs to learn that government is not a business, that there are three branches of power involved, and he doesn't get to call all the shots here. How far will the lawmakers push the issue? Far enough to undermine the whole premise behind this draconian budget, and admit that business tax cuts are no guarantee of jobs. Check out the money quote from Brandenburg:

"I want to work with him, I do," said Brandenburg, the Harrison Township Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, "but I can't because he has a $900 million money grab in there, and there's no guarantee that the tax cuts for businesses will generate a lot more jobs."

So now we have a Republican admitting that their entire economic theory could be wrong. Is that a first?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chip Chip Chipping Away

The unemployment extension has passed, and future workers will be asked to "sacrifice". And as usual, the word "shared" is nowhere to be found.

Governor Snyder is expected to sign legislation that will extend the lifeline to thousands of unemployed Michigan residents. But, future recipients won’t have as long to find a new job.

Lawmakers cut it close, Wednesday, but were able to extend federal unemployment benefits before the clock ran out on thousands of Michigan’s jobless. However, as part of that extension, state-level benefits starting next year would be limited to 20 weeks instead of 26 weeks. The Michigan Senate approved the plan 24-13, while the House supported it on a 65-44 vote.

Michigan becomes the second state behind Florida to see the GOP majority reduce unemployment benefits. (Edit: Florida's bill hasn't cleared their Senate yet, but chances are it will. And it's a lot nastier than ours. Read here.) 26 weeks has been the standard in the states since WWII. The bill was put on a fast-track through the legislature with no public debate allowed, and, in what is becoming SOP in Lansing, we won't be having any of that "bipartisan" stuff either.

"There is nothing in this legislation that helps Michigan’s business community, but there is plenty in this legislation that would harm Michigan’s unemployed workers," said Sen. John Gleason (D – Flushing) in a press released issued by Senate Democrats. "There would be absolutely no cost to our state to simply implement the temporary federal benefit extension as intended, and yet we’re instead handing a tremendous cost down to our unemployed workers who will be cut off from their benefits earlier."

Sen. Tupac Hunter (D – Detroit) also issued a quote after the vote was passed: "We were told we’d be voting on legislation to do what 30 other states have already done and bring Michigan into line with what the federal government allows to maximize the benefits available to our unemployed workers. Instead we were given legislation that would wind up cutting people off of their benefits sooner than if we did nothing. That’s the ultimate slap in the face to our unemployed workers struggling to make ends meet for their families."

According to the press release, Democrats attempted to amend the legislation to address unemployment fraud committed by businesses, increase child assistance, and provide for the full temporary 20 week extension without the permanent reduction in benefits. Those amendments were all rejected by the Republican majority in the Senate.

No shared sacrifice, no bipartisan cooperation or consideration on legislation. Lansing has become a one-way street that finds government working for the benefit of the privileged few, so feel free to laugh (or cry) whenever someone mentions "shared sacrifice" again.

Since this doesn't take effect until January of 2012, Democrats would be well-advised to remind those workers who are laid-off next year on how their House representative voted on this measure. They should also start making a list of the things we will have to fix when the pendulum swings back and throws the Republicans out of power again - because if this keeps up, that is exactly what is going to happen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Touchback Trailer



Chills just watching this. In light of current events surrounding Michigan's film industry, I am so happy that I signed up to be an extra in this movie. Little did I know that it would be my only chance - and that makes it that much more special.

I'm reminded of the quote in "Field of Dreams" from Moonlight Graham:

"You know we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, well, there'll be other days. I didn't realize that that was the only day."

I feel that way about a lot of things lately. But hey, I had a blast doing it, and I savored every moment. It was a great experience.

See pictures and the story behind a night of shooting here. They still haven't set a release date as far as I know. It might even go straight to DVD, just not sure yet.

Eventually, I'll get a copy and smile, and remember when we were cool. And we still are cool. Just experiencing a temporary setback that I hope we will remedy in the next few years...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Snyder to Attack Teachers With New Cable TV Ad, Approval Numbers Plummet

Just like Koch Industries helping Walker in Wisconsin, or even Matty Mouron and his ads over the Detroit bridge, Governor Snyder is set to unleash the propaganda war over the airwaves to push his reverse Robin Hood budget plan. His first ad was released on the web, and featured small children vs. their grandparents; this time it's college students against teachers. Divide and conquer, indeed.

The pro-Snyder advocacy group Value for Michigan will counter Capitol protests with a month-long ad campaign that begins Monday with a round of cable TV ads designed to promote passage of Gov. Rick Snyder’s tax and budget proposal.

Political strategist John Yob today unveiled the second of two ads produced by the group, this one featuring five students who say the general plan that replaces the Michigan Business Tax with a new 6 percent income tax on profits would improve their economic prospects and keep them in the state after graduation.

