Bill Milliken Was A Great Leader And A Good Friend

Bill Milliken and yours truly at the annual Groundwork Center harvest dinner in 2014. (Photo/Gabrielle Gray)

William G. Milliken, the longest serving governor in Michigan’s storied history, died in October at the age of 97. One of the rare gifts of my life was knowing Bill and his wife Helen as friends and mentors. Both were terrifically helpful in getting our new northern Michigan land use policy group going in the 1990s. Helen was a board member. Bill was an active supporter. In 2000, when I stepped down as director of the group, the Michigan Land Use Institute, Bill wrote me a note of congratulation for a bringing important issues of growth, development, and environmental protection to public knowledge and action.

A gentleman and a statesman, Bill carried himself and produced for the public good in ways nearly completely lost in the United States. He saw the erosion in how we conducted our public affairs long before almost everybody else. And he worried about what it meant for the country’s ideals and values and ways of doing business. Every so often we would cross paths in Traverse City, where he was born, raised, and lived. Every time ours was a conversation of substance and a moment committed to memory.

I had the privilege of writing Bill’s obituary for the New York Times, one of the many assignments I’ve undertaken in a Times career that began in February 1982. Much of that article continues here:

In January 1969, days before he became governor — succeeding George Romney, who had joined President Richard M. Nixon’s cabinet — Mr. Millken delivered a speech to a joint legislative session that defined the personal values that would shape his long term in office. “It is my greatest hope that this administration will be known for its compassion, its idealism, its candor, and its toughness in the pursuit of public ends,” he said.

Mr. Milliken’s record of political achievements reflected that vision. It included investing in urban housing and education, defending auto industry jobs and profits in the wake of the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo, strengthening higher education, and installing innovative environmental protections.

Trim, athletic and soft-spoken, Mr. Milliken always looked years younger than his age. Much of what he achieved in public policy was made possible by what his allies and opponents agreed was his uncommon graciousness and decency. His ability to inspire people to trust him enabled Mr. Milliken to build remarkable political bridges. He succeeded in convincing cities and suburbs, labor and management, business executives and environmentalists, and Republicans and Democrats that their interests coincided.

This was no small feat considering that Mr. Milliken’s term spanned 14 years, from 1969 until 1983, the longest in state history, and coincided with the deepest economic crisis and highest unemployment in Michigan since the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, Vietnam protests, and the consequences of old factories and industrial practices on the economy and the state’s natural resources.

His administration was also distinguished by his concern about the condition of Michigan’s deteriorating cities, especially Detroit, and by the commitment he made to healing racial wounds. He took office less than two years after a race riot in Detroit that claimed more than 40 lives. Mr. Milliken campaigned for affirmative action, named young African-Americans as top aides — among them Roy Levy Williams, who went to become the chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. — and recruited black leaders and residents as allies.

Continue reading “Bill Milliken Was A Great Leader And A Good Friend”

Will Americans Defend Our Democracy?

President Trump in Salt Lake City in December 2017 to announce two national monuments will shrink by 2 million acres. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

SOMERSET, KY. — During the first week of March 2016, nine months after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency, the Russian Federation’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU), opened their online assault on American democracy. The Russian military intelligence unit began to hack, according to Robert Mueller’s special counsel report, “the computers and email accounts of organizations, employees, and volunteers supporting the Clinton campaign, including the email account of campaign chairman John Podesta.”

By April 25, according to the Mueller report, Russians had stolen 70 gigabytes of data. On July 22, WikiLeaks released a horde of stolen insider details about Hillary Clinton’s campaign to the media just three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

During the same period, another Russian intelligence unit was busy establishing social media groups and seeding American social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram, with messages that lied about Clinton but were favorable to Trump. According to the Mueller report, the Russian accounts made over 80,000 posts and “these posts reached at least 29 million U.S persons and may have reached an estimated 126 million people.”

The consequences of what turned out to be the most damaging attack ever by Russia on the United States is not in dispute. Clinton’s run for the presidency was damaged by massive amounts of misinformation. Donald Trump’s campaign received an unlawful mega-boost from a foreign power.

The Mueller report says neither Trump nor his aides participated in the online document thefts. But they actively encouraged their disclosure and dissemination, even after The New York Times, on July 26, 2016, disclosed that Russian intelligence was the source of the stolen campaign documents.

Washington during March For Our Lives demonstration. A display of constitutionally-protected citizen activism in March 2018. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Just a day later, on July 27, candidate Trump urged more such disclosures during a news conference in Florida. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. And five hours after that call to arms, said the Mueller report, Russian intelligence aimed their hacking expertise at Clinton’s email accounts.

Now America faces a cultural and political reckoning, one of the singularly momentous choices of this century. Trump vowed at his inauguration to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The question the country must answer is this: Does President Trump’s encouragement of the Russian election interference, and his unsuccessful campaign to impede the public assessment of what occurred, represent a violation of his oath of office?

I spent several days last week driving in Alabama and listening to local talk radio hosts express their clear conviction that Trump is innocent of any managerial mishaps. Conservative supporters of Trump are satisfied to let him skate. I also heard a select number of progressive voices tell me that actively pursuing more Congressional investigation was politically impulsive, even dangerous to Democratic candidates in the 2020 election cycle. A good number of Democrats also are prepared to let the president slide.

But what occurred in 2016 with Russia’s election interference, and in 2017 with the president’s effort to impede an investigation, is an egregious violation of the public trust and national security. A sacred rite of Democracy, free elections, was violated by a foreign antagonist. The Russians did not aim a missile or fire a shot. But their expertise in asymmetrical warfare, in data gathering and online messaging, succeeded in causing ongoing social division and poisonous political turbulence in the United States, and to some extent around the world. Rather than marching to the front lines of defense, the American president retreated to the dark hollows of lies, deceit, and cowardice.

