Opinion

Sports Commentary
10:09 am
Fri December 20, 2013

The Year in Michigan Sports, John U. Bacon looks back

In 2013, one of the greats moved on from the Tiger dugout.
Detroit Tigers

The year in sports started out with the Detroit Lions missing the playoffs, and hockey fans missing the entire National Hockey League season.

The NHL lockout started the way these things usually do: The players thought the owners made too much money, and the owners thought the players made too much money.  And, of course, both sides were dead right.

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Opinion
8:31 am
Fri December 20, 2013

Cutting benefits for Christmas

Lessenberry commentary for 12/20/13

Well, Christmas is almost here, and 43,000 Michigan citizens are getting a very unwelcome present this week. The state is notifying them that their extended unemployment benefits run out in eight days.

Since many of these folks have dependents, this is likely to be a huge blow to something like 100,000 people who are struggling to keep food on the table and the heat and electricity on.

This isn’t the result of a state policy, but a national one. There’s been considerable celebration over the recent federal budget deal that will avoid the threat of another government shutdown over the next couple of years. But that deal did not include any extension of federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

There’s no way they can reconsider this before the New Year, since the U.S. House has gone home. This is going to mean considerable hardship for more than a million people nationwide.

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Opinion
10:18 am
Thu December 19, 2013

Finding the hidden and fascinating stories in Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 12/19/13

A few years ago, I had a student named John Carlisle who graduated and got a job as a reporter and then editor for a bunch of weekly suburban newspapers. He was very good at it, and he was also bored. So in his spare time, he began roving around Detroit, boldly going to places where nice suburban white kids have almost never gone before.

He met a guy called Jay Thunderbolt who had his own personal strip club in his house. He met a blues musician who kills and eats raccoons, and a civil rights icon who runs her own chicken farm in the old Irish neighborhood of Corktown.

Carlisle was fascinated. These stories had no place in the little newspapers he edited, so he began writing them for the Metro Times, an alternative paper in Detroit. To avoid any conflict with his day job, he wrote them under the pseudonym “Detroitblogger John."

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Opinion
2:13 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Common Core standards in Michigan are forcing big changes in education

Just last year, when I brought up the Common Core to my non-educator friends, I would usually see a furrowed brow and a tilted head.

They’d never heard of it.

That’s certainly changed. Most people have at least heard of Common Core by now. 

Still, I find very few folks have anything more than the vaguest notions about the Common Core. They seem to know that most states are a part of it, but not much more.

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Opinion
8:49 am
Wed December 18, 2013

The most radically right-wing state Legislature in living memory

Lessenberry commentary for 12/18/13

Yesterday, the Democratic leader in the Statehouse held a news conference that convinced me his party is basically decent and civilized. And if they keep it up, they are going to lose next year’s  elections.

Here’s what I am talking about. Over the past three years, Republicans have been doing things that once would have caused people to march on Lansing with pitchforks.

They have rammed through Right to Work. Cut and starved higher education, and did their best to undermine public elementary and secondary schools as well. Within the last week, the Republican majority enacted a new law forbidding insurance companies from automatically writing policies that protect women’s right to have an abortion in the case of rape, incest or a dangerous pregnancy. 

They passed a bill doubling the amount fat cats can openly give to political campaigns. Worse, the same law says special interest groups can secretly spend unlimited amounts on so-called “issue-oriented ads,” taking away any accountability in campaign spending.

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Opinion
8:27 am
Tue December 17, 2013

Do we care about our kids?

Lessenberry commentary for 12/17/13

If you pick up either Detroit newspaper, you will find story after story about the fact that the city’s mediocre football team lost to another mediocre football team last night. This insignificant event is analyzed as if it were a major peace treaty in the Middle East.

But buried deep in those papers are a few paragraphs on a story that the editors thought much less important. Which is, that hundreds of thousands of Michigan children are hungry, impoverished, and living in families investigated for abuse and neglect. Hundreds of thousands, and the number is increasing.

Yesterday, the Michigan League for Public Policy released its annual Kids Count report. The results show a devastating and persistent pattern. The number of young children qualifying for federal food aid has jumped by more than 50% since 2005, Nearly two-fifths of all children now qualify for nutritional help because their families are so poor.

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Opinion
9:15 am
Mon December 16, 2013

Michigan Senate didn’t do anything to bust scrap metal thieves

Lessenberry commentary for 12/16/13

The Michigan Legislature passed some dramatic bills before adjourning for the year last week, bills that got a lot of attention.

There was the so-called “rape insurance” law, which prevents health insurance from automatically covering abortion even in cases of rape, incest or the mother’s health.

There was also a highly controversial campaign finance bill that doubles the amount the rich are allowed to give to political candidates, and allows special interest groups to spend vast amounts on so-called ‘issue ads” without disclosing the source of their funding.

But there were also things the lawmakers did that got lost in the shuffle. And the state senate did something guaranteed to help criminals in Detroit, and keep destroying the buildings that are left. They destroyed a bill that would go a long way to thwart scrap metal thieves, who are an immense problem.

