Thursday, July 28, 2011

Swedwood/Danville follow-up

A follow-up to an earlier post about Ikea's Swedwood plant in Virginia -

First, John Stewart and the Daily Show did a good job getting at the heart of the issue in this skit a month or so ago...

You can be guaranteed that the business folks (and the Pickle Vendors) are up in arms about what happened at Swedwood yesterday… Story HERE

The bottom line for me is that they got 76% of the vote, that’s a pretty good sign it was/is a lousy place to work... and ultimately, concerns of that communities economic developers notwithstanding, it may be a great thing for that region because crappy companies will know you can't go there and treat people like dirt.

I want you to join me...

Tim DeChristopher, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine for 'disrupting' a Bureau of Land Management auction in 2008.

In a powerful speech to the court, DeChristopher lays out a clear argument for citizen engagement and civil disobedience... I hope people will heed his call.

Some excerpts:
"...when people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited by powerful corporations. Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool."...

"Civil disobedience is inherently an attempt at change. Those in power, whom Mr Huber represents, are those for whom the status quo is working, so they always see civil disobedience as a bad thing. The decision you are making today, your honor, is what segment of the public you are meant to protect. Mr Huber clearly has cast his lot with that segment who wishes to preserve the status quo. But the majority of the public is exploited by the status quo far more than they are benefited by it."...

"I’m not saying any of this to ask you for mercy, but to ask you to join me. If you side with Mr Huber and believe that your role is to discourage citizens from holding their government accountable, then you should follow his recommendations and lock me away. I certainly don’t want that. I have no desire to go to prison, and any assertion that I want to be even a temporary martyr is false. I want you to join me in standing up for the right and responsibility of citizens to challenge their government. I want you to join me in valuing this country’s rich history of nonviolent civil disobedience."

Read all of Tim's remarks by clicking HERE

Completely beyond our ability to understand

I've been intriqued by commentators talking about the fact that the Norwegian mass murderer could potentially spend only 21 years behind bars. This fact, it seems, is completely beyond the average American's reasoning ability. Then Foreign Policy mag does this cynical piece, The Super-Lux Super Max. If this piece makes it into American mainstream media, it may well cause some heads to explode.

But what the mainstream media assuredly will not mention, just as the Foreign Policy article failed to do, is what one of the comments to the article does mention -

"The incarceration rate in Norway is 59 inmates per 100,000, compared to 737 per 100,000 in the U.S. Within two years of their release, 20% of Norwegian prisoners end up back in jail. In the U.K. and the U.S., the figure hovers between 50% and 60%. The 'humane' prison system is not a result of naivity, but a conscious and scientifically informed policy aimed at rehabilitating inmates and preparing them for a life without crime."

Another commentor then notes that this prison is actually the last phase of the rehabilitation process for prisoners who will soon be released. But, that fact wouldn't fit into the narrative that FP was trying to create.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Godin - Sheepwalking

From TRIBES: We need you to lead us

"I define sheepwalking as the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line"...

It's ironic but not surprising that in our age of increased reliance on new ideas, rapid change, and innovation, sheepwalking is actually on the rise. That's because we can no longer rely on machines to do the brain-dead stuff.

We've mechanized what we could mechanize. What's left is to cost-reduce the manual labor that must be done by a human. So we write manuals and race to the bottom in our search for the cheapest possible labor. And it's not surprising that when we go to hire that labor, we search for people who have already been trained to be sheeplike."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Race to the Bottom ends here

Looks like manufacturing may make a comeback in the United States - this from the LATimes - "Check out the study released this month by the Boston Consulting Group, which concludes that when you compare China's soaring wages and still-low levels of productivity with our stagnating wages and rising levels of productivity, the price advantage of manufacturing in China instead of the U.S. will shrink to insignificance by 2015. Investment in the U.S., says the group, "will accelerate as it becomes one of the cheapest locations for manufacturing in the developed world.""

To prepare for this, there are many pieces arguing for an increased focus on technical skills. The argument goes that most new jobs don't necessarily require a college degree, but they do require some additional training. One of these recent pieces was in RealClearPolitics here , one line from that piece I found especially interesting, ""But Germany and other high-wage countries are doing just fine employment-wise, because they pay scrupulous attention to preparing young people for the jobs there are."

Most argue it's about government commitment to technical skills training, some Governor's, like Haley Barbour in MS, argue it's about destigmatizing industrial arts education. I came across this article in the WSJ.

Note the type of manufacturing jobs they're training their students for in Germany...

