Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Muskegon Chronicle: 67 Year Old Muskegon Man using a walker Robbed in the Street by 4 GOP Presidential Candidates

A friend of mine found this appropriate headline/photo combination on his smart phone and took a picture of it.

If you can't read the headline it says "Midday Muskegon: Four men rob elderly Muskegon man using a walker..."

The caption next to it is a photo of Gingrich, Santorum, Romney, and Paul.

For the record, the man who was robbed was not physically harmed. The robbers took his cash. Hopefully the perpetrators will be brought to justice, and more importantly here's hoping he can feel safe at some point soon.

To confirm the photo wasn't photoshopped, I found it myself as well...here's my own screenshot:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fiction: The Epiphany

It felt good. Like a good stretch in the morning. Like finally finishing a day of hardworking yard chores on a hot day and all you want to do is crack a beer on the back porch and regard your dominion and the world you made. Like the smell of cut grass and sweat. It felt good.

Michael closed his eyes as endorphines filled his body. He breathed deep, nasal passages fully dilated and clear. He could breathe. For the first time since he couldn't remember he could breathe. Not the crushing, short breath of panic and the bruise in the heart and the impulse to exhale a groan. Sleepless nights bathed in adrenaline.

He breathed in. The smell of paper. Coffee. Shaving cream, pencil shavings, new carpet.


Eyes closed. Heart pounding. Warmth and peace. He inhaled and held for the silence. He didn't want it to end.

But he felt, now, his hands gripping something hard. Something jagged. Pain. His hands felt pain. He exhaled, then opened his eyes to shards of broken glass and paper all around. His hand gripped a chair, wooden legs pointing outward, one broken off in a jagged fray of maple. He felt the stares of people. People who had been there only to deposit a check. Silent. Staring. Taking cover. A man in a tie and a suit huddled, peeked at him wide eyed trembling below a dented, office supply strewn table. Paper clips and bits of flat screen monitor.

Michael dropped the chair and felt the pain leave his hands. He opened and closed his fists.

Sirens. He realized now that he had been unaware of sound for a moment. The sound of multiple overlapping sirens grew louder. His ears felt hot. Good, he thought. Good. Where else would I go?


This is short fiction from the Red Writing Hood site.

use a Gandhi quote to inspire you to throw a little conflict at your characters in the name of strong plot development.

It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.
Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

(photodiary) Frozen Dunes, the Compelling Contours of the Small

Rick Santorum came to Muskegon a couple days ago. Maybe it was yesterday. Don't know. Seems so long ago. Went there with my 4 year old boy on promise of fruit snacks in exchange for Not Freaking Out at Having to Hear Extra White Christian Man Hate On Americans For Thirty Minutes. My son...he did pretty good. He earned those fruit snacks. EARNED them.

But we all know the guy's a douche. Really. What more could be said? He made the Not So Roundabout point he was against the domestic auto industry. He's basically another Romney.

Anyway, here's some pics of closeup winter dune formations along Lake Michigan.

See those dark outlines? That's magnetite on the sugar sands. Some type of iron based sediment. Naturally occurring. The occasional black striations occur naturally along the sandy beaches of the lakeshore giving contour and texture to the sandy, watery landscape.

But that can be seen any time of year. This time of year the sands are frozen wherever moisture touches them, creating bizarre and interesting sand formations.




You see...it's not just the water. It's not just the dunes. It's not just the distant birdseye view.

It's the world in microcosm and on the individual scale. It's the contours of the small. The closeups where the differences and beauty of shades and contours are revealed.

I have trouble with the world from a distant view. The small beauties and dramas are too easily overlooked, and understood only in aggregate. Too often the world is understood by taking the whole and divining the parts, rather than taking the time to see the parts as they are and divining the whole. The ugly. The stupid. The noble. The terrifying and the beautiful. The brilliant and the small.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Real Insanity Is that People Are Still Spewing this Service Economy Transition Crap in 2012

Now here's a fine example in CNN.com of a Straw Man fallacy written by Dr. Bergstrand: Nostalgia for factory jobs that will never come back

I'm sure that "Jeffrey Bergstrand, professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame" is a very smart man and knows what the hell he's talking about when it comes to things like Finance and Markets and whatnot. But that doesn't give him a free pass to be intellectually sloppy. Quite the opposite. Somebody's gotta drag him by his collar to the mess he made in the Morning News and have his face rubbed into it...."NO! NO Professor Bergtrand! NO! BAD BOY! No informal rhetorical fallacies. NO informal rhetorical fallacies! NO!"

