The Ann Arbor Film Festival’s “50 Screens” initiative

If you’ve walked around Ann Arbor these past few days, you likely encountered free film, video and moving image installations, in the windows of stores, projected onto buildings, etc. The initiative, called 50 Screens, was undertaken by our friends at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, in order to engage with members of the public who might not otherwise find themselves inside one of the venues where films are being screened this week, in conjunction with the festival’s 50th anniversary. Well, as I hadn’t seen anything about the initiative online, and thought that people may want to comment on the campaign’s effectiveness, I asked my friend Chris if he’d mind shooting some video for the site… Here’s what he came up with. I hope that you enjoy it.

AAFF 50 SCREENS from dirty bros. quality productions on Vimeo.

Speaking of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, I went to good panel discussion the other day on the festival’s origins, and I hope to write something about it for the site shortly. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read my scintillating interview with Donald Harrison, the executive director of the AAFF. Or, better yet, you could leave your filthy apartment and actually take part in the festival. There are still quite a few events taking place tonight, and tomorrow.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

50 Detroit high school students suspended for having the audacity to demand “An Education”

The following story, regarding a student protest at Detroit’s Frederick Douglass Academy, which resulted in the suspension of 50 students on Thursday, ran yesterday on FOX 2 News. When asked by the Detroit Free Press why he was marching in front of the school, senior Tevin Hill said, “Right now, I’m not going to be as successful as I should be because I haven’t been properly taught.”

[note: You have to fast-forward past a segment on the dropping of sedition charges against the self-proclaimed patriots of the Hutaree Militia, who have been held for the past two years on charges of plotting the murder of Michigan State Police officers.]

Seniors at Detroit’s Frederick Douglass Academy Walk Out in Protest:

The following clip comes from the Detroit Free Press:

About 50 high school students at Frederick Douglass Academy in Detroit were suspended Thursday after walking out of classes to protest a host of issues at the all-boys school.

The concerns included a lack of consistent teachers and the removal of the principal.

The boys, dressed in school blazers, neckties and hoodies, chanted, “We want education!” as they marched outside the school.

Parents organized the walkout because they fear for the school’s future. As recently as last month, students spent weeks passing time in the gym, library or cafeteria due to a lack of teachers, parents said.

Worries escalated after district offices moved into part of the building in January, and the school was not listed as an application school for next year. Current students had to apply to attend Douglass.

In addition, the school’s founding principal, Sean Vann, was reassigned when he returned Wednesday after a three-month sick leave.

“They’re failing these young black men,” said Sharise Smith, who has two sons at Douglass.

Smith said her son received an A in geometry during the first semester without taking a final exam.

“It was by default, just for showing up. It wasn’t because he earned an A,” Smith said…

I know that the concept seems to be up for debate right now in the United States, but I was raised to believe that all children in the country are deserving of a quality public education, regardless of the color of their skin, where they happen to live, or how much their parents earn. And it sickens me to see this happening in Detroit, where, in an effort to keep taxes on the wealthy low, school budgets are being slashed, experienced teachers are being forced into early retirement, and classrooms are swelling to hold as many as 60. Republicans argue disingenuously that college lectures have more students in them, and that those students manage to learn just fine, but I think we all know the truth. This isn’t about educating kids. This is about the wholesale warehousing of African American children. And it’s absolutely shameful… To a great extent, we’re just keeping these kids off the street, under the pretense of education, until such time that they can be handed over to the prison industrial complex. And we’re all complicit in this. It’s our tax dollars that are making it possible.

I know it’s a lot to ask, but I think it would be great if high school kids across the state started walking out in solidarity with the young men of the Frederick Douglass Academy, and the young women who we watched last year being forcefully evicted from the Catherine Ferguson Academy. It’s time for this fight to extend beyond the boundaries of Detroit. And the adults clearly aren’t the ones who are going to be leading the charge. If this is ever going to change, we need the kids to take the lead.

