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  • Detroit’s grand bargain still needs Lansing’s approval

    In this week’s Metro Times we took a look at the state legislature’s role in Detroit’s ongoing bankruptcy — in particular, how it must approve a $350 million pledge for the so-called “grand bargain” to remain intact. And, with last night’s announcement of a significant deal between the city and Detroit’s pension boards and retiree groups, the ball is Lansing’s court now. The new deal, first reported by the Freep, would cut general employees monthly pension checks by 4.5 percent and eliminate their cost-of-living increases. Police and fire retirees would see no cuts to monthly checks, while their cost-of-living increases would be reduced from 2.25 percent to 1 percent. Under the original offer, police and fire retirees cuts were as high as 14 percent, with general retirees as high as 34 percent, that is, if the groups rejected the “grand bargain,” an $816 million proposal funded by foundations, the state, and the DIA to shore up pensions. The sweeter deal for pensions, though, it must be noted, entirely relies on the state legislature approving $350 million for Detroit’s bankruptcy.  And while this broke after Metro Times went to press, that was the focal point of this week’s News Hits column — so, it’s worth repeating: The […]

    The post Detroit’s grand bargain still needs Lansing’s approval appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: Local releases for Record Store Day on Saturday

    This Saturday, April 19, is Record Store Day, and there is plenty going on in metro Detroit and Michigan. Of special interest to us is Chiodos’ 7” single “R2ME2/Let Me Get You A Towel,” Mayer Hawthorne & Shintaro Skamoto’s 7” “Wine Glass Woman/In a Phantom,” Chuck Inglish & Action Bronson’s 7” “Game Time,” Chuck Inglish & Chance the Rapper’s 7” “Glam,” Chuck Inglish & Chromeo’s 7” “Legs,” Chuck Inglish, Mac Miller & Ab-Soul’s 7” “Easily,” James Williamson’s 7” “Open Up and Bleed/Gimme Some Skin,” Black Milk’s 12” “Glitches in the Break,” Mayer Hawthorne’s 10” “Jaded Inc.,” Wayne Kramer & the Lexington Arts Ensemble’s 12” “Lexington,” and best of all, Ray Parker Jr.’s 10” “Ghostbusters.” We wrote about James Williamson’s release this week. Go shop. Follow @City_Slang

    The post City Slang: Local releases for Record Store Day on Saturday appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: Margaret Doll Rod to play EP release show in May

    Margaret Doll Rod will celebrate the release of her new EP, Margaret, with a show at PJ’s Lager House on Saturday, May 10. A statement reads, “The EP contains 3 new original songs and one Chrome Cranks cover with Italian actress Asia Argento singing background vocals. Margaret moved to Italy after the end of the Demolition Doll Rods where she still lives touring and performing festivals in Europe. The Dollrods were a Garage Rock force for over 20 years, opening for Iggy, Jon Spencer, The Scientist, The Monks and The Cramps. Margaret was the front person and principal songwriter for The Dollrods. Her chief musical foil was Danny Kroha, who joined the Demolition Doll Rods after the now legendary Gories called it quits. Margaret’s sister, Christine, on drums, rounded out the legendary trio. Margaret will do a special performance in the round that night with a 360 degree revolving stage and special guest DJ Adam Stanfel.” The bill will also feature the Stomp Rockets and the Volcanos. Follow @City_Slang

    The post City Slang: Margaret Doll Rod to play EP release show in May appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: Music review roundup

    Send CDs, vinyl, cassettes, demos and 8-tracks to Brett Callwood, Metro Times, 1200 Woodward Heights, Ferndale MI 48220. Email MP3s and streaming links to bcallwood@metrotimes.com. Ricky Rat’s Tokyo Pop/Glitter People (New Fortune) 7” single highlights all that’s great about the Trash Brats guitarist, but also his limitations. The man can write a bubblegum rock ’n’ roll song to match anyone in the city and most beyond. He’s also a killer guitarist, ripping out one throwaway riff after another with reckless abandon. He’s a machine. On his own though, without Trash Brats frontman Brian McCarty, his voice doesn’t have enough strength to do the songs justice. Not that you need to have the greatest voice in the world to sing this stuff – you don’t need to be able to perform vocal gymnastics – but you do have to be able to wail the tunes out. Both of the songs on this single are great, but you can’t help but wonder how much better they would sound with McCarty or somebody similar talking the mic. Still, as they are the songs are great fun. We’re just being picky. The Paper Sound’s Trajectories is a dense, atypically dark Americana-tinged album, unrelenting and […]

    The post City Slang: Music review roundup appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Detroit launches website to auction city-owned homes

    “Neighbors wanted.” That’s the message on the homepage of buildingdetroit.org, a new website launched by the City of Detroit today to auction off city-owned homes to prospective buyers who pledge to fix them up and move in. “We are moving aggressively to take these abandoned homes and get families living in them again,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement today. “There are a lot of people who would love to move into many of our neighborhoods. Knowing that other people are going to be buying and fixing up the other vacant homes at the same time will make it a lot easier for them to make that commitment.” The website to facilitate the auctions went live this afternoon. The first auction is scheduled to take place Monday, May 5. Officials said in a news release that one home will be auctioned per day, Monday through Friday. Fifteen homes are available for sale on the site, a dozen of which are in the East English Village neighborhood. Any Michigan resident, company, or organization that can do business in the state can bid, according to the website. Properties will be for sale for only one day, with bidding taking place from 8 […]

    The post Detroit launches website to auction city-owned homes appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Tickets for Steven Spielberg, John Williams summer concert sell out in 15 minutes

