Government
5:38 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Michigan Gov. declares "state of emergency" after storms and flooding

user tanakawho Flickr

Today, Gov. Rick Snyder declared a "state of emergency" in Genesee County following the severe flooding near Flint, Michigan on May 3 and 4.

The declaration makes state resources available to help with damage resulting from the storms and flooding.

Federal resources could follow.

More from the Governor's office:

The declaration, outlined in a proclamation, was requested by local officials and will ensure that all possible resources, in accordance with the Michigan Emergency Management Plan, are provided to assist local response efforts.

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Economy
4:49 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

India-based IT company bringing jobs to Jackson

Rajeev Sawhney, V.P. with HCL Technologies LLC
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The city of Jackson’s economy is getting a big boost.

An India-based IT company announced today it will expand its operation in the mid-Michigan city.

HCL Technologies LLC is a global IT services company with 90 thousand employees.    The training and development hub its opening in Jackson will create several hundred jobs during the next few years.

Rajeev Sawhney is a vice president with HCL.   He says the training center should employ 300 people within the next two years.

"And possibly 500 people given that most of our Midwest clients have shown a lot of interest in wanting to avail of the facilities that will come out of this center in Jackson," says Sawhney.

HCL is partnering with Jackson-based Consumer Energy, which will allow the utility’s employees to receive advanced technology training. 

The hundreds of new jobs will be welcome in Jackson, which like many Michigan cities has seen a long decline in job opportunities.

 

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Politics
4:40 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Snyder wants e-retailers to collect Michigan sales tax

user Kcdtsg wikimedia commons

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is appealing to lawmakers in Washington to make online retailers collect state sales tax.

Melissa Anders from MLive.com reports that Gov. Snyder sent a letter to U.S. Senate leaders this week expressing his support for the Marketplace Fairness Act. The law would require companies doing business online to calculate sales tax based on customer location and collect the taxes on behalf of states.

Governor Snyder reportedly sees the law as "a way to level the playing field between brick-and-mortar shops and online retailers like Amazon.com and Overstock.com," Anders writes.

In the letter, Snyder also sights fiscal concerns:

"The Michigan Department of Treasury estimates that total revenue lost to e-commerce and mail-order purchases will amount to $872 million during fiscal years 2012 and 2013...it is crucial that the state has the tools to fairly collect the revenue that it is owed. The Marketplace Fairness act would provide states with the authority to do just that."

Michigan residents are already required to pay a "use tax" of 6 percent on their income tax returns for purchases made online. But it's difficult to enforce and few taxpayers heed the rule.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Transportation
4:26 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Gov. Snyder says recent bridge discussion with Canadian officials "a good meeting"

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder talks to reporters after an announcement in Jackson
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Governor Rick Snyder declined to say a lot about his recent meeting with Canadian officials about the proposed new Detroit-Windsor bridge.

The high level, closed door meeting took place in Windsor on Thursday. 

Snyder would only say it was a “good meeting”.

"We continue to have dialogue…and as I’ve said from day one…I’m continuing to work on getting a bridge built," says Snyder,  "Because it is in the interest of more and better jobs in Michigan.  It’s about more and better trade.   And so we’re going to continue working on getting the new international trade crossing done.”

The governor says he hopes to make progress on the bridge project in “the near term.”

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge have been funding a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign against the proposed new bridge.

Last year, the Michigan legislature rejected a proposal that would have had Canada loan Michigan a half billion dollars for its share of the construction costs.

Arts & Culture
4:17 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

A Mother's Day story

During the past year, Michigan-based writer Wade Rouse has been sharing personal stories about the holidays.

Mother’s Day is Sunday May 13, and today Wade shares a story about an especially memorable Mother’s Day for him.

Wade Rouse is a Michigan-based writer and the author of It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine (A Memoir).

It's Just Politics
4:02 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Governor Snyder thinks Michigan's economy is improving; Mitt Romney: Not so much

It's Just Politics, May 11th, 2012
Gage Skidmore Flickr

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta and I take a look at the politics of taking credit for a good economy. Governor Snyder says Michigan's economy is improving but that's not the story that Mitt Romney wants to tell.

