Build a wall around Detroit 

What Detroit really needs now is to build its own version of the Berlin Wall. No, really. Stay with me on this. Look: The city's plight is pretty much hopeless. The Legislature isn't going to lift a finger to help Motown.

General Motors may have put its bureaucrats in the Renaissance Center, but they aren't about to build any new plants here. Hell, they're closing them in the suburbs. Ford is in even worse shape.

The city is bleeding a thousand people a month. Many are exactly the people Detroit can't afford to lose. They are those who not only have jobs, but who can read and write. (Nearly half the city's adults can't.)

There are a lot of parallels with Berlin in 1961, except the Deutschers had a higher literacy rate. If your history is a little shaky, the Communists then controlled both the eastern half of the city and all of East Germany.

The government in the West was a capitalist democracy, and every day about a thousand East Germans simply walked across the line and never looked back. It was a massive brain drain.

So, one night in August, the East German authorities threw up a wall. It was mainly barbed wire at first, but then was replaced by not one, but two really mean-looking concrete walls with a minefield in between.

There were watchtowers, guard dogs, the whole nine yards. The world reacted with horror. Actually, the West Germans and Americans were secretly relieved, because the wall stabilized the situation and was a tremendous propaganda coup for them. In fact, West Berlin was built up even further into a tremendous showplace of capitalism.

But the West Germans became increasingly sad and nostalgic for those in the East. Then, one day in November 1989, the wall unexpectedly opened up, and soon after came down. Within months, the two halves of the city, and the two Germanys, were united again as one.

And Germany promptly started spending billions and billions of dollars to lift up those who had been deprived, and to fix up the eastern half of the city and the country. Today, you can scarcely recognize the old place.

That's exactly what Detroit needs to do. Building a wall makes perfect sense; the line could be that it is going up "to protect us from the hostile suburbs," which ought to go over well in some quarters. It should cost next to nothing; the city doesn't lack for bricks, many of which can be salvaged from collapsing abandoned houses and warehouses.

Naturally, there will be an outcry, especially from people like me, who work in the city but live elsewhere. There will be the usual poignant little stories about people who went to see their aged grandmother and were caught on the wrong side when they sealed the border.

But I am sure that after a few weeks of relentless media attention, something will be worked out. Perhaps a narrow corridor can be opened along Woodward so that essential workers can get in and out.

As time goes on, we will all become increasingly embarrassed by the Detroit Wall. Eventually, we will have more enlightened lawmakers, and years from now, someone will take a step to tear the whole thing down.

Then everyone will be so happy to be reunited that we will all unselfishly pitch in, with the sweat of our brow or our tax dollars or both, and rebuild Detroit as a shining city on a hill, or at least one with working streetlights. We'll build mass transit and employers will move in too.

That would be something, wouldn't it. Sound crazy? Maybe a little bit, but then so did the Berlin Wall. And, hey — did you ever dream that our nation would ever decide to re-enact the Vietnam War, right down to losing again? What a country, as Yakov Smirnov used to say.

Anyway — call Kwame, make him think it was his own idea, and start mixing the cement. I'll grab my best trowel, and see you there.


Immigration reform: Almost nothing is more amazing than the hypocrisy of the Republican congressmen who are now fighting against President Bush's desire to give amnesty to some "illegal" immigrants who have been here, most of them working hard and paying taxes, for years.

You can bet your last peso that some of the staunchest alien amnesty opponents have illegal immigrant nannies and yard men. The entire economy of Southern California, and other places as well, would collapse if not for illegal immigrants doing the work nobody else will do.

Many of them are paid abysmally, sometimes not even the minimum wage. Yet it is easy for politicians to pick on immigrants when times are tough, especially in an election year. They can't vote, after all.

The two-facedness of the politicians, however, is exceeded by that of most of the rest of us. (Politicians at least have the need to get elected as an excuse.) Americans traditionally have had the attitude that immigration was a wonderful and fine thing — until after our family got here.

Then, as soon as our people clambered up out of steerage and got off the boat, it was time to cut it off. We didn't need any more immigrants, thank you. And especially not those swarthy types that don't speak our language and don't have good American names like Szymanski.

Yes, we need some controls on immigration, though I think our fears of being overrun by unwashed hordes of brown people are exaggerated. Our posturing congressmen would do better to show more concern for all the jobs American corporations are sending overseas, to foreigners in factories and call centers in their own countries.

The fact is, however, legal immigrants are taking the jobs in science and engineering and medicine that too few of our native-born Anglo-Saxon youngsters want to work hard enough in school to get.

Illegal immigrants do the jobs, like slaughterhouse work, that we think we are too good to do. They also work harder, by and large, than your average Sterling Heights mall rat. So here's what I think: We should take in an extra 250,000 immigrants from Mexico, Pakistan, wherever, on the condition they agree to live for a decade in the city of Detroit.

That's right. They could fix it up, improve it, inspire those around them with their industriousness. Detroit has less than half its population of a half-century ago; much of it is an underpopulated crumbling wasteland.

Nothing could be better than a dose and jolt of energy from new enthusiastic residents. That worked nearly a century ago.

Besides, it would be a lot easier than building my wall.


Water, water, everywhere: But how many drops should we sell? On Tuesday, May 9, the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, or EMEAC, is showing the important documentary Thirst, about the ongoing efforts to privatize our water. (Southfield Public Library Auditorium, 6 p.m.) There will also be a discussion afterwards which will be moderated by yours truly. I should reveal, however, that I am totally in favor of privatizing the Great Lakes and allowing the water to be sold.

Otherwise, how can we possibly expect Exxon/Mobil and Halliburton to continue to make record profits after the oil runs out?

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

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