Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MEDC Grant Keeps Focus: HOPE Training Programs Running

This is some really good news.

A week after Focus: HOPE said it would shut down its work training programs because of federal funding cuts, the organization has announced new grant funding will keep some of those programs alive.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. has awarded a one-time, $1 million grant that will allow Focus: HOPE to "continue a modest level of programs and services while it reorganizes and applies for a new level of federal funding," according to a news release.

"This is terrific news," said William F. Jones Jr., Focus: HOPE's chief executive officer. "It gives us the ability to finish classes that students were just weeks away from completing. As we leverage this money to obtain additional funding, we are simultaneously planning our future programming."

For those outside of Detroit who don't know what Focus: HOPE is, you can read about its history and meaning to the citizens of Detroit here. And if the feds don't come through, perhaps the state can step up again... it's a nice thought, isn't it?

Awaiting the List of Demands

For some reason I don't trust this. Call it... oh, I don't know... years of experience.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday threw their support behind a payroll tax cut extension, trying to blunt charges ahead of 2012 elections of favoring wealthy Americans over middle-class workers.

Until Tuesday, Republicans had been lukewarm on extending President Barack Obama's payroll tax cut for workers, indicating they were open to negotiating it but never explicitly backing a measure, which the White House says will boost the country's sputtering economic recovery.

The move by Republicans could help avert an end-of-year battle with Democrats after months of bitter budget battles that brought the country to the edge of default in August and cost it its coveted AAA rating from Standard & Poor's.

Lukewarm?

Though he no longer has to worry about his re-election, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) isn't moderating his views. The Arizona Republican, who is retiring from office in 2012, said on Sunday that he would oppose an extension of the payroll tax cut, which is set to expire at the end of this year.

"The payroll tax holiday has not stimulated job creation. We do not think that is a great way to do it," Kyl said on "Fox News Sunday."

We?

"In all likelihood we will agree to continue the current payroll tax relief for another year," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said after a closed-door meeting of his colleagues.

McConnell said there was now "a majority sentiment" among Republicans for continuing the temporary tax cut.

Ooookay.

Indeed in the Senate, where the fight over the payroll tax break began this week, Republican support for the extension is growing, as long as it is paid for in a way that passes muster with the party. Democrats introduced legislation that would pay for the extension — which would also lower the portion of the tax paid by employers, at a cost of roughly $115 billion — with a 3.25 percent surtax on income over $1 million, an idea Republicans have already rejected. Democrats openly acknowledge it is little more than a stunt to emphasize the vast policy divisions between the parties.

Oh really.

Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said his party’s plan could involve a small increase in taxes for some high-income people who meet certain criteria.

Alrighty then, get back to us when you figure it out. It's nice to see the Republicans squirm a bit, but this could easily flip back to them making unreasonable demands and then proclaiming that it's the Democrats who are blocking progress.

Unemployment benefits are being mentioned in these stories as well - without an extension of both of these items, the economy takes a hit of anywhere from 1-1.5% of GDP and an estimated 500,000 jobs lost.

And right on cue, here comes the plan... freeze federal employee pay for an extended two years (which was already frozen for the next two years starting last January 1st), and means test Social Security and Medicare for those making over $1 million a year. Like Digby said:

So we have some typically cynical kabuki going on in DC over the extension of the payroll tax cut.(I personally wish we would just send out government checks instead of enacting payroll tax cut because inevitably people are going to start complaining that SS is draining the treasury and has to be cut. But then, they're already doing that so I guess we've lost that battle.)

Anyway, here's the latest from dday. He says that for all the happy talk from McConnell about passing it, it appears the plan is to demand something odious in return to pay for it and then blame the Democrats for raising taxes when they refuse. (Sound familiar? It should, it worked beautifully last December. Look for them to hold up the Unemployment extension too, just for kicks. It's Christmas. They deserve a little fun.)

'Tis the season for cynicism. Watch them take this to the last second to see how much they can get from the Dems.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

GOP's War on the Poor Continues: Legislature Moves to End State Low Income Heating Assistance Program

You may remember this story from last August:

Thousands of Michigan households are likely to have more trouble paying their heating bills this winter because of a recent court decision that outlawed a $90 million state assistance fund, used primarily to provide energy assistance to the state’s low income.

Ruling July 21 in a suit filed by major utility customers and former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, the state Court of Appeals said the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates utilities, no longer has authority to maintain the fund and disburse money from it to agencies that assist the needy, such as The Salvation Army and the state LIHEAP office.

Since 2002, the PSC has paid out more than $500 million through the Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund (LIEEF), most of it to help people pay heating bills, but also some for weatherizing homes and energy-saving projects for all customer classes.

The language to authorize the fund was left out of the sweeping 2008 energy legislation, even though further legislation passed in 2009 indicated that the Legislature intended for the fund to continue to exist. There was an easy fix to the problem:

PSC officials say the LIEEF program could be salvaged by legislation that specifically reauthorizes it, or through an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The money was still being collected and held in escrow. Months go by, the Legisalture ignored the issue. Now it's December, and the Republicans declared today that they "have a plan". First, they are going to take leftover funding from all those families that they recently cut-off from cash assistance (TANF is welfare funding)...

Horn said a bill by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Holland) will be a supplemental appropriations bills to take $62 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding that had been carried over and transfer into the state's Emergency Relief Fund.

Then, they are going to move to end the state program altogether, and insist that the money held in escrow be returned.

The plan also would formalize the end of the collection of a utility charge that ratepayers have been assessed.

...

"It's a budgetary and statutory fix that protects families, prioritizes spending and keeps costs down for Michigan's ratepayers," said House Speaker Bolger of Marshall.

Actually, all the unpaid bills that utilities will surely see over the winter will be added to your bill in the end anyway - but Bolger must have forgotten to remind the "ratepayers" about that. You can probably add the cost of recovery efforts (read: lawyers and court fees) to your bill too.

The lawmakers responsible, Rep. Amanda Price (R-Holland) and Rep. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), say they are going to work on a "permanent solution" for heating assistance in January, but don't hold your breath. They had a simple fix in front of them. They chose to steal money that was designated for poor families instead, and end a successful program that was already in place.

Does anyone honestly think that they are going to take the initiative to come up with a new program that will help ordinary people? Of course not. This will be forgotten over the holidays, and more will be forced to live, and maybe even die, in the cold Michigan winter.

The next morning: WOOD TV is reading straight from the AP version of this story, which was short on detail and seems to have simply copied the House Republican press release. They are ignoring the line where they are ending collections that fund the program.

Playing Savvy With the Savvy

Please tell me that this is a sign that the Democrats have finally learned how to use the media machine to their advantage.

The DNC’s hard-hitting new spot hits Romney where it hurts, and borrows a popular GOP advertising concept to do it: the fake movie preview. From Tim Pawlenty to Rick Perry to Herman Cain, the presidential field has been lousy (and we do mean lousy) with movie trailer-style campaign ads.

The new DNC TV spot, which casts Romney as a man with two identities battling with himself, masters the form. It’s running in several swing states and ties into a larger web-based campaign that pushes an even longer version of the anti-Romney movie trailer.

The ad’s arrival was heralded as a Big Deal, signaling the Democrats are digging in on Romney and ignoring the rest of the field. That’s not really new — the DNC has been dinging Romney for weeks while paying far less attention to the other Republicans running for the nomination against him. But the specter of the DNC taking the attacks to a national TV ad had pundits aflutter.

“Will any of Romney’s Republican opponents criticize him as intensely this week as the Democratic National Committee does in its new ad?” asked one Politico hotsheet.

Then a little air came out of the balloon a little. A source told NBC News that the DNC was spending just $14,000 on airtime for its new multi-state ad. That’s enough to get your ad on TV so you can say you have a TV ad (and get the requisite press coverage that goes with it) but it’s not enough for your TV ad to have much impact.

