Politics
4:06 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Governor Snyder confident his budget & tax plans will get legislative approval

Governor Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan

A state House committee is debating a tax-reform package that includes eliminating the state’s business tax and replacing its revenues with a corporate income tax and taxing pensions. Governor Snyder says he wants a state budget in place by the end of May.

However, fierce divisions over how and where to reform taxes – especially over whether to tax pensions – are slowing negotiations.

Snyder’s pleased with the progress on the budget so far:

“Things are going reasonably well in terms of that process.   And we’re working on a very fast time frame.  We’re well ahead of the way things traditional done in past years.  And we’ll still on a path to get fundamental reform done."  

Snyder says he's not put off by the harsh criticism that his budget and tax plans have generated: 

“That’s part of the legislative process.  That’s part of democracy.   But as a whole, I believe the framework we put out there will go ahead and if anything I hope it could be an improved product with the good dialogue we’re having today.”  

Some Senate Republicans have said they will not vote for any pension tax. And many Democrats are upset, claiming they have been locked out of negotiations altogether.

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Offbeat
3:03 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Update: Charlie Sheen receives standing ovation in Chicago

The Charlie Sheen show comes to Detroit
user justaufo Flickr

Update:

Charlie Sheen might be #winning after all.

After a universally panned show at the Detroit Fox Theatre on Saturday, Sheen has apparently retooled his "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour, earning him a standing ovation from a Chicago audience.

From the Huffington Post:

After being heckled and booed in Detroit, Charlie Sheen made some changes to his road show Sunday night – and this time, it ended with a standing ovation.

Sheen used a talk show-style format at his Chicago show, with a master of ceremonies asking the actor questions. The interviewer, who didn't identify himself, kept Sheen on track and gave the actor a chance to make some snarky comments.

Some audience members said the second performance on Sheen's "My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option" tour wasn't outstanding, but at least it had amusing moments. And Sheen drew cheers throughout the show, which began and ended with a standing ovation.

Mackenzie Barth, 19, said it was a "weird" show. "At least no one was booing," she added.

One commenter on Huffpost said, "I can only conclude that the people of Detroit have better taste than those in Chicago."

What do you think?

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Economy
2:56 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Many Michiganders miss date to pay the tax man

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

County treasurer offices across Michigan this week are processing thousands of homes that have fallen into tax foreclosure. Michigan property owners has until last week to pay up their 2008 property taxes or face losing the property to tax foreclosure. Many counties were expecting about a 10% increase in homes falling into tax foreclosure. 

In Genesee County, the owners of 2,999 properties missed the deadline. About 600 more than last year. Deb Cherry is the Genesee County Treasurer. She was not surprised by the jump in tax foreclosures. 

 “A lot of it has to do with the fact that 2008 was one of the worst years in the housing market.”

Cherry does not expect there will be many buyers when these homes go up for sale later this year.

Many of the properties will find their way to the Genesee County Land Bank, which is already taking care of more than 6,000 properties. Douglas Weiland is the land bank authority executive director.

"Its not a question of whether we can absorb more properties, we will absorb more properties and we expect we'll see that trend continueing for some time yet."

Economy
2:05 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Michigan gas prices getting closer to $4

Gas prices in Michigan are now averaging $3.75 a gallon. AAA Michigan reports gas prices are up $0.91 from this time last year.

This is affecting Michiganders in different ways, some in their jobs, and some in how they volunteer.

Tasha Stetler is the Meals On Wheels Supervisor for Ingam County. She says many volunteers continued to drive for Meals on Wheels when gas prices rose to over $3 a gallon.  

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Offbeat
2:03 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Aborted takeoff attributed to wind-shear fears

User dsleeter_2000 Flickr

And you thought flying with a hole punched in the roof of your plane was scary.

Earlier today, a plane had to abort its takeoff due to fears of wind-shear.

Wind-shear refers to a drastic change in wind direction over a relatively short distance, and can cause serious problems for airplanes taking of or landing.

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Science/Medicine
10:39 am
Mon April 4, 2011

U of M develops new embryonic stem cell lines for medical research

Gary Smith removing a rack containing vials that hold frozen human embryos donated to the U-M Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies.
Scott Soderberg/U-M Photo Services

The University of Michigan has announced it has created new embryonic stem cell lines for medical research.  Developing its own stem cell lines has been an important goal of the university’s stem cell research center since its inception two years. 

In a written statement, Gary Smith, co-director of the U-M Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies and leader of the cell-line derivation project, talked about the importance of this milestone for the consortium:

"All our efforts are finally starting to bear fruit...Creating disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines has been a central goal of the consortium since it was formed two years ago, and now we've passed that milestone." 

