Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Business As Usual people are optimistic about Oakland County

I started this month with a good news post based on a press release that assumed Business as Usual (BAU) will return. I may as well close out the month with a post based on another optimistic BAU press release, this time from one of my alma maters.
University of Michigan: Oakland economy is in the early stages of sustained recovery
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—After posting modest job losses last calendar year following an abysmal 2009, the Oakland County economy should add nearly 29,000 jobs over the next three years—the best years since 2000, say University of Michigan economists.
That looks really good, doesn't it?
In their annual forecast of the Oakland County economy, George Fulton and Don Grimes of the U-M Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy say that Oakland will add nearly 11,000 jobs this year, another 8,000 next year and more than 9,700 in 2013.
This year looks like the best of the three and next year the worst of the three. If you're a politician up for re-election in 2012, that may not be the best news, but at least the projection isn't for job losses that year, either.
Last calendar year, Oakland County lost less than 1,200 jobs after losing nearly 60,000 jobs in 2009, and is currently adding jobs—the majority in sectors most tied to the New Economy.
Now does adding 29,000 jobs in three years look that good? Not when you realize that more than twice as many were lost in one year.

Even so, the good news continues
"The resurgence in the Oakland County economy appears to be no fluke, not related to any unusual events, but rather is backed by improvements in the U.S. economy, a reborn auto industry and the county's still-strong economic fundamentals and forward-looking policy initiatives," Fulton said. "Although the recovery is slower than what we've seen in the most recent expansions—a trend we also anticipate for the nation as a whole—we do see the county economy as being on an upward and sustained growth trajectory.
Until the start of the Great Recession, Oakland County was consistently among the ten richest counties in the country. It isn't any more, although it's still the wealthiest county in the state. Looks like things are reverting to the mean, which means climbing back up the rankings.
Despite the economic difficulties of the past decade, Oakland County still remains among the premier local economies in the country, with its coveted AAA bond rating and high ranking among 33 comparable counties in the United States on a series of measures that indicate future economic prosperity.

"Oakland ranks 8th overall—an impressive standing, especially considering that a number of these counties house some of the most thriving local economies in the nation," Grimes said. "This is even more impressive in light of Oakland's location within the state that has become notorious for its recent position near the bottom of the economic barrel.

"It is clear that whether we assess Oakland County with respect to how it is positioned in key economic fundamentals across all regions of the United States, or more restrictively here among its peers, there are few local economies with a more favorable composite profile for succeeding in the New Economy."
See, I told you, climbing back up the rankings.
Speaking of good news, is there any more?
"The net gain in jobs forecast over the next three years (including 2011), however, indicates only that the broad decline in employment has ended. It does not mean that the economy is back to normal. For many residents, the economic struggles will continue."
And who are the ones most likely to struggle, in addition to the long-term unemployed?
While the private sector in Oakland County will post job gains over the next three years,
Nearly 31,000 in fact.
jobs in the government sector, which includes public schools and local government administration, will continue to shrink, with more than 2,000 jobs lost through 2013. Nearly 70 percent of these losses will occur this year.
Remember I said that slow growth might harm the chances of any politician up for election next year? There are some politicians who public sector employees don't care for already who might be up for re-election, after a fashion, this year. Watch the following clip from WOOD-TV.

A longshot effort to recall Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder can begin collecting signatures aimed at getting the measure on the ballot.

ETA: Also watch the following clips from WXYZ-TV.

Hundreds protest as Governor Snyder delivers address

As I've written before: "Business as usual? Not quite."

Friday, April 29, 2011

Save the libraries, save civilization

I wrote this post twelve years ago, but the topic of defunding libraries has returned to the news, so I added the preview image above for better visibility and decided to start sharing it again.

In the very first post on this blog, I wrote:

Saving civilization is about preventing libraries falling into ruin while we build sports arenas and military bases.
Actually, saving the libraries might strike some people as frivolous, but remember that the way the humans in the book discovered the truth about moties was by stumbling into a museum designed to speed the rise of Motie civilization after the next collapse.  Another example involves Canticle for Leibowitz, the plot of which revolves around a monastery that includes a library the mission of which is to help revive civilization after its collapse.  So, it's not as stupid an idea as it seems.  Thanks to that suggestion, you can expect posts on saving cultural institutions during collapse, not just for how to keep yourself fed and safe.
I haven't been very good about doing so (I didn't even blog about the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra ending their strike, which fits the topic), but the Detroit Free Press has obliged me with an update.

Across metro Detroit, communities bracing for library closings
After Romulus voters rejected a 2.75-mill proposal in February, officials announced plans to close the city's library.

But members of the Friends of the Romulus Public Library hope to make a last-ditch plea to the council tonight that may keep the doors open or at worse, eliminate a permanent shutdown.

"If we close the library, we are denying people's rights," said Sylvia Makowski, president of the group. "It goes against democratic principles."
Now, that's a take on the situation that I like, and I wish to hear Ms. Makowski elaborare on that idea. Instead, the article quotes the mayor, who points out the economic benefits of the library.
"The library is not just for kids, but our seniors and those who are using online services," Romulus Mayor Alan Lambert said. "In this economy people are using the library to do their résumés and for other job services."
Remember, this article is about austerity, which means the question becomes where does one find the money. The Friends of the Romulus Public Library have an answer.
The group has a plan that includes a 0.2-mill levy, which would cost residents about $8.50 more in taxes a year.

The millage defeated in February included support for other services and would have cost residents between $150 and $300 in increased taxes.
Looks like the library was collateral damage.

Romulus isn't the only community where the libraries are in danger.
At a time when demand is soaring, communities such as Detroit, Dearborn and Troy are facing major obstacles to keeping library doors open.
Check out that roll call.  All of them get their turn in this article, and then some.
Gretchen Couraud, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, said the issue is not declines in state revenue sharing, but in tax revenues.

"I would advise residents to talk to the Legislature and tell them that libraries are important," Couraud said. "There has been erosion at every level."
If you want libraries, you're going to have to vote for them, get others to vote for them, and find ways to pay for them. As for why...
Couraud said library usage across the country is rising. Nearly one-third of all Americans turn to their neighborhood libraries for Internet access.
Can you say "digital divide?" I knew you could. BTW, that theme is repeated in community after community, especially Detroit.
Just one month after laying off 83 employees, Detroit Public Library officials are meeting to discuss closing 12 to 18 of its 23 branches.
...[C]commissioners are also considering closing the libraries for 30 to 60 days to avoid shutting branches entirely.
At least the system as a whole will remain open. The same could be said about Dearborn.
In Dearborn, Mayor Jack O'Reilly announced that the city needed to cut $20 million from its budget, which may mean a library branch closure. The city has already laid off several librarians and consolidated children's services from the city's three library branches to the Henry Ford Centennial Library.
What about Bloomfield Hills and Troy, the poster children of cities in Metro Detroit who either have lost access to other cities' libraries or whose own libraries are in danger of closing?
[B]loomfield Hills, which never had a library of its own, city officials are negotiating with the directors of Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham to give Bloomfield Hills residents full borrowing privileges.
Birmingham would be a better match for Bloomfield Hills than Troy, which the city had been using. It turns out Troy has issues of its own.
Troy's library was originally scheduled to close Sunday. But on April 18, the City Council postponed the closing until May 16, hoping to find a way to fund the library.
Troy Mayor Louise Schilling said she would seek a dedicated millage for the library, releasing its dependence on the city's general operating budget.

Schilling said she hopes a library millage is on the November ballot.
I do, too, Madame Mayor, and I know people who would campaign for it, too. I hope you get together with them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Update on "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" about Metro Detroit real estate

On Sunday, I posted the following from the Detroit Free Press.

