Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take

Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take

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Daily interviews and essays about politics and current events with newspaper columnist Jack Lessenberry.More from Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take »

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Mark Hackel of Macomb

I spent some time yesterday in Mount Clemens talking with Mark Hackel, who four and a half years ago became the first executive Macomb County has ever had. You'd have a hard time finding anyone as enthusiastic about any county anywhere as Hackel is about Macomb. He was born there, fifty-three years ago; stayed because he didn't want to go away to school, and has never lived, or wanted to live, anywhere else. A Democrat, at least on paper, he was elected sheriff three times, and has been elected county executive twice in massive landslides, both in years when his party's candidate for governor lost the county badly. Naturally, there's been a lot of speculation about whether he might be the Democrats' best hope of taking the statehouse back three years from now. Hackel admits he's thought about it, but says "I'd only do it if I was convinced I could accomplish something." "Look at Lansing. The governor's party controls the legislature, everything, and they can't even get the voters' top priority done — the roads," he said. Hackel would rather talk about Macomb, which is by far the fastest-growing county in Metropolitan Detroit. For years, Macomb was sort of Detroit's lunch bucket county. White-collar workers leaving Detroit went to Oakland County on the west; blue-collar ones east to Macomb. First they were Democrats, then Reagan Democrats. But that has been changing. The county still has a strong ethnic and manufacturing base. While judges tend to have Irish names in Wayne and Oakland Counties, they are apt to have Italian and Polish ones in Macomb. But Macomb is booming and diversifying. The county has doubled its population in the last half-century, and now has more than 850,000 people. "Fourteen people a day move into Macomb," Hackel says, beaming with pride. He is a great booster of the slogan, "make Macomb your home." He's not much of a partisan, but believes in strong government. He says that while Macomb was the last of the big three to move to an executive form of government, Macomb's executive has much stronger powers. " Nothing goes anywhere except through the executive," he told me. The commission can only approve or reject county contracts, for example; they can't amend them. "I understand the need for a legislative body to talk and have dialogue, but the reality is that somebody has to be responsible," he said. He knows all about that; he grew up largely in a single-parent home, raised by his dad, who was the sheriff before him. Hackel, who doesn't appear to have an ounce of fat on him, radiates energy. He's unhappy if he can't run a few miles every day, and hates to go on vacation. He also doesn't have much use for political parties. He took all the Rs and Ds out of the county directory listing officials; he confesses that while he is staying a Democrat, if it were up to him, county executive would be a non-partisan position. But if he ever were to become governor, would that make him more or less effective? That's hard to say, except that Hackel has been decisively effective in Macomb. And nobody in their right mind would claim that Lansing works very well now.. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Oak Park's unsung Shero

Four years ago, Marian McClellan was a retired teacher who'd lived for the past quarter century in the small Detroit suburb of Oak Park, just north of the city. Oak Park's story was similar to that of many older, so-called inner ring suburbs. It was largely pastures and swamps before the Second World War. Then, as the freeways came, it exploded. Barely a thousand people lived there in 1945. Fifteen years later, Oak Park had thirty-six thousand. On the walls of its new city hall are large color photos from the early 1950s. Young families moving in; smiling contractors overseeing a forest of homes, some sturdy brick houses; others Levittown style ranches. Back then, Oak Park was known as Detroit's Jewish suburb, though several star major league baseball players lived there too, including Al Kaline and Norm Cash. Jeffrey Sachs, the world-famous economist grew up there; so did Geoffrey Fieger and his musician brother Doug. Gradually, however, the more affluent moved north and west. Tax revenues fell, and the population started declining. McClellan had time on her hands and some ideas how to revitalize the place. But she couldn't get the time of day from city hall. She said the mayor, who'd been in office more than twenty years, wouldn't call her back. She found other residents who'd had similar experiences. So she decided to run for mayor herself, as much as a protest as anything else. On election night, she was stunned to learn she had won. She threw herself into what was supposed to be a part-time, $6,000 a year job. She was startled to find that she qualified for full health care benefits. "For a part-time job? When the city is laying people off? No, no, no," she said. This week, Mayor McClellan showed me around. "I refused to accept we were doomed to decline," she said. She went after grants, for bike lanes, for a Corridor Improvement Authority, to bring lights and landscaping to shopworn retail districts. And she got them. People rolled their eyes when she said she'd try to get Federal Express to put a distribution center in an old World War II machine gun plant. That is, until FedEx held groundbreaking ceremonies last week. That will mean hundreds of jobs. When she ran for reelection two years ago, she had only write-in opposition. This year, the voters decided to allow liquor to be served in restaurants for the first time. City council decided to allow outdoor dining. Last year, the census bureau estimated that for the first time since the 1960s, Oak Park is growing again. The demographics seem to have stabilized at roughly 60% black, 40% percent white. Marian McClellan showed me a picture of herself with the governor and Michigan's two U.S. senators. "The nice thing about a job like this is that you get to meet the big shots," she said. "But it's all about community." Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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The truth is that Planned Parenthood is indeed guilty

