Monday, November 28, 2011

In January Michigan Will Start Taxing Me On Insurance Premiums to Save Blue Cross Some Money

And yet another tax on the middle class.

We recently got a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan about the Michigan Health Insurance Claims Assessment Act that will go into effect one month from now on January 1, 2012.

Snyder, a Republican, worked with state lawmakers on the measures and agreed to them as part of the effort to balance the state’s budget overall. In addition to the new tax, the state ended a 6% use tax on Medicaid managed care organizations. The blanket 1% tax on all payments is expected to cover some of the losses from eliminating the use tax.

So a 6% Use Tax on Medicaid Managed Care organizations was scrapped and replaced with a tax on insurance claims and premiums "The new rules will impose a 1% tax on all health care claims paid in the state and use that money to provide health care for low-income residents."

As I understand it, many of the managed care organizations are subsidiaries of insurance companies -- so Michigan effectively removed a tax on insurance companies who get money from Medicaid, and replaced it with a tax on insurance claims and premiums for self insured folks like myself.

I have no problem paying a little more if I know it's going to help folks less fortunate. What gets me is when my taxes are raised so that massive companies awash in cash can have a tax cut.

Michigan's legislature and governor simply shifted the tax burden from large corporations to the average Joe in order to maintain the same level of Medicaid funding we had before.

Our lawmakers were hell bent on removing the 6% use tax primarily on insurance companies and in order to keep Michigan eligible for 780 million dollars in Federal funding for Medicaid, they shifted that cost to everybody else.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Another Great Lakes Invader, This Time it May Not Be All Bad

I used to joke that with all the invasive species throwing the Great Lakes ecosystem out of whack that we might as well get it over with...just dump all aquatic critters into the Great Lakes and have them duke it out. Let the critters sort it out and create some sort of enduring bizarro pan-aquatic ecosystem.

Boom. Done.

But until that day when my imaginary, nightmare solution comes along, we walk a tightrope maintaining balance with the Great Lakes ecosystem.

One bit of potentially good news is the very recent invasion of the bloody red shrimp. 2006. The shrimp invaded in 2006:

The Great Lakes are facing another invader -- the bloody red shrimp -- but research suggests the crustacean interlopers could serve a useful purpose.

Mike Yuille, a researcher at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., says the shrimp, named for their bright red spots, may become a new food source for native fish.

He says the shrimp, about the size of a thumbnail, tend to swim in swarms that can look like "red clouds" and are often seen during the day near shore areas.

Read more:

Turns out this new invader may be providing a new bottom-of-the-food-chain food source for smaller predators like yellow perch. It works a little bit like this:

1. For ten thousand years the base of the food chain in the Great Lakes has been a tiny shrimp called diporea. It was once the dominant biomass in the Great Lakes. The great thing of diporea is that it's an energy dense little shrimp easy for the fish to eat.

2. Zebra mussels moved in from the Black Sea and Caspian Sea without any native competitors for food and sucked up all the food that the diporea used to eat, collapsing the population of diporea. Fish then had to turn to eating small zebra and quagga mussels, which are much MUCH less energy dense than diporea.

3. Enter the bloody red shrimp (2006). Also introduced to the Great Lakes via foreign ballast water, exactly like zebra mussels. Once again it's an energy dense food or native's ALSO from the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, so it's evolved over the millennia to naturally compete with zebra mussels. So far, there's mounting evidence that the fish are eating the shrimp as they spread.

The “bloody-red shrimp” Hemimysis anomala, was first reported in the Great Lakes by NOAA from samples collected in Muskegon, Michigan in November of 2006 in waters connected to Lake Michigan. It is a small shrimp-like crustacean (order Mysidacea) native to the low-salinity margins of the Black Sea, the Azov Sea, and the eastern Caspian Sea and most likely was brought into the Great Lakes via ballast tanks. However, mysids are also used by aquarists as a high-nutrition food for aquarium fish, although we have not found any records that Hemimysis is used this way.

And incidentally, it turns out Muskegon Lake was where the bastards were firs discovered..a fact I just learned about just now on the NOAA website...weird....

The main Muskegon population was found in a swarm of over 300 individuals per m3. It has also been found in samples taken in Lake Ontario off Oswego, New York. In both locations, adults, juveniles, and pregnant females were found, indicating that this species is reproduction in the Great Lakes.

As I've mentioned before, the Great Lakes are a managed eco-system. Because of a constant barrage of invasive species for most of a century, the Great Lakes are no longer a naturally balanced eco-system. The Great Lakes Fisheries Commission and state level natural resources departments fight year after year after year to maintain an ecological balance. We'll never be able to go back to what the Great Lakes were. We can, at best, maintain a system that we want.

Let's hope that the bloody red shrimp help the system maintain a balance.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

To Match the Gov. You Need to Donate 6 Cans of Veggies Per Day

There is NO WAY Charitable Giving will ever be able to replace the Federal Government in the ability to meed the level of need we have. I'm sick to my liver of hearing from conservatives that charity should or even CAN replace the US Government as a way to meet need.

My tiny boy, the little one, goes to preschool now. And as usual I was dropping him off a few minutes late. He races me to the door. On the race to the door, I saw boys carrying box after box of canned goods into a van. The school had done a food drive. School wide.

A school-wide food drive. It went on for a couple of weeks in preparation to fill food pantries for Thanksgiving. And as I watched the boys fill that Econoline Van, I peeked around the corner to see the amount of food they had stacked up, as an older man took the cans from the boys and arranged them neatly into the van.

