Monday, December 31, 2007

Royal Oak votes-down cellphone hate crimes

Reported in the Detroit News today (12/31/2007):
City commissioners recently voted against an ordinance that would have penalized drivers who use cell phones while committing traffic violations. The Royal Oak Traffic Committee proposed the $200 civil infraction, but city commissioners believe the issue of distracted drivers would be better handled on the state level with a uniform traffic code. While officials agreed cell phones can create a nuisance, some voiced concern that drivers would become confused about which communities across Metro Detroit have such laws, making the ordinance difficult to enforce.
It's more important that you violated traffic laws than why you violated them. To assess fines for one type of distraction suggests other distractions are more-or-less distracting, but if they result in a violation, weren't they distracting enough?

What then of drivers that weren't distracted at all but simply weren't paying attention? What if we took away distracting cell phones, radios, CD players, DVD players, cute passengers, crying babies, thrown toys, drive-through food, drinking, spilled drinks, cigarettes, last-minute makeup, shaving, cute passers-by, window signs, lawn signs, and billboards and people still committed traffic violations?

Apparently, political correctness exists even for "failure to yield right-of-way" as it does everything else.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Michigan's smoking ban: Have any color you want--as long as it's black

Whether or not Michigan should ban smoking in public places (bars and restaurants) is a big topic in today's (12/20/2007) Detroit News' Letters to the Editor. One of the common points supporters of the ban like to make is that both California and New York have banned smoking in bars and restaurants and their hospitality industry hasn't suffered. Statistically they may be right, but for the wrong reasons.

Banning smoking throughout all a state's bars and restaurants means the consumer has no choice in the matter. Imagine if today Michigan passed a law saying all cars must be black. Michigan dealerships would still sell cars because people still want new cars--even if they must be black. Without choice (or limited choice or limited resources to exercise choice) is it really any wonder entire states' hospitallity industries don't appreciably suffer?

But what if a single city banned smoking? I think it would be a great boon to Ferndale's business if Royal Oak prohibited smoking in bars and restaurants. Perhaps that would be a good test for our state lawmakers--ban smoking in Royal Oak and measure the economic impact on Royal Oak for a year before measuring whether there would be no impact on the state.

I don't think it's a slippery slope to extrapolate upwards and imagine the economic impact a smoking ban would have on Oakland County if Wayne and Macomb counties allowed smoking in bars and restaurants. Counties are pretty big chunks of real-estate and while it's possible folks near the middle may be unwilling (or unable) to drive to another county (read: have limited choice) those that live near-enough to other counties will have a choice and are as likely to exercise it as people were to buy cars in colors other than black--even though they were more expensive.

Make the whole state non-smoking and only cities that border other states (or countries) will suffer economically. For supporters of the smoking ban, the bigger the ban the better it is because the economic impact becomes statistically immaterial.
But being statistically unimportant will be as much comfort to bars and restaurants near our borders as the 7% unemployment rate is to the 7% of unemployed.

Should people have the right to choose a hamburger over a salad? Should they have a right to choose French fries over rice cakes? Should they have a right to choose beer over flavored water? Should they have a right to patronize a business that allows smoking and serves hamburgers with a side of fries and Bud Lite over one that does not and serves salad, with a side of rice cakes and fruit punch?

Comparing Michigan to California and New York is a red herring. It sounds like a good argument until the smoke clears. The real issue is about choice, and people's willingness to let others engage in less healthy or even risky lifestyles than let the nanny state (or busybody do-gooders) dictate what they may do in the bar, the grocery store, or the bedroom.

On this issue at least, you can count me firmly in the pro-choice column.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I apologize for not taking your money

There are things we might or might-not do depending on other people's financial situation. It sometimes has to do with whether or not we invite someone to a relatively expensive event based on whether or not we think they can afford it. The problem with these invitations (or lack of them) is no matter how well intended the are they can be offensive. Our assumptions both about others' financial resources or what is or isn't a spending priority is their decision--not ours.

Here are two examples. Tiffani and I invited some friends to a mildly expensive restaurant confident they'd enjoy the evening without worrying about the cost, but this upset other friends that would have eagerly gone because of the opportunity to escape their children and indulge in a unique night-on-the-town without giving the expense a second thought.

It happened again during my mayoral campaign this fall. We held a $50/person fund raiser catered by a neighbor at her home. Most of the guests we invited were people Tiffani and I didn't feel imposing on (if you can call trading appetizers, wine, and beer for $50 imposing) because we knew they either had the money, were politically active, or had previously invited us to their fund raisers.

The fund raiser was successful in that we raised nearly 1/4 of our campaign's $6515 total, but it was unsuccessful in that it we might have raised more and we upset a few of our friends, family, and neighbors by not inviting them.

Michigan's economy has been tougher on some people than others. On the list of people we didn't invite are the unemployed and under-employed. Some are couples I thought (read: decided) needed to keep their $100 more than I needed them to donate it.

Some of the people who wished they were invited told us we shouldn't have concerned ourselves with their finances--their finances are their own problem as are their priorities. To them my campaign for mayor was a priority. We found out of others' disappointment indirectly through family and shared friends.

Again, I apologize. I promise we won't make that mistake again.

When next one of us runs everyone is on the list. We'll have more fund raisers with higher minimums and you'll be invited to all of them until you've contributed the maximum allowed by law.

Be careful what you wish for!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why Ferndale should pass on paying $30,000 for the first totem pole

Woodward Avenue Action Association's Executive Director, Heather Carmona, went before Ferndale's city council Monday, November 26, asking council if they'd chip-in $30,000 so Ferndale could be the first city to have one of the 30'-tall totem poles.

There are many reasons why Ferndale should pass on being the first. Here are four of them and one tongue-in-cheek alternative.
  • We don't have $30,000 to waste. True, Ferndale may be sitting on a $4 million bank account thanks to fiscal prudence and an accounting over-site, but we'll need every dime of that in the coming years to supplement falling tax revenues and state revenue sharing dollars due to Michigan's struggling economy. Spending money like we have it (today) ignores the fact we may not have it tomorrow. Actions like this are how our state drained its rainy-day fund.

  • Federal Grants aren't "free money." Promoters of totem poles are quick to point out that most of the money comes from a federal grant for America's scenic byways. What too many people seem to forget is federal grants aren't free--they come from our income taxes! I'm not convinced Woodward Avenue totem poles are the best use of federal income taxes in 2007, or 2008, or any other year when our nation's deficit is growing nearly $1 million every minute.

    Think of the $100,000 (or $167,000 according to last Sunday's Mirror) as being only two zeros shy of Alaska's $10 million bridge to nowhere. If the citizens of Ketchikan, AK had paid for it themselves the rest of the country wouldn't have cared what the bridge connected to much less what it cost.

    If Ferndale really wants to be "the starting point" for something (as the Mirror reported our council wants to be) it could start by returning the $100,000 to the federal government. Think of what would happen if all recipients of pork barrel graft decided to send it back rather than spend it on their bridges (or totems). That would be a monument to our concern to the national deficit, earmarks, and respect for US taxpayers (many of them right here in Ferndale).

  • There are already monuments to America's love affair with cars and Woodward Avenue I pass them every where I go. They're usually near corners and read, "unleaded regular, $3.15/gallon." Like councilpersons Galloway and Gumbleton, I'm not real happy with what's on those signs but appointing a committee to change the font won't have the desired affect.

  • The Dream Cruise already celebrates Woodward, Cars, and Cruising. Each year approximately one million people make a pilgrimage to Woodward Avenue to celebrate the automobile, remember the good times they had driving them, and spend money all along Woodward. Our $30,000 is better invested in the cruise to attract more people to spend more money in Ferndale than elsewhere along Woodward.
One inexpensive alternative to a 30' monument with pictures from Ferndale's past would be a refrigerator residents could attach their favorite drawings to with magnets. I'm willing to donate the refrigerator. Any of Ferndale's pizza places could donate the magnets. Our totem would be unique, would change all the time with new drawings, and we wouldn't have to worry about the first DOT bus to slide out of control and destroy it. Our sanitation contractors pick up new (donated) refrigerators every week. Ferndale could take the $30,000 it saved and perhaps use it to buy new uniforms for the auxiliary police.

