Sunday, July 31, 2011

About those Jobs...

I haven't weighed in very much on the debt limit debate, largely because

1. There's no chance it won't get raised. It's too important for Wall Street for it to be raised and we know DC can't abide anything bad for Wall Street

2. It's annoying. God damn it's annoying. Seriously, it doesn't matter what the issue is, the final deal won't come along until the last why bother having such long deadlines and debates? Extended lead time to debate an issue is just an excuse for our representatives to do absolutely nothing for weeks on end.

But most of all, this:

Here's what is so truly absurd: We wouldn't have a deficit crisis, if we had more people working. The revenue that would come from halving our unemployment rate would reduce our long-term debt to manageable levels.

Yeah. How about we get us some friggin' jobs over here. We're dyin'.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Walking in my parents' yard, I noticed that the invasive purple loosestrife had begun taking over the wetland area that was once made up of native reeds and carnivorous plants. Between that and the zebra mussels that recently got introduced into little Black Lake turned my mind to a word I had heard several months ago for the first time: The Anthropocene. The Age of Man. The term is gaining traction to define a new geologic epoch. This National Geographic article, Age of Man, is an important and fascinating read.

It’s a new name for a new geologic epoch—one defined by our own massive impact on the planet. That mark will endure in the geologic record long after our cities have crumbled.


"The pattern of human population growth in the twentieth century was more bacterial than primate," biologist E. O. Wilson has written. Wilson calculates that human biomass is already a hundred times larger than that of any other large animal species that has ever walked the Earth.

This geological epoch happens also to coincide with the sixth mass extinction in Earth's biological history. The earth has seen mass extinctions before. We happen to be in one right now, with some scientists predicting that 75% of the species on earth will have gone extinct by the time the extinction is over. This is a process that has been going on for thousands of years, which many scientists crediting humans as the factor causing the recent mass extiction.

We're firmly in the Age of Man.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

4000 Electric Car Charging Stations Planned for West Michigan

West Michigan has a vested, economic interest in the success of the electric car.

Whatever is happening on the national and state level, don't forget that there are people and groups out there pushing and pushing and pushing for change. When the TV News talking head dust settles, the biggest difference in how we live our lives 10, 20, 50 years into the future is going to come from this local level. From our infrastructure and manufacturing future.

Right now the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, lead by Greg Northrup, is pushing West Michigan to lead the way in adopting and manufacturing clean energy technology. The organization has outlined an ambitious plan to install 4000 electric charging stations in 8 West Michigan counties. The goal, of course, is to help usher in a new era for the automobile. All electric.

Strategic Alliance President Greg Northrup presented to Muskegon County commissioners this week the regional-collaboration group's proposal to purchase and install more than 4,000 charging stations in West Michigan over the next four years. Northrup said thousands of charging stations would saturate the region, reducing prospective electric-vehicle buyers' anxiety about not having enough access to recharge.

If one didn't know Greg Northrup, the County Commissioners, or the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, one might think this sort of thing is idle fancy...

...until one realizes that West Michigan's economic future is now inextricably bound to the manufacture of electric car batteries. Holland, Michigan has an advanced battery manufacturing plant that employs over 300 people that community, while the Muskegon advanced battery manufacturing plant breaking ground this Fall will employ as many as 700 individuals....about as many as the now closed Paper Mill employed at one time.

West Michigan has a vested, economic interest in the success of the electric car. It's in our best interest, and the nation's interest, that we provide a model region for adoption of electric car use.

Michigan Unemployment Rises 4 Months in a Row

I don't appreciate this new trend.

This new old trend. I don't appreciate it at all. Not at all. Michigan's employment levels are once again on the decline. Three months ago the number of employed was 4,257,900, two months ago it was 4,257,500, last month it was 4,248,500, and this month it's 4,222,200. That's 35,000 jobs GONE in the past three months.

I don't appreciate that. I don't like it.

Ya know, I used to hear people talk about another Great Depression and my mind conjured up dusty images of dusty people in black and white, huddled together on an old wood trailer'd jalopy looking forlorn and defeated.

A return to that seemed so impossible and distant.

Not so much, now.

A Deal I Can't Refuse


Obama should have said "I'm invoking the 14th amendment to raise the debt ceiling on Tuesday August 2nd. Want to get anything at all out of this debt ceiling thing? Give me a deal I can't refuse."

Ah well.

Physically Watching Our Worlds Crumble

Well, it's finally happened. Ol' besse is giving up the ghost. After emitting noxious fumes into the cabin for a week and sputtering like an animal after a massive stroke, the Ford Escort up and died. Sorta. I was able to nurse it on back home, but slowly and with the hazards on.

