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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is in the middle of a contentious recall fight, which has made headlines around the country.

But one story that hasn’t gotten as much attention is the ongoing criminal investigation involving a number of Scott Walker’s former staff members. The investigation is centered on Scott Walker’s time as Milwaukee’s county executive. So far, a half dozen of Walker’s former staffers have been charged with various crimes related to the mishandling of funds.

Walker has mostly remained above the fray. But Friday, Walker announced that he’s started a legal defense fund.

A spokesman for Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the governor has been told “he is not a target of this investigation.”

But the paper’s watchdog columnist, Daniel Bice, reports that there are very clear restrictions on when elected officials are allowed to create legal defense funds.

From Bice’s column:

“The only way you can set that up is if you are under investigation or being prosecuted,” said Michael Maistelman, an election lawyer who is representing former Walker aide Tim Russell in the John Doe investigation. “One can only draw the conclusion that either one of those two things is happening.”

The prosecutor in the case is, not surprisingly, not commenting. But Bice says investigators have been looking into possible election law violations for 22 months. One former Walker staffer has already pleaded guilty. Another one was due in court today on embezzlement charges, but couldn’t make it because of an illness.

Walker is expected to meet with investigators later this month.

Mt. Fuji, as seen from the bullet train/photo by Micki Maynard

A year ago, people in the Midwest were realizing the damage that the massive earthquake and tsunami had done to Japan. And, while the region affected by the earthquake is starting its long recovery, everyone here has learned some permanent lessons.

1) We are all connected. To borrow a phrase from the Symphony of Science, the earthquake on the coast of Japan reminded us of how closely linked everyone is on earth. The earthquake disrupted parts and vehicle production for automakers overseas and in the United States for months — and had a significant impact on the Midwest.

In the Midwest, our Niala Boodhoo found that 160,000 people in the Great Lakes states worked directly for Japanese based companies. She reported on the impact for Morning Edition.

All across the region, companies, charities and even chefs stepped forward to help people affected by the disasters in Japan, sending everything from portable toilets to gas tanks and of course, cash. At Takashi, in Chicago, an all-star team of restaurant owners from around the city stepped up to cook a meal whose proceeds benefited the American Red Cross. 

2) Recovery is not instantaneous. We live in a world of the 24-hour news cycle, where word of events happening in one place can be beamed around the world within seconds via Twitter and Facebook. But the comeback for Japanese companies has been a step by step process.

One example is the automobile industry, which is vitally important to our region. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Subaru all have factories and employees in our states.

In March 2011, the same month as the earthquake, Japanese automakers held 40 percent of American sales, according to statistics from Autodata, Inc. By June, with parts and vehicle deliveries disrupted, that fell to 30 percent of the market.

Last month, Japanese automakers held 37.8 percent, their highest share since the earthquake, but they are not yet back to where they were.

3) Diversify your production base. Over the past year, Japan’s currency has been at an all time high against the U.S. dollar. That, plus the disruptions caused by the earthquake, is causing a number of auto companies to hasten the shift of production from Japan to the United States.

Toyota told journalists in Toronto last month that it is looking at shifting Lexus and Prius production east from Japan, due to the super-strong yen.

That’s on top of a $400 million expansion that’s taking place at Toyota’s Princeton, Ind., plant, which will become its only global location for the Highlander, a sport utility vehicle. And, Toyota’s new plant in Blue Springs, Miss., which opened in November, is already up to its full component of 2,000 workers.

Honda is expanding in Ohio, where it’s building a new engine and transmission family. It also will build the NSX sports car, which returns in 2015 for the first time in a decade, at a new facility in Marysville.

4) Know your nukes. The weeks-long crisis at Japan’s nuclear power plants caused many Midwesterners to realize that our region also relies in part on nuclear energy. There are 24 nuclear power plants around the Great Lakes, including 11 reactors in Illinois.

Michigan has four, Wisconsin has three and Ohio has two. There are none in Indiana. Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration offers an in-depth look at each state’s nuclear power status. Here are their entries for MichiganIllinoisOhio, and Wisconsin.

 

 

A tale of two legislatures The Wisconsin state legislature is wrapping up its current session, and the two pieces of legislation that were the top priorities for Republicans at the start of the year aren’t getting done. Indiana lawmakers are also wrapping up their current session. The state’s Republican leaders had a little more success, reports partner station WBEZ.

Confirmed culprit State regulators in Ohio concluded on Friday that earthquakes near Youngstown were almost certainly caused by a waste-water well drilled by the natural gas industry. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports the regulators announced new rules on future wells to hold the waste from fracking.

So, what now? Partner station Michigan Radio reports the review team that’s examining Detroit’s finances dodged a possible contempt-of-court charge by disbanding a sub-committee that met in private. A judge ruled the review team must hold its meetings in public. The review team has already found that Detroit will probably run out of cash by this summer.

Read all about it The Chicago Reader is up for sale, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

The elevated park A proposal would turn an unused 2.7 mile stretch of Chicago’s elevated rail line into a public park.

Taxing the fracking Bloomberg reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a new proposal to tax oil and gas drilling in his state. Taxes on the new kinds of drilling, known as “fracking,” could raise $1.02 billion for the state by 2016, according to the report.

$1 billion for manufacturing President Obama plans to be in Virginia today to promote a new $1 billion grant program to fund innovation in manufacturing. The plan requires approval from Congress.

Turning it around Wisconsin added jobs last month. But previous months’ figures were revised, creating a more mixed jobs picture.

Head Stop The federal government will stop sending $50 million a year to the city of Detroit to administer Head Start programs. The Detroit Free Press says the decision follows reports that city officials mishandled the money. Now, the government will try to find other organizations to run Head Start in the city.

