Late last week, I heard something disturbing from multiple sources.

They told me that Kary Moss, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan, and some corporate leaders, had met with Governor Rick Snyder and asked him not to support a ballot drive to win constitutional civil protections for gay and transgendered people.

When I asked her, Moss denied this. She said they had instead met with him to discuss, “the role that the business community can play in continuing to support his public commitment to this issue as well as keeping this issue in front of legislators, educating them in particular about the trans(gender) issue.”

Sarah Hulett/Michigan Radio

The Next Idea

There are a handful of things we in Michigan are proud of and value about ourselves and our state.  We work hard. We make things. We love our Great Lakes and outdoors.  We are proud of our education institutions and what they represent.

We want to be proud again of our Michigan communities as great places to live, work and raise a family. In order to get there, however, we have a big problem that must first be fixed. Many of our communities, particularly our older core cities and suburbs, are literally falling apart, with no way to pay for their rebuilding.

Tomorrow most of us will get together with family or friends, or both, and celebrate Thanksgiving.

Yes, I know the holiday’s origins are suspect, and there’s lots of cynical stuff out there to the effect that if the Native Americans had known how all this would turn out, they might have buried axes in the colonists’ heads.

Be that as it may, most of us do have a lot to give thanks for. If you’ve ever been to Haiti, or the slums of Peru, as I have, you know what I mean. I spend a fair amount of time criticizing our officials for stupid, selfish, or wrongheaded behavior.

This should be a holiday of thanksgiving indeed for the United Auto Workers union. It successfully negotiated contracts this fall that give its members big raises and bonuses.

The Tier II workers who have been working at a lesser pay schedule now have a clear path to parity with the longtime workers. Workers are also getting large “signing bonuses” that may pump nearly $3 billion into the Michigan economy just in time for Christmas.

Congressman John Conyers is kicking off his reelection campaign today with two major rallies in his district planned in Detroit and the blue-collar suburb of Redford.

The election is almost a year away, and he is unlikely to have any significant primary opposition, but he may be announcing early, in case anyone gets any ideas. He has had challenges in the past, from ambitious younger people who thought he was too old, too erratic, and too out of touch.

But he’s always crushed them like bugs.

Nearly half a century ago, a young lawyer started grabbing headlines in Oakland County, then across the state.

His name was L. Brooks Patterson, and he was the attorney for NAG, an anti-busing group in Pontiac.

They were, essentially, parents who did not want their kids sent to other districts to go to school with black children.

I went to Michigan State University last night to see former President Bill Clinton, who was the keynote speaker at a new annual event, the Jim Blanchard Public Service Forum.

Clinton’s hair is silver these days. He’s thinner than you may remember. He is vibrant, but no longer looks much younger than he is, but he still has it. 

His personality still fills a room, and he has that priceless gift of making whomever he is talking to feel as if, for those few moments, he or she is the only person on the planet.

There was a report on Michigan Radio’s Stateside program two days ago that revealed that while nine out of 10 of us want to have an end-of-life conversation with their doctors, only about one-sixth of us have actually done so.

That didn’t surprise me.

Soon after the terrorist attacks on September 11, there was a story in the Boston Globe saying that some of the hijackers had entered this country from Canada.

Instantly, there were calls for a crackdown on security along what we had been proud to say was the world’s longest unguarded border. 

Suddenly, it was no longer practical for people who worked in Detroit to pop over the river for a quick lunch or dinner in one of Windsor’s superb restaurants. Fourteen years later, things still haven’t returned to normal.

Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

The 21st century software industry owes a lot to a certain 18th century inventor.

Open source innovation is a phrase we tend to associate with post-millennial creativity, but it’s actually a 300-year-old idea. Benjamin Franklin famously did not patent his lighting rod, his bifocals, his stove, and many other of his inventions because he thought that these ideas were simply too important not to share.

This is the same mindset behind today’s open source movement: unrestricted access to designs, products, and ideas to be used by an unlimited number of people in a variety of sectors for diverse purposes.

Governor Rick Snyder bowed to pressure yesterday and made a decision that was politically easy.

He reversed his earlier courageous stand and announced that Syrian refugees are no longer welcome in Michigan.

Here's what he said:

"Our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents. Given the terrible situation in Paris, I’ve directed that we put on hold our efforts to accept new refugees until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of its security clearances and procedures.”

What the governor did was exactly what ISIS would want.

The last time Michigan voted for a Bush for President, the Berlin Wall was still up, nobody in these parts had ever heard of a twenty-something Barack Obama, few imagined the Soviet Union would ever disappear, and the World Wide Web had yet to be invented.

Since then, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s father and brother have been the Republican nominees for president three times, and Michigan voters each time said no.

Jeb Bush wants to turn that around this year. Yesterday, he arrived in Grand Rapids in an effort to kick-start his sputtering national campaign.

Today, auto workers at Ford will begin voting on a new three-year contract negotiated by the United Auto Workers union, a process that will take almost a week.

The settlement is exceptionally rich by contrast with the last couple of agreements, negotiated when the automakers were on the ropes or just barely recovering from the near-death experience that ended in bankruptcy for Chrysler and General Motors.

Election night last year was not a good one for Michigan Democrats.

They lost ground in both houses of the Legislature, which the Republicans already controlled. They lost the governor’s race, despite a weak re-election campaign on the part of Rick Snyder.

