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Sweden: Could it have been a model for Michigan?

Business goes to Sweden because of its amazing metal scene

I just spent the last week in the amazing (though cold) country of Sweden. On my last day there, I was wandering lost in downtown Stockholm and stopped to ask an older gentleman for directions. He asked where I was from, I told him I was from Michigan.

“Yes, I’ve been there. It has approximately the same population as Sweden, and approximately the same GDP.”

I became instantly depressed as I realized that he was absolutely right. The similarities between Sweden and Michigan are vast. Both are cold areas surrounded by water and both are sufficiently blessed with natural and human resources to support a deep manufacturing sector.

By no coincidence at all, both areas are full of people of Swedish decent.

However, despite having similar social, natural and economic bases, the differences between Sweden and Michigan are immense. In contrast to Michigan, all Swedes have health insurance. In contrast to Michigan, all Swedes have heat. In contrast to Michigan, all Swedes have the right to political representation. Foreigners are even allowed to vote in local elections. In contrast to Michigan, the large majority of Swedes have jobs that allow them to live a healthy middle class existence.

Most importantly, in contrast to Michigan, Sweden has one of the most active, dynamic and vibrant economies on the planet. In fact, riding in from the airport, one sees the headquarters of companies one would expect to see in a place like Michigan, world class manufacturing and tech companies that are all employing Swedes. In fact, Sweden is desperate for labor to support its booming economy. If you have any type of skill, there’s a job in Sweden waiting for you.

Sweden is the most economically equal country on the planet. The Gini coefficient for Sweden in .23 vs. Michigan’s depressing .45, the same as that of Bulgaria or Guyana.

Sweden has some of the highest taxes on the planet. A full half of income can be sent to the Swedish Tax Service. Sales taxes top 25% for most items. Alcohol is taxed at 100%. Taxes make up nearly half of Sweden’s GDP.

It’s a Republican’s nightmare. High taxes, high regulation, high levels of market distorting subsidies on food and public services, heavy rules on public behavior and heavy rules on wages and working conditions. It’s Ron Paul’s worst case scenario.

Despite this, Sweden has one of the most exciting economies on the planet. It is one of the most pro-business places I’ve ever been.

Contrary to Republican logic, this is due, in large part, to guarantees of government provided guarantees of quality health care for all that relieve businesses of having to bear responsibility for creating insurance plans. If the large number of boutique vinyl shops all over Stockholm are any indication, anyone can start a small business in Sweden. In America, one has to do without health insurance to start a business, a risk that only the wealthiest can bear.

In Sweden, like health care, pensions and unemployment insurance are funded through citizen contributions. This means that private businesses don’t run into the problem of becoming bankrupt when they lack money to fund their pension plans.

The Swedes are highly educated and healthy. This means that foreign businesses wanting to set up shop in Sweden have a vast pool of highly educated and able potential workers to draw from. In fact, Sweden’s biggest problem right seems to be that it lacks UNskilled service workers.

All of this is in contrast to the disastrous situation of Michigan, where we have gutted public education to the point where we have one of the highest drop out rates in the country. We get stupider by the day. Nearly 15% of Michiganders lack access to health insurance. Michigan workers are too sick and too uneducated to meaningfully contribute to the economy. Worse yet, the recent installation of emergency financial managers has erased any potential for improvement. Nearly half (note: the poorest half) of Michigan lacks political representation in 2012, clearly a dream come true for Republicans everywhere.

Why would any business come to a place like Michigan?

Mostly, I’ve returned depressed. Michigan had its chance and it blew it. Exactly why do I live here?

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Right Winger Schuette Proposes to Block Unionization by UMich Research Assistants

The University of Michigan boasts one of the most successful graduate student unions in the country. The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) can be credited for helping UM graduate students get one of the best deals among all American graduate schools. Those of us who receive funding from the UM and other sources enjoy a guaranteed decent wage, a health care plan identical to that which standard UM employees receive, and a place to turn for help to when things go sour.

