Saturday, July 29, 2006

That's not quite how I remember it

I got this in an email from the DeVos campaign the other day:
I've been a part of turnarounds before. When my hometown, Grand Rapids, was stagnating in the 1980s and 1990s I brought together a team of leaders and community members to help turn our city around. Now there are jobs, people are moving downtown.
Now I'm not native to Grand Rapids, but I have lived here about 22 years. Beginning in the late 60s, downtown GR was indeed stagnating, and the turnaround he's talking about began, I believe, in the 70s, when the DeVos and Van Andel families refurbished the old Pantlind Hotel downtown.

Well, Dick DeVos was probably barely 20 years old when this started, and though he is a member of one of the families that helped spearhead the building boom in GR, his father Rich and partner Jay really have been seen as the powers behind it. When this point came up earlier in the DeVos campaign, Rich, it seemed to me just kind of publicly shrugged his shoulders. Whatever will help get the son elected, so be it, is what it seems he was thinking.
When Alticor, the company I led for 10 years, was faced with competitive challenges and a new global reality, I transformed our business into a global powerhouse, insourcing work from other companies to fill our manufacturing lines and selling our own Michigan-made products all over the world.
This is another point where my memory and his diverge. If I remember correctly, Rich and Jay officially handed the reins over to the next generation in the early- to mid-90s. In 1996 the business tanked in the U.S., their primary market.

Between 1996 and the end of 1999, a lot happened: Dick left the business, Dave Van Andel took over as chief, then Doug DeVos and Steve Van Andel emerged as President and Chairman, respectively. Given this timetable, it doesn't seem to me that Dick DeVos could have been regarded as company chief for 10 years. Still, he carefully chooses to say "the company I led." And since as a family member he was part of the company's governing board at the time, I suppose he can use this phrase, however misleading.

Also during this time, "globalization" happened in waves, with the much-reported layoffs in U.S. operations and the opening of manufacturing in China. North America launched an internet business under a new name, which would soon replace the old business entirely (in name, if nothing else). Then, sometime after 2000, the company reorganized, with the parent company DeVos names above as the umbrella over the sister companies, one of which is the manufacturing component he's talking about. That part he got right. One of the smartest things the company has done over the last five or six years was to spin off its manufacturing division so it's no longer making products only for the distributor force, but using its vast R&D resources and manufacturing capacity to make private label home care and personal care products for other companies.
We can make change happen if we bring people together, set clear goals, and take action. I've been there, I've done it.
And so you can see why I'm not altogether sure he has a valid claim to make when he says "I've done it."

When he spoke on the Huge show a couple of weeks ago, DeVos expressed amazement at the number of people who weren't aware of his connection to what we know is his family's business. Seems to me that in this email and in his campaign he is taking advantage of that. And of people's short memories. That's why I wish I had some documentation on all of this that's better than my memory. It's the kind of thing that shouldn't go unrefuted.

Update: DeVos left the family company in 2002 according to MLM Survivor. I stand corrected.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Christine on liberal blogging, dick lingo

A beautiful Friday afternoon and I should be working. (Actually, I should be at Meijer Gardens with my family, but if I want to take tomorrow off for a family reunion, I'd better get some work done today. Such is the life of a freelance writer.) Anyway, I had to take a minute to point you to two great posts from Christine.

Yesterday, she laid out 5 Roles for Liberal Bloggers that are worth putting on your tackboard:
  • Research, present, and analyze the facts
  • Rally the base
  • Whack a mole (go read the post)
  • Support each other
  • Support candidates and issues
"Support each other" really resonates with me. Christine, Cathleen, Kathy, Matt and Laura all have been supportive of this blog since it decided to get a little more political, with links to posts and linkups on blogrolls. In fact, I think it was one of them who put coit avenue on LeftyBlogs. All that support has encouraged me to keep blogging -- and to delve a bit more into issues and candidates than I have in the past. Though I don't come close to any of them in knowledge or analytical skill, I figure every little bit helps.

In another post yesterday, Christine cautions us to look for this boilerplate "dick language" in letters to the editor in suppport of DeVos:
  • “We need a leader who is not a career politician or a lawyer and who has signed the front of a paycheck, not just the back. “
  • “Dick is a proven business leader”
  • “Dick has pledged to end Michigan’s job-killing Single Business Tax”
The two newspaper examples she offers contain dick lingo, word for word. So she's encouraging people to get ahold of DeVos's boilerplate letters and "combat these Weapons of Mass Deception by writing some pre-emptive letters of your own."

I like that.

