Opinion

Michigan voters sent the political and media elites a message of defiance last night. The elites told the people how to vote, and the people told them where to go.

On the Republican side, every establishment figure on two legs made scathing attacks on Donald Trump. Mitt Romney, who lost his home state by a landslide four years ago, was somehow felt to be the right messenger to tell the rank and file not to vote for Trump.

Vote Today!

Mar 8, 2016

Well, for once Michigan seems to have set our presidential primary at the right time, neither too early, nor too late. Today, we could have a decisive effect on both parties’ races.

When my sweetheart and I got home last night, we each had a robocall on our land lines. Hers was from Brian Calley urging a vote for John Kasich; mine from Mitt Romney urging one for Marco Rubio.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/creativecomputer/

The Next Idea

Most of us know someone — a friend, colleague, or relative — who has experienced a fight with cancer. We share their names and stories, do what we can to help, and take part in fundraisers for cancer treatment and research. And thanks to all that research, doctors today are able to construct individualized treatment programs for cancer patients with great accuracy. It’s a far cry from the “one-size-fits-all” approach of the past.

Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, she said something worth considering during last night’s debate in Flint. “We have our differences,” she said of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. But she added, simply, “Compare the substance of this debate with what you saw on the Republican stage last week.”

That wasn’t just a cheap partisan shot. For two hours last night, Clinton and Sanders argued about policy matters. Sure, there was posturing and one-upmanship on both sides. But they showed personal respect for each other.

As everyone knows, there was an imitation TV wrestling match in Detroit last night otherwise known as the latest Republican presidential debate. If you missed it, I can report that the wrestlers show more ethnic diversity, and wear more colorful costumes.

I watched some of the debate on television. Long ago, I learned that being as such events is usually the second best thing to watching it on TV. You can read and listen to more detailed accounts of it elsewhere, but here’s what you really need to know:

First, the three other candidates spent most of the debate insulting and denouncing Donald Trump, and saying he would be the worst candidate in the history of the world. 


If you turn on any of the cable news channels, the odds are you will soon see a studio full of Republican analysts wringing their hands and discussing whether Donald Trump can be stopped. The answer, as the candidates convene on Michigan, is very likely not.

  

Presidential nominating contests these days remind me of Japanese sumo wrestling matches.

In Sumo, there can be hours of ritual buildup before a so-called athletic match that lasts, on average, 90 seconds.

In this year’s presidential contest, we’ve had months and months of endless crowded debates, especially on the Republican side.

The various candidates spent vast sums, more than a hundred million of it by Jeb Bush, who now seems long gone from the race. It’s only 30 days since the first caucus votes were cast in Iowa, and both nominations now look nearly decided.

Metropolitan Detroit is famous for many things, but one we haven’t heard much about lately is the near-total lack of anything resembling mass transit.

I can’t think of another major city in the country that has no regular mass transit of any kind from the airport to the downtown.

The reason for this, of course, was that in the Motor City, everyone was supposed to own a private car as a matter of civic patriotism. Today that is badly outdated.

Every survey shows millennials aren’t nearly as enamored of cars as earlier generations were.

Lit Kurtz

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Homelessness is a complex problem with no one easy solution. In Michigan, the needs are enormous. People experiencing homelessness see our state as more like a Third World country than like one of the richest areas in the world.

 

Normally I have little or no patience with those who demand elected leaders resign or be recalled or impeached every time they disagree with them. I also think Governor Rick Snyder has had two great successes during his five years in office.

The badly needed Gordie Howe bridge would be nowhere near reality if it wasn’t for Governor Snyder, and he did a a masterful job shepherding Detroit through the bankruptcy process. Yet none of this makes up for Flint.

Yesterday was extraordinary because of two things no one could have foreseen a year ago. Michigan Republicans are now fully engaged in a desperate and probably doomed struggle to prevent their party from nominating Donald Trump for president.


Michigan has been so preoccupied with our own environmental disaster in Flint that we may have missed the announcement that Canada last week indefinitely delayed a decision about whether to bury low-level nuclear waste near Lake Huron.

That is bound to be seen as good news by virtually the entire environmental community – though there is a caveat or two that I will get to in a bit.

Seven years ago, our biggest concern in Michigan was the domestic auto industry. The question was, could it possibly survive? Three years ago, our worries centered on Detroit which was about to plunge into emergency management and bankruptcy.

These days the Detroit Three are no longer the Big Three, but they are thriving and making billions. Detroit is out of bankruptcy and is perceived as dramatically improving.

According to police, the Uber driver arrested in Kalamazoo admitted to the shooting spree that killed six people and wounded two more on Saturday night.

They do not, however, have any idea why he did it. Frankly, I have no interest in why he did it, regardless of whether he was mad at his wife, wanted to impress ISIS, was in love with Taylor Swift, or any other of a thousand meaningless “reasons” such people give.

Joe Gruber

Katrina Watkins stood on her front porch in Detroit’s McDougall-Hunt neighborhood staring at the vacant, overgrown stretch of land across the street.

“I have been trying to get the city out here to cut this for years,” she said.

Well, it now seems that the race for the Republican nomination, which once had more candidates than a baseball team, is down to three real contenders.

