Saturday, November 19, 2011

World class transportation for a third world city
According to Sen. Carl Levin, Detroit “deserves a world-class transportation system.” Detroit has spent decades driving out businesses and residents with punitive taxes, bureaucratic nightmares, failing schools, public corruption, and high crime rates. Third world cities don’t deserve world-class transportation systems especially one funded and maintained by taxpayers.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Submitted 11/19/2011.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Union Bus

The Detroit bus system fiasco can be summed up as follows: one group of union workers getting paid but refusing to work resulting in another group of union workers sitting idle and getting paid while yet another group of union workers, who are actually working, get to collect millions in overtime. Meanwhile those paying the fare wait at the curb.

[Letter to the Editor - Detroit Free Press. Submitted 10/24/2011.]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Screwed up priorities
Never mind the current law is so poorly written that no one can legally sell pot to a patient holding a Michigan medical marijuana card, the Michigan Senate’s first order of business is to make sure injury claims for medical marijuana aren’t covered by auto insurance or workers compensation. Apparently the sick and suffering are not a priority.

[Letter to the Editor - Detroit Free Press. Submitted 09/29/2011.]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nothing a little tar and feathers can't fix

With the recent ruling banning medical marijuana sales, dispensary operators face arrest, fines, and the loss of their businesses. Meanwhile, the legislators who violated the demands of Michigan citizens to enact laws allowing medical marijuana face no consequences. Makes one nostalgic for the time when renegade rulers were held accountable with a little tar and feathers.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Submitted 08/29/2011.]

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Water restrictions in the Great Lakes? Really?

The late Nobel laureate and economist Milton Friedman used to say “If you put the government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.” Similarly, if you put the government in charge of water distribution in the Great Lakes state of Michigan, you’ll face watering restrictions following one of the wettest springs on record.

[Letter to the Editor - Farmington Observer. Published 08/04/2011.]

Friday, July 22, 2011

A drop in the bucket

According to the U.S. government, taxpayers lost $1.3 billion on the Chrysler bailout. That may be the official accounting loss, but the costs are much higher. Our government forever altered the playing field by changing the rules. Bankruptcy laws were turned upside down and companies will seek political favors as lenders, stockholders and labor look to the taxpayer to be made whole when their bets lose. Capitalism is about profit and loss. Bail out the losers and there’s no end to the cost.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Published 08/05/2011.]

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The blind leading the blind

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the feds are coming to the rescue. Federal bureaucrats will help city bureaucrats figure out ways to eliminate red tape and help spend federal funds efficiently. I dare anyone to read that last sentence with a straight face.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Submitted 07/12/2011.]

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's not that complicated

Creating a teacher evaluation system is a simple three-step process (“What is a fair way to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers”, 6/30/11). Convert all teachers to at-will employees; make principals responsible for hiring and firing; and give children a voucher and the freedom to choose their school. Schools stocked with good teachers will flourish while those employing bad teachers will fail. Principals seeking to serve their customers will weed out the bad teachers. Principals who don’t, will be replaced. Happens every day in the real world.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Published 07/28/2011.]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Earlier this month, Farmington Schools Superintendent Susan Zurvalec appeared on a local TV news and public affair program to discuss education. During her appearance, she commented that her district’s teachers were feeling unappreciated despite pay raises and generous benefits.

Zurvalec and Harrison High School Principal Aaron Johnson should know that some parents of graduating seniors did not feel appreciated during commencement as we sat and listened to well-compensated administrators lecture us about how education is underfunded. I'm sure the unemployed parents or those of us paying 43% of our health insurance premium and getting zero matching dollars on our 401Ks didn't really want to hear about your alleged funding woes.

[Letter to the Editor - Farmington Observer. Published 07/07/2011.]

Friday, June 17, 2011

How about a truce?

