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Education
11:05 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Commentary: In defense of teachers

Classrooms could get crowded if cuts go through.
Kevin Wong Flickr

The recent debates about school funding and public employee benefits have teachers in Michigan feeling defensive.  South Lyon East High School Social Studies teacher Keith Kindred has these thoughts:

Last year about this time, I did a commentary for Michigan Radio describing the copious amount of time I had to think while I proctored state proficiency exams given to high school juniors. You may remember I used much of that time to reflect on all the wrath being directed at teachers.

Recent events in Wisconsin, Ohio, and even here in Michigan suggest I may have been prescient in recognizing how severe the disconnect between teachers and the public had become, but they also prove that my plea fell on deaf ears. Clearly, the anger I observed a year ago was but a preview and, moreover, my attempt to plead for both common sense and common ground was a failure.

So in the spirit of perseverance that all good teachers instill in their students, I want to try again.

Ready? Okay, here goes: Are people insane?

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Investigative
9:55 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Taxing the working poor

Rick Snyder talked about reinventing Michigan on the campaign trail (Snyder at the Republican Convention in 2010). Now, Governor Snyder says he's creating a "level playing field that encourages economic growth" with his budget proposal.
Bill Rice Flickr

When the budget was introduced, it was left to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley to explain some of the details.  Among them was the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit, a move that would take away a tax break for the state’s working poor.

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Politics
9:41 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Congressional hearing on the "Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community"

Peter King, R-N.Y. is chairing today's committee
C-SPAN

The Committee on Homeland Security is holding a hearing entitled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response.”

ABC News reports:

Today’s House hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response” has created a firestorm of criticism by civil rights groups and Democrats who say that Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is intentionally isolating Muslims.

Democrats and rights groups say he’s guilty of “modern-day McCarthyism,” and is using religion to divide Americans.

You can watch the hearing now on C-SPAN.

Here's King responding to critics of the hearing on a CBS affiliate:

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Auto
9:01 am
Thu March 10, 2011

GM CFO to step down

General Motors' CFO will step down as of April 1st
Spacing Magazine Flickr

Updated:  5:59 p.m.

Outgoing GM CFO Chris Liddell says he only began wrestling with whether to leave GM in the past few weeks, and he and boss Dan Ackerson have been discussing the subject only for the past week.

Liddell says he has no announcement to make as to his next job, but he thinks it will not be a chief financial officer position.

GM CEO Dan Akerson says the transition, from Liddell to his successor, current GM Treasurer Dan Ammanns, should be "seamless."

Akerson says he's committed to remain at the helm of GM for the next five years.  Dan Ammanns also stresses his plan to stay for the long term.

Investors in GM's initial public offering in November had been assured that GM's leadership would stabilize. 

Sheldon Stone is with Amherst Partners, a restructuring consultant firm.

Stone says some investors will likely be concerned about Liddell's departure.

"He (Liddell) was part of that road show, that went out pitching the IPO," says Stone.  "He had his fingerprints all over it. 

Stone says GM needs change.  But this may be too much change.

GM has had four CEOs in the past year.  Several senior executives have left GM in the past year.  And the deck of senior management has been shuffled and re-shuffled several times.

Ken Elias is an analyst with the consultant firm Maryann Keller & Associates. 

He says Liddell, formerly CFO of Microsoft, was brought to GM by former CEO Ed Whitaker, with the understanding that Liddell would be groomed as Whitaker's successor.

But months after Liddell began his new job at GM, Whitaker stepped down as CEO.  GM's Board chose Board member Dan Akerson to lead the company. 

Elias says that could account for Liddell's decision, after the IPO was completed, to leave GM.

 

---------------------------------

General Motors says its Chief Financial Officer will step down as of April 1st. Chris Liddell will be replaced by Treasurer Dan Ammann. The Associated Press reports:

Spokeswoman Noreen Pratscher said Thursday that Liddell accomplished his goals of finishing an initial public stock offering and returning the company to sound financial footing. She says Liddell did not say anything about his plans for the future.

Under Liddell, GM posted four straight profitable quarters.

Spokeswoman Noreen Pratscher said Liddell accomplished his goals of finishing an initial public stock offering and returning the company to sound financial footing. She says Liddell did not say anything about his plans for the future.

The 52-year-old Liddell joined GM in January of 2010, about six months after it emerged from bankruptcy protection.

Chairman and Chief Executive Dan Akerson said Liddell was a major contributor to GM during a pivotal time in the company's history.

"He guided the company's IPO process and established a good financial foundation for the future," Akerson said in a statement.

GM reported net income of $4.7 billion last year, fueled by strong sales in China and the U.S. as the global auto market began to recover. It earned $2.89 per share on revenue of $135.6 billion.

