Commentary
10:50 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Commentary: Referendum madness

If everyone who is trying to get a referendum on something on the ballot this fall succeeds, every conscientious person may end up having to spend half an hour in the voting booth in November.

That’s a  bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There is a campaign to get a ballot referendum on the state’s emergency manager law -- and another to recall the governor himself.

The unions are collecting signatures to try to get a constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining for workers in both the public and private sectors.

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News Roundup
10:23 am
Mon April 30, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing returns to work today

Mr. Bing is expected back at city hall following his recovery from pulmonary embolisms in both lungs. Bing had an
operation in late March for a perforated colon, then returned to the hospital earlier this month after doctors discovered the blood clots in his lungs - a potentially life-threatening condition.

Bing, 68, was away for much of the drama surrounding the city's consent agreement vote with the state, but Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis said Bing was continually informed and was providing his input into the process. From the Detroit News:

In a conference call with reporters 10 days ago, Bing said he was fully engaged in the process of hiring a chief financial officer as well as appointing members to the financial advisory board that will oversee the city's fiscal restructuring.

In that phone interview with reporters, Bing said he would start slowly and not work full days until his health is 100 percent.

Appointments to Detroit's financial oversight board continue

Five have been appointed to the nine-member financial advisory board - four more appointments are left.

The Detroit Free Press reports Detroit City Council will interview candidates today:

The council will interview candidates at 2:30 p.m. today and at 1 p.m. Tuesday at council chambers on the 13th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

"It will be a world-class board," council President Pro Tem Gary Brown, who is heading up the selection process for the council, said last week. "I've seen all the candidates, and people will be pleased with the level of competency on this board."

Council President Charles Pugh said the council could vote on its selections as early as Friday.

The financial advisory board will have oversight over the city's finances. Each member will be given $25,000 in annual compensation for their service on the board.

Number of low-birth weight babies increasing in Michigan

The Michigan League for Human Services’ Kids Count in Michigan report released today says the number of low-birth weight babies and babies born to unwed women is increasing, according to the Lansing State Journal.

The Journal reports that the authors of the report call for funding to implement changes from a state infant mortality summit.

The report says the 10 counties with the best health indicators for mothers and children are Houghton, Ottawa, Livingston, Leelanau, Midland, Grand Traverse, Oakland, Emmet, Clinton and Washtenaw.

The 10 worst are Berrien, Calhoun, Alcona, Genesee, Clare, Lake, Saginaw, Wayne, Crawford and Luce.

Politics
6:54 pm
Sun April 29, 2012

Levin visits Afghanistan & Turkey

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee says Chairman Carl Levin and member Jack Reed are visiting Afghanistan, Turkey and NATO headquarters in Belgium starting this weekend.

The committee announced the trip Sunday by the two Democratic lawmakers. Levin is from Michigan and Reed is from Rhode Island.

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Lansing
4:01 pm
Sun April 29, 2012

Tribal vote on Lansing casino project nearing an end

Artist's conception of the proposed Kewadin Lansing casino
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Voting wraps up this week in a referendum that may decide if plans for a casino in downtown Lansing can move forward.

Ballots were mailed to 14 thousand members of the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians earlier this month.

The basic question is should the tribe move ahead with plans to build a $245 million casino adjacent to Lansing’s downtown convention center.

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Education
2:56 pm
Sun April 29, 2012

New anti-bullying book

Students at Michigan State University have published a book about bullying in the age of social media. The book is a project of an advanced undergraduate journalism course on the East Lansing campus.

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Crime
4:15 pm
Sat April 28, 2012

Michigan clergy members discuss ways to reduce youth violence

Rev. Ira Edwards addresses other Michigan clergymen and women during a recent meeting in Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new group is trying to organize clergy members statewide to address the problem of youth violence in Michigan.

The group Prophetic Voices gathered a Christian, Muslim and other religious leaders to a meeting in Lansing this past week. 

Reverend Ira Edwards is the spokesman for Prophetic Voices.   He says youth violence is hurting more than just young people in Michigan.

