New robotics practice space unveiled in St. Clair County

Port Huron Times Herald
AP Member Exchange
PORT HURON — The arms of a dark blue robot unfurled and lifted up a disk with Velcro edges. Carefully, it maneuvered to a tall tower with circular holes cut into it. The driver carefully manipulated the machine to place the disk over one of the holes, sticking it onto the tower.
U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden Township, visited the practice space for the Blue Water Area Robotics Alliance, which held its grand opening on a recent Tuesday.
Ahead of Mitchell’s arrival, students from nine area robotics teams manned their work stations inside the space. The space itself is provided by P.J. Wallbank Springs. Teams began moving in back in February, but the facilities have come a long way since then.
Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School juniors Alex Kerry and Avery Forra, both 16, said they had been using the facility for about seven months, and were excited to enter the coming season.
“It really gives us a chance to test our designs and communicate with other teams,” Alex told the Port Huron Times Herald.
Both said they were introduced to engineering through robotics, and intend to pursue it as a career.
“I had never even thought about it before,” Avery said. “Just a great hands on experience.”
Where tape was used to mark the field on the floor, now stands a fully equipped practice field in accordance with FIRST robotics regulations. The field cost about $23,000 to build. The largest donor to the project was the AT&T foundation, St. Clair County Economic Development Alliance CEO Dan Casey said. The Community Foundation of St. Clair County and the Economic Development Alliance also chipped in.
Casey said FIRST Robotics provides valuable skills to young people, and facilities like this one offer valuable hands on experience.
There are still a few items to add to the practice space, Casey said. Computer systems with computer-aided design software, better known as CAD, drill presses and file cabinets are also on the list.
Casey said he would like to see similar hands-on educational opportunities offered in fields beyond engineering, naming nursing as an example.
“We know it’s the right thing to do, we want to do more of it in other industries,” he said.
Mitchell toured the facility and spoke with students, mentors and others in attendance for about 45 minutes before offering a few remarks to the crowd.
He thanked Chris Walbank and P.J. Wallbank Springs for providing the space.
“This is cool and fun stuff, and I think it’s wonderful for our young people,” Mitchell said.

Bedbugs found on campus

FLINT (AP) — Mott Community College officials say bedbug-infested chairs have been removed from a student lounge on the Flint campus.
The college says the chairs were removed for treatment to kill the insects after they were found Thursday on the chairs in the Mott Memorial Building’s student lounge. reports that the bedbug find on the Flint campus follows the discovery of bedbugs earlier this month in a high school classroom in the Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools, which is also in Genesee County.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture all consider bedbugs a public health pest.
But unlike most public health pests, bedbugs are not known to transmit or spread disease.

Penn State gets past Michigan Wolverines, 28-21


Michigan running back Hassan Haskins, top center, is tackled by Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, bottom, during the first half in State College, Pa., on Saturday. (AP photo)

The Associated Press
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After a deep ball bounced off his hands, KJ Hamler pulled Sean Clifford aside and told his quarterback he owed him one.
It didn’t take long for Hamler to make it up to him.
The speedy wideout burned the Michigan secondary two quarters later and hauled in a perfectly thrown 53-yard touchdown pass to help propel No. 7 Penn State to a 28-21 win over No. 16 Michigan on Saturday.
Clifford wasn’t surprised to see the nearest Michigan defender nearly 10 yards behind Hamler, who finished with six catches for 108 yards.
“I know KJ’s fast enough to get to that weakness in their defense every single time,” Clifford said.
And the first-year starter is getting better at finding him down the field.
Clifford hit Hamler on a 25-yard pass to start the scoring, hooked up with tight end Pat Freiermuth for a 17-yard touchdown and ran for a 1-yard score to pace Penn State’s offense.
The Wolverines battled back from a 21-7 halftime deficit and with just over two minutes to play, had a chance to tie the game on fourth-and-goal from Penn State’s 3. But Michigan wideout Ronnie Bell dropped a potential tying touchdown with Penn State safety Lamont Wade playing tight coverage.
“That stop was huge,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.

