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Budget protests
2:47 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

College students rally against proposed higher ed budget cuts

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
thetoad flickr

A few hundred college students representing all of Michigan’s public colleges and universities rallied at the state Capitol today. They are protesting Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts for higher education. Many students held signs with angry and sometimes profane messages aimed at Governor Snyder.

Cardi DeMonaco is president of the Student Association of Michigan. He says he hopes lawmakers pay attention to the concerns of students. 

"Yeah, I think they need to have just talk about this, not just cut and cut and cut, and then they’re going to have issues just keeping up the value of their education. He needs to talk to them and do things with the money they got and not cut it, and work together, and make education better, not just cut and expect them to become better by cutting.”

Snyder has proposed a 15% minimum cut for public colleges and universities. University presidents have said cuts that deep would mean tuition hikes. 

DeMonaco thinks the student voices will be heard, and lawmakers will find other areas in the budget to save, rather than through cuts to colleges and universities.

Crime
2:33 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

U.P. man arrested in connection with 'explosive components' left at federal building in Detroit

A man from the Upper Peninsula is accused in connection with ‘explosive components’ discovered outside the federal building in Detroit. Law enforcement authorities arrested 42-year-old Gary John Mikulich today after linking him to the package discovered at the McNamara federal building in Detroit.

The package was discovered February 26th.  But it wasn’t disposed of right away. A security guard placed the package in the ‘lost & found’ room. It sat there for three weeks before the Detroit Bomb squad disposed of it.

Gary Mikulich is a graduate of the engineering program at Michigan Technical University.  Federal prosecutors allege Mikulich has often complained about the FBI’s ‘card system’, which he allegedly blames for the deaths of thousands of people, including his father. An FBI spokeswoman says the agency is "not aware of what this 'card system' (Mikulich) refers to."

A news release from the U.S. Justice Department says:

Mikulich and his vehicle match the description of an individual who purchased a Husky brand tool bag and a GE timer used in the commission of the crime alleged in the complaint. Mikulich made the purchase of these items from the Home Depot store in Iron Mountain, Michigan, on February 14, 2011. Moreover, Mikulich’s white Oldsmobile was spotted in Livingston County–450 miles from his home and just 50 miles from Detroit–in the early morning hours of February 25, 2011.  Also, search warrants were executed this morning at Mukulich’s residence and his vehicle.

Mikulich faces up to 20 years and a quarter million dollar fine if convicted of attempting to set off an explosive device at a federal government building.

Offbeat
2:08 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Take part in city-wide Grand Rapids ‘lip-dub’ video

This is part of the storyboard for Bliss' lip-dub video promoting Grand Rapids.
Rob Bliss Rob Bliss Events

A community organizer is asking tens of thousands of people to help him create a video promoting Grand Rapids. Rob Bliss is known around Grand Rapids for putting on one-of-a-kind, free events and he's announced his latest idea. He’s planning to make the video crazy enough that it’ll go viral.

Lip-dubs are like a music video featuring regular people lip-singing and dancing to a song they all know. They’re usually not edited – meaning they have to shoot the whole video in one take.

Bliss says lots of high schools and colleges have been putting together lip-dubs to promote their schools lately.

“But no one’s really made a truly city-wide professional level production like this kind of thing. And I think that’s really what’s exciting about this, is that it’s really attempting something that – at least to me – feels nearly impossible."

Which, to me, is sort of strange. Bliss has pulled off all kinds of crazy events. For ArtPrize once he made thousands of colored paper airplanes and flew them off skyscrapers downtown. He’s attracted thousands of people downtown for a massive pillow fight, a world-record-setting zombie walk, sidewalk chalk floods, and the ‘world’s largest inflatable waterslide’ which stretched two city-blocks down a steep street.

The nine minute long video (set to the tune of a live version of Don McClean’s “American Pie”) will be a continuous, single camera shot with no edits. Bliss says it’ll take a whole day and thousands of residents to set up and shoot. 

 “We stuff it full of all of this crazy, crazy, crazy stuff. Weddings, marching bands, motorcades with police officers hanging out the windows singing the songs, pillow fights, kayakers in the grand river, lighting parts of Pearl Street Bridge on fire, helicopter take-off out of downtown; ridiculousness really.”

Bliss has hired a professional production company for the video shoot. He expects to spend between $25,000 and $35,000 on it. He’s now hiring some part-time staff and looking for volunteers to help with and be in the video.

