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Offbeat
11:34 am
Thu February 23, 2012

Garrison Keillor sticks a big “Obama” sign on the lawn of Lake Wobegon

 “Well it’s been a quiet a week in my hometown…”

Fans of A Prairie Home Companion will recognize those words as the opening to Garrison Keillor’s weekly monologue about the fictional town of Lake Wobegon. But this week the real life of Garrison Keillor was probably more exciting than the tales from “the little town that time forgot,” because this week, Garrison Keillor hosted a fundraising event for President Obama’s re-election campaign.

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Commentary
9:09 am
Thu February 23, 2012

Kids in Poverty

Three hundred and forty-one thousand. That’s the number of children in our state living in what is officially known these days as “areas of concentrated poverty.” Our ancestors would have called where they lived “the worst slums.”

We are talking about homes that sometimes lack heat and light, that are surrounded by crack houses and other houses that have burned down, places where life is too often nasty, brutish and short.

Two-thirds of all children in Detroit live in such neighborhoods, streets like the one where a nine-month-old baby was killed by a bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle Monday.

But most poor children don’t live in Detroit. Some live in rural poverty, in Roscommon or Chippewa Counties up north, where alcoholism is high. Yes, a few of these children will escape, thanks to the efforts of a parent, teacher or mentor.

Somehow they will get a halfway decent education, a job and a better life, though that is becoming increasingly hard to do. But most won’t, just as most kids whose dreams are based on a basketball won’t make it to the NBA. Instead, the numbers of the desperately poor are swelling. According to a new report funded by the Annie E, Casey Foundation, there were a hundred and twenty-five thousand more poor kids in our state in twenty-ten than ten years earlier.

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Election 2012
8:15 am
Thu February 23, 2012

Five days to go before the Michigan presidential primary

We're down to five days, now. Five days before the state holds its all-important presidential primary, and two new polls show a tightening race between front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

"An NBC News/Marist Poll released Wednesday shows 37 percent of 1,147 likely Michigan GOP primary voters backing Romney, 35 percent Santorum and 13 percent Ron Paul. Eight percent support Newt Gingrich, and 4 percent are undecided," the Associated Press reports. And, "a new EPIC-MRA poll of 400 likely voters shows Santorum with 37 percent, Romney 34 percent, Paul 10 percent and Gingrich 7 percent. Twelve percent were undecided," the AP notes.

The four Republican candidates debated last night in Arizona, possibly the last debate of this 2012 primary.

About 30 minutes into the debate, a subject close to many Michiganders hearts and pocketbooks - the auto bailout - was brought up.  The AP reports:

All of the GOP presidential candidates say they oppose President Barack Obama's decision to bail out failing automakers... Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul all say they'd have refused giving government money to General Motors and Chrysler. Gingrich says it wouldn't have been a tough decision -- he says that other operations in the auto industry outside of Detroit were doing fine. Romney says that his own approach to the auto industry calling for a structured bankruptcy would have been better. He says that some of the money used in the bailout was wasted.

Paul says he opposes all bailouts and says just because a bailout was successful doesn't mean it should have been done.

Just in case you're craving more post-debate analysis this morning, you can check out the stories below. And, is it just me, or is there a whole lotta fightin' words in these headlines ("duels," "attacks," "jabs," "draws fire")!?

Asian Carp
7:26 am
Thu February 23, 2012

Feds spend $50 million on carp fight

The Obama administration will spend about $50 million this year on protecting the Great Lakes from greedy Asian carp, including first-time testing to see if the fish have reached Lakes Michigan and Erie.

Federal officials tell The Associated Press the government has updated its strategy for battling bighead and silver carp that have infested the Mississippi River watershed and are closing in on the Great Lakes.

Scientists say if the carp take hold in the lakes, they could threaten the $7 billion fishing industry by gobbling up plankton at the base of the food web.

Among new initiatives will be searching southern Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie for signs of carp DNA.

Also planned is stepped-up trapping and netting to remove Asian carp from tributary rivers.