In reference to the media storm surrounding Rep. Anthony Weiner’s sexting revelations, a recent letter calls on us to “get off our high moral horse and take care of our own character problems.” How about we offer politicians a truce? You stay out of our personal lives and we’ll stay out of yours. But as long as politicians pass laws prohibiting gambling, smoking, trans fats, marijuana and countless other victimless vices, their personal moral failings should be exposed for all to see - with some scorn and ridicule thrown in for good measure.

[Letter to the Editor - The Farmington Observer. Published 06-23-2011.]

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

GM seeking more rents

General Motors Co. CEO Dan Akerson, who wants higher gas taxes, describes himself as a “Colin Powell Republican”. Actually, Akerson looks more like a crony capitalist beholden to his masters in Washington. GM needs higher gas taxes to make the Chevy Volt and future politically-designed vehicles profitable. Having been rescued from the marketplace once, GM wants future protection.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Published 06/28/2011.]

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Painting with broad strokes

Background: Former Governor Jenny Granholm and hubby Danny Mulhern took swipes at Arnold via Twitter. I'm a fan of using public shaming to encourage acceptable behavior in society so I don't have a problem with chastising or making fun of the Governator. However, Mulhern makes a stupid claim.

According to former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s husband Dan Mulhern, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelity “brought discredit to men.” Schwarzenegger brought discredit to himself and only himself. To claim otherwise would be the same as saying Granholm’s eight abysmal years as governor brought discredit to women.

[Letter to the Editor. The Detroit News - Submitted 05/18/2011.]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fight speech with speech

Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr’s hypocrisy while denying Pastor Terry Jones a permit to protest was staggering (“Dearborn denies permit”). In the same breath, O’Reilly claims his “commitment to the Constitution is unwavering” but Jones will not be allowed to speak in “our streets”. In the United States, the appropriate response to speech we find offensive is more speech. Jones may be protesting “against an imaginary threat” but the city’s assault on free speech is quite real.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Submitted 04/21/2011.]

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stranger Danger
A recent letter from Ray Elyas uses the common fear-mongering tactic of union bosses opposed to privatization - stranger danger. According to their scary scenarios, parents should worry about strangers infiltrating our schools if the board contracts with businesses to provide support services.

As a parent, perhaps I should start worrying about these strangers. Not only those who might be in the schools, but everywhere. The cashier at the grocery store? I don’t know her. What might she have done to the food I plan to feed my children? Or the stock clerk? Never seen him before. Who knows what dastardly deeds he may have done.

I stopped at a fast food restaurant the other day and knew nobody. I shudder to think of the danger my kids were exposed to because I dared to go to a profit-seeking restaurant run by strangers.

Nearly everyday I visit private businesses employing people I don’t know, yet I’ve survived. Have I just been lucky or maybe, just maybe, this claim of “stranger danger” is overblown.

Does this mean the school administration should ignore potential threats? Absolutely not. I think everyone can agree there are some people who should not be around our students. For example a week after Elyas’ letter was published, a teacher in the Plymouth-Canton school district made a threat forcing the closure of 3 high schools. Over the past few years, several school teachers have been charged and convicted of sex crimes involving students. Obviously, administrators should be wary but it’s not only the “strangers” they need to keep an eye on.

[Letter to the Editor - Farmington Observer. Submitted 04/14/2011.]

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hitting snooze for 50 years

According to Bing spokeswoman Karen Dumas, Detroit’s latest census count is being treated as a “wake-up call”. Wake-up call? Detroit leaders have been hitting the snooze alarm for the past 50 years.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Published 04/13/2011.]

Friday, February 25, 2011

Look for the unseen

Background: A letter to my state representative Vicki Barnett who attended a rally with Jeff Daniels and Mitch Albom promoting corporate welfare for film executives.

Dear Representative Barnett,

I strongly urge you to reconsider your support for the corporate welfare program which transfers hard-earned taxpayer money to rich Hollywood executives. Folks like Clint Eastwood and Michael Bay are doing just fine and do not need handouts from citizens slammed by conditions brought on partly by foolish policies such as film subsidies.

