Monday, March 31, 2008

'It could get ugly' as strikers rally while American Axle seeks replacements

cross posted at Michigan Messenger
American Axle strikers rallied at company headquarters in Detroit Monday in response to help-wanted ads the company ran over the weekend, according to an expert close to the situation. Striking workers and labor experts see the ads as a sign that the company does not intend to negotiate and may bring in strike breakers.

"I don't think the workers on strike will stand by and let American Axle bring in striker replacements. It could get ugly," said Maurice "Skip" Turner, a labor education specialist at the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center. "I think the ads are designed to place fear in the hearts and minds of the workers."

The strike, heading into its fifth week, is the longest automotive strike in a decade. With wide-ranging impact -- cutting or stopping production at 30 GM plants -- experts think it may not go on much longer. "I think the make or break period is fast approaching and that is evidenced by the ads taken out by the five plants that American Axle operates," Turner said.

While American Axle is talking tough, threatening to move production overseas and placing help-wanted ads, experts contend that the union still has bargaining strength.

"The workers have some leverage, in that they are the main supplier for GM and a big supplier for Chrysler, as well," said Roland Zullo, research scientist in labor relations at the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center. "You need to have axles to make vehicles and get them off the line and sold -- it gives the union considerable leverage. There aren't a lot of alternative suppliers that GM can turn to quickly."

And the threat to move production is seen as mostly bluster. "It takes quite a bit to move five plants and relocate and retrain and you incur shipping costs because your client is still here. It is a threat, but I don't see it being much more than that," Turner said.

But economic reality may weaken the UAW's position. According to Zullo, "From GM's perspective this is not the worst time in the world to have shut-down plants because you have a lot of vehicles out there that aren't being sold. This is an inexpensive way to thin out inventory."

Turner has concerns for workers and communities if the company succeeds in cutting worker pay in half. "How many workers are going to be able to afford the mortgages on their houses?" he said. "That's going to add to the mortgage crisis. How many will be able to afford to pay for the vehicles they make? That's going to add to the economic crisis."

With Michigan's high unemployment, Turner allows there are "probably hundreds of people" willing to take the positions advertised by American Axle this weekend. Still, a strike-breaker action would be ultimately detrimental to both sides, making contract resolution even harder.

For Democrats, selecting delegates is a dance hard to follow

cross posted at Michigan MessengerThe protracted battle for Democratic National Convention delegates between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is confusing to average voters, looks unseemly and worries Democrats whose party conflict is set in relief by the GOP's unified support of John McCain.

But according to an expert in electoral politics, the delegate selection process varies from state to state and includes ample opportunity for twists and turns that defy common sense.

When it comes to primary elections, "What the voting public doesn't understand is that the initial voting day is only the first step in a long process," said Stewart French, political science professor at Saginaw Valley State University. "The parties control their nomination process because they are private organizations. They get to determine the rules."

Each state Democratic party determines its own rules, which can be elaborate and lead to counterintuitive results. "For example in Texas, Hillary won the popular vote but lost the delegate vote because they have something they call the Texas Three Step," French said.

In the Texas process some delegates are awarded proportionate to the primary vote, but others are selected in the Three Step consisting of precinct caucuses, county conventions and then a state convention.

Michigan's process is not as complicated as that in Texas. Michigan has a primary election and then holds congressional-district conventions at which delegates are selected. What has confounded this year's process in Michigan is the "uncommitted." In the Jan. 15 primary "uncommitted" won 40 percent of the vote and Clinton won 55 percent. Clinton favors seating delegates in proportion to the election results. Obama favors a 50-50 split.

"Without `uncommitted' there'd be no battle," French said. It would be a straightforward process with the party selecting delegates at the congressional-district level.

The Michigan Democratic Party canceled congressional-district meetings that were to occur this weekend. They have been rescheduled for April 19 in anticipation of "some sort of deal that will allow the Michigan delegates to be seated" at the national convention, French said. Such a deal will likely determine the proportions by which delegates will be awarded to Clinton's and Obama's campaigns. The state party wants to be sure of the proportions -- which they want to be agreeable to both campaigns -- before selecting delegates.

Now that Florida and Michigan have ruled out re-votes of their disputed primaries, Clinton is vowing to take the battle for seating delegates all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. "Since Florida and Michigan have decided not to have a re-vote, the only thing left to get the delegates seated is to appeal to the Credentials Committee at the convention in August."