My first thought was "Wow, that's a lot of food"

Then my mind did some rough calculation -- Yes I keep these things in my mind, sue me :

Can of corn: about 300 calories
Can of carrots: about 200 calories
Can of beans: 450 calories
Pound of spaghetti: 1600 calories

Times the a random adult food consumption of 2000 calories per day times 365 for 730,000 calories in a year for a 160 pound sedentary male.

The van, at best, contained enough food to feed a 160 pound person for MAYBE half a year. My best guess. How do I know? Because I have spent a couple years stockpiling food and I've kept track of the number of calories in our basement food stockpile. And I can tell you that unless there was a lot of hidden rice and pasta somewhere, that van, while looking full, would have fueled an adult for six months. Maybe.

A two week long elementary-school wide food drive produced just about enough food to feed 1 adult for 6 months. Or to be generous, enough to feed one 8 year old for a year. Or twelve 8 year olds for a month. Or fifty-two 8 year olds for One Week.

Or perhaps three-hundred-sixty-five 8 year olds for a day.

Though it took two weeks and hundreds of contributing families in order to get there.

I'm not entirely sure what my point is here.

It certainly isn't to discourage people from contributing to their local food pantries, or to stop giving to food drives.

Everything helps.

But the amount we give...the amount we CAN in fact a drop in the bucket of need. Charitable giving CANNOT and WILL NOT ever be able to fulfill the role of the US Government. EVER. EVER. EVER EVER EVER. It can't.

Let's break this down.

1 in 4 people in Muskegon County are on food we're looking at about 43,000 people on food assistance.

I realize that the folk going to food banks are often times folks NOT on food assistance, or people who ARE on food assistance but who can't get by on that. But let's work with the 43,000 number for the sake of convenience. And let's assume at least half of those folks are children. So we'll use a rough average of 1600 calories per person per day.

We're looking at a food need of: 68,800,000 calories PER DAY.
in Muskegon, alone. About 69 MILLION calories per day. Per DAY.

Conveniently, we can break that down into spaghetti, which is 1600 per pound. So to try to match what the US Government is helping with with SNAP benefits Muskegon County alone we'd need to be donating 43,000 pounds of spaghetti Every Single Day. Assuming people can survive on spaghetti alone, which they can't.

Or about 230,000 cans of corn EVERY SINGLE DAY.

There are about 170,000 people in Muskegon County, let's pretend the other 3/4 who aren't on food assistance are supplying the food. That's 127,000 people. Or let's say about 3.5 per household for about 36,000 households, which is actually an acruate depiction of the households in Muskegon County.

That means EACH HOUSEHOLD would need to donate at LEAST 1.2 pounds of spaghetti, or 6 cans of vegetables EVERY SINGLE DAY.

This is the reality if the US Government stopped helping with food assistance and we relied on charitable donations to meet the FOOD need.

There's simply no way charitable giving would meet the need of even food.

Ask yourself, have you really donated $125 of food every single month?

COULD you donate $125 of food every single month?

And these numbers are going to get WORSE when you move to counties with even MORE need per capita.

There is NO WAY Charitable Giving will ever be able to replace the Federal Government in the ability to meed the level of need we have.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Forcing Poor Children to Clean our Schools

I admit, one of my favorite jobs ever was working as a custodian for a very large child care center. When something broke, I fixed it. When a child puked masticated crunch berries on the floor, I was the guy who came out the with the magic sawdust-clay mixture to soak it up and take it away.

When the center was short handed in the infant room, I got pulled into the infant room. When they were short handed in the 3 year old room, I got pulled into the three year old room. And when the kids finished their lunch, I was the guy mopping up vast amounts of wet, sticky rice from the floor, sanitizing the tables, chairs and high-chairs, and washing the dishes.

I sanitized doorknobs. I filed down jagged parts of metal that somehow, ever once in a while, stuck out from steel door jams and bathroom stalls. I hauled out dozens of bags of dirty diapers...and yes, I cleaned up an unholy amount of poop from a dozen itty bitty toilets.

Incidentally...these are many of the things Newt Gingrich believes should jobs for poor children in our public school systems. Perhaps you haven't heard Newt Gingrich's suggestion that we shit can the union custodians at our schools and hire poor students to do the work instead.

Cleaning up vomit. Cleaning feces off of toilet seats. Handling cleaning solvents that can eat right through latex gloves. Washing dishes with an industrial dish washer that heats the water over 180 degrees, enough to scald young skin...I can't tell you how many times I burnt myself in that water. OUCH. Plunging toilets plugged with diarrhea and toilet paper, then sanitizing the toilet seat for the Non Poor students.

Newt Gingrish wants our children cleaning blood, mucous, feces, urine, dried snot, vomit from floors and walls and door knobs with chemicles that can eat the skin right off your arm or cause permanent blindness if it splashed into the eyes or loss of smell if some Janitor Kid jammed his finger up his nose...which kids never do, right?


Because an 8 year old is going to observe strict safety regulations, right?

When tasked with removing the rusting nails from the wooden playground equipment that has been discovered on the playground, that child janitor is of course going to be mindful he doesn't pierce himself....or when an errant ball sends glass and fluorescent mercury filled lightbulbs shattering to the ground, we're absolutely certain that nine year old girl is going to be so extremely careful not to slice herself open, expose herself to mercury, or for lack of attention span leave shattered slivers of glass on the shelves that happen to house the flatware and plastic cups for lunches and snacks. We're sure she'll observe proper safety procedures when removing snapped off electrical prongs from outlets.

We're absolutely sure little Kayden is going to be mindful enough to shovel the sidewalks and keep the entry ways salted to prevent people from slipping, and that he'll be sure to winterize the water systems and change the furnace filters, make sure the soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, toilet paper rolls, hallway hand sanitizer cartridges, and, of course, cherry scented urinal cakes made from hazardous quaternary ammonium compounds are well stocked.

