Politics
4:41 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Jackson residents face difficult choice in Tuesday's public safety merger vote

Red-and-white signs can be found all across Jackson these days. The signs, which look very similar, carry very different messages: Some encourage city residents to vote for merging Jackson's police and fire departments, while others oppose it.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Jackson voters will be asked next Tuesday if they want to merge their city police and fire departments.  It’s a decision that is dividing the southern Michigan city. Jackson, like many Michigan cities, is struggling to balance its budget. Tuesday’s vote to create a public safety department is a result of that. 

Interim City Manager Warren Renando says Tuesday’s vote is about better allocating what little money the city has left to spend.  

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Education
4:19 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

How Governor Snyder's education plan is playing

Flickr

Yesterday, governor Rick Snyder presented his plan for education reform at an event in Detroit.

We asked Susan Demas, a political analyst for the Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, a former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants to take a look at the political implications of that plan.

You can listen to my interview with them here:

Changing Gears
2:27 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Thunderdrome comes to Detroit this Saturday

This year's Thunderdrome will be held in Detroit's Dorais Park at high noon.
screen grab from YouTube video

The Thunderdrome comes to Detroit this Saturday!

It's not the post-apocalyptic competition featured in the Mel Gibson movie.

Instead of "two men enter, one man leaves" ...

It's more like "around 100 men and/or women enter, around 100 men and/or women leave... perhaps with some scrapes and bruises."

A write up on this wild, anarchic race is featured on the Changing Gears website by WBEZ's Robin Amer.

Robin writes about how the organizers unearthed an abandoned velodrome in Detroit's Dorais Park:

It was literally unearthed by one of the city’s vigilante lawn-mower gangs — people who mow the lawns at city parks because the city cannot afford to do so. The velodrome, on the city’s east side, was repaired by racing enthusiasts who cut down trees growing in its center and invested thousands of dollars of their own money and over 4,000 lbs of concrete fixing its surface. And now, it has come back to life as home to a variety of competitions.

When asked who the sanctioning body for this race is, organizer Andy Didorosi replied:

We are. We're the only sanctioning body in the world for zany two-wheeled party racing on abandoned Velodromes. :) Sanctioning bodies are silly.

Here's a video of last year's race. I like how the victor, instead of doing a lap with a checkered flag, does a lap with a torn-off portion of a Pabst Blue Ribbon box.

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Economy
12:33 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Business is solid for three Michigan companies

Roger Penske says the first quarter results for the Penske Automotive Group "exceeded my expectations."
Ted Van Pelt Flickr

Three big corporations in Michigan released their first quarter results today and according to the numbers, business is booming.

Dow Chemical exceeds expectations (Midland, Michigan)

The company says "sales rose 20% to $14.7 billion versus the year-ago period, with double-digit increases in all operating segments and all geographic areas."

As Andrew Dodson of Booth-Mid Michigan pointed out, analysts had expected Dow to achieve $13.8 billion in sales.

Dow's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (a measure of a company's operating cash flow) went up more than $600 million to $2.4 billion, "the second highest quarter in the Company's history," according to Dow.

CMS Energy reports net income of $135 million (Jackson, Michigan)

CMS Energy's principal business is Consumers Energy. The Jackson-based company's reported income of $135 million translates into $0.52 per share, for the first quarter of 2011. That's compared to a net income of $85 million, or $0.34 per share, for the same quarter last year.

From the company's press release:

The first quarter results reflect colder than normal winter temperatures that boosted natural gas and electric sales at the company’s Michigan utility, Consumers Energy. Those sales increases partially were offset by costs the utility incurred in restoring service to electric customers after a series of unusually severe winter storms.

Penske Automotive has strong quarter (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan)

Penske Automotive Group Chairman, Roger Penske, said, "our first quarter results exceeded my expectations. I am particularly pleased with the same-store retail revenue growth generated in all lines of our business.

From Businesswire:

[Penske] reported a 51.7% increase in first quarter income from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders to $36.4 million, which compares to income from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders of $24.0 million in the first quarter last year. Earnings per share from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders increased 50.0% to $0.39 per share from $0.26 per share in the first quarter last year. Total revenue in the first quarter increased 15.3% to $2.9 billion, including an 11.6% increase in same-store retail revenues, due in large part to increases in new and used retail vehicle unit sales.

Politics
12:21 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Two Michigan Congressmen call for Syria sanctions

Syrian protesters
cell phone picutre via Associated Press

Two Michigan Congressmen are urging President Obama to renew—and strengthen—sanctions against the Syrian government.

