Thursday, February 28, 2008

Can Michigan Get a 'Do-Over'?

Originally published at

Michigan voters are literally out in the cold when the subject of the state’s confused Democratic primary comes up.

A dozen or so dedicated supporters of presidential candidate Barack Obama alternately marched and huddled outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit on a freezing 12 degree February afternoon. The group shivered defiantly as they rallied for the state’s Democratic Party to establish a caucus that would settle the fate of Michigan’s 156 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“We’re pretty upset about the way the primary election was conducted, and the fact that [Obama] wasn’t on the ticket,” said Lawrence Garcia, explaining why he and other members of the grassroots political organizing group Obama Democratic Future were willing to endure these frigid conditions on a Friday afternoon. “Now folks are talking about making those votes count, even though that was not a valid election.”

The decision to stay on the Michigan ballot has turned into something of an ace in the hole for Clinton. Supporters of Obama and former Senator John Edwards encouraged Michiganders to vote “Uncommitted”, but in the resulting confusion, Clinton walked away with 55% of the primary vote.

Garcia and his group are asking for a new caucus in Michigan. If they can’t get one, they don’t want any of Michigan’s delegates to count.

“It wasn’t a fair race,” Garcia contends. “Common folks like us didn’t have any say in moving that primary to January 15th.”

[To learn more about Michigan’s January 15 Democratic Primary check out “Uncommitted: Michigan’s Democratic Primary Fiasco”.]

Though Obama supporters want a ‘do-over’, the prospects aren’t likely. Michigan’s Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, has said there isn’t enough time and it isn’t practical to pull a caucus together.

“So far I haven’t heard any meaningful or trustworthy plan that would indicate to me that we’re going to have a ‘makeover’ or ‘do-over’ caucus,” Jeff Souza, chairman of the Washtenaw County, Michigan Democratic Party says. Souza suspects that Michigan and Florida may be out of it until the last minute.

“I believe that when a clear leader is established, the Michigan and Florida delegates may be seated just as a formality, as a gesture to the people of those two states so that they do have a voice of some sort,” Souza says.

“But the damage has been done. If [the race for the nomination] is tight, it’s going to be very contentious, and you’re going to see a lot of fireworks and it’s going to become extremely unstable,” Souza fears. “It’s going to be a free for all,”

Indeed, after eleven straight primary victories, Senator Barack Obama has taken a commanding 1371 to 1274 lead in the delegate count and the hunt for the nomination. That’s if Michigan and Florida votes are not counted. If the two prodigal states are included, Clinton moves ahead with 1466 to Obama’s 1443 declared delegates, making for a much tighter race.

All discussion about what to do with Michigan’s delegation has been biased, with each side working to gain an advantage for their chosen candidate.

“The Clinton supporters believe they have a built-in advantage,” Souza explains, “and so I don’t think they really want to have a do-over caucus, especially with the congressional districts’ conventions [on March 29] determining the allocation of [delegates].” There’s a strong possibility that uncommitted delegates who are actually Clinton supporters could be elected, and presumably they would vote for Hillary Clinton at the convention.

Conversely, Obama supporters believe a ‘do-over’ caucus would eliminate the confusion by allowing the rank and file of Michigan’s Democratic Party to determine the state’s choice once and for all. “They feel that they need to make it official and take away the wiggle room or the ability of Clinton supporters to get those uncommitted delegates and make sure that Obama supporters are officially elected by the people,” Souza observes.

Michigan state representative Coleman Young II is an Obama supporter who helped organize the February 22 rally outside the building that bears his father’s name. “At first I wanted to move the primary up,” Young admits, “because I wanted the presidential candidates to come here and tell us what their plan was to stimulate the economy, especially here in Michigan with all that we’re going through. There are a lot of different issues that we have that need to be addressed and should be addressed.”

“Our most valuable asset that we have in this country is our democracy, and our right to vote,” Young exclaims. “I think we’re being disenfranchised, and I think one person being disenfranchised is one too many. That’s why I personally believe that we need to have a redo. The citizens of Michigan were robbed horribly in this process.”

“My vote should count,” marcher Cassie Williams says. “For me to be told that my vote doesn’t count, or that the delegates from Michigan won’t be seated, that’s not okay. That’s not the American way. That’s not what democracy is about.”

