11 November 2010

Chrysler CEO Says ‘Successful Transformation’ Is Under Way


Chrysler Group LLC, the U.S. automaker operated by Fiat SpA, has laid the “groundwork for a successful transformation,” the companies’ chief executive officer said today.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of both Chrysler and Fiat, addressed workers in a message obtained by Bloomberg on the day the U.S. automaker raised its operating profit forecast for the year and said its net loss narrowed to $84 million in the third quarter.

“The changes we are bringing about are beginning to enter into the DNA of the company,” Marchionne said in the message. “You can tell by how the language and tone of conversations have changed, by the long hours people are working, and by the way teams form and function.”

Shawn Morgan, a Chrysler spokeswoman, confirmed the memo was sent.

“We knew when we began this reconstruction process that the road back would be a long one,” Marchionne said. “We’ve hit some key milestone and we’ve made progress in important areas. We have laid the groundwork for a successful transformation. I ask you to continue to have faith in your leadership.”

10 November 2010

Inside a $4.5M Court Award: Lawsuit questions Blue Cross' Power

The Detroit Free Press

Therapy program fight raises red flags about giant's reach

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan -- a nonprofit created to keep health costs affordable -- has tried to derail physical therapy programs designed to save auto giants Ford and Chrysler millions of dollars annually, according to a review of hundreds of pages of e-mails and internal documents produced in a lawsuit against Blue Cross.

Blue Cross, the state's largest health insurer, strongly denies the allegations.

Yet an Oakland County jury disagreed this summer, finding the insurer wrongfully interfered with physical therapy firm TheraMatrix's efforts to create a program for Chrysler. TheraMatrix was awarded $4.5 million. Blue Cross has appealed.

Now, antitrust investigators at the Michigan Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Justice Department are reviewing records in the case, along with other practices by the Blues. Competitors say Blue Cross is so powerful that it negotiates deals with hospitals others don't get -- driving up health costs to customers insured by other companies.

Together, these issues have put Michigan in a national spotlight.

The tale of Pontiac-based TheraMatrix's efforts to carve out a cost-saving physical therapy program for some of the nation's largest employers raises larger questions about whether relationships between insurers and hospitals are inflating the cost of health care and stifling competition critical to controlling costs under the nation's new health law.

"It's really an exposure of the entire health care situation in this state," said Robert Whitton, TheraMatrix's CEO.
Inside a $4.5M court award

As health care costs soared nationwide, a small Michigan firm gave Ford a proposal to cut its physical therapy costs. The automaker signed up for an instate pilot program, which was so successful Ford expanded it last year to cover about 390,000 employees, retirees and their families nationwide.

Yet the cost-saving program created by Pontiac-based TheraMatrix has come under attack from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Court records allege Blue Cross used its position as the state's dominant insurer to try to crush TheraMatrix as it worked also to sign up Chrysler and General Motors. A USA Today review of hundreds of pages of e-mails and internal documents that are part of a lawsuit TheraMatrix filed against Blue Cross indicates that TheraMatrix's efforts to carve out a niche market in managing outpatient physical therapy costs was seen as a threat by officials at Blue Cross and by some Michigan hospitals.

"They tried to destroy us," said Robert Whitton, a physical therapist who founded TheraMatrix in 1981. TheraMatrix has cut Ford's physical therapy costs by about half, Whitton says, saving millions of dollars annually. Under Blue Cross, Ford's costs averaged $745,000 a month just in Michigan, he said. "We shouldn't have been in this position for creating a program that helped save health care costs."
A different picture

Blue Cross denies trying to hurt TheraMatrix's business.

"The picture that they're trying to paint is the big whatever giant with a chainsaw in his hand coming down on the little guy," said Jeffrey Rumley, Blue Cross' general counsel. "I just don't buy into that too easily."

Court records depict Blue Cross -- a nonprofit created under Michigan law to provide affordable health care -- as working with a major hospital to stop expansion of TheraMatrix's program. They also reveal that Blue Cross barred TheraMatrix from the insurer's medical provider network, which covers most Michigan patients.

An Oakland County jury awarded TheraMatrix $4.5 million in July, finding that Blue Cross breached an agreement with TheraMatrix to process claims for its Ford program, then wrongfully interfered with TheraMatrix's efforts to launch a Chrysler program. Blue Cross has appealed.

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department sued Michigan's Blue Cross, accusing the insurer of a different kind of anticompetitive behavior: paying hospitals higher prices for medical care in exchange for a promise they would charge competing insurers as much as 40% more than they charge Blue Cross. Blue Cross says the suit is without merit.
A battle over business

TheraMatrix's battles with Blue Cross go back to 2005. That's when Ford decided to try to save money by carving out physical therapy benefits from an employee health plan administered by Blue Cross. That February, Ford hired TheraMatrix to manage that aspect for its Michigan employees.

At the time, physical therapy spending for all Michigan Blue Cross customers was increasing by almost 17% a year, an internal Blue Cross report shows.

TheraMatrix saved Ford money by creating a network of physical therapists willing to accept $68 per visit --significantly less than what Ford had been paying under Blue Cross. TheraMatrix also reviews treatment plans so patients don't get too many or too few visits.

But the project nearly was derailed when Blue Cross said it couldn't process claims for TheraMatrix, records show. About the same time, TheraMatrix alleges, Blue Cross decided to create its own discount physical therapy network.

Ford kept TheraMatrix; the program began in August 2005.

Michigan hospitals, which provide outpatient physical therapy, weren't happy about the lost business, records indicate.
A string of urgent e-mails

By early 2006, Chrysler, which also used Blue Cross to administer its health plan, was looking to hire TheraMatrix. This set off a series of urgent e-mails among top Blue Cross executives, court records show.

David Kee, head of Blue Cross' Chrysler account, warned: "we need to do something fast and dramatic." His strategy included showing that Chrysler could lose its hospital discounts if it went with TheraMatrix. "I think a carefully worded document, perhaps from the hospitals themselves, could be valuable," he wrote.

About a week later, e-mails show, such a letter was being offered by Beaumont Hospitals Vice President Mark Johnson -- who had been a Blue Cross vice president before joining the metro Detroit hospital system in 2004.

Blue Cross Vice President Kim Sorget said in reply that Kee could "use the letter as leverage with his customer to not proceed with the carve out."

In August, after the TheraMatrix trial, Blue Cross rehired Johnson as a vice president. Blue Cross said Johnson, Kee and Sorget were unavailable for comment.

Beaumont spokesman Mike Killian said the hospital system had a financial duty as a nonprofit to stop honoring the discounts if necessary. When Ford went with TheraMatrix, it cost Beaumont $400,000 a year, Johnson testified at trial. Beaumont facilities would have lost $2 million a year if Chrysler and GM had followed suit, he said.

In spring 2006, Chrysler and the UAW agreed TheraMatrix would start managing physical therapy for the automaker around July 1.

Two weeks later, Blue Cross kicked TheraMatrix out of the insurer's provider network, which meant a huge loss of patients and doctor referrals.

"It was devastating," said TheraMatrix President Bob Read. Blue Cross controls more than 60% of Michigan's insurance market, covering nine times as many people as its closest competitor.

Blue Cross refused for more than a year to let TheraMatrix back into its provider network, and the Chrysler program became critical to TheraMatrix's survival, Whitton said.

Beaumont Hospitals gave Blue Cross the letter about potentially canceling discounts for Chrysler and Ford on June 26, 2006.

The next month, Chrysler decided not to go forward with the program. Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese said the company had no comment.

Blue Cross, in court records, contends TheraMatrix hasn't proven the insurer's actions influenced Chrysler's decision.

Blue Cross let TheraMatrix back into its provider network in August 2007, but a year later was again threatening to kick it out. The offense: TheraMatrix was discussing a potential program with GM, a letter sent to TheraMatrix shows.

Whitton said that's when TheraMatrix sued Blue Cross.

Neither Chrysler nor GM went ahead with a TheraMatrix program.

The U.S. Justice Department also is reviewing records, a June e-mail to TheraMatrix shows.

Both agencies said they can neither confirm nor deny any possible investigation.

09 November 2010

Cox fires Andrew Shirvell, Says he used State Resources in Attack on Gay Student

The Detroit Free Press

Behavior wasn't appropriate, former assistant attorney general is told

Andrew Shirvell, the assistant attorney general under fire for his attacks on a University of Michigan student, has been fired.

Shirvell had been criticized for his blog in which he calls Chris Armstrong, the president of the Michigan Student Assembly, a radical homosexual, a Nazi and Satan’s representative on the assembly. Philip Thomas, Shirvell's attorney, had said his client is expressing his free-speech rights.