It was the company's best performance since earning $6 billion in 1999 during the height of the pickup truck and sport utility vehicle sales boom.

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Economy
9:00 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Detroit's slumping home prices leading nation

Detroit posted the biggest percentage drop in home prices in the nation, according to a new report. Clear Capitol says home prices in Michigan’s largest home market slide 13% in February, more than any other major city.

Alex Villacorta  is Clear Capitol’s director of research.   He says home prices in Detroit are being dragged down by banks trying to sell foreclosed homes.    Bank owned homes usually sell at well below market prices.

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Economy
8:56 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Foreclosure filings down in MI

Foreclosure filings in Michigan have fallen to levels not seen since 2008.   Realty Trac reports foreclosure filings dropped by 30 percent in February compared to a year ago. 

Daren Bloomquist is with Realty Trac.  He says mortgage lenders are finding it difficult to get home foreclosures started, since last fall’s scandal involving incorrect paperwork forcing people out of their homes.  New rules require more safeguards in preparing a foreclosure filing.  But Bloomquist says this is only delaying the inevitable for many delinquent home owners.

  “What hasn’t gone away is there are still a lot of properties that eventually we people will be foreclosed on.  That’s really the only solution for some of these situations.”  

Bloomquist says the slowed foreclosure process might help reduce the number of bank owned homes on the real estate market.   The high number of foreclosed homes on the market is blamed for causing depressed home sale prices.

News Roundup
8:56 am
Thu March 10, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, March 10th, 2011

State Senate Passes EFM bill

The Michigan Senate passed legislation yesterday that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more control over cities, townships, and school districts. Those opposed to the legislation say the bills make it easy to eliminate collective bargaining rights and dissolve union contracts. Some 1,000 union members protested against the bill at the state Capitol earlier this week. A similar bill was passed in the state House last month. The two Republican-controlled chambers must now agree on a final version of the bill.

Funding for 'Pure Michigan'

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign a bill today that would extend the life of the popular ‘Pure Michigan’ advertising campaign. The measure, passed by both the state House and state Senate, gives an additional $10 million to the campaign. This will be the third bill signed by the Governor.

January Unemployment Rate Declines

The state’s jobless rate continued in decline in January to 10.7 percent. That's the lowest it's been in more than two years. And, it's three percentage points lower than the same time last year: the jobless rate in January 2010 was 13.7 percent.

Judge Continues Library Gun Ban

An Ingham County judge has continued a ban on openly carrying guns into Lansing-area libraries until June. Rina Miller reports:

A temporary restraining order was issued against the Michigan Open Carry group last month. Now an Ingham County Circuit Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction forbidding anyone – except law enforcement – from entering a Capital Area District Library openly wearing a gun. The case will be heard in June.

Flint
8:50 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Flint races to tear down derelict homes

The city of Flint is racing to complete dozens of home demolitions by the end of the month. City crews are racing the clock and the weather to meet a deadline tied to a federal grant.

John Evans watched Wednesday as a piece of heavy equipment tears into a vacant home on Flint’s north side.  Pulling down its brick chimney.  The bricks splintering wood as they fall.  It’s a welcome sight to John Evans.  He lives next door.  Evans says the vacant home has become a magnet to Flint’s homeless, who often set fires inside to stay warm.

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State Law
8:13 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Michigan's price tag law headed for repeal

Michigan's item pricing law may soon be a thing of the past
Scorpions and Centaurs Flickr

Michigan has the strictest retail pricing law in the nation. But now the state is poised to repeal the law that requires individual price tags on everything from canned food to lumber.

Retailers have been trying to get rid of the law since it was passed 30 years ago to try to protect consumers from being overcharged in checkout lines.

Michigan’s item pricing law was enacted in the 1970s just as electronic scanners were becoming commonplace. No other state has a law this expansive. Massachusetts requires item pricing for groceries.

Consumers like this law, and it was once-considered untouchable. But now with a new Republican governor and emboldened GOP majorities in the Legislature, Michigan is on the verge of repealing it.

Retired construction supervisor John McKenzie isn’t happy about that. He says price tags ensure that he knows the cost of something before he buys it, and that he’s being charged the correct price in the checkout line.

McKenzie says he also double checks the price against his store receipt when he gets home:

“If you don’t have that price tag on there, how do you know what that item was priced at back at the store? I mean, we’ve all picked an item off the shelf and when we get up there the item rings up differently.”

Michigan’s pricing law allows consumers who find a mistake to collect a bounty of up to $5 per error.

Retailers also face fines for not putting price tags on items. Five years ago, Wal-Mart paid a record fine of $1.5 million here.