Though all funded graduate students receive the same minimum guarantees that GEO members do, until now only teaching assistants have been officially allowed into the union. In the early 80’s when GEO was formed, teaching assistants far outnumbered paid research assistants (GSRA’s_, and the thinking was that GSRA’s were a special category of graduate student that did not require representation by a union.

The numbers, however, have vastly shifted as UM slowly became a research giant. Now, GSRA’s outnumber teaching assistants and play a vital role in the University’s standing as a massive research institution. GEO has embarked on a plan to allow GSRA’s to integrate with the union and is calling for a vote among all GSRA’s to decided whether this should, in fact, happen. What appeared to be a simple procedure has now turned into a political battlefield.

Right wing groups, specifically, the conservative think tank the Mackinac Center (whom I’ve written of before), have entered the fight, seeking to prevent the student union from expanding. As we have seen in other states, all public unions are under fire from rightists who ostensibly see collective bargaining as an obstacle to a free market but, in reality, merely seek to consolidate power into a few hands.

It’s no surprise, of course, that 19 present and former self-interested school deans have also opposed the unionization of GSRA’s, making the bizarre claim that a worker’s union (which in effect already represents the GSRA’s in practice) would somehow discourage students from coming the UM. I can see it now, “Hmmm, this school has a graduate student union, not going there!”

Really?

Fortunately, the Mackinac Center failed in their bid to block the state board, MERC, from hearing the case to allow GSRA’s to merely vote on whether to join the union. The Mackinac Center waged a laughable campaign where they enlisted a single poorly spoken graduate student to public protest the GSRA effort, implying that the unionization of GSRA’s would prevent students from finishing their degrees and shutter the mighty University of Michigan for good.

Tea Party favorite and extreme right-winger Bill Schuette has now also entered the fight against unionization of GSRA’s, though this should be of little surprise. Schuette has intimate ties with the Mackinac Center and, in fact, was a guest of honor at one of their events. Schuette opposes the Affordable Health Care Act, and has in fact sued (using Michigan dollars) to have it overturned. Schuette can’t figure out whether he’s for or against medical marijuana but definitely knows that he wants to put pot-heads in jail. Schuette has actively tried to close abortion clinics in Saginaw. Schuette hates immigrants, and, in fact, despite being in the Michigan government, inexplicably made supporting the racist Arizona immigration law a part of his election platform. Wow. Who voted for this guy?

It should be obvious that this issue is about more than just some small local issue, but part of a growing trend of right wing power consolidation that is occurring (or maybe has been continually occurring) all over the country. I, for one, support the right for all to unionize. The small can only resist the powerful in large numbers.

UM Endowment Soars, Poor Students Need Not Apply

This morning I was treated to not one but two infuriating articles on education. The first was a report that the Unviversity of Michigan’s endowment is now the seventh highest in the nation, just under elite insitutions like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. U of M’s endowment grows by more than 9% per year, far outpacing most people’s retirement accounts and even outpacing that of the growth of many small developing countries. To put it in perspective, the entire budget of the country of Malawi, where 13 million people live, was approximately 845 million dollars in 2008.

The UM only pockets about half of what it makes from interest revenues and reinvest the remainder, but that still leaves it $266 million to spend at will. To be fair, the UM takes some of that money and invests it in start up companies and research, but, as far as I can tell, a sum total of ZERO goes to investing in keeping tuition fees low and creating scholarship opportunities for bright but financially handicapped students. For that, the UM shifts responsibility on to Federal and State governments to provide financial aid. The UM’s scholarship programs are notoriously pathetic.

Even Harvard does better than this. Kids who come from families who make under $60,000 go for free.

The incoming class at the UM in 2011 was 6,496 students, of which 3,893 were Michigan residents and 2,603 were out of state. Tuition is $7,023 and $20,121 per term for in and out of state respectively. A full term of tuition revenues totals $79.7 million dollars and a full year would be approximately $160 million dollars. This means that the UM could have paid the tuition of every freshman with profits from its endowment alone, and not lost a dime.

