Renaissance; Maybe, Eventually

The NYT writes one of the same two columns about Detroit that we’ve been reading for 20 years (the other being “Detroit is a third-world hellhole on par with Darfur). Downtown Detroit has been making a “comeback” for as long as I’ve been alive.

There is a grain of truth here, though. Downtown (where for thirty years nearly ALL of Detroit’s revitalization efforts have gone) is doing great compared to what it used to be. When I started going to Cass in 1988 there was literally tumbleweed. The problem with all the press about Detroit’s “comeback” is that they act like it’s new, or sudden, or fast, and it feels, like we’ve been reading the same article, hearing the same news story since 1978. Because we have. There’s definitely a comeback, but it’s happening over a period of decades. And I think it’s as much an organic result of the public disenchantment with suburban living and people wanting to spend more time in urban spaces as it is due to successful efforts by the city. Probably more. But it’s happening.

Yet again, still, we get the same old story. Downtown coming back, neighborhoods failing. Same as it ever was. The hope is that more commerce downtown means more people working there, and more people paying city taxes. That’s happening – last year city income taxes were up 12 million dollars – but it’s a drop in a 2.7 billion dollar budget. And more than offset by the city losing 70 million dollars from having pension funds invested in the market! The deck is way stacked against Detroit, and it’s going to take a LOT more than what’s happening now to start creating real, livable, safe, functional neighborhoods. It was fucked, it is fucked, and if it wasn’t fucked people wouldn’t still be fleeing.

I think what Detroit is teaching us is that a thriving downtown surrounded by an inner ring of blight, surrounded by an outer ring of stable suburbs IS a sustainable situation. Desirable, no, but sustainable, yes.

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War crimes are what the other guys do

I think we can expect more of this. How horrified we are all going to be when we start seeing stories on CNN and Daily Beast about the brutality of Assad’s torturers. How glad we will be that we live in America, and not under some dictatorship where people don’t have rights. How Andrew Sullivan will softly cry as he tells his interns which torture pictures to link.

Of course, Wolf Blitzer will not mention that for years we actually hired Syrians to do our torturing for us. That the Shining City On A Hill knew what was taking place in the dungeons in Syria, and actually sent people there for the purpose of being tortured. And outraged liberals will not mention that it was the Clinton administration that really got the “Extraordinary Rendition” ball rolling.

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The continuing Detroit exodus

Much is being made about a recent survey which finds that 40% of Detroiters plan to move out of the city in the next 5 years.

While that is indeed a depressing figure, I think we can’t make too much of it as we’re missing an important piece of information: what was that number in the past? How many people would’ve said that a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago?

In fact, 40% seemed a little low to me in a city that has already lost around 60% of its population. Just from my own anecdotal evidence, when I lived in Detroit it seemed like nearly everyone wanted to move to the suburbs. Forty percent may well represent a drop in the number of people planning to leave. But there’s no way for us to know – which is of course an important and overlooked part of the story.

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WSJ’s false claims about PT vs FT jobs

The WSJ published an op ed the other day after the BLS jobs report came out claiming that the drop in unemployment is due to more people taking part time jobs, and that most of the new jobs are part time.

This is patently false. The report clearly shows that the number of part time workers dropped from 27,757 to 27,731, while the number of full time workers rose from 114,388 to 115,226.

Fact checkers, anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

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No, the labor force did not drop by 1.2M in January

Pessimists are looking at today’s BLS household survey and claiming that the hidden bad news is that there was a 1.2 million (!) decrease in the labor force, presumably due to discouraged job seekers dropping out.

In reality, the report states outright that the 1.2 million decrease in the labor force has to do with the BLS starting in January 2012 to use revised population figures based on 2010 Census data:

"Effective with data for January 2012, updated population estimates which reflect the results of Census2010 have been used in the household survey...The change in population reflected in the new estimates results from the introduction of the Census 2010 count as the new population base, adjustments for net international migration, updated vital statistics and other information, and some methodological changes in the estimation process. The vast majority of the population change, however, is due to the change in base population from Census 2000 to Census 2010.
...
The adjustment increased the estimated size of the civilian noninstitutional population in December by 1,510,000, the civilian labor force by 258,000, employment by 216,000, unemployment by 42,000, and persons not in the labor force by 1,252,000. Although the total unemployment rate was unaffected, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio were each reduced by 0.3 percentage point. This was because the population increase was primarily among persons 55 and older and, to a lesser degree, persons 16 to 24 years of age. Both these age groups have lower levels of labor force participation than the general population."

