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
8:26 am
Mon December 9, 2013

Anti-abortion coverage bill is a case of a bad solution where no problem exists

Lessenberry commentary for 12/9/13

Let’s suppose for a minute that liberal activists win solid control of Michigan government in next year’s elections. Once they take over, they introduce a bill that says: No insurance policy can protect anybody who has an accident on the way to or while attending a Tea Party or Republican Party meeting.

If those people want to be covered, they need to pay extra and buy a special rider, and they can only do that before they attend such a meeting.

Well, if anyone were to propose that, I would hope you, me and everyone else we know would be screaming bloody murder at this outrageous violation of democracy and human rights.

Yet the Michigan Legislature seems to be about to do something just as bad, if not worse. The State Senate has already voted to make it illegal for health insurance plans to cover abortion -- even in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the mother’s health. Anybody who wanted that kind of protection would have to buy an extra supplemental rider.

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Politics & Government
9:00 am
Sat December 7, 2013

Lessenberry talks Rand Paul's ideas for Detroit, Snyder's approval rating and student loans

This Week in Review, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry talk about how Rand Paul thinks Detroit should lower it's tax rate in order to stabilize, what's behind Governor Rick Snyder's 36 percent approval rating, and how the average Michigan graduate has $29,000 in student loans.

Click here to listen to the interview

Opinion
8:38 am
Fri December 6, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela and Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 12/6/13

Not many people remember it now, but there was a day in the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela when he came to Detroit. The Motor City went, predictably, wild over him. They filled Tiger Stadium to see him at 10:00 on a Thursday night in June.

He was welcomed by Mayor Coleman Young, and enthusiastically hugged Rosa Parks. He met stars of Motown, politicians and labor leaders, and visited workers on the line at a Ford assembly plant.

How many people know that Nelson Mandela, leader of a revolution, international icon of freedom, once went to an assembly line in Dearborn and told workers, “I am your comrade."

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Opinion
8:29 am
Thu December 5, 2013

What's holding things up with the new bridge?

Lessenberry commentary for 12/5/13

We’ve been thinking a lot about Detroit lately, for obvious reasons. Opinions differ, but pretty much everyone agrees on this: There are too few jobs and not enough money. Unemployment is high, the tax base is low. The city is officially bankrupt.

Yet there’s a project out there that should be a huge shot in the arm: The New International Trade Crossing Bridge. Estimates are that it will create at least 10,000 good paying jobs that will last four to five years. Ripple effects from those jobs will create thousands of others, some of which will be permanent. 

Canada is going to pay nearly all the costs of the bridge and all Michigan’s costs, pumping nearly four billion dollars into the economy. Exactly what the doctor ordered. So … what’s holding things up?

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Opinion
1:24 pm
Wed December 4, 2013

What happens now for bankrupt Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 12/4/13

When I was growing up in the 1960s, there was a popular genre of fiction: Novels about the world when and after the presumably inevitable nuclear war happened.

One that I remember was set in rural Florida, one of the few places that avoided total destruction. The survivors set up what amounted to a working subsistence and barter economy. 

But for some, the psychological adjustment was impossible. The town banker sat among piles of paper money that he had always revered as sacred, and which suddenly had no value whatsoever. Unable to adjust, he kills himself.

Things are not nearly that bad in Detroit. But yesterday, there were clear signals that sacred cows really are going to be sacrificed. Public pensions were thought to be sacrosanct, protected by the state constitution. Well, they aren’t, according to Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes. Federal law trumps state law. 

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Politics & Government
8:38 am
Wed December 4, 2013

Lessenberry talks Detroit bankruptcy

Peter Martorano Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss Detroit's bankruptcy eligibility.

As many observers expected, Judge Steven Rhodes ruled yesterday that Detroit is bankrupt, and that the city can proceed with its Chapter 9 filing.  Judge Rhodes said the city did not negotiate in good faith with the creditors and it was clear the state planned the inevitable bankruptcy as soon as Kevyn Orr was named emergency manager for Detroit. Judge Rhodes also said public employee pensions can be cut as part of the restructuring. He also ruled Michigan's Emergency Manager law constitutional.

Click here to listen to the full interview

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Opinion
8:28 am
Tue December 3, 2013

Detroit's in the spotlight, but here are other things happening in the state

Lessenberry commentary for 12/03/13

Today, virtually all eyes are on Detroit, where U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes rendered his historic decision this morning. That’s exactly as it should be. There is no more important story in the state right now, and our futures are all tied in with the Motor City. But that’s not the only thing happening.

I always feel uneasy when the media’s attention strays too far from the legislature. That’s a bad idea, for the same reason leaving a two-year-old unattended in the kitchen is a bad idea. There are sharp objects, and they can hurt themselves and others.

