Opinion

Opinion
11:02 am
Thu October 24, 2013

Remember the roads?

Earlier this week I had a meeting in Ann Arbor and then went to Detroit. When I swung off the freeway onto a surface street I hit a pothole I couldn’t see so hard I was convinced I’d lose a tire.

I was lucky. Everything seems fine. But I drive a lot, and have lost two tires in similar episodes in recent years.

We need to fix our roads. Figuring out how to do so is the responsibility of our lawmakers. But they won’t do it. Which means  we are all going to pay more and more to fix damage to our cars. 

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Opinion
8:49 am
Wed October 23, 2013

Detroit bankruptcy on trial

Lessenberry commentary for 10/23/13

Well, today is the day that the City of Detroit goes to court. Bankruptcy court, that is. Not to settle the final details of what will happen, but to ask the judge to allow it to declare bankruptcy.

This has been going on so long now that there’s a tendency to take Detroit bankruptcy as an established fact. In fact, all that has happened is that the Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, filed a petition in July asking to be allowed to declare bankruptcy. Since then, we’ve been treated to a long series of revelations that make bankruptcy appear the only option.

Detroit has close to $20 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities, and next to no assets. It wouldn’t make much of a dent if they sold the entire collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and then sold the building to a billionaire who wanted a mausoleum.

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Opinion
8:23 am
Mon October 21, 2013

Putting another Bush on a winning GOP ticket

Lessenberry commentary for 10/21/13

Well, welcome to another week. The early signs aren’t auspicious. Much of the week is supposed to be cold and rainy. We should have had the excitement of a World Series to look forward to tomorrow, but our state’s team succeeded in blowing it.

Detroit’s bankruptcy eligibility trial begins this week, and you know you’ve got problems when the best outcome you can hope for is that the judge finds that the city is a hopeless failure.

I’m sure we’ll be discussing all that and more atrocities as the week goes on. But as a Monday diversion, I thought I’d offer a bit of interesting political trivia that occurred to me this weekend.

The next presidential election is more than three years away, and our politicians ought to be concentrating on a million other things, but if you know anything about politics, you know politicians -- and political junkies -- are always looking to the next election. And there is something different about this time for the Republicans.

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Opinion
8:10 am
Mon October 21, 2013

The emergency manager idea isn't all bad

Government dysfunction and the shutdown dominated the headlines this week, but for some Michigan cities, crisis has been the theme for years.

Five cities -  including Detroit - are run by state-appointed emergency managers.

In Benton Harbor, the story is shifting to how to return the government back to local control.

Let me get this out– understanding some of you might start yelling at your radio - or computer screen.

I’ve been a supporter of Michigan’s emergency manager law.

Well – sort of.

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Opinion
3:14 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Oppenheim says state intervention working in Benton Harbor

Former Emergency Manager Joe Harris was extremely unpopular with city commissioners.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Keith Oppenheim on emergency managers

Government dysfunction and the shutdown dominated the headlines this week, but for some Michigan cities, crisis has been the theme for years.

Five cities -  including Detroit - are run by state-appointed emergency managers.

In Benton Harbor, the story is shifting to how to return the government back to local control.

Let me get this out– understanding some of you might start yelling at your radio - or computer screen.

I’ve been a supporter of Michigan’s emergency manager law.

Well – sort of.

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Opinion
8:50 am
Fri October 18, 2013

Bills attack the poor for drug use, yet top lawmakers have substance abuse issues of their own

Lessenberry commentary for 10/18/13

The Michigan Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill to cut off unemployment benefits for anyone who fails or refuses a drug test. The House passed a slightly different version earlier, and within a few days the governor will be signing this into law.

This will make a lot of lawmakers, most of them Republicans, feel very righteous. They will have cut off funds to a group of desperate and poor people who apparently have substance abuse problems. I wonder what these folks will do then?

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Opinion
8:30 am
Thu October 17, 2013

Why delaying the gay marriage decision is a good thing

Lessenberry commentary for 10/17/13

There were a lot of disappointed people yesterday afternoon. They’d expected U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman to strike down the Michigan constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage. They also thought he’d rule against Michigan’s decision to forbid unmarried couples from adopting children.

But the federal judge did neither thing -- although he hinted that he wanted to. Instead, he said the case before him would have to go to trial. “I wish I could sit here today and give you a definitive ruling,” Friedman said, adding, “There are issues that have to be decided. I have to decide this as a matter of law.”

With that, he set a February 25th trial date in the case of two lesbian nurses who want to jointly adopt three small children they have raised since they were desperately ill foster infants.

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Opinion
10:00 am
Wed October 16, 2013

So what can we do?