The report does in fact contain genuinely good news.

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A Magical Place

The Maroun family, who owns the admittedly pretty amazing train station here in Detroit, says they don’t want to tear it down:

“The depot is kind of a magical place. And what my family and I have decided is that to tear it down right now, we think, would be gutless, so we’re going to put some real money into it to preserve it.”

Yea, we can tell it’s a magical place by its resemblance to THE GATES OF FUCKING MORDOR.

For the love of men and halflings alike, just destroy it already.  Nothing about being a Detroiter irritates me quite like white people from the suburbs who demand the city not tear down the giant rotting carcasses of dead buildings that litter the city.  Buildings that they don’t have to look at from Troy and Birmingham of course, except from the safety of the interwebs.

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Yay!! We tek der jeeebs!!!

To America,

This is the way it works. You vote for free-market, anti-union, anti-tax, anti-safety net ideologues, and you eventually “create jobs” by becoming a poor, low-wage labor pool, like Mexico, for companies from countries that did not gut their unions and safety nets, like Sweden.

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What’s more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Swedwood’s Steen said the company is reducing the number of temps, but she acknowledged the pay gap between factories in Europe and the U.S. “That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries,” Steen said.

That’s right America, we are now Sweden’s Mexico.

Carry on.

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Actually, he had several dreams

Most of us know Martin Luther King through the March on Washington, and his brilliant “I Have a Dream” speech. True enough, those were both ground-shaking achievements. His inoffensive words of love and moderation reach out to us through black-and-white footage and crackly audio and present an image of an American Ghandi, a saintly preacher of peace. But he was not this. He was much better.

I learned about Martin Luther King during my days in the Detroit Public School system, where the hagiography was boundless. I was fortunate to have also learned about other great Black Americans, some of whom remain personal heroes of mine to this day such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. We reenacted their lives in school plays and sang songs about them. What I did not learn, however, was the richness of King’s legacy and the tragic reality of how much he had yet to accomplish on the day he was murdered.

He was young. 39 years old on the day he died; 34 when he led the march on Washington. The year he died, he had decided to engage in an ambitious “phase 2” of the civil rights movement – a multiracial mass movement for the economic enfranchisement of America’s 40 million poor people. He had come to believe that economic inequality and racism were two heads of the same necrotic hydra, and that its victims included poor whites, latinos and women as well as blacks. On the day he was killed, he was in the process of planning a second march – the “Poor People’s March” on Washington. This was to usher in a massive wave of civil disobedience, a multi-racial coalition of equality advocates who would demand that the US Government pass an “economic bill of rights” and end the Vietnam war.

“Now our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.” – SCLC address, 1967

And, from the same address:

“I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about Where do we go from here, that we honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, Who owns the oil? You begin to ask the question, Who owns the iron ore? You begin to ask the question, Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water? These are questions that must be asked.

Now, don’t think that you have me in a bind today. I’m not talking about communism.

What I’m saying to you this morning is that communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.”

Many of King’s ideas were radical for their day but seem obvious and universally accepted today. However, I think it’s important to recognize that before he died, he had come to accept some truths that even today are considered extreme.  Among the ideas he espoused as part of the economic bill of rights, was a guaranteed minimum income for all Americans. Today, despite Glenn Beck’s revolting imitations, King would be considered a socialist, a radical, class-warfare waging malcontent.  Perhaps this is because King was gunned down in 1968, at the age of 39, before he had a change to change America more than he already had.  Tragic.

Someone espousing King’s later ideas about economic socialism today would be treated contemptuously not only by the right, but by the Democrats as well. Yet, in an era of bank bailouts, a war in Afghanistan that will soon eclipse its 10-year mark, mass joblessness, foreclosures, and looming austerity policies that will seek to extract even more resources from the lowest income Americans in order to protect the wealth of those at the top, King’s “radical” message of economic justice and equality remains more urgent now than it was in 1968.

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What is wrong with progressives lately?

Why do we have so many progressives out there now who are so thirsty to give a grand “fuck you” to the GOP, the banks, the insurance companies, the rich (or, more correctly, the singular entity of which all 4 are arms) that they’re willing to make the unemployed pay the bill for it?

