Category: Top News Written by Bankole Thompson
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing knows and understands that Detroit accounts for pretty much everything that goes on in this region of southeastern Michigan, not only because of its proximity. The city’s history has placed Detroit into a position of both strength and weakness.
Despite the dwindling of population, as shown in the recent Census report, the city still remains a political and economic fortress in Michigan, which explains why Detroit has become the theater where many political battles are fought.
“Now what is necessary is to transform the city to a place where people can come in and want to live and work,” Bing said in an exclusive interview.
In fact, people are already making the decision to live in Detroit, especially the downtown area. A recent incentive project involving Quicken Loans, Compuware, Strategic Staffing Solutions and Blue Cross Blue Shield allowed employees of these companies to receive a relocation incentive if they were moving downtown.
In the Midtown area, a similar program spearheaded by the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System and Wayne State University also provided monetary incentives for any of their employees looking to become residents of Midtown.
The net result of that is hundreds of workers taking residence in a city that is still battling to become an example of an American comeback city.
“We now have to be concerned about our neighborhoods,” Bing said about neighborhood development which has been a focus of the mayor’s Detroit Works Project.
But the recent increase in violent crime is giving the city more than a black eye, leading some to question the competence of Detroit government in tackling the escalating crime.
“I just think there is a lot of incorrect information out there about the city,” Bing said, adding that even though crime is still an issue that needs to be nipped at the bud, people are still coming to Detroit for events such as Tigers games..
“We have to do a better job of giving people factual information,” Bing said. “I get it that people still see the mayor as the person who has total responsibility.”
Bing said Detroit once occupied an important seat at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference and hopes this year there will be a constructive engagement of the important issues like regional transportation, which he said should not be on the back burner.
“The business community has been very supportive downtown and in Midtown,” Bing said. “Now we have to make them feel the pain in the neighborhoods so they can help.”
Contrary to the belief that some in the business class are uneasy about the mayor’s stewardship of the city, Bing defended his record, saying, “I’ve had more business people come to me and say they are supportive. All of us understand and respect each other.”
The mayor said that is why he needs the support of all stakeholders in fixing some of the chronic problems the city is facing, such as public lighting, transportation, public safety, etc.
As the city faces its most crucial test — how the appointment of a Financial Advisory Board will play out in the coming weeks, months and years, a chief financial officer, Jack Martin, was appointed. The new portfolio Martin now holds will hold sway in how Detroit tackles its finances in the era of a consent agreement.
Meanwhile, Bing is expressing faith in Martin’s ability to help steer the financial ship of Detroit safely to shore. He said Martin’s national contacts working for the federal government in Washington and other experiences will help to assemble a very good team that includes a budget director and an IT (information technology).
In the weeks leading up to the consent agreement between Detroit and the State of Michigan, Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder traded words in the public domain, each presenting a different position on how Detroit should chart its way out of a financial crisis.
“We’ve got a decent relationship,” Bing said of his current relationship with Gov. Snyder. “I don’t think he truly understands what I’m dealing with. You can’t be 30,000 feet up and understand some of the issues we have here. I still believe the governor wants to help Detroit.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 May 2012 03:06
Category: Top News Written by Jackie Berg
Once ignored, now restored.
That’s what has happened to interest in Michigan’s urban centers, according to Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, who will welcome approximately 1,500 of the state’s most powerful stakeholders at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference (MPC) on Mackinac Island next week.
“What happens on the island will not stay on the island,” promises Baruah, who led efforts to transform the conference’s reputation of being long on talk and short on action since taking the leadership helm in 2010.
Under Baruah’s leadership, the conference has emerged to become a critical conscience and catalyst of collaborative statewide efforts, including strategies for urban renewal.
Major conference initiatives are now assigned metrics and tracking mechanisms in order to better monitor progress through the Mackinac Policy To-Do List, which is now a Conference tradition.
Detroit, long considered to be the state’s “problem child,” is poised to take on a “favored city” status at this year’s conference, which will focus on urban redevelopment initiatives.
“We cannot ignore Detroit’s challenges,” said Baruah, adding:
“Detroit is like a tale of two cities. While we are admittedly undergoing the worst of times and face daunting financial challenges, we also are on the precipice of what may well be the best of times with the momentum of commitments like Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan’s commitment to bring its total workforce to 6,000 employees downtown, Compuware, Price Waterhouse Coopers and Quicken Loans’ urban investments, and Chrysler’s move to bring more than 70 marketing executives into the Dime Building.”
