Commentary
11:13 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Why Journalism Matters

We’re living today in a confusing and somewhat frightening time. Michigan is in trouble, economically. Trouble of a different kind than we’ve been through before. The longtime mainstay of our economy, the automotive industry, will never again be what it was.

This has plunged us from one of the nation’s richer states to one of its poorer ones. State government is finally facing a financial crisis it tried to ignore for years, and the governor is proposing changes that seem radical and sometimes hard to understand.

Beyond that, education at all levels is in crisis. We learned last month that our largest city has suffered a staggering population loss over the last decade.

There are real questions about whether Detroit and other cities, communities and school districts are going to have to be taken over by Emergency Financial Managers.

Understanding all this is vitally important in order to make key decisions for our own lives. Should we trust the public schools? Should we buy a house? Where should we live?

And even, should we leave the state?

We clearly need thoughtful, intelligent and easily accessible journalism to help make sense of these and other events - and need it possibly more than at any other time in our history.

Yet journalism is in trouble too. Journalists, if they do their jobs right, are never very popular. Much of the time, we’re bringing you bad news, and some of the time, we are obnoxious about it.

But right now, we’re having trouble doing that. Digging our news is an expensive, labor-intensive job, and the vast majority has always been done by newspapers. Yet newspapers are facing a deep crisis of their own, thanks in large part to the internet revolution, and our changing lifestyles. Newspapers have been supported historically by advertising, and much of that has melted away to cyberspace. We also don’t read newspapers as much as we used to. People read news on the internet, but internet providers produce little news.

They merely collect it - mainly from our shrinking newspapers.

That doesn’t mean some broadcast and even online publications don’t produce quality journalism. But in terms of content, it is comparatively small.

Last night I spoke at the Detroit area Society of Professional Journalists annual banquet. Michigan Radio won a number of awards, and an encouraging amount of good journalism was on display. But attendance was smaller than last year. Some people have left the profession. Some companies no longer buy tickets.

Yet there were still an impressive corps of men and women there who work long hours for usually not much pay to find out what we need to know and shape it into an interesting package.

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Economy
11:02 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Happy 'Tax Freedom Day' Michigan

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Today is Michigan’s Tax Freedom Day. It’s the day when the average Michigander will have earned enough money to pay their local, state and federal taxes for the year.  That’s three weeks earlier than it used to be mainly because people are earning less money because of the recession. 

Kail Padgitt is with the Tax Foundation, which produces the annual Tax Freedom Day list. He says Michigan’s local and state taxes are higher than most other states.

 “But when we look at federal taxes…Michigan actually paid  a little less in federal taxes due to the (state’s) high unemployment...leading to lower income taxes …federal income taxes.”

Padgitt says as the nation’s economy improves, special federal tax breaks expire and more Michiganders find work, Michigan’s tax freedom day will shift back to the end of April or maybe the beginning of May.

Government Shutdown
9:44 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Essential Vs. Not: Which Jobs Wouldn't Shut Down?

Originally published on Fri April 8, 2011 4:27 pm

In Washington, D.C., and at federal agencies across the country, the big question employees are asking on the eve of a possible government shutdown is: Am I essential or not? Workers and agencies that are deemed essential will be kept on the job if a shutdown occurs.

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News Roundup
9:08 am
Thu April 7, 2011

In this morning's news...

In this morning's news, Thursday, April 7th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MI Keeping Close Eye on Federal Budget

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is keeping a close eye on the showdown over the federal budget in Washington, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Snyder's administration says it expects most state services will continue with minimal or no disruption if a brief federal government shutdown happens…

Key factors influencing the possible effects of a shutdown would be how the federal government defines essential services and how long a shutdown might last…

Michigan's unemployment insurance agency says it expects benefits would continue to be paid to jobless workers, including the roughly 150,000 who now receive benefits under federal programs.

Michigan has about 52,000 federal government employees, including about 22,000 postal employees.

Gas Prices Continue to Rise

Gasoline prices in Michigan continue to edge closer to $4 a gallon and the raising prices are affecting retailers and customers, Steve Carmody reports. The increasing fuel costs are expected to not only increase the cost of filling up gas tanks, but food prices are expected to rise by 3 to 4 percent this year. Carmody reports the biggest increases will be seen in meat, dairy and coffee products. The price of fuel is expected to continue to rise through Memorial Day.

