Auto
1:26 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Auto loan delinquency rates reach record low

Screen grab from TransUnion.com

Fewer Americans are falling behind on their car loan payments.

That's according to a new report from the credit agency TransUnion. They say that in the first quarter of 2012, the amount of payments 60 or more days overdue fell by 22 percent compared to the same period last year.

Those findings mark the tenth consecutive quarter that auto loan delinquency rates have declined, something that could benefit car buyers by prompting banks to make more loans.

A press release from TransUnion quoted Peter Turek, automotive vice president in the agency's financial services business unit:

"Auto loan delinquencies continue to perform exceptionally... We are seeing increases in both lending and leasing across the board, along with a higher number of loans originated in the non-prime risk segments."

Turek said that TransUnion expects delinquency rates for the rest of the year to remain low, but said that "a slight increase from this record-low level would not be surprising and should not be construed as a negative event."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
1:23 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Federal investigation highlights role of staff turnover, inexperience in Enbridge oil spill

Crews monitor the air near the site of the oil spill
EPA Region 5

An ongoing investigation into the 2010 Enbridge oil spill by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is raising concern over frequent staff turnover and inexperience among personnel in the company’s Endmonton control-room.

Last Friday, the NTSB added new materials to the public accident docket, including transcribed interviews with Enbridge staff.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports:

In the transcripts, one control-room operator likens his job to that of an air traffic controller and says he’d like to see Enbridge do more to retain control-room staff in the hot Alberta job market.

“And you just don’t have air traffic controllers coming in and out of the system like that, right, because you know that it will impact safety, right?” says the transcription. “So, I’d like to see them really look at keeping people in the control-room, keeping us happy in there, and I don’t know what it’s going to take, but that’s what I’d like to see.”

The employee added that when he started working at the company 25 years ago, he could count a combined 100 years of experience among four employees in the control-room. Now, he said, the experienced personnel in the room tend to only have three or four years under their belts.

The NTSB also reported that the time of the spill coincided with a shift change in the control-room, offering a possible explanation of why the spill went unnoticed for hours.

In a press release, Enbridge officials said that they would wait to comment on the new findings until the NTSB publishes its final report later this fall. In the release, officials added that the company been working to improve the safety of its operations in the two years since the spill by doing things like changing the “structure and leadership of functional departments such as pipeline control, leak detection and system integrity.”

- Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Farming
12:06 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Financial help could be coming for Michigan's fruit farmers

Blooms on a cherry tree.
William Schmitt Flickr

Fruit growers and processors in Michigan might get some help in the form of low interest loans if an expected package of bills moves through the legislature.

The loans are aimed at providing relief to those who lost most of their fruit crops after an unusual spring warm spell was followed by extended freezing temperatures.

MLive reports Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Keith Creagh said today the bills would create "five-year low interest loans":

The loans, which will be administered by banks and agricultural lenders, will meet an estimated total economic need of some $300 million in the state’s fruit growing and processing industry, Creagh said while attending the Michigan Food Processing and Agribusiness Summit.

Securing the loan guarantees at a low interest rate of 1 percent or 2 percent could cost the state about $15 million, Creagh said. The 5-year loans would be structured so borrowers would only pay interest in the first two years, he said.

Creagh says he'll also seek federal financial support for Michigan fruit growers and processors.

commentary
11:06 am
Wed May 23, 2012

Commentary: Elephants at War

For many years, there was a big difference between the two major parties when it came to their internal affairs. Democrats often didn’t get along behind closed doors and on convention floors.  And they often didn’t mind letting their disagreements show. Nor did their intra-party brawls usually seem to hurt them. That’s because the Democrats were a collection of different interest groups who didn’t necessarily like each other very much.

Read more
Politics
10:39 am
Wed May 23, 2012

New law encourages better Internet access in rural Michigan

Gov. Snyder signed legislation aimed at improving Internet access in Michigan's rural areas.

According to Snyder's office, the new law will allow easier access for telecommunications companies to install Internet infrastructure.

More from Gov. Snyder's office:

Senate Bill 499, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson, will allow easier access for telecommunications companies to install facilities along state-controlled rail-trails – former railway lines converted to walking and bicycling paths. Companies will pay not more than $500 in application fees to the Department of Natural Resources, plus a one-time fee of 5 cents per linear foot used. Revenues will go into the Michigan Trailways Fund or the Natural Resources Trust Fund.

“Keeping costs low will encourage more companies to expand wireless Internet access to Michigan’s rural areas, essential to continuing our economic reinvention,” Snyder said.

