Thursday, August 31, 2006

DeVos blog-vertising

Somebody searching the phrase "Dick DeVos doesn't know Tigers" (he doesn't, btw) hit this blog the other day, so I looked to see what the search turned up. The blog was #2 on the list, though it didn't give the searcher what he/she was looking for. Even more interesting though: the #1 return was from the very-loud conservative Hugh Hewitt's Townhall blog. His post from Aug. 19 cited a David Broder column on the Michigan governor's race supporting the tactics of DeVos and pretty much recommending them to other Republicans in similar situations of trying to unseat Democratic governors. Hewitt quotes from a recent DeVos TV ad (you've seen it) in which a man talks about his personal experience with being unemployed:
"I've spent two months looking for a job. This last month we had to dip into our savings to pay for health care, a thousand bucks a month, but I can't do that very long without saying, 'Crap! I got to move.' Nobody seems to be serious about all the work that's been leaving the state. The next governor, they need to be serious about bringing work into this state to take care of the people who are voting them into that office."
Hewitt then sums it up:
The message is that governors do indeed matter a great deal in whether state economies grow or contract. High taxing/big spending governors kill jobs ... But the message of the DeVos campaign isn't copyrighted, and expect that it will appear in battleground states across the country. Jobs matter. Democratic governors kill them.
All very maddening, to be sure. But here's what really got me when I went to Hewitt's site: DeVos is all over that blog! On the main page, the top banner is a rotating 'DeVos for Governor' strip. On the page where this article appears, the top banner again stumps for DeVos, plus there are multi-media DeVos-placed ads on both the right and left sides.

DeVos has been playing it up in mainstream media for months and ads on the high-profile conservative blogs are a no-brainer, I guess. But it shows me two things: The man indeed has intentions far beyond the governor's seat here in Michigan. And big bucks can get you exposure and votes in the polls even (especially?) when your message is without substance. I have faith that the people in Michigan know better, but Granholm has to keep up the fight (she will). We can't be taken in by such stuff.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Vote Rinck for 'Michigan First' endorsement

Michigan Liberal has put up it's slate for the "Michigan First" endorsement for candidates for the US House. There's a list of 8 Dems up against Republican incumbents and your vote for Jim Rinck (CD03 Grand Rapids) will ensure him plenty of free publicity on MichLib plus "bragging rights," not to mention a possible campaign contribution or two. Voting ends Sept. 5 at 5 p.m. So go to Michigan Liberal (start an account if you haven't already) and vote right now.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

DDV volunteer employed by ...

In my weekly news from the DeVos campaign, I see that this week's volunteer "hails from Ada." And I'll give you one guess where she works and has worked for years. Not that there's anything wrong with this, you understand. Just thought you'd like to know. And wonder along with me how much other campaign work, subtle and not-so-subtle, may be going on in those venerable halls.
Volunteer of the Week: Kate Vincent

This week's Volunteer of the Week hails from Ada

Kate has been an active and enthusiastic volunteer for the campaign for change since the end of March. Kate volunteers because she believes Michigan needs a change and that Dick will deliver change. "Dick has done so much for our community. Dick and his family have helped to resurrect the downtown area. He doesn't need this job. We need him," she said. Kate has not only volunteered every week, but has brought in new volunteers to help bring change to Michigan. Thank you, Kate, for your hard work. You are an asset to our campaign for change!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Remembering First Sgt. Aaron D. Jagger

Michigan Liberal reported tonight that Army First Sgt. Aaron D. Jagger of Hillsdale has died in Iraq, one of three soldiers killed by a roadside bomb last Wednesday near Ar Ramadi. Here's my comment on the post:
Aaron was a student of mine
The first job I had out of college in 1977 was teaching in a tiny school in Hillsdale County called Camden-Frontier school.

I taught high school English and French back then and Aaron was one of my students. I remember him -- isn't that funny? All those years ago and I was only there two years ...

I remember Aaron's family was new to the area. I remember he struggled with French. I remember him coming to my place with a bunch of the kids for a French dinner I put on for them at the end of the year. He brought his guitar, which had a pick up so it was amplified like an electric one. He played really well.