Monday, July 17, 2006

It's the university system, stupid

Writing about Google's recent announcement to put an expansion site in Ann Arbor, GR Press business columnist Nancy Crawley says it's our university system that will continue to attract sought-after knowledge and technology companies to Michigan (emphasis mine):
In this success story, one lesson stands out. An excellent university was the key economic development tool. It was not taxes. Not roads and sewers. Not facilities. And certainly not the weather ... Higher education was the key.
Nice swipe at the DeVos campaign, Nancy. I wonder if she got the same email I did?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tale of two campaigns

On July 12, I got this email from the DeVos campaign (yes, I signed up to receive their emails. Just keeping tabs on things ... )
Hi, I'm Dick DeVos and thanks for joining me in our quest to become Michigan's new Governor. Change takes courage but that's one of Michigan's prime assets. We're ready for bold, courageous and profound change.

If you look at every economic index that matters, where we should be first, we're last or darn close to it. It's shocking to me that we're at the top of the national list when it comes to bankruptcies, foreclosures and bad and unsafe roads.

Michigan can do better, we must and we will. I can turn our state around. But I can't do it alone. Nor can I win this campaign against Governor Granholm without you.
I think it's interesting to see that while DeVos makes claims about Michigan being at the bottom of economic indices, he gives us no figures. Instead he cites forclosures, bad roads and bankruptcies as things we "excel" at.

In contrast, here's this message I got on the same day from Governor Granholm's Fight Back campaign:
Republicans like to use a lot of tricky rankings to portray gloom and doom scenarios for Michigan’s future. Governor Granholm knows that there is a lot of work to be done to get our economy back on track, but she has also made a lot of progress – including the Google decision this week to build a new headquarters in Michigan. We are now ranked among the best states to do business in from numerous non-partisan sources:

- #9 ranking for most competitive tax burden in the country according to Laffer Associates State Rankings
- #8 most competitive business climate and #4 in Corporate Facilities and Expansions according to Site Selection Magazine in 2005
- #2 in capital investment in the country according to Ernst & Young in 2005
Yeah, I know that both of these are what campaigning is all about. But in my book, DeVos continues to be elusive. I doubt, in spite of the "big disclosure coming up" referred to in the video that accompanies this email, that we'll get any clearer picture of his "plans" for Michigan.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Granholm for Guv: Go tell 'em why

Over at the Granholm Campaign Blog they want our input:
For the final 100 days up to the Election (the countdown begins on July 29th), we will be featuring “100 Reasons to Vote for Jennifer Granholm and John Cherry,” written by Michigan voters like you, in your own words, on the front page of
Go on over and make your thoughts known. I already did.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Huge interview for DeVos

Sports talk radio's Huge (Bill Simonson) spoke with gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos during the Steve Smith Charity Challenge golf event here in GR today. Former Italian Ambassador Pete Secchia co-hosted the conversation. (Note: Don't ask me about the Huge-Secchia connection. I asked my husband to explain, but I still don't get it. Even so, the two can make for some entertaining listening.)

When I tuned in, they'd been talking for a few minutes already, and the subject was sports, of course. When Huge asked the candidate what was one thing he would have like to do in sports, DeVos answered "If I had the size, I would have loved to play college football." Then Secchia chimed in to tell us that younger bro Doug played quarterback at Perdue. And he listed off all the sports teams the DeVos family owns or has owned. Huge proclaimed the family to be "monster sports fans" and we got to hear Dick reminisce about family trips to Florida in the car, where all they could manage to pack in was a bat and an old beat-up ball ... the first thing he and his brothers would do when they arrived was play "pickle" on the beach with their dad (Rich DeVos, Amway co-founder) ... ah, the fond memories. I didn't know he was such a down-to-earth guy.

Secchia then felt compelled to contribute a mini-history of the success of DeVos-family business Amway, but Huge steered the topic back to sports. So I was surprised when he transitioned to the topic of RDV and Secchia receiving the Woodrow Wilson Award recently, where Rich stated during the ceremony that he was proud of his son for running for governor, which set up the very pointed question: "So why did you decide to take a shot at running for governor?"

Well, DeVos didn't say anything we haven't heard already, but it was funny to listen to him weave in the obligatory sports metaphors. Some paraphrase from the interview:

Huge: So why did you decide to take a shot at running for governor?

DeVos: I think I can make a difference, offer something worthwhile, make a contribution ... Let's get out there and make this state better. Michigan is struggling. I talk to people everyday who tell me their kids are leaving because they can't get a job here. It just breaks my heart to see that kids are leaving. I can't just sit on the sidelines. Put me in, coach. I've got the business background to apply to make this state a better place.

Huge: What's the first thing you'd do as governor?