And surely those very custodian children will be on hand for the monthly to weekly deep cleans that take place late into the nights when most lucky children are at home. Polishing the floors. Dusting the vents. Changing the light bulbs on ladders 20 feet in the air in the massive gymnasium.

But maybe............just MAYBE...... Newt has no idea.

Maybe he doesn't actually know what janitors do. Maybe he imagines there's a routine to the job. Go in, wax on, wax off, mop the floor. Done.

DONE. Clean and sanitary. Every day is exactly the same. In Newt's mind, this master custodian he's talking about will have plenty of time to watch over the children as they clean the grease trap in the kithchen. He'll follow them around as they use the high torque 60 pound floor buffer, which, incidentally, one of my teenage co-workers at the child care drove through a wall at one point. He'll be sure they're not leaving the mopped floors covered in soap, and watching over them to be sure they handle toxic chemicles with proper care at all times.

I can't keep going on talking about this.

Newt is a fucking idiot who clearly hasn't worked a day in his life, and if he has, his decades of corruption have stripped away any working understanding of what it means.

He should be embarrassed for suggesting we make poor children clean our schools. There is SO much wrong with that statement and the most irritating thing is, he doesn't even know WHY.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

There is a Transformational Shift in the Industrial Belt

I admit my mood tends to swing based on the amount of money I happen to have at the time. We've hit a bit of a dry spell....or....rather, we're back to the dry spell after a deceptively prosperous month or so. And right before Thanksgiving which has me feeling a little less than exuberant.

But no matter, the Muskegon Critic household will be Giving Thanks for our vast American bounty at Grandma and Grandpa's house. I'll crack a quart of my homemade pickled beets and a couple quarts of my homemade apple sauce made with HONEYCRISP APPLES....which I don't care what you say or think but honeycrisp apple applesauce is hands down the most amazing apple sauce you will ever have. Maple undertones.

I'll bring some of my homemade bread.

It's all good.

But as tough as it continues to be, there's fantastic news on the horizon:

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

L3 Combat Propulsion Systems in Muskegon and Rockford Berge in Grand Rapids have established the Michigan Wind Energy Consortium, which includes other companies, with the intention of forming an industrial center.

Yeah, baby. That's green manufacturing. Add it to the heap. The advanced battery manufacturing plants that have come to West Michigan as a DIRECT result of this Administratoin's policies, and wind power manufacturing plants coming to support an industry growing as a DIRECT result of this Administration's investment in wind power and renewables from the stimulus package.

I honestly do not care what other folks say. I do not. I don't.

I don't care.

Cuz I've seen a withering industrial economy with double digit U6 unemployment crumbling for years, and years, and years. I've read the articles for most of a decade about businesses shutting down, moving out, leaving forever. This recent rash of OPENINGS, of companies talking about OPENING UP SHOP's unreal.

Is it moving as fast as I want? No. But is it moving AT ALL? Absolutely. The century old paper mill closed down in 2009. An advanced battery manufacturing plant, with tax credits championed by Joe Biden himself, has broken ground and will be opening next year, employing hundreds of people previously displaced by the closing paper mill.

Yesterday I drove by a local car dealership and looked longingly at the new Chevy Sonic...the replacement for the Korean made Chevy Aveo...NOW built in Orion Township, MICHIGAN. 35 miles per gallon on the highway.

As of May 30, 2011 the plant employs 159 salaried employees and 1,300 hourly employees.

I mean...holy shit.

Think there isn't a transformational shift going on in the Industrial belt RIGHT NOW, think again. But it doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen even in the matter of a year. But it's happening. And it's happening RIGHT NOW. It's happening RIGHT NOW directly from policies of THIS administration, from refusing to let America's domestic auto manufacturing industry crumble to supporting green manufacturing...there is a DIRECT correlation to what is happening now in this town that has held some of the highest unemployment in America for most of a decade.

When the advanced battery manufacturing plant in Muskegon is up, when a wind turbine manufacturing center opens in the abandoned hull of the paper mill center, when local manufacturers and machine shops are tooled to make parts for cars that were once made in Korea but are now made in the USA........this town's economic malaise will be a distant memory. And we'll have to make damn sure it never comes back.

That's the burden. That's the burden all over America.

We're never coming back to this place again. I don't ever want to come back to this place again. I want to build a society where we never come back to this place where we leave a loaf of high calorie homemade bread on the counter because we know it's cheap to make and our kids will eat on it over the course of the day. 1900 calories per loaf, enough to fuel a 180 pound man for a day. 45 cents of flour and butter and shortening.

Where was I?

Ah yes.

The manufacturing center.

I'm for it. I'm happy about it. I'm grateful for even the possibility.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Companies Look to Create Turbine Part Manufacturing Center in Muskegon

This sounds pretty awesome. Looks like a consortium of companies is looking to establish a center for developing and manufacturing wind turbine parts, and they've selected Muskegon, Michigan as the place to do it.

MUSKEGON — 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.

Friday, November 18, 2011

We Don't Obstruct and Detain Credentialed Reporters in America, Unless We Do, I Guess

I'm finding reports of detaining credentialed reporters at Occupy Wall Street events disturbing. It concerns me. When Bloomberg suggests credentialed reporters are kept away from the protests by police officers "to keep them out of harm's way", it concerns me.

And it's not just ONE. It was TWENTY SIX.

In this country, we do NOT detain or obstruct credentialed reporters who are trying to do their jobs. That's what they do in North Korea. That's what they do in Iran. That's what they do in China. In the United States of America...we do not do that.

I don't take obstruction of justice lightly. And I don't take obstruction of the press lightly.

