Authors Posts by bjohnson

bjohnson

193 POSTS 11 COMMENTS

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President Barack Obama wants Congress to incrementally raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25 by the end of 2015 then automatically adjust it to inflation. His intent is to raise the incomes of Americans who have fallen further behind in the economy he made worse.

Nothing, however, could be more devastating to the economic prospects of the nation. Because it would be another expensive, unwarranted extension of the welfare state, Congress should give serious consideration to eliminating the minimum wage altogether.

The president is suggesting that the labor market has failed to provide a “living wage” to an estimated 15 million low-wage workers. That’s an emotionally tinged argument for raising the floor for the lowest-paid employees. It’s also flawed reasoning.

images-3What the president is proposing is an outmoded, ineffective mechanism for assisting the working poor.

A small minority of workers may end up better off. But over the long haul, inflated wage manipulations are an economic disincentive for job development. There have been fancy statistical studies that purport to show no such impact, but they defy simple logic.

With higher wages come higher employer expectations of performance. So people with the fewest talents – usually at the low end of the social/economic ladder — become the least desirable and are ultimately priced out of the job market. Their skills aren’t worth the newly established minimum.

Young people with limited education or experience could find it harder to land their first full-time entry-level jobs where they can acquire the skills that are more valuable.

Most employers already pay more than the mimimum wage, even for hamburger-flippers and dishwashers. These workers could end up with no job at all. The government can issue edicts to raise wage rates from inside the Beltway, but they cannot force employers to hire workers at wage rates they can’t afford to pay.

The president’s backing of this measure is a slap in the face to existing businesses that have remained committed to stabilizing the economy. It’s no small matter that a higher minimum wage burdens job creators by increasing the cost of doing business, especially in a weak economy. Forcing employers to pay store clerks, restaurant workers and janitors wages above market rates, inevitably leads to slower growth and higher inflation.

A more accurate description of “minimum wage” is a code word and a benchmark for higher negotiated union wages. Obama’s push is an extension of his ongoing efforts to curry favor and hand out political patronage to his union buddies.

The notion that business is an ogre to be taxed, intimidated and coerced into providing jobs and services “at all cost” has not served the nation well. America would be best served if the president accommodated new and prospective businesses and eliminated government-sponsored impediments to real wage growth.

Businesses, for example, are constantly burdened with unnecessary regulations, onerous – often insurmountable zoning and licensing requirements and high taxes. These barriers get in the way of enterprise, choke-off the entrepreneurial spirit, shackle the economy and unduly drain opportunities away from workers.

The best prospect for Obama’s poverty agenda, and the only meaningful remedy for low wages, is a robust economy that bids up demand for labor. It would never occur to this president, but cutting the payroll tax  would be an excellent way to directly increase workers’ take-home pay.

Congress should think long and hard about more artificial skewing of the labor market. The better option is to end the minimum wage and let it quietly pass into history. America simply can’t afford another round of intrusive disincentives that erode the competitive position of businesses — and establish another roadblock to a broadly shared prosperity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The buzz across America is not President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, but the speech given by renowned John Hopkins Hospital neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson at the National Prayer Breakfast. On several fronts, the eloquent Dr. Carson took the president, who was in attendance, to the woodshed. Equally striking was that the president appeared unfazed or uncaring that much of the dialogue was directed at him.

Carson, sensing America needed an urgent wake-up call to the misadventures of its political leaders, began his presentation by explaining that, “pc (political correctness) is dangerous. “What we need to do is forget about unanimity of speech and unanimity of thought and concentrate on being respectful to those people with which we disagree.”

This disclaimer set the stage for the former Detroiter to boldly talk about the “spirituality, direction and future” of the nation. He proceeded to hang the proponents of victimization, guilt and despair out to dry.

On America’s shortcomings,Carson questioned why it takes so long for America to respond to the failure of education. “Although we’re living in an era of advanced technology,” he noted, “30 percent of students who enter high school in this country do not graduate, and 44 percent of college students don’t complete their degree in four years.”

He referenced his latest book, America the Beautiful, which, in part, references a sixth-grade exit exam from the 1800s. “I doubt most college graduates today could pass that test,” he said. “We have dumbed things down to that level. … And the reason why that is so dangerous is because the people who founded this nation said that our system government was designed for a well-informed and educated populous. And when they become less informed, they become vulnerable. And that’s why education is so important.”

Carson meticulously destroyed generally accepted themes supported by the president. His common sense views on Obamacare, for example, are contrary to the president’s big government mandated health care plan. The young and the elderly, says Carson, are best served through the equivalent of a medical investment package.  “Instead of sending all this money to some bureaucracy, let’s put it in their HSAs (Health Savings Account).”

In reference to the exploding national debt — which increased more during President Obama’s four years in office than it did during 8 years of the George W. Bush presidency –Carson mocks government’s spending addiction that dug a more than $16 trillion hole.

“….count one number per second — which you can’t do because by the time you get to a thousand it would take you longer than a second but one number per second — you know how long it would take you to reach 16 trillion?” he queried. “More than a half million years. We have to deal with this. ”

As relates to Obama waging class warfare and obsessing with taxing the rich,Carson prefers a flat-income tax. “Some people say, ‘Well that’s not fair because it doesn’t hurt the guy who made $10 billion as much as the guy who made 10.’ Where does it say you’ve got to hurt the guy? He just put a billion dollars in the pot.”Carson said. “It’s that kind of thinking that has resulted in 602 banks in the Cayman Islands. That money needs to be back here building our infrastructure and creating jobs.”

Carson’s speech highlighted the policy deficiencies of Obama, for sure. But it also held in disrepute the conventional wisdom that we should automatically march lockstep with, but fail to question the actions and the motives of those who profess to be our savior.

Seldom has a public figure created so fully a recognizable and inimitable new world of words, images and mine fields. The speech was a refreshing liberation.

President Obama stood and applauded. It’s not clear if the he got the message.

 

 

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The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), the nonprofit group working to bring new development to the city, has come under fire for having an agenda that favors white investors over blacks. The charges flow out of the mouths of politicians, community activists and citizens alike: “whites are trying to take back our city.”

The DEGC is accused of “giving” the city away. Its complainants want a “race” factor in the requisitioning and dispensing of development grants and loans. It’s difficult to see how over the long-term such appeasement could enrich Detroit’s path to revitalization.

Development stories that typically grab the headlines are associated with Quicken Loans buying downtown buildings, the Ilitch’s planned mega-million sports and entertainment complex and the M-1 group’s construction of a streetcar line along Woodward.

Those high-profile deals have the DEGC under pressure from black investor wannabes who insist on special dispensation. Some already have outstanding loans that are delinquent, which has resulted in $5 million reduction in the Detroit Block Grant annual allocation from HUD.

That hasn’t stopped critics from obsessing with the exploitation of development disparities and demanding  preferential treatment — not based on how much “skin they’re willing to put in the game,” but the color of their skin. The DEGC won’t play this game.

In the past, whites investors were forced to accept prominent blacks as “fronts” into their deals. The minority partner had little real equity and no real decision-making authority. The DEGC has since raised the bar, not only serving as consultant and advisor to blacks entrepreneurs who go it alone, it puts money into deals that promise success.

Instead of hand wringing and forecasting economic doom, for example, businessman Chris Jackson and Jim Jenkins, owner of Jenkins Construction, partnered to construct a new $18 million five-story office/medical building in Midtown called the Queen Lillian Project. Detroit investor Gregory Jackson has purchased the twin 22-story, 584-unit apartment Lafayette Towers complex.

George Stewart and Mike Byrd are quintessential entrepreneurs with a contagious “can do” spirit who have embarked on rehabbing an entire block of the Gardenview Project in Midtown. Michael Roberts has invested in the East Riverfront project and plans to renovate the former Omni Hotel.

One of the more influential minority investors is Andra Rush, the Native American CEO of Detroit Manufacturing Systems who supplies Ford Motor Co. Her parent company is the largest Native American-owned in America.

 Richard Hosey is a partner with Karp and Associates of Lansing, which will renovate three vintage buildings surrounding Capitol Park in downtown Detroit and convert them into market-rate loft apartments with retail and office space.

 Hiram Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media, which includes the Michigan Chronicle, has invested in the acquisition and renovation of the former Dell Pryor building located in historic Paradise Valley.

Marvin Beatty, Elliott Hall and Ricardo Solomon are the developers and owners of Gateway Marketplace, the nearly completed Meijer retail power center at 8 Mile and Woodward. Beatty also is a partner in the Magic Plus LLC that includes Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The latter plans to turn the former Michigan State Fairgrounds into a multi-use venue featuring a movie theater, housing and restaurants.

Beatty’s investment team was able to overcome obstacles because the DEGC was there to help at every step of a laborious process. With Gateway, the group needed pension funds, Michigan Economic Development Corp. new tax credits, etc. DEGC helped seal the deal with an initially reluctant Meijer, as well as with “bridge financing” to facilitate cash flow during the construction phase.

 Because the DEGC understands the needs of the marketplace, he told me, the organization was an important conduit that worked with his group, never against them.

“In my experience,” added Beatty, “nobody funds development projects based on people being black.”

Detroit will need a lot more of DEGC’s equal economic opportunity resolve – and investor risk-taking – on its road to recovery.

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The 2013 Detroit city election primary marathon is about to get underway. A slew of potential candidates will pick up nominating petition for mayor.  Hundreds could vie for the nine City Council seats — seven elected from districts and two at-large.

It’s not surprising that the field promises to be crowded given the growing dissatisfaction with the disgraceful performance of the current crop of elected officials.  The state of affairs is so bad that it deserves a ballot designation that stimulates – at least for most incumbents — “none of the above.”

Typically incumbents have a four-year affliction of anxiety about their reelection prospects. The lead-up to past elections historically motivated politicians to take actions to appease potential voters. Detroiters became the beneficiaries of the quadrennial renewal of vitality. But soon after basking in the afterglow of this temporary attention, voters sank back into complacency. The kind of chaos that exists today quickly became the norm, even after a seemingly gifted mayor and slate of council newcomers assumed office.

Over the last four years, the new City Council yielded to the old ways and established a less than glowing record of setting public policy priorities or achieving financial objectives. On the Belle Isle deal turned debacle, the council’s conduct is particularly disqualifying.  Councilpersons James Tate, Saunteel Jenkins and Gary Brown were the only ones to vote to move forward with the rescue plan proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The latest annual audit pegs the city’s accumulated general-fund deficit at nearly $327 million, $130 million more than the shortfall the city reported for the 2010-11 fiscal year. But despite a consent agreement with the state, and more than halfway into the fiscal year, the mayor and council continue to drag their feet on ending the spending addiction, daring the governor to send the city into bankruptcy.

Residents are gunned down in their homes or on the street and the city is constantly aflame. However, the council more closely resembles potted plants than pro-active responders to the crises. Yet its members continue to enjoy their power, perks and privileges.

Long-suffering Detroiters who don’t vote with their feet, routinely complain that too often their choice is between the lesser of the evils. Having “none of the above” on the ballot could be a “safety valve” by which elections could be nullified if voters don’t think any of the competing candidates are deserving.

The door would open for “non-traditional” candidates with fresh ideas to run. The “power of incumbency” would be less of a potent force with do-nothing politicians who might have to actually check the pulse of voters on critical issues to get elected.