    In case you haven’t heard, two of the biggest names in film, Steven Spielberg and John Williams, are collaborating to put on a benefit concert for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this summer. In case you wanted to go- well, you’re too damn late. The DSO says tickets to the June 14 concert were snapped up in a record-breaking 15 minutes after they went on sale at 9 a.m. today. The DSO has since released this statement to fans who didn’t snag seats: Our apologies to everyone who was unable to buy tickets this morning for our historic benefit concert featuring John Williams and Steven Spielberg. Despite increasing our phone and internet system capacity for the day, a surge of hundreds of ticket buyers purchased tickets in a matter of minutes, filling the phone lines and temporarily maxing out our web servers. After a one-hour pre-sale made available to donors and subscribers at 8am, we released additional seats at 9am to the general public, including seats available for as low as $30. All seats sold out immediately. The concert program seems nothing short of top notch: Williams will conduct the orchestra as it performs some of his most iconic tunes, such […]

    The post Tickets for Steven Spielberg, John Williams summer concert sell out in 15 minutes appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

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Politics & Prejudices

Drawing the lines

Republicans redraw congressional districts to their advantage

What do people in the leafy, upscale Oakland County town of Sylvan Lake have in common with the Asian immigrants and heavily pierced and tattooed young artists of Hamtramck?

What do any of those groups have in common with the soccer moms of Farmington Hills, the mean streets of Motor City's east side, the poor but vibrant Hispanic neighborhoods of southwest Detroit, and Oak Park's Orthodox Jews?

They've all been thrown together in a congressional district that has long been represented by John Conyers. By the way, Southfield, Pontiac, West Bloomfield and Keego Harbor are in there too.

When many of these people find out they are about to become Rep. Conyers' newest constituents, they are likely to react with something approaching horror. No, not out of racism, so much, as their perception — largely accurate — that the 82-year-old congressman isn't heavily invested in suburban concerns.

That, plus the fact that those in the know are aware that Conyers' office seems to be in a near-perpetual state of chaos. This isn't especially reassuring to those who need constituent services.

"You're crazy. Are you serious? We got Conyers? How the hell did that happen?" a Farmington Hiller told me when I told him.

Well, a woman I met by chance at a lunch meeting last week put it best. "This is a case of the legislators choosing their voters rather than the voters choosing their legislators," said Susan Miller, who works with the League of Women Voters in Ann Arbor.

That's exactly what's happening. Every 10 years, we get new official population estimates from the U.S. Census, and then, by law, new districts have to be drawn. Congressional districts all have to have the same number of people — 705,974, based on the April 1, 2010 count. They can vary at most by only one person.

Pretty much the same rule holds for districts in the Legislature, though these can vary by as much as 5 percent from the ideal population of 89,881 for the state House, 260,096 for the state Senate.

Dividing us up into districts isn't all that hard, for anyone with detailed census data and a computer. But the art is doing it to give one side or another partisan advantage. Usually, you have fights over just how to do that, followed by court hearings and compromise.

Not this year. Republicans control everything — both houses of the Legislature, the governor's office, the Michigan Supreme Court.

They can do whatever they want, and they have. The state is losing a seat in the U.S. House due to its population decline. As a result, they tossed two Democratic congressmen into the same district, with the result that either Sander Levin or Gary Peters will have to retire, or be defeated in a primary next August. They aren't happy.

The Republicans controlling the process have also redrawn legislative boundaries in an effort to give their candidates maximum advantage. They did this in secrecy; behind closed doors. They just created the districts, let us see 'em June 17, and soon will enact them.

Democrats, by the way, would have done much the same if they held power, and you'd see two GOP congressmen stuffed into the same district instead. There's only one restraint on our leaders:

The Voting Rights Act has normally been interpreted to mean there is an obligation to keep as many districts as possible with a majority of minorities. With the shrinking of Detroit and the diffusion of Michigan's African-American population, that gets harder and harder. That's why the area carved aside for Conyers stretches out bizarrely like the original salamander-shaped one that was the first Gerrymandered district, almost exactly two centuries ago.

There's a companion district for Hansen Clarke that takes in a big chunk of Detroit's midsection, plus a bunch of Wayne County suburbs such as Garden City and Westland. But both these areas have African-American populations of less than 60 percent, and there is some possibility one or both might eventually elect non-Detroiters.

Congressional districts are supposed to be made up of people with like-minded interests, and leaving the drawing of the lines to partisans is not the best way for democracy.

Those expending energy trying to get signatures for fruitless recall efforts might think instead of trying to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to turn redistricting over to an independent, non-partisan commission. Until that happens, the majority of us will continue to be effectively disenfranchised.


War on City Hall's 11th floor:
Last week the Detroit media suddenly proclaimed in large headlines that there was chaos in Mayor Dave Bing's administration, and that he was being manipulated by the cruel, over-her-head Svengali Karen Dumas, his communications chief. What caused all this?

Mainly, it was set off by allegations made by one Rochelle Collins, who made lots of charges in a lawsuit she started after she got fired from her city job. This is hardly surprising; people who get fired from any job usually blame anyone except themselves.

But the newspapers, especially the Free Press, began screaming that Dumas had to go, and within two days the mayor in fact fired her. Now, I am not close enough to City Hall to be able to assess to what extent the charges against Dumas were merited. Once she appeared weakened, lots of people appeared to stab her in the back.

My knowledge is limited to the fact that she always has been professional and classy with me. I've had two long interviews with the mayor since he took office; she attended these but never interfered.

There may be legitimate concerns about how she did her job. She did have more ties to the discredited Kilpatrick administration than many people felt comfortable with, though she wasn't alone.

When it was clear that she was becoming the story, not the spokeswoman, the mayor moved quickly to fire the person who had been his closest aide, which perhaps should call into question all the stories about Bing being indecisive and unwilling to make the hard choices. Sometimes, the top man has to be ruthless, and he was.

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