Local and Michigan Headlines: Hoesktra Says His Use of Twitter Is Just Like Iranian Protestors; Granholm Opposes Republican Plan To Cut College Tuition Assistance

Here’s some interesting stories published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours. As always, if we missed anything, leave a comment below:

  • Michigan Supreme Court gives judges control over courtroom dress – The Michigan Supreme Court decided that judges should be allowed to force witnesses to remove head scarfs and other face coverings while in the courtroom. This decision has ramifications for Muslim Michiganders–which is where the case arose from.
  • Hoekstra compares himself to Iranian protesters– Representative Pete Hoekstra is an idiot, but that fact becomes especially apparent every time he uses Twitter. His latest Twitter controversy features him comparing himself to Iranian protestors who are using Twitter to organize pro-democracy demonstrations. Sure…
  • Tensions over nation’s largest incinerator heat up as July 1 contract deadline looms – Detroit is set to decide whether or not it will continue burning its trash at a controversial incinerator that many environmentalists say has toxic effects–particularly on children living nearby.
  • Michigan jobless rate soars to highest level since 1983 – Michigan’s unemployment rate is now at 14.1%. It’s the highest since 1983 and is way above the national unemployment rate of 9.4%.
  • Granholm opposes cutting tuition aid programs – Governor Jennifer Granholm is rejecting Republican proposals to cut college tuition aid from the state budget. She argues that supporting college education is critical if Michigan is going to transform its economy.
  • Big job announcements by Farmers, Foremost Insurance, Roskam Baking, Holland businesses may take time to hire – A couple days ago, the local corporate media–including The Grand Rapids Press–went crazy about announcements of several thousand jobs coming to West Michigan. Now, after a huge front page article, The Grand Rapids Press reports that the jobs will take years to materialize. One company says that the timeframe could be as long as 17 years. Ahhh, the typical hype of corporate news…
  • Kent County school districts see another revenue source fizzle as Coca-Cola contracts expire – Collectively, Kent County’s public schools negotiated with Coca-Cola back in 1999 for a contract that brought $22.6 million to the schools. Now that contract is set to expire and there are doubts that a new contract will make that much for the schools–if one is signed. The Press cites the beverage industry who says that there has been a shift away from soda consumption. I think it’s pretty sad that education is such a low priority in our society that schools are forced to pursue these kind of contracts just to get by.
  • Ambiguity in new marijuana law is cited – Felony charges against a Madison Heights couple who’s house was raided due to their possession of medical marijuana were thrown out in yesterday by a judge. The judge said that the medical marijuana law is too ambiguous to determine if a crime was committed.
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Local/Michigan Headlines: Granholm Supreme Court News; Hoekstra Doesn’t Think Waterboarding is Torture

Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from the past twenty-four hours:

