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Offbeat
5:09 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Airport in Sturgis, Michigan flooded by callers seeking tax advice

Search for IRS in Google Maps and you find the airport in Sturgis, Michigan.
Google Maps

Don't have the phone number? Just Google it.

That modern day phenomenon led callers seeking information from the Internal Revenue Service to accidentally dial a small airport in Sturgis, Michigan.

The FAA airport code for Kirsch Municipal Airport in Sturgis is "IRS."

If you type in a search for IRS on Google Maps, you'll get the airport's phone number.

Andrian Chen wrote about the mix-up on Gawker.com:

"The phone calls started two months ago, and it was just a trickle at first. Since then it's grown to a deluge of "20 to 50 calls a day" from people with tax questions, according to a weary-sounding office manager named Becky who took the time to talk to us this afternoon...

The calls haven't been a huge issue, Becky says, but she's getting sick of them. "It's just irritating," she said. "Most of them calling aren't the most intelligent, calling us at 7pm on the weekends. And it's like, do you seriously think the IRS is going to answer their phone at 7 on a Sunday?"

Becky will be glad when tax day ends at midnight tonight.

She may, or may not know, that if you need to file an extension, form 4868 is the paperwork you seek.

Sports
5:08 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Michigan House Bill regulates amateur mixed martial arts fights

Amateur mixed martial arts is not regulated in the state of Michigan
mickepe MorgueFile

Amateur mixed martial arts fights may soon be regulated by the state. A bill introduced to the Michigan House would require both promoters and fighters to be licensed by the state. The bill would also create a commission to enforce the rules and investigate complaints.

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Politics
4:13 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Officials receive training on new emergency financial manager law

More than 300 local officials and prospective emergency managers are in Lansing today and tomorrow to be trained in the state's new fiscal crisis law.

The law gives sweeping authority to emergency managers named to run school districts and local governments that can no longer pay their bills.

Terry Stanton of the Michigan Department of Treasury says the goal is for the state to intervene earlier to avoid the drastic step of a state takeover.

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Economy
4:12 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Judge rules in favor of Michigan's smoking ban (but legal fight will probably continue)

(photo by Michigan Radio news staff)

A Macomb County judge has upheld the constitutionality of Michigan’s smoking ban.   But, the ruling will likely not be the last word.   Michigan bar and restaurant owners say they have lost millions of dollars in business since the smoking ban took effect last May.   

The owner of Sporty O’Toole’s, a Macomb County bar, took his fight to court, after he was fined for allowing his patrons to smoke.  A circuit court judge threw out the fine, but also ruled the law is constitutional.  

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Politics
4:05 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Critics take step toward recalling Gov. Snyder

A group opposed to Governor Rick Snyder submitted language today for a recall petition.  It’s the beginning of what may be a long process. 

The group, Michigan Citizens United, is behind the recall campaign.    Gerald Rozner is the group’s spokesman.  He says Gov. Snyder deserves to be recalled for signing legislation that gives state appointed financial managers broad powers to void city union contracts and plans to increase taxes on pensioners. 

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Medicine
3:39 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

UM surgeon resigns from post after controversial editorial

Dr. Lazar Greenfield, an emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Michigan, resigned as president-elect of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) after writing a controversial editorial in a February issue of  Surgery News. Greenfield also served as the lead editor for ACS' content in the publication - a post he has also resigned.

The editorial suggested that semen has a mood-enhancing effect on women. It concluded, "so there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates."

The entire February issue of Surgery News was retracted by ACS after receiving complaints.

You can find Dr. Greenfield's editorial as originally posted on Retraction Watch.

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Environment
2:03 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Source of gasoline leak found

The spill occurred in White Oak Township (the location of the White Oak Township Hall is marked on this map).
Google Maps

Update 2:03 p.m.

Officials say the gasoline leak has been stopped. Still no word on how much fuel leaked from the storage tank.

From the Associated Press:

Officials say they've stopped a gasoline leak in Michigan and confirmed the source as a storage tank in the area.

