Tuesday, 08 January 2013 09:40
You know how the saying goes: when life gives you pork, revive the McRib… Or was it something about lemons?
My point is, it’s when commodity futures dip, not soar, that investors dig in. And while Detroit isn’t exactly a commodity like pork, it is at what some believe is the bottom of a 60-year dip, prime time to plant the seeds in this fertile economic garden.
If Detroit is teetering on the edge of some humbling realities, it also is propped at a precarious tipping point that could define its future. But one giant fear still lurks in the not-so far-off shadows: Municipal bankruptcy.
Such a catastrophe, even if welcomed by some, would fit nicely onto Detroit’s crisis-driven timeline. Which, since the city’s boom in the 1950’s, has included widespread blight, severe population decline, startling crime rates, sluggish basic city services, pitiable poverty rates and an ever-looming financial boogeyman (aka an EFM).
This rattling list woes has inspired some to label the city a national basket case. Yet, if despair is in order, most Detroiters didn’t get the memo. In fact, many are projecting another ending altogether, one in which the hardships of the past give rise to a powerful hope. For all of its troubles, Detroit is a place where adapting to the whupping of post industrialism actually seems doable, and creative and bravely speculative investment ventures in the city are on the rise.
Supported by state, federal and private sector boosts, these upticks are actually gaining credence, so much so that moguls like Quicken Loans headman Dan Gilbert, longtime Detroit investor Mike Illitch, and financial guru John Hantz are racking up investments and beginning to build on long-term investments in the city. In other words, Detroit is the Place To Be. That’s not only a hip and speculative reality but also the title of a new book that's getting national buzz.
Perhaps Dan Gilbert knows it best. He is adding to his Detroit skyscraper collection.
The Detroit News today reports:
This would be the 16th purchase of a downtown property by Gilbert and company since January 2011. Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, relocated the headquarters of the nation's largest online home mortgage lender from Livonia to Detroit in August 2010. Gilbert's portfolio of companies has since moved more than 7,000 people to work in downtown.
.... "Our focus in 2013 will be on the three R's — residential, rail and retail — all of which are vital in creating the vibrant, thriving urban core that we all envision," Gilbert said in the statement.
Detroit stocks may be in the crapper but who cares? It’s the futures that count.
Thursday, 03 January 2013 09:33
The New Year has barely kicked off but Detroit mayoral candidates are wasting no time getting straight to the politicking. Wayne County Sherriff Benny Napoleon and former DMC CEO Mike Duggan, both gearing up for a 2013 run, traded barbs this week over a very trivial issue: whether the city’s affluent Palmer Woods neighborhood was really “Detroit”.
What’s worse, political enthusiasts and social media armchair critics are eating it up. Long, rambling comment threads litter the web over whether Palmer Woods should be considered part of the Detroit experience.
Really? Is this what the Detroit mayoral race is going to be reduced to? This whole brouhaha is a prime example of how reader-hungry media outlets paired with exposure-hungry candidates dance to create a puffy election season cocktail of absolutely no substance.
Napoleon’s Palmer Woods comment blew up to the point where he felt the need to reiterate his comments on Facebook.
“Quality neighborhoods should be citywide in Detroit,” Napoleon posted to his Facebook wall. “The Palmer Woods experience far different than average Detroiter’s. But, Palmer Woods is Detroit and what we want all neighborhoods to aspire to.”
That’s what Napoleon had been saying all along, but a juicy quote was out of context and ran with like a football down the field. It makes for good water-cooler talk but not much else.
Still, the whole fluffy affair had to somehow be linked to race. After all, this is Detroit. Prevailing comments on social media threads have accused Napoleon of race baiting, claiming that his words about Palmer Woods and probable opponent Mike Duggan were somehow embedded in racial divisiveness. But these wed commentating people are obviously the ones with race on the mind.
If anything, it’s a class issue that Napoleon raised. Palmer Woods houses upper-middle class people in a city that is mostly sub-poverty line broke. Palmer Woods is a diverse neighborhood, not a white enclave in a predominantly black city.
So what’s the issue here? There really isn’t one; Except maybe a little media-candidate tailspin.
At best, this is the stuff soap boxes are made of.