The bill now is Public Act 138 of 2012.

Politics
8:44 am
Wed May 23, 2012

The Week in Michigan Politics

The Week in State Politics
Contemplative Imaging Flickr

Every Wednesday morning we check in with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry to talk about the week's political news in the state. On tap for this morning: The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that review teams that are deciding whether or not a city or school district is in financial crisis can meet behind closed doors, some Detroit officials say the consent agreement the city has with the state is illegal, and we take a look at a big shake-up in the state Republican party leadership.

News Roundup
8:36 am
Wed May 23, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Detroit Consent Agreement

Officials with Detroit’s law department say they expect to go to court to challenge the city’s consent agreement with the state. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Last week, Detroit’s top lawyer suggested the agreement was illegal because the state owes an outstanding debt to the city.  State officials say that premise is all wrong. Some City Council members oppose a legal challenge, calling it pointless and counterproductive. But council member Kwame Kenyatta took the opposite view. He says if city lawyers are right and the agreement violates the city charter, that’s a serious problem. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing declined to comment on the legal challenge.

Flint Teachers

The Flint school board has voted to lay off 237 teachers as part of an effort to eliminate an estimated $20 million deficit for the coming year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The board voted Tuesday to lay off 108 elementary and 129 secondary school teachers. Earlier this month, the board voted to close both middle schools, along with Bunche and Summerfield elementary schools. Board documents say the district selected teachers for layoff based on recent evaluations. Statewide teacher tenure legislation last year put an end to seniority-based layoffs. The board must adopt a budget by June 30.

Kalamazoo River Update

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated. “Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.  Jennifer Gray is a state toxicologist. She says a draft report released this week by the Department of Community Health shows no organic oil-related chemicals have turned up in any of the water wells.  But she says a few wells have tested positive for iron and nickel. Gray says testing will continue for years to come," Steve Carmody reports. A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.

Environment & Science
7:27 am
Wed May 23, 2012

Wildfire burning in the Upper Peninsula

SENEY, Mich. (AP) - Officials say a wildfire in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has burned at least 600 acres of a wildlife refuge.

The Mining Journal of Marquette and WLUC-TV report the fire at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County is believed to have been started Sunday by a lightning strike. It grew Monday and continued to burn on Tuesday. Officials say dry conditions contributed to its spread.

A message seeking updated information about the fire was left Wednesday morning by The Associated Press with an official at the refuge.

No injuries or damage to buildings was reported. The refuge plans to evaluate whether to close trails in the area for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Education
7:25 am
Wed May 23, 2012

Flint school district laying off hundreds of teachers

FLINT, Mich. (AP) - The Flint school board has voted to lay off 237 teachers as part of an effort to eliminate an estimated $20 million deficit for the coming year.

The board voted Tuesday to lay off 108 elementary and 129 secondary school teachers.

Earlier this month, Mlive.com (http://bit.ly/JnOdC1 ) says the board voted to close both middle schools, along with Bunche and Summerfield elementary schools.

Auto
10:47 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Chrysler boosts sales with subprime borrowers

Chrysler-Group flickr

Chrysler's new car sales have been improving faster than almost any other car company in the U.S. in recent months.

But the company has also been relying on subprime borrowers more than almost any other car company.

That's according to Edmunds.com.

People with good credit can usually find a car loan with a four percent interest rate.

But a growing number of Chrysler's customers have poor credit - and their loans have 10 percent interest rates.

Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell says it's definitely boosting Chrysler's sales, but there are risks.

"I think subprime can tarnish your image in a way," she says.  "If you have a high percentage of subprime borrowers, people start to catch on or think that perhaps your brand isn't as prestigious as you would want to think it is."

Even though subprime car loans are riskier, there is still a relatively low rate of default.

People are much more likely to default on a subprime house loan than a subprime car loan. 

Auto
8:37 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Ford gets investment-grade credit rating, blue oval back

To mark the return of the Ford Blue Oval and investment grade status, Bill Ford, Jr. joined over 1000 employees outside of Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn to form a human Blue Oval.
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company has its "Blue Oval" back, after a second ratings firm upgraded Ford to "investment grade."

The trademark and other assets were put up as collateral for loans in 2006. Those loans got the company through the recession and a restructuring without a bankruptcy.

Bill Ford, Junior is the Board's Executive Chairman, and the great-grandson of Henry Ford. He says it's a "once in a lifetime" event.