Ingham County emergency officials said in a statement Monday that the tank and a related filling system in White Oak Township, about 55 miles west of Detroit, are owned by Marathon Pipe Line LLC.

A message seeking comment was left Monday by The Associated Press at Marathon's offices.

Wolverine Pipe Line Co., which also owns some tanks at the same storage site, has been working with the county on response to the leak since it was reported Wednesday.

The county says Marathon will take over work dealing with the leak from Wolverine. The amount of the spill remains unknown. There's no evidence of health hazards in the area.

9:07 a.m.

Authorities say they've found the source of the gasoline leak in Ingham County.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan authorities say they've traced a gasoline leak to the area of a storage tank holding 14,700 barrels of fuel. Ingham County Emergency officials said in a statement Sunday that they've found higher levels of spilled gasoline as their monitoring equipment approaches the Wolverine Pipeline Co. facility.

The large gasoline storage tank site is in White Oak Township, about 55 miles west of Detroit.

Some of the gas flowed about a mile down an open drain by the time a farmer reported the leak Wednesday.

The county says the suspected source of the leak is a tank that can hold up to 180,000 barrels of fuel. It says that while the amount of the spill remains unknown, it's nowhere near the capacity of the tank, which was mostly empty when the leak started.

Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris reported yesterday that officials from the Wolverine Pipeline Company were searching for the gasoline leak.

Commentary
12:49 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Rolling the Dice

We in the media have been paying a lot of attention to Governor Snyder’s attempts to push his program through the legislature. Mostly, we‘ve been preoccupied with the mechanics.

Last week, we talked about his compromise on the pension tax. Soon, we‘ll be discussing what seems likely to be the governor’s  success at cutting spending for the schools. Occasionally, we remember to mention the reason for all this painful budget slashing.

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Jobs
12:44 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

McDonald's "National Hiring Day" is tomorrow

McDonald's hopes to hire thousands of new workers.
Miguel Vaca Flickr

"Would you like some fries with that?"

That’s the phrase many are perfecting for McDonald's National Hiring Day tomorrow. Many of the McDonald’s  jobs will be in the Midwest.

McDonald's got its start here in the Midwest, and it has a substantial presence throughout the Great Lakes states.

That’s why 10,000 of the 50,000 new workers, the company wants will be based across the region.

The McDonald's in downtown Chicago (on Chicago and State) is one location that is hiring. Nick Karavites and his family own that restaurants and 18 others across the city.

"Not only are we looking to hire cashiers but also hospitality staff and kitchen staff," says Karavites.

As the employment market improves, job seekers can get more selective about where they work.

Karavites said pay at their restaurants averages $9 an hour, and that all workers can participate in a McDonald’s Insurance program.

McDonald’s says the company needs more workers because last year’s sales were up five percent and continues to grow.

Flint
12:02 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Reporter rides along with cops in Michigan's "Murdertown"

Closed on the weekends. Doors "locked at dusk" on weekdays.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

"We ain't cops anymore. We're librarians. We take reports. We don't fight crime."

That's what officer Steve Howe told New York Times reporter Charlie LeDuff.

LeDuff rode along with Howe and wrote about the experience in his Sunday Magazine article "Riding Along With the Cops in Murdertown, U.S.A."

The desperation in Flint is well known. After several years of cuts to vital city services, the city is still looking at a projected budget deficit of $17 million.

LeDuff writes that the sign on the door of Flint's Police Headquarters says it all "Closed weekends and holidays."

LeDuff writes that another sign in town is a lie. He's talking about the sign on an archway that names Flint "Vehicle City."

But the name is a lie. Flint isn’t Vehicle City anymore. The Buick City complex is gone. The spark-plug plant is gone. Fisher Body is gone.

What Flint is now is one of America’s murder capitals. Last year in Flint, population 102,000, there were 66 documented murders. The murder rate here is worse than those in Newark and St. Louis and New Orleans. It’s even worse than Baghdad’s.