Depends on who your real target is, and right now that target is the media. If you can get them to carry your message (and they certainly have), it's so much free air time. Why pay millions when you are still in the primary season? Save the money, set the tone, and then watch them run with it.

The long version of the ad has 141,000 views as of this morning, not a huge number for something that has been trumpeted with this much national fanfare. But, not only did you get the political chattering class wagging their tongues, you had a coordinated announcement with the Democratic Party apparatus in swing states, too. They sent out their e-mails, alerted the base, maybe picked up a bit of local coverage. It's not a huge splash, but just enough to wet the appetite.

And that's OK. Why? Because you got Mitt to take the bait.

Responding to the Democratic National Committee's airing of anti-Mitt Romney commercials in six different states, the Romney campaign on Monday had surrogates from 12 different states - including onetime GOP rival Tim Pawlenty -- hold conference calls attacking President Obama and defending Romney.

The DNC's ad, "Mitt vs. Mitt", depicts Romney making claims both supporting and opposing abortion rights, and also shows him saying he's "glad to hear" the president talking up the health care policy he helped enact in Massachusetts when he was governor there.

Reported final total of the ad buy? $22k - including a late $8k cable buy in the DC area, which may be more for the benefit of the press there than the electorate.

Putting the Romney campaign on defense to the point where they have to refute that he's a flip-flopper, which only serves to reinforce the message? That's priceless. It's called "playing offense", and if you can keep the Republicans in a reactive instead of a proactive stance, it means everything. Ask Karl Rove.

Now if only we could learn to do this on policy as well...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Barney

Barney Frank



I am really going to miss this guy. Thank you for your service sir, and all the best on whatever your future holds. Hope to see you on the talk circuit with some commentary on the political scene; something tells me that it would be quite entertaining indeed...


Mitt vs. Mitt

The DNC is running this ad in Virginia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. Must be they aren't too concerned with Newtmentum.



It is pretty good. And it's true. Mittens is a master flip-flopper.

Extended version here, if you can take 4 minutes of Mitt arguing with himself. They've got it all on tape, and it's quite amazing the number of issues that he has played from both sides of the fence. Watch and see.

How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes

Let's set the stage. After a week of hearings that featured Republican members of Congress browbeating the leaders of the auto industry over petty things like riding in company planes, fighting with all their might to find any excuse not to lend the money to save manufacturing in America and 2-3 million middle-class jobs, this was going on in secret:

The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.

The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.

Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.

A fresh narrative of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 emerges from 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.

Dec. 5th, 2008, was the day the Bush administration and Democrats in the House came to an agreement to give the automakers $14-17 billion to get them through until the Obama administration took over. Republicans in the Senate shot down that proposal the following week though, forcing the Bush administration to turn to $17 billion from TARP on Dec. 19th.

Remember that time? Remember how fun that was for all of us? $17 billion. Peanuts.

The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.

And remember how they demanded that those middle-class union workers make concessions on wages and benefits? And how the wagging fingers pontificated on how those automakers better show some progress on shaping up their business practices, blah, blah, blah, or they would be cut-off at the knees and millions would lose their jobs anyway?

“TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”

Bankers didn’t disclose the extent of their borrowing. On Nov. 26, 2008, then-Bank of America (BAC) Corp. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth D. Lewis wrote to shareholders that he headed “one of the strongest and most stable major banks in the world.” He didn’t say that his Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm owed the central bank $86 billion that day.

It's easy to believe that Congress didn't know about this, and, given the dog-and-pony show they put on over the automakers, in hindsight that might have been for the best, odd as that may sound. Think about that time, the change in power that was coming and the Republican egos that were threatened by that - all during this crisis that threatened to tip us right over the edge. Would you have trusted those guys to make things right?

Time for some bluster after the fact though.

(Former Democratic Senator Ted) Kaufman says some banks are so big that their failure could trigger a chain reaction in the financial system. The cost of borrowing for so-called too-big-to-fail banks is lower than that of smaller firms because lenders believe the government won’t let them go under. The perceived safety net creates what economists call moral hazard -- the belief that bankers will take greater risks because they’ll enjoy any profits while shifting losses to taxpayers.

If Congress had been aware of the extent of the Fed rescue, Kaufman says, he would have been able to line up more support for breaking up the biggest banks.

Byron L. Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, says the knowledge might have helped pass legislation to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which for most of the last century separated customer deposits from the riskier practices of investment banking.

“Had people known about the hundreds of billions in loans to the biggest financial institutions, they would have demanded Congress take much more courageous actions to stop the practices that caused this near financial collapse,” says Dorgan, who retired in January.

You know what, Byron? We should still do that now, because nothing has changed. The big banks have gotten even bigger - and we've got Europe teetering on the edge of a financial disaster that might put us in the position of having to bail out the banks again.

Meanwhile, Kaufman says, “we’re absolutely, totally, 100 percent not prepared for another financial crisis.”

Well, sure glad that in 2010 we finally elected some responsible people who wouldn't obstruct progress on the hopes that a bad economy would put their party back in power or anything silly like that.

Oh wait...

Better pray that Europe holds, or we might find ourselves in some mighty deep water very soon.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

U of M Economist: Hard to See Tax Cuts "Creating Hundreds of Thousands of Jobs"

Well good, we can kill that talking point now. The standard Republican ideology of "low taxes = jobs" should be a dead issue, and from now on will be laughed at by intelligent people everywhere, including the media reporting on those kind of statements when they are used as an explanation when pushing for more tax cuts.

Right? I mean, you guys are going to start dispelling this notion every time it's mentioned, aren't you?

No?

Michigan likely will finish 2011 with 64,200 new jobs. Growth slows to 32,000 jobs during 2012 and picks up to 45,000 jobs during 2013, according to the U-M forecast.

...

(U-M economist Don) Grimes said he thinks the tax cuts will have a positive impact on jobs in the long run, but it will be difficult to measure. “Statistically, it’s hard to prove,” Grimes said.

Business taxes are “still a pretty small share of total costs."

“There’s no question in my mind that it’s a positive thing,” he said. “But it’s hard to see it creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Oh. So. Now that we have shrunk the state government revenue to roughly half its previous size and still expect it to support around the same 10 million people...

The inflation-adjusted purchasing power of state general fund revenue will be 48 percent less in 2013 than in 2000, according to the U-M forecast.

... turns out we aren't guaranteed all those jobs the Republicans promised. Huh. Imagine that. And to really drive the point home (that's a Michigan pun!), it appears that we are once again relying on the auto industry for the majority of the job growth that we do see.

Tell me, um, how is this "reinventing" Michigan again? Anyone?

The state’s recovery is once again being led by the resurgent auto industry, which over the years has tossed Michigan around like a Jeep bouncing over a bumpy off-road trail.

Twenty-seven percent of all new jobs in the state over the next two years will be in manufacturing, according to the U-M forecast.

A third of those are “directly attributable to the auto industry, and many of the rest derive from auto-related industries,” Fulton said.

And, fearless prediction here, the next time a recession rolls around, and the auto and "related industries" tank our employment picture once again, you should fully expect everyone to question why we didn't continue to diversify our economy. When they do, remember this.

For now though, we are just going to ignore all the above, and push for even more business tax cuts that won't guarantee jobs, but will guarantee reduced education opportunities and other critical quality of life services.

Yeah. Like that.

Congratulations, Michigan, you've elected the Republicans. And you can't say you weren't warned.

$3 Billion in Mud

It's already oozing out of the television. The National Federation of Independent Business has been running an ad that starts as a hit piece on Obama, urges you to call Fred Upton and tell him to keep fighting for "jobs" or some such thing, implying all the while that they are on your side, you average Joe you, when of course in reality they aren't. It's a tested formula, and it works.