Politics
7:01 am
Thu February 23, 2012

House panel to begin medical marijuana hearings

A state House panel is expected to begin hearings at the state Capitol today on a series of bills that would add regulations to the state’s medical marijuana law.

The bills before the state House panel would add regulations to how medical marijuana ID photos are taken and how the IDs are distributed. They would also add requirements for transportation of medical marijuana in a car. Several state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the medical marijuana law is too vague and needs some clarification.

But supporters of the law say it was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2008, and lawmakers should not tamper with it. Similar public hearings to the one scheduled this week have attracted hundreds of medical marijuana supporters – many of them in wheelchairs and suffering from chronic disease or pain.

Education
9:04 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Financial emergency declared in Highland Park schools--again

A state review team has again declared a state of financial emergency in the Highland Park school district.

But the district may not be able to keep its doors open long enough to see its former emergency manager reinstated.

Governor Snyder had already appointed an emergency manager, Jack Martin, for Highland Park schools.

But a court found that the financial review process violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, forcing the emergency manager to step down.

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Politics
8:43 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Detroit introduces new transportation director as cuts loom

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says a new CEO and new fleet of buses will help turn around the city’s struggling transportation department.

The Detroit Department of Transportation has been struggling for months to put enough buses on the streets.

In what the city calls a bid to both improve service and cut costs, they’ve brought in a private contractor to manage the bus system.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Michigan school system almost out of cash, legislators work to keep kids in classes

Governor Rick Snyder and leaders in the Legislature hope to begin voting tomorrow on a plan to keep Highland Park students in school when the district runs out of money this week.

Control of the district reverted to the school board after Snyder removed the emergency manager to comply with a court ruling.

House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said the district won’t get any more money while the school board is in charge.

He said the district is guilty of mismanaging its funds.

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Politics
5:02 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Michigan Senate passes tax on roll-your-own cigarette shops

A bill to increase taxes on Michigan’s roll-your-own cigarette retailers was passed today by the State Senate. 

The bill would require the shops to pay a $2 per-pack state tax – the same as packaged cigarettes.

It would also classify the shops as manufacturers.

Patrick Brazil owns the “That’s How We Roll” tobacco shop in Lansing.

He says the bill will cost jobs and lose revenue for the state.

Brazil also says such a law would force him out of business  because he couldn’t become a manufacturer, even if he wanted to.

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Politics
4:36 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

High stakes for Romney and Santorum in tonight's Republican debate

The four remaining GOP contenders at last month's debate in Florida.
Screen grab from video guardian.co.uk

The four remaining Republican presidential candidates are set to take the stage tonight for what could be the final debate of the primary season.

While they will likely face a lot of questions from Arizona voters during the event, scheduled to be broadcast from Mesa, the candidates' performances have the potential to make a big impact in Michigan as well.

Once considered to be an electoral cakewalk for mitten-state native Mitt Romney, next Tuesday's Michigan primary has turned into a tight race between Romney and ex-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

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Politics
2:51 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Michigan Senate passes bill blocking union vote by university graduate assistants

Graduate student research assistants picketing on UM's Ann Arbor campus.
GEO

Yesterday, Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported on state legislation that would block graduate student research assistants at public universities from forming a union.

Today, the full Senate passed that measure.

From the Associated Press:

The measure was passed Wednesday by a 26-12 vote along party lines. The legislation advances to the Republican-led House.

The legislation specifies that graduate student research assistants would not be considered public employees as related to collective bargaining rights.

The bill (S.B. 971), sponsored by State Senate leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), was officially opposed by the University of Michigan Board of Regents in an "emergency meeting" called yesterday.

The vote to oppose the bill fell along party lines - six Democrats for, two Republicans against.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra reported U of M Regent Laurence Deitch (D) said because the Michigan Employment Relations Commission is in the middle of deciding about the union vote, "adoption of this law would be tantamount to changing the rules of the game in the middle of that game." Deitch also said the bill infringes on the University’s internal decision making processes.

Some graduate research assistants have been trying to form a union at the University of Michigan for decades.

The University of Michigan administration has long contended that the graduates assistants are students and not employees, and therefore do not have a right to form a union.