Mayoral candidates Duggan and State Rep. Lisa Howze used this media-created spat as a campaign opportunity. They both immediately took to Facebook to declare the comically obvious: That the Palmer Woods Neighborhood is, in fact, part of Tha D.
Howze writes on FB:
“Palmer Woods is Detroit! When I walked this neighborhood in 2009, and as recent as last year, I encountered many great people. Residents were making repairs to their homes and planting flowers to beautify their properties. They care about their investment in Detroit and ask for no more and no less than any other Detroit resident who want value for their hard-earned tax dollars.”
Duggan Writes on FB:
Benny Napoleon unveils his campaign platform: "Hell no. Palmer Woods is not Detroit." Mike Duggan's campaign is made up of hundreds of volunteers who believe in his message of hope and unity. Now we know what this campaign will be like and what's at stake for our community in 2013. Please don't sit on the sidelines.
This has been a fun conversation but let’s keep it moving. If this type of thing keeps up it's gonna be a loong year. Detroit faces bigger problems than this sillyness.
Thursday, 27 December 2012 09:57
You don’t have to be a religious follower of local news to see that Detroit has been on the receiving end of plenty of gifts, donations or, as some would say, handouts.
Call it what you will, Mayor Dave Bing has been clear that Detroit has, at this point, no choice but to set pride aside and ask for help in any way, shape or form.
He’s a mayor that ain’t too proud to beg, and in fact admits he spends an “important” portion of his time as mayor seeking help from the state, the feds, and the private sector. And rightfully so. As a leader, you do what gotta do, you take what you can when the going gets excruciating.
Over the past two months alone, the city has received millions on federal grants, big-ticket donations and in-kind gifts of everything from community building to toilet paper. It's hardly enough to make a big dent in the city's financial issues, but every bit counts.
In fact, much of the good news the city has to share lately has been about a donation or grant to the city.
Take Ford’s recent $10 million donation which in part went to meet costs at a city-run activity center. Or the news that a long abandoned “eyesore” would be demolished with a 6.5 million grant from the feds. How about the good news that Detroit would reinstate 26 firefighters with a 5.6 million grant from FEMA? While the gift of money always pleases, in-kind donations to Detroit firefighters have been announced this holiday season, as Art Van donated more that 150 mattress sets to Detroit firehouses o Christmas eve. Last month firefighters got a donation of basic supplies that the city has not been able to provide—like soap and toilet paper—from Detroit Chemical and Paper Supply company and the Andiamo Restaurant Group.
That said, Bing said there are “quite a few” more donors lined up to help Detroit amble through this financially stricken time.
Perhaps one of the most interesting plea for support comes from a program to help beef up if meager personnel numbers.
Bing has consistently responded to questions from reporters saying ““We just don’t have the people to get this done as quickly as we would like to” regarding various initiatives he has laid out.
So how can Detroit get more management level jobs without paying the high price? Bing mentioned a program at a press conference recently in which the city would seek to get businesses to “loan” their management-level employees to the city. That’s right.
“Because of the cutbacks we have had from a personnel standpoint we are very stressed, we are very light at the management level so we are now reaching out to certain businesses around the state in particular to see whether or not they could loan us executives from anywhere from one to two years,” Bing told reporters on Monday. “We’re getting some positive feedback there.”
Aside from being an HR conundrum, who would be willing to lend a manager to the City of Detroit?
We shall see.
Thursday, 20 December 2012 12:16
One day after Gov. Rick Snyder appointed a 6-member team to conduct a financial review of Detroit’s finances, Mayor Dave Bing rolled out a “revenue enhancement” plan estimated to bring the city $50 million in revenue.
But at this point, after years on financial insolvency, many are wondering if the city’s new collection initiative is “too little to late”.
City and State officials have warned that a wrong move at this crucial time in Detroit’s history could land the city in bankruptcy court.
But here’s the twist: Under state law, the city must first be appointed an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) before being eligible to file for bankruptcy. Snyder’s review team’s findings could result in him appointing an EFM to Detroit, someone who would take away the Bing Administration and the City Council’s power to make financial decisions.
