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Women who don’t belong in jail

May 9, 2018
Jack Amick / Creative Commons

You’ve probably never heard of Melissa Chapman, who has spent the majority of her life in Michigan prisons. When she was 18, her violent and abusive boyfriend shot a man and forced her to help hide the body. She was sentenced to life in prison for that. She’s been there thirty years.

Help the schools win the lottery: Vote today

May 8, 2018
Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Mark Krinock, a neurosurgeon from Kalamazoo, asked me something via email yesterday that I’ve heard people asking for many years. “I am curious how the state of education can be in such dire straits when the lottery has contributed over $7 billion over the last ten years to the education system.” Dr. Krinock is a big supporter of public education, and is puzzled by this.

Why hasn’t the lottery taken care of education?

Lots of people angry over "baby box" commentary

May 7, 2018

There was a hearing in the Michigan House of Representatives last week on a bill that would allow a parent who wished to anonymously give up a child to place it in a box attached to the side of a building like a hospital, or a police station.

When the baby goes in, two alarms are supposed to go off and notify both 9-1-1 and people inside the building to rescue the baby.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Apparently, hell hath no fury like environmental regulators who've been deceived.

Just ask Martin Winterkorn. The former Volkswagen CEO was indicted this week on federal conspiracy charges that he defrauded the United States, committed wire fraud and violated the Clean Air Act.

The reckoning was inevitable. Ever since regulators discovered VW’s scheme to evade diesel emissions rules almost three years ago, it’s only been a matter of time for ol’ Winterkorn to get the book thrown at him.

Do we need baby boxes?

May 4, 2018
Legislation that allows parents to surrender their children to secured "baby boxes" has passed in Michigan's House.
safehavenbabyboxes.com

THIS COMMENTARY WAS UPDATED ON 5/19/18

State Senator Patty Birkholz, who died yesterday, was a classy lady who fought for the environment and tried to make this state a better place. She was a proud Republican who nevertheless wasn’t afraid to break from her party on occasion to do the right thing.

Shea Patterson playing for Ole Miss
MGoBlog / Flickr / https://goo.gl/64qT3b

Last season, for only the second time in Jim Harbaugh’s 14-year career as a head football coach, his team took a significant step backward. After leading Michigan to 10-3 records his first two years at Michigan, the Wolverines dropped back to 8-5, capped by a bad loss in their bowl game.

Michigan had great defense, but sputtered on offense, mainly due to sub-par quarterbacks. Of course, when injuries force you to use your back-up, then your back-up’s back-up, that’s gonna happen.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

It was an interesting week in the worlds of political satire and journalism. 

The legal fight over animal rights

May 3, 2018
The John Ball Zoo's Amur tiger
Courtesy of John Ball Zoo

It often seems like we care less about each other than we used to – or at least, we are choosing policies not designed to help society in general or the next generation.

Our lawmakers have been happily giving tax cuts to the rich while letting our infrastructure fall apart. It is far more necessary for today’s students to get higher education and far harder for them to afford it. Racism and xenophobia seem to be exploding.

Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar
Michigan Radio

Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar are each accomplished men. The 63-year-old Thanedar came over here penniless from India, started companies and made fortunes, even though he also has lost one or two. El-Sayed, who at 33 is barely half Thanedar's age, is one of the smartest and most charismatic people I have ever met.

Are farmers' profits more important than our water?

May 1, 2018
An aerial view of algae blooms in Lake Erie.
NOAA

Last week, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced that efforts to decrease those potentially toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie aren’t working. When I read that, let’s say I wasn’t exactly surprised. I moderated a large forum on this subject in Tontogany, Ohio last year.

The need to trust government

Apr 30, 2018
Michigan's 14th congressional district
Public Domain

We could debate endlessly about what people want and expect from state government, but a few things are clear: First, we want a government we can trust and that will respond to what we want. And it is also very clear people are fed up with our current system of hyperpartisan gerrymandering, in which legislative and congressional districts are always drawn to ensure perpetual Republican control of the Legislature and a majority of seats in Congress.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

A few years after the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler, I found myself on the long porch of Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel chatting with Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

He was talking about the Chapter 11 process to help failing companies and how it helped Chrysler and GM survive – thanks to Obama's auto task force and American taxpayers.

It also forced the people running those companies – and those who would follow – to make hard decisions. I was reminded of that this week. In less than 24 hours, those who care got three separate looks at the financial health of Detroit’s three automakers and things looked different.

Shri, the dogs, and we

Apr 27, 2018
Shri Thanedar
shri2018.com

Shri Thanedar has a fascinating life story. Earlier this year he gave me his autobiography, The Blue Suitcase: Tragedy and Triumph in an Immigrant’s Life. I’ve only read parts of it, but it is more fascinating than most campaign biographies.

Last year, after selling much of Avomeen Chemical Services, the Ann Arbor laboratory he founded, Thanedar decided to run for governor, and has poured millions of his own money into the cause, flooding the airwaves with well-produced TV commercials.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

There are two types of people in this world: Those who like black licorice and those who must be punished for not liking black licorice. This is because (1) black licorice is delicious and (2) it is the one true licorice.

A rush to negotiate NAFTA

Apr 26, 2018

One of the many promises Donald Trump made when running for President was to pull the country out of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States. Once in office, Trump decided to try to first renegotiate it instead.

That was months ago, and we’ve heard little about NAFTA since, apart from occasional stories that the negotiators are shuttling between the three capitals. News about it has been largely blotted out by the Russia investigation and a threatened trade war with China.

I shouldn't be able to breed my own lions

Apr 25, 2018
lion cub
Alias 0591 / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1f2P1w6

You don’t have to be a geneticist to know species need genetic diversity. That’s the key practical reason why most societies forbid incest. European kings and queens often married first cousins, and that helped spread hemophilia throughout the royal families of Europe.

