Opinion

The Next Idea

When most people think of university researchers, they think of scientists. They imagine people wearing white coats and plastic goggles, conducting experiments in a lab or making observations in the field, often working with a team of colleagues and students. Eventually, the results of that research might go into producing new computer technologies, performing life-saving medical treatments, or passing informed environmental policy.

For years, there has been a huge contrast in this state between election outcomes on the state as opposed to the federal level. Republicans haven’t carried Michigan for a presidential nominee since before the Berlin Wall came down.

They have won only a single U.S. Senate race in the last 44 years. But they dominate every branch of state government.

If this were the nineteenth century, people would compare life in Flint to the troubles of Job, the Old Testament hero who God allows to be tortured by the devil to test his faith.

We don’t use Biblical allusions as much as we used to, but there’s no question that for Flint, the agony just keeps increasing. Actually, it’s more correct to say that we keep discovering more about what’s been happening.

Flash back to Friday, June 24, 1972. President Richard Nixon goes on national television to apologize to the nation for the break-in and attempted bugging at the Democratic National Headquarters a week before.

“I had no knowledge of this in advance, and am totally appalled that people working for me would do such a thing,” he said. 

Well, the governor is finally paying attention to the water scandal in Flint, and there seems to be general recognition that the state really screwed up. Even Rick Snyder said as much yesterday, though in convoluted language.

Children were poisoned because of actions taken by state government, and finally, belatedly, there’s an effort to do something about it.

But children are being irreversibly harmed in Detroit, too, and we’re not willing to do anything about it. I’m talking about the more than forty thousand kids who are still enrolled in the Detroit Public Schools. This time, this is not the governor’s fault.

First-ever Michigan Design Prize now taking entries

Jan 11, 2016
Jennifer Guerra/Michigan Radio

The Next Idea

At more than 4,000 strong, Michigan has the highest concentration of industrial designers in the nation.

Yet few people know about it unless you live here, says Jeff DeBoer, chair of the Michigan Design Council and a principal at Sundberg-Ferar, a Michigan design firm.

Founded early last year, the Michigan Design Council has been tasked with a mission to change all that.

 

If you read either of the Detroit papers, you’ll find them filled all week with coverage of what is officially called the North American International Auto Show.

Some old-time Detroiters still call it what it used to be: The Detroit Auto Show. It’s been going on every year for more than a century, with one long timeout during and after the Second World War.  Back in the early days it was held in a city park at a place named Beller’s Beer Garden, which seems charming and appropriate.

This has been an intense first week of the year in Michigan politics, with Governor Snyder signing deeply controversial bills, the Flint water crisis, and renewed concern over the impending financial collapse of the Detroit Public Schools.

Where do the truly great innovations lie?

Jan 7, 2016
https://www.flickr.com/photos/phm_sinan/1364979311

The Next Idea

Cool, shiny, sleek:  These are the qualities we associate with top-shelf innovations.

That’s because we’re constantly confronted with magazine and Internet lists of the most innovative companies that are essentially just beauty contests. At the top of all these shimmering lists are blustery bands and glitzy gadgets and chic designers.

There were a lot of people – some of them Republicans -- who were shocked yesterday afternoon when Governor Rick Snyder signed a bitterly controversial campaign finance bill.

Many insiders expected he would veto it. In fact, The Detroit News, whose editorial page is sort of a house organ for the Republican Party, urged a veto.

Yesterday was not a good day for Governor Rick Snyder.

First, he signed the bill outlawing straight-ticket voting. There was never any real doubt he would do this.

Those in politics were surprised he didn’t sign it between Christmas and the new year, when most people are paying little attention. 

President Obama yesterday announced a series of executive orders aimed at enforcing existing laws and lowering the death rate. You might think that was common sense policy.


Steady decline in wetlands endangers Great Lakes

Jan 4, 2016
Flickr/barbaragaillewis / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

In Michigan and across the country, wetlands are known as marshes, swamps, bogs, fens and pocosins.

They are also known as threatened.

A recent study by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which used data collected by our (Ducks Unlimited) mapping experts, points to staggering losses.

Well, Happy New Year. I like to catch up on movies during the holidays, and the first one I saw this season was Spotlight, the film about how The Boston Globe exposed the Roman Catholic Church’s sex scandal 14 years ago.

Dozens of journalists I know raved about the movie, and they weren’t exaggerating. Spotlight is clearly the most important film about journalism since All The President’s Men 40 years ago. Like that film, it is largely a documentary with Hollywood stars reenacting the roles played by actual, less photogenic journalists.

The Way it Was

Dec 23, 2015

Well, the holidays are upon us, and my guess is that you may need some last minute present and that you also might be guilty of reading books, even when you don’t have to.

So I want to tell you about the best book I’ve read this year, one you can easily find at any bookstore: David Maraniss’s Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story, published by Simon and Schuster. Maraniss is a Pulitzer-Prize winning Washington Post writer.

Ten years ago, George Clooney starred in and directed the most socially significant film he’s ever done. Good Night and Good Luck was about the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow and his confrontation with Senator Joe McCarthy, the demagogue who ruined lives and careers by recklessly accusing people of being Communists.


