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
11:03 am
Fri April 20, 2012

Commentary: Watching for progress in Detroit

If I were the late Andy Rooney, I might start today by asking whether you see your glass as half full -- or half empty?

Meaning -- do you focus on the positive or the negative? On the other hand, there’s an old joke about the difference between an optimist, a pessimist, and a Detroiter. The optimist sees the glass as half full; the pessimist, as half empty.

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Commentary
10:52 am
Thu April 19, 2012

Commentary: Push to privatize some prison services

Reporters were caught off base yesterday when they learned that Governor Rick Snyder was not in Lansing as they thought, but in Afghanistan, visiting the troops. The secrecy was understandably needed for security reasons, and the trip is the sort of morale-boosting thing that governors and other state officials traditionally do.

But it was very telling when the governor reported on what the soldiers wanted to talk about. Besides the surging Detroit Tigers and fading Red Wings, the chief thing on their minds seemed to be jobs.

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Commentary
9:55 am
Wed April 18, 2012

What would a reform of the Personal Property Tax really mean?

If you had any doubts whether Michigan is still an important player on the national stage, consider this. Yesterday, embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is trying to survive a recall, appeared at a fundraiser in the Detroit suburb of Troy.

Today, President Obama will visit fundraisers of his own in West Bloomfield. These men are about as different politically as possible. Walker is seen by the nation's unions as Public Enemy Number One. Those unions will be firmly behind the President's re-election. Obama and Walker differ on virtually every domestic issue.

But they do have something in common. Neither man was scheduled to visit the desolation that is Detroit.

That city's more conservative paper, The Detroit News, startled me today by suggesting that the President's limousine take a detour through the city, perhaps, "past the heaps of rubble that were once businesses on Harper near City Airport, and into the blocks surrounding Denby High School off East Outer Drive, where there are more abandoned homes than occupied ones."

The newspaper suggested that Detroit is every bit as bad off as New Orleans was in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. But there have been no massive federal programs to rebuild Detroit. This nation has spent billions of dollars on the war in Iraq over the last decade, a war that seems to have won us nothing. Can you imagine the positive effect a small fraction of that money would have had on Detroit? Or Flint, or Pontiac, or any number of the rest of Michigan's crumbling cities large and small?

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Commentary
9:09 am
Tue April 17, 2012

Deregulatory Madness in Michigan

I think I'd like to be a doctor. Physicians generally make a lot more than I do, and I could certainly use the extra income.

I have read several biographies of famous figures in medicine, and know how important it is to wash your hands a lot.

Besides, I once spent most of a day with the famed heart surgeon Denton Cooley years ago. So, I think I'll ask the state to waive the rules while I start delivering babies and removing tumors.

Okay. You may think this idea is nuts. And that's because it is nuts. But don't worry - the closet I'll ever come to practicing medicine is using my teeth to pry the lid off the aspirin bottle.

But the scary thing is that I'm not all that sure the Snyder administration feels that way.

No, they aren't talking about allowing people like me to practice medicine in their garage. Not yet, anyway.

But yesterday, the state Office of Regulatory Reinvention recommended abolishing occupational boards and essentially, ceasing to regulate and license at least eighteen occupations.

A few of these may actually not need regulation; the world will probably not collapse if auctions aren't run by a state licensed and regulated auctioneer. But it seems clear to me that most of the occupations involved very much need oversight.

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Commentary
11:56 am
Mon April 16, 2012

Commentary: Who really runs Michigan’s universities?

Most people would probably say their presidents. Based on a non-scientific experiment I’ve been conducting in casual conversations, a fair number of people, can even name the presidents of those schools.

Well, at least the one they attended.

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Commentary
11:42 am
Fri April 13, 2012

Commentary: The presidential race is on

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said something that wasn’t true yesterday. Not anything that could get him removed from office or disbarred, mind you. But something untrue nevertheless.

He was speaking, not as attorney general, but in his capacity as state chairman of the Romney campaign. He said that this state was up for grabs in the election, adding “Michigan’s a jump ball state, and it’s not been that way since 1988.

Well, it is true that for now, anyway, both sides are pledging to wage tough, vigorous and expensive campaigns here.

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Commentary
11:09 am
Thu April 12, 2012

Commentary: Freedom of Speech?

There’s an elderly lady in the Detroit suburbs who doesn’t follow the news much these days, and I’m grateful for that.

Her name is Margaret Radulovich Fishman, and you may never have heard of her. You may not even remember her brother, Milo Radulovich. But fifty-nine years ago, they were at the center of one the biggest human rights controversies in our history.

Back in nineteen-fifty, a formerly obscure freshman senator named Joe McCarthy charged that there were eighty-one Communists working in the U.S. State Department.

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Commentary
10:47 am
Wed April 11, 2012

Commentary: Farewell to the Michigan State Fair

Virtually nobody paid much attention, but the last faint hope that the Michigan State Fair would somehow be revived ended this week.