The firing was confirmed in a statement this afternoon from AG Mike Cox, who said Shirvell was fired for conduct unbecoming a state employee, especially that of an assistant attorney general.

“To be clear, I refuse to fire anyone for exercising their First Amendment rights, regardless of how popular or unpopular their positions might be. However, Shirvell repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior, and inappropriately used state resources, our investigation showed.”

Among the examples cited by Cox in the statement:

• Showed up at the home of a private citizen three times, including once at 1:30 a.m. That incident is especially telling because it clearly was about harassing Mr. Armstrong, not engaging in free speech.

• Further engaged in behavior that, while not perhaps sufficient to charge criminal stalking, was harassing, uninvited and showed a pattern that was in the everyday sense, stalking.

• Harassing Armstrong's friends as they were socializing in Ann Arbor;

• Numerous calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, Armstrong's employer, in an attempt to slander Armstrong — and ultimately attempting to cause Pelosi to fire Armstrong;

• Attempting to "out" Armstrong's friends as homosexual — several of whom were not gay.

Cox said Shirvell engaged in his campaign against Shirvell on company time and posted attacks on Armstrong on the Internet while at work.

“Finally, Shirvell lied to investigating assistant attorneys general on several occasions during his disciplinary hearing.”

A hearing that was supposed to be held Tuesday was moved up to this afternoon. Thomas, Shirvell's attorney, said he showed up for the meeting and was read one sentence.

“They said essentially that as a result of Andrew’s conduct, it’s become impossible for him to carry out his duties as an attorney general.”

Thomas said the attorney general’s office left a message on his office voice mail Saturday morning, telling him the hearing had been moved to this afternoon. He didn’t get the message until this morning.

Thomas said he is shocked and confused, saying he doesn’t know what could have happened between Friday afternoon, when the hearing began, and Saturday afternoon.

“This smells political to me,” Thomas said.

He said Shirvell has received excellent performance reviews from his bosses, and that his employers knew of Shirvell’s off-work activities.

“There’s been a tremendous piling on against Andrew. The liberal media started this tempest in a teapot.”

“Andrew’s reaction is that he’s devastated over the loss of his employment,” Thomas said.

Armstrong’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, issued a statement this afternoon in which she said the AG’s office made the correct decision. Gordon and Armstrong have filed complaints with the Michigan Grievance Commission, asking it to investigate Shirvell and possibly disbar him.

“The next step must be a complete retraction of all the malicious lies and fabrications by Mr. Shirvell, and a public apology to Chris Armstrong, his family and the others Mr. Shirvell has slandered.”

Gordon went on to say it’s time for Shirvell to realize there are consequences to his “reckless, outrageous statements and actions and that he is solely responsible for those consequences.”
Other actions

Until now, Shirvell has won battles. Armstrong dropped a request for a personal protection order in Washtenaw court. The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s office declined to file a stalking charge against Shirvell, saying that while Shirvell’s comments “are offensive and mean spirited,” they don’t meet the definition of harassment under Michigan’s stalking statute.

The University of Michigan also essentially lifted Shirvell’s ban from campus, allowing Shirvell on campus but requiring him to stay away from Armstrong.

08 November 2010

GM Said to Have Disagreed With Treasury Over IPO Price Range


General Motors Co. and its government owners disagreed over the price for the automaker’s initial public offering before settling on a range between $26 and $29 a share, according to eight people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. Treasury was seeking a split-adjusted price of $30 a share, referred to as the “Obama number” by officials in the administration, said the people, who declined to be identified because the talks were private. At that price, the government could say it recovered all the money spent on GM’s bailout under President Barack Obama, though not what his predecessor put in.

GM and its bankers for weeks had pushed for an IPO price in the low-to-mid $20s to help ensure demand and a significant gain on the first day of trading, the people said. The United Auto Workers retiree health-care trust and the Canadian government, which are also shareholders, sought a $30 offer price as well to maximize their return.

“If you’re a seller, you don’t want to leave money on the table,” said Maryann Keller, president of Maryann Keller & Associates in Stamford, Connecticut. “The Treasury would look stupid if they priced it at $20 and the first day of trading it closed at $29.”

Over the past month, Detroit-based GM and its bankers agreed to a higher offering price range as they watched rival Ford Motor Co.’s shares rise, said two people familiar with the matter. At a meeting in mid-October, the parties settled on $25 to $29 a share. As Ford shares climbed, they boosted the bottom of the range.

Ford Rising

Ford advanced to a six-year high yesterday after saying its U.S. vehicle sales rose 15 percent in October. The shares gained 75 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $15.18 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, bringing the increase for the year to 52 percent. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker’s market capitalization has reached $52 billion.

At the midpoint price of $27.50 each, GM would have a market value of $41.25 billion, based on 1.5 billion shares that will be outstanding after the offering, according to the company’s filing and data compiled by Bloomberg.

President Barack Obama wants to recover as much of the taxpayer’s $80 billion investment in the auto industry as possible, two of the people said. The Treasury department cut its expected losses to $17 billion in August from an estimate of $28.2 billion a year ago.

“You now have all those U.S. auto companies showing a profit,” Obama said in an interview on the ABC-TV program “The View” in July. “They’ve rehired 55,000 workers. We are going to get all the money back that we invested in those car companies.”

Obama’s Money

Obama was referring only to the money his administration spent rescuing the auto industry, not the $13.4 billion in aid granted under President George W. Bush, according to the White House.

With a 3-for-1 share split, the U.S. government needs an average share price of almost $44 to get back all of the $49.5 billion it put into the automaker under Bush and Obama. That is based on the $131 a share breakeven level cited by a person familiar with the matter in September.

Including the repurchase of the Treasury’s preferred shares after the IPO, taxpayers will have received $9.5 billion in repayments, interest and dividends from GM since the automaker emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009, according to the Treasury.

Take away those payments and the money invested under Bush, and the Obama administration’s figure drops to $26.6 billion. With 912.4 million shares that Treasury currently owns, it can cover that if it gets an average of $29.15 a share. It plans to sell 263.5 million shares in the IPO.

A Treasury spokesman, Mark Paustenbach, and Noreen Pratscher, a GM spokeswoman, declined to comment about the pricing decision.

Market Value

GM’s underwriters, including Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc., pushed in meetings over several weeks for a lower price that would ensure the offering would be oversubscribed and value GM at a lower level relative to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, also called Ebitda, than Ford, said six of the people.

After weeks of negotiations, the Treasury, the UAW and the Canadian government settled with GM and its underwriters on a price that was between what the two sides wanted, said the people.

The Treasury department agreed that it would be beneficial to start with a lower price so the shares would rise on the first day, creating good publicity for the offering, two of the people said. The Canadian government and the UAW health-care trust, which own 11.7 percent and 17.5 percent of GM, respectively, sided with the U.S. Treasury, five people said.


GM’s underwriters argued that the automaker will trade for some time at a lower Ebitda multiple than Ford, said these people, because investors would favor the experience of Ford’s Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, who has been with the company since 2006. GM CEO Dan Akerson took over three months ago after serving a year on the automaker’s board.

The Treasury and GM’s banks project that the shares will quickly climb above the $30 level, said the people, because the automaker has more business than Ford in some of the world’s fastest growing economies from China to Brazil.

GM and Ford yesterday reported U.S. sales increases that topped analysts’ estimates in the best month yet this year. GM’s deliveries climbed 3.5 percent to 183,759, when the average of three analysts’ forecasts was for a 6.3 percent decline, while sales at Ford increased 15 percent to 157,935, topping the 14 percent average of six analysts’ estimates.

Technology a Blessing, a Curse for remote Island

Associated Press

Muggs Bass doesn't own a computer. She's pretty much dead set against e-mail. Anyone who calls her home on Michigan's remote Beaver Island should be prepared for a busy signal, if she's on her land-line phone. She has no cell.

"When you don't have it, you don't miss it. That's what I say," says the spunky 70-year-old grandmother, who's as comfortable telling jokes at the local pub as she is attending Mass each morning.

Technology isn't really her thing. So, it's a small miracle when Bass drives, once a month, to her island's rural health center to sit down in front of a wide-screen television. There, she and a handful of other islanders connect by video conference with a similar group in Charlevoix, Mich., a two-hour ferry ride to the south and east.

They chat. They laugh. They cry together.

All of them have, or have had, cancer, Bass included. Hers started with a lump in her breast and has since metastasized to her bones, making her cancer treatable, but incurable, her doctors tell her.