"Volkswagen workers like Ronald Wachendorf, a 50-year-old mechanic, have enjoyed the
shortest work week in the global auto industry: 28.8 hours, pulling down a full week's pay while working a day less than the 40-hour norm at General Motors Corp. and even less than the 35-hour standard at other German car makers."... "In a country that is home to the world's best-paid auto workers, Volkswagen goes even further -- paying $69 an hour, compared with the national average of $44 and the U.S. standard of $34."

28.8 hours a week, $69 an hour = $103,334.40 a year to build car's in Germany

The new Toyota, VW, and BMW plants recently located to MS/TN/SC, and all UAW workers hired since the new contract in 2007,starting wage about $15 an hour.

Is Germany doing fine because "because they pay scrupulous attention to preparing young people for the jobs there are."? Or do technical jobs pay a living wage, work a full day less and offer tremendous benefits when compared to the same job in the U.S., thus people are drawn to them?

The real question for me is, what are we selling to young people when we argue they should be aspiring for that job at the shiny new VW plant in Chattanooga? Perhaps the message is... "well, at least you ain't in China"...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The President is OBSESSED

Great piece by Jon Stewart -



Ever wonder who sent out the "say the President is obsessed" memo?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cynicism

Some have been critical of the This American Life story about economic development that aired a few weeks back. NPR addresses much of the criticism in this blog post, click here. I personally know economic developers, and others around the business, who were not impressed. For their part, as the blog post above points out, the Planet Money and This American Life team have apologized for the "negative tone" of their story.

I was thinking about that broadcast, and the criticism, this morning as I watched the 'Hot Coffee' documentary on HBO - click here for the movie's website

I would suggest to the writer's/directors of the NPR show (and their critics) - the worst thing that could happen would be that they join the list of news agencies that start pulling punches. Personally, I think it's hard not to be cynical of the industry when some regional economic developers are are pulling down $300K plus a year yet their impact is difficult to measure. When the economy is booming they are successful, but when it's not they blame the economy, how many new jobs has your economic developer created in the past 12 months? Personally, I've seen many economic development presentations to industry which sold the low wages, anti-union climate, low taxes, and the lax regulations available in poor regions of the South. These came to mind as I watched Hot Coffee this morning, because another piece of the E.D. sales pitch is often the "great" tort reform legislation they've passed.

The vast majority of the economic developers I've known believe deep in their bones that what's good for business and industry is good for the country. They believe that all growth is good growth, and they believe the purpose of the educational system is to provide cheap labor for business and industry.

We see in the Hot Coffee movie how industries, and their PR firms, can absolutely change any debate to benefit them... working people can't. It's a rare economic developer who will take the working man's side versus business and industry, thus I think it's important that we have media that keeps a skeptics eye on industry and their facilitators. But instead, we have NPR crawfishing for being cynical of an industry that moves more than it creates, and does so at the expense of many.

NPR, you're apologizing to a group that the late great Joe Bageant brilliantly called "Pickle Vendors". Frankly, you would be hard pressed to find a better example of Joe's Pickle Vendors than some of those in economic development.

Here's a piece of Joe's description -

"Now I'm not talking about the barber or three-chair beauty shop or the deli owner up the street. I am talking about the realtors, lawyers and middlemen willing to cooperate in whatever it takes to destroy land use and zoning codes, bust unions and keep wages low, rents high, the liberals down and the "cullids" out. This group of second tier conservative professionals and semi-pros are dead set on being real players someday. On their way up the ladder they will screw you blind and make you beg for your change.

America's small and medium sized towns are run entirely by their business class, those countless little sparkplugs of the American capitalist corporate machinery. They are where the institutionalized rip-off by the rich corporations finds its footing and support. Serving on every local governmental body, this mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians have connections, and collectively can get that 200 acres rezoned for Wal-Mart or a sewer line to that 2000-unit housing development at taxpayer expense. When it comes to getting things done locally for the big guys, these folks can heal the sick, raise the dead and give eyesight to the blind. They are God's gift to the big non-union companies and the chip plants looking for a fresh river to piss cadmium into -- the Rotarian, Lions, Kiwanis Club can-do boys."

Sound like any economic developers you know?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Rise of the Crazy Wrecking Ball Right

Two very good pieces - one by Paul Krugman, the other by Robert Reich...

