News

Pages

Science/Medicine
2:59 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

New obstacles for medical marijuana plant-growers

Joe Gratz Flickr

Michigan Radio's Laura Weber reports that the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled against growing medical marijuana plants in partially-exposed outdoor enclosures, setting a new precedent in Michigan’s medical marijuana debate. From the news spot:

A lower court had dismissed charges against an Owasso resident and medical marijuana card holder. But the Court of Appeals overturned that dismissal, and two of the three judges say the enclosure did not meet the standards set in the new law.

The medical marijuana law was approved by voters in 2008. Many lawmakers have said the law is too unrestricted and needs further clarification.

Clarification--and clarity--is an ongoing problem for medical marijuana advocates and critics in Michigan. John McKenna Rosevear wrote an article in November for arborweb.com which looks at some of the uncertainties surrounding medical marijuana. He describes Ann Arbor as a "Wild West" of in-plain-sight dispencaries and access:

The new frontier opened when voters passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008 (earlier laws enshrined the alternative spelling). The act protects people with "debilitating medical conditions" from prosecution for possessing or using marijuana, and sets what looked like tight controls on its production and distribution: "patients" can raise up to twelve hemp plants for their own use, or delegate the growing to a designated "caregiver."

The law says nothing about buying or selling. Yet by the time the Ann Arbor City Council hastily enacted a moratorium in August, eight businesses dispensing marijuana had already opened in the city. Anyone with a physician's recommendation can now walk in, join a "club," and walk out with up to 2.5 ounces of Blueberry Haze or White Widow--or "medibles" like marijuana brownies and rainbow-colored lollipops dosed with marijuana extract.

Roseyear's article goes on to describe how medical marijuana works--what the rules are, what kind of people are buying and who (he gets pretty specific) is selling--in Ann Arbor.

How is it affecting the rest of Michigan? What do these issues look like where you live?

-Brian Short

Auto/Economy
2:47 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Casino development in nearby Ohio

User Zoomar Flickr

After years of watching its residents travel to Michigan, Indiana, or Pittsburgh for gaming, Ohio is getting in on the action. Cleveland kicked off its first casino development yesterday.

Developers say they’ll spend $350 million to convert a former department store in the center of the city into a place for slot machines and poker.

Behind all this is Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers owner and founder of Michigan’s Quicken Loans. He sees this casino as the first phase of gaming in Cleveland. He’ll be building a casino from scratch a few blocks away.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson says the project should create hundreds of local jobs.

They’re actually talking about how can we hire people? How can we hire local contractors, local vendors and make this investment a stimulus for this economy and the people of this city and region.

Dan Gilbert says the Cleveland casino will be integrated into the city, helping local businesses. 

Auto/Economy
1:57 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Jobless rate falling in Flint

Kettering University junior Steve Needham at the Innovation Center.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

From General Motors adding another shift at the Flint Assembly plant to expansion in the city's medical and echnology centers, Flint's job picture is brightening.

Flint city leaders say their community posted one of the ten biggest drops in unemployment in the U.S. over the last 12 months.

Between December 2009 and December 2010, Flint's jobless rate fell from 16 percent to just under 12 percent.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling says the city helped create or keep mare than a thousand jobs by encouraging entrepreneurial businesses.

For everybody who's left, there's a project out there that kept a job here too. That?s the other part of the story. It may not be a new job. It's not someone who's newly employed. But there are another 500 or 1000 people who would have left here if these projects wouldn't have been successful.

This all builds on what our president said in his State of the Union, that we need to create jobs and industries of the future by doing what America does best.  Investing in the creativity and innovation of our people.

Walling concedes people leaving Flint also helped improve the city's unemployment rate.

Flint's unemployment rate is still above state and national levels.

Health
1:06 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Report: Federal judge dismisses challenge against heath care law

In 2009, then Ohio Representative John Boehner spoke out against the health care reform bill. Now courts are weighing in.
GOP House Leader Flickr

A federal judge in Mississippi tossed out a lawsuit aimed at challenging the health care reform law. The dismissal comes the same week a federal judge in Florida ruled that the whole law was unconstitutional.