The Credentials Committee is the final arbiter in determining who actually is permitted to serve as a delegate. The committee has the power to let delegates from Michigan and Florida be seated even though those states broke party rules when they moved their primaries up from February. The national party as punishment has barred the delegates of both states from being seated at the convention.

French says that Clinton's maneuvers to eke out more delegates and her advocacy to seat Michigan and Florida delegates are aimed at increasing her delegate total and persuading superdelegates she is more electable than Obama.

"This is the last gasp of a campaign that has no statistical chance of winning," French said.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tibet Update

Tibetan protesters try to storm Chinese embassy in Nepal
"KATHMANDU, Nepal--A group of 200 Tibetan exiles and Buddhist monks tried to storm the Chinese Embassy visa office in Nepal's capital on Sunday but police beat them back with bamboo batons.

At least 130 protesters were arrested and some of the demonstrators and policemen were injured in the scuffle."

Chinese claim proof of Tibetan plot
"China's state-run media reported that Chinese police had a written confession from an unidentified Tibetan monk who said he received orders from supporters of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to help incite the riots."

Security tight as Olympic flame arrives in China
BEIJING (Reuters) - The Beijing Olympic flame was welcomed by cheering children amid tight security in China on Monday, a symbolic start to the Games that has been overshadowed by unrest in Tibet and concerns over human rights."

Beijing on guard against Tibet protesters

"Security will be tighter than normal in Tiananmen Square - where pro-democracy protests in 1989 were crushed by force - for a ceremony to welcome the Olympic flame.
The torch will then leave on a four-month worldwide relay that includes stops in Tibet."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

What is happening in Tibet?

(UPDATE: PLEASE ALSO READ Dalai Lama urges understanding across religions
Tibet Update from March 30
Dalai Lama supports Olympics and human rights
For those who need a Michigan angle...His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be in Ann Arbor April 19-20, 2008.)

I just made the mistake of looking at photos documenting recent violence in Tibet. New protests broke out today at two monasteries in Lhasa.

On the weekends, when I have time to be unproductive, I venture into regions of news and information that should derail a well-educated, comfortable American -- maybe even bring tears. Thanks to the internet, Tibet is closer to us now than it was in 1959 or even 1992, for that matter.

You can explore different sides in the situation from the comfort of your favorite chair with a cup of tea and a muffin. It feels obscene and voyeuristic. People in Tibet have been killed by the Chinese for protesting Chinese rule. The Chinese government defends its development policies, accuses the Dalai Lama of masterminding the protests, and says the upcoming Olympics will go on as planned.

The Dalai Lama alleges Chinese troops, planted as agitators and posing as monks, instigated violence. And comfortable people around the world are wringing their hands over yet another politicized Olympics. Supporters of the Tibetan people around the world are protesting and getting arrested.

Xinhau reports that former Nepali consul general in Lhasa Tamla Ukyab "said he personally witnessed the profound changes that have taken place in Tibet, which has risen from an underdeveloped area to a region that enjoys fast economic growth and social stability."

Voice of America reports that "Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says China's policy of resettling Chinese people to Tibet amounts to what he calls 'cultural genocide.'"

India-based today says

"In his most serious allegation against Beijing since unrest gripped Lhasa and other places this month, the Dalai Lama said that China had disguised its troops as monks to give the impression that Tibetans were instigating the riots.

"In one picture we see a (monk) holding a sword, but it is not a traditional Tibetan sword. We know that a few hundred soldiers have been dressed like monks," said the Dalai Lama, who has been living in India since fleeing his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule."

The Scotsman today has published a commentary by Victor Spence titled China's oppression of Tibet must be stopped. He writes:
THE fragile and highly energised situation we are witnessing in Tibet does not come out of a vacuum.
Cultural genocide, oppression and discrimination in Tibet began nearly 50 years ago, and once more the country has reached boiling point.

The Tibetan youth who have rebelled against their oppressors are walking on thin ice. They risk a complete eradication of the Tibetan identity and decades of work by the Dalai Lama and supporters of the Tibetan cause.

The Chinese leadership has been spoiling for a "fight to the death" for years – a phrase coined by their most senior representative in Tibet. The timing doesn't suit China, with the Olympics just months away.

The international focus this puts on China provides an ideal opportunity for the international community, including Edinburgh, to play their part.

There is indeed growing prosperity in Tibet, but the Tibetans, it seems, are the last to benefit – if at all.

They are discriminated against in education, employment, health, enterprise and other matters.