Here's more of what he has to say with a little "begging the question" thrown in for good measure:

If there is a central public sentiment about economics prevailing in America right now, it seems to be this: We want to go back to our manufacturing roots.

The heyday of manufacturing, the block-long plants that produce not just tangible goods, but big, heavy ones like cars, gave us economic stability once; it can do it again.

But as with most nostalgic visions, this one doesn't reflect economic realities.

Get that?

1. He starts off by begging the question that there's likely a central public sentiment about wanting to return to our manufacturing roots...and...

2. That we're all gushy and nostalgic for the days of the "block long plants" or as he later calls it "Low-technology manufacturing" and the "assembly line"...and...

3. That kids these days need to pull up their pants. Wait, sorry. No. My bad. He didn't actually say that.

I don't know the last time Mr. Bergstrand has been in a factory or a machine shop....but all I can say to his initial debunking of his own shallow straw man: DDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDUH! Not a lot of serious people are under the illusion that we've had traditional "Low technology" "assembly line" manufacturing for a long time, or could ever return to it. We're not going back to the days when huge factories founded entire towns around themselves based on some utopian dream of giving white, Christian families homes near a factory where they and their kids will work in prosperity until the end of time.

Nobody believes that.

What we do believe is the small scale machine shops which are seeing upticks in orders. Not mass produced objects like plastic Army Men, but precision highly skilled manufacturing, like, for example titanium hip screws which my uncle makes down in Florida. One. At. A. Time. And the titanium allow? It's mixed up right here in Muskegon at Cannon.

When talking about "economic realities" Dr. Bergstrand, it's important to tread lightly, because many folks in the industrial belt have LIVED the "economic reality" that service sector jobs were supposed to have brought for the past thirty years and let me tell ya....that is also not an "economic reality". You can't have an economy based on selling insurance and ringing up shoe purchases.

We do, in fact, need to make stuff.

That much is painfully, miserably clear.

And we're doing that again. Not in the huge low tech assembly line image our right wing critics think advocates of manufacturing want. But in small scale, skilled machining and production.

And yes...China's rising economy, increase in wages, and loosening fiscal policy has lead to goods becoming more expensive to produce in China, and therefore more profitable to make in the United States again.....but the notion that somebody else could replace what China had been to the US for the past 30 years...now THAT is a FANTASY. Yeah...we've been hearing about this great transition to a service economy for decades now. It's not all that.

the subsequent rapid per capita income growth in China has meant a rise in the relative price of their labor, so the cost differential is being alleviated. This cost differential is being further narrowed by China once again allowing its currency to gain in value compared to the U.S. dollar.

Once that differential diminishes, the rate of manufacturing decline has to slow.
However, this does not signal that "in-sourcing" or "re-shoring" is on the rise in America. Low-technology manufacturing is not anything we will ever get back to permanently. It's just too costly to produce here, and even if China becomes less attractive, there's still Latin America, and much of Asia and Africa.

Okay...let's do just a TINY bit of math here:

Population of China: 1,338,299,500

Population of South America: 572,039,894
Population of Africa: 1,022,234,000
Total Population of Africa and Latin America: 1,594,273,894

So what the Dr. or Economics is trying to tell us is...Yeah! We can TOTALLY move on to cheaper places once China becomes less viable...and all we'll need is to get more than two ENTIRE CONTINENTS and dozens of, often conflicting and frequently technologically backwards, nations to take the place of that one country.

EASY! Except that much of Latin America is already more expensive to produce in than China. For example, workers in Brazil make twice what a worker in China makes, and Mexico makes 1.5 times what a worker in China makes. But forget about that. Details, details....let's just pretend China's land of cheap goods can be easily ported over to, say, Burkana Fasso. What the hell.