The group Value for Michigan is located in Grand Rapids. Too bad their "values" include trying to emotionally manipulate people to think that our problem stems from teachers that are just being greedy.

“Why are teachers protesting?” the students ask. “At least they have jobs. They don’t need more more money. Our state needs more jobs.”

No mention of the deep cuts to education that brought on the protests, of course. Cuts that will leave some school districts close to bankruptcy. Cuts that are going to eliminate extracurricular activities like music and sports. Cuts that are going to slash jobs in schools, just so Republicans can put money in the pockets of business owners, who have admitted that they probably won't be using the money to create new jobs anyway.

The MEA has made noise about a strike. While I personally think that would be a bad idea, I can't say as I blame them for thinking in that direction - especially if they are going to get attacked in this misleading and demeaning way over the airwaves. And it wasn't just teachers protesting - the other unions, seniors, K-12 kids, and college students themselves have been there as well. To single out teachers is being intentionally deceptive - and only serves to divide the public against each other.

Governor Snyder is proving himself to be no different in policy than the brash Walker, or Kasich, or Scott, or any of the other Republican governors that are using "disaster capitalism" as an excuse to give the rich more tax cuts. He just makes other people do his dirty work - which makes him a coward too, I guess. Maybe that's why his approval numbers are plummeting rapidly.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has quickly fallen out of favor with the citizens who elected him, reaching levels of unpopularity lower than first term Republican governors in neighboring states and almost as low as the end-of-term numbers reached by his Democratic predecessor, according to a new poll.

The poll by Public Policy Polling found 50% of Michiganders disapprove of Snyder’s job performance, compared to 33% who approve, and would prefer to have elected Snyder’s opponent last fall, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, by a 47%-45% margin.

(Edit to add: If we are going to bring up Granholm, Mr. Bell, her "job performance on the budget was rated 'positive' by 69 percent of the 600 respondents" in a March 2003 EPIC poll. That comes from George Weeks at the Detroit News. Probably a better comparison than the end-of-term numbers, wouldn't you think?)

Big time buyer's remorse here in Michigan - and according to PPP, he has fallen farther and faster than Kasich and Walker. Can't imagine this ad will make it any better.

I should feel some more vindication here, but I don't. I feel sad. I don't want this to be happening. We can't afford to waste all this time and talent on fighting and divisiveness and bad policy that is going to hurt our state and its people. And 2014 seems so far away...

Michigan's RPS Worked: Nearly 200 Companies Now in Wind & Solar, Over 10,000 Jobs Created

There was a reason I was jumping up and down about this in 2008. A study from the Environmental Law & Policy Center out of Chicago today shows how our renewable portfolio standard and targeted state incentives worked to help companies retool and grow in the clean tech industry and create over 10,000 jobs. Go check the report for a list of companies and maps of the locations; here is the summary:

Michigan is home to nearly 200 solar and wind supply chain companies (over 50 of which supply to both industries) with more than 4,000 jobs tied to the wind industry and 6,300 to the solar industry. Clean tech is the state’s fastest growing sector, with $10 billion in announced clean energy development investments in the pipeline. The state ranks fourth in the nation for number of jobs in the solar industry and first for clean energy patents. Some of the primary drivers of Michigan’s job growth in the wind and solar industry include:

Renewable Portfolio Standard. In 2008, Michigan enacted its first Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requiring that 10% of the utilities’ electricity supply come from renewable energy sources by 2015. The expanded renewable energy market has created more opportunity for equipment manufacturing in Michigan.

Established Industrial Manufacturing Base. Michigan’s manufacturing base has begun to respond to the national demand for wind and solar components.

SaluteSkilled High-Tech Workforce. Michigan has a trained high-tech workforce accustomed to manufacturing, and many of the skills available in the state are consistent with those needed to address the demand from the renewable energy industry.

Clean Energy Advanced Manufacturing Grants. Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth issued $39.3 million in grants and loans using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to promote private industry diversification into renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors.

Leading Research and Development Spending. Michigan businesses spend over $15 billion a year in R&D spending, ahead of any other state, per dollar of gross state product. Michigan developed a strategic partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to give companies access to its alternative energy and materials research.

Strong University Base for Clean-Tech Expertise. With over 6,500 engineering degrees awarded each year, Michigan ranks fourth in the country for engineering graduates. Over a dozen Michigan universities and colleges have clean tech research programs or active renewable energy projects.

