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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Opinion
11:05 am
Tue September 30, 2014

Judge’s ruling doesn’t mean he was unsympathetic to those facing water shutoffs

I once knew an opinion pollster who told me he could usually determine how anyone was going to vote without ever asking who they were going to vote for.

He did this by asking a series of litmus-test type questions about someone’s life, background and beliefs.

If you were a single mom with limited income, for example, that probably indicated you were a Democrat – unless you were a fundamentalist Christian. White professional male with a six-figure income?  Likely Republican if in business, for example. But probably not if he is a nonreligious professor.

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Opinion
12:18 pm
Mon September 29, 2014

Debbie Dingell may be more politically seasoned than you think

If you follow politics in this state, you probably know that John Dingell has served longer in Congress than anyone in American history.

You also probably know he is retiring at the end of this term, and that his wife Debbie is the Democratic nominee to succeed him. And given the realities of politics, it is absolutely as certain as anything can be that she will win.

Mrs. Dingell – she uses Mrs., by the way – would not want me to say that. Neither would her main opponent, Terry Bowman, a blue-collar Republican auto worker.

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Politics & Government
8:35 am
Sat September 27, 2014

Latest election polls, Kevyn Orr's extended stay in Detroit, and another Aramark scandal

Kevyn Orr will stay on as Detroit's emergency manager, with some restrictions.
Credit user memories_by_mike / Flickr

This Week in Review, Jack 
Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss the latest polls for Michigan’s governor and U.S.Senate races, Detroit’s decision to keep emergency manager Kevyn Orr on board for now, and the latest scandal with Aramark, the state’s food services provider.

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Opinion
12:03 pm
Fri September 26, 2014

Keeping Kevyn Orr at Detroit's helm – for now – is a creative solution

Yesterday Detroit’s City Council made a decision so sane, sensible and rational it may have left some flabbergasted.

The council voted unanimously to transfer power for all day-to-day decisions back to the city’s elected leadership.

But at the same time, emergency manager Kevyn Orr will remain on the job for issues having to do with Detroit’s ongoing bankruptcy case. That trial is still going on in federal court in Detroit, proceedings that may continue three more weeks.

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Opinion
11:41 am
Thu September 25, 2014

Why has this patriotic and long-overdue effort had so many stumbling blocks?

Two months ago, I told the story of a Vietnam veterans’ group in Detroit that has been fighting for recognition for all veterans of all wars for years. Vietnam Veterans of America, Detroit Chapter 9, has been a force in Detroit for many years.

They have reached out to help homeless and messed-up veterans. They got an annual Veterans Day parade started again. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve let veterans of our newer conflicts know they were appreciated and welcomed.

They’ve also had a dream. They’ve wanted to build a Veterans memorial park open to anyone, which would commemorate all of America’s conflicts. I’ve seen the design; it is not overly militaristic, it doesn’t glorify combat. It mostly tells the story of our nation’s military history, and honors those who helped make freedom possible.

But for years, the veterans have been shown little respect by the city of Detroit. Originally, they wanted to build their park in a large vacant lot on Woodward Avenue, and at least one mayor told them that would be fine. The veterans cleaned it up, drove off the junkies, paid an architect to design a plan.

Then another mayor gave it to his buddies to park cars on instead. Later, Detroit City Council told the veterans they should consider Gabriel Richard Park on the Detroit River.

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Opinion
12:13 pm
Wed September 24, 2014

McLaren's plan to bypass rules for new hospital is sheer arrogance in nature

One of the things I’ve noticed over the last few years is how many local hospitals seem to have been taken over by McLaren Health Care, a chain that originally started in Flint.

That in itself may not be bad; there have certainly been cases of local stand-alone hospitals that lacked the resources to properly serve their communities.

But it sometimes seems to me that while America once had wards between rival steel and railroad magnates, we now have hospital system wars. And we now have a case of sheer hospital arrogance.

Phil Incarnati, McLaren’s president and CEO, seems to believe the state’s rules for allowing where hospitals can expand are just fine – as long as they don’t apply to him. Over and over again, McLaren has been denied permission to build a new hospital near Clarkston, an affluent area in northern Oakland County.

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Opinion
12:11 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Michigan is a disgrace when it comes to child care

Yesterday, the Michigan League for Public Policy held a press conference to announce that our state is a disgrace when it comes to child care.

