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
10:00 am
Wed June 20, 2012

Commentary: Changing the Law

There was a lot of news last week, from Detroit escaping near-bankruptcy to the now infamous “vagina dialogues” in the Michigan Legislature. Not to mention the passage of a controversial abortion bill, and the announcement of the new Detroit River Bridge. During weeks like that, some things get overlooked.

One of them was that while all this was going on, the legislature quietly and unanimously passed a bill to prevent any other crooked politician from doing one thing Kwame Kilpatrick did.

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Commentary
10:08 am
Tue June 19, 2012

Commentary: Charter Schools, Going too far?

There something I’d like to ask the Emergency Managers of the school districts in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park. Simply, are you sure you know what you are doing?  Have you thought this through, not only from the point of view of your district, but in regards to the future of education and the state of Michigan?

What I am referring to is the decisions by both superintendents to turn their entire districts over to charter school systems. In other words, to essentially privatize education.

Now, there is no doubt that Muskegon Heights is in bad shape financially.

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Commentary
10:11 am
Mon June 18, 2012

Commentary: Detroit, now what?

A week ago, it seemed possible that Detroit could be only days away from an Emergency Manager and bankruptcy. The city’s top lawyer had defied the mayor’s wishes and filed a lawsuit to stop the carefully crafted consent agreement designed to allow city and state officials to share power.

If her suit had dragged on, the city would quickly have run out of cash. But it was speedily thrown out of court, and with that, the consent agreement saved, just in the nick of time.

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Commentary
10:33 am
Fri June 15, 2012

Commentary: Legislators, behaving badly?

You couldn’t say yesterday was a slow news day. We learned that Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, would join Governor Rick Snyder today to announce the new bridge over the Detroit River.

The Michigan House of Representatives voted to slash the state income tax over the next six years, without, however, explaining how the state is expected to pay for the services it needs.

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Commentary
11:08 am
Thu June 14, 2012

Commentary: The Politics of Abortion

Here’s something that occurred to me yesterday, when the Michigan House of Representatives passed what is really an anti-abortion bill. Consider probably the two most controversial U.S. Supreme Court decisions in modern history.

Roe vs. Wade, which said that women have a constitutional right of privacy to abortion, and two more recent cases, District of Columbia vs. Heller and McDonald vs. Chicago, which established that individuals have a constitutional right to own and carry a gun.

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Commentary
10:18 am
Wed June 13, 2012

Commentary: the new bridge

Unless every news source in the western world is totally wrong, on Friday, Governor Rick Snyder will announce an agreement with Canada to build a new bridge across the Detroit River.

This is good news for Michigan, good news for Canada, good news  for business and, at least temporarily, perhaps even better news for the people  who will fill the thousands of construction and other new jobs that will be created, some permanently.

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Commentary
10:00 am
Tue June 12, 2012

Commentary: Changing the Rules

Kerry Bentivolio is resentful of the Republican establishment, and it's not hard to see why.  Bentivolio is running for Congress in the newly redrawn 11th District, which includes a lot of prosperous suburban areas in Wayne and Oakland Counties.

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Commentary
10:06 am
Mon June 11, 2012

Commentary: Common Sense

Now that I’m in my sixties, I find myself forced to confront the sad truth that I am never going to be a concert violinist or play professional sports. So instead, I have decided to devote my life to urging our leaders to exercise common sense.

True, there are days when it does seem that trying to make the Detroit Lions might hold out slightly more chance of success.  But as an idealistic baby boomer, I refuse to give up.

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Commentary
10:00 am
Fri June 8, 2012

Commentary: Happy Warrior

How many people do you know who really love politics? I don’t necessarily mean those politically active or intense about the issues. I know lots of people like that, conservative and liberal. But I don’t sense that many of them are having a good time.

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Commentary
10:11 am
Thu June 7, 2012

Commentary: Blow to Mass Transit

Back in the days when the Big Three really were the BIG Three, Detroit may have been the most hostile place in the nation to mass transit. The city existed to create private transportation for all. You were expected to have your own wheels. Well, the world has changed, and estimates indicate that more than a third of Detroiters have no cars these days, and many more would like to take mass transit when they can -- especially downtown.

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Commentary
10:19 am
Wed June 6, 2012

Commentary: Detroit’s Self-inflicted Agony

Two months ago, Detroit City Council agreed, at the last possible moment, to enter into a consent agreement with the state.

The city was fast running out of cash, and was facing a situation where the governor would virtually have been forced to appoint an emergency manager to run the city.

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Commentary
10:05 am
Tue June 5, 2012

Commentary: What To Learn From the McCotter Mess

If you want a measure of how politically screwed up things can get, consider the choice for Congress voters in Michigan’s eleventh congressional district could face this fall.

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Commentary
10:19 am
Mon June 4, 2012

Commentary: Two States of Michigan

I heard some interesting ideas about our economic future on Mackinac Island last week at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual conference of the state's movers and shakers. 

