Wednesday, November 26, 2008

American Free Enterprise: RIP

It matters little what's taught in college anymore, free enterprise and capitalism haven't existed in the United States for years. Not in the sense that businesses are allowed to compete and survive in the market strictly on their own merits, creativity, and ability to compete for consumer dollars.

You don't need to be a professor or fellow at an ivy league university or institute to appreciate the demise of free enterprise. You can see the effects of government interference right in Ferndale.
City Council, at the behest of the DDA, spent valuable time June 23 considering then passing ordinances regulating the size, shape, and fees permitting a potential health risk to civilians: sandwich boards. You know, those little signs shops put on the sidewalk hoping to catch your eye with their lunch menu, specials, promotions and sales.

I'm unsure how Ferndale has survived this long without rigorous standards for sandwich boards. This must be the blight and rejuvenation the state legislature was thinking about when it wrote the laws authorizing DDAs to micro-manage.
Between this and other ordinances, millages, expanding the district to tax more business, eventually the DDA will transform Ferndale's character to be as unique and appealing as the inside of Oakland Mall.

Would the car sticking out of the second story at Wetmore's be allowed if the DDA had anything to do with it? I think not. I credit Steffie Loveless, publisher of Ferndale Friends, with the observation that the DDA is slowly removing everything that was once "authentic" Ferndale.

But back to the Big Three,
the bailouts requested from GM, Ford, Chrysler, and the UAW is a small part of the expense to government for interfering with the markets in the first place. In addition to CAFE standards, where the government tried to force manufacturers to build cars the public doesn't want to buy, there are numerous safety standards that perhaps the public ought to have voted for with their purchases rather than legislated.

Every large corporation is also a welfare agency of its own--employing people that if they weren't for fear of discrimination lawsuits would have been let-go a long time go. The same goes for minority suppliers--for fear of more government intervention and bad press from Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, the big three could have spent less time propping-up weak suppliers with preferential price and payment terms than with established suppliers.
As part of the bailout, the big three should hold a Survivor-like tribunal to vote some of its staff off the island--including management.

When I worked at Comerica there were people we all knew were unproductive by virtue of laziness or incompetence that wouldn't make it to the second episode.
The reality is such a thing isn't possible because public opinon wouldn't allow it. The only time such a move might be tolerated would be during bankruptcy--which might be one of the opportunities the big three may exploit--along with the elimination of suppliers that require too much hand-holding. The result would be a stronger staff and a stronger supply-chain.

Wonder if government interference influences the price of things or free enterprise? Ethanol is cheaper to produce from sugar cane than corn, but those quantities of sugar cane are more likely to come from Brazil than midwest corn farmers. So to make corn-based ethanol more attractive (and not just to congressmen and senators) the government subsidizes it.
And because the government doesn't think consumers are willing to pay for electronic cars at prices that reflect the cost to make them, they're offering a $7800 tax incentive to new owners.

I've already gone on record as believing embryonic stem cell (ESC) research shouldn't be illegal, but I strongly oppose any public funding for it. If ESC therapies are really as promising as its supporters claim it to be, then some entreprenurial capitalist should be funding their own development of the technology so they may profit from their patents, treatments, and medicines. Adult stem cell therapies have already proven successful without hype. Where ESC is all promise, hope, lobbying, grants, government funding and sympathetic advertisements, adult stem cells are helping people today.

One last example while I'm thinking about it. If Ferndale residents had to pay the whole cost of the totem pole at Woodward and Cambourne, would we have paid the $100,000 cost? No, but since government grants picked-up much of the cost not only did we get fragile monument for only $30,000 but we contributed to earmarks, pork, and wasteful government spending.

So, as citizens, if we think government intervention and social engineering is a good thing in commercial markets, that minimum wage should be set by law and not the market, that the government should manipulate credit-worthiness through Fredie and Fannie whether borrowers have a job or income, then we should applaud the bailouts and be anxious for more of them--because bailouts are the price we're willing to pay for feel-good public policy in commerce than free-enterprise.

Battered Detroiter Syndrome

Amber Arellano wrote an interesting piece in July 7's Detroit news likening Detroiters to wronged-women, who doesn't appreciate themselves enough to know they're with the wrong men and they deserve better.

Detroit is like a wronged woman who deserves a good man and gets nothing but deadbeat suitors, manipulating her, robbing her, taking advantage of her desperation.

Her betrayers are many: the despicable schemers at the Detroit Public Schools who have looted the district of millions of dollars for years, according to a new lawsuit.

Or take school district's leaders who, for years, failed to implement basic procedures to protect their students of the Tammany Hall-like corruption that infects the district. Their incompetence was revealed by a new report conducted by the Council of Big City Schools.

Or take Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who persuaded City Council members last week to approve the beginning of a deal that, if passed in its entirety, will cost the city more than $300 million, according to figures provided to the Detroit News.

These are just some of the headlines of the last two weeks. Almost daily, the litany of offenses grows.

I was immediately reminded of Battered Wife Syndrome.'s, What is battered woman's syndrome?, explains is like this:
It is also important to understand why battered women stay in abusive relationships. The Court in People v. Aris, 215 Cal App 3d 1194, 264 Cal Rptr 167, 178 (1989) stated that "battered women tend to stay in abusive relationships for a number of reasons." Among those reasons: women are still positively reinforced during the honeymoon phase; women tend to be the peacekeepers in relationships - the ones responsible for making the marriage work; adverse economic consequences; it is more dangerous to leave than to stay; prior threats by batterer to kill self, or children; or to abscond with children; lost self-esteem; and no psychological energy to leave - resulting in a learned helplessness or psychological paralysis.
I've taken the liberty of rewriting it to apply to Detroiters.

It is important to understand why battered Detroiters re-elect abusive politicians and tolerate public administrators. Battered Detroiters put up with it because they are told by their abusers that they're the heart of the metro area; the suburbs are the enemy; whites made them do it; what you may get next could be worse than what you have now, or if you vote for someone else I'll make life worse for you. All this results in political paralysis.

This past November's election swept many republicans from office, but Detroit's representation is mostly unchanged. America will celebrate the election of its first black president, but hasn't Detroit already proved the color of your leaders doesn't change the color of your prospects?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What I didn't know about France, and don't want to find in America

Thomas Sowell wrote an interesting piece for Independence Day titled, Does Patriotism Matter? In it he writes about how after the first world war the French, where the French fought heroically against the Germans, the French teachers union insisted school textbooks be changed to instill students with a greater sense of internationalism and pacificism.

Children were bombarded with stories on the horrors of war. In some schools, children whose fathers had been killed during the war were asked to speak to the class and many of these children-- as well as some of their classmates and teachers-- broke down in tears.

In Britain, Winston Churchill warned that a country "cannot avoid war by dilating upon its horrors."

But they were voices drowned out by the pacifist and internationalist rhetoric of the 1920s and 1930s.

Did it matter? Does patriotism matter?

During the First World War, France fought on against the German invaders for four long years, despite having more of its soldiers killed than all the American soldiers killed in all the wars in the history of the United States, put together.

But during the Second World War, France collapsed after just six weeks of fighting and surrendered to Nazi Germany. At the bitter moment of defeat the head of the French teachers' union was told, "You are partially responsible for the defeat."

At the outset of the invasion, both German and French generals assessed French military forces as more likely to gain victory, and virtually no one expected France to collapse like a house of cards -- except Adolf Hitler, who had studied French society instead of French military forces.

