Michigan’s unions are asking voters to approve a referendum on the ballot this November, known as Proposal 2, that would lock a series of labor protections into the state Constitution, including the right of public sector unions to bargain collectively and a prohibition against the legislature enacting a “right to work” law.
The ballot campaign represents an attempt by unions and their Democratic allies to slow or stop the wave of Republican-backed measures adopted in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and other states in the last two years to curb collective bargaining and weaken unions, especially those representing government workers.
“Besides the presidential race, Proposal 2 is probably going to be the most significant thing on the ballot nationally,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center, a conservative research center based in Midland, Mich. “Michigan is surrounded by Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio — states that have taken wildly different views of private and public sector unions. The nation is on a teeter right now on union matters, and Michigan will give momentum to one side or the other depending on how this plays out.”
Business groups and Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, say that if the referendum to enshrine labor rights in the Constitution is approved, it will cast a major cloud over the state’s business climate — broadcasting to the world that organized labor, whenever it deems fit, can use its muscle to go to the voters to trump the legislature and governor.
“Michigan’s union bosses are field testing a new weapon,” said Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “If this weapon is successful in banning legislation, we’ll see it deployed in the 21 other states that allow initiatives and referendums.”
Further flexing their muscles, unions are sponsoring two other proposals on the Michigan ballot. One would repeal a law that allows emergency managers appointed to oversee financially distressed communities to void union contracts. Another would amend the Constitution to guarantee home health aides the right to unionize.
Both sides are flooding the airwaves with ads about Proposal 2, with each side accusing the other of using misleading scare tactics.
In one union-backed commercial, for example, a firefighter is wearing an elaborate fireproof apparatus over his head. “This air pack I’m wearing gives me 30 minutes to look inside your burning house and find you,” he says. “Having the most modern dependable equipment when the clock is ticking, that counts. If it comes from collective bargaining, the politicians can’t cut it without our say-so.”
News from Africa: How the Cell Phone has Revolutionized African Countries – In 2009, businessman Femi Akinde needed to travel quickly across Nigeria. Without immediate access to the internet, it took him a day to book a plane ticket. Finding a number to make a phone reservation took time; connecting – on erratic phone lines – even longer; and bank forms had to be filled in to withdraw money for paying.
“The fact that something that could have taken less than 10 minutes [online] took a torturous whole day got me thinking: if something like an airline ticket was this difficult to procure, how much worse is it down the economic food chain?” he explained.
Akinde, who had worked with US telecoms companies, saw a solution in mobile phones. He came up with SlimTrader, a service that allows customers to use their phones to get information and availability, and to pay for services ranging from airplane tickets to bags of fertiliser.
While in many parts of the world, such a service would use the internet, this option was not available for a large majority of Nigerians using basic feature phones. Instead, SlimTrader can be used entirely by text message. “We took the idea from what it could be in the western world to what it really has to be in the developing world. We went a step further, and said let’s make SlimTrader useable on any phone,” he said.
Using text messaging for technological advances makes sense in a continent where hi-tech sits cheek-by-jowl with fading technology. Days before it officially began selling in western stores, bootlegged copies of the latestiPhone were available from Lagos market vendors – many of whom were using phones with only basic internet. And while Google’s Lagos office has helped put some 25,000 businesses online in the past year, it is also making its mighty search engine available through the humble text message in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.
Innovations like SlimTrader are a small part of a new technological revolution in sub-Saharan Africa. In west Africa, which has lagged behind its eastern neighbours, a new breed of home-grown entrepreneurs is adapting technology to local challenges.
Art Spotlight: Louis Delsarte – Louis Delsarte is profound figurative expressionist from New York City. He received a B.FA. from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York and an M.FA. from the University of Arizona. Delsarte has taught painting and drawing at numerous institutions for many years. Currently he teaches arts and humanities at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Delsarte has executed several mural projects including Transitions for the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and New Hope Visions at the Southwest Arts Center in Atlanta, GA. Delsarte’s Selma to Montgomery was selected by the United States Postal Service in 2005 as the selvage in a series of stamp commemorating the civil rights movement. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mural: Dreams, Visions and Change is a 129ft mural was installed in 2010 at the King National Historic Site on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, GA.
Delsarte’s work is in several public collections including the Hammonds House Museum and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA , the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the National Gallery of Art in Bermuda.