I recognize supporters of the subsidy would prefer to ignore the Senate Fiscal Agency’s analysis which found no film subsidy generated more in revenue than was paid. Instead, supporters choose to focus on the 2009 study from MSU and the most recent one from Ernst & Young which confirm their bias.

Basic economic laws tell us the subsidies don’t provide the claimed benefits. The MSU and E&Y studies fail to acknowledge one of the most important truths when performing an economic evaluation. This truth was articulated by the famed political economist Frederic Bastiat in 1850 when he published an essay titled “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.”

Bastiat pointed out what should be obvious, government policy has two effects: the seen and the unseen. And, as he noted in the essay, “There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.”

Based on Bastiat’s definition, the MSU and E&Y studies were conducted by “bad economists.” The millions handed to Hollywood didn’t fall from the sky. They were taken from the pockets of Michigan businesses and families. When E&Y claims each $1 generated $6 in economic benefit, a specious claim at best, they failed to account for the fact that each of those dollars would have been spent or invested if left in the hands of the rightful owners. This would have generated economic benefits without transferring wealth from the have-nots to the haves.

I strongly urge you to help the taxpayers of this state by reading Bastiat’s essay: 1. Afterwards, announce your support for Governor Snyder’s plan to reduce the subsidies. Your next step should be to convince him to eliminate them.

Sincerely yours,

Steve Sutton
A vocal constituent and voter in Farmington Hills

[Sent 02/25/2011.]

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A little whine for that cheese

If striking DSO musicians who rejected a salary offer of $80,000 want to show solidarity with the well-compensated Wisconsin public employees protesting budget cuts, perhaps they should travel to Madison for a benefit concert of classical music. I hear whine goes well with cheese.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Published 02/28/2011.]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Unions - Extortionists and Bullies

In writing about the DSO labor strife, performance art critic Lawrence B. Johnson points out an important fact that too many people overlook - “Professional orchestras are highly unionized; any musician taking a replacement job risks career suicide.” While touting workers' “rights”, unions immorally threaten to deny these workers a livelihood if they refuse to play by their rules and deny individuals their right to negotiate freely. This reveals unions for what they are - extortionists and bullies.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Submitted 02/22/2011.]

Friday, February 18, 2011

At least we've stopped digging

Background: Farmington Observer editor Stacy Jenkins asked for comments from "regular" people on new Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's proposed budget. Here's mine.

As expected, Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget combines good and bad elements while revealing a profound difference between himself and his predecessor. Snyder understands what this state must do in order to allow the private sector to create jobs. Unfortunately, this aspect of the budget will receive the most criticism from the usual class warfare proponents - union leaders, liberal politicians, and recipients of government handouts - who fail to recognize some simple truths. Businesses don’t pay taxes - their customers do; high costs in the form of taxes and regulations deter businesses from investing in Michigan; and until this state reduces the cost of doing business, job creation will be anemic at best. Snyder’s budget is a step toward reducing these costs.

Another positive aspect of his budget is the reduction of special tax breaks for certain industries and retirees. Granting favors to some darling special interest group forces others to pay higher taxes and creates an entrenched lobbying group that fights for those favors and encourages others to get themselves some.

Snyder’s budget pushes more responsibility onto local units of government which have been too slow in implementing structural changes as Farmington Public Schools recently demonstrated. The district is finally looking for competitive bids to save up to $4 million per year on support services. These savings have been available for years but ignored.

The two most disappointing aspects of his budget are the plan to eliminate the final reduction in the personal income tax rate and not enough specific reforms in some of the most expensive areas of the budget.

Snyder’s elimination of personal deductions should be offset with the across the board reduction in personal tax rates to 3.9 percent rather than freezing it at 4.25 percent.