Tibetan Buddhism is controlled by China: it is illegal to own a photograph of the Dalai Lama. Tibetans who support the Dalai Lama are arrested and tortured. Read more...
March 27,2008 from Reuters:

What can you do in this moment? Strip away your comfort and every illusion that keeps you blind to suffering of others. Seek the part of yourself that knows compassion. Sit there, uncomfortable and awake. Join in silence or prayer for the dead. Don't wait for Sunday; every moment is holy. Om mani Padme Hum...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Controlling the frame, keeping Obama on the defensive

The mainstream media are having a wonderful time sustaining controversy around the statements of Obama's pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Someone has drudged up church bulletins that criticize Israel, putting Obama once again on the defensive. In a classic case of guilt by association, the media are using innuendo to suggest Obama holds positions contrary to U.S. foreign policy. Well, that should keep the promising candidate busy swatting flies and apologizing and explaining for another few days. Mission accomplished.

Why would MSM focus on this? Is it really a good faith effort to fully vet candidates? Or is it just easier to stir controversy and stimulate speculation. Face it, running allegations is a lot cheaper than doing hard research.

These reports are simply cheap and easy, the news equivalent of microwave soup. They lack substance and information that voters could actually use to make a decision. No chewing required. And they satisfy only briefly. There will be more, because they cultivate an appetite for more shocking shallow content-free drivel.

And it's only March. What's going on in Pennsylvania?

Don't think of an elephant...or looking past mayor Kilpatrick's indictment

Don't think of an elephant. Wise politicians advise Detroiters not to get bogged down and preoccupied with mayor Kilpatrick's indictment. In a culture enamored of celebrity and fascinated by every prurient thing, how likely is that? Folks just can't resist the fall of the high and privileged, especially when it involves sex.

In the city that celebrated the "hip-hop" mayor who brought a sense of danger and fun to political office, a dapper player, a cocky native son, imposing in stature, nattily dressed...who can ignore the tragedy? Hope for economic development rests with this man. Hope for attracting business and generating revenue rests with this man. Kilpatrick is the face of Detroit, its ambassador to the world.

Michigan needs a healthy and thriving Detroit not a distracting spectacle and media circus. Can we all put aside this legal and ethical mess and keep on the task of advancing Detroit? He's pulling together support to pay for his defense and notables are reminding the public that he is innocent until proven guilty.

It takes a special strength to move ahead in the face of adversity. The mayor is a fighter and may succeed in this, but will he be able to serve the best interests of the city that depends on his leadership as he fights the charges? Many think not and fear that this will further harm Detroit.

Hard to see how it won't.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Taking stock of Michigan and her prospects

I started this Michigan blog project a little over a year ago, hoping to understand our state and our historic shift from a manufacturing economy to something else. Economically, we're still limping and now the national economy has joined us.

Our main challenge persists: to diversify the economy enough so that the auto industry doesn't make or break our future prospects *and* to increase the general education level of the adult population so that higher paying work comes to stay in Michigan.

How are we doing? Hard to say. We've been very distracted with the presidential primary farce and now the tragic intrigue of Mayor Kilpatrick's scandal threatens to become a long-term preoccupation.

I'm not the only one growing weary. The blogger Wizard Kitten remarked earlier this week:
"Sometimes blogging about politics and current events in the state of Michigan has all the charm of being repeatedly hit with a baseball bat. You try to get in a groove, accentuate the postitives, and Bam! something comes along that is so big, so tragic, that it steals all the oxygen out of the room, breaks your heart, and leaves you to pick up the pieces in some vain attempt to put your emotional Humpty back together again."
I couldn't have said it better.

Now, how is it we shall find the energy, optimism and hope to keep going? Consider this an appeal for ideas and recommendations. I want to know what the rest of you are doing to stay in it...this fight for Michigan. Can you share what motivates you with others whose enthusiasm may be waning?

Any tips for remaining audaciously, and perhaps foolishly, hopeful in Michigan?

Yours truly,

For auto industry, cheap foreign labor isn't cheap

previously posted at Michigan Messenger

Cheaper isn't necessarily cheaper when it comes to auto industry outsourcing.

In a monumental case of penny wise and pound foolish, the Detroit Three are enamored of cheap foreign labor, even as total costs frequently wipe out those savings.