The real la-la land insanity is that people who should know better are still spewing this Service Economy Transition crap in 2012.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Santorum Shows The Uncanny Inability to Not Hate On Detroit.

In some ways I pity Romney and Santorum as they writhe around in Michigan trying to shoehorn their ideologies into the real world.

As GM scores a RECORD BREAKING year of profits (7.6 billion dollars), as they dish out $7000 bonuses to their workers, as they continue to hire, as manufacturing rebounds nationwide, the Republican presidential candidates are compelled by some uncanny force to stick to their guns. They're incapable of saying what nearly everybody here in Michigan knows; The auto bailout saved American Manufacturing and the State of Michigan from falling off a cliff.

Romney is sinking in Michigan with the anchor of "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" wrapped around his neck while folks at RedState are scratch their heads wondering why...I mean...he was BORN in Detroit, right? Right? His father was our Governor. Of COURSE Michigan would love the guy. Except that he made the fatal mistake of being a dumbass, calling for cutting American Manufacturing loose. They don't seem to grasp the really super simple notion that people, even the Conservative people, in Michigan didn't much like the notion of letting the State's dominant industry collapse

Presented with this political death trap, one would think Santorum would just keep his mouth shut about the auto industry. Or at best get all Ari-Fleisher post modernist weird on the reporters until they get bored or confused or walk away.

But no...

Here comes that uncanny inability to not hate on Detroit and anything Obama Has Done:

"Romney supported a bailout for Wall Street and not the bailout of Detroit," Santorum said during a speech at the Cobo Center. "My position is the government should not be involved in bailouts period."


Santorum said that if he was in the Senate at the time he would not have supported bailing out the auto industry, agreeing that the companies could have survived without the intervention.


"Having government involved sets a dangerous precedent," he said. "I actually blame President Bush more than I blame President Obama. He was just following suit. President Bush set the precedent and it was the wrong precedent."

So you can clearly see how Santorum is drawing a distinction between himself and Romney on this issue. See, Romnyy would have just let the Domestic Auto Manufacturers drop dead, while SANTORUM would have let the Domestic Auto Manufacturers drop dead.


Even with potential electoral victory in his grasp, Santorum just CAN'T keep from hating on Detroit for a measly two weeks.

Ya know? Romney may end up squeeking this one out, after all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Obama Gets It: Proposes $8 Billion To Help Community Colleges Meet Local Employment Needs

I admit I get a bit of a thrill exploring places where I'm probably not supposed to be...particularly empty and dark parts of buildings. So I kind of enjoyed calling in on a White House press conference call. Now if you're gonna say "Uh...you're totally allowed to do that." My response would be to you "Hush up, now! You're ruining my fun!" It sure as heck FELT exciting.

The receptionist person was all like "And what news organization are you with sir?"

"News organization? I....of course...I'm with Muskegon Critic." **TEE HEE HEE** I told her I'm a NEWS ORGANIZATION...MUAAA HA HA HA HA HA HAAA! AAAHHHH HA HA HA HA HAAAAAA....

"Hold on a moment, let me patch you in...."

AHA! My cunning disguise as an actual DC reporter mucky muck was successful! And I didn't even have to wear pants! The FOOLS!

As I sat outside in my living room I listened in on the deepest darkest, darkest, filthiest secrets the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Education were wiling to share in this here press conference. Stuff like "The president's budget proposes 8 billion dollars for community colleges to partner with businesses to provide training in job skills that are in demand."

The new fund, announced at an event at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va., would support community college-based training programs that would expand training to meet the needs of employers in high-growth sectors, provide workers with the latest certified training and skills, and invest in registered apprenticeships and other on-the-job training opportunities.

The fund would also support paid internships for low-income community college students that would allow them to simultaneously earn credit for work-based learning and gain relevant employment experience.

This, of course, is huge. It's particularly critical for communities hit with a massive upheaval and transformation in how their economies function, such as manufacturing communities. Within the space of just a few years people have lost high paying jobs jobs where they'd been most of their lives and were either thrust into low wage jobs or they now have no jobs at all. It's a trend that's been going on for decades, and has come to a fine point in the past half decade.

