A very difficult year

Happy New Year, comrades. That is, I hope we can all find something to be happy about. Make no mistake — it’s going to be a hard one.     A difficult year, that is, for the state, city and nation, unless we learn next month that some kid has invented a perpetual motion machine in some basement in Indian Village, and turns the profits over to the city and state.

Last fall, we saw the worst crisis ever for the domestic auto industry. It’s apt to worsen this year. Delphi Corporation, General Motors’ major parts supplier, filed for bankruptcy and initially proposed to slash workers’ pay by more than half. It’s backed off on that, but clearly will demand some pay, benefit and pension cuts as the price of staying in business.

There has actually been talk about GM filing for bankruptcy, or being taken over by the Japanese, or any number of science fiction scenarios which now could turn out to be all too true. Ford is losing billions, and Chrysler, as we all know, is really not a domestic automaker anymore.

Still ahead is the onslaught of cheap Chinese cars. Even if all the bad stuff takes longer to play out than it seems, even if the automakers manage to get their finances in order, it’s hard to see how we do very well in the long term.

Not until we get another industry or make some technological breakthrough or invent something new. There is still a critical mass of talented engineers and technocrats here. Somebody could do something. But will they?

As the year unfolds, here are some things to keep your eyes on:

City of Detroit: Everybody tells me Kwame Kilpatrick has matured, and that after his amazing re-election win, he has gotten serious about responsibly addressing the city’s problems. Maybe that’s true.

But even if it is — what can he do? Yes, he may be able to lay off enough people to balance the budget. Possibly he’ll be able to get tough with the unions or privatize enough stuff to push off receivership.

That will be a difficult feat — but let’s say he does it.

The next question is ... so what? What do you have then?

A desperately poor, crumbling city with a balanced budget, substandard services and a school system that fails its students.

Where’s the attraction for new industry and new residents in that?

Detroit city services don’t work very well now. If you live or labor in the city, do the police come as fast as they’re needed? What happens when your streetlights burn out? What does your car and homeowner’s insurance cost compared to your brother’s in Southfield? Where’s the nearest supermarket?

You know all the answers. And how the morons in the suburbs can feel secure living next to their worst-of-apartheid theme park baffles me.

Once again, here’s the bottom line. We can make it, together, if we sacrifice a little money and a little ethnic pride and create some sort of metropolitan government. Or conditions will keep getting worse.

Eventually, things will blow up. Want that?

Do nothing, and that’s what we’ll get. And when it happens, it will be far worse than last time.

State of Michigan: Everything this year will take a back seat to the elections, with one exception. The efforts to lure Toyota, soon-to-be the world’s biggest automaker, to build a new engine plant here.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who took a nice trip to Japan and had people smile at her, has about convinced herself and the state’s boosterish media that this will happen. My own feeling, after talking to a couple of automotive experts, is that it probably won’t. Methinks the Japanese are playing with us, in much the same way the Democrats do when they pretend, every four years, to be seriously considering holding their national convention here.

Why would Toyota want to risk dealing with the United Auto Workers union? They may also fear stirring resentment in the heartland of the enemy.

But if I am wrong, look for the plant to be built somewhere closer to western Michigan. And watch what happens with the UAW. If the Japanese put a plant in this state, the UAW either has to organize it or accept that their day is done, that they’ll eventually go out of business.

They will be a union that exists only in a dying industry. Soon, in five years, there will be more nonunion autoworkers than UAW workers.

What Would Walter (Reuther) Do? I have no idea. Sadly, neither does anybody in the union movement, so far as I can tell.

Politics: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, will easily win re-election, probably thumping Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard in the finals. Jennifer Granholm will have a tougher time beating Dick DeVos.

Her problem is that she’s done nothing to deserve re-election — except possibly to be less unacceptable than Dick DeVos. Democrats will holler a lot that the former Amway, now Alticor, boss moved jobs to China.

DeVos argues that this is totally untrue. Trouble is, a charge of that sort in Michigan is somewhat like a charge of child molestation. All anyone ever remembers is that you were accused of it. My guess is that, in the end, there will be such a strong tide against the Bush administration that Jen will survive.

Incidentally, the anti-affirmative action amendment with the misleading name “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,” will be on the ballot. Naturally, I’ll vote against it. Naturally, it’s also going to pass. You’ll never go broke overestimating the inherent bigotry and racism of white folks.

Especially white folks who need a scapegoat for their own failings. By the way, did you know I would have been a big star in the National Basketball Association if not for all those affirmative action scholarships going to black athletes? The fact that I’m 5’8” and shaped like a pear had nothing to do with it.

State of the Nation: Watch for the war to drag on, and resentment to slowly grow. Most of the experts think that it will be very hard for the Democrats to take back the U.S. House of Representatives this year, mostly because of the way the districts are drawn (gerrymandered), but I think they will.

What isn’t clear is whether this will help them — or if any Democratic leader with an agenda and some courage can be found. Actually, we need someone with the guts to tell the people that the last five years of criminality, lying and illegal, impeachable offenses have been exactly that.

As of now, the most likely next president of the Occasionally United States is John McCain. Why? Because people feel he stands for something.

So It Goes: Last year, WUOM-FM radio (91.7) recruited me to host a new kind of daily talk show in which serious Michigan issues were discussed. But after three months, they pulled the plug on the show. They told me they felt the callers weren’t advancing the discussion. This was baffling and disheartening, for reasons quite apart from my precious ego. It was the only radio program that made an attempt to explore state issues in depth, and I’m sorry they gave up on the concept. I will, however, continue to do daily commentary and interview newsmakers on Michigan radio, at least for a while.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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