Did patriotism matter? It mattered more than superior French tanks and planes.

I edited the quote above and encourage you to read the whole article.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Granholm considers four-day work weeks

The Detroit News is reporting today that Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is considering four-day work weeks to help state workers save money in the era of $4/gallon gasoline. This follows Oakland County's recent approval of county executive Brooks Patterson's plan for county workers.

With all the fuss by governments over their employee's commuting expenses I'm forced to wonder what European workers are thinking of our tantrums. They've been paying the equivalent of $7+/gallon for much longer. Did their employers switch to four-day work weeks? No. Most employees in Europe use public transportation. Many of those that do drive drive more fuel efficient cars.

What will happen to American productivity advantages if more workers switch to four-day weeks? Will more jobs move out of the country? If workers complain too much about the cost of commuting (aggravated by urban sprawl, low-density housing, lack of mass transit, and historically cheap gas) will more of their jobs be outsourced?

Things that make you go, "Hmm."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rights, entitlements and privileges--oh, my!

This past Sunday, Free Press editorial writer, Ron Dzwonkowski, wrote in Health care debate must go on:
"We have not in this country come to grips with the core question of whether health care is a right or a privilege — something to which every American is entitled or something to which your entitlement and the extent of your care depend on whether you are working and where."
Whatever health care may be, it is certainly not a right.

A "right" should be anything I can assert without the existence of a government to protect or provide them. Even without government assistance I will defend my life, my family's, and my property. I have a right to live freely and not as another man's property--not even the government's.

I do not have the right to force another to do something for me. In the case of health care, I do not have the right to force a doctor to treat me, nor force them to accept whatever I offer for payment--whether it be cash or chickens.

Nationalized medicine might force doctors to work for a single employer--the government. That comes treacherously close to being forced to work for another

It's unfortunate that humans are frail. It doesn't seem "fair" that some can afford better health care than others. But some can also afford better diets, better housing, better educations, better athletic equipment and club memberships, leisure time, vacations, swimming pools, air conditioners, humidifiers, purifiers, and live in areas with less pollution and lower crime rates.

As all these things can improve health. Are they rights as well and is the government prepared to provide them equally to all Americans?

Friday, June 13, 2008

An opportunity Ferndale should exploit

In 1986 I was able to quadruple my car's gas mileage. A single low-tech change and a tank of gas suddenly lasted four times longer than before. I moved from Grand Blanc to Troy and cut my daily Bingham Farms commute to 10 miles from 45.

In 1993 I was living in Pontiac and driving 26-miles to downtown Detroit. Sometimes that commute took over an hour. After moving to Ferndale in 1997 the trip was cut to 10 miles and a dependable 16 minutes.

My new office is less than two miles from my Ferndale home. In the winter my car is barely warm when I arrive at work and in the summer I sometimes ride my bike when weather permits.

I write this not to boast, but to demonstrate how great an impact where we live can have, and to introduce an newspaper article I read this morning.

In a June 13, Detroit Free Press article, Steve Duchane wrote:
Popping open the gas cap, swiping the credit card, and watching the numbers roll to previously unimaginable totals, it's hard to believe anything good could come from the gas prices we've seen lately. But in reality, our misery at the pump could be a blessing for many of Michigan's mature communities.

As driving becomes more expensive, Americans are considering not only more fuel-efficient vehicles, but also more fuel-efficient commutes. For many, that means rethinking not only where we work, but also where we live. And suddenly, first-ring suburban cities have new luster. Finally, 60 years after sprawl began driving home buyers farther and farther from population centers, Americans are turning around their SUVs in search of shorter commutes.

The sprawl reversal is already benefiting many smaller cities in Michigan.
It's a great article. It points out how your address, near where you work and play, can be an act of both environmentalism and conservation, makes financial sense, and can improve your quality of life while increasing the quantity of time you can spend with the people or activities you love.

This is an opportunity Ferndale should move swiftly to exploit. Our housing values have been hurt, our foreclosure rates are high, but we have something Clarkston, Oakland Twp., Brighton, and the Grosee Pointes don't have-- our location.

In the summer of 2007 for my mayoral campaign's website I wrote:
The degree to which Ferndale is green is a measure of how green our residents and business are. Rather than indulge symbolism I would prefer a council that promoted “green-ness” by virtue of Ferndale's unique location and proximity to major highways and everything that is metro Detroit. Simply living, working, or visiting Ferndale is an act of environmentalism because living, working, and playing in a city that's nearer than one that is not conserves energy.

Ferndale citizens have decided it's better to drive fewer miles to work than more. It's better to walk to restaurants and clubs than drive. It's better to live nearer existing infrastructure than accelerate the loss of farmland, forests, fields, and other green spaces.

What Ferndale and other urban communities must do is enable more citizens and businesses to locate to our cities. This is why property taxes and broadening our tax base is important to lower the cost of owning property here. This is how public policy promotes environmentalism. It recognizes it, promotes it, and celebrates it. It doesn't serve it with symbolism...

I won't beat the symbolism point to death here. Suffice it to say that living closer to where you work and walking to your entertainment is an act of conservation. It may get less press than free parking for hybrids, but the former actual does something about the environment every day while the latter only says something about it.

Whether you goal is to save money on gas, lower America's dependence on foreign oil, influence foreign policy, or promote environmentalism and conservation, where you live can have a greater impact than how you live.

Now is a great opportunity for Ferndale, Hazel Park, Oak Park, Royal Oak, Berkley and other inner-ring cities to promote themselves. They're all at the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's easier to change yourself than vote for change

Psychologists tell their patients, and any feel-good daytime talk-show host that will listen, that it's easier to change ourselves than to change others. Relationship problems are more often caused by our trying to change others when it's much easier to change ourselves or our reactions to them.

Candidates often claim to be the agents of change, as Obama does, but the real agents of change are the voters.

There's nothing in either candidate's proposals different from any previous year. In fact, both senators John McCain and Barak Obama offer more of the same. More programs, more spending, more giveaways, more favors from the treasury in exchange for votes. All their proposals for increased services will require more taxes or more borrowing, or both.

Nationalized health care isn't something new, it's more welfare. It's an entitlement program designed to make more Americans dependent on government than the millions already unable or demotivated to kick the habit.

Mortgage bailouts are a lottery for both lenders and borrowers who assumed more debt and risk than they could afford.

Persecution of oil companies provides great theater for the electorate, giving congressman and senators top billing and spot lights for hand wringing and arm waving, but is merely a distraction from our government's unwillingness to exploit our nation's own natural resources.

Do voters really want change or do they merely want credit for the emperor's new priorities? Is increased government spending OK when it's money spent on you or only when spent on others? Are increased taxes OK as long as they aren't yours? Are your votes for locally-elected politicians consistent with a desire for change or are they for more of the same?

Our politicians--both Republican and Democrat--are exactly as we want them to be. Detroit's mayor and city council are exactly as Detroit voters want them to be. In short, our politicians give us exactly what we vote for because it's easier to blame politicians, spouses and relatives than it is to blame ourselves.

No single candidate can bring change. No single party can bring change. Change requires more than one vote every four years. It requires votes for change in the spring for schools, votes for change in the summer primaries, and votes for change every November for national, state, county, and local leadership.

