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State Legislature
6:09 am
Fri May 6, 2011

State House approves education budget

State Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan

The state House met late into the night last night to approve an education spending plan by a narrow margin. It took several hours for Republican leaders to wrangle enough votes to approve the budget proposal that cuts funding for universities and K-12 schools. Democrats argue the cuts would hurt graduation rates and opportunities for kids.

Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chuck Moss says Democrats’ complaints don’t tell the whole story on school funding.  

“Now I’ve heard a lot of talk about how we’re destroying our education system. I’d just like to say something that this budget cuts K-12, cuts School Aid by 3-point-five percent. The School Aid Fund has gone up 14 percent over the last 10 years."

Democratic state Representative Tim Melton tried to persuade Republican lawmakers not to vote for the measure that would move money from K-12 schools to reduce cuts to colleges and universities. He says it violates what voters intended when they revamped school funding in the mid-1990s.  

 “This is a historic vote, and I don’t think this vote should be taken lightly. We’ve heard conversations about Proposal A, and I wish folks would go back and read Proposal A, especially the new members of this chamber, and tell me one time in that bill do you see the word ‘community colleges’ or ‘universities,’ and keep looking, because it’s not in there."

The House budget proposal would also sanction universities that offer domestic partner benefits to their employees.

The House version of the budget must be reconciled with a Senate spending plan before it goes to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

Sports Commentary
6:00 am
Fri May 6, 2011

A sports lesson: "We don't need to spike the football"

The flag at Yankee Stadium. Many American's took solace in baseball at the attacks of September, 11th, 2001.
Michael Zanussi Flickr

Sometimes the real world is so overwhelming it sneaks into sports.  One of those times occurred after 9/11, when the crowd at Yankee Stadium sang “God Bless America.”

I’m not very religious, but it sounded right to me. 

It seemed appropriate that that signature moment, when we needed to be together, occurred in our country’s most hallowed arena, the nation’s front porch.

We are probably the most sports-soaked culture in the world. We’re the ones who pay for the Olympics, after all – and I believe our code of conduct when we’re competing often represents our values at their best. 

People like to say sports teaches us how to be aggressive.

But you can learn that through alley fighting.  Any jerk with no regard for others can be aggressive.  Prisons are filled with them.  9/11 was conceived by them.  

So I disagree.

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Politics
7:15 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Benton Harbor emergency manager voids elected officials’ resolution

"This act is not about the finances of the city of Benton Harbor," City Commissioner Dennis Knowles says, "It’s about the extraction and gentrification of the people of Benton Harbor."
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Elected city leaders in Benton Harbor are calling on Governor Rick Snyder to remove the city’s state-appointed emergency financial manager.

Snyder approved broader powers for emergency financial managers earlier this year.

Benton Harbor’s city commission adopted a resolution (full resolution available here) declaring those new powers unconstitutional.

Thursday Benton Harbor’s emergency financial manager Joe Harris rescinded that and any further resolutions adopted by elected city officials (full order available here), in accordance with an order he issued earlier this year.

Harris stripped power from elected city officials in March. That included the power to adopt resolutions, even non-binding ones.

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Politics
5:57 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Senate approves measure to rein in environmental rules

The Republican controlled state Senate has approved a measure to rein in the authority of state regulators to enact environmental protection rules.

The bill says Michigan’s environmental protection rules cannot be stricter than federal rules unless a law is passed to allow it.

Republican state Sen. John Proos says environmental policy should reflect the fact that Michigan competes with other states for jobs.

"We can’t operate in a vacuum in Michigan," said Pross. "If it’s more difficult to do business in Michigan than it is in Indiana, businesses and industries who hire Michigan families could just as soon choose the less-expensive option or the more-efficient option. Every day, other states benchmark against us. We should do the same to make sure we put ourselves in the best position to compete."

Republicans and some Democrats have long complained that Michigan’s environmental rules and the people who enforce them are too zealous.

Democrats, like State Senator Rebekah Warren, say the measure would make it harder for experts to address environmental crises that may be unique to the Great Lakes region.

"Federal standards to protect water quality, in particular, are designed to be the floor below which states are not allowed to drop," said Warren. "They are not written by people that feel the special stewardship like we do here in Michigan over one of the world’s most-important freshwater resources."

Opponents of the bill say it would make it more difficult to respond to an environmental crisis and it would make the process of protecting air and water more political.

One Democrat crossed over to join the Republican majority to approve the measure. The bill now goes to the state House.

Science/Medicine
2:58 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Heart bypass surgeries drop by a third in U.S. in past decade

Fewer Americans are undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery than they were ten years ago.
zimbio.com

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association says the number of coronary artery bypass surgeries performed in the U.S. has fallen by nearly a third over the past decade.

Some patients are treated with drugs to dissolve a blood clot that's blocking an artery in order to prevent a heart attack.

Others undergo balloon angioplasty and get stents to open the artery.

But some will need bypass surgery – which usually means opening the chest and stopping the heart.