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Opinion
8:22 am
Mon December 2, 2013

What happens after the Detroit bankruptcy ruling

Lessenberry commentary for 12/2/13

Tomorrow morning, Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes will announce whether or not Detroit can file for bankruptcy. If, as expected, he does authorize this, it will mean grim times ahead.

The city almost certainly will lose some assets; creditors will get paid only a fraction of what they are owed, and elderly and retired city workers may lose at least some of their pensions.

None of this will be easy, or fun. But we all have to hope that is exactly what the judge does. Otherwise, the city will be in the position of a dying lamb among a flock of turkey buzzards.

The city has close to 100,000 creditors who together are owed probably more than $18 billion. If the judge rules Detroit is ineligible for bankruptcy, then that will take the freeze off all the lawsuits creditors filed against the city before the Motor City asked for bankruptcy protection back in July. 

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Opinion
8:34 am
Wed November 27, 2013

Children who murder should get a chance at parole

Lessenberry commentary for 11/27/13

 CORRECTION: The headline was changed to avoid an inadvertent pun.

There are about 350 in Michigan who screwed up badly when they were teenagers. Most took part in murders. All are serving life without the possibility of parole.

Some of these young killers are probably vicious psychopaths who should never be allowed back into society. Others, however, were scared and stupid kids who, in some cases, did nothing except be there when an older friend, or, in a number of cases, a boyfriend, committed some terrible crime.

But they were all sentenced under Michigan law to life without the possibility of parole, and two years ago, you could have said, that was that. Except that isn’t the law anymore.

Seventeen months ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws automatically requiring a life sentence without the possibility of parole for kids under 18 are unconstitutional.

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Politics & Government
8:18 am
Wed November 27, 2013

Lessenberry talks abortion coverage, millions to small businesses in Detroit and bankruptcy

Peter Martorano Flickr

Week in Michigan Politics interview

In this Week in Michigan Politics, Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss a proposal to block abortions from being covered in basic health plans, how Warren Buffett is backing millions of dollars in an initiative to help small businesses in Detroit, and look to next week when Judge Steven Rhodes will decide if Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy.

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Opinion
9:35 am
Tue November 26, 2013

Why hunt wolves?

Lessenberry commentary for 11/26/13

As you probably know by now, Michigan last year declared wolves a game animal, and, for the first time in more than 40 years, is allowing hunters to shoot them in some parts of the Upper Peninsula.

Hunting has become a controversial sport. But I don’t think I’ve seen any hunting issue as controversial as this year’s wolf hunt.

Jill Fritz, the Michigan state director of the Humane Society of the United States, is the informal leader of the anti-hunting forces, but she isn‘t alone. Professor John Vucetich, for example, a forest and environmental expert at Michigan Technological University, says flatly, “There is no scientific evidence to suggest that wolves need to be hunted.” He added, “It’s not common sense to spend decades bringing the wolf back from the brink of extinction only to turn around and allow them to be killed for sport.”

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Opinion
8:49 am
Mon November 25, 2013

Student loan scandal

Lessenberry commentary for 11/25/13

Everybody pretty much hates baby boomers, the most numerous, obnoxious and self-indulgent generation on the planet. I should know: I am one. Well, if you are a college student, or recent graduate, here is one more reason to resent us: The cost of higher education.

In my time, it was possible to get a good summer job, live at home and almost make enough to cover the next year’s tuition and room and board. To make up the difference, scholarship money was far easier to come by.

I don’t remember people graduating saddled with debt. Law and medical school grads got out owing sizable student loans, but those degrees were viewed as a license to print money.

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Opinion
8:23 am
Fri November 22, 2013

Good news for Michigan’s economy

Lessenberry commentary for 11/22/13

Half a century ago, America suffered one of the most traumatic events in our history: The assassination of President Kennedy. But while it is important to remember that, it might also be good to consider that there is a bunch of good economic news today. Good news, especially for Michigan.

Yesterday, University of Michigan economists presented their annual November forecast. They saw good things ahead, with the national economy growing almost twice as fast over the next two years as now.

Two experts from the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics predicted five million new jobs over the next two years. Unemployment, they predict, will fall from just over seven to about six percent.

Meanwhile, they predict the automakers will sell half a million more units next year than this, more still in 2015, and the housing market will also grow.  Inflation will stay low and oil prices will remain steady. This is all very good news, if true.

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Opinion
8:14 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Remembering how a young president pushed us to do good in the world

Lessenberry commentary for 11/21/13

Tomorrow, the media will engage in a vast commemoration of the assassination of President Kennedy. In fact, there have already been a flood of TV specials, magazine covers, and newspaper series. Everyone is once again debating everything from the single bullet theory to the merits of his presidency. And my guess is that pretty much everyone under the age of 40, maybe even 50, wonders what all the fuss was about.

