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Post-Labor Day worries

Sep 5, 2017
Worker at the Flint Engine plant.
Steve Fecht / General Motors

If you talk to someone in Governor Snyder’s administration, you might get the impression that Michigan’s workforce had a lot to celebrate on Labor Day. Last month, unemployment fell to an astounding 3.7%. Frankly, I never thought during the Great Recession that I would ever live to see our state’s jobless rate fall below four percent again.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Forget the notion that the Chinese are coming to the auto industry near you. They’re already here.

Geely has controlled Sweden’s Volvo for seven years now. Tencent Holdings owns a five percent stake in Elon Musk’s Tesla. Pacific Century Motors acquired Delphi’s Saginaw-based steering division to create Nexteer Automotive Corp. And Chinese companies spent $140 billion last year on mergers and acquisitions, second only to the United States.

Detroit still has some heavy lifting to do

Sep 1, 2017
Photograph of Downtown Detroit
Ifmuth / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Earlier this week, I was asked to speak to all the incoming students at Wayne State University.

Among many other things, I told them truthfully that I thought they were very lucky to be going to college in Detroit, which has become one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

“Think about it,” I told them. “Do you ever see Philadelphia in the news?” Detroit’s comeback is a major national story.

John Auchter

Labor Day is Monday, which of course begs the question: What side is it on?

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Detroit is rightly seen as the center of the U.S. auto industry. But looking ahead into the years to come, the Motor City can expect to see competition from an increasingly influential player in the industry: China.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes says Chinese companies are approaching U.S. markets slightly differently than other foreign companies that have built on American soil.

Michigan's education failures spell future disaster

Aug 31, 2017
Child reading
User Melanie / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

We got the latest results from our statewide education tests earlier this week, and here are the highlights — without the jargon. Johnny mostly can’t read as well as he should, and neither can Susie, although she’s doing a little better. Both are doing a little better in math than last year, but not nearly as well as they should.

Michigan GOP Convention
steve carmody / Michigan Radio

What do you do when the group you’ve belonged to your entire life no longer represents your values?

This has often been a problem in the melting pot that is America. Children upset parents by rejecting traditional customs, like arranged marriage.

But it is also a problem in politics.

Keeping his word

Aug 29, 2017
Ex-state Senator Virgil Smith, Jr.
senatedems.com

More than two years ago, in one of state politics’ more sordid recent episodes, State Senator Virgil Smith Jr. was arrested after he shot up his ex-wife’s Mercedes.

According to prosecutors, the Detroit Democrat was “alcohol dependent” at the time, had asked his former wife to come over for an intimate encounter and then physically assaulted her before shooting up her car. It is unclear whether he was trying to shoot her too.

Are we becoming desensitized to Trump's outrageousness?

Aug 28, 2017
Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Phoenix in October 2016.
Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There’s an old saying that if you put a frog in a pot of water and gradually increase the temperature one degree at a time, the frog won’t notice or hop out before it is cooked.

Scientists say this isn’t really true for frogs, but it may well be true, at least intellectually, for people.

Certainly, we can become desensitized to about any form of outrageousness.

Consider what we are living through now.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Rising profits and record sales are no protection from predators – or a boss trying to extract value before it’s too late.

Just ask the fine folks at Fiat Chrysler. Their company is in play for the fifth time in roughly 20 years.

From independence, it went to the Germans, then back to the Americans. They drove it into bankruptcy, and then to the Italians of Fiat and Ferrari fame. Then they tried to entice General Motors and Volkswagen into deals nobody wanted.

Citizens vs. Taxpayers

Aug 25, 2017
Jack Lessenbery
Michigan Radio

I had lunch yesterday with Mark Bernstein, the University of Michigan trustee who flirted with a run for governor next year before deciding not to.

He is smart, funny, and I think genuinely committed to making the university and this state a better place. We were talking about what’s wrong with state government when he said something that suddenly hit me like a revelation.

We were talking about how attitudes have changed, and he said, “I think a big part of it is that instead of seeing ourselves as citizens, we now see ourselves as taxpayers.”

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

I struggled with how exactly to draw a gerrymander statue. My initial instinct was to draw it as an abstract monster because that's where the term came from. In 1812 a Governor Gerry in Massachusetts signed a bill to redistrict his state to benefit his political party. 

Waiting even longer for the Gordie Howe Bridge

Aug 24, 2017
The Ambassador Bridge
Mike Russell / Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There was a story two days ago that was almost entirely ignored in America, but which has significant implications for this part of the world. Dave Battagello of the Windsor Star reported that the new Gordie Howe International Bridge will be delayed another full year.

Why I don't Tweet

Aug 23, 2017
Twitter bird logo icon illustration
user Matt Hamm / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Robyn Vincent is a journalist from Detroit who moved to Wyoming some years ago, where she is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole, which she has built into one of the nation’s more interesting and journalistically vibrant alternative newspapers.

I was honored to learn a few months ago that she follows and admires my work. She wondered, however, why I don’t tweet. She told me that if I did, I could have a considerably greater following than I do now.

Michigan has to solve its education crisis

Aug 22, 2017
kids in classroom
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

There’s remarkably broad agreement across the political spectrum about something: There is a deep crisis in education in Michigan - and nationally --at virtually all levels.

Tomorrow, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities will release a new report on skyrocketing college tuition, something that makes higher education less and less affordable in an era when education beyond high school is more necessary.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

I had an extended conversation with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan last week, and I learned a few things that might surprise you.

