Investigative reporter Curt Guyette on the Flint disaster, the future of Ypsi’s Elbow Room, our second on-air swap meet, and sharing meatloaf with musician Greg McIntosh… on episode 37 of The Saturday Six Pack

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I’ve made a couple of comments over the past few days about last week’s episode of the Saturday Six Pack having been bad. In truth, it wasn’t all that bad. I’m re-listening to it now, while folding clothes… which, by the way, is the best way to enjoy the Saturday Six Pack… and there’s actually a lot to like about this episode. Sure, I was a sniffling, coughing mess. And, yes, our first guest was kind of a no-show. And my chair did collapse beneath me at one point. But there were also some really wonderful moments… Here are my brief notes on what transpired, for those of you who don’t fold your clothes.

While it’s true that our first guest, investigative reporter Curt Guyette, apparently forgot that he’d agreed to talk with us, and didn’t pick up his phone the first few times that we called his cell phone, we were eventually able to get through to him and fire off a couple of quick questions about the situation in Flint, which he’s been covering since the beginning, the current state of journalism in America today, and how he manages to walk the line between journalist and activist.

A few people have asked me since the show aired last Saturday if I was angry with Guyette for essentially saying that he didn’t have time to talk with us, even though we’d agreed to it in advance. The answer is no. I admire the hell out of the work he’s been doing in Flint, and I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of pressure that he’s been under since this story first broke through to a national audience. Guyette has been everywhere these past few weeks, talking about the public health crisis in Flint, and I think it speaks to his character that he agreed to talk with me, on a little AM radio station in Ypsilanti, even if he did later forget having done so. He clearly wants to talk with everyone who has an interest, but there just isn’t enough time in the day. It’s inevitable, in cases like this, that some things fall through the cracks, and it just so happens that, this time, we were one of those things. And I totally understand that.

To give you a sense of the demands on Guyette. The day after we spoke, he had a feature run on the Daily Beast. [My guess is that he was trying to finish it the night that we spoke.] And, the day after that, he was on television with Rachel Maddow. And, the day after that, he was receiving an award for being Michigan’s Journalist of the Year. And, all the while, he was doing countless interviews with people around the globe.

And, in spite of all of this, when we finally got through to him, he still gave us ten minutes. And, what’s more, he wrote to me a few days after the show, apologizing for having forgotten our interview… He’s a total class act.

With all of that said, though, I am disappointed by the interview. Maybe it’s because I was sick, or maybe it was just because I got the sense that he didn’t want to talk with me when I finally got though to him, but I got rattled. Hopefully it’s the kind of thing that I get better with over time, but my questions to him were just terrible. I think I’m a pretty good interviewer when people want to talk with me, and we have time to see how things unfold naturally, but, when put on the spot, I don’t do my best work. So, yeah, I’m not happy about this segment, but it has nothing to do with Guyette.

Here I am, telling Guyette that we’re live on-the-air, and reminding him that he’d agreed to talk with us.

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[During this first segment, when killing time between calls to Guyette, AM 1700 staff photographer Kate de Fuccio came out from behind her camera to chat with me, which was very much appreciated. Together, we counted her nieces and nephews, and discussed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Had I been left alone to flounder, there would have been a lot of painful silence. Kate kept that from happening… So, if I ever get stuck again, don’t be surprised if you hear me say, “Kate, let’s count your nieces and nephews.]

Things got better with our second guest, Andrew Epstein, the new owner of Ypsilanti’s infamous dive bar, the Elbow Room. He told us about his memories of the old bar, where his band once played years ago, and his plans for the future. Epstein, who grew up in Ann Arbor, told us about the time he’d spent in Los Angeles, and how he’d come to decide that he wanted to open a bar that focusing on Mezcal drinks, with a limited food menu relying heavily on recipes from his wife’s family in Mexico.

We talked about how he learned the industry, working eight restaurant jobs in 2013, and how much work he’d put into brining the long-neglected building back to code. We talked about things he’d discovered when working the building, like swastikas on the walls, beneath several layers of old wallpaper, and an old letter concerning the mental institution that used to be just outside of town… Here’s Epstein telling us that he’ll have the old Elbow Room space back open by this summer, and how he’d like to like to have live music.

