Friday, August 30, 2013

Send Miley Cyrus to Syria

I believe that, rather than bombing Syria over the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons, the United States should send Miley Cyrus over there instead. In fact, I started a petition on the White House web site, asking President Barack Obama to do just that. If you are so wiling, I would appreciate it if you took a moment to sign my petition on We the People.

Sending Miley Cyrus to Syria would accomplish what I believe are four important objectives for American foreign policy in the 21st century.
  1. Her endless, overdone twerking will punish President Bashar al-Assad and his regime for their apparent use of chemical weapons against dissidents within Syria;
  2. It will provide an adequate deterrent against Iran, North Korea, or any other rogue nation from using weapons of mass destruction against unarmed civilians;
  3. It will rid the American people of the Miley Cyrus menace once and for all; and
  4. It will accomplish all of this with minimal risk of American causalities - other than Miley Cyrus, of course.
There are those who argue that this is an extreme measure. Some of my friends have even argued that it might be considered a war crime for the United States to do such a thing. However, after a great deal of reflection, I believe that it is a risk we as a nation must take.

I hope that you will join me in encouraging President Obama to send Miley Cyrus to Syria than bombing them. My petition to the White House is available on-line here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mike Duggan releases 10-point plan to rebuild neighborhoods

Mike Detroit - Photo by Detroit Free Press
Mayoral candidate Mike Duggan released a 10-point plan Tuesday evening that outlines his proposed strategy for rebuilding neighborhoods in Detroit. Quite frankly, I like his plan. There is only one thing about it that I would change about it.

Before I discuss the one change that I would make, though, here are the 10-points to Mike Duggan's plan to rebuild the neighborhoods in Detroit.
  1. Establish a single Department of Neighborhoods;
  2. Base the Department of Neighborhoods in seven neighborhood district offices to create true partnerships with neighborhood groups and block clubs;
  3. Seize abandoned houses and drug houses through a nuisance abatement program, similar to the one Mike Duggan started when he served as Prosecutor for Wayne County;
  4. Create positive incentives to move families from sparsely-populated areas into to stronger neighborhoods. This, presumably, would include most of Warrendale as one of the stronger neighborhoods;
  5. In order to rebuild neighborhood business districts, he would seize abandoned storefronts and move in entrepreneurs;
  6. Streamline demolition process and strategically target neighborhoods;
  7. Create much tougher code enforcement;
  8. Require banks to participate in neighborhood redevelopment;
  9. Clean up vacant lots; and
  10. Reform the Detroit Land Bank so we can re-use vacant land.
Mike Duggan's plan for a Department of Neighborhoods sounds a lot like the Neighborhood City Halls that used to exist in Detroit until Mayor Dave Bing eliminated them as part of his budget cuts. Regardless of what one calls them, though, I believe that having such an office in each of the districts is a good idea.

The one thing that I would change about Mike Duggan's plan to rebuild neighborhoods would be to substitute a vigorous deconstruction program instead of streamlined demolition process. In neighborhoods throughout Detroit, there are lots of blighted buildings that I need to removed and Warrendale is no exception to that, as I have pointed out before.

The tragic fact is that Detroit has far more blighted properties than it has resources to deal with them adequately and that, in turn, means that we need to be more innovated in how we respond to blight in our neighborhoods. Moving from a conventional demolition process to a deconstruction model is, in my opinion, a huge part of that innovation.

With a conventional building demolition, a couple of workers and some heavy equipment come to a location, and smash everything. They will then haul what used to be a building away to an ordinary landfill.

In contrast, under a deconstruction model, a half dozen to a dozen workers are on site for a week or more. They take the building down piece by piece, salvaging everything that can be salvaged, and then recycling what is left. The only things that ever go into a landfill are pieces of hazardous waste (e.g., asbestos or lead paint) and those things will go to a special landfill that is designed to accept hazardous materials properly.

Even in places like Detroit, and even after scrappers have already attacked a vacant home numerous times, a deconstruction crew can still salvage thousands of dollars worth of materials from it. Because of that, it is almost always cheaper in the end to deconstruct a blighted property than the $12,000 - $14,000 that the City of Detroit currently pays to have one demolished.