Detroit Lions’ defense smashed up in 42-30 loss to Minnesota

DETROIT (AP) — Kirk Cousins matched a career high with four touchdown passes, leading the surging Minnesota Vikings to a 42-30 win over the slumping Detroit Lions on Sunday.
The Vikings (5-2) have won three consecutive games in part because their quarterback is making plays to complement one of the NFL’s top defenses.
Matthew Stafford also threw four touchdown passes, all to Marvin Jones, and became the fastest to reach 40,000 yards passing in NFL history. And Jones became the first Lions player in the Super Bowl era with four receiving TDs in a game.
The Lions (2-3-1) dropped their third straight game after a 2-0-1 start and they probably can’t complain too much about officiating in their latest setback. The Lions had some critical penalty calls go against them in a 23-22 loss to Green Bay on Monday night.
Detroit’s defense simply couldn’t get Cousins off the field on Sunday.
Cousins was 24 of 34 for a season-high 337 yards and four TDs without an interception. He led the Vikings on four straight TD drives starting in the first quarter and ending in the third, going ahead for the first time on a 5-yard pass to C.J. Ham to make it 28-21.

Michigan allows prison inmates to seek college financial aid

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan’s prison inmates are now allowed to apply for college financial aid through a state program that had long excluded them but was changed under the state’s 2020 budget.
Michigan’s Tuition Incentive Program , or TIP, is a state-funded program that reimburses tuition expenses for Medicaid-eligible students at participating public and private institutions.
Terrell Blount, a program associate with the Vera Institute of Justice, told the Detroit Free Press last week that expanding the program’s eligibility to inmates is a “big win” for Michigan, where college subsidy opportunities for prisoners are limited. He added Michigan is now among 18 states that do not prevent incarcerated students from receiving the state’s financial aid.
The Michigan Department of Treasury will administer the $64.3 million allotted to TIP from the 2020 budget.
“It makes a statement saying that … education changes lives. It reduces recidivism,” said Blount, who worked with state agency officials and policymakers to change TIP’s eligibility. “Everyone agrees people should be held accountable for what they’ve done or committed, but that doesn’t mean that they should be deprived and have their educational opportunity taken away from them.”
An early estimate shows that less than 3% of inmates will be eligible for the program because of age restrictions, Blount noted.
The program requires that students apply before Aug. 31 of the school year in which they graduate from high school or earn their GED certificate. Applicants must graduate or get their GED before age 20, and their eligibility will end six years later.
There are three Michigan schools — Delta College, Jackson College and Mott Community College — offering courses to incarcerated students through the federal Second Chance Pell pilot, which allows 67 schools nationwide to experiment in awarding Pell grants to students in prison. A provision of the 1994 federal crime bill barred inmates from receiving Pell grants, and advocates for prison education are pushing Congress to overturn that ban.
Altogether, a little more than 700 inmates within the Michigan Department of Corrections are enrolled in post-secondary education classes.