To make matters even more pathetic, it died while we were driving between thrift stores in search of a used washing machine because our washing machine also died. Last time it was the coupler, which we fixed. This time it seems to be the washing machine transmission which costs just about as much as a used washing machine just for the part.

On the bright side, we still have the toaster. The toaster is working fine. I just toasted a bagel, so I can vouch for the full functionality of the toaster.

I guess I'm more stressed about the car than the washing machine. The problem with being a single car family is, you don't have a back-up car. And the problem with cars is, they're very expensive. Even the cheap ones.

As I wallow in self pity for a moment, this gives me a good opportunity to segue into the notion of middle class momentum.

When somebody first enters into a lousy economic situation after having had a job for a while, they probably had a car and functional appliances and most were probably in halfway decent working order. Their glasses were probably of the correct prescription and clothes were probably new-ish and their socks and underwear probably had a decent hole to no-hole ratio, favoring No Holes. The living quarters were probably maintained well enough.

And for a while, sans job, folks are able to live, more or less, a standard middle class existence with most of the amenities: Microwave, Car, Television, Lawn Mower, Washer and Drier, maybe even a dish washer and some sort of Air Conditioning.

But as time wears on, and the economic situation doesn't change......these things start to decay. The eyes get worse and the prescription isn't quite exactly right. The washing machine dies. The car troubles are put off for another day...and put off, and put off, and put off. The machines in our lives that we generally associate with a middle class existence fall apart one after another...

...we watch, physically WATCH, the world crumble around us.

Friday, July 29, 2011

40 High Level Invasive Threats to the Mississippi/Great Lakes Basins

As part of its agonizingly long 5 year Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study, the US Army Corps of Engineers identified 40 other problem invasive species that could cross between the Mississippi/Great Lakes watershed. Why agonizingly long? Because nobody is denying there's a threat to the two water basins, and it's closing it right now. DNA studies have found the highly damaging asian carp species to be close to the Great Lakes, some even claim they've gotten beyond the electric barriers.

It's like we're watching a disaster unfold while years of research goes on about how or if we can stop it. Personally I'd like to see more action. We know it's a problem and we know it goes well beyond Asian carp, and it impacts two vast water sheds.

Here's how the study group defines an "invasive" species:

"Invasive" – an alien or native species that can grow quickly, spread rapidly, and dominate an area to the point where native species are displaced, or have taken an area over because native species were eradicated by a previous event

The critters identified aren't what you might expect. Many of them are things like algae, bizarre fresh water invertibrates like Lophopodella carteri which is toxic, so there's nothing that can eat them:

There's the shrimp-like scud and the spiny water flea which are painful for fish to eat.

We're not looking at just one direction of infection...from the Mississippi to the Great Lakes. Heavens no. We're looking at bi-directional more cases we're actually looking at creatures crossing from the Great Lakes into the Mississippi basin. Many of these invasive species came into the Great Lakes from distant lands, carried in freighters and deposited from ballast water. And from there, they now are able to move into the Mississippi water basin and the massive network of tributaries beyond....and why?

Because there is no longer the natural separation between the watersheds of the two water bodies. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal joins the two water basins and accelerates the rates of invasive species infestation...much faster than native species can adapt to. Much faster than local natural resources management teams can respond to.

These two water sheds need to be separated. I'd like to see action now.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Veggie Sloppy Joes that Kids Will Eat

While we watch DC struggle with eating its peas, many of us focus on the more immediate question of how to make own own children eat their actual peas. Or asparagus. Or broccoli. Or green beans. Or arugula.

The answer to the latter is simple: Sloppy Joes.

I've come to appreciate the notion of Sloppy Joe's for dinner ever since I came to the revelation that ketchup and or tomato sauce and or worchestershire sauce makes just about everything taste the same.

I make my slopppy joes with 60% to 80% green veggies, and 40% to 20% ground beef, and my kids not only don't notice....they request it.

Here's what you do:

1. Pull out any veggies you've had sitting around in the freezer or the fridge and chop them up into fine bits: Asparagus, bell peppers, onions, peas, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, etc....

2. Chop them as fine as possible.

3. Dump the chopped veggies into a pan and saute them in a glob of butter.

4. When the chopped veggies are soft, add a fistful of ground beef. Or not. Fry it up until it's brown.

5. Dump in some worchestershire sauce, and then the tomato sauce or ketchup until the whole pan looks like it's vaguely cooked meat colored.

6. Serve it on a hamburger bun. I serve it with beets, because my kids are insane and love beets.

SUGGESTION: For added fun, refer to it as a "Sloppy Pierre" This will hilarious for the whole family, for different reasons.

