To borrow a phrase from Larry Kudlow, “King Dollar” must be a cornerstone of U.S. economic policy. That said, let’s keep in mind what the government should or should not be doing when it comes to the economy. Its first duty is to do no harm, which means staying out of our business even when it is folly. Failure is an option, as far as the government should be concerned, when it comes to our private dealings. But that does not mean it has no role to play in the economy. That role is fundamental albeit limited.
The government must establish the rule of law that makes the free market possible. That means enforcing contracts and prosecuting fraud. This can also include basic regulations that facilitate market efficiency like standard measures and transparency in financial transactions. There is also a place for public works such as highways and ports, but only if their private construction is impractical and their benefits significantly outweigh their costs. Finally, the government must ensure the integrity of the free market’s primary medium of exchange – i.e., our currency.
A “King Dollar” policy concerns this last role of the government.
Drill for oil and natural gas in ANWR. Drill out on the continental shelves, even off Santa Barbara where the lefty locals would rather have Big Bad Oil carting the stuff off instead of it naturally leaking out through the earthquake-cracked seafloor and stinking up the place. Drill in the Great Lakes. Drill in Nancy Pelosi's front yard. Drill for these fuels wherever it is reasonable to do so and private investors are willing to put up the cash to get it done. In short, end the arbitrary restraints the Beltway crowd has imposed upon the development of domestic sources of oil and natural gas – at least by letting the off-shore drilling moratorium die a long overdue death come October 1st.
Yes, I know, we shouldn't expect much in the way of intelligent discourse from grandstanding politicians on Capitol Hill and windbag pundits on cable news. But is it really too much to ask that their bloviations have at least some connection to reality, however tenuous that may be?
What is sticking in my craw is the utter stupidity of blaming speculators for the high price of oil. These blowhards are railing against traders of oil futures because their alleged speculations are bidding up the price of crude. First of all, let's get straight what a future is.
Let's give a round of applause to Nick DeLeeuw and his fine website www.RightMichigan.com. Nick's coverage of the Michigan political scene in the run-up to yesterday's presidential primary was top notch, and even garnered the attention of the national punditry, including National Review Online. Clearly, RightMichigan is becoming the go-to place in the blogosphere if you want the latest on the machinations of Michigan politicians. Good work, Nick!
FYI, folks. I received information this morning that a prominent Democrat was urging Michiganders to vote for Senator John McCain in yesterday's Republican presidential primary. Campaigners on behalf of erstwhile presidential hopeful Joe Biden, the Democratic senator from Delaware, phoned local citizens late in the day asking them to vote for his aisle-crossing colleague McCain. Whether Biden's eleventh-hour endorsement was a peculiarity limited to Michigan because of the meaninglessness of the Democratic presidential primary or heralds something more ala Joe Lieberman, I haven't any idea. But it was an odd thing nevertheless.
We end one year and begin another. 2007 was a busy and interesting calendar cycle. We expect 2008 to be the same, if not more so. After all, we have a partial new city commission to keep our eye upon and it is a big Presidential election year as well.
Areas we’ll continue to keep in the bullseye zone:
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell Grand Rapids City Commission (especially the two new members) Grand Rapids Public School System City Services Local and regional businesses City, county and state politicians Those crossing the line
Periodically, we’ll provide commentary outside these areas and spotlight important books, movies, magazines and other mediums that we feel warrant your attention. And as always, we'll continue to look forward to your comments, thoughts and suggestions along the way.
We wish each of our readers a happy, healthy and faith filled year ahead.
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor The Local Area Watch
William Q. Tingley III Executive Director The Local Area Watch
Have any of you driven around downtown Grand Rapids lately and noticed the plethora of condo complexes every direction you look? Check out the skyline, they are everywhere – north, south, east and west. You want one next to a highway, we’ve got one for you! You want one in an old renovated furniture factory, we’ve got that too! You want one in a historic area, ditto! You want a new one with options galore, have we got a condo for you! You want a river view, no problem, which side do you want - sunrise or sunset? Close to the college scene? Come on down, we’ve got one of those and bring your party shoes cause we're going dancing after the closing! You want one with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and all their lovely children next door? We've got that too! Actually scratch the last one, I don't think any developer in town has that many connections yet. Bottom line...
River City is quickly becoming Condo City.
Let’s see if my memory holds…there is Park Row, Icon on Bond, Plaza Towers, Landmark Lofts, Union Square, Boardwalk Condos (the Old Berkey & Gay Factory), Monroe Terrace, City View, River House, The Fitzgerald, Front Row and the Waters Towers. That’s just a few I can remember without research. I’m not even going to mention much older complexes and those not close to downtown. Most of those mentioned above are either done being built and ready for move in, are in the process of being built or have been renovated/remodeled in recent years to compete with new builds. Prices seem to be hovering in the $150-250K range for one bedroom/one bath, up to $300-500K for two bedrooms/two baths or more. Factor in a premium price if you choose to be up high, with a river view and want the luxury of new over old construction. Over 18 units alone are currently for sale between $500,000-1,000,000. That’s a lot of expensive condo real estate for such a small market as Grand Rapids. If you reference the income availability grid noted in the last article, in the entire state of Michigan, only 8.8% of the population can afford condos in GR that are on the market between $500,000-1,000,000. This number is not what we would call a “bumper crop”.
The GR Press had an article a few weeks back noting that realtors and developers are counting on the suburbanites and young professionals all dumping their current living arrangements for the ease and joy to be found in the concrete jungle. They profiled some parents and their adult kids all giddily choosing condos and living in downtown instead of the burbs. They praised city living and all the perks that go along with it. A new day has dawned people, a new day has dawned and if you don’t buy a condo soon you will have missed it. Really???
Granted, there are certainly many positives to be found in condominium living:
no yard work no exterior maintenance upkeep smaller sq. ft. so, less house to clean single level living with few to no stairs lower buy in prices (usually, not always) neighbors upstairs, neighbors downstairs – lots of new friends if you want them property tax breaks in renaissance/tax free zones community areas with pool/tennis courts/work out rooms use of public transportation system with ease ability to ride your bike with helmet all over city streets – please look before crossing! the ability to walk around downtown and not need a car to visit restaurants, bars, clubs, etc. being close to all the action – parades, festivals, fireworks shows, etc.
As in all things, there are drawbacks to condo living as well. A few are:
mandatory monthly condo association fees (often quite high) lack of privacy and sometimes acoustical issues access to outdoors limited to tiny balconies, small patios and often no green space due to the box like nature of condos, often feels like glorified apartment living dogs/cats/pets often not allowed per HOA rules & regulations limited guaranteed and covered parking both for owners and visitors lack of gas stations/grocery stores/convenience stores located close-by - often a car is needed just to get basic food and supplies Whether walking or driving, congestion is growing downtown, you’ll have to deal with it lower long term appreciation rates reduced buyer pool when you try to sell later
Places like the Boardwalk Condos (old B & G Factory) seemed to sell in a decent amount of time per county records, but the prices are in the lower range, 70K - 250K max. I have been told by some that this building might be subsidized (I have not been able to confirm this yet) which makes a difference to sales and could account for the lower prices. On the other hand, the lower price could be due to the fact that the previous developers could never get straight if they actually removed toxic waste from this site illegally by the hundreds of truckloads (they deny this yet, video evidence and witness testimony shows to the contrary) or if the toxic waste is still below all the buildings in massive amounts as they claim. Perhaps this inconsistency is part of the pricing program. Keep it cheap and keep them quiet. Residents, don’t worry about the toxic waste, we say they took it out. On the other hand, the old developers say it’s still there. Time will tell for sure. By the way, you can have dogs in this complex and they have been known to use the entire back lot of the building and train track area as their massive doggie doo-doo box. Sooooo convenient. Count this building in pet lovers – it’s for you.
I drive past the Icon on Bond condos every week. Their initial occupancy dates were advertised as beginning in April. Since then, their web site has moved occupancy dates to early summer. Even with that change, the place still seems eerily quiet and empty. Their web site advertised that of the 118 condos, ½ had sold as of December. The question remains – where is everyone then? A clean transaction for a completed unit with a qualified buyer could easily be done in 3-4 weeks or less. I haven’t seen anyone moving in and nothing is recorded as closed at the county level yet either per my research. They seem like nice places, unsure what is happening over there. Is unseen interior work on delay? Is the complex too pricey? Unappealing location near the freeway, industrial corridor and across from electrical towers and power lines? Simply a victim of too many condos for sale in town? This one is a bit of a mystery. If any of you have wind of what is happening, do share.
The glassy blue modern marvel known as the River House continues to rise over the western Grand River, but prices seem a bit steep. It costs a buyer about 250K to get in lower level and smaller units, and prices skyrocket to the 500-650K range for higher locations, water views, cityscapes and more amenities. This will prove to be the hot place for young as well as older professionals who probably want a status location and one of the better condo views of the small, but appealing Grand Rapids skyline. How popular it proves to be on the other side of the river is still to be determined. I imagine for those with money and good walking shoes, the location will be just right.
Park Row is coming along fine over on Michigan Street. Developers noted awhile back to the media they have sold something like well over ¼ of the units as of the construction phase begun earlier this year. The complex itself seems to be appealing with dedicated entrance/exits, central boulevards, landscaping and green spaces. It does face the freeway and busy Michigan Street so, the views won’t be nearly as appealing as those "down by the river" (anyone thinking Chris Farley of Saturday Night Live with that last line? You know…I live in a van, down by the river!). Anyway, the draw at this complex is it is close to GVSU and the medical buildings on Pill Hill.
The Fitzgerald in the old renovated YMCA building is small and boutique like. The units that are finished appear to be well done and appealing, but they have been pricey and somewhat slow to sell. This complex is more for the upscale buyer from what I have seen.