The big day for the video shoot is Sunday May 15th with a rain date the following weekend.

Politics
1:24 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Democrats want Snyder to veto jobless benefits bill

(Flickr swanksalot)

UPDATE 1:24 p.m.:   A spokeswoman for Governor Rick Snyder says the governor expects to sign the bill which would reduce the number of weeks jobless Michiganders will be able to recieve state unemployment benefits. Spokeswoman Sara Wurfel says:

"(The governor's) priority was to ensure no one receiving unemployment benefits was cut off abruptly. It's a lifeline for Michiganders right now - we simply can't risk tens of thousands of Michigan's families immediately losing their benefits in April.  He’s continuing to work tirelessly to help turn around Michigan's economy and create more and better jobs so that we can hopefully reduce the need for unemployment in the first place."

ORIGINAL POST 12:17 p.m.: Democrats are calling on Governor Rick Snyder not to sign legislation that will reduce state unemployment benefits to Michiganders from 26 to 20 weeks. The Republican controlled legislature passed the benefits  cut Wednesday, as part of  a bill to continue extended federal jobless benefits to Michigan’s unemployed.

Royal Oak Congressman Sander Levin says the governor should veto the bill that will eventually reduce benefits for Michigan’s most in need.  

"This is the worst time to do this for Michigan workers.  I think it is reckless.  It’s inexcusable.”

Cutting state benefits will reduce the cost to Michigan businesses that must pay into the unemployment fund.  Cutting state unemployment benefits by 6 weeks could also reduce federal unemployment benefits by up to 16 weeks for jobless Michiganders. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says the change will save state businesses $300 a year starting in 2012.

Levin says it’s unfair to shorten the period unemployed Michiganders can receive jobless benefits. 

“The governor can say to the legislature 'Get back.  Do what needs to be done here.  And stop the hijacking.'”

Federal jobless benefits for 35,000 unemployed Michiganders will expire April 1st  if Snyder vetoes the bill.

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Jennifer Granholm
1:09 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Former Governor elected to Dow Chemical Board of Directors

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has been elected to the board of directors of Dow Chemical. The Midland-based chemicals industry giant announced Granholm's election today.

In a written statement, Dow CEO Andrew Liverus says Granholm will help the company as it pursues growth.  

“Jennifer Granholm’s experience and perspective will be instrumental as we continue to advocate for national and international policies that drive innovation, increase productivity, encourage investments in technology and create jobs." 

This has been a pretty busy week for the former governor. The Pew Charitable Trust announced this week that Granholm will serve as a Senior Advisor to the Trust's Clean Energy Program. She was also recently appointed to a public policy position at the University of California-Berkeley.

Granholm served 8 years as Michigan governor.  Her second term ended in January. 

Environment
12:00 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Rebranding the Great Lakes Seaway

The Dutch-flagged, Dane-piloted Avonborg was carrying 75 wind turbine blades to Burns Harbor, Indiana, on Lake Michigan, on the opening day of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Photo by David Sommerstein

Another sure sign of spring: the Great Lakes shipping season kicked off this week.

Millions of tons of cargo travel by boat on the Great Lakes every year– freighters from the Atlantic Ocean that enter the Lakes by way of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The first freighter of the 53rd Seaway season eased through the locks in Montreal on Tuesday. David Sommerstein visited Montreal for the opening ceremonies.  He found out that Seaway officials are trying to rebrand the Seaway:

The first freighter rumbling into the St. Lambert Lock was the Dutch-flagged "Avonborg."  It was loaded up with wind turbine parts.

David spoke with Terry Johnson, the U.S. chief of the St. Lawrence Seaway:

"Wind turbines have been increasingly coming in and it’s nice to be able to see something that is visual. This is good."

The windmill parts bound for Indiana aren’t just a good photo opp. They’re the perfect image the Seaway wants to project these days – that it’s the greenest, cheapest way to transport goods. Shipping is far more fuel efficient than trucking.

Ross Fletcher of BBC Chartering contracted this ship.

"Those 75 blades represent 75 truckloads that aren’t going to travel between Montreal and the U.S. Midwest, so we’re taking 75 truckloads off the highways."

The Seaway’s been trying to reinvent itself since it was built in the 1950s.

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K-12 schools budget
10:41 am
Thu March 24, 2011

Republican led state Senate introduces first draft of K-12 schools budget

A crowd gathers in a Grand Rapids neighborhood to protest Governor Snyder's budget plan earlier this month.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Republican lawmakers in Lansing are taking feedback on their first draft of the budget for K through 12 public schools. The plan cuts less per student than Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget.

