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energy
6:14 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

NRC Chairman: Palisades needs to work on “the basics of nuclear safety”

Outgoing NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (middle) speaks to reporters at a press conference following his tour of the Palisades plant in South Haven.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says operators of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant must improve plant safety.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko shared his thoughts following a three-hour tour of the plant in South Haven Friday.

“There’s really a need to improve on fundamentals. Just some of the basics of nuclear safety really need to be worked on,” Jaczko said. “We’re starting to see some of that happen which is a positive but it needs to be sustained to ultimately get the performance where we’d like to see it."

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Education
6:01 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

Detroit teachers' union threatens to sue over re-hire process

WzrdsRule flickr

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is threatening a lawsuit that could force a legal showdown over Michigan's new teacher tenure law.

The union says Detroit Public Schools' process for re-hiring teachers this fall violates the union's contract.

The district has issued layoff notices to all its teachers. It will re-hire them based in part on performance evaluations.

Union President Keith Johnson says under its 2009 contract, the district and the union were supposed to come up with an evaluation tool together.

But Johnson says instead, district officials are now conducting what he calls "drive-by evaluations."

"It pretty much involves principals or even retired principals going into a teacher's classroom, staying for as little as four minutes, and then determining whether or not that teacher was effective, ineffective, minimally effective or whatever the case may have been."

Under Michigan's new tenure law, teachers are rated on a scale from highly effective to ineffective.

But Johnson says seniority can still be considered. He says if the district ignores that, he'll go to court.

A district spokesman says it's complying with the law and current collective bargaining agreements.

 

It's Just Politics
5:46 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

State Republicans say they want income tax relief... can Democrats afford to vote 'no'?

Republicans in Lansing say they want income-tax relief... can Democrats afford, politically, to say "No?"
Matthileo Flickr

Taxes, as we all know too well, are a powerful political issue. And the issue has come up yet again at the state Capitol. A cut in the state income tax has become part of the negotiations as Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature's top Republican leaders wrap up their budget negotiations. Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I sit down to talk politics every Friday and today, in It's Just Politics, it is all the politics of taxes.

Rick Pluta: The governor and the Legislature have set this deadline of June 1 for wrapping up the next state budget.

Zoe Clark: And that's important, because - even though the state's fiscal year begins October 1 - schools, community colleges, cities, townships, and counties all have budget years that begin July 1. They all have budgets that are tied into state spending.

RP: Right. Now, in the final days of discussions, Republicans have put an income tax cut on the table. State House Republicans will roll out the legislation next week.

ZC: So, that begs the question: why are they doing it now?

RP: Well, for a year and a half, Democrats in Lansing have hammered Republicans because all the tax and budget reforms have focused on reducing costs for businesses: eliminating the Michigan Business Tax on 95,000 businesses and the proposal to eliminate the tax on industrial equipment.

ZC: At the same time, a dozen tax credits and exemptions claimed by homeowners, parents, seniors on pensions, and  poor families earning incomes were ended.

RP: And Democrats have been pounding Republicans with that incessantly and with an eye toward the November elections - when, we should note, all 110 seats in the state House of Representatives are up for election.

ZC: So now, courtesy of Republicans, a proposal for income tax relief.

RP: The main bills in the tax rollback package will be sponsored by state Representatives Holly Hughes and Ed McBroom, Republicans representing districts that are considered marginally - 51, 52 percent - Democratic.

ZC: And Democrats most certainly want those seats back.

RP: Exactly, and this shows Republicans intend to put a fight in these seats by giving their incumbents these bills. One accelerates a reduction in the income tax rate; the other increases the personal exemption. But the bottom line is Republicans want the message to be: Republicans equal tax cuts. Democrats, however, have already revealed their counterattack.

ZC: And the counterattack is really what their message has been all along. Since last year, GOP hegemony in Lansing has meant tax cuts to businesses while seniors, homeowners, and working poor families all lost tax breaks that they've counted on, as well as reductions for schools, universities, and local governments.

RP:  Right, so Democrats say this so-called "tax relief:" 50 cents a week, nine dollars a person per year  is pretty meager compared to the costs that everyone has had to pick up in the name of improving the business climate.