"People think they buy things so cheaply. They say, `We only paid $75,000 for the part this time.' But it doesn't get accounted for that they paid another $100,000 to fix it," said a tool and die company owner who spoke on condition of anonymity. The company's clients include the Detroit Three and Tier One suppliers. In any given week, remediation of bad tooling from abroad can make up 80 percent of this company's work.

This practice is not unusual in the tool and die industry, according to Brian Sullivan, director of communications for the Tooling, Manufacturing & Technologies Association.

The Detroit Three and Tier One suppliers complain that U.S. labor costs are not competitive with cheap foreign labor and use this premise to keep supplier bids low and drive down wages for U.S. workers. Yet, the industry routinely accrues additional hidden costs doing business with China, say small manufacturers. Transportation, inventory and rectifying poor quality create additional costs that eat away at profits and make the domestic auto industry less competitive.

A dramatic case described by the tool and die company owner involved airlifting parts to an assembly plant just in the nick of time. A mere 35 minutes before an assembly line would run out of a critical part, a helicopter landed on the assembly plant's front lawn with enough parts to keep production going until a truck arrived with more.

Four days earlier, a die made in China broke in production at a stamping plant, jeopardizing the plant's ability to deliver promised parts to the auto company. The die was made from inferior materials. A Michigan-based tool and die shop saved the day by patching together the die and producing parts at very slow speed on their own presses.

The stamping company thought it had saved $35,000 by procuring the die from China, but in the end, the misadventure cost an additional $400,000 to fix the die, stay on schedule and fly parts to the auto manufacturer. The stamping company took these extraordinary measures to avoid paying the auto company $100,000 per day in the event of a shutdown. Although rectifying this situation cost the supplier, similar events also happen at the expense the Detroit Three.

"In the tooling industry, they'll say, `In China this mold costs $15,000 and in the U.S. it costs $40,000, so you need to meet the price.' They don't add in the other costs as far as shipping and quality," said Lori Schmald Moncrieff, owner of Schmald Tool and Die.

In some cases "the transportation cost and inventory cost - weeks of inventory sitting in cartons on boats and so on - that cost is greater than the labor savings even if the labor cost is zero," said David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research.

"We aren't competing against private entrepreneurial companies; we are competing against the Chinese government," said the company owner. Chinese companies can proffer vastly lower bids than U.S. companies because of state subsidies. U.S. manufacturers must include capital investment in their bids, while subsidized Chinese companies do not, and this results in artificially low bids.

Interestingly, Japanese manufacturers in the U.S. typically seek local, not foreign, sourcing. "The Japanese don't believe that sourcing to China is the better business model. Honda is a perfect model of a company in the tooling industry that buys tooling cheaper than any other automaker in the United States," Moncrieff said. "They believe in partnering and co-management with U.S. local domestic sources. They're doing the opposite of what the U.S. automakers are doing."

The tool and die company owner says the Japanese engage in systems-based costing while the Detroit Three practice "opportunistic buying." "There is a complete disconnect between the price and the cost because of the way our companies are fragmented. You don't see Honda and Toyota doing this. They are not interested in doing this, because they are focused on total cost."

So while the Detroit Three keep bargain hunting and driving down prices in the supplier community, they do so at the expense of developing quality. "A consistent supply chain allows you to sustain and improve quality tremendously. If you are always changing suppliers, how can you establish quality?" asked the owner.

The company owner says that Honda values continuity in its supply chain and expects that suppliers need to be profitable. In what suppliers see as a collaboration, "They want you to reduce your cost but maintain profit. They don't want to reduce their cost by decreasing our profit."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

International attention Michigan can do without

The Kwame Kilpatrick indictment has all the world looking at Detroit.

Detroit mayor in sex scandal (Australia): "Mr Kilpatrick, the youngest-ever Mayor of Detroit, said he expected to be cleared. He did not deny wrongdoing and did not address calls for his resignation."

Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick charged with perjury over sex scandal (Times Online, UK): " The 37-year-old Democrat, a former teacher who was dubbed the "Hip-Hop Mayor" because of his youth and energy when he was elected in 2002, last night faced calls to resign from every member of the City Council."

Detroit mayor charged with perjury, says he will be exonerated (International Herald Tribune): "Flanked by a high-octane lawyer and national public relations expert, Kilpatrick said he is 'deeply disappointed' in multiple felony counts lodged against him and former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty."

Another US Democrat involved in sex scandal (Radio Netherlands): "In the US, yet another prominent Democratic politician has become involved in a sex scandal. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has been charged with perjury, obstructing justice and abuse of power. He was allegedly involved in a secret relationship with a member of his staff and threw a wild party in his office which included a stripper."

