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Arts/Culture
4:12 pm
Sat January 15, 2011

Painting Detroit’s vacancy

"In Its Day" by Erik Olson (oil on canvas)
Erik Olson

Detroit’s empty buildings are the focus of an art exhibit at the Northville Art House.

Erik Olson is a painter and teaches at the College for Creative Studies. His portraits include an old, brick home in the middle of a field, caving in on itself. And an empty house warmed by the morning sun.

Olson says his message is that these empty buildings are here, and will probably remain for awhile.  He also thinks Americans could take a cue from Europeans.

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Psychology
9:02 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Study: self-esteem trumps sex and sweets

Michigan Radio news intern Bridget Bodnar filed a report on a new study published in the Journal of Personality.

The study found that young people prefer praise over things like sex, favorite foods, seeing a best friend, getting a paycheck, or drinking alcohol.

Ohio State University put out a press release on the new research. From the release:

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Food
5:03 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Report: Infamous "La Shish" name coming back to Michigan

La Shish Restaurants were once famous in Michigan for good middle eastern cuisine. But the restaurants closed when La Shish's owner got into legal trouble and fled the country.

Now, Jeff Karoub reports for the Associated Press that the La Shish name will come back to Dearborn:

Restaurateur Carmel Halloun said Friday that he's acquired the rights to use the La Shish name and plans to open a restaurant in March in the former chain's first location in Dearborn.

The name doesn't come without baggage. The La Shish chain of restaurants closed when the former owner, Talal Chahine, fled the U.S. Karoub writes that in 2005 Chahine "was charged with multiple counts of tax evasion and citizenship fraud."

The new owner of the La Shish name says he thinks enough time has passed. From Karoub's article:

Halloun said he knows people loved the food and is willing to take a chance. He said he wouldn't reopen at La Shish's first location without the restaurant's original name. "I want people to come back," he said.

Education
4:54 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Albion schools must borrow to pay employees

With property taxes flagging and state revenue uncertain, Albion Public Schools must take out a loan to meet payroll.
Albion Public Schools

Many Michigan school districts are struggling to stay afloat.  Some have to borrow money to pay employees.

The city of Albion boomed in the 1950s and ‘60s, but fell into a steady decline in the 1970s when auto-related industries began to close.

Albion’s population shrank and so did the property taxes the school district depends on.

To make matters worse, state revenue sharing has been in tumult the past several years.

John Waugh is Albion Public Schools’ accounting supervisor.

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Economy
4:35 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Grand Rapids airport sets new passenger record

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.
carrib Creative Commons

Last year the number of passengers traveling through Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids went up more than 20%. The airport served more than 2.1 million passengers in 2010; a new record for Michigan’s second largest airport. 

Bruce Schedlbauer is a spokesman for Ford Airport. He thanks a combination of factors. Foremost, he says a more stable economy helped boost the numbers.

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Environment
4:19 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Playing matchmaker for sea lampreys

The mouth of a lamprey. It uses suction, teeth, and a razor sharp tongue to attach itself to its prey.
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Sea lampreys are invasive parasites found in every one of the Great Lakes. It’s a fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like trout and salmon... and kills them by drinking their blood.

It costs fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada 20 million dollars a year to control the lamprey.

There’s one secret weapon in development that could eventually save them money... pheromones. Those are odors that male lampreys release to attract the lady lampreys.

I called Nick Johnson with the Michigan lamprey research team to find out how the team's third and final year of testing these pheromones is going.

You could call him a lamprey matchmaker.

"Pheromones are typically species specific, so they should have minimal impact to other species, they're highly potent, effective at very low concentrations. So once they're developed they could be applied relatively cheaply and with little environmental impact."

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Environment
3:45 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Oil spill's effect on turtles and toads

A recently rescued oiled turtle ready for cleaning.
Photo courtesy of Herpetological Resource & Management

Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill.  More than 840,000 gallons spilled from a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, LP.  Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.