As far as reforms, Snyder’s proposal appears to be lacking some details. Reduced funding for higher education should be accompanied by a change in how those funds are dispersed. Today, each university lobbies for their slice of the pie. Attach those funds to individual students and let the universities compete for those students and the funding they carry. Corrections is a costly drag on state spending and Snyder should have proposed contracting out more of the services related to it. Simply cutting the budget does not result in structural changes.

Finally, Snyder doesn’t go far enough with his cuts to special interest programs. MEGA, Pure Michigan, and the 21st Century Jobs Fund should be eliminated not just funded at a reduced level.

Snyder first budget moves Michigan in the right direction. However, the political battles to come will be the defining factor. If Snyder blinks, Michigan will continue its downward slide. If he holds firm, he will have taken the first step toward helping us forget how former Governor Jennifer Granholm blew us away.

[Commentary - Farmington Observer. Submitted 02/18/2011.]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

About time they started being good stewards
I received a disturbing email message from Susan H. Zurvalec, superintendent of Farmington Public Schools, regarding the school board’s plan to accept competitive bids for support services such as transportation, custodial, maintenance, and nutrition services.

According to Zurvalec, “the continued uncertainty regarding the future of school funding in our state requires us to carefully manage our limited resources” and “consider any option that keeps dollars in the classroom.”

Why is this a new concern? School districts have always had limited resources that required careful management. This statement sounds like an admission the administration and board have operated under the delusion that resources weren’t limited and they could always come back to the well for more.

Zurvalec points out that based on other districts’ experiences, FPS could realize savings of $4 million per year. By all means, implement the changes to start these savings. However, I want to know why is the board just now getting around to saving this money?

On many occasions over the past few years, I have received emails from the administration imploring me to contact my state representatives and demand more education funding because budgets have been cut to the bone. Now FPS admits that wasn’t quite the case. Before they come to the well again, they need to demonstrate they are better stewards of my money.

[Letter to the Editor - Farmington Observer. Published 02/24/2011.]

Monday, January 31, 2011

Froma's ridiculous claim
According to Froma Harrop, the social security trust fund is "just fine" with enough money to pay benefits for the next 28 years even though no money exists in the fund. Instead, politicians have stolen the cash to pay for expansive government programs and left IOUs payable by one government account to another. This is no different then if Harrop’s left hand borrowed $10 from her right hand, spent it and then claimed she still had $10. While anyone can see this is a ridiculous claim, people accept it when discussing social security.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Published 02/18/2011.]

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Attracting jobs while killing them
In the obituary for state representative Kate Ebli, the News described her as a lawmaker who "worked to attract jobs to Michigan and halt the importation of trash from Canada." On January 1, importation of Canadian household trash to the landfill in Sumpter Township ended. Local officials are considering a number of options to offset the loss of $700,000 a year in revenue including elimination of the police department, cuts in senior or recreation services, or closing the township-owned banquet hall.

Legislators must recognize intentions don’t matter; results matter. To attract and retain jobs, Michigan lawmakers need to stop raising barriers to business that chase them away.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Submitted 01/04/2011.]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Crony capitalism is not a free market
According to the News, intense demand for the GM Volt, a vehicle supported by a $7,500 subsidy and built by a company that received billions in government bailout money, demonstrates the power of the free market. Wrong. This is an example of crony capitalism, not free markets.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Submitted 12/19/2010.]

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Judge exceeds power claiming Bobb exceeds power
Wayne Circuit Judge Wendy Baxter ruled that "Bobb's decision to make all academic and social policy choices for the district's more than 70,000 students 'runs afoul' of the legislative intent of the state's emergency financial manager law."

As a judge, that is one of her responsibilities. Provide interpretation of the law as written. If clearer law is desired, the Michigan Legislature needs to fix it.

However, Baxter has revealed her decision may not be based solely on the law. She has treaded into the area of judicial activism when she said:

"Bobb's academic vision to create a competitive marketplace of schools could leave less gifted children by the wayside. The plan is unauthorized, uninformed and a short-term fix where some stand to profit, shielded to some extent from the eye of public oversight of competitive bids."

