Auto/Economy
2:01 pm
Mon October 24, 2011

Senator Stabenow wants to expand tax break for bio-manufacturers

Senator Debbie Stabenow stopped at Zeeland Farm Services to announce her push for the tax break Monday. ZFS would get the incentive for their investments in bio-based manufacturing.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow is hoping to provide a 30-percent federal tax cut to companies expanding in bio-based manufacturing.

Congress approved the tax cut for advanced manufacturers in 2009. Stabenow wants to renew that tax break and expand it for companies developing bio-based products. Bio-manufacturing covers dozens of products. The idea is to use crops like soybeans and corn to create prescriptions drugs, plastics, and soaps instead of refined crude oil.

“If we can get to 20-percent,” Stabenow said, “This will make a huge difference.”

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Politics
11:16 am
Mon October 24, 2011

Sex Offender Registry: First, Do No Harm

For months, I’ve been corresponding with a lady named Virginia Hernandez, whose twenty-three year old son Elio is on Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry. He was accused of accosting a minor for immoral purposes, and pled guilty on the advice of his court-appointed counsel. His mom believes he is innocent, and was pressured into a plea. She says his attorney told him that he was poor, uneducated, and black, and a jury would never believe him.

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Politics
9:45 am
Mon October 24, 2011

Michigan House could vote on no-fault auto insurance changes this week

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

A proposal to drastically alter the state’s auto no-fault insurance law could come up for a vote as soon as this week in the state House. The House proposal includes a $50,000 appropriation that protects the measure from a voter-led ballot initiative to overturn the law via a referendum.

Democratic state Senator Bert Johnson says using referendum-proof language to shield controversial measures from being overturned by voters is a dangerous political game.

“We think that that limits voter protection as well. People should always be able to come and petition their government for what they believed the right thing is. And that’s the foundation of democracy in America, that’s what we’re built on," Johnson says.

If the proposed changes to the no-fault insurance law are approved as currently written, it would be the fourth time this year the Republican-led Legislature passed referendum-proof bills that were not part of the state budget.

What's Working
6:42 am
Mon October 24, 2011

Program teaches adults literacy skills, how to read

Every week on What’s Working, we take a look at people and organizations that are changing lives in Michigan for the better.

Ken Lampar is the director of Macomb Literacy Partners, a program that helps adults learn to read and improve their literacy skills.

Nearly 70,000 adults in Macomb County are functionally illiterate, meaning they can’t perform tasks like filling out a job application or reading a perscription. Though literacy rates vary across the state, an estimated 8% of adults in Michigan lack basic reading skills.

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China
11:53 pm
Sun October 23, 2011

Joint Institute program changes lives, in Ann Arbor, and in Shanghai

Instructor Kwee Yan  teaches Advanced Energy Solutions at the Joint Institute in Shanghai.  

He gives a lecture on the energy density of different fuels that's indistinguishable from a lecture that an engineering student might hear in Ann Arbor. 

"Some people say we are addicted to hydrocarbons, we are addicted to oil.  There are some technical reasons for that," says Kwee Yan, to a classroom of mostly male engineering students, just as in the U.S.

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Arts/Culture
2:32 pm
Sat October 22, 2011

'Answer This!' director Christopher Farah puts Ann Arbor in the spotlight

Director Christopher Farah and U of M Professor Ralph Williams (Professor Tarson)
http://answerthismovie.com

Answer This!, a film by University of Michigan alum Christopher Farah, takes you out to the bars of Ann Arbor, where diehard trivia teams—like the Ice Tigers —face off for a glory far greater than a round on the house.

The movie follows Paul Tarson, a U of M graduate student played by Christopher Gorham. Afraid to make any decisions about his post-academic life, Tarson redirects his intellectual energy toward a citywide pub trivia tournament, much to the disappointment of his professor father, played by real life U of M Professor Ralph Williams.

Funded in part by the now suspended Michigan Film Office incentives program, Answer This! was filmed almost entirely on the U of M campus and around Ann Arbor. It is the first movie to receive official sanction from the university.Farah said it was important for him to locate the film in his hometown. He and his brother Mike Farah, who produced the film, tried several bigger, broader scripts before settling on Answer This!.

“None of those stories really resonated with us,” said Farah. “We wanted to do something that would kind of take us back to something we could really connect with.”

Farah uses the locations in the film to create that same hometown feeling for moviegoers.

“What we did,” said Farah, “was try to take a lot of those places that go beyond the really famous Ann Arbor spots...no matter what town or what city it’s in, people can relate to those kind of places, whether it’s a great corner bar or a pond or rope swing that only they knew about back where they were growing up.”

For audiences from Ann Arbor, this has the effect of making the familiar seem epic.