"When we pledged the Blue oval it was enormously emotional for me and my family," Ford said. "Because we weren't just pledging an asset, we were pledging our heritage."

The ratings upgrade means Ford will likely have a larger pool of bond investors. The company will also have lower borrowing costs.

Read more
Newsmaker Interview
5:16 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Does Michigan's 'stand your ground' law promote violence?

Tim Bledsoe is a Democrat representing Michigan’s 1st House District, which includes Grosse Pointe
Rep. Bledsoe's official website

Florida caught lots of attention after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen. On trial for the killing is George Zimmerman who claims he acted under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Michigan is among several states with laws similar to Florida’s. Michigan’s “stand your ground” law was revised in 2006 by bipartisan majorities in the legislature. It was signed into law by Jennifer Granholm, who was the Democratic governor at the time.

Now, more than a dozen Democratic Michigan House members have introduced legislation to repeal the law.

Democratic Representative Tim Bledsoe sponsored House Bill 5644. “I think the Trayvon Martin case really showed us the problem with having a law like “stand your ground," he said.

According to Bledsoe, Michigan has another self-defense law called the Castle Doctrine, which states that a person has the right to defend themselves, their family and their property in their home.

“Our effort to repeal the "stand your ground" law does not in any way affect the Castle Doctrine. But what we are seeing is that, if you are in a public place, and you are in a confrontation, and there is this opportunity for you to retreat, you must take advantage of that opportunity to retreat,” said Bledsoe.

The Democratic representative said although he has not identified any case in Michigan where the "stand your ground" law has been used in self defense, he said "We see this more in terms of acting in a preemptive way to try to avoid situations like the Trayvon Martin case here in Michigan."

Rep. Bledsoe said he and others will continue to seek out public support to pressure legislators to repeal the law.

Politics
4:28 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Detroit lawyers: We'll probably take consent agreement to court

Detroit skyline
user Bernt Rostad creative commons

Officials with Detroit’s law department they’ll most likely challenge the city’s consent agreement with the state.

Last week, Detroit’s corporation counsel issued a letter suggesting the agreement was illegal because the state owes the city money.

State officials say that premise is all wrong, and the opinion has no legal merit.

Read more
Politics
3:53 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Proposed changes to Michigan election laws draw ire from protestors

State Rep. Pete Lund chairs the House Redistricting and Elections Committee
gophouse.com

A House committee meeting in Lansing was interrupted today by a group of about 50 protestors angry over proposed election law changes.

The House Redistricting and Elections Committee planned to vote on a series of changes including one that would require either a photo ID or birth certificate to be presented when registering to vote.  Opponents argue that the new rule would create unfair hurdles for some potential voters.

Protestors yelled slogans including "respect our vote" and some people were escorted outside.

According to the Detroit News, the protest was led by Pastor W.J. Rideout and Rev. Charles Williams Sr., the latter of whom told committee members "you're killing democracy" before leaving the meeting.

Another man, the News says, told committee chairman Rep. Pete Lund that, "The blood of Martin Luther King Junior is on your hands."

Despite the disruption, the committee voted to have the bill move to the House floor. 

-John Klein Wilson,Michigan Radio Newsroom

Crime
3:20 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Jury finds Elias Abuelazam, accused serial stabber in Flint, guilty of murder

Elias Abuelazam (file photo)
(courtesy of the Genesee County Prosecutor's office)

Update:

A man suspected of stabbing 14 men in and around Flint, Mich., two summers ago has been convicted of first-degree murder in the first case to go to trial.

A Genesee County jury convicted Elias Abuelazam (EE'-lee-us ah-BOOL'-ah-zahm) on Tuesday of fatally stabbing 49-year-old Arnold

Minor in August 2010. Minor's blood was found on Abuelazam's clothes and in his SUV. Abuelazam was arrested trying to board a plane to his native Israel.

Investigators say Abuelazam asked for directions or help with car trouble before stabbing his victims. Five of the 14 Flint-area victims died. Abuelazam also is charged with stabbing someone in Toledo, Ohio, and is suspected in attacks in Leesburg, Va.

Abuelazam's attorneys argued he was insane that summer. A psychiatrist said he was compelled by violent delusions.

12:27 pm:

A lawyer for an Israeli immigrant charged with murder in a Michigan stabbing spree is telling jurors to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Attorney Ed Zeineh says Elias Abuelazam heard voices and saw black clouds two summers ago and fits the profile of a paranoid schizophrenic.