Detroit Mayor will fight charges ( "Though he has had a rocky two tenures - accused of lavish spending with his city credit card and of publically denying the police department paid for a Lincoln Navigator for his wife - he was considered a rising Democratic star. He is the first Detroit mayor to be charged with a felony while in office."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's indictment: how much more must Detroit endure?

Mayor Kilpatrick, charged with perjury, obstructing justice and misconduct in office, contends that he will be vindicated. Fine. Let the system do its job.

Does the city have to endure the burden of the case? It is already a spectacle, an embarrassment, a severe impediment to Detroit's progress.

Kilpatrick continues to resist suggestions that he resign. Does he really believe that he can serve Detroit well, even as his energy and resources are drained by a court fight?

Good luck, Mr. Mayor.

Good luck, Ms. Worthy.

Good luck, Detroit.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama's perilous gambit: Speaking the truth about race in America

cross-posted at Michigan Messenger and Huffington Post

For much of the Democratic primary season, Sen. Barack Obama has strategically avoided race by attempting to transcend it.

In his ambitious speech responding to criticism of his affiliation with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., Obama took the issue head on and placed it at the center of political conversation. The candidate of unity laid bare fundamentals of the deepest division of our society.

Now that race is on the table, however, experts say it will undoubtedly affect voter behavior and campaign strategy in the coming weeks, remaining a central campaign issue.

"The divide in America with respect to race is a deep one, an enduring one," said Vincent Hutchings, a political scientist specializing in voter behavior, campaigns and African-American politics at the University of Michigan.

Talk about race makes a lot of Americans uncomfortable because deep, often unconscious biases conflict with social expectations for racial equality.

Experts - from pollsters to social psychologists to political scientists - agree that America's complex race dynamics present a strategic opportunity for Obama's opponents, could affect voter behavior and could influence the outcome of an election in which Obama is the Democratic presidential candidate.

According to Hutchings, black and white Americans support the principle of racial equality in large numbers, but have vastly different opinions about the need for policies to provide greater racial equality. By a margin of 30 to 40 percentage points, African Americans perceive profound barriers with respect to racial progress, while whites for the most part do not.

"There was a time in America, not that long ago, when a majority of white Americans would have proudly embraced the principle of racial inequality. Those days are over," Hutchings said.

While those days may be over, voters' inner conflict and ambivalence around race (and gender) persist and can be exploited by campaign strategists. "The Clinton campaign clearly thinks this is an area of vulnerability and as a result they've been using it. These are likely the most liberal people on race relations, and here you have the two sides bashing each other on race and gender issues," said pollster Steve Mitchell, president of Mitchell Research and Communications.

He also says that survey respondents aren't always honest on issues of race. "There is generally a rather significant difference between what people say they feel and what they say their friends and neighbors feel. They're going to be more honest because it's not them holding a racist opinion, but rather it's their friends and neighbors holding that racist opinion," Mitchell said.

Mitchell speculates that the Bradley effect, where voters inaccurately represent their views to pollsters in elections with racial minority candidates, may have been at play in Clinton's come-from-behind win in the New Hampshire primary. "I think people were disingenuous about who they were actually voting for. We have not seen too much of that in polling since then, but it is a factor you have to look at when you get to the general election," Mitchell said.

Obama's ambitious speech in Philadelphia attempted to unpack the complicated discomfort of racial bias in American society. In a major departure from his strategy of transcendent avoidance, he said things most people don't want to admit or say or hear. Although Obama rejected Wright's most extreme remarks, he didn't disavow Wright and he framed those remarks in a larger critique of racial bias.

"I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe," Obama said. He has been criticized for that remark by political opponents who claim it undercuts his criticism of Wright and shows disrespect for his grandmother.

Talking about racial bias makes many people uncomfortable because according to U-M social psychologist Denise Sekaquaptewa, even if people consciously hold egalitarian views, they still also possess deep unconscious biases and negative stereotypes, which create inner conflict.

Social psychologists study the relationship between people's unconscious biases and actions. "Social psychologists work to get at things indirectly because people are unwilling or unable to express attitudes that are not socially acceptable," said Sekaquaptewa.

"There is evidence that people use stereotypes in information processing, and it can be without intending to. If you ask them directly if they think someone has stereotypic attributes, you may get a different response than if you assess it indirectly," said Sekaquaptewa.

