Economy
12:11 pm
Fri April 8, 2011

The return of luxury retail

Originally published on Fri April 8, 2011 1:10 pm

Consumers spent more on retail goods in the first quarter than they did during the same time last year. That's despite higher gas prices, bad weather and a late Easter holiday.

Luxury retailers were the winners.

Retail analyst Marshal Cohen says the recession has left the consumer with "frugal fatigue."

"We're tired of being so frugal with what we're spending and at the least expensive place," he says.

A bunch retailers released their first quarter numbers this week.

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Government Shutdown
12:06 pm
Fri April 8, 2011

Gov. Snyder says effect of potential federal government shutdown unclear

Governor Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan
(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Rick Snyder says he is not sure how or if state government would be affected by a potential temporary shutdown of the federal government.

Leaders in Congress are still working with President Obama on a budget solution, with a deadline of this evening.  

Governor Snyder says information is still rolling into his office about the potential effects on the state.  

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Commentary
10:08 am
Fri April 8, 2011

A Conversation with Mayor Bing

I went to see Detroit Mayor Dave Bing yesterday afternoon to discuss the state of his city. It’s been a bruising few weeks for Detroit. The census showed a population loss considerably greater than expected - which means a further loss of both federal and state dollars. The governor’s budget has yet to be approved, but it seems clear that it means more cuts in revenue sharing.

Nevertheless, I found the mayor upbeat, candid and energetic. He’s convinced the census missed people, and is going to do all he can to get the count adjusted. But for now, he has to plan as if the number is going to stay at seven hundred and thirteen thousand.

There’s no doubt in his mind what Detroit needs most. “Jobs are the key,” he said. There are some hopeful signs. General Motors, Blue Cross, Quicken Loans and some other firms have announced plans to add jobs recently.  But the city has a long way to go.

When the recession was at its peak, Mayor Bing made headlines when he said that he thought the city’s true unemployment rate was as high as forty-five percent, when you counted workers who are so discouraged they aren't even taking part in the labor force.  What does he think it is now? “Still about the same,” he said.

“There are some signs the country is coming out of the recession, but that hasn’t really translated into jobs in Detroit.”

I asked the mayor, himself a former successful businessman,  about Governor Rick Snyder’s theory that lowering taxes will help bring a new flood of jobs. He smiled. “Well, it should help,” he said.

But he added that maximizing profits doesnn’t always mean adding jobs. The mayor, who took office after a special election following the resignation of Kwame Kilpatrick, has been in office  almost two years now. What does he think is his greatest accomplishment?

He said, “reducing the deficit from more than $330 million dollars to $155 million. Given the economy, that was really a Herculean task.”

Unfortunately, he fears the deficit may now rise somewhat, “if everything in the governor’s budget becomes stark reality.”

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Sports Commentary
10:03 am
Fri April 8, 2011

Remembering Vada Murray

If you’re not a Michigan football fan, you probably haven’t heard of Vada Murray, but you might have seen his picture.

It’s one of the iconic images of Michigan football, along with Tom Harmon standing in his mud-soaked, torn-apart jersey, Ol’ 98, and Desmond Howard diving to catch a touchdown against Notre Dame -- two Heisman Trophy winners, winning big games.

But the photo I’m talking about depicts Vada Murray and Tripp Welborne soaring skyward to block a field goal.

They were a kicker’s nightmare, but even when they got a hand on the ball, it simply denied their opponent three points -- not the kind of thing that wins you a Heisman Trophy or an NFL contract.

They don’t even keep records of blocked kicks.

But, over two decades later, something about that photo still resonates, perhaps because it captures their effort, their intensity, their passion – all of it spent just to give their teammates a slightly better chance for success.

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Education
9:56 am
Fri April 8, 2011

Robert Bobb hints he may want to stay on as Detroit Schools EFM

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Detroit schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb says he's willing to consider staying on the job beyond June in the wake of Michigan's new financial oversight law. Robert Bobb told the Detroit News  editorial page that he's "not lobbying for the job." But he says the "pace of change" possible under the new law is appealing.