Just a month ago, city and state officials were squabbling over the release of $30 million in escrowed state funds. Now that the city has reached the milestones of an agreement that was contingent on the $30 million drawdown, the city is not in much better shape.
During the drawn out “milestones” tug of war between the mayor’s office and city council members, the mayor’s talking points made it sound like the $30 would stave off layoffs.
Turns out, layoffs are just one of the measures the city has to take in order to move not toward financial solvency but just to keep afloat.
One thing that’s different now is that City residents and business owners face tougher tax collection efforts now that the city has hired private collection agencies to go after delinquent accounts. No one is safe, not even the mighty Illitches who owe more than 1.5 million in taxes.
The city estimates that it could gain nearly $20 million in tax collection initiatives annually if stricter collection is enforced.
That begs the question: why were these collection measures not taken sooner?
The answer is a complex one that boils down to the fact that the city, until recent contracts with private firms, did not have the capacity to go after its debtors, Bing says.
As the city keeps skimming its payroll, there are less people doing work.
“Because of the loss of so many people—we had almost 14, 00 people when we came into office now we 9,700 people—we need some help on the personnel standpoint so we’re going to the outside and getting some outside firms to come in and help us. They are not going to be permanent.”
Meanwhile, the city plans to lay off 500 more workers in early 2013 mostly through attrition and retirement according to CFO Jack Martin.
Still, is this too little too late, Mr. Mayor?
“It’s too soon to say,” Bing said Wednesday. “We’re not throwing in the towel. Contrary to what a lot of people may believe there’s a lot of good things we have done. I think when we lay this plan out it’s going to surprise a lot of people. This is not a ‘get tough’ stance on anybody. It’s fairness and being correct.”
At this point Detroiters can only wait and see. Hopefully, people will get the surprise Bing looks forward to.
Thursday, 06 December 2012 10:25
For years Detroit has been on the brink of one financial crisis after another. While the threat of running out of cash is an ever-looming one, this time the State is not buckling under Detroit’s reluctance to change the status quo (or at least the division in leadership over how to change it).
Ultimately, the buzz about the escrowed state funds is a tiny spec on the surface of an enormous financial monster. Let’s be real: Detroit is in way deeper -*- than a $30 million bond sale installment and a few unpaid furloughs can remedy. The city council could approve Miller Canfield contracts all day long and the city would still be down the well so to speak.
At this point big chunks of city operations need to be dissovled or merged. This is serious restructuring that city leaders have been able to pull off over the past decades of post industrial depression.
The consent agreement with the State put in place last spring in lieu of an EFM just isn’t cutting it. As Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey said on Tuesday:
“…The truth of the matter is we are 8 months away from when the consent agreement [was implemented]. We could have had a baby in this time. But nothing has been done.”
That’s why an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) now seems inevitable. Since Public Act 4 was suspended in November, the State must revert to the old emergency manager law, Public Act 72, which limits the powers of a state-appointed appointed money czar. By now it’s not a question of “if” anymore, rather “when” and “who”.
While an emergency financial manager would not have the sweeping powers that an emergency manager would have had under PA4, he or she could still take control of financial matters [hopefully] without getting too tangled in politics.
That said, perhaps the most important question for Gov. Risk Snyder when is comes to appointing an EFM to Detroit is the “who.”
It will take an individual of tremendous resolve, intelligence, and overall chutzpah to turn around the roaring southbound train that is Detroit’s finances.
The person who is appointed to head Detroit’s money matters will have to have the resolve of a Hillary Clinton and the optimistic, fiscally conservative outlook of a Rick Snyder.
If it is as Mayor Dave Bing said last week and leading Detroit is the second hardest job in the country, the EFM position could easily line up as the third most challenging.
Aside from negotiating a cease-fire in the Middle East, perhaps negotiating with city unions for hefty pay cuts and layoffs are the most difficult negotiations to make in the nation.
Snyder should appoint as Detroit’s EFM a woman with the character and intelligence of Hillary Clinton.
Conservative Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush said recently of Clinton:
“Secretary Clinton in particular stepped forward and exerted some leadership. That's very good news, because what the Middle East has been crying for is greater U.S. leadership."
Well, what Detroit has been crying for is greater leadership, too. So if an emergency financial manager is the only way out, lets make sure that manager is thoroughly vetted and can to the dang thing.
