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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

Our human assets

Here's a weird idea: Our most valuable asset is our people

They'll swear in our next governor this weekend, and everyone from corporate executives to newspaper editorial writers is brimming with excitement and hope. Can Rick Snyder, computer business nerd turned venture capitalist, turn Michigan's economy around? Will he attract new dynamic businesses? Balance the budget without new taxes? Leap tall buildings with a single bound?

Nobody knows, of course. When not speculating about Snyder, others in the media have been wondering about Jennifer Granholm, our outgoing governor, who is at last being blown away with the chill January winds. Will she find work in the Obama administration? Will the ex-first gentleman, Dan Mulhern, have to get a real job now? Will the couple end up hawking his leadership books on local access cable?

Uh, that's all like, uh, very interesting. Except that it isn't. Here's who we should be thinking about instead: There are more than 162,000 Michiganders who lost their jobs after the stock market crash two years ago, and haven't found new ones. They've been scraping by on unemployment compensation, which Congress extended, and then extended again.

But now, their luck has run out. We're cutting them off after 99 weeks. They aren't getting any more money, and many of them may have no idea how they are going to keep going, and eating.

There's a lot of confusion about this. Most people I've talked to don't realize that these folks are about to fall right through a big tear in our society's shredded and sinking safety net. Didn't President Obama just save them, somebody asked me, by selling out to the Republicans on tax cuts for the super-rich? Well, not exactly. Yes, there was huge controversy earlier this month, when Obama gave in and signed legislation extending tax cuts for the wealthy. He'd said he wouldn't do that.

This president wanted to extend the tax cuts for what remains of the middle class, true. But with the deficit ballooning out of control, he thought families making more than $250,000 could pay a little more. "Hell no!" their Republican vassals thundered. They had enough votes to filibuster, and the message they sent the president was this: We'll hold the unemployed hostage.

Unless the Democrats agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone, even those making more than $1 million a year, the Republicans wouldn't agree to continued extension of jobless benefits, which were boosted from 26 to 99 weeks to help cope with the recession. In the end, Democrats felt they had no choice. So unemployment benefits were extended, and Democrats got an expanded child tax credit as well. But the unemployment benefits were only extended to the old maximum of 99 weeks. (U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow tried to get them more time; she was ignored.)

State Sen. Gilda Jacobs, a Democrat from Huntington Woods, brought this to my attention last week. Actually, she won't be a state senator after this weekend; term limits have pushed her into what, these days, may be a more important job. Jacobs, who was known for intelligence, compassion and integrity during her senate career, will be the new head of the Michigan League for Human Services, or MLHS.

The league is dedicated to the idea that Michigan's lowest-income residents deserve some measure of economic security, as in not having to worry about starving to death. That ought to be seen as critical to maintaining any civilized society. But worrying about the neediest seems to have fallen out of fashion lately.

"We want to make sure these citizens have a voice, and a place at the table," Jacobs told me. What no one can deny is that there are a lot more folks down on their luck. Increasingly, they include the young, those of color — and people who never imagined they'd be in serious trouble, like benefits-exhausted "99ers."

Essentially, Jacobs told me, we are all going to be in more trouble than we know. What the nonpartisan, nonprofit league does mostly is policy analysis — plus lobbying officeholders to make sure they remember those not looked after by special interests and corporate lobbyists. This work comes naturally to Gilda Jacobs.

Earlier in her career, she was a special education teacher and then development director for JARC, a Jewish organization that primarily helps people with disabilities live full, rich lives. Today, she's worried about those whose last unemployment compensation is drying up — but even more about children.

"This has been a lost generation of kids," she said. Pre-kindergarten programs are extremely essential for poor and disadvantaged children, she knows. But they are easy targets for budget-cutters. "If we don't act now to make sure they can learn, where is Michigan going to be 20 years from now?"

Last year, nearly a quarter of all kids in the state were officially in utter poverty. Even in affluent Oakland County, one out of six kids live in homes whose incomes fell below the poverty line. In Wayne County, it was more than a third. The rate in Saginaw, even higher.

These are kids who will end up dysfunctional adults if not stimulated to think, to learn, to develop properly. The cost of doing nothing, in the long run, will be far greater than any savings we realize now.

What nobody knows is if our newly elected governor realizes this. Gilda Jacobs fears that many of the Tea Party types just elected to the Legislature don't have a clue. Her new job is to continue getting the Michigan League for Human Services the resources it needs to be the informed conscience of our government, winning grants and producing reports that prove investing in human capital is the most necessary investment of all.

Ironically, while too few policymakers know enough about the league, it constantly gets requests from desperate people who think it can provide them directly with food, shelter and services. What they do "is suggest they call their state legislator," the new director said with a smile.� However, they also suggest dialing 211, the United Way hotline. Operators are trained to direct them to the agency most appropriate to their needs.

Things may well get tougher. Last week, we learned that Michigan was the only state to lose people during the last decade. That not only means we lose a seat in Congress, "it will likely mean fewer federal dollars flowing into Michigan at a time when the need for services remains high," said Karen Holcomb-Merrill, MLHS's state fiscal project director.

That leaves it to the state to make up for this loss. That may be unlikely in today's political climate. But not doing so is more than likely to doom lost generations to come.

Maybe, just maybe, there's a little hope. Last week our next governor said he wasn't especially enamored of Jennifer Granholm's belief in rushing all over the globe to try to bring a few jobs back here. Snyder said, in effect, he'd prefer to grow them at home. That makes sense to me. But we can't do that unless we keep our infrastructure in shape. That means not only sound roads and bridges, but people who are healthy, well-nourished and educated.

Let's hope our venture-capitalist-in-chief realizes that investing in our human assets is a strategic move Michigan needs to make.�

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