Sunday, December 30, 2007

For the New Year

Wishing you and the people you love an auspicious New Year.
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Friday, December 28, 2007

Michigan's Top Economic Stories of 2007

Layoffs, closings and downsizing

From autoworkers to chemists, Michigan lost jobs steadily throughout 2007. A University of Michigan economic study tallied 76,300 jobs lost in 2007 and projected a loss of 51,200 for 2008. Ann Arbor's Pfizer began releasing employees in the summer at a rate of about 175 per month. All automakers reduced payrolls this year, even after forging agreements with the UAW that included job security measures. Plucking a familiar fear-based chord, Gov. Jennifer Granholm sent 35,000 layoff notices to state employees on the brink of a government shutdown that lasted only four hours the first day of October. The layoffs never came, but the gesture packed a symbolic punch.

Private equity firm buys Chrysler

The private equity firm Cerberus took control of Chrysler in August after Daimler shed the ailing domestic division. Named for the three-headed canine guardian of the gates of hell, Cerberus has a strategy of taking over companies in dire straits and reviving them through aggressive cost cutting. This fall marked the company's first venture in union negotiations with the UAW. Unlike GM and Ford, the new Chrysler made no promises of job security. Like GM and Ford, Chrysler announced job cuts before the ink was dry on the UAW agreement.

Foreclosure tsunami

While the "foreclosure crisis" is a national problem with international repercussions, Michigan has been among the top 10 states for foreclosures every month. According to RealtyTrac, from July 1 to Sept. 30 Detroit ranked second-highest among the nation's largest 100 metropolitan areas in the rate of foreclosure filings, with one for every 33 households. Policy makers at all levels of government are scrambling to propose solutions before another wave of adjustable mortgages resets its interest rates early in 2008.

Nation's highest unemployment all year

Michigan led the nation in unemployment all year with the exception of February and April, when Mississippi inched past Michigan by less than half a percent. Here are the Michigan numbers for the year from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: January 6.9 percent, February 6.6 percent (Mississippi 6.7 percent), March 6.5 percent (Mississippi 6.9 percent), April 7.1 percent, May 6.9 percent, June 7.2 percent, July 7.2 percent, August 7.4 percent, Sept. 7.5 percent, Oct. 7.7 percent, Nov. 7.4 percent. The national rate ranged from 4.4 to 4.7 percent in 2007.

Budget standoff stalls Legislature

Michigan's Constitution requires the Legislature to pass a balanced budget. This year that proved nearly impossible. In the 11th hour, after a four-hour government shutdown, the Legislature managed to pass a continuation budget. The gridlock lasted nearly nine months and threatened the state's credit rating. Without more structural changes, next year's budget process will likely be a replay of this year's saga.

Detroit development looking up

The Detroit Institute of Arts renovation and the new MGM Grand Casino and Hotel caught the eye of the New York Times, landing the city a spot on the "Places to Visit in 2008" list. The MGM Grand was also named one of the top 10 new U.S. hotels in 2007. In December, Standard & Poor's upgraded Detroit's fiscal outlook from negative to stable, making an upgrade of the city's credit rating conceivable. The city also attracted Quicken Loans, which plans to move its headquarters and over 4,000 jobs from Livonia to a new downtown location.

Michigan tourism promotion wins awards

Travel Michigan's Pure Michigan campaign featuring Tim Allen won kudos from the Travel Industry Association of America. The new Travel Michigan website ( gained recognition this summer as the #1 State Tourism Web Site, according to Hitwise United States (, an international company that tracks website traffic. This is good news, since according to George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, "Visitors spend about $17.5 billion annually, which employs 193,000 people statewide and contributes $971 million in state taxes."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Benjamin Barber on Bill Moyers Journal

"Capitalism has put democracy in trouble, because capitalism has tried to persuade us that being a private consumer is enough. That a citizen is nothing more than a consumer." Benjamin Barber

Wish I'd said that.

December consumer confidence falls, will common sense follow?

It is just four days before Christmas, a religious holiday and also consumer celebration of spending. Today the Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for December came in at 75.5. November's reading was 76.1.

