"GM was willing to cut its employees some very attractive deals in the 1950s through the 1980s -- provided that they took them in the form of retirement benefits rather than salary, which wouldn't hit GM's books until much later and which until 1992 weren't even required to be carried on its balance sheets all, making its financial statements (superficially) more appealing to its shareholders. That health care costs have risen so substantially in the United States have made a bad matter worse.I'm sure glad the U.S. doesn't have national healthcare. Of course, you could argue that GM didn't need to offer such generous health benefits in the first place, even if they were doing it in exchange for lower salaries.
"This issue is wrongly portrayed by both the liberal and the conservative media as one of management versus labor, when really it is a battle between General Motors past and General Motors present. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, everyone benefited: GM and its shareholders got the benefit of higher profit margins, and meanwhile, its employees benefited from GM's willingness to cut a bad deal -- for every dollar they were giving up in salary, those employees were getting a dollar and change back in retirement benefits. But now, everyone is hurting."
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Legacy of Failure?
Monday, March 30, 2009
Shutting Detroit Down
Flint Basketball Tradition Continues
Powers Catholic took time out from its search for a new home to win the state Class B basketball title on Saturday, beating Zeeland East 62-54. It's the first state title in boys hoops for a Flint team since Northern won it in 1995.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
A Good Question
Wagoner Finished at GM
"The chairman and chief executive of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, is resigning, just hours before President Obama was expected to unveil his rescue plans for G.M. and the ailing American auto industry, a person close to the decision said Sunday.
"Mr. Wagoner was asked to step down, and agreed to do so, as part of G.M.’s restructuring agreement with the Obama administration, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement has not been made yet."
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Flint High School Enrollment: Depressing Math
When G.M. employment peaked at approximately 80,000 jobs in 1968, Flint schools (K-12) had 46,557 students.
By the fall of 2008, there were just 14,056 students.
Enrollment is projected to dip to 10,432 students by the fall of 2013. That's a 78% decline since 1968. It means that there will only be about 2,500 high-school students in the entire district.
So why is the city agonizing over whether to close Central or Southwestern? With numbers this low and the budget problems that come with plummeting enrollment, shouldn't the city opt for a single high school for Flint?
The enrollment would still be small compared to the biggest high schools in the country, which tend to be more efficient and offer more classes and programs. Here's a list of the largest high schools by enrollment:
1. Belmont -- Los Angeles 5,299
1. Elizabeth -- Elizabeth, N.J. 5,299
3. Fremont -- Los Angeles 5,083
4. South Gate -- South Gate, Calif. 5,020
5. Roosevelt -- Los Angeles 4,940
6. Monroe -- North Hills, Calif. 4,881
7. Los Angeles -- Los Angeles 4,876
8. Bell -- Bell, Calif. 4,855
9. Garfield -- Los Angeles 4,844
10. Lynwood -- Lynwood, Calif. 4,818
11. Long Beach Polytechnic -- Long Beach, Calif. 4,779
12. Judson -- Converse, Tex. 4,778
Friday, March 27, 2009
Credit Crisis Explained
Are you still a little hazy on how Citizens Bank and the rest of the country's financial institutions got us into such a mess? Are you wondering why the so-called "best and the brightest" who made horrible decisions are now demanding bonuses? I highly recommend watching The Crisis of Credit Visualized by designer Jonathan Jarvis. It "distills the economic crisis into a short and simple story by giving it form. It is also argues that designers have the ability to see a complex situation, then turn around and communicate it to others. By giving graphic form to the credit crisis, it becomes comprehensible. Not only do economic activities take shape, but new relationships can emerge between these shapes."
It's about 11 minutes and you'll be glad you watched it. View it below or click here.
The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.
Hot Housing Trend
Goodbye to Dubai
Flint and Dubai finally have something in common — empty buildings and a shrinking population. Newsday.com reports:
"The same belt-tightening mood is found almost anywhere. A report last week by the Jones Lang LaSalle consultants showed the supply of empty office in Dubai has doubled to 16 percent over the past six months. Standard & Poor's this month cut the credit ratings of six Dubai government-backed entities and a leading property developer.