His supporters are satisfied with the president’s behavior. But every other American must hold the president and his supporters in Congress accountable. That includes the Democratic leadership. How can they allow their 2016 presidential candidate be savaged by a foreign power without a powerful response? The credibility of their party and US democracy is at stake. The House must hold hearings on impeachment. The country must replace Donald Trump as president.

Half Staff America

Flags flew at half staff over Veterans Day weekend in Kentucky and nationwide. A pocket park in Somerset, Kentucky was the scene of these flags. Photo/Keith Schneider

SOMERSET, KY. — A chilly wind again whipped the flags flying at half staff here in central Kentucky. This time it was for George Bush, who died on Friday. Three weeks ago Jews were massacred in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Collegians were massacred in a bar and dance hall near Los Angeles. The two tragedies are linked by America’s miserable devotion to assault weapons and spilled blood. Flags flew at half staff then, too.

There is plenty to mourn in America, even for the regions of the country that thought they were making a difference by electing Donald Trump. Like suburban Detroit. As a candidate, Trump held a rally in Warren, Michigan and promised that if elected “not one job” would be lost in the auto industry. This week General Motors announced it was closing the plant it operated just down the road from where Trump made his promise as part of a plan to shed the company of 15,000 jobs. What’s sadder is that as Trump sputtered his indignation in Washington, his supporters on the ground and in right wing state media insisted the president was guiding the economy on the right course.

Even the election didn’t lift the November in my soul. Progressives took the House. A big help. But the Senate added two more Republicans. And Trump, who campaigned hard in Florida and Ohio, held those two states that are essential to his reelection.

I’m not a depressed personality. But I’m so saddened by circumstances in the United States because of this single fact. Change will occur but only after conditions get worse, perhaps much worse. A nation that has so quickly lost its bearings depends on great leadership to recover. The president of the United States is a miserable, limited scourge of a man, and a disastrous leader. But it seems clear to me that the antidote for President Trump, and the steps for diminishing the devotion that the president enjoys in white and rural America, is for the economy to sour. That unfortunately looks like what’s unfolding. Job growth has slowed. The stock market has slipped. Trade imbalances tilt more steeply to our imports.

In my specialty, the environment and economy, Trump’s ignorance also is adding to the damage that makes living in America more dangerous. As the condition of air, water, and land decline so will Trump’s support in rural America, which is being ravaged by ecological menaces that the president’s anti-science, anti-regulatory doctrine is making worse. Hurricanes and floods in the Southeast. Flash flooding in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Tornados in the Great Plains.

Fires in rural northern California since July have burned down more than 28,000 homes so thoroughly they look like they’ve been bombed. Over 100 people have died. The president blames mismanaged forests for the problem. It’s an idiotic, uninformed view. The fast moving walls of flame — and blame — raced through heavily settled, climate-dessciated, bone dry brush and wild land areas close to towns, not in stands of timber suitable for commercial logging.

A home destroyed by the Carr Fire in Redding, California in July. Photo/Keith Schneider

Lament is not one of my typical emotions. To date, my mourning has been reserved for the people I love and lost. I don’t feel helpless. I’m saddened by the incapable place that is America. I feel plundered by the calamity that our country has become.

— Keith Schneider

Listen to Our Kids’ Call to Disarm America

Perhaps 800,000 people gathered in Washington to rally support for Parkland, Florida students organizing to end gun violence in the United States. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Republican right is unnerved in the days following Saturday’s March For Our Lives in Washington and hundreds of other cities across America and the world. Stricken with grief and stirred by the passions of love cut short by bullets, the students from Parkland, Florida stood up, stepped forward, and found a mass movement to end gun violence waiting for them.

Hundreds of thousands of people were on Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday, perhaps 800,000 by some measures. They came from all over the country to hear words of grief, statements of resolve, and pleas for change from middle school and high school students, who also came from all over the country.

The alchemy of potent words, visible strength, and palpable emotion forced Fox News and its conspiratorial cousins in right wing media to lose their rhetorical footing. The students, they asserted, were tools of liberal media and Democratic leadership perpetuating the left’s campaign to unseat President Trump. Their reporting was so ridiculous that Breitbart News accused David Hogg, one of the Parkland students and movement leaders, of displaying a “Nazi salute” when he raised his fist at the rally.

What nonsense. It’s precisely because young people are independent and authentic that their call to disarm the country has gained such credibility.

It’s also because their capacity to articulate the issues is so keen. “Politicians, either represent the people or get out,” demanded one student, speaking before the largest crowd he’ll ever face again. “The people demand a law for universal background checks. The people demand to end the sale of high-capacity magazines. The people demand an end to this gun violence. Stand with us or beware. The vote is coming.”

Students from Baltimore have a message. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Their signs, displayed in a bright garden of irony and anger and cleverness, also made the point: “Mental illness is global. Mass shootings are American,” said one. “Kids safety is more important than your hobby,” said another. Continue reading “Listen to Our Kids’ Call to Disarm America”

Regina Lopez: Update From The Philippines

Regina Lopez (r) on one of her helicopter tours of Philippine mine sites in May 2017. She held public events at each stop. Photo/Keith Schneider

Gina Lopez, the former Philippines Environment Secretary, sent a message here this week that updates her activities following the Congress decision in May to remove her from office.

“I’m now into this movement called ILOVE: Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies. The goal is to build the country from the bottom up. I am in the midst of collaborating with 20 million youth as a citizen’s lawsuit is filed against the government. Will send you the details. I’m meeting the student leaders today.”

Gina’s message also included a link to this terrific video by a Dutch filmmaker. It’s quite good.

In the pantheon of courageous public servants I’ve met, Gina Lopez ranks near the top.

— Keith Schneider