Thursday, December 30, 2010

Immobilizing Defeatism

Here's an actual conversation I had recently:

"Why not sell the eggs from the chickens?"

"Oh no. No no no...somebody will get sick, and then they'll sue, ya see?"

"How about bread, then? There's the new law that allows you to sell homemade bread without a..."

"Look, if somebody gets sick, or even thinks they get sick, they're gonna sue for everything ya got."

"Which isn't a whole lot..."

"No. But it's something and at least you're not in jail cuz somebody thought you gave them the runs!"

"Yeah. Well, you were talking about some inventions, some good ideas there..."

"That ain't nothin'...ya gotta get a patent, see? And once you get a patent, then China gets ahold of it and starts makin your invention, see?...hell, even if you don't have a patent, China's gonna get your invention with or without it."

" selling things, no making things."

I used to call this the "Sixty Minutes mentality". You know, the television show that terrified people with the latest, newest fad to rip people off.

The "Sixty Minutes mentality" or what I now call the "Fox News mentality": The notion that hyper-vigilance or immobility is the only sane response to a world that includes risk and danger. And the tendency to spend inordinate amounts of time guarding against the freak incident you recently saw on television.

It comes in the guise of empowerment, but manifests as an immobilizing defeatism.

Perhaps that's where Fox News wants us to be.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Local Diner

There's something comforting about a local diner.

Today my boys and I went to get some lunch with grandma and grandpa. My six year old son looked at me and asked me "Dad! can I have pie?" The waitress shook her head and told him "Nuh-uh. No pie until you eat lunch."

That. That right there.

That's a diner.

I'd eaten at Whitlow's Forerunner as far back as I can remember. Back when the Sunday brunch crowd were allowed to smoke, and the inside air was thick and smelled of pancakes, sausage, and the sweet smell of tobacco. There's where I was first introduced to coffee, corned beef hash, fried perch. I'd grown up knowing and recognizing the same waitresses.

And when I returned to Muskegon with my wife after living in Iowa for a decade...the same waitresses worked there, recognized me, exclaimed how much I'd grown. I believe many of them are family, related to the owner.

After lunch, I paid the bill and the waitress said to me, "I swear you sound exactly like your dad."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Goods won't get cheaper, but we'll still hemorrhage jobs

I've read two particularly disturbing pieces of economic news recently:

1. While US businesses are now booming...they're creating most of their jobs overseas, 1.4 million new jobs outside the US vs. 1 million jobs in the US.


2. Most of the goods created by those 1.4 million new jobs from US companies won't be sold to or in the United States...

The first figure is bad enough.

The second one, though, is the blow to the skull. Not only are the jobs not being created here...but we may have maxed out whatever improvements in purchasing power parity that have been the only, meager benefit from shipping jobs overseas: the promise of cheaper goods.

As in, goods aren't going to get any more cheaper, but jobs are going to still bleed out of the country.

But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute's senior international economist.

"There's a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy," says Scott.

American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated – think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes.

And now many of the products being made overseas aren't coming back to the United States. Demand has grown dramatically this year in emerging markets like India, China and Brazil.


23 Boarded Up Homes on Our Way to Christmas Breakfast

We counted 23 boarded up homes in the three mile drive to my aunt's house where we had Christmas breakfast. Eggs and toast and chipped ham with family. We sat together in the single bedroom, 600 square foot cape cod within spitting distance of the drive in movie theater that still opens during the summer and plays double features.

There wasn't a lot of falling snow on Christmas Day. Just snow on the ground. The crusty kind with ice beneath it on sidewalks and some exposed bits of frozen brown ground or yellow-green grass around oak trees and places exposed to constant sunlight.

Snow falls in fluffy whisps into large piles. Temperatures venture slightly above freezing long enough to turn the fluffy snow to liquid just before it freezes again. A hard shell of snow atop a fluffier interior along the banks. Children climb on it without falling through. An adult's footfall punctures holes in the top crust.

The particle board on the windows and doors of the 23 condemned homes seemed new and pristine, as thought the city had decided recently to make a month of it...boarding up all the empty, dangerous houses at once.

It all looked so new with crisp, freshly posted warnings and notices.

Somebody had already tagged a few of the homes with fresh, green spray paint, which seemed so clean compared to the occasional orange and black Beware of Dog signs of the occupied homes.

At my aunt's house we ate eggs from my cousin's house. His young daughters are in charge of watching over 15 hens. Feeding them. Checking for eggs each morning. This cousin and I are just months apart in age. Like me he heats with wood, has an expanding garden, though I feel a bit one-upped with the chickens which he slaughters when the chickens get on in chicken-years.

The eggs were good.

The catching up, good.

The cooking ham and eggs filled the house with warmth and steamed my glasses as my wife, my two children, and I walked in from the cold. I sat on the floor near my uncle who had two pugs on his lap, next to a Christmas tree, surrounded by Santa pillows, christmas lights, a slip cast Christmas sleigh candy dish...the house from wall to wall had been transformed from the Turkey, cornucopia, and Thanksgiving themed house it was a month ago, or the skeleton, ghost, and witch, Halloween theme house the month before that, to a scene like living inside a Christmas tree...and in the middle of all of it, my uncle talked to me about chainsaws, and cutting wood.

I came in just before another older cousin left.

"You look good? You lose weight?" I asked him.

"Yeah. I guess so. It's my new job."

" look good. What new job?"

"Oh, at Walmart. Only place that even ever called me back."

"That's long had it been before that?" I asked.

His mother chimed in as she threw her scarf on, "Six years."

"Well" he said "I had my own yard work business."

"YEah, I remember that. Gone, eh?"

"It went good for a while and then just tapered off and died a few years ago. But yeah, Walmart is the only place that even calls ya back, it's first come first serve, first to pass the drug test, really."


"Yeah, I dunno...they say everybody there is family. They really play that up...but you just gotta look at your paycheck to know it ain't true, ya know?" He laughed "Would you pay your mom that? Or keep her working under 32 hours a week so you don't have to pay benefits or nothin'? I don't think so. I know guys who have worked there for 7 years and they don't make more than $10 an hour still at 32 hours a week."

"Those jerks. Organize!"

"Ha!" He smiled "Even whisper that and you're out of there."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Care about the environment? You're a filthy communist.

Yarh...Russ Harding drives me insane. Russell Harding of the militantly-rightest Mackinac Center for Public Policy, seems like a teenager just saying stupid crap for shock value these days. Him and Marilyn Manson are best buds.

Russ Harding, prior director of the Department of Environmental Quality, has recently gone so far as to proclaim that
all environmentalists are Commies. Pinkos.

Do you care about the environment?
You're a communist. A filthy, hideous, fluoridating communist.

The environmental movement has been likened to a watermelon — green on the outside and red on the inside. Most environmentalists would not consider themselves socialists, much less communists, but the policies they support in the name of saving the planet almost always sacrifice individual liberty for central government control.

Fighting global climate change, which has become the defining issue for environmentalists, is the perfect vehicle to exert control over every aspect of Americans' lives, from the type of cars we drive to the light bulbs we are allowed to use in our homes. The environmental movement knows that if the government controls energy, they control virtually every aspect of modern life in America. Global climate change is also the perfect issue to advocate for one-world governance, as air knows no national boundaries.

But that's not even the strange part.

The strange part is how Russ Harding of the Mackinan Center for Public Policy arrives at this conclusion:

Politicians may campaign on promises of change and a new way to govern. However there are really only two ways to govern: reliance on individual freedom and support of free markets, or rule by the political elite who decide what is best for the people.

That's right...there are only two ways to govern. Psychotic left or psychotic right.

Our friend Harding sees no alternative between the two. There's no allowance for moderation in Harding's world. For one of the foremost conservative think tanks in the US, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, there is no room for moderation. There can be no environmentalist Conservatives...because there can be only psychotic communist environmentalists.

This is the hallmark of a radicalism. The inability to see an alternative to hardline, monochromatic thinking. A world of black and white.