In 1978 I was advisor for the junior class and he was instrumental in helping build our homecoming float. I remember it was some kind of mechanical dinosaur thing and it took first place. Aaron was "artsy" compared to the mostly farm kids who grew up around there, and he didn't seem to make a lot of friends right away. He was a nice, friendly, hard-working kid. I liked him.

I've often wondered what happened to my students from back then. I moved to East Lansing, then Grand Rapids and lost track of all of them. It's hard to believe they're in their 40s now -- to me they'll always be high schoolers trying to grow up.

I haven't thought about Aaron in all this time. Seeing this post then reading the article in the Hillsdale Daily made me sad. A wife and five daughters he leaves behind. Aaron and his family deserved better. Our young people deserve better. The people of this country deserve better.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

GR Mayor Heartwell decries repeal of SBT

GR Mayor George Heartwell weighed in against the repeal of the SBT in Saturday's Press, with these three points:
  • In an anti-tax environment, there are only three places to draw replacement revenues once the SBT is gone: revenue sharing with cities, education and the prison system. With corrections unlikely to be touched, the money will have to come from the cities, meaning less police and fire protection, etc., and from the schools. And we know what that means.
  • The SBT is used as a way to create tax credits toward redevelopment of brownfield sites. Grand Rapids alone has such projects in development to the tune of about $600 million. Brownfield redevelopment is a big job maker, but with no more SBT revenues, Heartwell said, "It's impossible to sell credits against these projects."
  • With the SBT gone and no clear-cut plan for replacing the revenue it generates, Michigan suddenly looks even more iffy as a place for businesses to set down roots. Indeed, right after the repeal vote, Standard & Poor issued a negative outlook rating for Michigan. Wrote Heartwell:
Instability is more threatening to business than is a known, though unpopular, tax. Businesses now considering relocating to Michigan will ask: What will replace SBT? Will it work for our business? Is it better or worse than what Indiana offers? As of today I can't answer those questions, so Indiana wins. We lose.
Gov. Granholm has called the repeal an "act of cowardice" and estimated it could cost every Michigan family another $800 in taxes if the SBT revenues are replaced, and as Heartwell also fears, by cutting state aid to cities and education. Repealing the SBT at this time was a political move by the state's republican leadership and backed by the DeVos campaign, nothing more. How discouragingly sad for the people of this great state.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rinck wins primary

The Gr Press reports today that GRPS school board member Jim Rinck won out over opponent Peter Hickey by 400 votes. Rinck goes on to face US 3rd District Congressman Vern Ehlers in November.

Given how the netroots helped Ned Lamont in CT, I think Rinck's been a little too quiet on the internet (I just recently found his website, in fact). I'm thinking he could use a few pointers, so I sent this email to his campaign this morning:
Hey, guys
Congratulations on Jim's win in the primary! Please put me on your enews list ...

I'm a progressive blogger based in the 3rd Congressional District. My blog, Coit Avenue is aggregated by Lefty Blogs and I'm somewhat active in the Michigan Liberal blogging community.


Jim's website and blog are good looking sites. But can I make a couple of suggestions to help your netroots campaign? It would be great if you had forms on the site for volunteering, signing up for email, etc., rather than making people send an email. Most important, though -- the blog needs an RSS feed so people like me can track the daily goings on through our newsreaders, rather than having to remember to go to the site to see if anything's new.

As the campaign heats up heading into Nov., we bloggers can help. These are just a couple of things that will make it easier for us.

Thanks for listening

The road ahead ain't going to be smooth running against a popular Republican incumbent, and Rinck needs to make it a little easier for those of us on the 'Net to help. Hope these small suggestions can make a difference.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Down on the farm with DeVos

The people who selected and approved this image for dick's latest "TurnAround Plan" brochure ought to be relieved of their duties with the campaign. A photo of dick smiling at this calf like it's some kind of cute pet (but don't get too close!) speaks volumes about the man's agricultural expertise.

