BY JENNIFER WEINGART
Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie Canada is hosting a conference this week to explore issues surrounding the Canada U.S. Border.
The conference is part of a three year project by researchers to explore the cultural connections at the U.S. / Canada.
Academics will also look at the social and political issues around the border, which is the longest international border in the world.
Jan Clark is a co-organizer for the conference.
"A lot of work has been done looking at the Mexican border with the U.S. and so this is bringing some of that to looking at the northern border." Clark said.
Academics from the United States and Canada will be joined by researchers from the U.K., Austria, Germany, Bangladesh, and Mexico. They will explore social and political issues as well as the culture surrounding the border.
The organizers of the conference say they hope the project will bring increased interest to the issues.
Budget negotiations are now underway in Washington. While the Republican plan adds no new revenue to the mix, the Democrats would like to see a quote "balanced approach."
Mike Horace asked Michigan's senior senator, Carl Levin, about the Democratic plan.
Michigan Senator Carl Levin is condemning yesterday's attacks against American diplomatic outposts in Libya and Egypt.
The attacks killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
The outposts were attacked by Libyans and Egyptians upset with a video ridiculing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The video was produced by an Israeli filmmaker living in California.
Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion.
Senator Levin blames religious fanatics for the attack...
"It's a very vicious kind of extreme religious fanaticism which we're seeing reflected here. And we've got to condemn, and have condemned, and the President's condemned and the Secretary of State's condemned this activity in the strongest possible way."
Levin said the Libyan government has strongly condemned the attacks as well, and he acknowledged that country's work to crack down on religious extremists.
He also warned that if Egypt does not condemn the attacks in equally strong terms, it could lead to a breakdown of that country's relationship with the United States.
BY AMY ROBINSON
Midwestern state lawmakers will watch this fall to see if some of their summer work takes root.
The legislators met at a regional conference and sent a number of proposals on to federal lawmakers.
A couple of proposals championed by Michigan Senator Darwin Booher include one pushing for improved care and management of public lands and another for increased controls of Cormorants. The birds were endangered in the 1970s and have rebounded since and become a nuisance to, particularly waterfront, communities.
Senator Booher said state lawmakers from the conference are promoting their proposals to federal legislators, but as for what will happen from there...
"Well we will have to wait and see what that does. We sent a copy to our congressman and our senators so that they know that this is not just Michigan. This is all of the states in the Midwest."
Senator Booher said he's hoping the proposals gain some attention since they already have the support of lawmakers from a number of states.
By Mike Horace
The Violence Against Women Act has been renewed twice with bipartisan support since it was originally passed in 1994. But this year's reauthorization has become the object of an election year political battle.
The Senate has passed a version of the bill that includes special protections for immigrants, Native Americans, and LBGT victims of domestic abuse.
The House version excludes those protections. As a result, the National Organization for Women has come out against the bill.
Mary Pollack is with the Michigan chapter of NOW. She said the House bill excludes many domestic violence victims who historically have fallen through the cracks...
"Especially immigrant women are especially vulnerable because some of them are victims of domestic violence, and are very afraid of calling the police or calling for help."
Leaders of more than 30 religious groups are also opposed to the House version of the bill.
House Republican leaders say their bill protects all victims, and that there is no reason for it to single out specific groups.
By Laura Weber
Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney is campaigning in Michigan all week, with a brief trip to Arizona for a televised debate with his Republican rivals. Romney spoke at a town-hall-style meeting Tuesday in southeast Michigan. He told the crowd that if he were president he would change the way Washington works for states like Michigan.
"Washington isn't working properly. Michigan isn't working, America isn't working, and Washington isn't working, and I say that because Washington just doesn't seem to get it right. This president has a view that somehow that a government guiding our lives can do a better job than free people and free enterprises."
Romney also said Michigan should become a right-to-work state. He said everyone should have the right to choose whether or not they belong to a union. Governor Rick Snyder, who endorsed Romney, said he has no interest in engaging in a right-to-work debate in the near future.
Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Rick Pluta
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum returns to Michigan Monday. He will speak tonight at a Republican fundraiser in Grand Rapids. Mitt Romney will visit Macomb County Tuesday.
Governor Rick Snyder, the state's top Republican elected official, hopes the debate will shift from where the candidates stood on the federal bailout of the auto industry.
Governor Snyder has endorsed Romney in the Michigan primary. Romney opposed the bailout in a famous 2008 New York Times editorial titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Santorum said he's more consistent because he opposed both the auto rescue and the Wall Street bailout.
But Governor Snyder said that's history and, it's no longer a discussion worth having while Michigan still has one of the nation's highest unemployment rates.
"That's what our citizens really care about, not the auto bailout, but what are going to do to do more and better jobs for the future."
Democrats, however, don't appear interested in letting the topic disappear. Democratic response teams are putting a big effort into reminding voters on how the G-O-P candidates opposed federal loans for G-M and Chrysler.
Copyright 2010, MPRN
The State House is considering legislation making it easier for members of the armed forces to vote from overseas.
Right now, U-S military personnel trying to vote from overseas are at the mercy of the mail service.
That's how they receive registration forms and absentee ballots, and it can be a rather time consuming affair.
State Representative Rick Outman is trying to change that. He wants to
use the internet to eliminate part of the mailing process.
"Via email, they can download their ballot, and their registration, and do everything all at once."
Outman said it is much easier for soldiers to send out mail than receive it.
He said his legislation will simplify the process, and encourage more soldiers to vote from overseas.
U-S Senator Carl Levin is praising President Obama's State of the Union address last night.
He spoke with Mike Horace earlier today.
Levin says he was particularly encouraged by job training proposals for the manufacturing industry, and by the president's calls for tax reform.
Levin said he's ready to get to work...
"I'm going to be focusing on some of the tax loopholes and the evasion of taxes, the avoidance of taxes, by some of our corporations who use the offshore tax havens and shell corporations to avoid paying taxes, some of the other corporate tax loopholes that need to be closed because it's part of the unfairness in our tax code that needs to be fixed and can be fixed. But it's also a source of revenues, which we're going to have to have if we're going to, number one, do some significant deficit reduction, but number two, protect some of our important programs like education."
U-S Senator Carl Levin, speaking with us from Washington D-C earlier this morning.
Warnings about spending and the creeping of socialism into American society emerged from Saturday's G-O-P Senatorial debate in Mount Pleasant.
Five candidates took the stage, each one, hoping to go on to challenge U-S Senator Debbie Stabenow in November.
Chuck Marino of Brighton was among the candidates saying the U-S must fight back against socialism.
"In today's society, we have a group of people who are socialists, that believe they can walk outside the parameter with no restraint. It's time that we used the constitution to call them back."
Marino warned that spending tied to the new national health care law, as well as various welfare programs, was unsustainable.
Former juvenile court judge Randy Hekman agreed. He said deep spending cuts are in order.
"Repealing Obamacare has to be near the top of our agenda. That is a big chuck of change that has taken over an increasing part of our economy. But beyond that, the one thing that does not fit our federal government is the welfare state. It's killing our European brothers and sisters. It's killing us."
Notably absent from the debate was former congressman Pete Hoekstra, who is considered the front runner in the race.
Longtime education reformer Clark Durant criticized Hoekstra's decision not to participate.
"At some point, he's got to be willing to stand up to the people of Michigan, and answer, why, time and time again, he voted to increase the debt, the spending, that is crippling our country."
A long race is still ahead for all the candidates.
Republicans will chose their nominee to challenge Debbie Stabenow in August.
The U-S Senate is racing to avert an increase in the nation's payroll taxes.
Payroll taxes were cut last year, and would revert to previous rates if action isn't taken by the end of this month.
That rate would return to six-point-two percent and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said that would cost middle-class families upwards of a thousand dollars per year.
He wants congress to extend the tax cuts, and pay for the extension with a surcharge on people making more than a million dollars per year.
"It's really unthinkable that you would raise taxes on 160 million families in order to protect a few hundred thousand families who make more than a million dollars a year."
Levin said failure to extend the payroll tax cut could push the country back into recession.
The senate is hoping to move the legislation by the end of this week.
Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Rick Pluta
The first veto of a bill sent to Governor Rick Snyder's desk by legislative Republicans could be coming this week. The governor has until Friday morning to sign or reject a measure that would make it harder to enact state rules that are stricter than federal standards.
The bill said state agencies cannot enact rules covering things such as workplace safety or environmental protection that are stricter than federal rules unless the Legislature passes a law to allow it. The bill would allow an exception for emergencies.
Sara Wurfel is the governor's press secretary. She said the bill is being reviewed, but the governor and his team think it may go too far.
"Basically, tying Michigan's hands to do what it needs to do to protect the state and its citizens."
The governor has tried to protect his working relationship with conservative lawmakers from his own party who sometimes disagree with Snyder's more-centrist leanings. The governor has vetoed some budget line items, but this would be the first time he vetoes an entire bill and returns it to the Legislature.
Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Rick Pluta
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said police departments should hang on to the cannabis they seize from medical marijuana patients and caregivers, even though state law says their pot should be returned to them.
Schuette gave that advice in a formal opinion that's binding on government agencies unless it's reversed by a court. The state medical marijuana law that was adopted by voters in 2008 said medicinal cannabis cannot be seized as long as the owner is a registered cardholder. But Schuette said that part of the law is superseded by the federal Controlled Substances Act, which still lists marijuana as an illegal drug. Schuette said police officers who have seized medical marijuana in violation of the state law cannot return it without violating the federal law, which would open them to prosecution as drug dealers.
Schuette said the U-S Constitution's supremacy clause makes clear the national policy trumps the state's. And he said voters cannot order police officers to violate a federal law.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
By David Nicholas
Michigan has been selected by the Obama Administration, HUD and USDA Rural Development to launch the nation's first pilot program that is designed to reduce regulatory procedures on affordable housing developers and owners.
The program is also meant to help state and federal agency staffs to more efficiently serve low-income families who rent their homes.
USDA Rural Development State Director James Turner was in Mt. Pleasant recently for the signing of the agreement. He said the partnership that also includes the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) is bringing together all of the departments that are involved with financing multi-family housing...
"Rural Development is invested in about 729 properties across the state. That represents about 18,000 units for low-income and disabled and elderly individuals. And many of these projects have multiple layers of financing that involve MSHDA and HUD and Rural Development and all are subject to, uh, what we call "subsidy layering reviews."
That, Turner said, is technical jargon for, in his words, "Making sure that we're not over-spending tax dollars on subsidies for these units."
He said there will now be one survey instead of three or more of any given property to simplify the information on file.
By Rick Pluta
A coalition of African-American and civil rights groups is expected to challenge Michigan's new congressional and legislative district maps approved earlier this year by the Republican controlled Legislature. The leader of a group of African-American lawmakers say he expects the lawsuit to be filed in federal court by the end of the month.
State Representative Fred Durhal chairs the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. He said the new maps violate voting rights laws. He said that's because they diminish the voting power of urban minority voters and the evidence of that is how many Democratic incumbents from minority districts will be forced next year to run against each other.
"We want to see new lines drawn that are more fair than the lines that we have and that recognize and allow all African-American and minority citizens in this state to be able to participate in the franchise."
Republican leaders say a court challenge to any redistricting plan is normal, and was entirely expected. G-O-P leaders say the maps reflect population shifts, and they were very careful to comply with the law.
Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Mike Horace
Senator Carl Levin said new revenue must be part of any deficit reduction package.
A special congressional committee the so-called "super committee" is looking looking at ways of trimming the nation's deficit.
Levin said the committee is right to look at spending cuts, but new revenue must be considered as well.
"The issue is whether we're going to have revenue, or whether the republican folks that are mostly connected to the tea party are going to be able to keep to their line in the sand, which is 'no new revenues.'"
Senator Levin has released a seven-point plan on how to raise revenue and cut the deficit by up to a trillion dollars.
We'll have more on that plan, ahead at 5:45 on All Things Considered.
By Laura Weber
Mitt Romney dominated the presidential candidate straw poll this weekend during the Michigan Republican Party conference on Mackinac Island.
Romney and Rick Perry both spoke at the conference, but fervor for Romney swept over the island. Many delegates said the Michigan native offers hope of turning Michigan a red state in the upcoming presidential election.
It was clear from the beginning of the weekend that Mitt Romney's homecoming was eagerly anticipated. Many folks wore Romney t-shirts or stickers, and hung Romney signs around Mackinac Island.
But not everyone was sold on the former Massachusetts governor. Gary Glenn a conservative Republican candidate for the U-S Senate said he was more interested in hearing what Texas Governor Rick Perry had to say.