The Friday Comment: Thinking About Faith – I am person of faith. Perhaps, it is encoded in my DNA. I know it was rooted in my cultural rearing. I grew up Christian. I was baptized as an infant and I grew up in participating in all the ritual practices of my congregation. I never hide the fact I was confirmed as a member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church at the age of 12. In my memory my faith tradition was never negative. In point of fact, it informed my intellectual trajectory.
Additionally, being a southern born African American male also aided in shaping my faith. Seeing the civil rights movement through a childhood lens also gave me faith. I don’t think anyone can go out and throw their bodies into the vicious jaws of American apartheid without having a kind of faith.
And that sense of collective faith exercised by many black believers to change the civic order for good influenced me.
It came in the schoolteachers who religiously believed that it was not an oxymoron for a black child to be highly intelligent. It came from the men who worked an entire career at the YMCA creating programs for boys to play sports and learn social skills.
It came in the prayers of old people who told me, “baby, I’m gonna pray for what you tryin’ to do! Gawd will see to it!” It came as I witnessed people taking up neighborhood offerings for someone who had died and needed a burial or a family who had been burned out of their house.
I saw people bring together in both large and small filled with their transcendent hopes and their all too human fears mobilizing trying to re-write global history.
This was the religion of my childhood, the religion of my rearing.
I know my experience wasn’t true for everyone. It wasn’t true for many of my friends. I know that institutional religion can be unkind and hateful. In fact, religious institutions, like all institutions, are often used as instruments of power.
Religious faith has been used to exploit, silence, and oppress. And this is a part of the history we cannot blot out or excuse.
At the Elmina fortress on the Ghanaian coast one of the first things that any visitor will note are the competing chapels—the oldest Portuguese Catholic and the latter Dutch Reformed.
At this fortress built in 1482 and used as a slave shipping facility, Christianity was used imperially.
As an imperial faith Christianity gave theological justification to enrich the crown over the humanity and upon the backs of thousand upon thousands of enslaved Africans.
I give this illustration not solely to criticize Christianity. The same could be written of any religious faith and even non-religious faiths (e.g. Stalinist and Fascism).
Holding a faith is dialectical. Faiths can be used to mobilize people for good! Think of the hospitals, orphanages, shelters and universities all begun under the auspices of religious traditions.
But also think of the carnivalesque violence and carnage from the burning of heretics, wars enacted upon the heterodox, to the American style lynch mobs; all done in the name of faith to justify greed and arrogance. This is why all faiths call believers to be self-critical.
There is never a time when a person of faith can rest comfortably with his or her beliefs, even when espoused by religious authorities.
Being faithful requires self-reflection. Too often self-reflection is use to solely indict personal behavior that we have been taught are shameful. Of course, there are things we ought to be ashamed about.
We ought to feel ashamed when we say something cruel or damaging!
We ought to feel ashamed when we take advantage of someone’s naïveté..
However, personal shame alone does not change individual behavior and often it just leaves one to self-loath.
The central question of faith is not whether we are individually guilty of misdeeds, but how well do we live collectively. Just recently scientist have agreed to stop doing testing on Chimpanzees, our first cousins. This was an outstanding move.
However, from a religious perspective more is required. Here’s the question, how are we treating the microscopic species? Aren’t we related and interdependent upon them too?
If we treat the most microscopic species with respect, how much more should we treat the individuals around us with dignity and justice?
Everyday I remind myself of the Anglican burial rite: “From ashes to ashes and from dust to dust based on the Torah’s (Genesis 3: 19) “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” These texts remind me I share with my kith and kin of the cosmos the fragility of living.
The key to our humanity, whether it is define through our faiths or non-beliefs, is that we live justly and treat all things great and small with loving respect.
Aretha Back On Top of the World! – This wasn’t supposed to be a milestone year in the Aretha Franklin annals. But 2011, which began shrouded in health mystery before blossoming into a rousing resurgence for Franklin, turned out to be just that. And today the iconic Detroit singer is bright and upbeat as she reflects on a year of physical slimming and emotional growth.
“It’s a kind of growth that just comes with time,” she said. “And I’ve felt really, really great.”
