Politics & Government

Commentary
10:12 am
Tue July 12, 2011

Can the UAW Survive?

Later this month, contact talks are set to begin between the United Auto Workers’ union and Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

There’s a temptation to feel nostalgic about that. This has been a time-honored tradition in Detroit since the 1940s. Every three years, negotiations began, and the union selected a strike target.

That target could have been any one of what were then referred to as the Big Three. Negotiations followed a system called “pattern bargaining,” which meant the union and the selected company would battle things out to a settlement.

Sometimes a deal could be reached without a strike; sometimes not. Once a deal was reached, the other two automakers would settle with the union on essentially the same terms.

During the glorious fat years of postwar prosperity, the bargaining scenario also followed a predictable pattern.  When negotiations began, the company would offer the union the equivalent of a crust of bread. The union would demand the moon, plus a kitchen sink with gold-plated handles. Eventually, with or without a strike, they’d reach a deal where the union got the moon, but had to settle for a sink with plain old chromium handles.

Walter Reuther would then promise to get the gold-plated ones in the next contract, and he usually would. But everything is different now. Chrysler and GM went through a near-death experience two years ago. As part of the price for the federal government’s saving them, the UAW had to agree not to strike either company.

The only thing they can do in the case of a grievance is ask for binding arbitration. The union could theoretically strike Ford, but now that all automakers aren’t on an equal playing field that’s unlikely.

But the UAW does face two immense new challenges.

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News Roundup
8:27 am
Tue July 12, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, July 12th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Feds Coming to Detroit

The Obama administration unveiled a federal program yesterday aimed at helping cities like Detroit revitalize parts of their urban centers. “The Strong Cities, Strong Communities program will target Detroit, Fresno, Memphis, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Chester, Pa… Officials say the program seeks to cut through federal red tape by providing communities with technical assistance to ensure federal and local dollars are spent wisely. Federal representatives will help Detroit Mayor Dave Bing tackle issues he had identified as ‘vital to their economic strategies, including efforts to build on local assets, strengthen regional economies, develop transportation infrastructure, improve job-training programs and support community revitalization,’” Mark Brush reports.

Thousands Still without Power

Utilities companies say about 90,000 homes and businesses remain without electricity a day after severe thunderstorms and strong winds moved across the lower half of the state. The Associated Press reports:

At least 191,000 customers lost power following Monday's storms. CMS Energy Corp. says Tuesday morning about 42,000 of its customers still were without power. DTE Energy Co. tells WDIV-TV and WWJ-AM about 47,000 of its customers remained blacked out… The storms hit as southern Michigan was already seeing a dangerous mix of high temperatures and high humidity.

Services for Ford

About a thousand people will attend a funeral for former First Lady Betty Ford today. The invitation-only service will take place in Palm Desert, California. Tomorrow, Mrs. Fords’ body will be flown to Michigan where a public viewing will take place in the evening at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. A private service is planned for Thursday in East Grand Rapids.

State Legislature
6:50 am
Tue July 12, 2011

Lawmakers to return to Lansing occasionally in July and August

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

State lawmakers are on a summer break but, they will be meeting infrequently throughout this month and next.

“The Senate Appropriations Committee has a meeting set for Tuesday to discuss bills related to transportation funding, court of appeals fees and quality assurance assessments at some health facilities. The state Senate is expected to meet in a full session Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville also plans to introduce legislation this week that would boost the value of Michigan’s film incentives. As the Michigan Public Radio Network’s Rick Pluta reported yesterday, “the state Senate leader says he is looking for ways to make Michigan more attractive to filmmakers now that the state has scaled back generous tax breaks for the industry.”

Meanwhile, the state House has a session scheduled for July 27th.

Politics
1:01 am
Tue July 12, 2011

Ford funeral service today in California

First Lady Betty Ford
Felix de Cossio White House

Betty Ford and her husband, the late President Gerald Ford, spent much of the past thirty years in Rancho Mirage, California. About a thousand people will attend an invitation-only funeral service today in nearby Palm Desert.

Wednesday, Mrs. Ford’s body will be flown to Michigan. A public viewing will take place tomorrow evening at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. 

A private funeral at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids is planned for Thursday. Afterward, she will be buried next to her husband on the grounds of the presidential museum.  

Betty Ford died last week.  She was 93.

Politics
5:14 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

Film advocates hope state restores scaled-back incentives

Film crews filming the movie "Five Year Engagement" in Ann Arbor. Governor Snyder scaled back Michigan's film incentives to $25 million. Advocates are hoping for more.
Corey Seeman Flickr

People who work in Michigan’s film industry hope efforts to boost the incentives for TV, movie, and video productions are successful.

