It’s a soggy Monday morning.

I swear the weather gets weirder the older I get and it definitely seems like the seasons are shifting to the left by a couple of weeks. It rained off and on all day yesterday and it was cold for August. I don’t think it made it very far into the 70’s yesterday and usually August is when we see a good chunk of 90+ degree weather.

Today it’s supposed to rain all day and harder than yesterday resulting in some flood watch alerts for areas of South Eastern Michigan that are prone to such things and it’s not supposed to get any warmer than 65 degrees. That’s just nuts for August. It feels more like October than August around here. Tomorrow we get back up to 76 tomorrow and closer to normal on Wednesday when it should hit 89, but the dog days of summer this isn’t.

Not that I’m complaining too much as it makes for nice sleeping weather when normally August is pretty miserable, but it does give one pause to wonder.

The 1967 Detroit 12th Street riots remembered.

On this date 40 years ago Detroit descended into chaos as a riot broke out on 12th Street. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about the riot:

The 12th Street Riot in Detroit began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. Vice squad officers executed a raid at a blind pig on the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount on the city’s near westside. The confrontation with the patrons there evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in modern U.S. history, lasting five days and far surpassing the 1943 riot the city endured. Before the end, the state and federal governments, under order of then President Lyndon B. Johnson, sent in National Guard and U.S. Army troops and the result was forty-three dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests and more than 2,000 buildings burned down. The scope of the riot was eclipsed in scale only by the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Detroit has never fully recovered from the after-effects of the riot and the negative domestic and international media coverage. The riot was prominently featured in the news media, with live television coverage, extensive newspaper reporting, and an extensive cover stories in Time magazine and Life on August 4, 1967. The Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.

I was born just over a month later on August 25th, 1967 and obviously wasn’t around to experience the event itself yet I was still impacted by the event in subtle ways as I grew up. Over the years I gradually became aware of a general animosity between Detroit and its suburban neighbors that I didn’t fully understand. I grew up in Pontiac and even though it was hardly what most folks think of when they hear the word “suburb” — Pontiac is practically a clone of Detroit on a smaller scale in most respects — that didn’t stop folks in Pontiac from talking about what a hell-hole Detroit was ever since the riots and that opinion was echoed by a lot of folks in just about every other suburb of Detroit. I can recall hearing time and again how the riot was the event that resulted in the ‘white flight’ to the suburbs that left Detroit predominately populated by blacks. That was only kind of true as it turns out that whites had been leaving the city for the suburbs ever since World War II, but the 1967 riot certainly caused the rate of that migration to exponentially increase. Former Detroit mayor Coleman Young wrote on the effect of the riot as follows:

The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit’s losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. The white exodus from Detroit had been prodigiously steady prior to the rebellion, totally twenty-two thousand in 1966, but afterwards it was frantic. In 1967, with less than half the year remaining after the summer explosion—the outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.

Coleman Young was Detroit’s first black mayor ever and he was quite the polarizing figure himself. He took office in 1974 and stayed there for the next 20 years with a chip on his shoulder and a fondness for swearing that would’ve made him fit right in here at SEB. By the time he left office he was considered by a lot of suburbanites as being part of the reason Detroit never seemed to recover from the riot.

Needless to say with today being the 40th anniversary of the start of the riot there’s been plenty of remembrances on radio and in the newspapers about it by people that lived through it. I’ve probably learned more in the past few days about an event that has subtly influenced my life from the start than I’ve learned in my near-40 years of living in south eastern Michigan. In particular I was struck by an Michigan Radio (NPR) news story by Sarah Hulett in which she talks with her grandfather, who was a cop in Detroit in 1967, about the riot and the fact that she chooses to live in the city today. The sentiments he expresses are quite similar to many of the ones I heard growing up. Click here to listen to her story. That item is part of a larger collection of stories on the 1967 riot called Ashes to Hope that’s worth a listen if you want to learn a little more. Another good collection of stories comes from this Detroit Free Press special and are worth taking a gander at.

