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Arts/Culture
1:34 pm
Fri September 16, 2011

Contract allows GR Symphony “to focus on making music”

Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director David Lockington
Grand Rapids Symphony

The Grand Rapids Symphony has reached a labor agreement with its 80 musicians. The deal comes after several months of intense contract negotiations. 

“Someone counted that we had 29 meetings during the summer,” said Peter Kjome, Grand Rapids Symphony President and CEO.

“It was not an easy time at the negotiating table but we stayed there together, we rolled up our sleeves, we reached agreement and now we’re able to focus on making music.”

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Your Story
12:08 pm
Fri September 16, 2011

If small business is key to economic growth, what about really small business?

Jeremy Peters (right) and his brother Brian Peters, two of the founders of Quite Scientific Records
courtesy of Jeremy Peters

As the election season begins, it almost seems politicians are obligated to tout small business as one way to stave off further economic collapse and bring back the American Dream for all of those whom it has left behind.

Small business overall does have a tremendous economic footprint in this country, employing half of all private sector employees, by government estimates. But small business is also a really big umbrella. The United States Small Business Association includes any firm with less than 500 employees a small business. It’s easy to see how a business with 500 employees could be critical to a town.

Then there are people like Laura Cowan. She hopes to be a small business owner, but she’s not there yet. Cowan runs a green, affordable parenting blog out of her home, and patches together paying work while she balances full-time care of her young daughter. She is what has been called a “micro-preneur.” These are people who run very small businesses, typically with only one, or at most a handful, of employees.

In developing countries, micro-enterprise has received great attention for helping move some people, especially women, out of abject poverty. In this country, that strategy has been tried, but has worked less well. One reason is because starting a small business is very high risk, and pretty low-reward. There are people who begin these types of businesses because they have no other way to support themselves, but there are also a lot of people looking to make a change in their lives and thinking starting a business might be a good idea.

It is less certain what the effects of micro-enterprises are on the economy in this country. They haven’t been studied anywhere near as much as small businesses. It’s not clear how often micro-enterprises turn into flourishing small businesses, how often they stay small, and how often they fail.

Here are portraits of three different Micro-entrepreneurs in Michigan:

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Auto/Economy
11:50 am
Fri September 16, 2011

The end of the classic police car, Ford makes last Crown Victoria

The last Crown Victoria rolls off the assembly line yesterday. The St. Thomas Assembly Plant in Ontario will close.
Ford Motor Company

"You couldn't kill it no matter what you did to it."

So said Ford spokesman Octavio Navarro of the Crown Victoria in CNN Money:

The last Ford Crown Victoria rolled off a Canadian assembly line Thursday, marking the end of the big, heavy Ford cars that have been popular with taxi fleets and police departments for decades.

Since 1979, almost 10 million Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars -- so-called Panther Platform vehicles -- have been sold.

The last "Crown Vic" rolled off the assembly line at 12:30 p.m. yesterday, according to the NY Times City Room blog. They write that the car will likely be exported to Mexico or Saudi Arabia.

The Canadian auto plant where the Crown Victoria was made, the St. Thomas Assembly Plant in Ontario, is closing.

CNN Money reports that Ford "is offering $100,000 cash payments or relocation offers, among other programs, for the workers at the plant."

So with the Crown Victoria out, what will future cop cars look like? CNN put together this gallery.

Sports Commentary
11:10 am
Fri September 16, 2011

The greatest finish in Big House history

Denard Robinson drops back before he throws the game winning touchdown to receiver Roy Roundtree.
screen grab from mgoblue.com video

What if you had a night game, and nobody came?

Well, that wasn’t the problem.

The game attracted more than 114,000 people, an NCAA record.

To commemorate the event, Michigan wore “throwback jerseys” – which went back all the way to September 10, 2011.  Michigan’s jerseys never had stripes – and when you saw them Saturday night, you appreciated just how wise Michigan’s founders had been.  It was less about tradition than trade.   