Good old Plaza Towers is always the big contender in town. It’s a fine mixture of lower priced condos, medium priced and high end – it would be perfect for Goldielocks and her three bears. The best thing going for this place is location – and in real estate – we all know how prized that can be. It sits off the Grand River and has great views from three sides of the building. It is right next door to Van Andel Arena, The Bob, TGI Fridays, the new JW Marriott 5 star hotel, multiple banks, office complexes and has a great riverwalk area. All units get guaranteed parking of at least one up to four spaces and the place has tennis/basketball courts, exercise room and pool/hot tub area. Don’t forget there are also apartments in this building and The Marriott Courtyard Hotel with restaurant. It’s an older building, but always being updated in terms of landscaping, exterior repairs and interior upkeep. With all the competition in town, it may need to remodel it’s entrance and lobby to the condo tower and common hallways as time goes on to not look dated and remain one of the premier condo addresses in town. It’s not big city great, but it’s one of the better choices for Grand Rapids.
That’s enough individual condo complex commentary for now.
I have seen a handful of complexes in person, others via pamphlets/flyers, web sites, personal photos and on line. I would call most fairly standard and nothing too exciting (think Chicago, Miami, New York, Paris here). All the looks are definitely the Midwest at their best and there is nothing wrong with that. The majority offer the standard white box interior, a little bit of woodworking and exposed brick walls, open ceilings with duct work showing through in the renovated buildings, hardwood floors, a few windows in each room, upgraded kitchens, appealing bathroom, but everything else is remarkably apartment like. If you can get a great river view or great skyline view do it, these things will help with extra enjoyment now and better resale value later.
The GRAR MLS (multiple listing service) shows all single family homes, condos and multi-units available on the market, but only those properties that are listed by licensed realtors or those working with licensed realtors (builders/developers) show up. Builders or developers selling FSBO without licensed representation are not typically found in the MLS system. Thus, the availability of active units and closed stats developers quote to the media is hard to confirm. They rarely want to admit a complex is proving hard to sell or slow to sell so, numbers could easily be inflated to help move units along. It takes hard research at the city and county level to verify their numbers if you want exact data as to what is available, what is under option, what is sold and what has closed. So, for now, most of us take the builders/developers at their word what has moved off the books. Hope they are as honest as they look :-)
I'm all for condos and ample building provided the market can support it. I certainly want rising housing values. What I don't want is for supply to outweigh demand and then cause prices to drop and problems to domino in terms of lower appraised values, depreciation, distress sales and the like. Although I feel there is a need for this type of living in a growing urban area like G.R., especially with all the medical, research and education related jobs coming to the area in the next 1-2 years, I remain a bit uneasy at the supply and demand ratio. I worry builders/developers got a wee bit too excited at the prospect of doing new brick and mortar work and didn’t plan for mortgage issues, credit tightening and an unstable economy throughout the region and state. My guess is even if units are slow to sell, in time prices might come down to bring in those necessary buyers and get the properties off the books. Some may offer closing cost concessions, hoa credits, home warranty plans and more if things gets really tight and slow. Eventually, all should be liquidated, but at what price and how long might it take? Perhaps some of these condo complexes should have been developed into newer and more appealing higher end apartment options instead. A more balanced mixture of both - condos and apartments - might have proven just the ticket.
Of course all this leads to the biggest question of all, what happens when todays condo buyer becomes tomorrows condo seller? Traditional buyers will move less frequently into the condo market whereas the condo market buyer transitions easily into the single family market. Historically, in nearly every region across the U.S., condos do not perform as well as single family homes. That means they typically don’t sell as fast, the buyer pool isn’t as big and values don’t seem to rise as quickly. The American Dream remains owning your own home. Owning your own condo is still a great achievement, but it just isn't quite the same.
I think condo living has its plus and minus points as you can see. With that said, I remind readers as always, buyers should beware. Today’s condo bargain may be tomorrow’s financial loss. Definitely consider buying a condo if it’s right for you but, may I simply suggest, buy wisely.
At least you have lots to choose from in Condo City, I mean Grand Rapids :-).
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor The Local Area Watch
The GRAR (Grand Rapids Association of Realtors) reported around this time last year there was about 4,300 homes/condos for sale. Today that number is close to 12,000.
Due to a major oversupply of properties in all price ranges, values have dropped and with credit tightening up, this trend is not expected to reverse itself anytime soon. There is about a 9-12 month inventory of homes and condos on the market at this point. For those of you not familiar with real estate trends, that is high. You have to go back to the late 80’s or very early 90’s to see that level of inventory in place.
Realtors, developers, builders and mortgage brokers have a hard time admitting when things are not going well and they manage to put the pretty spin on things as much as they can. That’s understandable, it’s their bread and better. But, we still have to be honest. Since they can’t say it so easily, I’ll do it for them – it’s a bad market. Even in bad times though, some come out ahead. That would be buyers with liquid cash and solid credit histories, investors and full time agents and builders with expert knowledge, longevity in the business and strong marketing skills. Unfortunately on the flip side, things not-so-good for sellers, new and small builders and part-time realtors. Let's not leave out of the equation all the businesses that are impacted when housing doesn't move quickly - title companies, appraisal companies, home inspection companies, vendors who do home repairs, home improvement firms, advertising and marketing firms, cleaning companies and more. Nearly everyone is impacted one way or another.
Per the most recent residential sales states from the MAR (Michigan Association of Realtors), it appears that real estate adventure seekers will need to strap in as the ride continues to look bumpy. The average price of a home in Grand Rapids in August was $149,052, a drop of over 8% from last year. The number of homes that sold in August was 3.5% lower than last year. Year to date homes sales are down about 5.3% over-all. According to MAR stats, the total number of sales from January thru August have all seen negative trends. Same with the average sales price, down consistently each month as well. No month showed a gain so far in 2007. With a quarter of the year left, experts don’t expect this downward spiral to get much better as the months go on.
As reported in the Detroit Free Press, based upon income, the number of Michigan households that can afford homes/condos per range are as follows;
Any way you break it down, being in the 325K range and below is the place to be, both for buyers and sellers as the income pool is there. There is still an oversupply of homes in this range, but as the market comes out of it's funk (it will in time), this will balance out once a domino process of offers, sales and closings happen again. Higher end properties will still sell, but the buyer pool is going to be much smaller, market times will be extended and buyers can ask for greater reductions and concessions to get a deal to work out.
Per the MBA (Mortgage Brokers Association) recent updates, 43 of the states in our union are doing quite well in the areas of housing and over-all economy. On the other hand, there are seven states that aren’t doing well at all. Three of these seven lead the nation in foreclosures – those states are Michigan (lucky us, making the news again!), Ohio and Indiana. These three have the highest level of delinquency and foreclosures and that is mainly due to the underlying economy in these states. Four other states are showing housing troubles, they are Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada. Factors that are contributing to these conditions include: high adjustable rate mortgages, declining housing prices which make refinancing difficult, high share of investor loans, sub prime mortgage woes and poor economic conditions. Ohio’s foreclosure rates have showed signs of leveling off even though they remain high. Michigan’s problems continue to escalate. Michigan leads the nation with foreclosure starts with a rate of 1% of outstanding loans. Michigan ranks second in overall delinquency rates. And finally, Michigan ranks third in foreclosure inventory numbers. We just can’t seem to catch a break in The Great Lakes State. We are first in too many ways we shouldn’t be.
With all this data as reference from the Free Press, MBA, MAR and GRAR, we can see why so many buildings are going up and so many being offered for sale but, there has been decreased interest, limited turnover and minimal closings. Even though the numbers in Grand Rapids are not anything to crow about, they aren’t as dismal as those found on the east side of the state. We may have it rough here on the west side, but they have it much worse in the Metro Detroit region.
Fortunately, as is the norm, this cycle will pass. Real estate always has its peaks and troughs, just like the stock market. We will weather this storm and experience clear skies again. The only problem is no expert knows for certain exactly when the storm will end. Early 2008? Late 2008? Beyond? Most predict more turmoil well into 08' so, bundle up and plan for rain. On the positive side, at least you won’t melt.
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor The Local Area Watch
As the sun sets on another September 11th, I'm sure most of us have taken at least a moment today to reflect back to that bright blue sunny morning six years ago that started so quiet and serene, yet ended with such devastating and disastrous consequences.
A day spent watching massive buildings fall to the ground with such ease, like children's plastic toy blocks piece by piece. Watching with both horror and fascination as people ran in fear and shock covered in dust and debris as far away as they could get. Watching first responders from police, port authority, EMS and firefighters battle through fire, flames and toxic gases in an attempt to save just one more life be it in one of the fallen WTC towers or the side of the Pentagon. Those 40 in Shanksville faired no better on Flight 93 a short while later. We all watched from afar as tears fell upon pictures of lost loved ones trying to be found by their families and friends. We all tuned into the news reports hungry for information to help alleviate our fears. That information went on for minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and now years. How on that late summer morning of September 11th, 2001 a nation of close to 300 million was shocked to its core that nearly 3,000 of our own citizens had been destroyed by a hate so strong it sought us out with mind numbing determination. How we all stood in silent acknowledgement that such evil had arrived on our shores, unwanted and unwelcome, but here nonetheless.
I put our flag at half staff today as I left for work this morning in a sign of respect for those who lost their lives so many years ago. I also offered a silent moment of prayer, comfort and peace for those who died during that first awful 24 hour period and those who have continued to loose their lives ever since that day. But, even as the day ends and the flag is returned to its proper position, these people I will never meet linger in my thoughts. None of my hopes can return them to their loved ones. None of my wishes can erase the hate that brought about this awful day. The best I can request is that we all remember those who have gone before us. That we remember to say a word of thanks for our continued safety, especially to our military men, women and their families who protect us from every corner of this nation and around the world day and night so that we may continue to have the best that this world has to offer.
My final prayer is that the Islamic jihadists find no one else to kill. But, unfortunately I know that is not a prayer that will be fulfilled right now. There is much work still to do before peace can prosper again.
I hope each of us willing to acknowledge the reality of our situation will take some time today, tomorrow or the day after to understand further why such darkness enveloped our world that morning of September 11th. That same evil from 9-11 is out there recruiting and indoctrinating a new generation to mistrust and dislike non-Muslims and they continue to expand their networks of hate throughout America and the world. Although many groups have been weakened and somewhat reduced in recent years, they have not been eradicated completely. Our service men and women have been admirable in trying to defeat this modern foe, but their job is far from done. Our nation and people must not stop and must not give up as the mission is barely half done. We need to remain strong, decisive and committed to stopping this evil before it consumes us and the world landscape completely.