“For all of our lives we’ve been told, ‘get out and vote, your vote counts, you matter, you have a voice’,” William continues. “Then to be rendered voiceless, that’s a problem. That’s a serious problem.”

Currently Michigan Democrats are in political purgatory. The state’s delegates have become a pawn in this game but they may never be played. Because state party leadership chose to cut line, Michigan Democrats are forced to watch from the sidelines as the most exciting race for the nomination in fifty years has played out everywhere else around the country.

If the state’s party favors one candidate over another and holds a do-over caucus, it could create even more disention in the Democratic Party ranks. If it fails to act, or it seats the delegates in a close race, which could effectively hand the nomination to the other candidate, full-scale riots could break out at the convention. Come November, frustrated Michigan Democrats in this traditional battleground state may turn to presumptive Republican nominee John McCain who has been accused by conservatives of being too liberal.

“It’s quite a mess,” Souza sighs. “It’s almost like Iraq. There’s no good solution at this point.”

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

VIDEO: Loving Detroit, Leaving Detroit: Part 2 - Corner Boy

Originally published at

His house was burglarized and his car was stolen from his driveway in the space of two weeks. After many years in the city he loved, a native son leaves Detroit for warmer climates and greater opportunity.

This is the 2nd installment in a series that examines the reasons Detroit's "best and brightest" are moving out of the city.

Republican New Hampshire Legislator Wants Bush and Cheney Impeached and Prosecuted


By Dan DeWalt

In a packed hearing room on Feb 19th, under a carved wooden sign reading "Live Free or Die", the New Hampshire House committee of State-Federal Relations and Veterans' Affairs heard testimony on Representative Betty Hall's HR 24, which calls on the U.S. Congress to begin impeachment hearings for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

What was most notable about the four straight hours of testimony was not that opponents of the resolution could only muster two people willing to testify against it, both Republican stalwarts using selected excerpts from Jefferson's parliamentary manual or from the bill itself, whose arguments were embarrassingly empty.

It was not that Kris Roberts, the committee chair, had taken this hearing seriously enough to have researched the law, history and nuances of the subject, and that he used this to inform the proceedings in a reasonably fair manner.

It was not the fact that after the hearing ended, several pro-impeachment witnesses were approached by committee members and thanked for their clarity and useful testimony.

It was not even the novelty of the interjections by one committee member that would periodically steer the conversation abruptly into Rockefeller/Trilateral Commission territory.

The most remarkable moment came late in the afternoon when Republican House member Steve Vaillancourt strode into the room to testify. After passing out copies of the second chapter of Patrick Buchanan's "Day of Reckoning" as supporting evidence, Vaillancourt opened his remarks quoting "fools rush in where wise men fear to tread", and it sounded like a set up to condemn a rush to impeach. But instead he said that Betty Hall is neither fool nor wise man, but is a model of courage and that her impeachment resolution should be supported.

And then the fun began.

Member Vaillancourt then gave a short history lesson, telling the committee that until Bush/Cheney, America had never engaged in an offensive war [sic.], and pointing out that the Truman, Eisenhower. Kennedy and Reagan "Doctrines" had all been based on defense and had not been offensive in nature. Warming to the subject, he delved into the ramifications of Bush/Cheney's actions, saying that their reckless foreign policy has been anti-American, unconstitutional, and ruinously costly to the nation.

He was fairly thundering by the time that he pronounced that not only should Bush and Cheney be impeached, but also they should be tried as war criminals in a Nuremburg style trial for crimes against humanity. He flatly stated that the war in Iraq has provided grounds for war crimes charges against the President and Vice President. And there was not one word of protest from a single committee member. They may or may not support this resolution to impeach, but there seems to be no one left with a credible argument to defend Bush/Cheney.

Vaillancourt said that he spoke not as a Republican, a New Hampshire citizen or an American, but as a member of humanity. His remarks made a common sense plea for an honest appraisal of our current political situation, for the acknowledgement that we have a duty to act as a decent and responsible people, and that principle be the governing factor of our government's actions. These are all values that should, and once did, cut across party lines. If the current political parties have forgotten this, and become so degraded as to allow the lawlessness and criminality of this administration to go unchecked, the people have not.