The murders in Flint continue to pile up. More than 20 so far this year.

Mayor Dayne Walling held a press conference recently saying "the killings and criminals must be stopped."

But who's going to stop them? LeDuff reports there are only six patrolmen working on a Saturday night in Flint and the city has laid off two-thirds of its police force in the last three years.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported that Flint's Public Safety Director Alvern Lock denied "that cuts to Flint’s police department have played a role in the increase in the city’s increase homicide rate."

But when reading LeDuff's piece, you have to wonder.

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Economy
11:54 am
Mon April 18, 2011

Weather & fuel costs on the minds of Michigan farmers

Instead of snow, Michigan farmers would rather see something like this in thier fields
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

It’s planting time for many Michigan farmers.  In addition to the weather, farmers are closely watching fuel prices this Spring.   

The price of fuel affects practically every aspect of farming in Michigan, from the cost of the diesel in the tractor to the price of the fertilizer on the fields.  Bob Boehm is the director of the commodities department for the Michigan Farm Bureau. He says fuel costs are between 7% to 15% of the average Michigan farm’s budget, but may be higher this year.  

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Environment
11:27 am
Mon April 18, 2011

Regulators, industry reps attend pipeline safety forum

The U.S. Department of Transportation is holding a forum on pipeline safety today in Washington, DC.

Last summer’s massive oil spill in the Kalamazoo River and two fatal gas line explosions in California and Pennsylvania triggered the review of pipeline safety.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced a pipeline safety action plan.  The plan calls for pipeline operators to review their pipelines and quickly repair sections that are in bad condition.

Andy Black is the President and CEO of the Association of Oil Pipelines.  It’s a trade group that represents pipeline operators. 

“The industry strives for no accidents but I cannot assure you there will be none.”

He says despite the recent accidents, the industry’s safety record is improving.  The Transportation Department backs up that claim... saying accidents have decreased nearly 50% over the past 20 years.

You can find out what kind of pipelines run near your home, school or office on a new website from the DOT.

What's Working
7:05 am
Mon April 18, 2011

Children focus in on nature

Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior
user Rhonda Noren Flickr

With the spread and advancement of home technology such as televisions, computers, cell phones, and video games, American children are spending less and less time outdoors. A baseball glove has been traded in for a remote control, and parents have gone from fretting over grass-stained jeans to fretting over their child’s apparent reclusiveness. Most kids today are more comfortable walking a parent through setting up Facebook account than they are walking through a forest. But the Udall Foundation, based in Arizona, is trying to reacquaint kids with the joys of exploring the natural world with their Parks in Focus program.

Parks in Focus is all about bridging the gap between technology and nature. Children, mostly middle school aged, are put in touch with Parks in Focus through the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters. After providing each child with a digital camera to document their explorations, Parks in Focus program leaders take the children on camping and hiking trips in some of America’s most scenic parks. While trips originally went only to the Grand Canyon, Parks in Focus has expanded to several other states, including Michigan.

Bret Muter is the Michigan Program Coordinator for Parks in Focus. He says digital cameras act as security blankets for the kids, allowing them to have a familiar piece of technology in an unfamiliar world of mountains, streams, and creepy crawlies.

“If kids aren’t comfortable with nature, they’re typically comfortable with technology such as a camera, even if they don’t own one. So cameras serve as that safety net for exploring the environment, which may otherwise be unfamiliar or even scary to some kids.”

On top of just making the children more comfortable with the initial shock of being out in the middle of the woods, Muter says the cameras allow the kids to interact with their surroundings more than they normally would.

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Economy
6:42 am
Mon April 18, 2011

Personal finance: What it takes to become 'mortgage-free'

The Murphy family says "living below their means" helped them pay off their mortgage early.
Photo courtesy of the Murphys

In 1950, more than half of Americans owned their homes free and clear. No surprise that number has shrunk over the years.  But those who count themselves mortgage-free are still out there. The 2010 U.S. Census shows 1 out of every 3 homeowners owns their home free and clear. In a story produced for Marketplace Money, we look at what it takes to become mortgage-free.