Those of us who have a passing knowledge of history know full well most of our deadliest foes throughout the centuries have said what they mean and mean what they say. When they talk about removing a race of people from the face of the earth, take them at their word as they typically followed through on their threats (think Khan, Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, just to name a few). In our lifetime, we now we have UBL, his related and non-related fringe groups and the current President of Iran - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We deny history when we deny them and their powerful words about destroying us, our friends and our way of life.
When UBL invited Americans to come to Islam in his movie of the week broadcast a few days ago, he meant it. Convert now or expect another September morning in the near future. That's our option - Islam or death. He, his followers and those of his radical mindset (millions of them) mean it. He made it clear to us, it is not about Iraq. It is not about capitalism. It is not about Middle Eastern oil. It is not about Democrats or Republicans. It is not about being too American. It is not about the West.
It 's about not being Muslim or Muslim enough. It's about Islam.
To understand more completely why September 11th happened and why there will be more days like this if we don't win this war against Islamic radicals, consider the following books:
These books have all been reviewed here at L.A.W. You are welcome to read my overview to see if these are books that will appeal to you. Even if you choose to search elsewhere for information, at least look and learn.
I don't want bells of sadness being rung any longer for each life lost. I don't want days of remembrance when we have yet to destroy the ones who caused us grief to begin with. I don't want more 9/11's if we can help it. Until we understand, we cannot plan. Until we plan, we cannot win. Until we win, we live in fear or worse yet, we live in ignorance or denial altogether. Those are poor tributes to those who gave so much for all of us.
Remembrance and honor is important. But, I want us to go much further than that. We need to read, learn, understand, plan and eliminate the threat of Islamic ihadists once and for all. Then, and only then, can the bells for complete victory ring out from sea to shining sea.
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor The Local Area Watch
Here are the latest developments on the British Petroleum waste discharge plan for Lake Michigan this year. See previous articles at L.A.W. for complete historical facts and figures.
DEVELOPMENT: Wednesday August 15th
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Mary A. Gade convened a Lake Michigan Summit meeting in Chicago in order to provide an opportunity for major officials and interested parties to present BP representatives with their suggestions on minimizing discharges to Lake Michigan from the company's Whiting, Ind., refinery. Region 5 representatives showed up such as; BP Vice Chairman of America Stephen Elbert, Illinois representatives Biggert & Kirk plus Senators Durbin & Obama, Indiana officials such as Bay & Visclosky and Mr. Anderson from the Indiana Save The Dunes Council, Michigan representative Upton, Wisconsin representative Russ Feingold and a number of other interested individuals of environmental groups.
Due to the enormous amount of negative press, local resident petitions and congressional pressure against the dumping move, BP and Indiana regulators agreed Wednesday to reconsider a permit that allows the Midwest's largest oil refinery to significantly increase the amount of toxic waste dumped into the lake. In order to keep the pressure in place, an environmental group called the Alliance for the Great Lakes also filed a formal appeal in Indiana asking a state environmental judge to block the permit from taking effect.
As reported in a detailed article last week by staff writer Michael Hawthorne of The Chicago Tribune, seven different ideas were given by the EPA to counter the current dumping measures at this meeting:
Finance projects that reduce pollution from other companies that discharge into the Grand Calumet River or Lake Michigan.
Divert all or some of the refinery's wastewater to nearly municipal treatment plants. The Hammond Sanitary District, East Chicago Sanitary District and Gary Sanitary District are options.
Pay for sewer upgrades in neighboring towns to keep sewage and storm water out of Lake Michigan.
Set aside money to filter pollution that seeps into the lake. Projects could include wetlands, shoreline restoration or storm-water retention ponds.
Make additional upgrades at the refinery's water treatment plant to reduce the amount of pollution flowing into Lake Michigan.
Spend more money to dredge contaminated muck from the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.
Join Indiana to pay for other projects that remove contaminated sediment in the Grand Calumet River.
Few in the meeting voiced any support for these creative proposals to offset the additional BP waste discharge pollution with other projects that would help clean up Lake Michigan. The group stayed focused on the need for BP to meet the long-standing goal of reducing and eventually eliminating pollution in the Great Lakes, the world's largest source of fresh surface water. Federal and state regulators contend they have no legal authority at this point to rescind the permit. Although the meeting showed all sides willing to take a look at things, neither BP nor the state of Indiana would commit to a specific solution at this time.
Chicago officials said they've found several technologies in use at other refineries that dramatically reduce ammonia and suspended solids. They pressed BP official Elbert to explain how more water treatment equipment couldn't fit on a site as large as the Whiting refinery. This was a question the Vice Chairman said could not answer at this time.
All left the meeting last week feeling warm and fuzzy, but with no definitive changes noted.
News flash to this week...
DEVELOPMENT: Thursday, August 23rd
BP announced today that it won't dump more pollution into Lake
In a statement posted on British Petroleum’s web site, BP pledged to continue to meet its previous pollution limits once it completes a $3.8 billion expansion of its Whiting, Ind., refinery, 3 miles southeast of the Illinois-Indiana border. BP America today promised to operate its Whiting refinery to meet the lower discharge limits contained in the refinery's previous wastewater treatment permit.
BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone notes the following in today’s press release, “We have participated in an open and transparent permitting process with the State of Indiana and obtained a valid permit that meets all regulatory standards and is protective of water quality and human health. Even so, ongoing regional opposition to any increase in discharge permit limits for Lake Michigan creates an unacceptable level of business risk for this $3.8 billion investment." Malone flew to Chicago to deliver the news personally to Mayor Richard Daley, one of several politicians who said the company's initial plans were unacceptable to people who rely on Lake Michigan for drinking water and recreation.
During the next 18 months, BP advises citizens it will continue to seek issuance of other permits, continue project design and explore options for operating within the lower discharge limits. Furthermore, at the request of US Representatives Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Pete Visclosky (D-IN), and with the support of BP America President Bob Malone, scientists at Argonne National Laboratory and Purdue University Calumet will explore emerging technologies that could address wastewater treatment affecting the Great Lakes.
BP America notified the State of Indiana of its decision late yesterday afternoon and reiterated its dedication to the proposed refinery expansion.
"We are committed to this project. It is important for the nation, it is important for the Midwest, and it is important to BP and to the thousands of BP employees in the State of Indiana," Malone said. "We are going to work hard to make this project succeed.” He also noted, “We will not make use of the higher discharge limits in our new permit. We're not aware of any technology that will get us to those limits but we'll work to develop a project that allows us to do so. If necessary changes to the project result in a material impact to project viability, we could be forced to cancel it."
The exact press release letters by the Vice Chairman, President and congressional representatives
can be viewed at: www.bp.com.
So fellow citizens of River City, West Michigan and the Great Lakes, a temporary victory appears to be in order. There will be no change in the refinery discharge to Lake Michigan until at least 2011. BP appears to be working toward new technologies that will lower their discharges before their permit is up for renewal in 2012 (their wise President might have wanted to consider that before the firestorm erupted earlier, but who says he gets paid for looking ahead, right? They’re advertised as “green” after all, not “brilliant visionaries”). There was no discussion about reducing the current limits of discharge still being allowed by the lakes largest polluter - good ole' BP. Current discharge levels, ok. Increased discharge levels, thumbs down. Reduced discharge levels, not an item up for discussion. One step at a time people, one step at a time.
Many will ask what happens after 2012? Well, that story is still to be written.
So, fish, swim, boat, drink the water and enjoy the bounty we have in our backyards. Lake Michigan is secure from BP additional waste discharge…for now.
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor, The Local Area Watch
Quick update to our readers on the British Petroleum increased dumping situation on Lake Michigan.
As reported by Michael Hawthorne in The Chicago Tribune earlier today, Stephen Johnson, Administrator of The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was quoted as saying he and the agency are standing behind the permit that was granted by them to Indiana regulators and BP in June to allow increased dumping into Lake Michigan. With this permit, BP is allowed to not only increase sludge and ammonia levels pumped into the lake, but also allows BP to avoid meeting stringent mercury reduction levels for the next five years as well.
Johnson was questioned during a conference on how the permit to BP and Indiana remains in line with the EPA’s earlier goal of keeping the lake clean and as pollution free as possible? The original EPA permit dealing with the Clean Water Act of the 1970’s was clear that NO increase in pollution was allowed. What gives? The answer Johnson provided, “the agency spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year cleaning up polluted sites around the lakes”. Thinking minds might inquire, wouldn’t it be smarter to not pollute at all and thus, not need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars cleaning up old AND new waste? Guess common sense got flushed down the drain along with the extra waste.
The Tribune’s detailed article reminded readers that three years back, BP along with a half dozen other companies settled an EPA complaint and paid out a combined $56 million to clean up the Grand Calumet River, Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, a heavily industrialized waterway that had washed millions of pounds of contaminated waste into Lake Michigan.
Regardless of a censure of disapproval resolution by Congress that passed with flying colors and in person requests to revoke the permit, The EPA is standing by it's decision. The permit will not be revoked. Increased discharge remains approved. It looks like we will need to put BP on an honor system of finding another site to dump extra waste since the congressional resolution that passed is simply a smack on the wrist of a company doing bad and The EPA has decided they’d rather clean up additional waste sites rather than stopping the problem from beginning in the first place.
British Petroleum spokespersons and Indiana regulators continue to insist that their increased refinery production and requested special permits will pose no threat to our local environment. They assure the Great Lakes region that they will keep as much pollution out of Lake Michigan as possible. Why is it that those of us who use the water for everyday living, swimming, hunting, fishing, drinking and pure enjoyment, are still uneasy? Probably because their track record makes such claims dubious at best.
I guess I shouldn't be disappointed by such a ruling by The EPA. Afterall, it's groups like them and The Michigan DEQ that turned a blind eye to all the evidence in the Berkey & Gay Factory and Toxic Towers dumping scandal right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I guess if these two groups couldn't properly decipher toxic soil analysis reports, understand video tapes of toxic wate being removed without authorization and false statements by all involved developers and construction crews who claimed "they did no wrong" yet the evidence showed to the contrary...why should we assume they would rule any differently when a company like British Petroleum wants to increase sludge, ammonia and mercury discharge before our very eyes? In the BP case, waste gets to be diluted out in the Big Lake. Problem solved.