The public wasn’t sure it would get to this point: This time last year, Franklin’s global fan base held its breath as she underwent an undisclosed medical procedure that forced her out of view for months. With friends such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson jetting to her side, the Christmas season — Franklin’s favorite time of the year — took on a downcast tone.
This yuletide finds the singer in dramatically different spirits. Amid a steady schedule of public appearances, she’s been exercising, carving out time for quiet domestic life and enjoying an inner peace. That’s not just Franklin’s take: Friends and associates say the new vibe is unmistakable.
She came back roaring
You might say the Queen of Soul is back to being Aretha. When she hasn’t been gearing up for the holidays at home in Bloomfield Hills, Franklin has spent her month in New York, where she’s been “pounding Fifth Avenue, pounding Madison Avenue, all the little shops on the side streets, investigating all the out-of-the-way places,” she said. “I look for the mom-and-pop shops — the good cheeseburgers. I always try to discover a new place here, wherever the best aromas are coming from.”
Next year will bring her 70th birthday and a handful of key projects, including a likely reunion with music executive Clive Davis and work on her own label, Aretha’s Records, where she hopes to groom a new generation of classical singers.
Jacob Zuma addresses a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Umkhonto WeSizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, in Soweto last week.
Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, has become embroiled in a row over the impact of Christianity on African culture after reportedly blaming the religion for the breakdown of traditional communities.
Zuma said Christianity – introduced by European missionaries mainly in the 19th century – had destroyed the safety net for orphans, elderly people and the poor, according to South Africa’s Times newspaper.
The front-page report prompted criticism from church leaders but was described as “gravely misleading” by presidential aides, who claimed that Zuma had been referring to “western culture” and not singling out Christianity.
Speaking at the launch of a road safety and crime awareness campaign in his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma was quoted as saying: “As Africans, long before the arrival of religion and [the] gospel, we had our own ways of doing things.
“Those were times that the religious people refer to as dark days but we know that, during those times, there were no orphans or old-age homes. Christianity has brought along these things.”
Zuma is South Africa’s first Zulu president and a devout follower of tribal custom including polygamy: last year he married his third wife after paying lobola, or bride price, at a traditional ceremony featuring singing, dancing and the wearing of leopard skins.
But like many South Africans, he balances indigenous ancestor worship with the Christian God‚ or at least gives that impression publicly. Zuma was ordained as an honorary pastor at a meeting of independent charismatic churches in 2007 and has been linked to the influential Rhema church in Johannesburg. He once declared that the African National Congress (ANC) “will rule until Jesus comes” in South Africa.
The South African Council of Churches said it was “deeply disappointed” by his remarks this week. Reverend Mautji Pataki, the council’s general secretary, said: “We do not understand why the president, whom we have always counted as one amongst us Christians, would find the Christian faith to be so hopeless with regard to building humanity.”
Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic party, added: “Firstly, the president needs to be rebuked for hypocrisy because for him to blame Christianity when he knows churches were at the forefront of the struggle is disappointing, and he knows that what he said is not true, having claimed to be a Christian himself.
Art Spotlight: Errick Picardo – I was happy to attend the opening of a new gallery here in Grand Rapids last week. Epic Emporium was started by follow artist Errick Picardo and his wife after years of trying. I’ve known Errick for some years and he was my connection to the Latino community as he edited a local Hispanic newspaper. He spoke with me before his grand opening about his new venture and life.
By George Bayard III
GB: Glad to be here Errick. It’s been a long time coming. Tell us about your new gallery space.
EP: Epic Emporium is part of a dream I’ve carried with me since I came to the United States. Along with my wife we have and art gallery but also a multi-cultural place where people of different colors can work together on various art projects. By connecting with LINC and the GRPD we have provided classes for kids who can’t afford the Academy to create art which helps with the educational process.
GB: You mentioned that you came to the U.S. Where is your homeland? What is your background?
EP: I’m from the Dominican Republic originally. I’ve been living in the U.S. for 12 years going to New York first where my family is living. It was a time when I first tried to experiment by showing my work from the Caribbean there. When I arrived in Grand Rapids, one of the things I developed was the first Latin American art show in 2003 working with a group of Latino artists in town like Hugo Calderon who will be with us tonight and other artists who have moved away. By not only creating art, I fill a social role creating collaboration between local artists, not just Latino and also as a venue for music, dance and art. It’s a dream come true and we worked hard, now it’s open for everybody.