And at that hearing the people had their chance to speak. One member of the committee remarked that she had never before seen such a wide range of viewpoints as represented by the witnesses, to be so united on one issue.

After deliberation the next day, loyalty to party leadership proved a stronger pull than reasoned argument, for five committee members voted to recommend the bill, with eleven voting against. Now facing an uphill battle to get it passed in a full House vote in March, Betty Hall was still encouraged by the committee hearing and vote. She has received much more support for this resolution than she did with a similar effort last year, and is already working to get grass roots supporters out between now and the vote to get their legislators' attention.

If the grass roots continue to pour out as they did on Tuesday, and if there were a few more politicians like Steve Vaillancourt and Betty Hall, we might see things begin to change. It's instructive to remember that some politicians who are now leading the charge for impeachment did not want to talk about it only a few short months ago. The spotlight is now on the New Hampshire House, the third largest deliberative body on the planet, and arguably one of the more democratic representative systems anywhere as well. These representatives may listen to an outsider's viewpoint on what to do about the Constitution, but they will be influenced most by the neighbors whom they represent.

The question is, is New Hampshire angry enough and organized enough to convince the legislature to call for impeachment? For those outside of New Hampshire the question is, how can we raise the temperature everywhere else, making it all the more plausible that the Granite State will reach the boiling point.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Elevation Sundays

Originally published at

Man! It’s cold! It’s that bone chilling Michigan cold where the wind whips through you like a chainsaw. By most estimates, it’s the icy temperatures on this frigid February evening that have transformed Ann Arbor’s hottest hip hop night from a steamy, sweaty mass of bodies into a warm, intimate family affair.

Elevation Sundays at The Firefly was founded three years ago by two members of Ann Arbor’s Sky Children hip hop family. Martin "DJ Graffiti" Smith and Jackson Perry of hip hop phenoms Now On approached Susan Chastain, owner of the legendary A2 jazz hang out and asked for a Sunday night spot.

"Originally Jackson came in as if asking for my daughter’s hand," Chastain beams. "I knew him as a musician from around town with a successful band [sadly defunct groove monsters Funktelligence], and he was a very good business man."

Still this wasn’t an easy decision for Chastain. The club has won several regional awards for its jazz menu over the years, and Downbeat Magazine, the bible of the jazz world, rated The Firefly as one of The 100 Great Jazz Clubs of the World in February 2007.

"It kind of puts us in a box," says Chastain. "People drive here from all over the Midwest on a Friday or Saturday night without checking the schedule because they know we’ll have jazz, and they know it will be good." A hip hop night could have pulled the venue out of that comfortable box.

Of course, the ugly specter of violence that precedes hip hop everywhere crept its way into the negotiation. Chastain made it clear there could be no "rumbles" in a respectable establishment like The Firefly.

Perry assured her that violence would not be a problem. In fact, the event they envisioned was subtitled "The Chill Lounge", and Chastain agreed to hand over the keys to her baby one Sunday out of the month.

"The original idea was to fill a void," Graffiti says. "There were hip hop shows that would go on, but there was no regular event where you could go out and get soulful music, hip hop music… an alternative to what you would get at the normal night club. We really wanted to have more of a lounge atmosphere."

In the beginning crowds were small. They’d see about 30 people come through the doors. "At that point, everybody felt like it was their own night," Graffiti laughs. "It was only a few people, but it was like friends that got together to do exactly what we wanted to be doing."

But the word got out. After four months Elevation was a weekly, and it continues to flourish over three years later. "It was a slow build, but it grew to epic proportions," smiles Chastain. "It definitely helps us support our jazz habit, and I like having us known for something other than jazz."

Elevation has seen some changes. Jackson Perry and Now On relocated to Los Angeles two years ago where they’ve founded Elevation West. Buff1 of AML took over Jackson’s slot as host. DJ Benny Ben and DJ Jonah share turntable duties with Graffiti each week. Then in November the Firefly moved from Ashley Street to Main Street in Ann Arbor.

But the overall format has remained the same. In keeping with their chill lounge vibe, the DJs begin with some jazz and soul, then progress from a Nu Soul groove into underground hip hop. At 12:30am there is a half hour of open mic, and then the DJs kick it up a notch with 70s and 80s dance music.