Russ Harding and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are far outside the Mainstream of American thought. They are militantly radical in their thinking, working to push America into a direction based solely on dogma. Not results.

Privatized Gain and Socialized Risk in Industrial Waste

It seems we constantly run into the theme of privatized gain and socialized risk. We found it when the banking industry got a massive bailout as the Wall Street bankers walked away with billions in bonuses for flattening the US and Global economies. And we're finding it in the world of "ownerless" toxic waste spots in the state of Michigan.

As businesses close down or move to other countries, they may leave behind property that has been heavily polluted leaving the government holding the bag. Over 11,000 bags to be more specific. In many cases, a city's ability to provide clean water to its citizens depends on ongoing toxic waste cleanup efforts.

As it currently stands, Michign has over 11,000 toxic areas with a mere $150 million to clean them.

Privatized profit and socialized risk.

Solutions range from a new billion dollar bond to a 3/8 cent sales both cases its the middle class resident who ends up covering the costs of business's private gains.

This is what environmental deregulation gets us. We can either live with the toxic water and arsenic and PCB laden lands by our elementary schools or we can pony up the cost of reversing the damage done by unregulated industrial waste.

Better and easier in the long run to regulate on the front end. Forget about extracting money from a dead business or its previous owners. Those against regulation seem inherently to prefer a continued policy of privatized gain and socialized risk...but only if it benefits the few.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Waiting for Family

I'm at my parents' house with my two little boys waiting for my sister's family to get here for Christmas. Out the window and off in the distance an ice fishing shanty is set up on white blanketed Black Lake and four men near the middle of the lake gesture, dressed in hoodies and jackets and boots. Beyond the tall brown reeds, a wide expanse of white where the lake is covered in ice and snow, and beyond the lake another strip of dried reeds, and beyond that a dark green serrated skyline of pine.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some day you may not have to work 3 minimum wage jobs

My two year old watches over my shoulder as I read the news, and he'll point out pictures of Obama "Oh! Is that Barack Obama?"

"Yes, peanut. That's Barack Obama."


And Barack Obama has had a very good couple of weeks. Today he signed the Don't Ask Don' Tell repeal into law. The START treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear arsenals seems likely to pass. Several held up Federal judges were finally seated. The Republicans are being nationally shamed for their obstruction on the 9/11 responder health bill, and it may pass this very day.

But of particular interest to me today is this press release by the National Labor Relations Board requiring written, posted notice of peoples' rights to organize at places like WalMart, for example.

The rule would require employers to notify employees of their rights [to form a union] under the National Labor Relations Act.

...the Board “believes that many employees protected by the NLRA are unaware of their rights under the statute. The intended effects of this action are to increase knowledge of the NLRA among employees, to better enable the exercise of rights under the statute, and to promote statutory compliance by employers an unions.”

Private-sector employers (including labor organizations) whose workplaces fall under the NLRA would be required to post the employee rights notice where other workplace
notices are typically posted.

This, to me, is key.

America's large middle class wasn't granted to people. It was taken by people, and only when Americans began to organize. Too few individuals realize they have a right to organize. It's time to reverse that trend.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ouch! That smarts. Michigan is the only US state to lose population since 2000.

Michigan lost .6% of its population between 2000 and 2010 making it the only state in the US to actually decline in population since the last US Census.

On the down side, we're losing a congressional and some Federal funds.

On the bright side, it's easier to find a parking space and housing within walking distance to Lake Michigan is very reasonably priced.

Oh please god let Bill Huizenga's seat be the one to go, oh please oh please oh please.

Conversely, US population grew by 9.7% and Nevada saw a 35% growth in population. As it turns out, Nevada is the only state in the US to have a higher unemployment than Michigan. That's what happens when you steal our unemployed, Nevada!!! We're watching you.

"Strung along" by banks in home loan modifications

It's frustrating to read articles about the failure of the home loan modification programs - state and or federal. More frustrating still to read about political figures scratching their heads over the cause of failure as they seem to place the blame internally.

Having watched my parents work for a year and a half on a home loan modification, I can attest that this article from the HuffingtonPost comes close to understanding why the programs have failed:

"strung along" by banks.

However, I believe HuffingtonPosts's numbers are incredibly low and miss the fact that banks aggressively work to direct people AWAY from the Federal HARP/HAMP programs sometimes by coaxing or even pressuring modification seekers to the bank's own internal programs instead.

These homeowners were supposed to receive lower payments on a trial basis lasting three months and then gain so-called permanent mortgage modifications--lowered payments lasting five years. But more than a year after beginning their trial phase, they have yet to be granted the permanent relief, leaving them unsure about their ability to hang on to their homes. Meanwhile their lenders continue to report them to credit bureaus as delinquent, impairing their ability to borrow in the future.

The new data, disclosed last week in a report from the Congressional Oversight Panel, added the latest sign of trouble to an anti-foreclosure program that was once supposed to help 3 to 4 million hang on to their homes. It is now on track to aid less than one-fourth that number.

What needs to happen is that HARP needs pure Federal involvement in the application process on a modifiers behalf from start to end with monitoring in between, because only the Federal government has any leverage over the banks compared to individuals who have absolutely none.

Otherwise, banks will continue to drop people into an ever growing maze of bureaucracy complete with intimidation and lies.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I am the sourdough master

Had to be said.

Homemade starter, crunchy crust, soft chewy middle, slightly sour, well risen. This is a successful bread.

Good. More people willing to walk away from their underwater homes.

If the results of this study are true, and I hope they are, more Americans are willing to walk away from their mortgage if they feel it's worth less than they paid for it.

Nearly half, 48 percent, of homeowners with a mortgage said they would consider walking away from their home if they owed more on it than it was worth, according to a Harris Interactive survey released this month. The survey was conducted in November for real estate listings site Trulia and foreclosure research firm RealtyTrac.

Just six months ago, a similar survey indicated that only 41 percent of consumers would consider walking if they were underwater on their mortgages.

Americans and pundits can complain forever about how our political leaders aren't looking out for the interests of middle class Americans, but things aren't much going to start changing around here until Americans stop binding themselves with some sense of economic morality that rarely seems to apply to the ones at the top.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hats off for the overworked this Christmas

It's become something of a ritual. Our two boys run to the window to wave goodbye to mama in the morning as she heads off to work. She usually works long hours anyway, to help keep the family afloat. But during the Christmas season those work hours are magnified in the lead up to Christmas.

A lot has been said about those without jobs this time of year.

So right now I'd like to give a shout out to all those people who do have jobs that barely keep up with the cost of necessities. The folks out there this holiday season working to keep their micro-businesses afloat working 60 to 70+ hours for a pittance, or the ones working two or three minimum wage jobs, always running from job to job just to make ends meet.

Many of those people are working hard to support a family amidst calls of even greater austerity for low wage earners. CEOs and elected officials are calling to slash or freeze wages, cutting back on middle class wages in the name of job growth, while at the same time demanding the wealthiest 2% get MORE the name of job growth.

According to a pay study done by the nonprofit United for a Fair Economy, the average CEO at a Fortune 500 American company earned around $11 million, or 364 times the pay of the average worker. A similar Economic Policy Institute study of historic CEO pay levels relative to the average worker found that in 1965 top executives earned 24 times as much as the average worker. By 1989 the ratio had increased to 71; it tripled to 300 in 2001.


From the start, RWDSU union organizer Peter Montalbano explained, DPS management tried to intimidate workers, going so far as banning union emblems in the plant. The home office made it clear that its last, best and final offer was the $1.50 an hour pay cut as well as a freeze on pension benefits, and that it was not going to budge. Even coming off of an impressively profitable year, even by demanding Wall Street standards, and especially so relative to 2008 when the then newly spun off company suffered losses, DPS was set on getting the Mott's workers to accept lower wages, Montalbano said. Specifically, the conglomerate sought to get the Mott's workers in line with what similar factory workers in Western New York earned per hour, he said.