  • Bias crime legislation vote put off by state House – Sponsors of a bias crime bill are delaying action in order to allow time to assess a series of amendments that have been proposed.
  • With governor as possible stealth nominee, legal observers ponder Justice Granholm – Michigan Messenger looks at what kind of Supreme Court Justice Governor Granholm would be. It’s difficult to predict since she doesn’t have a record of scholarly work or judicial opinions to review.
  • Right Michigan Calls Granholm a Tax Cheat–without Checking with the IRS – The conservative blog Right Michigan has been aggressively referring to Governor Jennifer Granholm as a “tax cheat,” saying that it will prevent her from being nominated for the Supreme Court while also asserting that it puts her in a similar category as other Obama nominees that had to bow out because of tax problems. However, the tax lien they take issue with was released last year according to Michigan Liberal. Ooops!
  • Hoekstra: Some waterboarding was legal – Representative Pete Hoekstra–and Republican candidate for governor in 2010–is now asserting that the waterboarding used by the United States in 2002 and 2003 was legal. Of course, he doesn’t mention that it has always been against U.S. law.
  • With contract ending in June, Dematic Corp. tells union workers it is considering moving their jobs to Memphis – A United Autoworkers (UAW) union contract is expiring in June and management has issued a letter threatening to move the facility to Tennessee. It’s a familiar script–try to force concessions from unions by threatening to move.
  • Police use of Tasers resparks debate following death of Bay City teen – Reading the headline, this story looked like it had potential. Perhaps the Grand Rapids Press would solicit comment from local law enforcement agencies on their usage of Tasers, talk to critics, and attempt looked into the issue in detail. Instead, the story is just a brief summary with the majority of comments focusing on an officer who trains other law enforcement officials in the use of Tasers. Oh, and it also has the seemingly obligatory selection of comments from The Press’ MLive.com website and an invitation for readers to join the discussion online.
  • FHA credit will give first-time home buyers $8,000 toward down payment – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is soon going to allow the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit to be used as a down payment towards a new home. It’s potentially very exciting news for people looking to purchase their first home. The Grand Rapids Press has reaction from local lenders and realtors.
  • State budget forecast: Cuts may grow to 8% – Lawmakers are saying that more cuts may be necessary in light of declining tax revenues, continued unemployment, and uncertainty over the future of the auto industry.

If we missed anything, leave a comment below.

Green Jobs in Michigan Grew By 7.7% from 2005-2008

Michigan Green Jobs

The number of “green jobs” in Michigan are growing, even as traditionally strong sectors of Michigan’s economy continue to take a beating. A new report by the State of Michigan finds that green-related firms added more than 2,500 jobs to Michigan’s economy from 2005-2008–a 7.7% expansion rate–while the Michigan average was a decline in the number of jobs by 5.4%.

The report defines “green jobs” as “jobs directly involved in generating or supporting a firm’s green related products or services.” This includes jobs in five sectors: agriculture and natural resource conservation, clean transportation and fuels, increased energy efficiency, pollution prevention or environmental cleanup, and renewable energy production.

The key findings from the report:

  • Michigan boasts 109,067 private sector green jobs: 96,767 direct green jobs (people directly involved in generating a firm’s green-related products or services) and 12,300 green support jobs (anyone from a janitor to an accountant whose job is created to serve direct green work).
  • Clean transportation and fuels is the largest green economy area in Michigan, comprising just over 40% of green jobs and reflecting Michigan’s automotive heritage. If Michigan succeeds in developing alternative fuel, hybrid and electric vehicles, this sector may grow significantly.
  • There is huge potential for growth throughout the green economy. Today, green jobs represent just 3% of Michigan’s overall private sector employment of 3.2 million.
  • Indeed, from 2005 to 2008, a sample of 358 green related firms added more than 2,500 jobs to Michigan’s economy, an employment expansion rate of 7.7% — compared to the total Michigan average of negative 5.4%.
  • Among the renewable energy production firms in that sample, the growth rate hit 30%. Renewable energy production, which today is the smallest green sector, may be the fastest growing.
  • The green economy appears to be a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. Among our sample of 358 green-related firms, over 70 appeared to be newly created since 2005, accounting for nearly 600 jobs already.
  • Green jobs tend to pay well. Thirteen of the top 15 sectors of green employment have weekly wages above the overall private sector weekly average.
  • Green jobs encompass a wide range of occupations. Engineering and construction jobs are prominent, but many other jobs of all skill levels are required by the green economy.
  • Education and training are key for green employers. In multiple focus groups, employers emphasized the need for basics in math and reading with additional skills to be acquired on-the-job or in school depending on the precise green job in question.

Moreover, the report argues that local, state, and federal policy can drive increased growth in the green economy. It cites Michigan Renewable Energy Standard, the requirement that utilities spend a portion of their revenues on energy efficiency measures for their customers, and incentives for battery production as examples.

