Politics & Government

Kwame Kilpatrick
12:38 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick moving to new prison

Former Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will soon be moving to a state prison cell.

A federal judge today approved Kilpatrick's request to be transferred from a federal lockup in Milan, Michigan.   The Associated Press reports Kilpatrick was transferred to a facility in Jackson after today's hearing.  

He's locked up for violating probation in a criminal case that forced him out of city hall in 2008. Kilpatrick has been housed at Milan to be close to his Detroit-area attorneys as he prepares for trial on federal corruption charges.

But he needs to return to state prison in order to be considered for parole in July. Kilpatrick was in a good mood in court, even joking with TV reporters about the favorite newscast among inmates at Milan.

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Politics
12:05 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Ambassador bridge owner: Snyder’s plan for new Detroit/Ontario bridge should be stopped

A view of the Ambassador Bridge that spans the Detroit River
J Powers 65 Flickr

Manuel “Matty” Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, says Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to build another bridge connecting Detroit and Ontario should be stopped.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press on Monday, Moroun said, "I don't know what the governor's doing... He's probably going to win. I can't stop him, but he should be stopped. He's doing the wrong thing."

From the Freep:

Supporters of a publicly owned bridge say it will create construction and spin-off jobs near the new development and meet future traffic needs.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Snyder's point person on the proposed New International Trade Crossing, said the Moroun family's recent high-profile advertising campaign against the project cannot stop it...

By stressing the jobs that might be lost at his bridge and trucking companies if the public bridge is built, Moroun is clearly trying to influence the Republican-controlled, business-friendly Legislature that will soon decide the fate of Snyder's plan, he said...

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who opposes the Snyder plan because it would siphon traffic and revenue away from his privately owned span, sought to frame the debate this week as jobs in Michigan versus jobs elsewhere...

During the past couple of years, the Moroun family and associates have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash to both Republicans and Democrats to try to help block the public bridge project. During last year's gubernatorial campaign, however, Snyder did not take any contributions from the Morouns.

Governor Rick Snyder has said he wants lawmakers to introduce legislation to authorize a new bridge when they come back from their Spring break. Lawmakers will be back in session next week.

Commentary
11:24 am
Wed April 6, 2011

The Price of Civilization

Last night a gentleman who appeared to be in his late sixties approached me after Michigan Radio's Issues and Ale event in Royal Oak.  He appeared frustrated. "My father always taught me that taxes were the price we pay for civilization," he said.

"Why don't people seem to realize that today?"

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News Roundup
9:04 am
Wed April 6, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 6th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Report: State Doing Well Collecting Child Support Payments

A new Auditor General’s report says about 70 percent of Michigan children who are eligible for child support do receive the payments. About $3 billion in child support payments were collected over the last two years, Laura Weber reports. Marilyn Stephen, Director of Child Support with the Department of Human Services, told Weber the state’s child support program is a great return on investment for taxpayers, with more than $6 in child support collected for every dollar spent.

Enbridge: Kalamazoo River Oil Spill Cost Half a Billion Dollars

Enbridge Energy says last July's oil spill of at least 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan cost the company $550 million in 2010. The figure comes from an Enbridge report. The $550 million does not include insurance recoveries, fines and penalties. In addition to the spill in Marshall, the Kalamazoo Gazette reports, Enbridge spent $45 million on a spill in Romeoville, Illinois in September. Public officials say they don't know when the Kalamazoo River will reopen for public use.

Residents Learn More About DPS Reorginization

The Detroit Public Schools held the first in a series of parent meetings about a radical plan to close some schools and turn others into charters, Sarah Cwiek reports. From Cwiek:

Most parents who attended the first meeting at Priest Elementary school in southwest Detroit expressed concern and even anger about Bobb’s plan. Many worry what it will mean for their neighborhood schools, student transportation, and special needs students.

Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, has proposed closing six schools and turning up to 45 others into charters. Two more meetings are scheduled for April 12th and 13th.

