Category Archives: Don’t Stop Believing

We are not all Detroiters

As nice a sentiment as it is, we are not all Detroiters.

For years, Michiganders have looked at Detroit as a “problem” that needs fixing. An inconvenience. An eyesore.

And now that the city of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy – at the behest of our Governor – we’re all Detroiters?

For too many people across the nation and across the world, Detroit has become a sort of apocalyptic Babylon – the image of a once mighty empire in ruins. Many people are quick to gawk and let their mouths hang open in disbelief at the city’s fall, but few people are willing to make any headway on the problem.

Detroit is not the problem, however. Detroit is the victim.

So-called “experts” across the nation are lining up to speculate on how this iconic American city could have ended up at this point and in this process, local officials have become an easy scape-goat for much larger problems.

Corruption on the part of certain elected officials could never be as damaging to the city as losing over 60 percent of the city’s population in fifty years. It’s a long way to fall from nearly two million to just over 700,000.

Corruption could never do as much harm as shipping jobs to other states and other countries. People – and tax dollars – go where there’s work available.

Corruption has done far less to harm the city of Detroit than urban sprawl. There are still over four million people in Metro Detroit – only their tax dollars are going to other city governments rather than to Detroit’s coffers.

The real Detroiters are the ones living in Detroit right now, the ones dealing with the consequences of White Flight, the ones coping with the aftermath of our manufacturing jobs getting shipped overseas.

And it should be noted that these Detroiters are remaking the city today in revolutionary ways that are showing what a post-industrial society looks like. Vacant fields are being turned into farms. Neighborhoods are being converted into art galleries. The people of Detroit are pulling together, reclaiming the city through ground-level organizing – from biking groups to networking for transplants moving to Detroit for work.

And Detroit is adding jobs: Entrepreneurs are moving to Detroit to start businesses. The tech industry is posting huge gains in Detroit. As Quicken Loans and other companies set up downtown, housing is in high demand. A new bridge connecting Detroit with Canada will expand trade and manufacturing possibilities.

The state of Michigan could best help out the city of Detroit by speeding up the blight removal, by using some of the $500+ million in our rainy day fund to invest in the city and speed up its recovering. The city’s layout is in desperate need of an overhaul since it’s a huge place. Detroit is roughly the same size as San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Boston combined (139 sq miles vs the combined area of these cities standing at 156 sq miles).

To go back to Detroit’s French roots, Dépenser plus pour gagner plus. Spend more to get more. For Detroit to become economically viable, we need to reverse the city’s hemorrhaging population. Restructuring the city, investing in infrastructure and police, and speeding up blight removal are all crucial components to this.

We need some action. Detroit’s recovery is Michigan’s recovery – but that doesn’t make us all Detroiters.

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Mark your calendars

There are two upcoming events you should mark your calendars for if you’re here in Michigan.

1. UAW will be protesting Rick Snyder’s State of the State address tomorrow in Lansing and at other locations across the state. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it but I encourage everyone to make it out for an hour, two hours, or the whole time.

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2. On a lighter note, the 2013 Arab Film Festival is coming up in Dearborn, MI at the end of the month. I’ve never been, but I’m looking forward to going with my boyfriend. Tickets are $9 per showing.

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Travelers Club and Tuba Museum

I was upset when I learned a few days ago from my boyfriend that one of our favorite new places to go in Okemos, Michigan is being foreclosed. It’s a great restaurant in a historic building with excellent food. Even though my boyfriend only moved there in August, every time I visit, it’s #1 on our list of places to go.

Would you sign the petition asking the township board to save the restaurant? Maybe you’ve never visited, maybe you’ve never heard of Okemos, MI and will never hear of it again. Then I ask you to sign as someone who loves the idea of local flavor, of a restaurant that proudly sources its food from local producers and gives what would otherwise be a vanilla suburb a little spice.

Thank you for signing – and if you’ve never visited and you happen to be in the area of Lansing, MI sometime, stop in!

jrm

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Don’t let it bring you down, it’s only Facebook haters

People are divided on former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s fiery speech last night at the Democratic National Convention – even a few Democrats are saying that she had a Howard Dean moment when she got on stage.

You can decide for yourself, the speech is only about 6 minutes long.

I loved this speech. Jennifer Granholm fired up the crowd. People were on their feet for almost the entire time that she was on stage. This is what convention speeches are supposed to be about: Firing people up and driving home a simple message. (In this case: Manufacturing jobs.)

What I hate is some of the comments I’ve seen on Facebook today – particularly the ones telling her to “go back to Canada” – where she spent all of four years of her life as a child. If you didn’t like her speech, if you didn’t like her as governor, fine. I disagree, but fine.