I know the boys in blue have a tough job. And I know protesters aren't the only ones getting injured at the Occupy Wall Street scuffles between protesters and police. Me...I am a believer in the laws of men. The police officers out there aren't exactly there to enact, question, or interpret laws. Their job is to enforce them. They are law enforcement. And more often than not, they keep the peace and put their lives on the line to do it.

So you haven't seen me doing a lot of blogging or reposting about police brutality at OWS camps.

But THIS...obstructing and detaining reporters? That's not something I can look the other way on. Unless that credentialed reporter was throwing stuff at an officer or knocking the hat off his head, you LEAVE THE REPORTER TO DO HIS JOB.

We do NOT DETAIN or OBSTRUCT credentialed reporters trying to do their JOBs.

The suggestion that it's for their own protection is both creepy and complete nonsense...

"American foreign correspondents routinely put themselves in harm's way to do their jobs, in some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. And their NYC colleagues deserve the freedom to make the same choice," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said. "Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square."

Bloomberg's office made a statement that, sure...26 reporters were arrested, but in the City's defense only FIVE of the arrested had NYPD Press Credentials.

Well, gosh. That makes me feel so much better to know that at MINIMUM, five NYPD Credentialed reporters were detained and obstructed from doing their jobs in a free an open society.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Stupid Used Cars Getting Stupid Expensive for the Stupid Middle Class

Holy crap, used cars are expensive.

As it turns out, demand is up for dirt cheap cars and you know what that means? Supply is down. So dirt cheap cars aren't dirt cheap anymore. Everybody's flipping over the last of the rocks desperately searching for a cheap car that will get them around town. It doesn't help, of course that 14 MILLION cars have been removed from the market from natural disasters (earthquake in Japan), closing car lines, cash for clunkers, and overall reduced production.

It all ads up to pricey used cars and that adds to more strain on American families. I'm not just making this up from my own random anecdotal information...though it sort of started that way:

If you happen to be in the market for a used car, move over. There's been a jump in sales and also prices. In fact, brace yourself for some sticker shock. says the average price for a three-year-old car is up 10 percent over the past year to almost $20,000 -- for something that's used..


At a used car auction in Florence, S.C. this afternoon, Kenny Hyman was on the lookout for good prospects. He is used car sales manager at King Cadillac, Buick and Pontiac. He says it's not just lots of demand that's driving prices -- there's also less supply.

Kenny Hyman: They're just not out there to buy. Some auctions would have 1,000 cars, are having 200 and 300 now.

Probably good for car manufacturers if it's almost cheaper to buy a new car, so hopefully it means jobs. And who knows? Maybe it'll usher in some increased mass transit for the 99%. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA...that last point was sort of a joke. Never gonna happen.

In the meantime, for those of us looking for a cheap ride that gets us to the store and's getting on the tough side.

Our 1998 Ford Escort up and died several weeks so ago. It was our family's only car. But for a brief period in 2003, we've been a single car family since......well.....since we got married in 1998.

Anyway, our car died leaving the four of us car-less, which would have sucked but for my father's boundless generosity. He "sold" us his Jeep Grand Cherokee on exceedingly generous terms with an infinite repayment horizon. He got the car, used, last year for about $5000 and then passed it along to us so we had a vehicle to drive the family about town, get groceries, get to work...etc. etc.

At 180,000 miles the Jeep runs FANTASTIC. I mean, holy crap. If I were driving blindfolded and couldn't see the odometer I'd think that thing was brand new. But.....then I'd be driving blindfolded and that probably wouldn't end well.

Turns out the straight 6 Jeep engine is the best one they make. Reliable. Durable. Powerful. And holy crap, does it suck up the gasoline.

Now, I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but that jeep is costing us $5 to $12 per day just to get around town. Yeah. It's getting at or below 15 miles to the gallon. We're putting gas on our credit card and I pray a little prayer every time I swipe it.

Why do we drive so much? Mind you, the school system doesn't BUS people anymore, on account of streamlining the school budget and creating more efficiency in the system. So instead of ONE vehicle carrying 40 kids to school, there are now 40 vehicles each carrying 1 kid to school. You know....EFFICIENCY. Driving kids to school alone (one goes to preschool at another location) is sucking up at least $4.

The point is, this Jeep is costing us a bundle just to feed it, so now I'm on the lookout for a different car. My plan was this: Sell the Jeep, then turn around and take that dough to buy something nice and fuel efficient.

I haven't shopped cars for a while but seeing as how we got our Ford Escort with 44,000 miles on in for $3800 in 2003 I was all, like, "Yeah...accouting for inflation, I'll probably find me a nice cheap no frills car for around $5000 to $6000....yeah...yeah..."


Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in the 40,000 mileage area tends to cost between $8000 and $10,000. Even Ford Focuses with 160,000 miles on 'em are priced in the $9,000 to $10,000 range. It's nuts.

That's well beyond my, let's say. I'm looking for something more in the $4000 to $6000 range cuz that's about what I may be able to sell the Jeep for.

Forget about getting a loan.

I recently went to one of those weird car dealerships that has the No Credit/Bad Credit deal thingies....I went just to look at the cars to see if they had a car for the $5000 range. I was brought in, may kids were shown to the "play room" and I was given an presentation about how the company works and was told that a finance specialist would be out shortly to talk to me and that would take "only" fifteen minutes.....

I interrupted "Look....I.....I just want to know if you have any cars under $6000?

She finally relented and escorted me to their pricing board where EVERY SINGLE CAR, from the 1999 Ford Taurus to the 2002 Chevy Cavalier to the 2003 Kia Spectra was priced at the insanely and inappropriately high amount of TWELVE TTHHHHHHHHHHHOUSAND DOLLARS with, get this, a $95 a month car payment. As in "YOU WILL BE PAYING FOR THIS PIECE OF SHIT FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE."