Some of our council members have complained they haven't seen much leadership from Lansing, but their willingness to spend $30,000 (or more) on a totem pole demonstrates they're already following Lansing's example.

"The soft bigotry of low expectations" as close as Harrison Township

Anthony Ratkov of Harrison Township wrote to the Oakland Press editors complaining that a bill requiring "financial literacy" of high school students might mislead them into thinking like millionaires.

He's serious when he writes,
"To me, it sounds almost like a foreign language... It's so unfair to teach kids the language of millionaires when the future they face is totally different from the image presented by corporate propaganda. Most people would probably just ignore this stupid proposal and brush it off by saying, 'Ah, it's just a bunch of dumb Republicans trying to micro-manage schools.'"
Mr. Ratkov apparently doesn't think much of his children's future much less anyone else's children. I'm unsure what the precise curriculum includes but learning how to save and invest money isn't the exclusive franchise of the wealthy or Republicans.

We get to choose many of our teachers. We can make heroes out of athletes or celebrities, but perhaps more of us should find capitalists as role models. Perhaps reading their stories and familiarizing ourselves with "the language of money" would help us better provide for our retirement years, or even (heaven forbid!) become entrepreneurs or professional investors, or financial consultants, or even how to survive the Christmas season without going into debt.

Those sound like good lessons to me that ought to be taught at home. Apparently there's one home in Harrison Township where "the soft bigotry of low expectations" is alive and well.

I don't mean this to be rhetorical, but I wonder how important Mr. Ratkov thinks mandatory sex education and free condoms are to students' futures?

Mr. Ratkov went on to express his surprise at the bill's sponsors.
"Although the proposal for financial literacy fits the Republican agenda perfectly, Switalski and Jacobs [the sponsors] are Democrats. It’s incredible that a couple of Democrats could have proposed a bill that looks indistinguishable from a bill authored by Republicans."
Should Democrats be prohibited from being wealthy? Someone should let Senators Kerry, Kennedy, and Rockefeller in on Mr. Ratkov's guidelines.

Believe it or not, Mr. Ratkov, the economy is not a zero-sum game. If you earn more it doesn't mean I must earn less. But if the language of money is as foreign to you as you say then the rest of us won't worry about competing with you.

What does Mr. Ratkov suggest students learn?
"Students in Michigan should be required to attend classes in labor relations, so they know they have the right to support the labor movement. When a student graduates, they will seek a job, and if they get a job in a non-union shop, they will probably be treated unfairly. They should know their rights. They should know they have the right to form unions, and schools should be teaching it."
Does he think union members should be discouraged from learning how to save or invest for their own or their children's futures or that financial literacy and a union membership are mutually exclusive?

I'd rather children learn what capitalism and socialism are and study examples of each so they might recognize which policies and outcomes go with which. Perhaps they'd even become familiar with the language of capitalism and socialism so they'd recognize it when they read, watch TV, listen to the radio or talk with their friends, neighbors, and relatives.

Then perhaps they'll discover financial security doesn't discriminate between Democrats and Republicans and that prejudice and bigotry isn't exclusive to race issues, but to financial, political, and other social issues as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Williams' "The Greatest Generation"

Walter E. Williams is quickly becoming one of my favorite syndicated columnists. His articles frequently appear in The Oakland Press. The first to catch my attention was Congressional Constitutional Contempt, promoting Arizona Congressman John Shadegg's Enumerated Powers Act (HR 1359).
"Simply put, if enacted, the Enumerated Powers Act would require Congress to specify the basis of authority in the U.S. Constitution for the enactment of laws and other congressional actions."
Williams is concerned the federal government is taking more and more power from the states--in terms of both legislation and taxes. He writes:
Just a few of the numerous statements by our founders demonstrate that their vision and the vision of Shadegg's Enumerated Powers Act are one and the same. James Madison, in explaining the Constitution in Federalist Paper No. 45, said, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce."

Regarding the "general welfare" clause so often used as a justification for bigger government, Thomas Jefferson said, "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." James Madison said, "If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions."
Basically, he's saying the amount of money that can be spent to "promote the general welfare" is unlimited. Anything can be justified under broad definitions of promoting "the general welfare." The Enumerated Powers Act would require each act of Congress (both houses) to justify their constitutional authority to grow federal government beyond its limited powers defined by The Constitution.

Continuing the theme of limited federal government Williams' latest article,
The Greatest Generation, discusses how much our federal government has grown just since WWII.
Let's look at what else that generation contributed that might qualify them for the generation that laid the foundation for the greatest betrayal of our nation's core founding principle: limited federal government exercising only constitutionally enumerated powers.

When the greatest generation was born, federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) was 2.5 percent. As they are now dying off, federal spending is 20 percent of GDP and that doesn't include government meddling. If the grandparents of the greatest generation were asked to describe their contacts or relationship with the federal government, after a puzzled look, straining their recollection faculties, they might answer, "I used to chat with the mailman once in a while."

Today, there is little any American can do without some form of federal control, whether it's how much water we can use to flush a toilet, what kind of car we drive or how we prepare for retirement. Congress manages our lives in ways unimaginable to our ancestors through agencies created by the greatest generation, such as Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Social Security Administration and a host of alphabet agencies such as EPA, DOL, BLM, CDC and DOT.
In short, our federal government's spending is eight times (8x) what it was when our grand parents were born. The federal government has not grown proportional to its population, its population's income, its imports or its exports. And most of that growth and intrusion comes in the name of "promoting the general welfare."

Williams is asking how can a government's power remain limited if they're using an unlimited definition to justify greater taxing, spending, and dilution of state's powers?

I think that's an important question worth asking and if passed, HR1539 might begin answering it.

Both articles are linked to on the right-hand side of this page under "Recommended Reading." Other of his articles are available at Creator's Syndicate,

Friday, November 23, 2007

Speech, the wheel, and now fire -- what will become of mankind?

If you're already reeling at my use of the word, "mankind," congratulations. You're a soldier in the Army of Political Correctness and are working to control speech.

Global warming hysteria is working to control what people drive.

Now San Francisco is considering a ban on fireplaces.

So speech is being controlled, automobiles increasingly regulated, and now fire places. Of mankind's greatest achievements I'm pretty sure language, the wheel, and fire are among our top three. What kind if psychological condition might explain that? Is it some kind of inferiority complex, guilt, or masochism?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Mayor of what?

My perspective on democracy has changed significantly since campaigning for mayor. Before I was fairly cynical of elected officials. Now I can let you in on a secret -- elected officials can be just as cynical of voters.

While campaigning door-to-door my usual salutation was something like, "Hello, my name is Thomas Gagné. I'm running for mayor." After visiting as many homes as I had I was prepared for most responses. But the one that always left me speechless was, "Mayor of what?"

It's important to know the only reason I stopped at most homes is because they'd voted in any of the last three elections. For the record, those would be;
  • 2006's which reelected Governor Granholm, swept many democrats into state and national offices, and approved both the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and Ferndale's Human Rights Ordinance,
  • 2005's when our mayor's salary was increased to $8,142 and Councilpersons Galloway and Gumbleton ran unopposed, and
  • 2004's which reelected President Bush.
Think about that for a minute. With just days to go before the election and with nearly 1000 yard signs throughout Ferndale's neighborhoods from eight local candidates, articles and advertisements in local papers, letters-to-the-editor, literature drops, mailings, cable broadcasts of two candidate forums, web sites, electronic mail, and TV news coverage there were people who had voted in the past and were likely to vote again that hadn't made the connection between themselves and their city's mayor.

How many other residents do you think haven't connected their local officials to their property taxes, property values, sidewalk replacement assessments, public safety budgets, ordinance enforcement, or public schools?