She describes the phenomenon of aversive racism, which "means we have egalitarian values and we are earnest in that motivation, but sometimes our underlying biases come out anyway. When that happens we feel bad about it. Over time it becomes a negativity." This negative experience of one's own bias makes people uneasy.

She stresses that individuals' own deep biases reflect exposure to underlying bias in society, not character flaws or chosen prejudice. Still, many people find evidence of their own bias disarming and would rather not be aware.

This discomfort inspires a political strategy of avoidance as well as the political tactic of indirect race baiting. As Hutchings put it, "much of the American electorate actually wants to ignore the issue of race."

"Given that whites are deeply ambivalent about matters of race - meaning there is genuine support for the principle of racial equality and genuine opposition to policies designed to implement racial equality - a shrewd political campaign can take advantage of that by trying to exploit those views without at the same time coming across as racially insensitive," Hutchings said.

Self-awareness may be central to understanding political strategy employing race as a wedge. Campaigns can, according to Hutchings, "subtly link candidates to negative stereotypes, so that campaigns can have plausible deniability." Hutchings says that research indicates many whites still harbor negative, anti-black stereotypes, such as "that blacks are lazy and tend to live off welfare, tend to be criminally inclined, may be earnest but not always as bright as other Americans."

"These are horrible things to say out loud and things most whites would recoil at, but we've all been socialized into a society in which those stereotypes are prevalent," he said. Attempts to question Obama's readiness to be president can be seen as allusions to the stereotype of blacks being earnest, but not bright. Obama's affiliation to Rev. Wright directly taps into the stereotype of blacks as unpatriotic.

Another uncomfortable truth about race in American politics is that the political system itself has a racial division that is embedded in the demographics of the two major parties. "Something we don't like to think about but is true about American politics is that something like 85 to 90 percent of African Americans identify with the Democratic Party, and 55 percent of whites identify with the Republican Party," Hutchings said.

The presence of a serious African-American presidential candidate does not in itself indicate progress around racial equality. "At the same time we're slouching toward the possibility of electing an African-American president, we are still within the midst of really serious race issues," said Bob Thompson, an expert on pop culture at Syracuse University. He thinks it would be a mistake to assume electing a person of color president would prove racial inequality has been addressed fully in American society.

He says that "there are a lot of people who feel that by electing Obama or Hillary Clinton president sends a message that we have progressed from the 1910s from when women couldn't vote and 1950s with segregation." But that will only be a partial step in addressing inequality. "It is a problem that seems to be humming in the back of so many of the biggest domestic issues we're facing."

While he thinks it is possible for a candidate to bring diverse people together around a common purpose, the task is more daunting given media fragmentation - a vast diversity of expression in the media that reflects actual social complexity.

"The thing we should remember is how complex race is. Any generalization that attempts to make grand statements is undoubtedly oversimplifying," Thompson said, adding, "The very people who are living with racist ideas are also the ones who have totally embraced black culture as their pop culture. More than half of hip hop music is purchased by white males."

Some see Obama's campaign as an echo of the civil rights movement and the social mobilization of the 1960s. According to Thompson, the kind of wide-ranging social galvanization that occurred in the 1960s is less likely due to the fragmented nature of media today. "The vase of American popular culture has been knocked off the mantle and broken into hundreds of pieces," Thompson said.

With race clearly on the table, political analysts will be closely watching upcoming opinion polls and the next primaries, including the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, to see what role race will play in the election campaign.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

High tech growth in Ann Arbor

Do a dance of joy at this news: two high tech startups have announced plans to set up shop in Ann Arbor.

Sakti3, a University of Michigan spinout, headed by U-M professor Ann Marie Sastry, plans to invest $1.1 million and hire some 112 workers. The company hopes to "commercialize a manufacturing process in Ann Arbor for the development of high-power batteries that will withstand the rigors of automotive use, primarily in electric vehicles," according to the MEDC. Translation, this company could develop a lithium ion battery that would drive the Volt.

MyBuys is an online retailing firm led by U-M graduate Bob Cell. The company provides personalized product recommendations to online retailers' customers, expects to open an office in the Ann Arbor area, investing $5.4 million and hiring 250 workers.

Take that, slumping, crunching, downward spiraling economy! Hah.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Slump and crunch -- nouns of choice for economic catastrophe

Are you getting as tired of these two words as I am? It seems economic writers either lack creativity or have collectively decided these are jargon. I'm leaning toward the first explanation, but the second could be real, since pundits and experts seem to favor these terms.