Well, here’s something that may help you put it in perspective. When the assassination happened I was in seventh grade Spanish class. The principal came on the public address system. Overcome with emotion, he said only, “The President is dead.” Someone said, “Our President?” The teacher said no, she thought it might be Chile. They were having a lot of unrest there, she said. Of course, they would probably not have interrupted our class in Michigan if all of Chile had sunk into the Pacific Ocean.

But the fact that our young and vigorous and unbelievably charismatic president was dead was inconceivable to her, and pretty much everyone else. That afternoon I remember cars pulled over, drivers listening to the radio and crying. I’ve never seen that again.

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Politics & Government
12:07 pm
Wed November 20, 2013

Lessenberry talks minimum wage, issue ads and Detroit Public Schools

Michigan's charitable tax credit allows taxpayers to essentially double their contributions to certain nonprofits
user Penywise morguefile

Week in Michigan politics interview

This Week in Michigan Politics Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss Mark Schauer’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, the political drama over issue ads, and the state of Detroit Public Schools.

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Opinion
8:29 am
Wed November 20, 2013

Michigan's public schools need leaders with vision and guts

Lessenberry commentary for 11/20/13

There was a little bit of good news about Detroit’s public schools this week, perhaps the first good news in a long time. The Michigan Department of Education is formally taking the school district off so-called “high-risk” list. This means, essentially, that the state will no longer have to approve virtually everything the system does. It also means the system won’t have to put purchases over $25,000 out for bid.

But I think too much is being made of this. Yes, it is a good thing. We should think of this, however, more as if Detroit Public Schools were a patient in the hospital. Their condition has just been upgraded, but only from extremely critical to critical.

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Opinion
9:12 am
Tue November 19, 2013

Raising the minimum wage is the least we can do

Lessenberry commentary for 11/19/13

How would you like to work 40 hours a week, every week of the year, for an annual income of $19,240 dollars? I didn’t think so.

The good news, if you could call it that, is that Mark Schauer, the Democratic candidate for governor next year, wants to raise the minimum wage to that level. Which would be, precisely $9.25 an hour. The bad news is that our current minimum is a lot worse at $7.40 an hour. 

Someone working for it full-time makes only a little over $15,000. And the worst news is there is little chance of the minimum being raised to the level the candidate wants.

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Opinion
8:48 am
Mon November 18, 2013

Full disclosure on campaign contributions

Lessenberry commentary for 11/18/13

Since our nation was founded, we’ve believed strongly that the essence of democracy lies in the public’s right to know. That’s the reason behind the words in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or of the right of the people peacefully to assemble.”

But there are forces in the Michigan legislature determined to prevent you from knowing certain things. Knowing, for example, the names of the rich people and special interests who give money to try to influence our votes, and how much they give.

First, a little background. Nearly four years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled, essentially, that there could be no limits on how much corporations or special interests contributed to political campaigns. That came in a decision usually referred to as Citizens United.

But it is important to remember that a majority of the justices also said the people had a right to full disclosure, to know who was trying to influence our elections. Many states do, in fact, require this. But not Michigan, which when it comes to honesty and transparency in campaign financing, ranks with the worst.

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Opinion
7:26 am
Fri November 15, 2013

Is there hope for Detroit after bankruptcy?

Lessenberry commentary for 11/15/13

As we know, no major city has ever been in the position Detroit is in now. What was once the Arsenal of Democracy, a proud and vibrant city of two million people, is now in bankruptcy court, asking a federal judge to let it be reborn.

The city has lost two thirds of its population and far more of its wealth. There are tens of thousands of abandoned buildings.  Earlier this year, Detroit was taken over by the state, and is now being run by a state-appointed emergency manager.

City services are so bad the voters, the vast majority of them black, just elected a mayor who is a white political boss from the suburbs, in the desperate hope that he could somehow fix things. Mike Duggan clearly intends to try.

The scope of the problem is almost beyond imagining, in part because for too long, nobody was willing to admit the facts, not even to themselves. Now, the city has been forced into a rendezvous with reality.

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Opinion
8:31 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Flap over Mary Sue Coleman's speech shows you should think before you tweet

Lessenberry essay for 11/14/13

These days, we are constantly being told how great the so-called new media are. Thanks to smart phones, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest of it, we can all share everything with everyone in the world at a nanosecond’s notice. That is to say, without thinking about it.

On occasion, this has allowed journalism to break new records getting the story first. But more often, it has allowed us to break new records in getting things wrong, in embarrassing ourselves and doing harm to others.

One horrible example of this happened last weekend. U of M President Mary Sue Coleman addressed the crowd at Michigan Stadium during the halftime game against Nebraska.

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