Opinion

Opinion
10:00 am
Tue August 27, 2013

MLK's dream has both succeeded and failed

Jack Lessenberry's essay

Fifty years ago Wednesday, Martin Luther King Jr. stood before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and gave what would become one of the most remembered speeches in American history.

We know it, of course, as the “I have a dream speech,” and many of us in Michigan also know that he gave an earlier version in Detroit just two months before. They celebrated the anniversary of the more famous version in Washington last weekend.

To me, the most significant celebration of that speech came on the anniversary five years ago, when another powerful young black orator recited parts of it before an TV audience. That time it was not the quarter of a million people who heard it in 1963.

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Opinion
9:32 am
Tue August 27, 2013

Consider more carefully who we quote on questions of law and policy

Jack Lessenberry's essay.

I just learned something important I thought I should share with you. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” is unconstitutional after all.

Yes, I know that the United States Supreme Court, in a majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, said it was constitutional, and that they have the ultimate legal authority to decide that.   But Joan Fabiano says they are wrong, and some media outlets think her views are worth repeating.

Fabiano, who is often described as a “prominent Tea Party activist,” isn‘t exactly a lawyer.

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Opinion
8:49 am
Fri August 23, 2013

There are better investments than replica Civil War cannons

Lessenberry commentary for 8/23/2013

State Senator Bruce Caswell of Hillsdale is a military buff – he attended West Point for a couple years, before transferring to Michigan State – and he’s a former high school history teacher.

Now, he has a new project he would like people to donate money for. If you are about ninety, and spent a lot of time at the State Capitol when you were young, you may remember there used to be two old Civil War cannons out front.

Otherwise, I suspect you never heard of the so-called Loomis cannons. They weren’t especially famous cannons; they didn’t batter down the defenses of Richmond, and people in the 1940s thought so little of their importance that they were apparently melted down during a World War II scrap metal drive.

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Opinion
9:19 am
Thu August 22, 2013

The farce of presidential impeachment

Lessenberry commentary for 8/22/2013

I was a college student almost forty years ago when the U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Richard Nixon. I watched those proceedings and hung on every word.

Many, perhaps even most people did. I remember crowds clustered around television sets in department stores at particularly dramatic points in the testimony. When the members finally voted to recommend impeachment, many of them did in voices breaking with emotion. They knew this was an almost unimaginably huge step.

The congressmen knew that only one other President had been impeached in history – Andrew Johnson, more than a century before. They also knew that history had judged very harshly those congressmen and senators who supported removing that president, and praised those who managed to stop his conviction.

Impeachment, those congressmen knew, was the nuclear option in American constitutional democracy. In the end, President Nixon resigned before he could be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, as he surely would have been.

I thought that would be the only attempt at impeaching a president I would ever see, and I was, of course, wrong. Twenty-five years later, the house actually impeached President Clinton for what really amounted to lying about sex. The senate never came close to convicting him, and the entire episode was seen as low farce.

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Opinion
8:58 am
Wed August 21, 2013

Systems failure leads to election confusion and stalled road funding

Lessenberry commentary for 8/21/2013

Lily Tomlin and Oliver Cromwell have nothing in common, as far as I know.  But I thought of both this morning when I was considering the news from Detroit and Lansing.

Tomlin years ago came up with a perfect line to describe the latest twist in the Detroit elections mess.  “No matter how cynical you get, you can’t keep up.”

That was exactly the case when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers met to certify the totals in the Detroit mayoral primary election two weeks ago. There should have been no mystery about the results. Mike Duggan had been ruled off the ballot on a technicality, but won in a write-in landslide.  He got nearly twice as many votes as his closest competitor, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. But Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett yesterday announced she was throwing out nearly half of Duggan’s votes, because poll workers merely recorded them, rather than make a hashtag mark next to them.

Not only did this cavalierly disenfranchise twenty thousand voters, it looks and smells highly suspect. Cathy Garrett is the sister of Al Garrett, a prominent union official who is one of Benny Napoleon’s biggest backers.

Now her decision would not have changed the lineup for the November runoff. It will still be between Duggan and Napoleon. But Garrett’s maneuver would have allowed Napoleon’s backers to claim he “won” a primary he actually lost.

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Opinion
9:25 am
Tue August 20, 2013

Michigan Republican ignores history and dismisses compromise

Jack Lessenberry commentary for 8/20/2013.

Five months ago, Michigan Republicans nearly unseated their state chairman, Bobby Schostak, at their state convention.

Schostak is a successful fundraiser and commercial real estate developer. Until recently, he would have been seen as a hard-core conservative. But he wasn’t hard-core enough for 48 percent of the delegates to their annual state convention.