What does it mean? What can it mean?

Consumers -- people who buy things in order to live -- are less confident about their finances and for good reason. The global financial house of cards has turned consumers' houses into poker chips. The consumer confidence index is often explained as indicating the prospects for consumer spending -- two thirds of economic activity -- without questioning the premise that unbridled consumer spending is good. Consumer spending has been enabled by an artificial inflation of residential real estate prices. Consumer spending has been a speculative excess of sorts.

Now, reality is sinking in and consumers, who earn money presumably through productive activity, are seeing a bleak near-term future.

Time for a little less debt-fueled spending. Time for a little reality-based home economics. A house is a home if you can make the mortgage payments. And you can make the mortgage payments if you resist buying cheap junk you don't actually need. Go for it. Make a new year's resolution to spend less than you earn.

It's okay. You, the consumer, are not responsible for sustaining the economy while slitting your own pockets.

Stabenow law offers debt help but foreclosure crisis rages on

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow's Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act has now been signed into law. The Michigan Democrat's legislation frees individuals from paying income tax when they have had a part of their mortgage loan forgiven or have been forced to foreclose. It is a measure to remove the insult of additional taxes after the injury of foreclosure.

Even with this legislation, there is more work ahead to help borrowers stay in their homes, keep credit affordable and stave off a recession. There is plenty of blame to go around in Michigan's foreclosure crisis and not all of it in Michigan. Politicians are scrambling to respond to a crisis that was years in the making and could have been prevented through sensible regulation and appropriate oversight. Other recent actions include:
    • The Bush Administration announced an entirely voluntary plan for mortgage servicers to consider instead of outright foreclosure when borrowers fall behind on payments.

    • The Federal Reserve Bank has approved a set of rules that resemble pre-1980 lending practices - that require evidence of borrowers' income and ability to repay loans and full disclosure of the terms of a loan to borrowers before closing the deal.

    • Congress is considering legislation that would allow the Federal Housing Authority to refinance sub-prime loans due to reset at higher interest rates. The FHA would reduce down-payment requirements and increase loan amounts to accommodate the loans.

    • The Michigan Legislature is considering a sheaf of bills that would require licensing for loan officers and prohibit predatory lending practices.

    • Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox last week sponsored a foreclosure prevention forum at Cobo Center that attracted thousands of borrowers behind on their mortgage payments.

Michigan has recorded over 135,000 foreclosure filings this year. The Detroit area ranked second highest in the third quarter for the rate of households in foreclosure -- one out of every 33 households. Wednesday, RealtyTrac announced that nationally 201,950 foreclosure filings were reported last month, compared with 120,334 in November 2006. Nevada, Florida and Ohio had the highest rates of increase over the year.

While the situation in Michigan is not unique, it is exacerbated by our declining manufacturing economy. Here are some of the ingredients that went into making Michigan's mortgage mess:

    • Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. In 1933, this federal act was created to separate investment and commercial banking activities in order to prevent the speculative excesses of the type that preceded the Great Depression. Sixty-six years later, the walls protecting mortgages from becoming fodder for financial speculation finally came down.

    • Not enough mortgage examiners. The Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Services (OFIS) is responsible for regulating the mortgage industry in Michigan. OFIS has an insufficient number of examiners - 12 to regulate over 2,800 companies making mortgages.

    • Mortgage loan officers in Michigan are not licensed. Nor does the state require background checks. Convicted criminals can become loan officers.

    • Inadequate consumer education. At the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis, Detroit HOPE, a coalition of lenders and consumer advocates, was formed in 2005 to reduce foreclosures in the metro area. In 2007, by September, the group had only held three foreclosure-prevention workshops. Only about 75 people attended each seminar.

    • Unethical, but legal, practices. Offering adjustable-rate mortgages to sub-prime borrowers is not illegal. Lax federal and state regulation has permitted giving loans without verifying income or ability to repay.