Last week my regular email from the DeVos campaign brought "The Michigan TurnAround Plan Volume Two: Agriculture. "Agriculture?" you're asking. "Where's the plan for health care? Education? (other than what's covered in Volume One: Jobs)?" I know. I said the same thing. But go with me here and I might be able to shed a little light.

Before I get started, let me say that I know agriculture is an important force in our state's economy, as evidenced in part by a story in last week's GR Press about dairyman Timothy den Dulk. Den Dulk heads up of one of the country's largest and most influential agribusiness empires (the Press's word), and it's based right here in West Michigan. In 1995, den Dulk moved his corporate offices to Ravenna Township from California and has grown a business that includes 60,000 cows in 11 states, a farming publication, two milk cooperatives with over $600 million in annual sales, part ownership in a bank and a stake in a political action committee that is "partial to Republicans," according to the Press report.

What could prompt a move from the nation's biggest dairy producing state to the state that's number 8 in milk production? (source: Maybe this?

Industry officials who know him said den Dulk's move was driven by economics and family ties in West Michigan. Also, California has tightened environmental regulations on large livestock farms in recent years and farmland there also is becoming scarce and more expensive.

And this?

DEQ Director Chester said some dairy and pork farmers are building large factory farms in the Midwest because the region's environmental regulations are relatively weak and there is a lot of affordable farmland.
Then there's always this, to keep the business here:
The growth of den Dulk's agribusiness empire has been supported in part by government subsidies. Den Dulk was one of West Michigan's largest recipients of taxpayer-funded farm subsidies, receiving $820,363 in government subsidies between 1995 and 2004, according to federal data.
Yet dick's brochure makes this claim:
As I’ve traveled throughout the state, people tell me the same thing – Michigan has too many regulations, and taxes are too high. And they are right – our state government’s excessive regulations have hurt our agriculture industry and hindered the ability of producers and processors to stay competitive in the international marketplace.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) operates in a way that is often harmful to farms and threatening to our agricultural industry. I will get the DEQ to work with Michigan’s agriculture businesses, and not against them. I know that we can protect the environment and grow Michigan’s agriculture industry at the same time ...
And one of the ways a DeVos administration will address this? (emphasis added)
Support pro-active, on farm, voluntary pollution prevention such as the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). My administration will provide incentive based, on-farm, technical assistance programs to ensure environmental stewardship. The top-down command and control regulatory approach currently used by the DEQ does not work for Michigan agriculture ...
Ok, so it's heavy on the posturing and light substance -- something we've come to expect from this campaign. But I'm still bothered by the question: Why an entire campaign treatise devoted to agriculture, published on the heels of his jobs plan, seemingly giving the topic at least secondary importance in the list of things dick plans to turn on around?

Yes, farming's big business in Michigan, but it doesn't even rate a mention in our state's Wikipedia entry alongside claims of our number 4 national ranking in high tech employment, number 3 in research & development investment and being the cradle of the domestic auto industry which claims to account for one of every 10 jobs in the U.S. Not to mention our booming life sciences sector and partnerships with two leading research institutions in MSU and the U of M. I think our Press article has the answer to this question, too:
Tim den Dulk contributed $3,550 to the 2004 congressional campaign of U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland. His wife, Marietta, contributed $10,000 in 2004 to GOPAC, the national Republican political action committee, making her one of that group's top 50 supporters nationally, according to federal campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity.

The two milk cooperatives den Dulk founded, and the Fair Oaks Dairy he co-owns, have contributed $97,100 to federal political candidates running for office this year. All but $9,611 of those contributions went to Republican candidates, federal data shows.

And there you have it. Yet another big money interest that's intent on maintaining the big business status quo. That's what we'll get from dick at every turn if he manages to wrest away the governor's seat. After all, as he says, he is a businessman.

And businessmen have their priorities, don't they.

End our open-ended commitment in Iraq

I co-signed this email from US Sen. Carl Levin's office yesterday and sent it on. You can too.
Subject: End our open-ended commitment in Iraq!