The stem cell lines carry genes responsible for a type of hemophilia and a neurological disorder. In the future, researchers at the University of Michigan hope to develop additional stem cell lines that will help with research into Huntington's disease,  spinal muscular atrophy and Tay-Sachs.

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Commentary
10:02 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Confusion Over Medical Marijuana

Two years ago, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Voters from liberal Ann Arbor to staunchly conservative Ottawa County supported this change.

Some, to be sure, saw this as opening the door to a complete legalization of marijuana. However, they appear to have been a minority. Most people seem to have felt that those who are legitimately suffering from disease such as glaucoma ought to be able to use the drug in cases where it could ease their pain.

But the devil is always in the details, and we probably should have foreseen that administering this law was going to be an unholy mess. Yesterday, the Detroit Free Press took a comprehensive look at how the medical marijuana law has been working.

To nobody’s surprise, their answer was: Not very well. The state is struggling with a huge backlog of applications to grow the stuff.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have been going after people who may be falsely claiming to be growing and selling pot for medical use, and there are also rumors that certain physicians are happy to certify that most anybody qualifies to use marijuana for “medical” purposes.

On top of that, neither the constitutional amendment - or any other law - has made it clear where medical marijuana is supposed to come from. Part of the problem is that marijuana is a controlled substance whose use is illegal under federal law.

So, basically, the original source of any pot supply has got to be illegal, even if the state of Michigan approves someone to grow marijuana for medical reasons. There is also, so far as I can tell, absolutely nothing to ensure purity or quality control of the supply.

Basically, then, we’ve got a system of something approaching anarchy when it comes to medical marijuana.

So, what do we do about it?

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Government Shutdown
9:46 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Countdown to federal government shutdown

(flcickr Matti Mattila)

The clock is ticking down to a possible federal government shutdown at the end of this week. And, Michigan lawmakers are playing pivotal roles in the budget debate. 

Michigan congressmen Justin Amash and Tim Walberg are among a group of 13 House Republicans that have threatened to break with the GOP leadership on the budget negotiations. They’ve pushed budget amendments to slash$61 billion in spending.

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin says far right Republicans in the House are preventing the two sides from reaching a budget deal.  

“Right now the leadership of the House…Mr. Boehner…is a kind of a captive of the far right of the House.”  

Levin complains that lawmakers with ties to the Tea Party don’t care if the federal government shuts down, since they believe government is the problem to begin with.

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Economy
9:19 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Community leaders from Grand Rapids to visit Detroit this week

Detroit's skyline
Bernt Rostad Creative Commons

More than 50 community leaders from Grand Rapids will take a bus to visit Detroit this week. Organizers hope the trip will connect people, break down stereotypes, determine common problems and figure out how each side of the state can benefit the other.

Tommy Allen is an editor for Rapid Growth Media. The weekly, Grand Rapids-based economic magazine is hosting the trip.

Lately, Allen says he’s been able to work in Detroit. And he’s loved his experiences there.

 “I love how it’s changed me. My friends in Detroit have pushed me as much as I’ve pushed them. So that creative capital exchange that we do on a regular basis is going to make both of our cities better. So why not? Why not partner with people more and more in Detroit?”

Allen knows too many people who reinforce the stereotypes about and the divide between Detroit and Grand Rapids. Allen hopes to start to bridge that gap by bussing innovative, talented people from West Michigan to network with their counterparts in Detroit; see what they’re working on during a day-long tour.

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Economy
9:18 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Whirlpool accuses rivals of dumping

Whirlpool is accusing two rival appliance makers of dumping refrigerators on the U.S. market. Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool named Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics in an anti-dumping petition filed with the U.S. Commerce Department last week. 

Whirlpool accuses the companies of selling refrigerators below cost in the U.S. 

Kenneth Zener is a financial analyst with Key Bank.  

“Whirlpool is the largest appliance manufacturer worldwide. I think they have a good understanding of what it costs to make an appliance.  And they are asserting that it is upwards of 30% below the construction price for the items identified in the petition."

The Commerce Department is not expected to rule on whirlpool’s petition until next year.   

If Whirlpool wins its case, the federal government could impose higher import duties on the dumped refrigerators.

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medical marijuana
9:03 am
Mon April 4, 2011

ACLU of Michigan to take medical marijuana case to Michigan Supreme Court

The ACLU of Michigan hopes to take a medical marijuana case to the Michigan Supreme Court
Kevin Connors MorgueFile

The Michigan Supreme Court may soon hear its first case on the state’s medical marijuana law.