Change what you want from your representatives, change what you vote for, vote that way at every election, and your government will change--eventually. It can't all happen in November, and anyone that tells you otherwise is, well, a candidate-as-usual.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Michigan gets more national attention - for the wrong reason

Michigan is getting more national attention--for the wrong reason.

Most Michigan residents are familiar with the recall petition drive against House Speaker Andy Dillon (D). The more savvy among them may even be familiar with how petition gatherers were harassed by police, township supervisors, and (naturally) Dillon and Democratic supporters.

Despite these obstacles petition gatherers collected 15,000+ signatures and filed them with the state--only to have them rejected by Michigan Secretary of State, Terri Lynn Land (R).

When I said national attention in the title I meant the attention of nationally syndicated columnist and radio host Paul Jacob. His recent article, The Rule of Law v. The Rule of Land, points out again how Michigan is again seems to be coming up on the short-end of the stick.

Having recently participated in gathering signatures for Ferndale's No PSD initiative and seeing first-hand how some parties directly affected by bad legislation aren't able to collect petition signatures against those same laws.

In the case of the PSD, the business owners that had to pay the Principal Shopping District tax (PSD) aren't allowed, by Ms. Land's rules, to collect petition signatures against it. Business owners had to rely on residents to do much of the work for them. Despite business owners' not-insignificant investment in our community they can not collect signatures because many aren't registered Ferndale electors.

That's not right. It's glad to know the Supreme Court agrees with me. It's disappointing to discover our secretary of state either disagrees or is ignorant of the issue. I suspect that after the appeal of her ruling she'll become more familiar with Buckley v ACLF.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Legislature votes for ban--except in casinos, tracks, and bingo halls

A couple days ago I read an editorial that pointed out how poor our understanding of civics is because if we understood the sanctity our constitution, democracy, and capitalism holds for private property rights we wouldn't even be having the conversation about smoking bans.

But to save everyone from having to think about representative and limited government, Lou Fleury from Royal Oak's letter to The Oakland Press gives us this simple example.
[Lou and his friend] think the Legislature should also look at another scourge that plays out all over the state — an assault to health and welfare, a problem to workers in certain establishments who are subjected to this without regard for human decency. Yes, we’re talking about karaoke — the right of people to sing off key and give us headaches! My doctor told me I may suffer permanent physical or psychological damage.

I was complaining about this the other day to anyone that would listen. Somebody said, “Shut up will ya. Just don’t go to those places anymore.”

Wow! Don’t go to bars and restaurants that have karaoke. What a concept.
Indeed. How far we must have wandered when individual liberty and responsibility are new concepts.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ask not what your congressman can do for you

We've come a long way from John F. Kennedy's inauguration speech of January 20, 1961. It is from this great speech that President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." On a Townhall-like telephone conference with Congressman Sander Levin a few weeks ago this was the last thing on questioners' minds. All they most wanted to know was what the federal government will do for them.

According to the conference moderator, over 2000 people from the congressman's district were on the phone. It was the congressman's staff's job to screen questions. Maybe Kennedy's words were the last thing on the screeners' minds. The only questions I heard asked were basically:
  • How can the government pay for my health insurance?
  • How can the government pay for my child's education?
  • How can the government lower gas prices?
  • How can the government pay for my mortgage?
After answering a few of these, I could have easily taken the congressman's place because his answer to each was basically, "Democratic leaders in the house and senate are working to provide (fill in the blank) but we'd make better progress with a friend in the White House, instead of President Bush."

From the congressman's point-of-view, the only thing stopping Democrats from paying for everything was President Bush. If that's the case, I'm glad President Bush is there, and am not optimistic for either an Obama or Clinton presidency.

The high cost of health insurance, education, and the so-called mortgage crisis are likely the product of government interference in the first place. Many who get the joke chuckle when the hear,
patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this
doctor: Then stop doing that!
If government interference helped create the problem, why do so many expect more government interference will remedy it? I had a grandmother that used to over-cook meat. She thought the solution to any tough, unchewable roast was to put it back in the oven.

When someone else is paying our tab we tend to be less careful what we put on it. This is the case with corporate expense accounts as much as it with insurance. Healthy people are perfectly capable of fighting off infections without antibiotics, but since they're made less expensive with insurance we're seldom reluctant to have them prescribed for us. This is an unnecessary medical subsidy that inflates the prices of medicines and contributes to the antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

Government subsidies also remove the pressure on colleges to yield to the economics of supply and demand. Administrative and staff salaries, building and maintenance expenses are all increasing faster than inflation, and both state and federal governments are racing to back-fill their budgets so the cost to families might remain affordable. Though universities teach supply & demand, as well as the basics of capitalism and free markets, apparently they prefer a more socialist funding mechanism.

Gas prices? Punish the oil companies. None of us are individually responsible for our nation's dependence on foreign oil. We have a right to live wherever we want, drive whatever we want, heat our homes and pools to whatever temperature we want, and exercise our recreational vehicles however we desire. The preferred mechanism to affording our wants is to have the government pay for it--which is to say taxpayers. And while income taxes are graduated--have "the rich" pay for it. In fact the less we pay in income tax the better the deal it is.

Congressman Levin also promised to rescue homeowners at risk of foreclosure or upside-down on their mortgages. Even before 2005 economists warned home prices couldn't keep going up. Everyone that lived through the Internet Bubble of 2000 or the savings & loan scandal knew the economists were right--but that didn't stop them from buying more home than they could afford or speculating that interest rates wouldn't rise.

So what else did President Kennedy say in that speech? Read it for yourself. You might notice he used words similar to what President Bush used in Israel that so upset Democrats. A good speech, like a good constitution, is as relevant today as it was when first composed. The only difference I see today from 47 years ago is that that speech seems more conservative than progressive, and more likely to come from Bush than either Clinton or Obama.

So I wonder to myself, have Republicans become more like Kennedy or have Democrats become less like him?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Talk cheaper than gas more than ever

This article was originally posted as a comment on a headline appearing in Ferndale Online.
People from Clarkston don't need to come to Ferndale for our downtown--they have their own and it's quite nice, if a little more spread out than ours.

No, Mr. Mayor, the reason Ferndale and other inner-ring neighborhoods will likely see a rise in popularity is because of the cost of gas. As even Ms. Shor of Clarkston said in the Free Press article, "As much as we've enjoyed living in Clarkston, we feel that the exurbs are too far removed from everything. I hate all the driving."

This is pretty much what I predicted in May 2007 in the article Selfish Sympathies:
When gas costs $4, $5, or $6/gallon, people may not be willing to sit in clogged traffic and begin demanding subways, elevated rail, or other public transportation that can be financed with new gas taxes. Buses fall somewhere between personal and mass transit, but are neither personal or mass. Mass transit is progress for Detroit and Michigan.

Cheap gas accelerates urban sprawl. It makes 20, 30, or even 40-mile or more commutes an inconsequential expense. Imagine how real estate costs might change if Detroit and its inner-ring cities like Oak Park, Ferndale, Royal Oak and others suddenly become more desirable properties than Clarkston and Addison because of their close proximity to mass transit, urban infrastructure, office and retail space, and $4-or-higher per gallon gas prices.