Median home sale prices were down 13.3% in metro Detroit to $58,000 last month, compared with $66,900 in March 2010. Prices were down in all counties, but sales prices in the city of Detroit rose by 10%, to a median of $8,505 from $7,725.
Prices are also down, but note the price rise in Detroit proper. That's an early sign of a possible recovery, even if it's starting at a very low level. In a BAU environment, I'd say that the local market is very close to a bottom. The BAU people agree.

Kathy Coon, broker/owner of Real Living Great Lakes in Rochester Hills, said that prices are coming up despite the March readings.

"Once the appraisers see what is going on in the market, the prices will start coming back up," she said. "The good houses right now are selling really quickly, those that are priced right and in good condition. We are seeing the good foreclosures selling really quickly with multiple offers."
Looks like Ms. Coon was right. A few days after I posted that news, the Free Press followed up.

February metro home sales up 1% from January

The metro area gained 1% in February compared with January, but was down 3.7% from February 2010, according to S&P/Case-Shiller home price data released Tuesday. Home prices for the top 20 cities in America were down by 3.3% from a year ago and down by 1.1% compared with January.
Detroit was the only major metropolitan area in the U.S. to show an increase in prices month-over-month according to the Case-Schiller index. Even so, home prices here are only 68% of what they were in 2000. Business as usual? Not quite.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Raising chickens in Metro Detroit

Today was an actual rainy day, so it's only appropriate that I post a couple of videos about raising local food that I had saved for a metaphorical rainy day.

Without any more ado, raising chickens in back yards in metro Detroit.

WXYZ-TV on YouTube: Ferndale woman wants chickens
A man who kept chickens has some advice for a woman who is trying to change an ordinance so she can keep the animals.

Detroit News on YouTube: Backyard chickens
Raising chickens for eggs
Look for more about raising chickens as the crisis goes on.

Raising chickens in Metro Detroit

Today was an actual rainy day, so it's only appropriate that I post a couple of videos about raising local food that I had saved for a metaphorical rainy day.

Without any more ado, raising chickens in back yards in metro Detroit.

WXYZ-TV on YouTube: Ferndale woman wants chickens
A man who kept chickens has some advice for a woman who is trying to change an ordinance so she can keep the animals.

Detroit News on YouTube: Backyard chickens
Raising chickens for eggs
Look for more about raising chickens as the crisis goes on.

Raising chickens in Metro Detroit

Today was an actual rainy day, so it's only appropriate that I post a couple of videos about raising local food that I had saved for a metaphorical rainy day.

Without any more ado, raising chickens in back yards in metro Detroit.

WXYZ-TV on YouTube: Ferndale woman wants chickens
A man who kept chickens has some advice for a woman who is trying to change an ordinance so she can keep the animals.

Detroit News on YouTube: Backyard chickens
Raising chickens for eggs
Look for more about raising chickens as the crisis goes on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Unleaded regular rises over $4.00/gallon today in Metro Detroit

I'm going to give the Detroit Free Press the honor of telling this story first.

Average gas price prediction of $4 to weigh on wallets
Average prices for unleaded regular in metro Detroit began the week at $3.98 and are likely to surpass the emotionally wrenching $4 mark, say experts tracking prices throughout the Midwest.
It's already happened, at least locally.
“Speedway just set their retail price at $4.17 (for unleaded regular) in western Michigan and that’s above what we expected,” said Patrick DeHaan, a gas market analyst with in Grand Rapids. ”We had warned are members to expects between $4.05 to $4.15 so now it looks like we’re going beyond that.”

Other Speedway stations closer to metro Detroit will raise prices to $4.09 a gallon at noon today, said a source who spoke to several retailers Monday morning.
This is exactly what the Speedway station a block from my house did today. Eleven gallons of unleaded regular cost $45.00. Good thing it will last me a month. The bad thing is that it will be more expensive the next time I buy gas and even more expensive the time after that and the time after that.
Tom Kloza, oil analyst with the Oil Price Information Service, said, “We are still headed toward new 2011 highs for crude oil, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, but I predict more sobering times for these commodities before spring is over.”
What Tom said.

Just the same, I don't know if the trend will continue for the gasoline I buy after August. When I ask the Magic 8 Ball about the price trend starting in August, it says "Outlook cloudy. Ask again later." Why? Check out the paragraphs below.
[M]any AFGD [Associated Food and Gasoline Dealers of Michigan] members have reported their gasoline sales have fallen about 2% to 3% from a year ago
That's why. As the price goes up, the demand goes down. Under normal circumstances, that means price will go down as well. As I've been pointing out, these are not normal circumstances.
Kloza said the degree of “demand destruction” varies from one region to another.
“Our field sources indicate that demand in some states is off by 5% to as much as 10% in some cases,” Kloza said. “California is on the destructive extreme. Rocky Mountain states and Texas see the least measurable impact.”
I could play expert here, but it turns out that WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids already called one in. Listen to the questions and his answers. As far as he goes, he's telling the truth.

AAA Michigan says gasoline prices are up 2 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $3.98.

In particular, the answer to the question about when gas prices would fall below $3.00 is optimistic, although "this fall" could mean any time between now and December 20th. $3.00/gallon gas by December? Yeah, I can believe that.
Also, it's not just gasoline. Diesel has been more expensive than gasoline for a while, and it's going up, too. Take it away WXYZ-TV.

As I've warned before, high energy costs will likely put the brakes on the current economic recovery, which finally turned into an expansion. In fact, they're starting to slow down economic growth already according to the following story from the Detroit Free Press.

Economic growth may have slowed
The U.S. economy probably grew at a slower pace in the first quarter as a jump in gasoline prices caused consumers to cut back, economists said a report due this week will show.
Gross domestic product rose at a 1.9% annual pace after increasing at a 3.1% rate in the previous three months, according to the median estimate of 66 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before a Thursday Commerce Department report.
So, what's going on here? I'll let James Howard Kunstler explain.
You will recall, perhaps, that hoary old concept, the "bumpy plateau" of the peak oil story. This was the idea that the actual tippy-top "peak" of peak oil, studied at close scale, would actually take the form of a raggedy line representing the interplay between supply, demand, and most importantly the frantic psychological response of humans operating in markets. It was clear that economies would stagger under the burden of high oil prices, and economic activity would contract, and people would use less oil and the price would go down. When prices were real low again, people would resume buying more oil (and other stuff) and economic activity would mount and oil prices would go up again.
That's what's happening right now. As for the future...
We knew this would happen for a couple-few cycles, and that then things would get... more interesting.
Hang on for "a long, wild ride into the unknown." May I be up to being a worthy tour guide.

Yes, I used to wear a work uniform like that. Stop laughing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Karnak predicts what Kunstler will blog about this week

Johnny Carson as Karnak
May Kunstler call you a corn-pone Fascist!

I have three predictions about the topics that James Howard Kunstler will write about this morning when he posts his weekly blog entry over on Clusterfuck Nation.

First, he's going to castigate President Obama for not going far enough in this past Saturday's web address about oil and renewable energy and once again call Obama a disappointment who needs to be replaced.

In case you haven't watched the speech, here it is.

The White House on YouTube: Weekly Address: Stopping Oil Market Fraud, Beginning a Clean Energy Future

The President lays out his plans to address rising gas prices over the short and the long term, from a new task force to root out fraud and manipulation in the oil markets to investments in a clean energy economy.
Kunstler will once again point out that Obama's cornucopian ideas just won't cut it and that the President should tell the truth according to Kunstler--that America should realize that it's in the business of managing contraction, not growth. More on that later.

Second, he might actually have something nice to say about an article in the mainstream media, to wit, this article in the Washington Post:

Imagining a world without oil
By Steve Hallett and John Wright, Thursday, April 21
How would we live in a world without oil?

