Bought and paid for

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop would have been regarded as an honest politician by at least one member of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet. Secretary of War Simon Cameron is now mostly remembered for saying, "an honest politician is one who, when he is bought, stays bought." Cameron himself, incidentally, was a man so corrupt that he was soon thrown out of the government, even in those wheeler-dealer war profiteering times. (Naturally, he returned to the U.S. Senate.)

But back to our hero, greasy Mike. Last May he promised an up-or-down vote on the much-needed proposal to build a new, internationally owned bridge over the Detroit River. Last week, he went back on his word, indicating there wouldn't be any vote this year. Reason? "It's just too complicated, too involved. There are too many outstanding legal issues to get it done," he told Gongwer News Service, which, unlike today's newspapers, really does an excellent job covering what's going on in the state Capitol. (Unfortunately, like more and more valuable information, it is available only to those who pay handsomely for its reports.)

The idea that legal issues stand in the way of a vote on the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) is garbage. Bishop's announcement caught Republican state Sen. Jud Gilbert, the transportation committee chair, by surprise. Gilbert was working behind the scenes to craft a compromise DRIC that could pass the Senate.

This is not an issue, by the way, that divides most Republicans and Democrats. Most influential Republicans want the DRIC. Business needs this bridge. Ford Motor Company supports the bridge. So do Chrysler and General Motors. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson — whose gods are growth, job creation and development — supports the bridge.

The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which is pretty much a wing of the GOP, wants and needs DRIC. Sarah Hubbard, the chamber's senior vice president for government relations, aka head lobbyist, was stunned by Bishop's fiat.

"We think there is a strong possibility this legislation will be acceptable to those who need to vote on it by the end of the year," she said. This is a no-brainer. It would cost Michigan nothing — Canada would advance us the up-front money. DRIC would create 10,000 badly needed jobs, half or more in Michigan.

Actually, everybody is on board with the new bridge. Everybody, except one malevolent, bloated, aged billionaire: Manuel J. Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge.

Everybody except Moroun, and those he buys.

The bridge, built in 1929, is wearing out. Billions of dollars in trade pour across it every year, and there is no backup system. Heavy manufacturing components can't go through the tunnel. The closest other bridges — in Port Huron and Buffalo, N.Y., — are overburdened.

For years, nobody knew the true condition of the bridge, because Matty wouldn't tell us. Last year, however, a U.S. safety inspection report found the main span in "poor condition," with cracked, unsound concrete that has chipped away to expose, as the Windsor Star reported, "significantly corroded reinforcing steel."

Moroun says he wants a second bridge next to the Ambassador. But the government of Canada has said a flat no. Environmental and traffic flow issues make that a very bad idea.

Right now, if something happened to the Ambassador Bridge, the economies of Michigan and Ontario would be plunged into depression. The idea that there is no backup is, well, crazy.

But there isn't. Actually, the idea of an individual owning a major international crossing is pretty nuts, when you think about it. Not that anyone is proposing taking it away from him.

What makes sense is a second bridge a couple miles downstream. But that would end Moroun's monopoly. Even though, at 83, he is as old as dirt and has more money than he can count, he is determined not to let that happen.

So he has been openly buying politicians. Naturally, it's not called that. He has been "contributing" to the campaigns and causes of those who are willing to do his bidding on the bridge.

Those include, not surprisingly, Mike Bishop. The Morouns recently gave $30,000 to the (state) Senate Republican Campaign Committee. Later, their Capitol Affairs political action committee turned over $20,000 to Bishop's campaign for attorney general.

Fortunately, even Moroun's cash couldn't persuade the Republicans to give Bishop the nomination. He'll be gone from Lansing in January, praise Jesus, Shiva and their buddies. But Bishop is staying loyal to Moroun, and not to the people he represents, or Michigan. He was bought, and he has stayed bought, maybe in the hope Matty will give him a job.

Simon Cameron, the corrupt Lincoln official, would be very pleased with our Mikey, though in reality, there was very little evidence that Cameron lived up to his principles and stayed bought.

Once, trying to think of something nice to say about him, a congressman said, "I don't think he would steal a red-hot stove."

Later, when Cameron complained, the congressman said, "I will now take that back." 

Actually, I don't think Bishop would sell the people of Michigan out for a red-hot stove, either. Of course, it's not winter yet. 

Speaking of parasites:
Gannett, which owns or controls both Detroit newspapers, is demanding that the unionized employees accept 12 percent pay cuts, followed by a two-year wage freeze. Joel Thurtell, a retired Free Presser and one of Michigan's best journalists, pointed out on his website,, that Gannett's two top executives, Craig Dubow and Gracia Martore, paid themselves $4.7 million and $4 million last year, after firing 6,000 workers (a 50 percent raise for Dubow, and a 280 percent raise for Martore). Thurtell compared them to pigs. Later, he apologized, saying the comparison was "not fair to the pigs." 

If we ever do get real left-wing socialism in this country, textbooks will point to creatures like these Gannetoids as part of the reason why.

Make your voice heard:
While the media devote hundreds of cameras and barrels of ink to the teabaggers, there are many Americans who have a completely different view of what's wrong with government today.

They think the government should be doing more, not less, to put the unemployed back to work. They think that we should be ending the policy of permanent warfare abroad in favor of creating jobs at home, and that tax cuts for the super-rich make no sense.

On Saturday, Oct. 2, a number of progressive groups plan a march on Washington called "One Nation Working Together." They include the NAACP, AFL-CIO, National Council of La Raza and many peace organizations.

Al Fishman, longtime Peace Action of Michigan activist, tells me buses will leave from Oak Park on Friday evening, Oct. 1, and will return Sunday morning. E-mail [email protected] or call 248-548-3920 to go along. 

"Either we create a powerful demand for bold action by our government for jobs, justice and peace, or we allow a dangerous right-wing takeover," he said. Like the one we got eight years ago, or worse. This time, maybe we shouldn't all go gently into that really bad night.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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