Livonia Republican Thaddeus McCotter and Detroit Democrat Hansen Clarke say they both support renewing targeted sanctions that lapse next month.

Both Congressmen also support strengthening those measures to include freezing Syrian officials’ U.S. assets, and prohibiting business with American companies.

Both say the sanctions should also be extended President Bashar Al-Assad’s, and other top official’s, families.

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Crime
11:49 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Drug smuggling bust at Detroit Metro Airport

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will announce details of a major internal drug smuggling conspiracy at Detroit Metro Airport.
user ka_tate Flickr

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they will announce arrests in a "major internal drug smuggling conspiracy investigation" at Detroit Metro Airport.

They plan to hold a press conference this afternoon at 3:30 at the Homeland Security Investigations Office.

In the meantime, the Detroit Free Press is reporting 12 people were arrested:

Federal agents this morning arrested 12 individuals in an international drug smuggling investigation at Detroit Metro Airport, according to the U.S. Immigrations Customs and Enforcements.

All 12 arrestees are currently in federal custody. Of the 12, 10 are from Michigan; one is from Houston; another is from California, according to ICE officials.

The Detroit News reports that 10 of the 12 were baggage handlers who worked for Delta Airlines.

Environment
11:23 am
Thu April 28, 2011

The state of Michigan's air

Photo by d.boyd, Flickr

The American Lung Association released its State of the Air Report this week.

More than a dozen Michigan cities made the list of the most polluted cities in the country for ozone pollution – also known as smog – and particle pollution – also called soot. The major sources of this pollution are factories and power plants... and our cars and trucks and even our lawnmowers.

The report has three separate lists of the most polluted cities.  There are lists for ozone pollution, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution.  Detroit ranked 17th most polluted for year-round particle pollution. Grand Rapids tied for 43rd worst ozone pollution.

Shelly Kiser is the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Michigan. 

"Ozone is created in the atmosphere with a couple chemicals that need heat and light, so it's usually something we see in the summer. It increases your risk of early death, you're more likely to have asthma attacks. Particle pollution, on the other hand, is what we think of as soot, so it's tiny pieces of something that can blow in the wind, and they are so tiny that they can go way down in the deepest part of your lungs and really wreak havoc there. It increases your risk of death during high levels over a short period of time, or at low levels over a long period of time."

There is some good news in the report. Many Michigan communities have improved air quality over previous years and some Michigan cities actually made the list of the cleanest cities in the country.  The cleanest cities for particle pollution were the greater Lansing area and Saginaw.

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Environment
11:11 am
Thu April 28, 2011

A predator for the crop-damaging invasive stink bug?

The native ranges of Brown marmorated stink bugs are found in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. But they hitched a ride to the U.S. and are enjoying some tasty crops here.
PSU Dept. of Entomology

The invasive skunk of the insect world has been found in four counties in Michigan.

Here are the counties where the Brown marmorated stink bug has been found:

  • Berrien
  • Eaton
  • Genesee
  • Ingham

If the bug feels threatened, or if you squish it, this stink bug... stinks.

But the damage it can do to crops is what has officials in Michigan worried.

The PSU Department of Entomology says the Brown marmorated stink bug damages fruit and vegetable crops by sucking plant fluids through its beak.

A piece in lansingnoise.com estimated the damage it could do:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture late last year looked at the potential damage to crops. Topping the list was the country's $2.2 billion apple industry. Michigan's share is $115 million worth, or 590 million pounds of apples harvested each year.

"I have these growers telling me that they fear this might be the worst pest in a generation for orchards," said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, which represents the state's apple industry.

The bug has proven it can resist pesticides, so what's to be done?

Sabri Ben-Achour filed a report for NPR on how some researchers are looking into using foreign wasps to fight the bug:

Can wasps squash the stink bug plague?

Trissolcus wasps are from China, Japan and Korea. The same place where the invasive stink bug came from. The wasps are natural enemies of the Brown marmorated stink bug, so researchers want to know if they can release them in the U.S. without harming other native stink bugs that are beneficial.

The researchers say it will take them three years to find out. In the meantime, some farmers will continue to try to fight the bug with pesticides - Ben-Achour reports some farmers are asking the EPA to relax pesticide regulations.

Environment
11:07 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Can the state be held liable in lawsuits over permits?

This week, the Michigan Supreme Court's conservative majority reversed a major decision that allowed Michigan citizens to sue the state over pollution concerns.

In December, the high court ruled that state agencies that issue permits that result in harm can be named in a citizen suit. At the time, there was a liberal majority in the Court.

The office of Attorney General Bill Schuette asked the Court to rehear the case.