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Commentary
12:40 pm
Fri June 1, 2012

Tale of Two Races

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing couldn't have enjoyed reading his city's newspapers when he woke up on Mackinac Island yesterday morning. The Detroit Free Press splashed a story across its front page saying the business community wanted longtime Wayne County political fixer Mike Duggan as the city's next mayor.

The Detroit News's editorial page editor said the business community had decided that it is time for the mayor to go, and then called on the mayor to, quote "use the excuse of advancing age and poor health" to not run again next year.

Yesterday morning the mayor came out to face the press, and naturally, was asked about his own future. Standing on the Grand Hotel's magnificent porch, all the mayor would tell us reporters was that he had eighteen months left in his current term (it's actually nineteen), and he felt the need to "get as many things done as I possibly can." Now, I don't have an opinion on whether the mayor ought to run. He previously has said he was going to.

Frankly, if you know anything about how government works, the worst thing Bing could do would be to announce early that he isn't running. The moment he does that, he becomes a lame duck, and immediately loses much of his power and influence.

But beyond that, I am astonished at the business community's chutzpah in attempting to say who ought to be Detroit's mayor. Do they think our memories are that short?

Seven years ago, the business community was highly decisive in a Detroit mayoral race. Freman Hendrix was one of the final two candidates. He was a decent man with a finance background who had served as deputy mayor in the Archer administration.

Hendrix had grown up in a working class neighborhood. He had joined the Navy, and had put himself through college. I thought he had the potential to be a good mayor who had the ability to relate to average citizens. But the business community wanted the incumbent: Kwame Kilpatrick.

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Commentary
1:52 pm
Thu May 31, 2012

Frustration at Mackinac

Two days ago, a beaming Gov. Rick Snyder opened the annual conference of our state?s economic and political elites on an upbeat note. He cited the official themes the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce set for their annual Mackinac Conference. "Innovation, Collaboration and the Twenty-First Century Global Marketplace." Those are things he himself is all about.

Whether you agree with his positions or not, this governor wants what he thinks are rational policies aimed at giving this state a future. But the morning after his triumphant welcome, the governor had to again admit defeat over an issue that shouldn't even be an issue: Road funding. Too many Michigan roads are in poor shape, and a whole lot more are rapidly getting worse. Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Transportation estimated ninety per cent of our roads are in good or fair condition, which seemed too high to me.

But the state also calculated that unless we start investing far more heavily in our roads, only 44 percent will be in acceptable shape a mere eight years from now. That would be a disaster.

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Commentary
12:10 pm
Wed May 30, 2012

From Mackinac Island: A Culture Change

Almost the first words at this year's Mackinac Policy Conference were about changing Michigan?s culture. Yesterday, during an opening session featuring young entrepreneurs, Rick DeVos, founder of Grand Rapids' now- famous ArtPrize, said that culture change was the key to making this state prosperous again.

Each of the other pioneers on the panel agreed with him. Dave Zilko, who turned a five thousand dollar loan from his girlfriend into a hundred-million-dollar salsa company, said he was seeing a culture change that has to continue and our state's successful future depended on our adopting a new mind-set.

One where our prevailing attitude is that "we can do this."  Moments before their panel, an upbeat Governor Snyder opened the conference. Though he?s still not wearing ties, he has become much more confident and a much better public speaker than he was when he took office, possibly in part because his policies have met with some success. ?We are the comeback state in the United States right now,? he told an enthusiastic crowd. He said we all ought to speak up more about Michigan?s strengths, successes, and resurgence.

The day's main celebrity event was an inspiring speech by the internationally renowned CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, who assured the audience that the American and world economies are actually in much better shape, especially long-term, than today's headlines indicated. But he too said culture change was necessary.

Especially, that is, in America. We have to be willing to cut spending on entitlement programs, he seemed to be saying, especially for the elderly. But we also need to vastly increase spending on investments in our future.

That means raising taxes to fix our roads and bridges and other parts of our aging and neglected infrastructure. But it also means investing in education. Right now, he said America's priorities seem to be too much about the present and the past.

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Commentary
10:09 am
Tue May 29, 2012

Commentary: Mackinac Conference

If you were going to stage a revolution and wanted to arrest the entire political and business leadership of our state, you might want to start by seizing Mackinac Island this week.

That’s because the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce is holding its annual Mackinac Policy Conference. It will feature speeches by national headliners, such as public intellectuals Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria.

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Commentary
9:00 am
Mon May 28, 2012

Commentary: Live well and validate the sacrifice our veterans made

My guess is that a lot of  people these days are a little shaky about what Memorial Day is all about,  except perhaps in families that have military service in their background.   I think most of us know that it has something to do with honoring the nation’s  war dead. Though I imagine that the numbers of people visiting  cemeteries is probably a pretty small minority. More people decorated veterans’  graves when I was a child.

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Commentary
10:55 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Commentary: Film Tax Credits

Well, we are heading into the holiday weekend, and if the weather holds up, many of us will be barbecuing or going out on the water. But some of us will be going to the movies.

And your odds of seeing a major motion picture made in Michigan are a lot smaller than they were a few years ago.

That’s because the film incentive established by the Granholm Administration ended when Rick Snyder became governor and Republicans took over both houses of the legislature.

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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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