Who are these people? Turns out the NFIB is targeting five congressional districts in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in total with the same ad. And when you go to their press release page, it reads like they are taking their cues directly from the Standard Republican Playbook, Fall-Winter 2011 version. Using words like "uncertainty" and "job-crushing", they tout current favorites like the balanced budget amendment and offer the usual attack on health care reform. And don't forget the interview from The Hill with former Senator Blanche Lincoln proclaiming, "Democrat Criticizes Obama for ‘4,200’ Pages of Pending Regulations". See? Democrats don't like Obama either, so it must be true. The Republican propaganda in evidence is "thinly veiled" with so much Saran wrap.

The NFIB blitz follows a previous ad from long-time heavy rotation favorites the American Petroleum Institute that uses the same formula: Big, scary claim about lost "jobs" to lead off, and then you should get down on your knees and thank Upton for being such a swell guy and protecting Big Oil. Another is the ever-present Koch's Americans For Prosperity that has been on the air with an attack on Obama over the Solyndra issue, claiming payoffs and other nefarious deeds. And so on.

Drip, drip, drip.

Too soon? Maybe. But it sets a foundation for what is to come...

In the past six months, conservative groups like those affiliated with Karl Rove and the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, and, increasingly, Republican candidates themselves, have spent more than $13 million on advertisements carrying a negative message about Mr. Obama, according to an analysis by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising.

And it is only going to grow more intense.

“These dollar figures we’re talking about now are going to seem quaint in a few months,” said Kenneth M. Goldstein, president of the analysis group. “And they’ll seem really quaint in eight or nine months.”

Total television advertising spending on the 2012 election cycle could top $3 billion, up from $2.1 billion four years ago, Kantar estimates, fueled in part by the rise of independent groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns.

If anything, this figure might be too low. Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS claims they have spent $20 million already this year on ads attacking Obama and Democrats, a good portion on the debt-ceiling fight last summer. That's just one group. Add the others, and the ads from the Republican candidates, and the mud is up to your ankles already.

"Misleading" is too kind a description for these ads. Calculated, intentional deception is what they are. Perry and Romney have already been called out on it in the national press, but that doesn't seem to matter to them anymore. If people don't pay attention to the news, they'll never know about it, right? And there are a lot of people who don't pay attention to the news, believe it or not.

The Romney campaign actually bragged about the tactic after. From Steve Benen:

Just so we’re clear, Romney and his team lied. Then they got caught. Then they were pleased.

I suppose one could make the case that the leading Republican presidential campaign has a vaguely sociopathic appreciation for the public discourse, but I think Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” tells us all we need to know. Truth, facts, evidence, reason, decency, fairness — for Romney and his team, none of this matters. It’s not that they’re considering whether to be honorable; they’ve convinced themselves that the question itself is irrelevant.

What matters is what “works.” And what “works” is what gets aired on television. Usually, professionals are slightly embarrassed when they get caught lying, but the embarrassment is motivated by a sense of shame — the truth is good, being good is worthwhile, deliberately ignoring the truth is bad, and no one wants to be bad.

But there is no embarrassment when such moral niceties are thrown out the window.

Morality went out the window long ago. It ran down the street, got on the train, and is pulling away from the station at full speed now, laughing as it goes. They don't even try to pretend anymore because they know they can get away with it. Most people know this on some level, but never underestimate the subliminal effect of constant repetition. It sets the baseline of where the conversation starts.

A great example of "what works" has already been seen here in the matter of the new Detroit bridge. All the newspaper op-eds, all the major business lobbying, all the prominent names backing construction of the DRIC or the NITC or whatever you want to call it, Canada offering to pay and the 10,000 jobs that would be created - all of that was no match for millions in deceptive advertising from the Americans For Prosperity on the issue.

"This is the third ad from DIBC (Moroun's Detroit International Bridge Company, in concert with the AFP) to blatantly stretch the truth on the bridge, two of which have personally attacked Snyder," reports the Truth Squad at the Center For Michigan. AFP used the same formula as above: Distort the facts surrounding the issue, claim viewer will suffer personal loss of "jobs" or money, attack politician as being dishonest, get results in public opinion:

Results of a recently released poll show that likely Michigan voters oppose a plan for a proposed new bridge backed by Gov. Rick Snyder between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

The poll for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV showed 59 percent oppose the project, 30 percent support it and 11 percent were undecided.

One wonders what it might look like had there been ads that professed the benefits of the bridge. And that is the difference here: There will be ads for Obama/against Republican candidate and/or policies eventually. But will they be enough to change and overtake the baseline that is being set today, knowing that the lies are going to increase in both depth and frequency?

Get your waders on, we are about to find out - and $3 billion is just the starting bid. Chances are it's going to be more. We might never know the actual amount, but whatever it is, we will be drowning in mud by the time all is said and done.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Renewable Energy Surpasses Fossil Fuels in New Power Plant Investment

Just wanted to make note of this achievement, h/t to FishOutofWater at DKos. From the LA Times:

Renewable energy is surpassing fossil fuels for the first time in new power-plant investments, shaking off setbacks from the financial crisis and an impasse at the United Nations global warming talks.

Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data. Accelerating installations of solar- and wind-power plants led to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal.

"The progress of renewables has been nothing short of remarkable," United Nations Environment Program Executive Secretary Achim Steiner said in an interview. "You have record investment in the midst of an economic and financial crisis."

Also to note: America needs to pick up the pace. With the renewal of the production tax credit now in doubt, certain knuckle-draggers in Congress may set us further behind the rest of the world.

As well as renewables spending exceeding that on new fossil plants, last year also was the first time expenditure in developing countries, mainly China, exceeded that in the industrialized world, Sawyer said, predicting both trends will continue.

The New Energy Finance figures exclude investment that merely replaces existing plants, and its renewables tally excludes money spent on building large hydropower projects.

C'mon kids. Time to get moving.

Meet the Crazy Target Lady

Now that I know who the crazy Target lady is, I'm not so freaked out by her. Been watching her pop-up in Twitter conversations, the sign of very effective advertising. Got in my head, that's for sure. She's stand-up comedian/voice actor Maria Bamford, who grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, and is now living in LA. Here's a clip from Comedy Central:



Very off-beat, quirky sense of humor, she's actually pretty funny. More clips from her stand-up show here.

Super Fred

Fred and Lena Meijer
Fred and Lena Meijer, from the Fredrick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park


Rest in peace Mr. Meijer.

Frederik Meijer, the Grand Rapids billionaire credited with inventing the supercenter store format in 1962 that made his Meijer chain a successful Midwest retailer and was copied by Sam Walton for his chain Wal-Mart, died Friday at age 91.

When I was a little kid, going to the first "super" market at 28th and Kalamazoo with my great grandmother was always an adventure. They had toys!

As a boy, Mr. Meijer worked on the farm and delivered milk door-to-door by horse-drawn wagon, while dreaming of attending college, perhaps studying history. He gave up that dream to help run the store.

In 1942, he and his father opened a second store in Cedar Springs, and a few years later, Mr. Meijer married Lena Rader, a cashier in the Greenville store. In 1949, they opened a third store on Fuller Avenue in Grand Rapids. The chain continued to grow, and, in 1962, father and son considered a venture unprecedented in the retail business: combining a grocery store with a general merchandise discount store.

On the verge of going ahead with it, Mr. Meijer asked his father, “What should we do?“

Hendrik Meijer mulled the question a moment, then said, “Well, I don’t think I’d do it.“

Mr. Meijer was surprised, knowing his father had favored the venture. Why would he back out now?

“If we go broke and I die, I don’t want you to blame me,“ the elder Meijer explained. “I want it to be your decision.“

It was the father’s way of passing command to the son. Mr. Meijer went ahead with the plan, expanding the grocery store on 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue into the chain’s first hypermarket — or supercenter — called Meijer’s Thrifty Acres. More stores followed in Lansing, the Detroit area, then into adjacent states.

