Opinion

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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
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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.

Down on the Dogs

Dec 7, 2015

For years, we’ve had intense debates about two things that can be extremely deadly, are feared and loathed by many people and intensely, even fanatically, loved by others.

Both can easily kill, and both are much in the news right now. What I am talking about are guns, and pit bulls. The world knows about the two latest mass firearm murders in France and California. But last week Michigan was horrified by two pit bull attacks.

A four year old boy in Detroit walking with his mother was dragged under a fence and torn apart. The next day, a 22-year-old Port Huron woman was attacked and killed while crossing someone’s back yard.

Well, the last of the leftover turkey has been eaten or frozen, and the gift-buying and giving season is here.

Hanukkah starts Sunday. Christmas is just three weeks away, and I can’t wait for the first fist-fight in a Michigan shopping mall.

During lunch yesterday, I listened to two young women at the next table agonize that they didn’t know what they wanted their boyfriends to buy them.

Well, I wanted to tell them I knew another woman about their age who knows exactly what she wants.

When it comes to senseless violence, the last few weeks have been, simply, horrible. Yesterday’s mass killing in San Bernadino, the Paris attacks, the shooting at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs six days ago.

When I first heard a bulletin about the Planned Parenthood shootings, I mistakenly thought that it had happened in Michigan. And I have to confess that I was irrationally relieved that it didn’t happen here, though lives lost in Colorado are no less important.

Last night I moderated perhaps the most significant Issues and Ale panel Michigan Radio has ever done.

It was on Flint’s water crisis, and took place in an excellent restaurant called the Redwood Steakhouse and Brewery. 

I thought I knew about the water crisis before last night, and intellectually I largely did.

But I found myself powerfully affected by the enormity of what has been done to the people of Flint, mostly by the State of Michigan.

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 transgender 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.

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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.

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