LeDuff: Welcome to Michigan. People are dying, dams are collapsing. Who's Really in Charge?

May 21, 2020, 11:03 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

Midland flood, testing in Detroit, Wayne County Jail

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing.”

Those aren't my words. They belong to former President Barack Obama, who said them last week in a virtual commencement address for historically black colleges.

Obama went on: “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

A lot of people took his words to be a shovel to the head of President Trump and his handling of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

But I thought he was talking about Michigan. And you can't blame me. It seems like we're in a virtual banana republic here in the Great Lakes State, where dams are collapsing, bodies are piling up, all aided and abetted by a political class that is driven more by self-interest than interest in the rest of us.

Poor Midland County. Underwater and failed by the state. For 20 years, federal regulators fought the private owner of the dam to make repairs, since it posed a looming danger to the public. Getting no action, the feds stripped the company's permit to generate hydroelectricity in 2018 as a punishment.

Oversight then went to the state. And the state did nothing, worried more about freshwater mussels in the man-made lake behind the dam rather than people downstream of it. One heavy rain and now we have catastrophe.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

There's plenty of bipartisan blame to go around on this one. By my count, the dam debacle spans four gubernatorial administrations in Michigan, two Republican and two Democrat. Now, here we sit, hat in hand, waiting for a federal government to fix our negligence. A federal government, it should be pointed out, that has no money.

As the dam fiasco was unfolding, Gov. Whitmer quietly released her nursing home "re-do" after business hours. Her original emergency order allowed nursing homes to take in Covid-19 patients. There's big money in it for nursing homes. Five grand a patient.

Predictably, the results have been devastating. Nursing home deaths in the metro region, alone, account for nearly 1/3 of all Covid deaths statewide, and the state has yet to collect the true data.

Confirmation, please

Whitmer's new order requires facilities to take in Covid-19 patients only if there is a dedicated wing for those virus carriers. But what's that entail? And who's checking? The dam inspectors?

Why trust the state or the nursing homes at all? According to a national study, Michigan ranked second-worst in the country for elder abuse in nursing homes. Furthermore, why is one of the worst-ranked nursing homes in America allowed to be a state-sanctioned Covid care facility in Michigan at all?

Does anybody in Lansing know what they're doing?

Mike Duggan, the mayor of Detroit, likes to tell national news outlets about his fantastic response to the pandemic. He bases his success on the fact he was among the first in America to obtain 15-minute testing kits.

As terrific as that sounds, Detroit still has suffered one of the highest Covid death rates of any U.S. city. Now it comes to light that those quick tests may be inaccurate nearly 50 percent of the time, according to one study, which would make them 100 percent useless. No better than a coin toss.

Hizzoner's response? Don't believe it. But that's what Trump said.

Pestilence incubator with guards

The Wayne County Jail has been exposed as a incubator of pestilence. Last month, its top doctor died of the virus, and week later, the sheriff still had no clue.

Did he panic? Hardly. The sheriff simply continued to release inmates, untested, back into society. No politician or bureaucrat protested. Like the Midland dam, the Wayne County jail has never passed a safety inspection – in this case for health, even though it has been under court supervision for nearly four decades.

Does anybody know what they're doing?

Conrad Mallet Jr. (Deadline Detroit photo)

DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital has proved to be little better. The now famous photographs of bodies stacked up in a sleep-study room, sleeping for eternity, removed any doubt about the lack of staff and equipment there. So what happened to the former chief administrative officer of the hospital?

He's lands a new job as the deputy mayor of Detroit! His mandate? To lead the city's Covid response.


Well, why not? Conrad Mallett Jr. has the experience. He served as chairman of Duggan's first campaign for mayor.

Dizzying dance

Mallett's predecessor, James E. Craig, also moonlights as the chief of police. When Mallett's appointment was announced last week, Craig was quick to tweet out that he is still the deputy mayor of “public safety.” Essentially, such an arrangement makes the chief of police the deputy mayor of himself.

They don't even do that in Cuba.

Crime has dropped worldwide due to the coronavirus lock down. Not here. Murder and shootings on the streets of Detroit have surged 30 percent, despite Whitmer's clampdown on barber shops and block parties.

There's the matter of the unemployment website that still doesn't function for thousands. Millions who are unemployed. A balky power grid. And crumbling roads.

Obama was right. Leadership doesn't know what it's doing. And in Michigan, it doesn't seem to give a dam.

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