Thursday, January 31, 2008

Trickle downsizing -- auto industry turmoil wracks parts suppliers

From a one-man office in Grand Haven, John Rickfelder sells automotive components directly to the Big Three. His employer, Los Angeles-based Judco Manufacturing, employs nearly 300 people who make electrical switches and other components. Up until two years ago those workers were employed in Los Angeles, but in order to meet price demands of the Big Three, the company moved production to Honduras. Wages there were 90 percent lower than in the United States. "I'm seeing a constant movement of component work leaving for Mexico, China, South America and Central America," Rickfelder said.

Many auto parts suppliers are moving jobs overseas, downsizing or quitting the business altogether in response to ongoing challenges in the domestic auto market. The auto parts sector is an important part of Michigan's economy, providing 10 percent of all jobs.

A car is more than the sum of its parts, and Michigan's automotive economy is much more than the Big Three. For every one automotive assembly job, there are about four parts supplier jobs. According to industry analysts, each assembly job also accounts for three to four additional jobs in local businesses. As the Big Three restructure, downsize and outsource, suppliers have scrambled to remain viable and competitive. Some have survived, but many have not.

"We have a lot of consolidation going on in the supplier community. There are bankruptcies, companies going out of business, global purchasing - the turmoil here is absolutely huge," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research. "The cut backs and buyouts really ramped down production at the end of the year. And that is difficult for suppliers because their purchase orders and sales have been hit very, very hard."

In the last few years, the majority of tier-one suppliers, those selling directly to the Big Three, have filed bankruptcy. Tier-two and tier-three companies, those who sell to the major suppliers, subsequently suffer the consequences of the sector's upheaval - chaos trickles down.

The auto parts manufacturing sector accounts for 523,700 jobs or about 10 percent of total state employment in Michigan - the highest proportion of any state economy. According to the Center for Automotive Research, motor vehicle parts supplier operations contributed 145,800 direct jobs, 192,732 indirect jobs (people who work to supply the parts manufacturers) and 185,164 expenditure induced jobs (jobs created coming from consumer spending of direct and indirect employees).

"Over a five-year period, 90 percent of the tier ones are or will be filing bankruptcy," said Laurie Schmald Moncrieff, third-generation owner of Schmald Tool & Die in Burton. As the Big Three make fewer cars, the economic and employment impact for Michigan suppliers and communities is profound.

"If you drive down some of the heavy industrial streets in Detroit, like Groesbeck, there is one after another of small manufacturing factories for sale," said Brian Sullivan, director of sales and marketing for the Tooling, Manufacturing and Technologies Association, a national trade association representing small manufacturers. "It is like 'The Grapes of Wrath.' People are leaving and trying to find another place to make a living."

Sullivan attributes the harsh economic climate for small manufacturers to "bad trade laws" and foreign competitors not adhering to trade agreements. Moncrieff agrees, noting: "The Chinese government, although illegal under WTO (World Trade Organization) rules and trade agreements, picks up a third of the cost of new equipment, and the Bank of China picks up a third. So somebody who owns a company in China only has to pick up a third of the cost of new equipment."

But while keenly aware of foreign competition, Moncrieff sees the situation's complexity. Small manufacturers face higher overhead costs, and many are overleveraged. They also face increased regulatory compliance requirements. She said many companies, complacent from years of ample business, were caught off-guard by the impact of Big Three restructuring.

"There is going to have to be a consolidation. The situation a lot of people are in is they can't afford to stay in business and they can't afford to get out," Moncrieff said.

"What a lot of small manufacturers are doing is rather than try to sell their business because they see the handwriting on the wall, they simply close the door. They just lock the door and they go away," Sullivan said.

But Irvin Swider, president of Future Products Corp., in Clawson, offers another model for coping with the tough environment. His company, founded 44 years ago by his father, is a tier-two tooling company that has no debt, owns all its machinery and facilities and has a corps of 65 long-term, highly skilled employees. Swider is aware of the challenges in the sector, but committed to sustaining and building his business in Michigan.

While automotive demand is shrinking, Swider is seeking opportunities in other sectors. "The bottom line is there is too much supply for the demand right now," Swider said. "We have started diversifying into the medical sector and aerospace. We also do tooling for appliance and HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) manufacturing."

Ultimately Swider pegs hope for his company's future to the quality of his employees: "I could not go to Shanghai and open this business. Who would I have to do the work? These are highly skilled laborers. The people are everything."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Davos irony -- heavy as dioxin-laden sediment in the Saginaw River

Thousands of Michigan citizens are suing Dow Chemical over dioxin contamination of the Tittabawassee flood plain in a class-action lawsuit. But Friday in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Dow Chemical for its programs and efforts to be part of "the water solution."

Laying out a scenario connecting climate change with increased water scarcity and subsequent political unrest, Ban dished out praise of Dow, Nestle and Coca-Cola alongside an appeal to corporate executives to help the U.N. bring poor people clean water.

But Dow already has plenty to do in Michigan to bring clean water to over 300,000 people -- cleanup of the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers, which Dow polluted for decades and which affects people in Saginaw, Bay City and Midland. Add to that remediation of a mind-boggling 1.6 million parts per trillion of dioxin contamination found in the Saginaw River last summer, and one can hardly imagine global corporate citizen Dow generously spending elsewhere to be part of "the water solution."

Earlier this month, the EPA ceased negotiations with Dow over dioxin cleanup of the Tittabawassee River system. That name doesn't capture the scope or gravity of the situation. We're talking about a vast watershed that drains into Lake Huron, one of our beloved Great Lakes -- the world's largest freshwater resource. The EPA said Dow's cleanup proposal didn't do enough to protect human health. But even more is at stake.

