Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When is Easter, Again?

Yes, that's Easter that is showing up at the tail end of your March calendar.

It's the most movable of all our holidays.

Most of the others, we have committed to memory. December 25 and July 4, of course, are static. We also know that Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November. Labor Day, the first Monday in September. Martin Luther King Day comes around the middle of January. Flag Day is June 14. Halloween, October 31.

But Easter?

That's the "little stinker" of holidays.

Sometimes it's in March, most times April. And when it is in April, it's all over the map.

One of the first things I do when I check out at the calendar every year is look up when Easter is.

This is one of those unusual years when Easter falls in March. But why?

You may or may not know this, but Easter is determined by the spring equinox.

Basically, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox (March 21).

Got that?

It's a moveable feast, as they say.

In Michigan, that means that as far as the weather goes for Easter, you're pretty much on your own---and you really won't know until the sun rises that day.

Remember last March? When the mercury touched 80 degrees? Easter was in early-April in 2012, and the sun was out and the temps were mild and pleasant.

Look outside today. Ya think we're gonna see anything close to mild this Sunday?

We might---if the upper-40s and low-50s are your idea of mild.

The Easter bonnet might have to be replaced with a ski cap.

Regardless of the weather, though, Easter has deep meaning for people of faith. Whether it's sunny and 70 or cloudy and 45, Easter holds the same meaning.

The food is the same, too. I'm sure the ham and potato salad that we will enjoy at our house is going to taste the same, no matter the heat index or wind chill.

Praying will be done in the same manner. Grandmothers will squeeze their little grandchildren the same, and their kisses will be just as slobbery.

This year it all happens in March.

Next year?

Google it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"I'm going to die. Help."

They say there are three versions of a violent event: the accused's, the victim's, and the truth.

When the violence results in the victim's death, we are left with only two of those three---usually.

In the matter of the trial of grandmother Sandra Layne, a 911 call gave a glimpse into the victim's version. And it was enough to convict Layne of second degree murder.

The 75-year-old Layne, from West Bloomfield, was convicted the other day in the killing of her 17-year-old grandson, Jonathan Hoffman. She shot the troubled Hoffman six times last May 18, in her home. She claimed self defense---that she was fearful for her own life.

The teen had been living with Layne and her 87-year-old husband while the kid's parents (divorced) were in Arizona to help tend to a daughter with a brain tumor.

The jury didn't buy Layne's plea of self defense.

They didn't embrace Layne, really, when she took the stand in her own defense, which is always a risky move. Layne's defense team apparently gambled that the sight and sound of a 75-year-old woman conveying her fear of her own grandson (due to proven drug use among other things) would sway the jury into acquittal.

But Layne shot Hoffman six times. She didn't try to call the police before she broke out her gun. Nor did she call them after she showed Hoffman the weapon, presuming her intent was to use the gun to scare her grandson.

A 911 call can be a powerful tool, both for the defense and the prosecution, depending how the events unfolded. It's even more powerful when the dead speak, as Hoffman did for the jury.

Five words were chilling.

"I'm going to die," Hoffman told the dispatcher in the call. "Help."

I'm going to die. Help.

Those words from a dying teen trumped anything Layne could offer up on the stand.

Sandra Layne reacts after being convicted of second degree murder in the shooting death of her 17-year-old grandson, Jonathan Hoffman

"They played the 911 tape over and over again," said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton, who tried the case and interviewed jurors after the verdict. "And they arrived at second-degree murder."

Layne wasn't liked well enough by the jury, and after the verdict, it turns out that she wasn't all that well-liked by her own family, either.

Layne's son-in-law, Michael Hoffman, said, "I never liked her. She was always a thorn in my side."

OK, that was the son-in-law. But even Layne's own daughter, Jennifer Hoffman, said, "I know my son is in heaven, and this is a place that (Layne) will never see." She added that instead of calling Layne mother, Hoffman would "like to call her monster."