If “none of the above” emerged victorious, a new election would be held. Of course, rescheduling elections until voters settled on a suitable candidate(s) would be an additional cost. But based on the city’s sorry political history, the occasional added expense might be worthwhile if it led to better candidates, better campaigns and better results.

I can already hear the chorus of dissent from those who see “none of the above” as draconian. Elections, the argument goes, are about choosing someone to govern you,  not about registering a protest. And voters already have the right to show their discontent by staying home. Increasingly, though, the pool of desirable and qualified candidates is shrinking. And apathy already rules the political roost

It remains to be seen whether any of the mayoral or council challengers will prove to be worthy. But while there is hope for good public policy and strong leadership in the stirring of political competition, it’s not automatic. The active interest and participation of voters are essential.

If “none of the above” isn’t designated — or practiced — come November,  this much we can count on: Detroiters will get no more or no less than they deserve from the choices they make.

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gun photo
As the owner of three legal, registered handguns I consider myself an average gun owner. But that doesn’t make me a gun fanatic. The weapons were purchased for my protection and the protection of my family, even though I live in a relatively safe suburban enclave.

However, it is my opinion that President Barack Obama’s proposed federal gun restrictions are a hyper-emotional response to the recent violence. They pander to our worst fear of some maniac igniting a catastrophic event on an unsuspecting public. More than that, they defy logic.

I don’t have a gun fetish. I’m not a collector of weapons. I have no mental or criminal history so I was able to obtain a concealed pistol license (CPL), which allows me to carry a firearm. Even though I feel that’s not necessary most of the time, I do carry on occasion.

On some of the broad gun issues, I have mixed feelings. Although Michigan gun laws permit it, for example, I don’t think it’s smart to “open carry.” There would be no advantage if a potential robber was stalking you.

Secondly, it would undoubtedly draw more than a cursory interest of law enforcement. But I respect that people who “open carry” do so within the law.

I am a peacetime military veteran who received an “expert” ranking on the gun range. I have fired pistols, rifles, high caliber machine guns and automatic rifles. Owning a military-looking semi-automatic rifle doesn’t appeal to me. Most people who have fired a weapon understand its tremendous killing power and the consequences from pulling the trigger. So I am sensitive to the mass murders of Sandy Hook schoolchildren and the theater shooting in Aurora. The terror, the pain and suffering of the survivors and their families are easy to imagine.

But while repulsive, nothing President Obama has proposed would have spared the victims of these shootings. His attempt to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines make for good theater and sharp debate. But what’s offered as a solution completely misses the mark. A few sociopaths may buy the firearms in question from unlicensed dealers, but the vast majority of all gun sales in the United States are purchased at licensed stores. And most owners of such weapons are not mass serial killers.

The unintended consequences of weapon-control requirements could actually trigger a reduction in registrations and increase guns purchased via the underground market. They would not affect the criminal use of guns, or the ability of the criminally insane to get their hands on a weapon of their choice. Neither would they have an effect on urban terrorists who operate on the streets of inner-cities where homicide levels take a casualty toll that is comparable to a sizable war. In fact, the odds that a young person will be killed in an urban neighborhood on any given day are greater than in a war zone in some foreign country.

Although torn apart by a culture of random and out of control violence, I don’t see a broad inner-city constituency ready to lay down their weapons and rally to support the president’s initiative. That’s because not all guns are in the possession of the law abiding, and there aren’t enough cops to protect citizens. So disarmament for even high-crime areas like Detroit is out of the question.

Gun control laws provide a false promise of preventing mass murders typically engaged by people with deep-seated psychological problems. Because legislation can’t prevent catastrophes that result from such disorders, I must conclude that hidden in the president’s agenda is the intent to begin the process of completely disarming America. That’s not an outcome the average gun owner in a free society will ever accept.

Read more:  http://domemagazine.com/johnson/bj020113

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At a recent news conference, Mayor Dave Bing referenced a Detroit News story that revealed that 16 percent of the murders in Detroit occurred among people who didn’t live in the city.

He then self-righteous implied that media bias is responsible for the fabrication of unsubstantiated allegations of Detroit as an unsafe city. Bing specifically blamed the “print media” which he accused of “scaring” people about visiting the city.

“Contrary to popular belief, people think Detroit is one of the most dangerous cities in the country,” Bing said. “The perception is that you can’t walk down the street…but most of the homicides in the city last year occurred after arguments in residential areas by people who knew their victims.”

Was he joking?

Did I miss something?

Crime.jpgIt’s true that violence among family members and acquaintances account for a substantial number of homicides. Even so, there’s nothing in what the mayor said that should make residents feel better about being the primary victims of uncontrolled violence.

Actually, Detroiters ought to be up in arms at the suggestion that the homicide problem is caused by, or can be solved by the “media” burying the killings on the obituary page. Perceptions of violence aren’t informed by TV reports on crime that percolate out to the public, or from news headlines.  In fact, there’s no disparity between actual homicides and how the public perceives them.

Detroiters and outsiders alike correctly view the streets and other public places as menacing. The proof is in the daily ritual of doctors in hospital emergency rooms treating gunshot victims, or the clergy consoling mourning families of murder victims who routinely congregate in funeral homes. Everyone caught up in this life-and- death crossfire understand that the sense of fear and loss of life is real – not perception.

Insult is added to injury by promoting the idea that Detroiters need media interpreters to tell them whether they are actually being preyed upon — or just played.police pic

Make no mistake, the slam against the media is intended to divert attention from an uncomfortable reality: the Bing administration really doesn’t know much about preventing or curtailing the slaughter. That makes the mayor’s attack tantamount to demagoguery, a skewed, self-serving attempt to mask government’s failure to rein-in pervasive, barbaric behavior.

His ignorance and blatant neglect notwithstanding, a higher standard of civility is required in a city where over 700,000 people live and thousands more commute daily. A city that can’t protect its citizens isn’t likely to do anything well.

The mayor and his police chief would best serve the public interest by channeling their energies into finding money to hire more cops. Even in these times of tight budgets, a greater investment must be made, and a higher priority given to adequate resources to make all streets in all neighborhoods safe. And that means going beyond deploying cops in the downtown area to accommodate visitors while leaving neighborhoods vulnerable and defenseless.

That also requires Bing to climb down from the ivory tower of the Manoogian Mansion and into step into neighborhoods beset with crime and predatory criminals. It means accepting that there’s a scary underbelly of city life beyond the mayor’s security detail and bulletproof limousine.

There’s almost unanimous consensus that the degree to which government officials abandon the rhetoric and adopt remedies will determine whether residents, visitors and potential investors come to view the city in a more favorable light. Put another way, if Mayor Bing wants Detroit to be seen as safe, he should do something more than concoct excuses for the inexcusable.

This shameless bashing of the “mean” media for reporting on the worst murder spree in decades may provide short-term psychological comfort for city officials. But not one safe haven will result from the circus atmosphere created by the mayor opening his mouth to babble about the “positive” side of the ruthless culture of violence. Best to say nothing.

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The erosion of students — the tax base of Detroit Public Schools — continues unabated. The precipitous shrinkage is such that it’s just a matter of time before there won’t be enough left for DPS to justify its existence.

A deficit elimination plan submitted to the state by DPS Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts reveals that 28 more schools will have to be closed by 2016. Declining enrollments and excess building capacity are to blame for the ominous trend that should propel the DPS management team to get out of the education business. Odds are the district won’t survive if Roberts stays the course.

Projections have DPS enrollment falling by  almost 13,000 students in the next two years, down from the approximately 51,000 curently enrolled. Put in perspective, in 2000 the district had about 150,000 students. By 2010, that number had slipped to 75,000.

While the district has put some buildings out of service recently, the anticipated downsizing of the district’s physical plant doesn’t begin to reflect how severe the drop in DPS enrollment has been from its peak of 298,000 in 1966.

Previous school officials resisted bringing the number of schools in line with the shrinking population, believing that smaller schools, not fewer schools, best serve students’ needs. Saving money was a low priority in the decision to close nearly empty and poorly maintained facilities.

Politics also came into play. The more schools, the more need for principals, department heads, secretaries, operating engineers and para-professionals. Unions are known to be part of the organized opposition out of fear that fewer schools typically make for larger classrooms.

Pressure to preserve neighborhoods was another prime reason the district shied away from barricading outdated and underused structures. However, massive shifts in population, abandonment, vandalism and razing of houses and apartment buildings have left older parts of the city in ruins. Libraries and schools are the last to go. Residents who remain also see a neighborhood without a school as an undesirable place to locate.

Of course, fewer students mean fewer dollars for education. The deficit elimination plan forecasts a lost of $170 million in state revenue the next three school years, with the budget shrinking from just over $1 billion to $547 million. Included in anticipated budget cuts are hundreds of teaching jobs, nonteaching positions, support services staff, principals and clerks.

Today, less than half of the estimated 100,000 school-age children who live in the city attend DPS. The district’s worse performing schools were spun off into the much celebrated but underperformng Education Achievement Authority.

Parents, though, seem disinterested in the education delivery system Roy Roberts has tried to bring  to the table, which brings DPS to another historic threshold.

The district must immediately restore some dignity and purpose to its mission. Roberts has an obligation to focus on accomplishing the basics of education with the best use of the public’s money. That mandate comes with an imperative to give parents and students real access to good schools.

Increasingly, parents are finding the “good schools” they need in the suburbs, or with schools of choice and charter schools. Public opinion polls reveal that Detroiters believe “franchise” schools give parents and students a greater sense of ownership and pride, while offering more alternatives and competition to failing public schools.

I have no doubt that Robert has the will to complete the politically unpalatable but necessary task of closing more schools. But that does not solve the problem of the “vanishing student” –it exacerbates it. And he won’t find the answer until he uses what power he has left to break from the discredited central management style that stifles meaningful academic change.

This we know: Parents are demanding a greater role in choosing the right school for their children. Sooner, rather than later, Roberts must deal with the imperative of removing the barriers to choice and replace bureaucratic malaise with educational opportunity.

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This week is the national celebration of the birth and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The great civil rights leader not only symbolized the dream of equal opportunity, he provided moral authority and credible leadership during an era when black Americans desperately pursued that elusive dream.

He is without peer in galvanizing and mobilizing the masses to march in unison to his worthy cause of freedom and justice. Black America has not seen the likes of such leadership since his death and, unfortunately, may never again.

Had he lived, Dr. King might agree that part of the dream he described during his most famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963 has taken shape for many blacks.

Aided by civil rights legislation he helped pass in 1964, substantial numbers of blacks have gained entrance to higher status and higher paying jobs. Their access to opportunity was followed by the emergence of a growing middle class.

From the 1960s through the 90s, for example, black education levels were up across the board and black income grew impressively. By 2000, almost 58 percent black households had an annual income of $35,000 or more compared to just 38.2 percent in 1970 (The recession caused that number to drop to just 46 percent in 2011).

Although black incomes have improved significantly since the Civil Rights era, disparities still remain. For too many, the Promised Land is a dream deferred.

The most dramatic change is the percentage of black households making under $15,000, which is well below the poverty line. The rising poverty rate has gone from fewer than 15 percent in 2000 to just over 27 percent in 2011, reflecting a dire trend. This was the highest percentage since 1993, but not as high as the 1960s.