Now, this scenario is unrealistic, there are four times as many undergraduates as incoming freshman, but you see the point. The UM does not have to ask the exorbitant prices it does merely in return for joining its exclusive, but quality, club (I love UMich, always have, it’s a great school). They could easily drop in-state tuition to a quarter of what it is and bring it down to the price it was when I went, which any kid could make washing dishes for a summer. Loans would become moot.

This, however, is not on Mary Sue Coleman’s to do list. She’s too busy busting unions and serving a compensated position with Johnson and Johnson to be worried about the exploding costs of tuition.

Occupy Ann Arbor, Nurses and the Smearing of the Occupy Movements

Occupy Ann Arbor

I was on my way back to my car yesterday and accidentally showed up to an “Occupy” demonstration in Liberty Park, though I suspect that everyone went home by now.The demonstration turned out to be sponsored by the local nurses union, who are unable to negotiate a favorable contract with the University of Michigan.

The U of M and the the Michigan Nurses Association have been negotiating a new contract since April. The U wants to increase the amount that employees pay for health insurance, limit overtime, reduce paid time off and increase the patient to nurse ratio. Essentially, the U wants nurses at the UMHS to take a pay cut and do more work.

Apparently, the University can drag on these discussions as long as it likes. It doesn’t look like the nurses will be striking anytime soon, though it appears that the hospital is already making plans to truck in scabs if it has to. I learned that there is such a thing as a “travelling nurse,” or a temp nurse that floats through different hospitals all across the country. Wages are apparently considerably lower for travelling nurses and the hospitals need make no long term commitment.

Business at the hospital is up, costs of procedures are up though administrator salaries are up and the recent wave of building are likely draining funds. It’s too much though to ask the person responsible for your medications to take a pay cut, though. In true Michigan style, however, the people at the top put their priorities over those at the bottom.

Much has been made recently from the right over the “crybabies” of the “Occupy” demonstrations around the country. As the unions, such as the Michigan Nurses Association, and established political advocates become involved however, what were young “crybabies” have been replaced by those who have long been fed up with the imbalance of power in this country, but have been able to draw little media attention. Jeffrey Sachs and giants such as Joe Stiglitz barely register a blip on the media’s radar, preferring to give us interviews with barely literatem, unbathed hippies.

The media (where’s the liberal media when you need them?) and rightist cynics, however, will continue to paint the as yet loose movement as freaks, spoiled kids, the insane, drug users and idiots. It’s quite similar to what happened to the early Tea Partiers. Even NPR has taken to hand-picking the bozos and featuring them on their programs leading me to question who the real enemy is: Fox News or Dick Gordon?

Granted, both groups have their loons. The sight of people on disability, social security and medicare calling for the abolition of government entitlement programs is perplexing to say the least. Add to that the multitudes of misspelled signs espousing English only education and a host of neo-racist sound bites, and one can either conclude that these people are stupid or perhaps just a bit insane.

However, the loons overshadow those who can honestly and civilly make a point. Let all of us, in whatever political camp we reside in, never forget the the true enemy is the loss of the ability to discuss our differences in a civil manner. Most of us have more in common than we think.

Plants of Michigan

I’m behind on blogging because my life right now consists of hauling garbage all over Washtenaw County, but I had some time at least to enjoy the Michigan summer.

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VICTORY! Catherine Ferguson Academy to Remain Open for 2011-2012 School Year

Principal Andrews and Danny Glover

Today we went and checked out what was to be an event in protest of the closing of the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women in Detroit. It turned out, instead, to be a celebration of its remaining open for the next school year. Though the school will become a charter school, CFA will remain as it is, a safe place for young mothers and an example of excellence in a crumbling world… for now.

The turn out for the event was nothing short of inspiring. Present and former state and local politicians showed up to speak, along with a few celebrities, including “Lethal Weapon 3″‘s Danny Glover. Principal Andrews and just about everyone there was moved to tears when she made the formal announcement that the school would remain open. Representatives from many organization, including BAMN and the UAW were on hand to make speeches in support of public schooling and CFA.