    • Unclear jurisdiction. According to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, matters of jurisdiction are still being worked out between the states and the federal government in the courts. This April, in Watters v. Wachovia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state-chartered subsidiaries of national banks are exempt from state regulation. OFIS Commissioner Linda A. Watters had advocated for state regulation of state-chartered subsidiaries. Numerous organizations filed amicus briefs, as well as every state attorney general in the nation including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Michigan Restaurants Suffering

cross-posted at Michigan Messenger
The state's restaurants are facing belt-tightening in 2008.

The Michigan Restaurant Association has forecast growth of only 3.2 percent for 2008, down a half percent from the 2007 forecast. The modest growth rate places Michigan's food service industry dead last in the country in growth for the second year in a row.

"The industry is certainly struggling here," said Andy Deloney, vice president of public affairs with the Michigan Restaurant Association. He said that most states see restaurant sales grow by 5 to 7 percent annually.

As the state economy goes, so goes the food service industry. "It's not news to anybody what the state of the Michigan economy is. People just do not have as much money in their pockets anymore," Deloney said. In addition to the nation's highest unemployment, people who do have work are experiencing periodic layoffs and less overtime.

Michigan's economic stress affects all sectors of the food and beverage industry. "Some people think fine dining is immune to recession because the people who are still going there are the ones who have money," Deloney said. "But don't forget about the ones who would go out to celebrate an anniversary or promotion. There are fewer promotions now."

During Michigan's extended economic slump, restaurant profit margins have been extremely slim, making it increasingly difficult for them to stay in business. "If you are doing 2 percent, you are doing well," Deloney said. "There have been a number of restaurants this year that have closed due to the economy."

Even long-standing establishments are calling it quits. The Embers in Mt. Pleasant closed its doors this summer after nearly 50 years in business. After a run of almost 80 years, the Fox and Hounds in Bloomfield Hills also closed this summer.

Michigan's statewide restaurant sales in 2006 were $12.3 billion. The association projected $12.8 billion for 2007, which has been borne out by business this year. The forecast for 2008 is $13.1 billion in sales.

"Folks have been waiting for a couple of years for a turnaround to come, and they are running out of gas. They are trying to pinch as many pennies as they can," Deloney said.

Modestly priced eateries catering to the needs of busy families are still holding their ground. "One segment doing well right now is 'fast casual.' Places like sandwich shops are providing what people are demanding," he said. Innovations like curbside pickup and phone-ahead ordering help restaurants stay competitive.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Miscellaneous jaw droppers

Congressional Quarterly reports that presidential candidate Ron Paul has outdone his $4.2 million, one-day fund raising record. Marking the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Paul's campaign has raised a new one-day, online total: $6 million.

Lieberman endorses McCain

Harry Reid's betrayal on FISA in the Progressive. Retroactive immunity for law-breaking telecommunications companies is just around the corner.

The FCC will vote tomorrow whether to allow newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership...translation, a green light for more media consolidation.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Say 'No!' to negative news

This dog is all about attitude.
He bids you well and happy holidays.

Some curious statistics this week

Did anyone else notice:

1. that the CDC announced a 20 percent increase in suicides for people aged 45-54 from 1999-2004? They also announced that this is the highest rate in 25 years. They could not offer any reasons for the dramatic increase.(source)

2. the Congressional Budget Office release a report concluding that from 2003-2005 the increase in incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans from 2003 to 2005 exceeded the total income of the poorest 20 percent of Americans. (source) President Bush said that the shift had actually been occurring for at least the last 25 years.

Hmmm. Is it at all possible that financial stress and despair could be behind the some of the increase in suicides among middle-aged people? These are people who have moved past the sense of immortality of youth. They are struggling to make it, raise children, save for retirement, pay off mortgages, pay for college tuition while still paying off their own college loans. These are people pop culture tends to leave behind. They are not the young and the beautiful. These are the tired and responsible laid-off line workers and outsourced middle managers. They might be stuck in dead end jobs precisely because they are afraid there is nothing else for them. They have seen their real income stagnate as their living expenses continue to rise. A little discouragement in the economy of the last seven years definitely makes sense. It will be interesting to see if there is another increase in suicides coincident with the bust of the housing bubble.