Meet the Murphys

Mike and Kate Murphy live in a working-class neighborhood of Chicago, with two of their kids, Becky and Tommy, and their pet fish. They bought their charming, 3-bedroom brick house in 1996 for $156,000.

They originally started with a $110,000 mortgage. Mike Murphy says it was " obviously the largest mortgage we had ever taken out."

At the time, Kate brought in $30,000 a year, designing theater costumes part time. Mike was making $50,000 as a public school teacher:

At first they paid $1,100 a month on the mortgage. Refinancing dropped the payment to just under a $1,000. But they decided to pay a little more each month -- first $100, then $150 more.

Fast forward 13 years and they owned their house free and clear.

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Health care
5:11 pm
Sun April 17, 2011

Many Michigan hospitals lost both patients and money in 2009

Many hospitals lost both money and patients in 2009, according to Michigan Health Market Review.

In 2009, Detroit hospitals lost $58 million, with the biggest losses at Henry Ford, St. John, and Trinity Health Systems. 

Allan Baumgarten publishes the review.

He says the hospitals lost the money on their investments in the stock market, rather than patient care.

"And when the market crashed at the end of 2008, that had a really harmful effect on several of these hospitals."

Baumgarten thinks hospitals will show a profit in 2010 and this year because the stock market has recovered. 

All is not well in other areas, however. 

Fewer patients are using Michigan hospitals.  That"s because many people lost their health insurance -- or their employers switched them to high-deductible health insurance plans.

Baumbarten says high-deductible plans cut down on surgeries for conditions that are not life-threatening. 

"If the doctor says, 'I'd like you to have this scoping procedure on your knee, it will improve your golf game,' a couple years ago, somebody might have said, 'well, it will only cost me $100 out-of-pocket, so why not?'  But if I've got a high-deductible health plan, this procedure might cost me $2,000 out-of-pocket."

Revenue at thirty-three other hospitals across the state also dropped in 2009, led by losses at the University of Michigan and several other health systems which lost large amounts in their stock market portfolios.

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Environment
2:35 pm
Sun April 17, 2011

Source of Michigan gasoline leak still not known

Alaska pipeline
Flickr user nbonzey

The company that owns a pipeline that's leaking gasoline in Michigan is still searching for the source of the leak.   

Ingham County Emergency officials said in a statement Saturday that Wolverine Pipeline Company crews hope to find the leak within the next 24 hours and repair it. The Portage, Michigan-based company has contained the leak near a farm and a large gasoline storage tank facility about 55 miles west of Detroit.   

Some of the gas flowed about a mile down an open drain by the time the leak was reported Wednesday by a farmer. 

Crews continued digging temporary ditches Saturday near the storage tank to keep it out of the drain.   

Wolverine Pipeline says tests on wells in the area show that they pose no threat to human health.

Corrections
12:15 pm
Sun April 17, 2011

Proposed prison closing angers lawmaker

The Mound Correctional Facility as part of the state's cost-cutting efforts.
mich.gov

A Detroit lawmaker is angry over what he calls a unilateral decision to close the Mound Road Correctional Facility in the city.

Representative Fred Durhal is a member of the House Appropriations Corrections Subcommittee, but he says he was not consulted about closing the Mound prison.

Durhal says Rep. Joe Haveman told the committee only they would close a prison in the north, south, east and west parts of the state in a budget-cutting move.

"It caught me by total surprise," Durhal says. "I have not had an opportunity to look into just where those prisons would be, if those are the criteria that he is using. I think they should have had some discussion inside of the entire committee."

The Mound Road prison is one of the state's newer facilities. It houses about 1,000 prisoners and employs about 200 people.