THAT, my friends, is predatory.


This gas situation is kicking our butts. The car situation is kicking our butts. Sounds like it's not just us. It's an epidemic. Folks are scrambling for junkers all at once and so prices are through the roof. But hey............thank GOD we don't have a more robust Socialist train system, eh? Am I right?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Muskegon Chronicle Editorial Board Shreds Oceana County Planning Commissions Offshore Wind Power Claims

This is pretty wonderful: The Muskegon Chronicle editorial board released a scathing criticism of the Anti-Offshore-Wind-Power Oceana County Planning Commission. Paula Holmes-Greeley takes the commission to task for their strangely timed news releases.

Unless you've been following the sordid details it's a bit inaccessible so I'll sum up: the Oceana Planning Commission issued new and bizarre, unsubstantiated claims about an offshore wind feasibility study they rejected 16 months ago.

The planning commission's news release is a transparent contrivance to make a case that a new State offshore wind regulatory frame should give undue decision making power to lakeshore municipalities. Basically...if 10 lakeshore communities wanted the proposal and ONE did not, the ONE could veto the whole thing for everybody.

Paula Holmes-Greeley of the Muskegon Chronicle Editorial Board pretty much shreds them:

Their press release said the planners conducted a study — after they had made their decision to reject the proposal — and discovered information about the number of jobs the project would have provided. It focused on where the construction of the bases for the turbines would have been located and whether it was even possible to build them at the proposed site.

In any case, they argued that would have meant fewer jobs in West Michigan and they wondered if Scandia hadn't done the study themselves or if the company had deliberately misled government officials and the public.

The only problem is the information the planners uncovered about the work site for the bases had been publicly reported nearly two years ago. Other arguments presented by the planners about a visit to the Norwegian firm that has constructed similar bases were undocumented.


When the planners voted to reject the wind farm 16 months ago, they didn't turn down the project, they turned down the opportunity for a feasibility study that would have determined the viability of a Lake Michigan project. It also would have looked into the other issues that the Oceana planners now claim to have uncovered. Several other more serious issues like the effect of wind turbines on wildlife and other environmental factors also would have been reviewed.

But the Oceana planners rejected that opportunity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011



Michigan is among just a handful of states raising taxes on low-income working families while cutting taxes for other groups


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.



There's that.


Apples. My god apples are cheap at the farmer's market. FIVE BUCKS for a half bushel for seconds. THAT...that right there is cheap. Lots of cheap produce to be had. Or was. When it wasn't November. A little less that it's November. But there's apples still. Lotta folks settling apples. Lots of apples.

Cheap damn apples.

I'm going to fucking dry them. And fucking turn them into fucking apple sauce. Cuz the fucking apples are so....damn....

DAMMIT DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY APPLES I could GET for the amount of MONEY slashed from the earned income tax credit ALONE?

THIRTY bushels.

Do you have any idea how HUGE a bushel is? Or potatoes...I found potatoes on sale for $1.50 for ten pounds. I could have gotten a TON of potatoes. Like, literally.

And that doesn't include the Michigan child tax credit that was slashed.


Monday, November 14, 2011

This is what art is for, isn't it?

Through some sequence of interactions I can't quite figure out, I found myself on a newly formed Muskegon Area Arts Council. Tonight it had its third meeting at the Tipsy Toad Tavern in the downtown that had largely been reduced to a sand pit 8 years ago or so when entire city blocks were torn down...

...long story. I'll sum up:

Blah blah blah...1970's high unemployment, failing factories...blah blah revitalization project...blah blah blah..."hey, let's reinvent ourselves into a retail center." blah blah blah...

Anyway, they ended up bulldozing 4 to 6 blocks of the downtown in 2004, which was about 30% of the entire downtown. On the bright side, they're rebuilding. There's a nice culinary arts school where a parking lot used to be.

Where was I? Ah yes, the Tipsy Toad Tavern.

I got there early so walked the mostly empty streets of downtown Muskegon to kill some time. Walked passed closed buildings between alternately bright spots lit by the street lights and dark spots, filled with shadows and alleys.

Folks walking in my direction invariably crossed the street before getting anywhere near me. Or maybe I was just imagining that. Either way, it was quiet and empty in the partially bulldozed downtown until I reached the local theater building where the Muskegon Civic Theater performs most of its plays. Up on the third floor in front a huge, brightly lit window were twirling heads...people dancing...people rehearsing. Somebody was singing, somebody else playing a piano, all just loud enough that the sound carried outside the window and radiated into the streets.

I stopped and watched the only sign of life around me.

I watched until I got the idea that I could just walk right in. So I did.

Nobody stopped me. I poked my head into the dark, empty theater itself, and wandered through halls toward the bigger theater, the Frauenthal center, but didn't dare go into the stage area. Not because it was dark, but because it was clearly full of life. Behind closed fire doors, on the other side of the silent hall I'd been walking I could hear something being constructed. A set, most likely. The sound of a radio, and people talking away...power tools...hammers...

I kept walking. Went up a flight of stairs where the sounds of the dancers and musicians grew louder. There on the second floor, a gallery. An art gallery. Again, I was alone but for the sound of people in another room above me.

I'd just walked into this world and didn't encounter another soul face to face. Just sounds. Creaking floorboards from dancers above me. All around me photographs, some of beaches from around the world, some of stars and galaxies taken by an eccentric man who long ago built an observatory into the roof of his small cape cod.

This is what the arts are, isn't it? Looking into another world. Reaching beyond the self. A creative act that brightens a lonely evening.

