Politics
1:00 pm
Wed September 21, 2011

Bill would ban use of government property for political purposes

Michigan teachers and other government worker would not be allowed to use public property -- including computers, phones or copiers -- to conduct political activities.
ronnieb MorgueFile

A bill in the state House would ban public employees from using most government property or services for political or union purposes. 

 Under the bill, anything that belongs to the government would be off-limits for public employees to use for fund-raising, lobbying  or campaigning -- including e-mail, phones and copiers.

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Changing Gears
11:03 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Midwestern union workers have hope for their jobs

Navistar Springfield, Ohio plant manager Jim Rumpf with one of the four models of trucks now produced at the plant.
Niala Boodhoo

Navistar builds trucks across North America, at non-union factories in the South and Mexico, as well as union shops in the Midwest. The UAW members at the Navistar plant in Springfield, Ohio say a year of changes has made them competitive with those non-union plants – and they’re optimistic about the future.

In the final assembly department at Navistar’s Springfield, Ohio, plant, Veronica Smith is helping her team put the finishing touches on a truck. The cab is being mounted to its frame.

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Politics
10:49 am
Wed September 21, 2011

The Bridge: Beyond Any Doubt

Pretend you are a judge, let me give you some undisputed facts, and then tell me how you would make up your mind.

The top business leaders of this state strongly support a new bridge over the Detroit River. So do the major leaders of both political parties. The bridge wouldn’t cost the taxpayers of Michigan a cent.

What’s more, the bridge would instantly mean billions of dollars and thousands of desperately needed jobs for our poor battered state.  Not when it was completed, but right away, right now.

That’s because the federal government has agreed to count money Canada is giving us to  cover our costs as state matching money for federal highway funds. That would mean two point two billion dollars to fix our roads and bridges.

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Auto/Economy
10:24 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Moody's downgrades Fiat's credit rating

Fiat's credit was downgraded by Moody's.
Fiat USA

MILAN (AP) - The ratings agency Moody's has downgraded the credit rating Fiat SpA citing financial risks tied to the integration with Chrysler Group LLC.

Moody's on Wednesday downgraded the Italian automaker to Ba2 from Ba1.

The ratings agency said it expects integration of the two automakers will mean they will have "to support each other in the event of financial difficulty."

Fiat took an initial 20 percent stake in Chrysler in exchange for engine technology and management prowess. It currently holds a 53.5 percent share.

Moody's said it made the downgrade even though Fiat does not guarantee Chrysler's debt, and that the two companies' finances remain separate.

Auto
7:30 am
Wed September 21, 2011

The latest on UAW contract negotiations

Union leaders at General Motors' factories across the U.S. are endorsing a tentative contract with the automaker. 

In an unprecedented press conference yesterday, UAW President Bob King discussed details of the 4-year-contract. The rank-and-file will vote in the coming days. General Motors is the first automaker to reach a deal with the UAW. And,  these negotiations are the first since the federal government stepped in to help GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy in 2009.

We caught up with Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio's auto reporter, to talk about the tentative contract and what it means for GM, the UAW, and the state's economy.

Politics
6:31 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Snyder signs Medicaid claims tax

Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

Governor Snyder has approved a one percent tax on health insurance claims to ensure that medical coverage for low-income families is not slashed by almost a billion dollars.

Everyone who files a claim for a treatment or a checkup will now pay the one percent tax. It will not apply to co-pays or deductibles.

It replaces a six percent tax on Medicaid HMOs. Michigan’s system for financing the Medicaid program for covering low-income families was on the cusp of being thrown out by federal authorities because it did not spread the burden wide enough.

Governor Snyder had a difficult time winning the votes for the health claims tax in the Republican-led Legislature. But he said he was committed to not rolling back health coverage for the poor during tough economic times. The Snyder administration has come under fire by human services advocates for rollbacks in other types of aid for low-income people, including new limits on cash assistance and food stamps.

Arts/Culture
8:57 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

A Michigan play receives national publicity

A Michigan play about bullied teenagers who commit suicide has received national publicity. The Bullycide Project is a play written by Fenton High School teacher Lori Thompson. It was featured on the CBS news program 48 Hours last Friday. 

Thompson says as a theater teacher, the stage is the most effective vehicle for creating social awareness.

When we hear about Tyler Clementi, the young man from Rutgers, or Phoebe Prince, the young lady from Ireland that came here and lived in Boston; I mean these are all national stories, and then there are all the stories that happen locally. 

The Bullycide Project will be performed at the Flint Youth Theatre on  September 24th.

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Politics
5:35 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

Deficit reduction: A conversation with Senator Carl Levin

U.S. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.