While Meijer's contributed to the demise of the smaller urban grocery stores, they also kept Wal-Mart at bay in this area (although we still have both). Sam Walton wanted to buy him out in the 70s, and he said no. The rest is history.

What happens to the chain now is up to the kids.

In 2010, Forbes magazine listed Meijer Inc. as the 15th largest privately owned company in the country, with estimated annual sales of $14.25 billion. The same year, Fred Meijer was listed as 145th on Forbes list of world’s richest with an estimated personal wealth of $5 billion, ahead of DeVos who ranked 176th.

...

In November 1963, the year before his father died, Mr. Meijer, then 44 years old, took out sheets of lined papers and wrote out long-hand his plan for the business’s future in case of his own death. His heirs could sell the business, manage it by committee or formulate another plan to continue operating, he wrote.

“First, I would prefer you not sell out,“ he wrote. “I would like to see the business continued, because on a sellout, many of our key employees would lose their jobs.“

A major philanthropist in this community, and always a part of my life. I'm on my way to one of his stores today. And I must tip the hat and offer thanks for his splendid Meijer Gardens Sculpture Park, a beautiful and very popular place to visit.

The Press has an extensive biography here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Self-Serve Checkout

Had to chuckle at both the DNews and the Freep bringing us tales of implied public corruption on the morning that devotes itself to the worship of money and consumerism. The pursuit of material gain that comes with riches is what it's all about in the end, right? Right. Just look at the crazy Target lady, driven right over the edge of reality at the thought of going shopping. While the masses pepper-spray each other out of the way for the shiny trinket on the shelf, the real savvy consumers use lawyers and connections to help themselves to the shiny public cash till. It becomes hard to see the difference between the two after awhile.

First the DNews, who takes a closer look at one of my favorite Republican hypocrites of the past: Bundy-fighting, public-money grubbing John Rakolta Jr., who has made it a point of pride to loudly rail against the very government spending that has so generously kept him fed. Rakolta was involved with both Raleigh Studios in Pontiac that would have benefited handsomely from the previous film industry tax credits (and I'm guessing they still will under the new reduced ones), and he also found time to partake in business deals that involved construction surrounding renewable energy endeavors, courtesy of the 2008 energy legislation that brought us a RPS. Here is what I had to say about Rakolta then, when he was trashing the Michigan business climate in the pursuit of more tax cuts for himself back in 2009:

Possible GOP gubernatorial candidate John Rakolta Jr. - yes, he of big money Republican donations and the Voice the Vote Hitler ads that he was "unaware" that he was financing * wink * - has nothing but complaints about business conditions in our state, while he is busy cashing in on both the film industry AND alternative energy. Nice how these guys find a way to fill their pockets while they repeatedly dismiss the Democratic leadership that brought them these opportunities.

And here is John Rakolta Jr. today, apparently bypassing the free market once again for some free government money instead:

As federal agents investigate connections between vendors and Wayne County officials, some contractors and commissioners are questioning how a politically connected firm ended up with one of the biggest public works projects in years.

Contractors contacted by The Detroit News said they believe the Walbridge construction company was favored from the beginning for a $220 million contract to build a jail.

The county awarded "bonus" points going to companies headquartered in Wayne County, a provision bidders don't remember the county using.

Two months after commissioners unanimously approved the deal, some now say they weren't aware of close ties between Walbridge and Turkia Mullin, the county's one-time economic development chief who guided the process.

Walbridge CEO John Rakolta Jr. served on the board of a nonprofit she led that paid her a $75,000 bonus and is now under investigation by the FBI. He accompanied her and County Executive Robert Ficano last year on a business development trip to Italy and France paid for by the nonprofit.

And just guess what the bottom line was here. Was it lending conditions from a big bank? No. An offer from private investors? Oh heck no. It was money surrounding the stimulus, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, brought to us courtesy of President Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress. You know, the one that Republicans complain incessantly about as "wasteful government spending". I'm beginning to believe that if it weren't for the Democrats and public policy designed to spur on business, Rakolta would be standing in line at the soup kitchens by now. He is a master at benefiting from the government spending he supposedly hates. Time will tell if the FBI will proclaim that he finally took it too far. I'm guessing it won't.

The Freep brings us another side of the coin, a story of a state employee that went to work one week after he retired for a private firm who had just received a very lucrative state contract. It seems almost unfair to single this guy out because I'm guessing stuff like this happens all the time. There are no laws against it.

A former manager at the Michigan Department of Corrections described as the point person in negotiations for a $12.9-million energy-conservation contract went to work for the firm that won the contract a week after he retired from the state in April.

Gerald Elmblad, who was a manager in the department's physical plant division, told the Free Press that he was a member of the evaluation team that recommended in 2010 that Energy Systems Group (ESG) of Indiana be awarded the contract, but he denied a conflict of interest.

Elmblad retired with a $3,000-a-month state pension and went to work as an ESG account executive one week later.

"I retired on a Thursday. Friday is when I went to the offices and talked to them," Elmblad said in a telephone interview. "It was kind of a quick deal."

That contract? Stimulus money too. But it would be wrong to simply point at that one pot; again, this probably goes on in all sorts of initiatives. Only the names and the players change, world without end, amen.

Various politicians across the country have called for or introduced legislation to address issues such as the ones above, but usually these efforts are ignored, or are watered-down so much that it becomes a mere exercise in illusion designed to make the public think something will be done about it. It's quickly forgotten, until stories like this bring it attention, and the cycle begins again.

Can't say as you can blame anyone for thinking or behaving in this way. Just look at the reality of the social construct that surrounds the entire system. When it comes down to it, the people that act according to custom and look out for number one are the ones who come out on top. Those who are experts at deception are rewarded. Those who attempt to tell the truth, or who fight the system (think real Occupiers, not those trying to make a buck off them) are ostracized and penalized. The Rakoltas of the world at the most will receive a slap on the wrist, the truth tellers quickly find themselves on the outside entirely.

We talk of "getting the money out" of politics, but it's very hard to see how it happens. Even if there were regulations and laws, the savvy shopper would find a way around them, and it's been like that since the beginning of time. Best we can do is keep pointing it out, in hopes of changing the entire culture of this country that supports and encourages it.

And that is going to be one big, and perhaps impossible, job indeed.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Seems Some Folks in South Korea Don't Like Free Trade Agreements Either

You can say this about our Congress: At least no one has rolled out a canister of tear gas yet.

AFTER weeks of stalling, South Korea’s parliament at last has ratified the country’s Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) with America, “Korus”. After calling a surprise vote to catch opponents of the deal off-guard, the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) managed to force it through without the kind of brawl that many were expecting. There was no parliamentary brawl per se, that is—and only a bit of physical scuffling.

What caught almost everyone off-guard was the tear-gas canister that was detonated in the debating chamber. South Korean politicians exhibit a great deal of flair when it comes to parliamentary fisticuffs; makeshift battering rams and chainsaws have made appearances, the better to break down doors that might be blockaded by members of an opposing party. Tuesday’s action though, which came courtesy of the Democratic Labour Party’s own Kim Seon-dong, raises the bar on outrageous conduct (the incident was captured on video by GNP member Jung Ok-nim).

Though the left-wing minority opposition DLP ought to feel most embarrassed, the GNP itself is unlikely to be celebrating today’s victory too loudly. They could have pushed Korus through several weeks ago, but continuing concerns among voters over income inequality and youth unemployment have seen the political pendulum making an unusually pronounced leftward swing. With parliamentary elections due in April, many GNP members fear losing their seats.

According to The Economist, "several thousand" were protesting outside as well. The video page translates to "Ah! Pepper Diet, abusive Parliment", where you can watch the whole scene unfold.

You know, we've got some stuff in a convenient aerosol can that you guys might be interested in...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now It's a Race

Republicans in freak-out mode over the thought of not being able to put Detroit under an emergency manager. Strange thing is, they knew this was coming, both the money crunch and the petition to repeal PA 4... why did it take them so long to move?

