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Offbeat
9:09 am
Fri May 4, 2012

"Stemfest 2012" t-shirts hot selling item for Holland's Tulip Time

There are some tulip blooms left at Window on the Waterfront Park in Holland.
Andrea Smith

Organizers of Holland’s Tulip Time festival are having a little fun with the fact the usual draw - million of blooming tulips - will be missing this year.

In Holland, you hear some worries about it almost every year. But this year it was especially bad.

“The weather’s been so warm. When tulips were blooming on St. Patrick’s Day we all looked at each other and said 'we’ll have nothing by the festival.”

Luckily there are some tulip blooms left; about 30-percent Auwerda estimates.

 “The locals have always called it a stemfest when there’s not a lot of tulips. And so we thought, let’s just do a little tongue in check and have a little fun with it.”

They made official “Stemfest 2012” t-shirts and buttons. Demand was so high for the original 300 stemfest t-shirts, they had to stop taking online orders shortly after they hit the shelves Thursday. 

Auwerda says they’ve reordered the shirts. They're expected to restock Tuesday, but she can't promise they'll have enough to sell online. (I read other businesses are selling unofficial versions.) 

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Arts
7:00 am
Fri May 4, 2012

Immigrant memoir project

Student Ridha Al-Wishah, professor Ron Stockton, and student Maryann Rafka
Kyle Norris

Seven years ago, political science professor Ron Stockton was mentoring a student from Poland who was struggling with a writing assignment. So Stockton told her to imagine she was writing a letter to her great-grandchildren describing her life here as an immigrant. The student loved the idea, got super excited, and spread the word about Stockton’s technique.  

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Auto/Economy
10:15 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Fast-charging charging system could reduce "range anxiety" for electric cars

Ford Motor Company has teamed up with seven other car companies to develop a faster method of recharging electric cars.

Fast-charging could help reduce the problem of what some call "range anxiety." 

One drawback of an electric car is how long it takes to recharge the battery - up to 7 hours for some electric cars. And if you push the car to its range limit you risk being stranded; that causes range anxiety. 

Mike Tinskey is associate director of vehicle electrification at Ford. He says it's hoped that eventually, "We can get to a point when we can charge just as quick as you can fuel up a conventional car with gasoline."

The new system isn't that fast, but it's a lot faster than charging on a 120 or 240 volt outlet. 

It will take about 20 minutes to get an 80% charge on a depleted electric car battery .

Other companies involved in developing the new system are Audi, BMW N.A., Chrysler, Daimler, General Motors, Porsche, and Volkswagen ...

Lansing
9:36 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Tribe votes in favor of Lansing casino project

An artist's conception of what the proposed casino would look like

A majority of Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians members have voted in favor of their tribe building a casino in downtown Lansing.

The vote clears the way for what is sure to be bigger challenges to the casino project.  

Tribal leaders had predicted the outcome of the referendum from the start.    The voting started last month when the tribe mailed ballots to more than 14 thousand tribal members.

In the end, more than 39 hundred Sault Ste Marie tribe members voted in favor of the Lansing casino project.    23 hundred members voted against it.

Roger Martin is the tribe’s spokesman.    He says the next phase of the project will involve paperwork.

“The hope is the have the land purchase completed and the application to take the land into trust by the Department of the Interior by Summer,” says Martin.

The federal government must agree to take the land into trust for the tribe so it can be used for gaming. 

Other tribes that operate casinos near Lansing, as well as Governor Snyder,  oppose a casino in the capital city.  Legal challenges to the project are expected.

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero issued a statement thanking the tribe for its affirmative vote.

"I am more convinced than ever that this is the right project at the right time with the right partners.  The Lansing Kewadin casino will create thousands of good jobs, fully-fund college scholarships for Lansing public school children, and generate hundreds of millions in new economic activity for the Lansing region." Bernero said in his statement."

Business
5:18 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

DTE shareholders meeting met by protests

DTE Energy shareholders were met by protesters at their annual meeting in Detroit Thursday.

Hundreds of people demonstrated outside the company’s Detroit headquarters.  And inside, several interrupted CEO Gerard Anderson as he tried to run the meeting.

