Thursday, February 26, 2009

ZIP responds: Seven Facts about zoning

Patti Ashmore, the leader of the group opposing First Baptist Church's leasing space to SOS, has published an editoral on FerndaleOnline. As neither the Daily Tribune or Woodward Talk has seen fit to print it, I'm glad she was able to publish it.

After reading the article, please join the discussion.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is God a socialist?

Today's Detroit News contained an interesting op-ed from Doug Bandow, author of the book, Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics. I haven't read the book so can not comment on it, but his op-end, Is God a Socialst?, contains an interesting perspective on people, religion, and politics--specifically Christians.

The version appearing in the Detroit News is an edited-down version of a longer piece published in The American Spectator on January 9, 2009.

Rather than dilute his commentary with mine, I'll simply quote my favorite sections below and encourage you to read either the short version or the long version for yourself. I've only written two related articles to his points below. They are; Thou shalt not covet or graduate your neighbors' taxes and Christ among the partisans.

To understand the context of his comments and why I like them it is important to know the sections below were preceded with examples of churches, church leaders, and religious people praying and demonstrating to influence public policy. The implication being that some people's faith creates a desire to model public policy after their interpretation of scripture. But more importantly that compassion must be connected to consequence. Good intention are not enough and we should remember where the path paved with good intentions leads.

"However, applying Christian principles requires more than a little humility. The Bible tells much about man's relationship to God and man, but very little about the role of government. That is, Christian principles yield no specific legislative agenda.

"For instance, one cannot read Scripture without a profound appreciation of our duty to help our neighbors. However, we are commanded to give, not to make others give.

"The welfare state is a matter of political prudence, not religious principle. That is one reason why the Apostle James encouraged us to ask God for wisdom. Christians are expected to be compassionate, but God does not detail how we are to give compassion practical effect. The point is, compassion is not enough. Consequences matter.

"Should the government further bail out the auto industry? Channeling scarce resources into failing industries will divert needed money from existing companies and potential new enterprises, destroying even more jobs.

"Attempting to freeze the housing market would merely prolong the agony of many people who borrowed too much. Artificially propping up housing prices also will penalize potential buyers -- especially low-income and new purchasers.

"A Christian's walk in the political world will never be easy. But Christians should never forget that their principal duties have nothing to do with politics."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ferndale First Baptist should break agreement with SOS

Ferndale's First Baptist Church should break its agreement with The South Oakland Shelter (SOS) to lease an unused building for SOS to use as administrative offices.

The best argument citizens have in favor of SOS's relocation to First Baptist from its current Royal Oak address on Main Street, is that SOS does good work. Personally, I think the Murphy brothers did a great job on my kitchen but its unlikely the church would have offered a lease to them for that reason and I don't think that's what was meant by "good work."

Instead, what was meant by good work is that SOS has a charitable mission. As charitable as the Murphy brothers may be charity isn't the brothers' mission so the church is still unlikely to lease space to them.

But ultimately, niether SOS' or the Murphies' missions are the issue that should be debated. The real argument is that by becoming a landlord to SOS, First Baptist's mission suddenly changed from leases on the after-life to leases in general.

I have nothing against landlords or churches and am on good terms with several of both. But if I purchased a property near a church I expect the church to do church-like things. I do not expect them to turn the temple into a den of landlords and not expect me to toss a fit or two.

It seems the neighbors supporting SOS at the church feel the church is simply extending its charitable and religious mission to include SOS' mission to the newly homeless. SOS' is indeed a noble and virtuous mission, but the church can support that mission by donating money or volunteering time to the SOS. It doesn't have to lease space or upset its neighbors to do that.

The church could also donate the space to the SOS. That would be charitable, too, and it would successfully silence my argument about their becoming a landlord (I think). As long as the charity isn't bartering with the church or paying a share of the utility bills I might change my mind.

But I'm pretty confident that won't happen. A Christmas-day article in the Detroit News detailed how the bad economy and worries of job security have driven-down donations to all charitable organizations. GM recently cut-off funding to arts and cultural institutions (I don't think anyone wonders why). Those facts combined with the area's other demographics suggest Ferndale may not be able to support as many churches as it used to with either members or donations, just as it can't support as many schools or tool & die shops.

So if churches, like automakers, are reluctant to close or combine with other churches; what are they to do with all that empty, unused space? Why not supplement Sunday collections by going into the property management business?