A significant roadblock looms as Gov. Rick Snyder prods Detroit officials to start the wheels turning toward possible appointment of an emergency manager to take control of the city’s dire finances.

A group opposed to the law says it has already collected more than enough signatures to place the repeal of the emergency manager law on the ballot and plans to file its petitions before the end of this year. If the group submits the 161,305 required valid signatures, the law, Public Act 4, would be suspended from early next year until the November 2012 election.

If that happens, there’s disagreement over whether the former, weaker emergency manager law would go back into effect or Michigan would have no emergency manager law. What’s clear is that the toughened law Snyder and the GOP-controlled Legislature passed this spring that allows emergency managers to scrap collective bargaining agreements to slash costs would be on hold.

“This is something that could quickly burn out of control,” said Ari Adler, a spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger.

“It’s kind of a big unknown in terms of how bad things could get if the law is suspended or eventually repealed,” Adler said. “The suspension would be the worst of it at the beginning, because of the limbo it would cause.”

But you knew that Detroit was running a huge deficit. And you knew that by slashing revenue sharing, you were going to make it worse. And you knew that people were gathering signatures for this petition, and that the threshold was so low that they probably would succeed.

You knew all this in the spring. It's now late November. Thoughts?

And you might want to think twice about using the metaphor "burn out of control". Have a little sense of history, unless you're trying to frighten people...

Seriously dude, it's tacky.

And more: Bing unloaded on the City Council tonight, declaring, "It's time to go to war". The Council wants to lay off 2,300 employees, and a lot of those would come from police and fire. Bing wants concessions from the unions, and threatens that if they don't happen, the city will go to Chapter 9 or let Snyder send in an emergency manager.

It's all the prelude you need.

Happy Thanksgiving!

GH 6004
Always Grand Haven. Things look better in black.


A special thought of heartfelt gratitude to all those who reached out a hand in friendship to me this year. Whether it was to show appreciation for my pictures and words, or to pass along that job tip, or just to offer a shoulder to lean on, I am so blessed to have people in my life that will take the time to show how much they truly care. Thank you so very, very much!

"It is not wise to count your friends
on a bright sunny day.
When the sky is blue
and smiles come so easily.
Instead wait for a storm,
when the clouds are dark
and the day grows cold.
Laughter is not heard
in your heavy heart.
Then when a friend comes
and stands beside you
and lifts your spirits to the sky
and laughter is in your heart,
he or she deserves the name . . . friend."

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MVP

justin2268


Every once in a while you see a magical season, and those things should be rewarded. The emotion from Mitch Albom:

He earned it.

He earned it because he went 24-5. He earned it because he owned his starts from June through September. He earned it because he had 250 strikeouts and was as close to a sure thing as you get in sports. He earned it because he rested the next day's bullpen every time he pitched into the seventh, eighth or ninth.

He earned it because whenever the Tigers slipped on a banana peel, he was there to catch them, breaking possible slumps, keeping climbing opponents at bay.

He earned it because he was dominant. Because he was lights out. Because he threw a no-hitter and threatened a couple more. Because he got stronger as the game went on, relying on placement early and bringing the heat late. Who throws FASTER in the eighth inning? Are you kidding?

The stats from John Niyo.

What's more — or more valuable, I should say — was that Verlander went 16-3 in starts following a Tigers loss, the best such record since Steve Carlton in 1972, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Verlander led the AL in just about every meaningful pitching statistic: wins, winning percentage, innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP, ERA-plus (ask your local sabermatrician) and hits per nine innings. And by the time September rolled around, it was pretty clear Verlander's numbers would closely match Clemens' stats from '86, which certainly fueled the MVP talk. The Tigers ace finished 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 0.92 WHIP with 250 strikeouts in 251 innings. Clemens went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with 238 strikeouts in 254 innings.

And he's only 28 years old.

Here's to many more glorious seasons to come.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Meet Some People Who Don't Give a Damn About the Supercommittee

I didn't have to go far. This is gracing the front page of the DNews at this moment.

More than 5,000 people showed up at Cobo Center today for DTE's annual Customer Assistance Day, but many were turned away because space was at capacity, a company spokesman said.

People with difficulty paying their bills began lining up at the convention center at 6 a.m. to get help from DTE representatives and other human service organizations such as the Department of Human Services and The Heat And Warmth Fund. People who could not make it into the Cobo Center's downstairs were told they would not be seen by officials today and were instructed to call the company's customer service number (800-477-4747).

So I turn over to WOOD TV's site, and here is this:

As many as 20% of Michigan residents now have difficulty affording food. These people face what's called food insecurity -- which means they often don't know where the next meal will come from.

The statistic includes the group called the "New Poor." Sudden financial crises caused by the poor economy and dismal housing market have caused once-successful families to become the new face of hunger in America.

These people certainly aren't concerned about deficit reduction. Matter of fact, according to Gallup, the vast majority of people aren't concerned about deficit reduction. Hat tip to Dave Weigel:

A November 14 Gallup poll, taken as the supercommittee crunch was on, which asked voters what they were worried about. You'll notice that six percent of voters say they're worried about the debt, six percent say they're worried about a "lack of money," and 66 percent say they're worried about jobs or the economy. These voters are wise. If the economy recovers, more people get jobs, and more tax revenue goes into the Treasury to pay for things.

Ezra nails the real failure of the supercommittee (and Congress in general), from Wonkbook this morning:

Despite the overheated rhetoric in Washington, the markets are giving us plenty of space. So though deficits will eventually prove a problem, they're not our most pressing concern. Not right this second. That distinction goes to growth. We need more of it, and now. At the very least, we don't want to do anything to harm it.

And, although the Democrats and President Obama have done their best to point out it's the Republican refusal to budge on taxes that is the problem here, already the media is falling back on the "both sides" argument. David Kurtz from TPM:

That GOP refusal to even deal on taxes is *not* how supercommittee outcome is being framed is itself a huge victory for GOP

So, if you think that anyone is going to get credit for offering up cuts to programs that the American public did not want to see in the first place, not only is that a big mistake, the Dems will have fallen right back into the same trap they always fall into - chase the GOP talking points (in this case, that deficit reduction is the most important problem right now, it's not), offer up concessions that not only makes them look weak on principles, but also will be used against them in campaigns (did they really want to face a half a billion in advertising that screamed "Democrats cuts Social Security!" next year? And Mitch McConnell has already proclaimed that Republicans focused on "protecting Medicare and Medicaid"), and end up looking totally out-of-touch with the real concern of the majority of the people - it's the economy, stupid.

Pivot back to jobs immediately. Dwell on deficit reduction, and we are screwed.

Know who got it right? Debbie Stabenow.

“Also, by the way, we won't get out of debt with 14 million people out of work, so we have to focus on jobs, growing the economy and cutting things that don’t make sense.”

Amen, Senator. Tell your friends. The DNews also lists the major concerns Congress has to address before the year is out: The payroll tax cut, extending unemployment benefits, R & D credits which affect the automakers, other tax credits like tuition and the AMT, Medicare payments to doctors, and funding the overall government itself, which expires Dec. 16th. Failure to address these issues has a far greater immediate impact on the economy than long-term deficit reduction.

So, enjoy your turkey, and get ready for the important battle yet to come. It means everything.

See It Through

Chrysler scores again. Coming this Thanksgiving...



Here is the entire poem:

“When you’re up against a trouble
Meet it squarely, face to face,
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace,
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do.
You may fail, but you may conquer –
See it through!

Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!

Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!"


Next Time, Chaperones

You did what?

In the eyes of Republicans, when Democrats rejected the Toomey plan, saying it would provide a windfall for millionaires and billionaires, little more could be accomplished.

Both sides used remarkably similar language to describe their frustrations. A Democrat involved in the negotiations said: “We made a reasonable offer and got nothing in return. We got naked in the room. Republicans are standing there in overcoats, hats and gloves and are toasty warm.”

