Category: Prime Politics Written by Phil Power
The Latin motto on the State of Michigan’s great seal — “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam, Circumspice” — says it all.
Translated, that means, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.“ And it is a great — no, perfect — set-up for all the wonderful “Pure Michigan” TV commercials extolling the beauties of our state. And naturally, it seems only right that Sleeping Bear Dunes, near Traverse City, has just been anointed by the “Good Morning America” TV show as the most beautiful spot in the nation.
My wife, Kathy, and I took our summer rest at our cabin on the south shore of Lake Superior earlier this month, and just finished the eight-hour drive back to our home near Ann Arbor.
The state motto says “peninsula,“ singular, not “peninsulas,” because it was adopted two years before Michigan became a state in 1837, at a time when we didn’t yet have the Upper Peninsula.
And the northern half of our state still gets short shrift.
Sadly, not as well known as it should be to the “trolls” (folks below the Mackinac Bridge, in UP-speak), the Upper Peninsula this summer was hot and very dry.
When you walked in the woods, you heard the parched pine needles crackle under foot and saw the bracken fern turning yellow. Dry weather like that terrifies local folks, for good reason.
One lightning strike could set off a roaring forest fire that can consume thousands of acres in a fiery flash. But, ah, the sights, sounds and smells of the UP!
The soft whish of the wind blowing gently through the pines bringing the unforgettable scent of needle and bark. The deep, intense and cloudless blue sky. The stars burning bright on a dark night — seemingly as close as the tips of your fingers.
When you swim, eyes open, underwater in Lake Superior, the cleanest body of fresh water on the planet, the distance is turquoise and the sand below, golden in the sun. And if you are a fly fisherman, nothing quite beats the flash of a brook trout, all speckled in gold and red and blue, as it rises to your #12 Michigan Hopper.
Once, we paused on our walk to let three sandhill cranes — great birds five feet tall with a bright red top knot and a peculiar hesitant walk — pass silently, not 10 yards in front of us. And as we started our drive south early in the morning, the sun rose through a storm over Lake Superior in globs of red and orange and yellow, with shafts of light piercing the dark clouds, as though it were the hand of God made manifest here on earth.
There is no place on earth as wonderfully pure and fresh, as Michigan’s UP — and no place that can look so sad. This always has been a hard land, a tough place to make a living winter or summer, sparsely populated to start, with far too many people now totally out of work.
On our drive down, we passed five, 10, 20 abandoned houses, the fallen roofs each covering the graves of some family’s once modest hope for a clean, well-lighted home.
There are many abandoned small motels along the way, paint peeling, the windows cracked and trees starting to grow in the parking lots. Our favorite — the “Generic Motel,” just outside the tiny village of McMillan, seemed to have disappeared.
The parking lots around the Indian casinos were jammed, although it was hard to say whether the folks inside were having fun or merely desperate for a big score to try to beat the odds.
Then, when you come across over the Mackinac Bridge — itself a delicate triumph of steel and grace and soaring air — things suddenly change. The pine and hemlock vanish, to be replaced by hardwoods like oak and maple.
The soft sand dunes and hard granite glacial erratic rocks give way to softer mounds of grassy farmland and rolling hills near Vanderbilt. And a couple of hundred miles farther south, it’s, well, lush and green and settled and no longer savage.
The air started to get humid as we stopped at a gas station just south of Grayling, and as we drove on familiar roads near our home we saw the vegetable gardens ripe with produce and the corn standing tall.
The late Judd Arnett, who wrote a column in the Detroit Free Press from 1959 until the early ’90s, used to refer to “Michigan, my Michigan.”
Old Judd, who would have been a century old this year, had it right. There is no place like Michigan, our Michigan, and we all have a stake in preserving its natural splendors and restoring its economy to its former glory.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 August 2011 17:47
Category: Prime Politics Written by Patrick Keating, Chronicle Staff Writer
As the big banks, the multinational corporations and the wealthiest Americans all reap the rewards of massive government rescue funding and tremendous tax giveaways, it seems that only one group in the country has been left out in the cold: everyday people in communities like Metro Detroit.
Where is the rescue for the American autoworker whose job was shipped overseas? Where is the bailout for the owner of the corner store struggling with less and less business? Where is the assistance for the family struggling to keep their home amidst the highest levels of unemployment in recent memory?
Something has got to give.
I believe that the best way to revive our economy is to assist hardworking people in communities like ours. Right now, we can do this by cutting personal debt and stopping the terrible spread of foreclosures.
