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What's Working
6:12 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Bike program for kids rolling in Kalamazoo

Ethan Alexander (far left) of the Open Roads Bike program speaks to a group of kids in Kalamazoo
Eric Sweet

This week, we’re changing it up a bit for our “What’s Working” series. Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley is welcoming Michigan Radio Reporter Kyle Norris into the studio to talk about a program in a Kalamazoo neighborhood that revolves around bikes.

Resident Ethan Alexander has organized a program called the Open Roads Bike Program, which teaches kids about bike maintenance. The children learn to perform a number of tasks involved in repairing and taking care of bikes. When they’ve completed all of the tasks, they are rewarded with a bike of their own.

But the bikes are not the only focus of the program. While learning how to take care of bikes provides the children with a sense of accomplishment and pride, Alexander makes sure the kids learn how to respect and get to know one another.

Kyle Norris recently attended a regularly held workshop event in the neighborhood called “Fixapalooza,” where she got to witness what the program has to offer first-hand. She says the atmosphere was similar to that of a block party, plus bikes – many, many bikes.

“It was a total party. There was Michael Jackson on a boom box, blasting. There was pizza. There was a dog running around. And there were a lot of kids, and adults, too, and bikes – bikes flipped over, adults working on bikes, kids working on bikes.”

The program got started when Edison neighborhood resident Ethan Alexander combined two things he had in excess: bikes and an understanding of how to work with children. Norris says it all got started about three years ago.

“He actually created it because he had a lot of bikes kicking around. I think he’s sort of a bike-head, so he had a lot of bikes. But he’s also a social worker, and he knows how to work with kids and get kids to work on their social skills and work on becoming better kids. So he kind of put the two loves together.”

The children who participate in the program don’t have to come very far to join in the fun, says Norris.

“Many of them come from this Edison neighborhood. They come, literally, down the street. Maybe single-family homes, maybe economically challenged.”

Alexander says the program gives the children a sense of confidence that they may not have in other areas of their lives.        

“A lot of these kids may not be successful in school. They may not be successful in other avenues. But you put a wrench in their hand, or you put a screwdriver in their hand, and that’s when they kind of light up, that’s when they get excited, and say, ‘Oh, I can do this. This is something I can do.’ And they’re valued and they start to believe in themselves and their abilities.”

After hanging out at Fixapalooza, Norris describes Mr. Alexander as a “zippy” guy. She says his leadership creates the atmosphere of respect.

Read more
Corrections
4:48 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

Michigan's prisons keep prisoners longer, cost more

User bgb Flickr

While controversy over budget cuts lingers, new statistics show that Michigan's prison system may have some system-wide problems that actually increase cost.The Chicago Tribune/A.P. reports:

Michigan often keeps inmates long after other states would have released them for similar crimes, driving up prison costs by millions of dollars a year and eating up a quarter of the state's general fund.

Both former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and current Republican Gov. Rick Snyder have encouraged the parole board to be more lenient when it comes to releasing prisoners who have served their minimum sentences. Yet a bill that would require that inmates serve 100 percent of their minimum sentence but no more than 120 percent failed to make it through the Legislature during the last two-year session.

That has left 8,000 inmates still behind bars who have served more than their minimum sentences, a practice that's costing Michigan taxpayers around $280 million annually.

It's likely to take years for the parole board to consider those 8,000 cases, which make up nearly a fifth of the prison population. On April 15, the parole board will shrink from 15 members to 10 under a Snyder executive order estimated to save around $500,000 a year in pay and benefits.

Read more
Politics
10:08 am
Thu March 31, 2011

Is the State Supreme Court a flip-flopper?

The Michigan State Supreme Court attracts attention for overruling its own older decisions
jeffness Wikimedia Commons

Politicians don’t like to flip flop. Going back on what they said before can be a big political headache. 

The U.S. Supreme Court also takes flip flopping very seriously. The last time they overturned a decision was in 2003.

By comparison, the Michigan Supreme Court has flip-flopped a lot. Somewhere around thirty-eight times in the past decade.

All this flip flopping means that court keeps changing the law. One reason for the flip flops is because the judges on the court keep changing. Between elections and appointments there can be a lot of turnover on the bench. And new judges don’t necessarily agree with those who came before them.

Robert Sedler is a court watcher who says ideology is causing the back and forth on the Court. And he says things got bad about a decade ago. He teaches law at Wayne State University Law School.