Music from DSO to Be Heard Again

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to begin rehearsals later this morning. The DSO musicians had been on strike for six-months prior to agreeing to a new, tentative agreement with DSO management earlier this week. The first concert by DSO musicians since the strike began last October is scheduled for Saturday night.

Economy
9:01 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit home prices still slumping

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Detroit home prices continue to slump. New data from Clear Capital show the average sale price in the first three months of the year for a home in Detroit was roughly 60,000 dollars. 

Alex Villacorta is an analyst with Clear Capital. He says foreclosed homes continue to clog Detroit’s housing market, depressing sale prices. 

“Once those saturation rates come down I do think you’ll see prices start to stabilize a little bit.   Even if the overall health improves we’ll see may a more sustained price growth looking forward.”

Home sale prices held steady in most of the nation in the first quarter of 2011, except in the western U.S. where home sale prices fell to levels not seen since 2001.

Economy
8:57 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Gas prices pinching retailers

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Gasoline prices in Michigan continue to edge closer to $4 a gallon. Rising prices are affecting retailers along with customers. Consumers are taking a double hit,  prices are rising at the pump and increasing fuel costs are expected to boost food prices by 3 to 4 percent this year, with the biggest increases in meat, dairy and coffee. 

Many of Meijer’s 101 stores in Michigan have company gas stations sitting in front. Frank Guglielmi is a Meijer’s spokesman. He says as gas prices rise the retailer is seeing customer buying patterns change. 

 "The more money they have to spend on fuel for their vehicles, the less they have potentially spend on groceries or general merchandize in a Meijer store.”

Guglielmi says Michigan consumers have become a “battle hardened” group" as a result of the double punch of recession and high gasoline prices in recent years. 

The price of fuel is expected to continue to rise through Memorial Day.

Hunting
8:52 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Future of Michigan ban on deer baiting to be discussed

The state’s Natural Resources Commission holds a discussion today on deer baiting. The commission is set to decide in June whether to lift the baiting ban in the Lower Peninsula. Wildlife biologists say feeding deer causes them to congregate unnaturally, and that it helps spread disease.

But Don Inman – a retired conservation officer – thinks some baiting is okay. He says large feed piles are a problem, but a small amount of bait is not.  

"From my experience and all of my friends too who have hunted in this area and hunted when baiting was legal, we seldom saw more than four deer. We put out a coffee can and spread it around. "

The state banned deer baiting in the Lower Peninsula in 2008 after a deer in Kent County tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

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Government Shutdown
8:46 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Federal workers protest possible government shutdown

At Social Security Offices across the nation Wednesday workers stood outside and rallied against the looming government shutdown. Workers say House Republicans’ proposal to cut nearly $2 billion in SSA funding would lead to incredible delays for people in need.

Kathy Jackson works directly with individuals making Social Security claims. She says a shutdown could harm some of the nation’s most vulnerable people who aren’t able to manage delay’s as well as others.   

“If you’re shut down for even two days, people have deadlines that they have to meet. The problem is a lot of our clients are disabled so a wait for them is not the same for you or I.”

Jackson says if people aren’t able to meet certain filing deadlines they can lose their eligibility for healthcare and housing programs that elderly, veterans, and disabled people need to survive. She says if people miss their chance because of a shutdown, they could be forced to start the process over.

Kenn Keillor  is president of the Grand Rapids local AFGE union. He says the House Republican’s proposal would mean a loss of 200-thousand jobs that both workers and people receiving services rely on.

 "I’m a lot more effective inside doing my job than I am sitting at home drawing unemployment. If you don’t want welfare, then you’ve got to pay workers enough to raise their families. It’s not going to help anybody if we’re sent home on Monday.”

Keillor says federal employees across the country plan to head to work Monday morning whether there is a shutdown or not. The AFGE union covers workers with the Social Security Administration, Veteran’s Administration, Department of Defense and more than 30 other employee groups.

Government Shutdown
7:33 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Michigan officials keeping close eye on federal budget negotiations

President Obama met late last night with Congressional leaders to try to avert a partial government shutdown
Scott_Ableman Flickr

Governor Snyder’s administration says it expects most state services will continue with little or no disruption if a partial federal government shutdown occurs, the Associated Press reports. The federal government will partially shutdown tomorrow at midnight if there is not a deal to fund the government through September. From the AP:

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Wednesday that the administration is monitoring the situation closely and seeking more information. Key factors influencing the possible effects of a shutdown would be how the federal government defines essential services and how long a shutdown might last.