The case sparked some interest because of the relationship between the accused and the victim, and the extreme ages. A teen aged victim and an accused grandmother is not your garden variety case.

A Lifetime movie? Perhaps.

Layne will be sentenced on April 18. She could be in prison past her 90th birthday, given the charges.

A 17-year-old boy dead, a 75-year-old woman going to prison, where she will likely perish.

No happy ending to any of that.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Restructuring Olympics

Kevyn Orr is just like any Washington, D.C. bankruptcy attorney who is black, who has a strong resume, and who oozes confidence.

Except that he's been plucked from the vine to save a city that some say is beyond saving.

Orr is Detroit's new Emergency Financial Manager (EFM). He is unique in that, while he's a bankruptcy lawyer and has been a part of many such restructurings, he actually would prefer not to lead the city into bankruptcy as a way to cure what ails it.

"Frankly, I'd like to avoid it," Orr told the Detroit News' Nolan Finley. "Bankruptcy can certainly have benefits to what the emergency manager would have to do, but I would like to think of that as a last resort as opposed to a first option. No, I don't think we're inevitably headed to bankruptcy, but people have got to be realistic, reasonable and focused on changing the architecture of the finances of the city so they can go into a sustainable model for the future."

Orr might be the most delusional man in America. He calls the Detroit EFM job "the Olympics of restructuring," yet he says the job could be done not within the planned 18 months, but three to six months, "if people in a collegial and good faith basis could get together."

Ahh, more delusional thoughts. Words like "collegial" and "good faith basis" are not normally indigenous to the machinations of Detroit.

But Orr is confident, and with a connection to Michigan, professionally ("this is the state that gave me my start"), and a University of Michigan graduate, he says he felt "compelled" to take the EFM job when Governor Rick Snyder came calling.

"(This could be) something I can tell my grandkids about."

Kevyn Orr

Orr is 54. With the decisions he has to make, and the enormity of the task before him, you would think his main objective would be to make it to 55.

But at least the City Council dropped plans for a lawsuit to stop the EFM, albeit temporarily, from taking over. Orr officially starts his new job on March 28. Be thankful for small favors.

The good news, I suppose, is that Orr doesn't seem to think that the turnaround of Detroit is an impossible task. Difficult? Yes. History making, potentially? Double yes. But not impossible.

But Kevyn Orr might not be so delusional after all.

"I'm prepared to be the most hated man for a period of time," Orr told Finley.

That may be the most intuitive thing anyone in a leadership role in the city of Detroit has ever said.

Friday, March 8, 2013

End of the Line

Carl Levin never shortchanged Michigan.

In an ever-growing world of political cynicism---both from the constituents and from the lawmakers themselves---it was good for Michiganders to know that Levin, the six-term U.S. Senator who won't seek a seventh, was on the job.

He may go down as one of the best, most effective senators ever to represent the great state of Michigan. Hell, he may be the best.

I used to think that no one would eclipse Phil Hart in that category, but Levin has changed my mind after well over 30 years on the job.

Levin won election in 1978. It was the Republican Bob Griffin whose seat Levin won. Griffin initially didn't seek re-election but then changed his mind. But it was too late; Levin wasn't to be denied.

It was Levin and Don Riegle in those days---two Democrats who were progressive, young and determined to make their mark in Washington. Riegle had won Hart's old seat, in 1976.

Riegle was Michigan's senior senator by just two years, but Levin has held that distinction since 1988. With the exception of Spencer Abraham's one term (1994-2000), Levin has worked lockstep with another Democrat as his junior senator.

The news that Levin won't seek a seventh term in 2014 is bittersweet.

On the one hand, the 79-year-old will enjoy much-deserved retirement. He'll be able to watch his beloved Tigers play more often.

On the other, Levin's absence leaves the senate seat wide open, obviously. And there's no guarantee that another Democrat will just automatically capture the seat.