“Green Jobs” Aren’t Always “Good Jobs”

While it’s good that there has been progress made on expanding the number of green jobs in Michigan, it’s always good to remember that just because a job is “green” doesn’t mean that it is “good.” A report released back in February the Change to Win Coalition, Good Jobs First, and the Sierra Club argued that the shift to a “green economy” offers an important opportunity to address structural problems with the U.S. economy. That report, titled “High Road or Low Road: Job Quality in the New Green Economy?,” documented that low wages are common place and that manufacturing jobs in the “green economy” typically pay less than traditional manufacturing jobs. Unions are also less prevalent.

The report singled problems with green jobs in Michigan at two United Solar Ovonic facilities where wages are lower than expected and outsourcing is commonplace. Just yesterday, the United Solar Ovonic facility in Greenville are facing a one-month temporary closing to cut costs.

However, the Michigan Green Jobs report showed higher wages in green jobs in many sectors, although possibilities for improvement remained. It said nothing about unionization rats.

Governor Granholm should be praised for moving the economy in a “green” direction, but as always, we should be asking what that means and demanding more.

New Michigan Driver’s License Threatens Privacy

RFID in Michigan Driver's Licenses

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan has issued a new action alert opposing Michigan Enhanced Driver’s License.

According to the ACLU, border crossings from Michigan into Canada will require travelers to show a passport, a WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) passcard, or a Michigan Enhanced Driver’s License–all three of which include Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips that can hold an unknown amount of personal information and can be read from up to a football field away. Over the years, RFID chips have been criticized for the ease at which they can be abused.

The ACLU writes:

Although this is a frightening concept, what’s more concerning is that the new Michigan Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) would have an unencrypted RFID chip that will contain a new unique citizen ID number with no legal guidelines for its use. Because this RFID chip is unencrypted, it can be read wirelessly by anyone with a reader through a wallet and even walls, at distances of 30 feet.

The chips are included through an agreement between Michigan and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In Canada, the use of RFID has been criticized according to the ACLU:

Canada has already sounded the alarm bells regarding the use of RFID technology due to significant privacy concerns and the potential misuse of shared databases between the United States, Mexico and Canada. This past February, the City of Ottawa sent back one of their databases because of potential misuse. Saskatchewan scrapped the entire enhanced driver’s license (EDL) program altogether.

The ACLU is calling on Governor Jennifer Granholm to cancel the agreement and order a review of RFID use in Michigan’s driver’s licenses.

Granholm Proposes Cuts in 2010 Budget

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has Proposed Steep Cuts in her 2010 Budget

Building on her State of the State address earlier this month, Governor Jennifer Granholm proposed a series of reforms and cuts in her 2010 fiscal budget. Granholm said the budget–unveiled yesterday–will address both the structural deficit and the recession.

In a news release, Granholm said:

“The budget I present today addresses the reality that Michigan’s economy is likely to get worse before it gets better… The cuts and reforms I propose will be painful, but they are critical to help us weather this current economic storm and to enable us to invest in the things that matter most to our citizens.”

Granholm is advocating reforms and cuts aimed at reducing the budget by $670 million. In addition, she hopes to increase revenue by $230 million by closing tax loopholes, increasing liquor license fees, lottery investments, and tax enforcement actions

Reforms and changes to the state government include:

  • Closing several additional correctional facilities;
  • Closing the Department of Community Health’s Mount Pleasant Center for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, transferring the patients to community- care settings, as appropriate;
  • Closing the Department of Human Services’ Maxey Woodland Training Center, transferring youth offenders to a smaller, more cost-effective facility on the Maxey campus, to allow the Department of Corrections to use that facility to house male inmates;
  • Closing the Michigan State Police crime lab in Marquette;
  • Ending financial support for the state fairs in Detroit and Upper Peninsula;
  • Eliminating supplemental financial support for the horse-racing industry;
  • Returning responsibility for wetlands protection to the federal Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Overhauling the state’s higher education scholarship programs to create a single merit-based scholarship – Michigan Promise Grants – and a single needs-based scholarship – Michigan College Access Grants – open to all students attending public or private institutions, Combining the Cooperative Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station;
  • Consolidating energy programs in the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth;
  • Eliminating the Department of History, Arts, and Libraries and funding for state arts grants;
  • Opening a one-stop-shop for business – a simple Web portal where hundreds of business transactions come together seamlessly on-line;
  • Seeking employee concessions;
  • Expanding investment in community-based monitoring for parolees;
  • Accelerating transition of seniors and the disabled from nursing homes to community-care settings.

