Jack Lessenberry

Essay/Analysis: Political Commentator

A Detroit native, Jack recognized that he wanted to become a journalist during his graduate studies at the University of Michigan. (He had previously set out to be a historian.) Now, he boasts thirty years of eclectic journalism experience. Jack has worked as a foreign correspondent and executive national editor of The Detroit News, and he has written for many national and regional publications, including Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Oakland Press.

Currently, he is a professor of journalism at Wayne State University and a contributing editor and columnist for The Metro Times, The Traverse-City Record Eagle, and The Toledo Blade...in addition to his work at Michigan Radio.

Throughout his years of journalism experience, his favorite memories are of interviewing Gerald Ford about Watergate in 1995 and winning a national Emmy for a documentary about Jack Kevorkian in 1994.

On a personal note, Jack stopped watching TV -- except for documentaries -- when Mr. Ed was canceled.

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Commentary
10:14 am
Thu May 24, 2012

Commentary: Budget Follies

There is something to be said for one party controlling both the executive and legislative branches of government. This year, for the second year in a row, the state budget will apparently be passed by the beginning of June. That’s a big change from a few years ago.

Twice during the Granholm years, the parties were still squabbling over the books when the fiscal year expired at the end of September. And bad last-minute choices were made.

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Commentary
11:18 am
Tue May 22, 2012

Contraception Rules

The Michigan Catholic Conference filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, charging that their freedom of religion has been violated because of a new rule regarding health insurance policies.

And on the basis of logic alone, I have to say, what they are claiming makes absolutely no sense to me. This is not an issue that only involves Michigan. Forty-three Roman Catholic dioceses, social service agencies, schools and even the University of Notre Dame filed similar lawsuits across the nation. Their issue is simply this.

The Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services has a rule requiring all employers that provide health insurance to have that coverage cover contraceptives.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes any use of contraception, and says being required to cover this violates their religious freedom.

This is not, by the way, part of the Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of which is due to be decided by the United States Supreme Court next month, This is entirely a different case.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and other Catholic groups across the nation say that requiring them to insure contraceptive coverage violates their rights under both the First Amendment and under a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They want the federal courts to make the Obama Administration drop this requirement.

But here's why their argument seems illogical. The government is not requiring that anybody approve of or use contraception. That would be a tremendous violation of religious freedom. What the government is saying is that if someone does choose to do so, insurance plans have to cover it.

That makes logical and legal sense, given that nearly half a century ago, in a case called Griswold vs. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state could not outlaw the use of contraceptives. Incidentally, every survey I have ever seen shows that the majority of American Catholics do in fact use contraception, even though it is against their church's teaching.

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Commentary
10:00 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Commentary: Taking a Salary

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder have something in common. Both had successful business careers before politics. When both were first elected, they promised not to take a salary, since both their jurisdictions, city and state, had severe budget problems. Then, both changed their minds.

Last year Mayor Bing announced that he was now accepting his salary, which is about $158,000 a year. He had been donating all of it to the police department.

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Commentary
11:41 am
Fri May 18, 2012

Commentary: New wrinkle in the Detroit Consent Agreement process

When I was growing up back in the nineteen-sixties, there was a famous saying about the economic health of Michigan’s largest city:   When the nation catches cold, Detroit gets pneumonia.

That meant the effects of even the slightest economic downturn were magnified in the Motor City. Why? Well, the easiest big expense to put off is usually a new car.

You have to buy food and make your house payment, but if you lose your job, or the plant cuts back on overtime, you can generally put off replacing your current Tin Lizzie for another year.

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Commentary
11:03 am
Thu May 17, 2012

Commentary: Falling unemployement rates

There are people who lose their jobs during the best of times, and those who are wildly successful even during a depression.

But what really matters is the overall trend. When you look at that, and at a flurry of new numbers that came out yesterday, it seems clear that Michigan is in fact doing better than a year ago.

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Commentary
10:24 am
Wed May 16, 2012

Commentary: Defector’s Ethics

It’s rare for a politician to switch political parties, but not all that rare. Don Riegle, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate, was originally elected to Congress from Flint as a Republican.

After six years in office, he switched and became a Democrat during the Watergate scandal. Naturally, he wasn’t very popular with his former Republican friends. But you have to say this for him. He did so more than a year before the next election.

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Commentary
10:22 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Commentary: Robbing the poor

A year ago, in their zeal to give businesses an enormous tax cut, the governor and the legislature considered virtually eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. In the end, they didn’t quite kill it. Instead, they merely took most of it away.

When they did, there was hardly a whimper of protest from the Democrats. About the only group which seemed upset was the non-profit and non-partisan Michigan League for Human Services.

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Commentary
11:02 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Commentary: Whole Foods in Detroit

This morning, ground was broken for a new Whole Foods Market in Detroit -- and plenty of people are excited about it.

Detroit is commonly said to be underserved in terms of supermarkets, and has even been called a “food desert,” because of its perceived lack of stores selling things like fresh local produce.  Whole Foods bills itself as the world’s largest natural and organic food chain, and they’ve never had a store in the city.