7. Read a chapter of The Three Investigators and then put your children to bed.

8. Watch a couple episodes of Dollhouse on Netflix, alone or with your spouse.

And that's it! Easy.

Obama, they're gonna impeach you no matter what

Just a friendly reminder to my President that the Republicans are going to impeach him anyway, no matter what. So he might as well just throw the third switch today and raise the debt limit using the 14th amendment. I mean, really. What's it going to matter?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Oil Company Deception Slows Oil Spill Cleanup in Kalamazoo

There's rumblings that we could have cleaned up the lion's share of the 2010 oil spill if we knew what we were up against. But that would have required some corporate accountability from Enbridge oil company. It turns out last year's 1,000,000 gallon oil spill in the Kalamazoo river is a lot more damaging and a lot more difficult to clean up.....


Because it wasn't your run-of-the-mill oil spill.

It was a tar sands oil spill. Or, to be more precise, a spill of tar sands oil. Enbridge failed to mention that a year ago.

The tar sands oil thing is a problem because

1. By some reports it was the largest tar sands oil spill in the US, so it's new clean-up territory.

2. Tar sands oil is a lot thicker and more viscous than your run of the mill oil spill oil. Supposedly it's the consistency of peanut butter at room temperature.

3. It's got a higher concentration of heavy metals, and is considered one of the dirtiest oils in the galaxy.

4. Tar sands oil has extra "crap" in it to make it flow through the pipelines. (hint: it's not healthy crap)

5. Did I mention that the oil company failed to tell early clean up crews they were dealing with tar sands oil. They sort of left that part out, so the clean up crew wasn't prepared.

When that combination, known as DilBit, spilled out of the ruptured pipeline, the benzene and other chemicals in the mixture went airborne, forcing mandatory evacuations of surrounding homes (many of which were later bought by Enbridge because their owners couldn’t safely return), while the thick, heavy bitumen sank into the water column and coated the river and lake bottom, mixing with sediment and suffocating bottom-dwelling plants, animals, and micro-organisms.
It should be noted this is a river system that flows out to Lake Michigan right where people draw their drinking water, and it's just 50 miles south of where I get my water from. I guess I don't want to drink more benzene than I have to.

The ecological cost itself has been devastating, creating dead zones in the river bottom, massive fish die offs, bird die offs, musk rat and aquatic life die offs from a toxic environment.

For more complete reports on the ecological damage, follow this link.

AmWay Takes Hostages to Squeeze Tax Abatements from Cities

Ada Michigan just gave a tax abatement to Dick DeVos's multi-level marketing scam AmWay to make sure they don't shutter a facility and put 100 local people out on the street in a sinking Michigan economy...

The board voted 5-1 Monday to grant a 12-year, 50 percent tax abatement to Amway's Access Business Group LLC for an estimated $9.66 million project to relocate from its Spauldinsave g Avenue facility to Amway headquarters at 7575 E. Fulton St. and expand capabilities of its shipping processes.

The approval is expected to the company an estimated $164,515 in real and personal property taxes the first year of the abatement.

Last year the company announced plans to shutter the Spaulding facility and cut up to 100 local production jobs. Some of those cuts were expected to be offset by consolidation of production into the headquarters campus from a facility being closed in California.

Even though AmWay posted its first $1 billion dollar month in its history:

ADA — One month, $1 billion in sales: Amway today announced it had reached that milestone for the first time in its 51-year history during June...


We are experiencing an intense period of growth, and with fluctuations that normally occur in our sales cycle, we expect that momentum to continue,” Bill Payne, executive vice president and chief of staff at Amway, said in a statement.

Looks like AmWay is pretty much just doing this to squeeze a few more tax abatements from the city and has no problems putting a gun to the head of its own employees to get it.

Same as it ever was.

Thanks Dick DeVos.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Organic Garden Blues

You work so hard. You till the land. You plant your tomatoes, green beans, an obscene amount of cabbage because let's face it, you're a sick bastard in love with saurkraut, or fried cabbage for breakfast. You just love cabbage.

And when I say "You" I mean "Me" I've planted over 40 tomato plants and what I imagined to be a ton of green bean plants, and well over 40 cabbages. And what? WHAT? What do I have to show for it at the end of July?

I have one (1) tomato.

I'm holding it up to the screen. Do you see it? One tomato. And one (1) pound of green beans harvested so far.

I must say, I expected more. I cultivated 600 square feet of my yard and have all sorts of plants there and expected to grow a whole winter's worth of canned tomatoes and green beans. But as things are going I just don't see it. I was like "I'm going to grow all the tomatoes I need for a year!

