Food
4:10 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

Ground beef recalled, Kroger stores in Michigan not affected

Officials say, based on the latest information, the ground beef recall does not affect Michigan Kroger stores.
Daniel Jordahl Flickr

First, a deadly listeria outbreak on Colorado cantaloupes, now a ground beef E. coli scare affecting some Kroger generic brands.

In a recall release, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service says 131,300 pounds of ground beef products from Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. are being recalled because of possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

E. coli O157:H7 can make a dangerous Shiga toxin. CDC officials say the toxin "can attack the body in several areas: the gut (causing bloody diarrhea), the kidneys (causing kidney failure), and sometimes the nervous system."

The Associated Press reports the recall occurred when an Ohio family fell ill after eating the meat contaminated with E. coli:

The recall involves beef sold as Kroger and generic brands at Kroger supermarkets; Butcher's Beef at Food Lion supermarkets; and generic beef sold to SAV-A-LOT, Spectrum Foods, Supervalu and the Defense Commissary Agency...

According to Michigan Kroger officials, the meat recall does not affect its stores:

At this time, Michigan Kroger stores are not affected by this recall.

“The Kroger ground beef products sold in our stores in Michigan are not included in this recall,” said Dale Hollandsworth, Customer Communications Manager, The Kroger Co. of Michigan. “If a recall were to occur in Michigan, Kroger would initiate our customer recall notification system to alert all customers who may have purchased recalled product.”

USDA officials say "the products subject to recall have a "BEST BEFORE OR FREEZE BY" date of "SEP 12 2011" and the establishment number "245D" ink jetted along the package seam."

Here are the latest details from the USDA on the specific types of ground beef being recalled:

  • 5-pound chubs of Kroger-brand "GROUND BEEF 73% LEAN - 27% FAT," packed in 40-pound cases containing eight chubs. Cases bear an identifying product code of "D-0211 QW." These products were produced on Aug. 23, 2011 and were shipped to distribution centers in Ind. and Tenn. for retail sale.
     
  • 3-pound chubs of Butcher’s Brand "GROUND BEEF 73% LEAN - 27% FAT," packed in 36-pound cases each containing 12 chubs. Cases bear an identifying product code of "D-0211 LWIF." These products were produced on Aug. 23, 2011 and were shipped to distribution centers in N.C. and S.C. for retail sale.
     
  • 3-pound chubs of a generic label "GROUND BEEF 73% LEAN - 27% FAT," packed in 36-pound cases each containing 12 chubs. Cases bear an identifying product code of "D-0211 LWI." These products were produced on Aug. 23, 2011 and were shipped to distribution centers in Del., Fla., Ga., Md., Ill., Ind., Mo., N.Y., Ohio, Tenn., Texas and Wis. for retail sale.

Politics
3:24 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

Charges stand in Grand Rapids medical marijuana case

Prosecutors in Grand Rapids are pursuing criminal charges against a man permitted to grow medical marijuana. They say he had too many plants.
user paigefiller Flickr

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Prosecutors in Grand Rapids can pursue drug charges against a man who is permitted to grow medical marijuana but was caught with too many plants.

The Michigan appeals court says the 88 plants seized by police a year ago were too many for Ryan Bylsma. The court on Wednesday agreed with a Kent County judge who has refused to dismiss the
case.

Bylsma is a registered caregiver for two people, which means he can grow 24 plants. But the commercial space he controlled in Grand Rapids had dozens more. Bylsma says the plants belonged to other caregivers and people permitted to use marijuana to alleviate health problems.

The appeals court says Michigan's marijuana law is strict: Bylsma can't have access to marijuana grown for others.

Politics
3:24 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

State to close Mound prison

State prison officials say Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit will close in January as part of a broader effort to cut costs by more than $60 million a year.

Mound will be the 15th correctional facility to close in about five years. The state’s prison population is down about 8,300 inmates since March of 2007.

One of the reasons Mound was chosen for closure is because there are other facilities that are relatively close by, says Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan:

Read more
Auto/Economy
3:07 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

UAW membership approves 4-year deal with GM

A view from GM's Headquarters. The UAW membership and GM have agreed to a four-year contract. The team from Changing Gears share their analysis.
user santoshkrishnan Flickr

Update - 3:07 p.m.

More thoughts on the newly ratified UAW-GM contract from Micky Maynard with Changing Gears:

General Motors gave some new details today on its just-ratified agreement with the United Auto Workers union. Among them: up to 25 percent of its workforce could be “two-tiers” — new hires at lower rates than veteran workers.

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson profiled two-tier workers last year. Right now, they’re only 4 percent of GM’s workforce, but the auto company clearly has plans for more of them.