But what gives with the xenophobic “She’s not one of us” discourse? We hear this all the time with Barack Obama as well. He’s just “not an American” as a Congressman from Colorado has recently said.

This is what is supposed to make us great as a country, that we all come from different languages and backgrounds and ethnicities and we come together as one country to form a beautiful fabric that’s all the stronger for its many strands woven together as one. This is what is supposed to make us great.

If there is anyone, anyone, who is allowed to say things like this, I can think of only one group. I realize that these sort of comments that you see on Facebook are made in passing without any serious reflection, but I think that they betray a certain level of hubris that’s ingrained in the white American psyche.

Governor, if you ever do go back to Canada, even though you only spent four years of your life there, and although I really prefer you here in the U.S. because I think we need you, take me with you? I happen to love Canada and I happen to have a couple pretty awesome friends who live there. I wish one of them in particular would come back to the U.S. so I got to see her more often!

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Filed under Don't Stop Believing, US Politics

Good news day from the Mitten

It’s been a good news day for my homestate of Michigan.

First of all, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a handfull of bills passed by the Michigan House and Senate that would have created new restrictions for voters and people organizing voter registration drives.

More on that in a minute.

Before I go on to discuss that in detail, I just also wanted to mention that GM released numbers today showing sales up 16% over this time last year. Chrysler also had good numbers to report. June saw a 20% increase over a year ago according to the article released on MLive this morning.

So an indisputably good day for the Mitten.

Back to the “voter suppression” bills that the Governor vetoed today.

First of all, I think I’d just like to say that there is nothing unreasonable about having to show photo ID when you vote. I think that that’s a pretty fair thing to be asked to do when you take voting as seriously as I do as part of your civic duty.

However, when you take voting seriously as part of your civic duty, you don’t want to disenfranchise people and so I’m pleased that Governor Snyder vetoed the bill today. The Michigan House acted disgracefully in passing the bill back in June when they forced through the bill without a roll call vote, claiming the 2/3 majority needed for its passage and immediate implementation even though they only had 66 votes as it turns out rather than the 73 needed. Without a 2/3 majority, a bill cannot be implemented immediately and a waiting period is required before enforcement can begin.

What would that have meant?

That would have meant, if the Michigan House GOP had gotten its way, that the new voter ID laws would’ve gone into effect now, a mere four months before a hugely contentious presidential election in which Michigan is one of the key states in play as Mitt Romney’s birthplace. Four months before any election is not the appropriate time to implement these sorts of changes because of the confusion they would create among voters; Governor Snyder himself cited this when explaining his veto.

But you say that everyone already has a photo ID anyways. What’s the big deal? The Secretary of State in Michigan claims that 99.5% of registered voters already have some form of ID. Let’s suppose that’s true. In 2008, 5,000,000 people voted in the presidential election. Half of a percentage point comes out to 25,000 people – or the size of a small city. That’s bigger than Walker, Michigan. That’s a bigger number than Norton Shores and Romulus. That’s bigger than Kalamazoo Charter Township and Marquette.

So you can’t say that 25,000 people is nothing, can you?

Let’s compare it to the numbers cited by Republicans seeking to enact these laws. According to a state audit released in May, somewhere around 1,300 instances of voter fraud occurred over a three year span.

Can changes be made to voter ID laws to improve the process? Yes. Is there a need for these new changes? According to an article from the Detroit Free Press, it’s unclear if all 1,300 instances of voter fraud that were discovered were people actually trying to vote under someone else’s identity.

What is clear is that such changes ought to be made in a more professional way, not only with better timing for the sake of clarity and inclusion, but also with respect for the Michigan constitution and the proper procedure. Approaching this from a strictly utilitarian point-of-view, let’s not alienate potentially over 25,000 people who might otherwise vote because Michigan Republicans have really bad timing. (The number of people disenfranchised by this would actually be higher since the state only had a 2/3 voter turnout in 2008 and the Secretary of State said that 99.5% of people registered to vote have ID – so the number could be somewhere around 36,000 people.)

Reducing our politics to pointing the finger at the other party and saying “They treated us worse when they were in power!” makes a joke out of the political process. This is effectively what the Republican majority in the Michigan House has claimed as their excuse for denying these sorts of roll call votes.

Sooner or later, people might wake up and realize this. Then we won’t need bills aimed at voter suppression because the people won’t give a damn any more.

But for today: Bravo, Mr. Snyder. The country could use more free-thinking, independent minded leaders as yourself.

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21st Century Detroit

How do we rebuild Detroit? It’s a question older than half the city’s current population.