That is not for you to decide Judge Baxter.

How ironic that Baxter "criticized Bobb's qualifications and those of his chief academic officer, Barbara Byrd-Bennett. . . This is a vision that emanates from a person who had to be chosen solely based on his finance credentials and who has no teaching certificate, training or experience, no education or counseling background; all his study in education has emanated from unvetted sources who may stand to benefit financially should his academic plans come to fruition and who have supplemented his pay."

So Judge, what are your education qualifications? Where is your teaching certificate, training or experience to claim Bobb's academic vision is wrong?

[Online comment - The Detroit News. Posted 12/7/2010.]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Out demons out
In medieval times, evil spirits were blamed for illness. These beliefs resulted in useless treatments that were often worse than the disease. Today, this same irrational mentality demonizes medical marijuana. Marijuana relieves pain and encourages chemotherapy patients to eat. Self-proclaimed moralists and intrusive authoritarians need to abandon their dark age beliefs and recognize that denying relief for the suffering is barbaric and immoral.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Submitted 11/29/2010.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Welfare for the rich and famous
According to Jim Burnstein, vice chairman of the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council, taxpayer funded subsidies to the film industry benefit Michigan residents. A more accurate description would be “some” Michigan residents at the expense of others.

The purpose of a subsidy is to reduce the cost of doing business in Michigan and coax companies to choose Michigan over some other state for their investment. Burnstein uses the phrase “If We Build It, They Will Come,” but a more accurate phrase would be “If We Give Them Taxpayer Funding, They Will Come.” Unfortunately, this has become Michigan’s primary economic policy - bribe business to locate here.

But if lowering the cost of doing business is good for some politically-favored few, why not for everyone? Why should one industry be burdened by the Michigan Business Tax and onerous regulation costs, while another receives a break on these costs? How can it be considered fair or moral when a lifelong Michigan business owner is forced to pay higher taxes while the latest Cinderella industry receives millions of dollars to offset their tax burden?

Burnstein claims some of the benefits of these film subsidies were demonstrated when audiences “all” applauded as “Made in Michigan” rolled during the credits of the movie Gran Torino. Perhaps a different reaction would have met a more accurate description - “Funded by millions of Michigan taxpayer dollars.”

[Letter to the Editor - Farmington Observer. Published 12/2/2010.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back to the future

Once a leader in the Industrial Revolution, Detroit now seeks salvation in a return to an agrarian economy. Yet the same bureaucratic mentality of city leaders responsible for driving industry out and producing a sea of vacant land prevents urban farming from taking root. If Detroit’s leadership can’t manage a 19th century economy, how can anyone expect it to handle the 21st?

[Letter to the Editor - Detroit Free Press. Submitted 11/16/2010.]
Stimulated Ignorance - The Sequel

Background: My letter on the foolishness of Keynesian policies generated a response from the local Democratic Club Chair. Apparently I wasn't clear enough the first time around.

Darryl Conliffe’s response to my letter critical of the stimulus bill reads like President Obama’s playbook. Attack business - check. Blame Bush - check. Fault free markets - check. Sounds like a game plan guaranteed to lead a team to big losses.

Conliffe correctly stated “the idea [behind the stimulus] is that the business activity started will re-ignite consumer and business confidence, leading to more enterprise.” Keynes’ technical term for this confidence was “animal spirits”. However, some problems exist with appealing to these “animal spirits.”

First, it implies that consumers and business leaders are Pavlovian dogs salivating whenever more money is dumped into the marketplace. Contrary to the low regard the current administration holds business leaders, they aren’t stupid. These leaders fully recognize what “stimulus” spending means - attempting to generate artificial demand using money better left in the hands of the private sector.