"Governor Perry has a record. They're a Right To Work state, Michigan is a compulsory unionism state. And so there is a clear comparison that you can make between the state that is No. 1 in the nation in job creation, the state that's No. 50 for having lost the most manufacturing jobs."
There was some marked anticipation for Governor Perry's presence. Party members stood in a long, claustrophobic line to flood the dining room where Perry would speak, waiting to see just what the Texan could offer Michigan. Perry told the crowd right off that he did not want to disappoint them.
"We were coming up here and they said 'Don't mispronounce the island's name.' So it is an honor to be on Mackinac Island, let me tell you ladies and gentlemen! What a beautiful place."
Perry said Michigan is the source of a fond boyhood memory.
"Dad said 'Listen, I'll just drive up to Michigan," and I think he went to Flint, or actually I think he went to Fenton to pick up a new GMC pick-up truck."
The crowd often clapped supportively and politely, with occasional cheers. But nothing and no one stood a chance with the audience once Romney entered the building.
"I love being in Michigan, I like people who know what Vernors is. I like people who when you ask them where they're from they hold up their hand and point to a piece on their thumb. I love that..."
And the crowd went wild. Romney took on the air of a presidential Johnny Carson - drawing wild laughter and occasional tears. He told boyhood stories of time spent in Michigan with his father, former governor George Romney, and his wife, Ann, whom he said he fell in love with on Mackinac Island.
"It's a wonderful place for us. It's got special memories. Mitt mentioned we met when I was just 16..."
That's Ann Romney.
"...He said 'My father's governor of Michigan.' Obviously I knew that. 'How about would you like to go up to Mackinac and stay in the governor's mansion with my family.' And I thought 'That is a great idea."
Audience members began clinking their forks on wine glasses, like a chorus of champagne flutes at a wedding.
"I don't even know what... Oh!"
The crowd gave Mitt Romney four standing ovations, as if he were giving his first State of the Union address.
"What an incredibly beautiful place. And I might add, rather romantic as well."
Don't forget, though, that Rick Perry had come to the island too. Perry may not have the rich family history in Michigan that Romney has, nor can he point to a location on his hand to tell Michigan Republican Party members where he's from. But he made an earnest plea to the state's party faithful to take him seriously as a presidential candidate. And he assured them he took them seriously as well.
"Listen, you all did something this last election cycle that was pretty powerful. You elected a Republican Legislature and a Republican governor I know what that means! Rick Snyder is going to be out there every day knocking on doors in Texas, trying to get them to move jobs from Texas to Michigan. I understand that. And that is what it's supposed to be about."
In the end, Romney ran away with the straw poll. Perhaps not surprisingly.
"From a very selfish standpoint I think Mitt Romney, for a state race, for a Legislative race, for everything else, is good for us..."
That's Saul Anuzis, one of Michigan's representatives on the Republican national committee.
"...I mean having Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket would probably put Michigan in a play, which means there would be national resources diverted here and investments made that would be good for the rest of the party."
The chairman of the state party, Bobby Schostak, said Romney's name could appeal to Republican and independent voters in Michigan, and perhaps turn the state red for the first time since 1988.
Photo by Chelsea Hagger, MPRN
Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Laura Weber
The state Legislature is expected to vote today on a ban on a controversial abortion procedure performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy. The procedure is already illegal under federal law.
Dilation and extraction has been illegal in the U-S for a few years. Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen said the proposals in the Legislature would help ensure the procedure remains illegal in Michigan, no matter what.
"We want to make sure that our attorney general has every tool that he needs to make sure that we don't have this practice happening in Michigan."
The proposed ban is set for votes this week in the state House and Senate, just before a meeting this weekend in Lansing of the anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan. One of the sponsors of the proposal is expected to update the group on the status of the state ban.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Laura Weber
Democratic state lawmakers said voters should be allowed to decide how the state's School Aid Fund is spent.
The lawmakers are upset that some of the schools money helped pay for universities and community colleges in the coming fiscal year.
The Republican-led Legislature approved a budget that allocated nearly 400 million dollars from the School Aid Fund to help pay for higher education. Democratic state Representative Mark Meadows said voters want School Aid Fund to be spent only on K-through-12 schools. He said it would take about 1000 signatures per school district to get that question on the ballot.
"I don't think it's such a huge mountain to climb to think that PTAs, other school organizations, can carry a petition and get those signatures pretty rapidly."
Meadows said he would like the Legislature to put the question on the ballot, but he thinks a grassroots effort could take off if Republican leaders decide not to vote on the issue.
Republicans say K-through-12 schools took a smaller hit in the budget than most other areas of government, which demonstrates their commitment to education.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Rick Pluta
Jennifer Granholm said she wrote "A Governor's Story" to offer her prescription for the nation's economy to lower taxes and smaller government. She said it's based on her experience, and an often trial-and-error road to an economic strategy that can work for the entire nation.
"We've got a story to tell. So for everybody who cares about how to crack the code to create advanced manufacturing jobs in the American economy we've got the story to tell."
But the former governor also uses the political memoir to defend her job performance. She was highly unpopular when she left office as people held her responsible for failing to fix the state's economy or stop the seemingly never-ending political gridlock in Lansing.
"A Governor's Story" focuses almost exclusively on Granholm's eight years as governor, barely mentioning her one term as state attorney general, the first and only other political office she's held, or anything else about her life before becoming Michigan's first female chief executive."
She said the forces that cost the state a million jobs over the course of a decade were global in scope and beyond her control or the control of any governor.
"Anybody who goes into a position of leadership goes into that position assuming that they're going to be able to fix the problems. But sometimes the circumstances are beyond that leader's full control."
As far as the budget troubles that bedeviled her tenure, Granholm said she was set up for failure by her predecessor, Republican John Engler. She said that's because he cut taxes without really cutting spending as the state's economy grew at a record pace, and the tax cuts continued even after the economy stumbled. She said that combination destabilized Michigan's finances as she took over.
The book is told in Granholm's voice, but she co-wrote it with husband Dan Mulhern. And the book is also a tale of the couple's personal journey. It details Mulhern's role as husband, spiritual advisor and executive coach, his job before he became Michigan's first First Gentleman. He had an office and staff in the executive office building. But Mulhern said he was focused more on steering their two daughters through adolescence and raising their youngest son, who is now a high school freshman.
The couple is famously close, but Mulhern said there were revelations as they were putting the book together.
"It was fun, it was fun for me to do the book with Jennifer because our lives were so busy that some of these stories I never heard the first time...."
Like the fact that the very health-conscious Granholm resumed smoking for a short time during the tense negotiations with the Legislature that led to the brief government shutdown in 2007.
"I bummed a lot of cigarettes from the lieutenant governor..."
"A lot for me! I don't smoke, so I bummed probably half a pack, one pack maybe over the course of several days from him..."
The couple now lives in Berkley-California, where they both teach and write. Granholm also serves on corporate boards and offers commentary on NBC's "Meet the Press."
It's not in the book, but the former governor said she's through seeking elected offices.
It was originally Dan Mulhern who harbored political ambitions that he set aside for the sake of his wife's career. Now, he said, a second politician, a second political career in the family is not out of the question.
"Never say never, you never know."
At the same moment, his wife, the ex-governor ends our interview so she can go pick up their fourteen-year-old son at school.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Mike Horace
Saturday is Constitution Day, it marks the day the constitution was signed in 1787.
Events are planned across the state honoring the constitution, including a public forum at Saginaw Valley State University.
John Kaczynski is director of S-V-S-U's Center for Public Policy and Service.
He said the forum will examine the ever-evolving nature of the constitution, and how recent court decisions have impacted it.
"We'll talk about Supreme Court cases that have been decided upon over the last two to three years. And some of those cases range from the Westboro Baptist Case, to the case commonly referred to as the 'Bong Hit for Jesus' case."
The S-V-S-U forum is Wednesday night at the Regional Education Center on campus. It begins at 7 p-m.
By Mike Horace
President Obama was in North Carolina today, promoting the jobs bill unveiled last week.
Some Michigan lawmakers are throwing their
support behind the legislation as well, including Senator Carl Levin.
Levin said if passed, the American Jobs Act would create at least
one-point-five million jobs, providing a much needed shot in the arm for
"The best way to do that, one of the best ways, is investing in the
infrastructure, which has been neglected. So we got all kinds of roads
and bridges and surface transportation, and other infrastructure, ports
that need to be dredged. We have a jobs need out there, and this is one
way of getting jobs created very quickly, and they're good paying jobs."
Republicans remain on the fence about many of the president's proposals, and appear more likely to support tax cuts than new federal spending.
Levin said he's hopeful the two sides can reach an agreement.
By Laura Weber
Former congressman Pete Hoekstra has been accepting endorsements and campaign donations to run for the U-S Senate for weeks. But Tuesday Hoekstra formally launched his statewide campaign for the Republican nomination. He said the federal government needs to repeal mandates on schools and businesses, and scrap the new federal health care law.
Hoekstra said small business owners throughout the state say the federal government is getting in the way of job creation.
"They're looking for regulatory relief. No one brought up tax relief today. It's kind of like, that's not the main barrier. The main barrier that they're facing today is regulatory burdens. And they're go through the list with you very quickly they'll say number one, they have no idea what the long-term impact will be of Obama-care."
Hoekstra is running in the Republican Senate primary against anti-gay activist Gary Glenn, businessman Peter Konetchy, former judge Randy Hekman, and school-choice advocate Clark Durant. The winner of that primary will run against Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Rick Pluta
A change of leadership appears to be underway at the Michigan A-F-of-L C-I-O. A-F-of-L C-I-O President Mark Gaffney is on his way out and is expected to be replaced by Karla Swift. Gaffney said it is time for a new set of labor leaders to take on the conservative tide that's swept over the state Capitol.
Mark Gaffney's led the state A-F-of-L C-I-O labor umbrella for a dozen years. He said the sweeping G-O-P victories over Democrats in the last election emboldened Republicans in Lansing.
"And, frankly, my skill set is better at pulling people together and building than standing toe to toe, eye to eye, and slugging things out."
Sources within labor and the state Democratic Party said the changes reflect fears that Republicans are intent on passing some onerously anti-union laws including right to work. His likely replacement is Karla Swift. She comes out of the United Auto Workers, but most of her recent activities involve political organizing, and working to expand the base of the labor movement by advocating for more family-friendly workplace rules.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
By Laura Weber
A polarizing Democratic state representative is resigning to become a national school-reform lobbyist based out of California's state capital.
Democratic state Representative Tim Melton gained a lot of attention, for better or worse from colleagues, lobbyists and people working in education, when he was chairman of the House Education Committee.
Melton spearheaded many education reforms that have become a springboard for continued changes to the education system under a Republican-led Legislature. Melton lost his chairmanship when Republicans took control of the House, but he continued to be an outspoken member of his caucus.
"I was one of the few Democrats out of all of them that actually would work with the majority party to get some things done." Said Melton.
Melton said he is excited to work throughout the country to help other states approve reforms similar to those he pushed in Michigan. He will be a lead lobbyist for Students First, an education-reform advocacy group led by Michelle Rhee. He will not be allowed to lobby the Michigan Legislature until after 2012, when his term would expire.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
BY LAURA WEBER
Some state lawmakers said businesses should be required to let parents leave work to attend parent-teacher conferences and other education-related appointments with their kids.
State Representative Lisa Brown is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, and she's a mother of three boys. She said working full time and being invested in a child's education can be a tough juggling act.
"You know, you want to know how your child is doing in school, you want to have that relationship with your child's teacher, and it's just not always that easy to do." Said Brown
Brown introduced a bill with fellow Democrats that would require businesses to give employees eight hours of unpaid leave per child, per school year, to attend school appointments. That includes parent-teacher conferences and tutoring sessions, but not extra-curricular activities such as sporting events. A spokesperson for the House Republicans said he has not studied the bill, but he said it sounds like too broad of an imposition on businesses.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
BY LAURA WEBER
U-S Senate candidate Randy Hekman said he knows voters in Michigan do not know much about him. But The former probate court judge said he is not intimidated by the growing field of Republican candidates.
Hekman said one of biggest obstacles he faces in his campaign is a lack of name recognition throughout the state.
"Oh absolutely. I've got a mountain to climb."
Probably the most recognizable name in the field of candidates is former U-S Congressman Pete Hoekstra. Hekman said he and Hoekstra are friends. He said he got into the race because Hoekstra told him he was not going to run. So Hekman said he was surprised when Hoekstra got into the race.