And then some black spots started showing up on my tomato plants...some critter started assaulting my green bean plants, my cabbages, more or less, are laughably small. The cucumbers...just one, wee, golf ball sized cucumber so far.

What do I expect from 600 square feet?

I expect sustenance. I expect a bushel or two of tomatoes ready can by July 15th.

Damn these veggies their lack of punctuality!

The wife tells me I'm impatient.

Maybe that's true.

I have a back up, though. I've got several vine type plants taking over my garden. If nothing else, I expect a ton of melons and squash this fall.

Republicans Kill 1,288 Michigan Jobs as Unemployment Edges Up

This from Trumka's email today:

Last weekend, House Republican leaders proved just how far they are willing to go to achieve their ideological goals.

At 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning, they shut down the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As if bringing America to the brink of default hasn’t done enough damage already. Are they out of their minds?

Because of the extreme ideological agenda of House Republicans and their political game-playing, 4,000 workers were furloughed over the weekend and more than 90,000 jobs across the country are on the line—including 1,288 in MI.

I don't understand it. It's a purposeful assault on jobs. The Republicans in Congress are killing jobs On Purpose. Michigan's U6 unemployment stood at 19.8% last month, with unemployment climbing again. Looks like it's about to go a lot higher, and on purpose.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Governments Can't Create Jobs. Except Saudi Arabia.

Great news! Dow Chemical and Saudi Arabian state owned Saudi Arabian Oil Co. are entering into a joint business venture in Midland, Michigan. It's a 20 Billion dollar joint venture between the two companies...the new joint company will be called the Sandara Chemical Company and will be one of the largest in the world and will create "thousands" of jobs right here in Michigan.

The Joint Venture should have annual sales of around $10bn within a few years of operation and create thousands of jobs, the companies said.

This is fantastic news on the jobs front. But as we all know, private companies, not Governments, create jobs and Saudi Arabian Oil Co is a State owned company.

Or does that not count if the Governmnet is Saudi Arabia?

Republicans Jobs Plan: Kill Jobs Until Jobs Come Back

Here we are. Thousands more people have been thrown out of work. The FAA has been shut down but for some critical services and many airport expansions around the United States have been halted, including several here in Michigan: Flint, Traverse City and Kalamazoo. Congress failed to pass the legislation required to keep the projects going. And as it turns out the FAA is also losing $30,000,000 per day on its inability to collect

FAA Workers, construction workers, film workers in Michigan tossed out, solar panel manufacturers fleeing Michigan...between my gut feeling and the US Department of Labor, I'm getting a strong and accurate sense that Michigan has resumed its decade long slide after a relatively hopeful year and a half after the Obama stimulus and a rescue of the domestic auto industry stopped our slide.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Drying Bluegill

After reading Ban Nock's diary on trout jerky yesterday on the Daily Kos I've decided to try my hand at drying fish. I'm using bluegill since I have tons of it in the freezer from various fishing expeditions with my boy. Grandma and grandpa have also supplied us with some of their own catch.

The point is, I have a lot of bluegill in the freezer.

So far what I've done is:

1. Soak the fish in a salt and water solution for a half hour. 1 gallon of water to 1 cup of salt.

2. Dredged the fish in pickling salt

3. Placed them outside in a non-reactive container. I'm using plastic racks from a food dehydrator I have.

I've left them outside for most of the day in 80+ degree weather so far, and they still smell edible at least. Put enough salt on something and nothing's going to touch it, looks like.

I've brought them inside to keep the fish from attracting racoons or another hungry beast. And to hasten the process I've put them on the electric dehydrator over night.

I'll keep people posted on how it turns out.

TEA Party Also Threatening to Recall Snyder

I will never Get the Tea Party folks. That's okay. I'm sure they don't Get me either.

Looks like the Tea Party folks are riled up enough against the prospect of a new, public bridge between Michigan and Canada that they're threatening to ALSO recall Rick Snyder if he approves it.

I don't know how I feel about that. I definitely want that bridge...but I ALSO want to recall Snyder.

A tea party group says it's prepared to launch a second recall effort against Gov. Rick Snyder over his support of a public bridge to Canada.

The Willow Run Tea Party Caucus in Ypsilanti is opposed to the New International Trade Crossing and vowed to enlist tea party groups statewide to throw Snyder out of office if he signs legislation authorizing the project.

The enemy of my enemy is

Never Mind.

Frankly, this is a fight I'm willing to have with the TEA party. If they want to shoot themselves in the foot based on their usual purity obsession, I'd be happy to work hand in hand with them to make that happen.

