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Opinion

Politics may change, but low voter turnout never does

Aug 9, 2017
A "vote here" sign
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

You may not have noticed, but we had primary elections throughout Michigan yesterday. In many places, however, there was no election at all. This is what politicians call an off-off-year.

There are no races for attention-grabbing offices like governor, senator, or president. What people voted on yesterday was a collection of mostly small millage requests, plus a few primary elections for mayor and council seats in places like Detroit and Flint.

Asian carp leaping out of a river.
Great Lakes Fishery Commission

When scientists were working on the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb, there was a brief moment when some thought there was a small chance it might ignite the entire atmosphere.

Which would have meant good-bye life on earth. Enrico Fermi, who had a puckish sense of humor, took bets on whether the test of the bomb would destroy the world, or only New Mexico.

money
user penywise / morgueFile

If you follow state politics, you know that a number of candidates have been running for governor for months.

Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed have each raised more than $1 million. Shri Thanedar, a previously unknown businessman, has dumped more than $3 million into his campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Crossroads for the UAW

Aug 4, 2017

Workers are voting today at a Nissan vehicle assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi whether to join the United Auto Workers union. That might not seem like a huge deal either way.

After all, it’s just one plant. But it is a big one, with more than six thousand workers, about three-fifths of whom are African-American. If the UAW wins, it will be the dwindling union’s first victory ever in a major foreign-owned “transplant” factory.

cartoon of trump on ladder giving James McCloughan medal of honor
John Auchter / Michigan Radio

On Monday, July 31, former Army medic and Vietnam War veteran James McCloughan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by the president at a White House ceremony.

His story is breathtaking. In 1969, during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill, McCloughan's company came under heavy fire and was in full retreat. As his fellow soldiers ran for cover, McCloughan was consistently moving in the opposite direction and into harm's way to collect the wounded and bring them to safety. 

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.

Clouds form on the horizon for Michigan's finances

Aug 2, 2017

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.

Some politicians capable of honor

Aug 1, 2017

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.

Governor Snyder: Picking losers

Jul 31, 2017
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.

Foxconn goes to... Wisconsin

Jul 29, 2017
Daniel Howes / Detroit News

So the maker of Apple’s iPhone pledged to pump ten billion dollars and as many as 13,000 jobs into southeast Wisconsin.

But, don’t despair, Michigan. This thing ain’t over.

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.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

This week's cartoon is an open question to my fellow Christians. It's not intended to exclude non-Christians — you're certainly welcome to ponder it, too. It's just that I've never committed myself to a non-Christian faith or philosophy, so I wouldn't presume to have the qualifications. Whereas I've been an active, practicing Roman Catholic all my life.

Transgender people, the military and us

Jul 27, 2017
Jack Lessenbery
Michigan Radio

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.

Hoekstra a good choice for ambassador to Netherlands

Jul 25, 2017
Jack Lessenbery
Michigan Radio

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 Detroit riot: Looking behind and beyond

Jul 24, 2017
Jack Lessenbery
Michigan Radio

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.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

These are tricky times for the United Auto Workers.

The guy in the White House says he wants what they want: more manufacturing jobs in the United States. But he’s actually not in charge of making that happen. Instead, the opposite is unspooling – from Harley Davidson cutting production to Detroit automakers shipping assembly of once-revered nameplates overseas.          

Cars sales are tanking, prompting the union that is synonymous with Detroit to start fretting in the halls of its hometown automakers.

Dan Auchter / Michigan Radio

If you need some perspective for this health care madness, reporter and author T.R. Reid is a pretty good place to start. Reid is an American but has lived overseas (Japan and the UK) and also has first-hand experience with seeking medical services in multiple countries as part of his work.

cell block in a prison
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

You might think of Heidi Washington as the chief of 40,000 people scattered across the state in 30 different camps. Except she has much more power over them than any political leader in this nation has over their constituents.

And her job is not only to take care of her people, but to keep us safe from them. She’s the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, which is anything but an easy job.

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.

Knowing when to fold 'em

Jul 19, 2017
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.

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.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

After a year of dithering, a bipartisan bloc of state lawmakers scored this week for competition.

You see, Michigan is an economy that’s been riding a seven-year expansion in auto sales, corporate tax reform and smarter fiscal management. But it hasn’t been enough to compete against fellow industrial states and then some.

Not against Ohio, for example, where economic development incentives are financed partly by booze. Buy a bottle of whiskey, and a slice of your buck goes to wooing corporations to the Buckeye state.

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.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

We've all been caught in the grinder — whether it's government (the IRS saying you owe money for a property you never owned), business (the cable company charging you for a box you returned in 1997), or even a well meaning non-profit (you accidentally getting signed up with Pups That Poop —  a canine rescue for large dogs with bowel control issues — who now contact you every day to insist a Great Dane named Balthazar would be perfect for you and your studio apartment).

The truth about immigrants in Michigan

Jul 13, 2017
Elizalde Ramirez Vasquez - a migrant worker who attended Michigan State University.
courtesy photo

The last few decades haven’t been kind to Michigan. Traditional manufacturing jobs have disappeared or gone abroad or to the Sunbelt.

Per capita income has fallen dramatically, to the point where two-thirds of the states are wealthier than we are. We were the only state to lose population in the first decade of this century.

While Michigan seems to be slowly growing again, the population increase is far smaller than average. We’ve lost five seats in Congress since 1980, and may lose another.

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.

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.

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