"Executive pay is not relevant to discussions about hourly wages for bargaining unit employees," DPS's Barnes said. "Regardless, we strive to pay all employees a competitive wage or salary based on local market and industry norms."

Meanwhile husbands and wives rarely see one another, or need to part as one can only find a job on the other side of the country, and the other can only find work where they currently live...and both salaries are required to pay for necessities.

Or children rarely see their overworked mothers or fathers.

Or single individuals must work so much they don't have time to socialize, sometimes working off medical expenses. They spend their holidays alone, often working.

Tens of millions of Americans can't find work.

And tens of millions more are overworked, and cling to multiple low wage jobs just to get by.

These aren't two different issues. These issues are The Same.

Just three days ago we saw our congress give more money to the richest 2% in the name of job growth, at the same time we're looking at reducing money to the middle class in the name of job growth.

Funny how that works. More money for rich = job growth. Less money for everybody else = jog growth. See? It's easy.

The entire Republican caucus in the US Senate was so single-mindedly obsessed with giving more money to the richest 2% that they filibustered and shot down legislation giving health benefits for sick and dying 9/11 responders.

This nonsense has to stop.

The nonsense can end pretty quickly with a increased minimum wage, and an outright refusal to accept cuts in social security or medicare.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Video Blog, Exploring Winter Interdune Habitats

Alright folks. This is my first "video blog" type of thing. So bear with me. Kind of a new format just for kicks. Come along as I take you down to Lake Michigan through a magical, mystery....uh...walk. Through the snow. Down to Lake Michigan. We'll be walking through Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, MI.

Here's the intro...which is a lot like the intro paragraph.

Sandy areas and clearings. These shorter trees and bits of juniper are characteristic of the sandy areas near the lake between the dune ridges. It's common to find low bush blueberries in these areas and naturally occurring prickly pear cactuses.

DSC03509 we are back in the woods again coming up on the second ridge of dunes on our way to the Lake.


Squirrel city...intermission. Bunch of squirrel nests in the trees above.

Creaking trees and a wood pecker intermission

We pass over the third dune ridge and approach Lake Michigan.

Frozen sand structures like the one below line the shore...


Looking back at the dunes from the lake



Scary Aggressive Misinformation Campaigns

I absolutely believe this study that Fox News viewers are the most likely to be misinformed.

Recently a friend was very shaken with an argument he had with his sister: a die hard Fox News viewer and a person who believes she's politically active and aware.

But the misinformation and even lack of information is startling.

Not only was she unaware that the bill to give health aid to 9/11 first responders was shot down (the Zadtroga vote)...she was entirely unwilling to believe Republicans could possibly filibuster ANYTHING in the US Senate. Nothing could be further from the truth, as they set a record for filibusters in the past couple years...

A fillibustered Zadroga bill is exactly what happened. The entire Republican caucus filibustered a stand-alone bill that would give health aid to 9/11 first responders, because they had vowed to not pass anything until the top 2% got their tax cut FIRST.

The individual was also unaware that the Bush Era tax cuts had been extended just a couple days ago, as she doggedly persued the argument that Obama was raising her taxes, though she's solidly middle-middle class.

Now...this is an anecdotal post, of course. Me talking about some dude's sister and what she believes. Second hand information.

And yet, I've had similar conversations with others and just assumed they were also stand-alone cases. People who somehow took away from a Fox News story the exact opposite of what actually happened. Obama, through a compromise, called for RENEWED Bush Tax cuts, and the take-away is: Obama is raising taxes.

The past day or two I've been watching the very new Fox News condemnations of the killing of the 9/11 responder Zadroga bill. They seem now to be picking up the story...but leaving out a major detail. They never once mention that it was the entire Republican caucus that killed the bill...leaving it up to their viewers to blame the standard Fox News villains.

It gets more ominous day by day. Not just wrong information...but a deliberate attempt to fabricate misinformation.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Niagara Falls Shut Off for Repairs in 1969

Let's just file this one under Crazy Crap You Probably Didn't Know About. At least I know I didn't.

Niagara Falls on the American side were basically shut off for several months in 1969 as US Engineers diverted flow to the Canadian side to...apparently repair some fault lines below the falls.


Apparently several rock slides caused some predictions that after 12,000 years of flowing predictably and torrentially, Niagara Falls, due to crumbling fault lines, would at some point in the not too distant future would stop flowing....? So the Army Corps of Engineers removed some rubble, and bolted some fault lines, and started the water flowing again.

Anyway. Pretty interesting. These pictures were found in a shoebox buried in somebody's grandfather's house.

Read more:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Doesn't China Know it Can't Defy Gravity?

If only China realized that any form of industrial protections was bad for the economy.

Gamesa has learned the hard way, as other foreign manufacturers have, that competing for China’s lucrative business means playing by strict house rules that are often stacked in Beijing’s favor.

Nearly all the components that Gamesa assembles into million-dollar turbines [in China], for example, are made by local suppliers — companies Gamesa trained to meet onerous local content requirements. And these same suppliers undermine Gamesa by selling parts to its Chinese competitors — wind turbine makers that barely existed in 2005, when Gamesa controlled more than a third of the Chinese market.

But in the five years since, the upstarts have grabbed more than 85 percent of the wind turbine market, aided by low-interest loans and cheap land from the government, as well as preferential contracts from the state-owned power companies that are the main buyers of the equipment. Gamesa’s market share now is only 3 percent.

With their government-bestowed blessings, Chinese companies have flourished and now control almost half of the $45 billion global market for wind turbines.
The biggest of those players are now taking aim at foreign markets, particularly the United States, where General Electric has long been the leader.

Somehow, despite Chinese protectionist measures, China seems to have come to dominate much of the global wind turbine manufacturing industry. As well as other renewable energy industries. Or just other industries in general.

I say this with a strong overtone of irony, of course.

China has come to dominate many emerging markets BECAUSE OF policies aimed at sheltering and strengthening new industries within their borders.


Well...they're not so smart. TWO can play at that game.

Actually, no.

No they can't. Mostly because while China's economy heats up and claims manufacturing industries that make and export things (see previous diary Hey! Let's Export Stuff!), the United States seems to be stuck with dogmatic economic principle and the emergence of nonsense wisdoms like "you can't pick and choose winners" and "protectionist policies are always bad."

When the Stimulus Bill was being created, there was originally a Buy American clause in it that made Republicans and European nations freak out...and not for completely unfounded reasons. For example, during a recession is clearly not a time to get into a trade war. We've already seen how that turns out with the Smoot-Hawley tarrif of 1930 when the tariff clearly caused MORE damage to the economy.

And yet...and yet, there's clear precedent for success both in other nations like China and here in the US. They helped make America strong.

The tariffs of 1816 helped give certain US industries time to mature and develop without competition from British and French act that helped the United States develop an industrial base at all.

I the end, the outwardly expressed dogmatic conservative resistance to any Federal economic intervention is flat out wrong. There's plenty of precedent to show that protectionism has its place, just as there's plenty of precedent to show there are also places were protectionism doesn't belong.

Hey! Let's Export Stuff!

This just in: Exporting goods might be GOOD for the economy!

I know, right?

Extra, Extra! Read all about it! Brookings Institute Study shows EXPORTING goods might be good for the economy!!!

Excellent to see our brightest and best minds are on the case.

So, let me see if I can follow this reasonining.

Okay, so, like, if we...hold on....

So if we.....

wait, wait...

Okay. So, if we.............MAKE stuff and then, like...and then like SELL IT somewhere else for MONEY...

AHA! Oh I'm starting to see how this works!

Bravo, Brookings Institution. Bravao.

The Brookings Great Lakes regional partnership is pushing support of manufacturing and the exporting of regional products, managing energy, promoting a water-based economy, exploring functional consolidation of local government services and looking for the private sector to lead because it has responded to changes in the “new economy” faster than the public sector.