Her own grandmother died of the same disease and went off the island for occasional treatments, as Bass does every few weeks. But that grandmother could hardly have imagined a day when islanders talked openly about their cancer, face-to-face with people in a support group miles away.

It's just one of many ways technology is making this rugged place less remote than it once was and, some would say, more livable for more people.

It also gives islanders hope for new jobs that could attract residents to this island in northern Lake Michigan where the year-round population is about 650 people, give or take a few dozen.

"In the last few years, technology has sprung," says Joe Moore, a retired teacher who's known as one of the geeks on the island who helps keep computers running.

Not that the change has come quickly, or that technology always works perfectly.

That's just how it is on an island where a popular bumper sticker reads "Slow Down! This Ain't The Mainland." It's aimed at anyone who's in too big a hurry, including lead-footed tourists who kick up dust on the many dirt roads or who panic when cell phone service drops.

That's life on wired - or at least, semi-wired - Beaver Island.


So, where is Beaver Island, anyway?

Some Michiganders would show you by holding up their right hands, palms up, and pointing just above the tip of their ring fingers - in other words, just off the far northwest tip of the state's lower peninsula. But that's if even THEY know where it is.

While Michigan's Mackinac Island is well known, Beaver Island - much of its 54 square miles covered in lush hardwood forests, sand dunes or pristine inland lakes - is not.

That's partly because it is more difficult to get to, especially in the off season. Ferry service runs from Charlevoix, from April through mid-December. Quick flights in small propeller planes are available year-round, weather permitting. In winter, it's not unusual for islanders to be physically cut off from the mainland, unless an emergency sends the U.S. Coast Guard to their rescue.

So when high-speed Internet service became available to most of the island last spring, this was more than just a convenience. For many, it was a godsend - even if having the service simply meant being able to shop online for just about anything, to play an online game or to watch a newly released movie. For others, it meant being able to stay on the island longer because they had a more reliable connection to do work.

Either way, the outside world was even more readily available, at least virtually.

Schoolchildren on the island were ahead of this curve: The main public school knew how valuable it would be for them to be technologically savvy, especially when students headed to college. In the last decade, those students have been encouraged to take language and advanced-placement classes online. Some in high school also take college courses. They learn how to download and evaluate statistics using palmtop computers.

Connie Boyle, a teacher at the school, helped implement the technology program. She had a vested interest in it, partly because she and her husband decided to raise their daughter on the island after moving here from Chicago 25 years ago.

"We were worried - 'How do you bring up a kid on very tiny Beaver Island?'" Boyle says. An answer came when their daughter, now a freshman at Michigan State University, called recently about her computer class.

"Mom, I don't get it," she said. "I'm helping everybody here. We did all this in high school."


Today's state-of-the-art Beaver Island school is quite different from the one Muggs Bass attended. For her, books were the only real window to the mainland, especially in elementary school.

Like many who settled on Beaver Island, her great-grandparents and a grandmother had come from Ireland, to farm, fish and find a better life. Her own father was a dairy farmer. Born Mary Margaret but called "Muggs" as long as she can remember, Bass went to a small school across the field from the family farmhouse.

Until her school combined with another in the island's main town, St. James, she didn't even know some of her own cousins on the island. Other than a trip to the doctor when she was a young child, she didn't go to the mainland of Michigan - "across," as the islanders like to say - until she visited an aunt in Detroit when she was 12 years old.

"It was big and noisy," she recalls.

She didn't mind that her family didn't have a television until she was a teenager. For a long time, the closest thing she had to a technological device was the family radio, which she sat beside with her father to listen to boxing matches.

Her world was small in those days. That's how she liked it.

But after she graduated from high school, she left the island to find work and she ended up living in other parts of Michigan and then Illinois, where she met her husband. They then moved to northern Indiana, where they raised their son and his children from a previous marriage. Always, she longed to return to the island one day.


It's not the kind of life that appeals to just anyone.

Donna Kubic, a registered nurse who heads the island's rural health center, gets that. She tells the story of a young woman who came to the island to apply for a job at the health center. The woman had planned to stay for a week, but left after staying just one night in a lakeside cottage.

It was too dark out there with no street lights, she told Kubic. Too solitary.

This is, indeed, a place where one doesn't take modern convenience for granted. There is one grocery store, a couple of gas stations, a handful of restaurants and bars but no movie theater. There is no full-time doctor on the island, though two visit from the mainland twice a month. Critical patients are airlifted off the island, by the Coast Guard if weather shuts down other options.

As recently as two years ago, if someone needed an X-ray, the films had to be flown to the Charlevoix hospital so a radiologist there could read them. Depending on weather, it could take days.

Kubic knew there was a better way. She persuaded the hospital to help her apply for a grant that recently helped her purchase digital X-ray equipment for the health center. Now images can be transmitted in a matter of minutes.

Next came video conferencing, connecting the island's nurse practitioner and physician's assistant to the mainland hospital's emergency room. It's the same technology that allows Bass and the other islanders to take part in the "Circle of Strength" cancer support group.

"Without it, we'd be out here, in the lake, without a lot of support," Kubic says. Eventually, she hopes that primary care doctors and specialists - even mental health care providers - will be more willing to offer their services to islanders (though so far, she says, they've been reluctant).

"I think it's just education, saying the technology is there, getting the docs used to it," she says.


When Muggs Bass moved back to the island 12 years ago, she had no idea that she'd soon be dealing with a serious health issue.

A year after she'd been there, she traveled to the mainland for her annual mammogram, which revealed cancerous tissue. She had surgery to remove a breast.

"Then I went along fine for 10 years," she says, until she got a cough she couldn't shake. One morning, she got up and said to her husband, "I need to go across, to the doctor."

Her lung was filling with fluid. The cancer had spread to her bones.

So for the past 18 months, she has traveled to the mainland every six weeks for an infusion of a drug that keeps her bones from fracturing, and also takes a daily pill to slow the cancer's growth. The goal is to extend her life as much as possible.

"I'm going to hold to this until I reach something else," Bass recently told her support group. "And then I'll have to make another decision."

The group in Charlevoix includes an 80-year-old woman with lung and colon cancer, as well as younger mothers who've survived breast cancer and those who are in the thick of the battle. They talk about infections and drainage tubes, mammograms and mastectomies. They somehow manage to find humor in topics such as constipation.

One of the moms, introduced to the Beaver Island group through video conference, thanked Bass for sending her a card and a prayer.

"I read it every day," the woman, who has 11- and 16-year-old children, told Bass. "I'm in it for the long term fight. I'm prayin' hard, too."

"That's what you do," Bass said, as she grabbed a tissue to dab her eyes.

Diane Gorkiewicz, who began the Charlevoix "Circle of Strength" six years ago, marvels at the intimacy that has developed so quickly between her group and the islanders.

"The only thing you're missing are all the hugs and stuff," Gorkiewicz told the islanders during a recent video conference.

"And the food," Bass said, teasing the Charlevoix group that they need to share the treats they bring to their meetings.


Joe and Phyllis Moore understand the dynamic.

Earlier this year, the longtime islanders were able to "attend" their youngest granddaughter's first birthday party via Skype. Guests at the party in Washington state sat at a computer to introduce themselves. The Moores saw the cake. They gave real-time wishes to the birthday girl.

"Just thinking about it, it almost brings tears to my eyes," Joe Moore says.

It's not ideal, but the best they can do - better than they could've hoped for, really. The hard reality is that the cost of getting off the island can be prohibitive.

Most islanders have to "wear many hats" just to get by, Moore says. In addition to his computer work, he's one of the island medics and also runs a local website that provides video footage of township meetings, as well as the school's soccer and volleyball games.

Phyllis Moore is now the assistant librarian, but when she moved back to the island after college, she and Joe ran a vacation lodge while he did his student teaching.

"Like most graduates, I was going to get off this rock and never look back," says Phyllis Moore, now 62. "And look where I am now."

Many young people who live here say technology - social networking and their cell phones included - make life on the island better for them, too. But in the end, they face the same dilemma as everyone else: How do you make a living here? And what if there's really no place for the kind of work you want to do?

Brontae Cole, a 17-year-old high school senior, will be heading to college next year and wants to become a homicide detective.

"There's one cop here, two in the summer if we get lucky," Cole says. She grins. "And not a lot of dead people."

Jewell Gillespie-Cushman, a 14-year-old freshman, also wonders where he'll land. His late grandfather, an island icon for whom he was named, was born on Beaver Island and lived here his entire life. Gillespie-Cushman isn't sure he could do the same, even with more contact with the outside world than his grandpa had.

"I'm still debating whether to stay here, or move over there," he says.