A Republican aide, who believed Mr. Toomey made a good-faith proposal and got nothing from Democrats in return, said a few days later: “We showed some leg. The Democrats want us to get completely naked.”

Yet another reason to be grateful for the failure of the supercommittee.

In the end, Republican greed was stronger than the Democratic proclivity to commit political suicide. Given that the electorate was strongly opposed to cuts to Social Security and Medicare, perhaps we should be thankful that Grover Norquist just saved the Obama presidency.

I knew he'd come in handy one of these days.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Sound of Silence

You've probably seen the video of the cop that nonchalantly walked down a row of sitting students at UC Davis, spraying them in the face with pepper spray, before the rest of the force wrestled with them on the ground to put them in handcuffs. If you haven't seen it, you need to check it out. Add that to the UC Berkeley video of kids getting thrashed with batons, and you start to wonder what in the hell are these people thinking when they do this to peaceful students protesting on campus. They have to know they are being filmed. Are they trying to start a riot?

If anyone is going to meet this kind of aggression with counter-measures, it's a bunch of motivated college kids. The target now is UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi; both students and faculty are calling for her to step down. In this powerful clip from NPR, instead of greeting her with chants and jeers as she left the university on Friday, check out what hundreds of protesting students did.

It's rather ominous. And is speaks volumes.





Calm before the storm? She is addressing the students on Monday. It will be interesting to see what she has to say.

Winners and Losers: $8 Billion in Lending to Business, Courtesy of the State Government

Thought the newest fad in conservative talking point land was to get the government "out of the way" of business, right? If so, why is the state backing loans for businesses that wouldn't otherwise qualify for them?

Fifth Third bank plans to direct $2.5 billion toward business lending in Michigan in 2012 under a new partnership with the state.

The amount represents about a 25 percent increase in what Fifth Third Bank has loaned businesses across Michigan in each of the last three years, said Tim Doyle, senior vice president and business banking manager for Fifth Third in West Michigan.

An improving state economy and the ability to leverage programs administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. enabled the bank to make the lending commitment, Doyle said.

“It’s a very aggressive commitment,” Doyle said. “We can see the improving business climate in the state of Michigan.”

Helping to drive the one-year lending commitment is a trio of programs designed to support the extension of credit to businesses in Michigan, including supporting shortfalls in the collateral that companies put up to secure a loan.

Doyle said the Collateral Support Program helps at a time when valuations on real estate, which many companies use as collateral, remain depressed. Those companies likely would not otherwise qualify for a loan, he said.

Property values are expected to continue to decline through at least 2014, according to a recent report. If real estate is put towards collateral, will the state take ownership of property that will continue to depreciate if the business goes under? Or does it go to the bank? Will the state have final approval on these loans, or will banks be allowed to gamble with this money? Are taxpayers on the hook for the loans that go bad? Lots of unanswered questions here, and it's doubtful that we will see any transparency on loans that will probably be labeled as "private" business transactions.

In theory, the program does sound like a good idea. Get credit flowing, jump-start ideas that wouldn't otherwise get off the ground, and chances are a good many of them will succeed - but it also sounds like another example of where we will privatize gains and socialize losses if those gains fail to materialize. And, for a bunch of people who run around screaming about how government needs to get out of business, it sure looks like the state is getting involved with both the banks and business in a big way.

“Fifth Third’s participation in Pure Michigan Business Connect represents a huge commitment to Michigan's businesses,” Snyder said. “It significantly adds to the economic gardening toolkit we are developing to grow our state's economy. This funding, along with the offers by the other new partners who are joining Pure Michigan Business Connect, brings the total to $8 billion in new opportunities for Michigan businesses.”

$8 billion through the state. That's a lot of winners and losers right there. That's not all: 5th/3rd is also pledging $2.5 billion towards consumer lending with this "partnership". Would that also be for people who wouldn't otherwise qualify for a loan? Good question.

If all this works, great. But please, stop with all the "free market" nonsense now, because it's obvious that under Republican leadership, the government is more than happy to expand its boundaries and back up that free market with the taxpayer's guarantee.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

End of the Old Market

farmersmarket2629


They are tearing down the Fulton St. Farmers Market to put in a permanent, year-round structure. It will be very nice when they are done, but there was something quaint and traditional about the old, open-air stalls with the city-block long bench where people would set-up shop for the day. Any pictures I took of vegetables, the famous shoe plant, the toy on the journey, other miscellaneous items - a lot of those things came from this market. It's been there my entire life; rather disconcerting to walk by and see it (mostly) gone.

I usually would walk through on my way to somewhere else, I wonder if I still will when I have to go inside a building. We will see.

The last quarter towards Fountain St. is still standing, and today it was packed with both vendors and shoppers. The shot above is looking toward Fulton St. through a Xmas wreath.

More: Here's the entire market as it was in the very early morning of July 3rd, 2011.

fultonstmarket8939


70s Saturday: "The Balance"



Happy 70th Birthday, Pop.

At one time, long ago, you asked me to listen to the words of this song, and you asked me to remember you when I heard them.

I always will, and I do my best to live it everyday. It's not always easy, but I try.

Thank you for this, for everything. Hope you have an excellent birthday!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Not Breaking: Romney Leads in Michigan

I doubt you'll see the clown car return anytime soon with these numbers. Here's the new "exclusive" poll:

If the Michigan Presidential Primary was held today, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would win with ease. But with the February 28 contest still more than two months away, the rest of the GOP candidates continue to play musical chairs trying to catch him.

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is now the strongest challenger to Romney in Michigan. In an exclusive WXYZ-TV Poll, Romney would win 34-percent of the vote compared to Gingrich at 20-percent and businessman Herman Cain at 13-percent.

Romney has more support from younger Republican voters and Gingrich does well with older voters who are highly educated. Since only GOP voters can cast a ballot in the Michigan GOP Primary, it should be noted that the margin of error rate for this portion of the poll is 6.1 percent instead of the 4.0 margin of error for the overall survey.

Actually, all you have to do is walk in and say you're a Republican and you can cast a ballot. Heh. So it's the Democrats who need to decide who their candidate is. (I keed! I keed!)

Here's a surprising number:

Also, when respondents were asked if Michigan were on the right track, 33 percent said yes while 54 percent are convinced the state is headed in the wrong direction.

Um, someone needs to tell the Republicans that they are running the entire show now. If you don't like the "direction" of the state, then maybe you need to go check out the mirror...

(caveat: reading through the script/stats, looks like they did include Dems and Indies on the right/wrong track questions)

It's Official: Michigan Republicans Raise Taxes on Seniors

See what I did there? That's the spin. Run with it.

A divided Michigan Supreme Court has given the green light to the extension of Michigan’s 4.35% personal income tax to pensions, one of the cornerstones of the Gov. Rick Snyder-led overhaul of the state tax system that was approved amidst partisan rancor earlier this year.

The court did, however, unanimously strike down provisions in the new tax law that would have phased out the use of personal tax exemptions by wealthier taxpayers. That provision, effectively raising the taxes on higher income earners, is barred by the state constitutional ban on a graduated income tax, the court said.

With today’s decision, the state can go ahead with plans to implement the tax changes on Jan. 1. The new tax on pensions was expected to raise more than $300 million in 2012. It was not immediately clear how much lower that number will be because of the court’s decision to strike down the personal exemption phase-out.

MIRS already crunched the numbers and found "$54.4 million hit to '12 budget, $82.9 million 4 full year." But we are sitting on a surplus right now, so don't make any moves to hurt the poor folks with more cuts, OK?

(yeah, right)

It was a 4-3 partisan decision from the court as well; all Republicans for, all Democrats against. No shocker there.

That election of 2010 just keeps on giving...

Instant update: From a Gongwer tweet: "Public employees considering filing new lawsuit against pension tax in federal court."