True, city officials don't have direct control over school systems, but they can cooperate with them at least as aggressively as they do nearby cities to share services. The performance of our schools and their students is for many citizens more important than bike lanes on Hilton and because of its impact on home values, school performance should be one of our city council's highest priorities.

So in the "What did I learn" department I can attest to discovering politics is a two-way street. Given the responses at doors of "I'm not interested," "We don't want any," "I don't vote," "I'm voting for the incumbent," (there wasn't one) and my favorite, "Mayor of what?" it's understandable that most political discussion, regardless which medium, has been reduced to sound bites and attack ads just to get voters' attention.

If we don't want Detroit's economic and political morass to become our own, voters--all of them--need to get more involved, become better informed, pay closer attention, and talk with their friends and neighbors about the issues affecting them. Turning out the vote is everyone's responsibility--not just candidates and their pandering, political parties and their attack ads, lobbyists and their sound bites.

Perhaps if we do that then when I'm campaigning next, rather than "Mayor of what?" I'll get, "We're glad you showed up. We have questions for you."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Endorsements, contributions, and Sammy Two-fingers

(Too) many politicians make a big deal of their endorsements and lists of contributors. Before running for office something always bothered me about politicians so willing to seek the endorsements of special interest groups then prostitute those endorsements on their campaign literature as though they were the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval.

I always thought it better to elect a candidate because I thought they were the right person for the job, not because someone else thought they were right. I don't know what their motivations are, I don't know if they're trying to guard something, I don't know if endorsements were horse-traded or coerced, and recently I've discovered not all endorsements are true.

So what does it say about a candidate for whom seeking and publicizing endorsements is a cornerstone of their campaign? What does it say about a candidate when for a non-partisan position they keep parading their partisan colors?

I rarely think those candidates are trying to appeal to me, which is why I've not found them appealing. That is why I'm not big on endorsements.

What have I learned about political contributions?

The most important lesson came several weeks ago when I learned not to bother looking for local business' support. Many of my luncheon meetings reminded me a scene from a mobster movie.
Sammy Two-fingers reached across the table and pinched Tommy's cheek. Not letting go he pulled Tommy close to him so only he could hear.

"Tommy, I like you. You're a good kid and you'll do great things for the city. But if Glitter wins and finds out we backed you.. well.. it's.. it's.. nothing personal. It's business."

Two-fingers let go of Tommy and smiled as they both sat back into the booth.

"So I can count on you for my re-election?"

I would never have thought such a concern was justified until last Sunday when my opponent made
much ado about nothing concerning our finance statement then accused a supporter of being a shill at a council meeting a few weeks back. The first shot, it turns out, was self-inflicted.

Suddenly it made sense. It is business. It's the business of dirty politics. But that shouldn't be a local business Ferndale should endorse or encourage. Maybe that's the experience my opponent thinks I'm missing.

That's the kind of experience Ferndale can do without.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Where you don't want to be

Sometimes it's easier to know where you don't want to be than were you want to be. One place I don't want to be is anywhere near my opponent, Mr. Covey, when a couple women I know get a hold of him.

First he insults my wife and campaign treasurer, Tiffani, by claiming our campaign's finance statements were delinquent. Though I was his intended target he's going to wish Tiffani wasn't injured in the attack.

Now he's claiming another woman is a shill (posted late October but retracted mid-November) for our campaign because she chose to respond to him in the same forum he chose to respond to her--a city council meeting.
".. anyone watching the last City Council meeting would know, my opponent did send a surrogate to the Call to Audience who lambasted me for a supposed 'conflict of interest.'"
Mr. Covey hopes no one reading his article will talk to the woman who "lambasted" him. If they did she'd tell them she had a good relationship with Mr. Covey, that they've worked together before, and that she was astounded when he responded during a council meeting to a confidential email she'd sent him privately. She felt her confidence had been betrayed and that she'd been attacked in public. She spoke out to defend herself.

If he thought she was mad because his public response to her private email, I wonder what he'll think when he sees her next after dismissing her as a puppet and trivializing her point on the Internet!

Personally, I think he knows better but is hoping no one else will bother looking behind the curtain.

Now is a good time to introduce our vocabulary word for the day, sophistry
a deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone [syn: sophism]
At the end of the same article he tries another sophistry, but trips through some illogical arguments along the way.
"[My opponent's campaign finance report] shows a list of contributors that is a veritable Who's who of Republican activists and supporters. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it makes one wonder why when asked about leadership and support of local community groups during the debate, Mr. Gagne never mentioned his leadership position with the Ferndale Republican Club. Full disclosure should not include omission by design."
He could have claimed my contributors were a who's-who of church-goers, family members, friends, neighbors, or Australian Aboriginals, but unless you know them by name how would you know? He's hoping you take his word for it.

And what of the Democrats on the list? There are contributors that made Granholm's short list for judicial appointments. Did he mention them? No. He's less interested in the diversity of my support than in vilifying a single group. That kind of bias isn't what Ferndale's known for.

Next he says there's nothing wrong with that (if he really thought that why say it in the first place?) but why didn't I include my relationship with the Ferndale Republicans? Again, he's hoping you don't remember the question asked for non-partisan activities. I was surprised he listed his involvement with the Democratic clubs because last I checked they were still partisan.

In retrospect, I didn't like my answer to the community involvement question either. I would have rather started with, "I believe charity begins at home. It starts with giving generously of my time to my wife, Tiffani, and my sons, Joshua and Michael." Then move from there to talk about Cub Scouts, soccer teams, church groups, pre-schools, dances, movies, monitoring their online activities, the rest of my family, neighbors, etc.

Most of Tiffani's and my extra-curriculars will involve our children and their activities. If that makes me an activist, well, I can live with that.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rubber and glue: late filings and premature accusations

On September 10 I wrote an article describing how two candidates for the same position could get along and agree not to stoop to the kind of negative campaign tactics that are typical today and so poorly serve both voters and democracy.

I was as proud of that article as any I've written, but I'm sorry to report that pledge came to an abrupt and surprising end at the conclusion of Sunday's candidate forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, during councilman Craig Covey's closing statement.

Mr. Covey said of elected officials that voters, ".. entrust us with a very serious and deep responsibility. My campaign .. has followed the rules, followed the regulations. If you go to Oakland County you will see that we've filed our campaign finance reports so that there's full disclosure..."

"Here we have a notice of failure to file from Oakland County, it's online, from my opponent."

Mr. Covey isn't as familiar with campaign finance laws as he wants you to believe he is, or that four campaigns and eight years on council might have taught. The county clerk's instructions state any report, ".. sent by registered mail, certified mail or an overnight delivery service and postmarked two (2) or more days before the filing deadline will be accepted as a timely filing regardless of when it is delivered (emphasis not added)."

To make a long story short, you can visit both our campaign's filings as well as Friends of Craig Covey's and see for yourself which campaign, ".. has followed the rules [and] followed the regulations."

The forum's moderator, Neil Zechman, instructed candidates ahead of time they were to avoid saying anything directly about their opponents. That was good advice. It keeps candidates focused on their message and shows respect to the audience and voters alike.

So what really happened?

The October 26 deadline was for finance reports as of the close of business, Sunday, October 21. Tiffani (my wife, campaign manager and treasurer) delivered our complete report that Monday to the Pleasant Ridge Post Office and for $6.11 received a Certified Mail receipt post-marked 10/22.

AT 8AM this morning she called Oakland County and confirmed the clerk hadn't received it yet then visited the Pleasant Ridge Post Office. She was impolitely told Pleasant Ridge didn't scan certified mail--that was Royal Oak's job. In Royal Oak another unfriendly clerk informed her it wasn't their problem--that would be Pontiac's responsibility.

Regardless, Tiffani hand-delivered a copy of our report to the clerk's office in Pontiac along with our proof of certified mailing. The report was promptly initialed by the clerk, marked "timely," scanned in, and the computer-generated late notice removed.

The undelivered certified package was returned to us today, a week later, because even though the USPS clerk in Pleasant Ridge took Tiffani's $6.11, gave her a receipt, and stuck the "certified mail" label on the package, they didn't affix the postage stamp. It was returned for $6.11 postage.

