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Religion
5:29 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Dearborn's mayor sends a letter to a controversial pastor coming to his town

Dearborn mayor John O'Reilly
(courtesy City of Dearborn)

Dr. Terry Jones has gained notoriety in recent years for his attacks on Islam.   His burning of a Qur'an in his Florida church last fall led to deadly riots in Afghanistan.   Now, he's coming to Dearborn.  Jones plans to hold a rally in front of the Islamic Center of America.   

Dearborn mayor John O'Reilly wants Jones to reconsider.  The mayor sent an open letter to Jones today, outlining why he's wrong about Dearborn and Islam.  Here's the letter: 

Dear Pastor Jones:

 

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Politics
4:39 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Secretary of State wants no-reason absentee voting system

Michigan's Secretary of State says absentee voting should be more widely available.
govote.com

Michigan’s Secretary of State is urging lawmakers to support her plan to let voters use absentee ballots without needing an excuse, such as illness or being out of town at election time.

When Ruth Johnson was Oakland County Clerk, she instituted an absentee voting system. Now that she’s Secretary of State, Johnson thinks it will work just as well on a state level.

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Politics
4:35 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Lawmakers debate penalties for illegal teacher strikes

Noah Smith Flickr

Michigan lawmakers debated today whether teachers should face more stringent penalties if they were to participate in an illegal strike.

The state House Education Committee heard testimony for and against a bill that would revoke teachers' licenses for at least two years if they went on strike.

Republicans claim that the law needs to be strengthened to act as a successful deterrent. Democrats claim the measures punish too severely and and also unfairly, compared to other public employees.

Greg Baracy, superintendent for the Wayne-Westland Community Schools district, testified in favor of the stricter bill; his teachers went on a 4-day strike in 2008.

But David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers - Michigan, says strikes like that are rare. And he says teachers shouldn't lose their careers over a strike:

"This has nothing to do with preventing strikes, because they already really don't happen. This is just another attack on teachers and education employees."

This debate occurs as the possibility of an actual statewide teacher strike looms.

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Auto/Economy
2:20 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Another gas price hike coming?

Another increase in store at Michigan pumps?
user Orin Zebest Flickr

Gas prices in Michigan are expected to go higher, according to an online service that shares information on fuel prices. GasBuddy.com collects data on gasoline prices all across Michigan and the rest of the country.  The company says average gas prices in Michigan are about to jump up  to between $4.05 and $4.15 a gallon.

This from an e-mail sent out by Gasbuddy.com:

We're at increasing odds for a price hike. Oil prices have continued to rally this week, meaning it may be price hike time. With the rise in wholesale costs already being passed on to stations, odds are this hike will occur any time in the next 48 hours.

Patrick DeHaan, the senior petroleum analyst with Gas Buddy, says several factors, including refineries switching to summer blends of gasoline,  are behind rising gas prices. 

“Unfortunately, until these refineries get going and finish their maintenance and boost production…we will continue to see supply dwindle and that will continue to impact prices.”  

DeHaan predicts Michigan gasoline prices will continue to edge higher between now and Memorial Day.

The White House says speculators on Wall Street are driving oil prices up. President Obama made some remarks on speculation in Virginia accoring to UPI:

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech in Virginia, said it's not a lack of supply that is driving oil prices up on the commodity markets.

"The problem is, is that oil is sold on these world markets, and speculators and people make various bets, and they say, you know what, we think that maybe there's a 20 percent chance that something might happen in the Middle East that might disrupt oil supply, so we're going to bet that oil is going to go up real high," he said. "And that spikes up prices significantly."

In the article, Bart Chilton, a member of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, says speculation makes up part of the price at the pump, "there is a Wall Street premium on gas prices today. Every time folks fill up their tanks, they can expect that several dollars are due to speculation."

Speculation was a big driver of the skyrocketing oil prices back in 2009.

Consumer Protection
2:02 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Fake news websites taken to court over acai berry claims

One of the fake news sites that "reported" on the benefits of acai berries
Federal Trade Commission

Two men from Michigan were named in a series of lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission for making false claims about the health benefits of acai berries. The FTC filed a total of ten cases against similar websites across the country.        

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Auto/Economy
1:26 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Two auto shows, a world apart

Carmakers are launching new products simultaneously at the New York and Shanghai auto shows.
autos.yahoo.com

Automakers are hoping to dazzle customers at opposite ends of the world this week as the New York and Shanghai auto shows are run simultaneously.

Joel Ewanick  is General Motors’ Vice President for U.S. Marketing.

He says all automakers are taking a global approach to sales as markets like China continue to grow.

Ewanick says Chevy is unveiling a different version of its new Malibu in Shanghai, where it might be seen as more of a luxury vehicle.

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Commentary
11:53 am
Wed April 20, 2011

Recall the Governor?

There’s one word you can’t use to describe Governor Rick Snyder: Uncontroversial. In less than four months Michigan’s newest governor has created loads of controversy.

The seemingly mild-mannered former business executive has rammed a tough new emergency financial manager law through the legislature. He is pushing a budget that gives businesses a big tax break and makes devastating cuts to education and social programs. Lots of people are hopping mad, and some of them are trying to do something drastic about it. A group called Michigan Citizens United is launching a campaign to remove the governor from office.