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 09:45
When I was a kid whenever I asked my grandma for something new she always sharply reminded me that, “money doesn’t grow on trees.”
Turns out, she was wrong. Money does grow on trees. In fact, with the gift foresight and some startup funds, it can grow on just about anything.
Don’t take it from me. Just ask Warren Buffet, the third richest person in world who made his fortune based on money growing speculation. He’ll tell you something that all investors know, but perhaps haven’t fully mastered: “The lower things go, the more I buy. We are in the business of buying," Buffet told Fortune magazine in an interview. Well, here in the Tha D, “things” have pretty much bottomed out.
And unless Detroit is the one city that defies history, there’s nowhere to go but up, up, up. You don’t have to be a soothsayer to see the signs. It’s a slow, slow uptick, but it’s happening. It’s not rocket science but it’s a science of analysis: The people who make the big bucks are the ones who see them coming before they land.
John Hantz, the successful investor who plans to buy up a big swath of Detroit for cheap, is one of them. He knows that in 40 years “things”—in this case city land—won’t be dished out at fire sale prices. No. The early bird gets the worm and it’s just a rule of investing.
I ain’t mad at him. He’s a talented guy. He’s a smart investor. He didn’t get rich by leading clients of his finance-consulting firm astray or by making poor investment decisions himself. So let’s put the emotional responses to this proposed land sale aside just look at the facts here.
Hantz has pitched this proposal as a philanthropic act, claiming that he only wants to spend millions on the area surrounding his Indian Village home simply to make Detroit a better place to live; simply because Detroiters deserve better, that more research has to be done on using urban and for agricultural purposes. We can operate under the guise of philanthropy or we can just call it what it is. I prefer the latter. So let’s be real: this is a business investment.
In Detroit there is an element of class warfare, a rich v. poor battle raging on under and at the surface and often justly so presenting a grand clash of idealism and realism given the country and society we live in. Rich people can do stuff that poor people can’t. But if that’s not the oldest story in the book, then I don’t know what is. Well, maybe prostitution is but I digress.
The Hantz land proposal comes from Hantz Group subsidiary Hantz Woodlands, LLC. The company would buy 1,500 vacant city parcels for $600,000 with agriculteral tax credits. The plan is to demolish abandoned buildings and clean up the land which makes up about 140 contiguous acres and plant thousands of hardwood trees. Trees that will take about 40 years to get to the point to where they could be harvested for lumber. Right about the time land values in Detroit will be going up.
So why are we participating in this charade? We all know what the real intentions are: to invest in the land, buy low, sell high or develop and sell even higher. From an economic standpoint this is a great thing. But lets call it what it is and not insult our intelligence. If the city council approves it, approve it for what it is and not for what it’s pitched to be. History can be the guide here.
Look back to New York in the 80s, in the Alphabet City neighborhood. It was a total slum. Now? Million dollar apartments abound there. That was 30 years ago. Look at that happened in Washington DC, in Berlin, Germany. It's the history of cities.
In 30 years it will be happening in Detroit. It’s happening now. Dan Gilbert knows it, John Hantz knows it and the ones who don’t will be crusty visionless naysayers left in the dust. Detroit is coming around, shaping to be an invetor's dream. Time and money is all it takes.
When we consider this proposal we should take a moment too look around the country. This type of proposal is not unique to Detroit. The Hantz Woodlands project may be the largest land sale Detroit has seen but it certainly is not the largest city land grab in the country.
Last year city panels in St. Louis approved a much bigger city land sale to private developer Paul McKee. The St. Louis Real Estate Society reported last year:
Despite the continued legal appeals over losing out on $390 million in tax increment financing (TIF) money for infrastructure improvements, St. Louis mega-developer Paul McKee is pressing forward on his ambitious Northside Regeneration Project. Just this morning, City officials quickly approved McKee’s offer to purchase 1,233 city-owned parcels and option on the neglected Pruitt-Igoe for roughly $3.2 million. All these parcels are located on the Near Northside of St. Louis, just north of Downtown. With this expansion, McKee will now hold around 2,200 parcels, totaling over 250 acres."