Senator Howard Walker chairs the appropriations subcommittee on K-12, School Aid and Education. He says instead, the Senate version gets rid of line items funds in the budget that cover specific things like school bus inspections, adult education, and money for districts with two consecutive years of declining student enrollment.

 “We’re not making broad-based cuts to programs, that we’re not increasing class sizes too broadly so that the delivery of good educational opportunities is not affected.”

School districts get a certain amount of money from the state for each student. Currently, $7,316 is the minimum per pupil allowance a district gets. Governor Snyder is proposing to cut that amount by $470 (including making permanent a $170 cut made last year) for all school districts. The plan before the Senate would cut that per pupil allowance by $290.

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Commentary
10:21 am
Thu March 24, 2011

The UAW’s Dilemma

You may not have noticed, but the United Auto Workers union has been holding its bargaining convention in Detroit this week.

Every four years, union leaders get together to plan and map out their strategy for negotiating a new contract with the automakers. Once, this convention was an enormous deal, intensely covered by both local and national labor media.

The big question every time was - which company would be the strike target?

Years ago, the union came up with the concept of “pattern bargaining.”  One company - Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler, would be selected as the target. Union officials would then try and hammer out a contact with that automaker first.

Sometimes they’d have to go on strike to achieve that; sometimes not. Meanwhile, the workers at the other companies would keep working under the old labor agreements.

Once the new contract was finally hammered out, the unions would then go to the other two automakers and say -- “okay; this is what we negotiated with them; this is what you need to agree to as well.  No fooling around; take it or leave it; sign or we walk.”

That’s how it’s been done for many, many years. In the past, there were sometimes historic strikes which led to historic settlements that gradually won the workers everything from paid vacations to profit sharing to dental care, on top of high wages.

But as all the world knows, excesses and globalization caught up with the auto companies. General Motors and Chrysler nearly went out of business less than two years ago. They survived in part because the union was willing to make major concessions.

New hires, for example, now make half of what a longtime autoworker  does -- $14 an hour, or $29,000 a year. The union decided that and other sacrifices were  necessary to keep their employers alive.

Well, the world is different now. Ford and General Motors are now making profits in the billions. Chrysler is believed close to profitability, and at any rate, has a new owner with deep pockets.

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News Roundup
8:47 am
Thu March 24, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, March 24th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Debate at State Capitol Over Unemployment Benefit Extension

People who file for jobless benefits next year would be eligible for fewer weeks of payments under a measure approved by the state Legislature. Laura Weber reports:

Lawmakers had to approve a jobless benefits package this week in order for the state to receive federal assistance for the program.

The debate was so contentious in the Senate that leaders ordered the doors locked to keep lawmakers in the chamber.

Democratic Senators are upset that Republicans reduced the total number of weeks that people who become unemployed in the future could receive the benefits.

The measure was approved by the Senate and House and now moves to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

State Jobless Rate Continues Decline

Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped to 10.4 percent in February. That’s down three-tenths of a point from what it was in January of this year. The number shows about 11,000 more people working in the state in February. Officially, there are 495,000 people in Michigan out of work and looking for a job. There’s another 430,000 people who are either part-timers wishing they had full-time work, or unemployed people who’ve simply quit looking for jobs.

Why the ‘Underwear Bomber’ Targeted Detroit

More details are being learned about why Detroit was chosen as a target in an attempt by an al-Qaida operative to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day in 2009. It appears Detroit was picked because, quite simply, it was a cheap destination. The Associated Press has learned that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had considered attacking an airplane over Houston or Chicago but the plane tickets were too expensive so, instead, he chose Detroit. The AP explains, “the decision shows that al-Qaida's Yemen branch does not share Osama bin Laden's desire to attack symbolic targets.”

Terrorism
7:45 am
Thu March 24, 2011

Attempted Christmas Day bomber picked Detroit as target because of cheap plane ticket

More details are being learned about why Detroit was chosen as a target in an attempt by an al-Qaida operative to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day 2009. It appears Detroit was picked because, quite simply, it was a cheap destination. The Associated Press reports:

The Associated Press has learned that when an admitted al-Qaida operative planned his itinerary for a Christmas 2009 airline bombing, he considered launching the strike in the skies above Houston or Chicago.

But tickets were too expensive, so he refocused the mission on a cheaper destination: Detroit.

