Archive for August, 2016

Bill Schuette Occupations

Bill Schuette Occupations

If you spend more than a few moments with my wife’s family, there is a pretty good chance you’re going to hear a Caddyshack reference. That is, a quote from the 1980 film will work its way into the conversation — sometimes in context, always funny. So coming off a week’s vacation with them, it’s not hard to find the inspiration for the punch line in panel three of the cartoon. “You’ll get nothing and like it!” is of course how Judge Smails shuts down his grandson, Spalding, as the teen lists off what he wants to order at the snack shack.

Dang if that doesn’t capture the essence of the Attorney General, Bill Schuette, who in his tenure has made a habit of actively shutting down the desires of his citizenry. The straight-ticket ballot issue is the latest example. Michigan voters have demonstrated their preference to support a political party’s entire slate of candidates with a single mark on a ballot. Schuette is fighting with particular zest to uphold new legislation that bans straight-ticket balloting, and it feels like more for political advantage than out of a sense of duty.

I know. Shocker. Politics affecting the office of Attorney General! This is certainly not unique to Republicans or Bill Schuette. (Goodness knows that Democrat Jennifer Granholm leveraged the heck out of being AG to get her governor gig.) And I absolutely don’t support the idea that the AG should automatically endorse whatever the majority opinion happens to be. I think American history has proven just how wrong the majority can be.

But that doesn’t mean Schuette shouldn’t be called out for Smails-like behavior. It was actually a different scene from the movie that inspired the cartoon, but I couldn’t figure out how to work it in. It’s the part where Judge Smails is trying to impress young Danny Noonan with the need for laws and righteousness.

Danny, Danny, there’s a lot of, uh, well, badness in the world today. I see it in court every day. I’ve sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn’t wanna do it. I felt I owed it to them.


I Don’t Believe in Public Transportation

I Don't Believe in Public Transportation

There is nothing quite as annoying as the overenthusiastic zeal that comes with the recently discovered — especially when it has been commonly known and readily accessible for years and years. So I apologize in advance, but, OHMYGOSH, YOU GUYS! HAVE YOU SEEN THE SOO LOCKS?! THEY ARE AWESOMINGLY AMAZING!!!

Last month, I finally made my first visit to Sault Ste Marie to see the Soo Locks. You just can’t fit the scale of a freighter being transferred from one great lake to another in your head until you actually see it. It’s absolutely magnificent. And the tour is even better. A ferry takes you through the locks — up from the American side and down on the Canadian.

It was all so very impressive, but there was one fact that made a particular impression on me. It’s free. That’s right, free. I had no idea. Whether you’re a freighter fully laden with taconite and heading for the steel mills or a pleasure boat on you’re way to Pictured Rocks, you pay nothing. All of us taxpayers foot the bill. And it makes a lot of sense. For the sake of commerce and industry, to promote transportation, to eliminate overhead costs of collecting fees, it’s free to the actual users.

Look, it’s no secret that traditional public transportation is lacking in Michigan, especially Metro Detroit. And I’m not trying to make a direct parallel between a commuter bus/light-rail system and the Soo Locks. But I am saying that they share a common benefit: they are good for business. Yes, it takes some capital investment, but there can be a much greater return on that value. And isn’t that how business is supposed to work? We have underfunded our roads for years, and see where that has gotten us.

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A Toast to Limited Regulation

A Toast to Limited Regulation

In the cartoon series South Park, there is a classic episode titled “Gnomes.” In that episode, a high-strung, over-caffeinated boy named Tweek is freaked out when gnomes repeatedly sneak into his bedroom at night to steal his underpants from his dresser. Tweek tells his fellow grade-school friends about the gnomes, but they don’t believe him.

Then one night when some classmates are all over at Tweek’s house very late working on a school report, they all witness the gnomes in action. They follow the gnomes back to their underground operation and ask the obvious question: Why are you stealing underpants? The gnomes tell the boys that they are business experts and collecting underpants is the first step of a three-phase plan:

Step 1: Collect underpants
Step 2: ?
Step 3: Profit!

The boys are curious to know, “What is Step 2?” The gnomes discuss this among themselves and conclude they don’t really know. There is a pause, but then they reaffirm that they are in fact business experts and cheerfully get back to working on their plan.

Earlier this week, Donald Trump was in Detroit to give a speech on his economic plan. Hillary Clinton was in Michigan Thursday to lay out her plan. I can’t address Clinton’s speech directly (it was after my deadline), but I can assume that like Trump’s, it was short on “Step 2” details. I get it. There are few motivations for presidential candidates to provide specifics — they will get picked apart.

But the Trump speech sounded very much like the gnomes’ plan, especially by including that old “let’s put a moratorium on regulations” chestnut. In fact, his whole campaign has been extremely lacking in how he plans to do the things he says he wants to do. (“Believe me, believe me” doesn’t count as a plan.) To be fair, in his business world Trump does sometimes have a Step 2, which is “declare bankruptcy.”

But in Michigan, Flint’s water has shown us what can happen when politicians skip over Step 2.


Why Is There Trump?

Why Is There Trump?

There are few universally shared experiences these days. The ability to indulge our varied interests makes points of intersection increasingly rare. One of the few exceptions is layoffs. Whether you have direct experience with the swinging axe or just near misses, we are all familiar with the type of “right-sizing” recently announced at Dow in mid-Michigan.

Layoffs are never pleasant. Some are reasonable (sales are down, costs are up, something has to give). Some are anything but reasonable (the CEO pooped his pants and the company needs to create a distraction, stockholders want to build indoor pools at their beach houses, somebody said we might save tens of dollars if we move the whole works to Uzbekistan). I’m not ready to judge the Dow layoffs. (Oh, I will most definitely judge; I’m just not ready.)

What I am ready to do is propose a challenge: I would like somebody to quantify the psychological cost of things like layoffs at Dow, Flint’s water crisis, and our lousy infrastructure. We hear all the time from economists about the positive effects of companies streamlining. What about the negative effects?

My unit of measurement would be a gut-punch. A gut-punch by itself is not inherently bad. It might wake you up — make you take stock and plan ahead. But continuous gut-punches wear people down and make us desperate: You’re laid-off your good-paying job. Ooof. You retrain, get a new job, and someone else is laid off, leaving you with five times the responsibility but at the same pay. Ooof. You work hard, develop new efficiencies, but then you’re laid-off. Ooof.

So what’s the collective number of gut-punches that tip the scales toward desperation? If we knew that, maybe we could avoid the recklessness of having Donald Trump as a viable candidate for President. Ooof.