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Environment
4:01 pm
Sat April 28, 2012

Wind turbines to add power to Lansing city hall

Three wind turbines sit in front of Lansing city hall. In the coming weeks, the turbines will be installed on building's roof, as part of a test of their ability to economically generate electricity.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The city of Lansing is turning to a new source for its electric power.

"Thank you all for joining us on this breezy, lovely day in downtown Lansing…perfect for the announcement that we’re here to make," [Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero joked, as high winds spun three small scale wind turbines on the plaza in front of Lansing city hall.    The turbines are part of a one year trial.

John DeGray is with Windstream Technologies, an Indiana company developing  small corkscrew shaped wind turbines for residential and business use.

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Arts/Culture
3:39 pm
Sat April 28, 2012

Detroit students' work on exhibit at art institute

(courtesy of the DIA)

DETROIT (AP) — Paintings, prints, drawings, photography, ceramics and other pieces of art created by Detroit Public Schools students are on display in an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The 75th annual exhibition began Saturday. It runs through June 3. Viewing is free with regular museum admission.

The artists and their parents attended an opening reception Saturday afternoon.

Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts said at the reception it was "incredible" to "see these young people express themselves and find their voices."

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Education
7:00 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Detroit students suspended over walkout start "Freedom School"

Western and Southwestern High School students staged a walkout Wednesday
via ourvoicessouthwestdetroit.tumblr.com

More than 100 students were suspended from Detroit’s Western International High School this week.

Those students were part of a group that walked out of school to protest district policies, and what they say is a poor-quality education.

Now, some of the students are setting up what they’re calling a “freedom school” to attend while they’re suspended.

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Religion
6:43 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Dearborn conferences to address honor killings, Islamophobia

Jessica Mokdad in a family photo
via fox2detroit.com

Dearborn will host two very different conferences about modern Islam on Sunday.

The group “Stop the Islamization of America” is sponsoring the “Jessica Mokdad Human Rights Conference.”

Mokdad is a young woman who was murdered by her stepfather in Warren last year.

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Arts
5:00 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Empty Detroit police station? How about an art gallery?

An architectural rendering of the updated precinct
555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios

A non-profit arts organization is setting up shop inside a vacant police precinct in southwest Detroit.

The old 3rd Precinct is now owned by the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios. The organization is run by volunteers and, according to it's website, provides "affordable studios and workspace, gallery space, exhibition programs, arts education programs, and an artist in residency program."

From the AP:

The 7,000-square-foot ex-precinct has been stripped to raw concrete. Its 21 jail cells remain intact.

555 wants to put in a gallery space, build seven private studio spaces and an Education and Programming Studio.

As for the jail cells, 555 says they're "ready to be used for creativity."

555 plans to hold a fundraiser in their new space this evening featuring "food and drink, live aerial performance and music."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Sports
4:00 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young arrested in New York

MLB

7:00 p.m.

The Detroit Tigers issued a statement by Delmon Young:

"I sincerely regret what happened last night. I apologize to everyone I affected, the Ilitch family, the Detroit Tigers’ organization, my teammates, my family, and the great Tigers’ fans that have supported me since day one. I take this matter very seriously and assure everyone that I will do everything I can to improve myself as a person and player.” 

The team also released by Young's attorney, Dan Ollen:

“I represent Delmon Young with respect to the incident that occurred last night. With this matter now in the legal system, Delmon is unable to make any further statements or discuss this matter in further detail. All future press or investigative inquiries should be directed to me. Let me be clear, there are many false allegations regarding the actions of my client and I am confident that the legal process will separate fact from fiction and discredit these reports.”  

 

4:00 p.m.

The Detroit Tigers released this statement regarding Delmon Young's arrest:

We are aware of the situation, however it is our club policy not to comment on pending legal matters. As we understand it, this is an allegation and we need to allow the legal process to take its course. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time. Per a provision in the Major League Baseball Basic Agreement, any allegation that involves alcohol is referred to MLB's Employee Assistance Program.

11:59 p.m.

Detroit Tigers outfielder, Delmon Young, was arrested early this morning in New York on an "aggravated harassment as a hate crime," according to the Associated Press.

The team is in New York for a three-game stand with the Yankees.