I walked the long plush carpet in the foyer, and walked down some dark steps to a trickling fountain in a darkened restaurant down below the main level...all the while in the background the distant sound of piano and singing, the hammer and banter of sets under construction.

Enough time had been killed, so I wandered out the door back into the chilled night and walked back up the street to the Tipsy Toad Tavern to meet people who chose to gather to breathe more joy and life into the city we love. To cultivate creation.

Thermal Inertia

The snow can fall. But unless the ground is frozen, it won't stay. It falls, melts, disappears. Back to water. Back to snow to try again until the ground is ready.

The old woman in the easy chair who sells produce along the road has gone inside for the winter. Dried stubs of corn line a field on one side of her small white house. Dried stubs of corn grid a field on the other. A clear plastic tarp suffocates heads of winter squash on the same old banquet table that has been alive with produce since September.

Thermal inertia.

The spell of the Big Lake recedes over distance. Fading inland, the ground is white absent the warm winds from off the vast waters. The trees are white. Road signs, and fields set in even rows of dried corn stubs are white. Whiteness frames the black and green and brown-red cat tails of a wetland where ringlet ripples still break the glassy surface from surfacing fish.

Water bodies freeze last. Snow turns to water on unfrozen earth. The next snow will bring the freeze. Or the next. Or the one after that, until the earth radiates ice into ice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Lake it is Said Never Gives Up Her Dead

It's November again. The first whisps of snow are falling to the ground on occasion, and the wind is howling over the Big lakes, rolling the waters into massive frothing waves. The notorious November storms are upon us, whipping the Lake into a fury, crashing waves over the lighthouses and piers. It's November 10th, the anniversary of the Edmund Fitzgerald disaster.

As I like to point out, the Edmund Fitzgerald was just one of thousands of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, many of them taking the crew down with them. Hard working men and women have been carrying freight on these Lakes for more than a century: iron, grain, iron ore, cars, railroad cars full of freight ferrying between Wisconsin to Michigan. It is the most the most efficient modes of freight by far, outstripping even trains by an order of magnitude.

And just as those unfamiliar to these lakes need to see them to understand how oceanlike they are, it's important to realize the graveyard at the bottom is enormous...the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum puts the loss of ships at over 6000 and the loss of lives at over 30,000.

There are few things that speak to the vastness and power of the Great Lakes than the thousands of shipwrecks at the bottom. Few things show the respect these lakes demand.

Old men just to the North of Muskegon, in the Ludington-Pentwater area still remember the horrible Armistice Day shipwrecks of 1940 when 57 men lost their lives. One old man recalled to me his memories of the day. The boyscouts had been called to help search for survivors and bodies, and he recalled, as a boy, pulling frozen bodies from the lake.

The anniversary for that is tomorrow.

"The most disastrous day in the history of Lake Michigan shipping was Armistice (now Veterans') Day, November 11, 1940. With seventy-five-mile-per-hour winds and twenty-foot waves, a raging storm destroyed three ships and claimed the lives of fifty-nine seamen. Two freighters sank with all hands lost, and a third, the Novadoc, ran aground with the loss of two crew members. Bodies washed ashore throughout the day. As night fell, a heavy snow storm arrived. Rescue efforts by the Coast Guard and local citizens continued for three days after the storm. Three Pentwater fishermen were later recognized by the local community and the Canadian government for their bravery in rescuing seventeen sailors from the Novadoc. "

Divers and researchers discover new shipwreck sites every year. Earlier this year an expedition with Eastern Michigan high school students discovered two ship wrecks.

The group discovered the wreck of the 138-foot schooner M.F. Merrick which sank in 1889 and the wreck of the steel freighter Etruria, which sank in 1905.

The M.F. Merrick schooner sank in 1889:

The collision between the steamer R.P. Ranney and the schooner M.F. Merrick, off Presque Isle, May 18, resulted in the sinking of the schooner and the loss of five of the crew of seven. The schooner was struck just aft of the fore rigging, and sunk under the bows of the steamer. The crew on deck took to the rigging, and went down with her about 30 seconds after the collision. Three of the crew were below when the vessel sunk. The captain was saved by a line thrown to him from the Ranney, and William Goodfellow was picked up by the steamer's yawl boat. The Merrick was built in 1877 at Clayton, New York.

In 1929, due to a captain and a company more concerned with profits than lives, the SS Milwaukee sank in a late October storm taking 52 souls to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The SS Milwaukee had a fatal flaw in that it had no hatches between the main deck and the lower decks, though the ship inspection report said otherwise. As the ship took on water from the rough seas, it all flowed down to the lower parts of the ship uninhibited. And though the technology existed at the time, the railroad line that owned the ship, Grand Truck Railway, did not equip the ship with a means to communicate with land. They communicated their final information the old fashioned way....they wrote a final note about what had been happening to the ship while it was in distress, and basically stuffed it into a bottle and tossed it overboard.

Over and over again, the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald is, unfortunately, not a unique one. It's just the most recent full scale disaster on the Great Lakes. November 10th 1975, the laker Edmund Fitzgerald carrying iron ore sank in a violent November storm taking 29 men to the bottom of Lake Superior.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Seems to be Drawing Fire Away from the Prez

I've been pondering Occupy Wall Street this morning, post 2011 elections.

Yesterday we say
Overall, great news. Somehow it seems the tide is turning. Some of that tide shift is definitely due to Occupy Wall Street highlighting the problems of America's wealth disparity and corporate corruption.

Where main stream media outlets once shied away from wealth disparity talk, they are now venturing into that territory. Where media outlets once shied away from talk of bank and mortgage fraud, they are now venturing into that territory -- my father, for example, was contacted by Bloomberg News who wanted to interview him about his experiences as a lawyer helping people through bank fraud.