Like Muggs Bass, though, a growing number of people want to find a way ONTO Beaver Island - many of them among the thousands who visit each summer and would like to make it home. For many of them, technology is the key.

Jeff Stone and his wife, Sarah Rohner, were able to start spending more time on the island in 2006, when a satellite-based service began offering an Internet connection that was about two-thirds as fast as the newest service, and much faster than the sluggish dial-up service that had been the only option.

The satellite option enabled Stone to quit his real estate job in the Chicago area to start a website design business that he and his wife run from the island much of the year, though not without some initial glitches.

He recalls how snow from a huge storm covered their satellite dish, cutting off their Internet service just as they were about to launch their site.

"We ended up going out in the back yard and throwing snow balls at the dish," he says. That knocked off enough snow to get the Internet working, and they were back in business. But it's not always that easy, or quick.

Laurel Vietzen, a college professor, also from the Chicago area, who now spends several months a year on the island, remembers a violent summer thunderstorm two years ago that left much of the island without Internet and phones. "We had a daughter at the University of Iowa and we were hearing about terrible flooding in Iowa City," she says. "It was three days before we could reach her!"

Now that Internet service on the island is more reliable, many islanders say cell phone service is the big hurdle. One mobile provider's service works well here, though only on the upper third of the island - and outages happen more frequently than most would like.

Even those who reap the benefits of technology feel torn, though. They worry that it infringes on one of the very things they love about the island - its inherent, blissful peacefulness.

Technology is, at once, their blessing and their curse.

On a summer night, it's not unusual to see more than a dozen people sitting outside the library's memorial garden, on picnic tables and in their cars, tapping into the free wireless that's left on 24 hours a day.

At the same time, islanders and summer residents alike regularly complain about all the people who now walk around the main streets of St. James, staring at a smart phone screen or iPad instead of their beautiful surroundings.

"The technology is wonderful, but ... ," Phyllis Moore says. She raises her eyebrows, noting how, on a nice day, she isn't opposed to kicking kids out of the library after they reach their 30-minute time limit on the computers there.

Meanwhile, it used to be the joke that, by St. Patrick's Day, anyone who lived here year round couldn't stand the sight of anyone else. In many ways, communicating with the outside world helps with that, but not always.

"I don't think it's eliminated cabin fever or getting at each other's throats," Joe Moore says, chuckling. "Sometimes, I think it makes it worse because they can communicate more and get on each others' nerves even more."


Muggs Bass knows about the squabbles and the way a rumor can take on a life of its own, computer or no computer. She wasn't too happy, for instance, when she heard that some islanders were calling her cancer "inoperable." She didn't like the sound of it - wished they'd just ask her directly.

But that was nothing, she says, compared with the support she's gotten from her tiny island community.

"We joke. We kid. We take care of each other," she says. "I can't imagine living anyplace else."

When she got her latest diagnosis, islanders organized a "50/50 raffle" for her, where the winner is supposed to take half the donations. Instead, the winner gave his portion to Bass, a common outcome on Beaver Island. All up, she received nearly $9,000 to help with flights to the mainland and other expenses related to her illness.

"You talk about emotional," Bass says, tearing up again.

She recalls sitting down after that to pray and, as she might say, have a chat with God.

"I thanked Him, and thanked Him, and thanked Him. I was so grateful that I was able to come back and live here, and for holding me up at this time in my life," she says.

The support group and her new friends on the mainland are part of that.

For her, technology - at least her little slice of it - has allowed the best of both worlds.

Elmore Leonard Arts, Film Festival to provide Educational, Cultural Enrichment

Macomb Daily

The Elmore Leonard Literary Arts and Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, Nov. 11 at the Community House in downtown Birmingham.

“After months of planning, The Community House is thrilled to present The Elmore Leonard Literary Arts and Film Festival to our community,” said Shelley Roberts, president and CEO of The Community House.

“Keeping true to our mission, the event will provide attendees with an educational overview of the burgeoning film industry in Michigan, as well as opportunities for cultural enrichment. We would like to extend our thanks to Elmore Leonard and congratulate him on his outstanding contributions to film, literary arts and the state of Michigan,” Roberts said.

On the opening night of the festival, awards will be given for the festival’s Short Film Award Presentation, which will be followed by a panel discussion.

The Short Film competition, which took place from July 1-Oct. 1, was open to all and included three categories: Short Film, Teen Short Story and Screenplay. One rule was that the submissions had to include a reference to a location within the state of Michigan. Remaining in line with the Elmore Leonard theme, all works were also required to be a mystery or crime story.

At the award presentation, an esteemed group of panelists will discuss “How to Get in the Film Industry in Michigan.”

The event is sponsored by the Detroit Medical Center and provides attendees with the opportunity to network with top experts in the Michigan film industry. Doors at the Community House open at 6:30 p.m. and the event will start at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend. There is no charge but seating is limited. 

On Friday evening, Nov. 12, The Community House will present a screening of Elmore Leonard’s “Fire in the Hole,” the pilot for “Justified.” Adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novella, this is the pilot for the hit television series “Justified” on FX Network, developed by Graham Yost and starring Timothy Olyphant.

After the screening, expert panelists will discuss “How to Take a Book to a Screenplay to a Movie/TV Series.”  The panelist will include Leonard; author Mitch Albom; Mike Lupica, author, sports columnist-Daily News and ESPN; Charlie Matthau, director, writer, producer of “Freaky Deaky”;  Tod “Kip” Williams, director, producer, screenwriter’ and Mary Jane Skalski, producer. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the screening will start at 7:30 p.m.

The closing event for the festival will feature a gala celebration honoring the life and work of Leonard on Saturday evening, Nov. 13. 

New Casino Opening catches many off Guard

The Detroit Free Press

A new casino that opened quickly in northern Michigan is raising questions about state and federal authority to regulate Indian gaming.

The Bay Mills Resort Casino opened Wednesday in Vanderbilt, 8 miles north of Gaylord, catching many people by surprise. The news carried extra weight when Port Huron City Manager Bruce Brown told the Times Herald newspaper that the Bay Mills Indian Community recently had purchased 16 acres along the St. Clair River, where the tribe long has sought to build a casino.

"This has not been the traditional way for approval, and they have a legal theory they are leaning on," said Rick Kalm, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. If the theory that a casino can be opened without the normal approval process holds up, "the impact would be huge. There are so many groups vying to expand casino gaming."

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians recently purchased land near Pinnacle Race Course in Huron Township in western Wayne County. Gaming facilities there or in Port Huron would compete directly for local customers with Detroit's three casinos, which count on exclusivity to fuel their business. The Detroit casinos are an important source of revenue for the City of Detroit.

State officials plan to meet with Bay Mills tribal leaders by next week to discuss the move, attorney general spokeswoman Joy Yearout said.

Tribal officials couldn't be reached Thursday but in a story in the tribal paper, www.baymillsnews.com, tribal chairman Jeff Parker announced the opening.

"This is something we've been working on for a long time."

Officials from other tribes with casinos in northern Michigan were angry.

"We believe this is an illegal operation," said Ken Harrington, chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, which operates a casino near Petoskey. "No approvals or applications were obtained or submitted, and this is off their reservation."

The Vanderbilt casino opened in a former nature center attached to the TreeTops resort complex.

"We knew that something was going on," said Vanderbilt Village President Edward Posgate. "Frankly, we were hoping it was a casino" because of economic spin-off.

Posgate said the building has 38 slot machines and offers customers free pop, coffee and hot chocolate.

07 November 2010

Will Masses embrace Electric Cars despite High Prices?

USA Today

The biggest automotive revolution since horseless carriages first rumbled along rutted roads is about to take place — and you'll have to strain to hear it.

That's because the first mainstream electric cars in nearly a century will be hitting the streets over the next couple of months, and their electric motors are as eerily quiet as they are tailpipe emission free.

Automakers such as Nissan and Chevrolet are touting the new vehicles in splashy ads, but already there are signs that wary mainstream consumers won't be quick to embrace the largely untested electric models. Automakers likely will have no trouble selling out their initial, limited production to electric enthusiasts and early adopters who have to have the latest thing, but mass acceptance that would lead to profitable production in big numbers remains a question.

The government and the auto industry are promoting electrictransportation as a way to cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil, ease the need for more U.S. oil drilling and cut carbon dioxide in the air. But the technology remains a colossal gamble, with billions invested by the industry and billions in subsidies from the government for research, factories and a direct-to-consumer rebate of $7,500 to partially offset the higher price of electrics.

Buyers still have to be convinced that being Earth-friendly is worth several trade-offs — beyond the cars' sticker prices, which can be double the cost of a similarly sized conventional car. Most prominently, most electric cars for now will have a range of about 100 miles before they need to be recharged. That process can take as few as 30 minutes with special chargers, but in most situations will take up to eight hours.

