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Opinion

Engler looks quite unsympathetic during House testimony

Mar 16, 2018

Twenty years ago, John Engler was by far, the biggest figure in Lansing, and perhaps the most powerful governor Michigan has ever had. He understood the legislature better than anyone, largely because he had been in it for twenty years before becoming governor.

He was both respected and feared, and lawmakers in both parties thought twice before taking him on. Times have changed, however, and yesterday Engler, now interim president of Michigan State University, found himself testifying before a skeptical senate subcommittee.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

When I was in college, I played broomball. Broomball is basically ice hockey but instead of skates, sticks, and a puck you use tennis shoes, brooms, and a semi-deflated volleyball. It was a way for Michigan Tech students without winter sports skills to play a winter sport. Because there is a lot of winter in Houghton.

An unlikely hero for Michigan journalists

Mar 15, 2018
FOIA
Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

There’s nothing wrong with having principles. Not everyone does; back in the bad old days, there was a U.S. Senator from the South who supposedly used to tell audiences, “Well, them there’s my positions, and if you don’t like ‘em – well, I can change ‘em.”

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Doesn’t matter to Donald Trump what his fellow Republicans say.

Or what Wall Street and America’s closest allies say.

The president wants tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, and this week he got them, along with some last-minute carve outs for those national security threats known as Canada and Mexico.

David Bonior at podium
John Edwards / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

You don’t have to be that much of an old-timer to remember that August night 20 years ago this summer when President Bill Clinton addressed the nation and admitted that he had engaged in behavior with Monica Lewinsky that was “not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.”

Congressman David Bonior, then the House minority whip, had just loaded up his Chrysler van back in Macomb County and was starting to drive back to Washington when his primitive, clunky car phone rang. A labor leader told him the news, and also that at least one top member of the House Democratic leadership was suggesting they abandon the President.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

Next week, March 11–17, is Sunshine Week. For us Michiganders, the timing may seem a little off. It is squarely in the hopeless stage of our long, gray winter — what's this talk of "sunshine"? That's just mean.

Nevertheless, the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press use this week each year to promote the importance of access to public information. Sunshine is a symbol for our communities to have transparent access to what's going on in our government. The tagline is: "It's Your Right to Know."

Michigan's infrastructure is falling apart

Mar 8, 2018
Repair trucks on a Michigan road.
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

I’ve always been leery of people obsessed with a single issue, who see the world entirely through some narrow prism. Marxists tend to be like that, if there are any left.

Single-issue people tend to be terribly boring. But I find that I too am becoming more and more obsessed with a single issue, and I think you should be too. I’m not talking about the coming workers’ revolution, however, but something else: Michigan’s infrastructure. 

mike duggan shaking a woman's hand
dugganfordetroit.com

We’ve had such a dearth of leadership in Michigan for so long that it seems amazing when you actually do see it. This is a state, after all, where nobody can seem to come up with a way to fix the roads, despite overwhelming public demand that they do so.

Looming financial disasters for Michigan

Mar 6, 2018

Our legislators in Lansing have just enacted a tax cut that will be relatively meaningless for most, great for the rich, but which will leave our cash-strapped state with less revenue.

That wasn’t much of a concern for our lawmakers, all of whom will be gone within a few years, thanks to term limits. It ought to be more of a concern for citizens who have to worry about their kids’ educations, or dodge potholes the size of Lake St. Clair. We also know that our neglected infrastructure is fast falling apart, something we try hard to ignore.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

There’s a new automaker in town.

Mahindra comes from India. It’s been assembling Jeep-derived vehicles in Mumbai for 70 years. Now, it’s got its own version for the off-road utility market of hunters, farmers and groundskeepers, and it’s going to be rolling off a metro Detroit assembly line.

All just a few miles from Jeep’s headquarters.

John Beilein (left), Tom Izzo (right)
MGoBlog / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There are a lot of reasons to like the Big Ten basketball tournament this year – and perhaps more not to.

What’s to like? The Big Ten can boast four of the nation’s top 15 teams, more than any other conference, including second-ranked Michigan State, and 15th-ranked Michigan. They’re all doing battle this week.

A pothole in downtown Flint.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller almost always calls it as she sees it. She’s deeply conservative, but mostly doesn’t let ideology get in the way of common sense.

So I wasn’t surprised yesterday by how she summed up the $175 million road funding bill just passed by both houses of the state Legislature.

The bill, she said, is “just a drop in the pothole.” 

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

There was a punk rock band called The Dead Milkmen that had a fun little run of popularity in the late 1980s. They were goofy and sardonic and unapologetically without polish.

One of their songs was called "Bleach Boys," in which the singer extols the supposed virtues of his buddies all drinking bleach (as opposed to indulging in alcohol or other drugs). It's hilarious.

Whitmer wins over Duggan

Mar 1, 2018

As far as I know, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan isn’t a gambler, but if he were, you probably wouldn’t want to bet against a horse he was backing. Yesterday, when he endorsed Gretchen Whitmer at her headquarters in his city, it was a clear indication that the Democratic nomination for governor is now hers, unless she makes some kind of cataclysmic mistake.

Though the primary is still five months away, Duggan, to an extent, was ratifying the obvious. Whitmer, a former minority leader in the state senate, has been the front-runner ever since she announced she was running 14 months ago. 

Turning science teachers into soldiers is not the answer

Feb 28, 2018
U.S. Marine Corps. / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1f2P1w6

Governor Rick Snyder said something remarkably sane earlier this week. Actually, the fact that people noticed it is a sad indication of how sick our society is.

