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Privatizing the police would be a dangerous policy

Oct 5, 2017
Police
J J / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of legislation proposed that was, well, just plain nutty. Some was wrongheaded, some was outrageous, and generally the system took care of itself. There have also been things that became law that I profoundly disagreed with or which filled me with dismay. But I frankly cannot recall being really scared by any of it, until now.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof is pushing a plan to legalize a whole new class of private police forces, and if that isn’t immensely frightening, I think it should be.

Mark J. Hardy / Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Donald Trump doesn’t often make me laugh, but he did a week ago, when he announced his grand plan to change the tax system. We should all support it, he said, because it would finally end “the crushing, the horrible, the unfair estate tax, or, as it is often referred to, the death tax.”

Trump went on to explain how farmers and people with small businesses have to hold a “fire sale” after the owners die to pay “the death tax, a disaster for this country.”

Get rid of the registry

Oct 3, 2017

There’s nothing I can say about the tragedy in Las Vegas, except this: some version of that will happen in Michigan, probably sooner rather than later.

The politicians are either in the pay of the gun lobby fanatics or resigned to the fact that they can’t possibly overcome them, so nothing will change.

Nothing, that is, unless and until people somehow demand that democracy and sanity be restored. So far, they haven’t, and the senseless killing will go on.

How much is clean water worth?

Oct 2, 2017
Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Back in early summer I went to see Candice Miller, the former congresswoman who is now Macomb County Public Works Commissioner. She was mainly concerned with dealing with the now-famous sewer collapse that happened in Sterling Heights last Christmas.

Miller is far more conservative than I, but I’ve always admired her can-do, no-nonsense and pragmatic approach to government. She had thrown herself completely into her new job, and was discovering new things daily. Among them, she told me, was an apartment complex in Eastpointe that was illegally discharging all its sewage directly into Lake St. Clair.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

Drive just a few miles south of the Ohio border, and you’ll find yourself on a bridge over the Maumee River, which runs through downtown Toledo on its way to Lake Erie.

Right now, the river is an oddly beautiful emerald green, as if it had been dyed to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day six months early. Except it isn’t dye, it’s algae. The Maumee flows into Lake Erie, which has been hit with one of the largest algal blooms on record, one that stretches all the way to Canada, as well as for many miles west.

And any thoughts about how beautiful this all is are likely to be driven away the moment you encounter the horrible dank sewage smell, or notice the dying fish on the shoreline.

Back in August, Oprah Winfrey traveled to Grand Rapids to be a surprise moderator for a panel discussion. Various West Michiganders had signed up to be part of a focus group about the current state of American politics. Fourteen were chosen, seven who had voted for Donald Trump in November and seven who had voted for Hilary Clinton.

The resulting piece, entitled "Divided," aired on 60 Minutes last Sunday. If you haven't had the opportunity to see it, I highly encourage you to do so and draw your own conclusions. For me, it was reassuring. There were plenty of heated moments to be sure, but they were worked through. Differences of opinion were given thoughtful consideration, which then gave way to what appeared to be actual communication!

The FBI and NCAA

Sep 29, 2017

FBI undercover agents have been investigating college basketball for two years, and they found everything the NCAA has largely failed to find for decades: coaches paying top recruits through shoe companies. The investigation is ongoing, and the results are only now starting to roll out, so we still have more questions than answers. But we can already be certain of a few things.   

Assistant coaches at the University of Southern California, Arizona, Auburn, and Oklahoma State were arrested for corruption. Not questioned about potential cheating, the way the NCAA does it. Arrested.

Living Out Loud

Sep 28, 2017

My guess is that nobody has ever before compared Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Magazine and all that went with it, with Kristi Etue, the director of the Michigan State Police.

I’ve never met either. I cannot imagine Etue dressed in anything other than her blue uniform, or Hefner, who died yesterday, in anything other than a velvet bathrobe.

A Michigan State Police file photo.
Michigan State Police

The director of the Michigan State Police has apologized for sharing a Facebook post that called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem "degenerates."

The Michigan Black Legislative Caucus is demanding that Governor Snyder fire Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue. The black lawmakers say they're "appalled" by the post.

But Governor Snyder says he will not ask Col. Etue to resign, citing her decades of public service.

Buying your government

Sep 27, 2017
The U.S. Capitol
user kulshrax / creative commons

Years ago, someone asked if I knew the difference between a legislator and members of a certain disreputable occupation. The answer was that when men gave women in the other group money, it was clear they expected something for it.