Give it a shot. You never know.

Leave the Pizza Alone

pizza8227


Git yer gubbermint hands off the pizza. Right now.

Geez, you guys have to go and ruin everything, don't you.

Wind Manufacturing in Muskegon?

Seems like it has been a long time since I've blogged any news on renewable energy projects in Michigan. With the solar industry going through a global shake-down, it looks like wind is it as far as new jobs go for the immediate future, and even at that, our current leadership doesn't seem interested in creating jobs or diversifying our economy anyway. So it's been pretty bleak. Good to see someone out there is thinking about it though, and Dave Alexander teases us today with this news:

Two leading West Michigan companies have joined forces to plan a Muskegon manufacturing center designed to support the state's growing commercial wind industry.

The proposed consortium of the two companies and multiple others — including at least one global firm — would not be a developer of wind farms but a group of companies and supporting agencies which wants to build parts for wind turbines, ship those parts across the globe and service the land-based wind industry.

And they want to do it from Muskegon.

The goal is to develop a Michigan Energy and Technology Center somewhere on the shores of Muskegon Lake. The manufacturing and wind industry support center would be an industrial campus with access to Muskegon's deep-water port.

Perfect. Although the Chinese are throwing a bunch of money at wind as well, shipping/lead times on turbine components can really add up, making manufacturing in America a very competitive proposition.

More coming on this Sunday at the Muskegon Chronicle, so stay tuned...

Update: It's L3 Combat Propulsion Systems in Muskegon and Rockford Berge in Grand Rapids, along with a host of other interested parties.

Besides defense contractor L3, Rockford Construction and the Spanish international transportation company Berge, the wind consortium initially includes Consumers Energy, Sand Products Corp. – owners of the Mart Dock in Muskegon – Energetx Composites in Holland and Verplank Trucking of Ferrysburg.

Also part of the group is Gamesa Energy, the Spanish energy company in the process of signing a development agreement with Muskegon County to investigate building a $300 million, 150-megawatt wind turbine operation on the county's Wastewater Management System property.

As L3 and Rockford Berge put together a more extensive list of companies wanting to be a part of the Muskegon development, the group will work with community economic development agencies, local governments and West Michigan colleges.

Very cool. Sounds like the start of a wonderful opportunity - hope the state and the feds get behind it as well.

Another World is Possible

More creativity like this, please.



That's the best full-length video of the projection on the side of the Verizon building in NYC that I've seen. It was a brilliant idea, and it went everywhere last night.

(And what leads the morning news? NBC, Natalie Wood. ABC, Natalie Wood. CBS, Syracuse abuse allegations, live from Penn State. So there you go. Moment, over.)

As the mass media turns the focus to the confrontations and the arrests surrounding Occupy, the original message may get lost. David Atkins at Hullabaloo pointed this out just the other day:

The latest PPP poll showing a drop in public support for the Occupy Wall Street can be interpreted in a number of ways. Probably the most reasonable points of note would be that 1) constant negative stories in the press about supposed poor behavior can have a poor effect on public opinion of popular protest, just as they did with the Tea Party; and 2) the focus of the movement has become more about the process of occupying ground and conflicts with police, than about the original reasons for the protest in the first place. In a battle between police and public protesters, the majority of the nation will usually side with the police.

He then dug up a poll from 1970 that showed 58% of the respondents thought that the demonstrating kids at Kent State were responsible for the deaths of those four students that were shot by the National Guard. Different time, different place in the national psyche, true, but the dynamic is the same. People get nervous when authority is challenged, and their default position will always be authority.

Greg Sargent addressed that PPP poll, and then hit on the bigger picture: While people may disagree with some of the tactics of Occupy, they are very much in favor of the underlying message.

There was a good deal of crowing in some quarters yesterday about a new poll showing support dropping for Occupy Wall Street. And there’s no sugar coating the fact that the movement should be very concerned about its image and direction.

But a new poll today from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests something that national Dems should not lose sight of as the battle over Occupy Wall Street’s meaning continues: Americans agree with the basic critique of the system embodied by the movement.

It finds that 67 percent of Americans agree that government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor, which a large majority says is growing. Sixty nine percent favor hiking taxes on millionaires. Fifty seven percent favor eliminating tax breaks for corporations. Sixty seven percent oppose cutting federal programs that help the poor (though a large majority also says the poor are too dependent on government). A plurality, 48 percent, thinks the American Dream — that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead — no longer holds true. These general findings are borne out in many other polls.

The Dems, as usual, are sitting on the fence at this point, probably waiting to see what happens next. And that is the question now - where does this go from here? The protests at state capitols earlier this year, before the word "occupy" even entered the national lexicon, have morphed into what we are seeing today. The cold weather, the "holidays", the dead-of-night crackdowns (and maybe the arrests of journalists, too) will suppress the physical occupation of public areas for a while, but what happens next spring, when the media and the election rhetoric starts to rile up the populace again?

This isn't over by a longshot, and it would be great to see more visible creative messages like the effort above. Not vandalism (Wolverines!), but peaceful and non-destructive ways of getting and keeping the public's attention would be wonderful.

C'mon all you creative kids; you can think of something.

Update: Replaced with the entire projection, and here's an interview with the guy who did it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Last Season of Giving

"The tax code is too complicated!" cried the Republicans, so they eliminated your charitable tax deductions to give businesses more tax cuts.

You may think I'm over-simplifying things here, but I'm not. That's exactly what they did. They took it from you, and they took it from your community. They even took away the big one, the business and estate donation deductions that really add up when it comes to funding quality of life amenities like museums and zoos and libraries and scholarships and whatever.

See? Tax code is much simpler now that they don't have to worry about all that pesky stuff that benefits the poor and the middle class.

The credit has been on the books in Michigan since 1967, and since 1989 it has given a 50 percent tax write-off for contributions to institutions that the state also pays to support, such as homeless shelters, food banks, community foundations and public universities. Even after giving back 50 cents on the dollar, the donations still reduced the amount of money those institutions required from the state.

The credit gives a maximum of $100 back to a single taxpayer and $200 for a couple filing jointly for eligible donations. Estates, trusts and businesses can get up to $5,000 in credits for their contributions that, in the right circumstances, could cut the cost of a $10,000 gift to $3,300 after state and federal deductions.

Businesses also can get a "super credit" of up to $100,000 for half of all contributions of more than $50,000 to a municipality or certain art, historical or zoological institutions.

Since the tax credit isn't refundable, it only offsets whatever amount a taxpayer owes the state. Last year, the credit cost Michigan $43 million for nearly $100 million in donations, according to state figures and the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. But with Snyder's tax reform package, the credit was eliminated, along with others, to pare business taxes and close a $1.5 billion gap in the state budget.

Most people don't realize this is the last year that you will be able to take a tax deduction for giving to "Michigan colleges and universities, public libraries and museums, public broadcasting stations, homeless shelters, food banks and community foundations." As a result, those institutions are stepping up the call to give as much as you can this year, because they simply don't know what is going to happen after the credit goes away. They figure people will still give, but won't be able to give as much as they used to. Add this to other cuts in funding from the state, and we will probably see quite a few of the smaller organizations go under.

But wait! That's not all! To make things even simpler, they eliminated some of your other deductions as well. Your city income tax deduction - gone. Your college tuition credit, which paid an 8% credit to those that had seen tuition increases - gone. Your vehicle donation credit, applicable when giving your old car to certain charities - gone. Certain home improvement credits - gone. Probably others that are escaping my mind at the moment.

This is working so well for the GOP that they want to try it at the federal level, too.

A GOP plan to raise taxes by $290 billion over the next decade would limit deductions for mortgage interest, charitable donations and state and local taxes as part of a deficit-reduction deal. Some workers could also see their employer-provided health benefits taxed for the first time, though aides cautioned that the plan is still fluid.

