Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry, business, and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio.   She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly "bitten by the radio bug," and never recovered.  She took over the auto beat in January, 2009, just a few months before Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy.  Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio.   Her coverage of Michigan's Detroit Three automakers has taken her as far as Germany, and China. 

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. 

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The first thing you notice about the street in front of Walter Hicks' home is it's peaceful.  There are lots of trees, chirping birds, and most of the lawns are mowed.  

But then you see that the houses on either side of Hicks' home are boarded up. And there are lots of boarded up homes all down the street. 

That doesn't seem to put even a little dent in his pride of ownership.

cford3 / Wikipedia

Consumers Energy in April closed seven of its coal-burning units.

DTE Energy plans to shut eight of its coal-burning units by the year 2023.

Mark Barteau is Director of the University of Michigan Energy Institute.  He says eventually, coal is going away because natural gas, wind and solar are more cost-effective - as well as being better for public health and the planet.

Screen showing Line 5 on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan has contracted with Det Norske Veritas to conduct a risk analysis of Enbridge Energy Line 5, two oil pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac.

A separate consultant, Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, will study the alternatives to keeping the aging pipelines open.

Environmental groups say a failure of the pipelines would be a catastrophe for the Great Lakes.

Screenshot of Facebook post by Det. Nate Weekley
Detroit police department

A white Detroit police detective has been demoted for his reaction to the Dallas shootings last week.

Detective Nate Weekley blamed Black Lives Matter for the murders of five Dallas police officers in a Facebook post, although the killer was not actually part of the otherwise peaceful protest. 

Weekley called members of Black Lives Matter "racists" and "terrorists." 

He was demoted to officer and is being reassigned. 

taliesin / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

State Senator Mike Kowall plans to introduce legislation called "Uniformed Lives Matter."  

The bills make it a hate crime to assault someone in law enforcement.

It's Kowal's response to the murders of Dallas police officers last week.

Kowall says he doesn't intend to upset people in the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/raidokaldma/12617680335
Raido / Flickr.com

The National Insurance Crime Bureau warns that hacking poses an ever-growing threat to car owners, as cars increasingly become computers with wi-fi on wheels.

"As more and more technology is incorporated, the vulnerability is huge," says the Bureau's Frank Scafidi.  "We're not seeing huge events like this or great numbers.  It is sporadic but it is something to be aware of."

A recent video caught a thief sitting in a car with his laptop, reprogramming a car to start, most likely using a new, blank key. A few minutes later, he takes off in the car.

NOAA

Scientists predict this year's cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie will be smaller than any year since 2010.

Cyanobacteria produces a dangerous toxin. In 2014 a large mass surrounded Toledo's water intake and shut it down for two days.

Last year, record blooms covered a huge area of Lake Erie with green slime.

Rick Stump is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says this year, a relatively dry June will prevent what happened in 2015.

Charles Pugh

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office says Charles Pugh will be extradited to Michigan Thursday.

The former Detroit City Council President faces six charges of criminal sexual assault. 

Pugh is accused of criminal sexual conduct with a 14-year-old boy in 2003. That's six years before he entered politics and was elected to city council. 

Pugh has been living in Manhattan, where he was arrested last month. 

The prosecutor's office says he will be arraigned via video conference once he arrives in Michigan.

Earth First

A group of Earth First activists held a rowdy protest at the Midland home of State Attorney General Bill Schuette to demand the immediate shutdown of an aging oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. 

A statement by Earth First issued after the protest says until Schuette shuts down Enbridge Line 5, he can expect more protests at his home.

Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely says protesters violently beat on the door and windows while Schuette's wife was home alone, and they defaced the property. 

Howard Lake/flickr

The American Red Cross has issued an emergency call for blood and platelets, urging all eligible donors to give now to replenish an extremely low summer blood supply.

The group says blood donations have fallen short of hospital needs for the past few months, resulting in about 39,000 fewer donations than what’s needed, as well as a significant draw down of the overall Red Cross blood supply.

Julie Plawecki
http://housedems.com/

Thirteenth District Democratic Party Chairman Jonathan Kinloch says "there are a lot of moving parts" in naming candidates to fill the vacancy left by the sudden death of State Rep. Julie Plawecki.

Plawecki, who represented the 11th House district, died of a heart attack on July 25 while hiking in Oregon.

Kinloch says Plawecki's daughter has expressed interest in running in the special primary election on August 30. The election was called by Governor Snyder to fill the remainder of Plawecki's term through the end of 2016.