The decision shows that al-Qaida's Yemen branch does not share Osama bin Laden's desire to attack symbolic targets.

After the failed bombing and the arrest of suspected bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab the question of why Detroit was targeted had gone unanswered.

Current and former counterterrorism officials told the AP that Abdulmutallab considered Houston. Another person with knowledge of the case said Abdulmutallab also considered Chicago.

All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Jennifer Granholm
7:30 am
Thu March 24, 2011

Granholm joins Pew as senior adviser

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm
Photo courtesy of michigan.gov

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm will serve as a senior adviser to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ efforts to promote clean energy policies, the Associated Press reports. As the AP explains, Granholm will:

…demonstrate the jobs, manufacturing and exporting opportunities that can come from advancing policies that make cars cleaner, industry more efficient and renewable energy more accessible and affordable.

Granholm and Pew staff members will meet with clean energy startup companies, research facilities, entrepreneurs, manufacturing plants, elected officials and community members.

Granholm was succeeded in office by Governor Rick Snyder on January 1st.

Earlier this year, Granholm announced that she would be a contributor to NBC’s Sunday news program, “Meet the Press" and that she and her husband, Dan Mulhern, received a two-year academic appointment at the University of California- Berkeley. She also announced that she and Mulhern would be co-authoring a book about her time as Michigan’s governor.

Education
9:15 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Alumni: Don't write Cass Tech obituary just yet

Demolition has begun on the 1970s addition on the west side of Cass Tech.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Demolition on Detroit’s historic Cass Technical High School has begun. But a dedicated group of alumni and supporters still hope they can pull off an eleventh-hour effort to save it.

Cass Tech was and is one of Detroit’s most prestigious high schools. Alumni include Diana Ross, Lily Tomlin, and Jack White of the White Stripes.

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State Legislature
4:42 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Legislators debating extending jobless benefits

People who file for unemployment benefits next year would be eligible for fewer weeks of payments under a Republican measure approved by the state Senate. The Legislature must approve a jobless benefits package this week in order for the state to receive federal assistance for the program.

Thirty-five thousand Michiganders stand to lose their benefits if the legislature does not agree to the extension by April 1st. 

Democratic state Senator Tupac Hunter says Republicans are using the opportunity to undercut benefits for people who seek the payments in the future.

“This is 100 percent federally funded, we have an opportunity to address that today, and I think that we’ve chosen political games over helping our workers across this great state.”  

Republican state Senator Tom Casperson says the additional benefits would put too much strain on businesses. 

“Putting people into jobs is the way to fix the problem. But we don’t get there when every time we open our mouths we demonize the very job providers that are going to provide the jobs for us. This is trying to offer an opportunity for both sides; a safety net and add to the unemployment, and a fairness to the business people paying the bill.”

The bill was passed and now moves to the state House for final approval.

Education
4:34 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

College students to protest higher ed cuts at state capitol

The bell tower on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Many college students are expected to gather at the state Capitol tomorrow to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal for deep budget cuts to public universities and colleges. The protesting students may have the support of their university presidents.  

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon says she hopes lawmakers listen to the concerns of students who show up to protest at the Capitol. She says student voices still matter, even if the movement does not sway lawmakers in the Republican-led Legislature.  

“What happens today, what happens in whether or not all these changes actually balance a budget and move to prosperity will affect their lives forever."

Simon says this is a great time for students to be a part of the democratic process, and learn as much from real life experience as they could in the classroom. She told lawmakers that most students surveyed at MSU say they want to live in Michigan after they graduate. But, she says, fewer than half think they will be able to stay and find jobs in the state.

Offbeat
4:19 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Detroit guard held bomb for three weeks

User Gini Flickr

A package containing a bomb was held for three weeks at the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit. From the Detroit News:

A security officer at the McNamara Federal Building stored a suspicious package that turned out to contain a bomb for three weeks before alerting authorities, said a spokesman for a union that represents guards at the site, who called the incident "a total embarrassment."

"He apparently set it aside," said David Wright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, which represents the Federal Protective Service (FPS) employees, who guard the McNamara and other federal buildings around the country.

"It should have been left in place and he should have called in a canine detection unit to see if they could make a determination about it," he said Tuesday.

The package was eventually placed behind two dumpsters behind the McNamara Building on Michigan Avenue downtown around 10 a.m. Friday. The Detroit Police Department's bomb squad collected the device from there and moved it to Belle Isle, where it was detonated.