OWS has signaled that talking about wealth disparity and the trouble in the middle class isn't just acceptable...but that it's on the minds of millions of Americans.

I'm starting to think OWS has had one more side effect on American political discourse: It's redirected the attention of the conservative noise machine to Occupy Wall Street instead of at Barack Obama. As much of a juggernaut as the conservative noise machine is, it's designed to pound on one idea at a time. Over and over, repeating and repeating. Though it's never seemed to me to be terribly good at walking and chewing gum at the same time, not great at pounding out more than one message at a time.

Now with OWS to draw the fire, the endless stream of fabricated conservative nonsense against Obama seems largely to have taken a back seat. He's able to spread the message that the Conservatives have been deliberately sabotaging our economy for short term political gain...and it's an idea gaining traction, with 50% of Floridians believing Conservatives are selling America out this way.

Plus it certainly helps everybody involved that Obama is now starting to pick up the populist message OWS has been laying down.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"I Hear the Store is Saving Money."


"WAIT...they're paying you minimum wage?"

"I'm up for a raise soon." The young attendant at the Meijer self checkout took my embarrassing, late night grocery store rant in good humor.

"But...WAIT...wait...they're paying you MINIMUM WAGE?"


I had just spent the past 15 minutes at the massive supermarket, trying to find a cat flea medicine that was actually priced as labeled on the shelf: "But....but....who on earth is benefiting from this new No Price Tag law thing, then?"

"I hear it saves the store money."

"Are they at least hiring more people?"

"No, I think the cut back the hours of the stock guys."


"So....I just spent 15 minutes hunting down cat flea stuff that matched the marked price because of a law that saves the store money and the store isn't hiring more people, you're paid minimum wage to hear some guy rant at the checkout at 10 PM, and I'm STILL seeing my grocery bill go up...."

"Sorry." The young woman shrugged.

"'s not your fault. I'm sorry. I'm...I'm just ranting. Just being an ass. You know...I'd be a little better with it if I knew the folks here were at least paid more than minimum wage."

"I'm up for a raise soon!" The young woman smiled again.

"I hope it's huge. Okay...well, have a good night. Thanks for helping me get this cat stuff thing figured out."

-----> Michigan was sort of spoiled for the longest time. We had an excellent law that required stores to price each item individually, so that people could quickly and easily compare prices against the scan price at the checkout. The whole point was to give consumers as much information about their purchase as possible.

I never realized how much I USED those price tags until they were gone. Recently our Governor and conservative congress scrapped the consumer protection law, under the guise of "saving stores money" so those savings would get "passed on to the consumer" or "used to hire new workers." far none of that has happened. All it's done is make people wander around the store trying to find out how much their purchases are supposed to cost. Meanwhile, nobody is getting raises, consumer prices aren't going any lower, and stores slashed hours for stock clerks.


I was going to buy halloween candy at Meijer a few weeks ago, and went to the candy bin where a big yellow sign read "2 for $5". I reached in, grabbed a bag, went to the scanned for $15! GRRR...went back...found another "2 for $5" bin....that bag scanned for $8.

I finally asked a guy chucking candy into the bins "Are those 2 for $5?" He looked at the sign and pulled it off..."no..."

Nobody wins with this law change.

Well.....I take that back. As the young woman said "I hear the store is saving money." Trickle down economics at work.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Elizabeth Warren's Detailed Analysis of Challenges Facing Modern Families

There are two public figures I could listen to for hours: Robert Reich and Elizabeth Warren. I love their nerdy, occasionally whimsical style. They're both clearly very alarmed at the information they're presenting, while simultaneously geeking out with the numbers behind it and the act of discovery, as though they can both feel compassion for the human impact while rocking out with the data.

Here's a vid where Elizabeth Warren gives a thorough analysis and explanation of challenges facing the modern middle class American family. One thing she brings up which I had not before considered is the dangers involved with being financially on the edge when both adults in the family unit are working. Instead of having to bring 52 paychecks home per year, the family has to bring in 104. If one adult gets sick, there's no where else to go. There's nobody who can pick up the slack.

Anyway, it's a long vid, but VERY worth a watch. Anyway, it's Elizabeth Warren. When it's done you'll wish it was longer.

And for good measure, here's a cool vid with Robert Reich.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Oceana County Planning Commissioners should be Embarrassed

There are so many things wrong with the Oceana County planning commissions recent news release regarding their decision to shut down research on an offhosre wind farm, I hardly know where to start. Ultimately, they should feel embarrassed at the implications of their own news release.

Michigan's representatives need to be very aware of the following information when offshore wind permitting legislation comes up for discussion again.

1. The planning commission claims it has discovered that the wind farm construction was "unfeasible" because the bases weren't possible, which begs the question...why are they crowing about stopping a wind farm that could not have come to pass, anyway?

To support their claim that the construction wasn't feasible, they cite a fellow with a home in Pentwater who visited the base production company in Norway and unilaterally claimed the bases weren't citation from the company itself.

Ultimately, if the bases and the wind farm were in fact not feasible, then the Oceana Planning Commissions decision was irrelevant since they claim the wind farm could not have been constructed anyway.

2. They claim to have done extensive research AFTER they voted to reject Scandia's request to research the feasibility of an offshore wind farm. Why didn't they do that research BEFORE they made a decision?

Sixteen months AFTER they cast their vote they are now claiming they have all the information. That by itself should be an embarrassment.

3. They make the claim that since one (1) component out of 8000 was being made in Northern Michigan, it somehow proves their claim that NO components would be made in Oceana County.

I know several talented machine shops in Oceana County that should be very upset by this bizarre leap. So what if ONE component is made up north in our own state. There are still 8000 left to manufacture, and Oceana's planning commissioners COULD HAVE required that a certain percentage of the turbines be made locally, like Muskegon's commissioners are doing with the Waste Water Treatment Facility wind farm.

