Michigan Radio: Artpod

Michigan Radio: Artpod

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ArtPod on Matt Jones, Sundance, and indie Detroit

We've got indie rocker Matt Jones on his new (and maybe best) album, his Civil War obsession (sure, ok) and what happens when Sundance comes looking for Michigan talent. Some in the Detroit film community think Michigan students don't have the competitive edge it takes to make it in NY or LA. 




When it comes to representation in the Legislature and Congress, Michigan voters are still not equa

Tomorrow we will happily celebrate the Fourth of July, both because we see it as the anniversary of American Independence and maybe especially because this year it comes with a three-day weekend.

Actually, what we are commemorating is not really true independence; that came at the end of the Revolutionary War. What this day marks is the signing of the Declaration on Independence, the best-remembered line of which is, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Well, as you probably know, the men who wrote that document didn’t believe that as we do now. For one thing, they were all men. Women didn’t even get to vote for more than a hundred years.

Races other than whites weren’t equal, nor were the landless poor. But we like to think that isn’t the case anymore. After all, we have a black president, and may soon have a female one.

But when it comes to representation in the Legislature and Congress, Michigan voters are still not equal.

Legislative seats have to be roughly equal in terms of population. Congressional districts, exactly so. They redraw the boundaries every ten years. But politicians do the drawing, and last time, Republicans were in complete control of the process. That enabled them to give themselves total advantage.


That means that though more people cast votes for Democratic candidates, far more Republicans were elected. That doesn’t mean the Republicans who drew these lines were sinners and the Democrats saints.

The Dems probably would have done precisely the same if they could have. I am not concerned about them, but about democracy. Rich Robinson, head of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, just did a careful study.

He discovered that this gerrymandering meant that Republican votes were effectively worth twice that of Democrats.

Two years ago, less than 46% of Michigan voters voted Republican for Congress. But Republicans won almost two-thirds of the seats. Does that strike anyone as fair?

Last week, in an essay called “Democracy Deformed,” Robinson said, “Oh, I know our form of democracy is not proportional representation, but … representation in a democracy should be a direct function of the vote. That’s not how things work in Michigan.”

That’s not good for either party. There is at least one member of Congress who should no longer be there.

There are Democrats who aren’t doing the job who might well be defeated by Republicans if they were in districts where either party had a real chance. But they aren’t.

Some people would like to see a bipartisan committee in charge of redistricting. Robinson would prefer a panel of academic experts. I’d rather have nonpartisan demographers with computers.

But any of these would be preferable to the smelly partisan method we have now. There’s another section of the Declaration of Independence that doesn’t get quoted much.

It says that “when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter and abolish it.” I think we need to get serious about altering this, before anyone gets it in their heads to abolish our dysfunctional democracy.

Happy Fourth of July!

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.



13 years ago Brenda Lawrence won a mayorial race. Now she's running for Congress, and may win

I discovered something bizarre when Brenda Lawrence first ran for mayor of Southfield 13 years ago.




Back then, Southfield, a suburban business center and bedroom community just north of Detroit, had just become a majority African-American city. Lawrence was challenging a white mayor who’d been in office almost 30 years.

When I talked to some of the 70,000 residents, I found white voters who were excited about her candidacy and who wanted to get rid of the longtime incumbent. But I talked to upwardly mobile black voters who emphatically did not want a black mayor.

They told me that every community that elects a black mayor soon became an impoverished ghetto. Lawrence vowed that wouldn’t happen. She won, and it hasn’t. She has been in office ever since.


Southfield was hit hard by the recession, and there are too many vacant storefronts along the main streets. But it has remained a leafy suburb filled with well-maintained, solidly middle-class homes.

It is a place with intensely loyal residents and people who want to live there. And the voters have overwhelmingly continued to reelect their Brenda – even though she has tried three times for higher office. 

She ran for county executive against Brooks Patterson six years ago. Two years later, she was the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Then two years ago, she ran for Congress in the newly created 14th district.

You may have heard a lot about so-called gerrymandering — bizarrely shaped congressional districts aimed at preserving one-party dominance, not community cohesion. Legislators did this in Michigan three years ago in order to pack as many Democrats into as few districts as possible.

Democrats might have done much the same thing if they’d been in charge, but they weren’t. The 14th district Republicans created is one of the oddest-shaped districts in the nation. It starts in the Grosse Pointes, takes in about half of impoverished Detroit, and ends in a collection of suburbs, including Lawrence’s Southfield.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary is virtually certain to win in November. Lawrence finished a weak third two years ago. That's not surprising given that two incumbent congressmen were also in the race.

Now however, the man who won, Gary Peters, is running for the U.S. Senate. It’s now a wide-open race, and she may be the front-runner. Her rivals are State Representative Rudy Hobbs, who has many endorsements but little name recognition, and former congressman Hansen Clarke, who is charismatic but often notoriously unorganized.