There’s a caveat, though. In order for GM to hire more workers, auto sales have to pick up, company executives said during a conference call with Wall Street analysts. And it isn’t promising to hire the same number of workers as it sees sales go up: it will study its staffing needs and hire accordingly. 

The new contract runs through 2015 and caps the number of “two-tiers” at 25 percent at the end of the contract. It calls for the new hires to get a raise to nearly $20 an hour by 2015 (veteran workers are paid about $28 an hour now).

Other GM highlights:

  • The number of people working in its U.S. factories has dropped sharply. GM had 110,000 hourly production workers in 2005, according to its presentation. In 2008, the year before it filed for bankruptcy production, GM had 78,000 U.S. workers. Now, GM has just 49,000 hourly workers, or less than half what it had six years ago.
  • For the first time in 58 years, GM does not expect its pension expense to rise under the new contract. One reason is that newly hired workers will not be covered by GM’s traditional pension plan; they will receive a 401(k) retirement program instead.
  • GM says it still has 700 workers laid off from their jobs. They have first dibs on jobs at GM plants, including the workers it plans to hire when it reopens its factory in Spring Hill, Tenn. Once those workers have been offered the chance to come back, then GM will hire new workers, including temporaries.

Read more about the GM contract in The New York Times.

1:05 p.m.

More from Pete Bigelow of Changing Gears:

General Motors became the first domestic automaker to reach an official agreement on a new contract with members of the United Auto Workers union Wednesday afternoon.

The UAW said in a written release that 65 percent of production workers and 63 percent of skilled trade workers voted in favor of the agreement, which had been tentatively agreed upon Sept 16. A four-year contract provides a wage increase for entry-level workers, and goes into effect immediately.

The agreement would create 6,400 jobs in the United States, the release said.

“When it seems like everyone in America is getting cuts in benefits and paying higher co-pays and deductibles, we were able to maintain and improve on our current benefits,” said UAW vice president Joe Ashton.

GM CEO Dan Akerson is expected to hold a conference call with Wall Street analysts at 2 p.m.

12:37 p.m.

The deal is complete. UAW members officially ratified their contract with General Motors.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The UAW said today that its members have ratified a new four-year labor agreement with GM that gives workers a $5,000 signing bonus and is expected to preserve or add 6,400 U.S. jobs.

It is the first contract for 48,500 GM hourly workers since the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring.

The union said the vote was 65% in favor of the agreement among production workers, and 63% in favor among skilled-trades workers.

Investigative
2:57 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

ICE sweep nets 58 arrests in Michigan

A week-long sweep by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resulted in the arrest of 58 in illegal aliens with prior criminal convictions.
nancybechtol Morguefile

More than 2,900 convicted criminals in the U.S. illegally were arrested in a week-long sweep.

All of the men arrested in Michigan were  from countries including Mexico, Iraq, Serbia, Poland and India.

Khaalid Walls is with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcemen, known as “ICE.”

He says the seven-day operation was the largest of its kind and had help from state and local law enforcement.

Read more
Education
2:51 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

Ex-principal accused of union fund embezzlement

A former Highland Park school official is accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from his union.

Samuel Craig was assistant principal at Highland Park Community High School. He was also treasurer of the union representing the district’s administrators.

Joy Yearout is with state attorney general Bill Schuette’s office.

She says Craig is accused of stealing more than $36,000 from the union.

Read more
Indictment
1:56 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

Three corporate executives indicted in compressor price-fixing case

A refrigerator compressor. The thing that makes your refrigerator cold. Three executives have been indicted by a Detroit federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to fix the price of compressors.
Dave Matos Flickr

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury in Detroit has indicted three former executives from a Whirlpool Corporation subsidiary, a Panasonic Corporation, and a Tecumseh Products Company subsidiary for conspiring to fix prices on refrigerant compressors.

The compressors are used in refrigerators and freezers.

From the DOJ's press release:

The indictment, returned today in U.S. District Court in Detroit, charges Ernesto Heinzelmann, former president and chief executive officer of Empresa Brasileira de Compressores S.A. (Embraco), a division of Whirlpool S.A.; Gerson Veríssimo, former president of Tecumseh do Brasil Ltda., a subsidiary of Tecumseh Products Company; and Naoki Adachi, general manager of global sales & SE group, refrigeration devices division at Panasonic Corporation, with conspiring to suppress and eliminate competition by coordinating price increases for refrigerant compressors to customers in the United States and elsewhere.

Sharis A. Pozen, Acting Assistant Attorney General from the DOJ's Antitrust Division said:

“Cracking down on international price fixing cartels has been and will continue to be among the most significant priorities for the Antitrust Division. Our investigation into the refrigerant compressors industry has already resulted in two companies – Panasonic and Embraco North America – pleading guilty and paying a total of $140.9 million in criminal fines. Our investigation is continuing.”