“There is no one better to lead this effort than our 2012 MPC Chair and Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) CEO Nancy Schlichting,” he stated. “HFHS- led ‘Live Midtown’ efforts with partners Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and Wayne State University (WSU) to encourage Midtown Detroit occupancy rates has exceeded our greatest expectations.
“Detroit needs more programs and people like this,” Baruah comments.
A YOUNGER APPEARANCE
This year’s conference will put younger executives center stage. Why?
“We can’t expect to attract and retain younger professionals (YPs) to live, work and play in our urban centers if we don’t include them in constructive efforts,” he says.
Chamber efforts to recruit a higher level of YP involvement at this year’s conference have resulted in a greater presence of YPs and entrepreneurs, critical to Michigan’s small and medium size business sector.
“The 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference is the perfect stage to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit and energy that is driving innovation in Michigan,” said Schlichting. “We have no greater asset than the entrepreneurs who continue to push the envelope and refuse to accept business as usual. This session will reflect the infusion of new ideas throughout Detroit and across the state that are leading Michigan’s continued recovery.
Baruah and Schlichting hope that the conference’s national speakers — including Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist and New York Times bestselling author; Fareed Zakaria, host, Time magazine editor and Washington Post columnist; Donna Brazile, best-selling author, vice chair, Voter Registration and Participation, Democratic National Committee, who was also former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush; and Tucker Eskew, former director, White House Office of Global Communications, and others — will be inspired by conference activities and become vocal advocates of Detroit’s redevelopment activities.
EDs & MEDs
Two sectors sure to have a presence at this year’s conference are education (EDs) and healthcare (MEDs).
“Michigan needs to better prepare students to compete for jobs in the high-growth healthcare industry, which is driving economic development statewide,” states Schlichting. “We need to identify more collaborative ways to fully utilize our universities and respective research capabilities here in Michigan.”
Straw polls planned at a session at this year’s conference will gauge participants’ response to issues from healthcare reform and tax incentives to transportation. Baruah and Schlichting want conference attendees to walk away from this year’s conference with a renewed sense of purpose and action plans to contribute to Michigan’s economic recovery efforts.
Our future may well depend on it.
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 May 2012 03:03
Category: Top News Written by Leland Stein III
The Detroit Pistons just concluded their fourth consecutive losing campaign, finishing the regular NBA season with a 25-41 record. Some basketball pundits have said there are plenty of reasons to smile when looking into the crystal ball of the Pistons’ future.
However, after giving Detroit area fans a noteworthy run of six consecutive NBA Eastern Conference Finals, watching the 2012 NBA Playoffs unfold still leaves a void in my basketball spirit. The question is why am I feeling a void, when the Pistons have posted 25-41, 30-52, 27-55, and 39-43 records since 2008-09?
Just think, in 2007-08 our Pistons had a 59-23 record and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. It now seems like a thousand years ago. The main question is when will this gallant franchise right itself and get back into the NBA hunt for a title?
With a shortened year due to the lockout and a roster of unproven talent, the expectations for the 2011-12 Pistons season were set at a low bar. The Pistons weren’t expected to make the playoffs or become the Cinderella team of the NBA.
Also, this was head coach Lawrence Frank’s first season at the helm. He followed a string of unsuccessful coach selections by Pistons President Joe Dumars. Flip Saunders, Michael Curry and John Kuester all have had recent shots at being the face of the franchise.
The Detroit fans are eager to see the Pistons get back to their winning ways. Could it come sooner than expected? Will next season be the one?
Many are saying Dumars has found his guy in Frank. Did Frank, unlike Kuester, start the process of changing the mentality of the team and create a positive vibe with his players? The popular theory is he will be the coach for many years to come.
“We started the season 4-20, but finished it over .500 the rest of the way,” Frank told me. “I’m disappointed that we did not make the playoffs or finish .500. With us sitting at home watching the playoffs, hopefully it will be motivation for some. No doubt we have to get better, starting with me.”
Frank does indeed have a solid nucleus to revamp the franchise. Point guard Brandon Knight and guard Rodney Stuckey are a decent backcourt pair. They may not be as good as the Bad Boys era — the Pistons who had one of the best backcourts in the NBA with Dumars and Isiah Thomas. Years later, Dumars paired Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups as they helped lead Detroit to a championship in 2004.