First, Professor Krugman: Getting to Crazy -

"First of all, the modern G.O.P. fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic presidency — any Democratic presidency. We saw that under Bill Clinton, and we saw it again as soon as Mr. Obama took office.
As a result, Republicans are automatically against anything the president wants, even if they have supported similar proposals in the past. Mitt Romney’s health care plan became a tyrannical assault on American freedom when put in place by that man in the White House. And the same logic applies to the proposed debt deals.
Put it this way: If a Republican president had managed to extract the kind of concessions on Medicare and Social Security that Mr. Obama is offering, it would have been considered a conservative triumph. But when those concessions come attached to minor increases in revenue, and more important, when they come from a Democratic president, the proposals become unacceptable plans to tax the life out of the U.S. economy.
Beyond that, voodoo economics has taken over the G.O.P.
Supply-side voodoo — which claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapse — has been a powerful force within the G.O.P. ever since Ronald Reagan embraced the concept of the Laffer curve. But the voodoo used to be contained. Reagan himself enacted significant tax increases, offsetting to a considerable extent his initial cuts."

And Professor Reich - The Rise of the Wrecking Ball Right -
"Add in the relentlessly snide government-hating and baiting of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and his imitators on rage radio; include more than thirty years of Ronald Reagan's repeated refrain that government is the problem; pile on hundreds of millions of dollars from the likes of oil tycoons Charles and David Koch intent on convincing the public that government is evil, and you have all the ingredients for the emergence of a wrecking-ball right that's intent on destroying government as we know it.
The final critical ingredient has been the abject failure of the Democratic Party -- from the President on down -- to make the case for why government is necessary.
One would have thought the last few years of mine disasters, exploding oil rigs, nuclear meltdowns, malfeasance on Wall Street, wildly-escalating costs of health insurance, rip-roaring CEO pay, and mass layoffs would have offered a singular opportunity to explain why the nation's collective well-being requires a strong and effective government representing the interests of average people.
Yet the case has not been made. Perhaps that's because, even under the Democrats, the interests of average people have not been sufficiently attended to."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Being reasonable...

I can be unreasonable, especially on this blog. In my day job I'm paid to be reasonable, thoughtful, logical. So, I've always used this blog to, more or less, call them like I see them. Frankly, there's some chance I'm wrong as much as I'm right, but it's what I'm thinking at the time.

I've, perhaps, become unreasonable on the tax/debt issue... so, let me link to a really thoughtful piece by someone who's much more reasonable than I. A serious professional with the best interest of the country at heart.

No room for compromise | When ideologues eat our politics


"We are seeing what happens when ideologues chew up and spit out our politics: 24/7 electioneering has virtually destroyed our federal government's ability to govern.

In a democratic system, the politics of governance -- as distinct from the politics of elections -- really matters. Through the politics of governance, we air our differences and move forward through compromise.

We seem to have lost this distinction." ... "Sadly, ideologues will not move our democracy forward. They never have. As Garrison Keillor once wrote, "Our democracy was not built by angry people."

Where do we go from here?

It's time for us to build new pathways. These pathways, I am convinced, will emerge in regions around the country, where civic leaders take their responsibilities to govern more seriously than we see in Washington these days."

Good point's Ed, but I wish I were optimistic that it really will/can happen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taxes -

A couple of interesting charts in a piece posted on Huffington Post by Jane White -



As White points out, "When you think about it, when it comes to "net worth" Americans are likely the poorest in the advanced world. Why? Because many life necessities that are subsidized by rich taxpayers in other countries are mostly paid out of pocket by Americans. From college education to health care to retirement, we bankroll more of these costs than any of our peers."

Obama and Boehner had a deal in principal, and as I pointed out a couple days ago in the Brooks piece, it was a lousy deal for democrats. But, Boehner couldn't sell it to the tea partiers in his party. Taxes have become a dirty word, as White points out in the HP piece thanks in large part to the propaganda of Grover Norquist. The question is why we're letting the lunatics run the asylum? Tell these people they are wrong, way wrong, and get it done. Hell, point out to them that Reagan raised taxes MANY times, sometimes it's what has to be done, and as White's piece points out, sometimes it's the right thing to do.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The American Dream -

When did our vision of the American Dream come to mean winning the lottery or getting on a reality show?

From a good piece by Nicolaus Mills on CNN.com

Winthrop from his 'city on a hill' sermon, a favorite of Ronald Reagan - "For Winthrop, it was crucial for the Puritans to remember that theirs was a collective enterprise in which they would succeed or fail by virtue of being "knit together" as one people. Sharing and sacrifice were prerequisites, in Winthrop's mind, for becoming a city on a hill that would serve as an example for others.