Michigan Democratic Senator, Carl Levin, has proposed a 7-point plan to reduce the federal deficit by at least one trillion dollars over 10 years. His proposal comes amidst discussions within the special bi-partisan subcommittee charged with balancing the federal budget. Several of the points in the plan deal with closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and wealthy Americans. Is it possible to move those points of the plan forward in the current political climate?

Auto/Economy
5:25 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

Report: Michigan lost 79,800 jobs to China from 2001 to 2010

Map showing the percentage of jobs displaced by trade imbalance with China as a share of state employment.
Economic Policy Institute

A report by the Economic Policy Institute looked at the growing trade deficit between the U.S. and China and its effect on jobs.

The group found the trade deficit with China has been a "prime contributor to the crisis in U.S. manufacturing employment."

From the report:

Between 2001 and 2010, the trade deficit with China eliminated or displaced 2.8 million jobs, 1.9 million (69.2 percent) of which were in manufacturing. The 1.9 million manufacturing jobs eliminated or displaced due to trade with China represents nearly half of all U.S. manufacturing jobs lost or displaced between China’s entry into WTO and 2010.

The report finds that the number of Michigan jobs displaced by the trade deficit with China totaled 79,800. That accounts for 1.75 percent of total employment in the state in that time period.

Despite being a heavy manufacturing state, Michigan was not the hardest hit state by the trade imbalance.

From the report:

Jobs displaced due to growing deficits with China exceeded 2.2% of total employment in the 10 hardest-hit states (i.e., jobs lost or displaced as a share of total state employment): New Hampshire (19,700, 2.84%), California (454,600, 2.74%), Massachusetts (88,600, 2.73%), Oregon (47,900, 2.71%), North Carolina (107,800, 2.61%) Minnesota (70,700, 2.61%), Idaho (17,400, 2.54%), Vermont (7,800, 2.37%), Colorado (55,800, 2.30%), and Rhode Island (11,800, 2.24%).

The report concludes, "the U.S.-China trade relationship needs a fundamental change. Addressing the exchange rate policies and labor standards issues in the Chinese economy are important first steps."

ArtPrize 2011
5:04 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

This year try listening to ArtPrize

The Total Blam Blams play at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids Saturday night. Jason and Nora Heystek front the band which is entering ArtPrize for the first time this year.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

ArtPrize 2011 begins Wednesday afternoon in Grand Rapids. Sound and performing arts will play a bigger role in this year’s contest. Music, ballet, and other performances are, after all, art. But there haven’t been a lot of entries in the past.

The winner of the art competition gets $250,000 in prize money. Organizers claim it’s the world’s largest art prize.

This is the third annual ArtPrize. The third time I’ve seen giant sculptures, breath-taking murals, funny and eye-opening drawings take over a three-mile zone in downtown.

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Politics
4:45 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

Michigan legislature set to vote on dilation and extraction abortion ban

The state Legislature is expected to vote tomorrow to ban a controversial abortion procedure performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy.

“Dilation and extraction,” or “partial birth abortion,” as it’s called by opponents has been illegal in the U.S. since 2003.

Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen says the proposals in the Legislature would help ensure the procedure remains illegal in Michigan, no matter what.

“We want to make sure that our attorney general has every tool that he needs to make sure that we don’t have this practice happening in Michigan,” said Hansen.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says passing the same ban at the state level will cement Michigan’s stand on the procedure.

"It’s kind of an insurance policy, if you will, but also strengthens our resolve that this is something wrong that needs to be addressed wherever it’s found in the state of Michigan," said Richardville. "It’s a responsible bill that tells the citizens of Michigan that we’re concerned about partial-birth abortion, and we’ll do everything we can to stop it from happening in this state."

The proposed ban is set for votes this week in the state House and Senate.

The votes will likely come just before the anti-abortion group "Right to Life of Michigan" has a conference in Lansing this weekend. The group is expecting an update on the status of the proposed ban from one of the Senate sponsors.

Auto/Economy
4:02 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

A little clarity in the muddy international bridge debate

Bridge traffic estimates from the Anderson Economic Group's report. The report states that "public road projects in the U.S. that included a toll component tended to overestimate traffic by an average of 42%."
Anderson Economic Group

A report from the Anderson Economic Group has offered some clarity to the debate over a new international bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

A little background in case you have sat this story out thus far:

Governor Rick Snyder has been pushing the idea of a new bridge two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge, known as the New International  Trade Crossing (NITC).

It would connect up I-75 and Highway 401 in Canada.

The Ambassador Bridge owners, the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), don't want competition from another bridge. Owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun has been fighting against the proposed bridge with a $4.7 million television ad blitz.