Larry King of Owosso has a medical marijuana license from the state.  He was charged with a felony by the Shiawassee County prosecutor for growing marijuana in a locked dog kennel that did not have a roof. The Circuit Court dismissed the case, but the Court of Appeals reinstated the felony charges.

Dan Korobkin is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. He says the prosecution shouldn’t charge King with a felony because King is legally allowed to grow marijuana:

“Instead of simply telling Mr. King that he needed to move his plants inside, or put a roof over it, they’re now prosecuting him on felony drug charges for the same offense that he would be charged with if he never had any medical marijuana card at all.”

Korobkin said Michigan voters approved the medical marijuana act to protect patients that were approved to use marijuana for medical reasons.

“We’re representing him because the prosecution of a medical marijuana patient who is complying with the law is a gross injustice and thoroughly undermines the intent of the voters in passing the Medical Marijuana Act."

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Politics
7:01 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Snyder says new Detroit/Ontario bridge is still in the works

A view of the Ambassador bridge over the Detroit River
J. Stephen Conn Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he hopes to introduce legislation next week that would move forward with construction on a second bridge span between Detroit and Canada. A similar proposal has met stiff opposition for several years among Republicans in the Legislature. Snyder says it is time for another international crossing:

“Doing the new international trade crossing is the right thing to do. At the same time, when I did my analysis I believe there’s viable opportunity to have the Ambassador Bridge continue, the Windsor Tunnel, the Blue Water Bridge, and clear up at the Soo. We’ve got great crossings, we just need another crossing.”

Democrats in the Legislature say Snyder will need their votes to approve the bridge project. They say if the governor wants their support he will also need to work with them more during budget negotiations.

Lawmakers return next week from their spring break.

Arts/Culture
6:29 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Tentative deal could end Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike

There appears to be a tentative deal at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
ZUU Mumu Entertainment Flickr

Update 6:36 a.m.:

From the AP: Musicians' spokesman Greg Bowens says the tentative agreement was reached late Sunday. He says musicians will vote this week on whether to ratify the deal.

6:27 a.m.:

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra says a tentative agreement has been reached with striking musicians that could resolve a six-month strike, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Management spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt tells The Associated Press in an e-mail Monday morning that details of the agreement reached following talks over the weekend weren't being immediately released.

A message seeking comment was left with musicians spokesman Greg Bowens... Musicians had said they were given a deadline of last Friday to settle the strike or face losing the summer performance season and jeopardizing the fall season.

Musicians have been on strike since October 2010.

Election 2012
6:21 am
Mon April 4, 2011

President Obama announces reelection bid

President Obama launched his re-election campaign early Monday morning
The U.S. Army Flickr

President Barack Obama launched his reelection bid this morning. The announcement was made via a web video that was posted to the President's campaign website and through an email sent to supporters.

The news made headlines across the blogosphere:

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What's Working
6:12 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Bike program for kids rolling in Kalamazoo

Ethan Alexander (far left) of the Open Roads Bike program speaks to a group of kids in Kalamazoo
Eric Sweet

This week, we’re changing it up a bit for our “What’s Working” series. Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley is welcoming Michigan Radio Reporter Kyle Norris into the studio to talk about a program in a Kalamazoo neighborhood that revolves around bikes.

Resident Ethan Alexander has organized a program called the Open Roads Bike Program, which teaches kids about bike maintenance. The children learn to perform a number of tasks involved in repairing and taking care of bikes. When they’ve completed all of the tasks, they are rewarded with a bike of their own.

But the bikes are not the only focus of the program. While learning how to take care of bikes provides the children with a sense of accomplishment and pride, Alexander makes sure the kids learn how to respect and get to know one another.

Kyle Norris recently attended a regularly held workshop event in the neighborhood called “Fixapalooza,” where she got to witness what the program has to offer first-hand. She says the atmosphere was similar to that of a block party, plus bikes – many, many bikes.

“It was a total party. There was Michael Jackson on a boom box, blasting. There was pizza. There was a dog running around. And there were a lot of kids, and adults, too, and bikes – bikes flipped over, adults working on bikes, kids working on bikes.”

The program got started when Edison neighborhood resident Ethan Alexander combined two things he had in excess: bikes and an understanding of how to work with children. Norris says it all got started about three years ago.

“He actually created it because he had a lot of bikes kicking around. I think he’s sort of a bike-head, so he had a lot of bikes. But he’s also a social worker, and he knows how to work with kids and get kids to work on their social skills and work on becoming better kids. So he kind of put the two loves together.”

The children who participate in the program don’t have to come very far to join in the fun, says Norris.

“Many of them come from this Edison neighborhood. They come, literally, down the street. Maybe single-family homes, maybe economically challenged.”