As for me, I benefited both from growing up in Pontiac (which as I said was a lot like Detroit in some respects) and from a job with Michigan Bell (now AT&T) that had me working all over Detroit back when I was 19 years old. I got to see the worst and the best of the city while working as a telephone lineman and it sharply changed the perspective I had of the city for the better as growing up surrounded by so much negativity about the city had obviously colored my views. An image of Detroit that too many people still hold not only locally, but across the nation. I admit I have a soft spot for the town in part because I tend to sympathize with the underdog, but also because the stories I’ve heard about how the city used to be made it sound like a great place and makes me hope it might regain some of that former glory the way cities like Chicago have managed to do. Forty years later Detroit is still suffering from the 1967 riot and while it’s recovery has been a long time in coming it appears to be picking up momentum. Though there’s still a long way yet to go.

My brother proposes the “Salvation Tax” to solve Michigan’s budget woes.

Here in Michigan there’s been quite a bit of talk about new taxes after the governor and legislators signed off on a plan to close this year’s budget deficit by shoving a good portion of it into next year’s budget just so they can claim they didn’t violate Michigan’s constitution which requires a balanced budget. The very next day the governor put out a call for the legislators to get busy coming up with new tax ideas that can be used to balance next year’s looming shortfall. One of the ideas proposed so far is being called the Ticket Tax:

One option—a possible 6% sales tax on sports, music, movie and other entertainment tickets—has galvanized opposition by a group of power hitters that includes the owners of Detroit’s major sports teams and concert venues.

Fans Against Ticket Taxes launched its campaign Thursday, led by Mike Ilitch, who owns the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings and the Fox Theatre, and Bill Davidson, who owns the Pistons and operates three of the biggest concert venues: DTE Energy Music Theatre, the Palace of Auburn Hills and Meadow Brook Music Festival.

At the Tigers’ Thursday afternoon game, Comerica Park staffers handed out flyers urging fans to visit a Web site—http://www.NoTicketTax.com—and contact their state representatives.

The campaign illustrates the political peril of a steep tax increase, which many lawmakers say is unavoidable given a $1.8-billion deficit the state faces in the 2008 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

In response my brother sent off the following email to his state representatives in Lansing and he invites all fellow Michigan readers to do likewise:

    Mr. Marleau,

    I’m writing you regarding the “luxury tax”, going to the movies is hardly a luxury. I pay income taxes already and I fully expect to be paying more. I pay “Sin Taxes” since I smoke and have an occasional beer. Therefore I would like to offer up a new “solution” to the states money problems.

    I feel it’s time for the state of Michigan to be a leader in what I’m calling the “Salvation Tax”,  let’s face it religion is a big business, it’s time for God to put his two cents in where it counts (the state’s coffer).

    This program has only a limited effect upon the state. Think about it clearly, if another church leaves the state, so what? It’s not like they’re pulling their weight around here anyway.

    I thank you for taking the time to consider the salvation tax issue (those bastards squirrel away a lot of money), if you feel you would like help getting this to the floor, please feel free to e-mail me and I will do what I can to assist you.

    Wes Jenkins

At this point I think most people in Michigan are fully expecting some form of tax increase someplace as there’s really no other way to deal with next year’s budget without making cuts that most folks agree are just a bad idea. There’s already plenty of folks upset over guidelines put in place for State troopers that asks them to limit their daily mileage to around 40 miles a day as a result of the budget mess. So perhaps it’s time that the churches in this state started paying their fair share of the tax burden and help keep Michigan in the black.

Needless to say I think it’s a wonderful idea and I am dashing off a similar note to my representatives as well. If you’re also a Michigan resident you can look up your Representative here and your Senator here.

You can quote me on that…

…in fact, someone already has.

The folks at ScribeMedia.org have the article I was interviewed for up on their site. For those few people who still occasionally write in to ask me what I sound like, well, now you can find out because the article includes a podcast of the interview with me and a couple of other people.

You’ll find it here: Nurses Wanted – Autoworkers Could Do.

Now I can knock another 30 seconds off my 15 minutes of fame.

Watching Michigan’s State of the State address.

Doing something I’ve never done before tonight: Watching the State of the State address on TV. Governor Granholm has a lot riding on this one as she’s set to announce her “No Worker Left Behind” initiative that’s aimed at addressing the thousands of Michigan workers, such as yours truly, who are out of work due to the cutbacks at the Big Three as well as the announcement by Pfizer that they’re shutting down their Ann Arbor facility. Early word has it that it’ll involve investment in training and schooling of Michigan workers as well as more effort put towards attracting more high tech companies to Michigan.

