Jack Lessenberry

Opinion
10:39 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Pension cuts in Detroit's bankruptcy plan would be devastating and unfair

Well, the shoe finally dropped last Friday, or maybe it was a hammer. At any rate, we now know the details of Detroit’s proposed bankruptcy “plan of adjustment,” and they include pension cuts. Pretty massive pension cuts. Most pensioners would see their monthly checks cut by 34%. Police and fire retirees, whose pension fund is in better shape, lose 10%.

For many, this would be devastating. Devastating, and unfair.

There’s no doubt that Detroit’s pension funds were poorly managed. There’s also no doubt that the city was too liberal in its pension policy.

There are some folks who spent 30 years in a low-stress clerical job, and then were able to retire, move to Florida and collect a pension for life starting at age 52. That policy doesn’t make any sense even if the city of Detroit could afford it, and it never could.

My guess is that in the future, there won’t be any pensions for new city workers, just a defined contribution savings plan.

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Opinion
10:06 am
Thu February 20, 2014

How will Detroit function after the bankruptcy is over?

The city of Detroit actually has a person whose title is Director of Community Engagement. Yesterday, her job was to tell people to go out and clear ice and snow away from the drains on their streets to prevent flooding.

The city no longer has enough manpower to do this, she explained. They’ll be lucky if they can keep the drains open on the main streets. So the residents need to do it, and while they’re at it, clear the hydrants in case there is a fire.

Nothing wrong with that. I’ve done the same with both snow and leaves from the drain on my suburban street.

But it indicates in a small way one of the big problems Detroit is going to have after the bankruptcy is over.There is not enough money to provide basic services or to maintain basic infrastructure.

Bankruptcy isn’t really designed to fix that. It is designed to get rid of debt. We are still waiting for emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s plan to get there. He does talk about directing more money into basic services, such as police and fire and removing blight.

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Opinion
9:29 am
Wed February 19, 2014

Congresswoman Miller has a radical solution to the Asian carp problem

Congresswoman Candice Miller understands the importance of the Great Lakes. She grew up on the water in Harrison Township. She is a proudly conservative Republican, not crazy about government spending.

But she knows that if the Asian carp get into the Great Lakes, the waterways may be largely destroyed. Destroyed, that is, as a center of recreational and commercial fishing and boating, activities worth billions every year.

Two species of Asian carp, silver and bighead, have been working their way up the Mississippi River ever since escaping from catfish farms in Arkansas in the 1980s. They suck up vast quantities of food, starving out native species of fish. Silver carp, which can weigh 60 pounds, also have a nasty habit of jumping, injuring people and damaging boats.

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Opinion
11:02 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Will Matty Moroun be allowed to build 2nd bridge?

I heard something startling last weekend from a woman with whom I used to work. “So Matty Moroun is going to build a second bridge after all!” she said.

To which I said a very profound “huh?” 

Oh yes, she said. She had read it in the newspaper. She said the Canadians had given him the go-ahead to build a second span, next to his Ambassador Bridge.

That didn’t make any sense to me, since I have talked to Canadian officials and diplomats about this for years. Suddenly, I realized what she was talking about.

There was a story in the papers on Valentine’s Day saying that Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Company had gotten environmental clearance from Canada for a new span.

Actually, it quoted officials of the bridge company as saying this. However, there were two problems with most versions of that story.

The minor problem is that what Moroun claimed – a claim reflected in the headlines – wasn’t quite true.

The Windsor Port Authority and Transport Canada did indeed issue a decision saying that a replacement for the Ambassador Bridge was unlikely to do serious damage to the environment.

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Opinion
9:56 am
Thu February 13, 2014

People defending wolves need to fight fairly

I thought the wolf hunt last year was unnecessary and barbaric, and was forced on the public by underhanded means.

I think hunting wolves for sport should again be outlawed. But I have to say I disagree with the way those against hunting wolves want to get a proposal put on the ballot, and I hope they lose in federal court.  I’ll explain in a few moments.

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Opinion
11:03 am
Tue February 11, 2014

Does anyone really deserve more than a million dollars a month?

If I could have dinner with any corporate executive, I’d choose Mary Barra, who I think is fascinating.

She rose through the ranks of the highly macho culture at General Motors to become its first female CEO. And she didn’t do it as a transplanted financial expert, but as the first honest-to-goodness automotive engineer to lead the company in more than 20 years.

Were she male, she’d be called a “car guy” by the press.

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Stateside
5:07 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

How can our voting system be improved?

The Secretary of State says 95.5% of eligible voters are registered
Lars Plougmann Creative Commons

During his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama made passing mention of our voting system.

"Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened.  But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it, and the bipartisan commission I appointed last year has offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote.  Let’s support these efforts.  It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy."

So, the voting system is on the president's mind. So, too, is it on the mind of Michigan Radio's political commentator Jack Lessenberry. He joined us today to discuss the problems he has noticed with our voting system.

Listen to the full interview above.

Opinion
10:16 am
Thu February 6, 2014

Snyder's budget seems to get better reviews from Democrats than Republicans

Here’s some pretty safe advice: If you go to a party and see someone who looks interesting, try not to say,

"Have you studied the details of Gov. Snyder’s latest state budget proposal?"

Unless you are with a bunch of politicians in Lansing, it's a pretty sure bet that you’ll end up talking to the potato chips.

Gov. Snyder’s budget is interesting, however, in a number of ways. There are two important things to remember, however. First, this is clearly the budget of a politician running for reelection.

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Opinion
11:04 am
Wed February 5, 2014

Stabenow proves her mettle with passage of farm bill

Eight years ago, Republicans were smirking with glee. They thought they finally had an image to destroy U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow. They posted video on YouTube showing an unflattering picture of her in the senate, standing next to a sign reading "Dangerously Incompetent." It was followed by all sorts of sniggering comments,many of them essentially misogynistic.

Stabenow, they claimed then, was one of the most ineffective members of the U.S. Senate. I talked to smug Republicans at the time who felt sure she was going down.

Well, that fall she won reelection by 600,000 votes. Suddenly, Democrats were in the majority in the Senate. Soon Stabenow, the daughter of a car salesman from Clare, was chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

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Opinion
10:39 am
Mon February 3, 2014

U of M is out of reach for most Michiganders - can new President help?

Listen to Jack's commentary here.

It’s been ten days since the University of Michigan announced that Mark Schlissel would be the school’s new president.

I did not comment then, because I did not know enough to have an opinion, and because I knew Michigan Radio’s news department would do a superb job covering the selection and the new president himself.

I should say, by the way, that while Michigan Radio is a part of the University of Michigan, I am not an employee of the university, and I neither speak for the university or the station management.

But I can tell you that in the 10 days since the new president was announced, I have talked to, or been talked to by a lot of people about it. Roughly speaking, they had two main areas of concern.

The biggest was the rising cost of an education.

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Opinion
10:26 am
Fri January 31, 2014

It's irresponsible for Michigan lawmakers to push for a tax cut now

Last night I talked to Mary Lou Zieve, who is well known in Detroit as a marketing executive and supporter of the arts. I found out that we had something unpleasant in common.

During the last week, we’ve each had a tire destroyed by a pothole. Not on some unpaved road out in the country, but on suburban surface streets. I was driving forty miles an hour on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak or Birmingham, when – bang.

This cost me $250.

Our roads and streets are bad and getting worse, and our lawmakers have refused over and over again to appropriate money to fix them.

But they are now eagerly signing up for something that from a good government standpoint is the height of insanity. They want to give us a tax cut, which means the state will have even less money to do the things it is failing to do.

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Opinion
10:12 am
Thu January 30, 2014

He protected Detroit pensions in the '60s and now worries about DIA

Jack Faxon was a 24-year-old government teacher in Detroit back in 1960, when the state voted to call a constitutional convention.

Partly egged on by his students, he ran for delegate, and surprisingly, won. When the convention began, he was the youngest member. Republicans had a two-to-one majority, but that didn’t matter so much, Faxon, still trim, fit and healthy, told me. 

“Things weren’t like they are now. Actually, there were really three parties – the old guard Republicans, the progressive Republicans, led by (George) Romney, and we Democrats.” 

Faxon may have been a very junior delegate, but said he played one key role. Early on, he was approached by the head of the Detroit teachers’ retirement system. 

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Opinion
10:41 am
Tue January 28, 2014

Why Michigan's Democratic leaders aren't happy with a minimum-wage ballot campaign

Jack Lessenberry

There’s a new group called the Economic Justice Coalition which is seriously considering trying to get a proposal on the ballot to raise the minimum wage in Michigan.

You might think that would make Democrats happy. Their gubernatorial candidate, Mark Schauer, came out in favor of a minimum wage hike two months ago.

But Democratic leaders aren’t thrilled with a ballot campaign, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. Now, it’s not that they don’t want a higher minimum wage.Virtually all of them do. Schauer said if elected, he would try to raise Michigan’s from the present $7.40 an hour to $9.25 an hour over three years.

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Opinion
11:52 am
Mon January 27, 2014

Can Democrats win the Michigan House?