While the situation is NOT ideal, let’s hope that law makers see the incredible outpouring of support for CFA and public education. let’s hope that the present trend of privatization, and thus degradation of public schools does not continue.

EDUCATION IS A HUMAN RIGHT.

Protest the Closing of Catherine Ferguson Academy for Girls this Thursday at Noon

Catherine Ferguson Academy

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Girls, a school for pregnant teens and young mothers in Detroit, is slated for closing at the end of next week. I, personally, am not confident that the decision of the DPS Emergency Financial Manager will change. However, demonstrating on behalf of CFA will help send a clear message to policy makers and the general public that educational opportunities are dwindling for the poor.

When policy makers chip away at public education, they chip away at our future, insuring that the incredible divide between rich and poor becomes even wider.

Tell everyone that you support public education. Privatization of public schools will only insure that children like those which are served by CFA will have no future, neither for themselves or their children.

Access to education for all is a human right.

The BAMN website has details of the event. THe details are aimed at DPS students, but all are welcome. Reports indicate that people are coming in from all over the state.:

RALLY STARTING AT 12 NOON
2750 Selden Street, two blocks north of MLK/Mack, one block east of I-96
Defend Your Right to a Quality Education!
Unite in Action with The Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women (CFA)!

**After you pick up your report card on the June 16th at your school, come directly over to CFA. Transportation and food will be provided in all areas of the city and neighboring areas (call or text 313-585-3637)**
Background and news coverage at the CFA Information Page

Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) is a Detroit Public School. CFA is a JEWEL of DETROIT and it is about to be stolen from our community- we must defend it and defend ourselves. CFA students are standing on their feet fighting to defend public education, fighting to stop the destruction of programs in all of our schools through class size increases and elimination of our teachers, and against the closing of all of the public schools on the closing list. CFA is on the list to be closed. It is a school for pregnant and parenting teenage girls. At CFA, our sisters, cousins and friends, are not treated as outcasts, but are cared for and treated as fellow persons with value. CFA is a regular comprehensive high school, where the students can bring their children. There is early childhood development and pre-school, and nurseries. There are doctors, nurses and others who come to the school to provide services for the students and their children to make sure that they are all successful. There is also a wonderful farm with goats, ducks, chickens, honeybees, fruit trees, vegetables and even a horse. In a society where being a teenage mother enslaves most to a life of poverty and limited opportunity, CFA is like the first “safe house” stop on the underground railroad to freedom, a place of new beginning and hope for young women who have been told by so many that their own lives are over.

We can save all of our schools and programs by uniting in action at CFA to make it clear that the new “Jim Crow”, second class treatment of black and Latina/o and other minority students has no place in our city. On April 15, 2011, the brave students of CFA led Detroit and shook up the nation by sitting down and refusing to leave the school over spring break. This action resulted in numerous schools coming off of the closing list. However, CFA is still on the closing list and is being used as a “political football” between the Democrats and the Republicans, both of whom could keep the school open, but neither will without a fight led by the students to make them keep it open. Next time at CFA, if hundreds, not just dozens of people are gathered outside to defend the school, we will save CFA and win more of our demands. Just like the auto workers forced the powerful auto companies to recognize their union in the 1930’s through sit-down strikes, and black high school and college students in the South broke the back of segregation by sitting down at lunch counters, and the hundreds of Northwestern High School students in Detroit kept their school open by walking out and marching together last year, we must recognize, just as Dr. Martin Luther King did, that if young people act on “the fierce urgency of now,” we can move mountains.

In addition to closing CFA and numerous other schools, class sizes in all DPS high schools are being threatened to increase to forty-five (45) students per class starting in fall of 2012. Schools that offer a college prep curriculum will no longer be able to effectively do so in reality. And neighborhood schools will lose electives all together, as well as many extracurricular activities. We must organize a massive mobilization to save CFA and preserve the quality of all DPS schools. Anyone and everyone can and should come – people of all ages, schools, cities, etc., but the students have to lead!