The problem with Bush’s tax cuts for the rich is that they helped to create a long term structural deficit problem.  And to be sure, the long term structural deficit is a problem, but it’s not our urgent problem.

So, we have liberals arguing against this deal on the grounds that tax cuts for the rich are just plain bad and unfair, to which I’d say, yes, they are, but they fall into the category of all the other unfair things that are not super-important NOW.

An offshoot of this argument is that this long-term deficit will eventually be used to whittle away at Social Security or Medicare.  Maybe…but you know what can also be used to kill SS and Medicare?  A shitty economy that isn’t taking in enough revenue.

Our urgent problem is short-term economic performance. Raising taxes on the top 2% doesn’t help that…that’s why I’m not sure they have become more of a concern for the left than the stimulative measures in the compromise – like the unemployment extension. We need stimulus, stimulus, stimulus. I have no idea why the left would want to make these tax cuts for the rich their touchstone now when other things are so much more immediately important.

Let’s look at the numbers (bear with my back-of-envelope math here).  The total bill is around $900B.  Out of that, $120B is from a 2-year extension of the tax cuts for Americans making more than $250K.  This leaves $780B (about the size of Obama’s 2009 stimulus package) that is pretty much all going to Americans who make under $250K annually, including a $60B unemployment extension that will go to the very most desperate Americans.

Why exactly is this deal so horrific?  Why has this become the rallying point?  Progressives now generally accept that what we need more than anything is more stimulus and that deficit-cutting austerity measures are counter productive.  Yea, getting rid of the big giveaway to the rich in our tax code would be nice, but is it so important that we should tolerate a $780B anti-stimulus just to get it?  No!

This, as Obama mentioned, hearkens back to the public option debate where you had the Jane Hamshire type lefties crying “Kill the Bill” because it wasn’t hard enough on insurance companies.  It wasn’t, of course, but it did establish a massive regime of subsidies for the lower HALF of Americans to make sure health insurance was within their reach.  Nevertheless, it was more important for many on the left to fuck their enemies than it was to help the poor and working class.

I see the same dynamic here.  The real vigor in the base is to hurt the GOP or the wealthy, not to offer any meaningful help to people who desperately need help now.   Is this what Obama’s base has become?  Some wild, lefty version of the Tea Party, full of incoherent resentment and confused frustration?  If so, that’s sad, and it’s no wonder that he’s been a bit bitchy with them lately.  I’m sure that on some level there is a genuine belief here that beating the GOP, health insurance companies, Wall St., investment banks and the top 2%  with a baseball bat is exactly what the lower classes need in order to finally start to get ahead and reforge the promise of America that has been stolen from them.  I’m sympathetic to that view, but for one thing it’s a bit underpants-gnomey to me

STEP 1:  Fuck the greedy rich assholes who stole the middle class

STEP 2: ???

STEP 3:  Middle class returns

…and for another thing, it doesn’t acknowledge the urgency in getting real help to people like the ones I’m living around here in Michigan who have lost their jobs, homes, cars, savings, retirement, and are having a hard time feeding their families NOW.

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I drink for the children

I was a recipient of Christmas gifts from Goodfellows when I was a kid, so since it looks like I will have a pretty slow holiday season and I’m sure there is record need, I decided to volunteer this year.  Sadly, when I called I was told by the fire chief that the program had been so scaled back this year that there was nothing for volunteers to even do.  The fire dept collects donations and the fire fighters’ wives buy the gifts.  They cancelled the paper sale and aren’t going door to door.  There is no way for me to volunteer.

The one thing they are doing, however, is a fundraiser in downtown Ferndale this Saturday.  Area bars will be collecting donations and having some kind of event celebrating the end of prohibition (it will the the 77th anniversary of the 21st amendment).

So Saturday night, I will literally be drinking for the children.  If you’re so inclined, come down, donate a little, and I’ll buy you a drink.  The bars that are participating are Buffalo Wild Wings, Danny’s, Dino’s, Ferndale Elks Club, Grasshopper Pub, Howe’s Bayou, New Way Bar, Post Bar, Rosie O Grady’s, Sneakers, SOHO, and Tony’s Sports Bar.

I’ll be at SOHO from around 9 until 1am, but I’ll gladly crawl over to your pub of choice if you send me an email, a facebook message, or a direct tweet.

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