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[If you would like to listen to episode thirty-six of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

Then our friend Jean Henry dropped by with a bag full of treasures for our second annual on-air swap meet. She surprised me by putting way too much thought into the items that she brought along, all of which she’d carefully selected to represent different facets of my life. Whereas someone more well adjusted than myself would have accepted it in the spirt in which it was intended, I chose to respond by becoming painfully introverted. [It’s hard to explain, as I’m very public in some ways, but, when it comes right down to it, I’m painfully shy.] While we were still able to converse about the individual pieces that she’d brought, I just couldn’t talk about how each related to me and my work, and I still feel bad about that… Judging from the photos, though, Jean had a good time despite my issues.

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Here are a few of the items Jean brought with her. One of them was snagged by Patti Smith, who called in and worked out a trade. The rest are still in my possession, and Jean has left it up to me to do with them what I like… If we have time, I may give them away next week. So be sure to tune in in you want a little wooden doll with my face on it.

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And, at 1:10, musician Gregory McIntosh came by with a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and we just sat, talked, and ate for about an hour. We talked about anxiety, our various bands, and our love of just wandering aimlessly around Ypsilanti. We talked about mutual friends and their fetishes. We chewed. We whispered. McIntosh played three and a half songs… Here’s the delicious meatloaf, which Greg, I’m pretty sure, had smuggled out of Beezy’s in his pants, before we devoured it.

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Oh, and there was a weird call toward the end of the show from someone claiming to be Pete Townshend, saying that he’d been in contact, through a medium, with the ghost of Ann Landers… Here’s McIntosh trying to make sense of it.

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Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything with her camera, and Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper and bleach stays stocked. [All photos above come courtesy of Kate.]

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

Now, if you haven’t already, please listen for yourself, and experience the magic firsthand.

Posted in Art and Culture, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

The Monkey Power Trio has reached the top of the charts in California

I’m not sure what to make of this… According to reports from KDVS FM, my one-day-a-year band’s latest record, Left Behind, is the number one album on the campus of UC Davis.

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Posted in Monkey Power Trio | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

State Rep Jeff Irwin on Lansing’s response to the Flint disaster, the case for place-based education, and the music of Spelling… on this weekend’s Saturday Six Pack

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Those of you who, after last week’s show, predicted that I would never return to the Saturday Six Pack, failed to consider one thing…

I have no where else to go.

So, yes, we’re going to be back on the air this Saturday evening with what promises to be yet another equally thought-provoking and fun installment of what some people, at least up until last week, were calling “the most interesting program on midwestern micro-watt AM.”

This week’s guests will include Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS Coalition) Director Ethan Lowenstein, State Representative Jeff Irwin, and the band Spelling, who will be performing for us live in the studio. [Spelling is composed of Victoria Weeber and Craig Johnson.]

For those of you who aren’t aware of the incredible work being done by the Eastern Michigan University-based SEMIS Coalition, their mission is to facilitate school-community partnerships intended to develop students as “citizen-stewards of healthy ecological-social systems.” And, toward this end, they work with educators and community members to develop programs that not only expose students to the natural world outside of the classroom, but empower these young people to contribute in significant, meaningful ways that both build confidence and lead to a greater appreciation for community… In a world where people seem to be growing increasingly isolated from one another, SEMIS is trying to actually build healthy, sustainable communities, starting with kids, and I think that’s incredibly cool. They’re building programs that teach young people not only that they matter, and that they can make their communities better, but make clear to them that, as members of a society, we have a responsibility to help contribute toward solving the problems that face us.

Here, to give you a sense of the underlying philosophy that drives the program, is one of their core principles… “A strong and viable Great Lakes ecosystem includes human communities nested within and interdependent with other diverse living systems including water, soil, air, plant, and animal species. A sustainable Southeast Michigan depends upon diversity—both human and ecological—and is thus best served by strong democratic and collaborative systems.” Pretty incredible, right?

And, after we talk with Lowenstein, we’ll invite our old friend Jeff Irwin back into the studio. Ostensibly, he’s coming in this time to talk about a newly announced effort in the Michigan House to finally drive a stake through the heart of the Emergency Manager law once and for all, but I’m sure that we’ll also be picking up where we left off last time on things like guns in schools, the conditions of our roads, education spending, and the possibility of winning back the House in 2016. And, of course, we’ll be taking your calls on the Flint disaster, and anything else you may want to talk about… It should be fun.

And, here, thanks to AM 1700 senior graphic designer Kate de Fuccio, is this week’s poster, in case any of you want to print copies and distribute them in outside the Governor’s Ann Arbor condo.

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FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER TUNED IN TO THE SIX PACK BEFORE, HERE ARE THE DETAILS ON HOW TO LISTEN:

Unless you live inside the AM 1700 studio, chances are you won’t be able to pick the show up on your radio. As that’s the case, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.

