Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Michigan's primary pain

Our embarrassing primary saga appears resolved. The Michigan Democratic Party voted to endorse the January 15 primary as their method for choosing a presidential nominee. The state Republican Party continues to stand by the primary. Indeed, it was the Republican Supreme Court that overturned lower court rulings that would have stopped the election. And early this week it was the GOP controlled Senate that declined to act on legislation that could have restored Democratic front runners to the ballot.

This resolution would feel like a relief, if it weren't so disappointing. The process recapitulates the dysfunction we witnessed around the state budget crisis in September and October. Once again, after weeks of partisanship between an unfocused Democratic Party and an oppositional GOP we have an unremarkable result.

Posturing, grand standing, and intra-party bickering have created a primary that looks just as it did weeks ago: Senator Hillary Clinton will be the only democratic front runner on the ballot and the GOP field will be complete.

The early primary was to highlight Michigan's issues nationally and bring economic activity to Michigan. The only attention it has brought was from New Hampshire election officials waiting to determine their date -- their state law requires their primary be the first in the nation. Once Michigan's Supreme Court ruled, New Hampshire moved swiftly to set their date and national attention immediately moved back to candidate activity in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Michigan, take a number and get in line. Or was that get in line and take a number? The Democratic party seems to have less tolerance for bending rules than the GOP. After all, GOP candidates have not shot themselves or their party in the foot on principle to demonstrate conformity to party rules.

And what of Michigan's issues? The early primary was to bring national attention to Michigan's sorry economic state. Michigan is an intense example of the devastation wrought by financialization and globalization. Metro Detroit recently topped the nation for crime and has one of the highest residential foreclosure rates. The state leads the nation in unemployment. Job losses will continue through 2008. State finances are still not truly sound. But why should any presidential candidate care? Can any of them bring good news to Michigan?

Don't hold your breath. The presidential campaign is about one thing -- winning. Making things better for Michigan? That's Michigan's problem.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A good dinner spoiled -- dioxin in fish

My dad always brought home his full share of walleye. His annual trip to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, meant amazing fish dinners year round. It was the early 1970s. We never worried that the fish might not be good for our health. In fact, it always seemed to bring a distant purity to our suburban dinner table. This was righteous, natural food, the prize of a hard-working man taking some peace away from his cares, which were many.

Today, if you are smart, you pay attention to fish consumption advisories. Every state issues them. Some states are direct about it; some bury the information layers deep on departmental or agency websites. No matter where you live, you are a fool not to check the advisories.

Michigan's Department of Community Health (MDCH) is issuing an Interim Fish Consumption Advisory for the Saginaw River. "This action extends the advisory currently in effect for the Tittabawassee River to the entire length of the Saginaw River. " (source) The level of dioxin found is believed to be the highest ever -- 1.6 million parts of dioxin per trillion of water. This is about 20 times higher than any other known dioxin contamination.

What have we done? Most likely the dioxins in question are from the productivity of Dow Chemical Company. Industry makes our lives "better." That was the idea for decades. But short-lived conveniences give way to generations-long environmental destruction. In the United States, we know better than to trade short term economic gain for environmental harm and still we get it wrong. We roll back laws protecting the environment and in Michigan, take away the citizen's right to sue to protect the environment we hold in common.

The developing world is learning on its own what we continue to discover with every new patch of toxic waste. In particular, China is sacrificing environmental quality for production.

Read about China:
China’s Environmental Crisis Catalyzes New Democracy Movement

Then say a prayer for the Saginaw River and her people. And say one more for China.

Friday, November 23, 2007

To buy or not to buy

This Friday is Buy Nothing Day, an informal day of protest by social activists who oppose consumerism. It's also Black Friday, the start of the holiday shopping season. The name sounds ominous but is meant to be hopeful -- we're talking about black ink, that is, big profits for retailers. These competing media events mark opposing views of consumerism -- one urges consumption, the other reflection. Do you fulfill your destiny as bargain hunter and a consumer or do you assert your dignity as a human being, a global citizen passively resisting, in solidarity with others?

Even in our troubled state economy you can live your values, buy nothing on Friday and have a clear conscience. Often hyped as the "busiest shopping day of the year," it actually isn't. Some Americans do wait in line as early as 4 a.m. to get dirt-cheap electronics, but more procrastinate and do the bulk of their holiday shopping between December 21-23. So if you choose to unite in protest on Buy Nothing Day, you won't be dooming Michigan retailers.