"The Shuaa capital report forecast a 5 percent drop in Dubai's population from about 1.7 million last year to 1.62 million by the end of 2009 as Gulf construction and financial markets seize up, sending expatriate workers packing."
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Bonuses, Bailouts, and Lawsuits at Citizens Bank
High School Angst
As Kristen Longley of The Flint Journal shows in her most recent coverage, all parties are suddenly being very vague: Powers isn't sure it wants Central, and Flint Superintendent Linda Thompson isn't sure Central's even closing...and if it is, she's not certain Flint wants to part with the building.
There's no offer on the table, but Powers would consider a move to Central if Flint's Board of Education follows through on recommendations to close it, an attorney said Wednesday.
"Central may not be right for us, but at least we should be talking about it," said attorney Michael Manley, who represents Powers. "We would have to inspect the building and see if it's doable for us before we ever made a formal offer."
The Flint School District last week declined Powers' $5-million offer for Flint's Southwestern Academy. Powers for years has been trying to move further south so it can compete with districts such as Grand Blanc and Fenton.
"We hear our parents and our future parents loud and clear," Manley said. "They have told us we need to come closer to where they live."
Flint Superintendent Linda Thompson said the matter would have to be discussed with the Board of Education. There are no plans for the Central site at this time if it does close.
"There's a lot of history at Flint Central for the Flint Community Schools," she said. "The fact that we can't run it right now doesn't mean we've given up on that site."
What are the odds that Powers ends up closing or leaving Flint, and the city is left with a vacant, boarded up high school?
Flint Photos: Flint Swim & Racquet Club
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
High School Roulette
Monday, March 23, 2009
Flint School District Not Interested
Ann Arbor News, R.I.P.
(Confession: I always read The Detroit Free Press during my short stints in Ann Arbor.)
Flint Portraits: Howard Bragman
Howard described his early experiences dealing with public opinion while growing up in Flint in a recent email:
"I know what it’s like to be an outsider—I grew up a fat, Jewish, gay guy in Flint. In Hollywood, those are the first three rungs up the ladder of success, but in a town like Flint, it’s three strikes and you’re out. It’s a little like that Twilight Zone episode with a whole planet full of deformed people and they make fun of the normal guy. You just have to be in the right place for you. I’ve been out of the closet—open about my sexual orientation—for a very long time, going all the way back to when I graduated college and began my professional life more than thirty years ago. I made the choice early on to live honestly and authentically for me.
"Early on, I was doing PR for the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars concert to benefit the United Negro College Fund in Flint. The day before the concert, the local paper did a huge story on Lou Rawls. My grandmother read the paper and called me.
“'What a coincidence,” she said to me. 'You’re here for a Lou Rawls concert…and there’s a big article about him in the paper today.'
“'I did that,' I said modestly.
"'You did what?' my grandmother asked.
“'I got the article in the paper,' I said.
“'So,” my grandmother asked, confused, “where’s your name?'”
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
The Commonwealth of Flint
Flint Expatriate Rand Simberg has a fascinating blog called Transterrestial Musings that's tackling the idea of shutting down parts of Flint to make the rest of the city economically viable. He's getting some comments from readers who point out that Flint could go a lot further than simply turning parts of the city over to the county.
For example, why not create a commonwealth — like Puerto Rico with bad weather, good hockey, and blander food — in Michigan.
Jim Bennett says:
"This has been discussed in Detroit for a while. I suppose it the area were given back to county jurisdiction there would be no obligation for the county to provide any greater amount of police or fire services than they do to rural areas. Also, in Michigan, any unincorporated part of a county automatically is organized as a township, so there would be some vehicle for providing some governmental services locally. Rico with bad weather, in Michigan?
"Of course the Federal government could try exempting such areas from federal taxation, which would certainly revive them. That’s been proposed for DC. But that’s probably too radical, so I suppose they’ll just get torched.
"I’ve thought of the idea of taking some of the rapidly depopulating parts of the Great plains and offering them the option of becoming a commonwealth on the model of Puerto Rico. It would require the consent of the states involved, but hey, it would relieve them of a big expenditure obligation. No Senators, no presidential vote, just a non-voting delegate in the House. Still US citizens. But no federal taxes. Like the “buffalo commons” idea, only for libertarians. A 'libertarian commons.'"