Well, that’s at least as true of zoo animals. There are genetic records -- stud books, they are sometimes called – and what are called Species Survival Plans. 

Bieda can do more locally than in Congress

Apr 24, 2018
senatedems.com/bieda/photos/

State Senator Steve Bieda is perhaps the biggest history buff in the Michigan legislature. He’s an expert on coins, once designed one for the mint, and fought to get new replicas of Civil War cannons installed on the lawn, and to get the Capitol restored.

When identity politics get silly

Apr 23, 2018

After last week’s Democratic Party “endorsement convention,” there is a distinct probability that three of their candidates for the top four statewide offices will be white women.  Strong, accomplished, politically sophisticated women.

But much of the reaction to that has shown that misogyny is not dead, and that some people are fixated on quotas that have too often given us candidates who were symbolic tokens.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The Chinese say they’re willing to change the rules that protect their precious auto industry. That’d be the industry companies like General Motors have spent a generation building with Chinese partners because, over there, he who controls the government rules.

Has John Engler lost it?

Apr 20, 2018
John Engler at the final MSU Board of Trustees meeting of the 2017/18 school year.
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Whether you liked his policies or not, there’s no doubt John Engler was an enormously effective governor a quarter-century ago. He knew the Legislature and how it worked.

He also knew virtually all of its members personally – their strengths, their weaknesses, what they wanted and needed. That was partly because he’d spent 20 years in the state house and senate before being elected governor in a tremendous upset in 1990.

That reputation for getting things done is why Michigan State trustees chose Engler as their interim president at the end of January. 

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

The second best advice I ever gave my kids was "Remember to do the things you're supposed to do and don't do the things you're not supposed to do." Pretty sound, right? Covers the bases, for them and for me. Of course, it helped they all had (and still have) really good moral compasses.

 

But the best advice I gave them was this: "Don't stake the success of any relationship on your intention to change the other person — you can't 'fix' people, so don't try to fix them."

 

Michigan's legislature is punishing the poor

Apr 19, 2018

The Michigan legislature is unwilling to properly fix the roads or repair the rest of our crumbling infrastructure. But there is something they are eager to do: Make life more difficult for poor people who qualify for Medicaid under the Healthy Michigan plan. 

Preserve the Great Lakes ecosystem

Apr 18, 2018
Asian Carp
Kate Gardiner / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

I woke up this morning thinking about Asian carp.

I’d noticed that our state Senate spent much of yesterday doing things like voting to cut funding for those trying to get off Medicaid.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that many urban areas like Ann Arbor are overrun with white-tailed deer, the state House was voting to outlaw sterilizing them. I can’t imagine why anyone would say that our lawmakers don’t have their priorities straight.

How to fix Michigan State

Apr 17, 2018

Whenever you think things couldn’t possibly get worse for Michigan State, they do. Just after the team doctor turned sexual predator went off to prison, disaster struck again.

William Strampel, his former boss and the former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, was arrested and charged with various things, including criminal sexual misconduct of his own. That case has yet to work its way through the courts, but is going to be anything but helpful to MSU’s attempts to heal itself and stay solvent.

The upset at the battle of Cobo Hall

Apr 16, 2018
Dana Nessel, wearing blue, speaks into a microphone.
Cheyna Roth / MPRN

In ancient times, say, four years ago, Patrick Miles would have had no trouble winning the Democratic Party nomination for attorney general.

After all, the former federal prosecutor had the endorsement of the UAW, and that’s all it used to take. “The UAW doesn’t lose,” longtime expert observer Bill Ballenger said.

Not until now, anyway. The party’s old bulls were behind Miles.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Now we know why Michigan State’s interim president, John Engler, tapped an ol’ Republican hand to head government relations at the school. He understands politics well enough to know they’ll need the help.

And the politics surrounding the aftershocks of the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse scandal are very simple: someone must pay.

For the assaults on hundreds of women under the guise of sports medicine. For the lawsuits that followed. For the dreadful management inside State’s vaunted athletic department and the office of former president Lou Anna Simon.

Michigan State needs cultural, systemic change

Apr 13, 2018
Michigan State Spartans
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

You might think the worst was now over for Michigan State. Larry Nassar is in prison, presumably for life. The university president who failed to get control of the scandal has been driven out of office, and one of the most powerful political figures in Michigan history is in charge of cleaning up the mess and moving on.

a cartoon of Governor Rick Snyder endorsing Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley
John Auchter / Michigan Radio

I don't blame politicians for avoiding the "politician" label. Politician, after all, is a dirty word. They are all rotten, lying, cheating, crummy, crooked politicians, right? Well... maybe not all. In this representative form of government, we all profess to love so much, good politicians are critical to its success. Good politicians are advocates of the people. They listen, they understand, they form a consensus, and then they lead.

 

Seemed like a good idea at the time

Apr 12, 2018
Screen showing Line 5 on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

I am not exactly a violent person. Nobody has ever confused me with Norman Mailer. But someday, I may be sitting at a press conference after the twin pipelines under the straits of Mackinac rupture, and 700 miles of shoreline are contaminated and ruined.

And if a politician, or some spokesman for a politician, then says they didn’t have sufficient warning, I cannot guarantee I’d be responsible for my actions.

Apart from school board seats and state Supreme Court judges, there are only four Michigan officeholders elected statewide: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. We choose major party candidates for governor in the August 7 primary.

That is, if we bother to vote, which most of us don’t. Whoever wins the gubernatorial nomination gets to choose a lieutenant governor, so we have no say there.

That leaves secretary of state and attorney general. When you think of it, for most of us, the secretary of state may be the most important position. 

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