For the past week or so, I've gotten emails and calls from people who want to know why I won't help "expose" the evil being done by Planned Parenthood. They say that it has now been definitely proven that the non-profit family planning organization profits off the sale of fetal body parts, which they say Planned Parenthood deliberately harvests in brutal ways. This has caused sort of a national "primal howl" by conservative and anti-abortion activists, who are demanding Planned Parenthood be defunded or even prosecuted. Well, the truth is that Planned Parenthood is indeed guilty – of not responding quickly or forcefully enough to an outrageous smear campaign. A shadowy anti-abortion group misnamed the Center for Medical Progress sent two actors to pose as potential buyers of fetal tissue. They met with senior medical officials of Planned Parenthood, secretly videotaped their meetings, and selectively edited a long conversation down into a few minutes calculated to be shocking. During those portions of the video, they discuss providing fetal tissue for research, something for which Planned Parenthood does charge a fee they say is meant only to cover their costs. During the conversation, one Planned Parenthood official does discuss abortion procedures in terms that sound insensitive and callous. The release of these videos, which were clearly obtained under fraudulent circumstances, has caused a storm of protest. GOP Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul immediately called on Congress to defund and investigate the organization. Well, there are several things to remember here. First of all, abortion, like it or not, is a legal medical procedure. And it is not illegal to use voluntarily donated fetal tissue for research. Selling it for a profit may be illegal, but a provider is allowed to be reimbursed for their costs. This, by the way, is not an issue in Michigan. According to Lori Carpentier, who has been CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan for the last decade, neither of their two affiliates in the state is involved in procuring fetal specimens for research purposes, and, she added, they "presently do not have a plan to offer that option to our patients." Carpentier also noted that most of what Planned Parenthood does has nothing to do with abortion –and none of the federal funds they receive are used for terminating pregnancies. Planned Parenthood mainly provides birth control information, cancer screenings, other health care services, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. She added, "keep in mind that calls to 'defund' Planned Parenthood will not affect abortion but will have a dire effect on the health care services we provide to more than 70,000 people in Michigan each year." Less than five percent of that involves abortions. And Carpentier told me that Planned Parenthood is not a supplemental service for most of its clients; eighty percent have no other health care provider. Planned Parenthood has been saving women and families from poverty and desperation for 99 years. Now, its enemies are "swift boating" it; presenting lies and distortions as fact. If they get away with it, and its funds are slashed, the result could very well be more sexually transmitted diseases, more unwanted pregnancies, and finally — more abortions. If you like your tragedy with irony, this could be it. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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U.S.-Canadian battle over meat law could hurt Michigan farmers