First, there’s transportation. With the overwhelming majority of the oil we produce and import devoted to powering our cars, motorcycles, trucks, trains and planes, the impact on getting around would be most dramatic. Price-gouging would begin right away, and long lines would form at gas stations. The lines wouldn’t last, though, because the gasoline would soon be gone. A strategic reserve of finished petroleum products — gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel — has often been suggested but never created. Within a month, every fuel tank would be dry, all our gauge needles would point to “E,” and the roads, rails and skies would be virtually empty.

How far is it to the nearest grocery store? How long does it take to walk — or bike, or skate — to work? Finally confronting our dependence on motor vehicles, we’d reach for whatever solutions we could find. Soon, we’d all be looking for an electric car (but there are precious few of those for sale) or converting our vehicles to run on natural gas. But we’d be waiting for some time to secure adequate natural gas supplies, establish delivery infrastructure and switch over our cars.

Our enslavement to black gold goes much further than the problem of getting from Point A to Point B.
Dear readers, you have no idea. Let me give you one example.
Eating would get tougher, too. If no one can truck in fresh veggies from across the country, we might be inclined to go back to basics and grow our own food. Local farmers would become a necessity, not just people who sell us honey at the street fair.
You knew I had to include a paragraph about growing food.

There's more.
It’s not just at the drip of the final drop that the oil crisis begins. It is when production stagnates and begins its inexorable fall. That perilous moment, alas, is now. Our oil supplies are about to begin to fail us. As oil becomes more scarce, we have to get serious about finding new solutions to power our world.

We have time to plan — but not that much time. And so far, we’ve done very little to prepare for a world without oil.
Kunstler will appreciate that one--at least someone in the mainstream media is writing about peak oil and taking it seriously. If Kunstler doesn't urge you to do it, I will--read this article in full. You'll be far better off for it.

I'm going to cheat on that third prediction by pointing out that I've already made it--Kunstler will repeat his insistence that we are not managing contraction. I've pointed out, both here and on Kunstler's blog, that the largest political entity that has explictly recognized that it's dealing with contraction is the City of Detroit. The first time I pointed that out, on CFN, I pointed the readers there to this entry:

Shrinking Detroit in the New York Times by way of the Columbus Dispatch

I also covered the topic in this post:

The solutions devised here will be exported, including the bad ones

It turns out that a third post of mine on the topic--American Assembly to meet in Detroit to discuss urban revitalization--has generated a follow-up.

Detroit Free Press: How would you revitalize Detroit? Conference brainstorms ideas
April 19, 2011
Municipal governments in older industrial cities such as Detroit and Flint may one day have to dissolve and turn their functions over to county or regional authorities unless dramatic new sources of revenue can be found.

That, at least, was one of the ideas floated last weekend at the American Assembly, a high-level roving think tank President Dwight Eisenhower began in the 1950s. The assembly spent four days at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in Detroit, brainstorming ideas for revitalizing America's industrial cities.
Oh, look, it's one of the possible outcomes of the Emergency Financial Manager Law in drag!
In addition to dissolving municipal governments and incorporating them into county and regional governments, the ideas the Free Press published included:
Giving neighborhood-level groups municipal powers such as policing so these groups can govern smaller districts within cities.
In other words, communities will form neighborhood and homeowners associations. The well-off ones would hire security and the less-well-off ones would form Neighborhood Watches. That isn't a bad idea, but it depends on communities having enough cohesion to make the Neighborhood Watch effective and legal. Those that don't have enough cohesion could become breeding grounds for gangs or outright militias that provide services. Hezbollah and Hamas, anyone?

What else?
Taxing nonprofits such as hospitals and universities that employ thousands of workers and occupy huge swathes of urban land but pay no property taxes.
Detroit already does this indirectly by levying a city income tax. I know, I used to work in Detroit. However, since I lived outside the city, I got a refund every May. However, that won't make relations between Detroit and Wayne State, the Detroit Medical Center, or Henry Ford Hospital any more congenial.

So, why Detroit?
It chose Detroit as the site for the conference because no city so embodies the dilemma of industrial cities suffering population loss, said David Mortimer, assembly president.

"This is the right topic, and this is the right time," he told the several dozen urban planners, civic leaders, academics and other urban experts who gathered for the brainstorming sessions.
"Detroit is uniquely positioned because it invented the 20th-Century city," Hunter Morrison, an urban planner with Youngstown State University, said at the conference. "The challenge ahead is for Detroit to invent the 21st-Century city."
I keep telling anyone who will listen to me or read my posts that the solutions devised here will be exported to the rest of the country. I am not kidding when I write that. These people intend to do just that, which is why it's so important to encourage good ideas and squash bad ones like bugs!

Bonus prediction: Kunstler will make some snarky comment about Easter gluttony, but that's an easy one.

ETA: It turns out that I got two predictions right. In The Banana Peel of Destiny, Kunstler chided the President for not going far enough and reiterated his point about managing contraction. He didn't ever get around to saying anything nice about the Washington Post article; he was too busy calling people morons. Speaking of which, he had a better insult than snarking at people's gluttony over the holidays. Instead, he compared Americans to a pinhead at a freak show watching the other freaks burn the tents down. That showed more style and imagination than what I wrote, so I'm not sad about missing it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Census on vacancy rates plus the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about March 2011 real estate in Metro Detroit

It's been more than a month since I promised you all an analysis of the Census for Detroit. I haven't exactly followed through, even though the Census figured in several posts since then, so it's high time I bring you some more news inspired by the Census, even if it is a bit old.

Detroit News: Empty homes dot Oakland County's upscale suburbs
Laura Berman
Last Updated: April 07. 2011 5:47PM
Numbers don't lie: They tell unpleasant stories, including new census numbers pinpointing high vacancy rates in some of Oakland County's most elite suburbs.

The half-secret behind many of the well-maintained facades and manicured lawns of some of the area's most lavish properties is that nobody's home.

Birmingham (9.4 percent) and Bloomfield Hills (10.2 percent) showed vacancy rates significantly higher than 10 years ago. Those rates are similar to Detroit's vacancy rate a decade ago.
Those of you from metro Detroit reading this entry should understand exactly what this means. For those reading who are not familiar with the area, these two towns are very upscale suburbs, the equivalent of Beverly Hills and Westwood/Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Imagine those areas with 9-10% vacancy rates. That would be very distressing.
Tiny Lake Angelus, with 132 households in north Oakland County, is historically a pocket of the county's wealth. Always private, the census takers also found that 13.2 percent of the residences were unoccupied. Vacancies in Farmington Hills were 6.8 percent, up from 3.3 percent in 2000.
The first one--eep! This enclave of Richistan is not doing well at all! The second shows that things are bad, but that areas that are more solidly middle-class instead of rich, people are staying in their homes if they can.
"One of the striking things is that the foreclosure crisis has hit parts of Oakland County that we would have thought are untouchable," said Andy Meisner, Oakland County treasurer.
This is one of the signs that things are not business as usual (BAU), nor are they going to be for the foreseeable future. Too bad. In a BAU climate, I'd be very optimistic about an economic recovery around here. There's nothing a lot of energy for economic activity wouldn't fix. But this isn't BAU, so I'm not very optimistic about BAU solutions.

Back to the article.
Vacancy is a distress signal and communities try to hide the red flags of emptiness. Owners — even banks — maintain the lawns and exteriors, and when they don't, neighbors call the city.

"Even our blight is better," quipped Annabel Cohen, a Bloomfield Township homeowner who hasn't noticed any deterioration.
Snerk You wish. Also, let's see how long that lasts.
Others aren't as chipper, saying that as the crisis goes on, homeowners are more likely to be as distressed as their unsold properties.
Lots more at the link in the headline. I will passon on one bit of advice from the article before moving on--watch the lawns this summer to see which houses are really occupied, and which are just being kept up to look that way by the bank. Also, keep in mind that those figures are from a year ago. Things could be worse by now. Or, they could be better.