One problem in Ferndale is our priorities seem disconnected from our rhetoric. There's a lot of mass-transit-talk from city managers and council persons, but that doesn't stop the spending or construction of pork projects in Woodward's median. Both the Crow's Nest and the Woodward Avenue Tribute Totem Pole actually stand in the way of mass transit as surely as a young Ferndale mother, her two-year old, stroller, and our Welcome to Ferndale wall stood in the way of a car driven by an medically-impaired driver.

Instead of walls, jungle gyms, or monuments we should erect signs announcing "mass transit coming soon," or "this is a site of a proposed mass-transit station" whether it's proposed or not.

If we're going to proceed using the Woodward Avenue median as our memorial park to local government pork spending, then we should drop the environmentally-sensitive/green city/pro-mass-transit talk and start lobbying middle schools to consider Ferndale instead of Washing DC for their Eighth-Grade Trips.

Maybe that's what our city leaders have in-mind for Ferndale's future--tourism.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Why the fuss over a gay Dumbledore?

Why all the fuss over a gay Dumbledore? Many who cheer the popular wizarding school's headmaster's outing express contempt for those that jeer it. The irony that escapes the isn't-it-great-that-Dumbledore-is-gay crowd is that by celebrating the Harry Potter author's comments as brave and audacious they betray the fact they haven't accepted homosexuality as normal. The real benchmark of homosexuality's acceptance into common culture is when remarks such as Rowling's would be otherwise unremarkable.

Another benchmark would be when The Detroit News stops publishing Deb Price or Deb Price stops writing specifically on gay issues. Having a column dedicated to gay topics trivializes homosexual issues to the daily horoscope or crossword puzzle. The nation's, Michigan's, and Detroit's issues are gay issues. Insisting gay issues are separate from America's risks keeping gays separate. If acceptance is the goal of advocacy then advocates might consider fewer isolating tactics.

Common culture doesn't celebrate or overreact to the ordinary. It's hardly noteworthy anymore that Hollywood actors and actresses seem to change lovers and spouses with each new film, hairstyle, or self-congratulatory awards banquet. What is noteworthy anymore is when we discover a pair of celebrities that have been married for 20 years or more. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward will be married 50 years this year and recently deceased Charlton Heston was married to his wife, Lydia Clark Heston, for 68 years.

Was anyone surprised Harry Potter married Ginnie Weasley or that Britney Spears did whatever outrageous thing she did last week?

Black History Month is another celebration that in 2008--143 years after General Lee's surrender, 53 years after Rosa Parks' bus ride, and 44 years since the Civil Rights Act--should be thought an anachronism. To draw attention to the accomplishments of black Americans as peculiarly distinguished from the accomplishments of all Americans suggests our nation still regards black accomplishment--academic or otherwise--as a novelty. The month-long blacks-are-people-too infomercials, documentaries and school programs are only necessary in a culture that either expects little of blacks, is compensating for its low expectations, or believes annual booster shots of encouragement inoculate black self esteem.

Think of it a four-week long anniversary of when a child first colored inside the lines. After a few years it's embarrassing to both the child and everyone invited to
Chuck-e-Cheese's. The child is fine. It's the parents that need therapy.

As Shelby Steele suggested, it may be paternalism that keeps the training wheels on for minorities and not lack of opportunity or achievement.

It's not always a bad thing to celebrate
what people ought to do, but repeated celebration risks drawing more attention to ourselves than the people or events we're celebrating. Our celebrations become less about them than being counted among the revelers. Are we truly glad Dumbledore is gay or do we only want to be seen being glad he's gay? Are our criticisms of those protesting the announcement for our benefit or Dumbledore's and Rowling's? Surely neither of them requires our coming to their defense--the former is a fictional character whose romantic attachments played no part in the plot created by the latter.

The ordinary doesn't attract attention to itself--that's what makes it ordinary. Unless we've come to a place where doing the right thing is unexpected we should stop acting surprised when it happens, and stop celebrating ourselves at the expense of others.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why politicians lie to us: II

Last May I wrote an article called Why politicians lie to us suggesting they lie because we want them to. With all the clamor for government bailouts for mortgages, what politician would dare telling voters their problems were brought on themselves (both lenders and borrowers) or that the best thing for some troubled homeowners is to lose their homes?

In April 22's Detroit News, the Associated Press reported housing prices may slump more than during the Great Depression. The doom and gloom reported there will likely lead many to believe we're bound for a depression of historic proportions.
"An influential economist who long predicted the housing market bubble cautioned Tuesday that the slump in the U.S. housing market could cause prices to fall more than they did in the Great Depression, and bailouts will be needed so millions don't lose their homes."

I really hope that didn't surprise anyone.

How many more homes do you think have been built since the 1930s? How much greater a percentage of the population owns homes today than in the 1930s? How much more urban sprawl exists now than in the 1930s?

What we should be wary of is the last part of the sentence above, "... and bailouts will be needed so millions don't lose their homes."

I'm reminded of a column written by John Stossel about how some homeowners deliberately build homes too-close to the ocean because they know the government will pay to rebuild it. Because the homeowner doesn't bare the cost of the risk, and neither does the insurance company, they cavalierly build homes they couldn't afford without depending on federal bailouts. We feel bad they lose their homes, but if they were forced to bare the cost of their risk they may chose to live elsewhere--or at least with less of your tax dollars.

Maybe there were millions who weren't ready to afford their homes. Maybe there were millions who speculated with their lenders that home prices would continue skyrocketing. Do you remember the savings & loan scandal or when the dot-com bubble burst? They were only 18 and 8 years ago respectively.

Who says we don't learn from our mistakes? The government paid for the first, didn't pay for the second, and politicians and the media have all agreed having the federal government pay for our losses scores more points with voters than not--regardless the cost to the treasury.

Maybe there's an opportunity for Detroit and its inner-ring neighborhoods to help these people find more affordable accommodations. Maybe the mortgage crisis, combined with high gas prices, creates a unique opportunity to re-populate cities by creating demand for apartments, townhouses, and other more affordable homes.

So if politicians aren't blatantly lying to us, at least they spend more time telling us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear. I believe it's possible to change that, and am always on the look-out for that politician.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

It takes a village to spoil a politician

Americans are too distracted by the shenanigans of federal and state officials. If the congresspersons and senators of today were the commissioners, trustees and council persons of yesterday then we should pay closer attention to our local government. It is in our own backyard where poor decisions are tolerated, conflicts of interest overlooked, and politicians discover there's rarely a spanking for poor behavior.

Council's decision Monday night to approve the Downtown Development Authority's (DDA) request to extend a 1.3794 millage to businesses in the recently expanded Principal Shopping District (PSD) is a textbook example of bad governance and inadequate due diligence. Unfortunately, council's collaboration (councilwomen Baker served on the PSD committee) with the DDA to expand its powers, boundary, and tax burden on local businesses regardless the DDA's misrepresentations (read: lies) doesn't attract the negative press and attention it deserves.

How can a council approve a request from the DDA when that request is based on misleading numbers, misleading statements, failure to notify the public, and without substantive and challenging questions to verify the DDA's claims? How can a council constituted to represent the public tolerate the actions of an agency whose board doesn't represent its public? How can the council indulge the DDA's expansion in both size and taxes without proof of need or an invitation from businesses?

They can because promises to not raise taxes are more like "guidelines" than actual "promises." They can because monuments to council's self-importance are worth $30,000 and equipment for the axillary police is not. They can ignore evidence and refuse investigating complaints because their political philosophy values good intentions over full disclosure and accountability.