And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes. If you start right now, and listen to everything at double speed, but you can do it.

One last thing… If you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing.

And do call us if you have a chance. We love phone calls. So please scratch this number into the cinder block wall of the recreation room of whichever facility you’ve been assigned to… 734.217.8624… and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. The show is nothing without you. Sure, sometimes it’s nothing even with you, that’s true, but usually you make it better.

Posted in Art and Culture, Politics, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Snyder’s reception at Old Town tonight makes me wonder how long it’ll be before he leaves Ann Arbor

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A year or so ago, when Rick Snyder announced that he’d be selling his house in the gated community outside of Ann Arbor and moving to a million dollar condo downtown, I’m sure it seemed like a good idea. Even though he’d done things in office that people didn’t like, folks still, for the most part, were happy to see him, and treated him with respect. That, however, is apparently beginning to change thanks to his role in the poisoning of Flint and the subsequent coverup.

The photo above was taken an hour or so ago by Pete Larson’s son Miles, who just happened to be at Old Town when the Governor came in. Apparently at least four people who I know where in the bar at the time, and their stories are relatively consistent. All of them, for instance, tell of a guy who, on his way out of the restaurant, yelled “Rick Snyder, you fucked up!”, opening the door for others to begin expressing their displeasure with our Governor. A few, from what I’m told, made comments about the water that he was drinking. Some apparently went so far as to address him directly, directing comments toward him like, “How about another nice glass of water, Snyder?” A vast majority, though, just sat by in angry silence, pissed off that the Governor had invaded their favorite local watering hole, bringing the specter of what had happened in Flint along with him.

While I’m sure there are still places that he’d be welcome, like the West End Grill, where he’s a regular, I have a feeling, as evidenced by what just happened at the Old Town, that our Governor’s beloved Ann Arbor is growing smaller and smaller with each passing day. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear, in a few months, that he and his wife had decided to move back to a gated community, where people can’t post wanted posters outside their door, as folks were doing yesterday.

Even with everything that he’s done, I still can’t help but feel sorry for him… With that said, though, I’m glad to know that some people in Ann Arbor are making him aware of how they feel. I think, if we’re going to see meaningful action from him, it will likely be because of things like the reception he received tonight at Old Town, and not because of protestors at the capital, or Facebook posts by the likes of Michael Moore. I think it’s incredibly important to Snyder how he’s perceived by his peers in Ann Arbor, and I know that, when he ran for Governor, this is not how he imagined things playing out. He wanted to be the “tough nerd” who solved all of our problems and put us on the path to a brighter future. Sadly, though, it didn’t turn out that way. He tried to run our state like a business, and, as a result, a city and its people have been ruined. And I’m afraid, now, he’s lost his hometown too.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 59 Comments

Saying they “delayed our action plan,” Rick Snyder lays the blame for the Flint water disaster at the feet of “career civil servants” who cared more about process than people

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You have to give him credit for having chutzpah. It took him a few days, but our Governor, with he help of multiple consultants and a few top flight PR firms, is attempting not just to deflect blame for what happened in Flint, but actually turn the deadly public health crisis into an anti-government parable that serves both his purposes, and those of his wealthy donors.

Snyder’s first so-called apology to the people of Flint came during the holidays, between Christmas and New Years. It came by way of press release. “I want the Flint community to know how very sorry I am that this has happened,” he said in the release. “And I want all Michigan citizens to know that we will learn from this experience, because Flint is not the only city that has an aging infrastructure.”

As far as apologies go, it wasn’t very satisfying.

“Hey,” he might as well have said, “It sucks that your kids have brain damage, but we’re going to learn from it… Happy New Year.”

He clearly didn’t know at the time just how big this story was going to get.

Within a very short time, though, the Flint water crisis became international news. Before Snyder knew what was happening, Cher was calling for his public execution and his poor handling of the public health crisis had become a subject of discussion on the presidential campaign trail. People not just in Michigan, but around the entire country, began to refer to this as the defining moment of his administration, likening his less than speedy response to the disaster in Flint to the Bush administration’s handling of hurricane Katrina… Clearly Snyder had to say something more than, “We’re going to learn from this,” but what?

I should add here, for those of you who have never had dealings with folks who work in public relations, that there’s a sub-specialty within the field known as “crisis communications.” People engaged in this line of work study disasters and how both people and companies either survive them, or get torn apart by them. They study things like the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, and they convey the lessons learned from such events to their clients. While I, of course, have no way of knowing what Governor Snyder was told, I think it’s highly likely that someone in this profession made it very clear to him that, if he didn’t show some emotion and take full responsibility, that he would not survive this. [They likely also told him that, in time, he could begin to shift the blame away from himself, but we’ll get to that in a minute.] And that’s exactly what he did.