The Detroit Free Press has more articles about the real estate situation here in Metro Detoit. I'll give the good, the bad, and the ugly. First the bad.

Metro Detroit home sales dip 7% in March
10:05 AM, Apr. 11, 2011
Metro Detroit home sales sank by 7% in March with only Macomb County showing positive traction in a continually weak housing market.
Macomb County had 912 sales last month, up 6.4% from 857 a year ago. Livingston County sales were down to 198, a 10.4% drop from 221; Oakland County sales were 1,416, a 6.5% drop from 1,515; and Wayne County sales were at 1,868, or 12.5% down from 2,134 in March 2010.
Now the good hidden in the bad.
Metro Detroit's home prices sink
Apr. 12, 2011
Median home sale prices were down 13.3% in metro Detroit to $58,000 last month, compared with $66,900 in March 2010. Prices were down in all counties, but sales prices in the city of Detroit rose by 10%, to a median of $8,505 from $7,725.
Prices are also down, but note the price rise in Detroit proper. That's an early sign of a possible recovery, even if it's starting at a very low level. In a BAU environment, I'd say that the local market is very close to a bottom. The BAU people agree.
Kathy Coon, broker/owner of Real Living Great Lakes in Rochester Hills, said that prices are coming up despite the March readings.

"Once the appraisers see what is going on in the market, the prices will start coming back up," she said. "The good houses right now are selling really quickly, those that are priced right and in good condition. We are seeing the good foreclosures selling really quickly with multiple offers."

Inventory of homes on the market has fallen by 17% in the last year, with 23,630 houses for sale in metro Detroit in March, compared with 28,486 a year ago.

Karen Kage, CEO of Realcomp, said that inventory levels are low now. Of the 32,317 homes on the market throughout southeast Michigan and the Thumb areas covered by Realcomp, fewer than 5,000 are foreclosures.
Speaking of foreclosures, here's the ugly.

Foreclosures rise during March in Michigan
Apr. 14, 2011
In Michigan, foreclosure filings rose in March by 4.37% from February and fell 17.4% from March 2010. The state ranked fifth for its foreclosure rate of one filing for every 311 households last month. Total filings for March in Michigan were at 14,615.
The bad news is that foreclosures are up from the month before. The good news is that they are down year-over-year. As I wrote above, in a BAU environment, this would be very good news. These are not normal times, so don't assume BAU will continue to apply, as much as we'd like it to.

I have more Census news to bring you, but I'll save that for a future post.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earth Day in the National Progressive Press

Time for a linkspam.

Talking Points Memo: NASA Celebrates Earth Day With Stunning Photos Of, You Guessed It...Earth
In honor of Earth Day, NASA has compiled some of their most beautiful and captivating images of the third planet from the sun.
The Huffington Post: Why We Underestimate the Earth and Overestimate Ourselves
Posted: 04/14/11 02:27 PM ET
Crossposted with
In his 2010 book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, environmental scholar and activist Bill McKibben writes of a planet so devastated by global warming that it’s no longer recognizable as the Earth we once inhabited. This is a planet, he predicts, of “melting poles and dying forests and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat.” Altered as it is from the world in which human civilization was born and thrived, it needs a new name -- so he gave it that extra “a” in “Eaarth.”

The Eaarth that McKibben describes is a victim, a casualty of humankind’s unrestrained consumption of resources and its heedless emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases. True, this Eaarth will cause pain and suffering to humans as sea levels rise and croplands wither, but as he portrays it, it is essentially a victim of human rapaciousness.

With all due respect to McKibben’s vision, let me offer another perspective on his (and our) Eaarth: as a powerful actor in its own right and as an avenger, rather than simply victim.
Mother Jones: Unsuck Earth Day, Please
— By Kate Sheppard
| Fri Apr. 22, 2011 12:00 PM PDT.
Confession: I can't stand Earth Day. I know I'm not alone; by time I was born it was already getting a little cliché. And I actually do believe the equally tired idea that it should be every day, not just one single 24-hour period at the end of April that sometimes coincides with both Easter and Passover and the hockey playoffs. The reason I dislike it that it has become mostly an excuse to peddle products of dubious "green" credentials and host events that involve celebrities in the lower-B-list category.

But I'm finding it especially hard to handle this year. Wednesday was the first anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster. It also comes against the backdrop of last year's total failure to pass a climate and energy bill in the Senate—or pass even the most basic legislation responding to the oil spill, arguably the worst environmental disaster in US history. Frankly, this Earth Day sucks because it just serves to remind me that the environmental movement is not exactly the powerhouse it was 41 years ago. Back then, millions of Americans mobilized not just to honor the environment as something worth protecting, but to demand that their leaders do something about it. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act as we know them today are all products of that generation of environmental activism.

If you can't make hay of a disaster—a visible, fast-moving one like the oil spill or a less tangible one like climate change—is there any hope of changing things? I know that the country's leading environmental groups have spent a good deal of the past year discussing, at least internally within individual groups, where the heck they went wrong. But there is still an unwillingness, it seems, to have a real conversation between groups and in the progressive community more broadly about what went wrong and what can be done better in the future.
Mother Jones: The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science
How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.
— By Chris Mooney
"A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.
In the annals of denial, it doesn't get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin's space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there's plenty to go around. And since Festinger's day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called "motivated reasoning" helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, "death panels," the birthplace and religion of the president (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the fact
Mother Jones: Climategate: What Really Happened?
How climate science became the target of "the best-funded, best-organized smear campaign by the wealthiest industry that the Earth has ever known."
— By Kate Sheppard
IT'S DIFFICULT TO IMAGINE how a guy who spends most of his time looking at endless columns of temperature records became a "fucking terrorist," "killer," or "one-world-government socialist." It's even harder when you meet Michael Mann, a balding 45-year-old climate scientist who speaks haltingly and has a habit of nervously clearing his throat. And when you realize that the reason for all the hostility is a 12-year-old chart, it seems more than a little surreal.
Yet global warming skeptics have made the graph exhibit A in their cause. Congressional hearings have focused on it, and it has been the impetus for multiple critical books and blog posts. Skeptics have dismissed the graph as "little more than paleo-phrenology" and claimed that "Mann-made warming is real, while man-made warming remains at best a theory, more likely a hypothesis."

And Mann himself has become a target. Virginia's crusading Republican attorney general has suggested that he may have committed research "fraud." The 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference had a booth where attendees could throw eggs at his picture. There was a flood of hate mail, much of it containing death threats: "Your work is finished. YOU ARE GOING TO HANG SOON!"
Mother Jones: "This Case Is the Last Resort if the Federal Government Fails"
The implications of the landmark global warming case before the Supreme Court.
— By Kate Sheppard
Mon Apr. 18, 2011 12:01 AM PDT
Can polluters be sued for the damaging effects of global warming? That's the question before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, when it hears oral arguments in American Electric Power Company Inc. v. Connecticut.

The case got its start in 2004, at a time when the Bush administration had made it clear it had no intention of addressing the threat of climate change. Frustrated by the administration's inaction, Connecticut and a group of other states, as well as the city of New York and handful of land trusts, filed suit against the nation's five biggest polluters: American Electric Power, Southern Company, Cinergy (which has since merged with Duke Energy), Xcel Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Using a common-law public-nuisance argument, the plaintiffs claimed the companies were causing harm to the environment and the health of residents. Together, these five utilities were responsible for emitting 650 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2004—or about 10 percent of all US emissions. For that reason, they were substantially to blame for the hazards caused by climate change, the plaintiffs argued.