"One just has to ask; does he have the fire in his belly to do what needs to be done. This is not just a typical, run-of-the-mill election."
Hekman said the federal government has to make unpopular decisions to wipe out the national debt. Those include closing corporate tax loopholes which some politicians view as tax hikes and eventually eliminating cash assistance for unemployed people and low-income families.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
BY LAURA WEBER
Republican leaders in the state Senate said they will push for a February 28th closed presidential primary date. That's one week before the national Super Tuesday primary date for most states.
National Republican Party rules said any state that holds its presidential primary early will be penalized. That could include having convention delegates stripped. But Michigan already has a primary date set in law that is earlier than the March 6th primary date set for most states.
"No I don't think we're doing anything too out of line..."
That's Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. He said he plans to stick with a primary on February 28th.
"So we're talking about one week, and the fact that we already have this in statute makes it a little different than some of the other states."
The Michigan Republican Party has not specified a desired primary date. But both Richardville and the chairman of the state party say the benefit of relevance on the national stage outweighs the cost of any potential penalties at the convention.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
BY RICK PLUTA
School-choice activist Clark Durant said he's very close to making a decision on whether to join the race for the Republican nomination to run next year against Democratic U-S Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Former party chair and billionaire Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, and former U-S Senator Spence Abraham publicly endorsed Clark Durant this week. That puts some financial and organizational clout behind Durant if he decides to run.
"So I'm very pleased. It's moved me quickly down the path to try and make this work. I'd like to get in."
Durant said he'll make a decision before the end of September.
The DeVos, Anuzis, and Abraham endorsement shook up the race as former Congressman Pete Hoeksta continues to rack up endorsements of local G-O-P leaders and the quiet backing, apparently, of Governor Rick Snyder.
Former judge Randy Hekman, anti-gay rights activist Gary Glenn, and businessman Pete Konetchy are also seeking the nomination.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
President Barack Obama was in Holland today talking about the strength of American ingenuity and the importance of leading the way in modern technologies.
This is the President's second stop in Holland talking about the importance of investments in advanced battery technology.
Mr. Obama toured Johnson Controls this afternoon, one of two advanced battery manufacturing plants in the area. The president said he wants to see the continued growth of products stamped with the words "MADE IN AMERICA" exported around the world.
President Obama said Americans are looking for answers to tough questions about how to move the nation forward.
The president said economic stimulus dollars granted to Johnson Controls have been important to bringing job growth and new research and development opportunities to Michigan.
He said the Department of Energy is looking to Holland's advanced battery plant to provide cutting edge new technology that will lead the world in storable clean energy.
BY LAURA WEBER
A new tax on all health insurance claims waits for approval from lawmakers in the state House. The tax is essential to balance the budget for the coming fiscal year.
Lawmakers must approve the health insurance claims tax in order to replace the existing tax on Medicaid H-M-Os. The federal government is expected to rule later this year that the existing Medicaid tax is illegal. To continue to receive funds from the federal government to help pay for Medicaid the state must approve the new tax on insurance claims.
Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they do not like the new tax proposal. Republicans said they will not vote for a new tax, and some Democrats arguing that it would disproportionately affect some seniors who had their pensions taxed earlier this year.
The House is expected to approve the tax changes when lawmakers return in a couple weeks.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
Regional Chambers of Commerce, Business Development & Community Organizations ask Federal Government to Approve AT&T, T-Mobile Merger to Expand Access to Mobile Broadband, Healthcare, Education
SAGINAW, MI - Citing recent studies that found access to broadband significantly benefits rural communities and their ability to create desperately needed new jobs, business and community groups from across the Great Lakes Bay region came together today to call on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, D.C. to take action to expand access to hi-speed mobile broadband service across northern lower Michigan. The FCC is currently considering a proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile that, if approved, would provide access to high-speed mobile broadband service to a vast majority of Michigan businesses, farmers and families.
The groups calling today for approval of the AT&T, T-Mobile merger include the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, Great Lakes Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce, Saginaw Future, Inc. and Greater Gratiot Development.
"Broadband connects families and job makers across mid-Michigan to the rest of the world and the global economy," said Terry Moore, President and CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance. "Hi-speed Internet can connect our region, to the rest of the world, but only if residents have access. Unfortunately, far too many job makers and families in the rural tri-county area do not have that critical access yet."
According to the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), a broad-based coalition supporting broadband access and adoption for all Americans, broadband is the bridge that ties rural localities to the economic mainstream.
"Being able to access hi-speed Internet could not be more important for businesses trying to compete in the 21st century economy," said Saginaw Future, Inc. President and
CEO JoAnn Crary. "Job makers in Saginaw and across the region are not competing on a global scale. The AT&T, T-Mobile merger will go a long way towards evening the playing field for local businesses."
President Obama recently set a national goal of ensuring 98 percent of Americans have broadband Internet access within the next five years. The proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile alone will bring next generation mobile broadband access to more than 97 percent of the nation's population using private - not taxpayer - dollars, 98 percent of Michigan's population.
The IIA recently released research further detailing the ways broadband can help rural Michigan. According to IIA, the ten biggest ways broadband access helps rural communities include:
1) Broadband links local businesses to global markets;
2) Allows consumers to tap into e-commerce savings;
3) Expands access to educational opportunities;
4) Increases local job growth;
5) Connects patients to world class healthcare and reduces healthcare costs;
6) Enhances economic options for younger generations;
7) Provides new tools to farmers and ranchers to grow their businesses;
8) Enables entrepreneurs to locate their businesses locally;
9) Attracts customers to local businesses;
10) Offers families low cost options to stay in touch using the latest technology.
"This merger will significantly increase the number of rural mid-Michigan residents with access to broadband service," said Greater Gratiot Development President Don Schuur. "FCC approval will improve the ability of rural residents and job makers to conduct agri-business and give them the opportunity to experience better access to healthcare, education and economic opportunity."
As uncertainty continues over the debt ceiling nation wide, seniors here in Central Michigan are also biting their nails in anticipation.
Brenda Upton is Director of the Isabella County Commission on Aging. She said seniors are still concerned they might not receive their social security checks.
She said a reoccurring theme she keeps hearing is the frustration seniors have with the way congress has handled the debt ceiling crisis.
"We have a few that are upset enough that they said they have contacted their senators, they've contacted their state rep. That they've done that. Not all of them have access to e-mail but they're calling and writing letters.
Upton said she works with seniors with diabetes. She said those are the people who seem most fearful of the future of Medicare.
"Many of the people that we serve that's the only income they have is social security so if for some reason the federal government can not issue social security checks there will be a lot of people who won't have the money to pay their rent."
Upton said her clients depend on the program and without it would have no other options for health insurance.
Post offices throughout Michigan may be closing depending on observations beginning today (yesterday).
A spokesperson for the postal service said 62 facilities in Michigan will be monitored to determine the amount of business they do.
Casandra Latoski is a store clerk in Elm Hall in Gratiot County. She said residents have already been inconvenienced by their post offices change in hours. It's only open four hours a day.
She said since then the office reduced hours she has seen more demand for postal services at her store.
"We have people calling the store wondering if we do money orders or have stamps. And as far as I know the closest place to get a money order is Alma and which is approximately 15 miles away."
The Postal Service said it will take several months for any final decisions on closures to be made.
The Republican state House Speaker wants Congress to approve an amendment to the U-S Constitution that would require the federal government to pass a balanced budget every year.
As Michigan Public Radio's Laura Weber reports, Speaker Jase Bolger said he would try to make Michigan one of the first states to ratify the amendment.
Bolger sent a letter encouraging approval of the Balanced Budget Amendment as part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. Approval by Congress would put the question to state legislatures. Three-quarters of states would have to approve the amendment to get it into the constitution.
Bolger said lawmakers in the federal government need to be fiscally responsible.
"I hope they understand what the citizens of our state want, and that is that responsibility."
Bolger said he thinks he could persuade Democrats in the Legislature to ratify the amendment. But Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said Bolger is simply using a partisan issue to flirt with a run for the Republican U-S Senate nomination. Bolger said that's not true.
The state Senate opened hearings today (Wed.) on how Michigan will handle its responsibilities under the new federal health care law. If Michigan does nothing, the state will be placed in the federal system when the law is fully enacted in 2014.
Republican leaders expressed hope that federal courts will ultimately strike down the health care law. But Senate Insurance Committee Chair Joe Hune (hyoon) said Michigan needs to be ready.
"This is all because of Obamacare, which is a downright travesty that that was passed through at the federal level, but we're in a position if we do nothing that we'll have the federal government breathing down our neck to put something in place that we definitely do not like."
Senate committees were told by consumer groups, social services advocates and businesses that Michigan would be better off designing its own system than joining the federal plan or a multi-state consortium.
Legislative hearings on the state's role in federal health care reforms could last a year.
For more than a decade, spent nuclear fuel has been sitting on the site of the former Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant near Charlevoix, waiting for the federal government to take it away.
Michigan residents have paid hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund designed to do just that. Yet the spent fuel remains.
Over $30 billion total has been collected to pay for the disposal of the nation's spent nuclear fuel -- including nearly $750 million from Michigan residents.
Yet the federal government has shelved plans to create a nuclear waste disposal facility -- opting instead to store the fuel, at least for now, at the sites of decommissioned nuclear plants.
One of those sites is near Charlevoix.
Greg White sits on the Michigan Public Service Commission. He says as long as spent fuel remains on the site, it can't be redeveloped for other uses.
"We're losing the potential economic benefit of being able to reuse that beautiful property, and then we continue to incur the cost of having to maintain the waste facility at that site," White said.
The federal government was first given responsibility for the spent fuel under the 1983 Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Over a decade later, a disposal site, Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was designated.
But according to White, since then, the process has been delayed, and eventually, was canceled entirely.
"There's no plan B. There's no backup. It basically said 'we're just going to leave the waste.' And the Secretary of Energy is on the record as having said 'we'll just leave the waste where it is for the next 100 years. It will be fine.'"
"And we're saying 'no, absolutely not.' It's not fine to do that," White said. "There's a law that says this is what you're supposed to be doing. We paid money for this. And you don't have authority to overrule a law."
White testified before congress this week, urging it to reexamine the decision not to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
Or, at the very least, he wants the government to stop collecting fees paying for nuclear waste disposal -- since there is currently no disposal program in operation.
Several cases regarding the fees are working their way through the nation's court system.
In the meantime, White said the site near Charlevoix will continue to sit empty, waiting for redevelopment -- and Michigan residents will continue paying for a waste disposal program that doesn't exist.
BY GRETCHEN MILLICH
Courtesy WKAR East Lansing
EAST LANSING -- U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow kicked off a series of field hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill in East Lansing Tuesday. Stabenow is the new chair of the Senate agriculture committee.
The Farm Bill is up for reauthorization every five years and sets federal rules on everything from agriculture to energy, conservation, and nutrition.
Stabenow's choice of Michigan for the first hearing in the national process means the state may have some clout in determining future farm policies.
WKAR's Gretchen Millich reports.
The last time a Michigan Senator chaired the agriculture committee was in the 1880's. Traditionally, this position is held by a state with a large commodity crop, such as corn, beans, hogs or cattle.
Tom Coon is director of Michigan State University Extension. He said what's different in Michigan, compared to other states, is that agriculture here is so diverse.
"Certainly dairy is extremely important, but in addition to dairy we have a lot of other livestock based crops, such as beef, pork, turkeys, and eggs," said Coon.
"We also have the traditional commodity crops like soybeans, wheat, corn and so on. But then we have this whole surplus of fruits and vegetables," he said.
The agriculture industry in Michigan employs a million people and Stabenow says she is concerned about how the farm bill will affect those jobs. She says she views this new version of the federal farm law as a "jobs bill", but she's afraid that budget constraints will complicate the process.
"We know we've got to tackle deficit reduction," Stabenow said. "We know that we have got to look for every savings possible, and we are fully prepared to do that. We also know that 16 million people work in this country because of agriculture, and it's incredibly important that we move forward and invest in the future," she said.
It's called the Farm Bill, but really it affects the entire food chain. There are production and risk management programs for farmers, processing, distribution and transportation programs, and nutrition programs for consumers, including food stamps.
Tom Coon said anything that strengthens the food industry translates into more jobs.
"Ultimately it is an opportunity to create jobs and to retain jobs here in Michigan and in communities across the country," Coon said..
Another way to create jobs is to help young people get started in farming. The farming population is aging, with most farmers now over 65. Many are retiring with no one to take over their land.