Zoe Clark: Rick, I have a great idea for this week's show!

Rick Pluta: Actually, Zoe, I think maybe it was someone else’s idea first.

Mitt Romney: “So, I’ll take a lot of credit...”

RP: That’s our cheap setup for the fact that Mitt Romney paid a visit to Michigan this week.

ZC: Indeed, he campaigned this week at Lansing Community College.

RP: Prior to hitting the ground here in Lansing, Romney gave an interview with an Ohio TV station, where he said President Obama really followed his plan - the Romney plan - for the bailout of the auto industry.

ZC: And, so, there’s this disconnect. Was the bailout bad? Or, wasn’t it? Governor Rick Snyder – a Romney supporter -- says it’s time to just stop talking about it.

Rick Snyder: “I think too much time is spent on the whole bailout question. It worked, it's done, it's over with. There's  other ways it probably could have been done. But, the point is it was successful."

RP: So, move on, folks. There’s nothing more to see here. Let’s change the subject. And this speaks to the sometimes awkward dance between governors and presidential candidates -- when they are from the same political party.  Rick Snyder is telling people things are looking up.

Snyder: “Now, if you look at where we're at, we’re the comeback state in the United States today.”

RP: The “comeback state,” outpacing the nation in job creation, manufacturing on the rise. And Mitt Romney?

Romney: “These last few years have been hard on the people in Lansing and frankly they've been hard on the people of America. “

ZC: Not hearing that relentless positivity there.

RP: This guy’s harshin’ my mellow. 

ZC: Rick Snyder does say there’s more work to be done. That Washington needs a healthy dose of what’s working in Michigan. But that’s not Romney’s message.

RP: Right. Where Rick Snyder says life is good and getting better, Mitt Romney says you’re worse off than you might have been. It’s not good, and whatever might be good is going to head south without some change.  

ZC: This dichotomy is not new. In the 1990s, the economy was booming John Engler was the Republican governor of Michigan, Bill Clinton, the Democratic president. When it came to that success…

RP: Credit for a good economy wasn’t a problem for Governor Jennifer Granholm. With George W.Bush in the White House, the economy was bad and it was a battle of blame. And it became mutually assured political destruction - we saw that by the time the time both of them office - Bush in 2009, Granholm on January first of 2011 - they were both pretty unpopular.  

ZC: That speaks to a few things, but one of them is people seeking office will cast a lot of blame for the bad, lay claim to the good, but there are really a lot of things outside their control that will decide the state of the economy and the state of their popularity.

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Arts & Culture
3:19 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

DSO hosts Kid Rock Saturday

Maia C Flickr

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will accompany Kid Rock in a benefit concert. The orchestra is carrying a 54-million dollar debt. The goal of the event is to raise 1-million dollars for the orchestra. That money will be used for community outreach and education efforts. The concert will be at the Fox Theater Saturday night. Paul Hogle is the Executive Vice President of the DSO. He says while the DSO has faced struggles, he's optimistic of the orchestra's future.

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Environment & Science
3:00 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Pet food contamination discovered by Michigan agency

14 brands of dog food are under a recall
user rudyspetsupply MySpace

The CDC issued a dog food recall last month after they found Salmonella contamination in some packages of Diamond Naturals Lamb and Rice Formula for Adult Dogs. The recall has since been expanded to 14 dog food brands.

The contamination has led to human illnesses, according to the CDC.

From the Associated Press:

"People who became ill, the thing that was common among them was that they had fed their pets Diamond Pet Foods," said CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell.

Three people each were infected in Missouri and North Carolina; two people in Ohio; and one person each in Alabama, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the CDC said.

"Our folks are really wanting people to be aware of it. They want to be aware that this is causing people to get sick because they may have product in their homes. For every one that is reported, there may be 29 others," Russell

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development says their Pesticide and Plant Pest Management division first discovered the problem on April 2.

