Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rediscovering America's colonial history

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

JAMESTOWN, Virginia — Walking the grounds here on the coast of the James River where the English first landed in 1607 is a rich lesson in America’s almost lost history.
The history lesson continues as one drives along the Colonial Parkway connecting Jamestown with Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg. Each place offers up its own lesson on the American experience from discovery to establishment to independence.
For it was in Jamestown and then Williamsburg, both one-time colonial capitals of Virginia, where the early English colonists introduced not only representative government — at the time, elections and self-government (albeit much more limited than today) were unknown outside the English-speaking world — but also the common law. These were the principles that motivated the heirs of the colonists who ventured to the New World — the Founding Fathers and so many other great men, whose names have been lost to history — to fight against the king.
Their revolution for the liberties and freedoms they believed were rightfully theirs as Englishmen ended in Yorktown, when the Americans under George Washington achieved a decisive victory over their British cousins in 1781. Today the battlefield is a national park, allowing one to look upon the battlefield from the earthworks and redoubts where America’s independence was won with musket, bayonet and cannon.
All of this history was once taught, but not anymore. Sadly, too many children grow up and go through high school or college without even an elementary understanding of America’s history. In the long run, this undermines the republic, which is dependent upon an informed citizenry.
What used to be taught in a high school history class is hardly covered during a semester of a multi-discipline social studies class. As for college, few schools require a history or civics class. At the same time, many do require pointless classes on multiculturalism, diversity, gender studies and queer studies that are little more than Mao-inspired re-education.
This would explain why the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Civic Literacy Report has consistently found over recent years that most students actually graduate college with less knowledge of basic history and civics than when they started their so-called higher education.
And when the colonial period does somehow get mentioned in the classroom it’s almost always a very revisionist, left-wing narrative that focuses on condemning everything that made America the greatest country in the history of mankind.
In this twisted view of history, America’s success is a byproduct of oppression against Indians, blacks and women. (President Barack Obama’s old parson, the notorious Rev. Jeremiah Wright, summed up this view of history best, saying: “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”)
Thankfully, the epicenter of America’s history is easy enough to visit for those wanting to learn.
But visiting requires one to actually know they are missing critical knowledge.
After all, it’s kind of difficult to visit Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg if you don’t even know the three exist in the first place.
 — Dennis Lennox

Friday, November 14, 2014

Give the pink slip to the State Board of Ed

The following is from today's edition of The Detroit News.

Quick, name the eight members of the State Board of Education.

Stumped? You aren’t alone because not only can’t most Michiganians name a single member, but most don’t even cast a vote on the ballot line for this very obscure extension of state government’s executive branch. Even Wikipedia, which is full of detailed entries on all sorts of useless subjects, won’t tell you anything about the members.

Independent of the governor, the State Board of Education is elected statewide for eight-year terms with Democrats holding a 6-2 majority (Gov. Rick Snyder and retiring Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Flanagan are additional non-voting members).

Jointly, the members are commissioned by the state Constitution with the “leadership and general supervision over all public education.”

Additionally, they have the vague constitutional duty of being the “general planning and coordinating body for all public education, including higher education.”

While it possesses significant constitutional authority — a legacy of the Jacksonian democracy-infused 1850 state constitution, which did away with appointed state officeholders outside of the governor in favor of electing just about every office, no matter how great or small — the political reality has long been that the governor and Legislature control K-12 public education. As one senior GOP grandee with an extensive background in issues related to public education said, “No one considers them [the members] worth the effort.”

What practical say the State Board of Education does have in Lansing is voiced through the superintendent, who the members hire to serve as the day-to-day head of public education.

This makes the superintendent accountable to neither Snyder nor legislators, despite the fact they are the ones who take the public’s criticism.

This creates a significant constitutional quagmire as evident in the past with the Legislature’s debates over Common Core, which were actually adopted by the State Board of Education long before most legislators ever heard mention of the national standards.

More recently, it has been Flanagan’s retirement as superintendent that has made the case for real reform by abolishing the State Board of Education, with the superintendent becoming an appointee of the governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate.