It's the whole season that makes or breaks retailers. Consumer spending accounts for more than two thirds of all economic activity. The last six weeks of the year are the home stretch for retailers who make about 40 percent of annual profits in that period. What worries retailers this year is that consumers are low on cash and credit. Until the housing bust, consumers had dutifully continued shopping, tapping home equity like a personal ATM. They believed their equity was real, but it was only a financial illusion.

A financial illusion sold with an advertising illusion -- consumption equals empowerment. Access to credit signifies status and proffers the freedom to pursue your dreams. That's the fantasy sold by credit card companies and banks to people who forgot they lived in the real economy. Thanks to the housing slump, a house is once again a house.

The real economy is where human beings dwell. This is where a house provides shelter from the elements. This is where hunger and poverty oppress millions. This is where elderly choose between medicine and food. This is where you live within your means and discover you are farther from the financialized fantasy of the good life than marketers want you to know.

On Friday, as any day, you have a choice between real life and fiction. You can choose solidarity with the less fortunate who lack easy credit and access to over-consumption or you can pretend to afford an unsustainable fantasy. Live more. Buy nothing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November consumer confidence, lowest since after Hurricane Katrina

As we enter the most important season for retailers, the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for November came in at 76.1.

Retailers are bracing for cautious consumers with limited credit spending conservatively.

Classical music not all whites in wigs

"It isn't right for people to grow up thinking that classical music is all white men in wigs." These are the words of Bill Zick, who wants people to know that minorities played an important role in the history of classical music.

Zick's AfriClassical website documents the history of minorities composing and performing classical music. His work combines a love of classical music with a commitment to racial equality.

A retired administrative law judge based in Ann Arbor, Zick has created an internationally recognized education resource on African heritage in classical music. The site contains biographies and audio samples of 52 composers and musicians and spans 500 years of music history. Last year, departments of education in 15 states used the resource.

"People of color have always been a part of classical music and that should be public knowledge," said Zick. In creating and maintaining his blog and website, Zick's main goal is education. "I want people to know the history of blacks in classical music. I want them to know that Henry VIII had a black trumpeter. I want them to know that Beethoven wrote his most challenging sonata for a black violinist," said Zick.

Although racial minorities have a long history in classical music, they are still under-represented among professional symphony orchestras. According to the Sphinx Organization, a Detroit-based advocacy and education organization, less than 4 percent of symphony orchestra members in the U.S. are African-American or Latino.

Zick, a white American, began his lifelong interest in civil rights in his youth. "I grew up with the sense that there was a great societal wrong about the way people of color were treated," he said. "My father was a fan of jazz and knew about racial inequality." His father would attend segregated jazz concerts in the 1930s in Flint. Zick said that after the white bands would play, whites were required to leave and then black performers could take the stage. He said his father would hide in the theater "because after midnight when the black musicians were allowed to play, that's when the music really got good."

He also had an early awareness of racial violence. "I grew up hearing my parents talk about living in Detroit in 1943. During the riots, my mother witnessed a mob of whites chase a black man, catch him and beat him," Zick said. "She is still haunted by what she saw and has always feared that the man was killed." During World War II, racial violence erupted in Detroit among factory workers. It arose from the stresses of a housing shortage, racial tension and inequality among workers who migrated from the south.

Zick hopes his efforts will lead to fair treatment of minorities by raising awareness of their accomplishments. "Regardless of your race, the more you learn about this history, the more basis you have for respecting people of color," he said.

The website gets over 100,000 visits per year, but not all are from educators or supporters of the work. Zick says that some white nationalists have visited the site and left disparaging remarks -- evidence of the persistent prejudice he seeks to mitigate.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Detroit crime tops nation

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know I enjoy numbers. Congressional Quarterly Publications announced, this week, that Detroit is the nation's most dangerous city. Flint placed third. The American Society of Criminology criticized the rankings, but CQ defended the survey saying it was a straight forward interpretation of FBI data. Chicago and Minneapolis were not included in the report due to incomplete data. What kind of list omits two major metropolitan areas? An incomplete one.