Already, though, Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) says he's mulling over a run at the seat in 2014.

"I'm going to seriously consider it," he told the Free Press. "We need to hold on to that seat."

That's an understatement, but with Abraham's exception, Michigan voters haven't sent a Republican to the Senate since Griffin in 1972. They tend to do so with governors, but not with senators.

Still, the idea of no longer having Levin---longtime Chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee---working for Michigan, isn't a warm and fuzzy one for Democrats.

But Levin was no partisan fool. He wasn't so liberal that he couldn't see the forest for the trees. But he didn't suffer the fools on the other side easily, either.

The significance of Levin's service wasn't lost on President Barack Obama, a former colleague in the chamber.

"If you've ever worn the uniform, worked a shift on an assembly line or sacrificed to make ends meet, then you've had a voice and a vote in Sen. Carl Levin," the president said in a statement.

No joke.

Friday, March 1, 2013

White Noise

For the protectionists and paranoid who live in Detroit, these aren't the best of times.

How can they be, when it looks like Michigan Governor Rick Snyder will announce that the city will be cast under the spell of an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM), and a (gasp!) white man is running for mayor, and might be the frontrunner?

Both of these have happened in the same week. Mike Duggan announced his mayoral candidacy, officially, earlier in the week, and Snyder's announcement is expected two hours from now, as I write this.

This has to make the "stay in your own lane" Detroiters' insides gnarl up.

A few weeks ago, a letter writer from Detroit wrote to the Free Press and wondered why those of us in the suburbs care so much about Detroit.

"I don't care about Troy or Bloomfield," the writer said. Then the writer asked us who would reach out to help Detroit to "stay in your own lane."

The letter was long on paranoia and protectionism but very short on common sense and information.

While it's sad to think that there are still those who can't make the connection between a healthy Detroit and a healthier Michigan, it's also an affront to the people who once lived in the city, or grew up in the city, or maybe even still have direct ties to the city proper---people who have an emotional connection.

Not to mention the use of statewide tax dollars that have been used to help Detroit over the years.

That letter writer was besieged with responses the following week---many who took her to task. Some suggested the writer should be grateful that people still care about Detroit at all.

Duggan's candidacy, it says here, could be the most intriguing since that of Hizzoner himself, Coleman A. Young, who ran (and won) in 1973. That election proved the citizens were ready for a black mayor. This one will determine the voracity of the phrase, "Once you go black, you never change back."

Seriously, Duggan's candidacy is set up to provide a field day for the protectionists and the paranoid.

He's white, number one. He only moved into the city proper less than two years ago, number two. He refuses to have the city play the role of victim. He's a "pick yourself up by the boot straps" kind of a candidate. Duggan doesn't want Detroiters to say "Woe is us."

Duggan also has experience turning the insolvent, solvent again. He did so most famously as the head man at the Detroit Medical Center.

So Duggan is there, like a big white pinata. Let's see how many whacks he can take. If he's like the pinatas they sell in stores, he'll win going away. We bought one of those things for our daughter's birthday party years ago and after 45 minutes of whacking by the poor children, I had to rip it open finally.

Duggan will be cast as the white man carpetbagger---the outsider who should stay in his own lane. A man who doesn't really care about Detroit---only about returning it to the white man.

You think he won't be looked at that way?

Detroit mayoral candidate Mike Duggan

As for the EFM, most right-minded people of reason know that the time is now for such a person. Detroit's financial woes are plenty and decades in the making. As former Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel said, "It's a can that's been kicked down the road for decades, and there's no more can and there's no more road."

Still, the EFM announcement will be met with great disfavor and maybe even legal opposition. That much is for sure.

If the protectionists and paranoid spent as much time and energy working together with those who want to help Detroit as they do kicking and screaming about it, maybe the city could indeed get itself out from under this mess.

And, in about eight months, we'll find out if a white man carpetbagger can become mayor. It wouldn't hurt.