News

Pages

Politics
8:44 am
Wed May 23, 2012

The Week in Michigan Politics

The Week in State Politics
Contemplative Imaging Flickr

Every Wednesday morning we check in with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry to talk about the week's political news in the state. On tap for this morning: The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that review teams that are deciding whether or not a city or school district is in financial crisis can meet behind closed doors, some Detroit officials say the consent agreement the city has with the state is illegal, and we take a look at a big shake-up in the state Republican party leadership.

News Roundup
8:36 am
Wed May 23, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Detroit Consent Agreement

Officials with Detroit’s law department say they expect to go to court to challenge the city’s consent agreement with the state. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Last week, Detroit’s top lawyer suggested the agreement was illegal because the state owes an outstanding debt to the city.  State officials say that premise is all wrong. Some City Council members oppose a legal challenge, calling it pointless and counterproductive. But council member Kwame Kenyatta took the opposite view. He says if city lawyers are right and the agreement violates the city charter, that’s a serious problem. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing declined to comment on the legal challenge.

Flint Teachers

The Flint school board has voted to lay off 237 teachers as part of an effort to eliminate an estimated $20 million deficit for the coming year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The board voted Tuesday to lay off 108 elementary and 129 secondary school teachers. Earlier this month, the board voted to close both middle schools, along with Bunche and Summerfield elementary schools. Board documents say the district selected teachers for layoff based on recent evaluations. Statewide teacher tenure legislation last year put an end to seniority-based layoffs. The board must adopt a budget by June 30.

Kalamazoo River Update

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated. “Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.  Jennifer Gray is a state toxicologist. She says a draft report released this week by the Department of Community Health shows no organic oil-related chemicals have turned up in any of the water wells.  But she says a few wells have tested positive for iron and nickel. Gray says testing will continue for years to come," Steve Carmody reports. A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.

Environment & Science
7:27 am
Wed May 23, 2012

Wildfire burning in the Upper Peninsula

SENEY, Mich. (AP) - Officials say a wildfire in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has burned at least 600 acres of a wildlife refuge.

The Mining Journal of Marquette and WLUC-TV report the fire at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County is believed to have been started Sunday by a lightning strike. It grew Monday and continued to burn on Tuesday. Officials say dry conditions contributed to its spread.

A message seeking updated information about the fire was left Wednesday morning by The Associated Press with an official at the refuge.

No injuries or damage to buildings was reported. The refuge plans to evaluate whether to close trails in the area for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Education
7:25 am
Wed May 23, 2012

Flint school district laying off hundreds of teachers

FLINT, Mich. (AP) - The Flint school board has voted to lay off 237 teachers as part of an effort to eliminate an estimated $20 million deficit for the coming year.

The board voted Tuesday to lay off 108 elementary and 129 secondary school teachers.

Earlier this month, Mlive.com (http://bit.ly/JnOdC1 ) says the board voted to close both middle schools, along with Bunche and Summerfield elementary schools.

Auto
10:47 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Chrysler boosts sales with subprime borrowers

Chrysler-Group flickr

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.

People with good credit can usually find a car loan with a four percent interest rate.

But a growing number of Chrysler's customers have poor credit - and their loans have 10 percent interest rates.

Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell says it's definitely boosting Chrysler's sales, but there are risks.

"I think subprime can tarnish your image in a way," she says.  "If you have a high percentage of subprime borrowers, people start to catch on or think that perhaps your brand isn't as prestigious as you would want to think it is."

Even though subprime car loans are riskier, there is still a relatively low rate of default.

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

Auto
8:37 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Ford gets investment-grade credit rating, blue oval back

To mark the return of the Ford Blue Oval and investment grade status, Bill Ford, Jr. joined over 1000 employees outside of Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn to form a human Blue Oval.
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company has its "Blue Oval" back, after a second ratings firm upgraded Ford to "investment grade."

The trademark and other assets were put up as collateral for loans in 2006. Those loans got the company through the recession and a restructuring without a bankruptcy.

Bill Ford, Junior is the Board's Executive Chairman, and the great-grandson of Henry Ford. He says it's a "once in a lifetime" event.

"When we pledged the Blue oval it was enormously emotional for me and my family," Ford said. "Because we weren't just pledging an asset, we were pledging our heritage."

The ratings upgrade means Ford will likely have a larger pool of bond investors. The company will also have lower borrowing costs.

Read more
Newsmaker Interview
5:16 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Does Michigan's 'stand your ground' law promote violence?