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Culture
11:07 am
Fri September 16, 2011

Civil Rights, 2011 Style

Daniel Krichbaum is head of the only department of state government explicitly authorized by the Michigan Constitution.

He is also executive director of the smallest department of state government, one that few people even know exists. If you haven‘t guessed, it is the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

And if your response is, “huh? Civil Rights? That’s so 1960s. Isn’t that over?” he won’t be surprised. He hears that all the time.

Krichbaum, in fact, has been around for long enough to have had a number of stellar careers. He has a PhD in education and is an ordained Methodist minister. But he’s devoted most of his career to public service, most notably as head of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity. Before that, he spent seventeen years as parks and recreation director for the City of Detroit.

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Education
6:38 am
Fri September 16, 2011

House panel to consider cuts to MSU, WSU over tuition hikes

A Republican lawmaker wants to dock Michigan State and Wayne State universities millions of dollars in state aid for skirting the intent of a law meant to hold down tuition increases.    

State Representative Bob Genetski chairs the House higher education budget subcommittee. He says Michigan State and Wayne State used a calendar trick to exceed a seven percent cap on tuition increases. Governor Rick Snyder’s budget director ruled – grudgingly – that the two universities are in technical compliance with the law, but Genetski says that’s not good enough.

“The spirit of what we wanted to protect people from has been violated.”

Genetski has submitted an amended higher education budget that would dock MSU $18 million dollars and Wayne State $17 million dollars. Genetski says every other state university complied with both the letter and the spirit of the tuition restraint law. 

A Michigan State spokesman says the Legislature should not continue a pattern of disinvestment that’s cost the university a quarter of its public funding since 2001.

Politics
6:19 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

The politics behind Gov. Snyder's Healthier Michigan plan

user: vitualis / flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder presented a health address on Wednesday that outlines his plan to improve the health of Michigan residents. Here to take a look at the politics behind the plan are 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. How are Democrats and Republicans reacting to the governor's plan?

 

Crime
5:39 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

Feds get guilty plea in Michigan painkiller probe

DETROIT (AP) - A Detroit man charged with ripping off Medicare and selling powerful painkillers has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and health care fraud.

George Williams admitted Thursday that people were paid $220 to get prescriptions filled and then return the drugs to him for sale, including Vicodin and Oxycontin.

The drugs were peddled in southeastern Michigan as well as in Kentucky and Alabama, from January 2007 through December 2008. A big break for investigators occurred in 2007 in Wood County, Ohio, when deputies discovered a doctor's name on 55 bottles of cough syrup with codeine.

People posing as patients were also taken to a Southfield hotel or a Detroit house for a phony exam. Williams admits his business billed Medicare and received $422,000.

Politics
4:56 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

Michigan House says no auto-deduction allowed for teacher union dues

The Michigan House of Representatives voted 55-53 to stop schools from automatically deducting union dues from employees' paychecks.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Today, the Michigan House of Representatives passed legislation that would keep public schools from automatically deducting union dues from an employee's paycheck. The vote passed 55-53 and goes onto the Republican-led Senate.

From the Associated Press:

Supporters of the bill say it will put more money in teachers' paychecks, at least up front. Teachers could write checks to unions later to cover their dues.

Opponents say the proposal is another attempt to weaken teachers' unions and inconvenience teachers in the state.

A separate proposal that could soon come up in the Michigan Legislature would make Michigan a so-called "right to teach" state.

Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger released a statement about the bill, saying that the legislation "empowers school employees.":

We are hearing from teachers, in particular, who are not happy with how union leaders are using their dues. Because that has led to disagreement, we need to make sure our public schools stay out of the middle of collecting union dues.

The Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, says the legislation does nothing to improve education or put money back in members pockets:

"This kind of legislation is a blatant example of political payback for our involvement in recall elections."

Politics
4:55 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

11 more face criminal charges related to Detroit Public Schools

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy has charged 11 people with crimes against Detroit Public Schools.

Only three of the people charged are former district employees. They include two cafeteria workers accused of pocketing lunch money, and an ex-teacher who failed to report drunk driving offenses.

