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11:54 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Glimmers of Hope

I know we’re just a week or so away from the beginning of spring, but it’s hard right now to feel especially hopeful. It’s been a long and grinding winter, and we all know we haven’t seen the last of the snow and ice yet. And while unemployment is down, most of us know people who have been out of work, or still are.

But I can’t help but think of something inspiring that happened at the start of this winter. The American Civil Liberties Union of  Michigan ran a high school essay contest.

Students were asked to read Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty, the one that includes the famous line, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free.”

Then, they were to write about how their experiences as a part of this melting pot had defined their American identity.

The contest was sponsored by a friend of Rabbi Sherwin Wine, a humanist and community leader in the Detroit area who was tragically killed in a car accident in Morocco three years ago.

I was a friend of the rabbi, and since I supposedly know something about writing, I was asked to be the final judge. Frankly, I wasn’t too optimistic. This is a busy time of year, and for many students, reading and writing aren’t top priorities.

But I have to say, I was blown away. The ACLU asked me to pick the best two. But four were so good I insisted they honor all  their authors. When I judged them, I didn’t know who the writers were. But when I met the students, I had a pleasant surprise.

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Politics
11:47 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Video: Kids ask parents and grandparents to "help Governor Rick"

From the online video from Value for Michigan. Come on Mom and Dad... chip in.
valueformichigan.com

Value for Michigan, a political action committee that supports Governor Snyder's proposed budget, has released a video with kids asking their parents and grandparents to support "Governor Rick."

In the short 30 second ad, the children say:

  • "Please be responsible with our future."
  • "Don't pass the buck."
  • "Don't leave it on us"
  • "This is our one chance"
  • "So there will be jobs"
  • "Help Governor Rick change Michigan"
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Governor Snyder
10:36 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Snyder to outline government reforms next week

Governor Rick Snyder says he'll outline his reforms for state government next week
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he will outline his proposals to reform Michigan government next week. During his State of the State address in January, the governor said he’d give specifics on governmental reform in March.

Governor Snyder told the Associated Press that he hasn’t yet set a specific date for next week's address. The AP reports:

Snyder said Tuesday he wants state and local governments to offer better government accountability and transparency, spend less on employee compensation and share or consolidate more services.

He has proposed cutting revenue sharing for local governments by $100 million.

Local officials say the lost funds will force them to lay off police officers and firefighters and drastically cut services.

During his State of the State address, the Governor also said he’d deliver a special address on education in April.

Environment
9:55 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Michigan girl scouts take on saving endangered species in Asia

Rhiannon Tomtishen (left) and Madison Vorva (right) are working to save rainforests in Asia.
Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva

Two Ann Arbor teens are trying to save Orangutans on the other side of the globe from becoming extinct. Orangutans have become an endangered species because of poaching and the rainforests they live in are being destroyed.

15-year olds Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva became friends 4 years ago through Girl Scouts. Tomtishen says it their mission started when they decided to work together to earn a bronze award.

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Investigative
8:43 am
Tue March 15, 2011

What will the 'Michigan reinvention' look like?

Rick Snyder campaigned on "reinventing" Michigan.
Bill Rice Flickr

It was only a few months ago that Republican Rick Snyder and the majority Republican legislature were voted into office. Snyder said on the campaign trail that he wanted to change the way state government works.

He promised to “re-invent” Michigan.  People liked the sound of that.

As he’s revealed the path to his vision of Michigan, not everyone is pleased. 

(sound of protestors in capitol)

Union members, Democrats, public employees, retirees and the poor have been holding rallies at the capitol about as often as the legislature meets in Lansing.

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News Roundup
8:12 am
Tue March 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

News Roundup, March 15th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Protests to Continue in Lansing

More demonstrations are expected at the state Capitol today, this time from members of AARP Michigan. The group will protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal that would get rid of the income tax exemption for pensions.  The Detroit Free Press reports that AARP Michigan has arranged to transport 400 seniors to the rally. AARP Michigan spokesman Mark Hornbeck told the Free Press he wouldn’t be surprised if over 1,000 attend the protest

Japanese crisis raises questions about nuclear power in  U.S.

