Jack Lessenberry

Before the U.S. Supreme Court ended school segregation in 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren worked hard on his colleagues to have it be a unanimous decision. He felt that it was important the court speak with one voice on an issue that would have such an impact on society.

Detroit to Nepal

Apr 28, 2015

For years, Dr. Richard Keidan has lived two lives. Professionally, he is an elite cancer surgeon and a professor of surgery from an upscale Detroit suburb, one of the state’s best.

But his heart is in Nepal, where he spends at least three months of every year, climbing mountains, trudging to far-flung local villages, and pouring time and money into public health projects.

People have been looking down on politicians since the beginning of time.

There’s an old vaudeville skit in which an old-style southern senator gives an, emotionally wrought speech and then announces, “well, them’s my views, and if you don’t like’ em … well, I can change ‘em.”

There’s little doubt that State Senator Joe Hune is the health insurance companies’ favorite Michigan legislator. While it wouldn’t be nice to say he’s been bought and paid for, they’ve invested heavily in him over the years; nearly a $100,000 in campaign contributions, according to conservative Detroit News columnist Frank Beckmann.

Over the past week, there’s been a lot of attention paid to the death of Detroit philanthropist Al Taubman, and a lesser amount paid to that of former U.S. Senator and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bob Griffin.

April always has been a month of hope and renewal, when the last snow disappears, the forsythia blooms, and leaves sprout on the trees. I’ve always been struck by the fact that America’s two worst wars came to an end in spring.

There’s suddenly a new flurry of rumors that Governor Rick Snyder is inching towards making a run for President. There is some evidence that there’s something to this. The governor, or his supporters, are creating a new non-profit fund, “Making Government Accountable” to pay for his jaunts around the country.

Former U.S. Senator Robert Griffin, a conservative Republican from Traverse City, died last week, and if you aren’t at least in your fifties, you may never have heard of him. Carl Levin beat Griffin when he tried to win a third term thirty-seven years ago.

During his first term, Governor Rick Snyder attempted to get the legislature to pass bills that would have severely limited the amount victims of catastrophic auto accidents could collect.

Like most people who grew up in the sixties and seventies, I knew a lot of people who tried a lot of drugs. Marijuana of course, but also LSD, psilocybin, peyote, later cocaine.

History buffs know that Abraham Lincoln died exactly 150 years ago today, his great heart stopping forever at 7:22 in the morning. When I was a child the story of his assassination was as well-known as any story in the Bible.

  

I have decided I owe it to my listeners to announce today that I am not running for President. I am indeed old enough and have no felony convictions, but I have decided not to run, for a number of reasons. One of which is that I don’t have access to the billion dollars anyone nowadays needs.

Remember when people used to make fun of Florida as “God’s waiting room” because of all the elderly who went there to live out the last years of their lives?

Well, here’s something startling: Michigan is rapidly becoming an old people’s state. Instead of arguing about whether maize and blue or green and white should be our state’s official colors, we might be more honest if we made them gray and white.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell came to the University of Michigan yesterday to host an hour-long roundtable discussion on student loan debt.  

She began by saying,

“I think we’re all concerned about the staggering amount of student debt we now see in this country.”

Can you imagine a war in which two hundred thousand young Michigan men were killed? Well, we had one, proportionately as bad, and it was settled exactly 150 years ago today.

I have to say that for once I admire something Republican State Rep. Gary Glenn of Midland has done. Glenn is a freshman in the legislature, but has been a militant Michigan conservative activist on social issues for a long time, especially opposed to same sex-marriage.

We like to say we are against unfair discrimination against anyone, but that isn’t true. There’s one group who we legally and happily treat as less-than-human pariahs: convicted sex offenders who have done their punishment and served their time.

Today is Opening Day of the Major League Baseball Season, a day in which guys making fifty thousand a year take the day off to see men making millions play ball, on a day when it is usually too cold to sit outside for three hours. But they do anyway.

Honoring a hero

Apr 3, 2015

Exactly half a century ago, the nation was waking up to how terrible segregation was in the deep South, thanks in large part to television. In early March, TV brought horrifying images into homes across the country of black people being beaten, tear-gassed and clubbed as they attempted to peacefully march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama.

A number of people have been outraged that I haven’t denounced the Constitutional amendment that would raise the sales tax, largely to fix the roads.

Well, in a less imperfect world, this is indeed not how legislation should be made.

Two days ago a group calling itself the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren presented its recommendations for how to fix the Detroit Public Schools.

They had some good ideas, such as creating a citywide data system so parents can better compare schools to find the best options for their children. 

When Indiana passed its controversial “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” last week, one of my more irreverent friends asked me, “Do you think the Taliban will do the same?”

As everyone knows, we are in the middle of a great statewide debate about whether to raise the sales tax to pay for our roads. Last week, someone asked me a different question about the whole road repair process.

One of the most significant stories in America is also one of the most neglected by both the politicians and the media. Over the last thirty-five years, there has been a massive redistribution of income in Michigan  and the country from the poor to the rich.

If you don’t live in the Flint area, you may be wondering what on earth is going on with the politicians and the water.  For many years, Flint, like many other communities, bought its water from Detroit.  Then, less than a year ago, they switched to save money.

Years ago, when we had a governor from one political party and a legislature controlled by the other, we often saw epic battles over spending priorities, otherwise known as the state budget.

Back in pre-term limit days, compromises would eventually be reached, often at meetings of what was called the “quadrant,” the leaders of the house, senate and the governor.

I spent some time yesterday with Douglas George, the Canadian consul general in Detroit.  We often take Canada pretty much for granted, which is precisely what we shouldn’t do.

We sometimes half-forget that it is, after all, a major foreign country stretching across our entire northern border, and which actually has more land area than we do.

Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives are introducing bills to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. This has about as much chance of becoming law as I have of becoming starting forward for the Detroit Pistons.

Republicans have large majorities in both the house and the senate, and they’d never support this. 

Virtually everyone who doesn’t have a political reason to pretend otherwise would agree that the Detroit public schools are a dreadful failure.

More than three-quarters of its students have fled the district in the last 14 years. Test scores remain appallingly low, and a succession of emergency managers has failed to stabilize the finances. Most children in the district now go to charters, private schools or schools in the suburbs, a clear vote of no confidence by Detroit parents.

I’ve said more than once that it isn’t fair to expect teachers to solve all the problems of educating our kids. When a child is hungry, or has a chaotic living situation and no support at home, the best curriculum and the most effective teachers may not be able to make enough difference.

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