Telling the people of Flint that they “deserve better,” a teary-eyed Snyder took the occasion last week, during his State of the State address, to say “I’m sorry most of all that I let you down. You deserve better.” And, for the most part, my sense is that it worked. People liked that he took ownership of the problem, and pledged to do whatever it took to “fix it.”

Of course, at just around the same time that he was telling the people of Flint, “(This is) a crisis you did not create, and could not have prevented,” he was also laying the groundwork for phase two of the communications plan.

On the same day that he gave his State of the State speech, Snyder also talked with Ron Fournier of the National Journal, telling him that, while he does take full responsibility, it should be noted that this problem really happened because of long-serving government employees whom he had never even met. “This was a case where we had people who had been in these jobs for years, (who) hadn’t gotten the change memo yet saying there’s got to be a better way of doing things,” Snyder said in the interview. “So they kept doing things the way they have.”

So this terrible thing that we’re still watching unfold in Flint didn’t happen because Snyder fundamentally changed the way state government was run, removing checks and balances at every level, and giving unelected Emergency Managers free rein over cities to do things like slash costs by giving people untreated river water to drink, but in spite of it. This happened, according to Snyder, because, try as you might, you just can’t fix everything “when you come in from the outside.” [God knows how bad things could have gotten in Flint, had Snyder not been out Governor. There would probably be bodies in the streets right now.]

So the problem wasn’t that he, by employing his brilliant business mind, and taking advantage of every loophole at his disposal, had created the least transparent and accountable state government in the entire country, but that not everyone in government got “the memo” that they were supposed to do more with less, and be more accountable, despite the culture of unaccountability all around them… Makes sense, right?

Before we go any farther, I should mention that, as of right now, few seem to buy Snyder’s revisionist take on where responsibility lies for the disaster in Flint. The following clip comes from yesterday’s Washington Post, where opinion writer Dana Milbank made it very clear who was at fault.

(T)he Flint disaster, three years in the making, is not a failure of government generally. It’s the failure of a specific governing philosophy: Snyder’s belief that government works better if run more like a business…

Snyder undertook an arrogant public-policy experiment, underpinned by the ideological assumption that the “experience set” of corporate-style managers was superior to the checks and balances of democracy. This is why Flint happened…

Unwilling to accept that narrative, Snyder has begun to double down on this notion that the problem in Flint was caused by government employees engaged in “business as usual.” [By the way, I don’t know why people on television are letting Snyder get away with saying that this was a result of people in Flint engaged in doing “business as usual,” when, to my knowledge, no one in Flint civil service had ever poisoned the entire city before.] And, toward that end, he’s beginning to pepper his speeches with a few phrases that must have tested well with focus groups. My favorite is “career civil servants.”

Here’s footage of Snyder on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, telling us how this was the work of “career civil servants” who were too caught up in regulations and technical reports to just do the right thing. [Mentions of “career civil servants” happen at 3:40 and 6:02.]

So not only is Snyder blaming “big government,” but, in the process, he’s also suggesting that regulations actually caused this. According to Snyder, if you can believe it, he actually wanted to move faster in response to what was happening in Flint, but he was told to wait for reports.

And I’m not making this up.

Civil servants, Synder told Fox News today, “delayed our action plan.”

Yup, if only the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule hadn’t slowed them down, they might have actually been able to save some of those kids in Flint from permanent brain damage…

It’s like something out of an Orwellian Koch brother wet dream.

And some on the right, as you might expect, have already joined Snyder in his attempt to reframe the narrative of what happened in Flint and push this version of events. See, for example, this recent tweet from the folks at ALEC, who would like nothing better than to see Snyder-like “reforms” spread across the nation.

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It will be interesting to see how this evolves over time, and which of these two warring narratives comes out on top. It probably goes without saying, but my hope is that, when all is said and done, our experiences in Flint aren’t used to justify a coordinated push for even smaller government and less environmental regulation. Given the state of the world, however, and what we’ve seen over the past few decades, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if people tried. They are, if nothing else, relentless.

[The photo at the top of the page, taken in downtown Ann Arbor, near the Governor’s Main Street condo, comes courtesy of Ann Arbor City Council’s Kirk Westphal.]

Posted in History, Michigan, Observations, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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