Politico.com reports:

Ten individuals without health insurance argued that the law’s requirement to buy insurance violated their rights. One of the plaintiffs is Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant. Judge Keith Starrett said the individuals didn’t prove they have proper standing to challenge the law because they didn’t prove the mandate would apply to them. The suit was thrown out on procedural grounds.

It's not the first time lawsuits challenging the health care law have been tossed. Politico writes, "about two dozen lawsuits have been filed against the health care reform law since it was passed in March. Thirteen have now been thrown out over procedural matters such as a right to bring the suit."

Keeping score

NPR's Health blog went to their "go-to overhaul scorekeeper" Julie Rover for a tally on how challenges to the health care law have fared in court. The bloggers on "Shots" wrote:

The judicial scorecard on the law has pretty much followed party lines. Two judges who found the law constitutional were appointed by Democrats. Two who found the requirement for most people to have health insurance unconstitutional were appointed by Republicans.

The several dismissals issued for the health care court challenges, like the one today, have not followed any party ties.

Medical marijuana
12:05 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Royal Oak man sues city over medical marijuana restrictions

Neeta Lind Flickr

A Royal Oak man is suing the city over its medical marijuana restrictions, which took effect this week.

Adam Leslie Brook is a cancer patient in chronic pain who’s certified to use the drug under Michigan’s medical marijuana law. The law allows Brook to grow up to 12 plants at his home. But Brook’s attorney, Joseph Niskar, says Royal Oak’s new zoning rules bar him from doing that:

Read more
Economy
12:03 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Unemployment rate drops to 9 percent

The unemployment rate fell .4 percentage points in January to 9.0%.

Keith Hall, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics said today:

In January, employment increased in manufacturing and retail trade, while job losses occurred in transportation and warehousing and in construction.  Employment in most other major industries changed little. Manufacturing employment grew by 49,000 over the month and has increased by 161,000 since a recent low point in December 2009.

The Associated Press reports:

The unemployment rate has fallen by eight-tenths of a percentage point in the past two months. That's the steepest two-month drop in nearly 53 years. But part of that drop has occurred as many of those out of work gave up on their job searches. When unemployed people stop looking for jobs, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.

Officially, there are about 13.9 million people in the country out of work. The AP says "that's still about double the total who were out of work before the recession began in December 2007."

The unemployment rate in Michigan stands at 11.7% as of December. New numbers should be out in the coming week.

Transportation
11:21 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Price tag for keeping the Zilwaukee Bridge clear of ice and snow

The Zilwaukee Bridge near Saginaw
user myself wikimedia commons

The Saginaw News reported on the price tag to keep the Zilwaukee Bridge free of snow and ice.

The don't use cheap salt which would result in corrosion of the multi-million dollar bridge. They use a more expensive melting agent - calcium magnesium acetate.

The News reported that the Michigan Department of Transportation used $236,640 worth of the stuff to keep the bridge clear last year:

The Michigan Department of Transportation spent $1,392 a ton to dump 170 tons of calcium magnesium acetate on the 8,000-foot-long bridge on Interstate 75 over the Saginaw River last winter.

Gregg Brunner, manager of the Bay City Transportation Service Center, told the News that MDOT "spends about $800,000 to $1 million a year to maintain the six-lane bridge year round with a four-member crew."

Around 31,000 cars and trucks pass over the bridge daily.

The mile-and-a-half  Zilwaukee Bride had an infamous beginning. It was built so freighters could pass under it on the Saginaw River.

The project was plagued with accidents, "spalling", and the discovery of PCBs. It cost the state $117.5 million to build the bridge and it was opened back in 1988.

Arts/Culture
9:23 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Google launches new "Art Project"

The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA)
Photo courtesy of UMMA

Always wanted to check out the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, but couldn't afford a ticket? Well, you're in luck. Google's new "Art Project"launched this week, and it allows people to virtually explore some of the most famous art museums in the world, like the Van Gogh Museum.

You can take 360-degree tours inside the museums. On select paintings, you can zoom in so close as to see cracks, lines and brushstrokes. 