They didn’t say it that way, but I will.

What the nonpartisan league actually said was:

“Michigan’s child care program falls far short in ensuring high-quality child care.”

We are living in an age when more parents than ever need to work, and our politicians demand they work. And we are making it harder and harder for them to do so.

Over the last 10 years, Michigan has cut 70% of the funding for subsidized child care.

Back in 2005, before the Great Recession, 65,000 low-income parents got child care help from the state so that they could keep working.

Many more are in trouble now, but we only help a third as many.

Forget human compassion; from purely a business standpoint, this makes no sense.

To quote the league:

“Access to safe, stable and high-quality child care reduces employee absenteeism and turnover and improves businesses’ bottom line.”

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Opinion
11:17 am
Mon September 22, 2014

Who is Mark Schauer, really?

We can say two things about the race for governor today: Mark Schauer and Rick Snyder are essentially tied in the polls. And it looks like we may not have a single televised debate.

The last time that happened was 16 years ago, when John Engler refused to debate Geoffrey Fieger. There was a certain logic to that.

Fieger was going around saying that the governor was a “corn-fed bowser,” and declared he would not accept that Engler was the father of his triplets unless they had corkscrew tails.

That was not a normal campaign. But this one is, and the voters have a lot at stake. This time, the challenger wants debates and the incumbent doesn’t.

Conventional wisdom says that’s because the governor doesn’t want to make it seem like his opponent is his equal, or because it is always harder to defend a record than attack one.

That may be. But it is also possible that Republicans are wasting a golden opportunity to put the challenger on the defensive. Here’s why.

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Politics & Government
9:30 am
Sat September 20, 2014

This week in review

Credit NOAA

This Week in Review Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss a plan to put a hold on the creation of new charter schools, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan’s idea for a new regional water authority, and Enbridge’s statement that it has fixed internal problems that lead to the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill.

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Opinion
11:29 am
Fri September 19, 2014

To learn about the fascinating people who shaped Michigan, you should read this book

There are two dirty little secrets about journalism most people don’t realize. One is that we assume that the good is normal. If you work hard, are not flamboyant, take care of your business and don’t kill your family, you may well live happily ignored by the media.

Same goes for your community, if it is solvent and your elected officials aren’t stealing or worse.

While great breakthroughs in science or human achievement do get recognized, news tends to be about system or human failures, which is one of the reasons journalists tend to be unpopular.

We come to show you that the mayor is a crook, the legislature incompetent, your schools are failing to educate "Susie," that your city is bankrupt and the water polluted.

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Opinion
11:08 am
Thu September 18, 2014

Does the UAW's victory in Indiana signal the end of the two-tier wage system?

Something happened in the auto industry recently that was mostly overlooked by the mainstream media – but which may have huge implications for the industry and the United Auto Workers union.  

Seven years ago, the UAW made a concession that I am convinced would have had Walter Reuther spinning in his grave.

They agreed to accept a two-tier wage system under which most new hires would be paid slightly less than half what long-time auto workers made.

Think about that.

This means most of them are earning less than $30,000 a year.  Can they buy a house with that salary?  Even buy one of the new cars and trucks they build?

You know the answer. Yet the union agreed, because it felt it had no choice.

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Opinion
12:16 pm
Wed September 17, 2014

Governor Snyder is fighting a losing game in Aramark scandal

Some years ago, I was studying some primitive TV campaign ads. One of them featured candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower being asked by a housewife, "Well, the Democrats have made mistakes, but weren't their intentions good?"

Squinting at cue cards, the nearsighted Ike replied woodenly, "Well, if you have a school bus driver who goes off the road, hits a pole and lands in a ditch you don't say his intentions are good. You get a new bus driver." 

Last night I thought it might be a good idea to send that ad to Governor Rick Snyder, with a note: Think about Aramark.

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Politics & Government
11:57 am
Wed September 17, 2014

The week in Michigan politics

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss the possibility of new teachers losing their pensions, the latest in the Detroit bankruptcy trial, and how Aramark is under fire again.


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Opinion
10:46 am
Tue September 16, 2014

Detroit’s bankruptcy settlement is far from the end of the story

Many years ago, I met Thomas Friedman, the distinguished New York Times journalist who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of the Middle East by the time he was 35.

