This spring I was in Eastern Europe, where after half a century of communist oppression, the people are in love with capitalism, private enterprise, and the free market.
When I've talked to Europeans about our system, however, there's one thing they find batshit crazy: The idea that one bloated billionaire, one Manuel "Matty" Moroun, is allowed to own our nation's most economically important border crossing.
Not only does he own it, I tell them; he does everything he can to prevent any competition, even though he risks severely damaging our economy in the process.
They think allowing this is nuts, because it is. Canada just elected a new government two weeks ago; the voters threw out the Conservatives and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and gave Justin Trudeau's Liberals a solid majority in Parliament.
Trudeau vowed to put the interests of the people ahead of the interests of the 1 percent. If he is serious, he should immediately find a way, perhaps in concert with Washington, of invoking national security, eminent domain, or something, and force the Morouns to sell both nations his bridge, and go away.
Before the right-wing economic nuts start bleating, no, this isn't Soviet-style communism, but common sense. Private ownership of the bridge, a relic of the 1920s, might be just barely tolerable if Moroun was a good, civic-minded human being — someone like Warren Buffett, say, who ironically almost managed to buy the bridge when Moroun did, in 1979.
Moroun, of course, is anything but. A few weeks ago, the city of Windsor began closing streets — Wyandotte, Donnelly, and Peter — after large chunks of concrete began falling from the rusting, decaying Ambassador Bridge.
Any decent, modern corporation would have responded with profuse apologies and vows to do whatever needed to make things right for the community. That's not the Morouns.
They responded with snarls and denials. Lately, in what passes for a charm offensive in Morounland, they've been sending out Matthew, the "kinder, gentler Moroun" instead of his reptilian 88-year-old father.
Matthew unfortunately, wasn't exactly charming. During a press conference in Windsor, he maintained that his 1929-era bridge was "not crumbling." When confronted with the evidence, including pieces of a fallen concrete slab nearly 2 feet long, he changed his tune: It was all Windsor's fault.
He claimed that Canadian town was preventing his company from making repairs, supposedly because Windsor (like Canada, the United States, and God) doesn't want the Morouns building a second bridge next to the one they've got.
"They don't want to see the Ambassador Bridge standing tall for the next 50 years," Moroun the lesser told reporters.
However, the truth, as usual with the Morouns, was, oh, completely different. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, hasn't been thinking about the Ambassador Bridge standing tall.
He's been worrying instead about parts of it crashing down onto the heads of his 210,000 citizens. "We believe there is a significant safety issue at this point," he said. "God forbid someone gets injured or killed" because of the falling concrete.
Rather than not being allowed to make repairs, it turns out the Morouns were ordered to make some in June, but have been dragging their feet. Transport Canada ordered the Detroit International Bridge Co., to fix a few things, including rusty railings and broken curbs, on both sides of the bridge.
CBC News got wind of this late last month, and discovered — surprise, surprise — that the work had never been done.
No wonder. When confronted about this, a Moroun mouthpiece said they were still in the process of finding contractors to fix the railings. You can bet they aren't in a hurry.
When they do these needed repairs, the bridge will have to be shut down for a while, which means less money for Matty.
Just in the short run, that is, but every little bit counts. Matty has a long history of defying authority until it becomes too costly not to do so. Nearly four years ago, Moroun ignored a court order to finish a project connecting the Ambassador Bridge to nearby freeways, something he had agreed to do.
As a result, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards threw Moroun in jail almost four years ago. After one night behind bars, Moroun changed his tune, and agreed to live up to his obligations — and finally had the work finished.
Since then, however, he's devoted himself mainly to suing people for anything, everything, and nothing bridge-related.
Windsor, for example, has had to spend nearly $3 million on legal fees the last five years fighting Moroun. The city will soon have to spend even more in Canada's Supreme Court, where Moroun claims his bridge is a "federal instrumentality" and not subject to local laws, a fight he is likely to lose.
He doesn't care; of course; Forbes magazine says he is now worth $1.95 billion; his version of a night with Kim Kardashian, a lawyer who knows him told me, is suing somebody.
However we should care, and progress has been stalled long enough and our governments' reserves drained too long by this troll. Nobody has any business owning an international trade crossing. It's time our two nations took it away.
Schuette update: Two weeks ago, I wrote a column primarily about Bill Schuette, Michigan's opportunistic attorney general. Schuette raised no objection to my criticism of his dreadful record, which includes wasting nearly $2 million of the taxpayers' money in his fruitless and laughable persecution of gay people and their families.
But he had a hissy fit over these two sentences, which are both true and have been frequently reported before: "Schuette, who has an estimated net worth of about $13 million, has never been poor. He grew up in Midland, where his mother helped the family bottom line by managing to marry, in turn, not one, but two top Dow Chemical executives."
In a Facebook posting, he called this an "attack on my family. To attack my mother, someone he knows nothing about, is disgraceful." He then inspired his amen corner, including Frank Beckmann, WJR's resident non-intellectual, to attack me.
Well, I guess I should thank him for increasing the readership of my column. But he may want to think twice, or at least once, before taking his next whine to Facebook.
Some of what his virtual buddies posted on Schuette's page made my comments look mild. "If this is an attack, then what you have done to my family is World War II," a woman named Sarah Margaret posted, a theme echoed by many others.
"You've attacked gays, you've attacked legal caregivers," said Matthew Dailey. "Clean up your own house before you go after others," was about the nicest thing John Church said.
Even some of his defenders weren't exactly, uh, helpful. "Women of a certain generation married for economics. She happened to pick well," Amy Smith said.
Kathleen McKee and Robert Warner, who actually seem to have read my column, were puzzled; they wanted to know where the "attack on his family was." I don't blame them for having trouble finding it, because there wasn't any.
But a person calling him(?)self Thayrone Xington did have a legitimate criticism of me:
"Jack Lessenberry is a hideous man, has been spewing bile for years. He is a full-on communist agitator."
Damn, I thought I hid it so well!
Oh well. Off to poison the reservoir
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