Category Archives: Unions

Detroit Should Radically Redesign Learning, Safety, and Socialization of Students

smart learn


My oldest daughter is now 24. When she was 2, the very first interactive games were coming out for the computer that featured live action similar to today’s quality, combined with learning games. Being a first time dad with some disposable income, I bought this computer based on the games.

Sarah played the games constantly and interacted with the characters. Of course, her mother and I read her favorite bed time stories to her every night, which I understand is cognitively important. Yet my mother read to me each night as well and I did not do what Sarah did that amazed me.

When she was three, I took her and her little dog down to the park for a walk. For some reason, I wanted to go into the baseball field, perhaps just to expose her to it, I don’t remember now. But as we approached, Sarah saw a sign, and said, “Daddy, we can’t go out onto the field.”

The sign was a list of rules, one of which said – No Pets allowed On the Field-

I asked her why and she read the sign for me. I was flabbergasted. At that point, I knew the power of computer games. Inner city kids come to school the first day with cognitive skills behind those of some that have had more opportunities to learn. Yet at 5 or 6, the mind is a sponge.

Every night, my child would pick from a pile of books her favorite ones for me to read. It was a task for me to put feeling into the same words over and over but memories that parents cherish later in life. In Detroit, 47% of adults are functionally illiterate, meaning they cannot perform that parental task of reading to their children.

Since 1996, the government has provided free cell phones to those that qualify for assistance. This idea would gain the ire of most on the right, but perhaps if cell phone users are footing this bill anyway, the phone could be a smart one, integrating the power of computing into every home.

Loaded on the phone would be 6-10 game apps, all games having to do with entry level reading and math skills, which would be available for both parents and child. nightly bedtime would now not be the avoidance of books but encouragement of the app.

School Principles and Design:


1. Students should not have to fear outside threats
2. Students should not be disrupted by other students who have not yet learned to self regulate

1. All school structures and systems designed to provide safety from outside threats
2. All school structures and systems designed to ensure threatening weapons do not enter school premises
3. All schools provided security personnel
4. Work systems and school systems time and calendar schedules integrated to allow communities to safely
see their kids to and from school.
5. School environments layered to separate disruptive or aggressive children from others but always within
a learning environment.


1. Students should not be separated in social environment from others their age
2. Students should be engaged throughout learning years
3. Only students involved in farming should have time allotted for farming
4. Student and parent time should coordinate
5. Students should not be hungry when they attempt to learn

1. All children mandatorily remain under school authority until they are 18 years of age or pass minimum
required skill attainment
2. All children mandatorily advance grade levels by age.
3. All children remain within school-managed environment during parent’s “first shift” working hours
(eg.8-5, set by community).
4. Students remain under school authority during vacation dates and school supervision is available during
those dates as well. Summer vacation limited to one of two four-week blocks.
5. School breakfast and lunch available


1. Students should not fall behind for an entire year of school.
2. Students should not be subjected to a teaching method or teacher for too long if learning is not
3. Multiple methods of learning material should be tried until student achieves an understanding of the
4. Until adulthood, jobs should be designed to learn work skills and the community should be responsible
for any student that enters the work environment

1. Student advance by skill block rather than grade level. Skill blocks are designed to be completed in 6-
week increments. Skill blocks must be passed. Many are mandatory and cannot be skipped.
.2. Minimum skill blocks for release from school authority -320 blocks and graduation (or 18 years)
.3. Maximum skill blocks obtainable – 570
.4. Minimum pass is 75% – remedial training required if 85% is not obtained.
.5. Students cannot retake skill block with same teacher
.6. With daily learning hours now increased, students not attaining pass level are provided various levels
of additional instruction and variety of teachers and teaching methods, but learning blocks are not
.7. At higher grade levels, learning blocks can include outside paying work assignments involving on-the-job
training and employer acceptance of responsibility for administering block skills.
.8. Learning blocks can include in-home, parental supervised learning assignments

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Filed under American Governance, American Schools, Jobs, Unions

Kevin Orr – Detroit’s Emergency Manager – Vulture or Savior?

orrKevin Orr has now been sent by the State of Michigan into the City of Detroit as an Emergency manager. He will most definitely slash costs and raise revenues by whatever measures necessary to solve Detroit’s budget crisis. Why is Mr. Orr what some may call a necessary evil? Why were the city’s elected officials unable to balance Detroit’s budget?

Detroit was established in 1701 and later incorporated in 1815. Through incorporation, the town established its own city government to provide the city with services. The city government became in essence a public business, funded by taxes to provide services to the residents and businesses located within the city’s limits.