Targeted Supply Chain Development. In 2006, the state and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) completed a comprehensive renewable energy supply chain assessment and began helping existing manufacturing companies that could quickly diversify into the wind and solar industries. MEDC focused on educating potential suppliers on the industries, facilitating matchmaking with wind and solar original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier 1 suppliers, providing industry training and supporting manufacturing and innovation through the Centers of Energy Excellence program.

Centers of Energy Excellence. In 2008, the MEDC created the Centers of Energy Excellence (COEE), a $45 million program financed by the 21st Century Jobs Fund that creates “cluster teams” and provides grants to for-profit companies that are commercializing innovative energy technologies with support from a university. Energetx Composites, Astraeus Wind Energy, and Dow Corning have leveraged millions in funding through COEE designations.

Business Incentives. Michigan has used several incentives including business tax credits for supply chain development and work force expansion, as well as renewable energy renaissance zone designations.

We need a higher state RPS (most states have set higher standards), or perhaps a federal standard for everyone, but with Republicans in control here and in the House in DC, don't look for it anytime soon. With Snyder eliminating the incentives for Michigan, chances are we are going to lose this business to other states for the time being. And that's a shame. Perhaps a change in attitude will be in order once it's discovered that companies are locating and growing elsewhere. Or, perhaps a change in leadership will be necessary, if certain parties insist on being stubborn. Can we afford to lose four years? Good question.

Hopes are that what we have started can continue to grow. Thank you Governor Granholm, and yes, thank you to our previous Legislature as well. This is a legacy you can be proud of.

UPDATE 3/23: Speaking of the Governor, she's going to be taking the Michigan show on the road for the folks at Pew Charitable Trusts:

Granholm said she’ll use Michigan as an example of how to develop an advanced battery industry for an emerging market for electric-powered vehicles. She said clean energy is “the mother of all markets,” and the U.S. must not fall behind China and Europe in producing renewable energy products.

“Our goal here is to use the Michigan experience in creating energy jobs, to say to America that policy matters,” Granholm said in a Free Press telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “If the right national policy is in place, then jobs will be created across the country, and the United States will be more independent of foreign oil.”

Granholm said the lack of a national manufacturing policy is a major factor in the decline of cities like Detroit, and that Michigan’s manufacturing know-how could help it gain more clean energy jobs – if the federal government helps.

The public is certainly for it. In a Feb. Gallup survey on eight actions that Congress could take this year, "pass a bill that provides incentives for using solar and other alternative energy sources" came in first place with a whopping 83%-15% approval.

Can you imagine if the Democrats were as tenacious about renewable energy policy as the Republicans are about tax cuts? We could lead the world.

Realize the Profits

Hey! Your business just received a tax cut! What are you going to do next?

First of all, you admit that the whole premise of "low taxes = jobs" wasn't really all it was cracked up to be...
But the link between lower taxes and job creation is shaky at best according to the Small Business Association of Michigan and Business Leaders for Michigan, which represents large corporations.

Fewer than half of small businesses say the tax cuts mean new jobs, according to a Small Business Association survey. About 50 percent say they will use tax cuts to "realize profits."

And then you say "thank you" and put the money in your pocket. Interesting. Don't seem to remember that being mentioned in any campaigns last fall. Oh well. Johnny, tell them what they have won...

Here is the question and answers the Small Business Association received from 431 members:

"If Gov. Snyder's 6% Corporate Income Tax Plan becomes law, and your small business no longer pays businesses taxes, will your company"

• Add employees (48 percent)

• Expand your business (52 percent)

• Buy new equipment (51 percent)

• Raise wages and benefits for your current employees (50 percent)

• Realize the profits (50 percent)

So even with very favorable tax cuts, 52 percent of small businesses plan no additional employees. It's pretty discouraging. Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the association, says most job growth traditionally comes from small business.

Some of the above sounds like they have good intentions, but the admission that less than half will hire is disturbing - especially when you consider what it will cost the rest of us.

Raises and benefits are nice for those that receive them, but in the big picture economy, it's hard to believe that they will make up for the decade of previous cuts, stagnant wages, or increases in the cost of living. Not to mention any small business hiring will probably be off-set by cuts in the middle-class jobs, pay and benefits that cities and schools are going to be forced to make. The continued competition for jobs, with unemployment still an issue, will keep wages and benefits low as well. Figure it's a wash at best, and a loss at worst. Maybe someone will follow up on the numbers after the fact to give us a solid picture of jobs created vs. jobs lost under this plan.

And as to the rest of the price tag, the facet of this that is rarely mentioned - perhaps we should do a survey of seniors and anyone who was receiving the EITC or other tax credits to determine where they are going to cut back on spending. Snyder's plan will take $1.7 billion out of the hands of the consumers that buy products or services from these businesses - which may act to depress the need to "expand business" or add those new employees in the first place. And "buying new equipment", depending on what that is, could mean the elimination of jobs as businesses move towards more automation.