From a Free Press article:
“What I take exception to is the use of these statistics and the damage they inflict on a number of these cities,” said Mayor Duffy of Rochester, N.Y.

The damage does not stop at the city limits, though. Detroit is Michigan's city. Michigan's economic viability depends on Detroit's economic viability. Detroit's economy depends on tourism. Think for a moment about Detroit's efforts to become a destination city. Does this new information make it more likely or less likely a person from a lovely suburb will visit the MGM Grand Casino for the weekend? More or less likely a person from Windsor will come over to visit the DIA? More or less likely someone from Brighton will go to a Detroit Symphony concert?

This ranking will reinforce negative attitudes, prejudices and fears about all these cities. Lacking context or explanation, the ranking becomes an excuse to avoid and scorn major cities and cultural centers.

Here are the top 25:
1. Detroit 407.2
2. St. Louis 406.2
3. Flint, Mich. 381.0
4. Oakland, Calif. 338.9
5. Camden, N.J. 323.8
6. Birmingham, Ala. 268.8
7. North Charleston, S.C. 254.3
8. Memphis, Tenn. 245.6
9. Richmond, Calif. 245.1
10. Cleveland 244.4
11. Orlando, Fla. 237.4
12. Baltimore 236.7
13. Little Rock, Ark. 233.8
14. Compton, Calif. 223.6
15. Youngstown, Ohio 222.0
16. Cincinnati 218.3
17. Gary, Ind. 214.0
18. Kansas City, Mo. 203.4
19. Dayton, Ohio 201.5
20. Newark, N.J. 197.3
21. Philadelphia 192.9
22. Atlanta 189.9
23. Jackson, Miss. 188.8
24. Buffalo, N.Y. 187.8
25. Kansas City, Kan. 187.6

Monday, November 19, 2007

Michigan wants a piece of the homeland security pie

Homeland security is big business and the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium (MIHSC) wants to bring more of it to Michigan. The group plans to stimulate economic growth by getting funding opportunities for young companies.

"There is lots of opportunity and pioneering in the homeland security sector. It is ripe for innovation," said Keith Brophy, chairman and co-founder of MIHSC, a nonprofit, trade organization started in June of 2006.  "We realized that for this industry to get off the ground, the private sector would have to give it momentum." Although the state's 21st Century Jobs Fund targets homeland security for growth, MIHSC is creating additional venture capital opportunities for new companies.

Last week, MIHSC unveiled the Homeland Security Resource Fund, a joint venture with Battle Creek Unlimited (BCU), a regional economic development organization.  The new fund will provide money and guidance to homeland security companies in Michigan.  "We want to help create synergy in economic development." said Jack Miner, Battle Creek Ventures managing director.  "We want to do everything we can in Battle Creek to help develop the business of homeland security and having this fund creates another asset."

On Dec. 4, MIHSC will host its 2nd annual Michigan Homeland Security Venture & Angel Capital Symposium at Cleary University, in Howell, featuring keynote speaker Dick DeVos. MIHSC expects at least 100 attendees.

Homeland security spending is growing nationally. In "What Has Homeland Security Cost? An Assessment: 2001-2005,"  The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimated "that homeland security spending climbed from $56.0 billion in 2001 to $99.5 billion in 2005."

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 anticipated this boom. In addition to defining the mission of the Department of Homeland Security, a subsection of the act created liability protection for makers and sellers of "qualified anti-terrorism technologies." Today, the Department of Homeland Security website Open for Business portal "centralizes information to let every business in America know how to work with the Department of Homeland Security."

MIHSC has support in Lansing and Washington, D.C.  U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg and state Sens. Valde Garcia and Cameron Brown all spoke at the announcement of the Resource Fund.  Brown and Garcia are chair and vice chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Emerging Technologies Committee, respectively. Garcia also chairs the Michigan Homeland Security Roundtable for MIHSC.

During this current economic slump, making the case for any new business in Michigan is an easy sell. Still, advocates for homeland security evoke the glory of Michigan's past to justify current homeland security development. They conflate mobilization for World War II with increasing homeland security business now.

"We will soon be celebrating Dec. 7th, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day," Brown said. "That unprovoked attack led Michigan to be in the forefront of the Allied mobilization to stop Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Michigan became known as the Arsenal of Democracy." Linking past and present, he concluded, "The Michigan Senate's new Homeland Security and Emerging Technologies Committee, of which Sen. Garcia is vice chair, was created last January with the goal of improving public safety but also to return Michigan to its leadership role in the homeland security sector."

