- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

The Holland Sentinel. Jan. 25.

Swatting isn’t a prank, it’s a serious crime

It used to be that telephone pranks didn’t get much more serious than someone calling in a bogus pizza order. No one really suffered except for the poor delivery driver searching for a non-existent address or showing up at the door of a mystified homeowner who hadn’t actually ordered six large pizzas.

Telephone pranks are more serious today. Sometimes to harass particular people and sometimes just for their own cruel pleasure, perpetrators referred to as “swatters” place calls designed to spark a major police response, sending heavily armed officers with guns drawn to the homes of innocent people, or shutting down large schools for hours. There have been about a dozen such incidents of swatting - so called because they bring out police special weapons and tactics (“swat”) teams - in Ottawa County in the past year. The most recent occurred Monday, when a phoned-in bomb threat forced police to lock down Allendale High School for more than an hour. Previous swatting targets have included the Coopersville public school complex, three local bank branches and, last April, a home in Zeeland.

Swatting is more than a matter of inconvenience and wasted police resources. Police put themselves and others at risk on the roads and at the incident scene during a high-speed response. An innocent move by a homeowner or student could easily be misinterpreted by a police officer responding to a call of an active shooter, resulting in irreversible tragedy. Then there’s the danger that first responders begin to assume that any such calls are false, slowing the response to real dangers.

It’s a frustrating and annoying situation. In a post-Columbine and Newtown world, police and schools simply can’t ignore such threats, even when they suspect the calls aren’t genuine. Swatters can be difficult to track down, too, since technology makes it easy to mask the phone numbers of incoming calls. In fact, they’re often thousands of miles away; according to media reports, the Allendale High School threat Monday is believed to have originated in the United Kingdom, as was a threat that caused a lockdown at Coopersville Public Schools in September. The FBI has reportedly been enlisted to help in the cases.

It’s clear to us that swatting has to be prosecuted seriously, not as some unfortunate but excusable adolescent misdeed. Television station WZZM reported last week that a 14-year-old boy who had met the Coopersville Public Schools swatter online and was convicted as an accomplice in the crime was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution; his mother told WZZM the conviction “ruined our life.” That punishment might seem severe for a young person who didn’t actually place the call in question and who cooperated with police. However, it sends an unmistakable message that swatting is a serious matter that comes with serious consequences.

The word “prank” doesn’t really apply to swatting. Pranks are jokes that may sting at the time but carry no lasting harm; even the victims may laugh about them after the initial embarrassment. That’s not the case with swatting, with all the costs and dangers that a high-level police response can bring. We need to back up police and schools and state clearly that swatting is not a prank, but a very serious crime.

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Midland Daily News. Jan. 26.

The majestic bald eagle

The bald eagle is an unmistakable symbol of America.

But at one point, the majestic raptor was nearly extinct. Lost habitat, over hunting of food species and other man made problems severely threatened the eagle population.

But locally, residents have spotted quite a few of the eagles near Midland Cogeneration Venture. Representatives report that as many as 12 bald eagles winter near the company’s cooling pond annually.

Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Bruce Barlow said there are many eagles in the area at this time. He said normally the birds would be on their way to Canada, but due to the cold there are many staying in the area.

“People will probably notice them in their backyard if they pay attention,” said Kyle Bagnall, manager of historical programs for the center.

“They are a special sight,” Bagnall said of the bird and its six-foot wing span. “A lot of folks are amazed when they see their first eagle.”

It is sounding like a success story. But why have eagles recovered?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service said the banning of DDT, nest site protection, hunting bans and improved water quality are reasons the bird have rebounded.

“Eagles are definitely making a comeback,” Barlow said. “A good eagle population is a reflection of a good wildlife habitat.”

So enjoy the resurgence of this American symbol, but enjoy from a distance.

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Petoskey News-Review. Jan. 23.

By banding together, we can make Northern Michigan great

Recently a special report in the Petoskey News-Review highlighted a growing problem in Northern Michigan - the difficulty in bringing new, younger, workers to the area and keeping them here.

This is resulting in a population that is aging, lower school enrollment numbers in the area and a smaller workforce for employers to choose from.

The story highlighted several issues our region has that make it difficult to bring younger and/or newer workers here. Some of those are: affordable housing, centralized housing in cities, good public transportation, entertainment options and, the big one, low wages.

In our region of the state we spend a lot of money and time focusing on the tourism industry - easily the most important industry to our local economy. Without the tourism industry, the area of the state would be desolate, so of course it is something we must promote and cherish. Lately, we have also heard a lot about trying to bring more manufacturing jobs to the region. But, we must be honest, our location far away from the industrial hubs in southeastern Michigan make this a difficult task - regardless we are seeing some successes in this area thanks to the hard work of people at Northern Lakes Economic Alliance, North Central Michigan College and local chambers of commerce (particularly in Petoskey and Boyne City).

But, if we want our region to flourish in the future, instead of die off, we must focus on more diversity in our economy. We must have different types of industry in the north. To do this, we need younger workers and/or newer workers coming into the area, bringing with them fresh ideas, families, funds and more hands to do the heavy lifting we need to do as a region.

We already have a solid foundation we can build on in this region. While we have an immense amount of beauty that is a wonderful selling point, there is more we can offer: our current population is composed of some of the brightest and hardest working people that can serve as leaders and mentors to their younger and newer workers, to guide them through successes and failures that come with economic change; we have excellent and engaged business organizations from chambers of commerce to large regional business organizations such as Northern Lakes; we have hard working local officials who want the best for the citizens they serve (even though we disagree at times, we know all decisions are made with the best intentions); we have low crime rates with citizen-minded police forces, making for a safe location to raise a young family; and we have vast amounts of land that can be used for business purposes, recreation purposes or housing.

The first step though is admitting that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. We have to, as a region, get out of a “close the gate” type of thinking that some residents have where they do not want more people to come to our region, where they want things to stay the same way they have since they were kids. All things change and adapt. It is vital for anything to survive, from animals, to people, to organizations, to businesses and to governments. Show us an organization that has not changed over the years, and we will show you an organization that is dying out.

Make no mistake, we are not saying we have the answers to this issue. What we are saying is it is an issue that our governments, citizens, businesses and leaders need to address, and they need to address it as a region.

We are all in this together. And together we can make this region the greatest success story in not only the state of Michigan, but the country.

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The Alpena News. Jan. 27.

Time for Congress to rein in White House

Some members of a U.S. Senate committee have the right idea - reducing federal mandates for public schools - but in the context of President Barack Obama’s administration their approach seems naive.

Members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are discussing requirements in the 2001 No Child Left Behind law. One of their concerns is that the statute requires states to conduct too much testing of public school students.

But Obama’s administration is not really enforcing NCLB anyway. Since 2011, it has been granting states waivers from complying with the law, in exchange for bowing to other mandates from Washington. About 40 states have been granted waivers.

And guess what? Waiver rules have their own testing requirements. Lawmakers may want to stop discussing what amounts to a law rescinded by Obama and begin finding ways to rein in a White House that has decided, without sanction from Congress, to write its own rules.


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