In the meantime, if you are middle-aged, down on your luck and trying to make ends meet, know that you are not alone. You did nothing wrong. These really are tough times no matter what the corporate spin masters say about globalization. You have not failed if you have not met your financial goals. In the end, all will be well. And ultimately there will be justice.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Divesting from Sudan, Michigan style

Crossposted at Michigan Messenger
Is divestment a strategy to combat genocide in far away places or a tool to fight terrorism? Is it a matter of homeland security or an assertion of social conscience in a global community?

Michigan's House and Senate are working on divestment legislation, but differences in approach and philosophy have created conflicting results that need to be reconciled before any legislation can be enacted. One side favors a sweeping anti-terrorism model, the other a focused strategy targeting genocide in Darfur. In spite of their differences, both sides expect to come to agreement and pass legislation in January after the holiday recess.

Some in the Senate support a broad anti-terrorism approach aimed at all countries on the U.S. State Department list of "state sponsors of terrorism." "We shouldn't be investing Michigan dollars in countries who intend to hurt us or are our enemies or who import terrorism," said Sen. Valde Garcia (Rep. Dist. 22) a member of the Homeland Security and Emerging Technologies Committee, which in October took up review of Sen. Cameron Brown's (Rep. Dist. 16) "Divestment from Terror Act." That committee met Tuesday to consider changes to several laws that would be affected by Brown's legislation.

Others prefer a highly specific divestment strategy focusing on a narrow list of companies in a single country. Legislation sponsored by Rep. Alma Smith (Dem. Dist. 54) follows the targeted divestment approach adopted by 54 universities and 15 states, and is based on the work of the Genocide Intervention Network. "In contrast to other divestiture legislation, this bill, and this effort to bring an end to the genocide in Darfur, is a about taking a moral and ethical stand on perhaps the greatest humanitarian issue facing the world today," Smith said. "It is not about politics or social posturing. Simply put, it is about doing the right thing."

The state of Michigan has engaged in a divestment campaign once before. From 1979 to 1988 the state passed three acts divesting state funds from South Africa in protest of apartheid, which had divided that country by race since 1948. Divestment by states, colleges and universities is credited with catalyzing change in South Africa. Michigan ended its South African divestment in 1993, when South African leaders arrived at an agreement to create a Government of National Unity -- a bridge to democratic elections. This precedent inspires current efforts to make change in Sudan.

Brown's legislation seeks to divest from Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Sudan -- the complete State Department list of "state sponsors of terrorism." Brown's legislative director Kendra Butters says state pension funds and other investments would be examined to determine if their money is invested in "scrutinized companies" -- those doing business with any state sponsor of terrorism. Companies would be notified that they have to end their business relationship with the country in question. If they do not, "state dollars will be pulled out and then the fiduciary will have to reinvest in another company."

Critics of Brown's legislation say it is so broad that it will have unintended negative consequences on economic, social and political conditions in Sudan. They say it has the potential to drive out businesses that are making a positive difference in the country.

Butters defends the legislation, saying it provides a humanitarian exemption. "We have defined a 'social development company,' which exempts products that are helpful to the people -- things like agricultural supplies, food, medicine and other consumer products. These things are exempted," she said.

Smith contends that Sudanese divestment should be a stand-alone bill. Proponents of her bill say this narrow focus ensures positive change in the country, not just the meting out of economic punishment. The House legislation "only targets companies in Sudan and specific sectors that are deeply problematic. It encourages them to adopt responsible business plans instead of leave the country," said Scott Wisor, senior field organizer for the Sudan Divestment Task Force.

Another weakness of Brown's approach, say critics, is that it could be struck down as unconstitutional -- a state foray into foreign policy, something forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. Basing the legislation on a list of countries and implementing a single procedure for those countries puts Michigan's policy at odds with U.S. State Department foreign policy, which varies by country. "Unless you make sure every component of state legislation is consistent with federal guidance on the issue you run the risk of having an unconstitutional piece of legislation," Wisor said.

In the past three years many states have initiated divestiture from Sudan. All successfully enacted state divestment legislation has been specific to a single country -- Sudan or Iran -- not the entire State Department list. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures only a few states -- Georgia, Florida, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma -- have considered divestment legislation based on the State Department list of "state sponsors of terrorism."

