8:44 am
Mon August 5, 2013

Who could buy the Detroit-Windsor tunnel?

Lessenberry commentary for 8/5/2013

For years, we’ve heard a lot about the Ambassador Bridge, and the battle to build a second span across the Detroit River. What didn’t ever seem to get in the news was the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

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8:44 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Medicaid expansion does not equal government expansion

Lessenberry commentary for 8/2/2013

Yesterday I talked about Washington’s offer to expand Medicaid to many Michiganders who currently have no health insurance. The government has offered to make the program available to many poor, but not officially poverty-stricken, Americans.

States who participate will pay only a fraction of the cost. This would immediately provide health care to hundreds of thousands who don’t now have it, and be extremely beneficial to virtually everyone, including employers, who would have a healthier work force.

Though some states sensibly ratified this almost immediately, Michigan has dragged its feet, largely because of bitter ideological opposition to anything that seems to be “government” health care. I said yesterday that this was irrational and was harming our state.

But while I heard from many people who agreed, not everybody did. One woman said I just didn’t understand that this would be terrible because it would be an expansion of government. In fact, the Tea Party has denounced more Medicaid as tyranny.

Well, I think that’s nonsense; I don’t think extending an already existing benefit to more people is expanding government.

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9:02 am
Thu August 1, 2013

Michigan legislators continue to fail on Medicaid expansion

Lessenberry commentary for 8/1/2013

Many months ago, the federal government offered the states an astonishing deal.  Washington would extend eligibility for Medicaid insurance to people who make up to a third more than the official poverty rate. We aren’t talking people who are well off.

Currently, Medicaid is available for a family of four making twenty-three thousand a year or less; this offer would enable the same family to be covered if they make up to a little over thirty-one thousand. That would mean almost half a million folks in Michigan now without health insurance would have it.

The cost to the state would be nothing at first, and never more than ten percent of the total. Economists say even when the state is paying ten percent, Michigan will actually save money, thanks to the benefits of having a healthier work force.

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8:45 am
Wed July 31, 2013

The U.P.'s view of Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 7/31/2013

Michigan may be, in many ways, the most diverse state in the union. California and Texas are much larger. Alaska is out-of-the world vast, though fewer people live there than in Macomb County.

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9:02 am
Tue July 30, 2013

Spending taxpayer dollars on sports stadiums will not help Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 7/30/2013

Politicians are falling all over themselves in Washington and in Lansing to oppose spending any money to, as they put it, “bail out” Detroit.

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8:53 am
Mon July 29, 2013

Michigan Attorney General intends to intervene on behalf of Detroit pensioners

Lessenberry commentary for 7/29/2013

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette did something many found startling, especially those politically liberal. Schuette announced that in Detroit's bankruptcy filing he intended to intervene on behalf of those who have pensions coming.

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9:12 am
Fri July 26, 2013

The latest in Detroit's election mess

Lessenberry commentary for 7/26/2013

If there was anything Detroit didn’t need, it is something else to makes the city and its residents a national laughingstock.

But sadly, that’s just what the city got yesterday, and this time, it seems that a part of the news media is to blame.

Here’s what happened. While for the last few months the spotlight has been on Detroit’s emergency manager, and its impending bankruptcy, there still are city elections this year. The expectation has been that after the emergency manager leaves, the people selected in November will eventually take over.

So whoever becomes mayor is important. There’s a primary election eleven days from now, when voters will determine which two candidates face each other in a November runoff. Though there are fourteen candidates on the ballot, much of the attention has gone to one man who is not, but who until yesterday was regarded as likely to make the runoff anyway.

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9:20 am
Thu July 25, 2013

Detroit's two identities

Lessenberry commentary for 7/25/2013

  If you just arrived from some exotic place like the planet Mars, or maybe the city of Marquette, you would have to be puzzled about the twofold aspect of what’s going on in Detroit these days.

Take a look, for example, at today’s newspapers. Half the stories are about the city’s looming bankruptcy filing. Yesterday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes told state courts to get lost and forget about getting involved in any matters regarding all this.

It is “within this court’s exclusive jurisdiction,“ Rhodes said, and since one of the few completely clear things about all this is that federal law always outranks state law, that settles that.

