Politics
5:10 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

International border expected to be topic at Obama, Harper meeting

bbmcshane flickr

President Obama is scheduled to sit down with Canada’s prime minister in Washington D.C. tomorrow.

The meeting comes just a few days after the release of a government report that said only 32 miles of the two countries’ four-thousand-mile shared border has an “acceptable” level of security.

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller says the report confirmed what she’s been saying for some time.

"Not to minimize the problems with the drug cartels and the problems we’re having on the Southern border, but we are under-resourced on the Northern border, and with the small amount of resources we have, to have them continue to raid those resources and ship them to the Southern border, I think is a mistake."

Canadian press reports say President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are close to signing a landmark security and trade deal.

Michigan History
4:52 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

It's not the first time Michigan has faced budget challenges

The Capitol in Lansing
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Michigan lawmakers face the challenge of balancing a budget with a hole of around $1.8 billion in it.

Governor Snyder plans to submit a plan to the legislature this month, and it promises to leave very few departments untouched.

Budget issues are not new to Michigan.

Today, we explored some other difficult times in budget years past with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry.

Michigan Radio's Jenn White asked what led to the deficit we are facing in this year's budget.

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Politics
4:21 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Study: State employees underpaid

A study commissioned by a union-backed think tank says reports that state and local government employees in Michigan are overpaid compared to workers in the private sector are wrong.

The study is by the Washington D.C. based Economic Policy Institute.

It says college-educated public employees earn 21% less than private sector workers with degrees.

It also found local government workers were compensated at about the same rate as their private sector counterparts.

Jeff Keefe is the Rutgers University management and labor relations professor who conducted the study:

"So the study concludes that state government employees are under-compensated in the state of Michigan, while local government employees are neither over- or under-compensated in the state of Michigan."

The report takes into account education, salaries, and benefits.

Ethan Pollack, with the Economic Policy Institute, says employee compensation is not the biggest factor behind the state’s budget trouble:

 "Michigan isn't significantly different than the deficits you are seeing all across the country…This is not about over-compensation of public sector workers. This is [about] two things. The cyclical deficit is from the recession, and the structural deficit is health care costs."

The Economic Policy Institute says its seven-state study found growing health care costs, and not employee compensation, are the biggest factor in budget deficits.

Detroit
4:14 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Detroit mayor to announce residency incentives for cops

The city of Detroit could soon lure more of its men in blue back within its borders. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is expected to announce a program on Monday aimed at encouraging police officers to live in the city.

John Mogk is a law professor at Wayne State University. He says it makes sense to want to keep public safety workers in the city:

"They’re closer to where their responsibilities are, they provide a degree of security in the neighborhoods in which they live, the compensation they receive, more of it stays in the city and circulates within city businesses."

Mogk says police officers are also paid middle-class wages, which helps a high-poverty city like Detroit.

Detroit had a residency requirement until 1999, when the state Legislature outlawed it.

Law
3:57 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Can children testify in court behind screens?

The Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether it is appropriate to allow children to testify in criminal cases behind screens that shield them from seeing defendants.

The court agreed today to take the case.

The U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers in court.

In the case going before the Michigan Supreme Court, an eight-year-old girl testified that her brother-in-law had repeatedly raped her over a period of years, and exposed her and her brother to pornography.

The jury did not believe the man’s defense that the girl made up the charges to break up his marriage.

The defendant says he was deprived of his right to confront the primary witness against him because she testified from behind a one-way screen.

The screen shielded her view of the defendant, although he could see her.

A therapist said that was the only way she could testify without risking serious emotional damage.

The defendant says the shield prejudiced the jury against him, and that the Constitution requires witnesses to look defendants in the eye when testifying against them.

Economy
3:34 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Report: How land speculators in Detroit make a buck

An old deli in Detroit. Buy cheap, sell high is the land speculator's motto.
Bob Jagendorf Flickr

"If you walked up to him on the street, you wouldn't know that he was a land baron. He's a guy in blue jeans walking around looking like he's working on somebody's building."

- Detroit city attorney Avery Williams talking about Detroit land speculator Michael Kelly.

Christine MacDonald of the Detroit News has a story on how land speculators make money in the city of Detroit.

MacDonald profiles one of the more prolific speculators, Michael Kelly.