Tim Bledsoe is a Democrat representing Michigan’s 1st House District, which includes Grosse Pointe
Rep. Bledsoe's official website

Florida caught lots of attention after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen. On trial for the killing is George Zimmerman who claims he acted under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Michigan is among several states with laws similar to Florida’s. Michigan’s “stand your ground” law was revised in 2006 by bipartisan majorities in the legislature. It was signed into law by Jennifer Granholm, who was the Democratic governor at the time.

Now, more than a dozen Democratic Michigan House members have introduced legislation to repeal the law.

Democratic Representative Tim Bledsoe sponsored House Bill 5644. “I think the Trayvon Martin case really showed us the problem with having a law like “stand your ground," he said.

According to Bledsoe, Michigan has another self-defense law called the Castle Doctrine, which states that a person has the right to defend themselves, their family and their property in their home.

“Our effort to repeal the "stand your ground" law does not in any way affect the Castle Doctrine. But what we are seeing is that, if you are in a public place, and you are in a confrontation, and there is this opportunity for you to retreat, you must take advantage of that opportunity to retreat,” said Bledsoe.

The Democratic representative said although he has not identified any case in Michigan where the "stand your ground" law has been used in self defense, he said "We see this more in terms of acting in a preemptive way to try to avoid situations like the Trayvon Martin case here in Michigan."

Rep. Bledsoe said he and others will continue to seek out public support to pressure legislators to repeal the law.

Politics
4:28 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Detroit lawyers: We'll probably take consent agreement to court

Detroit skyline
user Bernt Rostad creative commons

Officials with Detroit’s law department they’ll most likely challenge the city’s consent agreement with the state.

Last week, Detroit’s corporation counsel issued a letter suggesting the agreement was illegal because the state owes the city money.

State officials say that premise is all wrong, and the opinion has no legal merit.

Read more
Politics
3:53 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Proposed changes to Michigan election laws draw ire from protestors

State Rep. Pete Lund chairs the House Redistricting and Elections Committee
gophouse.com

A House committee meeting in Lansing was interrupted today by a group of about 50 protestors angry over proposed election law changes.

The House Redistricting and Elections Committee planned to vote on a series of changes including one that would require either a photo ID or birth certificate to be presented when registering to vote.  Opponents argue that the new rule would create unfair hurdles for some potential voters.

Protestors yelled slogans including "respect our vote" and some people were escorted outside.

According to the Detroit News, the protest was led by Pastor W.J. Rideout and Rev. Charles Williams Sr., the latter of whom told committee members "you're killing democracy" before leaving the meeting.

Another man, the News says, told committee chairman Rep. Pete Lund that, "The blood of Martin Luther King Junior is on your hands."

Despite the disruption, the committee voted to have the bill move to the House floor. 

-John Klein Wilson,Michigan Radio Newsroom

Crime
3:20 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Jury finds Elias Abuelazam, accused serial stabber in Flint, guilty of murder

Elias Abuelazam (file photo)
(courtesy of the Genesee County Prosecutor's office)

Update:

A man suspected of stabbing 14 men in and around Flint, Mich., two summers ago has been convicted of first-degree murder in the first case to go to trial.

A Genesee County jury convicted Elias Abuelazam (EE'-lee-us ah-BOOL'-ah-zahm) on Tuesday of fatally stabbing 49-year-old Arnold

Minor in August 2010. Minor's blood was found on Abuelazam's clothes and in his SUV. Abuelazam was arrested trying to board a plane to his native Israel.

Investigators say Abuelazam asked for directions or help with car trouble before stabbing his victims. Five of the 14 Flint-area victims died. Abuelazam also is charged with stabbing someone in Toledo, Ohio, and is suspected in attacks in Leesburg, Va.

Abuelazam's attorneys argued he was insane that summer. A psychiatrist said he was compelled by violent delusions.

12:27 pm:

A lawyer for an Israeli immigrant charged with murder in a Michigan stabbing spree is telling jurors to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Attorney Ed Zeineh says Elias Abuelazam heard voices and saw black clouds two summers ago and fits the profile of a paranoid schizophrenic.

Jurors are hearing closing arguments Tuesday in Genesee County court.  Abuelazam is on trial for the fatal stabbing of 49-year-old Arnold Minor. Prosecutors say he was not mentally ill and should be held criminally responsible.

Fourteen people were stabbed in and around Flint two summers ago, and five died. Abuelazam is charged in nine of those stabbings, including three deaths. He's charged with attempted murder in Toledo, Ohio.

Environment & Science
2:40 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Report: No contamination found in well water in Kalamazoo River oil spill zone

Oil spill clean up work along the Kalamazoo River, near Battle Creek, July, 2010
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated.

A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800 thousand gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.   The cleanup of the river and the surrounding area continues.

Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.

