Mercedes Mejia

Reporter/Producer

Mercedes Mejia produces interviews for All Things Considered, including the music segment Songs from Studio East. She also produces content for Stateside. Mercedes relocated to Michigan from New Mexico, where she earned her BA in Latin American Studies and Journalism. She began in public radio as a reporter at KUNM in Albuquerque. She brings extensive video production skills from her work at Univision and Edit House Production.

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Arts & Culture
2:39 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Care for a little art with that lunch?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. band.

Several weeks ago, The World did a story about dance clubs popping-up in Europe for one hour, during lunchtime. (Basically people can swing by an alcohol-free, make-shift dance club at noon. Organizers even provide free lunches!)

While we don’t quite have anything like this in Michigan, we do have events where people can enjoy free music and get their dance on—if they want to.

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Economy
10:50 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Supporters of a tent city near Ann Arbor fear eviction

John Wagner (left) is a volunteer and supporter of Camp Take Notice. Alonzo Young is a camper. He's been attending classes at Washtenaw Community College.
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

About 70 people took part in a rally to show support for a tent city near Ann Arbor.

It's called "Camp Take Notice," and it's been on state-owned land for more than two years. The 65 people who live there are worried their days there are numbered.

David Williams has been staying at the camp for a year. "If we lose this camp it would be difficult for me to find another safe environment to live. And I hope that people understand that. Anyone can be homeless. Homelessness is not prejudice," he said.

Organizers want a commitment from the state to allow people to continue living at the site. But one neighbor, who asked not to be named, said he'd like to see the camp gone.

"There have been reports of stolen property down there. You don't necessarily feel comfortable being outside or outside alone towards the evening. And like I said, they are not bad people, that's not the problem. It's the element that goes along with it," the neighbor said.

Jeff Cranson, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the state has been working with the camp's organizers for a couple of years. He said there are no immediate eviction plans, but that the tent city is not safe and residents will need to relocate. Cranson said a fire broke out a few months ago and emergency crews had difficultly getting water to the site. 

He said another state agency is working to find alternative housing for the camp's residents.

Michigan Radio visited the camp in the fall of 2011.

Politics
10:28 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Republicans propose a tax cut for individuals, but is it enough?

Every Thursday we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

The Snyder Administration and the legislature are working to complete work on the state budget, and it sounds like they’ve made some progress towards a final deal.

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Politics
6:32 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Detroit Works online game offers residents a chance to help shape the city

Detroit 24/7 is an online game that gives people the chance to answer questions and give input about their community's future.
Community PlanIt screen shot.

Community meetings about the future of Detroit neighborhoods wrap up this week.

The Detroit Works Project focuses on how to make neighborhoods more viable, and how to keep current residents while attracting new people to the city.

Dan Pitera is co-leader of Civic Engagement for Detroit Works long-term planning. He is also also a professor of architecture at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Some main concerns from Detroit residents, Pitera said “are safety for everybody, education and health for everybody in the city.”

Detroit Works has used several methods to engage the Detroit community. One of the newest is an online video game called Detroit 24/7. “Some people love to go to meetings, other people don’t,” Pitera said.

So far more than 900 people are playing the game, which lets players describe what they encounter everyday as they move around the city of Detroit, point out the pros and cons, and then suggest strategies that can improve the city. The idea is to engage a younger population, those ages 18 to 35.

“It actually deals with many of the same issues we are dealing with in the community conversations but done online, and we are attracting those people that are not going to meetings.”

According to Pitera, the intention of the project has been to first collect data from city residents, and then create city wide strategies that are informed by what is happening in different neighborhoods.

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Newsmaker Interview
5:16 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Does Michigan's 'stand your ground' law promote violence?

Tim Bledsoe is a Democrat representing Michigan’s 1st House District, which includes Grosse Pointe
Rep. Bledsoe's official website

Florida caught lots of attention after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen. On trial for the killing is George Zimmerman who claims he acted under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Michigan is among several states with laws similar to Florida’s. Michigan’s “stand your ground” law was revised in 2006 by bipartisan majorities in the legislature. It was signed into law by Jennifer Granholm, who was the Democratic governor at the time.

Now, more than a dozen Democratic Michigan House members have introduced legislation to repeal the law.