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8:46 am
Wed July 24, 2013

New teacher evaluation system is a move toward accountability

Lessenberry commentary for 7/24/2013

Many years ago, I had an unscrupulous high school algebra teacher, and the misfortune to have him the last hour of this day. His passion was horse racing, and his deal with the class was this:

He would give us a bunch of problems to solve, breeze through the basic concepts, and then take off for the race track. The understanding was that we wouldn’t squeal on him and everyone would pass. Somehow, he got away with this.

I have no idea if he ever got caught. Now most teachers aren’t like that. For years, I was married to a woman who was ranked one of the nation’s three best AP History teachers. Nor are teachers the only factor in educational achievement, But finding a way to distinguish good teachers from bad is important, and the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness has just submitted new recommendations I think are worth considering.

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8:53 am
Tue July 23, 2013

Remembering important anniversaries in Detroit's history and their lessons

Lessenberry commentary for 7/23/2013

Today and tomorrow are anniversaries of two of the most important events in Detroit’s history, events almost never mentioned in the same breath.

Tomorrow it will be exactly three hundred and twelve years since a hundred Frenchmen scrambled up the riverbank, started cutting down trees, and establishing a fort they called Pontchartrain du Detroit.

There was an immense celebration of that anniversary a dozen years ago, a celebration virtually forgotten today. Nobody celebrates today’s anniversary, though we grimly discuss it.

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8:39 am
Mon July 22, 2013

How we should remember Helen Thomas

Lessenberry commentary for 7/22/2013

You probably know by now that legendary journalist Helen Thomas died over the weekend, in her apartment in Washington.

She would have ninety-three next month. She spent her forty-first birthday in the place she worked for half a century, the White House, covering President Kennedy.

Kennedy was the first president Helen covered full time, and I am sure she had no idea that on that long-ago Tuesday, the last President she would cover was being born in far-off Hawaii.

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9:15 am
Fri July 19, 2013

Detroit's agony is also ours

The home of Ulysses S. Grant in Detroit. Jack says "anywhere else, this house would be a tourist attraction and a shrine."

Lessenberry commentary for 7/19/2013

The day before Detroit declared bankruptcy, I was driving with Jack Dempsey, president of the Michigan Historical Commission, along a weed-choked Detroit street, next to a forbidding fence.

“There it is,” he said, pointing to a battered old two-story wood frame house. The windows were boarded up; one of the slats was falling off the sides. “Know what that is?“ he asked. I did. It was the home of Ulysses S. Grant, the eighteenth President of the United States, the general who won the Civil War for the North.

Grant was the only president ever to live in Detroit, back when he was a young army officer, spending his time racing horses up and down Fort Street. Anywhere else, this house would be a tourist attraction and a shrine, but instead, Grant’s house sits there, decaying, as the historical commission scrambles to try to figure how to move it before someone firebombs it.

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10:51 am
Thu July 18, 2013

Leaks fixed at Palisades plant, but public trust isn't fully repaired

Keith Oppenheim
Keith Oppenheim

Public health should be about facts, but let’s face it -- it’s often also about perception and emotion.

The Palisades plant is located not too far from where I live in West Michigan -– but before I go there, allow me a quick digression.

I recently gave up diet soda.

I’m trying to be healthy and have been convinced by what I’ve read and been told that aspartame, the sweetener in diet pop, is really not a good thing to consume.

Is the evidence conclusive?

I don’t think so, but I certainly feel a whole lot better about myself now that I’ve kicked my addiction.

The emotional factors may not be so different with the Palisades nuclear power plant.

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9:35 am
Thu July 18, 2013

The Farm Bill: What Michigan stands to gain

Lessenberry commentary for 7/18/2013

If I were young, single, and wanted to score, my guess is that I wouldn’t go to some hot place and say -- “have you been following what’s going on with the farm bill?”

No. Well, the farm bill may not sound too sexy, but it is, especially perhaps for Michigan. My guess is that few people have been following the farm bill wars. Those politically aware may know the U.S. Senate passed one version of the bill, the House another.

This sort of thing happens all the time, and then a conference committee, really a compromise committee, haggles and then puts something together both houses then pass.