If U.N. Secretary-General Ban is right that climate change will increase water scarcity, then our Great Lakes will become a strategic global resource. Already coveted by parched desert-southwest cities, with politicians calling for a "national water policy," the Great Lakes are the natural asset that most defines our region.

Industries will come and go, produce and pollute, lay off and outsource. Will the water they leave behind be fit for human consumption in the decades ahead? Will the world's largest freshwater system be able to sustain human communities if it is filthy -- and -- shrinking due to climate change?

For now, lawsuits are cheaper than cleanup. So citizens affected by pollution will have to fight in court for their health, the health of the environment and their right to clean water.

Meanwhile, global corporate citizens can gather in remote idyllic retreats to brainstorm, think big thoughts and pat each other on the back for a job well done.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Voter advocates get ready for November

Now that Michigan's confusing primary election has passed, voter advocates are taking stock and working to assure a smooth and fair election in November.

Advocates say that low voter turnout actually helped keep primary election problems to a minimum. But, they caution that if the Democratic ticket in November includes Sen. Barack Obama, it could mean huge turnout in Detroit and a logistical challenge to clerks and poll workers conducting the election.

Michigan's quirky Democratic primary did confuse voters. Due to the incomplete Democratic primary ballot, some voters felt disenfranchised. Others who voted didn't know the Democratic ballot was incomplete until getting to the polls. Most who came to the polls seemed to understand the voter ID law. Although November's general election ballot will certainly be more straightforward, much higher turnout and Michigan's voter ID law could increase the possibility of problems at the polls.

"People were upset they couldn't vote for Obama or anyone else they wanted to support who wasn't on the ballot. They thought there was a widespread attempt to disenfranchise the African-American vote," said Brian White, who spent much of the day at polls in Detroit. White is Michigan local advocate for the Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C., voter advocacy group.

"I got some calls on primary day from random voters asking, `Were we disenfranchised? Do we have a lawsuit here?' " said Jocelyn Benson, professor of law at Wayne State University. A specialist in election law, Benson says that disenfranchisement didn't happen in the Michigan primary, because it involves "government stopping people from voting."

"It's hard to argue when you can cast a vote, that you were disenfranchised because you can't vote for the candidate of your preference," Benson said.

Looking ahead to November, Benson has concerns about Michigan's voter ID law suppressing minority votes. "I think there is some evidence, that when you are talking about who doesn't have ID's, you are talking about poor voters, voters who don't drive and elderly voters. You are talking about poor individuals who are predominantly voters of color," Benson said.

She believes that an outreach campaign on the part of the Secretary of State's Office could limit problems in November. She suggests that a simple plan could involve "contacting individuals who are registered to vote, but are not on the drivers license list, and encouraging them to get identification."

While voter advocates make voter education a priority, a lack of political interest on the part of the general public challenges such efforts. "Information about the Democratic National Committee stripping the delegates from Michigan is relatively obscure," said Vincent Hutchings, an associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Illustrating the general public's limited political knowledge, Hutchings said, "Something on the order of 10 to 15 percent of Americans have never heard of Dick Cheney. And the majority of Americans have not heard of Robert Gates."

Although he sees political apathy among the general public, Hutchings, an expert on race in politics and American elections, describes Obama's candidacy as taking on a "movement quality." "He actually started off wanting to be a symbol for change in politics -- a symbol for post-identity politics and post-racial politics," Hutchings said. "Instead he is becoming a symbol for identity politics even though he strives not to be that."

Enthusiasm for an Obama candidacy could lead to big turnout in Detroit and big demands on poll workers. White's concerns for such a scenario include: ensuring that voters know their rights and the voting process, making sure polls are adequately staffed and have enough equipment, making sure polling places open on time, and ensuring an adequate supply of ballots.

"We have to recognize that depending on who is on the ballot, we can expect high turnout and take precautions now to ensure that when voters show up at the polls that we don't have the situations we saw in Ohio in 2004 and Florida in 2000," White said. The outcome of the 2000 presidential election turned on the Florida vote, which was extremely close. Inconsistent ballots, disputes over butterfly ballots, hanging chads and hand recounts eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Bush v. Gore, which effectively halted the recount and resulted in Bush's win. In Ohio in 2004, there were reported discrepancies including unequal access to voting machines -- traditionally Democratic areas needed more machines; Republican areas had enough.

Benson recommends that voters check their registration status ahead of time at or on the secretary of state's website. "I'm of the opinion that it is the government's role to make sure everyone can vote," Benson said. "But checking their registration is one thing voters can do ahead of time."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Educating for a brave new economy -- homeland security in higher education

Homeland security, a concept born after the September 11th attacks, has developed into a $54 billion global market of goods and services. Several Michigan colleges and universities offer degree programs to meet emerging homeland-security needs and prepare students for employment opportunities in this brave new economy. But not all in academe are buying this idea.

Proponents of these programs see them as a way to stimulate Michigan's economy and help the state move from a heavy manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based economy. They see a golden opportunity for Michigan to take the lead in an emerging industry.

"This is a direction that could be profitable and could take Michigan out of its downward spiral," said Dan Shoemaker, professor of computer and information systems at the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM).

"This is an opportunity to move Michigan from this whole notion of the rust belt to an area that is going to continue to grow and expand. It is an area that we are not going to outsource to other countries like China or India or Russia, " said Reid Gough, dean of Davenport University's School of Technology. Davenport, which also offers degrees in network security and information assurance, hosts one of the nation's two biometric security programs. The other is at West Virginia University.

Biometric security identifies people based on unique personal characteristics such as iris scans or fingerprints. Gough and industry experts expect growing demand for biometric security systems in public and private sectors. "Homeland security is always looking for ways to make sure you are who you say you are," Gough said. He expects all U.S. passports to include biometric security features within the next two years.

According to Gough, about 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure is privately-owned, which points to a huge domestic market for homeland security products and services.