Alexander says the program gives the children a sense of confidence that they may not have in other areas of their lives.        

“A lot of these kids may not be successful in school. They may not be successful in other avenues. But you put a wrench in their hand, or you put a screwdriver in their hand, and that’s when they kind of light up, that’s when they get excited, and say, ‘Oh, I can do this. This is something I can do.’ And they’re valued and they start to believe in themselves and their abilities.”

After hanging out at Fixapalooza, Norris describes Mr. Alexander as a “zippy” guy. She says his leadership creates the atmosphere of respect.

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Politics
1:29 pm
Sun April 3, 2011

Opponents start push to repeal Ohio union law

Opponents of an Ohio law to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights have started gathering signatures to get a referendum on the measure. Governor John Kasich signed the measure Thursday. It bans public worker strikes, eliminates binding arbitration, and restricts bargaining for 350,000 public workers.

The bill was supported by the Republican majority in the Legislature and by business groups and tea party activists. They say it's needed to help Ohio economically. Unions and Democrats opposed it.

The bipartisan coalition leading the petition drive will need more than 230,000 valid signatures by June 30 to put a referendum on November's ballot.

Libya
7:23 pm
Sat April 2, 2011

Levin: Libyan rebels must win the ground war themselves

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, (D) Michigan

Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin says the future of the Libyan conflict rests in the hands of the Libyan people. NATO this past week officially took over control of the United Nations’ created ‘No Fly Zone’. 

The U.S. and other nations set up the ‘No Fly Zone’ to protect civilians. Levin says the conflict’s eventual end depends on whether Libyan rebels can successfully dispose longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. 

 “This has to be won on the ground and it has be won by the Libyan people on the ground.”  

Levin is the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

Science/Medicine
5:22 pm
Sat April 2, 2011

One Mother + Two Fathers = A growing number of American families

New University of Michigan research finds more women are having more children by more than one father. The U of M study shows 28% of women with two or more children had those children by more than one man. Among African-American women that number goes up to 59%.

Cassandra Dorius is a demographer at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

“I think it’s just that families are changing. That families have been changing for a long time and that this is just one more indication that they are new and different today."

Dorius says families with multiple fathers face higher stress levels, as children and parents try to balance emotional and financial pressures. 

She says the growing remarriage trend , as well as single parenthood, is increasing ‘Multiple Partner Fertility’ in the U.S.

Arts/Culture
8:02 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

DSO management, striking musicians to schedule "face-to-face" talks this weekend

The DSO musicians have been on strike since Oct. 4, 2010
MaxiuB creative commons

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra board gave management and its striking musicians until today to reach an agreement in order to avoid canceling the orchestra's summer season.

But according to a DSO press release issued at 5:37 p.m. today, the two sides will continue talks through the weekend:

Conversations with the Musician's leadership via phone and email have been robust this entire week.  TheDSO agreed to get together to work through the remaining issues as soon as acceptance of terms proposed by one of our intermediaries had been acknowledged by both parties.  The DSO agreed to these terms on Monday.  The DSO learned this afternoon that the musicians have accepted this framework as well and we will be scheduling a face-to-face meeting this weekend to resolve all other remaining issues.  A decision regarding our summer season is on hold pending the outcome of these meetings. 

Earlier this afternoon we spoke to Greg Bowens, the musicians' spokesperson. He said the head of the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO have shown their support for the striking musicians:

"The longer that things delay, the more national attention and pressure is put on the DSO to settle this situation."

The current $34-million, 3-year contract under negotiation is similar to a proposal musicians rejected back in February.

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Corrections
4:48 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

Michigan's prisons keep prisoners longer, cost more

User bgb Flickr

While controversy over budget cuts lingers, new statistics show that Michigan's prison system may have some system-wide problems that actually increase cost.The Chicago Tribune/A.P. reports:

Michigan often keeps inmates long after other states would have released them for similar crimes, driving up prison costs by millions of dollars a year and eating up a quarter of the state's general fund.

Both former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and current Republican Gov. Rick Snyder have encouraged the parole board to be more lenient when it comes to releasing prisoners who have served their minimum sentences. Yet a bill that would require that inmates serve 100 percent of their minimum sentence but no more than 120 percent failed to make it through the Legislature during the last two-year session.

That has left 8,000 inmates still behind bars who have served more than their minimum sentences, a practice that's costing Michigan taxpayers around $280 million annually.

It's likely to take years for the parole board to consider those 8,000 cases, which make up nearly a fifth of the prison population. On April 15, the parole board will shrink from 15 members to 10 under a Snyder executive order estimated to save around $500,000 a year in pay and benefits.

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