Read more
Economy
1:23 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Report: Michiganders will use less gasoline and electricity this summer

Will you be filling up as often this summer?
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michiganders will use less gasoline and electricity this summer, that's according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The state utility regulatory agency issued its annual Summer Energy Appraisal today.

Judy Palnau is the agency’s spokeswoman. She says there are a couple reasons why the public service commission expects gasoline sales will decline about 2 percent this summer in Michigan.

“Part of that is a economy. But part of that is we are also driving more energy efficient vehicles,” says Palnau. 

Palnau says the economy is also a reason why they expect electricity use will dip slightly this summer.

“Our sluggish economy is still a factor in decreasing use of electricity,” says Palnau, though the MPSC expects residential electric use will increase. 

The MPSC study also predicts natural gas sales will decline nearly 5 percent this summer. A mild winter drove down demand among both business and residential natural gas customers.

Politics
1:15 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Court of Appeals rules Michigan's emergency manager process doesn't violate Open Meetings law

Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled review teams can meet behind closed doors as they decide whether to recommend a state takeover of a city or school district. Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law filed the challenge. They say review teams should have to comply with Michigan’s open meetings law.

The ruling essentially upholds the decision to name an emergency manager to run Flint and the state’s consent agreement with Detroit.

Robert Davis filed one of the lawsuits. He says the court made a mistake.

“The financial review teams are able to exercise extraordinary powers, including issuing subpoenas and compelling testimony of local elected officials, and, certainly, since they are discussing financial management of a local unit of government certainly that should be open for every person and every citizen to be privy to,” Davis said.

Davis said he will appeal this ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals is still deciding whether to allow a referendum challenging the emergency manager law on the November ballot

Economy
12:57 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Benton Harbor hosts 2012 Senior PGA Championship

Professional golfers practice at Harbor Shores golf course in Benton Harbor.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Senior PGA tournament for professional golfers is in Benton Harbor this week.

Famous golfers began practicing on the course Monday afternoon. Harbor Shore golf course was partially built on city owned land. Elected city leaders agreed to lease the property with the hope of attracting jobs and tourists to the region.

Herb Caldwell is Vice President of the Consortium for Community Development. The non-profit group tries to improve the community’s workforce skills. He says the group has helped more than 260 people get temporary jobs for the tour.

But Caldwell says the tournament is also bringing a sense of excitement and pride to its residents.

“People will walk away from this – not only the people internally who live here – with a different perspective on their community but the people who will visit here will now have a different picture of Benton Harbor,” Caldwell said.

But not everyone is pleased.

Benton Harbor is the poorest city in Michigan with an average household income of $17,000 a year. The city government is under the control of an emergency manager.

Read more
Health
12:03 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Rep. Dingell supports bill to speed up FDA reviews

Tom Varco Wikimedia commons

Congress is trying to speed up the review process for new medicines and devices while still keeping them safe.   A bill before the House would increase the amount of money and authority given to the Food and Drug Administration to do that.

Congressman John Dingell represents Michigan's 15th District and supports the bill.  He says one way the new bill will protect the drug supply is by increasing the FDA's authority over imported medicine.

"[The User Fee bill] enables [the] Food and Drug [Administration] to address the problems that we had (i.e. unsafe pharmaceuticals and unsafe commodities and components for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals in this country," Dingell said.  "So Food and Drug can control them now."

Drug and medical device manufacturers typically pay user fees that fund the reviews by the Food and Drug Administration.  The new bill will expand those fees to more companies, including international ones. 

"This is the best way of leveling the playing field between American manufacturers and foreign manufacturers" said Dingell, "and also seeing to it that everybody -- consumers, manufacturers and all get the services that they're entitled to from [the] Food and Drug [Administration]."

Patient safety advocates are against parts of the bill. They say even tougher reviews should be applied to medical devices.

-Nishant Sekaran, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Commentary
11:18 am
Tue May 22, 2012

Contraception Rules

The Michigan Catholic Conference filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, charging that their freedom of religion has been violated because of a new rule regarding health insurance policies.

And on the basis of logic alone, I have to say, what they are claiming makes absolutely no sense to me. This is not an issue that only involves Michigan. Forty-three Roman Catholic dioceses, social service agencies, schools and even the University of Notre Dame filed similar lawsuits across the nation. Their issue is simply this.

The Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services has a rule requiring all employers that provide health insurance to have that coverage cover contraceptives.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes any use of contraception, and says being required to cover this violates their religious freedom.

This is not, by the way, part of the Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of which is due to be decided by the United States Supreme Court next month, This is entirely a different case.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and other Catholic groups across the nation say that requiring them to insure contraceptive coverage violates their rights under both the First Amendment and under a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They want the federal courts to make the Obama Administration drop this requirement.

