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Opinion

Michigan, then and now.

Feb 22, 2018
Governor William Milliken
Bentley Historical Library

Today would have been George Washington’s 286th birthday, and when I was a child we celebrated his birthday in school, as we did Abraham Lincoln’s ten days before.

Teachers used both as opportunities to teach us about the good semi-myths that helped bind us together; Washington chopping down the cherry tree and Honest Abe splitting rails.

Today, of course, both birthdays are lumped together as a generic Presidents’ Day, which basically means a day when the banks are closed and there isn’t any mail.

Should politicians have to come out?

Feb 21, 2018

I have always been attracted to women with dark hair. If you find that statement utterly irrelevant to anything I do professionally, that’s because it is.

Michigan's mental health care shame

Feb 20, 2018
Patients at the Eloise Psychiatric Hospital in the early 1950s.
Friends of Eloise

When I was a child growing up in the Detroit area in the 1960s, all the kids knew what happened if you became mentally ill, or as we so nicely put it, went nuts. You would be taken to Eloise, which we vaguely knew of as a huge mental institution somewhere.

MATT PICIO / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

 


 

Nancy Kaffer, a columnist with The Detroit Free Press, is known for being biting, funny, and insightful. She joined Stateside to talk about some recent topics on which she’s offered opinions. 

A national teachers’ strike?

Feb 19, 2018
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

It’s been five days since the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Florida; the 17 dead are being buried, and the story is easing out of the headlines.

This weekend, writing a newspaper column, I started to refer to this as “our nation’s latest school shooting,” and caught myself. Better not say that, I realized.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

In the land of Big Three universities and football wins, tiny Marygrove College doesn’t much matter. That’s the Michigan way – a not-so-flattering reflection of its warped values.

That’s a mistake. Marygrove is the creation of Catholic sisters from Monroe still deeply committed to helping Detroit. They opened Marygrove in 1927, establishing what became the state’s only predominantly African-American small liberal arts college. In later years, many of the students were the first in their families to go to college and most of them hailed from Detroit.

Yes, it is about guns — and our own madness.

Feb 16, 2018

Someday, a shooter will walk into a school, probably a suburban school, somewhere in Michigan, and blow teachers and students away, most likely with a weapon no civilian should be allowed to own. When that happens, don’t give me any credit for prophecy.

The ski jump event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Andy Miah / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Two decades ago, I covered the Winter Olympics in Japan, and it was great. But when I gushed about the ski jumping, women’s hockey, and speed skating, my readers had no idea what I was talking about.

I soon figured out why: the folks back home weren’t watching the same Olympics I was. What they did see was tape-delayed, over-produced, and cut short by an endless stream of “up close and personal” profiles, almost all of them Americans.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

Last year, the Trump administration budget proposed eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program to clean the lakes and protect them against invasive species. It was fairly up front about it, spinning it as the fiscally responsible thing to do.

"We must make cuts, can't just keep growing the national deficit, think of our children and grandchildren, etc." That used to be standard dogma for Republicans and a President who sold himself as an expert on debt, assuring us he would eliminate the federal deficit in eight years.

Legislators without integrity

Feb 15, 2018

Both houses of the legislature collaborated to pass bills yesterday that will put chump change in your pocket and damage our state’s ability to educate children and have a future. What’s more, they don’t care. The architects of this plan will be out of office soon.

Most of the state senate is term-limited, and so voters, even if they figure out what happened, will be unable to punish them. By then, many will be working as lobbyists for the special interests who told them how to vote.

The Statue of Liberty
Celso Flores / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

When I was growing up, we were taught we should be proud to be a nation of immigrants.

Later, as a young reporter, I learned that Americans held complex and contradictory views on immigration, views that all too often could be summed up as: "Immigration was great right up until the boat that brought my ancestors over. After that, it should have been stopped." 

Trump should not ignore the Great Lakes

Feb 13, 2018
satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

There are a lot of baffling things about President Trump, but perhaps the most baffling is this: Usually, when you win a close election, you do everything you can to hang on to those voters who gave you victory.

Trump won the last election by a tiny margin, and he won it in the Great Lakes states, flipping Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio.

The 9th district primary is an embarrassment of riches

Feb 12, 2018

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s 209th birthday, and it seems safe to say he probably wouldn’t have made it this far even had John Wilkes Booth left him alone.

If you’ve read much about Lincoln, you may recall that he served a single term in Congress, and then didn’t run again. I wondered about that for years, until I learned they had a deal where Lincoln would run for a term, and then another Whig would.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The push is on to change the way Michigan selects trustees for its Big Three universities.

Using statewide ballots to choose trustees is no way to govern highly paid university presidents running multi-billion dollar institutions.

Michigan is the only state in the country to do it that way.

In the school of bad practices, the home of the Green and White perennially contends for Number One. Time for that to change.

LGBTQ Michiganders deserve legal protections

Feb 9, 2018
flickr user Charlie Nguyen / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

I am both a human being and a journalist, and so I’m not surprised by most human frailties. I understand jealousy and greed and theft. I understand get-rich-quick schemes, sexual and romantic desires that aren’t always appropriate, and overeating.