My plan is simple: Give struggling homeowners the right to delay foreclosure for up to two years so they can have time work out better arrangements with their mortgage lenders. During this time, homeowners would have to pay a “fair market rent,” which would take into consideration factors including the balance remaining on the mortgage and local housing market conditions. In most cases, this rent payment would be considerably lower than payments set a few years ago in the heyday of high home prices.
The proposal is not a free pass for folks who behaved irresponsibly, taking out mortgages for vacation homes or seeking to avoid payment altogether. It requires that homeowners eventually pay the amount owed under the original mortgage terms if no alternative agreement is reached. Yet I believe the proposal provides our community’s struggling homeowners exactly what they need: additional time. This is our most powerful tool for stopping evictions.
It’s likewise a powerful tool in the fight against neighborhood blight. Banks kicking people out of their homes has awful consequences not only for families but also for their neighbors, our schools and our region’s economy. This is why I’ve been fighting for homeowners since my time in the Michigan Legislature.
Now, I know that mortgages are not the only form of debt that’s crushing our community. And I understand that much of this debt results from job losses and an economic downtown that was beyond our community’s control. That’s why I’m working hard to make sure that Congress takes further action to help reduce several kinds of personal debt. I’m demanding that politicians in Washington take some steps as quickly as possible:
• Cut as many federal student loans as possible and cap interest rates and eliminate penalties and fees on additional government-issued student loans.
• Make private student loans — especially those written under unfair terms — eligible to be dropped in bankruptcy court.
• Empower the new consumer watchdog group in Washington (known as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) to get to work restricting banks from using unfair practices to take advantage of low-income borrowers.
Congress has sold the farm to pay for endless wars, tax giveaways for the super-wealthy and bailouts for the banks. But, in contrast, we can take these steps to reduce consumer debt at very little cost. It’s time to take a stand for people struggling to make it in America.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 September 2011 11:22
Category: Prime Politics Written by Michael Cottman
In the early 1940s, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt worked with chefs to prepare healthy, inexpensive White House meals as part of her campaign to promote responsible cooking during the Great Depression.
Seventy years later, First Lady Michelle Obama has customized Roosevelt’s concept to lead a White House nutrition- based crusade of her own: A national initiative called “Let’s Move!” designed to end childhood obesity through proper diet and exercise.
Obama, who is writing a book about the garden she planted on the South Lawn of the White House, is the architect of a remarkable 21st century effort to confront a legitimate health issue that many parents want to ignore. But the warning signs are everywhere.
During a recent trip to Detroit, while awaiting a table at a restaurant, I noticed four overweight Black children eating heaping helpings of fried foods while their parents doused their meals with salt and hot sauce. There were no salads or vegetables on the table. It was refreshing to see a Black family eating dinner together, but it was troubling to see exactly what they were eating.
Multiply that family by millions of other black folks who have spent years practicing unhealthy eating habits, and it’s no wonder that black America is experiencing a health crisis.
Every day, we’re putting our children at risk by allowing them to eat whatever they want, whenever they want – and it’s a detrimental cycle. Those smothered pork chops we’re serving up are smothering our kids.
Obama is working to combat what health experts are calling a national epidemic of obesity, particularly in children of color. This isn’t a new problem, but Obama is correctly treating the issue with a sense of urgency and talking to parents and educators about childhood obesity in communities across the country.
Black parents should be listening carefully to Obama and taking notes. Health experts say obesity puts African-American children at a greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious medical conditions.
“Now, usually, when I talk to groups like this, I start by discussing the statistics: how the incidence of obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years; how nearly one out of every three of our children is overweight or obese; and how small, personal choices like what you serve your kids at the dinner table, or how getting them away from the computer and getting them out into the fresh air can really make the world of difference on this issue,” Obama said at the National League of Cities Legislative Conference this week.
“But if we’re going to make any progress at all,” Obama said, “we must acknowledge that there is a problem, and then we have to do everything in our power to work together to fix it.”
Consider these statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
• African-American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese, compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese.
• African Americans were 1.5 times as likely to be obese as Non- Hispanic Whites.
• African American women were 60 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic White women.
• African-American children were 30 percent as likely to be overweight than non-Hispanic children.
In the past year, Obama has taken her campaign to schools and food manufacturers, urging them to serve healthier school lunches. This week, however, Obama broadened the pitch for her crusade and offered a compelling economic perspective: She urged mayors to help fight childhood obesity and stimulate the economy in the process.