In recent years that question has become more and more closely intertwined with rebuilding the Michigan economy as a whole since it’s apparent that we can no longer rely solely on the auto industry or, more broadly, manufacturing despite recent gains that the state has made.

Since Governor Snyder’s election in 2010, part of that discussion about how we rebuild that state economy has centered around a bridge – a bridge proposed by Mr. Snyder to link Ontario and Michigan together. We have several already, yes, but according to Mr. Snyder, the increase in traffic capacity will mean that Detroit will solidify itself as a hub for international trade and commerce.

The Center for Automotive Research is claiming 5,000 to 6,000 temporary jobs will be added during bridge construction and 1,400 permanent jobs. Whether those jobs will be in Detroit or split with Windsor, the article fails to mention.

Another more detailed article from MLive describes how a second bridge in Detroit will assist car manufacturers that regularly have to transport goods from Canada to assembly lines in the U.S.

Mr. Snyder is being applauded as a “visionary” for pushing the project. I have been very critical of Mr. Snyder in the past but as a Michigander I believe in finding a way forward together and I don’t want to detract too much from the project. What he is trying to do has the potential to be very positive – and it’s worth noting that the project has the support of every single past Michigan governor living today. He’s up against a billionaire with a lot of money at stake tied up in the Ambassador Bridge who’s been waging ad wars against the New International Trade Crossing.

Recognizing that I am neither a resident of Detroit nor am I an expert in economics, here is a short “Yes, but…” to the discussion.

Detroit made itself great in my grandparents’ generation by leading us into the biggest, most calamitous war in history. Car manufacturing plants got converted into America’s war machine overnight and helped supply the Allies with much needed tanks. My grandfather and grandmother both served in the war – one as a cartographer in Alaska and the other back in Detroit at a converted manufacturing plant. I’m proud of what my grandparents and the city of Detroit accomplished.

Today, Detroit needs this kind of adaptability to rise again. The problem the last time around during World War II is that the sudden boost in economic activity and manufacturing wasn’t sustainable. If we want to leave a lasting legacy and a lasting infrastructure, building a bridge isn’t going to be the answer. Sustainable development means surpassing new ways to better serve the auto industry. It means developing new industry – which I fully recognize could also profit from this venture.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I recognize that no one is presenting this as the definitive answer to Michigan’s economic downturn but rather as one component that will help move us forward. And I agree. I think that the bridge has great potential to help Detroit turn a corner if the private sector will get on board as they’ve promised.

I would just like to ask the question: Why aren’t we investing in more sustainable infrastructure? Why are we opting to expand highway transportation when demand has been decreasing at the 82 year old Ambassador Bridge? We could instead be expanding international rail services. Take a look at this map – we already have a good deal of rail infrastructure in and around Detroit that could be further developed as a more durable means of making Detroit into an international trade hub. As oil resources dwindle and become more difficult and more costly to access (not just financially speaking but also in terms of human life and the environment), we find ourselves still awaiting viable alternatives as technology for more eco-friendly automobiles lags. We need solutions now and one of them is using more trains. Of course this will mean that nationally, we need to bulk up on our infrastructure which means spending money which makes people cringe now more than ever.

But this is the future we’re talking about. We have a couple options right now: We can continue exploiting oil resources and go after the hard-to-get-to reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Atlantic and the Alberta Tar Sands and change nothing structurally about the way we operate as a society in terms of transportation or we can simultaneously exploit what resources we’ve already tapped (being realistic) while also reworking our transportation infrastructure and pursuing sustainable energy options.

Unfortunately, the United States has largely contented itself with the former rather than the latter. While the shortcomings of this approach should be self-evident, most people think in terms of the pump, which is to say that we base our feelings towards drilling for oil off of how much a gallon costs at the gas station. There are two (primary) problems with this: A) this isn’t a permanent solution, our supply of oil is finite and B) by going after these reserves like the Tar Sands and deepwater drilling in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, we’re doing permanent damage to our environment in exchange for temporary gain. Future generations will condemn us for our short-sightedness on this count unless we make drastic changes in how we extract oil or else in actively pursuing new energy sources.

So back to Michigan.

If we want to be a 21st century leader, we need to invest our resources in efficiently exploiting our border with Ontario by building and expanding lasting infrastructure that will be adaptable to changing needs 82 years from now.

We need a visionary in office right now and I applaud Mr. Snyder for his work on this so far – but I hope that we won’t content ourselves thinking that more roads will be a lasting solution. Of course alternative transit won’t solve all our economic difficulties, but it sets us up as better prepared to face the future with greater adaptability for whatever needs face us down the road.

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