Ben LaCross is a cherry farmer in Leelanau County. He chairs the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee with the American Farm Bureau. He asked the committee to consider how beginning farmers are affected by federal funding.
"And I think there are great opportunities in the farm bill to help establish themselves in new farming operations," LaCross said. "The USDA does a good job in their Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loan Program to help young producers who've never been involved in agriculture before get established with credit when banks may not be able to give them the credit they need to start their farms."
LaCross also sees a need to develop non-farming jobs in rural communities. He said he's lucky that he was able to join his family farm operation. But he said many new farmers need to have a full-time job, so they have a steady income.
"So, it's vital that in rural communities we have options for people to be able to work off the farm, get some salary and benefits, while also establishing themselves as farmers," LaCross said.
The Farm Bill can also provide a safety net for all farmers to help them cope with weather-related problems. This year is a perfect example. In Michigan, the cold and wet spring made it hard for farmers to get a crop in the ground. Crops are also at risk this year from heavy rains and flooding in the Midwest and the South and severe drought in the Southwest.
The next field hearing on the Farm Bill will be held in Kansas. U.S. House and Senate leaders expect to pass the bill before the 2012 fall election.
A Genesee County soldier and his wife plan to honor fallen members of the armed forces Saturday morning, with a march in memory of men and women who have given their lives for country.
Richard Dunkley is a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard. He and his wife modeled the march after a similar event in Tennessee.
"I was inspired by an article I read about a master sergeant in Tennessee who, after coming back from Iraq, felt the need to go out and honor his fallen soldiers. So he went out with a flag and his uniform, and started marching. He dedicated one mile to each soldier. They lost nine soldiers on his tour in Iraq."
Lieutenant Dunkley says the length of Saturday's march didn't originally have special meaning, but after planning the 13-mile route, something came to light that makes the tribute even more meaningful.
"Coincidentally, throughout the planning of this, and working with different people in my battalion as well as outside, independent organizations that help support families of fallen soldiers, we had discovered that my battalion, the 125th Infantry Battalion, has lost to date 13 soldiers."
Lieutenant Dunkley says anyone is welcome to join the march at nine o'clock Saturday morning, at VFW Post 4642 in Linden. They'll walk to Great Lakes National Cemetery in nearby Holly Township.
He says he's been thinking about his own upcoming deployment to Afghanistan while planning this tribute.
"I want to make sure that, you know, before myself and other soldiers are being deployed, that we honor those who have given their lives before us in both past and present conflicts. I feel it's heartfelt that we should honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms."
A potluck is expected to follow the march, and marchers are encouraged to bring a dish to pass.
Some small business owners say part of last year's health care overhaul requires a burdensome amount of tax paperwork. A portion of that legislation would require businesses to report purchases of goods worth $600 or more, if it goes into effect next January.
Laurie Moncrieff is President of Adaptive Manufacturing Solutions and Schmald Tool & Die, based in Genesee County. She says she hopes the requirement is repealed.
"I am hopeful that legislators are cognizant of the fact that job creation is going to come out of small business, and we need to do everything in our power to assist small business in growing and allowing us to create the jobs that I believe are going to come out of small business."
Moncrieff says if the reporting requirement goes into effect next January, it would be a burden for business.
"It'll just put a more onerous and rigorous amount of paperwork on our business. We don't need to add any more overhead or cost. It's just not a good time, and it serves no real purpose, in my opinion."
Senator Debbie Stabenow sponsored legislation to repeal that requirement. The Senate passed the bill two weeks ago, and a House committee has begun considering it.
The Senator says she's heard from some small business leaders, who have told her that the reporting requirement could take time and attention away from helping a business grow.
"As they are struggling with getting access to capital to be able to expand, or to be able to just survive as the economy continues to inch forward -- it's getting more positive, but very slowly -- the last thing they need is to have a whole bunch of new paperwork dumped on them. So this is something that I think is a welcome relief for small businesses."
Eighty-one Senators voted to do away with the requirement, and Senator Stabenow says she's confident the House will also vote to repeal it.
Senator Stabenow met Tuesday with members of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce to discuss repealing the requirement. She plans to meet Wednesday with members of the Midland chamber.
BY: GINNY BEAUCHAMP
CMU Public Radio News
The Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce has continued to set optimistic goals for representing their local businesses.
Despite the on-going economic challenges the state is facing, they were able to double those numbers.
The PTAC office at the Genesee Chamber has announced the results for amount awarded to local companies in government contracts for 2010. Their goal was $60 million, but they were able to secure nearly $100 million.
Dustin Frigy (Friggie) is the program director for the Genesee PTAC office. He says that they haven't reached levels like these in nearly 11 years.
Frigy also says having all these additional companies winning government contracts further diversifies the customer base these companies depend on...
"I think everything depends on the diversity of our companies and the diversity of their customers. And so, having one more customer in their pocket I think makes them a little bit more flexible when it comes to the changing economy by having more customers to depend on."
Frigy says PTAC represents businesses ranging from office and medical supplies to automotive and military manufacturing. For more information, visit www-dot-the-grcc-dot-org (www.thegrcc.org).
A Michigan non-profit is warning that repealing the national health care law could have some costly consequences for Michigan small businesses.
More than 120,000 Michigan small businesses would lose tax credits if the national health care law were repealed, according to a report by the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, or PIRGIM.
The group says repealing the law would also lead to rate increases on the individual market.
"A repeal would raise premiums on the individual market, so for people who are buying their health insurance individually, separate from an employer, up to 20 percent by 2016," said Meghan Hess, a program associate with PIRGIM.
According to Hess, repealing the health care law would lead to higher costs for employers as well, which would lead to 6,000 fewer people being hired annually by the end of the decade.
"Rolling back the law would drive up employer health costs, which would lead to over 6,000 fewer jobs created per year," she said.
Hess said an outright repeal of the law would pull over $14 billion in Medicaid dollars out of Michigan's economy, and put 184 community health centers in jeopardy.
"And these community health centers help to fill gaps in access to care," Hess said. "They give more people the ability to seek preventative care, instead of going to the emergency room, which is another way we can help keep costs down in our medical system."
Other provisions in the law allow people under age 26 to remain on their parents health insurance.
According to Hess, those provisions would be gone if the health care law was repealed.
PIRGIM, a non-profit non-partisan organization, said it based the report on data from the Congressional Budget Office, other government agencies, business groups and health analysts.
On the Web:
Michigan is among 15 states to receive a bonus from the Medicaid program.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, awarded the state a bonus of nearly $9.3 million, since the state exceeded its enrollment goal by over 93,000 children. The bonus will help pay Michigan's portion of Medicaid coverage for those children beyond the enrollment target.
Cindy Mann oversees the CMS Center for Medicaid and the Children Health Insurance Program. She says Michigan accomplished several other goals besides increasing Medicaid enrollment, in order to earn the additional funding.
"There's a couple of program features that Michigan has adopted. It eliminates any in-person interview requirements. People can apply by phone or by mail, for example. It has a uniform, simplified application form, for all of it's Children Health Insurance Program. It looks at income -- it doesn't look at assets, as well."
Michigan also adopted presumptive Medicaid eligibility for children, "where a state can decide to let community-based organizations, sometimes health providers, health clinics, sometimes schools -- it's really up to the state -- to help the family enroll the child, and to presumptively enroll them until their full application is reviewed by the state agency," says Mann.
She says changes also include requiring only one application per year, instead of two, as well as combining the children's Medicaid application with the application for the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
A case filed in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, by Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, argues that federal health care legislation is unconstitutional.
A recent move by an international law firm puts that organization's support behind Attorney General Cox.
The American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, filed a friend-of-the-court brief Wednesday, on behalf of the Attorney General.
ACLJ Senior Counsel Ed White maintains that the legislation oversteps constitutional boundaries.
"We've been filing amicus briefs, urging a position that Congress doesn't have the authority to control people's decisions. If Congress can require all Americans to purchase health care or to pay a penalty, there's no reason why Congress can't require all Americans to join a health club, to eat a certain diet, or to run five miles a day for health reasons."
White also says Michigan's Attorney General appealed the case to the Sixth Circuit after a federal judge upheld the health care legislation.
"The federal judge in Detroit had said that a person sitting in his or her house and deciding not to purchase health care is an economic decision, and therefore is the equivalent of economic activity -- and therefore, Congress can regulate that."
White contends that the individual mandate requiring most Americans to buy health insurance or to pay a penalty establishes a risky precedent for congressional authority.
White says the next step in the case will be for the federal government to file a brief outlining its position. He expects that to happen by mid-January.
In addition to filing the friend-of-the-court brief on Michigan's behalf, White says the ACLJ filed its own federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C., challenging health care legislation.
BY RICK PLUTACapital Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
Governor Jennifer Granholm said President Obama struck a good deal with Republicans to link an extension of jobless benefits to continued tax breaks for the nation's wealthiest taxpayers - and she hopes congressional Democrats will agree.
Granholm said without the deal, thousands of Michigan families would lose their unemployment benefits before the winter holidays.
Many Democrats said the president gave in too soon.
But Granholm said the president made an effort to save emergency jobless benefits without extended tax breaks for the wealthy.
"He didn't have the votes for it. He did also want to get an extension of unemployment, which in Michigan is incredibly important. So he got what he sought. The Republicans got what they sought, so it was a win-win," Granholm said.
She said it would take too long to wait for next year and the new Congress to address continuing emergency benefits for people who go more than six months without finding new jobs.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin is reacting negatively to the latest disclosure by WikiLeaks.
The whistleblower organization published thousands of secret cables between U.S embassies abroad and the state department earlier this week. The cables were never meant for public consumption.
They contained a number of brutally honest observations about foreign leaders and governments, as well as the thought process behind many U.S. foreign policy decisions.
"Frankly, I was disgusted," said Levin.
He fears the disclosure will have a chilling effect on advice received from overseas embassies.
"I think people have to be able to speak freely," Levin said. "Our diplomats have got to be able to express their opinions back to the State Department and to the president, in a way where they can... say things which may be important to their country and therefore should be readily expressed, but may also be embarrassing if the host country for instance knew about them."
Levin says he supports prosecuting those behind the leaks.
An arrest warrant has been issued for the founder of Wikileaks, and a U.S. Army private is in custody over the disclosure.
The US Senate is expected to vote on the Food Safety Modernization Act after the Thanksgiving holiday. If passed, it would result in tougher regulations for food producers.
A proposed amendment to the bill would exempt small farms from certain regulations -- making the regulations apply only to large-scale industrial farms.
Jim Sluyter is with the Michigan Land Use Institute. He says his group supports the small farm exemption.
"We believe that the smaller farmer is probably inherently safer, and certainly doesn't have the same potential risk feeding literally thousands or hundreds or tens of thousands of people across many states."
Sluyter also says larger, factory farms could still function under the proposed regulations, but his group argues that tougher rules might threaten small farms.
"Food can never be a hundred percent safe, so even a small farm can produce a chicken or an egg with toxins in it. There can be leafy greens that are not completely safe. So scale doesn't imply absolute safety. But there is no such thing as absolute safety. It's a living system."
Sluyter also says small farms are most likely safer than larger factory farms since they don't serve as many consumers.
A statewide policy group is urging Congress to act on legislation that could increase funding for farm-to-school lunch programs.
Parts of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act would help schools serve lunches with food from local producers.
Diane Conners is with the Michigan Land Use Institute. She says students in Onekama Schools in northwest lower Michigan approve of that district's farm-to-school program.
"Participation rates in the school lunch have skyrocketed since they changed their food menu strategy, and are using so much fresh and local food But it takes time, it takes labor to get those kinds of initiatives going."
Conners says the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the last bill this Congress could take up in the lame duck session.
Jim Bardenhagen is a Leelanau county farmer. He began selling produce to schools in 2006, offering potatoes, apples, and grapes to schools in northwest Lower Michigan.
Onekama Schools in northwest Lower Michigan adopted a farm-to-school program. Bardenhagen says the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act could help more schools follow suit.
"They had to put in a whole new kitchen in order to go this way. And most of the schools that I deal with are really limited on storage. They could take a lot more product if they had more storage."
Bardenhagen says if the legislation is passed, it will be important for schools to help each other in adopting farm-to-school programs.
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of E15 for certain cars and light trucks. E15 is a gasoline blend containing 15% ethanol. The EPA says it's safe to use in cars and light trucks from model year 2007 and later.
Ryan Findlay, national legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, says this will allow the US to use more renewable energy.