No guarantees at all out of small business. How about the major employers?

Jobs aren't likely to happen with the big boys. Only about half of the state's 76 largest businesses will benefit from Snyder's business tax cuts, says Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. Their decisions about job growth don't hinge on changes and seem only loosely linked to more favorable tax treatment in Michigan.

So, we are going to raise taxes on the working poor and seniors, as well as destroy our schools, public safety, and major economic development efforts, for a theory that business professionals admit is "shaky" and "loosely linked", and that the majority of small and big business owners admit won't increase hiring.

Well then. Let the protests continue...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Michigan Only State Not to Extend Unemployment Benefits

Cold, cold hearts run this state.

About 35,000 of Michigan's laid-off workers will lose unemployment benefits next month and about 150,000 by the year's end if the Michigan Legislature doesn't approve a measure by Thursday to extend jobless benefits.

Congress approved the federal benefits in December, but states like Michigan must pass their own bill to allow workers to receive an extension from 79 to 99 weeks. To meet the deadline, the GOP-led Legislature must act before lawmakers' two-week recess that begins next week. If Michigan fails to act, it would be first and only eligible state in the country whose workers won't get the federally funded benefit.

These benefits are 100% federally funded. But the people who run the GOP, and therefore our state government, you know, the ones who will be receiving more tax-cut corporate welfare by the time our budget is complete, are concerned someone, somewhere, someday, might ask them to "sacrifice" something. Heaven forbid, they can't have that.

Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, is concerned federal unemployment taxes will be increased on businesses as a result the extension in federal borrowing to pay for it, though no such congressional action is pending.

No one has said a word about taxes, no one thinks that the GOP-run US House would even consider such a thing, but the MCoC will use that as a convenient excuse. Before they will let their lapdogs act, they want more "concessions" from the unemployed. They want a crackdown on "fraud" first. They want a one-week waiting period before people can start to collect their initial 26 weeks. They want and want and want and if they don't get what they want, they whine even louder. And run nasty advertising. Or something.

Every other state has taken care of this. Every. single. one. Even the reddest of the red. But, in the state that was hit hardest by the recession, our lawmakers are going to throw these people in the street.

And then leave for a two-week paid vacation.

That's cold. Stone cold.

So, how do you like your Republican government so far?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Supermoon Sunday: March 20, 2011

smblowout
Try as I might, I could not get a clear shot of Supermoon! here in GR. We had some high clouds move in right after moonrise - so I went with this blowout shot instead. The guys at the GR Press struggled a bit with it too, so I don't feel so bad.

Some stuff I wanted to note:

  • Protests against Snyder's budget and union-busting proposals continue. Battle Creek held a protest Friday that drew hundreds, and on Saturday the U.P. got in on the action with protests in Marquette and Munising. Traverse City saw hundreds turn out on Saturday as well. My favorite story of the week came from Manistee, where seven people protested in front of that city's library Tuesday. Who needs to go to the big city when you can speak out at home?

  • Nuclear fail. No danger of meltdown here, but the Cook Nuclear Plant's Unit 1 in Bridgman was down for five days to fix a hydrogen leak in the main generator. At first it was thought that a seal was broken, but they finally traced the problem to some bolts on an end plate that needed retorquing. The generator is housed separate from the reactor building.

  • The roller-coaster continues at Uni-Solar. Incentive cuts in France and Italy spell a slowdown in production for the company, but so far it is unknown whether or not they will cut hours or jobs in Greenville. Business is picking up in North America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, so that's a positive sign.

  • Speaking of Uni-Solar, it was five years ago this month that Electrolux left town. The Greenville Daily did a very good series recently that takes a look back at the story, and what has happened to the town and workers since then. Follow this link to see the history of Electrolux in the area, and the first day in the series that takes a look at operations amidst the violence in Juarez, Mexico. It's an eye-opener. From there you can see the rest of the week's articles.

  • Detroit 1-8-7 will run its season - and perhaps series - finale tonight at 10PM. ABC will not decide until May on whether or not they will pick up the show for next year. If they do continue on, there is a chance they will move filming to a state (or Canada) that has film incentives, which means we may not be seeing the great scenes from Detroit's famous and infamous landmarks anymore. So, tune in tonight, and keep your fingers crossed we can keep it (and the jobs and businesses that serve the show) here.

  • Senator Stabenow draws attention to the rare earth shortages in America this week, asking federal officials to urge the Chinese to loosen export restrictions on the materials. Good to see this getting some notice in Congress.

  • Don't bark at police dogs. They will arrest you if you do.