But that’s only half the poverty story. More that five percent of blacks receive public cash assistance, which is twice the national share. Even more disturbing is that 26 percent of blacks receive some sort of food stamp assistance, which also may be partly recession-related; partly a lack of a work ethic and breakdown in social norms. And unemployment rates remain twice as high for blacks as our white counterparts.

Nevertheless, the wage gap between high- and low-income blacks is also growing. But it is not surprising that those with rising incomes are most likely to be business executives and professionals. Their households are more likely to contain traditional, married-couple families where both spouses work and education levels are high.

It is also not shocking that those most likely to be poor are in single-parent, female-headed households. Among this group can be found a strong correlation between family breakdown, social dysfunction and poverty. So there’s reason to be concerned the black fractured family structure bodes ill for the movement of more blacks into the economic mainstream.

A wealth of documentation shows that children from poor families tend to score lower on math and behavior tests than their affluent counterparts. They are inclined to engage in early sexual activity, disengage from schools, experiment with drugs, and are tempted by crime and prone to develop a proclivity for living part of their life in prison.

As daunting as these statistics are, the overall picture is one of good news. Racism is not dead. Utopia has not been achieved. Most blacks are not poor, criminals or on welfare.

Addressing the social trends might be possible if black America still had a charismatic leader to rally the downtrodden and disaffected around solutions to their self-destructive tendencies. To that end, the worse affliction of black America today may be the leadership void left by Dr. King’s passing.

But as Dr. King admonished us in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.” From our humble beginnings we have learned that the American dream is alive and well for stable families and those who value education – for blacks as well as whites.

2 2057

It was difficult for the media to generate sustained interest in the announcement by the Kresge Foundation of its intent to kick in $150 million toward the Detroit Strategic Framework plan, modeled on Mayor Dave Bing’s Detroit Works project. And it’s not surprising that public reaction was ho-hum, at best.

Detroiters have seen plenty of long- and short-term plans with promise that were either scrapped or rejected over the last 60 years. Some were even funded. And judging by the state of the city today, it is obvious that none came to fruition. The decades of decline  will only be reversed by immediate attention to the basics, not a far-flung blueprint for the future.

Not every effort on the drawing board is pie-in-the-sky. Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures is an active downtown renaissance participant. The latest potential acquisition by the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans is the 1001 Woodward Avenue office building, the 16th purchase of a downtown property by Gilbert’s company since 2011.

Gilbert deserves a pat on the back for putting his own money at risk to transform the city with information technology and knowledge as the prime economic drivers. But despite the fact that downtown Detroit is experiencing a mini-boon, cities typically are not defined by their skylines. A vibrant downtown, to some degree essential for a long-term recovery plan, does not a city make. Too many neighborhoods are being left behind.

To understand the history of the city, it’s important to acknowledge that since Detroit was built on the automotive industry, its transition into a new era has been particularly tumultuous. The city has been hit hard: population and income declines, poverty and unemployment increases, crime and social problems becoming more intense and intractable.

High taxation, declining services and education failure contributes to the city losing more than half its residents from a peak of almost 2 million – and most of its jobs, wealth and talent. For the city to succeed in this economic transition new skills, new strategies, new cooperation and new residents are imperatives.

abandoned houseDetroit historically was distinguished by its vibrant neighborhoods. Indeed, the city’s strength, diversity and vitality were all rooted in her neighborhoods, where community pride and cultures from all over the world were cherished and celebrated. Each neighborhood had its own personality and distinct appeal. That Detroit no longer exists.

Another contributor to the decline is city government, which has acted as if it were insulated from the powerful forces reshaping the regional and national economy. Confidence in government has been plummeting for decades.  The need to cut funding to meet the elusive goal of a balanced budget pressures elected officials to get the most bang for every taxpayer buck. Yet government can’t seem to find ways to downsize, consolidate or outsource to meet the demands of a city in transition. Its failings have made Detroit the poster child for inept government. Detroiters justifiably have a deep distrust and disgust with the way government fails to meet minimum but vital objectives.

That said, hats off to the Kresge Foundation for having a vision and a deep commitment to turn the city into a laboratory of experimentation and innovation. Unfortunately Detroit doesn’t have 50 years to complete the transition as projected by its plan.

Make no mistake, however. The Detroit recovery agenda for the future doesn’t begin with a diagram, it begins with providing hope and opportunity for those living in the shadows of the downtown skyscrapers with public safety necessities. That ultimately involves the prerequisite of a major infusion of cops to make streets safe today.

The role of government ultimately must be performance and product rather than process and perpetuation. There must be zero tolerance for waste, fraud and abuse. We can only hope that Kresge officials have the institutional courage to demand accountability from private-and public-sector customers – lest the future is abandoned to chaos.

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IMG_0213There is no relief from the orgy of violence that has plagued Detroit for several decades. The city reported 411 homicides in 2012, including those termed justifiable homicides…the highest criminal murder rate since 2007 when there were 392. Nonfatal shootings, obviously intended to kill, totaled 1,263.

Worse than the numbing body count were the words of city officials who suggested that the senseless slaughter of the innocent is beyond the ability of law enforcement to control or contain.

“The problem lies not only with the police department; it lies with the press, it lies with the principal and it lies with the preacher and it lies with the parent,” said Interim Police Chief Chester Logan. He also questioned whether adding more cops would make a difference.

“I think the message that we want our citizens to understand is we need them,” said Mayor Dave Bing. “I just don’t believe that our police department should have the total responsibility for safety in the city.”

Both statements contained kernels of truth. The long-term solution for breaking the cycle of violence does fall largely outside of law enforcement. But in the face of so many deaths, the words seem callous and uncaring. In effect, they are a tacit admission that city government is handcuffed. Crime is too pervasive. Cops are incapable of protecting citizens. They must fend for themselves.

For too long, residents have been fed this “helplessness” indoctrination replete with excuses. Which led me to wonder whether a woman at the helm of the city would be more sensitive to distressed families and wayward children, and yet tough enough to enact effective reforms.

Perhaps, I thought, hope, and those illuminating qualities might be found in former State Rep. Lisa Howze, the only female, so far, to announce her candidacy for mayor. She didn’t disappoint.

“There is nothing more critical to the city of Detroit than the safety and protection of our people,” Howze told me. “Because violence imposes so much fear, real pain and suffering, I would not hesitate as mayor to devote the necessary resources into making neighborhoods where children live and play safe havens.

“Not only will safe streets will be my highest personal objective – it will be my highest budget priority. I would spare no expense in making sure that the carnage of 2012 will be a bloody memory that never repeats itself.”

Howze appears to understand that containing violence is imperative to the city’s recovery and to its future. She further agreed with my contention that increasing police ranks — not reducing the number of cops — is the best defense against ruthless predators. That’s what happened in New York City under Mayor Rudolph Guiliani in the 1990s.

Durng that period, NYC had a reputation as one of the worst crime-ridden cities in America. Guiliani took the position that allowing disorderly elements to proliferate conveyed the message that the city was uncaring; that citizens were fair game. He hired 7,000 cops and instituted a precinct-based management system which deployed officers where crime was occurring during critical hours.

Public safety, not costs, powered the crackdown. Today, NYC is one of the safest cities per capita.

“In a perfect world,” Howze continued, “the best anti-violence insurance policy would be to have children born to loving, responsible parents to steer them through the difficulties of adolescence and provide them with a moral compass.”

But, she says, making apologies and “blaming the victims” serves no useful purpose. Posturing prevents no deaths. The city’s reprehensible failure to protect its citizens will not change.

“With more cops and innovative changes in policing,” concludes Howze, “we can stare down the deadly face of crime and move the genocidal violence debate from untenable statistics to a degree of safety we can all live with.”

Mayaor Bing doesn’t have a plan. Lisa Howze does. Do any of the other potential candidates?

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The vision of a new $650 million Detroit sports and entertainment complex took on a brighter glow after Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill paving the way for the Downtown Development Authority to continue capturing more than $12 million a year and commit it to the project.

But if the Ilitch Olympia Development Company’s plan to erect a new, downtown hockey arena or multipurpose events center requires an additional taxpayer subsidy, it’s probably a bad idea. The last thing Detroit needs is another big-expenditure, low-benefit project that primarily serves to subsidize private enterprise.

The $12.8 million revenue stream comes from school taxes collected by the DDA. The funds, previously used for another purpose, would help fund and retire bonds for the project that is likely to be located north of I-75 in the vicinity of the Ilitch-owned Fox Theater, Hockeytown Café and Comerica Park.

Excitement is in the air.

However, Olympia Entertainment is not guaranteed the money. George W. Jackson Jr., president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., says obstacles, financial and otherwise, may still lie ahead. Signoffs will be necessary at every level.

You certainly can’t blame Ilitch for cashing in on any “free” dollars the city wants to generously dish out. The incentives given Ilitch for the Fox Theater (part of a deal to move his Little Caesars headquarters downtown) was just about as sweet as it gets.

But the pot got even sweeter when Ilitch received major inducements to keep the Red Wings in the city. Olympia Entertainment has leased the Joe Louis arena, Cobo Arena — and an adjacent parking structure –for a pittance, and may be delinquent on taxes.

Still, the flaunted promises sound inviting.

The widely popular assertion is that the development would generate enough additional tax revenue through short-term construction jobs, increased sales for nearby businesses and increased property values to justify public support. But when the Fox Theater deal was on the table, it was estimated that the venue would draw as many as one million patrons annually, a number that likely fell woefully short of those lofty projections. So much for wild assertions.

What if the high-flying Red Wings skidded from the top of the division to the basement and ticket sales dropped off? What if the NHL continues its lockout, or goes out of business? Will Detroit have to reach into its depleted coffers and subsidize a failing arena the way it does the People Mover? And is a complex concept necessary?

Ford Field is not just dedicated to playing a handful of home and preseason football games – it hosts mega events. And the metro-area already has Palace Sports and Entertainment. What about the DTE Energy Music Theater at Pine Knob, Meadowbrook Music Theater at Oakland University and Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights? Should government be in the business of giving Ilitch a public subsidy and a competitive advantage over these venues?

Tempting as it may be, Detroit should exercise caution before rejoining the arena-building craze. The tri-county area, has already kicked in mega-bucks to help finance Comerica Park, Ford Field and the Cobo Convention Center expansion. With the city facing near bankruptcy, the Ilitches’ dream arena would preferably be built with their own money.

At the very least city and DEGC officials should get assurances that if, for any reason Mike Ilitch can’t meet his construction timetable, absorb cost overruns and keep the arena filled, the city isn’t stuck with the tab. The Pontiac Silverdome experience should not be lost of any of the players and planners.

Prudence, practicality and skepticism are recommended for yet another test of whether public subsidies to professional sports stadiums are good policy beyond an ego-boost and exaggerated sense of pride.

Careful monitoring of the process may help prevent what may be a good deal from becoming a costly mistake.

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Michigan schools have tried for many year,  and in many and varied ways to improve student performance across the education spectrum. Based on the experience in most of the state’s urban school districts, there is little evidence that the decades of reform efforts have paid off. But the anticipated Michigan schools-of-choice legislation promises to be an effective mechanism that takes the concept of successful schools to a new level.