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Education
2:48 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Detroit schools look to programs to curb bullying, conflict

A student (center) at Bennett Elementary in southwest Detroit leads a brief meditation before getting to the games. Playworks Coach Sharon Brooks is to his right. Playworks Program Manager Lily Kreimer is left.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

As long as there have been schools, there have been school bullies.

But experts say today’s tormentors are more brutal and efficient than ever before.  And that’s left teachers and principals scrambling to figure out how to manage the problem.

In Detroit, training sessions for handling bullies start tomorrow. And the school district has also launched conflict resolution programs to help stop bullying behavior.

"They told me I seemed different"

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Politics
2:38 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Census shows 50% rise in vacant properties across Michigan

This house in Detroit sat abandoned for a while before a couple of artists bought it for $1,900.
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

The number of vacancies in Michigan rose by nearly 50% over the past decade.

According to the latest U.S. Census data, the number of vacant housing units across the state jumped from about 448,618 in 2000 to 659,725 in 2010.

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Environment
1:20 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Parts of Kalamazoo River may reopen for recreation

View from I-94 of clean up efforts from last year's oil spill.
Photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Summer recreation may return to parts of the Kalamazoo River. Michigan health officials are studying the effects of an oil spill last summer. The spill dumped more than 800-thousand gallons into the river near Marshall.  If reports are positive, the no-contact order on areas of the Kalamazoo River may be lifted. The order banned swimming, boating and fishing.

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Economy
1:16 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Michigan mortgage lender ends federal investigation into discrimination claims

A major home mortgage lender has reached a deal to end a federal investigation into alleged racial discrimination. The settlement will mean millions of dollars for housing programs in Wayne County.  

Citizens Bank is the largest bank holding company headquartered in Michigan and one of the 50 largest in the country. 

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Politics
11:40 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Yachts shouldn't be eligible for tax write-off, says Michigan Congressman

Michigan Congressman Gary Peters wants to close a loophole that allows people to write off the interest they pay on their yacht loans.

Peters says current law allows people to deduct the interest on two residences.

"But the way the deduction is written, it’s anything that has a toilet, a kitchen and bedding, so yachts qualify, and so you’ll find that many people write off the interest in financing their yachts."

Peters says the loophole cost the U.S. Treasury a billion dollars in 2004, the last time the Congressional Budget Office examined the issue.

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Education
11:33 am
Thu May 5, 2011

MI Teachers' union first in nation to pick up health insurance

The Dearborn Federation of Teachers will be the first teachers' union in the nation to take over health insurance plans from a school district.

The union will provide two plans, an HMO, and a PPO, to its members.  Both are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan plans.

Chris Sipperley is president of the union. 

She says Dearborn Public Schools demanded that teachers go from paying $0 a month to insure their families, to $625.

That’s when the union decided it could do better.

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Commentary
11:10 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Managing the Mess

When the news broke yesterday that retired General Motors vice president Roy Roberts would be the new Detroit Public Schools czar, the first thing I thought of was Henry Ford.

This is not because I have attention deficit disorder. No, I thought of something brilliant Hank the First once observed about his own career.  Ford said if he had asked about transportation needs in the 1890's, nobody would have said they needed an automobile.

They would have said they wanted a faster horse. For years, various people have been trying in various ways to beat life into a dying horse called the Detroit Public Schools.

They’ve tried appointed boards and elected boards; emergency managers, all sorts of superintendents and infusions of cash.

Nothing has worked very well. Sometimes they identify a particular problem, but the overall health of the system has remained poor. Now if you are not from Detroit, you may not think this matters much to you. Except that it does.

We as a state will all suffer, economically and otherwise, if kids can’t get a functional education in our largest city. Plus, the seeds of many of the problems that have ruined Detroit’s schools are present and growing in other school systems, urban, suburban and rural school systems across the state.

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Arts/Culture
11:02 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Origins of Cinco de Mayo

A celebration of Mexican heritage.
user SCA Flickr

We were curious in the newsroom this morning, how did we come to celebrate Cinco de Mayo? A little digging gave me the answer...

"I know I owe you money, but you're going to have to wait."

Imagine if the U.S. government declared to its debtors that it wasn't going to pay on its loans for two years.

Countries like China, Japan, and the United Kingdom probably wouldn't be too happy - they might even send warships to the U.S. coasts demanding their money.

O.k., totally far-fetched, I know. But similar events in the 1860s led to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

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Election 2012
10:58 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Land won't run for Senate in 2012

Terri Lynn Land, Michigan's former Secretary of State, has decided she will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2012. Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow is up for reelection next year. The Associated Press reports:

Land said Thursday in a statement on her Facebook page that she has decided against joining the Republican field to take on Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow is running for her third six-year term. She reported last month that she has $3 million on hand so far for her 2012 campaign.

Only one Republican candidate has entered the race so far. Former Kent County Judge Randy Heckman announced he would run for the seat earlier this year.

Former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who some speculated would run, announced last month that he would not run against Stabenow.

Stabenow has held the seat since 2000.

Environment
10:56 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Study: flame retardant chemicals affect development in frogs

Flame retardant chemicals help keep foam and plastics from catching on fire. They’re called PBDEs. That stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

They’re in our couches, our office chairs and the padding under our carpet.