Davenport's program has about 700 students who will graduate equipped for positions such as chief security officer, network security analyst, network security coordinator or a biometric security manager.

UDM is recognized as a pioneer in homeland security for its program in information assurance. The university bears the distinction of being a National Security Agency (NSA) National Center of Academic Excellence. Currently, 86 schools in 34 states hold the designation through a program jointly sponsored by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Eastern Michigan University is the only other Michigan school with the designation.

"Information assurance means protecting anything that has to do with any information of value," said Shoemaker, director of the Center for Assurance Studies at UDM. A broad concept, the field of information assurance includes hardware and software, corporate and public policy, business continuity, privacy, audits and disaster recovery.

UDM's Shoemaker has been instrumental in creating the International Cyber Security Education Coalition (ICSEC) comprising smaller schools in Michigan and Ohio, as well as London South Bank University in England. He describes ICSEC as an outreach organization that helps schools get aligned with NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) standards for information assurance. These standards are promulgated in the 45-page document "IT Security Essential Body of Knowledge," released by the DHS in October.

A strong advocate for information assurance, Shoemaker says policymakers lack a thorough and integrated understanding of computer security needs and the breadth of possible security threats. He sees higher education as a way to teach future policymakers and community leaders about the necessity for information assurance and other preventive strategies.

"Homeland security is a proactive approach to securing the nation's infrastructure. You want to stop something before it happens," said Greg Gogolin, professor of information security and intelligence at Ferris State University. Five years ago, Ferris State started a master's degree program in information systems with a concentration in computer forensics and security. More recently, the school added a minor in homeland security digital forensics available to its criminal justice students, which number about 1,000.

Ferris also created the nation's first undergraduate program in information security and intelligence. Core courses include information security, data mining, GIS, visual analysis, computer forensics, risk analysis, competitive theory, and organized crime, gang and terrorist organizations.

Gogolin says the Department of Defense finance division has already started recruiting students, even though the farthest along are only juniors in the program. Looking for opportunities to expand security related training, Gogolin said, "Our digital animation and game design program is extremely popular. We're looking at leveraging that with these other degrees to create courses in computer simulation."

While some schools are aggressively pursuing programs related to homeland security, others in higher education don't see it as a panacea. "Homeland security is not a long-term solution for the economy," said Fred Pearson, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University.

Pearson thinks there is a role for homeland security in balance with common sense, rational thought and broad knowledge about the world. "The challenge for education is not to overspecialize. You need people who know something about politics, history, economics, sociology, even art, even if they become engineers."

Gogolin agrees. "The technology is going to come and go, but the thinking is the key piece." Students in information security at Ferris must meet foreign language requirements and take religion classes to be able to think "in different perspectives."

Pearson argues for a broader understanding of security than frequently found in technical degree programs. "Security has been argued to be related to health care, environmental quality, welfare. People are insecure when they are breathing toxic air and subject to death from various public health crises. If you really want to talk about the subject of security, it is broader than the military and it ranges into how people are secure in their lives," Pearson said.

"Terrorist attacks can happen here, but it is not happening every day. You have to look at why it is happening," Pearson said. "It can happen here again, but it doesn't call for revamping our whole social structure out of panic."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tested. Ready. Now. Giuliani needs better wordsmiths

You have to be kidding.
Who came up with this? Tested. Ready. Now.

If this is the best campaign slogan Giuliani can muster, he deserves to lose.

It sounds like something you might say about No Child Left Behind and we all know what a success that has been.

Where is the inspiration and vision?
Tested. Like my smoke detector when I push the little red button?
Ready. Like my microwaved convenience food?
Now. Like the starter pistol at a foot race?

Please just toss in the towel and go back to Bracewell and Giuliani and give thanks that you are so well placed to prosper in the time of our empire's decline.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Michigan's 'uncommitted' vote: what did it mean?

cross posted at Michigan Messenger

Did Michigan's "uncommitted" vote reveal anything about race?

On the heels of the Michigan primary, race has become a central issue among Democratic candidates, pundits of all persuasions and voters yet to participate in their state primaries. CNN exit poll results released Tuesday night continue to fuel speculation that Sen. Hillary Clinton has a problem attracting African-American voters.

At 9 p.m. on election night, before all precincts had reported voting results, CNN released a brief report citing "potentially troubling news for Clinton in Michigan win." The report claimed that "roughly 70 percent of African-Americans cast their votes for `uncommitted.' "

But did the exit polling actually reveal anything about race and voter preference in Michigan and can this information shed light on primaries in other states?

"Considering that it was an uncompetitive election with very low turnout rates, it's very hard to extrapolate what happened in Michigan's Democratic primary to explain what is happening in actual competitive races," said Stewart L. French, professor of political science at Saginaw Valley State University.

An expert in political parties and elections, French says that exit poll findings must be taken in context of voter turnout. Percentages based on small numbers of voters don't reliably indicate trends in voter behavior. He says that Michigan's Democratic primary is too unusual to be compared to other primaries across the country. The ballot was incomplete and the race, uncompetitive.

CNN based its claim on exit polling data that sampled 997 voters who participated in Tuesday's election. Of the 997 respondents, 23 percent identified as African-American - 229 voters. The exit poll reported 68 percent of those voted "uncommitted."

"The media's reaction to this is going to influence the South Carolina race where there is a heavy African-American population and where there are race issues," French said.

In the case of the 229 African-American participants in the CNN poll, there is doubt that their views "reflect accurately the attitudes of all Michigan African-Americans."

The media are "extrapolating from African-Americans who did vote and making conclusions about African-Americans who didn't vote and then turning that into `African-Americans don't like Hillary,' " French said.