Here's what happened according to the Associated Press:

Young was standing outside of the Hilton New York at about 1:30 a.m., where he was staying ahead of a series with the New York Yankees that starts Friday night. Nearby, a group of about four Chicago tourists staying at the hotel were approached by a panhandler wearing a yarmulke. After, as the group walked up to the hotel doors, Young started yelling anti-Semitic epithets, police said.

It was not clear whom Young was yelling at, but he got into a tussle with the Chicago group, and a 32-year-old man sustained scratches to his elbows, according to police.

Both Young and the group went inside the hotel, and at some point, police were called, and Young was arrested, police said.

Police said Young appeared to be intoxicated. He could be arraigned later today.

Delmon Young is the younger brother of former Tiger Dmitri Young.

Politics
3:40 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Contrasting Michigan policy, Toledo mayor considers domestic partner benefits

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell
Dan Bobkoff Changing Gears

Late last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a controversial law barring many live-in partners of state employees from receiving government health benefits. Snyder and some members of the state legislature cited cost as the primary reason behind the ban. But critics of the law, including the ACLU of Michigan, said the law unfairly targeted same-sex couples.

Now, just south of the border, things might be moving in the opposite direction.

According to a story in the Toledo Blade, the city's Mayor Mike Bell is planning to bring legislation concerning domestic partner benefits before the city council. The measure would give Toledo city employees the opportunity to extend their health care benefits to cover their live-in partners, provided couples sign up for the city's Domestic Partner Registry.

More from the Blade:

Both heterosexual and same-sex couples would be eligible for benefits under the proposed law...

"What we're trying to do is bring our city, form the standpoint of human resources and affirmative-action policies, in line with what's happening nationally," Mayor Bell said. "We're not the first train pulling out of the station here, we're actually in a way trying to catch up with the policies that make companies and cities competitive in the state of Ohio."

Other cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, along with Lucas County, the University of Toledo, Owens Corning, and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, offer benefits to domestic partners of employees, according to information provided by the mayor's office.

But, the Blade reports, some council members are already voicing misgivings about the policy:

George Sarantou said he has many questions about the proposed law and is concerned it could be too costly for a city that has struggled financially in recent years.

"Cost is always a factor when you're dealing with a budget," Councilman Sarantou said...

Councilman Rob Ludeman, meanwhile, expressed both financial and moral concerns about the proposed law. During his last term, Mr. Ludeman was one of two councilmen who voted against the Domestic Partner Registry.

"A lot of it was my own religious beliefs, but I think I represented a conservative constituency who were opposed to it, gay and straight people," Mr. Ludeman said.

Mayor Bell told the Blade that he doesn't believe the benefits will present any financial strain and said it comes down to fairness:

"When you're the mayor, you represent everybody," the mayor said. "Inside the city we have a lot of different lifestyles. All I'm trying to do is be fair to everybody. ... I'm trying to adjust our polices to the obvious that's in front of us right now at this particular time in history."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

It's Just Politics
2:40 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Size does matter... in emergency manager repeal

Fourteen point font…

That is what is standing in the way, apparently, of you getting to decide whether or not the state’s emergency manager law stays intact. As Rick Pluta, co-host of It's Just Politics, notes the whole emergency manager repeal was stopped in its tracks, "by an attorney with a pica ruler." And it, quite literally means, size does matter... at least when it comes to petition drives in Michigan.

The back-story

The Board of State Canvassers yesterday morning deadlocked along party lines (two Republicans vs. two Democrats) on whether to put a referendum challenging the state's controversial emergency manager law on the ballot. Though Stand Up for Democracy, the group pushing to put a repeal on the ballot, had gathered more than 200,000 valid signatures (40,000 more than what was actually needed), Republicans on the board pointed to the use of an incorrect type size on the petition itself as grounds for denying it access to the November ballot.

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Pluta and I take a look at the politics behind the board's decision... and, I should tell you:  it's a little unsettling.

"Hyper-partisan"

"There's this board, the Board of State Canvassers, it's bi-partisan: two Democrats and two Republicans. They get to decide whether or not a petition - in this case, the petition to repeal the state's emergency manager law - gets on the ballot. This board is not non-partisan. In fact, it is hyper-partisan. [These board members] are chosen by their parties to represent their party's interests," Pluta explains. But, it's not just their party's interests that these board members are representing... they're also representing their own paychecks.

