Archive for November, 2008

Hey… Where’d the Manufacturing Base Go?…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 17, 2008

Instead of trying to smith some additional words for this post, I’m much better off linking you to Mitch Albom’s column in the Sunday Detroit Free Press titled, “If I had the floor at the auto rescue talks.” And if you don’t feel like going there, here’s how it starts:

Good morning. First of all, before you ask, I flew commercial. Northwest Airlines. Had a bag of peanuts for breakfast. Of course, that’s Northwest, which just merged with Delta, a merger you, our government, approved — and one which, inevitably, will lead to big bonuses for their executives and higher costs for us. You seem to be OK with that kind of business.

Which makes me wonder why you’re so against our kind of business? The kind we do in Detroit. The kind that gets your fingernails dirty. The kind where people use hammers and drills, not keystrokes. The kind where you get paid for making something, not moving money around a board and skimming a percentage.

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One of Our Own in the White House…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 10, 2008


  • Michigan has been in recession for, oh, eight years: nothing. Other states go into recession this year: massive funding.
  • Michigan has been foreclosing houses the traditional way — we lost our jobs & health care and went broke: nothing. Other states start foreclosing house because of endless speculation building, flipping, and creative(!) financing: massive funding.
  • Michigan automakers ask for free $25 billion handout: nothing. Financial institutions on the coasts ask for free $700 billion handout: massive funding.

I could go on….

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Confusing Ballot Proposals…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 3, 2008

We had two state ballot proposals here in Michigan. I could describe them to you, link you to the exact language, and give you an analysis of possible scenarios — or I could just tell you they were on medical marijuana and stem cell research, for them or against them? Because that’s what ballot proposals are — a popularity contest on the concept and not on the actual law or amendment.

It’s a really stupid way to govern ourselves. Well, stupid and lazy. Instead of the legislative branch doing what they are supposed to do — researching and crafting a law — it gets turned over to special interest groups who have money and an axe to grind, and no real concern for the actual implications. (Let the courts sort it out and then complain about activist judges, I guess.) So you end up with the mystifying circumstance of the Michigan constitution — the general, overriding document for guiding our state laws — with an amendment that says basically you can’t not allow stem cell research. Really doesn’t sound like a guiding principle to me. No more than can’t not being a man and a woman to marry — that one passed four years ago….

Medical marijuana usage has been approved, sort of, mostly, well….. This one wasn’t amended to the constitution (why not?), but the proposal was pretty short on specifics. Those who might benefit — say chemotherapy patients — will have to take guesses at what exactly is allowed and hope they aren’t outside the law. What fun for them!

Of course, there are instances where ballot proposals are useful. In Ottawa County, folks got to vote whether to allow sales of beer and wine on Sundays. A popularity contest makes sense here: do most people want the sales of something very well defined and understood, yes or no? But then, to approve sales, you had to vote “no.” To deny sales, you had to vote “yes.” Sigh. Even when ballot proposals are straightforward, they’re confusing….


No New Ideas — THAT’S Scary!!!…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 27, 2008

This ran in the paper last week before Halloween. Obviously I was pretty bound up, having consumed way too much political rhetoric and suffering from campaign constipation. I’m feeling so much better now after that Election Day colonic.

To carry the analogy further… Nah, never mind…


I’m Now 3 for 7. What Are You?…

So the Obama win ends a long dry spell for this kid — I hadn’t voted for the winning presidential candidate since 1988, and it puts me at three wins in seven tries. In baseball, I’d be batting 429, which is awesome. In basketball, I’d be shooting 42.9%, which is not all that good. If I were a field goal kicker in football, I’d be getting cut.

But what about presidential elections? What’s your record? Post and let me know!

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GM Facility Closing and Disappointment…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 20, 2008

The Grand Rapids area is losing its last GM facility. When I moved out here almost 23 years ago, GM was the area’s biggest employer. GM was never dominant here like in the Flint I left, but still a significant part of the economy. Other GM facilities fell away to global competition, wrong-guesses, spin-offs, hard times. But the really distressing thing about this particular GM facility is that it is universally acknowledged as a jewel — a highly efficient, extremely safe, premium quality stamping facility. The management has historically been creative and competent. The local union, cooperative, pragmatic, and focused on worker safety. (Have you ever been in a stamping facility? Basically, huge rolls of steel go in one side, humongous dies cut and and stamp the metal, and large car parts — hoods, doors, roofs — flow out the other side.) The facility’s only fault is its location — it’s not adjacent to an assembly plant — and GM simply has too many stamping facilities at the moment.

It is incredibly difficult to set up a stamping facility and have it hum like this one has. It takes a lot of talent, engineering know-how, skilled craftspeople to produce world-class work under difficult conditions. And now that is going away, which is sad and seems like an awful waste.

The salt in this particular wound is that this facility closing can be traced fairly directly to the recent financial meltdown. GM is short on cash because there is no cash. The banks and Wall Street and lack of government oversight has so thoroughly screwed the economic pooch that money has evaporated and any that the government pours back in is apparently being sponged by the very same institutions. This all leaves little capital to either finance purchasing a car or finance the building of cars.

If I were a GM worker who busted my butt to send my kid to college only to see that kid working in investment banking, developing those re-packaged, warmed-over, mortgage debt products, well, I’d be thinking about running that kid through the stamping plant before it closes….


Because It’s in Wikipedia, It Must Be True…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Family magazine, October 2008

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