Perhaps McKee took a different approach than Hantz but it’s basically the same thing. Because St. Louis has different economic circumstances, it doesn’t need a 40-year of hardwood lot to buffer the land value gap. It’s already there.
Detroit’s top development officals plaud the Hantz land sale, happy to be relieved of the cumbersome responsibility of too much land and too little tax dollars to maintian it with. Perhaps they are lacking foresight here but right now in Detorit it is what it is. Money is tight, you get it where you can.
Rob Anderson, Director of the Detroit Planning and Development Department said the project would save the city money and was all around a good thing. “What we have is an individual who is willing to clean this community and pay taxes. I don’t see the down side,” Anderson told city council members recently.
In St. Louis, city officials are saying the same thing Detroit officials are saying. St. Louis Today reports:
"Rodney Crim, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay's top development official, said the land sale agreement was a good one. It moves more than one-tenth of all city-owned property off the books, adding $100,000 to the tax rolls and saving the cost of mowing and maintenance. Some of the $3.2 million proceeds will pay to demolish more crumbling city-owned buildings across north St. Louis, freeing up more land for redevelopment. And much of the ground has been up for sale for decades, with no credible buyers, until McKee. "The market hasn't addressed this issue," Crim said. "Now we have a developer who plans to address the whole area and is ready to move forward."
Tuesday, 27 November 2012 10:21
Think back to before Snyder, before Public Act 4 took effect. The city was broke then, too. Just as broke, in fact, as it is today. There was the threat of payless paydays, a recurring warning in the city these days. So what’s different now?
The state’s taking a firmer stance: Make big structural changes in Detroit government or no money from us, is the message coming from Lansing.
That’s why at a press conference last week, Mayor Dave Bing told reporters that, ultimately, he’s not the one calling the shots in these politically and financially stressful days. The State is. “I’m open minded but by the same token, the State is holding the cards at this point,” Bing said when asked whether he would reconsider terms of a contract that is necessary for acquiring state funds. Bing has brushed off City Council’s concerns of a conflict of interest with the controversial Miller Canfield contract.
If the state is holding the cards, a good poker face is in order.
Per the Snyder Administration’s deal with the Mayor’s Office, the City must hire and maintain private legal and turnaround firms, among other restructuring moves in order to get $30 million in bond sale funds. Now, heading into the New Year, the city is so broke it (apparently) can’t even pay attention to the simple legal requirements of holding a public meeting.
As Detroit faces a fiscal cliff of its own, the words “payless paydays” and “unpaid furloughs” have resurfaced as they have time and time before, especially over the past four years after former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick left office and audits exposed the city’s financial nightmare. Essentially, the only difference between a payless payday and an unpaid furlough is notice not to come to work. And rhetoric. Either way, what usually would be a payday’s going to roll around and some unfortunate city workers are not getting paychecks. Either way, a check has to be missing a couple zeros or missing altogether.
We’ve heard it before, perhaps too many times: If the city doesn’t make drastic changes, it will crumble into the void. But by now Detroiters are a practically numb to the threat of running out of money. And that’s no good, especially if they city really is to run out of cash. But here’s the thing: it’s not.
The city won’t run out of cash any more than is has in the past. That’s not my opinion; it’s Detroit CFO Jack Martin’s. He spoke at a press conference last week declaring that a few unpaid furloughs will be enough to fill the cash gap. He and Bing last week promised “absolutely no payless paydays” and “no bankruptcy whatsoever.” But a slow trickle of furlough savings a $30 million lump sum is not.
But really, how do the two even compare? If a few unpaid furloughs for non-public safety or revenue generating workers is enough to stave off a financial crisis, was how critical was the crisis in the first place? It’s a question that perhaps touches on root of the issue between the legislative and executive branch of Detroit government.
Obviously, unpaid furloughs are being used as a threat to get council members to approve a controversial contract. But if it doesn’t work, then what? More lawsuits from unions? More back-and-forth?
As Bing and Martin have said, bankruptcy at this point is far from an option. The city is not close to being eligible ... yet.
Now that the State-City Milestone agreement benchmarks have not been approved by the City Council, and now that the state’s emergency manager leverage has been repealed, it’s back to the drawing board. Back to the unpaid furloughs hotly contested in 2010.