Neighborhood In Transition

Well. It's somewhere in the 85 degree range, down from the 95 degree range earlier in the day and I think just about every pre-pubescent boy in the neighborhood is in our yard hanging out with my two sons, and they are all armed. Swords. Rubber band guns. Squirt guns. Snorkeling masks (!). Most adults are hanging out in their AC or outdoors while the kids run around like wild animals.

In our neighborhood it's mostly grandparents watching their childrens' children.

We're in what I like to call a "transitional" neighborhood. One of those neighborhoods that's mostly populated by people who have been living there for 30 years...they slowly move out to nursing homes or florida or to their final resting places, and younger families with kids slowly move in.

Our last house was also in a transitional neighborhood. Though further along. In our last neighborhood in our last home you could almost watch the transition taking place.

An ambulance would pull up to a house where a man had been living since the 1940s, and would pull away. Two weeks later a moving van would pull in and an explosion of children would spray out and run into the house as a new, young family moved in. The convection of the neighborhood seemed to happen at an accelerating pace.

I think our new neighborhood is due for such an overturn as well. The folks living here have been living here for over 30 years. Some for more than 60 years. They're retired, living on their pensions and social security. They have old vendettas against one another that I can't understand...old bitter rivalries dating back to when they themselves were raising children in their homes.

But us...we're the young ones moving in, and they treat us well, despite our eccentricities. Everybody seems delighted to have children in the neighborhood again.

I suspect it's going to happen more and more here. We moved into a home left behind by an older woman who had lived here for decades.

Today the neighborhood is older, retired, with few children besides children watched by grandparents. Not the thundering herds of children that inhabited the last neighborhood we lived in.

We are in a neighborhood in transisition.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Managed Ecosystems

I've started a bed of native mussels in Black Lake near the dock at my parents' house to peel the zebra mussels off their shells. Invasive zebra mussels attach themselves to the shells of native mussels in such numbers that the native guys die off. Here's a typical native clam:

Walk out into Black Lake and you'll find native clams by the hundreds dug into the soft, sandy bottom. Four years go, a study was done on Black Lake. It was found to be clean, and unusually untouched by invasive species. The DNR guy who did the study called it a "rare gem" of a lake, Black Lake.

Two years ago I was out on a boat with my nephew, showing him native lake species. That kid is amazing. He's a born naturalist with a keen sense of observation. He's six now, and he'll literally squat by some leaves for an hour, just watching...looking at what most of us would just call "leaves". Ask him what he's doing, he'll show you tiny, almost invisible eggs on the undersides of the leaves. He'll show you tiny bugs on the leaves, under the leaves, and smaller plants nearby. Something about that kid. He sees a whole world in a square foot space, and he'll watch it for hours. Anyway...a couple years ago were out on a boat, and I was showing him some of the native species of the lake, pulling up some of the native mussels and handing them to him to look at and then drop back into the water.

Then I pulled one up and my heart skipped a beat when I found a zebra mussel attached to it. It was the first one I'd ever seen in that lake...

That's the week I established a bed of native mussels somewhere I could watch them and pluck zebra mussels off of them from time to time. It's been a couple years now and zebra's are very common in that small lake now. There's no holding them back. I'm on a fools errand to keep my small stronghold of native mussels from being overrun. I go out, I pluck the zebra mussels from their shells and drop the native mussels back into the water.

This is how our waters are going.

This is hour our entire environment is going.

The oceans, not too long from now, are going to be similar to the Great Lakes in that they will become managed so that the rest of us can maintain an illusion of health, and balance.

The Great Lakes aren't a self sustaining healthy ecosystem. They are now a managed ecosystem. They maintain an illusion of balance thanks to the time, and hard work, and money spent by governments and dedicated scientists and workers. It's an endless job to sustain a diverse fish population and keep walking that ecological tight rope so that sturgeon can live in the streams. So that trout can survive. So that the alewives don't take over. So that the lamprey eel doesn't wipe out the fish populations. So that algae doesn't overrun the entire system and create massive dead zones and wash up on shore and rot.

Every year, every day, people are working to maintain the Great Lakes. Whole agencies are tasked with maintaining them so that the rest of us can imagine it's a beautiful, pristine, natural system.

But it's not a self sustaining system.

Not anymore.

It is a managed ecosystem.

This is exactly what we're headed for with larger water bodies, natural wonders, possibly even on a global scale. They'll no longer be balanced, self sustaining systems. They'll be managed. All day. Every day. For as long as we're around.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Quiet Ascendance of a US Biking Interstate System

While trains, electric cars, and other non-internal-combustion-engine forms of transportation cause partisan fights and get high news coverage, there's a quiet revolution happening right under our noses. Bike paths and trails are starting to link cities and regions together...

