Politics & Government

Politics
3:13 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Redrawing the political map of Michigan

Voters in Jackson, Michigan fill out their ballots in a recent election
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

A state House panel next week will begin the process of redrawing Michigan’s political maps. The first hearing will focus on results from the 2010 U-S Census.  

Michigan lost population over the past decade, and the state will lose a seat in the U.S. House. With Republicans controlling all branches of state government, Democrats are worried that new district lines will target a vulnerable Democratic seat like that of US Congressman Gary Peters.          

The state House Redistricting and Elections Committee is chaired by Republican Representative Pete Lund. Lund led the successful GOP push to retake the Michigan House last fall. Lund said in a statement that he looks forward to the hearings and, "a fair, effective redistricting process for our state."

Government Shutdown
2:52 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

How a shutdown would affect Michigan

A federal government shutdown looms as leaders in Congress disagree on budget cuts.
user kulshrax creative commons

A shutdown of the federal government seems more likely as leaders in Congress don't seem to have a clear handle on where their disagreements lie.

The New York Times outlined the disagreement... over their disagreements...

  • Senate Majority Leader, Hary Reid (D-NV), said, "the numbers are basically there, but I am not nearly as optimistic, and that's an understatement, as I was 11 hours ago. The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology."
  • And House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)  told reporters, "there is no agreement on a number. I think we were closer to a number last night than we are this morning. We're going to have real spending cuts. I don't know what some people don't understand about this."

So, a shutdown of the federal government is getting closer.

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Commentary
11:13 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Why Journalism Matters

We’re living today in a confusing and somewhat frightening time. Michigan is in trouble, economically. Trouble of a different kind than we’ve been through before. The longtime mainstay of our economy, the automotive industry, will never again be what it was.

This has plunged us from one of the nation’s richer states to one of its poorer ones. State government is finally facing a financial crisis it tried to ignore for years, and the governor is proposing changes that seem radical and sometimes hard to understand.

Beyond that, education at all levels is in crisis. We learned last month that our largest city has suffered a staggering population loss over the last decade.

There are real questions about whether Detroit and other cities, communities and school districts are going to have to be taken over by Emergency Financial Managers.

Understanding all this is vitally important in order to make key decisions for our own lives. Should we trust the public schools? Should we buy a house? Where should we live?

And even, should we leave the state?

We clearly need thoughtful, intelligent and easily accessible journalism to help make sense of these and other events - and need it possibly more than at any other time in our history.

Yet journalism is in trouble too. Journalists, if they do their jobs right, are never very popular. Much of the time, we’re bringing you bad news, and some of the time, we are obnoxious about it.

But right now, we’re having trouble doing that. Digging our news is an expensive, labor-intensive job, and the vast majority has always been done by newspapers. Yet newspapers are facing a deep crisis of their own, thanks in large part to the internet revolution, and our changing lifestyles. Newspapers have been supported historically by advertising, and much of that has melted away to cyberspace. We also don’t read newspapers as much as we used to. People read news on the internet, but internet providers produce little news.

They merely collect it - mainly from our shrinking newspapers.

That doesn’t mean some broadcast and even online publications don’t produce quality journalism. But in terms of content, it is comparatively small.

Last night I spoke at the Detroit area Society of Professional Journalists annual banquet. Michigan Radio won a number of awards, and an encouraging amount of good journalism was on display. But attendance was smaller than last year. Some people have left the profession. Some companies no longer buy tickets.

Yet there were still an impressive corps of men and women there who work long hours for usually not much pay to find out what we need to know and shape it into an interesting package.

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News Roundup
9:08 am
Thu April 7, 2011

In this morning's news...

In this morning's news, Thursday, April 7th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MI Keeping Close Eye on Federal Budget

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is keeping a close eye on the showdown over the federal budget in Washington, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Snyder's administration says it expects most state services will continue with minimal or no disruption if a brief federal government shutdown happens…

Key factors influencing the possible effects of a shutdown would be how the federal government defines essential services and how long a shutdown might last…

Michigan's unemployment insurance agency says it expects benefits would continue to be paid to jobless workers, including the roughly 150,000 who now receive benefits under federal programs.

Michigan has about 52,000 federal government employees, including about 22,000 postal employees.

Gas Prices Continue to Rise

Gasoline prices in Michigan continue to edge closer to $4 a gallon and the raising prices are affecting retailers and customers, Steve Carmody reports. The increasing fuel costs are expected to not only increase the cost of filling up gas tanks, but food prices are expected to rise by 3 to 4 percent this year. Carmody reports the biggest increases will be seen in meat, dairy and coffee products. The price of fuel is expected to continue to rise through Memorial Day.

Music from DSO to Be Heard Again

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to begin rehearsals later this morning. The DSO musicians had been on strike for six-months prior to agreeing to a new, tentative agreement with DSO management earlier this week. The first concert by DSO musicians since the strike began last October is scheduled for Saturday night.

Government Shutdown
8:46 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Federal workers protest possible government shutdown

At Social Security Offices across the nation Wednesday workers stood outside and rallied against the looming government shutdown. Workers say House Republicans’ proposal to cut nearly $2 billion in SSA funding would lead to incredible delays for people in need.

Kathy Jackson works directly with individuals making Social Security claims. She says a shutdown could harm some of the nation’s most vulnerable people who aren’t able to manage delay’s as well as others.   

“If you’re shut down for even two days, people have deadlines that they have to meet. The problem is a lot of our clients are disabled so a wait for them is not the same for you or I.”

