Lansing State Journal. June 23.
Public art gives sense of sophistication to Greater Lansing
Greater Lansing has a growing interest in beautifying communities with public art. It's a trend to encourage and enjoy.
Public art often conjures thoughts of outdoor sculpture in public spaces. It also includes artwork and portraits displayed in places like the state Capitol or paintings commissioned for display in public buildings.
Why, in times of economic challenge, does it make sense to add aesthetic appeal to public places?
There are many answers to that. Urban theorist Richard Florida told the Public Art Review that, most simply, public art adds beauty to a community and humans are drawn to beauty. Florida says research shows the creative class — the much-coveted work force that sparks economic activity — is especially eager to live in places that offer unique amenities. And Bob Trezise, CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, Inc., notes that public art signals a community's sophistication and intelligence. It's an appealing image to economic developers, one that helps draw the interest of businesses that bring jobs. LEAP welcomes more public art.
The presence of public art, indeed, creates an image. Consider La Grande Vitesse, the commanding Alexander Calder sculpture that is the signature image of downtown Grand Rapids. The piece was the first of a massive public arts project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts beginning in the late 1960s. Lansing also got a piece funded by the NEA. Called Construction No. 150, it was stored for some years during downtown construction and finally re-installed in front of the Dart Auditorium at Lansing Community College. The city's most significant recent piece is "Inspiration," a 20-foot high stainless steel piece placed on the River Trail opposite the Accident Fund's headquarters.
Of course, the city is enjoying the summer-long Art by the River installation of 10 sculptures organized by the Lansing Art Gallery with support from the Lansing Economic Development Corp. and the Greater Lansing Arts Council. And it's not just the core city. East Lansing is fundraising for a sculpture next to City Hall. Downtown Okemos has sculpture on display through the Midwest Sculpture Initiative. Such short-term arrangements eliminate costs of long-term maintenance. They are a good compromise in these times.
Public art pleases the eye, engages the mind and influences the spirit of a place and the people who frequent it. That's a worthwhile investment.
The Macomba Daily (Mount Clemens). June 24.
Consider cost before imposing tougher prison sentences
Michigan law imposes an automatic two-year prison sentence for the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. That's not long enough, say a couple of legislators and some in law enforcement.
The legislators are proposing to extend the minimum sentence to 10 years, and to 25 years to life if a person is injured or killed during a crime in which a firearm is used.
The bill has been introduced in the Senate by Grand Ledge Republican Rick Jones. Plymouth Republican Kurt Heise is expected to introduce it in the House.
It may be a good idea. It may deter criminals and would-be criminals, perhaps not to do the crime, perhaps to take up a knife or a baseball bat instead of a gun.
The existing firearm felony law, introduced in the 1970s, certainly seemed like a good idea at the time, even if the sentences were often served concurrently with the sentence for the felony itself. It created hardships for some defendants when all involved agreed that extenuating circumstances made two years unnecessarily harsh. Plea bargaining was not an option.
Sen. Jones, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee held a press conference in Pontiac to promote the bills. They talked tough.
"If you bring a gun to your crime, you're doing hard time," said Jones, who worked in the Eaton County sheriff's department for 31 years.
Bouchard said those who have used a gun in a crime often repeat after their release.
In other words, the two-year felony firearm sentence isn't much of a deterrent.
Would a 10-year sentence deter someone from carrying a gun? Would a 25-to-life sentence deter someone from pulling the trigger?
In recent years, Michigan has made some strides toward reducing its prison population to a point where it's been promoting its unused capacity to other states.
At the same time, locking up felons has had some demonstrable impact on crime rates.
Longer sentences, then, may accomplish both goals: Deter crime and remove criminals from the streets.
But those goals, if they happen, will come at a cost, at a time when prisons consume more than 20 percent of the state's budget. The costs need to be estimated before the legislation advances.
It may be that the state can't afford all that toughness.
The Oakland Press. June 25.
County program shows success for creating new jobs
Money is always a critical commodity for any start-up small business or even for a going concern in today's economy where the scars of the Great Recession are still fresh and a line of credit can be difficult to find.
The ongoing success of the tripartite program supported by Oakland County that involves local banks and the U.S. Small Business Administration is so welcome. It provides new loans with favorable terms to support a variety of different businesses. It doesn't discriminate. Fast food restaurants are just as welcome as promising start-up companies writing new software.
The other impressive aspect of the program is that it requires all the parties have to have put in money to make it work. The business owners have to put in 10 percent, the banks put in 40 percent and the SBA, using tax money, puts up 50 percent.
Not every loan creates a successful business. Nonetheless, the approximately $60 million lent through the Oakland County program led to the creation of 900 new jobs in the past year, which is pretty impressive when you get right down to it.
The other impressive aspect of the program is the level of cooperation between government and business. Small business, local government, banks -- both large and small -- and the federal government all play a role in the program.
The American system has capitalized on the cooperation between business and government over the centuries, and sometimes during a crisis, such as the recent recession, businesses need help. Providing the resources on a limited basis is one of the ways in which local government can help nurture economic development.
We hope the local program promoted by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson continues to thrive.
The Holland Sentinel. June 24.
Whatever the ruling, high court won't have last word on health care
No Supreme Court ruling since Bush v. Gore has generated as much anticipation as the court's pending ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama's landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. With the high court's term nearing an end, the long-awaited decision is finally expected to come down next week. But however the justices rule, we can be sure about this: The court won't have the last word on health care reform in America.
If the Supreme Court upholds the entire law, or strikes down the individual mandate but lets the other parts of the 906-page statute go into effect, the law's full implementation is still far from certain. Republicans in Congress (and a possible Republican in the White House) will continue fighting to repeal it, though they might be pressured to retain certain popular provisions, such as the prohibition against denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. But many Democrats may even want to tinker with the law, because so many of its effects are uncertain. Will employers drop employee health care plans, finding it cheaper to pay the federal penalty than to continue offering coverage? Will the new insurance exchanges create real competition and affordable options for consumers? Can the federal government afford the increased number of people covered by the Medicare system? Those are questions impossible to answer in advance.
If the law is struck down in its entirety, alternatives must be found. We would still have 49 million Americans without health insurance, most of them people who don't quality for Medicaid or Medicare but can't afford to buy coverage on their own. The current lull in health care inflation isn't expected to last; as the economy recovers, health care is expected to return to its pattern of the past half century, with costs rising 2 percentage points above the general inflation rate. And we will still have a medical system that delivers remarkable (and expensive) high-tech treatment while millions of people don't receive the simplest (and most economical) preventive care.
Americans want something better. An Associated Press-GfK poll released this month found that while only 21 percent of respondents supported the Affordable Care Act, 77 percent of those surveyed, including majorities among all political persuasions, said they want Congress to start working on a new reform law if the current one is thrown out. Only 19 percent said they preferred to keep the current system. Republicans will be under particular pressure to come up with new options, considering their fierce opposition to President Obama's law. (Ironically, many elements of "Obamacare," including the infamous individual mandate, are based on a health-care law sponsored by Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.)
Nothing will happen this year, of course, with an election season upon us. But barring full retention of the law by the Supreme Court, the new Congress will have to make new reform legislation one of its top priorities. Given the increasing polarization of Congress, where neither party is willing to recognize good ideas from the other side of the aisle, getting anything through would be a daunting prospect. But the status quo in health care in America is unacceptable. Regardless of the Supreme Court's ruling, we have to find something better.