It's interesting that these both these terms are single syllable with short 'u' sounds. Slump. Crunch. Slump suggests an atypical period of poor performance as in, "The batter is suffering a slump." Crunch evokes collisions of heavy objects. Cars crunch when they hit each other. Crunch can also be the sound of breakfast cereal, or footfalls on ice-covered snow. As for the historic economic crisis of late, collision is probably on the mark.

What is colliding? Conventional wisdom lists subprime loans, trade deficit, housing bubble, falling dollar, rising energy prices, lax mortgage regulation, repeal of Glass-Steagall, and more.

But what is really colliding? Our financial system has become remote from the so-called real economy. Put another way: individual greed has overrun collective concern for each other. The desire to make a buck at the expense of others has triumphed. Nothing new under the sun, really. And this greed has enabled lots of people choosing to live beyond their means over understanding the limits that the economy has placed upon them.

Yesterday, I heard an economist proclaim that "credit is the lifeblood of our economy." Translation: the promise to pay tomorrow for something I want to day is fueling our economy.

Home Depot now has a hilarious ad campaign: "It's time to put off procrastination" with no payments for 12 months. I think it's meant to be a pun on put off, as well as to be ironic. Don't procrastinate in possessing what you want, just procrastinate in paying for it. Because as long as you charge it, we'll get our money. Deal done. Seems cynical.

So the credit crunch comes from loss of confidence that borrowers can pay back loans, which collides with the need of institutions to borrow money to make loans. Big lenders withhold from other lenders who would make sure you can "put off procrastination."

For a moment, people shake their heads, maybe splash water on their faces and say "hey wait a minute, all that equity justifying our credit/debt complex (financial system) just evaporated. How the hell are people going to pay that back?"

How indeed? Selling apples on the street corner? Probably not.

Friday, March 14, 2008

As proactive as Herbert Hoover?

In a move that makes President Herbert Hoover look proactive, the Bush administration is taking action to deal with the credit crisis.

From the New York Times:

"After months of watching a growing credit crisis made worse by steadily eroding home prices, the Bush administration responded on Thursday with the outlines of a plan that officials emphasized is meant more to prevent future crises than to address the current one."

You go, boy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

American Axle strike -- wide reaching, persistent, and ineffective

Although the American Axle strike has persisted into a third week and has shutdown or slowed 29 GM plants, it is not yet effective. GM has about 100 days of truck inventory and can watch from the sidelines, without intervening or tampering or nudging the UAW/American Axle talks toward closure.

GM expected truck sales to slow this year and the strike is almost doing them a favor. The company can cease production of vehicles that it can't sell anyway and can point to the action of the UAW as the cause for shutdown. It's an elegant solution for GM, as it shrugs and says "oh well."

Some have said that dealers will be the first to feel real pressure as their inventory offerings become limited. Yet, Ford and Chrysler are looking at ways to reduce the number of dealers in their pipeline. Could this be part of the GM plan as well?

The market for domestic vehicles will continue to shrink, according to the Center for Automotive Research, over the next five years. The whole system will need to shrink accordingly from parts suppliers to assembly to dealers.

So it begins, with the bold effort of the UAW at American Axle. Conventional wisdom would see that stopping production of axles would stop production of vehicles. In another day and age that would have put the UAW in a position of strength -- no axles, no cars and trucks. Now, it seems the UAW is just helping GM manage inventory.

Let's hope the American Axle workers are not striking in vain or shooting themselves in the foot.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Mulligan primary in Michigan

Yes, Michigan voters teed off in January on about the third hole. It was imperfect to say the least, but it was our shot -- a statewide open primary early in the schedule.

On the Democratic side with no presidential candidates campaigning (except for Kucinich), a mysterious candidate named "Uncommitted" on the ballot, and disqualified delegates, it was weird. But it was our primary, damn it, and many made best of it. Voters sent a message to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), "Delegates or no delegates, Michigan Democrats will vote and be counted."

Now, it seems Michigan Dems might tee up and swing again. There is talk of the Michigan Democratic Party caucusing anew. Just like a Mulligan, it'll be as if that first bizarre exercise in democracy never happened. (Except it did.)

The first shot was a total embarrassment, off into the woods, lost ball, penalties. What will this be? Michigan Democrats went out and voted to the best of their ability choosing Clinton or Kucinich or "Uncommitted" where appropriate. Of course, being an open primary, people besides Democrats went out and voted "Uncommitted," too.