Lawmakers and lobbyists aren’t always so honest. Bribing or attempting to bribe a lawmaker is illegal. But it is perfectly legal for a lobbyist, say, for an energy group, to spend lavishly on a key lawmaker, buying her or him expensive meals and paying for their travel to “conferences.” In such cases, it is perfectly clear what those contributing the money want.

wrecked car
Robbie Howell / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard of DeWitt don’t appear to have much in common. My guess is that their ballots totally cancel each other out in every election.

But they are together today on something: a plan to drastically cut auto insurance rates statewide, something especially relevant in Detroit.

I had breakfast the other day with Marti Robinson, who was a highly respected trial attorney in Detroit before President Obama appointed her to the Consumer Product Safety Commission four years ago, for a term that expires next month.

Democrats still have a three-to-two majority on that commission, and once she leaves, she is certain to be replaced by a Republican. And she is very, very worried about what that will mean – and not just from a conventional partisan standpoint.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Heard about America’s new parlor game? Global corporations are playing regions and taxpayers off one another to land the richest deal. And Michigan is in the game. So far, anyway.

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation obligating his state’s taxpayers to pay Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology a cool $2.85 billion in cash. That’s billion with a “B.”

What for? To offset its payroll and capital costs to set up shop in the southeast corner of that state.

Snyder’s baffling switch on healthcare

Sep 22, 2017

Governor Rick Snyder has done two remarkably positive things for Michigan in his nearly seven years in office, both in his first term. First, he found a way to get around a legislature corrupted by campaign donations and make a deal for a new Detroit River bridge.

Granted, the Gordie Howe International Bridge has yet to be built, but it now seems all but certain it will be. That’s something crucially important for the long-term economy of this state and region. But the immediately worthwhile thing Snyder did was narrowly succeed in pushing the legislature to accept Medicaid expansion four years ago.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

A few years ago, an episode of the TV sitcom "Parks and Recreation" featured a character named Congressman Dave Murray. He was a handsome, congenial politician who would perform perfectly everything his handlers asked of him — without question and without controversy.

Even better, when he wasn't shaking hands or talking into a camera, he'd go off into a room and sit staring off into the distance waiting for his next assignment. The regular characters (who were from the Midwest) were aghast. But the congressman's Washington DC advisors didn't care if he might in fact be a robot; he was the perfect political candidate. I thought it was a brilliant piece of political satire.

Candidates without voters in Michigan races

Sep 21, 2017
people in voting booths
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

When you’ve paid attention to politics for a long time, you gradually begin to think you’ve seen it all, or at least some of us did before the rise of Donald Trump.

But one thing we’ve never seen before is so many candidates running so hard for attorney general and secretary of state more than a year before the election.

State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker launched a video promoting her candidacy for the Republican nomination for attorney general this week, and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard is expected to run as well. On the Democratic side, lawyer Dana Nessel, hero of Michigan’s same-sex marriage and adoption case, was first to announce for attorney general.

Politicians just want to be elected

Sep 20, 2017
Jack Lessenbery
Michigan Radio

Recently, I said in passing that I had never run for any office, and later I realized this was not strictly true. I have twice been elected to the board of the prestigious Historical Society of Michigan, and am now its president. However, I don’t get any salary, have no real power, and my stunning electoral triumph was due to the fact that I ran unopposed.

I can also promise that if I get defeated for reelection, I will not immediately begin running for the presidency of the American Shetland Pony Association, largely because I know close to nothing about little horses. That might, I hope, strike you as sensible.

What we still owe our Vietnam veterans

Sep 19, 2017
Four soldiers sit at a table in South Vietnam, 1972
Manhhai / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

There’s been a fair amount of excitement over Ken Burns’ new documentary series, this one an 18-hour blockbuster on the Vietnam War.

Burns, who grew up in Ann Arbor, long ago became America’s tribal storyteller, the man who helps us find out who we are, whether the topic is jazz or baseball or the Civil War.

Today's legislators don't seem to care

Sep 18, 2017
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

I’ve been talking to legislators and congressmen for a long time, and know something about lawmakers in the past as well. There are some ways in which I think today’s lot are generally better. For example, they are better educated and drink less. More of them are women, and I think there are far fewer on the take.

But there’s also something very wrong with our legislature today, something that often makes me think we would be better off with the old boozing and occasionally brawling pols, some of whom were still around when I was a young reporter.

Just shut Line 5 down

Sep 15, 2017
Screen showing Line 5 on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Earlier this week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette officially confirmed what everybody knew: He is running for governor, or more exactly, for the Republican nomination next year.

