News

Pages

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.  

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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:

Arts/Culture
9:00 am
Sat April 16, 2011

Artisan chocolate makers, fair trade from Ecuador to Michigan (video)

The length of the conching or grinding process determines the final smoothness and quality of the chocolate.
Courtesy of Barbara Wilson

Barbara Wilson and Jose (Joe) Meza live in Dexter, Michigan and they own a successful auto repair business in Ann Arbor.

Joe was born in Ecuador. After 40 years of living in Michigan, he and his wife Barbara went back to Ecuador a few years ago.

Barbara says Joe fell in love with his home country, so they decided to build a small house in Mindo, Ecuador.

What they didn’t expect was that they would become craft chocolate makers, forging connections from Ecuador to Michigan, one chocolate bar at a time.

Science/Medicine
4:57 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

No cancer cluster in White Lake

A cancer cluster has not been confirmed in White Lake
White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce

Residents of White Lake gathered this morning to dispute their inclusion on a list of cancer clusters in Michigan. The list was compiled by the National Disease Cluster Coalition.  

Claire Schlaff  started the White Lake Cancer Mapping Project after her son passed away from a rare cancer. She says the National Disease Cluster Coalition misinterpreted information from the White Lake Cancer Mapping project:

“The materials they put out kind of made it look like all of these were confirmed clusters, including ours, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Although we’re looking into it, nothing has been confirmed.”

Schlaff said the White Lake Mapping Project data will not be ready for analysis for at least a year. She says the project was meant to find a link between cancer and the environment:

“I’m not looking for a yes or no answer about whether there’s a cancer cluster here. What I am trying to do and what our group is trying to do is to learn more about the connection between the environment and cancers.”

White Lake was put on a list of toxic hotspots in the mid-1980s because of pollution from the Occidental Chemical Company.

Read more
Economy
3:59 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Rep. Miller: Michiganders pay too much for national flood insurance

U.S. Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan says the federal government should not be in the flood insurance business.
totalmortgage.com

Michigan homeowners whose homes are not at risk for floods are footing the bill for people whose homes are in danger. That’s according to a lawmaker from  Michigan who says that’s not fair.

U.S. Congresswoman Candice Miller wants to eliminate the National Flood Insurance Program, or at least let Michigan opt out of the system.

Miller says Michigan residents pay high rates to help homeowners in other parts of the country.

"You have a very expensive vacation home that has been ruined by a hurricane or a flood several times, and the federal flood insurance is still paying you to rebuild. If you want to have a home like that, God love you, that's fine, but I don't know why people in Michigan should have to pay high premiums."

Miller is taking part in a hearing Monday evening in Harrison Township with homeowners, realtors, insurers, builders and lenders.

Read more
Politics
3:49 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Plan would require foster children to shop for clothing in thrift stores

State Sen. Bruce Caswell suggests foster and poor children should use their state-funded clothing allowance only at thrift stores.
facebook.com

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor  is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

"I never had anything new," Caswell says. "I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was -- and quite frankly it's true -- once you're out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes."

Gilda Jacobs is CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services. She’s not a fan of the thrift shop gift card idea.

"Honestly, I was flabbergasted," Jacobs says. "I really couldn't believe this. Because I think, gosh, is this where we've gone in  this state? I think that there’s the whole issue of dignity. You’re saying to somebody, you don’t deserve to go in and buy a new pair of gym shoes. You know, for a lot of foster kids, they already have so much stacked against them.”

Caswell says the gift card idea wouldn’t save the state any money.

Transportation
2:44 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

More Michiganders riding Amtrak

Amtrak lines in Michigan get more riders
cbassweb MorgueFile

Michiganders are taking the train more than they have in the past. Amtrak officials say they've seen an increase in the number of riders on all three of their Michigan lines. Two of those lines are supported by the state.

Amtrak’s Blue Water Service runs from Port Huron through Lansing to Chicago. It had one of the largest increases in ridership in the nation.

Janet Foran  is with the Michigan Department of Transportation. She says some of the growth is likely from the rise in gas prices and the interest in building high speed rail in the state:

“Because of the talk about high speed rail in the State of Michigan, this has actually been a major factor in increasing the interest of people to try passenger rails.”

M-DOT said ridership usually increases during the holiday season and summer. They expect ridership will continue to grow in the state.

Read more
budget cuts
2:29 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Deficit could close all but a few Detroit library branches

calamity_sal flickr

An $11 million deficit could force Detroit Public Library commissioners to close the vast majority of the system’s branches. Commissioners are weighing a few options. But all of them call for closing at least half the library branches in the city, and one proposal would leave only five of 23 branches open.

Shrinking tax revenues are largely to blame for the system’s budget shortfall.

Detroit is not alone. Libraries all over Michigan are struggling with falling tax revenues and cuts to state aid. Even Troy, a relatively affluent suburb of Detroit, is closing its library.

Detroit library commissioners are expected to finalize their plans for eliminating the deficit next month.

Read more
Sports Commentary
2:25 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Michigan Ice Hockey, Shawn Hunwick's Cinderella story

Shawn Hunwick in the goal during the NCAA championship
MGoBlue.com

Most sports fans love a Cinderella story.

I've found an athlete who played the role twice.

Last year, Michigan’s men’s hockey team was in danger of breaking its

record 19-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament – a streak that started before many of the current players were even born.

They were picked to finish first in the league, but they finished a disastrous seventh. 

The only way they could keep their streak alive was to win six straight playoff games to get an automatic bid.

Read more
Politics
1:32 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Making sense of redistricting

Michigan State Capitol
user cncphotos / flickr

The 2010 Census figures, released last month, announced that Michigan was the only state in the nation to lose population in the last decade. Now it is up to the states to redraw their congressional districts based on the findings of the Census.

Redistricting can play a big role in the political makeup of both state and federal representation. In Michigan, citizens are waiting to see how the Republican-dominated Legislature will handle the task of reshaping the state’s congressional districts.

The main objective of redistricting is to create congressional districts with roughly equal populations in each district, says John Chamberlin, Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

“It takes account of the fact that people move around the state or people move out of the state. In 2010, if you looked at the populations in state House districts, for instance, there are disparities. So redistricting resets the clock back to roughly equal populations.”

Each state handles the task of redistricting differently. In Michigan, redistricting is treated as legislation, with the Legislature creating a bill for passage by the governor. Because the Republican Party controls the Michigan state Senate, House, and governorship, the task of redistricting will fall solely to the Republicans.

Due to the fact that Michigan lost population since the last redistricting took place, the state will lose one member in the U.S. House of Representatives. Through redistricting, the Michigan Legislature must determine where to combine districts in order to eliminate the district of one U.S. Representative, explains Chamberlin.

Read more
Politics
12:26 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Sterling Heights honor student faces deportation

Ola Kaso, left, and her sister Nevila Wing. Barring an extraordinary action on the part of Congress and President Obama, Ola and her mother will be deported in June.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

With immigration reform bogged down in Congress and perennially on the back burner, the Obama administration is pushing a more aggressive deportation agenda. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to deport a record number of people this year.

If the agency has their way, one of them will be Ola Kaso, an 18-year-old girl from Sterling Heights. She’ll be forced to leave just days after she graduates high school as one of the top students in her class.

Read more
Commentary
12:09 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Drunken Sailors

I’ve been following the Michigan legislature’s attempts to approve various sections of the state budget, and the cliché that first came to my mind this morning was the wrong one. I was tempted to tell you that they have been behaving like drunken sailors.

Read more

Pages