There is clearly no "protection" for you and I, when it comes to The Environmental Protection Agency. Whether you live in Grand Rapids, on the Big Lake itself or anywhere in between.
Congress tried to raise the yellow flag and urge caution when it came to increased dumping in the Great Lakes - especially Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, verbal and written censure does little.
BP got the green flag for all systems full steam ahead - increase refinery production and pollution-a-go-go.
You and I get the red flag warning for rough waters ahead and I don't mean just big waves – swim at your own risk.
Faced with angry letters, activist e-mails, heated meetings and calls of dissent by Congress, lobbying groups and everyday Americans like you and I, oil giant British Petroleum announced that they have put on hold until September 1st (possibly longer) its plan to proceed forward with increased refinery production and corresponding increased dumping of more waste into Lake Michigan.
Senators Durbin (D-IL), Stabenow (D-MI) and additional House Members met with BP officials at noon on July 24th to show their dissent. BP sent along their chairman and President of BP America, and the manger of the oil refinery at Whiting to address the concerns raised. Congress was requesting that the EPA step in and reverse the authorizing of the permit. Although BP appeared open to other ideas for waste removal, no alternatives have emerged yet. Thus, the time between now and early fall will be a window of opportunity to reverse the trend in increasing oil production at the expense of the Great Lakes fish, wildlife and humans nearby. All parties concur, the goal is to protect the eco-system of Lake Michigan and the residents who live around it.
On July 25th, further developments occurred as noted by a press release issued from Congressman Vern Ehler's office. In Washington D.C., The House passed legislation that condemned the proposed increased dumping of contaminants in Lake Michigan. This is the resolution that had been proposed earlier by Congressmen Ehlers (MI) and Emanuel (IL). House Congressional Resolution 187 expressed the following disapproval, “The Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s issuance of a permit allowing BP to increase their daily dumping of ammonia and total suspended solids into Lake Michigan” and notes, “The United States Environmental Protection Agency should not allow increased dumping of chemicals and pollutants into the Great Lakes”.
The bipartisan measure overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 387 to 26.
The Great Lakes caucus in Washington D.C. applauded the House for taking this stand and passing this simple yet, important resolution.
Congressman Ehlers has these thoughts for his constituents, “I support expanding refinery capacity in North America, and I believe projects such as this one can help drive down the price of gasoline for consumers. But, I do not believe that the benefits of this project should come at the expense of our most precious natural resource. The Great Lakes are the world’s largest freshwater system and serve as a source of drinking water, food, jobs and recreation for more than 40 million Americans”. Furthermore he notes, “The increases in discharge permitted by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management are not consistent with the regional goal of keeping the Great Lakes clean and healthy for everyone.”
We'll stay tuned through the fall to see if the EPA revokes the permit they issued earlier, if BP will still increase refinery production and have an alternative site for the increased waste produced or if other things altogether are proposed.
So, everyone surrounding Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes region can breath a temporary sign of relief. No increased dumping…at least for awhile.
L.A.W. editor Bridget Tingley has reported to you on the recent plan to allow British Petroleum to increase its discharge of waste into Lake Michigan from its refinery in Indiana. She followed up with both British Petroleum, local elected officials, and the candidates running for Grand Rapids mayor to solicit their comments about this controversy and reported on that, too. See previous articles for full details on that end of the story.
In keeping with that, we are making available British Petroleum's FAQ about the matter, which you can read here as a PDF file. BP provided this fact sheet to us direct. We agreed to air all sides to the story - including their explanation of the facts as they see them. We may disagree with what they say versus what they do, but we are always open to explanations by all parties. You, our readers, get to make your own decision on issues at that point. Read on.
2007 candidate for Mayor of Great Rapids Jim Rinck, returned from being out of town for a few days and apologized for the delay in providing a statement to L.A.W. on the recent increase in dumping by British Petroleum (BP) in Lake Michigan. As noted in our previous entries, we advised if/when they responded to our story from last week we would post any comments they chose to make on the issue.
Mr. Rinck advised The Local Area Watch of the following today, " I'm appalled at the BP dumping and more appalled that our federal government apparently has done nothing about it. As you know, the position of Mayor of Grand Rapids has very little real power, and so I or any other Mayor could do nothing about this particular incident. Nevertheless, I certainly would not be quiet about such matters. Perhaps, until the city charter is changed, that is all that could be done."
We are pleased to see current Mayor Heartwell, candidates for Grand Rapids Mayor Commissioner Rick Tormala , Jim Rinck and Congressman for Kent County Vern Ehlers, all agree that additional discharge of sludge and ammonia should not be happening in Lake Michigan. Their voice as a group seems to be consistent that BP should cease such activities and make a priority of cleaning up The Great Lakes and not contributing to an increase in pollution.
We hope the candidates will stay on top of this issue and support Congressman Ehlers in his legislation to reverse this activity that BP has begun. It's an important subject to nearly everyone in West Michigan as well as those living, working and enjoying The Great Lakes region.
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor The Local Area Watch
Yesterday we posted a short article outlining the brief background of the recent approval granted by The State of Indiana, EPA and British Petroleum (BP) to increase the amount of daily ammonia and sludge that would be released into Lake Michigan on a daily basis. See our previous entry for full details.
We had written to the following individuals involved in this issue to see if they had any feedback they wanted us to share with our readers:
British Petroleum (BP) Congressman Vern Ehlers (R-MI) Mayor Heartwell, Grand Rapids 2007 Mayoral Candidates for Grand Rapids, Rick Tormala & Jim Rinck
By the publishing deadline, we had replies from Ehlers, Heartwell and Tormala. All took the time to write to us direct as they felt this was indeed an important issue.
We have not had a statement submitted by Jim Rinck as of yet (we were updated late today by Jeff Winston, campaign manager for Rinck, that he is out of town for a few days. Upon his return, he will send us a statement of his thoughts and position on this issue. We will post his reply once we receive it).
BP also made a point of contacting us regarding our e-mail to them and our internet posting. Late yesterday afternoon we received a response from Valerie Corr at the BP Press Office. She advised us of the following, "We take your concerns very seriously, and I appreciate that you included BP's position on your website. Attached is a fact sheet you may find helpful. I would like to clarify that BP absolutely does not and will not release sludge or toxic waste streams into Lake Michigan. BP takes the issue of climate change and the environment very seriously. We are making significant investments in bio-fuels, solar, wind and other forms of alternative energy. For more information, please visit www.bp.com”.
The Local Area Watch will attach their fact sheet for viewing by first of next week. Any interested parties are welcome to read the three pages they provided that cover the most frequently asked questions and the corresponding answers from BP’s view point.
We are still not convinced that providing special permits for additional dumping is the final answer to increased refinery production in an aged facility and a handful of new jobs. An increase for ammonia discharge levels here, an increase for sludge discharge levels there, where does it end? Exemptions for large companies could mean reduced restrictions for small companies later, which then allows a domino process to begin with loosening of environmental laws meant to protect humans, wildlife and our water system in this area. Clean up of our lakes can't continue if pollution levels are allowed to be increased. Since BP is already considered the largest contributor to pollution on Lake Michigan now, we remain skeptical based upon evidence we are seeing that getting exemptions won't somehow result in ammonia and sludge reaching our lake system - even with mixers, diffusers and the like trying to control the problem.
We will continue to keep an eye on this issue and report developments as they occur with Congressman Ehlers & Emanuel ,and if the State of Indiana and the EPA choose to revoke the permit they issued under an exemption earlier.
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor The Local Area Watch
The story of British Petroleum (BP) being allowed to dump MORE waste into Lake Michigan caught our eye.
The story was picked up briefly this week by our local media and also on the AP, UPI and important publications like the Chicago Tribune. We live in the shadow of Lake Michigan – we are considered the Gold Coast of Michigan after all – and felt our readers could use an update on what this dumping issue means.
We have extra interest in corporate dumping after all our work in the Berkey & Gay - Toxic Towers Grand Rapids, MI incident (see our side bar menu for articles that relate back to that scandal). We understand how easy it is for corporations to evade and circumvent laws and do bad deeds with barely a blink from officials. In BP’s defense, they got approval before dumping instead of doing it behind our backs and then covering up the crime as happened in the Toxic Towers case.
Even with BP receiving the blessing of the EPA and the State of Indiana - that doesn't mean the final results are good for all of us. Read on.
HISTORY OF BP AND WASTE DISHCARGE
The Whiting, Indiana refinery plant was originally built by Standard Oil (J. D. Rockefeller) back in 1889. It is located just off the beautiful shores of southern Lake Michigan on Indiana’s border.
The facility processes about 400,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The current production level is expected to grow by about 15% by the time the newest 3.8 billion dollar expansion is completed in 2011. BP itself states that once the expansion is done, the re-configured refinery will go from 30% heavy Canadian crude to 90%.
Approval was granted recently by the EPA, State of Indiana and BP for additional waste dumping of about 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of industrial sludge per day into Lake Michigan in order to increase refining capabilities for heavier Canadian crude oil. Extracting petroleum from this heavier crude is a dirtier process than conventional methods. That means more energy is needed to produce the final product. Thus, there is a corresponding increase in waste and greenhouse gases as well. In the end, the approval to deviate from current environmental laws by The State of Indiana and the EPA means 54% more ammonia and 35% more sludge are going to be added to Lake Michigan on a daily basis.
Even with this increase, the refinery will still be within federal water pollution guidelines.
BP has a formal letter to the public on their website www.bp.com by Dan Sajkowski , BP Whiting Refinery Business Unit Leader.
They feel the recent news reports about wastewater discharge is inaccurate and their letter helps to clarify the issues. BP assures the public that any new environmental permits have been done according to acceptable guidelines.
They assure everyone that they meet or exceed federal and state regulatory requirements. They clarify in this letter that sludge does not go directly into the lake. It’s only discharged after it is treated and the final treated wastewater is 99.999% water ONLY. The same with ammonia discharge.