Bobb was hired in 2009 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to fix the district's finances. His latest contract was extended through June by Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed a law giving Bobb and other emergency financial managers the right to oversee not just a school district's finances but also its academics. 

Snyder's office says if Bobb is interested in staying he would be among the candidates considered.

Investigative
8:49 am
Fri April 8, 2011

Shifting money away from schools

Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal would change how we fund public schools. That change would start with a cut to schools at a time when the School Aid Fund is growing.

The School Aid Fund is one of the main sources of money for K-12 public schools. Since it was established by the 1908 Michigan Constitution and even though in the 1963 Constitution “higher education” was added, the money in the School Aid Fund only has been used to pay for educating public school children. That is, until this year. 

The last legislature ‘borrowed’ a couple of hundred-million dollars from the School Aid Fund to give to community colleges. I say ‘borrowed,’ but there’s no indication that it’s going to be paid back.

Federal stimulus money helped make up the difference. But for this coming fiscal year, there is no more federal stimulus money.

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News Roundup
8:22 am
Fri April 8, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, April 8th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Still No Deal to Avert Government Shutdown

Less than 24 hours remain for President Obama and Congressional leaders to avert a government shutdown. A deal to fund the federal government through September must be reached by midnight tonight to keep the government fully operating. President Obama and legislative leaders met again last night to narrow their differences over how much to cut the federal budget but no agreement was made. Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush takes a look at what a government shutdown will mean for Michigan.

Redistricting Hearings to Being Next Week

A state House panel will begin the process of redrawing Michigan’s political maps with hearings next week focused on results from the 2010 U.S. Census, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

With Republicans controlling all branches of state government, Democrats are worried that new district lines will target a vulnerable Democratic seat like that of US Congressman Gary Peters. The state House Redistricting and Elections Committee is chaired by Republican Representative Pete Lund. Lund said in a statement that he looks forward to the hearings and, "a fair, effective redistricting process for our state."

ACLU Wants to Know More About EFM Bill

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan wants to know more about the creation of Michigan’s new Emergency Financial Manager law, Steve Carmody reports. “The legislation gives broad new powers to managers appointed by the state to run financially troubled cities and school districts. Kary Moss is with the ACLU of Michigan. She says the ACLU is filing Freedom of Information requests to learn more about who wrote the law,” Carmody explains.

Twenty-Three Campgrounds To Close

Michigan plans to close twenty-three state forest campgrounds beginning in May. The campgrounds are not state parks but, instead, are camping sites along rivers, lakes and trails. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says the campgrounds are being closed because they’re not heavily used and the state doesn’t have the funds to maintain them. The majority of the closings will take place in the Upper Peninsula.

Government Shutdown
6:47 am
Fri April 8, 2011

Time running out to avert partial government shutdown

Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

Less than 24 hours remain for President Obama and Congressional leaders to avert a government shutdown. A deal to fund the federal government through September must be reached by midnight tonight to keep the government fully operating. President Obama and legislative leaders met again last night to narrow their differences over how much to cut the federal budget but no agreement was made.

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Arts/Culture
8:14 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

What’s to learn from Detroit? Spirit, determination, and action

More than 50 community leaders from Grand Rapids got on a bus this week to find out what they can learn from Detroit. The trip’s organizers hope to build stronger bonds between Michigan’s two major population centers.

Check out Terry Johnston's awesome photos of the trip here.

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Government Shutdown
6:41 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Not all will suffer if the government does shut down

[We asked NPR's Linton Weeks to think about some things that might benefit from a federal government shutdown. Here's what he reported back.]

We have all heard dire predictions surrounding the possible closing down of the federal government.

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Government Shutdown
4:51 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

GOP-controlled House passes stopgap spending bill

President Obama says another round of talks with congressional leaders has helped, but there is no deal yet to avert a government shutdown.

Obama said he hoped to be able to announce a deal on Friday but "there's no certainty yet." He said he told House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he wants an answer in the morning.

He said there were "a few issues that are outstanding.