As the season progressed, Frank turned the team over to his young point guard. Knight made great progression as the season went on and earned his stripes as a rookie. With a full offseason and continuous development with the team, Knight can be the leader the Pistons need.
“As the season went on I felt better about what I could contribute to this team,” Knight said.
“I know I have work to do to get better and compete with all the great point guards in this league. I plan to stay in Detroit in the offseason and work on the things I can to take my game to another level and help this team get better.”
For many seasons, head coaches tried to make Stuckey into a point guard.
With the growth of Knight, Stuckey was able to slide over to shooting guard and highlight his natural ability as a scorer. Stuckey drives the lane as well as anybody in the NBA and has had some big fourth quarters for the Pistons.
Another bright spot for the Pistons was center Greg Monroe. He put together a fine campaign for Most Improved Player this season, averaging 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds, including an impressive 31 double-doubles.
Monroe established himself as one of the better centers in the league and will stay in that elite company as his game continues to evolve.
It’s unclear where Detroit will draft on June 28, but the draft carries a deep pool of talent, especially in the frontcourt.
The Pistons need to find a consistent power forward to play next to Monroe.
Frank played musical chairs at that position last season, rotating a large number of players at that spot (Jason Maxiell, Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace and Jerebko). All are useful role players off the bench, but the Pistons need a real beast to complement Monroe.
There is plenty at stake on the Pistons’ offseason.
Last Updated on Friday, 18 May 2012 18:48
Category: Top News Written by Bankole Thompson
At a time when the city is financially strapped, revenues are down, and crime is spiraling to unprecedented levels, Detroit is set to take another financial hit. This time not from the city itself, but from neighboring Ohio where the push to establish four casinos there is going to chip away at the city’s coffers.
Our leaders are noticeably silent on this issue that will seriously affect jobs in Detroit —
not that they can do much about it because we live in and acknowledge the free market enterprise principles that allow for competition in the marketplace.
The bare fact, according to McKinsey & Co., is that with the existence of the Ohio casinos, Detroit would stand to lose $30 million in annual casino tax revenue by 2015.
Because a significant number of patrons of the casinos in Detroit — MGM, Greektown and Motor City — come from places like Toledo, Ohio. With Ohio now competing against Detroit, those patrons would no longer see the need to drive the distance to Detroit to gamble.
The Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland opened on Monday, the Hollywood casino in Toledo will open May 29 and two more are set to open in Cincinnati.
For Detroit, no matter where we stand on the morality of gambling, all three casinos create jobs for residents of the city and contribute to the treasury.
Just last year, all three casinos contributed $177 million to the city’s $1.2 billion general fund, and if that amount is now slashed by $30 million, it means Detroit would have to cut or reduce services.
This is a crucial economic issue for the city, and could create more headaches as the city attempts to move forward. The unemployment numbers are deplorable as is the case with urban centers around the nation, with more than 50 percent of young Black males being unemployed.
And anyone who thinks the high rate of crime in Detroit is not tied to the economic climate we find ourselves in is living on another planet.
While the bleeding economic atmosphere is not a justifiable reason for crime, including armed robbery and selling drugs, and commiting acts of violence, the reality is that some of the young men involved in heinous crimes are not only acting out of desperation, but out of an economic need, even holding their victims at gunpoint at places where a lot of financial transactions takes place, such as gas stations and shopping malls.
Because they do not see any alternative, they take to guns and drugs, literally transforming some of our neighborhood streets into war zones. Some of the culprits are repeat offenders, others are young people pressured by their peers to take to the streets as a rite of passage as opposed to being meaningfully engaged in activities that will help them become productive, despite the absence of employment.
A dire economy makes matters worse because it creates a “survival of the fittest” climate in which too many of our young people are turning to criminal activity instead of interpreting it as a climate to make use of their talents in a way that allows them to find a sense of achievement now and assures their futures.
This is the reality we live in. This is the truth that Detroit must face.
Abraham Joshua Herschel reminded us that “in a democracy, some are guilty but all are responsible,” and in this current tough economic climate, we are all responsible for the crisis. Our leaders cannot abdicate themselves from an economic dispensation where jobs are hard to come by, and its relation to the high ratio of crime been committed in Detroit.
They now have to be creative and discover how to widen the city’s revenue base.