“A sidewalk outside Ashley’s feels so big in the movie...When you walk by it, it just kind of feels like a sidewalk. But in a movie, it feels like A SIDEWALK,” said Farah. “It’s taking that Ann Arbor that we know, and is somehow blowing it up to cinematic proportions.”

Answer This! opens this weekend in Ann Arbor, Novi and Grand Rapids.

-Meg Cramer, Michigan Radio Newsroom 

 

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Politics
8:08 am
Sat October 22, 2011

Medical marijuana advocate warns of over-regulation

An advocate for medical marijuana in Michigan is urging state lawmakers against over-regulation.

Tim Beck of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers says the law was designed to give local governments a lot of latitude when it comes to regulating dispensaries.

“Ann Arbor has come up with some very excellent regulations on dispensaries. Security requirements - the City of Lansing has done that. The individuals that have had problems are the individuals that have been careless,” said Beck.

Beck acknowledges there are gaps in the law.

“We couldn’t put everything in a ballot initiative,” he said. “And I will admit, okay, we deliberately did not put anything about dispensaries in the law.”

Beck believes Michigan will legalize marijuana by 2016.

The state House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold hearings later this year on legislation that could settle confusion over the medical marijuana act.

- Chelsea Hagger - Michigan Public Radio Network

Politics
6:11 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Michigan's public defense system under review

Brian Turner Flickr

A state commission has begun work to ensure that everyone who is accused of a crime in Michigan gets an adequate legal defense.

Michigan allows every county to handle its own public defender system.

The system is frequently cited as one of the worst in the country.

That’s because some counties do a good job of ensuring that even people who cannot pay get a good lawyer. Other counties are more haphazard.

There are also no training standards for public defenders.

Retired Judge James Fischer chairs the commission.

“I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue that there are no problems with the system, that it’s working perfectly fine for everyone. I’m pretty certain that’s not going to be anyone’s position," said Fischer.

The commission’s first step was to approve a set of questions for every county to answer on how it assigns and pays public defenders.

One of the common complaints is that public defenders must take on too many cases to earn a living.

Peter Cunningham is with the Michigan Campaign for Justice.

We need to come up with an improved system for public defense in Michigan. There needs to be more accountability – a statewide structure for holding counties accountable for how public defense is delivered, if not a statewide system,” said Cunningham.

Governor Rick Snyder gave the commission until July of next year to come up with a set of recommendations – including a way to pay for a better public defender system.

Arts/Culture
5:25 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Massachusetts art museum sues Jack Kevorkian's estate

More than 20 paintings and other memorabilia by the late Jack Kevorkian are supposed to be auctioned off in New York next week.

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Politics
4:06 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Recall petition filed against Wayne County Executive Ficano

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.
Waynecounty.com

Troubles are mounting for Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano. A federal investigation and a recall effort are now under way.

An outcry over a 200-thousand-dollar payout given to Wayne County’s former development director is being investigated by the FBI, which served subpoenas this week asking for information about Turkia Mullin’s severance pay.

On Thursday, Ficano ended severance payments for all political appointees.

But Wayne County Commissioner Bernard Parker said there are still unanswered questions about the commission’s responsibilities:

"Do we have anything to do with the contracts for personnel? The administration says no," Parker said. "We think we should. Should all contracts come to us to be approved?  Again, there’s a difference on that.”

Former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino is leading the effort to recall Ficano.

Convertino, an attorney from Plymouth, represents a man who filed a whistleblower suit against Wayne County.

Changing Gears
3:43 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Recap: Everything you need to know about the Midwest economy's magic bullets

user jinglyjon Flickr

History is filled with searches for Magic Bullets.

Economically speaking, those are quick-fix endeavors that promise to fix sour economies, provide jobs and bring prosperity to communities and regions. Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson wrote earlier this week that, “Some have soared; many have backfired.”

Communities across the Midwest are employing a new round of Magic Bullets in attempts to rescue themselves from the Great Recession. All sound promising, but which ones stand up under further scrutiny?

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Politics
3:38 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Presidential hopeful Herman Cain stops by Detroit

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain was in Detroit touting his so-called “9-9-9” tax plan Friday.

That plan has come under attack for being unfair to lower-income people. But Cain says it has provisions for economically distressed cities like Detroit.

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Education
3:30 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Libyan training program to relaunch, leave Michigan

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan State University says a Libya-funded diplomatic and educational program for professionals from the North African nation halted this spring is restarting and participants will move to American University in Washington, D.C.

Michigan State spokesman Kent Cassella says the university learned this week - just before news of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's death - that Libya's National Economic Development Board would relaunch the two-year Visiting International Professionals Program.

Cassella says Michigan State also learned the program would consolidate all students to American University.

Cassella says Michigan State officials and the 19 remaining students are disappointed to lose the program that once included 35. Some returned to Libya and those who remained were provided
housing and other help from the university and community.

