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Auto/Economy
1:07 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

GM plans to "go green" without government help

GM says it won't apply for low-interest government loans.
user santoshkrishnan wikimedia commons

The new GM has been turning a corner of late. It posted three profitable quarters last year:

  • $865 million in the first quarter
  • $1.6 billion in the second quarter
  • $2.1 billion in the third quarter

(still waiting on fourth quarter numbers)

Now, in another sign of financial health, the auto company says it will no longer seek government loans to help it modernize factories:

From the Associated Press:

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Economy
12:48 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

Michigan cities rank low on list of home foreclosure hot spots

No Michigan housing markets rank among the 25 worst for home foreclosures in a new national survey.    But, that may change by the end of this year.  

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Environment
10:18 am
Thu January 27, 2011

Wind turbines close to home

There's a lot of debate about how close wind turbines should be built to homes.
Callum Black Flickr

The North Carolina based giant Duke Energy wants to build more than a hundred 500 foot tall turbines in rural Benzie and Manistee counties.  Bob Allen reports this proposed wind farm is causing divisions in communities up north.

Michigan officials have identified parts of these two counties as having the 2nd highest wind potential in the state. 

Alan O’Shea has been in the renewable energy business for the past thirty years. 

“We don’t have to wait for Michigan to heal. This project can heal northern Michigan. I mean there are people, workers that are here looking for jobs.”

But there also are people in the area opposed to this project.

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Auto/Economy
7:22 am
Thu January 27, 2011

Treasury Department hopes to sell off remaining GM stock within 2 years

U.S. Treasury Department, Washington, D.C.
Wally G Flickr

The head of the government's bailout program says the U.S. Treasury Department hopes to sell its remaining shares of General Motors stock over the next two years.

The Associated Press reports:

Timothy Massad, the senior Treasury official managing the government bailout fund, told a congressional hearing that there is now a path forward for Treasury to sell its remaining shares in GM over the next two years if market conditions permit. The Treasury Department trimmed its stake in GM to 26.5 percent of the company, down from 61 percent, when it sold $23.1 billion of GM stock at an initial public offering in November.

State Legislature
7:12 am
Thu January 27, 2011

A part-time Michigan legislature?

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

Republican state Representative Dave Agema introduced a bill yesterday that would amend the state's constitution to create a part-time legislature, rather than the full-time legislature that Michigan currently has.

The Associated Press calls it a, "long-shot" as efforts to make the legislature part-time have failed in the past. Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry agrees. He says he doesn't think the bill will go anywhere.

The AP reports:

Advocates say it would save money and force lawmakers to be more efficient when conducting business at the state Capitol.

Peter Luke of Mlive.com explains:

Agema’s amendment would limit the Legislature, which convenes on the second Wednesday of every January, to 150 consecutive days of session. Budget bills would have to be completed by June 15; it’s now Sept. 30. Extra days could be scheduled, but only for extraordinary reasons that aren’t specified.

Great Lakes
6:57 am
Thu January 27, 2011

Federal officials to hold public meetings today on Asian carp threat

Public meetings will be held today in Traverse City about the threat of Asian carp to the Great Lakes
Kate.Gardner Flickr

Want to hear how the federal government plans to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes? Well, now's the time. John Goss, the Obama administration's point man in the fight against Asian carp, will be part of a federal delegation visiting Traverse City today for back-to-back public meetings.

The Associated Press reports:

The officials will outline their strategy and take comments on a long-range study of how to prevent the carp and other invasive species from migrating between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Environmentalists, Michigan and four other Great Lakes states want to sever the man-made link between the two aquatic systems. The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the study and says that's one option.

Activists also say the study's planned completion date of 2015 isn't soon enough.

There's concern that if the Asian carp make their way into the Great Lakes that they could wreak havoc on the lakes' eco-systems.

Arts/Culture
7:01 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

The 1913 Room restaurant to close after 30 years

The 1913 Room is inside the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

One of the state’s most renowned restaurants will close its doors this spring. The 1913 Room in Grand Rapids is Michigan’s only AAA five diamond-rated restaurants.

Doug Small is president of Experience Grand Rapids – the area’s visitors and convention bureau.

“This is not the end of the world for dining in Grand Rapids. It’s actually something to celebrate.”

The French inspired, super fancy 1913 Room will be replaced by a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse this fall. Small says the upscale international chain does their homework before investing in a location.