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Opinion
8:27 am
Fri December 13, 2013

Getting the true picture of blight in Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 12/13/13

Though Glenda Price has been in Detroit barely 15 years, it is hard to imagine the city without her. A Philadelphia native, she first came to town as president of Marygrove, a small, struggling Catholic college on the city’s west side. Now in her mid-70s, Price is both a skilled fundraiser and a visionary who can see around corners.

Though neither Catholic nor a Detroiter, thanks to development skills and an ahead-of-its time distance learning program, she helped revitalize Marygrove before retiring seven years ago. She could have gone anywhere after that.

She'd had careers in medical technology and as provost and dean of prominent universities. But she had fallen in love with Detroit, and elected to stay. You may not know her, but those who run things do.

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Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri December 13, 2013

Former MSU president used football to build an academic powerhouse

Jim Ellis and the Spartans beat Notre Dame, 35-0, on Nov. 10, 1951 in Spartan Stadium. They went on to an undefeated season and a national championship.
MSU

Every university has got its giants, of course. But those schools born around the Civil War needed bigger men than most to carve these campuses out of forests and fields, then build them to rival the world’s greatest institutions. And they did it all in just a few decades.

At Michigan State, that man was John A. Hannah.

Hannah was a proud graduate of Michigan Agricultural College in 1923, earning a degree in poultry science. Eighteen years later, he became the school’s president – at the ripe age of 39.

Hannah’s timing couldn’t be better.

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Opinion
8:25 am
Thu December 12, 2013

More 'dark money' will influence politics in Michigan if Snyder doesn't veto

Lessenberry commentary for 12/12/13

I would like you to raise your hand if you think that what our state really needs is more money influencing our politics. More campaign donations, but especially more so-called dark money -- money secretly given by shadowy, anonymous, often out of state donors to try to influence the way we vote.

Somehow I don’t think many of you raised your hands.

Now one more question: Would you like the Legislature to pass a new law that would make it impossible to ever find out where those huge anonymous contributions come from?

My guess is … no.

Well, here’s the bad news. Lawmakers did all that anyway.

The state House passed a bill yesterday that would double the maximum contribution citizens can give to candidates and political action committees. The state Senate finalized the measure today. 

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Opinion
9:23 am
Wed December 11, 2013

Michigan Republican party fails to address Dave Agema's bigotry and hatred

Lessenberry commentary for 12/11/13

For Democrats, Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema really is the gift who keeps on giving. Agema, a former airline pilot and state legislator, seems morbidly obsessed with gay people.

He loathes them, and seems creepily fascinated by his mythical version of their lives. Earlier this year, he made headlines by posting a scurrilous, wildly inaccurate, and bizarre article about what he likes to call “homosexuals” on Facebook.

The article, by some mysterious figure who claimed to be a doctor, would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so filled with hate. It claimed that gay people commit up to half the murders in large cities, and are all horribly diseased because of their filthy sexual practices. It also claimed that gangs of lesbians march through the streets chanting “recruit, recruit, recruit.”

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Opinion
8:31 am
Tue December 10, 2013

Saving Detroit’s animals

Lessenberry commentary for 12/10/13

Unless you are reading this in Monaco, you know it has been prematurely cold and bitter in much of our state. Yesterday I went to check on one class of poor Detroiter who can’t complain.

They do, however, have one spokesperson: Jennifer Rowell, one of my personal heroes. Jen runs the Michigan Humane Society’s shelter in Detroit, which is located in a century-old machine shop along I-75 as you approach Midtown.

Every year, about 12,000 animals, mostly dogs and cats, come through its doors. That’s probably more than the humane society’s other two shelters in suburbia combined.

Remarkably, many find new homes. Not necessarily in the lap of luxury. When I stopped by yesterday, the lobby was full of people there to get free food and straw for their animals.

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Opinion
8:26 am
Mon December 9, 2013

Anti-abortion coverage bill is a case of a bad solution where no problem exists

Lessenberry commentary for 12/9/13

Let’s suppose for a minute that liberal activists win solid control of Michigan government in next year’s elections. Once they take over, they introduce a bill that says: No insurance policy can protect anybody who has an accident on the way to or while attending a Tea Party or Republican Party meeting.

If those people want to be covered, they need to pay extra and buy a special rider, and they can only do that before they attend such a meeting.

Well, if anyone were to propose that, I would hope you, me and everyone else we know would be screaming bloody murder at this outrageous violation of democracy and human rights.

Yet the Michigan Legislature seems to be about to do something just as bad, if not worse. The State Senate has already voted to make it illegal for health insurance plans to cover abortion -- even in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the mother’s health. Anybody who wanted that kind of protection would have to buy an extra supplemental rider.

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Sports Commentary
11:42 am
Fri December 6, 2013

Pressure builds on Michigan Football as Athletic Department's budget grows

Anthony Gattine Flickr

I’ve often joked that some Michigan football fans aren’t happy unless they’re not happy.  But after 11 games this season, even they could be excused for having plenty to be unhappy about. A week ago, the Wolverines were 3-and-4 in the Big Ten, with undefeated Ohio State coming up next. 

