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Jack Lessenberry

Daily essays about politics and current events with newspaper columnist Jack Lessenberry. Subscribe to a podcast of his essays here. Learn more about Jack here.

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The Statue of Liberty
Celso Flores / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

You never know, but if President Trump’s sweeping new immigration policy proposals had always been in place, I probably wouldn’t be here. Most likely, you wouldn’t either.

My paternal ancestors supposedly came from Great Britain centuries ago, but my maternal ones came from Bavaria to Michigan in the 1880s. They didn’t speak English and had no special skills, so that would have been that.

aerial shot of buildings, soccer stadium
Rossetti

Wayne County is a step closer to letting its unfinished jail in Detroit become a $1 billion development that would include a pro soccer stadium. The county is working to finalize details with businessman Dan Gilbert. In exchange for the jail site, Gilbert would construct a new criminal justice center near I-75 in the city.

Morning Edition host Doug Tribou and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss the deal and whether major league soccer would be successful in Detroit. 

On the surface, yesterday was a pretty good day for Michigan. The state announced that the cities of Pontiac and Lincoln Park were both being released from receivership.

The treasurer’s office said both of these aging cities had made considerable strides toward getting their acts and their finances in order. I think that is true, but I also think the state would like to get them off the books. Ever since the mess in Flint, the whole idea of having the state take over and run cities has lost a lot of appeal.

When I was a child, there were kids whose parents told their children never to have anything to do with government or politics. They said it was a dirty and corrupt business.

Well, I grew up believing that was wrong-headed, that while politics was a bruising contact sport, it was a life, in the words of reporter and novelist Allen Drury, capable of honor. That was easier to believe when the memories of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman were still fresh and Profiles in Courage was a best-seller.

YouTube

I haven’t seen the new movie Detroit yet. I think I’m like my African-American teaching colleague Alicia Nails, who told me that after weeks of non-stop coverage, she was starting to feel a little “rioted out.” What I have heard from friends who have seen the movie is that it is powerful but lacks nuance, and leaves the impression that the Detroit in that film is still the Detroit of today.

But there was one nuance I didn’t miss. This was in an interview in the Boston Globe with Kathryn Bigelow, the film’s director. The interviewer asked why the movie wasn’t filmed where it happened.

“We originally located it in Detroit but the tax-credit program had just been disbanded, so we went to … Boston, and shot the movie there,” Bigelow said.

President William McKinley had a wife to whom he was extremely devoted, but who had a nervous condition that caused her to suffer from frequent seizures, sometimes at state dinners. When this happened, his solution was to throw a napkin over her face, carry on as though everything was normal, and then remove it when the seizure was past.

Forty years ago, I was in a special, high-pressure graduate program at the University of Michigan designed to make trained journalists out of otherwise hapless intellectuals like myself in a year and a half. It was an amazingly successful program.

Many of my classmates went on to jobs in senior management in places like both the New York and Los Angeles Times and the former International Herald Tribune.

Shri Thanedar
shri2018.com

Imagine you suddenly came into $3.3 million dollars, and your instructions from the universe were to spend it to make life better for the people of Michigan.

My guess is that your first idea would not be to spend it to try to win the Democratic nomination for governor next year. But that’s what Shri Thanedar is doing.

Black and white shot of destroyed buildings in Detroit in 1967.
The Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

As part of our series, "Summer of Rebellion," Michigan Radio Senior News Analyst Jack Lessenberry shares his memories of the unrest in Detroit in July 1967 with Morning Edition host Doug Tribou. They also discuss the role that week's events played in Detroit's larger decline.

President Donald Trump has just nominated former Congressman Pete Hoekstra to be ambassador to the Netherlands. The appointment should be speedily confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Hoekstra, who came to this country as a baby, was born in Holland and speaks fluent Dutch.

He’s a former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and in every respect is as fully qualified for this job as any political appointee could be.

Ambassadors fall into two categories. Those who have come up through the ranks of the Foreign Service, and are state department experts in their field. They tend to be ambassadors in places like Paraguay. Former politicians or well-heeled campaign contributors tend to get ambassadorial appointments in more glamorous countries.

The fires of the Detroit riot began blazing exactly fifty years ago today. Years later, in an odd case of serendipity, I got to know Ray Good, the first police lieutenant on the scene, in the course of profiling his wife Janet for Esquire Magazine.

That was in the 1990s, when she had her moment of fame as Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s partner in evaluating who he would help die.

President Donald Trump
Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Hard to imagine, but man first walked on the moon exactly 48 years ago today. I think most of us thought we’d have had colonies there by now, but of course we don’t.

That was a long time ago, but here’s something you may find even harder to believe. Six months ago, we woke up in a nation where Barack Obama was still president.

michigan state capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When I heard that Mark Bernstein wasn’t running for governor, what instantly popped into my head was a line from Macbeth: "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it."

In other words, the best part of his campaign was his decision not to wage one. The immediate beneficiary is Gretchen Whitmer, whom Bernstein then endorsed.

Capitol Building in Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A group called Voters Not Politicians is trying to get a question about gerrymandering on the 2018 statewide ballot. Gerrymandering refers to the process of drawing voting districts to favor certain politicians or populations. Their plan would create a 13-member citizens panel to oversee redistricting. It would be made up of five independent voters, four Democrats, and four Republicans. 

Senior political analyst Jack Lessenberry talks to Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about how this ballot initiative could change current voting districts.

Michigan's current congressional districts.
Department of the Interior

The founders of our system attempted to give this country, and later this state, something called representative democracy.