Jack Lessenberry for Monday Jan. 27, 2014

The last three years haven’t been great ones to be in the legislature – if you are a Democrat. Republicans are in control, and they’ve rammed through bills whose passage would have been unimaginable five years ago. Right to work, for example.

Two years ago, Democrats hoped to win control of the state House of Representatives, to gain some leverage. They did gain five seats, thanks in part to a large turnout and President Obama winning Michigan by nearly half a million votes. But they still fell short, thanks in part to redistricting. More than 400,000 more votes were cast for Democrats, but gerrymandering meant when the dust had settled, Republicans had 59, Democrats, 51.

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Opinion
9:35 am
Thu January 23, 2014

Odds are against Snyder's attempt to save Detroit pensions and art

Jack's essay for Thursday Jan. 23, 2014

There was a lot of rejoicing yesterday at the news that the governor had signed on to a so-called “grand bargain” to help save the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Detroit is, of course, going through bankruptcy.

Creditors want as much as possible of the money owed them. Those counting on city pensions want to make sure they get their money, even if the DIA’s world-class collections have to be sold.

Selling the art would be devastating not only to art lovers, but it might deal the city a cultural blow from which it could never recover.

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Opinion
10:20 am
Wed January 22, 2014

An increasing and scary sense that government is fatally broken

The good news is that there seems to be increasing interest in mental health issues at all levels of government.

Yesterday, the Michigan Health and Wellness Commission released a new report on improving mental health services in this state. This was a special, bipartisan commission including four legislators, chaired by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

The study, “Improving Quality of Life by Supporting Independence and Self-Determination” is available online.

It is short, straightforward, and easy to understand.

It calls for legislative action, and calls on all of us to reassess the way we view, as well as treat, those with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

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Opinion
11:02 am
Tue January 21, 2014

L. Brooks Patterson slammed for comments about Detroit, and he probably loves it

Jack's essay for Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014

I’ve been a faithful subscriber to and reader of The New Yorker for years, though I have to confess that some weeks I only have time to look at the magazine’s wonderful cartoons.

But if you had asked me last week who in Michigan was most likely to be profiled in The New Yorker, I’ll bet I would have offered 20 names before I came up with L. Brooks Patterson.

Patterson, who has been a fixture in Oakland County for more than 40 years, is being raked over the coals today for his Detroit-slamming remarks in this week’s New Yorker interview.

He is quoted as saying:

“Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive. Therefore, I’m called a Detroit-basher. The truth hurts, you know? Tough *bleep*.”

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Opinion
5:19 pm
Mon January 20, 2014

Mass transit no closer to reality in metro Detroit

  Today, of course, is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. And if you know your history, you know that the event that brought him to prominence was the boycott ending segregation on public buses in Montgomery, Alabama. That was the only form of mass transit available to the working poor in many places then. What’s shocking is that nearly 60 years later, metropolitan Detroit lacks any kind of reliable transportation system. Detroit has bus service, but it is not very reliable.

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Opinion
10:47 am
Tue January 14, 2014

It's time for Snyder to fight for the DIA

Lessenberry commentary for 1/14/14

Ever since Detroit’s bankruptcy filing was announced last summer, there has been one major concern in the art world.

What will happen to the Detroit Institute of Arts and its world-class collection, something previously assumed to be untouchable and priceless? When emergency manager Kevyn Orr said the collection needed to be inventoried and appraised, it caused greater shock in some circles than the bankruptcy itself.

At first, I assumed this was a bluff, possibly designed to demonstrate how deep the city’s crisis really was.

But it quickly became clear that the creditors want their money by any means necessary. And for many, art takes a back seat to their stomachs. One former council member, a highly educated woman and a single parent, told me “I am tired of hearing that the pension I worked for is less important than your right to drive down here and see a Van Gogh.”

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Opinion
9:23 am
Wed December 11, 2013

Michigan Republican party fails to address Dave Agema's bigotry and hatred

Lessenberry commentary for 12/11/13

For Democrats, Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema really is the gift who keeps on giving. Agema, a former airline pilot and state legislator, seems morbidly obsessed with gay people.

He loathes them, and seems creepily fascinated by his mythical version of their lives. Earlier this year, he made headlines by posting a scurrilous, wildly inaccurate, and bizarre article about what he likes to call “homosexuals” on Facebook.

The article, by some mysterious figure who claimed to be a doctor, would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so filled with hate. It claimed that gay people commit up to half the murders in large cities, and are all horribly diseased because of their filthy sexual practices. It also claimed that gangs of lesbians march through the streets chanting “recruit, recruit, recruit.”

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