The residents protesting the 25-year lease agreement aren't evil or uncharitable. Councilman T. Scott Galloway's recent city-council sermonizing stated his certainty that the Christian thing to do was to support SOS. So, before Christ did his big "den-of-thieves" thing in Jerusalem's temple he should have checked with Scott first.

The much over-quoted Ecclesiastes 3's "To every thing there is a season.." is worth paraphrasing as, "To every thing there is a place." And that's why Ceasar created zoning commissions and zoning plans, so the interests and quality of Ferndale's neighborhoods would be balanced against the interests and quality of Ferndale's commercial districts. For a building surrounded on three sides by homes to switch from friendly neighborhood church to a competitor for tax-paying landlords violates zoning rules.

If the church doesn't see fit to break its agreement for biblical reasons the zoning commission or city council should break it for secular reasons.

Monday, February 16, 2009

John McCulloch interviews Tom Gagne on WJR

On Friday, February 13, I was invited to discuss BAMN's protests at Western Market and other downtown Ferndale stores on WJR's The Frank Beckman Show. John McCulloch was sitting-in for Frank Beckman.

Today, WJR posted the audio for that nearly 30-minute segment. Also on the program were Western Market's Steve Selvaggio and Ferndale School District spokesperson, Stephanie Hall.

Click on the links below to hear a recording of the broadcast.

BAMN's Ferndale protests featured on WDET

Today, Detroit Today host, Craig Fahle, interviewed Western Market's Steve Selvaggio, BAMN's Shanta Driver, and Ferndale School District's Stephanie Hall. The audio may be available on the Detroit Today's podcasts, but a lively discussion continues on WDET's forums.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Editorial comments, 2009-02-08

From today's Detroit Free Press:
"President Barack Obama's scolding of the Wall Street execs for passing out $18 billion in bonuses last year was long overdue. Wall Street argues that this level of compensation is needed to retain "good" people. Well, these "good" people failed to understand that you do not give mortgages to people who have no hope of making the payments."
Donald Patterson, Troy
Donald, on the top of your "good people" list should be Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, the Community Reinvestment Act, and other defenders of Fredie and Fannie that first required banks make loans to people that couldn't afford them, then insured them which encouraged banks to make more. Greed, like envy, can't be eradicated by law, but government interference can be voted out of office leaving greed to feed on something other than tax payer money.
"Presumably, the board of directors at Merrill Lynch felt John Thain fell into this "best and brightest" category when he was hired. How bright can Thain be to think that it would take $1.22 million to redecorate his office? Not the entire building, not a floor of the building, but one office! How bright could he be to lead Merrill Lynch to a $15-billion fourth-quarter loss?"
Chris Charron, Eastpointe
The free market allows people to pay whatever they think something is worth--whether it's an executive or a piece of toast with the Virgin Mary's image. The difference in both government and boards of directors is the relative lack of having skin in the game. It's easier to spend other people's money (government) or be derelict in your responsibilities because you've so little skin in the game (boards of directors). The first leads to an expanding government financed by debt and the second leads to overpaid executives detached from the success or failure of their enterprises because their wealth is only modestly impacted by the success or failure of the ships they captain.

When voters start insisting their local governments send pork back to the government (like Ferndale voters should have) then we may become more credible in arguing what executives are or are not worth and whether the stimulus build will stimulate the economy or campaign contributions.
"So the average Wall Street bonus fell to $112,000 in 2008, and they're down about that. Have they bothered to look at the rest of the country -- the way that people are being fired and permanently laid off, and having their pay and benefits cut? I would bet that any of them would trade places with them for just half of their bonus."
Leon Suchorski, Canton

Does each of us want our compensation looked at as closely as Wall Streets? Many non-executives receive incentive pay based on performance. Many work for departments unrelated to mortgages. It is both unfair and illogical to paint all bonuses with the same brush. We should also remember that all pay is relative. No matter what we make we're likely making more money than someone else, and their willingness to do our job for less indicates their belief we're making too much money. Be careful the stones we throw.

"Well, now. The Republicans say they have a better stimulus plan than President Obama's. So, my question is: Why didn't they put it up eight years ago?"
Kenneth G. Maluchnik, Lincoln Park

The stimulus plan should be measured on its own merits, not on whether it's a Democratic invention or opposed by Republicans. If its greatest quality is "because we won," then it is no law at all. It's retaliation. If that is how voters wish government be run then we can't complain about partisanship. Well, we can complain, but our complaints have no credibility, stand without principle, and can be easily ignored by those that govern us.

"[Mitch] Albom's general suggestion -- that the government should somehow stop what he implies is a universal "elitist immorality" among CEOs -- sounds like a call for total government management of business. ... it's unfair to the millions of managers who have improved our lives through good stewardship of their shareholders' assets.