The utilities sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that climate change was a political issue that should be handled by elected officials rather than the courts. In a September 2005 ruling, the US District Court in Southern New York agreed. But four years later, in September 2009, an appeals court reversed that decision. The utilities appealed to the Supreme Court to throw out the suit.
Mother Jones: "BP Hasn't Made People Whole"
— By Kate Sheppard
Wed Apr. 20, 2011 2:35 AM PDT.
The Gulf oil disaster largely disappeared from the headlines last August, after the well was finally capped and the federal government declared that most of the oil was "gone."

For Gulf coast residents, though, the nightmare was just beginning. A year later, business hasn't come back for many in fishing and tourism, and the compensation check from BP still hasn't arrived. In the areas closest to the shores, people are reporting health problems consistent with exposure to chemicals. Dead turtles, dolphins and fish are still washing ashore. So are tar balls. So while most of the country has moved on, a number of Gulf coast residents have been in DC over the past week to tell decisionmakers one thing: It's not over.

Mother Jones talked to with several Gulf residents who have become advocates for their communities in the wake of the spill.
Mother Jones: 10 Reasons to Still Be Pissed Off About the BP Disaster
Your guide to the worst oil spill in US history, one year later.
Mother Jones: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster in Book Form
— By Kate Sheppard
| Fri Apr. 22, 2011 7:11 AM PDT.
There is certainly no shortage of books about the Deepwater Horizon disaster: at least eight by my count, and nine if you include the 300-page package of recommendations that the National Oil Spill Commission put out earlier this year (which you can buy on Amazon for about $40). Many of these books were published just in time for this week's first anniversary of the spill, and several of them managed to make it to my desk.

I'd like to say I read every last work of every one of them, but, well, they're all pretty long and I've both read and written quite a bit about the disaster. I wish I could say, "If you were going to read just one book on the oil spill, it should be X," but frankly each of these books offers pretty different takes on the same explosion and ensuing nightmare.

Friday, April 22, 2011

For Earth Day, I present the Detroit Free Press Green Leaders for 2011!

In an earlier post, I said that the solutions created here in Michigan and especially in metro Detroit for the problems of economic and societal collapse will be exported to the rest of the continent, including the bad ones. I actually said that to my environmental science class tonight as part of the conclusion to my last lecture of the semester. I then told the students that the lesson that they were to take away from the class was that it was their responsibility to encourage good solutions and squash the bad ones. They applauded.

I've already told you all about a bad solution to be squashed. Now it's time to point you all to some good solutions to be encouraged, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

2011 Michigan Green Leaders awards: The Detroit Free Press 2011 Michigan Green Leaders awards breakfast at DTE Energy in Detroit saw 16 environmental leaders awarded & honored.

Accompanying stories from the Detroit Free Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder to Green Leaders: Find common ground to 'do green things together'

2011 Free Press Michigan Green Leaders: Building a cleaner, healthier state

2011 Michigan Green Leaders

Michigan Green Leaders: William Milliken planted seeds of change

Michigan entrepreneurs take green inventions to marketplace

Clean energy race falls to states, private sector as Congress puts up roadblocks

Who got votes

2010 Michigan Green Leaders

Michigan Green Leaders on Twitter

From Detroit, Ground Zero of the post-industrial future, I wish you all pleasant reading and a happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day Event at Detroit Institute for the Arts--a MacGuffin for examining Ford's sustainabilty report

Detroit Where the Weak are Killed and EatenApril2011Badgenablo0910_120x90

One more Earth Day event to promote blog about.

Detroit Earth Day 2011: Practical Sustainability
Thursday, April 21, 2011 8:00 AM - 12:00 PM (Eastern Time)
Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48202

My neighbor is both an environmentalist and a member of the DIA. I wonder if she's going. I'll ask her tomorrow.

Join with Grand River Printing & Imaging at the Detroit Institute of Arts on April 21st from 8:00am to noon to learn practical ways to reduce, reuse and recycle ... and reap rewards.

This year our speaker is Andy Acho, environmental initiative expert and former Worldwide Director of Environmental Strategy and Outreach at Ford Motor Company. At 9:30am in the DIA Lecture Hall, Andy will be sharing some of his experiences and best-practices at the corporate level that demonstrate how being environmentally sustainable is also about good business.
Suddenly, this topic looks a lot more interesting. Time to do to Ford what I did to Walmart--examine their sustainbility pages.

2009/10 Sustainability Report

Ford Motor Company has published its 11th annual non-financial report, entitled Blueprint for Sustainability - The Future at Work.

Our vision is for our sustainability reporting to demonstrate our values, as well as to reflect and drive outstanding economic, environmental and social performance.
In two paragraphs, Ford already looks better than Walmart. If nothing else, they talk about values and society in addition to touting how their actions are good for both the environment and the bottom line. Of course, that's just the exterior. How do things look under the hood?

"This is one of the most exciting times in our industry since mass automobile production began more than a century ago. New technologies are radically transforming some of the most fundamental and enduring elements of the automobile. The companies that lead these changes will create new 'green' jobs and generate profits while reducing fuel use and CO2 emissions, benefiting both the economy and the environment."

Alan Mulally
President and Chief Executive Officer
Another improvement over Walmart's page--this message is coming directly from the top. I don't recall anyone's name on the Walmart sustainablity page, let alone someone high up in the company. Just the same, it looks like I've opened the driver's side door, not the hood. At least I'm inside the vehicle. So, what is there to see here?

Climate Change: Ford has developed a comprehensive, science-based global strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
As an environmental scientist, this is music to my ears, although I know the devil's in the details. I'll leave those to another post.

Mobility: Our goal is to make mobility affordable in every sense of the word – economically, environmentally and socially
Ford really is talking a good game here. Just the same, this is exactly the message that Ford should be talking about if they want to manufacture cars sustainably. I'll tackle whether doing so is even possible some other time; right now I just want to enjoy being spun.

Human Rights: We believe that people are most likely to excel in an environment that aims for excellence.
This sentence is boilerplate, but it's exactly the kind of boilerplate any company should be cladding their reports in. As an advocate for unions, I'm encouraged. On the other hand, it could make a much stronger stand for human rights. Right now, it's merely a statement about human capital, which is not the same thing.

Vehicle Safety: Vehicle safety is one of the key principles that informs and guides Ford's every design and engineering effort.
Nice, but I don't know what this is doing in a sustainablity report. Maybe it fits under a statement of values. Honestly, I prefer one of their older slogans--Quality is Job 1.

Sustaining Ford: Despite the economic crisis and unprecedented downturn in automotive sales globally, Ford posted its first full year of positive net income since 2005.
I thought this was supposed to be a non-financial report? Even so, I can handle this as a statement of commitment to economic sustainability. Besides, it is good news, as this report is mostly for 2009, when the economy contracted for the first half of the year.

I never did get under the hood, but that's OK. I'm actually impressed. Even if it's nothing but corporate PR, it's very good corporate PR, and much better than what Walmart has. I can tell that Ford is playing offense, while Walmart is playing defense. That's a stronger position to be in.

There's a lot more to examine, but I'll save that for another time. It's late.

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Day Events at University of Michigan and Oakland Community College


Time for a linkspam.

First, my alma mater.

Earth Day celebrations planned at U-M

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The University of Michigan celebrates Earth Day with events this week, including:

• A two-day workshop, "Revitalizing Innovation in Michigan for Clean Energy Manufacturing," will explore how to create an ecosystem of innovation throughout the state.

The event will be held 8 a.m.-5 p.m. April 21 and 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. April 22 in the Michigan League, 911 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor.

The workshop will include state and national leaders, in addition to representatives from the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), OVPR's Office of Technology Transfer and the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.
If I were a full-time science journalist, which I'm not, I'd make it a point to cover this. I've been to a conference like this before, and rather enjoyed it.