The business model for a successful land speculator in Detroit is simple - buy a lot of land for a little money, then sit on the property until it sells for more than you paid for it.

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Education
3:00 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

MSU study: Preschool helps 3 & 4 year olds learn how to read

Many government leaders are debating the value of preschool programs, like Head Start.  A new Michigan State University study finds students do get an educational benefit from pre-K programs.  

 MSU researchers compared about 80 children, between 3 and 4 years old,  whose birthdays were just weeks apart.  Some were just old enough to enter preschool.  The others had to wait. MSU researcher Lori Skibbe says the students who attended pre-school got a jump start on their peers in literacy.  

"We found that children who essentially made the cut off we’re in preschool earlier demonstrated greater gains in literacy than children who were not enrolled in preschool at this time.”  

Other recent studies suggest that pre-K programs do not have long term beneficial effects on students.   Skibbe disagrees.  She says the programs do help students develop literacy skills they need. 

The MSU study appears in the journal, Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Auto/Economy
2:24 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Auto workers get bonus checks

Ford's Rouge River truck plant
Jeff Wilcox Flickr

Detroit automakers are preparing to send bonuses to workers around the region. Even some temporary workers will get a share of growing profits.
Terri Houldieson is technically a temp worker, or a "long-term supplemental employee." But she’ll still get a piece of Ford’s $6.6 billion profit from last year.

Workers like Houldieson should receive, on average, about $2,000 each compared to the $5,000 for regular employees.

"We’ve all put work in and it just shows that they respect us too. Kind of like a pat on the back," says Houldieson.

Ford employs a couple thousand long term temps and most work at assembly plants in Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Houldieson said she’ll buy some new clothes for her two boys, and maybe some expensive shoes to protect her feet during those long hours at the plant.

Environment
1:44 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Comments: Should "non-native" Mute swans be managed?

The Michigan DNRE wants to stop the rehabilitation of Mute swans in the state.
David Slater Flickr

The Environment Report's Rebecca Williams produced a piece the other day on the Michigan DNRE's proposal to limit the number of Mute swans in the state (the swans with an orange bill).

The Michigan DNRE has been trying to reduce their population in the state for decades. By reducing Mute swan numbers, state wildlife officials hope to allow more room for native birds, such as Loons and Trumpeter swans (the USFWS says Mute swans were brought to the U.S. more than 100 years ago as "decorative waterfowl" for parks, zoos, and estates).

On February 10th, the Natural Resources Commission is expected to vote on a DNRE proposal that would make it illegal for wildlife rehabilitators to nurse Mute swans back to health.

The proposal, like any proposal to limit Mute swan numbers, has sparked a lot of debate.

We received several comments on the Environment Report web page about the proposal and about managing Mute swans in general.

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Politics
11:53 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Lawmaker defends Legislature shutdown for storm

State Sen. Rick Jones says decision to shut down Legislature was to protect citizens.
Senate.michigan.gov

A Michigan lawmaker is defending the decision to shut down the state legislature again today as the state continues to dig out from Wednesday’s storm. 

The snowstorm that battered many parts of Michigan   prompted lawmakers to cancel legislative sessions and committee meetings again on Thursday.

State Senator Rick Jones defends the decision. He says it’s in the best interest of the public.

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Commentary
11:25 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Border Wars

Well, the worst snowstorm in recorded history turned out not to live up to its billing, and civilization seems likely to go on.

Funny, but every year we always seem to forget a basic fact of life in Michigan. Which is: it snows in the winter. We are pretty far north, you know. So much so, that a sizable chunk of Ontario is south of us. You remember Ontario, yes?

It is one province of a vast country called Canada which we know is there, but somehow, mostly forget to notice.

Canada is, by far, our biggest trading partner. The economies of Michigan and Ontario are tightly linked, so much so that if something happened to stifle trade between our two countries, we would instantly be plunged into the mother of all depressions.

Most of us know this, but we seem somehow to have an amazing sense of collective amnesia about Canada.

Incredibly, much of the debate in Michigan about whether or not to build a second bridge over the Detroit River has completely ignored that any proposal needs the willing participation of a completely independent foreign nation, known as Canada.

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Environment
11:00 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Oil & Gas Royalties for Parks - or Roads?