Jackson says if people aren’t able to meet certain filing deadlines they can lose their eligibility for healthcare and housing programs that elderly, veterans, and disabled people need to survive. She says if people miss their chance because of a shutdown, they could be forced to start the process over.

Kenn Keillor  is president of the Grand Rapids local AFGE union. He says the House Republican’s proposal would mean a loss of 200-thousand jobs that both workers and people receiving services rely on.

 "I’m a lot more effective inside doing my job than I am sitting at home drawing unemployment. If you don’t want welfare, then you’ve got to pay workers enough to raise their families. It’s not going to help anybody if we’re sent home on Monday.”

Keillor says federal employees across the country plan to head to work Monday morning whether there is a shutdown or not. The AFGE union covers workers with the Social Security Administration, Veteran’s Administration, Department of Defense and more than 30 other employee groups.

Government Shutdown
7:33 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Michigan officials keeping close eye on federal budget negotiations

President Obama met late last night with Congressional leaders to try to avert a partial government shutdown
Scott_Ableman Flickr

Governor Snyder’s administration says it expects most state services will continue with little or no disruption if a partial federal government shutdown occurs, the Associated Press reports. The federal government will partially shutdown tomorrow at midnight if there is not a deal to fund the government through September. From the AP:

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Wednesday that the administration is monitoring the situation closely and seeking more information. Key factors influencing the possible effects of a shutdown would be how the federal government defines essential services and how long a shutdown might last.

The federal government faces a partial shutdown Friday at midnight if Congress doesn't take action to avoid one.

Michigan's unemployment insurance agency says it expects benefits would continue to be paid to jobless workers, including the roughly 150,000 who now receive benefits under federal programs.

Michigan has about 52,000 federal government employees, including about 22,000 postal employees.

Politics
7:19 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Snyder defends new Detroit/Ontario bridge plan

Governor Rick Snyder (R) is pushing for a second span across the Detroit River
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is defending the plan to build a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Snyder spoke to the Detroit Free Press about his support for a new international bridge over the Detroit River a day after the newspaper published comments from Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun that criticized Snyder and the new bridge plan.  From the Free Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder told the Free Press on Wednesday that a TV ad campaign attacking plans for a second bridge to Canada reminds him of misleading campaign attacks on him in last year's race for governor.

"It's inaccurate," he said of the ad's claim that the public project connecting Michigan and Canada would cost state taxpayers $100 million a year.

The ad is paid for by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who said in a front-page Free Press report Wednesday that Snyder's advocacy for the public bridge would kill Michigan jobs, notably at his companies.

Moroun wants to build his own second Detroit-Windsor span, but the Canadian government won't let him build the span because of traffic, legal and environmental concerns. Snyder said two bridges would be viable…

Snyder said a new bridge, built by a private builder, would stimulate commerce. But, he said in a wide-ranging interview, his top priority is balancing the state budget and enacting tax changes he said will lead to more jobs.

Terrorism
7:05 am
Thu April 7, 2011

'Christmas Day Bomber' due in court

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up an airplane near Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 is scheduled to be in federal court today. From the Associated Press:

…Abdulmutallab is due in court Thursday with prosecutors and his standby counsel, Anthony Chambers.

Abdulmutallab is representing himself, and it's possible that Judge Nancy Edmunds again will ask if he wants that to continue.

It's a critical issue because the deadline to challenge any evidence is two months away. Trial is set for October. Abdulmutallab is not a lawyer.

He's accused of trying to ignite an explosive in his underwear as Northwest Airlines Flight 253 approached Detroit on Christmas 2009. The plane left Amsterdam with 279 passengers and a crew of 11.

Politics
6:38 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Poll: Most Michiganders dislike emergency manager law

Fifty percent of people in Michigan are opposed to a new law that gives sweeping powers to emergency financial managers overseeing troubled cities and school districts. That’s according to a recent survey commissioned by the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

Bill Ballenger is editor of the newsletter. He says most people do not live in areas that would be affected by the new law because their local governments are running smoothly.

“If you ask them, do you want to give the power to the state to come in and completely play Big Foot here and come in and crush your collective bargaining rights, dissolve your municipality, and mandate your millage elections when in fact they’ve been doing everything right, they’re going to say no.”

Ballenger says he thinks misinformation about who the legislation would affect is causing many people to be upset. Governor Rick Snyder’s administration says no more than 10 local governments in the state would be in danger of being taken over by an emergency manager.

Justice
4:11 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

University of Michigan student sues former assistant attorney general

Former assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, from an interview with Anderson Cooper last September
CNN

Andrew Shirvell gained national attention for his public campaign against a University of Michigan student.

Now, that U-M student is suing him.

The Detroit News reports:

A University of Michigan student is suing a fired assistant attorney general for allegedly stalking him and defaming his character last year in a scandal that received nationwide publicity.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Washtenaw Circuit Court by Christopher Armstrong, 21, the president of the U-M Student Assembly, against Andrew Shirvell, who was fired by former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox last November for using state computers to wage a campaign against the openly gay student.

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Politics
3:01 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Granholm won't lead new consumer financial protection agency

Matt Hampel Flickr

President Obama once considered Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm for a supreme court judgeship.

Now, it looks like the administration was considering her for another job: the head of the new consumer financial protection agency.

But Granholm has declined to be considered for the position.

The Detroit News reports:

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said today she has no plans to head a new federal agency charged with protecting consumers of financial products such as mortgages and bank accounts.

Reuters reported that Federal Reserve board member Sarah Raskin also is under consideration to head the new consumer protection body called the Consumer Financial Protection Board.

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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.

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