- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

The Detroit News. Sept. 25, 2015

Saving the city’s men a complex task.

Rebuilding a city means little if a large percentage of its people get left behind. Mayor Mike Duggan acknowledged that this week when he asked: “What does Detroit’s recovery mean if everybody doesn’t have the chance to participate?”

Duggan was speaking at the My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Summit II, an effort to build a support network for young African-American, Latino and Asian males in the city. The city is teaming with foundations and corporations to nurture and educate teens and young men with the goal of keeping them out of prison and in jobs.

There are 320,000 such males in Detroit, and too many are already disconnected from the institutions of society. Half of African-American men ages 20-24 are unemployed in Detroit, and a third of minority males will not graduate from high school.

The My Brother’s Keeper initiative, launched nationally by President Barack Obama, seeks to change those outcomes with early intervention and ongoing support. The Detroit push has five pillars:

-All boys will enter school cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally ready to learn. That will require stronger preschool programs, an idea Gov. Rick Snyder supports, and encouraging families to take advantage of programs that already exist. Literacy before kindergarten should be the goal.

-All boys of color are present and participating in school. Officials with both the Detroit Public Schools and the Education Achievement Authority have pledged to reduce suspensions and expulsions with early intervention and alternative discipline. Suspensions, says Veronica Conforme, head of the EAA, “puts young men on a path out of school.”

-All young men will be prepared to succeed in careers. Business will be asked to employ more interns and summer workers, and the school systems will establish 15 college and career academies and increase technical education.

-All men of color are present and participating in the new economy. Entrepreneurship will be encouraged, and guidance provided to steer young men into growing industries.

-All boys and men are supported by the community.

These are good goals, and will benefit both the young men and the community. Certainly, if carried out successfully, it will result in less crime, fewer drop-outs and a smaller percentage of the population dependent on taxpayers for support.

But with any good idea, success will lie in the execution. For this initiative, getting education right in Detroit is an essential first step, and one that is still missing.

While Duggan noted that he is requiring that construction projects hire 50 percent Detroiters, the reality is that those workers don’t exist today, largely because of the failure of the schools. Detroiters actively looking for work make up just 61 percent of the working age population, and only 53 percent have held a job in the past year.

Blame a lack of skills, and a school district that fails miserably at providing them. DPS has a series of vocational/technical schools, but most remain either nearly empty or closed. So graduating students are not prepared to take jobs on construction sites, despite the city’s 50-percent mandate.

In addition, the average reading-grade level equivalent of Detroit adults is 8.9, according to the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp., and the average math grade-level equivalent is 7. That skill level will not open the doors to high-paying careers.

Cutting suspensions 50 percent by 2020, without allowing unruly students to disrupt those who want to learn, will require innovative programs to identify and address problems early. Focusing on rates without changing behavior will only lead to chaotic classrooms.

Finally, the initiative must not just engage the young men, but also their families. Too many children live in poverty, or in homes without strong parental support. The infant mortality rate in Detroit is worse than in many Third World countries. And violence in their neighborhoods forces too many young men into bad choices.

To be successful, the My Brother’s Keeper project has to help fix the places where boys and young men live and learn.

___

The Detroit Free Press. Sept. 24, 2015

Here’s what we know about the water supply in Flint: State data show there’s more lead in the city’s water than at any time in the last 20 years, according to published reports. And new data compiled by a Hurley Children’s Hospital researcher shows that the percentage of children with elevated blood-lead levels, in some zip codes, nearly doubled since the city began to draw its water from the Flint River.

If the number of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels is indeed due to a change in that city’s water supply, it’s a shocking dereliction of duty - a failure by government to protect its most vulnerable charges.

And government has to fix it.

Lead poisoning is irreversible, and it conveys a host of developmental problems for the children who suffer from it. That’s a bleak diagnosis for Flint families.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Flint Democrat, said he’s asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action, and may request help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If the city’s water supply is compromised, those most at risk - pregnant women and formula-fed infants - cannot continue to consume it. Filtration systems that can remove lead from water are expensive. So is bottled water. Flint is not a wealthy town, and residents who must acquire either will need financial assistance.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services challenged the Hurley data, saying that the spike in the percentage of children with elevated blood-lead levels is a seasonal anomaly that is not related to the water supply, but acknowledged that lead in the City of Flint is “a problem that needs to be addressed.”

The percentage of children in Michigan with elevated blood-lead levels has been dropping for decades, state data show. That’s changed, according to the Hurley data, since the city began to use Flint River water.

An increase in blood-lead levels isn’t the first problem linked to that decision. But it is the most serious.

Until spring of last year, the City of Flint was a customer of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. That city, along with Genesee, Lapeer and Sanilac counties, now comprise the new Karegnondi Water Authority, set to open in 2016 with water pulled from Lake Huron. In April of 2014, Flint terminated its contract with the Detroit system, choosing instead to draw water from the Flint River while the Karegnondi system was under construction.

The city’s first spate of trouble came when water samples registered high levels of coliform bacteria. Inept water treatment personnel added too much disinfectant to the river water, causing a different set of problems.

But the current situation, researchers say, is caused by the natural corrosive properties of Flint River water; the water leaches lead from the city’s aging infrastructure into the water that passes through it at a higher rate.

“What we found in our data is concerning,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, program director for the pediatric residency at the Hurley Children’s Hospital at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. She also holds an appointment in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and Human Development. “This is not something you mess around with.”