As far as bankruptcy goes, there’s a good reason we want to avoid it: “Bankruptcy costs a lot of money, ironically,” Said Eric Scorsone, extension specialist in State and Local Government at Michigan State University. He said the city of Vallejo, California spent over $10 million on bankruptcy lawsuits in 2008. “If you can get the same outcome at a cheaper price, you do that.”
Let’s do that.
Thursday, 08 November 2012 09:07
Proposal 1 may have been smashed but in Detroit, financial reforms sparked by the emergency manager legislation will be carried out as planned.
Just because voters struck down Proposal 1 doesn’t mean Detroit’s financial crisis was wiped out along with it. In fact, some argue that it’s quite the opposite; that without the State’s legislation to mandate emergency managers in cash-poor cities, these cities have no choice but to apply for bankruptcy, thus obliterating bond ratings and shaking the statewide economy.
With the defeat of Proposal 1 comes a new shower of questions.
Will state legislature draft up a new, similar, emergency manager law? Will any cities that already have emergency managers or advisory boards fight to keep them in place? Will elected officials, in order to avoid further financial chaos, carry on the work and advice that these state-appointed officials have given so far?
In Detroit, Mayor Dave Bing said he plans to carry out the suggested reforms that State and city appointed financial advisors laid out during the brief tenure of PA4. Bing wrote in a statement on Wednesday that the City's Consent Agreement with the State is still in place.
“I am determined to continue with vital reforms now underway in the City of Detroit, despite the defeat of Proposal 1 by Michigan voters in Tuesday’s election ... In the face of the City’s enormous fiscal deficit, I chose to negotiate a Financial Stability Agreement with the State of Michigan, rather than entertain the appointment of an Emergency Manager. The Financial Stability Agreement, approved by Detroit City Council last April, is still in place.”
That answers a couple of the immediate questions. Detroit is one of the municipalities whose leaders are electing to keep the financial advisors appointed through Public Act 4 and the reforms they have suggested.
There are 25 major reforms on the table as part of the consent agreement that Bing met with City Council to discuss last month. At the meeting, Bing got a positive response from the council.
“We are willing participants in the reforms," City Council President Charles Pugh said at the Oct. 22 meeting.
"You have our support," Councilman Andre Spivey told Bing regarding the reforms. "I don't see the Council being an impediment."
At the time, Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins wanted to know if these reforms could be made Prop. 1 fell through on Nov. 6.
Bing said it didn't.
The Mayor has said that the reforms in question, which involve some compensation shifts for city employees, some reshaping of city departments and the creation of a lighting authority, are necessary for the City to be eligible for up to $80 million in bond sales from the State. Bing said Detroit could receive $10 million by Nov. 15, and another $20 million by Dec. 14 with more installments made as the City meets the reform requirements to boost bond ratings and sales.
Money is the motive for these 25 suggested reforms. Without strengthening bonding capacity Bing has warned over and over that the city will not be able to pay its employees at all, a much more grim outlook than pay cuts or a switch from salary to contract work.
Even opponents of the emergency manager law have to concede: Detroit is in dire financial straights. Just because the State can’t mandate new financial leadership is no excuse for elected officials to sit in denial while the city spins further into financial insolvency. Let’s hope our city leaders do the right thing and make the tough decisions needed.
Is it safe to assume that if we have the right leadership, we won't need Emergency Manager legislation like Public Act 4?
Thursday, 01 November 2012 09:29
Is sugar the new tobacco? That’s a question with a growing buzz around the nation, especially after the City of New York’s bold move to ban large, sugary beverages in restaurants, cafes and movie theatres.
By now it’s no secret. It’s a known medical fact that sugar is packed not only with nutritionally “empty” calories but it’s a veritable appetite stimulate. Some even argue that sugar is an addictive drug and should be regulated just like alcohol or tobacco. A study released by the American Health Trust this September found Michigan to be the fifth fattest state in the union. Numerous reports over the past decade have put Detroit anywhere between the first and fifth most obese city on the nation, at times rivalling Houston, Texas for the fattest spot depending on the year and who’s reporting.
