Friday, February 29, 2008

Stabenow and Levin bring home the bacon for foreclosure prevention

Good news, although late in the game -- Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin announced that Southwest Solutions of Detroit will receive $315,652 to provide mortgage foreclosure mitigation assistance to families in need.

From their press release:
These grants are being awarded as part of the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program, which is administered by the NeighborWorks America. NeighborWorks America is directed under the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act to allocate grant funding to qualifying organizations that provide mortgage foreclosure mitigation assistance in states and areas with high rates of defaults and foreclosures primarily in the subprime housing market.
Will it help? Getting the money is just the first step. It will have to be administered wisely by
NeighborWorks is a "national nonprofit organization created by Congress to provide financial support, technical assistance, and training for community-based revitalization efforts."

Southwest Solutions received the Best Managed Nonprofit of 2005 greater than $3 million by Crain's Detroit Business.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Let them eat fish --- from France to the Great Lakes pollution taints food chain

cross posted at Michigan Messenger

Saturday's Guardian reported on pollution in France's Rhone river. Apparently, a string of governments has ignored a serious PCB problem for more than 20 years. And this is horrible because poor people have eaten the contaminated fish. Sound familiar, Great Lakes readers?

What sets France's problem in relief is the thought of a highly toxic river flowing through "tourist spots such as the papal city of Avignon down to the Camargue delta." Could this be part of our problem with cleanup in Michigan -- our history is too short and unremarkable to evoke cultural incredulity over environmental toxins?

It should be bad enough that carcinogens have entered the food chain in Saginaw where African-American families routinely eat carp and catfish -- fish that are categorically not to be eaten, according to consumption advisories from the state. Just as it should be bad enough that poor immigrants in Lyon's suburbs have been buying and eating toxic carp from the Rhone. Either of these situations should inspire public outrage, outreach to local communities and aggressive cleanup efforts. This isn't about inferior cuisine; this is about the basic human right to safe food and water.

Someone in France sipping Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape and noshing on langres really should care about toxic carp in the Rhone not because of the taint on the region's tourist industry or culinary reputation, but as a simple matter of environmental justice. Someone sipping Lake Michigan Cabernet with some aged Pinconning likewise should care about toxic carp in the Saginaw River for the sake of the poor families trying to supplement their diets with fresh fish, nature's bounty for the resourceful.

Michigan may not have a papal city or wine culture dating back to the time of Buddha's enlightenment to inspire environmental stewardship, but it has the Great Lakes. These lakes cradle a long and remarkable history marked in geologic time. The world's largest freshwater resource was formed 10,000 years ago, and predates wine and cheese and democracy and the Buddha.

These lakes have sustained human communities for thousands of years, yet are gravely threatened by human industry of the last 150 years. They define our regional culture and heritage. We continue to depend on them for our survival. Our health depends on their health. Can we find a way back to a clean environment? Perhaps we can if we understand our place in the long arc of geologic history.

Photo by: Liam Gumley, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2003

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Big Three to offer deep discounts in 2008

As much as the Big Three have promised to end deep discounts to car buyers, they admit the need for such bait in 2008.

Over the last year and in explanations of restructuring, the Big Three have said deals to consumers will no longer play a role in marketing vehicles. But the economy is so weak and consumers so spooked, deals and discounts may make or break the industry this year.

Although all three promise restraint and strategic use of incentive programs, we'll have to see how this actually plays out during a national recession.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chrysler procurement shakeup raises engineering concerns

Chrysler's vice president for procurement, John Campi, wants to trim costs by scaling back parts testing. But at least one of his engineers worries about the consequences.

Last week Campi told The Detroit Free Press that he has challenged the company's testing protocols, saying to engineers, "If I have a supplier that's building products for the automotive industry today, with companies that you know, I don't want to hear why it has to take six months to do your testing when in fact it is a quality product."

One Chrysler engineer familiar with supplier and parts issues, who spoke with Michigan Messenger on condition of anonymity, expressed concern at cutting corners on parts testing: "Chrysler can't go to Home Depot to get their bolts. We use an engineered product."

CEO Bob Nardelli took the reins of Chrysler after a stint as Home Depot's CEO. At Home Depot, Campi was Nardelli's senior vice president of vendor management.

The Chrysler engineer worries that cutting back on testing could risk lowering the reliability of Chrysler vehicles. He explained that although parts suppliers manufacture for multiple auto companies, parts are engineered to unique specifications and are not interchangeable from one carmaker's product to another. "A water pump is not just a water pump. It has to meet a set of specifications that are unique to Chrysler," he said. "The engine goes down if the water pump fails."

In addition, vendors can make mistakes and their production processes can be inconsistent. Testing parts "verifies that the vendor has made them in accordance with our specifications and that takes time."

Current testing protocols can take up to six months. Their purpose is to find bad parts and to prevent them from getting into vehicles. A bad part can stop the assembly line or lead to costly vehicle recalls. When bad parts make it into cars on the road, it can lead to accidents, and injuries or death. To fix the problem, the company must replace the part in stock in transit, stock at the plants, stock at the dealers and customers' cars on the road. "It's a nightmare," the engineer said.