Posted in Detroit, Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

$500 matching grant announced for contributions made to Ozone House by the end of the day today

Last night, I mentioned here that a dozen or so friends and I, through the micro-philonthropic organization, A2Awesome, had contributed $1,000 to Ozone House, a local nonprofit that has been serving runaway, homeless and at-risk youth since the 1960s. The response, as you might expect, was overwhelmingly positive. There was, however, one dissenting voice. Our resident troll, a self-proclaimed Christian from Ypsilanti Township, who calls himself EOS, took the opportunity to make a series of unsubstantiated, ridiculous, and offensive claims about the organization. (His irrational hatred, it would seem, stems from the fact that Ozone House offers support services to LGTBQ youth, as well as to those who are straight.) Well, I’m proud to say that the community responded heroically to the challenge, not only shutting down EOS at every turn, but coming together to donate additional funds to Ozone House every time he came forward to make a homophobic comment. Following, is the first announcement of a donation, left by a reader by the name of Al Thompson:

To the good people at Ozone House,

On behalf of the entire community, I would like to apologize for the remarks of the anonymous homophobic troll who calls himself EOS. His views do not reflect those of this community. The sad irony is, if (Ozone House) were a Christian organization, run by a priest rumored to be a pedophile, he would not be speaking up. He’s angry because you openly serve gay youth. If EOS had his way, there would be no services for such people, unless you count religious programs intended to “cure” homosexuality. His accusations are baseless. They are the daydreams of a sick, twisted man, obsessed with the gay sex. (Draw your own conclusions.) The last time he spoke out on this site, I made my first contribution to Ozone House. Today, I intend to give my second. If others would like to join me, here’s the link.

And thank you again for the important work that you do.

By my count, at least six people have since followed suit, leaving donations in the name of EOS. And, when I share the following news, I expect there will be more.

I’ve just been contact by John Coleman, the owner of the local home hardware company Look in the Attic. John is offering to match contributions to Ozone House through Friday evening, up to a total of $500. Assuming we can do it, that means, by the end of the day tomorrow, thanks to the backward, offensive ranting of EOS, Ozone will have an addition $1,000 to carry out their mission.

Here, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Ozone House, is their mission.

Ozone House is a community-based, nonprofit agency that helps young people lead safe, healthy, and productive lives through intensive intervention and prevention services. Since 1969, Ozone House has actively developed unique, high-quality housing and support programs and services that provide support, intervention, training, and assistance to runaway, homeless, and high-risk youth and their families. Through these support services, we help youth develop essential life skills, improve their relationships, and enhance their self-image so that they may realize their full potential for growth and happiness.

I encourage all of you to take John up on his generous offer. Contributions to Ozone House are tax-deducatable, and, more importantly, they’ll make our community better.

I’ve yet to contact Ozone about this, but I’m thinking the best way to contribute, for the purposes of this initiative, is online. There’s a 3% charge for doing so, but the folks at Ozone will know immediately how much has been donated, so that we can, in turn, let John know, so that he can make the match. (In other words, I wouldn’t mail checks, as they won’t make it to Ozone in time to qualify for the match. I suppose, however, that you could drop a check off in person, or call in with your credit card number, if that’s easier for you.)

If you want to join in the fun, and feel extra good about yourself as you head into the weekend, you can find the online donation form here.

And thank you, John, for stepping forward to do this. It’s stuff like this that keeps me blogging, and loving this community that I’ve chosen to be a part of.

update: We did it! The following report comes from Ozone House’s Heather Steenrod.

I am proud to say that thanks to all of you, Ozone House has received more than $500 in donations specifically recognizing the challenge that John Coleman established today. This means that John will be matching the $500 with his own $500, resulting in a generous gift of $1000.

Thank you, everyone, for restoring my faith in humanity.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 103 Comments

A2Awesome gives $1,000 to Ozone House for the creation of an in-house workout facility for at-risk youth

A2Awesome just made our second $1,000 award. This time, the paper bag full of cash went to Ozone House, for the purchase of exercise equipment to be used by the homeless, runaway and at-risk youth they counsel, house and otherwise support. Following is the transcript of a quick conversation with Quinn Phillips, the Ozone House representative who submitted the funding request to A2Awesome. [Quinn is pictured at the right, in the above photo, with A2Awesome Trustees Omari Rush, Linh Song and Hans Masing] If, after reading through our exchange, you’d like to know more, you can find additional details at the A2Awesome site.

Oh, and congratulations to Ozone House! They’re an awesome organization, and I’m super happy that we were able to help them do this. $1,000 isn’t much, but it will really help improve the lives of hundreds of young people over the coming years, as they fight to overcome the obstacles that have been placed before them.

MARK: How will you be spending the $1,000?

QUINN: First of all, thank you so much to the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation and their generous donors. It’s a brilliant concept, and we are so lucky to have community members willing to put all this work into our local chapter.

We will be creating a youth fitness room in the basement of Ozone House’s main location in Ann Arbor. My proposal was to outfit the room with a treadmill, stationary bike, dumbbell set, yoga equipment, gym mat, heavy bag and speed bag.

MARK: Why is this important to the young people that Ozone serves?

