The author clearly demonstrates that the City of Detroit was broke a few years ago, as in no money, and broke as in not working, busted, or wrecked. Or at least broke and inoperable if you were a poor resident of the city but not if you were rich, a predatory developer, or a millionaire businessman given millions in tax breaks and concessions. The author follows one family living in a barely inhabitable house a developer bought then sold the near-derelict house to a family on a strange land contract which states if the family misses one payment they lose the house. And evidently, the land contract didn't go through a title company because it didn't show any leans on the property. So the owner was surprised to find a foreclosure notice on his front door that said if back taxes, from two years before he owned the house, weren't paid he would lose it. He was urged to borrow money to pay off the couple of thousand dollars in back taxes. In the strange world of Detroit, when a house is foreclosed the city sells it at an auction, often for as little as $500 which the city pockets. Why not pay off the back taxes? Because the interest on paying off back taxes is 19% -- the highest interest charged in the country. And oh! No one in the city, state, or federal government told the family that if they were living below the federal poverty level the taxes could be waved. The author argues that bankruptcy might have been good for the municipality of Detroit but not for its poorer residents.
While the family struggled to find a way to keep their home the Ilitches received nearly a billion dollars in Detroit tax money to build a new hockey arena. They promised to hire Detroiters for half of the expected 5,000 jobs the project would generate. It never happened. Quicken Loans pocketed $50 million in tax incentives for moving downtown. Better yet, a city refinery got a $175 million tax break for expanding their plant. The new construction created 15 new jobs. One can only wonder how long it will take those 15 new employees paying Detroit city taxes before they can match the $175 million tax break?
It seems every other page jolts the reader with surprising and disturbing information. Such as the fact that many wanted the governor's appointed city managers to possess the power to suspend local democracy, tear up union contracts, and run every aspect of governing a city. Or the fact that at one point Detroit did not have any qualified assessors. The city turned to fines and fees as a regular source of income which mostly fell on the poor, not the wealthy. And lastly, a piece of information that still disturbs me. In Detroit, the life expectancy fell below that of Russia and even North Korea. YES, NORTH KOREA. That must be a real point of pride for Michigan's governor and legislature.
This is a disturbing and important book that deserves wide readership by anyone concerned about the welfare of our state and the state of our democracy.
Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Adams Kirshner. St. Martin's Press, 2019, $28.99.
Stormy Outside: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Forester and His Dog
by Mark Stormzand
Stormzand has lived a busy, rewarding life as both a forester and a family man and this book of exceptionally well-written biographical essays records his many adventures in the woods, wilderness, and on the domestic front. The great majority of the essays are set in Michigan and contain plenty of humor, charm, close observations of the natural world, and wise commentary on life and living. Essays vary from the pleasure found in building a stone wall to the charm and drawbacks of heating with wood, why clear-cutting is sometimes good for both the forest and wildlife, why he likes the month of March, to a malady he calls "latitude sickness" in which symptoms include grumpiness, a hair-trigger temper, and fidgeting all of which appear when forced to travel below he 45th Parallel.
The author's thoughts and observations on aging hit pretty close to home for this 70+-year-old reviewer. He writes, "I (like many men) still think I am eighteen. I will probably still be thinking I'm eighteen while getting my Last Rights." He recalls that as a kid he and his brothers loved to watch WW II movies. "One of our favorites was "Up Periscope." But not anymore. The term has new meaning since I turned fifty. Who thought up that test?" At the end of the essay, he determines, "Not acting my age is a good thing."
These are wonderful essays even when he writes of his wife Gail's death from breast cancer. Readers will smile on nearly every page when he describes the antics of the long line of Golden Retrievers who were his constant companions both at home and in the field. And you may shed a tear when Stormzand describes how their Golden Retriever, Dusty, was always at his wife's bedside during her final weeks. And after her passing Dusty instinctively knew when the author was at his lowest and, "would appear out of nowhere and nuzzle my hand with her nose. Absolutely amazing."
You will not find a more entertaining, deeply felt, and life re-affirming book of essays this year or next. It deserved to be counted among this year's Michigan Notable Book List.
Stormy Outside: the Adventures and Misadventures of a Forester and His Dog by Mark Stormzand. Mission Point Press, 2019, $16.95.
edited by Nada Rakic and Barbara Schmid
I can't pass up two stanzas from a song entitled "I'm Singing" which is one of my favorites in the book and I nominate for Michigan's state's anthem.
"I love those April mornings when spring is finally here
And evenings late in June filled with mayflies and beer
How I love October with leaves of polished brass
And even January with the snow up to my ass
I'm singing, I'm singing 'bout this old State of mine
Closest thing to heaven that I will ever find
Her Great Lakes and her rivers are flowing sweet as wine
And an old empty beer can can buy a man a dime"
Heaven for Me: Selected Lyrics and Scores by Jay Sielstra edited by Nada Rakic and Barbara Schmid. Nada Rakic Publisher, 2019, $30
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