Moreover, because it's ultimately cheaper to deconstruct a blighted property than to demolish it, the City of Detroit would be able to remove more of these dangerous buildings from our neighborhoods through a deconstruction model than it currently can under its old model. I argue that anything that enables us to remove more of these dangerous buildings from our neighborhoods is a good thing and a change worth making.

In addition to that, because deconstruction relies on people more than it does heavy equipment, switching to a deconstruction model for removing dangerous buildings would also mean the creation of thousands of new jobs. This is important in a city like Detroit where so many adults are without jobs and have been without them for quite some time.

Finally, because almost nothing from a deconstructed building goes into a landfill, it is also much better for the environment.

Mike Duggan's plan doesn't specifically call for the use of conventional demolition instead of deconstruction. However, I believe his plan would be much better if it did specifically call for deconstruction.
  • More blighted properties removed from the neighborhoods of Detroit;
  • Thousands of new jobs created for Detroit residents; and
  • Better for the environment with less trash going into a landfill.
It's hard to argue with something that can deliver results like that. I hope Mike Duggan incorporates deconstruction in plans for Detroit.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Michigan housing official sentenced on bribery and fraud charges

A former employee of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority was sentenced this afternoon to a year in prison after her conviction on charges related to bribery and fraud. Angela Reed, age 42, of Detroit, pleaded guilty on November 6, 2012, to one count of conspiracy to accept bribes and make false claims to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook, Jr., who imposed sentence today.

Reed was the waiting list coordinator for the Homeless Assistance Recovery Program, a HUD program established to give homeless persons preference in the awarding of housing vouchers. Reed and other co-defendants devised a scheme to have persons on the voucher waiting list improve their chances of getting their vouchers much more quickly by creating false document so that they would receive certification even though they were not homeless. At the direction of Reed and her co-defendants, applicants made false entries in their applications. The scheme also involved the forging of signatures of employees of homeless shelters. In return, Reed received cash from the persons who fraudulently received homeless vouchers

In addition to Reed, four other persons have been convicted for their participation in this scheme.

“The defendant abused her position of trust to divert benefits intended for people who are homeless,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said. “Prosecutions like this one are necessary to ensure the integrity of programs to help those in true need.”

The case was investigated by special agents of the FBI and the HUD Office of Inspector General with the assistance of Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Shinola in GQ magazine

Shinola's two page spread in GQ - Photo by Frank Nemecek
I was flipping through this month's issue of GQ over lunch when I noticed that the folks at Shinola have a two page advertising spread in it. The company is located several miles outside of the Warrendale neighborhood in Midtown, but they have embraced Detroit in their marketing efforts more than almost any other company around. (They don't have a Super Bowl ad yet, but give them time.)

Still, it makes me quite happy to see a company like Shinola moving more and more onto the national stage; taking Detroit with them as part of their marketing effort. I look forward to seeing what they do next.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Guilty plea in the Gardenview Estates project

Construction at the Gardenview Estates site in July, 2006
Photo by Frank Nemecek
The former vice president of a Detroit based construction management firm entered a plea of guilty today as part of the ongoing federal investigation and prosecution involving the Gardenview Estates public housing project in the Warrendale area of Detroit, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced this afternoon. The Gardenview Estates project was built on the site of the former Herman Gardens public housing project.

McQuade was joined in the announcement by Robert D. Foley, III, Special Agent In Charge of the Detroit Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CI); and Barry McLaughlin, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG).

Calvin Hall, 45, of Detroit, entered the guilty plea in U.S. District Court before Judge David M. Lawson.

According to court documents, Hall and others prepared and submitted a proposal for XCEL Construction Services Inc. that included false information. Based upon the false documents, XCEL Construction Services Inc. was awarded a contract worth more than $11 million to act as the construction manager of the infrastructure phase of the Garden View Estates public housing project, which was funded by a $24 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. At the time, Hall was the vice president of XCEL Construction Services.

During the plea hearing, Hall stated that he conspired with Michael Woodhouse, the president of XCEL Construction Services Inc., and Bobby W. Ferguson, the founder and original owner of XCEL Construction Services Inc.

U.S. Attorney McQuade said in a prepared statement, "We hope that this conviction will deter people from committing fraud against public housing programs, which are intended to provide housing to needy people in our community.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Foley added, "Those who use false documents to receive millions of dollars in government contracts will face severe consequences for their illegal acts. The FBI will remain committed to pursuing and prosecuting such criminals."