As the number of residents and businesses grew, the size and complexity of the Detroit city government grew to support them. Detroit was densely populated with auto companies, companies that supplied them, and thousands of laborers who banded together in unions within this compact town.

In the boom years between WWI and the decade after WWII, Detroit grew rapidly, and workers enjoyed union wages that were 33% higher than most parts of the country. Workers claimed boom wages from growing business profits.

Intent on acquiring the financial gains that private union members enjoyed, public workers unionized within dozens of unions and their wages and benefits swelled as well. At the height of Detroit’s population in 1950, the City of Detroit employed 29,004. The ratio of citizen to city employee was 64 to 1.

Faced with boom wages and a highly organized union, the Big three began to move plants outside of Detroit over the next 15 years, and manufacturing jobs decreased by 138,000. As the city’s population shrunk, Feeling the pinch, Mayor Cavanaugh added the city’s first income tax to city funds in 1962.

Shortly after, Detroit’s public workforce began to shrink but the ratio of citizen to public worker continued to condense. By 1980, the ratio was 54 citizens per public worker, and this ratio was maintained until the 2005 crisis of government deficits. Why was this ratio maintained for forty years without causing a city finance deficit until 2005? The ratio actually was a problem well before 2005, but public unions were strong enough that politicians dare not dilute them further.

Detroit had excess public employees compared to other cities but Detroit’s population kept her police busy with the nation’s highest crime rate and her firemen busy with double the average fires due to blight arson. While Detroit had 54 citizens per public employee, the average of comparable sized industrial towns had twice that ratio.

But the excess number of employees wasn’t the only problem. Detroit was growing an excess number of retirees. Public sector employees could retire with significant health and retirement benefits after 25 years, police and fire after 20. By 2010, the city had 20,000 retirees compared to half that of active ones, severely crowding out funds for city services.

To cover increasing imbalances, Detroit added a utility use tax of 5% in 1965. The state began sharing its sales tax with Detroit in 1971. But with a local economy in free fall, the city needed more. By 1970, Detroit’s population had fallen 35%. As critically, Detroit’s housing stock that was its tax base followed the decline in population, dropping 100,000 units.

Detroit chased its falling population and housing stock with additional taxes but was consistently in arrears. Between 1973 and 2006, the city passed 46 obligation bonds to cover basic city services, increasing its outstanding debt load to over $12 billion dollars.

After considerable debate, the city allowed the opening of three casinos in the 2000s that added $180 million in tax revenues. Detroit also increased charges for services and pursued grants and private contributions. Yet, during the 2000s, the value of housing stock plummeted. By 2010, the average home sold for a mere $10,000. A third of housing had been torn down or burned by arsonists. The state reduced it revenue share to Detroit, and incomes of Detroit residents decreased, markedly reducing the city’s income tax collections. With 8 years of continued deficits, the city is now backed against a wall.

Kevin Orr is now faced with “rightsizing” Detroit’s government at a time when murders are rampant, when Detroit fires burn at double the rate of other cities, when 25% of Detroit’s lights don’t work, when emergency services are dangerously slow to react, when the city is plagued with wild dogs and feral cats, and when Detroit’s neighborhoods are blighted.

He must face the city’s unions, not only to reduce their workforce, but also to reduce their pensions. Detroit will most likely suffer through the work disruptions and slow downs that result.

He will also most likely sell some Detroit assets and lease others, while cramming down some of its long-term debt on bondholders. In addition, some of the 47% of residents that currently are not paying their property taxes should expect to pay them or face foreclosure.

This is the ugly point from which Detroit will painfully start. The question is whether Detroit can fix its structural deficits to turn the corner on its way back to a prosperous city, or whether Detroit will further decay. If Detroit’s leaders, union leaders included, choose to take the important steps to restructure Detroit’s future, then Kevin can play a pivotal role in giving Detroit hope.

However, he must not gut the assets that Detroit can use to lever its future. If his true goal is to help the city and not to carve it up for asset vultures, then Detroit will be poised to create a livable city. The future for those that have been left behind is either of creating a violent island of economic oppression from which there is no recovery, or, with Kevin’s crucial choices and sacrifice by all, of setting the path toward a brighter future for all of Detroit’s citizens.