The proposed Michigan Public Education Finance Act would replace the School Aid Act of 1979. More than that, it would change how K-12 learning takes place in profound ways. Not the least of which is that students would be allowed to choose to be educated in any public district with an open-enrollment policy. This would be the epitome of “access to opportunity.”

school choice !The potential benefits of parents being able to see their children educated in stimulating, orderly, vigorous schools are substantial.

The possibilities from remarkable and innovative administrators breaking from traditional theories about education to adopt choice models are endless. Given autonomy, authority and flexibility to develop curriculum and select instructional supplies, for example, schools could be organized around a variety of themes and philosophies. Each school could have its own distinctive style. Parents could select a quality school that conforms to their interests – students their abilities.

Some specialties might include performing arts, liberal arts, computer science, engineering, aerodynamics, math immersion and other technologies. The legislation already envisions a limited number of cyberschools to provide an alternative to traditional school districts through online learning.

Parents gain enormous power – not the least of which is the sense of ownership and the ability to put underperforming schools out of business. Since per-pupil funding would follow students to the district of their choice, mediocre schools would no longer be guaranteed a pool of students and compelled to be more accountable. The educational level of the entire school system as a whole should improve. And there’s no downside to closing under-achieving schools.

School systems, for parochial reasons, have seen fit to take authority out of schools and centralize it in a bureaucratic nightmare. However, if more power is given to choice-motivated schools, the forces of competition could replace the stifling monopoly.

Choice schools could identify and hire the best administrators and teachers. Teachers could share in the decision-making, allowing for the development of a staff bonded by a common vision and commitment to the district’s educational philosophy.

Expect a gnashing of teeth, marching, demonstrating and vocal opposition to choice from teacher unions and school bureaucrats intimidated by and fearful of change. Critics will complain that schools in the urban core would simply be unable to compete and destined to close. They also claim that some parents aren’t equipped to effectively choose the best schools and their children will be trapped…that choice will destroy the public school system.

But teachers who are confident of their abilities have nothing to fear from choice. Indeed, since state money will follow the students, many schools will benefit from an attractive product. And a better-functioning system would enhance public support and thus better working conditions.

Equally important is that new teacher enthusiasm and student performance gains can be accomplished without more state spending or changes in district financing. With education organized as it is today, school bureaucrats prop-up education systems with more money and then try to juggle how those dollars are used without having an end product in mind.

The merits of choice are too numerous and too well documented for Lansing to delay in pushing through what appears to be a sensible and clear path to school reform. It involves no great revolution in urban areas since charter schools are already growing in popularity. And high performing suburban schools can opt in or out.

Choice is no panacea. But because it builds on well-established principles of accountability, Michigan lawmakers must give choice a chance.

http://domemagazine.com/johnson/bj122112

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UnknownWe live in a violent age. Ruthless, wanton and gratuitous violence is at intolerably high levels.

Last week we experienced a senseless slaughter by an apparently mentally deranged gunman who went into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn and used a high-powered rifle to kill 20 children and 6 adults, including his mother. The incident followed the horrendous mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at a manufacturer in Minneapolis. More than 60 mass murders have been carried out with firearms across America in the last several decades.

Closer to home, we also have a different, but no less gruesome massacre taking place. Detroit’s reputation as a mean and dangerous place has been reinforced day-in, day-out since the mid-1980s when gun-related violence became the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among the city’s young. The city has recorded more than 365 homicides this year, which is more per capita than in New York, a city with more than 10 times Detroit’s population.

The most frightening aspect of the violence is its randomness. It is led by an inner city underclass unlike any in the city’s past. Our neighborhoods are breeding grounds for generations of demoralized, idle, rootless young men who feel empowered only by possession of deadly weapons. The aggressive, brutal style of their violence is carried out without conscience.

Each time a mass murder occurs, there is an outcry from the anti-gun lobby, which raise questions over the need for tougher gun control. Some lawmakers want military-style assault weapons banned. Arguably, it would be nice to think that symbolic gestures would persuade predators to change their behavior. But tougher gun laws hold a false promise. Nothing prevents Detroit from drowning in illegal firearms.

In many instances, officers on the street find themselves outgunned. Increasingly caches of AK-47s are seized from criminals. But research shows that if 90 percent of guns disappeared, there would still be plenty left for every criminal since thievery and the black market provide them with all the guns they need.

Collectively, the violence, the tragedy and the suffering are telling indicators of the bleakness and perversity that have become an everyday fact of suburban and city life. The disintegration of the traditional family, increasing poverty, deteriorating schools and the enormity of the drug problem are contributing factors. Guns are the weapons of choice within this culture. Until these pathologies are reversed, these homegrown predators will find a way to kill and maim no matter how many controls society tries to place on guns.

Detroit is paralyzed. Few suggestions on how to lead young people away from corrupting influences and impose strict order on their lives are submitted by community organizations, civic groups, churches or policy-makers. Realistic plans to make streets safe aren’t articulated by law enforcement entities. Violence is generally viewed as uncontrollable or inevitable even under the most favorable circumstances. Therefore, thousands of residents live behind bars and elaborate security systems, prisoners in their own home. Left to accept the carnage as a way of life, residents drift into frightened silence and prolonged mourning.

Rather than signal hopelessness, however, these incidents should arouse frustrated communities to lay siege to the deadly culture of violence. One counterattack on armed criminal warfare could involve identifying, targeting and incarcerating the most chronic offenders for a long time. As long as there are bad guys on the streets, they will find guns to use. And as long as fear of violence is so high, law-abiding citizens will want to buy guns to protect themselves.

In the final analysis, government has a responsibility to protect the public from predators. But as we have become painfully aware, government can only do so much to prevent people from being massacred at the hands of their own children.

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Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson’s call for President Barack Obama to deliver what amounts to an urban Marshal Plan didn’t begin with her rant at the council table last week. It’s her constant mantra.

But if this duly elected official did her part to curb city government’s spending addiction there would be one less reason to make a desperate plea for another bailout to rescue the city from a certain date with insolvency.

“Our people in an overwhelming way supported the re-election of this president and there ought to be a quid pro quo and you ought to exercise leadership on that,” said the obviously socialistic-minded Watson.

“After the election of Jimmy Carter, the honorable Coleman Alexander Young, he went to Washington, D.C. He came home with some bacon,” she continued. “That’s what you do.”

Her point about Carter and Young is correct. But she’s dead wrong to think this discredited theory of urban revitalization comes anywhere close to solving the city’s deep-seated fiscal problems.

Mayor Young and President Carter did have a symbiotic relationship, which led to the dumping on all kinds of government goodies into the city.

For four years, Detroit feasted on what seemed to be a never-ending stream of federal dollars. Included in the alphabet soup of gifts were millions in Urban Development Action Grants (UDAG), Community Development Entitlement Grants, (CDEG), Model City and Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) programs.

Young embraced the largesse. But it pretty much ended when Jimmy Carter didn’t get reelected to a second term and Young called newly elected President Ronald Reagan “pruneface.” The decline of the city started anew.

But wait!

A fresh stream of federal cash flowed into the city with the election of President Bill Clinton. In that era, Mayor Dennis Archer was the “golden boy” who fed at the federal trough. Clinton provided major dollars to hire more cops and create urban “Empowerment Zones” complete with bonding authority, tax and other incentives for residents and businesses.

Alas, government’s ability to intervene in the marketplace and correct its problems ultimately proved to be limited and ultimately futile. When the Clinton-era funds dried up, Detroit couldn’t afford to keep the cops they hired with the federal subsidy.

The “zone” concept couldn’t overcome other debilitating deficiencies that discouraged badly needed investment. In fact, little was done on the city-side to reduce crime and high income and property taxes that stymied Detroit’s competitiveness.

Instead of using the windfall to economize and right-size the city, political leaders shunned bold restructuring initiatives like eliminating programs and services the city could no longer afford. Competitively bidding those that are essential was taboo. In the end, Detroit’s history as a federal handout recipient did more to kill local initiative than stimulate growth and prosperity.

Today, Detroit finds itself poorly positioned to compete for jobs with the suburbs or foreign countries. Massive workforce reductions are needed, which will further slash already depleted services and accelerate the epidemic of abandonment from the city. Schools are deplorable. Crime is rampant.

Councilwoman Watson never understood that corporate and business leaders are owed a real commitment from government to apply fresh, market-oriented solutions to urban problems though a comprehensive and ambitious economic agenda. Neither Watson, her colleagues nor the mayor have come close to projecting themselves as aficionados of sound public policy or pragmatic management. So a new future for Detroit isn’t possible until unwise and ineffective political operators adopt less of a “business as usual” stance toward reckless spending. Another bailout won’t change that mindset.

There’s little chance that Watson and her colleagues will have an epiphany and press forward with contemporary self-correcting measures that address the city’s mounting debt.

To that end, President Obama hasn’t shown much talent for fiscal management and cutting budgets either. He and Detroit elected officials might benefit from a better understanding of the meaning of self-determination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Legislation that clarifies the role of the state’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA) should not be shelved just because it’s a vehicle for the expansion of charter schools, as critics claim.

However, parents should be concerned that there’s little in the EAA experiment to suggest that consolidating failing schools into one state-sponsored district is a paradigm for success. It does nothing to address why schools fail. In fact, there’s evidence that a financial commitment to change doesn’t always compute with improvement.

The Michigan House and Senate education committees are trying to immortalize the EAA educational model, which incorporates public schools that have been in the bottom 5 percent of academic achievement for three or more years. Currently it’s made up of 15 schools from Detroit Public Schools. The DPS board has taken legal steps to dissolve that takeover.

EAA officials promise to turn underperforming schools into a learning mecca where students learn at their own pace using specialized education plans instead of the status quo curricula. In some instances, students are situated in new facilities like Mumford High School, a $52.1 million facility. Other schools are equipped with new computers and other updates. The applied strategy is to devote more money and resources to distressed classrooms.

The history of education spending, however, reveals that there isn’t much direct correlation between the kind of spending excesses undertaken by the EAA and educational performance. A case in point is the Kansas City, MO experience.

In 1998, then-Federal Judge Russell Clark decided that Kansas City schools were segregated and blacks, which comprised 75 percent of the student population were denied equal educational opportunity. The judge ordered the school board to impose a property tax hike, which resulted in a cost-is-no-object educational solution. The state subsequently spent more than $1.3 billion for massive school improvements – including state-of-the art equipment — for the 37,000-student district.

The 15 new schools built came with a hike in per pupil spending to twice the statewide average — more than any of the 280 largest districts in the country. Another feature was a student-teacher ratio that was 12 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country. But despite the extraordinary expenditures, educational outcomes in Kansas City showed no improvement. And since 1999 there have been six or seven superintendents who couldn’t make the experiment work.
When John Covington became Kansas City’s school chief in 2009, he brought with him a student-centered model that was supposed to usher in a new beginning. Two years later, Covington abruptly resigned, leaving the district no better off then when he arrived. He is the current chancellor of Michigan’s EAA.

The Kansas City experiment suggests that educational problems can’t be solved by throwing money at schools, that the structural problems of our current educational system extend beyond a lack of material resources.
If giving students real opportunity and access to a good school is the goal of educational policy, providing parents and students the opportunity to be free of the inept bureaucratic functionaries would seem to be the preferred option. Separate legislation is being considered in Lansing to do that.
More school choice would empower parents who could choose which schools their children could attend. Individual schools would be required to compete harder for students. Failing schools would go out of business.
But not even choice comes with a guarantee.
As well intended as the EAA concept may be, history tells us that the substandard performance of schools has less to do with the amount of money flowing into the system than the degree to which parents are involved in the education of their children. Unless the EAA can generate greater parental involvement – and it can’t in a social environment dominated by fatherless homes – it’s mission will constitute a waste of valuable time and resources.