When he made his announcement, he said a version of what all politicians say; he is doing this, not for himself, but for the people, for all of us. Well, I know a good way he can start to prove that to us and help his candidacy at the same time:

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

The cartoon wasn't necessarily meant as an indictment of Michigan (although our embarrassing weaknesses in education and public transportation will likely prevent us from winning the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes). It was meant as an indictment of the United States as a whole.

Now, before I end up in a stump speech for some publicity-grubbing pop star running (or not running) for Senate, let me say some nice things about America. America is great. America has vast resources. America is very wealthy. America has lots of talent.

Detroit needs to embrace the metropolitan dream

Sep 14, 2017
Photograph of Downtown Detroit
Ifmuth / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Toledo, Ohio isn’t in Michigan, but should be. I’m not just saying this because of the famous and farcical 1835 Toledo “War,” that ended up establishing that the city belonged to Ohio, with Michigan getting the western Upper Peninsula as compensation.

More to the point is that the Toledo economy is essentially the Metropolitan Detroit manufacturing economy. Like the Motor City, Toledo has slowly declined as auto jobs waned. The decline has been slower, however, as has the demographic change.

Schuette begins a campaign he's been running for months

Sep 13, 2017
Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette / Facebook.com

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who actually has been running for governor forever, made it official yesterday, at a barbecue in his hometown of Midland. It wasn’t exactly a grass-roots rally; those who went were supposed to donate a minimum of $50 to the campaign.

If you were willing to give $500, you could be designated a “grill master,” and for a thousand dollars, an “on duty” donor. That may have been a slight error in branding; I think being grill master sounds better. But Schuette hasn’t made many errors in this campaign – though, as he himself noted, his party faces an uphill battle.

Is Congress broken?

Sep 12, 2017
Trott for Congress

Three years ago, David Trott, a lawyer and a multi-millionaire player in the mortgage business, decided to run for Congress. He spent at least three and a half million dollars of his own money to win a seat representing a group of mostly middle-class, mostly white Detroit suburbs.

Amazon to Detroit? Probably not

Sep 11, 2017
Amazon
User soumit / flickr.com

Amazon, the huge online retailer that sells everything from cookbooks to caskets, plans to build a second huge headquarters somewhere in America, and Detroit wants it -- badly.

Sandy Baruah, the CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, is part of a team fighting to lure Amazon to the Motor City. Dan Gilbert, who for years has been buying up vast amounts of Detroit real estate, says he's also put together a second team to woo them.

Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley wrote that this could mean “the arrival of a company that could bring 50,000 jobs and a whole lot of hope to the Motor City.”

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Don’t let the opening days of another school year, or another Michigan win at the Big House, fool you: public education in this state is in steep decline.

Out of the 50 states, Michigan ranks 37th in eighth-grade math and 41st in fourth-grade reading, says the nonpartisan Public Sector Consultants. Strip out the state’s lowest-income students, and fourth-grade reading slips to 48th.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

If you've read the cartoon, you've already seen enough of my words. So I only have three quick observations to add here:

Nuclear Fears

Sep 8, 2017
Jack Lessenbery
Michigan Radio

When I was in elementary school a national magazine did an article on what would happen if a hydrogen bomb were dropped on Detroit. I don’t remember all the details, except that windows would have been broken in Lansing, and where I lived would have been melted glass. This was back in the early 1960s, when we were still tucking ourselves under our desks in that famous “duck and cover” air raid drill.

I wasn’t terribly sophisticated, but I was smart enough to figure out that squatting under a Formica desk wasn’t likely to save anyone. After the Cuban missile crisis, I read portions of a book I was probably too young for, Herman Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War.

Baffled over Canada's bridge decision

Sep 7, 2017
Ambassador Bridge
J. Stephen Conn / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCl0

No matter how bizarre your fantasies, reality is sometimes crazier. Nobody could have written a script for what’s happened in national politics.

Nobody ever thought we’d be in some kind of nuclear standoff with North Korea. And few if any expected the Canadian government would ever grant Matty Moroun permission to build a new bridge next to his old Ambassador Bridge.

Another Immigrant Story

Sep 6, 2017
Jack Lessenbery
Michigan Radio

As you almost certainly know, President Donald Trump said yesterday that his administration would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Currently, the DACA program is allowing something like 800,000 young, undocumented Americans, people brought to this country as children, to stay here without fear of deportation.

Trump gave Congress six months to “fix” the program, but it isn’t clear what he will do if they don’t. Campaigning for the midterm elections will be underway six months from now, and there are certain to be some embattled GOP incumbents who don’t want the president to do anything that might further jeopardize them.

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