A lot of manufacturing communities once offered jobs for folks right out of high school...and in many instances jobs right out of 9th grade. So there's often a low level of higher degree holders, and a low level of skilled labor. That's a problem.

For example...on the national level, about 39% of Americans over 25 have an Associate's degree or higher. Muskegon County, a historically industrial region, is almost half that 22% holding an Associates degree or higher.

In addition to there being a reduction of jobs overall, the drag on the local economy here is exacerbated by the fact that a low percentage of workers have the skill set many modern businesses need. So industrial regions are at a competitive disadvantage.

The local community college is sort of the forefront of the effort to bring the workforce up to speed AFFORDABLY and in direct response to and in communication with the needs of local businesses.

This is something THIS administration understands. The direct infusion of cash to help community colleges connect with businesses and create programs and curriculums that train people to meet the needs of local employers is ENORMOUS. And it's a clear sign our President GETS it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Strategically Placed Comma sends Michigan's Business, Tax Climate Soaring!

Pop English quiz. Who can tell me the difference between these two headlines?

"Michigan business, tax climate soars in Tax Foundation ratings, Snyder says"


"Michigan business tax climate soars in Tax Foundation ratings, Snyder says"

Give up? It was the comma. The comma is what makes the Detroit Free Press headline remotely accurate. Because the Michigan Business-Tax climate did not, in fact, "soar" according to the Tax Foundation, though Rick Snyder would love for us to think so.

See, at the Tax Foundation "Business Tax Climate" means a very specific thing. It's an aggregate of five different tax climates: Corporate Income Tax, Property Tax, Sales Tax, Individual Income Tax, and Unemployment Insurance Tax. That's what the "Business Tax Climate" is. As distinct from the "Business, Tax Climate".


Here's the lead paragraph in the Detroit Free Press article:

The huge changes in Michigan’s tax structure during 2011 has prompted the Tax Foundation to move the state from 49th in terms of tax climate to 7th.

Funny story...that's not what the official Tax Foundation report actually says. In fact, Michigan's OVERALL business tax climate is listed at 18th for 2012...DOWN from 17th in 2011. And our Corporate Tax structure is still at 49th for 2012.

"That's weird" I thought. Would our Governor just LIE about something like this?

So I called the Tax Foundation. Those Tax Foundation dudes were REALLY nice and freely gave me their time and patiently explained to me what was going on.

Here's what's going on:

The numbers that Rick Snyder is touting are what are called "hypothetical" numbers. That's the exact word the gentleman from the Tax Foundation used: "Hypothetical". I'll get to that in a minute. First an explanation of the changes.

Basically the official number posted on the website (18th overall in Business Tax Climate and 49th in Corporate Tax Climate) were made before Snyder's tax policy took effect. So they decided to see what Michigan might have been ranked IF the current tax policies were in fact accounted for.

So, if we could freeze dry the entire world and go back in time and change ONLY Michigan's numbers, what would they be?

In this case, Michigan's CORPORATE tax climate would have gone from 49th to 7th in the nation. CORPORATE tax climate. But Michigan's overall BUSINESS tax climate would have gone up from 18th to 12th in the nation. A rise! But far from "soaring". And a rise from an already above average number.

Okay...so why did the Tax Foundation fellow call the revised numbers "Hypothetical" numbers? Two reasons.

ONE: Because the special report assumes that Michigan changed but everybody else stayed still. But that didn't happen. We really don't know where we stand relative to other states. We can only guess.

and more importantly

TWO: The revised report does NOT include changes to the Personal Income Tax which INCREASED for 51% of Michiganders as child tax credits and low income home interest tax credits are removed and pensions are now taxed. Our personal income tax situation is getting worse here in Michigan, not better. That's bound to be a drag on the overall Business Tax Climate.

it should be noted that Michigan's reform also included some changes to the personal income tax, most of which do not come on line until 2013. These changes are not included in the estimate above.

What Snyder would like to have us believe is that we've dramatically improved our Business Tax Climate. We haven't. Our tax climate was above average at 18th in the nation before Snyder's tax policies took effect. Even if we apply the new changes without the increase in personal income tax, the rosiest picture is us moving up from above average to slightly more above average.