The risk is higher for some, Hanna-Attisha said, particularly pregnant women and formula-fed infants, whose diet is composed almost entirely of water - both should avoid Flint water that hasn’t been filtered to remove lead. But bottled water - and reliable lead filtration systems - are expensive. Women with infants should be encouraged to breastfeed, Hanna-Attisha said.

There are governmental fixes for some of these problems: The federal Women and Infant Children nutrition program guidelines could be expanded to include ready-to-feed formula, that won’t require tap water. At-risk families should be connected with assistance to purchase bottled water or filtration systems. Federal and state lawmakers should move quickly to assist Flint families.

For children who have already been exposed, there are no remedies.

City officials have previously defended the decision as a cost-saving measure for Flint; Detroit Water and Sewerage Department rates were expected to increase, and local officials believe that joining the new system will yield long-term savings.

But at what cost?

___

Port Huron Times Herald. Sept. 25, 2015.

No, the EPA isn’t out to extinguish your grill.

It seemed to take Michigan politicians a really long time to recognize the hazards posed by the proposed low-level nuclear waste dump near the shores of Lake Huron at Kincardine, Ontario. Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, for instance, was scheduling hearings and writing letters before the typical reaction from government leaders on this side of Lake Huron had even reached the “Huh?”

stage.

Eventually, though, our political leaders recognized that opposition to the waste storage site had a following. We use the word “leaders” facetiously. Clearly, they were following the winds of public opinion.

They held hearings and passed resolutions, which certainly was better than never getting on board with those who feared the Kincardine site, like every nuclear waste storage site so far, would eventually leak.

But politics has its realities.

Politicians do what’s popular.

There’s a name for that: Demagoguery. It means pandering to the popular will regardless whether it makes sense or even serves the public good.

The latest blatant pandering from Lansing happened Thursday.

The state Senate adopted a resolution sponsored by Tom Casperson and Phil Pavlov to oppose a study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they say could lead to federal regulation of backyard barbecues. The resolution now goes to the House.

If it weren’t such obviously manipulative tub-thumping it would be funny. After all, what could possible be more un-American than regulating our backyard grills! Hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet! What will they take from us next? Vote for me, I saved your barbecued chicken from the long arm of the federal government!

Excuse our exclamation marks.

Like the too-late opposition to the nuclear waste storage site, the study in question has already been completed. It was a student project at the University of California- Riverside to find a way to make backyard propane grills behave better and produce less sooty air pollution. It turns out that the flareups that scorch your chicken are also the worst source of sooty, black smoke, the worst emissions from backyard grills.

The student researchers invented a better drip tray to minimize flareups. It’s hardly government over-regulation.

___

The Holland Sentinel. Sept. 25, 2015.

Quick Hits: Four thoughts on this week’s news.

1. Another record year for county fairs

As Caleb Whitmer reported Tuesday, the Allegan County Fair attracted more than 300,000 visitors this year, setting a new record for attendance. It’s not hard to see why, with big acts like Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum and Fall Out Boy coming to town. However, what was surprising was that those acts weren’t the biggest draws. Fair manager Saree Miller said concert attendance was a “little low” this year. What did set a record was ride sales. Good to hear the ferris wheel is still a huge draw and that more people came out this year than any other. Pairing the record-high at the Allegan fair with the record attendance at the Ottawa County Fair this year, one can surmise that fairs simply offer good old-fashioned family fun that to this day is irresistible. Nothing says a good time like a corn dog.

2. Impact of Schools of Choice

Amy Biolchini’s report Sunday about area schools facing an unequal impact from Michigan’s Schools of Choice program was enlightening. Seems some school districts are reaping the benefits (Zeeland, Hamilton and Saugatuck) while others are feeling the negative effects (West Ottawa, Holland). Holland Public Schools has seen the biggest impact with more than 1,600 students leaving the district to attend a different school just last year alone. Superintendent Brian Davis and the school board face the daunting challenge of turning this around, and we hope they figure it out soon. The city is only as strong as its school district and Holland will only thrive so long as its school district is attractive for residents to send their children there. Meanwhile, Zeeland is drawing students from West Ottawa and Holland while only losing students to private schools or charter schools. When asked to explain the growth, ZPS Superintendent Cal De Kuiper cited “student and parent satisfaction.” Perhaps Holland and West Ottawa could learn something from Zeeland.

3. Kandu shrouded in mystery

We were happy to hear that Kandu was going to keep operations going until the end of September, but our curiosity was raised when word of a Ottawa County Sheriff’s investigation got out on Sunday. The shut down was originally blamed on cuts to Medicare funding and budget restraints put on Community Mental Health of Ottawa County. Now, we’re not so sure. Board members and CEO Tom Vreeman have remained silent and directed questions to a lawyer whose specialties are in criminal law and fraud and embezzlement recovery practice groups. The lawyer has not returned phone calls from The Sentinel as of yet. We’ll be following this story closely as it develops.

4. Tulip Time a big hit economically

Justine McGuire’s report Saturday of an economic impact study done by the Tulip Time Festival hit all the right notes. Almost $13 million was generated in economic activity directly tied to the annual festival and, according to Tulip Time officials, almost 500,000 were drawn to the event. The study, completed in partnership with Anderson Economic Group, was the first of its kind done by Tulip Time officials and showed a good chunk of attendees were younger than 35 years old, 56 percent were first time visitors and 66 percent of those plan to return to Holland either for the festival or during a different time of year. That is especially good news for Holland. With the construction of a new hotel set to be completed downtown in November, next year’s festival is sure to bring in even more money for the city and more people. Combine that news with McGuire’s report last Friday about tourism hitting a record highs in Holland this summer, and it’s not hard to surmise that Holland is leaving a good impression on people.

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