They say the recent $25 million cap on the incentives makes them too small to attract big productions.

Chris Baum helps market the state to Hollywood with Michigan Film First and Film Detroit.

Baum says the state does not have to be as generous as it has been in the past to movie-makers, but it still has to put more money into incentives if it’s going to build a movie industry here:

"It’s not brain surgery. We've invited an industry here. We've promised them that we wanted them here," said Baum. "We need to continue to giving them conditions that allow themselves to establish themselves here and then down the road, they'll be so comfortable coming to Michigan that we'll be able to pull back on the the incentives further."

Baum says Michigan needs to have at least $100 million available for incentives if it’s going to attract the big budget movies that generate the most economic activity.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville is expected to unveil a plan this week to boost the state’s film incentives.

Governor Rick Snyder dramatically scaled back the incentives saying they offered a poor return to taxpayers.

Politics
4:17 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

Detroit light rail in question

John Smaltak modernstreetcar.org

Federal officials and Detroit civic leaders want to reassure people that a light rail project is still going forward.

Those reassurances come after a week of press reports and swirling rumors that some of the project’s private backers may be pulling out.

A group of private investors had pledged $100 million to finance the Woodward Avenue rail line. That money is crucial for the city to get federal matching grants.

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Politics
4:04 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

The U.S. debt ceiling explained

Congress is debating the debt ceiling, so what is that?
user kulshrax Flickr

As many political pundits predicted, the debate over the federal debt ceiling is reaching a new level.

President Obama said in a news conference today that if Republicans refuse to budge in budget negotiations, then a debt ceiling deal probably won't be reached.

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Politics
1:17 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

Marijuana stays on DEA's list of "really bad" drugs

The DEA announced that marijuana will continue to classified as a Class I drug stating the drug has "has no accepted medical use in the United States."
user eljoja Flickr

Last Friday, the Drug Enforcement Administration rejected a petition that sought to reclassify marijuana. The petition came from the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis and had been in front of the DEA for nine years.

From Occupational Health and Safety Magazine:

The Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a nine-year-old petition seeking to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, holding that it meets the three criteria for placing a substance in Schedule I under 21 U.S.C. 812(b)(1):

  • Marijuana has a high potential for abuse,
  • Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and
  • There is a lack of accepted safety for use of marijuana under medical supervision.There are five categories for drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.
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Politics
12:07 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

Federal government announces plan to assist Detroit and other urban centers

The federal government has unveiled a new program aimed at revitalizing Detroit and other cities.
Bob Jagendorf Flickr

The Obama administration today unveiled a federal program aimed at helping cities like Detroit revitalize parts of their urban core.

The Strong Cities, Strong Communities program will target Detroit, Fresno, Memphis, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Chester, Pa.

And in keeping with federal government style, officials have given the program an acronym, SC2.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan unveiled the program with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing this morning.

From a HUD press release:

"On behalf of the Obama Administration, it is an honor to announce the SC2 initiative in Detroit, one of America's most unique and vibrant cities," said U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. "This will be a new type of federal partnership for Detroit - one that will allow the city to build on its progress and further strengthen its foundation for economic growth and resiliency in a global economy."

Officials say the program seeks to cut through federal red tape by providing communities with technical assistance to ensure federal and local dollars are spent wisely.

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Politics
11:58 am
Mon July 11, 2011

Live blog: President Obama's news conference on the debt ceiling

President Barack Obama talks with members of his staff in the Oval Office following a meeting with the Congressional Leadership, July 7, 2011.
Photo by Pete Souza Official White House

LISTEN: NPR coverage of the president's news conference

Update at 11:58 a.m. ET. The president's news conference is over

Update at 11:55 a.m. ET. At The End, More On Jobs:

Continuing to speak about current conditions, the president says that "what we can do is solve this underlying debt and deficit problem" so that then, there can be debates about "strategies that we could pursue to focus on targeted job growth."

Update at 11:51 a.m. ET. On The Economy:

The economic stimulus package passed shortly after he became president, Obama says, prevented a depression — but also "stabilized [the economy] at a level where unemployment is still too high and ... can't make up for al the jobs that were lost before I took office" and in the first months after he took office.

Update at 11:49 a.m. ET. Everybody In The Boat:

Paraphrasing former Sen. Bob Dole (the 1996 GOP presidential nominee), the president says that if Republicans and Democrats both compromise, it's as if "everybody gets in the boat at the same time — it doesn't tip over."

Update at 11:46 a.m. ET. "We Are Going To Get This Done":

Asked if the administration is working on any contingency plans in case a deal on raising the federal debt ceiling is not reached by the Aug. 2 deadline, the president flatly states that "we are going to get this done by Aug. 2."