“They’re seeing something in Grand Rapids that’s alive and well and I believe - the recent numbers that we just published that show that convention business is up. Hotel room revenue is at an all time high during a down economy so it supports their reasoning for coming to this community.”

Small says his group certainly touted having the only 5 diamond restaurant in the state, but says it never closed any deals.

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Politics
5:43 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Canadian environmental group fights new border crossing

The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor

A Canadian environmental group says studies supporting the proposed Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) are flawed.

DRIC supporters on both sides of the border say a new crossing will create jobs and bolster international trade.

The Canadian and Ontario governments strongly support the project, and Governor Snyder recently voiced his approval too.

But a Sierra Club of Ontario report says the traffic projections DRIC supporters cite are flawed. They say cross-border traffic has declined for 12 years, and shows no sign of rebounding anytime soon.
Sierra Club director Dan McDermott says the DRIC would be a costly boondoggle.

“There is simply no demand for DRIC. No cross-border traffic demand that justifies five-plus billions of dollars.”

McDermott says he hopes the report will bolster its cases against the DRIC in Canadian courts. Those lawsuits challenge the project’s environmental permits.

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Politics
5:09 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Michigan Municipal League calls for region-based taxes

Michigan’s local governments say if the state cuts revenue sharing, then they should be allowed to ask voters for new taxes to replace that money.

The Michigan Municipal League met with Governor Rick Snyder last week, and has answered his call for proposals to save money and cut costs for local governments, and to make communities more viable and attractive.

Dan Gilmartin is executive director of the Municipal League. He says it starts by looking at regions:

Economies in Michigan are regional. The dirty little secret is there is no state economy. And there’s certainly no local economy. Economies are regional.

Gilmartin says local governments need the authority to ask voters for region-based taxes to support development, and maintain roads and services.

Auto/Economy
4:41 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Distractions rise - but distracted driving deaths don't

Kordite


U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood met with Ford CEO Alan Mulally on Tuesday to discuss the "epidemic" of distracted driving, as LaHood calls it.


LaHood’s self-described rampage against distracted driving has mostly focused on cell phone use in cars.  But the Secretary has also angered many people in the car business for criticizing profit-driving car technologies like Onstar and Sync. 


Many studies show that using a cell phone in the car is distracting.  And so are a lot of other things, especially if they pile up.  Let’s say you’re driving and there’s a kid in the back seat crying.  That’s distracting.  If you remember the Ed Sullivan show, you can think of that as one plate spinning on top of a pole.

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Politics
4:35 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Commission approves partner benefits over Snyder administration objections

Gregory Roberts

Most state employees will be allowed to carry their live-in partners on their health insurance benefits starting October first.

The state Civil Service Commission has approved domestic partner benefit agreements with two public employee unions and non-unionized state workers.

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration objected to the Civil Service Commission’s adoption of the policy because of the added cost.

The agreements were worked out between state employee unions and Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration before she left office. The new rules will cover 70% of all state employees, although just a small fraction are expected to file the affidavit for unmarried partner benefits.

Unmarried partners who’ve lived with a state employee for a year or more and their dependents will be eligible.

The rules apply equally to same-sex partners and male-female couples. Courts have ruled that is the only way public employers such as universities, cities or the state can offer benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees without running afoul of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Law
4:30 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

State Bar Association says Michigan needs court reform

The 58th District Court in Ottawa County. The State Bar says the courts in Michigan need reform.
Rich Evenhouse Flickr

The Michigan State Bar wants to change the way the state's courts work.

A task force of judges and lawyers are recommending changes they say will save the state money.

The Judicial Crossroads Task Force suggests:

  • consolidating trial courts
  • giving business cases higher priority
  • and letting existing judges retire without replacing them

Michigan has 246 separate courts and 586 judges.

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Science/Medicine
2:34 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Black infant mortality rate on the rise in Washtenaw County

Rearchers have found a wide disparity between infant mortality rates in Washtenaw County
Sono Tamaki flickr

Washtenaw County's data shows African-American babies are at least three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies. That's according to data from the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Washtenaw County’s rate for African-American infant deaths is among the highest in the state, and it also has one of the widest statewide gaps between white and black infant mortality rates.

The rate for white infant deaths is among the lowest in the state and going down.

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Science/Medicine
2:01 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Largest-ever children's health study launches in Michigan

The largest long-term children’s health study in United States history has launched in Michigan.
 
Wayne County is the Michigan county participating in the National Children’s Study. Genesee, Grand Traverse, Lenawee and Macomb will also join over the next several years.
 