Two weeks ago, I reported on a little-known trade conflict between the United States and Canada that could cost Michigan farmers nearly $700 million in retaliatory trade sanctions. This involves a U.S. law known as COOL, for Country-of-Origin-Labeling. It took effect in 2008, and requires all meat to be labeled with its country of origin. Canada says this has been devastating to their producers, because it has added costs to Canadian meat, helping make it non-competitive, and has played havoc with supply chains on both sides of the border. Canadians also feel that as a fellow NAFTA country, its agricultural products should be treated as domestic by America. They note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has no concerns whatsoever about the safety of Canadian meat. They took their case to the World Trade Organization, or WTO, which ruled against the United States — four times. Now, Canada has announced that unless the COOL standards are repealed by summer's end, they will impose retaliatory sanctions that will target $684 million dollars of Michigan agricultural exports to Canada every year. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan's senior senator, has been a key player here. She is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and until January, was its chair Many Canadians blame her for COOL not being repealed. But late last week I talked to the senator, who on Wednesday offered a new bill she sees as a reasonable compromise. It would allow U.S. producers to voluntarily label meat "Product of the U.S." She told me – "I understand we can't do mandatory labeling. "We lost in the WTO. I get that. But voluntary labeling is perfectly acceptable – the Canadians themselves suggested earlier that's exactly what we should do." Senator Stabenow showed me several quotes that seemed to back that up. Last summer, Canadian minister of agriculture Gerry Ritz said "If you do a voluntary label, which we do in Canada under product of Canada, you don't have that trade sanctioned problem." And three years ago, while protesting COOL, Canada told the World Trade Organization "voluntary labeling can provide a far more effective means to inform interested consumers." But when I asked Canadian officials whether Stabenow's bill was a reasonable compromise, they said absolutely not. Agriculture Minister Ritz and Ed Fast, Canada's international trade minister, released a statement denouncing her bill, saying it would continue to undermine trade "by continuing the segregation of and discrimination against Canadian cattle and hogs." They added, "The only acceptable outcome remains for the United States to repeal COOL, or face $3 billion dollars in annual retaliation." So the clock is ticking. Senator Stabenow acknowledged these negotiations are "tough" but said she was confident that an agreement could be reached before sanctions kick in, which would presumably happen in September. Meanwhile, current Senate Agriculture Chair Pat Roberts of Kansas indicated he felt it was time for the Senate to follow the House's lead, completely repeal COOL – and discuss voluntary labeling programs afterwards. "The fact is, retaliation is coming, and we need to protect the U.S. economy," he said. However anyone sees this issue, the bottom line is clear. These sanctions would be devastating to Michigan. And I can't help but remember the famous admonition, "First, do no harm." Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Term limits bad for Michigan politics

If you want a practical illustration of why term limits are a bad idea, here's a good one. Yesterday, Senator Debbie Stabenow managed to engineer a deal to save perhaps $100 million in federal blight funds set aside to help Michigan cities tear down ruined buildings. Older Michigan cities, especially Detroit, are filled with such buildings, which often become breeding grounds for crime. Michigan has applied for, used and spent more than $40 million in recent years to demolish well over 3,000 homes.A few years ago, the federal government established something called the "Hardest Hit Fund," money set aside during the Great Recession to help cities deal with blight and foreclosure problems. Urban experts will tell you that it is critically important in saving neighborhoods to demolish vacant, crumbling eyesore buildings as soon as possible. But Republicans won control of both houses of Congress last fall, and many of them see this as something the federal government shouldn't be doing. Some have accused cities of wasting this money, and they were all set to zero out the Hardest Hit fund. Instead, they wanted to put the remaining funds toward infrastructure, to help fund a six-year transportation bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs to pass by the end of the month. This would have been devastating to Detroit and other cities efforts to fight blight. There would have been bigger problems, too. Michigan cities have spent millions to tear down such structures and in many cases, are waiting to be reimbursed out of federal funds. Who would pay if the program suddenly ended? Republicans had the votes to pass it – but Stabenow, who has been in the Senate for nearly 15 years now, knows a parliamentary trick or two. She could have placed a hold on the bill that would have held it up for 10 days. That might have caused a much longer delay, since the House of Representatives is scheduled to go on vacation for all of August. But something else is going on here, too, personal relationships. McConnell and Stabenow have worked together for years. They may be political opponents, but they know each other. They've each been in the majority and the minority. Neither is leaving the Senate anytime soon. They also know it's entirely possible that Democrats could win back control next year, and that failing to work together now could have long term consequences. So, they worked out a deal. The blight funds were saved; the transportation bill will speedily pass, and the missing funds will be found somewhere else. This might not have happened if all the players were inexperienced, term-limited, and knew they wouldn't be working together for very long. This is one of the unfortunate differences between Washington and the even more dysfunctional world of Lansing. By the way – I criticized Senator Stabenow two weeks ago for opposing repeal of a County of Origin Labeling law for meat that has threatened us with retaliatory tariffs from Canada. Now, it appears she may have found a face-saving compromise that would allow, but not require, American farmers to label their meat "Product of the U.S." Governing, as opposed to politics, is largely about two things: experience and compromise. Which is what adults do, every day. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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We've lost our intellectual furniture

