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Grand Rapids church pays off almost $2M in medical debt for Michigan families

Nearly 2,000 western Michigan families will get letters this week announcing that all of their medical debt has been paid off by a local church.

Grand Rapids First, a Wyoming, Michigan, congregation, is covering 1,899 families’ medical debts — almost $2 million in total — across four Michigan counties. Through RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based debt purchasing nonprofit, Grand Rapids First paid pennies on the dollar to purchase $1.8 million in debt for about $15,000, according to the church’s executive pastor and CFO Doug Tuttle.

Grand Rapids First is now one of more than one dozen churches throughout the nation that have worked with RIP Medical Debt to tackle medical debt, an issue that contributes to two-thirds of U.S. bankruptcies. The Michigan debt repayments cover families in Kent, Ottawa, Allegan and Ionia counties that will be notified of the gift via letter from RIP Medical Debt some time this week. Tuttle said the largest single debt the church paid off was more than $75,000 in medical charges that were spread over three debt accounts belonging to one person. The gift is covered by Grand Rapids First’s missions fund, so Tuttle said no church-wide fund-raising was necessary.

Church leaders don’t know the identities of the people they’re helping, or if any of them are part of Grand Rapids First's congregation — medical privacy laws mean only RIP Medical Debt knows the gifts’ recipients. But Tuttle said RIP is intentional about choosing recipients who will most benefit from debt forgiveness, like people whose debt is disproportionate to their income or who already live in poverty.

With the gift, Grand Rapids First also hopes to reflect the mission of Christ and echo a biblical repayment of sins. The congregation was“overwhelmed” when lead pastor Sam Rijfkogel announced the payment plan Sunday morning, Tuttle said. "Today, that $1,832,439.26 that's looming over families right now, those families that are living at poverty rates or less, has been paid in full as a result of a gift from this church," Rijfkogel told the congregation during his Sunday sermon. "Paid in full, not held against them one bit."


Twins charged in shooting at Detroit coney shop that didn't serve mushrooms

Detroit — Two Detroit men, twins age 61, face multiple felony charges in a Wednesday morning shooting at a coney shop on Detroit's west side that authorities say was provoked by the restaurant not selling fried mushrooms.

Arraignments are expected Sunday morning for Dwight and Duane Samuels at 34th District Court in Romulus, which handles weekend arraignments for all of Wayne County, said Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

It was about 2 a.m. Wednesday, at Nicky D's coney shop on the 15700 block of West Seven Mile, when a 40-year-old man was beaten with a pipe and shot on his face, in an attack that was caught on camera.

The twins face an identical slate of eight charges: assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, firearm possession by a felon, carrying a concealed weapon, and four counts of felony firearm.

Police say the twins had been told that the restaurant does not sell fried mushrooms. One of them had been carrying a metal pipe; the other, a gun. Both, authorities say, allegedly used their weapons of choice to maim the victim, before fleeing from the scene in a vehicle.


VW union vote: Chattanooga workers decide against joining UAW

Volkswagen workers in Tennessee have voted against joining the United Auto Workers, sending a strong rebuke to the country's largest industrial union.

Employees voted 833 to 776 to reject unionization, amid concerns that unionization could temper the German automaker's interest in Tennessee, according to the automaker. Volkswagen employs about 1,700 workers and 3,200 temporary workers at its Chattanooga plant.

“Our employees have spoken," said Frank Fischer, president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga in an emailed statement. "Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority."

The election, limited to full-time employees, began June 12 and ended June 14. A total of 1,609 votes were cast in the election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, according to Volkswagen. The NLRB will need to certify the results and there will be a legal review, Fischer said.


Howes: Tesla growth story giving way to tale of distress, restructuring

Tesla Inc.’s credibility is crumbling on Wall Street.

Shares in the Silicon Valley electric-car maker are down more than 42% so far this year. It’s cutting prices on its high-end Model S and Model X, suggesting the first quarter's sales slump of nearly one-third is no fluke. Consumer Reports says the automatic lane-change feature on its misnamed "Autopilot" driving system lags "far behind a human driver's skill set" and "could create potential safety risks for drivers."

One prominent analyst, Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas, this week said the shares could plunge to $10 from Wednesday’s close of roughly $192 under his so-called “bear” scenario. Insiders are selling their shares at the fastest rate since 2013, Bloomberg reports. And Chairman Elon Musk is warning employees that its losses so far this year are not sustainable.