Messages were left Friday with American University.

Politics
3:23 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

FBI investigation could slow other probes into Wayne County severance scandal

Robert Ficano

A new FBI probe into Wayne County government may hamper the County Commissions’ effort to investigate the compensation of appointed employees.

The Commission’s Special Committee on appointee compensation met again Thursday. They expected to hear about an internal review by County Executive Robert Ficano’s office.

That review is looking into how former economic development director Turkia Awada Mullin got a $200,000 severance to leave that and become CEO of the Wayne County Airport Authority. She has since agreed to return the money.

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Politics
2:03 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Michigan Radio and Bridge Magazine to follow families banned from welfare

Over the course of the next year Michigan Watch, the investigative/accountability unit of Michigan Radio, and Bridge Magazine, the online magazine put together by the Center for Michigan, will be collaborating on coverage of Michigan families who were dropped from cash assistance welfare.

Auto/Economy
2:00 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

General Motors to invest $325 million at Warren transmission plant

General Motors officials said they will "create or retain" 418 jobs with a $325 million investment at a suburban Detroit transmission plant. The company says it will invest "in tools and equipment to support production of future electric vehicle components."

So which is it? Are they creating or retaining the jobs?

According this report in Crain's Detroit Business, 360 jobs will be created at the plant in Warren, Michigan as a result of the new UAW contract:

The company would not say how many of the 418 jobs will be new positions. But a summary of GM’s new four-year contract with the UAW said 360 jobs will be added at the plant for a new transmission that originally was to have been built in Mexico. The union said that the jobs were brought to the U.S. as part of the new contract.

At this point, GM is not revealing the timing for the project.

According to GM, 679 current employees at  the plant in Warren make transmissions for the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and the Chevrolet Malibu sedan.

From a GM press release:

“This investment in the future recognizes the excellent work force and operation of this plant,” said GM Manufacturing Manager Gerald Johnson. “While we aren’t sharing many details about this product, I can tell you that this investment demonstrates how GM, working with our UAW partners, continues to innovate and bring new electrification solutions to our customers.”

The 2.1 million square-foot plant, equivalent to the area of 15 city blocks, produced more than 338,000 transmissions in 2010.

“We are very proud of the membership of UAW Local 909 whose hard work and dedication to building quality products is why this new electric drive unit module is being built in the United States,” said Joe Ashton, UAW vice president representing the GM Department.  “These good paying, middle class jobs are very important for the State of Michigan and the Metro Detroit area.  It is the UAW’s goal to increase employment at GM and show the world that we can compete with anyone.”

Auto/Economy
1:16 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Ford's credit rating gets an upgrade

 NEW YORK (AP) - Standard & Poor's is raising Ford Motor Co.'s credit rating two notches, saying a new contract with auto workers will allow for continued profits at the car maker's North American operations.

S&P said Friday it was upgrading Ford to "BB+" - one level below investment-grade - from "BB-."

Ford shares are up 45 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $12.15 in late-morning trading.

Economy
10:35 am
Fri October 21, 2011

School debt a long-term burden for many graduates

Students attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Two-thirds of college students now graduate with debt, owing an average amount of $24,000.

Butch Dill AP

Originally published on Fri October 21, 2011 12:01 am

With the nation's student-loan debt climbing toward $1 trillion, it's taking many young people longer than ever to pay off their loans. Two-thirds of college students now graduate with debt, owing an average of $24,000. But some borrow far more and find this debt influencing major life decisions long after graduation.

"I was very naive, and I realize that now," says Stephanie Iachini, of Altoona, Pa. She was the first in her family to go to college and financed it herself. "Basically I was just signing papers because the education part meant a lot to me."

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Auto/Economy
9:53 am
Fri October 21, 2011

Keeping An Eye On Chrysler

There was a fair amount of anxiety in automotive circles over the new contracts hammered out between the United Auto Workers union and Ford and General Motors. GM remains the largest Detroit automaker, and this was the first post-bankruptcy contract.

The pact didn’t give workers as much as some had hoped for, and it did nothing to eliminate the new two-tier wage system that many old-time union members especially hate.

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Sports Commentary
6:36 am
Fri October 21, 2011

What does it mean to be a "Michigan Man"?

Fielding Yost used the term "Michigan Man" in speeches. Yost on the sideline at right coaching the University of Michigan's 1902 football team against Minnesota.
wikimedia commons

The term “Michigan Man” probably goes back to the day men arrived at Michigan.

But it’s taken more than a few twists and turns since – and not always for the better.

Fielding Yost gave the term “Michigan Man” a boost when he started using it in his speeches.

But the phrase really took off in 1989, when Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler announced he was firing basketball coach Bill Frieder, on the eve of the NCAA basketball tournament, because Frieder had signed a secret deal to coach Arizona State the next season.

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