The three are being charged for price fixing under the Sherman Act. The maximum penalty they each face is 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The DOJ reports that their investigation led to guilty pleas in 2010 from Panasonic and Embraco North America Inc:

On Nov. 15, 2010, Panasonic Corporation pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $49.1 million criminal fine, and on Dec.16, 2010, Embraco North America Inc. pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $91.8 million criminal fine.

Trade Mission
12:12 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

Snyder: Tokyo visit welcome chance to show support

Gov. Rick Snyder meets with Takamichi Matsushita, president of Eco Research Institute of Tokyo (center). Pictured with Snyder is Carol Miller, right, of Midland Tomorrow, and ERI leadership officials.
Governor Snyder's office

Governor Rick Snyder has left Japan, and is now in China. Beijing is the second stop on his four-city Asian trade mission.

Snyder said the Tokyo visit was a welcome chance to show some support for Japan.

"Because they're still recovering from March 11thin terms of the tsunami and earthquake, and they're a great people, and they really appreciate the outpouring of support from Michigan after that happened," said Snyder.

Michigan already has about 500 Japanese companies doing business in the state.

Snyder said there are even more opportunities to increase trade with Japan. That's in part because some Japanese companies are considering an increase in overseas production after the tsunami.

Snyder goes to Shanghai next, then Seoul, before returning to Michigan on Saturday.

Commentary
11:43 am
Wed September 28, 2011

Food Assistance: Losing the Lottery

My favorite new magazine is nice to look at, isn’t printed on paper, and has eye-opening new information about our state twice a week. It’s called Bridge, and it is published online by the non-partisan, non-profit Center for Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Best of all, it’s free. The title comes from the magazine’s purpose, which is to inform citizens in both peninsulas about the serious issues facing our state -- but do so in an interesting, well-written way, according to Center for Michigan founder Phil Power.

Read more
News Roundup
9:16 am
Wed September 28, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Palisades nuclear power plant remains shut down

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant 55 southwest of Grand Rapids is still shut down.

From the Associated Press:

Operators of the plant said in a statement Wednesday that the plant remains out of service after an electrical breaker fault automatically prompted the shutdown Sunday.

Repairs were being made this week. New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. owns Palisades and says no one was hurt in the shutdown...

It was shut down Sept. 16 because of a loss of water in a cooling system, then brought back on the grid last week.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspected the plant in August after a water pump component failed.

Michigan Republicans continue education policy debate

The Associated Press reports that Governor Rick Snyder's administration and Republicans in the legislature will continue to push their education overhaul proposals this week. From the AP:

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is scheduled to discuss the administration's education proposals Wednesday at a Lansing conference hosted by The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University.

The Republican leaders of committees dealing with education policy also are scheduled to attend.

The conference comes as lawmakers are debating multiple bills related to education policy in the state Legislature. A package of bills in a Senate committee would let students transfer to other schools more easily and have a broader choice of charter schools and online learning options.

Michigan State University to test "Head Start on Science" for preschoolers

MSU will test a new program aimed at teaching preschoolers science. The effort is funded by the National Science Foundation. From an MSU news release:

The five-year effort, called Head Start on Science, is funded by a $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It’s designed to get educators more comfortable teaching science to 3- to 5-year-olds – a task that’s especially important for low-income and minority children who often start school with less preparation for science learning than affluent students, said lead researcher Laurie Van Egeren.

Arts/Culture
7:00 am
Wed September 28, 2011

North Woods: Artists set up shop in Calumet

As part of our series, Stories from the North Woods, we head to Calumet in the Keweenaw Peninsula. The town has been struggling to re-discover itself ever since the area's copper boom died out more than 50 years ago.

The town that time forgot

Artist Ed Gray remembers when the last mine closed in Calumet in the late 1960s:

"A lot of people moved to Detroit, a lot of people moved to various areas where there was employment. The town wasn’t really a ghost town, I wouldn’t say, but...it stood still."

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government
7:45 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Talks about Grand Rapids, Kent County merger will go on

Grand Rapids City Hall and the Kent County building sit next to each other next to Calder Plaza downtown.
Steven Depolo Creative Commons

Discussions about a proposal to merge the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County into a single unit of government will move forward despite numerous concerns about the final outcome.

Earlier this year a group of business leaders launched the “One Kent Coalition”. They didn’t really inform the city or the county of their plan ahead of time so initially there was a backlash against it. Many government leaders, like Grand Rapids City Commissioner Dave Shaffer, remain cautious.

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Politics
6:39 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Clarke pushes for Detroit "trust fund"

Hansen Clarke

Congressman Hansen Clarke wants Detroiters to stop paying taxes to the federal government, that money should be put aside as a trust fund to help re-build the city.