It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.

After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles... and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.

This week, I talked with herpetologist David Mifsud, aka "Turtle Dave."  He was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with the initial wildlife recovery. He says turtles made up the majority of wildlife rescued from the spill site.

“We had some, their mouths were so tacky with the oil they could barely open their mouths. We saw some pretty devastating things.”

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Arts/Culture
2:16 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Michael Rush starts new job as director of MSU's Broad Art Museum

Michael Rush is the founding director of the Broad Art Museum at MSU
Mike Lovett

Michael Rush takes the reins as founding director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University this weekend:

"Personally I think this is the most extraordinary opportunity in contemporary arts in the States right now."

The contemporary art scholar moved from New York to East Lansing to kick start the new museum.

Listen to an excerpt of his conversation with Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra:

Rush's first day on the job is Saturday, Jan. 15, though the museum isn't set to open until spring of 2012.

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Auto
2:09 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Auto Week's "Best in Show" at the Detroit Auto Show

The Porsche 918 RSR concept, named "Best in Show" by the editors of AutoWeek.
Roger Hart Auto Week

Editors at Auto Week perused the offerings at the 2011 North American International Auto Show and named their top picks.

Executive Editor of Auto Week, Roger Hart, said the show had more than two dozen new models on display, and most had one thing in common:

 "There were no fancy, pie-in-the-sky, dreamlike concept cars. Nearly everything billed as a concept looked as if you could buy one tomorrow at your local dealership and drive it home."

Here are their picks:

BEST IN SHOW: Porsche 918 RSR Concept

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Detroit
2:03 pm
Fri January 14, 2011

Detroit city council rejects plan for new police headquarters

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A dispute over who controls Detroit’s cable TV public access channel may have, at least temporarily, derailed plans for the city’s new police headquarters. 

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Offbeat
11:29 am
Fri January 14, 2011

Dryer lint used to make replica of "The Last Supper"

A replica of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" using dryer lint
Ripley's Believe It or Not

Don't throw it out! Put that dryer lint in a box next to the crayons, markers, and pencils. Turns out, it can be used to make art.

The Associated Press has a report on Laura Bell's laundry lint creation... a 14'x4' replica of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper." Bell is from Roscommon, Michigan.

From the report:

Bell says she needed about 800 hours to do enough laundry to get the lint, and 200 hours to recreate the mural. She bought towels of the colors she wanted and laundered them separately to get the right shades of lint.

The report says Ripley's Believe It or Not plans to display the piece in one of its museums, adding to other "Last Supper" replicas "made from a grain of rice, a dime and burned toast."

On the Ripley's website, Laura Bells says people have different reactions when seeing the piece:

“For some people, it’s a very spiritual experience. Others are simply amazed at what someone could do with basic laundry lint.”

Economy
11:08 am
Fri January 14, 2011

Report: Borders close to financing deal

Borders has been on the brink. The company has been trying to secure financing to stave off bankruptcy.
Flickr - Ruthanne Reid

The headlines for the Michigan-based Borders Group Inc. have not been good lately:

And my personal favorite speculative headline:

It seems everyone has been on a death watch for the bookseller.

Today, Julie Bosman writes in the New York Times Borders may be close to a financing deal that might help the company reorganize. From the article:

Borders executives told publishers that they were close to securing refinancing from GE Capital and other lenders, these people said, speaking only on condition of anonymity, and that the company intended to reduce costs, improve liquidity and expand marketing efforts, as well as sell some assets.

Earlier this month, we  posted on a Reuters report that said Borders was working with publishers to work out a deal. Borders is in debt to the publishers for past shipments and the company reportedly wants to restructure that debt as a loan.

Meanwhile, the company is cutting costs. The Detroit News reported yesterday that Borders is closing a big distribution center in Tennessee:

Borders will consolidate the processing and delivery of books, movies, music and other products to two distribution centers in Carlisle, Pa., and Mira Loma, Calif. It is part of a long-term effort to cut costs and make the distribution of products to bookstores more efficient, Borders Group said in a statement.

