Game of bridges 

Why the Obama administration is sponging off of Canada.

First of all, the new bridge over the Detroit River is now virtually certain to become reality. Forget whatever lies Matty Moroun and his paid lackeys and sycophants continue to spout.

Moroun will continue to file nuisance suits and try to make mischief through the state legislators he’s bought with thinly disguised bribes labeled campaign contributions.

He’s managed, with such tactics, to delay this badly needed bridge for years. But he’s been essentially defeated, thanks to a politician who didn’t need his money — Gov. Rick Snyder — who found a crafty way to strike a deal with Canada.

But the project is now being held up by an unlikely bad guy: President Barack Obama and his administration. They seem happy to have this country play welfare cheat.

Even though Canada is paying the vast majority of the costs of building the New International Trade Crossing, Washington evidently wants Canada to even pay the cost of the necessary customs plaza for our immigration services.

Even wretchedly poor nations normally pay for their own diplomatic needs. Can you imagine the squalling if Albania expected us to pay to redecorate their embassy?

But I’ve been told by high diplomatic sources that Washington feels they have Ottawa over a barrel, since Canada needs a new bridge even more than America does.

And to our shame, this seems to be working.

That’s mainly not well understood in Detroit, where the familiar farce is still playing. The Morouns, meaning 87-year-old Matty, his occasionally trotted-out wife, Nora, and their son, Matthew, will keep claiming, alternatively, that a) a new bridge isn’t needed, and b) that he’s ready to build a new one, right next to his ancient Ambassador Bridge.

Letting him build it will save the taxpayers plenty, the Morouns claim. Sadly, some free-market-worshipping fools even believe it. The truth, of course, is that even if he could get clearance on the U.S. side to build a new span — which he can’t — the Canadians would never allow it, and for good reason.

Nobody would’ve put the Ambassador Bridge where it is, had they known in 1929 how housing and highway patterns would develop. There are a dozen traffic lights between where the bridge ends in Canada, and Highway 401, the main freeway.

There have been times when traffic was so backed up, Windsor officials put porta-potties on some residents’ lawns, which did not go over well. Additionally, Canadian officials agree with state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents the area where the Ambassador Bridge is anchored in Detroit.

“The air is already too polluted from fumes,” she told me last summer. Additionally, the city would have to give Moroun, Detroit’s most famous slumlord, all or part of Riverside Park, an area he tried to seize a few years ago.

No, thank you. We do, however, badly need a new bridge over the Detroit River — as soon as physically possible. Virtually every business not owned by Moroun agrees on that.

Even if the Ambassador Bridge were owned by a saint, it was not built for today’s huge trucks, and is wearing out. Nor is it certified for hazardous materials.

Well over a billion dollars’ worth of stuff, mainly heavy manufacturing and automotive components, crosses the bridge every week. That’s one-quarter of all the trade between Canada and the United States. There’s no other way to get it across.

You can’t send it through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, and the bridge in Port Huron is too far away and already too crowded to make that an economically viable option. 

Terrorists could do far more damage to the economy — especially in Michigan and Ontario — by blowing up the Ambassador Bridge than by taking out the World Trade Center.

So we need this bridge, and Michigan would benefit more than anywhere else, thanks to the thousands in construction jobs that would be created. The least we could do is pay the $250 million or so needed for our own customs plaza.

That’s money that would have to be appropriated by Congress, and, to be sure, there might be some pitfalls. But even the GOP members of the House delegation should realize how important a new river crossing would be.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hoped Obama would mention it in his State of the Union speech — or at least include money for the plaza — in his proposed budget.

But no. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson did visit Detroit earlier this month and pledged to try to secure the funds, but he’s new on the job and without great clout.

So last week, Lisa Raitt, Canada’s minister of transport, said the project is so “vitally important” to her country they might have to put up the cash for our customs plaza.

“This has never happened before … the United States not paying for their own U.S. customs plaza,” she said. That’s true, and it shouldn’t happen now. This isn’t Upper Volta, or Boratistan.

“If only we’d held onto Fort Detroit until the end of the War of 1812,” the Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada’s top newspaper, wrote last week. They really should have, too.

Not only would we have a new bridge by now, we’d already have had universal health care for years. 

JUST THINKIN'

Normally I roll my eyes at those political junkies who start obsessing over the next presidential election years in advance. But campaigns start earlier and earlier, and here are a few things worth thinking about:

Today, conventional wisdom assumes the Democratic nominee will be Hillary Clinton, and that she’s likely to breeze to victory in a nation at last ready for a female president.

Indeed, that might be the most likely scenario. But consider this: Back in 1980, people worried that Ronald Reagan was too old to be president.

Turns out he might have been; he was clearly losing it by the end of his second term. However, by late 1980, people would have elected a triceratops to get rid of Jimmy Carter.

Know how old Reagan was when we elected him? Sixty-nine. The same age Hillary Clinton will be in November 2016.

That’s not to say she's necessarily too old. But what if she does develop health issues and ends up not running?

The Democrats have a bench about as weak as the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen. Vice President Joe Biden, who would dearly love to be president, will be 74. Don’t think so. The most likely backup Democratic candidate is Elizabeth Warren, a freshman senator from Massachusetts, who will be 67.

Then there’s a man already running for the job, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who will be 75. Oh, yeah — and he is a proudly open socialist. No doubt about it; calling the Democrats the party of youth is a bit of an overstatement.

Conventional wisdom is that Republicans will nominate either former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother and son of our two previous White House shrubs, or U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), once said to have the best mind of the 19th century.

What’s clear is that both parties have a morbidly fascinating lack of exciting alternatives. My own guess is that it will probably be Hillary — and that Rand Paul will prove a far more wily and formidable candidate than most people suspect.

And I wouldn’t be too surprised if my guess, though fairly well-educated, is also dead wrong.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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