Corrections
7:17 pm
Tue April 5, 2011

Muskegon County Jail’s ‘post-card-only’ policy attracting protests

Post-card-sized protest sign aims to demonstrate limitations.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

In February, new rules were adopted that prohibit inmates from sending or receiving letters. Inmates can receive or send postcards only. Legal documents are exempt.

Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler cites security reasons for changing the policy earlier this year. He says people send drugs, razor blades, and other contraband inside letters to inmates.

“I can’t give you a specific number of times that we’ve dealt with that, but my perspective as sheriff you know in a facility that needs to be as secure as possible, one is too many.”

About 20 protestors gathered in front of the Muskegon Count Jail today to rally against the policy.

Faith Groesback was among them.

“What do you have to do to ensure that contraband doesn’t come in through a letter? You run it through a metal detector, you have a dog sniff it, you have somebody open it and shake it; it’s not that complicated.”

She argues the policy violates inmates and their loved ones’ privacy and freedom of speech.

“If you’ve ever been, had a relationship of any kind with somebody in that situation, you’d understand how vitally important those letters are and what they mean to them.”

Mal Williams, also of Muskegon, found out about the policy from a friend of his that’s inside the jail just yards away from him.

“Just think what we would’ve lost if we had not let Dr. King write letter when he was in Birmingham Jail. There’s a lot of issues involved here. Its starts off with a letter and then the next thing you know you’re losing something else.”

Sheriff Roesler says inmates’ speech is not stifled because they can send as many postcards as they want.

“Courts have recognized that certain rights are restricted when you come into jail or prison and in the interest of the security of the institution, sometimes we do have to restrict those rights.”

About a half a dozen other county jails in Michigan have similar post-card-only policies.

A county in Colorado reversed its post-card-only policy late last year after the ACLU threatened legal action.

The ACLU of Michigan says they have been looking into 'post-card-only' policies in the state.

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Politics
1:50 pm
Tue April 5, 2011

Empty holsters on campus in protest of gun laws

A student group is protesting concealed weapons not being allowed on Michigan's college campuses being
photo by Sarah Alvarez/Michigan Radio

Some college students are protesting the state’s gun laws by carrying empty holsters on campus this week. “Students for Concealed Carry” is a national group behind the annual protest. There are protests this week at Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University and Central Michigan University.

The groups say people with valid concealed weapons permits should be able to carry concealed guns on campuses around the state. Colleges and Universities ** are on the list of nine “pistol free zones”.

Reid Smith is the Michigan State Director of Students for Concealed Carry

"You’re only taking about allowing lawful gun owners to carry their firearms on college campuses and you’re not talking about the criminals. The criminals aren’t going to obey the gun free zone laws anyway."

Michigan’s house and senate are considering bills this year on whether or not to do away with the pistol free zones.

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Politics
11:31 am
Tue April 5, 2011

Mackinac Center explains FOIA requests

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy says their Freedom of Information Act requests for information regarding labor studies at Wayne State University, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan is part of its “regular” activity.

Ken Braun is the man behind the FOIA requests and the Senior Managing Editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Mackinac Center’s newsletter. In a posting on the Center’s website, Braun said the requests were made because:

"We were interested in determining whether the LSC and the labor faculty at Michigan’s other two large public universities had actively employed university resources to enter the political debates. At a minimum, we thought a FOIA investigating professors’ emails on these subjects might demonstrate whether state officials should ask questions about this use of tax dollars for public universities. In the worst-case scenario, we knew these emails might suggest that the faculty had acted illegally, because certain political uses of university resources are prohibited by Michigan law. ”

Kate Davidson, of Michigan Radio’s Changing Gears project, has been taking a look at the controversy and, in a story posted today, explains:

“Michigan academics aren’t the only ones under scrutiny.  Last month, the Republican Party of Wisconsin requested emails from William Cronon, a historian critical of Governor Scott Walker’s push to weaken public sector unions. 

In both states, the lines got drawn fast.  On one side: an apparent concern about the use of public resources for political advocacy.  On the other: fear of academic intimidation and reprisal in a politically charged climate.”

You can read Davidson’s full story on the state and national implications of various FOIA requests, and hear directly from the Mackinac Center's Ken Braun, on the Changing Gears’ website.