Of the 17 museums included in the project, 13 are in Europe. The remaining museums are in New York and Washington, D.C: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Frick Collection, and the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian.  Check out the full list here

Joseph Rosa is director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art. He thinks the project is a nice way to bring art to the general public, but he wishes more American museums were included. Rosa says Michigan, for example, has a lot offer -  from the DIA in Detroit to the GRAM in Grand Rapids - and he adds that UMMA has "the best collection of Korean art outside of Korea."

Rosa says if UMMA was asked to participate in the Google Art Project, the first piece he'd include would be Picasso's Young Woman with Mandolin:

"It's amazing; one of his earliest paintings. And when people come to our website or friends and the first thing out of their mouth is: 'You have that?' And I don't want that to be the response from people. They should be: 'Wow, you have that! That's fabulous.' So for us it's demystifying what a university art museum can be."

The Google Art Project is in its pilot phase, and more museums may be added to the project in the future.

Economy
8:03 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Banking on snowfall at the Chicago Board of Trade

The Chicago Board of Trade
Niala Boodhoo Changing Gears

Parts of the Midwest are still shoveling out after one of the worst blizzards in recent memory.  For some people, they can't see the good in all that snowfall.

But at the Chicago Board of Trade, this blizzard may be a boon for business.

Investors are banking on a futures market based on snowfall that’s the first of its kind in the world.

Read more
Winter Storm
7:51 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Winter storm packs economic punch

Digging out from this week's winter storm in downtown Grand Rapids
Lindsay Smith Michigan Radio News

Ok, so we all know that this week's winter storm caused copious amounts of snow and ice to blanket much of the state. And, of course, we couldn't forget the school closings and sore backs (hey, shoveling a foot of snow out of a driveway is strenuous!).

But, what about the actual financial impact of a huge winter storm? Just how much money did all that snow cost the state? Hard to quantify? It sure would seem like it. But, one firm, IHS Global Insight, has decided to go ahead and try to figure the economics out.

In a report released this week titled, The Economic Costs of Disruption from a Snowstorm, IHS said the storm had a $251 million a day economic impact in Michigan. The study took into account both direct (think loss of income because of a missed day of work) and indirect effects (such as lost sales in the local economy) of the storm into account when figuring out the numbers.

Aside from the actual economic data, IHS also reached three conclusions about the financial impact of winter storms, and I quote:

  1. Among all economic classes, snow-related shutdowns harm hourly workers the worst, accounting for almost two thirds of direct economic losses.
  2. The indirect economic impacts of snow-related shutdowns, including loss of retail sales and income and sales tax revenues, roughly double the initial economic impact.
  3. The economic impact of snow-related closures far-exceeds the cost of timely snow removal. Although states and localities may be hesitant to expand significant upfront resources in the short-term, the long-term payoff more than justifies the expense.
Environment
7:16 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Michigan forests hit hard last year

Detail of emerald ash borer damage
Jhritz Flickr

New analysis by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment says state forests were hit hard last year by the emerald ash borer and a variety of other ailments and invasive pests.

According to the Associated Press, in a report released yesterday, the DNRE said:

...people continue to make the invasive species problem worse by moving firewood infested with exotic organisms. The unwelcome critters also work their way into nursery stock and wooden pallets that are hauled around the state.

Lynne Boyd is chief of the Forest Management Division and says insects and foreign species are a big danger to Michigan's 19.3 million acres of woodlands. Industries connected to Michigan forests such as timber and recreation provide 136,000 jobs and pump $14 billion into the state's economy each year.

The Traverse City Record Eagle reports:

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has set up a quarantine to limit the ash borer's spread — including a firewood checkpoint at the Mackinac Bridge linking the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula. People caught hauling firewood into the U.P. can be fined or even jailed. Even so, the ash borer has been found in several U.P. locations after killing more than 30 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan.

Auto Recall
5:49 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Ford recalls 365,000 F-150 pickup trucks

Ford Motor Company is recalling more than 350,000 pickup trucks
Toolshed4 Flickr

Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 365,000 F-150 pickup trucks in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The problem is faulty door handles that could lead to the doors flying open in a crash.

