Well, since the big football game will be played in Detroit this week, as a good newsman I'm honor-bound to say something about the Super Bowl. So here it is: Don't take any blah-blah from the media as to What It Says About the City of Detroit too seriously. I hope and believe we'll all be good boys and girls and show the out-of-town guests a good time, so that some will be pleasantly surprised that the city isn't something out of a Robocop nightmare.
My guess is that Detroit City will lose money on the event, thanks to the need for police overtime and extra security and little things like tearing down the old Motown building for a few more parking places.
The hotels ought to clean up, but painfully few of them are in the city itself. Oakland County, as usual, may reap the real benefits. But don't use the fact that most visitors come and leave immediately as an excuse to beat up on Detroit or Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
This is Detroit in the wintertime. Which means it's pretty tough to play outside. Even when the city was a happenin' place with 2 million people and gleaming new skyscrapers, those who could afford to blew Detroit's winters for Florida in February.
Someday we may be living in a civilized metropolis where the suburbs, the city and Canada work hard to cooperate and pull together to land ventures like this and show the rest of the world a rousing multinational good time.
Someday. But even then, until global warming finally takes full effect, Deetroit won't be a February dream destination.
Now then, back to reality: Every year since Stevens T. Mason brought our state out of the primordial ooze in 1837, governors have given a speech once a year telling the Legislature and us common grunts how they think we're doing.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm gave her latest last week, and I have to say it was extremely politically shrewd. I do not much care for the governor's style she wants to act cute and flirty and, at the same time, be taken seriously.
That wouldn't be so bad, if she was willing to be a leader more often and take tough and necessary stands, even when those aren't all that popular. And she indeed has done that, to her credit, on education standards.
But I was curious to see what she would do in this State of the State speech. Politicians usually are punished for telling unpleasant truths, such as when President Gerald Ford began by saying "the state of the union is not good."
Frankly, the state of Michigan is probably worse than the nation was under Jerry Ford, given the reeling domestic auto industry. Ford (Motor Co., not Jerry) is closing the Wixom plant, and cutting 30,000 jobs that are never coming back. Delphi is in bankruptcy, and General Motors lost $8.6 billion last year, which is about a million dollars an hour, 24/7. Pretty frightening.
I thought Jennifer Granholm would be trying to persuade voters to blame President Bush and Republicans, not her, for all this. Instead, she gave an uplifting speech that had a good idea or two, but was mostly notable for backing the Republican-dominated Legislature into a corner.
Interestingly, she began by sounding a false note, saying she wanted to talk to "the worker at Delphi, at GM and Chrysler and at Ford. And I want to talk to the worker at the Ford Wixom plant."
However, she never really did, except for some rah-rah nonsense such as "we will not concede the automotive industry to another state or nation," because, after all, "we are the state that put the 'car' in NASCAR."
Whoop-de-do. She did tell the former autoworkers that in five years they "would be blown away by the strength and diversity of Michigan's transformed economy," forgetting apparently that they will most likely have been blown away to jobs in North Carolina long before that.
But just when I was feverishly starting to look for a Simpsons video and the remote, the governor came up with her ingenious double whammy.
First, she challenged the Legislature to create the "Michigan First Health Care Plan," which would provide some basic health insurance for all 550,000 uninsured Michiganders. That would indeed be a wonderful thing.
Naturally, the governor knows perfectly well that this Legislature would enact compulsory training in atheism, give out condoms at commencement and make abortion a sacrament before it would do that.
Nor did she breathe a word of where the money for universal health care was to come from, in this state which has a grave perennial budget crisis. But in a breath she made herself the champion of all the women with babies who work for my dry cleaner, and every Wal-Mart "associate" everywhere.
Naturally, the Republicans obligingly took the bait, with House Speaker Craig DeRoche sneering that no "government-provided solution" could match anything provided by the sacred private sector. Tell that to people who have no medical coverage at all, and see how loudly they praise the hidden sector. More importantly, see if they want the candidate from Amway or Jennifer Granholm.
Jenny G's second masterstroke was calling for the state to create a new vehicle to offer 401(k) plans for workers whose employers don't provide them with pensions. The state would not contribute any funds, matching or otherwise. All it would do is administer the plan, as she said, "at minimal expense." This is something that would seem to be actually affordable and doable, and should strike a responsive chord with conservatives.
After all, for years they've been complaining that workers should start taking responsibility for their own retirement, not depend on nasssty feelthy government. This is a plan designed to warm Republicans' hearts, and please small business owners by taking some pressure off them.
This puts the leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature over a barrel. They certainly don't want to pass anything that would make her look good. But if they just say no because she proposed it, they'll look like petty little shits to anyone who is paying attention, and this time may alienate some of their own followers.
By the way, John F. Kennedy was in the White House the last time a Michigan governor lost a race for a second term. Don't bet the rent money on that happening again this year.
We Don't Need No Education: Have to confess, I was a little surprised and dismayed by some of the calls and letters I received about the governor's long-overdue proposal to toughen standards for high school graduation.
They ranged from the complaint of a teachers union hack in Detroit to the rant of a moron from Garden City who appeared to think there is nothing wrong with graduating a future work force of "janitors and grocery store clerks."
There were some more legitimate complaints, to the effect that not all students are college material. Frankly, the state may need to come up with a more sophisticated and rigorous vocational education track.
But as Nolan Finley, my ideological anti-twin at The Detroit News succinctly observed, "If we aren't willing to give our children the education they need, then maybe we should turn our schools into vocational academies where students learn to make hotel beds, take menu orders and park cars."
Hope you like your future supersized with fries.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]