However, last May, the University of Michigan Board of Regents voted to recognize the graduate assistants as employees - moving the possibility of a vote to form a union one step closer.

Such a vote would have to be approved by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC).

But if the Senate-passed bill is signed into law, a decision by the MERC would be moot.

Politics
2:01 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Michigan Tea Party groups meet this weekend to pick their choice for Republican US Senate race

Tea Party activists from across Michigan will gather this weekend to pick a consensus candidate for U.S. Senate.

A crowded field of Republicans are on the August primary ballot.   The winner will face incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow in the November general election.

Cindy Gamrat is the organizer of Saturday’s convention in Mt. Pleasant.  She says they hope to pick a candidate to support now in hopes it will help Tea Party members to organize to defeat Senator Stabenow. 

"If we wait to really get behind a candidate after the primary, we only have a few months," says Gamrat, "That doesn’t give you much time to put an effective ground, grassroots campaign together.” 

Gamrat says the straw poll results will not be binding on Michigan’s Tea Party members to follow, but she hopes it will be enough to convince some candidates to drop out of the race. 

Gamrat says the group also hopes to hear from candidates in next week’s Republican president primary at their convention this weekend.

Rural
1:55 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

38 horses killed and one worker injured in Michigan barn fire

A barn fire at Campbell Stables in Grass Lake Township killed 38 horses and sent one worker to a hospital with burns, according to authorities.

The Jackson Citizen Patriot reports the fire began after 10 p.m. Firefighters from five area departments fought the blaze. Grass Lake Township Fire Chief Greg Jones said the injured barn worker was taken to an Ann Arbor hospital with burns to his hands and legs.

The Jackson Citizen Patriot spoke with a neighbor of the stables, Rob Dunkley:

Dunkley called 911. He could see vehicles from the farm's house rush to the burning barn. From the road, he could hear the horses trapped inside.

"That's the part that hurt the most," he said. "You could hear the horses kicking the stalls and being very loud.

"It went fast. It burned so fast it was horrible."

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Auto/Economy
1:15 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Ford to add $3.8 billion to pension plans this year

Ford

DETROIT (AP) - Ford Motor Co. says it will pump $3.8 billion into its global pension plans this year as it tries to get them closer to fully funding their obligations.

The company also says that it has raised the annual pay for its 16 directors by 25 percent to $250,000.

The disclosures came in Ford's annual report filed Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ford says it will put $2 billion into the U.S. pension plan, make $350,000 in benefit payments and put the remaining $1.45 billion into other plans across the globe.

The report says that as of Dec. 31, the U.S. plan was $9.4 billion short of its obligations, while global plans, which include the U.S., were short by $15.4 billion.

Lansing
12:49 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Lansing casino gets a boost (and leads to a resignation)

The proposed Lansing casino project has picked up a key endorsement. But there is some controversy of about the decision by a city economic development agency.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians wants to build a new $245 million casino in downtown Lansing.  One small parcel of land critical to the project is owned by the Lansing Economic Development Corporation.   The LEDC has given its approval to the deal, which will see the group’s parcel turned into a temporary casino while construction on the main casino proceeds.

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Your Family Story
12:45 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

35 Years of Letters Within a Midwestern Family

Most Americans have ethnic and cultural roots outside of the U.S. We're asking you to share cultural traditions that are still important to you.

Changing Gears is looking for stories, recipes, songs, and pictures. We'll be collecting these stories  on the Your Family Story page. They'll also appear at changinggears.info and we'll even put some on the air. You can share your story here.

Jillian Jones Sisko writes:

Letter writing has always been an important part of my family's legacy.

My mother discovered her family origins through a letters written in the early 1900's that were found in a desk drawer in an attic in Epernay, France. The letter was written by my grandfather and addresses to his brother. When my mother discovered the letters, she started communicating with her family.

When my oldest sister left for college in the 70's, my father, Wayne Muren, began writing weekly letters just as my great grandfather did many years prior. The letters served as a source of inspiration for my sister and as well as a blanket of comfort.