When the city starts losing millions of dollars in casino tax it would, among other things, mean job losses. The dependents of those employees will feel the pinch including their children. It would also mean fewer people visiting Detroit and patronizing the entertainment centers, restaurants and everything else the city has to offer.
Certainly, the challenge for the three casinos in Detroit will be to become more competitive as Ohio competes for the same clients that made Detroit the Las Vegas of the Midwest.
The fact of the matter is that Detroit will have to start making projections about the city’s economic future and how to be prepared when bad news such as this comes.
Unfortunately we are very reactive, and not proactive. The writing was already on the wall about the casinos in Ohio.
Now, some are beginning to feel the heat after a national study validated the fears of some about why Ohio will undercut Detroit and underscores why this moment in the era of a consent agreement is even more important.
As Detroit goes through a chapter of financial surgery with the appointment of Jack Martin as chief financial officer, along with the Financial Advisory Board, the mayor and City Council, we hope that the Ohio situation will prove that we can be a community that thinks prudently and makes plans so as to be prepared when unexpected things happen in the future.
Dr. Benjamin Mays, former president of Morehouse College and a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “The man who outthinks you, rules you.”
That is what Ohio is doing to Detroit.
What will be our city’s response?
Last Updated on Monday, 21 May 2012 09:24
Category: Top News Written by Minehaha Forman
After attending the second installment of The Michigan Chronicle’s recent seventh annual Pancakes & Politics forum, one thing is clear: Regionalism is the new wave.
If the economic revitalization of Michigan’s urban centers has an enemy, it is silos — cumbersome systems that make communication across and within various public and private entities nearly impossible — that need to be demolished. It’s the worst kind of enemy to tackle — invisible, resilient and well-rooted in current systems.
Commonly referred to “information silos,” these constant dividers have been built into municipal systems for an untold number of decades. In different times the stiff-walled grid of bureaucracy may have been useful.
But according to expert panelists speaking at the speakers forum that took place on Thursday, May 3, at the Detroit Athletic Club, times are changing — and fast. Pancakes & Politics, sponsored in part by the Michigan Chronicle’s parent company, Real Times Media, and WWJ Newsradio 950, offered a venue for a lively, realistic discussion between some of the state’s most distinguished experts on economic redevelopment.
There is no one solution, but a better way is not out of reach, panelists agreed.
“Our case is new, we need to think and act anew,” said Dr. H. James Williams, dean of the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University in Allendale. “Politics is local but takes collaboration. We are intertwined so we need to proceed together.”
Williams was part of the high-powered panel that included George Jackson, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp; Harvey Hollins, director of the Detroit-based Michigan Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives; and Tim Terrentine, vice president of Southwest Michigan First, an economic development agency in Kalamazoo.
While talks on how to improve all Michigan cities were addressed, the spotlight for urban reinvention was on the Detroit and the essential regional collaboration between city, county and state. If Michigan’s future is riding on the back of its cities, said panel members, then Detroit is carrying much of the load.
“We have to deal with fiscal realities,” Jackson said regarding Detroit’s finances and the recent controversial consent agreement. “It’s not an unattested model but I think it’s a decision that should have been made years ago.”
Panelists were in agreement that that no city can thrive without the others.
Part of the solution is focusing efforts on the positives that is, not what is missing, but what is there to work with.
“We do our best to squash the negative,” Terrentine said. “We know that together our fates rise and fall. “We in Kalamazoo want Detroit’s success. We’re cheering for Detroit.”
The hour-long discussion proved that the exact next steps in terms of urban economic redevelopment have been tricky to pin down, but one thing remains clear — we have to work together.
“Regional strategy is difficult,” Hollins said, “But it’s a case of collaborate or possibly die. For example, there’s no need for Highland Park to have its own fire station when it’s surrounded by three Detroit fire stations.”
One of the hardest silos to topple is one build around race dynamics.
“Race is a divider,” Hollins said. “More than any place I’ve been, racedivides the Detroit area.Racial tension is severely stunting regionalprogress. Getting light rail across town across Eight Mile, that’s an issue of race. There are so many silos here.”
One of the recent victory in toppling silos came in Kalamazoo.
“We will have one building authority for three different counties and several different townships, one common application for companies that need to build and grow business,” he said.
Terrentine credits selfless leadership to the progress made in his city. If cities are to are going to succeed, he believes and others confirm, there have to be leaders willing to forego the spotlight to get work done.