That’s supposed to mean electing people we trust to represent our best interests to make laws for the state and nation. That generally worked pretty well. Not that it was perfect, and for a long time some of us were shut out of participating. But eventually that got fixed.

Handguns
user Joshuashearn / wikimedia commons

Whatever else you can say about us, this much is clear. No other so-called advanced, or civilized, or industrial nation has anything like the deaths from firearms we do.

Yes, there will be murders committed with guns in Japan this year. Based on recent statistics, there will probably be 12 or 13 of them. Japan has about 127 million people.

Michigan has less than 10 million, so if our culture was anything like Japan’s you might expect we’d have perhaps one murder committed with a firearm this year.

Teacher and students at Flint's Southwestern Academy.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

George Orwell’s classic Cold War novel 1984 depicted a world where everything was controlled by a nightmarish dictatorship where history was constantly being rewritten to suit the needs of the moment, and where the meaning of words was turned into their opposite: War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, et cetera. I was reminded of that yesterday, when I got an Orwellian press release from the governor’s office.

Little Caesars Area being built in June of 2016.
Rick Briggs / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Let me start out by saying that Robert Davis, usually referred to as a Highland Park activist, is a man easy to despise. He has won a reputation as a gadfly who is constantly filing lawsuits demanding transparency in government and attacking corruption.

Some see him as a crusading knight in shining armor and others as a relentless self-promoter trying to make a name and have us forget his past.

An artists' vision of Little Caesars Arena.
Olympia Entertainment

Last month, Detroit city council approved $34.5 million in bonds to help pay for the Pistons move to Little Caesars Arena. That property-tax money would have gone to schools, but will now be reimbursed to the teams' owners. Now, the NBA and the companies that own the Detroit Pistons and Red Wings have been added to a federal lawsuit against Detroit's public school district.

Activist Robert Davis filed the lawsuit. He says Detroiters should've been allowed to vote on how their tax money is used. Senior political analyst Jack Lessenberry tells "Morning Edition" host Doug Tribou whether he thinks Davis has a chance of winning the case. 


State Senator Coleman Young II unveiled his plan for Detroit yesterday. He is running for mayor this year, and the odds are that he and incumbent Mike Duggan will be the two top vote-getters in the September primary, and go on to face each other in the general election.

Actually, I had planned on talking to Senator Young Monday so I could tell you more about his campaign, and had scheduled an interview weeks ago.

School desks
Flickr user Frank Juarez/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Court of Claims is not one of the highest-profile judicial bodies in the country, or even our state. It handles civil actions filed against the state and its various departments and agencies.

Fireworks stand
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Lawmakers, we were taught in school, are sometimes torn between doing the right thing – and doing what their constituents want.

John F. Kennedy wrote a Pulitzer-Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, about that. But these days, it often seems as if those running our government are neither doing what is right nor what we want.

Enbridge Energy's Line 5 oil and liquid natural gas pipelines run under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

For the Fourth of July, former Michigan attorney general Frank Kelley invited me to watch fireworks from the porch at the Captain’s Quarters overlooking the harbor on Mackinac Island.

From there, I could see fireworks simultaneously from Cheboygan and Mackinaw City, in addition to those being fired from a barge not far offshore from the island.

Everybody knows that Detroit has made it through bankruptcy, and that a remarkable coalition of people and politicians came together on a “Grand Bargain” to save the city.

But now we need to start thinking about the next hugely important step, one that’s largely been ignored: Finding a way to bring many thousands of forgotten people into the workforce and make them economically and socially productive citizens.

Michael Dorausch / Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Trump administration has created a commission to investigate allegations of voter fraud. States have been asked for detailed voter information. Michigan's Secretary of State Ruth Johnson says she'll comply with some of the requests, but will not send Michiganders' personal information.  “Morning Edition” host Doug Tribou and senior political analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss Johnson’s response to the request.


The Parade Company / via theparade.org

Tomorrow is the day we celebrate American independence with fireworks, picnics, and, for most of us, a day off from work. We’ll have picnics, flirt dangerously with firecrackers, see spectacular fireworks displays, and maybe, just maybe, think about the meaning of it all.

Ask the average person why this day matters, and they’ll tell you it was when our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Well, while the document is indeed dated July 4, 1776, they had voted to sign it two days before.

sign that says flint
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality sued the City of Flint this week. The state says the city council's refusal to approve a long term deal to buy water from a Detroit-area system endangers a public already troubled by a lead-tainted water crisis. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss the lawsuit filed by the state agency that's been blamed for much of Flint's water crisis.

Yesterday, before President Trump sent out his tweets about the hosts of the Morning Joe program, I was interviewed by a radio host in another city.

He asked something to the effect of whether CNN and other mainstream journalism outlets actually put out fake news? I answered that they never do -- that while respected news outlets do make mistakes, they never invent news to push a political agenda.

What was most dismaying was that the question was asked at all.

Love or hate him, Geoffrey Fieger is an absolutely brilliant trial lawyer. I watched him through all the Kevorkian trials in the 90s, when he ran rings around the opposition.

Then, 20 years ago, he told me he was thinking of running for governor, and asked me what I thought. I told him, with tongue firmly in cheek, that he should take what he was planning to spend on that race and give it to me instead, and we’d both be better off.

Not that I would have taken his money, but for once, I was absolutely right. Fieger lost by almost 25 points. Unlike the courtroom, he was fighting in an arena he didn’t understand.

Ever think you might want to be lieutenant governor? It’s not all that stressful. Basically, you have only two real duties. You preside over the state senate in case there’s a tie vote, and you serve as standby equipment in case the governor dies or resigns.

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