Protesters shouted for DTE to “Pay its fair share!”

They were talking about the fact that DTE was named as one of the nation’s “Dirty 30” companies in a recent report—one that paid more in lobbying expenses than federal income taxes from 2008 to 2010.

Demonstrators also protested the utility’s shutoff policies. The utility shut off service to 200,000 in its southeast Michigan service area in 2011.

That number has more than doubled over the past five years.

Demonstrators also criticized DTE’s continued reliance on coal-fired power, rather than renewable energy.

Protester Thomas Reinke said renewable power sources are now both cleaner and less expensive than coal.

 “We’re getting poorer and poorer every day, and we’re being forced to pay high costs of utilities that could be offset by wind and solar, or other types of renewable energy,” said Reinke, who says he owns a small, residential renewable energy business.

DTE officials announced Thursday that they’re looking for more wind energy suppliers.

“DTE Energy is seeking approximately 100 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy from Michigan-based wind projects that will be operating by the end of 2013.  This solicitation is part of DTE Energy's plan to meet Michigan's renewable energy goals,” the company said in a written statement.

By state law, they must provide 10% of their power from renewable sources by 2015.

As for the tax-dodging accusations, a DTE spokesman counters that the utility has paid more $1 billion in taxes since 2008, mostly to state and local governments.

Political Roundup
5:17 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Is eliminating the personal property tax a good thing?

The personal property tax is mostly a tax on business equipment, office furniture and manufacturing equipment.
IBM / The News Market

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

There’s an eight-bill package working its way through the legislature right now aimed at eliminating the personal property tax. This sounds like something that would affect individuals but this is actually a business tax.

Sikkema says, “This is basically a tax on business equipment, computer, office furniture and manufacturing equipment. It’s generally acknowledged to be a bad tax because it taxes new business purchases and business growth and investment.”

Demas indicates that some cities receive up to 40% of their tax base from the personal property tax. However, not all cities would be affected in the same way. Some cities wouldn’t be affected at all.

“The municipalities have been looking for ways that they can get some of that revenue replaced, but so far they haven’t had a lot of takers because their solution is a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the same money, and nobody really wants to tie the legislature’s hands with that," she says.

Sikkema believes eliminating the tax is a good move for Michigan. He says, “Other states, particularly in the Midwest have already eliminated it, principality Ohio. Michigan and Indiana are the only ones in the Great Lakes region that I’m aware of who currently collect the personal property tax.”

But he adds, “It’s not without its down side…for some it is a major source of revenue and republicans are trying to address that with this promise to replace it in the future.”

Demas adds, “I do think we do need to pay attention to however many communities there are that really rely on this and could be pushed over the edge, because certainly it’s not health for our state to have our cities keep getting financial managers.”

Politics
4:26 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Michigan Court of Appeals hears cases on emergency manager law

The state Court of Appeals heard challenges today to the determinations that Flint and Detroit face financial emergencies.

The challenges say state review teams violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act by not deliberating in public.
    
Attorney Andrew Paterson says the public has a right to know how a review team goes about its job.

"It is determining the financial condition of a local unit of government and it is reporting on that financial condition,” said Paterson.

Attorneys for the state say the review teams are not public bodies under the open meetings law.

The state says the teams only offer advice, and it’s ultimately up to the governor to decide whether cities and school districts are in financial emergencies.
    
Flint is currently being run by an emergency manager and Detroit is operating under the terms of a consent agreement with the state.

Politics
3:37 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Medical marijuana changes passed by Michigan House

user Laughing Squid Creative Commons

The Michigan House passed a package of bills aimed at clarifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The four bills passed by the House now go to the Michigan Senate.

The Detroit Free Press reports the bills passed with support from both Republicans and Democrats:

The bills were adopted on broad, bi-partisan votes, clearing the three-fourths majority hurdle needed to amend the law approved by Michigan voters in 2008. Similar majorities will be needed for approval in the state Senate, however, before the changes would become effective.

MLive reports protestors have demonstrated at the Capitol in Lansing, arguing the package of bills infringe on patients' rights.