QUINN: Our young clients are facing an overwhelming number of challenges. This often leads to stress, anger and depression. It is amazing to see how quickly their moods can improve when they have opportunities for physical activities that they enjoy. These are kids who could never afford to take a fitness class, or become a member of a gym. Before coming to Ozone House, they often lack access to nutritious food, and positive recreational activities. Having our own work out space is a wonderful opportunity to let youth blow off some steam in a place where they will be safe and supported. With this space, we’ll be able to bring in local trainers and experts to teach the kids exercise and self-defense techniques. I’m especially excited about the boxing gear, because I’ve recently taken up mixed-martial arts. I’d love to show them how fun and stress-relieving a heavy bag workout can be.

MARK: What, in your opinion, made your application Awesome?

QUINN: I think this project is awesome because it will help so many young people in our community. Each year Ozone House provides emergency housing to over 130 youth, and ongoing services to 300 youth and families. I’d like to make the workout space as accessible as possible for our clients, but even those who don’t get a chance to use it will benefit from this grant. Having a workout space at Ozone House will save the agency a lot of time and money. Every dollar we save on transportation and activities can be put directly into other services for local families. I love that this generous gift from our community will still be making a difference in people’s lives years from now.

MARK: Can you tell us a little about Ozone, its mission, and the current challenges that the organization faces?

QUINN: Ozone House is a community-based, nonprofit agency which helps runaway, homeless and at-risk youth lead safe, healthy, and productive lives through intensive intervention and prevention services. All our services are free of charge.

Many people contact Ozone House through our 24 hour crisis line. Our first priority is making sure the person is safe and able to meet their immediate needs, such as food and housing. From there we determine if they could best be helped through counseling, case management, or our residential services.

Ozone House offers a two week residential counseling program for runaway and homeless youth called Safe Stay. We provide shelter for up to six youth at a time, between the ages of 10 and 17. At Safe Stay, they receive family counseling, life skills training ,and other supportive services. Ozone House also has a transitional living program, Miller House, for youth ages 17 to 20. Miller House focuses on academic success, career services and independent living.

Though Ozone House serves all youth regardless of identity, we offer a lot of support to LGBTQ youth. I co-facilitate the newly renamed Pride Zone program (formerly Queer Zone), a weekly support group for LGBTQ and questioning youth ages 13 to 20. We meet Wednesday nights at the Ypsilanti Ozone House.

As you mentioned, Ozone House has had to adapt to cuts in non-profit funding in the past few years. Funding concerns have led to recent changes our Ypsilanti Youth Drop-In Center, now called the Ypsilanti Ozone House. We’ve had to reduce the number of unstructured hours when youth can “drop-in”, but still offer daily hot meals, computer access, showers, laundry, case management, and career services free of charge.


If you have an awesome idea of your own, please consider applying for a grant. All you have to do is click here and fill out the submission form to get the ball rolling.

And please share this post with all of your brilliant, creative, and visionary friends in S.E. Michigan. We have money to give, and we’d love to know if there are ambitious, inspiring ideas out there where $1,000 could be creatively leveraged to really make a difference.


A2 Awesome is organized under the banner of the Boston-based Awesome Foundation. The stated purpose of the local group, according to our chairwoman, Lisa Dengiz, is “to have fun by providing streamlined seed funding for creative projects that will bring surprise, delight and joy to the community.” The organization intends to make one grant a month for the foreseeable future. All grants will be in the amount of $1,000.

Chapter trustees contribute their own personal funds toward the $1,000, no-strings-attached grant each month, to an awesome project that promises to make life better. In addition to me and Lisa, trustees include Dick Soble, Paul Saginaw, Jeff Meyers, Linh Song, Heather MacKenzie, Monique Deschaine, Hans Masing, Alice Liberson, Omari Rush, Tanya Luz and Larry Gant.

Created in 2009 in Boston, the Awesome Foundation now has chapters in over 20 cities across the globe. In addition to the new Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti chapter, there are Awesome Foundation outposts in both Detroit and Grad Rapids. Projects funded have included efforts in a wide range of areas including technology, arts and social good.

Posted in A2Awesome, Ann Arbor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 72 Comments

Could a Supreme Court decision against Obamacare lead to a public option?