A 25 mile bike trail from Muskegon, MI to Marne, MI is gaining support. The trail will eventually lead all the way to Grand Rapids.

And the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials approved USBR 20 a couple months ago...United States Bike Route 20, which runs East-West from Ludington in the West all the way across the state to Marine City.

And last but not least, the development of USBR 35 seems to be on track. USBR 35 follows roads near the West Michigan coastline and would go right past my house, stretching all the way from Sault Ste. Marie in the north of Michigan down to Mississippi.

The quiet movement for a national bike path system has gained traction. And that's a great thing.

Just last month from the US Department of Transportation Blog:

US Bike Route showing no signs of growing pains

In my latest "On the Go" video and in a blog last week, I talked about how bicycles are not just for recreation, but also for transportation. Today, as schools across America are letting out for summer vacation and families are making travel plans, I want to remind everyone that you can use your bicycles for both transportation and recreation on our U.S. Bicycle Route System.

And I'm happy to report that, since I blogged about our nation's interstate network of bicycle routes last summer, the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has approved the first new routes for the system in more than 30 years.


Thirty states are now working on routes to serve as easy-to-ride trunk lines connecting city, regional, and statewide cycling trails. These will provide transportation, tourism, and economic development opportunities across the country.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Michigan School Children to be Served Healthier, Locally Grown Produce for Lunch

Thank our dear departed friend and Local Food Advocate Chris Bedford for this happy news for locavor nerds: the State of Michigan is one of two states in a pilot program that allows public schools to use Federal Funds to buy directly from local farmers. It requires no new expenditures and is voluntary. Chris Bedford lobbied Senator Stabenow to persue this opportunity for Michigan. Even in his absence he's making West Michigan and Michigan in general a better place.

The other state is Florida. So if you're in either state and you have kids in school, maybe give your public schools a poke to see if they're on top of that.

This is a much needed boost to these two state economies from money to local farmers, and will hopefully provide our kids with fresher foods with higher nutrient content.

A pilot program being tested in Michigan and Florida would allow schools to use federal commodities money to buy produce from farmers in their areas.

Exact details are being hammered out, but in its current form the program wouldn't involve new expenditures, an aide to Sen. Debbie Stabenow said.

Stabenow is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. The program is voluntary for schools and farmers, the aide said, and farmers who want to supply schools will have to register with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Local activists, including the late Chris Bedford of Sweetwater Local Foods Market, had pushed Stabenow's office to support the pilot program, said Bill Bobier, a Hesperia farmer, former state representative, and senior policy analyst for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

More Anti Wind Power Garbage from Russ Harding of the Mackinac Center

I'm not going to get too far into the point / counterpoint garbage with ultraconservative activist Russ Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He posted some negative commentary about renewable energy in the Detroit Free Press a couple days ago. I'm not going to link to his article, nor will I bother to reinforce by repetition Harding's standard, debunked talking points.

Just imagine all the talking points a Koch, oil baron, Industries funded institution would use against renewable energy and you have a fairly good idea. Then throw in the same ONE debunked study by ONE quack scientist that Harding references almost singularly.

As the years and decades roll on and wind power continues to provide consistent, safe renewable electricity for nations around the world and in the US, as it has been for nearly 30 years, it becomes increasingly clear that this technology just works. It just does. The dire predictions don't pan out, individuals feed their families with their jobs manufacturing wind turbine parts and solar panels, and live moves on.

At the end of the day, the sheer practicality of the renewable energy shift is undeniable, but for a few stragglers. Possibly the same crowd who still believes the Internet is a fad. Or that home computers will never catch on. Wind power has been reliably producing power for decades, for as long as the personal computer has been in our homes, and the cost of that energy source is now very competitive with coal, subsidized or not.

Our leadership needs to understand that Russ Harding and the Mackinac Center are not interested in accuracy. They're not a Think Tank per se. They're an Excuses Tank. Folks like Harding are paid very good money to come up with and spread and repeat talking points until somebody else repeats them as true. Read the studies he cites, and quite frequently they won't even say what he claims they do...or they come to exactly the opposite conclusion he suggests they do. For example, he used a study about the water levels in Lake St. Claire to deny at length the concept of climate change, even though the study itself cited climate change as one of the reasons in water level changes. Even though the study itself explicitly acknowledged the effects of anthropogenic global warming.

Because information isn't the goal. The goal is to give ground cover to the people who wish to proceed and govern based on philosophical, rather than practical goals.

Mr. Harding has a long and stories history of doing just that. He helped create the executive order that split the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment into two parts: the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural Resources. He himself headed up the DEQ and used it to rubber stamp permits for big polluters in Michigan...creating a legacy of financial and environmental cost for its citizens who are now stuck with the bill of cleaning up after these guys or drinking polluted water.