In Philadelphia, Obama said, Mayor Michael Nutter is planning to support fresh food stores in the city. Nutter, she said, is using the healthy food concept to create more than 5,000 jobs.
“All of you here know this isn’t a new issue at all. You know childhood obesity is already affecting your communities, weighing down your budgets, hampering economic growth,” Obama said.
Yet “by investing in even one grocery store, you might be able to revitalize just one neighborhood,” the First Lady said. “By building more sidewalks (today), you can reduce health costs and budget strain tomorrow.”
“What many of you already understand is that a healthier community can lead to a healthier economy,” she added. “You don’t have to pass sweeping new ordinances on this issue. Sometimes it is very simple, common-sense ideas that can make a big difference.”
Last month, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh took a swipe at the First Lady because she ordered ribs for dinner while she was on a weekend getaway. Limbaugh, who usually twists the facts to fit his own agenda, failed to mention that Mrs. Obama also ordered a salad with her meal. What’s worse is that Limbaugh questioned the First Lady’s physical fitness. It was rude and unacceptable. And when is the last time Limbaugh stepped on a scale?
Here’s the truth: Michelle Obama could have taken the easy way out and cruised through four years in the White House hosting White House receptions as the low profile wife of a sitting president. But she didn’t.
The First Lady accepted a visible leadership role from the East Wing, and she is shining a bright light on a health crisis that impacts young African- Americans disproportionately. As parents, we should take the issue of childhood obesity seriously.
We owe it to our children and to the generations of Black children to follow.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 August 2011 12:21
Category: Prime Politics Written by Chronicle Staff
With so much talk of the challenges facing Detroit — population losses, shrinking revenues, increasing budget deficits, school closings, crime and a crumbling infrastructure — it is hard to move past today’s worries to consider what Detroit may be like in the future.
Presented by the Michigan Chronicle and Real Times Media, the next Pancakes & Politics forum will be on April 21 at the Detroit Athletic Club beginning at 7:30 a.m., featuring five speakers who will share their expertise as they discuss “The Future of Detroit.”
The panel includes Sandy Baruah, David Egner, Michael Finney, Dan Gilbert, and George W. Jackson Jr. WWJ-TV/CBS Emmy Award-winning talk show host of “Michigan Matters” Carol Cain will be the moderator.
The law firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, founded in 1948, which is headquartered in Detroit, is a longtime major sponsor of the series. “Honigman believes that the revitalization of our great city includes support of its business community, its cultural organizations and its community service nonprofits,” said David Foltyn, chairman and CEO of Honigman.
Sandy K. Baruah, President and Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Regional Chamber
The Detroit Regional Chamber is the largest local chamber of commerce in the United States. The Chamber is committed to creating a Southeast Michigan region that is an attractive place for business development and offers an unparalleled quality of life for residents. Among his many government appointments, Baruah has served under President George W. Bush as administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), responsible for an $18- billion small business loan portfolio. Baruah also served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce. In this role he led the federal government’s Economic Development Administration. In addition, he served as the senior advisor to Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez regarding the 2010 Census and represented the U.S. at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France.
David O. Egner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Hudson-Webber Foundation
With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofits and foundations, David O. Egner understands the importance of investing in Detroit neighborhoods. He leads the foundation’s efforts to improve the quality of life in metropolitan Detroit. Established in 1943 with major contributions from the family of Mr. and Mrs. Richard H. Webber and The J.L. Hudson Company, the foundation has assets of $150 million. In addition to Egner’s work with the foundation, he serves as executive director of the New Economy Initiative (NEI), a $100-million philanthropic partnership dedicated to accelerating the transition of Southeast Michigan to a more innovation-based economy. Under Egner's leadership, the New Economy Initiative has targeted grantmaking to promote a successful entrepreneurial eco-system, capitalize on existing regional assets and resources, and build and employ a more skilled and educated workforce.
Michael Finney, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)
Appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Michael Finney is responsible for executing Governor Snyder’s economic development strategy and administering funding to businesses in Michigan. Finney is not only an authority regarding Detroit’s business development but also economic growth for the state of Michigan. Prior to taking the helm at MEDC, Finney served as president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, a public/private partnership established to advance innovation-based economic development in the Ann Arbor area. Finney also served as president and CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise in Rochester, New York and vice president of Emerging Business Sectors at the MEDC.