Better to go with the choice option. At least the wasteful central bureaucracy is cast aside.

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Neither opponents nor supporters should get too excited about the 8-7 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that tossed out Michigan’s voter-approved ban on affirmative action in college admissions and public hiring. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Already pending before the High Court is a separate affirmative action case filed by a white high school student againt the University of Texas. There’s a good chance the two cases could be joined and affirmative action as we know it finally comes to an end.

The case just ruled on originated in 2006 after Michigan voters approved Proposal 2 — the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative – by 58-42 percent. Last year, a 6th Circuit three-judge panel subsequently found the measure unconstitutional and unfair to minorities. AG Schuette asked for a rehearing before the full 15-member panel which weighed in and reinforced the earlier finding.

By way of reference, the great affirmative action debate has its roots with  President John Kennedy’s 1961 Executive Order No. 10925. The Kennedy edict, narrow in scope, required government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Over the years, programs supported by legislation, consent decrees and court-ordered remedies were spawned. A nondiscriminatory policy took on a far different meaning; that of preferential treatment.

Partnering with affirmative action mandates was a race-specific color consciousness. Blacks were not only specifically invited to apply for positions that generally had been reserved for whites, but were given special considerations and advantages, including points for having black skin.

Colleges and universities saw a “compelling interest” in diversifying life in the public square by including a variety of viewpoints. Hardliners see affirmative action as necessary to  rectify the deleterious effects of past social and cultural isolation experienced by blacks.

The historical foundation notwithstading, the courts have only been willing to ease, not completely erase the tension between equality of opportunity and personal liberty.

Consider this: The text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that no one can “discriminate” against any individual or account of race or gender. Titles VI and VII of the Act instructs school officials and lawyers they are not required to give “preferential treatment” in order to achieve a racial or gender balance. The orginal supporters of the Act insisted that Title VII actually prohibited preferential treatment.

Fast forward to the language of Proposal 2 — the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. It restates and reaffirms the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which received critical acclaim from civil right leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So it’s illogical that the neo-civil rights establishment continues to wage a nonsensical war against “equal treatment under the law.” Their obsession with “racial preferences” obscenely corrupts how blacks identify with the mission of the civil rights movement, which was to remove legal barriers to opportunity.

Governmental agencies and university administrators should not be condemned for seeking to incorporate a diverse employee and student population. The answer, though, lies not in separate programs that emphasize division or privilege.

The real world doesn’t aligned into neat statistical, or racial categories. Today, social forces and cultural differences – not race — most often result in disproportional representation of ethnic and gender groups.

Dr. King succinctly set the tone for the civil rights ideal: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he eloquently said.

Those words should motivate the Supreme Court to move America forward, and our public institutions beyond racism in ways that do not take race into account.

 

 

 

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I covered the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) as a reporter for WWJ radio in the mid-1970s. In the ensuing years I watched as the district was decentralized, recentralized and managed by various boards and appointed managers, some wielding extraordinary powers.

I have yet to see significant academic improvement, increased community involvement or abatement in the slide in student population. And no one is likely to witness positive change in these areas if the reigns of the education delivery system are returned to the Board of Education.

Back then I could have never imagined the chaos and uncertainty that has become the order of the day. The courts are involved in determining whether school czar Roy Roberts legally holds office under the old Public Act 72 following repeal by Michigan voters of Public Act 4, the state’s emergency manager law. It’s still not clear whether the school board still has control over the district’s education apparatus — if not financial operations.

Shock waves would reverberate throughout the district if Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette were successful in removing seven of Detroit’s 11 board members. A lawsuit filed by the AG contends that only a first-class school district with 100,000 students may elect members by districts. Detroit’s student population is about half that number. In the 70s, enrollment topped 200,000.

closed schoolAfter a cursory look at the history of DPS, it should surprise no one that the district is on a doomsday watch. Neither efficient management nor the successful education of children has been top priorities under duly elected school boards or state appointed managers.

Expectations for school reform were high when Roberts was named to the post. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot to be desired from his leadership.

Roberts has not defined or executed workable solutions to the district’s organizational, financial, administration and support systems. His good intentions notwithstanding, modifications he engineered are either bogged down in a laborious implementation process or highlighted by misdirection. Consolidating failing schools under an Education Achievement Authority, for example, is about the same as building another bureaucratic castle in the sky.

As Roberts and the school board grapple with control issues, parents are voicing their displeasure by disinvesting from the system. Neither, for example, has demonstrated much of a willingness to embrace the kind of transformation that would benefit students most.

Public opinion polls show parents want expanded school choice. That’s reflected in the fact that when a new charter school opens in the city, it’s almost immediately filled with defecting DPS students.

School boards by culture, temperament and habit are prone to incremental rather than radical change, which makes school operations under board leadership indefensible and perilous. So unless the status-quo board can demonstrate it has a plan that meets what the public demands and students’ need today, Roy Roberts, if only by default, should remain in place.

Those playing the power game should understand they have more than a parochial interest in improving schools. Detroit’s recovery depends in large part on a well-educated workforce. Parents who place a value on learning consider the quality of education in making relocation decisions. Unfortunately, DPS deficiencies rank with high-crime rates as a prime reason the city is not attractive for married couples with children.

But if Detroiters want to see a total collapse of an already academically bankrupt system, support the return of the board to power.

It may be folly to think that a broad political consensus to reconstruct Detroit’s faltering system can be found in time to prevent the inexorable implosion. Even if a school partnership with Roy Roberts and the governor is deemed unacceptable, there is no upside to a debate skewed toward the narrow goals and objectives of the board and away from what is best for educationally deprived kids.

The mission of the school district, after all is supposed to be about educating the city’s children. Remember them?

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images-4With the outcome of the presidential beauty contest out of the way, and with Michigan voters’ repeal of the emergency manager law, Detroit must now get serious about preventing the city, teetering on a fiscal cliff, from tipping into the bankruptcy abyss. More and more, though, that seems the most viable option.

I suspect that the City Council, and perhaps Mayor Dave Bing, engaged in foot dragging in the hope that rejection of Proposal 1would give the city a reprieve from having to implement draconian reforms to bring runaway expenditures in line with dwindling revenues.

Reversal of the measure will surely generate a series of lawsuits from city employee unions challenging the wage and health care concessions that were imposed, and later put on hold pending the outcome of the vote.

The courts will probably decide whether defeat of Public Act 4 means the state automatically reverts to its predecessor, the weaker Public Act 72, which critics contend is no longer in play.

Although Moody’s Investor Service has called the defeat of the act a “credit negative” the council and the mayor no longer have a sense of urgency to comply with the 25 initiatives under the consent agreement, aka Financial Stability Agreement, signed under pressure from the state. Noncompliance doesn’t come with penalties outside of Gov. Rick Snyder opting to withhold revenue payments for the city’s bond indebtedness – or sending the city into bankruptcy.

It’s unclear whether the governor is willing to pull those triggers. But he risks other cash-strapped cities rising up in defiance if Detroit is let off the hook.

Far more important to Detroit’s growth is the general condition of the national economy, which is dangling on its own fiscal cliff.  Bing – and some members of the council – has suggested they want urban problems to be the focus of national politics in 2013. The prevailing attitude is to “hope” that the feds will “bail us out” of our mounting debt and spending binge. However, any aid pumped into Detroit will be artificial and irrelevant. Experience shows that government largesse only lock cities into more depressed conditions. When government handouts are converted into a substitute for their own operating budgets, the result is often a short-term boondoggle.

The real instruments of growth– nationally and locally — are through job providers — small companies that benefit most from government getting out of the way. Deals between federal, state  and local politicians will have little effect on whether these firms grow and prosper.

Unless the mayor and council get smart about conducting government’s business, and unless accompanied by major cuts and the transfer of expensive taxpayer-financed services like the health department, and eliminating or consolidating services the city can no longer afford to provide, Detroit will never arrest the longer-term fiscal slide that it faces. And Lansing may feel no obligation to help Detroit lift itself out of its fiscal morass. But city politicians have no history in effectively implementing lasting reforms.

The reason why city officials are reluctant to effectively transform government is political expediency. Next year is an election cycle in which many members of the council will be looking for a soft spot to land in a newly created council district – or running for mayor. Mounting a campaign against the governor’s “takeover” would be to their advantage. Such machinations, however, have significance beyond the city’s sputtering political machinery. It creates political instability, which explains why more and more grass roots Detroiters are angry and disheartened by shrinking city services and why job producers remain hesitant to reinvest heavily in the city’s recovery.

Time has run out for the Bing administration and the council to fix what’s wrong with Detroit left to their own devices. Elected officials in this city seem best equipped to be the caretakers of a dying city that perished from self-inflicted wounds.

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Mayor Dave Bing, Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are naïve to think the only reason state legislators won’t approve a transit authority for Metro Detroit is because they are obstructionists. Far from it.

Evidently they see the ominus possibility of a fiscal train wreck. But more importantly, the lack of regional support for an expensive mass transit system should kill the idea.

The M-1 advocates, a private group of Detroit business people, have been trying to get $25 million in federal grants for a $137 million light rail project that actually doesn’t come close to being rapid transit. The “streetcar” system would travel about 12 mph up Woodward from Congress north to Grand Boulevard, a distance of about one mile longer than the 2.9 mile Detroit People Mover, only slower.

Another $25 million in federal funding is tie-barred for a new-age regional bus system that would incorporate the costly and inefficient Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT) with the costly and inefficient Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART). M-1 would like its “streetcars” to one day connect downtown Detroit to Macomb and Oakland counties.

It is not surprising that the governance structure for this business rapid transit merger –known as a BRT– hit a bump in the road in Lansing. Representatives from Detroit have reservations that the city will lose control of its transportation apparatus, such as it is. Suburban lawmakers have concerns that the proposed merger will be a bottomless financial pit that won’t be of much use to suburbanites.

The cold, hard lesson of publicly supported bus and rail systems over the last 40 years have exposed the promises of a merged system as a lavish illusion.

A shiny new multi-million-dollar bus system, for example, won’t divert significant numbers of drivers from their cars and, therefore, not reduce road congestion.

It won’t revitalize Detroit or reverse flight from the downtown core. Ridership studies show that the poor are not heavy users of such systems. Neither are suburbanites.

The dominant commuting pattern is suburb to suburb, not from downtown to the suburbs. Buses and trains are only efficient in high-density corridors where a large number of riders begin or end their trips in a concentrated area.

Detroit’s population drain takes the city out of contention for sufficient density to make a case for a destination end-point. Census estimates now show Macomb County has emerged as the No. 1 destination for out-migrating Detroiters, which further decreases the demand for transit from the city to the outer reaches. And the stampede of residents occurs in cars, not buses.

Most cities that constructed expensive new transit systems in recent years have dramatically overestimated ridership. That’s what Detroit did with the People Mover. That’s what the M-1 group has done with the “mini-streetcar” line. There’s also a good chance construction costs also were jacked up.