The nuclear accidents in Japan, following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, are raising questions about the future of around 20 planned new nuclear power plants in the U.S, including one in Michigan. Steve Carmody reports:

DTE’s proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant has the potential of helping Michigan meet its future energy needs, as well as its construction generating billions of dollars for the state’s economy. But like 19 other proposed nuclear projects, its future appears murky in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis. 

A DTE spokesman says it’s “way too early” to speculate on how the events in Japan may affect the utility’s application for Fermi 3. 

Plans for new nuclear power plants all but dried up after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and it was only recently that interest in developing alternative energy sources renewed interest in nuclear power.

Holder, Sebelius in Detroit

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be at Wayne State University in Detroit today. They’re attending a regional summit that will discuss Medicare fraud prevention. The AP reports:

Waste and fraud cost the federal Medicare program and Medicaid, its state counterpart, an estimated $54 billion in 2009. Holder said at a December summit in Boston that the Obama administration's crackdown on health care fraud has recovered $4 billion in Massachusetts alone over two years.

Politics
7:18 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Sebelius, Holder to speak in Detroit

Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary
US Mission Geneva Flickr

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will talk about health care fraud prevention at a regional summit at Wayne State University in Detroit this morning.

Law enforcement officials, consumer experts and health care providers are also expected to participate in the discussions, the Associated Press reports.

This is the fifth in a series of summits announced last June by President Obama. The AP reports:

Waste and fraud cost the federal Medicare program and Medicaid, its state counterpart, an estimated $54 billion in 2009. Holder said at a December summit in Boston that the Obama administration's crackdown on health care fraud has recovered $4 billion in Massachusetts alone over two years.

Politics
7:06 am
Tue March 15, 2011

U.S. House approves President Ford statue at Capitol

President Gerald R. Ford
Marion Doss Flickr

The U.S. House of Representatives has authorized a plan to put a statue of President Gerald R. Ford in the Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C., according to Michigan Congressman Fred Upton. Rep. Upton says all 14 of his colleagues in Michigan’s Congressional delegation co-sponsored the resolution.

The measure now goes to the U.S. Senate for approval. The Associated Press reports:

The statue would replace a statue of Michigan abolitionist Zachariah Chandler. Federal law lets each state display two statues in the Capitol at one time.

Upton says a presentation ceremony for the new statue is planned May 3.

President Ford represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representative before he became President Richard Nixon’s vice president. Ford succeeded Nixon in 1974. Ford passed away in 2006. Representative Upton released the following statement on his website:

“As one who has the honor and privilege of representing some of the very same people in southwest Michigan that President Ford did during his time in the House, it gives me great pleasure to witness this fitting tribute to Michigan’s native son,” said Upton.  “President Gerald Ford is a Michigan original and a model for all those called to public service.  A seemingly ordinary American who unexpectedly found himself in the presidency at one of our nation’s most tumultuous times, Gerald Ford led with honesty and integrity.  By standing above the political fray, President Ford allowed a wounded nation to heal.”

Budget Protests
6:41 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Seniors plan to protest at state Capitol

AARP Michigan is planning a rally at the state Capitol Tuesday morning
User goIfmuth Flickr

Protests are scheduled to continue at the state Capitol today. Older people are expected in Lansing today to oppose Governor Rick Snyder's plan to tax pensions. The Associated Press reports:

AARP Michigan is one of the main sponsors of a protest scheduled to begin late Tuesday morning. The group opposes Rick Snyder's plan to eliminate an income tax exemption for pensions.

The Michigan League for Human Services also is involved in the protest. The league opposes a plan to eliminate the state's earned income tax credit for low-wage workers.

The groups say Snyder wants to provide a tax cut for businesses at the expense of seniors, low-income workers and children.

Snyder and his supporters say the proposals would give Michigan a simpler and fairer tax structure that would help provide solid financial footing for the state's future.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

AARP Michigan has arranged to transport nine busloads totaling 400 seniors to today's "It's Not Fair" rally, where Snyder's proposed tax on pensions will be the target."If (attendance is) over 1,000, we won't be surprised," said AARP Michigan spokesman Mark Hornbeck.

Education
8:12 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Enthusiasm and questions about Detroit charter schools proposal

Robert Bobb, Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools

The man in charge of the Detroit Public Schools’ finances has put forth a plan that would turn some of the district’s worst schools into charter schools.