True, real reform wouldn’t be immediate as a statewide vote is required to implement the necessary constitutional amendment. Still, this wonky issue is perfect for Snyder, the self-styled nerd who has made “reinventing Michigan” his top priority.

Snyder should take this up before further tax dollars are spent in the hiring of the next superintendent — a process already overshadowed by the partisan litmus test imposed onto it by State Board of Education president John Austin, an Ann Arbor Democrat who had publicly explored running against Snyder in this year’s election.

Not only is the present system of public education governance in Michigan confounding, but the State Board of Education’s political irrelevance makes it impossible to justify its continued existence.

— Dennis Lennox

Thursday, November 13, 2014

ICYMI - A more conservative Legislature?

In case you missed today's edition of The Detroit News:

A more conservative Legislature?
Republican blogger Dennis Lennox is painting the next Legislature as more disposed toward saying no to Gov. Rick Snyder than this one and more influenced by central Michigan than at any time since the days of ex-Gov. John Engler and First Lady Colleen Engler.
His argument is that the House will tilt more to the right since a few more Tea Party favorites were elected last week. And those newbies helped choose Rep. Kevin Cotter of Mount Pleasant to be the new House speaker and Rep. Tom Leonard of Lansing as the speaker pro tem, installing two central Michiganians atop the hierarchy.
Lennox predicts Cotter will be mightily challenged to balance the moderation needed get legislation passed against the interests of his own conservative constituency and the staunch right-wingers who want the Legislature to be independent of the governor.
Two big issues — increased road repair funding and legislation expanding Michigan's civil rights protections to include gay and lesbian citizens — will be dead on arrival next session if the current Legislature fails to pass them before adjourning for the year, he argues.
— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Where to go, right now: 'Tis the season in Chicago

The following is from yesterday's The Morning Sun.

While Detroit is without a doubt seeing her best days in decades, the reality is Chicago still has the big city experience that one simply cannot find here in Michigan.
And with Thanksgiving and the Christmas season upon us, there is no better time to visit Chicago with the Magnificent Mile and its world-class shopping being the perfect destination to get everything on your gift list.
This famed stretch along Michigan Avenue is home to Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Barbour, Chanel, Armani, Gucci, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ralph Lauren and so many others that you will need an empty extra suitcase to bring everything back. The German-style outdoor Christmas market (aka Christkindlmarket) in Dailey Plaza with its wooden huts selling traditional food, crafts and ornaments as well as the State Street flagship of the former Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) are also within walking distance.
For a sanctuary from all of the hustle and bustle of shopping, visit the Art Institute of Chicago. The admission charge ($23 for adults and $17 for seniors and students with under-14s free) is a bit steep, but the massive collection of art is well worth the visit. Just give yourself a half-day at the minimum, especially with surprisingly limited opening hours (10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thursdays when it closes at 8 p.m.).
Trains run to Chicago from East Lansing, Flint and Grand Rapids, though Amtrak is notorious for its regular delays.
While the price of rail — $124 round-trip from East Lansing, departing the day before Thanksgiving and returning the Saturday after — is actually reasonable you can drive to Chicago in less time than the train (assuming the four-hour journey is delayed).
If you don’t want to worry about driving a car around a busy city, then catch the one-hour or so flight to and from Chicago’s O’Hare or Midway airports. Round-trip flights are as low as $231 on United and $248 on Delta out of Saginaw through December, according to multiple airfare searches on Google Flights.
The best place to stay for a classic big city experience is The Peninsula, located right off Michigan Avenue (how appropriate for Michiganders!) in the heart of the Magnificent Mile with many rooms overlooking Neiman Marcus. 
The Peninsula name may be unfamiliar, but it’s part of a world-class Asian brand known for having some of the best hotels in the business. Everything about the hotel — the service, the amenities and the overall value for money — are phenomenal and, frankly speaking, put many of the American hoteliers to shame. Be sure to book the special promotional rate of $475, which gives guests who book two nights a third free.
Do be sure to bring your ice skates, as the hotel opens a rooftop skating rink later this month with picture-perfect views of the Magnificent Mile, including the architecturally stunning 19th century Water Tower that could be mistaken for a small Gothic-style castle.
It’s no secret that many hotel restaurants don’t have the greatest reputation, but that’s not the case at The Peninsula, where many of those dining are non-guests.
Shanghai Terrace, the in-house Chinese restaurant, gets good reviews but as I’m not into Asian fayre I opted for The Lobby, the aptly named lobby restaurant. The food was good, but the prices were somewhat high. A better choice is Pierrot Gourmet, which blends French country with European café-style so well that one actually thinks they’re eating at a small bistro in Aix-en-Provence.
A block down Michigan Avenue from The Peninsula on the backside of the Ralph Lauren store is RL Restaurant, which is exactly what one would expect from namesake Ralph Lauren.
Not only was the service beyond exceptional, but the food — get the scallops — was reasonable in price and of superb quality. Best of all was RL’s elegant atmosphere with waiters wearing crisp white shirts, black neckties and aprons. The dining room, which has walls haphazardly covered in faux antique paintings and engravings, was a bit crowded at lunch with a few too many tables squeezed into its rather small space. You may want to consider either a reservation or dining on the bookends of lunch or dinner.
A short taxi or Uber ride from this part of Chicago is bellyQ, which features a hipster atmosphere and Asian fusion menu with a heavy emphasis on all things barbecue. The frisée salad with grilled peaches and wood grilled chicken is recommended.
— Dennis Lennox