Even if you haven't paid attention to electric cars, you soon won't be able to escape hearing about them. Nissan has started its ad campaign for the fully electric Leaf. Chevrolet is about to crank up promotion for the Volt, a plug-in electric that also has an onboard generator powered by an auxiliary gas engine. Electric advocacy groups, such as Plug In America, plan their own public education campaigns.

President Obama has set a goal of a million plug-in electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015, though that rollout pales compared with the more than 11 million conventional vehicles that will be sold this year alone. Even with all the subsidies, promotion and consumer education efforts, only 0.6% of cars sold in the U.S. in 2020 will be fully electric, predicts auto researcher J.D. Power and Associates. And only 9.6% will be hybrids — with or without a plug-in recharging cord.

"Barring significant changes to public policy, including tax incentives and higher fuel-economy standards, we don't anticipate a mass migration to green vehicles in the coming decade," says John Humphrey, a senior vice president for J.D. Power.

Some reasons why:

•Lack of public charging stations. All-electric cars need to be plugged in to recharge and can't always be at home, but so far there aren't many public charging stations. Supported by federal grants from the Energy Department, two companies alone are installing more than 20,000 private and public charging stations in select metro areas in Oregon, Washington, California, New Mexico, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Florida and the District of Columbia.

•Home chargers require garage upgrades. An electric car such as the Leaf can be charged from a standard 110- or 120-volt home wall socket, but it will take at least 20 hours to get a full charge. So most electric car buyers will want to install 220- or 240-volt chargers to cut that to an overnight six to eight hours, which can cost $1,200 or more, though a federal subsidy is available. Many urban apartment dwellers or others without home garages may be hard-pressed to find a place to install a charging station that would make electric cars practical for them.

•Stable gas prices. Average prices for regular gasoline have been fairly stable and haven't exceeded $3 a gallon in two years, undercutting one of the key economic incentives for buying an electric car.

•Sticker shock. The first electric cars are going to go on sale at a time of economic malaise that has cut consumers' willingness to splurge on pricey new cars. Electric cars' high-tech, powerful electronics and compact lithium-ion batteries are expensive. At $41,000, the Chevrolet Volt is about the same size — and shares components with — the new Chevy Cruze gas-engine compact that starts at $16,995. Less-established makers may have to charge even more. Coda, a Santa Monica, Calif., start-up maker has priced its 120-mile-range, compact all-electric car at $44,900.

The prices can be partly offset by federal tax incentives for buying an electric car — for buyers whose income qualifies — which essentially knocks up to $7,500 off the cost. Some states, including California, also offer tax breaks for some buyers.

But that might not be enough to persuade average car buyers to pay more. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. consumers in an online survey by Nielsen said they don't want to pay more for an electric car than they would for a similar gasoline-powered vehicle.

•Unknowns. While gas-electric hybrids have been on the road for about a decade, all-electric cars and plug-ins use complex new hardware and software and much more powerful lithium-ion batteries. As with any new technology — or any new car model of any kind — long-term reliability, cost, performance and resale value can be projected but remain unknown. Consumers tend to be conservative — regardless of automaker promises or warranties — with such a long-term purchase, typically the second-biggest they make.

•Range anxiety. For all-electrics cars, the estimated range before it needs a recharge is an average that varies with weather extremes, traffic conditions and driving style. And while the typical U.S. commute — 40 miles or fewer — should be no problem with current battery technology, longer or unexpected trips can raise "will I get there and back" worry. That concern, and the unsuitability for longer travel, limits the market for an electric-only car that wouldn't meet all vehicle needs.

Buyers 'need convincing'

Given that backdrop, automotive executives and analysts are thrilled that early adopters have shown as much interest as they have in electric cars.

Nissan hit its target of 20,000 potential buyers who have plunked down a $99 deposit for its fully electric $32,780 Leaf, which starts deliveries next month. They are expected to claim all of the automaker's production during its first fiscal year. On a smaller scale, BMW found enough affluent, curious drivers to lease 450 Mini E electric cars in a test on both coasts that started last year.

The challenge will come after early-adopter demand is met. Even though General Motors and others rolled out primitive electric cars in the 1990s — remember The Jetsons-esque Saturn EV-1? — many people profess not to know much about the new generation. Only 58% of those surveyed by GfK Custom Research North America said they know about electric cars and potential benefits. Typical motorists may focus on electric vehicles' shortcomings instead.

"When I talk to people, neighbors and friends, they need a little more convincing," says Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations for BMW North America. It "comes back to range anxiety: 'Why would I want a car that would go (only) 100 miles?' "

General Motors is pursuing those gun-shy consumers. Its Chevrolet Volt, also due to begin deliveries next month, differs from other electrics with its onboard generating capacity. The car is a plug-in that can run up to 50 miles on electric power alone with a full charge in its batteries. But unlike its pure electric rivals, Volt has an auxiliary gas engine to generate power for the electric motor so you can keep driving like a conventional car. That's different than today's hybrids, which have limited electric power-only capability and in which the gas engine drives the wheels in combination with the electric motor.

But automakers already are showing there is also a market for pure electrics. Tesla, a start-up based in California's Silicon Valley, has sold about 1,300 of its $109,000 roadsters since they went on sale in 2008. A four-door sedan — cheaper but still premium at about $50,000 — is planned in 2012.

Beyond Leaf and Volt, Ford Motor will have an electric version of its compact Transit Connect van, primarily for commercial use, on sale next month. It will have a range of 80 miles. In 2011, Ford plans an electric version of its Focus compact car.

Toyota has teamed with Tesla to develop and sell an electric version of Toyota's RAV4 crossover in the U.S. in 2012. Chrysler is planning an electric version of the Fiat 500 minicar. Mitsubishi expects to sell its small i-MiEV electric sedan next year.

And new companies and importers — including Fisker, Wheego and Detroit Electric — also have electric vehicles on the way.

The Obama administration has proposed to require that the fuel efficiency of new vehicles rise to an average of 47 to 62 miles per gallon by 2025. The proposal comes only a year after it set federal gas mileage rules that raise the 27.5 mpg average required now to a 35.5 mpg average by 2016.While progress to the 2016 standard can be achieved mostly with smaller, lighter vehicles and smaller, higher-tech engines, hitting the higher numbers would force automakers to turn to electricity.

In the past, automakers had to be dragged "kicking and screaming into building electric cars," says Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. "Now it's a matter of survival for them."

Baby steps

To get potential customers used to the idea of electric cars, Nissan has launched a 23-city tour to familiarize consumers with the Leaf and to offer test drives.

In Los Angeles, teacher Valarie Payne and lawyer Anton Labrentz were enthusiastic after a spin around the shopping plaza in tony Century City. They are the type of young, affluent urbanites Nissan is targeting with the car. "I was very impressed," says Payne, 28. "It's very cute."

But they say they don't know how they would install a charging unit in the garage of their townhouse. And Labrentz, 31, who drives a BMW, says, "I don't have room for a second car."

Web entrepreneur Ben Goldfarb, by contrast, has a Leaf on order and plans to use it for his 30-mile round-trip commute. He will keep his Lexus for long trips.

Worries? "Being an early adopter, you take some risks," says Goldfarb, 51.

"But the pushback is after (the early adopters), the next group of consumers," says Craig Giffi, U.S. auto practice leader for consultant Deloitte. "You are going to be in that gray zone for a number of years where ... cost (of the vehicle) and relatively short ranges are going to keep people at a distance."

Automakers aren't discouraged. Think, a Finnish electric car company that plans to assemble vehicles for the U.S. in Elkhart, Ind., says there is room for many competitors.

All are feeling their way, though, says Michael Lock, Think's marketing executive for the U.S., "This is the embryonic stage of this industry."

06 November 2010

California to send Inmates to Michigan private Prison

The Detroit Free Press

A private prison in Baldwin that closed five years ago when Michigan stopped housing youthful offenders there will soon be taking up to 2,600 California prisoners.

California prison officials have signed a $60-million-a-year contract with GEO Group Inc. to house the inmates for the next three years. The former Michigan Youth Correctional Facility 65 miles north of Grand Rapids was closed in 2005.

The state ended its use of the prison, run for six years by GEO Group, after state officials decided they could save $18 million by sending the young inmates housed at the Lake County facility to other prisons.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm welcomed the news today, saying on her Facebook page that it would mean more than 450 jobs.