Terrentine also suggested that bringing younger leadership to the table is crucial.
“We have leadership talking about what will be happening in tenyears and no one in the room is under 50,” he said. “We need to get someone who can help forecast the future that they will be engaging in.”
One new model that was mentioned came from Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids Start Garden, announced on Thursday, is a new venture capital fund that will invest $5,000 in two startup ideas every week, then continues to invest more if the ideas gain momentum. The fund is backed by a private fund — a $15 million commitment from the DeVos family. The issue of urban revitalization and its place in the future of the state is a crucial, yet complex one. But the takeaway was positive and encouraging.
“We have to use creative finances to get projects done. What tools we use, how we blend public and private, this is how we get young, educated folks moving into the city,” Terrentine pointed out.
In terms of collaboration, some argue that these mergers are already in Place; they just need to be communicated better.
“We’re already merged,” Terrentne said, noting how commuters depend on cities and vice versa. “The patterns of humanity link us.”
Pancakes & Politiics is one of the year’s most anticipated economic Forums. The next session will be at Birmingham’s Townsend Hotel on May 18 for the annual gathering of the “Big Four” regional leaders: Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. They will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing Southeast Michigan.
The series will conclude with a return to the DAC on June 15.
Pancakes & Politics is presented in association with Buick, ComcastBusiness Class, Strategic Staffing Solutions and Real Times Media. Additional event sponsors include Medallion sponsors HAP and Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP and corporate contributors including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, PNC, Quicken Loans and UHY LLP.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 12:22
Category: Top News Written by Minehaha Forman
Cobo Hall came alive Sunday evening as thousands of guests poured in to attend the Detroit Branch NAACP’s 57th Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner. The organization was celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The keynote speaker was Attorney General Eric Holder.
“It’s a great day. We believe that we’ve done a great deal over the past 100 years but we cannot grow complacent. The fight is far from over,” said Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit Branch NAACP president, also noting that democracy was the focus of the night.
“Democracy is under attack in Michigan and all over the country,” he said. “The NAACP is not in the back-bending business. We will never forget that Rosa Parks sat down so that we could all stand up.”
The annual event is the largest sit-down dinner in the world, drawing thousands of local and national leaders united in the fight for human rights.
During his keynote address, Holder reminded attendees that the fight for equality rages on.
“Without the NAACP, I would not be here,” said. “In 2012, the struggle has not ended. The reality is, certain aspects of the Trayvon Martin case are far from unique. This is unacceptable.”
The Detroit Branch NAACP honored leaders on both the local and national level for their tireless work for the cuase of social justic.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow received the annual Freedom and Justice Award for her coverage of social issues on “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
“Michigan is a laboratory for those who believe we do not solve problems with the democratic process,” she said, referring to the emergency manager law instated last year. “The biggest story on voting rights is in Michigan.”
WDIV TV4 news anchor Rhonda Walker was recognized for her service to teen girls through the Rhonda Walker Foundation. She reminded the audience that the NAACP is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, despite changing times.
“The NAACP has always been a very strong voice for us,” she said, adding that it is “ever present”
in the ongoing struggle for full equality. “The NAACP’s leadership in Detroit is strong and has vital relationships with those in leadership across the country.”
The theme of the evening was both celebratory as inspiring. With praise for the work already done, there was a loud call to action by many leaders.
Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) called for a total reform of the U.S. legal system in the face of the mass incarceration of African Americans, particularly males. “The state of our people is not well,” he said. “We need to start a nonviolent revolution and change the legal system in our country.”
The outpouring of support from business, including major corporations, confirmed that the allies in the fright for freedom come from all sectors of the population.
Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America, called the event “overwhelming” and said GM will continue to support people and communities through secure jobs and equal economic opportunities.
“The diversity of our workforce is the core of who we are,” Reuss said. “Moving forward, we are not recruiting from the same pools.”
President Barack Obama addressed the dinner guests via a recorded message, labeling the Detroit Branch NAACP a “beacon” for freedom and justice.
“The climb is steep, but Detroit can lead the way,” the president said.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 12:20
Category: Top News Written by Bankole Thompson
Bernard Parker, the outspoken Wayne County Commissioner who has been criticized as well as praised for his stance in the ongoing scandal that has rocked Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and his administration, said he plans to leave the commission at the end of his term.