Cuts advocated by Granholm:

  • Eliminating more than $50 million in earmarks, including pilot programs and programs which serve single school districts, communities or regions;
  • $120 million in cuts in the Department of Corrections, including the closure of additional facilities;
  • $106 million in cuts in the Department of Community Health, including reductions in the Office of Services to the Aging, elimination of the Office of Drug Control Policy and changes in prescription drug purchasing;
  • $100 million in cuts in the Department of Human Services, including eliminating funding for before and after school programs and the state supplemental payment for Supplemental Security Income recipients;
  • $164 million in cuts to K-12 spending, which includes a reduction in per-pupil foundation allowance of $59 per student;
  • and $100 million in cuts to higher education funding, including a three-percent reduction to university operations.

Granholm Advocates Expensive, Unproven Carbon Sequestration Technology

Governor Granholm has Advocated Expensive and Unproven Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technology for a Controversial Holland Power Plant

Last week, environmental activists praised Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s State of the State Address for statements suggesting that she was opposed in some capacity to several proposed coal plants in the state.

However, a week prior, Granholm made another important statement on coal and Michigan. In a press release circulated by the City of Holland, Granholm expressed support for a “carbon sequestration” project at a new coal plant being proposed in Holland:

“The state of Michigan supports this effort to demonstrate the long-term capability of carbon capture and sequestration technology and will assist the city of Holland in its effort to gain approval and federal funding for this important initiative.”

Holland is currently seeking funds from the federal government to research and develop a mechanism for removing carbon from the plant’s emissions and then depositing the carbon underground.

Carbon Sequestration: A Problematic Technology

The technology is called “carbon capture and sequestration” and it has been proposed by “clean coal” advocates as a possible solution to global warming that would allow coal plants to continue to operate.

However, the technology is unproven and there have been no commercially viable applications. The technology is expensive and it may have unintended consequences, both when injecting carbon into the ground and with greater concentrations of other emissions being released into the air. Beyond that, while it addresses emissions, it does not deal with other environmental problems or pollution associated with coal power.

Greenpeace: Carbon Capture and Sequestration a “False Hope”

In a report on the technology last year, the environmental group Greenpeace called carbon capture and sequestration a “false hope.” The report–“False Hope: Why Carbon Capture and Storage Won’t Save the Climate“–said that the technology is nothing more than an attempt at “greenwashing” an “irremediably dirty energy source.”

Greenpeace writes:

“The report exposes CCS technology’s woeful inadequacy on numerous points. CCS wastes energy, for one thing, as it uses between 10 and 40% of the plant’s power output just to function. It is also expensive, and could possibly double the cost of constructing a coal-fired power plant, which in turn could lead to the raising of electricity costs for consumers. And despite its exorbitant cost, there is actually no guarantee that storing carbon underground is totally safe or effective – even a very low leakage rate could completely undermine the benefits of CCS. But most importantly, CCS simply can’t deliver on a large scale until 2030, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, whereas the scientific consensus about climate change holds that our greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 if we’re to avoid the worst effects of man-made global warming.”

Granholm’s State of the State Address Focuses on Renewable Energy

Granholm Michigan State of the State 2009

Yesterday, Governor Jennifer Granholm gave the annual “State of the State Address.” Granholm made it clear that the Michigan is facing a severe crisis, describing the past year as being “brutal.” While much of the address understandably focused on the grim reality of the state’s economic situation, Granholm made attempts at addressing the situation by suggesting a variety of proposals that would help Michigan face the “economic storm.”