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Politics
5:17 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

UAW commemorates 75 years since "The Battle of the Overpass"

UAW leaders after the Battle of the Overpass, 1937.
via Walter P. Reuther Library Wayne State University

The UAW remembered the 75th anniversary of the “Battle of the Overpass” Friday.

Many union members see the event as a pivotal point in Detroit--and national--labor history.

On May 26th, 1937, UAW President Walter Reuther and other union leaders were trying to organize workers at the massive Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn.

A confrontation ensued, and some union leaders were badly beaten by members of Henry Ford’s security team.

Bernie Ricke is President of UAW Local 600, which represents Ford Rouge workers today.

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Environment & Science
3:57 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

Mining resurgence in Michigan's UP gains some national attention

Drilling began at the Eagle Mine this past September. This aerial photo was taken in September of 2011. The mine is 25 miles northwest of Marquette, Michigan.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

The boom and bust nature of the mining industry is nothing new to residents of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And while recent decades have seen the region's once-prosperous iron and copper mines falling further and further into "bust" territory, the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest from companies hoping to pull valuable ore from this remote part of the state.

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Auto
2:54 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

Judge to auto dealers: Tell buyers about bad credit histories

Analysts say car sales are climbing.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

A federal judge issued a ruling today telling auto dealers to inform buyers when they have negative information on their credit report, even if the loan is handed off to a bank or finance company.

Car buyers with bad credit histories often have higher interest loan terms.

The National Automobile Dealers Association wanted car dealers exempted from a provision in the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The FTC concluded that the auto dealers actually use the credit report even if they do not physically obtain it, and so must provide the notice to consumers. NADA sued the FTC, challenging this interpretation. The court agreed with the FTC's position in its ruling.

"This ruling will make it easier for consumers to learn about unfavorable information in their credit reports," said Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the civil division. "The auto dealer is in the best position to provide this information because the dealer interacts directly with the consumer."

The Freep reports the National Automobile Dealers Association plans to "appeal to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit."

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton recently reported that Chrysler's sales have been buoyed by loans to buyers with less-than-stellar credit histories:

Chrysler's new car sales have been improving faster than almost any other car company in the U.S. in recent months. But the company has also been relying on subprime borrowers more than almost any other car company. That's according to Edmunds.com.

 

Samilton reports that the loans are riskier, but people still tend to pay them:

People are much more likely to default on a subprime house loan than a subprime car loan.

One analyst said the bigger risk for auto manufacturers is that more subprime loans might tarnish a brand's image.

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Economy
1:19 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

Poorest city in Michigan hosts Senior PGA Championship

Protestors gather in front of Benton Harbor city hall before a silent march.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Senior PGA Championship is underway today in Benton Harbor.

The city is home to the Whirlpool Corporation, the largest appliance manufacturer in the world; and it's also the poorest city in Michigan. In 2010 the average household in Benton Harbor earned just $17,000 a year.

Whirlpool's plan to turn Benton Harbor into a tourist destination

Recently, a steady stream of tour busses and a fleet of silver Mercedes with the PGA logo cruised through town.

At times you could see people inside the cars point at boarded up buildings as they drove by.

The Harbor Shores golf course sits in sharp contrast to the city’s poverty. But near the golf course there are plans for condos, two luxury hotels (to be completed by 2014), and a marina.

Whirlpool executives came up with this concept in the 1980s. They wanted to turn more than three million square feet of old manufacturing space near the Lake Michigan shore into a destination for golfers.

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Health
11:49 am
Fri May 25, 2012

State urges Bridge Card recipients to buy garden plants to stretch food budget

gordonwd MorgueFile

Living on a small income doesn't mean people can't eat well. Sometimes it just means getting your hands a bit dirty. 

The state of Michigan is encouraging Bridge Card holders to use their benefits to buy fresh produce at stores and farmers markets. It also suggests recipients buy fruit, vegetable and herb plants  to grow themselves.

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Politics
11:33 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Doctors ask for protection if they report patients who shouldn't be driving

mconnors MorgueFile

Michigan doctors who report patients with a medical condition that could impair their driving ability would not be held liable under proposed legislation. 

It's a dilemma for doctors:  Tell the Secretary of State about a patient who should not be behind the wheel -- and they breach confidentiality. Or, don't report them, and face liability if someone is injured in a crash involving that patient.