"You are never going to appease everyone," said Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township. "That’s why I have confidence that everybody is a little disappointed in the language in the four bills, yet I believe it’s a good compromise and I believe that these clarify the voters intent the best we could."

Here are links to the four bills passed by the Michigan House of Representatives today:

Politics
2:53 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Vice President Snyder?

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delivering the 2011 State of the State address

That's what one conservative analyst is saying today.

In a column for Tampa Bay Online, Chris Ingram bases his prognostication on hotel room locations.

More specifically, hotel room locations for the Republican National Convention this August in Tampa Bay.

Ingram writes that Romney and Massachusetts got the best rooms for the convention... and Gov. Snyder and Michigan got the second best spot:

But there is a reason Michigan got the second-best hotel assignment: Gov. Rick Snyder. My bet is he's Romney's man for vice president.

What does hotel room location have to do with anything?

Ingram writes:

Access to the convention site, proximity to the best restaurants and bars, being inside the security zone, and not having to ride a bus (a really big deal if you're a Republican) are almost as important as fighting over abortion and gays in the party's meaningless platform.

Ingram notes Snyder's success at getting his pro-business agenda passed through the Michigan legislature, his background in private business, his credentials (an attorney with an MBA), and his appeal to moderates as more reasons Mitt Romney could pick Snyder as his running mate.

"Too bad he doesn't speak fluent Spanish," Ingram writes.

So what are the odds? Who do you think Romney will pick?

Auto/Economy
1:59 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Ford opens new $450 million plant in Thailand

Ford's new plant in Rayong, Thailand.
Ford

Ford Motor Company celebrated the official opening of its Ford Thailand Manufacturing (FTM) plant in Rayong, Thailand. It's the company's second plant in Thailand.

The $450 million passenger vehicle manufacturing plant "will serve as the foundation for Ford’s plan to introduce eight new vehicles to the ASEAN region by mid-decade," according to a company press release.

The ASEAN region includes the countries of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and VietNam.

Ford officials said no other auto company has invested more in Thailand over the last five years:

“The opening of this new, world-class facility is the latest example in our aggressive growth plan for this region, which represents Ford’s largest industrial expansion in half-a-century,” said Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford Asia Pacific and Africa. “The world-class One Ford vehicles produced here will be part of our plan to launch 50 new vehicles and powertrains in Asia Pacific and Africa by mid-decade.”

Ford officials said the new facility in Thailand includes "one of the world's fastest stamping presses, and the latest in automotive manufacturing robot technologies. The plant is capable of producing 6 different vehicles simultaneously.

This allows the company to bring new vehicles to market faster, and test new vehicles while maintaining full production speed.

 

The company released this video of the plant:

Offbeat
12:49 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

When journalism ethics involve the whole family...

Scorpians and Centaurs Flickr

Being married to someone in the news business isn’t easy. Our spouses deal with our long hours and travel, our preoccupation with news when we’re at home, unexpected interruptions on holidays and weekends, and our refusal to accept those free family tickets offered by the nearby theme park.

Lots of families have to deal with long hours and work that follows you home, but that theme park ticket example separates journalists from many other professions. We have an ethics code to follow.

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Politics
11:33 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Michigan legislature prayer group

Flickr user/jemasmith

The Roman Catholic church says a newly formed prayer caucus in the Michigan Legislature that specifically endorses Judeo-Christian tradition should open itself to officials of "any faith." About 30 lawmakers and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley sang "God Bless America" and prayed at Wednesday's launch.

The caucus says in its founding statement that it's "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles."

The statement has drawn criticism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations based on what the group's state director Dawud Walid says is its "exclusionary language."

 The Michigan Catholic Conference has weighed in as well, saying it hopes that "elected officials of any faith are made to feel welcome." Caucus co-founder Rep. Ken Kurtz says anyone may join.

Auto/Economy
11:26 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Auto parts maker to buy plant in Saline, Michigan, employ 500 people

The Saline, Michigan parts plant acquired by Faurecia.

A French auto parts maker says it plans to buy a parts plant in Saline, Michigan. Faurecia SA says the interior components plant will be part of a joint venture.