Sen. Hansen Clarke (Dem. Dist. 1), who introduced legislation to divest from Sudan months ago, has another bill incorporated in the Republican anti-terrorism divestment package. His pragmatic perspective may represent hope for compromise in the coming weeks. "I don't think taxpayer dollars should be used to kill innocent people in the Sudan. The Republicans are taking a broader approach, but essentially those bills would do the same thing, so I would support their effort," Clarke said.

He hopes to help bring forth compromise and expects legislation to be passed in the House and Senate in January. "I believe we'll have a law to urge the state to divest money from businesses supporting the Sudanese government. I am a Democrat, but I don't care about the politics on this. I want to send a statement strongly that taxpayers' money should not fund genocide anywhere around the world," Clarke said.

(Photo credit: Economist, print edition August 2, 2007)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Slamming workers for having a history

Nolan Finley wrote this week about what he considers the stupidity of the Michigan public.

Finley says a recent EPIC MRA poll about public education and preparing students for the future finds that "Forty-six percent said the schools should train students for jobs they can get with a high school degree, while 41 percent said college preparation should be the mission."

Is it really so bad to wish that a publicly provided education could equip citizens for meaningful work with a living wage?

According to pollster Ed Sarpolous, Michigan residents still identify with a manufacturing culture and are not convinced that a college education is necessary to meet their employment needs. This should come as no surprise. For generations, factory work has provided a comfortable, middle-class standard of living to Michigan citizens. People with that perspective have been shaped by the experience of their parents, grand parents and great grand parents. This world view and narrative span generations not fiscal quarters. This is about people and places and history, not shareholders and quarterly profits and global capital movement.

Finley concludes that people in Michigan are stupid and lazy. He suggests a new strategy for promoting higher education among disadvantaged workers for whom he has contempt.

"Create an appetite for the jobs, and maybe job seekers will get off their backsides and get themselves some skills," writes Finley blaming the unemployed for not having work.

Here's another possibility: given the economic stresses befalling the blue-collar, Michigan middle-class maybe they are unwilling to go into debt again to get a college degree that may not allow them to pay back student loans. Maybe these folks are not ready to mortgage their future earning potential. Indeed they are still watching their nest eggs shrivel as real estate values collapse.

Finley should read the Michigan League for Human Services recent report, The Changing Face of Poverty in Michigan, which documents stagnating wages, rising costs, increasing foreclosures, and less access to health coverage.

Perhaps the EPIC MRA poll reveals skepticism about debt, pain from real economic stress and a resistance to acquiesce to globalization? Instead of blaming workers for wanting continuity of their family history and saying we need to better market higher education, Finley should examine cost barriers to higher education in an economy where poverty is increasing. If the unemployed are deciding between medicine and food, college tuition is probably not on their radar.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Solace in small things -- from latkes to torture

Who would expect that a simple correction and apology could give comfort? From the Detroit Free Press:
The recipe for red-skin latkes with mushrooms (Dec. 2-8) should have said to mix the sautéed mushroom/onion mixture with the shredded potatoes."

Of course you blend the mushroom/onion mixture with the shredded potatoes. (Either that, or you set it aside as a topping.) You can read that and breathe deeply. All is right again with the latkes.

Setting the record straight, even the smallest of inconsequential details, affirms media credibility and our faith in the system. Our media care enough to correct the latke recipe in time to save our culinary reputation at the holidays.

Now, how about some large consequential details:

Did the CIA really destroy videos of brutal interrogations against the advice of the White House, Congress and the Justice Department? (source)

From today's NYT coverage, the lede:

"WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 — White House and Justice Department officials, along with senior members of Congress, advised the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 against a plan to destroy hundreds of hours of videotapes showing the interrogations of two operatives of Al Qaeda, government officials said Friday."

Hundreds of hours of tapes showing the interrogations of two operatives?
"The chief of the agency’s clandestine service nevertheless ordered their destruction in November 2005, taking the step without notifying even the C.I.A.’s own top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, who was angry at the decision, the officials said."