So the video proves I was right. It was government in action!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Did Greenspan just agree with me?

In December 2005 I wrote an articled called "We're in Iraq because you want us there." In it I wrote:
So now we've invaded Iraq and many American's don't understand why. In reality they know perfectly well why but prefer denial. We're there because we're dependent on foreign oil. We're dependent on it because our lifestyles require it. We live further and further from work, enjoy the luxury and autonomy of one-car-one-person, and drive increasingly larger vehicles. Our "right" to live where we want and commute how we want is not without costs beyond $2.25/gallon. As ignorant as pretending the consequences may be it is disingenuous to drive to a No Drilling in ANWR demonstration in anything less than a bus filled with like-minded protesters or display a "No War" lawn sign with the same SUV parked in the driveway you drive 20 miles to work.
Now Alan Greenspan has a new book coming out that has already re-agitated this controversy. The Washington Post reported Greenspan blamed the invasion of Iraq on oil. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took issue with Greenspan's comments on this past weekends television news programs.

In a Washington Post interview, Greenspan has explained his out-of-context comment in a way that makes me sound like a Washington insider:
His main support for Hussein's ouster, though, was economically motivated. "If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands," Greenspan said, "our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war. And the second gulf war is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day" passing through.

Greenspan said disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could translate into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel -- far above even the recent highs of $80 set last week -- and the loss of anything more would mean "chaos" to the global economy.
Well, since my blog is locally-focused I didn't rush into any "global economy" claims. But I must admit some satisfaction knowing Mr. Greenspan and I have something in common--even if he doesn't call me to discuss national and international issues.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Is there a little Gorbachev in all of us?

"Whoever first said religion and politics shouldn't be discussed among friends laid the first brick in a wall of misunderstanding that's been growing every time the topic is avoided between families, friends, and neighbors..."
This year's Dream Cruise started Friday, August 17 at 5PM. Tiffani made the family "Gagne for Mayor" tee-shirts all four of us wore to the opening ceremonies. We stood as conspicuously close to the stage as we could so everyone taking pictures or looking at it would see us. A little good-natured self promotion never hurt anybody.

That evening Tiffani and I ended up at Buffalo Wild Wings for a Boys' and Girls' Club fund raiser. Craig Covey, the other Ferndale mayoral candidate, sat between Tiffani and I (still wearing our tee-shirts). Later Mayor Bob Porter joined us.

I want everyone to picture this--because it happened. Two candidates for the same position, joined by the current mayor and Tiffani, having drinks together, getting our fingers dirty eating chicken wings, congenially talking politics with each other. Heck, I probably had a piece of black pepper between my teeth, but no one seemed to mind (or let me know).

Craig and I have a lot in common. Not the least of which is our commitment to keep our campaigns' rhetoric positive. Neither of us believes dirty politics, name calling, slandering, or anything else of the sort reflects who we are, what we want our campaigns to be, or does anything positive for Ferndale. We agreed that both of us can control what we say,but we can't control what folks on the edges might say. We also agreed neither of us would take it personally when that might happen.

Councilman Covey said he looks forward to being Ferndale's first openly-gay mayor and I told him I look forward to being Ferndale's first openly-straight mayor. We both laughed, toasted, and went back to eating wings with Tiffani and Mayor Porter.

I'm fairly confident we can all think of other politicians we wish would share a pizza, some pops, discuss the issues, and go home understanding a little more about the other person, agree to disagree on some points, and leave the table as colleagues without hard feelings toward each other, or each others' parties.

Can you imagine Granholm and DeVos eating messy hamburgers dripping mustard on their chins or suit coats? Or Bush and Pelosi making slurping noises over hot and sour soup? How about Ted Kennedy and Newt Gingrich with spaghetti hanging from their mouth?

I can't either. But I encourage all of you to imagine yourselves talking about the upcoming election with your neighbors, family, or people you meet while out-on-the-town. Encourage them to vote. Encourage them to learn about the candidates (especially me). Encourage them to share their thoughts. Listen to what they say and ask questions.

Politics should not be a taboo topic. Whoever first said religion and politics shouldn't be discussed among friends laid the first brick in a wall of misunderstanding that's been growing every time the topic is avoided between families, friends, and neighbors or when someone invokes the "religion and politics" rule to stifle political discussion. When we avoid the topic or leave angry we either imitate the worst behavior of our politicians or encourage it.

Walls keep ideas out as much as they keep others in. Good ideas aren't so fragile they require walls to protect them. Twenty years ago President Reagan challenged, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" In the coming weeks before this year's November 6 election let's tear down our own.

Cross posted at

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Declining special interest groups' endorsements

After my candidacy for mayor became public record a lot of things started happening. First, there's the official correspondence from the county clerk warning me to be careful about campaign finance laws, advising me of the limits, due-dates, and other lines I'll be careful not to cross.

What I didn't expect were letters I received from special interest groups and political action committees (PACs) asking me to complete a questionnaire to test if I qualify for their endorsement. If sufficiently impressed (or if craftily completed) I may also have received contributions to the campaign. I know this because campaign contributions are public record and I've seen these groups' contributions on other Ferndale candidates' finance statements.

While I was filling out the forms a curious thought came to me--none of these groups can actually vote. While their endorsements might persuade some voters they could just as easily upset others. The only entity that represents all of a voter's interests is the voter. On election day votes are the only endorsements that count.

So for this election I've decided not to seek any special interest group or PAC's endorsement. If I can't raise the money I need from Ferndale businesses and citizens there's little reason to sell a piece of my office to special interests for a mere couple thousand dollars.

I sent four letters last week, one each to The Triangle Pride PAC, Right to Life of Michigan, Sierra Club, and the Michigan Consolidated Association of REALTORS® (MCAR). Each one started with the same paragraph. Here's the one I sent to MCAR:
Thank you for the invitation to respond to MCAR's questionnaire for candidates seeking its endorsement for November 6's election. I've decided not to seek any special interest groups' endorsements to avoid the appearance of impropriety or suggest I may need to return the favor of the endorsement after elected to office. I believe the most important endorsements I will receive are from Ferndale's business owners, its residents, and ultimately its voters.
Following the introduction I included a paragraph-or-two summarizing my position regarding each group's cause, then included a closing paragraph with a thank you for their dedication to the issues most important to them. Here are selected paragraphs from each.

Be assured a major part of my platform gives attention to Ferndale's tax base. Both commercial and residential real estate play important roles growing our tax base, lowering our millage rate, and attracting new businesses and residents to our city. This is not only critical when the market is down, but to planning Ferndale's future as a healthy real estate market is an important ingredient to any community's business and residential vitality.

Thank you for your interest in Ferndale politics, your dedication to our business and residential communities, and your understanding.
Ferndale already provides curb-side recycling as well as other environment-friendly services and policies. To promote a “greener” city it is my intention as mayor to encourage citizens to do what they can to reduce their carbon emissions, to recognize citizens' accomplishments and reducing their power or water consumption, recycle, and reward those citizens that have gone above-and-beyond to protect the environment.

Thank you for your interest in Ferndale politics, your dedication to the environment, and your understanding.
Triangle Pride PAC
My commitment as mayor is to treat all Ferndale's citizens with respect and insist that all city employees and contractors do likewise. Every visitor to and resident of Ferndale should be treated professionally and courteously no matter what special interest groups they may identify with or may advocate for them.

That promise extends to not leveraging Ferndale's GLBT community or other minorities to score points with outsiders or further my political career or personal agenda.

Thank you for your interest in Ferndale politics, your dedication to civil rights and our community, and your understanding.
Right to Life of Michigan
As important as abortion and choice are to individual Ferndale citizens, municipal government is an inappropriate forum to address these issues. Attempts to do so can only be symbolic, and as such have no impact on state and federal legislation or Supreme Court rulings.

I was adopted by loving parents when I was four-weeks old and appreciate both the gift I received and my mother's choice of adoption. I'm committed not to squander either.