The study aims to document how social and environmental factors affect children’s health.
 

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Pontiac
1:58 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Pontiac police to stay on the beat

Pontiac police officers will continue to patrol their city. The police officers union has reached an agreement with the city's state appointed emergency financial manager which will avoid a court injunction sought by the union.

The Oakland Press reported Oakland County sheriff's deputies were preparing to takeover police patrols in the city.   The county board of commissioners approved the plan last week.

Pontiac is struggling with a massive city budget deficit.  Bringing in the sheriff's deputies was intended to save some money.  But the police union argues their contract with the city doesn't expire for another year.

The Detroit News reports Pontiac police chief Val Gross is relieved that the situation is finally resolved.

"This is not the end of the war, just one battle."

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Education
1:47 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Michigan State University plans to send students to Cuba

Students from Michigan State University may soon be able to study in Cuba
DarkRoomIllusion flickr

President Obama said earlier this month that he would lift many of the restrictions currently prohibiting many students from studying in Cuba.

The restrictions were established by the Bush administration in 2004. As a result, Michigan State University relocated programs based in Cuba to the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries.

Jeffery Riedinger is the Dean of International Programs at MSU. He says he looks forward to rebuilding the University’s programs in Cuba, but will need further guidelines from the Obama administration before moving forward.

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Science/Medicine
12:59 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Bad weather leads to low blood supply for American Red Cross

The Red Cross says their blood supply is running low
Staff Sgt. Joshua Strang U.S. Air Force photo

Bad winter weather through the eastern half of the U.S. has caused the cancelation of more than 14,000 blood and platelet donations, according to the American Red Cross.

They say they haven't seen the blood supply diminish this badly, during this season, for the past ten years.

With more bad weather likely, the Red Cross has put out an appeal for more donations from eligible blood donors "to help boost its blood supply back up to sufficient levels."

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Commentary
12:59 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Violence Porn

A few months ago I was talking to a class about the economics of commercial broadcast news.  “Why,” one student wanted to know, was so much of the content so mindlessly bad?”

She complained that TV “news” seemed to be much the same these days from city to city: We get pictures of jack-knifed tractor-trailers, of fires, the crimes of the day, the more violent and sexual the better, followed by an interview with an incoherent sobbing relative. We may get a sound bite from a ranting politician. 

And if we are watching a major-market station with more dollars to invest in “news,” we may even get an “investigation” that shows that cheap hotel bedspreads tend to have germs.

However, why is it that if you want any serious discussion about why our schools are failing, or what is happening to people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, forget it.

Okay, so how do I explain all that? Fortunately, I was assisted by a large housefly buzzing around the classroom.

Do you see that fly? I said. That fly and I don’t know each other personally, and I am not an expert on entomology. But I do know that it and I share at least two things in common.

Seriously. The fly and I eat every day, and at some point during our existence we have been or will be interested in sex. Understand that, and you’ll understand commercial broadcast programming.

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Economy
12:03 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Bridgewater Place in Grand Rapids sold at foreclosure auction

Bridgewater Place pictured at the far left.
John Eisenschenk creative commons

One of the biggest office buildings in Grand Rapids sold for $34 million at a public foreclosure auction today. The 17-story blue-glass Bridgewater Place building dramatically changed the city’s skyline when it was built in the early 1990s.

Many people refer to the building as the Varnum building, because of the law firms’ prominent logo near the top floor.

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Health Insurance
11:49 am
Wed January 26, 2011

Same-sex health insurance issue expected to be discussed today

Update 11:43 a.m.:

The state Civil Service Commission has approved agreements to allow state employees to put their live-in partners on their insurance plans, Rick Pluta reports.

The commission's action ratifies agreements that were worked out between Governor Jennifer Granholm's administration with two state employee unions and state workers who are not part of a union. The commission acted over the objections of Governor Rick Snyder's administration.

8:20 a.m.:

It’s expected that The Michigan Civil Service Commission will take up a measure today that would extend health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of state employees, The Detroit News reports. As the News explains:

An attempt to push through the change in the waning days of the Granholm administration failed when the commission tabled the issue in December. Now, the new administration of Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to tell the commission today the state can't afford the change — expected to cost close to $6 million a year…

The four-member commission is split on the issue, as are unions for state employees who are bracing for anticipated fights on wage and benefit issues viewed as higher priorities. Employee benefits for same-sex partners were negotiated in 2004, shortly before Michigan voters passed a ballot initiative that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

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