"That is a lot of money, but actually only gives us approximately ten months at the first-quarter burn rate to achieve break-even,” he continued, urging employees to tightly control spending. "This is hardcore, but it is the only way for Tesla to become financially sustainable and succeed in our goal of helping make the world environmentally sustainable."

The continuing sell-off is no coincidence. It represents realistic investors replacing hope with experience and a dollop of instinct: quasi-frantic warnings about slowing the cash burn and squeezing expenses, coupled with softening demand, are the definition of a downward spiral.

In a follow-on conference call Wednesday to explain his $10-a-share scenario, a recording of which was obtained by Bloomberg, Morgan Stanley's Jonas said: "Tesla was seen as a growth story. Today, supply exceeds demand, they are burning cash, nobody cares about the Model Y, they raise capital and there’s no strategic buy-in.

"Today, Tesla is not really seen as a growth story. It’s seen more as a distressed credit and restructuring story. At the heart of this is demand. What is changed is demand. That is the first domino.”

Few places know that sickening feeling better than Detroit, whose market share plummeted as Japanese, German and later South Korean rivals ultimately claimed a majority of the rich U.S. market. A growth story-turned-massively distressed restructuring, the Motor City was an eyewitness to the unwinding of the American auto industry, its employment base and the wealth generation that helped build the modern middle class as we know it.


Accused Mexican drug smuggler skips court after posting $200 bond

Detroit — A Mexican citizen facing life in prison for allegedly trying to smuggle more than 6 kilos of cocaine and heroin into Detroit has absconded after a Wayne County visiting magistrate freed him on $200 bond.

Jose Antonio Lopez, 24, is wanted by police after he skipped a March 12 probable cause hearing in 36th District Court, following his March 2 arraignment in 34th District Court in Romulus. He had confessed to the crime, police said.

Despite the confession, the severity of the charges and Lopez's status as a non-U.S. resident, visiting magistrate Vesta Swenson set bond at $2,000/10 percent. The defendant posted the $200 needed to get out of jail and fled.

"I’m deeply disappointed that someone who commits a crime of this magnitude, in addition to being a foreign national, which makes him a tremendous flight risk, is allowed back on the street for $200," Detroit police Chief James Craig said. "It's an outrage."


Would-be Tesla customers wait, wait for their cash back

Detroit News -Daniel Howes

How long could Detroit’s automakers get away with sitting on $1,000 deposits from customers tired of waiting, waiting, waiting for their new electric car?

Not very long. The likes of General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV would be accused of using the cash as interest-free financing to fuel their operations. And the allegations would be directionally, if not literally, correct.
They would be pilloried — by investors, by regulators, by the news media, especially by would-be customers. Any constituency accustomed to calling BS on sketchy tactics would smell more of a money grab by a financially stressed startup than the defensible actions of a crisply run company.

But not Tesla Inc.
The Silicon Valley-based automaker controlled by Elon Musk is slow-walking requests for refunds, Bloomberg News reports. Customers tired of waiting for the company to deliver a legit $35,000 Model 3 compact as promised several years ago say they are being forced to wait as long as six months to get their cash back.

Starting in 2016, Tesla booked hundreds of millions in individual $1,000 deposits eager to get their hands on an affordable Tesla intended for the masses. But the folks who can't afford the upscale versions of the Model 3, much less the flagship Model S, mostly are left to wait, wait, wait because Tesla needed the cash, cash, cash it could book from building higher-priced Model 3s first.
The double standard is stunning, if entirely predictable by now. Flouting common business sense is a core principle of Musk, whose iconoclasm attracts investors, boosts the company's market value and raises a simple question: How long can this kind of stuff go on in one of the country's most regulated industries?

It's yet another example showing how the rules are different for the global auto industry's pre-eminent startup. Its CEO regularly spurns industry convention; its senior management churns repeatedly; its manufacturing quality evokes more Detroit circa 1980 than Silicon Valley 2019. And Tesla mostly gets away with it.

When Tesla sits on nearly $800 million in customer deposits at the end of last year, according to Bloomberg, and continues to assemble a record of customer-service complaints, how long before regulators start asking about what's going on? Customers already are.

What they may lack in brand cachet could be offset by the quaint notions of dependability, the ability to more easily get parts and timely service, and the assurance that it wouldn't take six months to get a customer deposit returned because the automaker couldn't keep its end of the bargain.
Doing what you say you're gonna do still matters — and it should.


More than 25K strike at Mexican border factories

Source: Detroit News

Mexico City – More than 25,000 Mexican workers at dozens of factories south of Brownsville, Texas, went on strike Friday after owners of the plants that assemble for export refused union demands for a 20 percent pay hike and an annual bonus.