According to the engineer, the current protocols are necessary to meet federal safety requirements, EPA requirements and customer satisfaction requirements. He said that to meet those requirements "means that every part is tested thoroughly."

Chrysler offers a lifetime guarantee on its power trains and up to 10-year guarantees on various other components. Testing assures the company can deliver what it promises customers. "How do you make that claim -- how do you stand behind the product -- when you don't know if it meets your requirements?" he asked.

Global management for supply chains

Noel Tichy, who has known Nardelli for more than 20 years and worked with him at GE, told Michigan Messenger, "Obviously, Bob wants to shake up everything and procurement is a big piece of putting cars together." Tichy currently serves as director of the Global Leadership Program and is a professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Shaking up Chrysler has meant bringing new management into an industry that Tichy describes as very "inward looking" when it needs to become more global to survive. Of the Big Three, Chrysler is most heavily invested in North American production when that is proving untenable. The maker will have to go abroad to expand markets for its products and find cheaper parts production, as other carmakers have already done. But those foreign-made parts will still need to be tested to assure they meet North American market standards.

Acknowledging the fundamental difference between retail supply-chain management and automotive supply-chain management Tichy said, "The difference is you are manufacturing a product. At Home Depot, you're buying stuff to sell in a store." He added, "But you are still managing a supply chain with suppliers in China and all over the world." He says that is where automotive supply chains are headed -- China.

Defending the practice of moving management across diverse businesses, Tichy cited his time at GE with Nardelli, under former CEO Jack Welch. "We moved people around more SIC codes in business than anyone on the planet. Jet engines, power generation, appliances, NBC, GE Capital. There are absolutely generic skills that cut across industries." SIC codes, standard industry classification codes, are used in business and government to categorize types of industries.

As for Campi's move from retail to automotive manufacturing, Tichy said, "How much transfer of learning there is from retail to automotive, we'll find out." He added, "That is yet to be determined."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

After the tent meeting -- my chat with Obama

(more fiction, a companion piece to "On the bus, limited access thwarts internet rabble")

Everyone had left the hall except the Secret Service and Obama, who lingered behind the podium. He was reviewing his notes and looking up at the balcony seats. It had been a spectacular rally -- a momentum builder.

"Excuse me, Senator Obama. Have you got a minute?"

"No, but I have hope, the hope that we can change America," he bellowed past me.

"I just need a moment," I said.

"Alright then, how can I help you?" he boomed from the podium, sending his words to the back of the hall.

"I really feel pessimistic about the 'change' meme. It's value neutral. Who gets to decide what our common values are? What if I don't like your version of 'change'," I asked him.

"Change in America will be a balm for the broken spirit, a turning of the tide, a reckoning of accounts," he bellowed. "It will be the moment we seek our better selves in service to the best we can become."

He paused. "And it will be hard," he told the empty balcony seats.

I approached the dais and with Obama's nod the Secret Service let me climb aboard the soapbox with the Senator. The view was grand, inspiring even. The sort of thing TV preachers seek to fill every Sunday. But Obama was managing it day after day, state after state.

"Senator, I respect your passion and your sincerity, but people can't eat hope or change," I said. "Hope doesn't prevent swindling mortgage brokers or outsourcing America's manufacturing base."

"Hope is like a tiny seed..."

"Hope doesn't feed hungry children whose parents have been unemployed for over a year," I said.

"I'm asking you to believe in your ability to bring forth change in Washington," he said slowly, gathering his papers and starting for the door.

"You know, you could talk specifics. Give a sense of how you will accomplish what," I said.

"I think when people are sufficiently inspired by my message, they will seek and find the details that support my vision and their hope for change," he said. "It's all on the website."

Shaking my hand, looking into my eyes, he repeated, "I am asking you to believe in your ability to bring forth change in Washington."

He descended the stage flanked by Secret Service and I was alone in the hall. His message was still echoing. Hope. Change. Believe. Change. Hope. A formula for stirring the masses of frustrated, fed-up voters of all ages, races, income levels. A recipe for electoral stone soup. Bring your agenda and drop it in the change-hope-believe pot. Cast your vote and maybe, come next year, things will be better.

Just believe.

Sure, but what about Michigan?

On the bus, limited access thwarts internet rabble

cross posted at Huffington Post

Go ahead and kvetch, blogger. Though you are clever, well read, socially conscious with a generous progressive heart – even a talented writer – you lack access. And in this world, access matters. Ask Helen Thomas, she'll tell you. But if you lack access, why not try fiction? Political science fiction.

On my transcontinental flight with Hillary, we laughed a lot because we were exhausted and everything seemed funny. It was the laughter of relief. California had been grueling. Racial politics dressing as unity is always a stretch, but a must with campaign designers this season. When we finally took off eastbound from San Francisco, we could relax, sip some wine and be silly.

"How do you keep going?" I asked.
"I really want to be President," she said. "I want to help our country."

"So does Obama."