That people take this man seriously as a source of information shows an aggressive and willful ignorance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Heritage Foundation: The poor are doing great!

Good news, everyone! The Heritage Foundation has published a study telling us how America's poor and middle class are doing fine, by international standards. In fact, our poor aren't even poor at all.

For example: In America our poor have food, shelter, and coffee makers.

So clearly we're doing fine when our metric for success is having a higher standard of living than, say, Haiti or the poor parts of Mexico.

For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. For example, the Poverty Pulse poll taken by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development asked the general public: “How would you describe being poor in the U.S.?” The overwhelming majority of responses focused on homelessness, hunger or not being able to eat properly, and not being able to meet basic needs.[1] That perception is bolstered by news stories about poverty that routinely feature homelessness and hunger.

Yet if poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the more than 30 million people identified as being “in poverty” by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor.[2] While material hardship definitely exists in the United States, it is restricted in scope and severity. The average poor person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines.

Hold up....ooh! Let's apply this same sort of thing to the US Economy! Ooh! By International standards, the American economy is doing GREAT! We have the largest GDP in the world by far, we have low inflation, we have food and raw materials in abundance, we have coffee makers!

America's economy is doing great! By international standards. I don't know what these TEA Partiers and conservatives are pissing and moaning about. By international standards, we have an awesome economic situation. We have enough food to feed people, we have cable TV, we have coffee makers... what's the problem? Geeze guys, stop being so ungrateful.

No need for reforms, then, I guess.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Can't Sleep, Too Hot

Can't sleep.

Too hot

My pillow is soaked from my own sweat. Everything feels sticky. The cooler night air is just barely taking the edge off the heat built up in the house during the day.

I'm not going to bother mentioning actual temperatures because if I did you'd say something like "you weenie" or "yarh! You call that hot?!?"

Yes. Yes I do. I call it hot. I'm a Northern boy on purpose. Let's just say I'm not looking down the barrel of 110 degree and humid Iowa in the summertime hot. But I am looking at get-out-of-bed-at-2-AM-to-sit-directly-in--front-of-a-fan hot.

No...we don't have AC. "I'm in Michigan, we so rarely need AC"...I say to myself, every July and August.

If it wasn't 2 AM I'd like to be sitting in Lake Michigan right now dropping my body temperature by a couple dozen degrees.

And if I may allow myself one more tomatoes aren't even ripe yet. If I'm supposed to go through a heat wave I at least expect to harvest some veggies from it.

Koch Brothers and their attack on Wind Power

I hadn't really heard the names of the Koch Brothers until a year or two ago, after Obama got elected and certain segments of the population went bonkers and formed a hardline conservative faction now known at the TEA Party.

Now, though, it seems like they're catching the blame for everything from Wisconsin anti-union laws, the formation and mobilizing of the TEA Party, to the shenanigans of New Jersey Governor Christie and Michigan Governor Snyder, to a full on assault on offshore wind power...

...It's hard to know what to take seriously at this point. Maybe just some of it. Maybe all of it. They're definitely the villain du jour, though. And who can blame us liberals...the Koch Brothers are everything wrong with America. Here are some dudes, born into a massive fortune that their father got from US and Soviet government contracts. They've never had to claw and scrape their way to the top. They've just always been up there from birth rather than merit. And they seem to use their massive wealth to direct public policy in a direction that directly harms the social mobility of a segment of the population they themselves have never been a part of.

That's definitely the part that bothers me the most.

And now, oil heirs as they are, they're taking sharper aim at offshore wind. And though manufacturing, particularly in the Green sector, has been leading the way in America's otherwise anemic job growth, the Koch Brothers manage to claim that this type of technology does not create work for people....even as it happens all around us.

The war over America’s coastal-energy future has officially begun, and the result could determine whether we see wind turbines or catastrophic oil spills along our coastlines in coming years.

The opening salvo came in early July, when everyone’s favorite climate-hating, fossil-fuel-loving industrialist villains, the Koch brothers, released a so-called “cost-benefit analysis” of New Jersey offshore wind development plans through their front group Americans for Prosperity.

I'd heard some offhanded, seemingly perfunctory comments about how Michigan Representative Ray Franz's bill to ban offshore wind power was fueled by the Koch Brothers. That seemed a little far fetched at the time....would they really micromanage like that? It starts to feel less and less far fetched every day. There's definitely a financial advantage and incentive for them to fight offshore wind power at every turn.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sugar Sand Beaches of West Michigan

There's sand everywhere. On the floor. In my hair. Between my toes. Grab a towel from the towel rack and sand will rain from it.