The problem is... they don’t stay put. Scientists have known for a while that the chemicals leach out of products and get into our bodies. Americans have the highest levels of anyone in the world.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies are suggesting links to problems with brain development, changes to thyroid systems, and fertility problems.

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Environment
10:49 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Aircraft chemical found in Great Lakes fish

Researchers from Environment Canada found a chemical used in aircraft fluids in lake trout in the Great Lakes.
Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

New research finds that fish in the Great Lakes are contaminated with a chemical used in aircraft hydraulic fluids.

Researcher Amila DeSilva works for Environment Canada, which is like the EPA in the U.S.

She says there have been studies on a number of perflourinated chemicals. They’re used to make textiles, upholstery, paper, and many other things. Studies have shown these types of chemicals can have toxic effects in humans. But not much is known about a chemical called perfluoroethylcyclohexanesulfonate - or PFECHS for short.

DeSilva says no one has really studied whether it's toxic.

She wanted to see if PFECHS was in the environment, so she and her colleagues sampled water and fish in the Great Lakes, specifically lake trout and walleye:

“We were really, really surprised to find it in fish. Because, just based on the structure and our chemical intuition we thought, ‘okay, it would be more likely to be in water than in fish’ so when we found it in fish, when you find anything in fish, it’s a whole other ballgame because humans consume fish.”

DeSilva says other perflourinated acids are endocrine disruptors. That means they create hormone imbalances in humans, and they have other toxic effects. She says once these chemicals are released into the environment they don’t degrade, they just build up. That’s why use of some chemicals in this class is highly restricted in the U.S. and Canada.

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Economy
9:47 am
Thu May 5, 2011

No progress for Midwest's housing market

Photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Things continue to look bad for the Midwest housing market. Seven of the lowest performing major markets in the nation are from the Midwest and Detroit leads the pack. Sean McSweeney is with Clear Capital, a national real estate valuation company. McSweeney says while Detroit faces many challenges, there are still reasons Detroit home owners should be hopeful. 

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News Roundup
8:40 am
Thu May 5, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 5th, 2011

GM Sales

General Motors has released its first quarter-net income… and it’s good news for the automaker.  The Associated Press reports:

General Motors says its first-quarter net income more than tripled on strong car sales in the U.S. and China. The company's first-quarter net income totaled $3.2 billion… one of its best performances since the SUV boom in the early 2000s. It was GM's fifth straight quarterly profit since late 2009, the year it emerged from bankruptcy. Quarterly revenue rose 15 percent to $36.2 billion. Worldwide sales climbed 12 percent, including a 25-percent jump in the U.S.

House Votes on Budget

The state House passed a $33 billion budget bill yesterday. As the Associated Press reports, the measure covers spending for everything except education. From the AP:

Lawmakers were deeply divided Wednesday on the measure, which closes prisons, drops 12,600 families from welfare and cuts senior services.

Majority Republicans say the budget puts the state on sound financial funding without using one-time fixes.

Minority Democrats say the bill cuts important services such as job training.

It includes $7 billion in general fund spending and passed 62-48, largely along party lines.

The bill must be reconciled with spending bills already passed by the Senate.

DPS Gets a New EM

Governor Rick Snyder has appointed a new Emergency Financial Manager for the Detroit Public Schools. Snyder announced the appointment of former GM Executive Roy Roberts to replace current Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb yesterday. Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek reports, “Roberts has had a distinguished career in business and is considered a pioneer for African-Americans in the auto industry. Snyder says he chose Roberts because he’s a ‘successful businessman and team builder.’ Roberts says he’s genuinely ‘excited’ to tackle the daunting task of improving Detroit schools.” Bobb’s contract expires at the end of June.

Sports
10:17 pm
Wed May 4, 2011

Darius Morris to leave Wolverines for the NBA draft

Darius Morris is leaving the University of Michigan for the NBA draft. Morris broke the school's assist record with 235 assists last season. He helped to lead the team to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
University of Michigan

A key part of the offense for the University of Michigan men's basketball team will leave the team for the NBA draft.

The school reports that Darius Morris has decided to forego the remainder of his college eligibility.

From the Associated Press:

The sophomore point guard had declared for the draft but could have returned to the Wolverines if he'd withdrawn by May 8. Instead, he'll forgo his remaining eligibility, meaning Michigan will have to replace one of its most important players as it tries to build on last season's impressive finish.

"There have been long discussions with my family, friends and my Michigan coaches," Morris said. "In the end I decided to go with my heart. Playing professional basketball has always been a dream for me. I feel this is the right time for me to pursue that goal. It will be hard to leave the University of Michigan. However, I truly believe the basketball program is moving in a very positive direction."

Education
5:20 pm
Wed May 4, 2011

Governor Snyder appoints new financial manager for Detroit schools

Governor Snyder introduces Roy Roberts Wednesday
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has appointed former GM Executive Roy Roberts to take over as the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Financial Manager.

Roberts has had a distinguished career in business and is considered a pioneer for African-Americans in the auto industry.

Snyder says he chose Roberts because he’s a “successful businessman and team builder.”

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