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Auto/Economy
12:14 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Car production in Japan could return to normal earlier than expected

Car production in Japan could return to normal earlier than expected.

From the Associated Press:

A report says Toyota's global car production, disrupted by parts shortages after Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami, will likely return to normal two to three months earlier
than expected.

Japan's top business daily Nikkei said Tuesday that Toyota's output will normalize earlier than the end of this year as parts shortages are easing. It didn't cite any sources.Toyota said last month its worldwide production will likely return to normal levels by November or December.

Toyota Motor Corp. spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto could not confirm the report.

The disasters destroyed many factories in northeastern Japan, causing severe parts shortages for Toyota and other automakers. The supply crisis has cost the company production of 400,000 vehicles in Japan, and 100,000 overseas.

Science
12:00 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Four planets can be seen as morning breaks

On a clear night, we can catch a glimpse of certain planets with the unaided eye.

The five "naked eye planets" are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

If you're lucky, you could catch four of them at once in the next few days - Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter.

From Star Date Magazine:

On the morning of May 10, Venus and Jupiter will stand side by side, quite low in the east, as dawn brightens. So long as you have a horizon clear of buildings and trees, they will be easy to spot. They are the brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon. Venus is the brighter of the two; Jupiter is to its left.

Mercury is visible to the lower right of Venus, about the same distance as Venus is to Jupiter. It isn't nearly as bright, but its proximity to Venus will help you find it. Finally, Mars is about twice as far to the lower left of Jupiter. It's so low and faint that it will be difficult to see, but binoculars may help.

They say the planets are best viewed in the south, but if you have an unimpeded view of the horizon, you could catch them up here as well.

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Crime
11:58 am
Tue May 10, 2011

Embezzlement stories in Michigan

Two embezzlement stories came the Associated Press wires this morning. One person was sentenced for embezzling money from a bank in Grand Rapids, and another investigation is beginning into possible embezzlement at Munson Healthcare.

From the Associated Press:

BANK EMBEZZLEMENT

Grand Rapids bank embezzler gets 3 years in prison

A woman who admitted embezzling about $600,000 from a Grand Rapids bank has been sentenced to 37 months in federal prison.

Joann Wierenga's lawyer says she needs help for a gambling addiction more than a long prison stay. Her sentence Monday was at the low end of the guidelines.

Wierenga pleaded guilty in February to embezzling from Huntington Bank for seven years. Her lawyer says she has repaid at least $132,000 and admitted the thefts when confronted by the bank in 2009.

Federal prosecutors say Wierenga took $1,600 from another employer last November, just three months before her guilty plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Borgula calls her an "irrepressible thief."

MUNSON HEALTH-EMBEZZLEMENT

More than $1 million stolen from Munson Healthcare
     
An accountant working for Munson Healthcare in Traverse City is accused of embezzling more than $1 million.

No charges have been filed, but the disclosure was made Friday in federal court in Grand Rapids. The Internal Revenue Service is asking a judge to order the seizure of personal bank accounts with $34,000 linked to the accountant.

In a court filing, IRS agent Brittany Hofstra says Munson's loss totals $1.1 million, and the accountant has been suspended. The accountant had access to accounts belonging to Munson and the Munson Foundation. The accountant was also responsible for paying payroll taxes and making deposits into employee retirement plans.

Munson is a health care provider serving 24 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula. Its main hospital is in Traverse City.

Developing
11:12 am
Tue May 10, 2011

Instead of axing it, plan calls for reducing the tax credit for the working poor

Governor Rick Snyder's administration has agreed to restore a reduced version of the state income tax credit for working poor families.

The reduced tax break will allow families that qualify to claim 6% of the federal earned income credit on their state taxes.

In the past families could claim 20%.

Snyder's original proposal called for elimination of the credit.

News Roundup
8:53 am
Tue May 10, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Other

Funds for High Speed Rail

Michigan has been awarded almost $200 million for high speed rail projects. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Detroit yesterday to make the announcement. Governor Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and other Michigan lawmakers were on hand. The money will help pay for upgrades to a stretch of track between Detroit and Kalamazoo. The improvements will also help speed-up trains to 110 miles-per-hour. Michigan received the funds after Florida’s governor turned the money down.

State Senate to Take-Up Snyder Tax Measure

A Michigan Senate panel is set to hold a hearing on a broad tax proposal that's a key part of Governor Snyder’s strategy for the state, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on legislation that would cut overall business taxes and lead to taxes on certain types of retirement income.

The Republican-led House passed the main bill in the package by a 56-53 vote last month. The legislation will face a tough challenge in the GOP-led Senate because some Republicans already have come out against it…

Democrats generally oppose the plan.

Another Round of Federal Funds for Education

Michigan and other states may soon compete against one another to try to win a new round of grants from the U.S. Department of Education, Jennifer Guerra reports. From Guerra:

Congress allotted another $700 million to Race to the Top, the education reform program where states compete for federal grants. It’s not clear just yet how the money will be used, but some analysts say it’s likely the money will go toward improving early education.