This is yet another list Detroit doesn’t have to be on.
After a spirited rally against soda pop yesterday, Detroiters may be getting on board the sugar-awareness train. The rally, held at Detroit’s Sinai Grace Hospital, urged people to cut pop out of their diets to prevent excess caloric intake and therefore, obesity.
Any doctor or dietitian will tell you: excess sugar intake (Americans guzzle syrup-filled drinks by the gallon) leads to obesity and obesity causes serious health complications including heart disease, diabetes and other leading causes of death in the United States. There’s nothing to debate there.
What many people disagree on is what we, as a country, should do about it. Should the government intervene like it did with booze and tobacco? Some argue that regulating sugar opens the door to regulating all sorts of lifestyle choices. Perhaps the best approach is not to regulate sugaar entirely but have warnings on foods and drinks with significant added sugar about the health risks involved in excess sugar consumption.
Perhaps the worst sugar and junk food travesty is childhood obesity. One in three chidlren in America are not considered overweight or obese. At the hosptial rally yersterday, the president and CEO of Sinai Grace Hospital, Dr. Reginald Eadie, said that childhood obesity is causing more damage to the American people than a natrual disacter like hurricane Sandy could ever do. I agree.
We need to find a way to bring awareness to the amount of sugarwe as Americans unconsciously consume. Maybe a massive education effort through government health agencies and schools is part of the answer.
At any rate, Americans are too sweet on sugar.
“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar per year. That’s five grocery store shelves loaded with 30 or so one pound bags of sugar each. If you find that hard to believe, that’s probably because sugar is so ubiquitous in our diets that most of us have no idea how much we’re consuming. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) puts the amount at 27.5 teaspoons of sugar a day per capita, which translates to 440 calories – nearly one quarter of a typical 2000 calorie a day diet.” Obesity doesn’t just affect fat people. It affects everyone by spiking health care costs."
This year’s "F as in Fat” study conducted by the Trust for America's Health showed glaring statistics that between type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and arthritis, more than $23 billion is spent on healthcare costs every year. The sickness industry and insurance companies may be doing well, Americans, especially Michiganders and Detroiters, are not.
This isn’t fair to healthy people or people who unconsiously are making themselves obese. Should we do like Canada does with tobacco packaging and stick a photo of a grossly protruding belly on pop and candy labels? While that might sound extreme, we have to do something about obesity in America. It is estimated through studies that one in three Americans is clinically obese.
History shows, government regulation on anything has stirred up heated debates on freedom in this country. But if people are not educated, they are not making a conscious choice.
Decades ago, in the late 60’s, ferver over tobacco regulation revved up to a frenzy when, on April 1 1970, President Richard Nixon signed a law officially banning cigarette ads on television and radio. Meanwhile, Government was bulking up its efforts to discourage the sale of cigarettes. Post office trucks carried posters: "100,000 Doctors Have Quit Smoking," posters warned “quit smoking, or die”.
This summer, a U.S. appeals court struck down a law that would require tobacco companies to use graphic health warnings on the packages of tobacco products. These warnings would include gross-out photos of blackened lungs, rotted teeth or a smoker exhaling through a hole in his throat.
Much like tonacco, a war on sugar is a war on big industry. Most soda pop and other sweet products lining grocery stores shelves and restaurant tableware is no packed with cane or beet sugar but high fructose corn syrup.
Most government regulation stems from concern over kids. Just like childhood obesity is a scare, so is youth smoking. The U.S. Surgeon General warned this March that youth smoking has reached the scale of an epidemic , as one in four U.S. high school seniors is a habitual smoker and set up for life long battle with nicotine addiction.
Should the surgeon general issue a warning on soda pop and other sugary beverages that offer no nutritious content to our diets? Many health professinals and scienticic researchers argue that sugar is in fact addictive and should be considered a drug. Many Americans casually refer the affect of sugar on kids and adults a “sugar high”. But this is something we should take more seriously.
A report last year citied researchers claiming that sugar is just as addictive as cocaine or nicotine and that most people don’t realize this because it’s so culturally acceptable and available.
In more positve news, the State of Michigan is aawre and making moves to curb the state's obesity problem.