• North Quad residence hall will host an Andean Thanksgiving Ceremony for Mother Earth. The ceremony known as Despacho a Pachamama in Quechua, the language of the Incas, gives participants an opportunity to express gratitude to the Earth, and the land that provides resources for well-being, says organizer Tatiana Calixto, a lecturer in Spanish and GIEU Teaching Fellow in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

It consists of a series of offerings (seeds, candy, grains and others) that are presented with reverence and gratitude to the Earth. The event also will include video presentations about various aspects of the tradition.

"I've performed this ceremony with my students in my classes, and they compare it to Mother's Day," Calixto said. "I totally agree, since we celebrate a special day by returning to our mothers, perhaps presenting a gift to them, and doing something special for everything that they do for us."

The celebration will be held 5-7 p.m. Friday (April 22) in Room 2435 of North Quad. Calixto says this room provides the perfect space for the event. "For the indigenous peoples—Quechua, Aymara, Arhuaco, Mapuche and many more in the world—the planet is their temple and home. We should learn from that." In addition to Calixto, other organizers include North Quad Programming, the Language Resource Center and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Location: North Quad, 105 South State St., Ann Arbor.
This is way too woo-woo for me. However, I really don't think I should mock it, if for no other reason than any societal transformation requires a spiritual expression. I may not be the person to do it, but I don't know if I trust The Archdruid to do it, either. One of my regular readers and commenters has a really dyspeptic rant about how The Archdruid has a spirtually poisonous take on what he calls "The Long Descent." Speaking of that regular commenter, he has an interesting spritual take that I trust more than The Archdruid's, but that's a subject for another post.

Now, the one community college in the area, other than Lansing Community College, that has a public announcement of Earth Day events. It actually has four.  Full disclosure, it's also my employer (I'm not an anonymous blogger).

Back to Earth

Two of the events take place back to back at the Highland Lakes campus of Oakland Community College (7350 Cooley Lake Road, Waterford, MI 48327) on Thursday afternoon, April 21st. The first one is a presentation on Permaculture Design at 2:00 P.M.

With much of our culture’s attention shifting to all things sustainable, permaculture is emerging as the definitive design methodology for the transition to a sustainable future. By planning human settlements in ways that mimic the relationships found in nature, permaculturists are creating inspiring solutions to the worlds most pressing issues of peak oil, climate change, food and water shortages, and economic instability.
This is exactly on topic for this blog.

A central theme in permaculture is the design of ecological landscapes that produce food. However, permaculture entails much more than organic perennial food production. Integrating renewable energy, natural building, water systems, transportation, waste recycling, and land stewardship are all central themes found in permaculture design.
Too bad I'm not going to this talk. I'd both enjoy it and find it useful.

Speaker Nathan Ayers is a permaculture design educator born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is founder of the Burns Park Green Energy Association, and co-founder of Transition Ann Arbor.
I met the people in charge of Transition Oakland County last summer. I really have to get back in touch with them. After all, they're a bunch of Crazy Eddies just like me!

He is certified in permaculture design, organic gardening, and NABCEP trained in solar photovoltaic systems. With his organization Chiwara Permaculture, Nathan and his team are helping Michigan homes, business, and communities take responsibility for their food and energy production. At any given moment, Nate is also a musician, surfer, and dog lover. You can learn more at
Wow, now I'm really sorry I'm not going to this event!

The second event is about gardening and takes place at 3:30 to 4:30 P.M. in the same location as the previous event.

Join Kate Hart from Cricket Garden
Come and be motivated to start you own garden. Speaker Kate Hart, editor of the Cricket Garden Newsletter, will share what she does to be one with nature. Limited supply of free flower and vegetable seeds, first come first serve.

Kate will talk about how gardening and having her hands in the dirt brought her to a new awareness. The realization there is practically no field of human endeavor that does not relate to gardening in some way. Seen from whatever perspective we might choose, nature touches on every single aspect of human life. Therefore, gardening becomes the metaphor for life or the other way around. But it doesn’t matter as life and growing food are symbiotic with each other which have to be considered, as we improve on, reinvent and are inspired by, to move forward on an ever-changing planet. Nothing is separate as it appears to human perception, but everything is interlinked.
Neither of these events is advertised as "free and open to the public," so contact the Student LIFE Office, 248.942.3243 or to see if the public is welcome.

The next event, which will be held at the Orchard Ridge campus of OCC (27055 Orchard lake Road, Farmington Hills) this Friday at 10 A.M. is billed as "free and open to the public." I also highly recommend it.

The Impact of Urban Farming on American Cities

Taja Sevelle is a music recording artist, songwriter, novelist and inventor from Minneapolis, Minnesota who began her music career in 1987 when she was signed to the Paisley Park Records label by Prince. She has made six music videos, recorded three cds and one ep and toured in eight countries, garnering rave reviews in People, Billboard, Time Out New York and many more. Taja will make a presentation on Urban Farming, the charitable organization she founded in Detroit that cultivates food in unused urban spaces to feed the hungry. Urban Farming is now the official charity of Atlantic Records.
Ms. Sevelle (the photo on the poster does not do her justice, trust me ;-) gave a presentation at the campus I teach for Earth Day last year. It was a blast. I'm sure that she'll give at least as good a performance this year, so if you can make it, please do.

Finally, the Auburn Hills campus is holding a Sustainability Fair from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. on Tuesday the 26th.

1st Annual Sustainability Fair

Join us as we help increase awareness about living sustainably and celebrate projects, products and educational programs created with a commitment to sustainability. This event will gather students, faculty and numerous local businesses and community organizations to share
their resources and expertise through information booths, giveaways, educational activities, demonstrations, displays and more.
This isn't advertised as "open to the public," but I'm fairly sure it is.

And that concludes tonight's linkspam of upcoming Earth Day events in SE Michigan.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The solutions devised here will be exported, including the bad ones

Remember what I wrote about the importance of Detroit for the rest of North America?

Whatever Detroit devises as the solutions for North America's problems will be exported to the rest of the continent.
This includes the bad ideas--and does Michigan (not Detroit, but Detroit Public Schools have been where the idea has undergone proof of concept) ever have a bad idea for you. Take it away, Rachel.

The bill has been approved and has already been applied. From WOOD-TV 8's YouTube channel:

A state-appointed emergency financial manager has suspended the decision-making powers of cash-strapped Benton Harbor officials in a move that's likely the first of its kind under a new state law.
If you want more details, check out the Michigan Messenger post.

The Emergency Financial Manager of the city of Benton Harbor has issued an order stripping all city boards and commissions of all their authority to take any action.

The order, signed Thursday, limits the actions available to such bodies to calling a meeting to order, approving the minutes of meetings and adjourning a meeting. The bodies are prohibited under the act from taking any other action without the express authority of the Emergency Financial Manager, Joseph Harris.
Benton Harbor isn't the only municipality or district affected. The Michigan Messenger has more.

The new law that allows the governor to appoint Emergency Managers with broad powers to fire elected officials, break contracts and dissolve towns is already forcing public workers to accept new concessions.

In Flint, which received state approval for an $8 million emergency bond needed to make payroll this month and is seen as a likely target for state intervention, the firefighters union has reportedly issued a list of new concessions including increased health insurance payments and giving up holiday pay and night-shift premiums.
Just the threat of a Emergency Financial Manager being appointed for Flint is enough to get municipal unions to make concessions. Imagine what effect actually having one would have. Actually, you don't.

In Pontiac, which along with Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public School system already has an emergency financial manager in place, local police voted to dissolve their union last week.
Who needs to tear up union contracts when unions will decertify themselves?

Just the same, at least one union isn't rolling over in the face of the threat.