BP believes it is continuing to provide a reliable and clean fuel supply to the nation and the people that need its products – products that include gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. They employ 1,700 BP employees at the refinery and another 2,000 contract workers in the Great Lakes region.
They advise the public that they remain committed to keeping the environment clean along with creating jobs and upgrading the facility for a better tomorrow.
L.AW. TAKE ON THINGS
Because there isn’t enough room at the current 1,400 acre BP site to update the refinery’s water treatment plant, the surrounding environment will be negatively impacted. BP assures the public that a mixing zone is in place to assist the discharge problem (equipment installed about 200 feet offshore that mixes toxic waste with clean lake water), yet they don't tell the whole story that actively diluting pollution this way is actually banned in Lake Michigan under current Indiana law and they had to get an exemption to get this done. Regulators granted BP the first ever exemption for this.
If BP wants to refine more oil products for the good of the nation, that’s understandable. We are not against oil companies, refineries or the energy system when they are trying to increase availability of a product we all need each day. Especially when it means getting further away from Middle Eastern oil. On the flip side, we aren’t tree huggers looking for the environment to trump anything to do with man either. We are looking more for a balance between man and nature – the best we can.
What seems wrong is that the facility in Whiting is getting old and is not appropriate any longer to handle the additional growth and corresponding waste. The surrounding region then must pay the burden for this lack of planning and internal investment by this company. BP is the one that chose NOT to install more effective pollution controls at the nation’s fourth largest refinery until fairly recently (and still not at the level truly needed). Due to the lack of new refinery’s being built in the last 30 years around the U.S. Citizens are paying the price right here in Michigan for this lack of advancement and endless EPA restrictions. The big question is why residents, animals and plant life in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana must pay the price for everyone else? Discharge into Lake Michigan will continue to have negative results to our lives and ecosystem. Increased ammonia will allow algae to grow faster and kill off fish. Heavy metals contained in the sludge will affect humans, birds and other local wildlife. The domino process from these two things will be without question harmful long term.
Is a handful of additional jobs (roughly 80) and further refining really worth the damage to The Great Lakes - the world’s largest surface body of freshwater in the world and the contamination of drinking water for an estimated 40 million Americans? The protection of The Great Lakes should always trump an aged refining facility. We say the tradeoff is too great.
If we have one claim to fame in the Midwest and especially the great state of Michigan, it's the beauty of the Great Lakes. We not only view this precious body of water, but we play in it, eat from it and drink from it as well. Increased pollution will be devastating to all of us – humans, fish and wildlife. Let’s not forget how many rivers and inland lakes tie into the Great Lakes system as well. It’s possible to get cross contamination.
The current direction that the EPA, State of Indiana and BP is taking is to water down The Clean Water Act of the 1970’s. An act that had been slowly reversing the awful trend of decades past where grease, oil and other toxic chemicals had been pumped from local factories, mills and refineries into the Great Lakes unchecked. With the relaxing of important regulations such as that from BP this past week, the clock begins to be turned back.
We don’t support this additional discharge into Lake Michigan.
POLITICAL ACTIONS AND REACTIONS TAKEN TO DATE
Vern Ehlers (R-MI, Barry-Ionia-Kent Counties) and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) have introduced a concurrent resolution on Capital Hill expressing disapproval to this action as of 7/18/07. Their websites state what the five items are that they hope will be addressed. The actions are:
1. Congress expresses its disapproval of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s issuance of a permit allowing BP to increase their daily dumping of ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan;
2. Congress urges the State of Indiana to reconsider issuance of a permit allowing BP to increase their daily dumping of ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan;
3. Congress should take action to protect and restore the Great Lakes;
4. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s actions in the Great Lakes basin should be consistent with the goal of preserving and restoring the Great Lakes; and
5. The United States Environmental Protection Agency should not allow increased dumping of chemicals and pollutants into the Great Lakes.
The Local Area Watch of Grand Rapids, Michigan is offering its support to Representatives Ehlers (R-MI) and Emanuel (D-IL) in their introduction of the concurrent resolution. We let them know of our agreement with their actions by sending an email about their proposal. I received a return reply from the congressman’s office within a day of my initial contact.
R. Ehlers supported all the BP wastewater discharge details that I summarized earlier. Beyond that, he noted, “I am deeply concerned that a permit of this nature was issued. I support the expansion of refinery capacity, which can help to lower gas prices, but I do not believe that these benefits should come at the expense of our most precious natural resource”.
R. Ehlers further noted, “The Great Lakes are the world's largest freshwater system and serve as a source of drinking water, food, jobs and recreation for more than forty million Americans. It is critical that we enhance our restoration efforts for this critical resource, not degrade the condition of the lakes even further. The permit for increased dumping of harmful pollutants is totally inconsistent with the goals of Great Lakes restoration. Ammonia promotes algae blooms that can kill fish and trigger beach closings. TSS is also harmful to the ecosystem in a variety or respects - these solids settle to the bottom of the water body, often choking or drowning aquatic life and interfering with fish spawning. TSS discharges also contribute to algae blooms, which not only overtake the native ecosystem by taking nutrients away from the surrounding plant life , but also feed harmful bacteria which remove all the oxygen, kill aquatic life and ruin beaches.” We requested in our note to his office that they stay on top of this issue beyond the initial concurrent resolution put forward by his office and Illinois Congressman Emanuel.
Finally, Congressman Ehlers advised The Local Area Watch of the following, “I have joined several of my colleagues in writing to Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana , and to Stephen Johnson, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to express our serious concerns with this permit. We have asked the EPA to review the matter to make sure these actions do not violate the Clean Water Act, and we have urged the State of Indiana to take a second look at the dumping permit and take the steps necessary to revoke it. I have also cosponsored a Congressional resolution that disapproves of the permit and says that the EPA should not allow increased dumping of chemicals and pollutants into the Great Lakes”.
We sent an email to each of the local mayoral candidates for Grand Rapids - George Heartwell, Rick Tormala and Jim Rinck (we could not find an email contact address for Ms. Miller or we would have included her) to find out if they had a position on this issue.
Mayor Heartwell was quick to reply to the BP increased dumping problem. He believes the additional wastewater discharge issue is of great importance to our region and state. He told us, “Damage to any portion of the Great Lakes basin is damage to the whole basin. We simply cannot allow the dangerous levels of toxic discharge that BP proposes. What was Indiana thinking when this approved this permit?"
Commissioner Tormala advised us of his thoughts on the issue by stating, "The dumping of toxic chemicals into Lake Michigan is totally unacceptable and threatens our environment while posing a direct public health threat to the millions of Great Lakes residents (including Grand Rapids) that use Lake Michigan as a source of drinking water. The EPA is looking more like a red tape cutter for big business than the guardian of public health and welfare. The Commission can and should do a letter to Congress and the EPA objecting."
By the deadline of this article, we had not received feedback from the Rinck campaign.
Finally, we submitted an email to BP expressing our disagreement with their actions and the expected results to the environment. We are concerned at the double standard they are creating when you compare their heavily advertised “green” ads on t.v., newspapers and website versus what they are doing in the real world. Even though they are under state and federal waste discharge levels, I’m not sure it’s their proudest moment as they are choosing to increase their pollution discharge levels instead of decreasing or eliminating it altogether. We feel they should be exposed on this contradiction of words versus actions.
By the deadline of this article, we had not received a return reply from BP.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
Without question, there are many pressing issues of great importance in all of our lives today; the war effort, terrorism, illegal immigration, the economy, health care, taxes, jobs, business growth, education and our environment . We can’t make them all a priority all the same time, but we can make a difference with just a quick e-mail now and then . It’s up to each one of us, Midwest Am ericans and Michiganders to stand up and consider doing something about the increased BP dumping issue. I was pleased to see half of my emails were quickly returned. I hope you'll consider contacting one of these officials if you have a position as well.
Contact addresses are:
BP:www.bp.com – go to “contact us’ and send off an e-mail letter
VERN EHLERS:www.house.gov/ehlers/contact - go to Congressman Vern Ehlers (you must be a resident of his district to contact him) and send off an e-mail letter
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:www.house.gov – and search for your representative if you live in any county other than that of Mr. Ehlers . Then send off an e-mail letter
If you say you know nothing, it’s not important, Islam doesn’t impact your life, I hope you will reconsider those thoughts.
Islam is one of the largest growing faiths. It’s spreading around the world in massive numbers and we see some of the results of it’s newest growth via Islamic extremists and jihadists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and even countries like The U.S., The U.K., Spain and France, among many others. Michigan also calls itself home to one of the largest Arabic and Islamic populations outside of the Middle East.
Look next week for a review on a book called, The Truth About Muhammad, by Robert Spencer for a comprehensive over-view on the man, his words, his life and the religion known to the world as Islam. For those who have previous knowledge in these areas, add it to your collection. To those with little or no background, this book will be a good starting point.
To get you going, I’ve put together a little question and answer period. See how well you do on the questions below. Unlike the good old days we all experienced in high school and college, don’t worry about if you pass or not. The goal is simply to expand your knowledge. Consider this similar to taking a class 'just for credit'.
Answers will be at the end of this posting (no cheating please!).
Which book was the first full length biography of the Prophet of Islam – Muhammad:
1.) The Qur’an 2.) The Sira 3.) Hanging with Big Mo 4.) The Night Journey – The Miraj 5.) The Hijra 6.) A Thousand and One Jizya’s 7.) The Dueling Muhammads
Which three books make up the Sunnah – the most important books which deal with the history of Muhammad, Islamic culture and the Muslim faith:
1.) A Thousand & One Jizya’s, The Qur’an & the Miraj 2.) The Hirja, The Sira & The Qur’an 3.) The Qur’an, The Hijra & The Miraj 4.) The Qur’an, The Hadith & The Sira 5.) None of the above
True of false: Muhammad left behind no clear successors to his religious legacy, no surviving sons, only daughters.