The newly conservative Court did that this week... and with an order reversed the December ruling.

Nick Schroeck is the executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

“What the Court did is it basically potentially rolled back a layer of environmental protection by calling into question whether or not the state can be liable for its permitting decisions. So if the state permits something that goes on to harm the environment, arguably the state should be liable if they made a bad decision. And what the Court did is they’ve kinda called that into question.”

Schroeck says he expects this new decision will be challenged.

Commentary
11:06 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Snyder and the Schools

There was lots of reaction to Governor Rick Snyder’s special message on education yesterday, some of it within minutes after he stopped speaking. What isn’t clear is how many of those doing the reacting had actually listened, or read what he had to say.

Actually, he proposed a number of things that liberals and  progressive education experts should have been happy with. Chief among them was paying more attention to childhood development.

“Early childhood is a time of remarkable brain growth that affects a child’s development and readiness for school,” he said.

He added that our goal should be to create a “coherent system of health and early learning,” to nurture and watch over these children from before they are born, through the third grade.”

Snyder went on to address the threat of alcoholism and premature birth. Hard to see how progressives could fail to agree.

But if he is serious, how is he going to pay for any of this? The governor didn’t explain that, or offer any new money to accomplish what he wanted done. I expected Democrats to say something like “Great ideas. But we don’t need more unfunded mandates.”

However, while the Dems bashed the governor, they seemed to virtually ignore his actual education proposals.

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Arts/Culture
9:41 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Artpod: Rock 'n' roll and baseball

On this week's Artpod, we revel in some old-timey music and baseball.
user Clarita morguefile

Today's Artpod is all about nostalgia...Michigan-focused nostalgia, of course.

Rock Around the Clock

Did you know that 50 years ago this week, "Runaway" by Del Shannon was the #1 song in the U.S.? Don't worry, neither did I. But Michigan Radio's Mike Perini did! He's the station's resident music head. Turns out Del Shannon was born in Grand Rapids, and he grew up in nearby Coopersville. "Runaway" was the first rock 'n' roll song by a West Michigan-born artist to hit the top.

Mike talks to me in the first half of the podcast about some other classic rock 'n' roll songs written by Michigan artists, including the always popular "Rock Around the Clock," by Bill Haley.

Let's play ball!

A new play pays tribute to long-time Tigers baseball announcer Ernie Harwell. The play is called "Ernie" and it was written by best-selling author Mitch Albom. The play looks back at Harwell's life and includes vintage footage of the Hall of Fame announcer.

On the podcast I talk to Will David Young, the veteran Michigan actor who plays Ernie: 

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Auto/Economy
9:23 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Chrysler intends to repay government loans by end of June

Chrysler's headquarters in Aurburn Hill, Michigan. The company says it plans to pay back government loans by the end of June.
user fiatontheweb Flickr

Just ahead of a visit from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Chrysler says it intends to pay back the government loans it received by the end of June. Geithner was one of the main architects of the government bailouts for Chrysler and GM.

From the Detroit News:

Chrysler Group LLC today confirmed its intention to repay its $7.4 billion in loans to the U.S. and Canadian governments by the end of June, as long as market and other conditions remain conducive.

In a statement prior to CEO Sergio Marchionne hosting a visit from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner later today, Chrysler said it plans to repay its government loans with a new term loan facility and newly issued debt securities that will be sold to institutional investors in a private offering.

The Detroit Free Press reports Chrysler wants to pay back the debts because the interest rates on the government loans are high:
 

Marchionne has said he wants to refinance Chrysler’s debt because the interest rate is higher than commercial market rates. The effective interest on the borrowings from the U.S. is as high as 14% and as much as 20% on the Canadian debt.

In order to find investors, the Detroit News reports that senior executives will head out on a "road show" to court financial institutions. They report the automaker is currently working with Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp.

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News Roundup
9:04 am
Thu April 28, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 28th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder Addresses Education Reform

Governor Rick Snyder addressed education reform in Detroit yesterday. The governor said Michigan does not have to spend more money to improve the performance of a failing education system, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The governor say it’s largely a matter of reallocating resources to reward success and to craft a system that reflects Michigan’s new economic realities.

Governor Snyder says his education plan would refocus schools on student advancement and performance, empower teachers and hold them responsible, and offer parents more options when schools are failing.

The governor says recent test scores show too many students do not graduate from high school and, for those that do, too many are not ready for college or for 21st Century jobs.