At this point, we have so much power at CFA because of the first set of actions. Students at Southeastern walked out three times and won the right to sing at the MSVMA choral festival, and led a successful campaign to defend the rights of a transgendered classmate. If more students and youth in Detroit stand up and fight, we will win much more. Now is the time to stop listening to the naysayers in our life–three Ps–parents, principals and preachers, who too often speak out of fear and not strength, telling us to just keep our heads down and not to fight for what we know we deserve and believe in. They say that there is another way, and that the adults will take care of it, but the adults have not and will not do what is necessary to fight and win. Join the movement and fight for your dignity, equality and hope for your future.

Have your school adopt the following demands:

•Defend Public Education
•Keep Catherine Ferguson Open
•No School Closings
•Keep All Detroit Public Schools Public – No More Charters or Privatization
•No class size increases, reduce overcrowded classes
•Maintain all Magnet Programs and Schools
•Reinstate all programs and services that have been eliminated, including art & music as well as counselors & social workers, AP classes, robotics, and other special programs at all schools
•Student Control of Curriculum and School Character to assure that every Detroit school provides equal, quality education for all
•No discipline or retaliation against any of the participants in the occupation or any other collective actions taken to defend public education

The enemies of public education know that their plan is not about balancing the district’s budget. They are fully aware that their statistics are wrong and fabricated and that this plan will make the district lose money. For example, they say CFA costs the District $2.7 million (Detroit News 5/27/11) when it really only costs $750,000 and the rest comes from special federal and state funding, not the DPS general fund. The racist, white billionaires, who do not want to pay for public education anymore, believe that the people of Detroit do not have value and want to fulfill that prophecy through force. This is about implementing the New Jim Crow and forcing people to defer their dreams by blocking any opportunity for them to lead and shine. It is their intention to destroy public education, and get away with it with only minimal objections from the community, without any serious consequences, without Detroiters organizing and raising total HELL to stop the destruction of our schools and our neighborhoods.

Roy Roberts and other pessimistic politicians, whom of which are backed by a tiny minority of billionaires, ARE NOT OUR “FRIENDS”. They are overseers hired to implement and enforce the New Jim Crow system of education on black and Latino/a students – separate and completely unequal once again. It is for this reason that they want to close special Detroit schools such as CFA and destroy Renaissance and Cass and creative and loved programs in neighborhood schools like music and robotic programs, will all be in the past and no longer exist for black and Latino/a students in Detroit. Then, wealthy white people can say to working class and poor white people, “you may have a poor education system that we refuse to pay for, but at least you are not black or Latino/a.” They are closing schools and firing teachers to drive students out of the district and gentrify the city by race and class. A few middle-class students will go to private schools or leave the city, and the rest will be warehoused in inferior, overcrowded schools. Whether or not our schools stay open or teachers keep their jobs depends on whether we can overcome our fears and express our anger in a collective manner, and put our foot down and declare that Detroit students, our schools, our programs, our neighborhoods and our city are not for sale.

We can end the regime of overcrowded classrooms, police in the schools doling out repression and brutality, and turning what should be places of learning, where we can express and develop our full creativity and humanity, into cheap, stripped-down, prison-like holding cells. We want and deserve the full range of subjects and extracurriculars – art, music, dance, theatre, sports, AP and foreign language courses, chess, etc. – that a first-class comprehensive public education has to offer. To the extent that any school becomes a charter, if they do not meet the full standards of the students and parents, they must lose their charter immediately!

We CAN defeat this plan, but only by getting off our knees and fighting back. It’s time to heed the words of Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest leaders in the history of our nation, who said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

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Take action and organize your school– Join BAMN (The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, BAMN) at 855-ASK-BAMN (855-275-2266), or email BAMN Coordinator Donna Stern at donna.stern@ueaa.net http://www.bamn.com
Follow us on Twitter @followbamn

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