All snark aside, though, it's good, although a bit bizarre, to see our leaders starting to embrace this idea as a somewhat NEWish one; That we can't just sell stuff between ourselves and expect things will get better; That money has to flow INTO the pond and not just OUT OF or in circles in the pond.

I'm also fond of the notion of a "water based economy." Water! It's not just for flushing shit into anymore. We have a lot of it. Water, that is. And of course...

...moving on...

The water-based initiatives only make sense in a region that is home to 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, Larsen said. A water-based economic strategy would have Great Lakes communities be global leaders in environmental protection of fresh water, commercial and recreational fishing, and water-related tourism.

“We need to bring people to the Great Lakes for our water not to have them come here and want to take our water away,” Larsen said of the strong regional consensus on water diversion issues.

One specific area targeted by the group is improved transportation links throughout the Great Lakes, especially highways.

“Transportation is a bipartisan issue we can really make a difference on as a region,” Larsen said.

If it were true that Transportation were a bi-partisan issue, that would be excellent. I'd like that very much. And yet Michigan stands to lose $160 million dollars in Federal funds for high speed rail, and has lost other funds for its existing railways, because Michigan hasn't ponied up the matching 20% funds yet. Idiotic austerity measures or just plain mismanagement at its worst.

Unless the legislature comes up with $35 million early in the next session, Michigan will lose out on more than $160 million in federal matching funds to build a high-speed rail project from Chicago to Detroit.


The state has already lost more than $150 million in federal funds that would have helped prepare the tracks along that route for high-speed trains because the legislature failed to appropriate the matching funds.

Yes! Yes indeed. We can all agree that transportation is a good thing -- **nod nod nod nod nod**

If I said to you "Hey! You pony up $2000 and I'll put up all the rest for a brand new Chevy Malibu / Ford Fusion / Mazda 6 / Honda Accord" You'd probably beg-borrow-and-steal that $2000.

But not our legislature. Finding $35,000,000 to get $165,000,000 in funding for transportation and the jobs...the JOBS...isn't terribly high priority, apparently.

So, one would hope that transportation is a bi-partisan issue. But one would be wrong. One would also be wrong in such a case where Canada is offering to put up most of the money to build a new bridge to Detroit that will create jobs and make the region a more efficient thoroughfare for international trade and traffic.

One would be wrong again. Republicans blocked that.

In conclusion.

Yes: let's make stuff, export stuff, take advantage of that Big Lake right next door, and for the love of god, improve our transportation system.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lake Michigan Down By Over 5 Trillion Gallons This Year

Okay. I'll admit it.

It's frickin' cold today. Got the fireplace cranked, filled a second bin with wood just so I wouldn't have to trudge through the crunchy ice to the garage to get a new load of wood at 4AM.


Because that would be COLD.

On the bright side COLD is good.

Because COLD freezes the water. And COLD FROZEN water ices over the lakes and holds the water down over the winter. And that's good. It's a good thing. Especially since Lake Michigan water levels are 18 inches below the long term average, and that is very very bad.

The water levels of the Great Lakes have been dropping. Lake Michigan has seen the biggest drop, down 4 inches in the past month and 14 inches in the past year. Since each inch of water on Lake Michigan represents 390 billion gallons of water, that means a loss of 5.46 TRILLION (sounds like a stimulus package or a Wall St. bailout, or how many years until the Lions win a Super Bowl) gallons of water!

Get that?

Lake Michgian is down 14 inches in the past year, equaling 5.46 TRILLION gallons.

There are several factors involved in Lake Michigan's dropping water levels. One of them is global warming. But by no means is it the only factor.

It bears repeating that the Great Lakes are above sea level, and won't see rising water levels like the oceans. Instead, the Great Lakes are predicted to drop. Part of that drop is from warmer winters when the waters aren't iced over and they evaporate more over the winter months. Some of that leads to increased precipitation and lake effect snow while the rest just sort of floats away out of the water shed never to return. It usually takes a drop of water 200 years to leave the upper Great Lakes...and we're seeing an escalation of that.

A recent NASA study found that the world's fresh water lakes are heating up...

NASA used satellite data to measure the surface temperatures of 167 lakes worldwide and found an average warming rate of .81 degrees Fahrenheit per decade and in some lakes, as much as 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, NASA said Tuesday.

It makes for pleasant waters for a bit, but warmer waters in Lake Michigan this year contributed to a lot more turbulent waters and a significant increase in rip currents which took a record number of lives in 2010, taking 63 lives. A 50% increase from the usual 40. It also makes fishing a bit more scarce in the usual spots as fishermen need to go further out to find the cold water fish.

It wrecks sever problems on the lakes ecosystems, and alters a way of life for many along the upper Great Lakes.

More than Global Warming, is dredging in the Lake St. Claire area bewteen Lake Huron and Lake Erie. It's like a gigantic drain letting the water flow faster from the upper Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, Michigan) into Lake Erie.

This recent freeze is going to be excellent for one part of the equation, at least for the time being...excellent for keeping waters from evaporating. But we still need to plug that hole in Lake St. Claire pronto.

In the mean time, I'm going to keep this fireplace stoked. It's the first place my six year old goes in the morning. He gets up and sits in front of the fire place with his blanket wrapped around himself.

Beware Information or Leadership from the name Russ Harding

Russ Harding.

Everybody who holds the Great Lakes close to their hearts, who has even an ounce of concern for the Great Lakes should know the name of Russ Harding.

Russ Harding is currently the director of the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The radical right-wing Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Russ Harding worked as the director of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality from 1995 t0 2002. Appointed by Republican Governor Engler. Not only that. He helped CREATE the Michigan Department of Environment Quality (DEQ). Which sounds good at first. Until one realizes that the DEQ was originally paired in one organization with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR and the DEQ were split to separate natural resources management from the permitting arm of Michigan's natural resources management.

Russ Harding essentially created and become the Director of the DEQ so that he could rubber stamp permits for big polluters at will: mining operations, coal power plants, dumping grounds, coal ash dumping, and oil and gas drilling.

The DEQ was essentially formed as a mechanism to legitimize industrial polluters. One might imagine this would at least lead to economic success...but one would be wrong. Despite the most destructive efforts of Harding and his boss Engler, Michigan started sliding into what would be a decade long recession starting in 2000. By the end of 2002, Michigan lost over 200,000 jobs before Engler or Harding stepped down...and the state would continue its slide until 2010.

By 2002, Harding's push to maintain oil and natural gas drilling under Lake Michigan came to an end with the State and then Federal Great Lakes Drilling Ban, which ended 23 years of drilling for oil under Lake Michigan.

Every few months, Harding releases some replayed statement in favor of drilling under Lake Michigan from his throne at the Mackinac Center of Public Policy, where he sits huched over rubbing his hands together with a mangy cat on his lap...I'm sure he says things like "yeessssssss, yeeeeeeeeesssss..." and "eeexcellent"

He cherry picks data to support his very clear agenda...

Though Lake Michigan water levels are once again 14 inches below the long term average, and showing a trend toward dropping, last year water levels rose briefly and Harding pounced, mockingly claiming that if lower water levels are a sign of global warming, dropping water levels must be a sign of global cooling...he cited the preliminary results of a study to bolster his claim of a lack of global warming

Climate change alarmists predicting doomsday scenarios for the Great Lakes are probably not too pleased with the draft report "Impacts on Upper Great Lakes Water Levels: St. Clair River" released May 1, 2009, by the International Joint Commission. The report found that the difference in water levels between Lake Michigan-Huron and Lake Erie of 9 inches between 1962 and 2006 was caused by three factors:

• A change in the conveyance of the St. Clair River, mostly likely caused by a large ice jam that occurred in the mid-1980s.

• Glacial isostatic adjustment (the rebounding of the earth's crust after the melting of the glaciers about 10,000 years ago).

• Changes in climate patterns.


