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Freak weather reminds us of what's at stake in policy debates

Mar 10, 2017

For the last couple days, I, together with a million or so of my fellow Michiganders, have been living a sort of 19th century life.

By that I mean that we’ve been living without power, electricity or heat, thanks to the freak windstorms that whipped through much of our state.

Now, we’re not quite in the same boat as Abraham Lincoln. He didn’t have Double-A batteries, nor could he go to a motel with internet access, which is how I am broadcasting today.

Freak weather has also been a part of Michigan as long as our sometimes pleasant peninsulas have existed. But there’s no question that something is going on that isn’t normal.

Any baby boomer knows that when we were kids, a week in February with temperatures in the high fifties was unimaginable.

That doesn’t mean it was unpleasant, but it did leave me worried about what this would mean for later this year. We did sometimes lose power due to freak windstorms in my youth, but that was nearly always in the summer, not in March.

A few years ago, I did two TV shows on climate change. Each show had different experts, but they all agreed that by 2050, we may well be living in a climate that approximated that of Southern Kentucky or Arkansas. We didn’t get into what that might mean for the polar ice caps, or whether we should look forward to beachfront properties in Howell.

A few days ago, after I talked about the struggles of Detroit, I heard from a listener who said he just didn’t feel comfortable going to the city at all.

The fact that we now have an administration in Washington that seems disposed to deny climate change scares me far more than walking at night in the Motor City.

Even worse, the Trump administration is proposing to almost entirely eliminate funding for cleaning up the Great Lakes, partly to fund a vast increase in the military budget.

Those of us who live near and love the lakes shouldn’t be just concerned. We should be scared.

Elections have consequences, and I’ve found myself wondering with morbid fascination about the people who voted for third parties, or didn’t vote at all last year, because they didn’t like either major presidential candidate and didn’t believe there was much meaningful difference between them.

Those of us who live near and love the lakes shouldn't be just concerned. We should be scared.

I wonder if they’ve figured out that there was.

We also have a huge epidemic of heroin and fentanyl abuse in this country, one that is killing middle-class people, not just those on what we used to call Skid Row.

The Republican healthcare plan would end the current requirement that Medicaid cover mental health and substance abuse treatment in states like Michigan that have expanded Medicaid.

Last night I asked Tom Watkins, the president and CEO of the Detroit-Wayne Mental Health Authority about this.

He responded instantly: “Lives will be ruined and people will die."

Watkins, who has lost family members to mental illness, and who sees the effects of drugs on the streets every day, knows what he is talking about.

We are in a war for the future of America and perhaps the planet, and the future doesn’t seem to be winning.

And increasing the defense budget isn’t going to help at all.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.