But even that "rosy" scenario is a distant estimate that doesn't hold up under scrutiny. All he's done is give more tax breaks to the mega-corps. GREAT news if you're a mega corp. For the rest of us, not so much. But we knew that already.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

February Fourth and FORTY TWO FREAKIN DEGREES - No snow for Snowfest

Well...here it is. February. Time for Snow Fest. It's 42 degrees outside. No snow. So people will just have to make do with beer.

My freakin' cabbages from last year that never fully grew...they're still doing fine. The brussel sprouts that never produced any brussel sprouts...they're still doing fine. Maybe they'll produce brussel sprouts this year. I'm confident they'll make it through the "winter" and have another go at it.

It's just weird, is what it is.

And here's a side note about that reduction of heating assistance from LIHEAP this year: A couple years ago when I was furious about a reduction of heating assistance being reported in Huffington Post I called the National LIHEAP office in DC to find out what the hell was going on and a kindly old lady called me back from DC and said LIHEAP / Department of Energy had gotten a huge amount from the stimulus, so funding it was bound to go down by comparison. Then she said, generally the amount of LIHEAP funding is figured using weather predictions and gas prices. A backup surplus is allocated in case the weather is colder than predicted.

This year, it seems to be the case that a warm winter was a relatively safe bet. And not just in Michigan. In Iowa City has been in the 60s this winter, it's not even below freezing right nos. Florida has been warmer, so says my family. Somebody I know in New Jersy says her tulip bulbs have started to sprout early.

Normally about this time I'm bundled up and shoveling the driveway daily, throwing salt on the driveway and looking nervously at my pile of wood as it dwindles faster than I think it should. Today I seem to be able to heat my house by throwing open a couple curtains on the south western side of the house.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Endless Stream of Frustration and Reinvention

A lot of history has been blown up over the past half century as post industrial towns have struggled to "reinvent" themselves. There's a miserable lack of historical buildings, still standing, in many post industrial towns...Ford's original factories are gone or dissolving, nearly forgotten. Cuz it's progress to un-be what we've been. A reinvention to undo what we've done and start fresh. The dynamite,detonated at the base of our architecturally sinful past wipes the slate clean again...building after building after building. All to re-invent.

One specific building in Muskegon comes to mind, and to this very day it evokes feelings of anger and resentment at its destruction when its name or image comes up. The Occidental Hotel. the Occidental Hotel in Muskegon was a landmark. It was demolished in just one of a string of many attempts to revitalize the down town over the past 50 years.

Many folks still around, including my father, tried desperately to save it. Tried desperately to keep our ties to the past. But the efforts were no use. Muskegon had to reinvent itself to stay afloat. That old phrase we hear so often when confronted with a failure of industry of manufacturing of our own economy. We need to reinvent ourselves. Once again. Again and again and again.

We had to blow the old building up.

We had to get with the times. And the times, at the time, was some ill fated mall that would itself be demolished 25 years later in a new effort in a long running meme known post-industrial reinvention. The mall would eventually itself be bulldozed to the ground. Where the Occidental Hotel once stood. Where the Mall then stood. Then a sand pit. And then a cullinary arts college surrounded by sand pit.

They did the same to the court house and countless other buildings.

One building, however, did manage to miss the wrecking ball all these years.

The "Century Club"

It's been a lot of things over the years, since its construction in 1889: a social club...a social club...also a social club...then it was a furniture store and then it became what it is today: a small mall for local artisans and, if I may say so, a place to get some amazing baklava.

The West Michigan Jobs Group, our group, lead by our fearless Vice Prez held our second Cash Mob to bring people into the area and find out what's going on in the current incarnation of the Century Club. A cash mob is basically an organized group of folks who descend on a store or area of town to support local, independent biz.

Around 60 folks came to this one:

It's hard to really appreciate the need for cash mobs to introduce people to under-represented regions of the city if one doesn't realize that most of the downtown had been bulldozed in one in an endless stream of frustration with our past going on a century and more.