From the Associated Press:

Faurecia and Rush Group announced Thursday that they're creating Detroit Manufacturing Systems, a joint venture to build and automotive interior components in Detroit.

The companies say the venture expects to employ about 500 people in Detroit within the next three years and will make parts at first for Ford Motor Co.

Here's more from a Faurencia SA press release:

Faurecia will acquire the Saline business, which generates $1.1 billion annual sales supplying cockpit modules, instrument panels, door panels and center consoles for 12 vehicle programs assembled at eight Ford plants throughout North America. With this acquisition, Faurecia’s objective is to create a new operation that is optimized for efficient production, in line with the Faurecia Excellence System.

In conjunction with the Saline acquisition, Faurecia will enter into a new joint venture with Rush Group Ltd., one of the Rush Group of companies that together comprise one of the largest Native American and woman-owned businesses in North America. The joint venture, called Detroit Manufacturing Systems (DMS), will do injection molding, assembly and sequencing of interior trim components from a new facility in Detroit. Rush Group will hold the majority of the capital and the management of DMS, while Faurecia – with 45% of the capital – will bring its technology and manufacturing expertise to the joint-venture. As a result, the Saline plant will focus in the future on core technologies such as injection molding, skin manufacturing and foaming operations with annual revenues of nearly $400 million.

Commentary
10:59 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Commentary: College for all?

It’s hard to see the future. If you had been around during the Cretaceous Period, sixty-five million years ago, it would have been obvious that the world belonged to the huge and magnificent dinosaurs which dominated the planet.

Nobody would have paid much attention to the little rat-like things called mammals scurrying around the forest floors. But in the end, they would inherit the earth.

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Transportation
10:46 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Detroit Metro Airport lands good ranking in "Best and Worst" list

Travel and Leisure magazine

You gotta give them a lot of clicks to find the ranking on their page (can someone say pageviews!), but once you finally get there, you'll see that readers of Travel and Leisure ranked Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) as the 3rd best airport in the country.

Detroit’s airport is at the top of its game, ranked No. 1 in terminal cleanliness, design, location, lounges, and business centers. It came in third for service and staff communication and fourth in baggage handling. As Delta’s second largest hub and the carrier’s primary gateway for Asia, that’s no mean feat. The airport fell short only when it came to public transportation options—not surprising considering you’ve landed in the Motor City.

Viable public transport to Detroit Metro has always been a problem. Some are making attempts to improve the situation.

Just recently, the public transportation system in Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, announced a partnership with a private company, Michigan Flyer, to provide cheaper transit to the airport.

Twelve bucks will get you from A2 to DTW. That's better than a typical $40 to $50 cab ride.

The best airport named by readers was Minneapolis (MSP)... the worst was New York's LaGuardia (LGA) - JFK and Newark airports also ranked poorly.

Sound about right to you?

Politics
10:08 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Petition to recall Randy Richardville rejected

www.misenategop.com

A petition to recall the Republican majority leader of the Michigan Senate has been rejected by a Monroe County board. The Board of Canvassers met yesterday and said the petition language was unclear. Monroe County Clerk Sharon Lemasters says the petition was rejected because at least one section was vague.

News Roundup
9:20 am
Thu May 3, 2012

In this morning's news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 2nd
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Big profit for General Motors, Chrysler plants to stay open

General Motors beat predictions and posted a profit of $1 billion for the first quarter of 2012. That's down more than 68 percent from the company's first quarter profit from last year, according to the Detroit News.

The Detroit Free Press reports it's the company's ninth straight quarterly profit:

“It’s a long-term path that we’re on to get to the profitability levels that we want,” Dan Ammann, GM’s chief financial officer, told reporters this morning. “This is a solid quarter: revenue growth, profit growth, margin growth, cash flow improvement.”

And with more signs of a humming auto industry, Chrysler says it plans to keep three plants it typically idles during the summer open. From the Detroit News:

Chrysler Group LLC is canceling the traditional summer shutdown at three more of its factories to keep up with demand for its hot-selling cars and crossovers.

The Toledo Supplier Park in Ohio, the Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois and Chrysler's plant in Toluca, Mexico, will join Detroit's Jefferson North plant in working through the summer.