Oversampling and undersampling can compromise accuracy of polling data. A random sample doesn't always produce a true representation of the population. So pollsters sometimes seek out more or fewer of a certain group. Instead of a random sample of precincts, pollsters choose which to include based on demographics. But, French says, problems can creep in if the turnout is low. Pollsters can't be sure the attitudes of the individuals included represent the actual population.

CNN exit polling results raise questions beyond the impact of race on the "uncommitted" vote. Sixty percent of female respondents favored Clinton. Do Edwards and Obama have a disadvantage among women voters? Voters aged 18-29 overwhelmingly voted "uncommitted." Does Clinton have a disadvantage among young voters?

"A lot of people assume if Edwards dropped out all his people would go for Obama, but that is not true," French said. According to the CNN exit polls, 30 percent of Edwards supporters said they voted for Clinton, not "uncommitted."

"There is a lot of stuff going on here and it's more nuanced than the media want to make it out to be," said French. "Uncommitted" actually beat Clinton in two counties - Washtenaw and Emmet. But neither win seems to be a matter of African-American voters skewing the outcome.

Preliminary examination of precinct data point to possible crossover voting by Republicans in Emmet County. According to the U.S. census, Emmet County's population is 0.5 percent black. French compared the primary results with precinct results from the last gubernatorial election, and found "uncommitted" winning in places that Republican Dick DeVos had carried by 60 percent.

Clinton faced the strongest competition in Washtenaw County. Washtenaw's support for "uncommitted" may be correlated to age, income and education level. According to the CNN exit poll data, "uncommitted" scored strongly among 18-29-year-olds, people with postgraduate degrees, and those earning $100,000 or more. Washtenaw's median household income at $55,431 is well above the state median. While 21 percent of Michigan adults have a college degree, in Washtenaw the figure is 48 percent.

The county is home to the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and several small colleges, which could account for a significant number of young voters. Washtenaw County's population is 12.5 percent black, below the state rate of 14 percent.

Stewart says the only way to really understand what was happening was to ask voters. On Tuesday, voters chose "uncommitted" for a range of reasons. Some supported Obama, others Edwards. Some had other reasons. One Ann Arbor voter wanted "to send a message to the DNC that there are Democrats in Michigan who want to be counted." Many expressed anger at the Democratic Party for allowing the Michigan election to become so confused and possibly irrelevant.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Uncommitted wins Washtenaw County

"Uncommitted" took more votes than Clinton in Washtenaw County. Kucinich made a strong showing there, as well. "Uncommitted" scored 46 percent,Clinton 43 percent and Kucinich took nearly 9 percent.

Romney taps hope for economy

Why did Romney trounce McCain in Michigan? Of the two, Romney expressed an audacious hope for our economy and manufacturing base.

He told a story people in Michigan hunger to hear and he made it personal. He was born here. His father headed up American Motors and was governor. His parents are buried here. He said we can be great again. He said that manufacturing doesn't have to die. He strode through the Detroit Auto Show, head high, son of the man who made the Rambler. He believes we can bring back all the jobs we have lost. He rode in on a white horse and promised to save us.

It's a fairy tale voters wanted to hear, needed to hear. Humans have an insatiable appetite for stories, symbols and myth. Humans need meaning. We want our lives to add up to something and narrative keeps us on track. We crave stories of hope in trying times, because facts can be devastating -- facts like Michigan's job loss over recent years.

When Romney says "all the jobs," does he mean the 400,000 lost since 1999 or just the 76,300 lost in 2007? McCain was more realistic and allowed that all the jobs cannot come back. That was not a winning narrative, even if it is the truth.

Perhaps Romney's win is the triumph of faith over reason.

Michigan's economic issues are the nation's issues. But is Michigan's candidate, the nation's candidate? Romney is framing the win as "a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism," already aiming for broader relevance. His strategy in Michigan was that of native son, coming home to rescue his people. Will the "native son" strategy backfire and be used against him, painting him as locally appealing but not nationally relevant? Can he translate this spot-on Michigan narrative into a national narrative?

To do this he may need to assert that the national economy is in dire straits. Recent data do point to a national recession having started in December of last year. Romney may need to do some truth-telling about global labor markets, corporate greed and unfair trade practices before he can present himself as the solution. Michigan's issues are national issues. But is the rest of the nation ready to admit they need to be saved by Mitt Romney?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Election day is here, go get 'em

Dear voters,
On Tuesday, January 15, you have the chance to vote in history's strangest primary election ever.

If you are a Democrat and your candidate is not on the ballot, you have several disappointing options.

You can vote 'uncommitted' as a protest, or in support of your candidate who chose to withdraw from the contest. Understand though, a chunk of 'uncommitted' will likely be interpreted as discrediting Clinton's tally.

You can crossover to the GOP primary and make some tortured, narrowly strategic choice -- Romney, keep him in to keep 'em fighting; Paul, Constitution packing straight shooter; McCain, to embarrass Romney in his gimme state ; Thompson,'cause you like the red truck; Huckabee, God's own populist; Giuliani, presumably tolerant of gays, himself documented in drag; Duncan Who?

But, if you do identify as a Democrat, and you feel disenfranchised by your strange and empty ballot, a vote for 'uncommitted' can add together with others to show the Democratic National Committee that you exist and intend to be counted as a Democrat.

A friend of mine sent the DNC an email about the Michigan primary expressing concern, upset, and seeking an explanation for Michigan's mess. The DNC email system didn't even send an auto reply. My friend is now disgusted and as of this evening, undecided about whom to choose tomorrow.

Instead of voting for someone by second guessing his or her chances of beating the likely opponent in November, why not just choose the person whose positions match your own? Yes, it's a crazy idea, because for a lot of progressives this will be Kucinich -- unelectable in our media environment. For fiscal conservatives opposed to the war and worried about civil rights, this might be Paul -- equally unelectable.