  • Why is MEDC still picking winners and losers? Perplexing news release of the week was entitled "10 growing businesses choose Michigan over competing states and nations", as we are still doling out the tax credits that Snyder plans to eliminate. If those credits are so gosh darn horrible, why didn't they put a stop to it already? Hey, we will take the jobs and investment, it just seems a little odd...

  • Peter Luke comes up with the best summary paragraph concerning Snyder's budget plan:

    There is little evidence that slashing business tax rates leads to job growth. In the past 10 years, the business tax burden declined as a percentage of personal income even more than the economy as a whole. The economic freefall in Michigan indeed was preceded by more than $1 billion in personal and business tax cuts approved in 1999. Snyder’s plan to finance his tax cut by raising taxes some $1.3 billion on retirees and low-income wage earners punishes individuals with no guarantee there will be significantly more jobs.

    That first sentence can't be repeated enough. All of this is predicated on trickle-down theory - and no one seems to want to challenge it anymore. And when Democrats repeat the theory, it gives me little hope that anyone will challenge it in the future. How far does our quality of life have to fall until we get the message?

    That's it for now...
  • Saturday, March 19, 2011

    The Wind Keeps Blowing

    Great story out of Japan:

    Despite assertions by its detractors that wind energy would not survive an earthquake or tsunami the Japanese wind industry is still functioning and helping to keep the lights on during the Fuksuhima crisis.

    Colleagues and I have been directly corresponding with Yoshinori Ueda leader of the International Committee of the Japan Wind Power Association & Japan Wind Energy Association, and according to Ueda there has been no wind facility damage reported by any association members, from either the earthquake or the tsunami. Even the Kamisu semi-offshore wind farm, located about 300km from the epicenter of the quake, survived. Its anti-earthquake "battle proof design" came through with flying colors.

    Mr. Ueda confirms that most Japanese wind turbines are fully operational. Indeed, he says that electric companies have asked wind farm owners to step up operations as much as possible in order to make up for shortages in the eastern part of the country.

    Sold on this yet?

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Parting Shot

    This is my favorite from the protest on Wednesday:

    snydeprotest0136px1000

    Even better in the 1000 px version. Just click and see.

    It doesn't show the size of the crowd, but captures the beauty of the building with the protesters lining the rails and chanting - it was a great moment. And a tough shot, too, with many people behind me pushing to get to the rotunda floor. Had to plant my feet and hold my ground. With the low, yellow light in the Capitol producing a lot of noise, motion blur, and wild color variations in most pictures, shooting there is difficult at best, a nightmare at worst - but I love the challenge.

    This day, with hundreds packing the place all the way to the top floor, was especially challenging. Hard to shoot when your eyes tear up and you can't stop smiling.

    Joining them in the chant was very cathartic. The whole day, I felt like I was getting back on the horse that threw me, and to go in and howl like that, with all those people at my side? Priceless. I chanted for the shutdowns. I chanted for the budget cuts. I chanted for the frustration felt during the tyranny of Bishop. I chanted for all the endless battles of before, I chanted for all the endless battles to come. It was a strange mix of vindication laced with sorrow - but what a great release, if only for a moment.

    Whose house? Our house.

    And later, when they came back in the building and did it again, I ran into Mark Schauer at that point. We stood there at the rotunda entry off the Senate side, and watched and listened to the stomping and the chanting, over and over... and I flashed on the fact that it sure was a long way from that sunny July day in 2007 when I decided I just had to go meet the guy in an office in that very hallway. It became surreal at that point, thinking of all that had happened since then. I'm really glad he was there to see it.

    I'm glad I was too.

    I'm sure there will be more protests to come. Don't know if I'll make it down there again, but I'll be with them in spirit. Always.

    The Forgotten Hoosier House Democrats Fight On

    These guys haven't received the media attention that has been bestowed upon Wisconsin and Michigan, but it should be noted that there are still Democrats in this country living in exile to protest state-level draconian Republican policy. Meet the Hoosier House Dems, who have vowed to stay in Illinois for as long as it takes until their concerns are heard.

    Top Republicans in the Indiana Legislature say they are through negotiating with boycotting Democrats and will start working around them.

    The Democrats who've brought the Indiana House to a four-week standstill said they don't plan to return from Illinois despite efforts to increase pressure on them with higher fines and stronger rhetoric. The Democrats fled Indiana to prevent the House from voting on bills that they consider anti-labor.

    Indiana Republicans are trying to claim that it's the Dems that keep changing the targets on "negotiations", but time and time again we have seen what that term means to the Rs that are insistent on pushing their highly partisan brand of governance: You either give them everything they want, or no deal. The Hoosier House Dems aren't buying it.