Thank you for your interest in Ferndale politics, your dedication to the unborn, and your understanding.
Sure, I may regret not having multiple Good-Housekeeping
®-like Seals of Approval on my website or campaign literature and their contributions in my committee's bank account, but I won't be obligated to or need to excuse my actions as Ferndale's mayor to anyone other than Ferndale voters.

I can live with that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Campaign kick-off party Wednesday, August 15, 6:30PM

I've sent email notifications and dropped-off invitations to lots of folks, but for everyone that doesn't know I want you to know we're having our campaign kick-off party today at 6:30 at the Geary Park Pavilion in Ferndale.

I'm hoping for a great turn-out. I've prepared a short speech about why I'm running for mayor, which was much more difficult to write than many of the articles I've posted here. Later tonight or tomorrow, I'll post the text of my speech both here and at

See you tonight!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007 is open for business

It's hard to keep good news from leaking out. As of July 30, I'm an official candidate for Mayor of Ferndale.

I'd originally intended to keep the news quiet until August 15, when we're having an announcement party at Geary Park (6:30-7:30PM), but that plan didn't work for a lot of reasons. First, we'd collected over 100 signatures for my nominating petition last month, so all those people knew. Everyone in my family knew. The other mayoral candidates knew (there was four, but now there are only two), and finally yesterday's Free Press published a brief item about the mayoral race:
FERNDALE: Councilman, activist are in mayor's race

City Councilman Craig Covey, 50, said Monday that he'd been notified over the weekend of the acceptance of his petitions to run for mayor.

Thomas Gagne, a Republican activist, is also running, Covey said.

Gagne could not be reached Monday.

How about that, I'm an activist!

The reporter, Bill Laitner, was correct--I couldn't be reached for comment. He left a message at home Monday afternoon which I didn't hear until it was too late. He and I did talk briefly Tuesday morning and have made plans to talk again.

Please visit our campaign's website,, and send me comments and suggestions for its improvement.

Like any political campaign, we need money for postage, printing literature, voter lists, lawn signs, bumper stickers, renting pavilions, and finally pizza and pop while we watch November 6ths election returns. To that end, I am grateful for any contributions you may be willing to make. Checks and credit cards are both accepted and all the information can be found our donations page.

And of course, keep visiting this and the campaign website for progress reports and information about the candidate, me.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Blaming others... again

I just finished reading nine letters to the Free Press editors scatter-shooting blame for the collapse of the I35W bridge in Minnesota. After reading them I was reminded of a saying, "Those that say what they think should be careful to first think." The same can probably be said of writing letters to the editor (or blogs for that matter).

A writer from Farmington Hills complains elected officials are too busy bringing pork back to their districts to attend the mundane task of maintaining roads and bridges. The writer conveniently ignores how too many Americans believe their representatives are in Washington for the purpose of bringing home as much bacon as possible, rather than addressing themselves to the job of acting and voting in the country's best interest and not just their district's.

A man from Lansing blames a right-wing philosophy advocating tax cuts and smaller government, then exploits the tragedy of the bridge's collapse to complain the rich aren't paying enough taxes. He's certain if only the top 10% of income earners would pay more than 65% of our country's taxes all our roads and bridges would be made safe. Besides being blatantly partisan it is also non sequitor because it matters little from where the money comes--it matters where it goes. But why should anything like a bridge collapse require we start thinking logically now?

Southgate blames the federal government and points to Hurricane Katrina as proof. The feds knew the levees weren't up to the challenge just as they knew the bridge would collapse last Wednesday, killing at least 5 people. Apparently, all the residents living below sea-level, their mayors and state representatives have no responsibility to think or act for themselves and must wait for instructions from Washington. It may make you wonder why people bother with local government at all.

A Wayne State University professor of engineering blames it on--engineers! Actually, I'm not certain what his point is because he's one of the guys teaching. The bridge was constructed in 1967, when America was arguably at one of its engineering peaks. As far as anyone knows its design wasn't out-sourced to China. And if he thinks we should graduate more scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians (STEM) he should protest secondary and college curricula long on political correctness and short on academics.

Finally, after a letter from Lake Orion placed the blame squarely on Minnesota's Scrooge-ish Republican governor and legislators for twice rejecting a tax increase, Royal Oak's Kevin Lucas writes:
The bridge collapse in Minnesota was tragic, and adding even more to the tragedy are the media and politicians claiming it happened because Gov. Tim Pawlenty didn't raise taxes on gas to fix the roads.

Pawlenty vetoed the tax because the state had a $2.1-billion surplus. The state is instead building new stadiums for the Twins and the Vikings, building bear exhibits at zoos, light-rail systems, fixing a theater, building a Viking ship, and subsidizing ethanol producers to the tune of some $950.5 million. I don't know which party controls their Legislature, but somehow all this was more important than fixing the roads.

All the states, including Michigan, scream about the roads and infrastructure. But the states decide what gets fixed and what does not. So look at your state budget and tell the governor and the legislators what you want your taxes to go for.

Put another way, Mr. Lucas said government is run by the people that show up; the people that show up to vote and the people that show up to be voted for. Remember that. You'll be hearing it again in a few days.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox scores points from both sides of his mouth

If you think the presidential campaign started early, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has already started campaigning for governor in 2010. He hopes democrats will reward him in three years for chastising President Bush for commuting Scooter's sentence for lying to federal investigators and a grand jury.

In a Detroit Free Press op-ed, Bush wrong to commute Libby's sentence, Mike Cox wrote that Bush has damaged the criminal justice system by letting a convicted lier escape jail time.

Cox knows as well as anyone that justice was served. No crime was committed regarding the release of Plame's identity (justice served: innocent) and Scooter was found guilty of lying to investigators and the grand jury (justice served: guilty).

The only thing that wasn't served was jail time, which is the president's constitutionally-guaranteed prerogative. It is not unlike the freedom prosecutors enjoy to prosecute whichever crimes they wish and make the deals they feel they must to get the convictions they want. It's called prosecutorial prerogative.

Surely, anyone that watches NBC's Law & Order or has spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express knows that.

In this instance, Cox's hypocrisy may go mostly unnoticed. Some Republicans will complain he's Bush-bashing for political gain, but will likely vote for him anyway. Some Democrats (there are more of those in Michigan than there are Republicans) will believe he's being honest and exercising his independence from Michigan's Republican machinery, and may even consider voting for him.

And who could blame Cox for distancing himself from the state Republican leadership? After recruiting billionaire Dick DeVos that machinery suffocated all other Republican candidates until they promised not to run or dropped out of the race. They then squandered the opportunity to beat a beauty queen presiding over one of our state's worst economies.

Cox isn't an idiot. He's a bright man, and I suspect his op-ed was more about politics than the risks of perjury. But some who can't detect his duplicity might be more disposed to vote for him as Michigan's governor with this superficial op-ed on-record than if it weren't.

I guess we'll have to wait three years to find out.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Al Gore III scores trifecta in latest publicity stunt

Much of the press is mis-reporting former vice-president Al Gore's son's run-in with the law yesterday. Most are reporting it as an arrest for drug possession. It was really a publicity stunt that failed only because a famous Hollywood celebrity wasn't involved.

This is how the facts were supposed to be reported had Darryl Hannah shown-up for their date:
  • Driving over 100 MPH in a Toyota Prius Hybrid: Few people are aware a hybrid can go that fast. That's important to know when merging with highway traffic. Obviously, most have underestimated the power under the hood of those electricity-and-gas-propelled green machines.
  • Possession of Marijuana: Marijuana has legitimate medical uses and Al Gore III was exercising civil disobedience in protesting its illegal possession as an impromptu spokesman for NORML.
  • Possession of prescription drugs Valium, Xanax, Vicodin, Adderall and Soma: Though Al Gore III is only 24-years old, he was demonstrating his empathy for senior citizens' having to cross the border to attain less-expensive prescription drugs in Canada than are available here in the states. His was an act of selflessness, willing to become prescription drug reform's new poster-boy (an opportunity wasted by Patrick Kennedy).
This unfortunate stunt-gone-wrong will be soon dismissed as a big misunderstanding. The former vice-president won't need to hire a criminal defense attorney for his son, but will instead replace the family's publicist with one of Paris Hilton's, Britney Spears', or Anna Nicole Smith's.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Fairness Doctrine my be doctrine, but it's not fair

Sunday's Oakland Press explored the now-much-discussed resurrection of "The Fairness Doctrine" between two opinion columns. Rich Lowry wrote against the mis-named rule's return by stating the obvious, that conservative talk shows are successful because people listen to them. If liberal talk was a profitable enterprise then perhaps Air America, the gravitational center of liberal talk, might be more profitable.