Advice came in 2003, but the destruction was ordered in 2005?

Expect this story to linger and fester for months. It already has, like a tupperware container of leftovers, forgotten at the back of the fridge. It stinks and dazzles all at once with colors you never imagined. While you're reeling from the confusion of characters and subplot, don't forget to read the rest of the paper. Your latkes depend on it.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Consumer sentiment -- how low will it go?

Falling farther than expected, the Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary December number came in at 74.5 from 76.1 in November.

Here's the familiar list of causes :
subprime mess
credit crunch
fuel prices
gloom and doom
volatile markets
foreclosure crisis

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dick DeVos at Cleary University

Cleary University’s Howell campus is hard to spot nestled low among the strip malls of Grand River Boulevard. Homeland security entrepreneurs gathered there Tuesday to learn about venture funding in their industry. After a morning of panels and presentations, aspiring contractors ate boxed lunches and heard a motivational keynote speech by Dick DeVos, who dropped in on the event by private helicopter. His apolitical message could have been titled “chicken soup for the entrepreneur’s soul.”

Afterwards, he shared some political thoughts.

On tax increases:
"You are trading a short term gain for a long-term huge risk. By raising taxes you are sending a signal to investors to job creators, both in Michigan and out of Michigan, that your costs of business are going up and may well go up more in the future if you stay here in Michigan."

"The only answer is economic growth and expansion and job creation."

On structural changes to government:
"We talked about a number of them in the campaign. One of them was MESA reform. But I have found when you go through an organization you end up making thousands of small changes that add up to a lot. There is this discussion that says what major programs are you going to terminate? And give me five ways to get there. There's probably going to be 5,000 ways to get there."

"My commitment was that we were not going to be raising taxes to balance the budget. We were going be looking for efficiencies in government and terminating programs no longer serving their original intent or serving the people of Michigan well. We were going to look for opportunities to reorganize. I don't think MEDC has reached its full potential. I would have started by changing that and brought that right straight into the governor's office."

On Granholm's performance:
"I am very concerned that this governor is taking Michigan in exactly the wrong direction. That we as a state are going to be paying a significant price. And come the next election, sadly, we may well be even further behind what is happening in the rest of the country."

On the January Primary:
"I think overall moving up the primary in the context of what is happening in the nation was a good thing for Michigan at the end of the day. I am sorry that the Democrats did not get everybody on the ballot. They had the opportunity, but I guess there was just too much infighting in their party. I think a primary is the right thing as opposed to a caucus process. That being said, I think the whole thing is too early. "

"If you ask me should we change the system of primaries in this country, my answer is 'absolutely.'"

On partisanship:
"In my view it's not politics that's messing us up. What's messing us up at this point is trust. There is a breakdown in trust. I have lots of friends I disagree with on issues, but I can work with them because I trust them."

"Trust is one of those things that is slowly built and easily broken."

"With the amount of behind the scenes changes and violations that have broken trust, term limits wouldn't have mattered. That violation of trust terminated a lot of relationships and that's really the loss."

On a run for governor:
"I am getting a lot of encouragement from people to consider running again. I am considering it, but frankly have not made a decision at this point."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"You have to keep changing" -- Sondra O'Donnell on small business

Yoga practitioner Sondra O'Donnell is a small-business success who shows the power of starting where you are and building on what you know. Three years ago she opened Sun Moon Yoga Studio in Ann Arbor, a university town with almost as many yoga studios as coffee shops. With nearly 20 years experience practicing and teaching yoga, O'Donnell had a solid client base, understood her field and was ready to create her own studio.

She did just that and succeeded. O'Donnell has proven herself  in business and warns of the hardships of a start-up. "Small-business owners work hard. It's quite a juggle. You have to do everything, and you don't know what is going to come in."

Finding a niche bolstered O'Donnell's staying power in Michigan's struggling economy and in Ann Arbor's competitive yoga market. She offers the only teacher certification program in Ann Arbor. "My main goal has been to do teacher certification. That is really what my heart and soul are in," she said. Her students come from as far as Grand Rapids and Howell for the certification program.