Auction for drilling rights coming up

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says it's holding an auction in Lansing next week for oil and gas drilling rights on about 108-thousand acres in 23 counties. The DNR says it holds the auctions twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The proceeds from state-owned mineral lease rights go to buy land for public use, maintenance and improvements of state and local parks, and care of state fishery and wildlife habitats.

Cherry retailers look elsewhere for fruit

The bizarre warm weather coupled with a late freeze wiped out a good portion of Michigan's cherry crop, as Bob Allen reported for the Environment Report.

Lizzy Alfs at AnnArbor.com writes that retailers are searching for another supply:

With the majority of Michigan’s expansive cherry crop destroyed by this weather, Cherry Republic President Bob Sutherland said he was forced to think outside the box in order to continue selling his variety of cherry products.

His solution: Ordering millions of cherries from the Lublin region in Poland.

Environment
8:55 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Report: High levels of hazardous substances in some garden products

A warning label on the packaging of a garden hose.
Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

The Ecology Center in Ann Arbor tested 179 kinds of garden products, including garden hoses, tools, gloves and kneeling pads.  They found 70% of the products contained levels of "high concern" of one or more toxic substances... including lead, cadmium and mercury.

From the report:

  • 30% of all products contained over 100 ppm lead in one or more component. 100 ppm is the Consumer Product Safety Commission Standard (CPSC) for lead in children’ products.
  • 100% of the garden hoses sampled for phthalates contained four phthalate plasticizers which are currently banned in children’s products.
  • Two water hoses contained the flame retardant 2,3,4,5-tetrabromo-bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (TBPH).

Jeff Gearhart is the Ecology Center’s research director.  He says the biggest concern is garden hoses – because a lot of people like to drink out of them on a hot day.

"We found that one-third of them contained lead in excess of the U.S. drinking water standards that apply to products like water faucets."

He says the problem is – garden hoses are not regulated.  Some hoses have warning labels telling you not to drink from them.

But Gearhart says they tested some polyurethane and natural rubber hoses and found they were lead-free.

"There’s a variety of polyurethane-based hoses that are made out of food-grade polyurethane and have lead-free fittings that are on the market. And there’s also natural rubber hoses we tested that don’t have the types of contaminants that are typical of the vinyl hoses."

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Environment
8:49 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Invasive species success story: Purple Loosestrife

Jacqueline Bilello points out the tiny beetle to volunteers hunting it.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Purple Loosestrife is a widespread invasive plant. It’s taken over wetlands in every state in the US except Florida. But now, scientists consider Purple Loostrife an invasive species success story.

Purple Loosestrife are the tall bright purple flowering plants you see mixed in with cattails lining the edge of many lakes and wetlands.

A long road before success

Read more
FLINT
3:15 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Flint's Board of Education can't agree on which schools to close this fall

Flint Board of Education members David Davenport and Blake Strozier react as the debate over school closings hit another snag
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Flint’s Board of Education last night deadlocked on plans to close a half dozen schools next fall.   The board argued for more than five hours before giving up hope of agreeing on which middle and elementary schools to close. 

Board member David Davenport strongly opposed two different proposals which would have closed the districts three middle schools and three elementary schools, most on the city's northside.

"That's not fair to the children who are going to suffer," said Davenport, "Because they're going to be packed in or bussed somewhere else."

Several board members also expressed concerns with expanding the student populations at Flint's high schools to include 7th and 8th grade students.

Next year the school district is looking at a $19 million deficit.   Closing schools is critical for the district to stay within a deficit reduction plan submitted to the state.        A point that several Board of Education members repeatedly cited.

"We’ll just have to go back to see if we can craft it so that we get one more vote," said board member Harold Woodson after the meeting, "That’s basically what we need.  One more vote to get it moved forward so…..but it has to happen.”

And it has to happen quickly.  

The Flint Board of Education will soon have to pass a budget plan for next year.   That plan will require decisions to be made as to which schools will be open this fall. 

One member of the public told the board members that they were in a "pickle".   A statement none of the board members appeared to disagree with. 

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