Arguing in favor of the doctrine's return was nationally syndicated radio host Bill Press. As he puts it, ".. for every one hour of liberal talk broadcast, there were eight hours of right-wing propaganda." Mr. Press, hardly a disinterested advocate for liberal talk radio, seems to believe the public would be best served if every "controversial" political topic received as much spin from the liberal perspective as they do from conservatives. Of course, his argument avoids the inconvenient truth that commercial radio operates inside the free market system, and more people simply choose to listen to conservative shows than choose to listen to liberal ones.

Regardless, liberals' idea of fairness has to do with force-feeding more liberal doctrine on radio audiences than listeners have otherwise tuned-in to. But if they really wanted to be fair, as the doctrine's name suggests, why wouldn't they insist on equal time for socialists and libertarians as they demand for Democrats? What about the Green Party, Communist Party, or Worker's Party?

Heck, Mitch Albom has a two-hour show every afternoon from 5-7PM. WJR cuts-short Sean Hannity's show to make room for him. I've often wished that instead of Mitch's regular side-kick, Ken Brown, that I could have a mic -- either to counter Mitch's naivety or to hit him upside the head. That would be equal time (for me), but I'm not who listeners want to hear (not yet, anyway).

Toyota outsells Volvo, Windows outsells Apple, and Amazon outsells King's Used and Rare Books. I expect Volvo, Apple, and King's would each like the government to require their products be purchased in equal quantities to the market leaders. If it did, then they'd be relieved the burden of making their products competitive-enough for the public to choose them willingly. With The Fairness Doctrine, they'd be compelled to make their purchases "fairly."

But that's not what the free market is about. Ideas, like cars, operating systems, and books, must succeed or fail by the rules of capitalism. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work in The United States of America. Rumor has it capitalism works that way in Canada, the UK, and many other places as well.

Of course, if Democrats are really committed to The Fairness Doctrine, I expect them to push for it in Venezuela and North Korea as passionately as they seem to be advocating for it here.

Democrats are not about leveling the playing field to make things fair for all political parties. They only want it made more fair for themselves--which is to say their commercial radio hosts can't compete without government intervention.

If nothing else Democrats are consistent. Having failed the equal-opportunity test they promote a "fairness doctrine" to guarantee equal-outcome. Equal-outcome doesn't require that the skills are possessed, the experience had, the work done, or the tests passed. Equal-outcome doesn't reward hard work or risk taking, it rewards failure. Equal outcome dilutes success by meting it out in equal proportions so that no one's success can be greater than any other's. When that's the case, what becomes the measure of success?

Personally, I wouldn't bother watching a sporting event if there wasn't going to be a winner.
I wouldn't listen to Rush Limbaugh if I didn't find him simultaneously interesting and entertaining. I don't like listening to Sean Hannity because his manor seems arrogant and his arguments shallow. However, I keep listening to Al Sharpton, Mitch Albom and reading Free Press editorials not because they're persuasive, but because I find their rationalizations fascinating, and when they do say or write something I agree with I savor both the sense of surprise and the pride for having been there when it happened.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"Thou shalt not covet.." or graduate thy neighbor's taxes

Not everyone may have excelled in story problems in fifth-grade math, but these should be pretty easy.
A Catholic, a Jew, and a Muslim are sitting next to each other at Tony's Sports Bar and Grill and each orders a $2.50 Bud Lite. Which one should the bartender charge $4.18 for the beer?

A heterosexual, a homosexual, and a transvestite order identical, $14 pizzas at Como's. Which one's bill should be $23.38 (not including tip)?

A 55-year old married man and a 25-year old single woman are on opposite sides of the island at Citgo on the corner of Nine Mile and Central roads. Both pump 10 gallons of $3.09 regular unleaded. Which one should pay $39.55?
The correct answer to all of them is, "None of the above." Why? To treat one person differently than another simply because of their religion, sexual preference or identity, age, or marital status would be discriminatory. Charging someone more for something simply because they're different is discriminatory. It penalizes them for being who or what they are.

Let's try one more.
An average Bloomfield Hills tax payer making $185,000/year and the average Ferndale tax payer making $45,000/year both file their 2007 state income tax returns in April, 2008. Which one should pay a 67% higher rate on their income?
Is your answer still, "None of the above?"

Both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are reporting polls that show growing support to amend Michigan's constitution to allow taxing some residents at higher rates than others. For politicians, a graduated income tax's purpose is to save them from making hard budget decisions by increasing the amount of money they have to spend. It's a proverbial win-win for politicians because they can solve their budget crisis and pander to the majority of voters who don't count themselves among "the rich."

But why would citizens be in favor it?

In the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling (played by Jodie Foster) is trying to profile a serial killer called Buffalo Bill with the help of famed psychologist and serial killer, Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins):
Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice Starling: He kills women...
Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir...
Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice Starling: No. We just...
Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?
It wasn't until recently I finally appreciated the difference between jealousy, envy, and coveting. The difference isn't as subtle as I had once thought.

Jealousy is how you treat, guard or hoard something that belongs to you--or that you think belongs to you. Jealous men are described that way because of their reactions to the attention wives or girl friends may attract. Jealous companies may lavish on their employees and simultaneously not allow them to attend seminars or join professional organizations for fear of losing them. Jealousy can hurt the thing your jealous of by suffocating it.

Envy is wishing you had something someone else has. You may be envious of a friend's talents or a neighbor's large-screen television or weed-free lawn. You may be envious of a co-worker's promotion or office and wish they were your own. Envy might motivate you to learn more, save more, or work harder so you may have what others have. But envy can become harmful to yourself when you go into debt to keep up with the Joneses or jeopardize your career with demands or ultimatums of your employer.

Coveting starts out as envy, but instead of using it as a motivation to do more ourselves it becomes a reason to take from others. Coveting makes us vandalize others' property instead of improving our own, sabotage others' careers instead of developing our own, seduce another's spouse rather than romancing our own, or become complicit-in or advocate raising others' taxes disproportionately higher than our own.

What are graduated income taxes?

Graduated taxes are designed to take a greater percentage of taxes from "the rich" than they are "the poor" or "the working class." The premise being "the rich" can afford to pay a greater percentage of their income than those that are not "the rich." A simple formula might be that every return less than $100,000/year in gross income would be taxed at the current 3.9%, income up to $200,000 at 6%, and perhaps those over $200,000 at 7%. The tax is called graduated because it gradually increases as gross income increases.

Of course it misses the point that "the rich," by their inclusion in that nebulously-defined stereotype, already pay more than the rest of us who fancy themselves excluded from that club. A tax return with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $200,000 at a flat rate of 3.9% pays $7800 in state income taxes. That's four times as much as a tax return showing $50,000 AGI paying $1950.

Notice that I said "tax return" and not "tax payer." The difference is important.

According to a breakdown of Michigan's 2004 income tax, tax returns for couples filing jointly made up 41% of Michigan returns, but paid 74% of all income taxe. "The rich" aren't "the rich" because of their individual incomes. As far as their tax returns are concerned (which is all that matters because that's where graduated taxes will be assessed) "the rich's" tax returns will be penalized with graduated taxes because it combines two incomes. To borrow again from Michigan's 2004 Income Tax summary:
Married taxpayers filing jointly reported 69.8 percent of AGI and paid 73.9 percent of the Michigan income tax. Married couples tend to be older and earn higher wages, due to greater accumulated human capital. Human capital includes formal education plus skills acquired through work experience and on-the-job training. Couples also have an additional potential worker.
Some quick math tells us the average combined income of couples filing jointly was $91,544 and filing as a single was $27,800. If we applied the same graduation to Michigan's income tax as the IRS does our federal returns would indicate joint filers will pay a 28% higher tax rate than single filers, and the average Bloomfield hills tax return would be taxed at a 67% higher rate than those from Ferndale.