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Commentary
11:08 am
Mon July 11, 2011

The Importance of Betty Ford

They’re bringing Betty Ford back home this week, to be buried next to her husband, President Gerald Ford, at his presidential museum in Grand Rapids.

You knew by now that the former first lady died last Friday in California. But what you may not have known unless you are in your fifties, or older, is just how important she was.

They both were, really. President Ford’s story is better known, and best expressed by Jimmy Carter, who said when he took office: “I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”

Elizabeth Bloomer Ford had a big role in that too, but she also did something else. She showed the nation that a first lady could also be a human being.

The Fords took office after the final convulsion of the Watergate scandal, and eleven of the worst years the United States has ever known. The public had learned that Richard Nixon had lied about virtually everything.

His predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, had dragged us into a war in Vietnam for reasons nobody understood, a war that went on for years and tore our nation apart. Before that, we’d been traumatized when the young president before him had his head blown off in broad daylight. The presidency and America had taken a beating.

Nor were any of the first ladies of the period women to whom most people could relate. We’d always been fascinated by the presidents’ wives. But they were sort of like royalty, fascinating, forbidden and distant. Betty Ford was a regular person. Just months before she moved in to the White House, she was the unknown wife of the house minority leader, looking forward to her husband’s retirement from Congress. Then, suddenly, she was first lady.

But she was still Betty Ford, the irrepressible mother of four kids, a woman who most of all, was real.

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News Roundup
8:42 am
Mon July 11, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Increasing rates of prescription drug deaths in Michigan

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise across the nation, and Michigan is no exception.

Detroit Free Press medical writer Patricia Anstett has a piece highlighting the problems in the state. From the article:

In Michigan, more residents now die from prescription drug abuse than from heroin and cocaine combined, a federal registry shows. In 2009, the latest year data are available, 457 Michiganders died of overdoses from one or more prescription drugs, up from 409 deaths the year before.

"We're seeing an alarming trend that continues to increase," said Larry Scott, manager of the prevention section of Michigan's Bureau of Substance Abuse and Addiction.

One in four people seeking emergency care for prescription drug abuse were younger than 25.

Michigan legislature working on proposal to cap welfare benefits

Under a proposal being considered in the Michigan legislature, there would be a four-year life limit on welfare benefits in Michigan.

From the Saginaw News:

The state Senate this week is expected to consider its version of bill sponsored by state Rep. Kenneth B. Horn that could end some poor Michigan families’ welfare benefits as soon as October.

Horn, R-Frankenmuth, wrote the proposed legislation that creates a 48-month, retroactive limit on direct cash assistance. People who have been receiving assistance since 2007 would be the first affected.

House bills 4409 and 4410 are expected to go before the Michigan Senate on Wednesday. The bill's sponsor expects them to pass.

HUD secretary to make announcement this morning on reviving urban centers

Shaun Donovan, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary, is expected to unveil an economic plan in Detroit this morning.

From the Associated Press:

Donovan is scheduled to announce the initiative Monday morning in Detroit alongside Mayor Dave Bing and other government leaders at a loft development near downtown. He also is to speak at noon to the Detroit Economic Club at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel.

The department says Donovan is to discuss a new Obama administration approach to strengthening cities that involves working with them. He also plans to outline challenges facing those cities as well steps the administration already is taking at the local and national levels.

Politics
4:01 pm
Sat July 9, 2011

Stabenow hopes Sunday's 'Debt Ceiling' talks will remember 'Middle Class Families'

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, (D) Michigan (file photo)
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says she hopes President Obama and Congressional leaders can strike a ‘balance’ in Sunday’s planned talks on extending the debt ceiling.  Stabenow says the President and Republicans should prioritize the needs of middle class Americans. 

“Its very concerning to me that we not see the budget be balanced on the backs of middle class families and senior citizens.”

Politics
11:37 pm
Fri July 8, 2011

Political leaders react to former First Lady Betty Ford's passing

President and Mrs. Ford hold hands while riding in the President's limousine on a freeway in Chicago, Illinois on August 19th, 1974.
National Archives

Former First Lady Betty Ford died at the age of 93.

President Obama released this statement:

Throughout her long and active life, Elizabeth Anne Ford distinguished herself through her courage and compassion. As our nation’s First Lady, she was a powerful advocate for women’s health and women’s rights.  After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment. While her death is a cause for sadness, we know that organizations such as the Betty Ford Center will honor her legacy by giving countless Americans a new lease on life.
 