Dear President Bush,

While the world has been focused on the crisis in the Middle East, Iraq has exploded in violence. Some 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June, and sectarian and insurgent violence continues to claim American and Iraqi lives at an alarming rate. In the face of this onslaught, one can only conclude that the Baghdad security plan you announced five weeks ago is in great jeopardy.

Despite the latest evidence that your Administration lacks a coherent strategy to stabilize Iraq and achieve victory, there has been virtually no diplomatic effort to resolve sectarian differences, no regional effort to establish a broader security framework, and no attempt to revive a struggling reconstruction effort. Instead, we learned of your plans to redeploy an additional 5,000 U.S. troops into an urban war zone in Baghdad. Far from implementing a comprehensive "Strategy for Victory" as you promised months ago, your Administration's strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops and taxpayers continue to pay a high price as your Administration searches for a policy. Over 2,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice and over 18,000 others have been wounded. The Iraq war has also strained our military and constrained our ability to deal with other challenges. Readiness levels for the Army are at lows not seen since Vietnam, as virtually no active Army non-deployed combat brigade is prepared to perform its wartime missions. American taxpayers have already contributed over $300 billion and each week we stay in Iraq adds nearly $3 billion more to our record budget deficit.

In the interests of American national security, our troops, and our taxpayers, the open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained.

Rather, the Democratic leadership in Congress and I believe that it is time for Iraqis to step forward and take the lead for securing and governing their own country. This is the principle enshrined in the "United States Policy in Iraq Act" enacted last year. This law declares 2006 to be a year of "significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq." Regrettably, your policy seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

This legislation made clear that Iraqi political leaders must be informed that American patience, blood and treasure are not unlimited. We were disappointed that you did not convey this message to Prime Minister Maliki during his recent visit. Reducing the U.S. footprint in Iraq will not only give the Iraqis a greater incentive to take the lead for the security of their own nation, but will also allow U.S. forces to be able to respond to contingencies affecting the security of the United States elsewhere in the world.

The Democratic Congressional leadership and I believe that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006. U.S. forces in Iraq should transition to a more limited mission focused on counterterrorism, training and logistical support of Iraqi security forces, and force protection of U.S. personnel.

Additionally, every effort should be made to urge the Iraqis to take the steps necessary to achieve a broad-based and sustainable political settlement, including amending the constitution to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources. It is also essential to disarm the militias and ensure forces loyal to the national government. Finally, an international conference should be convened to persuade other governments to be more involved, and to secure the resources necessary to finance Iraq's reconstruction and rebuild its economy.

Mr. President, simply staying the course in Iraq is not working. We need to take a new direction. We believe these recommendations comprise an effective alternative to the current open-ended commitment which is not producing the progress in Iraq we would all like to see. Thank you for your careful consideration of these suggestions.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Update: Amazing Michigan

Well, hello. I got a comment on my last post from Melanie of Hass MS&L, who sent me the original email about the new blog, Because Michigan is Amazing. It reads in part:
We've added an About Us page to the site to answer your questions and those of other bloggers about the sponsorship of the site, which are valid ones. We didn't mean to be secretive ...

Of course I checked this out right away (and I have to note here that the About Us link that yesterday was located waaaay at the bottom of the site has today moved up to a more prominent position under Cool Stuff in the right rail.) Tom Brzezina, a president at the Troy ad agency, Michael Flora & Associates and whose idea launched the new blog, explains:

... Michigan is Amazing is a response to all of the negative press and disheartening news about Michigan that's been so pervasive lately—it's meant to be an opposing voice.
... this site is not a commercial venture. It's not part of a word-of-mouth campaign. And it's not an advertising vehicle. It's simply a valentine to Michigan.
... BCBSM ... has no active role in the site, other than sponsorship. I should probably also mention that Michigan is Amazing has no affiliation with any government branch of the State of Michigan, any tourism group, or any other state organization.
Also included on the page are bios from the three agency folks at Hass MS&L who are jumpstarting the blog: editor Alicia Dorset and writers Melanie Seasons and Aaron Brzezina (any relation to Tom?)

I must say I'm impressed with Hass Ms&L for responding. And I'm glad Melanie dropped by to tell me and my readers about this addition to the blog.