I'd get rid of this thing called the Single Business Tax ... It's a job killer. I want to put Michigan back on track with the rest of the country. We need a substitution in this game. You know how sometimes a game goes along and you need to pick up the tempo to win? We need a tempo change in this game.

Huge: What's the toughest thing you've faced so far in your campaign?

It's a big state. Ten million people live here. Every day I'm going out there, shaking hands, talking to people. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication, but I'm out there every day. That's been my biggest challenge physically. But I'm in training for that, too. In business I got up and went to work every day.

It's been a thrill for me to get to know so many people. It has been an honor to be a candidate. We're very pleased with the results. A year ago everyone said, 'no way can you win,' and here today we're tied in the race. But we're definitely the underdog. But it's not about winning for me. It's about changing this state, bringing the kids home. That's what it's about for me.

Secchia: So you have all these people telling you they'll vote for you, but how do you know they'll go to the polls?

That's always a good question. But when I have someone look me in the eye and say, 'I voted for the other team last time, but this time I'm supporting you,' I know they mean it. We've got to change this state. And we're not going to change it by putting the same team on the field.

People are resonating with the fact that it's time for a businessman to step up. I've got the background. I've created jobs. I know how to do business in international markets. I turned a company around ...

That was about it, except for a little banter among the three as Huge wound down the interview. Like I said, not much there. But fun for all the metaphor reaching!

From the DeVos blog: funny

Saw this entry today on the DeVos campaign blog "Blog from the Trail." Well, I won't make you link to it -- here's the text:
Check this out from the Herald Palladium. It appears Michigan is a laughing stock. The fact that we weren’t even a consideration for the Honda plant isn’t a laughing matter. What are your thoughts?
And here's the cartoon that went with it:My thoughts? Yes, I get it, but it's a football joke ... lighten up a little! It is funny.
A couple of other observations about the blog:
  • A number of people contribute to it. This is good
  • Their posts seem to be very much PR edited. This is not so good. Such obvious "on-message" editing isn't the stuff of blogs. The commentary doesn't come off as real or credible.
  • Many of the posts consist of a statement followed by the question, "What are your thoughts?" Again, not so good. If you're trying to engage the blogosphere, let's see some meat here to respond to. But then again, that's probably not their point.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Checking DeVos ad claims

I wrote this on June 19 but somehow never posted it.

In their fourth "Claim Check" on the Dick DeVos advertising campaign, Wood TV 8 reports on the recent TV spot, Unemployed (video, transcript):
... the claim is made that one job is lost in the state every ten minutes since Governor Grahholm took office. According to the DeVos campaign, that would add to to nearly 160,000 jobs.
The article goes on to point out Bureau of Labor Statistics press releases on DeVos's website that purportedly support the claim. Of course, if you actually read these, you'll see that they simply summarize state and regional unemployment percentages for the last three years. And that yes, Michigan (along with Alaska) tops the list among states, unemployment-wise.

Then TV 8 cites a different table on the BLS site, which shows a lower unemployment percentage for Michigan than the reports cited by DeVos -- with the numbers showing more like 82,000 jobs lost, a significant difference. The state GOP site has yet another calculation, and of course, Gov. Granholm uses a different figure and observes that however you slice it, "the job loss lies on the doorsteps of George W. Bush and John Engler," according to this article.

I resent the number crunching by the DeVos campaign -- turning a single digit percentage (which, though huge by unemployment standards still is a small number on its own) into a "jobs lost per minute" metric in an effort to make the problem seem more immediately threatening.

I give credit to TV8 for the effort here, even though the reporting seems to me to be less probing or thoughtful than it should be. It's always good to call somebody on their use/misuse of numbers and statistics. If there's anything I've learned in my years of writing marketing communications, it's that you can make numbers say just about anything you want.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"Blue Wave" Pere Marquette Beach

I grew up about a mile from Muskegon's Pere Marquette Beach and I've always thought it was one of the best beaches anywhere. Seems the Clean Beaches Council agrees. As the Muskegon Chronicle reports, for the fifth year running now the council has certified the vast expanses of white sugar sand at PM as a Blue Wave beach. It's the only beach in Michigan that's certified, just one of two Great Lakes beaches so honored and one of just 46 national Blue Wave beaches, most of them in Florida. Get a glimpse of Michigan's "best kept secret" here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

On this Independence Day

Update: I'd cross posted this entry to my diary on Michigan Liberal. Matt has now promoted it to the front page. Thanks, Matt!

Ever the procrastinating writer, I just finished this account of an experience I had on June 13. It's a reminder on this Independence Day that liberty and justice aren't just things to be fought for on a battlefield far away ...