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Filed under American Governance, American Politics, Bureaucracy, Economic Crisis, Racism, social trajectory, Unions

Detroit Failed to Adapt to the Major Threats to Cities During the Twentieth Century

vibrantDuring the 1900s, cities dealt with the issues surrounding institutional racism with various degrees of success. In the midst of these internal issues, external threats to survival would emerge that would threaten American cities’ survival. The Great Depression hit America’s capitalist system hard, causing a drastic reset of economic principles that would remain intact for another half century as economic tools for city growth. Many cities used these tools successfully. Some cities, like Detroit, used them to excess.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s would begin a dramatic shift in the hierarchy of needs requirements of cities that would leave those cities failing to adjust with worsening economic consequences. The entirety of the South suffered as boll weevils destroyed their cash crop and investors shunned Southern industrial enterprises during the second reconstruction era.

After the Viet Nam War, business migration and emigration began draining cities of lower skilled jobs and exposed a rust belt as the most visible sign of maladaptation. Some cities reformulated strategies for economic success better than others during the transition.

The latest threat to city survival has been a series of financial boom/busts that created misguided incentives and that misdirected investments into real estate assets rather than productive capabilities. Some cities survived the lure of building excess housing, office, and retail real estate stock better than others in the transition.

Detroit was one of the cities that did not adapt through the maze of external threats as well as some of America’s other major cities. While Detroit prospered initially as a result of the New Deal, unions created excess gains that did not adapt to the external threat of business migration. Detroit’s highly ingrained institutional racism became more militant in response to the militancy of those it oppressed during the civil rights era. And in a desperate attempt to correct for its inability to heal racial tensions, Detroit fell headlong into the temptations of investing in real estate as a cure for lack of productive industry.

Detroit failed to adapt those attributes of a growing, or indeed thriving city that were necessary to overcome both internal and external threats of the last half of the twentieth century.

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Filed under American Governance, American Innovation, American Politics, City Planning, Immigration, Jobs, Racism, social trajectory, Unions

Who in America is Ready to Balance the Needs of Unions with Those of Business?

As a very young man out of college in the early 1980s, I was put in charge of a power plant testing crew. We had developed a way to hook up two semi trucks worth of equipment to a power plant in a space of about 4 weeks and to run the signals from this equipment down to our Hewlett Packard 45 portable computers (they were the size of a small cow) through large multi-pin cables. We wrote sophisticated computer models using Basic computer language to determine operational problems of newly built power plants.

I would take a crew of a dozen technicians out to small and large towns across America and spend several weeks unloading our test equipment, carrying it up the dozens of stories of power plant grating, and installing it with our trusty tool bags strapped around our waists to then run real time analyses.

Well, I didn’t know the power of unions until I arrived in St. Louis. On one of the very first days of our set-up, I was busy kneeling down to fasten a pressure monitor to a railing with my crescent wrench when all of a sudden I felt two sets of arms, one on each side of me, pick me up still in my crouched position, and carry me to the elevator. Two union boys were sent to explain to me that all wrench tightening from here on out would be done by union employees.

The set-up, which normally took 4 weeks, took eight, and ran way over budget. They didn’t support us on weekends, and curiously, they had a tradition that the workweek ended on Fridays at noon even though we were to pay them until 4:30.

After several weeks of delays, for which of course I took the managerial heat, we were within hours of completion when noon Friday came around and the union walked off the job. I had pleaded with the union boss that the additional test crew of 40 people was now on a chartered plane coming to start the test on Saturday and that I needed his folks to just stay a couple of more hours to complete the eight weeks of work. He just kindly nodded in my direction on his way out of the plant.

I then rallied my crew; we grabbed our trusty tool kits and completed the job. This did not set well with the local union and the incident went immediately up their national headquarters, over to the CEO of Babcock and Wilcox, down through the division president to the project manager who had engaged our group for this job. He got on a plane Friday afternoon and met us that evening at our place of dinner.

My crew of a dozen and I met after 14 hours of hot, sweaty work completing our task to relax at dinner in a private room of a local steak house. We had just begun to chortle and kibitz when in popped this project manager. He demanded an explanation of my union intolerance.

I kindly explained to him that unless he intended to fire me on the spot that he should back down his rhetoric immediately. I calmly reminded him that because he was not a member of the union, he did not have jurisdiction over my jobsite, and that he should kindly explain to the CEO of Babcock and Wilcox what a farce our country’s union/management relationship had become. I then impressed upon him that if he had no further use for this conversation that he should either leave or take a seat at the table for I had a steak to attend to at mine.

Union distortions like housing distortions take years to correct and unfortunately, the height of union power paralleled the time that America’s cowardly management had other countries to escape to without having to face the hard work of balancing and co-opting our work force with the needs of American business.

Where multinational outlets have not been available, our union distortions have continued unabated and we now have the likes of government worker unions, teacher unions, and the powerful American Medical Association must be put in check for our country to right itself.

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Filed under Full Employment, Unions