So, under at least one graduated income tax model (the IRS') people who are older and earn higher wages due to more formal education, work experience and on-the-job training will be rewarded with income tax rates over one and two-thirds times higher than younger people with less education, experience, and training.

If tax policy is supposed to encourage good behaviors and discourage bad ones, or to incent that which furthers a healthy society and dis-incent those that do not, exactly what goals do graduated income taxes promote?

I scream, you scream, we all scream for...

The funny thing about "the rich" is nearly everyone wants to be a member of this supposed by-invitation-only club. If we spent as much time going to school, working harder, saving money, investing money, taking risks, and reading trade magazines to improve our family's lot as we do watching TV, arriving late, leaving early, extending breaks, buying what we can't afford, and reading The National Inquirer or The New York Times, we might discover membership to "the rich" isn't by invitation--it's by ambition.

When we outwardly despise that which we want to become--or are afraid of becoming--we exhibit something the psychology profession calls reaction formation: avoiding a strong desire by taking a strong, opposite position. We'll gleefully increase their taxes and cry foul at their rebates but regularly buy lotto tickets. Many people desire greater income but despise those that have already achieved it (or appear to) and so proceed to persecute them, thinking "the rich" not as people who have worked for their rewards but as the beneficiaries of undeserved good fortune.

That sounds a lot like coveting to me, and discrimination isn't any better. Think about that the next time someone tries promoting graduated taxes. Ask them if they favor graduated taxes because they're bigoted, in denial, or because they covet.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Hold on to your wallets

Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, delivered a commencement address to Harvard Graduates last week. In his speech he encouraged them to be charitable with something called "creative capitalism."
"We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism—if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities," he said.
Gates knows what he's talking about. Since mid-80s his company has aggressively copied, purchased or suffocated companies with technology superior to Microsoft's. Lately Microsoft has taken to exploiting our broken US patent system and threatening its competition with patent lawsuits. Apparently that's where he learned to "stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit." Maybe he meant to say, ".. so that more Microsoft divisions can make a profit."

Imagine how different Microsoft may have been if Gates hadn't dropped out of Harvard and was similarly influenced by another infinitely wealthy person advocating then what Gates is today.
Gates also said we can press governments around the world to spend taxpayer money in ways that better reflect the values of the people who pay the taxes.
Here's a simple question: Who do you think better represents "the values of the people who pay the taxes," a) government or b) the people who pay the taxes? If you selected b it's a good bet you believe you know your values better than the government does. It's important to remember it doesn't matter which party controls the governor's mansion, state legislature, white house or congress. No one knows your personal values better than you do--except perhaps the charities cashing your checks.

Gates went on to say:
"If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world. This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world."
Gates seems convinced the solution to poverty can be found in politics. All at once he admits it can't be solved but proposes the government be responsible for administering our charitable dollars in perpetuity (for recent Harvard grads, that means forever).

It's hard to argue with success, but being rich doesn't make Gates right. I recently learned that from Dr. Timothy Dowd in his Introduction to Logic class at Oakland Community College. True, OCC is a long way from Harvard, but the lesson is worth more than Harvard's tuition. The fallacy is called argumentum ad crumenam, which is Latin for "argument to the purse." Admittedly, Gate's purse is bigger than most, but his success is in the software business, not social policy, and it's in software business management and related technologies (like monopolies).

Like dropping out, Gates wants graduates to do what he says and not as he does. Bill's not donating his foundation's billions to the government. He's spending those dollars consistent with his and his wife's values. Warren Buffet, another of the world's richest men, also contributed $1 billion to Gate's foundation. Apparently, Buffet doesn't trust the government to reflect his values either.

But Bill says you should.

Bill's talking-down to his audience may be evidence of arrogance or paternalism--or guilt. Until we learn otherwise let's give Bill the benefit of the doubt and believe he just wants us to to help him, through our taxes, donate to causes he believes in. Wait... that's just like another open-ended task of paying to upgrade Windows from 95 to 97 to XP, Vista and whatever comes after that because Microsoft's revenue is a cause Gates believes in.

Hold on to your wallets. There's a whole new graduating class from Harvard planning to help you empty it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

If it's not the chairman himself, I don't want to talk to 'em

Today the Washington Times is reporting the Republican National Committee is seeing a donor fall-off. Rumor has it the grass-roots are disappointed with the President's immigration policy. When solicitors call for donations, instead of getting checks for $10, $20, or $50 they're getting an earful--and none of it is what they want to hear.

Lately, I admit to be among the people hanging-up on republican fund raisers, calling me with an important (recorded) message from Newt Gingrich or sometimes even the president himself. If Gingrich, chairman Mike Duncan (national party chairman), Saul Anuzis (Michigan party chairman) or even the president want to talk to me they can call me at home themselves.

The only time I hear from these guys is when they want money. When they ask for money it's so the party can defeat the evil Speaker Pelosi or to defend itself against the fund raising powerhouses of Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama. It's always so we can do battle with democrats in general or specifically by name.

In my head, the party has become less about politics than it has fund raising. It's in constant fund raising mode. I even get calls for races in other states. Every arm of the party wants to make sure it has enough money to beat the democrats.

I want to know if they have enough ideas.

Instead of calling people and asking for money they should be calling folks asking for clues. They seem to have forgotten what drew us to the party in the first place. Republican leadership seems to have become less about fiscal responsibility and smaller government than about beating Hillary Clinton. Why doesn't Mike Duncan just change the party's name to the Anti Hillary Foundation--doing business as the Republican Party? At least their corporate name would reflect their corporate mission.

Like any good company, political parties need salesmen, but they also need a product. Exactly what is the Republican Party product these days? The party of Lincoln used to sell social conservatism, fiscal responsibility, a strong military, strong borders, federalism, states rights, lower taxes, and constructionist judges.

Michigan's most recent gubernatorial election wasn't about product (billionaire Dick DeVos) as much as it was an anti Granholm campaign. The party didn't help DeVos articulate his ideas to citizens and DeVos couldn't debate a governor who had overseen swelling state deficits and a crashing economy rivaled only by two other states devastated by hurricanes. That's about as easy as it gets.

Two big things, I think, sabotaged DeVos' campaign--his refusal to back Michigan's Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) and the lack of any primary competition. When a billionaire announces his candidacy it basically eliminates the competition (unless they're also billionaires). In a party focused on sales more than ideas it mattered little what great ideas other candidates may have had. As a result DeVos went head-to-head with a beauty queen (Granholm) before he proved he could go head-to-head with a grandmother (Nancy Cassis).

As it turns out, billions in sales without a product can't beat a beauty-queen from Canada.

The MCRI passed because it was all about product.

If I could place a plaque on every State or National Republican officers desk similar to Bill Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid," it would say "It's the product, stupid."

And without a product, the Republican Party is looking kind of... well... let's just say lost.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why politicians lie to us

The short answer is they lie to us because we want them to.

When my oldest son was younger he believed in the tooth fairy. And why wouldn't he? My wife and I told him she existed, and he slept soundly enough we could exchange a dollar bill for his most recently liberated baby-tooth without waking him and spoiling a rite of passage.

Basically, we lied so he could enjoy a more magical world than a child could otherwise understand in the real world. Which is a fancy way to say we indulged (abused?) his child-like wonder of the world and his trust in us while mom and dad went on with business in the real world and took care of his every need--and many of his wants.

In a moment we'll get to why the new democrat-controlled congress funded the Iraqi war without pull-out dates, but first a little more groundwork.