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Education
1:27 pm
Sat April 16, 2011

Michigan teacher charged in alleged school threat

A high school teacher with Plymouth-Canton Community Schools accused of threatening co-workers has been arraigned on weapons charges. Fifty-two-year-old Raymond Schepansky was charged Saturday with carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a weapon on school property and felony firearm.

The Detroit News reports that a magistrate dismissed a charge of carrying a weapon with unlawful intent after finding that Schepansky had not specifically threatened anyone. The magistrate entered an innocent plea for Schepansky and ordered him held on $100,000 cash bond.

Police say Schepansky seemed angry and frustrated when he arrived Wednesday at Plymouth High School with a handgun and ammunition in his car. He was ordered to stay away from the school.

Schepansky, who's been suspended, was arrested Thursday when he returned, prompting a one-day shutdown of the school.

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Politics
11:00 am
Sat April 16, 2011

Benton Harbor EMF takes action

Benton Harbor appears to be the first city to come under a sweeping new Michigan law that allows emergency managers to take almost complete control of municipalities and school districts.

Benton Harbor emergency Manager Joseph Harris issued an order this week preventing city officials from doing anything more than calling meetings to order… adjourning them and approving minutes of meetings.

In other words, their decision-making powers have been suspended.

A financial emergency was declared in Benton Harbor in February 2010 by then-Governor Granholm after the city’s budget deficit grew by double digits.

A state board named former Detroit auditor general and chief financial officer Harris to run the city… with the power to control all spending and renegotiate union contracts.

Union leaders are critical of Harris’ move to take most powers away from city leaders. The AFL-CIO represents administrative workers and others in Benton Harbor.

Politics
10:42 am
Sat April 16, 2011

Emergency Manager of Benton Harbor strips power from elected officials

Main Street in Benton Harbor
Google Maps

Joseph Harris, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager of Benton Harbor, has stripped control from city officials.

It's the first time an emergency financial manager has used broad new powers granted to them by state legislators and Governor Rick Snyder.

Harris issued an order "prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions and authorities, except as authorized by the emergency manager."

Here's the language from the order:

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED AS FOLLOWS:
1. Absent prior express written authorization and approval by the Emergency Manager, no City Board, Commission or Authority shall take any action for or on behalf of the City whatsoever other than:

i) Call a meeting to order.
ii) Approve of meeting minutes.
iii) Adjourn a meeting.

2. That all prior resolutions, or acts of any kind of the City in conflict herewith are and the same shall be, to the extent of such conflict, rescinded.

3. This order shall be effective immediately.

The Detroit News reported that Harris issued the order because the city has been ineffective at governing:

Benton Harbor has struggled with a controversial trash hauling contract, lawsuits related to the contract, new competition for water services and city officials who sometimes clashed to the point that meetings dragged on for hours, Joseph said.

"I have seen for more than 30 years the mismanagement of funds and personnel in the city," Joseph said. "Infighting has been going on for decades."

It probably comes as no surprise that the relationship between Harris and government officials has been contentious.

In 2010, according to South Bend NBC affiliate WNDU , City Commissioner Duane Seats compared Harris to a disease within the city after Harris fired nine police officers, and worked to eliminate the city's fire department:

"Right now there's no cure for him, but I decree and declare that these city commissioners that we have now and with the citizens help we will find a cure. We will find a cure for this disease that we have here in the 49022 that's called Joe must go," said Seats.

In a statement published on the Daily Kos, Michigan's AFL-CIO president Mark Gaffney called the order from Harris "sad for democracy in Michigan": 

"It comes after the announcement of Robert Bobb in Detroit ordering layoff of every single public school teacher in the Detroit Public School system. With the stripping of all power of duly elected officials in Benton harbor and the attack on Detroit school teachers, we can now see the true nature of the Emergency Manager system."

One elected official in Benton Harbor wasn't bothered by Harris' order. City Commissioner Bryan Joseph was quoted in the Detroit News saying, "It doesn't bother me, I'm in favor of it." According to the News, state-appointed emergency financial managers are working in four places in Michigan:

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