    Before the Democratic walkout began Feb. 22, Republicans — with wide majorities in both the House and Senate — had been advancing a broad agenda that included expansion of charter schools, state vouchers to help parents send their children to private schools, strict limits on collective bargaining for teachers, an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration and prohibiting union representation fees from being a condition of employment at most companies.

    But even with the Senate working to move some bills forward, no final legislative action can take place without the return of the House Democrats because the state constitution requires two-thirds of members present to conduct business. Republicans have more than a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

    Republicans increased the fines against absent Democrats to $350 a day beginning Monday — up from the $250 a day that was imposed starting last week. Bosma said Republicans on Monday also would consider a formal censure against the 39 Democrats taking part in the walkout.

    Democratic Rep. Win Moses of Fort Wayne called the larger fines "a poke in the eye" that would only increase the boycotters' resolve.

    Governor Mitch Daniels is playing the "oh, it's so sad that they are being unreasonable but we have to move on now" card - and that's exactly what the Dems want.

    House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said it was "good news" that the Senate was starting budget hearings because he believed senators would give a closer look to the financial impact of the charter school expansion and other matters pushed by House Republicans.

    Bauer said Democrats didn't expect to return Monday, when the House is next scheduled to meet.

    Indiana's legislative session is scheduled to end April 29th, after which the governor would be required to call a special session to finish the budget. Drop dead date is June 30th. It probably comes as a surprise to those of us in Michigan who are used to lawmakers dragging the work out for an entire year, but most states take care of business in the first few months, and they do it with a part-time, low-pay legislature.

    (Michigan's lawmakers are the second-highest paid in the country behind California, and, since they are now demanding radical changes to the terms of state employee compensation under the guise of being competitive with other states and the private sector, it probably should follow that we look at making radical changes to our legislature as well, yes? Perhaps a big cut in pay and part-time status? Shared sacrifice and all? Something to think about.)

    Cheers to the Indiana House Dems, and good luck to them on their quest. The Republicans are going to do what they want to do in the end, but at least this will draw attention to the issue and make people stop and notice. Wisconsin Dems stayed away for a few weeks - and these guys are going for months, with big fines per day as well, and they aren't getting the attention they deserve.

    Perhaps if a special session is called, the national press will come around. In the meantime, enjoy beautiful Illinois - the new Midwest home for Democrats in exile.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Charge 'Er Up: GR's First Chevy Volt Pulls Into the Station

    Remember the story I told you about the electric car charger at the Center of the Universe? Today we marked the first customer.



    Consumers Energy was on hand to talk about its SmartStreet program; the following comes from their press release:

    On the day celebrating the “wearing of the green,” Consumers Energy and other local collaborators marked a milestone in the “greening” of Grand Rapids: The arrival of the first locally owned plug-in electric vehicle at the utility’s public charging station.

    This morning, local resident Merl Petzold plugged his new Chevy Volt into Consumers Energy’s free public charging station located along Lake Drive in the city’s East Hills neighborhood. Petzold’s visit helped officially dedicate the Coulomb Technologies ChargePoint America charging station. The station was installed in the parking lot shared by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Marie Catrib’s restaurant and several other businesses in the vibrant East Hills area. The Volt, General Motors first plug-in electric vehicle (PEV), is reaching Michigan showrooms this month.

    The free charging station is the first public station installed in Grand Rapids, and is part of Consumers Energy’s innovative SmartStreet program in East Hills.

    Merl Petzold was the chief engineer of energy and environmental affairs at Wyoming's 36th St GM plant, and he told me that so far he loves his Volt. Here is the story that ran when it was delivered to him just last week.

    The wait has been long – 9 months, to be exact – but Merl Petzold will finally take a seat today in his new Chevrolet Volt.

    Is he excited?

    “You bet your life,” he said Friday, the night before seeing the car he’s dreamed of for weeks.

    Petzold's Volt is the first in West Michigan, and one of just four allocated to be sold from Grand Rapids' Berger Chevrolet this model year.

    Petzold, a General Motors retiree and self-proclaimed tree-hugger, was the first person to place a deposit on one of the state-of-the-art vehicles at Berger Chevrolet. Petzold said he made the decision in July, after years of driving a Honda Insight Hybrid.

    When I arrived, the car was already plugged in and "filling up", as it were. Mr. Petzold spent the time talking with various reporters about his car, and he was kind enough to start it up for me so I could * not * hear it run. (the Volt is totally silent. It's almost eerie.) Very nice gentleman, very enthused about alternative energy. Chatted with the guy from Consumers, who told me they have plans for 90 charging stations for the area. Also talked to the rep from Berger about the training for technicians for these cars; definitely not something your local grease monkey is going to be able to tackle. Yet.