Except that today’s is a rigidly polarized world. Democrats control the Senate, Republicans the House. After an earlier attempt failed, the Republicans passed an ideologically driven bill which completely eliminated funds for what in Washington jargon is called SNAP -- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Most of us know this simply as food stamps.

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8:59 am
Wed July 17, 2013

The lunatic fringe opposes Common Core

Lessenberry commentary for 7/17/2013

America always has had strange outliers on the margins of our politics, from half-secret movements like the Know-Nothings to the left-wing crazies of the late 1960s. My eighth grade teacher referred to those on the farther shores of our politics as the “lunatic fringe.”

In more recent times, most of the nuts have been right-wing nuts. When I was young they opposed putting fluoride in the water, seeing that as a Communist plot. Indeed, they saw Communist plots everywhere. The head of the John Birch Society wrote a book claiming that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was an active agent of the Communist conspiracy. Asked about this once in Hillsdale, William F. Buckley Jr., said Eisenhower wasn’t a commie, but a golfer.

Well, classic communism is gone. Nobody talks about fluoride any more. But we still have a conspiracy-haunted fringe, and in Michigan today their latest cause is fighting what are called the Common Core Curriculum learning standards.

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8:38 am
Tue July 16, 2013

What would happen if we consolidated schools into county-wide districts?

Lessenberry commentary for 7/16/2013

More and more of our local school districts are in financial trouble, and State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan has a couple ideas as to what we can do about it.

As I discussed briefly last week, he is proposing either going to a system of county-wide districts, or, if that won't fly, at least consolidating and centralizing administrative and some academic functions at either a county or a regional level.

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10:03 am
Mon July 15, 2013

The Zimmerman trial: A case of race and guns

Lessenberry commentary for 7/15/2013

Eighteen years ago, I was teaching a large “survey of the media” class at Wayne State University when word came that there was a verdict in the O.J. Simpson case. I put television on.

This was a Wayne State University class with almost equal numbers of black and white students. When it was announced that OJ had been acquitted of the murders of his wife and her friend, the reaction seemed almost Pavlovian.

The white students were openly disgusted. The black ones, pleased. Times have changed. Today, we have a black President. 

But my guess is that if I had been teaching a similar class when the Trayvon Martin verdict was announced, I would have seen something like a mirror image. Certainly the African-Americans would have been outraged; though I am not sure the white students would have been all that pleased with George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

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9:57 am
Fri July 12, 2013

Our legislators do nothing as people go uninsured, roads crumble, and tuition soars

Lessenberry commentary for 7/12/2013

For years, I’ve been struck by something John F. Kennedy used to say when he was running for president: “The immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.

“Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.“ In fact, JFK was actually quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Well, times have certainly changed.

Today, we seem to have a government frozen and paralyzed in the ice of ideological divide, at both federal and state levels. And if you aren’t outraged and worried, you either have a heart of stone or you aren’t paying attention.

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8:50 am
Thu July 11, 2013

Two plus two isn't five

Lessenberry commentary for 7/11/2013

I have nothing against the Theater of the Absurd. I was taught French years ago by an odd method based on the comedies of Eugene Ionesco, the master of irrational dialogue. But absurdity doesn’t work very well as a guide to life, unless, say, you are an infant, or have only months to live.

Two plus two is, after all four. If you want your children to be successful in life, they generally need to know reading, writing and arithmetic. However, we seem to have a set of leaders, both left and right, who have made careers out of denying reality.

Let’s take education, first of all. The non-partisan, respected Education Trust, Midwest released a report yesterday showing that Michigan students are performing below the national average in every category. That’s worse than thirty-five other states.

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8:49 am
Tue July 9, 2013

It’s time to plan for what comes after bankruptcy in Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 7/9/2013

During the last year of World War II, as millions died in history’s most sustained orgy of violence, other men quietly and secretly planned what to do after the war was over. They worked out the details of the division of Germany and the administration of Japan even before those countries had been occupied. Doing that in advance was essential.

Historians agree that was a precondition for Europe’s eventual recovery, and Japan’s rebirth as a prosperous democracy.  This advance planning also went a long way to prevent a new world war breaking out in the rubble of the old.

I mention this because I hope somebody is thinking about what to do when Detroit declares bankruptcy, and even more importantly, when that process is over. Planning how the city will begin the process back to some form of prosperity.

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