Parker is leaving in the midst of an intense federal investigation into the administration of Ficano, and at a time when opinions are divided regarding his role on the commission and how he moved from being a vocal critic of Ficano to supporting the county executive’s lightening rod pick for CEO of Detroit Metro Airport, Turkia Mullen, to now being critical of the administration.
But the man who has recently become the most visible political face against the Ficano administration, says it is just a matter of it being time to leave the county.
What does Parker plan to do?
The commissioner is going to run for a seat on the Detroit City Council. Council member Kwame Kenyatta announced last week that he will not seek another term when his tenure ends.
In an exclusive interview, Parker, said his decision to leave Wayne County is due to the impact of redistricting. His district has been expanded now to include portions of Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods. And because his term doesn’t end until Dec. 31, Parker will not file for reelection May 15. The new district, according to Parker, now accounts for only 45 percent of Detroit.
“Because of the reapportionment, they changed the boundaries of my house where I live and it now extends to Harper Woods and Grosse Pointe and I really do not want to represent that area,” Parker said. “I want to represent the city of Detroit 100 percent, and I think the city needs experienced leadership as we go through this crisis.”
Given the investigation that Wayne County is facing, Parker admits that it is black eye on the overall county government, including the commission.
“Some people may see it negatively but I want to serve the city of Detroit. I don’t want to serve a suburban community,” Parker said. “My experience in the last 22 years on the commission I believe will aid the city as we move toward recovery.”
On Detroit’s consent agreement that allows for the appointment of a nine- member Financial Advisory Board, Parker said, “I have not seen all the details but I think there are some good things in there. I think the consent agreement was the better of the two evils. But I think the important thing is as we move with the agreement that we go back to independent cities with home rule.”
He took parting shots at Ficano saying he has “lost his ability to lead and for the good of the county he should step down. But I don’t think he is going to step down.”
He said there wasn’t enough support on the commission for a vote of no confidence on Ficano.
“If it was presented and did not pass it would send the wrong message,” Parker said.
When asked how could he be critical of Ficano after supporting Mullen for the airport job, Parker insisted the Airport Authority was misled.
“The bottom line is that we selected someone who misrepresented the facts,” Parker said. “After we began to uncover her background and poor leadership, that is when we took action and did what we did.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 12:18
Category: Top News Written by Dr. Carol Olander and Robert Weiner
For over four decades, the Food Stamp Program, which Congress renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2008, has had bipartisan support as the nation’s most important anti-hunger program. Even the far reaching welfare reform legislation of the mid 90’s left it intact.
However, the House-passed Republican budget drafted by Cong. Paul Ryan would cut it by 17% and turn the program into state block grants easily slashed further. As perhaps the legacy of his now-ended presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich denigrated the Food Stamp Program by tying President Obama to it as “the Food Stamp President.” Mitt Romney, while saying he is “not concerned about the very poor” because the “safety net” protects them, supports shifting food stamps to the states as a block grant and endorsed the House Republican bill cutting funding for 8 million of the 45 million participants. Cong. Darryl Issa (R-CA) chaired a House Government Reform Committee hearing March 8 entitled “Food Stamp Fraud as a Business Model” and released a video, “Food Stamp Fraud; Exposed.”
The only problem is that each of the allegations is overwhelmingly untrue. At the hearing, Committee Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (Baltimore) countered Issa by pointing out, “The need for the program is at a historic high, and fraud is at an all-time low. The true purpose of this hearing may be to discredit the entire program, to justify draconian cuts.”
Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and long-time advocate for the poor, contends, “Food stamps lift people from poverty, feed them, and give them an opportunity to work. When did those become bad?” he asks.
There are 427,626 food stamp recipients in Wayne County, 22 percent of the population, significantly higher than the national average 15%. Without the SNAP program many of these residents would be unable to survive. When it comes to being the “food stamp president,” MSNBC’s Alex Wagner said, “the President should wear it with pride.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added that the title is “a badge of honor” for the President.
The truth is that those who hope to radically alter SNAP don’t understand the program or the effect making significant cuts would have on millions of desperate Americans. Their case is built on the following myths.
Myth #1: SNAP growth is out of control.
About one in seven Americans now receives SNAP benefits. This means tested program is designed to grow as the economy contracts and shrink with economic recovery. Participation tracks the prevalence of poverty. Historic trends show about a year’s lag between increased employment and SNAP participation declines.