Lessenberry commentary for 10/16/13

Last night I spoke to a group in Northville, a pleasant and mostly affluent little town that straddles Wayne and Oakland Counties. Northville is about 30 miles and thirty light years from Detroit, but my audience wanted to know about the city. Wanted to know how Detroit got in the mess it is in, and what was going to happen next.

They all seemed to hope the city would come back, that someday it would be prosperous again. When I asked, I found that perhaps eighty percent used to live in Detroit; only one does now, which was one more than I expected.

They were people with varying opinions, but with good will. Besides Detroit, they were interested in the dysfunctionality and corruption of Wayne County government. I gave them as much information about the facts as I could.

But then one person, and then another, and another, asked me questions I couldn’t answer, questions along the lines of:  What can we do? What can we do about all this? How do we fix it? What can ordinary people, do?

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Opinion
9:48 am
Tue October 15, 2013

What's fair? Challenging the affirmative action ban in Michigan

Lessenberry commentary for 10/15/13

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today on the constitutionality of Michigan’s affirmative action ban. The justices aren’t expected to announce a decision till next spring. And most of the so-called experts are betting that the Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional amendment banning affirmative action, the one voters passed by a wide margin seven years ago.

They think the vote will be 5-3, and that Justice Anthony Kennedy will be the swing vote. Well, they may be right. But none of the experts ever dreamed that the swing vote in the court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act would be that of Chief Justice John Roberts, and that he would find it constitutional on the grounds that it was actually a tax. So you never really know.

This issue is more complicated than many people on either side think.  I can sympathize with those opposing affirmative action. Giving someone special treatment because their ethnic background or the color of their skin, sounds terribly unfair. Unfair whether we are talking about discriminating for them or against them. Except -- it’s not that simple.  

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Opinion
9:34 am
Mon October 14, 2013

Staring at default

Lessenberry commentary for 10/14/13

Many years ago, when I studied economics, I learned that every so often, Congress has to authorize an increase in how much money the nation could borrow, meaning the national debt.

One student asked what would happen if Congress didn’t authorize a debt increase. “Something that would make the Great Depression look like a picnic,” the professor said.

He explained that the world financial system was built on the soundness of the American dollar, and the global belief that our debts, like U.S. savings bonds and the $20 bill, were backed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States of America. He also told us that the odds of this nation ever defaulting were less than a nuclear war.

Well, that professor is dead and the Cold War long over. But for the first time, there seems a real possibility that we could, at least temporarily, go into default. We aren’t talking about Detroit here, but the United States of America.

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Opinion
9:40 am
Fri October 11, 2013

Good day for democracy

Lessenberry commentary for 10/11/13

Well, it has been an odd and remarkable week in an odd and remarkable year. Large parts of the federal government are still shut down, and Detroit’s march towards bankruptcy is still proceeding, agonizingly slowly.

Yesterday, however, there was a flurry of good news, most from poor beleaguered Motown itself. The city’s thoroughly corrupt former mayor was sentenced to a record stretch in federal prison.

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Opinion
9:57 am
Thu October 10, 2013

The GOP’s Civil War

Lessenberry commentary for 10/10/13

Everyone knows there’s a war between the parties going on right now in Congress and in Washington, a war that has shut down the national parks and large parts of the federal government.

But there’s also a war going on within the Republican Party, a war being fought on battlefields from Washington to Lansing to Canton and Grand Rapids. It’s a war for the party’s mind and soul.

Essentially, it’s a war between the Tea Party Republicans and the party’s more traditional conservatives, especially the business community. Right now, the Tea Party seems to be winning. For a while, that had the regular Republicans concerned. They know that if extremists are the face of the party, they can say goodbye to any hopes of recapturing the White House, and probably also the U.S. Senate.

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Opinion
8:41 am
Wed October 9, 2013

Farewell to Kwame

Lessenberry commentary for 10/9/13

Tomorrow a federal judge will sentence former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to a long stretch in prison for some of his crimes. Nearly seven months ago, he was convicted on 24 counts of corruption, including tax evasion, racketeering, extortion and mail fraud.

The airwaves will be full of this tomorrow. The newspapers will have a field day the next day. In Detroit, where chronicling Kilpatrick is a big-league sport of its own, there’s a lot of speculation as to how long he’ll get.

I don’t know, but I do know this: The worst punishment for this charming sociopath will probably be the one that starts after the sentencing is over. I intend to help administer this punishment, and hope my colleagues in the media will too. I intend, insofar as possible, to ignore Kwame Kilpatrick.  If the rest of the media does the same, that may torment him worse than anything else.

The media have never been able to get enough of Kwame. We fawned all over him when he first ran for mayor. Here was this brilliant 31 year old, an athlete, a scholar, a blazing star in the legislature come to save his city.