So will borders survive? What would your future headline say?

Investigative
7:42 am
Fri January 14, 2011

State employees... overcompensated fat cats?

Michigan governor Rick Snyder. Snyder says cutting state worker pay is "an extremely difficult issue because you’re talking about people and their families."
Governor's office

Over the last decade, factories have closed.  People have lost their jobs. Some have had their hours cut.  Some have had their wages cut.  It’s been hard for many Michigan families. 

With so many people hurting, it’s easy to look around and get a little resentful when people who work for the government still have their jobs. 

More than 53,000 state workers --from the people who sweep the floors in the capitol to lawyers in the Attorney General’s office to engineers in the Department of Transportation-- still seem to be doing okay.

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Republican National Committee
7:12 am
Fri January 14, 2011

Elections begin this morning for RNC Chairmanship

Saul Anuzis, former Michigan Republican Party Chairman, is running to become Chairman of the Republican National Commitee
Photo courtesy of www.thatssaulfolks.com

Former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis is in for a busy day today. Anuzis is running to become the next Chairman of the Republican National Committee, a job currently held by Michael Steele. The committee is holding the elections this morning outside of Washington, D.C.. The Detroit News reports that:

Anuzis is one of five candidates running. He lost his last bid to become chairman two years ago to Michael Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor whose tenure has been marked by questions of fiscal mismanagement. Steele is running again, though he's not expected to win.

ABC News reports:

RNC officials said there was no way of knowing how long the voting will take. Friday's general session begins at 10:30 a.m. ET and the official meeting schedule lists 8 p.m. ET as the estimated end time. Whoever wins will inherit committee hobbled by financial difficulties, including debt in the range of $15 million or more.

Anuzis announced his campaign last November when he sent a letter to the RNC membership. In the letter, Anuzis explained why he decided to run:

This is an exciting time to be a Republican and, as leaders, we have an awesome task ahead of us. The American people have given us a second chance' and that opportunity brings with it huge responsibility and challenge. Now we turn our attention to 2012. America must elect a new President. It is that hope, that necessity, that challenge, that draws me to announce my candidacy for the Chairmanship of the Republican National Committee.

State Legislature
6:51 am
Fri January 14, 2011

House lawmakers introduce 85 proposals, half-dozen resolutions

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

On the first day that Michigan lawmakers were allowed to submit legislative proposals, legislators in the state House introduced 85 bills and a half-dozen resolutions. As the Associated Press reports:

The first bill introduced Thursday would repeal a surcharge on the Michigan Business Tax. It's likely to pass as part of a broader, still-developing plan to reshape business taxes. Other proposals would repeal Michigan's mandatory motorcycle helmet law in some circumstances and eliminate caps on the number of charter schools.

State lawmakers began the 2011 legislative session on Wednesday by taking the oath of office and officially announcing new legislative leaders.

Michigan Budget
6:39 am
Fri January 14, 2011

Estimating the state's finances

Tracy O Flickr

Lately, you've probably heard or read a Michigan Radio story that includes this number: 1,800,000,000. In case you haven't had your morning coffee yet... that's 1.8 billion. Economic forecasters predict Michigan's budget, for the fiscal year that begins October 1st, is $1.8 billion in the red.

However, later today, that figure could change. That's because economists are meeting today for what's called a "revenue estimating conference" at the state Capitol. The economists will come up with an estimate of just how much money the state can expect to receive through the next fiscal year. As the state's website explains:

The Revenue Estimating Conference held each January is a major part of the budget process. During the conference, national and state economic indicators are used to formulate an accurate prediction of revenue available for appropriation in the upcoming fiscal year. This conference first convened in 1992, pursuant to Act No. 72 of the Public Acts of 1991. The principal participants in the conference are the State Budget Director and the Directors of the Senate and House Fiscal Agencies or their respective designees. Other participants may include the Governor and senior officials from the Department of Treasury.

