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Opinion

You might say the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy is the one think tank liberals and progressives most like to hate. Indeed, I heard someone say a few years ago that it was home to some of the finest minds of the 14th century. That’s not completely fair.

They produced a useful report this spring detailing how some of our complex and unnecessary state and local licensing laws are hurting the economy.

On June 1st, I talked about Gretchen Whitmer, the former state Senate minority leader and now the leading candidate for next year’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

During an interview during last week’s Mackinac Policy Conference, Whitmer told me that when you look at all the candidates, “I’m the one that looks most like John Engler.”

There’s a legend that Secretary of State Dean Rusk summed up what happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis by saying, “We were eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

Well, things were considerably more complicated than that.

But right now the governor and the legislature are eyeball to eyeball over the future of teacher pensions in this state, and it isn’t clear who’ll be blinking.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The party’s over on Mackinac Island.

If that’s what you insist on calling the Detroit Chamber’s annual policy conference on this island frozen in time — complete with its high-end hotel prices and tony wine bars. The only thing that moves fast here are the cash registers and welling nostalgia.

That’s a problem. Michigan and its largest city do their best work in a crisis. But as 1,700 or so of the state’s business movers and political shakers descended on the Grand Hotel this past week, there is no real crisis to rally the collective mind.

Detroit skyline in 1930.
Courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society

Earlier this week, I said words to the effect that I didn’t think many of those attending the annual Mackinac Policy Conference were doing much to relate to the average citizen.

Largely, I think I was right.

Auchter's Art: Slashing Budgets
JOHN AUCHTER / AUCHTOON.COM

My wife and I have a Japanese maple we planted several years ago in our yard. It's been a nice little tree — generally healthy, somewhat sturdy (our cats like to climb to the top and pretend they're vultures), but it's never really grown. 

Patrick Nouhailler / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Michigan spent the 20th century making itself the center of the auto industry.But it's crystal clear Silicon Valley wants that crown for the 21st century.

That warning is being sounded at the Mackinac Policy Conference this week.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes says economic and business leaders on Mackinac Island this week realize that competition from Silicon Valley isn't going anywhere, and will force business leaders in Michigan to move quicker when it comes to participating in the evolving mobility industry and innovation.

Gretchen Whitmer, currently the leading Democratic candidate for governor, told me something yesterday at the Mackinac Policy Conference that caught me by surprise: “You know, when you look at all of the candidates in the race, I’m the one that looks most like John Engler.”

H.L. Mencken, the great early 20th century journalist, was a militant atheist, so I don’t suppose there’s any chance his shade is flitting around Mackinac Island this week.

But if it was, it would have been laughing at Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley’s grand announcement yesterday that he would lead a campaign to give us a part-time legislature. That instantly reminded me of Mencken’s famous observation that “for every human problem there is a solution that is neat, plausible - and wrong.”

The Mackinac Policy Conference kicks off today.
David Ball / creative commons

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference begins today; I’ll be there, though so far, it doesn’t look like the most momentous conference they’ve ever had.

There will be a few national speakers worth hearing, including historian Michael Beschloss and journalist and author Walter Isaacson.

Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan will give keynote addresses, and there will be panels on politics, and on things like “Michigan’s Digital Future.”

Steve Shotwell / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Nine years after Ford Motor recruited an outsider to save it from itself, the automaker’s doing it again.

This time, the savior is more familiar. It’s Jim Hackett. He's the guy who wooed Jim Harbaugh back to the Michigan sidelines once prowled by the legendary Bo Schembechler. Harbaugh says Hackett’s all about teamwork, about making the team better, and the football coach says the new Ford CEO is, quote, “tougher than a two-dollar steak.”

John F. Kennedy
By Cecil (Cecil William) Stoughton / US National Archives/Wikimedia Commons

The other night I had dinner with former State Senator John Kelly, who has a law degree and a doctorate and served his country in the JAG, or Judge Advocate General Corps. He told me once about the moment he decided to go into public service.

It was the day before his eleventh birthday at the Michigan State Fair in Detroit on Labor Day in 1960, and he was sitting on his father’s shoulders. He reached out for the hand of the big man with the shock of reddish-brown hair. “My initials are JFK!” he said.

“Well, then, you’ll go into politics too,” John F. Kennedy told him.

JOHN AUCHTER / AUCHTOON.COM

Freedom is essential for a happy life and true success. I don't think most would argue with that. But like most good things, freedom can be appropriated for self-serving purposes.

Drowning in manure

May 25, 2017
Free Use Photos / Flickr, http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

I want to warn you that today, I’m going to be talking about poop. Specifically, more than 3.3 billion gallons of it a year, all of it produced in Michigan by what are euphemistically called “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” or CAFOs.

Many of us call them “Factory Farms” instead. They are places where animals are crowded in what are anything but humane conditions to be fattened as quickly as possible for slaughter, or if they are cows, drained of their milk.