I drove downtown to the church to get Meg and Susan's music so they'd have it for their choir tour to Seattle. (They thought they were to leave it there, but apparently not. They're leaving tomorrow, so I thought I'd better pick it up.) I was only going to be there a minute, so I parked in the no-parking zone alongside the Jefferson St. door. As I got out of the truck I saw a maybe middle-aged black couple walking across the parking lot toward the door. She was wheeling a pull-behind grocery cart full of what I guessed were bags of food and he carried several plastic grocery bags, also full. I went inside.

Quite a few people were there for a Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.: the greeter was an older woman I didn't recognize. She was sitting at the desk knitting. One of custodians and a woman named Helen were sitting across the hallway from the desk. The three of them were talking. I went up the short flight of stairs to the offices to find the music secretary, who had called me about the music folders yesterday. Also there were the interim pastor for mission and a couple of women I didn't recognize. The secretary showed me where the girls' folders were -- I had walked right past them -- and we chatted a minute about how much fun the kids are going to have in Seattle. Then I left.

As I headed toward the door, the black couple came in, the woman first. She was nicely dressed in a long printed navy rayon skirt with matching overblouse. He had on a polo, some nondescript-colored pants and sneakers. He might have been a little older than she; he was graying at the temples, but her pulled-back hair was still all-black. I was still smiling from my exchange with the secretary, and as I passed them I said, "Hi." We have many people from the Heartside neighborhood who come into the church -- for food, coffee, neighborhood meetings, whatever. Some are looking for handouts, some just come in to talk. But the door is always open during the day (hence the "greeter" at the desk). It's not that I'm so overly friendly, but I sometimes think they might feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, so I always try to at least say hello.

They both said hi to me as I walked past, then the woman stopped and turned. "Ma'am, can I ask you something?" she said. I turned around. "Now, I'm not trying to rob you or anything like that. We just picked up all this food from the pantry here, and our ride never showed up. Do you think you could give us a ride home? We live way up on Fuller and Adams and it's a long walk." She talked fast, like she wanted to get it all out before I had a chance to say anything, especially no.

I hesitated. "Where do you live?" She told me again. I said, "Did you see the truck I pulled up in? What a mess it is?" My little Ford Ranger truck has a seriously messed up front end and a smashed windshield. The passenger-side mirror is missing its glass and the rear taillight on that side consists of red paper taped over bare bulbs.

She had seen it. "I don't care. I'll ride in the back of that thing if I have to. We just can't walk all that way with all these groceries." I still was hesitating, trying to size things up. They always tell us at the church not to give things to the neighborhood people who ask -- there are agencies, including our own food pantry, to take care of them. And I have seen people panhandling there. Drunks sleeping it off on a bench in our atrium. Mentally ill people who blurt out inappropriate comments during the service. People who come to the door after-hours asking for food or "money to buy milk for my baby." Then the woman said, "Or, there's a bus coming by here, the Eastern bus. If you could just help us get on that bus, we'd be grateful."

"No, I can take you. There are jump seats behind the seats in the truck, if you want to sit back there. It's kind of cramped."

While she talked to me, the man stood off, not getting involved in the conversation, not hovering. He set himself completely apart from the scene, and he seemed to be looking for something else -- the restroom, a drinking fountain. Later it came out that he was leaving the asking to her -- they'd already been rebuffed twice that day and he figured a black woman was less threatening than a black man to anybody they might encounter. He's right, I'm sure, even though the two of them looked anything but menacing. Now when she turned to him and said, "She's gonna take us," he lit up and a big smile crossed his face. I think the two of them said thank you more than once as they pushed the cart back out the door. But I don't really remember. I was thinking, "Well, I guess I'm doing this."

I also remembered how Meg was waiting on the other side of town for me to pick her up after a haircut. I had already warned my husband that I might not be back in time to get her, just because of the distance and possible traffic. Now he'd have to pick her up for sure. At least she'd have a ride.

We loaded the groceries into the bed of the truck. Then I shoved the front passenger seat forward so the woman could climb in the back. After she was settled in, the man settled into the front seat. I went around to the driver's side, got in, started the engine. "Where are we going?" I asked, because I am directionally challenged. Especially in the part of town we were going to. He directed me out of the parking lot and on my way. And the two of them started in to talking.

Oh my gosh, did they talk. I learned they were husband and wife (which I had figured by now) and they had come to Grand Rapids recently from Flint to take care of his aunt, who had throat cancer. I learned they had just moved to the apartment complex on Adams St. (apparently subsidized housing, which I had never even heard of) from the Dwelling Place downtown, and how it was that they were at our food pantry even though they lived so far away: They were allowed this one last trip here, then they had to start frequenting another place.