When I told him that I regarded his reporting as indispensable, he told me something I’ll never forget. He said “don’t read my stories every day.”  That startled me, and I asked what he meant.

He went on: “Daily journalists covering a beat have to produce a story just about every day.” That’s partly because everybody doesn’t always read everything. But if you look closely, you’ll see that much of the time, much of the daily stories are repetitious.

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Opinion
11:06 am
Mon September 15, 2014

New polls suggest we may have the closest governor’s race in 30 years

Six months ago, I was convinced Rick Snyder would be reelected in November -- not by the 18 point landslide he scored four years ago, but by a fairly comfortable margin.

Yes, I knew there was lingering anger over the pension tax and right to work, maybe other issues, but I figured that Snyder’s Republicans would have so much money they’d overwhelm Mark Schauer, his Democratic opponent, with broadcast commercials, the “air war” of modern politics.

Then too, Republicans have a built-in advantage over Democrats in midterm elections. Turnout is always smaller, and Republicans are better about showing up.

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Opinion
10:19 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Senator Warren’s bill reminds me of Harry Truman’s "do-nothing Congress" move

State Senator Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, looks absolutely nothing like Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the United States. Yet yesterday, when Warren introduced legislation to amend Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, he instantly came to mind.

And here’s why: Many people, especially the LGBT community and their allies, were excited when, with considerable fanfare, Warren introduced her bill. SB 1053 would make it illegal for anyone hiring employees or providing housing to discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Identity, or expression. Her bill, as I understand it, would also make it illegal to refuse to hire or sell or serve or rent to anyone because you don’t like the way they dress or define themselves.

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Opinion
11:23 am
Thu September 11, 2014

Unpaid interns are not protected from sexual harassment in Michigan

These days, workplaces of all kinds from radio stations to corporate offices are filled with interns, mainly unpaid interns.

So imagine that you have such an intern in your office anywhere in this state. You think she, or he, is cute.

You ask what she does with her boyfriend at night, and begin touching her inappropriately. Finally, you suggest that if she wants a career, she should come to a meeting without her clothes on.

Can she sue you and the firm for sexual harassment?

The answer is … no.

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Opinion
11:54 am
Wed September 10, 2014

What happens as Detroit begins to fight its way back to prosperity

Well, yesterday was indeed one of the more momentous days in Detroit’s modern history. The city not only reached an agreement with Syncora, the major opponent of its bankruptcy filing. Detroit also reached a deal with the suburbs on the water system, something that has eluded everyone for years.

When I heard about all this, I was instantly reminded of economist Paul Romer’s famous quote: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Detroit is in its worst crisis since Cadillac beached his canoes and scrabbled up the riverbank in 1701.

And for once, it hasn’t wasted it. Whatever you think of Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr: This would not have happened without them. Rhodes is the real hero in the water settlement.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson acknowledged this yesterday. For more than 40 years, Patterson has had a political career based on bashing Detroit. He had no intention of ever agreeing to a water deal with the city.

But Patterson knew that if he wasn’t willing to play ball, Rhodes could, quote, “cram down our throats his settlement of this issue, and this was always looming over our heads.”

The settlement itself is reasonable, logical, simple, and could have been designed by a graduate class in political science. A new Great Lakes Water Authority is being created.

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Politics & Government
10:10 am
Wed September 10, 2014

The week in Michigan politics

Credit JSFauxtaugraphy/Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss how  Syncora, the biggest opponent in Detroit's bankruptcy trial, has reached a tentative agreement with the city. Fox and Lessenberry also discuss Detroit's new water authority, and what to expect from the legislature in the few weeks before the November election.

Opinion
11:38 am
Tue September 9, 2014

Medicine can keep us alive, but we still should have the right to die

Two days ago, my eyes fell on a poignantly written column by a gallant woman who I felt I knew, though we’ve never met.

Sherri Muzher lives in the downriver Detroit suburb of Woodhaven.

She has multiple sclerosis, as do perhaps 400,000 other Americans. She is intellectually vibrant and only 44, but her disease is advancing quickly, and she knows it.

There isn’t any hope that she’ll get better, and she bravely accepts that, but she wants to make a contribution to humanity.

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