Those delegates voted for Todd Courser, an accountant and tax attorney from Lapeer. Courser lost that election, but if you saw the public affairs show Off The Record this weekend, it was clear he believes fervently in his own righteousness, and means for his troops to take over the GOP.

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Opinion
8:38 am
Mon August 19, 2013

Why merging Detroit and Wayne County makes sense for both

Jack Lessenberry commentary for 08/19/2013.

Last week, I said merging the governments of Detroit and Wayne County was a sensible solution to both their crises.

This idea was not wildly popular. One woman said I was out of my mind, and added Wayne County “just need(ed) to have their crooks behind bars.”

A more thoughtful man said I was “operating from the usual liberal impulse of having successful entities transfer resources to unsuccessful entities,” something he indicated didn’t work.

Well, that gentleman is right. It usually doesn’t work. That’s what has been happening with revenue sharing.

What I am proposing is creating an entirely new entity, writing a new charter and creating a combined county government. I am not suggesting Wayne County simply absorb Detroit.

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Opinion
10:48 am
Fri August 16, 2013

Merging Wayne County and Detroit could fix both

Lessenberry commentary for 8/16/2013

  Everybody knows that former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was thoroughly corrupt. He currently is sitting in jail waiting sentencing in federal court on his latest round of convictions.

His political career is dead and his chance at being free is over, at least for years to come. But you can easily make the argument that, at least in terms of cost to the taxpayers, the administration of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano is worse.

Certainly Ficano has wasted far more of the taxpayers’ money than Kilpatrick’s grubby crimes cost Detroit. One of the enduring mysteries of state politics is why this man is still in his job. Michigan’s largest county has lurched from scandal to scandal.

There was the case of Turkia Awada Mullin, the crony who somehow was vaulted over far more qualified applicants, made head of the airport authority and given a two hundred thousand dollar “severance” to go from one job to another.

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Opinion
9:26 am
Thu August 15, 2013

Politicians' capacity for embarassment

Lessenberry commentary for 8/15/2013

There’s an odd story you might have missed from the Upper Peninsula. A member of the Michigan Republican state central committee is facing major felony charges in Wisconsin.

Various press accounts quote police as saying Douglas Sedenquist of Escanaba was arrested five months ago after his wife notified police that he was supposedly stalking her with a high-powered rifle and making suicide threats. His wife left him last year; she said he was physically abusing their daughters.

Police in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she now lives, arrested Sedenquist after, police say, he repeatedly refused their orders to put down the rifle or get out of his truck. Instead, he asked them to let him shoot himself. Eventually they were able to arrest him, and now he faces a variety of charges.

I have gone into this in some detail because I haven‘t yet told you the weirdest part about all this. Nobody, so far as I know, is demanding that he step down from his party leadership roles. Sedenquist, by the way, is also vice-chair of the Delta County GOP.

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Opinion
8:47 am
Wed August 14, 2013

Lon Johnson: the man in the hot seat

Lessenberry commentary for 8/14/2013

For some time, there has been growing discontent among Michigan Democrats. The state has become reliably Democratic in presidential elections.

Republicans have won only one statewide race for the U.S. Senate in the last forty years. But below that level, Democrats have a stunning record of failure. Republicans hold the governor’s office, as they have for more than two-thirds of the last half-century.

Republicans control the Supreme Court and both houses of the state legislature. Democrats haven’t controlled the state senate for thirty years, and today don’t even have a third of the seats.

Those numbers -- and even stronger unhappiness among organized labor -- helped foster a revolt in the party that led to the ouster of longtime party chair Mark Brewer last February, and the election of Lon Johnson, a 42-year-old whirlwind, as his successor.

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Opinion
8:35 am
Mon August 12, 2013

Regional Transit Authority offers real shot at mass transit

Lessenberry commentary for 08/12/2013

With the surprising outcome in the Detroit mayor’s race last week and other news, you may have missed a significant development on the transportation front.

John Hertel, the current head of SMART, the suburban bus system, was chosen as the first CEO of the new Regional Transit Authority for Southeastern Michigan, known as the RTA.

Hertel is a longtime successful political player with a reputation for getting it done. He’s been a state senator, chair of the Macomb County Commissioners, and for years successfully ran the State Fair. He is a Democrat who Republican governors have often found an acceptable partner.

If he succeeds, within a few years the entire metro area will be serviced by rapid buses which look more like railroad cars, and have their own special lanes. They’ll whiz passengers throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties, to and from Detroit Metro Airport, and connect with existing bus services.

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Opinion
10:13 am
Fri August 9, 2013

State Representative Joe Haveman leads the way on prison reform

Lessenberry commentary for 8/9/13

We spend far more money on prisons than on higher education in this state, and the old saying is true. You really do reap what you sow. Michigan lags behind our neighboring states when it comes to percentage of highly educated young adults.