"Around 1998 there were a series of appointments by former Governor Engler who were very ideological in their views. The majority took the position that, if they believed  cases were wrongly decided, they were going to overrule those cases."

Conservative majorities, like the one appointed by Engler, aren’t the only ones overturning old decisions. In 2010 there was a more moderate court, and they also overturned cases.

Take marajuana, for example. In 2006 the court saw all marijuana use the same, it was illegal. Four years later the new court saw more nuance and interpreted the law in ways that impacts medical marijuana use.

Read more
Politics
3:27 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

FOIA requests raise concern over academic freedom

K. Sawyer Flickr

Controversy continues to swirl around collective bargaining rights--and the protests that recent legislation has sparked--in Michigan and Wisconsin.

At issue now is a number of Freedom of Information Act requests done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The requests have been made for information on faculty at Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.

Some critics are claiming that the FOIA requests are being used to intimidate college professors from participating in pro-labor protests.

Read more
Auto/Economy
2:09 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

New restrictions for young drivers take effect

Sam Kim Flickr

Buckle up, kiddos!

A new law restricting Level 2 driver's license holders (basically, first year drivers who have passed their driving test) goes into effect today.

The restrictions include:

  • Drivers cannot carry more than one passenger below the age of 21 unless they are family members
  • Drivers cannot drive after 10 p.m. or before 5 a.m. Exceptions include going to and from work, and driving when accompanied by a parent, guardian or other adult (21 years and older).

The Detroit News has more:

Listen up, teenage drivers: Starting today, some of you will be driving less and with fewer pals in the car because of two big changes to Michigan's Graduated Driver Licensing Law...

The more teens in a vehicle, the greater the chance of a crash, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning, a division of the Michigan State Police.

According to the 2009 Michigan Traffic Crash fact sheet, younger drivers "were less likely to be alone in their car at the time of the crash," with 169 people ages 16-24 killed and nearly 18,000 injured.

"Studies have shown for teen drivers, the crash risk increases exponentially for each additional passenger, but parents seem unaware of the dangers associated with passengers and nighttime driving," said Michael L. Prince, director of the Office of Highway Safety Planning. "The new requirements and the awareness campaign will go a long way in improving teen driving safety."

AAA of Michigan is on board with the new changes, according to Jack Peet, traffic safety manager.

"This new law will help strengthen the graduated licensing approach where teens gain more driving privileges as they get older and acquire more experience," Peet said.

"Many studies have shown that limiting the number of teen passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen or novice driver helps make them safer."

Before today, Level 2 drivers were allowed to stay on the roads until midnight.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio News

Environment
10:29 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Can and bottle deposits add up for environment

The unredeemed deposits from bottles and cans go into a state fund to clean-up the environment
Vistavision Flickr

All the unclaimed deposits from Michigan cans and bottles really add up. The state gets about $12 million a year out of it.

A small amount of this money goes back to the retailers who sell the containers. But most of it is used for cleaning up old industrial land or toxic waste. The state also uses the money to finish the clean-up of federal Superfund sites.

With budget cuts, money for pollution clean-up is harder to come by. Anastasia Lundy is with the Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department used to rely on Michigan’s general fund.

"Well the programs that are funding environmental clean-up no longer receive any general fund whatsoever, so this has increased our reliance on these bottle bill funds to try to keep the programs meeting the most critical needs."

The state wants as much money in the clean-up fund as possible. They’re worried they are losing money to people they call smugglers. These are people bringing cans into Michigan from other states for deposit money.

This might sound like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Neuman drive cans and bottles into Michigan. But the state is getting serious about cutting down on bottle deposit fraud. So, they want bottle manufacturers to put a special mark on containers sold in Michigan. Bottle return machines would then only take containers with the mark-Michigan containers.

The state changed the bottle bill to require manufactures to add the mark, and the manufacturers are now suing the state over the changes to the bill.

The American Beverage Association is bringing the suit. They didn’t return calls for comment on this story. But, they’ve told other media outlets that making special cans and bottles for Michigan will be expensive and they don’t want to do it.

Retailers are siding with the state in the suit. Mike Lashbrook is the President of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesaler Association.

"Well, you know, this issue, the fact that there is this smuggling that’s been going on, it’s not a joke like the Seinfeld episode. It is a major problem.

He says retailers are also worried about losing money to bottle smugglers.

The state has already put a little over a million dollars into upgrading the bottle machines to read the special mark. If the Beverage Association wins their case the state will lose this money.