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Why Not Just Close Parts of Flint?
It's an interesting urban planning question, but what happens when the mayor of Flint suggests the same thing?
Kristen Longley of The Flint Journal reports:
Temporary Mayor Michael Brown made the off-the-cuff suggestion Friday in response to a question at a Rotary Club of Flint luncheon about the thousands of empty houses in Flint.Don't laugh. Youngstown, Ohio is already putting the plan into action. And as this article in American City & County shows, Flint officials have been observing the former steel town's progress. Go here to listen to an NPR podcast on Youngstown's attempt to downsize gracefully.
Brown said that as more people abandon homes, eating away at the city's tax base and creating more blight, the city might need to examine "shutting down quadrants of the city where we (wouldn't) provide services."
He did not define what that could mean -- bulldozing abandoned areas, simply leaving the vacant homes to rot or some other idea entirely.
Downsizing for the Future
Monica Davey of The New York Times reports:
Volunteers are learning to rip down plaster, pull apart walls and tear off roofs. To the nonprofit group’s long-held aim of constructing houses for those in need, Saginaw’s affiliate has lately added to its mission by doing the opposite.As part of an agreement with the city, and with at least $500,000 from the state and federal governments, the Habitat volunteers and paid workers plan to deconstruct and demolish two vacant, dilapidated houses here a week, every week, over the next two years. As for creating homes, they will build or refurbish eight houses this year.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
Central's Call to Action
Flint Central has been the victim of deferred maintenance for quite some time. Whether this is a symptom of construction dollars gleaming in the eyes of those who build the modern, soulless, unimaginative, flat-roofed, neo-con boxes or simply another circular firing squad maneuver by Flint's finest is not apparent. However, the direction of Flint should be toward historic restoration (Cmon fools, if tiny Dollar Bay, MI can do that for their high school, so can you!). Flint can be something other than an industrial wasteland and declining monument to dips that 'put all their (automotive) eggs in one basket and left the area. It's up to all of us who benefited from the schools, the largess of the Mott Foundation, excellent programs, parks, and more to stand up and kick some bore-o-cratic butt. Class of '66, and here to say, Everyone deserves quality education, arts, music and a beautiful campus. Everyone. Alumni, get your efforts up and going, because we owe it to do so! If nothing else, think of it as cheap insurance. We all live downstream from Flint's problems. Please, stop whining and sniffling about 'those good old days' and let's build some fine new ones.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Flint Murder Map, R.I.P.
My experiment with the Flint Murder Map has ended.
It sparked some good discussions about how to cover homicides, but it proved to be way more work than I imagined. More importantly, I didn't feel it was really providing much of a memorial to the people who died in Flint. I was basically reprinting information gathered by the overworked and under appreciated reporters at The Flint Journal, especially Shannon Murphy, Bryn Mickle and RoNeisha Mullen. I didn't have the time to conduct interviews with family and friends or offer a more complete portrait of the deceased that I thought they deserved. (Believe it or not, this was actually my original plan. After 19 years as a journalist, I should have realized how unrealistic this goal was.)
Although it is not complete, one thing the Murder Map provides is a reasonably comprehensive look at where murders occurred in 2008. It also offers a database for readers to begin making their own judgments about what counts as murder and what doesn't. As this January story by Shannon Murphy shows, the Flint Police are more than willing to revise the murder count:
"Flint police now are saying 2008 had one of the lowest reported number of homicides in a decade.Anyone who has ever watched The Wire knows that statistics compiled by the police should be verified independently.
"On Monday, interim Chief David Dicks said the city had as much as a 10 percent decrease in homicides from the previous year.
"That comes just a week after Dicks reported there was a 16.6 percent increase — from 30 homicides in 2007 to 35 in 2008.
"A closer look at the statistics revealed that up to eight of the homicides are justifiable, which would bringing the number down to 27, Dicks said.
"'This is a big deal for us and the citizens,' Dick said. 'It's showing we are doing the best we can.'"