Read other commentary about the new blog (excluding PR releases) here and here

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Amazing Michigan? Not so fast

Fellow MI bloggers, I assume you all got this email too:
Hi, Kathleen.

I'm writing from Hass MS&L Public Relations in Ann Arbor. We're trying to let people know about a new blog that launched today: Michigan is Amazing (

The purpose of Michigan is Amazing is to bring to everyone's attention all the great things about our state. While a creative agency will be supplying the content for the blog initially, it's the site's users that will become the content providers * and, through a ratings system, judge which stories are the best. The blog's categories are People, Places, Things, Events and Organizations. Users can use the blog to let everyone know about the things they think are special about Michigan using text, images or video.

All users who submit valid entries will receive a small gift, and all those who have posts published on the blog will win a free t-shirt. The best entry of each month will win the blogger an amazing Michigan-themed gift basket loaded with a variety of prizes.

We're trying to get the word out and we hope you'll let your readers know. Just for spreading the word we'd like to send you a small gift.

Thanks for your time. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Melanie Seasons
Word of mouth marketing, baby
So what's this all about? A google search on Hass MS&L turns up this from the Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch: "David Binkowski from Hass MS&L is scheduled to appear on a panel "How to Create Great Corporate Blogs That Get People Talking" at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association conference in Orlando, Florida, January 20, 2006"

Ah, so that's it -- a Great Corporate Blog that'll get us Michiganders talking. But when I checked out the new blog for a sign of a corporate presence, I found nothing, other than a "sponsored link" from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. And indeed, when I clicked on "Send Us Your Amazing Finds," then "click here to read the rules," I read this:
Contest Eligibility: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan does not determine the submissions posted to “Michigan is Amazing” or the winner of the monthly contest ...
The agency MS&L, which acquired Hass in 2002, has a lengthy list of health care clients (although I don't see BCBSM on the list right now). Looking at the news area of their site, their expertise seems to be in positioning Big Pharma in the face of all its litigation and regulatory issues. Digging further, I found that David Binkowski heads up Hass MS&L Blogworks and is a member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, where his page explains:
... Hass MS&L has successfully worked with global clients to launch corporate blogs and to deal with the issues they raise. And our marketing outreach practice connects influential consumers with new products and helps spread awareness through these new media.
A notable success for Blogworks is the much-praised FastLane Blog from GM chief Bob Lutz.

So what's the problem?
What's wrong with all of this? I work in marketing communications. I understand that you can hardly get a better product endorsement than one that's person-to-person, or word of mouth. And I'm a blogger -- don't I believe in the power of blogs to spread the word, rally people for causes, inform us on issues, etc., etc., etc.? Of course. Still, here's what grinds me about this pitch:
  • I'm asked to "spread the word" about a new blog that appears to have no real reason for being, no author, no sponsor, no voice -- and therefore not much reason to engage. (Content's kinda lame, too, but there is potential there, if people participate. It's about Michigan, afterall!)
  • Prizes for blogging? Even a gift to me for "spreading the word?" Please!
  • The initial complete and utter lack of transparency on the part of Melanie Seasons as to who is sponsoring the blog.
  • The initial complete and utter lack of transparency on the blog itself as to who is behind it.
Conversation goes two ways
Yeah, I know word of mouth marketing is the thing these days. But if markets are conversations as we read in Cluetrain, this one-way deal isn't the way to go about it. And it's certainly not what blogging is about. There needs to be an exchange going on here -- honest, open, no holds barred. And prizes and gifts don't count.

A word to BCBSM -- if you want to engage bloggers in a folksy, feel-good conversation about how great Michigan is, we'd be more than happy to talk, even spread the word. But take the mask off first. Be up front with us. If you don't, the words we spread likely won't be the ones you had in mind.

SourceWatch had more on Hass MS&L: See the subhead Driving Bloggers Pro-War Coverage

It occurred to me after reading Christine's comment (she didn't receive this email), that maybe Hass MS&L found me through my other blog, Things I've Seen. So I've cross-posted this entry there.