The inescapable truth is that the metropolitan area is tailor-made for cars, not for fixed-route public transit. And there’s no hard evidence that commuters are willing to park-and-ride on a bus.

Something else to consider: Before Congress created the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) in 1964, later to become the Department of Transportation, most transit systems were privately owned and operated. Federal grants doled out in the ensuring years essentially squashed the development of efficient and cost-effective private urban transit programs.

The better policy option for Lansing is to remove all barriers that prevent the development of localized, unsubsidized, private transit. Then allow private jitneys and private bus operators to compete with the existing subsidized systems. Competition will help meet the mobility needs of regional residents by offering greater convenience at lower costs.

The Legislature should punt on the discredited bureaucratic transit authority concept. Taking into account the complex regional and fiscal realities, it becomes clear that under this proposal it will be taxpayers who are taken for a ride.

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Detroit’s tide of crime and violence fuels the belief that the guardians of the law are reluctant to move against police mismanagement and misconduct.

While fingers usually get pointed at the police chief or the mayor, it is important to remember that technically, neither is directly responsible for police department policy or oversight.  That’s the duty of the largely invisible Detroit Police Commission, now charged with recommending a replacement for discredited former Chief Ralph Godbee Jr.

Good luck with that!

Commission involvement in the selection process is nothing less than a charade. But then, a charade is all the commission has been.

The five-member civilian Board of Police Commissioners was established under the 1974 City Charter following allegations that police were an “occupying army” that brutalized the public, according to critics of the time.

Commission members, appointed by the mayor, were subsequently charged with establishing a budget, writing rules and regulations, overseeing discipline, resolving citizen complaints and guarding the public interest. They were supposed to be the final authority that made the department more accountable. But the record shows that Commission oversight has more often been inconspicuous than apparent.

The idea of having a civilian panel over the police is supported by different constituencies, albeit for different reasons. Some groups are drawn to the idea because it seems to “depoliticize” the police. City officials like the political cover the commission provides when things go wrong, namely allowing City Hall to quietly exert control behind the scenes.

The experience of Detroit’s police commission shows why such panels usually fail: institutional models created under the guise of being independent tend to shatter when they come face to face with the gritty realities of crime and politics.

Evidence of the commission fiddling while the city explodes is too numerous to mention. It dispassionately fails to protect citizens and assure them of reasonably safe streets and secure homes, or to provide solutions to Detroit’s permanent position at or near the top of the list of major cities in the number of murders. The rates of robbery, rape and aggravated assault show no statistically significant decline since the establishment of the panel.

Nor is expertise exhibited in providing accountability among department brass, or restructuring the department to strategically put cops where crime is happening. A reorganization plan to get more officers from behind desks and on the street is nonexistent.

Neither the chief nor the police commission came up with preventative measures to check or root out renegade cops who give the department a bad name. Recent sexual misconduct allegations add to an already tainted image of a police force run amok.

If anything, corruption, mismanagement and unchecked authority are worse than ever. When police are found culpable, it is almost always by the courts rather than the commission. But then, having the police commission investigate its own command doesn’t lend to public credibility.

So members of this useless authority end up as powerless whipping boys for the mayor and department brass. Their main mission is to stay out of the way when decisions are made. The body should have been abolished with the last round of charter commission revisions.

The mayor, an elected official, should appoint the police chief directly and be responsible to the voters for the consequences, rather than indirectly through a panel of faceless time-servers behind whom he can hide when things don’t go right. The mayor’s ability to remove commissioners without cause, which limits their independence –is the ultimate charade.

The real casualties are the people of Detroit who are denied assurance that the police commission is working in their best interest. And in a city where crime is high and public trust low, Detroiters can’t be confident that a laughable police commission selection process for a new chief will make a difference.

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Haunted by the ghost of Halloweens past, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has assembled a massive “Devil’s Night” prevention team to make sure the ritual of Halloween fires doesn’t flare up again. The anti-arson vigil will include an unprecedented show of force involving city workers, police and fire personnel and citizens. But for all the good to come out of this huge community-policing effort, it has become clear that arsonists stay home on the pre-Halloween event, but operates with impunity on every other night of the year.

The volunteer army should be applauded for being proactive against a repeat of what was a national embarrassment in 1984. That year, the city’s worst Halloween fire epidemic recorded more than 800 blazes. The spectacle, along with Detroit’s reputation for violence, generated negative media attention around the nation and around the world. Only once since has the city retreated into complacency.

In the 1990s, believing that the “fire wars” exercise had run its course, city fathers learned the hard way that fire-starters have more respect for a committed cadre of citizens than the law. The mobilization was relaxed and fires reignited.

In recent years, the number of reported fires has steadily waned, mainly due to the large contingent of concerned citizens who take to the streets to keep arsons at “tolerable” levels. The success of their effort gives Detroit a temporary reprieve on what is now described as “Angel’s Night.” But no amount of damage control can put a damper on the memory of mayhem that occurred in the past. And unfortunately, the Devil’s Night containment has created a “backdraft” that burns through the city on days and nights that are not so closely monitored.

The seriousness of arsons, that average more than 1,000 per year since the 1990s, is reflected as much in the causes as the consequences.

No one really knows why Detroit is more prone than any other city to the intentional damage or destruction of its housing stock. Whether it stems from someone’s compulsion, malice, fun or profit, arson is a leading cause of property damage, loss and decline.

Arson produces shells of buildings that blight the city at rates many times faster than the city can tear them down. Most of the incidents occur under the cover of darkness in the older sections of the city where property values are in steep decline and real estate activity flat. Vacated, unsecured housing attract vandals, squatters and drug dealers and may be prime targets of disgruntled neighbors who are angry that the city can’t or won’t raze vacated and dilapidated dwellings.

The administration and the City Council are unwilling or unable to appropriate enough funds in any one year to sufficiently raze decrepit structures despite the plague-effect they create. This dereliction serves as an accelerant to arson incidents.

High taxes prevent some homeowners from maintaining their properties, which may also be unsuitable to rent or sell. Torching them allows the owners to collect an insurance settlement. Yet each time a fraudulent arson claim is paid, the cost of insurance goes up, not just for that policy holder, but also for every honest, hard-working policy holder in Detroit. As property values drop, the phenomenon has an insidious, perhaps irreversible, “butterfly effect.”

These fires serve as a searing reminder of the decline in general standards of moral behavior, disregard for the law and respect for personal property. But applying expedients and seasonal placebos on three nights of the year won’t begin to correct a pattern of self-destructive behavior.

Because Detroit is the nation’s most fertile field for arson and other crimes, there is justification for treating every night as if it were “Devil’s Night.” That’s the only way to prevent Detroiters from committing genocide or burning themselves – and their neighbors — out of house and home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Expect the quadrennial process of selecting an occupant for the Detroit’s most exalted office to be livelier next year than in the recent past.

An expanding field of contenders can only enhance the mayoral sweepstakes. Most importantly, it offers an opportunity for a fresh airing on what direction Detroit ought to be going — and what kind of leader is best capable of policy decisions that transform failure into prosperity.

DMC Chief Executive Officer Mike Duggan didn’t exactly shakeup the political landscape by adding his name to what is expected to be a growing list of potential candidates trying to replace Mayor Dave Bing. Duggan’s political foreplay had been going on for several months. It was expected. He did, however, add another wrinkle with the prospect of the first white mayor since 1973.

Broad speculation surrounds other possible hopefuls, including Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, State Representatives Lisa Howze and Fred Durhal. Businessman Tom Barrow, a perennial unsuccessful candidate also appears to be contemplating throwing his hat into the ring — again.

The compilation of this short list of potential contenders suggests that the once rising star of the mayor is in free fall. Mayor Bing was elected to keep Detroit from committing suicide. But under his stewardship fiscal and economic self-destruction appears all but inevitable.

Over the last three-plus years, Bing has managed to alienate almost every segment of his constituent base. The optimism and high expectations of residents, so much in evidence during the early stages of his term, has faded. City services remain inefficient, departments customer-unfriendly. Social and cultural upheavals, crime and population flight show no signs of abating. His questionable judgment on financial issues has brought into question the absence of bold decision-making.

Fiscal stress and a huge budget deficit challenged him to cut waste and operate more efficiently. His alternatives came down to peeling back onerous and uncompromising labor contracts, lay off workers, sell off city assets or put city services out for bid. Some options he didn’t try, perhaps conceding that outsourcing wouldn’t go over very well in a city where yielding to labor demands is a way of life.

As the mayor and City Council grew increasingly dependent on unions for votes, unions became overly dependent on government for jobs. This perverse marriage caused government to be separated from focusing on one of its most urgent needs: creating a supportive environment for jobs and growth in the business sector.

With little enterprise, high unemployment and sickly tax base Detroit has been out of contention as a center of retail, manufacturing and prosperity.

It’s not too early for Detroiters to begin thinking about whether a spirit of political adventurism is needed to exploit other possibilities and opportunities. Hopefully, a new mayor will understand that because the economics of the city have changed, so too must the role of government and its relationship with its workers. Labor unions can’t be sacrosanct as streets go unrepaired, bus riders bemoan poor services and late schedules, discarded tires pile up in scores of unattended, debris-strewn vacant lots and telephone complaints from residents go unanswered.

The next mayor won’t have the luxury to shun bold initiatives. Voters too may be asked to boldly look beyond the color of a candidate’s skin and decide whether Duggan has leadership qualities that equal his ambition to be mayor. They must legitimately and earnestly ask whether his talents, not fatal as a county administrator, prosecutor or company turnaround agent, would spell disaster for the mayoralty.

George Bernard Shaw once defined democracy as the only form of government in which the people get exactly what they deserve. I also believe real people power comes from building a broader base and putting together a solid game plan to solve problems. If both idioms are true, there will be no one to blame if voters fail to put in the game the best player available.

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Proposition S on the November 6 general election ballot in Detroit asks for voter approval of an 10-year, 18-mill, $80 million reauthorization, which is approximately 21-percent of the annual operating budget for Detroit Public Schools.

I’m not convinced that the education delivery system will show dramatic improvement with its passage. But I have no doubt that the children will suffer immensely if voters shoot the millage request down.

DPS Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts has been at the helm for about 16 months. That should be sufficient time to reform even a system mired in mediocrity and rife with dissension. Seizing control of the district’s chronic financial crisis has been at the top of Roberts’ agenda. Academic achievement, though, has taken a back seat.

Students have enormous gaps in the core subjects of math, science, history, geography and English. More than half are ranked at or near the bottom of performance, making them poorly prepared for the world of work. Absenteeism and dropout rates are atrocious.

photo-4It won’t be easy getting students eager to use their minds to challenge, to question to probe and discover. Making test scores soar and dropout rates plummet will be a major accomplishment. But there is power in a dream of excellence.

For that, Roberts needs a bold but realistic long-range set of objectives and a resolve to be their constant advocate. He must be able to look beyond the district’s weaknesses to see that all kids can do wonderful things through hard work and support.

If the idea is to save children now, more schools of choice and charter public schools — fully empowered and accountable — would begin to separate the control of resources, investments and returns from the failed central bureaucracy. If the goal is a world-class school system, Roberts must aim for performance standards that challenge educators to keep pace in a high-technology age.

