Jack Lessenberry

Yesterday, Jeb Bush announced he was running for the Republican nomination for president. If you had been under the impression that he’s already been running for what seems like several years, that’s because he has.


When I was in elementary school more than half a century ago, there was still widespread ignorance about mental illness.

There were also no home computers, no thought of smart phones, no internet and virtually no seatbelts in cars. Black people were called Negroes, not allowed to vote in many states, and nobody imagined they’d ever see an African-American president.

There’s been a myth for a long time that Governor Rick Snyder is really a moderate on social issues, who sometimes is forced to go along with the right wing of his party in order to try to get votes for the rest of his agenda.

UPDATE:  Since this commentary was published,  the AP reports that Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law letting adoption agencies refuse referrals that violate beliefs.

Well, let’s start out today by getting in the old Time Machine and going back to early May 1954. That was just before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools.

Michigan drivers have become all too familiar with the dreaded pothole.
flickr user Michael Gil / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Drivers can all agree: Potholes are a fact of life here in Michigan. But does it have to be that way?

Jack Lessenberry’s recent opinion piece for Dome Magazine, Why Budapest Has Better Roads, examines Central Europe’s approach to infrastructure.

The difference, he says, would be shocking to Michiganders. “I drove hundreds and hundreds of miles on roads in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, former East Germany, without seeing anything we in Michigan would call a pothole,” he says.

There’s an old joke that some politicians look at a program and say, “Well, I don’t care that it actually works in reality. I need to know if it fits my ideology.”

Nearly two weeks ago, the legislature narrowly passed a bill to allow GEO, a for-profit multinational private company, to bring highly dangerous prisoners from other states to a facility it runs in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Michigan has thousands of old, energy-inefficient factories, apartment complexes and office buildings. Nationally, the U.S. government estimates that the average building wastes a third of the energy it uses. My guess is that figure may be even higher here. How important is that?

To parody Winston Churchill, this year’s Battle of the Budget is Over; the Battle of the Roads is about to begin. The legislature passed the general fund budget this week with rather less fuss than I would have expected, given some of the controversial decisions.

If you’ve been following the news for a long time, sometimes the biggest indicator of how things have changed is not the stories themselves, but how they are treated.

State Representative Jeff Farrington of Utica wants to pass a bill he says would raise $115 million to fix the roads. That would be a mere drop in the bucket towards the at least $1.3 billion a year needed, but hey, every little bit helps, right?

I’ve just come back from a couple of weeks in East-Central Europe, countries that were communist satellites of the old Soviet Union until a quarter of a century ago.

The nation was transfixed last winter by the story of James Robertson, who walked 21 miles to and from work every day, from his home in Detroit to his factory job in an upscale suburb, where he made only about $22,000 a year.

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, the popular law and order slogans were “get tough on crime,” and “lock ‘em up and throw the key away.”

Well, we tried that.

What it got us was an increase in the state prison population from 18,000 to more than 50,000.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Secretary of State Dean Rusk once said, “we’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

I have to say, I never thought they would name the new Detroit River bridge after hockey legend Gordie Howe.

We’ve been calling it the New International Trade Crossing so long it was at first hard to think of it as anything else.

Originally, planners called it the DRIC, for Detroit River International Crossing, a dreadful name that sounded like post-nasal drip.

If there’s one thing that defines us as a people, it may be how much we love fantasy. That’s why men in their fifties comb over that bald spot and go to singles bars, and why others still imagine they will someday see the Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl.

The good news is that we’ve clearly made progress towards eliminating a lot of stigma in this society. There’s certainly much less against gay people, and we have, after all, a black president. Most people are no longer unnerved by the thought of meeting someone with AIDS, and as far as I can tell, nobody cares if their coworkers happen to be Jewish.

When I was in junior high school my class was taken to Lansing, to see the state capital. I was blown away with awe -- the Capitol Dome, the stately Senate and House chambers, the display of Civil War battle flags.

Whatever your politics, here’s something hard to deny: Detroit Public Schools are a terrible failure, and have been for years.

Four emergency managers have failed to stop a staggering hemorrhage of students, or make the schools any kind of academic success. Nor have they managed to get the district’s ballooning deficit under control. The numbers tell the tale.

The big news today is that Governor Snyder has decided not to run for President, which is only slightly less surprising than that snow isn’t expected in August. I don’t think he was ever really running, and when Proposal One went down, it took his national chances with it.

Something odd happened the night before last, once it became clear that the sales tax amendment to fix the roads was headed for an overwhelming defeat. Everyone not in the Legislature began assuming the legislature would now fix this.

When the magnitude of Proposal One’s defeat became clear, I called Denise Donahue, director of the County Road Association of Michigan.  Her members know better than anyone how bad our state and local roads are.

If you think you’ve heard quite enough about today’s road repair referendum, I can’t blame you. But I want to talk today about some elections you may not have heard about. First, Flint. It sometimes seems that Flint is sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of Michigan cities. It doesn’t get enough respect, and it can’t catch a break.

Tomorrow, Michigan voters, some of them at least, will go to the polls and decide whether to raise our sales tax from six to seven percent, mainly to fix the roads. Polls show voters badly want the roads fixed, and know this will cost money. But if the polls are correct, Proposal One will also go down to an overwhelming defeat.

Governor Rick Snyder announced his plan to fix Detroit’s schools yesterday, and to me, the most annoying thing was this: Demonstrators on both sides of the spectrum were rushing to Lansing to protest against his plan before they knew what was in it.

Matty Moroun, the 88-year-old owner of the Ambassador Bridge, has one purpose in life: Keeping his monopoly over trade across the Detroit River.

To that end he has spent tens of millions of dollars. He’s bought off lawmakers with campaign contributions.

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.”

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