John Austin is president of the Michigan Board of Education. He says "early childhood education expansion of pre-K to all interested is a fantastic investment." It would cost about $300 million to expand pre-K and kindergarten access to all children in Michigan, says Austin.

So far, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded 13 states and the District of Columbia Race to the Top funds. Michigan has yet to win any Race to the Top money.

Politics
8:41 am
Tue May 10, 2011

Immigration Agents Accused Of Crossing A Line

Jose Luis (left) says he sought refuge inside Hope of Detroit Academy after he dropped his kids off because immigration agents were waiting outside the school.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is under fire for what critics are calling aggressive and overzealous tactics.

ICE officials say they are concerned enough that they're reviewing a recent incident involving immigration agents.

But the union that represents agents is complaining that ICE isn't standing behind its officers.

A Ghost Town

The principal of Hope of Detroit Academy, Ali Abdel, says he was helping out with morning safety patrol on March 31, just like he does most mornings.

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State Legislature
6:40 am
Tue May 10, 2011

State Senators to take up tax reform bill

Inside the Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

A state Senate panel is scheduled to hold a hearing later today on Governor Rick Snyder’s tax reform proposal. The Associated press reports:

The Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on legislation that would cut overall business taxes and lead to taxes on certain types of retirement income.

The Republican-led House passed the main bill in the package by a 56-53 vote last month. The legislation will face a tough challenge in the GOP-led Senate because some Republicans already have come out against it.

Some Republicans are opposed to taxing retiree income and to measures that would delay lowering the state's personal income tax rate.

Democrats generally oppose the plan.

Education
8:54 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

New federal funds likely to target early childhood education

States may soon compete for a new round of Race to the Top funds.
user ppdigital morguefile

Michigan and other states may soon compete against one another to try to win a new round of grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Congress allotted another $700 million to Race to the Top, the education reform program where states compete for federal grants.

Read more
Politics
5:53 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Snyder wants to scrap tax breaks for cleaning up old industrial sites

Motor City Industrial Park. Governor Rick Snyder wants to get rid of a tax credit that helps defray the costs of cleaning up old industrial sites. He wants to replace the credit with up-front grants.
Alaina Buzas Flickr

A state Senate committee opens hearings tomorrow on Governor Rick Snyder’s tax reform proposals.

Altogether, two dozen tax breaks could disappear if the governor’s plan is adopted.

Ending the tax exemption for pensions has gotten a lot of attention, but the plan would also largely eliminate the use of tax breaks that encourage the re-use of old factories and historic buildings.

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Politics
5:50 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Michigan gets almost $200 million for Detroit-Chicago Amtrak line

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood presented a novelty check at Detroit's Amtrak station.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Michigan will get just under $200 million to boost rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the official announcement alongside state and local officials in Detroit Monday.

The federal money comes with no strings attached. Officials say it will let them upgrade a stretch of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

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Offbeat
4:56 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

First Listen: Danger Mouse and Jack White vs. the Spaghetti Western

Left to right: Jack White, Norah Jones, Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton), Daniele Luppi.
NPR

How many times a day do you wonder what a Spaghetti Western soundtrack would sound like composed by Danger Mouse and featuring Jack White's signature vocals? Forty? A hundred?

Whatever the number is, you can stop wondering. Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi are on the verge of releasing Rome, a Spaghetti-inspired album which features vocal performances by superstars Norah Jones and Jack White.

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Auto/Economy
4:19 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

GM to add 250-400 jobs to Toledo factory

Brandon C Flickr

A General Motors transmission factory will be adding 250 to 400 jobs, according to a union official quoted by the Associated Press.

The announcement will be made by CEO Dan Akerson and UAW Vice President Joe Ashton.

The AP reports:

A union official says General Motors plans to add 250 to 400 jobs at its transmission factory in Toledo, Ohio.

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Politics
4:00 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

The fiery debate over roll-your-own cigarette machines

User inc_hip Flickr

Smoke shop owners are feeling the heat in Michigan as 300 shops received warnings in March from the Michigan Department of the Treasury, according to the Detroit News.

The offense?

Using an "automated roll-your-own machine," which the Department of the Treasury claims amounts to the illegal manufacture of cigarettes.

The smokes from the machine can be up to 50% cheaper than buying brand name cigarettes.

From the Detroit News:

Read more
Science/Medicine
3:00 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Concerns about bias in commercially-funded medical education

User apoxapox Flickr

There is concern among healthcare professionals about potential bias in commercially-funded Continuing Medical Education (CME), according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

CME refers to specific activities--including live events, conferences and online programs--that healthcare professionals participate in for the purposes of professional development.

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Auto/Economy
2:12 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Stabenow and Peters push for investments in advanced auto technologies

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Gary Peters say the government should do more to help the auto industry mass-produce fuel-efficient technologies.

The two Democrats were at Bosch auto supplier headquarters in suburban Detroit today to urge Congressional support for the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act.

