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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.

  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.

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.

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.

detroit1701.org

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Last weekend I went to a dinner party on Mackinac Island at the home of a longtime state office holder, who is a Democrat.  Nearly all guests were dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, and they began discussing next year’s race for governor.

They agreed that Governor Rick Snyder, whose policies they all loathed, was almost certain to be defeated next year.

I didn’t say anything, till someone asked. “The election is a long way away” I said, “but if I had to bet, I would say there is a seventy percent chance Snyder will be reelected.”

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, what we call Independence Day, and a lot of politicians will say a lot of things, much of it nonsense, about what the Founding Fathers supposedly believed in 1776.

What is pretty clear, however, is that all of them thought we should have the freedom to determine our own destiny, and to be responsible for our actions. I know they were thinking mainly, if not exclusively, about the rights of property-owning white men.

Governor Rick Snyder has launched a common-sense offensive aimed at getting the state senate to pass a Medicaid expansion bill that would give health insurance to hundreds of thousands of Michigan citizens who aren’t now covered.

His strategy is to get people to put pressure on their vacationing state senators to return to Lansing and vote. 

For the last year, former Detroit Medical System czar and long-time Wayne County political fixer Mike Duggan has been gearing up to run for mayor of Detroit.

The 55-year-old candidate was seen by many movers and shakers, both black and white, as perhaps the one politician who could actually run the city, once it emerges from control by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

But Duggan’s candidacy was derailed when a circuit judge ruled him off the August primary ballot because of an odd technicality.

Well, we’ve just about made it halfway through the year.  In fact, for most businesses and most states, Monday is the start of a new fiscal year. Michigan, however, starts its fiscal year October 1.

Why?  Well, it has to do with an accounting trick to deal with a fiscal crisis back in the nineteen seventies. Yes, the more things change, the more some things stay the same.

But this has been a pretty momentous six months. On New Year’s Day, elected officials were still fully in charge in Detroit.  Today, the city is being run by an emergency manager. Six months ago, while everybody knew Detroit finances were bad, nobody dreamed the total debt might be near twenty billion dollars.

 If you are a liberal, you were probably dismayed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act Tuesday, and thrilled by the justices’ ruling on same-sex marriage Wednesday.

If you are a conservative, you probably feel exactly the opposite.  Yet things are seldom as black and white as they seem, and like everyone else, Michiganders are apt to see just how complex the effects of these rulings really are, as the consequences of these decisions play out in coming months and years.

You know by now that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act yesterday. But what you may not know is this: That act was passed by Congress back in 1965 because a white woman from Detroit gave her life in the struggle for civil rights.

Weeks ago, the Detroit mayoral race had come down to a  contest between Mike Duggan, former head of the Detroit Medical Center, and  Benny Napoleon, now the Wayne County Sheriff.

But  this was expected to be the most exciting and significant mayoral election in  forty years. Then, to everyone‘s shock, a Wayne County circuit judge ruled this  week that Duggan wasn‘t qualified because he failed to meet the residency  requirement.

The downsides to legalizing marijuana

May 6, 2013
user PabloEvans / Flickr

This week, police in Grand Rapids began a pilot program to treat marijuana possession as a civil infraction. This comes six months after voters approved an amendment to decriminalize pot.

In Michigan, if you've got an aching back or live in Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor, there’s less reason to feel like marijuana will get you into trouble.

For better or worse, pot is gaining acceptance. Our state is one of 20 in the U.S. where marijuana is either OK for medical use or decriminalized. In Washington state and Colorado, recreational use is legal. Increasingly, there are American communities like Grand Rapids where voters don’t want to spend time and money prosecuting offenders caught with a bag of weed.

user AndrewHorne / Wikimedia

For decades, students at Michigan games were assigned seats, with the seniors getting the best ones. But for some games last year, a quarter of the 20,000 or so people in the student section were no-shows.

So, athletic director Dave Brandon decided to switch them to general admission – first come, first seated -- to get them to show up on time -or, at all.

The students went ballistic.

Yes, some can display a breathtaking sense of entitlement, and they won’t get much sympathy from the average fan, who has to pay three or four-times more.

All the President's Men photo / metroland.net

CareerCast.com ranked more than 1,000 American jobs, and determined that the worst job isn’t garbage collector, animal cage cleaner or Lindsey Lohan’s sobriety tester  – but journalist.

Yes!  Score!  Booyah!

They based their rankings on four criteria:

  • the workplace environment,
  • the industry’s future,
  • the job’s average income,
  • and stress.

Okay, it’s true: newsrooms aren’t pretty places.  The future looks bleak for newspapers.  You can make more money doing a lot of other things.  And, yes, the stress is very real.  The hours are bad and many of our customers think they can do it better – and often take the time to tell us that.

But journalists themselves have reacted to this ranking with all the cool, collected calm of Geraldo Rivera, or Nancy Grace.

But here’s why: newsrooms aren’t for everybody, but we like them – the hustle and bustle and energy and urgency.  We like the stress, too – no matter how much we complain about it – because it comes with doing work we think actually matters.

This was the week in  which Detroit got an emergency manager and the state got a right-to-work law.  That is to say, the law took effect this week. I’d say that makes for a pretty  newsworthy few days. Some things this week were entirely  predictable.  Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton showed up to protest the  Emergency Manager. Crowds of demonstrators appeared at Detroit’s city hall  crowds which swelled when TV cameras showed up.

The first major lawsuit  was filed against the emergency manager law, and the Detroit Tigers sent an  exciting new spring phenom, closer Bruce Rondon, down to the minor  leagues. That story is worth mentioning, by the way, because a  newspaper computer analysis shows that more people read it today than read any  of the stories about the state or city‘s drama.

When Governor Snyder announced he was appointing an emergency manager for Detroit, I was in Traverse City, having lunch with a former governor who long ago tried his best to get the state to help Michigan’s largest city stay on its feet.

William Milliken served as governor longer than anyone has or ever will – fourteen years.

He is a firm believer in something Rick Snyder said earlier this week – that it is not Detroit vs. Michigan, but a situation where a healthy Detroit is essential to the entire state.

Over the past year, we’ve been making some changes to the Michigan Radio schedule. I know that for some, these changes have been for the better, while others wish we’d left well enough alone. Over the next few years, there will likely be more adjustments to our mix of shows as we work to determine what will best meet the needs of our listening audience in the years to come.

When I heard yesterday afternoon that Senator Carl Levin was not going to run for reelection, the first  thing that popped into my mind was a line from Macbeth.

"Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it."

That doesn’t exactly fit here, though the way in which he chose to leave the Senate was as classy as his spotless  career.

Some years ago, when the Green Party in Germany first had a chance to join a coalition government, there was a tremendous battle within the party between the purists and the pragmatists. The purists, who were nicknamed the “fundis,” felt that would be selling out. The practical politicians, called the “realos,” thought that by joining the government they could influence events and at least get some of their agenda enacted.

Bill Ballenger, who has been watching politicians in Lansing for close to half a century, had an interesting survey last week in his biweekly newsletter, Inside Michigan Politics.

He decided to find out how many members of the legislature are members of each religious denomination, something he does every few years.

What struck me as most interesting is that some people didn’t want to be pinned down as to what religion they were.

That was, he said, because some politicians prefer “to give the impression that the legislator could be affiliated with any number of faiths with whose parishioners she or he might actually worship from time to time.”

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