Rally Against EFM in Benton Harbor

About 200 people rallied in Benton Harbor yesterday against Joe Harris, the city’s emergency financial manager, Lindsey Smith reports. Harris is the first Emergency Manager in the state to exercise broad new powers that Governor Snyder signed into law last month. The law gives emergency managers more power to fix financial problems in school districts, cities and villages, Smith explains. Three cities (Benton Harbor, Ecorse and Pontiac) and Detroit Public Schools are currently run by emergency managers. Harris plans to unveil his plan to turn around the city tonight.

House Committee OK’s Measure to 'Decertify' Teachers' Unions that Authorize Strikes

The Michigan House Education committee has approved a bill that would decertify a teachers’ union if its teachers vote to go on strike, Steve Carmody reports. From Carmody:

Individual teachers could also be fined or fired under the legislation. It’s currently illegal for teachers to strike in the state. The Michigan Education Association has been asking its members if they would be willing to take part in a work stoppage.

Economy
6:53 am
Thu April 28, 2011

U.S. Treasury Secretary to visit Southeast Michigan

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will visit the Detroit Economic Club today.
Center for American Progress Flickr

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will visit Michigan today. He'll make an appearance at the Detroit Economic Club. Geithner will speak with Detroit's political, business and community leaders about the economy, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Geithner's appearance Thursday afternoon is part of the Detroit Economic Club's 2010-11 meeting season.

President Barack Obama swore Geithner in as the 75th treasury secretary in January 2009. He was deeply involved in the negotiations that led to billions of dollars in government loans being given to General Motors and Chrysler.

Detroit and Michigan have suffered as much as any city or state economically over the past few years. Thousands of workers have been laid off as businesses have been forced to close or downsize.

Politics
5:26 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Benton Harbor called "ground zero" in fight over emergency manager powers

Benton Harbor's state-appointed emergency manager Joe Harris. Harris was the first emergency manager to use broad new powers granted to him by the state legislature and Governor Rick Snyder.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The emergency financial manager of Benton Harbor, Joe Harris, says the city will have a budget surplus in the coming fiscal year.

Harris says that’s because the new powers given to emergency managers allowed him to do his job more effectively.

Harris says that means he could leave Benton Harbor after two years of work, rather than the five years he originally thought it would take to turn the city around.

But not everyone is thrilled with the work Joe Harris has done, or with the new laws that granted him sweeping power over Benton Harbor.

Some big names have focused on Benton Harbor recently.

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Education
4:56 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Governor outlines education reforms plan

Noah Smith Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder was in Detroit today to outline his expansive education reform plans. The governor says Michigan does not have to spend more money to improve the performance of a failing education system.

The governor say it’s largely a matter of reallocating resources to reward success and to craft a system that reflects Michigan’s new economic realities.

Governor Snyder says his education plan would refocus schools on student advancement and performance, empower teachers and hold them responsible, and offer parents more options when schools are failing.

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Politics
4:53 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Rally in Benton Harbor against Emergency Manager's takeover

Benton Harbr Mayor Wilce Cook told the crowd "We the people have a right to determine our own destiny, not have someone else do it."
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

About 200 people attended a rally in Benton Harbor against Joe Harris, the city’s emergency financial manager. Joe Harris was appointed to take over the city’s troubled finances last year by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Harris is the first Emergency Manager in Michigan to exercise broad new powers Governor Rick Snyder signed into law last month. The law gives emergency managers more power to fix financial problems in school districts, cities and villages. Three cities (Benton Harbor Ecorse and Pontiac) and Detroit Public Schools are run by emergency managers.

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Religion
4:36 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Qur'an burning Florida pastor returning to Michigan Thursday

Pastor Terry Jones speaks to reporters outside the Dearborn police station
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones returns to southeast Michigan Thursday.  Jones tried to hold a rally outside a Dearborn mosque last week to protest radical Islam.   But he ended up spending time in the city jail for defying a court order.   

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Investigative
4:20 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Some legislators voting to eliminate their own business taxes

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The Michigan legislature and Governor Rick Snyder are considering a new tax structure for the state.  It would cut the state budget and shift some of the tax burden from businesses to individuals.  The Governor has said up to two-thirds of Michigan’s businesses might not have to file a state tax return at all.  Reporters Lester Graham and Bridget Bodnar with Michigan Watch learned that means some legislators who own businesses could be voting to cut their own taxes.

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Education
4:15 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

State House Education committee passes bill to 'decertify' teachers' unions that authorize strikes

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state House Education committee has approved a bill that would decertify a teachers’ union if the teachers vote to go on strike.  Individual teachers could also be fined or fired under the legislation.  It’s illegal for teachers to strike in Michigan. 

Doug Pratt is with the Michigan Education Association.    He says state lawmakers want to silence teachers.

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