The Wolverines had been surprisingly bad all season -- until the Ohio State game, when they were suddenly, surprisingly good, falling short by just one point in the final minute.  It was the first time I have ever seen Michigan fans feeling better after a loss than before it. 

Still, the heroic performance was bittersweet.

Where was that team all year?  Which team will return next year – the one that got crushed by Michigan State, or the one that almost beat the Buckeyes?

But Michigan’s bigger problems are off the field, not on it.

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Opinion
8:38 am
Fri December 6, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela and Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 12/6/13

Not many people remember it now, but there was a day in the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela when he came to Detroit. The Motor City went, predictably, wild over him. They filled Tiger Stadium to see him at 10:00 on a Thursday night in June.

He was welcomed by Mayor Coleman Young, and enthusiastically hugged Rosa Parks. He met stars of Motown, politicians and labor leaders, and visited workers on the line at a Ford assembly plant.

How many people know that Nelson Mandela, leader of a revolution, international icon of freedom, once went to an assembly line in Dearborn and told workers, “I am your comrade."

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Opinion
8:29 am
Thu December 5, 2013

What's holding things up with the new bridge?

Lessenberry commentary for 12/5/13

We’ve been thinking a lot about Detroit lately, for obvious reasons. Opinions differ, but pretty much everyone agrees on this: There are too few jobs and not enough money. Unemployment is high, the tax base is low. The city is officially bankrupt.

Yet there’s a project out there that should be a huge shot in the arm: The New International Trade Crossing Bridge. Estimates are that it will create at least 10,000 good paying jobs that will last four to five years. Ripple effects from those jobs will create thousands of others, some of which will be permanent. 

Canada is going to pay nearly all the costs of the bridge and all Michigan’s costs, pumping nearly four billion dollars into the economy. Exactly what the doctor ordered. So … what’s holding things up?

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Opinion
1:24 pm
Wed December 4, 2013

What happens now for bankrupt Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 12/4/13

When I was growing up in the 1960s, there was a popular genre of fiction: Novels about the world when and after the presumably inevitable nuclear war happened.

One that I remember was set in rural Florida, one of the few places that avoided total destruction. The survivors set up what amounted to a working subsistence and barter economy. 

But for some, the psychological adjustment was impossible. The town banker sat among piles of paper money that he had always revered as sacred, and which suddenly had no value whatsoever. Unable to adjust, he kills himself.

Things are not nearly that bad in Detroit. But yesterday, there were clear signals that sacred cows really are going to be sacrificed. Public pensions were thought to be sacrosanct, protected by the state constitution. Well, they aren’t, according to Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes. Federal law trumps state law. 

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Opinion
8:28 am
Tue December 3, 2013

Detroit's in the spotlight, but here are other things happening in the state

Lessenberry commentary for 12/03/13

Today, virtually all eyes are on Detroit, where U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes rendered his historic decision this morning. That’s exactly as it should be. There is no more important story in the state right now, and our futures are all tied in with the Motor City. But that’s not the only thing happening.

I always feel uneasy when the media’s attention strays too far from the legislature. That’s a bad idea, for the same reason leaving a two-year-old unattended in the kitchen is a bad idea. There are sharp objects, and they can hurt themselves and others.

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Opinion
8:22 am
Mon December 2, 2013

What happens after the Detroit bankruptcy ruling

Lessenberry commentary for 12/2/13

Tomorrow morning, Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes will announce whether or not Detroit can file for bankruptcy. If, as expected, he does authorize this, it will mean grim times ahead.

The city almost certainly will lose some assets; creditors will get paid only a fraction of what they are owed, and elderly and retired city workers may lose at least some of their pensions.

None of this will be easy, or fun. But we all have to hope that is exactly what the judge does. Otherwise, the city will be in the position of a dying lamb among a flock of turkey buzzards.

The city has close to 100,000 creditors who together are owed probably more than $18 billion. If the judge rules Detroit is ineligible for bankruptcy, then that will take the freeze off all the lawsuits creditors filed against the city before the Motor City asked for bankruptcy protection back in July. 

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Opinion
8:34 am
Wed November 27, 2013

Children who murder should get a chance at parole

Lessenberry commentary for 11/27/13

 CORRECTION: The headline was changed to avoid an inadvertent pun.

There are about 350 in Michigan who screwed up badly when they were teenagers. Most took part in murders. All are serving life without the possibility of parole.

Some of these young killers are probably vicious psychopaths who should never be allowed back into society. Others, however, were scared and stupid kids who, in some cases, did nothing except be there when an older friend, or, in a number of cases, a boyfriend, committed some terrible crime.

But they were all sentenced under Michigan law to life without the possibility of parole, and two years ago, you could have said, that was that. Except that isn’t the law anymore.

Seventeen months ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws automatically requiring a life sentence without the possibility of parole for kids under 18 are unconstitutional.

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