The F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Most of the recalled trucks were made in the 2009 and 2010 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says a spring in the interior door handle can break, which means the door may not latch properly. So the door could potentially fling open if the truck is hit on the side.

Ford says there have been no crashes or injuries tied to the problem. Ford is also dealing with a large and expensive recall of nearly 600-000 older model Windstar minivans. That one is for corrosion in the axles that could cause the axles to break.

Education
5:33 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Harvard study asks: Does everyone need a 4-year college degree?

Harvard study says schools need to focus on "college readiness" and "career readiness"
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

A  new Harvard University report say high schools need to do a better job preparing students for whatever career path they choose…whether it’s becoming a doctor or an electrician.

The "Pathways to Prosperity" study finds that America’s education system is focused too much on college prep and not enough on alternatives, like vocational and career and technical education (CTE).

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the release of the report on Wednesday:

The Pathways to Prosperity study envisions a new system of career and technical education that constitutes a radical departure from the vocational education of the past.

The need for that transformation is pressing.  I applaud your report’s frank discussion of the shortcomings of our current CTE system and its call to strengthen the rigor and relevance of career and technical education.

I am not here today to endorse the specifics of your policy recommendations. I want instead to suggest two takeaway messages from your study and the Department’s reform efforts.

Secretary Duncan's two takeaways?

  1. CTE, the "neglected stepchild of education reform," can no longer be ignored.
  2. CTE needs to be re-imagined for the 21st century.

Patty Cantu is director of the CTE office for Michigan’s Department of Education. She's not surprised by the report:

"The pendulum swings this way in education a lot. We focus on one area, and then we say, oh, that’s right, we have this other important thing and just as valuable thing that we also have to take into consideration."

Cantu says the head of Michigan's Department of Education, Mike Flangan, is very interested in "not only embracing academic rigor, but also the rigor of [the state's] career and technical education program."

The report says students should be able to choose career paths early, like they do in Europe. Secretary Duncan says "we can’t just copy the vocational education systems of other high-performing countries. But we can learn from them about how to build rigorous educational and work-experience programs with strong links to high-wage, high-demand jobs."

Read more
Energy
5:29 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Michigan is changing course in legal fight over coal plants

Holland's BPW wants to expand the James DeYoung coal plant on the shores of Lake Macatawa.
Holland BWP

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality will not continue its legal fight to prevent the plans for two coal power plants.

The state denied air quality permits last year for two coal plants, one in Holland and one in Rogers City.  The decision was based on an executive order issued by former Governor Jennifer Granholm. She said the state must factor in whether or not a community really needs more power and consider conservation efforts and alternative energy.

Brad Wurfel is a spokesman with MDEQ. He says their decision to change course is partly because of two judges ruling against the state and partly because of the new administration.

 “Governor Snyder is in favor of building Michigan’s economy and in the case of Wolverine Rogers City has expressed an interest in additional power to realize a long term vision for increasing its port capacity, expanding its infrastructure, and they need power to do it. Right now they’re buying that power from Ohio and Indiana.”

Wurfel says it’s not an issue of whether or not the new governor is for or against coal plants. 

“Our job at the department of environmental quality is to see to it that the permits that are issued to them are in compliance with state and federal clean air statues.”

Wurfel says the state is working with Wolverine Power on their plans to build a new plant in Rogers City, and the City of Holland to expand an existing plant. He says they will still have to meet air quality standards to get the permits they need.

Arts/Culture
5:11 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

GOP lawmaker says film tax credits have merit

A GOP lawmaker says Michigan should keep some of its film tax credits.
Lloydpictures.com

Republican state senator Rick Jones says Michigan’s film tax credit might need to be trimmed, but he doesn’t think it should be eliminated. 

Governor Rick Snyder has said he’s going to put Michigan’s generous film tax credit policy under the microscope.

Movie companies can get up to a 42 percent tax credit if they film here.