For additional cost, Michigan Democrats could try again to get it right and have their delegates selected and seated all fair and square, according to the rules of the party. Those who favor Obama could chose him rather than "Uncommitted" in a do-over. This would be like hitting the sweet spot of an over-sized driver. With muscles warmed up, good pace on the stoke and desire reach the green, this shot could fly far.

The fun of a Mulligan on the golf course is that it's a willful breaking of the rules to create a better outcome in a game. That almost sounds like the Michigan Dems approach to the early primary date, except it wasn't a game. Ironically, the do-over primary represents a second chance at compliance with the rules for a better outcome.

It's important to play by the rules, but sometimes it's fun to bend them. Hillary Clinton likes to remind voters about playing by the rules, yet some think she broke them by keeping her name on the Michigan primary ballot even as the rest of the candidates withdrew. Social order, and in this case party discipline, depends on everyone following the rules to maintain the system.

Breaking the rules led to all Michigan's Democratic delegates being disqualified. The DNC disciplined the state Democratic party because this isn't a game. So simple a concept even a five-year-old could understand: "Billy, if you break the rules, you won't get to attend the big summertime party with your friends. No party hats, balloons and noisemakers for you."

The DNC will let Michigan Dems have a do-over if it complies with the rules and if they pay for it themselves. It would be like a charity tournament where players can buy Mulligans for a good cause. You make a bad shot, you pay for a second chance.

This time it'll cost a lot, though -- maybe $10 million. Heck of a greens fee! Gov. Granholm says the state will not cover the expense of a do-over. Thank goodness. It is, after all, a party matter at this point and the financially stressed state can hardly afford it. But can the Michigan Democratic Party afford it?

What do you say, Michigan Democrats?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A brokered convention will not be a disaster

The battle for Pennsylvania has begun. Hillary Clinton can win that state. And why shouldn't she? This thing is far from over.

Some observers of Democratic Party politics are calling for Clinton to concede, because they say she cannot possibly get enough delegates to beat Obama. They say super delegates are just party bosses who will override the will of the voters. But this is an oversimplification of the process.

The will of the voters is not a monolithic sentiment. The primary system varies from state to state -- open, closed, semi-closed primaries and caucuses. It's apples and oranges and bananas, a cornucopia of circumstances that select delegates. Horse trading happens early on with endorsements and campaign appearances.

In addition, this is a close race; it is still a contest. The will of the voters who have voted is pretty closely split between Clinton and Obama. Choosing the winner affirms the will of a little more than half the voters. The other half, no matter who is chosen, are not affirmed and honored. They lose.

But then they can all reunite in support of the chosen candidate.

If things get ugly in the next few weeks, will supporters of the loser ditch the party in disgust and will this reflect poorly on the Democratic Party? Sure (to the first question), if they were independents who liked a particular candidate, but had no intention of getting involved in party politics. No ( to the second question). Why should good healthy conflict within the Democratic Party look bad? A lack of conflict would make it look like the GOP and frankly, that united front can seem eerie.

There will be a marked difference in the tenor of the conventions. The GOP, all in a row behind McCain can gather for an awesome pep rally and strategy session. If you're into that sort of thing, it will probably be a gas. The Dems, diverse and idealistic, can gather for a consensus building exercise in intergroup relations. Not as much fun as the GOP gathering, and for some too much like their day job.

If the super delegates choose the candidate who didn't win the so-called popular vote will the Dems look undemocratic? That depends on how the speeches go and what the process looks like. Because if there is a process with oratory, persuasion, principles and ideas, it could be a wonderful opportunity for the Dems to shine before the entire country. A dynamic exchange of ideas, a little horse trading, some good music and renewed cohesion could energize the party with the truly big tent.

A brokered convention would be historic. It doesn't have to be a disaster.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

She's still in it! Clinton wins Texas and Ohio

With the exception of freethinking, woodsy Vermont, Clinton carried all states voting in yesterday's mini-super Tuesday -- she's still in it. Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island gave Clinton's campaign a shot of fuel when it was running on fumes.

If Ohio is the bell weather state for elections, race will be a factor in November. In the hilly southern counties that border Kentucky and West Virginia, Clinton won in the 70 to 77 percent range. Was there crossover voting? Not likely. Clinton scored well in blue collar areas and among church goers. According to CNN exit polls, Ohio voters thought Clinton more likely to win in November.