Commentary
10:34 am
Tue April 5, 2011

The History Behind the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

While historians debate just when and why Detroit began to decline, it’s much easier to say what its high point was: July 28, 1951. That was the official 250th anniversary of Detroit’s founding, and the city was at its peak.

Detroit had nearly two million people. It was rich, vibrant and strong. President Harry Truman came all the way from Washington to speak - a rare occurrence then - and the city then celebrated with a five-hour long parade. And there was other good news, too.

"The Detroit Symphony Orchestra was being revived. Founded when the city had less than two hundred thousand people, it had been disbanded during the Great Depression. But now it was back, and on October 18th, it thrilled fans with its first concert."

Everybody knew then that to be a truly world-class city, you had to have a world-class symphony orchestra.

Back in the jazz age, Detroit had one of the nation’s best orchestras. They had been the first orchestra to have a concert broadcast on the radio. They were regulars at Carnegie Hall. And for eight years, they were broadcast regularly to a nationwide audience.

Then hard times came, and people forgot how important a symphony is for a while. Some people evidently lost sight of that again last year, when the symphony’s season was destroyed by a six-month long strike caused by money problems.

The symphony has huge debts, big deficits, and a shrinking donor base. Everyone agreed the musicians had to take a massive pay cut, but the question was, how massive?

While I am not an expert on cultural economics, it is clear that neither side did much to help their public image during the work stoppage, and management’s handling of public relations was especially bad, as one board member admitted to me.

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News Roundup
7:55 am
Tue April 5, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, April 5th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Rallies Across the State

Hundreds of union members and their supporters rallied in various cities across the state yesterday. The rallies were organized to both protest what unions call attacks on the middle class and to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. The Associated Press reports:

Roughly 200 people gathered at the Capitol on Monday evening…

Several hundred people each turned out at rallies in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Muskegon. Rallies also took place in Escanaba, Saginaw and elsewhere around Michigan.

Michigan unions say they're upset about a new Republican-backed law that lets emergency managers appointed to assist financially struggling communities and schools rescind labor contracts.

The rallies were held Monday to link the fight for collective bargaining to the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 assassination while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn.

Economic Outlook in MI Improving

Michigan’s jobs picture is looking a little better, according to a new report out of the University of Michigan. University of Michigan economists say the state is starting 2011 with “robust job growth,” Steve Carmody reports. The Detroit Free Press quotes University of Michigan economist George Fulton as saying, “There appears to be pretty good evidence now that we are back to creating more jobs than we are losing. But, the Free Press notes Fulton also, "cautioned that the state's 10.4% unemployment rate is still high, so many residents won't feel as if a recovery is under way. Fulton expects Michigan's unemployment rate to drop to 9.9% by the last quarter of this year and to reach 9.5% by the end of 2012.”

DSO Musicians to Return to Work

Musicians with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra say they will return to work on Thursday. A tentative agreement between the striking musicians and the Orchestra’s management was announced this week. An official ratification vote will come later this week. Musicians had been on strike since October.

Politics
11:03 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Unions invoke MLK legacy in Detroit rally

Labor supporters rally in Detroit's Hart Plaza
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Hundreds of labor union supporters rallied against attacks on collective bargaining rights in Detroit Monday.

The rally was one of dozens nationwide commemorating Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.

King was killed during a 1968 trip to Memphis to support that city’s striking black sanitation workers. National labor leaders are highlighting this lesser-known part of King’s legacy as they fight new state laws that restrict unions’ collective bargaining rights.

Canton resident Natalie Mosher came to the downtown Detroit rally. She says Governor Snyder and state Republicans have gone too far.

"I’m here to support all working people. I was a former teacher and I think what is happening in Michigan today is just not acceptable.”

The Governor recently signed a bill granting Emergency Financial Managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts.

Former Delphi worker Stacey Kemp drove from near Saginaw to attend the rally. Kemp says everyone should be concerned about the many new state laws that restrict workers’ right to collective bargaining.

“Whether they’re union or non-union, this is going to directly affect all middle and working-class people. If they’re allowed to get away with this, we might as well just kiss our grandchildren goodbye, and they’re going to live in a third-world country.”