05 November 2010

Assistant AG Andrew Shirvell's Hearing to Continue

The Detroit Free Press

The disciplinary hearing for Andrew Shirvell, the assistant attorney general who has been under fire for his attacks on an openly gay University of Michigan student leader, will continue next week.

The hearing began at 9 a.m. today and ran until about 1 p.m., said Philip Thomas, Shirvell’s attorney. He said the hearing had to be cut short because many of the participants had other afternoon commitments. It will pick up either Tuesday or Wednesday, Thomas said.

He said he went to the hearing armed with a file of information for the four-member panel conducting the hearing.

“It doesn’t surprise or shock me that the panel needs more time,” to review the information, which includes police reports and prosecutor reports. “I’m appreciative of that.”

Thomas said the hearing is chaired by the human resources director at the attorney general’s office. Others on the panel include legal staff.

Thomas declined to comment on how the hearing is going.

Shirvell returned to the AG’s office today, after a nearly month-long voluntary leave of absence. He has been criticized for his blog in which he calls Chris Armstrong, the president of the Michigan Student Assembly, a radical homosexual, a Nazi and Satan’s representative on the assembly. Thomas has said his client is expressing his free-speech rights.

Armstrong has asked the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission to investigate Shirvell and possibly disbar him.

Shirvell will remain on his voluntary leave until the disciplinary hearing is complete, Thomas said.

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04 November 2010

Legendary Tigers manager Sparky Anderson dies at 76

The Detroit Free Press

Sparky Anderson, the all-time leader among Tigers managers in victories, visibility and inimitable quotations, died today at his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 76.

Anderson’s death came one day after the family announced that he was receiving hospice care at his home because of complications from dementia. The family said that at Anderson’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service.

Anderson managed the Tigers from the middle of the 1979 season through 1995. His 17 seasons are most in club history. The runner-up is Hughie Jennings, who managed Ty Cobb’s Tigers for 14 seasons in the first part of the 20th Century. Anderson beat Jennings’ record for most victories by a Tigers manager by 200 (1,331-1,131).

Throughout his years near or at the top of baseball through his 2000 election to the Hall of Fame, Anderson rejected the airs of celebrity, no matter how prominent he became. He forever seemed as happy to see people he knew — and didn’t know — as they did to see him.

On trips to New York, he didn’t eat breakfast at the Tigers’ fancy hotel. He’d go across the street to Howard Johnson, where he would address his waiter by name as a friend. In countless such gestures, he succeeded in a mission he once imparted to his Hall of Fame catcher in Cincinnati, Johnny Bench: “As long as you remember where you are from, you will always know where you are going.”

Anderson, born in South Dakota during the Great Depression, said “thank you” to people for whom he signed autographs. He often quoted his father’s words to him: “Being nice to people is the only thing in life that will never cost you a dime. Treat them nice and they’ll treat you the same.”

A sign hung in Anderson’s mostly unadorned office at Tiger Stadium: “Every 24 hours the world turns over on someone who was sitting on top of it.”

Anderson’s run with the Tigers was the second act of a two-act managing career. In nine seasons with the Reds (1970-78), Anderson produced five National League West championships, four NL pennants and two World Series championships.

The Reds stunned the baseball world when they fired Anderson after the 1978 season, and the Tigers produced a coup the next June when they signed him to a five-year contract. Several other clubs had courted Anderson, and he later wrote that he had decided to manage the Chicago Cubs when the Tigers snagged him.

Anderson strongly implied upon his arrival in Detroit that the Tigers would win the World Series within five years. And in 1984 they did, starting 35-5 en route to a five-game victory over San Diego in the Series.
A sterling reputation

As with most of baseball’s foremost managers, Anderson didn’t go out on top. The Tigers didn’t finish first in his final eight seasons, and they contended for first place in only a few of those years. In his final season, as the club rebuilt with youth, it finished fourth at 60-84 in a strike-shortened season.

Despite these fruitless seasons, Anderson’s reputation remained virtually undiminished. He had had so much success and became such a spoken authority on success that the Tigers’ decline was widely attributed to a lack of a talent, not to Anderson having lost his touch. Late in Anderson’s career, he received the highest compliment of all from baseball writer and columnist Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Reusse saluted Anderson by using the manager’s famous fractured vernacular: “Ain’t never been no better manager.”

There was a case for this. When Anderson resigned following the 1995 season, he stood third all-time in victories with 2,194. The only managers ahead of him were figures of long ago — Connie Mack and John McGraw.

Mack owned the club he managed, the Philadelphia A’s, and wasn’t in jeopardy of being fired despite a long string of losing seasons.

McGraw, who died three days after Anderson was born, didn’t deal with many of the variables that made Anderson’s job tough: players on rich, long-term contracts, coast-to-coast travel, late-game maneuvering of a bullpen and a scrutinizing media.

In 2005, Anderson surrendered third place on the victories list to Tony La Russa. As a young manager with the Chicago White Sox, La Russa frequently sought out Anderson and absorbed his wisdom before their teams played.

Anderson’s advice to La Russa was typical of his boil-it-down, common-sense approach. It included the recommendation to use position players according to their strengths and to avoid putting them in spots that would expose their weaknesses. “Those tips he gave me saved my baseball life,” La Russa said in 2005.

In 2006, La Russa’s Cardinals beat the Tigers in the World Series. That made La Russa the only manager besides Anderson to win the World Series in the American League and National League. “It’s such a great honor — he really should have this alone,” La Russa said the night the Cardinals won the ’06 Series. In the same answer, La Russa said, “I have such a respect and affection for Sparky that I believe he’s one of the greatest, not just managers, but baseball men, ambassadors for the game.”

In 2007, another of Anderson’s favorites, Bobby Cox, also passed him on the managerial list. Cox did the bulk of his work with Atlanta, but managed the Toronto club that gave the ’84 Tigers a midseason run for first place and then displaced them as East champs in ’85. In 2006, Anderson said La Russa or Cox was the best manager of all time.
The two sides of Sparky

Anderson was an extrovert wrapped around an introvert. With his unceasing flow of wisdom and humor, he dominated news conferences as few could. He loved doing interviews, and he was the Tigers’ foremost personality throughout his tenure. “The one member of the Detroit Tigers you would recognize if he came walking up your driveway,” wrote Jayson Stark of the Philadelphia Inquirer as the Tigers blazed through the 1984 playoffs.

Yet Anderson continually claimed he was shy. It wasn’t a contradiction. When he wasn’t filling his role as manager-spokesman, he didn’t seek attention. By the time he reached Detroit, he probably could have made a fortune on the off-season banquet and speaking circuit. Yet in the off-season, he retreated to his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif. — the same home he lived in throughout his rise in the majors. He could have afforded a far more lavish place, but he never sought one.

Throughout those off-seasons in California, his mind apparently never strayed far from baseball. Reporters who called him in the off-season would instantly find him at full blast, dispensing quotes as if it were July. Except for Yogi Berra, perhaps no other Hall of Famer is so well known for his one-liners. A sampling of Anderson’s best:

• On the chiseled physique of Oakland’s Jose Canseco: “He looks like a Greek goddess.”

• On a struggling player: “He wants to do so good so bad.”

• On his fondness for issuing intentional walks: “Don’t let Superman beat you.”

• On his theology: “I believe in the Big Guy.”

• On how any team could survive the loss of a star player or two: “You can go to the cemetery and see where Babe Ruth is buried.”

• On an unheralded pitcher for whom Anderson incorrectly predicted stardom: “If you don’t like him, you don’t like ice cream.”

Like many managers, Anderson was better at his immediate duties — running the game, the pitching staff and the clubhouse — than he was at projecting how good players could become. In his most memorable miss, he rushed minor-leaguer Torey Lovullo into the starting lineup for the 1989 season. Lovullo was back in the minors within weeks and never made an impact in the majors.

The Lovullo episode was a reminder that Anderson deserved the same assessment a friend once gave Winston Churchill: “You’re usually right, but when you’re wrong, well, my God.”

Earning his nickname

Anderson was known throughout baseball as Sparky. Some longtime friends and acquaintances might not have known his real first name. He was born George Lee Anderson in Bridgewater, S.D., on Feb. 22, 1934. He was one of five children who lived in a house without an indoor toilet or sufficient heat. In the winter, Anderson’s father put cardboard over the windows to block the cold.

By the time Anderson was 10, his family moved to Los Angeles, but he always seemed more rooted in the humble soil of South Dakota. As Anderson consistently declined the perks and privileges of celebrity, it was as if he remembered that small, cold house in Bridgewater and remained grateful for how baseball had given him a life of unimaginable blessings. He remembered where he was from and thus knew where he was going, and thereby he kept his common touch no matter how often fame gave him the chance to abandon it.