Democratic Representative Tim Bledsoe sponsored House Bill 5644. “I think the Trayvon Martin case really showed us the problem with having a law like “stand your ground," he said.

According to Bledsoe, Michigan has another self-defense law called the Castle Doctrine, which states that a person has the right to defend themselves, their family and their property in their home.

“Our effort to repeal the "stand your ground" law does not in any way affect the Castle Doctrine. But what we are seeing is that, if you are in a public place, and you are in a confrontation, and there is this opportunity for you to retreat, you must take advantage of that opportunity to retreat,” said Bledsoe.

The Democratic representative said although he has not identified any case in Michigan where the "stand your ground" law has been used in self defense, he said "We see this more in terms of acting in a preemptive way to try to avoid situations like the Trayvon Martin case here in Michigan."

Rep. Bledsoe said he and others will continue to seek out public support to pressure legislators to repeal the law.

Politics
5:35 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

What does Roy Schmidt's switch say about politics in Lansing?

Michigan State Capitol building, in Lansing.

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

The big political story in Michigan this week was the decision from Representative Roy Schmidt to switch his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican, about 10 minutes before the filing deadline for this fall’s election.

This November, Schmidt will try to hold onto his House seat in Michigan’s 76th district, which includes Grand Rapids.

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Economy
2:10 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

White House hosts forum for urban entrepreneurs in Detroit

Screengrab from White House video stream

Small business owners and hopeful entrepreneurs are in Detroit today to get advice on  starting or improving a business.

The Urban Economic Forum, held by The White House Administration, hopes to help entrepreneurs in Detroit connect to resources and network with other business leaders.

The White House Administration said it is committed to supporting the Detroit area’s small businesses.

CBS Detroit reports:

Among the topics of discussion were the resources available to minority and urban entrepreneurs who are trying to access capital for their businesses. Mentors were also available to provide advice to business owners.

In a press, release the White House Administration wrote that other Urban Economic Forums will be held in Chicago, Illinois, and Columbus, Ohio.

Economy
4:34 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Survey measures how Michigan residents feel about the economy, Gov. Snyder and Pres. Obama

The findings are based on the latest quarterly phone survey conducted from Feb. 14 to April 15. A total of 963 Michigan adults were questioned in the survey which has an error rating of +3.16 percent.

Every quarter, Michigan State University releases its State of the State survey. The survey questioned 963 Michigan adults about issues such as the economy, taxes, and Michigan’s financial future.

Charles Ballard is Michigan State University Professor of Economics. He said Michigan residents are more optimistic about the economy.

Those responding to the survey, 54% said their current financial situation was excellent or good. And, 61% of  said they believe they will better off a year from now.

When people are feeling better about the future, Ballard said “they are more likely to make an investment, they’re more likely to spend money and that can have a positive effect on the economy.”

But according to Ballard, trust in government is not so good.

“State government – 16% said that they think they can trust the state government all of most of the time. Twelve percent said they could trust the federal government all or most of the time. It’s a little better for local governments, it’s up in the 30’s, but still those numbers for all levels of government have trended downward, which I think is a reflection of some dissatisfaction at grid lock in Lansing and in Washington.”

Learn more about the approval rating for Governor Snyder and President Obama here.

The findings are based on the latest quarterly phone survey conducted from Feb. 14 to April 15. A total of 963 Michigan adults were questioned in the survey which has an error rating of +3.16 percent.

Crime
2:26 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

New report highlights challenges for Michigan's juvenile lifers

user FatMandy flickr

Teen offenders in Michigan are worse off than teens in other states.

That's according to a new report from Michigan-based Second Chances 4 Youth and the state chapter of the ACLU

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Health
5:55 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

A new HBO series addresses the nation's obesity problem

Sylvar / flickr

Michigan ranks tenth in the country, when it comes to the number of people who are overweight or obese. It's an issue that affects many of us personally, and it affects society as a whole.