The other cases involve laptops stolen from Detroit schools.

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Politics
4:32 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

Michigan House votes to ban domestic partner benefits

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature have started another attempt to block the offering of taxpayer-paid health insurance to domestic partners living with
public employees.

The House passed legislation by a 64-44, mostly party line vote Thursday aimed at prohibiting public employers from offering the benefits. The legislation advances to the Senate.

Minority Democrats say the bills are unconstitutional and would be challenged in court.

Republicans supporting the bills say they reflect the will of Michigan voters who decided in 2004 to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The Michigan Civil Service Commission has voted to allow domestic partner benefits for some state employees starting in October. Republicans tried to overturn the decision but couldn't get the two-thirds majority vote needed in the House.

Politics
4:00 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

How would you fix the federal budget deficit?

Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) reviews federal spending at a public meeting last month. The 'super comittee's' webpage was not up and running at that time. Now he's looking for ideas.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Congressman Fred Upton is looking for your ideas on how to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Upton is one of twelve lawmakers selected to serve on a special Congressional committee that will try to come up with a compromise on long-term spending.

Seven of the twelve lawmakers on the special committee will have to agree on a proposal in order to get it to the full Congress for approval. Last month, Upton called it “an enormous task.”

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Economy
2:15 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

U.S. Post Office looks at closing most of Michigan's mail processing centers

The entrance to the U. S. Post Office mail processing center in Jackson, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 Mail delivery could become even slower in Michigan under a plan announced  today.    The U.S. Postal Service wants to close most of its processing centers, including a half a dozen in Michigan.   

Postal Service officials are considering closing mail processing centers in Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo,  Jackson, Saginaw and  Iron Mountain.    All the state’s mail would be routed through three other locations.   

A Postal Service spokesman says he does not expect any mail processing centers will close before next Spring.

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Commentary
1:15 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

The Governor’s Health Care Message

When I read the governor’s health care message, I had the oddly uneasy feeling I had seen this all before. Then I realized that I had. Half a century ago, when I was a little boy. Make that, a fat little boy. President-elect John F. Kennedy declared that physical fitness was the business of the government.

He wrote an essay in Sports Illustrated called “The Soft American,”  established a White House Committee on Health and Fitness, and challenged his staff to take a fifty-mile hike. Some did, although his famously rotund press secretary, Pierre Salinger, declined, saying “I may be plucky, but I’m not stupid.”

The President was especially concerned about child obesity. A song was written, called Chicken Fat, and we little baby-boomers had to exercise to it. Most of the nation enthusiastically greeted the physical fitness program. But the President didn’t seek to change any laws, And then he was killed and lifestyles changed.

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Politics
1:06 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

Special election planned for Michigan House seat

Tim Melton (D-Auburn Hills) is leaving the Michigan legislature. Gov. Snyder is calling for a special election to fill his seat.
screen grab from YouTube video

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is calling for a special election to fill a vacancy in the Michigan House left by the departure of Democratic Rep. Tim Melton of Auburn Hills.

Snyder set primary elections for Nov. 8, if they are needed. The general election will be Feb. 28 to fill the seat for the House's 29th District. Both dates already are scheduled election days in Michigan.

Melton resigned effective earlier this month to take a job with StudentsFirst, a national education group. The special election would fill his seat for the remainder of a two-year term that expires at the end of 2012.

Melton was term-limited and would not have been eligible to seek re-election to the House in 2012.

abdulmutallab trial
12:02 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

Judge: Abdulmutallab's hospital statements admissible

A federal judge in Detroit says she will allow prosecutors to use statements at trial made by the so-called “underwear bomber.”

At issue were statements Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab made at U of M Hospital after he was removed from Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009.

Abdulmutallab’s stand-by attorney argued the statements should be thrown out. He said they were made after Abdulmutallab was given a powerful narcotic. And he said Abdulmutallab was never read his Miranda rights.