Two days ago, Governor Rick Snyder signed bills authorizing the state to give up ownership of the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit. Those 163 acres would be returned, the governor’s office said, “to productive uses.“

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Commentary
10:50 am
Tue April 10, 2012

Commentary: Tale of Two Bridges

Some interesting construction is going on down by the Detroit River, and more is about to start. Michigan Department of Transportation crews have been pouring concrete to finish a long-overdue road. Next week more crews will swing into action.

They will begin tearing down a concrete pier to nowhere, and then build a truck access road to help relieve congestion leading to the Ambassador Bridge. If you’ve come up to Detroit on I-75 from the South, you’ve probably seen huge trucks stacked up in the right lane.

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Commentary
10:53 am
Mon April 9, 2012

Commentary: Remembering Mike Wallace

I first met Mike Wallace 23 years ago, when I became a regional screener for the Livingston Awards, the biggest-deal prize there is for young journalists. Naturally, like every other baby boomer, I didn’t remember a time when Mike Wallace was not part of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

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Commentary
10:50 am
Fri April 6, 2012

Commentary: Questions of Race

Throughout Detroit’s financial crisis, the governor has had a consistent message: This is about money and financial mismanagement, not about race. This didn‘t have anything to do with  the bitter racial issues that have plagued Detroit and complicated the city’s relationship with the suburbs, and the state, and itself.

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Commentary
11:04 am
Thu April 5, 2012

Commentary: Today's Detroit compared to 60 years ago

Sixty years ago today, Detroit was the fifth largest city in the  nation, vibrant, rich and powerful. The city wouldn’t begin losing people till the first freeways opened up in the next year.

The population had probably reached two million. The summer before, the President of the United States had come to help the city celebrate its two hundred and fiftieth anniversary.

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Commentary
10:53 am
Wed April 4, 2012

Commentary: More Casinos in Michigan?

Last summer I went to Traverse City to speak to the state association of property law lawyers. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, they will probably little note nor long remember what I said there.

But I’ll never forget something I saw there. The night before my speech, they took us to the Turtle Creek Casino for dinner. The food was excellent. But we walked through the gamblers sitting at the slot machines, and that was haunting. They looked like zombies, most of them, mechanically feeding money into the one-armed bandits. Few of them looked like they could afford to gamble.

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Commentary
11:05 am
Tue April 3, 2012

Commentary: Detroit and the State - Two Worlds

Yesterday, I was driving across Michigan and listening to the coverage of Detroit’s financial crisis, when I realized something.

Detroit must seem like an alien world to many who don‘t live in the city. And the reactions of many Detroiters, including some members of city council, must seem both baffling and irrational.

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Commentary
11:16 am
Mon April 2, 2012

Commentary: Joe Schwarz, former Republican now Democrat?

Back in the 1990s, if you were in the legislature and wanted to know about higher education in Michigan, you went to see State Senator Joe Schwarz, who understood it best of all.

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Commentary
11:59 am
Fri March 30, 2012

Commentary: Detroit - What Happens Next?

You may think I am pessimistic, but I have deep doubts about whether the governor’s proposal to save Detroit from an emergency manager will work. There are two main problems.

First, it isn’t clear that those supporting it can muster five votes on the nine-member council to approve it. Second, I am not sure it will work even if it is ratified. The structure is too complex.

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Commentary
10:45 am
Thu March 29, 2012

Commentary: Michigan helmet law repeal, bad idea?

Like everybody else, I am a great believer in freedom. I want the freedom to read, write, and say whatever I want.

I want to freedom to marry or live with or hang out with whomever I choose, and I want everyone else to have these freedoms too. However, there are some things we shouldn’t be free to do. I don’t have the right to cut down a tree in a state park.

Nor do I have the right to build a factory on my street . Years ago, the famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted that “the right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.“

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Commentary
10:35 am
Wed March 28, 2012

Commentary: Republican Arrogance of Power

For the last fifteen months, Republicans have controlled everything in sight in Lansing -- the House, the Senate, the governor’s office and the Supreme Court.

They have the majorities to pass essentially anything they want, and even if something is constitutionally controversial, they are secure in the knowledge that it’s almost certain that the disgracefully partisan Michigan Supreme Court will rule in their favor.

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Commentary
11:22 am
Tue March 27, 2012

Commentary: Public reaction to Detroit's fiscal crisis

Unless you’ve been at the bottom of a salt mine for the last month or so, you know that Detroit is facing the mother of all financial crises. The city is about to run out of cash and options.

Within nine days, the governor either has to reach something called a consent agreement with the city’s elected leaders, or name an all-powerful emergency manager to run Detroit.

Nobody really understands how the consent agreement model would work, or frankly, even if it would work, but essentially, it would mean an emergency manager by committee.

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Commentary
11:24 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Commentary: Detroit on the Brink

Former Governor Bill Milliken turns ninety today, and just about everyone is publishing some kind of tribute to the longest-serving governor in Michigan history. Milliken himself is not likely to say much today, but that’s not because he isn’t still mentally keen. He called me a couple weeks ago to complain.

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