The ads say Michigan taxpayers could be on the hook for the costs of the New International  Trade Crossing if plans don't pan out.

Moroun is proposing to build a second span next to the Ambassador Bridge to ease congestion.

The report from the Anderson Economic Group analyzes both proposals (NITC vs. DIBC).

The bottom line of the report from several media reports out today is that the new bridge (NITC) would ease congestion currently felt at the Detroit-Windsor crossing, and a second span of the Ambassador Bridge would not (DIBC).

It's finding no. 2 in the report.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The Detroit International Bridge Co.'s proposed second bridge between Detroit and Canada would not eliminate the current congestion on both sides of the border but the New International Trade Crossing bridge would do so, according to an independent study released today by the Anderson Economic Group.

From Crain's Detroit Business:

A proposed government-owned bridge over the Detroit River, with additional U.S. Customs booths, would do a better job reducing border traffic congestion and handling future traffic than a second Ambassador Bridge span, says a new independent report released today.

From the Detroit News:

A proposed bridge two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge would alleviate border congestion, but a new span beside the Ambassador would not, according to a study released Tuesday.

Finding no. 3 in the report states that the obligation to repay borrowed funds for the construction costs of either bridge does not rest with Michigan taxpayers. That finding assumes that protections for Michigan taxpayers are in place for "statute and bond covenants."

Jeff Watrick over at MLive has a nice summary of the 7 findings of the report.

Or you can read the report yourself.

Let us know what stands out to you.

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Education
3:46 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

3 more high schools planned for Detroit

Lou Glazer
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Three more high schools will open in Detroit for the 2012 school year as part of the Michigan Future Schools program.

That’s an ongoing effort by the think tank Michigan Future, Inc. to open 35 new high Detroit high schools in eight years. Its goal is to “revitalize Detroit’s failing education system” by adding 35 quality high schools in eight years.

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Arts/Culture
2:54 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

MacArthur "Genius" Awards given out to 3 U of M researchers

The MacArthur Fellowship was given to 22 people this year, including three who teach at the University of Michigan. The 2011 Fellows run the gamut - from science to journalism to the arts.

Here's a list of the U of M winners:

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Auto/Economy
2:31 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

Details of UAW's new contract with GM emerge

General Motors Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson (left) shakes hands with United Auto Workers President Bob King at the beginning of the UAW/GM talks last August.
gmmedia.com

Update 2:31 pm:

This story was clarified at 2:00 pm to say that the $5,000 bonus was for ratification of the contract.

Pay raises for entry-level workers, five-thousand dollar bonuses for ratification, and better profit sharing. Those are among the highlights of the four-year contract local UAW leaders will recommend to General Motors’ 48,500 hourly workers.

UAW President Bob King says the union bargained a “great framework” for all three Detroit automakers.

    "They’re in different states of financial health, different states of debt. We’re hoping that this country bounces back and the European situation gets resolved – they all could be impacted by that. And we think we’ve got an agreement that helps us get through those periods of time, because we didn’t add many fixed costs to this agreement."    

The tentative contract promises to add or save 6,400 workers. Nine hundred of those are at Michigan plants.

It also provides for a $5,000 dollar ratification bonus, and raises for entry-level workers. UAW President Bob King says those workers will also see generous health care provisions – including free emergency room and urgent care visits.

"What worker being hired at any employer today starts out with the kind of health care plan that workers hiring into General Motors will have? What workers have unlimited doctor visits, $25 co-pay? Nobody."

The contract also calls for $10,000 dollar bonuses for eligible employees who retire in the next two years. Skilled tradesmen who retire between November First and the end of March would qualify for additional $65,000 bonuses.

Ratification is expected at the end of next week.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett is at the United Auto Worker's press conference in Detroit today.

She's reporting on some details of the UAW's new contract with General Motors:

  • Entry level wages will be bumped up to $19.28/hr over the life of the contract plus a $5,000 ratification bonus.
  • Unlimited doctor appointments with $25 co-pay.
  • $10,000 bonus for eligible employees who retire within the next two years.
  • Additional $65,000 bonus for skilled trades who retire between November 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012.
  • Jobs will be added in Michigan at facilities in Warren, Saginaw and Romulus.

UAW President Bob King says the next target for negotiations has not yet been determined.

From the Associated Press:

Union leaders from General Motors factories around the country have endorsed a new four-year contract with the company.

They are recommending that GM's 48,500 factory workers approve the deal in votes during the next week.

The agreement reached Friday includes a $5,000 signing bonus and improved profit-sharing instead of hourly pay raises for most of the workers. About 2,400 entry-level workers will get raises. They now make $14 to $16 per hour, about half the pay of a longtime UAW worker.