A new HBO, documentary series called  The Weight of the Nation takes an in-depth look at this epidemic. It's in partnership with the Center for Disease Control & Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

John Hoffman is an HBO producer who worked on the documentary. The documentary recently screened in Detroit. He says, "We’ve got to engage the entire nation in addressing obesity. Almost 70% of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese, and the costs are just going to bankrupt our health care system. Our national security is threatened when one quarter of recruits can’t qualify for our military service because they are overweight or obese…so, we are trying to sound the loudest possibly alarm in every community that this has got to become a priority."

Obesity seems to hit minorities and poor people especially hard. Hoffman says it's a matter of economics and not race. 

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Arts & Culture
4:17 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

A Mother's Day story

During the past year, Michigan-based writer Wade Rouse has been sharing personal stories about the holidays.

Mother’s Day is Sunday May 13, and today Wade shares a story about an especially memorable Mother’s Day for him.

Wade Rouse is a Michigan-based writer and the author of It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine (A Memoir).

Arts & Culture
3:19 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

DSO hosts Kid Rock Saturday

Maia C Flickr

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will accompany Kid Rock in a benefit concert. The orchestra is carrying a 54-million dollar debt. The goal of the event is to raise 1-million dollars for the orchestra. That money will be used for community outreach and education efforts. The concert will be at the Fox Theater Saturday night. Paul Hogle is the Executive Vice President of the DSO. He says while the DSO has faced struggles, he's optimistic of the orchestra's future.

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Auto
6:12 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Chevy Volt vs. Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf plug (left) and the Chevy Volt plug (right).

There's a lot of excitement around electric vehicles. But so far sales have not been great.

Michigan Radio’s auto beat reporter Tracy Samilton decided to get some firsthand experience driving two electric vehicles - the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt.

JW: So while we are calling them electric cars there are some fundamental differences in how they work.

TS: The Leaf is a pure electric vehicle it only runs on the battery and when it runs dry you have to recharge the battery to get more out of the car. And the Volt has a battery, and you run on that as an electric car for about 35 miles, and then after that it has a generator that runs on gasoline that provides more electricity so the car can keep running. So Chevy calls it an electric car with extended range.

JW: And after spending that week with the Leaf and the Volt, what did you think?

TS: Well, they’re two totally different cars and I had two totally different experiences as you can imagine. When I got the Volt, that week that they gave it to me I actually have a vacation arranged in Pennsylvania. Well because it has the extended range I could actually take the volt to the camp sight, some 400 and some miles away. And I plugged it into my cabin, which had electricity. You know most of this was done on the gasoline but I was able to get it recharged in my cabin.

When it comes to the Leaf, it’s a different kind of vehicle, I could not have done that.

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Newsmaker Interview
5:53 pm
Tue May 8, 2012

Supporting small business in the alternative energy sectors

Democratic State Rep. Marica Hovey-Wright. She represents the 92nd House District, which includes the cities of Muskegon, North Muskegon and Muskegon Heights, and Fruitland, Laketon and Muskegon townships.

Legislation is being introduced in the state house aimed at supporting small businesses and startup companies in the alternative energy sectors.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Democratic State Representative Marcia Hovey-Wright. She spoke with Jennifer White.

Hovey-Wright says, "Basically it’s a revolving loan fund for alternative energy, green manufacturing which includes, wind, solar, advanced battery and biomass. The intention is to create good paying jobs with good benefits."

Arts & Culture
1:47 pm
Tue May 8, 2012

A pitch for graduating students - following your passion is key

Ernie Caviani lives in Ann Arbor. He's a piano tuner and technician. He has been tuning pianos for 45 years.
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

It's graduation season across the country, and students are deciding what they want to do with their lives.

Seventy-one-year-old Ernie Caviani is a piano tuner and technician. He says following your passion is key.

Michigan Radio producer Mercedes Mejia has this audio postcard.

Ernie Caviani: This A is vibrating at 220 beats per second. This A is supposed to vibrate, if it matches it at 440, it’s just twice as much.

In my lifetime I’ve tuned a little over 30,000 pianos.

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Political Roundup
5:17 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Is eliminating the personal property tax a good thing?

The personal property tax is mostly a tax on business equipment, office furniture and manufacturing equipment.
IBM / The News Market

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

There’s an eight-bill package working its way through the legislature right now aimed at eliminating the personal property tax. This sounds like something that would affect individuals but this is actually a business tax.