Good luck, voters. Let your issues be your guide.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Expect the unexpected in Michigan's primary

Michigan's presidential primary may produce results as unexpected as the election is peculiar.

"God knows what is going to happen on the Democratic side," said Stewart L. French, professor of political science at Saginaw Valley State University. French thinks that in Michigan: Sen. Hillary Clinton faces a lose-lose situation, Mike Huckabee's populist message will win crossover votes and that even if Mitt Romney loses the state his campaign will continue.

Clinton faces opposition from 'uncommitted,' which could include supporters of Sen. Barack Obama, John Edwards, Al Gore and general protest votes. French, who specializes in political parties and elections, considers 60 percent to be the threshold for declaring a Clinton victory. But such a win will be hollow. "If she gets 60 percent, everyone will shrug and say of course she won, she was the only one on the ballot," French said alluding to political pundits. The worst case scenario for Clinton would be if 'uncommitted' wins. Edwards and Obama could use that to cast doubt on Clinton's candidacy going forward.

"On the Republican side, I think Huckabee is going to do much better than people expect," he said. French attributes this to Huckabee's persuasive populist message in an economically depressed Michigan. "He is actively trying to get people from the Democratic side to come over and vote for him." Huckabee's message is aimed at evangelical and religious Democrats and those who are stressed economically, in particular union members. In addition, Edwards, the only Democrat with a similarly strong populist message, is absent from the ballot.

"If you are making a populist economic appeal along with conservative social issues, you have a formidable opponent for the Democrats," French said. He believes that if Huckabee doesn't win the Republican nomination he will be chosen as the Vice Presidential candidate.

Some analysts consider Michigan a do or die state for Mitt Romney, but French disagrees and thinks Romney will stay in the race regardless of how he does Tuesday. " If he is still doing okay among Republican voters he will stay in because he has the money to do so." Romney may be motivated to stay in the race by the prospect of a brokered convention.

If primary elections across the country fail to produce a clear leader in either party, that party's convention would be "brokered." In a brokered convention, no candidate has a majority of delegates necessary to win the nomination. As a result, deal making plays a role in achieving a nomination. French speculates that a brokered convention is possible for both parties.

"I don't know that Super Tuesday is going to determine the Republicans' race. If Edwards stays in it and continues to scrape off 20 percent you may have two brokered conventions. One with Edwards as king maker and someone like Romney a possible king maker."

FOX 2 Detroit's core demographic

Sunday morning on FOX 2 Detroit and a rapid succession of this:
Kid Rock introduces the new Corvette
More Brittany news, she'll probably lose her children
The Weather
A Mike Huckabee ad

Time to switch the channel.

Oops. I was supposed to be catching up on the New York Times.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Send a statement to the DNC and vote anyway, says Clinton supporter

Sen. Hillary Clinton's Michigan supporters are undaunted by the state's Democratic primary election mess and are resolved to vote for their candidate Tuesday.

Unfazed by the threat of an "uncommitted" vote by Obama and Edwards supporters or the likely lack of Michigan delegates to the nominating convention, Clinton's supporters believe in their candidate and her chances to win in Michigan. They hope fellow Democrats will vote in record numbers to send a message to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) about an election system they consider broken.

"She is a big supporter of protecting the Great Lakes. She is very supportive of our economy here in Michigan and promoting jobs. She understands the unemployment problems we are having," said Janet Blanchard, former first lady of Michigan, who has known the Clintons for more than 20 years. Her husband, Gov. James Blanchard, was ambassador to Canada during the Clinton presidency. "I really like her as a person. Everyone knows she has the brains, but she has the heart that goes along with that," Blanchard said.

Some critics have accused Clinton of trying to take unfair advantage by leaving her name on Michigan's ballot. In response to that criticism, Blanchard speculated about candidates who removed their names, "If they were so persuaded and intimidated by the DNC that they would take their names off the ballot in Michigan, do they have the strength to be president? Can they stand up to Iran and Iraq and China and all the issues we have in this nation, if they're going to kowtow to the DNC?"

Blanchard thinks Clinton's remaining on the Michigan ballot demonstrates good judgment and strength on her part. "She used good sense in keeping her name on the ballot in Michigan. She cares about Michigan," Blanchard said.

Even so, the incomplete ballot has been confusing and discouraging to many Democrats. "I think it's a challenge, but I don't think it's any more of a challenge than if Edwards and Obama had been on the ballot. I think that by removing their names they've really discouraged a lot of Democrats from voting," said Kelly Bernero, founder and chair of Students for Hillary at University of Michigan.

There is some disagreement among supporters as to what constitutes victory for Clinton. Bernero puts the number at 60 percent. Garnet Lewis, a candidate for state representative in the 98th district, offered a broader definition of victory: "No matter what the percentage or number, if people choose to vote for her rather than voting 'uncommitted,' that is a sign of support for her. And I don't think that it matters percentage wise."

With the prospect of no Michigan delegates for Democratic candidates, Clinton supporters also see the election as a way to communicate with the DNC. "Vote anyway. If we turn out in large numbers, I think that says something to the DNC," Bernero said. "I think this primary is a chance for Michigan voters to say we want a change in this process."

Another silly idea for the Michigan Presidential Primary

Since the Democratic primary in Michigan cannot be understood at face value, Democrats from afar are suggesting ways to make it fun and useful.

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos website for progressive Democrats, proposes crossover voting in favor of Romney.

He leads with the bold assertion:

"For Michigan Democrats, the Democratic primary is meaningless since the DNC stripped the state of all its delegates (at least temporarily) for violating party rules. Hillary Clinton is alone on the ballot."

I have spoken with many Michigan Democrats, and while they find the situation discouraging, most are not calling it meaningless. If they are, it comes in exasperated moments. Democrats I have interviewed are trying valiantly to make this bizarre primary meaningful for their candidate or for the party, but most of all for the state.