“I don’t think having more guns is a good thing,” he said, meaning guns in schools. This remark ought to be in a class with “the sky is blue.” Or, “if you are caught in a thunderstorm, you may get wet.” Guns in schools are a bad idea, period.

Rachael Denhollander and her husband
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

When Rachael Denhollander told her story to the Indianapolis Star in September 2016, none of us knew this would eventually become one of the largest cases of child sexual abuse in recent memory. Denhollander’s accusations against Michigan State University and former Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar eventually encompassed more than 250 reported victims, led to crises at both MSU and gymnastics national governing body, and gained international attention.

End of the two-party system? Not likely.

Feb 27, 2018

Last weekend, Ohio Governor John Kasich became the latest to say it: “We may be beginning to see the end of a two-party system,” he said on an ABC public affairs program, adding

“I’m starting to wonder if we are going to see a multi-party system at some point … because I don’t think either party is answering people’s deepest concerns and needs.”

Those remarks might have been self-serving. Kasich, who two decades ago was seen as just another conservative congressman, has become the symbol of a supposed moderate Republican Party, or at least a rational and sane alternative to what we have now.

Political contradictions make campaigning difficult

Feb 26, 2018

Some time ago, a candidate running for a nomination for a statewide office called and asked for my advice. Not political advice, not policy advice, but pronunciation advice.

They were headed to the Upper Peninsula and wanted to know how to pronounce a few names. Was it Gogebic or Go-jeb-ick? Was it Luce County or Lucy County?

Michigan State University sign
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Back in the late 1850s, a handful of farm boys were taken to the woods outside Lansing and told to cut down some trees and build themselves classrooms and a dorm.

That was the beginning of what became Michigan State University. Last month may have been the worst in that school’s long history.

Figure skating
Queen Yuna / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Twenty years ago, Richard Callaghan helped Tara Lipinski become an Olympic gold medalist — but I was not impressed.

Sure, he can coach Tara, but who couldn't? She can skate. But what about coaching a 33-year old clod who has never been on figure skates before? If Callaghan really wanted to test his coaching skills, I would be his guinea pig.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

Three inspirations for this week's cartoon:

  • A recent This American Life episode titled "Words You Can't Say." There are two stories, and both are really good. But if you only have a half-hour, definitely listen to Act 2. It is a textbook (and real) example of how strict adherence to ideology can absolutely obliterate common sense and common good. 

Michigan, then and now.

Feb 22, 2018
Governor William Milliken
Bentley Historical Library

Today would have been George Washington’s 286th birthday, and when I was a child we celebrated his birthday in school, as we did Abraham Lincoln’s ten days before.

Teachers used both as opportunities to teach us about the good semi-myths that helped bind us together; Washington chopping down the cherry tree and Honest Abe splitting rails.

Today, of course, both birthdays are lumped together as a generic Presidents’ Day, which basically means a day when the banks are closed and there isn’t any mail.

Should politicians have to come out?

Feb 21, 2018

I have always been attracted to women with dark hair. If you find that statement utterly irrelevant to anything I do professionally, that’s because it is.

Michigan's mental health care shame

Feb 20, 2018
Patients at the Eloise Psychiatric Hospital in the early 1950s.
Friends of Eloise

When I was a child growing up in the Detroit area in the 1960s, all the kids knew what happened if you became mentally ill, or as we so nicely put it, went nuts. You would be taken to Eloise, which we vaguely knew of as a huge mental institution somewhere.

MATT PICIO / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

 


 

Nancy Kaffer, a columnist with The Detroit Free Press, is known for being biting, funny, and insightful. She joined Stateside to talk about some recent topics on which she’s offered opinions. 

A national teachers’ strike?

Feb 19, 2018
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

It’s been five days since the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Florida; the 17 dead are being buried, and the story is easing out of the headlines.

This weekend, writing a newspaper column, I started to refer to this as “our nation’s latest school shooting,” and caught myself. Better not say that, I realized.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

In the land of Big Three universities and football wins, tiny Marygrove College doesn’t much matter. That’s the Michigan way – a not-so-flattering reflection of its warped values.

That’s a mistake. Marygrove is the creation of Catholic sisters from Monroe still deeply committed to helping Detroit. They opened Marygrove in 1927, establishing what became the state’s only predominantly African-American small liberal arts college. In later years, many of the students were the first in their families to go to college and most of them hailed from Detroit.

Yes, it is about guns — and our own madness.

Feb 16, 2018

Someday, a shooter will walk into a school, probably a suburban school, somewhere in Michigan, and blow teachers and students away, most likely with a weapon no civilian should be allowed to own. When that happens, don’t give me any credit for prophecy.

The ski jump event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Andy Miah / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Two decades ago, I covered the Winter Olympics in Japan, and it was great. But when I gushed about the ski jumping, women’s hockey, and speed skating, my readers had no idea what I was talking about.

I soon figured out why: the folks back home weren’t watching the same Olympics I was. What they did see was tape-delayed, over-produced, and cut short by an endless stream of “up close and personal” profiles, almost all of them Americans.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

Last year, the Trump administration budget proposed eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program to clean the lakes and protect them against invasive species. It was fairly up front about it, spinning it as the fiscally responsible thing to do.

"We must make cuts, can't just keep growing the national deficit, think of our children and grandchildren, etc." That used to be standard dogma for Republicans and a President who sold himself as an expert on debt, assuring us he would eliminate the federal deficit in eight years.

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