Here's something that we seldom realize, but which incessantly fascinates me. You know that for some time, microbreweries have been all the rage. But in fact, we live in a world full of microcultures, which we like to think are more or less interwoven into whatever passes for mainstream culture. Increasingly, however, there seems to be less and less of a common thread. During my professional career I've come to learn that people who work in news operations, especially editors and managers, are often curiously blind to this. If you are putting together a regular news broadcast, or a newspaper, or report of some sort, you are necessarily trying to impose a manageable order on the world. Editors don't think that way at all. They think they are engaged in the business of finding out the most important, interesting and relevant news, distilling it into a manageable package, and delivering it to people so that they can make sense of things. Newspaper editors and news directors tend to be extremely well-informed and well-rounded people, with a broad grasp of the sweep of events. Except that what they miss is that most people don't see the world that way. The other night I was at a birthday dinner in an odd restaurant called the Mulefoot Gastropub in a rural area of Michigan's thumb. There was a table in back where a group of men were having a long, intense discussion, with faces that reminded me of Hollywood portrayals of the American high command during the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were clearly discussing something very important about which the news seemed to be very bad. Being curious, I managed to slowly walk by their table on the way to the room set aside for those who, like me, drink large amounts of coffee. Turned out they were talking about the complete collapse of the Detroit Tigers' bullpen, and what should be done about it. My guess is that they were only dimly aware of most of what journalists tend to think are the major issues of the day, other than perhaps our crumbling roads. They could, however, just as easily have been talking about breeding Beagles, or quilting. There's nothing wrong with that. There is far more to life than worrying about who is going to be nominated for president next year. However, what I worry about is this: Thirty years ago, most of us got a coherent daily picture of reality from a newspaper and from nightly national and local news broadcasts. Nearly all shared a similar view of what news was. That may have been a flawed and too-narrow view, too heavily shaped by middle-aged white men. But you could assume people had similar sets of common knowledge. You cannot assume that anymore. Only a small minority regularly reads a daily paper or watches a nightly news broadcast. Almost no one under forty does. That could be part of the reason why we find it so hard to get a consensus on solving any issue. Any successful society needs common assumptions and, to an extent, what I call common intellectual furniture. We've lost some of that, due to the decline of mainstream media. Finding a way to get it back may be more essential than we know. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Wayne County woes

If you've studied biology, you may know about a phenomenon called protective coloration. Snowshoe hares, for example, are brown in the fall and white in the winter, so they can blend into their surroundings and not be easily seen by predators. In my case, I am an ordinary-looking white man in late middle age. I have shortish hair and always wear a suit. Similarly-attired people assume that I think the way they do, and tell me things they'd never tell a woman, a minority, or someone who looked like a radical protestor. Based on this, I can tell you that there are boatloads of white people who believe that Detroit was run into the ground by irresponsible and lazy black politicians with no self-discipline and no ability to manage anything. They are all greatly relieved that a powerful white mayor is back in charge now, but given the demographics of the population, these folks are not too optimistic about the city's long-term success. But there's now a delicious irony at work. In what was perhaps yesterday's least surprising news development, a state review team found that Wayne County is in a financial emergency, which could be the first step towards another state takeover. What's ironic about this is that Wayne County was run into the ground by politicians who happen to be white. Though Michigan's largest county is 40 percent black, it is white politicians who have run the show. It was they who blew more than a hundred million dollars on a jail that sits unfinished because the county paid no attention to cost overruns. Wayne County piled up unacceptable levels of long-term debt and failed to fund its health care obligations under white county executives, the last of whom seems to have had no idea how to set up or balance a budget. There was, by the way, far less excuse for Wayne to end up in this predicament than there was for Detroit. Wayne has some very affluent areas. Yet the politicians managed to squander their assets. And now the county and the state are looking to Warren Evans, a recently elected new black county executive, to have the sense and the maturity to figure a way out of this. The ball is now in the governor's court, and he could conceivably move towards a state takeover and appoint yet another emergency manager. If this were a year ago and Bob Ficano was still executive, that probably would happen. But there is far more confidence in the leadership abilities of Evans, an attorney and former police chief and sheriff with a long background in law enforcement and considerable administrative skills. Odds are that the county will enter into a "consent agreement' with the state, which will give Evans more power to get the county's finances and budget under control. If that works, it would be highly preferable in all sorts of ways to yet another state takeover and emergency manager. Yesterday, Warren Evans said, "We have a plan that allows us to solve our own problems and we have a responsibility ... to get it done." We should all hope he can do just that. Because if you think that Michigan's largest county will be the last to face severe financial difficulty, think again. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Trump: No sense or shame