When the numbers were released from the most recent national obesity study "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012” Michigan’s high rank spurred Governor Rick Snyder’s administration to release a statement on the topic.
The governor's office released a statement once the findings of the study were released:
"While watching these numbers climb in the wrong direction is disappointing, the governor and Department of Community Health have recognized this as a critical issue, and are taking steps to turn it around,” Snyder’s spokeswoman Sara Wurfel wrote in a statement. “With Michigan's '4 x 4 Plan,' and the help of our communities, we are on our way to reversing this trend and making Michigan a healthier, stronger state."
While we may be a long way from government regulation on sugar, we should all take responsibility for what we’re putting into our bodies. After reading that one 12-once can of popular soda pop such as Pepsi or Coke has ten teaspoons full of sugar, I decided to see exactly what that looked like.
I measured ten teaspoons of sugar into a 12 once bottle. It filled up more than a quarter of the bottle. Gross.
While most soda pop doesn’t use granular sugar but high fructose corns syrup, that doesn’t make it any better. Perhaps high fructose corn syrup is even worse because it is more concentrated.
If nothing else, realize that when you drink a really sweet beverage like pop or sweet tea, it’s straight sugar you’re putting into your body. Liquid candy. If you drink pop, go ahead, but it should be regarded the same way you count a candy bar: as a junk food snack full of excess calories.
Tuesday, 30 October 2012 09:29
Remember the Cobo Hall drama? It may seem like a dated political fad now, but three years ago Detroit was abuzz with the threat of losing the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) or, on the other end, the “hijacking” of Cobo Hall from City of Detroit ownership to regional control.
That’s behind us now and construction continues unchallenged at COBO. Now that the riverside conference center is in the hands of a regional authority—and regional funds— the political storm has calmed and it’s a non-issue.
But Detroit has moved on to a new controversial authority, one that would put Detroit’s public lighting department in the hands of a joint authority between City and State appointees.
The legislation, which Mayor Dave Bing announced in August, got tied up in the State Senate a month after the announcement , with a slim chance of passing in the lame duck period after the election. Passage of this legislation would authorize the creation of a City of Detroit Public Lighting Authority and allow the City the bonding capacity to invest an estimated $160 million to modernize the street lighting system, according to Bing.
Opponents of the plan—state legislators representing Detroit—say that the authority is not a good deal for Detroit in the long term, arguing that it represents another loss of a city asset amid financial hardship.
Meanwhile many Detroit Neighborhoods and major thoroughfares remain in the dark, with antiquated lights that are broken and needing modernization.
While the authority seems like it could be a good fix for Detroit there is a misconception that passage of the legislation will get the city glowing like a Christmas tree in a matter of months.
That’s far from the truth. In fact, Bing himself is the first person to put that misconception to rest.
“I don’t want to make our residents think that this legislation is going to get the light in right away,” he told Council members at a meeting last week. “Even if an authority is passed through legislature the lights are not going to come on every day.” This legislation gives us the opportunity to make an investment to fix problems over a 2-5 year span.”
Councilman Ken Cockrel, Jr. called for an interim plan while the authority takes its time. “We need a plan B,” Cockrel said. “Large swaths of the city are in the dark. There has to be a contingency plan.”
There isn’t a contingency plan. Some would argue that there's no money for a contingency plan witout another controversy over state-city power politics.
In the meantime, many Detroiters will keep on living in the dark as they have become accustomed and perhaps the legistlation for the public lighting authority will pass, and, three years from now, we will see some progress little by little, and it will go the way of Cobo Hall--which is not necesarily a bad thing.
Just look at Cobo. Today, three years later, significant improvements have been made to the home of the NAIAS but the biggest improvements and expansions are still in progress. That’s not to say the authority isn’t doing a good job, it’s to say that big improvements like the ones needed at Detroit Public Lighting take years, and patience. They also take collaboration. The longer we wait for the lighting bills to pass state legislature, it just tacks on more time to the already lengthy renewal.
Many streetlights are out in the Detroit neighborhood I live in but I’m fortunate enough to have a car. It really doesn’t bother me any more. I imagine many Detroiters have, over the years, grown accustomed to a city that goes dark at sunset. It’s the norm.That’s part of the problem.
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