    Was very glad to be there to see this bit of history. Years from now, if I'm playing "Grand Rapids Trivia" for fun and prizes and this question comes up, I will win. ;-)

    Pure Michigan: St. Patrick's Day in Detroit


    Tip 'o the hat to my friend Paddy at The Political Carnival.

    It was always a great day to be in a band. People don't care how bad you are, they dance anyway. :-)

    Drive safe everyone.

    Michigan Republicans Poised to Throw Thousands Off of Unemployment Benefits

    Might as well just face up to facts. Michigan Republicans are running the state government for the benefit of business interests only. Regular citizens need not apply.

    Remember how Congress passed the unemployment benefits extension at the end of last year? Well, we needed to make a simple change in our law to accept those benefits - and now our R lawmakers are dragging their feet and pulling out the usual objections as to why they can't do that.

    That's because, although the money has been approved, Michigan's legislature needs to pass legislation that would make the state eligible to receive it.

    35,000 jobless Michiganders could see extended unemployment benefits immediately stop on April 2nd if the Legislature fails to act by next Friday. And state agencies say there are more who could see benefits cut off if an extension to the Extended Benefits (EB) program isn't accepted.

    "Approximately 150,000 unemployed workers in Michigan could potentially be affected by the loss of the EB program," said Steve Arwood, Deputy Director of the Deparment of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. "These are individuals who are currently on EB and those who could exhaust all of their benefits before the end of this year."

    And yes, this is strictly a partisan move. It's also time to start calling that out for what it is. For all of Snyder's talk about how we would "work together" and not play these games anymore, once again we find that Republicans are refusing to consider Democratic amendments to legislation.

    So, where's the bipartisan love? Doesn't exist, and people are going to start paying the price.

    On Wednesday, Rep. Byrum proposed a substitute bill on the House floor that would've allowed approximately $500 million in federal funds into the state. That bill was voted down.

    A representative with House Speaker Jase Bolger's (R - Marshall) office says the Speaker is still on the fence about the issue. That representative told WILX that although Bolger understands the problems Michigan's long-term jobless are facing, he's concerned that the increased costs businesses would bear from extending benefits could be too high.

    Yes, "business" comes first. Always. Besides, Republican Senator Rick Jones thinks the unemployed are just lazy. He wants "reforms" to the system.

    "I want the truly unemployed to have benefits," said Sen. Jones. "I worry about all of the cases I hear where people aren't looking for employment."

    Ah, the "truly unemployed", as opposed to all those people who are doing it for fun. Some unemployed are more deserving than others. These statements indicate that Republicans aren't going to move this legislation anytime soon - even though it's reported that Snyder is in favor of it.

    I'm starting to think some recalls are in order. If not a campaign against Snyder, then maybe pick a couple of Senators. I don't like recalls at all, because they are usually used as a partisan weapon (on taxes in particular) - but I don't know how else to send a message at this point.

    They aren't listening to Democrats. They aren't listening to public opinion. They aren't listening to protests. They aren't serving the people, period. You get the impression they are going to do as much damage as they possibly can before the election next year - and if this keeps up, we might just be set to have another blue wave sweep the country.

    How many will be hurt in the meantime?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    This Is Our House

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    1000 px cropped version here.

    Protesters swarm the Capitol. And when they came inside, it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. Incredibly LOUD too. Never knew the place had such great acoustics.

    Fun day. Thousands of people. Sure was different than the last time I was there - hard to believe that was only two and a half months ago. Is this a record time for the citizens to start demanding a recall? Heh. Don't know whether to laugh or cry.

    snyderprotest0239


    Check the slideshow below for more shots from the day. Special guest appearances from Rep. Richard Hammel, Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, State Treasurer Andy Dillon (who was smiling as he was on his way to attend the signing of the EFM bill), and former Congressman and all-around great guy Mark Schauer.

    Are Michigan Farmers the Next Target?

    The agriculture community enjoys a great deal of government support, so it only seems natural that the forces who have made a career on attacking the government would get around to farmers eventually. As we have seen time and time again, first it starts with a media campaign to discredit the group's importance to society... from the DNews this morning:

    "Critics debate farms' impact on Michigan"

    Title says it all, don't you think? The use of the word "critics" indicates that a number of people are being, well, critical, and more often than not the word is taken with negative connotations nowadays. Now, to lay out the groundwork to bring question to the reader's mind:

    Michigan's farmers and the state department overseeing them champion agriculture as the state's second-largest industry, but federal statistics show it is closer to being the second smallest.

    The issue has emerged as Gov. Rick Snyder, who was endorsed by the Michigan Farm Bureau, is targeting agriculture for more assistance and refers to it as the state's No. 2 industry.