4. They claim they, and only they, discovered that one (1) component of the turbines, out of 8000, would be built in Northern Michigan, when that information had been publicly available knowledge since August 2010 at the lastest

The planning commission should have known since mid 2010 where the turbine bases would be built. And in no way can claim to have unearthed this information themselves.

The information actually first came out in March 2010 when Scandia gave a presentation that explicitly showed that wind turbine bases would be constructed in shallow, protected waters in Northern Lake Michigan and then floated down. And they repeated this exact statement in multiple other presentations since then. In one, Planning Commissioner Roseman asked the Norwegian representative where the bases would be built and the representative pointed in the same place he had on multiple locations, but instead of saying "near the Traverse City region" this time he said "near the Kalamazoo region" and rather than pay attention to where the laser pointer was indicating or asking for clarification, Planning Commissioner Roseman chose to mock the Norwegian man and play the the crowd.

5. Remember that the Oceana planning commission didn't vote to shut down a wind farm. They voted to reject feasibility studies. They voted to turn DOWN more information. It's something of a joke now to claim they alone are privy to anything.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tonight I Learned the Smart Grid Will Destroy the Universe


Dude. Room Full of CRAZY.

Tonight I went to the Public Service Commission (PSC) public input meeting.

I was looking forward to hearing some information on renewable energy -- wind, as it turns out, is as cheap or way cheaper than coal...awesome.

I was looking to find answers to what would become of the now defunct Low Income and Energy Efficiency -- this is the fund once managed by the Public Service Commission that helped low income families heat their homes or make their homes more fuel efficient. It also helped fund renewable energy education and research projects. But a new law and a court ruling declared that the PSC has no authority to do any of those things. we are right before winter and no authority helping people with heating assistance. Classy. And we're dead in the water with funding renewable energy initiatives OR having long term funding for the new offshore wind power research buoy going into Lake Michigan. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

But...the topic du jour was the new smart grid...

Or more specifically, new smart meters which are to replace the old meters on peoples' homes. Here I expected the audience to ask questions like "how does it work?" and "will it save me money?" and "can I control it online?" stuff like that.

But instead what I heard was statement after statement after statement about how the new smart grid was a government conspiracy to find and detain people who dare to use incandescent lightbulbs, and that smart meters are going to fry your brains out and give you cancer.

One man in the back asked if these new smart meters can be turned off remotely, shutting off power to the house. The man started talking Big Brother when the PSC guy answered in the affirmative. Oh my GOD! Government Overreach! Government Overreach! The POWER company has the ability to disconnect my POWER! ARRRRGH!

One after another, after another, after another....."I don't want the government telling me how to save energy...I know how to save energy."

"I heard the government can tell if I'm using incandescent lightbulbs and will disconnect my power instantly if they discover I'm using those old bulbs!"

"I read that these things will destroy the electricity not just your own house, but in your neighbors houses too...even if you don't have one if your neighbor does it will corrupt your electricity!"

"They've been a disaster in Europe! Just look at Spain!"

"This is just a way for the Greens to get into our lives and make us get used to a lower standard of living."

On and on and on and on and on and on and on...a whole crowd of people who had assembled to voice concerns about some of the wackiest crap I've heard for a long time. Everything short of smart meters sucking your home into a vortex that starts a chain reaction collapsing the entire universe into a singularity.

We're all going to die.

...this one is new to me. Heck, I took a peek in the wikipedia entry on smart meters and as of 11/3/2011, nobody has written any entries about the horrifying evils of smart meters.

I'm still kind of stunned.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Massive Coal Ash Spill in Lake Michigan, Residents' face Toxic Drinking Water

This info first posted by Anna Marie Hitt needs to be posted EVERYWHERE:


What's that?

THAT is a picture from of coal ash spilling into Lake Michigan yesterday October 31, 2011. That yellow and red box falling into the water...those are semi trailers. You know, for scale. Thank GOD the likes of Michigan's 2nd congressional district Republican Bill Huizenga just shot down tougher coal ash dumping rules along with the Republican controlled US congress. Having a lakeshore representative who actually gives a damn about the Great Lakes would be asking too much.

Here's another:

And here's a link to the whole disgusting photo shoot.

"A large section of bluff collapsed Monday next to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant, sending dirt, coal ash and mud cascading into the shoreline next to Lake Michigan and dumping a pickup truck, dredging equipment, soil and other debris into the lake."

To the folks lined up in opposition to offshore wind power on some misguided or made up concern for our waters, take a good hard look. That coal ash......that's an unregulated material for dumping purposes, and loaded with arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and all sorts of other nasty stuff....

...and guess what? Because Michigan is ENTIRELY within the Great Lakes water basin, that shit is getting into our lakes NO MATTER WHERE coal power plants dump their ash in Michigan. It's just sort of filtering right on down through the earth and into the water.

Ever wonder why many of our fish are loaded with mercury? Or why somehow mercury levels in inland fish is on the rise?

Take a good, hard look. Cuz that stuff is oozing into our lakes EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Between this and the half a BILLION fish killed by coal and nuke cooling systems every year, it should be pretty obvious to anybody that coal plants have been poisoning the Great Lakes for most of a century, making our fish inedible, and grinding them up in their cooling systems along with half a billion other aquatic organisms. The folks in Wisconsin by the We Energies powerplant sure as heck know it today...they're being given bottled water and told not to drink the now toxic well water at their homes.

Anybody who tells you that we're not subsidizing coal, and living every day with its disastrous consequences to our wildlife, our health, and our wallets is in the thrall of some serious self denial.