After all five children grew up and graduated from college, several moved away. Wayne kept writing letters. To this day, 35 years later, I am blessed to still receive a weekly letter filled with newspaper/magazine articles. The no. 10 envelope that was once delivered to my college dormitory is now a large manila envelope packed with news and information.

The letters are sent to not only his children, but also to his 11 grandchildren. The letters are now mailed in large envelopes which accompany 10-20 newspaper clippings to keep the family up-to-date with current events as well as comic strips from a local artist.

This gift of communication is one that I hope will never stop arriving at my door for many years to come. This ritual is now our family tradition.

Politics
12:00 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Detroit Council seeks more details on union agreements

Members of the Detroit City Council want more answers about how the city will avoid running out of cash.

Mayor Dave Bing hammered out tentative agreements with most city employee unions, including police and firefighters. They worked as a state review team continues to pore over Detroit's finances, as part of the process that could lead to the state appointing an emergency manager for the city.

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Changing Gears
11:29 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Midwest leaders lay out the welcome mat for immigrants

While many states in the South and West passed restrictive laws against illegal immigrants last year, officials in Dayton, Ohio were putting out the welcome mat.

And they’re not alone in the Midwest.

In the second part of our look at immigrants and the Midwest, we’ve found many local governments are trying to attract immigrants as an economic development strategy.

Dayton got attention from all over the world last fall when its city commission unanimously approved a plan called Welcome Dayton to make it an “immigrant-friendly city.” Since then, the town has been inundated.

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Politics
10:20 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Detroit's public transit system gets new leader

Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit's problematic public transportation system is getting a new leader.

The office of Mayor Dave Bing said in a statement Tuesday night that Ron Freeland would serve as the Detroit Department of Transportation's CEO. Freeland has worked as an executive with other transportation systems in the U.S.

Word of the appointment comes as Detroit considers ending early-morning bus service as part of an effort to cut about $11 million in costs. The city says some other bus routes could be eliminated. Public hearings on the proposal are planned.

The mayor on Wednesday also planned to show off new city buses at an event on the city's east side. The mayor's office says the new, more fuel-efficient buses are part of the city's newest fleet that began arriving Jan. 30.

News Roundup
8:44 am
Wed February 22, 2012

In this morning's news...

user brother_o'mara Flickr

Highland Park school district could close by Monday

Yesterday afternoon Governor Rick Snyder "de-activated" a state-appointed emergency manager for the Highland Park school district after a judge ruled the state did not comply with the Open Meetings Act when appointing the emergency manager.

Snyder says the district will run out of money by Friday, and is asking the legislature to take emergency measures to allow students to transfer to other schools. He's also asking that state aid be allowed to transfer to other schools as well. MPRN's Rick Pluta reports the governor called what's happening a "terrible situation."

“But, I think, given the circumstances, this is a good, strong solution to deal with a tough situation that, unfortunately got complicated by litigation, politics, and everything else. And the kids shouldn’t be the victims,” said Snyder.

Forum organized in opposition to Michigan emergency manager law

Congressman John Conyers (D-Detroit) held a public forum last night calling Michigan's emergency manager law (Public Act 4) "illegal, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic," according to Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek.

Conyers is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Cwiek reports "that committee’s staff issued a report finding that Public Act 4 violates the contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution, because it allows emergency managers to breach collective bargaining contracts."

Emergency manager of Benton Harbor, Joe Harris, spoke out in favor of Public Act 4, saying it keeps cities and school districts from declaring bankruptcy - an outcome he said would be catastrophic for everyone.

Republican primary campaign heats up, robocalls flood into Michigan homes

A new poll shows Mitt Romney in a dead heat with Rick Santorum ahead of the February 28 Republican presidential primary in Michigan (Romney 32 percent, Santorum 30 percent - margin of error +/- 4 percentage points).

The campaign is heating up, and the robocalls are piling up on answering machines all around Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press reports some people must be listening.

"They tick off a lot of people, but (campaigns) wouldn't use them if they didn't work," said Lansing-based consultant Craig Ruff.

Campaign calls are exempt from the National Do Not Call Registry.

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