Michigan House GOP moving rightward under Cotter

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

A week ago it looked as if he might lose re-election, but that never happened and now Mt. Pleasant’s own Kevin Cotter is preparing to assume the speakership of the Michigan House of Representatives when the new session begins in January.
Cotter, the Republican whose constituency spans Isabella County and a large swath of adjoining Midland County, will be speaker by virtue of his election late last week to lead the majority Republican caucus.
This puts the 37-year-old in the statewide spotlight for the first time. While widely known among Lansing types as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Cotter never had the kind of platform in his previous two terms that he will soon have at his disposal as the most powerful member of the Legislature.
At the same time, he finds himself in the difficult position of having to balance the interests of his constituency with not only the institutional interests of the Legislature, but also the partisan interests of the 63-member GOP caucus.
And it’s caucus politics that will serve up his biggest challenge as speaker.
In fact, Cotter’s election itself is an early indicator of the rightward direction House Republicans will take during the next sitting of the Legislature, when several vocal tea party critics of not only Gov. Rick Snyder but also the Republican Party writ large will take their seats as freshman members.
For them, Cotter was elected to be a conservative check against Snyder, who some on the hard-right view as insufficiently Republican.
This reasoning is flawed for several reasons, not least the fact that moderation is required to win statewide in purple Michigan. Still, GOP legislators wanted a speaker who would be politically independent from the governor, who many backbenchers accuse of heresy for his enacting of Medicaid expansion.
As a result, expect Republicans to say ‘no’ more often to Snyder. As one incoming freshman legislator told this columnist, “The Legislature doesn’t work for the governor. We are a separate, but equal branch of state government.”
This means any tax increases for road and infrastructure improvements are out of the question. And expanding the definition of the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include anti-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian Michiganders? No way.
Cotter’s political helpmate for the next two years will be Tom Leonard, who was elected speaker pro tempore (essentially temporary speaker).
The speaker himself seldom presides over the day-to-day business of the House, which means maintaining order in the lower house of the Legislature falls to the 33-year-old Leonard, who is entering his second term representing parts of Gratiot County and all of Clinton County.
And with Cotter and Leonard in the rostrum, central Michigan will wield a tremendous amount of influence — arguably the most since the days of John and Colleen Engler — in the halls of government.
At least that will be the case until 2016, when term limits force Cotter into retirement with no immediate path back to political office.
 — Dennis Lennox