Royalties from oil and gas development in Michigan currently go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund. That money is then used to buy land for parks, habitat, and create public access for recreation.
Photo by Rebecca Williams

At the moment, all royalties from oil and gas development in Michigan go into something called the Natural Resources Trust Fund. The trust fund money is used for improving wildlife habitat and parks and it's used to buy land for conservation.

But at a time when pretty much everything’s up on the chopping block... the future of that trust fund is in question.

State Representative Dave Agema (R) from Grandville has introduced legislation to divert oil and gas royalties away from the Trust Fund.

Under his proposal:

  • 60% of oil and gas royalties would go into the State Transportation Fund
  • 20% would go into the State Aeronautics Fund
  • the remaining 20% would go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund

The NRTF has been around since 1976. It was negotiated as part of a larger deal to allow oil and gas development in Michigan's Pigeon River Country State Forest.

I talked with the Michigan Environmental Council's policy director, James Clift, about this.  He says:

"Every corner of the state has obtained some of this trust fund money, either buying parkland or developing parkland, setting aside public land for hunting and fishing... It’s a very popular program and I think people are going to be very supportive of the way it’s spent currently."

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Business
10:34 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Strong 4th quarter for Dow Chemical

Dow Chemical released its fourth quarter earnings report today and it was a good fourth quarter for the chemical giant. Its earnings nearly tripled. From the company's website:

  • The Company reported earnings of $0.37 per share, or $0.47 per share excluding certain items. This compares with earnings of $0.08 per share in the year-ago period, or $0.18 per share excluding certain items.
  • Sales of $13.8 billion rose 22 percent versus the same quarter last year.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

[Dow Chemical] has seen sales rebound in recent quarters on volume growth in basic chemicals, agriculture products and other units. Dow, whose chemicals are used in a wide range of products including diapers and products in the auto industry, has been restructuring to focus on higher-margin specialty products from commodities chemicals, which are more vulnerable to energy-price fluctuations.

Bloomberg News says the earnings are more than some analysts anticipated and come "amid increasing profit from caustic soda and plastics."

Arts/Culture
9:29 am
Thu February 3, 2011

The Day the Music Died

C. Awreetus

Fifty-two years ago today, a plane crashed in a cornfield outside Mason city, Iowa, killing three musicians, including Buddy Holly.

An article from WLFI in Lafayette, Indiana, sets up the story:

Three up and coming musicians were on what was called “The Winter Dance Party” tour through the Midwest. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were all about fed up with the tour bus that kept breaking down, the cold weather that had already sent Holly’s drummer to the hospital with frostbite and the long distances between shows.

Holly's frustration with the tour led him to charter a plane to carry the three musicians to the next stop. The plane crashed, killing the musicians as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson.

Gibson.com has this analysis of the legacy of the three rockers, in particular Holly:

Valens and The Big Bopper would be immortalized by the tragedy, while Buddy Holly is still revered as one of the greatest-ever talents in popular music. As Paul McCartney, someone who knows a thing or two about a good tune, once remarked: “At least the first 40 [Beatles] songs we wrote were Buddy Holly-influenced.”

Holly's enduring influence is even more amazing considering his real success lasted less than two years, but with hits like “Peggy Sue” and “Everyday,” it's not hard to see—or hear—why.

Check out this short but sweet clip of Holly performing in Grand Rapids in 1958:

 

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Health
9:10 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Flu season picking up in Michigan

Michigan is among more than 2 dozen states reporting widespread influenza outbreaks.

Flu outbreaks have been reported in most regions of Michigan. Nursing home patients, college students and other groups of people living in close quarters have fallen ill with the flu. State health officials report one child has died from the flu.

Still, James McCurtis, a spokesman for the state Department of Community Health, says this has been a relatively mild flu season:

"Its very typical. Its nowhere near when we had the (Swine Flu) pandemic with H1N1 last year and two years ago."

McCurtis says the flu season still has about 3 months to go. Which means there is still time to catch the flu, and there’s still time to get a flu shot.

News Roundup
8:27 am
Thu February 3, 2011

In this morning's news...

NMU Classes Resume

Northern Michigan University is open today, following yesterday’s closure of the university due to what was being called a, “serious threat.” The threat came from a blog post, but in a statement released last night, school officials said an investigation, “revealed no evidence that the anonymous blog post originated on campus. It was discovered tonight that similarly worded messages have been directed at several other U.S. universities, recently and in a previous year.”