"We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities for the supply of others' necessities," Winthrop insisted."

Jefferson (in a letter to Madison) - "The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on," Jefferson wrote Madison, and then with the vastness of America in mind, he observed, "It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land."

Lincoln - "On July 4, 1861, in a special message to Congress, Lincoln went even further in describing the government's obligation to its most vulnerable citizens. In an address devoted to justifying the Union cause, Lincoln defended the idea of "government whose leading object is, to elevate the conditions of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all -- to afford all, an unfettered start."

FDR - "Campaigning for the presidency in 1936, he assured voters, "Your government is still on the same side of the street with the good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side," and in his triumphant second inaugural, Roosevelt made it clear what being a good Samaritan meant in the middle of the Great Depression. "The test of our progress," he proclaimed, "is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Eating and Living Well

If I may, let me pause from the political theme this blog has taken of late... and get a bit personal.

We don't do a budget in my house per se, for 20 years or so my wife and I have generally spent less than we earned, saved a little bit, but we never made much so saving wasn't much of a consideration. Now we make a little more and as I've been a bit infatuated of late with lifestyle designers and the idea of mini retirements, sabbaticals, etc, the other day I tried to figure out where we spend our money. And what I discovered is that we eat well... I knew this, we try and buy organic everything, we actually cook, don't buy processed foods, etc. But I was starting to think, perhaps it's not worth it.

Then I read a quote from a great book my sister gave me over the weekend - Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who cook for their Families. Jim Harrison, who I've written about before, is one of the contributors and a true gourmand. He says,

"Don't be a tightwad. Your meals in life are numbered and the number is diminishing. Get at it. Owning an expensive car or home and buying cheap groceries and wine is utterly stupid. As a matter of simple fact, you can live indefinitely on peanut butter and jelly or fruit, nuts, and yogurt, but then food is one of our primary aesthetic expenses, and what you choose to eat directly reflects the quality of your life."

Then as I was coming over to post this I stopped by my google reader and noted a new post from lifestyle designer extraordinaire Tim Ferris. Tim's post today is entitled, "Looking to the Dietary Gods: Eating Well According to the Ancients"- Tim, his guest blogger Ryan, and Jim Harrison may disagree to a degree on the issue of what it means to "eat well"... but, Ryan ends his blog post by saying, "And this is why Philosophy is so important. Because it can turn a simple thing like eating into a lens for viewing the world, a path to what we all want: the good life." But, I think they would agree, it clearly is part of a good life.

For me, eating well is a big part of the good life, and I will look for other areas to work on my budget.



Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Not a normal party -

The NYTimes David Brooks on his Republican party - from Huffington Post -

"It's the “the deal of the century,” Brooks writes, and “if the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment.”

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party."..."Brooks writes, that over the past few years, the Republican party “has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.”

Brooks couldn't be more right, but what he doesn't (or won't) acknowledge is that by incompetence, or deceit, the Democrats have sold out to the R's on every issue since Obama's inauguration. As I've alluded to elsewhere, the Democrats aren't liberals, they're corporatist. They had both Houses and the White House and didn't get a single piece of "liberal" legislation.

But, by the Fox/Clear Channel machine, they've been labeled as "liberals" and "liberal policies" have gotten credit for the mess we're in... and the "mess" has enriched the corporations with record profits, the stock market has rocked under Obama, and we've had the largest tax cut, and largest spending cut, in history.

The Essence of Normality... really is, the refusal of reality...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bachmann

The great Matt Taibbi on Michelle Bachmann -

"When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don't learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you're a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they're even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies."

Click here for the entire piece -

Matt's absolutely right, we saw the same thing with Palin, when the fringe say something completely nuts, anyone who points out that it is in fact nuts, becomes an enemy of their delusional supporters.

Thanks to JD for pointing out the Taibbi piece.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Does This Look Like a Golden Age to You??

Excellent piece by Robert Parry at Alternet - If Ayn Rand and the Free Market Fetishists Were Right, We'd be Living in a Golden Age -- Does This Look Like a Golden Age to You? - click here

"By slashing income tax rates to historically low levels – and only slightly boosting them under President Clinton before dropping them again under George W. Bush – the U.S. government essentially incentivized greed or what Ayn Rand liked to call “the virtue of selfishness.”

Further, by encouraging global “free trade” and removing regulations like the New Deal’s Glass-Steagall separation of commercial and investment banks, the government also got out of the way of “progress,” even if that “progress” has had crushing results for many middle-class Americans."