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.