Anderson signed as an infielder with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The only notable thing about his playing career was that it produced the name by which everyone came to know George Anderson.

“The name ‘Sparky’ started simply as a joke,” Anderson said in 1990 in his book titled, of course, “Sparky.” He continued: “Sparky was created in 1955 when I played at Ft. Worth, Texas, in my third year of pro ball. I didn’t have a lot of talent, so I tried to make up for it with spit and vinegar. I spent more time arguing with umpires than I spent on the bases.

“There was an old radio announcer whose name I don’t remember. ‘The sparks are flying tonight,’ he’d say after I charged another umpire. Then I’d do it the next night. And the next. Finally he got to saying, ‘And here comes Sparky racing toward the umpire again.’

“The name stuck. At first I was embarrassed. Eventually I got used to it.”

As he kept the victories, quotes and charisma coming, he became one of those rare baseball figures known by his nickname. It became such universal currency that it provided the title for both of his books. The second was “They Call Me Sparky” in 1998, and like its forerunner “Sparky,” it was co-written by Dan Ewald, the club’s longtime director of public relations.

Anderson played in the majors in one season, 1959. He was the starting second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .218 and never hit a home run. Well into his managing career, he said, “I like when they took my playing record off my baseball card and put on my managing record.”
The Tigers' coup

When 1978 ended, Anderson’s Reds had gone back-to-back years without finishing first. Management wanted Anderson to fire one or more coaches, and he refused. Several weeks later, he was fired.

Anderson decided to sit out the 1979 season and return in 1980. He later wrote that of the six clubs that showed interest in him to manage in ’80, he had picked the Cubs. Then Tigers president and general manager Jim Campbell contacted Anderson in June 1979, and offered him the manager’s job if he would take it immediately.

Anderson did. Campbell fired first-year manager Les Moss to hire Anderson. On the day the Tigers announced his hiring, Anderson told the Free Press: “I began to wonder if I would ever get the opportunity to work with as good a group of people as they have in Detroit, if I would ever get the opportunity to work with talent that good, and if I would ever get a five-year contract.”

Years later, he wrote: “I don’t know exactly why the Detroit offer seemed so right. The Tigers met my conditions, but it wasn’t just the money.

“I remembered the Tigers from spring training. I remembered all those fine young players. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were just coming up. So were Jack Morris and Lance Parrish. And I remembered Kirk Gibson hitting a ball over the scoreboard that must have gone nine miles. He followed that with a routine ground ball that he beat out for a hit.

“I think the real thing that convinced me was the Tiger organization. The Tigers are tradition. The Tigers are baseball history.”

Anderson received the five-year contract he sought from the Tigers. At his introductory news conference in Detroit, he said he had promised Campbell and owner John Fetzer that the Tigers would win the World Series on his watch, and he strongly implied they would do it by the final year of his contract, 1984.

As in Cincinnati, Anderson inherited a young core of talent. Starting with 1979, the Tigers posted a winning record for 10 straight seasons, and by 1983 they climbed to a second-place finish in the American League East. As the 1984 season was about to begin, Anderson told a visitor in spring training, “We’re not good. We’re great.”

The Tigers team that won the World Series in 1984 could not deliver Anderson a dynasty like he had in Cincinnati. The Tigers had one more first-place finish under Anderson after ’84. It came in ’87, and it was the reverse of 1984 — the team started poorly but passed Toronto at season’s end.

As in ’84, the Tigers led the majors in victories, and as in ’84, Anderson was voted AL manager of the year. The ’87 Tigers lost decisively to Minnesota in the playoffs.

By 1989, the farm system had failed, and the Tigers were in last place May 19 when Anderson left the club with what it announced was exhaustion. For the first time in 18 years, Anderson was faced with a team that would finish with a losing record. “A nosedive crash into reality,” he called it.

“Physically, I could not have made it through another day,” Anderson wrote. “My nerves were shot.”

He spent the next 2 1/2 weeks recovering at home in California. He returned to the Tigers and said he would try to enjoy baseball more and not let his mood be so tied to wins and losses. Yet losses robbed him of his joy of conversation. His news conferences in his office after defeats tended to be filled with short, uninformative answers. Late in his career, he said he regretted that he always took losses too hard.
His big regret

Anderson had tremendous job security because he had the respect and friendship of Campbell, who was the club’s chief executive for Anderson’s first 14 seasons in Detroit. Campbell’s reign ended during the 1992 season when owner Tom Monaghan fired him and president Bo Schembechler. Monaghan did so as he was in the process of selling the club to Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesars magnate and owner of the Red Wings.

Anderson, who rarely admitted error, wrote in his memoir that he made a mistake that he didn’t voluntarily leave the Tigers with Campbell and Schembechler.

“I’ve always felt guilty that I stuck around after what happened to them,” Anderson wrote. “I have always maintained that when the people who were so close to you were ever mistreated, you go with them.

“I truly believe the only reason I stayed with the Tigers was because … I allowed my high salary to keep me there. For that, I am probably more ashamed of myself than for anything I have ever done in baseball.”

The Tigers finished with a winning record in 1993, the first season Ilitch owned the club. But despite a high payroll and many veterans, the Tigers were last in the AL East in 1994 when a players’ strike hit in mid-August and canceled the season.

The strike was still going when spring training was due to start in 1995. Teams hired replacement players, opened spring training and implicitly threatened to begin the regular season with the substitutes. Anderson wouldn’t go along with the idea. He refused to manage the replacement team in spring training, and thus he ruptured his relationship with Ilitch. The two apparently never repaired the rift, and many observers believe it is why the Tigers haven’t retired Anderson’s No. 11.

Anderson seldom mentioned the names of people he didn’t like. If he had to refer to them, he would do so vaguely. He wrote of life under Ilitch: “I really didn’t have a job no more, anyway. It was totally different.” And in his 1998 memoir, Anderson said this about the immediate aftermath of his announcement that he wouldn’t manage the replacement players: “I already heard the rumors about the owner wanting me fired.”

But nowhere in the book does Anderson mention Ilitch by name.

Anderson sensed that his refusal to manage the replacement players ended any chance he would be rehired for 1996. The real major leaguers came back in time for an almost full-length 1995 season, and Anderson resigned after the Tigers finished that year 60-84, in fourth place, 26 games behind Boston.

No other manager dared to walk out away from managing the replacement players. Yet Anderson’s abdication that spring wasn’t a shock. He’d long before established that he had the courage to do what he felt was right regardless of the reaction.

“For Sparky, this was not a political matter,” wrote co-author Ewald in Anderson’s 1998 book. “His decision was based on something much simpler. It was integrity.

“He believed the use of make-believe major-leaguers threatened the moral conscience of the game.”
Words of a master

Anderson might have picked the right time to leave. Life in the majors was coming to include heavy doses of statistical analysis and video study, and Anderson never showed fondness for either. He trusted his experience, instinct and guts.

Those same methods led to the idea he got in 1987 in his hotel room on a Tigers trip to Seattle. He would start a children’s charity at two Detroit hospitals. He immediately had the name: CATCH (Caring Athletes Team for Children’s and Henry Ford Hospital). In his memoir, the chapter on the charity is titled, “Sparky’s Greatest Gift.”

As Ilitch continued to own the Tigers throughout Anderson’s retirement, Detroit saw little of its most famous manager. The club asked Anderson to a game at Comerica Park in 2000 to salute his Hall of Fame induction.

He returned to Detroit for the 2006 World Series, the Tigers’ first since his team won it in 1984.

He also returned in September 2009 for the 25th reunion of the ’84 champs. Twenty-four members gathered together for a few days, even posed for a team photo with the World Series trophy. Trammell. Parish. Gibson. Darrell Evans. Jack Morris. But it was their 75-year-old manager who received the biggest ovation from the fans in Comerica Park.

“It was great to see Sparky so excited,” Gibson said. “That was the one thing that struck us all at the dinner.”

Typical of his shyness, during his 2006 World Series visit, Anderson refused manager Jim Leyland’s invitation to visit the clubhouse. But typical of his showmanship, Anderson gave a rousing pregame news conference that reminded many sportswriters how much they missed him. A few highlights:

• On his career: “I managed 26 years and found out when I retired I didn’t own the game. I thought I owned it when I was managing all those years. You can climb to the top of the mountain, get down on your knees and kiss the ground, because you’ll never own that mountain. That mountain is only owned by one single person, and he’ll never give it up. That’s the way baseball is.”