But State Sen. Rick Jones says movies made in Michigan can be good for the state, because a hit can bring residual money into a community:

A good example would be "Somewhere in Time" with Christopher Reeve." We still have people traveling to Mackinac Island to see where that movie was made. There are still souvenirs sold, and it increases tourism.

Jones says his position has nothing to do with the possibility that the next Batman movie may be shot in his hometown of Grand Ledge.

Another movie, “Red  Dawn,” was also filmed in  Grand Ledge  and is awaiting release.

Politics
5:10 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

International border expected to be topic at Obama, Harper meeting

bbmcshane flickr

President Obama is scheduled to sit down with Canada’s prime minister in Washington D.C. tomorrow.

The meeting comes just a few days after the release of a government report that said only 32 miles of the two countries’ four-thousand-mile shared border has an “acceptable” level of security.

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller says the report confirmed what she’s been saying for some time.

"Not to minimize the problems with the drug cartels and the problems we’re having on the Southern border, but we are under-resourced on the Northern border, and with the small amount of resources we have, to have them continue to raid those resources and ship them to the Southern border, I think is a mistake."

Canadian press reports say President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are close to signing a landmark security and trade deal.

Michigan History
4:52 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

It's not the first time Michigan has faced budget challenges

The Capitol in Lansing
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Michigan lawmakers face the challenge of balancing a budget with a hole of around $1.8 billion in it.

Governor Snyder plans to submit a plan to the legislature this month, and it promises to leave very few departments untouched.

Budget issues are not new to Michigan.

Today, we explored some other difficult times in budget years past with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry.

Michigan Radio's Jenn White asked what led to the deficit we are facing in this year's budget.

Read more
Politics
4:21 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Study: State employees underpaid

A study commissioned by a union-backed think tank says reports that state and local government employees in Michigan are overpaid compared to workers in the private sector are wrong.

The study is by the Washington D.C. based Economic Policy Institute.

It says college-educated public employees earn 21% less than private sector workers with degrees.

It also found local government workers were compensated at about the same rate as their private sector counterparts.

Jeff Keefe is the Rutgers University management and labor relations professor who conducted the study:

"So the study concludes that state government employees are under-compensated in the state of Michigan, while local government employees are neither over- or under-compensated in the state of Michigan."

The report takes into account education, salaries, and benefits.

Ethan Pollack, with the Economic Policy Institute, says employee compensation is not the biggest factor behind the state’s budget trouble:

 "Michigan isn't significantly different than the deficits you are seeing all across the country…This is not about over-compensation of public sector workers. This is [about] two things. The cyclical deficit is from the recession, and the structural deficit is health care costs."

The Economic Policy Institute says its seven-state study found growing health care costs, and not employee compensation, are the biggest factor in budget deficits.

Detroit
4:14 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Detroit mayor to announce residency incentives for cops

The city of Detroit could soon lure more of its men in blue back within its borders. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is expected to announce a program on Monday aimed at encouraging police officers to live in the city.

John Mogk is a law professor at Wayne State University. He says it makes sense to want to keep public safety workers in the city:

"They’re closer to where their responsibilities are, they provide a degree of security in the neighborhoods in which they live, the compensation they receive, more of it stays in the city and circulates within city businesses."

Mogk says police officers are also paid middle-class wages, which helps a high-poverty city like Detroit.

Detroit had a residency requirement until 1999, when the state Legislature outlawed it.

Law
3:57 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Can children testify in court behind screens?

The Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether it is appropriate to allow children to testify in criminal cases behind screens that shield them from seeing defendants.

The court agreed today to take the case.

The U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers in court.

In the case going before the Michigan Supreme Court, an eight-year-old girl testified that her brother-in-law had repeatedly raped her over a period of years, and exposed her and her brother to pornography.

The jury did not believe the man’s defense that the girl made up the charges to break up his marriage.

The defendant says he was deprived of his right to confront the primary witness against him because she testified from behind a one-way screen.

The screen shielded her view of the defendant, although he could see her.

A therapist said that was the only way she could testify without risking serious emotional damage.

The defendant says the shield prejudiced the jury against him, and that the Constitution requires witnesses to look defendants in the eye when testifying against them.

Pages