Read more
Environment
9:50 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Congress to hear testimony about nuclear power plant safety on Tuesday

Fermi II is one of three nuclear power plants in Michigan
Nuclear Regulatory Agency

Congress will hear testimony on Tuesday morning from experts in nuclear energy to determine what lessons can be learned from the crisis in Japan.

Dave Lochbaum is the director of the Nuclear Power Project, part of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says the United States needs to be prepared for disaster "not on bright sunny days, but on days when the infrastructure may be damaged or compromised and impede the ability of people to get out of harm’s way."

Lochbaum says U.S. plants are at risk for the same problems that nuclear plants in Japan are facing:

“It’s U.S. reactor technology that was used there, under similar regulations that are here in the United States, so faced with similar challenges, we’d probably experience similar outcomes and I think the United States and Congress more broadly will take steps to better protect Americans from that outcome. ”

There are three nuclear power plants in Michigan

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Offbeat
4:31 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Not fast enough: Drunk driver rams next car in Burger King drive-through line

Jeremy Brooks Flickr

When is fast food not fast enough?

Well, last night in Detroit, one unlucky drive-thru-er found out.

From the Free Press:

A drunk driver got so impatient in the all-night drive-through line at Burger King that she intentionally bashed into the car waiting for food in front of her, police said.

Read more
Infrastructure
3:01 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Update: Michigan Department of Transportation director responds to bad bridge rankings

Michigan's Mackinac Bridge
Julie Falk Flickr

Update:

Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation for bridge condition according to a new report released on national bridge conditions. The report says 1,400 bridges in Michigan are in critical condition and are deteriorating in some way.

Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says most bridges in Michigan are about 40 years old, and bridges are built to last 50 years.

“We take a slightly different approach with that 50 years, and say that with the right kind of maintenance and preventative maintenance, we can extend that life indefinitely.”

“Well, indefinitely to a point where there’s really nothing more financially responsible to do other than replace the bridge.”

“Our first and foremost responsibility is to make sure that the infrastructure that people are driving on, the bridges they’re driving on, are safe.”

“And if there is a condition that warrants it as immediately unsafe, the bridge will be closed immediately.”

“The bridges that are out there, that people are driving on right now, including all of us, are safe. If the bridge is open, the bridge is safe.”

“It’s been inspected by our bridge engineers, and we take that very seriously and if there’s something that needs to be taken out of service, it will be taken out of service immediately and fixed and adjusted.”

Representatives from Transportation for America, who released the study, say federal support is needed to fix a backlog of bridge issues. They say it will cost about 226 dollars per driver to make sure bridges remain safe and drivable.

Steudle and representatives from Transportation for America say they understand that there is a focus right now on less government spending. But, they say, safety needs to be a priority over budget cuts.

-Laura Weber

1:01 p.m.:

How many bridges do you cross in a day?

However many you cross, it is possible that some of those bridges might be part of the 13% of state bridges that are "structurally deficient."

In a survey of national statistics, the Associated Press found that Michigan came in with the 13th worst bridge statistics.

From the Detroit Free Press:

More than 13% of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, a number that will only rise as thousands of spans statewide approach their expected 50-year life expectancy, transportation leaders said today.

With about 1,400 bridges ranked structurally deficient, Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation in the number of bridges in poor condition, according to a report released this morning by Transportation for America, a national transportation advocacy group. The national average is 11.5%.

The average age of Michigan’s bridges is 41 years. The group said nationwide, it would cost $70 billion to upgrade deficient bridges. About 185,000 U.S. bridges are 50 or older, and that number could double by the year 2030.

This news comes on the heels of another big announcement about the long-awaited new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now known as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

From an MLive article from last Tuesday:

Governor Rick Snyder is expected, in the next two weeks, to submit a new bill to the Michigan legislature authorizing construction of the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) in Lansing.

One of the most significant changes between Snyder’s NITC proposal and the DRIC bill that died in the state Senate last year is the removal of MDOT from the process.  A special authority established to govern the bridge replaces the state agency in the legislation. According to Crain’s Detroit’s Bill Shea, shifting control away from MDOT is seen as an effort to win support among GOP lawmakers.

The removal of MDOT from the equation is one of the significant changes between the NITC proposal and Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bill that stalled in the Michigan Senate in 2010.

Of course, what we really need is some kind of Michigan Acronym Awareness Association (MAAA).