But I don’t understand why anyone would attack and severely injure or kill anyone for their sexual orientation.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

When I was a senior at Powers Central Catholic High School in Flint, I went on a weekend religious retreat with a few of my classmates. It was fairly standard — two days away from the world to reflect and pray and to share the experience with peers. It took place on the grounds of a monastery that was also a working farm, so there were some rules. Mostly we needed to stay in or around the building that was dedicated for retreats.

Gov. Snyder (quietly) owns up to his policy failures

Feb 8, 2018

Politicians, even lame-duck and completely retired ones, do not like admitting they were wrong. Usually about the best you can get is some statement like “mistakes were made.”

In the worst cases, they obstinately keep on pushing wrong-headed policies even when they have clearly been shown to be disastrous. For further proof of this, read any good history of the Vietnam War. 

Michigan's 13th congressional district
Wikipedia

Just in case you were wondering, I’m not running for the vacant seat in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. I’m not trying to start rumors. I’m not running for anything, and can’t imagine I ever would. I’m a journalist, not a politician.

Making it easier to vote

Feb 6, 2018
people in voting booths
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Hard to believe, but today would have been Ronald Reagan’s 107th birthday. I remember meeting him when he made a surprise visit to the press tent at an international economic summit conference in 1983. He seemed bigger in real life than I had expected.

The next year, I remember seeing him in a soft rain, urging everyone to go out and vote, and to get their friends and neighbors to do the same. That was when he was running for reelection, in a campaign where the only real question was whether he’d win all fifty states.

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler speaks at Hillsdale College on on January 25, 2009.
Chuck Grimmett / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan State University is consumed by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. It’s so far claimed the school’s president, its athletic director and a growing chunk of its reputation. So, what does MSU’S partisan Board of Trustees do? They tap former Republican governor John Engler as interim president.

As confidence-building measures go, the move doesn’t rank among the best of them. It nakedly exposes just how partisan the governance of MSU really is – and how irrelevant the students, the faculty and transparency are to those making the decisions.

Remove the trustees. Now.

Feb 2, 2018
Michigan State University sign
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

To the best of my knowledge, the New York Times, the nation’s newspaper of record, has never before bothered to notice Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees.

But in a stunning editorial Wednesday, the Times called on Governor Rick Snyder to remove the disgraced eight MSU trustees who did nothing to exercise oversight or protect one of the nation’s major universities from perhaps the worst scandal in higher education history.

Belmont Tower at MSU
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

The local coverage of sexual assaults at Michigan State University seemed to fly under the national radar for months, until hundreds of the victims of former sports doctor Larry Nassar spoke up in court. Now it’s a national headline, and will be for years.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

A single word to summarize these Larry Nassar trials? How about, "ugh"? Well, it may not be a real word, but it's a real feeling. Still, as stomach-churning as this experience has been, there are some,  if not positive, then at least hopeful takeaways.

Why hate flourishes on the internet

Feb 1, 2018
mconnors / morgue file

Last night I had dinner with Morris Dees, the legendary founder and head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group that essentially put the Ku Klux Klan out of business. Not many people know this, but Dees is in Michigan fairly often these days.

He married Kathleen Kalahar, a high-powered Detroit lawyer, a year or so ago, and the couple split their time between Detroit and Alabama. You might say the definition of true love is voluntarily leaving Alabama to spend weeks in Detroit in January.

John Engler's challenge

Jan 31, 2018
Former Governor John Engler
WikiCommons

Twenty-seven years ago, Jim Blanchard and State Senate Majority Leader John Engler ran against each other in one of the most dramatic gubernatorial elections in Michigan history. Blanchard, the incumbent, was heavily favored. But in the biggest upset in state political history, John Engler won a narrow victory and went on to serve three terms.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette proposed yesterday we amend the constitution to give the governor the power to appoint the boards of Michigan’s three biggest universities – the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State.

MSU needs a president who can restore trust

Jan 29, 2018
Michigan State University sign
MSU

In recent days, I’ve heard people affiliated with various other universities say how glad they are not to be at Michigan State. Parents whose children go to MSU are worried. Not about sexual molestation, but about the school’s reputation.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Michigan’s Big Three universities have a big problem, and it starts in the boardroom.

Michigan is the only state in the country that elects its major university trustees by at-large statewide ballots. They don’t represent districts.

Few have the sharp business acumen needed to govern multi-billion dollar institutions. And as the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal in East Lansing shows, it doesn’t hold them accountable, either.

Whose job is it to keep an eye on university trustees?

Jan 26, 2018

One of the central problems of any government or corporation is this: Whose job is it to keep an eye on those in charge? Political science professors are fond of quoting the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who supposedly put it this way: Who will guard the guardians?

Well, Plato never actually said that; some Latin poet did, hundreds of years later. Plato did, however, worry about it. Americans used to think we’d solved the problem.

John Auchter / auchtoons.com

Governor Rick Snyder delivered his final State of the State address Tuesday. It was pretty much what we've come to expect from Snyder, a vaguely corporate PowerPoint presentation. That’s in keeping with "business nerd" shtick, so no big surprise or disappointment.

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