Though the actual study he referenced explicitly stated that global warming is, in fact, a factor in falling water levels, going so far as to explicitly state that man made global warming is causing dropping water levels...Harding apparently didn't take Change in Climate Patters to mean "climate change."

The man literally makes stuff up out of whole cloth to justify his agenda. And has no problem citing materials as proof in the belief that you won't actually read his proof, or verify the usefulness of his source. Accuracy isn't of interest to the man.

The bottom line is...we're looking at a new period of Republican control of the state, during which time Russ Harding's radical conservative agenda may see a resurgence, and the ideas of Harding himself may once again gain traction.

And that's nothing but bad for Michigan. It's bad for Michigan's economy, and it's bad for Michigan's ecology.

Rumor had Rick Snyder briefly floating the name Russ Harding as a possible person to lead the DNRE, but that looks unlikely to pan out. Possibly a positive signal that Snyder takes the preservation and long term responsible use of Michigan's natural resources seriously.

I do hope so.

Russ Harding should never see the light of publicly appointed office ever again, or be taken seriously in any type of leadership role.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

There is no ambiguity. Obama stoppped America's economic slide.

This is black and white. Unambiguous. No gray area.

Barack Obama's actions over the past two years stopped America's economic slide.

There's a massive difference between losing hundreds of thousands of jobs per month and actually gaining jobs at all.

Stasis would be better than losing hundreds of thousands of jobs per month.

Anybody curious about what would have happened without Federal intervention really only needs to look at Michigan for the past 10 years. From 2000 to the end of 2009 the state almost consistently lost jobs -- over 800,000 of them, save for a brief period in 2006 where the state gained jobs. Besides that it was a brutal, nearly decade long shedding of jobs.

When did it stop?

It stopped when the Federal Government, under Barack Obama, chose to step in and put a stop to the decade long slide.

The "hands off" approach of Washington for eight years did absolutely nothing. It just let an economy crumble, and millions of people and their families face economic uncertainty and hardship for the better part of a decade.

Without the Federal intervention lending a hand to manufacturers, creating tax incentives for small businesses, and using Federal subsidies to jump-start new industries, Michigan would have continued its slide.

We had already seen the result of Federal inaction and the "hands off" policy. It was time to try something new. And it worked. It worked dramatically. It was the difference between 36 consecutive months of job losses and a year of ANY job gains at all. It was the difference between a continuous shedding of jobs to the tune of over 800,000 jobs, and ANY job gains at all.

In the case of Michigan, we've seen the highest job growth in a 9 month period since 1997 at 65,000 jobs gained.

For those folks out there who think our president either did too little or did too much in the past to year: The effectiveness of his actions have made a difference between night and day. On a national level, the US recession and the shedding of jobs thankfully lasted only 2 to 3 years. It wasn't a prolonged ten year Demon Drop of jobs. But it EASILY could have been that and worse.

The US is gaining jobs again. Most states, after shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs in a short two year span, are actually creating jobs again. And though it may be's the RIGHT DIRECTION.

There is no ambiguity.

This is black and white.

There is no gray area.

Barack Obama stopped America's economic slide, and turned this nation around for the better.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What's the Middle Class?

Some folks like to ask the tough questions.

Me, I like to ask the easy questions. Questions like: "What exactly is the Middle Class?"

As a general rule, I think it's been a term left intentionally vague for convenience and political purpose because a majority of Americans identify themselves as "Middle class." And if you're a political figure, it's usually best to just refer vaguely to the broadest number of people without being to specific, especially when you're talking about creating policies that help Them...the Middle Class.

Traditionally, the Middle Class has been a term distinct from the "working class" and used to refer to folks working a skilled labor job, such as doctor or lawyer. Usually folks with a college degree. Some have used "middle class" to refer to people whose jobs have a high degree of autonomy. As in, they're making decisions rather than following instructions.

But that really doesn't seem to fit the current colloquial usage of the term "middle class."

For example, when Arianna Huffington wrings her hands about the shrinking Middle Class in her new book "Third World America", most likely she's not fretting about a collapse in quality of life for Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, and upper management.

Or when some folks claim that the domestic auto industry Invented the Middle Class...they're clearly not talking about dentists and lawyers...they're talking about line workers making a decent wage.

In modern usage, the term "middle class" seems more to refer to a certain QUALITY of life.

Not "rich"
Not "poor"

Something in the Middle:

Middle class is a life where you have to budget your money wisely, but a life where figuring out how to procure the basic necessities of life isn't a central focus of your time.

That, to me, is Middle Class.

When you find yourself spending most of your time trying to figure out how you're going to keep health insurance, stay in your modest home, and buy enough food to feed your may be on the road away from "middle class" heading in the opposite direction of Rich.

Folks like Huffington, Senator Bernie Sanders, and many others have been worrying lately about what they see as a shrinking of the middle class. More and more people are moving into the "poor" column, even as more and more money is filtering over to the "rich" column.

While the top 1% of Americans hold a greater percentage of America's wealth than they've ever held before, taking 2/3 of America's economic gains from 2001 to 2007, America's poverty rate is on the rise, higher than it's been since the 1950s.

A shrinking middle class means simply More Americans are now POOR, rather than Middle Class.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Explosion of the Double Crested Cormorants

Here's something you don't see every day: a native species pulled back from the brink of endangerment all the way to becoming a nuisance species.

Double Crested Cormorant

The double crested cormorant was a bird native to the Great Lakes whose survival was on the ropes. And now, partially due to the invasive round gobies that have ravaged inland lakes, the native double crested cormorant is becoming a nuisance species choking out ecosystems. Round gobies, in some parts, make up a third of the bird's diet.

Round gobies, if you're not aware, are an invasive species to the Great Lakes region introduced via shipping in the the St. Lawrence Seaway around 1990. They're pretty damaging and wipe out a lot of native fish and game fish.

Wiki Round Goby Pictures, Images and Photos

On one hand, it's great something native finally got a taste for a pretty damaging invasive species. The problem with invasives is usually that there's nothing to control the population and they go crazy and take stuff over.

On the other hand, it turns out the native double crested cormorant has found itself with an abundance of food that other birds aren't eating to the same degree, and now THEY'RE taking over.


I guess it's all about balance.

The island, owned by Point Pelee National Park since 2000, is meant to be a bird sanctuary. In 2008, it was mainly a sanctuary for the cormorants. Some herons and gulls nested there, and other varieties of birds stopped by during migration.

Parks Canada began shooting cormorants -- despite heavy opposition from animal-rights group Cormorant Defenders International -- in spring 2008 and has been doing so every year since then.

"Middle Island is a dying island," said Marian Stranak, Point Pelee National Park superintendent. "The population of double-crested cormorants is just too high for that ecosystem to sustain itself."

The park has a five-year plan to reduce the number of cormorants, which it will evaluate after the fifth year to determine success and plans for the future, Stranak said. Like the U.S. Lake Erie Islands, the goal at Middle Island is to help vegetation rebound, she said.

In other news: US Steel now has stricter regulations on dumping toxins in to Lake Michigan.

Concentrations of chlorine and cyanide will be cut in half and silver concentrations to a quarter, according to a Post-Tribune review of the permit, which still needs final approval. U.S. Steel uses chlorine to kill invasive zebra mussels in the water it takes in for cooling.

The mill's previous permit did not contain limits for cadmium, copper, nickel or silver, but the new one will. The stricter limits are a result of permit modifications and policy changes since U.S. Steel's last permit was issued in the early 1990s. That permit expired in March 1995.

Pretty sweet. And it sounds like US Steel is working with environmental groups to meet those goals.

Less toxic stuff in the Great Lakes means fewer toxins in the fish we eat. And the fish the cormorants eat. And the cormorants we eat.

Now there's an idea.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Great Lakes are Warming Up, About 1 to 2 degrees per Decade

This summer, swimming in Lake Michigan was like swimming in warm bath water, with water temperatures rising into the 80s and staying consistently warm for months. Heavenly. As often as possible we tossed swimmy pants onto the kids, slung a towel or four over our shoulders and walked down to the lake to go for a refreshing dip.