As you know, the Supreme Court has been hearing arguments this week on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, or what’s become known as Obamacare. Specifically, the Justices are considering whether or not the government can, in accordance with the Constitution, compel the citizens of the United States to purchase health insurance. The decision will come down this summer, but, as of right now, the Court looks evenly split, with Justice Kennedy sitting in the middle. I’m inclined to think, because I’m a pessimist, that Kennedy will side with Alito, Roberts and company, effectively gutting the legislation, and robbing millions of their right to affordable health care. But, some are saying that such a move on the part of the Supreme Court may not be such a bad thing, as it may ultimately put us on the path toward a single payer system, which is where we should have been all along. Following are quotes from both former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and George Zornick, a columnist for The Nation, on that possibility.


…To give a nickel-version of the dispute here: under health care reform, the federal government will begin requiring people to purchase private health insurance in 2016, or face a $695 penalty. (People who can’t afford it would get an exemption). Opponents of the law argue this is an unconstitutional coercion of individuals by the federal government, while the administration argues it is within Congress’s right to require the purchase of health insurance under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The reasoning is that the federal government clearly has the power to regulate the health insurance industry under that clause, as it spans every state in the nation.

If the Court strikes down the mandate, then the part of health care reform that forbids health insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions would almost certainly be repealed. If the government forbid those denials but didn’t force people to first buy a plan, then plenty of people would just wait until they got sick to buy insurance.

This would be a critical blow to one of the central premises behind health care reform. Re-instituting the individual mandate would be unconstitutional. So what then?

One obvious option, besides just doing nothing and allowing health care costs to continue their exponential growth while more people lose coverage, is a single-payer health insurance plan. There is no doubt about the constitutionality here—the government is clearly allowed to levy taxes to fund public benefits. Medicare, for example, is not challengeable on the same grounds as Obama’s health care reform.

So if health care reform goes down, the next logical step may well be just extending Medicare to everyone. This was not politically possible in 2009, but perhaps the demise of “Obamacare” would make it moreso as legislators looked for other solutions…


…The dilemma at the heart of the (Affordable Care Act) is that it continues to depend on private health insurers, who have to make a profit or at least pay all their costs including marketing and advertising.

Yet the only way private insurers can afford to cover everyone with preexisting health problems, as the new law requires, is to have every American buy health insurance – including young and healthier people who are unlikely to rack up large healthcare costs.

This dilemma is the product of political compromise. You’ll remember the Administration couldn’t get the votes for a single-payer system such as Medicare for all. It hardly tried. Not a single Republican would even agree to a bill giving Americans the option of buying into it…

The President and the Democrats could have avoided this dilemma in the first place if they’d insisted on Medicare for all, or at least a public option.

After all, Social Security and Medicare require every working American to “buy” them. The purchase happens automatically in the form of a deduction from everyone’s paychecks. But because Social Security and Medicare are government programs financed by payroll taxes they don’t feel like mandatory purchases.

Americans don’t mind mandates in the form of payroll taxes for Social Security or Medicare. In fact, both programs are so popular even conservative Republicans were heard to shout “don’t take away my Medicare!” at rallies opposed to the new health care law.

There’s no question payroll taxes are constitutional, because there’s no doubt that the federal government can tax people in order to finance particular public benefits. But requiring citizens to buy something from a private company is different because private companies aren’t directly accountable to the public. They’re accountable to their owners and their purpose is to maximize profits. What if they monopolize the market and charge humongous premiums? (Some already seem to be doing this.)

Even if private health insurers are organized as not-for-profits, there’s still a problem of public accountability. What’s to prevent top executives from being paid small fortunes? (In more than a few cases this is already happening.)

Moreover, compared to private insurance, Medicare is a great deal. Its administrative costs are only around 3 percent, while the administrative costs of private insurers eat up 30 to 40 percent of premiums. Medicare’s costs are even below the 5 percent to 10 percent administrative costs borne by large companies that self-insure, and under the 11 percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage, the current private-insurance option under Medicare.

So why not Medicare for all?

Because Republicans have mastered the art of political jujitsu. Their strategy has been to demonize government and seek to privatize everything that might otherwise be a public program financed by tax dollars (see Paul Ryan’s plan for turning Medicare into vouchers). Then they go to court and argue that any mandatory purchase is unconstitutional because it exceeds the government’s authority.

Obama and the Democrats should do the reverse. If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate in the new health law, private insurers will swarm Capitol Hill demanding that the law be amended to remove the requirement that they cover people with pre-existing conditions.

When this happens, Obama and the Democrats should say they’re willing to remove that requirement – but only if Medicare is available to all, financed by payroll taxes.

If they did this the public will be behind them — as will the Supreme Court.

So, what do you think? It it even remotely possible that a Supreme Court decision against the administration could be a good thing in this instance?

Posted in Health, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments


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