They can because the village they came from and are accountable to doesn't hold them accountable and rarely discusses their behavior. We've become enablers.

And some of these spoiled children will become tomorrow's candidates for county, state, and national office. Is it any wonder the state can't balance its budget, control spending, or attract businesses and investment? Is it any wonder congressmen and senators pack bills with earmarks and pork? Are they making policy or sausage?

Perhaps this is an unintended consequence of term-limits. As representatives are term-limited out of Lansing lessor politicians are socially promoted to take their place.

Perhaps we'd better keep a closer eye on the kindergartens. They're tomorrow's bus drivers in Washington, Lansing, and everywhere in-between.

All of this is an introduction to the original text of my comments to city council on Monday, February 25. Because of time limitations I edited it on-the-fly (and my diction was poor and I read too fast) so there are some items below that didn't make it to video.
A misleading effort
  • The presentation the DDA made to council in 2007 contained misleading information and omissions designed to make our DDA appear sympathetic and under-funded.

  • They under-reported their income on charts by $150,000.

  • They made false comparisons to Birmingham, RO, and Rochester

  • They misrepresented opposition to the district's expansion-stating in memoranda to council there was no opposition. In fact, multiple business owners both within the original and expanded boundaries approached both the DDA and city council, formally and informally, stating their opposition to the expansion and are willing to testify about those emails, phone calls, and meetings.

  • The already too-cozy relationship between the DDA, city employees, and city council resulted in a lack of due diligence, interrogatory, or even general discussion about the merits of the expansion.

  • Today the millage is requested on the Proposal-A limited taxable value of properties, but already the DDA is scheming to assess the tax on the state equalized value, which will cost all businesses roughly twice as much.

  • They have already approved a BUILD grant application without the money to fund it--then have used that application as justification for higher taxes

    • It's odd the BUILD grant application came from the president of Ferndale's Chamber of Commerce. The Chambers was conspicuously quiet regarding the $0.35/sqft. PSD tax. Earlier statements indicated the membership couldn't reach a consensus, but the prematurely-approved BUILD application suggests a conflict of interests. If the applicant had hoped for the BUILD request to be approved and new it depended on the PSD tax--it would be to the applicant's advantage to sit on the sidelines and neither support or oppose the tax.

    • Communications between the DDA, city, and council members FOIAed by Tiffani Gagne on behalf of substantiate the DDA, city, city council, and the applicant were aware of the BUILD request, the DDA's exploitation of it, and advice from elected officials on how to get around funding limitations as well as offers to pay for it from city funds.

  • In memoranda to the city requesting this most recent tax increase, the DDA claimed the city council put them in a bad position by approving the expansion request without an onerous tax--forgetting it was themselves, the DDA, that asked for the expansion in the first place.
A bad-faith effort
  • Even after admitting now is bad time to raise taxes the DDA is requesting additional taxes.
    • DDA, council members, and even the the mayor have described this as a drop in the bucket.
    • No rain-drop blamed itself for floods in New Orleans

  • Even though they expanded the district to include 187 new businesses they've made no effort to include those businesses on the DDA's board, and no board member has thought this lack of representation was important enough to sacrifice their own seat.

  • They've not included new businesses in the DDA's directory--even though that expense is minimal.

  • They've not patronized Ferndale businesses for their own expenses--specifically printing expenses.

  • They've not organized the Focus Groups they promised to "educate" and "involve" businesses in the expanded area, but they've wasted no time trying to tax them.

  • They've not mailed businesses any information warning them this request would be before council tonight or explaining specifically what services they can expect in return for the tax.

  • They've not spent any effort trying to trim their own expenses, as many businesses and even government agencies are forced to do in tough economic times. If they had they could easily have found $18,000 in lease expenses alone--with money left over.
A misguided-effort
  • In candidate Craig Covey's own words, "... our downtown is sparkling."

  • Our businesses and local charity groups have already proved they can simultaneously promote downtown Ferndale and raise money for charity or profit on their own--without the DDA's assistance.

  • Our DDA, which was intended to be a business accelerator, has become a business breaker--through its own policies, rules, permits, fees--many of them duplicating city hall requirements--it has made opening businesses in Ferndale more difficult, not less difficult.

  • Meanwhile, the Hilton Road corridor is in desperate need of attention. Economic development programs are available for it as well, but our city seems preoccupied with its downtown.

  • perhaps it's too comfortable with its downtown and prefers to rest on its laurels than attack the challenge of Hilton Road, whose revitalization over the next 5-to-10 years would mean more to our entire city's economic health, including our downtown's, than any incremental improvements in our downtown alone.
I could have gone on, but council passed a new rule in January limiting public comments on agenda items to three-minutes, similar to the three-minute call-to-audience limitation. More time would have allowed more specifics, more congruity, and perhaps a more persuasive argument.

If that wasn't the intent of the egg timer, it's at least a fringe-benefit to council.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sign ordinances threaten to remove character from cities

A recent Detroit News letter to the editor caught my eye this AM.
Sign rules imperil small firms

The Feb. 11 article on the fate of Alban's freestanding sign in Birmingham should serve as a wake-up call to planning and zoning boards across the state ("Restaurant's big wheel seeks new home"). Municipalities have needlessly passed stricter sign regulations that have all but eliminated the ability of small business owners to create similar unique signs for their business.

Furthermore, the increasingly restrictive regulations on outdoor advertising stifle the ability of small businesses to compete with the ever-growing number of chain restaurants and stores. Without rethinking sign regulations, beloved landmark signs such as Alban's and other true works of art will only be seen in museums and private collections.

Martin Engel


Ferndale has a sign ordinance that threatens to extinguish its character, too. Imagine how much difficulty Wetmores might have trying to stick half a car out its second story window given our current ordinances. Yet that car (or half-a-car) has become a Ferndale and Woodward icon every much as Alban's wheel sign.

A couple months ago, Doug Fresard endured an interrogation from councilman Galloway that would give John McCain flashbacks. To demonstrate what a populist he is, Galloway showed no consideration for Fresard's $11 million investment in their new Ferndale Dealership and drilled him about a monument sign the dealer wanted in their front lawn. Apparently the monument wasn't compliant with the city's sign ordinance and despite evidence of its tastefulness and utility Galloway objected, wondering what good are ordinances if they aren't enforced?

After an hour's drilling, Galloway relented and Fresard was able to escape council chambers with a variance, his grandfather's watch he'd hidden someplace council wouldn't look, and a little post-traumatic-stress.

Our downtown's authenticity is born from the creativity of our businesses. I think council should give our businesses a little leeway in deciding how best to promote their businesses, spend their own marketing dollars and maybe, just maybe, create the next Ferndale icon

Friday, February 15, 2008

Update: Boulder may lack votes for impeachment resolution

"I am not interested in engaging in purely symbolic acts. ... We obviously lack the power to act on any of the constitutional violations of the current administration."
Boulder City Councilman, Macon Cowles

Boulder city councilman, Mr. Cowles, recognizes the resolution is purely symbolic and understands it's congress' job to impeach the president--not city council's. Thing may change, but it doesn't look like Boulder will be posting this resolution on their website.

Read the rest at The Daily Camera's, Impeachment fizzle: Boulder lacks votes to take on Bush

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Boulder Colorado may consider resolution impeaching Bush and Cheney

Note: please see correction at the bottom of this article.