As we drove toward the southeast part of town, I heard all about their 8-year old grandson, "Poo-Poo" who was coming soon to live with them again. Poo-Poo, or Marcus, was born to their son and his girlfriend when he was 15, she 14, and as the baby's grandparents, they had pretty much raised him. Further, I found out that this son and an older one are currently in prison. Marcus's father in particular is incredibly gifted musically and athletically.

I slid a comment in about my own son who has had a few run-ins with the law himself. We talked about how it doesn't matter how well you raise your kids -- they sometimes just make bad choices. And they have to live with them.

All of this was matter-of-fact, bubbling talk from both of them. They talked to me so eagerly, interrupting each other good naturedly and constantly finishing one another's thoughts and sentences. "Listen to us talking so much," he said at one point, laughing. "We just don't get out and see anybody," she added. "There's nobody to talk to!"

I drove maybe eight or 10 miles while they talked and laughed -- they even joked about what most would call misfortune. The subject turned to their experience that afternoon. She told me how they'd been snubbed by a man outside the church when she approached him for help. Another man told her, "I don't help 'you people.'"

"I mean, " she said to me, "how can you judge us by our skin color? You don't know who I am, where I came from. I am someone just like you."

He told how the woman at the state welfare agency put off meeting with them on food stamps for the entire 45 days allowed by law. She scheduled a meeting with them on the 45th day. "It just doesn't make sense," he said. The state has to back-pay all the food stamps from the time of their application, "so why the delay?" he asked.

They told me they're living on $97 a month right now while they're waiting for his Social Security to come through, I assume because of their moving to another city. "But you just have to go with it," he said, shrugging.

By now we'd arrived at the Adams St. complex. I drove to the front, where an elderly black man sitting outside in a wheelchair watched, obviously curious as I helped them unload their groceries. Then my passengers thanked me and shook my hand, first him, then her.

As they were leaving, she stooped to scratch her shin at the hem of her skirt. "I've got such allergies," she laughed and she showed me the rash on her lower leg. She asked if I had a dollar so she could buy a packet of Tylenol from the machine inside. I reached inside the truck and rummaged in my wallet, giving her the only bill I had -- a five. She hugged me and shook my hand again. "Now I can get a couple of Diet Cokes, too," she said. Her smile was broad. "Bless you."

I said goodbye, climbed in the truck and drove off. We never even exchanged names.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Tiger pitcher blogging

Nate Robertson of the Big League Chew rally recently started a blog. Gum Time seems to be the only "official" Tiger player blog, that is, it's the only one of its kind on the MLB website.

Only one post so far: "How Gum Time Started" features lots of photos accompanying the now- legendary story of how Nate's chewing got a rally going a few weeks ago when the Yankees had 'em down 5-0 in the third. (They rallied for sure, but still lost the game.)

Well the BLC rally has been a media splash and now Nate's got a blog. Don't know if he's got a ghost writer or not, but it'll be interesting to see if this keeps up. Go Tigers!

The GRP's new face online

Update: Looking around the site today I notice a couple of things for correction/addition: The RSS feeds right now are only for the blogs [:( ]. But the Press does offer a listing of local blogs. And MLive is asking for students to blog for them.

Wow! I'm impressed.

Last month sometime when I wasn't paying attention, the Press upgraded its online presence. Yeah, it's still part of the mostly miserable MLive collection, and content still isn't much more current than in the printed paper, but it looks a whole lot better and it's easier to use. And it's added new features.

After the new look, (MUCH cleaner -- good job!), most notable among these is the addition of RSS feeds to the site (although I still don't find evidence of RSS on the homepage). I've sent at least two emails to the Press over the last couple of years asking for this and finally they've caught up with the times! Thanks. Now I don't have to go searching every day to see if there's something I want to read.

The other feature they've added is blogs (yay). These are written by Press folks we all know of like Kyla King, John Serba, John Gonzalez. So far the blogs look kinda like their usual reporting, that is, the tone isn't quite personal and the content's not too far outside what's in the paper. But they're openly asking readers for feedback to spark the discussion, so I think they'll get the hang of things.

My question for reporter-bloggers is always, "How much does this add to your regular workload?" I can't help but think it's an added assignment that might not necessarily be appreciated, but who knows? After all, blogs, if they're doing their job, are a foray into the "wisdom of the crowd," reaching out and tapping the collective knowledge and intelligence of the community. Seems like a pretty big job for folks who already work full-time. But maybe the Press will get all the way into this blog thing by reaching out to community bloggers for content, too. Then we can get some really good conversations going!

Anyhow, good job, GR Press!