"And there is no reason we can't do that together," she said. "The primary is rough. No way around that."

"People are wrung out trying to follow this endless campaigning, you know."

"Join the club. I haven't spent two nights in the same town for months,"she said.

"It's like The Amazing Race meets Survivor. Reality politics for the writers' strike," I blurted. We laughed. "Who'll get voted off when the tribe gathers for convention?" she pondered with a twinkle in her eye.

"At least you don't have to eat bugs,"I said. "And there'll be two survivors on the ticket at convention." "But only one candidate for leader of the free world," she said, suddenly serious, looking past me to a glorious future.

"One candidate to go toe to toe with McCain," I reminded her. "The consummate survivor in real life, not reality politics."

"But this isn't survivor. This is about wanting to change the direction of our country. This is about saying 'no' to one hundred more years in Iraq. This is about saying 'yes' to quality education for all children. This is about making sure everyone has health coverage. This is about improving access to higher education. This is about repairing the damage of the last seven years," She was on a roll as the plane flew over Texas.

"Hey, after you get the nomination, when you come to Michigan, I'd really like to interview you," I said.
"Sure," she said.
"Excellent, thanks," I smiled. The joy of access.

My dog started barking, shrieking as the newspaper man hurled today's Wall Street Journal up the driveway.
It was all just a dream. Thank goodness for fiction.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Detroit Winter Blast Tonight!

UPDATE: (this text appeared at Michigan Messenger Sunday, February 10)
The Winter Blast festival in downtown Detroit brings people together for play at Campus Martius Park just in the nick of time.

The renewal of our lives comes in the doing of small things, not pondering our smallness among enormous things. And that is why Detroit Winter Blast is so important. The collective effort of several dozen sponsors, Winter Blast comforts Michiganders in our bleak midwinter. After weeks of a flat gray sky, days of city scandal, months of economic stagnation, the festival lifts people in little, life-saving ways.

Friday night, in toasty music-filled tents, homeless folks warmed themselves alongside the well-heeled. Working-class and white-collar together drank beer after a long work week and listened to a tight three-man blues band. Outside, wood-stoked fires drew revelers roasting marshmallows and watching skaters.

On a rink under colorful and shifting lights, nimble and tipsy, alone and together, people skated to soul, rock, Motown and R&B. A swirl of Detroit's diversity -- young girls in head scarves, boys in baggy everything, men in NASCAR jackets, a woman wrapped in a crocheted afghan, little ones overstuffed in snowsuits -- circled in haphazard accord on the ice.

In the distance, shrieks of joyful terror from the snow slide and a musher's calls to her sled dogs.

The three-day festival of skating, snowshoeing, food, music, and sled dogs concluded Sunday.


After days of no sun, weeks of a text message scandal, months of economic slump, you can get relief at the Detroit Winter Blast. Live music, skating, great food, bon fires, a snow slide, sled dogs, and more. Go and enjoy.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Tuesday

Hype, spin, repeat.

(It's the delegates.)

It's the economy.
It's globalization.

It's militant "Islamo fascism." Is that even a word?

It's about race.
It's not about race.
It's post-race, but it's about healing the trauma of 1968.

It's time for change.
It's time for experience.

It's time for a true conservative.
It's time for a uniter.

It's time to help the endangered middle class.
It's time to make Bush tax cuts permanent.

It's about ending the war and bringing troops home.
It's about staying in Iraq for one hundred years if we have to.

It's about the youth vote, the Hispanic vote, the black vote, the women's vote.
What about the white men?

It's about coming together as a country and making our voices heard.
(It's about the delegates.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Looking for the upside -- reader forum on Michigan's economy

Well, folks, it's a little hard to see the positive today considering these tidbits.

  • Ford may not refill its ranks
    From the Free Press: "As Ford Motor Co. begins offering voluntary buyouts and early-retirement packages to its 54,000 UAW hourly workers -- and continues trimming its salaried ranks -- CEO Alan Mulally said it's not clear that the departing workers will be replaced in these tough economic times."

  • Chrysler offers buyouts to hourly workers in Detroit
    The New York Times reports that this offer "means that nearly all hourly automotive workers in Michigan now have the option to leave their job this year. Earlier this month, the Ford Motor Company began a second round of companywide buyouts and General Motors extended buyout offers to about half of its work force."

  • We're going to need massive programs to help workers retool, retrain, and go back to school. We're going to need more emergency social services, food assistance, shelter and cash assistance to keep utilities on.

    So, here are my questions to readers for this informal survey and forum. Ponder them and then send your responses via comments. Thanks for reading.

    1. Do you know someone experiencing financial hardship right now?

    2. Is this a new situation for them? Can you describe it?

    3. Are or were they employed in the auto industry or auto parts sector?

    4. If you know people considering relocating out of the state, why are they considering leaving?

    5. Do you think most Michiganders understand the economic downturn is NOT cyclical?

    6. Do you think most Michiganders understand the economic situation as a historic shift to post-industrial economy?

    7. Do you have any advice for Michiganders having a hard time economically?

    8. What do you think can help Michigan's economy?