But we lead the nation in keeping people locked up. The average Michigan inmate serves 4.3 years, almost a year and a half longer than the national average. We are locking them up, and going broke doing so. We’re spending an average of $34,000 a year to keep each of our forty-three thousand inmates behind bars. 

To be fair to the Department of Corrections, it could be worse. Six years ago, there were fifty-one thousand inmates. If that were still the case, and if the department had not privatized food service and adopted other cost savings, the figure would be close to three billion.

But what we are spending is too much, and one courageous and conservative state representative is trying to do something about it. Joe Haveman, a Republican from Holland, is one of a number of lawmakers interested in possibly shortening sentences.

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Opinion
10:13 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Why Michigan's roads are so bad... and what we can do about it

Lessenberry commentary for 8/8/2013

I travel to Toledo once a week, and if you make that trip, you know how wretched the roads are in some places.

The governor does too. For two years, he’s been trying to get the legislature to come up with new money to pay for the roads. Unfortunately, I can now report that our lawmakers have gone from doing nothing about Medicaid to doing nothing about the roads, unless moaning and finger-pointing count.

Yesterday, the Gongwer News Service produced a story which said there was finally optimism something would happen. Unfortunately, there was little evidence of it.

It did quote Speaker of the House Jase Bolger literally whining, “It is true the House Democrats have failed to offer any solutions for transportation funding, but that is par for the course.” The Speaker  added, “Some people might get the idea that Democrats would rather complain than cooperate.”

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Opinion
8:40 am
Wed August 7, 2013

Looking forward to the November election in Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 8/7/2013

What happened yesterday in Detroit was truly astounding on a number of levels. More than half of the voters ignored the fourteen mayoral candidates on the ballot, and wrote in a name.

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Opinion
8:37 am
Tue August 6, 2013

The truth about Detroit pensioners

Lessenberry commentary for 8/6/2013

Detroiters are voting today in one of the strangest and yet most important primary elections the city’s ever had. Those they send to the November runoff will be fighting for jobs which at first will have no power. That’s because everything is now in the hands of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stephen Rhodes.

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Opinion
8:44 am
Mon August 5, 2013

Who could buy the Detroit-Windsor tunnel?

Lessenberry commentary for 8/5/2013

For years, we’ve heard a lot about the Ambassador Bridge, and the battle to build a second span across the Detroit River. What didn’t ever seem to get in the news was the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

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Opinion
8:44 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Medicaid expansion does not equal government expansion

Lessenberry commentary for 8/2/2013

Yesterday I talked about Washington’s offer to expand Medicaid to many Michiganders who currently have no health insurance. The government has offered to make the program available to many poor, but not officially poverty-stricken, Americans.

States who participate will pay only a fraction of the cost. This would immediately provide health care to hundreds of thousands who don’t now have it, and be extremely beneficial to virtually everyone, including employers, who would have a healthier work force.

Though some states sensibly ratified this almost immediately, Michigan has dragged its feet, largely because of bitter ideological opposition to anything that seems to be “government” health care. I said yesterday that this was irrational and was harming our state.

But while I heard from many people who agreed, not everybody did. One woman said I just didn’t understand that this would be terrible because it would be an expansion of government. In fact, the Tea Party has denounced more Medicaid as tyranny.

Well, I think that’s nonsense; I don’t think extending an already existing benefit to more people is expanding government.

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Opinion
9:02 am
Thu August 1, 2013

Michigan legislators continue to fail on Medicaid expansion

Lessenberry commentary for 8/1/2013

Many months ago, the federal government offered the states an astonishing deal.  Washington would extend eligibility for Medicaid insurance to people who make up to a third more than the official poverty rate. We aren’t talking people who are well off.

Currently, Medicaid is available for a family of four making twenty-three thousand a year or less; this offer would enable the same family to be covered if they make up to a little over thirty-one thousand. That would mean almost half a million folks in Michigan now without health insurance would have it.

The cost to the state would be nothing at first, and never more than ten percent of the total. Economists say even when the state is paying ten percent, Michigan will actually save money, thanks to the benefits of having a healthier work force.

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Opinion
8:45 am
Wed July 31, 2013

The U.P.'s view of Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 7/31/2013

Michigan may be, in many ways, the most diverse state in the union. California and Texas are much larger. Alaska is out-of-the world vast, though fewer people live there than in Macomb County.

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Opinion
9:02 am
Tue July 30, 2013

Spending taxpayer dollars on sports stadiums will not help Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 7/30/2013

Politicians are falling all over themselves in Washington and in Lansing to oppose spending any money to, as they put it, “bail out” Detroit.

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