Big retailers say the law is expensive for stores and for shoppers – although no one can say how much consumers might save if the law is repealed.  Smaller stores say it fails to take their needs into account.

Musician Mike Daniels shows off a guitar on the showroom floor of Marshall Music.

Owner Dan Marshall says his store complies with the law – mostly. There are some things, small or thin items like woodwind reeds, guitar picks, and drumsticks, that it makes no sense to price individually:

“We’ve got an entire display of drumsticks and in each bin, the price is clearly marked, but on each individual stick, they’re not.”

Marshall says, in some cases, labels would cover up package information that customers care about:

“Truth be known, practicality trumps law in some cases, and we’re in violation of the item pricing. Not maliciously, simply because it’s so impractical and unnecessary."

Marshall’s not alone. In Michigan, the price tag law may be the most widely ignored law since the 55 mile per hour speed limit.

Retailers think they’ve made their sale to the state’s political leaders that’s it’s time to close the books on Michigan’s one-of-a-kind price tag law.

State Legislature
7:40 am
Thu March 10, 2011

State Senate votes to reverse unmarried partner benefits

The State Senate has voted to reverse unmarried partner benefits
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

The Michigan Senate has voted by a super-majority to reverse a state Civil Service Commission decision that would allow unmarried state employees to claim domestic partners on their health insurance.

Earlier this year, a state employment panel approved unmarried partner benefits that would include people in same-sex relationships and their dependents.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen says the state can’t afford it – and voters have already spoken about domestic partner benefits by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions.

“This is about economics. This is about our budget. This is about getting Michigan back on track."

But, Democratic state Senator Rebekah Warren says rejecting domestic partner benefits would hurt children.

“Families are always stronger when health insurance is accessible to everyone in the household.”

The measure now goes to the state House, where Republicans will have to muster a two-thirds majority vote to reverse the policy. Otherwise, state employees will be able to claim unmarried partners on their benefits starting October first.

Politics
6:42 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Snyder to sign 'Pure Michigan' funding bill

Governor Rick Snyder will sign a bill today to fund the Pure Michigan advertising campaign
David Plotzki Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign a bill today that would extend the life of the state's 'Pure Michigan' advertising campaign.

The measure allows for an addition $10 million to fund the popular ads. The Associated Press reports:

That's double the previous amount and raises overall Pure Michigan funding for this budget year to $25 million, as Snyder requested.

It will be the third bill signed by the new Republican governor, who took office in January. He signed two agricultural bills Tuesday.

Pure Michigan campaigns promote the state's beaches, golf courses and other destinations to potential tourists. The extra $10 million will pay for regional campaigns targeting cities such as Chicago, Columbus, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

The Governor is scheduled to sign the bill this afternoon at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn.

Unemployment
6:21 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Michigan jobless rate declines in January

Michigan's January unemployment rate was 10.7 percent
Khalilshah Flickr

Michigan's unemployment rate continued in decline in January to 10.7 percent. That's the lowest it's been in more than two years. And, it's three percentage points lower than the same time last year: the jobless rate in January 2010 was 13.7 percent.

The national jobless rate in January of this year was 9.0 percent.

Environment
4:54 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Michigan scientists urge support of EPA

Scientists from Michigan universities and colleges say politicians should not jeopardize public health by weakening EPA authority.
feww.wordpress.com

More than 160 scientists from Michigan universities and colleges  say they oppose attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to uphold the Clean Air Act.

Congressional Republicans – and a few Democrats – say the EPA has too much power. They also believe the Clean Air Act puts crippling restrictions on business.

David Karowe  is a professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University.

He says politicians are not in the best position to make informed decisions about what is in the best interest of public health.

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Offbeat
4:40 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

The scarlet tweet

Rosh Sillars Flickr

This morning, Chrysler's twitter feed featured something that grabbed people's attention, and not in a good way.

The tweet featured an expletive. A bad one. From the Detroit Free Press:

"The official Twitter account of Chrysler brand vehicles dropped the F-bomb this morning in an off-color update from an employee at the automaker’s social media agency."

"The post read: 'I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to (expletive) drive.'"

"While the tweet has since been deleted, the original post was retweeted by several people on the popular social network, including Twitter user @tverma29, making it impossible to erase from the Web."

CNET suggested that it might have been Eminem causing the mischief, but it turns out that the offending tweeter worked for Chrysler's social media agency of record. From WXYZ:

"The company says that an investigation determined that an employee of their 'social media agency of record, New Media Strategies' posted the tweet Wednesday morning. That employee, who was not identified, has been terminated.