Around which age did Muhammad begin spreading the word of Allah for Islam:
1.) 6 2.) 23 3.) 40 4.) 55 5.) 63
Which angel(s) or demon(s) visited Muhammad during his prophetic lifetime:
1.) Satan 2.) Seraphel 3.) Gabriel 4.) Casper (The Friendly Ghost) 5.) Only 1 & 2 6.) Only 2 & 3 7.) Only 1, 2 & 3
True or false: Muhammad was born in Medina, rose to Paradise one night in Jerusalem and traveled to Mecca to preach and eventually died there.
Allah gave Muhammad approval to implement the following laws & traditions in place by faithful Muslims even today:
1.) Cutting off the hands of male & female thieves – penalty of amputation 2.) The veiling of women due to the sinfulness of exposed flesh & body parts 3.) The taking of up to 4 wives by each man – approval of polygamy 4.) It takes 4 witnesses to support an act of rape against a women – less than 4, the crime is denied 5.) Saying, “I divorce you”, “I divorce you”, “I divorce you” three times and a man can be divorced from his wife – the wife cannot do this 6.) The stoning to death of a woman found guilty of adultery – or more frequently, being lashed for the crime and kept in seclusion for the rest of a woman’s life as punishment for adultery 7.) Going to war during holy periods and befriending an enemy short term are all acceptable practices as long it is for the good of promoting Islam 8.) Only 1, 3, 5, 7 9.) Only 2, 4, 6 10.)All the Above
By most historians and experts, how man wives did Muhammad take during his lifetime:
1.) 2-3 2.) 4-5 3.) 6-7 4.) 8-9 5.) 11-13
True or false: Muhammad was commanded by Allah to marry one of his daughter-in-laws?
How old was Aisha, Muhammad’s favorite wife, when he eventually married her and consummated the marriage vows?
1.) 9-Nine years old 2.) 13-Thirteen years old 3.) 20-Twenty years old 4.) 30-Thirty years old 5.) 40-Forty years old
Allah commanded Muhammad after battle he could keep which of the following:
1.) Nothing – He had to give everything away as sharing is a cardinal rule of Islam 2.) He got to keep it all to himself - All loot & booty was for Muhammad (he could share if he wished, but it was his first and foremost)
True or false: Muhammad died of poisoning by a rival tribe in the Arabian Peninsula at age 63?
What was the major source of income to Muhammad & the faithful:
1.) Wine making 2.) Selling of slaves 3.) Drilling for oil and selling off reserves 4.) The collecting of taxes on non-Muslims 5.) Breeding camels for transportation 6.) Water collection and distribution
Who is known by Islamic scholars and the faithful as the first Muslim?
1.) Muhammad 2.) Aisha 3.) Khadija 4.) Gabriel 5.) Allah or God
True or False: Muhammad appeared to borrow Jewish, Christian and other sources for his preaching and written references.
Here are the final answers to the above questions:
#2 - The Sira by Ibn Ishaq – 150 years after Muhammad’s death
#4 - The Qur’an, The Hadith, The Sira
True – He had one son by a concubine, but the boy died at birth. He had no other sons with his wives or concubines and left only daughters behind.
#3 - He was about forty years old when he began doing active preaching of Islam. Many scholars feel they can date it to the year 610 when Allah commanded Muhammad to tell people to turn away from polytheism. He formally began preaching in Mecca around 613.
#7 – Only Satan, Seraphal and Gabriel are deemed to have visited with Muhammad
False-He was born in Mecca and died in Medina – I reversed the cities on you
#10- All the above
#5 – 11 to 13 wives (most well known are Khadija – 1st wife, Aisha – favorite wife, daughter-in-law wife Zaynab)
True-he married his adopted son’s wife – the lovely Zaynab bint Jahsh
#1 - Nine (9) years old. He got engaged to her at age (6) and held off on marriage and consummation for three years. Not pleasant by modern standards, but not really uncommon for their time and culture.
#2 - Muhammad got to keep it all – his to keep and to share – if he chose
False – He died at age 63 in Medina, but it was not by poisoning. Natural causes was reason given. He had an attempted poisoning once, but it failed. This was much earlier in his life.
#4 - Taxing of non-Muslims was the chief income for Muhammad and his followers. This tax was known as a poll tax or the jizya.
#3 -The first known Muslim was Khadija – his first wife. She converted to the faith of Islam based upon Muhammad’s revelations and visions and they believed he was the Prophet sent by Allah.
And the final answer….
True – Most scholars agree there are too many similarities between Jewish, Christian and other sources which came before Islam. Thus, many of Muhammad’s stories, revelations, commands, thoughts and ideas are thought to be less than “pure”.
That's the quiz!!!
If you got ALL the answers right, consider yourself well versed in the basics of Islam and the history of Muhammad.
If you got any of them wrong or knew none of the answers, that’s ok too.
On the other hand, if any of your answers included Hanging with Big Mo' or Casper (The Friendly Ghost) in it, we implore you to seek assistance :-)
Hopefully, this little Q & A made you interested in learning about a practice that is changing the world we all live in. Whether we practice this religion ourselves, approve of this lifestyle or do something altogether different, in the end, it impacts us all. How? By the current War on Terror (Should be re-titled The War Against Islamic Extremism) in Afghanistan, Iraq & worldwide, Sharia Law possibly coming to a country near you, women’s rights (or lack thereof) and rejection of human rights & dignity as recognized and practiced by The West.
If the Democrats want a tax hike, they’re going to have to vote for one.
The Governor and the House Majority continue to play political games but the Senate doesn’t look to be interested in games. Today at least the FY2007 budget has been balanced through cuts alone. In theory. In the Senate. This afternoon, under Senate GOP leadership the senior chamber approved Senate Bills 436 and 437, cutting government spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, bringing spending in line with estimated revenues and forcing Lansing to live within it’s means. The bills now head to the House.
The measures passed in the face of continuous pressure from the Granholm administration to raise taxes, claiming she’d made all the cuts she possibly could, and several weeks Granholm’s April temper tantrum induced threat to cut school spending by $125 per pupil.
While Jennifer Granholm continued her grandstanding before the Michigan State Medical Society, telling doctors and hospital administrators that without a tax hike the state would start forcing people to their deaths (her words were “people will die”), Bishop stood up and got something done.
When you look back over the last four-plus months it’s nothing short of miraculous that they’ve held the line this long… and this firmly.
The constant target of the administration, the Senate minority and the House of Representatives and a more and more popular target of the mainstream press for his insistence on forcing government to live within it’s means before coming back, hands out and palms up to Michigan taxpayers, Bishop’s stood his ground, insisted that the cuts were there and darn it all if he didn’t find them. Again.
If someone will point me to the petition where I can nominate him for super-hero status I’ve got my pen ready. For that matter I’d like to nominate the entire GOP caucus and the minority caucus in the House for standing firm, steely eyed and determined to protect working moms and dads if no one else will.
But as good a day as Wednesday was for Bishop, it was a worse day for Andy Dillon and Jennifer Granholm.
Let’s examine a few facts. Not opinions, not word games, not hyperbole and partisan rancor… facts.
The school aid fund:
Jennifer Granholm’s plan: Cut $122 per pupil forcing some schools to close.
Senate GOP: in legislation approved Wednesday, May 16: $36 per pupil cut forcing no schools to close and saving public educators, the governor’s biggest special interest backers, $86 per pupil!
House Democrats: Silence. No votes, no legislation, no movement.
Jennifer Granholm: Cut 6% and tell the state that “people will die.”
Senate GOP: Cut 3% so no one will die.
House Democrats: Silence. No votes, no legislation, no movement.
Jennifer Granholm: Has proposed in various forms as much as $3 billion in new taxes and Tuesday scuttled $337 million in bipartisan spending cuts because Republicans refused to acquiesce to a demand for a minimum $1.8 billion tax increase. Conservative studies indicate her tax hike plan would cost the state 19,000 jobs at a minimum.
Senate GOP: They’ve held the line for five months and balanced the state budget three different times now with spending cuts. They continue to say NO to new taxes.
House Democrats: Silence. No votes, no legislation, no movement.
Who exactly are the obstructionists? And talk about reclaiming a little brand ID for the GOP.
So what’s next? Well, the Senate’s done their thing. They’ve passed legislation that balances the budget. The ball is now squarely in the Democrats court. The House has two choices. They can either vote on the Senate measures or actually introduce an alternative plan.
If Democrats continue to insist on “new revenues” (read: massive tax hikes) being a part of their solution then the time has come to introduce them and martial them through the House. Put up or shut up, boys and girls. Time’s running out and continued cowardice in the face of fiscal crisis isn’t doing anyone much good.
State officials are now staring down the barrel of an $803.2 million shortfall in the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, according to the House Fiscal Agency (HFA) on the back of Friday morning's Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. The sizeable growth in the hole, which the Granholm administration had estimated to be $715 million, is the result of declining state revenue and higher spending pressures from social service programs, among other factors. As the budget shortfall continues to grow; it becomes more and more apparent that cuts, and cuts alone are NOT going to help Michigan.
For years, Senate Republicans have demanded cuts, cuts, and more cuts. Governor Granholm has obliged and has cut over $3.6 billion from the State’s budget over the past four years, and has cut more from the budget than any previous Governor, as well as operating state government with fewer state employees than we had in 1970. Granholm continues to cut services and streamline government and she has lived up to her end of the bargain. Senate Republicans need to live up to theirs. Economists from across the country who have reviewed the state of Michigan’s budget have agreed that cuts alone will not help Michigan. Sensible cuts and new revenue streams (taxes) will be required to bring Michigan’s budget out of its funk.
Senate Republicans introduced and passed S.B. 436 and 437 on party-line votes. Basically, S.B. 437 would create a cut to schools of $36 per pupil, and make devastating cuts to the 21st Century Job Fund to balance the 2007 budget.
Senate Democrats have two main reservations about this legislation.
First, it is irresponsible in terms of both long and short-term economic development -- schools representing our long-term economic development and the 21st Century jobs fund as the agency charged with long-term economic development. Second, cutting schools at this point in the school year is irresponsible, since schools have most likely already committed the funds.
Basically, the Dems feel this amounts to shooting ourselves in BOTH our feet. In many ways, this plan is even worse than one that is based on cuts alone, since it effectively robs the 21st Century Jobs Fund -- which was created with strong bipartisan support to stimulate our economy -- to balance the budget. It's also important to mention that the money that would be taken from the 21st Century Jobs Fund includes dollars that have already been assigned to specific companies. In other words, we believe this legislation would effectively break the state's contracts with these companies, which would expose the state to lawsuits.