It was pretty awesome, since usually it's kind of a crap shoot whether you'll get warm-ish water or freezing cold water rotated up from the chilly lake bottom in a storm. But this year, warm. Very warm.

Which tends to also mean rougher waters, more undertows and rip currents. 2010 saw a record number of Lake Michigan drownings, at 63, up from a typical 40 in 2009, due to the warm, more turbulent waters.

Another less dire consequence of the warm waters is that many fishermen needed to go further out since they weren't catching salmon in the warmer waters closer to shore.

Now, I realize that there's a difference between Climate and Weather, and what we experienced this year is "Weather" with the warm waters of 2010 more or less unrelated to a general warming trend...

...but there is, as it turns out, a general warming trend for the Great Lakes. According to a recent NASA report, water levels in the Great Lakes have been on the rise in the past 25 years:

NASA used satellite data to measure the surface temperatures of 167 lakes worldwide and found an average warming rate of .81 degrees Fahrenheit per decade and in some lakes, as much as 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, NASA said Tuesday.

This sort of thing disrupts underwater ecosystems, wetlands, and even has the potential to disturb land based eco-systems and weather patters, since the Great Lakes are already large enough that they influence the weather along the Lakeshore and create micro-climates ideal for fruit production to the East of the lake.

Interestingly, I also ran across an article talking about how lake cyclones work. In the cooling autumn months, the relatively warm waters cause a sudden rise in air exacerbating a cyclone and causing severe winds. As the waters warm over the decades, these we're looking at changing weather patterns on shore.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Percolative Economics

My wife owns a small business. She started it only a couple years ago when she lost her job and health insurance while she was pregnant. That kinda sucked. But she got back up and started her own biz, and her store is doing well. Especially for being a start up.

That business has managed to keep our family afloat for the past couple of years, in fact. It's our life raft. And though it hasn't been years of luxury, we count ourselves lucky to be making dough at all. And when I say Not Luxury, I mean around $8 an hour.

Anyway...she does this thing to me where she sits me down and shows me her books.

"See this money that came in? See what we're getting? See what [employee] is getting? See how much we're sending out in taxes?"

This mirco-business she started as a way to keep her family afloat is taxed enough to hire a third employee who makes more than her and the other person working there.

She's a micro-business.

Not a "small business."

"Small businesses" seem to get a lot of lip service among our political leaders. But when you look into what constitutes a "small business" you're looking at a business that makes less than $20 million a year, or a manufacturer who employs fewer than 500 people.

Most of the businesses that regular people start and struggle with aren't anywhere in the "small business" league. They're more better described as "micro businesses." And yet they hire people. They create jobs. They're the jobs people create for themselves when they have nowhere else to turn.

These micro-businesses are the businesses that deserve a break.

These micro-businesses are the ones that have been ignored because they're too small to get attention, but need help the most.

While tax cuts and credits and capital gains cuts for buying equipment are passed around to the "small businesses" ....what's going to the micro-businesses?

We've set up a system that rewards the HUGE businesses and the RICH people, but sucks the life from the poor and middle class and the micro-businesses.

In my view of the world, policy is directed to the benefit of the smaller people: the ones struggling from the bottom. Policy should be directed at encouraging social mobility. I don't believe in Trickle Down economics. I believe in Percolative Economics. That prosperity for all must begin at the bottom and percolate up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just Another Civil War

As I read more about US history, a certain thematic consistency becomes pretty obvious.

States Rights "conservatives" and Federalist "liberals" have hated each other since before the day the United States declared its independence, and they've been bickering pretty much ever since. And of course there was that whole Civil War thing.

Why, it's as American as apple pie and root beer.

When the US created trade tariffs in 1816, you can bet the South and the States Rights folks were right there complaining about it and calling it unconstitutional, culminating in the Nullification Crisis of 1832 when South Carolina positioned its militia to enforce the state's assertion that they should be able to pick and choose which Federal laws applied to them.

History is full of States Rights advocates bemoaning Federal laws as unconstitutional and over-reaching. Same thing happened with anti-slavery laws. The income tax. Social Security. And of course, more recently, Health Insurance Reform.

Yessir. The current national conversation we're having isn't new. In fact, it's very old.

Folks like Glenn Beck and Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, seem to love to blame Woodrow Wilson for some new wave of Government Overreach, but really...they should be going further back than that to Alexander Hamilton who wrote much of the Federalist Papers.

Hamilton who wrote:
Even to observe neutrality you must have a strong government.


In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

Folks like Beck and Perry would have people believe that Strong Federal Government is a new thing, and that a Weak or Hands Off Federal Governmet is our heritage, when that's never, ever, ever been the case.

Federal Government has the authority to trump the States.

It always has.

It always will.

And that's one of the things that allowed America to become great.

A Strong Federal Government IS our history. It IS a source of our strength.

And yet, again we see folks like Glen Beck and many on the right mobilizing the classic American rivalry. They're using the historical, Anti-Federalist sentiment and Anti-Federalist rhetoric it yet ANOTHER push to change what America has always been, and weaken the Federal Government. Even as they decry some "new" American over-reach as unprecedented and, once again, "unconstitutional" they're still basically what they've always been...the insurgent South trying to pick and choose what part of this Union they want to agree with, and what laws they want to abide by.

The insurgent South.

I encourage our leaders to stand by their Strong Federal Government beliefs. To wear them with pride. To know they have history on their side.

We Are Americans first, and that's where our strength is. It's not surprising that Obama campaigned on National Unity. No Red America or Blue America but a United States of America. That is a Federalist sentiment. And it has the backing of the entire history of this nation.

Likewise, it's not surprising that Anti-Federalist Conservatives in office would attempt to derail the power of the Federal Government. Would refuse compromise.

We are having now the same battle we've always had.

This is nothing new. And we're going to win again, as long as our American leaders realize the RIGHTNESS and HISTORICAL primacy of a Strong Federal Government.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Republicans Are Inheriting Michigan Job Growth and Budget Surpluses

It was a pretty big week for the Republicans, during the 2010 elections. They won control of the US House of Representatives and they won the House, Senate, and Governorship in Michigan.

So before they even set foot in office, I want to make some things clear for posterity. This message is meant for people of.........

...THE FUUUUUUUUTUUURE. Cuz people of THE FUTURE seem to very quickly forget what things were like in THE PAAAAST.

Ready, Future Readers?

Job growth in Michigan , 2010, began a full year before the batch of Republicans soon to take over leadership even got elected. Before many of them even started campaigning. And definitely before any of them takes office two months from now.

Not only that, but we also have a $100 million surplus.

If more folks realized that, they may not have voted out the folks who made our diversified economy and job growth possible. Yeah...the people who helped us turn the corner should have let us know their accomplishments, but Democracy is a two way street. The voter needs to be paying attention...

...which brings us to the US Department of Labor statistics for Michigan's employment.

And more specifically, here's the historical data for Michigan's employment. Look at the Employment Column, specifically. The Unemployment Rate doesn't tell us as much because it's just a percentage of people who don't have work who are looking for work. You can have lower unemployment but fewer employed people if suddenly a lot of people just give up looking for work. So unemployment tells us less than just looking at the number of people who have jobs.

Note that employment in the year March 2000 is 4,983,282 people, and then watch the number drop month after month after month after month after month. It's worth noting that Republican Engler was Governor until January 2003.

January 2001: 4,949,171 jobs : 34,111 jobs lost.
January 2002: 4,757,528 jobs
January 2003: 4,699,742 jobs--> This is the month Engler left office and we had already lost 283,540 Jobs in Michigan from 2000 to 2003.

Month after month after month we saw a decline, nearly every month except for a period in 2005 and 2006 where we saw a period of job growth until the Recession of 2007 hit and job losses began again.

Month over month declines.


4657217 --> Obama is inaugurated.

4136416 --> Here is where we turn the corner after 37 months of non-stop job losses.