GB: I can honestly say, being a gallery owner myself, that this place will never be just a gallery. It will be a place for people to congregate at events, dialog, learn and enjoy. What gave you the idea to reach out to the larger community and make Epic Emporium cross-cultural?
EP: The world is turning toward diversity. You don’t see only one color now so a gathering place for artists of many different backgrounds is something special. I truly believe that by working together we can make some change in this area. As an artist, I have knocked on a lot of doors, many shut in my face but a few, like your gallery, was open to Hugo and me. I spoke little English when I got here; I struggled with the language so I went to school to improve and that was part of the process that will make us successful.
GB: You’re an artist also so tell me about your work and what’s on display tonight?
EP: Right now I’m in transition. I’ve been working on a type of expressionism, oil based on canvas, wood and different materials like recycled items to create a 3-dimentional piece of work. I’m at a point were I need to show that something is attacking my soul; something’s happening with me right now and the art is liberating what is ruining my whole physical body. The art work is turning in a really nice way.
GB: Tell me about tonight’s event. I see a shrine over here and the music and food are great.
EP: The title of today’s exhibition is Beyond the Myth we are also celebrating the Day of the Dead, a popular celebration around Latin America and in Mexico November 1. So we took a chance to embrace and create a platform with some artists who are showing a point of view about life beyond, after death. Some are religious, some more controversial but we are creating an ambiance that fosters a dialog between artists. The altar is one of the elements in the Day of the Death or Dia de los Muertos celebration. From the Mexican and Afro-Caribbean traditions you see drums, candles and special colors all meaning something in the celebration. When Europeans came to Central America, they brought there beliefs and African slaves which were all mixed with Catholicism which allowed Latino people a way to celebrate their own beliefs. It’s something we carry in our culture and is our intention to share it with the rest of the community.
GB: I agree, when our gallery was open, sharing African American culture was our primary focus. People of all races came to learn about African and African American art, books, music and culture. Will you be teaching here also?
EP: Yes, especially young people. They come from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela but they don’t know their culture. They are U.S. citizens but because of their environment or what is taught and not taught in schools, they lack information about their history and therefore can’t share it with others. We will take students of all kinds so they may learn art and about their culture.
GB: That’s great. Where do you see yourself in five years?
EP: I see kids working on a mural on the building. I see students we’ve trained teaching the younger ones. I see artists coming together with different projects. I see very colorful and fruitful things happening in this area. It’s a great opportunity.
GB: Man! The food smells good. Is your lovely wife involved with the feast?
EP: Yes we have traditional Mexican foods served throughout the Dia de los Muertos celebration. My wife, Yarixa, has a crew of volunteers helping her so that everyone will experience Latino culture tonight. She also manages the business side of our gallery and the marketing while I do all of the creative parts like curating, hanging art, and choosing artists.
GB: Do you have any advice for artists or young folks who want to follow this tradition?
EP: To keep this traditional stuff going, start here. This place will be a good platform to learn and create a new trend for the future. We will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo, and all of the Caribbean independence days with lots of cultural things attached so I encourage them to come and talk with us about building the future.
GB: Good luck Errick to you and your wife. Anything we can do to help just ask.
Epic Emporium is located in the LINC BUSINESS CENTER at 1258 Madison Ave. SE Suit B Grand Rapids, MI 616 818-7688
Monday Commentary: Keith Knight, K Chronicles, A Cartoonist You Should Know – Keith Knight is many things to many people–rapper, social activist, father and educator among them. He’s also one of the funniest and most highly regarded cartoonists in America, and the creator of three popular comic strips: the Knight Life, (th)ink, and the K Chronicles. For nearly two decades, this multi-award-winning artist has brought the funny back to the funny pages with a uniquely personal style that’s a cross between Calvin & Hobbes, MAD, and underground comix.
Keith Knight is part of a generation of African-American artists who were raised on hip-hop, and infuse their work with urgency, edge, humor, satire, politics and race. His art has appeared in various publications worldwide, including the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, Ebony, ESPN the Magazine, L.A. Weekly, MAD Magazine, and the Funny Times .
His comic musings on race have garnered accolades and stirred controversies, prompting CNN to tap him to grade America on its progress concerning issues of race.