Sikkema says, “This is basically a tax on business equipment, computer, office furniture and manufacturing equipment. It’s generally acknowledged to be a bad tax because it taxes new business purchases and business growth and investment.”

Demas indicates that some cities receive up to 40% of their tax base from the personal property tax. However, not all cities would be affected in the same way. Some cities wouldn’t be affected at all.

“The municipalities have been looking for ways that they can get some of that revenue replaced, but so far they haven’t had a lot of takers because their solution is a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the same money, and nobody really wants to tie the legislature’s hands with that," she says.

Sikkema believes eliminating the tax is a good move for Michigan. He says, “Other states, particularly in the Midwest have already eliminated it, principality Ohio. Michigan and Indiana are the only ones in the Great Lakes region that I’m aware of who currently collect the personal property tax.”

But he adds, “It’s not without its down side…for some it is a major source of revenue and republicans are trying to address that with this promise to replace it in the future.”

Demas adds, “I do think we do need to pay attention to however many communities there are that really rely on this and could be pushed over the edge, because certainly it’s not health for our state to have our cities keep getting financial managers.”

Education
5:59 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Teacher retirement fund needs help

There’s an ongoing debate about how to sustainably fund the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System.

According the Bridge Magazine, an online publication of the Center for Michigan, the retirement system is underfunded by $45 billion.

Bridge Magazine staff writer, Nancy Derringer, has taken an in-depth look at this issue.

Derringer notes that Senate bill 1040 would change the way the retirement system is funded. "If you are a new employee your contribution to the retire system would increase to 8%. And they currently pay 3 and 6.2 % of their salary. And then if you are a retiree you currently have your health care premiums 90% paid by the state and you pay 10%, that would switch to 80/20."

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Newsmaker Interview
8:33 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

More cyber schools for Michigan?

SpecialKRB / flickr

The State House recently passed legislation that would allow an increase in the number of Michigan cyber schools.

Cyber schools provide instruction via the internet. There are two currently operating in Michigan.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White spoke with Republican State Representative Dale Zorn. He voted in favor of the legislation after promising to vote against it.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

What's next for Public Act 4?

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

The petition that would place Public Act 4, that's the emergency manager law, on the November ballot came before the State Board of Canvassers.  Earlier this week it was confirmed the group Stand up for Democracy had more than enough signatures to put the PA 4 up for repeal on the ballot. But then this question of whether the correct font size was used for the ballot was brought up.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 along party lines on whether to allow a challenge to the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

“It’s not really a surprise on a matter like this that you would see a split decision,” Demas says.

Demas adds that supporters of the petition were very upset about the deadlock, and says “they could have avoided all this if they had just gotten their petition approved before they circulated it, and if there was really a font issue, they would have been told.”

This question will most likely head to the State Court of Appeals. Ken Sikkema believes it’s important the courts make a decision consistent with similar cases.

He says, “If they in fact decide to keep this off the ballot, yes they will be criticized that they made a political decision, but if they can rest their decision upon the fact that its consistent with prior decisions then I think they are in fairly decent shape, otherwise the confidence and trust that some people have in the court is going to soften.”

Science
5:11 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

UM professor consults on Disney film "Chimpanzee"

John Mitani, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

The movie Chimpanzee from Disney Nature opens in theaters today.

It follows a young chimp, Oscar, who is separated from his troop, and is adopted by an alpha male named Freddie.

John Mitani was a scientific consultant on the film. He's a primate behavioral ecologist and University of Michigan Professor of Anthropology. Mitani’s research centers on the behavior of male chimps and why males co-operate.

According to Mitani, it's not uncommon for young chimps to be separated from their parents. Often they are adopted by close relatives. But what's unusual in this story is that Oscar was adopted by an adult male chimp "which rarely or never has been seen," Mitani says.

“It’s not as if male animals, male primates, male chimps are generally helpful to others. Why he should go out of his way to help this poor little helpless infant who was not obviously his own is really the thing that is quite interesting and unusual in this.”

The film took three years to make, and actually follows two main groups of chimps, one filmed in west Africa and one filmed in east Africa. Through the magic of movie making we get one story. Mitani recognizes the film has two qualities. One scientific and the other purely entertaining.

You can see the movie trailer here:

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