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.