HUD-OIG Special Agent in Charge McLaughlin said, “The funds for this project were dedicated to improve the quality of life for Detroit’s neediest families. Working with our law enforcement partners, the Office of Inspector General for HUD will redouble our efforts to combat the fraud that limits that opportunity.”

Under the plea agreement, Hall faces up to 18 months of imprisonment as well as a fine of up to $40,000. In addition, Hall agreed to forfeit more than $2.2 million in assets, including multiple bank accounts and certificates of deposit seized from XCEL Construction Services Inc. during the course of the federal investigation.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Michael Buckley, Bruce Judge, and Rita Foley.

10 tips for amending your federal tax return

If a taxpayer discovers that he or she made an error in his or her federal tax return, and discovers this fact after filing said return with the Internal Revenue Service, it is generally best to file an amended return. The IRS will automatically correct simple mistakes involving errors in arithmetic without any action from the taxpayer. However, any other mistakes should be corrected with an amended return.

With that said, here are 10 tips from the Internal Revenue Service about amending one's federal income tax return:

  1. When to amend a return. You should file an amended return if you need to correct your filing status, number of dependents, total income, tax deductions or tax credits. The instructions for Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, list additional reasons to amend a return.
  2. When NOT to amend a return. In some cases, you don’t need to amend your tax return. For example, the IRS usually corrects math errors when processing your original return. Also, if you did not include a required form or schedule then the IRS will send you a request for whatever is missing.
  3. Form to use. Use Form 1040X to amend a previously filed Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. Make sure you check the box to show the tax year that you are amending on the Form 1040X. You cannot e-file an amended return. You must file an amended tax return on paper.
  4. Multiple amended returns. If you’re filing an amended return for more than one year, prepare a separate 1040X for each return. Mail them in separate envelopes to the appropriate IRS processing center.
  5. Form 1040X. Form 1040X has three columns. Column A shows figures from the original return. Column B shows the changes you are making. Column C shows the corrected figures. There is also an area on the back of the form where you should explain the specific changes and the reasons for the changes.
  6. Other forms or schedules. If the changes involve other tax schedules or forms, attach them to the Form 1040X. Failure to do this will cause a delay in processing.
  7. Amending to claim an additional refund. If you’re expecting a refund from your original tax return, don’t file your amended return until after you have received that refund. You may cash the refund check from your original return. The IRS will send you any additional refund you are owed.
  8. Amending to pay additional tax. If you’re filing an amended tax return because you owe additional tax, you should file Form 1040X and pay the tax as soon as possible to limit any interest and penalty charges.
  9. When to file. To claim a refund, you generally must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original tax return or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.
  10. Processing time. Normal processing time for amended returns is eight to 12 weeks.

One can obtain a copy of IRS Form 1040X by visiting the IRS website here.

How to amend a federal income tax return is your Warrendale Tip of the Week.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Commission turns down demolition of State Savings Bank

My thanks go out to everyone else who came out to the Historic District Commission meeting this evening. I'm thrilled that we were able to block the unnecessary demolition of the State Savings Bank Building in downtown Detroit. The Detroit Free Press has more on this story here.

Next up?

Developing and implementing a comprehensive plan to meet the need for parking in downtown Detroit that doesn't involve acre upon acre of empty asphalt. Tonight, though, we shall celebrate.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Toy Chest Bar looking to hire a cook

Chef - Illustration by Julien Tromeur
The Toy Chest Bar (18728 Ford Rd.) is looking to hire a qualified cook to work for them on a part-time basis. Interested applicants should apply for this job in person at their location.

Questions about wages, hours, and benefits can be discussed with the bar's management at the time of application.

Toy Chest Bar bills itself as "where adults come to play." Additional information and photos regarding the bar is available on their website.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Predictions for mayor and city council elections in Detroit

Today is the primary election for mayor and city council in Detroit. Two candidates will advance to the general election in November in the mayor and city council district races; while four candidates will compete this fall for two at-large seats on the city council.

The polls in Detroit are open for another nine hours. Regardless, after consulting my crystal ball, my predictions for the outcome are as follows:

1) Benny Napoleon;
2) Tom Barrow; and
3) Mike Duggan.