Most of these proposals were centered on her three priorities of:

  • “Fighting for more good paying jobs in Michigan”
  • “Educating and training our people to fill those jobs”
  • “Protecting our families during the worst economic conditions in more than a quarter of a century.”

Granholm Pushes for Obama Stimulus Plan

Early in her speech, Granholm praised the federal stimulus package being touted by the Obama administration as a means of helping Michigan. She said, “Obama’s priorities are nearly identical to ours” and praised his focus on renewable energy and “jobs for Middle America.” She argued that the stimulus package would give Michigan a one-time influx of cash that will allow Michigan to “move further and faster into a better future.”

Proposed Government Cuts

Granholm was quick to warn the legislature that the stimulus money would not be used to “create a bigger government in Michigan” and that she would not hesitate to veto such efforts.

Instead, Granholm proposed a series of cuts to the government. She proposed cutting the number of state departments to eight from the current eighteen and cutting the salaries of elected officials by 10%. She said she intended to eliminate the Department of History, Arts and Libraries. She also said it was her intent to eliminate funding for the state fairs and wetlands protections (she said the federal government should fund this). She also promised reforms aimed at reducing the corrections budget.

Jobs for Michigan

One of Granholm’s key priorities was creating jobs. She acknowledged that the jobs picture in Michigan has been bleak, but said that under her watch there have been jobs created. She praised efforts aimed at bringing film and television projects to Michigan, saying that they were responsible for $430 million in economic activity to the state.

Renewable Energy a Key Focus

Granholm also outlined several examples of job growth in the renewable energy sector. She gave examples of workers building parts for solar panels and those who maintain wind turbines. She said that the renewable energy sector creates “all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people” and that it has been and will be a major focus of her plan. Granholm said that appealing to this industry has worked. She cited examples of wind turbine manufacturers moving to Michigan.

She pledged to continue appealing to those industries, saying that Michigan is in a unique place to succeed. Moreover, she argued that as the demand for renewable energy increases across the United States, Michigan will be able to profit.

At the heart of this strategy was a plan to focus on reducing Michigan’s own fossil fuel electricity usage for by 45% by 2020. Granholm said that the state will move to use renewable energy to meet this goal, moving from spending $2 billion per year on coal to spending on wind turbines and solar panels located in Michigan. As means of doing this, she wants the legislature to pass legislation allowing anyone to sell energy to Michigan’s grid, wants utility companies to focus on reducing energy use rather than building new power plants, creating a Michigan Energy Corps that to put “thousands” of unemployed Michigan workers to work weatherizing buildings and installing renewable energy technology, and creating a program called Michigan Saves that will aid families and businesses in purchasing these services.

Granholm also said that renewable energy would lessen the need for new coal power plants in Michigan. She explained that she has directed the Department of Environmental Quality and the Public Service Commission to evaluate the need for these plants. She also intends to require that utility companies pursue “all feasible and prudent alternatives” before being awarded permits. Granholm further advocated support for technologies that would prevent coal plants from releasing pollution into the air.

Programs Aimed at Aiding Victims of Economic Crisis

Granholm outlined five steps aimed at helping families through the economic crisis:

  • A one-year tuition freeze at Michigan’s colleges and community colleges.
  • The Home Foreclosure Prevention Act that would give families 90 days to work out new financing for their homes rather than have them foreclosed.
  • Asking the Michigan Public Service Commission to ban utility shut-offs for the remainder of the winter for seniors, disable people, and low and no-income households.
  • Asking auto insurance companies to freeze rates for a year while the legislature works on insurance reform.
  • Measures aimed at ensuring that people have access to healthcare.

Environmental Groups Praise Granholm’s Comments on Coal

Environmental Groups Praise Granholm's Efforts To Limit The Construction Of New Coal Power Plants

Progress Michigan–a liberal advocacy group–issued a press release yesterday praising Governor Jennifer Granholm’s comments on the future of coal-fired power plants in Michigan.