They say as part of their "routine retail animal feed surveillance" they discovered Salmonella Infantis in a sample of the Diamond brand dog food.

From MDARD's press release:

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) and other public health agencies have partnered to identify human illnesses that are related to this outbreak using genetic "fingerprints" of Salmonella bacteria obtained through laboratory testing. MDARD and MDCH continue to work closely with other states, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the investigation.

“Safe animal feed is a vital component of the food chain and has a direct impact on food safety. This is an important case study on how animal feed safety and human health are connected,” said Keith Creagh, MDARD Director “MDARD's participation in the Food and Drug Administration’s Rapid Response Team and animal feed safety programs has provided significant  assistance in helping identify and reduce food  and feed safety hazards.”

MDARD officials say Salmonella infections can be spread between animals and people, and that people should follow these tips when handling pet food:

  • clean pet dishes with soap and warm water
  • wash hands after feeding pets and cleaning up their waste
  • use designated feeding utensils
  • keep pet food in original containers and at the proper temperatures (keep dry food dry)
  • canned food should be refrigerated after opening
  • keep infants and small children away from pet feeding areas
  • do not allow infants and small children to touch or eat animal food

Your pet could have a Salmonella infection if it shows the following signs:

  • lethargy
  • diarrhea or bloody diarrhea
  • fever
  • vomiting

Officials say some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever, and abdominal pain.

Contact your veterinarian if your pet has consumed one of the recalled products and shows these symptoms.

Health
1:33 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Lawmakers target production, sales of synthetic marijuana

Varieties of synthetic marijuana
N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs

Michigan lawmakers are making another attempt to outlaw sales of over-the-counter synthetic marijuana.

The drug is sometimes labeled as incense or potpourri  and is sold under a variety of names at convenience stores and other small shops.

The distributors often change the chemical contents or packaging to skirt current laws.

A sweeping Senate bill targets the artificial pot  and a host of other possible additives, including opiates and amphetamines.

Dr. Norb Kaminski is a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University.

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Environment & Science
12:37 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Michigan DEQ clarifies comments on drilling accidents

On The Environment Report yesterday, we heard from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Communications Director Brad Wurfel about his agency's views on the safety of hydraulic fracturing.

In the interview, he said drillers have been using hydraulic fracturing since the 1960's to drill vertical wells. 

We pointed out there are important differences between traditional vertical drilling and a newer method called horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The new method allows drillers to get natural gas that's much deeper underground.

One of the things to note:

With the more traditional, vertical hydraulic fracturing we’re talking about tens of thousands of gallons of water – horizontal hydraulic fracturing uses millions of gallons.

This is water that’s contaminated and cannot be used again.

In the interview, Brad Wurfel said:

"In 50 years and 12,000 wells around the state, we’ve never had to respond to an environmental emergency with hydraulic fracturing."

I followed up with him on this point today, to ask about this leak that my colleague Lester Graham reported on in February 2011:

The Associated Press reports a leak has shut down a drilling operation not too far from Traverse City.

It's not yet clear whether it will damage underground water sources.  It does raise questions as to whether Michigan regulations are adequate to protect the environment while exploiting the gas reserves in the state.

Here is Wurfel's response:

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Crime
11:54 am
Fri May 11, 2012

West Michigan man admits fraud in disability program

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A Grand Rapids man has agreed to plead guilty to fraud after the government says he collected nearly $400,000 in disability payments despite working at a family business.

A document filed Friday in federal court say Donald Freybler collected the money for 16 years, although he may not be on the hook for the entire $400,000. His plea deal allows him to argue to a judge that some payments were legitimate.

The 53-year-old Freybler admits he worked at a family trophy business and put it in his wife's name and Social Security number to conceal income. He says he greeted customers, took orders and occasionally made trophies and plaques.

Commentary
10:54 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Commentary: Grass-roots health care

Nobody would dispute that health care is one of the biggest issues facing this nation. And virtually everyone, regardless of their politics, is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Next month, the nation’s highest court will announce its decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Congress passed two years ago.