They’ve filed paperwork in Washtenaw County seeking official permission to begin a recall drive. In nine days, the county board of commissioners will have a hearing to determine if the language on the petition is clear. If it is, the group can start collecting names. If they get enough signatures, the state’s voters may go the polls November 8th and decide whether to remove the governor. If a majority voted yes, Rick Snyder would be out of a job.

His opponents have a web site. They have a facebook page, and they are gung-ho. But there are two questions we should ask:  Does this recall effort have a chance of succeeding, and -- is it a good idea?  The first question is fairly easy; the answer is a resounding no. It will be all but impossible for this or any grassroots group to get enough signatures to make this happen.

Here’s why. They would need to collect 807,000 valid signatures within ninety days. Practically, as Citizens’ United admit, they really need well over a million, since some are bound to be disqualified.

That would mean they’d have to collect more than ten thousand signatures a day. The only way they could possibly achieve that is by spending a vast amount of money to hire people to collect the signatures, and this group doesn’t have it.

Most petition efforts to get constitutional amendments on the ballot fail, unless they have heavy financial backing, and an amendment only needs about a third as many signatures.

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Politics
11:16 am
Wed April 20, 2011

New Department of Corrections Chief named

Governor Rick Snyder has named Jackson County Sheriff Daniel Heyns as the new director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. He'll start his new duties on June 1st.

From the Governor's Press release:

Heyns earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1973 and a master’s in criminal justice, with a correctional administration focus, from Michigan State University in 1977.  Heyns obtained his State of Michigan Police Officer Certification in 1981, is a graduate of the National FBI Academy and has completed special weapons and tactics training...

Heyns, of Jackson, has served as Jackson County sheriff since 2003.  He is responsible for a $12.5 million budget, a 450-bed jail operation, 911 central dispatch center and multiple specialized units including marine patrol, detective bureau, K-9, narcotics, traffic, firearms, Special Response Team and school liaison.  He previously served as Jackson County undersheriff and was a captain in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

The Associated Press notes that Heyns was a vocal opponent of Governor Granholm's plan to release more nonviolent prisoners eligible for parole.

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FOIA
9:20 am
Wed April 20, 2011

State Police want big bucks for public documents

photo by Vincent Duffy

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act is 34-years-old this month.  According to a ranking by the Better Government Association, it’s one of the stronger Freedom of Information laws in the United States. 

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News Roundup
9:19 am
Wed April 20, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Lawsuits challenging emergency manager law start

Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System have filed a lawsuit challenging the new emergency financial manager law.

From the Associated Press:

The City of Detroit's two pension boards have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state's new emergency financial manager law, calling it unconstitutional.

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press report the lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit and names Gov. Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon. The lawsuit claims that emergency financial managers could remove pension board members for no reason.

Snyder's office says the governor believes in the constitutionality of the law, otherwise he wouldn't have signed it.

Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manager, Joe Harris, was the first EFM to use broad new powers granted to him by the state.

Cleaning the lead out of Detroit homes

The federal government and private foundations will help fund a project to help get rid of environmental hazards in Detroit homes. From the Detroit Free Press:

The federal government will kick in $1 million to help make 100 homes in a targeted area of Detroit lead-free and safe from other hazards -- such as mold and radon -- and to train workers in environmental remediation techniques.

Deputy Secretary Ron Sims of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will present the funds to Mayor Dave Bing today.

The Freep reports that a study showed "60% of children in public schools in the city who scored below grade level on standardized state tests had lead poisoning."

Foundations, nonprofit partners, and state agencies are also expected to invest in the project.

Snyder to announce new leader for the Michigan Department of Corrections

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to make the announcement this morning. From the Detroit News:

Snyder selected Jackson County Sheriff Dan Heyns to run the department, which takes the largest share of general fund dollars in the state's budget, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Snyder will make the announcement publically later this morning at a news conference in the governor's press auditorium, across from the Capitol in Lansing.

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Education
1:01 am
Wed April 20, 2011

'Freedom of Information' vs 'Academic Freedom'

U of M professors and their supporters deliver the results of an online petition to U of M officials
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

University of Michigan professors are asking university officials to deny a ‘Freedom of Information Request’ in the cause of ‘Academic Freedom’.  The issue concerns email.  

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Politics
5:40 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Michigan Attorney General's office collects over $100 million in child support

Michigan Attorney General's office

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says that office’s Child Support Division has passed an important marker: It has now collected more than $100 million in child support for delinquent parents.

The division launched in 2003. Since then, it’s used Michigan’s tough child support laws to enforce court-ordered payments.

Michiganis the only state that makes failure to pay child support a four-year felony.

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Medicine
5:35 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Governor Snyder signs "I'm sorry" law for doctors

Governor Snyder signed a law aimed at protecting doctor's if they say "I'm sorry" after a failed medical procedure.
user the consumerist Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that protects doctors from lawsuits if they express sympathy for the death of a patient.

Snyder says health care providers are often prohibited from saying “I’m sorry” when a medical procedure fails because it can be considered an admission of guilt in court.