The Union of Maquiladora Industry Industrial Workers of Matamoros, the SJOIIM, said that by late Saturday nine companies had agreed to meet the salary and bonus demands.

The strikes affect factories that make auto parts, medical equipment, plastics and other goods.
The labor strife comes on the heels of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s promise to double the minimum wage in communities along the U.S. border to 176.2 pesos a day, the equivalent of $9.28 at current exchange rates.

However, workers who were making more than minimum wage in Matamoros factories would not have benefited from the hike in the minimum wage, sparking discontent. The workers are also demanding a one-time bonus of about $1,685.

Read more: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/2019/01/26/strike-mexican-border-factories/38961091/

Marc Edwards Is a Sad Victim of Our Modern Political Era (Flint water crisis)

from Mother Jones

"This is very sad: Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who first exposed toxic levels of lead in the water supply of Flint, Michigan, was initially a hero to the Flint community. Thanks to him, Flint became the target of nationwide outrage, and steps were finally taken to reconnect Flint to the (safe) Detroit water supply. In less than a year, lead levels in Flint water had dropped to safe levels.

So what did Edwards do? Well, he’s a scientist, and just as he had honestly exposed Flint’s problems in the first place, he also continued to honestly report the results of the intervention. When the water was once again safe, he said so—and that turned him from a hero into a pariah."

"But this is not just about one guy who’s faced unfair attacks. It’s way more important than that. Here in the progressive community, we like to criticize conservatives for being too anti-science; too tribal; and too subservient to their most extreme wing. But look at what happened here. The science, as you’d expect, told us that Flint’s water got better after mitigation measures were taken—but the activists on the ground were too angry and bitter to accept that. Instead, they turned tribal on the guy reporting the results, and at that point you were either with them or against them."


Rep. Debbie Dingell wants to add breathalyzers to cars in honor of Michigan family killed by drunk

Source: MLive

Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat representing Michigan's 12th district, announced plans this week to introduce legislation aimed at reducing drunk driving.

The action is prompted by the deaths of Northville residents Issam Abbas and Dr. Rima Abbas and their three children - Ali, 14; Isabelle, 13; and Giselle, 7, who were killed by a drink driver in Kentucky while on their way home from a Florida vacation.“Their loss has devastated our community in ways you cannot imagine,” Dingell said during a Thursday speech on the U.S. House of Representatives floor. “In every sense of the word, they were a community. Their absence stunned this community and is felt deeply and emotionally.”

Dingell, whose 12th District includes Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Dearborn and the Abbas’ hometown of Northville, is planning to introduce legislation that would require all new vehicles to have interlocking breathalyzers.

These devices are usually attached to the ignition system of the vehicles and require you to test your blood-alcohol content before unlocking and starting your car. Simply put, if your BAC is above the legal limit, it won't allow you to start the car.

Read more: https://www.mlive.com/news/2019/01/rep-debbie-dingell-wants-to-add-breathalyzers-to-cars-in-honor-of-abbas-family.html

American buyers continue to abandon the trusty car

"Automakers largely reported that cars dragged on U.S. sales last month, in some cases despite booming SUV and truck sales. Meantime, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which has been phasing cars out of its lineup, reaped the rewards in November.

The November sales results beat some analyst expectations, as most automakers reported smaller sales slips than expected. But U.S. consumers continue to flee sedans in droves, a trend guiding executive decision-making at the highest levels. Even Toyota's typically best-selling Camry sedan was off nearly 30 percent compared to a year ago.

"The market continues to abandon cars, with no end in sight," said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. "Automakers have slowed or stopped production, so inventory is down, and buyers are mostly looking at trucks and SUVs.

A few models have somewhat stabilized in recent months, but generally speaking cars — and brands that depend heavily on cars — don’t have a good story to tell. Every time we think we’ve hit the bottom in car market share another month passes with trucks and SUVs gaining while cars lose."

F-Series marked a record nine straight months topping the 70,000 truck mark, a consistent performance by a high-volume, high-margin product unmatched in the industry," said Ford sales chief Mark LaNeve in a statement.

Toyota's car sales were down enough to drag down booming SUV and truck sales. The automaker reported a 15-percent increase in SUV sales and a 10.6-percent increase in truck sales for its best-ever month of selling trucks — but that was overshadowed by car sales that were off 18 percent.

Nissan Group reported overall sales dropped 19 percent in November, with car sales down 34 percent, and truck sales off 13.1 percent.


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