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Environment
4:43 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Lake Muskegon clean up slated

Clean up will remove mercury and toxic waste from the lake
bigmikesndtech flickr

The clean-up of industrial waste in Muskegon Lake will start next month. The lake is contaminated with mercury and other pollutants that get into fish and wildlife. The Muskegon River flows through the lake on its way to Lake Michigan.

Kathy Evans is with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

“U.S EPA and the state of Michigan entered into the agreement to clean up Muskegon Lake and the community sees this as very beneficial to the local economy, to the environment to the fish and wildlife habitat and the water quality here in Muskegon Lake and to Lake Michigan.”

The clean-up is being paid for by the state and federal governments and is expected to cost twelve-million dollars.

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Politics
4:22 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

ACLU wants to know more about the genesis of Michigan's emergency financial manager law

The American Civil Liberties Union wants to know more about the creation of Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager law. The legislation gives broad new powers to managers appointed by the state to run financially troubled cities and school districts. Those powers include voiding union contracts. 

Kary Moss is with the ACLU of Michigan. She says the ACLU is filing Freedom of Information requests to learn more about who wrote the law. 

“This legislation was passed and signed pretty quickly.   And all that we are trying to do right now is get some more information about ‘What prompted it?’, ‘How is it going to be implemented?’, just so the public can have more information."

Moss says they also want to know who was involved in drafting the legislation. 

"Who was really at the table…when it was drafted...andconceived and discussed.”

Governor Snyder says the law encourages cities and school districts to make financial changes, before an Emergency Financial Manager would be appointed.

The governor’s office has not commented on the ACLU request.

Economy
4:11 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Report: Need for food assistance up, even as unemployment dips

qmnonic flickr

A new report says the need for food assistance in Michigan is still on the rise, even as unemployment declines.

Judy Putnam is with the Michigan League for Human Services, which conducts the quarterly economic report. She says money for food assistance comes from the federal government, and is money well spent.

“This is money that’s spent in local grocery stores, so it doesn’t go into a black hole, it actually goes into the local economies. It’s really considered one of the most effective economic stimulants that you can find. You get a lot of bang for the buck.”

Putnam says if the state eliminates the Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor families, that could create more need for food assistance in the coming years. 

business
3:21 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Quicken Loans closes deal on downtown Detroit building

Courtesy Quicken Loans

Quicken Loans has completed the purchase of the 14-story Chase Tower in downtown Detroit. The deal will allow the company to move the remainder of its workforce from the suburbs to downtown Detroit.

When the move is complete, about 4,000 employees of Quicken and its related companies will work downtown.

The Chase Tower sits just south of the Compuware Building on the other side of Campus Martius Park, where Quicken moved about 1,700 of its employees last year.

The move downtown is part of Quicken founder Dan Gilbert’s plan to help turn lower Woodward Avenue into a mecca for high-tech, Internet-based businesses.

Quicken is the nation’s largest online mortgage lender.

Plans for the Chase Tower include retail space on the first floor, and room for tenants who fit into Gilbert’s plan for a downtown Detroit technology hub.

Arts/Culture
3:19 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit Symphony musicians return to stage, first time since strike

The DSO will perform 2 free, sold-out concerts this weekend
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians returned to the stage today for a rehearsal - their first since they went on strike last October.

The orchestra is rehearsing for two concerts this weekend, both of which sold out almost instantly. Leonard Slatkin, the DSO’s music director, says it helped that the tickets were free. He says "the real test is going to come next season when we try to see if we can sustain the positive energy that's been a result of this settlement."

Leonard Slatkin, who was uncharacteristically quiet during the strike, says he’s very excited to be back. He says as the DSO moves forward, it will have a bigger and stronger presence not only in Detroit, but in the suburbs, too:

"Another plus of the strike is more people that didn’t know about us, know about us! We were in the news all the time, and we need to capitalize on that. An orchestra is an institution that only appeals to a relatively small percentage of a given population in any city; now we at least have a recognizable name."

Slatkin says people will begin to the see the "hand-print" of what the new model for the orchestra will be as we move into the Spring season, and he says "no decisions will be taken without the complete consent of the orchestra."