Closing his remarks, Garcia said, "Michigan needs to be known as the Arsenal of Democracy."

Brophy's view is more pragmatic: "We just need more state government recognition that this is a sector worth fostering."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Court to delay primary decision (UPDATE)

cross posted at Huffington Post

UPDATE: Early this evening (Friday, Nov. 16) Michigan Messenger reported that the Court of Appeals has found the primary election law unconstitutional. The state can now take an appeal to the State Supreme Court.

The Michigan Court of Appeals said it needs several more days to decide if the state's primary election law is unconstitutional. The court is considering whether primary election voting records should be public record or can become the private property of political parties.

The case, brought by political consultant Mark Grebner (Democrat), contends that denying citizen access to voting records is unconstitutional. Last week, an Ingham County Circuit Court agreed. Secretary of State, Terry Lynn Land (Republican) immediately appealed. The Michigan Court of Appeals will likely decide before December 1st, the deadline to begin mailing absentee ballots oversees.

Grebner said he is not opposed to the primary, only the handling of voter records. While legislation could fix the problem, how that would play out is anybody's guess. Democrats control the House. Republicans hold a slim, yet effective majority in the Senate. But who wants what? Although the state party leadership publicly says they want a primary, supporters of various candidates want different things and each party is rife with internal conflict. Can legislators build bi-partisan alliances to accomplish common goals? Would Republicans break ranks to support individual candidates?

Hillary Clinton supporters would be delighted with the January 15 primary as it stands - she's the only Democratic front-runner on the ballot. Romney and McCain supporters would be thrilled with a state nominating convention - where the party activists do the choosing. Lesser Republican candidates certainly would do better with the January primary, but cross-over voting from Democrats could seriously skew the result.

Even if the Court allows the primary to proceed, House Bill 5353 poses the next threat - it would cancel the primary outright. According to staff in the office of lead sponsor, Representative Martin Griffin (Democrat), the Court of Appeals decision will determine the next steps for H.B. 5353. On October 24 the bill was sent to the House Oversight and Investigations Committee.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Financialization brought you the "subprime crisis"

Banks may lose $400 billion in bad investments relating to the U.S. subprime market. (source)

That's the bank side of the story. What about people in houses? What will they lose? How many children will be affected? How many families' financial prospects dashed? How many made homeless?

Financialization sits at the center of the crisis, which is completely man-made.

Acquaint yourself with this shift of priorities from the real sector (where a house is a house) to the financial sector (where a house spawns a securitized debt instrument) by reading "Financialization: What It Is and Why It Matters," by economics professor Thomas Palley, UMass Amherst.

From the abstract?
"Financialization is a process whereby financial markets, financial institutions and financial elites gain greater influence over economic policy and economic outcomes. Financialization transforms the functioning of economic system at both the macro and micro levels. Its principal impacts are to (1) elevate the significance of the financial sector relative to the real sector; (2) transfer income from the real sector to the financial sector; and (3) increase income inequality and contribute to wage stagnation. There are reasons to believe that financialization may render the economy prone to risk of debt-deflation and prolonged recession."

Happy reading, it is not. Essential reading? Yes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The art of governing

Don't lose hope. Although our elected officials have a hard job, it does not require genius or inspiration.

The legislature doesn't have to make music or create something beautiful or inspiring or timeless. They just need to respond to current economic and social circumstances. They merely need to manage public money.

They don't have to write documents that must last centuries or qualify as literature. They just need to make laws that reflect sound public policy for a time.

They don't have to invent fairness, justice, freedom and equality. They just have to honor and uphold them.

They don't have to play violin on a tightrope. Some days, for variety we all might wish they did.

Monday, November 12, 2007

MEDC shoots for more defense dollars

cross posted at Michigan Messenger

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation wants to break Michigan's dependence on the auto industry. State officials hope the new Defense Contract Coordination Center (DC3) will help businesses reposition themselves to win military contracts.

"I proposed creating an organization in state government to bring defense jobs to Michigan," said state Sen. Valde Garcia (R-Dist. 22). "During World War II, we were known as the Arsenal of Democracy. Given our history, manufacturing capacity and our trained work force, I thought it would be a natural fit and a great way to transition from where we are with the auto industry to diversifying the economy."