This supports the main problem with Keynes’ theory that claims the solution to a recession is to increase aggregate demand. The business cycle is driven by investment spending not consumer spending. From 2006 to the heart of the recession in 2009, consumer spending as a percentage of GDP increased slightly while investment spending dropped 36 percent. Into the second quarter of 2010, consumer spending continued to remain strong while investment spending stayed flat. This explains why unemployment spiked over 10 percent earlier this year and remains high today - consumers never stopped consuming but investors stopped investing.

Conliffe claims the theories of Keynes are only discredited by economists “who espouse laissez-faire capitalism.” Some of the economists that Conliffe summarily dismisses include 5 Nobel laureates - Edward Prescott, Vernon Smith, James Buchanan, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Friedman, considered to be the most influential economist in the second half of the 20th century, once responded to a similar attack on his brand of economics - “there is no [laissez-faire] economics - only good economics and bad economics.” Government’s adoption of Keynesian theory is bad economics.

[Letter to the Editor - Farmington Observer. Published 11/18/2010.]

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Not for, but against

Whenever the Republican victors think to overreach, they should keep the election in perspective: Republicans weren’t voted into office, but rather Democrats were voted out.

[Letter to the Editor - The Detroit News. Published 11/08/2010.]

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Who is childish and silly?

A recent letter from Gerald and Dolores Maxey called Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ decision to allow his fellow justices to not attend the Presidential State of the Union (SOTU) address “childish and silly”. Childish and silly may be apt descriptors, but not of Roberts.

First, Roberts made no such decision. Justices have always made their own decision whether to attend or not. In fact, when six justices attended the last SOTU address, it was the first time since 1999 that a majority of justices showed. No more than two justices attended each of President Bush’s first four SOTU speeches. In each of his last three, only four justices attended.

This shouldn’t be too surprising since the SOTU address is based on the constitutional requirement that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” This event involves Congress and the president, not the Supreme Court.

Reasons for not attending range from schedule conflicts to health issues to personal preference. As Justice Clarence Thomas explained when asked why he has only attended one SOTU address in the last decade, the speech has grown increasingly partisan. One side of the aisle responds with wild enthusiasm while the other sits somberly. Thomas questions whether his attendance as an impartial jurist is appropriate in the midst of such partisan behavior.

This concern over partisan behavior proved prescient in President Obama’s last SOTU when he crossed a line and rudely attacked the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision while the justices sat in attendance. Not only was the attack disrespectful, it was blatantly wrong.

Obama accused the Court of overturning a century of precedent but he exaggerated by about 80 years. In Citizen’s United, the Court overturned a confusing decision from 1990. Also, Obama claimed the decision opens the floodgates for foreign involvement in U.S. elections. Once again, wrong. Existing bans on foreign nationals and corporations continue contrary to Obama’s recent campaign rhetoric on the issue. Even the NY Times called Obama out on this rhetoric just a few weeks ago.

Another incorrect accusation states the decision declared corporations as individuals, but the ruling did no such thing. The concept of “corporate person-hood” has been recognized as common law for centuries and constitutionally since the 1880s.

The Roberts’ court ruling rests firmly on nearly 220 years of precedent - the First Amendment’s clear and unambiguous declaration that “Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Whether that speech comes from an individual or a group of individuals is irrelevant.

[Letter to the Editor - Farmington Observer. Published 11/11/2010.]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bush on steroids

The problem is not that nobody knows about Obama being the most successful Progressive since FDR. Obama's problem is that too many people know. Being a progressive means believing government needs to be involved in every decision we individuals make. It means believing government is an omnipotent god with the president as it's Messiah. It means believing that government spending more and more is good. Obama's problem is that people are on to his progressive bullshit. Unfortunately the result of all this is that Obama has managed to make W look fiscally conservative. In two years, he has managed to make people clamor for the "small" government days when the Republicans were in control. People were hoping for change and instead got Bush on steroids.

[Online comment - The Metro Times. Posted 10/20/2010.]