The federal government faces a partial shutdown Friday at midnight if Congress doesn't take action to avoid one.

Michigan's unemployment insurance agency says it expects benefits would continue to be paid to jobless workers, including the roughly 150,000 who now receive benefits under federal programs.

Michigan has about 52,000 federal government employees, including about 22,000 postal employees.

Politics
7:19 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Snyder defends new Detroit/Ontario bridge plan

Governor Rick Snyder (R) is pushing for a second span across the Detroit River
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is defending the plan to build a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Snyder spoke to the Detroit Free Press about his support for a new international bridge over the Detroit River a day after the newspaper published comments from Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun that criticized Snyder and the new bridge plan.  From the Free Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder told the Free Press on Wednesday that a TV ad campaign attacking plans for a second bridge to Canada reminds him of misleading campaign attacks on him in last year's race for governor.

"It's inaccurate," he said of the ad's claim that the public project connecting Michigan and Canada would cost state taxpayers $100 million a year.

The ad is paid for by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who said in a front-page Free Press report Wednesday that Snyder's advocacy for the public bridge would kill Michigan jobs, notably at his companies.

Moroun wants to build his own second Detroit-Windsor span, but the Canadian government won't let him build the span because of traffic, legal and environmental concerns. Snyder said two bridges would be viable…

Snyder said a new bridge, built by a private builder, would stimulate commerce. But, he said in a wide-ranging interview, his top priority is balancing the state budget and enacting tax changes he said will lead to more jobs.

Terrorism
7:05 am
Thu April 7, 2011

'Christmas Day Bomber' due in court

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up an airplane near Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 is scheduled to be in federal court today. From the Associated Press:

…Abdulmutallab is due in court Thursday with prosecutors and his standby counsel, Anthony Chambers.

Abdulmutallab is representing himself, and it's possible that Judge Nancy Edmunds again will ask if he wants that to continue.

It's a critical issue because the deadline to challenge any evidence is two months away. Trial is set for October. Abdulmutallab is not a lawyer.

He's accused of trying to ignite an explosive in his underwear as Northwest Airlines Flight 253 approached Detroit on Christmas 2009. The plane left Amsterdam with 279 passengers and a crew of 11.

Arts/Culture
6:53 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit Symphony Orchestra rehersals to begin today

The DSO will begin rehersals again this morning after a six month strike
Mumu Entertainment Flickr

Rehearsals are scheduled this morning for musicians at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The DSO musicians ended their six-month strike earlier this week after they reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with DSO management.

The Symphony's first post-strike concert is scheduled for Saturday night. From the Associated Press:

The dispute was over how deep a pay cut the musicians would have to take to help the struggling symphony balance its budget. The musicians were offering to accept a 22 percent cut, while management sought and then imposed a 33 percent cut.

In an announcement on the DSO's website, DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin said:

“As we return to our home, I’m confident that the artistic product will continue at the highest possible level. There is much to be done but the DSO will emerge a healthier and stronger institution."

Politics
6:38 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Poll: Most Michiganders dislike emergency manager law

Fifty percent of people in Michigan are opposed to a new law that gives sweeping powers to emergency financial managers overseeing troubled cities and school districts. That’s according to a recent survey commissioned by the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

Bill Ballenger is editor of the newsletter. He says most people do not live in areas that would be affected by the new law because their local governments are running smoothly.

“If you ask them, do you want to give the power to the state to come in and completely play Big Foot here and come in and crush your collective bargaining rights, dissolve your municipality, and mandate your millage elections when in fact they’ve been doing everything right, they’re going to say no.”

Ballenger says he thinks misinformation about who the legislation would affect is causing many people to be upset. Governor Rick Snyder’s administration says no more than 10 local governments in the state would be in danger of being taken over by an emergency manager.

Arts/Culture
5:46 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

"Art X Detroit" puts spotlight on the city's literary, visual and performing arts scene

Art X Detroit runs Apr. 6 - 10, 2011
Photo courtesy of Art X Detroit

The Detroit arts world will be in the spotlight this week.

The first ever Art X Detroit event runs Wednesday, April 6 - Sunday, April 10 and will feature everything from hip hop performances to classical and jazz music to poetry readings.

The event features the 40 artists who have won visual, literary, or performing arts fellowships through the Kresge Foundation over the past two years.