According to the group, Granholm’s energy plan was the equivalent of a “crackdown on coal.” The plan requires that:

  • All new and expanded coal-fired power plant developers go back to the drawing board and consider cleaner alternatives to coal plants.
  • Michigan will more stringently apply Section 165 of the Clean Air Act that will make plants follow strict anti-pollution standards.
  • Energy projects must consider cleaner alternatives before they can proceed with permitting.
  • Michigan will reduce the use of fossil fuels in power plants by 45% within twelve years.

The press release included reaction from Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club who both praised the plan.

There have been proposals to build seven new coal plants in Michigan.

Granholm’s UP Director Resigns to Work as Lobbyist for Mining Company

Governor Granholm’s director of the Governor’s Office for the Upper Peninsula has resigned to work in “government relations” for a controversial mining company whom he often spoke with on behalf of the governor.

111008-sulfide_mining.jpg

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s director of the Governor’s Office for the Upper Peninsula has resigned to work for a controversial mining company.

Matt Johnson–who held the position–has been the governor’s representative on a number of key decisions pertaining to a proposed sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula. That mine would be operated by Rio Tinto (the parent company of Kennecott), whom now employs Johnson as a “Government Relations” official. Johnson was the governor’s contact on sulfide mining since 2003, working with the governor and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to formulate laws regulating sulfide mining and providing her with talking points on the mine.

Unfortunately, this kind of “revolving door” is common for government officials, with regulators frequently moving between government positions and private sector jobs–often with the very companies they were charged to review. Michigan has particularly weak laws on this issue. Other states often require a one year (or longer) period to elapse before officials can take positions with private sector companies.

This is not the first time that Granholm’s administration has been criticized for its close ties to Kennecott. Back in 2007, environmental groups called for the removal Hal Fitch, a DEQ official who was allegedly responsible for withholding key reports critical of the mine’s safety.

Granholm and the Environment

The Lansing City Pulse recently published an article titled “Granholm and the Environment” that looks at the environmental record of Governor Jennifer Granholm. The article–which consults representatives of several environmental groups–found that Granholm’s record on the environment is a mixed bag and that her positions have often been opposed by the state’s environmental organizations. While some say that she is doing better than Governor John Engler, they generally agree that on many issues–from sulfide mining in the UP to pollution by Dow Chemical she is not doing enough to protect Michigan’s environment:

“Last year, while the executive wrangled with legislators over the state budget, environmental stewardship in Michigan hit such a low-water mark in the state that in two high-profile cases, an unlikely savior — the Bush administration — stepped in to protect local resources from state action or inaction. In the rivers and neighborhoods of the Midland area, the federal EPA moved last year to hasten clean-up of dioxin contamination. On the state’s west coast, the National Parks Service intervened last fall to stop a lakefront park serving the struggling community of Benton Harbor from becoming a pricey golf course — part of a development scheme the Granholm administration enthusiastically supported, and still hasn’t dropped.

Meanwhile, at the remote northern end of the state, where the feds are unlikely to send the cavalry, another environmental firestorm came to a head last year. Thanks to a green light from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, the Upper Peninsula may soon be home to a controversial mining technique that has not yet failed to bleed sulfuric acid into the surrounding land and water. This time, the engineers say, it will be different, and the state is gambling some its most pristine waters and wilderness on the claim. The first such mine, and six more like it, are now poised to dig in.

Between these flash points, from shore to shore, concerns are mounting over the state’s basic stewardship of its land and water. Environmentalists say the reach of the state’s regulatory agencies is shrinking as the executive branch defers to companies such as Midland’s Dow, Benton Harbor’s Whirlpool or Kennecott mining in the Upper Peninsula at the expense of the state’s basic resources.”

Despite this, the article ends on a somewhat positive note by pointing out that Granholm still has three years left and consequently has time to reverse her legacy on the environment if she chooses.