Conflict of interest?

"Jeff Timmer, one of the Republicans on the Board of State Canvassers, [who voted against allowing the petition to go on the November ballot] works for The Sterling Corporation, the political consulting firm that was actually behind the challenge to this ballot's font-size," Pluta explains. "The opponents of the referendum, Citizens for  Fiscal Responsibility, is a Sterling client. Sterling and the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility even share a business address."

But, Timmer isn't the only one with a possible conflict of interest. "There's a Democrat on the board, Julie Matuzak, she voted to to approve a different petition - one backed by unions. And her day job with the American Federation of Teachers was to run the signature-gathering for that petition drive. So, she voted to let a petition go forward when it was her job to get [that petition] on the ballot," Pluta explains.

Doomed from the beginning?

On the same day that the emergency manager petition was not approved, three other proposals were given the OK. It begs the question: was this emergency manager petition in trouble from the beginning? Was there anything that Stand Up for Democracy could have done to inoculate themselves?

"Well, actually, they could have gone to the election board before they even started to gather the signatures and make sure that they were in compliance [with the font size] but they decided against this. They said even if they had gotten the OK that it still would have seen legal challenges," Pluta explains.

"And, I have seen this before – this sort of paranoia that keeps people from going to the board first and then they get knee-capped like this after they’ve gone to the trouble and expense of gathering the signatures. Some campaign professionals I know are just smacking their heads over this. The attorney for Stand Up For Democracy says they didn’t want to get bogged down in legal challenges before they even got started. But, you know, two union-led petition drives that are just anathema to Republicans – including the one to preempt a right to work law – were recently approved," says Pluta.

What happens now?

So, here we are: for now, the state’s emergency manager law will not be on the ballot in November. But, the attorney for Stand Up for Democracy says they're going to appeal this decision to the state Court of Appeals. And, what will happen there? "More politics," Pluta explains. "People will be looking to see what appeals court  panel gets the case and whether it's made up of judges with Republican ties or judges with ties to Democrats," Pluta says.

And, wouldn't we all just be shocked - shocked, I say - if this repeal becomes politicized in the courts...

Offbeat
2:13 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Queen to enjoy "Great Lakes sea lamprey pie" at Diamond Jubilee

Old BBC newsreel of a Gloucester lamprey pie. The crust is not to be eaten.
BBC

According to the BBC, a sea-lamprey pie made for the monarchs in England by chefs in the city of Gloucester was a Christmas tradition that dated back to the Middle Ages.

The custom stalled in the 19th century, but has been revived of late for special occasions.

This year, Gloucester chefs plan to cook up a lamprey pie for Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee in June - marking 60 years of her reign.

And this time around, the lampreys in the pie will come from the Great Lakes.

The Detroit Free Press reports the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's Marc Gaden will gladly make an official delivery of the lampreys while vacationing in England this May.

Here, the lampreys are an invasive species that continue to threaten the sport fishing industry. But that's not the case in England:

Although lamprey used to be abundant in the Severn River near Gloucester, the creatures are now endangered and protected.

"It would be like us making a pie out of piping plover," an endangered shorebird in Michigan, Gaden said.

Gaden already has shipped 2 pounds of slimy Lake Huron lamprey, frozen, to Gloucester, but he is vacationing in England and will put on a tie and officially present the fish to the mayor May 4.

The Free Press reports chefs will consult an old recipe for the occasion:

One traditional 15th-Century recipe calls for the creature to be cooked in a sauce of wine, vinegar, cinnamon and its own blood, then baked in a tall crust...

[Marc]Gaden said he doesn't plan to eat any.

The BBC and the Free Press both report that no one can predict whether the Queen will partake in a piece of lamprey pie, or simply quietly admire it.

The BBC has a video about the Gloucester tradition of lamprey pie baking.

For more on how the sea lamprey snuck into the Lakes, check out "The Earliest Invader," a piece David Sommerstein did for the Environment Report's Ten Threats to the Great Lakes series.