"Our (predominantly) free-market system, even with all of its very real agency problems, has created too much wealth for such a cavalier statement, implying that government intervention would be better."

Jon Boguth, Sterling Heights

Such is the danger of generalizations and isms. Free markets and republican government have created the highest standard of living the civilized world has ever known. Let's not pretend their success is the prerequisite to making a success of centrally-planned economies and socialism, or that the latter is a desireable future of the former.

"When President George W. Bush took office, the national debt was about $5.7 trillion, and when he left office about $10 trillion, an increase of $4.3 trillion. Some have estimated that 40% of the increase is due to Bush's tax cuts mostly to the rich, or $1.7 trillion. Now if tax cuts are supposed to have the great stimulus effect that the GOP claims, why are we in the current economic mess?"

Jim Karavite, Royal Oak

Due to President Bush's tax cuts, the treasury enjoyed record-breaking revenues. The tax cuts were unqualified successes. The deficit didn't come about because revenues dropped, but because spending grew disproportionately to revenue. This is why even Conservatives disliked Bush--he abandoned fiscal conservatism and in trying to reach-across-the-aisle he literally stepped across it. Bush was fiscally more liberal than Clinton, which is why some conservatives believe Clinton was a better Republican president than Bush ever was. Theres little doubt no small amount of vicarious fantasies were involved as well.

"Any member of Congress who doesn't pay his or her taxes, hires illegal aliens, drives an import, is convicted of a felony, votes for a personal raise during the 'recession,' or bounces checks regularly should be removed from office. Period. No exceptions."

Dennis R. Green, West Bloomfield

It's hard to believe these are the best 535 candidates. Americans have elected quite a crew of taxs cheats, bad business managers, sex offenders, and other criminals to represent them. Apparently, Detroit doesn't own the franchise.

"With the economic downturn this state is in, am I surprised that there are those who wish that President Barack Obama's policies fail? That, instead, they hope more people lose their jobs and homes? That the bridges and roads continue to fall apart around us? That women have no right to decide their health care?

"I was hoping for bipartisanship in Washington. But again I guess it will be politics as usual."

Pete Kier, Ortonville

It is politics as usual, and Pete's letter is evidence of that. True, some hope Obama fails. Other's hope certain bills fail. Bad policy is bad policy regardless who sponsors it. I hope the stimulus package fails because it is laden with pork. McCain doesn't have to be president to call-out members sponsoring pork, and Obama's message of change seems only to be a message. Nothing will have changed if he doesn't campaign against all the pork. Again, politics as usual.

"How can the GOP rebuild when the entire basis of their philosophy has been proved wrong? Low taxes, less regulation -- look where these have led. Free trade -- ask nearly anyone in Michigan about that. War first, diplomacy second -- didn't work out so well. Telling everyone else to take responsibility while not taking it yourself for your own mistakes while in office -- not appreciated. The GOP will literally have to do a 180 to recover. This may be a while."

Michael Ross, Southfield

Michael, the philosophy is still intact and hasn't been proven wrong. What has been proven wrong is that when Republicans abandon their principles, Republicanism (and conservatism) get an undeserved black eye.

Remember, there were Democrats in congress as well, and congress had to approve Bush's spending plans--and both parties are responsible for that. Stopping partisanship means we stop blaming individuals (except for individual bad choices) and hold all our representatives responsible. In Michigan that begins with Levin and Stabenow--both responsible for passing spending bills.

Republicans will have to make a 180-degreee turn, but that turn is a re-turn to conservatism, not away from it.

"Do you think people like John McCain, who owns eight properties, really care about Joe the plumber? Why can't we the people, who have invested the $700 billion to aid the financial markets, get a little injection into our IRAs and 401(k)s when things turn around? We would like to share in this new American socialism."

Robert E. Burkett, Westland

Technically, we haven't invested $700 billion into anything. I believe most of the money will be borrowed from the likes of China and other buyers of treasury bills. The same is true of the $800 billion stimulus bill, which is more about borrowing than stimulating. Both are IOUs written by our elected representatives our children's children will have to pay, and the interest will create an economic drag and sap more money from our federal budget.

There's no correlation that someone with eight properties doesn't care about the little guy. There's a difference between caring for the little guy out of your own pocket and caring for them out of someone else's. There's no virtue in the latter. For the religious, there's no reward for voting to compell charity from your neighbors' pockets.