Lawrence thinks that as a mayor, she can bring a perspective to Congress that legislators immersed in partisan political battles may lack. Now 59, she’s lived in Southfield for years, but was born and raised in Detroit, and is optimistic about its future.

I asked what she most wanted people to know about her. “I keep my word,” she said.

“So many people label politics as a negative thing. But to me, public service is one of the most honorable positions you can have in America, to be able to have the trust of people who send you to be the keeper of their tax dollars.”

I don’t know if she’ll win this race. But I do wish more politicians saw their jobs the way she does. 

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.



ArtPod knows what you need to be reading right now

Oh sure, it's fun to read on the beach on a sweaty summer afternoon. But personally, we prefer a good book a chilly Fall night, wrapped up under the covers with some hot chocolate...so here's a list of the new, great Michigan reads you shouldn't miss. Happy Pumpkin Spice Latte Season to you. 



ArtPod for April 30 2013

This week, ArtPod is aaaall about the ladies. You name ‘em, we’ve got them: Michigan photographers, amateur actresses, adventure authors…the works. What unites them? They’re all seeking a change. First up, two moms who found each other in the neonatal intensive care unit. Sara Joy was about to lose her infant son. Monni Must was volunteering her talents as a family photographer, coming in to take a final family portrait for Sara and her son. What they didn’t know is how those photos would help them both heal. Then, we head off to a different kind of Shakespearean drama. Inmates at a Michigan’s women’s correctional facility are putting on “The Tempest.” Michigan Radio’s Kyle Norris hangs out during their rehearsals, watching the production come together and the actresses build their characters out of their own experiences. Finally, one adventurous author takes off her hiking boots long enough to chat about her new book, “A One-Thousand-Mile Great Lakes Walk: One Woman's Trek Along the Shorelines of All Five Great Lakes.” 



This week, the times they are a changin'

Come gather round ArtPod this week, as we rip off Bob Dylan for a cute headline.

Today, ArtPod is talking about change. All kinds of change: political, cultural, even technological change. 

We’ll talk with a storyteller, actors, students and even the operators of a small town movie theater about how they deal with bad changes (the end of an era for mom-and-pop cinemas), weird change (so you've got an emergency manager! Now what?), and cultural change (the tricky, tricky task of talking about race).  

Their projects are radically different, but they each help us talk about or understand a difficult change – which may be what all art is supposed to do. 



Attack of the ArtPod!

It’s baaaaaack. After a brief hiatus, ArtPod is bigger and better than ever, bringing you all the Michigan artists and thinkers we’re following now.

This week, we’re hashing out the best of the Arab American film festival in Dearborn. Every festival has its inside-baseball politics about which films get in and which don’t.

But Sundance just might be a cakewalk compared with trying to tackle the Arab spring and the Syrian conflict in just one week of screenings.

We hear from the guy who’s got that job, and we get the rundown on his favorite picks of the year.  

We’re also heading to a Detroit shelter for LGBT teens. Michigan Radio’s Kyle Norris tells us how these young men (and a handful of women) are making their own kind of families, with a little help from Madonna: it’s called vogue dancing, and for gay youth in Detroit, it’s brave stuff. You’ve gotta hear this story, and then you need to check out the video here:

Then, we cut the baby boomers some slack for a change: sure, they’re notoriously self-obsessed and nostalgic for those groovy gone-by years of their youth. But guess what? So are Millenials! (Hint: young adults born after 1981.)

For proof, look no further than Frontier Ruckus, a folk-rock country band whose new album is an ode to growing up in 90’s suburbia. Ah yes, the good old days when all girls were named Caitlin and “Doug” cartoons were appointment television.

So it’s only right that the generation that brought you bromance now gives you four guys with one banjo, the requisite amount of hipstery facial hair, and some yearning tunes about the days when they were too young to see “Reality Bites.”   

And as always, we want to hear from you. ArtPod can’t be everywhere (although we sure do try, but sometimes ArtPod needs a nap and some snacks, just like any podcast) so step up and let us know what we’re missing in Michigan’s art world.

Leave a comment below or go to www.michiganradio.org and click on “Share Your Story.” We may not be able to get back to each one of you, but we really do read everything you send us. And thanks!  




Art Pod's Send-off to Summer: Idlewild's Centennial, "Sole Survivor" wraps filming, and more

We say good-bye to summer arts, from Idlewild (once known as the "Black Eden") celebrating their centennial, even as the town struggles to survive; filming wraps up on a documentary about sole survivors of commercial plane crashes; and the Holocaust Memorial Center gets a startling new exhibit. 



Commentary: Voting Tomorrow

Tomorrow is primary election day across the state. Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry says that in many cases, the primary is the election that matters most.



Should taxpayers "save" the DIA?

The Detroit Institute of Arts is going broke. Museum staff say to save the DIA,  they need some $200 million dollars in property taxes from Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. As Michigan Radio's Kate Wells reports, voters will decide the fate of the museum at the polls this Tuesday. 



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