Weather Continues to Keep Schools (and State Legislature) Closed

The massive winter storm that hit much of Michigan this week might be long-gone, but the remnants of the storm remain. Snow, ice, and cold-temperatures have led many school districts to remain closed for a second day in a row, including Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kalamazoo Public Schools and Detroit Public Schools. Meanwhile, state lawmakers aren’t ones to be left out: sessions in both the state House and Senate have been canceled today due to the weather.

Michigan Students Return from Egypt

Students from universities across the state are returning to the U.S. from Egypt as unrest in that country continues. Michigan universities have canceled their study abroad programs in Egypt and have been coordinating with the State department to bring students back to the U.S., Bridget Bodnar reports.

State Budget
7:47 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Public employees dispute Governor Snyder's state financial report

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Public employees are taking issue with Governor Rick Snyder’s citizen’s guide to the state’s finances. They say it presents an incomplete and inaccurate picture of employee compensation in the public and private sectors.

Unions say the data in the guide does not compare similar jobs in the public and private sectors. They point to half a dozen studies that paint a different picture than the Snyder administration’s data.

Nick Ciaramitaro is with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees:

"Salaries tend to be a little lower, benefits tend to be a little higher in the public sector, but if you look at total compensation, which is what the governor says he wants to look at, we’re very close or a little behind the private sector."

Ciaramitaro also says the data in the guide may not take into account unpaid furlough days taken by state and local workers.

The governor acknowledges the numbers in his guide are a broader overview of compensation trends, but he says he’s open to looking at other data before he presents his first proposed budget later this month: 

"I’m happy to have people react to it whether they agree with it or don’t agree with it because that may bring other data forward that may be worth considering as part of this process. It’s an open  dialogue. This is how you actually set the framework to have the open discussion you’d really like people to have.”

Snyder says that discussion will influence his administration’s budget plans. The governor will present his budget proposal to the Legislature on February 17th.

Winter storm
7:09 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Largest snowfall from winter storm reported in South Haven

The South Haven lighthouse in South Haven, covered with ice and snow from past winter storms
user Cseeman Flickr

The National Weather Service is releasing data on just how much snow fell during the massive winter storm that sweep across the state this week. South Haven, on the coast of Lake Michigan, saw 20 inches of snow on the ground. That's the largest snowfall so far reported, according to the Associated Press. Muskegon got 19.7 inches. A foot of snow fell in the Lansing area. Flint got 10 inches, Detroit got 8.7 inches.

Northern Michigan University
6:51 am
Thu February 3, 2011

NMU to reopen after threat

Northern Michigan University seal

Northern Michigan University in Marquette will resume classes today, a day after being closed due to what was being called a, "serious threat." Last night, the university released the following statement:

NMU President Les Wong said the FBI and other agencies have indicated that there is no longer a clear and ongoing threat and that conditions are suitable to reopening the university. The investigation has revealed no evidence that the anonymous blog post originated on campus. It was discovered tonight that similarly worded messages have been directed at several other U.S. universities, recently and in a previous year.

“We would not make the decision to reopen campus if we did not feel that it is safe to do so,” said Wong. “NMU Public Safety will maintain increased patrols throughout campus as an added precaution, but we think the new information uncovered tonight diminishes the threat to NMU.”

NMU Public Safety Director Mike Bath said his department will continue to work with other agencies to assist in the investigation. NMU had received a phone tip before the university opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday of an anonymous blog post threatening harm to the campus community. Authorities assessed the threat and determined it was serious enough to warrant mobilizing the emergency communication system and closing the university.

State Legislature
6:39 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Another snow day for Michigan lawmakers

Another snow day is in store for the Michigan legislature
Matthileo Flickr

The state Legislature is taking a second snow day. Sessions and committee meetings are canceled today because of this week's winter storm. The Associated Press reports:

Thursday's cancellations include previously scheduled full sessions of the Senate and House, at least three Senate committee hearings and at least five House committee hearings. Lawmakers will resume their regularly scheduled sessions and committee hearings Tuesday.

Lawmakers usually don't hold session on Mondays and Fridays.

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