Which is a shame, because it really seemed like Eminem.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio News

Politics
4:37 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Judge continues Lansing library's gun ban

An Ingham County judge says Capital Area District Library patrons may not openly carry weapons in the facility.
michigandaily.com

An Ingham County judge has continued a ban on openly carrying guns into Lansing-area libraries until June. 

A temporary restraining order was issued against the Michigan Open Carry group last month.

Now an Ingham County Circuit Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction forbidding anyone – except law enforcement – from entering a Capital Area District Library openly wearing a gun.

Dean Greenblatt is an attorney for Michigan Open Carry.

He says library management has a bigger agenda.

Read more
Politics
4:12 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Former U.S. House of Representatives candidate sues Facebook for deactivating account

Moughni sent hundreds of Facebook friend requests, prompting Facebook to shut down his account.
Moughni's campaign Facebook page

A former U.S. House of Representatives candidate is suing Facebook.

Majed Moughni  is a lawyer from Dearborn. He ran during the Republican primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by John Dingell in 2010. His campaign strategy involved using his personal Facebook page to gain as many friends as possible across the voting district. But Facebook shut down his account in June before the August primaries for sending too many friend requests. Moughni says this also shut down his campaign.

Now he’s suing Facebook, but he’s not asking for money. He wants the social media company to stop using an automatic system to delete accounts and to restore his personal page. He says there should a way for Facebook users to appeal account deactivation:

“We think a multi-billion dollar corporation should at least have a live person that you can communicate with, a call-in center, that you can, you know, at least file a petition if your account was wrong deactivated – you should be able to get some recourse.”

Moughni said uprisings in Egypt and Libya prove how important Facebook is. But in his next campaign, he will use more than just Facebook.

UPDATED: According to the DetNews.com, a spokesman for Facebook said the account was disabled by an automated system that "is designed to prevent spammers and fakes from harassing our users and polluting the ecosystem." He also said that the "system always warns a user when they are nearing thresholds that will have features blocked or their account disabled. These warnings come as a pop-up that must be clicked through."

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio News

Business
3:40 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Whirlpool CEO: US is the place to invest

Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig
whirlpoolcorp.com

The head of Michigan-based Whirlpool says the United States is a smart place for the appliance giant to invest.

The company announced last year that it planned to sink $1 billion into its United States operations over the next four years. CEO Jeff Fettig says since then, he’s fielded lots of questions about why and how the company planned to do that.

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Politics
3:31 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Are today's protests in Wisconsin similar to Flint's sit down strikes?

Strikers guarding window entrance to Fisher body plant number three. Flint, Michigan - 1937.
Sheldon Dick Farm Security Administration

Are the Wisconsin protests becoming public employees’ equivalent of the Sit Down Strike in Flint, Michigan?

Professor Steven Ashby at the University of Illinois made the comparison Wednesday on Changing Gears’ partner station WBEZ.

Speaking with Alison Cuddy, the host of 848, Professor Ashby said the Wisconsin protests may be seen as historically significant as the events at General Motors in 1936 and 1937.

It’s an interesting analogy, because the sit down strike resonates with labor historians as the moment that the fledgling United Automobile Workers took root at the Detroit car companies.

And, while Flint got the most attention for the sit down strike there, the protests actually spread from Atlanta to Kansas City and Cleveland, just as the protests in Wisconsin have resulted in others across the Great Lakes states.

In the same way that Flint helped the UAW, Professor Ashby argues that the protests in Madison have given public — and private sector — unions a rallying point. Whether they can lead to preserving or growing union membership remains to be seen, however.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to know more about what went on in Flint, the Detroit News has a compendium of the strike here. And you can hear voices of some of the sit down strikers here.

Do you remember the sit down strike, or do you have relatives who took part? We’d love to hear your memories or any stories they’ve handed down.

Auto/Economy
2:41 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Is Right-to-Work next?

Getty Images

The labor battle seizing the Midwest right now is focused on the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees. But the fight over breaking these unions may have cracked open another door: the one labeled “right-to-work.”

So, let’s recap some of the big labor news that’s unfolded in recent weeks. Thousands of protestors flooded the capitals of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and, of course, Wisconsin.

Also – and this didn’t make headlines — In Grand Rapids, Jared Rodriguez began moving into a new office.

“In fact, I was unpacking boxes when you called,” he said.

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Education
2:37 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Grand Rapids school officials to discuss potential $25 million budget gap

Carmen Seaby Flickr

Grand Rapids Public Schools is hosting a meeting Wednesday night and Friday morning to discuss Governor Rick Snyder’s state budget proposal. The district would face a $25 million budget shortfall if lawmakers approve Snyder’s budget.

Snyder is asking lawmakers to approve cutting $470 per student for all public school districts. That’s roughly a 4% cut from what the state sent them last year.

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