Lower funds for higher ed Michigan is losing about $4 million in federal higher education funds. The loss is because the state cut its own budget for higher education, according to the Gannett news service.

Later, G-8er After months of planning in Chicago, city leaders found out yesterday they won’t be hosting the G-8 summit after all. Partner station WBEZ reports the decision could save the city from major protests.

Mo’ money, mo’ housing Huntington Bank is pledging $100 million in loans to help build or remodel low-income housing in Michigan. Bank officials hope the commitment generates confidence in the economy and spurs more bank lending.

Minding in the mine vote A controversial piece of legislation that would open up mining in northern Wisconsin could come up for a vote today in the state Senate.

Got milk? Yes. Wisconsin dairy cows had a record year last year. One out of every eight gallons of milk produced in the United States came from the udder of a Wisconsin cow.

Super duper You might have heard something about a vote happening today. Partner station WCPN Cleveland looks at how crossover voters could affect the very tight GOP primary race in Ohio.

“There’s something wrong” Wisconsin leads the nation in private sector job losses since last July, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And it’s the only state that’s lost jobs for the last six months in a row.

Rolling the dice The Detroit Free Press revealed over the weekend that a whopping 22 new casinos are being proposed in the state of Michigan. The paper finds plenty of skepticism whether that many casinos could succeed.

Nuclear option Partner station Michigan Radio reports on the effort to save a planned nuclear research facility at Michigan State University.

Cleveland art Cleveland’s new Museum of Contemporary Art will open in October.

Importing workers CNN reports that some manufacturers who can’t find skilled workers in the U.S. have started importing them.

Police cuts Two Chicago police precincts closed yesterday. The Chicago Tribune says it’s part of a move that should save the city $10-12 million. Chicago is working to close a $636 million budget gap.

Recovery People in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana are starting the recovery process after this weekend’s deadly storms.

A new angle The head of the UAW says the union will try to get voters to approve an amendment to the Michigan constitution to ban Right to Work legislation. Right to Work bans employers from agreeing to mandatory union membership for their workers.

Taking them to task A new task force is declaring war on corruption in Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press.  An FBI official says corruption in the city is “generational, systematic, part of the culture.”

Total recall Wisconsin election officials say recall votes will have to wait until at least June.

Some gain, still pain Illinois added jobs again last month, proof that the state is recovering – but at a “painfully slow rate,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Hold the confetti CNNMoney takes a look at manufacturing in Ohio, and says the “good times are back (sort of).”

Movies move on Interest in Michigan as a movie-making destination continues to drop. The state dramatically cut back its film incentives last year.

Happy Birthday Chicago turns 175 years old on Sunday!

We admit it, we’ve been a little poll-obsessed lately. But last week, a poll caught our attention that had nothing to do with the upcoming GOP primaries in Michigan and Ohio. The poll was done by Public Policy Polling and it basically ranks U.S. states based on popularity.

Turns out, the Midwest didn’t do so hot. No Midwestern states were in the top 10, and Illinois had one of the lowest scores of all states. But buried deep in the data, we noticed that opinions of states varied hugely depending on who was being polled. And, since we spend a lot of time in the Midwest talking about how to attract young people, we wondered how the poll results would be different if you just looked at people aged 18-29. So we put together some charts. As you can see, the results are a little surprising. Tennessee? Really?


UAW President Bob King referred last week to a “new movement for social justice” this spring, and now we know what he’s talking about. The UAW’s Facebook page on Thursday features a big photo promoting the 99% Spring, sending its readers to a new Web site called The99Spring.com.

The 99% Spring Protest Movement Gets Organized

The site speaks directly to the protests that took place in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker’s push to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. There’s a letter from its organizers, who include King, as well as a variety of union, political and other groups.

Declares the site, “In the tradition of our forefathers and foremothers and inspired by today’s brave heroes in Occupy Wall Street and Madison, Wisconsin, we will prepare ourselves for sustained non-violent direct action.”

From April 9-15, the site says, its supporters will gather across the country — “100,000 strong, in homes, places of worship, campuses and the streets to join together in the work of reclaiming our country.”

The site says there will be training programs to a) tell the story of the economy b) learn the history of non-violent direct action and c) launch campaigns to win change.

There’s nothing more specific, but the site adds,

This spring we rise! We will reshape our country with our own hands and feet, bodies and hearts. We will take non-violent action in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi to forge a new destiny one block, one neighborhood, one city, one state at a time.”

Are you interested in participating in protests? What do you think about this approach?


Worth it? The state of Wisconsin spent nearly $50 million to support investment companies that were supposed to help create new businesses. In the end, only 202 jobs were created, at a cost to taxpayers of $247,000 per job, according to an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Job openings for veterans GE says it will hire 5,000 U.S. military veterans, and open new factories. One new factory will be in Dayton, Ohio.

A big economic bite “Folksy” northeast Ohio food manufacturing companies have grown into a $2.6 billion industry with 18,000 workers, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Tough decisions Leaders in the city of Detroit are still trying to come up with ways to avoid financial insolvency. The Detroit News says some of the city’s most treasured assets may have to be sold. And leaders at the Detroit Institute of Arts also have to consider what was once unthinkable: selling valuable items in the Institute’s collection.

A taxing problem Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is hoping to do away with a costly and confusing property tax for corporations. But the Detroit Free Press reports no one is quite sure how to replace the revenue it creates.

More healthcare jobs The Columbus Dispatch reports that new hospitals at Ohio State University are expected to create 8,400 permanent jobs.

Eau Claire’s own Wisconsin native Justin Vernon had a pretty good night at the Grammys.