Clarke made the case for his Detroit Jobs Trust Fund before the Detroit City Council Tuesday. That’s legislation he’s introduced that would divert the money Detroiters pay in federal taxes over five years.

Some would go to erase the city’s—and its school district’s—debt burden.

Read more
Politics
6:26 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

7 charged in Romulus police corruption scandal

Kym Worthy announces charges in Romulus police corruption case
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

The Detroit suburb of Romulus is at the center of a massive police corruption scandal that includes the city’s ex-police chief.

Officials say in 2008, a “highly placed” Romulus police official asked Michigan State Police to investigate corruption allegations within the department.

Read more
Politics
5:39 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Legislature expected to send abortion bills to Governor this week

A state Senate panel has approved a measure designed to make it more difficult for a pregnant minor to have an abortion. The proposal would prevent young women from so-called “judge-shopping” if one court denies her request to have an abortion without parental consent.

Mary Pollock is with the National Organization for Women. She says the proposal works against pregnant teens who don’t want to have a baby.

"Some teens fear that if their parents are told of their pregnancy, they will take actions to prevent the procedure and force them to complete the pregnancy," says Pollock.

Pollock says some teens will hurt themselves as they try to end pregnancies on their own.

The Legislature is also expected to send a ban on a controversial later-term abortion procedure to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval.

Politics
5:33 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

UM nurses to voice concerns at "State of the Health System" address

user meddygarnet Flickr

Nurses at the University of Michigan Health System have been working without a contract since July 1.

Officials at the University of Michigan Health System and the 4,000 registered nurses who work there have been unable to reach an agreement on issues such as pay, health insurance, and benefits.

The nurses marched to a University of Michigan Board of Regents on September 15 with their demands.

Now, the nurses say they will voice their concerns at tonight's "State of the Health System" address.

From a Michigan Nurses Association press release:

Nurses will attend the annual University of Michigan Health System “State of the Health System” address on Tuesday, September 27 at 5:15 pm in the Ford Auditorium in University Hospital.

The nurses will be representing the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council (UMPNC) in a visible show of solidarity for safe patient care at UMHS. Approximately 4,000 nurses are currently working without a contract rather than settle for an agreement that will diminish benefits and increase costs, leading to substantial nurse to patient staffing issues.

Politics
5:26 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

A conversation with Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell

In 2010, Grand Rapids was named the most sustainable mid-sized city in the U. S., by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic leadership Center and Siemens Corp. When he took office in 2004, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell implemented what he calls a “triple bottom-line sustainability planning process. ” He talks with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White about what it takes to create a long term sustainable future for the city.

Economy
5:18 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Postal workers hold rallies across the state

Dozens of postal workers rally in downtown Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 Postal workers delivered a message at more than a dozen rallies across Michigan today.   

Postal workers say they have a solution to the multi-billion dollar budget deficit that is threatening the future of the U.S. Post Office.  Postal officials say they are looking at closing hundreds of local post offices and mail processing centers as a way to reduce the red ink.  

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Politics
5:12 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

No-fault insurance coverage could not cover medical marijuna under Michigan bill

People injured in auto crashes would not be allowed to use their no-fault coverage to pay for medical marijuana to treat chronic pain under a bill approved by a legislative committee.

The measure is one of several proposed new restrictions to Michigan’s medical marijuana law.

The law was enacted by voters in 2008.

Peter Kuhnmuench is with the Insurance Institute of Michigan, which supports the measure. He says insurance coverage was not supposed to be part of the medical marijuana law.

"So I think it’s pretty clear, yes, they want to utilize this is as a medical procedure, but at the same hand, not force any carrier to cover it as a covered service."

Kuhnmuench  says the bill would not prohibit someone from buying additional coverage that might pay for medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana patients say the law should not specifically ban one treatment for people facing chronic pain from an injury.

Read more
Politics
4:56 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Bill would circumvent light bulb efficiency standards

Federal policies will begin the phase out of the energy inefficient incandescent bulb in 2012.
user whizzer's place creative commons

The state House could vote soon to let Michigan companies ignore new federal efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs. But they could ignore the law only if they sell the bulbs exclusively to Michigan customers.

That’s because the federal government regulates interstate commerce.

The new federal standards for incandescent bulbs will start to phase in next year.

State Representative Tom McMillan says if his bill passes, it might mean Michigan manufacturers will jump into the incandescent bulb business.

"So I think there's a chance. There's no chance if we don’t pass this. If we do, I think there's a very legitimate chance."

There are currently no factories making incandescent bulbs in Michigan. There is at least one making the new energy-efficient bulbs.

*Correction - This story has been corrected to clarify that the new federal efficiency standards do not ban the sale of incandescent bulbs. The new standards will, however, phase out the common incandescent bulb as we know it.

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