Their decision will have a major impact on this nation. But in Ferndale, a small, charming, quirky, and largely working class Detroit suburb, a tiny group hasn’t been waiting.

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Sports Commentary
9:28 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Women in sports: Title IX and the "Battle of the Sexes"

Billie Jean King playing Bobbie Riggs in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes"

This week, the University of Michigan celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX, with a host of speakers and panels discussing the historic legislation and its impact on girls, women and the United States itself. 

Before Title IX, only one in 30 girls played high school sports. 

Today, more than half do. 

After a single paragraph, and an unforgettable tennis match, that changed our nation forever.

It all started pretty quietly. 

Just a sentence buried in the back of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. 

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

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News Roundup
8:23 am
Fri May 11, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, May 11th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Senate Passes Industrial Tax Phase Out

The state Senate voted yesterday to phase out a tax on most industrial and business property in Michigan. "The tax is a big revenue generator for school districts and local governments. Senate Republicans amended their original plan so it now provides some assurances it won’t force big cuts to education and other services. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the tax on industrial equipment, in particular, is so unique it drives investment elsewhere. Democrats say the rollback is part of a pattern in Lansing of shifting the tax burden from businesses to individuals," Rick Pluta reports.

Bing Appoints a Detroit CFO

Jack Martin has been appointed chief financial officer in Detroit. Sarah Hulett reports:

The CFO is one of two key positions in the effort to turnaround the city's troubled finances. Martin served as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education several years ago, and in January he was picked to be the state-appointed emergency manager of Highland Park schools. The Detroit native says he also helped turn around Washington D.C.'s municipal finances. Martin will work alongside a still-unnamed program management director, and a financial advisory board. He starts the job on Monday with a yearly salary of $220,000.

Snyder Talks Bridge in Canada

Governor Snyder visited Windsor, Ontario yesterday to discuss plans with Canadian officials for another bridge across the Detroit River. Ken Silfven, a spokesman for the Governor says the administration, “remains committed to a Canadian-U.S. collaboration to build a span to supplement the privately owned Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The Windsor Star reports that U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson also attended the meeting. Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun has been fiercely battling the proposal with ads and lobbying. He seeks to add a span to his own bridge instead,” the Associated Press reports.

Politics
8:07 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Ralliers in Lansing call for measure to ban use of "foreign" laws by courts

About 150 people met in Lansing yesterday to support a bill banning foreign or religious laws in Michigan. The measure would forbid courts from using such laws in their deliberations. A lot of the commentary at the meeting was directed against Sharia laws that are used in some Islamic traditions. 

Tom Craig of Spring Lake attended the rally. “The thing I’m concerned about is foreign influences in our court system. I think the United States was founded on its constitution, not the constitution or the will of some foreign country,” Craig says.

Republican state Representative David Agema sponsored the measure. “It’s just simply protecting your constitutional rights, whether state or federal, from any foreign law that allows you to lose it in a court of law and progressive judges are allowing this to occur, so the purpose is to clarify public policy. That’s what this bill does,” Rep. Agema says.

The rally and the legislation was condemned by the Michigan Catholic Conference. The conference says the law could lead to courts meddling in religious affairs.

State Legislature
8:02 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Michigan Senate votes to phase out industrial tax

Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

The Michigan Senate has voted to phase out an industrial tax that’s a big revenue generator for school districts and local governments. Republicans amended their original plan to make sure much

of that money for local services and education would be replaced.

State Senate Majority Richardville says if money from the state falls below a certain level, communities could return to taxing industrial property.   

“It’s kind of a poison pill, as we call it in legislative jargon, where, if we don’t keep our promises than the whole program disappears, so it forces the state government to say we will keep you at the level we say it will,” Richardville says.

Richardville acknowledges there’s no way to guarantee schools and local governments won’t see some reductions. The money for the replacement would come from the sunset of other tax breaks.

