April 17, 2014

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Politics & Prejudices

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The People vs. the Monster

Back in the 1960s, kids in my neighborhood would go to the Radio City Theatre in then not-so-beautiful downtown Ferndale to see monster movies on Saturday afternoons.

Mostly, these were cheap, low-budget things, where you could almost see the tape holding the fins on the little lizards masquerading as dinosaurs. But we loved them. The Mummy! Boris Karloff! Lon Chaney! Bride of Frankenstein!

I don't remember the titles of all the bad movies I saw, but one of them was mainly about the "undead," vampires that you could kill, but wouldn't stay dead. You could blast them, decapitate them, crush them, bury them — but they still kept coming, rising from the muck just when you were certain they were dead, staggering at you through the ooze and slime, making you pee your pants.

Time passed, and I forgot all about the matinee monsters. The movie theater closed. I moved away. And then, on Nov. 7, 2012, I realized with a shock that there was such a thing as the undead.

That there was a creature you could keep killing, a slimy, loathsome thing, which kept coming at you, intent on evil.

Except now I finally knew its name. Matty Moroun.

We have long known that the patriarch of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge will stop at nothing to prevent someone else from building a second span over the Detroit River. He doesn't care about our future.

He doesn't care that our economy would be plunged into deep recession or depression if his ancient bridge were to collapse without any backup. He couldn't care less about Detroit, his rotting ruin of the train station, or his other slum properties.

He cares only to make himself richer. Never mind that he already is worth at least $1.5 billion, according to Forbes, or that he is 85 years old, and must, if indeed human, die soon.

He cares only to enlarge his own swollen monopoly, and possibly about his pathetic wife Nora, and his son Matthew.

But this has been the worst year for Moroun since the neighbors started wearing garlands of garlic and thrusting out little silver crosses when he came by. (OK, I made up that part.)

Still, it has been the year when Michigan residents finally woke up to who he is. This started in January, when Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards had the guts to throw him in jail, after Moroun and Co. spent two years ignoring his court orders to live up to the terms of a contract he signed with the state. This was for the so-called Gateway Project, intended to improve access from the freeways to the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun illegally routed traffic past his duty-free shops. The courts released Moroun after a little more than a day, but the courts took control of the project away from him — and made him pay the state $16 million to do it right, which they speedily did.

Next, Gov. Rick Snyder found a way to build a new bridge without involving the Legislature, which has been so corrupted by Moroun's money they wouldn't even hold a vote on the project.

The new bridge is the best deal Michigan ever had. Canada will pay all our costs, and Washington gives us $2.2 billion in federal highway funds. Naturally, the deal enraged Moroun.

He declared war, spending possibly as much as $40 million to try to fool the voters into passing two constitutional amendments.

Proposal 6 would have essentially prevented anyone from building a new bridge across the river, ever. Proposal 5 would have made it impossible for the Legislature to raise any taxes, or change tax rates, thus reducing state government to virtual impotence.

Moroun then spent $34 million on a constant flood of TV commercials and a "let the people decide" advertising campaign, a little of which was hilarious distortion, and the rest vicious lies.

Yet on election night, he must have smelled, not his usual sulfur, but the cleansing stench of garlic, and glimpsed the crosses.

The people overwhelmingly said no to Moroun! Even though those telling the truth essentially did no advertising, the people voted down his bridge amendment by almost two to one.

His effort to stop the bridge was dead. Well, not quite. The votes were still coming in when Mickey Blashfield, Moroun's mouthpiece, came forth, saying the new bridge shouldn't be built because of "the unstable salt mine foundations" below the new bridge site.

Experts say that is nonsense, but the truth is of no more interest to the Morouns than it was to Joseph Goebbels. Blashfield hinted, however, that we can expect further lawsuits aimed at stopping what's now being called the New International Trade Crossing.

After all, every year the bridge is delayed is another $100 million or more for the Moroun family. Hopefully, a presidential permit to build will soon be forthcoming, and work can begin.

Call me vindictive, but it would be really nice for the vampire to see the new bridge rising south of his ancient, rotting and rusting structure before he next returns to the primordial ooze. 

Passing of giants: Imagine a Republican governor's wife demonstrating to pass an Equal Rights Amendment for women, and demonstrating for abortion rights at a Republican National Convention. Imagine the same woman saying publicly that abortion should not only be safe and legal — the costs should be covered by state and local governments.

Imagine the fits that would give the Neanderthals! Well, Michigan once really had a first lady like that: Helen Milliken, who lost a yearlong battle to cancer Friday. Once a shy homemaker, she found her voice when her husband, Bill, became governor in 1969.

She deserves a book of her own. She fought for women, justice and especially, the environment, and was encouraged to be herself by her husband, who, as Coleman Young said, was the greatest governor Michigan ever had. Once, when one of the odious Amway czars told the governor he ought to get his wife under control, Milliken told him to take a hike. After the Millikens left the governor's mansion, Helen continued fighting quietly to make the world a better place.

She had a marvelous sense of humor, not much ego, and whenever I saw her, would suggest some excellent book she had just read. I wish young women today had such a role model.

Sonny Eliot died the same day she did. Though anybody younger than 40 knew him only as a zany guy giving the weather on the radio (and occasionally referring to me as a "well-known street fighter"), every baby boomer in Michigan grew up watching Sonny Eliot do his cornball, slapstick weather reports on local television.

He was cheerfully apolitical, except when it came to veterans' issues. But he deserves to be remembered, too, as the last guy who was present at the creation of the television industry. He was a quintessential Detroiter, who grew up on the tough east side.

As a bomber pilot in World War II, he survived 15 months in a Nazi prison camp after his plane was shot down over Germany. He came back, invented — and re-invented — the concept of the TV weatherman, and kept at his career, surviving many technological and corporate twists and turns, and always learning, till old age forced him to finally retire, just before he turned 90.

There's a lesson there for all of us. "I've had a wonderful life. Well, maybe I should have had more sex. But really, no complaints," he told me two years ago, even as his memory was slipping away.

We should all be so lucky.

 

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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