I’m not talking, by the way, about his current campaign for re-election. As with any election, this one ain’t over until it's over. But the mayor won the primary this month with an astounding 68 percent of the vote, compared to less than 27 percent for his only real challenger, State Senator Coleman Young II.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Don’t buy the White House spin: President Donald Trump didn’t abandon his two panels of corporate CEOs. They abandoned him.

Equating neo-Nazis and white supremacists with counter-protestors, as the president did this week, will do that.

Within hours of his comments, leading CEOs – including General Motors’ Mary Barra – worked the phones to look for a way out, preferably without incurring the wrath of the Tweeter-in-Chief.

The answer: hang together to avoid hanging separately. What’s he gonna do? Denounce en masse the corporate CEOs he wooed to his business forums?

Will voters overcome their politicians?

Aug 18, 2017

For months, a dedicated group of citizens calling themselves Voters, not Politicians, has struggled to come up with a way to give control of drawing legislative districts back to the people. The idea is to ensure fair, sensible and competitive representation to everyone.

That may sound like arcane political science babble, but it is not. Most of us are being effectively denied choices because of gross partisan gerrymandering done to ensure continuous Republican control of government.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

I am on vacation this week. (I drew this cartoon last week, Friday.)

I tried to anticipate how I would feel at this point. It was easy to predict (and poke fun at) my selfish self -- that despite whatever terrible events were going on around the world, nation, and state, the thing I'd likely find most frightening was the end of summer.

Remembering Vern Ehlers

Aug 17, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

Former Congressman Vern Ehlers died the way he lived Tuesday night, with quiet dignity. If you are relatively new to Michigan or not from the Grand Rapids area, you may not have known of him, which is too bad. He was one of the most underappreciated members of Congress.

He was full of integrity, and as little a self-promoter as anyone elected to national office can be. He was also something else very rare in Congress – a research scientist with a PhD in physics. I first met him 15 years ago in Detroit, when the Fisher Theater was showing Copenhagen, a play about science, morality, and the decision to build the atom bomb.

We don't have rational leadership

Aug 16, 2017
Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

On the afternoon that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, my seventh grade math teacher decided the best thing he could do was to ignore it.

He reasoned that what was going on in the nation had nothing to do with his job, which was to teach math to a classroom of Michigan kids, and so he carried on, or tried to, ignoring that some of the students were crying and few could focus.

Chinese Chrysler?

Aug 15, 2017
user fiatontheweb / creative commons

Yesterday morning I heard someone on an AM radio station say he had heard a crazy notion that Chrysler might be sold to the Chinese.

It was clear from his tone that he believed this was never going to happen.

Now, after a lifetime of covering the news, here’s something I’ve learned about business and politics. Whenever the movers and shakers start saying something can’t possibly happen, that usually means it most certainly could. Often it means that it is inevitable.

And sometimes, it even means that it’s happened already.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

I've been observing this game of Michigan politics long enough now that I can definitely detect patterns. 

Conyers’ ethical problems

Aug 11, 2017
John Conyers file photo.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The world was a far different place half a century ago, when Detroit was reeling after the nation’s most devastating urban riots. Michigan was a far richer state than it is now. It usually wasn’t hard to get a job on the line, assembling Pontiacs or Oldsmobiles.

Virtually nobody drove Hondas or Datsuns, which is what Nissans were then called. Mitt Romney’s father was governor, though Mitt himself was too young to vote. Michigan had more clout in Washington, and five more members of Congress than it does now.

Time to shut it down

Aug 10, 2017
Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

I've been up north, as we say in this state, for the last week, on Lake Michigan about fifty miles from the Straits of Mackinac. Fifty miles, that is, from Line 5, the oil pipeline – actually, twin pipelines -- under the straits. There has been a lot of concern about Line 5 in recent years.

People have suddenly discovered the existence of the line, which can carry as much as 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and liquid natural gas a day, pumped at high pressure under the lakes.

Politics may change, but low voter turnout never does

Aug 9, 2017
A "vote here" sign
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

You may not have noticed, but we had primary elections throughout Michigan yesterday. In many places, however, there was no election at all. This is what politicians call an off-off-year.

There are no races for attention-grabbing offices like governor, senator, or president. What people voted on yesterday was a collection of mostly small millage requests, plus a few primary elections for mayor and council seats in places like Detroit and Flint.

Asian carp leaping out of a river.
Great Lakes Fishery Commission

When scientists were working on the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb, there was a brief moment when some thought there was a small chance it might ignite the entire atmosphere.

Which would have meant good-bye life on earth. Enrico Fermi, who had a puckish sense of humor, took bets on whether the test of the bomb would destroy the world, or only New Mexico.

money
user penywise / morgueFile

If you follow state politics, you know that a number of candidates have been running for governor for months.

Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed have each raised more than $1 million. Shri Thanedar, a previously unknown businessman, has dumped more than $3 million into his campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Crossroads for the UAW

Aug 4, 2017

Workers are voting today at a Nissan vehicle assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi whether to join the United Auto Workers union. That might not seem like a huge deal either way.

After all, it’s just one plant. But it is a big one, with more than six thousand workers, about three-fifths of whom are African-American. If the UAW wins, it will be the dwindling union’s first victory ever in a major foreign-owned “transplant” factory.

cartoon of trump on ladder giving James McCloughan medal of honor
John Auchter / Michigan Radio

On Monday, July 31, former Army medic and Vietnam War veteran James McCloughan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by the president at a White House ceremony.

His story is breathtaking. In 1969, during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill, McCloughan's company came under heavy fire and was in full retreat. As his fellow soldiers ran for cover, McCloughan was consistently moving in the opposite direction and into harm's way to collect the wounded and bring them to safety. 

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