Garcia imagines Michigan companies bringing factories to full production to replace equipment lost in the Iraq war. This could include anything from vehicles to body armor.

After an MEDC study found Garcia's concept viable, legislation signed in 2006 made the DC3 a reality. MEDC will administer the center through the 21st Century Jobs Fund -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm's $2 billion economic development initiative -- with a one-time $10 million appropriation.

Garcia expects the DC3 to fill immediate employment needs in Michigan. "It will take years to diversify the economy with biotech, advanced automotive and alternative energy. In the meantime we needed to come up with something that will put people to work. This is likely to employ people right away," Garcia said.

While that might hold in the short term, a new study -- from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst -- finds defense spending inferior to other public investments in creating jobs. "What I can tell you from the study is that the employment impact of putting money into education is going to be larger than the employment impact of putting it into military procurement contracts," said professor Robert Pollin, lead author of the study, "The Employment Effects of Downsizing the U.S. Military."

Even so, in the context of Michigan's desperately struggling economy, Pollin allows that competing for defense contracts makes sense. "In a state like Michigan, where you do have a problem with job creation and there are these contracts for military procurement, of course you should compete aggressively to get them. Why shouldn't Michigan get them as opposed to Minnesota or Iowa or someplace else?" he said.

Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Bradley Lott assumed leadership of DC3 in June. While advocating government contract procurement, Lott advises businesses to cultivate a diverse client base. "I never recommend anybody become just a defense or homeland security kind of supplier. We want to diversify our industrial base," Lott said. He wants to help Michigan's economy, but has encountered resistance to defense and government contracting across the state.

In his first months on the job, Lott traveled the state listening to potential constituents and making the case for pursuing government contracts. He said people at every presentation questioned doing business with the federal government and pursuing defense contracts in the midst of an unpopular war.

Lott said if people don't like defense contracts, there are other things they can sell to the federal government, such as baled hay or soap.

Lott's core strategy is to get Michigan companies involved early in the contracting process. "If you are reacting to a contract when it is published, you are considered a Johnny-come-lately," Lott said. His goal is to teach companies about the entire contracting process -- which can take two to three years -- so that they can participate in working groups at the earliest stages. These working groups actually help shape contract requirements.

The DC3 will also train Michigan's 12 Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) to act earlier in the contracting process. PTACs -- nonprofits funded by the Defense Logistics Agency, the MEDC and local partners -- connect businesses with contracting opportunities.

Over the next three months, Lott will staff the organization and create a curriculum and training materials. After that, DC3 staff will begin to train personnel at PTACs and businesses around the state.

With $10 million in seed money, 34 years of service in the Marines, support of the Legislature, a vast array of engineering and manufacturing capacity at the ready, and a commitment to help the state, Lott is set to complete his mission.

"We are initially going to increase contracts, which is dollars, which is jobs. But in my heart, I want to see the state of Michigan regain recognition as the Arsenal of Democracy," Lott said.

Cleaning house in Michigan

I’m a fan of Clean House, a low budget home make-over show on the Style Network. Reruns play every morning while I drink coffee, open my eyes to the day and scan the news online. Niecy Nash, diva hostess, implores people to let go of their “foolishness.” She charms them to release precious junk – flamingos, surf boards snapped in two, chipped coffee mugs, unopened wedding gifts – in return for clarity, order and space.

It’s the same script every show: cheerful make-over team intervenes with pathologically messy family; everyone cleans house, has yard sale; family gets new style and second chance; gratitude and smiles all around. No matter how many times I see these episodes, I’m comforted by the resolution of someone else’s mess, their relief and freedom from bondage to stuff and the past.

Scanning the news of Michigan’s economy and politics in Lansing also feels like watching reruns, but without the catharsis of a neat and tidy resolution and the peace of knowing it’s not my mess. If you live in Michigan, it is your mess and these are your reruns. Your family’s prospects grow in the economic present. Heavy industrial clutter, obsolete beliefs, and careers snapped in two dog us. The make-over team in Lansing lacks unified leadership and has too many designers.

On Clean House, folks part with clutter at fire sale prices. They paid full retail, but they’ll take tag sale premium for the sake of a new beginning. That’s the choice facing homeowners trying to sell in Michigan right now. That’s the choice for workers considering buyouts. And college graduates looking for work.