Last May the Ferndale City Council passed a resolution impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. During the hearing I urged council not to bring the issue to the vote because it was beyond their power (ultra vires for you Latin aficionados and lawyers).

The latest city to consider such a resolution is Boulder, CO. Some Boulder councilpersons, like a majority of ours, are convinced they're representing the citizens by considering the resolution. Instead, it's more likely their motivations have more to do with themselves than their constituents.

For example, unlike every other resolution passed in 81 years of council meetings only one is conspicuously displayed on the city's website--2007's resolution impeaching Bush and Cheney.

Being incorporated in 1927 some might expect resolutions condemning the torpedoing the Lusitania or the bombing of Perl Harbor, drawing the US into WWI and WWII respectively would be proudly displayed. A resolution against President Nixon in 1973 may also have been warranted, but none of these is preserved for posterity on our city's website.

These were important world and national events and resolutions condemning all three have been proven justified from the perspective of history.

Prominently documenting the actions of previous city councils is respectful. Prominently displaying your own demonstrates a lack of humility, a lack of propriety, and a lack of perspective.

Impeaching the president is the responsibility of our congressmen and senators. There's safety in numbers. There's safety in a mob. Like our council, Boulder's is caught-up in the moment, but vigilantism is expected from mobs--not elected city officials.


WWI took place between 1914 and 1918. Back then Ferndale, like other cities around it, was part of Royal Oak Township.

Ferndale was incorporated as a village in 1918, but didn't become a city until 1927--nine years after World War I ended.

Even excluding The Great War, there have (unfortunately) been numerous other events for which humanity has paid horrific consequences that didn't merit a resolution from Ferndale's previous city councils (including genocides and ethnic cleansings) or promotion on its website.

Why didn't I edit the article?

I think it would have demonstrated bad ethics to change the wording of something already published in a material way. I've previously corrected misspellings, typos, and grammar errors, but I will not remove articles or substantively change them to cover my tracks.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Michigan's 4-year long recession is "news" to Ferndale DDA

In a recent Woodward Talk article, PSD tax put on hold, Ferndale DDA Executive Director Cristina Sheppard-Decius said that both the organized opposition to a new business tax and the "recent" economic news persuaded the DDA to postpone requesting the city council for the tax increase:
Sheppard-Decius said that recent news reports about the declining US economy, coupled with Michigan's recent economic struggles, were also at the root of the DDA's decision.

"The economy has been very shaky on a national level, not just on a local level," she said. "Right now might not be the best time."

"In six months to a year, we might have a better picture of where the economy is at."
But her lip service to the economy is unbelievable. She still thinks the tax was opposed because of a communication problem and lack of detail:
"We were able to glean that we needed to get out to the business owners and go into more detail with them about the PSD tax. We plan to hold focus groups where we can be much more thorough on this issue."
In the DDA's opinion, all those restless business owners just didn't have enough information, or weren't paying attention. But it's more likely the DDA's director isn't paying attention.

A Wednesday (1/30/2008) Detroit News editorial reported:
Michigan remained in its one-state recession for its fourth consecutive year in 2007, as overall jobs declined by 1.8 percent, the jobless rate increased by four-tenths of a percentage point and the exodus of population accelerated, according to Comerica Inc. Chief Economist Dana Johnson.
The DDA should spend less time reading Main Street fairy tales and more time reading the editorial pages.

Or maybe Comerica's Chief Economist, Dana Johnson, should spend more time reading the Woodward Talk. While Sheppard-Decius believes Ferndale's economic condition may improve enough "In six months to a year" to re-evaluate the business tax, Johnson believes,
"In the near term, however," Johnson writes. "Personal income in Michigan will take another hit that will ripple throughout the state's economy."
Certainly, predictions of a 6-12 month turn-around in Michigan's economy will be news to Johnson and Michigan's Governor, Jennifer Granholm.

Economists seem resigned to the fact Michigan has been in a recession since 2003. Most people in Michigan, especially the 147,000 that have lost their jobs since 2000 and the 90,000 that left the state in 2007 were already aware of our recession. Obviously, none of them works or volunteers at the DDA because the DDA has been working obliviously toward the PSD expansion and its attendant tax since 2005:
But for Shepard-Decius, it has been disheartening to see the PSD tax shelved after two years of planning. "It's very disappointing for those who worked hard on it," she said. "We're a little bit deflated."
It's hard to feel sympathy for a group laboring in the bliss of tax-funded ignorance. It's not difficult to understand how that lack of sympathy can turn to animosity when she ignores what was "at the root of the DDA's decision" and plans to proceed with a 2-mill levy "in a month or so."

I'm uncertain any number of focus groups can correct that kind of willful disregard of the economy and contempt for business owners who in Sheppard-Decius' opinion are getting a "free-ride."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Municipal insult to state injury

A Detroit News editorial today reported that, ".. in the minds of 605 of the country's chief executives... Michigan was rated the third worst state to do business in."
"Overall, the message CEOs are sending is that over-taxed and over-regulated states are not conducive to the health of their businesses," said Ed Kopko, chief executive and publisher of the Chief Executive Group. Some leaders argue taxes and regulations don't matter much, but the executives who create jobs and locate factories disagree.
So if the state is viewed as over-taxing and over-regulating, how many more taxes and regulations should municipalities add? To be fair, they may need some new taxes to support essential government services for relocating businesses, like police, fire, and infrastructure improvements. But discretionary services with weak value propositions (like the DDA's desire for alley improvements, more flowers, more banners, and listing businesses in a directory) should be eliminated. And that includes taxes and regulations that already exist but if eliminated, might make Ferndale more attractive to business.

Honestly, I don't know how much time Ferndale leaders spend trying to attract out-of-state businesses to Ferndale. It is more likely Ferndale competes with other Michigan cities for businesses that have already come to reluctant terms with state and local governments' business-as-usual.

Quicken Loans' move from Livonia to Detroit was good for Detroit but not for Livonia. Compuware's move was another example of stealing from Peter to pay Paul, or stealing from Farmington Hills to pay Detroit. Like deck chairs on the Titanic, Quicken and Compuware were just moving around Michigan, but Pfizer and Volkswagon chose lifeboats outside the state--which is the ultimate measure of CEOs' estimation of Michigan's seaworthiness.

Lately, many people may have less respect for CEOs (Enron, Tyco, etc.) than they did 15 years ago, but ultimately CEOs, small business owners, and entrepreneurs are the ones that create jobs--not government. Perhaps if government focused more on getting out of businesses' way by repealing taxes and laws that are both burdensome and nuisances we might discover that less government begets more jobs.

Even without more jobs, less government may be its own reward.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Is capitalism or taxes a better cure for poverty?

In June 2007, I wrote an article (Hold on to your wallets) about Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates', Harvard commencement address in which he appealed to the graduates to strive for "creative capitalism." In it he suggested capitalism creates inequities between nations with free-market economies and those that don't.

I thought that was the point of capitalism, to provide the opportunities for individuals to capitalize on their ideas, build multi-billion dollar companies that employ hundreds of thousands of people world-wide, and create complimentary businesses (consultants, engineers, etc.) that employ millions more, that government can't do itself and without taxpayer expense.

Lawrence Kudrow caught up with Mr. Gates at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland where Gates has changed the title of his mantra to "kinder capitalism."