During the January 16 Republican debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Gingrich said, “More people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president.” However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, as reported by USA Today and elsewhere, the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million under President George W. Bush or 444,574 more than under Obama.
USDA reports total federal SNAP costs for 2010 and 2011 at $68.4 and $75.3 billion, respectively. No one argues that these are trivial expenses. The costs, however, are driven largely by the nation’s economic health. The Congressional Budget Office projects SNAP expenditures will decrease to pre-recession levels as the economy improves.
Bottom line: SNAP successfully responded to the severe recession and is already responding to our very gradual financial recovery.
Myth #2: SNAP adds to long term budget problems.
SNAP expenditures actually produce a general economic boost. Almost all benefits are spent within a month of receipt through more than 200,000 authorized food businesses. USDA estimates a multiplier effect of $1.79 for each new benefit dollar.
Bottom line: SNAP is a small factor in the country’s long term fiscal health and in fact adds to the U.S. economic health.
Myth # 3: The need for SNAP is exaggerated given other elements of the U.S. safety net.
National statistics for 2008 and 2009 show that despite an increase in the prevalence of poverty, the percent of households who experienced food insecurity held steady. This was possible because SNAP expanded to meet growing need and because benefit amounts were temporarily boosted by the 2009 Recovery Act. In contrast to unemployment insurance (UI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), SNAP is available to almost all families who meet the Program’s stringent financial requirements. Many who lose jobs, unfortunately, don’t qualify for UI. Those who do qualify face time-limited benefits.
Bottom line: SNAP lessens the hardship of poverty and unemployment.
Myth # 4: SNAP wastes taxpayer dollars through inefficient federal administration.
In 2010, SNAP costs for federal administration were less than 1 percent of total federal SNAP spending. Even after adding the federal share of state administrative expenses, 95 percent of federal spending went directly to low-income participants in the form of benefits.
Bottom line: SNAP dollars go overwhelmingly to participating families.
Conservatives continue to attack food stamps, but SNAP is working. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that “The food stamp program…reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent” in one year, 2009, alone.
Would those who would cut or end the program send the 46 million food recipients to the streets to fend in trash barrels, as happened before the New Deal?
Dr. Carol Olander was Director of SNAP Research and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service and a top official there for 31 years. Robert Weiner was a spokesman in the Clinton White House, spokesman for the U.S. House Government Operations Committee under Chairman John Conyers, and Chief of Staff of the House Aging Committee under Chairman Claude Pepper, He wrote the epilogue to Bankole Thompson’s seminal book, Obama and Christian Loyalty. Richard Mann, executive assistant at Robert Weiner Associates and a Roosevelt University Journalism M.S. recipient, assisted in this article.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 02:46
Category: Top News Written by Cornelius Fortune
Take note, true believers: “The Avengers” will assault your senses in the best possible way. It does what few big Hollywood movies ever manage to do – take you on a pure journey of unadulterated, unfiltered escapism. For two and a half hours, you're transported, whisked away, catapulted, and flung headlong into a Marvel Universe writ terribly large, the cinematic equivalent of an extrasensory marathon, miles long, and yes, from start to finish, “The Avengers” hardly slows down.
While there are plenty of lighter moments (lots, in fact), make no mistake, for every explosion, every car overturned, no one is ever safe; not even our heroes. Once you realize anything can happen (within reason of course, given this is the first of what they hope will be many sequels) you've thoroughly entered new territory, a landscape well past the post-postmodern superhero tale. Meaning, a good superhero movie in 2012 isn't merely about how cool the effects are. Thanks to Christopher Nolan's “The Dark Knight,” superhero movies can (and typically do) aspire to high art.
“The Avengers” is a high wire act with a whole lot of moving parts, some sleight of hand, and the best ensemble cast to grace the silver screen since George Clooney and his co-stars gave us the dazzling remake of “Ocean's 11.”
Not surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) is the heart of this movie, so fans of the “Iron Man” franchise needn't feel they should sit this one out, given all the other superheroes crowding the movie. Tony Stark forms the center, and has all the snarkiest lines, but soon as it starts to feel like an “Iron Man” sequel, the team dynamics kick in and everyone gets their turn to shine.