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Politics
3:13 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Redrawing the political map of Michigan

Voters in Jackson, Michigan fill out their ballots in a recent election
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

A state House panel next week will begin the process of redrawing Michigan’s political maps. The first hearing will focus on results from the 2010 U-S Census.  

Michigan lost population over the past decade, and the state will lose a seat in the U.S. House. With Republicans controlling all branches of state government, Democrats are worried that new district lines will target a vulnerable Democratic seat like that of US Congressman Gary Peters.          

The state House Redistricting and Elections Committee is chaired by Republican Representative Pete Lund. Lund led the successful GOP push to retake the Michigan House last fall. Lund said in a statement that he looks forward to the hearings and, "a fair, effective redistricting process for our state."

Government Shutdown
2:52 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

How a shutdown would affect Michigan

A federal government shutdown looms as leaders in Congress disagree on budget cuts.
user kulshrax creative commons

A shutdown of the federal government seems more likely as leaders in Congress don't seem to have a clear handle on where their disagreements lie.

The New York Times outlined the disagreement... over their disagreements...

  • Senate Majority Leader, Hary Reid (D-NV), said, "the numbers are basically there, but I am not nearly as optimistic, and that's an understatement, as I was 11 hours ago. The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology."
  • And House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)  told reporters, "there is no agreement on a number. I think we were closer to a number last night than we are this morning. We're going to have real spending cuts. I don't know what some people don't understand about this."

So, a shutdown of the federal government is getting closer.

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Environment
1:08 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

State will close some campgrounds starting in May

The state will close around 120 campsites that are under-used.
user 3rdParty flickr

The state will be closing twenty-three state forest campgrounds beginning in May. The campgrounds are not state parks. They’re camping sites along rivers, lakes or trails. Most of the sites to be closed are in the Upper Peninsula.

Mary Dettloff is with the state Department of Natural Resources.

"These are primarily rustic camping sites. There’s no electrical hook up like there is at a state park. State Forest campgrounds tend to cater to people who are into more of just a tent camping experience."

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is closing the campgrounds because they’re not heavily used and the state doesn’t have money to maintain them. Dettloff continues:

"Not only did we pick the ones that are underperforming in terms of bringing in revenue but they’re also ones that are close to other state forest campgrounds. So we’re not going to be denying the opportunity to use the state forest campgrounds to people because there will be other ones nearby that will remain open."

The trails and land around the campgrounds will still be available to visitors after the campsites are removed.

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Environment
12:42 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Isle Royale's wolves to go extinct?

Wolves on Isle Royale in Lake Superior
Photo courtesy of isleroyalewolf.org

The wolves of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior could be in trouble.

For 53 years, researchers from Michigan Tech have been studying the island’s wolf and moose populations.

This year... they found there are fewer wolves – just 16. And only a couple of females that can still have babies. Rolf Peterson has been studying the wolves for more than four decades.

He says it's not clear why some of the wolves are dying.

"In late 2009, six of the ten females we had in the population died. That was just an unusual, presumably a fluke. Only one of the females was radio collared and she died in a very unusual way, she died giving birth."

He says the outlook for the existence of wolves on Isle Royale is uncertain.

"It could be just a little hurdle they have to jump through. It also could mean the beginning of the end if those one or two females should die without giving birth to a female. And if neither of the two pups we thought we saw this year are female, then that's it. The population would go extinct because there are no females."

At this point, he doesn't think people should intervene. But he says there could come a point where the National Park Service might introduce new female wolves from the mainland. Peterson says the males on the island would readily accept new females if the existing females die.

The wolves keep the island's moose in check. The research team has found that the moose population is currently around 500 animals. If the wolves go extinct, Peterson says the moose would be in trouble too.

"They'd increase to the point where they'd starve to death catastrophically."

Peterson has spent most of every year for four decades living among the wolves and moose on the island with his wife Candy.  But he says there's still plenty to be discovered.

"Almost everything that happens there surprises me. We're almost unable to predict the short term future. I guess the resiliency of wolves in general does usually surprise me. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they pulled out of this one. But exactly how they're going to do it is what's fascinating."

You can learn more about the research team and the wildlife here.

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