O'Donnell stresses that businesses and the people who run them must be responsive to changes around them. "You have to keep creating and innovating. You can't sit and look at how things were; you have to keep changing." She has done that by creating classes to meet student demand and interest.

Her own family had to grapple with changes wrought by the declining domestic auto industry. Growing up in the downriver Detroit area, O'Donnell was aware of the auto industry as the lifeblood of Michigan's economy. Five years ago, after 30 years in business, her father's small auto-parts-packaging company was bought out by a larger competitor.

Bad economic news hits us daily in Michigan, and it is easy to feel demoralized. The mainstream media present economic news principally in terms of multinationals, yet millions of people across the country are self-employed or own small businesses. These small and micro-businesses strengthen local communities and affirm the human scale of economy as a path to a successful and satisfying life.

In 2006 about 10 percent of Michigan's work force was self-employed - 480,000 people in a work force of 5 million. The self-employed account for more than half of the state's 849,500 small businesses, according to U.S. Small Business Administration data.

O'Donnell advises people starting small businesses to work within their means and keep expenses low. "I didn't take out a single loan. We have kept the costs to a minimum. I got a lot of building materials from the Re-use Center," she said.

In fact O'Donnell single-handedly transformed the building she rents from a warehouse into a welcoming yoga studio -- installing a cork floor, insulation, drywall, lighting and more on her own at night after her children were asleep. "I would come here at 9 p.m. and work until 4 in the morning," she said. "The next day, I'd have to make sure the tools were put away before teaching classes."

If she needs to expand the business, her vision is to take the training program worldwide -- teaching on location around the globe. She is currently developing a second portion to her certification training for this purpose.

O'Donnell attributes her business resilience to her yoga practice and knowledge of the sutras, sacred Hindu texts. "What gets me through is nonattachment to the studio. I just take it as it is today, this moment, without expectations," she said.

Advising a balanced perspective for business owners, she said: "The bottom line is if you are so engrossed and attached that the business becomes everything you are, you are going to go crazy. You have to let the business be what it is."

Helping students find balance in the midst of difficulty is at the heart of O'Donnell's teaching. "We take our stress into our bodies and see ourselves as caged in our current situation. If we can create a sense of peaceful strength, we find a balance between release and strength."

She empowers students by helping them find their inherent wholeness. "People don't always want to hear that yoga is not about fixing you. As teachers we come here to teach you that you have the tools inside you. You are fixed; you just don't realize it."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Michigan Dems and GOP collaborate on primary proposal

Debbie Dingell and Saul Anuzis have unveiled a bi-partisan proposal to bring sanity and fairness to election scheduling. Could this end the front-loading frenzy?

From the Michigan GOP press release:

The Dingell-Anuzis plan would divide up states into six regions. There would be six sub-regions set up in each region, designating a representative cross section of America. The national parties would then set six distinct dates for when contests would be held. A lottery would determine the dates each designated sub-region could hold a presidential primary or caucus and no one region could be selected to go first for two consecutive presidential cycles, eliminating incentives for states to break the rules.

The Dingell-Anuzis presidential selection compromise plan will be sent to both Republican and Democratic national committees for review and consideration for the 2012 cycle, and beyond. The plan aims to create a permanent solution that would continue to allow party organizations, and not federal legislation, to dictate the nominee selection process.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Good news, Dems lose delegates

It's official -- the DNC has voted to strip the Michigan Democratic Party of its 156 delegates to the 2008 presidential nominating convention. Michigan's Democratic primary is not even a beauty contest; it is utterly irrelevant.

What was behind that vote? Most likely, a desire to take an unfair advantage from Hillary Clinton, the only Democratic front runner on the Michigan ballot.

Still, there could be a bright spot in this. Democrats in the state house now have no excuse not to get things done. No longer distracted by intra-party conflict over presidential politics, they can unite for the sake of the people of Michigan.

They are free to work together, to set a course and follow it, unhindered by loyalties to Clinton or Obama or Edwards. This is great news.

All we need now is for the GOP to be slightly less oppositional.