In season three, Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin complains about pressure to "juke the stats" to create the appearance that crime is decreasing. "You can reclassify an agg assault, unfound a robbery, but how do you make a body disappear?" he asks.
Apparently, you simply reclassify the murder as a justifiable homicide.
High Schools and Murder: Location, Location, Location
Please note that Northwestern and Powers are so close to each other that I couldn't figure out how to get an icon on the map for both of them. Nothing personal.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Mayor Gets Vague about Flint High Schools
1. Temporary Mayor Mike Brown says he wants Powers to stay in Flint. (Even though, as Wurstside points out, it's not actually in the city limits now. I say if the location is accessible by the Dupont Street bus, it's within the spirit of the Flint city limits. But technically it's in Mt. Morris Township, even though it has a Flint mailing address. Whew!)
2. Even though Brown wants Powers to stay, he's not sure Southwestern is the right spot for it.
3. Brown says he won't try to influence schools Superindentant Linda Thompson, even though he meets with her weekly.
4. Brown attended St. Michael's, but all five of his kids went to Central.
5. None of Brown's kids went to Southwestern.
Old School Hoops
Thursday, March 12, 2009
High School Confidential
Powers Catholic's public offer to buy Southwestern Academy has added some new heat to an already emotional subject — closing Flint schools as the city's population and resources decline. It appeared from committee reports that Flint Central was being set up as the most likely candidate to shut down.
As Flint Journal reporter Kristen Longley recently reported, "an advisory committee has labeled Central as 'an example of possibly the worst facility' in the district. The high school, once home to as many as 2,000 students, now houses fewer than half that and is one of the most expensive schools to operate." Worse, a facilities committee report included in an evaluation by the engineering firm THA Architects Engineers of Flint called the landmark "a poor performer with many deficiencies including wood construction, narrow classrooms and poor building layout. Not great facility for investing future school funds."
But closing Central would not be easy. The majestic brick school on Crapo Street has a long history and is located in the heart of the cultural district. It has a lot more alumni who might fight to keep it open than Southwestern. Perhaps the Powers offer makes the decision on which high school to close a little easier for the school district. After all, school officials can argue that the city will actually make money by closing Southwestern and avoid the hassles that would come with shuttering a local icon like Central.
I'm left wondering if Powers didn't approach the district and get some positive feedback on the offer before going public with their desire to buy Southwestern. It would seem odd to just float this idea in the press without having some inkling of where the district stood on the proposal. Going even further, who's to say the district didn't approach Powers about the sale? Just thinking out loud.
Regardless of how it went down, the district's next move should be known in a month or two: "Superintendent Linda Thompson, who has called closing a high school 'really possible,' said in an e-mail that there will be no talk of school consolidations before her administration presents its budget proposal to the board," Longley wrote. "That proposal is still being put together and is expected in April or May."
UPDATE: The Flint Journal is now reporting that Powers is offering $5 million for Southwestern.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Is the Flint Journal in a Death Spiral?
Powers Wants to Buy Southwestern High
Kristen Longley of The Flint Journal reports:
Powers Catholic High School has offered to purchase the Southwestern Academy building from the Flint School District, an official confirmed today.
Details of the offer weren't available, but Michael Diebold, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, said Powers wants to relocate to that site, 1420 W. 12th St., south of I-69, from its north Flint location.
"If the offer is accepted, we would certainly move forward, but there is no firm timetable," Diebold said.
Flint School District spokesman Craig Carter said this morning that the school is not for sale.
The move could be seen as beneficial for both schools. Powers has been looking to move further south for more than a decade and the Flint School District has said it needs to close multiple buildings to cut costs and deal with declining enrollment.
Going Out of Business
Monday, March 9, 2009
When God Calls the Plays
At St. Mary's, the basketball players had a pre-game ritual; the coach would yell "Holy Mary mother of god!" and we'd shout back "Pray for us!" We also paid a visit to the grotto before every football game. Sure, we were calling on a higher power for a little help, but we never claimed to actually talk to god like Cardinals QB Kurt Warner.
A Thankless Job
The Return of Victory Gardens
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Flint Photos: St. Mary's Basketball
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Murder by Numbers
Peter S. Goodman and Jack Healy of The New York Times report:
Manufacturing losses are bad enough, but many workers settled for retail jobs when their factory work disappeared. Now retail is drying up? Not good.