The state teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, whose members now face possible cuts because of the new law, has asked its local units to vote by April 15 on whether the union should “initiate crisis activities up to and including job action.”

In a letter to union members MEA President Iris Salters wrote:

“The legislation being considered on a daily basis at the Capitol (emergency managers, step freezes, mandatory privatization, mandatory health insurance payments, budget cuts, etc.) are outright attacks on our students, our members, our communities and our future. And we must take action accordingly.”

Salters said that a vote for more intense union action would demonstrate that MEA is not willing to stand silent while Michigan’s public schools and middle class are under attack.
I have a copy of that letter in the room with me. I found it both heartening and astonishing--heartening that my union is standing up for itself, astonishing because public teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan. Looks like the next school year will be an interesting one.

As for the idea being exported, there are reports that it's already happening.

A well known political player in Wisconsin, Ed Garvey, is reporting that Scott Walker is now preparing his next assault on the democratic political process in the State of Wisconsin.

Following the lead of Michigan GOP Governor Rick Snyder, Walker is said to be preparing a plan that would allow him to force local governments to submit to a financial stress test with an eye towards permitting the governor to take over municipalities that fail to meet with Walker’s approval.

According to the reports, should a locality’s financial position come up short, the Walker legislation would empower the governor to insert a financial manager of his choosing into local government with the ability to cancel union contracts, push aside duly elected local government officials and school board members and take control of Wisconsin cities and towns whenever he sees fit to do so.

Such a law would additionally give Walker unchallenged power to end municipal services of which he disapproves, including safety net assistance to those in need.
The post on Forbes continues with a statement that "the plan is being written by the legal offices of Foley & Lardner, the largest law firm in the state, and is scheduled to be introduced to the legislature in May of this year." Keep that information in mind, as it allows plausible deniability.

This is why what happens here matters, and why good ideas that start here have to be encouraged and bad ideas that start here have to be opposed. Both kinds of ideas will spread, and any bad idea that takes root here could be very dangerous.

For what it's worth, Walker's office is denying this report.

Appearing on Wisconsin radio station WTMJ today, Governor Walker has denied the truth of this story.

No truth to it whatsoever. Absolutely a bogus story.
Absolutely false. The interesting part is that it’s false in both contexts. One: There’s nobody on my staff, nobody in my administration, I’m certainly not working anything remotely close to that.
Remember what I pointed out that allows "plausible deniablity?" The report is that a law office is drawing up the plan, not anyone in the Governor's office. Walker's denial doesn't address that point.

It gets worse.

Secondly, it begins with the fact that he said the next Democratic assault. I’d like to know what the first one was.

First, it's not a "Democratic assault," it's an assault on the democratic political process. The way he phrased it makes it look like the Democratic Party is doing something. Second, I can't believe he said "I’d like to know what the first one was." Hey, Walker, the bill to restrict collective bargaining was the first one!

What a maroon!

It's time to imbibe heavily. I have just the drink for it.

Herding Cats Wine Main Label


Monday, April 18, 2011

'Atlas Shrugged' gets the reviews and box office it deserves (Part I of a series)

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it."~Voltaire (1694 - 1778)
Allow me this moment of schadenfreude, which I'll eventually demonstrate to be related to the main topic of this blog.

Fat Cat goes Galt

Box Office Mojo: 'Atlas Shrugged' Derails?
Atlas Shrugged: Part I was the top-grossing limited release of the weekend, generating an estimated $1.7 million at 300 single-screen locations.

For a pure independent release, Atlas Shrugged: Part I's opening was fine. But for the first-ever adaptation of Ayn Rand's influential mega-selling 1957 novel that had far more media hype than any other independent movie could dream of, it was disappointing.

There aren't many direct comparisons, because it's rare that an adaptation of such a famous book gets such a modest release. Atlas Shrugged: Part I opened higher than recent limited Christian movies The Grace Card and To Save a Life, and it was distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures' third highest-grossing launch, behind End of the Spear and Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. But none of those movies are significant in the grand scheme of things. They're all still blips, even if Atlas was a slightly bigger blip than many.

What's more, Atlas Shrugged: Part I's box office dropped six percent from Friday to Saturday, further indicating niche appeal. The movie would require exceptional holds moving forward to right its course.
Boosters of Atlas Shrugged: Part I might point to the movie's per theater average to spin it as a success (ex. "it did almost as much per theater as Scream 4!"), but spin is all it is. It's a common ploy to cling to per-theater average to rationalize a soft run. Obviously, it's generally easier for a small release to have a higher per-theater average than one at over 3,000 theaters (at any rate, Scream 4 was a disappointment itself).
That's really crappy box office, which makes me happy. Of course, the movie was only produced for $10,000,000, so it might actually turn a profit, enough to get parts 2 and 3 into theaters. That would make io9's reviewers happy.

Atlas Shrugged: A movie this demented ought to be against the law
Charlie Jane Anders — Every cult needs its own wacky trainwreck of a movie. Scientology got Battlefield Earth, and now the cult of Ayn Rand gets Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. But how does Atlas stand up to Battlefield Earth?
I have an entire canned list of quotes on the similarities between Objectivism and Scientology, but this isn't the post for me to regurgitate all of them. I'll just post this one.
Wasn't Ayn Rand a pseudonym of L. Ron Hubbard?~Mike Huben
Also, if io9, a science fiction site, didn't see the resemblance, I'd be disappointed.

Back to the review.
Quite well, actually. Atlas Shrugged Part 1, which just opened in theaters today, is a grand addition to the roster of movies that are both kooky and clunky. A movie this hideously wonderful really ought to be against the law.
Actually, scratch that. The federal government shouldn't outlaw dreadful movies like Atlas Shrugged – rather, the feds should just regulate them. For example, we could have a federal mandate that all such movies must star Nicolas Cage or a comparable actor – someone who knows how to bring the right level of gravitas to dialogue like, "Which do I sacrifice: an excellent piece of smelting, or this Institute?"

Call it the Nicolas Cage Full Employment Act. Or better yet, since Nic Cage is a precious national resource that's currently being distributed unevenly, the Nic Cage National Equalization Act. It should be up to the federal government to make sure that as many ludicrously insane movies as possible have access to the vital panacea that is Nic Cage.
Lots more lulzy remarks at io9. At least that reviewer enjoyed the movie, even as a train wreck (and trust me, there are lots of train wrecks in Atlas Shrugged). The same can't be said of most of the rest of the reviewers.

The Nation: Rand Appalling: New 'Atlas Shrugged' Movie Booed Off Planet
It takes a lot to get a 0% at the mass market critics' consensus site Rotten Tomatoes. Pick an awful movie you can think of and it probably managed a 5% or maybe even a 25%. Somehow, Atlas Shrugged, Part I (yes! more to look forward to!), which opens Friday, has at this writing achieved the rare feat.

In other words, not a single critic to date, from major and minor outlet, high or lowest of low of lowbrow, likes it one bit. I like the headline over the Chicago Tribune review: "Taxing Indeed." Still waiting for "Don't Go (Galt) There." Or "Born Under a Bad Ayn."
ETA: The movie's rating has now risen to 8%, which still makes it the lowest rated movie out of the top 50 currently in theaters.

My favorite was from Roger Ebert.
"The most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault. I suspect only someone very familiar with Rand’s 1957 novel could understand the film at all, and I doubt they will be happy with it. For the rest of us, it involves a series of business meetings in luxurious retro leather-and-brass board rooms and offices, and restaurants and bedrooms that look borrowed from a hotel no doubt known as the Robber Baron Arms."
The pithiest came from Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic.
"It has taken decades to bring Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" to the big screen.They should have waited longer."
Time to add those to my collection of anti-Objectivist quotes. Speaking of which, here are some of my favorites about the movie.
"There are two novels that can transform a bookish 14-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs."~Raj Patel in The Value of Nothing.