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Opinion
8:50 am
Tue October 8, 2013

Detroit mayor’s race takes a turn

Lessenberry commentary for 10/8/13

In four weeks, Detroit will choose a new mayor. Some people are saying this is a fairly meaningless exercise. After all, everything is now controlled by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.  Orr, and Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes.

But within a year, city council will regain the power to take back control of Detroit for itself and the mayor. By that time, or soon after, the bankruptcy too should be over. So who the mayor is and what he does will matter -- perhaps more than ever.

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Opinion
8:26 am
Mon October 7, 2013

Michigan needs more immigrants

Lessenberry commentary for 10/7/13

State Representative Harvey Santana, a Detroit Democrat, thinks we need to make this a more immigrant-friendly state. He believes that could lead to Michigan becoming the leading state in the nation in job creation and economic development. Two weeks ago, something incredible happened that showed me exactly how right that is.

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Opinion
8:30 am
Fri October 4, 2013

A bill that’s good for businesses but bad for human lives

Lessenberry commentary for 10/4/13

How would you feel if we got into an endless war that every year claimed thirty thousand lives? Not just the lives of soldiers, either. You might go to the store, and never come back. Or your children might be killed going to soccer after school. Well, we do have something going on like that, and have had for a century. I am talking about deaths from auto accidents.

Actually, thanks to seat belts and safety glass, we have far less human road kill than we used to. But there’s a new bill in the Michigan senate that promises to increase the number of highway fatalities.

The bill, proposed by State Senator Virgil Smith of Detroit, would allow bars and restaurants in so-called central business districts to keep serving alcohol till four in the morning. That makes sense only if you want more people killed on their way to work early in the morning.

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Opinion
8:46 am
Thu October 3, 2013

How the shutdown can affect us all

I knew someone once who received a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  A few days later, after the initial shock, he told me that it was hard to believe, because he really didn’t feel that bad. Seven months later, he was dead.

I thought of this yesterday while thinking about the government shutdown. Most of our lives haven’t changed very much -- yet. We are starting to get used to this. We see the politicians squabbling on the news and are tempted to say, “A plague on both their houses.“

But to use a term borrowed from the long-ago Watergate scandal, the shutdown is a creeping cancer on not only government, but our lives. If Congressional leaders get in a room and solve it today or tomorrow, the long-term impact will be minimal. But the longer this goes on, the more it will rot the foundations of our society. 

Michigan’s budget director, John Nixon, is no screaming liberal. He is a Republican who came here from Utah. But two days ago, he made some observations that deserve attention. He told the Gongwer news service that if the shutdown lasts very long, it could throw the economy into a new recession. What he didn’t have to mention was that we’ve never fully recovered from the old one.

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Opinion
8:51 am
Wed October 2, 2013

Belle Isle is a rare victory for common sense in government

Lessenberry commentary for 10/2/13

Something good happened yesterday, something smart and rational that will help improve people’s lives. This was not typical of the day, mind you. Actually, yesterday was a day of supreme irrationality in federal, state and local government.

Nationally, the government shutdown continued, with Republicans vowing to take the nation over a cliff unless Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act. This happened on the same day that millions rushed to sign up for health insurance plans.

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Opinion
8:29 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Michigan and the shutdown

Lessenberry commentary for 10/1/13

A former student who shares my appreciation of history told me last night that he had found one high-ranking Republican who would have opposed the government shutdown. That gentleman, who once made a famous speech in Kalamazoo, told fellow Republicans in New York “I see that some, at least, of you are those who believe that an election being decided against them is no reason why they should sink the ship.“

That’s a good and reasonable philosophy of government. Unfortunately, the man who said that, himself a former Congressman, is Abraham Lincoln, and he happens to be dead. Lincoln said those words while struggling to save the nation from breaking apart just before his first inauguration. The fault was with Democrats then.

To an increasing number of people, the shutdown of the federal government today is the fault of the Republicans. To me, the nature of what is happening ought to be pretty frightening regardless of who is to blame.

Republicans in Congress are saying they won’t allow the government to be funded unless the President and Congress agree to stop the Affordable Care Act from taking effect this year.

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Opinion
8:42 am
Mon September 30, 2013

Michigan's story of same sex adoption

Lessenberry commentary for 9/30/13

If you’ve ever read Oliver Twist, or maybe even if you haven’t, you may remember the famous quote about a kink in the judicial system. “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass, an idiot.” Dickens wrote those lines in another country 175 years ago. But things aren’t much different here and now, and as evidence, consider two nurses in suburban Detroit.

Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer are Michigan-certified foster parents, and the state is lucky to have them. DeBoer is a nurse in an NICU unit: Neonatal Intensive Care. Rowse, in an emergency room.

They indicated they were willing to foster the hardest cases, babies born premature, drug-addicted, who were either abandoned or taken away from the women who bore them.

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