4146577 +10,161 jobs
4160262 +13,685 jobs
4168891 +8,629 jobs
4198482 +29,591 jobs
4221828 +23,346 jobs
4222232 +403 jobs
4209413 - 12,819 jobs
4196911 -12,501 jobs
4201317 +4,406 jobs

-------------> Michigan saw a net gain of + 65,204 jobs in 2010 after many,many years of job losses starting in 2000.

Michigan's economy is a lot more diverse than it's ever been, and is finally seeing job growth and budget surplusses just in time for Republicans to seize the reigns and likely claim credit for a growing economy that started well before any of them even considered running for office.

I do hope our new Republican leaders make some wise choises. I do hope they re-invest that budget surplus in Michigan's economy rather than give it away to the DeVos family and the wealthy of Michigan. I hope they keep their hands of policies that have ushered in new industries such as the emerging renewable energy manufacturing industry in West Michigan. I hope they continue to give targeted tax incentives to businesses for setting up shop in Michigan. I hope they continue to film tax rebate to keep Michigan front and center on the National stage and incubate new businesses and jobs here. I hope they continue the Pure Michigan campaign to lure tourism to Michigan.

And I hope that the work they do ADDS TO the job growth we're already seeing as a result of Granholm's efforts at diversifying Michigan's economy for the long term.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Republican Wealth Redistribution

Michigan is looking down the barrel of a large shift over to Republicans this year. Republican Governor, Republican Senate, Republican House. And as usual the conservative footsoldiers are beating the drum of how we'll now see lower taxes.

Ahh...remember the last time Michigan had a Republican Senate and a Republican Governor? No? I'll take you back...

...good times. 1994. Kurt Cobain was still alive for a couple more months and grunge was the mainstream underground music of choice. That was also the year the tax cutting Republicans RAISED Michigan's sales tax from 4% to 6% so that everything we buy is now taxed more. Why did they do that? To finance a property tax cut for land owners.

For the poor and middle class land owners, it was a wash.

For the poor to middle class renters it was a massive tax HIKE.

Oh, but for the wealthiest land owners, it was a massive and regressive give-away.

That's 1994, the Michigan Republican Governor and Senate financed a tax cut for the rich by taxing the poor and middle class. They TOOK that money from the middle class and handed it over to the DeVos family, and other Michigan millionaires and billionaires.

The Republicans. They taxed nearly everything we buy: diapers, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, dog food, pots and pans, cooking utensils, towels, furnace filters, brooms, photographs...

The Republicans weren't just innocent bystanders. They weren't just complicit in this idea. They were the ones in control. They were the ones who passed the law. And Engler SIGNED it into law.

And now Michigan has among the most regressive state tax systems in America where the poor and middle class pay a HIGHER percentage of their income in taxes than the rich do. A flat tax would actually be a step UP.

Most of Michigan's income and local taxes come from the state's poorest residents, resulting in a regressive tax that "no one" would intentionally design, according to a report released Wednesday by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy.

While non-elderly residents who make less than $15,000 per year typically pay about 9 percent of their income toward taxes and those who make between $32,000 and $54,000 pay nearly 10 percent, the very rich pay about a third less, said the study, titled: Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States.

The rich, defined as those with average annual incomes of $1.1 million, typically pay about 6.4 percent toward taxes, the study said.

"No one would ever design an income tax with lower tax rates for the best-off taxpayers," said Matthew Gardner, executive director of the institute and the study's lead author. "But that is exactly what Michigan's tax system overall does: it allows the very wealthiest individuals to contribute less of their income, on average, than middle and lower-income families must pay. In other words, Michigan has an unfair, regressive tax system."

Billions of dollars sucked from middle class and poor households in 1994...and what happens when the Dems, years later, propose a 1 cent tax on sodapop to help raise funds to keep city services like schools and police going?


I'm very impressed with the Republican leadership. How they manage to smile and say they're cutting taxes while RAISING taxes is an impressive feat. Even more impressive that people believe them. Or that they can claim Obama raised taxes for the middle class when he actually CUT $300 billion in taxes for the middle class in America...when 2009 had one of the lowest middle class tax rates in decades...

Well, it's just impressive is all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's Comforting To Know Our Political Disagreements Go Back Centuries

I have set out to learn myself up on the history of American did it develop? Why did it focus here or there? How important was important is it? And stuff like that.

Right now I'm reading up on the Tariff Bill of 1816, which I actually remember "learning about" in elementary school. But at that time I had so very little of a clue what it all meant. I put "learning about" in quotes because the only reason I even remember it is it was my first encounter with the word "tariff" and the concept that "there was one" and "a long time ago."

What I'm saying here is, I didn't actually learn a thing.

But I'm correcting that.

And the most interesting bit about it is how familiar it sounds. See if this rings a bell: Democrats and Republicans at each others' throats, and Republican congressmen threatening to ignore the Federal law completely in an event known as the "Nullification Crisis" in 1832:
Mr. Hayne of South Carolina, the opponent of Daniel Webster in the most famous oration of the latter, was an ardent advocate of this doctrine (ignoring Federal laws), and, while bitterly denouncing New England in that famous controversy, he openly urged on the floor of Congress the doctrine of "Nullification," claiming that any State when deeming itself oppressed by a law of Congress considered unconstitutional by the State legislature, had the right to declare this law null and void and to release its citizens from the duty of obedience.
Echoes of Health Care Reform, eh?

And more echoes of modern Republican insanity:

The opposition of South Carolina to the protective policy had been pushed to a point of excitement at which it was beyond the control of party leaders.

It's good to know this sort of rivalry has been going on for two centuries. It's a bit disconcerting that just 40 years after this little outburst America would be locked in bitter and bloody Civil War. I'm not sure what the takeaway lesson is here...maybe take the wild eyed rantings of the South more seriously. But dang, they're so adorable when they're furious.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Early Fall Night

What an incredibly beautiful night.

The summer is cooling, Fall is approaching, and the wind is whipping through the trees in a loud hushing sound. If you listen close enough, the waves from Lake Michigan make a sustained background of white noise.

When nature makes its mark known over the weird concoctions of man, there's a distinct calming effect. Over economics, over our funny little disputes, over bills unpaid. The mark of the world, and senses experienced by mankind for thousands of years, makes the day to day seem trivial.

Today I spoke with people house hunting in a well to do neighborhood for houses a third what they once were. Yesterday I spoke with a neighbor about her nephew, who mows lawns for a living and caddies, who bought a home and a half acre of land on a once upper middle class neighborhood for a mortgage payment of $300 a month. Today I drove to a home in Muskegon Township and passed half a dozen homes with foreclosure notices within a 1 mile on the outskirts that weren't terribly pricey to begin with. Moss growing on the rooftops. Mildew along the siding. Overgrown grass and a garage tilting and the door doesn't close anymore and the contents are open for all to see...broken appliances in limbo. Here the brief trek from the lakeshore and a couple miles inland shows the vast gulf between the rich and the middle class and poor. The mansions along the lake where a man works...a guy who once was a truck driver supporting his family, now a self employed picker-upper of dog poop from manicured lawns for a fraction of his original wage.

The night is clean. And the air is clean. And the sound of the waves is clean.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

One For You, One For Me. Two For you, One, Two For Me.

If you're like most folks, and most folks are, you are currently among 80% of the the American people who are working their keister off to claim an ever shrinking portion of America's wealth. As it stands now, the bottom 80% of Americans, incomewise, share 16% of America's wealth.

That is a historic low.

Here's the latest study on the matter --> Here

That means that the top 20% of Americans, incomewise, share 86% of America's wealth.

That's a historic high.

Even more disturbing, the top 1% of Americans, incomewise, share about 50% of America's wealth.

Though, it should be noted that the top 1% of old ladies control about 90% of America's cats.

But you can't buy much with cats.

I've tried.

So I'm happy with the distribution of cats in America. Not so happy with the distribution of money.