Teachers also need a spirit of enthusiasm that infuses the system with a sense of the possible and the freedom to take risks. To ask that they have high expectations for every child is to ask them to believe that every child can learn, each one has potential, each can be empowered by knowledge and everyone counts. But more than a well-articulated education philosophy, the vision must become the mantra in every classroom and every school and shared by the community.

I still believe that most Detroiters are no different from other parents who want higher, not lower standards of achievement. That’s not to say they expect miracles. But an entire community has pinned its hopes on Roberts’ success. As the single most powerful transmitter of the values of learning, his success is the city’s success.

Unfortunately Roy Roberts isn’t there yet.

The district remains adrift and out of control. There’s interference from a school board more adept at obstructionism than creative action. Attempts by some board members to sabotage reform should be viewed as a recklessly, unforgivable disservice to the students they are committed to serve.

The infighting also makes it difficult for some parents to justify another large and long-term financial commitment. So unless the emergency manager and the recalcitrant board show more unity toward common goals, the academic and financial deficiencies will exacerbate student suffering and compel parents to look elsewhere for the elusive dream of excellence.

But this isn’t about Roy Roberts.

Despite many DPS shortcomings, Proposal S looms as a critical reinvestment in education-deprived children. With passage of this millage, and conscientious oversight by a vigilant community, the troubled school system has a chance to rise from the depths of despair to its potential. Without it, all is lost.

 

 

 

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The retirement of besieged Police Chief Ralph L. Godbee Jr. shouldn’t be seen as just about a sex scandal with a subordinate. His departure merely makes clear that one of the reasons crime ran rampant is because the former chief couldn’t keep his pants zipped long enough to catch criminals.

It’s also no secret that top-level management of the Detroit Police Department is in perpetual disarray. Absent a cogent crime strategy, the revolving door of police chiefs under Mayor Dave Bing’s leadership will take his playing roulette with public safety to a new level.

Godbee became top cop after his predecessor Warren Evans was fired, in part because of similar charges involving a subordinate police lieutenant. Bing knew at the time that Godbee previously had a romantic relationship with the same woman. In that case, Bing fired Evans.

Even in the midst of one of the worst crime waves in the city’s history, the mayor praised Godbee as being a consummate professional who had his complete confidence. But despite Godbee’s overactive libido, when it came to fighting crime the former chief proved to be impotent. A crisis in confidence reached the tipping point and Bing couldn’t give Godbee another pass.

The excesses and flaws under Godbee are glaringly apparent. By most accounts, the city’s law enforcement arm is generally looked upon as a poorly managed closed fraternity. Favoritism pervades the promotion and disciplinary system. Internal policy is inconsistent with coping with rising street violence. The ongoing probe into Godbee’s misadventures adds to the department’s record of malfeasance.

Perhaps because he has yet to understand that the first responsibility of government is to provide a safe and secure environment, Mayor Bing and his top cop failed to provide direction and results sufficient to arrest staggering crime. Nor has the mayor been able to reassure a terrorized community that relief is on the way.

Detroiters struggle to survive in a city rife with ruthless, wanton and gratuitous violence.  Residents, who live behind bars and elaborate security systems, are afraid to venture outside. Hoodlums, thugs, gangs and drug dealers control neighborhoods.

The community, where the criminal is bred, is also beyond enlisting to help deal with the mayhem that is generally viewed as uncontrollable and inevitable under the most favorable circumstances.

The department’s conventional – but flawed –policy is incident oriented; a citizen reports an incident and police respond, albeit rarely. The city is at the limits of the 911 emergency call system. If there’s not a murder in progress cop won’t show up. That leaves a serious deficiency in the capability of cops to rapidly respond to calls that might result in apprehension of felons.

Recurring malfunctions and gaping cracks in police deployment make a compelling case for a top-to-bottom brooming and reorganization at 1300 Beaubien. But shaking up the police department requires more than a new day-to-day manager. The restoration of its integrity and credibility calls for a coherent, aggressive law enforcement line of attack. New blood in the upper ranks, possibly brought in from out of town, may help in this regard.

But if Mayor Bing were truly concerned about the day-to-day safety of his people, he would have declared at this week’s news conference that he was rescinding all police and fire personnel cut. He would have unapologetically declared that safe streets and neighborhoods is his #1 priority. He would have demanded that the City Council privatize, outsource or eliminate all non-mandated programs and services to keep cops on the job and accelerate the hiring of enough cops to bring down crime to tolerable levels.

Hiring another chief to try and make the same tired public safety engine grind a little harder just won’t cut it. That this was the best the mayor could muster places in jeopardy the little public trust Detroiters have left – as well as his political future.

 

 

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I can only think of one reason why Mayor Dave Bing wants President Barack Obama to visit Detroit leading up to the November election: He wants the president to get a glimpse of what urban areas across America will look like in 2016 after his second term.

“People say Detroit is important to this administration. OK, prove it by coming here,” Bing told reporters at a breakfast meeting of Michigan delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

“If I look at Detroit and some of the big cities in urban America –especially in Michigan– our infrastructure is crumbling and we’ve just got to reinvest,” Bing added. “That will create jobs.”

Actually, Mayor Bing is trying to recreate the Obama myth that the government can provide federal economic support under the guise of “stimulus” and prop up or rejuvenate struggling cities. But any success the mayor has in securing an Obama administration bailout will likely work as a narcotic that impedes the making of tough decisions necessary for Detroit’s long-term survival.

Bing’s outmoded urban recovery concept is a throwback to a few years ago when Obama’s Congress handed out federal gifts for every conceivable public purpose. Little did it matter than the programs and accompanying dollars did not reflect local priorities. Obama later admitted that “shovel ready” projects were not “shovel ready.” Cities and states took the money anyway.

In the first instance, the federal government no longer has the financial capacity or political backing to distribute large doses of largesse to cities. And second, Obama’s plan would mostly produce public sector jobs at taxpayer expense. Beyond that, Bing’s expectations and Obama’s stimulus wish list collides with reasons why businesses and families vacate America’s urban core.

Bad policy helps explain why Detroit’s per capita income is just under $15,000. The jobless rate consistently tops 13 percent. And counting the unemployable or those who simply dropped out of the labor market, it may be closer to 50 percent.

When Obama took office, the national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. Despite his campaign promise to quickly bring it down to 5 percent, it has ballooned as high as 9 percent and has stood above 8 percent for the past 43 months –even higher in most urban areas across America.

Arguably, Obama’s greatest achievement is to make the unemployed feel good about their misery.

Despite the fact that their liabilities far outnumber any assets, politicians aren’t compelled to address the joblessness issue because pubic concerns are rarely transformed into political demands. Why?

Most Detroiters hold their elected officials in high esteem – a form of hero-worshiping. And perhaps deluded by a false sense of invincibility and self-celebration, Bing –and by extension Obama– have some assurance that voters will turn a blind eye to their shortcomings and translate unapologetic allegiance into a license to repeat the practices of the last four years.

Needed are private sectors jobs. But there’s little point in talking about creating or attracting new businesses when Washington and Detroit ignore their obligations to existing firms.

The best way for Mayor Bing to ensure that job creation is fostered and nurtured is to insist that the financial objectives of businesses converge with the economic realities in Detroit. Businesses need relief from rampant crime, wasteful government spending, onerous taxes and regulatory impediments that hinder startups and growth.

The mayor would be better off persuading Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts. That would go a long way toward unleashing the potential and power of free-flowing democratic capitalism.

Detroit’s recovery largely depends on lessons learned from the failed policies of the past. And going forward, it requires an understanding that the ultimate source of job security is the economy’s capacity to create new jobs.

To bridge the divide that isolates much of urban America from prosperity, the nation and the city needs leadership that is smart, capable and committed to a new direction.

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Months after the Detroit Consent Agreement was signed by state officials, the City Council and Mayor Dave Bing, the worst run city in America continues to wallow in chaos. Few of the turnaround recommendations contained in the document have reached implementation stage. And Bing sits idly by expecting a miracle as the city dies at the hands of his neglect.

With default on Detroit’s massive debt and bankruptcy looming, the consent agreement was intended to forestall the more draconian alternative of the governor appointing an emergency manager. Under the agreement, which received unfavorable reviews from city council, the parties agreed to transfer final say on the city’s depleted finances to a financial officer and advisory board. Getting the city back on sound footing also meant finding new ways to provide efficient public safety, transportation, public lighting, garbage collection, parks and recreation, and street lighting services. City departments were slated for consolidation or elimination.

But whatever reforms were envisioned have yet to move beyond blueprint. Above all, the city does not have buy-in by those who must act – and by those whom the actions will impact. That is evident by the strategic minefields that have been set and detonated.

To narrow the deficit and balance the budget, Bing levied a 10 percent pay cut on all city workers — including firefighters and police – and a workforce reduction of 2,500 jobs. However, an Ingham County judge negated the police and fire rollbacks, ruling that Bing and the financial advisory board were illegally given powers of an emergency manager under Public Act 4, which is now suspended pending a Nov. 6 statewide referendum.

The city council is seeking a subpoena against the mayor – both are still distinctly cool to the whole process – to force Bing to share more details of what may be a nonexistent plan to reorganize. And the council’s action on Belle Isle is tantamount to an irrelevant distraction from more pressing issues.

State government involvement hasn’t exactly been awe-inspiring either. Gov. Rick Snyder allowed a bond deal to be struck with the state to generate $137 million in bond refinancing. But that only allowed the city to paper over the deficit and buy time. The state is threatening to withhold some revenue-sharing funds due to noncompliance. But it’s highly unlikely Lansing will push the city into bankruptcy even without constraints on spending or budget reductions. It’s also tough to lead an implementation effort when decisions about responsibility are still up in the air.

thNevertheless, Mayor Bing, is at the top of a chain of command ultimately responsible for all functions of the city (including crime, which is proliferating). But the best the mayor and his police chief can do is make excuses – like uncontrolled spending – for violence that is unabated on city streets and in schools.

Detroiters are beginning to mount a backlash. Boos drowned Bing out at the last community meeting he attended. Protest marches over crime – and the direction the city is going – have become more common. And the longer city officials drag their feet on reform, the less likely it is that the goodwill and energy necessary for the city’s survival can be sustained.

At stake is the survival of a city and what’s left of its dwindling population. Hope for averting the Detroit’s demise will be dashed if this agreement, like other lifelines before it, raises expectations only to see them die in another artificial, impotent, government-driven initiative.

Arguably, Mayor Bing has performed to the limits of his ability in addressing crime and reversing the growing misfortunes of the city. But it has become clear by the absence of consequential reforms that his best efforts are simply not good enough.

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imagesThe Justice Department has charged former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, contractor Bobby Ferguson and former Detroit water boss Victor Mercado with racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, bribery, fraud and tax evasion.

I have no inside information that a major crime syndicate was run out of City Hall.

But for better or worse, there’s a good chance that the race of potential jurors could be an issue in determining the guilt or innocence of the accused.

It is disappointing to hear supporters and people once paid by Kwame suggesting that his prosecution is part of selective targeting and prosecution of black elected officials who become too powerful, forceful, charismatic and effective. The intent is to skew the outcome.

Kwame himself suggested that the Justice Department has engaged in an excessive, multimillion dollar political lynching that will prevent him from getting a fair trial. He tried unsuccessfully to have the charges dropped by claiming that not enough blacks are in the jury pools in the Eastern District of Michigan. If blacks were systematically excluded from federal jury pools, his counsel argued, would justify dismissal of the indictment.

