- Associated Press - Monday, April 28, 2014

Detroit Free Press. April 22.

Michigan must forge new path to equal opportunity

For those of us who believe affirmative action programs have been largely effective at mitigating discrimination against women and minorities, Michigan voters’ decision in 2006 to outlaw such programs was a disappointing step backward.

But not all bad policy is unconstitutional, and Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding Michigan’s affirmative action ban was neither surprising nor unreasonable.

Writing for a splintered majority of six, Justice Anthony Kennedy opined that there was simply no constitutional basis for restricting the right of Michigan voters to reject race-based preferences. It’s the same conclusion U.S. District Judge David Lawson (a Clinton appointee) reached six years ago when he first upheld the legality of Proposal 2.

Three justices joined in Kennedy’s judgment but offered different rationales for their decisions. Among them was another Clinton appointee, Justice Stephen Breyer, who noted that the U.S. Constitution “foresees the ballot box, not the courts, as the normal instrument for resolving debates about the merits of these (race-conscious admissions) programs.”

The practical result of Tuesday’s ruling is that those who believe Michigan can and should pursue policies to advance the cause of equal opportunity will have to persuade the Legislature (and ultimately the electorate) that such policies are in the public interest.

That’s a difficult political hurdle, but not an impossible one. Legislators in both parties have already embraced the principle that preschool educational programs, a proven strategy for leveling the K-12 playing field for at-risk minorities, should be a funding priority. The case for other initiatives to equalize K-12 opportunity, such as expanding minority access to advanced placement courses, is equally strong.

There is also growing evidence that states that are most successful in removing barriers to minority college enrollment and professional advancement are most likely to prosper in the competition for jobs and economic development dollars. As U.S. society becomes more plural, the case for expanding educational and professional opportunities to minorities will increasingly become an economic one.

By upholding Proposal 2, justices have struck a dubious blow for voters’ right to turn back the clock on the slow march to racial and gender equality. The question now is whether Michigan voters can advance their state’s long-term interests in the absence of any judicial coercion to do so.

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Jackson Citizen Patriot. April 24.

Electric deregulation not the answer for Michigan

Two very divergent opinions have emerged in the debate over a push to deregulate Michigan’s electric market.

Proponents of electric choice say the competition provided in an open market will lower rates, subsequently making Michigan more attractive to existing businesses and those that may consider locating here.

Opponents, namely Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, argue that deregulation will decrease reliability and increase price instability. In other words, it’s a lose-lose for most Michigan customers, critics said.

While it’s difficult to say exactly how deregulation would play out in Michigan, we believe the risks are not worth the rewards.

We agree larger businesses - particularly manufacturers or others with higher than average energy costs - might benefit from an open market, but that won’t be the case for the average homeowner. A senior energy adviser for the U.S. Energy Administration likened the supply marketing to homeowners to a “scam,” because once the market gets volatile, the competitive suppliers disappear.

We believe that the lack of stability could prove problematic long-term for Consumers Energy, which is Jackson County’s second largest employer. Quality of service and reliability are likely to suffer as Consumers Energy shifts its resources from long-term planning and investment to making itself as lean and competitive as possible in an open market.

We’re likely to see a drop off in Consumers Energy’s corporate giving and community involvement. At a minimum, 200 Jackson-area jobs are on the line.

We agree the state needs to provide relief for larger businesses that use a large amount of energy, such as Gerdau Special Steel North America. But specific cases like this one can be addressed individually.

Consumers Energy’s Dave Mengebier had a point when he said, “Let’s not throw the entire regulated system out the window when what we’re really trying to do is just focus on those customers where electricity is a big competitive factor for them.”

It’s true the state of Michigan needs to do a better job of making itself more attractive to out-of-state business, but we don’t believe electric deregulation is the answer.

A good place to start would be repairing Michigan’s roads.

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Holland Sentinel. April 24.

How not to handle a business crisis

Trust is an elusive quality. It’s hard to win but easy to lose. It can evaporate in an instant, and once lost it can take even longer to regain than it took to develop in the first place. Thus the current crisis facing General Motors because of its failure to promptly recall and fix cars with faulty ignition switches is a lesson for all businesses.