The AFL-CIO and other organizers say the King-inspired rallies are part of a continued campaign to fight that law and similar measures in other states.

Politics
4:15 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White talks with Governor Snyder about his first 90 days

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

It’s been a little over three months since Governor Rick Snyder came into office.

He’s had a few successes, including passing the controversial Emergency Financial Manager Bill. He’s also running into some opposition, even within his own party, especially around issues within his budget proposal.

Jennifer White asked Governor Rick Snyder to talk about the past 90 days and discuss where things go from here.

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Politics
4:06 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Governor Snyder confident his budget & tax plans will get legislative approval

Governor Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan

A state House committee is debating a tax-reform package that includes eliminating the state’s business tax and replacing its revenues with a corporate income tax and taxing pensions. Governor Snyder says he wants a state budget in place by the end of May.

However, fierce divisions over how and where to reform taxes – especially over whether to tax pensions – are slowing negotiations.

Snyder’s pleased with the progress on the budget so far:

“Things are going reasonably well in terms of that process.   And we’re working on a very fast time frame.  We’re well ahead of the way things traditional done in past years.  And we’ll still on a path to get fundamental reform done."  

Snyder says he's not put off by the harsh criticism that his budget and tax plans have generated: 

“That’s part of the legislative process.  That’s part of democracy.   But as a whole, I believe the framework we put out there will go ahead and if anything I hope it could be an improved product with the good dialogue we’re having today.”  

Some Senate Republicans have said they will not vote for any pension tax. And many Democrats are upset, claiming they have been locked out of negotiations altogether.

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Commentary
10:02 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Confusion Over Medical Marijuana

Two years ago, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Voters from liberal Ann Arbor to staunchly conservative Ottawa County supported this change.

Some, to be sure, saw this as opening the door to a complete legalization of marijuana. However, they appear to have been a minority. Most people seem to have felt that those who are legitimately suffering from disease such as glaucoma ought to be able to use the drug in cases where it could ease their pain.

But the devil is always in the details, and we probably should have foreseen that administering this law was going to be an unholy mess. Yesterday, the Detroit Free Press took a comprehensive look at how the medical marijuana law has been working.

To nobody’s surprise, their answer was: Not very well. The state is struggling with a huge backlog of applications to grow the stuff.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have been going after people who may be falsely claiming to be growing and selling pot for medical use, and there are also rumors that certain physicians are happy to certify that most anybody qualifies to use marijuana for “medical” purposes.

On top of that, neither the constitutional amendment - or any other law - has made it clear where medical marijuana is supposed to come from. Part of the problem is that marijuana is a controlled substance whose use is illegal under federal law.

So, basically, the original source of any pot supply has got to be illegal, even if the state of Michigan approves someone to grow marijuana for medical reasons. There is also, so far as I can tell, absolutely nothing to ensure purity or quality control of the supply.

Basically, then, we’ve got a system of something approaching anarchy when it comes to medical marijuana.

So, what do we do about it?

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Government Shutdown
9:46 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Countdown to federal government shutdown

(flcickr Matti Mattila)

The clock is ticking down to a possible federal government shutdown at the end of this week. And, Michigan lawmakers are playing pivotal roles in the budget debate. 

Michigan congressmen Justin Amash and Tim Walberg are among a group of 13 House Republicans that have threatened to break with the GOP leadership on the budget negotiations. They’ve pushed budget amendments to slash$61 billion in spending.

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin says far right Republicans in the House are preventing the two sides from reaching a budget deal.  

“Right now the leadership of the House…Mr. Boehner…is a kind of a captive of the far right of the House.”  

Levin complains that lawmakers with ties to the Tea Party don’t care if the federal government shuts down, since they believe government is the problem to begin with.

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medical marijuana
9:03 am
Mon April 4, 2011

ACLU of Michigan to take medical marijuana case to Michigan Supreme Court

The ACLU of Michigan hopes to take a medical marijuana case to the Michigan Supreme Court
Kevin Connors MorgueFile

The Michigan Supreme Court may soon hear its first case on the state’s medical marijuana law.

