Bushes And Trees

April 23, 2007
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After press time, President George W. Bush arrived in East Grand Rapids to speak in support of his Iraq War policy. Interestingly, Grand Rapids is proving a regular stop for the White House: This marked the third time the president has spoken in Grand Rapids off the campaign trail, and the second time a President Bush has spoken at the East Grand Rapids High School (H.W. Bush did so in 1985). East Grand Rapids is the one likely place for Bush to feel the love, even as national poll numbers show the majority of Americans don’t feel it.

This is the first time he has done so as a guest of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan, the chapter’s highest-profile guest ever.

“Everybody is asking me how this happened, and I don’t really know why we were chosen,” said Dixie Anderson, council executive director. “When they called, I thought they were talking about the first President Bush.”

Anderson was able to make some educated guesses as to why the council was chosen. The White House is familiar with the 80-council national system: The president has been the guest of three other chapters during his tenure. Grand Rapids has received a lot of attention on the national political stage since the funeral here of President Gerald R. Ford. It’s the Midwest. (With President Bill Clinton’s speech at the Economic Club in May, Grand Rapids is an H.W. Bush away from hosting every President since 1974 in this calendar year).

And “I’m egotistical enough to think that our council has a good reputation, and word has gotten back to the White House,” Anderson said.

The local chapter — the first to be honored as the Best Small Council in the system — is already facing a busy month. The previous week it hosted Bill Cohen, Clinton’s secretary of defense, who had a decidedly negative view of the Iraq War, and the previous night hosted Johns Hopkins University’s Bates Gill for a discussion on China.

  • While federal legislators were calling for U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to resign last week, the embattled Bush appointee defended his action to fire federal prosecutors, including Western District Federal Prosecutor Margaret Chiara. While much has been made of Gonzalez’s assessment that Chiara wasn’t performing well, GRBJ has a photo of former Attorney General John Ashcroft shaking her hand and announcing during a visit to Grand Rapids that Chiara’s handling of new immigration policies and the interviews of Middle Eastern Michigan residents that followed Sept. 11, 2001, were a “model” across the country.

  • Sunday was Earth Day. For their celebration of the event Friday, the good folks at architecture firm Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber sent an invitation to the Business Journal made of, of all things, the Jan. 29 edition of the Business Journal.

Now that’s green.

  • Network180 Executive Director Paul Ippel and Kent County Commissioner Nadine Klein, chair of the network180 board, minced no words last week when discussing their frustration with the state budget process.

“Where is the leadership from the governor to the Legislature? Nobody seems to be willing to grapple with the problem and deal with it,” said Ippel, referring to the $700 million hole for the current fiscal year and the $1 billion gap for 2008.

Klein, network180 board chair for the past year, said she doesn’t “want to see too much tinkering” with funding for the organization, which depends on Medicaid and a state general fund allocation to contract with local nonprofits serving those with developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance use disorders. “It’s very frustrating. They can’t seem to come together on anything,” Klein complained about state politicians. “They are going to have to make systemic changes. Quick fixes are not going to work anymore. I am disappointed with the lack of action from Lansing at this point in time.”

  • Fledgling Internet startup Spout is on the shortlist for its industry’s top award, alongside high-profile brands such as NPR and The Onion.

Founded in 2005 by four local film fans — among them Amway heir Rick DeVos, whose family provided much of the funding for the venture — Spout last year launched the initial version of its flagship Web community and DVD sales tool, Spout.com.

As reported in the Business Journal’s online edition, Spout last week was named a finalist for Best Podcast in the 2007 Webby Awards. Spout’s FilmCouch podcasts cover all aspects of the film industry, including interviews with Academy Award-winning actors and discussions of independent films on the film festival circuit, among many other topics.

Paul Moore, Spout co-founder and creator of the Spout podcasts, said the company began producing the podcasts — audio programs available for download via the Internet — because “We felt there was a level of conversation missing in the film world, something deeper than Hollywood glitz, but not academic.”

Other podcasts selected as finalists include entries from NPR, satire publisher The Onion, Scientific American and British daily newspaper The Guardian.

Also nominated from West Michigan is Kellogg Co. in the Best Corporate Communications Web Site category. Winners will be announced May 1 and honored at the 11th Annual Webby Awards in New York City on June 5.

  • The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts will celebrate its 30th anniversary in an event this Thursday at its downtown gallery. The free event will feature champagne, cake, music, tours and short films in the UICA theatre.

As part of the festivities, UICA’s special birthday exhibition 30 Years/30 Cakes will open for the public, honoring its 30-year commitment to contemporary art. A nationwide call-for-entries was made for this juried exhibition, asking artists to examine the concept of birthdays and the act of celebration with cake.

  • Gov. Jennifer Granholm on sending a delegation to China (featuring local representatives from The Right Place Inc. and Van Andel Research Institute): “We are working aggressively in China to sell Michigan as the best place in North America to do business and attract new jobs to the state.”

This brings to mind a certain Democratic campaign commercial last fall featuring Republican gubernatorial challenger Dick DeVos on a slow boat to Asia. 

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