The Democrats are down to two, and something suddenly occurred to me over the weekend. I’m a baby boomer, born in the 1950s.

When it comes to education issues, the crisis facing Detroit’s Public Schools is now the elephant filling the room. The question is whether the state House of Representatives’ ideological fanaticism and hatred for unions will prevent a sensible fix of the troubled district.

If it does, and the schools topple into bankruptcy, it could cost government --meaning us -- twice as much as the governor’s proposed plan.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/michigan-engineering/24292873512/in/album-72157662996114550/
Joseph Xu, University of Michigan Office of Communications and Marketing

The Next Idea

In a past life, Sile O'Modhrain edited audio for BBC radio.

"At the time I was working," she says, "I could edit using a razor blade and tape" to physically piece different sections of a recording together. But when audio editing processes switched from tactile to digital, she found herself out of a job.

 Suppose you came from fairly humble circumstances and had struggled to earn a college degree. You decide to become a teacher yourself, because that’s the only way poor and disadvantaged children have any chance at achieving a successful life.

You wind up teaching in a building that is falling apart, that is infested with mold and rodents, where the heat doesn’t work well in the winter, and it is like an oven in the late summer. You have to worry about fights, some involving kids bigger than you are. Guns and gangs are very real problems.

There are four larger-than-life cement statues on the lawn outside my office at Wayne State University. They are of Cadillac, LaSalle, Marquette and Gabriel Richard, the early French explorers who discovered Michigan and helped found Detroit.

They are magnificent, but they shouldn’t be there. They should be where they were intended to be – a couple miles away, high above the street, looking down from Detroit’s magnificent, baroque old early Victorian-era City Hall.

The news these days is full of examples of where our systems have failed, sometimes disastrously, as in Flint. We have had incompetence and corruption at virtually every level. We should be seeing bumper stickers which say, “if you’re not a cynic, you aren’t paying attention.”

But there are occasional stories of officials striving to do a good job, and there was one last week you may have missed.

Photo by Marcin Szczepanski

The Next Idea

There are lingering fears that nothing will be the same in Flint. But maybe things shouldn’t be the same. What if there is a better way for Flint and other cities to harvest and deliver life-enhancing water?

People across the nation are judging Flint as an epic failure of leadership and poor choices. There is no doubt that Flint’s water crisis is an unqualified failure of democracy, but it is also a century-old failure of design and systems thinking.     

Replacing Scalia

Feb 15, 2016

When I learned Saturday night that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died, I talked to a number of legal experts who weren’t necessarily in tune with his thinking.

Robert Sedler, a distinguished professor of constitutional law at Wayne State University, spoke of his brilliance.

We are in the middle of what is officially black history month. These days, so far as I can tell, that mostly means elementary school kids have to do a report on Martin Luther King Jr., and read a few paragraphs from the famous speech.

The rest of us mainly ignore it. Which is too bad, because black history is filled with fascinating and untold stories, and I want to tell you about a riveting new book about one.


I doubt that anyone who is listens to or reads my commentaries would think of turning to me for dating or relationship advice, but I am going to give you some anyway.

If you are single, and want to meet someone, you probably don’t want to go to the bar with a copy of the governor’s budget request and say, “Hey, there’s some really interesting stuff in here.”

That probably wouldn’t even work in Lansing.

There’s a famous old saying that man proposes, God disposes. Maybe, but in state politics, governors propose, legislators dispose.

The legislature has the power of the purse. Governor Rick Snyder today is unveiling a budget that a year ago, conservatives would have compared nastily to a Christmas tree.

It includes more money – lots of money – for Flint, of course, but also for higher education, community colleges and elementary schools. Higher education would get more, and so would the Healthy Kids’ Dental Fund. There’s even money here to pay for new drugs to treat Cystic Fibrosis and Hepatitis C.

It hasn’t been very easy to defend Governor Rick Snyder lately, but I think he did absolutely the right thing in refusing to testify before a committee of congressional Democrats about the scandal involving the lead poisoning of the water in Flint.

In all likelihood, this would have been nothing but a partisan witch hunt. He would have been asked questions along the lines of, “when did you stop poisoning children on purpose?”

Flickr/Astrid

The Next Idea

In the 122 years that Michigan has been making cars, the automobile industry has taught us that it’s not about having the parts but how you put them together that makes all the difference. A disassembled car is just a pile of 20,000 or more pieces of dull metal, washers, connectors, nuts and ugly wiring piled in your driveway. But put them all together and you get the most transformative technology of the 20th century.

A week ago I mentioned that Jordan Development, a major oil and gas exploration company based in Traverse City, wanted to drill a well on a church property in Southfield.

Southfield is a well-settled, bustling middle-class suburb of 75,000, and the idea of an oil well in such a community seemed unbelievable to some.

It seemed unbelievable to me as well, so did the idea that the city couldn’t stop it.

There’s no question that some of the wilder criticism of Governor Snyder has gone too far. There’s absolutely no evidence the governor, or anybody else, deliberately set out to poison the people of Flint as some sort of racist plot.

Accusations of that sort are inexcusably irresponsible. However, there are legitimate questions about what he knew and when he knew it. And yesterday, new information surfaced proving that, at the very least, the governor’s staff failed to properly inform him.

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