But in races for education boards – the state board and the elected trustees of Michigan’s three major universities, it was a terrible night for Republicans.

Yesterday, the Center for Public Integrity, the highly respected nonpartisan watchdog organization, released a long-awaited report on government integrity in all fifty states.

Not surprisingly, most states stink. In Idaho, a lobbyist who represented a company that makes betting machines tried to get the state legislature to buy them to revive the potato state’s economy.

Nor did he tell lawmakers he represented that company. He was exposed, but no worries; what he did was perfectly legal.

For the last three years, Governor Rick Snyder has been fighting to try to get the legislature to come up with the money to repair Michigan’s disgracefully bad roads and bridges.

The governor, like most of us, thought better roads were essential. The legislature agreed in principle, but for years, has been unwilling to pass the new taxes needed to fix the roads.

I was thinking yesterday that I ought to apply for the job of general manager of the Detroit Lions. Now, it is true that I don’t know anything about football, and have no background whatsoever in the sport. And actually, I don’t like football.

But I’ve had some minor success at other things – I’ve been told I’m a fairly bright guy. I know how to write and teach and run my mouth, and so I was thinking – I could do this.

I heard from several puzzled people yesterday, after Governor Rick Snyder proclaimed he would sign the road fund package the legislature narrowly passed on election night.

“I don’t get it,” one man said. “I thought the governor said that cutting the general fund by $600 million a year was too much.” Well, yes, he did say that.

A similar road funding approach fell apart barely two months ago, because the governor said he couldn’t support cuts that deep. Snyder’s press secretary, Sara Wurfel, said he was worried about “jeopardizing the state’s financial stability and comeback.”

flickr user Jim Sorbie / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

As The Next Idea continues to explore innovation in Michigan, it’s clear that amidst the new technology and new breakthroughs, some concepts stand the test of time.

One such concept was summed up by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods."

That was the key to the success of Michigan inventor, businessman and innovator Webster Marble.

minute with mike logo
Vic Reyes

As we move through the early 21st century, technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds. That got Stateside producer Mike Blank to wonder: Just when does formerly cutting edge technology become obsolete?

Unless you’ve been blessed enough to never have had to ride in or drive a car, you know the sound of the tried and true blinker.

Flickr/opensource.com / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea 

At the heart of every great innovation is a great compromise: In order to start something new, we have to stop something old. Think of it as a deal you make with yourself — the things you’ll give up in order to make room for future growth.

Imagine someone’s garage so full of old scrap that there’s no room for the new car. How can businesses better incentivize taking out the trash?

Peter Lucido, a Republican from Macomb County, and Jeff Irwin, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, are both members of the Michigan House of Representatives.

But otherwise, they don’t have much in common. Lucido is a conservative Republican. Irwin, a liberal Democrat. Irwin is in his last term; Lucido in his first.

They line up on opposite sides on virtually any divisive issue. Except one. 

Courtesy of Our Kitchen Table

The Next Idea

School gardens seem like a great idea. Teachers get to reinforce key concepts in science and math, students get hands-on experiences with healthy food, and everyone gets to eat homegrown snacks at the end of a few months. Sounds good, right? Wrong.

In fact, most school gardens fail. They might look good at first. But without constant attention from parents, students, and community members, the plants wither, the weeds sprout, and the garden goes from an optimistic symbol of health to an ugly eyesore right in front of the school. 

The League of Women Voters has been holding a series of forums on redistricting reform. Everyone who has studied the issue and has any sense of fairness knows that our present system of gerrymandering has badly crippled democracy in this state.

Peoples are frustrated, angry, disillusioned, and less and less likely to vote, because they think their votes don’t matter and nothing they can do will have any effect.

Have you ever heard of a “Rube Goldberg machine?” Goldberg was an editorial cartoonist and crazy parody inventor who specialized in ridiculous contraptions.

For example, he had a self-operating napkin with about twenty moving parts that relied on a parrot, a skyrocket and a chain reaction to set off an explosion causing a machine to wipe your chin

The dictionary definition of a Rube Goldberg machine is “an apparatus deliberately over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion.”

Over the years I’ve spoken to a lot of Eastern Europeans, who are in love with freedom, capitalism, and the free enterprise system.

They remember what life was like under Soviet-style Communism, and think being able to own one’s own business is the greatest thing there is. However, they do recognize that you do need a thriving, healthy public sector of the economy.

Faisal Akram/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

After years of winning national competitions, and years of praise in major publications, there's no longer any question that Michigan does indeed make some of the finest white wines in the country.

If we've struggled anywhere, it's been with Michigan's red wines.

Turning to "Paradise" for equitable growth in Detroit

Oct 26, 2015
Flickr/Knight Foundation / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

In the first half of the 20th Century, two areas on the northeast side of Detroit’s central business district teemed with African American residents, retail businesses and entertainment venues.

Everybody hates clichés, but they persist for a reason: There’s often a lot of truth in them. Such as this one: When in a hole, the best thing you can do is stop digging.

When something is broken beyond repair, it is a waste of time to try to fix it. The institution that made me think of this is the EAA, Governor Snyder’s Education Achievement Authority, designed to fix the worst Detroit schools.

Well, the weekend is almost here, and here’s a radical idea to consider between football games. I think the time has come to get rid of charter schools.

That’s right – get rid of them, all of them. Many or most of them don’t work, and all of them are draining resources from our conventional public schools and helping further destabilize education.