"The thought from EPA was, 'We're going to check the engines that are out there, and make sure that they can withstand an increase from an E10 to an E15.' So future gasoline will have a fifteen-percent ethanol blend, as opposed to ten percent. At the end of the day, that's going to allow us to increase the amount of ethanol we consume on an annual basis, which we're already producing."
Findlay says the decision is good for some of the state's farmers, whose products -- mainly corn -- are made into ethanol.
"As you look into the future, what else is going to be out there? There's cellulosic. There's some of the left-over aspects of the corn -- they refer to it as cornstover. The corn stalk itself, or the remainder of the ear, after you take the kernel of corn off. That's one option. There's some discussion of grasses or other cellulosic-type material that would be out there."
Findlay says all five of Michigan's ethanol plants currently produce corn-based ethanol.
Most gas sold in the US contains 10% ethanol. The EPA is testing cars from 2001 to 2006 for their compatibility with the 15% blend.
BY LAURA WEBERMichigan Public Radio Network
A budget proposal from President Barack Obama would cut funding for many national parks, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan. That's according to a new report from Environment Michigan.
Advocates say the budget cut doesn't make sense, because visitorship has been up at the dunes.
Nicole Lowen is with Environment Michigan. She said national parks have become popular again, and need better funding.
"They provide affordable vacations in these tough times," Lowen said. "And also, every dollar that goes into operating parks generates four dollars in private sector spending."
The report says Sleeping Bear Dunes could face a two percent budget cut. Lowen says that would put environmental restoration projects at risk.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
Sixteen conservation organizations in northwest lower Michigan are partnering to combat the spread of invasive species.
The organizations include the Grand Traverse Conservation District and the Leelanau Conservancy. Together they'll establish the Grand Traverse Regional Invasive Species Network.
Jon Prins is with the Grand Traverse Conservation District. He says the network is currently identifying which invasive species to target.
"It'll be mainly focused on plant species. We are putting together kind of a top twenty of the highest-priority species in the area. Work's already begun on that, and that will help, you know, articulate exactly which species we're looking at with the most concern."
Prins says an important part of the project is making people aware of which plants are invasive. He says people often unknowingly help invasive species spread by using them in landscaping.
"I think in general, people, when they think of invasive species, think of the Asian carps of the world, and the kind of physical creatures, because I think, you know, that's just what resonates in people's minds. And they don't often think about the plants. People are almost unknowingly participating in the spread of invasive species simply because they don't know. You know, some nurseries in the area still sell some of these invasive species."
Prins says some of those invasive species that have been sold at nurseries include Japanese barberry. He points out, too, that not all invasive species spread that way.
The project is funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, worth nearly a million dollars.
Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land says rumors about Michigan's enhanced drivers' licenses and state IDs are misleading.
Residents can choose the newly-designed cards as an option to a passport -- making it easier to travel between certain western-hemisphere countries and the U.S.
The state began offering the cards following federal mandates for national security in the wake of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks.
Secretary of State spokesperson Kelly Chesney says rumors circulating across the Internet suggest the enhanced cards might compromise carriers' personal information. Chesney says the cards are secure.
"It only has a unique identifier. It has no personal information whatsoever on that chip, and it allows us to connect with the federal government's secure database, and then they know immediately that you are a US citizen, and then it speeds you across the border. It lets them know that you are a U-S citizen, so you can gain reentry into the U-S. It saves time; it allows the license holder to cross the border faster. There's absolutely no personal information in the card. It only has a unique identifier that connects quickly with the federal database, which is a secure database, and like I said, allows you to gain reentry into the US."
The enhanced IDs contain radio chips that confirm US citizenship at border crossings. Chesney says those chips aren't in the state's standard licenses or ID cards.
Chesney says roughly 220,000 Michigan residents carry the enhanced cards, which can be used in place of a passport when traveling to and from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.
BY LAURA WEBER
Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING -- Michigan is expected to receive about $700 million in federal aid, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The U.S. Congress is expected to approve the money for Medicaid and schools Tuesday.
State officials had been crafting worst-case-scenario budget plans in case Congress did not approve an extension in Medicaid funds. But now it appears Michigan will receive $380 million for Medicaid, and another $318 million for schools.
Karen Holcomb-Merrill is with the Michigan League for Human Services. She said the money will be helpful, but it's still not as much as the state had originally planned for Medicaid.
"There will still have to be either some cuts made or some additional revenue raised in order to close that gap," said Holcomb-Merrill.
Senate Republicans say they plan to balance the budget once again with cuts alone, and with no new taxes or fees. Holcomb-Merrill said the state has already endured deep and painful cuts, and now it's time to look at new revenue.
BY LAURA WEBER
Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING -- Leaders in the Michigan Legislature are waiting for the U.S. Congress to approve an extension of Medicaid funds this week. They say it will make budget negotiations in Michigan go much more quickly and smoothly.
According to House Speaker Andy Dillon, hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid funds would solve many issues with the budget deficit.
"So I think that we'll have the resources we need to get budget done between now and September," said Dillon. "So now that we've got some definite numbers I think we'll be able to start finishing the balance of the budgets."
Dillon says budget talks should also be easier now that the primary elections are over.
Seventy-seven percent of Michigan residents have mailed in their Census forms - that's the fifth-highest response rate in the nation.
Those who didn't respond by mail should have gotten a knock on the door from a Census enumerator.
The Census Bureau has offered a third option, too, for counting yourself - a toll-free phone line. That line closes, though, at 9 o'clock tonight.
Ken Darga is the state demographer.
"There was certainly a lot of relief that the process went as smoothly as it did, and that the Census Bureau seems to have succeeded in getting its operations complete, on time, and a little bit under budget."
The phone line helped get a more complete count, says Darga, getting responses from more people.
"People who failed to turn back a form, or didn't get a form, and haven't been visited by an enumerator, can call that number and provide their Census information."
According to Darga, some enumerators will be in the field through August, wrapping up the nationwide count. They're checking on addresses that were reported as vacant or inhabitable.
According to Darga, work at the Census Bureau will soon shift to processing the data.
"By the end of the year, December 31, the Census Bureau will be releasing the apportionment counts - the total population for each state - to be used for apportioning Congress. And then in April, the first of the more detailed information will come out."
Darga says 130,000 people across the country have so far been counted by calling 1-866-872-6868.
This is the first time the Census has used a phone line in this way.
A Marine from Traverse City died in Afghanistan on Monday, according to the Department of Defense.
Officials say Corporal Paul J. Miller died in Helmand Province. Published reports say he was on foot patrol when an IED exploded.
Pat Lamb is the principal of the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District's Career Technical Center, where Corporal Miller was a student.
Lamb says Corporal Miller was an exemplary student.
"He was just a delight to have in class - a great young man that came to school every day, had a strong work ethic, and did well in his program. He just had a good heart. Not a kid that ever made bad choices. He just came to school every day, and did what you asked - just a nice young man."
Corporal Miller studied drafting at the technical center, and was a 2006 graduate from Benzie Central High School.
Corporal Miller is survived by his wife.
Children's health advocates say current federal law doesn't adequately address toxins making their way into the Great Lakes.
Rebecca Meunink is the spokesperson for the Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health. Her organization is one of several seeking to revise the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
Meunink says that law hasn't prevented certain toxins from accumulating.
"Like mercury, PCBs, lead, dioxins keep showing up in the Great Lakes environment and have detrimental impacts both on wildlife and then up in the food chain - our own human health."
Meunink says a revision to the law would require all industrial compounds to be tested for danger. Current law only requires safety testing after other evidence suggests a compound is potentially dangerous.
"What it doesn't do is require an immediate phase-out of those persistent bio-accumulative and toxic chemicals. And those chemicals are not only just the ones that have been around for quite some time, but also the newer chemicals that are showing up in Great Lakes fish."
Meunink says mercury, lead, PCBs, and dioxins are still being found throughout the Great Lakes food chain.
Newly-approved federal assistance aims to help US asparagus farmers recover from losses related to drug wars.
Industry officials say the federal government removed tariffs on asparagus from Central and South America in the early '90's to discourage drug trafficking.
The aim, officials say, was to increase import of a legitimate crop.
Asparagus farmers say instead that the move increased production of and competition from cheaply-grown crops.
Now, they might be eligible for assistance from the USDA's Trade Adjustment Assistance program, to develop business plans for adjusting to changing markets.
John Bakker is the Executive Director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board. He says he expects the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to help farmers produce their crop more efficiently.
"The first bit of training qualifies a grower for $4,000, and then if they follow through with a detailed business plan, they're eligible for another $8,000. So $12,000 per farm, total.
He says the surge in imports is affecting Michigan farmers.
"For instance, we're selling asparagus to the processing market today for the same price - or even a little bit less - than we did fifteen years ago. So obviously, that makes it very, very difficult for producers."
Bakker says Michigan's asparagus industry shrank from $20 million to $14 million in the last five years.
Two Bay County businesses will invest in energy-efficient equipment with the help of federal grants.
Weber Dairy Farms was awarded nearly $20,000, and Ittner Bean and Grain received both a grant and a loan of nearly $50,000 a piece. Each company plans to replace an inefficient grain dryer in their respective plants.
The grants come from the US Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program. US Representative Bart Stupak says the investment will save money in the long run.
"We want to keep them in business. Energy efficiency is one of the ways they can save money, and hopefully expand the products that they dry with this new dryer they're putting in."
The USDA also awarded several grants to fund business enterprises in northern Michigan - including the Alpena Downtown Development Authority.
"One was for Alpena - that was $40,000 to enhance and expand their farmer's market, which would save six jobs and then assist six local businesses, also," says Rep. Stupak.
He adds that the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region received $70,000 to spur business development in Baraga and Ontonagon counties.
BY RICK PLUTACapital Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING -- The Obama administration has approved Michigan's plan to spend $155 million to help families facing possible foreclosure on their homes.
Michigan is one of five high unemployment states that will be the first to tap into the federal Hardest Hit Fund. Michigan's plan will help 11 thousand families living on unemployment with up to half their mortgage payment.
Families that have fallen behind on their payments because of layoffs or illness will also be eligible for help, as well as households that can no longer afford to pay their loans because of a drop in income.
Michigan's plan had to be approved by federal authorities before the state could start using the money. The program begins next month on a first-come, first-served basis.
The money will help only a fraction of people in Michigan facing foreclosure. There were 36 thousand foreclosures in Michigan in the first three months of this year.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
Recent research suggests lessons from the past might help revive today's sluggish economy. The research proposes stimulus by spending cuts.
Dr. Jason Taylor is a professor of economics at Central Michigan University, and co-authored the study, "Stimulus by Spending Cuts: Lessons from 1946," in the Cato Policy Report. He says following World War II, the government cut spending, despite fears that another depression would follow.
Taylor argues that government spending today can also be cut without threatening the economy.
"But in fact, between 1945 and 1947, we did go from having a dramatic deficit - about twice the size of what we have today, as a percent of GDP - to a surplus. Many economists claim that government deficits, stimuluses, are not very effective at turning the economy around. A de-stimulus, you know, going the opposite direction, also doesn't have to spell doom for the economy."
Taylor says he's skeptical of government stimulus, which he says "crowds out" private sector spending. He says small stimulus programs might be beneficial, but he says the current approach is doing more harm than good.
"It's creating a culture of fear and uncertainty, when you see these numbers. $1.5 trillion deficits, as far as the eye can see. As we build up a bigger and bigger national debt, you have to pay the interest on that debt, eventually you have to pay that debt down. That's going to suck up more and more of our tax dollars."
Earlier this month, Taylor presented this research to the congressional Ways and Means committee during a hearing on policy responses to long-term unemployment. His testimony can be seen here
BY RICK PLUTAMichigan Public Radio Network
The governor says alternative energy is a bright spot in Michigan's economy that could burn brighter.
Michigan is home to 16 advanced battery companies, the Chevy Volt electric car will be built in Hamtramck, and the Saginaw-Midland area has an emerging solar panel industry.
The governor is also trying to lay the groundwork for a wind energy industry in Michigan.
Governor Granholm says "We really are on the cusp of something huge here. But comprehensive and aggressive federal energy legislation is necessary to keep this momentum going."
The governor says that means more federal investment in battery and electric car research -- and creating more incentives like the tax credit for buying plug-in electric vehicles that will make adopting alternative fuels attractive to consumers.
©Copyright 2010, MPRN
The former Buick City complex will be the topic of a public meeting this evening in Flint.
The Environmental Protection Agency will use the meeting to discuss cleanup plans for the south end of the property. Motors Liquidation Corp., which now owns the site, is expected to pick up the bill for the $5 million to $7 million cleanup.