But beyond animal cruelty, what I’m concerned about is our drinking water. Three years ago, toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie left the water unsafe to drink for a few days.

We have an education crisis in this state; in case you haven’t noticed, Michigan is having trouble recruiting enough teachers, especially good teachers, especially in our larger cities.

That’s not surprising.

Teaching elementary and high school students is difficult and draining, if done right. You are chained to the academic calendar –no fall vacations or long weekends. Teaching involves a lot of work on nights and weekends.

Twenty years ago, when I was covering Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s assisted suicide crusade, I came to know a retired Detroit policeman named Ray Good, whose wife Janet was a Kevorkian ally.

Good was present at his own moment in history, when he was the first police lieutenant on the scene at 12th Street and Clairmount in the wee hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967.

When we talk about our elected leaders, we usually act as if they did it all by themselves. We only tend to notice their assistants if they start slipping, or show signs of clumsiness.

Whatever your politics, the fact that Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway have been so savaged in the press is a clear indication that they, and their boss, are failing to do their jobs.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Another week in the Motor City and you get buyouts at Ford Motor and news of General Motors bolting yet two more foreign markets. What’s going on here?

Simple: this ain’t your father’s auto industry anymore.

These are pillars of the American industrial economy. They're companies worth rescuing with taxpayer money and the biggest home improvement loan ever. And they're vying for relevance.

Six years ago, the superintendent of a small and struggling school district in Gratiot County wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to Governor Rick Snyder asking that his school be declared a prison. 

John Auchter / Auchtoon.com

My inner dialogue for this week's cartoon —

Rational Me (RE): Let's please do something without Donald Trump in it. There's just so much going on with him right now, our cartoon might just get lost in the news swirl.

Emotional Me (EM): Absolutely. I'm on overload with that <redacted> and besides drawing him kinda make us queasy.

Shelly Provost / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Yesterday, a graduate student came to visit me who had never really seen Detroit before. So, I gave her a little mini-tour of the booming downtown and midtown areas.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

I spent an hour the other morning with a newcomer on the political scene, one of the most brilliant and charismatic candidates I’ve ever met.

Let’s imagine for a moment that his name is Andy Smith. Make Andy the son of completely legal immigrants who enthusiastically embraced everything American. As a boy, he went to one of the best public high schools in Michigan, where he was the captain of the football, the wrestling and lacrosse teams, and then played lacrosse in college.

money
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

What do you think is the biggest category of consumer debt in this nation, apart from home mortgage loans? Car loans? Medical bills?

Not even close. It is student loan debt, now nearly $1.5 trillion dollars, and getting bigger by the day. The average undergrad leaves school, degree or no degree, owing $35,000. 

Tony Nova / Tony Nova

Tommy Brann, a freshman state representative from Wyoming, a West Michigan town near Grand Rapids, isn’t someone who puts on airs. He’s passionate about public service and proud to be part of the legislature, but still thinks of himself as “Tommy the Restaurant Guy.”

M-1 RAIL / Facebook

Sixty one years after General Motors buses replaced Detroit’s streetcars, they’re back.

The QLine fleet started rolling along Woodward yesterday, tracing a 6.6-mile round trip that is the next step forward in the reinvention of Detroit. As signs go, it’s about as positive as you can get for the downtown a lot of Detroiters — in the city and in the suburbs — long ago gave up for dead.

Here’s a little secret about our profession journalists don’t like to admit. To an extent, we are sort of the stenographers of society.

We may not accept everything at face value, but we cluster around established institutions to look for stories. We get a lot of them, but we miss things too.

Auchter's Art: Benefits Race to the Bottom
JOHN AUCHTER / AUCHTOON.COM

Ugh! This again! So earlier this week the story broke that Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard were making cuts to teacher retirement benefits a top priority in the state budget. Specifically, they want to transfer what is now a state-backed pension into a 401k plan for new hires.

Planned Parenthood of Michigan

If you listen to the rhetoric about Planned Parenthood from Republican congressmen and legislators, you might think it is the world’s biggest abortion mill.

It’s not. Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization that primarily provides contraception, pregnancy and disease testing, and has long gotten federal and state aid for providing what are essentially public health services.

Library of Congress

Twenty-two years ago, I sat in President Gerald Ford’s home in California for an hour-long interview about his presidency. Twenty-two years before that, he had been nominated, but not yet confirmed as vice president, when the infamous events known as the Saturday Night Massacre took place. That was when Richard Nixon ordered the firing of a special prosecutor assigned to investigate Watergate. The attorney general and his deputy refused, and resigned.

Congressman Dan Kildee of Flint has decided that he will not, after all, run for the Democratic nomination for governor next year. Sources close to the congressman told me last night that he had been wavering until last week, when House Republicans rammed through a health care bill that few understood and which made Democrats extremely mad.

Kildee, who has told me he loves Congress, had an epiphany then that his work was to stay in the House, where he has a safe seat, and fight for what is right for the nation.

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