Detroit-area men who sent millions to Yemen spared prison by judge

Associated Press
DETROIT — A group of Detroit-area men opened bank accounts to move millions of dollars to Yemen, their war-torn native country. Their crime: They didn’t register as a money transfer business.
Their luck: They drew a sympathetic judge.
One by one, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn declined to send them to prison, despite guidelines that call for a few years or more behind bars. He noted that Yemen’s financial system is a mess and its residents desperately need help. Defense lawyers have praised the judge for educating himself about the poorest country in the Arab world and understanding cultural traditions.
“Only people without compassion” would object to the light sentences, the 95-year-old judge told The Associated Press.
“As I’ve been here longer,” Cohn said, “I’ve come to the realization that the rules are flexible — at least to me.”
The Detroit area is believed to have the highest U.S. population of Yemenis, a demographic that has risen amid war in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions more with food and health care shortages.
Money sent from abroad is critical. The World Bank estimates that Yemenis received at least $3.3 billion in 2018, a figure some experts consider conservative. Cash from expatriates is “hugely important” and remains a “mainstay for many households and the national economy,” said Sheila Carapico, a professor of global studies at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Since 2018, federal prosecutors in Detroit have charged nine people in an investigation of cash transfers to Yemen. Bank accounts were opened in the names of shell businesses, then used to deposit and wire roughly $90 million over a seven-year period, according to plea agreements filed in court.
“Much of the currency originated from bodegas in New York City and from businesses and individuals in the metro Detroit area and was sent in a manner to conceal the true ownership of the currency, place it outside reach of law enforcement and evade income taxes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Wyse said.
The “evil” is the lack of records to precisely track the cash, he said.
All nine men have pleaded guilty to failing to register money transfer businesses or making false statements to agents. One, Fahd Samaha, said he charged people only 1%, much less than typical financial service providers. The government said he moved $13 million to Yemen.
“There were no victims. … He used the extra money to live and take care of his family,” said Samaha’s attorney, Jalal Dallo.
The cases were assigned to Cohn, who has been a federal judge since 1979. During a September hearing, he described the conditions in Yemen as “horrendous” and noted that sending men to prison can cause hardship in conservative Muslim families where wives often don’t work outside the home.
It’s unfair to “shed the traditions and practices of your homeland,” Cohn told Hazem Saleh, who possibly faced five years in custody for handling $22.6 million.
Judges don’t have to follow sentencing guidelines, and Cohn rejected prison terms. He placed Saleh and five others on supervised release, a form of probation. Three others await sentencing.
“Please look at me as you would look at your own son,” Ahmed Al-Howshabi told the judge in July. “I can truthfully say I did not understand the laws and regulations of operating such a business.”
Prosecutors said they had no evidence the scheme was anything more than sending money to relatives and possibly avoiding taxes, but they believed sentences within the guidelines were appropriate.
“Sometimes judges agree with us and sometimes they don’t,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider told the AP.
Defense attorney William Swor, whose grandparents emigrated from Syria, said people of Arab descent appear to be under greater scrutiny than others in the U.S.
“In the post-9/11 world, the government says it wants to know who’s transferring money out of the country. We’ll assume that’s a legitimate concern, but it’s not inherently a dangerous activity,” Swor said.

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An Ithaca cider mill becoming a hidden gem in its area

Morning Sun
AP Member Exchange
MOUNT PLEASANT — Motorists exiting U.S. 127 in Ithaca might whiz right by a unique hidden gem tucked in behind two other East Center Street businesses just off the expressway.
The Apple Barrel Cider Mill, owned by Chris and Marla Buerge, offers a variety of fresh fruits, homemade bakery treats, and its award-winning cider, among many other items.
Although locals know where it’s located it might be a bit more difficult for first time visitors to find the cider mill, located behind Subway and Auto Value on the south side of roadway.
Chris Buerge, a lifelong Ithaca resident, acknowledged the location was somewhat of a disadvantage but more and more travelers have been stopping in.
“People are still finding us,” he told the Morning Sun. “Every year our sales have gone up. We get a lot of people off the expressway.”
But there are also some advantages.
“We’re the first exit where services are offered north of Lake Lansing Road,” Buerge noted.
A number of gas stations and fast food restaurants are located nearby.
“We also have 12 acres here and when the time is right we will be able to expand,” Buerge said.
He and his wife opened the business in 2010.
“I’ve been raising apples since 1997 when I planted a small orchard at our home,” Buerge explained. “We always thought about putting in a cider mill somewhere. Then we had this property offered to us and the idea just evolved. It’s fun but it’s been a lot of work.”
Their Apple Hill Farm on Alger Road now has about 30 different strains and varieties of apples that are sold at the cider mill.
Of course, fall is the busiest time of year when the mill employs 13 to 14 mostly part-time workers.
Wife Marla, a Middleton native, is at the cider mill most every day but Chris, along with his brother Kim, also own a local contracting business, Buerge Insulation & Windows.
“That keeps me pretty busy,” Chris said. “And fall is the busiest time for both.”
The couple’s son, Corey, makes the cider in an apple press. The entire process can be viewed by patrons through large glass windows.
“It’s pretty popular,” Buerge said. “We make it on Wednesdays and Saturdays and people enjoy watching.”
Corey is a certified cider-maker and his apple cider took second place at the Michigan Cider Contest held at the Devos Center in Grand Rapids.
However, the cider-making took place on a recent Friday due a funeral the family had to attend the following day.
Apple Barrel offers many varieties of apples and other fresh fruits, as well as homemade doughnuts, pies and fudge, mums, hanging baskets, bedding plants, pumpkins and squash,
All of the baked goods are made from scratch daily.
In addition, there’s a gift shop that features various types local crafts, honey and other items.
The building’s interior has a rustic atmosphere that has been decorated using re-purposed old siding and beams from eight local barns that were being torn down.
The business also sells small prefabricated cabins and sheds that can be purchased on a “rent to own” basis.
“That’s been kind of a big thing,” Buerge said.
The Apple Barrel Cider Mill is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday year-round.
“There aren’t many (cider mills) that operate all year,” Buerge said. “But being in town we can do that because we still get local people coming in during the winter.”