An unusually dry, hot June is hurting crops across the Midwest, including Michigan.

Everything from beans to sugar beets to wheat is suffering, says Kate Krepps of the Michigan Farm Bureau.

"It's been a strange year," says Krepps.  "We had such a wet beginning, so it was really challenging for folks to get crops in the field in a lot of different areas, particularly in southern Michigan.  And then they got them in the field, and we haven't had much rain since then."

The situation could reduce yields and profits for the roughly 75,000 people who farm in the state.

Kellogg

Kellogg's of Battle Creek is taking cereal in a different direction.  A really different direction.

The company has opened a cereal cafe in Times Square, where for $6.50 (small) or $7.50 (large) you can order cereal from a menu that includes "Lemon Pistachio." 

That's a combination of Special K and Frosted Flakes, with pistachios and lemon zest and fresh thyme leaves on top.  With locally sourced fresh milk on the side, of course.

Ford Motor Company

Nearly 75% of people surveyed by AlixPartners say they'd be interesting in an autonomous, AKA self-driving car.

The number jumps to 90% if the self-driving car includes the option of letting a human take control if deemed necessary.

Mark Wakefield of AlixPartners says he thinks his survey found more interest in self-driving cars because of the way they phrased the questions. The survey provided details about the positives of self-driving cars, in addition to the negatives.

Some 2001-03 Hondas and Acuras are too dangerous to drive.
NHTSA

Every recall is a safety recall, as one of my favorite auto industry analysts, Michelle Krebs of Autotrader says.

But there is a lot of recall fatigue out there. And it's dangerous. Autotrader's recent survey finds that 40% of people are ignoring recalls because they think the recall is "not important."

So let's cut through that recall fatigue right now. 

VW showed off their Gold TDI Clean Diesel at the 2010 Washington Auto Show. The company has since admitted to evading emissions standards for the last seven years.
wikimedia user Mariordo / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says more than 10,000 Volkswagen diesel car owners in Michigan will get payments as part of a settlement with the German company over major emissions violations.

Volkswagen installed software in 500,000 cars sold across the U.S. that concealed the cars' true emissions from regulators.  Those emissions were up to 40 times the allowable standard of nitrogen oxides (NOx),  harmful pollutants linked to asthma and heart attacks.

Car rear ended another car in Ann Arbor.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A consumer advocate says many low to moderate income people pay much more for car insurance, even with the same driving record and zip code as wealthier people.

Bob Hunter is with the Consumer Federation of America.

He says major insurance companies use factors like marital status, education, occupation, and home ownership as proxies for income.

He says in general, people who are single, don't own a home, didn't go to college, and who work at blue collar jobs, have less money. 

ICE SWAT agent preparing for a raid
public domain/Wikimedia

Advocates for undocumented immigrants say a Supreme Court decision hurts millions of families in the U.S.

In a tie vote, the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that blocked the president's executive order on immigration.

President Obama wanted to stop deportations of undocumented parents with legal resident children.  

Attorney Ruby Robinson is with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. Robinson says undocumented residents of the U.S. live with tremendous day-to-day insecurity and fear.

General Motors

A law firm is suing General Motors, claiming the automaker's diesel Cruze sedans cheat on emissions tests, just like Volkswagen's diesels. 

Volkswagen is in big trouble for deliberately installing software that turns off emissions controls during normal driving, and on during fuel economy testing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued Volkswagen over the deceit. The Associated Press reports an announcement of a settlement will be made early next week.

Argonne National Laboratory

Good news for Ford, General Motors, and Fiat-Chrysler from an influential survey of initial quality in cars.  

Renee Stephens of J.D. Power says overall, domestic car owners reported fewer problems in the first 90 days than import car owners.

"Domestics actually overtook the import brands this year for only the second time in the history of the study --  the last time was in 2010," says Stephens.

Another surprise was mainstream brands did better than luxury brands. That hasn't happened in the survey since 2006.

Ingham Co. Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings faces 15 charges related to soliticing prostitutes.
CREDIT STEVE CARMODY / MICHIGAN RADIO

Stuart Dunnings, Ingham County's disgraced prosecutor, has filed an application to begin receiving his pension benefits.

Dunnings will officially step down on July 1, after he was accused of paying prostitutes for sex hundreds of times. 

He faces 15 charges in three separate counties. Preliminary exams in the cases have not yet been scheduled.