I have a little bit of good news to start the week. The United States managed, barely, to avoid crippling sanctions that would have cost Michigan farmers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years.

Several years ago, Congress passed a law that required “country of origin labeling,” known as COOL, for all meat products, no matter where they were from.

Well, we are ending the last full week before Christmas with two pieces of good news: The biggest is that Washington approved a waiver that will enable six hundred thousand relatively poor people in Michigan to continue to get medical coverage under the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion program.

We barely managed to qualify for this program two years ago after the legislature was dragged kicking and screaming to approve it, even though virtually all the costs are borne by the federal government.

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

The Next Idea

It’s that time of year to reflect on what worked and what didn’t this past year here in the Great Lakes State, and to give due consideration to potential adjustments to improve our situation.  

Considering the essays and interviews of our guests here at The Next Idea, other credible news sources, and adding some of my own observations, I see three general areas for innovation to consider for review:

On April 25, 2014, Flint officials toasted each other as they flipped the switch to the Flint River.
WNEM-TV

I don’t blame the governor’s press secretary for not understanding exactly who made the decision to have Flint pump its drinking water from the Flint River. It was a complicated decision making process with multiple key players that lasted at least a few months.

Back in the spring of 2013, when this decision was made, Governor Rick Snyder’s press secretary, Dave Murray, was one of “us”; a journalist working for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive.

Once upon a time, newspapers and even TV stations in this state devoted intensive resources to covering Lansing. That wasn’t because nobody had heard of the Kardashians; it was because news organizations back then realized that when it comes to affecting our lives, state government really is the most important.

Federal money is passed down through the states, and the states make rules for what local governments can do. Back in the 1980s, at least one Detroit TV station had a full-time Lansing bureau, and for a time the Detroit News had thirteen reporters in Lansing.

You expect politicians to do things to give their side partisan advantage, up to a point. Democrats would certainly draw congressional and legislative district boundaries to help them win more seats, if they had a chance. That’s how the game is played.

But this year, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and his disciple, Senate Elections Chair Dave Robertson, have been shockingly open in not only their drive to make it harder to vote, but in showing utter contempt for the will of the people.

People have been living with cats and dogs probably as long as modern man has existed. Unfortunately, we  abuse our own species all too often, which, come to think of it, is what much of the news is usually about -- and we aren’t always good to the animals either.

Cruelty and neglect are often tied to poverty, and it’s not surprising that some of our biggest animal problems are on the mean streets of Detroit. There, for more than a century, the Michigan Humane Society has been doing what it can to save and re-home animals.

This week, the Michigan House of Representatives is expected to take up a bill already passed by the Senate (SB 638) which has often been referred to as an attempt to enshrine the U.S. Supreme Court decision usually known as Citizens United into state law.

That’s a reference, of course, to the famous and controversial U.S. Supreme Court case, Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission.

Several of the many Republican candidates for President have been in Michigan lately, including Marco Rubio and John Kasich. They drew small but polite crowds.

True, their visits are as much about fundraising as winning votes at this point, but all indications are that the vast majority of the population would have great difficulty recognizing them or articulating where they stand on any issue.

Crowdsourcing school guidance counseling

Dec 10, 2015
Flickr/Got Credit / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

When it comes to having a 21st-century workforce, Southeast Michigan is in the midst of a “perfect storm.”

During years of economic decline, Michigan struggled to keep its residents educated and trained for the modern workplace. Now that the economy is in recovery and new job openings are finally emerging, there are not enough qualified young people left to fill them.

Detroit’s Public Schools are slowly dying. Those who run them would not use those words, but that’s what is happening. The schools have lost sixty-five percent of their students in the last ten years, and have closed more than three-fifths of their buildings.

There’s some evidence of better management in the last year. Enrollment may have temporarily stabilized. The schools have shed some of the top-heavy central office bureaucracy that for years drained resources and messed with education.

Let's stop with the Silicon Valley comparisons

Dec 9, 2015
Flickr/Scott Lewis / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

In Detroit and across Michigan (and just about anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, for that matter), there is often talk about becoming the next Silicon Valley.  This comparison gets pretty tiresome. If innovation is about "new and different," why would we want to be something that already exists?

Detroit has its own set of unique challenges and opportunities, and we should strive to be something new, something different.

Thanks in part to Donald Trump, terrorism and pit bulls, here’s a story you may not have heard about, but which could have a major negative impact on our economy.

Two days ago, the World Trade Organization, or WTO, ruled that Canada was fully justified in going ahead and imposing $780 million dollars in retaliatory tariffs on American goods, primarily meat, because of unfair trade practices by the U.S. government.

The reason that clichés exist is simple: They often express basic truths, as in, common sense is an extremely uncommon thing.

So is the ability to do the right thing even when there’s extreme pressure not to.

It doesn’t require much courage these days to bash Muslims.

But if there is a more reviled group than suspected terrorists, it would be sex offenders, especially when children are involved. I’ve never heard of any judge being criticized for being too tough in such a case.

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