Robert Bobb presented his “Renaissance Plan 2012” to the Detroit Board of Education over the weekend.

The plan calls for turning 41 of the district’s remaining 142 schools over to charter operators. District spokesman Steve Wasko says it would allow the district to move at least $75 million in expenses off its books.

“This is an alternative that would allow the Detroit Public Schools to shed all of the operating costs of the identified schools, to be borne by an outside management company or charter operator.”

Wasko says Bobb will identify those schools and open up the application process later this week.

Skeptics question whether the amount of money the plan saves would make up what the district would lose in state per-pupil funding. David Arsen, Professor of Educational Policy at Michigan State University, says it’s not quite clear how the plan would save so much money.

“If the 41 schools are converted to charters, DPS would avoid its current operations expenditures on those buildings. On the other hand, the district would also lose nearly all of the state funding it currently receives for educating the students in those schools.”

The State Department of Education would have to sign off too, because the proposal would change the deficit elimination plan the state ordered Bobb to implement.

Bobb says his proposal would still advance the deficit elimination plan, while avoiding what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shutting down half the district’s remaining schools.

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Politics
6:04 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Snyder stands by budget plans in face of protests

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011.
mea.org

Senior citizens and union members are expected to rally tomorrow at the state Capitol to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget plans.

Seniors are taking aim at the governor’s proposal to start levying the income tax on pensions.

Michigan is one of four states that does not tax pensions.

Seniors say it’s not fair to tax pensions at the same time Snyder wants to reduce taxes overall on businesses.

But the governor says seniors who use state services and can afford to pay should share the tax burden:

"Because our population is continuing to age and we want a simple, fair tax system.

The idea here is lower-income people, whether you’re a senior or not, hopefully you’re not going to pay any income tax and we’ve structured the system to do that.

For people with higher incomes, we want something that’s simple, fair, and efficient," says Snyder.

The governor says he is open to compromise on details of his budget, but overall he stands by his plan. 

Governor Snyder has also called for cuts to public schools, local governments and state employee compensation.

State employee unions say budget plans that require them to take cuts while Governor Snyder’s department directors earn as much as $250,000 a year are not fair (that's how much Snyder's Budget Director, John Nixon, makes).

Stephen Reck is with SEIU Local 517M – a union that represents state workers:

"Now, I’m not saying the new director isn’t worth $250,000.

If you’re going to attract and retain good people, you’ve got to pay them a fair wage, and that goes for state employees whether an engineer, a scientist, a clerical worker, or a budget director, but be consistent and that’s all we’re asking."

In addition to the seniors and unions expected to protest tomorrow, another rally is planned for Wednesday by a group calling itself  "Working Michigan."

Artprize 2011
5:14 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

ArtPrize hopes to attract more performance art in 2011 contest

ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos hopes having St. Cecilia Music Hall as a venue will attract more musicians to consider entering.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Business owners who want to serve as a venue for ArtPrize this fall can now begin registering. The winner of the art competition is decided by the voting public who visit the event in downtown Grand Rapids. The top prize is $250,000.  

ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos says this year they’re opening the historic St. Cecilia Music Center to host more than two dozen performance pieces. They’re hoping to attract more musicians and dancers to enter the contest.

“ArtPrize has already been open to all these things. The difference is with St. Cecilia coming on we’re being a little more intentional about trying to create a very specific space for it and draw more attention to it.”

St. Cecilia Music Hall opened its doors in 1894. The classically styled gold trimmed music hall will welcome all sorts of performances during ArtPrize this year. The music hall will have listening stations to hear the contestants – in addition to the live performances.

“There have been dances and performance art pieces that have been a part of ArtPrize the first two years. And we see that continuing. We just wanted to continue to press the envelope.”

Artists can begin registering in four weeks. ArtPrize runs from late September through early October.

Education
4:36 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Michigan AG files brief in support of former EMU grad student

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office michigan.gov

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a brief against Eastern Michigan University, alleging the university violated a student’s civil rights. 

Julea Ward was a student in EMU’s masters program for counseling. When she refused to counsel gay students because she’s morally against homosexuality, she tried to refer them to another counselor.