Republicans say Michigan’s tax on business and industrial property is unique in the Midwest and drives investment elsewhere.

The Senate rejected efforts by Democrats to link the tax phase-out to job creation targets.

Investigative
6:42 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Windsor residents demand a stop to noise from Zug Island in U.S.

Thousands of people in Windsor, Ontario, say they are being invaded by an obnoxious noise emanating from outside Detroit. They call it the "Windsor Hum" and it's really two sounds — a deep, very low-frequency hum, like a diesel truck idling in your driveway, and a deep, vibrating pulse that you feel more than you hear.

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Politics
6:17 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Jack Martin named Detroit CFO

Jack Martin has has been appointed chief financial officer in Detroit. That's one of two key positions in the effort to turnaround the city's troubled finances.

Martin served as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education several years ago, and in January he was picked to be the state-appointed emergency manager of Highland Park schools.

The Detroit native says he also helped turn around Washington D.C.'s municipal finances. 

"That effort was successful," Martin says." I'm confident that this initiative will be successful. But I know it won't be easy. It will be a very, very tough struggle."

Martin will work alongside a still-unnamed program management director, and a financial advisory board. He starts the job on Monday with a yearly salary of $220,000.

Politics
4:26 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Visualization of gay rights and restrictions in U.S.

The Guardian's data visualization of gay rights in the U.S. Go to the link below to see the interactive version.
The Guardian

The rights of gay and lesbian Americans leaped into the national spotlight again after President Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage. He made the announcement a day after North Carolinians voted to become the 30th state in the U.S. to place a ban on same-sex marriage.

Michigan voters banned same-sex marriages in 2004.

Some states have done the opposite. They've passed laws expressly allowing same sex marriages.

And then there are laws on adoption. Some states allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly. Other states have banned the practice.

Laws restricting and protecting gay Americans vary widely from state to state. There are laws regarding hospital visitation, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, hate crimes, and harassment in schools.

The national picture on gay and lesbian legal rights and restrictions is jumbled and difficult to explain.

But a unique form of journalism - data visualization journalism - can help bring light to the overall picture.

That's just what The Guardian has done with U.S. state laws that address gay and lesbian issues.

In one look, you can see which states have adopted laws protecting the rights of gays and lesbians, and which states have passed laws restricting their rights.

The Guardian's color wheel shows that in the Midwest, Iowa stands out legislatively as a "gay friendly" state, while states like Michigan would decidedly not be seen that way.

Michigan, Mississippi, and Utah are the only states that expressly ban same-sex marriages and joint adoption by same-sex couples.

Take a look at their color wheel and let us know what you think of it.

HT to GG

Arts & Culture
4:16 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Tower without power now has power again

Battle Creek's Heritage Tower
(Courtesy of Skyscraperpage.com)

Update 4:15pm

The power is back on at Battle Creek's Heritage Tower. 

Consumer Energy shut off electricity to the building due to a dispute with the 80 year old building's owner. 

The power outage affected wireless and 911 service in part of Battle Creek.   

The utility issued a statement after restoring power to the tower:

"Consumers Energy understands how important it is to the city of Battle Creek to have a fully functioning 911 system and cellular telephone service. Finding a solution to this issue was a priority for us, and we worked closely with the local officials and many others to find this temporary solution."

 

Original Post   4:48pm

A power outage this week could force the last tenants out of Battle Creek’s Heritage Tower. The owner apparently failed to pay the building’s utility bill.  

The 80 -year-old Heritage Tower is acknowledged as an Art Deco gem. But in recent years, various problems have left the 19-story building largely vacant.

Cheryl Beard is with Battle Creek Unlimited. She says the economic development group is willing to work with the owner to help bring the city’s iconic downtown tower back to life.

“If the owner is interested in selling…maybe we look for parties that are interested in acquiring it. If that’s what they desire,” says Beard, “Or with coming up with a plan for redevelopment and searching for tenants.”

Efforts to contact the Florida business that owns the Heritage Tower have been unsuccessful.

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