Dr. Marianna Spanaki  is a neurologist at Henry Ford Medical Group. She says confidentiality is a cornerstone of a patient-doctor relationship.

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Arts & Culture
11:30 am
Fri May 25, 2012

It's "Techno Week" in Detroit, events start tonight

Mixing at the Movement Electronic Music Festival.
Movement:DEMF YouTube

The Detroit electronic music festival comes to Detroit for the 13th year. Today, the festival is known as the "Movement Electronic Music Festival" and the festivities kick off tonight with a free, co-sponsored event at 8 p.m. outside of the Detroit Historical Museum (5401 Woodward Avenue). Festival organizers say Keith Kemp will open for "Detroit Techno legend" Carl Craig.

Tomorrow, events shift to Hart Plaza for three days of music with, as the Detroit News reports, more than 100 acts on six stages - including a headlining appearance by Public Enemy... "yeeeeeah booooy!":

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Education
11:16 am
Fri May 25, 2012

MSU offers bachelor's program to community college nursing students

taliesin MorgueFile

Nursing students at two community colleges in Michigan will be able to work toward their bachelor's degree under a new agreement with Michigan State University. 

MSU says the collaboration with Lansing and Macomb County Community Colleges will let nursing students enroll in two summer sessions at MSU while simultaneously finishing their associate degree program.

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Education
11:09 am
Fri May 25, 2012

A Michigan school district may be completely replaced by charter schools

Muskegon Heights High School

The Muskegon Heights School District could be completely turned over to charter schools this fall.   That would be a first in the state of Michigan.   

The district’s emergency manager is submitting his plan to replace the entire school district with charter schools with the state Treasury and Education Departments today.  He says that’s the only way to get the district out of its financial crisis.

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Commentary
10:55 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Commentary: Film Tax Credits

Well, we are heading into the holiday weekend, and if the weather holds up, many of us will be barbecuing or going out on the water. But some of us will be going to the movies.

And your odds of seeing a major motion picture made in Michigan are a lot smaller than they were a few years ago.

That’s because the film incentive established by the Granholm Administration ended when Rick Snyder became governor and Republicans took over both houses of the legislature.

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Economy
10:50 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Supporters of a tent city near Ann Arbor fear eviction

John Wagner (left) is a volunteer and supporter of Camp Take Notice. Alonzo Young is a camper. He's been attending classes at Washtenaw Community College.
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

About 70 people took part in a rally to show support for a tent city near Ann Arbor.

It's called "Camp Take Notice," and it's been on state-owned land for more than two years. The 65 people who live there are worried their days there are numbered.

David Williams has been staying at the camp for a year. "If we lose this camp it would be difficult for me to find another safe environment to live. And I hope that people understand that. Anyone can be homeless. Homelessness is not prejudice," he said.

Organizers want a commitment from the state to allow people to continue living at the site. But one neighbor, who asked not to be named, said he'd like to see the camp gone.

"There have been reports of stolen property down there. You don't necessarily feel comfortable being outside or outside alone towards the evening. And like I said, they are not bad people, that's not the problem. It's the element that goes along with it," the neighbor said.

Jeff Cranson, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the state has been working with the camp's organizers for a couple of years. He said there are no immediate eviction plans, but that the tent city is not safe and residents will need to relocate. Cranson said a fire broke out a few months ago and emergency crews had difficultly getting water to the site. 

He said another state agency is working to find alternative housing for the camp's residents.

Michigan Radio visited the camp in the fall of 2011.

Politics
10:28 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Republicans propose a tax cut for individuals, but is it enough?

Every Thursday we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

The Snyder Administration and the legislature are working to complete work on the state budget, and it sounds like they’ve made some progress towards a final deal.