Let's keep it simple, shall we? Thor's brother, Loki, manages to steal a unique power source (called the Tesseract) that can yield an unlimited amount of energy. Willing to share this power with a war mongering intergalactic species, he starts a turn of events that will bring war to the planet Earth, and thus, force our heroes, the Avengers, to get cohesive (or a form of cohesion); least the world go boom, or something along those explosive lines. And, you know, the enslavement of humanity is way up on the red-danger scale, too.
If you loved any of the previous Marvel Studios films (“Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America,” and “Thor”), you're going to love “The Avengers,” albeit seeing those other films isn't exactly a requirement. Think of it as an extra credit assignment – if you've seen those movies, you will be vastly rewarded. Like Batman, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark doesn't play well with others, and neither do any of the other characters in the movie. That's what's brilliant about it.
Samuel L. Jackson finally ditches those end credit cameo appearances, to flesh out the character of Nick Fury, who is responsible for bringing the team together. This is a more subdued Jackson. A perfect fit for this outing.
Writer/director Joss Whedon (“Serenity,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) does what he does best: witty dialogue, females who kick butt, great action sequences, the death of a key character (whoops, was that a spoiler?), a rousing speech, which precedes the major all or nothing battle. It's not that Whedon’s a one-trick pony, but like Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and others, he’s a stylist.
Believe the hype, and don't you dare call it hyperbole, because it doesn't get any better than this. “The Avengers” is a balanced symphony, bursting forth with surprising dynamics, from very loud, to the deathly quiet. It's hard to find a single false note reverberating through the film. In fact, it’s organized chaos at its purest.
Last Updated on Friday, 04 May 2012 11:58
Category: Top News Written by Cornelius Fortune
Hail to the king of pop-culture
He’s a pop culture icon. That voice is recognizable from clear across the room, especially that special rhythm he achieves when adding a few, to quote Mr. Spock, “colorful metaphors.”
He’s a bad mother…(hush your mouth) But I’m talking about Shaft, er, Samuel L. Jackson. He’s gone from being one of the most recognizable supporting actors, to commanding his own starring film roles (“Shaft”), voice over work (“Afro Samurai,” “The Boondocks”), to most recently, the character Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., who will figure quite prominently in “The Avengers” movie.
Jackson is so bad, they had to change the color of Fury because of the potency of the Jackson legacy. The Marvel comic “The Ultimates” was launched in 2002, written by Mark Millar (the creator of “Kick-Ass” and “Wanted”) and drawn by Bryan Hitch. This was post 911, so the idea was to modernize Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “The Avengers” for the New Millennium. Naturally, they succeeded, and the comic though suffering from delays in shipping at times, excited the fans, and Nick Fury was given Samuel L. Jackson’s likeness.
Take a moment to consider this.
In Millar’s “Wanted,” the two main characters had the likeness of Eminem and Halle Berry. Clearly, this casting didn’t stick for the film starring Angelina Jolie, but Sam Jackson took to the eye patch at the end of the first “Iron Man” movie, and this started the ball rolling for the Marvel Comics Universe to become a Marvel Comics Cinema Universe. Fury, as originally conceived by Lee and Kirby was basically a super spy, World War II action hero, who by the way, was white. A ‘60s staple, he was updated to fit our times.
George Lucas has gone on record as saying there are three lightsaber colors in his universe, green and blue (for the good guys) and red (for the Sith baddies). Period. Then along comes Mr. Samuel L. Jackson and Lucas, from some cavernous Jedi cave (or that spooling collection of “Star Wars” revisions) says, “Okay, you can have a purple lightsaber.” Not a direct quote, mind you, but bottom line, what Mr. Jackson wants, Mr. Jackson gets.
And that’s the Sam Jackson paradox: just as he moves dangerously close to self-parody (“Snakes on a Plane” is a fine example), he shifts to something completely unexpected. Case in point, his role as Martin Luther King Jr. with Angela Bassett (as Coretta Scott King) in the Broadway play “The Mountaintop.” And now, he’s doing the rounds for Apple with a new iPhone 4S commercial (sadly, no stylized bleeping).
He’s come a long way from Gator, the crack head, in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever,” and now he’s going beyond the “Star Wars” universe to the Marvel Universe.
I really can’t wait to see Samuel L. Jackson doing Samuel L. Jackson portraying Nick Fury, in a feature film co-starring, yet again, Samuel L. Jackson.
Even the man’s name, screams pop culture.
Read Cornelius Fortune’s “The Avengers” movie review online at www.michronicleonline.com on Friday, May 4.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 May 2012 16:13
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