An FBI official said yesterday that the device had gone to FBI headquarters in Virginia for additional testing.

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Economy
3:36 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Michigan's unemployment rate declined in February

(Flickr ziggy fresh)

Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in February. Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined by 3 tenths of one percent last month to 10.4%.

The state’s jobless number was still one and a half percentage points above the national unemployment rate of 8.9%.  

Michigan’s unemployment rate has been falling since September 2009. And last month, the number of jobless Michiganders fell below a half million for the first time since November 2008.

Libya
3:26 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Michigan Senator Carl Levin defends president's handling of Libya

Senator Levin talks with President Obama on board Air Force One during a recent trip to Marquette
(courtesy of U.S. Senator Carl Levin's office)

Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin is defending President Obama’s decision to get involved in the war in Libya. Critics have complained the president waited too long to act or should have kept the U.S out of the conflict. Levin says the president has chosen the right course.

 “He has proceeded in a way which is cautious and thoughtful.”   

Levin  says the president has worked well with European and Arab allies to put pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.  

“The long term goal is to keep the pressure on to have him be removed."

Levin expects the Congress will ask the president to comply with the War Powers Act next week. The president will then have three months to respond to Congress’ request for information about the decision to bomb Libya.

Levin is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

Health
3:09 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Military missing traumatic brain injuries in soldiers

Brock Savelkoul, who was medically discharged from the Army after serving three tours in Iraq, received the Purple Heart because of a wound to his leg. But it's the traumatic brain injury and PTSD he sustained that are complicating his life.
NPR.org

For soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the biggest threats has been IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices. When these bombs go off, they can do enormous physical damage. But they can also cause damage to the soldier that often goes undetected.

NPR's Daniel Zerdling and ProPublica conducted an investigation of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) in soldiers serving in the U.S. military.

In the series, Brain Wars, they found that "the military medical system is failing to diagnose brain injuries in troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom receive little or no treatment for lingering health problems."

We're beginning to learn more about the persistent debilitating effects of these brain injuries from studies of football and hockey players and other athletes involved in contact sports. These are unseen injuries. Injuries that, prior to our understanding of them, might have gotten a "shake it off, you just got your bell rung" response from a coach.

As it turns out, the military has been slow to understand the effects of these brain injuries as well.

To get a grasp of how these unseen brain injuries can affect somebody - watch this video of Sgt. Victor Medina who says, "sometimes I wonder if it would have been easier to get my leg blown off - you can see it.":

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Commentary
2:52 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Devastation

Hilary Flickr

Detroit expected to get grim news from the U.S. Census bureau. But the results are, in fact, far worse than expected. They paint a picture of urban devastation unlike any in our nation’s history, a snapshot of the depopulation of a major American city.

Consider this: Since the Republican National Convention in 1980, Detroit has lost half a million people. In the thirty years before that, it lost even more -- another seven hundred thousand.

For years, the term “white flight” had been synonymous with what was happening.  Today, it’s mostly about black flight. The black population of Detroit declined by more than one hundred and eighty-five thousand people during the last decade.

What that indicates is that the middle class of both races has given up on the city, in large part because the schools are perceived as being so bad. There have been a number of stories in recent months speculating that, for the first time, the census would find that the percentage of Detroiters who are white was increasing.

Optimists believed that the city was attracting a new generation of young urban pioneers, who were returning to Detroit from the suburbs, living in lofts and creating an artistic and urbane lifetstyle.

The census shows that this was a complete fantasy. Sure, there may be a few kids doing those things. There are also a few people who vote for the Socialist Workers’ party. But both groups are statistically insignificant. Nearly half of what white population remained in Detroit in 2000 vanished over the next decade.

There are now only about fifty-five thousand people in Detroit who identify themselves as white. Sixty years ago, when the city celebrated its 250th anniversary, that figure was one point six million.

That means that more than ninety-five percent of the white population has disappeared.  That’s not to say that Detroit’s troubles are solely due to the fact that the whites left. In fact, one-quarter of the black population left over the last decade as well.

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Politics
2:23 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Detroit, Bank of America announce "new partnerhip"

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announces the partnership
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit and Bank of America have announced what both call “the start of a new partnership.”

Bank of America says it will demolish 100 “vacant and low-value” homes in Detroit at their own expense.

The bank says it will also donate 10 refurbished homes to the city’s Project 14. That’s an effort to lure Detroit police officers back to the city with housing incentives.

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