    Mention the state government. Mention the state government has implied "assistance". Pit the sides of the "debate" against each other; in this case, a study from MSU that encompasses all the side industries such as ethanol production, etc., vs. the federal statistics that don't take those things into account. Next, call upon the usual suspects to weigh in on the issue. In Michigan, that can only mean one thing.

    Agriculture's No. 2 status "is definitely a myth," said James Hohman, a fiscal policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a think tank in Midland.

    "Agriculture is nowhere near as large as most Michigan industries," Hohman said. "You drive through the state, you see a lot of agriculture. But when you start adding it up, it doesn't account for as much as you might expect."

    The debate about agriculture's economic punch may not change its status in Lansing.

    "The agriculture lobby is pretty strong, and they have a fairly positive image," said John Truscott, president and principal of the Truscott Rossman public relations firm in Lansing. "I don't think reality would change their image much."

    It's a myth. It's a myth that defies reality. Wow, didn't know that, did you? What a revelation. The surprising part is that the agriculture industry has definitely been an important constituency for the Republicans (and some Democrats too, but for the most part you think of rural areas as being a big part of the R base), and here is the right-wing blowing up the image. Is it possible that you would see the extremist forces start to split farmers off from herd? Sure. Just look at what is happening with the freshman teabaggers vs. the remnants of the old Republican guard on Capitol Hill. Why wouldn't they target this spending next?

    The article follows the traditional "he said, she said, he said" style. First we hear from the Mac Center, then we hear from the state and MSU with a rebuttal and explanation, and then we instantly segue back into a paragraph that instills more doubt by showing that Ohio and Indiana use different stats. Who knows what to think. And then, we are right back to the Mac Center, with a side order of the paid economists at the Anderson Group, who lean more right than not. Just to drive home the point.

    But critics say agricultural advocates rely on a statistical approach that inflates the numbers.

    "Not being specific about what industry is being discussed is a source of the confusion," said Hohman of the Mackinac Center. "The people that use the study are not careful in reporting the findings."

    Scott Watkins, a senior consultant with Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing, said the federal statistics encompass most aspects of agriculture. The category also covers forestry, fishing, and hunting, which are not traditionally associated with farming.

    The fact that the MSU study also measures portions of other industries such as transportation and manufacturing is "fairly misleading," he said.


    Kind of settles the "debate" right there, doesn't it? The story ends with the Mac Center agreeing that agriculture has been a "bright spot" in the Michigan economy, "but it's just not that big of a bright spot".

    It only follows that they don't need any government "assistance" then, right? Case closed.

    First the came for the poor, then they came for the public employees... we will see if the heat starts to turn up on the farmers next. In the meantime, watch for that pattern in any argument surrounding government spending; negative, rebuttal, stronger negative that reiterates the first point. It's a classic tactic when it comes to the "fair and balanced" crowd.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Japan

    (Tues 3/15 -Putting this back on top today)

    (Sun 3/13) The pictures and video out of Japan have been heartbreaking. One thing that struck me yesterday is that, just like Madison, the internet is taking the lead role in reporting. CNN has been non-stop, the others... well, I won't watch Fox, and MSNBC is "closed on weekends", as someone put it. (although I notice they are on this morning)

    The New York Times has had great coverage; breaking news, interactive graphics, the works. Check there first for the latest. They also have a list of charity organizations if you are looking to donate, complete with the standard caveat that they do not "certify the charities’ fund allocations or administrative costs". For that, check out the Charity Navigator page here:

    japaneqcharitybutton

    Japan Charity Navigator

    Study up before you give, so your donation can go as you intended.

    Offering up prayers and positive vibes for the people of Japan today. For all of our problems and strife here in America - nothing can compare to the horror that they are facing now, and I wish them all the best as they start what is going to be a long and difficult recovery.

    (3/15) People. Settle.

    Despite assurances there is no risk of exposure to radiation from last week's shutdown of nuclear reactors in Japan, some West Michigan residents are seeking out potassium iodide, a substance proven to reduce the risk of thyroid cancer from radiation.

    “I sold five bottles yesterday and I don't have any more,” said Camille McIntosh, manager of Harvest Health Foods, 1944 Eastern Ave. SE. “I'm ordering more but the company said they're out.”

    Customers told her Internet sources for potassium iodide also are running out, McIntosh said. “This Japan thing is scaring people.”

    The GR Press has a good story and graphic that shows the nuclear plants in the Midwest. I will admit that one of the things that has crossed my mind is the New Madrid fault in Missouri - but check out the history of earthquakes in Michigan or the seismic hazard map, and you will see that we are not prone to major action here. We do have earthquakes, but never at the magnitude it would take to seriously disrupt one of these plants.

    Illinois, however...