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

What's Working
6:15 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Michigan wine: Success in a bottle

Vineyard in Leelanau County
user farlane flickr

As we continue our “What’s Working” series this week, Christina Shockley sits down to speak with Linda Jones, the Executive Director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. Over the past decade, the wine industry in Michigan has grown ten to fifteen percent each year, with most of the wine being produced in the southwest and northwest regions of the Lower Peninsula.

With 14,600 acres of vineyards, Michigan ranks fourth amongst all states in grape production. Most of these grapes are used to make juices, but about 2,000 acres of vineyards are devoted solely to wine grape production, making Michigan the eighth largest producer of wine grapes. Ms. Jones says that when we talk about Michigan’s wine industry, we are really talking about the grape industry as well.

“They’re an integrated function. Many of the wineries in Michigan grow their own fruit. And our program is housed in the Michigan Department of Agriculture because wine is really an exemplary industry for value-added agriculture, meaning you take a crop that is grown here in Michigan and you add value to it on the farm property and attract customers to come and visit you, and that translates into a huge economic boom for that area when you can do that.”   

In a state that has seen its industries and population decline in the past decade, Michigan’s wine industry has continued to grow steadily. Jones says this is because wine production incorporates two of Michigan’s strongest assets.

“It combines our second and third largest industries: agriculture and tourism. Michigan is a long-standing fruit-producing state, especially on the west side of the state, but increasingly throughout Michigan we are planting wine grapes with new varieties that are being developed.”

But Michigan isn’t just good at growing fruit because we’ve been doing it for centuries. The climate in Michigan is particularly well-suited for growing grapes, says Jones.

Read more
Politics
3:20 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

No-confidence vote will send Canadians back to the polls

Jeff Smith Flickr

A no-confidence vote in the Canadian parliament today means Canadian citizens can look forward to another election, their fourth in seven years.

From the BBC:

The vote, engineered by the opposition Liberal Party and backed by two other opposition parties, triggers an election expected in early May.

The move stemmed from a ruling on Monday that the minority government was in contempt of parliament.

But the Conservatives are thought likely to keep power in a May election.

With the House of Commons adjourned, Mr Harper on Saturday will ask Governor General David Johnston to dissolve parliament.

Following that, an election will be held after a minimum 36 days of campaigning. Canadian analysts expect it will be called for the first week in May.

Mr Harper's Conservative Party holds 145 seats in the dissolving parliament, shy of a majority of the 308 seats.

Recent polling suggests the Conservative Party holds a lead at the start of the campaign, with the Liberal Party in second, the New Democratic (NDP) Party third and the Bloc Quebecois, which campaigns only in Quebec, fourth.

The Conservative Party is likely to emerge from the May election in power, with some polls indicating it could even gain seats.

After the vote, Mr Harper said he suspected the forthcoming election, the country's fourth in seven years, would "disappoint" most Canadians.

Analysts say Canadian voters have shown little desire for an election, although Mr Harper's minority government had set a record for its tenure.

Canada is a historically important trading partner with Michigan.

According to the Government of Canada, about "237,100 jobs in the Great Lakes State depend on the Canada–Michigan trade relationship, which is valued at $43.3 billion."

Read more
Politics
1:59 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Supreme Court weighs sewage case

Patrick Brosset Flickr

Can a judge determine what happens when you flush your toilet? A case before the Supreme Court may decide that very question.From the AP

The Michigan Supreme Court said Thursday it will decide if local governments can be ordered to install a sewer system when private septic systems fail and spoil a lake, a case that centers on Lake Huron and a five-mile stretch in the Thumb region.

State regulators want Worth Township to install a sewer system, but an appeals court last year said the township isn't responsible for the problems of private property owners.

Some septic systems are failing in an area between M-25 and Lake Huron in Sanilac County, 80 miles northeast of Detroit. Waste is being discharged into the lake and its tributaries, and the lots are too small to build new systems.

In a brief order, the Supreme Court narrowed the issue: Does state law allow regulators and the courts to demand that a township install a sewer system when a lake is contaminated?

Township attorney Michael Woodworth said he's not surprised that the justices agreed to take the state's appeal.

"The case is one of statewide significance," he said. "There have been (local governments) that did not challenge the authority of the Department of Environmental Quality. What surprised the DEQ in this case is the township stepped back and said, 'Wait a minute.'"

Worth Township seemed ready to build a new sewage system as recently as 2008, but the cost kept them from proceeding.

