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Governor Rick Snyder has done two remarkably positive things for Michigan in his nearly seven years in office, both in his first term. First, he found a way to get around a legislature corrupted by campaign donations and make a deal for a new Detroit River bridge.

Granted, the Gordie Howe International Bridge has yet to be built, but it now seems all but certain it will be. That’s something crucially important for the long-term economy of this state and region. But the immediately worthwhile thing Snyder did was narrowly succeed in pushing the legislature to accept Medicaid expansion four years ago.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

A few years ago, an episode of the TV sitcom "Parks and Recreation" featured a character named Congressman Dave Murray. He was a handsome, congenial politician who would perform perfectly everything his handlers asked of him — without question and without controversy.

Even better, when he wasn't shaking hands or talking into a camera, he'd go off into a room and sit staring off into the distance waiting for his next assignment. The regular characters (who were from the Midwest) were aghast. But the congressman's Washington DC advisors didn't care if he might in fact be a robot; he was the perfect political candidate. I thought it was a brilliant piece of political satire.

people in voting booths
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

When you’ve paid attention to politics for a long time, you gradually begin to think you’ve seen it all, or at least some of us did before the rise of Donald Trump.

But one thing we’ve never seen before is so many candidates running so hard for attorney general and secretary of state more than a year before the election.

State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker launched a video promoting her candidacy for the Republican nomination for attorney general this week, and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard is expected to run as well. On the Democratic side, lawyer Dana Nessel, hero of Michigan’s same-sex marriage and adoption case, was first to announce for attorney general.

Recently, I said in passing that I had never run for any office, and later I realized this was not strictly true. I have twice been elected to the board of the prestigious Historical Society of Michigan, and am now its president. However, I don’t get any salary, have no real power, and my stunning electoral triumph was due to the fact that I ran unopposed.

I can also promise that if I get defeated for reelection, I will not immediately begin running for the presidency of the American Shetland Pony Association, largely because I know close to nothing about little horses. That might, I hope, strike you as sensible.

Four soldiers sit at a table in South Vietnam, 1972
Manhhai / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

There’s been a fair amount of excitement over Ken Burns’ new documentary series, this one an 18-hour blockbuster on the Vietnam War.

Burns, who grew up in Ann Arbor, long ago became America’s tribal storyteller, the man who helps us find out who we are, whether the topic is jazz or baseball or the Civil War.

The state Capitol in Lansing.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

I’ve been talking to legislators and congressmen for a long time, and know something about lawmakers in the past as well. There are some ways in which I think today’s lot are generally better. For example, they are better educated and drink less. More of them are women, and I think there are far fewer on the take.

But there’s also something very wrong with our legislature today, something that often makes me think we would be better off with the old boozing and occasionally brawling pols, some of whom were still around when I was a young reporter.

Screen showing Line 5 on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Earlier this week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette officially confirmed what everybody knew: He is running for governor, or more exactly, for the Republican nomination next year.

When he made his announcement, he said a version of what all politicians say; he is doing this, not for himself, but for the people, for all of us. Well, I know a good way he can start to prove that to us and help his candidacy at the same time:

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

The cartoon wasn't necessarily meant as an indictment of Michigan (although our embarrassing weaknesses in education and public transportation will likely prevent us from winning the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes). It was meant as an indictment of the United States as a whole.

Now, before I end up in a stump speech for some publicity-grubbing pop star running (or not running) for Senate, let me say some nice things about America. America is great. America has vast resources. America is very wealthy. America has lots of talent.

Photograph of Downtown Detroit
Ifmuth / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Toledo, Ohio isn’t in Michigan, but should be. I’m not just saying this because of the famous and farcical 1835 Toledo “War,” that ended up establishing that the city belonged to Ohio, with Michigan getting the western Upper Peninsula as compensation.

More to the point is that the Toledo economy is essentially the Metropolitan Detroit manufacturing economy. Like the Motor City, Toledo has slowly declined as auto jobs waned. The decline has been slower, however, as has the demographic change.

Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette / Facebook.com

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who actually has been running for governor forever, made it official yesterday, at a barbecue in his hometown of Midland. It wasn’t exactly a grass-roots rally; those who went were supposed to donate a minimum of $50 to the campaign.

If you were willing to give $500, you could be designated a “grill master,” and for a thousand dollars, an “on duty” donor. That may have been a slight error in branding; I think being grill master sounds better. But Schuette hasn’t made many errors in this campaign – though, as he himself noted, his party faces an uphill battle.

Trott for Congress

Three years ago, David Trott, a lawyer and a multi-millionaire player in the mortgage business, decided to run for Congress. He spent at least three and a half million dollars of his own money to win a seat representing a group of mostly middle-class, mostly white Detroit suburbs.

Amazon
User soumit / flickr.com

Amazon, the huge online retailer that sells everything from cookbooks to caskets, plans to build a second huge headquarters somewhere in America, and Detroit wants it -- badly.

Sandy Baruah, the CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, is part of a team fighting to lure Amazon to the Motor City. Dan Gilbert, who for years has been buying up vast amounts of Detroit real estate, says he's also put together a second team to woo them.

Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley wrote that this could mean “the arrival of a company that could bring 50,000 jobs and a whole lot of hope to the Motor City.”

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Don’t let the opening days of another school year, or another Michigan win at the Big House, fool you: public education in this state is in steep decline.