Environment
11:17 pm
Thu January 13, 2011

EPA discusses options to clean up toxic chemicals from the Kalamazoo River

Allied Landfill near Alcott and Cork Streets.
David Kinsey Creative Commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ready to select one of four options to clean-up one of the main contaminators of the Kalamazoo River. The Allied Landfill is full of waste from old paper factories that contain the toxic chemicals.

At a public meeting Thursday night, EPA officials asked for feedback on the plans. The options range from doing nothing (EPA officials said that's not really an option), to capping the dump, to hauling the one-and-a-half-million-cubic-yards of contaminated waste off to a safer location.

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State Legislature
5:03 pm
Thu January 13, 2011

Michigan's new Speaker of the House calls for welfare caps

Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger
Michigan House Republicans

Jase Bolger, Michigan’s new Speaker of the House, says he wants to see a four-year cap on certain welfare benefits in the state.

Bolger took the gavel for the first time on Wednesday, but the Republican speaker wasted no time outlining changes he wants to make in the state.

One of them would be limiting Bridge card recipients to a maximum of four years of lifetime benefits. The bridge card provides food - which is federally funded -  and some cash assistance.

Bolger says the state could save $45 million immediately with a cap on benefits:

We want to help people break the cycle of dependency... government should not create that cycle. And that's what happens. People get caught in that system, and it's not good for the human spirit. People want the opportunity to provide for themselves, and that's what we want to help them do.

Bolger says he wants the four-year benefit allowance to be enforced retroactively. He also wants to go after businesses that participate in welfare fraud.

Auto/Economy
4:43 pm
Thu January 13, 2011

Report: Profit-sharing checks coming to Ford and GM workers

GM plans to issue profit-sharing checks to workers, the NYT reports.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

At the Detroit International Auto Show, domestic automakers are celebrating a comeback of their industry. GM and Ford both saw profits last year, and the car makers are expecting a good year this year.

As more proof of the comeback, Bill Vlasic and Nick Bunkley report in the New York Times about profit-sharing checks that are expected to go to GM and Ford workers:

The two big Detroit carmakers will announce profit-sharing checks this month for their hourly workers, perhaps the largest in a decade, company officials and industry analysts say.

The checks are expected to top out at $5,000 at Ford, less at GM.

They report these checks "would be the biggest payout since the $8,000 checks that Ford handed out in 2000." Chrysler, the report says, is not expected to issue bonus checks this year.

Changing Gears
3:18 pm
Thu January 13, 2011

Why removing freeways can be good for cities

Is removing a highway progress?
user Joe Shlabotnik Flickr

(You can also see this story with more photos on the Changing Gears website)

Half a century after cities across our region and country built sprawling freeways, many of those roads are reaching the end of their useful lives.

Instead of rebuilding them, a growing number of cities are thinking about, or actively, removing them. That may come as a surprise.

When Clevelanders hear that the city plans to convert a coastal freeway into a slower, tree-lined boulevard, you get reactions like this one from Judie Vegh:

“I think it’s a pretty bad idea for commuters,” she said. “And if it were 35 mph, I would just be later than usual.”

Within the next few years, Vegh’s commute on Cleveland’s West Shoreway will likely look very different.

Cleveland City Planner Bob Brown says this is not the traditional highway project, "the traditional highway project is obviously speeding things up, adding more capacity, and often ignoring the character of neighborhoods."

It’s quite a change.

In the 1950s and 60s, freeways were seen as progress and modernity. They were part of urban renewal and planners like New York’s Robert Moses tore through neighborhoods to put up hulking steel and concrete roadways.

Today, cities are looking to take them down.

The list is long:

  • New Orleans
  • New Haven
  • Buffalo
  • Syracuse
  • San Francisco

These are just some US cities thinking about or actively taking freeways down. You can find more information about these projects on the Changing Gears website.

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