Cynically turning the Michigan Democratic primary into a broader strategic move fails to acknowledge the long-standing Democrats on the ground in Michigan who do feel disenfranchised by the DNC.

And for Clinton supporters, the primary is not meaningless. She is the first serious female candidate for the presidency and this matters.

The most sensible advice I've heard among Democrats in Michigan considering how to vote on Tuesday is this: if your choice is named on the ballot vote for that person, if not vote 'uncommitted.'

Say 'yes' when you mean 'yes' and 'no' when you mean 'no.'
It's that simple.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Don't Blink, Michigan Primary Offers Teachable Moment

Originally published January 2, 2008 at Michigan Messenger

As New Hampshire and Iowa race toward their early presidential contests, we in Michigan should brace for the national attention coming our way. Our presidential primary is less than two weeks away. Very soon, eyes will turn briefly toward Michigan. The state's primary election has been tainted by the withdrawal of Democratic candidates from the ballot and the punitive loss of delegates by both national parties. Our one remaining hope is a teachable moment for the next president.

This could be Michigan's poignant testimony in the spotlight -- a wrenching and heartfelt revelation of our truth. Our economic pain, receding manufacturing prowess and endangered middle class might enlighten the nation. Our struggle to transform a heavy manufacturing culture into a knowledge economy requires the magic that turns water into wine. Can we get a witness?

Michigan was the arsenal of democracy, the car capital of the world, the champion of workers' rights and a humane standard of living. Look now at the obsolete workers sloughed off as the Big Three slink away into emerging markets abroad. Look at the foreclosed homes, their prices collapsing after deregulation turned mortgages into poker chips. See the ranks of the poor, hungry and homeless grow.

Look into the mirror and see your country slip from greatness and goodness into a cold, new gilded age of anonymous private equity and private armies. Global corporations hopscotch the continents with holding companies to shield the powerful from responsibility toward fellow human beings. Local governments are at worst an annoyance, at best a handmaiden -- tolerated or usurped.

Michigan's primary election will come and go, but her economic trials will continue. Will the next president notice Michigan on the way to the White House? Can he or she afford not to?

Michigan's Primary A Roundup of Our Michigan's Coverage

Since early September, Our Michigan has provided the following coverage of Michigan's Primary Election saga. The most remarkable aspect of the change in primary date was its bipartisan quality. This came at the time of an eight-month budget impasse. It gave a little hope at an otherwise hopeless time, legislatively speaking.

Michigan Democrats, the World is Watching (9/3/07)
Early Michigan Primary -- Bipartisan Agreement on Renegade Scheduling (9/4/07)
State of Michigan to the Democrats -- Where are you? (10/8/07)
Democrats to Michigan -- Buzz Off (10/9/07)
Michigan Primary will go on as planned, say party officials (10/11/07)
Michigan's Primary Question (10/15/07)
Voter ID Law confusing, critics say (10/17/07
New voting requirement stirs controversy (10/20/07)
Recall efforts in context (10/21/07)
Michigan's primary pain (11/28/07)
Good News -- Dems lose delegates (12/1/07)
Michigan Dems and GOP collaborate on primary proposal (12/4/07)
Uncommitted is a vote for Obama in Michigan primary (1/8/08)
Making Meaning in Michigan's Primary (1/9/08)

Making meaning in Michigan's primary

Sen. Hillary Clinton's marginal victory over Sen. Barack Obama in New Hampshire's primary keeps alive the "uncommitted" vote in Michigan. Obama and Edwards supporters hope to create a block of at least 15 percent "uncommitted" in order to set aside seats for those delegates at the nominating convention. At this point the national party has not budged from its decision to take away Michigan's delegates, but Democrats on the ground think ultimately Michigan will receive its delegates.

But, if you are not a party insider, what sense can you make of Michigan's muddled mess of a primary? Has it been worth the trouble? Has the earlier date achieved any of the outcomes promised by those who made it reality? Do you see the national media charging around the state asking common folk about the economy? Do you see international media interviewing business leaders about our economic transition? Do you see major Democratic candidates campaigning? How about the GOP? Is Fred Thompson going to bother showing up here?

We have two interesting ways to participate in this "open" primary: Dems can cross over and vote in the GOP contest, jamming things up for Mitt and giving McCain a boost for a repeat performance of McCain's 2000 primary victory over G.W. Bush; and anybody can vote "uncommitted" in the Democratic primary to jam things up for Clinton and keep hope alive for Obama and Edwards.

We might also give thanks for fewer political ads on television.
Probably the best outcome of the Democratic National Committee rules.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

'Uncommitted' is a vote for Obama, in Michigan primary

(cross posted at Michigan Messenger)

Voting "uncommitted" is as close as Sen. Barack Obama's Michigan supporters can get to casting a vote for their man in the state's Jan. 15 primary.

As excitement builds for Obama in New Hampshire's primary, his Michigan supporters hope Michigan voters will be savvy enough to vote "uncommitted" in the state's misfit Democratic primary.

"I'm doing a lot of extra work to make sure everyone in Michigan that wants to support Sen. Obama knows they must vote 'uncommitted,' " said U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. "Voters can't write in his name because that will be considered a spoiled ballot."

"No matter who you are supporting there is a spot on the ballot you need to check off," said state Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Dist. 5, who endorsed Obama more than 10 months ago. He speculates that an "uncommitted" vote of 15 percent would be a setback for Sen. Hillary Clinton, the only front-runner on the Michigan Democratic primary ballot.

Johnson thinks the uncommitted votes will ultimately translate into delegates at the Democratic nominating convention, even though the Democratic National Committee has officially withdrawn Michigan's delegates. "We have way too many powerhouses in Washington to stand by and let Michigan go unrepresented at the national convention," he said, listing Conyers and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., and Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

Kilpatrick, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says she is waiting to endorse a candidate until after the Democratic debate in South Carolina on Jan. 21. Regarding the Michigan primary, she said, "It is confusing to say the least. I'm an elected official and I have to explain it everywhere I go. It is unfortunate for the state and for the candidates."

