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Preview: Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take Podcast

Jack Lessenberry

Every weekday, Michigan Radio political analyst Jack Lessenberry offers up his perspective on the latest political news in Michigan.

Last Build Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2017 20:03:37 +0000


In the new Trump Era we have to be vigilant, but open minded

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 19:05:54 +0000

While the Japanese use our calendar for practical purposes, they officially start a new era every time an emperor takes office. This is, for example, Heisei 29 in Japan, not 2017. We do a version of the same thing. We talk of the “Clinton years,” or the “Bush years,” and even link cultural events to the reigns of our presidents, none of which last more than eight years. We talk about Reagan-era fashions, for example.

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Where are the "honest and wise men"?

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:27:13 +0000

Congressman Justin Amash, a Republican from Grand Rapids just starting his fourth term, is never going to be part of the good old boys and girls club that runs Congress. He doesn’t “go along to get along,” follows his own brand of “libertarian light” conservatism, and if he hasn’t had time to read a bill or grasp its full implications, traditionally just votes “present” no matter what his party’s leadership says.

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Not real impressed with that speech

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 16:54:09 +0000

Governor Rick Snyder gave his annual state of the state speech last night. If you missed it, don’t feel bad. There was virtually nothing to miss. I’ve seen five different governors deliver these annual speeches over the last 40 years. None of them will live for the ages. Years ago, after one, a reporter for United Press International turned to me and said, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself, and another speech next year.”

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Corruption, scandal, leaked tapes: What the heck is going on in Macomb County?

Tue, 17 Jan 2017 21:00:00 +0000

Metro Detroit's infamous Macomb County might be "the most politically craziest county in Michigan, if not the planet." Michigan Radio's senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry wrote that in a column for the Toledo Blade . The state's third most populous county has produced one outrageous headline after another: from a sheriff who went to prison for rape, to corruption surrounding a waste-hauling company, to the racist and sexist recordings plaguing Warren mayor Jim Fouts, and the list goes on and on. So what is wrong with Macomb County? Lessenberry joined long-time Macomb County reporter Chad Selweski on Stateside to try to make sense of the "weirdness" that goes on in the county.

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Citizens can be inspired to do more. But Gov. Snyder won't inspire them tonight.

Tue, 17 Jan 2017 15:40:30 +0000

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his seventh State of the State address tonight. My guess is that not many people will watch or listen; with this speech, they hardly ever do. Abraham Lincoln famously said at Gettysburg that “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here.” Lincoln was as wrong as he could be about his own words.

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What would Martin Luther King Jr. say?

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 15:26:48 +0000

For many Americans, the life of Martin Luther King Jr. means mostly that they get a day off from work or school, a day in which the banks are closed and the mail doesn’t come. They may also know him as a one-dimensional icon of the civil rights movement, who repeatedly said “I have a dream,” during some famous speech a long time ago, and also said, “I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promised land,” and then got shot.

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This guy is working to save Detroit's music heritage before it's lost

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:04:46 +0000

You could argue that the biggest Michigan story of the last decade was Detroit – the fall of its famously corrupt mayor, the city’s descent into bankruptcy, and its reemergence and renaissance. Nobody would have believed 10 years ago that downtown Detroit would be booming today, or that Midtown near Wayne State University would be a trendy place to live. Today, Detroit’s streetlights are all on again, and a balding and plump white guy from the suburbs is the most popular mayor in years. There’s still an urgent need for more jobs. But there’s a need for not only bread but roses too, and culturally, Detroit was always music. Yes, to many people that means Motown, but there was and is a lot more. Jazz in a hundred venues, Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the stage at the Blue Bird Inn. Charlie Parker, the Bird, cutting records at United Sound Studios. Rodriguez, famous in South Africa but virtually unknown in his hometown till the blockbuster movie Searching for Sugarman . It was and is

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Ignorance isn’t strength

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 14:36:08 +0000

Ten days from now we will have a new President, and in time he will name a new justice to the Supreme Court, and eventually a nominee is likely to be confirmed. I teach college students, mostly seniors and graduates, journalism history and law. And sometime after the new justice takes office, one will ask me when they’ll have to run for reelection. They don’t, of course; they are selected for life.

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Michigan leaders stick it to poor people once again

Mon, 09 Jan 2017 16:03:24 +0000

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons showed a judge looking down at a defendant and asking, “So – just how much justice can you afford?” Judges never say things like that, or at least I hope not. But the system sort of does, whether we admit it or not. If you doubt that, consider this: Let’s say some state agency went after Dick and Betsy DeVos and accused them of defrauding the taxpayers out of money. They were not only ordered to pay it back; they were then assessed a fine four times the size of what they got…

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Here's why you should care about the Macomb County sinkhole

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 18:21:34 +0000

By now, millions of people have been horrified by the great Macomb County sinkhole, which has destroyed at least three modern houses in the suburb of Fraser. Imagine waking up on Christmas Eve, as one couple did, to the sounds of the foundations of your house popping as it sank into the ground.

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A glimmer of hope for inmates with mental illness

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 18:39:39 +0000

Milton Mack, who was chief probate judge in Wayne County for many years, is probably the state judiciary’s top expert in the problems of prisons and the mentally ill. Mack, now state court administrator, has long maintained that we could significantly reduce both our state prison population and its costs if more of our mentally ill could be put on medication instead of being locked up. But efforts at reform have too often been stymied by politicians who were more concerned about looking “tough on crime.”

