Opinion

Well, if you woke up in Detroit early this morning you might have thought you were in one of those old Back to the Future movies. The lead story was the auto talks; negotiators for the company and the union had been up all night, and workers on the line were waiting to see if they would get a deal, keep talking, or send everyone out on strike.

We haven’t seen anything like an authentic, old-fashioned, drawn-out labor stoppage in the industry since about the time giant tail fins were popular. Nobody really wanted a strike, but the fact one was even being contemplated was in a way, heartening.

Imagine going back half a century, and asking people which of these two things would be more likely fifty years in the future: A) The United States would have established a permanent colony on the moon; or, B) The United Auto Workers union would have chosen a foreign-owned automaker as its target company in contract negotiations.

The state House of Representatives remained in session into the wee hours today, with Democrats defiantly refusing for a long time to provide the votes to expel Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, because they thought Republicans cut off the investigation into their activities too soon.

Finally, when it was clear that some kind of deal had been cut, Courser suddenly resigned, after vowing he never would. But Gamrat, who had repeatedly said she might resign, refused in the end. 

Rebuilding Michigan's theatre legacy one artist at a time

Sep 10, 2015
flickr user Lee Carson / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Theatre has immense power to build community, although its power is often overlooked.

As a live art form, theatrical storytelling relies on the presence and engagement of both performers and spectators — a rarity in today’s media-saturated world. The immediacy of theatre provides us with intimate human connection and a subjective experience that cannot be replicated. You walk into a theatre, settle in your seat, and as the lights begin to dim, you realize you are about to be transported into another world.

The battles over the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare, if you are a Republican – have been bitterly fought, and at least for the time being, won. The President’s main goal was to make health insurance and health care available to more people, and he’s done that.

There’s still a problem, however. Even if you have coverage, it’s hard to get health care without a doctor – especially what’s known as a primary care physician. Specialists are thick on the ground, especially in affluent areas, like Birmingham or Ann Arbor.

But you are going to need a lot of luck if you have to try finding a general practitioner, pediatrician or psychiatrist in rural northern Michigan, or the city of Detroit itself. If you have small children, you’re probably better off medically if you live in Oakland or Washtenaw counties.

They have ten times as many pediatricians as the medical profession considers ideal for the size of the population. But if you have kids and are thinking about taking a job in the far-off Keweenaw Peninsula … good luck.

I had hoped I was done talking about Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, the two state legislators whose bizarre and outrageous behavior has consumed their house of the Legislature for the past month. 

I thought, at first, both would resign once their hypocrisy, bad behavior, misuse of state resources, and clumsy attempt at a cover-up was exposed.

According to Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, the legislature is actually close to a bipartisan deal to finally fix the roads.

Finley is close to the Republican leadership, and the News is essentially a Republican newspaper, so it makes sense that they would use his column as a sounding board.

As you might expect, I spend a good deal of time talking to people about politics, at least if I can manage to get them not to run away.

And I’ve noticed something remarkable this year. If I can badly abuse William Butler Yeats, the worst may be filled with passionate intensity, but the best are largely frustrated and bored out of their skulls. Here’s something to think about.

(Editor's note: Due to technical difficulties we were unable to record audio for Jack's segment today. No worries, you'll be able to hear him again tomorrow.)

A few weeks ago I was asked about a pledge three Michigan counties and the city of Detroit had made to completely end all veteran and chronic homelessness by the end of next year.

I was, frankly, skeptical. There are far too many homeless in this country. From talking to members of Detroit’s Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, I know that veteran homelessness is a major problem. But I think sometimes setting impossible goals can backfire.

Some days I find myself wishing President Obama would make a speech honoring motherhood and propose a program to honor mothers.

If he did that, it’s very clear most Republicans would refuse to support honoring mothers.

Well, as anyone who cares now knows, the official report on the “alleged misconduct” by Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat was released yesterday.

And it makes it clear that there is no longer anything “alleged” about their misconduct. What’s most shocking to me is that they both didn’t resign long ago in order to prevent a report like this from being made public.

Courtesy of Michigan Nonprofit Association

The Next Idea

In Michigan and across the country, our society is suffering from a lack of civic engagement. Many people do not have strong connections to their communities. In addition, we have vast unmet needs in our cities, our neighborhoods, and our other social infrastructure. Government has limited resources, and communities are suffering. But there is a generation of young people like me who want the opportunity to make a difference in our country by helping communities address their most difficult social challenges.

Well, this is the day everyone in Lansing has been waiting for. Unfortunately, if you think I’m talking about fixing the roads, you’re wrong.

No, this is the day the Michigan House of Representatives is due to release its report on the Todd Courser-Cindy Gamrat scandal. We already know they found evidence of misconduct and misuse of taxpayer resources.

Dave Mesrey needs a root canal and possibly shoulder surgery and can’t afford either one, on his very part-time job doing editing work for an alternative newspaper.

He doesn’t much care about that. His car broke down years ago and he can’t afford to fix it, but he doesn’t dwell much on that, either. What he cares about is a nine and a half acre field of dreams to which he’s devoted himself for the last five years.