With my apologies to those taken aback with my sacrilege, let's take a short test to see if you believe in Santa Clause:
  • Gas prices are manipulated by big oil companies, yes or no?
  • The President is responsible for the economy, yes or no?
  • The rich become rich by exploiting the working class, yes or no?
  • "Living wage" laws lift people out of poverty, yes or no?
  • Congress will make sure Social Security will provide for your retirement, yes or no?
If you answered yes to any of these questions there's a good chance you may still believe in Santa Claus--or if not Santa, at least you believe in fairy tales.

Don't be upset. Your child-like innocence is endearing to your mother--and your representatives in congress. In fact, most politicians admire those qualities in voters because it makes their constituents easier to manipulate. Or in plain English, easier to lie to.

Lies work best when one party is more gullible than the other. In the issue at hand, Democratic candidates won a congressional majority by telling voters what they wanted to hear: that they wouldn't provide any more funds for the war without a time line for withdrawing the troops. Put your vote under the pillow and the fairies will replace it with an exit strategy tied to funding.

How were voters so easily duped? Because they'd rather believe withdrawing the troops this fall has no military consequences than that insurgents and terrorists would use it to their own positive ends. They'd rather believe the troops in Iraq will see a withdrawal plan as concern for their safety than a lack of confidence in their mission. They'd rather believe the non-uniformed combatants that blend into the population and think nothing of targeting civilians as they do our military are petty criminals better tried by Judge Judy than a military court.

As much as it pains me to write it, the new democrats in congress knew tying funding to pull-out dates was a bad national strategy but they also knew promising it to impatient voters was their best ticket to Washington. Even after giving empty Easter baskets to, Pelosi and gang are still promising they've hidden eggs in the living room--or that they soon will.

Voters are also anxious about gas prices so congress passed a bill promising to investigate gouging when they know they'll find none--but they can say they did something. Reminds me of how parents shoo monsters out from under the bed. It works for children for the same reason it does voters--because both are gullible. Voters are gullible because they're either ignorant or prefer to live in a make-believe world than the real world.

So voters need to ask themselves if they want to be grownups, if they want to be treated as grownups, and which candidates will talk to them like grownups. It's easier to spot politicians pandering to childish thinking after we become adult about the issues facing our nation's borders, oil dependency, education, health care, income taxes, and all the issues facing our state and local governments.

Adults don't trade votes, or teeth, for favors from politicians we know they can't deliver.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Council has no business but the city's business

Tuesday night, May 29, Ferndale's city council discussed then approved a resolution impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. I hope to find a link to the resolution's introduction and the resolution itself--both read by Councilman Galloway.

The resolution is filled with specious arguments and unsubstantiated allegations. But mostly it is a declaration of Dixie Chick Syndrome. Unconvinced our purpose in Iraq is noble, signers claim to be ashamed of our president and their citizenship--as if America had never come to another country's defense at risk to our own, fed another country's starving, or rebuilt another country's devastated infrastructure after either natural or man-made disasters. The signers blame President Bush for their extreme sense of shame at being American rather than their sense of guilt for arrogantly believing Americans are uniquely deserving of liberty but Iraqis are not.

Mayor Porter reiterated multiple times (before voting in favor of the resolution) that it had nothing to do with the Iraq war but instead on alleged high crimes and misdemeanors. That's like saying Osama Bin Laden is wanted not for killing thousands of people on American soil and terrorism, but for inciting airplane passengers to unbuckle their seat belts while the light was on or smoking in the restroom.

There's many things wrong with the resolution and I haven't time now to get into them--especially without access to the resolution's text. But even without the document itself and knowing only that the resolution would be voted on last night, I delivered this short speech to council:

What is objectionable about this item isn't how each of you may cast your vote, but instead that you would consider voting at all.

Regardless how you vote this resolution is not an act of substance, it is an act of symbolism. In as high regard as you may hold yourselves as councilpersons the city council is unqualified to pass this resolution. You were elected and have been given power by the people of Ferndale to address the business of the people of Ferndale. Resolutions to impeach any elected federal, state, or even county officer is not yours. It belongs to us--the citizens. Your decision tonight has no affect. You have no standing. It is empty. It has no weight. It is hollow. Ferndale citizens deserve substance from their council, not symbolism.

Yours will not be an act of bravery, but of cowardice. With neither standing or affect, you have no responsibility for this action. No accountability. Without either responsibility or accountability you've no risk. Actions taken without risk are not the qualities of leaders. They are the attributes of followers. And who might you be following? The Detroit City Council who passed a similar resolution early this month? I think this council can find better role models than those whose dereliction of office is second in priority only to their self-enrichment at taxpayer expense. As elected representatives of this city you owe Ferndale citizens leadership, and ought not hide behind or follow bad examples.

Finally, considering this resolution will not be a measure of your character but one of your self indulgence. Without meaning, affect, or accountability this resolution serves only to stroke your sense of moral superiority over those you pretend to pass judgment on. There's a word that describes the act of pleasing yourself that shouldn't be used on family television, but nonetheless describes the sense self gratification entertaining this resolution may arouse. Council serves at the citizens' pleasure, not its own.

This council was elected to represent Ferndale citizens in Ferndale matters. We've elected senators and congressmen to represent us in federal matters. Pretending to wear their mantel mocks them, it mocks the office of city councilperson, and it mocks the citizens that thoughtfully elected each.

I encourage all of you to fulfill your responsibilities as Ferndale councilpersons, demonstrate your sense of propriety, and reject consideration of this resolution.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bus driver walk-out confirms suburban fears of public transportation

While Detroit's city council took the time to pass a resolution in favor of impeaching Bush and Cheney they couldn't find the time to debate and resolve DDOT's request for officers on buses to stem assaults and robberies on city buses.

Actually, council's refusal to permit Wayne County Sheriff deputies and DDOT to work out a policing agreement isn't what scared suburbanites away from using buses. Where before a fear of buses was thought by outsiders as irrational or even racially motivated, DDOT drivers confirmed those fears weren't inventions of the imagination when the request for sheriff protection first made headlines.

Going on strike proved how important drivers think the issue is. What kind of signal did that send workers commuting from the 'burbs to downtown?
How expensive must gas become before people are willing to risk their persons taking the bus to-and-from work? Shopping? Will it matter whether it's a bus, trolley, or any other form of mass public transportation if passenger assaults are a frequent enough to merit a driver walk-out?

Southeast Michigan needs public transportation. But Detroit city council's neglecting the safety of DDOT's drivers and passengers will make progress towards that goal even slower than it has been. Reinforcing suburban paranoia of Detroit's crime spreading outside city limits probably isn't what the city council had in mind, but then the suburbs are never in council's mind unless its raising water rates or financing the expansion of Cobo Hall.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Religious leaders blame President for winter

I really don't want to spend that much time on global warming, but I just read a story that made me wonder, "What next?" Reuters is reporting that religious leaders are urging the president and congress to do something about global warming.

The article starts out:

In an open letter to be published on Tuesday, more than 20 religious groups urged U.S. leaders to limit greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy sources.

"Global warming is real, it is human-induced and we have the responsibility to act," says the letter, which will run in Roll Call and the Politico, two Capitol Hill newspapers.

If you believe global warming is man-made, I'd like you to suspend that belief for a short moment and consider:

  • What if the sun is the cause of warming here on Earth just as it is on other planets in our solar system?
  • What if the rise in CO2 is caused by warmer oceans and not man?

If it turns out the sun is responsible then isn't the request by religious leaders for the president and congress to do something about global warming about as rational as asking them to do something about winter? After all, winter truncates the growing season to only a few good months in the middle of the year. Meteorologists' predictions of winter's impending toll on crop yields are almost certain to follow the early warnings they say are certain to come in the fall.

I apologize for my sarcasm, but there must be better science and health issues for religious leaders to petition the government about. There are enough people calling for hand waving and fist pounding that pastors and rabbis are unlikely to make a difference. And as things are today, I don't see President Bush saying, "Well, if Imams think we should do something about global warming we'd better hop to it. Remember what happened to that Salmon Rushdie fellow? He was forced into hiding and I've still got 19 months on my White House lease."