• On the popularity of baseball: “The commissioner needs a tremendous bouquet for what he’s done. He stepped in there now, and they’re drawing all over. … I got a kick out of them when they used to say baseball is dying, and football is No. 1. I hate to break the sad news to football, but nothing will ever take the place of baseball. When it goes bad, call me, because I won’t be around, but I can be reached under the ground.”

• On his life: “I was so lucky that I almost at times … feel ashamed that you could be that lucky, all the things that happened for me.”

Action plan for Governor-Elect Snyder

The Detroit News

When Rick Snyder officially takes office on Jan. 1, 2011, he will inherit a $1.42 billion budget deficit, an economy that has lost more than 600,000 jobs in the last eight years, a Michigan Business Tax mess, and an electorate of angry, pessimistic and exhausted citizens. But it is what he will not inherit that may be his saving grace. Simply on term limits alone, there will be 81 new House members and 38 new Senate members. Incumbent losses have added to this number, which means Snyder will come into a state government that still will be trying to figure out where the restrooms and copy machines are at the same time they are dealing with some of the most serious issues ever to face Michigan.

Given that he has only until March 6 to submit a state budget, Snyder will need to start transitioning from one tough nerd to one strong team builder from the very beginning. Snyder's leadership skills will be much more important than his finance or law background during the transition.

Specifically, Snyder will need to focus on four key areas: Taking action quickly: There will be a period of time where Snyder's biggest asset is that he isn't Gov. Jennifer Granholm. He will have an opportunity, albeit a brief one, to use the momentum of his win to establish the direction of his administration and begin building his team. There are more than 130 positions that he can appoint directly to lead his departments and staff positions. He can start making those decisions immediately while being as transparent to the people as possible. The day he takes office, Snyder should not only be ready to get started, the public should be confident that he has his team in place.

Articulating a vision of hope: The "Reinvent Michigan" 10-point plan helped Snyder get elected. Now Snyder should take this plan from a campaign pitch to a vision of the future the public can embrace. To break the political gridlock and gain the public's support, he has to be able to inspire. This means he has to have a vision and be willing to go all out. The vision of the new governor shouldn't be about reconciliation or compromise, although both of these will have to happen for any plan to work. Rather, the message has to be about commitment and a sincere belief that this goal can be attained.

Building coalitions and momentum: Snyder needs to immediately become familiar with his new legislature, their needs and their positions. Some may refuse to collaborate, but if the new governor avoids being distracted by partisan politics and focuses instead on enlisting the efforts of representatives and senators on all sides of the aisle, he stands a chance of moving his plan from the abstract to reality.

If Snyder can build a significant coalition from the beginning, and begin making things happen quickly, it will be difficult to stay embroiled in partisan bickering.

Supporting the private sector: Michigan politics have become stagnant in large part because the economic generators have been stymied by an entitlement mentality. As an executive and venture capitalist, Snyder will need to loosen the reins on entrepreneurship, not just through changes to the Michigan Business Tax, but through his message of free enterprise and job creation.

Snyder has an opportunity to exhibit leadership to both politicians of Lansing and business leaders of Michigan through his policies and initiatives. This means creating avenues to expand business in Michigan while at the same time holding the business community accountable for its impact on the state economy.

When Rick Snyder was a Gateway executive and later CEO, he became known for his ability to make things happen and make tough decisions.

He proved that he could not only do what needed to be done, but that he could build a team that would execute the hard decisions and maintain the change needed to make a difference. To be successful as governor, Snyder will have to focus on leading change again and building the infrastructure and momentum to move from talk to action.

03 November 2010

Higher Education funding Rally held at Capitol fails to draw Crowd

Lansing State Journal

Shuttle buses were running between Michigan State University’s campus and the state Capitol building this afternoon. Invitations to a rally organized my MSU’s student government had been extended to the other 14 public universities in the state.

But when the time came for students to tell their elected leaders how they felt about the state’s continuing disinvestment in higher education, the folding chairs set up in front of the Capitol steps were more empty than full. The crowd numbered in the dozens.

“We did as much promotion as possible. We used Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth, flyers, grassroots efforts,” said Justin Epstein, chairman of MSU’s Academic Assembly, part of the Associated Students of MSU. “It wasn’t what we expected.”

Which doesn’t mean it was for nothing, he said. “We had some really great speakers and they delivered some really great speeches.”

For Automakers, Strong Sales in October

NY Times

DETROIT — October was the best month for new-vehicle sales in more than two years, outside of the government rebate program in mid-2009, and General Motors surpassed expectations, but still lost market share in the United States ahead of its public stock offering.

G.M. said Wednesday that its sales rose 3.5 percent last month from a year ago, compared with a gain of about 13.4 percent for the industry over all. G.M.’s market share fell to 19.3 percent from 21 percent a year ago.

The Ford Motor Company said its sales were up 19.2 percent, and Chrysler reported a 37 percent increase from a mediocre October 2009. Several smaller companies, including Hyundai, Kia and Subaru, set new October records, with increases of at least 25 percent.

Toyota was the only major automaker to report a decline. Its sales fell 4.4 percent. The industry’s seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate was projected to hit at least 12 million for the first time since September 2008, when auto sales began to collapse. Sales bottomed out in early 2009, but automakers have struggled to gain much traction since then.

“Signs are there that the recovery continues and that it will be sustained,” Don Johnson, G.M.’s vice president for United States sales operations, said. “We don’t see a big risk at all of a double dip.”

For all of 2010 so far, G.M.’s sales are 5.7 percent higher than in the first 10 months of 2009, when the company shed four brands after a brief trip through bankruptcy protection. Excluding those brands — Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab — G.M.’s sales are up 22.1 percent this year.

G.M. executives will highlight the company’s rising sales as they begin a traveling “road show” to court investors starting this week. The company is expected to initiate its initial public offering in mid-November, allowing the federal government to begin selling its 61 percent stake.

Ford, which avoided bankruptcy, said sales were up 25 percent for its trucks and 23 percent for its passenger cars, but only 10 percent for its utility vehicles. The company sold 3,846 of its new subcompact car, the Fiesta, with 62 percent of buyers replacing a non-Ford vehicle.

“The consumer is crawling back, particularly in the more affluent and higher-quality credit segments, which could provide upside to our 2011 outlook,” Brian A. Johnson, an analyst with Barclays Capital, wrote in a recent note to clients.

Jesse Toprak, vice president for industry trends and insight at TrueCar.com, which tracks vehicle sales and pricing, said the improving performance of automakers showed that “a recovery is under way,” even though the growth had been slower than anticipated.

“If the trajectory continues in the same path, we could have a strong finish to the year,” Mr. Toprak said.

02 November 2010

GM expects IPO to Reduce Taxpayers' Stake to about 43%

USA Today

The initial offering of General Motors stock is expected to raise about $10 billion in a sale that will cut the U.S. government's stake in GM to below 50%, three people briefed on the sale said.

GM common stock is expected to sell for $26 to $29 a share when the IPO takes place, tentatively Nov. 18, according to the three people, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the matter. That would value the company at more than $46 billion, roughly the same as Ford Motor.

U.S. taxpayers, who bailed out GM last year, would see their ownership drop from 61% to about 43%, not including any extra shares bankers could offer if there is strong demand, the people said.

GM has wanted to shed government control, contending that it hurts the company's sales and public image. The government will get most of the $10 billion and recoup another chunk of the more than $50 billion GM rescue.

GM will not make any money from the sale of the 365 million common shares that will make up the IPO but will sell roughly $3 billion in preferred stock that will convert to common stock in 2013, the people said. Preferred shares pay a set dividend and are more like bonds. GM will use that money to repay loans and make pension payments.

Terms of the sale are not final because GM's board could still change them, one of the people said. GM's final registration filing with the government is expected by today.

GM and its bankers then will begin a "road show" to woo investors, primarily pension and mutual funds, but also some large individual investors. Common shares worth roughly $2 billion would be sold to investors in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, one of the people said.

Bankers leading the sale are recommending that the final share price be revealed Nov. 17 and the sale take place a day later, according to the people.

GM is now a private company owned by the U.S. government, a United Auto Workers retiree health trust, the Canadian and Ontario governments and former GM bondholders.

The Canadian governments are expected to cut their stake from 11.7% to 9.6%, while the UAW trust would cut its stake from 17.5% to 15%, two of the people said.

GM has repaid or plans to repay a total of $9.5 billion in government loans, and the government hopes to recoup its remaining $40 billion investment with the initial stock sale and several follow-up sales.

The four owners hold about 500 million shares total, but the total shares for sale in the IPO and subsequent sales will be increased with a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 stock split, one of the people said. The split, which will take place before the IPO, will create about 1.6 billion shares of GM common stock, one of the people said.