Economy
1:26 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Michigan tells 13,000 low-income families they still could qualify for benefits

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan officials are sending letters to 13,000 low-income families who have lost cash assistance because they hit a five-year federal limit telling them they may still qualify for benefits under state law.

The notices will explain how families can reapply for monthly checks.

Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Neithercut ruled last month that recipients can't be cut off once they reach the five-year federal limit if they haven't also reached the state limit.

Michigan's four-year limit doesn't include months where a parent is needed at home to care for a disabled child or other family member. Those months count under the federal limit.

The Michigan Supreme Court declined to immediately hear an appeal. The state Department of Human Services has asked the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse Neithercut's decision.

Commentary
11:40 am
Fri April 27, 2012

Commentary: Democracy in peril

Sometimes it seems that everybody in the world is in favor of democracy, just as long as it gives them the result they want.

When that doesn’t happen, well, then they don’t like it so much. We saw two prime examples of this yesterday. The first was a state board of canvassers meeting, where the panel refused to put a repeal of the new emergency manager law on the ballot.

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Offbeat
10:39 am
Fri April 27, 2012

Michigan superhero "Bee Sting" arrested, other Michigan superheroes named

BeeSting's identity will be revealed at an arraignment expected this afternoon.
screen grab michiganprotectors.weebly.com/members.html

Another Michigan superhero has drawn the attention of local police.

Just as Petoskey Batman is wrapping up his probation, Bee Sting turns up in Burton, Michigan with a little shotgun mishap.

Read more
Auto/Economy
9:29 am
Fri April 27, 2012

3 bits of news from Ford Motor Company today

Ford

The first bit... Profits.

Ford reported  first quarter income this morning. The automaker says net income fell by 45 percent compared to a year earlier. Overall, net income totaled $1.4 billion, compared with $2.5 billion last year.

Ford says European sales plummeted and the company paid higher taxes.

The second bit... Pensions.

The company is planning to offer up lump-sum pension payments to 90,000 U.S. salaried retirees and U.S. salaried former employees.

In a statement, the company said this was part of their long term strategy to "de-risk its global funded pension plans."

If an individual elects to receive the lump-sum payment, the company’s pension obligation to the individual will be settled. This is the first time a program of this type and magnitude has been offered by a U.S. company for ongoing pension plans. Payouts will start later this year and will be funded from existing pension plan assets. This is in addition to the lump-sum pension payout option available to U.S. salaried future retirees as of July 1, 2012.

The New York Times reports the plan is to reduce liabilities to its underfunded pension plans:

Ford’s global pension plans had $74 billion in liabilities at the end of 2011 but were underfunded by $15.4 billion.

And the third bit... Consumer Demand.

Ford acknowledged they likely would not be able to keep up with pent-up consumer demand because of production constraints. Again, from the New York Times:

Ford this month increased its industry light-vehicle sales forecast for the United States in 2012 to a range of about 14.3 million to 14.8 million. But it said it expects its market share to decline because it will not be able to raise plant output quickly enough to match the market’s growth.

“We just simply can’t keep up with what we think will be the level of consumer demand,” Mr. Shanks said. “It’s not going to affect profitability because we’ll still build what we thought we would or a little bit more.”

Arts/Culture
8:00 am
Fri April 27, 2012

Detroit's Roaming Table mixes civic engagement and urban planning

The Roaming Table is part of Detroit Works' civic engagement efforts

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson last week debunked the conventional wisdom that Detroit has 40 square miles of vacant land. In her report she found that in all likelihood the number is probably closer to half that.

Which, if you think about it, is still a lot of empty land. 

Which is where the Detroit Works Project comes in -- that's the name of Mayor Dave Bing's revitalization plan for the city. The Detroit Works team has to figure out what to do with all that empty land. To help them find some answers, they're turning to Detroit's residents for help.

They're also enlisting the help of ... a table.

A table, you say?

Yes. But this is no ordinary table, dear reader. The purpose of this particular table is to "disrupt people’s everyday lives," according to Theresa Skora, who helped design it.

"It’s meant to fold up and be put into a car and be taken around," says Skora. Which is why they call it the Roaming Table.  And believe it or not this table – with its nifty green logo and stacks of glossy pamphlets – is key to the city's revitalization plan aka Detroit Works.

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