But here's why their argument seems illogical. The government is not requiring that anybody approve of or use contraception. That would be a tremendous violation of religious freedom. What the government is saying is that if someone does choose to do so, insurance plans have to cover it.

That makes logical and legal sense, given that nearly half a century ago, in a case called Griswold vs. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state could not outlaw the use of contraceptives. Incidentally, every survey I have ever seen shows that the majority of American Catholics do in fact use contraception, even though it is against their church's teaching.

Read more
Politics
10:56 am
Tue May 22, 2012

Detroit Works Project gets long-term planning input--but is anybody listening?

Houses in Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood
Andrew Jameson Wikimedia commons

A project that aims to radically re-shape Detroit’s geography and better align resources with its declining population is starting to wrap up.

After a rocky launch in 2010, city officials split the Detroit Works Project into short-term and long-term planning teams.

The long-term plan organizers have been holding community meetings for months. They’re trying to develop a comprehensive blueprint for the city’s future.

Read more
Memorial Day
10:29 am
Tue May 22, 2012

GM group to honor U.S. military fallen today

Alan Crosthwaite

General Motors' Customer Care and Aftersales (CCA) Veterans Affinity Group (VAG) will honor U.S. Military personnel who lost their lives in Afghanistan at the first annual "Field of "Flags" event.

The formal semi-military event, featuring U.S. Navy Color Guard members and Military Buglers, will be held Tuesday, May 22 from 1:00-2:00 p.m., at the GM CCA Willow Run Complex located at 50000 Ecorse Road, Belleville, Mich., 48111. The event is also in conjunction with the GM UAW local 174.

"The Field of Flags event leading up to Memorial Day is another way we can honor their commitment and say thank you to the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families for their courage, service and sacrifice," said Steve Hill, GM North America Vice President of CCA and GM's corporate champion for the group. "This is a grassroots event sponsored by our employees, who have a passion for this cause, and spend their own time to demonstrate their support and respect for the U.S. Military."

Approximately 2,000 flags will be planted in a field on the lawn of the facility. The ceremony will include the raising of an American flag flown over Afghanistan, the playing of "The National Anthem" and "America the Beautiful," the reading of the "Field of Flags" declaration, remarks by guest speaker Steve Hill, a special CCA VAG presentation, the planting of the final flag and a memorial wreath, the ringing of a ships bell honoring service members lost, Taps, and the presentation of the flag flown over Afghanistan.

GM's VAG Customer Care and Aftersales, headquarters in Grand Blanc, conducts fundraising activities to support GM employees who are U.S Military Veterans, in the Reserves or National Guard. To date, the group has raised $20,000 for Piquette Square, a non-profit organization in Detroit that helps homeless veterans. Additionally, it provides support through various activities such as sending care packages and phone cards troops abroad.

"Our group's overriding objective is to take care of the military men and women who take care of us," said Don Gore, president of the Customer Care and Aftersales VAG Chapter. "I am proud of the job our team has done, which has resulted in overwhelming support for veterans, deployed military and fellow employee reservists."

Read more
The Environment Report
6:39 am
Tue May 22, 2012

25 x '25: Creating a new renewable energy standard for Michigan

Green Energy Futures Flickr

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition wants to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025.

That would mean that a quarter of all the energy used in Michigan would come from renewable sources like the wind and sun.

The coalition is trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November. They'll need to collect a minimum of 322,609 valid signatures by July 9th, 2012. Organizers say their goal is to turn in 500,000 signatures.

And, interestingly enough, the proposal is getting support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Steve Linder is President of Sterling Corporation, a Republican consulting firm. He says his organization is behind the proposal for business reasons. “While we don’t like government mandates, this allows us to use manufacturing capacity in Michigan rather than bringing in $1.6 billion worth of coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. So, this is really a business to business ballot initiative and we are very comfortable in making the business and economic case that this keeps dollars in our state and it keeps us at the cutting age of new types of manufacturing technology,” Linder says.

Mark Fisk, a Democrat, is co-partner of Byrum & Fisk, a political consulting firm. He says he’s working on behalf of the initiative because of the jobs it’ll bring to the state and the environmental benefits of renewable energy. “This initiative will create thousands of new Michigan jobs and help boost Michigan’s economy by building a clean energy industry right here in our state. And, it gives Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It’ll protect our Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease, and ultimately save lives,” Fisk says.

Read more
Lansing
11:06 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Lansing City Council passes budget, mayor's veto looms

In the next few days, Lansing mayor Virg Bernero is expected to veto all or part of the budget plan the city council passed. 

Bernero indicated his intention to veto the budget during a sometimes contentious city council meeting last night.    He did little, if anything, to conceal his contempt for the changes the city council made to the budget plan he submitted two months ago.

Read more

Pages