Lawrence Kudrow writes (Capitalism doesn't work, Mr. Gates?):
Gates says he has witnessed steep income and cultural inequities in his travels around the world, in particular to Africa. But for this he should blame the absence of capitalist principles, not capitalism itself. Even the most compassionate corporate executives are not going to bring prosperity to impoverished countries with statist economies. Until Africa's nations undertake the market-oriented reforms that have boosted China and the other Asian Tigers -- like South Korea and Taiwan -- they will continue to rank at the bottom of the world prosperity scale.
Give the whole article a read. I think Mr. Kudrow (and the late Milton Friedman) have a better idea to lift Africa's, Cuba's, and other countries' economies, standard of living, and fight more poverty than increased federal income taxes ever could.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How to read Ann Coulter

Many people have a hard time reading Ann Coulter's articles, regardless which topic she writes about. The leather-skirt-wearing, long-haired blonde, will-someone-feed-me-a-Twinkie conservative writer's opinions are sometimes hard to discern between the humor, historical citations, and acerbic criticisms of all people and events. Her style is both offensive and endearing, but which it is depends heavily on the reader's palate.

Her most recent column, The Elephant in the Room, is no different. Between her disparaging remarks on McCain, Huckabee, Iowa and New Hampshire voters, Democrats, Republicans, the New York Times, Frank Rich, Giuliani, Bill Clinton, (did I leave anybody out?) oh, yea--Billy Carter, Ann Coulter makes an interesting observation; Mitt Romney must be the Republican's best candidate (as in, the most Republican of the field) because Democrats are working so hard to discredit him.

Now, the fun part about reading this article is looking at it from the other point of view. Which Democrat(s) are Republicans working so hard to discredit, and does that suggest those Democratic candidates Republicans are worked into a froth over are the best standard-bearers for liberals?

Unless the entire Democratic establishment is attempting some kind of reverse-psychology, Democrat's tacit approval of McCain and Huckabee should make conservatives wonder about both candidates true conservative credentials.

In March 2007, I wrote Accrediting your Adversary to warn against talking more about your opponent than yourself. In the same way Voldemort marked Harry Potter as his equal (to his own demise) candidates from one party often boost the popularity (and power) of candidates in the other. The more Republicans talked about Clinton and Obama the more credible they became. Ann Coulter's suggesting the more Democrats beat-up on Mitt Romney the more credible he becomes. Even if Republicans don't recognize Romney's conservative credentials, the Democrats do.

This is, of course, how contemporary politics work. Each party seems more concerned with defeating their enemy than they are what's best for The United States of America, and they'll make all kinds of promises to voters, even at the country's expense, if it means winning. A victory for either party means an injury to the other--and well run, efficient, constitutional government be damned. Job losses, budget deficits, national debt, oil dependence, education, and creeping socialism are simply collateral damage on the home-war front.

Instead of a quad-annual game of capture-the-flag, it would be fun to recapture America.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A leadership vacuum in Ferndale

Nature abhors a vacuum. Suck the air from one end of a tube and fuel will rush in the other from the gas tank your siphoning from.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is trying to suck money from businesses in and around downtown Ferndale and no one from either the city council or the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce has taken a definitive position against the new tax, leaving many businesses without an advocate, and since businesses can't vote, they're left without representation.

The DDA is going to get a mouthful of something, but for now it's not what they'd hoped for.

At a city council meeting in early December my wife, Tiffani Gagne, encouraged council not to approve new taxes on downtown businesses. She listed a dozen recently shuttered shops and reminded council our current economy is hard enough on businesses without a new tax, and recommended incoming councilwomen Kate Baker should abstain from voting on the issue because her connections to the DDA risked an appearance of impropriety.

What she abhors she hurries to fill

Also attending that day were Ferndale businessmen AJ O'Niell, from AJ's Cafe and Nature Nook's Daryl DePottey. Both told Tiffani that if she were to form an opposition group to the tax she had their support. By December 21 Tiffani had joined with Ferndale Friends publisher, Stephanie Loveless, shared what they'd heard from businesses and decided to work together to help them out.

The domain was registered, and posters designed and ordered the next day. They were printed by Christmas Eve. On 12/26 Tiffani and Stephanie started visiting businesses along the Nine Mile and Woodward corridors inside the PSD, talking to businesses, distributing posters, collecting names, email addresses, and donations. was running by the 27th.

Coincidentally, that's when the DDA's discussion forum started seeing its first comments (parking and the PSD) in over a year (maybe longer--I stopped at 12/2006).

Are you sure that's the gas tank?

On January 10th, 33 business owners and residents led by Linda Robbins (House of Chants), Keith Premier (Contempo Home), and Wyll Lewis (American Pop!) met at AJ's Cafe. Among other objectives their first is to defeat the new PSD tax. Like the posters say, they can't afford it. Many are struggling mightily just to make rent and have already cut-back on expenses--including staff. Some have already made plans to close in 2008.

Robbins, Premier, and Lewis also distributed surveys for a new organization they created called The Ferndale Asssociation of Businesses (FAB) and already reserved the internet domain They hope to do a better job communicating with, representing and promoting the interests of downtown businesses than either the DDA for Chamber of Commerce has done so far.

So what is the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce's position on the PSD tax?

According to a December 9 article in The Mirror:
Ferndale Chamber of Commerce President Mailè Ilac Boeder said the chamber, which represents 300 businesses in the area, opted not to take a position on a proposed PSD tax.

"We will tell our members what is going on with the PSD and when there are meetings about it," she said. "We couldn't come up with a fair consensus that would represent all of our members."
As far as I know, it wasn't until this week the Chamber decided to inform their members about the PSD. They've scheduled three one-hour seminars on January 16 for Chamber members and business owners, presented by the DDA. No word yet on whether they'll invite anyone from the No-PSD-Tax! or FAB groups to either keep the DDA honest or present an alternate opinion.

I find it odd that of all the businesses Stephanie and Tiffani have visited, very few are in favor of the new tax. Finding a majority opinion among the store owners directly affected hasn't been difficult. If the chamber's leadership isn't prepared to take a position on a new local business tax, it casts doubt on their ability or willingness to take a position on any ordinance or legislation affecting business owners, whether it be a PSD tax, a 6% state service tax, or raising the county's sales tax to 7%.

To paraphrase 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot, "That giant sucking sound you hear is leadership going south."

Can you hear me now?

As far as the 2008 city council goes, only newly elected mayor Craig Covey has made statements opposing the PSD tax as initially proposed by the DDA last June. Detroit Free Press reporter Bill Laitner quoted Mr. Covey, "To throw a new tax burden on our businesses in these tenuous economic times, I think, is ill-advised."

As ill advised as it is, I'd prefer a stronger statement than was reported in the Daily Tribune by Mike McConell:
"I would like to see the principal shopping district grow slowly,” he said, suggesting that the current tax proposal may be too aggressive. “I’m very reluctant to enact tax increases on a local level when the Michigan economy is in a multi-year recession.”
As non-resolute as that sounds, it stands out in marked contrast to comments from councilpersons Galloway and Baker who favor raising taxes.

Newly-elected and youngest councilwoman Kate Baker, whose professional experience is four years of fund raising for The Henry Ford, believes the DDA knows best how to spend business' money for their survival in these tough times than the business owners.