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Environment
11:55 am
Thu September 15, 2011

Investigation into rare cancer cases in Michigan gets help

An investigation into rare childhood cancers in Marine City will get the assistance of a part-time epidemiologist.
Michigan Municipal League

Earlier this year, public health officials in St. Clair County began investigating whether environmental factors might be contributing to rare kidney cancers in some kids in the Marine City-China Township area.

Now, the investigation is getting the help of an epidemiologist.

More from the Times Herald of Port Huron:

An investigation into a possible cancer cluster is expected to pick up next month.

A part-time epidemiologist starts Oct. 1.

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Environment
10:35 am
Thu September 15, 2011

The future of Southeast Michigan's drinking water (part 1)

Detroit owns and operates the water system that serves more than three million people in southeast Michigan.
Photo by Alex Anlicker, Wikimedia Commons

If you live in southeast Michigan, chances are you get your water through Detroit’s municipal water system.

Detroit owns and operates the system that serves more than three million people. That’s long been a major source of tension between the city and suburban communities.

Some recent events have pushed questions about system’s long-term future into sharper focus. And it’s shaping up to be a battle.

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Labor
10:18 am
Thu September 15, 2011

UM nurses to march this afternoon

Nurses at the University of Michigan have been working without a contract since July 1.
user meddygarnet Flickr

Registered nurses who work at the University of Michigan Health System and their supports say they will march to the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting today at 2:30 p.m. They will start at the Michigan Union and "proceed to the Fleming Adminisration Building" (distance - about a block).

The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) says the University of Michigan nurses have been working without a contract since July 1.

From an MNA press release:

Despite another profitable year and an increase in patients, UMHS have thwarted reasonable contract negotiations with the system’s 4,000 registered nurses by proposing cuts that would make it even more difficult for them to maintain patient care and safety.

The University has issued a statement in the past saying they "prefer not bargain in the media" and  "respectfully disagree" that proposed labor changes would have a negative effect on patient care.

Issues being debated include pay increases, health insurance, and benefits.

News Roundup
9:05 am
Thu September 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

UAW and automakers fail to meet deadline

Last night was the deadline for Detroit automakers and the United Auto Workers to reach agreements on new contracts. The UAW and Ford Motor Company officials agreed to extend their talks, but the Associated Press reports talks with GM and Chrysler broke off just after midnight last night.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne sent a letter to UAW President Bob King saying they had let down Chrysler workers - "you and I failed them today," he wrote - From the Associated Press:

Up until the deadline, the negotiations that began over the summer appeared to be proceeding without the acrimony that plagued them in the past. But just before the 11:59 p.m. EDT Wednesday deadline, the CEO of Chrysler fired off a letter to UAW President Bob King saying an agreement likely wouldn't be reached because King didn't come to the table Wednesday night to finish the deal.

"I know we are the smallest of the three automakers here in Detroit, but that does not make us less relevant," Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The AP reports that despite the talk extension, negotiations appear to be going more smoothly with General Motors.

Governor Snyder says Michigan should act on health care exchanges

In his healthcare message yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder said Michigan's health care system is a broken one.

He rolled out a list of ideas to improve the situation which included a request to set up a statewide healthcare exchange. As Lindsey Smith reported, "the new federal health care law mandates states create their own exchange, join a regional one or wait until the federal exchange is in place."

Rick Pluta reported the governor is likely to face opposition on this idea from Republicans in the state legislature:

Many Republicans oppose the law and resist enacting any of the federal mandates before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on them.

The governor says that will put Michigan behind other states if all or part of the law is upheld.

The resistance doesn't just come from legislators. Michigan's Attorney General, Bill Schuette, is actively fighting against the federal health care law in courts.

Michigan servicemen to deploy to Afghanistan

From the Associated Press:

About 90 members of the Michigan National Guard are preparing for a year of service in Afghanistan.

An event was planned for Thursday in Grand Ledge for the Lansing-based soldiers. They'll do about 14 weeks of training before going to Afghanistan to conduct intelligence work.

The soldiers are from B Company of the Brigade Special Troops Battalion with the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

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