Lewis Aguilar is a 2010 Kresge Literary Arts fellow. For Art X Detroit, he’s written a story about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their time in Detroit. A dramatic reading of the work will take place at Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts:

"I will have people reading that story in the form of a 3-act play, while more than 100 images are being shown on a very large screen behind them."

Chido Johnson was a 2009 Kresge “Visual Artist” fellow, and he’s excited to display his new work during Art X Detroit. He says "Detroit has been identified over and over again as a decayed city, and this is a way to really emphasize how rich and cultural it is.

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immigration
4:30 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Immigrant advocates say Detroit ICE office "out of control"

Jose Luis, left, describes hiding out inside his kids' school as immigration agents waited outside.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Advocates for undocumented immigrants say the Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – is “out of control.” They say agents are ignoring the agency’s own guidelines prohibiting enforcement near schools and churches.

Ali Abdel is the principal at Hope of Detroit Academy. He says ICE agents surrounded the school last week, terrifying parents and students:

"The school was like a ghost town. People were coming to get their students out of school, they were scared.... They were calling, flooding our lines – is ICE in the building? Are they around the corner? And this is no way for children to learn."

Jose Luis is one of several parents who hid inside the school last week as immigration agents waited outside. Luis says agents in three SUVs appeared to follow him as he dropped his kids off for school:

"ICE should be following people who they have warrants for. But that’s not what they’re doing, they’re following everybody."

The Alliance for Immigrants’ Rights has a series of demands. They include identifying who authorized the enforcement action at the school, and disciplining those responsible.

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Justice
4:11 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

University of Michigan student sues former assistant attorney general

Former assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, from an interview with Anderson Cooper last September
CNN

Andrew Shirvell gained national attention for his public campaign against a University of Michigan student.

Now, that U-M student is suing him.

The Detroit News reports:

A University of Michigan student is suing a fired assistant attorney general for allegedly stalking him and defaming his character last year in a scandal that received nationwide publicity.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Washtenaw Circuit Court by Christopher Armstrong, 21, the president of the U-M Student Assembly, against Andrew Shirvell, who was fired by former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox last November for using state computers to wage a campaign against the openly gay student.

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Politics
3:01 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Granholm won't lead new consumer financial protection agency

Matt Hampel Flickr

President Obama once considered Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm for a supreme court judgeship.

Now, it looks like the administration was considering her for another job: the head of the new consumer financial protection agency.

But Granholm has declined to be considered for the position.

The Detroit News reports:

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said today she has no plans to head a new federal agency charged with protecting consumers of financial products such as mortgages and bank accounts.

Reuters reported that Federal Reserve board member Sarah Raskin also is under consideration to head the new consumer protection body called the Consumer Financial Protection Board.

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Economy
2:06 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Borders spokeswoman insists decision to leave Ann Arbor has not been made

Borders bookstore located in Arborland shopping center in Ann Arbor, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A report in the Wall Street Journal suggested Borders plans to move its headquarters from Ann Arbor. But company spokeswoman Mary Davis insists no final decision has been made.   

"We are looking at a number of options all around the greater metropolitan Detroit area including Ann Arbor. News reports are making it sound like the decision is final and we are moving out of Ann Arbor. That is not the case."   

The Wall Street Journal reported late last night that Borders will outline its future plans to a group of its creditors today. Part of those plans involves moving out of the company's Ann Arbor headquarters. The company has said the building no longer serves Borders needs. Borders issued a statement saying the company will look for a new facility in metro Detroit.  

Borders filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year. Since then, Borders moved to close more than 200 bookstores, including four in Michigan. Borders hopes to exit bankruptcy protection later this year, possibly in late summer or early fall.  

Borders, once a leader in the nation's book selling industry, has struggled in recent years as book buyers have moved online.

Arts/Culture
2:05 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Exploring Detroit “beautiful and shocking at the same time”

Jerry Belanger shares the history of renovating Cliffbells with a group touring from Grand Rapids.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Just before 7 o’clock this morning, I got on a bus to Detroit. More than 50 people from West Michigan are also on board. And these are normal, non-politician-type people who are trying to learn more about Detroit.

If you find yourself asking something like, “Why would they do that?” or “What’s to learn from Detroit?” – then join me, you’re on the right track.

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Offbeat
1:48 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Kidney donor discovered on Facebook

User apoxapox Flickr

A Michigan man was told he could wait five years for a kidney transplant that matched his blood type.

But then he found one on Facebook.

ABC News reports:

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