Larry King of Owosso has a medical marijuana license from the state.  He was charged with a felony by the Shiawassee County prosecutor for growing marijuana in a locked dog kennel that did not have a roof. The Circuit Court dismissed the case, but the Court of Appeals reinstated the felony charges.

Dan Korobkin is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. He says the prosecution shouldn’t charge King with a felony because King is legally allowed to grow marijuana:

“Instead of simply telling Mr. King that he needed to move his plants inside, or put a roof over it, they’re now prosecuting him on felony drug charges for the same offense that he would be charged with if he never had any medical marijuana card at all.”

Korobkin said Michigan voters approved the medical marijuana act to protect patients that were approved to use marijuana for medical reasons.

“We’re representing him because the prosecution of a medical marijuana patient who is complying with the law is a gross injustice and thoroughly undermines the intent of the voters in passing the Medical Marijuana Act."

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Politics
7:01 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Snyder says new Detroit/Ontario bridge is still in the works

A view of the Ambassador bridge over the Detroit River
J. Stephen Conn Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he hopes to introduce legislation next week that would move forward with construction on a second bridge span between Detroit and Canada. A similar proposal has met stiff opposition for several years among Republicans in the Legislature. Snyder says it is time for another international crossing:

“Doing the new international trade crossing is the right thing to do. At the same time, when I did my analysis I believe there’s viable opportunity to have the Ambassador Bridge continue, the Windsor Tunnel, the Blue Water Bridge, and clear up at the Soo. We’ve got great crossings, we just need another crossing.”

Democrats in the Legislature say Snyder will need their votes to approve the bridge project. They say if the governor wants their support he will also need to work with them more during budget negotiations.

Lawmakers return next week from their spring break.

Election 2012
6:21 am
Mon April 4, 2011

President Obama announces reelection bid

President Obama launched his re-election campaign early Monday morning
The U.S. Army Flickr

President Barack Obama launched his reelection bid this morning. The announcement was made via a web video that was posted to the President's campaign website and through an email sent to supporters.

The news made headlines across the blogosphere:

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Politics
1:29 pm
Sun April 3, 2011

Opponents start push to repeal Ohio union law

Opponents of an Ohio law to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights have started gathering signatures to get a referendum on the measure. Governor John Kasich signed the measure Thursday. It bans public worker strikes, eliminates binding arbitration, and restricts bargaining for 350,000 public workers.

The bill was supported by the Republican majority in the Legislature and by business groups and tea party activists. They say it's needed to help Ohio economically. Unions and Democrats opposed it.

The bipartisan coalition leading the petition drive will need more than 230,000 valid signatures by June 30 to put a referendum on November's ballot.

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.

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Commentary
9:49 am
Fri April 1, 2011

Doctors with Borders

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with Joe Schwarz, one of the best-informed, multi-talented men in public life in this state. After a stint as mayor of his native Battle Creek, Schwarz spent sixteen years in the state senate, where he was immensely knowledgeable on education policy and finance.

That was, of course, back in the era before term limits. Schwarz is also one of those people whose resume could fill a box. He’s also had a career in the U.S. Navy, and as a spy in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He ran for governor once and congress twice, finally winning a single term in 2004.

Schwarz’s problem was never the general election. Every time he got to one of those, he won easily. But he had trouble in  Republican primaries. He is a fiscal conservative and a military hawk, but also believes in funding education, and that abortion should be “legal, safe and rare.” Nor does he always suffer fools gladly.

By the way, I didn’t mention his day job. He is an otolaryngologist, which we civilians call an ear, nose and throat surgeon, and is still happily practicing medicine. 

That is, when he isn’t teaching at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Schwarz understands health care issues, and I was curious about our medical school explosion.

The U of M has a medical school; Wayne State has one; Michigan State has two; Oakland University and Beaumont Hospital have started one, and Western Michigan is now starting one.

Is that too many? Will we be producing too many doctors?

That’s a good question, the good doctor told me, but not the most important one. When all these medical schools are up and running, they’ll be producing something like six hundred and ninety doctors a year, trained largely at state expense.

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