Let's take a look at this wealth disparity in handy chart format, shall we?

ORANGE: 80% of Americans, probably including you.
ALL BLUE: 20% of Americans, probably not including you.
DARK BLUE: 1% of Americans, almost definitely not you.


So what exactly does this mean?

Maybe the folks in the dark blue work harder than you do. Or they're smarter than you are. Or they're just crazy-lucky. Or all three. And everybody else, including you, has just gotten lazy.

You'd think that if the latter were true, that you have been sitting on your fat, pimply tush for the past decade doing nothing along with almost everybody else we'd see American productivity in a horrible decline.

But that's not what's happening.

What's happening is, America's productivity has been skyrocketing. Most Americans have been working harder...have been incredibly productive.

One might imagine that an American's increase in productivity would mean he or she is earning more.

But that's not what's happening either.

At best, most Americans are earning, The Same. And in some cases, they're going backward and making LESS.

240,000,000 Americans, or 80% of them, are fighting for the same pool of money. Pit against one another to compete for that ever shrinking pie. Some political figures suggest that Americans be forced to compete with one another by slashing wages and the minimum wage on the grounds that it's just the new reality in America. But suggest the top 1% take a reduction and free up some of that 50% of America's wealth...and it's berated as unfair.

Scarier still the richest 400 Americans control 8% of the wealth in the US.

And Americans wonder why they don't have much power in the political process. When 400 Americans command the financial funding potential of 120,000,000 Americans it should start to be pretty clear...

You really don't have much power.

And as long as this type of wealth disparity nonsense continues to stay in place, you'll have less power next year. And less the year after that.

In New York, 300 workers in a Motts plant were being asked to take a $3000 a year cut to their wages, in addition to cuts in the health insurance. Simply the reality of the new economic climate, so says the CEO. Simply a way to keep the company competitive. The CEO himself would not take a cut to his own $8 million a year paycheck, of course. The economic "reality" of competition applies only to those in the lower 80%.

But the economic and social "reality" facing those taking home 84% of America's wealth is that this sort of hording of the fruit of America's productivity is not the type of society that is sustainable. And it doesn't lead to the sort of nation most Americans want: an aristocracy where money is pooled up into and held by dynastic families for centuries.

A better distribution of wealth in America means more equal power. A stronger middle class means that the average American has more say over the direction of this great nation of ours.

If it feels like each American's say over the national direction is less, that's because it is. Or that Americans are working harder for less. There's really only one way to address it, and that's to reverse the disparity of wealth in America.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hot Global Economic Meltdown Action at the MAREC

I've been to multiple events and presentations at the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon. A hat tip to the director Arn Boezaart for making that place a hoppin' joint of self education on science, and bringing all the geeks out from the floorboards all the way from Holland in the South and Walkerville to the north. From information on wind power to presentations on invasive species and the St. Lawrence Seaway, that place is crazy well attended these days. Quite an achievement in a smallish town. And did I mention the MAREC building is energy self sufficient? Well...almost. There's a natural gas line to the fuel cell, but...still awesome.

A couple nights ago I went to a presentation at MAREC given by Ms. Stoneleigh from The Automatic Earth. It was an un-self consciously terrifying warning about an imminent and cataclysmic global economic collapse that's apparently just around the corner...

...the presentation was almost pure horror, doom, and disaster. So, naturally, the place was packed. The parking lot, overflowing...which kind of underscored the consistent theme of Peak Oil.

The presentation went something like this for two hours...and, I'm paraphrasing here:

"We're all fucked." Then, as an attempt to end on a positive note "But if you're nice to your neighbors, maybe they won't shoot you and take your stock pile of gold and organic, locally grown Mason jars of tomatoes."

I would classify it as "disaster porn." We just can't look away. We flock to it and stare.

We're out of cheap oil and coal, and the energy to get it is supposedly nearing a level where it won't sustain our civilization...

...or be available to process and transport food...

...and the price of essential goods will skyrocket...

...and the value of your house is going to crash...

Crime will reach a fever pitch as people try, in desperation to get what they need. Governments in the world will become destabilized and starting blasting the crap out of each other. Your dog will pee on you and find a new best friend.

Many graphs and charts with lines on them were presented as evidence to show how certain all of these things were to happen. How they've all happened before.

And you know what?

I actually enjoyed myself.

Though I admit I did make a stop at the grocery store and briefly considered stockpiling dried beans.

If these things do come to pass...folks have gotten through it before, and they'll get through it again. For example, my grandmother lived through the Great Depression. Sure, she had a lifelong habit of stealing and hording condiment packets and sporks from fast food restaurants...but she got through the Great Depression.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I've haven't spent nearly enough time in Detroit.

And I've never really, particularly felt a lot of love for the city, growing up here on the Western side of the state.

But something has changed for me lately. Especially in light of the recent fires that saw dozens of homes burned to the ground from a combination of a collapsing infrastructure and empty homes in Motown.

This is the city where the middle class in America was created, that pioneered how America would grow and what it would expect for the next century. And this is the city that will pioneer how we live after the middle class has been abandoned. It's a city already working to stand up...already working to re-invent itself, to re-create itself, to shake off the 50% population decline it's experienced and move forward, just like people who experience hardship do. What else is there to do?

Too many areas still feel impervious to such a fall

Too many large cities have yet to learn humility. Like teenagers, young men who feel they're immortal. The cities see their rise and assume it's going to be a constant upward trend from here. They haven't sensed their own mortality.

Many of the "rust-belt" cities have sensed their own mortality. They've experienced the period of massive growth, and the fame and the riches and the prosperity. And they've seen the contraction, as time and change rips the city apart.

I've not been to Detroit nearly enough. But I'm slowly starting to understand and appreciate the city's 300 year a mature, storied and influential driver of American history

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Coasting on this thing they called the "middle class"

Yessir, when I read articles about stagnant wages, while the upper 1% control a historically high and growing percentage of America's dough , it makes me get itchy. Historically, it's been bad news when that happens. Ain't pretty. Those types of stores make me want to start stocking up on canned goods and rations, and preparing for the coming apocalypse secure in the knowledge that at least I have beans and canned early girl tomatoes.

Even Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan thinks the wage disparity getting kind of ridiculous.

"This is not the type of thing which a democratic society—a capitalist democratic society—can really accept without addressing,"

I believe that our current middle class is largely supported by the momentum of the middle class before us. And as they pass on, we'll see an increasingly faster rise in wage disparity.

Here's a bit from the Slate article I just read:

It's generally understood that we live in a time of growing income inequality, but "the ordinary person is not really aware of how big it is," Krugman told me. During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth—the "seven fat years" and the " long boom." Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1 percent. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20 percent. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes, an outcome that left many economists scratching their heads.

With the top 1% in America controlling 24% of the wealth, and knowing that many younger Americans just out of high school and college have been hit hard by this economic recession...

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people 16 to 24 are experiencing the lowest level of employment -- that's EMPLOYMENT (not unemployment) -- ever recorded by the BLS: 48.9%.

I believe we're well within one generation, or twenty years, of seeing the full force of the growing income inequality. And that is because, I believe we're being carried by the spending momentum of the previous generation that actually had a strong middle class.

As soon as many of the older individuals start passing on, the contraction is going to be felt. There's got to be quite a bit of financial momentum in the older generation that won't be found in the generation behind them. Pensions are a relic of the past. Social Security is in question. Housing and investment values have been contracting or stagnating.

There's currently an income flowing into the older generation that they have been receiving even after they left the labor force. And that income is feeding the economy, possibly holding it up more than we're aware. When these dudes pass on...they're not going be leaving a job opening behind for another person to occupy. Their pension or social security income won't be re-directed to their next of kin as inheritance.

It will simply be money that is no longer in the community. Gone.

Without something dramatic taking place, there will be a net decrease in money held by the middle class and in our towns over the next 20 years. Between that and the effectively stagnant wages for American households for the past 30 years...

...let's just say I need to get canning.