The bill would authorize $300 million a year for private sector fuel-efficiency research.

Peters says "this is just the right thing to do" with Michigan gas prices at record highs:

 "You’re going to hear a lot of ideas about drilling and other types of ideas, but really the best idea is to push the technology," said Peters. "Push innovation. And that’s what we do here in the Detroit area better than anybody else in the world, and that’s innovate with vehicles and automobiles."

Peters says the legislation has support from both environmental and business groups.

The bill passed the U.S. House with bipartisan support last year, but it couldn’t get through the Senate.

Auto/Economy
1:54 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Ten high speed train and rail projects announced today

User seemidtn Flickr

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the investment of over $2 billion in high speed rail projects around the country.

But what are the actual projects?

The entire list is available at the Department of Transportation's website, which has the full press release.

But here are some highlights (including full descriptions from the press release on the two Michigan projects.

Read more
Environment
1:51 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Detroiters talk land use and the environment

Greening of Detroit

Detroiters who want a say in how the city manages its land gathered for an environmental summit last week.

Activists and community leaders organized the summit so citizens could provide input on environmental aspects of the Detroit Works Project, an ongoing project to deal with the city’s huge swaths of vacant land.

Jackie Victor lives and owns a small business in Detroit.

She says city planners need to look at Detroit’s land and natural resources as assets rather than liabilities.

Read more
Auto/Economy
12:15 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Officials investigate fuel tank problem on F-150s

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking at Ford F-150s from the 1997 through 2001 model years. It's investigating a fuel tank problem that could affect more than 2.7 million pickup trucks.
user cogdogblog Flickr

The government is investigating the safety of some Ford F-150 trucks.

From the Associated Press:

U.S. safety regulators are investigating a fuel tank problem that could affect more than 2.7 million Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says on its website that the steel straps holding up the gas tank can rust and break, possibly causing a fuel spill and fire.

The agency says it is looking into trucks from the 1997 through 2001 model years. The F-150 is the top-selling vehicle in the U.S.

NHTSA says there are 243 reports of the tanks falling and causing two fires. No injuries have been reported.

The agency began looking at the problem last year when it had received 32 complaints.

Ford says it's cooperating with the investigation. Anyone with concerns should contact their dealer.

Politics
11:03 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Recall petition against State Rep who introduced EFM laws denied

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles reviews recall language at his office in city hall. Most of Knowles' power was stripped away by the city's state appointed emergency manager.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Election officials in Southwest Michigan rejected language for a recall petition against State Representative Al Pscholka this morning. They rejected the language because they said it wasn’t clear enough.

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles filed the recall petition. Knowles wants to recall Pscholka for supporting the state’s new law that gives emergency managers more power over cities and school districts with major financial problems.

Knowles says the new laws “trash democracy.”

 “For specific reasons, that it allows super powers for dictatorship for a emergency financial manager; doing away with municipal governments and school boards.”

The law has provisions that could allow an emergency manager to ask the governor to remove elected officials from office.

Pscholka's response

Pscholka says most of people he talks to in Benton Harbor say they support the law. 

“Most of them really are kind of sick and tired of the financial mismanagement, the patronage, and really what some folks would describe as corruption.”

He says residents in Benton Harbor are being used as political pawns. He notes the city has had financial problems for several years.

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Transportation
11:02 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Details of higher speed rail project announced today

New funding for higher-speed rail in Michigan.
user amtrak_russ Flickr

Passenger rail in Michigan will get some upgrades because of a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Most of $199 million granted to the state will go toward improving the rail lines between Detroit and Chicago so passenger trains can travel faster.

The improvements are expected to allow trains to travel at top speeds of 110 m.p.h. rather than 95 m.p.h. The Department of Transportation says the improvements will cut 30 minutes off the time to travel between Detroit and Chicago.

Senators Levin and Stabenow put out a press release this morning with some of the details of the plan.

They say the track will be improved between Kalamazoo and Dearborn:

[the] rail project will rehabilitate track and signal systems to allow trains to travel at 110 mph for the 135-mile stretch. The current obsolete signal system will be replaced with a positive train control system, improving safety. The grant fully funds the state's request.

Levin and Stabenow say $2.8 million in Recovery Act funds will also be used to start the process of building a new train station in Ann Arbor:

The Ann Arbor Station's $2.8 million will be used to complete a preliminary engineering and environmental study required to design and construct a new high-speed rail station in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor Station is the busiest Amtrak station in Michigan, but only has single-tracking capacity, forcing intercity trains to block the mainline while serving the station. By constructing a passing track, more than one train will be able to service the station while others can pass unimpeded.

The money being spent in Michigan is part of $2 billion in new spending on rail service across the country. The U.S. Department of Transportation made the spending announcements today.

Rail passengers in Michigan will see new locomotives and passenger cars as a result of the spending. Seven higher-speed locomotives and 48 new passenger cars will run between Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek is attending the press conference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood scheduled for today at 2:30 today in Detroit. We'll hear more from her later.

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