School lifts costume ban

CHARLOTTE, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan elementary school has lifted its short-lived ban on students wearing costumes to school for Halloween following an outcry by parents.
Galewood Early Elementary School pulled its Halloween ban Friday, less than a week after announcing that classroom parties and costumes wouldn’t be allowed this Halloween.
The school’s Halloween parade was also canceled, but all of the Halloween festivities will now be permitted on Oct. 31 at the school in the mid-Michigan city of Charlotte.
The Lansing State Journal reports several parents complained that the school’s Halloween ban wasn’t consistent with what other district schools planned for this Halloween.
Parent Eric Frederick says he’s pleased the Halloween events have been reinstated. He says school officials listened to parents, reconsidered their decision and “we got what we were asking for.”

2 pedestrians struck, killed

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Two people have been struck by a car and killed during a hit-and-run crash on a western Michigan street.
Grand Rapids police say a preliminary investigation shows the man and woman, both age 56, were walking within a crosswalk after 11 p.m. Saturday when they were struck by a car which drove through a stop sign.
The victims were pronounced dead at the scene. Both were Grand Rapids residents. Their names were not immediately released.
A tip later led police to the driver of the car who was arrested Sunday morning.

Michigan Wolverines, Penn State Nittany Lions play to stay in playoff hunt

Associated Press
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Sean Clifford looks forward to watching himself on tape more and more each week.
It is one of the perks of being Penn State’s starting quarterback. It is also part of the burden.
“I think each week you’ve got to find something to critique yourself about,” Clifford said.
Clifford knows he must improve if the No. 7 Nittany Lions (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) want to keep their winning streak going today against No. 16 Michigan (5-1, 3-1) and stay in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth.
Until last week against Iowa, the first-year starter had looked unflappable. Clifford is completing 64% of his passes and has thrown 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions. His running ability has been on display, too. Clifford leads the team with 59 carries and is second with 252 rushing yards.
But in Iowa City, Clifford ran into some trouble during the primetime showdown with the Hawkeyes. It was the first time Clifford failed to throw for at least 200 yards, but Penn State won 17-12.
That could prove tougher against the Wolverines.
Michigan has the nation’s 14th-ranked defense that is ninth against the pass. Michigan has 16 sacks among its 31 tackles for loss over the last three games.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Michigan linebacker Khaleke Hudson said. “He’s got good accuracy. He’s got good scrambling ability. You can tell that he trusts the players around him. He gives his receivers chances to go up and get the ball and they’ve got good receivers to do that for them.”