The meeting takes place tonight, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., at Mott Community College's Regional Technology Center Auditorium, 1401 E. Court Street.
The south end of the property includes the area south of Leith Street, bordered to the east by Cole Boulevard and the Flint River, and to the south by Harriet Street. The EPA continues to develop a cleanup plan to address contamination of the north end of the property.
Automotive production began on the site in the 1890s, and continued until 1999.
On the Web:
BY LAURA WEBER
Michigan Public Radio Network
The Michigan Supreme Court wants to hear public opinion on how far the state should go in complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Jose Padilla, who says his lawyer did not tell him he could be deported if he plead guilty to a drug charge. Padilla was a long-time permanent U-S resident born in Honduras.
"I hope that immigration attorneys and people who practice in criminal law will give their comments on the impacts of the United States Supreme Court decision," said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway.
The proposed rule would require judges to tell defendants when their guilty pleas could affect their immigration status.
The Michigan Supreme Court is expected to revisit the rule after public comment.
Around 260 Red Cross blood services employees in Michigan went on strike Wednesday morning. They allege the Red Cross is engaged in unfair labor practices and violated FDA regulations.
The Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 459 represents the strikers, twenty of whom are in Petoskey.
Lance Rhines is a service representative with the union. He says the strike will end Friday.
"If we were out here just trying to leverage contract negotiations, this would be an open-ended strike, and the issues would be much different. This message is about engaging the communities to look at what's going on with the American Red Cross and to help us turn this organization back around."
Monica Stoneking is the Communications Manager for the Great Lakes Region of the Red Cross. She says the Red Cross is compliant with FDA regulations, and that stalled contract negotiations triggered the strike.
"The main issue at hand is that the American Red Cross, across the board, has asked its non-union and union staff members to pay the same amount for healthcare. Unfortunately for our union staff members, they're being asked to pay about twice as much."
Union members also say the strike is to draw attention to FDA fines against the Red Cross for preventable errors in handling blood products. Stoneking says clerical errors triggered all eleven recalls of blood products in the Great Lakes Region of the Red Cross last year.
Both the union and the Red Cross say the strike will not disrupt services. The strike began with one thousand employees in Michigan, Connecticut, Ohio, West Virginia, and California.
The National Labor Relations Board will hear arguments about unfair labor practices between union members and the Red Cross on June 21.
BY RICK PLUTAMichigan Public Radio Network
The proposed rule is a response to a U-S Supreme Court ruling that came down in March.
The nation's highest court ruled that legal resident Jose Padilla was denied effective assistance of counsel because his lawyer never told him his guilty plea to a charge of marijuana trafficking could lead to deportation.
In fact, the plea triggered a process that would have resulted in Padilla being returned to his native Honduras after living in the U-S for nearly four decades. The U-S Supreme Court ruling dealt with the attorney-client relationship.
The proposed Michigan Supreme Court rule is an effort to reduce the risk of a mistake by also requiring trial judges to inform defendants that a guilty plea could jeopardize their immigration status.
© Copyright 2010,MPRN
Representative Camp introduced a new website, sponsored by House Republicans, called "America Speaking Out." It's an online forum, where users submit suggestions for the congressional agenda.
He spoke with constituents in Midland this morning about the website. Representative Camp's press secretary, Lauren Phillips, says economic issues emerged as very important in today's town hall -- and already on the website.
"Debt and job creation are big. With Michigan having the highest unemployment in the country, that's still a huge concern here. And just last week, the national debt passed thirteen trillion dollars. People really are concerned about the way their money's being spent. There was a lot of good discussion about those issues."
Phillips also says many participants proposed repealing or changing health-care legislation that was passed earlier this year.
She says the site allows members of Congress to look in one place for constituent input.
"It's an invitation by our Congress to participate. Not only that, but it's coming together in one place, as opposed to, you know, say there's a protest out in Texas. Well, I might not know about it, but all it takes is one person to submit one idea - and then everyone else on the website to go, 'Hey, yeah, that is a good idea.'"
According to Phillips, members of Congress do pay attention to the site. She says users debate with each other, voting for or against different ideas to influence which ones Congress might place on the agenda.
BY RICK PLUTAMichigan Public Radio Network
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox says pressure on the U-S Army Corps of Engineers lifted once the U-S Supreme Court refused to consider his request to close the shipping canal that connects the Mississippi River system to the Great Lakes.
He says the corps has pushed back deadlines and made token efforts that don't substantially address the threat of an Asian carp infestation of the Great Lakes system.
"Anyone who lives in the Great Lakes knows that when the weather heats up, the fish start moving more and the threat of more and more Asian carp getting into Lake Michigan increases by the day."
Cox and five other Great Lakes attorneys general have sent a letter to the corps of engineers asking for more aggressive action and a better outline of plans to stop the invasive species.
A spokeswoman says the corps has not yet seen the letter.
© Copyright 2010, MPRN
BY RICK PLUTAMichigan Public Radio Network
The case pits Michigan and other Great Lakes states against Illinois, the city of Chicago, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Illinois officials say closing the canal would imperil five billion dollars in economic activity and thousands of jobs.
Michigan and the other states can start over now in a lower court, or hope for a political solution from Congress or the Obama administration.
John Sellek is with the state attorney general's office. He says Michigan was anxious to get a solution in place before the spring thaw.
"Once the weather warms up, the fish are a lot more likely to head toward Lake Michigan. We've had some pretty darn nice days out lately."
The Asian carp has already infested the Mississippi water system. Experts say if Asian carp invade the Great Lakes, the invasive fish could starve out other species and decimate the seven billion dollar Great Lakes fishing industry.© Copyright 2010, MPRN
The US Fish and Wildlife Service will apply pesticide to the Big Salt River system in Isabella and Midland counties this weekend to control the sea lamprey population.
Jeff Slade is the station supervisor at the Ludington Biological Station. He says the goal is to prevent larval lampreys from getting into the Great Lakes.
"The larval sea lampreys go through a metamorphosis when they get about five or six inches long, where they develop their eyes and their teeth. And then they will migrate out into the Great Lakes and begin their parasitic life stage where the cause damage to the fishery. So the objective here is to apply the lampricide to the stream before those animals develop their eyes and their teeth and go out into the Great Lakes."
Slade says the pesticide selectively targets lampreys, although it may cause minimal mortality among some sensitive species, including some broadleaf plants and some spawning fish. In large part, though, other wildlife is not affected by the lampricide.
He says the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service typically applies selective pesticide to lamprey spawning grounds periodically.
"Most tributaries where we have experienced annual recruitment of sea lampreys are treated every three to four years. Because every three to four years, those larvae recruit to the stream, and then they grow to about a hundred millimeters, or a hundred twenty millimeters in length, and that necessitates another lampricide application."
Slade says the selective pesticide is one of several techniques to control the lamprey population. The Fish and Wildlife Service also releases sterilized male lampreys into spawning grounds to prevent the animals from reproducing.
The lampricide will be applied to Bluff Creek on Friday and to the Big Salt River on Sunday. Slade advises people to avoid contact with those waters for at least twenty-four hours during and after the lampricide application.
U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak announced today he will not run for re-election in November.
Stupak's announcement came as a surprise to many political observers - especially after he stated earlier this week that he still intended to run for re-election.
In a press conference today in Marquette, Stupak said he decided to retire after having numerous discussions with his family.
"I'm comfortable. I'm at peace with the decision I've made," he said. "It's the right decision for us."
Stupak is in his ninth term as northern Michigan's representative in congress.
He was considered by many political observers to be a shoe-in for re-election this November.
Stupak said he isn't worried about the GOP picking up his seat.
"I've seen the republican field and obviously, I'm not impressed. It's really, in my estimation, one of the weakest fields I've seen in some time," said Stupak. "I think there are many democrats who can hold my seat."
Connie Saltonstall is now the only declared democrat in the race. State Representative Mike Lahti and State Senator Jim Barcia have also been named as possible successors.
Stupak is the third U.S. representative from Michigan to announce his retirement this year.
Republicans Peter Hoekstra and Vern Elhers also plan on retiring.
CMU Public Radio reported recently that wolves are making a comeback in Michigan's lower peninsula.
One element of managing the wolf population includes protecting livestock from wolf depredation.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service will distribute grants to ten states, including Michigan, to support non-lethal wolf management and compensation for livestock lost to wolves.
Joshua Winchell is the spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He says Michigan will receive around ninety thousand dollars.
"It's a source of funds to assist the states in compensating livestock producers in their losses due to wolf kills or wolf depredation, as well as provide a source of funding for livestock producers to engage in nonlethal, proactive activities that minimize that wolf-livestock conflict."
Those nonlethal techniques include fencing and so-called "scare tactics."
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan paid farmers four thousand six hundred dollars in compensation for wolf depredation last year.
The state's Department of Natural Resources and Environment says the wolf population is now so robust that it recommends the species be removed from the federal endangered species list.
Pat Laderle is the Research Section Supervisor of the DNRE's Wildlife Division. He says removing the animal from the list would give the state -- instead of the federal government -- more authority to manage the population.
"For example, when there's depredation issues, when livestock are being killed by wolves, there are some things that we can do to alleviate that problem that we can't do right now when the species is protected under the Endangered Species Act by the federal government."
Lederle says lethal methods should be permissible in the event of wolf depredation, but for the most part, nonlethal methods are effective.
The state of Minnesota last month petitioned the US Department of the Interior to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. The DNRE supports that petition.
If you live in the southern or central part of the Lower Peninsula, chances are you already have your census form. They were mailed to most Michigan residents last week.
But for those further north, you may not receive your form until early next week. And chances are it will be hand-delivered, because the federal government labels many parts of northern Michigan as "hard to count."
"In certain communities, and particularly in northern Michigan, it may be more prudent to hand deliver it, even though it costs a little bit more," said Mike "Tiger" Price with the U.S. Census Bureau.
He said the reason is so census workers can form a connection with area residents, increasing response rates.
"You need that trusted voice, that person you know," said Price.
By hand-delivering forms, Price said census workers can explain that "the census is safe. It's easy. It's confidential," and that residents "need to be on it."
Census forms are hand-delivered in many rural areas throughout northern Michigan, and through almost all of the Upper Peninsula.
On the web:
This year's is the twenty-third decennial Census in the US. The first was done in 1790. The count is a national effort, of course, but it couldn't get done without local help. The Census Road Tour offered Mt. Pleasant residents and CMU students the chance to hear from Census officials and local leaders about the survey's importance.
"They're here in Mt. Pleasant to help promote the Census, to help educate residents as to why it's important, why they need to fill out their form, and how it impacts our community," according to Julie Swidwinski. She is the community information coordinator for the city of Mt. Pleasant. She says the Census results impact nearly every aspect of life.
"It helps distribute $400 billion worth of federal funding every single year to communities for projects like roads, schools, hospitals. It also provides the statistics that are needed to help figure out what services are needed for our community and for our residents. It also impacts CMU students by ensuring affordable student housing is available. It impacts tuition, grant, and loan programs. So every single population is impacted by the results of the Census."
Census forms began arriving in mailboxes this week, says Mike "Tiger" Price.
"It's ten questions, ten minutes, for the next ten years. It's vital that everybody fill it out."
He's the Media Specialist with the Detroit region of the Census Bureau, and he's been traveling with the Census road tour for over two weeks.
Price says it's important to get people to mail in their forms. When they don't, the Census Bureau comes knocking.
"On May first, for anyone that does not send in their Census form, enumerators will come out to the home, and will knock on the door, to try to secure the same information that was being sought on the questionnaire."
The Census Bureau estimates that thirty percent of residents won't mail in their forms. Price points out that it's expensive when people don't mail their forms back.
"Every time someone knocks on a door, it runs approximately fifty-seven dollars, versus a stamp. So it's prudent to go ahead, fill out the questionnaire, and mail it back."
The Census Bureau expects to hire around one thousand workers for each of the nearly-five-hundred local offices around the country. That's more than have been hired in recent decades.
Price says that increase is partly to accommodate the high level of cultural diversity around the country. It's also an effort to put people back to work, too.
"The economy in Michigan, has, needless to say, been hit very hard in a number of areas, both urban and rural. So the opportunity to employ Census people who come from the community - that's a vital aspect of trust. They're wearing some type of badge; they'll have ID, as well as a driver's license, that indicates to the person whose home they're visiting, that they are legitimate Census Bureau people. These are some of the safeguards, because confidentiality is most important."