Since we lack a designer and unified vision, we have to be responsible for our choices and futures. No one will bail us out of this and we don’t have the time to wait for new leadership. Instead of following every Lansing rerun and playing bit parts, citizens need to write a new script and claim the lead role. Be sure to vote. Write letters. Take action in the interest of your family, community and future. Start at your kitchen table and work out from there. And think about taking a mainstream media holiday – you’ll only be missing reruns!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Illinois beats number 1 Ohio State -- 28, 21

Wow! As an Illini, I absolutely must take a moment to acknowledge this. Illinois beat Ohio State at Ohio. A historic upset.

Fans of Michigan should be grateful, as this gives Michigan a shot at the Rose Bowl.

Consumer sentiment , consumer spending and the auto industry

Reuters reports that the preliminary University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for November has fallen to 75.0,its lowest level since October of 2005. Economists expected a reading of 80.0. The index measures how consumers feel about their personal economic situation and the future prospects for the economy generally.

The final figure for November will be released at the end of the month.

What this means is that consumers will likely spend less in the coming months -- the last quarter of the year. The holiday season makes or breaks most retailers and this year is going to be tough. Consumers will be highly selective in their purchases, especially as they choose toys, hoping to find safe ones. This will also mean weaker car sales.

Higher energy costs, less home equity, and tighter credit all mean less consumer spending.

This week, Fed. Chair Bernanke said the national economy will get worse before it gets better, but stopped short of saying recession was inevitable. He can't predict recession. But "far worse" from where I'm sitting sure looks like recession.

Here in Michigan, we have been feeling the pain for a while. "One state recession" has been the mantra of certain analysts for months. And it's a hot potato we'd be happy to toss.

Automakers expect the weak housing market and credit crunch to affect sales in the last quarter of the year. What happens nationally happens in Michigan. What affects the auto industry rocks the economic foundation of Michigan even though we are frantically working to diversify our auto-centric economy.

This week, Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, had a positive assessment for General Motors' prospects. He says they are making necessary changes to become profitable in North America. “Last year, GM took $9 billion out of structural costs of operating the business, the value of that was about $2000 per vehicle and this latest labor contract is worth about $1000 per vehicle.”

“They are in the process of dramatic restructuring and the fruits of that are still down the road. If the economy softens next year, that will put it off a little bit,"Cole said. “They basically have fixed the company and planted the seed, but the harvest is ahead.”

How far ahead is the unanswerable question..

Friday, November 9, 2007

Michigan State University among scientists' best places to work

Michigan State University ranks 16th in a recent survey of the best places for scientists to work. The November issue of The Scientist Magazine ranked the top U.S. and international academic institutions according results of an online survey conducted by the magazine. The survey was based on 2,072 responses from readers who identified themselves as life scientists in tenured or tenure-track positions in academia and non-commercial research institutions. The survey asked respondents about job satisfaction, peer relationships, pay, research resources, management, and infrastructure. MSU was the only Michigan institution to make the ranking.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

GM: #1 in sales, #1 in losses

Less than a month ago, GM touted its status as number 1 in sales, by 10,000 vehicles globally. Take that Toyota. Unfortunately, GM is just not profitable. As GM takes a $39 billion loss, Toyota boasts third quarter profits of $11 billion.

According to Toyota, gains in emerging markets offset a drop in U.S. market profits. It's a global game.

Fortunately, GM is also seeking growth on other continents.
The Detroit News reports that "GM said it recorded a record third-quarter of global sales at 2.39 million cars and trucks, up 4 percent from a year ago."

GM is trying to balance a difficult U.S. market with opportunity elsewhere. How can GM trim U.S. costs, maintain U.S. sales and expand everywhere else? Patience, luck and innovation. Maybe high mileage vehicles in the U.S. as gas prices increase? Perhaps rapid development and commercialization of alternative fuel technology?

Time to wait and see...

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Sphinx at Smith College

Sometimes it's okay to feel really good about Michigan. Even southeast lower Michigan.

This week, Aaron Dworkin, founder and director of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization visited Smith College. His appearance was part of Smith's annual Otelia Cromwell celebration. Cromwell was the first African American to graduate from Smith. She transferred in her junior year from Howard in 1898.