Profit-sharing will be a minimum of $3,500 next year.

The union now will focus on negotiations with Chrysler, and Ford will be next.

Since Chrysler isn't making as much money as GM, workers there probably won't see as good of a deal.

 

Environment
2:09 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

The future of southeast Michigan's drinking water (part 2)

A wastewater treatment plant.
Photo courtesy of Birmingham Public Schools

Detroit’s water department has been under federal oversight for almost 35 years. Recently, the city tried to get that oversight lifted. But the federal judge who monitors the department shot that effort down, and he ordered stakeholders to find a way to fix the system’s decades-long problems--within two months. Some people wonder about that short timeline—and whether some of the Judge’s suggestions hint at a possible takeover. 

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Economy
2:01 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

Michigan proposal targets taxes on Internet sales

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers are renewing a push to require more businesses selling items over the Internet to collect the state's 6 percent sales tax.

Legislation dealing with the issue was detailed Tuesday at the state Capitol.

The Michigan Retailers Association says some out-of-state, online-only retailers use legal loopholes that allow them to avoid collecting state sales tax at the point of sale. The retailers association says that gives the online retailers an unfair price advantage and hurts Michigan businesses that have storefronts and collect the sales tax.

Bills to be introduced by Republican Rep. Eileen Kowall of Oakland County's White Lake Township and Democratic Rep. Jim Ananich of Flint would move online-only retailers under the same sales tax collection laws under which brick-and-mortar businesses operate.

Offbeat
12:40 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

Glasses stolen off of Ernie Harwell statue at Comerica Park in Detroit

The Ernie Harwell statue in Comerica Park (before his glasses were removed).
Kevin Ward Flickr

Someone has stolen the bronze glasses off of the Ernie Harwell statue inside Comerica Park. Officials from the Detroit Tigers noticed the missing glasses last July.

Neal Rubin, columnist for the Detroit News, writes "if you wouldn't use a crowbar on Ernie Harwell's face, you shouldn't use one on his statue, either.":

Someone pried the glasses from his sculpture at Comerica Park, a theft both brazen and bronzen.

A new pair should be welded into place by Thursday, when the Detroit Tigers play Baltimore in the opener of a seven-game home stand, but please:

Can't we keep our hands and levers to ourselves?

Given his status as both an idol and an artwork, you'd think Harwell would be immune to vandalism.

Artist Omri Amrany says the new glasses will be attached "as strongly as possible."

Rubin writes that Amrany "once had to replace bronze broadcaster Harry Caray's stolen microphone in Chicago."

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Education
11:32 am
Tue September 20, 2011

U of M halts book digitization project after copyright questions surface

The University of Michigan admits to committing some serious errors in its project to digitize books whose copyright holders cannot be identified or contacted.

U of M officials have stopped their "Orphan Works Project" five days after a lawsuit was filed against the university, according to AnnArbor.com:

a lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild and two other literary guilds, one Canadian and the other Australian, maintains that many works deemed orphans by U-M have living authors or author relatives that still claim copyright rights but do not know about the digitization project.

Aside from U-M, four other HathiTrust participating schools were named in the lawsuit: The University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University.

The HathiTrust is a a partnership between dozens of research institutions and libraries "working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future."

The University of Michigan digitizes all the material that is ingested into the HathiTrust.

The University of Michigan Library issued a statement on the Orphan Works Project explaining their decision to halt the project:

The close and welcome scrutiny of the list of potential orphan works has revealed a number of errors, some of them serious. This tells us that our pilot process is flawed.

Having learned from our mistakes—we are, after all, an educational institution—we have already begun an examination of our procedures to identify the gaps that allowed volumes that are evidently not orphan works to be added to the list.

University officials say "once we create a more robust, transparent, and fully documented process, we will proceed with the work."

Arts/Culture
11:04 am
Tue September 20, 2011

Art Prize starts tomorrow in Grand Rapids

"Nessie" floats in the Grand River during the 2009 ArtPrize.
Steven Depolo Flickr

The third annual ArtPrize will kick off tomorrow in Grand Rapids. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith will have an update for us later today.

From the Associated Press:

ArtPrize begins Wednesday and runs through Oct. 9. Organizers say this year's show will host artists from 39 countries and 43 states displaying their work in 164 venues within three square miles of the city's downtown.

While the winners of most art competitions are decided by a few professionals, ArtPrize allows any adult to enter and any attendee to vote for the winners.

Founder Rick DeVos says the event is more about the process than the finished product - giving artists permission to embrace creativity and succeed or fail.

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