City Council - 7th District
1) Gabe Leland;
2) Dustin Campbell; and
3) John Bennett.

City Council - At-Large
1) Saunteel Jenkins (incumbent);
2) Roy McCalister, Jr;
3) Brenda Jones (incumbent); and
4) Jessica Rayford-Clark.

There are only two candidates running for the Detroit Police Commission in the 7th district. Therefore, both of them will automatically move on to the general election in November.

Update @ 11:16 p.m.
Results are still coming in. Regardless, I think it's safe to say that my predictions for today were seriously wrong.

I'll have more to post tomorrow. For now, just know that my crystal ball has a serious crack in it.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Huge drug bust on Rutherford

The Detroit Police Department, along with agents from the several different state and federal agencies, announced a series of indictments that will bring to justice members of a violent, armed drug gang members that operated on Rutherford Street. This investigation is the result of an on-going partnership between local, state, and federal law enforcement, which is commonly known as Detroit One.

The indictment unsealed today charges three brothers, Mohamed, Abed, and Fouad Faraj, with distributing marijuana and prescription pills on the 6800 block of Rutherford Street and the greater Warrendale neighborhood in the city of Detroit. The criminal enterprise led by the Faraj brothers employed numerous teenagers and young men to act as their street level distributors. These young workers regularly had access to firearms supplied by the leaders and used arson as a tactic to create stash houses and to further the enterprise’s narcotics distribution activities.

Among those charged today are:
  • Mohamed Faraj, 29, of Dearborn Heights, charged with continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession of firearms in furtherance of narcotics trafficking, and use a telecommunications device in furtherance of narcotics trafficking;
  • Abed Faraj, 38, of Detroit, charged with continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, and possession of firearms in furtherance of narcotics trafficking;
  • Fouad Faraj, 43, of Dearborn Heights, charged with continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, and possession of firearms in furtherance of narcotics trafficking;
  • Mohammed Abdul Alhakami, 22, of Detroit, charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and possession of firearms in furtherance of narcotics trafficking;
  • Ali Al-Hisnawi, 20, of Detroit, charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances; and
  • Adnan Bazzi, 28, of Dearborn, charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession of firearms in furtherance of narcotics trafficking, and felon in possession of a firearm.
“Detroit One is bringing a unified focus to arresting violent offenders in Detroit," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade explained in a statement. "Dismantling violent drug gangs will help restore peace in our neighborhoods."

“We know that illegal narcotics and firearms are a major threat to the safety of our citizens and to law enforcement officers,” added Acting Special Agent in Charge Daryl McCrary of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. “Today’s operations and arrest warrants highlight ATF’s and our law enforcement partners’ effort to remove armed violent drug dealers from our streets. We are committed to reducing violent crime and this case emphasizes a repetitive problem of illegal narcotics traffickers willing to use and carry firearms to protect their drug proceeds.”

“This is the perfect example of law enforcement teamwork,” said Chief James E. Craig. “Working with our local, state, federal law enforcement agencies has and will continue to enhance our crime-fighting efforts in providing a safe environment for visitors and residents of the city of Detroit.”

Detroit One is a collaborative effort between law enforcement and the community to reduce homicide and other violent crime in Detroit. By working cooperatively, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies are maximizing their ability to identify and arrest the individuals and groups committing violent crime.

In this case, investigators were able to share information and resources to identify the leaders and key members of this organization, leading to charges against six individuals in federal court. The case was initiated by the Comprehensive Violence Reduction Partnership, consisting of representatives of the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Corrections, and ATF and assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and Internal Revenue Service.

Update @ 7:14 p.m. I was interviewed about this story by WXYZ-TV this evening and gave background information about narcotics trafficking in Warrendale. More 

Crash on Tireman kills 1, injures 7

WXYZ-TV reported that at least seven people were injured and one was killed in car crash at the corner of Tireman and Plainview in the Warrendale neighborhood of Detroit. The crash reportedly began when the driver of a Chevy Suburban, who was driving on a suspended license, sped away after being pulled over by police. He then crashed into another vehicle at approximately 70 m.p.h.

The driver in question was later arrested. He will reportedly face murder charges.