Dworkin, a University of Michigan School of Music graduate, founded the Sphinx Organization to advocate for greater representation of minority musicians in the rarefied, exclusive realm of classical music. Today, his ten-year-old organization nurtures minority classical musicians from elementary school through college and to professional careers.

Blacks and latinos are still underrepresented among orchestral membership today.

But Dworkin and his organization persevere in working to change that with programs like: Sphinx Prep at Wayne State, Harlem Quartet School Dayz, the Instrument Fund, and the annual Sphinx Competition.

Dworkin has vision, drive, and commitment to his mission. He's a Michigan treasure.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Building sustainable communities in Michigan

Making livable communities out of distressed ones takes money, creativity and teamwork.

In the midst of Michigan's economic upheaval, economic development organizations are helping local communities find a way back to sustainability and livability.

Providing housing is the first step in redeveloping vulnerable neighborhoods and local community development organizations collaborate with schools, hospitals, banks, small businesses, foundations and corporations to create sustainable communities. Several specialized private nonprofits help them navigate these complex efforts.

Michigan Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), Detroit LISC and the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM) coordinate local development projects in Michigan. They will jointly host the Building Sustainable Communities Conference on Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., at the Holiday Inn South in Lansing. The meeting is intended for community development organizations, human service nonprofits, policy makers, community action agencies, housing agencies and potential funding sources.

"We're rolling out the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) which is about building communities that are desirable to live in," said Tahirih Ziegler, executive director of Michigan LISC. The new initiative focuses on five areas: affordable housing, regional economic development and micro-enterprise development, increasing family income and wealth, improving access to quality education - preschool through adult, and supporting healthy environments and lifestyles. The program pushes community development beyond just providing housing, she added.

Since 1990 Detroit LISC has invested more than $100 million and leveraged $650 million for revitalization in Detroit, according to the group's website. Michigan LISC, has invested $100.5 million and leveraged $346.3 million since 1988. Detroit LISC and Michigan LISC are local affiliates of a national organization that boasts investing $7.8 billion nationwide over 25 years.

Overall, sums spent in redevelopment are vast, but smaller investments on a human scale are key to local projects. Micro enterprise development is central to revitalizing distressed areas, said Ziegler, adding, "It's been overlooked...86 percent of small businesses are micro enterprises. At the conference we're going to talk about how we can rebuild neighborhoods using local businesses and local services."

In southwest Detroit, LISC's Neighborhoods Now program built 30 single-family homes for sale to low-and moderate-income residents. The homes are located in Mexicantown, the site of aggressive commercial redevelopment, including the 45,000-square-foot Mexicantown International Welcome Center and Mercado.

The Sustainable Communities Conference comes at a time of increasing need in Michigan, which has the nation's highest unemployment rate, a shrinking workforce, lower-than-average college completion rates, high residential foreclosure rates and significant child poverty.

"As the public sector shrinks the nonprofit sector is asked to take on more," said Angie Gaabo, executive director of CEDAM, acknowledging the impact of Michigan's current state funding crisis. The need for community development assistance spans urban and rural Michigan, she added.

"There is deep poverty in the rural parts of Michigan," Gaabo said. "We are interested in getting a rural caucus started in the legislature. Rural communities have some of the highest poverty rates in the state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004 Michigan's poverty rate was 12.5 percent, nearly even with the national rate of 12.7 percent. Yet rural counties' poverty rates topped 15 percent (Luce 16.2 percent, Mecosta 15.3 percent, Gogebic 15.3 percent, Isabella 15.2 percent). Urban poverty in Wayne County is the highest in the state at 18.8 percent

"Right now the big success we can point to is the Living in Michigan Campaign," Gaabo said. "It's an effort to create a dedicated state source of revenue for housing and community development. We are getting close to having an appropriation for the Housing and Community Development Fund in this budget, which would be a first in Michigan. Considering the state of the budget, this would be a big victory."

According to its website, the Living in Michigan Campaign aims to establish "a $100 million-a-year program that will leverage an additional $280 million investment annually." Proponents claim the MHCDF "will create more than 6,000 good-paying jobs and generate $21 million in state and local taxes."

"LISC's role has always been to advance partnerships, invest in neighborhoods and ultimately improve lives," Ziegler said.