Dan Gilbert, Founder and Chairman of Quicken Loans, Inc.
Dan Gilbert moved his company’s corporate offices to Detroit in August 2010, bringing 1,700 jobs to the city. He plans to relocate more employees to Detroit in the near future. QuickenLoans.com has earned numerous awards, including “Best of the Web” from Forbes, Money and PC magazines. Quicken Loans had $29 billion of home loan volume in 2010, a record for the company. Quicken Loans, which employs more than 4,000 people across the country, recently was ranked high in customer satisfaction among all home loan lenders in the United States by J.D. Power and Associates. It ranked in the Top 30 on Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” the past eight years, ranking as high as No. 2. Gilbert became the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005 and is involved in many other businesses. He is also invested and involved in the operation of several consumer-based and technology- centered businesses.
George W. Jackson Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Economic Growth Club (DEGC)
The DECG is a private, nonprofit corporation focused on supporting Detroit business development and goals by providing resources to the city of Detroit and business community. The DEGC also serves as the professional and administrative staff for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Economic Development Corporation of the City of Detroit (EDC), Tax Increment Finance Authority, and Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (DBRA). The DEGC is the lead organization for implementation of permanent revitalization improvements. Jackson has in-depth knowledge of, and has played an integral role in, the economic development programs, projects, initiatives and organizations occurring in Detroit and state of Michigan.
Now in its sixth season, Pancakes & Politics is presented by Comcast Business Class, Strategic Staffing Solutions and Real Times Media. Additional event sponsors include pioneer sponsor Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, medallion sponsors PNC and ProCare Health Plan, and corporate contributors Wayne State University, MGM Grand Detroit, Bank of America, Compuware, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, UHY LLP, and St. John Providence Health System.
WWJ-TV, WWJ Newsradio 950 and Crain’s Detroit Business serve as media sponsors for the series.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 August 2011 12:21
Category: Prime Politics Written by Mark Morial
“I pledge…Every American lives in safe, decent, affordable, and energy efficient housing on fair terms.”
One of the National Urban League’s four I AM EMPOWERED goals.
No, President Obama was not born in Kenya. Superman is not real. And there is no monkey man roaming the streets of Hoboken scaring the daylights out of little children. Some urban myths are nutty. Some are funny. But some, like the one about mortgage loans in low and middle income urban neighborhoods being the cause of the financial meltdown, can be downright dangerous.
Since this assertion was first made several years ago, the National Urban League has called it for what it is — a weapon of mass deception, shifting blame for the economic crisis from Wall Street where it rightfully belongs onto the backs of hard working African American and Hispanic homeowners, who for decades were routinely refused home loans and a fair shot at the American Dream.
Leading economists have agreed with us, including Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, FDIC chairman Sheila Bair and Nobel Prize columnist Paul Krugman. And now, a new study by the congressionally established Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission conclusively states that the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), established in 1977 to prevent redlining and spur homeownership in urban neighborhoods “was not a significant factor in subprime lending or the crisis.”
Undergirding this myth is the claim by some that the CRA requires banks and thrifts to make loans to unqualified low-income and minority borrowers. They contend that a higher default rate by those borrowers caused the housing meltdown.
Aside from the fact that the law clearly states that the CRA lending must be consistent with safe and sound banking practices, there is no evidence that the CRA caused lenders to make risky subprime loans that contributed to the crisis. In fact, most subprime loans are not made to minorities or low income borrowers.
Between 2005 and 2007, 58% of higher costs loans were made to White borrowers, and fewer than 30% of subprime loans in 2006 were made to low and moderate-income borrowers.
According to Commission chairman Phil Angelides, “The debate about the role of the CRA should now be over…We found that this crisis was avoidable and was caused by widespread failures in financial regulation, dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance, excessive risk and borrowing, government officials ill-prepared for the crisis and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.”
In short, Black, Brown and poor people, aggressively spurred on by the CRA, did not cause our economic meltdown.
This has been a yarn spun by some who wish to shift the blame from Wall Street to Main Street. The latest to use this as a weapon of mass deception is Florida freshman congressman, Allen West who, speaking at a February Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, singled out the CRA as the cause of the housing crisis. He added, “If government gets out of the way of the private sector, it would not have happened in 2008.”
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission disagrees and so do we. With millions of people out of work, instead of clinging to discredited ideological theories, our policymakers should be focused on creating jobs and making sure that more citizens are able to realize the American Dream of homeownership.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 August 2011 12:32
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