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News Roundup
8:26 am
Fri May 25, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, May 25th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Detroit Budget

The Detroit City Council has approved a new budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st but, the Council spent a lot more time talking about Detroit’s consent agreement with the state—and whether to challenge it in court—than about the budget. “The budget that Council approved by a six-three vote is pretty similar to the one Mayor Dave Bing’s office proposed in April. The Council restored some money to the budget. But it mostly preserved the nearly $250 million in cuts the mayor proposed. They didn’t have much choice, because the city’s consent agreement requires Detroit to spend within its means. A decision on whether to take the consent agreement to court is expected early next week,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

State Prison Shakeup

The state Department of Corrections plans a shakeup of its network of prisons and holding facilities to add space for alleged parole violators. Rick Pluta reports:

The last remaining prison within Detroit’s city limits will close, and be converted to a holding facility for people accused of parole violators. A prisoner re-entry facility in the Thumb will also close, while a shuttered prison in Muskegon will re-open. Russ Marlan is with the state Department of Corrections. He says the department has few alternatives right now when dealing with parole absconders – either ship them to the state prison complex in Jackson or let them go free. Some Detroit lawmakers complain the move will make it harder for some families to visit inmates and weaken the support system for prisoners once they’re released.

Camp Take Notice

People who live at a large homeless encampment near Ann Arbor are worried they might be evicted. “About 65 people live at Camp Take Notice. Residents and their supporters held a rally last night to pressure the state to let them stay. The tent city sits on Michigan Department of Transportation property. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation says the state has been working with the camp's organizers for a couple of years.  He says there are no immediate eviction plans, but that the tent city is not safe and residents will need to relocate,” Mercedes Mejia reports.

Sports
7:55 am
Fri May 25, 2012

2012 Olympics: Running down a dream

Starting line at the Olympic Trials
Facebook/Chevron Houston Marathon

Nick Stanko is a small guy with a shaved head. He’s an art teacher at Haslett High School, east of Lansing, and he also coaches the track team.

Stanko is hard-core about running. He’s tried out for the Olympic team twice and even the kids on his track team admit he’s a big deal. Senior Ryan Beyea told me he likes to brag to kids at other high schools that he gets to train alongside the legend, Nick Stanko.

In January, Stanko traveled to Texas to compete in the Olympic trials for the marathon and Beyea and some of other kids went down to support their coach.

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Politics
7:07 am
Fri May 25, 2012

To trim budget, Inkster might cut police by half

A Detroit suburb may cut as much as half of its police force amid cost-cutting efforts. The Detroit News reports a budget passed Thursday by the Inkster City Council calls for trimming $2 million from the police department as part of an effort to avoid a state-appointed emergency financial manager. Councilman Dennard Shaw calls it a "painful decision."

The number of police layoffs hasn't been determined. The newspaper says one estimate says as many as 21 officers could be cut, nearly half the force.

In March, Gov. Rick Snyder announced Inkster was in severe financial stress. A consent agreement, however, staved off an emergency manager appointment. Under the deal, officials must provide the state with detailed plans for reduced spending or increased revenue to improve its budget.

Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Kids need to learn how to lose

Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann Flickr

Remember Field Day?

For most of us, it was a hallowed year-end school tradition, right up there with ice cream socials, and signing yearbooks.

The kids loved it, of course, and looked forward to it every year. 

But not at Burns Park, one of Ann Arbor’s oldest, most desirable and most educated neighborhoods – and occasionally, one of its kookiest.

There is a reason many townies jokingly refer to it as “The Republic of Burns Park.”

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Politics
6:36 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

State to convert Detroit prison to holding facility for parole violators

The state Department of Corrections plans to close two prisons and convert one of them to a holding facility for alleged parole violators.         

Prison officials say there’s a shortage of housing for felons suspected of violating parole.

“Every day, there are situations with those parolees where we have to put them into custody while we investigate circumstances surrounding alleged parole violations," said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan. "So, right now, we either put them in a van and drive them back to our reception center, or we let them walk out of the parole office.”

 The Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit and an inmate re-entry facility in Caro will be closed. The department will also re-open a shuttered prison in Muskegon as part of the shakeup.

 The shakeup will close the last remaining prison in Detroit, and it will force inmates in the facility to be moved out of the city. Detroit lawmakers say that's a bad idea.

 “Just because people go to prison doesn’t mean that they should be disconnected from their families and support systems that will help them become rehabilitated and better citizens," said Rep. Fred Durhal (D-Deiroit). "Because that’s what this thing is about – is punish them for the crimes that they’ve done, but not cut them off from family and other relatives.”

Durhal says the two prisons that are closing are two of the state’s newest correctional facilities. Corrections officials say the shakeup will cost another $10 million a year. But they say it’s less expensive than other options for dealing with parole violators.

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