Conyers finds the situation exasperating. "It's insane when we are trying to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, if what we do is make it weirdly complicated, so that for lot of people it is discouraging." He says constituents have been calling his office suspicious of how the election is being run.

Obama, former Sen. John Edwards, Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joe Biden removed their names from Michigan's ballot in response to Michigan's decision for a Jan. 15 primary. The early date breaks Democratic National Committee rules. In addition, all candidates agreed not to campaign in Michigan prior to the primary. Clinton argued that she need not remove her name from the ballot, only refrain from active campaigning to be in line with national party rules.

Even so, Obama's Iowa victory encourages Michigan supporters. "I listened to his speech and I wondered is this what Dr. Martin Luther King talked about being judged on the content of their character not the color of their skin," said Johnson.

Political veteran Conyers envisions Obama gaining momentum after a New Hampshire victory. "The general consensus is he's likely to win and if he does this is going to give him a real big bounce as he goes into South Carolina," Conyers said.

Monday, January 7, 2008

BBC reports Krispy Kreme boss to step down

Why, you may wonder, would the BBC spend airtime or bandwidth on Krispy Kreme? Is it because the company has lost nearly 57% of its value under the leadership of Daryl Brewster, who has been on the job less than two years? Is it a popular stock with British investors?

Clues to this mystery lie in an exchange between strangers on the tube in London. I was riding along minding my business when I noticed some Londoners with a large Krispy Kreme box. I smiled at them. Somehow, they new I was from away. We greeted each other and they leapt to the conclusion that a Krispy Kreme doughnut must remind me of home. I had the sense they felt we connected culturally.

Not really, I thought. Krispy Kreme features prominently in Harrod's food department, alongside rare treats from around the world -- a full service Krispy Kreme counter, ten times the usual gas station assortment stateside. And anything at Harrod's must be great.

No, biting into a fatty Krispy Kreme doughnut doesn't make me feel at home, I thought. It makes me feel like I just put gas in the car and needed some coffee for the road. It reminds me of cartons of cigarettes, spools of lottery cards, bathroom keys on hunks of plywood and dusty cans of soup.

The Londoners were delighted with their precious box of treats. I didn't spoil their cheer.

Helen Thomas on the media in time of democracy

Legendary journalist Helen Thomas says reporters aren't asking candidates hard questions about foreign policy, domestic surveillance and the economy.

"Why don't they nail them on these issues?" Thomas asked.

"I don't understand why reporters haven't been asking these candidates all along how they feel about the war in Iraq. That should be at the top of the agenda," Thomas said in an exclusive phone interview with Michigan Messenger. "We've killed almost a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's drained our treasury. The debt is going to be monumental."

Raised in Detroit and a graduate of Wayne State University, Thomas considers Michigan her home. At 87, she is a columnist with Hearst News Service and still attends White House briefings and press conferences. Her 2006 book, "Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How it has Failed the Public," describes a compromised, weak press reluctant to question politicians and dig for truth in government.

As the presidential primary intensifies, Thomas, who served as a UPI White House correspondent for decades, wonders about candidates' positions on the war in Iraq, torture, habeas corpus, erosion of civil liberties, wiretapping, foreclosures, workers' rights, poverty and health care.

Acknowledging the chilling effect of the Sept. 11th attacks on public discourse and investigative journalism, Thomas said, "I do think 9-11 had a tremendous impact on all of our society. It's very passive now. We should be out in the streets screaming. The fear card was played to the hilt. People, reporters especially, were afraid to be called un-American, unpatriotic, if they asked very challenging questions."

Still, she contends that reporters with access to the presidential candidates are shirking their responsibility to voters, who at this point she believes are "flying blind."

"I know how I'd be covering them if I were walking beside them," she said. "I think whoever goes into the presidency ought to be thoroughly defined on the issues."

Having reported on every president since Kennedy and earning the title "First Lady of the Press," Thomas has a reputation for incisive, direct and fearless questions.

At a press conference on March 21, 2006, she asked President Bush about his justifications for initiating war in Iraq, saying: "Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war?"

With a long view of history, Thomas has strong feelings about the war in Iraq. "We've never been aggressors before," she said. Unprovoked attack on Iraq is at the heart of her criticism of the Bush administration, which she considers a turning point in the American presidency, marked by a loss of credibility, leadership and trust.

Her criticism of the current administration includes its treatment of enemy combatants and tolerance of harsh interrogation techniques. "I think that everybody should be alarmed. Every American has been tainted now. Anybody who would resort to such tactics and denial of due process and keeping suspects -- so-called -- in limbo for six years, without charge, no trial, no convictions, keeping them in darkness -- that is surely not us."

Contrasting the neoconservative foray into Iraq with the Cold War, she said, "We won the Cold War over sixty years with wonderful things -- exchange students, exchange teachers, the Voice of America, the pope, rock music, blue jeans, ideas. Fortunately, Gorbachev opened the window a bit. Basically, we didn't go into World War III."

Thomas has hope for the electoral process and the presidency. "I do hope in the coming election that the best man or woman wins, who has the best ideas. Because when you get to the top of the mark, which is the White House, it seems to me you should only want to do the right thing. You have tremendous power. I am hoping we'll resurrect ourselves."