Snyder said the new law will allow doctors to be more supportive, "and the opportunity for health care professionals to have a dialogue with families that have had some traumatic experiences," said Snyder. "So it’s great to have an opportunity to have that be done in a safe and thoughtful fashion so people can have good communication and good dialogue."

Snyder says studies show that when a doctor is allowed to say “I’m sorry,” people who are grieving are better able to heal.

Auto/Economy
5:18 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Stabenow, top U.S. trade official talk exports in Detroit

Debbie Stabenow

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and a top Obama Administration trade Official were in Detroit Tuesday, talking about how to boost U.S. exports.

President Obama wants to double U.S. exports by 2015.  Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sanchez joined Stabenow to trade ideas with local business leaders.

Sanchez says the Obama administration is making progress on leveling the playing field for U.S. exports.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Johnson delivers first-ever "State of the Secretary of State" speech

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
rick4mi.com

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson delivered what she says was the first-ever "State of the Secretary of State" speech in Lansing.

It's a speech Johnson says she plans to deliver the speech every year she is in office, "because I think there’s so much information and so many good things that are happening and I want people to know where we’re at, and where we’re going," said Johnson, "so you can judge – are we doing a good job or not?"

In the speech, Johnson said she is cutting costs in the Department of State.

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Education
4:42 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Senate budget panel scales back K-12 cut

Cuts are in the works for Michigan's K-12 public schools.
user frank juarez Flickr

A state Senate budget subcommittee has rolled back the size of Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed cut to K-through-12 schools.

The Senate subcommittee recommendation would still cut school funding by $170 per student, but that’s less than the $300 per student cut called for by the governor in his budget proposal.

State schools superintendent Michael Flanagan says more money for K-through-12 education is always welcome, but Flanagan says he’s concerned about what might have to be cut to make up that money.

"I don’t want to see pre-natal care for moms go at the expense of a couple of bucks in the formula, so that we actually have a bigger problem than we would have had, and I hope that’s what we can start to get people to think about is the continuum of services for kids – not just the K-12 issue."

The full Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on the budget recommendation tomorrow, along with budgets for universities, community colleges, and state agencies.

The governor has set a goal of wrapping up the entire state budget by June first.

Education
4:30 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

MSU finds one of its education professors guilty of plagiarizing

MSU Education Professor Sharif Shakrani has been found guilty of 'research misconduct'
Jane M Sawyer morgue file

Michigan State University has found one of its education professors guilty of plagiarism in a 2010 report about school consolidation.

The Booth newspaper chain commissioned MSU professor Sharif Shakrani to do a study about school consolidation. Shakrani’s study found Michigan could save more than $600 million by consolidating school districts.

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Politics
4:25 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

First legal challenges to emergency manager law

Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager, says the new emergency manager law has already helped him in his role.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The controversial emergency financial manager law gives broad powers to state-appointed officials who are brought in to help struggling cities and school districts.

It was signed into law last month by Governor Rick Snyder, now, as MPRN's Rick Pluta reports, two Detroit pension fund boards have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's emergency financial manager law. They say the law "illegally threatens contracts and collective bargaining agreements."

Under the law, emergency managers can strip power from locally elected officials and dissolve union contracts.

Pluta spoke with the emergency manager in charge of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb. He says these legal challenges won't help: 

"Because the legislation as it is is to kind of help escalate the resolution of problems and issues in localities and in school districts and any type of prolonged litigation does not really help advance what needs to be advanced to right the ship," says Bobb.

The Detroit News reports that the lawsuit was filed by Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System:

The law "represents an imminent threat to the constitutional rights of plaintiffs and other members of the Detroit Retirement Systems," the funds' lawyer Ronald A. King wrote in the lawsuit.

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Economy
4:03 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Autos and food processors get state tax breaks

Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Five companies will get tax breaks from the state of Michigan to expand their businesses and create nearly 1,400 new jobs. The businesses received tax incentives from the state Tuesday in exchange for the jobs and around $163 million dollars in private investments.

The tax breaks went to two primary industries; automotive manufacturing for companies near Detroit and Flint and food processing for companies in West Michigan.

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Auto/Economy
3:25 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Toyota announces more production cuts at North American plants

Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, after the earthquake. Toyota announced more production cuts today.
Takashi Nakano vis user tex texin Flickr

Parts shortages from Japan continue as Toyota announces more production cuts - from the Associated Press:

Toyota is extending production cuts at its North American factories through May because of parts shortages from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The company says production will be suspended in North America on Mondays and Fridays from April 26 through June 3. During the same period, plants will run at half capacity on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Toyota also said Tuesday that U.S. production will be suspended the week of May 30 after the Memorial Day holiday. Canadian production will be suspended the week of May 23 in conjunction with Victoria Day.

Plans after June 3 will be announced later. Toyota says no workers will be laid off.

The company last week announced Monday and Friday suspensions from April 15 to 25.

Detroit has the "Big Three," but Japan has the "Big Five" (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Suzuki, and Mazda).

This info-graphic from the Globe and Mail captures how interconnected the Japanese auto economy is to the rest of the world.

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