From the December 9 Mirror article by Megan Pennefather:
Kate Baker, who was elected to council in November and will take her seat at the table in January, volunteers with the DDA. "Investment will pay off as the economy starts to turn around," she said. "Ferndale will be ahead of the curve."
And what are those keep-your-head-above-water-to-ride-out-the-storm investment ideas? According to the Free Press:
"This would provide matching funds for state and federal grants" to provide things like better pedestrian crosswalks, she said.
That will certainly increase tire sales for Chris Lynch at Wetmore's. They get lots of pedestrian walk-in traffic from downtown.

The Woodward Talk caught councilman Scott Galloway on a good day:
Galloway argued that the proposed levies are merely "a drop in the bucket."

"These people are under the assumption that all taxes are bad, as if they don't give them anything in return," he said. "Consistent landscaping, promotions -- you can't get those things for free."
That comes from a councilman who thinks spending $30,000 to be the first city with a 30'-tall Woodward Tombstone is also "a drop in the bucket."

With those fiscal chops Galloway would be in good company in either Lansing or Washington. Especially with the likes of Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirkson, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money."

Councilpersons Gumbleton and Lennon have either not been interviewed by the press or have refused to make any comments on the issue.

Even though I don't agree with Galloway and Baker, I respect their and Craig Covey having positions on the issue. It would be good to hear more debate.

Winners and Losers

The DDA has nothing to lose. Their budget either increases $184,000 or it stays the same. If the PSD wins 200 businesses in the expanded PSD district will pay higher taxes and get little in return.

The Chamber's decision to stay on the sidelines in this debate is surprising. Their retreat has created an opportunity for FAB to take a leadership role the Chamber should have. I'm unsure Ferndale's business community can support two separate business organizations, but at least one of them intends to support businesses in this fight.

If you want to try the siphoning experiment at home I recommend starting with an aquarium. Leave political vacuums to the professionals.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Huckabee vows birthright citizenship case

I just noticed a news item from the Washing Post announcing Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee vows to defy birthright citizenship.
"Mike Huckabee wants to amend the Constitution to prevent children born in the U.S. to illegal aliens from automatically becoming American citizens.."
I wrote about this briefly in May 2006, citing a short Q&A piece published by the Federalist Society:
The second interesting point is the presumption their children are US citizens based on the citizenship clause of the 14th amendment. Perhaps incorrectly interpreted for over a century:
The Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment actually has two components: 1) “All persons born or naturalized in the United States,” and 2) “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, . . . are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The claim of birthright citizenship is particularly troubling in the context of illegal immigrants, for it permits those who have not followed our law, who have not adopted the United States as their own country and sworn their allegiance to it, to nevertheless demand that the United States confer the privilege of citizenship upon their children (and derivatively upon them as well). The original intent of the 14th Amendment was to mandate that those born on U.S. soil and who were subject to the full and complete, allegiance-owing, can-be-prosecuted-for treason jurisdiction of the United States, would be citizens.
The Washing Post story went on to say:
The former Arkansas governor thinks the case against U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean was railroaded, Mr. Gilchrist said. Ramos and Compean are serving lengthy prison sentences for shooting a fleeing drug-smuggling suspect in the buttocks.

"I would make it my first act as president to pardon agents Ramos and Compean," Mr. Gilchrist said Mr. Huckabee told him. "I regret that they have spent yet another Christmas locked up in a windowless cell like animals and unable to be free and with their families."
I'm not thrilled with his comments on capitalism, but these are at least some good starting points for an immigration policy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Comparisons to Birmingham aren't fair -- to Birmingham

Note: This article has been cross-posted to, a website supporting the efforts of my wife, Tiffani Gagne and local publisher Stephanie Loveless to defeat the $0.35/square-foot tax on Ferndale businesses. Please visit for more information.

In reporting on the campaign against Ferndale PSD tax, Mirror reporter Megan Pennefather spoke to DDA Executive Director, Cristina Sheppard-Decius:
Sheppard-Decius said everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but that she's disappointed neither Gagne nor Loveless met with her to discuss the issue before starting the campaign.

"The information they may be putting out there is inaccurate," she said. "And I hope businesses will do their due diligence" and research the issue. "My hope is that people will make a decision based on information, not on hearsay."
It's not Tif and Steffie's fault the $350,000 isn't correct. That number came from the DDA's presentation to council in June, 2007. But the DDA's budget also includes millages and sponsorships that bring their revenue up to $503,700. I agree with Cristina that not disclosing 30% of the DDA's income to city council is "inaccurate," but that was the DDA's error--not Tif and Steffie's.

What Cristina doesn't appreciate is the information Tiffani Gagne and Steffanie Loveless are sharing comes from information published earlier by the DDA, presentations the DDA gave to city council, but subsequently removed from their website.

So what information might Tiffani and Stephanie be sharing that's inaccurate? Maybe it was when the DDA compared their current $350,000 budget to Birmginham's, Rochester's, and Royal Oak's $600,000, $1.25 million, and $2 million budgets respectively.

The DDA compared Ferndale's $350,000 to Birmingham's $600,000. But the more-accurate numbers are $503,700 and $1 million, because according to Birmingham PSD's executive director John Heiney, Birmingham receives $800,000 from their PSD tax and another $200,000 in sponsorships.

That may seem worse but Birmingham's revenue is spread across 600 businesses to Ferndale's current 200. In other words, Ferndale's raises $2518 for each of its businesses ($503,700/200) compared to Birmingham's paltry $1667 ($1 million/600).

And that's without Ferndale's onerous PSD tax!

The real irony comes when we include the new PSD tax. According to the latest information from Ferndale, the PSD tax proposal will double its size to 400 business and raise an additional $284,689.

That's a good thing, isn't it?

Let's look at the numbers again. Ferndale's new total revenue will be $684,269 (see table below) but will now be responsible for 400 businesses. On a per-business basis Ferndale's revenue actually drops to $1710--33% less than before the PSD tax!

Ferndale DDA Ferndale DDA w/ PSD Birmingham
# businesses 200 400 600
TIF $347,700 $347,700 $0
PSD $0 $284,869 $800,000
Millages $75,503 $0 $0
Sponsorships $80,500 $51,700 $200,000
Total Revenue $503,703 $684,269 $1,000,000
Revenue/Business $2,519 $1,711 $1,667

On the revenue side of the argument, some bean counters may actually say that collecting less money from more business is a good thing. On its face even I would say that's an example of broadening a tax base. But there are at least two problems with that perspective.

First, "broadening its tax base" is meant to describe what happens when new businesses open, existing businesses grow, and property values increase. The tax base grows because the downtown economy has grown--not its boundaries. By drawing new lines around 200 additional businesses the DDA has artificially broadened its tax base.

Second, at the DDA's own admission it is not proposing an equal distribution of the funds, but is planning to spend more of its money downtown than anywhere else. Alley improvements are for Nine Nile--not behind Wetmore's or Minser's Collision. Sidewalk snow removal and power washing are for downtown sidewalks, not those outside Elliot Saw Works or Detroit Comics.

That's not a broadening of the tax base, it's a redistribution of money--taking from non-downtown businesses to spend on the downtown. But even downtown stores like House of Chants, American Pop!, Dollar Castle and Via Nove oppose the new tax. In addition to being against higher taxes for themselves they realize many of their neighboring businesses are struggling under Michigan's single-state recession and that higher taxes may push their neighbors over the edge. Being surrounded by empty storefronts isn't good for downtowns or residents.