And just like the state, they will take that money and turn it right over to the wealthy. Just to keep things simple, of course. Capping the itemized deductions would force more people to just take the standard deduction and be done with it. Oh, and we will just make those Bush tax cuts permanent as well. Why complicate things?

"Right now we let people choose between the standard deduction and itemized deductions," said Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and an economic adviser to President George W. Bush. "All we're saying is we're capping the total amount of the itemized deductions."

Democrats, however, argue that such big reductions in tax rates would result in large tax cuts for the rich, which would be paid for by eliminating tax breaks that primarily benefit the middle class.

Toomey's plan starts with the premise that tax cuts enacted under Bush, and extended through 2012 under President Barack Obama, would be made permanent. The tax rates would be reduced even further under Toomey's plan, giving even more benefits to the wealthy, according to an analysis of Toomey's plan prepared by Democratic congressional aides.

Hopes are this doesn't have a chance of passing Congress. Because it does raise revenue, some Republicans are rejecting it outright, as they continue their crusade to never compromise, ever, on anything. We are at the point where their obstructionist tendencies just may save us all in the end.

Just to be safe though, give what you can this year. With our state telling people to turn to charity even as they move to make cuts to those charities, it's more important than ever.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not Going to the Prom


congresspop


I loved this chart so much I had to steal it. This came from Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet from a speech he gave on the floor, was posted after at WaPo's The Fix blog, and is now currently making the rounds.

I thought I'd help it along. Explains a lot, don't ya think?

Target: Detroit

I do not see how Detroit avoids takeover. Either through a consent decree or emergency manager, odds are it's going to happen. Mayor Bing is going to lay it on the line tonight in an address to the city, but all signs have been pointing towards this all year. The latest report showing that they will run out of money soon is all the excuse they will need. The Freep points out they could lay off a third of the city workforce, and still be out of money by July. It's that bad.

And besides, if they are going to do it, they have to do this before the petition to repeal PA 4 (the new emergency manager act) makes it to the ballot. Right?

In April, (Council President Pro Tem Gary) Brown suggested the city enter into a consent agreement with the state that would give Bing more power over the budget without resorting to emergency manager status. A consent decree would give the mayor authority to privatize city operations, sell assets and change ordinances — but wouldn't alter the city's basic governing structure.

Emergency managers, by contrast, are given sweeping powers to fire employees and break union contracts.

Pressure has been building on the Bing administration since an Ernst & Young audit prompted the mayor to suggest he would consider becoming emergency manager if asked to do so by the governor.
The preliminary audit, reviewed by The Detroit News, shows the city is being crippled by plunging property and income tax revenue, a significant dip in state aid and higher payroll and pension costs. The audit suggests the city could have only about $23 million in cash available by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

The report also points out that revenue-generating ideas included in the city's budget this year — such as increasing fees on booting cars and more aggressive income tax collections — have yet to materialize, leaving the city with a $63 million budget gap. That assessment also assumes $15 million of $25 million in council-mandated cost savings are not realized.

The City Council has canceled their usual holiday break to stay in town for this. Everyone from Snyder on down is proclaiming, "We don't WANT an emergency manager, but..." They shake their heads solemnly, as they make the plans to target union workers and retiree benefits.

Well, everyone except L. Brooks, that is. He is giggling with glee at the thought.

“An emergency financial manager can do things that the mayor cannot do,” Patterson said. “Come in and really vitiate very expensive union contracts, as an example. There’s your pushback — the union officials and union employees don’t wanna see — a financial manager on site because he can do what the financial manager’s done in Pontiac: the police department’s gone, the fire department’s gone; the city clerk’s office is gone. I mean they have tremendous power.”

This is going to be a massive undertaking, and where the chips land, no one knows. But it's pretty safe to say that Detroit, as it's being run today, is about to radically change.

Holds onto your hats and fasten your seat belts. This ride may get a little bumpy, to say the least.

And right on cue: After Bing's speech, we get this:

Mayor Dave Bing laid out a fiscal plan that sought to avoid the appointment of an emergency manager, but the governor responded that he expects the city to begin the process that could end with such an appointment.

After listening to Mayor Dave Bing's speech Wednesday, Gov. Rick Snyder said that the mayor's dire description of finances suggests a state financial review is necessary. It's the first step in the process of appointing someone with more authority than an elected mayor.

"I want to avoid an emergency manager if at all possible," said the governor in a written statement. "Based on the mayor's remarks tonight and the severity of the situation he described, we anticipate he will be submitting a request for a preliminary financial review in the near future."

Snyder did not address the biggest revenue gain Bing sought tonight: The repayment by the state of $220 million Bing says the city is owed from the 1998 deal in which the city agreed to lower taxes on its residents. The state agreed, in turn, to hold the city harmless from revenue-sharing cuts.

That money alone would fix the city's structural deficit and its projected shortfall this fiscal year, he said.

That is the first direct mention of revenue sharing cuts = budget shortfall that may lead to an emergency manager. Thank you Mayor Bing for making that connection.

Snyder Administration Repeats the Lie That They Have Ended Business Tax Credits

New study from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities came out yesterday showing that Michigan, along with Wisconsin and New Jersey, raised taxes on the poor as states looked for ways to increase revenue in the face of massive budget deficits. The AP kindly points out that in Michigan, this was a trade-off for more tax cuts for business interests.

In Michigan's case, low-income families will see their tax breaks shrink starting next year by about $260 million annually while businesses will get a $1.1 billion tax break starting in January and a $1.7 billion tax break the year after.

When asked for a response to the study, the answer from the administration was "trickle-down!" And you got your Medicaid, so what are you complaining about?

He said earlier this year that the state needed to make cuts to balance the budget and noted no cuts were being made in Medicaid programs providing health care to low-income working families. He also has said the business tax cuts will create employment opportunities.

"More and better jobs are at the heart of the governor's plan to improve and strengthen our economy so ALL can prosper and benefit," Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for the first-year Republican governor, said in an emailed response to the report.

While many an expert and thirty years of experience has pointed out that it's consumer demand and not tax cuts that actually creates jobs, the Snyder administration is going to happily ignore that fact and continue on with the standard spiel, all the while taking money out of the hands of the consumers that are most likely to spend it. That's just willful ignorance and a blind adherence to ideology. No surprise there. What really is annoying though is the insistence that they have ended business tax credits, when they have done no such thing. Here it comes:

"It was also about ending exorbitant business tax credits that were jeopardizing our future and ensuring a level playing field for all industries and sectors," she said. "It was about creating a structurally balanced budget that could be a building block for the future."

This was said on a day that they handed Meijer's a $3.3 million tax credit to build a new store in Detroit. They also gave Grand Rapids $4.7 million for a downtown urban market. These are both great ideas - it's the lying when making excuses for taxing the poor that is so infuriating. Michigan Radio did ask the right question to a MEDC spokesman, and they pointed to the new $100 million cap and said, "those limitations will not be in place until the end of this calendar year." Oh. Well, until then, pass out the candy, right?

Anyone want to place any bets as to how quickly they add more money to the MEDC pile next year for more tax credits? You can probably guess late spring, maybe summer, when we will hear the call that they have to a) cut property taxes (unless they start on that after Thanksgiving break when you are distracted by the holidays) and b) give more money for incentives so they can continue to "ensure a level playing field" and create "more and better jobs". Wait and see.

As has been pointed out before, they are quietly putting back the Renaissance Zone tax deduction now. MEDC is clamoring for more money already to hand over to business, and there is no question that they are going to need it if they want to compete with other states. These "exorbitant business tax credits" are slowly making their way back into the system - and that is, for the most part, being ignored.

The real question here is: Should all of this come at the expense of those who can least afford it? THAT is what should be answered. And they can't do it without resorting to the usual trickle-down explanations, as evidenced above.

The next question should be on everyone's mind. They are going to need more money for their plans.

So, who pays the next time around?