Price says every Census employee takes an oath to maintain the confidentiality of the information he or she collects. Furthermore, the Census Bureau legally cannot share confidential information even with other government agencies.
Price says there are certain groups that are hard to count. That includes rookies; people who are filling out a Census form for the first time. Language barriers also inhibit participation, but the Bureau prepares for those difficulties by hiring appropriate staff. Especially hard to count, though, Price says, are the homeless.
"Toward the end of this month, there's going to be a special-based enumerations, in areas where persons are address-less. They'll meet at homeless shelters, they'll meet a soup kitchens, in terms of getting the information out, and then working with service providers that understand where those that might be without a home may be located, so that we have a fair and accurate Census."
Price says those special enumerations also count people who have been traveling on April first, including deployed soldiers.
Census numbers are so important to local government, says Julie Swidwinksi, that here in Mt. Pleasant, city residents have an incentive to get counted.
"If they bring their form by, or speak to a volunteer at one of two locations during a set day and time, they can be entered for a chance to win up to five hundred dollars."
One Mt. Pleasant resident who stopped by the road tour says it's exciting to see what the Census entails. His name is Richard. He's received his form in the mail, and he's getting ready to fill it out and send it back in.
"It helps everybody, in a sense, to come down here, knowing that people want everybody to get signed up, kids and all, so we get counted right."
Census forms ask for counts to be accurate as of April first.
Congressman Bart Stupak is being targeted by a national Catholic organization for his opposition to health care reform legislation.
Stupak, a pro-life democrat from northern Michigan, has said he will not support the bill because it doesn't do enough to ensure that federal funds are not used for abortion.
But the group, Catholics United, is using TV ads to disagree with Stupak's assessment.
"Some say health reform would force taxpayers to fund abortions," the advertisements state, adding, "It's not true."
Over the last week, several pro-life organizations, including the Catholic Health Association and its 600 member hospitals have signed on to the reform bill.
The ad is being run throughout Stupak's district, including in the Alpena, Flint, Marquette and Traverse City television markets.
On the web:
Filling out brackets to track the basketball tournament is popular, but betting on the tournament is illegal.
Tim Otteman is an assistant professor in Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services at Central Michigan University.
He says sports gambling is illegal in Michigan, regardless of the amount involved.
"In most states, it's a misdemeanor, where you would be looking at up to a year in jail and a thousand-dollar fine, if you are just the one placing the bets. If you're the one operating the betting opportunity, that's seen in a much different light, and in most states, you'll see that be potentially prosecuted as a felony."
According to Otteman, sports gambling is legal only in a few states, including Nevada.
Otteman's research addresses the development of illegal sports-gambling habits.
"I just finished looking at fourteen college students, from a variety of places, who are intimately involved in the activity, and how they got involved. And every one of them got introduced by Super Bowl Squares or NCAA tournament brackets."
According to Otteman, avoiding gambling on the basketball tournament is an easy way to prevent the development of an unhealthy habit.
Partisanship was on full display in Washington this week.
The week started out with congress trying to extend unemployment and COBRA benefits -- but a vote was blocked for several days by Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.
He went against many in his own party, delaying the vote in an attempt to change how the extension was paid for.
Michigan Senator Carl Levin says that Bunning's use of the filibuster this week was quote "inappropriate."
"Totally inappropriate," said Levin. "We had already even reached an agreement. There was a bipartisan agreement which had been reached. In other words, the leadership, democratic and republican leadership, had agreed to have a vote. Bunning just stood up and objected, and it may be his right to do that, but it was wrong to do that. And it really showed what the problem is around here, that a few senators can block action. And that's what happens all the time."
Under current rules, any senator can filibuster just about any piece of Senate business.
The procedure is meant to protect minority rights in the upper house -- and can only be broken by 60 votes.
But Levin says the tactic is being used to delay even non-controversial votes, on issues that have bipartisan support.
"Public understands there's going to be differences," said Levin. "They understand that, they get it, this is a democracy. What they don't get, and they rightly so don't get it, is why it is that after extended debate, the majority cannot finally rule. And the problem is that we have Senate rules which do not allow that, and it's not so much the rules, it's the abuse of those rules. And that's what we've got to change, is the abuse of these rules, that does protect minorities in terms of the right to debate at length. And we want to protect minorities. But we cannot thwart majority rule after that protection has been reasonable extended."
Levin says some rule changes may be in order, to limit how and when the filibuster can be used, but there are other ways to move business forward as well.
"Either through agreement of the parties, the leaders, which is not impossible, I always have hope for that," said Levin. "A recognition that the institution has got to function. And part of the functioning is the protection of minority rights. But part of the functioning is to function, to get work done. So it's possible, and this has been done before, where rules will be modified. They'll have to be modified on a bipartisan basis. For instance, we could modify the rules so that we could reduce the use of those filibusters, or reduce the requirement for 60 votes after a reasonable period of time to maybe cut it down to 55 votes or something like that. We could eliminate the use of the filibuster all together for the motion to proceed, as we call it. In other words, there's more than one filibuster on a bill that the opponents now have. They could filibuster even getting the bill up for debate. That even can be filibustered now, and is all the time. So we could get rid of that and limit the use of the filibuster to the debate on the bill itself, so we only have the use of the filibuster at one point in the process."
More partisan battles are looming in the Senate. Next up is health care reform -- which the President wants to see passed in the next two weeks.
A national health reform advocacy group released a new report meant to detail the need for health coverage.
Families USA estimates that seven and a half thousand Michigan residents died prematurely since 1995 as a result of being uninsured. Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA, estimates that rate will increase in coming years.
"For the same state, we project that approximately seven-thousand-six-hundred people would pass away over the next decade."
Families USA says being uninsured increases the risk of premature death by twenty-five percent. The group developed that estimation by applying that risk to Michigan's premature mortality rate and accounting for the uninsured portion of Michigan's residents.
The most recent data from the state indicate that more than eleven percent of Michigan's population is uninsured.
Michigan legislators, including Senator Alan Cropsey, introduced joint resolutions to amend the state constitution to prohibit federal law from compelling individuals to buy health insurance.
Pollack argues that state laws prohibiting federal mandates to purchase health insurance would not withstand constitutional scrutiny.
"This is ultimately a national problem, and Congress, because of the Commerce Clause, and other provisions in the Constitution, has authority over this. If a state, for political reasons, tries to prohibit the application of federal law, that no doubt will be challenged in court."
More seniors are now eligible for help covering monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription drug co-payments, under Social Security's "Extra Help" program.
According to U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, some of the program's restrictions were recently lifted.
"This program has always been there to help out seniors pay for their medical costs," said Stupak. "But there were restrictions, such as if you receive any kind of assistance to help pay for your rent, let's say like you were living in a HUD unit, they would count that against your income. And it was very difficult for a lot of seniors to qualify."
Stupak said the Social Security Administration recently did away with those restrictions.
To qualify for the Extra Help program, an individual's annual income must be below $16,245, or below $21,855 for married couples.
"If you're receiving prescription drugs under Medicare Part D, and you have high prescription drug costs, look into the Extra Help program," said Stupak.
Nine million seniors and disabled Americans are currently enrolled in the program, saving them on average $4,000 per year.
On the web:
A filibuster in the U-S Senate let federal unemployment benefit extensions expire at the end of last month.
Norm Isotalo is the spokesman for the state's Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth. He says the expiration of those federal benefits may leave unemployed workers with much less support when their compensations run out.
"Workers who are receiving state unemployment benefits would not be able to apply for the federal extensions that are in effect, and those who are receiving federal benefits would not be able to move into the next tier of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program."
He also says unless extensions are passed, unemployed workers may find their benefits running out soon. For instance, workers receiving Emergency Unemployment Compensation now likely may not receive the entire fifty-three weeks of benefits that program would have paid.
Isotalo says another program will expire at the end of this month, if extensions are not passed.
"There's also another extension called Extended Benefits, and that had been paying up to twenty weeks. It looks as though that program will now pay up to thirteen weeks. And in fact, that program is really due to expire at the end of March, if federal funding for it does not continue."
Without a super majority for the Democrats, Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning filibustered the legislation. He says the government cannot afford to keep extending unemployment benefits.
As the President prepares for Thursday's White House healthcare summit, supporters of states' rights are getting excited about a proposed amendment to the Michigan constitution.
Wendy Day is the president of Common Sense in Government. She says a joint resolution in the Michigan legislature would prohibit the federal government from compelling residents to buy health insurance.
"So that if they don't want to buy insurance, for whatever reason, they can't be fined, taxed, or otherwise punished or discriminated against. And also, healthcare providers - hospitals and doctors - can't be fined, taxed, or discriminated against for accepting private healthcare insurance, or even cash."
Day says the government should remove certain restrictions on insurance.
"One of the first things they could do is open up healthcare insurance purchasing across state lines."
Day also says the government should enact tort reform and enforce transparency in costs to reform healthcare.
She's encouraged by what she calls the federal government's respect for states' rights on another healthcare issue.
"That's the medical marijuana law. That violates federal law, but when these states started passing these medical marijuana usage laws, the federal government has kind of backed down. We haven't seen them come charging in, demanding that the states obey the federal law."
Day expects the federal government to respect the proposed amendment to Michigan's constitution.
She met with other states' rights advocates earlier this week to discuss the resolutions.
Alan Cropsey is one of three senators to have introduced the joint resolution, which would prohibit federal law from forcing people to participate in a federal healthcare plan.
The legislature will decide whether or not the resolution will be on November's state ballot.
Since the Toxic Substances Control Act became law over thirty years ago, many new chemical technologies have evolved that aren't regulated by the federal government.
Stephen Rapundalo is the President and CEO of MichBio. He says the newly-formed Michigan Coalition for Chemical Safety is encouraging Congress to reform chemical regulations to protect businesses, consumers, and the environment.
"The EPA does not have the statutory enforcement wherewithal to regulate many of these chemicals and technologies. If we're going to have regulations on the book, then the EPA should have the ability to be able to make sure that those regulations are adhered to."
According to Rapundalo, the E-P-A doesn't even have the ability to regulate a substance like asbestos - documented to be a major threat to human health. He says new chemical regulations must also have some mode of enforcement.
State Representative Jeff Mayes from Bay City represents part of a region that has been called "Michigan's new chemical and clean energy alley." He says the Toxic Substances Control Act needs to be updated in order to protect the public and to let businesses grow.
"We're hoping to become leaders in battery technology, and we want to have high standards as a country, and we want to make sure the public is safe. But in the event that each of our fifty states has slightly a different standard in terms of how you would approach battery manufacturing, it's going to make it challenging for companies that want to locate here to build batteries and to be competitive."
Battery manufacturing is just one sector affected by chemical regulations - others include agriculture, biotechnology, and retail.
"Here in mid-Michigan, companies like Michigan Sugar, and Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, Hemlock Semiconductor are part of the national effort to promote changes in this act."
Representative Mayes says the Michigan coalition is part of a national effort to reform chemical regulations.
Rapundalo says the U-S Senate is already considering reforming the regulations.
"In early December, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held an oversight hearing. The chairman of that committee is making a big push in the Senate on this topic. We're feeling pretty good that this will see the light of day."
According to Rapundalo, the coalition's efforts are meant to improve the goods that people use in daily life.
These range, he says, from food and the agriculture industry to the chemical products and by products from Dow Chemical and Dow Corning.
The coalition is encouraging Congress to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act first passed in 1976, which the group says is outdated.
The Michigan Coalition for Chemical Safety is composed of about thirty member businesses and organizations.
Michigan's Attorney General, Mike Cox, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the Christian Legal Society. CLS and Attorney General Cox argue that a belief-based student organization has the right to accept as members only people who agree with an organization's particular beliefs.
Nick De Leeuw, spokesman for Attorney General Cox, says belief-based groups have what he calls the right to associate with like-minded students.
"College campuses across the country could potentially force their student organizations to allow anyone to join. That could mean any student groups of any type of core beliefs. Attorney General Cox says if college campuses are to be diverse institutions, then they have to recognize the rights of diverse student groups."
A spokesperson at Lake Superior State University says student groups there are typically open to anyone who is interested.
Merry Jo Brandimore, Dean of Student Affairs at Saginaw Valley State University, says their student organizations agree to a non-discrimination policy in order to register with the university. Student complaints of discrimination are handled individually by the university, although there haven't been any recently.
"If there are practices that are inappropriate, and we can solve them without creating a legal matter out of them, I think that's always desirable. I hope that they don't become issues, but if they do, I think we'd certainly try an informal approach to remedy them first."