Dunnings' pension plan, Municipal Employees Retirement System of Michigan (MERS), says it will not disclose how much he will receive.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw and the crew of tug Joyce L. Van Enkevort cut through the ice as they escort motor vessel Algoway through the southeast bend in the lower St. Clair River near Harsens Island, Feb. 2, 2014.
Wikimedia Commons

The state has denied Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun a permit to build a bridge between Algonac  and Harsens Island.

The island in northern Lake St. Clair is currently only accessible by car ferry or boat.  

Most residents don't want a bridge, says Rhonda Wyscaver.  She's lived on the island for 27 years.

"We want to keep the island as peaceful as we can," says Wyscaver, a bartender at Sans Souci Bar.   "It's growing by leaps and bounds as it is.  But, the way we see it, if you want a city life, live in the city."

Only 17 miles from Lake Michigan's shore, Waukesha, Wis. wants to replace its contaminated drinking water with water from the lake.
flickr user Rachel Kramer / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

All eight of the governors of states in the Great Lakes Compact voted Tuesday to approve Waukesha, Wisconsin's application to divert water from Lake Michigan.

The city of Waukesha is 17 miles from the lake, straddling a county that is within the lake's water basin.

That made the city technically eligible to apply for a diversion under the compact, to replace its own water, which is contaminated with radium.

"What this shows is it is not easy to get a diversion of Great Lakes water," said Marc Smith of the National Wildlife Federation.

map of michigan
Screencap from Google Maps / Google / Google

The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin will likely find out Tuesday if it can draw water from the Great Lakes to replace its own contaminated water.

Governors from eight Great Lakes states are expected to vote on the request. Any of the states can veto the diversion. Waukesha is the first community to request a diversion since the adoption of the Great Lakes Compact in 2008.

Environmental groups and some elected officials objected to the diversion, saying it could set a bad precedent.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

John Hoadley says he doesn't want people in Michigan trying  what he's seen people do in YouTube videos: mount a remote-controlled gun on a drone, and fly it.

"When we think about the fact that these drones are now potentially flying over our homes or schools where our kids or neighbors are," says the Democratic state representative from Kalamazoo, "it's  appropriate to have a framework that says, while there are very cool pieces of this new technology, it would be inappropriate to have flying guns in the state of Michigan."

Detroit Public Schools

Wytrice Harris is disheartened.

The mother of twins, sophomores at Detroit's Renaissance High, has been working to improve conditions in the district for two years. She hoped for much more from legislation designed to save and reform the city's nearly-bankrupt school system.

"They're just going to prolong the death of DPS," she says flatly.

The legislation includes $617 million in funding to split the district in two. One district will deal with paying off debt, and the other will handle day-to-day operations. 

City of Inkster sign.
City of Inkster

The city of Inkster has been released a year early from its consent agreement with the state.

Inkster agreed in 2012 to eliminate a $3.5 million deficit.

Over the next four years, the city privatized and reduced many services, slashed health care benefits for city retirees, laid off staff, and increased fees.

Treasury spokesman Jeremy Sampson praised Inkster's city council and its mayor Byron Nolen for working hard to balance the books.

"This is just an example of the emergency manager process and how it can work," says Sampson.

quadricycle aka pedal trolley, North Carolina
James Willamor / flickr/public domain

Many of Ann Arbor's city council members have done an about-face on a proposed ordinance regulating so-called pedal trolleys, or quadricycles.

The multi-seat open-air vehicles are powered by the customers, who pedal through downtown streets, with a hired driver in front steering and braking.

Initially, the council planned to prohibit customers from bringing alcohol on board. 

But Mayor Chris Taylor says he and six other members of the council believe that can be both safe and fun, with little risk of drunken, rowdy disturbances.

The largest recall in automotive history just got bigger.

General Motors and Ford Motor Company this week recalled nearly four million cars with passenger-side Takata airbags.

Takata airbags can inflate with too much force, especially if the cars have been driven in hot, humid areas for a long time. 

GM issued the recall of "certain 2007-2011 vehicles" grudgingly. The automaker believes its designs protect the airbags from heat and moisture. From its statement:  

Dwight Burdette / wikimedia commons

Two politicians whose districts include Inkster say the state should forgive the $36 million debt of the city's dissolved school district.

State officials dissolved Inkster Public Schools in 2013 after deciding it had no viable plan to get back in the black.   

Representative Julie Plawecki says the students are doing well in neighboring districts, "however, Inkster still has this debt that they will pay on for years to come, and at the end they're left with nothing, not the land, not the schools, nothing."

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