EMU says she violated the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, and removed her from the program. Ward sued EMU in 2009 for violating her constitutional rights.

A federal court in Detroit dismissed the case saying EMU did not discriminate against Ward. Now the Michigan Attorney General’s office is filing an appeal on behalf of Ward.

John Selleck is with the AG’s office. He says this case "would set a standard going forward for other students who have religious objections in any Michigan college case going forward. We think that was a very important reason for us to get involved."

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Budget Protests
4:21 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Protests to continue in Lansing tomorrow

User P.E.C. Flickr

More protests are planned to take place at the state Capitol tomorrow. From the Daily Tribune:

Opponents of the proposed tax on pensions plan to rally at the state Capitol from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, with speakers between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

"We don't think it's fair the governor increases tax on seniors and the poor while giving breaks to business and cutting services," said Mark Horbeck, of AARP Michigan, a sponsor of the rally. "Seniors and the working poor are going to be asked to pay more taxes. What do they get in return? Less services and a business tax cut."

Other groups expected to attend include the Michigan League for Human Services and the state employee retirement association, as well as lawmakers from both parties, said Horbeck, though he declined to name the lawmakers.

AARP is one of the sponsors of the rally, but the rally was really the brainchild of Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, a General Motors retiree who launched a Facebook page to protest the proposed tax.

She says she launched the Facebook page as soon as the governor made his budget proposal to the Legislature last month. Other efforts include passing out fliers of the upcoming rally.

Taxing her pension, Woodward says, could force her to choose between her home and her car.

State Sen. John Pappageorge  R-Troy, sits on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will deal with both Snyder's tax proposals and spending plans.

He says it's too early to tell whether taxing pensions is an idea that will eventually pass the Legislature.

"There's not sufficient support yet because we haven't had a chance to dig into it yet and see if we like it as is or if we can improve on it," Pappageorge said. "The point is it's just a little too early. You can't just look at pensions, you have to look at the whole picture and see if we're doing this as fairly as possible."

The protest comes just days after the legislature added a $100 expenditure item to the governor's tax code bill, thereby making it impossible for Michigan voters to repeal.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that legislation that included expenditures was immune to repeal by voters.

Economy
3:33 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Japanese crisis raises questions about future of nuclear power

(Flickr Simon Strandgaard)

The nuclear accidents in Japan have raised questions about the future of about 20 planned new nuclear power plants in the U.S, including one in Michigan. 

DTE’s proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant has the potential of helping Michigan meet its future energy needs, as well as its construction generating billions of dollars for the state’s economy. But like 19 other proposed nuclear projects, its future appears murky in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis. 

A DTE spokesman says it’s “way too early” to speculate on how the events in Japan may affect the utility’s application for Fermi 3. 

Joseph Sindoni is with the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group.   Sindoni says  “Until we understand clearly what’s occurred at Fukashima (Daiichi) nuclear power plants and any consequences, it’s difficult to speculate about the long-term impact.”  

Plans for new nuclear power plants all but dried up after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and it was only recently that interest in developing alternative energy sources renewed interest in nuclear power.

Economy
3:23 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Study: Grand Rapids, Detroit among Top 20 hardest hit by recession

The Grand Rapids metro region, like many places in the U.S., was hit hard by the recession.
Steven Depolo Flickr

A new study by the Brookings Institution shows the Grand Rapids and Detroit metro regions are in the top 20 hardest hit by the recession.

The study measures how deep the recession hit the top 100 metro regions in the United States.

It also looks at how strong the recovery is for those cities.

Jennifer Bradley co-directed the study in the Great Lakes region:

"It's not just about a particular city or a particular suburb. These places are economic units. They're rising and falling together and they will come out of the recession, or not, together."

Bradley says Grand Rapids and Detroit lead the nation in keeping their unemployment rates from spiking even higher, but it's unclear why:

"It could be more people are getting jobs. It could be more people are leaving the workforce altogether. It could be more people are leaving the region all together."

There is a lot in the study that’s not surprising.

It shows most metro regions near the Great Lakes had a weak economy before the recession, mainly because of job losses as the auto industry declined.

Bradley says business and government leaders in metro regions need to work together to strengthen their chances of recovery.