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Starting the Governor's race a little too soon

Wed, 04 Jan 2017 16:57:17 +0000

A long time ago, a graceful man named Adlai Stevenson ran for President against Dwight D. Eisenhower, the much-beloved national war hero. The campaign was hopeless. When he conceded defeat, full of charm and wit as always, a reporter asked if Stevenson planned to run again in four years. The candidate looked startled, and then broke into a broad grin. “Examine that man’s head!” he said, laughing. Stevenson would eventually run again, but he knew that nobody in the country wanted to think about another political campaign for a while. Well, we’ve just been through a far nastier campaign, one that lasted nearly two years, saturated every communications medium known to mankind, and which has barely ended. Exactly eight weeks ago today, Americans woke up to learn to their delight – or horror – that Donald Trump would be the next President of the United States. Since the election, I’ve talked to or heard from normal people across the spectrum, people not obsessed with politics, and if there

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Finding a way to win the war on poverty in America

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 16:18:45 +0000

Except for a few brief years in the 1960’s, it has never been fashionable to care about the desperately poor in this country. John F. Kennedy did challenge us to do something about poverty in his inaugural address : “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” But today, we have a President-elect who said: “Benefits should have strings attached to them." And: "If [people] can stay poor for so many generations … they’re morons." Well, those of us who thought we understood politics got a rude shock two months ago. But if you think you understand poverty, the odds are that you too are mistaken. I’ve just finished an amazing short book which I think everyone should read. It’s called $2.00 A Day – Living on Almost Nothing in America , by Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer. Edin is a distinguished professor of social work at Johns Hopkins; Shaefer, an Ypsilanti native, is an associate professor in both the University of Michigan’s School of Social

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Journalism and Truth

Mon, 02 Jan 2017 14:44:59 +0000

Happy New Year! Since Michigan Radio graciously allows me to express my opinions, I thought I’d start by asserting the holidays were a very nice break, but that they didn’t last long enough. Well, that may be the least controversial thing I’ve said in a while. We are in a new year, about to have a new administration in Washington, and I thought I might start it out by talking about the nature of journalism and what I try to do. I was moved to do this partly by a post on Facebook, a few days ago, in which a kind person whom I don’t know personally wrote simply, “Thank you for being a journalist.” Other people expressed similar thoughts, but someone also posted that I might be a professor and a writer, but that I wasn’t really a journalist because I constantly expressed opinions, and that I wasn’t “objective.” Well, that’s an interesting criticism, and deserves a response, and I also think that listeners and readers deserve to know where I am coming from. Many people think of me as a

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A surreal year: Lawmakers continue to show contempt for people's wishes

Fri, 23 Dec 2016 16:06:57 +0000

It’s sometimes difficult to figure out what voters really want. But that’s clearly not true when it comes to one thing: Hunting wolves. Michigan citizens want that outlawed. Every poll has shown that. Two years ago the people overwhelmingly voted to outlaw wolf hunting by a nearly two-to-one margin. This would be off the table for now in any event, because the federal government has declared wolves an endangered species.

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Turn off the screens and read a good book over the holidays

Thu, 22 Dec 2016 17:13:11 +0000

I was recently tempted to bludgeon one of my students into recognizing that interesting things had happened, even before he was born, back in the ancient early 1990s, say. We were discussing the origins of the World Wide Web, the invention that actually made wide-ranging use of cyberspace possible. Having considered this, he said prior to that, I must have actually had to find things in books.

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... and when did he know it?

Wed, 21 Dec 2016 17:49:17 +0000

When I learned yesterday morning that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette had charged two Flint former emergency managers in connection with the water crisis, what popped first into my head was an image long ago of a young senator from Tennessee. “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Howard Baker had asked on national television more than 43 years ago, when Rick Snyder was in high school. The country tore itself apart over the next 14 months over this, and we all know how Watergate turned out.

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Turning the alleged Fouts tape into a teachable moment

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 15:34:17 +0000

There is a leaked audio tape that has caused a sensation in political circles in the Detroit area. The language is raw, shocking and horribly vile, and, for once is not about sex. A voice that sounds very much like that of Warren Mayor Jim Fouts complains that quote, “while on Fridays in the past I would be going to meet some women, tonight I am meeting with a group of retards. Tonight is retard night.”

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Electoral college switching votes is just a fantasy

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 15:17:06 +0000

If you’ve been following politics, you’ve probably heard that the Electoral College is meeting today, and is expected to formally ratify the election of Donald Trump as President. Well, that statement isn’t really true. The Electoral College never “meets” in the sense of everybody going to a central location. What happens is that electors from each state go to their state capitols, including Lansing, and fill out ballots casting two separate votes, one for President and the other for Vice-President.

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Something good came from Michigan's recount

Thu, 15 Dec 2016 20:19:37 +0000

Well, regardless of your politics, you can’t say nothing good came out of the aborted Michigan recount. Chris Thomas, the state’s longtime elections director, said last night that Detroit will get new voting machines before the city elections next year. Earlier, Janice Winfrey, Motown’s much-criticized city clerk, told the Detroit Free Press’s Rochelle Riley that she hoped new machines were coming, but if not... “We’re going to do like we always do in this raggedy city. We’re going to make it work.” You have to admire her spirit. Unfortunately, things didn’t work very well in last month’s presidential election, in which ballots were improperly handled, containers not properly sealed, and voting lists were often inaccurate. This wasn’t primarily an equipment problem, but a personnel one. Chris Thomas told the newspaper he would go to Detroit to try and help Winfrey figure out how to do the job better. He suspects the blame largely falls with the mainly elderly precinct inspectors and,

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