Both of these bills are non-starters, since they move us in the wrong direction, and send a terrible message to Wall Street agencies, who have already lowered the state's credit ratings a number of times.
The Senate Dems are ready to vote on a comprehensive solution that includes cuts, reforms, and revenues. Unfortunately, based on what we witnessed this month, Republican Leader Mike Bishop is still refusing to reach a compromise and solve this crisis. To not even consider a compromise which involves revenue enhancements, or tax increases, or new taxes… whatever you want to call it… to take it off the table all together, against the advice of experts and economists… that is irresponsible.
Hey there Local Area Watchers, please excuse my tardiness.
Sometimes family, work, and life get in the way of deadlines. I have been researching for an article for this submission, but am still awaiting some data from the legislature. So in the meantime, I will shift gears and put that story on hold until later.
Nick over at ‘The View from the Right’ has taken his potshots at me for writing about the Chamber of Commerce rather then writing about myself. Usually I am more concerned with the myriad of issues that we are facing in our Country and in Michigan to be vain enough to skirt the issues to write about myself. But since Nick has his panties in a bunch over the issue, I will tell the readers about me. I wouldn’t want him to feel that I one-upped him because I dug right in to the politics.
In my real life, I am more than an innocent bystander, more than a political blogger. I am a paid Campaign Manager, Policy Analyst, and a Political Consultant. I do this stuff all day, everyday. Politics truly is my life and my bread and butter.
I am always astounded at the reaction from people that I meet when I explain that I work on campaigns. The first reaction is wonderment. People assume that I am only employed every two or four years. For example, are you aware that there is an election next Tuesday??? You may be surprised to learn about how many people do not. There are also many people who are not aware that there will be elections held in August and November of this year.
Political Campaigns are becoming more and more like Christmas. Every year, they begin marketing earlier and earlier. I remember when Christmas was not rolled-out until the day after Thanksgiving. Soon it was just after Halloween. Now many stores are starting in September. In fact, Hallmark rolls out their keepsake ornaments in July. Get real!
Political campaigns are just like Christmas. Last year, DeVos began running television commercials in February for a November gubernatorial campaign. Prior to DeVos, the norm in Michigan has been to start spending on television in May if your candidate is in a run-off primary election, and July if there are only two candidates running for the November general election.
There will always be an election of some sort in the works. So for those who are concerned … don’t worry about me. I’ll always be busy. Instead worry about those who do not realize there is an election every year. Encourage them to register and to vote … EVERY TIME! In Grand Rapids, the last mayoral race brought in a whopping 11.83% voter turnout. This is deplorable and unexcusable. This is your democracy, use it … or lose it.
Alright, so the Tingleys said we didn’t embarrass ourselves too badly last time out and we were welcome to write another column for the Local Area Watch. For our previous column they asked that we tell you about ourselves, and while I tried, I guess not everyone got the memo as my buddy went on and on about the Chamber of Commerce or some such malarkey.
So I figure, hey, with free reign this week I’m sure my friend on the left side of things will probably have something fantastically biting and excoriating to say about how things like success, jobs, profit, living within our means and survival are just plain rotten. And who can blame him when his girl Jennifer Granholm was just down in South East Michigan the other day holding a presser to tell everyone how happy she was that Daimler-Chrylser is ONLY laying off 1,400 moms and dads because, hey, it could be a lot worse!
So I figured, why not just let him have that one? Besides, there’s actually something that’s bugging me a lot closer to home these days.
Proving that to some lefties “consistency” is spelled with four letters and is better not uttered in public, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell is at it again. According to the Grand Rapids Press, his city administration sent an appeal to taxpayers this week asking them to donate their entire tax rebate to help fund city programs. And because asking wasn’t enough, they decided to prove the point that they really really need more of our money by inserting a bunch of allegedly bogus stats that has the Grand Rapids Public Schools up in arms over the insinuation that kids in GR just plain aren’t very smart.
This got me thinking (dangerous, I know)… what’s wrong with this Heartwell guy? He’s willing to mislead taxpayers by browbeating their kids and basically calling them dolts in order to get them to increase their own taxes to pay for city run programs (because no one runs a program better than the government) when he’s not willing to make any sacrifices himself?
I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that the good Mayor recently requested that taxpayers buy him a BRAND NEW FREAKING CAR! This at a time when the city and the state languish in a single-state depression and quake in the face of a massive budget shortfall. Good job, Mr. Mayor. Money wisely spent.
And I figure, since George Heartwell likes to write open letters to elected officials to let them know how he feels, well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. So without further ado, I present to you… an open letter to Mayor Heartwell.
The Honorable George Heartwell:
Your request and acceptance of a new $20,000 plus automobile this past March is deeply disappointing.
If you read many local blogs you've heard from me before on this subject. I know you've heard from residents all over this city. I don't have to tell you again about the disastrous consequences of this city failing to meet basic budgetary requirements. We're dying out here...and many of us are getting frustrated by the starkly mindless nature of your handling of city finances and financial planning. Most of us are worried...each concerned about the well-being of our neighborhoods. Today I feel particularly abandoned by my city and particularly angry about your selfish requests.
Recently you testified before the House Taxation Committee, providing a local perspective on the impact of Revenue Sharing reductions and urging Representatives to support massive tax hikes. You carried the same message to them that the city’s team carried to Senators Hardiman and Jansen (and all the members of the Grand Rapids area House delegation) when you were in Lansing on February 27th. Spending restraint isn’t evil: drive on Grand Rapids streets, look at our crime stats and ask if that has anything to do with the elimination 52 officers, look at staffing levels on our fire vehicles or visit our closed city pools. Grand Rapids under what passes for leadership in your administration and under your close friend Jennifer Granholm has cut 282 positions and been forced to deal with $84M in deficits. The quality of life, health, safety and education in our cities depends on having spending priorities to support necessary services. We're failing. And you choose now to ask the hardworking folks in Grand Rapids (those of us who still have a job) to buy you a brand new car?
A member of the House Taxation Committee asked you if you had considered raising local taxes to solve local problems. And you seem to think that’s a good idea. But the travesty in doing so is that if only you had back the $20,000 plus you’ve stolen from residents of Grand Rapids - seeking to solve your personal problems on the backs of your constituents - you would not have to consider raising that $20,000 plus in taxes.
We need courage from our elected leaders who, like you, claim to care about the vitality of cities. We need you to stop picking the pockets of taxpayers to solve personal problems. Yes, we need you to be bold enough to take the bus or buy your own freaking car. We're counting on you.
It should be no great mystery that the secret right arm of the Republican Party is… the Chamber of Commerce. Most legislation introduced by Republican legislators is actually written by the Chamber, not the actual elected legislators or their staff members.
The theory here is: If it is good for the businesses or corporations; it is good for Michigan. This is a concept which has always seemed to elude me. Democrats like myself have a different ideology, ours is: What is good for the people and families of Michigan is good for Michigan.
The Republican-led Michigan Senate has not only shot down the Governor’s budget plan and her 2% service tax; but they have failed to responsibly negotiate or accept a compromise to settle the differences in budget funding. Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R- Rochester) has emphatically stated that the entire budget crisis must be repaired with cuts and cuts alone; no tax increase would be acceptable to generate revenues.
However, as soon as the Chamber of Commerce chimes in with their idea of raising the gasoline tax (not diesel); Bishop and gang slide in lock-step with the idea. Republicans have not yet replaced the $1.9 billion Single Business Tax, as promised. Instead, Republicans are now proposing (as written by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce) to raise the state gasoline tax an additional nine cents. There is no talk, however, of raising the 15-cent tax on diesel fuel (used mostly by businesses) to the same level as the 19-cent gasoline tax, let alone the national average of about 22-cents. The GOP's gas tax hike could actually cost taxpayers, especially families, more than the service tax, which was estimated at $16.80 per taxpayer per year. The Chamber’s plan would cost a family $45 per vehicle, driving 10,000 miles a year at 20 miles per gallon.
Once again, the GOP under the direction of the Chamber of Commerce is shifting the tax burden from businesses and corporations to the individuals and families of Michigan. These businesses depend more on the infrastructure (roads, rail, etc.) of the state than the average person; trucks and service vehicles cause more wear and tear on our roads than cars or even SUV’s could ever cause. Yet, the Chamber is insistent that the people provide for the welfare and benefit of the corporate and small business needs by shifting the tax burden away from the businesses and placing that burden on the people.
This disconnect is really damaging Michigan. For nearly 25 years, Republican Legislators have chopped-up the Single Business Tax. In 2006, when the SBT was repealed, only 39% of all Michigan businesses were responsible for 93% of the SBT tax burden. The rest of the businesses have been given special exemptions by a multitude of bills over the years which are mostly responsible for the ineffectiveness of the SBT. Don’t get me wrong. I, like other Democrats and Republicans, agree that the SBT was an albatross on Michigan business and job growth. However, when the tax was repealed, it was supposed to be replaced with a fair and equitable business tax to replace the revenues that the SBT generated. The ‘bait and switch’ by the Republican legislature is irresponsible. Refusal to regenerate those lost revenues is to give all Michigan businesses a pass on paying their fair share to do business in Michigan. Meanwhile, the average folks like us; families who are already stretched to the limits will be responsible for funding Michigan through a gas tax or whatever else the Republican Legislators can throw at us on behalf of the Chamber.
The Michigan House Tax Policy Committee heard testimony back in February regarding the budget crisis. Testifying, were two former budget directors who served in the Engler Administration; alleging that budget cuts alone will not resolve the state's fiscal problems. Don Gilmer, currently Kalamazoo County's Administrator and Doug Roberts both prepared Executive Budget proposals for former Governor John Engler and served on the Governor's emergency fiscal advisory panel. In their comments, both men indicated that it is imperative for the two parties to work in unison to develop a solution to the uncertainty that exists in the state's tax structure. They went on to claim that the current tax policy is stunting the state's economic recovery.