Jurors are hearing closing arguments Tuesday in Genesee County court.  Abuelazam is on trial for the fatal stabbing of 49-year-old Arnold Minor. Prosecutors say he was not mentally ill and should be held criminally responsible.

Fourteen people were stabbed in and around Flint two summers ago, and five died. Abuelazam is charged in nine of those stabbings, including three deaths. He's charged with attempted murder in Toledo, Ohio.

Environment & Science
2:40 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Report: No contamination found in well water in Kalamazoo River oil spill zone

Oil spill clean up work along the Kalamazoo River, near Battle Creek, July, 2010
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated.

A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800 thousand gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.   The cleanup of the river and the surrounding area continues.

Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.

Read more
Economy
1:23 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Report: Michiganders will use less gasoline and electricity this summer

Will you be filling up as often this summer?
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michiganders will use less gasoline and electricity this summer, that's according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The state utility regulatory agency issued its annual Summer Energy Appraisal today.

Judy Palnau is the agency’s spokeswoman. She says there are a couple reasons why the public service commission expects gasoline sales will decline about 2 percent this summer in Michigan.

“Part of that is a economy. But part of that is we are also driving more energy efficient vehicles,” says Palnau. 

Palnau says the economy is also a reason why they expect electricity use will dip slightly this summer.

“Our sluggish economy is still a factor in decreasing use of electricity,” says Palnau, though the MPSC expects residential electric use will increase. 

The MPSC study also predicts natural gas sales will decline nearly 5 percent this summer. A mild winter drove down demand among both business and residential natural gas customers.

Politics
1:15 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Court of Appeals rules Michigan's emergency manager process doesn't violate Open Meetings law

Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled review teams can meet behind closed doors as they decide whether to recommend a state takeover of a city or school district. Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law filed the challenge. They say review teams should have to comply with Michigan’s open meetings law.

The ruling essentially upholds the decision to name an emergency manager to run Flint and the state’s consent agreement with Detroit.

Robert Davis filed one of the lawsuits. He says the court made a mistake.

“The financial review teams are able to exercise extraordinary powers, including issuing subpoenas and compelling testimony of local elected officials, and, certainly, since they are discussing financial management of a local unit of government certainly that should be open for every person and every citizen to be privy to,” Davis said.

Davis said he will appeal this ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals is still deciding whether to allow a referendum challenging the emergency manager law on the November ballot

Economy
12:57 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Benton Harbor hosts 2012 Senior PGA Championship

Professional golfers practice at Harbor Shores golf course in Benton Harbor.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Senior PGA tournament for professional golfers is in Benton Harbor this week.

Famous golfers began practicing on the course Monday afternoon. Harbor Shore golf course was partially built on city owned land. Elected city leaders agreed to lease the property with the hope of attracting jobs and tourists to the region.

Herb Caldwell is Vice President of the Consortium for Community Development. The non-profit group tries to improve the community’s workforce skills. He says the group has helped more than 260 people get temporary jobs for the tour.

But Caldwell says the tournament is also bringing a sense of excitement and pride to its residents.

“People will walk away from this – not only the people internally who live here – with a different perspective on their community but the people who will visit here will now have a different picture of Benton Harbor,” Caldwell said.

But not everyone is pleased.

Benton Harbor is the poorest city in Michigan with an average household income of $17,000 a year. The city government is under the control of an emergency manager.

Read more
Health
12:03 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Rep. Dingell supports bill to speed up FDA reviews

Tom Varco Wikimedia commons

Congress is trying to speed up the review process for new medicines and devices while still keeping them safe.   A bill before the House would increase the amount of money and authority given to the Food and Drug Administration to do that.

Congressman John Dingell represents Michigan's 15th District and supports the bill.  He says one way the new bill will protect the drug supply is by increasing the FDA's authority over imported medicine.

"[The User Fee bill] enables [the] Food and Drug [Administration] to address the problems that we had (i.e. unsafe pharmaceuticals and unsafe commodities and components for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals in this country," Dingell said.  "So Food and Drug can control them now."

Drug and medical device manufacturers typically pay user fees that fund the reviews by the Food and Drug Administration.  The new bill will expand those fees to more companies, including international ones. 

"This is the best way of leveling the playing field between American manufacturers and foreign manufacturers" said Dingell, "and also seeing to it that everybody -- consumers, manufacturers and all get the services that they're entitled to from [the] Food and Drug [Administration]."

Patient safety advocates are against parts of the bill. They say even tougher reviews should be applied to medical devices.

-Nishant Sekaran, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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