Out of the 50 states, Michigan ranks 37th in eighth-grade math and 41st in fourth-grade reading, says the nonpartisan Public Sector Consultants. Strip out the state’s lowest-income students, and fourth-grade reading slips to 48th.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

If you've read the cartoon, you've already seen enough of my words. So I only have three quick observations to add here:

Nuclear Fears

Sep 8, 2017

When I was in elementary school a national magazine did an article on what would happen if a hydrogen bomb were dropped on Detroit. I don’t remember all the details, except that windows would have been broken in Lansing, and where I lived would have been melted glass. This was back in the early 1960s, when we were still tucking ourselves under our desks in that famous “duck and cover” air raid drill.

I wasn’t terribly sophisticated, but I was smart enough to figure out that squatting under a Formica desk wasn’t likely to save anyone. After the Cuban missile crisis, I read portions of a book I was probably too young for, Herman Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War.

Ambassador Bridge
J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

No matter how bizarre your fantasies, reality is sometimes crazier. Nobody could have written a script for what’s happened in national politics.

Nobody ever thought we’d be in some kind of nuclear standoff with North Korea. And few if any expected the Canadian government would ever grant Matty Moroun permission to build a new bridge next to his old Ambassador Bridge.

As you almost certainly know, President Donald Trump said yesterday that his administration would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Currently, the DACA program is allowing something like 800,000 young, undocumented Americans, people brought to this country as children, to stay here without fear of deportation.

Trump gave Congress six months to “fix” the program, but it isn’t clear what he will do if they don’t. Campaigning for the midterm elections will be underway six months from now, and there are certain to be some embattled GOP incumbents who don’t want the president to do anything that might further jeopardize them.

Worker at the Flint Engine plant.
Steve Fecht / General Motors

If you talk to someone in Governor Snyder’s administration, you might get the impression that Michigan’s workforce had a lot to celebrate on Labor Day. Last month, unemployment fell to an astounding 3.7%. Frankly, I never thought during the Great Recession that I would ever live to see our state’s jobless rate fall below four percent again.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Forget the notion that the Chinese are coming to the auto industry near you. They’re already here.

Geely has controlled Sweden’s Volvo for seven years now. Tencent Holdings owns a five percent stake in Elon Musk’s Tesla. Pacific Century Motors acquired Delphi’s Saginaw-based steering division to create Nexteer Automotive Corp. And Chinese companies spent $140 billion last year on mergers and acquisitions, second only to the United States.

Photograph of Downtown Detroit
Ifmuth / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Earlier this week, I was asked to speak to all the incoming students at Wayne State University.

Among many other things, I told them truthfully that I thought they were very lucky to be going to college in Detroit, which has become one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

“Think about it,” I told them. “Do you ever see Philadelphia in the news?” Detroit’s comeback is a major national story.

John Auchter

Labor Day is Monday, which of course begs the question: What side is it on?

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Detroit is rightly seen as the center of the U.S. auto industry. But looking ahead into the years to come, the Motor City can expect to see competition from an increasingly influential player in the industry: China.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes says Chinese companies are approaching U.S. markets slightly differently than other foreign companies that have built on American soil.

Child reading
User Melanie / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

We got the latest results from our statewide education tests earlier this week, and here are the highlights — without the jargon. Johnny mostly can’t read as well as he should, and neither can Susie, although she’s doing a little better. Both are doing a little better in math than last year, but not nearly as well as they should.

Michigan GOP Convention
steve carmody / Michigan Radio

What do you do when the group you’ve belonged to your entire life no longer represents your values?

This has often been a problem in the melting pot that is America. Children upset parents by rejecting traditional customs, like arranged marriage.

But it is also a problem in politics.

Keeping his word

Aug 29, 2017
Ex-state Senator Virgil Smith, Jr.
senatedems.com

More than two years ago, in one of state politics’ more sordid recent episodes, State Senator Virgil Smith Jr. was arrested after he shot up his ex-wife’s Mercedes.

According to prosecutors, the Detroit Democrat was “alcohol dependent” at the time, had asked his former wife to come over for an intimate encounter and then physically assaulted her before shooting up her car. It is unclear whether he was trying to shoot her too.

Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Phoenix in October 2016.
Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There’s an old saying that if you put a frog in a pot of water and gradually increase the temperature one degree at a time, the frog won’t notice or hop out before it is cooked.

Scientists say this isn’t really true for frogs, but it may well be true, at least intellectually, for people.

Certainly, we can become desensitized to about any form of outrageousness.

Consider what we are living through now.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Rising profits and record sales are no protection from predators – or a boss trying to extract value before it’s too late.

Just ask the fine folks at Fiat Chrysler. Their company is in play for the fifth time in roughly 20 years.

From independence, it went to the Germans, then back to the Americans. They drove it into bankruptcy, and then to the Italians of Fiat and Ferrari fame. Then they tried to entice General Motors and Volkswagen into deals nobody wanted.

I had lunch yesterday with Mark Bernstein, the University of Michigan trustee who flirted with a run for governor next year before deciding not to.

He is smart, funny, and I think genuinely committed to making the university and this state a better place. We were talking about what’s wrong with state government when he said something that suddenly hit me like a revelation.

We were talking about how attitudes have changed, and he said, “I think a big part of it is that instead of seeing ourselves as citizens, we now see ourselves as taxpayers.”

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

I struggled with how exactly to draw a gerrymander statue. My initial instinct was to draw it as an abstract monster because that's where the term came from. In 1812 a Governor Gerry in Massachusetts signed a bill to redistrict his state to benefit his political party. 

The Ambassador Bridge
Mike Russell / Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There was a story two days ago that was almost entirely ignored in America, but which has significant implications for this part of the world. Dave Battagello of the Windsor Star reported that the new Gordie Howe International Bridge will be delayed another full year.

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