The race issue is both conveniently real and conveniently contrived.

There’s ample evidence that black jurors are more likely than whites to sympathize with, or have particular “sensitivity” toward black criminals. This special kinship is a racial identity in which skin color trumps the promise of justice.

Juries, for example, were unable to reach a verdict in the public corruption trial of political consultant Sam Riddle as well as the bid-rigging trial of Kwame’s friend Bobby Ferguson. In both cases, one black juror hung the jury.

That these juries could not reach a unanimous verdict does not necessarily show that the defendants are innocent. It may simply indicate that at least one juror did not accept or believe the government’s version of the case.

Perhaps because blacks are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, public opinion polls show that blacks generally believe the deck is stacked against them. For this reason, jurors may opt for “jury nullification,” in which they acquit technically guilty criminals because of a social grievance, or reach a verdict contrary to the facts in the case. The O.J. Simpson murder trial is but one one example of this perversion of the law.

Conversely, everyone is America saw the “beat down” video of Rodney King by Los Angeles cops a few years back. But an all white jury in Simi Valley didn’t see what we saw and refused to convict the cops.

That said, no evidence has surfaced that equal protection is somehow in jeopardy by disproportionately low numbers of blacks – or disproportionately high numbers of whites  — on jury panels. Still, the debate about what constitutes a jury of one’s peers is not going away.

It’s one thing to have a politically pleasing ideal to hold up as a representative jury. But the objective must ultimately be a legal system that is impartial and fair to all. That’s why it is important to protect against jury selection processes that are influenced by the color or ethnic background of jurors.

The law certainly doesn’t allow for it. A U.S. Supreme court ruling  prohibits preemptory challenges to prospective jurors “on account of their race or assumptions about their biases stemming from their race.”

Care must be taken to not put the system of justice on trial in the Kilpatrick case. The issue is whether a popular mayor used his family and friends violate the public trust and  rip off his people.

If the pundits have no evidence of a covert government agenda, they should back off and sit down.  If they have evidence of a conspiracy to take out black politicians they are duty-bound to move beyond reckless rhetoric and produce the proof.

The injection of race can only erode public confidence in a jury selection system that is probably as good as it gets.

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Street beggars have moved to the top of Detroit’s public spaces agenda with City Council’s passage of a panhandling ordinance. Although I’m not convinced that fines and jail time for the most obnoxious and aggressive offenders is a bright idea, it’s time donors to this highly visible subculture realize that giving them money only contributes to the problem.

The conduct of beggars reminds me of a situation I experienced some years ago when I visited theKruegerNational Park, a game reserve inSouth Africa.

The tour bus parked across from a watering hole where a variety of animals — lions, elephants, giraffes, etc. came to drink.  I observed a sign which read: Please don’t feed the animals. I asked why it was posted and received what I believed to be a logical response.

These animals, said the guide, were in their natural habitat. If tourists fed them, they would stop foraging for themselves and wait for the next tour bus to get their food, even become aggressive if their expectations weren’t met.

It is not my intent to compareDetroitpanhandlers to animals inAfrica. But the same psychological analogy reserve officials applied to wildlife may also apply to human behavior.

When people give them money, beggars won’t take advantage of the established social service programs that cater to their needs. They also aren’t likely to seek legitimate work and are encouraged to continue their conspicuous dysfunction by preying on sympathetic passersby.

To keep public sentiment from turning from disdain to pity requires an honest look at who comprise this social group and what may be their motivation.

A trek through the downtown area morning, noon or night you’ll encounter an interesting array of characters with a sob story and outstretched hands.

k8114036To illustrate one of the more aggressive personalities, I was walking with a buddy and encountered a young, neatly dressed black man asking for a couple of dollars to catch a bus. We declined. The young man suggested that it would be our fault if someone “got hit in the head.” This happened on two separate occasions involving the same person, which raised concern about how far this guy would actually go.

In another incident, a young, white man approached me with a story that his car had run out of gas on the expressway with his wife and two kids inside. He needed $5. A couple of weeks later, and a few miles away at a supermarket parking lot, I ran into the same man with the same story about his stranded family.

Every morning aroundWoodward Ave.andCongress St.is an unkempt and unshaven guy asking for money to buy food. I ignore him. But other people routinely hand out cash. There’s a rumor that he has a college degree in psychology.

This summer, a young girl of maybe 10 years of age, came on the scene with compelling spiel. “Hello, my name is ……. and I am a young entrepreneur,” began her carefully choreographed, articulate introduction. In her hands were tiny candles she claimed to have made to sell for an $8 “contribution.”

I suspect one of her parents was nearby, although never apparent. But they had to know there is no way anyone would give this possibly exploited child $8 for what she was selling. Instead, they would reach in their pocket and just give the cute kid with loads of moxy a couple of dollars, as I did. She was back the next day.

Some panhandlers, of course, are scam artists, or products of the drug culture that have been exiled from friends, family or detox centers. Others are shiftless misfits whose  “job” is to take advantage of our charity.

Such behavior make some of us wonder if they are more deserving of our contempt than our generosity.

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The race to the White House is beginning to heat up to about the right temperature heading toward the Nov. 6 election. The put-downs and accusations confirm that it is no exaggeration that America is at a momentous cross roads. But there is also great unexploited potential for political climate change if the ensuing campaign isn’t allowed to drift into the kind of extraneous issues that dominate much of the discourse.

The back-and-forth negative ads, personal assaults and vitriolic stump speeches have both candidates screaming foul. President Barack Obama’s surrogates, for example, have engaged in not-so-subtle character attacks that paint presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney as an out of touch, tax-dodging, millionaire venture capitalist who would bestow tax cuts on his wealthy friends at the expense of the middle class.

Throughout America’s history, campaigns also have been fraught with racial innuendoes on both sides of the political divide. And it appears the Obama campaign is not above injecting racial coding in covert and overt ways.

imagesIt was hardly a gaff, for example, when Vice-President Joe Biden took the stage before a predominantly black audience in Virginia to spout that the Republican contenders would “unchain Wall Street” by gutting financial regulations Obama signed into law two years ago.

“They’re going to put y’all back in chains,” Mr. Biden quipped, knowing that blacks would equate “y’all” to “us” and “chains” to slavery.

Romney was quick to shoot back, painting Obama as “angry and desperate” and telling him to take his “hate” home “to Chicago.”

The power of pandering, and deep philosophical differences between the two candidates, guaranteed the race issue wouldn’t be shelved for long. Voters looked past the skin façade four years ago at Obama’s insistence that America see him as a ‘healer.” If his campaign now chooses to engage in mindless contradictions, voters should take that into account.

On a larger stage, the Obama campaign has made catering to special interests a new art form. He has conspicuously and unapologetically pandered to Hispanics, blacks, gays, teachers, organized labor, women voters and welfare recipients. His opposition to vote ID laws is just wrong.

Super PACS complicate our decision-making. These PACS represent an inflexible political perspective. Their strategic objectives are intended to influence or oppose candidates and stimulate voter participation with millions of unfettered dollars. Mainstream voters must ask themselves whether they need special interest groups to think for them, pick their candidates or dictate their vote.

My guess is that the Obama campaign is too fragile to survive race pandering this time around. These types of overtures work for those who still believe the president’s skin color is the issue. It remains to be seen whether independents, and those still undecided, will be sucked into his special interest army again.

I also doubt the American public is terribly focused on what Romney paid in taxes when Obama lacks a comprehensive, realistic and compelling vision. The government we bought and paid for since 2008 has taken a great toll on our pocketbooks.

Clearly America is not better off economically than it was four years ago.

The political selection process requires voters to sort through the hyperbole and ultimately choose a candidate with the best plan to grow the economy and put America back to work. Obama and Romney should be discouraged from engaging in slanderous, malicious personal attacks. We don’t want political contests won by “any means necessary.” But distinctions must be made between playing hardball and dirty politics. Politicians have an obligation to play hardball. And negative campaigning works — if not taken too far. And we’re smart enough to know what’s “too far.”

Careful screening and evaluation of the candidate’s character, record and platform requires discretion, critical judgment, vigilance and a readiness to seize the opportunity to become the architects of our future.

So with the ball in our court, let politics be politics.

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There is only one explanation why the Obama administration was bold enough to drastically expand the welfare state: His political advisors know that criticism over suspending welfare work requirements and increasing food stamps will invoke an emotional debate over the “callous versus the caring.”

Democrats will love this discussion—Republicans not so much. But this great debate is worth airing.

It begins in 1996 when President Bill Clinton, in a bi-partisan effort, ended a multi-decade guarantee of federal assistance with passage of one of the most successful policy initiatives in generations. The landmark welfare reform law eliminated AFDC—Aid to Families with Dependent Children—as an entitlement.

The absence of a work requirement had long been a major deficiency in the system and responsible for many recipients adopting welfare as a fixture in their lives rather than as a source of temporary assistance. No-strings guaranteed cash, food stamps, education, job training, health and childcare discouraged many from seeking work. Because welfare benefits exceed what someone could earn working a minimum wage job, recipients could stay home. By contrast, working moms hit the bricks every day to provide for their families.

With the inclusion of the Clinton work requirement, millions moved from welfare to work. But the historic measure proved to be a temporary fix to a generational problem.

imagesThe Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just reversed the key element of the law. Waived was the requirement that most recipients find work within two years. The mandate that previously pushed people off welfare is supplanted with a fresh incentive for young mothers to create a lifestyle using Obama’s “stash” and “marry the state” rather than the father of their children.

It is well documented that welfare moms tend to be characterized by high levels of joblessness, illiteracy, illegitimacy, drug abuse and violence. That typically means these family units also have the smallest incomes, the least education, longest stays in poverty and constitute the heaviest demand for public dollars.

Most enter the cycle of poverty because of the disintegration of families, or out of wedlock births –but not working often traps them there. And paying them to stay home reinforces the corrupting influence of welfare.

Enforcing rather than relaxing the obligation to work would seem the best policy to get people to understand the principles of personal responsibility.

Obama would have us believe that his charted path to permanent dependency is a compassionate attempt to repair a fraying safety net. And his misadventure is not in isolation.

Since Obama took office, the food stamp budget has more than doubled. Expect a larger increase. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) just launched a $3 million promotional campaign that includes radio commercials to entice more Americans to apply for food stamps.

Granted, this outpouring of government largesse comes amid clear signals that the ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in half a century. But much of the increased social welfare demand is attributable to the hemorrhaging of jobs from the national economy and the Obama administration’s delusion over what constitutes effective stimulus.

So don’t expect to hear Obama admit that the problem with many welfare moms is not their employability, but their lack of commitment to make a serious attempt to enter the job market. There will be no hint that recipients generally comprise a cadre of people who do not seek and have no interest in the available low-paying jobs.

The debate over whether growing poverty results from government-induced behavior or from a lack of income and opportunity won’t end here. What we know for sure is that Obama has a need to be the Messiah that extricates the poor from his failed economic policies. To be seen as “caring” he needs a dependent voting bloc that believes success depends not on individual initiative but on forces beyond his or her control. And he wants America to quietly accept the welfare beast he’s reviving, or risk being labeled “callous.”

http://domemagazine.com/johnson/bj081712