On this freezing February night, the vibe is probably a lot like it was in the early days. It’s laid back and mellow. Most of the patrons know each other. Grand C from Athletic Mic League (AML) is celebrating a birthday complete with a booty cake.

In no time I find myself chilling on a couch in a corner, sipping my favorite ale, nodding my head to the beat. Yeah, it’s cold outside, but the mood at Elevation Sundays is warm and cozy. I will be back.

VIDEO: Loving Detroit, Leaving Detroit: Part 1 - Detroit's Daughter

Originally published at

In January, the Detroit News reported that Michigan lost 90,000 residents in 2007. This was three times the population loss in 2003, the first year economists identified Michigan's one state recession.

The city of Detroit has been steadily losing residents for years. Native Detroiters who love the city feel compelled to move in search of better opportunity elsewhere.

This is the first in a series that explores why so many residents who love Detroit feel they must leave Detroit.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Kwame Kilpatrick IS Hip Hop

Originally published at

Whether you like it or not, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick IS Hip Hop. The 37 year-old chief executive was famously dubbed “The Hip Hop Mayor” at the beginning of his first term, and while the title was meant as an insult, he embraced the image, and the moniker stuck.

Though he stopped sporting a diamond stud in his left ear during his second mayoral campaign, the former captain of the Florida A&M football team still dons the style and swagger of the hip hop aesthetic. Even the scandals that follow Kwame around like members of his entourage – wild parties with strippers, SUVs, luxury resorts and spas in Cali, infidelity and text messages – seem more akin to the typical lifestyle of a platinum-selling rapper or an NBA All-Star, than it should the mayor of the nation’s 11th largest city.

But Kwame Kilpatrick is Hip Hop. He typifies the young Black man who came of age listening to the sound of the boom bap. As glass ceilings in corporate America begin to open for the men and women who were once called Generation X and those of Generation Y to follow, the nation’s corporate style is changing.

Apple’s Steve Jobs turned heads among the suits over a decade ago by striding confidently through the halls of power in blue jeans and a sport coat. In 2007 former drug dealer Shawn Carter resigned his post as CEO of hip hop’s most storied multi-million dollar brand, Def Jam. For better or worse, Kwame Kilpatrick is the brash, young political leader who has symbolized this shift for the past six years.

Those who have grown up with and love Hip Hop celebrate its triumphs, and are embarrassed by its missteps, and Kwame Kilpatrick is Hip Hop. He is applauded for helping to improve the city’s downtown, for encouraging economic development and working to attract much needed business to the struggling municipality. Beyond the lifestyle scandals, the mayor has been criticized for instituting a $300.00 fee for trash collection in the nation’s second poorest city. He has been accused of providing money for beautification projects in higher income neighborhoods while neglecting less affluent parts of town.

Still it is Kwame’s baller status that makes headlines in a materialistic, hip hop driven media climate. His policy decisions – both good and bad – are overshadowed by his love of bling, money and women.

To his detractors, Kilpatrick represents everything bad about hip hop and everything bad about Detroit. Comments on one message board label the lawyer and former state legislator “a thug”, “a goon”, “a street person”, and “a scum bag”. He is compared to another infamous figure in hip hop, Death Row Records chief Suge Knight.

Among many of his supporters, however, this pejorative language is nothing more than thinly-veiled racism, or still another dose of anti-Detroit Haterade. The animosity of outsiders adds to the feeling among Detroiters that the city is always being dumped on. “Kwame is one of us”, they say, and “good or bad, we’ll stand behind our own.”

Kilpatrick matured during his second term as mayor. His attempts to keep his personal life on the down low have been thwarted by a media intent on digging up dirt that can sell newspapers, drive web hits and attract eyeballs in a competitive news environment. The text messages that were leaked to the Detroit Free Press were created during his first term. The aftermath, plotting to cover up a secret settlement with the cops who were fired for investigating his activities and lying about his affairs under oath, show an older, wiser man trying to hide the mistakes of his carefree youth.

This latest Kilpatrick scandal won’t automatically end the mayor’s career as many of his critics hope, but it has added another layer of tarnish to his tailored Teflon suit. Kwame may survive this row because many of his constituents and supporters are hip hop just like he is. The question that remains is: Will the Hip Hop Mayor chill out and stop flossing so much as he matures, or will he continue to live large like the baller he is?

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