Currently she’s talking about the need to diversify Michigan’s economy. We’ve been too dependent on the automotive industry for too long. The good news is that, outside of the auto industry, companies in Michigan are seeing double digit growth. The 21st Century Job Fund is seeing lots of positive attention from folks looking to start new businesses in Michigan and one field the governor is excited about is Alternative Energy. Tonight the governor is announcing a new initiative over the next three years to attract even more alternative energy companies to Michigan. She wants to take Michigan from the state that put America on wheels to the state that breaks America’s dependence on foreign oil. Plans on the table to get Michigan to get 10% of its energy from alternative sources within 10 years and then double that within the next 10 as well as to get 1,000 ethanol pumps at gas stations around the state for folks who have cars that can make use of it.

The state has managed to trim down the number of employees by 7,000 people since 2000 and the Michigan government is smaller than it was in 1973. Currently is tied for third best managed state government and is number 1 for use of technology to improve state government. Asking local and city governments to consolidate and conserve resources as well as school districts. Increases in state revenue sharing will be dependent on showing that consolidation and conservation efforts are being put into place.

More investment in Michigan’s child welfare system to increase the number of case workers and do more background checks on people in the foster care system. Reforms to Michigan’s prison system to deal with growing costs such as low cost alternatives for non-violent offenders. The governor ties the need for investment in education into this issue.

Just stated that she refuses to slash the school budget in the middle of this year. Now she’s touting the accomplishments of recent standards on improving academic scores in just about every district in the state. Plans to set the bar even higher for schools and more investment in early childhood education. Wants kindergarten to be a requirement for all kids (I didn’t know that it wasn’t) and wants to set a requirement that all kids be in school until they are 18 revoking an 1895 law that says it’s OK to drop out at 16 in Michigan. Talk of reinventing the high school experience.

She’s discussing the new Michigan Promise program that aims to guarantee all high school graduates with the funding to get a two year degree. The first class under this program will be starting this fall. Just announced that for the next three years the state will offer free community college tuition for unemployed workers to get additional education — the aforementioned No Worker Left Behind. Launching the Michigan Nursing Corp to address the shortage of nurses in Michigan. Now on the Michigan First Health Care program. A program to grant universal health care to uninsured citizens.

She’s just called for the removal of barriers in Michigan on stem cell research in the state. Implied that if the legislators won’t do this that the citizens will with who the vote for in the next election. She’s moving quickly through her speech as she’s now on about the need to revitalize Michigan’s cities. Michigan housing commission will be working on tearing down 5,000 blighted homes in various cities to improve neighborhoods. More investment to increase the number of firemen and policemen on the job. Wants to introduce legislation to replicate the Kalamazoo Promise in other cities in addition to the Michigan Promise (which was based on the Kalamazoo Promise). Says that in order for Michigan to move forward we must invest in the education of our citizens.

Discussing the current fiscal crisis created in part by the elimination of the Single Business Tax without a form of replacement for the $2 Billion in state revenue it generated. Talking about how since she’s been in office she’s cut the budget every single year and is working with 40% of the budget of her predecessor. She says that trying to deal with the $2 Billion hole in the budget with additional cuts wouldn’t work and would cripple the state’s ability to provide services. She plans to introduce a big revamp to Michigan’s tax code in addition to some cuts to address the fiscal crisis.

She’s just launched a preemptive attack on the “naysayers” (read: Republicans) who are already denouncing her budget when she hasn’t even unveiled it yet. Just got her first half-standing ovation: Democrats going nuts, Republicans sitting and clapping politely. Says that just cutting business taxes isn’t enough to bring companies to Michigan which already has lower business taxes than the national average. Quotes Bill Gates as saying that 21st companies are less worried about business tax in a region as they are in the quality of the workers to be found there. Companies don’t want to invest in a state that isn’t investing in education or that don’t have enough police to respond in an emergency. Back on the we must invest in our people and state tack.

And it’s done. Very interesting overall and I was surprised at how many standing ovations she got throughout the night. The first two-thirds of her speech had both democrats and republicans standing until the last third of the speech in which she threw down the gauntlet on the budget and tax cuts and then the republicans pretty much kept to their seats. She covered a lot of ground and there weren’t a lot of specifics, but that’s pretty much par for the course.

Don’t know how useful this entry will be to anyone not in Michigan (or even anyone in Michigan) and I don’t know if I’ll do anything like it again, but I figured what the hell.