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Commentary
10:54 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Commentary: Grass-roots health care

Nobody would dispute that health care is one of the biggest issues facing this nation. And virtually everyone, regardless of their politics, is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Next month, the nation’s highest court will announce its decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Congress passed two years ago.

Their decision will have a major impact on this nation. But in Ferndale, a small, charming, quirky, and largely working class Detroit suburb, a tiny group hasn’t been waiting.

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Commentary
11:42 am
Thu May 10, 2012

Commentary: Where's the outrage?

To badly paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, history will little note nor long remember Bob Dole’s presidential campaign sixteen years ago. Dole was the Republican nominee against President Bill Clinton that year.

This was before the sex scandals came to light, and Clinton breezed to reelection. Bob Dole, an authentic war hero with a hilariously caustic sense of humor, ran a bumbling race that didn’t reflect that he was actually a quite capable man. 

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Commentary
11:12 am
Wed May 9, 2012

Commentary: Slight increase in manufacturing jobs in Detroit

There’s a phenomenon that happens sometimes after a major stock market crash which is known by the ghastly name, “Dead Cat Bounce.”  We saw a lot of that back in the fall of 2008.

The Dow Jones averages would plunge 500 one day. The next day, they’d recover, say, 50 points, before falling even further later in the week. What was that brief rally all about? Well, it wasn’t about any real improvement in the market.

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Commentary
11:53 am
Tue May 8, 2012

Commentary: Joe Schwarz's decision not to run for Congress

For weeks, former Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz seriously considered running for the job again, this time as a Democrat. He talked to me about that several times.

He was actually very close to actually getting in the race, for a congressional district that stretched along Michigan’s southern border, from Monroe in the east to Jackson. But then last week, Schwarz finally decided against it. I had been convinced he would run, and as a journalist, thought it a fascinating prospect.

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Commentary
11:18 am
Mon May 7, 2012

Commentary: Helping children in poverty

Two weekends ago, I went to something called the Bow-Wow brunch, at an upscale hotel in suburban Detroit. The purpose was to raise money to support the Michigan Humane Society.

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Commentary
10:48 am
Fri May 4, 2012

Commentary: John Dingell runs again

The tail fins on cars were just starting to take off the first time he ran. The nation had about half as many people as it does now.

Neither of his opponents this year had yet been born. For that matter, neither had Governor Snyder or President Obama.

John F. Kennedy was a freshman senator, General Motors was the world’s most powerful corporation, and nobody had ever seen a Japanese car. We are talking 1955, when, a few days after Christmas, a few thousand voters showed up for a special election, and sent a geeky-looking 29-year-old lawyer to Congress.

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Commentary
10:59 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Commentary: College for all?

It’s hard to see the future. If you had been around during the Cretaceous Period, sixty-five million years ago, it would have been obvious that the world belonged to the huge and magnificent dinosaurs which dominated the planet.

Nobody would have paid much attention to the little rat-like things called mammals scurrying around the forest floors. But in the end, they would inherit the earth.

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Commentary
11:41 am
Wed May 2, 2012

Commentary: Senator wants lawmakers to pay more for health care

State Senator Rick Jones of Grand Ledge might want to watch his back for the next few weeks, or maybe, decades. Yesterday, he threatened to violate a time-honored legislative custom.

Lawmakers at all levels are traditionally known for telling the people “do what we say, not what we do.”

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Commentary
11:51 am
Tue May 1, 2012

Commentary: More companies betting on Detroit

There’s an old Russian saying that, even, if you covered the world with asphalt, eventually a crack would form.

And in that crack, grass would grow. I was reminded of that yesterday by an Italian businessman my age, a man who is betting on green shoots coming through a town caked with many layers of asphalt. His name is Sergio Marchionne, and he is the CEO of a company called Fiat. Three years ago, he did something many at the time thought stupid. He took over a dying bankrupt company.

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Commentary
10:50 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Commentary: Referendum madness

If everyone who is trying to get a referendum on something on the ballot this fall succeeds, every conscientious person may end up having to spend half an hour in the voting booth in November.

That’s a  bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There is a campaign to get a ballot referendum on the state’s emergency manager law -- and another to recall the governor himself.

The unions are collecting signatures to try to get a constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining for workers in both the public and private sectors.

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Commentary
11:40 am
Fri April 27, 2012

Commentary: Democracy in peril

Sometimes it seems that everybody in the world is in favor of democracy, just as long as it gives them the result they want.

When that doesn’t happen, well, then they don’t like it so much. We saw two prime examples of this yesterday. The first was a state board of canvassers meeting, where the panel refused to put a repeal of the new emergency manager law on the ballot.

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Commentary
10:32 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Commentary: Reforming Michigan’s Supreme Court

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly cares deeply about our highest court, on which she has served for sixteen years.

For a long time, a number of things have bothered her about the court.  A University of Chicago law school study four years ago ranked Michigan’s Supreme Court dead last in the nation. Among its criteria: “Judicial independence from political and outside influences.”

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