Budget Protests
2:31 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Ann Arbor rally one of many against state budget

Brit Satchwell says proposed budget cuts will hurt students
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Update 2:31 p.m.:

A spokesperson from the Governor’s office responded via email with the following:

"The proposed budget and tax plan is based on fairness and preserving core safety net services – while improving and strengthening our economy so ALL can prosper and benefit."

2:06 p.m.:

A handful of people gathered in Ann Arbor on Monday to speak against Governor Snyder’s proposed budget for an event organized by Progress Michigan, a progressive organization. The speakers included union representatives, city officials, and individuals.

Lois Richardson is Mayor Pro-Tem of Ypsilanti and voiced criticism of the budget. She says cuts to revenue sharing and historic tax credits will devastate Ypsilanti and other cities. Richardson says the changes will affect everyone in the state of Michigan, not just those who relied directly on the funding.

Brit Satchwell is the President of the Ann Arbor teacher’s union. He says students will feel the cuts the most:

“I’m a sixth grade math teacher and I’m here to tell you, the kids don’t get a makeover year. You don’t get to do sixth grade again because the adults messed it up.”

Satchwell also said school districts like Ann Arbor have already been cutting their budgets for the past few years.

This was one of several events held across the state in preparation for a protest scheduled for Wednesday at the Capitol.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio News

Sports
1:54 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Young Guns: State House committee may vote to eliminate minimum hunting age

(mountlebanonlouisiana.com)

The State House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation committee tomorrow will consider legislation to allow young children to hunt in Michigan.  Michigan currently allows children as young as 10 to hunt with a bow and as young as 12 to use a firearm to hunt deer. 

Peter Pettalia is a state representative from Presque Island in northern lower Michigan.  His bill would eliminate the age limit, as along as the young hunter has an adult with them.  

“It gives parents the right to determine when their children are ready in their eyes to safely hunt.   So myself, if I have a grandchild I believe could carry a weapon to hunt, it gives me the opportunity to decide that.”

Pettalia says allowing children to take part may help reverse the decline in the number of hunters in Michigan.   

“We have thousands, hundreds of thousands of acres of huntable land, yet we have the worst hunter recruitment rate in the nation and dwindling hunter retention numbers.”  

Pettalia says he doubts allowing young children to hunt with their parents or adult mentors will increase hunting accidents.   

What's Working
12:44 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Helping prisoners adjust to life after release

Tim Pierce, Los Gatos Creative Commons

This Monday, Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with Mary King as part of our year-long “What’s Working” series. King is the community coordinator in Washtenaw County for the Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (MPRI). The MPRI aims to increase public safety and reduce crime and recidivism by providing supportive services to citizens recently released from prison. The services provided include assistance with locating housing, employment, substance abuse treatment, transportation, and mental health treatment.

In addition to helping released felons get back on their feet in their communities, Ms. King says the MPRI can produce financial savings for the state by reducing the number of prisons in Michigan. While there are many factors that contribute to fluctuations in the prison population, King says recently there has been a substantial decline in the recidivism rate in Michigan, thanks in part to the MPRI.

“What we do know is that returns to prison for people who have been released – which used to be about one for every two people that were released from prison were back within two years – that number has gone down to one in three.”

Before the MPRI came about, King says different agencies worked in local communities throughout the state to connect returning citizens with services they needed. Unfortunately, these localized efforts often lacked both communication with one another and an understanding of what services were most effective to reduce recidivism, says King.

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Science/Medicine
11:47 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Michigan: Testing for radiation since 1958

Hand held Civil Defense Geiger counter
(Flickr spike55151)

The state agency charged with monitoring radiation at Michigan’s three nuclear reactors has so far not recorded any increased radiation coming from Japan. Japan’s troubled nuclear reactors might be a half a world away, but it wouldn’t be the first time a nuclear accident overseas had an effect on Michigan. 

The state of Michigan has been monitoring radiation levels since January of 1958. Ken Yale is the acting chief of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Radiological Protection Section. His office monitors radiation levels at Michigan’s three nuclear plants (Fermi 2, DC Cook and Palisades). He says the last time his office recorded abnormal radiation readings was back in the mid-1980’s, at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine.

Experts do not expect a ‘Chernobyl’ level of radiation release from the Japanese reactors, due to improved containment technology.

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