In the process of putting on their shoes the kids dump little piles of sand on the kitchen floor. It's on the car seats. Sometimes it gets into food with one or two gritty bites.

The sand invasion is because it's summer in West Michigan, and we've been heading down to the Lake Michigan beach several times per week. Today we made another trip to Hoffmaster State Park campground beach and let the kids splash around in Little Black Creek that flows directly into Lake Michigan. It winds a constantly shifting trail through the sugar sands until it spills out into the Big Lake. It's shallow and warm, with minnows to chase, and the kids love to splash in it and build sand castles. We climb up the dunes and run down them into the lake and the stream and in the process get sandy...and carry the sand on our wet skin and swimsuits to the car, to the house, to the bedrooms, to the laundry. Sand everywhere...

West Michigan sand is a very fine sand. Here's a close-up picture I took of some sand on the beach at Lake Harbor Park. I should have put a dime down for scale:

You can see it's a fine grained sand, over 90% silica. That's quartz. And on a hot summer day, when the moisture is just right it squeaks when you walk on it. When I moved to Iowa, I was shocked to learn sand didn't squeak everywhere. I just assumed it did. It's a phenomenon known as "singing sands"

Here's a good example of Lake Michigan sand squeaking under foot:

And there's tons of it stretching along the West Michigan coast for hundreds of miles, piling up into dunes...


It's all coming in from Lake Michigan, pushed out and up over the course of thousands of years. The sandy beaches come from the Lake. So it shouldn't be surprising that there's no muck on the bottom of the Eastern side of Lake Michigan. Just sand. Walk into Lake Michigan, and you're walking into a soft, sandy bottomed lake, looking down through clear, blue water at tiny ridges of white sand sculpted by the motion of the water.

The Great Lakes ecosystem isn't confined to the water itself. The Lakes have shaped the land and the weather around them, and have created unique ecosystems. The sandy dune habitats are one such system, formed over ten thousand years as the lakes push more and more sand up. The dunes form a series of dune ridges all along the 300+ miles of West Michigan coast, usually between one and four successive ridges extending from the beach itself. The dunes move and shift and grow week to week, year to year. Today we climbed a dune and could see where it has moved eastward. Trees stood on scraggly roots on the side near the lake, or had fallen down as the ground disappeared beneath them. On the inland side, some wide, once tall oaks had been covered near to their tops. Entire homes, and even old towns have been known to have been swallowed up by shifting dunes.

Almost as much as the Lake itself, it's these dune ridges I think about when I imagine the beauty of the lakes, and they're all made of this squeaking silica sand that seems to come from the lake in endless supply.

Not a Peep From the Tea Party

To sum up:

Removing tax credits for oil companies: Tax hike.
Removing tax credits for people with children: NOT a tax hike.

And speaking of removing tax credits for people with children and raising Michiganders' taxes...

Wow! It's quite a sight. The outrage, the anger, the united seas of humanity and tri-corn hats protesting Michigan Governor's tax hikes on Michiganders. The Don't Tread on Me flags hoisted high! The....the....complete and utter silence. Seriously...where's the Taxed Enough Already Party?

The TEA Party crowd has been eerily quiet in Michigan considering Republican Governor Rick Snyder just ratcheted up everybody's taxes:

That's not likely to console a taxpaying couple making $55,000 who will lose their homestead credit, deductions for their two kids and will pay a higher tax rate in the future than under the old tax law. That's hardly a unique couple and in 2013 their tax bill will be $739 higher, according to the House Fiscal Agency.

A couple with three children making $110,000, for example, will absorb a tax hit in 2013 of $190, $549 less than the aforementioned couple making half as much.

Or take a retired couple born after 1952 with $53,000 in income and a $4,000 property tax bill. Next year they lose their entire homestead credit and will pay income tax on every dime of their pension. It adds up to a $3,130 tax hit.

Next door a couple, in which the older spouse was born before 1953 but after 1945, also has $48,000 in pension income. And $27,000 in Social Security. They’ll lose some homestead credit as well, but the income tax will apply to only $8,000 of their pension. That's because the first $40,000 is exempted for their year-of-birth group. Their tax increase is $590.

But get this.....these aren't called tax increases.


Because the State is merely getting rid of Tax Credits and Tax Exemptions.

- Homestead Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- Pension exemptions

Michigan conservatives use their removal of tax credits as a technicality to say they never raised taxes.

Which is interesting considering that when Obama suggests removing tax credits to raise Federal revenue in the Debt Ceiling talks, conservatives use THAT as a way to say Obama is going to raise taxes.

If there was consistency, I might actually think Republican leaders have a shred of sincerity.