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
~Dorothy Parker on Atlas Shrugged

"Who is John Galt?" A two dimensional character in a third rate novel written by Alan Greenspan's dominatrix.~Inventor on Daily Kos.
Ah, yes, Alan Greenspan. This is where the post turns a little more serious. The late Paul Samuelson had the following to say about him:
And this brings us to Alan Greenspan, whom I've known for over 50 years and who I regarded as one of the best young business economists. Townsend-Greenspan was his company. But the trouble is that he had been an Ayn Rander. You can take the boy out of the cult but you can't take the cult out of the boy. He actually had instruction, probably pinned on the wall: 'Nothing from this office should go forth which discredits the capitalist system. Greed is good.'
Yet again the similarity between Objectivism and Scientology appears, and not in a funny way, either.

Greenspan also makes a cameo in Maureen Dowd's comment on Atlas Shrugged, along with Paul Ryan.
Congressman Ryan has said the reason he got involved in public service was “by and large” because of Rand, and he has encouraged his staffers to read “Atlas Shrugged.”

You’d think that our fiscal meltdown would have shown the flaw in Rand’s philosophy. She thought we could derive morals from the markets. But we derived immorality from the markets.
What Rand and acolytes like Alan Greenspan failed to realize is that if everyone acts in self-interest and no one takes into account the weakness to the entire system that occurs when everybody indulges in the same kind of risky behavior, the innocent and the guilty are engulfed.
Ms. Dowd brings me to the serious point of this post (gloating is not a serious point), Objectivism is a philosophy that is contributing to our problems. Worse yet, it is becoming a response to our problems, making them even worse.

What, you say, Objectivism causes collapse? Yes. It's all there in the manual. But that's the subject of Part II.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lansing Community College Earth Day event with a comment about one of its sponsors--Walmart

April2011BadgeMichigan Stand Up and Fight

Lansing Community College: LCC celebrates Earth Day

Students for Political Involvement & Public Service at Lansing Community College presents:
Earth Day 2011

Join SPIPS in a great panel discussion on how we can make an impact (or less of one) on our planet. Other topics of discussion will include:

Food Safety
Renewable/Alternative Energies
Water/Air Pollution
Urban Farming
Monday April 18, 2011

11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Gymnasium, Gannon Building, Third Floor

Cost: Free

All students, staff, faculty and community members are encouraged to attend!

Our panel will include individuals from Michigan State University, the Michigan House of Representatives,Lansing Community College, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), other state agencies and companies in the private sector, including Walmart - a proven leader in sustainability. There will be a question and answer session for students and community members following the panel presentation. Stop by for great discussion and free popcorn, cookies,punch following the program!
The story calls Walmart "a proven leader in sustainability." That claim deserves some unpacking, especially since one of the parts of sustainability involves a sustainable society. On its own website, Walmart describes its sustainability efforts and supports its reputation with an impressive list of awards, but note how it defines sustainability:

Our broad environmental goals at Walmart are simple and straightforward:

•To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy;
•To create zero waste;
•To sell products that sustain people and the environment.
These goals are all about ecology and economy; there is little or nothing about society. The makers of the movie Walmart: the high cost of low price had a lot to say about the chain's effect on society and local economies. Walmart changed many, but not all, of its behavior after that film came out. Note that the corporation earned most of awards for good corporate citizenship after 2005.

Sunshine works as a disinfectant.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book recommendation: Stuffed and Starved

Stuffed and Starved
Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System

Wait, this post isn't about collapse and surviving it? Maybe, maybe not. It does fit the topics I picked out for this blog on this month's NaBloPoMo blogroll--food and politics, although I never managed to get listed under politics. This book is all about the global politics of food, so much so that I'm using it for a textbook.

As for the book's relevance to collapse, there is a lot wrong with the international food system, some of which is contributing to global collapse and much of which won't survive collapse, either, such as the long supply lines and heavy use of fossil fuels. In this book, Raj Patel gives a piercing critique of the way global capitalism shapes what humans grow and eat, exposing many of the flaws in the food system that contribute to collapse and what can be done about it. It's also an entertaining and informative read and Raj Patel is a charming and compelling person who knows his gin.

I'll probably blog more about it later, but right now, I'm going back to bed. I have an event to go to tonight. Hey, I can't be all doom all the time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Food News from La La Land


Too much to do today, so I'll leave you with this story one of my students told me about. From PoliticusUSA:

ABC’s Food Revolution May Have Prompted Change in LA Schools’ Lunches

This season “Food Revolution” is filming in Los Angeles, even though the Los Angeles Unified School District refused Oliver and his show access.
They knew exactly who he was. I'm not surprised, since this is Los Angeles, my old hometown. The place is very show-business savvy, and knows the power of entertainers. I should know, I grew up around them. My little sister's husband is an actor. Her ex-husband is a film editor. Her best friends growing up were daughters of directors and talent agents. Oh, and my 12th grade English teacher was a scriptwriter who was later the mayor of Malibu, twice.

But enough about my growing up in an outer borough of Tinsel Town. Back to the story.

But today, just one day after the premier of Jamie’s show, the LAUSD suddenly announced a new menu.
Why do I have a feeling that the school board read the channel listings and planned this in advance?

Since he wasn’t allowed access, Oliver had the parents bring the school food to him for the first episode of his LA show. The school food was a disgusting blend of what looked like “airplane” or prison food wrapped and cooked in plastic, off site. Oliver demonstrated how ammonia is added to ground beef that our children eat in schools, but doesn’t need to be listed as an ingredient because it’s used as part of a “process” and not an actual ingredient, per the USDA. Lord knows we wouldn’t want the government to tell us what to eat.
My student told me about "red slime." It was disgusting.

Today, LA Times blog reports that, “LAUSD fired back with a revamped menu that officials won’t attribute to Oliver’s pressure but instead said has been in the works for some time. Among the new entrees, beginning next school year, will be Salvadorean beef stew, chicken tandoori, Asian pad thai, California sushi roll and teriyaki beef and broccoli with brown rice.”
Sounds yummy and very in keeping with the diverse student bodies of my old home town.

It should be noted that the LAUSD has a new superintendent, but they denied that Food Revolution had anything to do with the changes.
Yeah, right.

Let’s just say that the sunshine of Food Revolution’s cameras didn’t hurt.
I'm with Sarah Jones of PoliticusUSA on this one.

There's more, including a video, at the link.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The theme song for this blog

April2011Badgekeep calm and carry on

Having lots to write about, but not enough time or energy, plus a commitment to post every day on this blog, results in this musical interlude. At least now this blog has a theme song, even if it's one that I've loved ever since I first heard it more than 20 years ago.

From Wikipedia:
(Nothing But) Flowers  is a song by the rock band Talking Heads. It appears on the band's final album Naked, released in 1988. It was also released as a single accompanied by a successful music video, which featured innovative uses of typography by graphic designer Tibor Kalman. In addition to the band, the song features Kirsty MacColl on backup vocals and The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. It peaked at number 79 in the UK Singles Chart.
The lyrics describe a world where modern progress has been reverted back to a more natural state, due either to a political movement or by a necessity, such as dealing with overpopulation. While the protagonist may have once been in favor of the transformation, he finds himself now missing the modern conveniences and culture of the industrialized age.
Yeah, that's me. I actually like modern consumer society, but I know it's not sustainable, and it makes me sad that "this, too, shall pass." So, I've resolved to work to make the best possible sustainable future possible, while knowing that it might not happen. Yeah, that's a Crazy Eddie for you.

I'll see if I'm up to a Detroit news linkspam or another installment of Contemplating the Hedgehog tomorrow.