Flickr/Penn State / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

In his recent op-ed piece in the Financial Times, “Europe is a continent that has run out of ideas,” Economics Nobel Laureate Edmund Phelps hangs the near collapse of the world’s second largest economy on a failure of the collective culture to produce real innovators.

Earlier this year I talked about Southfield, which I think is one of the more intriguing communities in Michigan.

Southfield, which has between 70,000 and 75,000 people, basically was born, like so many other places, with the great suburban sprawl that began in the early 1950s, with the coming of the freeways and the malls.

There’s a big issue simmering beneath the surface that you will hear a lot more about after mid-October.

The government of Canada wants to bury low and intermediate level nuclear waste in a repository in Ontario, less than a mile from Lake Huron. The proposed repository is approximately across Lake Huron from the tip of Michigan’s Thumb.

Not surprisingly, this has environmental groups in both the United States and Canada up in arms.

 Years and years ago, I worked for a crusty old publisher who would not report the results of opinion polling in his newspaper. I thought he was a horribly backward troglodyte.

Today, I’m not so sure. In fact, I have come to think that most so-called election polling is somewhere between silly and stupid and harmful to the democratic process.

Courtesy of Detroit Greenways Coalition

The Next Idea 

In Detroit we have a real chance to do things with our land that no other major city in the world has ever done. From  growing food  and  producing solar power to planting trees and improving public health, Detroit’s 23 square miles  of vacant land  offers a future full of possibilities.

I try not to write about sex for one reason. Not because I am squeamish. It’s just that sex is so powerful that whenever it’s injected into public life, it too often overshadows everything else.

The nation was obsessed with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky for a good two years in the nineties, years in which many other national priorities didn’t get enough attention.

As you probably know, the latest effort to reach a compromise to fix Michigan’s roads collapsed this week, as have all the others. 

Yesterday I suggested one possible solution: Forget talking about taxes. Instead, raise the price of gasoline 30 cents a gallon and call that “user fee,” and use the money to fix the roads.

Courtesy of the Capital Region Community Foundation

The Next Idea

When we think of nonprofits, we often think of them helping people or working for causes that improve our quality of life but are difficult to monetize. And usually, it’s their work and their cause that inspire us to give.  

What’s often not mentioned, however, is just how much Michigan’s nonprofit sector also contributes to our economic well-being.

Contrary to what you might think, it is not true that our government in Lansing can’t do anything. Why, just yesterday, the governor reappointed four members to the Michigan Carrot Commission. 

And the state House of Representatives unanimously voted to retroactively recognize last Sunday as Airborne Day, whatever that means.

I’ve been studying presidential elections for a long time, and can tell you that this has been the most anti-immigrant campaign since the Know-Nothing Party of the early 1850s.

Ironically, many of those bashing immigrants today are descended from people who the early immigrant-bashers hated: Germans, Irish and Catholics.

But I’m not sure that even the Know-Nothings ever descended to the levels we’ve seen this year, with the leading Republican presidential candidate saying he’d build a wall across our southern border and force Mexico to pay for it. Nor did they ever call for repealing the part of the Constitution that says children born here are automatically citizens.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly unexpectedly announced yesterday that she was leaving the court in six weeks to return to private practice, where she will presumably make more money. 

She was first elected to the court less than five years ago, but is bailing out only about halfway through her term, saying she had accomplished what she set out to do.

Our "comeback" could use more women investors

Aug 17, 2015
Courtesy of Inforum

The Next Idea

“I never really thought about it that way.”

As someone who regularly judges start-up pitch competitions across Michigan, I tend to hear this phrase rather often from my male colleagues.

I may be the only person who felt this way, but when I was watching Cindy Gamrat’s sad little press conference Friday, the first person I thought of was Oliver Cromwell.

I’m not sure that even Ms. Gamrat or Todd Courser or State Senator Virgil Smith ever heard of the 17th century British statesman. 

Seventy years ago today, the people of Japan heard their emperor’s voice on the radio for the first time. In perhaps history’s best example of euphemism, he told them, “Circumstances in the world conflict have proceeded in a manner not necessarily to our advantage.”

World War II, the greatest war in history, was over. Sixteen million Americans had served, hundreds of thousands from Michigan. Nearly thirteen thousand Michiganders died. I was born less than seven years after it ended, and growing up, most kids’ daddies had been in the war. They had souvenir Lugers and helmets and battle flags.

We're all pedestrians but our streets beg to differ

Aug 13, 2015
Flickr/SDOT / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

If we’re going to make sure that Detroit’s neighborhoods are part of the city’s comeback, we need an agenda that focuses on integrated mobility within the region. Improved transportation is not only crucial for raising the quality of life for everyone who lives in the area, it also affects the entire state’s economic competitiveness. 

Everyone knows that the city of Flint has seen better days. Its population is half what it was in 1970; the city has barely one-eighth the General Motors jobs that once existed.

“I’ve been an eyewitness to the biggest change any community can imagine,” Congressman Dan Kildee told me yesterday in his office in downtown Flint.

Kildee is a famous name in Flint; his uncle Dale was congressman there for thirty-six years; his nephew won reelection to his seat when he retired five years ago.

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