Offbeat
4:19 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Detroit guard held bomb for three weeks

User Gini Flickr

A package containing a bomb was held for three weeks at the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit. From the Detroit News:

A security officer at the McNamara Federal Building stored a suspicious package that turned out to contain a bomb for three weeks before alerting authorities, said a spokesman for a union that represents guards at the site, who called the incident "a total embarrassment."

"He apparently set it aside," said David Wright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, which represents the Federal Protective Service (FPS) employees, who guard the McNamara and other federal buildings around the country.

"It should have been left in place and he should have called in a canine detection unit to see if they could make a determination about it," he said Tuesday.

The package was eventually placed behind two dumpsters behind the McNamara Building on Michigan Avenue downtown around 10 a.m. Friday. The Detroit Police Department's bomb squad collected the device from there and moved it to Belle Isle, where it was detonated.

An FBI official said yesterday that the device had gone to FBI headquarters in Virginia for additional testing.

Read more
Sports
2:01 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

New MSU hockey coach to be announced today

Paul Nicholson Flickr

Will the real next Spartan hockey coach please stand up?

After conflicting reports, it seems as if the job may go to CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos. From WILX-TV:

Former Spartan Tom Anastos will be announced as the next Spartan hockey coach at a 4 p.m. press conference at Munn Ice Arena. Anastos played for Ron Mason at Michigan State from 1981-85 scoring 60 goals and 143 points in his 4-year career.

Over the last 13 years he has served as the commissioner of the CCHA. He currently serves as the president of the Hockey Commissioner's Association. They created College Hockey Inc. which is responsible for growing the sport of college hockey.

Anastos was the head coach at the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1987-1990. He was then as assistant to Mason at Michigan State from 1990-1992. The 46-year old will be just the 6th coach in Michigan State history.

Anastos emerged from a field of approximately twenty candidates, including Danton Cole, a former Waverly High School hockey star, who many believed was set to replace for MSU's hockey coach Rick Comley.

Comley guided the Spartans to a national championship in 2007, and is the fourth all-time winningest coach.

Medicine
1:16 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Update: Students react to WMU's $100 million donation

Western Michigan University campus in Kalamazoo
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Students of Western Michigan University are reacting to the donation of $100 million dollars to Western Michigan University for their medical school. MLive reports:

A few hours after the announcement of a $100 million cash gift to jump-start Western Michigan University’s medical school, the event was replayed on a video kiosk inside the Bern­hard Center and caught the at­tention of several students.

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Sports
4:00 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Update: Jalen Rose responds to ongoing controversy over "The Fab Five" documentary

Jalen Rose discusses comments he made about Grant Hill and Duke University in ESPN's "The Fab Five" documentary

Update:

Last Friday, Jalen Rose defended some of the comments that he made in the documentary "The Fab Five." Rose claims that Duke did not and would not recruit players like him, and also addresses his use of the term "Uncle Tom," which Rose used in the documentary and which has been a source of ongoing controversy.

Here is Rose, talking about the things he said in the documentary:

"As a seventeen-year old recruit, that's exactly how I felt."

Read more
Politics
3:19 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Update: Gadhafi's momentum halted following strikes

Johan Jonsson Flickr

The progress made by forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi has been halted, according to a U.S. official. CNN reports:

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's momentum has been stopped and rebels have been able to hold onto areas that Gadhafi's forces had been poised to take over, a U.S. official said Monday.

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Sports
1:28 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Insult to (metaphorical) injury: Duke's Smith performs stunning crossover on Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr.

Above: Duke's Nolan Smith performs a crossover on Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr.

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What's Working
12:05 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Wind energy takes off in Michigan

user eXtension Ag Energy / flickr

Rick Wilson, the project manager for Heritage Sustainable Energy, is our guest this week as our “What’s Working” series continues. Based in Traverse City, Heritage Sustainable Energy is a wind power company that has been managing the installation of wind turbines in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan. Heritage is in the process of installing and expanding wind farms in the state, and is already producing roughly 40 megawatts of power.

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Offbeat
5:06 pm
Fri March 18, 2011

Four Loko for sale again in Michigan

Four Loko makes a return to Michigan

Michigan residents can once again buy flavored malt beverages like Four Loko. The caffeine infused alcoholic drink was banned by many states and by the Food and Drug Administration last year. Caffeine can make it difficult for consumers to realize just how much alcohol they’ve consumed.

Read more

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