It was lack of government oversight that allowed the banks to get us into this mess in the first place.

Lawrence Luty, Livonia

Banks have plenty of oversite, it's the government that's lacking oversite. Bank's don't want to lose money, not do they want to make loans to people without jobs. Regulators changed the rules, regulators required loans to unqualified borrowers, regulators created the institutions that insured sub-prime loans. Yes, they had noble intentions, but noble beurocratic intentions do not make for good banking business. Especially when those intentions are less noble and designed to get votes are appease special interests rather than serve the interest of our country--which should be their first priority.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

You keep using that word...

Except for BAMN supporters' falacious and specious rants, the most frequent observation about Domestic Terrorists in Ferndale (posted February 3, 2009) in Tif's and my in-boxes are concerns about the word terrorism.

Webster's New World Dictionary defines terrorism as: the use of force or threats to intimidate, etc. [ibid] esp. as a political policy.

It's possible the colloquial use of the word terrorism has moved beyond Webster's, Princeton University's, or others' definitions. None of the definitions I read required violence, murder, assault, or property destruction. Threats as a means to coerce is a good enough definition.

To make our case for us, BAMN's national coordinater, Donna Stern, couldn't help but make more threats in The Woodward Talk regarding attempts to stop their intimidation:

The topic of police intervention led Stern to deliver a taut reminder that BAMN is well aware of its civil liberties. “If Ferndale (tried to stop us from protesting), they would be in violation of our freedom of speech and our freedom of assembly (rights), and we would sue,” she said. “Just because you don’t like what we’re doing doesn’t mean you have the right to block democracy.”

Maybe the problem with describing BAMN's actions as terrorism isn't with the word terrorism. Rather, it may be because the terrorists we're most familiar with; Hamas, al-Qaeda, Timothy McVeigh, as well as eco and animal-rights activists, have taken terrorism to extremes previously thought unconscionable. Sure, al-Qaeda may represent the vanguarde of uber-terrorists, but their pushing the envelope doesn't make BAMN's threats and intimidation any less coercive, it only makes other terrorists more blood-thirsty and desperate.

If you'd like to suggest another word than terrorism to describe BAMN's threats to Ferndale businesses to join their fight against a 3rd party or risk pickets, boycotts, harassing customers, and economic penalties to business and employees, I'm anxious to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Domestic terrorists in Ferndale

Words are important. They have meaning. When used indiscriminately we either fail to communicate or dilute the meaning of the words we misuse.

Domestic terrorism is an appropriate and fitting description of BAMN's protests in front of Western Market, Como's and other Ferndale businesses. Before continuing let's look at some definitions.

Princeton University's WordNet on-line dictionary defines it:
terrorism practiced in your own country against your own people. "the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City was an instance of domestic terrorism."
The method of domestic terrorists, or terrorists in general, isn't to attack their enemies directly, it's to cause enough collateral damage that civilians, the ones paying the terrorists' prices, force their enemies to give in. BAMN doesn't really have a fight with Western Market, but they're hoping that slandering the owners and employees of the store, shouting at shoppers, and ultimately hurting them economically, that Western Market will give in to their demands and hang BAMN's posters accusing the Ferndale School District of segregation.

Wikipedia has a good introduction to their definition of terrorism:
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.[1]
As far as the definition of terror is concerned, the owners of Western Market, Steve and Tony Selvaggio, are justifiably scared. They're scared their customers and employees will be intimidated and harassed. They're scared disruption to their business may cause them to fail to meet financial obligations to their families and employees. They're scared that in our battered economy the employees they've come to treat as family may be unable to get new jobs if they're forced to lay them off, or that BAMN's slander may be irrepairable.

Terrorists should not be negotiated with.
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
-- Edmund Burke
For reasons that infuriate me beyond words (and should also infuriate businesses) both Ferndale's DDA and Chamber of Commerce are incapable of defending businesses or supporting them against BAMN's attacks. Neither, I suspect, have they put as much effort into brain-storming how to protect Ferndale businesses or our city's reputation as they have increasing dues or taxes.

I oppose BAMN's methods. I oppose BAMN's tactics. I oppose BAMN's disregard for others' rights.

BAMN may wrap themselves in Dr. M.L. King's imagery, but their fruit has fallen a long way from the tree.

Please join Tiffani and me and stand up for Ferndale businesses', residents', and vistors' rights to work, live, and shop in Ferndale without intimidation. Please download the graphics I've attached to this post, print them at home, and display however you wish to demonstrate your opposition to BAMN's extortion, coercion, and yes, their terrorism.