A front-row witness to history, Thomas manages optimism for the future. "We can always hope for peace. It would be wonderful if we would move toward disarmament and making peace with even our greatest adversaries. We should keep talking rather than shooting," she said.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Michigan's Banished Words for 2008

Lake Superior State University in the Upper Peninsula has released its annual "Banished Word List" - irksome, awkward or overused words and phrases. The list is at once descriptive and prescriptive. Winners emerge from hundreds of entries collected through the year and submitted by people across the country. So how about a list specific to our lovely state?
Michigan's Banished Words for 2008:
Crisis - "Crisis" means a moment of change, discernment and decision, as in "crisis of conscience." We usually find crises uncomfortable because most of us hate change. In addition, we have come to confuse crisis with catastrophe, a sudden, complete overturning of everything as we know it. But a crisis can make us see more clearly a hard truth. If you are alive, you are in crisis; it's the way of the world, not just Michigan.

Gridlock - Unless reporting traffic conditions in a city, try another word. For example, if the state Legislature has trouble with the budget process in 2008 largely through tactics of obstruction, use "obstruction."

Public/private partnerships - Favored during times of shrinking tax revenues and formerly known as "privatization," it is often used to suggest a collaborative relationship between well-intentioned private entities and inept governments waiting to be rescued. It could be called "government-enabled private taking of the commons." With Gov. Jennifer Granholm's no-new-taxes promise, expect to see more of this in 2008.

Slump, crunch - When describing the economics of houses and cars, avoid these tired terms. Reach for something a little more accurate, such as recession or depression. "Slump" and "crunch" evoke noisy breakfast cereal for gnomes.

Financialization - This is not specific to Michigan, but is the crux of our economic difficulty. Instead, say "turning the necessities of life into opportunities to create indebtedness." Selling cars becomes fitting consumers with acceptable financing packages, even if it means rolling in previous unpaid debt from their last car. Higher education becomes a booming market for student loans, where kids trade away future earning potential in the hope that a college diploma will increase their future earning potential. Home ownership becomes a gamble in a Wild West mortgage market with losers out in the cold, rather than warm and cozy by the hearth.

Entrepreneurial community - Often set against a labor/management model, the starkest entrepreneurial sensibility is every man for himself. A group of rugged individualists isn't really a community, though. A community cares for the less fortunate among them, rather than kicking them to the curb with a buyout. A community has a common purpose, identity and values. Instead of "entrepreneurial community," why not return to "pluralistic society"? There's room for difference, strength, weakness and compassion in that.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

For Ann Arbor restaurateur, a long-term commitment

Winning a stare down with adversity, restaurant owner Rob Terbush plans to stay in Michigan for the long haul.

In 2006, when sales fell by 55 percent, some expected his Holiday's restaurant to close, but Terbush hung on. Now in his 11th year of business, the 34-year-old Michigan native sustains a long-term vision for his restaurant on Ann Arbor's busy West Stadium Boulevard.

"Our whole goal all along has been to become a long-term staple and buy the property," Terbush said.

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner at prices families can afford in the current tight economy, Terbush focuses on quality, atmosphere and service to set Holiday's apart from the competition.

"We fall into the category of fast casual. We cook meals to order, so people are willing to slow down for an extra five or 10 minutes for something fresh and hot," he said. He trains new hires in his "ABCD" program -- Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. "People can satisfy their hunger at a lot of restaurants, so we work to create a warm atmosphere with personalized service and attention." He estimates that about 200 other restaurants in Washtenaw County offer similar fare at similar prices.

He strives to balance consistency with novelty to keep regulars coming back while also attracting new customers. "Regulars order 'the usual,' even though they are interested in new things," he said. But bringing in more customers doesn't necessarily add up to increased revenues. Terbush says that customer spending has been flat since 2004 and attributes that to the economy. "We did have growth in the number of people per day. But the average spending dropped and our net dollars went down," he said.

Terbush's experience is consistent with assessments by the Michigan Restaurant Association, which recently forecast 3.2 percent growth for Michigan restaurant sales in 2008 - the slowest of any state. Most states see annual restaurant sales grow by 5 to 7 percent, according to Andy Deloney, vice president of public affairs with the Michigan Restaurant Association.

The biggest challenge for Terbush came in 2006 when a road construction project lasting nearly two years stalled business. Customers had difficulty just pulling into the parking lot and by the end of the project sales were down 55 percent. Expecting business to slow during the road project, Terbush had timed a major exterior building renovation to coincide with the road construction. Although he knew business would decline during construction, he was caught off guard by just how much. With access to credit lines and other financing, Terbush made it through.

Plans for further renovation have been put on hold until the business can stabilize from financing the downturn of 2006. Eventually Terbush wants to renovate the interior, add a patio, obtain a liquor license and purchase the building.

In the meantime, he says people are simply spending less even in Ann Arbor, which has been sheltered from the worst of the state's economic problems. "They don't buy drinks; they have water. They don't order appetizers or desserts," he said. Working within the slim profit margins of the food service industry, Terbush soon will be raising prices to balance customers' lower spending with ever-increasing overhead costs. "The new menus are at the printer."

In spite of the difficult economy, Terbush plans to stay in Michigan, growing his business and raising his three children. "I don't think I would live anywhere but Michigan," he said. "We have the Great Lakes, the Upper Peninsula, beautiful state lands, skiing, good fishing, a decent prevailing wage, and a high quality of life."

Terbush's secret to making it in Michigan is facing difficulty head on and balancing personal life and work. Leave work at work. Slow down and appreciate what you have. Get perspective.

"There are people not doing what you do, not earning what you earn and they're living just fine. You just have to step back, see what is and live."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year, Michigan

As you awaken to the new year, notice the new snow. Michigan, in light of global warming you have received a rare gift -- the clarifying perspective of a filthy world covered in cold, fresh white. You have been given time to imagine something better, something new, the possibility of forgiveness and rebirth. You can stop to reconsider our arbitrary imperatives for development and commerce. Sipping morning coffee by a warm fire, you can enjoy nature’s most gentle erasure of human pride and folly. Give thanks and dream of better days.
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