Nathan Inks is the chairman of the College Republicans at Central
Michigan University. He says he agrees with the practice of limiting
membership, but that it could be taken too far. He says the issue has
been raised before at C-M-U by another group, the Campus Conservatives.
a while, they had a policy that, if you were a member of another
political organization, that you couldn't be a member of their
Current C-M-U policy says membership can only be
denied to individuals whose behavior obviously contradicts a group's
beliefs. The manual of registered student organizations says this
protects a political group, for instance, from being taken over and
disbanded by an opposing group.
The health care debate continues in Washington this week, as senators try to broker a compromise before congress breaks for the Christmas holiday.
The Senate's health care legislation underwent two major changes in the last week: the elimination of a public option, and the striking of provisions allowing people to buy into Medicare at age 55.
Michigan Senator Carl Levin was in favor of both, but he's still optimistic that a healthcare overhaul can move forward.
"I am, of course, disappointed that it's not part of the bill," said Levin. "But this bill's got an awful lot of other provisions in it which make it important that we pass this bill. We've got to put, we've got to find some way to end this spiraling increase in health care costs. And right now, health care's going up far far faster than is the inflation rate. So we've got to find ways that we can reduce some of the waste in the system, and this will do that."
Trimming waste in the system is one of Levin's biggest priorities for health care legislation.
He said the bill being considered by the Senate does that, by streamlining healthcare administration.
"Right now we've got, in each hospital, they're confronted with hundreds of different codes, from different insurance companies, for what will be covered, what are the deductibles, what are the co-pays, what are the limits. And we're going to put an end to that so that we have a much more streamlined system. And it's going to be a much more efficient system in terms of the billing. We're going to have much more electronic connections between hospitals and doctors and the insurance companies that pay the bills. We've got to bring this system into some kind of an order which will provide security for people and put some downward pressure on prices."
While Levin is optimistic that the Senate will approve health care legislation before breaking for the Christmas holiday, he admits that democrats are not there yet.
"The democratic leader is looking for the 60th vote to overcome the republican filibuster," he said. "And I don't know that he has the 60th vote yet. I think now Senator Lieberman is going to vote for it, because a couple of the pieces he objected to are not in it."
It was Senator Joseph Lieberman who forced democrats to pull the public option and the Medicare buy-in from the bill, by threatening to filibuster the legislation.
Levin says Lieberman was within his right to do that. And even though Levin disagrees with the filibuster threat, he admits it's something he's done in the past.
"During the Bush years, I thought there were a number of things that we didn't agree with, we were able to stop by requiring the republicans then to get 60 votes," Levin said. "So while I don't like it, I didn't like Lieberman using it. I thought he ought to stay with us, at least on procedural votes with the democrats. He exercised that right, and all we could do was disagree with it, try to talk him out of it, and when that failed, we just had to give in on that issue and go with what we got."
Some of the more liberal senators, like Roland Burris of Illinois, are now threatening a filibuster if the public option is not included in the Senate's health care bill.
But Levin thinks such a filibuster is unlikely.
"It's a little bit harder, I think, to vote against something because it doesn't have something in it than it is to filibuster against something because it has something in it you don't like," he said. "In other words, if you've got half a loaf or three-quarters of a loaf and you want the whole loaf, it's kind of hard to say I'm going to vote against the half loaf or three-quarters loaf. But if there's something in the bill which you violently oppose, it's a little bit easier then I think to make people understand, 'hey, there's something in this bill that I cannot accept.'"
Levin is confident that the Senate will pass health care legislation before Christmas.
But it could take longer to reach an agreement with the House; and final passage may not be achieved until sometime next spring.
A northern Michigan lawmaker wants the federal government to be able to negotiate drug prices for Medicare Part D recipients - a move that could save the government billions of dollars.
Since Medicare Part D was established in 2004, the federal government has been barred from negotiating directly with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices.
Congressman Bart Stupak wants to change that.
He and 68 other U.S. Representatives are urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support legalizing direct negotiations with drug companies.
"Right now, we the federal government, negotiate drug prices for the veterans administration, and the prices and the cost to veterans' is probably about 40 percent less than what senior citizens are paying for the same drug," said Stupak, "because we use the purchasing power of the federal government to drive down the cost of those drugs."
Stupak says the provision could save the federal government over $150 billion over the next 10 years.
Residents of Michigan's first congressional district have a chance to hear directly from their U.S. Representative tomorrow.
Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) will hold his fifth town hall meeting since July tomorrow - this time via telephone.
The event is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday.
"I've heard from a lot of constituents who actually enjoyed calling in and listening to the tele-town hall meeting while they're having dinner with their families," said Stupak, "and usually it leads to family discussions about current issues, whether it's healthcare, the economy, or just what congress does and how it works."
Constituents can sign up for the town hall meeting on Stupak's website - house.gov/stupak.
They can also call his office to sign up. The number is 1-800-950-7371.
BY MARY ELLEN GEIST
The sound of a ferry horn is causing a controversy in Charlevoix County:
It begins at 6:30 in the morning when the 50 foot long... 30 foot
wide.steel barge called the Ironton Ferry takes it's first
passengers .. across the south arm of Lake Charlevoix. It's a 610
foot trip many people who live in the Boyne City, East Jordan,
Ironton and Charlevoix area take .. aboard the 43 ton barge every
The horn blowing finally ends at 10:30 at night.
"and it's such a shame because this is such a nice area..."
Ferry Operators like Helen Dillon .. who's been doing this for 20
years.. say they feel sorry for nearby neighbors:
..and it's really very unnecessary.. even though it's a rule. I understand
that.. it's just we don't have that much traffic especially at this time.a year.
and in the summer, when we do have a lot of boat
traffic..we do blow the horn or if there's fog.. but other than
that.. I realize too that's a rule.. but.. the coast guard.. all I
can say is.. .. I hope it's resolved. "
Ferry Operators sound what's estimated to be a 115 decibel horn
every seven to ten minutes - and it's quite loud, especially when
you're on board - every time a ferry departs:
The ferry has been operating.. with no accidents.. for more than 82
years. Until recently, operators only sounded the horn when it was
necessary.. . all that changed when a complaint that the horn wasn't
being sounded on a regular basis came in last month.. that's when
Charlevoix county sheriff Don Schnieder got involved:
"the federal law.. rule number 34 paren g..ok states in general
terms.. anytime a vessel departing a dockc or mooring shall sound
their horn from 4 to 6 seconds..well, this wasn't being done with
the ferry.. and consquently the complaint came thru.. they started
doing it which generated a tremendous amount of citizens
complaints.. .. a business owner.. right beside the ferry west side
of the ferry.. obviously he was very upset..
Sheriff Schnieder says residents and business owners reacted
immediately after the horn started sounding on every single trip :
"you can't even carry on a conversation"
This man who lives 100 yards away from the ferry says it's a
"the ferry itself doesn'tmake a lot of noise. it doesn't cause a problem..
we have some friends of ours..live probably across the way and down at least a mile
and they can hear it over there.."
Sheriff Schnieder says he has received 33 written complaints about
the horn. A large group of residents turned out at a recent county
board of commissioners meeting to make it clear they want the horn to
be used only when needed:.. instead of approximately 150 times a
day. Sheriff Schneider has applied for a waiver:
"it's called a certificate of alternate complaiance..it's an
application .requesting that rule 34 paren g . be waived in regards to
the Ironton Ferry"
Congressman Bart Stupak's office is now involved. But the Commanding
officer of the coast guard sector field office in Grand Haven, Robert
Hemp, who's been researching the Ironton Ferry horn dispute most of
the summer, tells CMU "I believe a complete waiver does not appear
likely." The coast guard district office in Cleveland is expected to
make a final decision in the next couple of weeks..
BY MARY FINN
Alma College has received close to half a million dollars to fund a new program that will promote departments such as science to first-year college students.
The money, given by the National Science Foundation, will provide new college students the opportunity to research careers in science, technology, engineering and math also known as the STEM Program.
Alma College was one of 22 institutions selected for this grant, and it is the largest federal grant they have ever received.
Dr. John Davis is a Professor of Exercise and Health Science at Alma. He said the program will help increase interest in science-based jobs.
"The grant money will fund all of the seminars, coursework, the entering first year summer research activity, the culminating first year summer research activity as well as the peer mentor program".
Although it is only the first semester of the STEM program, over a hundred students are already participating.
I'm Mary Finn, CMU Public Radio News.
Michigan Senator Carl Levin is calling for more U.S. support for Afghanistan's security forces.
He's chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee - which is charged with overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Levin said the answer to Afghanistan's woes is not sending in more U.S. troops - but instead helping Afghanistan train and equip its own security forces.
"We've obviously got a challenge in Afghanistan," said Levin. "But... it's a challenge which can be met. Our commanders feel that way, the Afghan people feel that way. They clearly hate the Taliban that they had to suffer under for many years. They have an army in Afghanistan which is the most supported institution in the country from the people's point of view. They like their army."
According to Levin, the Afghan army isn't big enough. He said it will need to expand if the country is ever going to take responsibility for its own security.
"Right now, the timeline is for them (the Afghan Army) to reach 130,000 by 2010," he said. "And... the new timeline is likely to be for the army to reach 240,000 by 2013. And we're hoping to push that up by a year if we can."
Part of the problem in Afghanistan is one of that country's neighbors: Pakistan, said Levin.
"They've been a problem. They still are, because they've got a border with Afghanistan which is an open border in many places," said Levin. "They've got the insurgents that have safe haven in a number of areas of Pakistan and they go to there. And then they come across the border, attack our forces and the Afghan forces, and then run back across the border."
Pakistan has made some progress in clearing out insurgent strongholds, said Levin.
But he says some safe-havens still remain - and as long as they do, they will pose a threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Obama Administration this week ruled out the possibility of Kansas holding transferred prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. This leaves the soon-to-be-closed prison in Standish as the only other prison publicly up for consideration.
State lawmakers aren't sure if the Standish prison is more likely to receive Gitmo detainees now that the Obama administration has ruled out the Kansas prison.
But Representative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has always thought bringing the detainees to Michigan is a bad idea.
"In the long term, what it does is it identifies Michigan as a state that was so desperate that it needed to take in the Gitmo detainees to get the economy rolling," Hoekstra says. "I think there might be a very small, short term help to our economy, but it would be a big black eye to the state of Michigan from a promotional standpoint."
Hoekstra says he actually thinks it's unlikely the prisoners will be coming to Michigan, adding that the fact that the Standish prison is a state prison, and not federal, would present a lot of obstacles for lawmakers.
The Obama administration has set this January as a deadline for deciding whether or not to ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.
Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) says he has a number of problems with the latest health care bill to emerge in the Senate.
The health care bill unveiled yesterday by Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) is considered to be the most moderate of the five proposals floating around on Capital Hill.
But according to Senator Carl Levin, the bill still needs some work.
"It's got a number of problems in it, including some pretty significant premium costs for people," Levin said. "And I'm also worried that it may, unwittingly and unintentionally, lead to some employers dropping the health care that they currently provide for their employees."
Levin said the final health care proposal must guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
He also said it should provide stability for people who have health insurance and extend coverage to those who don't.
BY MARY FINN
Some parents and school officials felt that the purpose of the speech was to influence students politically. Although the main direction was toward education and motivating students to achieve their goals this school year.
Sault Ste. Marie public schools opted to let the teachers decide whether or not to air.
Dr. Dan Reattoire is the Superintendent for Sault area schools.
"This being the first day at least in our school buildings we made it optional for teachers. It's a busy busy day so knowing it will be available online later they have the option to show that in the future. Or provide the text to the students so they can read that and those types of things."
The President's speech is available over the internet where students and families will be able to access it.
For CMU Public Radio News, I'm Mary Finn.
Senator Carl Levin spoke to reporters from Kuwait Friday afternoon, briefing them on a congressional trip that took him to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
Senator Levin called for better training and equipment for Afghan security forces, and said at this time, no additional U.S. troops are needed on the ground above and beyond what is already scheduled to be deployed.
He also addressed last month's controversial Presidential election in Afghanistan - and the widespread allegations of fraud surrounding it.
"That's under review now by two commissions," said Levin. "And they're going to reach a conclusion as to whether or not the fraud was significant, and if so, whether it affects the results. And we'll rely on that outcome, and we support that procedure."
Levin says the candidates have agreed to support the two commissions investigating the fraud allegations.
Levin's also visited Iraq and Pakistan on his trip, and said the security situation in both countries is improving.