Both witnesses stressed it is virtually impossible to resolve a projected $900 million deficit in this fiscal year by implementing spending cuts alone. They also noted the cuts enacted this year will not address the looming fiscal deficit facing the state in the coming fiscal year. To the claim that a tax increase is a "non-starter" within the Legislature, Mr. Gilmer, a Republican and a former Chair of the House Appropriations Committee stated, "To sit here and say we absolutely will not raise taxes defies reality more than anything I've ever seen."
However, one needs to put things in to perspective. The Chamber of Commerce is a member organization which only exists to lobby on behalf of their member businesses and their needs. It is sad that their lobbying power far exceeds that of the average person or typical family. But the pure fact of the matter is that as long as the Chamber of Commerce ‘OWNS’ their legislators; the people will be pushed to the wayside for the benefit of more corporate growth at the expense of individuals and families. The only way for the people to fight back is to pay attention and watch their legislators. Those who do not properly represent their constituents needs to be voted out of office in the next election. The people need to remember that they hold the power to chose their legislators and to hold them accountable for their actions in office.
The bottom line here is simple. Democrats in Lansing have been asking for a dialogue with the Republican Senate. They have been trying to work toward a fair and equitable solution to the budget crisis. This crisis is not the fault of either party. The crisis is a result of outsourcing and a reduction in manufacturing state-wide. However, one cannot negotiate with someone who is unwilling to talk. Mr. Bishop has offered his plan, ‘all cuts, and cuts alone’. This emphatic outlook is not a means to a dialogue, it does not offer a way to compromise, and it does not serve the people of Michigan. By definition, a compromise is a system of gives and takes. If Bishop is unwilling to allow for any give, a compromise cannot be made. Regardless of which political party you subscribe to; the goal of each side should be the same… to do what is best for Michigan, not just the members of the Chamber of Commerce.
So this is what it’s like to write for Local Area Watch, huh? Not bad. Not bad at all.
The Tingleys were kind enough to offer the opportunity to submit an article every now and again and I’m thrilled to be here… you know, watching the local area. Most of my days are spent watching a slightly larger area, the state of Michigan. Over at RightMichigan.com we like to say we bring you the latest Michigan political news and commentary from the right perspective (get it?) every morning. This is citizen journalism at its finest. We’re watch-dogging Lansing every day and I promise you we won’t be as forgiving as the mainstream press.
But the site’s also about the online community. Conservative thinkers in Michigan have never really had a home on the web. We’ve been wandering the wilderness, cold and alone. Right Michigan might not be the Promised Land (I couldn’t find any milk or honey), but at the very least it’s a really groovy camp-site with a fire-pit and lots of sticks for making smores.
So once you’re done here at LAW, grab a beach chair and some marshmallows, start your own Diary at RM and make camp!
Introducing the site reminds me, I suppose I should introduce myself. Hi everyone. My name’s Nick (now you say “Hi Nick”) and I’m a newsaholic. I’m also a conservative, which makes it frustrating to watch the mainstream media and the nightly news, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m six feet tall, have blonde hair and blue eyes, love the Denver Broncos, long walks on the beach and puppies. What’s that? Oh, right. Sorry. You don’t care.
I promise, over on RightMichigan.com we all do our best to talk about the actual issues of the day… things that matter. Not that puppies aren’t great. But when Governor Granholm and 2010 gubernatorial candidate and House Speaker Andy Dillon think it’s a good idea to raise taxes by $3 Billion (yeah, with a B) despite the fact Michigan continues to hemorrhage jobs, is the only state in the nation that’s lost jobs over the last few years (one every ten minutes) while the rest of the country has created millions (plural) of them, exports our families and our college graduates to other states where they can find a paycheck, has a business sector expecting to hire 43% fewer college grads this year than last, leaves 250+ million tax dollars on the table and has the second or third highest unemployment rate in the United States depending on the month, well, we’re too busy for puppies.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m not really all that happy about the way things are going here in Michigan these days. And I’m not a subscriber to the theory that we can tax our way to prosperity. I’m a pretty traditional conservative. If there’s something folks can do for themselves, well, they should. Less government is often more. Not that there isn’t a place for government. It should protect her people from threats foreign and domestic, whether they’re inside a womb or out, it should provide an infrastructure… things like that. There’s this great document some old guys wrote a few hundred years ago. It’s called the Constitution. I’m a fan.
And a lot of who I am comes from my time (27+ years now) in Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids is a positive place. It’s a place where folks would rather discuss issues than trade soundbytes. And that’s a uniquely conservative trait, these days. Conservatism is about ideas. Sure, personalities help, but it’s the ideas that drive us.
If you’ve read many blogs you’ve probably noticed a tone. People just tend to be nasty. There’s a race to the bottom. Going to that lowest common denominator is easy. Why have an honest debate on an issue when you can come up with a clever nickname for someone and insult them instead?
I’ve been blessed to work with some amazing people during my time in and around Lansing. I spent most of 2005 and 2006 traveling with Dick DeVos as the Director of Advance for team D4G. If you’ve ever had the chance to meet Dick you know he’s a nice guy. If you live in Grand Rapids you know he’s a generous guy. And if you’ve ever worked for or alongside Dick you know there’s a lot he can teach you.
Last year’s election was the nastiest I ever remember. I know, folks say that every election cycle… things just seem to get worse. But I couldn’t have been prouder of the way Dick handled himself. While the governor and her friends were out calling him names and telling people he wanted to eat their babies he was always respectful. Jennifer Granholm was always “The Governor.” Never Jennifer. Never “Granholm.” Nothing but respect.
And while that’s a trait that was exceedingly unique in Michigan politics, it’s not a trait that’s unique in Grand Rapids. It’s the way we operate. So when Mayor Heartwell asks the City to buy him a new car despite declining funds from the state via revenue sharing and a general understanding throughout the city that this is a time to cut and reform government at all levels, not purchase luxury items, we can simply point out that we fervently disagree with him. We needn’t call him names, question his intellect or his understanding of the situation the city finds itself in during a chronic budget crisis.
We simply smile and say “no” and maybe if we want to push the envelope we’ll point out that the idea itself is one of the dumbest we’ve heard in years.
There’s a lot that the rest of the state could learn from the way we do things in Grand Rapids. We’re incredibly generous, consistently among the top cities in America when it comes to giving. Folks like the DeVos and Van Andel families certainly help that bottom line, but as much as they’ve rubbed off on the city, they’ll be the first to tell you, Grand Rapids has rubbed off on them.
The city has a long tradition of fostering the entrepreneurial spirit. And couldn’t we use a lot more of that in Michigan these days. We have great neighborhoods and a lot of people who care. You can’t beat it.
But that’s not to say I love everything about the city. I’m far from a homer. For instance, I think the Calder is hideous … I just don’t get it. Sacrilege, I know. But I don’t hold it against Grand Rapids and I hope you won’t hold it against me. And I have a problem with the way a lot of our electeds look more for ways to get their names in the news than for ways to actually help the city (anyone remember the Mayor, his giant “I know something you don’t know” smile and his billion dollar riverfront development?). If the city’s success has a public downside it’s a sort of reactionary pomp born of sycophantic insecurity. And what’s more frustrating than that?
Thanks, all, for reading. Bridget’s standing off to the side holding a really big hook right now so I’m going to take that as a sign it’s time to beat feet. And that look in her eye … guess she likes the Calder.
The Local Area Watch is pleased to announce that we are adding a new feature this month.
As our regular readers know, we focus on River City. However, state issues are also important. Therefore, we have invited two guest writers to periodically report and comment upon statewide matters.
Our new writers are Nick De Leeuw of RightMichigan.com and Jeff Winston of MichiganLiberal.com. As you might have guessed, Nick will have a conservative take on the issues and Jeff a liberal one. However, both hail from the Grand Rapids area and so share a local perspective. We have enjoyed their writing and encourage you to not just read their articles here but to also visit their websites.
Nick's and Jeff's articles will appear about once a month.
Nick's will be titled "A View from the Right".
Jeff's will be titled "A View from the Left".
Generally we will ask our pundits to comment on timely topics of the day. However, in their inaugural articles, we asked Nick and Jeff to introduce themselves in their own way. Nick offered us a general overview about himself and what he thinks of River City in a good-humored way. Jeff, who has the task of managing Jim Rinck's campaign for mayor, is focused on the political issues of the day.
By all means, use the comment button at the end of each article and share your thoughts with us, Nick, and Jeff. Ask questions, make remarks, offer suggestions for topics. This is our city and our state … make your voice heard.
The one thing that makes us a cohesive nation - our common language of English - tossed out the window with a wave of the hand. By jove - we can't have a single thing that makes us solidified - not even our shared language!!! The lengths our politicians will go to keep us divided and not united is unbelievable.
I'll leave you with this little ditty....
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work they go... Not for me and not for you... They make us broke and spend our dough... Hi Ho, Hi Ho...
The Pig in the Python The dirty little secret behind the success and failure of every school reform that the education establishment, the public school bureaucrats, and the teachers unions will never reveal.
The Fool's Gold of a College Education Most kids who get a college degree today have nothing but an expensive credential that lands them a job that any high school graduate could have gotten a generation ago -- WITHOUT the heavy burden of paying back a student loan.
The Fixer A four-part series about the local attorney behind the demise of Autodie, Butterworth Hospital, Amway, and Old Kent. Warning: Strong accusations of corruption, greed, and skullduggery. Not for the feint of heart.
Poison The nasty nature of the 26,000 tons of poison that The Boardwalk's developers dug up and then dumped upon the rest of us.
No Honor Among Thieves: The Demise of Quixtar The re-branding of Amway as Quixtar put lipstick on the pig, but none of the crappy way of doing business changed. Now comes public scrutiny around the world to control its kingpins and clean up the dirty "tools" business.
Lost Cause A story of how River City lost its way to a secure economic future.
Living Wage Kills Jobs City pols support a Marxist policy that, like all Marxist policies, hurt the very people they say it will help.
Defenders Who Do Not Defend Excessive plea-bargaining, lack of preparation, shoddy to non-existent representation, conflicts of interests are rife among lawyers taking public defender cases on the taxpayer dime.