GM has been raked over the coals, and rightly so, for its lack of action on the ignition switch defect in its Chevy Cobalt and other small cars from the past decade, which has been linked to 31 crashes and 13 deaths. The company rejected the idea of a recall in 2005 because it was considered to be too expensive (even though the replacement part cost just $10 and the installation took less than an hour) and too damaging to the company’s reputation. Now GM is in the midst of a sweeping recall of 2.6 million vehicles, while it faces the possibility of hundreds of millions of dollars of damages and a blow to its public image that may be even more expensive.

GM got itself into this predicament because it failed to follow two very simple lessons.

First, as many a scandal-scarred politician has learned, the cover-up is usually worse in the public eye than the original misdeed - people are more likely to forgive what they perceive as a one-time lapse in judgment than a sustained, calculated effort to hide a problem. In the case of something as complex as an automobile, customers understand that defects are almost inevitable. Rather than scaring off customers, a recall in the auto industry can actually improve trust by reassuring customers that the manufacturer is concerned about their safety.

Second, the most important people for any business are located outside the headquarters building - the customers. GM’s decision-making in the ignition switch case was formed by the kind of insular, take-the-customer-for-granted culture that helped get the company in deep trouble even before the Great Recession hit. Faced with a problem, the natural inclination of employees in such a culture is to circle the wagons and hide the bad news rather than deal with it openly.

The timing of the crisis is particularly unfortunate for GM. Since emerging from bankruptcy, the company has regained its momentum with many well-designed, popular models. Instead of celebrating a resurgence, GM is now in the midst of an expensive recall and a public relations disaster. The company may well be on the way to creating a more customer-oriented culture, as new CEO Mary Barra told Congress this month, but it will take time to overcome the perception that it’s still business as usual in Detroit. And the company won’t be improving its public reputation if it continues in its effort to shift legal liabilities for ignition switch lawsuits to the “Old GM” corporate shell formed to handle pre-bankruptcy claims.

Recent history shows many examples of companies that have successfully turned PR fiascos into trust-building exercises, from the 1982 Tylenol tampering scare to JetBlue’s 2007 week-long service breakdown. In each case, the companies involved rebounded from disaster by taking responsibility for their actions (regardless of the cost) and communicating as fully as possible with the public. Toyota initially responded poorly in its 2010 sudden-acceleration recall but eventually took a more forthcoming attitude, and customers returned to the brand. We hope consumers will be equally forgiving of GM. For now though, the the ignition switch case looks like one that will be taught in future business school classes as an example of just what a company shouldn’t do.

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Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell). April 24.

Study up on true quality of schools

Michigan faces an “education recession” that will have lasting impact for generations unless the state makes smart choices now about redirecting its K-12 public schools.

The phrase “education recession” comes from the folks at Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education agency that has been advocating for better results for Michigan’s children.

The group recently released its 2014 State of Michigan Education Report, and the results were, to be blunt, alarming.

The group says that in 2013, Michigan students scored below the national average in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test given to a sample of fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders nationwide.

A review of NAEP data over a 10-year period found Michigan students are at or near the bottom in comparisons with the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools. Specifically:

- Michigan was in the bottom five for learning progress for fourth-graders over the last decade, coming in 49th in reading improvement and 51st in math improvement.

- For eighth-graders, the results were slightly better but still not much to brag about, ranking 38th in reading improvement and 39th in math improvement.

As Ed Trust staff wrote in a recent viewpoint in the Detroit Free Press, Michigan is one of only six states that had negative student growth in some subjects - students learning at lower levels than their counterparts did a decade ago. Need more eye-opening data to consider? No matter the race or family income, Michigan children of all backgrounds are lagging in achievement compared to those from other states. And learning levels were similar for both charter and traditional public schools.

Ed Trust officials believe there is a chance for a coordinated approach to improvement, that a growing number of key players are reaching consensus on needed reforms that will raise learning levels. Data show that the top-achieving states set high standards for educational attainment and then invested in “educator training, coaching and a system of support and thoughtful evaluation.”

Every time Michigan lawmakers consider an education issue, they can move the state forward. Or not. Ed Trust’s report should be mandatory reading for lawmakers, because letting our K-12 students fall behind is no plan for success.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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