Today, we take comfort in the knowledge that Betty and her husband, former President Gerald Ford, are together once more. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to their children, Michael, John, Steven, and Susan.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released this statement:

Betty Ford was an outstanding Michigander and a shining example of how one person can truly make a difference.  Her groundbreaking work in breast cancer awareness and treatment as well as her pioneering efforts to help those struggling with addiction changed the lives of millions of people for the better.  She was a role model for us all as she lived her life with grace and dignity.  While Michigan mourns the loss of this extraordinary woman, we are thankful for her years of dedication to our state and its people.

Sue and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Ford family, in particular children Michael, John, Steven and Susan.

And this statement came from Kent GOP Chairman Sam Moore:

With our deepest sympathy we extend our thoughts and prayers to the entire Ford family following the death of First Lady Betty Ford. Mrs. Ford was a pillar in our community who exemplified the strength, character and class that has defined our nation. The country has lost an American icon. We will always treasure our hometown first family, and the President and Mrs. Ford will continue to live on in our heart.

You can view slideshows of the former First Lady at the New York Times, and the Huffington Post -  and a video at Fox News.

Politics
10:16 pm
Fri July 8, 2011

Former First Lady Betty Ford dies

Betty Ford, during her time as first lady
(official White House portrait)

Betty Ford said things that first ladies just don't say, even today. And 1970s America loved her for it.

According to Mrs. Ford, her young adult children probably had smoked marijuana — and if she were their age, she'd try it, too. She told "60 Minutes" she wouldn't be surprised to learn that her youngest, 18-year-old Susan, was in a sexual relationship (an embarrassed Susan issued a denial).

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Politics
5:11 pm
Fri July 8, 2011

Housing chief to announce help for troubled cities

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Officials on loan from the federal government are soon expected to help Detroit and a handful of other cities coordinate their redevelopment efforts.

The nation’s housing chief is expected to announce an initiative to place federal officials inside city halls, including Detroit’s.

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Politics
3:31 pm
Fri July 8, 2011

Snyder administration fundraiser email may have broken the law

Gov. Rick Snyder

A fundraiser-related email from Gov. Rick Snyder's administration breaks the law, according to an article by the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

More from the article:

Area Democrats want to know why Gov. Rick Snyder used his staff and local county governments to spread invitations to a Grand Traverse County Republican Party fundraiser.

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Politics
12:23 pm
Fri July 8, 2011

Michigan community takes on census data

user: quinn.anya flickr.com

A small village 20 minutes south of Grand Rapids is challenging U.S. census data gathered there last year. Last year the U.S. Census counted just 1,500 people living in the Village of Caledonia.

But Village President Glenn Gilbert thinks they really have about 100 more people than the census says.

“So if we had 1,600 versus 1,511, it’s not a big deal. But it’s just the accuracy and the commitment as an American you should really take to task the federal government and make sure they’re correct in what they do,” said Gilbert.

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Crime
12:23 pm
Fri July 8, 2011

Grand Rapids Mayor says city is safe

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says yesterday’s violent murders and hostage situation in his city has shaken the community to its roots.

But he says Grand Rapids is still a great community and a safe city.

"I don’t for a minute think that that defines Grand Rapids in any way or that it suggests that we are a city that is changed, or less safe today," said Heartwell.

Heartwell praised the city's police force, saying their actions saved lives.

34-year old Rodrick Danztler took his own life last night while negotiating a hostage release with the police.

Police say earlier in the day he shot and killed seven people, including an ex-girlfriend and his daughter, and a second ex-girlfriend and her daughter who was not his child.

Commentary
8:51 am
Fri July 8, 2011

GOP: Primary or Caucus in 2012?

If you are a normal person, you probably aren’t thinking a lot right now about how Michigan Republicans should pick their choice for presidential candidate next year.

Actually, you probably don’t even want to think about Labor Day being less than two months away, let alone voting next winter.

But politicians work on a different schedule than ordinary mortals, and in the next few weeks, Republicans in this state are going to decide how to pick their choice for next year’s nominee.

Now, in most states, this isn’t something you have to agonize over. If you live in Iowa, you know that your state will kick things off with a caucus in early January. If you live in New Hampshire, you know you get to vote in the nation’s first primary, a couple of weeks later. But if you live in Michigan.

All you can count on is that the politicians will do something different from last time, and that they will likely screw it up.

Over the last forty years, we’ve lurched back and forth from a primary to a closed caucus to a somewhat more open caucus back to a primary that was sorta kinda closed …

Sometimes our primaries and/or caucuses  have been held in May. Sometimes in March, or April, or February. Last time, both parties outdid themselves in a blaze of stupidity.

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