The unemployment rate surged to 8.1 percent, from 7.6 percent in January, its highest level in a quarter-century. In key industries — manufacturing, financial services and retail — layoffs have accelerated so quickly in recent months as to suggest that many companies are abandoning whole areas of business.“These jobs aren’t coming back,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte, N.C. “A lot of production either isn’t going to happen at all, or it’s going to happen somewhere other than the United States. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses.”
The Times also provides a depressing county-by-county breakdown of unemployment numbers across the nation. The numbers are bad in Genesee (12.3%) and Wayne (11.7%), but you have to go Up North to get the catastropic percentages: Presque Isle (20.1%), Cheboygan (18.4%), Baraga (20.6%), and Ontonagon (17.2%). But keep in mind you aren't counted as unemployed when you've given up hope of a job and stopped looking. Genesee County's real unemployment rate is easily over 20 percent.
In California, some of my journalism students have been conducting brief interviews with people about how the recession is affecting them and their families. They've also asked students how much debt they'll have at graduation and how they plan to pay it off. The profiles aren't exactly uplifting:
Debt: $50,000 and Rising
Deep thoughts on debt: "I have to start paying back six months after I graduate, so I need to find a job and live within my means and not necessarily put a whole lot away. Just pay off the debt as soon as possible. I'm applying for internships this summer and I'm going for the same position as grad students, so I know when I graduate, with or without an MBA I'm going to be going against people with better degrees and more qualifications. I'd like to (pay it off) within 15 years of graduation, hopefully less. The sooner the better. I know there will be something out there. It might not necessarily be your dream job, but you gotta get paid."
Thursday, March 5, 2009
G.M. Takes Billions at a Time
At long last, Flint Expatriates and former members of Dissonance Andy Turpen and Jim Holbel have reunited to form a new band — The Gifted Program. They offer up a timely rendition of the 1976 Johnny Cash recording of the Wayne Kemp song "One Piece at A Time." Instead of an autoworker slowly stealing the Cadillac of his dreams, this version follows our favorite automotive giant as it takes billions at a time from the taxpayers.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Anderson, Indiana looks suspiciously like Flint, doesn't it? And while both cities suffer from a G.M. hangover, Anderson seems to be in the process of recovering, albeit very slowly.
Mary M. Chapman of The New York Times reports:
"It is the home, for example, of two dozen former General Motors factories and thousands of retired auto workers who are still dependent on G.M. for health care and pensions. It once ranked right behind Flint, Mich., as the city with the largest concentration of G.M. operations, and it fell just as hard as the car company faltered.
"But on Monday, Anderson enjoyed some rare bragging rights. A global company, Nestlé, opened a new Coffee-Mate and Nesquik plant here and announced plans to expand to more than a million square feet. Its total investment, $529 million, is creating hundreds of new jobs."
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Shrinking Cities and Tiny Houses
While Congress considers legislation that would help shrinking cities like Flint get rid of dilapidated, unwanted housing, designers are working on houses that are only nine square feet.
"The design includes all the main elements that make up a house," writes Michael Janzen at Tiny House Design. "Only the shell is represented in this 3D drawing but the final house would have a toilet, sink, 12VDC cooler, propane heater, bed, chair, fold-down table, and storage. I came up with the size by asking myself how what the absolute minimum amount of space would be needed for someone to live. I did a quick calculation in my head of the amount of space I took up while laying down and came up with nine square feet."
Monday, March 2, 2009
Flint School District Continues to Shrink
Riding shotgun! Well, actually it was a handgun
"A 20-year-old man was in good condition after his gun accidentally discharged while riding his bicycle last week," Ron Fonger of The Flint Journal reports.
"A Flint police report Saturday said that the man was in good condition at Hurley Medical Center after the incident.
"The man told police he was riding his bicycle Wednesday night on Davison Road, near Averill Avenue, when he hit a pothole that caused his 22-caliber revolver is discharge, shooting his leg."
It's time the city started fixing the streets so bike-riding gun enthusiasts won't have these problems.