Sixty-one years ago, during the height of the cold war, Americans were terrorized by a burly demagogue named Joe McCarthy, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy specialized, as you probably remember, in recklessly labeling people Communists, and hauling suspects up before his infamous subcommittee. To be accused of being a Communist in 1954 was roughly equivalent to being identified as a member of ISIS today. Many lost jobs, their livelihood, their families. McCarthy got more and more reckless. Finally, he smeared a young man who worked for a prestigious Boston law firm, one of whose partners was Joseph Welch, at the time general counsel for the army. The idea was that the only way anyone could survive was to throw other people to the wolves. But Welch faced McCarthy down, and in one of broadcast history's most famous exchanges, said, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?" Suddenly, millions saw who and what McCarthy was. Before long, he was censured by the Senate, lost his power, and swiftly drank himself to death. Well, I was reminded of all that this week by the disgraceful actions of a clown posing as a presidential candidate, and the appalling way some leaders of the Michigan Republican Party have behaved in reaction. Donald Trump has been famous largely as a glitzy developer who has sought to become a pop culture icon. We've endured his self-aggrandizement, parade of wives, ex-wives, children and girlfriends, and boorish behavior. He'll be seventy next year and in a bid for more publicity, is now running for president. It's doubtful whether he really wants or expects to win, but he does want attention. And he's figured out how to get it, first by saying that saying that immigrants from Mexico are, quote, "rapists" who are bringing drugs and crime to this country, adding, "and some, I assume, are good people." That should have been the end of his candidacy, but it wasn't. Now, Trump has launched an unbelievable series of attacks on his fellow Republican, Senator John McCain, saying , "he's not a war hero," and sneering at him because he was taken prisoner, saying 'I like people who weren't captured." In fact, McCain suffered more in captivity than perhaps any other American prisoner in Vietnam. He was brutally tortured after his plane was shot down, spent more than five years in captivity and still suffers the aftereffects. Trump, who was born to wealth, spent the Vietnam War as a playboy in New York City. You'd think every Republican would be shunning Trump. But instead, he's coming to Michigan next month to speak to the Genesee and Saginaw County Republicans. Asked about this by the Gongwer news service, GOP chairs Amy Carl of Saginaw and Michael Moon of Genesee indicated they were thrilled. "He's so bold in his delivery," Carl gushed, bizarrely calling Trump a "no-nonsense type of speaker." Moon said "My job as the county chair is to get as many candidates in as I can get in." Well, I don't know either of these chairs, but I know that they too need to be asked: At long last, have they no sense of decency? Sadly, it would appear that the answer is clear. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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The UAW and two Tier Employment

Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers union's greatest leader, has been dead for forty-five years now, killed in a plane crash outside Pellston, a few years before oil shocks and a flood of foreign imports began to drastically change the industry. Several years ago, soon after the union agreed to accept a two-tier wage system in which new hires would be paid less, I asked Doug Fraser, perhaps the last of his successors to know Reuther well, what Walter would have thought about that. I expected he'd say Reuther would be rolling in his grave. But instead, Fraser said it was impossible to know. We are living in a different world from the one Reuther helped build. And Walter Reuther was adept at adjusting to new realities. When the union agreed to accept a two-tier system eight years ago, they hoped it would create more jobs. There is some evidence that it did do that. Nobody then foresaw that the auto industry was about to have a near-death experience which took two of the automakers into bankruptcy. Perhaps being able to pay some workers less marginally helped the car companies' survival. But now everything has changed again. The formerly Big Three are a lot leaner and a whole lot smaller than they were, but they are once again profitable, making billions a year. The UAW thinks their membership has sacrificed enough. Most of their higher-paid longtime, or "legacy," workers make $28.50 cents an hour. But they haven't had a raise in eight years, which, in reality, means they've had a pay cut. And the newer, Tier II workers can make a maximum of $19.28 cents an hour, which means that some workers are making more than $300 dollars a week less than another guy next to them who is doing the same job. Even Sergio Marchionne, the flamboyant head of Fiat Chrysler, recently called the two tier wage system "almost offensive" and said it would be impossible to sustain. But in the past, he's indicated that he's more interested in lowering the wages of the more highly paid workers than raising the second tier. That's bound to be a non-starter with the union. Some experts think a gradual process where the new workers eventually become eligible for the top salary is the most likely outcome. But the companies are bound to argue that they cannot risk having their labor costs become so high that they can no longer stand up to international competition. Many years ago, George Romney told me that back in the 1950s, he once or twice had secret lunches with Walter Reuther. Romney, then president of American Motors, told me that he and the labor leader agreed that the time-honored practice of more and more raises for the workers followed by costs passed on to the consumer couldn't go on forever. But, Romney said that neither man knew how to stop it in their lifetimes. Well, seven years ago, we saw that system crash. Now, this year's auto talks may well determine a lot more than what future salaries and benefits will be. They may indicate clearly what kind of future is ahead for the UAW, and possibly even whether it even has one at all. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Michigan, then and now

I am, perhaps unfortunately, old enough to remember life in Michigan half a century ago. The Detroit Tigers were a much more exciting team than the current lot, on their way up instead of down, a team whose members actually functioned and played as a team. Their entire payroll, I believe, was about two percent of what it is today. There was also a statewide spirit of optimism and belief in a better future that is lacking today. Oh, in many ways life was worse then. Twice as many people smoked, and poisonous clouds of tobacco smoke were everywhere, from restaurants to airliners. The Detroit Three were still the Big Three, though cars were much more unsafe and unreliable. Japanese cars were unknown in this country, and foreign cars mainly meant toys for the rich and cheap VW beetles for college students. Despite passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act the year before, African-Americans in America were doomed in many ways to lives that were second-class, at best. In 1965, many, perhaps most Americans, believed that by now we would have colonies on the moon, maybe even Mars. Nobody thought we would make a few trips and then abandon the idea of space exploration. Most people still worried about Moscow and the spread of Communism half a century ago. No one foresaw the Soviet Union peacefully dissolving as if it were a bankrupt Kalkaska hardware store, though that's exactly what happened. For the most part, few could have believed that by this time, Americans would have twice elected an African-American president. After all, a Detroit housewife named Viola Liuzzo had just been murdered in Alabama for the "crime" of trying to help black folks, who were then called Negroes, register to vote. But few white people thought much about black problems then. They didn't like seeing dogs and fire hoses attack blacks in the south, but assumed everything was fine here, an assumption that would die with Detroit's massive riot two summers later. And if many Michiganders in 1965 expected people to be living on the moon half a century in the future, I would bet that absolutely no one imagined it would be legal for a man to marry a man. That wasn't even a dream. But there's something else I don't think anyone imagined back then: A Michigan that had perhaps the worst roads in the nation. And a legislature which, despite pleas from the public, flatly refused to take the necessary steps to fix them. The year before that, an eighth-grade social studies teacher had taken us to Lansing to see the Capitol. He told us proudly that Michigan had a new constitution that was helping streamline and modernize government, and made it work more efficiently and better. Well, it doesn't work so well anymore. We've had this constitution about as long now as we had the obsolete document before that. As the roads, term limits and gerrymandering have all shown, our current constitution is much in need of an overhaul. What I worry about, however, is that we have lost the will to fix it, and lost the belief that we can make things better. And my hope is that once again, the future will prove that wrong. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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